USA Freedom Act: Same song, different dance

A few minutes ago I saw this tweet from President Obama about the Senate passing the USA Freedom Act.

Um, so about that.

Instead of the NSA maintaining a big huge database of phone metadata, now the phone companies are required to maintain a big huge database for the government.

Now AT&T, and other phone providers, will be keeping a much bigger database of our activity that their employees can abuse. You know, like those NSA analysts who were swapping nudie pics from text messages and spying on their intimate partners.

When you add the fact telco's enjoy blanket immunity for their actions when spying for the feds does it help you sleep any better?

From that ArsTechnica article in that link about blanket immunity:

(the bill)...instructs a federal court to grant immunity from lawsuits to any telecom that received a written directive from the attorney general, regardless of whether the company believed its actions to be lawful.

We've swapped one spymaster for two. One public, and one private. Neither one is accountable to any of us.

Terrorism is a real threat. The government should be able to investigate and stop those threats. The problem is this NSA program, covering the term of two presidents, doesn't help our ability to stop an attack in any measurable way. This program has failed to yield a single verifiable instance where 'intel' gathered in bulk stopped a terrorist attack. The White House panel convened to investigate the NSA program revealed by Edward Snowden confirmed this when it said,

“Our review suggests that the information contributed to terrorist investigations by the use of . . . telephony metadata was not essential to preventing attacks and could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using conventional [court] orders,”

Maybe you're someone who feels they can trust the government today because you've got nothing to hide. There's a really good chance that is completely true, but do you really want anyone tracking everywhere you go, everyone you talk to, and every message you send across the Internet?

I sure don't.

That one time where Twitter kind of changed my life

A couple of months ago, I got to spend some time catching up with friends I made at LessConf in Costa Rica, and made a bunch of new SuperFriends in the process. We broke bread, enjoyed the world's most delicious Pina Coladas at Rancho Margot, and told stories about growing up, our jobs, and our families. Here's the view from one of my early morning hikes.

Ranch Margot in the morning.

One theme came up repeatedly in my conversations while I was there: the biggest moments in life are rarely the ones we plan. We kind of bump into them, and look back years later to realize how important things that felt like small moments can become. Hindsight shows they are the start of something big that we begin to assign value to these moments.

Stories like this came up again and again and touched on everything from business, to relationships, to a person's health. You know, we encounter little coincidences like this all the time.

One moment like this for me happened about six years ago, and you can actually find it on Twitter.

In April 2009, I was working at a truck driving school. My job was to talk to people who were interested in going to the school, see if they qualified for job placement, and help them get started. It was a good job. The people in my office were really great, and they were happy with the work I was doing. But there wasn't much opportunity for me to grow with the company, so it ended up feeling like a bit of a dead-end.

My dream was to work at a tech company. This was right at the crest of the wave of enthusiasm around Facebook and Twitter, when I was reading about Foursquare taking over SXSW. Every week I listened to This Week in Tech and participated in the conversation in my car. Living in Pensacola, FL a career at a company building technology products felt like a bit of a dream. My wife and I were starting to talk about moving somewhere if I could find the right fit at the right company. We had one kid, and weren't crazy about the idea of moving but it seemed like the next logical step to get where we wanted to go.

Then I noticed a local guy, Chris Barr, I was following on Twitter worked at AppRiver. They were always hiring, and I'd sent in my resume about a year earlier and never heard anything. Chris was replying to their Director of Customer Care, Brian, talking about a bowling event they'd had recently.

After reading through a bit of their conversation thread, I sent Brian this tweet:

This started a Twitter convo where Brian asked me to email him my resume. A bit later he sent me this @reply:

Following someone because their cool Tweets showed up in my local feed led me to a conversation he had with a co-worker, which landed me an interview at a company where I spent 5 years, and I got to spend the last 4 years learning how to market and sell software on the Internet.

Now six years later I still live where I want and work for Wildbit from my house. Six years ago this was the job I was dreaming about. Then one tweet started one thing, that led to another, that brought me here.

Life isn't about waiting on the coincidence. It's about recognizing a good thing when you bump into it.

Edit: I wrote a version of this story for the AppRiver blog in 2010. Since then quite a bit has happened for me professionally, and I wanted to add this note to acknowledge that.

Designing your message for round and square pegs

Square-ish building in a round hole. There’s no single way to get your message across to all your users. Text, images, video, sound are all tools you can use to help people know the next step in any online process.

Yesterday morning I read a post from the Ghost team where they talked about increasing the number of people who sign-up and log-in to their blog on

Right now their conversion path is someone visits > Sign up for a new account > Create a blog > start writing. Here's a pic of the process, followed by the Ghost team talking about the performance of this funnel.

Ghost onboarding process

Down to the 3rd screen, the conversion rate is 97%. Pretty good. However, only 60% of people ever made it to the 4th screen. A clear indication of a problem, and one which had been bothering Hannah for a long while. The recognize the best technical solution, having a single sign-on for your account and all of your blogs. However, this means a ton of work on three separate parts of their ecosystem.

They recognize the best technical solution, having a single sign-on for your account and all of your blogs. However, this means a ton of work on three separate parts of their ecosystem.

Instead, they tweaked their blog management screen a bit for first time visitors. They added an emphasized text welcome with a link to a more in-depth tutorial, changed the background color of the blog section, and added a visual callout to their “Write a post” button.

The result? A big improvement in the performance of their final conversion step. Day-over-day comparisons showed improvements of 10%–25% the first week, and have shown the same level of improvement consistently over the last few weeks.

