Working the Room

I love Gary Vaynerchuk. He is possibly my favorite person in social media. It could be his New York style, or his common sense, practical content.

Gary gets it. He gets it in a way that very few other people, even in social media get it. I believe this stems from a lack of pretentiousness that drives him. He is who he is, and he’s focused solely on “the hustle” – the drive to build his brand and make money.

When Gary puts out a video, people listen. Because he knows what he is talking about.

We’ve talked a lot about brands and marketing here. I’ve talked about the trust and transparency factor. How if your customers can relate to you, because you’re transparent, they are going to do more business with you. How if your customers don’t trust you, your brand is worthless because you don’t control the value of your brand – they do!

Gary points out in one of his recent videos that brands of the past succeeded on “presentations” – that is ads, and marketing. They went where the eyeballs were. No one ever got to engage with the brand other than to buy the product. But, he argues, brands of tomorrow will succeed by “working the room” and talking to their customers because social media has changed the game.

Enjoy some Garyvee!

There and Back Again: Top 10 Blogs to Explore

I was asked by the Editor of blogs.com to join an ongoing project where they poll some of the top bloggers (Marc Canter, Chris Anderson of Wired, Marc Andressen of Ning, etc). Somehow, I got on that list of bloggers.

The point was to provide Top 10 blogs for their readers to read… sometimes on a special topic, other times more generalized. Blogs.com published this Top 10 List yesterday.

For those who have not adopted RSS reading and subscribing yet, consider opening a free Google Reader account and begin subscribing to blogs like these and mine  – you never have to remember to go visit a site then; Reader just automatically shows you new content when they appear.

Without further adieu (and in no particular order):

Read Write Web – a tech news analysis site. They do less reporting of the news and more hard hitting “what’s it mean to me” kind of writing. Also, maybe my chief competitor.

Chris Brogan – Well connected, and all about helping people understand the nature of online relationships and community.

Fred Wilson – an extremely savvy investor (Venture Capital) and principal partner at Union Square Ventures in New York. Success stories include FeedBurner (acquired by Google), Twitter (open portfolio company), del.icio.us (acquired by Yahoo), etc. During hard economic times, Fred has been a sober and encouraging financial voice in the chaos.

Neatorama – is sort of a directory of wonderful things, with all due respect to Boing Boing who has adopted that tagline. It is all kinds of interesting things that the wrtiers have come across on the web or elsewhere.

Lifehacker – Lifehacker does a wonderful job of helping people discover technologies and tools that will make their lives more efficient. From email productivity, to Mac and Windows hacks, Lifehacker covers it all.

Textually – Those who know me, know I’m bullish on mobile. Mobile is the wave of the future and the web services that get this, are the ones that will be positioned to take the web into it’s next iteration when the economy comes back. Textually covers everything text messaging and SMS and does it well.

Digital Photography School
– As an intermediate photographer, I love Darren Rowse’ community approach to crowdsourching and crowdlearning at his DPS blog. I learn all kinds of things about lenses, bodies, aperture, lighting and exposure from lots of people who are also learning the art of photography.

The Schmuck Stops Here – is a local Baltimore sports blog written by Baltimore Sun sports columnist and radio personality, Peter Schmuck. Cue the jokes on his name, Peter is no schmuck and is very insightful on Ravens football (which is why I read him).

Venture Beat – is my token social media technology news blog. I like these guys. They are really objective and not assholes, like their competition.

Tech President – Tech President is a great non-partisan blog that is examining how web technologies are playing into presidential politics, and politics in general. With a web savvy President coming into office, TP is bound to continue to be a great read.

10 Things You Need To Know About WordPress 2.7

The saga of cheatsheets and reference sheets continues with this outline of the hot new WordPress 2.7 which will be released soon. Like WordPress 2.5, this is a radical release. Like WordPress 2.5, the bulk of the changes affect the WordPress admin. Unlike WordPress 2.5, however, this is not merely an update of the backend but a complete rebuilding.

Termed “Crazyhorse” at the beginning of the cycle, the WordPress admin is the result of complete thinking outside the box, research and user testing. The concept began as “Let’s throw everything away that we assume to be proper and correct and see what we can come up with when we have no preset conditions”.

The result is a semantically, aesthetically and structurally different WordPress than you’ve ever known before. This is not your grandma’s WordPress!Vertical Menus

Vertical Menus

The first thing you will notice when you login to WordPress 2.7 for the first time is the new menu layout. Without a doubt it’s going to throw you for a loop and you’re going to hate it. As usual, I’ve run development versions of WordPress for much of the development cycle and let me tell you that this change, early on, almost pushed me away from WordPress – a move that would be earth-shatteringly huge.

