Monday, August 27, 2007

Joining Augsburg Fortress Board of Trustees

Just under two years ago, I participated in a panel at the Publicity Club of Chicago with Eric Zorn from the Trib and Elizabeth Berglund from Hill & Knowlton. It was a pretty straightforward presentation for me, but at the end of the discussion, one guy worked his way up from the back of the room. His exact words, as he approached the table: “You need to speak to Lutherans.”

Now, I’ve given a lot of presentations in the past decade, and I’ve received feedback from the very positive to lukewarm to downright negative. But never had I heard that.

The guy was John Brooks, who works for the ELCA. He didn’t know that I was a member at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Naperville – he just knew that the folks he works with would be receptive to me talking about blogs, podcasts, RSS, etc. We kept in touch, and true to his word, John hooked me up with the staff planning their Communicators Conference – a gathering that happens every other year in which the communicators from around the ELCA come to Chicago to discuss ways in which they can better communicate the Church’s mission. They added me as a keynote speaker, and though I wasn’t certain I’d be a good addition to the program, I went. (If you’re so inclined, you can listen to the presentation here. It’s interesting how differently I’d present this today: I’d probably not say a word about MySpace, I’d talk a lot more about Facebook, and I’d ignore Second Life.)

In more than 10 years of speaking in front of audiences, it remains my favorite presentation. The audience was as far outside my comfort zone as I’ve ever spoken to – which is to say, this wasn’t a room full of techies, or lawyers, or marketing types. Probably more significantly, they weren’t there to hear a technology presentation – so I had to work hard to make sure that the presentation was connected to the practical benefits they could expect to achieve if they actually implemented any of what I talked about.

Something clicked: more than a dozen people in the audience started blogs within a couple days of the presentation. The feedback was uniformly positive, among the best I’ve ever received. And it kept coming – this post came nearly six months after I gave the talk. Needless to say, it was a humbling, gratifying experience.

Then a funny thing happened: I heard from someone who wasn’t in the audience that day, but who’d heard from friends that she and I should connect. She was Beth Lewis, CEO at Augsburg Fortress (the publishing house of the ELCA). Beth and I corresponded for months, and eventually met this spring when she was in Illinois for a conference. Beth, who’s a blogger herself, is a sharp woman who’s working hard to build on Augsburg Fortress’s successes and stay true to its mission. Based on our conversations, Beth asked whether I’d consider serving on her Board of Trustees – an invitation I was more than happy to accept. Because of its affiliation with the ELCA, the appointment needed to be voted on by the churchwide assembly, which occurred in Chicago earlier this month. Two weeks ago, I got a note from Beth confirming that I’d been elected.

One year after I gave that presentation in Chicago, I’m now part of a small group of people tasked with helping a storied publishing house think about its transition to a digital marketplace. I’m quite excited about this next step – it’s a six year term, which I hope gives me plenty of time to learn how I can best contribute. To Beth, thanks for your faith in my ability to contribute. And big thanks to John Brooks, without whom this amazing series of events never would have happened.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Polished presentations at SES

I attended SES San Jose this week, and gave two presentations – one on podcast/audio search optimization, the other on blog and feed SEO. Both are versions of presentations I’d given at past SES shows (NYC, Chicago) and they went pretty well. By the turnout here and in NYC in April, it’s clear that the awareness of blogs and feeds as strategic assets is growing (in both cities, the audience numbered well over 300). Podcasts are still of interest, but not quite seen as critical for organizations looking to make the most of their search engine marketing efforts. That’s partly due to the audience, which skews towards search engine marketers – not necessarily the same folks who’d be tasked with creating/managing a corporate podcast.

The feedback was quite positive, which is always reassuring. You never know going into this what level the audience will be at, and whether you’ll be patronizing them by speaking too much about basics, or shooting over their head by blitzing them with advanced stuff that’s beyond what they’re looking for. I think for the most part, we got it right. (I would say that when you have a 90 minute panel, perhaps giving each speaker 15 minutes instead of 10 would go a long way to making the content more digestible. Small quibble.)

Which brings me to a final point:, it is on. In writing up our session, Ken Grobe,’s Product Content Manager, had this to say about me: “Obviously a smart guy, he came off as quite affable.” Nice, right? Ken Grobe, I salute you. Sadly, he couldn’t stop there – oh no, there had to be a “but”. Here’s how the whole sentence read: “Obviously a smart guy, he came off as quite affable but lacked the polish of most of the other Google speakers I’d seen. Maybe because FeedBurner is such a recent acquisition? Pitcher of Kool-aid, table two, please!”


