Sunday, March 26, 2006

On unity in DuPage

Growing up in Boston in the 80s, I was a big Celtics fan. It was hard not to be: it was the team of Danny Ainge, Dennis Johnson, Kevin McHale, Bill Walton (in ’85 and ’86), Robert Parish and of course Larry Bird.

One thing stands out for me about the Celtics in the 80s, more than the ’85 championship team, more than Johnny Most screaming “Now there’s a steal by Bird! Underneath to D. J.! He lays it in!!” when Larry stole the ball and D.J. scored, more than the parquet floor that could fit four quarters in the seams in some places, more than Bill Walton hobbling around the court. It’s when the Celtics lost to the 76ers, at home.

A Boston Garden, packed to the gills with rabid Celtics fans (was there any other kind?), was experiencing a painful, game 7 loss to Dr. J’s Sixers. What did the Celtics fans do? Leave? No. Scream at the Sixers? No. Boo their Celtics? Definitely not.

In unison, the Garden thundered. “BEAT L.A… BEAT L.A… BEAT L.A.”

Classy. I’ve always loved that about Boston sports fans.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Terrible web strategy, part 2

Over the weekend, Robin was telling me she wanted to keep a wishlist online. Amazon’s wish list is nice, but it’s exclusive to Amazon products (and Amazon partners). Why not have a wish list that could span multiple sites?

To which I proclaimed, “I have the answer!!” (It’s hard to pronounce those periods when you’re talking, but I promise you that I properly punctuated the maddeningly-named site.)

The concept’s simple: when she saw a product she liked, she could just bookmark the page where the product’s displayed. Not only could she tag the items however she wanted (“cookware”, “calphalon”, etc.), but she could use’s (how I hate those *$%@ing periods) to “send” the bookmarks to me by tagging the items “for:rklau”.

Simple, right?

Wrong. But not because of anything did.

Robin had a dog-eared copy of Sur La Table’s latest catalog, and had the item numbers for a bunch of products. One by one, she typed in the item # in the catalog (the Sur La Table site helpfully gives you the ability to search by item #), pulled up the product page, and tagged the page in After a handful of products, she went over to to see the results.

Odd, there was only one entry for Sur La Table.

So I had her repeat the process, to verify she was doing everything right. (She was. And yes, I’m in trouble for even thinking that this could be her fault.)

The problem? Sur La Table’s website. When you search by item #, the ‘permalink’ for the search results page is always the same, regardless of the item #. Every single search result is at the URL “”. So every time you bookmark a “new” page, sees the same URL and just saves the latest tags over the existing entry for that URL. Even worse? Navigating to that page directly just takes you to the Sur La Table homepage.

If the search results page was something like “…/search.cfm?item=284505”, then it’d be unique to (and its own site). But as it is, the keyword/item # search interface is useless.

In the age of microchunking content, permalinks are the currency of an ever-increasingly connected web of services. Failure to give your content unique URLs renders them invisible to those services, and worse, useless to users.

Terrible web strategy, part 1

Our real estate and auto insurance agent recently retired, and sold his practice to an agent whose office is quite a few miles away from us. While we don’t have to interact with our agent too often, it’s nevertheless nice to have someone in the community to deal with when the need arises.

Robin visited the Allstate website today (we’ve been Allstate customers for nearly ten years), and after punching in our zipcode, got a list of agents in Naperville. Check out these three agents’ websites: one, two, and three. Notice anything, oh, repetitive about the sites?

The height of irony, is this tagline, on each clone’s page:


That’s a pretty bold stand.

My advice? If you’re going to create cookie-cutter websites, at least give the agents an ability to customize the message. Or maybe, just maybe, if you don’t have personal info about real people, maybe soften the whole “this is our stand” claim.

Just a thought.

Snakes on a Plane - Hollywood Reporter catches the fever

Hollywood Reporter shares the frenzy over Snakes on a Plane. Just 147 days left and counting.

I love that they’re including a signature line by Jackson because of fan interest: “the filmmakers do concede that the Jackson line will be in the movie for the sake of the fans.” What’s the line? Read the article.

