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 RedState.com, and I, well, let's just say I don't spend a lot of time hanging out at RedState.com. :)

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 buzz.google.com/stuff 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="http://www.google.com/buzz/post" title="Post on Google Buzz"></a><script src="http://www.google.com/buzz/api/button.js" 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 Bloggerstop.net 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.