The GMail Man and More From Two Gmail Users Just Trying To Understand

This morning my friend, Alex Conner,  a programmer at nFrame in Indianapolis,  sent me a link to the Mashable article about the Gmail Man.  I wondered for just a moment why I was getting this link first thing in the morning, well, first thing in my morning which begins a bit later than I’d like.  But then our background on the subject hit me: our ongoing conversation about switching  from GoogleApps to Microsoft 365.   A lot of people I know have been having the same conversation in light of a number of sub rosa activities being implemented by Google against certain groups they don’t like.  It does get people a little nervous and thinking a little bit more about their future with Google.  Especially in light of Google’s recent Gmail intervention campaign.

Alex and I have quite a philosophical history when discussing the state of tech and current tech news.  Out of those conversations comes some great blog fodder, which both of us being so busy, we often let slip into the ether.   And I thought the the Gmail Man would be no exception.   This time, though, I decided not to let that happen and share some of the narrative of our conversation with you.

The line that really grabbed me, I told him, was this: “Maybe Google had it coming, particularly after its own recent snarky video offering a Gmail Intervention.”  It’s a pretty definitive take on the situation.  I didn’t see the video myself  but I was pretty much turned off about the arrogance of the campaign on face value.  I’m thinking to myself:  Right. Like I’m going to help you, Google,  get people onto a product that you may turn off and discontinue without warning at any time. As an IT Director, this doesn’t sound like a good plan to win clients and influence people to me.

I have always been appalled, I told Alex, -which I reminded him from our past discussions – about the way the hi-tech community in general conducts business.  It’s never been good and it comes back to bite you….eventually.  It broke the standard consumer/business model that most people knew and had a history with.  People didn’t like buying licenses for software at ungodly prices for something that was perceived as a thin CD (those are the things you get music on right?) packaged strategically in a big empty box to make it look substantial and not get real live support for it.   You add  on to that the constant updates that ‘shoved the chicken around the plate’ for special interest users but often frustrated the main consumer and even a respectable group of developers.  Then guess what?  The bite came as web services and SaaS came and undercut a lot of that market. There are other examples, too numerous to to mention,  that followed.  I then reminded him of yet another evidence of the same troubles in tech land with the article he had previously sent: “Now the tech market will take a further hit based on your article from Tech Republic the other day.”

Yes,  there is a growing awareness that its not all that pretty and slick behind the keyboard anymore.  You had an industry that was predicated on constant and sudden changes that strangely thought it could conversely create longevity for its core.  I said in conclusion: ” I think they’re all drinking some kool-aid out there in Google land.  Because its obvious they don’t “get it”.  They are not the end of the trail.   They can’t start enacting draconian changes irrespective of the trust they’ve engendered and not get some pushback from the public.  Some one else (Microsoft 365 maybe even)  will come up with a different idea that the disgruntled masses will see as better (It may even be better).   But the point is that they (the masses) will change.  Capitalism and The Abolition of Man will see to that.”

Alex’s response was: “Yep.”

We both laughed.  I wondered at that moment, like the people in The Gmail Man, if Google were reading our email.

“Hey, Google, you out there?  Read this and weep.  And stop being evil!”

We both laughed again.  I had to say that because it was Google who told us long ago  in their unofficial corporate motto:  “Don’t be evil” .

So what happened?

I’m not sure of the details.  Life is so complicated anymore.  But I am reminded as I watch videos like  “Google intervention” and “The Gmail Man” that Malcolm Muggeridege was right: “There is no new news.  Just old news happening to new people.”

Will we pay attention this time and learn from it?

ADDENDUM 8/7/2011

Last night TechCrunch released a story titled,  With Google, There Will Be Bad Blood, a riff off the Daniel Day-Lewis film “There Will Be Blood“.    As I read it, I couldn’t help but think of the blog post I had just written, “The Gmail Man”.   As usual, Alex and I were sharing links fast and technically curious on this one, too.  I share below our comments (with his permission, thanks friend!):

Alex:  “Increasingly, Google is trying to do everything. And they have the arrogance to think that they can. And it’s pissing people off.”

Yep.

Me: Yeah. Didn’t know if you saw “There Will Be Blood” and remembered Daniel Planiview’s straw-sucking speech at the end.

If they (Google)  had just concentrated on making their UC top notch it wouldn’t have been such a blood bath. But its like they can’t focus on any one thing (or don’t want to). I could understand the ‘can’t focus ‘because there is so much talent within. You can’t blame a man or an organization for the depth and breadth of its talent. But its this driven push to copy others rather than get out in front that defines to others the “evil” that has fired the ire of their competitors and a growing number of their users.

Alex: Yeah; if Google was really trying to do what they say with releasing technologies like Android and the like the would have incubated separate startups. Instead, Android is saddled with being a great Google product instead of a great Mobile product. It goes on and on.

