I’ve moved!

March 12, 2010

If you’re still visiting me here, you’re missing all my latest posts!

I’ve moved to asciidan.com. Everything looks the same, and every post you see here — and lots more — are there.

Just click. I’ll meet you at my new home!

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Update: Who gains the most from Paterson fallout?

March 4, 2010

I figured after the events of the past few days, I should probably give an update about my feelings on the mess surrounding New York Gov. David Paterson.

In the past week, Paterson aide David Johnson has been accused of domestic violence and suspended without pay. The news media — which dug up and printed the tenuous story based on anonymous sources — has blown the story up so big that two of Paterson’s top cops have resigned. Paterson is under investigation by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for a phone call between Paterson and Johnson’s accuser. On top of that, Paterson is being accused of illegally accepting free World Series tickets from the Yankees.

Speculation flying around the media now is that Paterson will resign soon — and possibly face prosecution later.

So I bet you’re thinking I want to back down on all the stuff I said about the New York Times’ story about Johnson, right? Wrong.

Look: This crazy witch hunt just keeps getting crazier. And if you don’t think the same people who planted the Times story are the very same people calling for Paterson’s resignation, you just don’t know New York politics.

At this point, we have no idea what really went down between Johnson and his accuser. We don’t know what Paterson said to her. We do know that Paterson claims that she called him — not the other way around. So far, that’s all we’ve got.

Who’s doing the investigating? Why, none other than Andrew Cuomo — the guy the state’s top Democrats really want to run against Rick Lazio for New York governor.

This charade is just too easy to see through. Paterson is not a strong candidate. Even the president asked him to step aside. When Paterson refused, the party went to work, dug up whatever it could find, and planted the story. Now the investigation starts and the pressure on Paterson really begins. Behind closed doors, he’ll get a promise — just like Eliot Spitzer was promised — that if he resigns, he’ll never be charged.

If Paterson walks away, the Dems get what they want: Andrew Cuomo on the ticket. But if he doesn’t, and frankly I hope he doesn’t, he’ll have a helluva fight ahead of him. I don’t think he’d win re-election, but I also doubt he’d end up convicted of anything.

I’m no Paterson fan. I didn’t know who he was when he got elected. Hell, I voted against him, because I was one of the few people who remembered the Spitzer-Vacco attorney general race a decade earlier. But this recent turn of events smacks of the good ol’ boys network. Paterson hasn’t been particularly popular with that set. And this shows you exactly what happens when you don’t play ball with the corrupt senators and assemblymen we keep sending to Albany.

Anyone attacking Paterson right now needs to take a step back and think about who stands to gain the most from his downfall. Is it Johnson’s accuser? Not likely. She’s anonymous, and will probably stay that way. Lazio? Nope. He’s way better off running a campaign against a weak incumbent. Cuomo? Maybe. With Paterson out of the way, there’s no primary to run. It would save a whole lot of money.

But the ones who gain the most are the ones Paterson has been challenging all along, with his attempts at ethics reform and his bulldog attitude. When he talks about changing Albany, the corrupt party heads know that he’s not smart enough to be saying it just for votes; he actually believes it can be done. Paterson has been a threat to their way of life. And they know it.

If any good can come of this debacle, I pray that it’s the opened eyes of the electorate. But with the pathetic showing from the unquestioning media, I highly doubt it.


Attacking tech

February 25, 2010

I’m glad to see that we’re coming to a consensus about texting and driving. Most people these days recognize that it’s a dangerous activity — one that should be avoided at all costs. As my friend at aplaceforthoughts.com writes, Oprah is using her considerable influence to raise awareness, and many states are enacting laws to keep people from texting in the car.

Though I’m glad to see so many doing their part to stop this dangerous activity, it bugs me that texting has become such a target while many other dangerous activities are still legal behind the wheel, including eating, drinking, smoking, adjusting the radio, putting on makeup and reading. Yes, reading.

