Ambient Findability

Mobile phones. They are the future. I’ve been saying that for awhile and giving no mulligans to those companies who are not embracing mobile or who are embracing it in a singular fashion (i.e. a company built on an iPhone app).

Most of us use iPhones, Android devices or Blackberries. Maybe a few odd people have a Palm Pré. We are mobile. We do email, stay in contact with friends and lovers via text message, Twitter, Facebook, and get driving directions via Google Maps. We find restaurants, bars, shopping and bus stops – all from our mobile devices. We play games, leverage the “nose down in the phone” as a “get away from me” messaging tool.

We use our phones for everything, don’t we?

Relatedly, I don’t even like to watch TV in real time. My shows are consumed via the web, and have sometimes been viewed on my phone.

Gone are the days of the traditional approach to media and findability. In an information now era, it’s important to have ambient findability… the ability to discover exactly what I want, at exactly the right time and on the right device. This is not a new concept either. Peter Morville wrote about it in his book Ambient Findability: What We Find Changes Who We Become (O’Reilly, 2005). He defines ambient findability as:

  • The quality of being locatable or navigable.
  • The degree to which a particular object is easy to discover or locate.
  • The degree to which a system or environment supports navigation and retrieval.

This morning, I commented about how I wish the Black Keys, one of my new favorite bands, were coming to Austin. Of course, my omnipresent Twitter following were sure to inform me that the Keys were just at ACL Festival and had done off-ACL shows.

I would have known that had I Googled, but I didn’t.

Here’s the problem: With ambient findability, I should not have to proactively find out when my favorite bands are in town. This information should be delivered to me via text, email, or other notification. I should not have to remember to pick up the Austin Chronicle to find out where these shows may or may not be.

In a different world, if I’m walking around in downtown Baltimore, for instance, it would be awesome if I recieved some sort of notification when I’m in proximity of something that may be of interest to me. Foursquare recently announced some new initiatives that notify a user when they are in proximity of something on their to-do list. This is an excellent step in the direction of ambient findability.

These are the premises of findability that need to be included in every consumer-facing product and startup. It is the next generation of the web.

Photo Credit: Paul Veugen

The NFL, Google TV, and DirecTV’s Death Grip on the Sunday Ticket

If you’ve spent any time with me in person or paying attention to my tweetstream at all (especially on Sundays), you know about my love affair with football, the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens specifically.

I’ve gone nearly 11 years and have been at or watched every Ravens game in that time. I used to watch these games at my home in Baltimore when I was in-market, but then I moved to DC. Oddly (though I do understand the NFL marketing rules), being 45 minutes away put me “out of market” and into Redskins country. Acknowledged.

It began my weekly Sunday tradition of going to local sports bars to watch the game every Sunday. When I was in Virginia, that was the very awesome Crystal City Sports Pub (ask for John, tell him I sent you and order a cup of coffee… watch for his reaction :-p). When I moved back to Maryland, I went to one of several on Sundays.

Now that I’m in Austin, I’m fortunate to find The Tavern which serves as the Ravens Nest in Austin. 50 or so fans, most of whom have roots in Baltimore, show up every week to cheer on our “Death on Wings”.

But here’s the problem. I have Time Warner Cable. I can’t get non-nationally televised games at home. The only way I could would be to switch to DirecTV and pay several hundred dollars for the NFL Sunday Ticket. This is a problem for someone who doesn’t watch much TV anyway, and the TV shows I do watch, I catch on Hulu or Sure, I enjoy ESPN SportsCenter when I need to have some noise on in the background so I can get work done, but otherwise, the TV is rarely on.

I’ve got Netflix DVDs and can stream many shows and movies instantly on Netflix to my XBOX 360. With my (free for me) 40″ HDTV, I can stream games, or if I chose, NHL GameCenter games from my laptop direct to my television. I can do the same with NBA Leaguepass (though I won’t because I hate the NBA).

The NFL really offers no option to U.S. customers except via NBC’s live streaming of Sunday Night Football. (Though they did offer Preseason streaming games online – see the picture above).

There is a lot of money tied up in contracts for the transmission and coverage of NFL games. I realize it. But there needs to be a change. Consumers would be thrilled to subscribe to an service that would allow them to access their favorite sport online. It could be setup in a variety of ways. The NFL could charge a flat fee of $160 for access to a single team feed with a higher-priced “all access pass” – perhaps $300. They could also charge for a pay-per-view format of $10/game where, if I’m compelled by the Colts-Patriots game, I could purchase a single game pass.

