Moving on From Lijit

As the economy continues to spiral downward, and more companies are trying to extend their runways for as long as possible, we are hearing about an increasing number of layoffs. When you’re a contractor, you always sort of have it in the back of your mind that your number could be called at any time.

That time for me is now. Lijit has been my primary client since May and it has been a good run. I came into that role to learn the art of business development and I learned a lot. I can’t say it was my favorite role ever, but it added to my experience and gave me an opportunity to look at the web industry from a different side. No regrets.

Generally, my preference is to run a job or role until I get so good at it that I’m bored. Sometimes, things just don’t fall that way. My role will be changing in the next 45 days with Lijit. I am being offered a restructured contract that will be performance based and will allow me to expand myself back into tech. This is actually good for everyone as that will allow me to get into a role I excel in and can own in an economy where people are being laid off because they are expendable.

It also allows me to stay involved with the Boulder company and continue to extend the number of publishers who recognize the need for upgraded search capability and monetization of search content. At the same time, I can build my own pipeline and diversify enough to survive the next 18 months.

Of course, I am always open to discussions or job offers as well, so feel free to reach out as well at aaron@technosailor.com or 410-608-6620.

The Roadmap For Building a 21st Century Newspaper

Yesterday, I weighed in on the Tribune Company bankruptcy filing, noting that where voids might be created by the disappearance of established newspaper brands, there was opportunity for those nimble enough and digitally savvy enough to adjust. In my mind, as I wrote that, I was thinking primarily of alternate newspapers, but had a dream somewhere in the recesses of my head that there would, or could be an answer from the blog world. That there were blogs with enough presence and notoriety that could fill the void left by a major daily. Of course, power players exist but are generally single vertical sites (i.e. Engadget operates in the tech gadgets space) that don’t have the wide-ranging appeal that a daily newspaper does.

However, since I wrote that piece, I’ve carried on a number of private conversations with folks inside the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. The questions seem to be, “Aaron, what do you think we can do better?”

Interesting question.

2125669268_6aa230b967_oOrlando Sentinel Newsroom. Photo by wcouch

I think the New York Times, as mentioned yesterday, has road mapped a lot of where the newspaper business needs to be in the digital age. All of their content is robustly tagged in a machine-readable way. It’s possible to find all content from Author D between the months of June and October in even-numbered years having to do with the auto industry.

The fine level of meta-data (data describing the stories) has been applied in such a way that the entirety of the Times is opened up to ambitious people who want to use their data and mash it up, re-apply it and, by nature, extend the New York Times readership.

The roadmap is there.

Interestingly, with a New York Times approach to metadata and the variety of Tribune Company properties (not just the Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune and LA Times, but also the Hartford Courant, WGN, Orlando Sentinel and more), it should be possible for users to create their own newspaper, and the newspaper to suggest content by behavior. Facebook is all over behavioral advertising and might be a willing partner.

If you provide a common sense approach to content discovery, across all Tribune properties, and allow readers to assemble and find content that is not only localized, but also relevant to their interests and concerns, with the understanding that the 21st century American is transient and not likely a loyalist to a metro area or a metro newspaper, then you have the basis for breaking the newspaper out of the early 1950s.

It is not simply good enough to provide a way to have external content (a la “Add an RSS feed”). That does not help the greater company to be coherent in the digital age. You must provide a way for Tribune Company content from all properties to be searched (Talk to me about Lijit – we can do a deal that works), discovered via meta-data analysis (NY Times approach) and user behavior feedback and offerings (a la Facebook).

There, my friends at the Tribune Company, is your road map to building a 21st Century newspaper business.

Internet 2.0, Suck it Up and Lead

The Valley, which has so far been most unaffected by the downturn in the economy, may be reaching the end of it’s golden thread. Sequoia Capital, one of the largest Venture Capital firms in the Valley, had a meeting with their portfolio companies advising them to “tighten their belts” according to Om Malik of GigaOm.

The message delivered to those in attendance was that things could get a lot worse than people think, and it will be a more protracted downturn. To give a historical perspective, Sequoia had a similar meeting back before the last bubble unraveled burst. We know how that turned out.

