Bad Santa Gift Idea #3 — A Caganer

….Because what the world needs more of is little defecating figurines to sneak into the creche between the Wise Men and the Donkey. I think this has potential for a real life Civil War re-enactment in the nativity scene in front of St. Joe’s the Redeemer. Bail money is under the couch cushions.

From the New York Times, I give you Caganers.

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Part 4: You Talk like a #%^ and Your S$%t Sounds Retarded

Anyone who walks into a company today that has been doing this Digital thing for the last twenty years and tries to sell a vision around the Freedom to Innovate and Embrace Digital Transformation is going to experience what tech journalists called the MEGO effect. My Eyes Glazed Over.

Talk to the toilers in the vineyard, the poor souls on the front lines,  and just try to pitch them on douche-baggery like “content marketing” or “digital experiences.” You’re going to find they either tune out and start instant messaging to each other during the meeting that you “suck and should have brought Buzzword Bingo cards with you.” These wizened veterans of the web wars know a few things for sure and if you get them grumpy enough they are going to interrupt your pitch to tell you some brutal truths:

  1. Whatever they are building today is going to turn into a brown banana and need to be redone in 18 months.
  2. Whatever they are building will fail when they need it the most because web hosting was designed to fail under pressure.
  3. They have no money, no time, and everybody hates the website.
  4. Marketing consists of ass clowns.
  5. Whatever tools you sell them to build said hated website will screw them when it comes time to move to another tool because the CEO lost patience, hired a Chief Digital Officer who doesn’t tuck in their shirt and carries an iPad, has a Bluetooth headset and wants to create a Digital Center of Excellence using some dumb PaaS/SaaS solution the cool kids were talking about at LeWeb. But the CDO has a lot of Twitter followers, so they have influence and are a true Thought Leader.
  6. If you talk to them like children “Your customers have embraced the Internet and expect a thrilling digital experience” you will become a jerk and be placed in the spam folder.
  7. If you tell them to “Be responsive and agile and treat every visitor as an individual like Oreos did during the Superbowl when they tweeted during the blackout” you will become a jerk and made fun of and given a new nickname behind your back like “Douche Nozzle Dave the Sales Weasel.”

Look, this is the problem. Remember Chef in Apocalypse Now? The former New Orleans saucier who got off the boat and stepped into the jungle and almost was eaten by a tiger? Don’t get off the boat! Remember him talking about his experience as an Army cook?

“They lined us up in front of a hundred yards of prime rib. All of us.  Looking at it. Magnificent meat! Beautifully marbled. Magnifique! Next thing they’re throwing all this meat into big cauldrons. All of it. Boiling it. I looked inside. It was turning grey.” – Chef

That’s what marketers do to perfectly good technology. They  feel compelled to run down to the 7-11 and look for a can of Duncan Hines Chocolate Frosting and they smear that goo over their beautifully marbled meat in the hope that Google will find the goo because buzzwords like “Freedom to Innovate” and “Omnichannel Agile Platforms” attract attention because…..well because the competition is saying those things on their website and the Search Engine Marketing firm says those terms are what are hot right now and …..heck, why not?

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The horror. The horror.

Finally: Here’s the Deal

Bad Santa: Space Buckets

Oh my Puritan antecedents are having a conniption after the last election. The state that used to banish chiropractors to New Hampshire, banned tattoo parlors, and closed down like Orthodox Jerusalem on the Sabbath with its “Blue Laws” has legalized the demon weed marijuana.

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That’s right, in two days we Bay Staters can start farming our own little God’s Acre of cannibis sativa without a doctor’s note. I’ll miss those days of paranoid dread that my life would be ruined if I had a pot bust on my rap sheet. I’ll miss the red-eyed, dry-mouthed terror when Sully asked, “How long has that van been there?” I’ll miss getting really really really into a bag of Jax and turning the legs of my bell bottomed jeans orange with cheese dust.

Anyway, now that the Thug Life is legal, I think the deal is four or six plants for personal use. So, in anticipation that the state’s collective IQ is about to lawn dart down to Idiocracy levels, I offer this Xmas gift idea:

A Spacebucket.

That’s right. With winter upon us, no one is going to be tending a little patch of stupid out doors, so before you rush out and get some Martian-level hydroponic weed garden with lights that are going to double your electricity bill. Consider the Spacebucket.

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Part 3: The Revolution Against The Sphincter

Right from the start of the web revolution in the 1990s came what I call the “Sphincter Effect.” Remember, those were the day when websites had Web Masters and if you were some excited person in an organization with a website, and you wanted to participate and get a “page” for your department or brilliant idea, then you had to go to the Web Master to get it done.  “Sphincter?” Remember the old joke about all the different parts of the body having an argument about who was the most important? The eyes claimed that if they stayed shut the body wouldn’t see the truck and would get hit crossing the street? The mouth saying if it went on strike the body would starve? Well the winner was the sphincter – the single point of relief.

