Google rank

Little bit of a Great Harmonic Google Convergence going on here. Jon Udell mentions in passing his rise and fall from the top of the “Jon” results. Stephen Downes replies in a amusing comment that he defeated Stephen King and Stephen Hawking — only to be conquered by the last of the Norman Kings.

Meanwhile, my colleague at KSC, Jenny Darrow, writes a somewhat frustrated post about people not understanding it’s content and connection that will make them findable on Google — not some secret technical voodoo.

Her response to those that complain their sites are not ranked highly?

I’m not a guru in web analytics but I can tell you a few things that might help you get a higher rank.

Write. Update. Contribute. Link. Reciprocate. Did I mention write?

And she’s right, of course.

I’m no Jon or Stephen, but I’ve slowly floated up past my “Caulfield” namesakes. And while I’ve always known I’d never displace my good friend Holden, I’ve left others in the dust: Patrick Caulfield, Pop Artist. Brian Caulfield, Tech Writer for Forbes. Several CEOs. Many VPs. The secondary sites of Emma Caulfield, a Buffy the Vampire Slayer star.

The MANY secondary sites of Emma Caulfield, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer star.

And just a couple weeks ago, I finally made it on to the first page. And I was pretty chuffed with myself.

But here’s the thing. Click to the second page of Google results. Five spaces behind me is my wife, an artist. Apart from getting the URL with her name in it, what did she do? She did her art, but she opened it up to the world. She showed pieces half finished, talked about her technique. She hooked into a vibrant community of practice. She announced new posts on a behind the scenes Google Group she’s on with other artists. She invited feedback. She acted (sometimes) on the feedback. She shared unreservedly her progress with her technique, and kept nothing hidden.

Was she trying to rank highly? Not at all. She was trying to have a conversation about what she did right and what she did wrong, and trying to figure out better ways of doing it. In the process, through quickly absorbing what other people in her community of practice already knew about the medium of colored pencil work, and by making a creative leap past that (once again, guided by this community), she’s invented a new colored pencil technique (involving the use of pastelboard) which allows her to get painterly effects in a fraction of the time standard colored pencil techniques allowed.

How revolutionary is the process? Ann Kullberg, Queen of the Colored Pencil World, said she was absolutely shocked at how much the method improved rendering speed (you have to understand the colored pencil artists are used to putting in as many as 50-100 hours on a work — Nicole can render similar effects in as little as a day, and often with increased vibrancy not traditionally associated with colored pencil).

Ultimately, her new technique represents an incremental step. But it’s an incremental step from precisely the very edge of a community’s knowledge, and that’s what makes the difference. Nicole has amazing natural talent, but she was able through the network of an online community to do what she does better. She was able to get support for what she did, feedback from artists and buyers, technique advice from experts in the field.

And now she’s number fifteen on the Google “Caulfield” results.

But at this point, that’s really beside the point, isn’t it?

The fact that you’re not ranked highly on Google is not a problem. It’s a symptom. It’s a sign that you are not taking advantage of the Networked Age for professional development or communication.

Fix that, and leave the Google results to heaven.

How a lack of piracy killed the Sony Reader

Sony set out to be the iTunes of book-publishing with its Sony Reader. And Sony built a pretty good technical and marketing replica of that iPod model — with an initial online offering that was comparable to Apple’s initial limited selection, with a desktop piece of software clearly modeled on the iTunes client, with redistribution deals with a number of publishers, and at the center a top notch piece of hardware.

And this week, as Amazon released the Kindle, the Sony Reader became a paperweight. The Kindle sports about 100,000 titles compared to Sony’s 10,000. And that makes all the difference — it’s the difference between thinking of books you want to read and finding electronic versions available and having to browse what’s available to find out what you can read.

Nobody wants to buy an ebook device with less titles than their local bookstore. That’s just insane.

All the same, I can’t help thinking of a major flaw in Sony’s “iPod for books” formulation of their strategy.

Here’s what they missed. When the iPod first came out, people were not primarily loading it up with stuff from iTunes. The majority of people’s collections came from either rips of their own CDs or from so-called piracy (I prefer filesharing, but whatev).

An iPod made sense because if iTunes didn’t have what you wanted you could get it by hook or crook.

