Monday, December 10, 2007

Novel Done!!

Sorry I’ve been so quiet. I actually wrote a whole novel. It started with NaNoWri Month, but I didn’t finish it until December 6th and have been furious edit since then. It’s going to my Mom’s agent Dan as soon as I have it ready for him. We had hoped to make that on Friday, but Ruth’s cancer needed some attention. She is still OK, but they will be doing another operation to make sure that the abnormal cells they found along the edges are gone as well.

I’ve been working on my one sentence description:

A black comedy, well grey, about a rock star, his nephew the banker and their eccentric friend’s journey to come to terms with coming to terms for tragic events in the far past.
It is such a rush to know I did something like that. It changes everything. Walking into Barnes and Noble is 100% different. It’s gone from a reverent location of knowledge to the most exclusive club in the universe. Whose membership is now a holy grail and all should bow down and behold the power of the fraternity of published authors. I think it’s changed my writing as well! :-)

Monday, November 5, 2007

PM Q: What causes a project to slip?

Q: What causes a product or project to slip schedule in your opinion? Where have you had the most problems in the past?

Mistake #1:

Everything in life is a tradeoff and software projects doubly so. Oversimplifying a little, the three variables of software projects are the amount of resources (and that typically means people), the product’s features and lastly, the time to market. You can not change one without affecting at least one of the others.

There are limits to this. Getting 100 people to do 100 features in a week would, in fact, create a program, but probably not something that would be a good program.

If time to market is the number one priority, then features and/or resources must be ruthlessly adjusted to keep the schedule on track.

Mistake #2:

Not enough buffer in the schedule. The different team members will give you estimates of how much work the different tasks require. The key word is estimates. There are a lot of techniques you can use to maximize the accuracy of the estimates, but in the end, people are always going to be optimistic and the only way to address this is to make sure there is room in the schedule for mistakes.

My Feelings:

It’s not IF the project will slip, it’s WHY the project slips.

Projects where the date is the most important thing are called “Slogs” or “Death Marches”. You can’t ask a team to do too many of these without repercussions. Projects that allow features to change or new ones to come in willy-nilly never ship and are just as painful to work on.

I like a reasonable number of milestones whose dates are adjusted as they approach. If too many milestones are coming in late, then program management digs in and figures out why, fixes it and then adjusts the rest of the schedule.

And to keep things more fun, besides the normal buffer, put in some time at the end for creative new ideas and market course corrections.

Friday, November 2, 2007

PM Q: How do you prioritize features?

As many of you know, I'm interviewing for a new job. It's going really well. Yesterday I had to write up a screening document and I thought I would share some of my answers here.

I wish I had had a few more days to polish and simplify my answers, but they are still comprehensable. I start the document out with just about my favorite Mark Twain quote: “I'm sorry this letter is so long, but I did not have time to make it shorter”


How do you prioritize features? What criteria do you use?

At the highest level: Must have, Should Have, Could Have.

Although generally worked out long before a feature list, big items like business priorities, time to market, globalization, industry laws/standards, revenue models, applied laws, and other items at this level are the first stop.

And I like a very tight vision statement or mantra that the whole company believes about a release. It needs to be so clear that it is immediately apparent to everybody on the team if a feature moves the release in the right direction or not. For example if this release is all about making sure we find every document, we would prioritize supporting the Macintosh over features that go very, very deep into specific file types.

I like the feature team itself to make this call. I like for the developer and tester to sit down with the PM and talk about the features in context and make the first stab at it.

I also like good user and market research, based on science if at all possible. Things like usability testing, experimental releases, betas, etc. Periodic customer Strategic Design Reviews are great. I want to know the other products in our market space better than most of their employees do.

I like to do feature level SWOT analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. This can keep the most important issues front-of-mind even if they are not that obvious. Sometimes it a feature looks very cuttable until you remember that this feature plugs a hole that could keep the company out of trouble in Indonesia.

If I’m pulling together a team wide prioritized feature list then I typically need to do some balance between the different feature teams’ prioritization. With all of the above data, matching these up is generally pretty obvious. Then I publish the list in an easy to understand manner and gather feedback and make adjustments. If possible, I would love to do a team offsite on this and get bottom-up buyoff and feedback. The more I can get the team on the same page here the easier the rest of the journey is going to be.

And one last thing I like is to have some space at the end of the schedule for a feature to come back. I create a mini-milestone that can be used as extra buffer if needed or for the team to sort through all the postponed features and new ideas and pick a few that are implementable. This takes the pressure off any one feature cut and also gives a way for the team to be more creative or more responsive to any late breaking market pressures.


More soon...

Sunday, October 28, 2007

More on the Aston Martin's Green

It's has been demanded that I be more honest about the Aston Martin's green.

The picture I linked to had so many lighting tricks that it really didn't show off the color unless you already knew it. The picture on the left is more accurate.

Yes, it's a lime green, only with more red and yellow. It is a shocking color. In yesterday's picture you could believe that those colors were highlights, instead of the real color.

And that brings us to the second point. It's not just the color, but also the paint. Even a 10 year old girl’s plastic glitter pony cannot compare to the amount of metal suspended in that paint. And there are a lot of layers to suspend the particles, and then they throw in a lot more layers just to be on the safe side. It would not surprise me if they told me that the paint job alone costs more than the average family car.

And it’s not just color and paint, but also the car. This is considered one of the most beautiful cars going. They guy who created the Jaguar said that the reason they were so beautiful was because they had an “eye line”. A band of light that drew your eye from end to end and helped the viewer get comfortably lost in the car’s sexy curves. The Aston has several eye lines. Actually, its eye lines have eye lines.

It’s the combination of the depth of this shocking color blanketing this car’s amazing curves adding almost a magical sparkle but keeping an aggressive, road eating feeling that make looking at one of these a mind blowing experience. They are very rare cars, so spotting one of these is like spotting a rare Blue-Spotted, Red Crested Gull would be to a bird lover. We saw it at a car show, but if we saw it on the road Mike and I would pull over and follow it while we spoke in reverent whispers “Did you see how that mud puddle was beautifully reflected on the chrome grill?”.

Putting a coat of the same lime (+red +yellow) green on a pick-up truck would be shocking, but it would not be the same.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Color Science

Don't get me wrong, I really love what I do for a living, but there is a new field that if it had been available when I was in college I might have gone for.

I might have majored in Color Science.

You may be thinking, "What, you didn't get enough coloring books as a child?" and you would be wrong. Well, umm. Actually, you might be right, but that isn't the point.

Think of a 1970s bathroom and there is a certain orange that comes to mind.

The green of the Aston Martin this year is an amazing triumph of Color Scientists., although you really have to see it in person. One more hint of yellow and it would be tacky. One more hint of green and it would be boring. A little lighter and it would hurt your eyes. A little darker and it wouldn’t contrast with the bright work. It is amazing.

The new colors in Vista are good. In many ways, Web 2.0 sites can most easily be identified by their color choices, although that doesn't always hold up.

And that 1970's orange? Make it a little brighter and it's back in style.

I think my next personal project will be to write a side bar application where you can click on a color on the screen and the program will show tints and hues and suggest color combinations for the new scRGB. The math for this isn’t trivial, but it would be so beautiful. When not in use I think I would just have it step through the spectrum.

If you think I’m exaggerating the math, here is a blurb from a color person’s blog:

"For sRGB, the 1/2 brightness gray image will result in a numerical value of around 186, not the midpoint value of 128. This is based on an sRGB gamma of approximately 2.2. (The actual gamma calculation for the sRGB color profile is a little more complex, but we can use a value of 2.2 for an approximation for our
purposes.) This means that the sRGB profile uses 186 steps to represent the lower half of the luminance spectrum, and only 69 steps (255-186) to represent the upper half of the luminance spectrum. sRGB defines a non-linear luminance curve to provide more detailed information in the darker or shadow areas at the expense of the brighter or highlight areas. Since we're far more likely to see visual differences between each of the 255 total luminance steps, this non-linear representations significantly reduces the chance of seeing those artifacts.

