Real Valley Stories: Search Marketing With the Open Directory Project

Editor’s Note: Part 12 in an irregular series of stories from my many years in Silicon Valley. Part 11 talked about the time I got called into HR's office to meet with lawyers over industrial espionage. This time, a story involving gray hat search engine marketing in the early days of the Web.

DMOZ is now closed. 

Believe it or not, before the world of automated spiders that crawled the entire Web and ranked the results for your searches, much of the way we found content on the Internet was thanks to manual updates from an invisible army of directory editors. Yahoo! defined the initial dot-com era, with its hierarchical oracle making or breaking traffic downstream, as sites were organized and shuffled into categories by unseen text tweakers, much like the editors of Wikipedia try and keep its tens of millions of article pages up to date, with a
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With Web at the Core, Chromebook Options are Strong, Plentiful

This looks like an ad. But it's just a few recent Chromebooks.

In 2011, on my first day at Google, I was asked to pick out a laptop. The choices were slim - a thin Apple MacBook Air or the larger MacBook Pro, a forgettable Windows equivalent, or a Linux device more suitable for engineers. While I had the company's first foray into Chromebooks, the CR-48, at home, in addition to my own personal Mac, picking a Chromebook wasn't even an option. The Web-centric OS, which focused on keeping all data in the cloud, and leveraging Web apps, wasn't ready for my every day use.

A few months later, I ran into then SVP of Chrome Sundar Pichai, in the office stairwell as we were on to our respective meetings. Pointing to my MacBook Air, I told him I couldn't wait to turn it in and
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Smartphones Have Virtually Eliminated Boredom from the Modern Life

People are constantly on their phones. All day.
There's a flurry of debate over whether smartphones and their apps have become too addicting. While there is no complete agreement over how often smartphone users access their phones each day, estimates put the number at anywhere from 80 to 150 times. If you're a typical human who is awake about 16 hours a day, that's five to ten accesses per hour. Every hour. You might even put your own estimate much higher, or, instead, see it as one long continuous touch that consumes the entire day.

Independent of the discussion of whether this is a "good thing" or not, the ability to constantly engage with one's phone, checking messages from different apps, getting the latest news instantly, window shopping or achieving a new high score, the device has virtually eliminated the opportunity to be bored - acting as the glue that
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Linking Less and Talking More: Disappearing Web Mentions


The World Wide Web was designed to primarily do three things - inform, discover and connect. A globally connected series of documents could instantly bring you to the thoughts and experiences of someone across the world. In the earliest designs of the Web, it was through hyperlinks that you would find those new voices. Links brought you new sources of data, and those downstream documents led you even further to new people and ideas.

As the Web evolved, and incorporated photos, videos, streaming, and all manner of media, discovery expanded to include search. Without an explicit link, you could still find pointers to new content in the results of your query. Destination sites, acting as content hubs, would surface new content, usually within their network, of recommendations you might like. Ads, essentially links with pretty pictures, would offer another exit.

WebCrawler: One of the Web's first search engines
When
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Space Fillers and Superstars: Silicon Valley’s Divergent Career Arcs


Career Paths Are Often Circuitous Routes

My career in Silicon Valley started before I'd even graduated from college. Rather than plug away at Berkeley and try to get top grades, I split my time my senior year between going to classes and commuting across the Bay Bridge to Burlingame, working for a revenue light startup during the initial dot com boom. By the end of 2018, I will have completed twenty full years in the Valley.

In these twenty years, I've been laid off. I've been promoted. I've fought for raises and rejected stock offers. I've co-founded my own consulting business. I've worked at startups with three people, ten people and two hundred. And for the last six plus years, I've been at Google, which can hardly be called a startup.

In these two decades, I've seen companies lay everyone off firsthand, and had another acquired. I've pitched
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A Decade of Silos Has Throttled Open Content Distribution

The 2018 Social Media Flow is Driven by Content Silos

In the ten-plus years since I started this blog, one of the clearest trends on the Web has been for destination sites to want to control the user session and experience. In parallel, sites focused on aggregating content from external sites or highlighting the best of the web - serving as a filtered pass through, have struggled. Many are gone.

While significant efforts were made during the forging of Web 2.0 to drive open standards and allow for data to flow from one site to another, through RSS, Pubsubhubbub, Atom, XMPP, or whatever your preference, 2018 on the social web is a much more challenging place to write once and publish everywhere.

As I view the publishing space, I often turn to four big challenges that have to be solved for a platform to be a success to both
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How a Google Home in Every Room Gives My Kids Answers All Day


Some time last year, we installed five Google Home units in our house. One was placed in the master bedroom. One each went in both our kids' rooms, as well as one in the office, and one downstairs in the kitchen. Knowing that asking Google any question was just a simple request away, I was eager to see how the family would adjust to having a friendly assistant ready at any time to go fetch answers. What I've seen is that the devices are used throughout the day, and, often, the kids talk to Google before they talk to me.

