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August 30, 2011

Path.To Debuts for Meaningful Career Endorsements


With LinkedIn having established its central role for online business networkers, a flurry of startups have emerged to let people present a new, and often prettier, face to their work profiles - including About.me, Zerply (who I covered back in May), and starting today, Path.to, a network that aims to let you customize your business profile and tap into the power of your network for meaningful endorsements that will help you stand out from the crowd.

Like Zerply, Path.to starts with the new user pulling in their data from an previously-created profile elsewhere on the Web, and then prompts you to fill out the missing gaps in your profile to better tell the story in the way that you want it to be told, with as much information or as little as you like. Rather than simply listing the places you've worked and the titles you've held at various points in your career, Path.to gains value when you list particular skills that you have used at each stop, setting up the opportunity for your network to endorse you based on your shared experience.

My Path.To Profile: http://path.to/louisgray

But there's a little touch of magic behind the scenes at Path.to, which makes the endorsement game more than just a vote counter. Darren Bounds, who you also know from projects like Cliqset and Glow.io, writes, "In Path.To all endorsements are not created equal. We’ve built an algorithm that constantly reevaluates and scores each individual in the system. This scoring helps drive the weight of your endorsement within the system."

Endorsing Darren on Path.to

The Project Management Leaderboard on Path.to

Without diving to deep into that, which sounds a lot like how Klout assumes a certain value to each individual, Path.to hopes that its endorsement structure and leaderboards will surface the best and most qualified people at every skill, from product management to blogging. The site continually pushes users to get endorsed, saying, "Skill endorsements are the currency of Path.To. They help distinguish you from the crowd by increasing your weighting in and around the site."

Connections on Path.To

For beautiful looking glamor photos and a short personal description, About.me works well. But Zerply and Path.to are all about endorsements and an attractive UI that puts your resume in a friendly light. You can find my Path.to profile here: http://path.to/louisgray

August 29, 2011

Real Valley Stories: Should Working Faster be Penalized?

Editor's Note: Part 5 in an irregular series of stories from my 12 years in Silicon Valley. Part 4 talked about how I once nearly quit over ugly URLs. This week, debating speed and quality versus budgets.

With more than a decade embedded in the Valley, I've led and participated in more than my fair share of product launches and website redesigns. Over time, as is common, one finds vendors they work extremely well with, who can consistently deliver high quality work quickly, as if the two of you are in lockstep. Back in 2001, as I switched jobs, I immediately signed up my favorite web designer as a vendor at my new company.

Our initial task - to launch a new website in 30 days at a price less than a third of the existing firm's proposal, was met ahead of schedule, and for the next several years, I had his firm on speed dial for projects big and small. Unfortunately, this relationship was put in jeopardy thanks to one of the frequent management changes at the company, and one day I unexpectedly found myself challenged by my new boss over the costs of a project I had assumed was executed exactly to scope.

In 2003, as the company had grown, our website had gotten increasingly complex, and one of the to-do items assigned me was to rearchitect our partners page. Once a simple array of logos and one-paragraph descriptions, it had grown unwieldy and ugly. I proposed we engage our web design firm to make a proposal and recode the page in its entirety. As was customary, they provided a quote well within our budget, I made a purchase order, and the two of us got to work. Within two days, we had agreed on a design, and two days after that, the final code was delivered and pushed to production. I was pleased, and moved on to the next task.

The following week, as I sat down for my regular one on one with my boss, and reviewed the project, I was challenged on how quickly it had been completed. Coming from a Big Five consulting background, they had come to expect that dollar allotments were closely tied to how long it took to complete a project, and the longer the project took to complete, the more we should have spent. As she admonished me, saying that I should spend the company's money as if it were my own, I responded that I had, in selecting the best quality work, combined with a fast delivery schedule.

As I responded, I asked if we should charge more for computers and servers that did jobs less quickly, or that cars that drove faster than others should actually be worth less. I was incredulous that a quality job done quickly would actually be devalued over a more meandering, less direct approach. Obviously, my response was not the manager's favorite, and I had to work very carefully with the same vendors and others going forward - needing to directly tie the number of hours on a project to the purchase order amount and a practically arbitrary assigned dollar per hour value. It drove me nuts.

The debate to me clearly marked the divide between a fast-moving and flexible startup culture versus a stodgy corporate view, where process was practically as important as the destination. The debate surprised me and disappointed me, but also taught to know the aspects of a project important to other decision makers that could impact me or our business positively or negatively. As for the vendor? I continued work with him for another six years, well after that manager had since left. They didn't work out.

August 26, 2011

Sporting the Noogler Beanie (Photo)

This afternoon is the public hazing of all Nooglers. I am not exempt. Do you guys dig my Noogler beanie?




/via My Google+ Profile.

August 25, 2011

The Time I Asked Steve Jobs an iPod Support Question

What would you do if you unexpectedly came face to face with Apple's world-famous CEO, Steve Jobs, who had been credited with launching or assisting with most of the major transformational events in personal computing over the last thirty years? Shake his hand? Tell him how much you love Macs? Ask to take a picture? If you're me, you try to play coy and ask if he could help you with a support question - because that's exactly what I did in my first run-in with the revered, yet reportedly mercurial Apple exec, who as you know, announced he was resigning his post as Apple CEO yesterday, moving up to the chairman of the board role.

Back in 2002, Apple was just getting started with the company's retail store initiative, and among the first stores to debut was the venue in Palo Alto on University Avenue. Living in Belmont, not too far north of the shop, I thought I would lazily take a Saturday afternoon and check out the newest Mac laptops. Like any good Mac fan, even if I wasn't exactly in the market to upgrade, I felt it my civic duty to check them out and get familiar. But when I entered the store and glanced past the display of white laptops, I spotted something much more interesting - as Steve Jobs himself was in the store, having a conversation with the store manager. From what I gathered, the pair were talking about contingency plans of what to do if the weather went bad - and how the worst thing you could do was have to shut down the store. The world has heard how Steve got involved in the little nuances of many of the company's products, so it's no surprise the retail store launch was much different.

