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We don’t get lost anymore. Or do we?

Pat and I were interviewing Jeff Haynie, founder of Appcelerator yesterday and something he said in passing stuck in my mind: “We don’t get lost anymore.”

It’s true – between maps on our phones, GPS, everyone a cellphone call away, when’s the last time you relied on a published printed map to move spatially from point A to point B?

Where we do get lost – hopelessly, totally, don’t-know-where-the-hell-I-am kind of lost – is navigating all the opportunities, data, services, communities, news, and noise on the web. A couple of examples: do you know what you’re going to read or watch or listen to online next? At least in the real ocean when you surf there’s a beach.

Here’s another example closer to home: how many programming tools have you found online which could have significantly improved your skills and abilities, but instead got lost in your daily info avalanche? Over a year ago Jeff told me (and you if you listen to our podcast) about Appcelerator. Now there’s over 6,000 apps in the iPhone App Store built with it. That’s 6,000 more apps than I ever found my way to writing with Objective C. How about you?

And not so incidentally, Jeff announced today $9 million in series B funding for Appcelerator, and a new serious partnership with PayPal to build out and scale the first real ubiquitous cross-mobile commerce platform. Kudos to Jeff for drawing his map and sticking to it.

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Photo by mikeyashworth.

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Bob WalshWe don’t get lost anymore. Or do we?

Smartytask might be my new GTD love object

Having written a GTD-centric app for Windows, interviewed David Allen more than a few times and being more than a little, well, obsessed, with productivity, I’m trying something new out this weekend, and it’s looking very, very good: http://www.smartytask.com.

I’ve been using Things from Cultured Code on my Mac, iPad and iPhone for while, but have become increasingly dissatisfied with it. It’s great software, but it’s a size 10 handcrafted shoe and I take a size 11. It treats all tasks as equal, but some tasks are more equal than others.

At the tail end of the first decade of the twenty first century, here’s what I need from my productivity systems:

  • Support for, and a deep understanding of, David Allen’s Getting Things Done. GTD is the single best productivity methodology I’ve seen in 30 years. If you find something radically better, let me know. For now this is what the lawyers called settled law.
  • Love my screens, respect my screens. During the course of a day I switch between my iMac, iPad, and iPhone depending on what I’m doing. Whatever productivity system has to do the same. And it has to do it right.
  • “I am not a number, I am a free man!” (-Patrick McGoohan, The Prisoner, RIP) In a world overrun with systems to sell to you, market to you, let you what to do and how to do it, capture your attention and monetize you, and generally run you like a numbered cog, any system I choose to cohabitate with has to be one that treats me like a person. That means, there’s more to life than processing a never ending succession of tasks, that sometimes I’m tired, energized, in a foul mood, open to the universe and a million other things that define the reality of being human from the theory of being a productivity robot.
  • It needs to be a solution, not a problem. Too many productivity systems simply can’t scale to give me the command and control over all my commitments, projects, tasks I want. They become a problem, then the problem, then dysfunctional, then anti-productive.

So how does Smartytask shape up?

  • GTD-specific – with contexts that work, next action lists and more.
  • Browser interface – first thing I checked when I signed up for an account ($9.99 month/ $99 year) was how well did it play on my iPad and iPhone. It plays remarkably well for an app that was launched just 5 months ago. (LucidChart.com, my other new toy, still has a way to go, but I’m pretty sure they will get there.)
  • Three features I really like – Time and Effort fields, Smart Contexts, and email reminders – give me control over my tasks, not the other way around.
  • Scales – Like Things, there’s zero excess information, keystrokes and hoops to jump through to get things out my head, into a system I can trust and then back in my face when I want them to be there.

I’ve just started this afternoon building out my SmartyTask – but I like what I see so far and I’m more than willing – in fact eager – to put it to the test. Will let you know how it goes; in the meantime, here’s the video that got me to get my wallet out:

Smartytask for GTD (Smartytask.com) from Smarty Task on Vimeo.

