What Makes a Community?

I normally write articles that carry a bit of authority. I usually write what I know about and have a high degree of confidence writing. I don’t write often because I want what I do write to carry authority and be hard-hitting.

This is not really one of those articles.

I haven’t done what people like Alex Hillman has done in creating collaborative working environments for independent entrepreneurs at Independent’s Hall in Philadelphia.

I haven’t been an organizer and champion of city-wide entrepreneurship like Josh Baer has in Austin.

I haven’t fostered a product community like they have over at StudioPress with the Genesis Framework.

What I have done is work within the context of a thriving WordPress community of developers, users, consultants and advocates.

I have lived in a city that has made it’s name on entrepreneurship and arts in Austin.

I have helped and supported entrepreneurs in their quest to build products in DC and find ways of succeeding both with and without investment money.

Moving Back to Baltimore

For some weeks now, I’ve made it clear that I’ve decided to move back from Austin to Baltimore. In 2008, I left Baltimore because I saw awesome things developing in technology in DC. At the time, there were guys like Peter Corbett who was just beginning to do technology advocacy work in the Nation’s Capital. By 2009, iStrategyLabs would launch the first Apps for Democracy contest that challenged contestants to create web and mobile applications with civic intent. That would morph into similar contest like Apps for America, etc.

You would also see some organizations that would flare out dramatically because of business model, ideas, weak leadership, lack of community involvement, etc.

I would then move to Austin where I would see a city immersed in technology. Lots of money flowing. Lots of incubator action, such as the products and entrepreneurs who would be graduated from the Capital Factory incubator. I would see ATX Startup Crawl occur several times a year as guests would have the opportunity to move around town and visit some of the great startups like TabbedOut, InfoChimps, uShip and more. Thousands of people would come through these offices and see the great technologies and ideas being built, all while enjoying local Texas beers and eats.

I would see awesome projects like We Are Austin Tech highlight influencers in that community (including myself) come up.

And I watched Baltimore grow as a technology community to the point where DC entrepreneurs started paying attention to their up and coming little brother 45 mins up I-95. I watched from afar as Dave Troy would put his heart and soul into building Baltimore as a center of entrepreneurship and tech. I’d watch as Greg Cangialosi would build his Blue Sky Factory marketing firm out and have a successful acquisition, all while continuing to personally invest more in the Baltimore scene.

I even watched great tragedies like the systematic destruction of Advertising.com by Aol.

I watched this all over the last 4 years and realized Baltimore was coming into it’s own. It had successes. It had failures. It had investors. It had bootstrap. It’s still not entirely cohesive, but from my seat, it looks promising.

So I’ve decided to move back to my home and put my money where my mouth is and see if I can take what I’ve gleaned from DC and Austin and apply it here in Baltimore. I may be one of those failures. Or I may not be, but I’ve got to try.

What Makes a Successful Community?

In the last few weeks, I’ve had several conversations with Baltimore business owners and entrepreneurs, and I’m finding a common question and point of discussion: What makes a successful community? The answers and opinions are intriguing. Again, I can’t say my opinion carries any authority. What I can say, however, is I’ve been in a bunch of communities and witnessed elements of success.

Some folks think a successful business community requires investors who are willing to commit their time and money. Anyone who has gone through the fundraising process knows that hands on investors are the best kind. If a VC or Angel investor can help a portfolio company supplement resources (human capital or otherwise) through their network, they bring quite a bit of upside to a startup. Investors who wire money and never pay attention to their portfolio companies, expecting the founders to execute according to plan, are in my opinion bad investors.

So in this light, some entrepreneurs here in Baltimore find the lack of investment money or engaged investors as detrimental to the community.

On the flip side of the coin, some entrepreneurs seem to be thinking that the mark of a good startup community is going to be in the number of entrepreneurs who are able to successfully bootstrap. There is some validity to this claim as well. The more you can do on your own, the less of your company you’re giving away (as I noted in the “Valleyboys” segment of this article a few weeks ago).

However, there is also value in bootstrapping and taking money, if the situation is right.

Other folks I’ve talked to feels the value is in the number of people attend professional meetups compounded by the sheer number of meetups. In Austin, we have a vibrant meetup community. From the Austin WordPress meetup to Austin on Rails to Austin Lean Startup to Refresh Austin and the list goes on.

My opinion is that a city startup community is built on all these things. It’s not money, really. Money will follow success. Perhaps Baltimore needs to have an IPO or high profile acquisition that allows the company to continue to operate and hire in Baltimore to put them on the map and in the conversation. I don’t really think it’s that, per se, but that certainly helps.

It would help if the State of Maryland was more business-friendly to small businesses, as Texas is. People come to Texas, and more specifically Austin, from California and New York because the environment is notably friendly to small business. More business would be created in Maryland with better business policy. It might even attract out of state growth.

Beyond that though, meetups are important but meetups don’t create value if the conversations end at the meetup. The idea of building something – a prototype – as you might get out of a Startup Weekend is good… if it continues afterwards from prototype to business product.

