Archive for January 2006

Lessons From The Roundabout SEO Test

My favorite comedian of all time, the late great Mitch Hedberg, once told a joke about what he called “The Roundabout AIDS test.” Click Mitch’s mouth below to hear it:

While obviously not meant in any serious manner, the joke reminds me of my attitude towards SEO, or “Search Engine Optimization”. A lot of people spend an inordinate amount of time making sure all of their pages are specifically geared towards achieving a high ranking on Google. While I understand the business objectives of such an obsession, I find my own attitude towards SEO much more apathetic. I’m a lot more interested in how many people subscribe to Mike Industries than how many people typed in something like “expiring domain” and somehow ended up at my site.

So for that reason, my SEO activity is limited to my own little “Roundabout SEO Test”, which I perform a few times a year. It’s a very simple test and takes only a few seconds to execute. Here is the procedure:

1. Go to google.com.

2. Type in “mike”.

3. Hit return.

4. Take note of how high or low Mike Industries is on the list of results.

That’s it.

Yes, it seems a little narcissistic, and yes, it’s not a true measure of how well each page on this site is optimized for search engines, but it’s a general indication of how well or poorly this blog is doing and that’s really all I’m interested in.

In running this Roundabout SEO Test since creating Mike Industries last year, I’ve seen my ranking among Mikes climb from in the thousands, to in the hundreds, to the top 50, to the top twenty, and most recently to number 5.

Number 5 is great and I’m totally cool with it considering that my parents were unoriginal enough to christen me with the most popular name in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, but now that the list of “competitors” is down to 4, I thought I’d take a close look at why the pecking order on Google is the way it is. In other words, what are the factors which most affect search results in the real world?
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Visualizing Newsvine with Google Maps

One of the really great things about having such a cool group of early Newsvine users is that people think of great new stuff every day. About an hour ago, Fraser Mills posted an item on Newsvine pointing to a great news visualization he just built with Newsvine data and the Google Maps API. I’d call it a “mashup” but that term has always made me think of pureed food, so I stay away from it.

There are three things in particular that I think are cool here:

  1. Fraser is building things off our API before our API is even officially released or documented. That is awesome and it’s a testament to the power and flexibility of tagging and XML data. I remember that people started building Peppers for Mint long before The Wolf documented his API as well. I think that’s just great and I encourage anyone who is interested in Newsvine APIs to post their requests to the official Newsvine Blog.
  2. Aside from freeform location tagging, we actually have 225 regions around the world which we haven’t exposed to users yet. Once true location data like this makes its way into posts, wire articles, and seeds, the map will be even more useful. You’ll be able to zoom in on Seattle, for instance, and get stories down to the micro-local level.
  3. It’s good to get a look at how Google Maps potentially displays news items. I’m very curious as to how Yahoo Maps compares, because as a designer, I like the Yahoo Maps skinning capabilities a lot more. Justin Everett-Church’s example of Yahoo Maps piped into Flash and set against a pirate theme is an example of what I’m talking about. We place a high premium on everything looking great and I’m wondering what some of the tradeoffs between the two mapping APIs are.
UPDATE: Alright, I guess Yahoo only maps the U.S., so Google it is! And no, we weren’t *really* thinking about a pirate-themed news map. :)

Abel Rios Is Not Dead

Can sIFR get you sainted? Maybe!

Mike Industries: Where Memes Come To Die

So let’s say you were just sent one of those “meme” things by a friend of yours (or two, or ten) and you feel obligated to post the meme to your blog, out of respect to the sender, but you don’t particularly see the point in further perpetuating the world’s collection of Meme Lint.

What do you do?

Easy. Carry out your duty, and then pass your meme off to Mike Industries. Here, we will see to it that the meme is disposed of in a humane way, without the use of pesticides, chloro-flourocarbons, or any other environmentally hazardous materials. The patent-pending Mike Industries Meme Euthanasia process ensures that all memes are given proper burial (along with last rites) and no RSS feeds are contaminated in the process.

Pass your meme off today. Representatives are standing by.

The Proof is in the People

Forecasting the next big thing on the web seems to be the sport of the season these days. Each quarter, new companies launch and put themselves at the mercy of the blogosphere and the press with the hopes of being the next media darling.

