Tipping Pitches: 2009


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Technology: What Twitter Could Learn from Facebook


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Twitter has changed the way we share information. It's changed the way we search. It's changed the way we are alerted of breaking news. It's changed the way we market products.

And it's become a place where casual and new users are unwelcome.

It's important to remember that the word "we" in the cases above refers to a select few who have mastered the microblogging service. While there are approximately 20 million users in the US, a staggering number never make a single tweet or survive past a month.

Twitter has a big problem. It's done a great job of showing value, breaking through with the Oprahs and Ellens. Millions started using it personally or professionally during the past year because it appeared to be the right thing to do. Many leaped in carelessly without knowing how to use it.

Then they realized the work involved. Many left.

I have used Twitter for about a year now, combining my professional and personal use. I have committed to it for personal use in about October of 2009 (have had an account since March, but really dove in later on). My latest professional use is being implemented by the American Cancer Society in the Great West Division.

I still have plenty to learn, but I "get" Twitter.

Make no mistake, it's a lot of work. There's a lot of talking to yourself. There's a lot of second guessing. There's a lot of butt kissing and talking to others who often don't respond. There's a lot of searching for the right people to follow, and deciphering whether people are interesting, spammers or scammers. There's a lot of time spent wondering if you're doing the right thing or if you're wasting your time.

Once you break through, there is a reward. Once you get that captivated audience, your talking becomes a conversation with others. People want to hear what you have to say. People want to share what you share with their own audience.

Now, I'm not completely there yet -- either personally or professionally. But I know it will happen. It takes time and a lot of work, but I've seen improvement and I've seen the results from others. I'm also confident that the way I'm using Twitter is appropriate, and that I will continue to learn from my mistakes and the advice of others.

I'm not talking to myself as much these days. I have some "friends" (mutual followers) with whom I have conversations and enjoy sharing information. I follow some pretty cool people who provide me a constant stream of news and interesting tidbits.

But you've gotta wonder... Why would a casual person ever want to use Twitter? Why would a business without a person whom they can dedicate to Twitter even bother?

I hear a lot of snickering from Twitter loyalists about how Facebook's quarterly rounds of changes are their attempts to "be more like Twitter." Facebook isn't becoming more like Twitter. They are evolving to include some of Twitter's features. They are looking to provide what Twitter provides and so much more. As a result, Facebook may eventually make Twitter irrelevant.

Twitter could learn a thing or two from Facebook.

Accessibility to New Users
Facebook is easily accessible to new users. It's a piece of cake. Create an account. Find friends by searching your e-mail contacts or looking through lists Facebook provides based on where and when you went to a certain school or where you worked. It's incredibly easy to find people you know, and once you've found a couple it just snowballs with mutual friends.

Twitter is virtually inaccessible to new users. You create an account. Then it's pretty much up to you.

[Note: Twitter did add the ability to search by e-mail address. However, my personal e-mail contact list isn't particularly complete. So you know how I compiled an e-mail contact list? I went through all of my Facebook friends, profile by profile. And after going through 500 people, you know what I got? Virtually nothing. Maybe 10% of my Facebook friends have a Twitter account, and almost all are inactive.]

It's an empty feeling for many. They don't know who is reading what they write. They tweet away. No one answers. They get a follower, only to find out they are spam. To properly use the service, they need to tirelessly research which tools to use and how to use them.

If you're a newbie, the world of Twitter is a cold, cold place.

That could change with some familiar faces. I want to follow people I know. These are the people who will provide the strongest relationships. They are the people I trust. How do I find them?

There is value in following people in specific industries, celebrities, and news outlets. That's fine. But building relationships is the biggest challenge. And Twitter makes this difficult for the new user.

Usability for Casual Users
You can be a casual Facebook user. Check in every hour, every day, every week, every month. Whatever. Your friends aren't going to reject you because you stopped updating five times per day.

I stopped using Twitter for a week during the holidays so that I could focus on my three-dimensional family. The result? I lost 31, or 10%, of my followers.

Don't get me wrong, I have no need for those followers who require me to retain my 10-update-per-day pace through the holidays. There is clearly not a relationship there.

But this is the thing. On Twitter, you need to remain active to retain an audience. In general, the audience is unforgiving. You have to be consistent. You have to tweet several times per day. You have to provide value.

This is terrible for casual users. You simply cannot expect that from casual users. And because of this, casual users will find little value in the service.

Why Change is Needed
I'm not a Twitter hater. I see the value. I've experienced the value. But if it is going to continue to grow, Twitter needs to be usable by new and casual users. While the dedicated can still reap the greatest rewards (particularly professionally), it is wrong to snub the new and casual by keeping them behind the velvet rope.

2009 was a year of inflated numbers for Twitter. Huge successes based on the large number of new users. Individuals and companies alike were encouraged to dive in without fully knowing why or how. Many accounts were DOA.

Change is necessary if Twitter is ever to revolutionize the way we all get and share information, as was originally claimed by the Twitter masses.

Twitter simply isn't a place for the casual. It's a cold place for the newbie. But Twitter needs the new and casual users, and they need to retain them. Without them, Twitter will only be a niche service, embraced and championed by a small minority.

Most damning, however, is that once the fact is separated from fiction and hype dies down, people will stop "trying it out" for personal use. They know what it's all about. They've already tried it, and they've already either committed to it or quit (the majority will quit). Companies, now informed on what it takes to effectively manage a Twitter account, either will or won't jump in. There will be less dabbling and testing.

The Solutions
How can Twitter become a warmer place, accessible to the newbie and usable for the casual user? I have a few suggestions.

1. Make finding people you know and trust easier. Why is this so difficult? There are directories to find people by category, but I care about finding specific people I know. How can I find former classmates? Professional or personal contacts? The e-mail address search is fine, but who knows which e-mail address they use for their Twitter account?

When a profile is created, allow the ability to label it "personal" or "company." If personal, provide fields for work history and education. This information doesn't necessarily need to be displayed publicly, and the user shouldn't need to provide it at all. It can simply be used to help find people.

This way, once you mention that you graduated from Cornell College in 1997 and worked for the NBA from 2005-'08, Twitter can quickly find people you may be interested in following. It can also help you find brands with which you have a personal connection. You worked for the NBA? Follow these accounts...

Additionally, why not use e-mail addresses and contact lists to track down more people to follow? Import GMail, Outlook or Yahoo! Mail contacts to find people you know who are using Twitter. [This is now done.] Maybe a third party app could allow you to match Facebook friends with their Twitter accounts.

I mentioned it in a previous blog entry as well, but a "mutual friends" feature would do wonders. Someone follows you, but who are they? If you are told that this stranger is followed by five people you trust, suddenly they become someone interesting whom you may want to follow.

By making these simple changes, Twitter suddenly becomes a much warmer place for new and casual users. It's less work. They quickly find people they trust and build their networks. They are much less likely to give it up and move on. And they aren't stressed to maintain a certain involvement or risk losing followers.

2. Cut the spam. I realize this is easier said than done on Twitter. It's pretty easy on Facebook. You "friend" people you know and trust and aren't bothered by people you don't know. Twitter is different. You'll follow people you know and trust, but you're open to people you don't know. It's part of the beauty of Twitter.

But spam is taking over Twitter. Automated accounts and "people" who aren't actually people at all. It's turning what was a warm, info-sharing community into a cold, lonely place overrun by rats.

Twitter has rules against spam. Hopefully they are enforcing them.

Twitter can also do more to discourage spammy behavior. I alluded to something similar in another blog entry, but Twitter should create a score or metric that helps classify a profile as a spammer. Whether or not that profile is banned, it will alert people that this is someone they should probably not follow, thus opening up their DM inbox to them. Additionally, third party applications that auto-follow users could then flag spammers and ignore them.

While spammers are tolerated by committed Twitter users, they are a reason that many newbies and casual users bolt the service. Not clear on whom they can trust, they are excited to be followed. Someone finds them interesting! This is great! They follow back. Then they are bombarded by garbage.

Twitter is a great marketing tool, but it is no place for spammers. None of us wants to hear from them, so let's put them in their proper place. If they can't be eliminated, Twitter at least needs to make life more difficult for them so that they are not rewarded for their behavior.