But I think the biggest thing that makes community grow is collaboration and the willing to share ideas without being defensive, sharing resources without being possessive, sharing physical space without being prohibitive. It takes more that an entrepreneurs flying solo behind his Macbook Pro in a coffee shop, but it takes less than structured office space with prohibitive managerial org charts.

It doesn’t take sacrificing lifestyle on the altar of work, but it does take entrepreneurs willing to gut out ideas by working with other entrepreneurs and customers and transparently sharing war stories of success and failure while helping to mentor others new to the space.

It does takes the karmaic “pay it forward” approach without fiefdoms and regional rivalries to ensure that a rising tide raises all ships. What you put in to other companies you have no direct stake in, but can help with informal advice (when solicited) makes for a circle of life that encourages a community to exceed expectations and move from one level to the next. Mentorship is not an ROI term, but it is critical to the ecosystem.

Am I off-base in my thinking here?

A Visual Tour of My Life

Google is really scary. On the other hand, Google brings the world closer together. And it’s with that idea that I’m going to take my readers on a little tour of my life.

I’ve move around a lot in life. Such is the life of a minister’s kid. Spent years in central Africa. Lived all over Maryland… twice (getting ready for a third time). Lived in snowy New York. Lived all over. Usually if I were to give someone a tour, I’d have them in a car and drive around through old neighborhoods, passing by old houses, telling stories.

I’m going to do that now because I’m in a reminiscing mood.

It started in Tonawanda, NY – a city-suburb of Buffalo. The very first home I lived in on Roswell Ave. Sadly, I don’t know anything about that place because I was too young to even remember it.

Lovejoy, Buffalo, New York

My first memories of life happened on Longnecker St in East Buffalo. I actually have a surprisingly good recollection of this place. I remember that it was in this place, my dad who was a line man for the power company, would come in with ice in his beard. I remember when he put in a wood burning stove into the house and built the chimney. Never have I felt a hotter heat than that.

I remember the milk machine on the corner of Lovejoy and Longnecker. Yes, we had milk machines back in the 70s.

I lived in the Lovejoy neighborhood, which was always a sketchy place to live but has become a terribly drug-ridden neighborhood today even since my earliest memories in the early 80s.

Kinshasa, D.R.C. (Zaïre)

In 1984, my parents moved us out to the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaîre) where they were missionaries. I remember these days very well. How many American kids can really say they spent time growing up in third world Africa? Not many.

Sadly, Google Street View has not gotten to Kinshasa (and probably won’t for awhile), so I rely on what photos are available of the area nearby where I lived. Here is a photo of the Rte de Matadi, a “highway” that runs between the capital city of Kinshasa and one of the provincial capitals, Matadi. It, to this day, is one of the few usable inter-city roads in the country.

Bukavu, D.R.C.

Bukavu was an interesting 6 months of my life. We moved from Kinshasa to the eastern side of the country to a provincial capital surrounded by rain forest. It was quite isolated. We lived in an old hotel that was turned into a sprawling palatial duplex with another American family living in the other side.

This estate sat on top of the highest point in the city and overlooked Lake Kivu, one of Africa’s Great Lakes that is torturously poisoned by methane gas from the volcanic activity in the region, and unsafe for humans, to the north and across the border into Rwanda to the northeast.

For the recent history buffs, during the genocide that continues to happen but began in Rwanda (Think Hotel Rwanda), Bukavu became a refugee camp for people streaming across the border. In fact, CNN reported on this development in the early 1990s from my front lawn. I did not live there anymore, but nonetheless… that happened.

Photo by Nick Hobgood
Photo by Nick Hobgood

Back in Buffalo

The time in Bukavu was short-lived as the entire family contracted a form of airborne Hepatitis. No, we were not all promiscuous, what with me being the oldest of 3 at 11 years old. It’s just life in a third world country and is the reason that, to this day, I cannot give blood – and never will be able to.

My dad was evacuated to Nairobi, Kenya for emergency medical attention and we all flew home to Buffalo for observation and testing shortly after that and lived there a year before we were cleared medically to return. During 1987, we lived in a little house in the Buffalo suburb of Depew. This is where I lived (I believe :P).

Kinshasa Again

In 1988, we moved back to Kinshasa. Political forces that were the ominous clouds of what would ultimately come were brewing and after a year, we, along with several other American families, were ejected from the country. While some returned, we never would. In 1991, revolution would overcome the country as tribal hatred spread from Rwanda into Eastern Zaïre and would continue until dictator “President” Mobutu Sese Seko would overthrown and exiled by rebel forces led by Laurent Kabila. The civil war continues in parts of the Congo today.

This is a satellite view (again, no street view, but the satellite imagery is far better than when I looked at it last – nice work, Google) of a mostly American neighborhood named Joli Park. On our street, almost all residents were American and Canadian missionary and embassy workers.

