What I Learned This Week For May 2 2014

By Mike Maddaloni on Wednesday, May 07, 2014 at 06:00 PM with 4 comments

photo of a drawing of bugs

It’s a good thing I didn’t use the piece of paper shown above to keep my learned list for this past week, as them my little girl would not have been able to have drawn this picture of bugs. I thought the circular shape was an apple, but she wondered why I would even think of such a thing. Needless to say, she’s spending some time in art camp this summer.

  • This past week my wife’s Aunt Irene passed away too early at the age of 95. As of course I was fortunate to know her later in life, I never knew about her earlier life, such as she was born here in Chicago and she enlisted in the Army as a nurse the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. They don’t make them like that anymore.
  • Speaking of history and Chicago natives, if you are on Twitter you should follow Michael Beschloss, a historian who tweets regularly some amazing historical pictures. Even if you are not a history buff you will surely find some of them interesting.
  • I have been a minivan owner for over a year now. It is such a damn functional vehicle. Special thanks to the fine folks at Silko Honda for making the buying experience so enjoyable!
  • Bob Mould will be performing at Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion on June 23 as park of their Downtown Sound: New Music Mondays series. I missed seeing him at Riot Fest last year and can’t wait to catch his powerful performance in a few weeks.
  • My friend Lee is still going strong with his Market Outlook blog. If you are a financial type, you may get some value out of this, as it does run a bit too technical for my capacity.
  • I was a little surprised when I saw the proofs of my daughter’s school photos and they had a solid green background. It turns out that the photography studio is employing chroma key to then allow us to select a custom background for the photo. Where this is unique, sadly the choices of backgrounds left much to be desired.
  • It is possible in the SQL Server Management Studio to change the default of 200 rows for editing to an unlimited amount. This post explains how to easily change the number of rows from 200 Thanks to my good friend Alex for finding this and letting me know about it..
  • Whenever I think of Bob Mould and the band he was with in the 80’s, Husker Du, I can’t not think about their performance on NBC’s Today Show in the mid 80’s before they broke up. Why? Watch this video on YouTube of Bryant Gumbel interviewing Bob Mould and notice the puzzled look on Bob’s face to Gumbel’s questions – clearly he did no research on the band before he asked these questions! You can follow the link or watch the video embedded below.

This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.

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Odiogo Reads The Hot Iron To You

By Mike Maddaloni on Tuesday, April 08, 2014 at 09:09 PM with 0 comments

odiogo logoWhere most of you reading this post from The Hot Iron blog are looking at the text on various computing devices, and a few of you may be using screen reading software to convert the words on the screen to speech, did you know anyone reading could have this and every other post read to you?

For years, going back as far as the earliest posts, the ability to listen to my blog posts has existed, but for some reason I didn’t promote is much as I should have. As there’s no time like the present, allow me to introduce to you The Hot Iron read to you by odiogo.

Odiogo is a service that converts text to speech into an audio file and distributes the files in MP3 format. You can bookmark this page and listen to the audio for the last 10 posts. There is also an RSS feed which you can subscribe to in your favorite RSS feed reader and podcast player.

Odiogo started as a free service, changing to a paid service model last year with an exception to non-commericial blogs. As I have yet to be able to retire to the Cayman Islands from the money I (don’t) make here, I have been able to keep the transcription of these posts, as everything else here, free.

Odiogo uses a digital voice to read posts. One major reason why I added it was because it was able to convert “Maddaloni” very well! Typically an audio version of a podcast is available within an hour or so of when it was posted to the site.

Along with writing this post, I have made the link to the odiogo page much more prominent in the sidebar of the site. I also invite you to listen to one of the audio transcriptions and let me know what you think of it. Have you already added it to your podcast app? Will you never listen to it again? Feel free to share your opinion in the comments below.

This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.

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CentUp Offers A Unique Profit Model For Writers

By Mike Maddaloni on Wednesday, March 05, 2014 at 11:54 PM with 5 comments

How much would you pay to read this blog post?

CentUp logo

Ok, I hope you are still with me and not rolling on the floor in laughter. In all seriousness, I am asking the question – how much would you pay to read this blog post, or any blog post for that matter, here on The Hot Iron? No, I am not going to put up a paywall and start charging people to read here as I don’t believe in such a thing.

As it takes time to come up with ideas, write them, edit them, come up with some original visual to go with them and post them to the site, that time is some value to me. That being said, I do not do this for direct financial gain. Where I do enjoy doing so, getting a little something in return can’t hurt. And for good measure, how about help a charity in the process?