Those that know me know that me and polish had a bit of a falling out a couple years ago. I don’t like to talk about it much, and I hate to blame PowerPoint for all my woes, but back in 2004 there was a rather famous ill-timed slide fade and a cough from the audience. I’ve never recovered.

Apparently it even came up during the acquisition discussions: “We like you guys, but man, that Klau sure is sketchy.” Whatever, they took a gamble. I think Dick even needed to promise that he’d use his Second City and Annoyance Theater experience to try and soften some of my rough edges. And come to think of it, I did get an e-mail from HR a month ago talking about required polish classes, but I ignored it: speaking Polish had nothing to do with RSS, and I resumed my hunt for the best free food on campus. (Thank you. I’ll be here all week. Don’t forget to tip your waitress.)

Alright, Ken. You want polish, you’ll get polish. Drinks on me at the next SES if I’m outshined again by my fellow Googlers.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Home for sale in Naperville, Illinois

Our house in Naperville has been on the market for a little over two months, and now that we’re finally starting to settle into our home in California, I wanted to take a few minutes to tell you about the home we left. I’d love to sell the house – two mortgage payments are never fun – but, truth be told, it’s more than that: we got almost seven good years out of that house, and I’m surprised that the right buyer hasn’t fallen in love with the house the first time they lay eyes on it. I figure I’ll share some details, and a few of you reading this might link to it, and maybe someone out there thinking about relocating to Naperville will search Google for their new home. And maybe they’ll see this, and we’ll have our match. Who knows – can’t hurt, right?

We first saw the house on a whirlwind househunt the weekend that President Bush was inaugurated. Given Naperville’s demographics, it should come as no surprise that there weren’t a lot of home buyers out that weekend! It was a cold day in January, there was a ton of snow on the ground, and it was late in the first day of looking. We walked into an empty house (much like it is now) and tried hard to ignore the ugly wallpaper in the dining room, the dark wallpaper in the study, the mismatched wallpaper in the kids bedrooms (are you sensing a theme here?) and the ugly lighting fixtures in the kitchen and dining room.

What we saw was a house with beautiful lines (Robin calls them bones – I’m going with lines). Arched doorways. An expansive view of the big backyard through the kitchen door. A study on the first floor that could be a bedroom if we needed it to be. A huge, unfinished basement. Two attics. A floor in the attic over the garage, inviting us to store lots of stuff. A great layout in the kitchen, giving us access to the cooking area while still being able to interact with guests. An open floorplan that, as our kid (we only had one at the time) learned to walk, would invite him to run laps. A neat neighborhood. The elementary school was around the corner; a fishing lake was across the street. (Granted it was iced over at the time, but we were grooving on the vision thing.)

In the six+ years since then, we’ve done a ton of work on the house. We stripped the wallpaper in every room and painted. Added a chair railing to the molding in the dining room. Painted Becca’s room, and her Grammy painted a gorgeous mural on the walls. Replaced the light fixtures. Upgraded the countertops in the kitchen. Replaced the french door from the kitchen with a slider, making it easier for the kids to come and go. I finished the basement, giving me a media room (since the Bose speakers were built in, they remain installed in the ceiling), a bar (with wine and beer fridges!), and a place for my poker table (sorry, that followed us out here). We put a closet system in the boys’ room (who were sharing a bunkbed). Replaced the aging dishwasher and refrigerator, and got rid of the heinous glass cooktop stove, replacing it with a JennAir dual fuel stove with a double oven.

We put a raised bed garden in the backyard, which gave us an incredible collection of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and tons of herbs over the years. The backyard got a fence, giving our beloved dog room to roam and the kids a safe place to run around. We landscaped the backyard, adding dozens of perennials that stagger their colors from spring through fall. We got to know the neighbors, instituting an annual lobster dinner for 20, fireworks viewing off of our back deck, and regular swingset swapping among the kids.

And maybe most significantly, we loved how close we were to some of Naperville’s gems: Ribfest (walking distance to that most gluttonous of charitable events!), Last Fling (seeing They Might Be Giants a couple years ago was a highlight), and the Riverwalk. We spent a ton of time walking around downtown – between the library (#1 in the country!), the restaurants, Andersen’s bookshop, events like Oktoberfest, there were plenty of opportunities – which was just a mile away.

We added a bit of history to the house, hosting Barack Obama for a fundraiser during his 2004 Senate run.

