Photo of Garry Vander Voort

Garry has a versatile skill set including web development, team management, project management and social media marketing. He is a problem solver praised for having a calming influence on demanding clients. He is a skilled communicator able to explain technical concepts in straightforward terms, and adept at strategic staffing, resource management and cost control.

A lot of people I follow on Twitter, also have what I assume are quality Instagram accounts.  I wouldn’t know. After a few days of them cross-posting their Instagram activity on Twitter, I either stopped following them or muted them.

This mindless posting of activity from one social account to another is very pronounced on Twitter.  Where instead of a visually compelling social card, which would make sense from Instagram, we get a simple link.

What does this do for you as a blogger or social media community member?  Nothing. 

It contributes noise, and noise is the enemy of any community.  Sometimes the noise takes the form of repetitive posts or humorous memes, but in its worst form, it is beyond useless.  Plus, these noise posts that are combined with attempts at self-promotion, ruin your credibility and reduce your reach.

So just stop doing it.

Instead tailor your content to your audience.  Sure you can use a bridge service, companies like Tweet Photo will act as a bridge between accounts, taking your photo from Instagram and including it.  But that type of automation is still robotic and for the most part careless.

If you have to use a service, try something like Buffer.  It will connect your various social media accounts and you can write custom posts for each one and schedule them.  

If you are going to use social media, use it.  Don’t think of it as a shortcut to perceived success.  All of these services are a community.  So be a good member of that community and stop contributing to the noise post pollution.  

In the end, you and your followers will have a much better experience.

In just a few months I will have been podcasting for ten years.  I went into podcasting reluctantly.  I had a blog and everyone around me encouraged me to start releasing audio versions of the stuff I talk about on my blog.

When I started, I was terrible.  Audio quality was low.  Talent was even lower.  But I was committed and that first year I released a show every week.  I was doing it, yet I never stopped to really consider if I should be doing it.

So that is what I would like for you to consider before podcasting.  Why?

Since you will get better and through hard work might even get a following, how you answer that question is more important than anything else.  

Podcasting is time-consuming, not just from a production standpoint. Jut like blogging, it is the stuff you need to do after the show has been released that makes the difference.  That means getting out their and hustling, doing anything to get heard in the extremely crowded podcasting world.

If you are already at the top of your game, as an expert of something, podcasting will be a lot easier.  People will already want to hear from you. It will most likely enhance your reputation, if done right, and open more doors for you.

If you are unknown, it is going to be a slog.  You will be working against large podcasting networks and hundred of thousands of shows all competing for ears.

An article published April 25, 2018, by FastCompany states there are:

Over 525,000 active shows and over 18.5 million episodes

Is it worth your time?  Unless the journey is fun and you do not expect to become “famous” or make money. The answer is probably not.  

Here is a simple test for you.  This also applies to blogging.

Ask yourself, how long am I willing to do this without asking for money to do it?  That money could be in the form of solicitation of services or an advertisement.

If you need to have an advertisement in your first few dozen episodes.   You are probably doing this for the wrong reason and podcasting is not worth your time.

I didn’t write this to dissuade future podcasters, but to level-set your expectations.  Podcasting is just like blogging.  It works best when it is an expression of your expertise and personality and not just a vehicle for advertising.  So think long and hard before you decide to sit down to record and make sure you are realistic about your goals before getting started.

Communication styles will vary between co-workers.  This is just a fact of life.  What you feel comfortable with, other’s might find burdensome.  Many companies will try to sell you on solutions that they think will fix all your issues.

No matter your job title or department, Slack can help your team work together and get things done.

It is a miraculous claim and it is also not true.  I am not saying that Slack is not a wonderful tool.  We used it at LexBlog for over a year and I loved it.  BUT, I also happen to enjoy the chat format for communicating.

No tool is going to solve your problem though.  In fact, the illusion of true communication can actually be masked by the noise generated by these tools.  Companies like Slack send you emails monthly crowing about the number of conversations they facilitate. 

But it is difficult to measure effectiveness.

So do pick the communication tool you think is the coolest or the one that is most dependable, but remember it is only a tool.  A tool is only as skilled as the person using it.

