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A Silicon Valley tech blog for Web nerds.

Last Build Date: Tue, 06 Mar 2018 00:21:01 PST


Real Valley Stories: Search Marketing With the Open Directory Project

Tue, 30 Jan 2018 12:00:00 PST

Editor’s Note: Part 12 in an irregular series of stories from my many years in Silicon Valley. Part 11 talked about the time I got called into HR's office to meet with lawyers over industrial espionage. This time, a story involving gray hat search engine marketing in the early days of the Web.DMOZ is now closed. Believe it or not, before the world of automated spiders that crawled the entire Web and ranked the results for your searches, much of the way we found content on the Internet was thanks to manual updates from an invisible army of directory editors. Yahoo! defined the initial dot-com era, with its hierarchical oracle making or breaking traffic downstream, as sites were organized and shuffled into categories by unseen text tweakers, much like the editors of Wikipedia try and keep its tens of millions of article pages up to date, with a seemingly fluid mass of edits to keep the live encyclopedia current.But Yahoo! wasn't the only Web directory. Rich Skrenta and others, also behind Web 2.0 efforts Topix and Blekko, introduced the Open Directory Project, referred to as DMOZ, for it was hosted on the directory subdomain of the site, with an objective of harnessing contributions from around the world (like Wikipedia), to build a directory, similar to Yahoo!, that could plug into any site that wanted to host one. In a time when many sites were seeking Internet traffic and riches by acting as the front page for the Web, attaching the open directory project to your portal could give you an edge and not require you to bring on a ton of staff.As with Yahoo!'s directory, a company's inclusion in the DMOZ directory could act as a binary gate as to whether or not potential users would find you. In 1999, working as a Web marketing manager for a Web startup that offered internet faxing and conference calls, I found myself irked to see that our services were not included in DMOZ. Making things worse, the categories I would expect to see us listed in seemed slapped together and without an official owner. Given my understanding of the space and knowing our many competitors, I registered an account and requested to moderate the relevant category.The DMOZ Internet Fax Listings from 1999 (via too long afterward, I was given the option to update the category, including those of our competitors. As it was nearly two decades ago, I honestly don't remember if I used my company email or a Yahoo! email or equivalent, but I didn't try and disguise where I worked. My application had gotten through.FaxCube from the year 2000.When I did log in, I found the content in a state of abandonment. There wasn't much you could do with a site's listing. Give it a title, a link, and a short description, literally about a dozen words. It was fairly impossible to differentiate services from one another, especially in a commoditized space where the core function was pretty straight forward. But I cleaned up the descriptions for all the entries, including our competitors, to accurately display their offerings. Some offered email to fax services, while others offered the reverse. Some offered broadcast faxing. Some required a proprietary fax viewer, and others were completely Web based. That kind of thing.When content was edited in DMOZ, edits would later propagate downstream. Sure enough, my colleagues noticed a spike in Web traffic to our main sites, with referrers coming from all the places DMOZ was set up. For no cost, I had a clear impact in our customer acquisition funnel, and maintaining the DMOZ became part of my ongoing work.Later, DMOZ added the option to highlight two entries in the group, which were solely up to the moderator. This, of course, gave me the option to expand from a gray area, to clearly going over the line into promotion. It went without saying I thought our service was the best, and highlighted it at the top. I also chose to highlight a partner site (the Netscape Fax Center) that was white labeling our service, essentially the 1 and 1A positions.This got even better when we soon reali[...]

With Web at the Core, Chromebook Options are Strong, Plentiful

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 22:30:00 PST

This looks like an ad. But it's just a few recent Chromebooks.In 2011, on my first day at Google, I was asked to pick out a laptop. The choices were slim - a thin Apple MacBook Air or the larger MacBook Pro, a forgettable Windows equivalent, or a Linux device more suitable for engineers. While I had the company's first foray into Chromebooks, the CR-48, at home, in addition to my own personal Mac, picking a Chromebook wasn't even an option. The Web-centric OS, which focused on keeping all data in the cloud, and leveraging Web apps, wasn't ready for my every day use.A few months later, I ran into then SVP of Chrome Sundar Pichai, in the office stairwell as we were on to our respective meetings. Pointing to my MacBook Air, I told him I couldn't wait to turn it in and go completely ChromeOS at home and at the office. In his usual humble and understated way, he said the team was working on it, and to stay tuned. Not too long afterward, in another unplanned hallway conversation, he introduced me to a VP on his team developing hardware, and offered me up as a willing beta candidate.The 2013 Chromebook Pixel (version 1)I didn't think much of the choice encounter until early 2013, when I saw Sundar take the stage and unveil the Chromebook Pixel, a high-end Chromebook with a touchscreen, and promised faster speeds and memory.As I recounted a few years ago on Google+, I saw Sundar as available on IM shortly after the event and congratulated him on the exciting launch. His IM came moments later... "Do you have one yet?" Surprised, I said I didn't, and it was no big deal. I had no such illusions of self-importance. But he answered directly, "I'm so sorry. You were supposed to be on the list." Fast forward, less than an hour later, I had a brand-new Pixel - and I haven't seen a need to use a Mac since.That a Googler is using a Chromebook isn't newsworthy, obviously. Water is wet. But I remember a time when betting on a Web-centric device like a Chromebook was a real leap of faith. There were always excuses not to make the switch, be it a specific piece of software, some concern about printing, or general distrust of the unknown. Maybe we were worried about moving local storage to the cloud, or editing photos, or losing access to some premium software on Mac or Windows we'd already paid for - often at a cost even higher than a new machine.Chromebooks have proven exceptionally popular in schools, thanks to their versatility and low cost. And as people become more mobile-centric, their data also becomes more portable and Web centric. Just as you expect to have your data follow you from phone to phone, moving from device to device should be seamless. Like I'd said in 2012, the future of local storage is practically none at all.This summer, I got my wife a touchscreen convertible Chromebook for less than $100.Watching the many different options for Chromebook hit the markets feels a lot like the same momentum we saw when Android's many partners took imaginative approaches to new handsets. While we essentially knew the rigid details coming from Cupertino for both computers and phones, Google partners built big and small and with any number of differences to set each apart, from brands as diverse as Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Samsung and Toshiba.Now the decision process is one of plenty, not scarcity. So many options, pretty much all of them good. You can get small screens or big screens. You can get touchscreens and convertibles that act like a tablet. You can run Android apps, or even mark up the screen with a digital pen. All very cool.This summer, while on a family vacation in Chicago, after seeing so many positive reviews for Samsung's Chromebook Pro, I figured it was time for an upgrade from my two year old Acer 710. I quickly bought one on Amazon, had it delivered to an Amazon Locker down the street the next day, and after entering my Google credentials, I had made an incredible upgrade, with no data migration needed. It was almost too easy. (And yes, that's the laptop I'm on now)Having seen the Pixelbo[...]

Smartphones Have Virtually Eliminated Boredom from the Modern Life

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 20:45:00 PST

People are constantly on their phones. All day.There's a flurry of debate over whether smartphones and their apps have become too addicting. While there is no complete agreement over how often smartphone users access their phones each day, estimates put the number at anywhere from 80 to 150 times. If you're a typical human who is awake about 16 hours a day, that's five to ten accesses per hour. Every hour. You might even put your own estimate much higher, or, instead, see it as one long continuous touch that consumes the entire day.Independent of the discussion of whether this is a "good thing" or not, the ability to constantly engage with one's phone, checking messages from different apps, getting the latest news instantly, window shopping or achieving a new high score, the device has virtually eliminated the opportunity to be bored - acting as the glue that connects times when you're otherwise active. The smartphone acts as a space filler and a constant alternative for whatever else you might be doing.Not too long ago, there was something we recognized as a quiet space between activities. Mental breaks. Whether that was standing at a corner for the light at the intersection to go green and allow us to cross the street, or taking an escalator at the mall, or waiting for the bus, we recognized those gaps as something like boredom. Was there nothing on TV? Bored. Forced to wait in line at the supermarket? Bored. Finished your book? Bored. Is the baseball season over? Bored for four months.Think people aren't constantly on their phones while driving? Think again.But this isn't the case now. If you look around at people, everyone is seemingly in a state of constant engagement with their phones. Drivers at intersections waiting for red lights to turn are waiting for cues from the cars next to them to indicate the signal has changed. Pedestrians are walking with their feet slightly askew to avoid unseen stumbles, and draft behind the people ahead of them, one hand holding the phone at an angle, looking up every few steps for potential surprise. Those waiting for the bus only interrupt their phone use to glance up and see if their ride is on its way.Many a word has been spilled about how smartphones have invaded daily lives. Couples go to restaurants and read their phones instead of talking to one another. Colleagues may glance at their phones and tweet while you're talking to them, looking up on occasion to see if whatever you're saying is more interesting than whatever popped up on their screen. It's no longer a challenge to find something to do. Instead, it's a battle to see who can be the most sensational or carry enough weight to trump the alternative that is constantly available on a 4 or 5 inch screen. Often, when presenting to rooms full of people at events, I see attendees on their phones. It's been years since you could authoritatively demand a 'laptops down' meeting and expect to get everyone's full attention. That people are going to try and deliver continuous parallel attention is a reality, and you are in a constant battle to earn their mind share, in a hope that your engagement will be more lasting and more significant than what their phone has selected to bring to the fore.In the last decade plus, more of what we used to depend on full sized computers, cameras, televisions, maps and more has been miniaturized and made portable in our pocket. This has allowed our entertainment, learning and communications machines, our commerce engines... to be constantly with us. People meet their soulmates on their phone. They get paid on the phone. They can order food and have it delivered, all from their phone. If life's every important value, to consume, to share and to survive, can be designed and managed from your phone, it really begs the question of whether the world within the screen is less valuable than the one on the outside of it.My own kids, still under 10, don't yet have phones. It's already challenging as a parent to provide them the structure they need to l[...]