Props to Jane Wells, Liz Danzico and the Happy Cog and the entire Automattic team for really creating a sexy interface. The new vertical paradigm is a direct result of the Crazyhorse testing, though, and it has ultimately grown on me.

The navigation is comprised of top-level menu items taking users to the most commonly used pages within the subset. For instance, clicking on Posts will take you to the Write screen. Accessing other menu items in the expandable subset can be achieved by clicking the down arrow for the subset.

Primary navigation items are Posts, Media, Links, Pages, Comments, Appearance, Plugins, Users, Tools and Settings and are intuitively grouped together. The Vertical navigation bar can also be minimized to the left for those that like a pristine feel.

Dashboard

The second thing you will notice, after the initial shock of the vertical menu, is the dashboard. Semantically, the dashboard is extraordinary. By clicking on the gray “Screen Options” button in the upper right, you can gain access to the Dashboard configuration panel where you can check and uncheck the modules you want displayed in your own dashboard. Incidentally, this is also a per-user option now, so each of your members can configure this in a way that makes sense for them.

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In addition, plugin authors now have much more flexibility in developing modules (dashboard widgets) for the dashboard, eliminating complicated semantic problems that existed before for developers.

QuickEdit and wp-admin Comment Reply

picture-61WordPress continues to try to make it simple for bloggers to get in and get out with as little impact or effort as possible. Enter the QuickEdit. Besides the fact that every post has quick access links to common activities, there is a new QuickEdit link under each post title on your “Manage” screen. QuickEdit gives you access to most of the “non-content” portions of a post such as author, post title, tags, timestamp, etc.

In addition to QuickEdit, there is also quick comment replying. Yes, this means you can do it directly from within wp-admin. This is particularly useful for people who get lots of comments and prefer to live within their admin screen. The beautiful thing is, by responding in this way, you will feed right into threaded comment replies (which I’ll talk more about in a bit).

Configurable Layouts

Taking a page from the new iGoogle and many years of configuration options from My Yahoo! etc, the entire dashboard and the post write screen can be customized to preference. That means every module and widget can be dragged and dropped, re-arranged and in some cases even removed. This is important because bloggers operate in different ways, have different tendencies and different needs.

For my purposes at Technosailor.com, for instance, Excerpts and tags are very important. As a result, both of these modules are prominently positioned above the fold to the right of the content box. Some themes rely heavily on the use of Custom Fields, so bloggers using these types of themes probably will want to have the Custom Fields quickly accessible.

Note: Plugin authors providing any additional modules to the write screen really need to ensure their plugin is compatible with the new paradigm. In fact, this goes for all plugin and theme authors. Your world has likely been altered. Modules added to the write screen could never be repositioned before, so unless you’ve been developing in parallel to WordPress 2.7 development, your plugin will need to be updated. Also note that the functionality of the plugin itself is probably not affected, but the repositioning is. Nothing that will break a blog, but something that won’t fit in with the new admin concept.

Threaded Comments and Comment Paging

Threaded comments have been around for several years in the form of a variety of plugins. With the advent of commenting systems like DISQUS and Intense Debate, comment threading became more common place. It only made sense that threaded comments would become part of the core offering and denotes the first major innovation to the comment system in WordPress, well, ever.

The core development team didn’t stop there, though. Some folks get crazy amounts of comments per post (I’m looking squarely at Liz and Erin), so to ease the pain of mile long pages, WordPress has created Paged comments. That is, comments can be broken down into groupings of comments for easier digestion.

Note that to use these new features, theme developers will need to now support the new

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wp_list_comments()

for comment threading and the

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previous_comments_link()

and

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next_comments_link()

template tags. Review the default theme for example usage.

Media Page

WordPress continues to push ahead on media management. In WordPress 2.5, they gave us a new Flash-based image uploader and galleries. While all this was useful, it was rather difficult to manage images without uploading photos and media into a post (even if that post were to be tossed after the upload was done).

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It was also difficult to manage that media after the fact. Which post was this one image uploaded to? Hmm.

Now Media has its own management page, where bloggers can do all their uploading, editing, etc.

Update: It was drawn to my attention that the media page is actually new in WordPress 2.6. False Alarm on this, though the new administrative interface makes it much more accessible and usable than before.

