Strategic Web Development Services 1-(786)-201-5123

Tech Management: Clean The Refrigerator From The Top Down, Not The Bottom Up

I rarely clean the entire refrigerator.  Sometimes I will pull a bunch of stuff out and clean a particular row, and sometimes I will go as far as get a sponge out and clean up a little more or so.  But the refrigerator was looking quite sad and there was all kinds of sap and gook at the bottom, so I decided on the spur of the moment to just start cleaning.  Of course at the bottom, if it is real dirty, that is that is the worst part.  I got through the entire bottom level, got the entire area white and glossy.  That’s when I realized, of boy, I should have started cleaning the refrigerator from the top down, not the bottom up.  As I would clean the next levels, dirt would run down into the bottom.  I thought, wow, this is analogous to fixing technology and technology management in particular.

Start At The Top

If you want to fix a major problem in a technology company or technology division, you have to start at the top.  I am talking about a structural problem. Structural problems can be hard or soft.   By hard I mean it is a real technology problem.   This can be that the entire division uses outdated technology or bug-filled code.  By soft I mean a management issue, where something is wrong and it is a people problem.  Often division leaders or executives get together and discuss a problem, and then they of course send out their minions to go fix the problem, but quite often the management does not fix themselves.  They usually ask others to go and fix the biggest problem, but sometimes that problem is more about leadership than a technical fix.  Let’s face it, most management are quite frankly the least likely to change, because they are not new to issues, they have been around a while and their experience can be what got them where they are, but experience quite often can hold them back (we don’t know what we don’t know).  But sometimes to fix a serious problem they have to have the will to change, and if they don’t they could be technically damaging the company, because very few companies will quickly remove management.  They will move people at the bottom around, middle managers around to try to solve an issue, but having an executive change, that is a difficult task.

Rocks Vs. Boulders

Every technology project has its small issues to accomplish and its large issues.  Early on big issues and big software are easier to write.  As the company, especially an Internet company, gets bigger it becomes more and more difficult to abandon systems for newer ones.  Every app that has been written becomes obsolete, but many technology people don’t want to let go.  Why should they?  That is the issue.  What is good for the company/business/organization, is not always what is good for the individual.   And I could be wrong about certain situations where the management is terrific and the bottom half is where there is a problem, but honestly the top is where you should start and look hard first in solving a hard or soft issue.

Stay Below The Radar

What all technology people want is for things to go smoothly.  Change of course is not easy, so staying out of sight is often the best strategy.  So, back to the concept of cleaning from the top of the refrigerator…  If you want an entire organization to change their attitude, not only does it have to start at the top, but the top must take his own medicine.   Much easier to lead by doing than by just being a talking head.

Clean Often, And Learn

Now, will I ever clean the refrigerator again, who knows?  It is like a brand new refrigerator now.  Will I get the inertia to do this next time it gets to the point of no return.  I can’t say?  What I can say is next time you look at your refrigerator, if you work in technology, hopefully you will remember this analogy, and instead of working on all these small pieces at the bottom of the technology, you will take a look at the higher level first.

Passwords, Security, Tech Snafu’s & Support

Well, with a title of a blog post like “Passwords, Security, Tech Snafu’s & Support” I am going to cover in this blog article a bunch of thoughts on the support process that I have navigated in the past couple years with our speed dating company.  This means I may chat about the importance of stability, password security, or issues I have run into trying to keep things running, since there are down times and bugs.

First Things First:  What The Heck Have I Gotten Myself Into

Nothing I am saying here is a hard and fast rule.  It is based on my experience.  Let me first start with the overall situation I am in.   Back in 2001 I helped a certain person create a speed dating business.  By help, I mean I wrote all the web application code to create a website so people in many, many cities could both run speed dating events and sign up for events.  This company, called Pre-Dating, went on to be sold to Cupid.com.  When Cupid no longer wanted it, they sold it back to us, and in 2010 I redeveloped the code again from scratch and we recreated the business on a back-end platform called Take It National, i.e. Takeitnational.com.  While I did all these things and built all these systems that work (nicely), I still profess that I am by no means an expert or a serious, serious programmer.

1. It Works

The most important rule to me and a lot of top developers I know is that it works and does not crash!  This means that my code is not sophisticated, not always in the code hall of fame or MVC perfect or something to write an article or home about.

2. No Bugs, But There Is Downtime.

I hate bugs, and of course I work toward no bugs.  Who doesn’t?  There are some down times, but I will get into when that happens and why it will eventually happen. There are a dozen lessons I learned over the last 12 years dealing with these systems, but the fact is you can not make a perfect system, because even if you made the system perfect, there still would be a crash one day, especially if that is the day the operating system, hardware or the software language gets upgrades.

