Sunday, December 19, 2010

Jacob Eby clock at the de Young museum

Earlier this year, I started researching my family's history. I knew very little about my ancestors, other than that I was the fifth Richard Klau in the family, and that the first Richard Klau came to the United States from Germany in the 1850s. After pursuing a number of branches of the family tree on, I'd hit a couple dead-ends, one of which was my paternal grandmother's line. I couldn't find any information on her mother's ancestors, so I asked my grandmother whether she had any info that could help me out. She sent me some sheets of paper that another relative had compiled several years ago, and one of those included a sheet listing her grandparents. "leaves" indicate possible info about ancestors
If you've ever used, you know about the leaves that display on an individual's record when thinks it has information that might be helpful for you. In my case, the minute that I entered my grandmother's grandmother's name, went nuts - eventually leading me back another 6 generations. Sophronia Eby, it turns out, is part of a rather remarkable family line. She is a direct descendant of Theodorus Eby, one of the first Mennonite settlers in Pennsylvania in the early 1700s. His sons emigrated to Canada, where they founded the Mennonite community.

Theodorus's great-grandson, Jacob Eby, was a clock-maker in Pennsylvania. I discovered this after finding a website dedicated to Eby descendants, where the woman who maintains the site mentioned that she has a Jacob Eby clock in her house. I did some research about his clocks (on a separate blog I keep focused on the family tree), and was stunned to find that another Eby original is on permanent display at the de Young museum in San Francisco.

We went to the de Young today, and it was a thrill to find the clock on display. Here I am with my kids, Jacob Eby's 7th- and 8th-generation descendants:

Jacob Eby clock, at the de Young Museum
The clock face is really fascinating, and I'm hopeful I can learn more about it:

You can make out Jacob Eby's name on the face, right above Manheim (he lived in Manheim, Pennsylvania). The inner-most circle on the face appears to track the day of the month, while the dial at the top of the clock might be tracking seconds. Here are a few close-ups:


The final detail is in the clock base, which is a beautiful mahogany wood base. Inlaid in the wood is this eagle:

I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I started researching my family's history. Finding such a beautiful piece of work, made by someone I'm directly descended from, is a thrill.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The annual Christmas letter

For the last six years, Robin and I have taken a different approach to sending out the annual Christmas card. In the past, we would write out a letter, fold it up and insert it into the card, then mail the combination out to our list. Starting in 2005, we omitted the printed letter, and instead pointed recipients to a URL where they could read the letter; in addition, we gathered a bunch of photos from the year and put them in a gallery that visitors could browse. We got to share so much more info with our friends and family, and it also meant less work for us on the actual sending of the cards.

I've refined the approach over the last few years to try and simplify, and the approach now seems ideal. At first, it was all installed software - Movable Type on the server for the letter, and a PHP-based app called Gallery for the photos. Today, it's much easier: Blogger for the letter, and Picasaweb for the photos. Here's what we do:

  • Set up a subdomain at the domain we use for family stuff on the web, then create a blog on Blogger and use Blogger's free Custom Domain feature to point to the subdomain. (Note: you don't need this step, you could just use a free URL... I just like keeping things on my family domain.)
  • In the past, I'd hunt for a third party Blogger template that was suitably holiday-oriented, but with the new Template Designer, it took a matter of minutes to find a beautiful design that required no extra work.
  • Fire up Picasa on my Mac, copy photos from the year into a "year in review" album. When finished, enable "sync" on the album so that the images copy up to Picasaweb, and visit Picasaweb to view the album on the web. Click "link to this album", then "embed slideshow", and copy that code into an HTML/CSS gadget in Blogger - now I've got the year in review slideshow running in the right margin of my blog. Update: Shameela on the Blogger team reminded me that there's a Picasa gadget in Blogger - no copy/pasting of embed codes to worry about. Duh!
Another advantage of each of the prior years being online is that I can point to the earlier years - new friends can see what we were up to in years past, and family who want to reminisce and look at images from the last several years can do so. All told, each year averages 75-100 pictures - our kids love looking at each year's collection of pictures!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Always be Cobbling

Thanks to Jake, I watched this Alec Baldwin sketch from SNL this morning:

So much to love about this Glengarry Glen Ross-meets-Santa's Elves sketch: Baldwin confusing his line (yelling "Always be closing!" - the actual line from Glengarry Glen Ross), the many inside references ("I rode here on a talking moose!", "Second place is a set of candy canes"), and the fact that Seth Myers can't keep a straight face for much of the sketch.

Always be cobbling!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas gift idea - Livescribe Echo Pen

I've written about Livescribe before (Livescribe Pulse Pen - Pure Awesome) and if you're looking for a great gift for the geek in your life, or for a high school or college student, I don't think you could do much better than the Livescribe Echo, the updated version of the pen I use.

What makes this pen so cool is how well it changes your experience taking notes. In my case, I almost immediately stopped taking my laptop to meetings - it occasionally shows up now, but I am far more likely to take hand-written notes. Practically, it means I'm less likely to check e-mail, respond to IMs or otherwise get distracted from the meeting I'm in. The notes you take are then synched back to your PC, and fully searchable. Any audio recordings on the pen are matched to the time you took the notes, so that you can tap the page and re-hear the discussion at the time - extraordinarily helpful for clarifying notes that are unclear.

