Creating a social media presence in 2010

By now, virtually any organization that is committed to the web has asked: how can social media and online community strengthen our relationship to our members or customers, and help us fulfill our mission?

That is fundamentally the same question that a handful of organizations were starting to ask five years ago, when Rob and I first started Social Signal. But the context for that question has completely changed. Five years ago there was no Twitter, YouTube was a brand-new, unknown startup, and Facebook had only just opened its network to high school students. Organizations that built online communities for their members, customers or the public were typically convening a group of people who couldn’t connect otherwise, or hosting a conversation that wouldn’t otherwise take place.

At the time, we advised organizations that they had a unique, limited time opportunity to launch their online conversations. We pointed out that the growth of online communities meant that users were starting to make their commitments to specific sites or networks; get in early, and yours could be one of the primary networks with which your audience engaged.

That window closed two or three years ago: an organization that creates an online community today is mostly competing for attention with its members’ or customers’ pre-existing commitments to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn and YouTube. Organizations that built niche communities before these sites took off have in some cases been able to retain their most passionate members, but it’s now hard to find members with that kind of passion for a new community: the kinds of people who can get worked up about participating in online communities have already joined several (or many!) and are busy blogging, commenting or posting on the ones they already belong to. Even if you meet those members where they are, by creating a Facebook page or a Twitter profile, it can be hard to get their attention.

Yet a great many businesses, non-profits and government agencies are still coming to the social web, with the party well underway. They want to tap into the power of online conversation for building relationships with customers, members or citizens; to access social networks as a way of getting a message out; to strengthen their brand and reputation with online content, especially the user-contributed kind that carries the greatest credibility. They’ve got fewer resources to work with as they enter the social web, and face tougher competitive pressures than the early entrants.

But there is a half-full glass at the end of the tunnel outside the social media window that has now closed. Sure, in 2010 it’s a lot harder to attract members to YAFSN (Yet Another F***ing Social Network). But it is a lot easier to explain your social media efforts to your board, staff, customers or members: the odds are good that most of them already use some kind of social media tool, so they’ll understand the intuition behind your social media efforts and find it that much easier to start using whatever you create, because it will feel familiar.

Something else is easier too: figuring out what to do. In five years of working with socially-minded businesses, government agencies and not-for-profits, we’ve discovered some consistent patterns in what’s feasible and effective for organizations under constraint. There are two types of constraint that typically shape how organizations engage with the social web: the size of their budget, and the size of their potential audience.

I’ve drafted a series of blog posts that walk organizations through the process of developing a social media strategy while facing budget or audience constraints. This approach is shaped by the 90-9-1 rule, which tells us that it’s very hard for an organization with a limited audience to achieve a self-sustaining volume of user-generated content; and by the 80/20 rule, which tells us that it’s crazy for an organization to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a social media strategy when their limited audience means they’re likely to end up with one of two basic approaches. I figure that most organizations can get 80% of the way towards a solid social media presence by following one of these two approaches, and that only a small number will have the resources to develop the innovative concept or high-octane engagement strategy that gets them to 100%.

You can call this approach the Rule of 84: 80/20 + 90-9-1. It’s intended to save a lot of time, money and wasted effort on the part of organizations — mostly nonprofits, but also some businesses — who would otherwise take the Field of Dreams approach to social media: if we build it, they will come. For most organizations, if you build it, they won’t come: they’re too busy on Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube. Follow this strategy and you’ll be able to create an effective social media presence that is robust in the face of low participation or a limited budget.

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The next chapter: Emily Carr University

Two months ago, Rob and I decided to refocus Social Signal on social media capacity building. We recognized that we have the most impact — and the most fun — delivering the workshops, training and content that helps organizations find and realize their social opportunities. And we decided that one way to help build social media capacity was to open source our consulting practice, even though we didn’t know what that would mean for our business.

The day after we made our decision, our colleague Rochelle Grayson told me that Emily Carr University was looking for a researcher to head up their new technology research centre. It was an opportunity I wouldn’t have considered even forty-eight hours before. But when I told the wise and wonderful Morgan Brayton about our decision to restructure Social Signal, she’d given me this piece of advice: Don’t focus on what you think your work should look like — focus on the experience you want to have.