Hot on the heels of Sequoias meeting, angel investor Ron Conway sent an email to the CEOs of his potfolio companies advising them, in the words of Mike Arrington, of a bleak immediate future:

You should lower your “œburn rate” to raise at least 3-6 months or more of funding via cost reductions, even if it means staff reductions and reduced marketing and G&A expenses. This is the equivalent to “œraising an internal round” through cost reductions to buy you more time until you need to raise money again; hopefully when fund raising is more feasible. Letting go of staff is hard and often gut wrenching. A re-evaluation of timelines and re-focus on milestones with the eye of doing more with less will allow you to live many more days, and the name of the game in this environment in some respects is survival”“survival until conditions change.

Brad Feld, an investor in Lijit who I work for, echoes my sentiments from yesterday (or rather, I echoed his since he went first):

My recommendation to all of you entrepreneurs out there is to get off the negative sentiment treadmill, step up, and lead. The people working for your company are likely confused, concerned, and overwhelmed with all the noise in the system. In the near term, building your business will likely be more challenging on a number of dimensions. So what – that’s the normal cycle of business. You don’t need to be a blind optimist and spout happy talk, but you do need to have a clear sense of purpose and goals for your company. Leadership 101.

Times get tough. The people that approach the challenge with some clarity in their thoughts are the ones that will emerge on the other side stronger than ever and positioned to be the next generation of winners in this space.

Startup Voodoo: Turning Users into Evangelists

If you can pitch a user and convert them in under an hour, you’ve got a great product. If you listen to your users recruit other users without prompting, you’ve got a kick-ass company.

Last year at Gnomedex, I discovered Lijit for the first time and the concept behind trust-based search clicked in my mind as very valuable and necessary in an increasingly crowded web space. Little did I know that less that a year later, I would begin doing business development for the company that, more than any other, had me sold on first blush.

About two months ago, I sent an email to Jeremy Schoemaker about the Lijit tool. I was unsure what the outcome would be and was pleased to get an email within an hour thanking me for the email and informing me that he had signed up and installed since my initial email. Quick win, and thanks, Jeremy!

A few days later, he wrote a post about the widget and he became the referral for a large number of installs. To this day, he ranks near the top.

A few days ago at Blog World Expo, I sat in the New Media Lounge with Drew Olanoff from Strands and Jessica Smith. I was not pushing Lijit but instead, plunking away on Twitter while Drew and Jessica chatted. At some point, the conversation spun around to Lijit and I listened with a smile as Drew sold Jessica on our tool, without me getting involved.

Drew is a passionate user who has been converted into an evangelist.

There is no greater testimony to any company, not just Lijit, than to have their users do the selling. End of the day, your brand is controlled by your users (as I’ve said repeatedly for years) and though you might feel like you have to protect or have ownership of your brand, it is really the intangible effect of the loyalty of your users.

If your users don’t have faith, confidence and loyalty in your brand, your brand is essentially worthless. If, however, you can turn them into passionate users (Kathy Sierra’s message, actually), you will have evangelists for life and your brand has value.

Findability is a Legitimate Concern for Bloggers

On Saturday, I posted a review of my session at WordCamp on Search and Findability. It was hard to gauge at that time how effective the session was at the time I wrote that. Beside my normal annual attendance at WordCamp as a subject matter expert, and several sessions at different WordCamps around the country over the past few years, I was there on behalf of Lijit.

In fact, when I pitched the session on search to Matt (as a core interest of Lijit), I was firmly instructed (as I suspected I would be) that hard pitching the company was off limits. From my perspective as a member of the WordPress community, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It was the same approach that we took at b5media. The company was represented. The company was known as a WordPress shop. We shared war stories with other WordPress shops. But no one on stage at any point pitched b5. It’s non-standard, I think, for any company to pitch their wares at any *Camp.

Instead, my session was about findability. Findability is the concept that content can be “found” by readers. This is a common problem that many bloggers wrestle with, and many have tried a wide variety of techniques to make their blogs more findable. This is not the same as SEO, though. SEO is a subset of findability. It’s findability for machines. Findability is as much about the data structure as the content or theme structure or the device compatibility (is it mobile compatible, for instance?)