OK Google, tell me a joke.

The morning starts with Google Homes sounding the alarm to wake up.

As the kids mumble "OK Google, stop", we have momentary quiet, until they shuffle out of bed and ask Google what the weather is going to be that morning. Obviously, depending on
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Why Silicon Valley’s Real Estate Crisis Is a Present Danger

This nice home would probably go for $2 million in some Bay Area cities.

That Silicon Valley housing is very expensive is no surprise to anyone who is paying attention.

Fueled by a bullish tech market for the better part of a decade, with inventory dramatically constrained, each new home entering the market can be flooded with aspiring buyers who are eager to pony up millions of dollars for uninspiring homes, with the desirable promise of reduced commute times to big tech companies or startups, or access to high quality schools.

As a homeowner who bought our place in 2010, I could be doing victory laps about perceived value increases each time I view Zillow or Redfin to see how our long-term investment is doing, but the harsh reality is that the daunting financial demand needed just to find a place to live is having a dramatic impact - not
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Silicon Valley’s Lost Year Blends Fake With Future


At the beginning of last year, as the Trump presidency sickeningly took hold, I worried his mere presence and daily volleys against what most of us thought to be good and proper, right and just, would dominate our every thought and conversation. His long shadow of darkness constantly loomed against any chance of progress and invention - taking the luster off usual excitement, demanding an unrelenting distraction, and regular dread.

I pushed pause on the blog because I felt like my comments on the day to day in Silicon Valley carried less weight in a world of crisis, as politics overwhelmed the usual storylines. But I realize silence is not the answer. Instead, we should ask more of ourselves when the wind is not at our back, but against us.

So what if we can make cars to drive themselves, only to find our streets hit by long-range missiles? So
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Your Steady Stream of Tech News Will Continue When Morale Improves

The Web always promised to bring people together. But just as simply, it can drive people apart, as geographical barriers or partial or full anonymity empowers people to say things or behave in ways they wouldn't in a direct setting.

Accelerated by the new reality of realtime streams where everyone has a megaphone and seemingly everyone is working to "go viral" and make the biggest noise leads to a constant cacophony of shouting on the issues of the day. And of late, as I outlined in my last post about Trump's looming $100 billion productivity crisis, just about every stream and news source is dominated by politics and the impact to people by political decisions.

For those opposed to the Trump team's way of thinking, the daily barrage of news and rumors can be fatiguing. Each morning can bring new horrors of gut-churning policy and more needing to escalate
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Trump’s Looming $100B+ Distraction and Productivity Crisis

Each year, American businesses are confronted with estimates that upwards of $2 to $4 billion in worker productivity is lost thanks to employee office pools around March Madness, the month-long college basketball championship tournament. Conventional wisdom has it that the tens of millions of players may physically check in to the office, but mentally are somewhere else, working at half speed, sapping dollars from their employer.

That single digit billion dollar gap is trivial compared to what the country has likely already seen after a year-long torture test of a presidential campaign, followed up with the looming tenure led by a person whose unpredictability and lack of respect for historical precedent, combined with a filter-free ability to share his half-formed thoughts with the world has everyone guessing what headline will flare up next.

The fidgety and distracted half-attentive employees in corner cubicles who may have been pulling for upset picks
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Real Valley Stories: The SVP of HR and a Bunch of Lawyers Will See You Now


Editor’s Note: Part 11 in an irregular series of stories from my many years in Silicon Valley. Part 10 talked about the time I left my job for a competitor and rescinded the offer. This time, a story involving industrial espionage, the SVP of HR and way too many lawyers.

If I could show the leads from the lawyers’ lists were gone from our system, we’d be on a path to redemption.

The day had started innocently enough. I was hosting our company’s public relations firm at the office, as we worked with our product marketing and management teams on interacting with press. At a break, I stepped outside of the conference room and found the longtime senior vice president of HR waiting for me — usually not a good sign.
“Louis, please come into my office,” he said, with a tone that made it obvious this wasn’t really a choice. So
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Stepping Out With the Fitbit Blaze Smartwatch


It has been years since I wore a watch regularly. Considering I’m rarely more than an arm’s length away from any smart device, I’d weaned myself away long ago — relying instead on my phone, laptop or tablet to give the time. And in the past few years, with many different smartwatch options popping up, from Apple’s offering and an array of Android Wear watches, I’ve browsed regularly, but not yet found the perfect fit for me for both utility and simplicity — until Fitbit announced the Blaze in January.

