Brian Shaler

Occasionally Interesting

Gravity is for chumps

Archive for the ‘Social Media’ Category

R.I.P. Kerplunk 2008-2009

A few years ago, I put together an alpha version of an AIR-based Twitter desktop client, called “Kerplunk!” It deserved its alpha status. It was little more than a proof of concept, focusing solely on displaying a new way of looking at and interacting with streams of tweets. I ran out of time and momentum on the project in mid-2009 and never got around to updating it while the Twitter API evolved (OAuth, id_str, etc).

If I had that primitive alpha version of Kerplunk! today, it would still be able to improve my Twitter experience. Twitter has only gotten noisier, and Kerplunk was the only application to provide ways of suppressing certain types of content—craptweets—either partially or entirely. To deemphasize craptweets, Kerplunk! would simply reduce the screen real estate available for that tweet and truncate it after a certain number of characters. If it turned out to be interesting, despite tricking Kerplunk! into thinking it was crap, you could still spot it and expand it. Simple, yet amazeballs. I miss it.

What’s more, Kerplunk! was designed from Day Zero to go beyond Twitter (in fact, the core application included ZERO references to Twitter or tweets, aside from a command to download and install a plug-in called “Twitter”). You see, I don’t give a damn about tweets or Twitter. I care about what my friends are posting and sharing online, be it on Twitter, Facebook, blogs/RSS, etc.

While the prototype source code lay abandoned collecting dust, the idea and desire remained. The idea grew beyond Kerplunk!, though. Beyond a desktop application, at least. Since 2009, I’ve used my phone more and more to see what my friends are up to, probably up to 50% of my social media usage. I also came up with concepts that would benefit from my application to talk directly to another application, rather than communicating only through social network APIs.

The nice thing about ideas is that they can evolve and change entirely. Over the last 3 years, I’ve wanted different tools to solve different problems I had with my disparate social graph. Kerplunk! evolved into something else entirely. I’ll share what the new project is all about in a subsequent blog post. Stay tuned!

Act 3: The Landing


To catch you up on what the last couple months have been like for me, I cut loose and quit my job in June (Act 1). During July, I was in a state of free fall (Act 2), as I lined up meetings across the country and went to 6 cities in 4 weeks. Now (Act 3), I would like to talk about the landing.

What I did was radical. Perhaps even crazy. I couldn’t help but wonder while I was putting myself through this, “Am I crazy? Or brilliant? … Or both?”

What I did was crazy. I quit an excellent job, working for an awesome company in the bay area (they’re hiring!). I got to work from home. I reported to people who were results-oriented, not micro-managing. Flexible, fun, paid monthly travel, reasonable pay. I quit an excellent job.

The day after putting in my notice, I was driving to the office, listening to NPR. They were doing a segment on long-term unemployment—people who got laid off and have been looking for a job for over a year.

Gob: \

I had reached the point of no return and was confident I was moving in the right direction. Still, I felt a tremendous amount of doubt.

Crazy. I’ve never been good at saving money. I have always lived paycheck-to-paycheck. (I love direct deposit!)

I quit my job with minimal savings—a little bit of cash—and no customers lined up. I could have waiting until I had some money saved up (probably wouldn’t happen) or until I had a customer lined up (I turned down 2 offers before I was ready to take the plunge). What was the first thing I decided to do? Travel.

Crazy. I burned most of my runway capital on a three and a half week trip, hitting 6 cities coast-to-coast. I bought a netbook and my full-time job for my first month of un-/self-employment (I called it unemployment until I landed a paying gig) was emailing, scheduling, calling, and meeting. No code. I’m a programmer, and I didn’t write a single line of code for a month.

Or was I brilliant?

During my travels, I met up with a ton of people. Literally. Actually, “literally” would mean at least 20 tons. I was talking about data visualization all day every day for weeks. I met over coffee, food, drinks, and boardroom tables. I traveled in cars, taxis, buses, trains, planes, elevators, and escalators to see people.