Mark my words. The film will open huge. The only real question? Whether it will break the August record, currently held by Rush Hour 2.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Touch screens and voting accountability

Henry raises a fascinating, and disturbing, consequence of voting by differing means, and the potential to determine exactly who someone voted for. This is a non-trivial matter, and something that needs further attention.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Looks good for Debra Shore

One last note: With just over 60% of the results in, great to see that Debra Shore is the top vote getter right now for Water District Commissioner. Fingers crossed for the rest of the results…

Election night recap

I’m crashing, been up since 4am (to catch that oh-dark-hundred flight to NYC) and am finally spent. Some quick observations on a few big winners tonight:

  • Barack Obama. He backed Alexi Giannoulias over Speaker Madigan (whose candidate was Paul Mangieri). Alexi, armed with a TV ad featuring Senator Obama, won handily. That’s more than a symbolic victory. He also stayed silent on the Claypool/Stroger race, which is proving to be mighty close. (And if Claypool prevails, Obama’s silence will be a contributing factor.)

  • Naperville. The bond referendum passed with a comfortable margin; it failed last year by losing terribly in Naperville. By winning in both Will and DuPage, the school district showed that the plan for a third high school has broad support.

  • Christine Cegelis. Though there are still Cook precincts left to report, it looks likely that Christine will lose by several hundred votes. Outgunned in the money race, she proved that a motivated grassroots base could indeed deliver results: and though they came up short, they deserve to be proud of what they built. Rahm Emmaneul would be well served to take this into account. Soon.


  • Electronic voting: Tribune has the details.

  • DuPage Elections website. It crashed as soon as the polls closed, and was down for 2 hours afterwards. They finally brought a mirror site ( up to handle the traffic, which did fine. No clue why the original server wasn’t able to handle it, but frustrating to see DuPage’s results significantly behind Will County’s.

Cegelis addresses supporters

I’m blogging all of this from a hotel room in NYC (business travel!), but just heard from Brian Sebby, who’s at Cegelis’s party. She just addressed supporters, said that things are too close and it’ll be a long night.

With only 3 DuPage precincts left (and 40% Cook precincts left), my calculations have Tammy up by 781 votes (and Cook is trending more for Tammy). Back a couple months ago, I said it’d take a miracle for Christine to prevail.

I’d say these results qualify: Christine’s organization and infrastructure are real, and this is a phenomenal outcome. Her supporters will be understandably frustrated at the lack of institutional support — and the fact that they neutralized Tammy’s prodigious fundraising on a shoestring speaks volumes about what they could have done.

Tribune declares for Shannon

Congrats to Joe Shannon, who the Tribune is declaring a victor in the 13th Congressional primary.

204 Referendum Passes

With 95% reporting in DuPage, there’s no question but that the 204 Referendum has passed. 2800 vote margin in Will County, and a 1300 vote margin (and counting) in DuPage. (Why I supported the referendum.)


Update: 100% of DuPage is in, 7170 yes, 6042 no. Which brings the final tally to:

Yes: 14,223 (58.1%)
No: 10,254 (41.9%)

That’s a nice, comfortable mandate for the school board to get its job done and build that third high school.

DuPage update - 10:49pm

With 66% 70% of the precincts in, the referendum just picked up another 500 800 votes. Current tally:

Yes: 10,708 (59.3%)
No: 7,357 (40.7%)

And Cegelis and Duckworth were neck and neck for a bit, now Tammy has a 100+ vote lead in DuPage and a 300+ vote lead in Cook. Not a done deal by any stretch.

Referendum update

Will County’s results are in. 7,053 in favor of the referendum, 4,212 opposed. That’s a 2800 vote margin. In DuPage, 49% of the precincts are in, and it’s a dead heat: 2689 in favor, 2694 opposed.

Without knowing which DuPage precincts are left, this is still very much in the air. But I prefer a 2,800 vote cushion to a 2,800 vote deficit…

IL-06 update

Wow. Just 20 votes out of 12,000 separate Christine and Tammy in DuPage (with 48% reporting), and Tammy has just a 300 vote lead in Cook county with 43% reporting. Don’t know how the other precincts match up, but I think this is much, much closer than anyone predicted.

DuPage results update

More info coming in:

  • 30% of 204 precincts reporting: 550 vote margin, 58% to 42% Yes.

  • Cegelis/Duckworth is a horse race: With 44% of the 6th District precincts reporting, Tammy’s at 4550 and Christine’s at 4440. 110 vote margin out of 11,000 cast. Wow. Much closer than I thought it would be.

