Preparing for The Pendulum to Swing From PageRank to Personal Influence

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 03/29/2012

360iTiger launched yesterday, and went off well—no disasters, and that’s a win. The pebble has been dropped into the center of the pond, and the ripples will start radiating out. Echoes of HitTail. The launch is not dramatic. It’s an “outside the box” type tool, and it will take awhile for people to get. But it had to be done. There were enough little projects out there here and there, that if we don’t plant our flag in this territory with an overarching system to do this sort of thing, somebody else will.

I’m going to continue doing a lot of my thinking-out-loud, and technical ramblings here, although over time as I do more refined writing, it will surely go onto the 360iTiger or main 360i blog. Whether or not SEO is dead, we are entering a new phase of SEO, with Google cutting off progressively more referrer data (the Firefox default https decision), and social counters gradually creeping up on PageRank as a superior relevancy factor. Personal brand, influence, and authority will creep up on website brand, influence and authority, so it just won’t be those counter values, but a qualitative element to individual votes.

These gradual shifts in the tectonic plates of marketing is all the more reason tools like 360iTiger are necessary to do ad hoc investigations. Anything available through API-calls or screen scraping is also available to this tool. We do rapid development, experiments and system expansion on the internal version. We will probably take a more cautious approach on the external version.

This also marks a new phase in development. I am not going to split the code between an internal and external version. Instead, I’m just going to make the internal vs. external capabilities something you configure on a per-bookmarklet domain basis. But I’m going to go a few days at least with a code lock-down to make sure I don’t accidentally break anything during these critical launch days. So the next few days is really about monitoring, and making sure things don’t go fubar, than it is about coding. I will meticulously prepare the hit-list of things to do, and then tackle it super-intelligently.

Rackspace is awesome! Going with them was a great decision for an app like this. Hosting a crawler-application in which a little bit of latency is okay is a relief after the high-availability zero leeway performance requirements of the HitTail pixel-tracking system—that was my last big public project. It has since moved on into the very good hands of micropreneur, Rob Walling. I have never HitTailed as much as now that someone else is responsible for the app.

I made a good video to introduce 360iTiger, in the spirit of the HitTail video, but only screen capture—no Flash. I used Screenflow on Mac. I loved it. I have a talent for these types of videos, and using screen cam software with zoom and callout effects really feels like my element—and tons less labor-intensive then Flash. I have to start doing it more. Perhaps one every few days, alternating between ones for internal use, and ones for the public.

The main problem I see right now with adoption of 360iTiger is that people might make one test-run and stop. There is a knowledge-deficit of how to continue a crawl, or that you even have to click the bookmarklet a second time to replace the question-marks. I need to make more tutorial videos, and start drawing people in. One thing leads to the next, leads to the next. There’s a slow, steady build here, and a strong community aspect. Much about 360iTiger will be about building that community—but not going afoul of 360i’s communication policies. Even this walks that fine edge. But this public daily journal stuff is part of my personal brand. It is what I have to offer to the world, and how I keep my edge in the industry.

I need to think through what the 360iTiger progressive roll-out and enhancement process is going to look like. There is a certain sensitivity to 360i company communication issues, but that openness and window into the sausage factory is part of the charm of what I’m doing here. In fact, my end game is all about getting to a Free and Open Source Software version of the product, for both educational and competitive reasons.

So, there are several fronts I need to work on. The broad categories are:

1 - General lock-down bullet-proof failsafe fall over pitfall-avoidance. Splitting behavior between internal and external users.

2 - Beginning the righteous cycle of surprising and delighting the user-base to build tribe, loyalty and brand. Open channels of communication—some formal, and some informal.

3 - Get my plan in place to disrupt the hell out of the copycats when they start appearing… with TigerFLOSS!

Free and open source. What does the L stand for? Libre, as it turns out! It seems that FLOSS is an alternative, but often criticized, acronym to FOSS. The image of TigerFLOSS is just too powerful. But it will be built on my own distribution of Linux, for a tight lean virtual machine.

And that’s my real end-game here—a big popular FOSS project that touches on all the stuff I’m interested in, and where a lot of public interest resides. That’s what my personal brand is going to be built on, which is what’s going to keep me effective and influential in my field as what SEO is begins to change. I’m already trying to reposition myself as an earned media optimizer. I have a certain argument going with someone over the “explainability” to family. SEO is hard enough. He goes with digital marketer… an umbrella-term everyone can understand. While I think that’s fine for family, there has to be a term for marketing that you get through sheer cleverness—versus throwing a big marketing budget at something. For many years, that fell under the auspices of SEO, or perhaps kitschy viral marketing. But things are evolving, and “voices” are going to be sorted out based on their merit.

