Category Archives: guest blogging

Aaron Brazell, guest blogging, Venture Files

Congress Moves to Rein in Illegal Wiretaps

The JUSTICE Act, short for the Judicious Use of Surveillance Tools in Counterterrorism Efforts Act, was brought to my attention today. The JUSTICE Act seeks to put constraints on the Bush-era USA Patriot Act and FISA Act Amendment which drove national security efforts here at home post-9/11.

In the past, I have been a very vocal critic of the previous administration and their liberal assumption of power not explicitly granted to them by the Constitution. Namely, the use of these powers was, in my book, impeachable offenses. That Administration has come and gone, but the PATRIOT Act and FISA still haunt us to this day.

We in the technology community should be alarmed.

The JUSTICE Act, however, brings some sanity to this process. I’ve read a significant portion of the bill (embedded below) and it goes a long way in improving the current situation that allows the government, based on their say so, to direct communications companies (cable, satellite, phone, wireless carriers, ISPs, etc) to hand over data on American citizens without warrant, and in a far-reaching and unfetter fashion. By placing investigations behind a veil of opaquenes that is unable to be questioned even by other courts, the executive branch of government, under the Bush Administration and in the name of National Security, assumed an exclusive lock oninvestigatory powers without constraint.

3531416607_3e8e066127This bill does what should have been done with the previous bills – considerations for Due Process, First Amendment rights and checks and balances.

Notably, the JUSTICE Act attempts to place the limitation and focus of National Security Letters (directives issued from the Director of the FBI) back on foreign powers and places significant protectionary road blocks between the government and the citizen.

While I do not trust the government to actually be able to do the right thing, the fact that this bill is introduced tells me that there is a recognition that when checks and balances are in effect, as they were intended to be, it’s much harder to do the wrong thing. It’s called accountability and the more we have, the better we’ll be.

EFF is hosting a call to action, allowing folks to automatically send a note to their Senators.

Aaron Brazell, Featured, guest blogging, Venture Files

Government as a Platform?

Data, data, data. This is the answer for government in this new world of Government 2.0. Making government available to the citizens by building platforms for change. These are the ideas bandied around when the Silicon Valley Warlords came to Washington, D.C. this week to put on the invitation only Gov 2.0 Summit and teach Beltway insiders how their successes in the Valley could be instituted in the center of government.

The center of government. The center of politics. The center of policy. Of course, if the warlords have their way, the center of technology.

The concept of government as a platform is a good one on the surface. The idea that making government a series of, for lack of a better words, APIs to help the citizen understand and access their government officials and services better is a noble one. However, it is naive, and this is where the native-understanding of Washington comes into play.

The rest of the country looks at Washington as a city that is always in-fighting. That the entire ecosystem is made of bureaucratic citadels of power that never accomplishes anything. Incompetent politicians who all lie, lie, lie.

For those of us inside the beltway, we recognize that partisanship is a means to an end. That policy takes a long time to change, policy makers remain embedded as established government for years and even decades, and that politicians come and go. This is part of the expectation in our Washington. The agencies exist, made up of rank and file – the foot soldiers, if you will – and the policies in place in those agencies come from decades of precedent in some cases.

Some of it needs to be changed, and to the extent that OpenGov and Gov 2.0 can open up the doors to this change, then it will. However, some of this will never change and it’s not necessary to try to change it. Precedent generally exists for very sound reason.

What will fail, however, is the replacement of the Washington system made up of politics, policy and also data by a fraternity-style, easy-money lifestyle of the west coast. While they talk billion dollar valuations on startups, we talk about billion dollar annual budgets for Level C agencies. Two different worlds. We have a much bigger stake, and therefore, we’re less likely to change how we do things because they suggest we should.

My suggestion is to O’Reilly and Camp: Come back to Washington, D.C. I know you’ll be back for Gov 2.0 Expo in the spring, but come back for a Summit too. Instead of dictating how the event goes, however, open it up. Make sure 50% of tickets are available for free for any verifiable government employee. (General consensus is the attendace was around 70-30, Private-public, a guess since O’Reilly Media declined to comment on attendance figures). Double the price for the private sector tickets to compensate. Here’s a hint: The federal fiscal year doesn’t begin until Oct 1. Budget money isn’t available to pay for the agency employees to attend your event. This isn’t the private sector. Money needs to be accounted for, especially during a recession. If you want this to be about government, ensure that the Feds can go free of charge and charge the Private sector double.

