Brian Shaler

Occasionally Interesting

Gravity is for chumps

Posts Tagged ‘Articles’

Why Should You Be Building A Personal Brand?

Personal branding is something very few people consider as an investment in their career. How do you get a more enjoyable or higher paying job? Education, portfolio, experience. Once you have enough of those, you can look for your ideal job, submit your resume, and stand a better chance than the rest at getting it.

Who benefits from a personal brand?

I commonly talk to people about the benefit of name recognition for entrepreneurs. If you start a business and thousands of people already know and trust you, your business will have an immediate kick-start customer base. In the web services industry, it is all about staying afloat until you hit critical mass and become profitable. The sooner you can do that, the better. With that in mind, the name recognition and established trust can have a significant impact on the likelihood of success of your business.

How does personal branding plug into the job-seeking paradigm?

While the entrepreneur discussion is very interesting to discuss, there is also great value in personal branding for working professionals.

I have learned this first hand while building a brand around my name during the last year. To help establish a reputation as a skilled developer, I worked on various weekend projects and released them to the public with my name attached. Some of the projects yielded tens of thousands of visitors while a couple even hit the 6 figure mark. Right now, it is remarkably difficult to find good or great Flash developers. Guess what happens when tens of thousands of people view a simple Flash tool you built. Some of them are likely to be business owners or managers that are in need of a Flash developer.

Obviously, the more you put your work and yourself out there, the more you will regarded as an expert on a topic. Also, the more your name is seen and discussed around the industry, the more job opportunities will come your way. From here, we can take a look at your situation from an economics perspective. If you are receiving job offers, especially in an industry that is lacking good workers, the supply and demand scale is tipped in your direction. The supply is you, which is constant, and the demand is the number of companies that want to hire you.

By establishing yourself in the industry and building your own personal brand, you put yourself in a position to choose from jobs that are seeking you rather than settling for which ever employer will accept your resume.

Phoenix Presents a Strong Offering of Panels for SXSW 2008

There is a new Valley poised to get some attention at SXSW 2008 — that of Phoenix, Arizona. Some of the brightest people in Phoenix’s interactive scene have submitted panel ideas for next year’s conference. This is a highlight of five highly intelligent individuals from the Phoenix area (plus an opportunity for some shameless self-promotion, which will be kept to a minimum). I met each of them during the last 1-2 years, and have followed their work enough to know that they each deserve my wholehearted recommendation.

Let’s dig in — alphabetically by last name.

Note: Please support these individuals by VOTING at panelpicker.sxsw.com. Your vote counts. Support these ideas, support Phoenix’s budding technology community.

James Archer
Scope Creep and Other Villains

Description: Are you a web design superhero? Then you’d better know your villains — Scope Creep, Needy Client, The Write-Off, and the rest of the sinister crew — and the secrets of how to defeat them!


James is the Project Management & Marketing Mastermind behind Forty, a well-known web design and branding agency.

He spoke at SXSW 2007 with an excellent presentation about building and managing a successful web development firm. This time around, he is going to present a humorous side to client relations with stereotypical traits that have forever annoyed web developers of all shapes and sizes. Obviously, he is also going to cover the serious side of the topic by discussing how to effectively handle these situations in a way that benefits you and your clients.

David Koontz
A Better Gun to Shoot Your Eye Out With

Description: Introducing the idea of applying the ideas made famous by Ruby on Rails (convention over configuration, strong MVC, good plugin system) to the context of game engines via the Railgun engine.


David is someone that I have only met on occasion, but I know him through several of my colleagues. He is a talented developer and looks to be one of the next big names in Ruby circles. If you have any interest in Ruby whatsoever, hearing what he has to say about Ruby development should be a top priority.

Aaron Post
A Day at the Web Factory

Description: Show and build awareness of GTD concepts for web companies. Through demonstration of your average day at the office, you will be able to see common mistakes and faults with how you or your team works.


Aaron Post (now part of the Forty team) is very well-known in Phoenix web development circles. He is one of the key organizers for Refresh Phoenix, which is the best group I have found in the area to meet the rockstar designers and developers of the [Phx]Valley. I would like to see Aaron gain more recognition nationwide, and SXSW is one of the best places to make that happen.

In the description, Aaron notes “common mistakes and faults”. While they may be common to many web companies, I think most people probably do not realize that it is an issue they are having. This is definitely a panel I see being beneficial for any web company looking to grease the cogs of the company clock.