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Bob WalshSmartytask might be my new GTD love object

Words can’t hurt you. Lack of words can.

Louis Grey had a great post Thursday – Information Streams Accelerating the Attention Crisis – on something a growing number of people I respect are worrying about, like Tom Foremsky, and Hutch Carpenter.

This isn’t the old run-of-the-mill “information overload” issue people have been whinging about since Gutenberg started printing books, or since big honking “mini-computers” started spewing reams of paper reports back in the last century. It’s worse than that, much worse.

We all – or at least most of us – have made the transition from a world where you knew about most of the stuff you had to deal with on a day-to-day basis to a world where you don’t, you just know how to find it online. Hopefully.

And we all have our filter tricks in place – from only paying attention to certain people in Twitter, to using PostRank to filter down the raw flow of posts, to using Flipboard to see what people in our “social graph” consider noteworthy.

You might want to dismiss all this as just ever increasing noise. It’s not. We’re getting a huge growth in “signal” as well – people you want to know, things you need to know and do, stuff that matters to you. And that’s the problem Louis sees:

“Simply put, the total number of personally relevant pieces of content to consume each day is much higher than it was 1 year or 2 years ago, and will likely be 5 to 10 times higher 2 years down the road.

“We need to find ways to handle this deluge.”

Of course, the early adopters – like you and me – are feeling this faster and harder than the rest of the curve. I’ve noticed this year it’s increasingly hard to string together contiguous moments of attention (better known as thinking). That it’s increasingly hard to unplug email, my phone, twitter, IM because I will miss not just stuff I don’t care about, but people I do care about.

One more quote from Louis, because he says it so well:

“For those of us who are digitally connected and active, we are feeling this in acute fashion. Despite improved software tools to help us accomplish tasks, practically all of us feel we are busier than we were last year, and the year prior. We feel there are more tasks that need completing, and that we are actually falling further behind.”

Remember the old story about how Eskimos (Inuits) have 11 words for “snow”? The logic being, since they lived in a place defined by snow, being able to express the subtleties of different kinds of frozen water could make the difference between being safe and being dead.

While that’s an urban legend, the fact is we – early adopters, digital entrepreneurs, whatever you want to call us – don’t have good words to differentiate kinds of online information, tasks, todos, friends. We just keep marching through bigger and bigger drifts of online stuff, trying to get to where we’re going. Meanwhile, something is happening…

So how do you yell “avalanche!” in Inuit? And how are we going to cope with this?

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Bob WalshWords can’t hurt you. Lack of words can.

MicroISV Digest 10/20/2010

Community News:

  • Paul Morey, founder of MiddleClick has just started releasing demos on the Tutorials Page of his Windows app launcher program – one per fortnight for two more months. Paul thereby demonstrates 3 things: How nice snappy videos can sell a good product, how to keep prospective customers coming back to your site and there are still good .com domains can be had.
  • Nico Westerdale has launched a new startup (Bits du Jour is going just fine), called TipFrom.me, a micro-affiliate service that converts your current customers into an active sales force. Cool idea. I think any time you can give a satisfied customer a reason to talk about your product, to add their reputation to your’s, that’s a good thing.
  • Wayne Allen over at devzing.com, a Subversion/Bugzilla/MantisBT hosting service is offering a free copy of Mike Mason’s new ebook Pragmatic Guide to Subversion with your paid subscription.

Interesting Answers.Onstartups.com questions with useful answers:

News/posts for microISVs and Startups:

  • I can see the analogy: Dealing with “Information Overload” at infovegan.com.
  • Ash Maurya has made the first 2 chapters of his forthcoming book, Running Lean, available. I really like Ash’s approach to making Lean Startup methods practical and non-faith-based startup building in general. Even if you decide not to pre-order the book, grab these two chapters.
  • Tech news these days is like ten firehoses hitting you in the face: if you’re looking for a good daily summary, check out Lauren Indvik over on Mashable and her “This Morning’s Top Stories in Tech and Social Media” posts – short, and good stuff. Hopefully Mashable will add a custom RSS feed for this feature, especially if you email them. In the meantime, http://goo.gl/ZWTM will get you there.

