A friend of mine told me this story about a local bike store in Eastern Pennsylvania that we both frequent as customers.

He walked into the store the other day while the owner of the store was discussing the upkeep of his website with the consultant who was maintaining his site.  He could not help but overhear final discussion of aspects of the site that were about to be published.

The consultant and the owner finished their conversation, and the consultant left.  My friend approached the owner and was going to ask about his new bike which is on order.  But before he did, he told the owner that he was curious about how much the website for this high-end bicycle store cost to develop (in round numbers)?

The owner was very forthcoming, "About $1200.00."

This revelation is incredible to me, because the store sells adult-sized road bikes that cost between $1,000 and $8,000.  In other words, the owner of this very successful and profitable store invested less than the average retail cost of one bicycle on his store's web presence.

Doesn't this owner believe that his website can drive sales for him?

Doesn't he see his the appearance and functionality of his site as a reflection on the in-store experience?

Doesn't he know that a site for a successful, high-end bicycle store should contain professional photography, features like dynamic selection of featured items based on season, weather conditions, and temperature?

My company, After6 Services, builds website that are much more expensive than the website we are discussing.  But we deliver value far in excess of what we charge.  The features of our typical customer sites and the stability of our designs are way beyond what passes for a basic site for small and mid-sized businesses.  But we sometimes have a hard time convincing potential customers to establish a reasonable site development and maintenance budget.

The purchase decision made by this successful small businessman show that not everyone shares our view of the value of a small business website.

In Memory of Peter Andreas Frank

Peter Andreas Frank (1967-2003)

August 7, 2013 is the 10th anniversary of death of my friend Peter Andreas Frank.  Here's what I wrote on CTDATA.com, a few days after he passed away:

Last Thursday, Peter Andreas Frank died as a result of a brain tumor. I have known Peter for 15 years, and he is one of my best friends. We went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute together.

Peter was in the Krankenhaus Nordwest in Frankfurt, Germany for the last two and one-half months of his life. He was often visited there by his family and friends that live in the Frankfurt region.

Peter's original brain tumor was discovered back in 1993. He outlived everyone's expectations, including the expectations of all of the doctors that consulted on his case. I went to visit him for the last time in May when he was still living in Zurich, Switzerland with his wife, Ramona Morel. At that time, most people familiar with his case thought he would die in late May or early June.

A couple of my more well known friends in social media (especially David Jacobs) are surprised that there haven't been more negative or questioning comments about Jeff Bezos purchase of The Washington Post from The Washington Post Company.  I don't think I am influential enough to get much attention for my views, but I'll state them in case anybody wants to comment.

Perhaps Bezos Shouldn't Be Allowed to Purchase A Media Outlet of Record in This Fashion

It stretches the bounds of credibility to say "Seattle-based Amazon will have no role in the purchase; Bezos himself will buy the news organization and become its sole owner when the sale is completed, probably within 60 days" because content distribution policies can be engineered to favor Amazon.com's business model.

If this did not happen, I would be shocked.

Contrast this turn of events with what the Department of Justice wants to do to alter Apple's iTunes business as a result of the Government's victory in a recent anti-trust case.

The Government's interpretation of Apple's business dealings with book publishers turns decades of anti-trust policy on its head.  Rather than promote competition or investigate the possibility that Amazon is guilty of predatory pricing, the Government chose to focus mainly on the consumer benefit of the low prices that Amazon.com is currently offering for e-books and how Apple's deals with publishers gave the publishers some pricing power.

A return to Amazon's previous e-book pricing strategy will perpetuate Amazon's dominant position in the e-book distribution business and disadvantage everyone on the content creation side of the market, including publishers, authors, and service providers to them.

If the value of some of those disadvantaged businesses fall far enough then Bezos can swoop in as he did with The Washington Post, purchase the business at a discount (to the value it might have if it had retained some pricing power), and re-engineer the business model to feed the technically un-afilliated business Amazon.com that Bezos also controls.

It's not hard not to conclude that the Government is picking winners, even if the Department of Justice had no knowledge of Bezos' interest in purchasing the Post.