Yes it does…

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Wordbooker: Promote your entire website on Facebook

Recently I was assigned the task of promoting our yearly signature event: FHL Week.  It’s an entire week of ‘Backyard Missions’ outreach to the neighborhoods and people of the city of Indianapolis and its outlying areas.   Anything from cleaning gas stations bathrooms to light construction renovation is offered to businesses and private dwellings alike.  Project ideas are generated by area church leaders and supported by FHL International, Inc. (Faith, Hope and Love International) beginning around April and May and in July everything is ready to go to kick off the spontaneity of outreach that follows during FHL Week  in July.

FHL is a very mobile organization.  We podcast, vodcast and gather pictures about our work in real time and then post them to our various social media.  On a daily basis that can be a lot of work without some automation, during FHL Week its almost next to impossible to keep with the flow of incoming posts that have to be edited before being posted to the web site.  With Facebook we have both our president’s  profile page plus our org’s “fan” page.  Having a tool that can post to both simultaneously or to either is a godsend.  That’s where WordBooker comes in.

Wordbooker is a social media tool that allows you to do simultaneous auto-postings to two Facebook pages and updates those pages when ever they are edited.   It’s an extremely robust application that allows a great deal of control at the poster level.  The settings page is huge and can be a little intimidating to the novice user because it allows for a great deal of customization and over-ride but Wordbooker provides some helpful documentation and they have a Facebook Fan page of their own where you can report any issues.  One thing to remember is the settings are a little tricky at first.  Incorrect settings can cause you to double post and you’ll want to avoid this by making sure the republish settings are correctly configured for your needs.

Author’s Note: As of this posting , Facebook, is having some problems on their end and have been reporting since Thursday (9/2/2010) that the API was experiencing Key errors and today WordBooker reports that there is trouble with sessions expiring without warning.  Indeed, I had to reconnect to Facebook only moments ago on the WordBooker settings page.  Happily, everything is back to normal and Wordbooker is publishing!

Mashable: “WordPress Theme Thesis Maker Backs Down, Adopts GPL”

With the relaunch of NanoWeek, I started out with coverage of the WordPress/Thesis debate not expecting an end to the debate quite so soon.  But having had to rest up from my previous day’s exposure to the 104 degree  heat index in the midwest, I might have “missed this train” except for my good geek pal, Alex Conner, who sent Mashable’s link my way.

Reading Mashable’s  headlines was like a nice cup of hot coffee to start the day. But as the article goes on to state about the start of the issue between Thesis and WordPress,  I wasn’t the only one sleeping.  As reported by Jolie O’Dell, Pearson was able to do what he did because the community didn’t step in until the number of users of Thesis collected attention enough to get an interview:

The sleeping dog was lying quite peacefully until Mixergy’s Andrew Warner conducted an explosive interviewwith Chris Pearson, creator of Thesis. We say “explosive” in the sense that the blogosphere (and other social media spheres) exploded as the video racked up views. As Pearson revealed the financial success he’d seen from his should-have-been-at-least-partially-free-and-open-source software, WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg fired back on Twitter. This testy exchange culminated in another Mixergy interview, this time a face-off between the two gents. A lawsuit was a-brewin’(1)

Well, the sleeping dog, like myself, though eventually did awake with an explosion of  debate.  And in just a week or so, has, because of the power of social media, settled into a new day with a nice peaceful resolve.

In this case, WordPress remains open and free to all…and can now be fully supported by WordPress.  As Matt Mullenweg puts it:

“This has taken a lot of my time over the past few days and was going to consume more if it went forward,” he wrote on Twitter today. “Thrilled, however, that Thesis is now legal and in compliance… What’s going to be far more useful to Thesis is the fixes we can send him now — which is the most beautiful part of open source.” (2)

That’s the beauty why Open Source is what it is and why all of us in that community support it.

And it’s always good to wake up to a good end to a ticklish problem.

Resources:

(1) “WordPress Theme Thesis Maker Backs Down, Adopts GPL”, Mashable, Jolie O’ Dell

(2) Ibid

Open Source vs. Open Enough (to trap you inside): The WordPress/Thesis Theme Conflict

“Pearson argued that rather than hurting the WP community, Thesis has enhanced WP and WP themes by attracting “thousands” of new users to WP.” (1)

Prima Facie (on the surface of things).  That’s where the popular argument for “I’m breaking your rules but look at the benefits to you” comes from.  It comes from looking at the short term benefits….usually first to the person breaking the rules who then wants to convince you that you will benefit, too, by breaking or compromising those same rules. But the reality is that those rules were there for a reason, maybe in some cases not a good reason, but a reason worth looking into before removing it entirely. And usually, the way to do that is not the way Chris Pearson, creator of the Thesis Theme for WordPress , has done by openly flouting it and then claiming in so many words to Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress: look what a marketing favor I’ve done you!  By Pearson’s logic in the quote above  should he think he is entitled to a cut from the WordPress marketing budget?