Linking Less and Talking More: Disappearing Web Mentions

Wed, 10 Jan 2018 13:00:00 PST

The World Wide Web was designed to primarily do three things - inform, discover and connect. A globally connected series of documents could instantly bring you to the thoughts and experiences of someone across the world. In the earliest designs of the Web, it was through hyperlinks that you would find those new voices. Links brought you new sources of data, and those downstream documents led you even further to new people and ideas.As the Web evolved, and incorporated photos, videos, streaming, and all manner of media, discovery expanded to include search. Without an explicit link, you could still find pointers to new content in the results of your query. Destination sites, acting as content hubs, would surface new content, usually within their network, of recommendations you might like. Ads, essentially links with pretty pictures, would offer another exit.WebCrawler: One of the Web's first search enginesWhen blogging was the main medium of first person information sharing, prior to the rise and later domination of real time social streams, the way we discovered new voices was through links to others. I'd mention those I agreed with and highlight, with more links, those I didn't. One popular feature in practically everyone's sidebar was a blogroll, to show those with closest ties or just who we liked to read. And there were custom search engines, like Technorati, which when combined with tools like Google Alerts, could let you know when somebody mentioned you on the Web.Technorati: The original blog and link search engineBut over time, a number of things happened to chop away at this fluffy cloud of friendly discovery.1. Many Blogs Gravitated Toward Internal Linking, Not External LinkingThe big sites realized that keeping visitors on their own site was more profitable and aided their metrics more than sending them away did. And while there is obvious irony in my posting to my own discussions on this from the past, we actually had lengthy discussions about these internal linking practices in 2007 (Part two and part three) Arguments a decade ago in favor of internal linking were that site visitors were familiar with companies and topics discussed, and could see previous coverage by their publication to learn more if they weren't. And any link off site started feeding the ad revenues of a potential competitor.2. Dedicated Blog Search Sites Didn't Graduate to Quality BusinessesTechnorati was a specialized blog search engine that skipped the general Web and went directly to blogs for its content. Its leaderboard of bloggers was closely watched, as were trending topics on the site that led to see what the blogosphere was discussing. But it was seemingly always in financial trouble, and has pivoted beyond recognition to whatever it is now.  A 2010 interview I had with the company's leadership team claimed a pivot to quality, but their CEO was gone a year later, and so are pretty much all the discovery tools that initially aided me to find some of the best voices of the Web 2.0 era. And yes, Google Blog Search quietly disappeared not too long afterward.3. Blog Discussions Pivoted to Real Time Streams and SharingAs I noted in 2009 (yet another internal link, am I right?), linking between communities was declining in favor of retweets on Twitter or sharing into the stream. The microburst of a little site traffic would provide that one time dopamine hit, but not leave a trail for later web spiders to find.My top referring sites, via Google Analytics, from previous yearsAs the social streams of Twitter and Facebook took over, and bloggers (me too) got distracted, the share became the canonical mention. Your mentions on Twitter, or your notification of shares on Facebook, were faster delivered and easily quantifiable. And individual profile owners are quite unlike the publishers looking to deep dive into their analytics to discern where traffic came from.Today, Brent Simmons laments the result of all the mentions going to the streams[...]

Space Fillers and Superstars: Silicon Valley's Divergent Career Arcs

Tue, 09 Jan 2018 10:15:00 PST

Career Paths Are Often Circuitous Routes My career in Silicon Valley started before I'd even graduated from college. Rather than plug away at Berkeley and try to get top grades, I split my time my senior year between going to classes and commuting across the Bay Bridge to Burlingame, working for a revenue light startup during the initial dot com boom. By the end of 2018, I will have completed twenty full years in the Valley.In these twenty years, I've been laid off. I've been promoted. I've fought for raises and rejected stock offers. I've co-founded my own consulting business. I've worked at startups with three people, ten people and two hundred. And for the last six plus years, I've been at Google, which can hardly be called a startup.In these two decades, I've seen companies lay everyone off firsthand, and had another acquired. I've pitched Sand Hill Road for venture capital funding, been part of corp dev talks about a possible acquisition, and even filed for IPO. I've worked with billionaires, millionaires, neighbors, and colleagues straight out of college, with debts to pay.And while I've been lucky enough to accumulate 15 years of work at just two jobs, that is fairly unusual for the industry. Some estimate the average software engineer, used as a metric for the average employee in our tech-centric world, is only 1 to 3 years. (Source)Underneath the headlines and noise of product announcements, and seeming get rich quick ideas, the reality is the overwhelming majority of Silicon Valley employees are role fillers, who just get things done. Some are living month to month, and others are more comfortable. But for each example of wunderkids who get lucky on their first try, you have cubicle dwellers whose LinkedIn history won't have you blinking an eye. And the Valley needs these people. Hundreds of thousands of them.The Intersection of Skill, Luck and LoyaltyMarissa Mayer famously put together a rubric after completing a Symbolic Systems degree at Stanford to determine where she would take the leap from her 14 job offers, and Google was seen as having the greatest upside. Tough to argue against those results, and hindsight is 20/20. Yet a close friend of mine who graduated from the same school with the same major is as anonymous as they come, with a pedestrian career. There's no discounting Marissa's hard work and ambition, but not everyone gets lucky.In 2009, I wrote about this magical intersection of skill and luck - where good people work incredibly hard at toxic companies, or doomed dinosaurs. There are tomes to be written about the worker bees of the Valley who come in and work hard for a full day's pay to make all the services go, but aren't job hopping for the latest startup du jour, instead hanging on with loyalty to the company even if the company doesn't return the favor.Roll the Dice or Buy a Lotto TicketFor every superstar like Marissa, there are thousands more stories like my friend and others who just missed. A decade plus ago, I had a roommate who passed up being one of the first 25 employees at Google, so he could instead finish his PhD. (He is now a professor at NYU)The more cynical among us could say that aggressively enterprising workers should quickly hop from job to job and ride the rocket to financial happiness, and yet another group will say that if the current workplace isn't looking like a lottery ticket, you should quit and form your own startup. It certainly looks easy enough, with so many ideas landing venture funding.Venture capitalists will tell you they are looking for that elite leader, the masterful person with unique product vision and market awareness - a founding team with impeccable credentials. But every decision is a bet. The VCs and companies make bets on the staff, and the staff makes bets on the companies each day they show up. Sometimes you win the jackpot, sometimes you push, and other times, you could lose it all and have to start over.Among a world of asp[...]

A Decade of Silos Has Throttled Open Content Distribution

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 19:20:00 PST

The 2018 Social Media Flow is Driven by Content SilosIn the ten-plus years since I started this blog, one of the clearest trends on the Web has been for destination sites to want to control the user session and experience. In parallel, sites focused on aggregating content from external sites or highlighting the best of the web - serving as a filtered pass through, have struggled. Many are gone.While significant efforts were made during the forging of Web 2.0 to drive open standards and allow for data to flow from one site to another, through RSS, Pubsubhubbub, Atom, XMPP, or whatever your preference, 2018 on the social web is a much more challenging place to write once and publish everywhere.As I view the publishing space, I often turn to four big challenges that have to be solved for a platform to be a success to both authors and readers:1. CreationA platform, be it for photos (Instagram, Flickr, Google Photos, etc.), short updates (Twitter), long form (Medium, Blogger, WordPress, etc.), video (YouTube) or a mishmash of all (Facebook, Google+, etc.), needs to make it easy for the content creator to share what they want, in the form they want, and have the output be what they intended. This is true whether we are talking about desktop or mobile creation.2. DistributionOnce the content is created, it has to be sent somewhere. If you write a post and hit publish, how do people find it? Is it sent to a third party network where they are hanging out? Is it sent by email? Do they get a notification on their phone? Does it flow down their timeline, as they have new items to consume? Or is it just another flat file, waiting to be indexed by Google and other search engines?3. DiscoveryReaders want to find new content. They seek relevance, freshness, and community. This mirrors the three pillars of social sites I highlighted back in 2009, and echoes that readers want intriguing views that mirror their own preferences. Like I'd predicted in 2006, the Web has become a divided place, where we all flock to our groups of like minded people, and disavow opposing views, but we still are eager to find more who reinforce our position. We still crave new friends and stories and we want to find them quickly.So how good a job do these apps and sites do of surfacing new people and ideas? Do they have an aggregated site with highlights and popular people or posts? Is there a place to find more obscure viewpoints and new voices?4. ConsumptionSince the smartphone revolution, kicked off by Blackberry and the iPhone and now led by Android, more people are constantly connected and reading news from their mobile devices. In many countries, the mobile device is the only window to the Web. Does the content flow well for mobile consumption and new ways to navigate from screen to screen, update to update? Or is it best suited for a leanback tablet experience or for the desktop?What typically happens with content platforms is the content fills the available container. Twitter is a clear 140 or 280 characters. Social hubs like Facebook and Google+ favor large photos and a short introduction. Instagram is all about the photo with a small description. Blogger and WordPress and Medium are as long as you want to go. One has to consider if users and screens keep up.2009's promise of sharing everywhere wasn't meant to be.We've Come a Long Way from Aggregating Streams and Sharing the WebAs content started to be created in a wide array of social sites, aggregation services like FriendFeed helped bring people's streams together. Bookmark services like Delicious helped people save the highlights from the Web and amplify the world's favorites. Users voted up posts from Digg and passed them along with StumbleUpon. The most voracious consumers lived in Google Reader and didn't miss a single post from the RSS feeds they were subscribed to.It was too good to last.The largest social platforms were not content in simply being links to ex[...]

