Thursday, November 30, 2006

Lenovo Rides the Cluetrain

In the Cluetrain Manifesto, David and Chris and Doc wrote that “markets are conversations”. Much has been made of the importance of listening to your customers, and engaging them rather than talking at them. Remarkably, even when the perils of ignoring customer feedback have been made abundantly clear, companies that go the distance in this realm are the exception, not the rule.

Yesterday, in a keynote presentation at a web 2.0 conference hosted by Hothouse, an Australian consultancy, Ross Dawson used my experience with Lenovo this spring as a case study in how a company can get it right. Ross writes that to fully benefit from the web 2.0 ecosystem, marketers must:
  1. Listen to and learn from conversations

  2. Speak… honestly and transparently

  3. Provide compelling content in accessible formats

  4. Go where lead consumers are going
It’s exceedingly straightforward advice, but I think too often companies are concerned about doing it wrong and end up staying on the sidelines. Ross’s advice is useful, and it’s in the right order: if you aren’t engaged in a conversation about your product, company or industry today, start by simply listening to the conversations that are already happening. (They almost certainly are out there, you just have to find them.) Go to Technorati, search on obvious terms. Bookmark the sites, or, better yet, subscribe to their feeds in Google Reader, and use the “share” function to generate a link feed so that you can share useful posts with your team. Encourage them to do the same, and you’ll start exposing your key people to conversations they should be aware of… before long, they won’t be able to resist the urge to speak up and join in. At that point, the ball rolls downhill all by itself.

One last comment on the value of engaging consumers. When David Churbuck reached out to me — directly and immediately — he earned Lenovo a customer for life. (Despite other alternatives, when it came time to buy a new laptop this month, I didn’t bother looking at any other manufacturers: I wanted another ThinkPad.) But even more importantly, what the PR vets call “earned media” can pay for itself over, and over, and over. Consider a few of the places David and I are discussed, as a result of one phone call and one blog post:
This kind of ripple effect is very similar to something I observed when working with the tech team at the Dean campaign in 2003 and 2004. As much as the blog, MeetUp, and petition drives helped drive online contributions, the fact that it was indicative of a different approach to campaigning earned the Dean campaign a ton of “free” media. That meant increased exposure on CNN, in a ton of papers, eventually on the cover of all three news magazines at the same time. So the online engagement drove offline awareness, which drove online activity, which… well, you get the idea. When it’s done right, every part of your marketing strategy feeds the other pieces, and the ripples in the water get bigger. I think we’re clearly seeing that with David’s one phone call: over 6 months later, the people calling attention to that simple act are growing more numerous, the audiences who are hearing that message are getting bigger, and it only reinforces a few key points: Lenovo cares about its customers. Lenovo customers are passionate about Lenovo’s products. And in this age of decreasing customer loyalty, you can’t put a price tag on that.

We take customer service very, very seriously at FeedBurner. And it’s not about waiting for the phone to ring or the inbox to fill: that’s way too passive these days. We have nearly 300,000 users around the world who use our service, and nearly 30 million people subscribe to feeds that we manage. Questions, concerns, praise — it can come from anyone, A-list or ZZ-list. Thanks to services like Technorati (not to mention Google), their posts all have equal authority: they’re all discoverable, and they all have the potential to influence someone’s decision. Like it or not, the conversations are happening. We made the decision early on to engage in those conversations, and the results are remarkable. When Aaron Brazell, the tech wizard at b5 Media, posted some positive feedback the other day (mixed with some constructive suggestions for improvement), 16 comments showed up in 2 days, with my favorites being: FeedBurner rocks!, I can’t speak highly enough of FeedBurner’s customer service, and all the help I’ve received from the team, especially Matt Shobe., I love feedburner, and I had an issue with one of my feeds not being recognized and the customer support I received was stellar. They tried to help me in every way possible, even though the issue ended up being a DNS error with my hosting provider. Makes me glad I decided to go with them.

Get in the conversation. You’ll be glad you did.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Lots going on

Been a week since I posted here, which is partly explained by the Thanksgiving holiday, but is mostly a reflection of just how busy we are at FeedBurner HQ. If you want to follow what I’m reading (but not writing about during this craziness), just subscribe to my link feed.

In the meantime, here’s a quick update on what we’re doing at FeedBurner:

  • Along with my kick-ass team (that’s Eric, who celebrated one year at FeedBurner today, and Jake), we launched the Publisher Tips Blog to help our publishers get more out of FeedBurner’s services. (Here’s the feed.)

