The Maturation of a Leader

Football has a striking resemblance to business sometimes.

Despite moving to Austin, my allegiance to the Baltimore Ravens remains as strong, and maybe stronger, than ever. It’s been an exciting offseason with lots of power moves and now training camp is in full swing.

For third year Quarterback Joe Flacco, this appears to be his coming out year. The Baltimore Sun ran a story about him the other day noting that this offense is now Joe’s offense. He’s taking command. He’s inheriting responsibility. He’s taking ownership.

He’s taking more command and making more adjustments at the line of scrimmage. He’s looking to become more effective in the red zone. And he’s tutoring new backup quarterback Marc Bulger when everyone thought it would be the other way around.

“I want to be able to just run the show and go up and down the field, blow out points on the board and come out successful,” Flacco said after a 75-minute practice featuring rookies and veterans coming off injuries. “That’s what it’s all about.”

That’s the mark of a leader and something that anyone who aspires to leadership is required to do at one point.

Since being in Austin, I’ve been exposed more and more to the startup life – something I used to live in as the Director of Technology at b5media, a company that used to be a blog network but now is something, well, frankly, unidentifiable.

As a result of my new exposure to a startup culture, I’ve already talked to a few companys to get a feel of how they do business. It reminds me of those early days at b5media. Four founders, making decisions by committee, and hoping for the best. Sometimes consensus was a blocker to real innovation.

This mode is common for early companies. Small group. Everyone needs to be on the same page to do anything. And they suffer from paralysis of no decisions. No one is willing to take charge and lead.

At b5media, once we took our first round of VC money, Jeremy Wright, became the CEO. He was forced into a role of trying to get consensus but not suffering from the paralysis of required consensus. Many times, those of us in those leadership roles diverged in opinions and advocated different directions. It was Jeremy’s role to distill this feedback, foster the discussion, and then ultimately take ownership of the situation and make his call.

Sometimes it was the right choice. Sometimes it wasn’t.

Imagine this. It’s a third and long situation. The Ravens offense is backed up on their own 10 yard line due to an unfortunate series of downs involving an incomplete pass and an offensive holding penalty. They are down by 13 points with 6 minutes left in the game. The safe call, and the one called in to Flacco by Cam Cameron on the sideline, would be a slant play down the middle to a slot receiver or tight end.

As the offense lines up, Flacco sees the defense showing blitz and crowding the middle. Understanding from experience that this is a situation fraught with disaster and the need for a big breakout play to energize his offense, he calls an audible. Ray Rice on a draw play – bait the offense to continue to see the pass, but then destroy them with an off tackle run. Rice runs for 24 yards and gets the first down and better field position.

If it wasn’t for the leader having the confidence and insight to see the minefield upon him, he might just go with common wisdom or, more naturally, the wisdom of his advisors. However, he decides that he has the information he needs to make a big play, owns the call and gets a win.

While it’s common for young startups to operate on consensus, sometimes it requires someone with enough balls to make a tough call and own it. A good team will support that and have their leaders back regardless. If they don’t, they shouldn’t be on your team.

Photo credit: Keith Allison

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Copyblogger Brian Clark Leaves DIYThemes/Thesis Theme

A few weeks ago, Brian Clark of Copyblogger.com confided in me that he was leaving DIYThemes, and splitting paths from the embattled Thesis theme and lead developer Chris Pearson. He agreed to do an interview with me exclusively about this news. This is the entire transcript of that interview.

Technosailor.com: Brian, thanks for agreeing to this interview. Obviously, the timing of this announcement and interview are interesting considering the discussions that have been happening in the WordPress community as it pertains to licensing and DIYThemes, the creator of the Thesis theme. You’ve been with DIYThemes since its inception and have championed the theme. You’re leaving the company now. Can you describe the reasoning that has gone into this decision?

Brian: Chris Pearson and I have been discussing an amicable way to split for the last 3 months. The very public disagreements Chris recently had with Matt Mullenweg were ugly and embarrassing, but that’s beside the point.