The pen's ability to record the audio of the meeting has, on several occasions, radically changed my ability to benefit from the interactions during the meeting. One example comes to mind: I had a big presentation before a number of execs, and my team and I had a series of prep meetings to go over the presentation. Ordinarily, I'd have someone else run the presentation so I could try to take notes on my computer while keeping up with the conversation. With the Livescribe pen, I instead drove the deck from my computer, and didn't take any notes. I just recorded the audio of the entire meeting - I was more engaged in the discussion as it played out, and after the meeting, I simply replayed the audio while reviewing the slides and incorporating the suggestions that were made. The end result was a presentation that more faithfully implemented the feedback of the entire team, and I had complete confidence that I hadn't omitted any of the valuable input we'd received during the prep.

If you're looking for more on how the pen works, Scoble's interview with Livescribe's CEO is a terrific review of how it works:

The Echo pen has a better form-factor than the Pulse (the model that I have), uses standard micro-USB and headphone connections, and offers improved software on the pen itself. Can't recommend this pen highly enough - really a great product. Oh - and I am also a big fan of their moleskine notebooks for taking the notes themselves.

(Disclosure: I happen to be friends with one of Livescribe's founders. As I noted in my original post, he gave me a Pulse pen a while back.)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Christmas gift idea - Kodak Pulse picture frame

For my birthday, Robin and the kids got me a Kodak Pulse digital picture frame. I adore it.

Years ago, we bought my grandmother a Ceiva frame. One of the advantages to the Ceiva is that it doesn't require Internet access - you just plug the frame into a phone line, and it updates nightly. For my grandmother (who didn't have Internet access when we got her the frame), this was an ideal answer. No setup required, and she got (mostly) regular updates from us when we sent pictures. Each year at Christmas, we renew her subscription - Ceiva charges $100/year for the service.

Well guess what? For the exact same amount of money, I can get a far better photo frame that has no additional yearly subscription fees. In addition to card readers that can read photos directly from your memory cards, the frame also has a wifi radio that will receive photos via e-mail (you get a dedicated account) or from your Facebook account.

This last point is both a highlight and a frustration for me: I love the simplicity of linking my frame to my Facebook account. Last night, I uploaded pictures from our Disney vacation, and when I got to work this morning, they were already on the frame. I get the choice of adding pictures from other Facebook friends as well, so as Robin adds photos to her account, I'll see them on the frame too.

The frustration is that it doesn't support other photo services. In the past I've used Flickr, and more recently use Picasa - though other frames support those services (even other Kodak frames), that doesn't seem to be a priority for the Pulse frame at this point. In the end it's frustrating but not a deal-breaker; though Picasa is where I store my photos, the vast majority of photos shared with me are via Facebook.

Overall, I highly recommend this frame. Surprisingly affordable, extremely easy to set up and a great way to share family pictures. (Interestingly, there's also a 10" version, if you want to spend a bit more for a larger display.)

For more on the frame, you can visit Kodak's site.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Google TV - couch surfing

I was fortunate to get an early prototype of GoogleTV over the summer (the Sony stand-alone box). I was particularly happy to see it worked with my existing setup - I have a TiVo HD running through an Onxkyo receiver which is connected to my Samsung TV. I routed the TiVo HDMI connection through the GoogleTV box, and with a couple minutes setup, it just worked. (The GoogleTV controls the TiVo via an IR-blaster.)

Early reviews focused on the remote, with TechCrunch proclaiming it "an absolute user experience nightmare" for consumers. My experience suggests otherwise - my 8 and 10 year-old sons both use the GoogleTV regularly without any issues.

But I want to talk about the moment that GoogleTV changed how we use computers at our house. As a family, we periodically loan money to entrepreneurs through Kiva, the microlending site. I'd received an e-mail that one of our loans had been fully repaid, and I wanted to have the kids help my wife and I decide where to loan that money.

In the past, this would have involved all of us crowding around my laptop. Inevitably, one (or more) of the five of us couldn't see the screen, resulting in whines about who's getting special viewing. This time, we decided to fire up Chrome on the TV, using the "10,000 button nightmare" (TechCrunch's words!) remote control that comes with the Sony GoogleTV unit.

The version of Chrome that ships with GoogleTV is a fully-functional browser. It plays Flash, it lays pages out exactly as they appear on your desktop. And it does it on your TV - in my case, a 52" HDTV. The result? All five of us sat on the couch, easily able to browse through dozens of potential recipients of our next Kiva loan.

It was a phenomenal experience, one that's played out several times since then. Searching for YouTube videos is a pleasure (compared to TiVo, where I must use the up-up-down-down-left-down-left-down remote to select letters as I type out my query), as is navigating to various websites to show on the big screen. When my parents visited over the summer, I showed them the family tree research I'd done, able to easily navigate through the various branches of the family tree. One night after dinner, the boys and I looked at LOLcats for almost an hour.

I realize there's been quite a bit of discussion about whether or not you actually want a web browser in your family room. Based on our experience over the last several months, I can tell you that it's been a big win for us. Partly it's a byproduct of having a good remote; partly it's a result of having a fully-featured browser. The end result is a nice addition to the family room, one that'd be hard to give up now that it's there.

(I suppose I should add, for anyone who just happens to stumble across this article from a web search: I work at Google, and the GoogleTV unit I've been using is an internal version for testing. I did not pay for it, and expect I'll need to return it before too long - at which point I'll buy one.)
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Marketing in the digital age

We took a brief vacation to Disneyland last week since the kids were off from school on Thursday and Friday. Upon arriving at the park, I checked into Disneyland on Foursquare, and since the Android app prompted me to alert Twitter and Facebook, I opted to route the checkin to those services as well.