Our product at Lijit tries to address a lot of the issues of findability. Re-search provides relevant search data to readers coming from the search engines (think landing pages). It makes all the bloggers content findable by indexing not just the site, but all the other related content associated with the user.

What I found interesting, and that I did not know when I wrote my post, was that the rest of the day would reinforce the core principles of my session. Tantek Çelik expounded on Microformats. There was an SEO session. Numerous bloggers talked to me throughout the day explaining solutions that they have come up with for making a blog more findable. Solutions ranged from content practices, to theme structures to custom homegrown plugins that do various things. It was fascinating.

I realize now what I thought I realized then, but didn’t really realize until now. All bloggers are faced with the same core challenges. The challenges manifest themselves in different ways, but at the end of the day findability is on the forefront of everyones minds.

  1. All bloggers want to drive traffic. Whether the traffic is internal, a key interest of those in the SEO/SEM/Ad space, or within their sphere of influence, an interest of bloggers looking to build their personal brand.
  2. All bloggers want to provide value to readers. No blogger wants search engine traffic to go away. Everyone wants to find a way to keep that traffic and convert it into value, whether ad-driven or otherwise, for their blog
  3. Bloggers are grappling with ways to break apart from the pack. 99.999% of blogs (a totally random number) really look the same at the end of the day. I don’t mean the user interface, but I do mean the theme structure. Structures are built in expected way, and modules/widgets are expected to behave similar ways, regardless of the blog
  4. WordPress cannot solve all the problems of all the blogs. Keep in mind that WordPress is a tool, not a lifestyle. (And I’d say the same thing to social media aficionados). WordPress is evolving into something, but much of the value that bloggers can add, allowing themselves to be different or drive more traffic (see point 1 or 2), are created by smart people trying to bring a solution to a problem.
  5. At the end of the day, every bloggers wants a kickass community of readers and commenters that reinforce their worth in the world. Kathy Sierra talks about creating passionate users, and she’s talking about principles of an engaged community. Findability helps the community engage.

Doing a 9am session is hard. Everyone is still sleepy, and/or hung over, jetlagged, etc. At the end of my session, I felt like I said what I needed to say. However, by the end of the weekend, I realized that much of WordCamp reinforced exactly the concerns that I brought up to kick off the opening session. That’s encouraging to me as a WordPress user and as someone who tries to understand the dynamics of the greater community. Of course, it encourages me as a Lijit guy as I see that our product can directly address many of the challenges that I heard repeated throughout the weekend.

Search and Findability

I’m at WordCamp San Francisco 2008 today and had the distinct pleasure of giving a talk on Search and Findability. Distinct pleasure because it was the first session of the day at 9am. And if any of you know me, then you know that I don’t do mornings well. :-)

My session was about Search and Findability. There seemed to be a lot of misunderstandings about what the session would be about. Findability is not SEO. SEO is an aspect of Findability. SEO makes a blog findable for search engines.

Really, Findability is all about the right data being available to the reader, whether that reader is human or a machine (search engines). To that end, theme structure is a major area of concerns. Theme developers can setup their themes to have related posts or popular posts functionality, as well as attention to search implementation. I suggested theme authors should provide search results in full format, and not simply excerpts.

Secondly, findability is all about metadata and descriptive data. Microformats provide a human semantic understanding to machine-oriented descriptive data. Examples are

1
rel="nofollow"

,

1
rel="tag"

as well as WordPress built in XFN. Human understanding of machine data.

Multimedia content should take advantage of descriptive content. This means image tagging, show notes for podcasts and caption text for videos. Of course, and understanding of tags and categories is helpful.

Thirdly, I touched briefly on Ambient Findability, a concept introduced by Peter Morville in the O’Reilly publication with the same name. Ambient Findability suggests that no matter what, where or how, content should be easily findable. At b5media the mantra was “the right content, at the right time, to the right person on the right device”. Morville asks three questions:

  1. Can people find your blog?
  2. Can people find their way around your blog?
  3. Can people find your content, products and services despite your blog?