What I just described in the last few sentences is the idea behind CentUp, a service which has been around for almost a year, which provides a button – similar to a social sharing button – where you can contribute a few cents to a few dollars to a content writer directly on their site. If you scroll to the bottom of this post at The Hot Iron you will see a CentUp button below the row of social media sharing buttons, so I can speak to CentUp with first-hand experience.

Click a Button, Help a Writer and a Charity

The end-user experience of CentUp is very straightforward, and its elegance comes from its simplicity, as you can see in the embedded Vine video above. If you cannot see the video, you can view the video of me pressing the CentUp button at Vine. You simply click on the CentUp button on a Web page or blog post that you would like to give to (or pay to or contribute to or whatever term you deem appropriate). Half of whatever amount you choose will go to the publisher, and half goes to a charity selected by the publisher from a list of charities affiliated with CentUp.

To use the button, you need an account with CentUp. If you click on the button and don’t have an account, you can sign-up on their Web site, put funds in your account, then log in and contribute. As I have the button on my site, I have an account with CentUp, and whenever I see the button and providing I liked what I read, I will give at least 10 cents to a publisher. If you’re thinking, “not another account to setup,” read on as you’ll learn more of the value a CentUp account delivers.

All clicks of the CentUp button on The Hot Iron are shared between myself and the Women With Drive Foundation, a great organization who provides women with transportation means to get to their jobs. I truly did not do them justice with that boiled-down description and I encourage you to visit their Web site for more information. There are a number of charities that content publishers can choose from and this list has expanded over the last year I have used CentUp.

The Point Is Not Early Retirement

By so far earning under a dollar per blog post, I am not considering CentUp part of my overall retirement strategy. But that is not why I use CentUp. First and foremost, I believe there is plenty of content out there on the Internet that is of value. This includes blogs, news sites, and Web sites in general. That being said, I or anyone else is not going to go through the process of registering for every site out there and paying some amount of money for content of what quality I really don’t know until I explore and read it.

In other words, if I read something and find value in it, I can offer payment for it, a true value-for-value model.

CentUp offers a one-stop payment method for Web content. I don’t need all of those accounts and logins and passwords, and sharing my credit card information all over the place. I also don’t need large sums of money to register for varying content. If I like something, I can give them a little bit of money. If it is good content, many people will do that. Right next to the button is how much money has been given so far, which is a transparent way to see how potentially popular and relevant the content may be. CentUp is a simple model that makes sense, and one I have embraced.

There is no fee to join, and adding the button to your blog or site is technically straightforward. You can tag an entire site or individual pages or posts on a blog. Again I am not doing CentUp the best justice they deserve, and I encourage you to explore the CentUp site for more information and if you have any questions on it conceptually or technically.

Unique Community of Content

There are several dozen sites now using CentUp and that number grows whenever I check back on the site. CentUp has taken advantage of this collection of content and has built a community of writers and publishers, including a newsletter of curated content on a regular basis. I have now started to subscribe to many of their RSS feeds of these blogs and sites to read their content directly. They recently added a reader app to their site within your account, but I still prefer my RSS reader for aggregating all of my content.

Do you use CentUp? Have I piqued your interest in it? Would you avoid it like I avoid Facebook? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and feel free to ask any questions you may have about CentUp as I may be able to help, or someone from CentUp may even respond themselves as they are readers as well.

This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.

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What I Learned This Week For January 31 2014

By Mike Maddaloni on Saturday, February 01, 2014 at 11:11 AM with 0 comments

screenshot of Chicago Grid

Though a day late, hopefully you will find useful at least 1 thing I learned this past week, as collected on the back of a flyer for VHS to DVD media conversion.

  • Though every media outlet and their grandmother in the Windy City reported on the demise of Chicago Grid by Wrapports, the publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper, nobody has noticed the Grid Web site is still up-and-running, at least in part. I only found this out as I was still subscribed to their RSS feed, and after several days a daily summary was again appearing. Though I shared this several times this past week with media outlets in the city via Twitter, nobody else seems to be talking about the ghost RSS feed or seems to care.
  • If you read any book, especially children’s stories, through the lens of the late Dr. Sigmund Freud, you will never read one the same way again, or may not want to read one at all.
  • When you use a service on a daily basis and never even think twice about its quality or reliability, that is not a good thing, that is a great thing. It also probably explains why I haven’t blogged about my great experience with Phone.com over the almost year I have been with them for my home phone service. I need to do something about that.
  • Beverly Hills, California got its name from Beverly, Massachusetts, namely its Beverly Farms section. Now I have been to both communities, and I couldn’t think of any 2 places that could be further opposites of each other.
  • When I tell people I am from Massachusetts, the next thing they say is that I don’t have a Boston accent. When I go onto explain to them my roots are in the western part of the state, where they use all 26 letters of the alphabet and put them in the right place. For as many times as I state that, it really doesn’t resonate with people, so I thought I’d let the good Dr. Westchesterson explain it better than I possibly could with his video Western Mass. – it is embedded below or watch it on YouTube. I can’t think of a better way to end one month and begin another!