Just about everything on that list has been causing accidents since the dawn of the automobile age, and yet none of them has been outlawed. In fact, most of us are guilty of at least a few of them. Some of us are guilty of them every day. Personally, I drink coffee on the way to the office every day. I fiddle with the radio. I’ve even been known to scarf a burger or a burrito while barreling down the road.

Ever try eating a burrito in the car? Bad idea. Especially when the thing bursts all over your good shirt.

Studies have shown that eating and drinking hot beverages are more dangerous than talking on a cell phone or sending text messages. So why are we allowed to eat in the car? Why is every automobile equipped with a radio? Why are there NO warnings on car stereo systems that adjusting them while driving is hazardous?

The reason is simple: We all do these things. And it’s easier for lawmakers — many of whom are not particularly tech savvy — to condemn something they don’t understand, rather than look at the bigger picture.

And the bigger picture means we need a real “distracted driver” law — a broad law that penalizes drivers for any distracting behavior they take part in while driving. And that means everything.

The law wouldn’t have to prohibit a person from eating, drinking, or even talking on a cell phone. But in the case of an accident, the driver would be ticketed and their insurance would take a hit when it was found they were distracted.

When I worked as a crime reporter, I saw way more accidents caused by people fiddling with the radio or yelling at their kids than when people were talking on cell phones. To be fair, cell phones were a lot more rare in those days, but it doesn’t change the fact that distracted drivers have always been a danger on the roads.

Let’s all pledge to stop texting while driving. But if we’re going to make laws, let’s make sure we’re going after the behavior, not the technology.


Times’ Paterson story was a hatchet job

February 20, 2010

On Tuesday, the New York Times skewered David W. Johnson, a top aide to New York Gov. David Paterson, in a news report that brought to light Johnson’s run-ins with the law as a teenager, questions about his qualifications to serve as a campaign advisor, and domestic violence allegations.

To be fair, it would concern me to learn that my state’s governor surrounds himself with drug dealers who beat women. But that’s not what’s in this story. What we learn instead is that Johnson had two run-ins with the law for selling drugs when he was a teenager — about 20 years ago. And the domestic violence accusations? The most serious one in the article is made by an ex-girlfriend who said Johnson punched her in the face in 2001. She didn’t file a complaint with the police, he denies it, and though she claims to have filed complaints with the police before, she refused to share the information with the Times.

A good newspaper editor would never have printed these things.

First, Johnson served his time for the drug sales. Not only that, but he went to college, studied criminal justice and turned his life around. He took a job as an intern in Paterson’s office (Paterson was a state senator at the time), later became Paterson’s driver, and continued to work his way through the ranks. It’s a “troubled youth makes good” story if I ever heard one. But you know what? The reporting of the drug arrests themselves is disturbing. Because Johnson was a youthful offender, he has no official criminal record. None. In the eyes of the law, he’s squeaky clean. So how does the Times know about the arrests at all? We’ll come back to that.

Domestic violence is an important issue. It warrants as much attention as we can give it. And there are few things as serious as allegations of child or spousal abuse. But the New York Times is clearly trying to demonstrate a pattern in Johnson’s behavior that is entirely unsupported by the facts. Witnesses saw him and a girlfriend yelling at each other once. A woman says he punched her, but he denies it, witnesses deny it and though she claims to have proof, she refuses to provide it. I’m not saying it didn’t happen; I’m saying as a newspaper editor, I wouldn’t print allegations without proof, and the Times did just that.

The big questions are: Why did the Times print this article? and Where did it get this information?

The answer lies in the rest of the story, where you find Johnson’s qualifications to serve as top confidante and campaign strategist to Paterson come into question by top Democrats. Kinda makes sense now, doesn’t it? These are “top Democrats” who feel like their very status as “top Democrats” should automatically “qualify” them to be closer to Paterson. They should get his ear more often…after all, they’ve been in politics awhile, probably went to fancy colleges and never never worked as drivers

Oh, and these top Democrats bringing up all these questions? They’re unnamed. They’re other Paterson aides, clearly jealous of Johnson’s standing. And, most likely, they’ve been the Times’ most consistent backroom sources for Paterson news.