As a person using that tool, you need to work hard to get better at it.  That means practicing communication with different people.  That means getting out of your comfort zone. That means learning and growing.

This is a challenge at any level.  At LexBlog it is problem we tangle with daily. From our relationship with our customers to the people sitting 5 feet away, we need to make effort.  Effort not just to open up the lines of communication, but to try and listen or talk when required by the person we are communicating with.

I have a hard time with this sometimes. But every day I am trying to be more aware. Unsurprisingly, when you start really communicating, you discover the people around you are fascinating and nuanced, with lots of great ideas and talent. 

Only once we have learned to communicate with those around us, will the tools we decide to use, show value.

I have worked at a lot of companies where the frequency of team members reviews are measured in months. While this might be convenient for team leaders, it is not frequent enough to give valuable feedback for team members who NEED guidance on what they should or want to be doing.

Several years ago, multiple companies sprung up with solutions for dealing with the dreaded review. Some of my favorites use technology and combine it with the more frequent 1:1 meetings that occur weekly at companies. This approach shortens the feedback loop and allows for corrective measures and positive feedback to happen more frequently.

This is exactly the approach we have taken at LexBlog.

Every week, everyone is asked to go to an internal form and answer 5 short questions. These questions deal with:

  • What a person hopes to accomplish
  • What they actually accomplished
  • What impediments they might face
  • What changes they might want to see in the organization
  • Who on the team has helped them most

The results of this form are available to the team member, so that they can track their progress over time, as well as the person to whom they report. So now in any 1:1 meeting they have instant discussion points and a log of those discussions.

This has been a great tool at LexBlog and is simple to implement. You can use something as simple as a Word Doc or go our route and implement the solution using Google Forms.

I suggest you meet with your team to establish the questions you might find valuable, but that you keep the number at 5 or below. The idea is to be frequent, fast and provide the most amount of value to the people who help drive your company without adding an onerous amount of work to their day.

Last month LexBlog opened its aggregation service to the outside world. This is something we have wanted to do for a while, but it has taken us a while to get to a place where we are comfortable.

Our philosophy behind this was pretty straightforward, a rising tide lifts all boats.

The more publications we have, the greater exposure we can bring to publications on the network. A month in and that seems to be working and more people are contacting us to join.

And the timing is great. Very soon we are going to be launching a new LexBlog, built upon a more solid technical foundation. Everything seems to be coming up LexBlog, but sadly we did not anticipate something. Immediately upon opening the doors, we hit up against an issue we should have considered.

What are out criteria for accepting publications? Do we reject people? If so, how do we do that without sounding like jerks?

At first, we thought, let’s just bring everyone into the fold. This sounds wonderful in theory, but as you might guess, when you try to be truly open you attract a lot of people whose content is at best advertising and at worst, SPAM.

Very quickly we realized we needed to have more strenuous review criteria. This has fallen upon our Publisher & Editor-in-Chief, Bob Ambrogi to figure out.

Throwing humans at this problem is not ideal. If we really want to expand LexBlog, we need a better solution. One that doesn’t need to consider the publication or even the author, but instead reads the actual post. This means machine or deep learning.

So, will future iterations of LexBlog know good content from bad content without human oversight? Is that even possible? I am an optimist and a fan of technology, so I am going to say, “yes.”

Whatever we do develop to solve this problem, it will be more compelling than having humans do it. More importantly we will learn from it while continuing to make mistakes. Doing so we will sharpen our technical chops and at the same time grant us a deeper understanding of the core nature of legal publications that will enable us to help improve them.

That is why everyone here signed onto do this and so onward we go.

When people ask me what they should do to get started on blogging, I rarely talk technology or even blogging. While those are important elements of blogging, they are next steps. Things you do after you decide you want to blog and have found your tribe and your voice.

Ask yourself this, when you decide you want to start blogging. Who am I blogging for? If your answer is everyone, you are not going to be happy. Nor is anything you are about to read going to help you.

When you are right you are looking for an audience. I want you to go online and find a person that embodies that audience for you. This should be a person, not a brand or a company. At the end of this little exercise, you should have just one name.