This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.

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Controlling Your Own Destiny With Technology, Revisited

By Mike Maddaloni on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 11:25 PM with 2 comments

Over 5 years ago I wrote here on The Hot Iron about controlling your own destiny or controlling as much of it as possible. If you read (or re-read) the article, I was looking at this topic mostly from the point-of-view of working with external technology vendors and what happens when one doesn’t live up to expectations or even shuts down.

photo of Mike grabbing a phone, symbolizing controlling your tech destiny

Fast-forward to 2014, and my lens on this topic has changed dramatically. Where then I was talking about control you had over external entities, now I am thinking of my needs and my information and if I even need external entities at all.

As time goes by businesses online come and go, or in some cases specific services from those businesses. From GeoCities to Posterous to Nokia Ovi to you name it, one day something you are using is gone the next, and hopefully you don’t lose tangible assets – e.g. data, photos, documents, etc. – in the process. Granted losing sleep, your temper or clumps of hair are collateral damage of this type of situation.

Add to this the overall uncertainty of technology and business, not to mention the ever-changing terms of services from vendors that may change to your disadvantage, or truly not knowing what is “behind the curtain” with a service or who or what has access to it, you may end up in a situation fast where you need to quickly change course.

So what do you do? Where every situation is unique, I’d like to share the path I am taking these days when it comes to online services.

Tell me what you want, what you really, really want

In short, that whole “goals” thing again! Having a goal, purpose, mission statement or random scribbles on a napkin can help guide you through the choices you make, In addition to the goal, think about other controllable factors, such as budget, timeline and how much time you have to invest initially as well as on-going. These factors can also influence your decision, no matter the goal.

Once you have gone through the goals and review process, and have made choice, pat yourself on the back, then plan for what happens if you have to make another change. As this change could occur next week or in the next decade, you don’t need a detailed, point-by-point plan, but you do need some information, such as contact, license, login and how you are using or customized the service. From there, determine how and to what extent you can extract data or information from the vendor or service, both for a final move or on a regular basis for off-site storage.

The Path of a Service Change

A couple of years back, after my several times a day ritual of reading what was new in the world in my RSS reader, Google Reader, I started to think about how I was reading, not what, and if there was a better way.

Google Reader, for those who don’t know, “was” a free RSS feed aggregator and reader from the search giant. It was a very popular service, but one that was slow to innovate. Despite this, I had over 200 RSS feeds subscribed to thru Google Reader, and it was my primary source for news and information, both on the world around me as well as technology, sports, and other topics of interest.

What I realized was quite simple – Google, or anyone who had access to the data stored in the Google Reader service, knows everything I read. Everything.

The more I thought about this, the more my decision became clear. There must be another way for me to aggregate and read RSS feeds where I have control of my destiny – the software, the service and most importantly the information. As I searched I found a variety of hosted services and software I could run myself. After some analysis and a personal recommendation from my good friend John Morrison, I went with Fever and have never looked back.

Fever is a self-hosted RSS reader developed by Shaun Inman. For just 1 person running the entire operation, Fever is a quality product. It is a paid license and is probably the best US$30 I have ever spent. With Fever I could get the same features I got from Google Reader, with a much more stylish Web interface, including a mobile-optimized experience for the iPhone’s Safari browser. It has a “hot” topic feature that I have never used and really can’t talk to, for the main functionality has suited me perfectly.

My migration from Google Reader to Fever meant installing the latter on a Web hosting service I use, then migrating the feeds from Reader to Fever. This step, though very straightforward, requires some knowledge of how a Web site with a database is setup and configured. For migrating the feeds, I could have automated the process and extracted all feeds and uploaded them into Fever. However I chose a manual process as I had not really taken a close look at all of the feeds I was subscribed to, and as a result I culled the collection by about 50 feeds, many which were no longer feeding any content at all.

In mid-2013, Google shut down its Reader service, causing an uproar from many, but not from me. By that point, I had been off of Reader for over a year. Google gave a long lead time to switch to any other service, which is now always the case. That being said, having control of the service means you own the information as well as how you access it.

Always Looking

As new methods, products and service become available, it is important to spend some time evaluating services. Reading and research alone are not enough, a stalking with friends and colleagues also help expose you to options as well as first-hand accounts of their utility.