In the ensuing two months, I’ve been captivated by the Blaze watch.

Most smartwatches fall into two camps really, as I see it — too big or too tied to iOS. While this Christmas, I got my wife the Android Wear powered Moto 360, and she likes it, I didn’t get myself a matching set for two reasons — the first being that I hoped the watch’s profile
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Listen Different And Learn

For most people, new ideas and perspectives make us uncomfortable. It’s easier and less taxing to surround ourselves with people who agree with our worldview, and reinforce our way of thinking, to make us believe we are correct. We self-select our communities, both in the physical world, and the online space, and these friends or peers become an extension of our own identity.

A byproduct of this selection process is that our communities end up looking a lot like us and behaving like us. Techies follow techies. White guys talk to white guys. Democrats engage with Democrats. While the Internet has a virtually infinite pool of people and ideas to choose from, we easily ignore, unfollow, mute or block those voices and appearances that we don’t identify with or make us question our position.

A Divided Web

Ten years ago, I saw this polarization coming, saying the web was dividing
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Layoffs and Loyalty in a Liquid Valley


Layoffs Are Painful. Even if the X Doesn’t Land on You
(Image: Dreamstime)


In seventeen years of work in Silicon Valley, I’ve only left a job by choice once — in 2011, when I made the jump from being a partner at my own consulting group to join Google. The other three times, my employer informed me my time was up, and at that my services were no longer needed, loyalty be damned.

In two cases, the startup I worked for ran out of funding, and once, the new VP wanted to change things up, bringing in somebody they previously worked with instead of going with the team they inherited. When it comes to a debate between the company succeeding versus your being comfortable, the CEO will never pick you.


Layoffs Suck.

Layoffs initiate feelings of numbness and outrage, fear and self-doubt. People cry at almost every layoff, even if their
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Having a Clear Call to Action Can Drive Real Results

As a member of the Google Analytics team, I regularly field questions at events or on our social channels about how online and offline activity can drive results, and what metrics have value. As no two businesses are the same, it's critical to determine the status of your company and find if your activity can bring impact to results that matter, be they clicks, leads, registrations, opportunities or real revenue. When the goals are determined, and you have stakeholder buyin, then you can start your work. (See: Measure What Matters Most)


Among the most common questions I see are those around driving visitors to a specific call to action. Most websites have many different routes for visitors to take, and the many choices can be overwheling. But in some other cases, only one outcome is required, and all efforts should be taken to get the user there.

Nearly 15
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Tech Company Shifts Position Sunnyvale as Major Hub for Next Decade

In Silicon Valley, some of the most prosperous cities and most sought after zip codes to live, raise a family and send kids to school, are directly dependent on the proximity to corporate headquarters of the leading technology companies. As some of the biggest companies are running out of room in their headquarter cities, the resulting demand for continued growth is putting pressure on neighboring communities. Sunnyvale looks like ground zero for this next wave.

Cupertino, home to Apple, the most valuable company on the planet, has a median home price north of $1.7 million dollars, up 15% year over year. Mountain View, home to Google, has a median home price above $1.3 million, up 20% year over year. And these high marks significantly trail the more upscale suburban locales such as Palo Alto ($2.44 million average) and Los Altos (
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Preaching to Our Choirs and Setting Up Blinders for All Else

Just about four years ago, Eli Pariser raised some very real flags about the "filter bubble", concerned that many of us on the Web were limiting our viewpoints by following those people and companies with whom we were most aligned. Our personal positions on politics, sports, and yes, even technology, have us in a constant state of affirmation seeking, and the desire to be part of a group of like-minded people, to reinforce our position and strengthen our decided upon beliefs, that we just might be right. And should somebody in our streams disagree with us, or launch into an off topic rant, we can easily unfollow them, and "clean up" the channel.

At the time, thanks to tools like my6sense, where I was an advisor, and later VP of marketing, I said the filter bubble was "not bad" as options were always there to see new
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FriendFeed’s Closure Another Painful Loss from a Vibrant Era of Social Media

Amidst all the Apple watch hoopla today, FriendFeed's blog announced the long-ignored social networking pioneer was finally going to be taken out back behind Facebook's brilliant new campus and be put down for good. With the network's acquisition five years behind us in the rear view mirror, and user statistics consistently down, mothballing the once unique and vibrant community seemed only a matter of time, and the time has come.

The closure will be by no means without pain. For the many people who made the site their center for capturing their updates around the Web, from the simplest status and debates to photos, there have been no hints at data migration or export. The hilarious threads with friends around the world are going to disappear. The instantaneous celebrations we had when my children were born, and the despair we felt when friends passed away and were mourned will go be deleted.