In Conclusion
I understand that Twitter purists will hate these suggestions. "Keep Twitter simple," they say. "Making Twitter anything like Facebook is a laughable idea," they snicker.

Fine. Ignore that Facebook was even mentioned in this blog entry as a comparison point. Do you want Twitter to grow? Are new and casual users important? Do you want to engage more people? Do you want to make yourself easier to find by people who know and trust you or your brand?

Then the answer should be easy: Change, though always difficult, is necessary.

Or Twitter will remain as it is. Cold. Overrun by rats. Success behind a velvet rope.

But secretly bleeding.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sports: AP Male Non-Athlete of the Year


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Today, the Associated Press honored NASCAR driver Jimmy Johnson as the Male Athlete of the Year.

I'll let you think about that for a moment.

I'm sure that Jimmy Johnson is a pretty good race car driver. Word is he won a bunch of races. His car is fast and he is able to move his car faster than the other guys. Sweet.

One problem: Jimmy Johnson isn't really an athlete.

Oh, the controversy! How could this poor excuse of a nonathletic blogger say such a thing? Easy, he's not an athlete. I said it again.

How could I make such a bold statement about NASCAR's greatest racer? Well, let's define what an athlete actually is.

This should be easy. We can actually take the definition from dictionary.com:
a person trained or gifted in exercises or contests involving physical agility, stamina, or strength; a participant in a sport, exercise, or game requiring physical skill.
An athlete's ability is all based on their physical gifts and skills. It's a combination of speed, strength, agility, stamina and smarts that make you a good athlete.

You know what isn't an athlete? A horse or any other animal. A horse's jockey. Cars and other inanimate objects.

Not sure why this one gets so much opposition. We praise horses like they are athletes. Put them on the cover of magazines. Treat them like people. They're freaking animals, people. They do what animals do. They don't get paid. They don't get endorsements. Their owners do.

Is the jockey the athlete? Of course not. They are more of a guide. Even a coach.

It's surprising we don't give race cars the same attention we give horses. It's the car, after all, that is moving so fast. Yet, it's the car's jockey (the driver) that gets all of the credit. The -- eh hem -- athlete.

Does race car driving involve some agility, stamina and strength? Sure, some. Look, I get that the driver of a car needs to have some endurance to race around in circles for a few hours. It sucks to be in a vibrating vehicle and repeatedly turn, turn, turn 2,000 times. So driving does require the expenditure of some energy.

But so does walking. And driving to the store. And sitting at your computer, typing up a blog.

The question is whether the athletic ability of a race car driver is incredibly important. Can Jimmy Johnson run a 4.5 40? I have no idea. Can he bench 225 pounds 20 times? I doubt it. Does he even need to be an above average athlete? Nope. It's all about the car, the efficiency and communication of his team, and his skilled driving.

Driving is a skill. But driving, in itself, isn't athletic.

You know what is a good test of whether or not someone is paid to be an athlete? The person's willingness to cheat by ingesting performance enhancing drugs. If you want to be the fastest runner or swimmer in the world, you juice up. If you want to hit the most home runs, you juice up. If you want to be the biggest, strongest basketball player, you juice up. If you want to make the biggest hits and overpower your opposition, you juice up.

If you want to win in horse racing, you juice up the horse. You could juice up the jockey, but I doubt that would help. Would be funny, but wouldn't help.

If you want to win in car racing, you juice (soup) up the car. Maybe the driver could take meth, but I doubt that would help. Ultimately, the athletic ability of the driver means very little. Their skills matter (which is like saying math skills are important to a mathematician). But it's mostly about the car.

Without the car, you'd just have a bunch of dudes sitting on a track. Or, to put it another way, the most athletic driver in the history of race car driving will never win a race if they're driving a Toyota Corolla. Just as the most athletic jockey will never win a race if they're riding a Shetland pony.

There are a lot of NASCAR fans who are passionate about the sport's cars and drivers. This shouldn't change that. I don't get NASCAR, mind you, but you're welcome to enjoy it.

Enjoy the cars, racing endlessly around the track. And the cars' jockeys.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Technology: What Twitter Needs, Part III


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When I first wrote about the "one" thing that Twitter needs on December 3, I didn't expect it to become a three part mini-series. Well, I've created a monster that doesn't seem to want to stop growing.

So, let's recap:
These two suggestions go back to one common theme: Twitter needs to help me quickly determine whether someone is worth following. Additionally, Twitter could do a better job of qualifying what type of Twitter user you are.

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Until now, I've needed to trust your profile. Do you have a friendly face? Do you have a lot of followers? Do you follow more people than follow you? Do you have an interesting story? Do we have similar interests?

But we're missing some stuff. I want to know what type of Twitter user you are. I need to know what awaits me if I follow you.

Following are some metrics that would help make that qualification, thereby making it easier to determine whether or not to follow (includes metrics from Part 1 and 2 as well as some new data):
  • Number of people whom I follow who also follow you (Mutual Friends, Part 1)
  • Number of followers who have sent you @mentions or retweeted your work (Active Followers, Part 2)
  • Number of people you follow whom you have @mentioned or retweeted (Engagement, NEW)
After writing Part 2, I realized a crucial nugget was missing. While it's nice to follow people who are interesting (and who have the active followers to back that up), I also want to follow people who are willing to engage.

If I send you an @mention, are you going to ignore it? If I regularly post some pretty interesting stuff (it's a given, people), are you occasionally going to retweet it? Or are you too busy worrying about your own stuff? Or are you so overwhelmed with your number of followers that you miss most of what I write? Or are you loyal only to a small group of people?

This all comes back to one basic question: What type of Twitter user are you? Every type of Twitter user has their place. I'll follow celebrities, comedy accounts, and news media for entertainment purposes. I don't plan to engage with them, other than the occasional retweet.

But I can't only follow that type of person. These are the type of people, after all, who aren't going to follow me back. And even if they do, the likelihood they actively engage with me is slim to none (other than @Alyssa_Milano and @moonfrye, who won't leave me alone). I also need regular people like me who share interests and are willing to engage. Maybe even a little interesting.

Are you a spammer? Are you interesting? Without some additional metrics built into the profile, I have to make assumptions. It's complicated. I usually just don't follow, as a result.

See to the right for my final (I mean it this time) recommendation.

Mutual Friends is now built in at the bottom. Before I had that included in the information about a person who is following you. Can stay there, too.

In Part 2, I made a separate entry for number of active followers. I think the number is less important than the percentage, so I removed the number and included this category in our new section below.

What percentage of your followers actively follow you (@mentions and retweets)? With what percentage of the people you follow do you actively engage (you send them @mentions and retweet)? What percentage of your tweets include links?

That's the kind of stuff I care about, beyond the basics of who you are. This tells me the type of Twitter user you are without having to guess.

Also, I understand that some of this info may not immediately make sense to everyone. Mouse over each item for a definition. Active Followers, Engagement, and Link Sharing are also linked. Click those links to view a more detailed breakdown.

For example, on Active Followers, display the number of followers, number of active followers, the percentage, and list all of the followers who have engaged along with the number of @mentions and retweets they have contributed to this user.

On the Engagement page, display the number of people this user is following, number they have engaged with, the percentage, and the list of users they have engaged with along with the number of @mentions and retweets they have contributed for each of those people.

On the Links page, simply display the number of links contributed and list every tweet the user has made that includes a link. Could be very helpful for finding a link from someone without having to sort through the noise.

What do you think? Would these changes help you better decide whether or not you should follow someone? Or does it simply make the profile too complicated?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Technology: What Twitter Needs, Part II


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A while back I commented on the "one" thing that Twitter needs. One of my biggest peeves is the spammers, automated accounts, and high percentage of "people" who aren't actually people.

So, knowing whom to follow is a major pain. Someone follows me, I'm probably not following you back. If you retweet something I say or send @ mentions to express sincere interest in me, I will probably follow you.

Otherwise, I proposed that Twitter indicate "mutual friends" (or something similar to this Facebook feature) so that if you follow me I know that certain people I am following also follow you. That gives me immediate reason to follow you back.