The Move to Maryland

After returning from Zaïre, we moved to Maryland. Of all my U.S. experience at the ripe old age of almost 13, I’d never lived outside of Buffalo. I was not prepared for the intense summer humidity and change of lifestye. I learned how to catch crabs with just a piece of twine and chicken bait tied to the piers here at Hunter’s Harbor on the Magothy River in Pasadena, MD.

While in that neighborhood, I lived in this house for a year and made friends with my next-door neighbor, Tim, who introduced me to the finer things in life like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Mega Man. It was also at this house that I encountered my first, and thankfully only “Warrior Turtle” – a three-legged alligator snapping turtle that looked like he had personally won World War II for the Allies and was looking to make sure someone paid for it.

Severna Park Troubles

A year later, we moved about 10 miles away to Severna Park where we famously lived in the sub-development next to Pat Sajak’s. It was also the pinnacle of my teenage rebellion where I suppose I may have had the brilliance to try running away from home. Literally, running away from home. With my dad on my heels running after me down the middle of the street. Did I think I could get far? Clearly I did. Do I laugh at myself now? Sure… and I know I could run faster than my dad now. :)

As a bonus, I played my one and only play in high school football at Severn School where, as a member of the JV squad (and mostly practice at that), I was sent in to play a route as a WR… I wasn’t going to get the ball. I was just going to run a route. As a defensive back by position, I was so nervous I lined up 7 yards off the line of scrimmage instead of on the line, as a receiver should, and the play was whistled dead for illegal formation, thus ending my illustrious high school football career.

Back to Pasadena

In the next two years, I lived in two more houses. I began my working life at first, beginning a job at Wendy’s 2 blocks from my house. To this day, I have a few people I keep up with. I hope that tomorrow, when Maryland approves Question 6 allowing marriage equality in the state, I will be able to attend my old boss’s, and current friend’s, wedding to his long-time partner.

In the second of homes in that time, I wasn’t actually home much. I got my first vehicle when I turned 18 and I liked to spend my time working or out with friends getting into trouble. I would finally leave home (and this home) to head to upstate New York in 1995. (It’s that house behind the tree)

Bible School

Which leads me to Lima, NY and Elim Bible Institute. Once upon a time, I wanted to be a preacher. So I started doing what I was supposed to to become one. That meant enrolling in Elim, and moving north to the great one-stoplight town 17 miles south of Rochester – Lima, NY.

I never was good with academics, though, so this really only lasted a year. Also, my family moved up there too which put more pressure on me as a young adult trying to find my own way in the world. I’d leave after only a year on “The Hill”. At least Google got this photo on the one day there wasn’t piles of drifting snow.

NYC

I took my talents, in October of 1996, to Astoria, Queens where I would live for two years and fall in love with the City. I still love New York to this day. Living on a small stipend plus room, board and meals for free, I volunteered my time with an organization that worked largely with the homeless population in the city, the New York School of Urban Ministry (or NYSUM).

I owe the two years I spent in New York for my personal bias toward New York-style pizza, public transportation, and dangerously safe driving.

I also owe my time in New York to where my mind began to open up to more progressive, and non-traditional philosophical ideas, much to the dismay of the religious leadership around me.

Back to Maryland

In Oct of 1998, I left NYC and went back to Lima for a short time. It was a few months after that, that I moved back to Maryland in an old Chevy S-10 pickup truck my dad gave me since I was broke and couldn’t afford a car and he needed a new one anyway. In all rights, that truck shouldn’t have made it past the Village line, but in fact it got me to Baltimore and gave me wheels for a month or two before it finally choked.

I holed up in a Glen Burnie apartment where I worked multiple jobs and would eventually meet a girl who would become the mother of my son a few years later. Although we didn’t last, this period is somewhat memorable for me.

I would get married 22 months later and we would find the cheapest place we could afford, even if it meant living out in the country. That led us to a single bedroom apartment adjoined to a house on acres of land in the middle of nowhere, Carroll County, MD (for which I have no visual evidence).

When we moved again, to be closer to work, we’d hole up in a basement apartment in a private home. It was terrible.

In 2003, we bought a house on the Baltimore City/County line and lived there for 18 months, selling before the housing market imploded. It was in this house that we had our son, Devin, who is now 9. I was working as a contractor for the Navy in DC and had decided at the age of 27 to enlist. A long story why that didn’t happen would follow, but sufficed it to say, that never transpired. The house is bigger than what it looks like and wasn’t bad for a first home.

In 2004, we moved into a smaller apartment that was supposed to be temporary until I shipped for basic training and got my orders. Like I said, that never happened so what was meant to be a temporary solution ended up being home for several year. Essentially until our divorce.

I moved to Alexandria, VA to live with a friend for about six months in late 2008-09. I won’t post his home because he still lives there but then, it was back to Maryland. I was feeling the DC thing after Baltimore. I had begun to develop friendships with DC folks and as a newly single man, I like the opportunity for some level of anonymity while I explored my new world in a new city. It was really quite awkward, looking back, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I would live in Bethesda, MD from 2009-2010, almost 1.5y.