Photo by Ginger
Later in the day, I checked Twitter and had a reply from @kloutperks. The tweet invited me to click through to a microsite about Tangled, the upcoming Disney animated film about Rapunzel. Intrigued, I signed up.

Yesterday, a box arrived - including a collection of Tangled Silly Bandz, a limited edition lithograph from the film, a Tangled t-shirt, and a stuffed animal (apparently the character is Pascal the chameleon). I believe we will also be able to attend a pre-screening of the film, but don't have details on that yet.

I'm fascinated by this. As near as I can tell, Disney is monitoring Twitter for mentions of its brands, and reaching out to users who meet a certain audience threshold (I had just under 6,000 followers when they reached out). They are very up front requesting that you disclose the give-away, and further state that they are not expecting, requiring or otherwise requesting coverage. It's up to the recipient to decide whether and how to chat about the film.

From what I can see, it's working. This mom received a kit (apparently not a result of mentioning Disney, but because of her high rank according to Klout), and was excited because of their approach:
I’m not writing about this today to kiss Disney’s toosh and promote the movie. I’m writing it as a very impressed consumer and marketer.... I guarantee my four-year-old will be talking about this for a while. He’s worn the silly-bandz every day and shown his friends. He wants to bring the chameleon for share day at preschool. I told a friend, and I’m telling you. I know this is what they want, which is fine.

I’m curious to see the future of this…. it just so happens that I’m the perfect audience for this particular perk. ...I love being a part of the evolution of marketing… I’m not going to buy your product because you tell me to. I’m going to buy it because a friend did, or you demonstrated WHY I should, which Disney did today.
And it's not just Klout, Disney also announced a big partnership with Foursquare competitor Gowalla this morning. It's fun to see innovation happening in social media, and companies like Disney thinking creatively about how to engage with their customers.

Disclosure: As noted above, I received a couple free items from Klout/Disney as a result of a tweet I made. As stated here, there was no requirement or expectation that I'd write about them. I haven't seen the film yet (though, as a father of a five year-old daughter who just spent hundreds of dollars visiting Disneyland, I think it's in my parental contract that I will) and if I get a chance, will write about it once I do.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Do More Faster

A couple years ago, Brad Feld reached out to me and asked me to be a mentor to TechStars. In 2008, I joined Dick Costolo, my old boss at FeedBurner who's now the CEO at Twitter, for a two hour session in Boulder that basically told a room full of young start-up founders the story of FeedBurner.

For those who don't know, in addition to being a great CEO, Dick's also a pretty funny guy. (He was at one point a professional improv comic.) And if you're going to be sitting next to Dick for two hours, you have to go in knowing you're going to be his straight man.

By far the funniest moment of the night was when Dick recounted my early days as FeedBurner's VP of business development. As my title suggested, I was to go out and, well, develop business. FeedBurner's model was pretty simple: become a distribution hub for RSS content, give publishers insight into their feed consumption, and then monetize that consumption through an ad network. I was responsible for the publisher relationships (we later changed my title to VP, Publisher Services).

After a trip to New York in 2005, Dick asked how it went. I told him it was great - in fact, in addition to a number of successful meetings with media companies, I squeezed in a meeting with a financial services firm. Not a typical FeedBurner customer, but they were thinking about RSS in interesting ways, and wanted to pay us money to do some stuff for them. The money was non-trivial - particularly in our early days, when we were still building out the ad network - but Dick held firm. That wasn't the business we were in, so he said no, and I explained to the bewildered would-be customer that that wasn't what we were interested in.

It was a valuable lesson, and it's one all startups need to learn. The sooner they get clarity into the business they're in - and conviction about the businesses they're not in - the sooner they'll hit their stride.

But because it was Dick retelling the lesson, it was much, much funnier. Predictably, it involved me looking a bit, shall we say, comical. (It's my blog, that's as far as I'll go.)

Back to Brad Feld. He and David Cohen (TechStars CEO) have a new book out, a collection of lessons from CEOs and founders they've worked with. It's a great read - the book's broken out into sections covering People, Execution, Product, Fundraising, Legal and Structure and Work/Life Balance. Within each section are essays by well-known startup founders, and often accompanied by commentary by David or Brad about their perception of that essay or team.

Enough of the setup. You can read a snippet from the book below, courtesy of Google Books, where you get to see how Dick spins a tale about me, RSS feeds, and rabbits. Really. Enjoy:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Add your blog to your Gmail signature

Here's an oldie but goodie, made possible through a relatively recent Gmail enhancement: add your blog to your outgoing messages in Gmail.

Wait, what?

Back in the FeedBurner days, we were big fans of a feature called Headline Animator. This takes your feed and converts the last 5 posts into a rotating, animated GIF. Lots of publishers started adopting it in their e-mail sig files - it was an easy way to promote their blog/news feed to any outgoing message, and many recipients actually liked it. (Useful sigs - what a concept!)

There was one problem: Gmail didn't really let you add images or rich text to outgoing messages. It was technically possible to use Headline Animator and Gmail, but not exactly for the faint of heart. Thankfully, the Gmail team added native support for rich-text signatures in July, and I've been meaning to write this post ever since.