With that principle in mind, I asked Rochelle to introduce me to the Emily Carr team. And what a team! ECUAD President Ron Burnett wowed me with his philosophy of organizational leadership, his discussion of digital media research, and his awesome Mac geekery. VP Rob Inkster inspired me with his approach to building bridges between tech companies and digital creatives. Maria Lantin, the head of Intersections Digital Studio, is a soulful artist who can also code. And Glen Lowry and Jim Budd, who are part of the digital research program, blew my mind with their innovative thinking about e-learning and interaction design.

I’m thrilled and honoured that Ron and his colleagues have invited me to join Emily Carr as the Director of the Centre for Moving Interaction. For the next two years, I’ll work with the students and faculty of Emily Carr to develop research programs that engage BC tech companies in exploring new opportunities for — and applications of — digital creativity. And as part of that work, I’ll do research that digs deeper into the strategic and social implications of social media.

It’s an extraordinary chance to build capacity around social and interactive media — not in the form that I anticipated two months’ ago, but in a way that I hope will advance the work of ECUAD, the opportunities for BC companies, and my own thinking about social media. And because Emily Carr faculty typically maintain an outside practice or studio, I’ll be able to continue my work with Social Signal, too – in particular with Concept Jams, but also as a resource for Rob and our clients in Social Signal’s other work.

And I’m not going anywhere, at least not digitally – you’ll still find me blogging here (as well as at AlexandraSamuel.com and Harvard Business). I’m getting a change in venue, role and title, but in many ways I’ll be doing the same work we’ve done for the last four years through Social Signal: exploring the immense potential that digital media has to transform the way we create, collaborate and communicate, and helping people to find their path to putting these technologies to their most effective and positive use.

Ask social media experts to share their secrets at SXSW

The incredible reaction to Open SoSi got me thinking about my proposed panel for SXSW, Are you smarter than a social media expert? As originally conceived, this panel asked:

Is there such a thing as a social media expert? What do they bring to the table? The experts will defend their titles (or admit their limitations) against challengers from the audience and the online world.

But our decision to open source Social Signal’s intellectual property has made me rethink the stakes — and the opportunity. This week, I’ve heard from folks who (like us) are eager to share their social media “secrets”. So why not use that to see whether social media experts to live up to their own hype?

So I’ve amended my panel pitch as follows:

Is there such a thing as a social media expert? We’ll ask experts to defend their titles (and admit their limitations) by open sourcing examples of their work, methodologies and deliverables. By the end of the session you’ll have insights into how today’s social media consultants make the magic happen, and we’ll post a newly rich collection of repurpose-able social media strategy tools.

Are YOU ready to share your social media expertise — not with the usual round-up of best practices or tips, but by sharing your core methodologies, business processes, or deliverable All that proprietary intellectual property that makes your agency, or your company’s social media team, unique and valuable?

Then I want to hear from you. Please leave a comment on the SXSW panelpicker site (yes, you CAN still comment!) letting me know what you’re ready to share.

And if you’re not with a social media agency yourself, but you’d like to see social media consultants practice what they preach, then please leave a comment on the panelpicker to say you’d like to see this session at SXSW.

Canadian Press article points to Social Signal for social media tips and open-source resources

Day one of Open SoSi, and it’s already in the news as a potential resource for professionals starting out in social media.

Today’s Canadian Press article by Tamsyn Burgmann, Companies seek social media experts to keep online conversation rolling, includes the following reference to our newly open-sourced materials:

Samuel, 38, and her husband Rob Cottingham, 46, are Vancouver-based social media gurus who founded one of the world’s earliest social media companies, Social Signal, in 2005. On Thursday they publicly unveiled the company’s strategies for running a social media company, including techniques for training social media professionals.

This article focuses on how young people can get started in a social media career, drawing on advice from Social Signal staff and clients.

SoSi staffer Channing Rodman, who manages the BC Children’s Hospital’s Be a Superhero! campaign, summed up the qualities that make a great community animator:

You don’t have to be a tech-genius, you just have to be someone who’s interested in playing, who’s interested in conversation and who’s willing to play with the medium and see how you can get people not to just talk, but to talk about something that matters.

And over at MEC’s TheBigWild.org, which we helped to relaunch earlier this year, Theodora Lamb focuses on the role of animators in creating compelling content:

A social media animator at heart needs to be a storyteller, because that’s how you’re going to engage your audience…(You must) be honest, tell true stories, bring people into it, get them to tell their stories and keep that story going.