Google doesn’t take it’s car back there. I can only imagine that when they passed by, it was the 2010 #Snowpocalypse and they couldn’t get in.

Now I’m in Austin. I won’t show you these photos either, for privacy, and I’m moving back to Baltimore, God willing, in January. So the saga continues.

I really wanted to just share this stuff though. It makes me nostalgic and technology is both terrifying and amazing.

The Science of Radio, Cal Ripken, Jr. and Pivots

Let’s talk science.

We all occasionally listen to the radio. Maybe not as much as we once did, but we still do. Most of us listen to FM radio because the sound quality is better and, as a result, music is more often the stuff broadcast over FM stations. Probably fewer of us listen to AM radio, short of talk news and sports talk stuff.

The difference between AM and FM is radical. FM radio waves, if you could visualize them are your typical sine wave. It modulates between a high and a low frequency and travels through the air like the waves of a sea. FM radio has better sound because this modulation can carry more aural information.

AM radio is far different. It’s much more a straight line wave that can’t carry as much aural data, so the sound quality is reduced. The tradeoff, however, is that AM radio can travel much farther. In fact, for AM radio, range is determined by amplitude, or strength, of the power generating the waves.

The side effect of this is that AM radio waves travel into the atmosphere and interacts with the ionosphere, the atmospheric layer that protects us from the most harmful radiation from the sun. During the daytime, the AM waves hit the ionosphere and largely fizzle out due to the layer’s interaction with the sun, but at night… the sun isn’t sending all it’s fiery goodness at that part of the earth and so a bounce effect happens. AM radio waves hit the ionosphere and bounces back toward the earth allowing radio stations to be heard hundreds of miles away from their source – often times well over the horizon.

As a result, the FCC has had a decades-old regulation that requires AM radio stations to reduce their signal or alter their night operations so as not to interfere with stations in other markets. Stations typically will do this by redirecting their antennas so that even if the signal is heard hundreds of miles away, it is heard in such a way to not interfere with other stations broadcasting on the same frequency.

Still with me? Whew. Good.

Back in 1995, I was sitting in a dorm room of a religious college I was attending at the time. There were pretty rigid rules for freshman. In my case, we were required to do a nightly “study time” in our dorms. The idea was to train students to focus academically. In later classes, the rules were relaxed and study time was not mandatory.

Still, you know how I am with rules. I sullenly sat in my room night after night and probably didn’t do the best job academically. I digress.

September 6, 1995 was kind of a historic day. Besides being my 19th birthday, it was also a big baseball day. It would be this day that Cal Ripken, Jr. would break Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak setting a new record of 2,131 games played in a row and becoming the new Ironman. Back in those days, before the 1997 debacle, I was an Orioles fan before changing allegiances to a much better team (sans this past year). I’m looking at you, Kate.

I grew up with the Orioles and I was understandably upset that I had to be in my room instead of watching the game on TV. I discovered, however, that I could hear WBAL 1090 AM in my dorm 17 miles south of Rochester, NY and some 300 miles away from Television Hill in Baltimore, where the station broadcast from. As a result, I was able to listen to that historic game on the radio thanks to science.

What’s the point of this already long-winded story, you may ask.

I’m glad you asked, since I actually do have a point.

I’ve talked about business a lot here. Startups, projects, whatever. I’ve been involved in a few in my career. I’ve advised several. I’ve been a Co-founder in one. I’ve been staff for others. There’s a concept in startups called the “pivot”. Pivots are when you change your business model or approach due to market demands or user feedback.

In some cases, pivots are major. Seesmic pivoted a ton from a video chat service to a video blog comment service to a social mass posting service. Every pivot was essentially a new company.

Other pivots are more minor. A move to focus more on user content aggregation from a company content aggregation. Or a move to a subscription model from an advertising model.

I’m a fan of the second form of pivot which basically suggests the premise of a company is sound, but based on the ability to listen to user demand and appropriately respond in the marketplace, a company can adjust and tweak and run with the concept that made them strong as a company to begin with. If I were to start investing myself, I’d want to be on board with a company that can stay true to itself, while demonstrating the ability to adjust.

Some people, like Jason, advocate doing market research to decide your premise. Ask questions. Conduct interviews. Find out, before putting time in, that the idea is something that someone will pay for. Others, like Eric Ries, also endorse The Lean Startup approach of building, collecting feedback, iterating and repeating to allow a company to evolve organically. These are all good ideas that help set the framework and paradigm for how your company operates and your product evolves.

Which brings us full circle to radio. I was able to listen to Cal’s historic day in 1995 because the company (or radio station in this case) was able to perform a pivot (literally) to redirect their signal without changing who they were. They knew FCC regulations when they decided to broadcast on AM. They knew the framework of science they had to live in. They built a radio station for reach and strength and adapted as they were required to and allowed to.

