Drawing by Romancement on Flickr. Used by Creative Commons.

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?,

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The Death of Newspapers. Or Not.

Note that this is a multiple page post. If you are reading in some feed readers, you may not get the entirety of the article unless you come to the site itself.

The question posed over at Friendfeed asks, “Are blogs killing newspapers?”

The answer, quite simply, is no they are not.

I have talked about the newspaper industry quite a lot and part directions with many others in the new media space. In a world of absolute positions staked by nearly everyone, that paint issues in stark contrasts of black and white with no grey in between, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that if blogs are successful over newspapers in some area, then they must be killing the newspaper across the board.

In my old age of nearly 33, I’ve learned something in this life. That absolutes are generally far from absolute. The passion that is put forward by belief in something is enough to cause issue-oriented myopia, wherein it is impossible to consider other possible alternatives.

Thus is the case when the question is posed, “Are blogs killing newspapers?”

Let me pose both sides of the argument.

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Advocacy for Professional Consultants

A funny thing happened on the way to an SEO Mecca. The New York Times decided to fold all of the content of the International Herald Tribune into NYTimes.com as an SEO play. Gawker has the full backstory.

If you don’t feel like reading, the New York Times has been asking Google for enhanced SERPs (Search Engine Result Placements) for some time. As Google has refused special treatment, the Times decided to take the step of combining it’s moderately-strong iht.com property into the main NYTimes.com. On paper, this makes sense if they were playing to combine the strengths of both properties to enhance the value of the content in the search engines.

Many people do this, even on small scales. Through special, yet simple, configurations, systems admins can redirect one page to another and pass a code that instructs search engines to find the old content at the new location permanently or temporarily, depending on the use case and purpose. It’s a bit tricky, but also not rocket science. It happens all the time, and in fact, also happens on this site where I’ve deprecated old content pages in favor of new ones.

These are basic steps that are taken, and required, to retain the search engine value of a site. Unfortunately, as the Gawker story points out, the Times botched the process and is redirecting all of the IHT content to a single landing page, nullifying the value of all their content. (Though the argument could be made that if Times engineers jumped on the mistake quick enough, they could salvage the damage before Google updated all the results.

Assuming, however, that that is not the case, the decision to handle this in-house instead of contracting a professional SEO firm or consultant, highlights another bad business practice that is far too common – especially when a company is cash strapped, as the Times is.

Hiring an outside firm or individual to handle this stuff meticulously would have easily cost the Times a number in the five figure range. Easily. Maybe six figures, depending on the firm and the scope and complexity of the problem. Undoubtedly, this is a lot of money and one of the reasons that people try to do jobs on their own.

However, the flip side of this particular problem, understanding of course that I don’t have all the details, is that the advertising revenue being lost as a result of the search traffic that will not come to the site for a long time from Google, is unquestionably going to exceed the money they would have lost to hire a firm or reputed SEO professional.

In the advertising world, though in my opinion it is a flawed concept long-term, the most lucrative advertising for a content property like the New York Times, is CPM. CPM, is the amount of money that an advertiser is willing to pay for every thousand impression, or page view.

According to Compete.com (which is tragically wrong most of the time), the International Herald Tribune website gets approximately 4.6M page views monthly (2M unique visitors * 2.3 average pages per visit). At an extremely conservative rate of $20 CPM, the Times would lose $90,000 a month in advertising revenue. For $50,000, they could have contracted a firm to handle the SEO implications of the IHT switch.

I admit that I’m pulling numbers out of my ass here. Without a doubt, my numbers are way off any semblance of reality. The dollar figures per CPM are higher. The traffic is higher. But, my point is made.

Companies looking to play in the web space, when it’s not their primary business, should utilize contractors as much as possible. The downside of using contractors is the lack of “buy in” to the company mission, however consultants are usually more efficient and professional about getting a job done right the first time (they have other clients) than many in-house teams can do. In a down economy, as well, it’s critically important that companies are able to stay focused on their core missions.

Bonus: Despite the fact that I am making up numbers, the principle behind consultancy remains. But to lighten things up, I’ll toss the naysayers a bone.

Dilbert.com

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