The Scoble Train Derails

I like Robert Scoble alot. I wish I knew him better. I’ve met the guy at a variety of industry events and he’s a very personable guy. Disarmingly so. His contagious laugh is sure to put everyone at ease. And he really has a firm handle on social marketing. Just ask him about “starfish marketing” (I don’t know if thats what he calls it, but it fits) – an approach to marketing that involves promotion across social networks.

So don’t get me wrong, I really, really respect the guy as a thinker and as an early adopter.

However, I think he lost his Valium at Gnomedex. Since Gnomedex, I’ve been, well, uncomfortable with him. He’s been way over the top obnoxious and critical. It’s unlike him, in my opinion. Let’s look at a timeline:

  • Aug 9, 2007 – Chuck Olsen floats rumor of Scoble leaving PodTech on Twitter. Andrew Baron jumps on the story (unconfirmed, later retracted)
  • Aug 13, 2007 – Scoble takes a week off after some depression. Cites rumor-mongerors about PodTech departure
  • Aug 16, 2007 – PodTech CEO John Furrier steps down. The COO, James McCormick, replaces him. Scoble is passed over. To be fair, I don’t know if Scoble would even want a CEO job. Doesn’t seem to be “him”.
  • Aug 22, 2007 – Exchange over Twitter between Chris Pirillo and Scoble. Scoble smacks Pirillo by saying Gnomedex was a mediocre event that didn’t have TED-quality speakers (one of many Tweets that night). But, it also doesn’t have a TED-like pricetag. Chris is already on the defensive due to events transpiring in and at Gnomedex and in the back channels. Scoble piles on the man who he stood with at his wedding as Best Man just a few months ago. This doesn’t communicate objectivity in criticizing a colleague, it demonstrates “ass-like” tendencies.
  • Aug 27, 2007 – Scoble acknowledges the backlash he is receiving in a flippant sort of way.
  • Aug 29, 2007 – Today. For good measure, I throw in one of his articles where Scoble continues his “nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I think I’ll go eat worms” routine.

Now remember, I like Scoble. I don’t want to see him trashed, nor do I want to see his professional impulses damaged. But if I were Scoble, I’d be stepping back and wondering if I were doing something that was alienating his supporters. It seems like there is a general swing in opinion that is not in his favor and he can take the “everyone else is wrong” approach, or he can re-jig his gears and tweak whatever it is that he is doing wrong. If I have to guess, he’s talking too much and listening to little. Ego will kill.

I [heart] Virgin America

I have yet to fly it, but based on the buzz and the promo material, Virgin America may just be my airline of choice. Everything a geek could love, but no other airtline in the States provides:

  • Virgin America is the first U.S. airline with mood lighting.
  • There are 3000 MP3s onboard every flight.
  • You can plug in to 110v power at every seat.
  • You can order fresh food when you want it, from the screen at your seat.
  • Red, our in-flight entertainment system, has over 25 pay-per-view Hollywood movies on demand.
  • Virgin America is a cashless airline. Place your order, swipe your card, and you’re done.

Notably, a flight from Dulles to San Francisco round trip is coming in at $278 – 50% cheaper than a similar flight on United.

Kevin Burton has more.

Movable Type 4 Review

Movable Type 4 has been out for several weeks now and I’ve been waiting for my opportunity to get it installed and a blog moved over. Initially, as demonstrated by the video I posted demonstrating the installation of the software, I planned on moving my sports podcast, Suicide Fan over, but I quickly realized that that would be hard to do without a patch to MT’s core. PodPress is the plugin I use for podcasting and it stores all the relevant details, including the link to the MP3 file, in custom fields. While custom fields (or post meta, as it is called) is included in WXR, Movable Type 4 makes no effort to retain this data. Shame, shame.

So, instead, I’ve moved AaronBrazell.com, which was previously hosted on WordPress.com, over to Movable Type 4 instead.

I have quite a lot of feedback for the Movable Type 4 team based on this experience. I hope they hear my recommendations, take them seriously and address the issues as they make sense for the MT community. I will also include recommendations for the WordPress community as I feel that MT4 really does handle quite a lot very, very well.

Handle Post Meta Better

As I indicated above, I ran into tremendous frustration with porting my blog from WordPress to Movable Type when the blog relied on custom fields/post meta. I realize that Movable Type does not yet support any kind of post meta outside of “Keywords”, “Tags” (how are these different semantically?) and Categories. WordPress is the clear winner here recognizing that none of these are “metadata” really and are in fact staples of entries. With that in mind, MT4 supports no metadata. Which of course hinders the ability to reclaim WordPress users. Change this, SixApart.

