The neat thing about blogging design…

…is that if you don’t like the theme you picked yesterday you can change it with a click of the mouse today. This is NOT my new design. It’s yet another way I can mess with the “brand” I’ve built. I want to destroy it, to allow me to play around and find something fresh. How’s this one? Anyway, today I’m on a plane to Phoenix to hang out with some cool geeks. More later as we continue building this out.

This theme is one of the pre-built ones in WordPress.com. If you don’t like it, we can pick another and keep trying them as Rackspace’s designers work on my new design, which will come up as part of the launch of Building43, the community for people fanatical about the Internet comes alive.

Facebook: still a data roach motel when compared to Twitter and friendfeed?

Twitter has done something really remarkable: they have made the entire database of Tweets available to other companies. My favorite friendfeed is one of the beneficiaries of that “firehose” of data. You can watch my Tweets go from Twitter to friendfeed and back again. Oh, and friendfeed makes its firehose available to Twitter in return. You can see how this benefits both services. My liked items go from friendfeed to Twitter.

Now, what did Facebook do today? Well, it turned on an open stream API so that developers can put things into the stream over on Facebook. It also looks like developers can take some data off of the stream and use it in their own applications.

Loic Le Meur, CEO of Seesmic, has already shipped a version of Seesmic that does just that.

One big problem that Marshall Kirkpatrick, over at the ReadWriteWeb points out: Facebook is still keeping most of its users’ data private due to the privacy contract that it has made with its users. See, over on Twitter and friendfeed the bias for most user data is that it is public by default until you make it private (like, in friendfeed, you would have to open a room and make that explicitly private to be able to keep your data from going over to Twitter and over to Google. On Facebook it’s the opposite. If you use Facebook as designed your data only gets shown to your friends, not anyone else).

This is a HUGE difference between the openess of the Twitter/friendfeed model and the Facebook one.

Go see the comments on Marshall’s post. They are very telling about how poorly people understand what’s going on here and how they can articulate what they want.

The real elephant in the room is “where’s the money?”

The real money is in search. Yeah, I’m sure that someone at Facebook this afternoon will point out they are selling lots of display ads because they know their audience demographics pretty damn well (hint: Facebook knows EVERYTHING about who you are. I told it, for instance, that I’m a male 44-year-old democrat who loves skiing and photography, among other things).

But the REAL money has NOT shown up for Zuckerberg and crew yet. What’s that?

Search.

When I can ask Facebook “what sushi restaurants do my friends like?” ONLY THEN will you know that Facebook is getting close to the gold mine.

The thing is, Facebook doesn’t want to let you build that kind of business using its data.

THAT is reason #2 why Facebook isn’t going to turn on its real firehose for friendfeed to study, the way that Twitter has let friendfeed have access.

Reason #1, though, is that Zuckerberg hasn’t yet figured out how to change user expectations from having everything private by default to having everything public by default, the way Twitter and friendfeed work.

In an hour a group of us will be meeting with Facebook executives. If everything works out you’ll be able to follow along at http://live.twit.tv as part of a special Gillmor Gang at about 4 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll definitely try to figure out how Facebook will change the default mode so that it can turn on the business social graph.

I also will find out if there’s a roadmap to opening up the data stream to include more data leakage outside of Facebook. If I were Zuckerberg I wouldn’t open that up until after I could change user expectations and get people to build a public instance of themselves. That could take a couple of years.

I wonder what you think of Facebook’s moves? Join us on the Gillmor Gang and over on friendfeed (we’re having a live chat about this post over on the beta friendfeed) and let’s see if we can learn something together about where Facebook is headed.

UPDATE: friendfeed cofounder Paul Buchheit just wrote this over on the live chat: “It’s not about defaults, it’s about ownership. On Facebook, you are not allowed to give other people access to your data, because your data belongs to Facebook. On FriendFeed or Twitter, you can choose to be public or private, but either way you can still access your data and do what you want with it.”