And so my merit is going to come from a continuum of things starting with 360iTiger. In truth, it starts quite a bit before that with HitTail, and the miracles I pulled off at Scala before that. However, the systems that will monitor, record, and score such things have only recently started churning—namely, Facebook Likes, Tweets (since the t.co url shortener came online), and Google +1’s. There may be others, but these are the likely king-makers right now, and why I included them as datapoints in the initial public release of 360iTiger.

But where does that continuum of things to be known for go from here? Well, there’s version 2.0 of 360iTiger, where I will get rid of hosting, with a very creative virtual machine, which is as “outside the box” as the application itself. I’m thinking out loud here, and some people might think I’m giving away too much. But as Seth Godin once stated, you can stick your business plan in an envelope and send it to your competitor, and it won’t make a bit of difference, because it’s all in your ability to implement, and the details of that implementation.

In order to make the smallest Linux server VM, I plan to build a highly portable static linked graphic-less QEMU binary for Mac, Windows and Linux (actually, I already have a working proof-of-concept—just not as clean as I would like file-wise). I’ll put the latest Tiny Core Linux (technically, Micro Core Linux) on it, and a system for building servers by executing a “recipe” script on its first run. I’ll make Tiny Core extensions that are perfectly appropriate for the apps I want to build (getting rid of graphics libraries, QT, etc.), and submit them to the TCE repository—engaging in that community.

The end result will be an incredibly tiny Linux virtual machine that runs with a double-click on any x86 hardware (yes, on 64-bit hardware too), whether it be it a Mac, PC or Linux box. This is my version of a “universal computer”. It’s the platform you want to program for—it’s a whole other article exactly why, but I might as well touch on it, since it’s part of the end-game.

The giant, whopping pitfall in learning programming is how uniquely tied-to the platform you start out on that you become. This is particularly true in game or mobile app development, because of all the platform-specific nuances you have to learn. It’s even true for web-development, because HTML5 / CSS3 / JavaScript is full of a world of arcane subtleties that must be mastered. The unspoken evil here is front-end user interface (UX) development—the ultimate time-sink and pitfall for people just learning programming. The more nuances there are on the platform you start out on, the more screwed you are… but perhaps, the cooler your apps can be.

Now, the counter-problem is that when you strip out all the overhead of platform-specific subtleties, you’re also stripping out all the coolness of iPhone apps, 3D worlds, and all the sexy stuff that captivates a burgeoning programmer’s imagination. “Pure” programming, insofar as you can avoid platform-specifics, is boring “system programming”, and it’s where my interest resides, and my educational mission online, because it’s timeless and greatly obsolescence-proof knowledge. It lets you focus right in on the problem at hand, write the least code, and get the most out of it.

360iTiger is so powerful because it provides a framework in which “pure programming” has an immediately useful purpose in life for casual programmers—without requiring that enormous commitment of even Web programming (JavaScript, learning the DOM, rendering problems, etc.). A web-based spreadsheet combined with a bookmarklet, essentially does away with nearly all need for user interface development work. Before invoking the wrath of Joel Spolsky with “yet another framework”, I want to emphasize that by leaning on spreadsheets, we are taking advantage of a pre-existing and inescapable framework… known as spreadsheets.

All we add with 360iTiger are a few bits of conventional behavior that gets kicked off when you click the bookmarklet. If your browser is on a site, it starts crawling the site and populating rows into the spreadsheet. If your browser is on the spreadsheet, it starts replacing the question marks, moving left-to-right, top-to-bottom. Question marks get replaced by feeding the other values found on that row to the function named in the column title. Simple as that. When you get a feel for it, it’s actually much simpler than using Excel-like formulas.

Because that conventional behavior is there to generically feed arbitrary values into arbitrary functions, all the “outer-loop” programming framework is already done for you—and input/output… and just think about the UX-work that saves you! Therefore, you can work on a single function as if it were in isolation, and when you’re done, drop it into 360iTiger, and it’s magically part of the system—available to take values in from cells and spit an output value out by replacing the question mark. It’s very much like that first Hello World programming tutorial you do which is normally throw-away work, becomes incredibly useful to you in real-life from that moment forward. You just put the name of your function in a column in the spreadsheet, and voila! Your function is alive in 360iTiger… at least, in the internal version. Stay tuned!

Anyway, we just released this tool, and it is a critical first step in building some momentum towards a much bigger goal that takes me from community building to teaching how to make a tiny Linux virtual machine as a sort of universal computing platform, to re-programming the application from scratch as free and open source software, and ultimately being “the thing” I’m known for, to help build the reputation and currency needed as the pendulum swings from PageRank to personal influence.

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