Finally, I suggested four plugins/features that can enhance the findability of a site:

  1. Possibly Related Posts – Only available for WordPress.com users.
  2. Search Everything – makes all areas of WordPress content available for the default search
  3. Microformats plugins – adds additional Microformats support to WordPress: Micro Anywhere, Blog Summary and Save Microformats
  4. Lijit for WordPress – our new plugin that allows registration and configuration from inside of the WordPress admin. Also, it makes it possible to hijack the theme search form.

The slide deck from the session is available below. It is Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial licensed. In other words, use the idea, use the concepts, use the deck in it’s entirety as long as you attrbiute me. I’m Aaaron Brazell from Technosailor.com in case you didn’t know. Oh, and if you make money, I expect a cut. ;-)

Findability Abwc2008
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own.

Landed On My Feet

Back a few months ago, I announced my departure from b5media. At that time, I really didn’t know what I would end up doing. At the time, I figured I’d land on my feet doing something similar (Director of Technologyish) or maybe dip my toes in PR. Lord knows I wanted to get out of technology. No doubt I’ll be back in technology at some point in my life, but I really needed a break from it and wanted to explore other career paths.

Well, two months went by and when I left b5media, I quickly picked up with Lijit where, instead of dipping my feet in PR or continuing on the technology track, I found myself learning the ropes of Business Development.

Never been here. Never done that.

In typical Aaron fashion, I thought I could storm in and prove all the critics wrong. Wrong. I figured I could identify a bunch of high profile sites and, bam, I’d prove my mettle.

Wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, I did a fine job. I managed a few quick wins and set about on bigger targets. Time went by and the wins got farther apart.

Okay, I began realizing this was a marathon, not a sprint. I had to adjust.

Adjustment ongoing, however I’ve shown enough promise at this very new role for me that last week I traveled out to Lijit World Headquarters in Boulder, Colorado – a place once described as 50 square miles surrounded by reality – and met the entire team. In addition to a pleasant few days in the mountains and thin air, I was pleased to walk away with a full-time gig. Business Development Manager.

Scary title. I even now own a Boulder phone number. Fascinating.

Interestingly, I’ve learned a few thing about Biz Dev as it relates to other, more familiar roles.

  1. The key to BizDev is more about relationships and less about sales.
  2. Pitching doesn’t work. Talking does.
  3. BizDev is a war fought with a pistol, not a machine gun. (via Micah)
  4. Strategic wins are sometimes bigger than Big wins.

I’m sure there are other things that I’ll continue to learn about BizDev as time goes on. Love to hear your thoughts on this kind of role. Tell me what I need to learn.

Working with Lijit

Picture 2.pngToday was the first day of retirement for me. Well, not technically retirement. Don’t I wish! But it is my first day of doing independent consultancy.

My biggest client is also the company who I’ve been the biggest fan of during the past year. I discovered Lijit at Gnomedex last year. Their angle was what sold me.

Lijit is all about placing context around search. It can search across multiple points of contact – YouTube, Flickr, blogs, etc. Because it provides context, the Lijit Wijit provides a way for readers to search a site, all of the owners content or even all the content in the owners network of friends and contacts.

Because Lijit allows you to pull in all these contacts as well as points of content, it is able to provide a much more sane approach to search. Does this eliminate Google? No, not exactly. However, at the risk of sounding like Jason Calacanis, Google is filled with all kinds of irrelevant content as well as spam.

Take this for example. If you want to fix the problem of “too little virtual memory” on Windows, you can search Google for virtual memory, and get informational articles from Wikipedia, how virtual memory works, etc.

However, if you head on over to Ask Dave Taylor, the cyber “you’ve got questions, I’ve got answers” man, and search his site with the Lijit Wijit, you’ll find his post right away.

While this seems trivial, it’s pretty important to know that the information you get is authoritative and that you can trust it.

Enough pitching.

Now that I’ve begun work with Lijit, I wanted to share it with everyone who was concerned about what I’d be doing next. This is one of those things and I couldn’t be more excited.

Plus, now Micah Baldwin has been unseated as the #1 douchebag at Lijit – which is important.