Complete Plugin Installation and Management

Possibly the biggest leap forward for this release is in plugin management. For years, bloggers have asked for a way to manage their plugins without having to use FTP and muck around on the server in an environment they didn’t know anything about.

Regardless of your technical expertise, I’m sure you are going to find the plugin installer a lifesaver. It is now possible to search and browse the WordPress plugin repository from within wordpress admin. Search by tag cloud, keyword search or simply browse popular plugins. Based on the new plugin upgrade technology brought about in earlier releases of WordPress, you can now install a plugin directly as well.

In addition, you can do an entire WordPress upgrade now using this same technique. When you get the nag that a new update is available, give it a whirl. Enter your FTP server, username and password (it’s not sent anywhere!) and do an automatic upgrade. But do make a backup before you try it, just in case something horrible were to happen, as Murphy dictates it sometimes can.

And as an additional bonus, if your server supports the PHP ssh2 PECL module, you can get SSH/SFTP installs as well which is actually even more secure.

The keen eye of the developers among us may have caught the blatant inclusion of PHP5 functionality, a marked – and overt – departure from the PHP4 only mantra that has ruled WordPress development since its inception.

Sticky Posts

Bloggers have been calling for “sticky post” functionality for some time. That is, the ability to designate a post as “sticky” and keep it at the top, regardless of how old it is.

WordPress has now added sticky post ability which includes the addition of the new conditional template tag

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is_sticky()

.

Nathan Rice has a fantastic write-up on sticky posts in WordPress 2.7.

Template Tags

As mentioned throughout the previous eight highlights, there are a variety of new template tags.

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wp_list_comments()

,

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previous_comments_link()

and

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next_comments_link()

all deal with the new commenting system. The

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is_sticky()

conditional tag is used with the Loop,

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$wp_query

and sticky posts. Use for styling, perhaps.

Not yet covered is the

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wp_page_menu()

tag which will output a list of pages, generally in unordered list format, that can be used for creating stylized page navigation elements.

Finally, yours truly contributed

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get_search_form()

which I hope is widely adopted by theme developers. Currently,

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searchform.php

is included in a theme and is generally a typical form for search. It’s also usually ripped directly from the default theme. It just works.

This behavior remains. If searchform.php exists in the theme, it will be used. However, theme authors can now use the

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get_search_form()

template tag to do the same thing. And it is pluggable by filter for those who’d like to create plugins that hijack the WordPress default search.

Comments API

Most users will not get the benefit of this immediately, because none of the offline blog editors support this functionality… yet (though the WordPress iPhone app undoubtedly will completely support all of the XML-RPC API, including comments, immediately). However, the API has now been built to allow offline editors like Windows Live Writer or Marsedit to perform comment moderation and editing from an offline client.

With this new functionality, it is in essence opening up even more of WordPress to be managed offline. Desktop apps, web-apps or even mobile devices can now be turned into full featured offline blog management. Score.

Bonuses

I don’t usually offer bonus material. It’s 10 things, right? Right, but this time is different. There is so much under the hood to be excited about, so let me tease you with a little bit of it.

  • New tag management page
  • Close comments on old post
  • Semantic CSS classes throughout
  • Buggy 404 page fixes… Does not report Page not found when a legitimate author archive, for instance, is loaded but the author has no posts. This has been an annoyance to me for years and I finally decided to submit code to fix it.

I Love Social Networking, But . . .

make-haiku.jpgAs the song goes, it don’t pay my bills. So I signed on with a startup that does. Hopefully, I can do both (time permitting). But talk about two different worlds . . . Hardware, not software. Distinctly un-social (for now). Government, not commercial. Business, not consumer. And funded, not — well, self-funded.

I’m working in semiconductors again (you may recall I cut my teeth there)– and very next-generation. And managing programs for a company working (for now) on government contracts may not sound sexy. . . but the work we’re doing is awesome in every sense. Eons away from the silicon chips found in laptops and phones, what we build is for big power switching. We’re talking big.

And did I mention that it’s well funded? Primarily through SBIR grants, a thought-provoking (read: nondilutive) alternative to VC funding — even in good times — if you’ve got some unique IP.

In times like these, it seems like a godsend.

But my reorientation was (still is, in fact) intense. It’s the main reason for my blogging hiatus. Coming up to speed on nearly a dozen programs. Managing them using MSFT Project . . . which threw me back onto Windows XP . . . on a Lenovo laptop . . . and got my introduction to (drum roll): Sharepoint! We social-network app developers spend most of our time trying to make our interfaces intuitive and user friendly — it’s about love, not money — and a company with more money than Croesus creates the most convoluted, nonintuitive and just plane murky interface. Did they put a sadist in charge of navigation?