In all, it was a great six+ years. We’re thrilled to be out in California, but know that we had something special in Naperville. It’s a wonderful town, and the person who buys 1416 Oswego Road is going to find themselves surrounded by great neighbors (with kids ranging from 2 to 20) and they’ll be close to the schools, the shops (there’s a Starbucks that’s even within walking distance!) and many of the events that have come to be synonymous with Naperville.

Sound like your next house? Head on over to our realtor’s site, where they have the info about our Naperville home for sale.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Safer toys

Several months ago, I wrote about the horror I experienced reading about Magnetix toys in the Chicago Tribune. These toys – dozens of which were in our house at the time – had killed a young boy and injured many others. What was worse, the manufacturer and the government were both made aware of the hazards in the toys well ahead of the death. I decided that there had to be something that we – concerned parents – could do to remedy the under-staffed government agency tasked with managing toy recalls. My summary:

Give thousands of parents the tools to easily identify harmful products, leverage the community’s ability to provide visibility to legitimate threats while minimizing less serious risks, and quickly disseminate information that could be instrumental in avoiding a serious accident.

I reached out to friends – Asha, Matt, Evan, Raanan, Ross, Dermot, Sean, Ray, and Dan and Genevieve from – to invite their input to flesh the idea out. Ross graciously contributed a Socialtext workspace so we could brainstorm a bit on what this site should do, how it should function.

Then Google bought FeedBurner, I found out I was moving, and now we’re a couple weeks away from September. Sheesh.

Somewhere in there, I installed Pligg on the domain I registered for this project – I’ve had no time to tweak it beyond the initial setup, so it is unfortunately not that user-friendly to the tech novice. But in light of recent news – the Thomas the Train recall, this week’s Mattel recall, the Chinese company’s CEO’s suicide – I decided that if this idea is at all likely to have an impact, it’s better to get an unfinished site up and invite feedback than it is to sit on it while I wait for more time. (Time which I think I may get sometime around 2011.)

With that, I present SaferToys is running on Pligg, an open-source Digg clone. Users can submit stories (links, original commentary, etc.), or they can simply visit “upcoming news” and look at what others have submitted. Any stories that a user feels are worthy of increased attention, that user should vote for the story. The more votes a story gets, the more visibility it gets. (By contrast, the more people who ‘Bury’ a story, the less likely that story is to be seen.)

A note on upcoming news: to seed the site, I have Pligg monitoring a number of different sources for stories. Google Blogsearch, Google News, and are all feeding with stories that may be of interest. You’ll see stories submitted by “STANbot”, where STAN = SaferToys Automated News. Seemed cute at the time, now, not so much. Whatever.

This is very much a work in progress, and I would love to see a few people with more time than me chip in some of their time and energy to help get this site ready for primetime. Specifically, the site will need some explanations/FAQs – what is it, how do you use it, etc. A more user-friendly theme would be a big help – if this is successful, it’ll be used by people who have no idea what Digg is (nor should they). Finally, I’d like to use Pligg’s tags more effectively – right now, those are a bit more rigid than I’d like. (Ideally, tags would become a useful way to navigate the site if someone came looking for info on a specific toy.)

Thanks to everyone who contributed ideas up to this point. I’d hoped to be a bit more deliberate in guiding this to a more formal unveiling, but circumstances got in the way. I’d love to hear what you think, and hope that you find SaferToys a useful resource.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Sonos + Rhapsody: Nirvana

Over a year ago, Fred Wilson raved about Sonos, and I’ve been jealous pretty much ever since then. But his music dialtone post earlier this year sealed it for me: I needed one of these things.

For those that don’t know what it is, the Sonos is a multi-room music system. They are tiny-ish boxes that are either powered (so that you can plug speakers directly into them) or unpowered (so you plug them into a stereo), and they communicate with each other and the wireless controller via ethernet and/or wifi. In addition to sharing your entire MP3 collection throughout the house, Sonos integrates with Rhapsody and Pandora, in addition to a slew of Internet radio stations (browsable by region as well as by genre). In short, more music than you could ever listen to is available at the touch of a button. The sound quality is spectacular, and the setup was surprisingly easy. (Like Fred, I highly recommend the Sonos/Rhapsody combo: the ability to access a library of 3m songs instantaneously and send it to any room in your house is breathtaking the first time you do it.)

I got the Sonos bundle at Amazon, and I couldn’t be happier. If you’re a music lover, you need one of these. It’s as revolutionary for audio as TiVo was for video.

Thanks, Fred!