Server Wars

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 02/23/2006

Hello everyone. I don’t really get posts out here very often. The reason for that is that I’m deeply engaged in a project at work, which is also a forum for blogging. The project is called MyLongTail, and has to do with a surefire way to optimize for natural search. There is also a blog on the Connors site. So all my PR and SEO blogging insight is inevitably going to end up on one of those two sites, leaving Mike-Levin.com somewhat abandoned. But there is a story that I need to tell, which is not appropriate for one of my employer’s sites. It’s a story that nags at me almost every day, and needs to be told in order to let me move on with certain aspects of my life.

You see, I am a very dedicated employee. I gauge everything I do against the brilliant mission statement of all companies laid out by the recently passed Peter Drucker. He stated that the mission of any company is to get and keep customers. Add to that my transition into the field of Web development right at the time that taking advantage of search as a primary means of customer acquisition was just coming of age. I was looking for my next big step, having achieved the ability to outright control search results. It was the heyday of AltaVista, and Google had just arrived on the scene. I was working for Prophet 21, who already declined an ambitious plan of tying in their business systems with optimized catalog generators. So, I was looking for my next step.

An employer prior to P21 contacted me, inviting me back as Webmaster, and a promotion to Director. Knowing this company a little too intimately, my answer was not in a million years. I explained what the next step I was looking for was, and how it would inevitably lead me to the world of affiliate marketing. The only thing that could tempt me away was taking a percentage of a company’s revenues in order to focus and catalyze all my efforts on a single company—instead of the diversification and dilution of efforts that I may have to manage in the affiliate world. This company, which was now run by one of the few people I respected in the company, agreed to offer me just that: a percentage of company revenues.

Always thinking long-term, I came up with a 5-year plan that ended in working this company up to many hundred times its existing size, and making me a millionaire several times over. It relied on a few key items coming into place, which I was promised at the time of re-hiring. They were modest requests, including the hiring of one dedicated programmer of my choosing, some equipment, and the obvious and implicit expectation of them actually following up on the sales leads that I generated.

Not only did none of the promises materialize in the midst of all the pitfalls I foresaw come to fruition (the hiring of expensive off-site VP’s and unproductive good-ol’ boy network), but when it came time to a modest equipment upgrade, I was outright double-crossed by the one-man IT department. He was hell-bent on keeping me from my equipment. He told me when the equipment acquisition was approved “We’ll see whose paycheck it comes out of”. So, it should be no surprise that 6-months later, I still didn’t have my servers, and it was inadvertently revealed to me he never had any intention of delivering them.

And thus begin “Server Wars”, which ended in cleaning up the floor with Mr. Admin-o-saurus, successfully securing and deploying the servers, using this power to firmly put the company on an upwards trend, and ultimately even hiring the programmer that I always planned to tap for this project. Unfortunately, at the end of this 4-year journey, he and I never actually had the chance to work together at the same time (missed by 2 weeks), because a new opportunity presented itself in New York City where I could pursue my dream in its purest form. Not working with him again when the exactly when the metal was hottest in the emerging field of search is one of the biggest regrets of my professional career. I would have never taken the position knowing I was going to be yanked around such.

And that takes us to this post. My most important endeavor currently is the MyLongTail website that distills everything I’ve done down into a simple formula for natural search optimization that anyone can apply. It will be in the Web 2.0 tradition of Flickr, del.icio.us, and Google Maps. You’ll be able to use it to know exactly how to optimize your search. Success will be the best revenge.

But I have 4 years of broken promises and a raw deal to make up for, and it should be water over the damn. But it’s not. And thus the reason for this post, and a purpose for Mike-Levin.com. I will be able to retell the story of the “Server Wars”. Every non-blog attempt to heal these old wounds has been met with wishy-washy replies, and then ultimately silence. That is so unwise, because in today’s blogging world, ignoring an issue is never the way to make it go away, because you stand the risk of it turning up in a blog—especially when there’s a colorful story that needs to be told involved.

I explained to one of my co-workers at the time what I was doing to secure these servers and force this company to into profitability—how minimal control over a couple of obsolete webservers could be leveraged to change everything. I explained how it was just classic Sun Tzu strategy, and he laughed heartily at the thought of The Art of War as applied to webservers. It is totally possible for an obsolete P90-based database server, a 400MHz webserver with vintage 1995 software to have more clout than all the rest of the company put together. It is impossible to argue against the simple and pure principles of Peter Drucker regarding customer acquisition and retention. So this blog will now become to document this adventure, get it out of my system, and help me do a better job on MyLongTail.