  • Today’s big announcement was that 20 of the world’s largest blog networks now use FeedBurner. For those who haven’t been following, the growth of these new media empires has been remarkable over the past two years. Gawker, Federated Media, Corante, Gothamist, b5 Media, BlogHer, Pajamas Media, Lockergnome, Know More Media… the list goes on. I’m really proud to have developed such great relationships with the teams at each of those organizations, and it’s a terrific feeling to know we’re contributing to their success.

  • Also mentioned in that release is that our ad inventory has tripled in the past few months. That means our feed and site ad network reaches well over 15 million people per day, scattered across every channel imaginable. If you want to reach the largest number of loyal, demographically-targeted audiences through feeds or blogs, we’re the go-to network. And we’re not done: stay tuned for a couple more big announcements on this front in the next couple weeks.

  • Our developers have been hard at work on a slew of new features, and I’ll get a sneak-peek at some very, very cool new stuff we’ll be rolling out soon. Can’t talk about it yet, you’ll have to trust me. :)

  • Next month’s EContent Magazine lists us “one of the top 100 companies that matter”:

  • At AdTech this month, Nielsen NetRatings proclaimed that the Web 2.0 space was the fastest growing segment of the Web, and that none other than FeedBurner is the fastest-growing site (topping a few names you might have heard of, like Digg, Wikipedia and MySpace).

I have three presentations at SES Chicago next week — if you’re in town, stop by and say hi!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Breasts on a plane

This is just ridiculous. (Originally spotted over at BuzzMachine.) By contrast, I recall flying to Palm Springs with Robin and Ricky (then about 6 months old). We flew on Southwest (rapidly becoming my favorite airline, by the way – that’s another post), and I was struck as we began our initial descent: I was surrounded by breasts. Yep, that’s right: at least a half dozen moms, in unison, detached their nursing bras and their kids started exercising their jaws, making the descent much more peaceful for everyone else around us.

What was funny to me was the fact that we were all up front: Southwest, who doesn’t do assigned seating, let parents traveling with infants pre-board. And we all picked the front rows: close to a bathroom if necessary, less walking on/off the plane, etc. But what it meant was that, when it came time to breastfeed, all the breasts were in close proximity to each other. I know that the few passengers scattered in the surrounding seats couldn’t have cared less… in fact, it was something of a joke, leading one passenger and one of the Southwest flight attendants to joke that we were sitting in “Breast Class”.

Freedom Airlines should be ashamed of itself.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

I want a Wii

Mark’s review just cements for me why I want this console: it’ll be fun to play with my kids. I haven’t owned a game console since Sega Genesis circa 1995. And before that, our only game console was an Atari 2600. Nintendo was never a staple in our house: no Zelda, no Mario… only periodic games at friends’ houses. And yet I find myself caught up in the frenzy — so much so that, had we not been having friends over this morning for brunch, I would’ve been right there with Mike camping out to pick one up this morning.

As luck would (almost) have it, I refreshed my browser at 10:01am this morning while on the Amazon product page for the Wii. And I was stunned to see the “add to cart” button show up. But upon pressing the button, I got an error message: “The Wii is no longer available.”

So close, and yet so far. (Amazon sold out their allotment in less than a minute.)

Here’s hoping I can find one in the next few weeks, this would be a treat to have under the tree next month.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Google Maps on Treo 650

Wowowowowow. I’d seen Google Maps on Java-enabled phones before, but it was never compatible with the Treo I’ve been carrying for the last couple years. The other day I loaded Google in my Treo’s browser, and saw a link to Google Maps for Treo. Smart move on Google’s part: they sniffed my browser’s user agent, saw I was using a Treo, and pushed out a link to install the app.

For Treo users, go to in your browser; for those reading this on a PC who want to read more, details are here. It’s great – you can find businesses, load a map of the area, get driving directions, and even see real-time traffic reports. Very, very slick, and a must-have for any Treo users.

Monday, November 13, 2006

PubCon in Vegas

Anyone reading this going to be in Vegas tonight through Wednesday? I’m speaking at PubCon tomorrow with Owen Byrne from Digg, Chris Tolles from Topix, and Niall Kennedy (humorously listed on the PubCon page as “Founder, Niall Kennedy” — I’ve heard of people reinventing themselves, but founding yourself? That’s cool.) tomorrow afternoon. If you’re going to be at PubCon or you’ll be in Vegas and want to have a drink or two, drop me a line. I get in this afternoon, and fly back on Wednesday.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

ThinkPad z61t - I'm in love

About two months ago, my old ThinkPad started to show signs of distress. The wifi couldn’t get an IP address at home (but it could at work). Then it stopped getting an IP at work, necessitating an ethernet cable strewn across the desk to get connectivity. Then overall sluggish behavior took hold, causing ever-lengthier boot-ups.

