A 500 word blog post on the first 5 things you need to know about SEO-ing your website
Something of an SEO for dummies post. What are the first five things you should do to get your site starting to show up in searc…
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The following is an excerpt from my new book Don’t Go Back to School: a handbook for learning anything.
To someone who has never tried, it’s not obvious how to learn the things you want to learn outside of school. I’m on a mission to show you how. To do that, I became obsessed with how other people learn best, and how they do it without going to school.
My research based on interviews with 100 independent learners revealed four facts shared by almost every successful form of learning outside of school:
This interview with Harper Reed is a great example of how independent learning works. Reed served as the Chief Technology Officer for Obama for America during the 2012 election; before that, he was CTO at Threadless. He is an engineer who builds paradigm-shifting technology and leads others to do the same.
I love computers and I’ve always been around computers. I can’t really talk about education without talking about computers. I went to high school and I actually really loved it. I took all the classes I could, I was prom king, student council president. I did everything I could to be more involved in high school and that is obviously not the normal path you’d expect for a computer geek.
But, along with that, I was constantly getting into trouble with computers. Never with the cops, but I was always getting banned from all the computers in the school district. Then, they would let me back in, and I would mess up again for whatever reason. It happened over and over. I was caught in this dichotomy of trying to be involved, but whenever I was trying to get involved with computers, I messed it up because I was curious and experimenting outside what was allowed. After that, I went to a small liberal arts college. I studied history along with computer science, because I knew ultimately I was going to work with computers and I wanted to learn something else, too. I studied Catholic history and the history of science, which overlap a lot. I’m not Catholic. I’m not a religious person at all, but it was really fascinating to learn all of the idiosyncrasies of Galileo and Bruno and all these different weird scientists who got burned at the stake for their discoveries.
I realized about probably three-quarters of the way through my education that in terms of computers, I actually wasn’t learning anything I needed to learn to get a job later on. I did learn some coding concepts in college, but more importantly I figured out that I’m an experiential learner. I need to put my hands on things and really see them, and really chew on them. It was better to do it in a real context, where it mattered if I did it right. Like where there was money at stake. So, I did an internship in Iowa City, IA. I worked for a real company that was trying to make a profit. The company built ecommerce apps. As an intern I started learning web apps to build web pages. Given my way of learning, it was fascinating to see how the management dealt with me. I was a child. I asked questions like a child does. “Why is the sky blue?” They just said, “It’s just blue. Go with that.” I said, “No! Tell me why we’re doing it this way. What is this?” It was client services, so we were just doing it because the client wanted it done, with no thought behind it. But all the questions I asked gave me this opportunity to see how things worked and the value of asking things that seemed obvious to everyone else. It gave me a lot of hope. It really kicked off the career that I have now.
The methods I used to learn technology don’t work for everything. I’m struggling with learning Japanese. My wife is Japanese and I want to learn the language, but I don’t know how. I take classes, I fail, it doesn’t work out. I have to figure that out. With technology, I immediately find a problem I want to solve. It’s usually about learning a new programming language or learning a new technology. If it’s a real problem, I want to get to where I can actually picture the solution and be able to see it through from the beginning to the end. For me, I can’t learn from videos. That just doesn’t do it for me, although there’s a lot of video learning right now. I find it very frustrating. So usually what I do is I just go through a tutorial of some sort and then really start iterating, doing it over and over. I start trying to be creative on top of that, and say okay, now that I can figure out how to do this, how would I use it? So I set a new goal pretty close in difficulty, and when I achieve that, I do that again, until suddenly I’ve learned something. When you’re in that process, it can also be the best time to teach someone else. A tech writer named Mark Pilgrim, who writes manuals for learning coding languages including Dive into Python, and Dive into HTML5 said, “The best time to write a book about something is while you’re learning it yourself.” So you know what’s hard to learn and can talk in an excited, confident, honest way about how you got to the place where it’s not hard anymore.
For me this whole process is really collaborative. I treat everything like I’m the CEO of my life. CEOs have boards of directors and boards of advisors and these are groups of people who they’re using to really rely on for help and advice to be successful. I think every person should treat their life like that. So, if I’m stuck, I know I can reach out to a buddy, or I can reach out to my brother. I know I can reach out to these people who are experts in whatever I’m trying to do. I try to surround myself with incredibly smart people who are often, if not always, smarter than me. Because other people are so important to learning, I also think one of the most significant things about the internet is democratization of access. Anyone can email you about self-learning and you’re probably going to respond. Probably. I think it’s about how you phrase it. We are all very busy, but we’re probably going to respond if you approach it efficiently.