Secondly, allow questions from the audience. There was extremely little interaction with the audience by speakers. This needs to change if it’s going to be a learning environment.

I’d also suggest the need for a competitive event. With everyone who has dipped their feet into the Government 2.0 kool-aid, precious few have kept their noses clean from federating around this very failed event. I said in November that few of anyone has this industry figured out yet, yet the money flowing in from the Valley has caused almost everyone to sacrifice their independence and free-thinking (How many of you on that Gov 2.0 Summit Advisory Board are free to do a competitive event?)

I’d encourage some of the historically free-thinkers who have given up their independence to think about how government can really be assisted (let’s not talk about fixing government – they innovate much better than we do, actually) in different ways. I think there is room for events that will avoid the thumbprint of previous event and will federate around real ideas, not just inspiration speeches.

* Photo Credit: Big Berto

Aaron Brazell, guest blogging, Venture Files

FriendFeed is now In a Relationship with Facebook

In a move that surprised many in the tech world, Facebook and FriendFeed today announced that FriendFeed has been acquired by Facebook. This announcement came as a surprise to those who see FriendFeed as an annoying, yet open approach to the web whereas Facebook has a history of being a walled garden, often only opening up their data streams in limited or crippled fashions.

More surprisingly, the acquisition was something like Sixth Sense where you watched the movie trying to figure out what the ending would be just to be totally blindsided as the credits rolled. Yeah, it was that sort of satisfactory “ah, you got me” moment.

friendfeed-facebookI have had a torrid relationship with FriendFeed culminating with a termination of my account, causing much angst and name-calling from the puppets who have pushed FriendFeed as the only way to have legitimate conversations on the web. From my perspective, and others, it was a noisy, troll-filled social platform that, though having good technical features like real time feeds, also provided an almost cliché approach to communication.

Where the web has become increasingly fragmented and dispersed, fans of FriendFeed often touted it’s aggregation platform as the end of disbursement, a concept that I disagree with. Such end of disbursement also marks an end to competition, if allowed, and a navel-gazing mentality that assumes nothing can be better. Competition in the market place is good, and I chose Twitter.

What this means to consumers is unknown yet. Facebook has a historic closed stance and, though opening up certain APIs such as Facebook Connect, and allowing developers to develop applications for Facebook, it still stands as a relatively closed system. In order to really engage with Facebook, you really have to be using Facebook itself or the mobile apps built for Facebook.

FriendFeed has a robust API that developers can access to distribute or repurpose the content within. It has failed in many ways by not providing a really great application ecosystem, but on paper, it is much more robust of an open system than Facebook.

Facebook has certainly taken pages from the FriendFeed book, however, making their newsfeeds real time, and integrating their “Like” feature. However, it still is not as quick or reliable, much less intuitive for the user.

In an ideal world, Facebook takes almost all of the real time, and “Group” functionality of FriendFeed and integrates it into Facebook. Lose the walled garden, and keep the API open for developers. Time will tell, however, as these two companies figure out how to be “In a Relationship” with each other.

More on this acquisition from other sources:

Aaron Brazell, Featured, guest blogging, Venture Files

Space: The Final Frontier

Today is July 20th and it signifies a very important day in the history of mankind. It is the day we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the moon landing and, in many ways, the culmination of the advent of the technology age. 40 years ago today, we began a journey into space that has not receded (though we have not recently returned to the surface of the moon).

Much is being made of this anniversary today., a fascinating real time re-enactment of the mission, including the days leading up to the pivotal moment, is a project of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

It was Kennedy, in an address to a joint session of Congress in 1961, that called on Americans, with a specific mandate to NASA, to put a man on the moon by the end of that decade. An excerpt of this speech:

Finally, if we are to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks should have made clear to us all, as did the Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere, who are attempting to make a determination of which road they should take. Since early in my term, our efforts in space have been under review. With the advice of the Vice President, who is Chairman of the National Space Council, we have examined where we are strong and where we are not, where we may succeed and where we may not. Now it is time to take longer strides–time for a great new American enterprise–time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.