The reason for the split is more fundamental than that one issue. For the last year Chris and I have had completely different opinions about the direction of the development of Thesis, the running of the company, and our relationship with the WordPress community. And there really hasn’t been any way to resolve those different opinions given that I’m the minority owner of the company and what he decides goes.

Technosailor.com: Well, when you say “our relationship with the WordPress community,” that’s got to mean the GPL issue, right?

Brian: That’s part of it, but also, fundamentally I think Chris really wants to build something new that has nothing to do with WordPress. Trying to force his development ideas into a WordPress framework creates a whole set of issues. I wanted him to go build his thing on a separate development track and simply be okay with Thesis being a great framework that extends the power of WordPress — because that’s what it was supposed to be.

As for the GPL, I took steps from the very beginning to make sure we never issued a license that was in contravention of the GPL. We used a membership concept since 2008 after I came on board. Our terms of service said you follow the rules of your Thesis plan and get the benefits of membership — support, updates, etc. If you don’t follow the rules, you get kicked out. It was never a problem, because most people are honest.

My last official act with DIYThemes was drafting the Thesis split GPL license after Matt Mullenweg publicly committed to suing Chris. I thought that was the right move for Thesis going forward, and Chris eventually saw the light. But we were going our separate ways no matter what.

Technosailor.com: There’s a lot more to the story than that regarding the GPL. I know the story because of our conversations over the years, but other people don’t. Can you elaborate?

Brian: Okay. At the very beginning, I was completely in the dark about the GPL. I’m a content guy — I’m busy writing and producing content, not following WordPress politics. But once Chris asked me to partner with him, I naturally had to educate myself. What I found out about the GPL didn’t make much sense, frankly, but it was the way things were with WordPress. So I made sure we never took an intellectual property position in our membership terms that opposed the GPL.

About a year-and-a-half ago, Matt Mullenweg made a big push for the major WordPress premium theme developers to expressly declare themselves GPL. I think Brian Gardner of StudioPress was the first to go along. About that time, I told Chris I saw no problem with going expressly GPL, since we’re selling way more than just code and again, most people in our particular market are honest.

Chris told me to go talk to Matt and Automattic CEO Toni Schneider about going GPL and being welcomed into the WordPress community with open arms. It’s important to remember that due to the Copyblogger audience and my personal relationships, we never needed the blessing of WordPress for marketing purposes. But Matt was offering prominent exposure on WordPress.org, so why not?

Long and short is, I spent a lot of time discussing things with Matt in the early summer of 2009. We had everything worked out. I went back to Chris and he said he had changed his mind and didn’t want to go GPL after all. I thought that was a mistake, and looking back, we started diverging on just about everything from that point forward.

Technosailor.com: Now, you’ve argued with Matt publicly about whether the GPL is even legally enforceable. How do you explain that?

Brian: Oh, don’t get me wrong – as a former attorney, I think the odds of the GPL being shot down in court in this context are pretty good. A lot of practicing attorneys think so too (if you’re interested in that kind of stuff, you can read this and this).

But the law is not the point. If you’re going to develop on a massive open source platform like WordPress, it makes sense to follow the rules of the community that’s developing it. If you don’t want to, go build on something else, or build your own thing. I see the point behind the philosophy of the GPL, and I’m fine with it. I don’t like people trying to assert that it is “the law” and that non-GPL developers are “breaking the law,” because that’s just not accurate.

The GPL is a license (a contract) that has never been judicially tested in the way WordPress says it applies, and that position probably wouldn’t survive a court case. But I got out of law because I hate litigation, so why would I want to fight about it? Just play according to the home court rules and you can still make money with a great offer.

Technosailor.com: So you’re selling your stake in DIYThemes or are you maintaining your interest and stepping away from daily operations and intervention? Is there an advisory role here or is the relationship done?

Brian: At first, around 3 months ago, we explored selling the whole company. Then I floated the idea of me buying Chris out along with some investors. Chris said he wasn’t interested. We finally settled on Chris buying me out over several months of installment payments. The paperwork was drawn up, Chris had a few minor questions, and he told me it was no problem getting it done by the end of July.