StartupToDo.com, The Startup Success Podcast and other plugs:

  • What’s new at StartupToDo.com. (StartupToDo.com is a subscription-based community of startup founders; if you’re not already a member, get your free 30 day free trial membership):
    • No new guides this period.
  • New at the Startup Success Podcast:
    • Show #86 [link] [iTunes]. This week Bob and Pat talk with Matt Spradley, founder of Impirus Legal Websites.Impirus provides a “WordPress/Basecamp” tailored experience for solo legal practitioners, and Matt talks candidly about the challenges and opportunities of selling to not-early adopters, how and why Impirus is using Windows Azure (“Have to pry it from my cold, dead hands.”) and more.
  • Tired of being stuck in neutral in your startup? Why not do a MicroConsult with Bob Walsh? Instead of hypotheticals and too much information, Bob will work with you for an hour via Skype developing 8 to 10 specific todos that will get your startup in gear.Here’s what one recent client had to say:

    “I’ve been waiting for a long time for Bob to offer consulting. I just had my first MicroConsult with him and I am thrilled. From my jumbled thoughts he helped me form the right questions to ask, bringing depth and focus to my next business hurdles. Then we worked together to build a plan of action I can handle. Equal parts mentor, project manager and therapist, Bob helps you make the next strategic step forward.”
    – Corey Maass, Gelform

    Details at 47hats.com.

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(If you have an announcement of interest to your fellow microISV, indies or startups, please email me at bob.walsh@47hats.com with the word digest in the subject.)

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Bob WalshMicroISV Digest 10/20/2010

MicroISV Digest 10/11/2010

(Editor’s note: It’s high time I restarted the MicroISV Digest, so here goes. But this is only going to be interesting if you send me your microISV, startup, indie, whatever-you-call it, news. News like in you’ve launched, you’ve gotten your 1,000th customer, every microISV should read this post kind of news. Not I do PR, my lackwit client thinks anyone cares about going from 3.31 to 3.32 and I get paid by the mention type news.)

Community News:

  • No news for this section: hopefully restarting the Digest will help!

Interesting Answers.Onstartups.com questions with useful answers:

News/posts for microISVs and Startups:

StartupToDo.com, The Startup Success Podcast and other plugs:

  • What’s new at StartupToDo.com. (StartupToDo.com is a subscription-based community of startup founders; if you’re not already a member, get your free 30 day free trial membership):
  • New shows at the Startup Success Podcast:
    • We are up to Show #85 now; here’s the last 3 shows:
    • Show #85 [link] [iTunes]. Warning: This podcast contains language you may find offensive and is not for children.

      We break format for this show – to put it mildly. This is a (unexpected) recording of a conversation Patrick and Bob had after Pat’s return from the Business of Software Conference this year. You may find it interesting, you may hate it. But Pat strongly wants to include you in this conversation, and I’m going along with that. Let us know what you think.

    • Show #84 [link] [iTunes]. This week Bob and Pat interview Rob Walling, serial startup founder, creator of the Micropreneur Academy and author of Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer’s Guide to Launching a Startup.

      Rob explains how micropreneurs – self-funded software founders – can do and should do market research, concrete things your startup should focus on, why Digg is not your friend, and why email – yes, email! – may be your best friend.

    • Show #83 [link] [iTunes]. This week Bob and Pat interview Brian Noll, co-founder of Code Complete Software, on how his company markets developer tools to enterprise. Brian’s firm is the North American marketing force for JetBrains and other software companies who want to crack the enterprise market.

      If you think you know how to sell to enterprise, realize this: we’re in a recession, Open Source has changed the game, and in this podcast Brian is kind enough to share the new rules.

