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  • Al Sargent 2:29 pm on September 2, 2013 Permalink | Reply  

    Tips for using a Velocitek Prostart 

    A Velocitek Prostart is a GPS-enabled electronic instrument for sailboat racers to gauge their distance to the starting line and get a good start. I’ve been using one for several days now, both as a crew and a helmsman. Here are some tips that have helped us climb our learning curve with this device:

    1) Need to find a consistent place to mount it, so that you can plug in a “bow offset” number, which is the number of meters from the bow to the unit.

    2) Need to practice using it in a low pressure practice situation, so that the crew pushing the ping buttons gets used to getting a line sight and then pushing the instant the pin and flag line up.

    3) Need to clarify whether the line is off the leeward or windward side of a pin tetrahedron. Those are a couple of meters wide, and the Velocitek is accurate to a meter or two. That will tell the ping-button-pusher what part of the tetrahedron to site off of.

    4) The Velocitek takes a few seconds to “catch up” with a fast moving boat. Don’t let this worry you. Where it excels is in telling you when your boat is when you are slowly moving towards the line from 20 to 10 seconds prior to the start — so you always accelerate from a consistent distance from the line — and when to head up just prior to the gun.

    5) It is important to practice with the unit and work out a consistent and quantified starting pattern that works for you and your boat’s acceleration characteristics. For example, in the Vanguard 15, I try to be pointing at my desired spot on the line at 1 minute to go, luffing in starboard. I don’t look at the unit at this point, just eyeball my distance to the line. At about 25 seconds, I slowly sail close hauled so that at 15 seconds I’m 6 meters from the line. At this point I’m looking at the unit. Then I luff hard, increasing my hole to leeward and decreasing the gap to windward. At seven seconds I start turning down, sheet in at 5 or 6 secs, steer up at 1, and try to be two meters back at the gun. Your style in the 105 will differ of course, but this is the kind of rich detail you want to develop and mentally rehearse.

    6) Be two meters back at the gun. Not 1 or 0. I have learned this hard way with over earlies.The Velocitek has an accuracy of 1 meter, and you need to round your offset distance off to TE nearest meter.

    7) The biggest benefit of the unit is that it lets you “go for it” when you see the boat to leeward hanging back at several seconds to go, several meters back from the line, and you can get the jump on them.

    8) When pinging each side of the line, slow down so that the unit can “catch up” to your current location. I like to come in at a slow, drifting for several seconds before I get to the pin or boat when pinging.

    9) Ping by sailing just outside the line. This way the crew can ping when the pin and boat line up. The Velocitek website has a diagram of this.

    10) Coming into the final approach on the start, it’s important for a Vanguard 15 crew to stay clear of the Velocitek display. In our typically 10-15 knot winds, this means keeping their left elbow out of the way of the unit.
  • Al Sargent 9:08 pm on January 5, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    2010 in review 

    The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

    Healthy blog!

    The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is doing awesome!.

    Crunchy numbers

    Featured image

    A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

    A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 2,700 times in 2010. That’s about 6 full 747s.


    In 2010, there were 2 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 173 posts. There were 3 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 6mb.

    The busiest day of the year was February 2nd with 28 views. The most popular post that day was How to optimize the AddThis social bookmarking widget.

    Where did they come from?

    The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

    Some visitors came searching, mostly for addthis twitter, feature voting, used vanguard 15, best agile tools, and best agile tool.

    Attractions in 2010

    These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


    How to optimize the AddThis social bookmarking widget February 2009


    What is the best Agile Product Management tool? March 2009


    What to look for when buying a used Vanguard 15 May 2008


    Digg-style product feature voting July 2007
    1 comment


    Analysis of Barack Obama’s inauguration speech January 2009

  • Al Sargent 1:42 am on December 4, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: apm, patent   

    I hate to do this, but… 

    I hate tooting my own horn, but I received a patent earlier this year, related to application performance monitoring. The patent # is 7,730,193. Here’s an overview from the filing ( explaining what its about:

    Time zone data is obtained from clients, such as web browsers, which interact with a server, and used to classify metrics of the clients such as response times. This classification technique does not require that a mapping of IP addresses to geographic location is available. Metrics from the clients are communicated from the server to a manager, which aggregates the metrics for each time zone. The manager can automatically associate geographic descriptors, such as names of cities, with the metrics in a report such as in a user interface display. If a partial mapping of IP address to location is available, the report can aggregate metrics which are grouped by IP address separately from metrics which are not grouped by IP address. The user interface display can be automatically populated with selectable nodes which allow a user to selectively view the metrics.

    Many thanks to the team at Wily Technology (now part of CA) for funding the patent attorney. Without them this wouldn’t have happened!

  • Al Sargent 10:05 pm on February 12, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: advertising, , , , Parisian Love, , , software, Super Bowl   

    Brevity is the soul of demos 

    As a product marketer, I’m very impressed with Google’s Super Bowl ad, the Parisian Love demo.

    First, given all the special effects in other Super Bowl ads, the Google ad was quite spare and effective — literally, a 30 second recording of someone’s desktop, minimally edited. Spare and effective, just like Google’s website, and brand.

    Second and more important: I think of all the demos I’ve given, and which I’ve sat through. None of them have ever lasted 30 seconds. And yet not has been quite so effective. It shows the power of telling a good story in your demo.

    As product marketers, we need to get better at telling stories. We spend too much time showing off features, too much time talking about the buttons and fields, and not enough time telling a good story of how our software actually can be used. We need to string together a compelling set of use cases into a seamless narrative.

    Shakespeare wrote, “brevity is the soul of wit“. It’s also the soul of an effective demo.

    If our software can’t be used to create a compelling narrative in two minutes, then we need to work with our engineering team so they make the changes required. We need to help them understand what’s missing. Is it a feature that will make the audience say “wow”? A less impressive feature that somehow fills a gap in the narrative? A fast-to-use, search-oriented UI? Fast-responding functionality? Bigger, faster servers? Richer demo data?

    Whatever the requirements end up being, you can call this thought process Demo-Driven Development. And we, the software industry, could use more of it. We need to keep that target narrative in the collective mind of our team, and not let up — or launch prematurely — until it’s achieved. The Parisian Love demo might have been created in mere days, but the underlying product took twelve years to build. Building something that provides a compelling 30 second demo takes a long time.

    • LETITIA TURNER 1:31 am on June 1, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I do not believe I have seen this described in such an informative way before. You actually have made this so much clearer for me. Thank you!

  • Al Sargent 5:04 am on October 14, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: console, gem, grep, heroku, ,   

    How to check versions of gems in Heroku 

    Recently I got stuck trying to fix a problem in Heroku, a slick cloud-based Ruby hosting service. The problem involved gems that I had added to my app’s private gem repository. I had to check the versions of the gems in the repository, but Heroku’s documentation on gem management didn’t provide any suggestions.

    Turns out, the trick is to use Heroku’s console command, and then use the Ruby Gem command. To open a new console session, fire up a terminal and enter:

    heroku console

    Then list the versions of the gems in your private repo, by enclosing the gem list command in backticks. (On Macs, the backtick key is in the upper left corner of the keyboard. I know, it took me a few seconds to find it as well.)

    `gem list`

    Since Heroku has many built-in gems, you’ll probably want to pipe through grep to find what you want:

    `gem list | grep foo`

    And you’re off to the races!

  • Al Sargent 5:57 am on July 13, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 8330, blackberry, curve, review, verizon   

    Review: Verizon RIM Blackberry Curve 8830 

    I just started using a new Verizon RIM Blackberry Curve 8830 and thought I’d post some quick thoughts on it.


    • Hardware itself is almost perfect: same great physical keyboard, nice screen, removeable battery (easy to carry extras), Micro SD card slot, GPS, trackball, camera with flash, USB charger/data cable.
    • Much faster than my 2007-vintage Blackberry 8703.
    • Small overall form factor.
    • Two “convenience buttons” to quickly launch apps.
    • The Google apps are pretty good, especially Google’s Search by Voice and the ever-reliable Gmail.
    • GPS is super-accurate, even when I’m not outside.
    • The camera is very easy to use and takes decent shots, and has an easy-to-use zoom and auto-flash.


    • Software is somewhat improved over my 2007-vintage Blackberry 8703, but not as much as you’d expect given the competition from the iPhone. For instance, the email client, which might have been cool in 2002, now looks very updated.
    • Lots of the same little annoyances persist. For instance the Phone Book app can’t handle more than three email addresses. No way to delete phone profiles that you never use, like “Phone Only” or “Vibrate”. The calculator only goes to 10 digits like some 1970s five-and-dime calculator. There’s no easy-to-remember way to reboot the device. The Search app still has a klunky interface. And so on.
    • The Mute button is too recessed — this is the one hardware-related issue. This button was perfect on the 8703 — easy to press. Now’s it’s small and harder to press. Ugh!
    • No WiFi — okay, so maybe that’s one more hardware-related issue.
    • Voice Dialing doesn’t work for me — could be because I have 4000 contacts.
    • Google Maps don’t seem to work with the GPS for some reason. Bummer.
    • Blackberry Messenger doesn’t appear to support Google Talk, Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger, or AOL. I don’t know why the folks at RIM include such a multi-network client — after all, these are communications devices!
    • Blackberry App World is so-so. It’s nice since it enables over-the-air downloads. But it doesn’t come pre-installed, surprisingly. And its selection, while okay, isn’t all it could be.

    Downloaded third-party applications I’m currently running:

    • Google Mobile Search, Gmail, Google Maps, Google Sync
    • Qik (need a micro SD card to actually use)
    • Twitterberry

    Failed applications — those that I installed, tried, and bailed on:

    • Vlingo (speak commands into Blackberry — to slow)
    • Viigo (a twitter client that updates only once every 30 minutes — not exactly realtime)
    • Google Talk doesn’t seem to work, unfortunately.

    Hope you found this helpful!

  • Al Sargent 6:46 am on April 8, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: anoto, , livescribe, logitech, onenote, palm pre   

    Digital pens ain’t there yet… 

    I love the idea of a digital pen that lets me jot down notes at a meeting using an unobtrusive pen and notepad, then uploads the notes, adds metadata (time, location, attendees) and indexes them for easy searching. And yes, I’m willing to pay for the special Anoto paper with the dots, if the digital pen is up to par.