By the numbers: I talked about data visualization with about 200 people. Those people were associated with at least 60 companies that would either be customers, partners, or simply providing referrals. Of those 60, I considered 40 to be prospects. From those 40 prospects, I could see 10-15 of them converting into paying customers. Of those 10-15 hot leads, I needed to find 1-3 that would ready to start work within a month. I was going broke. Fast.

Brilliant? I got home almost 6 weeks after I left to go to work (and put in my 2 weeks notice). After 4 full days at home, I was on a plane to Washington DC to start working on-site with my first client.

The numbers make sense. Given enough prospects, a certain percentage should convert into customers. So I guess the question is, “How was I able to meet with so many prospects?” My work is pretty specific. Data visualization. It’s a very tight niche. What does data visualization mean to companies? To some, it’s marketing. To others, it’s business intelligence or analytics. Most companies can benefit from it, but not many are in a position to invest in it.

“So how was I able to get so many prospects in such a tight niche?”

The full answer would require a series of blog posts. In summary, it’s about paying it forward, doing good for no reason, and investing time in meeting and helping people. It’s about ROI, and the return being indirectly linked to the investment. I spent years going to conferences, making friends with people in my industry. I spent years being involved with local tech community events. I spent years couch-surfing and developing strong friendships with people around the country I rarely see.

When I was in my state of free fall, my friends across the country were my parachute. I spent a month traveling across the country pulling the ripcord.

Thanks to my network of friends, I didn’t land on my face. I hit the ground running.

Activating Advocates

This is a topic that has been seeming more and more important to me, on a personal level. Everyone knows bad news travels far and fast while “good job” remarks are never heard ’round the world. The same goes with reputation and your (or your company’s) brand.

Relying on word-of-mouth, with this fact in mind, seems to be a risky proposition with limited ROI. Some people and companies seem to be able to pull it off wonderfully, though.

Part of what got me thinking about this was noticing how I sometimes become an advocate for companies or products I like. The best examples are for some of my favorite restaurants:

Four Peaks Brewery: I regularly tell people their Arizona Chicken Rolls are the best on the planet.
Chino Bandido: While hearing “Mexican/Asian Fusion” makes some people uneasy, their food is ridiculously flavorful — especially the carnitas and Jad Red chicken.
Firehouse Subs: It’s all in how they make it. When I start going on and on about toasted bread and steamed meat, people assume I’m a Firehouse Subs salesman. Try the Club on a Sub!

In these cases, the companies did nothing to provoke my advocacy for their products. All they did was have a spectacular product and be virtually unknown (in Four Peaks’ case, they’re not unknown, but that appetizer is). If everyone knew how great their food was, I wouldn’t be such a strong supporter. My reward for evangelizing their food is building a relationship with whomever I can convince to go. They try the food, like it, and recognize me as the person who told them about it.

Extracting the principles from that (extracting principles and over-analyzing things seems to be a hobby) and I see a huge problem for me trying to get my name out. Somehow, people got the impression I’m more well-known than I am. Perhaps it was James Archer’s “THE Brian Shaler” meme, or maybe people wrongly assumed that having a lot of Twitter followers means something.

I have actually heard people STOP themselves from spreading the word about something because I tweeted it. They somehow thought that when I spoke, *everyone* listened, and there was no need to say anything after that.

So, I appear to have two shortcomings: not enough reach, and overestimated reach. Together, they can be an impediment of my ambitions to reach many people with my work.

The title of this post probably implied I would talk about how to activate advocates. Instead, it’s merely a topic I have been pondering and a problem I have yet to find solutions to.

Holy Crap! Super Cheap Flights to PHX!

Southwest Airlines Deal

Book today or tomorrow (July 7 or July 8) for flights this fall (between September 9 and November 18) with Southwest Airlines, and you’re going to get a steal of a deal! Not all airports or dates have the deals they advertise, but most weekdays have options like La Guardia (NYC) to Phoenix for $90 and Florida to Phoenix for $90.

So here’s the deal.