3. Upgrades, The Bane Of My Existence.

90% of my bugs today are upgrade related.  For instance the big one recently was an upgrade to PHP Version 5.4 from 5.2.  I found out about it when I got a call from the site manager who told me the site was offline with 404 error.   After a little bit of research reading through the logs, I realized that the errors we were getting were due to an upgrade in PHP.  I don’t even know when there are upgrades of languages.  And why would I think an upgrade would crash my system?  So, I found out eventually that this little note on the official PHP site said, hey you had 12 years of us saying this function is going away and to change your code around…

4.  Build For The Next Guy.

One thing I have taken into consideration is building a system where another programmer who knows PHP enough can easily take over and work on it.  I have even gone as far as keeping code in very specific directories so another programmer could take over and figure it all out.

5. Build Like It Will Be Around A While.

So how would I know that 12 years later, a couple versions of my code would still be running.  I didn’t.  Some guy may have written some mainframe code 30 years ago that is still in production.  How would he know that would happen?  We don’t.  But taking a few things into consideration, like not using the most sophisticated ways of doing things helps as well as making sure the code can easily be moved between servers.  For instance, we had an application a few years ago that was looking for an E: drive for an extension, this was ASP, and we had just moved the code.  There was no E: drive!

6. User Errors

Then there is the case where there looked to be a major error in the system, but the error was caused by user data entry.  The users had specifically added or changed something that caused the bug.  This can happen when you leave back-door admin openings (like text fields with no rules) for administrators to add stuff they are not supposed to.  This is why I am becoming more and more negative about HTML content apps on the back-end versus text.  With HTML you can mess up the application easily.  Most important thing here is to check to see if the problem is user entry created first, before jumping in and programming.

7.  The Once In A Lifetime Bug

There is this one bug that happened to me over the years that drove me crazy.  A user with an Irish last name, like O’Neil, wanted to make sure their name had an apostrophe in the name.  So they tried to force their name through the email signup with an apostrophe.  Later on that messes up the application in that it can send a stop code or start code message to the system.  So I fixed this and these users could not enter the apostrophe anymore.  Meanwhile a few years later one of my admins gets a call from a customer and then forces the apostrophe into the system via an admin screen.

8. Using System Email Addresses

There is an article that basically says that they got hacked using their company email address vs. using a Google email or large system email address.  The reason this can happen is if the hacker gets control of the mail system.  How does that happen?  They hack into your GoDaddy account and redirect the mail services to their own server.  This has happened a few times recently.   And with that, they are able to reset your passwords on sites like Twitter, Facebook even Paypal.  So, what I am saying is it is best to use a Gmail or Hotmail email address for the admin accounts, because they will never get control of the back-end of Google.  Obviously bad things can happen as well on Google, but less likely to lose control of the overall domain.

9.  Solve Things Early

General Schwarzkopf had a great saying, (I am misquoting him here, i.e., sic) that “The Quicker You Make A Decision, The Faster You Have Time To Change It”.  In other words trying to get to the problem asap.  So that is why I am always available for a support email, AIM, SMS and make sure the issues are resolved as soon as possible.  It may take time to fix things and figure out a problem, but it is important to solve those problems as quickly as we can.

10.  You Can’t Think Of Everything

I am guilty of many things, and as technology gets more sophisticated I become guiltier and guiltier as I know less and less.  You can’t master everything or know everything.   What you can do is learn what does not change so often… things like MS Excel and Linux.    In 1989 I went to the book store and there were only 4 or 5 books on computers in local bookstores.  Those days ended with thousands of books. And finally today, most of us don’t read books, but we can find 10,000+ articles online that help us solve things.

Don’t Be Ordinary

As one friend of mine goes back to work after a year or two of being officially unemployed, I offered some words of wisdom, “Don’t Be Ordinary”.    You can take this to mean many things, because it is a general statement about our condition in life.   You can just do things “the company” way and churn out what is expected of you, or… you can show that you have ideas, that you can communicate and this means you have more to offer and are wanted by the organization.  We need to show our value more and more, and communicating that value is critical.  And there are people who like to be ordinary.  That’s fine. I don’t.  But that’s me.  But my reference to Don’t Be Ordinary refers to how others view us. My specific advise to an employee going back to work means don’t be the person you were (if it was an issue) when you last worked.  Be a different person, one who is not looked upon as average.

How to be different?

First off there are a tons of ways to be different and less ordinary in our work.  There are many ways to start changing.  One is to learn to be a better presenter.  The info is out there to learn.  I personally love Diane Duarte and have read her book Slide:ology and a new one Resonate.  And there is You Got To Believed To Be Heard by Decker.  My answer is, if you were laid off from a job  and told you were not very important or added much to the organization, then change that.  Learn to be a great presenter, and each time you are given a chance to communicate, be extraordinary.   You can improve your slides, your speaking habits, your dress, your weight, your hygiene, your whatever.  We can improve and yes, the little details matter when it comes to being different.

College Rules

I always felt that the whole underlying purpose  of college and high school education was to teach us to succeed at following the rules. I quite frankly struggled at this concept.  I was constantly looking for ways to be different, and was not interested in competing to be best, but rather competing to be different.  Instead of following the rules exactly, I would always try to find ways around the rules.  In fact, I took as many classes where you got your education in the field.  In both high school and college I was an intern or worked in the field in politics.  I worked on a bunch of political campaigns in high school and eventually worked for Bill Bradley as an intern for college credits.  I wrote papers for 6 credits, to not be in class, in both my undergrad and graduate school.  I even took a 9 credit summer class where we watched movies all day long and wrote criticisms.   To me that was a lot better than studying.

