Technorati Loses Feeds

Has anyone else noticed that the new Technorati doesn’t have search feeds any longer? I mean, I’m open to correction but I certainly can’t find them. And I’m not the only one. It’s actually been a bit of a conversation around Mesh.

What’s Technorati thinking? I ask again, is Technorati really the authority if they leave such key functionality out of their new product release?

Pingomatic and Google

Many folks choose to use the Pingomatic to ensure that when the post a blog entry, as many search indexes such as Technorati and Feedburner.

however, what I find interesting is that there are a large number of “dead” services in the list of indexes pinged. For instance, Pubsub is listed and they’ve been dead for over a year or so. They don’t even exist anymore.

Notably absent is Google Blog Search which is quickly becoming the indexing engine of choice over competitors like Technorati. It would be nice if this property could be updated to ping reasonably productive sites.

For those pinging at home, make sure you add the Google ping server to your ping options: http://blogsearch.google.com/ping/RPC2. You can add this in your WordPress admin Options > Writing panel.

Lessons in Management: Have Many Friends, Few Allies

A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friends are important. Friendships allow a healthy organization to function smoothly. The companies where the management team considers each other friends is a healthy organization that is thriving. At b5media, we have become somewhat famous (at least among ourselves) for our hangout time. We travel and inevitably, we end up drinking beer together and laughing about whatever ironies of the moment present themselves.

As great as friendship is, and as necessary as it is for an organization, the Reagan one liner, “Trust, yet verify” comes into play. Early on, I took what was said to me as gospel. It wasn’t that I was intentionally misled, but the reality is I took too much from people without realizing that it wasn’t always in my best interest to do so.

Allies are a different story. Allies are friends that you can always trust have your best interest in mind. A good example is a cop and his partner. When in the streets, a cop has to recognize that his partner is his ally and that as long as his partner is around, he will have someone “on his six”. And likewise.

In an organization like b5media, I trust everyone has the interest of the company at heart. Few have the best interest of my own organization at heart. It’s not that the desire is not there but more that other folks have their own organizations and jobs to look out for.

Who can blame them? I’m the same way.

The reality is that allies are naturally in short supply. Not every friend can be your ally. Keeping allies close is important for your success as a manager.

Intelligent Design and Stickiness

Stickiness is the term we use that describes when visitors come to a site and come back again. If a blog has great stickiness, chances are that readers typically find very interesting things there and they bookmark it or subscribe to the feed. Most sites are not very sticky though. They may have moments of brilliance when a high profile link comes in, or a story gets Dugg and then – poof! The visitors disappear. Finding ways to make your blog sticky are important for growth.

Great content is the first and foremost way to create stickiness. There is no substitute for great content. Why does every John Grisham novel hit the New York Times Bestseller list? Because people love his writing and are drawn into his stories. Likewise, Techcrunch is sticky because the content that is going up is compelling for readers of Mike Arrington’s blog.

A secondary way of creating stickiness, and the focus of this entry, is by using intelligent design. Not that kind of intelligent design, though the metaphor of creating intelligent blogs instead of simply letting them transition from ape to human works in this scenario. WordPress plugins allow you to accomplish a whole lot of intelligent architectural things with your blog. Here we look at four plugins that will create intelligent design and stickiness on your blog.

Subscribe to Comments is a plugin created by our very own Mark Jaquith (long before he was our very own). Subscribe to Comments allows commenters to subscribe to a posts comments. In other words, everytime a new comment comes in on a post, they recieve an email with a link back to the story. In this way, conversation is maintained and people are reminded to come back. To me, this is the single most important plugin that every blog should have. Go ahead and comment on this entry and click the subscribe checkbox!

In Series is my latest favorite plugin. I’ve been using it here at Technosailor for a few months now. For people who write series of posts, as I do, this plugin will include a table of contents in every series post to the other posts in the series. Readers don’t have to click around to figure out where the next parts are and the cumbersome part of going back and manually editing each post in a series to provide links to the other parts is eliminated. This also provides a great automated way of internally linking boosting a blog’s SEO juice.

Landing Sites is one of those plugins that smacks you on the head and reminds you that you are a mere mortal. It “sniffs” where a visitor is coming from and if they come from search engines, it presents the visitor with possible other blog entries based on the search terms they were looking for. It’s all about giving options because maybe, just maybe, Google included a result that wasn’t really what the visitor was looking for. If you can provide the visitor options, then you increase the chance of stickiness.