There is a TON of stuff happening in Phoenix this fall, just before the end of that travel window. I HIGHLY recommend booking a flight to Phoenix around Nov 6 (Friday) thru Nov 15 (Sunday). There are several awesome events scheduled during that week (such as PodCampAZ 3 and AZ Entrepreneurship), and a few more are tentatively going to squeeze in (Like BIL Conference. There are also the usual weekly & monthly things happening that week: Creative Connect, Social Media Club Phoenix, Epic Tweet-Ups: #pfn, #evfn, etc., and more.

Not only will it be a prime time to hang out with the Phoenix tech community, the weather is amazing in Phoenix during November.

Remember, that deal with Southwest Airlines ends July 8!

Should I Start a “Mazda Movement”?

I got an email from the Ford Fiesta Movement campaign this morning:

Thanks for your interest in The Fiesta Movement! As you probably know by now, we received over 4,000 entries! We have been very busy culling through all of the submissions and the competition was stiff! We have finally chosen our 100 Fiesta Movement Agents and unfortunately we are not able to offer you one of the positions at this time.

In the end, Agents were chosen for a variety of reasons. In keeping with what we set out to do with the Movement, we wanted to make sure we did a thorough job of different kinds of Agents from across the US who spend time in a variety of social network channel. That being said, we had to spread our 100 Fiestas to everyone from bloggers, to YouTube stars, Twitterati, Flickr fiends and most importantly, some really engaging people who we thought would have a great story to tell if we let them. On top of that, we wanted our voice to stretch far and wide, so we made it a point to spread our Fiestas throughout as much of the country as possible.

However, there are still opportunities for you to get behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta and let us know what you think. As part of the Movement, we will be taking global Fiestas across the US for the next several months, stopping at key events and everyday locations to allow people to connect with the Movement & test drive the vehicles for themselves. For more information you can find a calendar with our whereabouts on (coming in early May), as well as the full content stream from the Movement.

Thanks again for your interest in the Fiesta Movement, we truly enjoyed and appreciated your submission.

– Fiesta Movement Mission Control

A few things to note:

“we received over 4,000 entries!”

Fiesta Submissions on YouTube

They asked applicants to submit a YouTube video and tag it “fiestamovement.” They chose their 100 agents from these 600 entries (less, actually, because not all videos tagged “fiestamovement” are application videos). The fiestamovement YouTube account had 413 application videos in its favorites list.

“we had to spread our 100 Fiestas to everyone from bloggers, to YouTube stars, Twitterati, Flickr fiends and most importantly, some really engaging people who we thought would have a great story to tell if we let them.”

I know I don’t have much reach on YouTube, but I think I’ve got at least a little bit of credibility when it comes to blogging and Twittering. And Flickr? Have you seen my automotive photos?

Ford Edge Crossover SUVFord Mustang ConceptHDR - Mazda MX-5Mazda CX-9 in motionVolkswagen Passat Wagon Grille
Mazda Nagare Conceptarchive0032006 Mazda MX-5 - Downtown Phoenix, AZPicture 078Mazda Nagare Concept

As for telling an engaging story, it’s very subjective. However, I think a fair share of the people who have been following me on Twitter for 2 years would say they do so because they think (and I know this because they tell me) I’m interesting, exciting, and/or funny. I’m spontaneous and I travel a lot. I meet tons of people. I personally think my ongoing story is a great one to tune in to.

“we wanted our voice to stretch far and wide, so we made it a point to spread our Fiestas throughout as much of the country as possible.”

I didn’t see any agents from Arizona. It looked like there were 10-20 agents from Southern California, though. To be fair, there was a little bit of spread to more obscure areas like Midwestern states.

Mazda Movement

Brian, quit your whining. If you’re so freakin’ interesting, why don’t you just get out there and do it anyway?

I’ve got the three C’s required to be an agent: a Car, a Computer, and a Camera/Camcorder.

I like my car. It’s very fun to drive. I don’t have to be given a free Mazda MX-5 to be willing to tell that to people. I’ll do it for the car.

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