The money will continue to be with DirecTV and I’m not suggesting that their contract should be killed in favor of an all-streaming model. No, in fact, the real money for the NFL Sunday Ticket comes from bars that are paying a premium package to offer all the NFL-licensed content on 50+ TVs. That money will still be there. You could easily restrict distribution and force bars to buy from DirecTV. Money in the bank.

But for consumers, especially those who are fans of teams outside of their market, giving them the opportunity to invest in the NFL, expand distribution, embrace the technology available in 2010, having a streaming option would be a huge WIN.

In fact, I’m willing to bet on a net 10% increase in viewership/subscribers based on this model. At least.

Google TV was just announced the other day. We don’t know much about it yet, but we do know that networks are going to have their own portals. This seems like a great possible partnership for the NFL and Google!

The only question that remains, then, is if the NFL has enough balls to make the big move? I think they need to, lest piracy and viewership decline.

Am I crazy?

Photo by Joel Price

WordCamp Mid-Atlantic: Where It’s Been, Where It’s Going

Late in 2008, while I was transitioning from life in Baltimore to life outside of Washington, D.C., I was contemplating organizing the first WordCamp event in that area. Baltimore had begun to show signs of a healthy tech community and Washington had continued to flourish as a healthy communications scene. Philadelphia, just up I-95, had a healthy design and development community and I had become somewhat familiar with that city as well.

I made a point of making my event one that would set trends and challenge the status quo.


One thing I did think of early on was that I detested the trend that identified an event with a singular city, especially when there were multiple cities, all offering different, yet complementary modus operandi. I bucked the trend of identifying the event by a city, eschewing names like WordCamp DC or WordCamp Baltimore. These names, while celebratory of the city that hosts them, inherently bear the problem of inferred exclusivity.

From the very first WordCamp in the region, I challenged that designation and attempted to bring the cities together. It was called WordCamp Mid-Atlantic.

Three Cities, then Two

The original plan was to bring the three cities together in Baltimore for a WordPress event. Ideally, the result would be more collaboration and resources shared between the various communities. Ultimately, Philadelphia never bought into Mid-Atlantic (and in fact, ended up with their own successful WordCamp Philly). However, Mid-Atlantic was wildly supported by both Baltimore and DC. even garnering coverage in the Baltimore Sun business publication Maryland Daily Record.

For WordCamp Mid-Atlantic 2010, the event was geared mainly to the Washington Metro and Baltimore.

Keynotes That Challenge

In both events, I wanted to bring in someone from the WordPress leadership hierarchy as a Keynote as well as someone from outside of WordPress entirely to challenge the gathered attendees. This as quite controversial, actually. In 2009, I brought in Anil Dash, founder and former SVP at SixApart. Anil was known historically as somewhat of an antagonist, but did a wonderful job in sharing and illustrating the similarities between WordPress and SixApart who provided a competing platform. His message was one of learning from each other.

This past year, I opted to bring in Marco Tabini who has also been a frequent antagonist of WordPress. His message was one from the perspective of the PHP community and reconciling how the PHP core people could learn and help the WordPress core people, and vica versa. My inbox became a little tense in the weeks leading up to the event due to other incidents involving dissenting views about the GPL license and WordPress’ interpretation of it. Needless to say, Marco did an amazing job.

It’s Not My Baby

As most of you know, I have left the Baltimore/Washington region. As a result, this past WordCamp Mid-Atlantic was my last. People have asked me quite a lot about who I would pass the baton to. This is a tricky question because the event is not mine. It’s yours.

That said, this is not for just anyone to run. I cannot put any strings on who will run the next event but I do have the platform to voice my sentiments:

  • I want to see Mid-Atlantic stay in the event. I do not want to see a fractured event where there becomes a WordCamp Baltimore and a WordCamp DC. Both cities have user groups that meet frequently. I want to see the WordCamp Mid-Atlantic event retain it’s place as a regional/local event.
  • I want to see the idea of challenging (and even dissenting) opinions welcomed to the stage, like Marco… and Anil. We should not be scared of being shaken up. We should embrace it and learn from it. That said, future organizers should be sensitive as to who you have come and speak.
  • Retain the unconference. One of the amazing success stories of WordCamp Mid-Atlantic 2010 was the unconference, organized by Steve Fisher. Besides the pre-scheduled and organized tracks that are familiar to conference goers, we provided a separate, yet equal unconference for ad-hoc discussion and talks. The only thing I’d change is to make it true barcamp style and make a no-powerpoint rule.
  • No one organizer. I became the defacto organizer for both events. While I had varying degrees of help for both, I really became the guy for the event. This was not wise on my part. There should be an organizer in each city.