How a Google Home in Every Room Gives My Kids Answers All Day

Wed, 03 Jan 2018 20:45:00 PST

Some time last year, we installed five Google Home units in our house. One was placed in the master bedroom. One each went in both our kids' rooms, as well as one in the office, and one downstairs in the kitchen. Knowing that asking Google any question was just a simple request away, I was eager to see how the family would adjust to having a friendly assistant ready at any time to go fetch answers. What I've seen is that the devices are used throughout the day, and, often, the kids talk to Google before they talk to me.OK Google, tell me a joke.The morning starts with Google Homes sounding the alarm to wake up.As the kids mumble "OK Google, stop", we have momentary quiet, until they shuffle out of bed and ask Google what the weather is going to be that morning. Obviously, depending on Google's answer, this can mean wearing shorts or jeans, long sleeve shirts or short sleeves. If the answer isn't detailed enough, I've heard the kids ask a second time, asking for the high of the day, which could impact how they prepare for PE at school, or if it's going to rain, and they need to pack an umbrella.One example from our Assistant history.As the morning routine begins, the first person downstairs gets to be the DJ, asking Google to play a song, which serves as the background music for breakfast. If the song isn't what they wanted, they simply say, "OK Google. Next song." until one they would prefer comes on.If it's a weekday, we're most likely off to school and work, and we're all out the door. But if not, we probably have another query to Google Home to see how bad traffic is wherever we are going, how long will it take to get there - or sometimes, how the weather will be at our destination.When the kids get home from school, Google does more than just act as background music device. My 9 year old twins use the Google Homes to confirm math homework answers to see if they are right, or ask it to sub in if an equation is too hard, or if they are unsure of spelling. The Google Assistant is the parent who is always willing to give an answer and never gets tired. With the expectation that Google has all the answers, the type of questions can be fast and furious. "What is hypoglycemia?" "Are hedgehogs nocturnal?" "What state is Boston in?" "What time is it in Sydney, Australia?" "What does salutation mean?" "What day is Black Friday?" "What time is it sunset?"If Google doesn't know, or says, "Sorry. I can't help with that yet. But I'm still learning!", it's usually followed with sighs of exasperation and amusement, as they follow on with a different query more likely to get an answer.The most popular question asked of Google Home this last year? By far, a simple one. "What time is it?", followed by "how much time is left on the timer?" for those ever important assigned times when they need to be reading, or when kids are taking turns with a game or a device, and need to hand it off to another child.How many more minutes are left on my timer?As homework time wraps up, and the kids find themselves on leisure, as dinner is eaten, and things are tidied up, I can hear them play music in each room as they have access to the world's artists on demand. "OK Google, turn your volume to 50 percent." "OK Google, play Katy Perry."Do they always get the question perfectly right? No. But the device tries its best to guess and provide the answer - or pushes for another try. "Sorry. I don't understand?" or "Try again in a few seconds."As bedtime approaches, everyone asks Google to set an alarm for the next day to start the process anew. And yes, if you're wondering, we do disable the devices in the kids' rooms by 9 p.m., so they don't end up rocking out in the wee hours. If they want something so badly they need to ask that late, they can ask me.Set an alarm and call it a day.The Google Home devices were such a benefit to our house that they were the go-to gift this last Christmas. G[...]

Why Silicon Valley's Real Estate Crisis Is a Present Danger

Tue, 02 Jan 2018 10:40:00 PST

This nice home would probably go for $2 million in some Bay Area cities.That Silicon Valley housing is very expensive is no surprise to anyone who is paying attention.Fueled by a bullish tech market for the better part of a decade, with inventory dramatically constrained, each new home entering the market can be flooded with aspiring buyers who are eager to pony up millions of dollars for uninspiring homes, with the desirable promise of reduced commute times to big tech companies or startups, or access to high quality schools.As a homeowner who bought our place in 2010, I could be doing victory laps about perceived value increases each time I view Zillow or Redfin to see how our long-term investment is doing, but the harsh reality is that the daunting financial demand needed just to find a place to live is having a dramatic impact - not just on the Bay Area as a region, but in markets far from our tech epicenter.Prices in secondary markets outside the Bay Area are skyrocketing as distressed Californians seek alternatives. Working class families are being priced out of the most desirable cities, forced to endure hours of commute times from far-flung outlying towns, or losing their homes outright. Some small businesses are closing because they can't afford the lease, or can't find enough help to keep their business running. Help wanted ads for service workers are visible practically everywhere, and few answers are clear, aside from pushing for more housing, which in itself finds opposition from the slow to no growth community.Brian Clark wants to know why I tweet about real estate so often.The topic of Silicon Valley real estate is ever present. The high entry point presents a barrier to tech workers looking to start their careers. It presents a challenge to new families in high priced rentals who may once have expected to save for a home, but see that opportunity get further out of reach each month, as savings never catch up with price inflation. Others living outside the Bay Area may turn down career opportunities because the promised salary and benefits can't deliver an expected standard of comfort. It's happening, and it's very likely to get worse.About two and a half years ago, I read the tea leaves and talked about how I saw Sunnyvale as being in an enviable position, flanked by Google and Apple, both of whom are aggressively growing and are significantly profitable, helping to drive up demand for homes and attracting well-paid tenants. That post, "Tech Company Shifts Position Sunnyvale as Major Hub for Next Decade", helpfully marked some median home prices at the time of the article and allows us to compare what's happened since.While Bay Area prices have increased, Sunnyvale and Mountain View lead.As I had expected, not only have home values continued to spike on the San Francisco peninsula, but pressure from Apple's new campus, built on the Sunnyvale border with Cupertino, and increased growth from Google and LinkedIn, etc, have pushed Sunnyvale prices higher at a rate that dwarfed even its pricier neighbors, and driven average home values to nearly $2 million. You also saw a similar rise in Mountain View homes, where Google is based, but Sunnyvale has practically caught up.What this means in real-world impact is that homes purchased just a few years apart, on the same street, can have wildly different purchase prices, monthly mortgage payments, and property taxes. Our neighbors, two doors down from us, recently paid more than twice the price for their home than we did in 2010, even though theirs is smaller. And they'll get nailed with twice the property tax to boot - their gift from the state of California.Redfin highlights migration patterns out of California. (Source)For those who can't stomach a $2 million price or higher (and that includes us, by the way), buyers are looking elsewhere - to Seattle, Boulder, Austin, Portl[...]

Silicon Valley's Lost Year Blends Fake With Future

Mon, 01 Jan 2018 21:15:00 PST

At the beginning of last year, as the Trump presidency sickeningly took hold, I worried his mere presence and daily volleys against what most of us thought to be good and proper, right and just, would dominate our every thought and conversation. His long shadow of darkness constantly loomed against any chance of progress and invention - taking the luster off usual excitement, demanding an unrelenting distraction, and regular dread.I pushed pause on the blog because I felt like my comments on the day to day in Silicon Valley carried less weight in a world of crisis, as politics overwhelmed the usual storylines. But I realize silence is not the answer. Instead, we should ask more of ourselves when the wind is not at our back, but against us.So what if we can make cars to drive themselves, only to find our streets hit by long-range missiles? So what if we could make it easier to connect people together on the Internet, all while seeing people turned away at the entrances to our countries, and see laws enacted that pitted people against each other in ways that we found abhorrently racist fifty years ago? So what if somebody could sprinkle some magical Internet dust on cryptocurrency and make a handful of desk jockeys rich (on paper), when trillions of real world dollars were being extracted out of the lower 90 percent of earners from an egregiously unequal tax bill jammed through congress, with chicken scratches in the margins?It all seems pretty foolish sometimes, as we banter about over variations in cost per click on banner ads when retail supermarkets are going out of business and laying people off. It seems ridiculous that customers can debate the benefits of the latest food delivery startup when US senators openly debate eliminating food stamps for those who need them. And you can't get all that excited about meal replacements like Soylent and the highest tech juice squeezers in all the land when there are people just miles from the most valuable companies in the world who can't afford to both live and eat.Remember "Everything's Amazing and Nobody's Happy?" Well, not only is the guy telling that story now tainted with his own awful reality, but not only is nobody truly happy, but there's a lot of crap that isn't amazing.Nearly 60 percent of children in the city of East Palo Alto, buttressing Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park are homeless, victims of skyrocketing housing prices. Families have stuffed themselves into RVs, only to be told to move along, in Mountain View and Palo Alto, home to $3 million average home prices, bordering Google and Stanford. And yet, the big tech companies keep hiring, while Bay Area cities don't even come close to keeping up with the housing demand.The Uncloaking of the Alt Right and the Me Too PhenomenonAs for those tech workers who have managed to find a way to live here? 2017 was a mess. Along with an emboldened racist and sexist wing in the Valley, with a new hero in the White House, and a self-promoting ex-Google engineer having penned a hateful screed that cast doubt to his colleagues' abilities solely due to their gender at birth, we also managed to get pummeled by regular news alerts to who the latest scumbags were who mistreated women and thought they could forever get away with it.What a disaster to see people I considered friends in years past - like Robert Scoble and Dave McClure, to find some of their seedy behavior exposed to the world, and know that's just the tip of the iceberg, as others who have made sport of inappropriate behavior a practical part-time job are legion. While I am very glad to see that it seems, finally, women are being believed, and men are admitting they screwed up, it will take generations to see our workplaces truly be welcoming places for everyone - if it is ever to be.(Time out: What a f---ing disaster Robert's non-apology post turned [...]

