Monday, June 25, 2007


I’m too tired to give this entry the proper sarcasm it deserves, but let me try and be brief:

Dear Comcast, if I call to order your service, try not to talk me out of actually, you know, ordering your service just because my new home’s address isn’t in your database. Maybe do a little actual work and send someone out to verify that I’m not lying about the new home so you can take my money. Sincerely, Rick Klau.

Dear AT&T: I’ve been a paying customer of yours for more than a decade. Counting college, actually closer to two decades. In any event, when I try to use your website to order new service, let’s try to avoid creating infinite loop redirects so that my browser crashes, shall we? Cause that would be, you know, annoying when I’m trying to continue giving you money (against my better judgment, given the last 2 years of nightmarish, Kafkaesque billing quagmires we’ve encountered). Many thanks, Rick Klau.

Oh, and the irony? Trying to use AT&T’s AnyWho toll-free directory to find AT&T’s toll free residential service order number. Go ahead, try it. Did you find AT&T’s toll free number? (It’s 800-288-2020 in case you’re wondering.) Nope, neither did I.

I feel better now.

Plaxo - wow!

Plaxo logoLike anyone who’s been on the net for more than a few years, I’d learned to loathe the Plaxo e-mails that inevitably resulted when a colleague uploaded their Outlook contacts to Plaxo. The concept behind Plaxo was always wonderful: shift the burden of keeping your addressbook to the people in your addressbook; when their info changes, they update their contact info, and that update flows through to your addressbook. In reality, things were a bit messier: your colleague would sign up for Plaxo, then Plaxo would send out a mass update to every one of their contacts requesting an update. In a good week, you could get more than a dozen of these. What was worse, most of the people causing this quasi-spam had no idea they were doing it.

So imagine my surprise when I swung by last week and was stunned to find a genuinely useful service. My original need was to simply de-dupe my contacts folder; with nearly 2000 contacts (about 15% of which were dupes and/or out-of-date), I had no interest in manually sorting and updating the contacts. After a few minutes searching for a good answer, I saw a couple blog write-ups about Plaxo. I put my long-ago annoyance aside, and man, am I ever glad I did.

First off, Plaxo makes it easy to get your contacts into the system; since I’ve been a Gmail user for the last 6 months or so, that’s where my most recent, polluted store of contacts was. An export from Gmail and an upload to Plaxo, and I was good to go. (Yes, Plaxo has Gmail sync, but I’m using Gmail behind the firewall at Google… so it was a two-step process for me. Those of you at can have Plaxo import your contacts directly.) Next up is Plaxo’s de-duper, part of their premium suite ($50/year), but available for free for 30 days. It’s definitely worth it – it correctly identified the 300 dupes in my contacts list, and gave me a step-by-step wizard to merge the dupes. I have a few minor quibbles with the way they merge: it’s a winner-take-all approach (with one version of the contact effectively nuking the other; if both have some data that’s valid, you have to manually merge them). A better approach would be to let you pick the fields from each contact card that you want to keep – like I said, it’s minor, but it would’ve saved me even more time/data entry if they’d given me more granular control.

With that done, Plaxo then ‘connected’ my addressbook to their userbase (15m and growing); contact info from anyone whose info was more current than mine had their info updated in my addressbook. End result, I not only had removed all the dupes from my contacts folder, I also had updated contact info from another 10% of my contacts. Others whose updates I want, I can either have Plaxo selectively send an update request (something that, given my prior experience on the receiving end of those updates, I’ll use judiciously if at all), or simply update the contact in Outlook, on the Blackberry, or at directly.

Getting the contacts onto my Blackberry was a little circuitous, but that’s not really Plaxo’s fault. I installed Plaxo’s Outlook sync, and then installed Blackberry’s desktop manager to sync the Blackberry with Outlook. I don’t use Outlook for anything else, and would prefer to have Plaxo talk directly to Blackberry (wireless sync would be ideal – and something I’d pay for – but just a connector between Blackberry and Plaxo on the client side would be fine too).

One recommendation I’ve already made to Plaxo: work with Anagram. Anagram is one of those ideal pieces of tiny software that make life so much easier. When you see a block of text that is someone’s contact info (like their e-mail sig); you just copy it to your clipboard. Anagram parses the block of text into the appropriate contact fields, and saves the contact info. I have a license for Anagram, so I suppose I’ll just use the Outlook connector – but hooking Anagram up with Plaxo would be killer.

A usability tweak – Plaxo gives you the ability to flag “old” e-mail addresses that correspondents might have in their address books; Plaxo will notify them that the e-mail address is no longer valid and offer up your updated contact info. Not realizing the significance of this feature, I added my ‘’ as an ‘old’ address… which triggered a notification to a fair number of my contacts that the address was no longer valid. Some confusion ensued, as people wondered what was going on… but it’s mostly my fault for not realizing what ‘old’ address really meant. (Suggestion for Plaxo: a pop-up window indicating that a notification will be sent to Plaxo users instructing them that this e-mail address is no longer valid would be a helpful way to avoid others repeating this mistake.)