When Different Is Not A Good Thing

My friend Scott, who is no longer with us, was a case of person who was different, but not always in a good way.  He could not focus at work, he had trouble completing tasks.  He was generally a problem.  I know, he worked for me.  If you can get up and give an amazing presentations and solve problems and be viewed as a person who thinks differently terrific.  But there is a fine line.  There are people who are non-conformists, and can not follow any rules.  These people should know who they are and where the boundaries exist for them.  It is almost like they consistently make bad decisions and don’t know when to stop at a red line and don’t know when to start moving when the green light changes.  That person, yes they are different, but not extraordinary.  But that person can easily transform from odd and different to extraordinary, by doing the things in life they are good at.  Not everybody is good at a day job…  We need to understand our limitations.

Conclusion On How To Be Extraordinary

While working 9 to 5 in an office makes us money (if we have to do it), we are not living in a totalitarian society where we have to do things by the book.   And yes, I’ve been at over 20 years of jobs where we had to do what we are told and do it by the book, so I know that some things you can’t change in life…  But there is no reason why we can’t improve ourselves, read up on giving better presentations, speak better, communicate better.  You are often pigeon-holed by organizations as you work your way up the ladder.  This can be good or bad.  My early career I was known as the Garbage Man, because you could throw any task at me and I would get it done.  I had to.  That was my mantra back then.  But as time went on I learned more about communicating, I realized that you need to differentiate yourself to succeed.  And quite often this is not easy to do, since my technical jobs required little or no need to be different, in fact, I just had to meet the rules all the time.  But as I have been breaking out of my technology back-ground and into marketing, branding, speaking, selling, managing, create product, raising capital, I have concluded that I need to be a better communicator.  Presentations skills is the first place to start.

On Words: Web Linguistics

People ask me questions about this piece of technology and that piece of technology. What i am often asked, even by experts themselves, is whether this is the right term or not.  This is for a technology discussion or a pitch.  Either way, there is some confusion about the difference or use of the words.  For instance Plugin vs. Add-on.

I am putting together a list of used and mis-used words that I am hearing a lot of in Internet ventures, from Angels, VCs and just kids playing with web sites.  These words have become interchangeable within each group, mainly because the general population really does not see a difference, but tech people know there is a difference.

I know I will embarrass myself here because there are sticklers who are more specific about these words and their use.  I am just pointing out the blurring of the lines and how the web has changed the language and meaning of these words for users, who find themselves having to explain things to people on calls to their technology companies whether its the phone company, cable or third party provider.

Words have a funny way of changing over the years.  I am writing this blog entry as would William Safire in the New York Times Sunday addition I used to read as a kid.  He would cover all the new words he has heard and give a history to where they came from in their origin often citing the Oxford Dictionary.  I read it every week carefully.

Plugin, Add-on, Extension

All three words seem to convey the same existential meaning, a piece of a software that creates new value that can be added or not added to your existing piece of software.  This is not the same as an App.  These are extra stuff.  I am sure they had historic meanings for each and when they first came into use.  And of course WordPress uses Plugin and Joomla uses Add-ons.  Quite honestly these 3 are becoming completely interchangeable.

Feature, Function

Somewhere along the way, while programmers know technically what a function is, the actual user does not see the difference in these things that you get when you plugin or add-on stuff.  They just see a new piece of working software that does something.  For end users these words are synonymous, though programmers would beg to differ.

Widget, Drop-in

Once again thank WordPress for coming up with the word Widget, which is a little different than a feature.  These are things that you put in your software yourself and they go to work.  There are occasionally drop-in apps around that kind of work like a widget.  The widget reference I think is different than other extension type applications, in that it is specific to a place on the page.

Pop-up, Pop-Under, Light-box, Hover

These are things that just annoy us that show up when we arrive or leave a website. I am including a Light-box here, because that is a thingy that shows functionality as well, but takes over your screen with a dark silhouette in the background.  The Light-box is a pop-up of sorts, but it uses a local function, so it is technically not a pop-up.  A hover, as you know comes up with a mouse on-over.  These 4 words have kind of merged into one thing for users, extra things or functionality that occurs on an action.  But users like everything don’t always get the difference.

Template, Theme, Skin, Brand

What has happened with these four words is they have come to virtually mean the same thing to people, whereby the look and feel or Brand of the software can change, yet the guts or application remains the same.  Everybody talks about where to get their newest theme.  Yet, we know as programmers that a template is more than just a visual  But what has happened in WordPress is Themes have programming in them.  So the lines are getting blurred.

