What is “net neutrality” and why should I care?

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I often find myself looking at a political issue and asking myself, “why should I care?”  Net neutrality is an issue that we should all care about because it will impact all of us.

Net neutrality means that you pay one price for your Internet access regardless of what type of content you’re viewing on the Internet.  In other words, checking your email costs the same as reading this blog post and the same as watching a movie on Netflix and so on.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs), i.e. Comcast, TimeWarner, etc, don’t like the laws or regulations that require net neutrality.  Why?  C’mon…why do you think?  Because they would make more money if net neutrality weren’t the law of the land.

How can I explain?  Easy, a picture is worth a thousand words.  The picture below illustrates how you would start to experience the Internet if net neutrality laws and regulations were changed.  Don’t see your favorite site on there…oooh, that’s gonna be a problem.  Your ISP has different political views than you…ooooh, that could be a problem too.

The bottom line is every responsible American needs to contact their elected officials and express their support of net neutrality.  This is not an abstract issue—it will have a meaningful impact on your quality of life.

Take action before it’s too late…here is what you need to now:



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September 10th, 2014 at 9:02 am

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Snowfall for the Masses? I think not.

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Two years ago, the New York Times produced Snowfall, and broke the four minute mile in online publishing.  Given that I’ve been working in online publishing since 1995—first with Smallworld, then with ESPN, Cheezburger, and most recently with Do206—I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about innovation in online publishing.

Last week, Geekwire reported on Pixotale which is attempting to push publishing toward Snowfall for the masses.  Similarly, a few of the guys from Cheez went off to Steller which is mentioned in the article.

After Cheezburger, I considered a few startup ideas in the “innovative online publishing” space, but ultimately stayed away.  I had passion for the topic, but couldn’t find a business model that I liked.  I think what I learned from my research was two fold:

First, I think an innovative online publishing solution really has to be a B2B enterprise solution.  I could be wrong—and that’s the bet that Pixotale and Steller are making—but I don’t believe regular people want take the time to make innovative content.  Or, more precisely, there are regular people who do want to tell stories, but there aren’t enough of them to have a successful business.

And, second, even within the enterprise, most organizations won’t spend the money and don’t have the ability to tell good stories.  I think that’s why there has been only one Snowfall.

Speaking of which, NYT produced this innovative piece about Iraq earlier this week.  To me, the format is interesting on the desktop, but I think the presentation is even more compelling on mobile.  In some ways, it reminded me of what Ben Huh is doing with Circa.  As a consumer, the Circa concept/format is something I’d like to see more news publishers adopt.

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July 4th, 2014 at 3:11 pm

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How I Removed Email From My Life

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This post originally appeared on the Rover Tech Blog.

Of the many things that are really great about Rover, one of them is that we have a very healthy “email culture”. We mostly talk face-to-face or in a chat room. Most mornings, I arrive at work with very few new emails in my inbox.

I surveyed my Rover email for the last week, and in that time I have been part of 118 email threads from people inside of Rover.[1] That’s 16.9 emails per day or 23.6 per work day.[2] I can tell you from past experience, that is virtually nothing; other places I’ve worked have been in the 100+ per day range.

With Rover’s email culture, I already was getting an “A” in not being overloaded by email. But, email is something that stresses me out, so I wanted to dial things up to an “A+”. Those few messages I did have sitting in my inbox were like a little devil on my shoulder whispering, “hey, look here…there are unattended things to do”. I didn’t like it.

So, I decided to get email out of my life for good.

To start, I decided that in order to stay focused on my task list, I didn’t want to have Gmail open in my browser all day long. Once I made that decision, things moved pretty quickly.

Then, I needed a way to surface my tasks. One way was to look at my tasks on the right pane of Google Calendar. But, the column in which the tasks appear is too narrow for my liking; I wanted a full-page view. Google doesn’t provide an obvious way to have a full browser screen for the task list, but after some searching and experimentation I figured out that https://mail.google.com/tasks/ig returns the task list.