Popularity Contest is a plugin that does as it sounds – it records popularity of posts. In this way, it’s easy to display, say in the sidebar, your 5 most popular posts for visitors to click through to. Putting your best foot forward is important for stickiness.

Lessons in Management: Underpromise, Overdeliver

However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results. -Sir Winston Churchill

Everyone has a boss. It doesn’t matter if you’re the person taking orders at a drive through or a CEO of a multinational company. Everyone reports to somebody in someway.

The CEO has to go before the board and answer questions. Someone once described such a meeting as a group of “scary men with pencils”.

As I’ve matured into my role as Director of Technology, I not only deal with the people who work under me everyday, but I also concern myself with my own chain of command. Regularly, I am questioned about a deliverable or project.

When you underpromise on a task, and you overdeliver results, you’re a star. Your team looks great, you look great and most importantly, you demonstrate that you can be trusted and relied upon.

While I don’t want to get into politics, the example of President George W. Bush comes to mind. He may be the CEO of the country, the board is Congress and shareholders are American citizens. When he presented the Iraq war, he overpromised results (America would be greeted as liberators, Iraq would be a bastion of democracy in the Middle East, etc, Weapons of Mass Destructio in huge stockpiles, etc), and four years later sits with an abysmal approval rating after underdelivering on results.

Politics aside, my tendency is to provide a worst case scenario as a way of managing expectations. This provides buffer and it makes us look like stars when we beat expectations!

Why We Hired Mark Jaquith

There are subject matter experts; then there are Subject Matter Experts™. Mark Jaquith is a Subject Matter Expert™. Rarely do companies get the opportunity to get the caliber of talent that embodies Mark. So, naturally, we’re thrilled to announce that Mark is joining the b5media ranks this Friday (June 1).

For those of you who don’t know Mark, he is in the top three (I’d say) WordPress developers in the world, and plays a key role in the creation of new features that go into the core. He has commit access to the core. He doesn’t just know WordPress; he helped to create much of it. His intimate knowledge of what WordPress can do is what made him so desirable.

Back in February, we began to seriously look at the needs of the technology team. We evaluated what we wanted to do and what it would take to get there. I began scoping out the WordPress development community and decided to contact two people. Brian Layman has already told you of his experiences. He was one candidate. I reached out to Mark, even though I was convinced that he wanted to remain independent or go to work for Automattic. I was surprised and thrilled when he seemed interested.

In the end, we made offers to both of our candidates and they both accepted.

Mark Jaquith: “I’m excited to be joining the b5media team because they share my belief in the personal publishing revolution as well as my passion for the community-driven software that makes it possible.”

With Mark coming on board, I wanted to explain a feeling I’ve had for a long time. Many people think that working on free software on a voluntary basis is a waste of time. They would prefer to get paid to work on a large development team and put out mediocre projects. It’s not necessary to take ownership of the code because it’s simply a “project” or a “contract” and the manager can take the hits. It’s another thing to stick your neck out there, buy into a project, put your everything into it and come away having notoriety.

Being a dedicated open source developer can turn you into a Subject Matter Expert™ if:

  1. You’re dedicated to the projects
  2. You’re consistent in your methods
  3. You’re available to the community

Mark has been all three and I knew that by simple observation over a long period of time – much like bloggers who have figured out that their blog can be their resumé.

We make no secret about our loyalty to WordPress. We are as powered by WordPress as companies can come. I think perhaps the only thing that is not powered by WordPress is our business cards (and we are trying to figure out how to do that so stay tuned!). With the addition of Mark (and Brian), we now have the capability to extend the platform into other non-blog applications and stretch its abilities.

Welcome aboard, Mark!

Added: Incidentally, Mark and others on the team have posted about this as well.

Mark Jaquith himself says:

Aaron Brazell (previously known to me) from b5media contacted me in late March about a position they had available. He sort of floated it out there, not even knowing if I’d be interested in taking on a full time job, as opposed to staying freelance. The timing couldn’t have been better. Although I enjoy my freelance work, I had reached a point where I would have to hire employees or subcontractors in order to expand the business, and my paid work was starting to reduce the amount of time I could spend contributing to WordPress core. Aaron’s e-mail also came shortly after the loss of my sister. As cheesy as this sounds, it gave me hope. It gave me something to be excited about.

He clarifies how this affects his WordPress contributions on his WordPress.com blog:

My contributions to WordPress will continue to be made using my independent judgement. All changes that b5media wants to go into WordPress will have to go through the proper channels, as they always have. They won’t get any special consideration. If it’s not right for WordPress, it won’t go in.