It should be noted that this is not a ThinkPad thing, it’s a Windows thing. (Don’t say it. No, really. Don’t. I don’t want to hear “get a Mac”. Don’t. Say. It.) And I tend to beat the hell out of my laptops – they stay on for days on end, going into standby only when I’m en route to the train station or the office… otherwise, they’re on non-stop. I install a ton of applications, because I do a lot with my computer. I could continue the “it’s not the machine, it’s me” defense, but let’s just say, I’m sympathetic when these things give up the ghost.

So it was time to replace my ThinkPad (a T42). Things I didn’t like about that machine: max resolution was 1024×768 and it was heavy (15” display and larger chassis translated to nearly 8 pounds, not counting the power cord). But after canvassing my non-Mac friends (Don’t Say It), I couldn’t really bring myself to look at anything but a ThinkPad. Readers of this blog know that I’ve long been a fan of ThinkPads (I’ve lost count, but this machine is either ThinkPad #5 or #6 in the past 7 years), and I’m thrilled to report that my newest (the z61t machine is a spectacular, shockingly good machine. Head and shoulders above any other ThinkPad I’ve had, mainly because, in addition to all its ThinkPad-y goodness, it’s also, dare I say it, just a little bit sleek. No, it’s not (ahem) Mac-like. That would be sacrilege for a ThinkPad. But this one sheds its boxy, Volvo-like blandness for a little bit of style. Added to its significant substance and it’s a winner.

First off, why do I swear by the ThinkPads? Let’s see: the keyboards are consistently remarkable, far superior to any other keyboard I’ve typed on (including desktop keyboards). I type a little over 100 words a minute, and when your fingers move fast on a keyboard that’s not responsive, your hands actually get tired. ThinkPad keys always bounce back without pushing back, and they’ve always felt solid. The trackpoint (the little eraser in between the g, h, and b keys) is something that once you get used to, you can’t live without. And the ThinkPad software — Access Connections (to manage connection profiles), File & Folder Security (solidy crypto to secure your files), and Rescue & Recovery (for pre-boot disk recovery) — have consistently been head and shoulders above what I’ve seen other manufacturers bundle with their products.

That said, I was torn. I found the T series to be heavier than I wanted, and the X series (their ultraportable) seemed a bit too small (their displays won’t show greater than 1024×768, probably because on a monitor that tiny, anything larger would be unreadable). (I briefly looked at the Lenovo v3000, but the lack of a Trackpoint and the “upgrade” from a pc card to an Express Card both were deal-breakers for me.) Somehow I’d missed the Z series — inexplicably smaller than the T, but bigger than the X. Whatever you call it, it’s perfect. It’s a widescreen display (currently set at 1440 × 900, which feels perfect), but in a smaller chassis than the T series – so the unit weighs just over 4 pounds. Aside from the display, it’s what this thing has built-in that really stand apart:

  • Webcam (not photo quality, but perfect for video chats and webinars)

  • Verizon Broadband (no more PC card!)

  • Memory card reader

  • 3 USB ports, 1 firewire port, 1 PC slot

  • DVD and CD burner

  • WiFi (a/b/g)

  • Bluetooth

With 1 gig of RAM, 100 gig hard drive, and a 2ghz Intel Core Duo chip, it’s all around just a spectacular machine. It’s noticeably lighter, the screen seems quite a bit brighter than the T42 it replaced, it’s far more functional than its predecessor (lots more built-in), and the integrated broadband wireless (you’ll recall I’m a fan of Verizon’s service) means that I can shed another peripheral and still remain connected whenever the laptop’s on. The unit seems to operate cooler than previous laptops I’ve used, too; only downside so far is that the speakers, while good, aren’t loud enough. (Oh – the sleek part? Rounded corners on the chassis, and — mon dieu! — a titanium cover. What will they think of next?!)

All in all, I’m thrilled. If you’re in the market for a new laptop, I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

Quote of the year

Robin and I took the better part of the last couple days to do some long-overdue cleaning around the house. At one point this afternoon, the boys’ bathroom was cleared out so I could scrub the floors and the sinks; our bathroom was in a similar state. Our bedroom, however, was mostly done, and the bags of goodwill donations were finally cataloged and in the car. Seeing the lack of bags in our bedroom, and the empty state of the bathrooms, our six year-old yelled down to us while we took a break to make lunch.

