Part 2 -Enough about me; what do you think about me?

The first “electronic content management system” I ever saw was back n 1980 when I had to transcribe a 600-page crappy novel I wrote in college.  The school hired a typist who had a Wang word processor – basically a mini-computer with floppy disks the size of Frisbees.  I sat at that thing after years of using an electric typewriter and a bottle of Wite-Out and my mind was blown forever when I realized “Cut-and-paste “on that thing was as awesome as a New Guinea cargo cultist seeing a Bic lighter for the first time.


Then I landed in the newsroom at the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune and was told to figure out the new Hastech editorial system. I mastered that thing and was the unofficial newsroom guru who knew all the keyboard shortcuts and could split a screen into four different windows with a couple ninja moves of my fingers. Then PC Week and Atex came into my life. Then  Forbes into more Atex, dialing in with a 1200 bps modem using a command line utility called “Send-Fetch”, Quark for page layout. And on and on until the dawn of the Internet in 1994 when Mitch Kapor showed me his private Internet connection in his Kendall Square office and let me see the wonders of TCP/IP, Gopher, Veronica, WAIS, Pine, Usenet and finally, the World Wide Web.

The Web was pretty obvious. I mean duh-level obvious. The underlying technology wasn’t proprietary (I think TCP/IP is the most important single technology of the 20th century), the network topology was designed to survive a nuke (but not a baby monitor or web cam), and anyone could get into it for low to no money. When Kapor showed me a website with a picture and a blue underlined word that led to another website with another picture and more underlined blue words I instantly saw the future of electronic publishing which had been tempting publishers for over a decade.

I decided to figure it out. I had been messing around with hypertext, using Microsoft’s engine for building its help-pop-ups to turn the rules that governed yacht racing into a hyperlinked, interactive product. But the Web was different so I shifted my reporting away from PCs and multimedia CD-ROMs and mainframes and focused on the commercialization of the Internet. I started reading and that led me into the world of mark up languages and document processing.

I became a serious SGML geek (Standard Generalized Markup Language). I was all over document mark up languages and found myself in deep discussions with Charles Goldfarb, the Father of SGML, the ISO standard for page description formats out of IBM that was the ancestor of HTML. Goldfarb wanted me to ghostwrite a book with him about SGML. I wanted to build a website.

SGML and Goldfarb introduced me to the the late Yuri Rubinsky, who founded a company in Toronto called Softquad that developed the first commercial HTML authoring tool – HoTMetaL. Yuri gave me beta access and I used HoTMetaL to develop the first prototype of in the winter of 1995 – the super crude and ugly version that ran on a ThinkPad and an Iomega Zipdrive which I demoed to  the Forbes brothers before being told “Nice job kid, now here’s a ticket to Columbus, go run our CompuServe project.”


Oh the agony, but I wasn’t deterred. Messing around with HoTMetal led me to Charles Ferguson and Randy Forgaard at Vermeer Technologies and a sneak peek at FrontPage, the first wysiwig web building tool which I wrote about in Forbes and kept a close eye on as Microsoft acquired it in 1996 for $133 million.  Ferguson went on to write a book about the Vermeer experience called High St@kes, No Prisoners and produce and direct  Inside Job which won an Academy Award for best documentary.


While I was losing my soul at CompuServe and also managing Forbes’ Prodigy deal, I was still spending my free time on web stuff. I worked on a DIY content management system for Reel-Time: The Internet Journal of Saltwater Flyfishing. My partner, Thorne Sparkman raised some money to pay some coders in Berkeley to give us the tools to manage a very popular niche community site. We wanted to extend page management capabilities out to the fishing guides who sponsored the site, so they could have their own web presence under our umbrella. It worked. Sort of.

When launched we coded the site by hand (basically using Notepad to write the page source code) – via the webmaster John Moschetto and the graphics department under Dustin Shephard and TK – eventually testing tools like Dreamweaver and other site builders. We looked at Vignette after that CMS was spun out of C-Net, but the requirement to have a TCL coder on staff who could manage and build page templates soured us. Forbes didn’t have the cash to buy a CMS, so in all my time there from 1995 to 2000 we were pretty manual, using some database publishing to automate production, but always wishing for something with workflow and version control and other nice things that were always in reach, but never in house.  