Where in the past I have used services like Google Reader, Basecamp, Blogger and Google Calendar, today I am using Fever, ActiveCollab, ExpressionEngine and ownCloud respectively. I plan to talk more about some of these services in the future. But this is my list now, and it is subject to change without much advanced notice!

Have you yourself changes services or rolled your own, or is it something you don’t see yourself doing at all? I welcome your thoughts and questions in the comments of this post.

This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.

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LinkedIn Shutting Down Network RSS Feed On December 19, 2013 To My Dismay

By Mike Maddaloni on Monday, December 16, 2013 at 09:56 PM with 5 comments

For as many great major and incremental changes LinkedIn has made the business social networking service, they have eliminated a few services which I found resource rich and grew dependent on. One was LinkedIn Answers, a robust business question and answer section of the service which was shut down and disappeared earlier this year. Add to the list the RSS feed of network updates, which a few days ago I was informed it is going away as of the end of this week on December 19.

The following is an image of the email message I received from LinkedIn.

screenshot of LinkedIn Network RSS feed email

The following is the text of the email message I received from LinkedIn.

Dear Mike,

At LinkedIn, we strive to provide a simple and efficient experience for members so we continually evaluate how our current products and features are being used.

This sometimes means we remove a feature so we can focus our resources on building the best products.

We'll be retiring the LinkedIn Network RSS Feed on Dec. 19th. All of your LinkedIn updates and content can still be viewed on LinkedIn, or through the LinkedIn mobile app.

Please visit the Help Center for more information about the LinkedIn Network RSS Feed retirement.

Thank you,

For some time now I have been subscribed to the RSS feed of my network updates. If you use LinkedIn, this is the information on its home page, which shows updates to your connection’s profiles as well as articles they have shared, groups they have joined, if they have a new connection, etc. This would allow me to see each and every update in my growing network, which was valuable to see where people were moving and information they were sharing. It was also much easier to read, as I could scan the headlines of these changes and posts, and click on anything I wanted more information on.

In other words, the network RSS feed was simple and efficient. But wait, isn’t that the same reason why LinkedIn gave for killing it?

If you couldn’t guess I love RSS!

It goes without saying that I love RSS as it is the primary way I keep informed. RSS is not just for blogs, as I get it for news, weather, sports, events, and networking information. Of course the networking information will decrease as a result of LinkedIn eliminating the network RSS feed.

Using my RSS reader of choice, Fever, I am able to aggregate all of the above information and then some. In the case of LinkedIn, I feel because of the RSS feed I am visiting their site more often, and in the process viewing the banner ads they are selling, not to mention good old-fashioned networking. Did I mention I am viewing the banner ads more often as a result of RSS?

Business decisions for business networking

My guess is I am one of a small minority of people who actually subscribe to the RSS feed, and as a result they are simply turning off the functionality. LinkedIn promoted the RSS feed, complete with the orange RSS icon, at the top of the network updates list. I can’t remember the last time I have seen this. As I have seen little uproar from others about the cancelling of this service, maybe that minority is, as I’d say in Boston, wicked small?

In addition, by controlling the display of network updates, they have the ability to offer more information and services, such as sponsored updates. I have noticed these on the site but not in my RSS feed. Of course to add these to the feed would cost money and resources, and from their message, this is something the new-publicly traded business does not want to do.

RSS is still not dead, #VIVARSS

In the end, after the dust settles from the nuclear winters, it will be just the cockroaches and RSS. Why? Well, as for RSS, it is open and distributed, does not rely on a continuous network connection to work, and is very simple to read and process. After Google killed its Reader RSS aggregator, many wondered if RSS was dead technology. Where it may not be the shiny new object on the Internet that it was, it is a core service that can easily be adopted and utilized, and that in itself makes it valuable.

Did the LinkedIn Network RSS feed shutdown impact you? Did you even know it existed? Share your thoughts in the comments of this post.

This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.

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How I Took An Idea And Made It A Reality

By Mike Maddaloni on Sunday, November 17, 2013 at 10:46 PM with 0 comments

image of The State of Their Web SiteWith all the ideas and events swirling through the Windy City during the recent Chicago Ideas Week, one of those thoughts was what I would like to share here, how I took an idea I had and made it a reality. Though this story took place a few years back, it is still very vivid in my mind.

My idea was to create a piece of marketing collateral for my Web consulting business. In this case, I could leave it would a prospect client, allow it to be downloaded from the Web and simply put it out there in printed format, the last 2 cases would be for anyone who wanted it. Depending on where the prospect was, it could server anywhere from a calling card, functional tool or a call to action to contact me.