I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshalled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.


I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations–explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon–if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.

Since then, the United States and the world have gone through vast technological breakthroughs, often in greater haste than the 8 years it took to put a man on the moon. For instance, consumer electronics continue to progress at a staggering speed, particularly with the advent of the iPhone.

The internet burgeoned from a 5 hours monthly dial-up plan with AOL to saturation of broadband in many areas of the world.

Companies like Google continue to harness computing power to create vast databases of information.

Currently, NASA has the Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter (LRO) circling the moon in advance of a new moon mission by the end of 2020. The LRO is trying to map the entire moon surface (including the notoriously unknown “dark side of the moon”) to determine resources and terrain for the construction of a manned lunar outpost.

Many companies, news sources and blogs (including this one), are commemorating the moon landing with special logos, graphics or other site modifications. It’s just our way of saying “Wow”.

guest blogging

10 Things You Need To Know About WordPress 2.8

WordPress 2.8 is the latest installment of the WordPress platform, scheduled to be released on Wednesday, June 10. Millions of sites are powered by WordPress including the BBC, CNN, the NFL, the New York Times blogs, and that’s just a few of the big names.

Ok, so there’s a new version.  So what?  There are a number of massive improvements which will make WordPress even easier to use than before, however most of the new features are under the hood. Mark Jaquith, a core WordPress developer, is calling it the “Snow Leopard of WordPress” – in other words, on the surface, it doesn’t have much new but there are radical updates under the hood to make it run faster and give developers more options.

Faster Load Times

The first, of smaller features, but very important features to me, is the ability to compress both external CSS files and embedded CSS, and the same with Javascript, both embedding and external files. Why is this important? It decreases both load time for the user and saves bandwidth because of compression. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. But, this is just one of the major enhancements I’m excited about.

Now Easier to use Widgets

Yay for a new widget panel!  No more “add this widget” and gets added and having to browse the different sidebars.  Now you can drag and drop, and auto-save, on any of the registered sidebars for your theme.  See below for the example of what it looks like.  It’s a lot more useful and much easier to use now.

WordPress 2.8: New Widgets Page

Plugins, Plugins, Plugins, Plugins

The second major update that is clear to see is the plugins page layout.

I run a test site that updates code every few hours from SVN so I can see what is going on with all the new code being developed and committed, so something I noticed quickly was that the Plugins page layout changed dramatically. You’ll notice that the way the plugins are grouped together now is different than it was before. With the upgraded Plugins layout, it was quite difficult to see the important plugins, so the lead developer working on it, Ryan Boren, was kind enough to add a “Per Page” option for Plugins. Now, you can easily find all your plugins on a single page by changing the Per Page option to a higher number than the plugins you have. For example, I have 55 plugins installed, so I set mine to 60 and I can easily see all my plugins.

Plugin Search

Another great addition to the WordPress codebase in 2.8 is enhanced plugin search.  For a long time, and still, plugin search is not that great.  2.8 will help fix a lot of those issues and give users a greater opportunity to find what they are looking for.

WordPress 2.8: Search for Plugins

New Admin Schemas

Diving into some of the admin features, the blue color scheme received some love and has some updated features. The grey color scheme’s icons were also updated. Overall, the admin style has stayed the same though, since Automattic conducted the user experience testing back in October 2008 to draw up a new administration theme. Have they done a good job? I honestly think that yes, they’ve done a great job with it and it’s fully functional now. I was hesitant at first when they made the big change, but I really like it now.

Along with upgrading the admin schema, you can now select how many columns you want to display.  It’s really easy to move the various dashboard widgets around to customize the dashboard to exactly how you want it.   You can easily select which widgets you want to show too.  Whether you care about plugins, recent news, or you just care about posting quickly, you can edit it to your liking.

New WordPress Dashboard

Search for Themes

Not only was the plugins browsing area upgraded, but you can also now view and search for themes!

WordPress 2.8: Search for Themes

Can’t Upload with Flash? Let’s Fix That!

