Category Archives: Blotter
Do-it-yourself website companies propagate the solitary webmaster myth, an idea that common computer users become web wizards by using WYSIWYG software. You, too, can construct websites with the purposeful elegance of Google and all the features of Facebook. A few dollars more and they’ll SEO, too. Sites like Godaddy.com, Wix.com, Squarespace.com and Virb.com push these business card websites that do little to attract customers. They promise unrealistic returns.
When clients buy the myth
An effective and scalable website requires layers of planning and multiple participants–designers, programmers, writers and marketeers. Everyone suffers when a client oversimplifies what it takes to build a great website. While the webmaster rebuffs the low-ball offer, the clap-trap peddling of mobile Internet homes barks on, cheapening the experience.
No go it alone
A fairly compensated webmaster is skilled at constructing partitions and delegating responsibility. Webmasters report back to their clients in a timely manner and are moveable geniuses skilled at negotiation. Their team consists of technologists, designers, writers and marketers–all plying their trade in front of PCs and Apples.
Responsibility to explain
Tempting as it may be to keep clients in the dark about your mastery of the Internet–don’t. While a certain level of mystique can build reputation and confidence, smart business knows you’re also made better by the resources you bring. Webmasters work independently, have attention to detail and rarely forget to ask about the friends and children of clients. By communicating hierarchy and division of labor, the solution will be better accomplished. A good client doesn’t want a complicated road map, he wants to know you’re taking the right roads while he pays the tolls.
Origin of the solitary webmaster myth
Craig built Craigslist, Angie built Angie’s List, Zuckerberg built Facebook and Larry and Sergey made Google. They were game changers, revolutionaries and inventors. But they are unwilling participants in the solitary webmaster myth. While it’s true they created singular empires with loyal followers generating billions in revenue, none did it alone. Whether courting credit or not, history shows us these world famous inventors tend to be the best marketers of borrowed ideas. The cotton gin (Eli Whitney), telephone (Alexander Graham Bell), telegraph (Samuel Morse) and light bulb (Thomas Edison) were improvements on existing technology, fruits of collaboration allowing the execution of business plans. With the exception of The Darwin Awards, Lycos and Yahoo!, few notable websites were built prior to 1995. But Google will take credit for inventing the search engine.
When to fudge your power
Your PHP guy may be from Kochi, but your client only wants to know that your South Asian office is in the same business park as Google and IBM. Webmasters are skilled communicators above all. Approach each client as a project manager with intimate knowledge for all things websites–hands-on knowledge. It’s okay to claim you control the code, write copy and promote website, but it’s not okay to say you’ll cover it when you won’t.
“I have a team for that.”
Webmasters and developers are a forgiving bunch. After all, they spend their day gently correcting problems with code, layout and all things that can go wrong with a website. It would seem our New York crew would be a cynical bunch, but competing with the eternally happy west coast means stepping away from the traditions of the New York City curmudgeon. Many of us have start-up money, after all, so let us be guarded if an investor is nearby so everything is on the up and up!
In truth, there are many things to be worried about for New York City’s Internet workforce. Job security is number one, but we are also very focused on increasing our footprint outside Manhattan-centric Silicone Alley. Easy commutes, whether by public transit, by bike or by foot seems to get a lot of attention from our lot. We forgave Mayor Bloomberg for buying city council and abolishing the office’s two-term limit for himself so he could serve three, because his legacy is epic in the number of accomplishments for which he improved the young IT professional’s life. Let’s talk New York Bike share with no deaths to date because of hundreds of miles of dedicated bike lanes in the five boroughs. Also in the category of making the city more livable, he’s developed hundreds of acres of waterfront for city parks and walkways, many of them wired for our work-out-of-home convenience. He then proceeded to remove traffic entirely from the center of Time Square. He’s the one who banned smoking practically everywhere, which we mostly agree on. The big social reforms are his legacy. It’s true that his sponsorship of “stop and frisk” policies has been his major downfall with liberal New Yorkers. Racial profiling is wrong, he admits, but hood profiling is good for getting jerks who steel iPhones off the streets. Never mind that the stopped are the same skin color. Practically always. Mayor Bloomberg lost battles we wanted him to lose, to remove large sodas from bodegas, but more often we wanted him to win his fights, for instance to reform the broken school system to feed talented technologists into our industry. But he’s succeeded in leadership, a short man in a tall role who proved to be the ultimate webmaster with a lot to brag about if that were his style. It’s not, and his modesty in front of a microphone would be something of a cultural treasure if he didn’t sound so sniveling. He’s a nebbish and a technologist at his core, after all.