We knew we wanted dynamic content. We wanted pages that could display real-time stock quotes, charts, pages that would let visitors to sort its list of the Richest People in the World by country or industry. We did it. Bill Gates even used our database of the richest people (which he led by the way ) in his demonstrations of Microsoft’s IIS webserver capabilities (we were early ASP fans).

Then co-founder Om Malik turned me onto WordPress in 2001 after I launched this blog on Pyra Labs’ Blogger, and I’ve stuck with it ever since.

After the bubble popped in 2000 I bailed on Forbes and was on the team at McKinsey   that built one of the first global knowledge management systems under Mussie Shore – the former Lotus engineer now at Google. That was pretty effing slick and supported a digital asset management system, streamed audio and video, and pulled together the company’s army of consultants and their Powerpoints into a pretty nifty project called Business Knowledge Services. We were into digital asset management, and multimedia publishing and all that stuff. Search was key.

2005, I went back to media, this time at International Data Group – the late Pat McGovern’s tech publishing empire –  where I was on the team that started to “federate” the company’s 300-some publications onto a common platform. I turned off a DIY content management system that was the equivalent of life-time employment for the only person who knew how to work it, and was part of CEO Bob Carrigan’s big move to federate the entire tower of babel under IDG’s CIO Nancy Newkirk on Interwoven Teamsite. The politics were brutal so I left.

I left for Lenovo before IDG’s Interwoven platform was implemented, but I called up Interwoven’s sales engineer – Tom Wentworth – and let him sell me another Teamsite license for the new as it made the transition from to its new home as a serious ecommerce site that could match Dell’s configure-to-order system. The problem there was massive. Global web production for 60 countries over 28 languages and total anarchy and ill-will as the country marketing teams wanted control over their digital identities but headquarters wanted some efficiencies and brand discipline. We were struggling with the concept of a web “Center of Excellence” and a “site factory” before some marketer or “thought leader” decided to coin those words in their marketecture.

Next: The Revolution Against Our Sphincter Overlords

Selling Horseshoes in the Age of Driverless Cars: Part 1

I can’t tell you the number of times some digital douchebag announced in a meeting that the new website or the new “CMS” was “finally going to be the game changer we’ve been waiting for. This is the ONE.” Hah. Same shit, different day.”

– A former colleague who needs to remain unnamed

Part 1:  “All Right You Primitive Screwheads”

Listen up

I’ve seen a lot of ways to build a website and they all were a massive disappointment.  The stuff the CMS industry talks about today: personalization and putting dynamic content in front of the right person at the right time based on their history and preferences was in the dreams of the Web 1.0 pioneers right from the beginning. Targeted advertising. Web sites that act like applications and not static pages ripped from paper and converted for the glass.  Database publishing. Dynamic pages. Personalization. All of this stuff was totally and completely obvious and desirable twenty years ago; but good luck making it happen. The only difference is that today a person who is shopping for  “web content management” is buying horseshoes in the age of driverless cars. Things are so crazy and confusing that we’ve thrown up our hands in despair and are walking around trying to describe the rash on our asses as “Digital Experience Delivery.

Digital? That’s the best we can do? When are we going to accept that Digital is a given and at the heart of the matter and stop sticking it in front of our stuff like describing a car as an “Automotive Transportation System” because we don’t want to confuse the market who might be shopping for a one-horse sleigh? “Digital Marketing?” As opposed to what? The “Traditional Marketing Department?”

Content? People who write software are very different from the people who use it. When they want to describe the “stuff” their system processes and manipulates and publishes, they shrug and call it a big generic “Content” which their system “ingests.” Sit down with Marty Barron, the stud editor of the Boston Globe played by Liev Schrieber in Spotlight, and call his reporting “content” and he’ll look you in the eye and tell you that you have no soul when you lump a Pulitzer prize winning series of major journalism and reporting into the generic “Content” bucket.

“I hate the word content, which has infiltrated our profession. You have people who are called chief content officers and things like that. I don’t like the word content. To me, it’s like saying the word “stuff.” It has no meaning, whereas journalism actually does have meaning.” Marty Barron

Experience? Sounds like Austin Powers dancing through London in the 1960s on his way to a “Hippy Happening.” To hell with “experiences” and let’s admit it’s a sign that we don’t know how describe the rash on our butts. It’s red. It itches. It’s on our left buttock and we’re not sure if it’s eczema or psoriasis or an allergy to the cat. So we go to WebMD and we type in “Rash Red Ass” and what we get back for a self-diagnosis is “Digital Experience Delivery” or heaven forbid, “Web Content Management?”