But is being a media darling a good indicator of how well a new business will do? Not necessarily. During a recent meeting at Newsvine, Nick Hanauer said something to the team which I believe deserves some further thought:

“Almost every time a great idea is first presented, people tend to reject it.”

It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s often times true. An entrepreneur who always thinks along the lines of everyone else will produce a product or service just like everyone else’s. That’s usually a bad thing.

So it is with raised brow that I watch the plucking of the Gather.com feathers by seemingly every single tech pundit on the interweb. I had never really checked out Gather before two weeks ago when a couple of reporters asked me about the company, but this week seems to be the week to pass judgement on them. I think the site, just like all sites, has a mix of good and bad, but the only way to determine if it will be successful in the end is to see how fast they react to their users and how nimble they are at running their business. I think a lot of the press and blogosphere are just expressing doubt about whether having 46 people on staff helps or hurts this objective.

Even though Newsvine is not a competitor of Gather, I do admit that I feel very fortunate (and humbled) to have most of the press, the blogosphere, and the public writing so positively about us right now. I’d like to think it’s because we have the beginnings of a great new way to get your news, and that we’re all nice people over here, but you never know. I think the Gather team is probably a bunch of nice people as well, but for some reason, people aren’t taking too kindly to what they’re presenting. My advice to Gather is to not let the cynics get you too low and not let the praise get you too high. We are in a constant state of improvement over here, regardless of the weather, and I think that’s the only thing that matters for any company moving forward.

I also feel very fortunate to have a company of five right now. We may hire a couple/few more people over the next several months, but the small footprint lets us improve the site daily and operate with minimal overhead. We have so many plans for new features… it’s just that none of them require blowing the staff out to old media proportions.

Those are words I may very well eat (and eat happily), but as of now, it behooves us, and any pre-money company to stay as small as possible until there are necessary reasons to spend more capital. Now, Gather may have found those reasons and others just aren’t smart enough to see them yet, or they’re just aggressively developing their company and aiming really high. Both of those can turn out quite well.

As for us, we’re just going to keep learning from our users and admitting we only know half of what we think we know. The moment you think you understand everything about the market you’re entering is the moment you exit it.

I’d like to close with a quote from an e-mail we received just a few hours ago from a Newsvine user:

“What if we want to contribute our ad earnings back to the site once the ads start appearing?”

It’s this sort of customer sentiment and goodwill that keeps us going every day. We realize there will eventually be bumps in the road with media coverage of Newsvine, but the only measuring stick we’re paying attention to right now is user opinion. We think we’re on to something, and to us, the proof is in the people.

iPod Giveaway #7: We Have a Winner

After several days of deliberating, I’m proud to announce that the winner of the Steve Jobs Movie Poster competition is Sean Liew with his exquisite entry “Enemy of the Gates”. Sean’s entry not only showed excellent photo composition skills but unmatched attention to detail as well. There were funnier entries, edgier entries, and more time-consuming entries, but none put it all together like Enemy of the Gates, and that is why Sean is now the proud owner of a new 1 gigabyte iPod Shuffle.

  • Honorable mention – humor: “iTrip” and “Dude, Where’s My iPod”, “The Big Woznowski”
  • Honorable mention – photo composition: “American History”, “Adaption”, “Nightmare on Pod Street”
  • Honorable mention – concept: “Being Steve Jobs”, “Lord of Apple”, “i, Pod”

Below is a slideshow of the top 40 entries. By the way, apologies to any contestant whose bandwidth limit was exceeded by this contest. What can I say? You might want to look into Dreamhost:

Sweet slideshow component made with SlideShowPro

So that’s the end of the Mike Industries iPod Creativity competitions… for awhile at least. They’ve all been extremely fun, but the time associated with setting them up, managing them, and picking winners is more than I can spare right now. Maybe in a few months, they’ll be back. Until then, thanks to everyone who has participated.

All I Want To Know Is...

… who approved this?

What’s with the synchronized leaning? What year is it again?