This is Baltimore’s event. This is Washington’s event. This event brilliantly integrated both communities. It really, really did. I want to see it continue (obviously with new leadership), but I want it to be with people who take it seriously and can make it better than it ever was. Put your own spin on it. Make it your own, not mine.

Everything I Needed to Know About Entrepreneurship, I learned from Star Wars

Star Wars. The original Star Wars. Perhaps those movies were defining films of our time. Though the first title (aptly numbered Star Wars IV) was filmed in the late 1970s, it continues to define movie nerddom today. Of course, Star Wars has seen somewhat of a renaissance due to the licensing of the intellectual property for the creation of video games like LEGO™ Star Wars and the continual memeage (is that a word?) of Yoda and Darth Vader quotes.

Nonetheless, it, like any good story, is successful in no small part due to the parallels in life that can be drawn. Much like how Office Space taught me about Public Relations, Star Wars taught me about entrepreneurship.

Don’t doubt me. The nuggets of wisdom are strewn throughout. In fact, I’ve developed my entire professional life around Star Wars. 1 You don’t believe me? Check this out.

Always Two There Are, a Master and an Apprentice

No matter how good you are in your professional life, there is always someone better. Yoda reminds me that, there should always be someone I look up to for learning. Sometimes this person (or people) is better than you at what you do. Other times, this person (or people) is someone who excels in a complementary way.

One of the founders of WP Engine, Jason Cohen, is one of these guys. Jason is amazingly technically (if I can keep him away from Javaisms while writing PHP code) and is the brainchild behind our infrastructure. More importantly, the dude is one of the savviest businessmen around in a completely unassuming way. He is not the guy who is going to walk into a meeting a toot his own horn like some investors or entrepreneurs do. He simply is and carries chutzpah. I have not known Jason very long but in the time I have, I’ve developed a real appreciation for him.

Likewise, Geoff Livingston has become a close friend but he’s also an incredibly focused entrepreneur. I’ve known Geoff since his early days where he was running a social media PR firm out of Alexandria, VA. Geoff and I became close but it wasn’t until I lived with him for six months in 2008-09 that I realized the drive this kid had. He frequently asked for my advice on things that were happening professionally, all of which will remain off the record in the circle of trust.

However, he has demonstrated since that he knows how to make tough decisions and go after what he believes in. Earlier this year, Geoff co-founded Zoetica to assist non-profits and socially conscious companies in their communications efforts. His drive has led him to lead in the CitizenGulf effort to raise money for oil spill cleanup in the Gulf, and to raise awareness and change in the policy world.

His dedication to his cause is something I’m watching and learning from.

Yahoooooo! You’re all clear, kid. Now let’s blow this thing and go home

Remember when the Death Star invasion was happening in Star Wars IV? The X wings were being pursued down the trough by TIE fighters. Darth Vaders fighter was on the hunt to blow Luke away. Han Solo brings his Millenium Falcon into play at the last minute and with some perfectly timed shot, knocks Vaders fighter into oblivion allowing Luke to handle his business and blow the Death Star away.

In business, the ultimate goal is always to have an exit. If it’s not, you’re holding it wrong. You don’t want to stay in a job forever. You may want to delay because you have more you want to do with the startup before selling it, but at the end of the day, if you’re putting blood, sweat and tears into a startup… you want the big pay day at the end.

This is what drives many entrepreneurs to settle for less money in exchange for more equity in the startup. Get less cash now for way more cash down the road.

Like the Death Star invasion, startup mode will have you fighting a guerrilla war at times… fighting for your survival… skirmishing to get a leg up. Once you’re clear and have done everything you can to get the company to a specific place, cash in! Blow this thing and go home. Live to fight again another day.

Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?

One of the more hilariously ridiculous quotes from Star Wars IV came from Leah when Luke rescued her from being executed by the Empire.

The takeaway from this quote is pretty simple… never let anyone denigrate what you do as an entrepreneur. There will always be second guessing and there will always be other entrepreneurs who feel like thy know better and can offer advice. You know your company better than anyone else. You know your decision-making fiefdom better than anyone else. Own your offense and maintain confidence in what you do, and what you are building.

Luke, there is another Sky….walker…

The dying words of the Jedi Master Yoda. These words were the clue to Luke that he had a twin. That there could be another Jedi candidate. That there could be another Skywalker to defeat the evil Empire.

In the Lean Startup mode of starting businesses, the idea is to fail and fail fast if you’re going to fail at all. That way, if you fail and fail quickly, you can learn quickly without having put a lot of time and effort into something that will never work. Taking lessons learned, you can move on to the next startup and try again. Keep in mind that, statistically, 9 out of 10 companies fail. There is nothing wrong with failure as long as you realize there is another around the corner.