Origin of the Idea

In my Web consulting business there were 2 categories for prospects – those who did not have a Web site and those who had one and were looking to possibly redesign and/or rebuild it. Where there were many common elements between the 2 for the sales process, when talking with someone who already had a Web site there was always a level of ambiguity to what exactly they needed or wanted to do and to what extent.

To try to streamline this process in a non-intimidating way, I thought of a form of checklist, where someone could read off the list to see if they had any or all of the items incorporated into their Web site, or at least to pose the questions in the event they didn’t know. In my mind’s eye I had a partial vision of the checklist. I saw it as paper-based, as likely someone would read a question from it then look on their Web site on their computer’s monitor for the answer. I wasn’t sure if there should be a score of some form or not. I was very sure I did not want it to be too technical and I did want it targeted to the business owner.

As for what would be in the checklist I had some ideas, but this was something I wanted to put time into over a period of time, then organize them into the checklist.

Like Rodney Dangerfield’s Joke Bag

The process of collecting the items for the checklist had me recalling a story I once heard about the late-great comedian Rodney Dangerfield. Before he got into comedy, he was a salesman and would write jokes on pieces of paper and put them into a duffle bag. When the bag was full, he had the material he would use on stage.

My approach was similar, yet different, as my duffle bag was digital – consisting of folders on my hard drive and in my email program. The ideas I captured varied from text files to links to other Web sites to email newsletters, where some of these items were direct ideas and others either categories or thoughts. I let this collection come together over a period time (exactly how long I do not remember). Then one day I decided to start the process to build the checklist.

Molding the Ideas into the Finished Product

As the collection process had elapsed some time and I didn’t remember everything I had put together, I decided I would go through them, one-by-one and begin curating a list. This was facilitated with the help of my whiteboard. As I read an item, I checked if it I already had it on the board, and if not I added it in some semblance of order. When all was done, this is what my whiteboard looked like:

photo of the whiteboard creative process

At first glance, it is a mess. But it was the first pass at the organization of the items and ideas. Needless to say it was worthy of a picture!

From here, I started typing up the ideas, and in some cases I would combine like or similar ones. As I typed them up, I erased them from the whiteboard. At the end of this process hundreds of files and emails were in a clean list, just as clean as the whiteboard now was.

The next step was to boil the list down to a manageable, 1-page list, with the top, most important items on it. This was done over several days, as I would look at the list for a while, then revisit it later with a fresh brain. In the end, I finalized a list of 34 items and broke them down into 3 categories – business, content and design. I also came up with some copy to describe the checklist to put on the reverse side of it. At this point I felt really good about the checklist. Well, except for the name of it.

(Queen’s) Landing on the Right Name

photo of Queen’s Landing

The original name I had for the check was, and get ready for it:

The Web Site Redesign Self-Assessment Checklist

Yes, it sucked. Here I spent all of this time and produced what I felt was a quality product, yet the name would surely be a turn-off, and in some cases scare off people. I decided to put the completed checklist aside as I needed some more quality time to get the name right.

On a Friday evening after work, I went for a walk along Lake Michigan. Armed with a good cigar, I just needed to clear my head after a busy week and stretch my legs. As I was strolling by Belmont Harbor, the topic of the checklist name came front in center in my head. I recall shaking said head and saying to myself, “why don’t I have a better title for this” and the gears in my head started to crank.

As I headed south along the lakefront path, I started decomposing the goal of the checklist. The thought process went something like, “it’s where your Web site is now… it’s a point in time… it’s the current state your Web site is in… wait, that’s it – it’s the State of your Web Site!”

I stopped where I was, at a place along the lake called Queen’s Landing and called my office line and left myself a voicemail message on the name so I wouldn’t forget my inspiration. When I got back from my walk I edited the Word document with the name and then registered the domain name for it.

The State of the State Then and Now

Upon completing the checklist I setup a download page for it and promoted it here on The Hot Iron and elsewhere. I printed copies of it to give people in person and to bring to events as a leave-behind. Although the list never was mentioned on the cover of the Wall Street Journal, it would get a handful of downloads each week and I got good feedback on it from prospect clients and current clients as well.

Now almost 3 years after I created the checklist, it needs to be updated a bit, which would come probably after a new brainstorming session on it. That being said, there are many core concepts on the checklist that are still very relevant today as-is.

See for yourself – download a copy of The State of Your Web Site here right now!

Ideas, Visited

Ideas are just that, intangible thoughts. Without any action, they will remain in that state, floating out there. I know, as The Hot Iron is full of ideas I have had over the years. Where I have acted on many of ideas over the years, I am very proud of the creative process I have just shared here.