For all those users that were having issues with Flash, Firefox, and uploading images, those problems should go away.  WordPress 2.8 comes with PHP SWFUpload

Editors Note: I wish the Flash uploader would be applied to more than just images. For instance, the WordPress importer could use some love – particularly for large export files.

Automattic Highlights

A few of the highlights that Automattic is pointing out is the new ability to drag and drop, and save, in one action, widgets for your theme. IIS 7.0 URL rewriting is now supported as well, giving a little love to the Windows users. These are just a few of the highlights.

Editors Note: If you use the Thesis theme there are some incompatibilities. Anthony Ferguson has the fix in advance of an official update from DIYThemes.

Upgrading Using the SSH Method

If you’re into really quick plugin upgrades, you might already be using a script running on a cron job that upgrades your plugins every few hours.  But, there’s a slightly less geeky way of doing it.  The SSH2 method of upgrading is now more functional.  It had some problems in 2.7.x, so I helped work with the developer of that area and we made it more functional and operational.  I wrote a tutorial about how to upgrade WordPress and plugins using SSH that works seemlessly.  For my personal blog, I just click upgrade and the next screen I see is that it upgraded successfully.  I never have to enter my username or password.  It’s all stored on the server.

Other Updates

Digging into the nitty gritty, the backend received some updates as well. Dropping some database columns, for those of us that are uber geeky, which will help keep the database running smoother and cleaner. For the full list of geeky updates, check out the Development, Themes, and Plugins updates.

Featured, guest blogging

"A New World Awaits"- Obama on Cybersecurity

This is a guest post that I solicited today after President Barack Obama’s major cybersecurity announcement. I felt it was important to get the views and opinions of someone in the field. Enjoy! ~editor

Today President Obama announced the creation of a White House cybersecurity coordinator position and discussed the 60-day Cyberspace Police Review conducted by Melissa Hathaway. He repeated his mantra regarding transparency and accountability, and touched on the many aspects of cybersecurity that impact America- economy, infrastructure, military, open and efficient government operations. He certainly displayed his tech-saavy and awareness of information security terms. Yet, what changes is he really talking about? What practical actions can we expect to see?

He calls our cyber infrastructure “œthe backbone that underpins a prosperous economy and a strong military”. Right away he acknowledges that the lag in consumer confidence in online transactions and electronic networks is a strong factor in our slumping economy. Recognizing the economy and the military importance in a single sentence like this emphasizes that the idea that online transitions and communications should be able to be trusted equally by consumer and intelligence community alike. The fact that this new position, which oversees the new cyber security policies, is part of the National Economic Council and the National Security staff is the practical embodiment of this idea. Recognizing that securing online transactions and communications are critical not only to security, but the economy, ensures that he will be able to use greater budgetary discretion when bolstering funding for cyber initiatives. While he focused on the importance of consumer confidence, I was surprised that the exact figure regarding the billions of dollars lost due to fraud every year was not emphasized here. His bottom line is that we are losing money due to fraud, but we are losing even more money because of the fear of fraud.

The president then declared that, “œFrom now on, the networks and computers we depend on every day will be treated as they should be — as a strategic national asset.” This is an acknowledgement that the infection of these privately owned devices can seriously compromise the security of an entire nation- and not necessarily our own. When the cyber attack on Georgia occurred in September of 2008, the speculation was that the success depended largely on the infection of US PCs. These acted as a botnet to attack Georgia. Russian hackers certainly knew that Georgia was not prepared to cut off traffic from the United States. The President seems to acknowledge that they can no longer ignore the threat that comes from the computers of average citizens. Part of this is addressed by his motion to create an education campaign to address business, educators, and the average American. I believe he wants to educate people to the risks they present to the nation when they ignore an infected computer or leave their internet connections open and unprotected. On a business level, I believe these comments spring from the Aurora experiment, which demonstrated the vulnerability of our power grid. He is placing a responsibility and forcing the industries to acknowledge that their reliance on cyber systems is both an asset and a risk. He is careful to emphasize that the solution is not to eliminate or control the asset, but to mitigate the risks.