Update on August 7: Bloomberg points out another possible conflict with public interest that I hadn't even considered.  Amazon.com ranks among the biggest spenders among high-technology companies seeking to influence the work of the federal government.

This Purchase Avoids Hard Choices for The Washington Post that Could Have Benefitted American Society

The Washington Post is one of the most prestigious media outlets using the business model that most traditional newspapers adopted on the Internet.  That business model failed to check the revenue losses associated with the progressive switch from physical to electronic distribution of news.

At this point newspapers need to re-evaluate their entire business, including seemingly unrelated issues such as editorial policy.

RPI Alumni Social Action Stream

Friday RPI Alumni Relations launched a page on its website devoted to the RPI Alumni Social Action Stream.  This page pulls together the RPI Alumni action stream from eight social media sites (Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Reddit, Tumblr, and Flickr).

The Social Action Stream is really well done and has tons of potential.  If Alumni Relations gets aggressive with favoriting alumni posts, this could really become a hub for discovering interesting social media activities among the alumni.

Beyond favoriting alumni posts, my biggest suggestion for improvement is give this page its own subdomain.  It would make a world of difference to the sense that this is a major initiative.

My Site's New Cover Photo

Houston Field House Panorama

The gorgeous panoramic photo of Houston Field House that is the cover photo for my site was shot by fellow RPI alumnus Jeff Wadsworth.  I want everybody to know that this is his photo, I use it with his permission, and I thank him for sharing it with me.

Over the past couple of weeks, Kathleen and I have worked together on relaunching OperationGadget.com, which is my technology blog that I started in 2003.  We also launched PedsApps.com which will be Kathleen's site that will focus on iPhone and iPad applications that are of interest to Pediatricians, nurse practitioners, and other care providers, as well as to the parents of their patients.

These sites are currently sharing a modified version of the Rainier Theme that ships with Movable Type 5

I'm glad to bring Operation Gadget back at this point.  The technologies that I've talked about and evangelized over the years are more relevant than ever.  There is no end of ideas to talk about, ways to make ourselves more productive, and ways to use technology to follow sports and manage our personal fitness.  All of this is in Operation Gadget's wheel house.

I think Kathleen's site will take off quickly.  Although a number of people have staked out the medical apps niche, nobody is dominating the space.  Kathleen has discovered that there is an audience for her writing, and there's no stopping her now.

Although these sites have different audiences, you'll see features from one site end up on the other, where it's appropriate.  I hope you enjoy them.

Replacing a Towel Bar

30-inch Towel Rack Bar

The other day my son Jimmy broke this 30-inch polished chrome towel bar that had been holding up towels in our master bathroom for the last seven years.  This was not a big deal, but it meant that I had to go out and find another towel bar to replace it.

The big issue with any task like this is that I have never looked that deeply into the inventory of the Ace Hardware or Newtown Hardware House, so I don't know if you can replace the towel bar without completely replacing the fixture.

The good news was that the Ace Hardware in Newtown Township is run by people who are fine with letting a customer walk out of their store without buying anything.  So the salesman who was helping me said, "You know, we don't stock towel bars that size, but I bet somebody does." Which meant two things to me:

  1. I'll be back here again when I need something that they do stock.
  2. I'm probably better off at The Home Depot if I want to get this exact item.

This will probably come as a shock to all of you who have DaveAiello.com as your browser home page, but I decided to choose a new theme for this site when I upgraded the CMS to Movable Type 5.2.2.  I'm sure I'll customize it, at least a bit, sometime soon.

If you have any suggestions for design changes, please let me know.

It's time for people in North America and Europe who respect Movable Type to start supporting it again, and tell the web publishing community why it is still a great platform for creating and publishing all sorts of web content.

Since I left Six Apart and started After6 Services, I have watched people make all sorts of crazy statements about Movable Type.  This is a product I have used since early in 2003 when I launched Operation Gadget.

Most of the negative things that people say about Movable Type-- that it is antiquated, poorly supported, inefficient, and expensive compared to its competitors-- simply aren't true.  Anybody who thinks I'm wrong about this needs to sit down with me for a talk about which metrics you use when making your judgements.