Tamsyn also shared four of my tips for launching a career in social media:

  1. Clean up your current online social profile. Ensure anything with your name attached to it on the web appears as you’d want a potential employer to view it.
  2. Don’t limit yourself to Facebook. Start participating is professional-oriented social spaces, like Linked In.
  3. Start a pet project. Show you have initiative and ability to engage others by starting a small project and getting participants.
  4. Pick up some traditional communications skills. While social networking may be second nature, you’ll win over employers if you also have some classic knowledge under your belt.

And don’t let the salary range cited in the article daunt you: $40-50k seems typical for an early-career community manager, but the dollars go up significantly if your career takes you into strategic or management roles.

Check out the full story for a handy, engaging take on how to get started with a career in social media. It’s the perfect story to send to your favourite recent graduate.

Agenda and script for the Concept Jam social media strategy workshop

Read part 1, introducing the Concept Jam overview >>

Today, we’re releasing two documents that can help you structure a Concept Jam workshop.

The Concept Jam workshop agenda (doc) is the document we share with all the participants in a workshop. We create a custom agenda for each workshop, depending on client, participants and the time available (while we prefer a full day, we’ve done half-day versions by developing the list of audiences, goals and strengths ahead of time, in consultation with our client). In some instances a client wants to include stakeholders or audience members in the brainstorming portions of the workshop, so we’ll invite them to join the workshop at lunchtime, and use the morning to set up the audiences, goals and strengths lists as a strictly internal team conversation.

Today is the first time we’re sharing the workshop script (doc) with anyone outside of Social Signal. It’s what our principals use in delivering a Concept Jam workshop, and it draws on facilitation techniques we’ve learned elsewhere (like Aspiration’s terrific spectrograms) as well as on presentations we’ve developed for in-house. Once you’ve downloaded one of our PowerPoint decks (coming soon!) you could take this workshop script, walk into a room, Open SoSi Me! Follow @socialsignal for updatesand deliver a Concept Jam workshop yourself. But you’ll get better results if you take the time to get to know your client first, and in another few days, we’ll share the tools and processes that can help you do just that.

Please note that the script and the agenda don’t align completely; this is because each document changes over time, and we took them from different engagements.

We’re curious to hear whether other people have developed similar approaches to social media strategy development, or whether these tools look helpful for your upcoming projects. We’d also love to hear suggestions for improvement. So please do share your comments below, or tweet us with your thoughts.

How to deliver a social media strategy workshop that builds capacity and finds opportunities

We’re launching Open SoSi by sharing the Concept Jam. The Concept Jam is a workshop-based methodology for identifying an organization’s most promising social media opportunities.  It’s the part of our work that we love the most, and that we think gives the greatest value to our clients. It’s also the one part of our current service line-up that we hope to do even more of in the months and years to come. So we figured we’d put our money where our mouth is by giving that away first.

Concept Jam sessions engage teams in learning and brainstorming so that they can find the social media projects that reach their audiences and achieve their goals.  Each Concept Jam has three key deliverables:

  1. A day-long workshop that engages 10-40 people (employees and stakeholders in a client organization) in a learning and brainstorming process that helps participants develop a stronger understanding of social media tools and strategies.
  2. A workshop report summarizing the long list of ideas generated by the workshop (typically 50-100 ideas).
  3. An options document presenting 3-6 options for social media projects. These options typically synthesize the ideas prioritized workshop participants, distilling and enhancing each option into a summary concept that our team thinks has strong potential.

The Concept Jam has evolved over the course of four years of strategic consulting, and builds on over a decade of experience leading classes and workshops in online strategy and communications. We’ve seen it pay off for client after client, both as a way of building internal capacity and support for social media, and as an incubator for innovative and compelling social media projects that reflect an organization’s particular strengths.

Open SoSi Me! Follow @socialsignal for updates
And while the Concept Jam methodology was born from our own particular strengths, we think it’s an approach that many others can adopt, adapt and deliver. We’ve already led workshops that taught other organizations to use this approach to social media training and strategy development, and seen the confidence that communicators get from having a clear methodology for leading social media development in their organizations.

Whether you’re leading social media strategy within a particular company or organization, or offering strategic services as a social media consultant, we hope the Concept Jam can be a useful addition to your toolbox. Over the next little while we’ll be sharing:

  • Workshop structure: a participant agenda and sample workshop script   Now online! >>
  • Presentation tools: the powerpoint decks we use to introduce participants to a range of social media approaches, and session worksheets   Coming soon!
  • Deliverables: an example of a Concept Jam workshop report (thanks to Vancity!) and an options document   Coming soon!
  • Project management: an overview of the service delivery process, our pre-workshop intake form, and a workplan    Coming soon!
  • Business processes: an estimating spreadsheet, example MOU, and example proposal   Coming soon!