Given how important accurate contact info is to anyone – personal or professional – you’d think other companies would be trying to solve this problem. (I’m not aware of others trying to do this; if I’ve missed them, let me know.) Plaxo is one of those eminently useful services that gets better as more people use it. Yes, I (and many others) found their abundance of e-mails rather frustrating back in the day. But I have to hand it to them – the service as it exists today (particularly version 3.0, which is available in preview mode) is remarkably comprehensive and wildly useful.

A final observation – in the past few days, I’ve sent in a handful of recommendations and asked for support. Each time I’ve received a prompt reply, and helpful feedback. I’m impressed! Once I’m settled in in Mountain View next month, I’ll have to swing by and say hi – they’re next door to a couple of our buildings. :)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Blackberry tips

Hard to imagine, but after 10 years of holding out, I’m now in possession of a Blackberry. I’ve owned three Treos, countless Palm Pilots before that, and my most recent phone was a Samsung D807 with the Gmail app installed for e-mail access. But the volume of e-mail here is on a scale that clearly requires a more aggressive read-respond-delete posture. And, to butcher a theme from my friends at Long or Short Capital, the Samsung just wasn’t getting it done. So… here I am with this Blackberry 8700.

First off, I’m using the Gmail for Blackberry app instead of the enterprise server/Exchange server.  I’ve written before about why Gmail is so perfect for me; convenient that I now work at the company responsible for making it. I’ve also got Google Maps installed (zippy, and the directions are soooo helpful), but that’s about all I’m using it for right now. What other essential Blackberry apps do you rely on? What should I be looking at?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The best realtor in the East Bay, bar none

During conversations with the group at Google I’ve now joined, it became clear that a relocation was probably in the cards – not required, but it would be to my advantage. Given the teams I’ll be interacting with, face-to-face and ‘in the hallway’ time will make a huge difference in my ability to be effective. I broke the news to Robin the day after that meeting (May 19).

The following weekend (May 27), Robin filled out a realtor request form at Several dozen realtors responded, but too many were either form letters (“Dear Prospective Home Buyer,” is not the way to win a buyer’s heart) or didn’t pay any attention to the details in her request. But one stood out – Mary Ann Morrar – and Robin immediately started bouncing e-mails off of her… and no sooner had her e-mail gone out that a reply would come back filling in more holes.

By the time the acquisition was announced (June 1), we had a sense of what the homes would cost in both the east bay as well as the peninsula. While the Peninsula would be nice for proximity to the office, it became clear that our needs (we have 3 kids and a 90 pound dog, and we’re moving from a house that’s over 3000 square feet) almost immediately priced us out of the Peninsula market. Finding even a small-ish (by non-California standards) house in a decent school district could easily run you close to $2 million. Yeah, that scares the crap out of me too.

So we looked at the East Bay. I’d lived in Danville as a kid, so I had some sense of what it was like to live in the area. (Granted, it’s been a while.) And Mary Ann tried to dissuade us from looking too far from Mountain View, until I filled her in about the Google shuttles, which meant that I could be a bit of a hike away and still be doable. The reality is that my FeedBurner commute was about 90 minutes each way – but with broadband wireless on the train, I was “at work” as soon as I was on the train. With wifi on the Google shuttles, I’m at work as soon as the bus arrives… and whether it’s 30 or 60 minutes to the office, that’s productive time.

Over the course of a week, Mary Ann and her husband Ted walked through at least a dozen homes for us, and e-mailed us hundreds of pictures. Mary Ann sent us MLS listings, and told us to tell her everything we liked and didn’t like. She listened, then sent some more. And visited some more house, and sent some more pictures. Then we got The Call. Last Thursday. Mary Ann was in San Ramon and saw a model was open for some new construction in Windemere. The floor plan was exactly what we had described wanting. The layout on the lot was nice – the backyard was even big enough for a swingset. There was a park directly across the front yard. Twelve miles of hiking and biking trails wind through the permanent open space behind the development – which we’re right up against. New schools are opening next month, and are walking distance from the house. There’s an unobstructed view of Mt. Diablo out our front door. Solar panels are built into the roof – meaning the house generates 70% of its own energy. The list goes on.

After we looked at Mary Ann’s pictures, it was clear – this was our dream house. Robin called the sales office, and told them that we’d fly out to confirm, but that we would probably buy it. “Sight unseen?” So confident in Mary Ann’s understanding of what we wanted, Robin said yes. They FedEx’d the paperwork to us, and we made our flight reservations to come out on Tuesday.

We got here yesterday, and the house was exactly as we expected. We signed the purchase and sale today. It was the only house we walked in.

Moves are stressful. There’s no getting around the fact that you’re uprooting your family, you’re leaving behind friends, family, connections that you spend years building up. And finding a house that you can be excited about moving to can be hard… too often, you have to make compromises that, you rationalize, you’ll address later.