Friday, October 12, 2007

What's become of me?

Jeeze. My last blog was titled "Maximize Ad ROI".

What the hell??? When did I lose my sense of humor??

It wasn't even:

"Clippy says: Maximize Ad ROI."

It's just a matter of energy. I haven't been putting energy into humor. I did help ship Microsoft ads, but it wasn't that which sucked my humor away.

I will fix this and hopefully not make this mistake again. But if you ever see another title that is as dry as the last one, please put a sign on my back that says "Kick me!"

Friday, September 28, 2007

Maximize Ad ROI

A non-ad co-worker asked me if I would give some advice for a company that wanted to do more to maximize it's ROI. This was my reply:

- - - -

Generically, 1000% better than any other strategy, is for them to sell their own ad space. We are seeing a trend where even medium sized sites have at least one ad sales person. Even if they don’t go that far, having somebody spend a little time on this goes a long way. Since they know their specific users and know what they are generally looking for on different parts of their site, they can link them directly to complementary products. This can bring in 2 to 4 times as much money. Even more if you are willing to work on some joint content that highlights their products.

One-off campaigns, often times called roadblocks, can be very lucrative. One example of this is where you allow every ad placement on your site to be taken over by one company. Sometimes with a special event and content. Or even a few pages/contests etc. One site I work with has tripled their monthly income with just one weekend of this.

Targeting is another key. MSFT gets a 15% bonus for every targeting tag that is applied. I figured that for a few top-of-the line placements people can get $20.00 CPM (1000 views).

Next up is to write the code to be able to swap between a bunch of different advertising networks. Selling ad space is much like the stock exchange. Sometimes they will get $8.00 CPM (for a 1000 views) and sometimes 50 cents. If they can swap networks when the timing is right that can make a big difference. Again, this takes staff. One client has two full time people that do this just for Europe.

And lastly sign up with a single ad network that seems to specialize in their area and implement it and ignore it. Yes it won’t maximize profit, but it also won’t cost you way expensive staff time. For small sites I think this probably has a better ROI.

All of the above are generally combinable.

There are other options, but the above is what I’m seeing being done across the web.

- - - - - -

I'm happy to answer email or comments on this subject.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

OMG!!! Pilot funded in Ozzie's org!!

There are games that geeks play with each other. One type will go “I programmed on punch cards” and may more variations like that. A Second type will be “Only true geeks understand the fragile beauty of Popfly/Lisp/OOP/… A third type will say “I shook Bill Gates' hand”. Another of this type will say “I came within 10 feet of running over Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.”

That last person would be me. And although it’s a great story over a beer, it is certainly a rather sad high point to my individual contribution to the computer industry. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done great things. For example, Word for Windows 1.0 and actually more significantly 2.0 are giants among all products, but they were team efforts and that is just different.

There is a fourth type of geek that can say something like this:

I got a pilot program funded. With only Mike’s help I figured out something that Microsoft should be doing and how to do it AND then chased down enough of the details, and then sold it to the right people and I freaking got a pilot project funded in Ray Ozzie’s org.

I don’t know anything else yet. I don’t even know that I will be involved in its actual execution other than as an adviser. I’m hoping.

This just happened Friday afternoon. An hour later I had the last “Go For Launch” meeting with all the Digg guys. And then I stumbled home and drooled. Only in the last few hours have I come back to myself enough to wipe off the drool.

I want to be that fifth type of geek. The one that says “When I shipped the version one product from my idea …”

Friday, August 3, 2007

Office competitor: It's Partner, Pave or Pace

Cool site. Way oversimplified: Companies ask a question and pay for the top 3 answers

One of thier question:

Alternatives To Microsoft Office: Two Goliaths -- What Does David Do Now?
Top 3 Insights Receive $150 Each.
Google has received quite a bit of attention for the beginnings of its office productivity suite that can operate collaboratively online (as well as offline with Google Gears). But there are already several non-Microsoft office suites that are much more mature than Google's current office apps. However, by adding the weight of its brand to the Web2.0 productivity market, Google has apparently stolen the "thunder" of the upstarts who were pitching stones at Microsoft. As one of these alternative office suite developers,
1) What are the weaknesses of Google Docs & Spreadsheets?
2) How does a smaller office software firm promote itself with two giants in the same arena?

I got to thinking about it and wanted to answer it here:

My first answer is to do better research. Office has over 85% of the market. There are not two Goliaths, there is one Goliath and somebody else with a very big mouth.

But I think the solution has to come down to: Partner, Pave or Pace.

Do add-ons or extensions to one of the big guys. There is quite a bit of money here as the Goliaths like these people. They don’t have time to enable every feature in the world, but they have given the functionality to do this. They will even pick up a lot of your marketing expenses if you can get their attention.

No big company is fast. (Even Google, despite what they say.) There will always be space on the bleeding edge. For example, the last bleeding edge was getting reasonable editors into the different blogging web sites. Word 2007 can do that now, so that opportunity is fading, but I’m sure there is another one raising somewhere. Yes, you will be paving the way for the big guys, but there will always be room here. Monetization might be hard.

Run next to the big guys. Find a vertical or two and own it. This is what Apple has done. I would stay away from legal cuz it looks like the big guys are going there, but there are still lots of places untouched.

A combination of all three would probably bring the best results.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Blogging for Cats

When I found out that my company kind-of frowns upon blogging, I decided to lay off for a while, but I’ve rethought the decision.

While surfing, somehow I stumbled onto a very, very, far-left political web site and saw the following:

I’m sorry; I didn’t copy down the URL. I just grabbed the screen shot because I thought it was really funny.

I just had this mental picture of thousands of pale, coke-bottle glasses wearing, significantly over or underweight people, groaning as they got up from too many hours behind their computer and grabbing pitch-forks and brooms to take on the modern U.S. Army. And I pictured the U.S. Army as the life-sized green army men that every little boy plays with. And this mind picture still makes me smile.

And it’s not a mean thing, I fit the above description and I can’t see me taking on an army either, although I don’t think I post enough to be qualify for being a blogger.

The more I thought about this quote though, the less funny it became.

Every day, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of bloggers ring a blow for freedom. Even if it’s just freedom for their cat. They take their time to stand up (sit down) and express their views in a public forum. Even though the average blog is read by 1.5 people. Even though the vast majority of posts make drivel look interesting. Even through inaccurate facts, bad grammar and document frameworks that collectively change the rotation of the earth because of all the dead English teachers spinning in their graves. Through all of this, collectively, they make a difference and that will grow with time. From tiny pieces so trivial comes the power of a collective voice and few things are as powerful.

Actually, I should say collective voices, because they certainly don’t speak with one voice. But they could. Given the right circumstances, they could.

I’m not sure that getting up from behind their computer is a good thing; their power probably lies in the magic they harness inside their computers. Every revolution needs a Thomas Paine to put up pamphlets and schedule meetings. But beyond that, I’m pretty sure that future revolutions are not going to be fought with weapons. They are gong to be fought with crowds. They will be won by thousands upon thousands of people showing up in public squares across the country and standing in front of the tanks. In a world where militaries are as strong as is possible today, the only path lies in the power of the will of the people to keep anybody from taking up arms.

And that’s the power at the fingers of the bloggers.

And if that ever comes to be, it won’t be funny at all.

And I want to be a part of that. Even if I don’t have a cat.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Last newspaper post for a while, I promise.

Seattle Times decided not to hire me, so my brain and blog will be moving on. But I'm still getting mail from readers saying that newspapsers are doomed, including clippings from the mergers that are going on.