Here's what you need to do:

If you don't already use FeedBurner, go there and set up your feed. Click "publicize", then "headline animator"

Make your picks, click 'activate'. Right-click on the resulting image, select 'copy image'. In Gmail, go to Settings > Signature and paste the image into the box:

Last step: highlight the image, then click the hyperlink and type in your blog's URL:


Friday, September 17, 2010

Google Reader in Flipboard

Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase
As a new owner of an iPad, I was eager to dive in and get to know the device. A number of co-workers had raved about Flipboard, the "personalized, social magazine" app designed for the iPad. Sure enough, it's a really fantastic re-imagining of how we can consume content.

Briefly, here's what Flipboard does: you point it to your Facebook and/or Twitter accounts, or you pick from a number of categories of content. In each case, Flipboard then monitors the section for links to web content -- YouTube videos, news articles, blog posts, comments -- and then formats that content for display in the Flipboard app much like a magazine page.

The result is an always-current, personally-targeted stream of news that is downright enjoyable to skim.

Just one problem: for the last four years, I've relied on an app that makes consuming content enjoyable (and efficient): Google Reader. Surely I could connect Flipboard's presentation up to Google Reader? While that's apparently the most requested feature for Flipboard (we geeks are a predictable lot), it's not something that's natively supported. So I hacked something together this morning that actually works...

Make your Reader folder public

Go to "Manage Subscriptions", check the box next to the folder you want to read in Flipboard, and then select "Public" in the "Change sharing" drop-down.

Burn your feed

Visit the public page for your Reader folder, grab the feed URL and go to FeedBurner. Paste the feed URL in, set up a FeedBurner feed.

Set up a dedicated Twitter account

Since I wanted to read my tech blogs in Flipboard, I created a new Twitter account called @rklautechfeeds.

Socialize your feed

In FeedBurner, click "Publicize" then "Socialize", and connect your feed to your Twitter account. As your feed gets new items, they will get added to the FeedBurner feed, and as FeedBurner sees new items it will push them to Twitter.

Follow your Twitter account in Flipboard

Last step: in Flipboard, click "add a section", "add a custom section" and then type in your Twitter account (in my case, @rklautechfeeds).

Now each time I launch Flipboard, I see my Google Reader "technology" folder, formatted as a Flipboard channel.

It's a hack, to be sure - but until they natively support Google Reader I think it'll do. I'll set up similar feeds for a couple of the other folders I read a lot in Reader, and look forward to when I can retire the hack. :)
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Aviation safety law passes - thank you!

Kevin Kuwik, working w/families of flight 3407
Photo by Jerry Zremski,
Back in March, I asked those of you in Massachusetts to call Sen. Brown's office to persuade him to sign on to a bill as a co-sponsor. This was a result of an appeal I received from a friend of mine who I've written about on this blog on several occasions, Kevin Kuwik. Many of you did call - between readers of the blog, friends on Facebook, co-workers who saw my Buzz post, and e-mail, I know of at least 50 of you who called that day. Sen. Brown's office received several hundred calls that day, and he did sign on as a co-sponsor.

The bill was signed into law last week by President Obama. The entire remarkable (and heart-breaking) tale is told in last week's Buffalo News - if you have a few minutes, it's a must-read account of how the families who lost loved ones in flight 3407 worked together to right a terrible short-coming in our aviation safety laws.

I am so grateful to all of you who helped Kevin get this bill through Congress. It was a heroic effort, and I know how thankful he and all of the families of flight 3407 are for everything you did.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

We're living in the future

Concert Crowd (Osheaga 2009) - 30000 waiting f...Image by Anirudh Koul via Flickr
I've been on a genealogy kick lately. Starting about a month ago, I signed up for and started trying to track my family tree. At the time, I had about 120 family members (from a prior attempt at using, so I imported that into and got to work. Four weeks later, my tree is up to 850 people, and I have branches of the tree back to the 16th century, with ancestors identified on all but one continent. It's pretty thrilling.

But that's not what prompted me to write today (I'll have a longer post about this new addiction of mine before long). It dawned on me this morning that I now completely take for granted the connectivity that sites like Facebook, Buzz, and Twitter provide me. Let me provide a couple details:
  • In the course of doing my family research, I came across an article about someone I believe to be a cousin of my great-great-great-great-grandfather. Problem was, I couldn't read it, and Google Translate couldn't translate it. I posted to Buzz and Twitter asking people what language it was in (here's the Buzz thread) and in just a few hours learned that it was in "Upper Sorbian" - a language with just 40,000 speakers left.
  • Two days later, a friend of mine found a Sorbian group on Facebook with 100 members. I joined, and posted a question asking anyone for guidance on how I might go about getting it translated. A day after that, a fellow group member went ahead and translated the entire article for me.
  • Monday, I posted to Buzz how much fun I was having with my family tree. In that thread, David Schmidt from Germany recommended a beta site from the Mormon church, Family Search. What I hadn't mentioned in my post was that I'd hit a brick wall on my grandfather's mother: didn't have her parents names, and though I had her maiden name I couldn't find anything about her before her marriage to my great-grandfather. One search in Family Search revealed her marriage license, which provided her parents names... from those two data points, in another 30 minutes I had the next six generations of ancestors for that branch of the tree.
  • And it's not all genealogy. Yesterday, Wente Vineyards tweeted that they were giving away tickets to Friday night's concert at the vineyard. They asked who the most athletic member of headliner Scissors For Lefty was, and a quick trip to Scissors for Lefty's website revealed that Stevie was a triathlete. Bingo: free tickets to Friday night's concert.
What's amazing to me is that we're still in the early days of this. For every person on the Internet on Facebook, there are more than two who aren't. Brands are still only just figuring out how to use social media to connect with fans. And stories like the above -- while indicative of what can happen when you're connected to each other through tools like Facebook, Buzz and Twitter -- are still the exception for most people rather than the rule.