Setup Fixes

I’m still disgruntled about Movable Type setup routine. It’s easier than it used to be but it is far from easy and frustrated me as a technologically competent guy. For instance, why can’t the setup wizard trim whitespace from around database login info. I don’t know how it is done in Perl, but in PHP it’s as simple as

1
trim($string);

.

Useful Error Messages

I ran into an issue when dealing with imports of WXR files generated by an older version of WordPress. It seems WordPress did not do a great job of ensuring their export files were truly UTF-8 encoded, a necessity for XML files. MT4 recognized this and killed the import with a cryptic Perl error. Not being a Perl guy, I had no idea what was going on. Fortunately, I realized that I could open the WXR file in Textmate and re-save it as UTF-8. This can be done with other text editors as well. After saving as UTF-8, the import ran smoothly.

Which reminds me, MT4 devs, don’t duplicate entries on import. If the import goes halfway through and fails, then when I re-import, don’t duplicate my entries, pleasethankyouverymuch!.

Instead of displaying Perl error messages (which in theory and a different context, could give away useful system info for hackers), point me to why the error occurred in the first place and maybe provide me with some useful pointers for fixing it. So I don’t waste my precious time. Pleasethankyouverymuch.

Registration and Comments

I don’t really know where to start with this but it certainly pissed me off. In order for the comment form to be visible to visitors, I had to specifically set Anonymous commenters. Why? Make me go out of my way to NOT have anonymous commenters.

Secondly, even if I have anonymous commenters, the moment I choose other authentication methods (Movable Type native, OpenID, Vox, LiveJournal or TypeKey), the comment form disappears and is replaced with a login link.

I repeat… this happens even if I have specifically checked “Anonymous Comments”. This should not be.

Permalink Obfuscation

Fortunately I only have a handful of entries on my blog, because none of the permalinks included in the WXR file (

1
 

) are respected by MT. Everything is mashed together killing any hope of retaining SEO benefits from the blog. This MUST be fixed. It is completely unacceptable!

Sucky Themes

The MT4 team has bragged about the number of themes included with MT4. While there are certainly a number of themes, there really are only 3 – “Cityscapes” which includes a dozen or so of an identical theme with different cartoony city skylines that mostly look the same, “Minimalist” which is an old MT standby theme that has been slapped a half dozen times with different color schemes – but the same layout! – and the Unity themes which are a handful of other boring similar structure themes.

Also, where is the community contributed themes? Why has no one in the MT community released MT4 themes? Was MT4 that much of a surprise? Was MT4 not available as a beta software weeks before it went final? Where is the community? Where are the designers?

Now of course, I have some recommendations for WordPress as MT4 is doing some killer things that WordPress is simply ignoring.

Admin Interface

Movable Type’s admin interface is just plain sexy. I’m telling you it kills WordPress up and down and into next week. We have waited far too long for decent changes to the WordPress admin. Yes, I am aware of Happy Cog recommendations and changes that are coming but the reality is that we should not have waited this long. WordPress’ admin interface is amateur, shoddy and hacked together code. Code is Poetry my foot. Too many inline styles, hacked together HTML and does not have developer guidelines for “where plugin pages should go”, for instance.

Integrated Theme Management

WordPress’ theme management is not “bad” – it’s just that MT4’s is so much better. Now as mentioned, MT4’s theme selection sucks, but why can’t WordPress implement a nice AJAX theme loader/viewer/column option selection routine for themes not necessarily present on the server. Granted I may not know what I’m talking about as all the themes currently available for MT4 are actually on the server, but it seems like this should be a nice feature – with proper security/sanitization in mind.

Shut Your Trap!

Too many WordPress kool-aid drinkers have come out slamming MT4 and defending WordPress. Yes, WordPress is a better platform. You know that and I know that. But MT4 is a significant improvement and if you’re not careful, your arrogance will drive people back to MT. MT certainly does things better than WordPress so you have nothing to shout about. What is good for the GPL/Open Source community is good for WordPress. I recommend you install Movable Type, keep an open mind about what they are doing and see if we can get some ideas (including code slurping!) from them.

Overall, I think WordPress is better. I think the software and community have some growing up to do. SixApart has quietly snuck up and drawn about even in the race for a better software and if WordPress is not careful, public opinion could swing the other way.

Biometric Airport Security

As a traveller, one of the biggest peeves I have is waiting in line to clear security – especially if I’m running late! Personally, I think the TSA is a bit overboard with their tactics, but I do think they’ve gotten better. On several recent trips, I had bad experiences waiting for security. Flying to Toronto in May, I experienced the longest line I had ever seen at Baltimore Washington International Airport. Coming home from San Francisco for WordCamp, Terminal 3 that houses United Airlines was a madhouse as the line extended out the door. In Seattle last week, the TSA employee was listening to hip hop music on his speaker phone while checking people’s boarding passes. And don’t get me started on the boarding pass checker driolling passengers on their age and destinations. Check the boarding pass and ID and pass them through, man!