As you can imagine, trying out new trackpads and screen resolutions on Macbooks immediately seemed less important. So I positioned myself with my back to Steve and fussed around with the closest computer's dock, clicking aimlessly while I wondered if I would get a chance to talk to Steve myself. After a few minutes, the manager parted, to the back of the store, and I turned around to talk to Steve. Not wanting to be a complete fanboy and putting him at unease, I coyly asked if he was a "Certified iPod genius"... a play on the store's Mac geniuses. Looking at me somewhat amused, knowing that I knew who he was, no doubt, he said, "As a matter of fact, I am."

I then told him how I had been one of the first to purchased the company's initial white 5 GB iPod MP3 players, and that no matter how much charging I did of the device, battery life was atrocious and had gotten to the point I was considering taking it back or getting it repaired. I asked what I should do. He said that the issue was a "known bug" and that a fix was going to be rolled out shortly. Having recently seen an iPod update that was recently recalled, I asked him if that was the one he meant, which had been "rolled back". He said yes. In the meantime, he told me that I should leave my iPod unplugged overnight until it ran down to zero, and then charge it up, and all would be well.

By this time, the store's manager had returned, and was standing nervously next to Steve. It seemed he was concerned Steve had been exposed to the common visitor and clearly couldn't wait to step in and continue their conversation. So I told Steve thanks, adding, "thanks for all you do", a knowing nod to his history without gushing about it, and I left the store. After meeting Steve, no laptop or box software could have been more fulfilling.

Steve Jobs' news yesterday is being read as the latest bad news in a series of bad news stemming from his much-discussed health issues over the last few years. His job change is by no means an obituary, but many are seeing it as the end of an era - the PC industry's elder statesman and one of the world's top visionaries and creative minds stepping further into the shadows. I once wrote that I wished Steve Jobs were immortal and that I would teach my children about Steve Jobs as they grew up. For what we have seen as users is a hero and a real legend in our lifetime who changed the world, something we can all hope to do in a very much smaller way. But the man is still with us and I hope this isn't the last we see of Steve Jobs, the legend who was humble enough to expose a smile and answer some 24 year old's iPod support question on a rainy day in Palo Alto.

Good luck, Apple, and thanks, Steve.

August 23, 2011

Once In a Lifetime, Same As It Ever Was

A four-day gap here is not without precedent, but something I don't like to do. Even with my announcement on Thursday of joining Google to help the growing Google+ project, I promised you this blog wasn't going anywhere, and that remains true. But I took a few days off, to help the family over the weekend, to spend time with good friends Sunday, and yes, to get started in Mountain View officially yesterday. Every day that goes by without my posting, I feel guilty, but that's due to my own expectations, rather than those you've put on me.

Joining Google is an interesting wrinkle, lightly put, for someone who has covered tech more or less objectively the past five years, with my own personal biases mixed in. In 2006, when I started the blog, I intentionally steered a wide berth around my work at BlueArc, making sure not to talk about the storage industry, our partners, my colleagues, and our customers. The last thing I wanted to do was lose my job over saying something out of line. (See: Getting Dooced) I'd bet most people who read my blog through 2009, when I left, didn't even know I worked there, and that helped keep my blog focused on Web services and away from hardware for the most part.

In 2008, I took the first step toward impacting companies I wrote about, when I took an advisory role with ReadBurner. I remember that was somewhat controversial, especially from outspoken bloggers like Allen Stern, who claimed I might be unfair in the way I covered similar companies or potential competitors. I tried to be fair, but kept offering help to more startups. By early 2009, this gray area was expanded when I left BlueArc and started Paladin, the consulting firm, where I helped enterprise companies like Emulex and HP, but also smaller companies like Kosmix and my6sense. No doubt working with each company made me think about their services a bit more than if I were completely uninvolved, but while I may have helped their press outreach, I still tried to be fair. When I took a more official role with my6sense this time last year, again this line of bias was tested. I told you my opinions on the market, but still covered news from companies like Zite, Flipboard, The Cadmus and others, considered to be competitors.

But yes, joining Google is different. I've gone from steering far away from what I write about to basically being in the bullseye of what I cover. During the interview process, which I underwent with the same rigor as any other Google candidate, I was asked what would happen to the blog. Responding, I said I welcomed the new challenge, even if the path forward was not obvious. To turn my back on a major outlet for communication and a platform for ideas and interesting companies doesn't help me, and probably wouldn't help Google either for me to go dark. Posting is just a matter of available time and priority.

News of the announcement Thursday was received fairly well from practically everywhere I saw a reaction, to which I am grateful and humbled, to be honest. Sarah Perez of TechCrunch wrote a great story which didn't just post the news, but explained some of my own personal journey to where I am now. Frederic Lardinois of SiliconFilter took another approach, leaving me with one of my favorite quotes:
"In many ways, Gray’s career so far is probably closely aligned with one that many bloggers dream about. Start a blog, quit your day job, make a name for yourself and get hired by Google to do the stuff you already enjoy doing."
I thought that was awesome. I promise you that wasn't the goal when I got started with blogging, but I am glad that others found value in what I was doing. Matt Cutts of Google, one of the most respected guys at the company, said he was "super, crazy happy" I was joining, adding, "he's pretty much a model for how people should engage online. Louis was Googley way before he decided to come work with us. :)" So that was very cool and given my respect for Matt's insight, absolutely appreciated. Others were even more ambitious.