Program, Application, Platform, System, App

Most of these are old technology words.  That have various technical meaning to programmers, yet to the user, there is no difference.  These words refer to the computer program.  Even the word App has now on it’s own come out and stands for specifically a Mobile or Smartphone app.  The word Platform for PHP and .Net programmers has come to mean which method they are using to program…  Not important to end users though.

Smartphone, Tablet, Ipad, Iphone, Mobile, Cellular, Cell

Even I, having worked for a cellular phone company for 10 years at one point, I see the words merging here.  We know there is a difference between Tablet and Smartphone, but have you see the Ipad Mini or the Galaxy S4. What is happening is all these words refer to some type of nice UI device you can carry around and get to your stuff, surf the web, make a call, etc.  Does it really matter in the end what you call it all, as long as it provides what you are looking for.

Cloud, Hosting

I have myself been guilty of merging these 2 words of late.  The word cloud has come to mean, in my eyes, now pretty much all hosting.  I am completely technically wrong, but am I theoretically wrong?  Not sure. I have put down cloud on a couple VC pitches recently and I am just waiting for somebody to challenge me.  They haven’t.  They get it.  Cloud is inclusive of hosting (in my eyes).  You can argue with me if you want here!

I probably missed a few item here or there.  But hopefully you get the overall drift of these words. They have meaning for everybody in several ways, yet they are merging in meaning overall.  Within the programming world, you have specific conventions, but in the outside world of everyday people, they are just terms we use to help us communicate, so what if accidentally call your Nexus an iPhone?  You will just nod your head, and say “yes”, you meant my Iphone?

 

Phil & Ted Explorer Year 3

After 3  years we are still using our Phil & Ted Explorer stroller.  It seems like eons ago, only because my sons went from ages 1 and 3 to 3 and 5.  If you have not seen this stroller, here is a link to a picture of the stroller.  What makes a Phil & Ted unique are a couple things such as the kids ride almost on top of each other.  We still get some people who see it and are shocked there is a smaller one in the back.   If you are researching and considering getting your hands on one, trust me it will be worth it, especially if you have 2, even 3 kids, since it has an adapter for babies.

The other unique aspects about the Phil & Ted are that it seems to have lasted for a long time for us and we were able to use it for many places, many purposes.  So it can be used till your kids are as old as 6 or 7 or longer! The stroller has the ability to fold up so tightly it fits in most backseats and in the back of our SUV, and of course there is the signature capability of holding two relatively large kids without it being a side to side stroller, which we still see people using.  Phil & Teds can through any door practically and are easy to use.  We don’t live in NYC, but if we did, this stroller would be important.   We have had to clean, wash, replace all the tires and tubes one time and have had to rebuild a few areas, which are relatively easy to do.  No need to toss this stroller, it has a metal frame and will put up with tons of abuse.

When we first purchased the stroller, made in New Zealand, it was the a bit of an oddity.  Now I see them out and about from other people who have purchased a Phil & Ted.  I had posted a blog article about 2 years ago, which describes how to open and close the Phil & Ted, and I actually had some people email me (some Kiwis)  and ask me to explain the open and close process again, because there is a technique where you have to pop it open and pop it closed with one quick motion.

Where have we gone with our Phil & Ted?  We have actually taken it to most places in Florida, including Miami, Tampa, St. Augustine, Key West, Cocoa Beach, Orlando and The Villages.  But we have also gone with it on cruises to Mexico, Puerta de Playa and Tulum, to Seattle, in Canada (Victoria, Vancouver) and Alaska (Ketchikan,  Sitka and Juneau).  We even took Phil & Ted inside a gold mine in Juneau.   We have take it all over Georgia, all over North Carolina and we also took a cruise from New Jersey, New York City to Nova Scotia, with stops in Boston, Portland, Maine,  Saint John and Halifax.  So we have gone a long way with that one stroller.

Sadly enough we hit a point this past year where we had to take a break from the traveling.  Some of this was financial, but some of it was the age of my sons.  They are in a period where they just can’t get along on the road.  Trips just turn ugly for us as the two of them scream and fight half the time.  Hopefully this period will end soon.

But we are actually at a point where the need for a stroller will be ending.  My older son still actually gets in the Phil & Ted and will take the ride, but he is coming up on 6 and is a big kid.  The only reason I have him get in is to keep the weight level between the two.  One of the best uses of this stroller is having the kids just sit in it in restaurants.  I have had them stay in the stroller playing their electronic riddilen (ipads), while we wait for food.

 

Built In: Our Decreasing Need To Remember Anything – Part 2

On March 15, 2012 I wrote this article/blog post “Marketing Trend: Our Decreasing Need To Remember Anything“.   This post is a follow up. You may want to read the original and then this post.  Of all the things I have written about in the past couple years, the decreasing need to have to remember most anything, because of the efficiencies of technology, has been one of those things that I not only think about, but live everyday.

In fact we all do.  When was the last time that you had to memorize a new phone number?  How many email addresses do you know by heart?  In fact do you find that you used to know them all by heart, but as time passes and technology changes we need to know less and less.  How many times have you emailed or Text/SMS somebody asking for their mailing address and then fumbled around in Gmail looking for that email so you can buy them a gift!  This trend and the ensuing impact on our lives is what I had touched on in my first article.  And the reason I was saying that I am living it everyday is my involvement with Connect Address.