There is another Skywalker. There is another idea. There is another startup. And there may be another failure.


We don’t know specifically what Chewbacca was talking about when the Millenium Falcon’s hyper drive system failed. If there are any Wookie translators in the audience, please step to the front of the room. However, we can deduce that, based on what we know of Chewie, that he was doing tactical consulting.

In other words, it’s my opinion, that Chewie was making sure Han knew that there was a lot of problems with the Millenium Falcon and it wasn’t like they had the money to fix the bucket of bolts. Chewie was suggesting solutions for Han to fix problems quickly without spending a lot of money. I mean, can you imagine if Han had to take a VC round to fix the Falcon? What would the valuation on that sucker be anyway? I’m sure it would be a diluted round.

Instead, Chewie was helping Han realize what he needed to do to fix the problem on a budget. Maybe even in bandaid fashion. As entrepreneurs, use your creative juices to find ways to self-fund and not take stupid money just so you can extend runway. Find ways to be revenue positive now instead of later. Find ways to cheaply outsource problems so core team members can focus on the core solutions.


See. Everything you need to know about entrepreneurship can be learned from Star Wars. It’s a geek favorite for a reason. I’m sure there are lessons you have learned as well. Feel free to share those.

In the meantime, may the Force be with you.

Photo by xtyler


  1. Not really. No, really.. not really.

What Are You Not Telling the World Online?

Last year, there was a brilliant preliminary report that came out of MIT where two grad students decided to explore the idea of privacy implications based on omission. In other words, these students said that they could predict, with a high degree of accuracy, the sexual orientation and inclinations of people based on their activities, friends and, notably, omission of certain information on the social networks.

The study was called Project Gaydar and reported a high degree of accuracy in identifying the sexual orientation of people who explicitly did not share that on Facebook.

Using data from the social network Facebook, they made a striking discovery: just by looking at a person’s online friends, they could predict whether the person was gay. They did this with a software program that looked at the gender and sexuality of a person’s friends and, using statistical analysis, made a prediction. The two students had no way of checking all of their predictions, but based on their own knowledge outside the Facebook world, their computer program appeared quite accurate for men, they said. People may be effectively “outing” themselves just by the virtual company they keep.

In an age of renewed concerns about privacy surrounding Twitter, location-based networks such as Foursquare and Facebook’s new Places service, one wonders just how much information that you are not sharing is actually being shown to the world.

For instance, is it logical to deduce that when a persons tone online moves from gregarious to tame, they may be job hunting and wanting to put their best foot forward? Or maybe in the early stages of a new, burgeoning relationship? What can be surmised by a spate of new LinkedIn recommendations? Is a pattern of Twitter status update frequency something that can be reasonably used to deduce some meaning?

Many people are very cautious to curate their online identities in such a way that seems presentable to the outside world. They shape and form their identities for maximum benefit. But what are they not saying that is still being communicated?

My friend, and data monkey, Keith Casey and I are proposing a panel to explore this more at SXSW. We would love your vote to ensure we get selected. It’s a fun topic and one that is front and center in an age with increasing privacy concerns.

The Web Is Passing Most of You By… And You are Asleep

Usually when Dave McClure, Angel Investor and Hustler, has something to say on his blog, it is said with passion, drama, and a pinch of angst. But he’s almost always right and he makes you believe it in the end with unequivocal points and thoughts.

Because this post is so utterly important and I firmly believe it and expect you to as well, I’m going to channel Dave in this post. If you’re offended by language, leave now.

Why? Because mobile is the most important thing going on in technology today and you all are sitting around talking about social media. That’s right, I said it.

You are talking about social media and the Old Spice campaign like it’s something awesome. You’re circle-jerking each other by promoting products and bullshit companies simply because your friend you drank with at Affiliate Summit is doing the social media. You’re holding it wrong!

Do you even know what their business strategies are? Do they have anything worth talking about besides their marketing campaign. They are just using Twitter and you’re praising them for their ingenuity because “they get it”.

Fuck. That. Shit.

They have no fucking idea that most of their customers have a phone and a significant percentage of those phones are smart phones. They are completely ignoring mobile and you’re enabling that bullshit by focusing on their conversations and engagement.

Fuck. That. Shit.

Here’s the reality. The next generation of the web isn’t bullshit REAL-TIME anything. We’re overloaded on real-time. Real-time is what causes your friends to look at their phones the entire night while you’re trying to socialize with them. What you need to be thinking is the RIGHT-TIME web. What do you need to know right now based on your interests and focus? Can that be delivered via the most ubiquitous device on the planet – the cell phone?