  • Tired of being stuck in neutral in your startup? Why not do a MicroConsult with Bob Walsh? Instead of hypotheticals and too much information, Bob will work with you for an hour via Skype developing 8 to 10 specific todos that will get your startup in gear. Details at 47hats.com.

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(If you have an announcement of interest to your fellow microISV, indies or startups, please email me at bob.walsh@47hats.com with the word digest in the subject.)

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Bob WalshMicroISV Digest 10/11/2010

Walking back what I said about Amazon AWS.

In case you missed it, yesterday I was more than a bit pissed off at Amazon AWS S3. Actually, I hope you did miss it, because I was wrong and they were right, and I lashed out in frustration.

Here’s what I though happened: Out of the blue, Amazon S3 changed something so and neither Pat (who does the audio engineering/uploading of each of our podcasts) nor I could set the permissions on the latest show to public, and we were screwed. Not having a way to get tech support other than buying the “Silver” support plan that at least let me put in a support ticket, I did so. Response time was decent, but not solving the problem.

What really happened: “It was the open source java app that I use… inadvertently switched from 0.7.1 to 0.8.0 in the move to the new computer,” Pat confirmed late last night, and that new version doesn’t like the beta of IE9. It wasn’t Pat’s fault – he was pushing (and being pushed by yours truly) to get the show up even though he was about to do a presentation at the Business of Software Conference in Boston. It was my fault.

Four other points worth mentioning:

  • Kudos to Mike Culver, AWS Evangelist. At the height of my frustration, I reached out to Mike Culver. I’d met Mike a few years back at a European Software Conference (Why go to conferences anymore? The people you meet.) He reached out immediately to the AWS tech working the problem, got involved and boiled the tech’s 731 words of AWS-speak down to: “So when Pat tries to set permissions, are you certain that he is logging in to S3 with the same credentials that he used to upload the object? A lot of these third-party tools make it easy to switch accounts by clicking on a drop-down list, and I am asking the questions to verify that he didn’t accidentally switch.”That’s when I realized this was my bad. And to top it off: Mike was in London at the time, so all this was happening in the middle of the night for him. That’s dedication and professionalism above and beyond the call of business duty.
  • Kudos to Jason A., Amazon Web Services. Going over the ticket history, Jason was professional, courteous and knowledgeable, and I was not.
  • Give tech support people permission to tell you you are an idiot. If I had said at the beginning, “Jason, be blunt and tell me if I’m being an idiot,” and he had said, “Bob, we run a gazillion S3 instances! 99 out of a hundred times it’s a bug or a config issue in the client you are using – that why we built our own console! And, you are being an idiot,” the podcast would have been out yesterday.
  • We don’t speak the same language anymore. There used to be a time in this business where people spoke either Windows, Mac or Unix, knew one programming language really well and could communicate fairly easily with other IT people. Not no more. There’s dozens, hundreds, thousands of API’s to web critical web services, frameworks, languages, OS’s spread over content surfaces ranging from web sites, blogs, tweets, webinars, videos, screencasts, podcasts and more. As developers we need to converse and be conversant in far more technical knowledge domains than say a decade ago. As people, there’s only so much breath you can handle with any depth.

Ok, I just wanted to set the record straight, maybe point out a few things worth learning from my mistakes, and move on. Thanks for reading.

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Bob WalshWalking back what I said about Amazon AWS.
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When Amazon Clouds rain B.S.

I’m in the process this morning of learning a core truth about Cloud infrastructure, and the process is not a pleasant one. Pat Foley (who’s in Boston at the Business of Software Conference right now, the lucky dog) and I do a podcast each week, and for the last 18 months we’ve been hosting the .mp3 files at Amazon S3. 18 months – no problem. Today – big problem. While show #84 is up on AWS, neither of us can get in to set it’s permissions so you can listen to it. Just weird errors in various S3 clients, except for this:

WTF? I’m not a sysadmin, but isn’t this Amazon Web Services problem? Isn’t this exactly what is not supposed to happen with Cloud services?