As I worked down my task list, sometimes a task would involve sending an email, contacting someone by Google Chat, or needing to find old emails that informed the task I was working on. I solved these problems with a combination of Chrome Extensions and Chrome Search Engines:

With these tools in place, I am now able to treat reading email just like every other task: something that I prioritize with intention. I am much less stressed and distracted by email, my productivity has increased and I feel happier too!

[1] I decided to look at email threads, not individual emails, with the assumption being that each thread is some subject matter to which I need to devote mindshare and attention. In addition, I decided to not include automated system emails because I have rules that filter these out of my Inbox. Finally, I excluded email from people outside of Rover, such as mailing lists or inquiries from salespeople, those mails are not reflective of Rover’s email culture.

[2] Even at those amazing rates, many of those emails were “noise”:

  • 15 emails were “here I am” email, i.e. “running late”, “out sick”, “working from home”, etc.
  • 30 were calendar notifications (19 invites, 8 updates and 3 cancellations)
  • 5 were personal, i.e. “wanna get coffee”, “who wants to go to happy hour tonight?”, etc.

These e-mails take virtually zero mindshare, so let’s remove them from the tabulation. Subtracting the noise leaves 75 emails that needed my attention: 9.7 per day or 13.6 per work day.

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April 17th, 2014 at 11:25 am

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Mailbag: how to build an active, engaged audience?

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Don recently wrote about his social content site which currently is, “fully functional, with a few dozen active users and over 28,000” posts.

You’ve got a wealth of experience and knowledge related to user-generated content & the nature of social interactions on the web, and I’m hoping that you could provide suggestions on our “next steps,” most particularly with respect to building a community of active, engaged users.

Regarding your site, how to build an active, engaged audience is, almost literally, the $64,000 question. It’s what everybody wants…the question is, how?

There’s no silver bullet that I know of. Since it sounds like you have some users, the place I would start is by making personal connection to them. Literally, call them on the phone. Ask them about why they use the service and what it means to them. Find out how it makes their life better. If they live nearby, go visit them. If you have to travel, try to meet people in other cities.

In short, the answer to finding out how to create an engaged audience is by understanding the motivations of the people who are currently engaged. Find out what is the thing about your site that is indispensable to your users.

Additionally, find ways for users to connect to each other. When personal connections between users happen…especially offline…that’s when real magic starts to happen.  Then your site isn’t just an online toy…it’s something real and meaningful.

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March 14th, 2014 at 10:09 am

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Notes on How to be a Great Leader

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From TED:

There are many leadership programs available today, from 1-day workshops to corporate training programs. But chances are, these won’t really help. In this clear, candid talk, Roselinde Torres describes 25 years observing truly great leaders at work, and shares the three simple but crucial questions would-be company chiefs need to ask to thrive in the future.

I watched the talk, so you don’t have to…here’s my notes.

Three questions to ask to determine if you’re doing the things that great leaders do:

1.  How are you anticipating change?

Look at your calendar: Who are you spending time with?  What are you reading?  Where are you traveling?

Great leaders are not head down, but looking out.

2.  What is the diversity of your network?

Great leaders have the capacity to develop relationshiops with people who are different from themselves.

3.   Are you courageous enough to abandon a practice that has made you successful in the past?

Great leaders don’t talk about taking risks…they do it!

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March 13th, 2014 at 10:07 am

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Sayta Nadella on Leadership

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From today’s New York Times, Microsoft’s new CEO on leadership. [Emphasis mine.]

Q. Your company has acknowledged that it needs to create much more of a unified “one Microsoft” culture. How are you going to do that?

A. One thing we’ve talked a lot about, even in the first leadership meeting, was, what’s the purpose of our leadership team? The framework we came up with is the notion that our purpose is to bring clarity, alignment and intensity. What is it that we want to get done? Are we aligned in order to be able to get it done? And are we pursuing that with intensity? That’s really the job.

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February 20th, 2014 at 1:19 pm

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Wanna Get Ahead, Part II? Learn SQL

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One of the best skills you can teach yourself to get ahead in your career is SQL.   In a world so driven by data, being able to pull your own data is very empowering. It’s also a way to get ahead. People who can pull their own data are less reliant on others.