Connect Address

Around the time I wrote this first article I had just started to work as a consultant with a small group in Boca Raton, Florida that was trying to find a business model for a start-up.  That start-up had already developed a Facebook store and a bunch of great technology.  Their issue at the time was they did not have a serious direction.  Their Facebook store really did not have a great brand, great products or even a reasonable profit margin.  It was a dead-end.  Over the next few months after meeting the owners, we changed the direction of that business from being an online retailer to being a technology company.  The trend or piece I observed within their technology, or the turning point, was when I recognized something different in their process that would be of great value to other players in the market.  They had put together a process to allow a buyer on Facebook to purchase, but that buyer did not have to know the shipping address of the recipient.  The process would send a message off to the receiver and ask for it, providing a form to enter the address where they would like the product shipped.

Seeds of Not Having To Know Anything

Well, the ability to order without knowing where the order would be shipped intrigued me.  A few months later I began writing my first blog post about what we can call “address-less” shipping.   And when we went to the first fortune 500 company to pitch this concept, their answer was Wow, that is different, and yes we want it.  So, within a few months there was a prototype app and Connect Address has been on their way since.  That app has been improving and changing over the past year, but the concept is pretty much the same.  You are buying a gift for somebody and you don’t know where they live, so you use this third party service to get it.  So where does the not having to know anything come into play. Well, if you are using this new, disruptive service, you will notice that you simply login to Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Gmail, Yahoo, etc, and get access to your names and email address.  Most of their technology requires you to click on a picture to choose who you are sending the gift.  End result, address-less shipping, without the pain of having to send an email off to your gift recipient, waiting for the address, keeping two browser windows open and then copy and pasting 7 times…

The History

When I wrote the original blog post, I realized that this is not just a one off event that turned into a product.  Address-less, Phone-less, and not having to know things is a product of the evolution of technology.  I was able to trace this decreasing need to know anything trend back to the original speed dial.  It was innovative at the time.  Store a phone number and then just click a button.  Many old phones used to have that little piece of paper you would stick in the phone that would say the name.  Then it got better and better until virtual phone systems appeared.  The cell phone network introduced both on board address books and voice activated address book look-up and dialing.  Then gmail (that is one I remember) introduced a bit of AI (Artificial Intelligence, which are often now just JQuery lookups), that figures out from the few letters you have typed in what the “email” possibilities are; basically what we are going to think of next…  Gmail figured out who to send email without the email address.  Once I get an email from you and send to you, next time I just type the name, not the email in and it goes to town popping in the email address.  So, cool stuff.  Life is better. Now, people don’t own address books anymore.  Now people don’t need to know your phone number.  Everything is becoming built-in.

Built-Ins

So, just like your cabinets in your living room that are part of the walls, the information that connects us is built-in to the technology.  Soon the next couple generations will not even know what a phone number is.  Maybe they will just bump or square you and it will move from phone to phone, stored somewhere far off in a cloud server.

Google Glass And Beyond

I am not one of the 8,000 chosen to test Google Glass (Irreverently spelled, but obviously about eye glasses), but let’s just say it is the next step in this evolution.  With everything not having to be remembered, improving upon how you can easily access that information is the next step of this evolution.  Google Glass seem to work great and I saw a user who was very happy with them.  As far as Connect Address, they are still just getting started in a brave new world of helping you to not having to know one more thing, the shipping address of who you are buying a gift.  It’s Built In.

On Leadership

Interestingly enough, the one theme I can find that connects almost every aspect of our lives, childhood, school, work, personal, family is leadership.  It may come in many forms with many titles, but it always comes down to responsibility, decision-making and accountability. And trust me, I am not going to give you a diatribe on how great a leader I am, because often I am not.  Though I aspire to be one.

Success and leadership are often intermingled, but they are not the same thing.  One can be the product of the other, but too often success may come at a cost, sometimes that cost can leadership-less.  That is when success comes at the cost of somebody out there.  Greed and avarice is not leadership.  In fact financial success is not always leadership and neither is winning always leadership.  Though financial success and winning require leadership, but its an ingredient not the final product.  I would classify leadership in its own category.  Other words come to mind like ethics and morality.  I would not go that far, but these are the underpinnings of leadership.

So I have thrown a lot of words into that conversation.  One place I can point to is our childhood.  If you are influenced by somebody who embodies leadership it can impact your entire existence.  If you were influenced by the opposite of leadership, you may have tendencies to run from taking a position, taking a role in leading or taking control of anything, including your own life.

Quite frankly my tendency is to run from leadership.  I know deep inside how much a commitment takes.  I finally got married at 42, late in life, because I did not want the commitments involved. But sometimes we are unlikely leaders.  Being a parent puts you in a position where you have no choice.  You can be a leader of  your child and show them the way or you can run.  A few people run, I did not.  I guess this is a big test in life for all of us.