So that's that. Do that and I'm happy.

Wait, not so fast. About those spammers...

I read a cool article today by Rich Nadworny about "Twitter Ponzi." His complaint is that we generally judge someone's worth based on number of followers, and to achieve a high number of followers users will follow a large number of people hoping to get followed back. If they aren't followed back within a couple of days, they unfollow you.

It's a lame practice, but one that is heavily... well, practiced.

And so, Twitter, I have yet another solution for you. Let's do something that shows just how valuable someone is. Just how interesting they are.

You have 25,000 followers? So what? How many of those followers send you @ mentions? How many of them retweet you? How many times have you been retweeted?

How many actively engaged followers do you have? That's really how we know how interesting you are, right? Number of followers means nothing if none of those followers retweet you. If none of them engage or recognize you, you barely exist to them.

So here is my recommendation, Twitter. I have a few little ideas. Feel free to use any of them. Each would help by themselves. Here it goes:
  • On a user's profile, add "Active Followers" next to "Followers"
  • Add number of @ mentions user has received on the @[user] line
  • Add "Retweeted" link with number of times user has been retweeted
I want to keep it simple, so adding all of these may complicate the profile too much. Or maybe not. You decide.

By adding "Active Followers" we have a new ratio to consider. Of the 25,000 followers you have, how many are active? In other words, how many of those 25,000 followers have either sent you an @mention or retweeted you? What would be an acceptable ratio? Ten percent? Fifteen?

[For the record, 63 of my 306 followers have sent me an @mention or retweeted me. That's a little over 20%, and doesn't include people who mentioned but no longer follow me. I think that's pretty decent, and is better than I thought it would be. I'm guessing the typical numbers padder would have under 10%.]

Eventually, we'd figure out what that ratio should be. Anyone with an excessively low ratio is padding their numbers through shady practices.

You may not even need the @[user] or retweeted number at this point, but I still think they are helpful. How many times have you been retweeted? How many messages have been directed to you? Also, this would provide the ability to view those messages of yours that have been retweeted (not currently in the framework).

Again, you add these things and number of followers suddenly means very little. There are two reasons to get a lot of followers: 1) status, and 2) audience. And most of these people padding numbers are trying to get to #2 by improving #1.

If Twitter puts more importance on a new metric that measures how interesting you are to your followers, is there reason to pad numbers? People may still want to get followers by any means necessary, but suddenly there is a deterrent. 

Do you really want to raise your follower count at the expense of your "active followers?" Do you want to be flagged as an obviously uninteresting, number padding spammer?

Technology: The More Birthdays iPhone App


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A while back (November 4, to be exact), I told you about a project I'm working on for the American Cancer Society: The cancer-fighting organization's first ever iPhone application. Thanks to some last minute hiccups with the Apple approval process (we all have them), launch finally happened on November 30.

Useful Links
Very happy about it. If you don't feel like reading the previous entry, it's a birthday manager branded More Birthdays (support a world of less cancer and more birthdays). While it is by and for the American Cancer Society, make no mistake -- this is an application that everyone can use. It's not a cancer app. It's a great utility that also happens to spread awareness and allow you to join the movement if you so please.

Enough of me, just take a look at the video demo:

Great stuff, right? Feel free to share the video with your friends.

I use the app every day, so if you're a friend of mine you can expect a digital cake from me on your special day.

The challenge so far has been getting the word out.
So, you wonder, how can you help? After all, you want a world of less cancer and more birthdays, right? Right?

Glad you asked. Here's what you can do:

1) Add the app! It's free. No excuses. If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch (like I do), you can search for More Birthdays on iTunes or go directly there from this link.
2) Use the app! It's a great way to spread the word. But don't use it just to spread the word. Use it because it's a great, fun, useful application!
3) Join the Facebook fan page! We're using the Facebook fan page as a way to gather feedback and provide updates on upcoming enhancements and releases. Oh, there will be enhancements.
4) Share it with your friends! Twitter, Facebook, word of mouth, whatever it is. You're likely to have friends who either support the More Birthdays movement, would like to become a part of the movement, or would simply like to have a cool, useful utility for their mobile device. Spread the word!

Thanks for your support, and there's much more to come!

Technology: Follow the Growth of a Twitter Account III


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Please follow ACS_UT and be a part of its growth!

As part of a social media test to set some ground rules going forward for the American Cancer Society Great West Division's use of Twitter, we committed to managing the @ACS_UT Twitter account on October 21. It has now been just shy of two months since that time. I wrote an entry near the end of October revealing our strategies heading in. I wrote another entry a couple of weeks later detailing our progress and challenges.

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So where are we now? You can take a look at our progress graphically. I continue to update stats every few days to represent how we're progressing. But let's look at what's happening behind the scenes.

The progress is slow and steady, but noticeable when compared month over month. The ACS_UT account had 29 followers about a month and a half ago. That number is now over 100.

Lists have also become a representation of how interesting you are to your followers. Not on a list as of November 2, @ACS_UT is now on 12 lists.

Linda, who manages the account, is getting results. While the number of followers may not be all that high yet, she has productive followers -- which is what is important, after all. It's not only reflected in the lists that she is on. She is engaging by responding and retweeting others, and in return she is receiving more responses and retweets.

Twitter is a game of reciprocity. We're making a strong effort to seek out people who have an interest in American Cancer Society in Utah or who have been affected by cancer within that state. Of her 347 tweets, Linda has made 95 total @ mentions to 46 different people. The result is a more personal experience, and users who are willing to follow and share her message with their networks.

In addition to following, messaging and retweeting those affected by cancer in Utah, Linda is targeting other cancer organizations and publications in an effort to expand her reach.

Our biggest challenge right now is that we're limited to Utah. Granted, this was intentional, but it is limiting our reach, conversations, content and audience.

The growth has been somewhat slow, but we're still in the early stages. My personal account followed a similar path before suddenly spiking to 300+ followers. Given that we have only been actively managing the ACS_UT account for about two months, it's too early for any panic flags.

Our main goal is finding people in need and helping them. Limiting our search to those in Utah is limiting those we can help -- thereby limiting our audience, relationships and network.

As a result, our number of followers did recently eclipse 100, but we've been stuck there for about a week.

In Conclusion (for now)
Plenty to celebrate here as we look back on the first couple of months of this challenge. It is a challenge, after all, that many don't fully grasp when they first jump in. It's a commitment, and you can't make an assessment of value within the first few days, weeks or even months.

It takes time. But as long as the progress is continuous (if even slow), we feel good about the approach.

Should we expand our reach to the 12 states within the division or remain only within Utah? Too early to tell. This is the time of the year when there aren't many events -- particularly in Utah -- to discuss. During the spring and summer, it may be much more advantageous to focus on a single state and help engage people in ways they can get involved in the fight against cancer.

While the potential may be limited due to reach, it is still important to remain patient since we have not yet hit the magic three month mark. I believe we'll know much more at that point.

What do you think about our approach? Anything you've done, either with a non-profit or for-profit account, that we could learn from?

Please follow ACS_UT and be a part of its growth!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fatherhood: "Michael, You're Cured"


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Our son Michael's annual oncology visit was scheduled for 9:00 this morning at the Denver Children's Hospital. If my math is correct, this was about our 15th visit to a children's hospital.

It's a trip that we expected to make another 10 times.

Our first trip was when we received Michael's original prognosis of neuroblastoma (a rare form of childhood cancer) in 2003. Michael was two and a half then, which makes him eight now. Quite a bit has changed since then. His tumor, golf ball sized and lodged between his aorta and spine, was successfully removed with surgery. We moved to New Jersey for two and a half years so that I could follow a dream to work for the NBA before moving back to Colorado last summer. I now work for the American Cancer Society.

We've changed. Cancer changed us. The hospital has changed, too. The former Denver Children's Hospital has been replaced by a new state-of-the-art facility. Still great doctors. Simply the tools to go with the talent.

Dr. Albano was the calming voice who stepped into our lives to assure us that, though this was indeed scary, Michael was going to be fine. We were in good hands.

It was only fitting that it was Dr. Albano who was there once again today.