    But sadly, a quick scan of digital pens on the market shows that we’re not at the point of note-taking nirvana. What I’m looking for is the following:

    • Upload notes via WiFi. Continuously. In the background. Over 802.11 b/g/n. For my home and office networks. If those are not available, find an open network to use.
    • Upload securely, using firewall-friendly HTTPs posts.
    • Upload to Evernote, which has great handwriting recognition and search, and is very reasonably priced.
    • Inductive charging of the pen, a la Palm Pre. Don’t make me plug in, even to charge.
    • Use the pen several hours without recharging. (Maybe the current pens can do this; I don’t know.)
    • Isn’t oversized. (In a moment of weakness I once bought a Logitech io, and the pen was so big it distracted from the meeting at hand.)
    • Can connect to my Outlook Exchange calendar and Google calendar, and use them to figure out where I was and who I was talking to when I was taking notes, and the meeting topic, and add this to the metadata for the note.
    • Let me view notes by meeting attendee (“all notes from meetings with John Doe”) or date or subject (“weekly design review”).

    The digital pens on the market don’t come close to this spec. You have to plug them in to a computer to upload and charge. Integrations, when they exist, are often to pricey Microsoft OneNote. There’s no intelligent use of calendars to add context.

    Oh, and the voice recording feature in the LiveScribe? Creepy. And has legal ramifications, I think, here in California, where I’m pretty sure you have to inform someone that you’re recording them. But, legal issues aside, when people know you’re recording them, it kind of gets your meetings off to a bad start.

    Maybe someday, someone will build a digital pen with the right feature set. Till then…

    • Al Sargent 1:40 pm on April 9, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      Update: another feature that would make digital pens worth the price — real-time notes sharing. I write something down, and it appears on a web page that customers and coworkers can see. So if I draw a diagram on a piece of paper, it appears on a web page. Sort of like “WebEx for Ink”.

      Keep the user experience very, very simple — unlike WebEx! — but letting me email or IM a URL to a coworker or customer, and they can access that page without a password or plug-ins. Security is provided by an obfuscated URL, e.g., — that last bit at the end would be essentially a password.

      • Mike 2:51 am on June 23, 2009 Permalink | Reply

        Thats actually a pretty good idea Al.
        A friend of mine at has one of those pens. I have to admit though, its a bit much for me.

    • ann kirschner 4:45 pm on July 31, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      how about a real simple interim tool: is there a digital pen that you can use to annotate a book, then turn into an evernote? digital highlighter, e.g.

  • Al Sargent 11:52 pm on March 27, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: domain names, domains, registrar   

    What service would you recommend to register many domain names? 

    I need to register ~200 domain names. What service would you recommend to do this?

    Here are my requirements:

    • All of these would be .com names — no need for international domains.
    • Bonus points for having an API-level integration to register domain names.
    • While I don’t want to overpay, I’m not super price-sensitive.
    • The domain names are very “rare terms” not found in a dictionary. No need for a suggested name feature.

    There are many such services to choose from, and I’d greatly appreciate your help in narrowing this down. Thanks!

    • Al Sargent 1:08 am on March 31, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      Update: I posted pretty much the same question about to LinkedIn and get over a dozen answers. Here’s the link:

    • Mike Verinder 2:47 am on June 23, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      Hey Al.
      Hope your doing well. I just looked at your profile on linkedin and noticed your blog and your question.
      Here are my thoughts. About 4 years ago I was buying a lot of domains,(when i say a lot I mean 100’s.) (mostly .com and .net and .org)
      I basically thought it would be best to buy a “resaler package” from godaddy. So I could get the lowest prices possible on domains (and other services such as hosting, and dedicated servers.etc). by doing that I get the lowest prices and I also opened an additional doorway for additional revenue.

      Now in reality.. i dont do this for the revenue. (i mean with profit margins like .11 cents… whats the point really) I just do it so i can get wholesale prices myself.

      my site is (again im a resaler for godaddy) all my prices are as low as it possibly allows me to set them. However i do have promos for % discounts the more you spend. Feel free to look it up and use it if you want.. but more importantly. feel free to go to godaddy yourself and evaluate the resaler options. I think that’s what a lot of people do that buy in large bulks.

      hope your doing well.

  • Al Sargent 2:12 am on March 20, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: accept software, , bugzilla, jira, , project management, rally, roadmap, ryma, targetprocess, versionone   

    What is the best Agile Product Management tool? 

    Here’s a question that’s been bugging me, that I’d like to put out there: what tool(s) would you recommend for Agile Product Management — as opposed to Agile Project Management. Here’s the challenges that I’d like to address:

    1. There are many project management tools out there, but as far as I can tell, they are “market ignorant” — they don’t help a product manager (as opposed to project manager) define the scope of a release/iteration, or prioritization of a backlog, based on various market factors. They take scope and prioritization as a given and don’t help the inbound product manager. They don’t help a product manager synthesize all the market inputs to make informed decisions about feature prioritization. In this group I’d include Jira, Bugzilla, TargetProcess, Rally, and VersionOne.
    2. As far as I can tell, agile project management tools are “sales ignorant”: they don’t enable a sales engineer to understand which features have been built, and what sales tools are available to enable a SE to sell that feature, and don’t automate outbound product management activities. There is no simple “Roadmap View” that an SE can look at, which cuts out all the developer-oriented functionality but still shows dates and descriptions and related sales collateral. Nor is there a notion of an Internal Roadmap versus External Roadmap that has less detail, and leaves out the more embarrassing bug fixes.
    3. There are Agile Product Management tools out there, like those from Accept Software and Ryma, but (as far as I can tell) they don’t sync with some of the popular project management / bug tracking tools, such as Bugzilla, TargetProcess, and Jira. By “sync” I mean bi-directional data sync.

    Given these challenges, what Agile Product Management tool would you recommend?

    • Rich 8:11 pm on March 20, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      The tool we use is Accompa. Like the tools you mentioned, it doesn’t sync with project mgmt or bug tracking tools either. All these companies should all get together and sync their tools, and make our lives easier!

      • Al Sargent 5:04 pm on March 22, 2009 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks for the reply, Rich. I’ll check out Accompa. Jama Software ( is another product management tool that works well on its own but doesn’t sync with project management tools.

        I have a couple of friends/former coworkers who are working on a stealth mode startup to build a good product management tool that syncs with *project* management tools. I think it’s a great idea that could do wonders for bridging the chasm between product managers and developers. Of course, I’ll write more about the tool and team on this blog when appropriate. If you’d like me to connect you to these guys, let me know.

        • Derek 7:44 pm on January 18, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          Hi AL. Have you ever looked at We’ve taken the approach of building everything together on a single platform so that you can have true bi-directional data transfer that you can’t get with fragile integrations. The platform includes project planning, task management, requirements management, test management, bug tracking, change management, issue management, timesheets, scope management and document management. Any artifact can be linked to any other artifact for exceptional reporting and traceability through the entire lifecycle.

    • Stewart Rogers 12:39 pm on March 24, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      Admittedly biased… If I had my choice and if I was in an Agile environment I would go with FeaturePlan and either Rally or VersionOne. Ryma has bi-directional connectors for FeaturePlan to Rally and VersionOne allowing the Product Management teams to use a tool designed for their needs and the Agile teams to use tools designed for their needs.

      Some of our customers are using our API to connect to other systems and you can always connect two systems manually (import/export). Your choice.

    • Tye Jones 11:23 pm on March 24, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      Have you heard of Rally Product Manager module?

      I ask because it was specifically designed to enable the Product Manager (or Product Owner) to prioritize their backlog based on various market factors.

      RPM is designed to enable Product Managers to capitalize on knowledge from sales through the primary sales tool (outside of the phone): their CRM.

      RPM provides two-way communications so developers are no longer “sales ignorant” and sales is no longer ignorant of when their customers “pet-feature” is scheduled to be release.

      I would be happy to walk you through a demonstration if you wish. Please let me know by email what you think.

    • Mike 3:08 am on June 23, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      I think one big thing to understand is that most shops with a form of “scrum” agile methodolgy dont adhere 100 percent to the agile methodology. (it doesnt work for their business). There is always a slight conformity. So my opinion is forget the “specific agile methodolgy” “perfect” tools. because if you are using a tool that your process doesn’t really follow its going to confuse more than help.
      I like your insight to product management AL.
      I am in the latter stages of development with a Test Management tool I’ve been working on for about a year now.. I of course have ‘project management’ incorporated into my solution.. but i didnt really think about it from a sales side.. in fact the more i think about it the more i feel like writing up specs on an added module..

      thanks AL

  • Al Sargent 5:02 am on March 18, 2009 Permalink
    Tags: , friendfeed, linkedin, , , unhub,   

    UnHub – quickly aggregate your social media profiles 

    I just finished playing with UnHub, a social profile aggregator.

    Here’s the problem that UnHub solves: If you’ve got more than a couple of online profiles on social media sites, there’s no easy way to provide a centralized place that showcases all your profiles.

    Sure, there’s FriendFeed, but the “lifestream” model doesn’t really work for sites like Facebook or LinkedIn that some of us don’t update that often. Or, you can build a custom widget on your blog, showing your different profiles, as I did. But that’s a good chunk of time writing HTML, definitely not easy.

    Enter UnHub. It’s dead-duh-simple: you enter in your social media profiles, and it displays a permanent iframe with those profiles across the top of the browser, with your various social media profiles underneath. Once someone’s found your UnHub, they can look at all the stuff you’ve created online, just by going to your UnHub URL. These are short and simple — mine is

    This probably isn’t making too much sense in words, so take a look at my UnHub page. A demo is worth a thousand words.

    What do you think — is UnHub something you’d use?

  • Al Sargent 11:41 pm on March 13, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Blogroll, blogrollr, RSS,   

    A brand-new Blogrollr feature – RSS feeds of recent activity 

    Playing with a brand-new Blogrollr feature: RSS feeds of recent activity.

    What’s Blogrollr? A “live blogroll” powered by your own browsing activity. No need for static blogrolls that get stale over time. More here:

    Cameron at Blogrollr was kind enough to give me access to my Blogrollr RSS feed. (Thanks!) This means that I don’t need to use the Blogrollr widget — which doesn’t work on a site like mine. Check out the Live Blogroll section in the right hand side.

    Yes, there is some funkiness around repeated blogs and Google Calendar… but I’m sure the Fictive folks will sort that out soon enough.

    • Fictive Cameron 12:15 am on March 18, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      Hey Al,

      Thanks for the post. We are, in fact, working on these two bugs right now. Ill send you a follow up email in a bit.


    • Jeff Hilimire 6:20 pm on April 26, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      I have a WordPress blog as well. Any chance I can get the RSS feed as well?

      • Al Sargent 12:28 am on April 27, 2009 Permalink | Reply

        Email Fictive Cameron from the post above and ask him how to get one setup for one. Best of luck!

  • Al Sargent 1:46 am on March 12, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: add-on, browser, , , , , Safari   

    Evernote had a big update today. 

    Evernote had a big update today. I just now tried out the new goods. Here’s a quick review:

    Mac Desktop client:
    + I love, love, love the new “Merge Notes” feature. Great way to clean up a big notebook. Thank you Evernote!