Still, I believe it will all be worthwhile. Why? Because we’re working on something that will be a game changer. In a non-technical word, we’re building — inventing — devices that will be the key enablers of alternative energy systems. Large scale adaptation of wind, solar, and energy storage systems — and their efficient connection to the grid — will absolutely require the kind of super semiconductor devices we’re producing.

That makes me feel good.

Okay, a paycheck makes me feel good, too. But I’m really trying to be deeper here. It goes back to when I saw Tim O’Reilly’s keynote. Not the one at Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco in April. That was all good times. But Tim’s tune changed after that. By Web 2.0 Expo New York in September, O’Reilly was downright somber (and news hadn’t even broken about the financial meltdown). Global warming. The U.S. losing its edge in science and technology. A growing income gap. “And what are the best and the brightest working on?” he asked, displaying slides of SuperPoke on Facebook, and the iPhone application iBeer. “Do you see a problem here?”ibeer1

I did. In fact, it been brewing (sorry) in me for a while.

I consoled myself saying sure, the best and the brightest should be working on world-changing things . . . good thing I’m not one of them.

Then, eerily, I was sitting in church, and heard it again. (A calling?) Not to get all ‘religious’ here . . . but for someone who doesn’t, ahem, make it every week, last Sunday I was there to hear the Parable of the Talents. (I learned, too, that talent originally referred to a unit of weight of silver — value, as in money, like fractions of shekels). But the message was clear: it’s a sin not to use your God-given gifts.

I’ll be doing that. But I’ll still be applying some other skills to make the world a better (funner?) place with CHALLENJ. Just in my off hours.

Adobe Selected as Video Platform for MLB.com for the Next Two Years

Adobe and Major League Baseball announced today that they have signed an agreement for Major League Baseball to power all their video content, including the live MLB TV content that is wildly popular.

The announcement indicated that video content will also be available offline with use of the new, yet popular, AIR platform.

Competitors to the Adobe Flash platform include Microsoft Silverlight and a variety of Ajax/Javascript frameworks, though one SproutCore seems to be Apple’s choice for rich media applications. It is unclear if it will develop into something more full-featured with the ability to handle video.

Exporting Textile2 Content with WordPress

A friend of mine approached me recently to help him out. He had tons of archives in his WordPress blog that had been created using the Textile2 plugin. Textile is a form of markup that is wiki-like. In other words, it’s not straight HTML. The Textile2 plugin interprets the markup and renders HTML that browsers can understand when the post is actually called.

I created a small plugin for him that, on WordPress export, translates Textiled content into standard HTML format. It depends on the Textile2 plugin, so if you are going to use this, make sure you have that.


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<?php
/*
Plugin Name: Textile Friendly Export
Version: 1.0
Plugin URI: http://technosailor.com
Description: Translates Textile 2 Content to HTML on WXR Export
Author: Aaron Brazell
Author URI: http://technosailor.com
Disclaimer: This Plugin comes with no warranty, expressed or implied
*/

function textile2_export( $content )
{
    global $myTextile2;
   
    if( !class_exists('Textile2_New') )
        return $content;
   
    return $myTextile2->do_textile( $content );
}
add_filter( 'the_excerpt_export', 'textile2_export' );
add_filter( 'the_content_export', 'textile2_export' );
?>

Screenshots from WordPress 2.7

The upcoming release of WordPress is around the corner, and we’ll be covering the things you will need to know about it, as we always do.

However, this is such a big release (game changer, at that!) that I wanted to tease you with some screenshots. I’ll let your imagination run wild (and you can go Google around for what others are saying). Make sure you are subscribed to this blog so you get the big release cheat sheet as soon as it comes out.

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Update: I have released the big writeup on WordPress 2.7 now, so go check it out.

Obama Web Exec Watch: ICANN Board Member Joins FCC Transition Team

In case there is any doubt about Obama’s committment to forward thinking web technologies and tapping some of the minds behind it, we will continue to document members of the web community who are entering the Obama administration or transition team.

Last week, I mentioned that Obama had named Google.org’s Sonal Shah and Launchbox Digital cofounder Julius Chenakowski to his transition team. Within two days, Google CEO Eric Schmidt joined Obama’s Economic Advisory Board.