Apparently now Chris has changed his mind about that as well. So things are in limbo, but I no longer have any active role with DIYThemes, operational, advisory, or promotional. Like I said, my last official act was preventing him from getting sued by WordPress.

Technosailor.com: What’s the future then for Copyblogger? You have been running Thesis for as long as Thesis has been around. Do you continue doing that or move to a different framework?

Brian: We stopped using Thesis as a development platform for pending projects months ago. It’s perfectly fine for some people, but it doesn’t play well with WordPress enough for our needs. So I’m sure I’ll move Copyblogger to something else soon. And that was part of the reasoning for my departure — I can’t promote something I can’t use.

Technosailor.com: What about Scribe? Is that part of DIYThemes?

Brian: Scribe is a separate company with a different partner and has nothing to do with DIYThemes. It’s exceeding all my expectations after only 6 months and we’ll be releasing version 3.0 this month. So it’s not all doom and gloom. ;-)

Technosailor.com: Now that Thesis has gone Split GPL, do you feel like the damage that has already been done in the community can be fixed? Is it possible for Thesis to have the prominence and success it has had prior to the public “altercations”?

Brian: I don’t know. I just know I no longer have to wake up each morning worried about what “altercation” has broken out overnight. That’s a good feeling in itself. Life is too short to be involved in things that make you unhappy.

Photo Credit: Wendy Piersall

Back in Startup Mode… Announcing WP Engine!

Since I moved to Austin, I have been very coy about what I’ve been up to. There’s a reason for that and today I can tell you all about it. Especially since my good friend Marshall over at ReadWriteWeb already has. :-)

It was very interesting. Back in May, my friend Pete Jackson, who works for Intridea, started making a point of introducing me over to Twitter to one of his friends in whatever city I happened to be travelling in at that moment.

It was in this way that I met Sean Cook, the manager of mobile integrations at Twitter in San Francisco and, when I was in Austin visiting in May, he made sure that I met Aaron Scruggs of Other Inbox who has since become a pretty good friend.

It was after that meeting with Scruggs in May that he connected me to one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met, Jason Cohen. Jason is one of the two founding partners at Capital Thought, an Austin-based incubator. Jason has also built several companies and parlayed two of those into healthy exits. I’ve come to have a tremendous amount of respect for his technical and business savvy.

Jason described to me the concept for a business that he was working on along with Cullen Wilson. A premium, WordPress platform that would cater specifically to the customers who want to make sure their blog is always taken care of from a maintenance and upgrade perspective, but also would offer significant value adds that nobody else is providing in a WordPress-optimized environment.

I’ll get to what all those buzzwords mean in a minute. Stick with me.

We started talking about me joining up with them to take this idea to the bank. Shortly after moving down here to Austin, I joined the team and we’ve been working hard over the last couple months to get to the point where we could reliably take on new customers and talk about our idea publicly.

Today is that day.

So, you’re still probably wondering what the hell WP Engine is and why it’s important, right?

Let’s talk security for a minute. There have been significant security “incidents” in recent months. Most people on the outside simply see “WordPress hacked! WordPress hacked!” – I’m looking at you Chris Brogan, Robert Scoble and Frank Gruber (Techcocktail). In the WordPress community, we know the real issues in these cases were not WordPress but the hosts that the blogs were on. Still, people saw WordPress hacked.

We take this very seriously and have partnered with a provider that has multiple levels of security including Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) outside of our boxes. We have gone to great lengths to keep our customers connecting to us in very secure ways and keep a close eye on the activity happening on our boxes. This is all very important because if an attacker could get through our outside defenses, chances are they couldn’t do anything malicious without us knowing about it.

Our infrastructure is also built with optimization and blazing, fast speed as a core expectation and deliverable. We don’t overload servers and have the means to see potential performance problems before they arrive. With our dual nginx-apache server configuration, we are able to handle sustained high-volume traffic as well as spikes that are the pain point for WordPress bloggers who suddenly get a story featured on a prominent site.

For the people who claim WordPress doesn’t scale… I call bullshit. We believe we know exactly how to make WordPress scale.