You may never start a company. You may never hire employees. But the universal concept is: Know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, don’t change who you are or the strategic philosophy under which you operate, but be willing to make the tactical choices needed to succeed.

Presidential Debate Word Clouds: Romney vs Obama

Here is a data visualization word cloud of the presidential debates last night. I took all of the things said from both candidates, no matter how mundane, from the transcript.

Then I removed common English words like ‘the’ and ‘and’ and I manually corrected for uncommon edge cases like ‘governor’, in the case of Obama. Governor dominated his cloud but was almost universally used to address Romney (i.e. “Governor Romney says…”).

Here you are. I make no political analysis of the content. I merely present the findings.

Governor Mitt Romney

President Barack Obama

WANTED: Couch for West Virginia Game

With the “Welcome to the Big 12” game for West Virginia coming up this Saturday here in Texas (Sorry, Baylor doesn’t count), Austin is gearing up to welcome their new rivals to town. I decided to go the extra mile so the Mountaineers would feel welcome here in Austin. Note there’s a burn ban, but then you may get to go home to West Virginia sooner.

In case something happens to the posting, here’s a screenshot.

Also of interest, a WVU fan site: We Must Ingite This Couch.

Most Commonly Used Git Commands

A lot of chatter about using Git and Subversion from the command line versus clients. Folks, take your time and learn the command lines. There’s a lot of stuff you can use the UI clients don’t always wrap into UI. Things like post-commit hooks, etc make the command line way more pure and powerful.

Here’s the same list for Subversion.

But for Git/Github, you can get most of what you need out of git clone, git commit, git push, git pull, git status, git diff and git merge.

Learn these and you won’t know everything about git, but you’ll be most of the way there.

Most Commonly Used Subversion Commands

A lot of chatter about using Git and Subversion from the command line versus clients. Folks, take your time and learn the command lines. There’s a lot of stuff you can use the UI clients don’t always wrap into UI. Things like post-commit hooks, etc make the command line way more pure and powerful.

Here’s the same list for Git/Github.

But for Subversion, you can get most of what you need out of svn co, svn ci, svn commit, svn diff, and svn status.

Learn these and you won’t know everything about svn, but you’ll be most of the way there.

TUTORIAL: Building Custom Rewrite Endpoints in WordPress

Recently I concluded a sizable project that involved deep integration with an external API. I was responsible for creating content pages based outside of WordPress. To be clear, the pages would use an internal WP template, but all the content was generated using this external API.

In order to make this work within the WordPress Rewrite system and serve pages that WordPress knew how to handle in a non-traditional way, I had to tackle this in a multi-prong way: using the template_redirect as well as the built in Rewrite API.

Note: I’m not giving away the full sauce here as the project is non-open source. As well, I’ll be abstracting some stuff a bit. If you’re smart, you can fill in all the blanks regarding how to fully implement this.

First we need a base class:

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
<?php

class Base_Class {

  public function __construct() {
    $this->hooks();
  }

  public function hooks() {
  }
}

new Base_Class;

This is the base of pretty much every class I write as part of a plugin in WordPress. If you don’t follow Object Oriented coding practices, start now.

The next step is to register some variables with WordPress. Because WordPress is using the template_redirect hook to get the proper template files, you will often lose necessary query string variables, and you definitely can’t use them in an endpoint (i.e. /foo/bar) without WordPress knowing about them.

So let’s register them using the query_vars filter.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
<?php
class Base_Class {

  public function __construct() {
    $this->hooks();
  }

  public function hooks() {
    add_filter( 'query_vars', array( $this, 'query_vars' ) );
  }

  public function query_vars( $qv )
  {
    $qv[] = 'foo';
    $qv[] = 'bar';
    return $qv;
  }
}

new Base_Class;

After this, we want to actually create some rewrite endpoints. In this example, I want to allow permalinks like /foo/content-slug/ and /bar/content-slug. With the following code that adds a rewrites() method to the class, and hooks on the generate_rewrite_rules filter, we can create these two endpoints. In our imaginary template, we would use get_query_var() function to handle logic for display purposes, but that’s outside of this article scope.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
<?php
class Base_Class {

  public function __construct() {
    $this->hooks();
  }

  public function hooks() {
    add_filter( 'query_vars', array( $this, 'query_vars' ) );
    add_filter( 'generate_rewrite_rules', array( $this, 'rewrites' ) );
  }

  public function query_vars( $qv )
  {
    $qv[] = 'foo';
    $qv[] = 'bar';
    return $qv;
  }

  public function rewrites( $rules )
  {
    global $wp_rewrite;

    $new_rules = array(
        'foo/([a-z]+)/?$' => 'index.php?pagename=wppage-holder&foo=' . $wp_rewrite->preg_index(1),
        'bar/([a-z]+)/?$' => 'index.php?pagename=wppage-holder&bar=' . $wp_rewrite->preg_index(1),
    );
   
    $wp_rewrite->rules = $new_rules + $wp_rewrite->rules;
    return $wp_rewrite->rules;
  }
}

new Base_Class;

Specifically, note the new rewrite rules and how they are structured. If those permalink structures identified above match these new rules, then we will pass the request on and use the template file designated for a page (that you do have to create in WordPress, by the way) with the slug ‘wppage-holder’. This can be done by designating a template file on the page edit screen or by naming the template as page-wppage-holder.php in your theme – again, outside the scope of this article.