Ricky: “Hey guys?”

Us: “Yes?”

Ricky: “Are we moving?”

No, Ricky. We’re not moving. We’re cleaning. And I realize by sharing this, I’m shining a not-so-pleasant light on the frequency (or lack thereof) of our house cleaning habits. But let’s just say that the comedy trumped pride. (As well it should, no?)

Thursday, November 9, 2006

From Charlie Brown to Adam Vinatieri

Chris Casey neatly sums up with two WaPo editorial cartoons the last couple weeks for Democrats. From this:

To this:

With George Allen about to concede, the macro election (a few races are still in recounts around the country): the House and the Senate are again Democratic majorities.

Sunday, November 5, 2006


When we first moved here nearly 6 years ago, I was fortunate to have a co-worker whose daughter was eager to babysit. She was 13 at the time, and she turned out to be perfect: responsible, engaged, and she genuinely loved the kids. Of course, last year she went off to college, and now that we have a third child we haven’t felt all that comfortable picking a random neighborhood teenager to watch three kids at a time. Consequently, we don’t get out much these days!

On our ever-growing to-do list has been to check out SitterCity. I first heard about them from a local tech event — they’re based here in Chicago. (That’s right, another Web 2.0 company based in Chicago!) More about the company and their history here, and their new blog is here… I’m surprised we hadn’t heard about the site earlier: it’s an ideal resource that executes flawlessly.

In a nutshell, SitterCity makes it easy for babysitters (from the in-school crowd to full-time nannies) to list their qualifications, share references and skills, and search for current open sitting opportunities. Parents can browse the database of sitters and contact those who appear interesting, can read reviews left by other parents about the sitters, and can also post jobs (one-time or recurring) which are then e-mailed out to all sitters in the area. The site is a perfect blend of functionality and community, and I can already tell this site will help us find a few regular fill-ins for our former babysitter.

Rates are set by the sitters and parents, so there’s no attempt by SitterCity to impose pricing, nor does SitterCity get a cut of any jobs that get filled – the model is subscription based for parents and free for sitters. They even include a pretty useful rate calculator that helps you figure out what’s more-or-less the going rate based on your zip, # of kids, age of babysitter and years of experience. (First lesson learned? We were underpaying our former babysitter!)

If you give it a try and mention my username (rickklau), you’ll get a discount (apparently 10% or more) and I’ll get a few bucks towards a movie ticket — which might be a nice way to spend one of those nights off once we find a couple sitters we like. We meet our first potential sitter this afternoon — she lives nearby, is a teacher by day and is looking to make some extra money. I’ll post updates as we get more experience with the site, but so far, my first exposure is very positive.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Barack Obama in Maryland

He sure gives a good stump speech.

(Removed video due to feed-related problems; working with plugin author to fix asap!)
Available here if you want to hop on over to YouTube.

2006 Election in a Phone Call

Josh has the details. If I didn’t know Josh better, I’d swear he was making it up.

You should read the whole post. But here’s the quick summary: robocalls are illegal in Indiana. So, the NRCC, in an attempt to paint the Democrat in an Indiana race as soft on immigration, hired a phone banking operation to make the calls. One problem: the phone bank wasn’t in Indiana, but in India. And apparently they had accents.

So the purported beneficiary (Republican Mark Souder) of the calls is now up in arms over the foreigners making calls into his district. Hilarious.

Friday, November 3, 2006

Paul Curreri Has a New Album On the Way

What a great early Christmas present: Paul Curreri has a new album coming out soon, “The Velvet Rut”. The first track from the album is available over at Paul’s MySpace page, and all I can say is: wow. Talk about a new direction! It’s remarkable. Go listen.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Lawyers, Blogs and Music

Two posts lately by friends were an absolute joy to read: Erik Heels wrote about meeting a rock star at a Halloween party, and Marty Schwimmer wrote about a Springsteen tribute band.

Not only were these posts fun to read, but is there any doubt that if you were a musician, you’d hire these two in a heartbeat to protect your IP? Just great examples of how blogs can be used to market a firm’s expertise by showing off the personalities of the people who make up the firms.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Emerging from Sugar Coma, Enjoying Long Or Short

Long or Short Capital is evaluating the burgeoning candy exchange market, thinking about standardizing on the candy corn as the unit of candy reserve currency, and traders are shocked that the peanut isn’t contributing to a rise in peanut M&M values.

This is almost as good as the excess candy I brought in this morning.

(And yes, I realize that with this post, I’ve prolonged Halloweek for yet another day.)