You can learn a lot about this from a really good book called Team Geek by Brian W. Fitzpatrick. It’s actually about project managing software development geeks, but it applies to most things with communication. It should really be called “Interacting with People,” because all it is, is just little tricks on how to interact with people, how to make those interactions better. There’s a section called “Interacting with an Executive,” and that part should be called “Interacting with Busy People.” It says if you want to connect with someone who is very busy, tell them three bullets and then a call to action.
So if someone wanted help from me, it might go like this: “Harper, I’m interested in what you’re doing with the campaign. I’m going to be doing technology for a campaign in the coming election. Do you have a hint for product management or project management software that you guys use?” I can answer that quickly. It’s very simple. Then all of a sudden there’s this person who probably wouldn’t have had an opportunity to talk with me, and I can help them out. I love what that kind of efficient communication does for you.
Kio Stark is a writer, researcher, teacher, and passionate activist for independent learning. She teaches at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. She is also the author of the novel Follow Me Down. You can find out more about her work at KioStark.com.
Q: Why does a to do list application need $3.5 million in funding? A: Because it’s becoming more than a simple to do app. Today, Any.DO one of the more popular to do list applications for web and mobile, announced a seed round of funding led by existing investor Genesis Partners, with participation from both current and new investors Innovation Endeavors (Eric Schmidt’s fund), Joe Lonsdale, Blumberg Capital, Joe Greenstein and others.
The company had previously announced $1 million in angel funding in late 2011 from Innovation Endeavors, Blumberg Capital, Genesis Partners, Palantir (Joe Lonsdale), Felicis Ventures (Aydin Senkut) and Brian Koo.
For those unfamiliar, Any.DO got its start on the Android platform after the success of the team’s first app, Taskos, which proved the market was ripe for such a concept. That app had grown to 1.3 million users by the time Any.DO arrived in November 2011, and today has more than doubled its install base.
Any.DO, however, has since surpassed it. The company says its flagship application now has more than 5 million users across iOS, Android and web. Referencing data from Onavo Insights, Any.DO claims to be the market leader in the to do list app space. (Its nearest competitor, Wunderlist, announced earlier this month having more than 4 million users.)
Unlike many apps, Any.DO has more Android users than iOS, having initially taken advantage of that platform’s popularity, its need for well-built apps, and the potential built-in install base coming from Taskos, who were encouraged to switch over to Any.DO when it first debuted.
Any.DO is beautifully designed, which has the side effect of making the app appear deceptively simple. But in reality, there’s some heavy lifting going on under the hood.
“We believe the tools you have on your homescreen are going to be smarter and smarter over time,” explains Any.DO founder and CEO Omer Perchik. “In terms of the to do list…it will help you accomplish the things you have on your list, and we’ve developed a semantic engine that extracts intents and tries to find the relevant action,” he says. “And on the other hand, it’s basically predicting what you’ll be interested in doing.”
So for example, if you tell the app today that you want to plan a trip or workout at the gym more often, it will recommend other applications that will help you complete those tasks, including things like Kayak, TripAdvisor, MyFitnessPal, and many others. Also, if you tell the app you need to do something like “pay taxes,” it’s smart enough to start reminding you about that task in advance of tax day, even though you never provided an exact date or time.
In some cases, Any.DO has affiliate relationships with the dozens of apps it points users to, but in other cases it does not. Perchik says that conversion rates are high – more than three times above the market average of 1 to 5 percent, in general.
Asked whether or not the company had the intention of using the funding to further develop Any.DO or to expand its lineup by launching more apps in the personal productivity space, Perchik says “possibly both.” However, the company isn’t heading into other spaces like email or calendaring just yet, he adds.
That being said, Perchik did cite the recent trend in startups developing alternatives to the core applications on users’ homescreens – things like email (Mailbox, Triage, e.g.), calendaring (Sunrise, Tempo, e.g.), and messaging, etc. “There’s a lot of things in the day-to-day personal productivity space that are relevant [to us], but we’re less working towards building something like Google Docs or Office for mobile – we’re focusing more on the individual,” he says, defining Any.DO’s interests.
The company will have some announcements around what its future plans may be in about a month’s time, Perchik also notes.
In the meantime, the 12-person startup is using the funding to staff its new San Francisco-based office where Perchik now works. The R&D and product team remains in Israel, but the new office will hire those on the marketing and business development side of things.
In addition, an update to the Android version of Any.DO is rolling out now which will allow Astrid app users (one of Yahoo’s many recent acquisitions) to import their data in advance of the app’s shutdown.
I’d been hearing whispers as of late that Twilio is meeting with VCs to raise another round, and I just got the good word from a very, very solid source.
I’m told that Twilio is in the process of raising a Series D, with a goal of raising around $50 million.
The talks are still rather early on. In fact, when I first got wind of the round last week, the first folks I asked were shocked that we’d already heard about it. At this point, it sounds like Twilio is aiming to close the round within the next 2 to 3 weeks. The total amount raised might change by then, but $50M is the current target.