Despite all this, the last thing I want to do is talk all about Google all the time. After all, who wants to take their work home constantly. The last few days have been very interesting, as the Google+ community members have made many requests, be it to fix bugs, to take on challenging decisions, and if you heard them say it, pretty much recode the entire project in my spare time. Suffice it to say I'm but one non-coding guy who has barely escaped orientation, so yes, I hear you, and I love the feedback, but it will take some time.

What I also don't want to do is bore you with reports on the basics you've already come to know about Google. Everyone knows the perks that are there for employees. Everyone knows about the opportunity to work on big projects and make big bets. So just like you get bored with Twitter employees tweeting about how much they love Twitter... I won't do that. But I will iterate that among the best things I do like so far in my short time at Google is the historical resources available, including candid discussions with company leaders on hard topics. This additional knowledge will help me as an employee, and help my views when reading external content, but won't help me as a blogger, as it's all confidential - and should be. They trust me to honor their intellectual property, and I will. Having access to the data is a privilege.

So what you have heard about Google is true - some of it great, some of it messy. While the chance to make serious impact on Google+ may be "Once in a Lifetime"... as the Talking Heads sang, "Same as It Ever Was." More non-Googley posts soon. Promise.





Relevant disclosures are outlined on the Disclosures Page. http://blog.louisgray.com/p/disclosures.html

August 21, 2011

My MacBook Air Starves of Oxygen


In what looks like an ironic coincidence, the day before I jump into new hire orientation at Google, my MacBook Air looks like it is dead. Not just out of power or sluggish or anything... just dead. It gave up in the middle of my reading Google+ and opening a new tab for Google Reader.

I don't want to claim that Uncle Steve heard the news and remotely threw the kill switch or anything, but I am slightly amused at the timing. If that was Jobs' plan, what he doesn't realize is that it's just pushed me to the Chromebook full-time, which is actually a very happy place. I'll give the MacBook Air some more time off and will hope to revive it soon, but with practically all my data in the cloud at this point, all I would lose is whatever didn't get backed up to Time Capsule in the last week or two. The future shouldn't reside on my local hard drive, perilously owned by a single machine's vitality.

My poor Air. So cute. So thin. So inviting. And yet... so antiquated after only two years.

/via My Google+ Profile.

August 20, 2011

Tipping Points On My Journey to Google

Most of you saw this week's news that I'll be joining the Google+ team. Enough about that. Some see this as a big switch, primarily away from Apple and toward Google. I don't think this is a perfect portrayal. What's happened is that Apple has kept its offerings limited, primarily in hardware with some desktop software and limited Web offerings, while in the past few years, Google has expanded its Web offerings, and started powering hardware that I like. More often than not, I've liked their services, even though I don't use all of them, and I still use my MacBook (and Safari and even Apple Mail) a lot.

One of the underlying reasons I, as a blogger or power user, started to trend toward Google was due to the personal relationships I've gained with Google employees, and their transparency and responsiveness. On every network I've participated, from FriendFeed to Facebook to Twitter, they were there, answering questions or providing ideas. In contrast, even though I know many people who work for Apple, they've largely been silent in the same places. I also have lots of friends at Facebook and Twitter and Linkedin, etc., but talking with Google people felt natural and the more we talked, the more I agreed with their worldview. When that wasn't the case, they always seemed to listen and take my opinion seriously.

A tipping point I look back to which got me more comfortable with Google was when my friend +Kevin Buskirk asked me to join him for lunch on campus. He asked me to let him know if there was anybody on campus I would like to meet. I said +Mihai Parparita and+Chris Wetherell, two of the brains behind Google Reader. At the time, Mihai was in Boston, so that was impossible, but Chris came, and invited his colleague (now girlfriend) +Jenna Bilotta to the lunch as well. We talked a ton about RSS readers and information discovery, and it was great.

Later, at SXSW in 2009, I bumped into +Rick Klau on the plane, through pure serendipity, and he became a trusted voice on Feedburner and Blogger and later on Profiles and now YouTube. The guy gets around, but has been great at every stop.

Through them, and later through meeting +Karen Wickre in the comm team, +DeWitt Clinton+Denton Gentry+Matt Cutts and many others on FriendFeed, etc., Google stopped seeming like this big faceless company and started looking more like a place where I had lots of friends who really cared about getting things right.

What I promise you as I make this transition is that I still have a huge spot for startups. I still like lots of things about companies that people naturally assume compete with Google. But as someone who lives 12 minutes from the Google campus and 12 minutes from Apple's Cupertino campus, it's very interesting to see how two companies not so far apart, both doing very well, could manifest themselves in such different ways. I know not all of you have the luck I have to get to know the people behind the brand. There are tens of thousands I've never met, and may not ever, but in my time there as a friend, as user, a blogger, or a partner, it's always been comfortable with a good exchange of ideas. I hope I can continue that legacy.

That said - I haven't started yet and have no insight into many things here, so give me a little ramp-up time, as for now, I am pretty useless. :)


/via My Google+ Profile.

August 18, 2011

Hand Me a Sharpie

My wife is trouble. But she knows how to be frugal when it makes sense. Free is even better than an employee discount!

/via My Google+ Profile.

Inundated With Well Wishes and Great Feedback.

I am getting the feeling the only way I can get any REAL work done today is if I shut down my email, Twitter and browser. But then how could I possibly survive? :)

Thanks to everybody. Lots of work ahead. No question. Here to help.

/via My Google+ Profile.

Google+ 1 More: I'm Joining Google Monday

In the world of tech, you can make the news or you can break the news. I like to do both.

Never wanting to just play the role of armchair quarterback, I have over the last 12+ years actively played a direct or advisory role to dozens of startup companies, both consumer and enterprise. In the last 5+ years, I have shared with you many of my own experiences here on this blog, be it what I am seeing in the market, new products and services I am enjoying or big trends I think are going to impact the way we interact with tech each day.