The things I'm learning from having an ugly design

A couple of weeks ago I went into WordPress.com, clicked on “Themes” and selected the one that looked the most plain that I could find. Why did I do that? Because I wanted to get everyone back down to the most basic theme I could. I wanted to get rid of the branding. The friendfeed widget. The advertising. The cool looking fonts. And get it back down to just the fundamentals.

I did that for a few reasons.

1. I wanted to see if it would have a major impact on traffic. It did not.

2. I wanted to see who would complain and who would praise it. Some complained that it was too unprofessional. Others complained it’s hard to read on high resolution monitors (the text goes all the way across the browser). Still others missed my “brand.” But something else happened. Other people said they really liked this new theme. In pressing in more I think they liked that it was different than, say, TechCrunch or Mashable and that it had an anti-advertising stance on it. Also, some people said it was more readable because I got rid of the advertising and the friendfeed widget.

So, what I’m wondering is why have a nice design at all? Why not just go with a plain theme? Especially if it helps you focus on my content more?

Just some ideas as I continue working to rebuild my blog. Regarding that, we’re moving my blog over this week to a Rackspace hosted server (hopefully, we had some problems figuring out some problems due to some custom stuff that Automattic did for my WordPress.com-based blog that you’re reading here). I’ll stay on WordPress, but will be on a standard install which will let me use all sorts of plugins and try some fun things out. As soon as that gets moved over we’ll start iterating on the design and “pave the paths” here.

Thanks for putting up with the dust and dirt as we rebuild the blog.

Facebook Fund deadline today (and a video with Dave McClure)


Facebook is looking for entrepreneurs who are looking for funding to build Facebook apps and the guy who runs the fund (Dave McClure) just warned everyone today is the deadline.

Yesterday Dave visited me, along with Washington DC entrepreneur Jared Goralnick and we talked for 50 minutes about a variety of topics. Dave is an entrepreneur and much more. He did editorial for the Web 2.0 Expo, taught a Facebook application class at Stanford University and now is an investor in a variety of companies, including Mint.

Separately Goralnick, who is the CEO of AwayFind, talked to me about how his service helps keep email more productive by letting you answer email only once per day, but letting emergencies through your filtering system.

What San Francisco/Silicon Valley can learn from the Twittering company: Zappos

Zappos Tour

Yesterday I was lucky enough to visit Zappos and get a tour and talk with some of their executives, including Tony Hsieh, CEO.

Up until now most of what I knew about Zappos was that they had a lot of people on Twitter (434 of their 1,500 employees are on Twitter with more joining every day).

I thought I was going to Zappos to study how Zappos uses social media and get an interview about that for Building43, the community Rocky and I are building for people who are fanatical about the Internet.

But within 10 minutes of walking in the front door I realized that there’s a lot more to Zappos than that they get Twitter. More on that later, because Tim O’Reilly demonstrates some of Silicon Valley’s worst beliefs about Twitter when his conferences advertise “learn the secrets of building 100,000 + followers.” Zappos does NOT believe that is the goal of Twitter, more on that later in this post. Aside: if you want to attend a Twitter Conference that focuses on real business value and community engagement, come to 140: The Twitter Conference. (UPDATE: Tim O’Reilly wrote me and said he totally agreed with me that focusing on followers is the wrong thing to do for a Twitterer and he has removed that language from his conference materials).

Before we even got to the front door tons of employees said “hello.” That’s weird, doesn’t happen at most companies, believe it or not. And the way they greeted each other told me something else was up here.

A warm greeting in Zappos headquarters

Then when we got into the front lobby we were warming greeted again, and then as we looked around, we saw this wasn’t going to be a normal visit to a normal company. There was a book store with books free for the taking. There was a popcorn machine. A Dance Dance Revolution machine. A “hall of fame” board for employees who had pushed “reply to all” too quickly. And a video display that showed off how many sales were made yesterday. I had never been in a corporate lobby like this before.