But we’re not just a hosting company. If we were that, we would be our competitors. We are also working on additional features such as “Curated Plugins” which are plugins that are entirely open source, that are popular or in demand from our customers and have been vetted from a security standpoint. These are plugins that we support 100%. This does not preclude customers from using other non-supported plugins, and we don’t dictate what bloggers can have on their blog as some of the other hosted WordPress solutions do. We just say, “Hey, if you use one of these, we’re gonna have your back”.

Other things that make WP Engine different:

  • 3 Smart guys supporting customers personally
  • A “Staging” area for one-click deployments and testing
  • We give back to the community. In fact, I made sure that I could work on the WordPress open source project, write the second edition of my book, and that much of our work will be returned to the community. Code is a commodity. The people and service behind the code is not.

We are not perfect yet, nor do we claim to be. We are a young company and have hundreds of things still to do and hopefully learn from. We are in an “invite only” mode at this time as much of the stuff we are doing and want to do is still not ready. But we are open for business and taking customers. And for $50/mo 1 for a dedicated WordPress environment that has optimization, speed and security plus the flexibility of you doing your own thing with a safety net… it’s a steal, really.

Photo used with permission by Donncha O Caoimh

Notes:

  1. For most customers

The Vicious Cycle of Assumptions and Stereotypes

Let me step away from technology and business for a few moments. I’ve got something to discuss as it is still elusive to people.

As humans, we tend to put people into boxes. On the egregious end, it results in things like racism and sexism. On the more mild end, it causes things like disappointment from false expectations. We look at people, or groups of people, and we channel our own biases and notions – sometimes fairly, but mostly unfairly – on those people or groups. It keeps us on cyclical merry go rounds repeating the same mistakes over and over again

As an example, in the wide world of the web, it’s easy to break people into two groups – marketers and developers. Marketers are often seen as the type of person who can sell. They are social creatures that meet people, pitch people and generally are more socially adept than the other side.

Developers are generally seen as the types that sit in front of their computers writing code. The comical stereotype is the pasty-faced guy in his momma’s basement. Average Computer Science programs at Universities are male dominated making the relationship between men and women…. interesting. Or so it’s perceived.

In a similar vein, there are people who are seen as right-brained creatives. They are seen as artsy and, in the web world, tend to be the design and UX types. They are free thinkers. These types may be musicians. Or photographers. Or painters. Or they may just be “ideas” folks. They build iPhone apps because iPhones are cool. They work independently because… they don’t like the restraint of working with others within a structured environment.

On the flip side, you have left brained people who, as perception goes, are more mathematical and analytical. They see system and process and routine and operate well within those confines. They tend to think less open ended and more linearly with finite points of start and end. These are project management types that need the structure to perform.

In politics, you have Democrats who, if the perception is accurate, are supportive of social issues like green energy, are anti-war, support equal rights for all and no expense should be spared to see that the world is, in a very utopian way, a better place.

The opposite of that, however, or so our culture would dictate, are Republicans. Republicans are generally seen as stodgy and supporting policies of military expansionism, lower taxes which result in lower costs, and perhaps, reduced services and benefits.

The problem with all of these stereotypes is that it is impossible to evaluate individuals for who they are and what they stand for. My good friend @amandare will blow your mind. She is a motorhead, pool shark and a major football fan. And she loves knitting.

Another friend, @caseysoftware, is a computer science engineer and one of the smartest guys you’ll ever meet. He’s also the community guy (or has been since he’s now moving to Austin), for the PHP developers group in DC. That’s a fairly social position and doesn’t work with the stereotypical developer personality.

I am actually a fairly left-brained guy. I write code, I think in systems and patterns, and I operate well with definite task-oriented routines. I’m also a creative in that I am a musician, photographer, have an open-minded sense of aesthetics and art and prefer to think outside the box than inside.

How do people function in a world where stereotypes rule the day? Well, clearly, many don’t. Women pass up men to date based on assumptions of what a guy would be like. Some people fail to put themselves in positions to be hired simply based on a pre-conceived expectation of who will be at an event. Managers fail to manage effectively, because of assumptions about how the people they manage need to be managed. Job seekers fail to apply for their perfect job because they assume they are not qualified for it.