SQLAt Rover.com, we’re teaching all of our people, from customer service to marketing to the CEO, how to run their own SQL queries.  We have a read-only version of our database, so that anybody in the company can pull their own data and run their own reports.

How can you learn SQL?

It turns out that SQL is more mysterious and scary than difficult.  The basics are really very simple, and you’ll pick up 80% of it in a few hours.  It’s like music: there’s only 14 notes in a scale…the magic comes in how you put them together.

A quick search for “SQL tutorial” or “learn SQL online” will yield plenty of results.  Here’s a few that I found:

As background,  SQL stands for “structured query language”…it’s the language used to get data out of database server or RDBMS, i.e. “relational database management system”.

There are many database servers, but the most common are:

  • Microsoft SQL Server — runs on Windows
  • Oracle — mucho $$$$
  • MySQL — open source
  • SQLite — open source and super light weight

You may need to install a DB in order to learn from the tutorials.

SQLite is insanely simple and easy to use. It’s just a text file that gets treated like a database. I don’t even think there is a server to install, just a client. The client I personally use is RazorSQL.

If for some reason SQLite isn’t robust enough for the tutorial you’re working on, then you’ll want to get MySQL. It’s free. For that, you’ll need to install the database server (MySQL) and a client tool (called MySQL Workbench).  A lot of companies use MySQL (including Rover).

SQLite is used a lot too, but mostly by developers who embed it within an application. That being said, from a “learning SQL” perspective, you’ll learn the same with each of them.

If you’re learning, don’t bother with MS SQL Server or Oracle.  They’re overly complicated for your initial needs.  If you know how to query SQLite or MySQL then jumping over and learning how to query those databases is easy. Conceptually, they are the same, though there are semantic differences, but nothing that you wouldn’t figure out quickly. For example, in MySQL you get the current time by typing “Now()” and in SQL Server it’s “GetDate()”.

Most importantly, have fun!  Remember, you’re only a beginner, so it’s going to be difficult at first.  But, with lots of searches, you can usually get all your questions answered!


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November 13th, 2013 at 10:00 am

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Wanna get ahead in your career? Here’s how…

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Wanna get ahead in your career? Here’s how…

Be a person who takes things off your boss’ plate.

Your boss might be internal…like you work at a company.

Or, they might be external…like a client.

Like you, they have too much work to do. So, be a person who makes it so they have one less thing to do.

It goes for more than bosses. Works for co-workers too.

Be a person who takes things off peoples plate and you’ll be a person that people want to work with.the-band-the-weight-capitol

Of course, you can’t always be the person to make work go away, but you can help someone make it go away on their own.  In other words, you don’t always need to take things off their plate. If you’re a person who empowers people to get stuff of their own plate faster, then the same axiom applies.

Now, consider the opposite: someone who, by asking them to help you, actually puts more work on your plate. Who wants to work with a person like that?

I’ve worked with many over my career.  When I ask for help, the work this person does creates more work for me.

For example, all the code they write, I have to double-check it because they don’t show attention detail.

Or, the reports they run create more questions than they answer, so I have to ask them to dig further to get to the bottom of the issue.

This person doesn’t take work off my plate. Rather, they just fill up my inbox with emails that I dread reading…

…because I know it means more work for me.

In business-speak, you hear  employers want “problem solvers”. I think when people say that what they mean is, “people who can take work off my plate…because my problem is too much to do.”

If I’m doing something for someone else, I want to reduce the burdens on them, not add to them.

This doesn’t mean that I never ask someone to do something for me…because we all have to do that in life. Nobody can get through life without a helping hand.

Rather, it means the opposite: when someone else asks me to do something for them that I take the burden completely off of them…and not just put more burden on them.

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November 8th, 2013 at 1:22 pm

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What is the measure of failure?

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A common best practice in the workplace when people are trying to be smart about a project is to ask, “what is the measure of success?”  I would propose that a more pertinent question is, “what is the measure of failure?”