I've been on the internet for 20 years. The pace of innovation in the last 2 years -- particularly in how people interact with each other online --  is breathtaking. It's a fun time to be working on the tools that make stuff like this possible.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Sunday, July 4, 2010

We hold these truths to be self-evident

In honor of the 4th of July, I went over to Wordle and created a word cloud out of the Declaration of Independence. Kinda cool:

Wordle: Declaration of Indepdendence

(Just in case you're wondering, this is definitely not the geekiest thing I've done for the 4th of July. That'd have to be this.)

Happy 4th of July!
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Techdirt saves journalism - Harper's Magazine

Last night I was lucky to be invited to join a group of super smart people at an event hosted by Techdirt (and sponsored by Google). The event was provocatively (and with tongue planted firmly in cheek) titled "Techdirt Saves* Journalism" (see the disclaimer at the bottom of the page for more about the title) and was a collection of techies and journalists (print & online), along with a mix of lawyers, consultants, and other interested parties.

Things kicked off with Google's chief economist Hal Varian giving a version of his FTC presentation in which he detailed the declining economic reality for the journalism business:

031310 Hal Varian FTC Preso - Revised

Ian Rogers, CEO of Topspin, followed and gave a brief discussion of the changing nature of the music business, along with some data that suggested that that industry may finally have started to turn things around (revenues in the UK were actually up last year after years of decline). And then Mike Masnick (CEO of Floor64, the company behind Techdirt) very briefly outlined his CwF+RtB concept ("connect with fans, give them a reason to buy) before breaking us into smaller discussion groups. Our charge: pick a publication and spend 45 minutes saving it.

My group - which consisted of two people from public radio, an AP bureau chief, a contributor to a leading online-only news pub, an editor for a blog network, me, a telecom exec, a Floor64 employee and our leader was a product strategy exec - picked Harper's Magazine. From our (admittedly minimally-informed, this was a quick process) vantage point, Harper's struck us as a magazine with huge brand cachet, a tremendous archive, loyal readers, and less digital presence than similar publications (like the Atlantic or the New Yorker).

We don't know what Harper's financial situation is, other than to note that it's funded through a foundation (which resulted when the magazine was about to be shut down 30 years ago). From its about page, we know that it is the nation's oldest continually published magazine. Most of the articles that are online (not all are) are protected behind a paywall.

As we wrapped up, I tweeted about the experience, and that the 8 of us found it to be a pretty invigorating process. Other groups had mixed results - some picked specific publications (as we had); others chose to think more holistically about the industry in general.

Fast forward to this afternoon: Harper's replied and asked what our suggestions were. Which brings me to this post. Our thoughts:

  • The Index is the hook. Many of us are or were subscribers to the magazine, and for us the most vivid connection to the magazine we had was the Index. We thought about using the Index as a way to encourage a more active community at the magazine - what if fans of the Index could submit their own? What if the best submissions (as judged by other members) had a shot at getting published? Several different directions seemed likely here - maybe the best contribution each month got a free subscription to the magazine. Or let members (paid or just registered, doesn't matter) collaborate on building an Index around a particular topic. If our visceral connection to the Index was any guide (yes, there's a sample bias), there's an appetite for engaging people on the intellectual challenge and potential reward here. (Side note - we loved the ability to search the Index, and that search results included hover buttons to tweet each Index stat: Harper's practically invented tweet-able nuggets of info. But the fact that these are all contained behind a search box means that they're not easily discoverable by search, and the static archive pages of past Indexes don't include the same functionality. Neither do the subject pages.) 
  • Events: the success the New Yorker has had with its events prompted several people to see potential for Harper's in giving its fans a way to connect with writers, contributors and other readers as a complement to the offline experience of reading the publication. Cultivating the personalities who write for the magazine, maybe pivoting on the topicality of a particular index (heck, any month's Index could be the agenda for an entire conference) -- there are lots of ways of having the events foster a stronger sense of community among readers, become revenue generators unto themselves (sponsors would want to not only help cover costs but would want to have ways of associating with events that are valued by the attractive demographic Harper's audience represents), and expand Harper's reach beyond its current print audience.
  • Online content: too much of the rich content contained within its archives is unavailable to non-subscribers. That means that even when Harper's has information relevant to current topics (here's a collection of Index stats about oil, for instance), much of it's inaccessible. Build topic pages around timely issues, share the rich content from Harper's archives that demonstrates the contributions that Harper's has been making to the American dialogue for over a century. Not only will that help Harper's deliver on its mission today (being an independent voice in American culture) but it'll grow the community of people who want to be included in that voice and maybe even contribute to it. (In fairness, the topic pages do exist but are tricky to find - here's the topic page for Iraq - but most of the content's behind the paywall.)
  • Print: We were floored that there hasn't been a book of Harper's Indexes (indices?) since The Harper's Index Book, Vol. 3 published in 2000. If ever there was a perennial coffee table book, this is it. Heck, I'll bet there's even a market for framed prints of Harper's Index stats (one per print, with an illustration?). In each case it's not necessarily about generating revenue but covering costs and extending the connection fans have to the brand.
I'm sure I'm missing some of the conversation/suggestions that flowed from the discussion - as I mentioned, it was an engaging 45 minutes. And I imagine that some of what we talked about above is either being done or has been tried by Harper's, so this may be of limited value to the Harper's team. But the exercise was more about the thought exercise - what would we do, how would we try and tackle the challenge - and in that I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion and the outcome.