So I go searching for AWS S3 tech support for the first time since Feb. 09. Guess what? Your choices are Free (visit our forum, where if your head doesn’t explode from reading everyone else’s issues, you will earn a degree in AWS S3, which is precisely what I don’t want to do), Silver -$100 a month, or Gold for $400. Since I want to know whether Amazon is fucking up or I’m totally wrong, but I don’t want to spend $400 for the privilege of actually speaking to a tech, I buy Silver for the low, low, prorated for the month price of $87. Response was quick, but this is what I get for my money:

Hi Bob,

You are getting this SSL certificate warning because you have multiple dots in your S3 bucket’s name, and the S3 wildcard certificate will not match the multiple levels of subdomain. You should not have this same problem with a bucket called startupsuccesspodcast, which would show up as startupsuccesspodcast.s3.amazonaws.com. You can also refer to this bucket as s3.amazonaws.com/media.startupsuccesspodcast.com, which will be able to successfully match the SSL certificate.

If you wish to preserve the same branding of your bucket, you might want to create a bucket with a name that meets our best practices guidelines (http://docs.amazonwebservices.com/AmazonS3/latest/dev/BucketRestrictions.html), then create a CNAME DNS record from media.startupsuccesspodcast.com to .s3.amazonaws.com.

Please do let me know if you have any further questions.

Best regards,

Jason A.
Amazon Web Services

This is what I repied:

Jason,

What??? we have been posting podcasts to this bucket for 2 years – nothing has changed: except as of 2 hours ago we can’t get in to change our permissions and we are getting the SSL warning.

Bob

Now an hour later, my email is ominously silent, the problem is unfixed, the show is unreleased and I Am Not A Happy Camper.

If someone out there can tell me how I could have somehow triggered this problem, I will abjectly apologize to all the wonderful people at AWS. But if I’m right, and this is bullshit, and that is the lesson: Cloud infrastructure is only as reliable, good, robust and trustable as the people who support it.

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Bob WalshWhen Amazon Clouds rain B.S.

And now for a bit of entertainment…

If you love science fiction (and what dev doesn’t, we live it everyday), I strongly commend to you Nathan Lowell’s “A Trader’s Tale from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper”, starting with Quarter Share. No aliens will suck on your brains, cities explode, computers come alive or Industrial Light and Magic- grade special effects. Just a great tale of eighteen-year-old Ishmael Horatio Wang coming of age in a spacefaring society and confronting the same questions we all must grapple with: who are we, why are we.

I bought the first book in this series (Quarter Share (Solar Clipper Trader Tales)) to read in Kindle on my iPad, and after finishing that, went looking for the rest of the series – not to be found as of now on Amazon. Turns out that Nathan Lowell did this series as a “podiobook” at PodioBooks.com. His delivery is outstanding, they are free (but putting something into his tip jar would not be amiss). Also on iTunes.

And if history was never your thing, it’s time it became your thing: Start with Mike Duncan’s History of Rome iTunes podcasts. These aren’t the dreary old lectures you slept through in college: Mike has a talent for making history alive, witty, and interesting.

Enjoy!

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Bob WalshAnd now for a bit of entertainment…

Optimizing Search Engine Rankings with Microsites

Note: This Guest Post ran back on July 21st, 2009: so why post it again? Well, I just rechecked the two sites Dennis talks about, with Google Instant Results on: Java-Logging.com had slipped to #7, but dotNETLogging.com was still the #1 result. Over on Microsoft’s Bing, Java-Logging.com was #4 and .DotLogging.com – in Microsoft’s own search engine – was #1. Any day a site you build can come up as #1 in both Google and Bing is a very good day indeed.