Webmasters were sphincters. The Tulsa office would ask for a web page promoting its awesome new project to save the Prairie Chicken and the Webmaster would tell them to take a number from the little dispenser at their web deli counter and wait their turn. Well, Tulsa took some inspiration from the old Confucian parable that the “Sky is High and the Emperor is Far Away” and turned to some freebie web tool like Geocities or Microsoft Front Page and before you knew it – as the Web became more and more of a thing – your typical business or institution had a boatload of rogue sites. I know. I watched it happen at Forbes. And soon I came to dread the single scariest question in the world: “Did you know about this?”

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The very freedom of the web, the accessibility to anyone in an organization to go to Blogger or WordPress.com and launch their own little piece of digital turf which they can change and play with on their own, without appealing to the Sphincter, meant chaos was inevitable. IDG was out of control when I arrived in 2005. Dear old Pat McGovern, may he rest in peace, made decentralization part of IDG’s DNA when he realized that he was the sphincter and impeding decision making. So he let his country managers and publishers do their own things and they did. Except that came to bite the company on the ass when a big advertiser like IBM expected to make an advertising buy across all of IDG’s publications which ran the gamut from the Industry Standard to InfoWorld to ComputerWorld to PC World – all of which were published in Russian, Tagalog, Portuguese…….

Oh my god the insanity. Anyway, Carrigan fixed the mess, the company federated all of its subscriber databases into one big monster, and before long stopped printing rags like Infoworld and went all in with digital. But the solution was because the content management system and the digital asset management system and the web metrics systems were all centralized.

Lowell Bryan at McKinsey taught me two things in his disarming southern drawl. This is the man who led McKinsey’s Global Strategy Practice. This guy knew a thing or two about strategy and big organizations. The first thing he told me is irrelevant to this screed, but worth repeating:

It takes a brave man to call a baby ugly

And the thing applicable here:

“You have to loosen control without losing control.”

What does that mean for global web management? Simple – give the people on the front lines. The ones who have the content that needs to be updated, the ones who don’t want to wait for the Sphincter to take care of their request, total control over their glass. But do it on a single platform so they won’t go off brand, won’t waste money on stupid software, and won’t break the law by doing some dumb-fuck move. And trust me, people can be counted on to do the wrong thing.

Governing a global web organization doesn’t get any more insane than it did for me at Lenovo. I mean, think about managing “digital experiences” for a company funded in part by the pension fund of the Red Army in a country that blocks Google and Facebook.  Even with the Chinese approach to organizational hierarchy and governance, that didn’t stop a country marketing manager in Poland from buying web advertising from some R-rated bikini model site. If you want to break out in a terrifying sweat, try reading an email one morning with the ominous subject line “Did You Know About This?!?!” that contains a screenshot of a Lenovo banner ad on a website campaigning against Tienanmen Square over that famous picture of the dude facing down a tank.

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Oops.

But I sympathize with the marketing manager in the Philippines.  He has autonomy over how he spends his budget. He needs to have a homepage that celebrates some weird Filipino national holiday or launch a new campaign around Imelda Marcos Shoe Collection Appreciation Week. Whatever. He needs control locally. Not from the Sphincter and the Committee of No at headquarters. So, piss him off enough and he’s going to launch his own little web pirate ship. Good for him.

Next: You Talk Like a Fag and Your Shit’s All Retarded

Uncle-From-Hell Xmas Presents: Personal Air-Raid Horn

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What kid wouldn’t get a thrill out of playing Air Raid Warden and cranking out 115 decibels of fun at the playground? This is my Uncle Fester payback for that tin-drum you bought my kid, the bow-and-arrow set that ended up embedded in the windowsill of the neighbor’s master bedroom. You know who you are. I’m coming for your sanity.

Here, for your holiday shopping pleasure, is the Superior Airhorn company’s personal air-raid klaxon (with carrying bag).

Manual Hand Crank Operated Air Raid Siren. Will produces a loud adjustable sound of 110 decibels. Made out of durable plastic (ABS) housing.  Ideal for getting peoples attention, or rooting for your favorite team in sporting events, and many other uses.  Comes with a carrying case.”

http://www.superiorhorns.com/media/wav/100p.wav

WARNING: This puppy is loud. I just blew my ear drums when I listened to a sample through my headphones at work.

 

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.

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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 Forbes.com 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.”

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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.

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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 Forbes.com 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 Forbes.com 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 Forbes.com 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 Lenovo.com as it made the transition from IBM.com/PC 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?