What do you think? What else should Harper's (or someone like Harper's) be thinking about? What opportunities are out there that they should jump on?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Google Buzz driving engagement

Just did a quick, unscientific sample of one blog - mine - to better understand where the stuff I write on my blog was producing the most engagement. Though I was peripherally aware of this, the conclusion was nevertheless a bit surprising: by a wide margin, there's more interaction going on on Buzz than anywhere else.

I looked at my last four posts. (That's fewer than I post in an ordinary month, but with a new role, I've been less productive than usual.) For each post, I looked at the number of comments left on the blog, the number of comments left on Buzz, the number of "likes" on Buzz, the number of times a link to the post was posted to Twitter (numbers courtesy of Backtype), and the number of comments on Facebook (I import every post as a "note" in Facebook).

Here's the data:

As you can see, the vast majority of engagement - 56%+ - occurs on Buzz. Next is posts on Twitter (though, it should be noted, that those are pointers to the blog post), followed by comments on my blog, followed by Facebook. (For reference purposes, the second sheet of that spreadsheet contains the numbers of each service's audience for my content, which is imperfect but directionally helpful in interpreting the results.)

Several things skew the results, to a degree: 3 of the 4 posts were about Google, so it becomes clear that my friends on Facebook could care less about my thoughts on Google (and, one could argue, that people on Buzz are disproportionately interested in Google-related stuff). Time is also a factor - comments on blog posts are more numerous the older a post is, though it's also apparent that when a post "pops" on Buzz it can drive a tremendous amount of activity nearly instantaneously.

This is an incomplete analysis, of course. I don't have any insight into how many people actually read my posts on Buzz, so I can't measure engagement as a percentage of activity. (I have this data for FeedBurner and Google Analytics, so I may re-run this analysis and incorporate that consumption data to get more insight... alas, I'm just about done with this morning's cup of coffee and I have a full day ahead of me.)

Disclaimer: I'm a product manager at Google, I work closely with the Buzz team as the PM on Profiles. This is my own data, published purely out of curiosity.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Searching Google Profiles

A handful of people have pointed out a glaring omission on the Google Profiles page. Here's what the homepage for Google Profiles looks like today:

That's right, it's missing one of these:


I happened upon an extremely helpful post in Buzz today from Tom Sullivan. If you use Google Chrome, you can configure your own search engines triggered by keywords in the address bar. Click the wrench to the right of the address bar, then click "basics". Next to search engines, click "manage", and then "add". You should see this:

Next, you'll want to use the following entries:

Name: Google Profiles
Keyword: profile

Now when you type "profile Tom Sullivan" in the Chrome address bar, you'll immediately jump to the Profiles search results page for "Tom Sullivan":

(Yes, adding a search box to the Profiles page is going to happen Real Soon Now.)

PS: Can you find the other thing wrong with the Profiles homepage? Hint: It's the kind of thing that drives Brad Feld crazy.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rumsfeld's Rules

One of the highlights of SXSW the past two years for me has been attending a dinner hosted by friends Rick Murray and Mike Krempasky of Edelman Digital. At this year's dinner, I was chatting with Mike about politics -- which is fairly natural for us, as Mike is a co-founder of, and I, well, let's just say I don't spend a lot of time hanging out at :)

In any event, we got to talking about Donald Rumsfeld. I have a friend who met Donald Rumsfeld at a cocktail party (I'll let her tell the story - it's a good one) and she came away stunned at how incredibly smart he was. (This was during the "there are known knowns, and known unknowns, but unknown unknowns" days, when his public persona seemed to lower expectations.) I relayed that anecdote, and Mike and his wife shared similar observations from their friends. Then Mike pulled out his Blackberry and pulled up Rumsfeld's Rules, and e-mailed me the link.

They are, simply put, brilliant.

Published in the Wall Street Journal as he was about to begin serving under President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld outlined his approach to public service, working in the White House, business, and life. He attributes the quotes/maxims when he knows the source, and groups the rules according to his career: Serving in Government, Serving in the White House, Being the Secretary of Defense, Politics, The Press, Business, and Life. A few of my favorites:

Serving in the White House:
  • Don't say "the White House wants." Buildings can't want. 
  • Don't begin to think you're the president. You're not. The Constitution provides for only one. 
  • Visit with your predecessors from previous administrations. They know the ropes and can help you see around some corners. Try to make original mistakes, rather than needlessly repeating theirs.
On Doing the Job in the White House:
  • Don't be a bottleneck. If a matter is not a decision for the president or you, delegate it. Force responsibility down and out. Find problem areas, add structure, and delegate. The pressure is to do the reverse. Resist it. 
  • Look for what's missing. Many advisers can tell a president how to improve what's proposed or what's gone amiss. Few are able to see what isn't there.
On Business:
  • That which you require be reported on to you will improve, if you are selective. How you fashion your reporting system announces your priorities and sets the institution's priorities. 
  • Don't let the complexity of a large company mask the need for performance. Bureaucracy is a conspiracy to bring down the big. And it can. You may need to be large to compete in the world stage, but you need to find ways to avoid allowing that size to mask poor performance.
On Life:
  • "It takes everyone to make a happy day." -- Marcy Rumsfeld, age seven 
  • "But I am me." -- Nick Rumsfeld, age nine 
  • "If a problem has no solution, it may not be a problem, but a fact, not to be solved, but to be coped with over time." -- Shimon Peres 
  • "If a problem cannot be solved, enlarge it." -- Dwight D. Eisenhower 
  • "Most people spend their time on the 'urgent' rather than on the 'important.'" -- Robert Hutchins
The entire list really is worth reading; there's a lot to digest. On the balance, the impression you're left with is that this is a man who took his duty seriously, served his country when asked, and worked hard to keep his work and family in balance. I've had harsh words for Secretary Rumsfeld in the past, and his legacy at the Pentagon is (to say the least) a complicated one.

To that end, I'm going to be reading By His Own Rules: The Ambitions, Successes, and Ultimate Failures of Donald Rumsfeld and I understand that Secretary Rumsfeld is working on his memoirs. From a review of his rules above, I expect both to be tremendously interesting (if not equally enlightening).

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Anonymity and comments

Fred Wilson has a good post up about how he approaches comments at his blog, A VC. The post was inspired by this weekend's piece in the New York Times about news sites moving away from anonymous comments, and gives a great overview from someone whose blog regularly receives 100+ comments per day.

Anonymous comments can often be a royal pain, distracting legitimate discussion (at best) and offending or harassing other participants (at worst). Yet I remain certain that anonymity (and/or pseudonymity) is a critical element of a functioning community. Anonymity was itself a building block of our democracy (see the Federalist Papers), and is, in the US at least, a recognized First Amendment right.

But this is hardly a new discussion. Fifteen years ago, law professor Tom Bell wrote in Wired why this issue is so important:
Who benefits from digital anonymity? Whistle-blowers, victims of abuse, and troubled people seeking counseling. Political insiders, the politically incorrect, and insurrectionists. Gays, lesbians, and bored straights. Bad poets. People trying the fit of another skin. Virtually everyone. You.You deserve at least as much anonymity on the Net as you have when you cast a vote, post an anonymous tract, or buy a newspaper from a coin-operated rack.
Fred wants to see community-driven policing through game mechanics, which I think is a great way to approach this where anonymity produces unwanted behavior:
We need to introduce game mechanics into commenting systems and I think Disqus can and will be at the forefront of this effort. Game mechanics will reward the kind of behavior the community wants and will punish the kind of behavior the community does not want. The anonymous commenter who has valuable information but can't publish in their own name will be rewarded. The anonymous commenter who leaves a hostile name calling piece of crap will be punished. And the comment thread and community will be better off for it.
In fact, that exact approach (in an albeit low-tech way) was what happened on the Dean campaign back in '03. I helped the campaign (irony alert!) switch off of Blogger on to Movable Type, in part because MT natively supported comments, while at the time Blogger didn't. We turned comments on, and predictably, had to deal with some comment trolls - people not interested in legitimate debate, just interested in slinging arrows, insulting people and generally trying to interfere with the operation of the blog.

To the campaign's credit, the response was not to disable comments. Matt, Trippi, Zephyr, Nicco, Garrett, Clay and the rest of the crew knew that the comments were the lifeblood of the blog, that over time they'd bind the campaign's supporters to the campaign and themselves in a way that curated interactions would never do. While we on the tech side tried to come up with a more elegant solution for trolls, the commenters themselves solved the problem over a weekend: they turned it into a game.

A handful of commenters pledged to each other that each time a troll showed up, they'd donate $10 to the Dean campaign. The campaign's site let anyone set up their own fundraising page, so eventually they had their own "troll bat" (long story, but the campaign used a baseball bat as their fundraising "thermometer" image)... and each time a troll showed up, these supporters chipped in. The bat raised several hundred dollars in the first weekend.

Then others in the comments caught on, and before long, one troll could instantly raise $1,000 or more for the Dean campaign. Trolls didn't vanish completely, but they never became the horrific problem that they could have been: the community figured out in its own clever way how to sufficiently penalize trolls so that the negative impact of their trolling was great enough to discourage the behavior in the first place.

Back to the Times piece. Just because a generation is, as Arianna Huffington claims, growing up without as much need for anonymity, doesn't mean that anonymity is any less important. Robert Cringely, writing last year in InfoWorld about the importance of protecting anonymity online had this to say:
So this is why anonymity is important: Not so people can make nasty comments about anyone else just because they feel like it, but to help the little guys who are trying to serve the public and don't have the resources to protect themselves against corporate or government attacks.
There's a lot of crap on the Internet, and I recognize that anonymity can contribute to its growth. But the alternative - forcing everything to be identifiable, forcing everyone to act in public, with their own name - ignores the significant risk to people who are seeking to communicate the most important of information, and stifles some of the most valuable speech out there. There are (or will be, as Fred notes) mechanisms that will empower the communities to enforce their own norms, and over time the right answer will be to marginalize content that has no value, rather than prohibit content which has no identity attached to it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Google Buzz button for your Blogger blog

Update: GXG has a wonderful update to this approach, which includes Google Analytics tracking. See his post here.