Your thoughts – and ideas – on the checklist and the process which led to it are welcome in the comments.

This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.

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Meeting People Is Believing In People In The Workforce

By Mike Maddaloni on Monday, June 24, 2013 at 09:50 PM with 0 comments

In this hyper-connected, telecommuting, Internet-enabled, outsourced, offshored, cloud, remote-working world, it is not uncommon to never meet people you work with. In some companies it has become almost the norm, and it is only rare exceptions where people see even a live video stream of someone, let alone meet them in the real world. For many people, this is ok.

As you may have guessed from the intonation of the previous paragraph, I am not one of those people. If anything, I make the extra effort to go out of my way to meet people whenever possible. It’s something I learned early on in my career, and it has worked not only to my advantage, but projects I have worked on over the years as well.

To Utah Or Bust

Back in the late 90’s I was consulting on what I would call the most unique, fun, learning and dynamic project of my career. Put it like this – I had over an hour’s drive each way to work and it never even phased me! Where I could write many posts on that project in itself, the project was my first end-to-end Web and service project, and eventually I was the manager of the entire technical environment.

But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and in this case, the client was closing their business unit I was working at and my project was sold to another company. That company had its own development and technical resources, and my job was to transition everything from knowledge to software to hardware to the new company. To add to the logistics, the new company was outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, where I and the project was south of Boston, over 2,000 miles away.

After the client manager informed me of the changes in the project he paused and asked me what was the first thing I needed to do for the move.

I said, “I need to book a flight to Utah.”

When the client manager pressed me for details, my response was straightforward and convincing. We needed to first ship the software and data to the new company, all over the Internet, and set it up on temporary servers. Then once done we’d literally pack and ship the servers to them, then move the data back onto the old servers. Not only had none of us – the current client, new company, or me – done something like this before, but it was 1997 and not many had done something like this period.

Therefore meeting the staff at the new company that would be on the receiving end of this was crucial. It was my job to ensure that the move went smoothly and we were up and running right away. I had to know what – and who – was on the other end and that they shared my commitment to the project, were capable of working on it, and if there were issues, they shared my dedication to resolving them.

Meeting and Believing

So I booked a flight from Boston to Salt Lake City and spent a week south of the city with the team. Following our initial meet and greet, we got down to business, including touring their facilities, reviewing the project plan and made some changes based on their feedback, and discussed the transition and longer term for the project, namely as I would not be a part of it any longer. We also had lunch together and a couple of dinners and got to know each other better, along with sharing stories of past tech projects. As my flight took off for my return trip to Boston, I felt very good and confident the project would be extremely successful.

When I returned to the client the following week, the client manager asked me how it went. I first showed him a list of everybody’s name, email address, and work, home, mobile and pager numbers. Needless to say he was pleased as I went into further details on the trip and overall plan.

In the end, the transition went off smoothly. We had a few issues, such as the data transfer taking longer than anticipated, but in the end everything was up and running over the course of a weekend. The following week there was an issue with one of the temporary servers on the other end, but I worked with their team and reported back the status to the client’s client to ensure everything was under control, and soon after I reported the good news we were back up and running.

Following the transition of the server environment came the transfer of the software development, and my role on the project came to an end. Where it was bittersweet for me, I was more concerned for the people who worked for the client who were losing their jobs. Another project for me was followed by a job change and onto even more adventures.

To this day I strive to meet the people I work with in person. What worked well in 1997 seems even more important sixteen years later.

This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.

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Why RSS Still Matters Despite What Google Does #VIVARSS

By Mike Maddaloni on Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 12:42 PM with 2 comments

In past posts here on The Hot Iron I have talked about Real Simple Syndication or RSS. Most recently in a post titled “iGoogle Shutdown And The Demise Of The Personal Home Page” I talked about how subscribing to various RSS feeds is replacing my iGoogle home page.

I Love RSS @thehotiron #VIVARSS

Since that post a major announcement was made this week that Google is dumping its free offering of an RSS feed aggregator, Google Reader, as announced on its official blog and subsequent post on its Google Reader blog. The service will be ending on July 1, 2013, just short of 4 months away. What is interesting is that Google gave a 16-month notice when it announced it was shuttering the also-free iGoogle service. Observing online sentiment over the announcement, there was more emotion over this than the news of the day before of the selection of a new pope!

So why the frustration? For me personally, as I switched to Fever last year, losing the service won’t impact my personal consumption of information via RSS feeds. Before I get into it I’ll offer up an explanation of what RSS is – if you are already in the know you can skip it or go ahead and read it to critique my approach to defining it.

So What Is RSS?