Behind the scenes, often with less fanfare, in my various roles with my6sense, Paladin, BlueArc, and other companies, I've worked closely with and learned from some of the top people in the Valley and beyond. Increasingly, I have spent more time with different teams at Google, learning how they work, what they find valuable, and seeing how their goals closely mirror many of my own. Starting Monday, I will be playing an active role in helping bring Google's products to more people, as I am joining the Google+ team in the role of Product Marketing Manager.

The way the world perceives Google and the way I perceive Google has changed a great deal since my first posts on the company's services back in 2006. The company has grown from its initial roots in search and advertising to play a major role in many parts of our online lives, and has been among the most vocal in fighting for standards, data portability, and bringing content to more users, faster. The company's new social effort, Google+, is in its initial stages, and from what I know about the people behind the project and how they are positioning it, this will be a major piece of the company's strategy going forward.

Even My Kids Are A Little Excited About Google

After years of sitting on the sidelines watching various networks get some pieces right and others frustratingly stall or make decisions that seemed contrary to their users interests, I am eager to be on the inside helping make the products better, fighting for users and thinking creatively about how social plays a beneficial role in our increasingly connected and mobile world. I want to help build and promote a product that isn't just more fun, but more intelligent and useful.

Joining Google, a company greater than 100 times larger than anywhere I have ever worked, about 3,000 times larger than my6sense, and 10,000 times larger than Paladin, is daunting, and will bring its own challenges. In the last few months, as I talked with future colleagues at Google, I asked about how one person can make an impact at such a company. I asked about the potential for slowness and bureaucracy, and each time, employees talked about its revitalization under Larry Page and acting like a startup with incredible resources. Many times, through interviews and casual conversations, the company referred to its own youth as being remarkable - just over a dozen years old, and them just getting started, even if we take their pervasiveness for granted. While some may question the company's stretching into new venues with projects like driverless cars, it shows me the company's willingness to experiment and tinker and try new things outside of scope, where others might not.

Obviously, joining Google changes things and I don't honestly know all this means for what you can expect on this blog and elsewhere - but it doesn't change who I am and this blog isn't going anywhere. I remain a major advocate for small startups, niche apps and services everywhere, in addition to my new 9-5 work.

In the coming weeks, I'll learn the best approach to talking about the company and its products and competition, so you know you're still hearing from me in the most transparent way I've always tried to be, while also honoring appropriate confidential activity with the company and its partners - the same way I always have with my6sense and others. It does mean that my work at Paladin is officially on hold, and I'm not taking on new consulting work. It also means that I am wrapping up my dedicated role with my6sense on Friday - still a big supporter of their ideas, their people, and looking forward to some great product announcements they have coming up.

This move to Google is made even more exciting due to the caliber of the people I will be working with, from Chris Messina and Joseph Smarr to Jonathan Terleski, Timothy Jordan, DeWitt Clinton, Don Dodge, Chris Chabot and more. In meetings with Google as a blogger, as a power user or as a partner, I've always been impressed by the insight, integrity and culture of the company and its employees - a different feel than that I have seen when working with others across the Valley.

You know me - I vote with my activity. I push what I like and I advocate what I will actually use. When Google+ debuted, it made sense to me immediately and I've been using it as my primary social destination since, even when it wasn't obvious I'd be heading Google's way. I've been holding back some of my ideas and feedback on the product here as I want to do that from within the core of the project - but I am happy with I've seen so far and eager to help push it to the next level.

You can find me on Google+: http://www.google.com/profiles/louisgray

August 17, 2011

Spotify Playlist Sharing Can Make You DJ for the World

On Friday, I mentioned Spotify's recent update that brought artist radio to the on demand music service, aiding for music discovery through similar bands and genres. But one of the main ways to discover music on Spotify is through your friends, thanks to the ability to design dynamic playlists and subscribe to any you find interesting. The social element, should you choose to leverage it, means you aren't just making playlists for yourself, but for anyone who wants to listen, making finding a new song even more exciting, as you can pass it on to your listening circle.

Having built my Spotify playlists largely for myself over the last two years, I haven't done an amazing job of curating them, and honestly, it's probable that the first one (Louis' Spotify) has gotten a bit stale. Even I don't listen to it as much as I used to. But I was jolted into paying attention when Facebooker Tudor Bosman, formerly of FriendFeed and Google, pushed me to keep updating the playlist. Apparently it is good background music to code to, and I wasn't doing my job well.

Tudor Asks Me to Keep My Spotify Playlist Flowing

With him now firmly in mind as my target audience, I know am even more interested in finding new music worthy of being added to the playlists. I even went back and cut many of my early adds, knowing I wanted to get the set right. Even if Tudor is my only listener, a good DJ just wants to be happy by making people dance. (Little known fact - I was the station manager of our campus cable radio station in high school and logged hundreds of on air hours) So now when I bump into a great song on Spotify, I add it to the playlist and imagine Tudor seeing the new song fall into his queue.

My Spotify Playlist Needs Some Updating for Listeners

Of course, Spotify's not the only service that has allowed for shared mixes. Apple's iTunes launched iMixes years ago, and I even wrote about my first one more than five years ago. But since the launch of iMix, Facebook blew up and Twitter debuted. This, in addition to other networks, has set the foundation for increased sharing one to one and one to many. Spotify posts have made up a good amount of my Twitter stream, and I've found new bands in my in box on the service, some good and some less so. 

Unlike Apple's iMixes, which if I remember correctly were to be published once and never edited, Spotify's playlists are dynamic. As I add or drop songs, the subscribers get new content and new arrangements. No good DJ plays the same set twice, and the same is true here, even if the subscribers are virtual.