With that off my chest, I’m going to pollute this personal blog with a series on how the world of “content management solutions” is missing the boat and deluding itself and the market into believing it knows what the future holds. It doesn’t. This is going to be a multi-post series on the history of web and content management that ends with some thoughts about the state of the market today and where I think it’s going.

 Next in the series: Let me dust off my bona fides. Not to brag but I sort of know this stuff and this would be one of my Jeopardy categories. I started out with an electric typewriter in 1974, regressed and ran a letter press right out of Benjamin Frankiln, graduated to the first word processor, mastered the greatest software of all time (XyWrite) was around at the dawn of HTML, learned the first web site building tools, launched one of the planet’s most successful financial web sites, rebuilt the world’s top management consulting firm’s knowledge management system, did ecommerce for a Fortune Global 100 company and wound up where I am today marketing the world’s best CMS solution for mega-brands and governments that need to build and deliver websites on the scale of nuclear powered aircraft carriers.

And I’m self-effacing and humble.

Next Enough About Me; What do you think about me?

Some men want to see the world burn

I love Gmail because of the Exclamation Point button. This is an icon that I push a few times every day when some email marketer hounds me to “please point me to the person in your company who handles Account Based Marketing” or wants to find some time to talk about my “content management attribution challenges in the coming year.”


I know these emails have code embedded in them that tells the sender when I’ve opened them. I know that I will never respond to them. Never take their phone call. Have no guilt over ignoring them.

But the Exclamation Point — well it’s basically the email marketing equivalent of dumping the Alien Monster out of the airlock into the vacuum of space where no one can hear them scream. Not only does a quick click of the button block the sender from ever landing in my inbox again, it reports them to some unseen power as a spammer.

Aww.Poor email marketers with their “lovable marketing content.” Try it. It’s fun.


Christmas in Cotuit

By Eric Michelsen


No, it didn’t snow on the Cape recently. This picture of my house was shot by local photographer Eric Michelsen in the 1990s judging from the size of the village Christmas tree which is now three times the size, and the existence of arborvitae along the white fence in front of my house before they were wiped out by some nasty fungus.

This shot was sold — both  framed and on note cards which some Cotusions used for Christmas cards — but I wasn’t aware of its existence until a friend stopped by yesterday during the annual tree lighting in the park when Santa Claus arrives by boat the town doc and flips the switch on the lights.  I still hang white lights off the fence, but nothing like the way  my wife lit the place up back when the kiddos were little.

Digressive Discursions

It riles me up to no end to hear some bright-eyed know-it-all declare “what we really need is some engaging story telling to ignite our flaccid content marketing strategy.” There are an abundance of douche marketing “storytellers” ready to sell us a breathless how-to book, or charge us a hefty consulting fee before they tuck us all in, sit on the end of our beds, and crack open the white-paper edition of Go Dog Go! and put us to sleep with some nighttime fable of how to create lovable marketing content that will engage and connect us to the thought leaders that will flip our funnels and turn us from faceless users to loyal brand advocates.

But I digress.

Digression is what I’m here to write about today. Digression is a maddening art and a truly guilty pleasure that squanders time. Taken too far it can be worse than oral surgery. Done right it can delight and leave us begging for more. Who among us hasn’t sat stupefied in the presence of some absolutely horribly pedantic story teller who just. can’t. seem. to. get. to. the. goddamn. point? Yet, who can argue with Lord Byron’s brilliant epigram, about his lover, Caroline:

“Caro Lamb, Goddamn”

Or the shortest, sad story ever told, attributed to Hemingway:

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

While brevity is the soul of wit, and short words always win out over longer synonyms, our Ritalin society can be tagged with the depressing acronym: TL;DR“Too Long; Didn’t Read.” The art of spinning a yarn, telling a tall-tale, being a true raconteur (a person who can tell an anecdote in a skillful and amusing way) just doesn’t seem to fit when declaiming on a four-part framework for calculating the ROI of website personalization.

After all: story telling is the original entertainment medium. Think of Homer sitting around the fire and telling the story of brave Ulysses to a crowd of illiterate Greek kids.  The heart of the story-tellers is the spoken word — not the written  — and it would do us all well to remember that stories were invented around the campfire, delivered from memory by a story teller, and is the origin of the theater, the novel, film and ultimately the place from which the music of language was tested and perfected. Digression in a story is a way to build suspense, foreshadow events, explain and provide background, and show off one’s erudition. How to weave a footnote into a narrative is a delicate balancing act that few can pull off.


