The Future of Web Q&A Panels Should be Cake


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Last week, Recode’s veteran tech reporter Kara Swisher visibly held an aggressive interview with Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey, who has been on something of a meandering press tour over the last few months, which has led to more questions than it’s seemingly answered, as he has avoided specifics, and not taken full responsibility for many of the negative impacts the platform he created has spawned.

Despite Kara’s noble attempts, this round didn’t fare much better, largely due to Twitter’s failing as a medium for such a debate. The #KaraJack hashtag, expected to be the core space for her serves and his returns, with a fair share of unforced errors, was difficult to follow in real time, with Twitter’s poor design getting as much visibility as the discussion itself. Taylor Lorenz of the Atlantic called it impossible.

Twitter was not designed for this, and barring dramatic

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Technology Designed to Help You Breathe More Easily


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Silicon Valley has been the leader in many things for decades, but rarely has the region’s first place position been for something as undesirable as air quality. Following the record-setting disaster that has wiped out my one-time hometown of Paradise, Bay Area residents are choking on the resulting downwind smoke, seeking answers as to how unsafe it is, and how they can gain relief. And while I know that a week-plus of uncomfortable air is hardly the worst outcome of these climate change fueled infernos, it’s something that needs to be addressed.
After last year’s record-breaking California fire season that saw unthinkable damage burn through Napa county, I expected we would have bad air days this summer. Planning ahead, I bought two sleeves of N95 air filter masks from Amazon and stowed them in my garage for a not so rainy day. After a summer that saw fires rack

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When the Hometown You Always Knew Could Burn Gets Erased from the Map — Paradise is Lost to the #CampFire


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Let’s talk about the Camp Fire for a second. My family moved to Paradise in 1991, as I was starting 8th grade. I lived there through high school, until heading to college. The family stayed until all kids had graduated high school – the last in 2004.

(This story is adapted from a thread I initially posted on Twitter)


This was us at home in ’91.

While news has referred to Paradise as isolated, we actually were moving from an even smaller town. I’d spent elementary school in Brownsville in Yuba County. When my dad got a new medical practice in Paradise, we were blown away by the McDonald’s and “all those power lines”.

The route from my elementary school home to Paradise.

I only spent one year in the Paradise school district, before my mom got a job teaching at Chico Jr. High. Through high school, I spent

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Comments as a Platform, Or Silencing the Trolls


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Web content has typically divided into three camps – those who create, those who react, and those who just watch. The lurkers, if you will. From the very earliest days of blogging, those first posts awaited the inevitable comments, and, given a clear revenue stream, you would see early participants like Fred Wilson say that “comments are how bloggers get paid.”

[Source: https://vanelsas.wordpress.com/2008/06/02/the-real-value-of-social-media-interaction/#comment-2531]

The earliest engagements we had with people who read our site gave us incredible discussions, and spawned more posts and even, in rare cases, changed minds. Sites like Digg, Reddit, Slashdot and others became known for their diverse threads, and those in the comments are why you showed up.

But we’ve also seen the pendulum swing the other way. Everybody knows to “never read the comments” on popular news sites, as the most aggressive vitriol

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How 23 Year Old Me Got a Job at a Stealth Company With a Fake Website


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My first two years in Silicon Valley were spent in Burlingame at a dotcom that hoped to revolutionize telecommunicatons online – with Web meetings, conference calls and even faxing from the Web. They had great services, but not enough customers, and eventually ran out of funding in early 2001, jettisoning marketing, sales and business development folks, before selling for scraps to Oracle.

Being in Marketing myself, this meant it was my first trial to try and find a full-time job, in a world where online job databases were taking over. I’d polished the resume and started applying at anything that sounded close to what I thought I did…

Web Marketing Manager… E-Marketing Manager… Marketing Manager… Internet Marketing Manager…

Keep in mind this was a time when companies knew the Internet was a humongous deal, but were still trying to figure out where the money was coming from. The dotcom stocks

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Real Valley Stories: Search Marketing With the Open Directory Project


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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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