The president promised the new position would “œ”¦work with”¦state and local governments and the private sector to ensure an organized and unified response to future cyber incidents.” His focus here is on being transparent, issuing warning and updates and most of all- creating a format that is not “œad hoc”. This is something that security breach specialists have been calling for- a uniform procedure and response. There is too much variation in the thresholds, requirements, and regulations regarding the reporting, disclosure and handling cyber incidents today. I expect that companies can expect to see an outline of thresholds and reporting guidelines for reporting incidents. I also expect that notification will be required far earlier into the discovery of a compromise, so companies will not be able to “œgather all the facts” before informing the public and appropriate agencies of the incident. I would expect that more details will be provided, and agencies will be encouraged to coordinate in efforts to address vulnerabilities rather than keeping them secret until a solution can be found. Promoting the sharing of information about vulnerabilities should be seen as a benefit to the entire sector and not as a liability for the individual company. How  or if Obama plans to protect companies and agencies from the losses that may occur during the interval between sharing a vulnerability discovery and its “˜unified response’ will make or break this initiative. This is consistent with the recommendations in the Cyberspace Police Review.

Speaking on that note, the President stated, “œWe will strengthen the public-private partnerships that are critical to this endeavor”¦ let me be clear, my administration will not dictate security standards for private companies”. This will be the most difficult of his agenda items to live up to, and the one that he will be most criticized for. Many private companies fear information sharing, vulnerability sharing and full disclosure of data breach details. It will be a long and difficult road to convince the private sector that it is in their best interests to cooperate. The Cyberspace Police Review calls for a neutral third-party agency to take information and share it appropriately, but I doubt that will be enough to change the habits of the industry unless it is mandated. It will be difficult to maintain his other goals without some industry pressure or regulation. The market simply does not correct itself when it comes to matters of information security and commerce. I personally believe this speech was intended to hint that it is in the private sector’s best interests to cooperate with this collaboration if they want to remain as unregulated as they currently enjoy. I believe that the current amendments to privacy and security legislation are an attempt to ease changes into the industry by simply “œtweaking” aspects of current accepted regulations and rules.

Finally, his emphasis remained that they “œwill not”¦ will not include monitoring of private sector networks or internet traffic”¦ I remain firmly committed to net neutrality, so we can keep the internet as it should be- open and free”¦ A new world awaits, a world of increased security and greater potential prosperity”. This is an important distinction to make, and another subtle hint that the open and free market of the internet is critical to our economy and safety. He demonstrates his understanding that greater security does not mean the compromise of privacy or civil liberties, and therefore regulating the internet is not the answer. Recognizing net neutrality as a part of his cyber security efforts was a great way to try and smooth any ruffled feathers by the greater internet community. Since many of these initiatives address technology not widely used or available, it is more important for President Obama to emphasize what would not change as a result of this new position.

Ending his speech President Obama focused on the leadership we experienced in the 20th century and promised leadership in the 21st century. This has been another mantra of his- that we are able to lead, that we are leaders, even in this economy. Given the changes he is trying to make across government and industry, the belief that we are leaders in privacy and security is more important than the reality. I believe he stayed away from drawing comparisons internationally for this reason. Americans still have a bit of the cowboy spirit, and the best way to harness it is to convince the public that we are blazing a new trail of cyber security and policies. The spirit of innovation is obviously an important cultivation in this endeavor, and he makes no bones about his willingness to invest in education, training and programs necessary to nurture it. Practically, we should expect to see more government grants and funding in math, science and technology. Scholarships, research projects and grants are on the horizon as incidents to strength the public-private partnership. The question is- with what strings attached?

Rachel James is a licensed private investigator and cybercrime specialist at ID Experts. Her views do not necessarily reflect the views of ID Experts. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

Aaron Brazell, guest blogging

Events on the Web: Why Do They Suck?

If you’ve ever wanted to easily find out what events are happening in your area, you know what an impossible a task it is. I usually have to check 4 or 5 sites, plus Facebook and Twitter before I feel up-to-date. To make matters worse, none of these services freely exchange information. An event listing on Upcoming, for example, has no correlation with the same listing on Facebook.

Adding insult to injury, duplicate events with differing times and dates often arise, cluttering up an otherwise decent experience with this:

Sun 05:00 PM Caribbean Night with the Marbali Steel Drum Band

(eventful: Inn at East Hill Farm)

Sun 05:25 PM Caribbean Night

(upcoming: The Inn at Hill Farms)

Which time is correct? Is the venue called East Hill Farm, or Hill Farms? The good news is problems like this can be avoided if these services just talk to each other.