For those who are reading this please note I will not try to get too technical, rather explain the process. RSS is a method of informing of new content published, It is achieved by posting some or all of that content and related meta data, links, inages, etc. to a data file. This data file has a particular structure as it is formatted in the XML language (I won’t get into XML here, but if you must follow this link to learn about XML). That data file is placed on a Web server for anyone to access or subscribe to with a public Web URL (the file can also be private too, but I digress). Whenever content is added or any is changed or deleted, the publisher of the content can update the RSS file. As this file can change frequently, it is referred to as an RSS feed, as in feeding new content to the consumer of it.

The RSS feed in itself is not the only place where the power of RSS lies. Software, called an RSS feed aggregator or an RSS reader processes these RSS feeds that are subscribed to and organizes them to present the content to the consumer. There are a variety of RSS feed readers out there, from installed software, mobile apps, Web services (like Google Reader), as well as Web browsers and email clients. The reader also keeps track of what has been read, so that when the RSS feed is updated, it will show new vs. old content, among other features as linking to the source content on its Web site and social media and email sharing functionality. This concludes this RSS overview – let me know if it is clearer to you, or clear as mud.

Now Back To Our Story

Of all of the RSS readers out there, one of the most popular has been Google Reader, It’s power has been in its simplicity and robust formatting and sharing features, plus the fact it was from Google and integrated well into your Google account and that it was a free Web service. So when it was announced that what may be the most widely used RSS reader is going away in a few months, there was much shock and dismay, not only from people who use Google Reader to consume content but from content publishers as well, as an important channel may go away if those consumers of content do not find an alternative to Google Reader.

So why would content publishers be upset? They are still publishing the content so people can still seek it out to read it. First, I’ll give a perspective to who all of these publishers are. When one thinks of RSS feeds, they often only think of blogs and news. Most all blogging software includes out-of-the-box the ability to generate an RSS feed or multiple feeds, and typically you have to make an effort to turn this off. Many believe – including myself – that RSS feeds plus the ease of publishing have led to the popularity and success of blogs. News Web sites are a perfect match for RSS as they are constantly publishing content. This is why most sites not only offer 1 feed but many have a feed for each section of the site or content categories, such as breaking news.

Beyond blogs and news, many Web sites and information sources offer RSS feeds. A quick look at my own personal RSS feeds show job postings and news from company Web sites, weather forecasts, LinkedIn status updates for all of my connections, sports scores, discount shopping offers, Twitter searches and of course blogs and news.

As I talked about in the previously-mentioned iGoogle post, for me RSS is my main source for information. Moving from Google Reader to Fever has not diminished this at all. However what many fear is that people won’t seek out one of the many alternatives to Google Reader out there, and it could signal that RSS is no longer a viable technology or medium, just because Google is dropping Reader.

RSS Is Simply Not In Google’s Future

This past week’s announcement from Google is not the only activity they have taken against RSS. It has been slowly dismantling and marginalizing its FeedBurner service, which is an RSS “enhancer" providing analytics like subscriber counts, the ability to subscribe to a feed by email and other features to a “burned” feed. FeedBurner has always been a free offering from Google since it bought the eponymous Chicago-based start-up several years ago. Though it integrated inline advertising thru its AdSense service, it never really innovated the overall FeedBurner service or further integrated it like it has done with other acquisitions. Even FeedBurner's look and feel has barely changed over the years.

Recently Google announced it was shutting off the FeedBurner API as well as AdSense for RSS feeds. As a result there have been rumors abound that Google will shutdown FeedBurner altogether. Despite this Google has been silent on these rumors. Now with the announcement of Google Reader, people are biting their lip waiting for the other shoe to drop, and looking to other services like FeedBlitz to replace FeedBurner and keep similar functionality along with keeping their RSS feed live.

RSS Still Not A Household Term

By what I have described here regarding the power and simplicity of RSS, you would think that everyone is using it. However that is not the case. RSS, though a free open standard, has had an image problem in my opinion. It’s as though it’s too “techy” for the average person and as a result has not had universal adoption. Though it has a familiar orange icon and browsers and email clients now process feeds, it is not a completely seamless process to subscribe to a feed. Other than Google, not many large service providers with anywhere near the same name recognition have offered RSS readers. RSS has an identity crisis, with emphasis on the latter word ‘crisis.’

What’s Next For RSS?

RSS icon Just because Google Reader is going away, RSS is not. And in reality, it can’t! As it’s an open standard, as long as someone is publishing an RSS feed file and someone is processing it, RSS is more than alive and well.

