The Aaron Brazell Train Keeps Rolling

This post is quick and dirty. Sort of a braindump of sorts. I just want to get it out there as I’m coming in to land with the WordPress Bible and doing a delicate dance of travel, and final deadlines.

I’m sitting in Orlando International Airport and processing a lot of thoughts. Saturday, I gave my first keynote at IZEAFest which is an event that is, at it’s core, an opportunity for bloggers and online marketers to extend their reach online. My talk was about Influence and is loosely based around the 8 Traits of Highly Effective Influencers post I wrote back in March.

My goal in the keynote was to provide insights that other speakers might shy away from giving because, in general, people like to be coddled and told what they want to hear, not what they need to hear. I knew going into the session that I might ruffle some feathers, but I love the online community so much that I thought it would be a disservice to bring a message that enabled destructive behavior. We don’t need no rockstars, especially rockstars with no substance. What we do need are people who recognize the powerful principles that have made people influencers for thousands of years. There is nothing new under the sun.

I do want to expound on this concept of transparency, a topic I addressed in my keynote. Transparency is absolutely essential, but transparency only makes it easier to see inside. You have to be transparent to sell services, business and trust. However, if the content of your character sucks, then transparency only ensures that the world will see it. Transparency solves no problems if you suck as a person or your product sucks because it just does. It may be better to worry about your DNA then worry about making sure the world can see it. Just saying.

You can see some outtakes here.

There’s been a bit of buzz about the session that you can read too.

IzeaFest 2009 - 55Of course, my new friend Missy Ward made sure I met Murray Newlands: “Oh you need to do an interview with Aaron Brazell!” – I’ll make sure that info is out and about when it happens as well.

In about a week, I’m on my way back to Las Vegas for Blog World Expo and to speak at WordCamp Las Vegas. In case you’re wondering, the topic is a bit clever – Star Wars Quotes: The WordPress Genius They Are (think Yoda’s voice) where I’ll be sharing some guiding principles around WordPress, open source and the community. So if you’re in town for the show, stop by and say hi.

Finally, regarding speaking… I have spoken 28 times in 2009. Universally, I am not paid to speak. In some cases, like with Blog World Expo and IZEAFest, expenses are covered and I’m grateful. Generally, however, they are not. Most of these events are local things and constitute no real travel time, but still impact the timeline I have available for client work, etc.

Beginning in 2010, I’ll be looking to have some sort of fee structure involved with speaking opportunities. While I will always leave the door open for unpaid opportunities where it makes sense, it makes no real sense to do 28 speaking engagements in a year and not get paid for it. I want to provide that heads up as we’re entering the final stretch of 2009 and I’m lining up opportunities for 2010. If you do want me to speak to your company, industry event, or community group, please email me at aaron@technosailor.com so we can start working those details out.

Until then, follow me elsewhere in the interwebz:

Ethical Questions over Apps.gov

It’s been no secret since the Obama administration took office, that a key technological interest for the administrations tech policy would involve Cloud-based, Software as a Service (SaaS) initiatives. To that end, contractors and providers have been jockeying to provide cloud service to the federal government.

One of these contractors, notable for their size and breadth within the government I.T. contracting ecosystem, is Computer Sciences Corporation [CSC], who has partnered with Microsoft [MSFT] to provide a specialized product offering for the government.

Interestingly this week, the federal government jumped on the the “app store” movement, made sexy by Apple [AAPL] and expounded on by BlackBerry manufacturer Research in Motion [RIMM] and Palm [PALM] and now Google [GOOG] with their Android phones.

Incidentally, I’m including stock symbols for a reason. Follow the money and see where it goes. Thats your homework for the day, kids.

Screen shot 2009-09-17 at 1.52.02 PMThe new government offering, Apps.gov is a new “app store” for the federal government. Unlike other app store offerings that are geared toward mobile computing, this app store, an initiative of the GSA seeks to be a clearing house for cloud/SaaS services for the federal government. I’d be lying if I told you I thought this wouldn’t work in driving adoption by other federal agencies of these services.

The App store is divided into four sections: Business Apps, Cloud IT Services, Productivity Apps and Social Media Apps. Most of the applications found in Apps.gov are for-pay services and they are only available for purchase with a government purchasing card. These pay-services include a variety of products from Force.com, creator of the highly popular (if onerously annoying) Salesforce, and a variety of Google Apps products (all paid).

Interestingly, there are free products as well, and this is where I have ethics questions. Many of the products that are free, mostly in the Social Media section, are tools that are used everyday in social media, blogging, and web culture. Many of these apps we take for granted and talk about everyday. Applications like Slideshare and DISQUS have been used on this blog absolutely free of charge.

However, in the government, there always needs to be a tradeoff. You do something, you get something. Even Freedom of Information Act provisions make getting information a freely available right, but it doesn’t make it free. Most requests must be paid for.

Even when working with Lijit, I spent weeks and months trying to get one of the campaigns to adopt the product, but we couldn’t get it done as a free product without it being considered a campaign contribution. Granted, campaigns are not government, but you see where I’m going with this.

Daniel Ha, the CEO of DISQUS commented that they work with a variety of government agencies but that the GSA requires agreements to keep things official and on the up and up. This does not surprise me. It seems to be necessary. Ha did indicate that he was not aware of Apps.gov though, which seems to indicate that the app store was simply populated with providers who the GSA has a record of. It seems to me there’s some kind of missing piece here and I can’t put my finger on what it is.

When browsing around Apps.gov, it is not immediately known how providers get listed in the store. This is where my ethics questions come up. Companies listed in the store gain an implicit endorsement by the government, and probably immediate adoption in other agencies struggling to identify which services should be allowed and which services should not. This is not a transparent process of product selection or offering that I would have hoped for, though on the surface, it is certainly a good step in the right direction.

The major missing piece here is a transparent statement that informs the public on how apps are selected, if there is money changing hands (pay per play), how companies can get their own apps listed, etc.

This is the same problem Apple [AAPL] has had with the iTunes App store and arbitrary selection. It is such a problem that the Federal Trade Commission is looking into it. It also sets up a possibilty of an FTC investigation of the GSA for anti-competitive practice, though I’m not entirely sure if that is logistically or legally possible.

My point is that GSA is doing the right thing here, mostly. They just need to tweak and get rid of any shadow of wrongdoing or ethics questions.