If the permalink matches foo, we pass the foo variable on. If it matches bar, we pass the bar variable on. Logic on the other end left to you.

This is where I have to stop using this example, for client confidentiality purposes, but imagine what is possible now if you extend this and use the template_redirect hook to handle some custom redirects leveraging wp_redirect()?

Imagine. :)

Five Articles I Wish I could Take Back

Last night I was going through Google archives looking for a post (that I never found) from 2007-2008. I went through 30 some pages of search results and remembered some of the older content I wrote. Some of it is stuff I either wish I didn’t write or I don’t agree with anymore. So I figured I’d share some of these posts and explain why I feel differently today:

It’s a Read/Write/Execute Web and We Just Live in It.

In this post from 2009, I posit that the first generation of the web was a read-only web. It was website that were not engaged with outside of simply reading. The second generation of the web was a “read/write” web marked by social interaction. The third I called a “read/write/execute” web where I railed on the future of the internet being API oriented and that government should

Drawing by Romancement on Flickr. Used by Creative Commons.

get on board with open data initiatives at the time.

Where I have a modestly different view today and I did slightly alude to it back then, is that the next generation of the web would actually be mobile. That prediction would have been true, and while APIs have played a significant role in making that happen, the APIs were merely a means to an end.

There are hundreds of thousand apps on the Apple app store and Android Market, not to mention other available app stores out there. Games now are played largely on smartphones and tablets as the shift away from consoles, while mild, is undoubtable. Today, with HTML5 and CSS3, websites are being creative with “responsive” design that allows for appropriate displays on appropriate devices.

Fun Fact: In 2004, I mused about what a world look like if we were not dependent on keyboards and mouses. I think we see that world in front of us now.

Are People Talking About You?

Originally published in 2007, I rode a train of personal brand for a long time. Not in that I had it. Everyone has something and some people have more than others. It’s actually not personal brand. It’s just reputation. I have a reputation. I have a reputation as a no-BS guy that doesn’t have a lot of respect for drama professionally or personally. I’m a confidant and advisor and I know WordPress really well. I get clients via word of mouth because I have a reputation for great work that speaks for itself with a fairly in depth intimacy with the WordPress core code. That’s reputation, but if you must, you can call it personal brand.

Regardless, I wrote this in that article:

It’s important to create great “stuff” (define “stuff” for yourself). It’s really important to stand out above the crowd. It’s more important to get other people talking about you. You are a brand. You are a subject matter expert. Well, you have the potential to be a subject matter expert. But you’re not yet. Not if no one is talking about you when you’re not around.

Aaron, you had me until, “It’s more important to get other people talking about you.”

This is why I was completely wrong. Nobody knows Mike McDerment. Well a lot of people do, but he isn’t a household name in tech or startups. However, he is the CEO of the largest cloud accounting company in the world. He built Freshbooks from the ground up to solve a problem that he had in 2003 (I just read his back story today).

Similarly, do you know Jason Cohen? You might know him because I’ve mentioned him or because you use WP Engine but otherwise, Jason isn’t a flashy guy. When I got the call from Jason right before moving to Austin to come help start WP Engine, I was thinking he was another guy named Cohen. I had no idea how successful and amazing he was. He wasn’t worried about promoting himself. Product is everything and product speaks for itself.

So I entirely disagree with my 2007 theory of self-aggrandizement. The only reason you have to worry about personal brand is if you’ve got nothing going for you. Otherwise, shut up and do epic shit. The rest will follow.

Age of Exploration 500 Years Later

First of all, this story is all fluff. I tell a nice story of explorers and all but it takes me to the last paragraph to even make a point, much less a thesis statement. And even then, I’m unsure of my point.

Imperial Stout
Photo by Brostad. Used by Creative Commons

What I think I was trying to say is that technology and, more specifically, embracing technology and change makes us better business people, better communicators, better humans.

If I had to rewrite the end of this post, I’d say this:

All of these explorers that went before, discovered new lands, races, tribes, experiences and opportunity opened up the door to new innovations. They were able to lay the groundwork and stepping stones for new expansion of influence and find new technologies that would allow for growth into the Industrial age.

I would then use the example of the Imperial Stout created in England for the Queen of Russia:

Through the expansion of the Russian Empire, King Peter the Great of Russia discovered British Stouts. As they became popular among Russians, a problem emerged. There was no way to get these stouts in Russia because the trip was so long that the beer would spoil before arrival. In the 1800s, an English brewery, responding to demand, developed a way of “hopping” their stouts in such a way to allow the beer to be preserved and delivered to Queen Catherine of Russia. Thus, this more hoppy version of the typical stout became known as the Russian Imperial Stout, or just the Imperial Stout.