I have been in charge and will be in charge of all kinds of stuff in my life, including business, personal and sometimes community.  And while I don’t want the responsibility, I aspire to be the person in charge.  In several cases in high school and college I was either the president of an organization or ran my own youth group.  I even was in charge of a chunk of a national organization in BBYO.  I have owned my consulting company and software business over the years and have had to take responsibility for these companies, meaning paying the bills and making sure the work gets done.

Accountability

There is one place we can all make an improvement in our day to day lives and that is being accountable.  It is not always fun.  It is not always something we want to do.  It means answering a call and talking to a person we don’t want to.  It may mean for me talking to a client and getting back and having a conversation with someone I quite frankly don’t want to talk with.  It can mean living up to some level of responsibility in life.

I find the insidious lack of accountability has slowly reared its ugly head in almost every aspect of our lives mainly because of technology.  We used to be able to receive a written or printed letter and write a letter back to respond.  Back then we had the time to think and write carefully that letter.  Today I get almost a hundred emails a day, and sometimes I have to log on in the middle of the night to respond to some one, some place who needs an answer to a question.  It may be something minor.  It may be a big issue, but I definitely aspire (once again) to get an answer to that person.  Like everybody in some form of technology overload, we end up missing the responses here and there.  It comes at no surprise to me, because there is no way a rational person can respond to everything going on.  The tweeting and posting on Facebook walls has only increased this to a new level.

The best thing I can do, and you can as well, is to make an effort, figure out what needs to be responded to and what not to respond to.

Real Leaders

I have been around real leaders, and trust me I see things in them I will never have the capability of doing.  That’s ok.  I am more of an observer and supporter than a traditional leader.   My leadership skill is based on how I live and not on exactly what I have accomplished.  I influence others by how I take actions.  We all simply need to look in the mirror and measure ourselves, our capabilities and what we want to get out of life.  If you want to succeed and win, especially in business, then learn from existing leadership (the past) and put yourself in situations where the leaders exist now and can influence you.  This is so critical if you are young and just starting out.  The ones who are able to learn from great leaders will go on to be great leaders themselves.

 

Search, The Internal Frontier

I’ve recently taken on a project which includes a complicated “Internal” site search.  This website not only needs to be found on the web, but members can run specific searches against specific elements on the website, click on subcategories and then create filters.  Sounds a bit like an eCommerce search, right?  Well, it’s not, but eCommerce is a good starting point.  This blog article is going to explore what I know about internal website search and places they have solved it well or not so well.

First off, there are two kinds of searches online as you should know by now.  You got your World Wide Web search now referred to as a Google search, and an internal website search.  It may not be so easy to figure out which kind you are doing these days, because an internal search quite often is using Google and/or the Google Appliance, a box Google sells you that manages a “Google like” private search engine for your website.

I first ran into a hybrid search, what I call “Directed Search” when I was hired for a consulting gig at The Limited, VictoriasSecret.com.  They had no search box at the time.  The year was 2005.  I mention that, because that shows how large, successful brands, can get stuck in the past.  They required the customers to click on the word search, then click on something like a bra. Then you would have to choose your size and finally choose a style and color.  It was like 9 clicks to checkout. Well that was unacceptable.  But it made sense from a technical standpoint.  A lot of things make sense from a technical point of view.  Having a system that holds people’s hands through a step by step search can make sense, but not with bras.  At VictoriasSecret.com, later that year after I had left, the search became a search box, and finally you could put the word “Pink” in that box and get some results and then make adjustments on the left for price, color, size, etc.  Point is, that not all searches are equal.

I have been studying two well used online internal search paradigms to solve my problem, Linkedin.com and Bankrate.com.  Both websites have a complicated, MIT level issue with data, and getting customers to the right answer, without taking up too much time and without losing them in “advanced” areas.  I think both sites live and die by helping the members find their way to a person/company or whatever int he case of Linkedin.com and to a mortgage company in the case of Bankrate.com.

Basic Versus Advanced

I think we can all agree that the best searches have a limited amount of functionality at first.  If you read my article on “2 Online Marketing Segments: Insecure Focused, Secure Unfocused“, you will see that you need to accommodate the less sophisticated, yet ready to go, user like myself first and foremost.  I admit I don’t read everything, and I would guess that 80% of the population is like me.  But for that 20%, there are extreme details they want to know, and they WILL use the advanced search. So, you got to keep everybody happy.  It is not easy for Linkedin.com for instance.  You will notice they have it easy to find people, but if you start peeling back the layers, the advanced search is there.

One Click Versus Many

One UI goal and conversion goal for all searches is to reduce the clicks.  This means if something can be done in one click that’s great and lets say no clicks, that’s even better.  Remember with JQuery you can have a no click solution, where people type things in, look at Answers.com and others, and have it change as you enter your search terms.  The way that Linkedin.com solves this is by having a little drop down for the search, which means you can choose what kind of search you are starting before you enter data, people, company, group, etc.  This is really innovative and useful.