So, the Times reports the story the way the sources want it done. That makes the sources happy, and the sources will keep giving the Times more stories. And, if the story works and Paterson has to distance himself from Johnson, it leaves a big void that needs to be filled — hopefully by one of the jealous aides who fed the story to the Times in the first place. Unfortunately for the jealous aides, Paterson is standing by his man; after all, he clearly can’t count on the rest of his staff either, right?

We’ve been told to we can’t trust the intentions of bloggers. They all have angles. But this story illustrates in vivid color that even the Old Gray Lady hides its intentions, runs hatchet jobs to please sources, and has no trouble at all printing a half-baked scandal story worthy of Perez Hilton.

We deserve better.


Location ain’t everything (or, how you’re ruining Twitter)

February 14, 2010

Edelman Digital’s David Armano recently tweeted out a thought that pretty much sums up Twitter’s future:

It’s unlikely people will abandon networks unless they become so polluted we have no choice.

Twitter can be pretty awesome. I use it every day to catch up on local news, national news and tech news. In the past couple of weeks I’ve found a service I needed desperately, gotten some help with some tricky code, donated some cash to help fund childhood cancer research and even helped answer some InDesign questions. It’s the quickest, easiest way to crowd source, to track zeit geist and just see what people are talking about. It’s a good place to make connections (folks all over are holding tweetups to meet Twitter friends in real life) and it’s an even better place to go when you just want to scream into the void — when you have nobody to talk to but yourself.

Because of all of those things, Twitter is addictive. And when something’s as addictive as Twitter, Armano is right: Users are unlikely to walk away.  But Armano would be more accurate if he said “People will abandon the network when it becomes so polluted we have no choice.”

Enter foursquare, Gowalla, and the “check-in” phenomenon.

You could already argue that Twitter is a cesspool. Besides the bots, spammers, automated feeds and the like, there are too many people who still fill feeds with what they’re eating for dinner, what physical activity they’re partaking in or where they’re doing their laundry. Do. Not. Want. If this is you, you will be unfollowed. Let’s add to that crowd the number of PR, SM and SEO types who talk incessantly about Twitter, as if anyone with 1,000 followers or more is suddenly qualified a social media expert. And while we’re at it, let’s add the fake celebrity tweeps. I have no problem with celebrities on Twitter; I hate spokespeople for celebrities on Twitter.

If you add all that up, Twitter is already headed to that deep, dark place MySpace and Facebook entered a few years ago — that pit of despair filled with spammers, porn and slimeballs peddling junk.

But you can add to that mix the location-based check-in games, which MySpace never had.

Frankly, I don’t care where you’re having dinner. I don’t care that you’re at the airport. I don’t care that you’re at the grocery store. I will not be meeting you there, and no part of me is grateful for the knowledge of your location. I don’t care that you’re the mayor of Starbucks on Main Avenue and I don’t care who you ousted to get that title.

I skim Twitter for thoughts, recommendations, ideas. I’m looking for things that are actionable. The most annoying thing ever is “I’m at Taste of Philly” and a link…that takes me to a foursquare page. Here’s what I like: “Taste of Philadelphia has the best cheesesteaks in Syracuse!” Maybe link me to a photo of the sandwich you’re about to devour. Next time I’m out to lunch I might give the place a try, and I’ll credit you with the recommendation.

The point is there’s nothing inherently interesting about what a person is doing or where they are. The interesting part is what they’re thinking…how they view the particular place or activity. Think of it this way: Do you call your mom, best friend, significant other every time you walk into a building? Of course not. Don’t do that to your Twitter followers either. It’s lame, and it pollutes my stream. I know, I know: “If you don’t like it, don’t follow me.”