From my experience with the APIs of the big players in the event listing market (Upcoming, Zvents, Eventful, TicketMaster, etc.), it is evident there is no standard format being used to exchange event information behind the scenes. If you’ve ever seen an event listing with redundant date, time and location information in its description, it’s because a proper event listing standard has yet to be widely adopted.

Each API arbitrarily assigns its own naming scheme, date formats and data structure. At Localist, we’ve picked up the slack a bit by developing customized parsers to retrieve and standardize the information, but cleaned up information isn’t truly useful until the format is adopted by a wider audience.

What about hCalendar?

While hCalendar is a great microformat for standardizing the presentation and “scrapability” of event listings (making the search engine the API), it inherently requires that all data related to the event be visible to the user. In practice, this has forced most event listing sites to intentionally limit the amount of parsable data available, restricting additional useful information to be entered in the free-text description field, where no standard is defined.

Also, providing relational information between events and performers is not reliably possible using hCalendar. For example, if there are 5 recurring instances of “Trivia Night” at “Joeʼs Bar,” it is not possible to attach photos or other useful data to “Trivia Night,” only the specific date instance. This results in isolated information that is quickly lost as time goes on.

What needs to be done?

The first step is to get everyone, not just the big event listing services, to adopt a simple standard that has already been widely adopted. The best candidate so far is iCalendar, or ICS. Every calendar on the Web should be available in the ICS standard without requiring any modification by an external service or parser. Once this happens, event data can be collected consistently.

Then, we step it up. The ICS format ensures all event information revolves around the event time only, when really, it should revolve around time and space. A consistent way to add information on top of the ICS standard is easy to implement; the challenge is, again, reaching a critical mass.

Where can I see an example?

Services like FuseCal are diligently combing the Web looking for calendars of all shapes and sizes, then parsing them into a (somewhat) accurate iCal format.

People like Jon Udell are working hard to get everyone to adopt ICS as their standard and has demonstrated how powerful this standardized information can be when leveraging services like Delicious. Localist, Calagator and other event listing services are discussing what a good event listing standard should look like once the dust settles from mass ICS adoption.

What can I do?

If you have a calendar available on your site, make sure there’s a visible link to an ICS format somewhere on the page.

Read up on Jon Udell’s efforts to promote mass iCal adoption.

Join the discussion at the ELF Wiki.

E-mail me (Mykel Nahorniak) at Localist if you have any questions or contributions regarding anything mentioned above.

It won’t be long now…

The overall goal isn’t to destroy and replace hCalendar or ICS, it’s to co-exist with it, enriching it when possible.

In the end, keeping tabs on local events will be just as easy as staying up-to-date with your friends’ tweets.

guest blogging

The CES Pitch

2009 is rapidly approaching, and as a 10 year veteran of CES I’ve seen it from many different angles. I’ve been there as a tiny underfunded startup using a hotel room to do all demos and I’ve taken center stage in a multi-million dollar booth. I’ve attended as press and I’ve pitched the press. From virtually every perspective, CES is an exhilarating and exhausting process. I love it. With the massive surge in blogger registrations at this year’s show, I’ve also noticed more than usual complaints about the pitching process, so as someone who sits on both sides of the fence, I thought I’d share some observations and suggestions.

“The List”

picture-11Have you seen the press & blogger list at CES? It’s pretty unbelievably large, with 3398 identified members of the media, and there’s no way to get off the list, even if you aren’t coming to the show anymore. So these 3398 people are all getting pitched by the 2700 exhibitors. This means we have a ton of noise, with virtually no signal.

“The Prune”

Any half-decent marketer’s first task with the list was culling it. Got a mobile gadget? Get rid of the home AV bloggers and media. Got a speaker? You can ignore the auto guys. Unfortunately it seems that most companies didn’t do such a great job pruning. For my personal blog, I was surprised to get contacted by PR reps with products that were way out of my typical coverage area. It may seem like a lot of work, but internally we managed to pare down the list by 90% in less than a day, and it was time very well spent.