San Francisco International Airport just announced biometric “speed passes” (press release) where for $100 you can register at Flyclear and bypass the long lines. That is, after the TSA has presecreened and approved the applicant and fingerprints and retina scans are taken.

I need one.

Clear technologies are in place or will be in place at a bunch of other airports: Albany, Cincinatti, Indianapolis, LaGuardia, Little Rock, New York JFK, Newark, Orlando, Reno, San Jose, and Westchester.

My only question is about the law of diminishing returns. What happens when most people have these speed passes? Do we then get speedier passes?

It's About the Dialog, Stupid!

Scoble shocked us (a bit) earlier in the week when he wrote that he was quitting blogging (again). It wasn’t that he was quitting blogging that was so startling. It was the reason for it that shook me a bit:

Tonight I looked over my Twitters and blogs. They are angry. Confrontational. Disturbed. Hurt. Dismayed.

Those are not words to describe someone in a state of mind to improve the world. Part of it is so many people are making stuff up about me and/or my employer without any care as to my feelings or the truth that I’ve got to get some distance. Over the weekend a variety of people said I had quit my job. Then another “A-list” blogger said I had been fired. Neither are true. Much of what I read over on that Silicon Valley gossip site lately isn’t true and they have demonstrated over and over that they really don’t care about the truth. It really depresses me cause I thought blogging would be a tool for humans to get smarter, not stupider. Depression isn’t fun.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly like seeing one of the world’s most notable mouthpieces speak these kinds of words. It’s just not right. Maybe it’s just the last bit of idealism in me that says the world shouldn’t be this way. Take a look now because the idealistic side of me only comes out a few times a year on weekends and holidays. :-)

Really though, the whole incident has cause me to take a step back and look at what I contribute to the blogosphere. It’s about the conversation and dialog, but I think I, along with other bloggers, have taken to flaming people, companies, ideas, concepts because it generates traffic.

I think I’m realizing that, although I haven’t been a flamebait kind of blogger overall, I’ve done my fair share and the trend is a destructive one. How can you expect to encourage the growth of our beloved internet ecosystem when everyone is so polarized. It’s like, how can Bush expect to have a productive government when the politics are so polarizing.

This should not be so.

This morning, Jeff Ascough quit blogging too. In his case, he was too busy. The startling thing is that a bunch of other photography bloggers followed suit within the span of a few hours. (Will post links as I get them – the email is in to my source on this). These bloggers, in most case, simply followed Jeff’s lead because they were not doing anything compelling with their blogs.

This should not be so. It’s about the dialog.

I’ve decided my posts will add value to the blogosphere. In most cases, I do not echo the Techmeme echo chamber. I unsubscribed to Valleywag. I reached out to Jason and Mahalo. I’ve had long conversations with Anil Dash from SixApart and even posted a video of me installing Movable Type – something that I hope helps their community, as well as encourages bloggers to reach across “party lines”.

If we can’t talk civilly, we probably should bow out of blogging altogether because at the end of the day, what makes the competitor better is good for all of us.

Movable Type 4 Setup Video

I took the time this evening to setup Movable Type 4. I believe in the open source movement and though MT was much alighned for going into “paid mode” for MT3 (and alienating many, many bloggers who were loyal MT users), they swung the other direction with MT4 by opening it up. Not only is it free and GPL, but it’s damn sexy.

I recorded a screencast of the setup routine. There’s a few embarassing moments in there (like when I couldn’t get database credentials right!) but in the end, it installed beautifully. The video is big in filesize and resolution. Recommend downloading it first. I wanted to capture details as I worked.

The blog that is moving over is Suicide Fan, my sports podcast. As lovely as our experiment with podcasts was, the blog was not overly successful in the network and it’s time to move on. Good time for MT4.

However, there’s still a few things I need to work out before I can actually switch.

  1. I need an MT4 podPress alternative in terms of Flash player
  2. I need a new theme. Obviously, I can’t take the b5 theme with me so it will be time to figure out a new one

Excellent Idea, Jason!

For as much crap as I’ve given Jason Calacanis over the years – ramped up most recently over “the Winer incident” at Gnomedex (I won’t link because I don’t want to focus on it and because this post is supposed to be positive), I have to give him my endorsement on his latest Mahalo idea – a Mahalo Ombudsman.

An Ombudsman is an intermediate go between, often used in the military as an ambassador from the military to the families of military members. In the Mahalo context, an Ombudsman would be someone who has a significant following in the tech/media blogging world and would monitor Mahalo’s search pages for neutrality as well as answer questions for the community.

Personally, the latter should be handled by the company as a whole. Jason should answer community questions. That aside, I can live with an Ombudsman doing it.