Complications & Third Parties

So sometimes a search can not be as straight forward.  There could be third parties who have ad-space making it advantageous for search to take a little bit longer (a few clicks).  Bankrate.com is a great example of searches where, in order to search customers correctly, they have to know where you are looking to get a mortgage and what type  you are looking for to even start the search.  For instance I would be looking for a 30 Year Fixed in Boca Raton, Florida.  Then they can start the search… So for some searches it is more about getting the basics in place, and then start the filtering.

No matter what kind of search you set up.  Trust me the Google Appliance is not for everybody and there are still about 15 companies out there which provide third party internal Saas search products like Omniture and Autonomy.  If you are an eCommerce company you can’t live without them.

 

 

How To Use Your Schtick To Network & Sell

After many years of attending networking meetings and events, going off to places like CEO SPACE, Internet Retailer, iDate, this-con and that-con and local events, I finally have come up with a networking truism, related to the word Schtick.

This came about because I have recently been personally tasked with finding clients with web development projects that have Social Networking built in, a customized social network.  I mean tasked because essentially I am part of a sales process.  And quite honestly I was a proven loser when it comes to selling (I have tried in several businesses, but being a techie and a non-sales type, I sold nothing!).  But networking to sell is not really selling, its about getting to know people and leading them to where they need to go (whether they know it or not).  Very Zen.

Tell And Then Ask

So, the real question is how do you figure out at a networking meeting who to meet and who not to meet, essentially getting people to open up and tell you what they really want, what are they are looking for and why they are looking.  That is the key to networking.  Because, once you can figure this out, you can find out if your objective is aligned with their quest.  Your quest starts by having an in, or something to chat about which is real, emotionally connectable, meaning they listen up and get it and want to know more about it as an Attention Getter to introduce yourself.  It has to be personalized and it has to be something real about you, though a poor substitute would be the news or the weather…  Once you share, people share themselves.  People do not get excited about building social networking websites.  They do get excited about a lot of cool and unusual things about ourselves.  I call this Attention Getter your Schtick.

Your Schtick

The official the word Schtick in the free dictionary is listed as

1. a show-business routine or piece of business inserted to gain a laugh or draw attention to oneself.

2. one’s special interest, talent, etc.

Ok, let’s clarify how I use my Schtick.  It is used to get attention and tell a story about something people are interested in, generally.  When I do this, well, the heads turn.  If you have people smiling and listening, you are in the zone with your Schtick.  Once they are listening, you can always ask them questions and then introduce yourself overall and that is when people not only have no problem being asked if they need insurance (which I would never sell), more importantly they remember you.

Another interesting aspect of Your Schtick is having key words in there, great words, great names, great brands that people can latch onto.   I once did a small stint at VictoriaSecret.com.  That gets a nod. I have mentioned some of the brands and names I have come up with to people and they, a year later, spit out, how is “X” doing…  Like “Oops I’m Single”. Always surprises me.  The mundane is never remembered, but the specific, unique thing is.

My Example

Here is what I say.  “Hi, I am a partner in the largest speed dating company in the US.”  Ok, right there, most people now say “Oh, I know what speed dating is” and some people say “Huh”.  I explain, “You know 12 men and 12 women meet at a bar for 6 minute dates”, and then I back it up with “It’s in 75 US cities”.    Most important to this, is they chuckle.  But, it gets them in the conversation.  That is a starter.  And then if I am loosing them, I mention the brand name I have been trying to build in the dating business “Oops I’m Single”.  That gets another laugh.  Finally I get to the point.  We are looking for companies and entrepreneurs who want to build a custom social network.  “Do you or somebody you know want to build and own a highly customized social network and build it for a cost effective amount?”

My Disciple

A year ago, a guy who used to work for me way back when, started to go out and network and look for projects for me.  He asked me, “ok, what do I say, how do I network”? I guess working for many years in a big company, we turn off our networking genes and just go to work.  All of us have to learn how to re-purpose our minds in order to change careers, find work and generally get things done with others.  So, I told this guy, hey you need your own Schtick.  He told me he had none…  Well, truthfully I am sure there is somebody out there, especially younger people who have not enough life experience with no Schtick at all.  But trust me, everybody has some Schtick in them somewhere.  I went though this guy’s background and it turns out he attended NYU in the late 1980s, for a special Electronics Media graduate degree program.   This is pre-Internet, but what is interesting about this story, is the people he was in class with were saying that there will be electronic worlds in the future and cities will be connected, they just did not know the Internet was right around the corner.  In fact some of these people ended up designing and guiding the early Internet.  He actually worked for Prodigy right afterwords.  So we all have a story in us, just have it ready when you network.

Bottom Line

There are limitations to this, like my old buddy Scott, who passed away at a young age of 38 a few years ago, would go to a networking meeting or any meeting and blurt out some crazy thing.  He was just crazy and that is not what I am talking about here.  Rude, crude, sometimes is interesting if used in context.  I know a guy who always does this and he is quite successful, so not my Schtick, but maybe yours.  Bottom line, find your Schtick, get the story down and you will notice your networking meetings go a lot better.  Find a way to work in what you really do.  You share, they share.  If they don’t want to, then move them along a bit.  “Have you ever thought about building your own web business?”