Up at 7:30 in the morning, our family of five gathered ourselves and were on the road at a hair past Mama's deadline of 8:15. Lisa and I kept a strong face, kept things light and upbeat, and suppressed the natural parental instincts.

So many memories as we made that trek to and into the hospital. Some painful, some hopeful, some celebratory.

No parent can ever forget the sights and sounds associated with receiving the prognosis. I remember waiting with a crowd of family support while Michael was undergoing surgery. Waiting out the seeming eternity. Waiting until a cool surgeon emerged to talk the gathering through the delicate surgery and to assure us that all was fine. I remember the regular trips for tests, and calming young Michael during his CT scans with whirring toys, assuring him that his "trip in the spaceship" wouldn't take long.

It all comes back on a trip like this. I don't necessarily want to forget it all. It was a good experience for all of us. It helped us appreciate what we have, learn what was important, and care for those not so fortunate. As we walked through the hospital today, we saw many families going through their own journeys, and some will have more ominous conclusions.

I see the sick kids and their parents who I know feel just as much pain, if not more. I get stuck in between looking away so as not to stare and wanting to run up and give them all a big hug. I ache for them.

Michael is a pro now and provided his blood and urine on demand. He handles it great, although he doesn't talk much about this. Always has a happy face. Never reveals much to his friends or teachers. His love is baseball, and that's what he wants to talk about.

Even though all has been well for six years, I'm a parent and I'm always worried. It's not rational, but parents aren't always rational beings. Every cold, every strange mark. That's my job. He has no need to worry about those things, but that's what his mother and I do.

When Dr. Albano entered the room, it felt like six years earlier. Unsure and nervous, I needed her assurance that all was ok.

I wish all doctors were like her. So calm, so caring. She collected necessary information from us and then turned to Michael. "How are you? How do you feel? How is school? Do you play sports? What is your favorite sport? What position do you play?"

Michael was unusually shy, but he obliged. Then he ran down the hall and back to show off his superhuman speed for the doctor.

Yup, he's fine.

Dr. Albano said she was going to check to see if there were any preliminary results, which was somewhat surprising to me. The urine tests, in particular, can take weeks.

I stepped out briefly and returned to find the kind doctor and my wife standing, talking, teary-eyed.

"What did I miss?" I asked.

"A lot."

Suppress the parental instinct.

His blood tests came back within the normal range. It's been six years. And based on the type of cancer and results we continue to get, we no longer need to make this trip.

"Michael," she said, "you're cured."

We no longer need to make this annual trip. We no longer need to worry about Michael. His cancer isn't coming back. Since he never needed radiation, the odds of him getting cancer are as good as those of any other child.

We thought we'd be making this trip until Michael was 18. We never expected to hear that today was our swan song. Our retirement party.

Cancer is out of our lives.

But we'll continue to worry about Michael. And Ryan. And Jake. Because that's our job as parents. There's no cure for that.

And we'll also continue to make the annual trip to Denver Children's Hospital around this time of the year. But it will be a different trip.

On the way out of the hospital today, we stopped by the volunteer office so that Michael and Ryan could drop off the gifts that they had bought with their own money for kids who were staying away from home for the holidays.

Presents for kids who need a smile. Kids of parents who need a hug.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Technology: Facebook Privacy: What You Should Know


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The new Facebook privacy controls, in particular the ability to determine your audience on a post-to-post basis, should make a big, positive difference in the way people communicate on Facebook.

In all likelihood, however, customizing privacy in this manner and maximizing its value will be used by a small minority. At least in the early going. The majority have accepted defaults in the past or made minor tweaks to their privacy.

This post is for that group of people.

Transition Tool: The New Defaults are More Public
Take your time when you go through the new settings with the transition tool for the first time. If you didn't take your time, go back and check.

If you haven't yet used the transition tool, the next portion is going to detail what to expect. Following are the new defaults when going through the transition tool. Please keep in mind, these are only the defaults. You can make each more restrictive, and if you made your settings more private than the defaults previously, your settings will continue to be private.

Everyone with an internet connection can now view it:
About Me (This is the paragraph you wrote about yourself in the Personal Information on your profile)
Family and Relationships (Family members, relationship status, interested in, and looking for)
Work and Education (Schools, colleges and workplaces)
Posts I create (Status updates, links, photos, videos and notes)

Friends and friends of your friends can view it:
Photos and videos of Me (Photos and Videos you've been tagged in, not the albums you created -- unless you are tagged in them)
Religious and Political Views

Only your friends can view it:
Email Address and IM
Phone Numbers

Keep in mind that if you accepted defaults before this latest change, you were not limiting all of this info to your friends only. "Everyone" was previously defined as everyone on Facebook. It is now everyone on the internet. I guess this begs the question: If you were comfortable sharing certain things with the 350 million people on Facebook, wouldn't you be willing to share it with the entire internet?

Then again, maybe you weren't comfortable sharing those things with everyone on Facebook and were unaware those things were available on such a large scale. That's one of the good things of this new change. It raises awareness so that people can go in and make changes as necessary.

The info that we can all agree needs to be kept private in most cases (contact information) remains only accessible to your friends. You can, of course, still keep this information from all or some of your friends. Or you can choose to open yourself up to more people.  Completely up to you.

I'm a private person. I don't want non-friends viewing my photos, intimate details of my life, or (in most cases) my posts. Since I previously was conscious of these things and customized my settings long before this latest change, those things would continue to remain private. See the screen shot to the right. This is how the settings looked when I went through the transition tool (click the image for a larger view).

As you can see, I'm not at risk here.  I did not click on "Old Settings" before taking this screen shot. Since I was conscious of my privacy before, I restricted access to everything.  Therefore, when the new privacy settings were transitioned, my old settings took control by default.

I understand, though, that not everyone is like me.  And you're probably in the majority who paid little attention to your privacy previously.  These are the people who need to pay the closest attention to the new settings.

If you accepted all defaults (or any defaults) before, you will lose privacy by continuing to accept Facebook's new defaults.  Are you comfortable with that?  You may be.  But you need to go through your settings to make sure that you are sharing what you want to share.

To the right is an example of someone who previously accepted defaults and is going through the transition tool for the first time.  If this person were to toggle everything to "Old Settings" I would assume (though I can't confirm) that privacy would be set the way they previously had it in these cases.

Of course, this is the transition tool we're looking at here, and chances are you've already gone through this process.  I highly recommend going back through your privacy settings to make sure they are set where you are comfortable.

Things to Keep in Mind
If you set "Posts by Me" to be viewable by only your friends, you can still change this on a case-by-case basis.  This simply means that going forward, you will post these things only to your friends unless you specify otherwise.

I think there may also be some confusion regarding photos. "Photos and Videos of Me" refers to photos and videos tagged of you. If you see that this is now set to "Everyone" it doesn't mean that your photo albums are now public for the world to see. Make sure to go to each individual album on your profile, click "Edit Photos" and then "Edit Info." Here it will show what your privacy settings are for that album.

Personally, I have a few albums that I restricted before this change. I checked those albums after the change and they remain private. In fact, I even logged in as someone else to confirm that they could not see them. Confirmed.

Does that mean that Facebook is bug free post-change? Nope. Honestly, I don't know if they are bug-free. But my guess (pure guess) is that many of the complaints right now come from a misunderstanding of their previous settings and the current settings. Bringing attention to people's privacy is bound to cause some concern.

Regardless, you should probably be careful in the early going. Double-check everything to make sure it's set the way you want, and test things out with someone you trust to make sure those things that are supposed to be private indeed are. You can't ever be too careful with your privacy.