  • Shannon has an 8 point lead over Reedy in the 13th, with 41% of the precincts in the 13th in. Added to the Will results, it looks like Joe’s pulled out a victory here.

  • Big 12 point lead for JBT over Oberweis.

Will County referendum update

No more info from DuPage, but Will is now showing a 2500 vote margin in favor of the 3rd high school referendum in School District 204.

Other Will results:

  • Joe Shannon has a sizable lead over Bill Reedy, 58% to 42%.

  • Nick Palmer’s effort at becoming the next state central committeeman for the 13th is failing behind incumbent Kyle Hastings.

  • Judy Baar-Topinka has a 3,000 vote lead over Jim Oberweis.

Referendum update

Interesting. Last year’s referendum (which lost) passed by a narrow margin in Will County — just about 600 votes. So far, there’s a 2000 vote margin in favor of the referendum in Will; It failed in DuPage by about 1500 votes. With DuPage showing a slight bias in favor of the referendum so far, and a wide margin in Will, I think we might just have pulled this out. Still too early, but a good sign so far.

Referendum results: 9:10pm central

Results as of 9:10pm:

Will County: 83% precincts in, 5459 Yes, 3248 No.
DuPage County: 15% precincts in, 817 Yes, 636 No.

Total: 6276 Yes, 3884 No. (62% yes, 38% no)

Referendum results

Dupage Results hasn’t yet started reporting anything (could this be more fun with Diebold?), but Will County is reporting a bunch. With 25% of the precincts in District 204, it’s 2-1 in favor of the referendum so far.

Shannon’s leading Reedy by about 15% in the race for Congress in the 13th District.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Candace Parker dunked in the NCAA tournament

I love it. When she won the dunk competition against the boys a couple years ago as a high school senior, it was only a matter of time that Naperville native Candace Parker would dunk in a college game.

She picked a heck of a time to do it: in the first round of the women’s NCAA tournament. The dunk gave Tennessee a one point lead, and they ended the first half up 50-26. It’s the first ever dunk in the NCAA women’s tournament.

Update: She dunked not once, but twice. has reactions to Candace’s feat. Great stuff. (Pun intended.)

Supporting the 204 Referendum

I’ve been remiss in talking about a local issue that is before the voters in Naperville on Tuesday. Our school district (Indian Prairie School District 204) has again put a bond referendum on the ballot asking whether we can build a third high school. We have two high schools currently (Waubonsie and Neuqua Valley) that house approximately 9,200 students. This is arguably over capacity already (more on that in a moment), but thanks to Naperville’s continued growth, the high school student population may swell by as many as an additional 800 students in the next five years.

Should that happen, our two high schools would become the two largest high schools in the entire state. To address the issue, the School Board is proposing construction of a third high school.

In the five years I’ve lived here, I’ve never seen the city this energized politically. Both sides of the issue (the pro group is here and the anti group is here) are actively lobbying voters, and yard signs outnumber candidate yard signs.

I’m strongly in favor of the referendum, and I’m in good company. My organization, the Naperville Democrats, voted to endorse last month. In addition, the Naperville and Aurora Chambers of Commerce support the referendum, and the two local papers (the Sun and the Daily Herald) both support the referendum. The Mayor, six of the seven school board members, the 204 teachers’ union, 25 PTAs from elementary, middle and both high schools — all support the referendum.

Passing the referendum will not raise my property taxes (by refinancing the district’s current debt from a 12 year payout to a 20 year payout, my property taxes will actually go down starting in a few years), and the construction of a new high school will almost certainly raise my property values. Even if the projected population increases don’t materialize as quickly as predicted, a third high school in the district will lead to lower student/teacher ratios and more opportunities for extracurricular involvement for more kids.

A word on enrollment. The no group has taken the district’s prior state filing to show total capacity as in excess of 10,000 students when the District claims that the current capacity is 8,400 students. Why the discrepancy? Superintendent Crouse explains it fairly well. The short answer? Just because you have 30 seats in each classroom doesn’t mean that all 30 seats get used in every class and every period. Let’s say my kid wants to take art history, and only 9 classmates are similarly interested. Meanwhile, there are 50 kids who want to take web page design. Just because the art history classroom has 20 additional seats, we’re supposed to take the “extra” 20 from web page design and shove them in there? No, of course not. As a result, the state takes max capacity and discounts it by 20% to get to an “actual” capacity. Our current capacity is 8,400 students. And yet the two high schools between them already have 9,200 students.