Today, the count goes to 4 with the announcement that Susan Crawford, a former board member of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, has joined the FCC transition committee. ICANN is responsible for the allocation of IP addresses on the internet and has oversight over domain registrars.

Crawford is also a University of Michigan Law Professor with a focus on internet law.

This will be a critically important nomination, if the assignment carries over from the transition team to the administration, because Net Neutrality is coming back with a vengeance.

The History of My Life According to Social Media

This might be an unusual post for Technosailor.com, but I want to write it . Mainly, the point of posting it here as opposed to a personal site is really to demonstrate the power of social media in bridging real life connections with real life people. There’s still, believe it or not, a stigma about the web – that it’s still some sort Photo by Jared Goralnickof awkward, weird place filled with creepy people. No one who reads this blog feels that way, but some people still do. :-)

My life has been a very diverse life. From my Christian upbringing in the home of a pastor, to my far-flung career of travel, social media and web technology. It’s filled with details that largely escape people who are not, well, me.

The Early Years

I was born on September 6, 1976 to Tom Brazell and Judy Brazell. I am the oldest of three kids. My sister, Corrine and brother, Tim.

My dad was a pastor from a pentecostal background and at the ripe old age of eight, I found myself in Zaïre (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) where I spent 4 years growing up with guys like James Dodzweit and Jamie Butler.

High School

I was somewhat of a social outcast in my high school years and most of the people that remember me from high school, in Annapolis, MD, don’t necessarily remember me positively. That said, Facebook has done a tremendous job of reconnecting me with some of that past and positive relationships are being built after 15 years.

Guys like Eric Funderburk I remember fondly. Eric wrote in my senior yearbook, “Time is our friend, just like fire”. I don’t know if he knew the wisdom of that statement at the time, but I’d venture he realizes that truth today.

Mrs. Wolfe was my English teacher, and would probably be proud of my work here if she knew it existed. :)

I had a crush on several girls in high school, as well. Girls like Heather, Stephanie, and even Rachel (who was always more of a sister anyway) were in this mix, as those high school things go. Only one of them, Stephanie, I am really keeping in contact with in a so non-crushy way (she’s married and I’m recovering).

Collegish

Most people don’t believe me when I tell them I didn’t go to college. I actually did go to a year of community college right out of high school and got bored. Years later, I’d return to get some credit but got bored because I could teach every one of the classes I was taking. However, I also did go to Elim Bible Institute with the intention of following in my dad’s footprints and becoming a minister. Didn’t happen and I don’t regret that.

While I was at Elim, I made a number of other friends and emerged from my socially awkward state that I lived in in high school. Among the friends, was my very close friend who I’d really love to be in contact with more, Fred Englehardt. Today, Fred works in the Albany City Schools. Eric Mellert is too conservative for my liking (we sparred a few times about Barack Obama on Facebook), is a super good guy and is living in Florida with his beautiful wife Shannon. Jennifer is apparently my neighbor in Alexandria, and we have yet to reconnect.

New York City

After a year at Elim, I headed to the Big Apple and worked with a non-profit dealing with the homeless in New York City. Among the relationships I built there was with my dear friend Dave Rowe (Papi!) who is now living in Hartford, CT and we still keep in touch occasionally. I’ll probably get an email from him after this post goes up because he lurks. :)

Modern Life

After NYC, I moved back to Maryland where, in time, I met Nicole who I would eventually marry. That would last eight years. During this time, I entered the web space while working at Northrop Grumman with guys like Zak, Sean and Anthony. I’d then move on to b5media and reunite with long time friend and web-head Jeremy Wright. Along the way, I’d make other friends like Christina Jones, Chad Randall.

In a parallel universe, I worked in the WordPress world where I met guys like Chris Pearson, Jeffro, and Matt Mullenweg. Some crossover existed between WordPress and b5media. For instance, I worked directly with Brian Layman and Mark Jaquith and maintain solid relationships with each of them to date.

Eventually, I would leave b5media and become an independent. I work closely with Micah and the entire Lijit team as my primary, full time client.

I can’t even begin to mention all the people I’ve met along the way. Likewise, I can’t mention every relationship that has started in real life and somehow made it into online life.

What I will say is this stuff is a game changer. It bridges the gap between those in real life, and those online and having that benefit changes the way everything is done. Now, more than ever before, it’s possible to do business, find business partners, find love, rebuild old relationships and extend personal brand. Now, more than ever before, everything is possible.

* Photo by Jared Goralnick