The New Settings, After Transition
Ok, so you already went through the transition tool before and that page is no longer accessible. It also provided a more top level, basic view of your privacy.  To get a more granular view, check out your privacy settings. This page is separated into five groups:
  • Profile Information
  • Contact Information (Control who can contact you on Facebook and see your contact information and email)
  • Applications and Websites (Control what information is available to Facebook-enhanced applications and websites)
  • Search (Control who can see your search result on Facebook and in search engines)
  • Block List (Control who can interact with you on Facebook)
The Profile Information page is much of what we've already covered. This is where you control access to the following information (defaults are in parentheses):
  • About Me: About Me description in your profile (Everyone)
  • Personal Info: Interests, Activities, Favorites (Everyone)
  • Birthday (Friends of Friends)
  • Religious and Political Views (Friends of Friends)
  • Family and Relationship: Family Members, Relationship Status, Interested In, and Looking For (Everyone)
  • Education and Work: Schools, Colleges and Workplaces (Everyone)
  • Photos and Videos of Me: Photos and Videos you've been tagged in (Friends of Friends)
  • Photo Albums (Edit from album to album)
  • Posts by Me: Default setting for Status Updates, Links, Notes, Photos, and Videos you post (Everyone)
  • Allow Friends to Post on my Wall (Yes)
  • Posts by Friends: Control who can see posts by your friends on your profile (Friends of Friends)
  • Comments on Posts: Control who can comment on posts you create (Only Friends)
Personally, I restrict About Me, Personal Info, Birthday, Family and Relationships, Education and Work, and Comments on Posts to "Only Friends." I further restrict Religious and Political Views, Photos and Videos of Me, Posts by Me (by default) and Posts by Friends through the use of lists.

You can restrict or open all of these access points. Do yourself a favor and check them all out.

The Contact Information page lets you restrict some of the personal info that appears on your profile.  Again, defaults are in parentheses.
  • IM Screen Name (Only Friends)
  • Mobile Phone (Only Friends)
  • Other Phone (Only Friends)
  • Current Address (Only Friends)
  • Website (Everyone)
  • Home Town (Friends of Friends)
  • Add me as a friend: Control who can add you as a friend from search results and from your profile (Everyone)
  • Send me a message: Control who can send you a message from search results and from your profile (Everyone)
  • Individual e-mail addresses (Only Friends)
I don't think these defaults are all that unreasonable. Website is the only item I open to "Everyone" of this group. I set Home Town, Send me a Message, and my e-mail address to "Only Friends." I further restrict IM Screen Name, Mobile Phone, Other Phone and Current Address with lists.

The Applications and Websites page allows you to control how you share information with applications.
  • What you share: Learn about what you share when using applications and websites
  • What your friends can share about you: Control what your friends can share about you when using applications and websites (Personal info, status updates, online presence, website, education and work, my videos, my links, my notes, my photos, photos and videos of me, about me, my birthday, my hometown)
  • Blocked Applications: Block specific applications from accesing your information and contacting you
  • Ignore Application Invites: Ignore application invites from specific friends
There are certain types of information that Facebook applications need to make them social. I've limited that information to a point. You can select and deselect any of the information. I have blocked an application (Mafia Wars) and have yet to ignore application invites from any one friend. So far. Don't test me.

The Search page allows you to control how people can find you, both on and away from Facebook.
  • Facebook Search Results: Who can see your search result on Facebook (Everyone)
  • Public Search Results: Allow search engines to access your publicly available info and any information visible to Everyone (Checked to allow indexing)
I let "Everyone" find me in a Facebook search result. Otherwise, a friend from an isolated part of my life who does not have common friends -- or a new member who has yet to add friends -- will not be able to find me.  I also allow public search engines to index the information I leave as public, though you should consider whether this is necessary for you. I only do it because when I make something public, there is going to be a business reason behind it (promoting a product or service). In most cases, there is no reason for a typical person to do this.

That said, I also wouldn't be all that scared of search engine indexing, assuming you don't share too much as it is. Do a Google search of yourself and you'd be amazed by how much information about you can already be found.

Finally, the Block page allows you to block anyone from contacting you on Facebook by providing their name or e-mail address. Nope, I haven't blocked anyone. Yet.

In Conclusion: Why Did Facebook Make the Changes?
It's pretty obvious what Facebook is up to. They want to encourage users to share more information to make the site more social and readily available to search engines. Potential revenue streams come into play since they can syndicate the information that people want to make public.

I've heard a lot of people claim that the new "Posts by Me" default change to "Everyone" is an attempt to be like Twitter. Eh, I disagree. Is Twitter a factor? Sure. Facebook has the potential to offer everything that Twitter offers and 100 times more.  They can put Twitter out of business.

But there is also an opportunity for them to make money. And the success of Twitter shows that people are willing to share some, if not all, information with the world. Why not allow it?

Personally, I love the option. I went over the advantages in detail yesterday.

That said, I acknowledge it's a dangerous move. Although we've set the precedent that we're willing to share quite a bit of information on Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, MySpace and other sites, Facebook started as a very private network. Those who expect it to remain completely private without making adjustments to their privacy settings are in for a rude awakening.

Can you retain Facebook as a private experience between you and your friends? Absolutely! But you need to be conscious of the Facebook changes. You can't play ignorant. Protect the information that you feel needs protecting.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Technology: Why Facebook Privacy Controls are Awesome


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By now, you've undoubtedly heard about Facebook's controversial new privacy rules and settings, whether you read a scathing warning or simply stumbled upon the announcement while logging into the social networking service.

This blog entry is not going to venture into the area of protecting your privacy and whether or not you should immediately delete your account and run away screaming. I'll leave that up to everyone else.  It's a popular subject.  People love to complain.

No, this entry is going to focus on how you can make best use of the new controls and how they can greatly enhance your Facebook experience. Scare tactics aside, the new controls are a really good thing, if used properly.

In other words, the new Facebook privacy controls are awesome.  After reading this, I hope that you'll agree.

Now join me as I share with you how I'll be using these new controls and why they make me so giddy. Additionally, I will briefly discuss my few concerns about them and what it is I'm doing to protect myself.

A New World has Opened
Make no mistake, I'm a big Facebook user. Love the service. By far my all-time favorite website. Like many of you, it's because of Facebook that I have reconnected with so many people who may have otherwise disappeared from my life. It's a wonderful way to maintain and enhance relationships as well as build a professional network.

Advertisement over.

One problem, however, was the "all or nothing" privacy controls. I have used those (now former) controls, absolutely. I have a mixture of good friends, casual friends, people I barely know or don't know at all, relatives, and professional contacts.

The problem with having a diverse group of Facebook friends is determining how and what you will share.  Previously, I could create lists that would allow me to decide how I was going to share universally. One list could see my status updates and links. Certain lists could see specified photo albums. Certain lists could comment on my wall and read comments from others. Certain lists couldn't see anything at all, and I wonder how friending me could be all that beneficial.

I'm a relatively private person. That said, I hated that every status and every link had a universal rule.

That changes now. From post to post, status to status, link to link, I can determine who sees it. This is awesome.

To do this, I went to my Friends page and created the following lists:
  • Good Friends
  • Politics
  • Sports
Trust me, it took some time to decide on these.  I actually created a few more levels at first before deciding I was overdoing it.

My "Good Friends" list includes people I know well and with whom I'm comfortable sharing just about everything.  While this may include a couple of people I know professionally, there are very few.  These are relationships that won't be altered by what I am sharing.

Everyone needs to create a Politics list!  This is one subject that can end friendships and at least cause problems on Facebook.  I've begun hiding people who incessantly share political subjects that oppose mine.  Not because I'm not willing to listen to others' point of view, but it's just not what Facebook is all about.  Presenting information in a fair way is fine. But attacking the opposition -- the position that many of your friends hold -- is just not a cool thing to do. Some have crossed the line to disrespectful.

And I also realize that those who oppose my political views don't want to see my constant ramblings either.  I'm saving them from the torture.  Therefore, the only people who appear in my Politics list and will view my political links and rants are those who I know won't mind it.

Finally, the Sports list might offer me the most new opportunities for connections.  There are dozens of people (maybe a hundred or more) who previously could not see any of my status updates.  Poor souls.  Many of these people, though, I know from my previous career in sports.  Sports is a huge part of my life, and it's a rather innocuous subject.  When I write a new sports-related blog entry or just feel like spouting off about sports, I can now select my Sports list to view it.

This is beneficial in two ways.  First, if I know you don't care about sports, I'm not bugging you with this nonsense.  Second, I may not have previously shared anything with you, but I know that this information may be valuable to you.  I can build these relationships and also find new readers for my blog.