    • Unfortunately, there’s no way to export a merged note to anything other than an Evernote Archive. For instance, if you merge a bunch of jpeg images of scanned document, that you’ve brought into evernote, you cannot export them as one big jpeg image. Bummer.

    ~ I’m undecided whether the Growl notifications are nice or not. Maybe I’ll get used to them.

    Safari web clipper:
    + It works with Safari 4 public beta (build 5528.16). What’s nice is that it takes the title of a web page and saves it as the title of the note. A small thing, but saves 15-30 seconds each time you clip, which adds up when you clip many times a day.

    Firefox web clipper add-on:

    • Does NOT grab the title of a web page, as the Safari web clipper does. Duh. I can’t tell what advantage the web clipper add-on provides over a bookmarklet. Uninstalling for now.

    You using any of the new Evernote versions? If so, what do you think?

    • Jason 5:54 pm on March 13, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      My firefox web clipper DOES grab the title of a web page… I don’t know what’s wrong with yours…

    • Al Sargent 11:05 pm on March 13, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for that datapoint. Which version of Firefox are you running?

  • Al Sargent 4:18 pm on March 11, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , P2, theme, ,   

    Trying out P2, a new WordPress theme. 

    Trying out P2, a new WordPress theme. Think of P2 as “Twitter meets WordPress”. Short-form blogging is what it’s called. More here:

    I like this. A lot. Because it addresses shortcomings in both traditional WordPress and Twitter:

    My gripe with traditional WordPress themes is that they encourage “long form blogging”. To create a well-formed long-form post takes me 30-60 minutes, including first draft and edits. It’s hard to find that time in the day, especially given other priorities.

    But Twitter has its own shortcomings, too. The 140 character is great because it encourages short form posts that one can easily knock out. But crunching down a meaningful thought down to 140 characters is hard. And nuances get lost.

    So, there are a number of posts I simply don’t make since they won’t fit into 140 characters, but I don’t have time to express them in the long-form blog comment. That’s the conundrum.

    Let’s see if P2 changes that.

    • my nursing 5:44 pm on April 13, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      I love it (the new P2)! 🙂

  • Al Sargent 8:29 am on February 21, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: addthis, , , , sharethis, ,   

    How to optimize the AddThis social bookmarking widget 

    Do you have web pages — not blog pages — that you want to encourage visitors to share on social bookmarking sites?

    If so, the AddThis widget to be the best choice for non-blog pages. The reason: its menu opens up when the user hovers. No click needed. ShareThis, on the other hand, requires the user to click. Seems like a minor detail, but hovers are about 5x more common than clicks. That means a potentially 500% better view-to-share conversion ratio.

    The problem is, AddThis shows a number of bookmarking services that are irrelevant, based on this report, and will only distract users. To keep the user focused and maximize conversions, use the following customization for AddThis. The extra line I added is in red.

    <!– AddThis Button BEGIN –>
    <script type=”text/javascript”>
    var addthis_pub=”your_addthis_userid”;
    var addthis_options = ’email, facebook, myspace, digg, twitter, stumbleupon, more’;

    <a href=”;
    onmouseover=”return addthis_open(this, ”, ‘[URL]’, ‘[TITLE]’)”
    onclick=”return addthis_sendto()”>

    <img src=”;
    width=”125″ height=”16″ alt=”Bookmark and Share” style=”border:0″/>

    <script type=”text/javascript”
    <!– AddThis Button END –>

    This will show only the most relevant services on the main display for the widget: Email, Facebook, MySpace, Digg, Twitter, and StumbleUpon. A More link lets users access other services.

    A further customization would be to display logos with better brand recognition — Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc. — similar to what Sociable does for WordPress blog posts. AddThis allows this customization. But that is a tutorial for a later date.

    Update: I added to the tutorial. Here goes:

    To display an image with better brand recognition, change the src parameter in the img tag code above…

    <img src=”
    width=”125″ height=”16″ alt=”Bookmark and Share” style=”border:0″/>

    …so that it uses your own custom image. For example:

    <img src=
    =“Bookmark and Share” style=“vertical-align:middle; border:0”/>

    This displays the logos of Facebook, MySpace, Digg, StumbleUpon, and Twitter. You can see this in action on the bottom of my personal web site, ( strips out <script> tags from postings; otherwise I would have just shown the example on this page.) Feel free to use this addthis.png on your own site, if you like.

    Another little tweak to help the conversion rates is to add a bit of CSS to the img tag…

    <img src=;
    =“Bookmark and Share” style=“vertical-align:middle; border:0″/>

    … so that it vertically aligns with the text prompt, Share this using:, which helps the user understand what the widget does. Summing up, here’s the modified code, with all changes marked in red:

    <!– AddThis Button BEGIN –>
    <script type=”text/javascript”>
    var addthis_pub=”alsargent”;
    var addthis_options = ’email, facebook, myspace, digg, twitter, stumbleupon, more’;

    Share this using:
    <a href=”;
    style=”border-bottom-style:none;” onmouseover=”return addthis_open(this, ”, ‘[URL]’, ‘[TITLE]’)”
    onmouseout=”addthis_close()” onclick=”return addthis_sendto()”>

    <img src=”
    alt=”Bookmark and Share” style=”vertical-align:middle; border:0″/></a>

    <script type=”text/javascript”
    <!– AddThis Button END –>

    I know, this is quite a bit to optimize a small widget. But remember, attention to the details is important. This steps can increase the number of people who post your page to social media sites, and in turn can drive more traffic to your site.

    Your turn

    What do you think? Do you prefer something other than the AddThis widget? What customizations have you found useful?

    • Justin Thorp 9:56 pm on February 26, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      Hi Al, thanks so much for the blog post. Glad to hear that you like AddThis.

      One thing to note… the services that we put in the hover menu are based one what’s popular according to our internal data, which may be different then the data that others are making available.

      As you noted, we always make it possible for the publisher to override the defaults that we have setup.

      Definitely let us know if there is anything we can do to make it better. My e-mail address is

      -Justin Thorp, AddThis Community Manager

    • lorna collier 3:36 pm on April 28, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      I found AddThis’s Twitter link doesn’t trim URLs like ShareThis does. I don’t want to have to mess with the HTML to knock out the useless services. So, I’m leaning toward ShareThis.

  • Al Sargent 11:16 pm on February 20, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    Focus social bookmarking on Email, Facebook, MySpace, and Digg 

    Social bookmarking widgets have appeared on many blog posts and other web pages. It’s understandable why: they drive traffic to your site, and they increase inbound links and thus PageRank.

    But which social media sites should your social bookmarking widget include?

    After all, there are dozens of options for sharing. In fact, Sociable supports over 100 social media sites.

    It’s a dilemma for online marketers: present too few choices, and you risk missing a popular bookmarking service. Provide too many, and you will confuse your visitors.

    ShareThis just shed a bunch of light on this question with this report. The highlight is this breakdown of social media services by popularity:

    ShareThis breakdown of social bookmarking popularity

    ShareThis breakdown of social bookmarking popularity

    The most popular social media services are:

    1. Good ol’ email, with a whopping 57% of usage.
    2. Facebook, with 21% share — and the fastest growing service
    3. MySpace, with 5% share but declining
    4. Digg, with 2% share
    5. StumbleUpon, Twitter and Technorati all have <1% share

    (Update: turns out that AIM was not in the top five, based on corrected information from ShareThis. So I’ve removed them from the list above.)

    This data is surprising. First, where’s LinkedIn? (Perhaps people don’t want to share interesting articles on a site used primarily for professional networking.) Why is Twitter so low in the rankings? (For all Twitter’s press, it’s important to note that its traffic is still well below that of Facebook.) And MySpace is hanging in there quite well.

    So, when you set up your social bookmarking widget, focus on the most popular services: Email, Facebook, MySpace, (maybe) AIM, Digg, StumbleUpon, Twitter, and Technorati. Of course, this breakdown won’t work for all types of visitors. For instance, technical audiences would probably want to post to Slashdot and Reddit.

    What do you think? Is the ShareThis data valid in your opinion? Do you track which bookmarking services your visitors use?

  • Al Sargent 9:48 pm on February 19, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , configuration, robots.txt, ,   

    A simple Robots.txt file for WordPress 

    I like to practice what I call Lazy SEO. I am “lazy” in that I like to get my blog SEO configuration done quickly so that I can return to what matters: actually writing. I bet others that read this have a similar outlook.

    With that in mind, here’s a robots.txt file that I just put together for one of my clients. It’s not the most sophisticated robots.txt out there, but it seems to get the job done for a business that’s has modest SEO needs: ensure that Google’s search results do not contain any irrelevant pages, such as admin pages.

    I put this together based on what I learned recently using Google Webmaster Tools and Ask Apache. It assumes a self-hosted WordPress instance with the Google XML sitemaps plugin installed. Hope you find it useful. Here goes…

    User-Agent: *

    1. don’t search for files in these directories

    Disallow: /_*
    Disallow: /cgi-bin/
    Disallow: /wp-admin/
    Disallow: /wp-includes/
    Disallow: /wp-content/backup*
    Disallow: /wp-content/themes/
    Disallow: /wp-login.php
    Disallow: */trackback/

    1. For Google XML sitemaps


    As you can see, this is pretty simple. For instance, it intentionally leaves out specific entries for different kinds of bots (Google image, Adsense, Adwords, etc.) since we don’t see those bots as critical to the needs of my client’s (simple) business.

    So what do you think of this approach — good enough or woefully lacking?

    • AskApache 8:44 am on March 9, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      Very very good! So many people get this wrong, its nice to see someone got it right. BTW, I share your “lazy seo” outlook…

      The only modification I would make is to remove the trackback line, trackback links get redirected to the post, which may actually boost your PR

      • Al Sargent 5:05 pm on March 9, 2009 Permalink | Reply

        @AskApache – good to know about */trackback/ — thanks for the tip.

  • Al Sargent 6:30 pm on February 13, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: dmscott, hubspot, , promotion, , tweetchat, tweetdeck, , viral marketing, webinar   

    Use Twitter and Tweetchat for your next webinar 

    I just finished watching a webinar from Hubspot, unlike any I’ve watched before. Here’s why:

    All too often, typical webinars drone on and are pretty boring. My typical experience is to listen while perusing blogs or cleaning out my inbox. As a result, listener engagement is very low. I’ve conducted webinars with 500 attendees and got maybe 12 comments — just 2% audience participation.

    This webinar was different. At the start, the moderator told everyone to follow #hubspot on Twitter. What happened was amazing: a firehose of realtime commentary on the webinar. Literally hundreds of comments. Which made it much more engaging and useful. I stayed tuned in to the content, and hundreds of others apparently did as well. We’ll probably remember this webinar far longer than others. And that makes it a more effective event.