I only have one thing to say to this: Thank God he spelled the company name correctly! Sheesh!

Jeremy notes the difficulty in hiring as a startup and comments about Mark:

Over the last 8 months or so I’ve started growing into the role of CEO. And during that time one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that hiring in a startup is really, really hard!

Now it’s not that I hadn’t done hiring before. But I’d done it in larger companies. Companies where “œgood enough” was often just that. If people had the energy we could train them, and if they had the skills we could mould them. But in a startup, you need people who are exceptionally skilled, totally passionate, completely bought into the company and who really, really fit the team.

For us, Mark Jaquith was all of that and more.

For the official announcement, check out the b5media blog.

Lessons in Management: Get Your Hands Dirty

It’s hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse. -Adlai Stevenson

Looking back on other jobs I’ve had, the managers I have always had the most respect for and consider to be “the best” managers I’ve had have been the ones that don’t mind getting their hands dirty. On the flip side, managers who simply delegate all responsibilities and never “do anything” – or at least that is the perception – are the ones that are impotent leaders.

As I’ve waded through the the transition into senior management, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time looking back on my own personal history and asking myself what those great managers would have done. It’s not a surprise that I’m most at ease working with my team than simply directing them in what to do.

There is a difference between leadership and management. My goal is to be the best damn leader I can be – and truth be told, that is a learning experience.

A couple years ago, Mel Gibson came out with the movie We Were Soldiers, the story of the first battle that the United States was involved with in Vietnam. Mel Gibson played Lt. Col. Hal Moore who commanded the platoon featured in the movie. A quote that sticks with me to this day (and is appropriate on this Memorial Day): “I can’t promise you that I will bring you all home alive. But this I swear, before you and before Almighty God, that when we go into battle, I will be the first to set foot on the field, and I will be the last to step off, and I will leave no one behind. Dead or alive, we will all come home together. So help me, God.”

A manager that is not willing to be in the mud with his troops is not a manager I want to work for. The best guys I’ve worked for were not afraid to be in the mud with me. That sticks with me. I hope I demonstrate it too.

Lessons in Management: Take Ownership

When you confront a problem you begin to solve it. -Rudy Giuliani

When you own a house, you end up paying for everything. You pay for the new roof you have to put on. You pay for the deck off the back. You pay for the swimming pool. And you pay when your foundation is cracked and needs to be sealed. You pay because you own.

I’ve found in management that passing the buck doesn’t work overly well. Respect is not earned when you don’t take responsibility as the manager. When your team falls abysmally short of expectations, guess what? It’s your fault. When your team implements a clear new strategy that is a win-win for everybody, guess what? You take the credit.

As a manager, you’re paid to get your team coordinated to get a job done. Leadership, though, requires that the job not only be done but that you be the buffer between your employees and your bosses. It’s your job to absorb fecal gravity. You do know what fecal gravity is, don’t you?

In my role, I talk to the various members of my team every day. I ask them what they need from me. How I can help them do their job. I listen to their expert opinions, ask questions and make decisions. Sometimes I get to take the credit, but sometimes I get to take the fecal gravity.

Lessons in Management: Push the Limit

Hell, there are no rules here–we’re trying to accomplish something. -Thomas Edison

Over the past eight months, the tech team at b5media has accomplished amazing things. We created a new corporate website in under 2 weeks. We’ve figured out how to fix problems of scaling. We’ve created internal tools for our VCs to see our performance. We’ve migrated nearly 200 blogs to new templates using tools specially designed to get the job done.

We’ve performed amazingly well, and I didn’t do most of it.

In eight months on the job, I’ve been asked to accomplish tasks, many of which have seemed impossible on timelines that are unreal. I wish I could say we always met the deadlines, but the truth is that we haven’t. Sometimes we miss.

However, we never say no to a challenge. (At this point, someone at b5media will leave a comment pointing out a time I did say no, but alack and alas, that is part of the fun!). I’ve learned that we always perform better with a challenge.

As managers, if we don’t accept challenges and tackle them front on, we’re doomed to be another “has been” that does not stand out among the hundreds of thousands of other managers out there.

Tangent: When I interview a management candidate, I look for these qualities in whatever form they come. How do they perform under pressure? What near impossible feats have they accomplished, no matter how insignificant they may seem.

You seem, to be a great manager you need to push the limit. You need to be willing to challenge the status quo or expect to die in mediocrity. I don’t want to be mediocre. Do you?