Federal Government Grants

Yesterday I got a phone call from “Kim Smith” of Federal Government Grants. She had a decidely East Indian accent and persisted that she was calling because the U.S. Federal Government wanted to give me $7,000 because my credit is good, I am a good citizen and I pay all my bills on time.

She said that when I get the money I have to promise not to use it for anything bad like gambling, alcohol or drugs, but that I should feel free to use it for anything positive, like towards my mortgage payment, buying a car, school for my kids or home improvement.

The phone call went on and on with lots of requests for agreement and she kept asking me to speak up because she couldn’t hear me. Eventually she told me how to claim my grant money. She needed me to answer a few questions confirming my address, phone , date of birth…. you see where this is heading now, right? Then after all the questions, I had to call (213) 599-7374 which I was told was the Federal Government Grants Accounts department and let the person on the other end of the phone know that I talked with Kim Smith and give my confirmation number.

Well obviously I didn’t call, so Kim Smith called me back a couple of hours later asking me why I hadn’t yet called and asked me to tell her when I would call. I told her I would call by 2 p.m. So at 1:55 p.m. for the hell of it I called, and what happened?

The same story all over again with another woman with an Indian accent explaining the nature of the program and what was involved with lots of questions, asking me to speak up so that she could hear my response. (Do you think she was recording my responses perhaps?)

Does this sound fishy or phishy or vishy to you? It did to me so I hung up. I’m wondering if anyone else has had any similar experiences and what you did or would do if you got such a call. Care to share?

I did a little research and found a nice article on about.com – Federal Government Grants: No Free Lunch, The Truth About Federal Government Grants which also pointed me to the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance website which looks like a good resource for applying for government grants if that’s what you’re looking for, but there doesn’t seem to be any mention of anything for individuals who pay their bills on time anywhere.

The moral of the story? If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.  Be careful out there.

The top three Google AdWords even claim things like “Everyone Approved” and “Never Repay, ”  like this:

AdWord Ad about Government Grants

Answers From Friends Are Best

… and if not directly from friends, the next best thing is answers from friends-of-friends.

If you haven’t tried it yet, take a look at Aardvark.

Being well connected just got a whole lot better. Whether you are tiptoeing into the social sphere carefully or frolicking in it like a jello wrestler, you will quickly see a benefit if you haven’t already.

While Google offers almost instant access to any information you’re looking for, Wikipedia is a mouse click away instead in multiple volumes in a library around the corner, and community forums offer a great way to learn and share problems and solutions, when it comes to social media, it’s all about your friends and conversations.

What’s better than asking Google for an answer to a question? Asking a friend. And if that friend doesn’t know, perhaps they have a referral of someone they know that may have the answer. The referral system has been around since Planet of the Apes and it’s doesn’t take Neil Armstrong to figure out why people trust their friends more than a big company.

You have ventured into sharing photos and status updates with your friends on Facebook and you may even be intrigued by Twitter, but what about search? Is there a place for the “social” part of “social media” in search?

I believe the answer is yes. With Aardvark, you can ask a question, any question, and either a friend of yours, or a friend of a friend will send you the answer. The key is that the answer is from a human, someone who cares, someone who has a very unique way of thinking about problems, likes, dislikes, the best places to go, the best ergonomic chair to buy, answers to coding questions, browser compatibility issues, the best place in San Francisco’s Union Square for a quick drink, and/or how to find demographic information about your twitter followers. (The Twitter demographics one was picked up and put on FriendFeed by Robert Scoble.)

Last week there was an article in the NY Times about Aardvark, the web service that answers questions through friends and friends-of-friends, which my friend Amy (Happy Birthday again Amy!) referred me to today on Gtalk. I am so thrilled for Aardvark and can’t wait for more people to try it. My experience so far has been very good and I’m betting we’re only at the very beginning of this adventure.

Congratulations on your successes, Aardvark, I’m not surprised. Thanks for offering a great service.

Clean Car, Drive Better

Someone once told me that washing their car made them drive better and I think it is true. When my car is clean I drive more carefully. It may be because I have a little more pride in the shiny paint, or perhaps it’s that the windows are also easier to see through, but somehow everything just feels a little easier less harried and driving is more of a pleasure.

I washed my car today and had an interesting thought: If a clean car makes me drive better, what would a clean office do? I know a feel a lot better about my desktop when it is not cluttered with screenshots, downloaded files and sticky notes.

The moral of the story: If clean and organized makes you feel better, clean and organize. Drive well, be organized, stress less.


What is a Browser?

This is a fun inquiry into whether people really know what a browser is from Google. It’s incredible how ubiquitous the browser has become. People have the same kind of incomprehension about how the Internet really works as they do about electricity and phone service. “It works, I use it, I like it, but don’t ask me what it is.”

I also find it interesting that people love to be on video, and how few people know about Google’s Chrome.  Is this Google’s way of spreading the word?

How To Get Attention

  1. Do something different, be unique.
  2. Be funny, entertain me.
  3. Shock with your talent, your _____, your downright boldness, baby!
  4. Be real, be you and really show me who you are, because until you do, you’re just like everyone else and I’m tuning out.

When I first saw a funny flight safety announcement I was in awe at the creativity and courage it took the flight attendant to put on such a show, all in the name of flight safety, but guess what, people listened.  People heard the message instead of ignoring it as usual and people took off on that plane with a good understanding of how to be safe.

Check out this example and tell me you wouldn’t listen. The fact that it is a Southwest employee is interesting and that is something for another blog post (think case study) coming soon.


A Conversation Starter

I often show this video in my classes as an introduction to how far we have come with the Internet and digital media. The movie is from 2007, so you could say it’s old news, but many of the concepts are still important to consider as you venture into “new” media.

As video producer, Michael Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology Kansas State University says, “This video explores the changes in the way we find, store, create, critique, and share information. This video was created as a conversation starter, and works especially well when brainstorming with people about the near future and the skills needed in order to harness, evaluate, and create information effectively.”

It’s a favorite of mine. Enjoy!

Top 5 Search Engine Optimization Tactics

1. The Title Tag Is Your Friend
Make sure your keywords appear in the title tag and try to keep your title to seven words or less. Think billboard with keywords and make sure the keywords are relevant to the content you are displaying on the page.

2. Think Niche
The more focused each page of your site is around ONE not five, not three, not even two, but just ONE keyword term, the easier it will be to achieve a good ranking for that keyword term. Make sure the content on that page is relevant to the term and include content that is not only good for keyword-loading, but more importantly useful to your HUMAN visitor. Search engines want to offer value to the person doing the search. Remember that there is a person on the other end of the search box and your page should offer value to that person.

3. Link Love
What’s more important than a bunch of friends on Facebook? A bunch of websites linking to your site. You see, search engines look at the number of links coming to a site as a measure of popularity. Think about it. If you have more votes, you get to be president (well most of the time anyway. You get the idea.) And how do you get links? See item number 4

4. Provide Value
The sites that perform best are the ones that have the best content and that’s really what the engines are trying to their searchers. Content has always been and continues to be king, so just quit messing around with Flash, bells and whistles and gratuitous use of technology because it looks sexy. Think about what your customer is looking for and provide them with the content and value they are looking for.

5. Monitor Measure Learn and Adjust

  • Make sure you are monitoring your site’s analytics
  • Set goals that you can measure changes against,
  • Learn what worked and what didn’t and
  • Adjust your content, keywords and design if necessary to improve your results.
  • Oh, and after all of that, rinse and repeat.

Finally if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to see how well your site is optimized, head on over to the Website Grader and get a free report.

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