In case you hadn't seen the news, the Buzz team announced the release of a set of buttons to make it easier for your readers to share your content with their friends via Google Buzz. You can go to to generate your own button, but when I did that, the button that showed on my site used the URL of the page for all instances of the button - which doesn't work when multiple posts show up on the page (like the homepage). Turns out, there's just a little bit of work needed to seamlessly integrate this into your Blogger template.

Navigate to 'Edit HTML' in your Layout: Click "Layout" then "edit HTML", then click "expand widget templates" to view the full layout for your blog.

Find the post-header-line-1 div in your Layout: In your browser, click ctrl-f to find the following line: <div class="post-header-line-1">:

Insert the following text:
<div style="border: 0px !important; margin-top: -42px; text-align: right;">
<a class="google-buzz-button" data-button-style="normal-count" expr:data-url="data:post.url" href="" title="Post on Google Buzz"></a><script src="" type="text/javascript">

What this does is pass the Blogger variable "data:post.url" to the Buzz button which is the permalink of the post, so that even on pages where multiple posts appear, the button will be connected to the post, not the entire page. For appearances sake, I enclosed this all in a div that has the text aligned around it; you can alter the presentation of the button by adjusting the CSS variables. Here's how it looks like on the blog:

Each time one of your reader clicks the button, the counter goes up by one, and your posts are shared through to that reader's Buzz stream (and out to their followers). Pretty slick!

Thanks to for the original idea, now that there's an official Buzz implementation, it was easy to incorporate the Buzz URLs into Bloggerstop's approach to get the exact end result I wanted.

Monday, April 12, 2010

New role - Google Profiles

I'm excited to share the news that I've taken on the additional responsibility of becoming product manager on Google Profiles. Last year's announcement about Profiles was the first step towards making it easier to find people on Google; my job will be to build out the next steps.

What about Blogger? I'm not leaving Blogger behind; I will continue to keep in touch with the Blogger team and help as needed. Blogger remains in the very capable hands of Chang and Siobhan, and we continue to add engineers to the team (most importantly, outside of the US - giving Blogger much-needed perspective from outside North America, where more than half of our users/traffic comes from). As I've mentioned in the past few months, I'm particularly excited about what this year has in store for Blogger. Last month's template designer is but one of many big developments planned - stay tuned!

All that said, the opportunity on Profiles was too good to pass up. I'd love to hear what you'd like to see from Profiles... leave a comment here or hit me on Twitter (I'm @rklau). I'm busy ramping up, but will start sharing some thoughts here in a week or so.

Oh, and my profile is here.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Adding a "Best of" page to Blogger

Visitors to the site will now see a new tab towards the top called "Best of" and I thought I'd document how I'm doing it in case others want to do the same.

A couple of weeks ago I saw a blog have a link to a "best of this blog" page, which I thought was a great idea. For new or infrequent visitors, it was a great way to introduce the visitor to the content that the blogger was particularly proud of. I've been thinking about that periodically, and today decided to take a crack at implementing something similar on Blogger. Here's what I did:

Identify my favorite posts: I have posted nearly 3,000 posts in the last 8+ years, so there's a lot of content to weed through. Rather than manually sort through, I used a short-cut: Google Analytics can tell me which pages have been viewed the most over the last three years. That was a good starting point:
Google Analytics - most popular posts
I also used the Blogger post editor to navigate through a few of the categories where I tend to do more thoughtful posts:

Blogger - posts labeled Business Strategy
Add the "Best of" label to all selected posts: Once I found the posts I wanted to share, I added a new label to the posts through the Blogger post editor:
Blogger - add label
Get the feed for the "Best of" label: Every feed on Blogger has associated Atom and RSS feeds (here's the help page that shows you how to find them). I grabbed the feed from the "Best of" label, and added it to FeedBurner.

Enable BuzzBoost for the feed: For those that don't know, I worked at FeedBurner for several years (our acquisition by Google is how I came to join Google). I remain a fan, and love when I have an excuse to use one of my favorite FeedBurner features. (I've written about it several times, here's one example.) BuzzBoost takes an RSS or Atom feed and converts it to JavaScript - perfect for what I needed. I turned BuzzBoost on and configured it to show all items:
BuzzBoost configuration
Once on, BuzzBoost gives you a line of JavaScript that you can insert on any HTML page. So I took that over to Blogger, where we put it all together:

Create a "Best of" page on Blogger: Click "Posting | Edit Pages" and then create your new page; once in the post editor, click "edit HTML" and paste in the JavaScript from FeedBurner:
Add in BuzzBoost to new page

Click "Publish page" and you're all done. Since our Pages widget (if added to your layout) auto-creates tabs on your blog, you'll now have a new tab that points to your "Best of" posts... and as you add the label "Best of" to other posts, they'll automatically show up in this page.

A few notes about the process:
  • Yeah, this is a bit of a kludge. I'm happy enough with the results, but it sure would be nice to have this be a native feature in Blogger. Will see if I stick with it, and if enough other users ask for something similar to add it as a feature down the road.
  • You can do multiple pages like this, whether it's for specific labels or combinations of labels (there's nothing to prevent you from putting multiple chunks of JavaScript on the page). But note: every bit of code you put on the page risks slowing things down, so be judicious here.
  • The new photo uploader in Draft is righteous.

Let me know what you think!