I’ve said of Mahalo that it would not work because Jason has a personality that has already polarized much of the blogosphere. The reality is that stepping out of the spotlight and allowing an Ombudsman have the spotlight would do wonders for disassociating him from the service which I still think is necessary. If folks see Calacanis in Mahalo, bad things will happen. But if folks see Mahalo as another tool to effectively search, research and find resources then the product is a winner.

This is a fantastic first step.

As critical as I have been to Jason (I resent that the one time I met him in person, I was an ass too!), the man is smart and I believe he recognizes the problem at hand and is sincere about addressing perceptions (or misperceptions, if you will).

I’m still not convinced about Mahalo, but if an Ombudsman were to be in place, I would be willing to give the benefit of the doubt. Hell, if I had the following that guys that he wants had – like Scoble or Jeff Jarvis, I might take it as an opportunity to look for my next job. Fortunately for b5media, I don’t have that following. :-)

Ravens Press Policy

This morning, I was shut down in the middle of a podcast recording at Baltimore Ravens training camp. During the video, my camera was pointed at me with a tree in the background. There were no fans, players, Ravens likeness, etc. There was no reason for a shutdown. But I was because I didn’t have a press pass – something that I had requested.

I escalated the issue to the Ravens Media Relations VP today who simply stated, “we do not credential websites unless they are National sites such as ESPN.com or CBSSportsline.com”.

Okay. Why?

This is an example of an organization who still doesn’t “get it”. It’s controlled by PR folks protecting their brand. They have not received the memo that the value of the brand is controlled not by the front office but by every fan, ticket holder and other type of customer. It’s a trust thing.

Just like CBS believes they can control their ratings if people don’t use TiVo or HP believing they were protecting their brand when they treated a customer stupidly.

Ironically, the Ravens are hiring for a New Media Manager position. Do they realize the irony? If you alienate bloggers, you alienate your base. You alienate powerful people who can make or break you.

In the end, it’s not so important that I be awarded press credentials for training camp. It’s that companies learn their base, the dynamic of trust in protecting brands and figure out how to navigate social media deftly and not deafly.

Besides, thanks to my hundreds of thousands of readers, Technosailor is not only a national website but a global one. :-)

Could you picture me in a Union?

I hate being part of an echo chamber, but the idea of a blogging union is crap. This was the concept initiated by a small group of bloggers at the Yearly Kos convention, a remarkably mundane group of left leaning dependophiles that believe socialized anything is good for business. A bloggers union will never happen. There’s no way. No how. No can do. Putting bathcasting aside, and taking into account the overly verbose and way too “VC pitch” analytics of Jeremy’s post (Spot the CEO! :-) ), I can only say that it will never happen.

Forget logistics – anyone who really understands bloggers know that we are anti-establishment. We are not cohesive (though we are groupies!). We are independent and don’t like being told how or what to do or when to do it. We don’t like any kind of governance except self-governance.

Even Gawker who are admittedly left leaning dependophiles (my words) call this issue insane:

We are about as pro-union as possible (particularly in this day and age) and even we find this to be a remarkably stupid idea.

Bonus thoughts from Gawker:

Jesus Christ. LABOR UNIONS ARE TACTICAL ARRANGEMENTS TO DEAL WITH MANAGEMENT, YOU UNEMPLOYED SADSACKS.

So why are people treating this thing like it’s real or… gasp… that it’s needed.

And a more meaningful, and certainly more puzzling question – why the hell is ABC News giving the concept play?

Madrak hopes that regardless the form, the labor movement ultimately will help bloggers pay for medical bills. It’s important, she said, because some bloggers can spend hours a day tethered to computers as they update their websites.

“Blogging is very intense “” physically, mentally,” she said. “You’re constantly scanning for news. You’re constantly trying to come up with information that you think will mobilize your readers. In the meantime, you’re sitting at a computer and your ass is getting wider and your arm and neck and shoulder are wearing out because you’re constantly using a mouse.”

WHAT?! So, let me get this straight. Bloggers… of whom a very small minority make it their primary bread winning job… want a union so they can pay for health insurance because they are stressed from having to do… work? I don’t buy this line of thinking.

The REAL intention here is access. Being that this is a concept being floated, sold and promoted by left leaning political bloggers – of which are aligned with labor unions, generally – they are hoping for Access. It’s all about access. It’s about press credentials. It’s about being able to cast a buzz worthy labor endorsement for the Democratic candidate for President.

Politics aside, why should the blogosphere – most of which are NOT political, much less activist lefty bloggers – have to be “used” by a small minority for benefits that only suit that small minority. Better yet, why can’t those seeking access consistently write notable content that separates them from the pack and allows them access based on merit. You know – like the rest of us do without a helping hand?