I think the national newspapers are in trouble. I think that newspapers without a vibrant web site are in trouble. But I think hybreds and eventually online only papers are just find.

The Seattle Times is doing much better with their ads in the last couple of weeks! I think they are going the right direction, i.e. towards profitability.

Here is another study:

15% Increase in Visits to Newspaper Websites

According to NAdbase released in April, 36 percent of all Internet users visited a newspaper Web site in November, 2006, and page views for newspaper Web sites increased 27 percent year over year during the second half of 2006. This latest report shows that during the second half of 2006, unique visitors to newspaper Web sites averaged 57.3 million visitors a month, or one in three of all Internet users, a 15 percent increase over the same period a year ago.

The 2007 campaign comes on the heels of last year’s success, when more than 1,000 newspapers reached more than 100 million readers, and coincides with the release of the spring 2007 Newspaper Audience Database report. In addition, 136,000 advertisers visited the campaign Web site to learn about the value of newspaper media.

NAA Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, John Kimball, said “…newspapers are succeeding in driving new innovations and growing their audiences in both size and value… no better time to launch our 2007 newspaper value campaign than the very day we provide advertisers with audience data spanning the medium’s full portfolio of print and digital products.”

The report says that newspaper Web sites have contributed to a 13.7 percent increase in total newspaper audience for the coveted 25- to 34-year-old demographic and a 9.2 percent increase for 18- to 24-year-olds.

The NAdbase analysis also shows that:

Nearly three out of four adults in the top 50 markets (115 million) read the newspaper over the course of a week (5 weekdays/1 Sunday)

65.8 percent of 18- to 34-year olds in the top 50 markets read a newspaper during the course of a week

76.9 percent of 35- to 54-year-olds, and 84.2 percent of those 55 and older, read a newspaper in the previous week

John F. Sturm, NAA President and CEO, concludes “… The ad campaign emphasizes newspaper’s ability to combine the strengths of the Internet and print while expanding its reach and influence in a time of critical transformation for the industry.”

For the complete information release, and more about Newspaper Audience Data, please visit here.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Online Advertising 101 - Larry Tate please smile upon me!

I do not think online advertisements are evil.

I think, badly done, untargeted online advertisements are evil.

When you are in the market for a car, isn't it nice to see the different videos for automobiles that you didn't know about? What if "they" knew about your love of Orchids and instead of showing you an obnoxious ad for a mortgage that you are not in the market for, they showed you the latest Orchids that had arrived at your favorite nursery?

The industry is not there yet. Actually, it has a way to go.

I've been coming up to speed on the online advertising world and it's a fun one. Online advertising is not that complicated by itself, it's just that a) they have their own vocabulary and b) the whole industry is much more complex that one would guess.

I guess I thought that:
  1. Seller would contact ad agency
  2. Ad agency would produce a nice picture of a cow dancing and give to a web site
  3. Web site would occasionally show ad
  4. Seller would pay ad agency who would pay the web site
And that is true, a little. Well, it's true other than that whole "Devil is in the details" thing.

First thing are Networks.

o Think of a network in a TV way, not connecting computers. NBC and their affiliates take in commercials and display them to their viewers during different targeted
o A network can be as small as a college student’s blog displaying an ad to sell their
roommate’s bike.
o Or Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft.

I will limit this to a very simplified discussion on display advertisements. If you go to my personal blog you will see a banner across the top. That is a display advertisement. (And if you haven’t been there in a while, you have got to check out the sound clip I put on last week!)

The place where everything gets much more complicated than you would expect is all around two questions --
o When do you play the commercial?
o When do pay the person with the web site who displayed the commercial?
The basic answers are:
o When your targeted user (demographics) is likely to show up at a web site (keywords).
o Per Click, Per 1000 plays or per some pre-defined activity. These are described below.

A large part of the Ad Network is a bunch of tools that allow the ad people the ability to upload and manage their advertisements. The larger agencies have staffs of people who do nothing but this all day long! A single ad campaign might have over a 1000 keywords. It might also be targeted by gender, age, time of day, day of week, etc. And they might have 200 ad campaigns running simultaneously. Also, one ad might be doing better than another, so they will swap out active campaigns as quickly as they receive the data.

But the big thing here is the Advertising Stock Exchange.
o In a struggle as old as time, sellers want to pay as little per ad as possible, while publishers (web sites) want as much as possible. And because there are so many variable involved the networks (Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft, et al) create a real time “stock” exchange.
o Advertisers bid on keywords, demographics and time.
o The web sites also have their keywords and prices. So, the MSN Automotive web site may say we will only ever accept advertisements where the minimum cost per 1000 impressions is $2.00. If there isn’t a publisher willing to pay their price, then MSN Automotive will either show a public service advertisement or an in-house one.

Let’s walk through an example:

1. Google offers to sell CPM advertisements. This means that they will pay a fixed sum of money to a web site for each 1000 times an advertisement is displayed. Impressions mean that the advertisement was served to a web page, hence creating a chance for a user to be impressed. Google signs up to manage advertisements from Nordstrom’s and to display advertisements on

2. Nordstrom knows that its target customer is a college educated, 25-35 year old woman, who shops on a weekday. They may offer to pay $4.00 per 1000 impressions to try and reach this woman. But they know they have very poor turn around if it’s a man on a weekend. In this case all they might be willing to pay is $0.15 for 1000 impressions.

3. is doing a featured story on the latest shoe styles from Paris. But they get a good return just by running their own ads advertising their own shows. CNN knows that if they don’t get $3.00 per 1000 impressions, they are losing money. So would accept the ad from Nordstrom for the woman but not for the man.

There are more types of ads and they are dreaming up even more new ones every day. Different strategies work best for different advertisements and for different web sites and different browsers at different times of the day, etc. Research is figuring out new ways to gather demographic information and tune keywords. As you can imagine, this is a way complex real time mess. And we haven’t even started talking about the technical issues.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Print People and Online People - One metal twist away

I wish I had enough time to make these shorter! And I promise I will get off newspapers soon. Send me mail/comment if you have something you would like for me to think about.


I spent the last newspaper post trying to address the point of view of a print newspaper guy. I really felt for the guy. This guy works hard and earns his salary. The things the online people were saying to him were just horrible. That content isn't worth paying for. That newspapers are now worthless. That a blogger working out of their living room is a better than a whole newsroom. I don’t agree with any of these things and they would make me grind my teeth, too.

Would a paper newspaper still be a thing of value if all it had was its masthead? No, its value lies in its content. The value is the printed word, but nobody ever said how that word needed to be printed. Running a local online newspaper takes exactly the same content generation and management strengths as a paper one. It’s the same basic business and the same basic processes apply. But the pulp world has different limitations than the online world. And the online world works differently. Bridging these is just one mental twist away.

So rather than looking at a newspaper and talking about how it could go online, I want to look at online sites and talk about newspapers. These trends are from report called the Digital Outlook Report by Avenue A RazorFish. The general opinion is that this report is one of the best reports made. It's 75 pages long, and I think well worth reading, but I acknowledge that statement is probably untrue for lots of people! :-)

So what do these online experts see as services that will allow sites to be more profitable? What are some of the modern site vision, mission and functionality ideas that working now? Are there things that newspapers, or should I say "News companies", are in the unique position to cash in upon?

Web Trends

… And now a show from our sponsor.
Brand communications are moving beyond being a disruptive source of product information to a functional source of content and entertainment. This could be a branded desktop application that notifies them of special deals, a banner ad that allows customers to chat with one another or a series of ultra-short films.
Brand-sponsored content can help engage an audience that is increasingly looking
beyond the television for their entertainment.