The impact of this overpopulation? Some schools have lunch periods starting at 9:30am. Neuqua high school has hallways and stairways that are now one way to deal with the crammed hallways. Intervals between classes had to be extended because students couldn’t make it from one class to another in enough time.

Naperville has earned a reputation as being the best place in the country to raise a family. Passing the referendum will ensure that we plan for future growth, and ensure that we retain a top-tier school system. Vote yes on Tuesday.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Interview with Andrea Weckerle

Fresh on the heels of yesterday’s interview with Marshall Kirkpatrick comes another interview I did this week — with Andrea Weckerle. Andrea is a terrific PR blogger, who also happens to be a law school classmate of mine from way back. She asked a number of interesting questions, and I hope that the answers did her questions justice! You can read the whole interview here. We talk about PR, blogs, FeedBurner, politics, and communication strategy. It was a fun conversation.

Thanks to Andrea, who not only took time out to do the interview, but who also spent what had to be a ton of hours transcribing the interview. Noone should have to spend that much time listening to me!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Favorite. Picture. Ever.

Driving through the Morton Arboretum last weekend, we let the kids look at the trees while standing in the van. They thought they were getting away with murder! We came to the intersection that connects the east and west parts of the preserve, and I just happened to see this come together in the rear-view mirror. So glad it came out. This one’s not bad either, but the one in the mirror is an all-time favorite.

Interview at Net Squared

Marshall Kirkpatrick reached out to me last week and asked if I’d be available for an interview to discuss FeedBurner with his audience at Net Squared. They’re a neat group, and I love what they’re doing to help non-profits figure out how to embrace technology for social change.

Marshall covered a lot of ground, the full text of the interview is available here. Thanks, Marshall — really enjoyed the discussion.

My life now has a purpose

Erik Heels: “If Rick is still working for FeedBurner on St. Patrick’s Day 2008, I will die my hair green.”

You’re on.

College pranks

My new co-worker Don Loeb (welcome aboard, Don!) just wrote about a phenomenal prank pulled off by Cal’s student section. More details are here — the short version is that they pulled star Gabe Pruitt’s IM handle out of, invented a coed named Victoria, and flirted for a week. Then, come game time, revealed the ruse by posting the IM logs on posters and chanting “her” name every time Pruitt touched the ball. Talk about rattling an opponent.

Even more impressive? Pruitt may have been rattled during the game, but appreciates how funny the prank was:

Eventually, Pruitt got to speak with the ringleader, who apologized. Pruitt, who was playing his second game after returning from an injured knee, took the prank in stride.

“Oh, I think that was like a classic,’‘ he said, smiling. “I’ve never seen anything like that, that big. I think mine is up there in the ranks.”

Hilarious. This ranks right up there with the prank that Yale students pulled on Harvard alumni a couple years ago. (Full details at the website.)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Blog Corollary to the Rule Against Perpetuities

Andrea surveys the state of online law journals, and I can’t resist a cheap joke.

I promise, I won’t quit the day job.

New Paul Curreri Album coming soon

Just caught up with my old boss Mike Curreri, who’s doing great stuff over at Avicode. Always fun to hear what he’s up to, and hopefully Robin and I will be able to squeeze in a visit to see Mike and Renee at their place on the water in Maryland. (Mike: if crabs are on the menu, you can book it now.)

We talked about a lot, but particularly exciting was the news that Mike’s son Paul has a new album coming out later this month. I’ve raved about Paul before, and I cannot wait for a live album to add to my iPod. Here’s one track that gives a hint of what’s to come. (And if you’re in the UK and reading this, he’s going to be touring the UK over the next couple weeks — go see him play! You won’t regret it.)

On the (very) off chance that there are any music industry types reading this, do us all a favor and make Paul a star. Seriously. He’s the real deal. I’m bummed that I missed him on his last trip through town (OK, so we were having a baby, which is a pretty good excuse. But still.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Why FeedBurner matters

When someone you’ve known for over 10 years says your company doesn’t matter, it’s worth giving the subject a little thought. Erik gave me a heads-up that he was thinking about this, and I didn’t discourage him from posting about it.