“The Outreach”
If slicing up the media list is a science, then writing the outreach pitch is absolutely an art. My favorite pitches to receive are (1) short, (2) funny/entertaining, (3) direct & to the point, and (4) contain all the information I need to act on (especially including links!). Considering the hundreds of emails the typical CES media person is receiving, the more the pitch can stand out from the crowd yet still convey the necessary info, the better. The worst pitches I’ve received don’t include URLs for more information, try to be too coy or clever, try to make mountains out of molehills (if you sell CD storage cases, you simply don’t have EXCITING NEWS AT CES this year), or otherwise complicate the process.

“The Followup”

I don’t have as much of a clear rule here. There are times when the follow-up is useful, warranted, and welcome. Others it’s annoying and borderline harassing. My recommendation to all is no more than one follow-up email, and no phone calls unless the individual has made it clear they *want* phone calls. Don’t send 5 reminders, because nobody likes a pest. I do appreciate those who send a quick extra note with their contact info and a reminder of where at CES their booth/demo is, and leave it in my hands to make the decision.

JT and Scoble

“The Meet”

There’s no better way to screw it all up than meeting the blogger/journalist in person, and then asking them some question that utterly reveals you have no idea who they are. I don’t care how you handle it, make a cheat sheet, print something out in the morning, but if you’ve taken the time to ask me to see your demo, you can take the time to be *remotely* familiar with my blog. I don’t expect you to have ready today’s post, but you should know something about me or my style or my content. At the same time, I think bloggers who schedule appointments for demos/briefings should also take the time to read the materials/website for the company/products they plan to see – it’s a two-way street.

“The Close”

Following up after the show is your job, not that of the blogger. If you promised someone a review unit, it’s on your to-do list, not theirs. Also, you should make a point of reading their coverage of the show prior to the follow-up. If they didn’t write about you during the show, don’t be hurt or offended, and by no means should you close the door. Similarly, if you are a blogger and your brief mention of a company hit your “CES recap” post but doesn’t make their Press page, that shouldn’t be unexpected. For both sides to keep in mind: not every demo deserves a blog post from every blogger.

CES is a wacky time of the year for a couple of hundred thousand people. Many of us haven’t slept much since the Thanksgiving Break (or longer for our international visitors). I’d call it controlled chaos, but that implies one can control such a wild beast. That said, it somehow works. Those 96 hours are a magical time of year for me personally, and while I’m already tired of both receiving and giving pitches, I’m still getting revved up for the show. See you in Vegas!

guest blogging

The Invisible Twitter Expert

An interesting controversy on Twitter today. Matt Bacak (Anyone ever hear of him? ““ Exactly) self released a press release calling himself, The Powerful Promoter. “œFirst Facebook, now Twitter. The Powerful Promoter, Matt Bacak, has taken himself to the top of the social media networks yet again, this time beating out 99.9% of the fastest growing site’s members”.

As you would expect, the Twitterverse has not been kind. Scott Baird, describes the reaction in his blog, Matt’s press release states “œAnyone can call their promotional abilities “˜powerful’ but I actually prove that mine are,”. “œThe problem is that this type of ego really contradicts the the overall social media mentality which is basically “œIt’s not about you, it’s about the overall community”.


You can see the backlash through Twittersearch. Bacak has been called the Biggest Douche in Social Media and 232 people have dugg the article with 69 comments at this time. Jamie Scheu described the situation well on his blog, Promote Your Way to Irrevocable Personal Humiliation.


As humiliating as this situation may be, it points out the problem with our obsession with keeping score. Matt Bacak wrote a press release because he got a high Twittergrader score.


How does a guy who follows just 32 people with 1500 updates and most importantly, no one knows, get such a high score? As you can see, Bacak is so memorable that real Top Twitterer, Aaron Brazell, calls him Joe. Maybe the wizards at Twittergrader need to go back to Hogwarts. How can you give a person that no one on Twitter knows a 99.9! Aside from the grade inflation or algorithm problems, I think what the Invisible Twitter Man points out is the problem with ego and score obsession in social media. Hopefully, we can get back to Scott Baird‘s point and let social media be about the overall community.

guest blogging

The History of My Life According to Social Media

This might be an unusual post for, 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).


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