August 16, 2011

Full-time Geeks Shouldn't Ignore Physical Impact

Just about every year, I buy myself a gift - a boring one, but one that I end up using practically every day, which I can't imagine not having. Practically every twelve months, I get a pair of elastic wrist supports from Core Products International, and wear them off and on throughout the day when I'm logging serious hours in front of my laptop. Knowing how many hours of my awake time I spend in front of the computer either while at home or at work, it's common sense to expect that my body complains from time to time - through numbness, strains or simple fatigue. Not interested in falling victim to carpal tunnel syndrome, I made a decision before graduating college that I'd trade fashion for comfort and make sure I brought reinforcements.

My sophomore and junior years at Cal (UC Berkeley), I followed the day's classes with writing news and feature stories for the school newspaper, and after a short break for dinner, I came back and converted the print stories for the paper's online site, often working well past midnight, before starting the routine over the next day. Hearing the popping of my wrists and strain even back then told me I should do something about it. My mom, a geek before me, who actually sold her own self-started Web business when I was in college, guided me toward the wrist straps I wear today. While it may look like I am about to add on some silly looking shoes and go bowling, the difference in how I feel when I wear the supports versus when I don't is remarkable.


In the last dozen or so years since college and working in a variety of offices, either at home, at headquarters or on client sites, I've been impacted by other bad behaviors. I learned to purchase a footstool for the main office to gain leg support and avoid fidgeting, didn't mind putting on unattractive glasses for eyestrain, and when one shoulder would start hurting more than another, I even started carrying my laptop bag with one arm and sleeping on one side, for weeks, until fatigue subsided. So even if you feel like Superman, the truth is your code might last longer than you do.

There's no question I'm among the worst offenders of trying to always be on. I famously mock sleep, and hate being disconnected - even in the rare times when vacation comes up. The Olympic motto of "Faster, Higher, Stronger" may now mean "Surf longer, Share more, Connect always"… but nobody's handing out medals. Being a dad of three kids means I do disconnect and wrestle or play catch with each as best as I can, but there are still too many hours of them in the background and the laptop or tablet or mobile phone in the foreground. So priorities occasionally need adjustment.

Big companies, especially the Web giants, have made taking care of their best geeks a major part of what they offer, with improved meals, wellness centers, massages and all matter of ergonomics. But not everyone works at these big companies, locked away in bland cubicles or fluorescent-lit dungeons. In the absence of someone else taking care of you, you need to do it. For years, I've put up with people asking "how I hurt my wrists" or if I have carpal tunnel, and the answer is that I don't, and I'd bet a major reason I don't is because I made sure early to avoid it. As your doctor will tell you, preventative care is the best kind there is, so don't forget to take care of yourself. I just bought a new pair of wrist supports today.

August 15, 2011

Is Motorola Committed to Android? (Picture)

I took this photo in Motorola's Silicon Valley office lobby last fall just prior to a meeting. If you look closely, you can see the logo on my shirt reflected in reverse in this shot. In the event anybody wanted to see if they were committed to Android, this should provide one clue.

August 13, 2011

A Math Geek At An Early Age

As a kid, my family moved around a lot, as my dad was first getting his medical degree, and then later, getting his residency. This moved us from town to town and state to state, so I was attending new schools every year from Kindergarten through third grade. At each school, I had to be retested and find what would be the appropriate courses I could take - especially when it came to math, where classes were more likely to see kids from different grades mixed.

When I started in third grade at a very small elementary school, I remember being assigned to an advanced multiplication class, taught by the principal, which had no more than ten students. On the first or second day, the principal told us what we would eventually learn through taking his class - trying to wow us with complex double digit multiplication.

As he wrote out his problem and his solution, I noticed he had made a mistake. After pausing and rechecking to be sure my answer was right, I raised my hand and said I thought he was wrong, and explained my alternative answer, which was correct. That set up a sequence of events that had me getting tested and retested in each advancing math class, to find where I best fit, until I was stuck with kids from older grades, unhappy with this little pipsqueak who dared to join them.

That afternoon, as I told my mother what had happened, she was mortified that I had talked back to the principal, telling me I should have probably come after class to tell him I thought he was wrong. But being 8 and not having mastered the appropriate courtesy, I did what I thought was right and it thankfully pushed me into a class that was more challenging. It was one of the first times when I tangled with school leadership, but it certainly wasn't the last.


/via My Google+ Profile.

August 12, 2011

Strawberryj.am: Popular Links from Your Twitter Friends


Everyone knows you can't see every update on every social network all of the time. Many services have emerged to help find you the most interesting shared content from products like Twitter, based on your own interests, those of the community or the world at large. An interesting one is called Strawberry Jam, a project backed by Hettema & Bergsten, which scans links from those you follow on Twitter and finds the content most frequently shared from your own social circle. Going further, Strawberry Jam also compiles saved searches for your explicit interests, hashtags, and even lists. If done well, you can essentially slice and dice the Twitter stream to make sure your friends are providing you the best from the real time Web.

Strawberry Jam, At Work On Finding the Best from My Twitter Stream

Strawberry Jam, found at the quirky URL of http://strawberryj.am/, makes it easier to step out of the Twitter timeline for a few hours, and still not miss anything. Your friends, assuming they do a good job of curating links, will share stuff and bump it to the top. This is the default view of Strawberry Jam, which shows top content from your stream over the last 8, 16 or 24 hours.

If your friends don't care about the same things you do, Strawberry Jam has figured that might be the case. You can search on specific keywords, like Apple, Android, Twitter or whatever you like and similarly find the most shared items on those topics. This even extends to hashtags and interestingly for the few who leverage them, Twitter lists. Just plug in the name of the list and its owner, and that too can be mined for popular links.