    As a bonus, this firehose of tweets drove #hubspot to be featured on the home page of Twitter Search, as one of the top four trending topics. This was free advertising that lead to even more webinar participation.

    So, next time you do a webinar, start off by picking a unique keyword to follow on Twitter (e.g., #yourcompany). Then show a quick demo on how to use Tweetchat to let the audience follow in real time. Only after that demo should you dive into your actual presentation. You’ll get more attendees, higher audience engagement, longer recall, and a slew of good questions to make for compelling Q&A.

    Why do I like Tweetchat for webinar audience participation? It automatically inserts the keyword into every post. Unlike Twitter Search, it updates automatically, AJAX-style. It’s better than Tweetdeck (my default Twitter client) since there’s nothing to download.

    Have you participated in a webinar that had Twitter audience participation? How well did it work?

    • angus 7:53 pm on February 17, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      Hey Al, What a great post. Its quite right that webinars can be deathly boring and something must make them liven up. All I need now is three monitors for all the little apps and gizmos running on my Mac…..

  • Al Sargent 10:44 pm on January 31, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: demand generation, made to stick, marketingsherpa, marketo, product mana,   

    Marketers must think like Publishers 

    … that’s the guidance from this interview on demand generation:

    We’ve been recommending for a while now that marketers think like publishers when it comes to their marketing content. Too often, marketers create new educational content based on internal triggers, such as a new product launch or the adoption of a new marketing strategy. Instead, think like a publisher, who wants to keep their readers (in this case, prospects) engaged on a regular basis with content that’s tailored to their needs and interests. That means keeping close tabs on industry trends and customer and prospect concerns, and creating relevant content that addresses those trends and concerns in a timely manner.

    By doing this kind of lead nurturing, marketers enable their companies to become better-trusted advisors in the eyes of their prospects. Eventually, when those prospects have a compelling event that cause them to enter the sales cycle, they’re more likely to buy from the company that they’re familiar with.

    I love this idea. It’s very sticky (as defined by this book, which I’m currently reading) in that it’s simple, unexpected, concrete, and credible.  Simple because it’s easy to state. Unexpected because, let’s face it, how many of us enterprise marketing folks every thought of ourselves as being in the publishing business? Concrete, because it leads to some clear follow-up actions: blog editorial themes and calendars; rules of engagement for responding to others’ tweets, blog posts, and forum comments; and so on. Credible, because it makes sense: recommendations from a trusted source count much more than an unfamiliar one.

    What do you think of this approach to demand generation?

  • Al Sargent 11:15 pm on January 30, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , backlog, beta program, , tools   

    Product management tools & techniques for 2009 

    Product Management tools and techniques are continually evolving. Here are some that I’ve found to be especially useful recently:

    Agile Product Management requires that you setup up a backlog to track storycards. While there are more expensive solutions out there, Google Spreadsheets are a surprisingly good way to get started with backlog management. It’s easily viewable by an entire team, and can be edited simultaneously by team members. You probably will outgrow your spreadsheet after it gets to 100-200 storycards and will want to move to something more sophisticated, but for getting started, Google Spreadsheets is hard to beat.

    Do “live” note taking during customer calls with Campfire. Other participants on the call, developers and other team members can see notes as they are written, and can write in their own follow-up questions in real time. Plus it’s all searchable for later. I’ve seen development teams that live in Campfire, so putting the notes straight into there means that the customer feedback actually reaches the engineers it’s intended to influence.

    You can also use Campfire to enable team members to communicate what they’ve done and what they’re working on. This practice goes a long way towards eliminating the “status updates” part of staff meetings, which are generally not all that productive. Yammer‘s another good tool for this purpose, if you are not already using Campfire.

    Beta customer recruitment is very much a numbers game, a sales process conducted by the product manager. My rule of thumb, based on experience, is that you need about 30 beta program leads for every one active beta user that provides meaningful feedback. Since even a small beta will want at least several active beta users, there’s a significant lead management issue. To address this, use Highrise for managing beta customer recruitment, if you don’t have access to your company’s CRM system or are not allowed to use it for beta programs. Highrise has a free option which is great for getting started.

    I know, I’m started to sound like a shill for 37Signals… on to other tools!

    Use Google Video Chat to talk with remote developers. Most communication is nonverbal and you get more of this form of communication conveyed with video chat than with a phone call. Unlike the phone, you never have to worry about reaching out to a developer late at night if they’re online. I found it much easier to get Google video chat working than Skype video and iChat video.

    Make it a point to connect with all your active customers over IM. When developers come to you with urgent questions that require customer input, you’ll be able to ping several available customers over IM to make an informed decision. For this reason, IM is a huge enabler of Agile Product Management. It’s also great when scheduling meetings and dealing with conference call logistics. Adium (Mac) and Pidgin (Windows) work across all the major IM networks.

    Use Google Alerts, Friendfeed, and Twitter Search to stay on top of your market, find beta program prospects, get feedback on your product, and keep up with competitors, standards and events. Get the corresponding RSS or Atom feeds for each search into Google Reader — not necessarily to read every last post — but so you have large, searchable database of what’s happening in your market.

    Before meeting with a customer, do your homework on them: what they care about, what challenges they face, and so on. A number of sites let you do this. Currently lesser-known resources for doing this this include Pipl and Twitter. Better known sites include Google Blog Search, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

    If your company doesn’t provide you with conference calling and web conferencing, or if you just want to save some money, use DimDim and Free Conference Call. These services are both free and work great.

    What do you think? What product management techniques and tools are you planning to use this year?

  • Al Sargent 12:35 am on January 29, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Positioning, , speaking, speeches, writing   

    Analysis of Barack Obama’s inauguration speech 

    Below is a very insightful analysis of Barack Obama’s inauguration speech, from the folks at PowerSpeaking. (Normally I’d simply link to an appropriate blog post, but since PowerSpeaking doesn’t have one, I’m reproducing the content below.)

    PowerSpeaking is a firm that conducts clinics on how to enable business people to present more effectively. I’ve attended their “Speaking to the Big Dogs” program in the past, and I highly recommend their service.

    With the swearing in of Barack Obama, Tuesday January 20th was a historic day. Here at PowerSpeaking, Inc., we eagerly watched our new President’s inauguration speech. What about you? What were your thoughts as you watched our 44th President address the nation (and the world)? Did it have the impact that you expected it to have?

    The reviews have been mixed. New Republic writer John B. Judis called Obama’s speech “unusually abstract” and “a disappointing hodgepodge”. While historian Michael Roth declared the speech “brilliant, deeply felt” and containing “echoes of the great speeches of the past”.

    This e-tip is our brief analysis of his speech. As you read it, think about how you can incorporate some of these ideas in your business talks.Here are some strategies that we think worked:

    Imagery: The President used imagery six times in his nineteen-minute talk. “… gathering clouds and raging storms”. “…extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” “… brave the icy currents, and endure what storms may come.”

    Series of Three: He organized some thoughts in a series of three at least ten times. “… humbled by, … grateful for…, and mindful of…” “Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered.” “… we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”

    Repetition of Words / Phrases: Three times he used repetition. “For us, they packed up their worldly possessions… For us, they toiled in sweatshops…” For us, they fought and died…” “This is the price… This is the source… This is the meaning…” “… all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance…” Use of

    Pronouns: Obama’s extraordinary use of inclusive pronouns engages and inspires. Obama used the pronoun “I” twice in the speech. In contrast, he used the pronouns “we”, “our” and “us” 142 times.

    Here’s what we believe was missing:

    A core message: We conducted an informal survey asking people what they remembered most from the talk and what his main message was. Not one person could repeat a phrase. We’re not alone. CNN analysts Jeffrey Toobin says: “I thought that this was a speech with a lot of ideas but no theme and most importantly, this was a speech without a single memorable phrase.”

    As you watch the eloquence of our new President, pay attention to the strategies he uses in his speeches. Imagery, organized thoughts, repetition and inclusive language can all increase the chance your business audience will remember your talks. And don’t forget to have a core message that you repeat three times! Let ‘er Rip!

  • Al Sargent 8:45 pm on October 28, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: dimdim, , , slideshare, webinars   

    How to make PowerPoint presentations look good in SlideShare and DimDim 

    Lately I’ve been working a lot with SlideShare and DimDim to show PowerPoint presentations to customers and prospects. I try avoid “death by bulletpoint“, and instead incorporate a lot of diagrams into my slides in order to complement my speaking points. Unfortunately, a lot what looks great in PowerPoint 2007 (Windows) and 2008 (Mac) look awful in SlideShare and DimDim.

    So, here is a checklist of things to avoid so that your slides look fine whether they are rendered in PowerPoint, SlideShare, or DimDim:

    • Don’t use slick color gradations that PowerPoint 2008 uses by default. Use basic, solid colors.
    • Don’t use shadows on objects.
    • Don’t depend on builds within a single slide. Instead, use multiple slides to create a build. Tedious but worth it for complex diagrams.

    What else can you think of?

    Hopefully someday these kinds of issues will be taken care of as SlideShare and DimDim mature. And, one would hope that, as Microsoft creates more online offerings around Office, they will provide a way to faithfully render PowerPoint slides online.

    • Avner 10:45 pm on November 24, 2008 Permalink | Reply

      Always include slide #’s for people watching who may not want to interupt the flow of a presentation they can more easily direct the presenter back to a specific slide.

      Not so much a DimDim SlideShare issue but generally a good practice I’ve seen overlooked to often.

    • Virginia 1:40 am on November 25, 2008 Permalink | Reply

      If there’s any text, avoid unusual type faces – stick to the most common sans serif ones preferably “Arial” or “Lucida Sans.” Al, what are your favorite type faces?

    • Al Sargent 8:40 pm on November 25, 2008 Permalink | Reply

      Hey Ginny, my favorites are whatever are default in PowerPoint. Arial or Helvetica have been the defaults in PowerPoint up to version 2003, I believe. Calibri is now the default in PowerPoint 2007 and 2008. They may not be everyone’s favorite font, but they always work, which means one less thing to worry about before delivering that big presentation.

  • Al Sargent 10:38 pm on October 26, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    Four essential online marketing resources 

    Today, I shared the links below with a friend who’s starting a business. In the spirit of helpfulness, I’m republishing them below.

    Granted, these won’t be new to anyone reads the major social marketing / Web 2.0 blogs out there. Nonetheless, these are solid resources for online marketing that might not be known to mainstream business folks.