Get Local.
Think about how you make your brand locally relevant. Could you create a map mashup that will help customer’s locate places of interest (and receive a brand impression in the process)? Could you use geographic targeting to provide place-specific messages? Can you connect customers on a local level and help them interact with one another?

Spread your brand around
People are not waiting to visit your web site. You need to take your brand to where your customers are living online. Think beyond your site and consider how you can distribute your brand in as many places as your customers are likely to be – both online and offline.

Extend your story
Yes your message can be longer than 30 seconds. Look to deliver your message in installments to keep your audience on the edge of their seat, guessing what might come next or eagerly waiting to see what you’ll do next. Serialized storytelling, if
it’s relevant and entertaining, can help hold your audience’s attention and dramatically increase the time customers spend with your brand.

Virtual reality gets real.
In the future the line between what is real and what is digital will blur. Think about ways you can extend the experience your customers have online to their real-world lives. How can digital experience and tools enhance and enrich life in the real world? Can a digital experience substitute for a real-world test drive?

Takeaway: Is the web moving towards local newspapers or the other way around? All the trends above are a page out of a newspaper's best practices. Emphasize your strengths around your local news and engagement. You have incredible amounts of expertise around these items, now figure out ways to embrace new communities, new tools and the new functionality enabled by the Internet.

All of these trends could be "owned" by either old or new media in the local news area, but the local newspaper -- it has the shortest path to being the new king.

There’s no middle.
In every category, traffic is going to a few big players as well as a growing field of small players. You’re either MySpace or a small forum and blog site dedicated to ultimate Frisbee. … Middle-sized players are getting squeezed; lacking the focus of a niche site by trying to appeal to a broad audience, but without the size enjoyed by their field’s leaders.”

Takeaway: Don't try to compete with the national news guys. In the print world, people chose between limited options. It was one or two local newspapers and the TV. A lot of people did both.

For global and national online news you need to compete with the following web sites:,, ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

And many, many, more, plus the six more somebody will dream up tomorrow. Most of the above companies spend more money in a year supplying food for their meetings than the local newspaper company has for their entire annual advertising budget. (Ok, I just made that up, but doesn't it sound great!! And the point is valid anyway.)

If I could partner with a big national guy so that I didn't have to put *any* resources on this daily stuff, I would. I would still want some simple form of the content and I would want to own the local conversation about these stories, but that’s about it. Well, I might have part of one person whose job it was to write about the local angles to these stories.

But in general, Anna Nichole Smith's death is not for us. Let the people that care about this get their news from either watching a 24 hour news channel or hitting a site that is updating their ANS content every 30 minutes. They already are anyway. For normal people it takes effort to get away from stories like this and I would applaud if my local news company gave the whole thing a pass.

But that does not mean that I wouldn't put any resources on the national or global news. If I could afford it, I would put more resources here. I wonder what breaking Watergate did for the Washington Post? How proud their community was to be affiliated with them? How much their circulation grew? The benefits are probably still rolling along as more contacts are willing to talk to them and more people around the world give them instant creditability. And I’m sure that this feeds into more credibility and more circulation.

Unlike the daily “display the national news grind”, Investigating and breaking national news stories is critically important. It is something that every paper should seek out and subsidize. Over time it will pay off and give a large boost in branding and circulation and advertisement, but it may take a reporter three (or more) years to achieve this. What would a story like Watergate do in today's world where all site traffic is converted to cash? How many people across the world would check the site every day for updates? Which advertisers would be drooling to get a piece of that? Could a large percentage of the traffic be kept forever? I hope that Watergate level stories are rare, but I don't think that good investigative stories are rare; they are just generally resource starved.

The Internet is where general interest goes to die
The digital media space is widely viewed by marketers to be a means of tapping into niche audiences and content interests. … The digital space has allowed for users to connect, purchase and understand products and content once unimaginable in a mass-culture world. That said, we continued to sense pent-up demand among the digital class for even more content, connection and interaction surrounding the specific interests. … This leads us to believe that low-cost ways to create specialized communities, social networks and content sites will continue to proliferate and become increasing import means of augmenting and supporting both the user experience and display media campaigns. "

Takeaway: Give your valuable reporters time to dig in and really get into the details of a story. In the print world you were limited by column inches and number of pages. These items do no apply to the online site.

Increase coverage of local niche communities. There is nothing wrong with amateur content on your site as long as it is identified as such. Create an area for pee-wee baseball and get a volunteer from the league to keep it basically up to date and upload pictures. They are going to do that work for somebody's web page; the whole league will be thrilled if it it’s on the news company’s site. Make this a generic tool and allow other local sports teams to do the same. With some minor development work you could become the go-to place for all amateur league sports. This will impress the local sports stores and gyms and your advertising base and the number of advertisers and your revenue will rise.

Get Nordstrom's make-up counter to do a weekly makeover with pictures and text just by doing a few point and clicks in your tool. This could give you increased ad revenue by local salons and maybe international makeup companies that wouldn't give you the time of day otherwise. Maybe Nordstrom's would be willing to offer a coupon to go along with this. Maybe they would give the company a cut.

There are a couple of themes here. One is that you need to develop tools to enable others to produce content. This takes a team of web professionals. In hindsight I think I might have dismissed the savings that a news company could reap by not printing. These people are the cost of success in the online world, but they are your conduit to great content and an abundance of readers.

Get in on the interaction.
Static, one-way conversations are dead. Consumers use brands to build and reflect their personal identities. Consider ways you can enable customers to personalize or take ownership of your brand without sacrificing its integrity. Are you making it easy for customers to tag your brand or incorporate it into their creations, their worlds, their personas?”

“The digital channel is kinetic; it requires constant innovation. Marketers who embrace this dynamism will evolve their message from 30-second commandments to open ended dialogs with customers … a much more favorable interaction!”

Takeaway: Don't just throw your content over the wall and be done with it.

It’s the perfect storm. All the players come together in your space for a perfect interactive storm. Other sites might be able to pull this off, but not as well, not as quickly and with a lot more work. Every article you write is the beginning of a conversation if you capitalize on it. Every advertisement is too. Every special feature, every weather map, every photograph, every link, everything can be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

The online news cycle is not a daily one. It's not even a few times a day. When you post new stories is a side issue. There should never be a second when your site isn't growing. Unlike the 24 hour news channels, you don't need to say every word, but you do need to enable the interaction. News is now about having an ongoing conversation.

“Yes, I said it. Newspapers are a dying medium. They have been for the last several years, and it's only going to get worse. Ask anyone in print journalism behind closed doors...they know their days are numbered. And don't just think I'm ripping print people because I'm a broadcast guy, because I've been involved in print for nearly nine years.” Jason Salas

Someday I may take on Mr. Salas’ whole article because it’s about 10% dead right and 90% really clueless. Mr. Salas works out of a Guam TV station and this was in a blog post of his. As Mr. Salas puts a wreath on the future grave of print newspapers, he makes the most poignant argument yet for why news companies will live. As I read this page, I actually (hand to god) saw an ad with a link on a topic I’ve been researching and I clicked on it. His company made money off of something he wrote 2/16/2005.

The old delivery mediums, paper, radio or TV, doesn’t really matter. Broadcast guys can still be newsman. Radio guys can still be newsman. And writing a blog post doesn’t begin to make somebody a newsman and everybody knows it.

Five years ago, if somebody suddenly made printing on paper illegal, newspapers could have moved their format online without too much work and not much would have needed to change. Most of them started echoing their content online anyway. This print on paper or no paper or both argument is a side issue. The answer will probably change depending upon the location. Northern rural routes where delivery is expensive may go with a 100% online solution. Florida, where the older generations flock, may stay mostly on paper.