Taking the time to understand the world around you will help you succeed in life. Otherwise, it’s a never-ending cycle.

Photo by The Knowles Gallery and used under Creative Commons.

Gowalla Nothing More than a Shiny object

Location Based Networks have become extremely popular in the last year and a half. I was an early adopter of Foursquare and continue to use it actively. It’s become somewhat mundane to go through the same routine. Check in, get points (that seem largely useless, become mayor if you’re lucky, earn some badges).

Foursquare seems to have stalled a bit on innovation, though there is some rumor of some new ideas that could get traction – MG Siegler of Techcrunch suggests a “Choose Your Own Adventure” style game where your city becomes your adventure quest.

However, that is not here yet and in the meantime, there are fresh challenges coming from Gowalla. I have not liked Gowalla though because they have developed their business in an iPhone-centric way – something which is, in my opinion, short-sighted and disenfranchises non-iPhone users. “You can always use the web interface,” is an insulting position to take with potential customers. It just says, “You’re not good enough for us.”

Gowalla has recently released apps for other platforms, though, so when they released their Blackberry app, I decided to run an experiment and give them the opportunity to win me over as a user. I decided that for a week, I would run Gowalla only and not Foursquare. Give it a fair shake, right?

Now, I realize that I’m pissing in my own back yard here. Gowalla is an Austin company and everyone loves Gowalla in Austin. I, however, am not known for playing nice just for the sake of playing nice. I’m sure the folks at Gowalla are great guys and I look forward to enjoying tasty adult beverages with them one day at some establishment that I check into with Foursquare.

Push Notifications Jump the Shark

My first 24 hours of Gowalla usage involved getting constant push notifications on my Blackberry. I realize the app is in beta but the only options for push notifications are to turn all notices off or turn them all on or select friends to get push notices from. The missing piece and the thing that differentiates Foursquare and makes them better, is push notifications inside a certain radius (I believe it’s 40 miles for Foursquare). So if I fly home to DC, I can start getting Gowalla notices from my friends there automatically.

I do not want to know that Beau Frusetta is at LA Fitness in Phoenix when I’m in Austin – at least not by push notification!

Continuing with this riff, why is Gowalla putting the impetus on their users to perform discovery? Why should I select which users I want top get notices from? How do I know if there are other people I want to get notices on and I just don’t realize it.

I realize I’m an exceptional case with nearly 900 Gowalla friends, but that presents a scaling question of discovery. If I have a list of 50 friends, I can manually curate the list I want notices from. When I have 900, that’s significantly harder. Why not provide a means of discovery? Maybe suggested users? Perhaps most active friends? Or something…

Location Gone Wrong

A second problem is the use of geolocation/GPS. On numerous occasions, I could search for a venue just to be placed several kilometers away from where I actually was. Perhaps I could move 5 feet away and get a better position, but Gowalla’s attempt to thwart people from gaming the system, at some distance they don’t allow a check in. That’s at least 2km away. This is very frustrating for the user and creates a socially awkward situation where, unlike Foursquare that takes 15-20 seconds to perform a check-in, Gowalla check-ins could take a minute or more just as a result of trying to get the service to know where you are.

But There’s Good Stuff…

I will say that I highly appreciate Gowalla’s “Trips” and “Events” functionality. Unlike Foursquare where you can only check in at places, Gowalla does allow for temporary events. USers have “lifehacked” Foursquare by creating venues that are actually events, but Gowalla has this functionality built-in. I like this.

Additionally, they have a Trips feature that allows users to map out places in a related away. Tour of downtown historical spots? There’s a trip for that. Bar crawl route in Tribeca? Got that covered. This is a very nice thing and probably along the lines of what Foursquare may do with the “Choose Your Own Adventure” functionality talked about earlier.

But these positive features were not enough for me to continue the experiment. The experiment is over only four days in. Back to Foursquare. Additionally, until they address the issues above, I can’t recommend anyone actually use the service. It effectively is relegated to a shiny object that looks nice but is effectively broken and unusable.