Using lists in this way is not only beneficial for me, but it should also make me a more interesting "friend." If I don't think you want to hear about what I'm going to share, I spare you. I will also be sharing with others I hadn't previously. I share more info, you're more likely to enjoy what I share. Everyone wins.

All Friends and Everyone
As mentioned above, I previously shared links and statuses with a very small group.  Now I can target specific content to those who may find it interesting while continuing to protect sensitive information.

Every time I post something, I can now select a list.  Additionally, I can decide that something is safe enough to send to all of my friends, even if I don't know them particularly well.  This, of course, will be used sparingly, but it's a nice option to have.

The option to share something with "Everyone" -- including the non-Facebook world -- is a bit scary, but get over that initial fear if you have a product to market.  This is huge for business people.

While my Facebook account is personal and is all about interacting with people who are a part of my life, part of my life includes my career.  Now if I'm going to share something that, for example, promotes the More Birthdays iPhone app, I can share it with Everyone.

Who can see that?  Literally everyone.  If I choose (and I did), I can have publicly shared information indexed by search engines.  So if I share the application with "Everyone" it will appear when someone runs a search away from Facebook.  Instant marketing.  Awesome!

Put it this way. If you use Twitter, you can be comfortable with the "Everyone" option when it seems reasonable on Facebook. You're sharing with the world on Twitter. You've set the precedent that you're comfortable sharing that piece of information. Why not share that same info with the world on Facebook?

The beauty of this is that, although you always share with the world on Twitter (or don't if you have a private account), you have the option on Facebook on a post-by-post basis. It's beautiful.

Be Careful
I embrace Facebook's changes because I know what I'm doing.  I was already using privacy settings before, I'm a relatively private person, and I'm very conscious of what I'm sharing and with whom I'm sharing it.

Much of the negative press surrounding the Facebook changes focuses on certain information now becoming completely public: Name, gender, location, list of friends, and list of fan pages.  Of course, this isn't entirely true. 

If you choose, you can determine that only friends or friends of friends can find your search result on Facebook.  Additionally, you can choose to not allow public search engines to index the information you choose to be public (by default, it is not allowed for my account, though not clear if this is the case for all).

So, immediately, you can cut this off at the head and not let any of your personal information be viewable outside of the network you choose.

In response to feedback, Facebook has already made it so that your friends list no longer appears when performing a public search (not logged into Facebook). You can also keep your friends list from being viewable from non-friend Facebook users by removing them from view on my profile. So, this should no longer be an issue. Either way, I don't quite understand why people cared so much initially considering that Twitter users publicly follow 2,000 people without issue, but anyway.

Facebook fan pages are similar. They are visible on your profile to anyone logged in to Facebook, but those pages are not currently appearing for those not logged in. Now, I'm not particularly thrilled with the idea of making my fan pages available on my public profile.  Even though it's possible to find what pages I fan if you aren't my friend, listing five pages on my public profile is a little unnerving. 

How did I solve this?  I simply went through my fan pages and removed anything that I didn't want to appear on my public profile.  Of course, this will likely significantly alter how people decide to become a fan of a page.  Until now, most of us did it without much thought.  That changes, since what you fan will help determine your public persona.

I'm comfortable with what is now publicly viewable.  But again, you can choose to limit the reach of your profile on Facebook and prevent it from being indexed on public search engines.

Will people unknowingly and foolishly share too much information?  Will Facebook face a battle and likely lawsuits?  I'd bet on it.  But if you know what you're doing, embrace the change.

In Conclusion
There is so much to like about the new privacy options.  If you are conscious of your privacy and already customize how you share information, the changes are nothing but good news for you.  This is a game changer that can help people become closer to those they previously neglected.  Networks and friendships will be strengthened.  Some will leverage the "Everyone" option to improve their marketing reach.

While I fully support these changes, make no mistake: Setting everything up for the first time takes a lot of work.  If you have a few hundred (or more) friends who need to be placed into lists, you're going to be spending some time creating those lists.  And the controls, though now simpler, still require your attention.

Despite what you've heard, this does not mark the end of your privacy on Facebook.  You will simply need to be smart and even strategic about how you adjust your settings and share going forward.  After your lists and controls are set, it's smooth sailing.

Hopefully you, too, will then realize what has become obvious to me: This is awesome.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Technology: It's Official: I'm Pro-Company


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Maybe I'm getting old. Maybe I've learned some things over the years. Maybe my corporate roots have left me more understanding of the plight of the company.

Whatever it is, I've noticed a recurring trend lately. I'm pro-company.

Sounds terrible. Sounds like something you'd never want to be. I'm for the corporations and against the employees and the customers. Sorta.

I didn't really notice it until today, but let's go over some of my strongest opinions, most of which are covered within these pages:
  • I support Major League Baseball on the steroids issue.  I don't put all of the blame on them for the inability to notice and stop the problem.  I put much of the blame on the players and Players Association.
  • I rarely believe in conspiracy theories.  Sports leagues aren't fixing games so that big market teams get to the Promised Land.  ESPN doesn't hate the Brewers and other small market teams.  Referees and umpires aren't conspiring against you.
  • I am 100% behind the NFL and their new strict punishments to clean up the game and the image of its players.  Some players may suffer unjustly, but it's for the common good of the business.
  • I have learned to detest message boards and the constant complaining from the users about the company's management for which the website they are commenting was created.  Everyone needs to be fired.  No one is doing their job.  Every move is wrong and ill-conceived.  It's tiresome.
  • Unlike the general populous, I take changes to social networking sites in stride.  I realize that there is a business reason for the change, and I also understand that changes are made in phases.  You often don't see the full picture for why something is changed right away, but it usually eventually will make sense.
The last can be applied to several recent situations that I've covered here.  Facebook changes its design and people freak out, wanting the "old Facebook" back.  A few months later, Facebook makes another change, and people freak out again, wanting the old Facebook back that they previously hated.

People have similarly freaked out about the Retweet change on Twitter.  This change is far from finished, and Twitter's leadership has said as much.  But people don't care.  They hate it.  They will never use it, no matter what the eventual benefits.

And so they complain.  Complain, complain, complain.  But they never leave.  They just stay and complain.

Today, Facebook made some much anticipated changes to their privacy settings.  These changes are still being rolled out and I unfortunately cannot comment much on them at this point since I do not have access to them.  But they are changes that I've been excited about ever since the plans were first announced this past summer.

And people freaked.  Freaked, freaked, freaked.  Can't believe Facebook would make their friends list public, even though they gladly publicly follow 2,000 people on Twitter.  Freaked that their name, profile picture, and gender are now public.  As if those things are akin to your bank account number.

Always look past the good and gravitate to what could be seen as negative.  I'm convinced that much of this is spurred on by people wanting traffic to their own sites.  Celebrating Facebook for their changes would be boring and falling in line with the man.  Rebel and you become edgy, controversial, and for the people.

I see a lot of pluses to the new changes (that I have not yet been able to use), and I'll write my full review when I am able.  That is not the purpose of this entry.

I'm willing to try it out.  To give Facebook the benefit of the doubt.  To accept change.  To go with the flow.

Maybe I'm just too easy going in my old (post-20s) age.  Maybe I've been jaded by the incessant complaining and overreactions over the years, particularly when I've been a member of the company that is the target of the complaints and conspiracy theories.

Or maybe I've gone to the dark side and become pro-company

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Sports: Edgar Martinez enshrined in Hall of Very Good


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The time to submit ballots for the 2010 Baseball Hall of Fame inductions is around the corner, which means the time to argue about who does and does not deserve induction is now.

There are some old names on the ballot who may or may not have a chance, depending on whom you ask. They include (among others) Andre Dawson, Bert Blyleven, Jack Morris, Tim Raines, Mark McGwire and Don Mattingly. Actually some quality there, and I'd expect at least one of these guys to finally break through (nah, not McGwire).

The new names bring new arguments to the table: Robert Alomar, Edgar Martinez, Barry Larkin, Andres Gallaraga and Fred McGriff are the most prominent. Of the group, Alomar is most likely to get first year induction. The rest are far from assured a spot. One or more may never get their plaque.