I would use that segue to explain that even in our technology-centric world, it takes innovators developing technology in order for other, new technologies to emerge. A classic example of this from the programming world is that of Ajax, an extension of JavaScript which has been around for years. Ajax is a technology that allows background communication with servers without the page reloading. Without Ajax being developed a few years ago, the interactivity we have come to expect on sites everywhere would not be able to exist.

So it’s not that I disagree with myself so much as I didn’t explore the real premise of the article enough.

Roadmap to Victory at the Washington Post

This article is still an interesting one. On one side, I saw the Washington Post, and traditionally print-based journalism, as a dying trade. On the other I made a naive assumption that newspapers exist for the sake of journalism.

Both of these premises are wrong. Let’s address both presuppositions.

Traditionally print-based journalism is alive and well, as it should be. It isn’t going anywhere, nor should it. Blogs and digital media are not in competition with newspapers. They complement newspapers. Both sides serve different roles. While it’s true that newspapers (print) can’t break news anymore, they should count their blessings.

There are no opportunities to destroy credibility with Dewey Beats Truman moments (or more recently, Mandate Struck Down, as famously misreported by CNN). There are plenty of opportunities for solid, in depth investigative reporting-style journalism. I know it costs money. So save money by not trying to break news and let the digital sources do that.

Secondly, my cynical take feeds right into that last sentence and is why the challenge lies in money. Journalism today is an art, and is a respectable skill, trade and profession. But news organizations aren’t run by journalists. They are run by business people. Many of them are not non-profits, so they are implicitly for-profit. That means the bottom-line, which is dictated by readership, circulation and sometimes the ratings of television sister networks, are what inform the decisions of the company.

Samuel Zell, owner of the Tribune Company, ran his media empire as an entertainment company and not a journalism company. Guess what? Tribune is still trying to emerge from bankruptcy protection.

Let’s get back to the Washington Post, though. When I wrote this story, WaPo was trailing in the digital race. Today, they did everything other than what I suggested in my piece and have become one of the foremost digital journalism centers around. Their blogs, including Capital Weather Gang and DC Sports Blog are stellar and I still read them regularly, even though neither pertain to me anymore.

Unlike when I wrote this post, WaPo’s digital and print operations are integrated, instead of separate. Online metrics are key and closely watched. Online traffic is the indicator of success at the Post. Circulation is not. Subscriptions are not. Traffic. Eyeballs on their apps, their blogs, their articles. That’s the important metric at the Post. No longer are digital operations a second class citizen. They are equal or greater than print.

Even the New York Times sees it:

They can look at where online visitors are when they read the site. And if their computers are registered with a government suffix — .gov, .mil, .senate or .house — editors know they are reaching the readers they want. “That’s our influential audience,” Mr. Narisetti said. “If a blog is over all not doing that great but has a higher percentage of those, we say don’t worry about it.”

The Washington Post is smarter than I am, clearly, and I applaud them for it.

Valleyboys: It’s All About the Money

Wow. How far off the mark can I be? This article, which matter-of-factly states something that was anything-but-fact, is a clear example o my lack of experience in 2007. In 2007, I apparently thought I knew everything there was about running a startup and raising funding. That from a perspective of someone who was  just over a year out of the corporate world working for my first startup. I wasn’t a founder nor had I raised money. I didn’t understand a thing about reputation (there’s that word again) of founders, the importance of co-founders, how to safely determine a valuation based on things like profit and loss, revenue, the value of burn, the value of users and more factors that go in to that process.

I don’t really know why I was so pissy at the Valley, but in 2012, let me go on record and say that it’s not all about money in the Valley and there are a lot of people working hard to create value. Many do raise money, but many bootstrap as well. There’s pros and cons to both, and that’s left to a different article.

In my defense, there is some absurd money flying around not just in the Valley, but everywhere. For instance, I still don’t see the reasoning behind a $30M raise on an 8x valuation for Path, a round that included Virgin empire mogul Sir Richard Branson. That company has pivoted so many times and still doesn’t seem to have a clue what it’s doing. Nor do I understand the $1 BILLION Instagram buyout by Facebook.

Here’s the money line (see what I did there?). Whether there’s a lot of money flowing or not is not the question. It is a question, but not the question. The question is whether there are good, innovative products being built that create value in the marketplace. If that can be done with no money, great. If it requires funding money on orders of magnitude, that’s a decision that the investors and entrepreneurs have to make. Money doesn’t come without strings. Big raises with low revenue and no profit generally mean the investors get more of the company and if the company sells, then the founders get less. But then big raises for profitable companies with low burn and high user numbers could also mean that the investors just want a piece of the action, even if they don’t get a big piece of the pie. But there’s always strings and the amount of money matters less than the percentage of ownership and the length of runway as it relates to a burn rate and overhead.