In this era of TED talks and the Moth Radio Hour, Podcasts, personal reminiscences, and self-indulgent blogs such as this one, this is no surfeit of stories to consume.  Headlines beg for our limited attention, we get seduced by clickbait and listicles, A/B tested by algorithms to see what reptilian part of our hippocampus will cause our right index finger to flex and click.  So in our quick-twitch, Adderal-amped lives, let’s consider the luxury of digression; of stretching out and letting a story teller take their time, hook our attention like an angler sets the barb in a fish’s lip, and hold us for 1,000 pages from one sentence to the next, always wanting more.  Let’s follow the footnotes, spend sometime looking up a word, chasing more information, and realize we live in an age of amazing possibilities when it comes to digressing and falling down the rabbit hole of digression where incredible discoveries might be found.

My late friend Jimmy Guterman was fascinated with the impact of hypertext —  links embedded in text — which could be followed by the reader down different paths. He would have laughed at the concept of corporate storytelling and punctured the conceit with some droll bon mot. He quoted, in the Harvard Business Review, Fast Company founder Alan Webber, opening a conference about content and context by saying “…Webber began the two-day event by arguing that storytelling is overrated….

Before HTML came on the scene in 1994, Jimmy and I experimented with a hypertext project using the engine behind Microsoft’s help engine — the name escapes me — to digitize the rules governing yacht racing. Jimmy took it further into fiction, but I can’t find any examples on his blog. Experimental fiction has played with alternative plot tracks — Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch has two different possible chapter sequences.  Video games — the most lucrative entertainment medium extant today — represent one of the best manifestations of interactive story-telling, the hype that was touted around “interactive television” in the 1990s, when viewers could pick different plot lines or camera angles.

Two writers embody the beauty of digression for me me. Thomas Pynchon in Gravity’s Rainbow and David Foster Wallace in nearly all of his books, but especially his masterpiece Infinite Jest. In 2005, Wallace wrote a profile of a right-wing talk radio host for the Atlantic Monthly.  The print edition, which I read on an Acela to NYC, was a masterpiece in taking the principles of digital hypertext and linking onto the printed page. The editors at the Atlantic reformatted the digital edition, using color cues on words to designate footnoted material.

“Navigating the baroque structure of footnotes within footnotes on either the original manuscript or galleys would have been nearly impossible, so we worked on a printout of pages in the ingenious design of our art director, Mary Parsons.”

Here’s a link to their explanation of how they edited and formatted the piece. It presages some amazing examples of interactive journalism and storytelling such as the iconic New York Times piece on an avalanche tragedy, Snowfall.


Here’s the text as it is formatted online:


And here is what the reader sees when they click on the colored words with the [+] prompt:


For me the revelation has been reading William Manchester’s three-volume epic biography of Winston Churchill, The Last Lion on a Kindle. While e-books are a bit of a tragedy in terms of substantial additions to one’s physical bookshelf, the developers at Amazon have introduced some amazing things in the decade they’ve been perfecting the Kindle interface. For example, any Kindle user is familiar with the ability to look an unfamiliar word up in a sentence simply by highlighting the word and seeing a pop-up definition appear. That in itself is an amazing service to readers like me who are guilty of skipping past some obscure word and missing the opportunity to add something new and amazing to our vocabularies. But it’s the addition of Wikipedia that takes things to a whole new level. Consider when Maechatfieldnchester talks about Churchill’s relationship to the Royal Navy in the years between the two world wars and introduces “Lord Chatfield, Admiral of the Fleet.” Well, my middle name is Chatfield, I have a personal stake in finding out who the hell Lord Chatfield is, and thanks to the Kindle I get right to his entry on Wikipedia, share it with my brother Henry (who also has the Chatfield middle name), and we both get a good laugh and begin referring to each other as “Admiral of the Fleet” whenever we pull our skiffs out of the harbor.

I read Wallace’s Infinite Jest through the first time without taking the time to follow each and every foot note to the end-notes. When I finished the novel — a serious door stop at 1000 plus pages — I started to read those notes and realized what I had missed.

What we have before us, to go back to Guterman’s piece about Alan Webber, is “context within our content”, the ability to stay in the narrative but take a digressive detour out without losing our places.  I think it’s incumbent on any writer to indulge their reader’s with some detours, to walk them down a side-path to some hidden spot. In all our wheel spinning in search for optimization and algorithmic textual perfection, take off your shoes, kick back, and get lost down the rabbit hole of digression. Who knows what surprise you might stub your mind on.