Now go online and learn more about that person. Look for the following things:

  • Are they reachable online?
  • Do they write online?
  • Do they use social media?
  • Do they follow other people?

If the answer to the majority of the above questions is NO. Forget that person for now and find another person until the majority of these criteria are going to be met.

This person should be your goal.

You will follow them, connect with them and ultimately get them to follow you. If you fail on that front, don’t worry, what you pick up in the meantime in terms of knowledge and other people to connect with, will make it worthwhile.

So what do you need to get started.

  • The person from above
  • An email account
  • An RSS reader like Feedly
  • A Twitter account
  • A Facebook account
  • A LinkedIn account

Check out where this person writes. Do they have a newsletter you can subscribe to? If so, sign up. If they have RSS on their blog, subscribe to it.

Now head over to social media and follow them on Twitter first. It is the easiest entry point. Do not fill your Twitter account with noise. Try and make it a useful tool. Not a reflection of who you are, but who you would like to become.

After you have checked Twitter, visit Facebook. Some people use their Facebook accounts more casually than others. See what they have publicly available. If it is not much, odds are they are using it for just family and friends. If that is the case, move on for now. You can always revisit them later and reconnect.

Facebook is a powerful tool. People use it differently than both Twitter and LinkedIn, but people are also a lot fussier about their Facebook accounts. So be thoughtful. Don’t rush to friend somewhere there unless they are appear to be very open with their friending policy.

With LinkedIn, connect with them, but make sure you tell them why. You are not using a shotgun approach here. Be thoughtful in a note with your connection request.

Alright now comes the fun part. Start to learn from what you just did. Read their work. See who they share with. Are those also people you would be interested in following? If so, repeat the above process.

Now start liking and sharing their work. Where possible make thoughtful comments.

After establishing a rapport with a person, they will most likely follow you back. If not keep at it and keep looking for people who meet the same criteria of the first person you followed and repeat the process. Eventually your tribe will begin to grow.

Congratulations! Without even typing a single post, you have taken your first step towards ensuring that when you do start blogging, you will reach the people that matter to you.

But before you do that, you should probably consider finding your voice. I will write about that in my next post.

While Google does a great many things well, I have been cynical about their search results for a while now. They do a good job generally serving up what I need on the 1st page of results.

This is not all that impressive, since these results are nearly universal. You just link to a result on Wikipedia or Amazon for broad subjects. Or find a decent blog or newspaper for long tail search.

What concerns me, and makes me question Google results, is when I get to page 2. There I start seeing things like this when searching for the 1971 board game Stay Alive by Milton Bradley.

Yes, that is a link to the board game from the venerable retailer, Sears. This piqued my interest, so I clicked on it. The results were not particularly useful or high-quality.

It is a generic page with dummy text and broken images. Which does not exactly fit in well with Google’s commitment to surface high-quality content. It also makes me question the dependability of their algorithm when such an obvious low value result makes it the 2nd page. Well above much more useful and informational blog posts on page 3 and beyond.

I know most of us do not click deep on Google. It does such a good linking to a couple of high-quality sites. But if they control over 75% of the search market, they need to commit to doing a better job of surfacing content.

They can start by eliminating results from e-commerce sites that no longer carry an item or in the case of this sears result, probably never did.

In 2008 I switched to the Chrome web browser. I was a very early adopter. As a person who made their living as a web professional, it was not convenient. No one was using Chrome at the time, so I still needed to keep other browsers around for testing. That was okay, for the previous 6 years, I had been a Firefox user, and was used to checking projects on various browsers.

Chrome has had a good run. Not only has it dominated MY web browsing life for nearly a decade, but it has come to dominate the majority of websites. Depending on who you listen to, it has at least 50% of the browser market and as high as 70%. Not bad.

Sadly over the years, Chrome has become bloated. Sites crawl and lockup on my 3 year old work laptop. Since nearly everything I do is in the browser, this is kind of a big deal.

At onetime IE felt safe at the top of browser mountain.

On November 14th, Firefox’s new browser “Quantum,” finally came out of Beta and was made available to the general public. I decided to give it a spin and I was hooked. It easily handled dozens of tabs and importing everything from Chrome was a breeze.