    • Presentation design:
    • Inspirational presentations often have minimal words and great pictures. Here’s where to find the latter: (tip: sort pictures by “Most Interesting”)
    • Social marketing is a very capital efficient way to market. This guy’s a master:
    • Screencasts on your web site — of you talking about your service, or better yet, one of your customers talking about it — are very effective. Here’s a very easy way to create them: Then upload to YouTube — lots of traffic there, and thus people who could potentially find your service useful.
  • Al Sargent 4:43 am on October 26, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: development, github, , inshoshi, meetup, open+source, , rake, , tdd, test driven development, testing, textmate   

    Observations from this month’s Silicon Valley Ruby on Rails meetup 

    Here are a couple of interesting things I learned at this month’s Silicon Valley Ruby on Rails meetup, specifically the first presentation by Michael Hartl of InsoshI.

    The first is how GitHub leverages the power of decentralization. Let me explain how I understand this work: GitHub encourages people to fork off of existing projects. So, if someone wants to add a fix to an open source project, they make their own, add the fix, and publish it on GitHub. Eventually they ping a core contributor to have their changes added back into the main branch. GitHub’s very good at merging changes back into a branch, so this is fairly painless.

    Here’s why this is so significant. Traditionally, it’s taken a long time for fixes to get much distribution. This is because there was only one central repository for any open source project. Before any fix could be checked into the main branch, it would have to get reviewed and approved. This would take time. What GitHub does is remove this bottleneck. So more fixes get published more quickly.

    You’d think forking would be a bad thing — a proliferation of nonstandard branches. But it isn’t. GitHub’s merge capabilities mean that these fixes find their way into the main branch.

    Seeing this presentation makes me wonder why any open source project would NOT be on GitHub.

    The second thing I learned was from watching how Michael does test-driven development. It’s all testing, all the time. I believe the tools being used were Rake, Growl, and Textmate. Tests are automatically run every minute or so in the background. Test results summaries are displayed in Growl alerts: a green box displaying how many tests passed, a yellow one with how many tests are undefined, and red with how many failed. The alerts fade from the screen after a few seconds.

    It’s not a big production, moonshot-style, let’s-run-the-nightly-test-suite kind of thing. Rather, it’s simple, continual testing that provides a steady drumbeat of feedback to the developer. Ambient is the best word that comes to mind.

    Words like these don’t really do it justice — you have to see it for yourself to fully appreciate what’s going on. It’s a subtle change, but one that I think will make a big change over time in terms of the quality and velocity of software development.

  • Al Sargent 7:14 pm on October 22, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: competitive research, summize, trends,   

    twitrratr is a great tool for product managers 

    Just now read about twitrratr on TechCrunch. How they describe themselves:

    Discover what people are really saying on Twitter. With Twitrratr you can distinguish negative from positive tweets surrounding a brand, product, person or topic.

    This is a great tool for product managers, marketers and anyone who wants have their finger on the pulse of a market. It lets you quickly determine people’s overall sentiments about any topic being twittered. For instance, here are twitrratr summaries for Obama and McCain and twitrratr itself.

    Twitrratr isn’t perfect. It could use some improvement in terms of how it recognizes positive and negative sentiments. But even with these warts, it’s still a useful service with a lot of promise. I wouldn’t be surprised if Twitter acquired twitrratr, like they did with Summize.

    But, please, twitrratr — get a name that’s easier to remember and type!

  • Al Sargent 6:59 pm on October 22, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: gear, nike, product,   

    The coolest product of the year? 

    … could be the Nike Hindsight, new sunglasses that provide the wearer an extra 25 degrees of peripheral vision. They’re being promoted as cycling gear, but it seems they could have a wide range of applications, including everyday driving. As for myself, these are definitely something that I’d find useful for competitive sailing.

    • Sir Lucas Leftfoot 2:21 am on October 23, 2008 Permalink | Reply

      I saw this product earlier today. This thing looks REALLY cool, I hope it makes it to market soon.

  • Al Sargent 2:00 am on October 14, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , wish list… 

    While WordPress works wonderfully overall, I just gotta get these gripes off my chest.

    I wish that WordPress supported:

    • MyBlogLog, or something similar, perhaps using their Gravatar service.
    • ShareThis, a widget for sharing blog posts on social media sites.
    • Google Reader’s Shared Items
    • Atom feed format, not just RSS

    The good thing, WordPress seems to have a good “feature velocity”, and as such, hopefully these things will be addressed in a reasonable time.

  • Al Sargent 1:44 am on October 14, 2008 Permalink | Reply  

    Movin’ on up… 

    …from TypePad to WordPress. I must say, WordPress just feels better. I can’t put my finger on any one single feature that makes me say this. Just lots, and lots, of well-thought-out details.

    Meanwhile, TypePad hasn’t really changed since I started using it in 2005 — it feels very web 1.0.

    Oh, and WordPress is free. That helps, too. 🙂

  • Al Sargent 11:46 pm on July 25, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: bloggers, , , CMO, evangelist, , PR, social+media   

    Why traditional PR is dead – and what to do about it 

    I recently read this post at Brian Solis’ PR 2.0 blog on Social Media Marketing and wondered — why is PR changing?

    I believe PR is changing is because different people are doing the writing.

    We’re shifting from a media landscape where stories are written primarily by journalists, to one where a large chunk of stories are written by domain experts who blog and contribute to online forums. (For the sake of brevity, I’ll call them bloggers, even though they’re published online in blogs and online forums, and sometimes offline in books.)

    Bloggers are different than the journalists they are replacing. Bloggers are often experts in their field, active practitioners who have built up their knowledge over years. Journalists tend to have a low-level of expertise in the domains they writing about. Their training is in writing and, well, journalism. In the course of writing a story, they cannot even come close to the level of expertise of a blogger writing about their area of specialization.

    Journalists in theory have no agenda, and a commitment to objectivity, to report both sides of the story. Bloggers are likely to have an agenda, and have no commitment to objectivity. Online publications, seeing the influence of bloggers, are inviting them to write stories as guest contributors, further reinforcing their influence level. Bloggers are happy to oblige, since this increases their readership, AdSense revenue, and number of lucrative speaking engagements.

    So how does this affect PR?

    In the past, a public relations firm with little knowledge of a product or market could sling press releases or info packets to publications run by editors and journalists who a) had a low ability to detect vendorspeak (also known as BS); and b) wanted to cover all sides to the story, i.e., all leading vendors. Slinging worked, with a more or less predictable conversion rate.

    Today, slinging doesn’t work. Bloggers hate it. I believe this is because bloggers are different than journalists, as described above. They require contact from someone who:

    • Understands the domain reasonably well
    • Knows the blogger’s personalities, agenda, alliances, and the perspective the blogger is likely to have concerning the product/service being promoted
    • Can gracefully enter the conversation in a way that is respectful and provides value to the blogger in exchange for the their time.

    In short, PR is shifting from a slinging exercise that’s the domain of someone who’s worked with various publications, to one that’s best conducted by a knowledgable evangelist. Evangelists aren’t new. Nor are they some kind of rare, exotic role. They are simply knowledgeable outbound marketing folks, freed from the obligations of having to manage a product or meet a sales quota. They are able to travel extensively, without any obligations other than getting the word out to as many people as possible. Guy Kawasaki was one of the more prominent evangelists in the 80s. I’ve worked with numerous evangelists in the 90s and this decade. Traditionally, they’ve been the person you rolled out to the speaker circuit and to help clinch your largest deals. In addition to these activities, I see their role evolving to include meetings with top bloggers.

    That’s the crux — social media requires an evolution of the role of evangelist. And perhaps as traditional pubs decline in number and importance relative to blogs, our industry needs to shift headcount from traditional PR slingers to social-media-savvy evangelists.

    But that’s it. Evolution, not revolution.

    So, what steps should an organization take to shift to PR 2.0?

    Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) and VPs of Marketing should ensure their PR staff have deep product, marketing, and domain knowledge. Either ramp up existing PR staff, or bring in new team members who have been successful evangelists, product marketing managers, sales engineers, or consultants.

    PR staff should ramp up their product and domain expertise, fast. I believe that a proficient PR team that has done this should be able to produce Social Media Plan to complements their Traditional Media Plan. The SMP should contain a list of all influential bloggers, links to their online presence points, their "influence index" (using data from Technorati, Google, Compete, etc.), their agenda/point of view, their alliances, their actual or expected opinion of your product, and how to contact them. The Social Media Plan should provide a prioritized list of who to contact, and how to gracefully enter their world.

    Product (Marketing) Managers with revenue responsibility can no longer safely assume that the PR department has things under control. They should become more involved, because often, they are one of a handful of people with the product and domain expertise required to succeed in the PR 2.0 world. Because PM’s and PMM’s have plenty to do already, they should lobby their CMOs to "upskill" the PR team.

    In summary, PR 2.0 = evangelists – PR flacks + Social Media Plans.

    • Jason Kintzler 3:38 pm on July 26, 2008 Permalink | Reply

      Great post Al, and all valid points. My experience is that both traditional media and traditional PR pros haven’t adopted social media in a more mainstream manner partly because of the lack of progamming or IT knowledge. Large corporations could put dollars into more social, digital PR newsrooms and releases, but the gaps between them and the media they serve are too large. I’m trying to change all that with PitchEngine. PR and media relations will have to become more social, and it can’t be done by one or the other independently.

    • laurynwilliams 1:22 pm on April 14, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      This post makes many good points. PR is changing due to technology and social media. I really like that you mention the importance and skill of bloggers. Blogging is a great way to get your opinion out without being punished for it. I would suggest for PR students to start blogging while in college. It doesn’t matter if it is about PR or not, as long as it is something that they are generally interested in and have a lot of knowledge about. I do not believe that journalists should worry about PR practitioners and bloggers taking their jobs, though. They write differently and usually address a different audience. What PR bloggers talk about is not necessarily newsworthy to everyone, because the blog is focused on a PR. I love some of the points made in this post.”

  • Al Sargent 2:09 pm on July 16, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Andy+Grove, Paranoia, ,   

    Yelp, Yahoo, and the importance of Paranoia 

    I love Yelp. So do a lot of people. It’s the quickest way I know of to find a good local business.

    But I also find it kind of amazing that Yelp exists in the first place. After all, Yahoo Local has been around forever. They had a huge lead in this local directories business. They have hundreds of millions of users to write reviews. They should own the local search category just like Google owns web search.

    Put it this way, if you were a VC in the early part of this decade, would you have funded Yelp? I wouldn’t have — which goes to show why I stick to enterprise markets that I can grasp.

    So, what happened? How did Yelp thrive in the shadow of a web powerhouse?

    I don’t work at either Yelp or Yahoo, nor do I follow the local search market, so I can’t know for sure.

    What I do know, is that as a user of the two services, Yelp’s functionality just works better. It’s the combination of many little things. Number and quality of ratings is one key factor, but there are many others. Enumerating those is beyond the scope of this post.

