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The Lessons Your Company Can Learn from Romney’s Fail Whale App

Beyond • November 19, 2012

Revolutionaries wait For my head on a silver plate Just a puppet on a lonely string Oh who would ever want to be king? - Coldplay, “Viva La Vida” Aspiring to the Presidency of the United States of America is a double edged sword. If you win, you must carry the burdens of the world, as is witnessed by the rapid aging of most Presidents during their terms. However, a worse prospect is if you lose in which case you become a laughing stock and your name forever associated with epic fails from Oogieloves to Facebook’s IPO. While it’s currently popular to savage Governor Romney’s failed campaign in countless blog postmortems, few aspects of the fiasco can compare to the disaster wreaked by the killer app Orca, which turned out to be a killer whale alright… as it may have treated the Guv’s potential victory in Ohio and several other key states as a nice, juicy, tasty seal. Incredibly, the System Was Never Real-World Tested Orca was designed to be the primary voter turnout IT super app for the GOP campaign, accessed by over 37,000 volunteers in the main swing states to identify known Romney supporters who hadn’t shown up at the polls yet and therefore triggering calls to turn out the vote from the Boston Garden campaign HQ. This particular fail whale was evident to insightful observers from the onset as incredibly the system was never real-world tested and (as is almost always the case when IT shortcuts are engaged) crashed and burned taking with it the hopes of a Republican White House. A Sequence of Misconstrued Stupidities Everything that could go wrong with Orca did, plus a bunch of things that should never have gone wrong. Due to the perceived necessity to keep the details of the app away from the enemy camp, many volunteers only received the 60+ page instruction manual and voter rolls on the night before election day. Human error crept in as volunteers in North Carolina and Colorado couldn’t log in until 6 PM on election day because they had been issued the wrong IDs. Then, the flood of incoming information was seen as a DDOS attack and the network connection shut off by the ISP. From the failure to set an https to http redirect to a pathetic lack of communication and instruction to the volunteers who were actually going to use the system, Orca took a huge bite out of the Romney campaign, which may have lost the GOP the election. The Lessons to Be Learned from the Fail Whale The three essential lessons to be learned from the Orca sinking can be applied to any business contemplating a large IT implementation: KISS – If you don’t Keep It Simple, then you’re Stupid. Orca was vastly overcomplicated and required massive education for the users that simply didn’t happen in time. Handicapped by the fear that the Obamaites would seize on leaks, the GOP left the vast information release until the last possible minute, thereby confusing and befuddling a considerable number of their volunteers. Double and triple check everything – When entire states full of volunteers were handed out the wrong IDs and the problem wasn’t rectified until the point was moot, Orca became the poster cetacean for catastrophe. Even if it was impossible or impractical to have every single one of the 37,000+ users log in for an early trial, there should have been a random selection of IDs tested in each state. Test, test and test again – There is no substitute for a real world test. Orca had been artificially stress tested and it turned out that the functions that passed the software testing immolated when the system was actually used at full blast.


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Where Should You Spend Your Online Ad Dollars?

Beyond • November 19, 2012

The name of the game is online marketing, but what about the rules of the game? Two small business owners approached me a couple week ago asking where they should spend their online ad dollars. They were two very different business owners. One owned a well-established second generation construction company that was looking to rebrand itself – the other a talented young woman who recently chucked in her much-hated job and was looking to turn a part-time talent into a full-time business. Both had no idea how to go about advertising online and had big business funds. For them and for anyone out there that also feels like a deer caught in headlights when online advertising comes up – this one’s for you. Think Free If you’re strapped for cash, you certainly don’t have the money to invest in online advertising; at least, you don’t have the kind of money you need to really see returns. You have options, and the sooner you know what they are the better off you’ll be. First, look into networking with colleagues that are already out there with a strong digital presence. See if they’re open to link exchanges or can guide you in the right direction. You don’t have to attend a networking group to get referrals – not when you’ve probably got a really strong network of friends who you can give and take from. Remember that networking works both ways. It’s not just about them getting you business or giving you leads; it’s in your interest to do the same for them. Networking groups work the same way, except they rarely admit it. Save a Buck but Spend an Hour You may not have $50 to spend on one weekly online ad pitch, or even the usual $250 for a week run in a print publication. So instead of appearing as an ad, why not take the more constructive route and appear as an article? While some magazines are wise to this and now charge you to even get an ad/article in, many others don’t. On this note, magazines that charge you to publish an article may not even be worth your time. You’ll know this by digging through a couple of old issues and seeing the quality of the copy printed. If it’s an advertorial, you know no one’s really reading it or taking it seriously. So, while you don’t have the cash to dump into ads, you can offer to write informative articles the publication would be interested in featuring. This works for both online and print ads. Make sure you get a byline and one link in return. The Meat and Potatoes of Online Advertising While free and cheap is fine, you really should consider spending the money if you can afford it. The downside with free is that you end up spending a lot of time; and if time equals money, then you’re left with the same problem. So, if you’re ready to spend the bucks, here’s what you need to know: Online ads are a serious business, with reports indicating online ad revenue hit upwards of $8.4 billion this year alone. There are two places you can invest in: social media and local media. Whether or not you should be on social media depends on your audience and what their habits are like. If you’re going to hit social media, stick to your demographic and to local customers. You’re better off testing tighter ad campaigns at $50-$100 a week rather than spreading yourself thin. This way you can also track which targets are getting the most return. The next step (and ideally simultaneous to social media advertising) is to hit up blogs. If you’re a local service, stick to local publications and blogs. If you’re industry based, focus on blogs in your industry – which you’ll find offer very affordable rates. No matter what route you go, it’s strongly recommended you set up a half-decent website and/or blog and start accruing an email list. More on this coming up soon.


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Benchmark 5: Favorite Parts of Summer

Beyond • June 21, 2012

Yesterday was the Summer Solstice, which marks the beginning of summer. Or, as all of us in Southern California call it...every day. Still, summer will always hold a special place in my heart. For today’s Benchmark 5, I’m focusing on my favorite parts of summer. Music Festivals. There is no place on this planet I’d rather be than at a music festival. You can see dozens of bands in one weekend. Also, because there are so many artists in one place, you’re more likely to get guest spots and collaborations. Music festivals are a wonderful break from responsibilities and reality, where there are no emails to read, phone calls to return and just set after set of joy for your eyes and ears. BBQs. I enjoy the social gathering aspect of BBQs as much as I do the food (OK...almost as much). As much as I love me some BBQed ribs, burgers, chicken, hot dogs, etc., the side dishes might be my favorite part of BBQs. Love me some potato salad. Beach Volleyball. I played volleyball in high school. In college, I played intramural volleyball and also managed to convince a group of friends to play almost weekly. In recent years, I was on the DL with an ankle and a back. I can’t wait to get back out there and dig my toes in the sand, now that I’m fully recovered. Breaking Bad. I can’t get enough of this show. Best show on TV. The writing and acting is unparalleled. I have literally lost sleep, wondering what is going to become of Walter White. I doubted every single word I’ve ever put to a page, after watching the first few seasons in rapid succession. That’s how good it is. I was ready to pack it up and go home, convinced I’d never write anything that good. New season begins July 15. Camp(ing). I spent 10 years attending - and later working at - overnight camp. I met many of my best friends there. I wish I still had a legitimate reason to go to camp every summer. I miss it all the time. However, camping is still an activity that I greatly enjoy. Nothing like waking up smelling like last night’s campfire.


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