Your Steady Stream of Tech News Will Continue When Morale Improves

Mon, 30 Jan 2017 12:15:00 PST

The Web always promised to bring people together. But just as simply, it can drive people apart, as geographical barriers or partial or full anonymity empowers people to say things or behave in ways they wouldn't in a direct setting.Accelerated by the new reality of realtime streams where everyone has a megaphone and seemingly everyone is working to "go viral" and make the biggest noise leads to a constant cacophony of shouting on the issues of the day. And of late, as I outlined in my last post about Trump's looming $100 billion productivity crisis, just about every stream and news source is dominated by politics and the impact to people by political decisions.For those opposed to the Trump team's way of thinking, the daily barrage of news and rumors can be fatiguing. Each morning can bring new horrors of gut-churning policy and more needing to escalate to fight back. This weekend's sparked crisis stemming from an ill thought out and very likely racist and illegal refugee travel ban saw rallies across the country and millions of dollars raised to flow into the coffers of charities aiming to help, like the ACLU. (I too donated, and my company has promised to set aside millions to help.)Some of my comments on the weekend's events.As colleague Yonatan Zunger warns (and you absolutely must read his post), we will likely hit a wall of outrage fatigue. If there is a steady stream of controversial news that impacts us, or people we know, or people we are tangentially fond of, we will run into capacity limits to be angry and to be heard, as the calamities run into each other. But even if that occurs, that doesn't mean we can act as if nothing is happening at all.I've already seen people yearn for the good old days when we could debate data portability, site aggregation, text editors, or even which mobile OS is the best. But at a time when people's lives are at risk, and foundations we expected to be stable are proving themselves unstable, having a row about the latest geek gadget seems out of place.It's not that we didn't see this coming. Back in 2006, an ancient eleven years ago, I knew we would see the web accelerate people's disagreements. People want to flock to their tribes, where others agree with them, and the opposite side can seem evil, foolish or subhuman. Most of the time, they're not - even as their words are alarming and frightful. We knew when people had an opportunity to polarize one another and their beliefs, they would. And every study shows this - including our unprecedented divisions in government, globally, nationally and locally.We can use the Web to rally together and raise funds and awareness for our causes, and we will. But while I'm excited to see the deep pocketed among us excitedly match donations, a great chunk of society is living paycheck to paycheck, and the access to discretionary funds to hold back the government, an institution that is designed to help them, is simply going to run out.Until we reach some level of stability and understanding with one another, and are out of a crisis mode, you can expect the 'all politics all the time' streams to continue. Mild apologies.More: | RSS | E-mail | Cell: 408 646.2759 [...]

Trump's Looming $100B+ Distraction and Productivity Crisis

Fri, 20 Jan 2017 09:00:00 PST

Each year, American businesses are confronted with estimates that upwards of $2 to $4 billion in worker productivity is lost thanks to employee office pools around March Madness, the month-long college basketball championship tournament. Conventional wisdom has it that the tens of millions of players may physically check in to the office, but mentally are somewhere else, working at half speed, sapping dollars from their employer.That single digit billion dollar gap is trivial compared to what the country has likely already seen after a year-long torture test of a presidential campaign, followed up with the looming tenure led by a person whose unpredictability and lack of respect for historical precedent, combined with a filter-free ability to share his half-formed thoughts with the world has everyone guessing what headline will flare up next.The fidgety and distracted half-attentive employees in corner cubicles who may have been pulling for upset picks to win their bracket are instead replaced by entire teams of workers who are on edge - possibly unsure whether their place in the world is safe, whether their rights are going to be protected as new leaders rewrite and repeal the laws, or simply numb and horrified from the scandal of the day. And, if the 2016 campaign and post-election news cycles have been any hint as to what's to come over the next few years, this feeling, resembling post-traumatic stress disorder, will be felt in some capacity for a large percentage of the population for some time."Sharon, you've been watching CNN for about 8 weeks now.Don't you want to watch something else?" -- South ParkIf it's at all possible to act as if politics were not part of this discussion, leaving aside my strong support for Hillary and revulsion to Trump... putting aside the real life-threatening possibility that he and his team will ignite wars, stir up hatred against people who don't match his criteria of perfection, and the domino effects of reducing health care for millions and denying environmental impacts that threaten the very world... the very spectacle of distraction alone will seep in its darkness, sapping morale and focus.The volume of noise and conflict around Trump is unprecedented in a connected age, when everyone can consume and share information instantly. And while Twitter has had its challenges, it has become the epicenter for the latest volley of noise from the president elect. Buzzfeed recently said noise around Trump had crested 10 times higher than the previous first family of the network -- the Kardashians.At this point, even logging in to a social network, be it Facebook, Twitter or any other, runs into the possibility someone is talking about who Trump might be or what he might do. The campaign even brought the debate of whether you could trust news sources to the fore. The entire Web is infested.Conversations among friends, neighbors, and colleagues either tiptoe around the election or confront it head on, but it's always there, in the way the tragedy of 9/11 was on everyone's mind for the months and years following the attacks. It's a distraction not just for a few hoops jockeys or degenerates, but for tens to hundreds of millions of people, and won't just last a month, but, most likely, for years.Maybe this administration isn't going to be as alarming and disruptive as we all predict. Possibly after we all look at this like passing a smoldering wreck on the freeway, we can continue forward, but the rhetoric and policies promised to hit us seemingly have us positioned for a half decade of PTSD, which will impact everyone. This madness won't end with a buzzer beater from Gonzaga.Disclosures: I work at Google, a perceived partner and occasional competitor to Twitter, which I use constantly. I was also more than happy to d[...]

Real Valley Stories: The SVP of HR and a Bunch of Lawyers Will See You Now

Thu, 21 Apr 2016 17:00:00 PDT

Editor’s Note: Part 11 in an irregular series of stories from my many years in Silicon Valley. Part 10 talked about the time I left my job for a competitor and rescinded the offer. This time, a story involving industrial espionage, the SVP of HR and way too many lawyers.If I could show the leads from the lawyers’ lists were gone from our system,we’d be on a path to redemption.The day had started innocently enough. I was hosting our company’s public relations firm at the office, as we worked with our product marketing and management teams on interacting with press. At a break, I stepped outside of the conference room and found the longtime senior vice president of HR waiting for me — usually not a good sign.“Louis, please come into my office,” he said, with a tone that made it obvious this wasn’t really a choice. So I followed.We entered his office, only to find another man in a suit was waiting. The HR SVP shut the door behind us, and then turned back to me. “Louis, on the date of (whatever it was), did you upload a list of contacts to from (an account manager)?” “I Don’t Recall”I paused. In my marketing role over the last few years, I had used practically every day. It was our customer contact tool that hit all aspects of our business, from prospecting, to forecasting and demand generation. So it sounded like something I’d do. But I couldn’t tell him yes or no without looking.I heard the words escape my mouth as bluntly as Oliver North in the Iran Contra hearings: “I don’t recall.”But I promised to check — not knowing exactly what they were expecting to find. Somewhat shaken, but mostly mystified, I opened up, logged in, did a query, and found I had uploaded a list of contacts into the system on that date. But it didn’t have any significance for me than any other list or date. It was just one of the regular requests I’d gotten from our director of Sales Operations, who often asked me to do the imports or set up reports in the system that she was responsible for, but didn’t completely understand.So I went back to the SVP of HR, a little more nervous now, and said that yes, I had uploaded the list on that day. So what was going on? Unwittingly Aiding Corporate EspionageIt turned out that, unbeknownst to me, an account manager acquired a customer list from his previous employer, complete with contacts and titles, and shared it with his inside sales representative — whose job it was to email and call these prospects to sell them our products. The ISR then sent the list to the Director of Sales Ops, who forwarded the request on to me. So while I had been fulfilling a standard request, I was, in effect, aiding what amounted to corporate theft.The SVP of HR was clearly not too excited with me about my role in the upload. But he was more annoyed by the director’s not investigating the source of the list, and her not being in tune enough with to do the upload herself — not to mention his being beyond furious with the account manager and ISR who had put us in this mess. Unsurprisingly, the suited man in the HR SVP’s office was on the company’s legal team, and our competitor wanted us raked over the coals for the impropriety.Immediately, on the spot, the account manager responsible for obtaining the list was fired. The ISR, whom I considered a friend, was also fired, knowing what the contacts contained and calling against the list. He packed his personal items into a box, took a very lonely stroll trough the parking lot — and I never saw him again.Running Queries to Solve the Whole MessNow I was back in the HR office. Having somewhat absolved myself, our efforts turned to limiting the damage. The press[...]