Before I go into the substance of Erik’s comments, it’s important to note that when Erik and I get together (which is sadly nowhere near often enough, now that we’re 1000 miles apart), we couldn’t be more different. He’s an electrical engineer, I was a liberal arts major. He can program, I can’t. In the nearly 12 years that we’ve co-authored a technology column together, he’s often taken the cautious, pragmatic approach to technology. I tend to more eagerly embrace stuff, play around, and try it out. That I’ve owned — and, in many cases, evangelized — products and services in Erik’s top 10 list doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. TiVo? How can you possibly hate TiVo? That’s practically un-American. (And Erik asks, “Is television really that good?” Dude, you haven’t been paying attention. 24. Lost. Battlestar Galactica. The Daily Show and Colbert Report. Sopranos. I don’t think we’ve ever had this much groundbreaking television available at the same time. Ever. And without TiVo, and my ability to transfer what I want to my computer to watch while traveling, I’d never be able to watch it.)

Anyhow, on to his comments about FeedBurner. At its core, Erik’s concern is that we don’t do a good enough job explaining what we do to newcomers. Point taken. When your audience ranges from individual bloggers and podcasters to USA Today, that’s quite a challenge — and one which we’re well aware we have room to improve upon. But for Erik to conclude that because we don’t communicate our value well enough, ergo, we don’t provide value, well, I don’t buy it. It’s hard to reconcile that position with this comment , or this one, or this one (be sure to read Mike’s commenters on that post), or this one. You get the idea. Hell — Google says there are over 200 instances of people writing FeedBurner rocks!

As to Erik’s worry that we sound like the early website purveyors, he’s just off the mark here. Whether people want a feed at or their own subdomain, the actual file URL is irrelevant to us; we’re not pitching the URL as a value-add at all. In fact, the “permanence” of the feed URL is often touted by bloggers as its own benefit: as they change their site’s plumbing (moving from Blogger to TypePad, or Movable Type to WordPress), their feed URL doesn’t change even though the application generating it does. While more technically sophisticated users might know how to tweak their webservers to hide this change from end users, most bloggers and podcasters don’t. The fact that FeedBurner ensures consistency for subscribers helps publishers.

Later on, Erik write:

On my weblog, I have thousands of HTML pages and only one feed. Why would I want to let a third party host this one file? Feedburner can add bells and whistles to your feed, but any webmaster worth his weight in salt can modify a website’s feed to do everything that Feedburner does. How hard is it, really, to add an “email this” link to your feed?

As for reasons you’d want FeedBurner to host your feed, in no particular order:

  • Stats. Traditional web statistics don’t reveal anything meaningful about your readership. How many subscribers do you have to your feed? What programs do they use? Which content in your feed are they reading? None of this information is easily obtainable by hosting your feed yourself. This may not matter to Erik, but it matters to the majority of our 140,000 users, many of whom log in repeatedly throughout the day to see what they can learn about how their content is being consumed.
  • Feed usability. When a user clicks on a feed today, they’re likely to see raw XML. I know what it is, Erik knows what it is, but most non-tech-savvy users don’t. And one publisher I spoke with recently said that as near as they could tell, 80% of the people who clicked on their feed URL left their site. Why? Because they thought something was wrong: no more pictures, fonts or designed pages: just angle brakcets and code. FeedBurner adds a stylesheet to your feed so that it renders better in a browser (here is mine); in addition, we add tools to add content to your feed (incorporating content from other services Erik doesn’t like, Flickr and, among many others).
  • Feed enhancements. FeedFlare lets publishers add interactivity to their feed (and the open API lets users build their own pieces of Flare, for others to use). That may not be of importance to Erik, but judging by the rapid adoption of FeedFlare by our users, there are tens of thousands who find this kind of enhancement to be quite useful. Are we saying we’re the only ones who can do it? Of course not. But putting it all in the same place as your stats and other feed management services means you have a one-stop-shop for getting more out of your feed.

Erik’s a smart guy, and I don’t take his critique lightly. As mentioned earlier, we’re working hard on revising the ways in which we explain ourselves to potential users. But I suspect that Erik doesn’t need some of what we offer — for instance, the stats may not be particularly useful to him, as knowing the number of subscribers or what they read wouldn’t likely affect how he writes on his blog.

