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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Journos Go All Capitalistic on Wikileaks

Since the release of the State Department cables by Wikileaks, I’ve sat back and watched as the journalism world has gone through convulsions about the morality of capitalizing on these secrets.

It’s been a fascinating, and illuminating, charade. As the fourth estate, the media would like to portray themselves as an unbiased, objective entity that maintains balance in society. Yet, inherently, the media is just as guilty of self-interest as anyone else in this whole mess.

Yes, the State Department specifically, and the United States (and maybe other) governments would like to keep the lid on the memos. They see their credibility in talking with other nations on the line.

Julian Assange sees this, as pointed out in the great piece by zunguzungu, where Assange is quoted as saying:

Authoritarian regimes give rise to forces which oppose them by pushing against the individual and collective will to freedom, truth and self-realization. Plans which assist authoritarian rule, once discovered, induce resistance. Hence these plans are concealed by successful authoritarian powers. This is enough to define their behavior as conspiratorial.

Assange sees a world where transparent and open government subvert the power and authority of the same government and so there is a natural tendency (he calls it conspiracy) to hide what happens inside.

I agree that this dichotomy exists in some areas of government, but the diplomatic cables are common sense – for all involved. Keep them hidden as there is a potential that revelation can increase safety risks, decrease operational security and reduce negotiation power. Successful negotiations derive from a position of power and everyone knows this. This is not something that amounts to some great conspiracy.

Meanwhile, the media is on the sideline, their power usurped from this rogue operative with a rogue website. Instead of the New York Times or Washington Post benefitting from the receipt of leaked information as has been the case in their traditional past (see Watergate), an upstart “news organization” is stealing their thunder. Sure the Times and a variety of other media outlets were given the data eventually, but the arbiter of information was no longer them.

While the media wrings their hands over a contrived battle between the morality of publishing leaked, national security documents and preservation of national secrets, the bigger capitalistic battle is happening and that overshadows journalistic sense of responsibility.

The ability to be first is being tainted here. While Wikileaks promises to distribute new information, acting as a benevolent dictator, to news organizations, these news organizations are capitulating their responsibilities simply to make sure they have some crumbs off of Assange’s table.

No one, certainly, is suggesting that news outlets should become a lap-dog, as I have heard toss around, of the government, bowing to their every will and whim. Certainly not, lest we live in a Communist system. However, the media is expected to operate in a suitably responsible way.

In this case, the media knows that they are on the outs. In a last gasp of industry-pride, they have sacrificed themselves in a last-ditch effort to remain relevant. Put in another way, they have come to serve themselves instead of the people they exist to serve.

Of course, this hasn’t happened overnight. No, in fact, many years of budget cuts, acquisitions, mergers and staff reductions have caused the media industry to alter how they operate and approach stories. It’s less likely that you’ll have a Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein hitting the trenches to uncover a conspiracy so deep that it reaches the President of the United States. No, that would require far more time and resources – and frankly, better reporters – than exist in todays media.

So with not a thought to their forefathers, the media of the 21st century makes decisions of national security to protect their own industry than serve the constituents who consume their journalism everyday. I wish it weren’t so.

Photo by Photoserra

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Washington Post Breaks the Gender Gap With New Editor

The Washington Post, the stalwart of print journalism in the District of Columbia, made less than impressive news last week when their second in command, Editor Phillip Bennett stepped down from his post. We covered the story, noting that this is the second executive level editor to resign from DC’s grey lady in several months.

The Post wasted no time in hiring two new managing editors. Though we have an inquiry in to the Post for comment, it is unclear, at this time, if these positions are an attempt to replace the two vacancies or if these are two new positions that exist to oversee the merger of the Washington Post print entity and the troubled WPNI, the online arm of the company.
thewashingtonpost
Notably, one of the new editors, Elizabeth Spayd, is the first woman to fill the role of Managing Editor in the history of the newspaper. She has been with the Post for years and will fill the role of covering the “hard news” according to the article published in the newspaper this morning.

Increasingly, the female role in journalism and news is being noticed. At BlogHer, the role of women in all aspects of life is front and center, and the editors and writers – many of whom would qualify under any rational spit test as journalists – had a significant impact on the election as influencers emerged on both sides.

In the District, the role of women in government also is gaining a head of steam. In the new media community alone, influencers such as Leslie Bradshaw and Jen Nedeau are working with New Media Strategies to affect change. Shireen Mitchell, the Vice Chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, is effectively spotlighting women in technology and government. It seems only natural that the most prominent newspaper in Washington would name a woman to one of their top posts.

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