Paper has many advantages over online. The smell of coffee and the Sunday paper screams lazy Sunday morning to me and I don’t want to give that up forever. So if any competent local news company has to (or already is) suppling both print and online content, what’s the beef? If the question is not which delivery vehicle is better; what is the online advocate’s point? What are the online people upset about?

“Each time there was a major advance in the ability to generate, store or disseminate knowledge, it was followed by an "information surge" and with it a sudden acceleration in the level of innovation.

When information surge happens, it sweeps through human society in a powerful, innovating wave that in some way changes everything everywhere. Surge brings together people and places and ideas in totally new ways. From these new relationships come new entities and new ways of living.”
James Burke

Newspapers have been delivering on this paper based information surge for the last few centuries. When newspapers were first printed they changed the world in such fundamental ways that those of us who were born past that time can not imagine how profound the change was. Nothing works the same way any longer. Newspapers are our society’s bedrock. For god’s sake, they have their own amendment. Not just that, but they have the first amendment. They are a beast whose powers are so vast and strong that nothing can kill it. Although one or two may be perverted ten more spring up to take its place. Even during the darkest times of WW2, underground newspapers were the lifeline of many people, even though possessing them could mean death.

This is the heritage of the print newspaper and it is a great one.

Online people are merely asking for the same thing.

But they want the information produced, designed and packaged for the online world. News companies will not be able to successfully create magic online (or for society) by repacking paper content in a design that mirrors the strengths and limitations of the printed page. Their world is fundamentally different, although the principles are the same. Online people can do different things. How information is generated is very different. Online people can tackle displaying different kinds of information. The time flow and display characteristics are the opposite that exist in the paper world. And online people can interact. Online people can interact with everything. Online people want to generate, store and disseminate information online. Online people can smell the information surge. Online people are reaching out with all our might.

But the paper newspaper people, so far, have not embraced the online world.

Online people want to interact with you, with the facts and with other readers. Online people want companies and other players that have a vested interest in the information come to the table as they play well with others. Online people would like to interact with anybody who might have something interesting to say. What you do on paper is good, but it is so last century. What you are doing right now has little to do what is being done in other areas online. And all of it, all of it so far, is nothing compared to what will be done online.

And that’s that mental twist I wanted newspaper people to make:

Rather than looking down on print people, online people are jealous of them.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

James Burke Information Surge talk

James Burke came to Microsoft and gave this speech when I was on WinWord 2.0 (or so). It rocked my world. The whole Word team changed a bit of their focus away from adding more features and towards creating ways for people to re-order information. I just found this talk online and didn't want to risk such a treasure getting lost in the mists of time. I think you can still see the truth of this reverberating through society over the PC specifically.


Each time there was a major advance in the ability to generate, store or disseminate knowledge, it was followed by an "information surge" and with it a sudden acceleration in the level of innovation.

Thanks to information surge, each one of us in the modern world has more machine power available at a fingertip than any Roman emperor. A medieval king would have needed legions of horsemen riding for months to be able to deliver one-thousandth of the number of messages we can transmit in a few moments to the ends of the earth by phone or fax. A single CD-ROM can carry the whole of Renaissance science and philosophy.

When information surge happens, it sweeps through human society in a powerful, innovating wave that in some way changes everything everywhere. Surge brings together people and places and ideas in totally new ways. From these new relationships come new entities and new ways of living. Most important of all, information surge changes the way we think. We are experiencing a transformational surge of innovation and convergence of information technologies.

Three thousand years ago the Greek alphabet was the first truly transparent means of communication, because it could be used to express any language. But in the way left-to-right script was processed in the brain, the alphabet also triggered the analytical, step-by-step mode of thought that would give us logic. We could now cut up the universe the better to understand it. Before the alphabet, such an idea was, literally, unthinkable.

Today we stand on the threshold of another such revolution in thought. It is already happening in the most esoteric disciplines of science. Some of the most important equations in fundamental particle research, for instance, can now be attempted only because supercomputers can solve them in a few months. Before, since they would have taken more than a researcher's lifetime to complete, they could not even be attempted. Bringing this extraordinary aspect of knowledge manufacture to the service of society as a whole raises questions that will have to be answered. For example, can we accept and live with innovation that cannot be explained by the innovation machines because we do not live long enough to hear the whole explanation?

The answer to this kind of challenge may lie within the same systems that generate them, in the form of electronic agents. These surrogates are not new. Each time surge occurs (and with it, massive increases in the levels of innovation), society has delegated responsibility for handling the effects to filtering entities. After Descartes' scientific method triggered the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, the avalanche of data was diverted into different management disciplines. Today there are over twenty thousand of them, from anatomy to zoomorphology.

Electronic agents will explore the treasure house of this specialist, arcane knowledge that will be made available to everybody by the next information surge, in order to find for us only what we need at the time and to translate the data into forms that are individually meaningful to each of us.

This new freedom of access to information through the networks spanning the globe will also change the social meaning of information. Up to now, the limitations of communication technology at any time gave special importance to all knowledge, irrespective of what it might have been, simply because it was inaccessible. What was not generally available was usually regarded as valuable.

The innovations produced by the few people who had access to this secret knowledge were, from time to time, let loose upon communities who had to adapt to it as best they might. Such esoteric innovation was impossible to prepare for because it was inaccessible, its effects were serendipitous. How could anyone have foreseen that Venturi's investigation of water-flow dynamics would lead to the perfume spray that would in turn make possible the carburetor?

The coming information systems will offer the chance for people to see these patterns of innovation even as they occur and to make judgments about them before their effect on society has to be accommodated. With open sources of information, technology assessment will finally be possible, unhindered by ideological half-truths. The same will be true of the process of political participation, suggesting a rapid end to the present representative system, designed for the eighteenth century and failing us today.

Institutions of many kinds will be changed or even removed by the next surge. When an American manager can, in real time, run automated factories in Argentina the way a Rome accountant says the Berlin headquarters requires, with software uplinked via a Japanese satellite from Korea, what happens to national sovereignty and the hundreds of items of domestic legislation that will then be obsolete?

This kind of networking is typical of the way in which information surge generates social complexity and, with it, diffusion of power outwards from the center. The fifteenth-century printing press broke the hegemony of Rome, gave political control to a hundred kings and princes around Europe, and brought the birth of the nation-state. The next surge will also shift power in much the same way, but at every level and in every place around the world.

(c) James Burke

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Newspaper Lament

I had a comment (which I HUGELY appreciate) suggesting I read a column and rebuttal by David Lazarus that appeared the San Francisco Chronicle to get a feeling for how people in the industry feel about the same kind of things I’ve been saying about their industry.

I think the author is feeling a little depressed about the kind of things that people said and rightly so. I would have been devastated by the things the clueless idiots were saying. But he is still wrong.

But these articles say it’s really all about paper and the business model that has grown up around it. It’s absolutely fascinating reading, especially by us online types that have created large web sites.

Here are some of the most relevant quotes:

"The main point of my earlier column was that newspaper content has value. Once you acknowledge that, you have to acknowledge that newspaper Web sites are giving away something valuable in exchange for ... what? "

I acknowledge that. I'm a huge fan, especially of reporters and editors. If my life had run a little bit differently it might have been a journalism major in college. My browser’s home page is the Seattle Times, so I generally read it several times a day. I acknowledge my local paper as THE best site for quality local content. I acknowledge the sacred trust you hold in your hands and understand that this must be a heavy burden to bear for a lifetime.

But I don't agree with the rest of this statement, but let me rebut it in a second.

“The harsh reality, though, is that most newspaper Web sites account for only about 5 percent of total revenue. That means a news organization that relies primarily on the Internet couldn't possibly support a newsroom as large or resourceful as what the paid-for print product allows.”