Then I hooked onto a tour given by Zappos’ Mayor, Jerry Tidmor. Oh, yeah, everyone has weird titles. Executives are called “monkeys.” One employee’s title was, simply, “fred.” Causes him a lot of fun when he tries to get a badge at conferences. UPDATE: here’s video of the beginning of that tour.

Along the way Jerry showed us office after office that was decked out with some fun weird theme. I had seen some of this at other places like Google and my new employer, Rackspace, but Zappos gets everyone into it. The lawyers’ offices even hold the Christmas tree (they have Christmas twice a year at Zappos. Why? Why not?).

In one office they set up a bowling alley. That was a lot of fun for the Rackspace employees who were here for discussions.

Total transparency

They are transparent with all their numbers. All employees know how they are doing and so does the public. The numbers are on a white board on the tour for all to see and take pictures of. This picture is of Jerry standing in front of the board with the up-to-date numbers.

During a lunch session with Zappos “monkeys” we asked how they handled a recent layoff. We noted that the employees who were laid off were incredibly positive. The answer: they did it in open with everyone understanding the reasons for it. They did it fast and didn’t drag their feet. So when they did it they had enough cash to give everyone a good severance package. They said if they had waited to see if business conditions would improve they wouldn’t have been able to do that.

Anyway, so what can Silicon Valley learn from Zappos?

1. You don’t need to be in San Francisco to build a great company. Zappos actually started in the same building as Craig’s List. They moved to Las Vegas because it was cheaper and because they saw they could build a better company. The other half of the company is a warehouse in Kentucky. That’s there because that’s where UPS is, so they can take your order in the evening and have it on your doorstep the next day.

Sign with one of core values

2. Focus on culture and build something for long term. Tony’s first company, Link Exchange, was sold because it wasn’t fun anymore, he told me. That’s why he focused so much on culture when he got involved with Zappos. I see so many companies who focus on growth and get exactly what they want: an unfun fast growing company that falls apart later.

3. Get rid of assholes. Zappos has a filtering system before, during, and after hiring to make sure they get rid of people who “don’t fit the culture.” That is the nice way of saying they get rid of assholes and they get rid of them quickly. They even pay candidates $2,000 after they go through training if they can admit they don’t fit into the culture.

Dr. Vic

4. Get a coach. Zappos has its own coach. His name is Dr. Vic. He meets with every employee. Takes their picture. Learns what they are about and helps them get their career moving. Plus he writes a blog for everyone else’s company.

5. Share with others. Zappos gives tours to everyone to share what they’ve learned. You can take the tour too, I highly recommend it if you are in Las Vegas. tours@zappos.com will get you a date and a time. Oh, did I mention they pick you up from the airport? And that they carry your bags? And that they are, well, um, nice?

Grab a book and learn

6. Train, train and train some more. Zappos has a whole department that puts together classes. Your pay goes up the more classes you complete. Plus they have all those free books in the lobby.

7. Enable all employees to be spokespeople. Every single new hire at Zappos is asked to start a Twitter account and post a few times to it during training. After that they don’t care if you keep it up. Why do they do that? They want to rub it in that EVERYONE in the company is a public spokesperson for Zappos, not just the CEO or PR team.

Zappos core values

8. Everyone lives by same rules. During the tour we heard of a new hire that was fired during training for not showing up on time and giving some lip. This was a high level technical person that they really could have used. Silicon Valley companies would put up with that kind of behavior. Not at Zappos. Everyone, from executive recruits on down are expected to live to the same rules.

9. The CEO’s office isn’t sacrosanct. Tony enouraged us to throw peanut shells on his office floor. Why? That happens every day, we learned, as tours come through. But it’s a subtle message that Tony isn’t above anyone else in the company and that his door isn’t just open, but that you can come in and mess up his work space.

The Casual department

10. Create a welcoming culture. Every department, as we walked in, said “hi” in a different way. Here’s the casual department who waved these little clappy hands at us. Other departments had other kinds of noise makers. The Fashion department took pictures of us while they played music.