This 30 minute change added $61,000 in yearly revenue.

Maybe you can’t find a way to increase your revenue $61,000 in 30 minutes, but the key lesson here is people need you to explicitly guide them through your message.

I’m reminded of this all the time when someone sends my wife a video. She hates watching instructional videos on YouTube. Everytime she asks me why they couldn’t just write a blog post, instead of making her sit for five minutes and watch a stupid video. I tell her I really like how-to videos and we playfully tease each other for a few minutes while she gets the info she needs from the video.

I know from experience over the last 6 years of working on conversion funnels, it’s really easy to get caught in the trap of familiarity and assume everyone will understand the design and copy decisions my team has made.

The danger for all of us is to assume our “show don’t tell” is flawless, and we end of leaving piles of revenue on the table.

Every user won’t be excited by your message told in the way that makes sense to you, or makes you most excited.

Some users will get it if we just show them a great design, but we still need to explicitly tell people how to get the most from what we’re selling.

A fantastic ride: Star Wars returns to Marvel comics

A New Hope Above: Skottie Young painting that will be used as a series of variant covers for new Star Wars series launching this year at Marvel.

Last week, Marvel comics launched the first title in their revamped Star Wars line. In the early days of the franchise Marvel was Star Wars comic home, before the license landed at Dark Horse comics in the early 90s.

I was aware of the Dark Horse stories, and even picked up an arc or two. By the time I started visiting my local comic shop back in 2005, the storylines were entrenched and weren't really jumping off points for someone getting started.

One of the reasons I'm really excited about the new Star Wars book is the artist. Astonishing X-Men caught my eye and I picked up the first 12 issues in a trade paperback. This run was written by Joss Whedon and pencilled by John Cassaday. If you've never seen it, the art is fantastic. Here's an example:

Astonishing X-Men

Colossus has always been a personal favorite, and this is one of his best storylines. The whole run with Whedon and Cassaday ranks at the top of my personal favorite comic arcs.

My top 4 in no particular order: Checkmate 1-22 by Greg Rucka, Flash: Fastest Man Alive by Marc Guggenhiem and Tony Daniel, Astonishing X-Men by Whedon and Cassaday, and All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly.

I cancelled my pull list sometime in 2010, and haven't really kept up with any series since then.

That all changed with Star Wars 001. It picks up where Episode IV left off: the Rebels have destroyed the Death Star and making their way in a galaxy far, far, away.

Seriously, I'm not going to talk about the story here because you should go buy this book!

Go to your local comic book shop and see if they have any of the nifty pins from this launch left. See if they have any prints left of the awesome Skottie Young variant cover from the top of this post. If you're local to Pensacola, I highly recommend Pensacola Pop Comics on 12th Ave.

Don't want to visit your comic shop. No problem. Download it in the Marvel app on iOS or Android, because Amazon killed Comixology.

And get ready, because next month Marvel will be launching a new title: Vader. An entire series focused on the baddest Jedi to ever grace the big screen.

Here's a preview panel for Vader revealed at the end of Star Wars 001:
Vader vs Jabba!

If that isn't enough, there's another series coming in March.

Princess Leia 001!

As the dad of my own little self-rescuing princess, I couldn't be more excited to see Marvel launching a new comic focused on Leia. Here's the cover for issue 1:
Cover to Princess Leia 001

Don't miss these friends, because they are getting top-notch talent and treatment at Marvel. Here's hoping they can get a kick-ass Indiana Jones series going at Marvel before the end of the year.

Sesame Street and passing down empathy

You've probably seen this shirt at some point over the last few years:

I learned it from watching Seasme Street

If my generation really learned everything it needed to know from Sesame Street, we owe it a huge debt. A show filled with muppets of all shapes, sizes, colors, and temperaments has been teaching generations of kids around the world to work through their own feelings and empathaize with other people's feelings.

The shows I grew up with all had a PSA segment. These never really approached the creativity or uniqueness of Sesame Street. If you're over 30 you probably remember GI Joe teaching you knowing is half the battle. Maybe you even remember Vince Vaughn in an after school special about steroid abuse, or very special primetime episode.

These were all little things designed to cue parents. "Sure GI Joe just blew up a Cobra base, but here's a bit where we'll teach your kids to always brush their teeth!"

All of this has been on my mind this week because our kids have been watching a Lego show called Ninjago. We love Lego, and when our kids asked if they could watch it we said sure.

If you aren't familiar with Ninjago, it's a marketing vehicle in the illustrious tradition of Transformers. A cartoon meant to sell toys. The Ninjas train, and fight to protect their home from the Skulkin army. The Ninjas are Lego Minfigures, and the Skulkins are snakes.

With all of the background info in place, cue a moment from this past weekend. The kids are watching Ninajgo and I hear a chant start on the show. As I listened, I heard it was an anti-snake rally, where protesters were chanting "Snakes go home!"


In the grand scheme of things I don't think this is a big deal. Lego isn't inciting racism or religious persecution. It just felt really, really weird and out of place in a kids show. From classics to new shows, there are a ton of great stories for kids, on TV, in movies, and in books for kids. I'm sure some of the shows I grew up with defintely had similar moments.

Anyway, I thought of all this the other night when this popped up in my Twitter timeline:

There are people who group Sesame Street, and shows like it, with non-competitive kids sports. Like acceptance, fairplay, and empathy will be the downfall of our civilization.

Call me crazy, but I'm glad tolerance and empathy have been emphasized in kids shows, and thankful for parents who instilled those values in me.