Archive for the ‘business’ Category

New article published

October 11, 2007

A while ago I post a link to a draft article about backups for small business.  Well it’s now published at (what do you mean ‘it’s not businessweek you know’!?).  Actually it was the first website that I came across that was looking for submissions, and it looks like quite an eclectic selection of articles they publish over there!  Hope you enjoy the article.

Off site backups

September 19, 2007

I though maybe a serious post.  I was recently quoted £5,000 for offsite storage of backup media i.e. a couple of tapes.  I asked how much it was to retrieve it on demand – answer “well, that would depend”.  What is wrong the a bank safety deposit box, is it not secure enough?  ” I don’t think banks have fire suppression”   Me: “I don’t think this is a good deal” 

Small business get guys like this calling all the time, they don’t have a clue about SME business requirements.  What about an offer that suit our budget?  I love offsite storage, but I have not yet heard of one offer that has been properly positioned.  Have you?

Things in the past that don’t go away – my job interviews with Google

June 9, 2007

Talking with friends last evening over a late supper the subject of jobs and interesting companies to work for came up. In the last few years I have only applied for a few jobs, my non-profit being one. Google and Friends of the Earth were others, I was over-qualified for the FOE position but I really liked the organisation.

Google was a different matter, I like Google, not really because of their business success as you might imagine, instead for their philosophy, I particularly like the equity they give to small business and non-profits through search marketing as well as products like docs and speadsheets and the Google mini (remind me to post my PHP script for parsing Google mini XML). Anyway, I have not really been hands-on in IT for some years, actually I have never been a real techie, so I am very poor on IT detail. I have been told often that my strengths are problem solving, working in teams, and making use of whatever is it hand. So many people told me not to bother with Google, they would not want my broad but not ultra deep knowledge.

I found a role at google that described working with partner organistions to help them make best use of Google various services. As I have quite a bit of confidence about discussing technology and I have quite a bit of experience working with partners to make technology work for them, it seemed a good fit. And indeed when I started to interview with Google it seemed that my fears about the role being too technical were unfounded. I had telephone interviews with a couple of nice engineers, granted that they were absolutely interested in my technical knowledge, which was very rusty! Still , the interviews went ok and I subsequently spent the day at Google where I met quite a few people working in the Partner Services Group. They were all very different, and I think defied the sterotypes so often described.

They asked tough questions about business and technology, and again on the technical side I was quite rusty but did slowly start to shake it off. I really enjoyed meeting those people, they had a lot of energy and were very warm. A few weeks later I received contact from google that all went well and I felt quite happy about it, I spoke with my family and close friends and they agreed that perhaps I had been right and Google would be a good fit for me. I was asked for my references, now I am very cautious about such things, my friends are quite serious people, they mainly work in Petrochemicals, where I have spent my lions share of commercial working time (another story!), they are under a great deal of stress so I do not ask for things unless it is important but I went ahead and they duely wrote the refs. Then Google decided that I had not spoken with one of their hiring managers, and apologised perfusely but asked me to come back in, this was quite a few weeks later.

This was one of the worst interviews I have ever had, it was a strange day for me, I did not eat before the meeting at lunchtime, which is never a good thing for me, and the person I met was unsure about. We had briefly met on my previous visit and I wish we had longer to speak that first day. It was made pretty clear to me that they had not decided which position in the organisation would suit me. Eventually he decided to ask me some technical questions, gosh they did take me back, for example, asking how I would update dates in an apache log file, or if I had ever installed apache, well I mentioned a few tools I remembered using awk and grep (which of course is for finding rather than replacing), I did not mention sed which was of course a mistake, and said that I had installed apache once! And then he asked me to divide a million by a thousand, and my brain went into outer space and I said I could not do it (perhaps not the hardest sum in the world!!) He also asked a business question about a partnership negotiation, and I failed to grasp his point, he asked the question in a very terse way and did not want to work through the scenario together, frankly his approach did not suit me. it seemed that had a completely different set of requirements than all of the other people I had met.  Slowly all the trust I had placed in everyone’s claims that the job was not going to be primarily techie was disappearing, maybe my friends had been right all along.

Gosh, I was so demoralised by his questions that I pretty much wanted to leave there and then. He asked me almost nothing about myself, or my motivation (which on my previous visit, they had). I had been prepared to refresh my use of those technical tools to work with so many good people., I had been prepared to put aside my responsibility to work in their team. I had been prepared to do whatever was required. But instead I was made to feel really worthless, my two experiences in those two days could not have been more different. To this day I look back at that as a wasted opportunity and one that left me feeling pretty upset.

It was a long time ago now, but I really hope that other people have had better experiences with their searches for good groups of people to work with.

Great startup website

June 5, 2007

I really like the look of the podcast website called Startup Studio.  I really love reading bio of entrepreneurs, I think it is quite addictive esp. as am in the middle of starting up new business for my non-profit.