This discussion is quickly becoming more and more complicated, and the biggest reason for that is the Steroid Era. What is real? What matters? How do you compare players from this era to those in or not in the Hall of Fame?

Edgar Martinez brings this and yet another layer of complexity to the argument: the first legitimate candidate who played primarily as a Designated Hitter.

The Stats
For a moment, let's ignore the era. Let's ignore that he rarely played on defense. Let's simply look at the career stats of Edgar Martinez.

Seasons: 18
Hits: 2,247
Home Runs: 309
Batting Average: .312
On Base Percentage: .418
OPS: .933
All-Star Appearances: 7
Silver Sluggers: 5
MVP Awards: 0 (Finishes of 3rd, 6th, 12th, 14th and 16th)

The Surface Verdict
If you want to look only at the stats and ignore the era in which he played and the fact that he was predominantly a Designated Hitter, you can make a strong argument for Martinez. He has some numbers (.312 BA, .418 OBP, .933 OPS) that are down-right nasty.

Of course, the hit and home run total, though very good, are not exceptional. Make no mistake, such totals are found in the Hall of Fame. But collecting 2,200 hits and hitting 300 home runs is far from a sure ticket to the Hall.

That said, if you were to compare Martinez to the current members of the Hall of Fame, he would be qualified to be included in the discussion. Of the 229 hitters in the Hall, following would be his ranks:

Hits: 86th
Home Runs: 37th
Batting Average: 56th
On Base Percentage: 14th
OPS: 17th

Is he deserving based on the stats alone? Sure. Is he a first ballot Hall of Famer based on stats alone? Probably not. He has some gaudy numbers, but the fact that he didn't eclipse any magic numbers (3,000 hits or 600 home runs) eliminate him from "slam dunk" consideration.

The Strikes
Unfortunately, there's more to this story than just the stats.

1) Martinez would be the first player inducted to play the majority of his career as a Designated Hitter. This is a problem. We're not looking to induct the best hitters into the Hall of Fame. We're looking to induct the best baseball players. Granted, if he had been a record setting offensive player, we could overlook his DH status. But, while very good offensively, he was not great enough to be granted that privilege.

Martinez was half of a baseball player. He was very good at his half, but the fact that he played 591 of his 2,055 career games (29%) in the field is a problem. Not to mention, 476 of those 591 games (81%) happened before 1993. In other words, Edgar Martinez spent nearly all of his prime potentially Hall of Fame years as a DH. Martinez never won a Gold Glove award, and would certainly never have been considered. This is a negative.

2) Martinez played during the Steroid Era. This is notable for several reasons. First, his numbers are not nearly as eye popping when taken in this context. This is also reflected by the fact that he was never a Most Valuable Player award winner and only was seriously considered once (twice if you consider a sixth place finish). So Martinez was never considered one of the best defensively at his position because he never had a position. And he was never considered the best player at any one time. And based on MVP voting, he was only briefly considered an elite player.

The fact that Martinez played in the Steroid Era and just barely hit more than 300 home runs is also a problem. He hit about half of what others in his era hit who will struggle to get induction. Granted, he has other stats that are superior, but the era devalues his home run and RBI production. It even devalues his hits and batting average.

This is not picking on Edgar Martinez, but we do not know if he was a steroid user. He has never been implicated. Suggesting he may have used could be unfair. It is unfair. But there, unfairly or not, will be a cloud of suspicion over almost every player during this era. Guilty until proven innocent, unfortunately.

Edgar Martinez never hit 20 home runs in a season until the age of 32. Then, suddenly, he ran a string of seven consecutive seasons with more than 20 homers, running through his 38th birthday. In fact, he even hit 37 home runs with 145 RBI (arguably his greatest season) at the age of 37 and during the heart of the Steroid Era in 1999.

This doesn't mean he took steroids, obviously. And there are several other players with clean reputations (Steve Finley, Jim Edmonds, Luis Gonzalez, Raul Ibanez) and unclean reputations (Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, etc.) with similar patterns.

Did Martinez take steroids? I don't know. But I wouldn't be surprised about anyone. It's a pattern of performance that is very common in this era, and often attributed to steroid use. It is not otherwise considered normal to have the greatest years of your career to occur after the age of 32.

And while some voters may not care or may vote for a guy on the first ballot if there is no immediate evidence, I'm not that guy. Martinez has 15 years to earn enshrinement. I'd prefer to let as many facts come out as possible to remove any doubt on a guy who, coincidentally or not, has some suspicious numbers during a suspicious time.

3) Martinez was rarely if ever considered one of the best players of his day. Was he very good? Absolutely. Was he a great hitter? Indeed. But he was a one-dimensional player. He was a hitting machine who could not run and could not field. Was he one of the best Designated Hitters? Yup. Probably the best. But that's not a position. It's the lack of a position. It is the presence of weakness.

Let's give Martinez a position. Let's say he was a first baseman. Was he one of the top three first basemen of his era? And you can't just consider offense in that equation. Let's just say he played first base and was one of the worst in baseball in the field.

Was he better than Jeff Bagwell? Better than Mark McGwire? Better than Todd Helton? Better than Albert Pujols (though their careers didn't coincide neatly)? Better than Rafael Palmeiro? I think you have a difficult argument in each case.

Speaking of comparing first basemen, what about Don Mattingly? Mattingly played for 14 seasons (shortened by injury, and four fewer than Martinez). Yet, he finished with nearly the same number of hits (2,153) and his batting average of .307 was comparable. Also considering Mattingly did not play his peak years in the Steroid Era, you'd have to say that his 222 home runs were in the same ballpark.

But you can't stop there with the comparison. Mattingly was largely considered the best (or one of the best) at his position -- both offensively and defensively. He won nine Gold Glove awards. Won one MVP award and finished in the top five three other times (one more in the top seven).

Mattingly was a complete player who had an incomplete career. Because of the brevity, he is not a Hall of Famer. Yet, in that brief career, he amassed comparable offensive numbers, particularly when compared to each player's peers. He was, for a core part of his career, considered one of the best players in the game, offensively and defensively.

Is Mattingly a Hall of Famer? Jury is still out. But considering a beloved Yankee hasn't made it into the Hall after nine tries with this many notches on his belt, how can we seriously consider Edgar Martinez, the player who was unable to field Mattingly's position?

I am not completely shutting the door on Martinez. He's not a first ballot Hall of Famer. I'd first like to see a player like Mattingly get in. In my mind, even with the piles of offensive accolades, Edgar should have an uphill battle. Maybe he'll enjoy the last minute fate of another borderline candidate with a questionable all-around résumé, Jim Rice.

Or maybe, just maybe, Edgar Martinez belongs in the Hall of Very Good.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Technology: The one thing Twitter needs


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Twitter is simple, which has a lot to do with its popularity. The best way to tick off Twitter loyalists is by adding any level of complexity and thereby chipping away at that simplicity. See response to the new Retweet function.

That doesn't mean that Twitter is perfect the way it is. Far from it. There are issues. Issues that turn many people off from the service. Issues that could turn me away without a solution.

The Problem: Who Are These People?
This ain't Facebook, people.  So in the vast majority of circumstances, I don't know you personally.  And given that the site is overrun with spam and scammers, it's not easy separating the real from the junk.

So growing a network can be a scary process.  People follow you who may or may not be interested in what you have to say; who may or may not have common interests; who may or may not want to spam or scam you.  It's nearly impossible to know who you can and can't trust.

There are many different types of Twitter users. The one common thread is that we all want followers. Some for good, some for evil.  Without followers, you don't have people who are interested in what it is you are saying.  Without that, you're talking to yourself.

Different users have different strategies to get followers. Personally, I search out people with like interests and follow them. I do this, mainly, by keeping an eye on who people I know and trust are retweeting. I also search for people who retweet something said by those people I know and trust.

I manage whom I follow very closely. If I follow you, I sincerely care about what you have to say. What you provide me has added value.

Because of that, I can't realistically follow more than around 200 people (admittedly, this number has risen from 150). So I am picky about the people I will follow.