    That said, I think a key "root cause" of Yahoo’s slip-up is that they weren’t paranoid about losing the lead in local search. They updated their service, but not quickly enough to keep pace with Yelp. In my mind, this is a classic case of losing the "paranoia" that Andy Grove wrote about years ago. A great quote from "Only the Paranoid Survive" describes this dynamic:

    "Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive."

    What other successful giants are there that have grown complacent and are vulnerable to younger, hungrier competitors?

  • Al Sargent 9:42 am on June 23, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Apple, , GoogleMaps, , , OSX, Ubuntu   

    A short OS X new feature wish list 

    OS X has been great to work with. But like any piece of software, it can be improved. Here are seven features that would let me work more efficiently.

    • Autocorrect typos in any text field, in any application. I use TextExpander to partially solve this problem. But it’s autocorrect algorithms don’t work as well as Microsoft Office, its dictionary is tiny (a few thousand words — sounds like a lot, but not nearly enough), and it has some frustrating bugs.
    • Resize windows from any edge or corner, not just the lower right. Especially frustrating since Microsoft Windows has had this ability since at least 1991. Would let me resize windows faster, probably by a factor of five.
    • Automatically consolidate duplicate dates. If there are two dates referring to the same event, combine their respective information. There’s an AppleScript to delete iCal duplicates, but since this isn’t the same as merging near-matches, it doesn’t fully solve the problem.
    • Automatically consolidate duplicate contacts. Address Book has functionality that partially solves this problem, but still misses out on many contacts.
    • Automatically augment contacts with directions to and from my home and office, and along with short URLs to corresponding Google Maps. I use Google Maps dozens of times a week, spending maybe half an hour a week at the site.
    • Automatically fix red eyes in photos. (But save the original picture, just in case the red-eye fix didn’t quite work out.) iPhoto can manually fix red eyes, but when you have thousands of pictures, this is very time-consuming.
    • Search for text within pictures. I use Evernote to do this for handwritten meeting notes that I’ve scanned in as jpegs. Their OCR works amazingly well, and Evernote is an incredibly useful way to keep track of what’s happened in meetings. But it’s awkward to fire up Evernote just to view a meeting note jpeg. I’d like to be able to do everything in the Finder and Preview.

    One can  hope that Apple implements these sometime in the near future. And if they don’t, this provides an opening for Microsoft, Ubuntu, or some other OS.

    • Al Sargent 3:23 pm on July 7, 2008 Permalink | Reply

      Here are some AppleScripts I stumbled upon that tries to address some of the duplicate date and contact issues above: However, I’d much rather have this kind of functionality come from Apple and be battle-tested by their QA team. When I ran one of these scripts on my rather large contacts database, it timed out.

  • Al Sargent 10:33 am on June 19, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Excel, , , JakobNielsen, , Office, , , Unix, usability, Word, YubNub   

    Frustrated by Office 2007? Try Search Commands. 

    If Office 2007 has been as frustrating for me as it has been for me, check out a new feature from Microsoft Office Labs called Search Commands.

    The problem that Search Commands solved for me is this: even after using Office 2007 for a few months, I still can’t easily find what I’m looking for, and still get frustrated having to look at many toolbar icons that I’ll never use. The way I solve this problem today is by either digging through the Ribbon and cursing, or using Google. Surprisingly, the latter method is often faster.

    Search Commands solves that problem, by letting you "google" your Office 2007 commands, and find the right one. It might seem kind of odd to search for commands rather than use a menu, but consider that Word, Excel, and PowerPoint each have at least several hundred commands. It’s a lot faster to type a few keys than it is to browse and scan through a dozen drop-down menus.

    If you like QuickSilver, Firefox search keywords, YubNub, the Unix command line, or other keyboard-oriented ways of working, you’ll probably find Search Commands a welcome addition. It’s not perfect, but it’s a big step forward.

    One last thing: Search Commands is still considered by Microsoft to be an experimental feature, meaning that it might not be rolled into the Office 2007 code base. This is surprising given the positive feedback this feature has received, and we’ve known for over a decade that the majority of users like to search, not browse. So, if you like Search Commands, express your support here.

  • Al Sargent 10:55 pm on May 30, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: boat, dinghy, sailboat, Sailing, vanguard, vanguard15   

    What to look for when buying a used Vanguard 15 

    Most of my posts are related to the business of software, the web, and IT in general. However, I came across some useful information related to one of my main pastimes, competitive sailing, and thought I’d post it so others can benefit.

    I’m in the market to buy a used Vanguard 15, a popular 15 foot sailboat raced here in San Francisco. Here’s the list of some of the less-obvious things to look for when buying a used V15. Some of these come from Nick Adamson, a past V15 national champ who was instrumental in getting the local fleet going here a decade ago, and Morgan Larson, a 505 world champ who’s done a bit of sailing in the Vanguards.

    This isn’t a complete list of things to look for — that would be a long, boring post. Rather, these are some of the really big items to look for to quickly size up a boat.

    1. Mainsheet block attachment becket – they eventually get loose and have to be reinforced (repairable but you should negotiate on the price).
    2. Spider cracking in on hull – usually means the hull has a weak spot in the spider cracked area (stay away if you see this).
    3. Excessive wear in the centerboard trunk – primary source of leaks (repairable but you should negotiate on the price).
    4. Make sure mast is straight – they sometimes get bent when inexperienced folks stick the mast in mud. (Means the mast needs to be replaced.)
    5. Bow dings. These are often repairable, but indicate the boat’s probably had a hard life.
    6. Delaminated rails. These are usually repairable if they are caught early. But make sure the rail hasn’t turned mushy.
    7. Misaligned/misshaped centerboard trunk. This is not repairable. If you want to be competitive, this could be a show stopper.
    8. Corrosion in the rigging. Not a showstopper, but means that you should consider replacing the shrouds, else your mast could come down.

    On the other hand, Nick said it wasn’t necessary to weigh a V15 hull, since he’s never her of major weight differences. This is in contrast to Laser hulls 20 years ago — yes, I’m dating myself — which could range in weight from 130 to 145 pounds.

    Aside from these visual checks, it’s important to test sail a boat on a windy day and see how it holds up, and check out whether it leaks.

    There are some things that are fairly easily addressed, and should not be major sticking points when looking to buy a used boat:

    1. Minor rail dings.
    2. Mast step depressions. Seems like V15’s get these after just a bit of sailing.
    3. Wear on the boom, where it meets the shrouds.
    4. Cracked plastic handrails. A number of sailors are simply taking the plastic handrails off.
    5. Worn out shock cord and lines.

    What do you think? What other kinds of things should one look at when buying a Vanguard 15?

  • Al Sargent 2:27 am on May 11, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: newspapers, pipes   

    How to create your own neighborhood newspaper 

    I’ve always wanted a neighborhood newspaper — something that covers what’s going on in my local neighborhood, and filters out what’s going on in San Francisco at large.

    Our neighborhood does have a local paper — the Richmond Review — but it comes out only once a month and is pretty sparse in content. There are local news sites like Everyblock, and, but these seem to miss a lot of local stories as well.

    So, I used Yahoo Pipes to aggregate RSS from a number of sites — Everyblock,, Google News and Blogsearch, WordPress, Flickr (for local photos), Craigslist (for events), and Yahoo Groups. (Unfortunately YouTube doesn’t have a way to display search results in RSS, and Upcoming searches can’t be fixed on a particular neighborhood. When these change, I’ll add them.)

    Pipes is smart enough to let me filter out news from Richmond, VA, as well as the town of Richmond in the East Bay, as well as to filter out duplicates.

    The result is here. While it’s not perfect, it’s more complete than anything offered by Everblock,, or even the San Francisco Chronicle.

    Which makes me wonder: what if someone did this for every neighborhood and town in the US, or even the world. You could use Craigslist as a starting point for your taxonomy of communities. Doing this manually would be painstaking, but it seems like it would not be rocket science to automate this.

    This concept could by refined by grouping entries by date, so that you have a "daily edition" for your neighborhood rag. Then add a Digg-like way for people to promote/demote certain entries so they appear higher/lower, and to flag entries as inappropriate — wrong location, NSFW, etc.

    Hyper-local news should be achievable given the information we have available today. Food for thought…

  • Al Sargent 12:19 am on May 9, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , investing, , meebo, , openoffice, revenue, valuations, xobni,   

    What early adopters really do at their computers 

    TechCrunch has a great post on how early adopters spend their time on their computers. What’s fascinating about this is the time usage stats are based on actual behavioral data, so it’s very accurate, relatively speaking.

    No doubt people are drawing all kinds of conclusions from this. I thought I’d share mine, which revolve around how this data affects market share, revenue, and valuations:

    • Gmail is used 3x more than Not surprising when one considers their own workday activities. But, assuming clickthroughs are more or less equal for both (valid assumption?) — that means Gmail generates the bulk of Google’s Adwords revenue. Pretty amazing considering that Gmail originally came out of a developers "20% time" project. This supports the notion that sometimes the best projects come out of skunkworks.
    • Facebook is accessed 50% more than Maybe that $15 Bn valuation is justified after all!
    • Outlook is, unsurprisingly, the most used app. Now, think about Xobni. If you got it installed, whenever you use Outlook, you’re using Xobni. That means Xobni could soon become one of the most widely used apps around. That presents some interesting monetization opportunities when you have that many user attention minutes. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for those guys.
    • It’s surprising that Yahoo Messenger has such low usage. Last time I’d looked, a few years ago, Yahoo had many instant messenging users. One more thing for Jerry Yang to worry about. I’m also surprised that Meebo is at the bottom of the list.
    • OpenOffice and Google Apps have very low usage. For instance, Google Docs has 3% the usage of Word. If even the early adopters aren’t using them, I guess it will be some time before they start to challenge Microsoft in terms of market share. And it will be some time before Microsoft profitability, largely driven by the Office suite, starts to suffer and drag down Microsoft’s valuation.

    A note on accuracy: I’m sure some will quibble about the accuracy of the numbers given that
    the sample was self-selected, But market research is an inexact science.
    Not to go all Rumsfeld, but you need to use the data you have, not the
    data you wish you had. This, as far as I know, is the best data we have on what people actually do on their computers. (If you know of a better data source, please let me know.)

  • Al Sargent 11:26 am on May 8, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Leopard, , meeting notes, meetings, OS X,   

    Review of Evernote for Mac 

    I recently learned about Evernote for the Mac on the Lifehacker blog, and that I’d give it a try. Here’s my review of what I learned.

    First, here’s why I thought of Evernote in the first place.