It occurred to me yesterday that if there had been a vibrant book piracy market, the Sony Reader would have been an easy sell. There would be a huge base. If one could grab a copy of I, Robot or Confederacy of Dunces for free off of a BitTorrent site, you wouldn’t hesitate to get a Reader — and the market penetration of the device would then (as with the iPod) start to drive legal sales.

But every month I would look to see if the book my book club was reading was available on the Sony Reader, and every month it was not. Not once.

And with no filesharing market to turn to for unofficial copies, I had to go to physical alternatives.

Well, you might say, at least the author got something out of that. At least the author got paid.

Nope, sorry. Didn’t happen. Like most people I know nowadays I use Amazon to order secondhand copies from people around the country. The author didn’t get a dime, and neither did the publisher — I ordered these books secondhand.

I think the Kindle is going to be a big hit, because of a number of design choices they made, but even more because only Amazon has the real force to make the industry wake up. Oh, and 100,000 titles on launch doesn’t hurt either.

But as they move forward, it might be good for both Amazon and the publishers to realize it often takes a little unauthorized use to jumpstart an industry — at least until the gaps are filled in. That’s the real lesson of the iPod, and one that Sony apparently missed.


So I saw through someone’s feed on Facebook that National Novel Writing Month is going on. This is an improvement — I usually notice this when it’s already over.

I dithered a bit on whether I should attempt it with the month half gone and so many other things in the works here.

And then I thought, what the heck:

By posting this, I ensure people will ask me how it’s going, which ensures (I think) that I’ll pound out a dozen or so pages today…

Wiki:Authoring :: Perl:Programming

Ah, zee blogs…

So I’ve been away a bit, working on the college’s AT vision plan, which I wiki-ed out over a period of a week with some other folks.

That turns out to be interesting from a process standpoint…we did some marathon work on it the past two weeks, and presented it to an appropriate steering committee, and I think the initial perception might have been, given how far along we’d gotten it, that we had been working on it for months by ourselves. And in a shared-governance institution, that can be a problem.

In other words moving too fast and having a working document too early is a very suspicious thing.

We corrected that assumption, but it highlighted a couple things for me:

1. Wikis really do accelerate collaboration, and they do so because they recognize that if you can roll anything back you can avoid having interminable layers of approval in front of decisions. The default mode of Web 2.0, and the new world of media in general, is if it can be undone, don’t put a dam in front of it.

2. Both the speed and the attitude associated with this method can be jarring to organizations. I think it’s similar to what happened in programming when compile time came down and run-time languages came into their own. There was a period where the organization surrounding the tools lived in a state of cognitive dissonance. If you’ve ever seen someone make a state change diagram or Yourdon chart for something pulling data from a db and throwing it into a skin, then you know what I mean.

3. But change is inevitable. When it comes to their methods, programmers are some of the most religious people on the planet. Yet the industry changed. Sure, there are still some places you’ll find people putting a three month design process before the first script is run, but this has become the exception. And lightweight methodologies like Extreme Programming are no longer seen as fringe methods used by “sloppy” programmers (and heck, it only took a decade, right?).

My point? I guess it’s the title. Wiki is to Authoring as Perl is to Programming. (or Python, or VB, or Swing, or MUMPS: no need for a holy war…).

Of course, I’m sure someone has already said this… I was just struck by how much the moment we are in re: wikis matches a cultural moment we were in programming a number of years back….

Threatened Much?

So there’s a front page article today in the Wall Street Journal. The subject? My political blog, Blue Hampshire. The title?

“Have a Laptop? You, Too, Can Sway New Hampshire Race.”


“Self-Appointed Bloggers Get Candidate Face Time; On the Bus With Edwards”

You know, there’s so much insecurity in that headline that I’m nervous for the WSJ. I really want to pat them on the head and tell them it’ll be all right.

Personally I think the article is a catalog of the traditional misconceptions about bloggers. The weird thing is it’s not a hatchet job (well, except for the dot portrait that looks nothing like me). I mean, it’s an honest attempt to understand this phenomenon through the lens of tradmed. It captures what we do, but then places that into the culture of access, status, centralized control, and nonparticipation that is predominant there. And the result is that we’re portrayed as just reporters running around with less professionalism.

Am I happy about the article though? Extremely. Front page WSJ, man. The people who get what we’re about will see that and visit us. The people that don’t won’t. That’s fine by me.