Bottom line? Erik and I see a lot of things differently (he’d probably hate Lost and Battlestar Galactica, which is almost as bad as hating TiVo, but whatever). We’ve each had our fair share of good calls over the years. This is one case where I remain convinced that I’m in the right place at the right time… And Erik may eventually see that we provide a broad suite of services that let publishers get more out of their feeds. As is evidenced by his comments throughout his post, he’s not really looking to get more out of his content right now. For those that do, we’re listening. Tell us how we can get better.

I voted!

Just got back from voting. Our primary isn’t for another week, but I wanted to test out the Diebold machines that DuPage County contracted to use last year. No, this isn’t dirty political tricks, it’s called Early Voting (not to be confused with absentee voting, or absentee-in-person voting). Confused? Yeah, most people are when they hear about it; the county’s one page FAQ is here.

I have to say, I was pretty impressed with the process. The screen was clear and large, it was easy to see who you were voting for, and before you were finished, it printed up a record of your votes (similar to a cash register receipt) which you could review before submitting your ballot. There were ample opportunities to review your selections, and at least two confirmation screens that I counted (I was a little distracted, I had the boys with me).

The first time I stopped by this morning on my way home from the dentist’s office? The machines were down. (It is Diebold, after all.) But they were up when I went by this afternoon, and it worked quite smoothly. According to the election judges there, about 800 ballots had been cast so far this way in Naperville.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Bi-partisan business development

In a bi-partisan gesture the likes of which would make James Carville and Mary Matalin proud, I’m proud to announce that I’ve hired Jake Parrillo at FeedBurner. Rumor has it there are some well-known Republican blogs out there (!), so I’m guessing Jake will have more than enough to keep him busy in his first few weeks. ;)

In other FeedBurner news, Newsweek announced today that they’re using FeedBurner. I’m particularly excited about the fact that they’re adding FeedFlare to their feeds to make it easier for subscribers to bookmark and share Newsweek content — it’s a model I expect to see many other publishers adopt in the near future.

More publisher announcements on the way… Matt McAlister says “Feedburner [is] conduct[ing] a systematic conquest of publishers’ RSS feeds.” I don’t know about systematic (lately it feels a bit chaotic, which is why it’s nice to add to the team), but it’s certainly nice to see some big publishers recognize the value in partnering with us to make their feeds more strategic to their content strategy.

Friday, March 10, 2006

New site at

Congrats to Jim & team for the new site at Lots of good content, and I’ve been promised some cool new features in the not-too-distant future. Stay tuned.

Big Fish

Two years ago, I saw Big Fish for the first time, and wrote about my response after we got home. I’ve since watched it several times, and bought a copy for my Dad last Christmas. It’s a great movie, I think I’ll watch it again this weekend.

Congrats to Debra Shore

Hearty congratulations are in order for Debra Shore, a friend of mine who’s running for commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District in Cook County. Today she received the Chicago Tribune’s endorsement, which is a terrific acknowledgement by the Trib of her commitment to the environment, her eagerness to be a responsible steward in Cook County, and to get actively engaged in local government to make the region better.

If you’re in Cook County, vote for Debra on March 21.

Wednesday, March 8, 2006


I was quite fortunate to have dinner this evening with Andrea Weckerle. Andrea and I went to law school together, and we’ve both chosen what the law school career office no doubt calls the “alternative route”. (Which is to say, neither of us is practicing law. And from the tone of tonight’s dinner conversation, it’s safe to conclude we’re both quite happy with our decision.)

Andrea talked a bit about comments on blogs, and how important they are to her. She wrote about this recently, and this nugget stood out for me:

By all means link to other blogs when there’s a legitimate reason to (i.e., not just for the sake of garnering favor or to increase a blog’s ranking). But on some level, leaving comments is just as important as linking. It lets people know you’re reading their posts and lets them know you’re out there, which can make a world of difference to a blogger. It lets them know you consider them important enough to take the time to write a substantive comment… or even just a short “interesting post, thanks for alerting me to this.” It shows you took the time to read that particular post over the tens of millions of others floating around out there.

I have to confess, I never thought about it from this perspective. In the four and a half years I’ve been blogging, I’ve defaulted to commenting only when I didn’t feel like fleshing the comment out into a full post on my blog. In fact, to the extent I’d given the matter any thought at all, I’d actually concluded that linking to a blog was far, far more valuable than commenting on that same blog.