You can also take a look at the two brochures we currently use to explain the Concept Jam to potential clients. We have two versions: the super fun cartoony one (PDF) , and the buttoned-down texty one (PDF).

Read on to part 2, workshop agenda and script. >>

How to enable sleep on your HP Mini hackintosh netbook

This is a postscript to my series on why & how to Mac-ify a PC netbook.

After following the initial (relatively easy) version of the Mac OS install using NetbookBootMaker, I saw that My HP Mac Mini had solved the (brutal!) sleep problem that made my mini freeze whenever I shut the lid, and forced me to shut it down each and every time. But the sleep solution seemed to involve a complete re-install, which was a daunting prospect, especially after all the work I’d gone through to migrate my existing Mac’s settings.

Happyily, Mike (drfyzziks) came to the rescue once again. He came up with a relatively easy method for fixing my existing install (as documented here) so that…my HP Mini now sleeps!! Sleep works both by selecting “sleep” from the Apple menu, and just by shutting the lid on the netbook.

Here’s what it took to get sleep working on the HP Mini 1000 (instructions are specific to the Mini):

Note: you’ll need to be logged in to a user account on your computer that has admin permissions, and you’ll need to know your password, to do this process.

  1. Download SnowLeo_EFIboot package (http://www.mediafire.com/?crwqzmnmnnn) and unzip.
  2. Create a folder in your root directory (i.e. the top-level folder on your hard drive, NOT your user directory) called TEMPKEXTS.
  3. Go into SnowLeo_EFIboot folder (the one you unzipped in step 1) and copy or move the following files into your TEMPKEXTS  folder.
    Note: you may be prompted for your password to authenticate the copy or move process at various points…just enter it whenever prompted during this process.
    • from the DSDT folder: dsdt.aml
    • from the ClamShellDisplay folder: ClamshellDisplay.kext (this is what lets the computer sleep just by closing the lid)
    • from the HPMiniKexts folder, ALL files that end in “.kext” (try sorting the folder by file type)
    • from the OtherKexts folder, all files that begin in “Voodoo” and end in “.kext”

Next you need to open Terminal, and use the (brace for it) command line to get all those new extensions in the right place.

  1. Launch Terminal (in your Applications folder).
  2. In terminal, navigate to the root directory by typing “cd ..” at the prompt, and hitting return.
    Note: You’ll probably have to do this twice until you get to the root directory. My root directory is MacMini, so I know I’m in the root directory when the prompt says MacMini:/ alex$  [alex is my account name on the system]
  3. Type “ls” at the prompt. You’ll get a list of files and folders in your root directory; you should see TEMPKEXTS in there and also the Extra folder created by your Mac OS NetbookBookMaker process.
  4. Change to the TEMPKEXTS directory by typing “cd TEMPKEXTS”.
  5. Type the following at the command line: sudo cp -R dsdt.aml /Extra (this copies the dsdt file to the /Extra folder)
  6. You’ll be prompted for your password; just enter it (the password for the admin-level user account you’re using) and press return.
  7. Type the following at the command line:   sudo cp -R *.kext /Extra/GeneralExtensions  (this copies all the kext files in your TEMPKEXTS folder to the /Extra/GeneralExtensions folder)
  8. You’ll be prompted for your password; just enter it (the password for the admin-level user account you’re using) and press return.

Now you need to deactivate a couple of extensions that won’t like the kexts you just moved into the General Extensions folder. So, still in Terminal, type the following:

  1. cd .. (this gets you back to your root directory)
  2. cd /Extra (this changes you to the Extra directory)
  3. sudo mkdir disabled (this creates a new directory [aka folder] by the name of “disabled”)
  4. cd GeneralExtensions (this changes you to the General Extensions directory)
  5. sudo mv ApplePS2Controller.kext ../disabled (this moves this particular kext file to the disabled folder)
  6. sudo mv AppleACPIPS2Nub.kext ../disabled (ditto)

Finally, you need to update your extensions with kext (settings) files you just installed. So…

  1. Switch to the Extra folder by typing “cd ..” and then “cd Extra”.
  2. Type “ls” at the prompt. You should see a file listed called UpdateExtra.app.
  3. Type “sudo open UpdateExtra.app”. You’ll be prompted for your password again, so enter it and press return.
  4. The Update Extensions application will launch, and you’ll see a single window with a button that says “Update Extensions”. Click the button.
  5. Now wait…a while! Probably about five or ten minutes. You may see a spinning beachball (or not) but you will see that the Update Extenions button is shaded a darker grey. You’ll know the process is complete once the Update Extensions button de-shaded and becomes the same grey as the rest of the window.
  6. Reboot.