Backups for small business and non-profits

June 4, 2007

I have written a draft of an article to help CEOs and others to check that their IT teams are doing correct backups. Please let me know what you think.

I have published it through Google Docs & Spreadsheets:


Organic search results at Google

June 3, 2007

Seth Godin has a nice link to an NY Times article on Google’s department for search rankings, and he states that the only future way to guarantee rankings is to rely on producing naturally popular content.  After spending some months working at my non-profit doing my best to learn about how best to market our online services I tend to agree with Seth, but not entirely. 

 Most respectable SEOs will agree that links to websites are the major contributing factor, but design of content to best fit Google’s idea of well structured, is no different than employing marketing to design materials that are suited to a target audience. 

I commented on the idea that SEO, Usability and Accessibility are converging to Bill Slawski, the SEO by the Sea,  and his well articulated response in the comment section to his article on mindmapping audiences and tasks convinces me that we are right, and that there is indeed convergence.

Perhaps SEO has been filling a gap in the market for decent quality online marketers and pragmatic usability professionals.  Certainly old media marketing companies have been slow to see the opportunities for Internet search advertising in organic results.  And usability professionals are an exclusive bunch that have charged a lot of money for results that all too often unquantified by anything more than a few usability test results.

But maybe the gap is closing although I would say that SEO is so far ahead it will take some time marketing and usability professionals to catch up.

Nominated for New Statesman new media award

June 3, 2007

Great news, my non-profit’s websites have been nominated in the New Statesman New Media Awards 2007 in the category of ‘Contribution to civic society award‘. There are quite a few nominations though!

Taking risks: Free prize waiting

June 2, 2007

I am currently reading Seth Godin’s book ‘free prize inside’, I can highly recommend it.  The book is not about little plastic soldiers that come free with rice crispies, but actually about how the best personal/business opportunities come from small changes by people who are not afraid to make a difference.

Some people are afraid to take on the difficult task, as Godin states, but they are quite willing to take on hard tasks.  There is a big difference, working hard usually means working long hours, crunching a lot of numbers, making a lot of phone calls.   In fact Godin’s blog yesterday posted about a young guy taking on a summer job but not really thinking about what he would be doing before taking it on.  This guy worked hard but did not really make a difference. 

Making a difference is what I care about,  but i’ll be honest, I did not know that until recently.  I left a wellpaid job in the Petrochemical industry which gave me a real nice lifestyle and a big salary.  I was a techie, but an important one because I got on well with non-techie project managers and chemical engineers.  I just knew something wasn’t right, I was bored and so with my savings jumped ship to a masters degree in Human Computer Interaction and Ergonomics, which being honest again I did not know a lot about.  Somewhere along the line though I started to care about changing things, probably due to Harold Thimbleby.  He probably has no idea but his passion for making a difference influenced me a lot, read one of his articles about the problems of using a calculator, he has such passion about simple objects that you cannot often fail but see his point.  Amazing guy.

 All that change really unsettled me, I lost my career prospects as an IT guy as a couple of years out of IT means a long road back.  Read my article on getting a job combining IT and usability/HCI skills from the time on  A real wake up call for me about the lack of generalist jobs in big organisations.

But if you are thinking about making a change, let me say that it is a risk, but a risk worth taking.  I now run a  team of twelve for a non-profit, building products that are being referenced by UK government as successes and exemplars, when you hear that, everything makes sense.  When at a dinner party you tell people what you do and they are really excited and want to know more it is a great feeling, the risk you took will feel worth it.  I never had that during my time in Petrochemical simulation!

Automated content generation

June 2, 2007

Aaron Wall posted over at Threadwatch and also commented on his personal blog how fantomaster had some good responses, aftrer reading these responses I agree they are worth reading.  fantomaster makes good points.

My take is that as long as content is relevant to the readers it should not matter how it is derived. Programing software to identify content, say, by keywords, is no different than instructing a junior employee to source articles with a brief, say, ‘find some articles about dodgy car dealers in Birmingham ‘.  In the end the readers are the judge of what works and what doesn’t surely, they will just move on if content is irrelevant.

After all nobody ever had a long term relationship with Eliza did they?

Dave Clarke.

Blinkers on

June 1, 2007

Sometimes the obvious is hard to admit.  Confidence is important in business, no doubt.  But when in private the barriers stay up when the weaknesses of, say, your business model, or product is raised by friends or colleagues you have a problem because when we stop seeing the flaws and believing our own hype only one thing is certain.  Trouble ahead.

Update: I watched an interview on newsnight review with Damien Hirst, I am not a big fan of Hirst’s work, I did visit one of his exhibitions at the White Cube a couple of years ago, and the smell from the rotting amimals was too much for me on that hot day!  However, last night he said something very memorable when asked about being afraid, to paraphrase:

The first foot you put down wrong is probably the day that you state that you will never put a foot down wrong.