Stepping Out With the Fitbit Blaze Smartwatch

Fri, 11 Mar 2016 12:45:00 PST

It has been years since I wore a watch regularly. Considering I’m rarely more than an arm’s length away from any smart device, I’d weaned myself away long ago — relying instead on my phone, laptop or tablet to give the time. And in the past few years, with many different smartwatch options popping up, from Apple’s offering and an array of Android Wear watches, I’ve browsed regularly, but not yet found the perfect fit for me for both utility and simplicity — until Fitbit announced the Blaze in January.In the ensuing two months, I’ve been captivated by the Blaze watch.Most smartwatches fall into two camps really, as I see it — too big or too tied to iOS. While this Christmas, I got my wife the Android Wear powered Moto 360, and she likes it, I didn’t get myself a matching set for two reasons — the first being that I hoped the watch’s profile would get even more slim in a newer generation, and second, I am really seeking functionality that goes beyond what I already get from my various Android devices — instead of just being a mirror of activity I already knew.The Fitbit Blaze was different.Not only did the Fitbit Blaze immediately extend my Fitbit activity tracking lifestyle, on which I’ve racked up millions of steps and hundreds of connected friends over the last few years, but the physical appearance of the device was slim and direct. Clean to look at. Light weight. And it didn’t try to do too much.The Blaze is, at first, a timepiece, and second, a fitness tracker, easily displaying your daily step totals, heart rate, and calories burned, much like any other Fitbit device, but in a new and attractive way that got my attention unlike any of their other armbands ever have.Also, in contrast to other smartwatches, the Blaze’s $199 price was actually very reasonable, compared with the least expensive Apple watch at $349 or the Moto 360 Sport at $299. While you can get cheaper options, like the Asus ZenWatch 2 for $149, you’ve got the idea.So over the last couple months, I visited the Fitbit Blaze site so often it became one of the saved home pages on my Chrome browser’s start page — just in case I wanted to look again. And as March approached, when Fitbit said device would finally ship, I finally took the plunge and bought one. I bought the Blaze on the 18th and it shipped only two days later.And — get this. It shipped ahead of schedule. Like weeks ahead of schedule. So instead of having to wait all the way into March to get my hands on the Blaze, Fitbit exceeded expectations, like they always have for me, and the device showed up at my doorstep on February 23rd. So for just over the last two weeks, I’ve been tracking my steps and heart rate during all waking hours on my the Blaze. Like any good data-driven geek (I work on Google Analytics, so data-driven equals yes), for the bulk of the first two weeks, I wore both my new Blaze watch and carried around the Fitbit One tracker I’ve used for the last few years. I believe Fitbit is the gold standard for step counts and daily activity, so if the two were to dramatically vary, that would not be cool. From what I’ve found, the watch is within 5% of daily step count from the One. Like any good ego-driven activity enthusiast, my bias as to what number is “correct” is the higher one. But the same 2,000 or so steps still count as a mile and so on. As for the features of the watch, they are very easy to grok. The leftmost button on the included band and housing swaps between screens. Or you can just tap the Blaze with your finger and swipe left or right. The first option is their “Today” feature, which captures your step total, displays your current and resting heart rate, your accumu[...]

We Need Smart and Personal Streams, Not Just The Latest Updates

Thu, 11 Feb 2016 15:30:00 PST

Once again, the tech web is aflutter about a proposed change in Twitter’s timeline — as they have finally made a choice to offer more than a simply chronological feed of updates displayed in the order they were posted. While a chronological order of tweets can be considered a hallmark definition of what Twitter is today, and truthfully, one of its most addictive features as each new Tweet rolls in, it’s also a detriment to those who aren’t ready to be constantly hooked to the information IV drip. My 2010 Summary of a Personalized Web futureTwitter is 10 years old now. That’s fairly mature from a Web services standpoint. Its peers, LinkedIn and Facebook, are 14 and 12 respectively. The next generation? Pinterest is just over six. Instagram nearly six. Snapchat is five. And yet it often seems as people are still waiting for Twitter to make that big leap forward to properly sit at the adults’ table. Twitter as a Media Network, not a Social Network Ex Twitter PR and comms guy Sean Garrett, now running his own firm, commented yesterday that Twitter’s been done a disservice by being labeled as a social company instead of as a media network. Taking that summary seriously, it clarifies one of the major needs for a personal and intelligent ranking of content, rather than a raw feed of the latest updates. Media companies don’t just give you the very latest updates in order, with no external curation. Instead, they sort it, rank it and deliver them from the most important to least important — whether their medium is television, radio, print or online. For the most aggressive media consumers, like myself, the idea of seeing content out of order may seem like pure heresy. We read every email, read every blog post in Feedly, and generally catch up on Twitter to the point where we left off. Scrambling that up seems abhorrent. But we’re not normal. We’re seeing that from the tippy top 1% of the bell curve, and hoping the rest of the world will catch up to us. But not only won’t they, but they don’t need to, and we should stop expecting it. A successful network has an obligation to give its users the best possible experience and do it instantly. But surfacing the right updates for the right person at the right time is a tricky Venn diagram to figure out, be it based on the users’ topics of interest, their affection for the person posting the content, the recency of that content, and obviously, a mix of all those signals and more. Just sitting back and showing the latest stuff only solves for one of those qualities: recency — completely ignoring what I like, who I trust and so on. Personalized Content Leads to Happier Users, More Usage From 2009 to 2011, I worked with my6sense, first as a third party consultant, and later as the company’s VP of Marketing, before I joined Google. Their app surfaced content from your social streams in a personalized way, just for you, based on your own implicit behaviors — what you clicked on, what you chose not to, how long you read something, etc. The more you used the application, the smarter it got, and eventually, we would know your interest patterns so well, that we could take our user model and apply it to any stream on the web. my6sense for TwitterIn early 2011, we delivered a Chrome extension for Twitter, which took the smarts we’d developed and displayed the results of that effort on the Twitter website — giving you two options: your standard timeline, ordered chronologically, and a smart, personalized timeline, from my6sense. By no means were we the first company to try and bring sense to a social stream. In fact, in 2008, FriendFeed (RIP) offered users personalized recommendations as a feat[...]

Running a Social Fantasy Stock Portfolio With Google Finance

Tue, 09 Feb 2016 10:00:00 PST

It’s no secret the stock market has been more than a little bit rough this year. After years of growth and optimistic enthusiasm about Internet giants, promising biotech pioneers who aimed to change the world, and starry eyed hope for unprofitable unicorns, 2016 has seen record setting declines through January, with the average company losing double digit percentages in value, and less fortunate market caps slashed by more than half in less time than Noah and his family were said to have spent on an ark. But amid the daily headlines screaming with bold red letters, the overnight alerts about instability in China, and debate over whether the low price of oil will halt the rise of the electric car, a few friends of mine and I have been running a parallel stock game of sorts which makes the daily punishments of whiplash just a little more acceptable, and maybe even fun. When the leader is down 13%, you know it’s been a rough year already.The starting rules sounded simple: Start with a virtual $100,000 (any number works, but $100k sounds big) Pick ten stocks or commodities Invest $10k in each one, either short or long. Hold those picks for a full year. No trading. After a full year, the person with the greatest balance wins. We all started with 100k, but we’d all beg to get there now.The rules, especially the counterproductive block on any mid-year trading or selling, seem simple. And the twelve month horizon may have you believe it’s a set it and forget it game — just plug in the tickers and come back to see how you did. But the reality is far different. Six different people with different backgrounds, who claim to know what they’re doing and have more than an average level of experience in the market, each delivered widely differing picks, and now we’re keeping an eye on sixty different securities, watching how they move in the face of some pretty strong headwinds.One portfolio bet 10 for 10 on small cap biotech stocks, crossing fingers for a binary spike on approvals from the FDA, but has had absolutely no luck, down more than 40 percent on the year already — needing a near double to get back to par. Others of us picked large cap tech leaders like Google, Facebook, Netflix, Apple and Amazon, and have also seen declines around 20%. Solar picks like SolarCity, SunEdison and SunRun? Down 33%. One contrarian portfolio is hoping for turnarounds from Yahoo!, HP, Chipotle and Yelp! and faring no better. Pretty much the only things that have kept above water in 2016 are retail picks like Macy’s and Walmart, old media like Time Warner, and a few opportunistic shorts. (Disclosures: I work at Google and also own SunRun stock in real life. No other biases are assumed or intended.) The Contrarian Account is Down TooThat none of us predicted a market correction makes us seem more than a little daft, but even though we’ve managed to take $600,000 and turn it into just over $450,000 in about a month’s time, the daily ups and downs and charts created by the automated spreadsheet have turned what should be a tragedy into a thrilling contest that plays out five days a week. How Google Finance and Google Sheets Run This Game Stock portfolios are typically a secure and individual endeavor. They’re not made for other people viewing, and they’re not social. But when my dad wagered I couldn’t invest his money better than the 3.5% annual return he expected from a money market account in 2014, I had to find a way to prove I could. And I happened upon Google Finance’s integration with Google Sheets — plugging in my own ten picks that summer, and eventually delivering 10% or so gains on the year. That experience had me getting dee[...]