[Note: This number is now over 300. I know, it's crazy. However, I still have the same approach to following people. I sincerely care about what they have to say. I don't follow for the sake of following and then filter them out. I simply don't read every single tweet of the day like I once did. More on this in another blog entry later.]

Others will seemingly follow anyone. It's partly out of strategy to get people to follow back. Some follow everyone who follows them, out of courtesy.

Why? I don't understand this. If you are following everyone and not actually reading anything they say (which is what happens when you follow thousands of people), it's an insincere gesture.You're helping their numbers but providing them no other value.

And when you follow everyone who follows you, your account is opened up to spam. Once you follow someone, they can send you direct messages. Otherwise, they cannot.

So it always makes me giggle when those who follow thousands of people complain about their DM spam. There's a pretty simple solution to that. Be more careful about the people you follow.

But this takes us back to the original problem: Who are these people? When someone follows me, I rarely follow back. I don't know who they are. Most seem like they aren't real. Most follow thousands of people, so do they really care about what I have to say?

So when expanding my network, it is very difficult to discern which accounts represent real people, who will provide value, and whom I can trust.

The Solution: Mutual Friends
This is a Facebook feature, and it clearly wouldn't work the same way or be called the same thing due to differences in the way people form relationships. But think of it like this: If I am unsure of who someone is on Facebook (look, I'm terrible with names and faces), I look at mutual friends. If they are also friends with people I trust, I in turn trust the friend request.

In 99% of the cases in which someone follows me on Twitter, I have no idea who they are. I do not trust them. I do not follow them back.

So many of these people aren't real people at all.  What value will they add by me following them?

But what if Twitter told me that Person A, who is now following me, is being followed by Person B, Person C, and Person D -- people who I am following and respect? Suddenly, I have interest in following this person.

Such a solution does not only help me in finding people I trust to follow, but it would also likely help getting myself more meaningful followers. If someone pretty cool, interesting and popular is following me, suddenly I'm cool and interesting. Without a feature like the one I'm proposing, such a relationship often goes unnoticed.

The change, though simple, significantly increases the strength of Twitter networks and relationships. It encourages you to follow more people, and increases the likelihood that you will follow someone meaningful to you. It also increases the likelihood that someone you find interesting will follow you back, thereby creating a productive relationship, as opposed to an empty one.

Isn't that, after all, what we want?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sports: Halladay open to joining the Dark Side


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So word is that coveted Toronto Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay is willing to waive his no-trade clause for a deal to the Yankees.

Bring it on.

Wait. This from a small market fan? Sick of the Yankees making it rain with 100 dollar bills to the tune of a $200 Million payroll?

Yeah, you heard me. Bring it on.

The system is broken. It's been broken for a long time. Some could say it's been broken for a century. But it's difficult to fix a broken system when the Yankees aren't winning World Series after World Series.

The past decade has only added to the argument that money can't buy championships. That small market teams can compete. That there's parity in baseball.

It's all B.S. The Yankees can buy championships. They've simply made some horrendous moves during the past decade covered up by some good ones. But that's a luxury you can afford when you seemingly have no budget.

Want to prove to the world that the system needs fixing? Trade for Roy Halladay.

The Yankees are the perfect suitor, to be honest. They can pay the $15+ Million salary. They don't care about the money. They can send only prospects and young underachieving players in return, players they have no use for anyway.

And let's be real, this is more than trading for a star pitcher in the final year of his contract. Halladay would essentially be signing his 2010 free agent deal by approving such a trade. If he succeeds with the Yankees, do you really think they'd let him leave the Bronx? Of course not. They'll spend whatever it takes.

So trade for Halladay. Sign Lackey. Sign and trade for every other big money, big name star that other teams know they can't afford now or won't be able to afford soon. Take advantage of all of those poor saps.

Create a $250 Million payroll. Win 125 games. Sweep through the playoffs.

You laugh. Think it can't happen. But it can. With the new revenue generating stadium in New York, it certainly can. The Yankees have no limits. While many of the top tier teams are trimming payroll, the Yankees can eat up the debris.

Then? Then can we admit there's a problem? Then can we do something about it?

I'm willing to suffer through a couple of years of Yankee super dominance to get something done. Until now, they've stumbled and bumbled through Kevin Brown, Jason Giambi, Roger Clemens, Johnny Damon, Kei Igawa, Gary Sheffield, Carl Pavano and other similar bad signings only to remain competitive by signing players like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, CC Sabathia and others.

Stop screwing up, Yankees. Make some good signings. Sign the best players. Trade for the stars that the poor small market teams can't afford.

Dominate. Dominate hard. Dominate like no team has ever dominated before. Make the other teams scream for mercy.

And change.

Sports: MLB Network helps relive memories, open wounds


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I applaud the person or people who put together MLB Network. Greatest channel ever created.

A "Greatest Games" marathon of All-Star games is ending tomorrow. I have watched several from the 1980s and 90s and will be recording several shorter "highlight" shows of All-Star games from those two decades as well as the 1970s tomorrow.

It's heaven, man. Games you thought you'd never see again. Names you'd never hear. Faces you'd never see. All relived.

I saw Jack Armstrong start the 1990 All-Star Game. Jack Armstrong! Man, I haven't heard that name in forever. One of many rookie cards I collected, hoping he'd continue his studliness and lead to my eventual wealth.

But being able to sit through a decade makes the Steroid Era seem all the more obvious. And painful.

Watching the games in progressive was interesting. You know why. Players started getting bigger. Then a lot bigger. Numbers and physiques were cartoonish. And early it was comical listening to announcers talk about new training methods, stronger players, bigger numbers. But unable to connect the dots.

I was watching the 1999 show, playing the "Juicer or Not Juicer" game when I suddenly became saddened. It happened right around the time I decided I couldn't be sure about guys like BJ Surhoff or Jay Bell.

This sucks. It sucks for the fans. It sucks for the players who were clean.

BJ Surhoff had 20 homers at the break. I know, that seems crazy. But it's no typo. He had 20. He would eclipse 20 in a season three times in his career, failing to reach double digits in 12 of 19 seasons.

But in 1999, the heart of steroid use, he had 20 home runs midway through the season. Guilty? I hope not. But it sucks for him if he's innocent to put up numbers like that at a time like that.

I don't know if he took steroids, but I can certainly see why he might. At 34, his career was winding down. He was a solid hitter, but an endangered species. He was a hard worker, a utility guy, someone who wasn't great at anything. And he didn't hit home runs in bunches.

He also had never before participated in an All-Star game.

Would you do it? I like to say I wouldn't. But it was a strange era. Everyone was doing it. If you didn't, you may lose your job to someone who was. Especially a guy like Surhoff.

I remember meeting the guy as a rookie in 1987 at a card show. I was a 12-year-old Brewers fan decked out in my team's gear, eager to get his attention. I idolized guys like Surhoff.

There is no real reason to dirty his name in this conversation. But it's the type of discussion that happens as a result of an era of lies and deception.

Jay Bell? I don't know how I missed this guy. He didn't look huge, I guess. Maybe just because he was surrounded by body building goons like Mark McGwire. He wore glasses. He could be your high school science teacher.

The year 1999 was Bell's 14th season. Until then, he had hit single digit home runs eight times. Eclipsed 20 twice (20 and 21 the prior two seasons).

But in 1999, Jay Bell set a career high for home runs in a season with 24. By the All-Star break. He finished with 38.

Bell and Surhoff are two of the many examples we don't usually hear when people start throwing around names. But it's the crappy game we end up playing when the league and its players have done everything they can to bury this era.

It sucks that we can't be confident about these guys. Instead of doing all we can to separate the cheaters from those who did it the right way, we're told to lump everyone together in the era.

It's not just Bell and Surfhoff. It's also the others like Cal Ripken, Nolan Ryan, Tony Gwynn, Paul Molitor and Barry Larkin. It's also those who never became stars.

It's easy to separate Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire. But it's near blasphemy to mention some of the others. Others that have clean images. Others who have never been accused of anything. Others we want to believe.

But there will always be that question. Did he? Maybe just once? Maybe just one season? Or was it several seasons?

We'll never know for sure. And we may even be understanding if we did.