Why? Well, Google and Technorati, for starters. Google sees a link as a vote (bear with me, I’m oversimplifying) — and after a long time of blogging, I’m in the odd position of actually being considered something of an authority by Google (as for what I’m an authority on, well, that’s a bit fuzzy), which means my votes count more than some other sites. I’m kind of like an Ohio voter in a presidential race, if you want to use a political analogy. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Technorati, which uses links between sites as a way to establish “authority”, similarly can interpret those links and in fact relies on them to map the relationships among sites.

Comments, by contrast, carry no such information. Given that I work at a company that’s focused on how to add value to information, I guess it’s only logical that I’d look at it from the programmatic perspective. But I wonder whether there are efforts afoot to blend these two approaches: use comments — and in particular, whatever’s known about the commenters (for instance, their blogs, where they’re leaving comments, etc.) — to inform our interpretation of how authoritative a particular site is. Anyone know of anything being done in this area?

Maybe this is an academic issue, but it’s intriguing to me. From a technical perspective, 2000 inbound links tell us a lot more about a site than 2000 comments. But to hear Andrea and others at her site say it, they value the comments as much, if not more. I could care less about the A-list discussion that tends to get wrapped up in this — specifically, who’s an “A-list blogger” vs. any other list — but I am very interested in learning more about how we could get smarter about inferring something from the comments (both the number of comments and the identities of commenters).

I’ve been so focused on the day job lately (and that’s a good thing, I’ve never had this much fun in a job!) that I haven’t taken a step back in a while to look at this stuff. I need more hours in the day.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

When your customers do your marketing

Check out Marshall Kirkpatrick’s post about why you should use FeedBurner. Thanks, Marshall!

(One note, Marshall — redirecting your feed to FeedBurner is a painless and effective way of making sure you don’t segment your audience.)

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Being with your children

Elena, the girl who died a couple weeks ago (whose father is keeping a blog) has been on my mind a lot the last couple days. In particular, something that her Dad wrote as he was starting to chronicle the mourning of his daughter’s passing:

How often have you been with your child and not been with them. You’ve taken the time to be at a kid’s soccer game but been on your cell phone. You’ve left work to pick your kid up from school but your mind isn’t there on your son or daughter and the day they’ve just had at school – your mind is already back at your desk on the next thing you have to do.

Doc wrote about this too. And what I know is, today was much different. First, we saw the turkeys. Then we went for breakfast, and then I did something I haven’t done in months with the boys: took them alone to the playground. They rode their scooters (OK, Ricky rode and Robby walked, for the most part) a few blocks away to Ricky’s school, where we played “monster” (guess who was the monster?) and yelled ourselves hoarse. We rode back, and when I got back, Becca was awake. She’s figured out that flirting with me gets her endless attention, which works out pretty good for both of us.

We went out for dinner (a rare two-fer for us: breakfast and dinner!), and because my in-laws are in town and we were feeling good, we treated ourselves to some ice cream at Oberweis. (He may be a nutty politician, but wow is his ice cream good.) One of the things I love about Oberweis is that many of the tables inside the store have chess boards (with the pieces) on them. Ricky’s been doing chess club once a week at school (I love that they mix the kindergartners up with kids from all the other grades), and was feeling very confident about his skills. He’s got the basics down, and I love that every time I bring my Queen out he admonishes me, “Don’t bring your Queen out, or you’ll have to move her every move.”

An all-around great day. But it’s the little details: the squeals of joy at the playground, the quiet concentration over chess, Robby’s puppet show before lunch… each of them precious. And while I’d like to think that I hadn’t forgotten how blessed we are to have such wonderful kids, reading about Elena’s passing has made it much more real for me. For that I’m terribly grateful.

Lost, local edition

You know how on Lost, random animals show up that may or may not mean something?

Woke up this morning, and six wild turkeys were in our front yard:


Reminder: we live in a suburb of 150,000 residents. Where did these turkeys come from? Why?

The boys (and the dog!) sure loved them.

Thursday, March 2, 2006

On parenting, turning six, and loss

Andrea Weckerle pointed to this blog authored by the father of a six year-old girl who died last week of bacterial meningitis. My son turns six next week, I’m not sure I have any words right now. I can’t begin to comprehend losing one of my children with no warning, from healthy to dead in less than 24 hours.

Politics Online conference next week

I’m speaking at the Politics Online conference next week, and can invite a few people to attend. If you’re interested, drop me a line at First come, first served. Details here.