A Guest Post by Dennis Gurock
Gurock Software Co-Founder

We here at Gurock Software recently started a SEO microsite experiment that we believe is very relevant to other MicroISVs. That’s why I would like to share the results of the experiment here on Bob’s blog and explain how it helped us improve our search engine rankings. But let’s recap the experiment for a minute. The idea was to launch a few microsites for certain topics related to our logging and tracing tool SmartInspect. The goal was to provide a useful starting point to developers new to logging tools and to get the sites ranked well for specific keywords (especially keywords we had trouble getting the SmartInspect website to rank well for). One of the questions we wanted to answer with this experiment was how important it is to have the actual keywords in the domain name. To test this, we launched the two microsites .NET logging and Java logging, hoping the keywords in the domain name would boost their search engine rankings.

Promoting the Sites

Before I share the actual results, let me first explain what we did to promote the sites. We needed to get at least a few inbound links to get Google & co. notice and index the new sites. Inbound links with relevant anchor texts are also important to get the sites ranked well. The first source of links came from reactions to our original posting with other blogs linking to our new sites. The next step was to include links to the microsites on some of our other websites, such as our blog and DelphiFeeds.com. We also announced the new sites on relevant forums, newsgroups and community sites, resulting in some additional links with useful anchor texts. We also added the sites to link directories and contacted some webmasters of Java and .NET link lists to include our sites.

We have also improved and extended the content since we launched the sites. We have, for example, split the single page we started with into multiple pages and added new Java logging comparison and .NET logging comparison pages to the site. We have also been adding additional links to tools and articles to both sites from time to time to keep the content fresh and up-to-date. We plan to do this regularly, as search engines love fresh and updated content. The main goal of promoting the sites was to build a few inbound links to get the sites indexed and ranked by search engines, and it worked surprisingly well.

The Rankings

So how did it work out? At the time of writing this posting, both microsites rank (far) better than our main SmartInspect website for many keywords, including important keywords such as .NET logging and Java logging. This is especially surprising considering how many more links the SmartInspect websites has compared to the new microsites (the quality of the links to the SmartInspect website is also a lot better, with links coming from domains such as microsoft.com and other relevant websites). Another thing that surprised us was how quickly the new sites ranked well. Just a week after launching the sites they got to the first page of the Google results for the main keywords. Although the Java site dropped from Google’s search results a few weeks after it launched, it’s back online and is working itself up in the results again. In fact, it’s ranked #4 for Java logging at the moment, ahead of popular logging tools such as log4j. The .NET microsite ranks #1 for .NET logging as of today, 7 ranks better than the SmartInspect site itself which enjoyed years of link building and buzz.

Although we are surprised by the very good rankings that the sites received so quickly, we also believe the new sites deserve good search engine rankings, as the content is useful and relevant to developers interested in the topic.

The Results

The traffic has been steadily increasing and because of the promotions and banners that we placed on the microsites, we also receive a good chunk of that traffic on the SmartInspect website. Most of the traffic comes from search engines, but we also get visitors from links and social websites (especially StumbleUpon).

The feedback from site visitors is very positive and we receive suggestions for improvements and additional links to new tools and articles from time to time. We are also able to convert site visitors to SmartInspect customers regularly, but the exact numbers are hard to tell, as SmartInspect sales are difficult to track (the developers who find and try SmartInspect usually do not place the orders directly, their managers or purchasing departments do).

Overall the microsites are a great success for us [full size screenshot of Google ranking :)] and are an impressive testament to how important keywords in the domain name really are for Google. We already plan to launch additional microsites for SmartInspect and for our upcoming test management software TestRail.
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Dennis Gurock is a director and co-founder at Gurock Software, a company specialized in software quality tools and makers of SmartInspect and test management. Dennis regularly blogs about Gurock’s products, the business of software and software quality on the Gurock Software blog and on NoBugLeftBehind.com. Dennis also twitters.

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Bob WalshOptimizing Search Engine Rankings with Microsites