If you do intend on using Gowalla, I’d use it in parallel with Foursquare.

So let it be written, so let it be done. Ready, aim, fire. I’m ready to be flamed.

Impending Legal Precedent for GPL Licensing?

If you pay attention to the WordPress world, you might be aware that a landmark lawsuit is likely to be filed. I say landmark expecting that both sides will litigate and not settle – something that is desperately needed in the United States to validate and uphold the scope of the GPL license.

WordPress is a free software that is licensed under GPLv2 – a license that was created in 1991 to protect the ability of developers and users to gain access to software, create derivative works and distribute the copyrighted code in its entirety under the same protective license.

One of the tenants of the GPL that is argued prolifically is that derivative works are works that “link” into other works via APIs and dependencies (such as library dependencies). According to the argument, software that is considered a derivative work must retain the same licensing as the GPL’d work that it links into.

There are many legal (and non-legal) minds who would like to interpret this license in a variety of ways. There have been notable legal cases around the GPL in the United States, but all (to the best of my knowledge) have settled prior to litigation. One of these cases, Progress Software v MySQL AB, revolved around a product called Nusphere that was bundled with MySQL but was proprietary and incompatible with the GPL. The judge refused to grant summary judgement and eventually MySQL simply did not bundle the proprietary software.

Another case avoided judicial decision – and thus avoided judicial precedence. That case, Free Software Foundation v. Cisco, was settled out of court with a donation from Cisco and a pledge of commitment to the GPL.

Today, a major incident happened that has been brewing for years now. Due to an unfortunate incident which involved source code for the popular Thesis theme for WordPress (from DIYThemes) becoming compromised by a hacker, tempers started boiling over. Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress and the public face of )Automattic, the largest company behind the WordPress project, ended up on a live interview alongside Chris Pearson of DIYThemes.

Matt suggests (I think accurately) that a theme that is provided for WordPress (it does not work without WordPress) is a derivative work and requires GPL compatibility. He also suggests (accurately, I think) that GPL compliance would only enhance DIYTheme’s business as evidenced by countless other proprietary software providers who have gone open source.

Not to mention that a license does insinuate adherence to legal requirements provided by the license. If you don’t agree to the terms of the license, you’re not permitted to use the software. Makes sense.

Chris’ defense is that Thesis is completely independent of WordPress (which I question the rationality of since the software cannot exist absent of WordPress). He believes he has a business and economic right to maintain a license that is at odds with WordPress’ GPL license.

So my editorial question is… compliance with the WordPress GPL license is optional but compliance with the Thesis license is not? Hmmm.

Matt, in so many words, has already indicated that there will be a lawsuit that comes out of this. This could be landmark as, if the suit were not settled, it could define the parameters of open source software creation, usage and distribution reaching into every aspect of our life. Who uses Firefox? Yeah… depending on the outcome, that could be affected.

In a perfect world, the two sides reach an amicable solution. Thesis is popular, but it is not the only game in town. However, the second best solution is a legal precedent governing GPL software.

So we stand by and wait.

Image by Joe Gratz

Online Media: Relationships and Finding Signal In the Noise

When I first started using Twitter in the fall of 2006, I was one of only a few thousand people using this weird new service. It was fun because my friends were there. I’m an early adopter when it comes to technology so it’s not all that uncommon to find me on some new online tool kicking the tires.

Back in those days, there was a small enough pool of users that, hey, if someone followed you, you followed them back. It was just that simple. Many of us set up scripts that would automatically follow anyone who followed us. It was karma. It was social. It was how the changing face of the Internet made “us” better than “them”.

As all things go, however, Twitter began to jump the shark. People started using Twitter to push their products and agendas instead of simply communicating. We were like the proverbial frog in the boiling pot of water, many of us not realizing until it was too late, that the reciprocity approach simply wasn’t scaleable. We concocted formulas to rationalize our efforts. We chose not to follow people who had an unbalanced follower to following ratio. We called them spammers. We labeled them as people unable to engage in conversation. We rationalized our own existence on Twitter, all the while boiling ourselves in hot water to the point that our worlds were nothing but noise, and our effectiveness as professionals became nil.