I know Movable Type, and I am learning everything I can about the competition.  Those competitors are not head-and-shoulders above Movable Type in any area except for the mindshare of web publishers.  And that can be fixed by a concerted marketing effort from Six Apart and its third-party developer community.

Due to almost zero marketing since the original Six Apart merged with VideoEgg to form SAY Media, Movable Type usually isn't part of the conversation when talk turns to what publishing tools will be used to build the next great online property.  Through this M&A activity, the new Six Apart-- which was the old Six Apart's Japanese subsidiary headquartered in Tokyo-- was reduced to a zero-employee presence in North America for over a year.  So it shouldn't surprise anybody that the product hasn't been marketed outside of Japan in any meaningful way since January 2011. 

This has to change, if only because WordPress has had a free ride for a long time against competitors that are marketed unsuccessfully (which is a worse problem than not being marketed at all).  WordPress is a great product, but one with some weaknesses that make it a less solid choice than Movable Type for a number of online publishing tasks.

The other day I listened to Episode 49 of the podcast Back to Work, where Merlin Mann and his guest John Gruber from Daring Fireball spend about 8 to 10 minutes talking about why Movable Type is a fantastic platform for building websites.  The thought crossed my mind that this is not simply a better refutation of what my good friend Byrne Reese said about Movable Type a year ago than I could write.  The podcast made me wonder what it would take to get Merlin Mann and John Gruber to stand up in front of a group of people and say these things again?

"At Daring Fireball I have complete control.  And that's why I use MT {Movable Type}.  There's, you know, other systems I could use that would be-- more modern.  But I've got a system set up there so I can control everything," John Gruber at 1 minute.

"I miss MT so much.  That was my introduction to the command line....  I mean you've got to give Ben {Trott} props for coming up with that-- what would you call it?  Like... inside of the less than greater thans, the ability to have that meta language for what posts should do on the page. {That} was how I learned so much stuff that I later kind of did with programming...." Merlin Mann.

"I think the credit that Ben should get is, to me it was the first system that, and I was looking before I launched Daring Fireball for at least a year, and... staying on top of anything that called itself a weblog system, a CMS, or anything like that.  It was really, really good at not being constrained to the author of the system's idea of what a blog or a CMS should be....

And there were other systems before MT but you could use them to make a site like the site that it came with out of the box.  Whereas Movable Type was like LEGO.  It came with instructions to get a default blog that looked like an MT 1.0 blog.  But you could just take all of the pieces apart and put them together any way you want.  And I think that's really, really hard to do.  And in hindsight, it's easy to overlook," John Gruber at 2:41.

"... Here's the one distinction that can get lost in all that.  Also you have to give props to Mena {Trott}... once you had that thing installed,... you had a pretty blog that worked.  You never had to touch anything.  But there was still all that stuff under the hood, and some people to this day, like you or like {Matt} Haughey did for a long time, really put that to great use.

And here's the distinction, this is nothing against Open Source software.... but if you think the way the developers think, and let's be honest most people in some form or fashion do, you're good to go.  And so, when you put up Plone {sic, Merlin means Slashcode}, you are implicitly making a clone of Slashdot....

But what Movable Type did, if you were savvy with it, was, I had on the original Kung Fu Grippe, I did so much stuff that was cool and hacky.  So, for example, I did something that I think maybe {Jason} Kottke did the first time I saw it, which was, at the top of the page there's... your one most recent post at the top of the page.  Looked really cool and clean.  And then you said 'click for more'.... That looked so awesome compared to every blog out there." --Merlin Mann at 4:45

Let's face it: We could get a lot of people to take a serious look at Movable Type as a WordPress alternative if we had people with this level of street cred on the Internet saying these things from time-to-time.

This is not an impossible task for Movable Type evangelists.  There are still people who love MT for what it is-- not what they wish it was.  These people are better advocates for the platform than the people who make a living selling and supporting Movable Type.  This is why I am trying to rebuild the Movable Type Community step-by-step.

Let's agree to start marketing MT as the first-- and still one of the best-- web-based CMSes in the world.