Everyone on tour is a VIP

11. Everyone is a VIP. Both internally and externally everyone gets the VIP treatment. This means all sorts of little things all across the company. Vendors, when they come to Zappos, get their bags carried. That wins them accounts. In our case we had our tripods and cameras carried and our every need catered to.

Lunch with Zappos executives

12. Create an atmosphere for both goofiness and brilliance. Every conference room was decked out with personal touches. It gets you in the mood for creative discussions. Here Rackspace employees are meeting with Zappos employees and learning more about Zappos. Notice all the weird touches on the table, the walls. It’s hard to take yourself too seriously there.

13. Root out hubris and kill it. This is mostly a note to myself, but I know lots of San Francisco companies who this could apply to just as well, too.

14. Follow your employee’s and customers’ passion. How did Zappos get into clothing? Their customers and employees were passionate about it.

15. Don’t be religious about what’s working. Having 400 employees on Twitter is clearly working for Zappos but Tony, at one point, told his employees to talk to me about friendfeed. They are always looking for the next idea. By the way, here’s everyone who is saying something about Zappos on friendfeed. I love this quote from Forrester’s CEO, George Colony (Tony is speaking at the Forrester Conference today): “When asked why he was on Twitter, Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO said: “People relate to people, not companies.”

16. Be religious about taking care of customers. Tony loves telling the story about when they got pizza ordered for them by Zappos help desk (they didn’t know who was calling). Every employee is empowered to take care of customers and get their problems solved.

17. Reward greatness. Every employee can give a $50 bonus to any other employee. Does it get misused? Not often and when it does it’s easy to solve.

18. Remember most policies are to take care of edge cases. They resist writing new policies at Zappos. When they do write a policy, they make sure it really is needed across the company. Usually policies get killed.

Anyway, there is lots of posts like this one about Zappos and why this company is so interesting. I didn’t get it until I went on a tour and saw it for myself. I’m a fan for life. I wish there were more companies like Zappos.

The fact that there isn’t tells us something about us. And I don’t like what I’m learning.

Back to that quote from the O’Reilly Twitter Camp home page: the goal of a good company as they get on Twitter should NOT be to get more followers. It should be to take care of customers and create an emotional attachment to the company through its people. Zappos gets this at a deep level. Boy do I wish more did.

SkyGrid launches free real-time-web news service into private beta


Yesterday I visited Kevin Pomplun, CEO and Founder of SkyGrid, and while they were turning on the servers he introduced the new real-time news engine to me. The video is 45 minutes, but you’ll learn a lot about how this real-time news engine works.

Yesterday TechCrunch also wrote about SkyGrid and gave a few details.

It is for everyone? No. But it shows yet another piece of the real-time web so it’s important. For news junkies like me, though, it’s crack. I’m running it on its own computer here and watch it all day long.

Unfortunately for now, invites are hard to get to try the beta. I will let you know when more become available.

Real Time News to take step forward today

In a little while, at about 4 p.m., I will be at a small company in Silicon Valley to introduce another key piece of the Real-Time Web to you. This time it’s about news.

You’ve seen the news from Google announced today, but their news display is, while cool, unsatisfying because it isn’t showing news in real time.

This is a real hole that Google and Yahoo have left in the marketplace. They didn’t get a clue about how Twitter is changing how lots of us get our news. I now start the day by looking at trending topics on Twitter Search to know what big news events have happened overnight.

But Twitter doesn’t catch everything. I didn’t see Oracle buying Sun Microsystems there first. In fact, even Techmeme was very slow this morning to catch onto that tech industry news.

How did I catch it? I have an entire screen dedicated to the new service that will announce today.

I’ll broadcast it live in video. Watch my friendfeed for links. See you at about 4 p.m. Pacific Time. Of course it will be live so you can ask questions of the CEO and team, too. I’ve been using this tool since December and I’m convinced it will force Google and Yahoo to change their news pages.