Listen Different And Learn

Thu, 14 Jan 2016 16:45:00 PST

For most people, new ideas and perspectives make us uncomfortable. It’s easier and less taxing to surround ourselves with people who agree with our worldview, and reinforce our way of thinking, to make us believe we are correct. We self-select our communities, both in the physical world, and the online space, and these friends or peers become an extension of our own identity.A byproduct of this selection process is that our communities end up looking a lot like us and behaving like us. Techies follow techies. White guys talk to white guys. Democrats engage with Democrats. While the Internet has a virtually infinite pool of people and ideas to choose from, we easily ignore, unfollow, mute or block those voices and appearances that we don’t identify with or make us question our position.A Divided WebTen years ago, I saw this polarization coming, saying the web was dividing in what I called a “bifurcation”:“It is human nature to seek out a community of peers and equals, of those who yearn for the same things or have parallel experience… (and thus) polarized and wholly separate communities will grow and thrive.” — Feb. 23, 2006As a white male in Silicon Valley for the better part of two decades, my world view is a very specific one. I know that my experiences don’t always match people who don’t look like me, or whose LinkedIn profile looks vastly different. And over the last decade of participating in many different social channels, (Google+, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) my established audience I’ve curated has ended up looking a lot like me. It’s very white. It’s very male. It’s full of people from Silicon Valley, who love tech, and, in most cases, vote Democrat.But I know that’s not good enough. To close ones eyes to the rest of the world means also closing my ears, and my mind. Last May, I was especially struck, and angered, honestly, by how the Silicon Valley community seemed especially blind and silent on the topics of racial bias in our country’s police forces, which sparked unrest in places like Ferguson and Baltimore. While protesters loudly called for improvements in their world that begged for equality, millionaire VCs speculated about unicorn valuations and other techies complained about high rents in San Francisco — which don’t seem all that important in comparison.Amid this noise and seeming tone-deafness from the public profiles of many active Valley participants, we have an ongoing cry for help and recognition and value from women in tech, who correctly see an uneven playing field that throws roadblocks at their career progress, polluted by landmines of sexism, bias and the good old boy networks — as well as a call for an expanded level attention to increase diversity in all our ranks, with diversity meaning not just women, but people of color (POC). Exploring New Streams for New VoicesSo over the last year-plus, I’ve actively tried to do a much better job of listening and engaging with people who aren’t like me. And this simple act of listening opens my eyes every day to things I may have missed — while making those topics that I might have previously ignored become critically important to me as an individual.Twitter Analytics shows my audience is overwhelmingly male. Not a surprise.As I still love tech, and still identify a geek, my bias and interests remains there, but I’ve aggressively opened my eyes and ears to more women voices and more black voices — especially on Twitter, where the following model is very lightweight, and the stream’s recommendation system smartly brings me new people who I may never have previously discovered.On [...]

Layoffs and Loyalty in a Liquid Valley

Tue, 13 Oct 2015 22:30:00 PDT

Layoffs Are Painful. Even if the X Doesn’t Land on You(Image: Dreamstime)In seventeen years of work in Silicon Valley, I’ve only left a job by choice once — in 2011, when I made the jump from being a partner at my own consulting group to join Google. The other three times, my employer informed me my time was up, and at that my services were no longer needed, loyalty be damned.In two cases, the startup I worked for ran out of funding, and once, the new VP wanted to change things up, bringing in somebody they previously worked with instead of going with the team they inherited. When it comes to a debate between the company succeeding versus your being comfortable, the CEO will never pick you.Layoffs Suck.Layoffs initiate feelings of numbness and outrage, fear and self-doubt. People cry at almost every layoff, even if their jobs were spared. Others yell or curse under their breath as they are escorted out of the building, having already handed in their security badges and seeing their work files, along with hundreds or thousands of email threads, no longer relevant, slip from their view.I’ve seen companies hire armed guards to patrol the building, in case of retaliation, and once arrived at work the morning after a reduction in force to find a brick had been hurled through the HR VP’s office window, making the premises a crime scene.Layoffs suck. Getting laid off sucks. Seeing coworkers lose their jobs sucks. Laying people off.. sucks. When a company cuts staff, they are admitting something has failed and needs to change. They’re not growing fast enough. Too many people were hired to do not enough things. Something isn’t working. Today, Twitter laid off 336 people. That’s a lot. Not the 30,000 reported layoffs at HP, but a significant number, one that wasn’t supposed to happen at one of the tech industry’s most discussed companies.In recent months, gallons of digital ink have been spilled on the frothy technology market we see today. Talk of unicorns and skyrocketing Bay Area housing prices focuses a microscope on the top one percent of success, while many on the outside look in wonder why they haven’t joined the vaunted three comma club. Effort and skill aren’t enough. You need luck too.I’ve been lucky enough (so to speak) to be present at a number of layoff rounds in my near two decades in the Valley. Let’s talk about it. It’s human.May 1999After eight months as an E-commerce analyst at a low-revenue startup during the dotcom heyday, my boss rolled up to my desk in his chair, and in halting English, crowned by his Russian accent, told me the lead investor was done with his little experiment, and we, in two weeks, would no longer have jobs.His crowning quote: “You and Ferris (my colleague) are laid off. I am fired.”More: Real Valley Stories: You Stay, Your Boss Has to GoJanuary 2001Somehow I escaped that layoff with my desk intact. I took a different role with the sister company in the same building. While that was unusual, and I put in nearly two solid years at the company, it too fell on hard times.Our $1 million in seed funding (at a $10 million valuation) was running dry. By the end of 2000, we were asked to work without salary, waiting for a follow-on round that never came.A few weeks into the new year, my boss, the VP of Marketing, called me into a meeting to say he was laid off. In fact, all of sales, business development, and marketing, myself included, were done. Only the engineers would stay behind to clean up the mess.I lingered around the full workday, wasting time on the Internet, until a friend flew into the San Francisco Airport, as we were s[...]

Having a Clear Call to Action Can Drive Real Results

Mon, 31 Aug 2015 17:45:00 PDT

As a member of the Google Analytics team, I regularly field questions at events or on our social channels about how online and offline activity can drive results, and what metrics have value. As no two businesses are the same, it's critical to determine the status of your company and find if your activity can bring impact to results that matter, be they clicks, leads, registrations, opportunities or real revenue. When the goals are determined, and you have stakeholder buyin, then you can start your work. (See: Measure What Matters Most)Among the most common questions I see are those around driving visitors to a specific call to action. Most websites have many different routes for visitors to take, and the many choices can be overwhelming. But in some other cases, only one outcome is required, and all efforts should be taken to get the user there.Nearly 15 years ago, I held a role with the inconspicuous title of eMarketing Manager at a company whose product line was in stealth mode. As we approached the launch date, our small marketing team debated how we were going to handle the first version of our website, and just what our calls to action were going to be.Most Sites Have Many Calls to Action, Which Distracts VisitorsWe knew our product would have a long sales cycle of more than six months, and the average sales price would be north of a hundred thousand dollars per unit. We didn't yet have any customer success stories, and our target markets were an educated guess, based on how we thought the product would perform, and colleagues' experience selling competitive products. We didn't even really have photos of the hardware we expected to sell, as that too was a work in progress.But what we did have was a launch date, to coincide with the announcement of our product and corresponding news coverage. We had to ship a site with our new company name, and it had to give just enough information to keep people interested, even if we couldn't deliver all the details.The BlueArc product page in February of 2001 (via some debate, we decided to make the website a massive demand generation tool, with every page driving us to a single call to action: Sign up for our newsletter. Every page had a button on the sidebar encouraging new signups, and where data was scarce, we had links to the newsletter. Even before we'd sent out a single issue, we had thousands of registered emails, ready to be updated.Our Solution: A Single Call to Action from All PagesOur monthly newsletter, which shipped with my name as the sender for more than eight years, gave us a consistent customer database to talk to for years, and was responsible, in the long run, for prospects, ongoing communication to soft leads, and updating the press and analysts.This result was from keeping our mission simple. Instead of trying to dazzle visitors with things to download, an array of phone numbers to call, or videos to watch, we just took the casual visitor coming from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and gave them the chance to hear from us again, so that when our message was ready for them, we would have that channel in place.When you know what to measure, driving toward a goal becomes easier. And if you don't, not only are you confused, but so are your users. This is a lesson I learned firsthand a decade and a half ago.Disclosures: I work at Google on Google Analytics, and worked at BlueArc from 2001-2009.More: | RSS | E-mail | Cell: 408 646.2759 [...]