New York has learned what the rest of the country is still learning about their elected leaders. Don’t elect the guy you want to have a beer with; elect the guy who’s going to call you out for not logging in the next day and keeping the website secure. Elect the algo guy. Now, New Yorkers may be joining the rest of the United States in their desire for affability over logic. Our new mayor Bill de Blasio, the guy from next door standing at the grill, holding a spatula and wearing an apron. “There are those who have said our ambition for this city is too bold,” he stumped. “But we are New Yorkers!” The fire’s hot and he looks pretty damn good next to his multiracial friends and family, out back his Park Slope brownstone and talking on progressive matters – save matinees in the harbor, police friendlier and fairer, tax those richer than himself. But he pays lip service to helping our causes, without laying out any concrete strategy for what he will do to help the technology sector:
“Mayor Bloomberg and the city created the Applied Science Center. And I’ve often been a critic of Bloomberg, but that’s something where I agree with him 100 percent and I think it’s a great step forward for this city. But let’s be clear; it’s one piece of the equation. But beyond that, the next frontier is the city university system. That’s what a lot of folk in tech said to me would be the real difference-maker, both in terms of speed with which CUNY could graduate people who are ready to go into jobs right now, and just the sheer volume of people that could be handled at CUNY rather than Cornell. There are a lot of people who grew up in New York City, who would love to get those tech jobs, need the additional training, and could use some help with financial aid. The city can play a powerful role in addressing that….” Source
But what about that other mayoral candidate, the Republican, who speaks a business talk most of us need to hear but sort of gloss over when hearing it? Joe Lhota in front of a microphone is like going to a symposium hosted by the DMV. His style is a holdover from days running the MTA where employees are required to avoid eye contact and frown as part of protocol for working in the subway. He’s certainly a better business man. He managed the spectacular revival of the subway system following Hurricane Sandy, and was deputy mayor under Rudolph Giuliani, so he would not have ended police racial profiling. That’s bad on principal. But his real problem was he was a big, fat zero in front of the microphone, and he offered scant evidence for any significant plan to help New York’s technology sector:
“Our high-tech businesses need to be nurtured and expanded. Mayor Bloomberg should be given a lot of credit for his efforts to expand the high-tech industry in our city. I want to continue his efforts and further develop bio-tech as part of the diversification of our economy. We have some of the greatest hospitals and medical schools in the world and we should take advantage of their expertise in making NYC a hub for bio-tech.” Source
Perhaps Mike Bloomberg’s most lasting legacy for technology interests in the city is the hiring of the City’s first Chief Digital Officer, with the stated goal of improving communication with residents and businesses by enhancing government transparency and working closely with digital media. We hope our new mayor brings more power to Rachel Sterne (#rachelhaot) who fills this newly established position. She’s our pick for the coming term, so we’re optimistic the new mayor will be there to support her in her fight for technology’s interests in New York City.
We are a generation whose parents gave us endless reams of cheap paper with disposable ballpoint pens to espouse our most important intermusings. These same parents, seeing the technological limitations to what could be recorded, expanded our cache of pages exponentially when they bought us PCs and rapid fire keyboards, giving us access to silicon repositories for a truly infinite receptacle for every typed out thought. By the 1990s the Internet was being flooded with the brilliant ideas of a new generation.
The problem? Nobody cared.
“The cacophony more closely resembles citizens band radio, complete with handles, harassment, and anonymous threats. When most everyone shouts, few listen.”
-Clifford Stoll circa 1995
Websites had no character limits and original ideas got buried within the pages of indexed archives. Real-time meant earlier that day and the Internet was a soup of disparate information accessed by bushwackers looking for an adventure, not relevancy.
In 1997 two major social media offerings changed everything: SixDegrees.com and AOL Messenger. Self-governance corrected users who SHOUTED, encouraged emoticons and practiced Internet Slang. We learned to keep it brief, something today’s social media websites have commoditized by enforcing character limits to force us into editing relentlessly. Likes and re-tweets reward the best phrases. We now know our pithy headlines, not blathering explanations, rule the day. Not since the telegraph has society been so forced into brevity by a singular innovation.
The concision proposition is best illustrated with sites like Twitter but has been institutionalized to a larger degree on sites like Reddit and Wikipedia where users expurgate postings like vigilantes on a witch hunt.
But let’s give credit where credit is due. Who really commoditized the value of short sentences with energetic and descriptive precision? It was Ernest Hemingway, influenced by his days hitting the beat as a reporter for the Kansas City Star, promoted a writing style lacking adjectives while sticking to matter-of-fact phrases. He made a fortune on his fresh writing style.
If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.
– From Death in the Afternoon circa 1932
The powerful impact of Hemingway’s approach to writing has been credited by today’s successful authors, including Chuck Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis, for coralling our generation into precision. And the bridge can be seen at Twitter, founded by Jack Dorsey. His recent comments are revealing:
There’s an entire universe in every single tweet, and it all really depends on the content as far as how it’s going to spread.
Ernest Hemingway is famous for employing the iceberg theory in his writing, so that the facts float above the water while underneath is the supporting structure. Also called the “Theory of Omission“, the writing style gives us the facts up front with a link to more underneath. It’s not that Papa Hemingway was the first writer to write concisely, but he was one of the most outspoken writers to formalize it. That’s something social media experts, including Mike McGrail, preach about when discussing the discipline of our posts:
Think message first! Twitter moves at lightning pace – that means your tweets have to catch the eye! Let’s imagine a scenario within which you’ve written a blog post and you want to share it via Twitter. What should your tweet look like? I’ll start with a bad example:
In my new blog post, I’ve written tips on how to write effective tweets so that your tweets get noticed – http://bit.ly/11sOdHu
Why is this bad? It doesn’t hit the reader with a key piece of information first, it rambles and the language is clumsy….
The quiet of unresponsive readers will serve as your teacher. Before your next post, ask yourself “What would Papa write?”