Two points here:

1 – This is a self fulfilling point. The companies that make their money from publishing on dead trees make their money by publishing on dead trees. The delivery method doesn’t make a difference to the content or the quality of the content (Layout yes, functionality yes, content no.) And the Seattle Times costs around fifty cents a day. I doubt that with all the costs from pringing and deliver they make much money off of this, but rather the advertising that goes onto the pulp.

2 - Another harsh reality; just because YOUR online revenue is 5%, it does not follow that:

a) it has to stay that low

b) YOU couldn’t be replaced by a different news site who does as good a job delivering high quality content. Somebody else could hire reporters and have a sustainable online profit margin with free content. Imagine a newspaper where everybody works from home, with no printing costs and hence no printing office space. I’m not saying that this is what I want, but their bottom line would be substantially lower with out a drop in the quality of the content. After all, this is the model that “foreign correspondents” used to create their great content and they have broken many an important story.

Compare the amount and quality of the online advertising on the Seattle Times and an offbeat local newspaper called The Stranger. I bet the Stranger makes more that 5% of its revenue from online advertising. (But I don’t know for sure.).

“And that means this glorious new paradigm of content that's not worth paying for would allow news organizations to be capable of doing only a fraction of the investigative and watchdog work they currently perform.

The stakes couldn't be higher -- that is, unless bloggers and cyberreaders are satisfied to accept the words of Washington politicians, or companies like Halliburton and Enron, at face value.”

Again, you are right.

And I’m very sad about it. Especially when we are talking about the old quasi-National pages that are in very deep trouble now. They were the ones with the deep pockets and super contacts to really protect the world. But the sacred trust that professional journalist have isn’t going to go away no matter if it’s pulp or bits. And news companies are just going to have to find new ways to accomplish this if they want to stay competitive.

I also reject your assumption that online newspapers will never make enough money to support a large staff. So you make 95% of your profit on the pulp side now. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t another 95% to make from the online side. Maybe you will be able to do more. Maybe the disaster that was the build up to the Iraq war would never be able to happen in the new world.

Perhaps newspapers will need to join together to investigate and break big stories. Maybe a reporter working for the Seattle Times could partner with somebody from the SF Chronicle and NY Times to expose a scandal. This could create an army of smaller newspapers who currently don’t have the resources to play on the big stage. Maybe they could even partner with the best of bloggers. Maybe instead of two reporters breaking Watergate, it could have been 6 and they could have ferreted out the details in half the time.

On a side note, I do agree with you about 99% of the bloggers out there. They are like eager puppies that really don’t have a clue about “real” reporting. But that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t train them or find some other clever ways to use them. That’s what Editors are for, isn’t it? A lot of reporting is dull drudge work, if you could offload some of this from your reporters or rely less on wire services; the quality of news could go up, not down.

Rather than lamenting that the Internet was invented, newspaper companies need to be asking themselves how they can take advantage of it.

"… I suggested in my earlier column that another, albeit temporary, remedy may lie in seeking an exemption to antitrust laws so that newspapers as an industry can unite in charging for some or all online content."

You go to antitrust laws for your answer? That’s your answer to this huge opportunity? Not to join the 21st century and innovate but instead to have the government protect your right to carry on like you used to? And even if you get the government to protect you, it doesn’t take a newspaper company to put quality news on the internet. MSNBC – a web site with no newspaper has over 3 million visitors a day and doesn’t charge for content. TV stations are putting more and more local content on their web sites and have unparalleled free advertisements. If the newspaper industry creates a vacuum for free, quality, local content, somebody else will just fill it.

It will always be about quality content no matter if it’s delivered on pulp, bits or both. The business model and monetization for the online segment must change. The online experience for the Seattle Times is not as high quality as the print version and I resent that. If I had a better local choice, they would be my home page.

But, what if the best seller’s list had links to a book seller that was willing to give the newspaper a cut. What if they got a cut from coupons (thanks anonymous comment person!) What if this “get a cut” model was available to almost every ad in the paper? What about for links in the main stories and columns? What if when the newspaper published a map to a location, the map showed some advertisements for businesses that were along the way? What if, what if, what if, I could go on and on. The world has already changed and most newspaper companies are not taking advantage of it.

These are exactly the kinds of things that people mean when they say the Newspaper industry needs to change. Just because the news world used to work a certain way, it doesn’t mean that it still should in the future. Radio didn’t kill all newspapers, but it did change them. TV didn’t kill all newspapers, but they did have to differentiate themselves from them. I don’t believe the Internet is going to kill all newspapers either, but the newspaper industry must again embrace change. They are still thinking in pulp terms and I don’t think that will win in the long run.

The question really is: Will it be an existing pulp newspaper company that is up for the challenge or somebody else?

In a year, will it be my local newspaper company that is my home page or will I have found somebody else that works better online for me? I would be sad to change away from the Seattle Times, but it wouldn’t take much to entice me to switch to a new source that has embraced the 21st Century.

Yea Seth Godin!!!! -- Doing the Basics Well!

I slammed Seth in one of my posts in January, so I thought it only fair that I promote him to almost godhood in another.

He says about upping your site's traffic --

Hey. It's not so hard. If you make great stuff, people will find you. If you are transparent and accurate and doing what's good for the surfer, people will find you. If you regularly demonstrate knowledge of content that's worth seeking out, people (being selfish) will come, and people (being generous) will tell other people. It turns out that it's easier and faster to do that than to spend all your time on the shortcuts.

I've been trying to tell my clients this for years. Like everything else in business, it's all about doing the basics well. When you finish that, you can move on to the fancy-shmancy things. The misleading part of that statement is that I don't know of anybody that has ever finished with doing the basics well.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Local Newspapers again. They really are feeling well!

The Economist did a scary story on how newspapers are dying and everybody freaked out to the place where corporations have started divesting themselves of their newspaper business. But as an industry trend, it just isn’t true. There is very little data to back it up and lots of data that contradicts it. One study did say that print circulation is down 2%. (Yes, but is circulation up on the newspaper's web site?) TV viewing is also down by about that same amount, but nobody is saying that the TV is dead.

I talked about this once before. About how they are measuring increases of market penetration of over 50% for papers with a web site.

And here is another link to back it up:

“Contrary to conventional wisdom, newspaper circulation is growing and new
newspapers are being launched at a remarkable rate, new and revised data from
the World Association of Newspapers shows.“

I think the big guys may be in trouble and that is creating a skewed picture. It used to be that one of the few choices you had for national / global news was a big newspaper. It was the local paper or the NY Times or Wall Street Journal. But now national and global news comes at us 24 / 7 from every direction and every type of media format. I see this market continuing to splinter. The success of Fox news and Olbermann’s rocket growth makes me think that more and more people are seeking out a news source that matches their own biases.

I wonder if this is a trend. It used to be that news sources did their best not to have a bias. Most would say they still do, but I’m not sure it’s possible in today’s time. Is news like Fox News a trend that is going to grow or a flash in the pan? Something I need to think about.

On the other hand, the local newspapers themselves are doing fine. It’s a little scary right now because things are changing for them, but I think that local papers have some amazing opportunities now.

Good web properties can make millions and millions a year from online advertising and sponsored links. Anybody or anything that can capture a good chunk of readers is in line to make money. I think local newspapers have a huge advantage going into this business. For example, they already have relationships with all the big local advertisers; they already have brand awareness and trust from the readers, they have niches for in-depth, investigative and/or local coverage.

And probably their biggest advantage they have is that they already have me. Eventually I realized that I was going to have to make some space and time for my local news. Where does one go for local news? Duh – the local newspaper. And once I get started with one news source it will take a lot to make me feel like picking up another

It’s a huge advantage.