So if I believed in deleting articles entirely, this one would be a prime candidate. :)

In the spirit of making sure I’m not perceived as a douchebag, here are some good article I wrote many moons ago. Enjoy!

Friends vs. Fans, The Most Expensive Question, Social Media: How Much is Too Much?,

Turning the Resumé on its Face

Resumés suck. They suck bad. Somehow, you need to convince a prospective employer that you are, in fact, the right candidate for a job. Or you might be and they should take a second look at you and maybe give you the time of day to put up a phone interview.

You have to convince someone that you are entirely worth the time and effort without ever speaking to them. It’s all got to be conveyed on this little 1-2 page document that gives a snapshot of everything you are and can do professionally.

And you have to do it in a bad economy when people with Masters degrees are also looking for work. Maybe you too have a Master’s degree. That’s okay, you’re still competing against all the rest of them.

The traditional way of building a resumé is to provide a chronological context of every school and degree you’ve received along with every professional role over the last 7-10 years, give or take.

What do you do when you’re in the tech space and the requisite skills are constantly changing? What do you do when your role at the last 3 companies were essentially the same with little deviance in the job description?

Do as I do… flip your resumé on it’s face.

Let’s face it. If a company is going to hire you into a role, they want to know that you’re going to be innovative in your approach to the job and that you’re willing to think outside the box to do the best job you can. If they don’t, you probably don’t want to work for them anyway as they are plainly hiring you to just follow marching orders and that, let’s face it, sucks ass. There’s no place to achieve and rise to the top because you’re just doing things the way you’re told, by the book, all day every day. Sounds like a reason to drive off a cliff, if you ask me.

Let’s provide some context as to how this concept has worked for me for years.

In 1994, I graduated from a private high school in Annapolis, Md. I hated school but I went to a community college and decided not to do any general education coursework, as is typical. At the time, this school was piloting a program that shifted all the coursework from the police academy to the school with only firearms training being done at the academy. This was the county’s idea of slimming the budget. So I decided being a cop sounded like fun and I pursued a bunch of criminal justice work in my first year of college.

I dropped out after a year and pursued other interests.

Years later, I was given the opportunity with little experience to work in a federal data center for a government contracting company. I spent three years in that windowless data center watching my life slip away from me. It gave me a shot though.

As I started looking to move up inside the company, I realized that to do so meant punching some certification cards. I put a few small ones under my belt – enough to get a promotion to work desktop IT support as a contractor for the U.S. Navy. I did well in that role, consistently rating among the highest, knowledgeable techs on that contract.

When that contract expired and I was RIFfed (Reduction in Force), the company scooped me up into a similar role on the corporate side. Again, I was able to perform at a high level and by the time I left in 2006, I was single-handedly responsible for the IT support of 7 offices around the Baltimore/Washington area.

I still had no formal education, so during this time, I went back to another community college and worked toward getting coursework under my belt that would allow me a 4-year degree at some point in the future.

That was until I said, “Fuck it”, and went into the startup world. For the past 6 years, I have worked at or started 3 startups and ran my own consulting business in between (as I still do today). I did some advisory consulting with the Air Force, wrote a book, and even taught some classes at the post-graduate level at major universities including American University. Not bad for no degree.

Today, I still have no formal education. I’m a few credit away from a 2-year degree which wouldn’t be worth the paper it was printed on. When I went back to school, my experience was such that I was teaching the teachers.

I can go into a diatribe about how higher education is broke in this country, but I feel like I would be preaching to the choir. While some of my experience can be translated as college credit, most is ignored despite the fact that, in my field, I am 5-7 years ahead of what they are teaching in colleges today. And while a 4 year degree would be fairly useless to me as the industry is ahead of academia, a Master’s could be quite handy. Sadly I can’t get a Master’s without a 4-year, but I digress.

Coming back to the point about the resumé. I have tremendous chronological gaps if I were to formulate my resumé in traditional fashion. Am I ashamed of having no degree? No. Do I want to highlight that fact? Hell no. It’s unfortunate that America’s HR departments have been trained by buffoons who play to the checkboxes instead of actual skill, but those are the rules we play by.

Instead, I present to you an achievement/skills-based resumé. Instead of discussing formal education or companies that have been worked at ad nauseum, try laying it out to highlight the things you’ve accomplished along the way. I begin my resume with several one-sentence paragraphs that describe achievements I’ve made professionally – not for a company, for me.

I then mention companies I’ve worked at, purely for the sake of context. I also use LinkedIn recommendations I’ve received over the years to highlight what others say about me.

These three steps provide the context needed for employers to decide if they want to talk to me. If I can humblebrag, I usually get phone interviews for the companies I want to talk to and they usually go deep into multiple rounds. I’m still working for myself because timing, pay or perks are off in the end, but I rarely fail to get the attention of someone who I want to work for.

Try this concept. Maybe A/B test between a resumé of the format I’m describing and a more traditional one and see which one gets more traction. It can’t hurt, right?

Oh and here’s my resumé.