Okay. You’re unfollowed.


Just why is “conversion optimization” the “new SEO?”

February 1, 2010

According to this post at Search Engine Land, there’s a new game in town. It’s called conversion optimization, and it’s the next big money maker for the SEO crowd. Apparently the columnist has just discovered that the promise of SEOs — getting lots of people to your site — just isn’t enough anymore. Now visitors actually have to do something, or they just don’t count.

I agree with that, and I’ve said it before. I believe now, and have believed for years, that SEOs can only provide raw numbers, and way too often those numbers are accidental. The question is this: Why are SEOs turning to conversion marketing now?

Up until now, SEOs have been able to prey on frustrated website owners who just know in their hearts they could make a killing online if only they had more traffic. And since the early days of search, SEOs have always had a degree of success in providing raw numbers. But all too often the client is still not happy. Why? Because their 300 percent increase in visitors has equated to a 0 percent increase in sales. The SEO always begs off: “It’s not my fault,” he says. “I brought you traffic. That’s what you paid me for.”

Usually, this is followed up by an offer to tweak the search terms or some other tactic that will cost the client more money.

Clients aren’t having it anymore. And for good reason.

I love and hate the change from SEO to conversion marketing. Here’s why:

I hate it because it allows the same smarmy tricksters to keep stealing your money. Look, if they weren’t honest or capable before, can you believe they’re honest or capable now? I’ve been talking to clients about conversions ever since I got into this game. When a client asks me about their traffic and whether they get enough visitors, I always tell them the same thing: It’s not the number of visitors that’s important; it’s the number of customers.

I’ve always told my clients to save their SEO money and put it toward advertising. Generate desire for your product before the potential customer gets to your website. When they get there, make sure they know how to order and make the order process easy. The only time you need to convince someone to buy after they’ve gotten to your site is if they didn’t mean to be there in the first place. That’s the traffic SEOs have been generating from the beginning.

I love it because it means the tide is finally turning. People are starting to see that there are no accidental customers, and fooling people to come to your site is never the right way to start a healthy buyer-seller relationship. I love it because it will help continue to expose the big lie behind SEO — the idea that all you really need are stats and a high Google rank.

I can’t say enough what a hoax SEO is. (The only SEO you ever need should come from your designer. If your designer doesn’t know best web practices, you’ve got the wrong guy.) It says a lot that in the past couple of years, the SEO crowd first attached itself to social media, promising thousands of Twitter followers and Facebook friends, and is only now talking about conversions — way too late in the game. And I’m not just talking one or two. The Search Engine Land column has been tweeted 390 times as of this writing.

Be careful out there. These are the same people, using a different tactic.


What the iPad can’t, and won’t, do

January 30, 2010

Like every other tech enthusiast, I’ve spent the last couple of months lapping up every little rumor surrounding the Apple tablet. The leaked photos and specs were enough to make any geek drool. And this week, the iSlate was finally coming.

The iSlate was going to revolutionize personal computing. It was the most important thing Steve Jobs had ever done.

After all the anticipation, though, we didn’t get the iSlate at all. Not even close. We didn’t get a revolutionary product. Hell, we didn’t even get an evolutionary product. We got…the iPad.

Don’t get me wrong here; I’m sure the iPad runs well. It’s certainly slick and pretty, and I bet there are lots of Apple fanboys and coffeeshop hipsters who will line up to get these. I’ve read and heard these folks online, extolling the virtues of the iPad, and haughtily turning up their noses at the rest of us because, well, we just don’t have Steve’s vision of the future. “Just wait,” they say. “THIS is the future.” But here are a few things the iPad can’t and won’t do:

1. It can’t replace your computer. I have a desktop and a netbook. If my desktop were to mysteriously die, my netbook could get me through. I could hook it up to my external hard drives and access any data I need. I could even install iTunes and sync my iPod to it, so I could keep up with my podcasts. The iPad can’t do that. Which brings me to…