Once you reboot, you’ll want to check that everything works right by trying to make your computer go to sleep. Choose “sleep” from the Apple menu: your computer should obviously and definitively go to sleep. Give it a few seconds, then try waking it by hitting any key. Once you’ve confirmed that sleep works fine, and that your computer wakes without freezing, try making it sleep by simply closing the lid. Again, give it a few seconds to truly fall asleep, then reopen to confirm that it wakes without freezing.

In my case it’s now sleeping and waking flawlessly. Yay, Mike! Yay, Maurien! Yay, hackintosh!

A few notes:

  1. The “sudo” part of the Terminal commands above is a way of overriding your computer’s current rules about what you do and don’t have permission to do. Those rules are there for a good reason: to keep you from doing anything that could bust your computer or compromise your security. So parroting a sudo command that someone else (like me) is telling you to type is the electronic equivalent of saying, “hey Alex, I really trust you and your awesome guide to hackintoshing my netbook!”. Wouldn’t this be a lovely moment to just tweet that message to me directly?
  2. This whole operation may or may not work on your particular netbook. Even if you have my exact netbook (HP Mini 1000, model 1035NR) the world of hackintoshes, to say nothing of computer manufacturing, is kinda quirky, so who the heck knows what might be different about your setup. Follow these instructions at your own risk, and only if you’ve got the kind of leeway and troubleshooting capacity I outlined in my when to hackintosh post.
  3. If it all works out for you the way it worked for me, you’ll still have a couple of quirks. For one, you won’t have any hardware-based volume control: yes, you’ll have sound, but the only way to turn it up or down will be in an individual application (e.g. iTunes) that you’re using to listen to something. For another, if you try to type a tilde (like this: ~) it’ll come out very funky-looking. The tilde thing is probably only an issue for people who make regular use of Terminal, so if that’s you, let me know and I’ll ask the lovely Mike for his fix.

And btw, anyone who gets this post’s title reference gets my honorary “OMG you’re a massive geek!” tweet of the day.

12 things you don’t know about Rob Cottingham

In a few hours I’ll be thankful for a plate of turkey, stuffing and gravy. Meanwhile, there’s nothing like jamming chunks of bread into the cavity of a formerly living creature to make you appreciate what really matters in life. As I stood elbow-deep in turkey, I found myself reflecting on the person who is at the heart of most of what I have to be thankful for this year (and the previous ten): Rob Cottingham.

Since Rob is both my husband and my business partner, I have him to thank not only for my wonderful children and happy marriage but also for making it possible for me to work with amazing people — and on amazing projects — at Social Signal. People who know us on either or both fronts know that Rob brings boundless creativity, intelligence, humor and kindness to everything he does. That’s the big stuff: the pervasive, far-reaching and life-changing joys of sharing both work and home with Rob.

But Rob also offers many smaller joys and talents that largely fly under the radar. You may think you know all of Rob’s extraordinary facets, if you know him as a strategist, communicator, cartoonist, Drupalist, comedian, writer and father. With that many talents already out there in the world, how much could be hiding behind the scenes?

A lot, actually. Here are some of Rob’s lesser-known talents, virtues and proclivities:

  1. He knows about birds. Rob can identify virtually any North American bird on sight, and an awful lot of them by their song. Go for a walk in the woods or by the beach with Rob, and he’ll point out that the sound you’re hearing is a pileated woodpecker, or that the bird hiding in that shrub is an immature chickadee.
  2. He’s handy in an emergency. Back in the day, Rob was a medic in the Army reserves, and a nursing orderly. So he knows how to handle all the little health problems that crop up with young kids — like how to tell whether a cut is getting infected — as well as how to do basic first aid in an emergency. And he is generous about putting those skills into service: he once stepped in to assist a stranger who was bleeding in the street after a violent attack.
  3. He draws on demand. One of Rob’s ninja parenting tricks is drawing custom colouring books for Little Sweetie. At her request, he has drawn mermaids, dragons, boats and castles for her to colour as she sees fit.
  4. He is always nice-funny. Most people who are as funny as Rob make a good share of their jokes at other people’s expense. But even when we are on our own, with nobody to overhear him, Rob’s wisecracks are always completely kind-hearted, and made only at his own expense.
  5. He does far more than his share of the dishes and laundry. As a working mom, I’ve been able to pursue my professional dreams because Rob does more than his share of the housework. Rob does three rounds of dishes for every round I do, and about ten times as many loads of laundry.
  6. He has vestigial gills. Rob has tiny holes in the upper edge of each ear, which he tells me are vestigial gills. They don’t let him breathe under water, but the are just large enough to hold tiny feathers, thus eliminating the need to pierce his ears.
  7. He is the bedtime tough guy. Any sleep-deprived parent can attest to the importance of being firm when your kid resists bedtime or tries to get in bed with you during the night. But it’s incredibly hard to do when all you want is to go back to sleep! Despite being the world’s nicest guy, Rob is a total hard-ass when it comes to re-Ferberizing our kids. He’s able to insist on good bedtime and night-time habits, even when he’s completely exhausted.
  8. He reads computer books in the bath. When Rob is feeling tense, one of his favourite ways of beating the stress is to get in the bath with a computer manual and read it cover-to-cover. No wonder he knows all the advanced keystrokes in Photoshop!
  9. He makes the world’s best waffles. Rob is now on his second waffle-iron, having exhausted the first one through constant use. After much experimentation he has developed a technique — I believe it involves separating the eggs and beating the whites — that yields consistently delicious, light waffles. Plus he has figured out that by sneaking protein powder into the mix, he can give the kids a healthy breakfast that they’re guaranteed to eat.
  10. He has an amazing singing voice. When Rob and I were practicing for our karaoke-enabled wedding, we did a few coaching sessions with a professional opera singer, who told us that she could turn Rob into an opera singer himself if he put in the hours. Rob may have passed up the opera career, but he does a fantastic job with Baby Beluga and the collected works of U2.
  11. He is an awesome speller and grammarian. I am a bit of a language nazi myself, but even I run into occasional glitches with things like the spelling of necessary and the proper use of the comma. But I don’t think I’ve stumped or corrected Rob more than three times in eleven years. I know that may not seem like an especially loveable thing to everyone, but I absolutely adore his impeccable grasp of the English language.
  12. He is even nicer to me in private. Rob is so reliably kind and solicitous of me when we are around other people that I’m often asked if that’s just his company behaviour. But he’s actually even more thoughtful and affectionate in private, when he doesn’t have to be shy about expressing his unremitting enthusiasm and support. Really.

How did I manage to marry a guy with all these amazing qualities? I think it was just a tremendous stroke of luck that the guy who happened to be a match for my particular combination of tech geeky, leftie politics geeky, and writerly geeky also turned out to be the kindest and most thoughtful guy in the world. And for that stoke of luck — and every happy day and consequence since — I’m totally, profoundly and eternally thankful.

Part 6: A checklist of steps to take before installing the Mac OS on a PC netbook

Continued from Part 5: How to decide if you should install the Mac OS on a PC netbook

You’ll know you’re ready to Mac-ify your netbook once you:

  • Read through the step-by-step process on mac-ifying a netbook, like this (fairly simple) one. You don’t need to be a programmer (I’m not) but you do need to be comfortable with following technical instructions. If these instructions feel overwhelming, a Mac netbook probably isn’t for you.
  • Make a short list of netbooks that appeal to you in terms of size, price and performance, if you are buying a new netbook. I cared most about the keyboard size, but other people care more about screen size, weight or hard drive capacity. A site like CNET can tell you which netbooks to consider (setting aside the Mac question for now); then visit Best Buy or Future Shop to try out the most promising models and see what feels comfortable. Comfort is a much bigger factor with netbooks since you won’t appreciate the difference between an 85% and a 92%-size keyboard until you try typing.
  • Look up the how-to instructions for mac-ifying your current or preferred netbook(s). There are two reasons for this: (1) to see which features do and don’t work on the model you’ve selected, and (2) to see whether you feel up to following the how-to instructions on converting your specific netbook to a mac. Depending on the model you buy, it may be easier or harder to Mac-ify, and the process may be well or poorly documented.  To figure out what is feasible, Google the word “hackintosh” plus the name of the computer you are thinking of purchasing (e.g. “HP Mini 1000). And bear in mind that since Snow Leopard is only a few weeks old, hackers may yet find ways to fix any missing features — for example, it’s taken a few weeks for people to post a way of resolving the sleep problem on my Mini
  • Back up your netbook. Even if it’s fresh out of the box, make sure you have a back up of your netbook’s original operating system and files. If you’ve got your original system disks, all you need to do is back up your files and applications; if your netbook (like mine) came without system disks, you’ll need to back up your system for later re-installation (in case you want to sell it).
  • Get ready to trouble-shoot. If you’re experienced in the art of extracting information from the likes of Macfixit or the Apple discussion forum, you’ll be able to manage any little hiccups that pop up along the way (like when I restarted before “update extensions” had finished). If you’re better at cooking than troubleshooting, find a geeky friend who is prepared to offer help in return for homemade lasagna.
  • Pick a slow weekend. It took about two hours to get Snow Leopard running from an external hard drive (most of that was the time it took to run the Snow Leopard installer from the DVD onto the drive). It took about six hours to figure out how to do a crappy backup of my Ubuntu & Windows partitions, largely because I couldn’t get Windows to recognize any external USB devices. It took about two hours to get Snow Leopard up and running on the netbook’s hard drive, and a few more hours to do all the migration. Again, most of this was passive time — waiting for files to copy — but it’s a lot easier to finish the process in one day than to set it aside and remember where to pick up.
  • Pick a slow week. Choose a week when you can live without your netbook. That way, if you totally screw up the process, you haven’t screwed up your work. Even if everything goes smoothly (it should!) you may find that you don’t like your netbook, or its feature limitations (like the lack of sleep on mine) are a huge problem. And if it does go well, you’ll want to spend most of the week in cafés, enjoying the opportunity to say, why yes, this netbook IS running the Mac OS.

And one last, HUGE shout-out to Mike (aka drfyzziks) without whom I would still be cursing at my HP Mini’s Windows interface and saving my pennies for a Macbook Air.

Part 5: How to decide if you should install the Mac OS on a PC netbook

Now that you’ve read about how I mac-ified my HP Mini netbook, and how much I love the results, you may be wondering whether a mac-ified netbook is for you. Here’s my quick rundown of who should (or shouldn’t) try this at home.

Don’t consider Macifying a netbook if…

  • You’re only going to have one computer. A netbook is too small and underpowered to be a primary computer. If you are only going to have one computer,  and you need it to be ultra-portable, the Macbook Air may still be the best way to go — especially if you can live without the processor power and hard drive room you get with a “real” Macbook.
  • You run Windows on your primary computer. Just as I found it frustrating to use a satellite Windows netbook when my primary computer was a Mac, you’ll find it annoying to keep a Mac netbook harmonized with a Windows machine.
  • You hate messing around with your computer. You don’t have to be a programmer or a hacker (I’m not!) to do this, but you do have to be the kind of person who feels comfortable with computers and isn’t freaked out by the idea of doing something a little challenging.
  • You have body image issues. A tiny computer makes you look bigger.
  • You are under consideration for a Cabinet or White House staff position. Technically, this whole thing is against the licensing agreement you accept when you install the Mac OS. I’d hate you see you whip out your netbook during your confirmation hearings, only to get busted for your illegal OS install.

Do consider Macifying a netbook if…

  • You’re buying a new computer, and can’t afford a Mac. If price has been the factor that has kept you from getting a portable Mac, there’s now an option.
  • You’re a Mac user looking for a lightweight satellite computer, but you also want to have money to spend on banana yellow patent leather shoes. The netbook is a fantastic, economical option. And you can use MobileMe and DropBox to ensure that your netbook doesn’t just start out as a twin to your primary Mac, but stays continuously in sync.
  • You’re an iPhone user or a user of multiple Macs. If you’ve already developed a system for keeping your iPhone in sync with your desktop or Macbook, or for keeping your Macs in sync with each other, getting your netbook coordinated with your primary mac will be a breeze.
  • You just bought a really fantastic handbag that won’t fit a MacBook Air. Some people would spend $1500 on a computer; others on a Louis Vuitton. If you’ve gone the leather-and-buckle route, you can use your spare change to buy a netbook that is small enough to fit in your purse (just be sure to protect it with a padded sleeve before you drop it in alongside your keys and nail file).

Getting serious about this option? Read on to find out when to give mac-ification a try. >>