Aaron Post
Clients are From Mars & Designers are From Venus

Description: How many times have we working with a client, narrowed down the project scope and get a signed contract only to have the client say “Oh so that is a widget, then what did I just pay for?” Or a potential clients calls asking for just a basic web site, nothing fancy, how much?


This will be an interesting discussion about communication. Clients often misinterpret, miscommunicate, and misunderstand even the most trivial web design tasks. I am looking forward to hearing Aaron’s perspective on how to overcome these situations.

Brian Shaler
Converging Web & Client Applications: The Growing-Pain-Killer

Description: Traffic surges on the Internet can topple newly popular web services, a common side-effect of success called “Growing Pains.” With today’s technology, web services can provide more functionality and consume fewer server resources by distributing the workload. This is an overview of technologies available and strategies to use.


While mostly technical, this presentation will be very useful for non-technical individuals. Learn how to add functionality, improve service responsiveness, and save on hardware costs.

Brian Shaler
Internet Celebrity: An Entrepreneur’s Ace in the Hole

Description: Name recognition can make the difference between reaching your market and sinking into oblivion. Trust is important, but nothing is more valuable to a fledgling start-up than a kick-start audience. By building a brand around your name, you can shed additional exposure on your next big idea.


I will be presenting industry analysis as well as metrics from my own experiments. Fascinating stuff.

Kimbro Staken
A Developer’s Cookbook to Leveraging Virtualization

Description: Virtualization is a trend that’s reforming the landscape of hosting and ISP’s but developers may not be aware of the benefits for running desktop virtualized environments for testing and development. The snapshot capabilities afforded by virtualization is a deadly arrow that should be in the quiver of every developer nowadays. This panel explores the basic to intermediate level of usage.


Kimbro is the CEO of JumpBox, a company specializing in developing bundled virtualized software packages. The topic has been around for quite a while, but as more advanced virtualization technology becomes available, the conversation is rejuvenated. If you are a developer and don’t use virtualization, you should definitely attend this panel to see how you will benefit from it.

Joshua Strebel
Bankrupt Your Startup in Five Easy Steps

Description: This panel will use humor and wit to show HOW TO bankrupt a fledging company. Panelists will share their insight and knowledge of moving from the garage to the corner office by successfully navigating through the challenges of cash-flow, staffing, and biz marketing. Emphasis will be placed on missteps that could have (or did) sink the company.


Josh is the owner of one of the top web design firms in Arizona. He is an experienced entrepreneur, founding several web companies on the side of his core business. If you want to know what it takes to launch a business successfully, you will want to pay attention to Josh Strebel.

The Allegory of Time Investment

It has been said that ‘time is money’. The association is generally drawn between the two in reference to billing hours. If you are not doing something that brings you money, you could be doing something else that would. Therefore, the profitless activity is costing you the money you could be earning.

This concept should not be new to most, since the phrase exhibits fairly widespread use. However, it serves as the perfect introduction to a deeper metaphor between time and money.

I am going to illustrate how successful people — often subconsciously — embrace this metaphor, while others may be limited to thinking of investment in terms of dollars and cents.

Similarities

If we begin to examine the concept further, we will notice other striking similarities indicating that time is very much like a currency.

First, we can note some coincidences in the English language. The word ‘currency’ can either relate to time or money, depending on context. Time, like money, can be refered to something you can ‘spend’ or ‘save’. With these similarities being part of everyday dialogue, it would seem like this allegory is dangling under our noses in the most conspicuous way.

Both time and money can be wasted or invested. This is another seemingly rudimentary statement. Everyone knows you can invest time into something (e.g. “I invested a lot of hours in that video game!”). In many cases, the term ‘waste’ should have been used instead (e.g. “I wasted a lot of hours on that video game!”). Investing generally implies that the amount spent was done so with the intent of receiving some sort of return. For the sake of this discussion, I will only use the term ‘invest’ when a return on investment (ROI) is expected, and use ‘waste’ otherwise.

Yes or Uh Oh

All the time you spend can — and should — have some sort of positive ROI. You should be able to ask yourself what I call a “Yes or Uh Oh” question: Am I investing my time right now? This is a “Yes or Uh Oh” question because if the answer is either ‘Yes’ or you come to the realization you are making a mistake (hence the ‘Uh Oh’).