2. It can’t work on its own. You can’t use an iPad without a computer, because the iPad syncs to iTunes. You manage it just like an iPod — through a desktop or laptop machine. That fact renders moot the whole argument that this is the perfect personal computing device for youngsters or seniors who just don’t get technology. The iPad won’t have your music library on it if you haven’t put together a library first. But at least you can surf the net, right? Well…

3. It won’t deliver the whole Internet. I’ve had an iPod Touch for about a year. I love it. But there’s nothing more frustrating than the lack of Flash support. Some sites can’t be viewed at all, and the vast majority of video content online is out of reach. Jobs’ argument that the iPad will offer the best browsing experience ever would be laughable, if the reality weren’t so damned depressing. But hey, you can use it to keep in touch with friends and family, right?…

4. It doesn’t have a camera. I could see the iPad as a perfect Skype device. From the comfort of your couch, you could dial up Aunt Lucy and she could see what the baby was up to. It would be great for videoconferencing or broadcasting live to the web, the way you can with the iPhone. Unfortunately, there’s no camera. At all. Which basically limits you to communicating through e-mail. But at least you’ll be able to open attachments and edit documents and photos…

5. It doesn’t print. I’m guessing you could print from the iPad, but not out of the box. A search of the App Store shows a few printing applications available for the iPhone/iPod Touch, but they aren’t free. So you can edit that photo of Suzy, but if you actually want a print to hang on the wall, you’ll have to e-mail it to someone with a real computer or maybe save the photo to a USB drive or SD card, but…

6. It doesn’t have removable storage. Nope. No USB, no Micro SD, no anything. To get whatever you’ve done from the iPad to anywhere else, you can e-mail it or sync back to your PC. So maybe the iPad won’t let you be all that productive, but at least it will be the perfect entertainment pad…

7. There’s no HDMI out. Nope. You won’t be able to hook the iPad to your plasma and watch movies that way. You can only watch them on the iPad itself. Even the Zune HD can stream to your TV. If it’s video you’re looking for, you can definitely get anything you’re looking for online. Well, except…

8. Video stops at YouTube. You don’t get Hulu on the iPad. Or any other Flash-based video. Anything outside of YouTube is generally hit or miss. Once in awhile you’ll find mp4 videos to watch, but it’s a gamble. Even with these limitations, you say, it’s still pretty revolutionary, isn’t it?

9. It won’t change the world. The iPad isn’t even evolutionary. If anything, it’s a major step back — not just for personal computing, but for the tablet market in general. If you want to see a revolutionary product, look at Lenovo’s IdeaPad. It’s a tablet that runs a Linux hybrid OS on a Snapdragon processor. It’s got a slick UI. But the genius is that it plugs into a keyboard, becoming the monitor of a laptop. Once plugged in, it becomes a Windows 7 machine, running on an Intel chip. You cannot argue the iPad is a technological advancement compared to that. Let’s also not forget that the tablet is not an Apple invention; Microsoft has been trying to get tablet computers off the ground for decades now. Apple has tried it before. There is little “new” about the concept and nothing new about the execution.

Jobs and his loyal flock laughed at netbooks during the iPad launch. He said he believed there was space for the category of gadgets between the smart phone and the laptop; netbooks, he said, just don’t cut it. But my netbook can do everything listed above that the iPad can’t do (it even multitasks). Not only that, but it has double the storage capacity and cost me only $350.

I don’t hate Apple. I admire its attention to design, its marketing acumen and its ability to make people spend a lot of money on products they really don’t need. I admire its ability to create products like the iPhone that change the way people think about a class of products. But this time, Jobs and Apple are testing the limits of their reality distortion field. We have all learned to expect better from Apple. I’m disappointed that after all the hype, all the speculation, all the guesswork, we got a product that seems underpowered, rushed to market and not particularly well thought out.