Searching for Solid Android Links on Strawberry Jam

Meanwhile, Strawberry Jam doesn't think you should be constantly spending a bunch of time on their site just to get good content. If you like, you can configure the site to send you email summaries each day, at a time you choose, with up to 5 links per category. So if you want to run Strawberry Jam overnight and get the top stories from your friends on just about any subject, it will be in your in box when you wake up.

Like my6sense, Strawberry Jam believes in showing you top links without the noise on Twitter. Obviously their approach puts more emphasis on collaborative filtering from your social graph to infer interest, but the value is similar.

Strawberry Jam is available by invite. You can get in by checking with Holden Page, the service's community manager, and all around good guy. Besides… today's his birthday.

Disclosures: I am VP of Marketing at my6sense, an assumed alternative to Strawberry Jam. Additionally, Holden Page once was an intern at Paladin Advisors Group, and worked for me in 2009.

Spotify's Artist Radio is Music Discovery, Pandora Style

While I've been head over heels for Spotify going back two years now thanks to its increasingly deep music library on demand to my laptop and mobile devices, integrated social sharing with friends and high quality sound with practically no buffering, I have seen some pushback from people who, seeing it for the first time, found it great for playing music you found, but not great for finding new music, in the same way that Pandora and Last.fm are known.

But there is a solution. It's called Artist Radio, and the company quietly pushed it out at the end of July without much fanfare. The combination means you can get the musical serendipity you like about Pandora and Last.fm, the social recommendations from friends, and yes, all the music you can eat on your own.

Here's how it works:

1. Search for any artist in Spotify (Examples: Underworld, The Cars, Blink 182)

Searching for Underworld Gives me a Track List

2. Click the artist name in search results.

The Underworld Artist page shows hits, albums... and see that at the top?

This brings you to the dedicated artist page, complete with their Top Hits, Albums, and even lower, compilations where their music appeared. Almost all artists have a short bio, as well as a list of "Related Artists", one fast way to find similar music. But there's more.

Underworld Artist Radio Plays More than Just Underworld...

3. At the top is a tab called "Artist Radio". Artist Radio performs the same way as an artist's channel plays out in Last.fm or Pandora. If you select Underworld as your artist, Spotify will play songs not just by Underworld, but by bands including Orbital, Fluke, DJ Shadow and more. Dr. Dre sets up Snoop Dog, Eminem and N.W.A. Tori Amos plays music from Kate Bush, Bjork, Suzanne Vega and others. You get the idea. Without having to go find more music yourself, Artist Radio streams a set of new tracks to you until you hit the stop button.

As longtime Pandora and Last.fm fans will attest, finding new music from artists that are similar to music you already like is a great way to find new bands, new albums, and keep your music library fresh. Spotify hasn't talked a lot about this for its new US audience, but the combination of related artists, artist radio, and social recommendations probably puts the service ahead of all the others in terms of total offerings. So for me, someone who hasn't paid any money to iTunes music for years (aside from upgrading to iTunes Plus for Google Music) and who just disconnected Sirius XM Radio to save a few bucks, I enjoy letting Spotify play DJ. So if you tried Spotify at first and missed this feature, come back and check it out.

Tracking Commute Speeds and Slowness With Foursquare

While many people see Foursquare as a strictly social experience, to alert friends to their comings and goings, or to highlight their incredible coolness factor by checking into happening venues, I've long held to the service playing a role of utility. I don't filter my check-ins, and have always been willing to bend the rules a bit, through proximity check-ins, drive by check-ins, and just having a little bit of fun. Having recently been commuting regularly for a new Paladin client, I've found I can use Foursquare to determine the usual commute times, not just for the whole trip, but from points of interest along the way. With every check-in, it also signals to colleagues I'm on my way.

What I've found is that despite any matter of grousing on my part from day to day fluctuations in traffic, from backups on the Dumbarton Bridge connecting the Peninsula to the East Bay, crawling on 880 North, or navigating the 980 to 580 to 80 East maze into Emeryville and Berkeley, where RepairPal is headquartered, the minor annoyances actually have little impact on the average commute time. In my sample size, the time between consistent points is surprisingly stable.

Three Days of Routine Checkins and Timestamps on Foursquare

For the local folks, my usual commute over the last few weeks has me taking 101 North from Sunnyvale, exiting Willow Road toward Dumbarton (Highway 84) and then going north on 880 past the Oakland Coliseum before exiting toward Emeryville. On the way, I've made it a habit of checking in at the same places each time - starting with the new Facebook Headquarters in Menlo Park, followed by the Dumbarton Bridge, then the O.co Coliseum (where the Oakland A's and Raiders play) and then finally RepairPal.

The Daily Trek from SF Bay Corner to the Other

Today, the check-in at Facebook happened at 8:08 in the morning, followed by 8:12 at Dumbarton, 8:33 at the Coliseum and finally 8:49 at RepairPal. A similar trek that started 16 minutes earlier at Facebook saw the same three minute gap to Dumbarton, 22 minutes to the Coliseum, and a total trip of 42 minutes from point to point to RepairPal. Previous days show the total trip as 44 minutes from point one to point four.

So what and who cares? Not too many people, of course, which is why I toss all my silly check-ins to Twitter on a dedicated account (@lgloco) and don't post updates to Facebook. But by using the exact same route and checking in at the same places in the same order, it gives very precise indications of the time between points on any typical weekday, and lets colleagues anticipating when I'll arrive pretty much track my debut to the minute.

I'm also one of the people who keeps Google Latitude running constantly to provide closest connections with a precise knowledge of my whereabouts, but running Foursquare this way helps move the game-driven toy intro something more useful as a metric. If enough people followed the same approach, with consistent check-ins at specific points on a regular basis, you could safely estimate real-world timing between distances in practically any geography.