I can’t overstate how much help Mary Ann was in this process. Without her help, we never would have had this go so smoothly. We would have ended up looking at dozens of homes over a couple days, would have gone bleary-eyed trying to remember which house was which, then as time ran out, we’d pull the trigger and hope we didn’t choose wrong.

Instead, we looked at exactly one house. And we’ve never been more positive that we were doing the right thing… which means that we’ve saved weeks (maybe months) of stress, uncertainty, and worry.

I’m not being paid or otherwise compensated for this testimonial – I just told Mary Ann over dinner tonight that I was going to make sure everyone knew that she rocked. In 3 weeks, we went from excited about my job opportunity (but terrified about the shoebox of a house we’d be buying in California) to being exhilarated about the house we’re moving into.

Oh yeah – house will be ready 7/17. Less than 6 weeks after we found out we’d be relocating to California, we’ll be moving into our new house.

Mary Ann, we couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

For those of you looking to move to/in the Bay Area, I can’t recommend Mary Ann highly enough. While she is based in Fremont, she’ll cover Silicon Valley as well as the East Bay, and will make the process downright enjoyable. (Most incredibly, you even stand to make some money by working with her; more details on her rebates page.) If you aren’t sure, but want a better sense of what’s going on in real estate out here, check out her blog. Give her a call. You won’t regret it.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Joining Google, Continuing FeedBurner

As I mentioned on Friday, Google’s acquisition of FeedBurner makes me a Noogler (”New Googler“). Before I talk more about that, let me say this: we would not be where we are without the trust and support of hundreds of thousands of publishers around the world who chose to distribute their content through FeedBurner. When I joined FeedBurner, Dick and Steve gave me a simple mandate: figure out how to get big publishers on board. As time progressed, it became clear that “big” meant different things at different times: Wil Wheaton is a big publisher. Gawker is a big publisher. USA Today is of course a big publisher, but so is Greg Kleinman’s DVD Talk. What was so cool was that we pretty quickly figured out that we needed to not distinguish between the “head” of the tail and the “long tail” – if you were a publisher, we wanted you to trust us. More importantly, we wanted to continue to astound you with insanely great services, attention to detail, and, above all, attention.

That’s why, as we built out the publisher services team, Dick made outreach a priority. Yes, he’s passionate about revenue. And yes, we cared about landing the big guys who had tons of readers. But I’ll be honest: in a day when Google Blogsearch can give Joe Schmoe’s post equal visibility to a front page column in the Wall Street Journal, we really didn’t have a choice. You are all publishers, and we (Jake, Eric and I) considered it a rare privilege to be the public face of a company that consistently built out new and exciting ways to distribute your content. That’s why we left comments on your blogs, regardless of who you were, why we answered posts in the forums whether you were big or small. And it’s why we called ourselves the “publisher services team”, not the “Corporate Accounts team” or something else that would have marginalized the vast majority of our user base.

We couldn’t have arrived at this point without you, and don’t for a minute think we’ll forget that. Dick’s post about why we did this deal bears repeating:

FeedBurner has always been a publisher-centric company. We built the company around a central theme and hypothesis that distributed media present publishers with immense opportunities as well as spiraling complexity.The vision is straightforward: publishers who successfully promote distribution and measure consumption will be in a position to derive more value (aka make more money, gain more influence, etc.) from media distribution. Feeds present a simple and ubiquitous opportunity for publishers to embrace distributed media, but content distribution standards without metrics, publicity tools, and monetization engines are ultimately of little value to individuals and organizations whose businesses depend on an ability to maximize and measure reach.

So what does this mean moving forward? For one, I’m actually moving. West. As in Mountain View. This is bittersweet for me; those of you who know me know that I’ve found more than a home in Naperville, I’ve found a community that I’ve come to love. The neighborhood, the schools, the park district, the libraries, the restaurants, the River Walk, the friends… Naperville is a singular town, and I’m under no illusions as I pick up and move the family back to California that I’ll replace it. I’ve lived longer in this house than any house in my life. (Really!) It’s hard to leave, even as I am tremendously excited about what lies ahead.

About that: I’ll be joining the Content Acquisition team in Mountain View, a group I had the pleasure of getting to know as the acquisition was coming to fruition. I will remain focused on ensuring that publishers get the most out of FeedBurner services, while looking for ways to add value to that content and figuring out how to link that up to Google’s overall mission of organizing the world’s information. It couldn’t be a more ideal role for me, and, truth be told, I’m as excited by this transition as I am about any job I’ve ever held. If not for the cost of living (no, I’m not thinking about it, thank you very much), I’d say this was an ideal next step. (Actually, the Reno to Mountain View commute’s not so bad, so I’m told.)

I couldn’t imagine a better outcome for all involved: immodestly, I think Google’s getting a remarkably talented team. Our publishers are getting access to a wealth of development and advertising expertise that will create new revenue opportunities. And we will get to build out new ways of analyzing and enhancing content, which helps us deliver on the original mission of FeedBurner.

To all of you who trusted us along the way, thank you. As we move ahead, I hope you’ll give us the opportunity to continue to earn that trust.

Friday, June 1, 2007