Newsvine: First Day Traffic, Reviews, and More

Friday was Newsvine’s first full day in widespread private use, and I’m happy to say that we hit 104,655 page views right off the bat. I don’t ever remember making any predictions about what traffic would be like, but I certainly didn’t expect six digits on day one… especially considering you need an invite, a login, and a password to get in.

Newsvine was also the #2 search term on Technorati all day yesterday, ahead of subjects like Ariel Sharon and Apple. C’mon people! It’s just a news site! Ariel Sharon’s stroke is a world event and Apple is about to release a music player that will keep you alive forever and get rid of your wrinkles! Anyway, we thank everyone for the interest.

It’s still way too early to gauge the success of this community, but so far so good. We’ve managed to create enthusiasm, interest, and a platform for participation with an extremely low cost footprint. No launch parties, no advertising, no PR, no Aeron chairs, and no frivolous spending. Well, that’s not true actually. We did spend about $50 per person on a parasailing field trip a few months ago.

Here are a few great in-depth reviews to read (complete with screenshots), if you’re so inclined:

Many other reviews abound, but the aforementioned three contain a good amount of screenshots and depth, so start there.

So, onto the next subject: Newsvine vs. Digg. Also known as Newsvine vs. Slashdot. Also known as Newsvine vs. Reddit. Also known as Newsvine vs. Any-Tech-Site-That-Allows-User-Participation.
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3:02am

It’s 3:02am so I’ll keep this short. We sent out invites to Newsvine tonight. The reaction has been almost unconditionally positive so far. We’re so happy.

And so sleep-deprived.

Almost 2000 new e-mails in my inbox today and we didn’t even send invites out until the work day was over. Tomorrow will be interesting.

If you signed up for the beta and didn’t receive an invite, please check your bulk/junk mail folder. E-mail filtration can get a bit aggressive sometimes.

A big thank you to everyone who has helped us in these formative stages of the Newsvine collective. So much more cool stuff is yet to come.

Shared
Humanity's deep future:

A group of researchers at the Future of Humanity Institute talk about where our race may be going and how artificial intelligence could save or kill us all.

Steve Jobs speaks about the future at the International Design Conference in 1983:

31 years later, it’s safe to say this is one of the most prescient speeches about technology ever delivered. Jobs covers wireless networking, tablets, Google StreetView, Siri, and the App Store (among other things) many years before their proliferation. A fantastic listen.

How to travel around the world for a year:

Great advice for when you finally find the time.

LiveSurface:

A fantastic app for prototyping your design work onto real world objects like billboards, book covers, and coffee cups. This seems like just as great of a tool for people learning design as it does for experts.

50 problems in 50 days:

One man’s attempt to solve 50 problems in 50 days using only great design. Some good startup ideas in here…

How to Do Philosophy:

If you’ve ever suspected that most classical philosophy is a colossal waste of time, Paul Graham tells you why you’re probably right.

TIME: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us:

Stephen Brill follows the money to uncover the pinnacle of corruption that is the U.S. Health Care system. A must-read article if there ever was one.

DIY Dot Org:

A beautifully designed site full of fun and challenging DIY projects. I could spend months on here.

The Steve Jobs Video Archive:

A collection of over 250 Steve Jobs videos in biographical order

Self-portraits from an artist under the influence of 48 different psychoactive drug combos.

Water Wigs are pretty amazing.

David Pogue proposes to his girlfriend by creating a fake movie trailer about them and then getting a theater to play it before a real movie. Beautiful and totally awesome.

Jonah Peretti's letter to BuzzFeed’s employees:

If you’re wondering what a excellent blueprint for a modern media company looks like, look no further than Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti’s latest email to his employees. In it, Peretti explains a lot of his company’s virtues, the most important being a relentless focus on always providing what’s best for the user. Vox Media (operators of The Verge) is the only other company I can think of which approaches this level of reform and execution.

The Covers Project:

I love this so much: a cross-referenceable database of cover songs, searchable by song or artist. Slowed down, acoustic covers — no matter the song — are so enjoyable to me that I wish it was a requirement to play one at every show. If you like them as much as I do, make sure to check out M. Ward’s Let’s Dance or Sun Kil Moon’s entire album of Modest Mouse covers.

“More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.”
- Tim Kreider’s denunciation of the cult of busyness is excellent. (via jimray)