Instead, you’re worried about making sure your colleagues have their dicks sucked by the public.

Fuck. That. Shit.

The order of operations for the next-gen web is a simple formula. The RIGHT data to the RIGHT person at the RIGHT time on the RIGHT device. Data first, Device LAST.

But you don’t get it. You’re talking about iPhone apps. You think the iPhone, the iPad, and the Android will save us. You don’t realize that mobile constitutes more than those devices. You’re running companies that specialize only on a single device and app. Yea, I’m looking at you, Gowalla.

You’ve missed the damn boat.

You think that the next-gen web is about conversations. Hello? That started in 2004 when Facebook was invented and became mainstream in 2006 when Facebook opened up and Twitter launched.

The train has left the station.

You think the next-gen web is all about the here and now. Do you not under stand the word “next”? You don’t think proactively. You repeat talking points.

Fuck. That. Shit.

We wouldn’t be having to get people together in a crisis and figure out how to mobilize relief workers if the “right-now” web was operational and people weren’t narrow-mindedly thinking about how an iPhone app can help Haitians when most of the population of Haiti can’t afford an iPhone, and probably have old Nokia T9 phones capable of only SMS, if they own a phone at all.

You’re not thinking about mobile. You’re not thinking about semantic data and how it operates in a mobile form-factor.

And because of that, you’re missing the boat.

Photo by

The Milk Machine: Finding Business Focus

You know how occasionally you remember things from your childhood which seem fairly mundane but end up being a moment of inspiration and, sometimes, an epiphany. I get these things all the time and I guess it just helps me appreciate my childhood even more.

Back in the late 70s and early 80s, when I was 4-5 years old and my memories were just starting to really stick with me, we were living in the inner city of Buffalo. The neighborhood is tragically drug-ridden today, and it wasn’t a fantastic neighborhood then either. It was inner city. My father grew up on those streets in the Lovejoy neighborhood as a brawler of sorts. Fighting was the problem, not drugs. How times change. But I digress.

One of the memories I remember from those days is the milk machine. This milk machine is an oddity these days. No one buys milk from milk machines and, I’ll be honest, I have no real idea why we did either. But there was a milk machine at the corner of Longnecker St and Lovejoy St and we went to buy our milk there quite often.

Considering there was a Wilson Farms (similar to 7-11) right there as well, one can only assume that mom chose to buy the milk from the machine because it was a better quality or offered a better value.

Which brings me in a long-winded way to my point. Whoever the hell owned that milk machine didn’t exactly have a huge demographic. It was basically people who could walk to it and chose to walk to it instead of Wilson Farms. I’m sure he wasn’t getting rich off the milk machine. But he was serving a very targeted audience and doing so in such a way that wasn’t trying to take over the world and be everything.

If you’ve got a startup… if you’ve got a venture… do not try to be everything to everyone. It just doesn’t work. Know your audience and what makes them tick. Figure out exactly who you’re serving and stay on track. Especially in early stages, venturing outside of the laser-like target is an expensive proposition, especially in the early stages.

Make your milk and make it good and find the machine that earns you money.

Photo Credit Robbie’s Photo Art

Owning Bad Publicity

I remember a few years ago back at Gnomedex in 2007 when Vanessa Fox spoke about owning bad publicity. It wasn’t called that. I can’t remember what I had to eat yesterday, much less what the title of a session at a conference four years ago was. But. I do remember the gist of her talk.

The idea was that some things in life, especially on the web, you can control. Companies hire marketing firms to try to spin a positive message for them in the social media outlets as well as hiring search engine marketers, brand consultants, etc to curate their brands.

Sometimes that works. Other times, the reputation and image on the web is controlled by other people. You can’t control the fact that you suck at times. You also can’t help what people might think, even inaccurately about you.

As the story went, Vanessa ran into an uncontrollable problem where people were googling for “vanessa fox nude” – damn perverts. Instead of getting upset and worrying about how people were valuating her, she went out and bought the domain and redirected it to her site.

To this day, that story resonates with me. I’ve personally had people disparage me. To this day, if you google my name, you will find one such article on the front page of Google. Hint: It has to do with a weasel. As a result, I’ve considered buying branded stuffed weasels to give away at events.

A long time ago, I acquired a reputation for being extremely honest to the point of sometimes offending people or putting them off. Is this really how I want to be seen? Probably not. Since embracing that, has it been successful for me personally and professionally? So far, I think so.

Don’t let negative press get you down. Own that shit and move on. Make it a part of your brand. If you’re wrong, own up and be transparent. If you’re not, just incorporate it into your offering.

Photo Credit: mushon.

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 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. 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. 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. 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, 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. ;-) 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