And although some people will tell you that the bloggers (i.e. new media) are going to take over the world, I would answer that this might be true as soon as they get off their asses and actually cover a 5 car pileup on the highway at 11:00 pm on a rainy Sunday night. Right now 99% of what they do is sit around and criticize the content created by old media. This isn’t a bad thing. Actually, it’s a really, really, really cool thing, but not an empire toppling kind of thing. Especially the same empire that gives them their content.

Maybe the print side of the newspaper is going away, or at least slowing down. But to me, the delivery format is not what a newspaper is about.

A newspaper is:

· A lot of useful information in a useful package.
· The go-to place for trusted investigative information.
· The go-to place for trusted local coverage. Nobody else does that
· Good judgment and cachet. If they cover something, it’s important and it’s real.
· Free (or pocket change.) They make their revenue from advertising.
· What ever else I need to achieve the basic goal of being part of “a well-informed citizenry.”

On a high level I want my local newspaper to take their responsibilities seriously:
· Original Content -- Not just a rehash of news I can get elsewhere. This content needs to be touched by a local human.
· Branding -- TRUST -- How do you know if it's true? A known bias. Be my friend.
· Investigation -- this is the value add over blogs. Again – a local human.
· Murrow level reporting: Justice for the powerless and protection from the powerful
· Pride – I want them to break open a national scandal occasionally. Play in the same sphere as the NYT or LAT. We need every media outlet to step up to the responsibilities now. Local scandals as well, but that’s more obvious than national ones.

I was in Miami for this winter's big Seattle wind storm and blackout. My husband had lost power and so I could only talk to him once or twice a day. I lived on the Seattle Times site. I felt like they were there for me and I felt like they were fanning out across the area for me. They were on the ground, seeing and feeling and helping. This is something the local papers know how to do. They’ve been doing it for two centuries. They are not going to be taken down by the cost of paper and ink.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Talk: Online Marketing Trends that include Web 2.0

I've learned my lesson. No more for me. I'm like an addict!

I'm working on a session for a confrence given by Seattle BizNik.

I know my target audiance is a small business owner that in many ways doesn't want to know about this. They know they should, but it's never worth the time to sit down and sort it out. They are confused about Web 2.0 and don't know which direction to turn.

“Online Marketing Trends that include Web 2.0” (I don’t like the title. Suggestions?)

This talk will be a speedy romp through hot trends and technologies. Logic says that businesses should apply at least one hot trend every year, but which one? Which will give the most dazzle for the buck? Online marketing will be the focus, but no marketing campaign should stand alone.

Many businesses are frustrated when they try to apply one or a mix of online strategies. How is a person supposed to target their marketing in a world where the experts do not agree on anything? There are multiple definitions for even things as basic as what Web 2.0 actually is. Not to mention that every expert is giving contradictory predictions for what they think is going to be the next big thing. The long-tail supporters and say that the days of having one mega-trend are over. Business people have to get a passing understanding of all of the top trends and technologies and how to apply them appropriately in order to best get their message out.

This talk will relieve some of this confusion. We will have to move fast to give a glimpse of these trends and technologies. Some of the trends we will cover are honor, sharing, social/community, transparency (no spin), reciprocity, participation, global collaboration and viral. Some of the technologies we will talk about are the web, blogs/RSS, spaces, stores and associates, podcasts and wikis. We will stay on the practical side spotlighting things that are neither prohibitively expensive nor

All suggestions are welcome!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

10 Things to Think About For Your First Web Site

A person I know has recently decided to take the plunge and develop her first web site for her business. She is, she says, "a people person and not a computer person". She is understandably a little lost as to how to even get started. Below is my answer to her.

Most non-technical people have no idea of how much of their time and money they are going to need to spend to have somebody do this. Everybody wants something like without having any idea that this site was probably way over 40K to produce and it’s hard to imagine how many artists, sound editors, flash animators, writers, editors, photographers, developers, testers, project managers and time went into it. You can get a very good site for $500 to $1,000 if you are very organized and willing to compromise.

You will generally get a better site and it will generally take much less of your time if you can spend more money, but I’ve seen some amazing sites done for very little money because the customer was so well prepared. There are some key things you can do that will make any site better and also reduce the costs. You should do most of this before you get real estimates for your site. Since it is harder to do this on the cheap, I will focus there.

Rules for a cheaper web site:

1. Know the vision, mission and goals for your website. It is probably marketing related; describing the business, contact information and maybe gathering names for a mailing list. But you might also want to ease office processes, like having forms to fill out or something like that. Go to your competitors' web sites and see what they do and what you like. Add these site addresses to your Favorites.

2. Let your webmaster pick a template for you and stay away from creating a design or a "look". If you get too much into what colors should be next to each other and how much space there should be between thing x and thing y add at least a $1,000 if not $10,000. In general it is cheaper to mix in on the design side as little as possible. I used to tell my customers on a budget "Don't let perfect stand in the way of good." Pick your colors in a general way like a bride might. Be ready to show a few printouts from a variety of designs of sites you liked from step #1. But otherwise just stay open. It never hurts to ask questions but something as little as specifying rounded corners .vs. square corners can cost you a bundle and send everything back to the drawing board.

Stay away from anything very arty. Pictures are OK, but not animations. Very arty sites are very hard to do well. Most of them are way too slow, are not very usable and do not get along well with the search engines. Technically most of what I’m trying to say here is; for sites done on the cheap, stay away from the computer program called Flash.

3. You will probably need your own URL. There are whole books written about this. It's a big deal. If you have any doubts at all, get some help. is the site to test different naming ideas. You can also go to and they will tell you who owns the URL. Even if they show a domain as unavailable, it's often worth going there or doing a google search for it. There are companies like that buy lots of address for the express point of reselling them. Often times they are not that much more expensive than going through Network Solutions.

4. You probably want your site to be professionally hosted and you will write a check to these people every month. There are free site hosters but your customers will really pay a bad price for this and it doesn't reflect well on you. There are lots of little things that will make a big difference in the price. Things like having the address be is more expensive. Having five email addresses at is probably free. Having 6 may cost you $10.00 extra a month. How many visitors you think you will have will be important. Are there going to be photos and videos on your site or will you link to other sites. Be willing to dive in here and really think these things through.

5. Document the kind of words your customers would type into a search engine to find you. These are called keywords for obvious reasons. I would recommend spending at least 40 hours on this. Yes, it really is worth a week of your time. Search for your competitors and see what words work for them and where they get listed. Make sure you have this down cold. You will need to create a Priority 1 list of approximately 20 to 40 words for the search engines. *

6. Create as much of the site as you can in Word or Excel. Use all the buzzwords that you came up with in the previous step as much as possible while creating easy to read prose. Make sure that you have all the pictures/photos done and all the copy solid. I mean solid as in “it's been through a professional editor” solid. Good professional editors that do not take very long to go through a few documents are are worth their weight in gold. Changing any of this stuff after the webmaster has done their magic will be much more expensive.

7. Now, if you want, you can take a shot at bringing up your own site. For a non-technical person I think this is similar in scope to asking a novice to create a real TV commercial by themselves, so expect a bit of a bumpy ride. Right now for sites on the lower end I like (they charge ~$8 a month) or There are lots of others, but these guys are not going anywhere. If you run into problems, get help first from a more technical friend before your paid consultant.

Bring up a space on MySpace. It will be ugly, but the experiance will be good for you and it's something you will probably need to do anyway and at least you will understand what MySpace is about.

8. With all that said, if I didn’t have any web presence in this day and age I wouldn’t start with a static web site. I would start with a blog. To answer the question of why this is true would take a whole other post, but users now expect a site that has dynamic content and they also want to forge a personal link with you. Plan on posting new entries at least three times a week, 5 days a week would be better.