If you have not been following this recent WordPress/Thesis debate, it first started on Twitter between Matt and Chris:(3)

😦 RT @copyblogger: @photomatt You better watch it Matt. We invited you to sue us to settle the GPL, but libel gets you a new world of hurt.(4)

Doesn’t sound any different than the schoolyard bully drawing a line in the sand, does it.  And yet, Pearson would not have any Thesis theme  at all to charge his users for if it weren’t for the hard work of all the other contributors to the  WordPress Open Source Community who gladly adhered to the Open Source GPL.  This debate has been carried by a number of blogs in the development and WordPress community and for back story I encourage you to read them.  IT World’s Brian Profitt does a straightforward job of illuminating the GPL/Derivation nuances  issue. And Promomusings penetrates more deeply into the conversation with Matt and CopyBlogger’s Brian Clark as well as others with an opinion and argument, both for and against this debate.

I’m not a GPL expert, which is why I point you to the other blogs who have already covered this aspect better than I could.  My purpose here is to be of support to the WordPress Community and the standards that started it and brought everyone this far.  So I’m throwing out some things to think about when you are looking for the easy way around developing for your clients with WordPress. Think about balancing whether its worth learning and coming up to speed so you can contribute back against getting more clients out the door with something that may not be well supported in the future because it has been sold off.

The bottom line, as those for the “just business” view of this debate should acknowledge, is that they wouldn’t have a framework to build themes on if it weren’t FREE to begin with.  The only “payment” that was asked back was that you contribute and/or license what was going to reap you financial benefit.  This is readily  summed up in this comment:

But yeah, when it comes to development frameworks, I’m absolutely a GPL/BSD/MIT-style sort of guy. Come to think of it, I’ve never paid for a development framework, but I tend to get a lot out of them and contribute back once I’m up to speed. It’s a nice way to work and build community. (5)

Scott A hits the nail on the head.  His fellow commenter, Danny, epitomizes the “business is business” attitude that reduces previous business agreements, policies and rules such as the GPL to nothing more than  “feelings” when they get in the way of your money-making.  But isn’t that why they are there in the first place? To make the community safe from predatory practices, that only at first, cross the line in a seeming beneficial fashion only to keep pushing the line past the next few hundred miles.  Nice to know that the next time you draw up your company’s mission statement, vision, 5 year plan, and policies. Remember that in the future:  if someone wants to break what you both agreed upon to make money all they have to do is define your agreement as “feelings”.:

Standing up for WordPress’ core freedoms and the GPL might make you feel good at the end of the day. However, business is business and there is no place for “feelings” there.(7)

Agreements are there for a reason.  Boundaries drawn are there for a purpose.  They create trust and they make for a stable way to make a living for the greatest number.  As Matt himself states:

However you can vote with your dollars and your feet and move to a GPL alternative. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, those who would trade freedom for convenience deserve neither. It’s a better choice in the long run anyway, history has shown just like WordPress passed up its proprietary competitors, the same will probably happen in the theme world. (6)

He’s right.  Our economy is in the mess its in because too many people listened to the Chris Pearsons of this world who skirted agreements in order to make the faster buck….and then locked people into an “open enough” deal that was in essence a trap that, in the end, caused them more trouble than it was worth for the small conveniences and easy wins up front.

Author’s Note: Here is an excellent breakdown of how WordPress Themes derive from WordPress by Mark Jaquith

Resources:

(1) Brian Profitt, “WordPress/Thesis Conflict Highlights GPL Nuances”, http://www.itworld.com/open-source/114247/wordpressthesis-conflict-highlights-gpl-nuances , July 16, 2010, IT World

(2) Image Source: Technically Personal; http://techpp.com/2009/05/12/thesis-wordpress-theme-no-big-deal-about-it

(3) Jeffro, “How To Screw Up Your Image”, http://www.wptavern.com/how-to-screw-up-your-image

(4) Matt Mullenweg, http://twitter.com/photomatt/status/1656087626

(5) Scott A, Commenter, http://www.weareinstrument.com/

(6) Matt Mullenweg, Commenter, http://ma.tt/

(7) Danny, Commenter, http://dannyarr.com/

The Relaunch of NanoWeek

I started this blog originally as a commentary on the huge changes happening to the Internet and Education.  These things still interest me but since then I’ve taken a different path in IT.   After some encouragement from a few mentors, I have decided to relaunch NanoWeek as a blog about my WordPress tips, tricks, and struggles.   But along the way I’ll share what I’ve learned these past 5 years about:

  • Web Design and Development in the age of CMS
  • Social Media Management for Faith-based Non-profits
  • CMS Management with a focus on Information Architecture
  • Unified Communication on a shoestring budget

It’s been a useful five years to me and I hope what I share will be useful to you.