50 Pieces of Random Advice

Here’s a list of random advice and rules of thumb I’ve picked up over the years and  still cling to.

  1. The Golden Rule still applies
  2. If you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything
  3. Trust your intuition
  4. If offered a Tic Tac, accept it. You probably need it.
  5. Bitch up, not down
  6. Never eat anything bigger than your head
  7. Don’t s%^t where you eat
  8. Omit unnecessary words
  9. Shorter words are better than longer ones
  10. Listen more, talk less
  11. The only time to use an exclamation point is in the sentence “You cut my arm off”
  12. Don’t date someone with more than three cats
  13. The sky is high and the Emperor is far away
  14. Don’t quit your job until you have your next one
  15. People think in three’s — three acts, three bullets, three concepts
  16. The 80-20 rule always applies
  17. A car carrying a AAA sticker or a license plate with a sub-five digit number is driven by a bad driver
  18. George O’Day Died Defending His Right of Way — watch out for the other guy
  19. Throw back the first fish of the season with a kiss
  20. Red Sky At Night, Sailor’s Delight
  21. Red Right Returning
  22. When offered something, take the one closest to you
  23. No pleats
  24. Bowties are asshole detectors
  25. The Abe Lincoln rule of pissed off letters (and emails) applies: write, don’t send
  26. Tough guys don’t dance
  27. Tough guys don’t tweet
  28. Tough guys don’t sip cocktails through straws
  29. Powerpoint sucks
  30. Never bullshit your boss. Just say “I don’t know.”
  31. Rub dirt on it and take a lap
  32. Children only need to go to the ER if blood is coming out of their ears
  33. Don’t wear clothing with the name of any school you attended
  34. Don’t be the Closer of any party
  35. If you don’t know who the sucker is, then it is you
  36. 80% of Walmart shoppers turn right when they enter the store
  37. If ignored for 5 minutes in a restaurant, get up and leave
  38. Keep the crew dry and in the sun
  39. There is no bad weather, only bad clothing
  40. Cheese and fish do not mix
  41. High tide in Cotuit is always at noon and midnight when the moon is full
  42. The 20s are the worst decade
  43. No one gets out alive
  44. Don’t arrive empty handed
  45. Handwritten notes work
  46. Nothing important happens after midnight
  47. Take a cab
  48. Do what the officer tells you to
  49. Keep religion and politics out of it
  50. There’s always hope

Reprints of The Reminiscences of Captain Thomas Chatfield for sale

My cousin Tom Field kindly alerted me to this discover on Amazon: a custom publisher called “Forgotten Books” has scraped my transcription of Captain Thomas Chatfield’s Reminscences (I assume, since I invested hours in 2006 to type the manuscript and share it as pages on this blog while living the lonely-man life in Durham, NC) and is offering paper copies for $13.57.


I’m excited someone offers this service. When I looked into a custom publishing run ten years ago the cost per copy was over $50. This is a great alternative to schlepping disks to a local printer and will allow me to get some copies into the hands of the next generation of nieces and nephews with Chatfield DNA.




Boat pulling day

I’m pulling the big boat today, taking a personal day to get it done, and blogging in between the early morning mast-pulling and the actual haul-out later this afternoon.  I got over to the town dock by 8:30 this morning, shrouds all slack and ready to be detached from the chain-plates; mast wedges, tabernacle boot, boom and all the lines detached and coiled last Saturday. The harbor has really emptied out in the past week, as if a light switch was thrown after Columbus Day when the launch service stops running and the boat yards and mooring servicers swing into action putting things to bed.

The timing couldn’t be better as the cormorants have found the boat and started to turn it into their personal guano depository. The splatter effects are as bad as past years, but the power washer will be working overtime this weekend before I wrap everything up, run some antifreeze through the engine, change the oil and put her to sleep for the winter. I’ll leave the motorboat in until the middle of next month, but thanks to the new dinghy rules that force me to get my tender off the beach by the middle of November, that will get yanked in a month as well.


I hate taking days off from work to get this done, but when Peck’s calls, one answers. Now I can stop freaking out watching Matthew and Nicole and the freak storm waiting in the wings and sleep solidly not worrying about my poor boat getting pooped on in the harbor.