Wondering what the heck a Twilio is? Twilio lets developers easily build things that require phone functionality. Want to build a customer service line with menus narrated by Morgan Freeman? Sure (note: bring your own Morgan Freeman. Also, someone please do this. I’ll totally write about it.) Want to build a tool that’ll text you the second Netflix’s Arrested Development revival season goes live? Already done. If you need to programmatically do something that goes down over the phone — be it SMS, voice calls, or VoIP — Twilio can probably do most of the leg work with just a few lines of code.
Twilio is actually one of my favorite companies in the valley right now, for at least two reasons: they make a damned cool product that in turn enables other damned cool products to be made, and very few people seem to realize how well they’re doing. While their CEO Jeff Lawson seems to prefer keeping their financials hush, every whisper I hear about the company suggests that they’re quietly kicking ass.
Amongst other good signs: the company is hiring like mad, to the point that they just (as in, this week) had to move into a much bigger office. They actually couldn’t find a ready-to-go office in SOMA with enough space for their growing team, so they spent the better part of the last year retrofitting a spot on Harrison Street that once served as a paper/textile factory.
Twilio has raised $33.5M to date, having most recently closed a $17M Series C at the end of 2011. If they successfully raise $50M, it’d be an injection roughly 1.5x larger than everything they’ve raised so far.
When I first started digging around this story, no one I spoke to could seem to agree on which VC firms were involved. Turns out, Twilio is just talking to a lot of firms. Two names that seem quite certain to be in talks at this point are Union Square Ventures and Bessemer Venture Partners — which makes sense, as USV has been re-upping with Twilio since their Series A, and Bessemer has supported them since their Series B.
Keep an eye on these guys, if you’re not already. If things keep going as they are, I’d bet on them going public within the next year.
Excerpt from: Twilio Is Raising A Series D Of Around $50M
Facebook has revealed that its Home launcher for Android devices has been downloaded 1 million times from the Google Play store. Having launched four weeks ago, the social networking company shared that while this supposed number falls in line with its expectations, there are some things that it has received feedback on. For those Facebook Home users, a new update is being released today, as part of its “new every four week” cycle.
Launched to much buzz, Facebook Home is a layer that resides on top of the Android operating system. Last month, company founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg introduced several features that came with Home, including chat heads. The idea behind this whole concept was to showcase that Facebook had moved beyond mobile-first and into “mobile-best” — a step it says is where users are connected with their friends and content where things can also be shared and communicated.
At a Facebook whiteboarding session, the company shared some interesting metrics relating to engagement and messaging — two key things related to Home.
With regards to engagement, Facebook is looking at how people are interacting with the social network through News Feed through Home, along with how long people are spending with the launcher. The company said that it has seen a 25 percent increase in engagement since Home was released.
With messaging, it seems the company is fascinated with seeing how users interacted with chat heads. Specifically, it’s tracking two metrics: participation (how many people are using it within Facebook), and volume (how many messages being sent). With this feature, Facebook says that it is seeing a 7 percent increase in participation and 10 percent increase in volume.
It’s important to note that the above metrics are rather subjective since Facebook has not revealed any specific numbers.
What’s more, the 1 million downloads is also something to take with a grain of salt because the company didn’t reveal how many of those are active users. Soon after its launch, the reviews for Facebook Home were rather negative. What’s more, with the HTC First recently being heavily discounted to $0.99 by AT&T, one must wonder how the launcher’s performance and phone’s sale really is. Facebook would not comment about AT&T’s decision.
In the next couple of months, Facebook will also be revealing several new features for Home, including a new user experience (codenamed “Blue’s Clues“), a dock, and a dash bar. With “Blue’s Clues”, the idea is to help make Home less confusing and frustrating to use.
One of the feedbacks that Facebook has received from its users is that Home is missing a dock, that ever-present spot on the bottom of the screen that displays the apps that are always there and available. Another point of contention by users is with chat heads — there was no way to initiate a conversation easily. With dash bar, Home will have a feature akin to a buddy list on AIM that can be used for quick referencing.
During the whiteboarding session, Adam Mosseri, Director of Product, commented on the fact that there is a unofficial Home APK floating out in the marketplace to get the launcher out into unsupported phones. Facebook revealed that there are more than 10,000 users out there using the hacked Home APK.
Currently there are only four devices officially supported, but Mosseri hinted that there are two other devices that are being tested, but won’t be released until months later.
Today’s update will not be anything major. Facebook says that it will be bug fixes and other minor improvements. It will be an update for the main Facebook app on Android.
Future updates are planned to be released every four weeks, with the exception of July — that month, the schedule falls on the Fourth of July so the company is delaying it by a week.