Around the time I had 2000 followers (also roughly 2000 people following), I stopped following everyone back. This was almost two years ago. Organically, I grew to 8500+ people following me in return simply because I was interesting and people wanted to follow interesting people. The concept of equivalency was tossed out the window by most people while the “influencers” kept talking up the idea of equivalency. I only followed people I had actually met.

Still, the noise became too much. There was no real way to come back from the brink. I had long ago reached the point where tweets in a tweetstream were at full force. I called it Twitter Terminal Velocity – the point where a tweetstream could not perceptibly travel any faster. And the content was not relevant to my personal or professional life.

Good people. Irrelevant content. Too much noise. This was the problem.

About two weeks ago, I made a drastic move that has improved my life in immesaurable ways. I culled the people I was following from 2800 down to 492 (that number has organically grown since). I had a number of criteria for who I kept – people in Austin (gotta keep my new city close, right?), people in tech (not tech news, not social media… tech!), people in the WordPress community, and real friends.

These are the people that matter to me on a daily basis. They make my life worth it on a personal and professional level. I see all their tweets now.

This is not to offend anyone that got cut. If you talk to me (via a mention), I still see those tweets and most of the time I will engage. I also have keyword searches so relevant conversation surrounding topics of interest are also seen, whether they are directed to me or not. However, in my day to day content consumption, I have made my Twitter experience a much more pure experience.

Today, I find myself more engaged with the people I care about. It’s not about me and my existence and importance. It’s about the people I care about engaging in my world and me in theirs. For instance, I would have never been able to encourage a friend about her father’s deployment to Afghanistan if I had 2800 people I was following. It doesn’t scale. It’s not personal. It’s not real relationships.

In closing, let me give on zing to the social media marketers and networkers. Relationships aren’t about what you do or if your customers care. Relationships aren’t about ROI. Sometimes in relationships, you get nothing in return. But real relationships actually make a difference to ROI and customer care. Just don’t mistake the two for the same thing. They are very far from the same thing.

Journalism: The old is new and the new is old

I love journalism. I love it with a passion. I love good journalism. Well executed journalism. Well researched journalism.

I care less about the AP Style Guide and more about engaging content. I care less about J-school degrees and more about thoughtful and provocative prose with a dedication to facts. I care less about conglomerate media organizations and more about the reporters, writers and personalities who make up CNN and the New York Times of the world.

I am just a blogger. I have been writing for over six years and I’ve swung from the “new media will kill old media” mode to “new media and traditional (I don’t call it old anymore) media” have a place together. Still, many bloggers (and social media people as a whole) get locked in an us and them struggle with their traditional peers. We see it in the music industry, in access to sports, in public relations and marketing, etc. Everyone loves the us vs. them argument.

Here’s the dirty little secret though: Without ‘them’, there is no ‘us’ and without ‘us’ there is no ‘them’. We are married together for the future of the industry forever. And that goes for all industries where these conversations happen.

What really is happening is a separation of the power brokers from the base of power. In other words, in public relations, professionals at the agencies go about their mindless drone job of push, push, push without ever really talking, tracking, monitoring or engaging the demographic they are trying to reach.

In the NFL, for years the clubs engaged in tactics with bloggers that delegitimized the coverage they were receiving and, in fact, the public was consuming… only because bloggers typically didn’t write for large media organizations.

In fact, Jay Rosen, a Professor at the New York University School of Journalism (And one of the smartest, most insightful journalism critics I know of), characterized this problem on Twitter by observing how the White House Press Corps engages.

Indeed. Though one could ask why the White House Press Corps would communicate directly with the public instead of with the White House, where their job is. Nonetheless, the greater point that is being made is that Traditional media that communicates with the base of power (the citizens and customers) is generally able to perform their art in a more meaningful way.

New Media exists to bridge a gap. We will never replace traditional journalism. On the other hand, traditional journalism will never eliminate new media. The bigger question is… why would either side want to do those things at all?