It felt to me like Chrome was the pinnacle of browser technology and that no browser would ever make me feel a difference in my browser experience again. I was wrong. After the long slog of dwindling returns on Chrome, the new Firefox is noticeably better and I am not the only one who thinks so.

I even started using their Pocket service, which I had largely ignored up until now and I love that as well. With its recommendation system, I find myself not opening Feedly as much anymore.

The online world is full of surprises. It is easy to get complacent as a consumer and a company. Mozilla is showing that they can reinvent their flagship product and wow people.

I am not sure if it is too late for Firefox to make a comeback in a browser war that Chrome has come to dominate, but you never know. At onetime IE felt safe at the top of browser mountain. I for one am now a loud and proud member of team Firefox and will be telling everyone I know.

That being said, I will also keep a copy of Chrome around to continue to see the online world the way the rest of world sees it.

Hmm, I feel like I have been in this exact same place before.

I have been a Google Fi customer for a few years now and I appreciate the flexibility on the pricing of the service and love the phones. Recently my phone has started dying, but good news, Google has the new Pixel 2 coming out. On the announce day I ordered one.

A few days later, our CTO Josh also ordered a phone as well, the same exact phone.

Yesterday Josh mentioned that his phone had shipped, while mine is still in some warehouse limbo. I thought, “Well that is odd, I ordered mine before Josh. Shouldn’t I get my phone first? ”

I emailed support at Google and after a few back and fourths I got a response from Google about their ordering process.

My response from Google

I took some additional time and reached out to a specialist here within Project Fi Support. This specialist works within our higher level of support, and truly the best place to take this question. After further review, I’ve been informed that orders are processed on a first come first serve bases based upon when the order was placed. Please know that we here at Project Fi are only privy to this information in regards to this specific inquiry.

So it is done on a first come, first served basis! That is great. So where is my phone? Something is going on at Google. Is it because Josh was a trading in an old Pixel and I was trading in a Nexus 6P? Is it because I complain too much? I just don’t know. The customer service dance continues with me seeking answers right up until I get my phone. Then I will be so excited that I will forget to keep complaining.

Customer expectations are hard to manage. I get that. It is a daily challenge for anyone in any business. But time and again, when I order products from Google, they under-deliver. I want to believe it is just a coincidence, that I am not on some Google list of annoying customers, but I don’t know. Josh got his phone a day early, exceeding his expectations.

At last check-in Josh has not even opened his phone, but he would like me to know that it is already probably the best phone he has ever owned.

Every day of every week, people try and call me trying to sell something to LexBlog.  As a person working at a company, I appreciate people have products to sell and that this company is a target for those sales. I even admire the hard work of the people who keep calling despite having never gotten us to buy anything.  70% of the time, they have not even talked to a human.

What is boggling to me is the possible cost in trying to reach out to me.

Let’s look at an average day.  If I get on average about 10 calls per day from people attempting to sell me products like office supplies or financial services.  Each of those calls is pretty short, but let’s say the entire process takes 4 minutes. This includes calling our main number, explaining who they are, and convincing someone to transfer you to me.   This is what happens the first time.  Once they know who I am, they seem to quickly figure out how to get to me directly again and again.

Some quick math calculating 5 days a week of calls…

10 calls per day x 4 minutes per call x 5 days per week x 52 weeks a year / 60 minutes = 173.3 hours of calls a year.

Let’s say half of these are robocalls of some sort or are using technology that cuts all this effort in half.  That brings it down to 86 hours.  That still means that humans or human computer hybrids are spending over two work weeks trying to get in touch with me every year.  At minimum wage of $7.25 that is $628.33 worth of effort.  Even if we  quarter that figure, it is entirely too much effort.  Especially when after all these years the result has been negative.

I know how the math works on sales.  Just one person needs to pick up and buy to make a lot of this effort all worth it.  Still, it makes me depressed that I am on a list that is wasting so much time (both for the salesperson and for the people here at LexBlog).

Some company needs to make a list of not just people you CAN call, but people who are dead ends.  This will save salespeople’s times on jerks like me and reduce the amount of noise in the world.