It may take some creative thinking to figure out what the return on investment is. This is because the return for your time typically does not come in the form of time.

Breakfast

As an example, we can examine two different breakfast habits. In one situation, we have an individual who wakes up, rushes to work, and eats a cereal bar in the car during the commute. On the other hand, we have an individual who wakes up, prepares a hearty breakfast, and eats it while reading the newspaper. While the second individual may be late, studies indicate that he or she is likely to be more productive at work. The time spent having a full breakfast and preparing the mind for the day can be viewed as an investment. The return on investment in this case would be a productive work day.

Investing Wisely

Successful people are known for investing their money wisely. Typically, they also invest their time wisely. Many people, aiming to become successful, are diligent in their finances and think that is all they have to do. If your goal is to be wealthy, you should ask yourself the question “Is what I am doing right now going to bring me closer to my goal?” regularly, and try to make the answer be “Yes” as often as possible.

As a Web Developer

For example, my profession, web development, provides many situations where wise time investment can make a great impact. Time needs to be taken into consideration as much, if not more than, money when approach some types of work. If a project is not going to become a valuable part of your portfolio — something that will lead to more work in the future — or if it is not going to be a valuable learning experience, what value does it have? If the only value (ROI) the project has for you is “paying the bills”, then that is all it will do and all that it will ever do. Portfolio pieces and educational experiences are not the only types of returns you should require, just two common examples.

Keep in mind that successful people do not generally ‘waste’ their time on work that will only provide immediate return. Instead, they focus on investing their time into work that provides long-term, accumulating returns.

Invested Time Returned As Time

In some cases, the time invested can return time as profit. As an example, someone can build a widget that reduces the amount of time a certain task takes. Every time that widget is used, the creator gets back the time he or she would have otherwise spent. The saved time can then be reinvested into other things.

Monetization

The idea, of course, is for the ROI to end up with monetary value. It does not always have to have a direct monetary return. In fact, it is quite the opposite. In the sense of investment, the value of time can change much more dramatically than money, since it is not tied to anything tangible. By investing your time wisely and reinvest it when possible, you will increase the profitability of your accumulated time investment.

Conclusion

This article is intended to illustrate how time can be invested as a currency to accumulate value and wealth, to give a fresh perspective on personal growth, and to motivate others to invest time, rather than waste it.

This article has also been published on BrainFuel.tv.

Does Digg Need a Pictures Section?

That is the first of a series of questions as we examine whether or not Digg needs a Pictures section.

The answer seems obvious. Thousands of Digg users have expressed their support for a Pictures section. Has the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ come up with the best solution?

People have been focusing on that answer, when they should have been analyzing the question. Does Digg — a ‘news‘ site — need a Pictures section? It does not seem like a proper fit. If Digg in fact does not need a Pictures section, then what is the alternative?

The solution can be approached by expanding on the question: Is it Digg — a ‘news‘ site — that needs a Pictures section, or Flickr that needs a Digg section? Flickr is, after all, a photo-sharing site. What better location for these popular photos than a photo-sharing site?

Of course, now we approach a key roadblock for this solution: Flickr Explore. Flickr Explore is like the Digg Front Page, but for popular photos, rather than news. Is Flickr Explore insufficient at presenting the best new photos? That cannot be the case. Flickr’s “Interestingness” algorithm actually does a great job of ranking photos by quality. You could say that it is just as good — if not better than — Digg’s vote-driven quality ranking.

If Flickr Explore is just as good at delivering quality content as Digg’s Front Page, then why are people demanding a Pictures section for Digg? Why not just use Flickr Explore?

By examining the differences between Digg and Flickr from another perspective, we will find that Flickr Explore is insufficient. It is not the quality of content, no. The quality is arguably as good or perhaps even better than Digg’s vote-driven ranking system. The critical flaw in Flickr’s “Interestingness” algorithm is that it does not deliver content that matches the taste of the user. Flickr Explore is glaringly insufficient because it is one giant list of all types of photos.

How successful would Digg be if it was only one category? Could we compare its success in that scenario with Flickr Explore’s success in the photo realm?

If Flickr Explore delivered popular photos of various types to the people who say they are interested in that genre, would Flickr Explore have the appeal of Digg?

I hope you enjoyed this one-man Platonic dialogue.