Over the past few days I have seen a lot of activity online from those looking for alternative RSS readers such as Fever that I use. A am also sure that entrepreneurs are coming up with innovative alternatives, and I wouldn’t be surprised if another major player makes a goodwill PR move into RSS feed reading as well. On another note, I predict FeedBurner will be eventually shutdown by Google, though that is a whole other blog post on the impact and recovery from that!

#VIVARSS! Do you agree? If so or not, I welcome your comments to this post. And if you do comment, please indicate whether or not you subscribe to The Hot Iron’s RSS feed.

This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.

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Technical People Need Management And Leadership Too

By Mike Maddaloni on Friday, October 19, 2012 at 03:14 PM with 1 comments

A recent article on the Kansas City Star’s Web site by Diane Stafford titled, “Why young achievers don’t stick around” caught my attention, in addition to the fact it was promoted in a weekly LinkedIn email. The topic of team building, motivating, mentoring and leading your team is one that means a lot to me. The article referenced a Harvard Business Review study and research on exit interviews, both of which talked about how young workers will only stay around a company as long as they have opportunities for growth, training and to receive mentorship. Otherwise, they will leave and go elsewhere.

When I read this, my reaction was, “duh!”

photo of train station entrance in Chicago

The same conclusions of these sources are something I have experienced numerous times in my own career in high technology – as an employee myself, as a manager and as a colleague of other managers who lament over the loss of people on their teams. After reading this, my own beliefs and philosophy in management and leadership were reaffirmed, and I am writing this to discuss this topic and observations I have made over my career.

You Hire A Person, Not Just Their Skillset

Allow me to repeat that, you hire a PERSON, not just their skillset. As obvious as this may seem to some, time and time again I see recruiters and hiring managers looking just at what skillset the person has and how immediate they can contribute to the company, team and bottom like. Of course this is important, however they often overlook the entire person – who they are, what types of experiences they have had in the past, what they do outside of work and what their goals and interests are. The individuals who overlook these important attributes often lack vision themselves, or the manager is more interested in their own goals rather than those of the team.

Many managers are looking to simply make their jobs easy for themselves, expecting their team to just “git ‘er dun” without any regard for their team’s wellbeing and growth. A perfect example of this is the job titles that are prevalent in many Web technology jobs, which include qualifiers like “rock star,” “guru,” and “ninja.” With labels like these employers are looking for the best, but are they also willing to give their best back to the employee, with a positive venue of personal and professional growth?

The True Cost Of Developing Your Team

When management looks at what it takes to give their employees what they need not only to succeed but to grow, they are always fixated on the dollar figure. Many companies have cut back on employee training and other growth opportunities with the justification that once the employee gets this benefit, they will just leave for a new job. Granted that can happen, but they may still leave if the opposite happens and they don’t get growth and mentorship in your company. Where you may have saved on training, conference and time taken for mentoring, you are now spending It on recruiting, recruiter fees and the time it takes to review, interview and vet the replacement employees. In many cases those costs are actually higher but not realized as such as they may be spread over several departments where staff development may only apply to the department they are in.

You Must Believe For It To Happen

In order for people who work for a company to get the growth and attention they crave, management must believe in it. Those managers who do are what I truly call leaders. Sure, some companies may say they do, but if it is not marked against a manager when his staff doesn’t get these opportunities, it truly it not a culture that believes its success is tied to the growth and success of its people.

Like Anything Growth And Mentorship Must Be Defined

In most businesses if it is not defined it will not happen. The same goes for developing your team. To whatever degree you want to do it, write it down, include it in the employee manual and promote the heck out if it. Even small teams can offer budgeted dollars for formal training classes or to attend seminars or conferences. This can include covering either the entry fees and/or the time off from the office. An added feature can be that this budget can be exceeded when the staff is presenting or speaking at such events, where they are a representative – and brand promoter – of your company.

When it comes to mentoring, it should be stated what and how the company looks out for its staff, and what defined meetings or metrics are in place. The challenge here is that not all managers may have it in them to be mentors. In that case, training for mentors can be implemented or mentors from outside the firm who have a vested interest in it (e.g. investors, board members) can be assigned to staff. What better way can there be to ensure of the company’s success than working with its people at all levels?

Strive For Action Not Perfection

If your company doesn’t have a growth or mentorship program or you are a new business, then just start one. Define, review it and refine it with 360 degree feedback from those on the giving and receiving end of the program.

Career Growth and mentorship have always been things I have strived for as a manager. As a small business of 1 person I admit I have not always been the best boss to my 1 employee – me. But if you are to grow, you need to consider the time and cost investment in your people along with everything else you do to bring the on-board your firm.

Agree? Not agree? Not sure? I welcome your comments and questions.

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This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni, Founder and President of Web consulting firm Dunkirk Systems, LLC.

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