    My main reason for trying Evernote is to archive meeting notes that I’ve written by hand onto a notepad. While I prefer to take notes directly into my laptop, this isn’t always possible — sometimes I don’t have my laptop, sometimes my laptop is tied up displaying a PowerPoint presentation, sometimes I can’t type in my laptop without the keyobard clicks annoying others on the conference call.

    I’ve tried special pens that have a camera built in and require special paper. The problem is that this pens ar huge and basically make you look like a dork. Not the best thing when you’re trying to establish credibility during a customer presentation.

    Given the challenges above, I’ve stuck with good old pen and paper. The problem is that retrieving information in notes from more than a couple of days in the past is a time-consuming, page turning exercise.

    Evernote is a nice complement to pen and paper, handwritten notes. It archives them on both my laptop and the web, and most impressively, makes most of the actual handwritten text searchable. This is really amazing. My handwriting is not that great, yet Evernote indexes it, and makes it instantly searchable, a la Spotlight or Gmail.

    So, Evernote is off to a good start, especially considering that they’re only on version one of their Mac client.

    Here are some additional things I’d love to see in the product in future versions:

    1. For the web version, support Firefox keyword searching. This way, I could type in the following into my FF address bar: "evernote <text to find>", and the Evernote Web site would return search results.

    2. Better integration with HP scanners. (Mine is an OfficeJet 5780.) I’d love to be able to scan directly from the scanner to the Evernote OS X client. Should be technically feasible, since the HP scanner can today scan to Preview, iPhoto, Finder, etc.

    3. Reduce the size of JPEGs of notebook pages that I’ve scanned in. The HP scanner by default makes them around 2.5 MB for an 8.5 x 11 page. This is overkill. Would be ideal if Evernote automatically crunched these down to a JPEG that’s around 300 MB. That provides enough information to be readable on a screen.

    4. Let me use Evernote to quickly concatenate multiple scanned in images into a single image. This way I don’t need to have a bunch of separate JPEG files in Evernote, as in "Acme Corp meeting notes 1", "Acme Corp meeting notes 2", etc.

    5. It would ideal if Evernote let me take pictures from the iSight camera built into the monitor. This means I would not have to open up Photo Booth, and would be a time saver.

    6. Better still if Evernote provided a hook into QuickSilver, which let me take pictures from the iSight camera just using a keyboard command. Perhaps this could be implemented via a special utility app (or droplet) that Evernote provided, sort of a "gui-less" app that quickly starts up, takes a picture, and puts it into the Evernote database.

    7. Spotlight integration. Right now, items in Evernote don’t seem to appear in Spotlight.

    So, if you can live with the above shortcomings, Evernote is definitely worth a look.

    • Al Sargent 10:02 pm on May 15, 2008 Permalink | Reply

      Thought I’d post a correction and an update to this post:

      Shortcoming #5 above is incorrect – you CAN use the Evernote client to take pictures of documents using the iSight camera.

      Shortcoming #7 above has been eliminated in the most recent Evernote release. Now Evernote items are integrated into Spotlight. Very, very cool!

      About a week into using Evernote, I’m pretty pleased with it and have incorporated it into my post-meeting routine. It is a hassle to have to manually resize large scanned-in images, and to rename them to FOO 1..n (since I cannot figure out how to merge JPEGs). But otherwise, it’s a great way to make handwritten notes a whole lot more useful.

    • Mike 9:26 am on May 19, 2008 Permalink | Reply

      I’m just getting started with Evernote, too — I found your post because I was hoping for a way to send text to Evernote with Quicksilver, which I still haven’t found yet.

      One tool you might find helpful is PDFlab, which allows you to merge jpegs (or PDFs) into a single PDF file. It’s free, too ( I haven’t tried it, but supposedly you can add PDFs to Evernote.

      Note that in the first comment on that VersionTracker page, it tells how to do the same thing with Preview, assuming you’re using Leopard (I’m not). If you’re on Leopard, then, you can probably do your JPEG merging using Preview.

      Good luck!

    • Al Sargent 9:11 pm on May 19, 2008 Permalink | Reply

      Hey Mike,

      Thanks for the tip! PDFLab seems to work in terms of merging multiple JPEGs into a single PDF.

      However, it’s unclear whether Evernote will OCR the text in the PDF that PDFLab outputs. (I uploaded such a PDF to Evernote 20 minutes ago and it has not yet been OCR’d.) Time will tell…

    • Aron 3:20 pm on September 23, 2008 Permalink | Reply

      Would be ideal if Evernote automatically crunched these down to a JPEG that’s around 300 MB.

      @Al I assume you mean 300 kB. Hehehe.

    • Al Sargent 10:24 pm on September 23, 2008 Permalink | Reply

      @Aron — Doh! Good catch. Yes, 300 kb. Thanks for reading the post. Hope it was helpful.

  • Al Sargent 10:22 pm on March 14, 2008 Permalink | Reply  

    Useful Mac OS 10.5 Leopard Tips 

    I’ve been playing with 10.5 Leopard. Here are some tips that I’ve found useful, along with links to where they’re posted. Hope you find these useful!

    Normally the arrows next to artists and albums in your iTunes library
    search the iTunes store when you click them. This Terminal command changes them
    so that clicking will search your iTunes library instead. Put NO at the
    end to reverse.

    defaults write invertStoreLinks -bool YES

    To show the full path in the Finder, enter this into Terminal:

    defaults write _FXShowPosixPathInTitle -bool YES

    This command creates a Recent Applications stack in your Dock, that you can change to display other recent items. To remove it, use the command defaults delete persistent-others but be warned, this will remove all your stacks.

    defaults write persistent-others -array-add ‘{ "tile-data" = { "list-type" = 1; }; "tile-type" = "recents-tile"; }’
    killall Dock

    Get rid of Leopard’s default glassy reflection:

    defaults write no-glass -boolean YES
    killall Dock

    Removing the dotMac Menu
    dotMac Menu is easy to remove – hold down the Apple (Command) key and drag the dotMac Menu’s icon off of your menu bar and it will disappear in a poof. To fully remove dotMac Menu from your system locate where you installed it via the installer and move it to the Trash.

  • Al Sargent 10:20 pm on February 27, 2008 Permalink | Reply  

    MacBook Pro – six months later… 

    Six months after buying a MacBook Pro, and switching from a Wintel notebook, everything is working pretty well. The biggest single challenge, however, is this.

  • Al Sargent 3:58 pm on August 6, 2007 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: continuity, disaster, freemium, jaiku, saas, , web app   

    Preparing for the inevitable 

    If you deliver an application over the web, downtime is inevitable. Much as we try to prevent downtime — through redundancy, bug fixing, monitoring — it still happens. The recent — okay, a couple of weeks ago, this isn’t a real-time blog — fiasco at 365 Main shows that even the "world’s finest datacenter" can still have its problems.

    It’s been interesting to see how companies with web apps are using Twitter (and Jaiku, etc.) to provide status reports when their sites crash.

    And talking about disasters in the physical world, people are starting to hear about them first on Twitter, etc. Here’s a story about how the Los Angeles Fire Department uses Twitter. Here’s one about the Minneapolis bridge collapse and Twitter.

    People can debate Twitter’s usefulness for everyday events. But no one can deny that Twitter’s becoming the killer app for disaster management.

    Which brings me to my main point: how long will it take companies that drive revenue through web apps to setup alternate communications channels using Twitter and other microblogging services?

    For example: suppose customers can’t place an order via your website. The sooner you can tell customers that you’re aware of the problem and trying to get back online better. The sooner you can post an estimate of when you’ll be back online, the better. The sooner you can inform that you are back online, the better.

    I’m no expert on disaster management, but it seems like one of the things that separates good disaster handling from bad is the quantity and timeliness of communications.

    It seems natural that companies will eventually post their Twitter URL on their "Contact Us" page. And perhaps a Jaiku URL, too, in case Twitter goes down! This seems to be one of those standard requirements that product managers should prescribe for any Internet web app.

    If companies adopt Twitter for disaster management, this essentially makes it a mission-critical application. Could Twitter charge companies for this service? Perhaps. Every company wants to look as competent as possible during a service outage — fumbling a disaster could cost a CEO or CIO their job — and Twitter would help here.

    It will be interesting to see whether Twitter starts to offer something to address this market need.

    Note I’m talking about the possibility of Twitter charging companies, not individual users. I can’t see any reason for Twitter to charge individual users. What I’m talking about is Twitter possibly going with a freemium pricing model.

    • LAFD 11:24 pm on August 6, 2007 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for your kind blog mention of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

      Like you, we see such Web 2.0 tools as Twitter as empowering in our efforts to keep people informed in times of duress.

      Please know that our somewhat clandestine ‘LAFD Labs’ will be producing several new projects in the months ahead, and we welcome your input as we navigate uncharted waters.

      Great blog by the way. We’ve added it to our bookmarks!

      Respectfully Yours in Safety and Service,

      Brian Humphrey
      Public Service Officer
      Los Angeles Fire Department

      LAFD Blog:

  • Al Sargent 12:17 pm on July 25, 2007 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , online survey, , software release criteria   

    A better way to gauge software release readiness 

    Online surveys are, in theory, a great way to gauge software release readiness. One would think it would be easy to send a survey link to all of one’s beta customers, asking them to rate the overall stability and individual new features in a release.

    Unfortunately, it’s not so easy.

    Not because online surveys are hard to create or expensive. Sites like Surveymonkey make it easy to create online surveys for a very reasonable fee.

    The problem is getting users to actually fill out the surveys.

    My own experience is that only about five percent of beta users fill out online surveys.

    Why does this matter? Practically speaking, statistical significance kicks in around 27 responses. (That’s the rule of thumb taught in market research classes. Feel free to dig into the math if you want.) Dividing 27 by 5 percent means you need 540 beta users if you’re going to get a reasonable amount of certainty around release readiness.

    Getting a few hundred beta users is not easy, given the fact that beta timeframes are often crunched down to the bare minimum time, caught between engineering’s inevitable release slips and sale’s understandable desire to start selling the new product as soon as possible. (I’m not complaining about engineering here — software development is a hard activity to do, and even harder one to forecast.)

    Even if you have 500 or more beta users, it make take a couple of weeks to get to 27 responses. 15 might come the first week, 10 the next, and so on.

    This slow accumulation of responses makes life hard for a software product manager. Every day that goes by is lost revenue, but you don’t want to pull the trigger and go GA without having met your release criteria.

    How does a product manager address this?

    The easiest way is to improve survey response rates. If you can get response rates to 10%, you only 270 beta users to get 27 responses. If you can get response rates to 30%, you only need 90 beta users.

    One way to do this is with a contest — for instance, raffle the hot gadget of the day (iPod, iPhone), or give away a free license of your product.