9. Jump into the water and get your toes wet right now. You can do it without having to do all the dreary prep work listed above. All of the following sites have templates and you can you play around getting things the way you want all the time. I have a blog on just about every service for fun. I put my mother and mother-in-law on because it is by far the easiest to use. is another direction that might be a good start. For the more technical business types I would tell them to check out All of these are free, which is somehow OK in the blog world. is fun too.

10. It doesn't matter if you went with a blog or a site, now you need to get the name out. There are lots of tricks to do this and I say avoid them all. Just do a very good faith effort to 1) make your site relevent to your customers 2) take the word of your site to them, for example make thoughtful posts on other people's blogs and leave the address to your blog, and 3) give it some time. The Internet is a big place and it takes some time for it to sort itself out.

None of this is that hard, assuming you use templates for the design of your site and you have a technical friend that can be bribed by beer and/or cookies to get you through the rough spots. I think that non-technical types would be happier having the site built by somebody else but would do just fine with a blog.

Dive in and good luck!

* From the Keyword step:

A trick that may help generate keyword ideas is, as you visit competitors' sites, right click on the white space on the page and then choose “View Source”. You will then see a bunch of text/tags, most of which we don’t care about. Look for a section that looks something like: "META NAME="Keywords" CONTENT="Power, performance, motivational, inspirational, quotes …” with angled braces around it. This is the list of the keywords that your competitors think are important and where your list of priority one keywords is destined to go. This will not work on every site, but is generally worth a try.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Apple and Linux in Proportion

Or why Bigfoot can clean the floor with Mac and Linux.

About 18% of the US population believes that Bigfoot and Nessie will eventually be found. Only about 3% have chosen to believe the marketing claims around the Macintosh and Linux operating systems. If the Internet was a level soapbox, we would see six times more buzz on Bigfoot and Nessie as we do on Mac and Linux. That means that there would be 44.7 blog posts about animals that are quite possibly imaginary for every one post about the Linux operating system.

Or if you took all the Mac and Linux people and organized a tug of war against all the people that think that the moon landing never happened, the moon landing people would win. By a lot. It wouldn’t really be a contest because the Mac and Linux people, again, make up about 3% of the operating system market and the “Moon landing was faked” crowd are double that number or 6% of the US population.

Just a note: I know that I'm playing a little fast and loose with these numbers, but I'm making sure that I'm coloring inside the lines. If you double all the Mac and Linux numbers and halve all of the rest of the numbers, these points would still be valid.

Africa has about 3% of world Internet usage - again, a little more than Mac and Linux users combined. Assuming that all Mac and Linux people participate on the Internet we can get a feel of what the relevant contribution their percentage of people should feel like. All the packets that go through the network backbones that address African issues do not begin to compare with Mac and Linux packets. By the way, African Internet usage is up 625.8 percent this year. Apple and Red Hat don't even dare to dream of that level of growth, but it is out there.

Assuming that the Internet is a truck and not a series of tubes, Mac and Linux users can be represented by a large stuffed animal flopping around the empty bed. Or if we want more of a "series of tubes" like example, think of draining only a gallon of water from a very full bathtub. Oh, and Chicago has about 3% of the US population. Five percent, which is roughly twice the number of people that make up Mac and Linux users, think that The Da Vinci Code is real. Globally, 5% of people online have a blog. Three times (13%) as many people believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone to kill JFK than use Mac and Linux operating systems. On a much more sobering note, roughly the same percentage (12.5%) of the U.S. population is living at or below a subsistence level.

The world is not how I would have it. And Ok, so the internet is not a level playing field and never will be. Returning to levity, I know that there is no way you could get Macintosh and Linux users together to do anything, much less all play tug-of-war. Having them pull the same direction at the same time would be unprecedented. Actually, it would be beyond amazing if you could get even 50% of just the Linux users pulling the same direction. But this whole subject still bugs me.

I recently saw this quote in the Seattle Times, "Nobody makes a move at music, movie, computer, phone and consumer-electronics companies nowadays without first asking themselves, what would Jobs do?" Some of that quote I understand, but come on!

The buzz and respect Macintosh computers gets is unworldly. Although Microsoft is begrudgingly invited to the table, Apple will sit at the head and get all the attention. This is like the President of the USA running everything past the mayor of Chicago. (Maybe this explains a lot!) Why aren't Macintosh users treated like the "Moon Landing was Faked" crowd? How come subcultures that are four or five times larger in size than the Mac people get a thousand times less respect?

I think I remember when I was working on Mac Word 5 that the Macintosh had about a 20% market share. Now they are sitting at 2.5%. Why on earth would anybody deify the company that lost that much market share? In 1980 Apple had a 26% market share. Radio Shack was more successful! So Apple has gone from 26% to 2.5%. Apple computers have always been a second or third ranked player. If I were a betting man, I'm not sure the smart money is on Jobs/Apple holding on to their iPod market domination. I mean, I hope they do. I have nothing against Apple (well, one thing from the Mac Word days) and I absolutely worship the Apple marketing team. How on earth can they keep their company as the top PC go-to-guy?

When I was four years old I started on a grand quest for fairness. Although I try, I haven't ever been quite strong enough to stop it. I know this isn't how the world works, but still, it just doesn't seem fair that Macintosh users have the status level of cheerleaders instead of conspiracy nuts. Everyone of their PC versus Mac guy commercials make me grind my teeth. For 20 years Apple's battle cry has been "Apple good, PC suck". Isn't it time that they stand on their own? Win or lose the debate on what is great about the Macintosh OS alone, not just as a warped mirror of the PC. There is a market of people that will buy anything other than Windows; the size of that market seems to be around 2.5%. Apple used to be about more than that.
And as far as Linux users go, the real ones that I've met really have been conspiracy theorists. Many of them seem to be united against Microsoft rather than for something else. But I have to say that I haven't really spent too much time thinking about them. With 0.4% of the market share, I'm not quite sure why I should. OK, yes, I had to play with the technology and keep my fingers in the pot. And also I had to do some research when what I was hearing and what I was seeing became very different. Windows Servers lead Linux Servers with nearly 20% more annual uptime. This is because of, according to the Linux people, bad documentation. It bothers me that Linux users talk about their bright new and shiny OS. Anybody can look it up and see that GNU came out the same year as MS-DOS 3.0 and Linux came out the same year as Windows 3.1. Between all the hype and hate speech, they just lost me somewhere. A part of me used to root for them in that cute underdog kind of way, but now it just seems sad.

So big bad Microsoft doesn't need me to stand up for them. With a 97% market share they don't need to stand up for themselves. I suppose that explains why Mac and Linux users can take on the airs that they do. Microsoft will never squash these two systems because it is in their best interest for them to have at least a tiny bit of competition to show to the monopoly committee. Nobody will ever accuse Microsoft of really being fast to market on the bleeding edge, but they are good competitors and have done a reasonable job improving people’s computer life inch by inch. But that doesn't make me feel better either.

I was there when the big operating system wars were happening. MS-DOS and CP/M were slugging it out with graphical interface operating systems. Macintosh OS and Windows and IBM's OS/2 were at each other's throats. More innovation happened in one year back then than in five years now. (God I sound old!) OK, I know some of that was because there wasn't the fragile user installed base that there is now, but I don't think that would stop a lot of innovation if the people behind these operating systems were competing against each other claw and hoof.

I want wonderful things. I want my computer to reinvent itself with more than just another slightly buggy "Web 2.0" (what ever that really means) application. The operating system is like the foundation for everything. It is all if the utilities that run in to my house all put together. This should be bigger than it is now, it should be more exciting and it should be like something I would read in a science fiction story.

Speaking of Science Fiction, sometimes I feel slightly miffed that I don't have the flying car that was promised to me by Disney World's Horizons. But it does seem like if I can't have OS innovation or a flying car or even a jet pack, can we at least get rid of the PC / Mac TV commercials?

Click here for a reasonably sized picture of the following chart.