Tech Company Shifts Position Sunnyvale as Major Hub for Next Decade

Thu, 30 Jul 2015 11:20:00 PDT

In Silicon Valley, some of the most prosperous cities and most sought after zip codes to live, raise a family and send kids to school, are directly dependent on the proximity to corporate headquarters of the leading technology companies. As some of the biggest companies are running out of room in their headquarter cities, the resulting demand for continued growth is putting pressure on neighboring communities. Sunnyvale looks like ground zero for this next wave.Cupertino, home to Apple, the most valuable company on the planet, has a median home price north of $1.7 million dollars, up 15% year over year. Mountain View, home to Google, has a median home price above $1.3 million, up 20% year over year. And these high marks significantly trail the more upscale suburban locales such as Palo Alto ($2.44 million average) and Los Altos ($2.65 million average). Quietly sitting wedged between Mountain View and Cupertino, in a state of tug of war between Apple, Google and more companies, like Yahoo!, LinkedIn and NetApp, is Sunnyvale ($1.28 million average). Sunnyvale has not only seen the fastest increase in average home prices over the last 12 months, but is set up to see even more demand as jobs flow to the city. As a biased Sunnyvale homeowner and area employee, this is very interesting to watch.Bay Area Housing Prices: High and IncreasingAs the total land available to new workers entering the area or existing employees looking to leave apartments and find a home near their office stays static, the old rules of supply and demand are taking hold. Sunnyvale home prices are up 23% year over year, at a pace slightly above the surrounding neighborhoods, higher than the aforementioned Cupertino, Palo Alto, Mountain View and Los Altos, but even quicker than Facebook's home, Menlo Park (up 17% y/y), or San Francisco, home to Twitter and many others (up 13% y/y).Sunnyvale's Average Increase Highest Over the Last 12 MonthsSo why is this? And who cares? As somebody who has been working in the Valley since the rise and fall of the first dotcom boom in the late 1990s, I've seen ebbs and flows in the economy impact hiring, funding, area traffic and housing prices. Big names that once were major land owners and employers, like Sun Microsystems and SGI, can virtually disappear. But when large companies present stability and prosperity, they can be a magnet for skilled workers. And in the last two years, you have seen major announcements from Valley leaders, like Google, Apple and LinkedIn, announcing new campuses or building into Sunnyvale, as offices in neighboring Mountain View and Cupertino become saturated.While much press has been spilt over Apple's amazing spaceship campus under construction in Cupertino, what few note is that this work, taking over an older Hewlett Packard lot, is snugly cornered on the border of Sunnyvale city limits, and the company has been snapping up buildings all over the city to manage growth. LinkedIn has been building sparkling new buildings in downtown Sunnyvale and looks poised to move thousands of workers there soon. Google has made headlines as they've taken over buildings from Juniper Networks and even took over nearby Moffet Field.This expanded pressure from Cupertino on the South border, and Mountain View to the West and North, is pushing Sunnyvale costs and demand upward, much like new mountain ranges are formed under pressure from moving tectonic plates. And this isn't to say that Sunnyvale doesn't already have significant employment hubs of their own. The city's largest employers include Lockh[...]

Preaching to Our Choirs and Setting Up Blinders for All Else

Thu, 14 May 2015 10:15:00 PDT

Just about four years ago, Eli Pariser raised some very real flags about the "filter bubble", concerned that many of us on the Web were limiting our viewpoints by following those people and companies with whom we were most aligned. Our personal positions on politics, sports, and yes, even technology, have us in a constant state of affirmation seeking, and the desire to be part of a group of like-minded people, to reinforce our position and strengthen our decided upon beliefs, that we just might be right. And should somebody in our streams disagree with us, or launch into an off topic rant, we can easily unfollow them, and "clean up" the channel.At the time, thanks to tools like my6sense, where I was an advisor, and later VP of marketing, I said the filter bubble was "not bad" as options were always there to see new voices. While my6sense may not have been a massive consumer success, it was amazingly smart tool that solved the problem for me. But in the ensuing time, it's become even more clear that people, through constant following and unfollowing on our many social networks, are growingly subscribed to homogenous streams, and the content creators, be they bloggers, Tweeters, photographers or anything else, are limiting the subjects they discuss, to continue feeding the faithful.As someone who gained a following talking about tech, new tools and communities, I've staked my position on the Web as an early adopter, a cloud proponent, a measurement advocate, and engaged social media participant. I have a pretty good idea of what topics will resonate with my audiences on the various streams, and what won't. I know that my discussing items outside of my bubble are seen as noise to those who have chosen to follow me, and they vote with their engagement, or lack of it.More than nine years ago, shockingly, I saw this coming, when I talked about a Web divided, where people who espoused a certain view would flock toward an extreme community and not be interested in the opposite view. But it goes beyond picking a side in a discussion. What's happened is that people set up blinders to avoid discussion of anything else - including the content creators themselves.There's a lesser-used feature in TweetDeck, which enables you to view a Twitter stream through the eyes of another user, surfacing public tweets from accounts they follow. During the Baltimore riots, while a huge portion of Twitter's audience was living through the accounts through the news media, or sharing their experiences about race and police, the Silicon Valley tech bubble largely stayed silent, as if there were two different worlds that didn't connect. I could log in to TweetDeck and pick any prominent voice in tech and see that, in their streams, there was no talk of Baltimore. Or race. Or Ferguson. While people marched in the streets, and dodged rocks or tear gas, the digerati continued to talk about who was raising money, the quality of pitch decks, or complaints about housing prices in San Francisco.My tweets about Baltimore arresting police offers or links to why the situation exploded in the first place went unnoticed - while the streams continued to debate the future of wearables or the latest entrant into Unicorn status as a billion dollar startup. It was more than an echo chamber. It was a wind tunnel. And my daily journey into Feedly seemed to be no different than any other time. The same articles were written by the same people, about the same things. The same headlines begging you to click were thrown out there, only to be reshared and retwee[...]

FriendFeed's Closure Another Painful Loss from a Vibrant Era of Social Media

Mon, 09 Mar 2015 15:00:00 PDT

Amidst all the Apple watch hoopla today, FriendFeed's blog announced the long-ignored social networking pioneer was finally going to be taken out back behind Facebook's brilliant new campus and be put down for good. With the network's acquisition five years behind us in the rear view mirror, and user statistics consistently down, mothballing the once unique and vibrant community seemed only a matter of time, and the time has come.The closure will be by no means without pain. For the many people who made the site their center for capturing their updates around the Web, from the simplest status and debates to photos, there have been no hints at data migration or export. The hilarious threads with friends around the world are going to disappear. The instantaneous celebrations we had when my children were born, and the despair we felt when friends passed away and were mourned will be deleted.While the Web may have moved on, those of us most loyal to the service remember its pioneering excellence, with near-instant aggregation and publishing, near-perfect uptime, still completely unmatched advanced search capabilities, the introduction of the now universal Like button, topical "Rooms" much like the Groups or Communities of today's networks, and ability to act as a hub for your lifestream, sending the right updates to the right places immediately.Facebook's 2009 announcement of acquiring FriendFeed clearly spelled good news for the small and elite team working at the company, but pretty much spelled bad news for those who preferred it to what have clearly been the eventual winners in Facebook and Twitter. Some elements of FriendFeed made their way into Facebook, but there really hasn't been anything like it since. (Google Buzz came close, but that's a different story)The Social Web's picture in 2008 and 2009 was dramatically different than it is today. Twitter was as known for its uptime issues as for its core functionality. Facebook was obviously on a fast ramp to going public, Google Reader was the starting point for reading the Web's updates via RSS, and we were all looking for smart aggregation sites to discuss the Web's happenings with friends.Flash forward, and Google Reader (RIP) and FriendFeed are in the bin, aggregation is no longer a thing, and the hottest discussions are around good looking filter apps or private networks with disappearing content. It makes one feel a little gutted to have invested in networks that felt a little bit smarter and were designed for smart consumption and discussion, rather than a flight toward the lowest common denominator.Any ranting on my part to rescue my photos and posts and content from FriendFeed is a guaranteed moot point, and will fall on deaf ears, no doubt. While Google led the way with the Data Liberation project, and even Facebook and Twitter have archives you can download and take with you, FriendFeed has never made that step, and I'd be stunned if they would surprise us now. And while we're saying goodbye to conversations that used to spawn hundreds of comments and likes in the matter of minutes, it's almost as if we should feel lucky we squeezed out a few more years of engagement after the acquisition, when so many other products disappear immediately after getting bought.Sigh.If you were part of the active community that made FriendFeed special in those wide-eyed years, you experienced something I've never seen with any community since (with occasional flashes on Google+ and Twitter being exceptions). If you missed it, then you missed[...]

YouTube Kids: Smart, Mobile First, and Child Sized.

Mon, 23 Feb 2015 15:45:00 PST

In December, I wrote about viewing technology through the eyes of a child. As much as I think of myself as an early adopter and 'with it' net citizen, I'm equally amused and amazed at the activities my own kids rapidly learn and partake in when it comes to technology and the Web, how things and concepts once considered the future are commonplace. And their eyes, unvarnished by the way things have always been, highlight shortcomings in our software and websites that historically have been designed for fully literate adults on the desktop.I've been particularly excited to watch (and trial) YouTube Kids as it has been developed, and have been eager to see it launch today, the collective effort of sharp colleagues like +Shimrit Ben-Yair, +Pavni Diwanji, +Jonathan Terleski and many more. As they wrote in today's blog post, the new YouTube Kids is "the first Google product built from the ground up with little ones in mind." As a dad of three kids six and under, two of whom who read fairly well and a third just trying to keep up, it's exciting to see them become the focal point for an entirely new interface.The YouTube Kids Music channel.My children, from a young age, have been surrounded by touch-enabled tablets. They expect my laptop (and in the case of my Chromebook Pixel, accurately) to be touch-enabled. They use voice search constantly to find what they're looking for, and they essentially expect the world's content to be immediately available. But they tire quickly when apps and sites don't do what they want. That can result in complaints to me, or even a thrown tablet or two from a tantrum.Without sounding too much like PR-speak, from my own experience, I've seen the YouTube Kids app to reduce any surprises from me in terms of what my kids are watching, they more easily navigate the app, find channels and shows they want, and generally are pleased to have something made just for them.Browsing shows on YouTube KidsIf you haven't yet tried it out (download on Google Play or iTunes), the app features curated channels, a music area, a learning section, exploration, and the always handy search button. So the colors are bright, the buttons are bigger, and there's no noise in the way.Browsing the PBS KIDS channel on YouTube KidsThe true measure of whether an app for kids is working is whether the kids ask for it by name, or keep using it instead of getting bored and trying something else. My four year old boy is quick to use the app on my Nexus 9 or Nexus 6, and the twin six year olds are quickly getting used to the new app after lots of their own experience on the standard YouTube app we've all used.Searching for Minecraft on YouTube KidsLucky for us parents who do our best to stay on top of their digital explorations without trying to be overbearing, YouTube Kids makes searching less of a risk. My kids won't go from a G rated topic to an R rated one in a few clicks. Searching for Minecraft (which happens in my house) turns up solid results. And I can even set up the app to run for a certain amount of time before closing, to be used for incentives, or a late evening treat before bed.Setting YouTube for Kids' timer for 30 minutesAt the risk of my once more vibrant blog to be turned into a daddy blog, the quick summary is that this app is a welcome addition to our tablets and phones. Netflix's Kids only channel is smart. YouTube Kids is smart. The next generation is growing up with smart devices everywhere. What they do with them is largely prodd[...]