    Another, cheaper way is to use "inline surveys" that appear  right on your company’s home page or blog or some other highly-visited web page.

    If beta users see a blog entry with a short, five question survey, they’re fairly likely to complete that survey because they know it won’t take up much of their day. If they see a Surveymonkey link, they have no idea how many questions are involved, and they bail.

    This is why I’m excited about a new inline survey from a company called Vizu. They let you embed a polling widget into a web page with a bit of JavaScript. Their widget is technically the same as other kinds of web widgets that people put on their blogs and Facebook pages, and fairly easy to setup. Pricing starts at free.

    [Disclosure: I’m friends with Dan Beltramo, Vizu’s founder.]

  • Al Sargent 11:30 am on July 25, 2007 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: feature prioritization, feature request, product manager, Product roadmap   

    Digg-style product feature voting 

    One of the toughest problems every software product manager faces is how to prioritize all the feature requests submitted by customers, salespeople, executives, and other stakeholders.

    It’s a hard one to address. A software product can easily have hundreds, if not thousands, of feature requests. Companies often use bug tracking software, or support incident software, to track feature requests. Unfortunately, these don’t provide any way to "connect" requests. That is, to state that request A is the same as request B, and start tracking which requests are the most popular.

    There are requirements management applications from FeaturePlan and Accept that let you connect feature requests. However, a product manager (PM) still has to manually make these connections.

    A dirty secret in the product management world is that product managers (PM’s) rarely, if ever, comb through these feature request repositories when formulating a product roadmap. It simply takes too much time and there are too many other demands on one’s time.

    The upshot is that when a new release comes out, it’s very easy for people to second-guess the product manager. Sales will ask, "why is feature X not in the release?" A big customer will ask, "why is my requested feature not implemented?"  Executives will ask, "is the PM really on top of customer needs?"

    These kinds of questions, especially from executives, can hurt a product manager at review time. This is unfortunate, since PM’s typically do everything they can to provide a fair product roadmap.

    This is why I’m very excited to learn about a new software application that lets stakeholders vote on product features. This is similar to how Digg lets users vote on stories, and how Dell Ideastorm lets users vote on feature ideas.

    The application is called Pligg. It’s available for free download, and is hosted by several companies.

    If usage of Pligg takes off among software companies, it could help our industry build much better products — and enable product managers to do much better jobs in less time.

    I haven’t played with it yet, but am looking forward to doing so.

    Have you used Pligg? Do you know of any other similar applications? Please let me know via the comments.

    • Mike 2:51 pm on August 14, 2007 Permalink | Reply

      voting on ideas though helpful, is marginally of value since you, as a decision maker, may be treating all votes as equal. The better approach is to weight those votes by the importance of the voter to the strategy that you are trying to achieve. For example if you can gather voter demographic data and see that votes from a certain target demographic can help you gain market share with that demographic then you are aligning and prioritizing rather than letting any ideas float to the top

  • Al Sargent 2:48 pm on July 17, 2007 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    Can Twitter streamline Agile Development? 

    I’ve been thinking about if and how Twitter can be used by businesses to streamline their operations. Specifically, for software businesses, which is where my experience lies.

    It seems to me that it can. Here’s one way:

    Product development teams can use Twitter as an an "accelerator for Agile Development". Let me explain. One best practice of Agile Development is to a have a daily meeting, called a scrum. The meeting typically lasts ten or 15 minutes. It’s very informal. Every member of the development team briefly explains what they’re working on that day, and any blockers they face.

    For instance, a developer might be waiting for product management to clarify a requirement. Or a tester might be waiting for a developer to check in a software component.

    It sounds simple, but daily scrums are very effective in making problems known to the entire team, and consequently, getting problems fixed faster. With scrums, a blocking problem is unknown for only 24 hours max.

    Now, what if a product team used Twitter to maintain a "continuous scrum status stream" — or scrum stream for short? Update your Twitter status once a day to declare what you’re working on. Update your Twitter status whenever a blocking issue comes up.

    You would still need a daily scrum meeting, of course, to give everyone a live forum for raising issues. To be clear, I’m proposing Twitter to be used as a way to complement, not replace, existing Agile practices.

    I think there would be at least two benefits to this use of Twitter.

    Product team members would know about blocking issues even quicker. Problem resolution time would drop.

    And, scrum meetings would be shorter, since they’d focus on exceptions, not day-to-day reporting of status.

    In terms of security, Twitter already lets you restrict you can see your updates. So, if an engineering adopted Twitter to provide scrum streams, they would not have to worry about everyone on the web seeing those messages.

    What do you think? Are there other ways you think Twitter can be used to make businesses work better?

  • Al Sargent 4:46 pm on June 8, 2007 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: AJAX, flash, flex   

    AJAX versus Flex 

    I actually posted to a blog for the first time this year — yep, it’s been pretty busy. My friend Tess asked me to do a comparison of Flex versus AJAX as a comment for her blog. Since the content here is pretty dang stale, I figured I’d repurpose the material below.

    Here goes.

    IMO, AJAX isn’t getting tired. However, it seems like the new trend is for AJAX and Flex to be used together so that developers can take advantage of the strengths of each one. Look at Google Map’s new “street view” functionality. The street map is built in AJAX, but the actual picture is Flex. Google Finance is similar: mostly AJAX but the charts are Flex.

    AJAX works well for user input, and for making text “selectable” so it can be copied and pasted into another application. As a counterpoint, look at Yahoo’s new Maps, built in Flex — you can’t paste in an address using the keyboard, and you can’t copy the directions into Outlook. And forget spell-checking, which AJAX gives you for free when you use the Google toolbar.

    Flex works well for non-text visualization, such as charts and maps. For these, user input is typically limited to mouseovers and mouse clicks. And refreshing a Flex chart or map is often easier than doing the same in AJAX.

    Which will win in the future? It’s hard to say. The barriers for each are as follows: AJAX needs to continue to become a more productive development environment if it’s to win out. Flex needs to work more like a native desktop app, with seamless text input and output, if it’s going to become dominant.

    That’s my two cents…what do you think, dear readers? (That’s right, I’m asking both of you.)

  • Al Sargent 1:40 pm on June 23, 2006 Permalink | Reply  

    Free RSS Feed Reader for Blackberry 7250 

    After years of Treo usage, I just got my first Blackberry, a 7250 from Verizon. It’s been interesting to immerse myself in the whole Blackberry user experience. I can now see how the Blackberry’s excellent data retrieval capabilities have won it adherents.

    One downside of the 7250 is that its built-in RSS feed reader, News Clip, requires a licensing fee of $40. Another popular RSS reader, FreeNews, isn’t free at all but costs $20/year. After poking around a bit, I finally found a good, free Blackberry RSS news feed reader: Piconews. You can install it over the air by entering this link into your Blackberry browser: Many thanks to BlackTouch, the producers of this software. 

  • Al Sargent 12:10 am on May 20, 2006 Permalink | Reply  

    Couldn’t have said it better myself 

    It’s nice to see when a marketing message you’ve repeated many times in presentations, webinars, meetings and tradeshows finds its way into a respected blog. Here’s one such message my team and I evangelized many times at Mercury, as stated in this post on the Tyner Blain blog:

    Improved Automation of Functional Tests

    We can reduce the maintenance cost of keeping automated scripts current with the user interface by abstracting the script-coding from the script-definition. This is referred to as keyword and table scripting. A set of objects are coded by the tester and given keywords. Each object represents an element in the user interface. Script behavior (sequence of interaction) is defined in terms of these keywords. Now, when a UI element is changed, the keyword-object is updated and all of the scripts that reference it are repaired.

  • Al Sargent 10:01 pm on May 19, 2006 Permalink | Reply  

    YouTube Marketing 

    … described here. Could YouTube emerge as a place where companies upload their product demos? Why not? It’s free, taggable for easy search, and there’s tons of traffic.

  • Al Sargent 9:24 pm on April 18, 2006 Permalink | Reply  

    Plaxo now has automatic map generation 

    Plaxo now has automatic map generation. See this posting.

    While this is a nice start, unfortunately it requires that you are a) online; b) using the Plaxo toolbar; and c) using a device that is able to run Yahoo Maps and Flash. This means you probably can’t use this with a PDA or phone when traveling, even if you have a fast EVDO wireless Internet connection. Most mobile devices won’t run Flash, and probably don’t have the screen size to properly display a Yahoo map.

    If only Plaxo could put the directions to and from each of my contacts, in plain text, into the notes for each Outlook contact. And update the directions as contacts are added, modified, and as I move. That would be a killer service that I would be willing to pay for.

  • Al Sargent 12:01 am on April 7, 2006 Permalink | Reply  

    Push email coming to Treos 

    From Cnet:

    Palm announced Thursday that later this month it will make Microsoft’s new push e-mail software available for Treo 700w smart phones.

    This a big deal. Push email is one of the biggest advantages that Blackberrys have over Treos. It will be interesting to see how this development affects handheld market share a year from now.

  • Al Sargent 11:35 am on April 5, 2006 Permalink | Reply  

    Acquisitions that SixApart should consider 

    I’ve been thinking more about the quality of blogging tools and the slow rate of innovation at SixApart. From my perspective, it seems like they should consider doing some acquisitions to augment their tool set and enable their users to increase their blogs’ range of content and functionality. Here’s the list, in my personal prioritized order:

    • An AJAX editor with Autosave, just like Gmail.
    • Feedburner. Why? They are the market standard for generating RSS feeds and chicklets.
    • A blog search engine such as FreeFind.
    • An RSS remixer such as FeedMixer or FeedJumbler. Why? Let users combine multiple feeds into one, and post these feeds in the sidebar of one’s blog.
    • Zoomclouds, to provide feed summaries in a compact "cloud" format.
    • Gabbly, to enable bloggers to chat live with their readers.

    Here are some arguments in favor of doing these acquisitions. Many of these companies are "feature" companies, not standalone businesses. As such, they would likely welcome an acquisition. Also, product integration would be attainable at minimal cost, since these services all produce JavaScript, RSS, or HTML output that can easily be incorporated into TypePad, Movable Type, or LiveJournal. Finally, with Google owning Blogger, you can assume that over time they’ll incorporate additional functionality from their product portfolio, such as Writely for blog editing and Google Blog Search.

  • Al Sargent 8:04 pm on March 28, 2006 Permalink | Reply  


    Guy Kawasaki posts some good questions prospective employees should ask before joining a startup.

  • Al Sargent 8:58 pm on March 26, 2006 Permalink | Reply  

    Freemium: New Word, Common Business Model 

    Sometimes a new word or phrase comes along that does a great job describing something that we struggled to explain. For instance, “AJAX” and “clicks and mortar”. I think “Freemium” is going to be another one of those terms. It’s described here and here.

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