Writing Tools for Digg Users: The Inevitable Digg Effect

Digg.com is an ideal target for creating instant gratification content. You can come out of nowhere and have tens of thousands of new users in 24 hours. An inevitable woe is the Digg Effect — a sign of success and often the key to server failure.

How do you make 10,000 comparisons of Digg users to the rest of the community?

How do you display 600,000 links to relevant Digg stories in thousands of users’ browsers?

How do you tell 40,000 users where they are located on a map of 67,000 users?

How do you display 15,000,000 Diggs on that map?

How do you do it all on one shared hosted server?

Birth of a Digg Tinkerer

In December, I ran an experiment that required collecting a lot of data on thousands of users. Other parts of the experiment included measuring traffic and Google Adsense revenue during the Digg Effect. I created a little gadget, called “DiggStatus“, where Digg users could type in their user names to see how their Digg usage statistics stack up against the rest of the community. The experiment was much more successful than I had anticipated.

Weekend Projects

Every once in a while, it’s nice to get away from clients, meetings, deadlines, revisions, and product launches. Build something you want to build. Make your own deadlines. Change your mind — no deadlines. Finish it when and if you feel like it.

During the last few months, I have created a small collection of projects geared toward Digg users. Each is intended to be in itself a one-hit wonder. Get to the front page, get viewed by thousands, then recede into oblivion.

The Inevitable

Creating content for Digg is all or nothing. Either it hits the front page and you get blasted with thousands of visitors in a short period of time, or it passes through Digg’s upcoming stories section without a hint of interest.

Creating tools and gadgetry for the Digg front page puts a developer with limited resources in a sticky situation. You have to last through the Digg Effect, or nobody will see it.

Looking into a Broken Mirror

Digg users are accustomed to using mirror sites to view content after the target web server crumbles under the load. Unfortunately, mirrors are only useful for static content. Mirrors can’t learn your application’s recommendation algorithm. Mirrors don’t know the coordinates of users on the map you just made.

As a tool creator, it is imperative to withstand the Digg Effect.

Every K Counts

Look at the amount of data your web server will have to send for every visitor.

If your web site has a layout that utilizes images, jump ship. Set up your to-be-Dugg page outside of your layout. Add color with HTML. Structure your page with very light-weight HTML. A logo at the top of the page can be all it takes to push your web server over the edge. With links back to your site, only interested traffic will be directed to your normal site.

If you require images, find somewhere else to put it, so the bandwidth can be diffused between multiple locations.

Keep Quiet

With thousands of Digg users slamming your server in a very short period of time, even the simplest database call can be destructive to your server. If you use a framework for your site, make sure you have caching set up so you don’t ping the database for the same data thousands of times just to display the page.

In the tool itself, you need to optimize, optimize, optimize! Database queries add up faster than you may think.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

This week, I released two tools that utilize a map I generated last weekend of the Digg community.

The first tool allows visitors to search for a user name to find where that user is located on the map. This one required 3 database queries per request — one to find the location of the user, one to count the user’s friends, and one to count the user’s fans. While it was on Digg’s front page, about 40,000 users were requested. The database was therefore queried about 100,000 times. All of this and I didn’t receive any mention of downtime from users. If I had used one more database call, and taken the total up to 130,000 queries, the server might not have been able to handle the load.

The second tool I released this week displays Diggs (votes) on the map in real-time (with a small delay) and placed at the Digging users’ location on the map. In 24 hours, the tool has displayed 15,000,000 of those votes. Unfortunately, there were a few hours that users had intermittent access to my site. Contributing to the overload, the first tool was still getting quite a few hits from Digg, it was featured on the BBspot.com home page as a Daily Link, and there were quite a few StumbleUpon users.

However, despite a little bit of downtime, this one did quite well, thanks to some heavy optimization. It may appear like there are tons of queries going on, with all those icons popping up on thousands of screens around the world. The search functionality in the other tool required 3 queries per request. This tool only required one query per 100 Diggs (though, the tool may at times display over 1,000 Diggs per minute). The results were returned to the client in a compact comma-delimited list, where the Flash front-end would then break the results apart.

Moral of the Story

If you create content for Digg, take a close look at the your page and/or tool’s weight on the server. You need to save every byte you can. You should only contact the database when absolutely necessary.

The Digg Effect should be a sign of victory not a sign of defeat.