If you don't mind my nonsensical check-ins, you can follow @lgloco or see me on Foursquare here: https://foursquare.com/lgloco.

Disclosure: RepairPal is a Paladin Advisors Group client, where I am managing director of new media.

August 10, 2011

Subjot Subject-based Sharing To Help You Follow Interests

Social networks can be a messy clot of randomness, even when you're extremely selective on who you choose to connect with. The reason? Because people talk about all sorts of things, from the casual to professional, inanity and newsworthy. People display a wide variety of interests when they show their true selves. Subjot, an interesting twist on the update and follow structure so closely affiliated with Twitter, invites you to follow relevant updates from your friends by pairing the posting and following model with tags, essentially asking you to select just what updates you want to see from your friends instead of others. This way, if you want to see my tech updates but not updates around my family or sports, you simply don't have to - assuming I tag correctly.

In invitation-only beta right now, Subjot asks you to "jot your thought" of up to 250 characters, and choose a single subject for each update, selecting from one you've previously used, creating a new subject, or one the community already uses. If your friends follow your updates in that particular interest, it will end up on their timelines - and if they don't, they won't see it, barring visiting your profile directly.

Subjot Posts on Tech and Life With Embedded Comments

In another variance from the traditional Twitter model, Subjot allows for comments to be appended to each update, presenting a parent and child metaphor, where reactions from followers are nested below the original jot. Jots with activity display the number of comments, in addition to the timestamp and applied tag.

Finding People Jotting About Movies on Subjot

Browsing Additional Topics on Subjot

Chris Carella, who co-created Subjot with his wife last year after noticing that his fickle Twitter followers would increase or decrease depending on his changing subject matter, has posted more than 2,000 jots on a range of 64 subjects. With such a range, you can start to see how his most frequently updated topics (currently tech, life and music) start to build in weight with hundreds of updates each. I may care about his insight on Subjot itself, and care less about his NFL updates, much like he probably doesn't want to hear updates on my three kids or how I think the A's are doing in their division.

A Post from Micah Baldwin on Subjot from June

With the volume per Subjot user being filtered based on your preferences and their updates, it looks like Subjot could present a quieter, more on-topic alternative to Twitter, one that has information you care about in your stream and less about what you don't. It's essentially Google+ Circles designed by your followers, not designed by you to contain your followers. My earliest Subjot content is hiding in plain sight here: http://subjot.com/louisgray/

Well, Obviously.

If you really think about it, the secret is in the kernel-based statistical machine learning for pattern analysis.


/via My Google+ Profile.

August 09, 2011

There Are No Messages to Display

Have you noticed that a lot of Google+ users look like they haven't been using the service, or haven't made any shares? You know what I mean... you check their profile and it says "There are no messages to display." Believe me, there are quite a few. We're not all noisy.

It doesn't mean they're not active - although it does indicate they might be shy.

Your Google Profile (mine: http://www.google.com/profiles/louisgray) displays Public status updates to all visitors. It also will show you posts that were shared to a circle you were in. If you're in my Friends circle and I share to that circle, you'll see both Public posts and those sent to you... (Public + Friends)

So about these shy people?

While some of them may have signed up to Google+ and aren't yet ready to get started, or others are waiting for more friends to make the migration from older networks, there's a huge amount of more private sharing that you just don't see. 

One of the best things about this network is the ability to selectively share, just like in real life, so if you don't know me, I never have to see anything you share with your real friends.

Maybe the real note should be "There Are No Posts Shared With You Yet". :)

Have shy friends? Tell them to share as much as they want with the people they want. It doesn't all have to be public.


/via My Google+ Profile.

Now Playing On Chrome OS Notebooks: Netflix

As the Web becomes more capable, running full-fledged services historically requiring dedicated apps, the option of a cloud-centric operating system like Chrome OS makes an increasing amount of sense. The old model of storing all one's data locally on a single hardware device and putting it at risk from damage, theft, or simply corruption or loss as one upgrades from machine to machine seems antiquated when alternatives exist. But there is still, for some, a gap in functionality, as Chrome OS doesn't yet do everything the typical Windows or Mac box does. Until today, one of those gaps was Netflix, the popular movie streaming site that democratically has made its way to practically every screen, from traditional PCs to set top boxes and even game players, like the Nintendo Wii.

Netflix Loading on My Chromebook for the First Time

Today, Melissa Daniels, community manager for Chrome OS, announced on Google+ that Chrome OS devices from Samsung and Acer now play streaming Netflix films, assuming you are running the latest system update from Google. Without any additional software, you just need your Netflix account and the browser. While this isn't dramatically different from standard browsers on Macs and PCs, it helps fill a perceived gap.

Meet The Parents, streaming from Netflix, on my Chromebook

Without Netflix, I've been renting movies and watching them on YouTube, or from the Android Market, but film studios being what they are, not all titles are in every service at the same time, of course, and Netflix is far and away the leader in the world of Web-based feature film streaming, while Apple holds down its own space with Apple TV and iTunes.

The near-term arrival of Netflix on Chrome has been anticipated for some time, and could be seen with the latest release notes for those of us living on the Dev-Unstable builds of Chrome OS on our Chromebooks. But it's here. The wait is now over. It should be a great complement for the 8+ hours of battery life I've been seeing on my Samsung from Google IO.

August 06, 2011

How I Became An Oakland A's Baseball Fan

I became a full-on baseball fanatic around the age of 10 or 11. While I remember watching the 1986 and 1987 World Series with my dad, seeing the chants of "Darryl, Darryl" in the first and the 7 home wins in the latter, 1988 was when I got completely immersed in the national pastime. Being a Northern California resident, the daily paper was full of exploits featuring the Bash Brothers, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, as the team won 104 games, losing only 58, for a .642 winning percentage. Canseco was the first to hit 40+ home runs and steal 40 bases. Dave Stewart won 21 games and Eckersley had 45 saves. The team was incredible.