Adult Problems Stink. I Blame Drew's Cancer. #BlameDrewsCancer

Mon, 12 Jan 2015 11:30:00 PST

I quickly glossed over it during my first post of the year, when I said "Adult problems can be a real pain," but I'd be skirting around some big issues if I didn't go deeper on some very real drama that in years past would see me aggressively pounding the drum to draw attention to their pain, hoping to rally others to their cause. But as I get older, and, as a result, my friends do too, struggles with health, family, work or finance are hardly isolated - making it somewhat selfish to choose one cause against another. And that sucks.Nearly five years ago, +Drew Olanoff, one of the best friends my family has ever had, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. He, along with +Mike Demers and others, launched the #BlameDrewsCancer phenomenon, blaming all the world's ills on his cancer. A year after, we were delighted to learn Drew had been declared cancer free. We'd always expected a full recovery, and it was a relief to hear the doctors say so.My best buddy Drew with my kids in late 2008 and 2009.But, as most of you who follow my social streams know, Drew's cancer is back. And while I'm hopefully optimistic again (as is he), I'd be lying if I didn't say we're both worried. Cancer is no joke. This time around, Drew is older, and a bit more fatigued. He needs to use his energy to fight the cancer (again) and doesn't need the weight on his back of every cancer story that doesn't have a happy ending.Before Christmas, I took my two boys up to San Francisco to see Drew in the hospital, where he was getting ready for a round of chemotherapy. The trip was done quietly, as Drew, at the time, hadn't told the world his cancer was back. But my kids gave Drew their handmade cards, exchanged hugs, and we did what we could to let Drew know how important he is to our family, and that we're on the same team.Matthew and Braden in SF after seeing Drew in December.But Drew's not the only one with a challenge and raising the rally flag for him does something of a disservice to other friends who are fighting their own demons, cancer included. +Adam Singer and I visited +Justin Levy at Citrix before the end of the year, seeing how he's progressing after being diagnosed with a brain tumor and two broken shoulders, fractured in a dramatic seizure. Search marketing and analytics blogger +AJ Kohn is also undergoing chemotherapy treatment, and +Sid Burgess has had his own round with cancer. Summary: Cancer sucks and it isn't just picking on one guy and I hate it.And cancer's not the only demon working to make friends' lives unhappy. My colleague +Julia Ferraioli has been sacked with an array of issues over the last year plus that have turned her life upside down. My colleague Ken Norton lost his son to childhood heart disease, and in June, when I read Eric Meyer's story about losing his daughter, I was nearly in tears, dumbly staring at my Nexus 7 and going through her Flickr archive to better know the life that was cut short too soon.Comparatively, my life is pretty darn good. Family is healthy. So far, the bills are getting paid (even though it's not easy), and most of our struggles are simply getting the kids to be obedient, or dealing with car and tech issues. But I'm thinking about it. Don't get me wrong. I am worried about Drew this time, and he is scared too. He should be.But every time I see a friend, be it Drew or Sid or Julia or Justin, ask the world for help, I see the world answer str[...]

10 New Year's Resolutions (for you) for the Year 2015

Thu, 01 Jan 2015 19:30:00 PST

A new year is a somewhat arbitrary point in time to mark change. But tradition has it that we do two things when the calendar turns from December to January. We look back on the previous year, either with pride over accomplishments, or dismissal of bad experiences, and we optimistically expect the best for the coming twelve months.In years past I've put forth fun predictions for the world in tech. And trust me, I have some predictions, but I'll hold those close to the vest. Working at Google makes predicting the future like cheating. And I won't bore you with a list of my own resolutions for 2015. Instead, I'll suggest (with bias) ten resolutions each of you (and often us too) should take this year to make our online and offline lives even better.1. Protect yourself and your data from the bad guys.Seemingly every week, we are seeing news about security breaches at major retail stores, or finding online databases have been impacted. And outside the headlines, bad actors are out there trying to harvest your online information. I recommend protecting yourself by using two-factor authentication wherever possible, trying to avoid the reuse of passwords, and setting up automatic alerts that tell you if your credit cards are being used anywhere, or over a certain dollar amount.In 2014, I managed nearly 6 million steps on Fitbit.2. Use intelligent data to make yourself a better person.Seemingly everyone's New Year's resolution is to go to the gym more or lose weight. But those resolutions tend to fade out after a strong month or so. Instead, find a fitness tracker or application that makes sense to track what you already do, and find a way to increase those numbers. My adoption of Fitbit two and a half years ago helped me lose more than 20 pounds, encouraged me to buy a treadmill, and find the way to walk just about everywhere.3. Use intelligent data to make your home a smarter one.Once you know to count your data with services like Fitbit, running your home without data is kind of dumb. By adopting Nest and Sunrun to handle our energy costs, and Rachio to manage our smart sprinkler system, we've not only set ourselves up to save money each month, but we can better predict our use, and make changes when necessary.Our Solar powered home saves money and saves the air too.4. If you have money, put it in places with long term benefits.In 2010, we bought our home, putting out more money than I've ever done. But with rising Silicon Valley real estate prices, that looks like a good investment. In 2011, we refinanced. In 2012, we paid off our cars and, with the exception of our home, were debt free. In 2013, we bought a treadmill, to keep us active, even if not leaving the house. And in 2014, we made two big expenditures: The first being our Sunrun solar system, which will save us more than $65,000 in the lifetime of the 20 year contract, and the second, paying off a home equity line of credit, which was taking $300 a month, every month. We paid it off 28 years early. This year, we're hoping to get rid of our external storage unit, and continuing to take costs off the top.A Happy Update from the end of April on Twitter5. Reduce clutter, be it of physical things or your time.One of our 'first world problems' is the accumulation of stuff that takes up space. But many of things that occupy space where we live are for temporary enjoyment. I made a choice to ditch physical items for digital ones years ago, and I don't have b[...]

A Successful 100k Steps Leads to a Sore, Yet Happy, Christmas

Thu, 25 Dec 2014 21:30:00 PST

Monday's personal record setting Fitbit dashboardLast week, I introduced a crazy and audacious goal, of knocking out 100,000 steps (as measured by Fitbit), in the name of personal achievement and to raise money for Camp Taylor, a summer camp for children with heart disease, in honor of colleague Ken Norton's son, Riley. And I'm beyond happy to say our adventure was a success.As chronicled on all the social channels (Twitter, Facebook and Google+ for starters), +Stephen Mack and I passed the 100,000 mark shortly before 10 pm Monday night, after 16 hours of pavement pounding fun that covered more than 46 miles - seeing us start before dawn, and keep pressing forward until daylight was a distant memory. And better yet, our efforts were not in vain as many of you were eager to support us through nearly $5,000 in donations to Camp Taylor, beating our target of $4,500.Our fundraising goal for Camp Taylor: Achieved!As I set out in our planning, Stephen and I got nearly all our walking in through three trips along the Stevens Creek Trail, which connects Sunnyvale to the San Francisco Bay through Mountain View, just past the Google campus. We grabbed backpacks with essential snacks and fluids, multiple phone chargers for guaranteed power, and thought ahead - bringing bandaids and Advil for inevitable pain, and head-mounted lamps to break through darkness.Some scenes from early morning Monday, before the pain.Our initial pace was quick, as I'm accustomed, and Stephen did a solid job adjusting, as we maintained strides through most of the day, even beyond the 10, 20 and 30 mile marks. And we were lucky enough to be joined for much of the journey by friends, each of whom did a lap with us, meaning we were marching in a group of three for about 80 percent of our trek, sharing new pains, stories and sights with one another.Having walked greater than 50,000 steps a few times myself, I knew I could hit the 100k as a stretch goal, so long as life didn't get in the way, but as our mark neared, I absolutely felt the fatigues and aches that threatened to make finishing difficult. We were each battling aches in practically every part below our waist, and our feet were a mess of blisters and soreness that wouldn't be solved until we were done.By the 92,000 mark, just an hour and a half away from the proverbial finish line, I was nearly overcome with dizziness and a slight spell where I was a bit concerned I'd pass out and fall short. Whether I was dehydrated or had just hit a wall, I'm not sure, but with water and about 10 minutes rest, we were able to continue marching, and eventually things settled back to where they were at a good rhythm through the end.Hitting 100,000 Fitbit steps just before 10 p.m. Monday night.As my math had planned, we made it back to my house the final time with 99,000 steps complete. We dropped off our heavy bags, and took one last victory lap around the block, reaching 100,000 steps at 9:52 p.m., after a momentary scare that Fitbit couldn't handle six digits and our walk would have been mocked at the very end. My tracker had stuck at 99,999 steps and then jolted forward to 100,007, so no pictures of perfection exist, but we had done it. We wearily high fived one another and then trudged home to call the event a success.As I told Ken, I promised I would do the full 100,000 steps, and we had done it. Our promise to Camp Taylor, and those supporting us with th[...]