While the Web may have moved on, those of us most loyal to the service remember its pioneering excellence, with near-instant aggregation and publishing, near-perfect uptime, still completely unmatched advanced search capabilities, the introduction of the now universal Like button, topical "Rooms" much like the Groups or Communities of today's networks, and ability to act as a hub for your lifestream, sending the right updates to the right places immediately.

Facebook's 2009 announcement of acquiring FriendFeed clearly spelled good news for the small and elite team working at the company, but pretty much spelled bad news for those who preferred it to what have clearly been the eventual winners in Facebook and Twitter. Some elements of FriendFeed made their way into Facebook, but there really hasn't been anything like it since. (Google Buzz came close, but that's a different story)

The Social Web's picture in 2008 and 2009 was dramatically different than it is today. Twitter was as known for its uptime issues as for its core functionality. Facebook was obviously on a fast ramp to going public, Google Reader was the starting point for reading the Web's updates via RSS, and we were all looking for smart aggregation sites to discuss the Web's happenings with friends.

Flash forward, and Google Reader (RIP) and FriendFeed are in the bin, aggregation is no longer a thing, and the hottest discussions are around good looking filter apps or private networks with disappearing content. It makes one feel a little gutted to have invested in networks that felt a little bit smarter and were designed for smart consumption and discussion, rather than a flight toward the lowest common denominator.

Any ranting on my part to rescue my photos and posts and content from FriendFeed is a guaranteed moot point, and will fall on deaf ears, no doubt. While Google led the way with the Data Liberation project, and even Facebook and Twitter have archives you can download and take with you, FriendFeed has never made that step, and I'd be stunned if they would surprise us now. And while we're saying goodbye to conversations that used to spawn hundreds of comments and likes in the matter of minutes, it's almost as if we should feel lucky we squeezed out a few more years of engagement after the acquisition, when so many other products disappear immediately after getting bought.

Sigh.

If you were part of the active community that made FriendFeed special in those wide-eyed years, you experienced something I've never seen with any community since (with occasional flashes on Google+ and Twitter being exceptions). If you missed it, then you missed out on seeing one of the most talented teams ever assembled working on something that was both fun and smart.
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YouTube Kids: Smart, Mobile First, and Child Sized.


In December, I wrote about viewing technology through the eyes of a child. As much as I think of myself as an early adopter and 'with it' net citizen, I'm equally amused and amazed at the activities my own kids rapidly learn and partake in when it comes to technology and the Web, how things and concepts once considered the future are commonplace. And their eyes, unvarnished by the way things have always been, highlight shortcomings in our software and websites that historically have been designed for fully literate adults on the desktop.

I've been particularly excited to watch (and trial) YouTube Kids as it has been developed, and have been eager to see it launch today, the collective effort of sharp colleagues like +Shimrit Ben-Yair+Pavni Diwanji+Jonathan Terleski and many more. As they wrote in today's blog post, the new YouTube Kids is "the first Google product built from the ground up with little ones in mind." As a dad of three kids six and under, two of whom who read fairly well and a third just trying to keep up, it's exciting to see them become the focal point for an entirely new interface.

The YouTube Kids Music channel.

My children, from a young age, have been surrounded by touch-enabled tablets. They expect my laptop (and in the case of my Chromebook Pixel, accurately) to be touch-enabled. They use voice search constantly to find what they're looking for, and they essentially expect the world's content to be immediately available. But they tire quickly when apps and sites don't do what they want. That can result in complaints to me, or even a thrown tablet or two from a tantrum.

Without sounding too much like PR-speak, from my own experience, I've seen the YouTube Kids app to reduce any surprises from me in terms of what my kids are watching, they more easily navigate the app, find channels and shows they want, and generally are pleased to have something made just for them.

Browsing shows on YouTube Kids

If you haven't yet tried it out (download on Google Play or iTunes), the app features curated channels, a music area, a learning section, exploration, and the always handy search button. So the colors are bright, the buttons are bigger, and there's no noise in the way.

Browsing the PBS KIDS channel on YouTube Kids

The true measure of whether an app for kids is working is whether the kids ask for it by name, or keep using it instead of getting bored and trying something else. My four year old boy is quick to use the app on my Nexus 9 or Nexus 6, and the twin six year olds are quickly getting used to the new app after lots of their own experience on the standard YouTube app we've all used.

Searching for Minecraft on YouTube Kids

Lucky for us parents who do our best to stay on top of their digital explorations without trying to be overbearing, YouTube Kids makes searching less of a risk. My kids won't go from a G rated topic to an R rated one in a few clicks. Searching for Minecraft (which happens in my house) turns up solid results.
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