After scouring all the boxscores, listening to radio broadcasts and catching the rare televised game, my dad finally took me to a major league game in Oakland. Sure enough, the A's won. Not only that, but Canseco homered, and Eckersley got the save. This same formula repeated three times that year, to the point, for me, only 11, I swore this was the way it always was.

Needless to say, I was hooked. Not just to baseball, but the A's, who I followed to their demise in the 1988 World Series against the LA Dodgers. The next Spring, I got the yearly baseball prediction magazines, and memorized all the stats. They're practically hard-coded now, with Canseco's .307 average, .569 slugging, 120 runs scored, 124 driven in, 24 doubles, 40 stolen bases (against 16 caught stealing) being the most obvious.

Now in the South Bay, and with the A's not exactly being amazing of late, I sometimes get asked why I am an A's fan (and not say... a Giants fan). For me, it comes back to 1988, and the beginning of the A's dynasty that saw them win 4 division titles through 1992, and 3 league championships, crowned by the earthquake-marred 1989 Bay Bridge Series against the Giants.

My wife and I had season tickets for the A's for 3 years until the twins were born in 2008, and we still watch as much as we can. But no matter what happens with this team, who Bud Selig seems to have little interest for, I'm an A's fan and baseball nut for life.

BTW - they are winning 8-0 right now.


/via My Google+ Profile.

August 05, 2011

Worshiping False Business Gods, Finding the Right Metrics

Web Statistics Can be Addictive. But Are They Really Your Business?

Many employees at businesses are focusing on the wrong metrics and keeping themselves busy on tasks that don't help the bottom line - often for reasons like inertia, or because of bad instruction from a superior. In my role as an advisor for multiple small startups, as well as being a third party consultant through the work I do with Paladin Advisors Group, I often find myself talking with people who are frustrated with the bottom line, who know what they're doing isn't having direct impact to success, but continue to do it anyway.

For example:

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Web statistics

Search Engine Optimization can be a false god of metrics. Web traffic and user visits can be addicting. Once a company experiences a level of traffic, or a rate of visitor growth, it can be something they don't want to let go. A slowdown in Web traffic or even a reversal can make them react by taking less advisable measures, such as spawning dozens or thousands of algorithmically-created Web pages with low value in an attempt to game the search engines. And if they get caught, as some did with Google Panda this year, the blame goes to the engines, not the people implementing bad behavior.

In discussions with one firm, they acknowledged the quality of the visitors through these non-human pages was pretty bad. Bounce rates were high, signups were low, and they really were not their target customer anyway. But the company struggled with the idea that seeing Web traffic decline, with a better focus on high quality content and visitor conversions was more important. They didn't want to let go of their numbers!

So we talked about what they really should be measuring. Was it revenue? Was it new customers? What about application downloads or signups? What was the right thing to be incentivized on?

User Counts

If SEO is not the catch, user registrations can also be another number that gets out of control. As most of you know, once you get a user, you can always list them as having been a user. So this number always goes up. But how many are active users? And how do you define active? Is this number increasing or decreasing?

Social Media

And don't get me started on counting Twitter followers and Facebook likes... given that social media is so new to some people, they really don't know how to measure success, but I would say it always comes back to the company's bottom line and finding real revenue users.

Busy Work vs Real Value

In my career, I've prayed to false gods of Web traffic and rote activity that occurs "because we've always done it this way". I've run Web campaigns that had little success, but could show that I ran the campaign as a deliverable I achieved. I've sent newsletters that few people opened, yet sent another one the following month. But where I felt the best was getting real new leads into our CRM tool (Salesforce.com) that led to real meetings, opportunities and revenue. Being able to track real revenue back to activity I had initiated or assisted on meant I, and my group, had delivered real value to the company.

So think about what metrics you are measuring. Are you responsible for raising Web traffic? Tracking Twitter followers and Facebook likes? Downloads? Users? Find out what you really need to show business momentum and success, and push on that. For praying to the false god won't work forever.

Bring Chromebook to Events, Ditch Power Cords



Sitting here at the Teens In Tech Conference as the lunch break winds down, I see white power cords everywhere, as the vast majority of attendees brought their Macs and the signature white power cords are snaking down to the ground go grab much-needed electricity for the full day event, which wraps at 5 pm. There are a handful of Ubuntu laptops and the random Windows machine here and there, but it's mostly Macs.

That said, I didn't bring power cords. The reason is because I brought the Chromebook, and if you've gotten used to a world where you have to constantly feel the anxiety of watching your battery to see how many hours/minutes you have left and what percentage you are charged, the elimination of that anxiety is serious relief.

+Matt Cutts is taking a 30-day challenge to only use his Chromebook, to the exclusion of all other laptops. I've already talked a lot about how I made the Samsung Chromebook my primary computer, and it's true. I still get my MacBook Air out every once in a while for Photoshop work, but that's happening less and less these days, as more of our content moves to the Web.

All I really need from my computer now is amazing battery life and always-on connectivity, and ChromeOS does exactly that. We're very new in this process, of course, so while there may be some shortcomings, think about the trajectory of both Android and iOS, and how those platforms are a lot more feature-rich and full of apps versus just a few years ago.

You know that feeling you get when you switch to an unfamiliar platform, and aren't comfortable knowing where things are or how shortcuts work? Do you know how you feel more comfortable in your space on your main machine in your favorite OS? It's like speaking English (or your native tongue) after the stress of being in a foreign language. Ditching the power cords and being fully on the Web gives me that same relief and it's energizing to know I'm not tethered, but instead, fully mobile. So if you have access to Chrome, bring it to your next event and feel the difference.


/via My Google+ Profile.