 

Open Source aka “WordPress” Vs. a Customized Website.

So You Think You Need A Website

The first place you look, if you are just starting out with your website today and you are doing it yourself, is often an Open Source application like a WordPress, Joomla or Drupal or a “hosted” Site Generator, one of which I hear often about is Wix.  Open source is a program you can download and load onto your hosting space that is freely distributed.   Open Source code can be loaded already for you by your hosting company like a Godaddy.  Or alternatively you can use a hybrid solution like WordPress.com (You get WordPress, but WordPress manages it for you).  Either way, you are using a freely available system that you spend time learning and working on.  Trust me the advocates for each of the top three will give me 10 reasons why theirs is better than the rest, but essentially each one is better at some doing certain things and others has some negative features (like the editor on WordPress is for the birds).

Why You Are Interested

Why would you be spending time reviewing and looking at these applications?  Well, if you want to save some cash outlay, doing it yourself, creating a website with WordPress is like building your own Heath Kit (I am dating myself because I actually remember Heath Kits as a kid) or creating your own PC.  Not sure how many reading this plugged boards in and made their own PC like I did several times in the late 80s and 90s.  Basically sites like WordPress are easy to set up if you read the docs and watch all the YouTube videos and are pretty much free, at least to get started.  What I want to discuss in this blog post is the concept that what you are getting or working with is conceptually free.  But is it all really free?  There are hidden costs and some direct costs.  Also, Open Source has just been loaned to you temporarily under conditions that you must adhere to.  So, theoretically with Open Source you don’t own any code unless you write your own plugin, and if you release that plugin under the rules, you may not own that plugin.   So next time you tell people you own a website, and you are using Open Source, you may want to not use the word’s Own but really I have a website.

Free Is Not Really Free

So if you have set up your own WordPress site, let’s just say that the average time it takes me to set up one, like the one I am writing a blog article right now, takes me at least 2 hours to set up, at least 3 hours if there is a design template involved, but let’s add 40 hours it took me to really learn WordPress, and that’s being kind.  So, let’s think about that.  45 hours goes into learning, configuring and setting this stuff up.  And the learning never stops.  Let’s say that I was a $100 an hour guy, and I am.  So really what I did is spent $4,500 on my first website.  We have to manage our time, because our time is not free.  If you go out and ask a WordPress shop to set up a WordPress site for you, with a nice template from ThemeForest.net, they will quote you anywhere from $1,500 to $3,500 or higher.  That’s because there are going to be graphics involved and fonts and decisions and knowledge of HTML.  Anyway, it is still cheaper than $4500 to pay someone else who has the experience.

What Is A Custom Website And How Does That Compare?

Now let’s compare a WordPress, Joomla or Drupal site with a fully customized site.  When I say customized, I mean a full web software application (like another WordPress) that you own and deploy.  Why would you do this?  Well, if you have a customized back-end for your business it is a smart move to build exactly what you need and leave the Open Source behind.   With your own site, you and your programmer(s) know how it works, why it works and what is different about your system.  But whether or not you need a custom site depends on what you want to do.  For instance if you are a Painter, Pool Guy or Lawyer who wants to blog, and I know a few, you don’t need to own an application or customized solution, you are just needing brochure ware.  That is perfect for WordPress.  If you are creating a simple site for your friends to leave comments that may be great in Drupal or Joomla (but for those apps I do recommend a programmer most of the time).  But let’s say you wanted to create an online business, a social network, a unique market place (like eBay) or something completely different and unique, then Open Source and other apps may seems like the a good way to go, but in the end, they can present a problem long term.

If you want to create an application that can one day be acquired by a big company then having Open Source can be a burden.  You may need to own your own IP (Intellectual Property) or code.  You need to own the code in order to have ownership of your application.  So, if you are not a software developer and you want to create a serious and unique system online (those are the kinds of things that separate your app from the pack), you sometimes need to build a customized site.

How Can Custom Software Be Comparable In Price To Open Source?

Well, because software has become easier to develop and because of outsourcing to third parties, some of which are overseas,  you can build solutions at comparable costs.  You just need to put a value on your time and energy and a value to what you are building and not come in with the theory that Open Source is free.  Trust me, each of those apps like WordPress have had 1,000 developers and possibly $100 million worth of code involved.  What you will find if you use WordPress or Drupal or Joomla is the price of making code changes, adding plugins, rewriting and changing the core can be comparable to building applications from scratch.  I have my recommended team of customized application developers you can contact me about.  But what I am trying to say is the price in the end may actually be cheaper to customize, if you really compare apples to oranges, especially if you need to be unique and different in this world.  Trust me I have pieced together both WordPress and Joomla plugins and add-ons trying to get these systems to do what I need them to do.  But in the end, you can end up with a Frankenstein Monster and quite frankly after that, most entrepreneurs realize they need to start from scratch.