The truth is that most projects neither succeed wildly, nor fail spectacularly.  Rather, most linger in a middle ground of neither.  These are the worst types of projects because we continue to spend valuable resources—time, money and mental capacity—to support them when, really, they’re not all that beneficial to whatever we’re trying to accomplish.  Given opportunity cost, they’re probably a net minus.

Naturally, the hardest part about these middle ground projects is that we’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into them, so it’s hard to let them go.  We know, just know, that with a little more time or effort the thing might be a success.  Or, we suffer the Sunk Cost Fallacy: that we’ve invested so much and come so far, that it makes sense to go all the way.  Probably, though, we’re better off cutting our losses.

Truth is, it’s not in our nature to cut our losses.  Not cutting our losses is deeply imbedded in our DNA.  Unlike other species, such as say a spider or a fish, humans don’t birth hundreds or thousands offspring hoping some will survive.  We birth just a few offspring and protect each one like it’s…our baby.

Never discount Human Nature.  In our modern, professional world, it’s more powerful than we give it credit for.  In fact, it’s all-powerful, only second to Mother Nature.  Remember the Scorpion and the Frog

A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion says, “Because if I do, we will both sink and drown in the stream, and I will die too.”

The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp “Why?”

Replies the scorpion: “It’s my nature…”

So, next time you’re getting a project off the ground keep in mind that for certain aspects of professional life it might be better of to act not like a human, but to act like a robot…ruthlessly logical…and ask yourself, “under what circumstances will we kill this project?”

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November 2nd, 2013 at 8:04 am

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Lessons from Cannabis Legalization in California and The Backfire Effect

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I was in Boulder, Colorado earlier this week.  When casually talking to locals the inevitable came up: in just a few weeks, Washington State and Colorado will be the first states in the union to allow marijuana to be sold like alcohol.

marijuana-californiaNow, nothing makes me happier than when facts trump assumptions.  It’s just one of the many obnoxious, nerdy aspect of my personality.  So, when I saw this in the paper this morning, my interest was piqued:

California Finds Fears Unfounded With Cannabis Use: California’s experience as the first state to legalize medical marijuana offers surprising lessons, experts say.

[A]t a time when polls show widening public support for legalization…California’s 17-year experience as the first state to legalize medical marijuana offers surprising lessons, experts say.

Warnings voiced against partial legalization — of civic disorder, increased lawlessness and a drastic rise in other drug use — have proved unfounded.

Instead, research suggests both that marijuana has become an alcohol substitute for younger people here and in other states that have legalized medical marijuana, and that while driving under the influence of any intoxicant is dangerous, driving after smoking marijuana is less dangerous than after drinking alcohol.

Although marijuana is legal here only for medical use, it is widely available. There is no evidence that its use by teenagers has risen since the 1996 legalization, though it is an open question whether outright legalization would make the drug that much easier for young people to get, and thus contribute to increased use.

And though Los Angeles has struggled to regulate marijuana dispensaries, with neighborhoods upset at their sheer number, the threat of unsavory street traffic and the stigma of marijuana shops on the corner, communities that imposed early and strict regulations on their operations have not experienced such disruption.

Imposing a local tax on medical marijuana, as Oakland, San Jose and other communities have done, has not pushed consumers to drug dealers as some analysts expected. Presumably that is because it is so easy to get reliable and high-quality marijuana legally.

Finally, for consumers, the era of legalized medical marijuana has meant an expanded market and often cheaper prices.

Following upon on the contrast between Los Angeles and other cities:

In Los Angeles, repeated attempts to regulate the stores have failed, causing an uproar in quiet neighborhoods like Larchmont and Mar Vista. Yet there is a lesson here: San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, which imposed strict regulations on the shops from the start, have had few problems.

“Those cities really took charge in 1996, saying: ‘We have to figure out how we are going to regulate this. We need to figure out how marijuana could be sold, how it will be regulated, what it will mean for tax revenue,’ ” Ms. Reiman said. “As a result, those three cities have seen little to no issues in terms of crime or public safety issues.”

Naturally, despite evidence to the contrary, there are still opposing voices…just another case of The Backfire Effect, “When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.”


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October 27th, 2013 at 8:16 am

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