Secret Project X

Back in 2006 when Jason and I were working with some really talented people on a Digg-like social news version of Netscape, I called it Secret Project X. I even registered I love that name.

Some of the people from that same Netscape team were also busy working to get TMZ up and running on my old Blogsmith blog platform. I aged about 10 years that June.

Recently I wanted to let people on LinkedIn know that I was doing something new but I didn’t want to reveal the name or explain what it is yet, so I called it Secret Project X. When I co-hosted Jason’s LAUNCH Scale conference a few weeks ago I had them use that as my company name on my badge.

Then a strange thing happened. People — even people standing in front of me in clear view of my badge — asked me “What is Secret Group X?” or “What is Super Project X?” Very few people called it Secret Project X.

Lee from WearAway emailed me after the conference and got it right. She was one of the few.

It’s a good thing that Secret Project X isn’t the real name we’ll be using!

Three envelopes

I routinely mention the “three envelopes” story when talking to entrepreneurs about how startup CEOs often act when faced with a crisis. Many of them have never heard the story, so I’m recording it here for future reference:

A new CEO was brought in to run a tech company. The CEO who was stepping down presented him with three numbered envelopes and said, “If you’re ever faced with a crisis and you can’t think of a way out, just remember these envelopes.”

Months later when the sales team had badly missed their revenue targets, the CEO was under fire and the company’s stock price had fallen. Unable to come up with another solution, he opened the first envelope. The message inside read, “Blame your predecessor.” He scheduled a press conference and explained that the sales team was held back by the previous CEO’s decisions. The market agreed and the stock price rebounded.

Another year later, sales were again way off and this time there was an uproar over some serious product defects. Share prices were at an all-time low. Unable to come up with an alternative, he opened the second envelope. Inside was a message that read, “Reorganize.” He did, and there was another strong rebound.

Later on, the CEO was facing his third huge crisis. Inside the third envelope was a note that read, “Prepare three envelopes.”

Brett Terpstra’s Systematic podcast

I had dinner with Brett Terpstra in San Francisco recently and it was so much fun that he asked me to be a guest on his Systematic podcast. Half of the show covered the upcoming return of Meet The Makers and the other half covered my quest to find a startup religion that worked for me.

On each show the host and guest pick three things they want people to go check out. I believe they’re supposed to be things that make your work life suck less. I chose calm.comiOS keyboard shortcuts and Sonos. Brett chose Belkin’s Bluetooth Wireless Keypad, the Mac note taking and brainstorming app Curio and the Exif Wizard app for iOS.

He diligently posts links for all the significant topics and products that were discussed:

The revenge of QWERTY

Smart designers are asking why QWERTY keyboard layouts still exist on modern mobile devices.

@mezzoblue Yep. Especially on smartphones where we don’t have decades of legacy muscle memory.— Mike Davidson (@mikeindustries) June 25, 2014

For a while now, I’ve been thinking that QWERTY actually does make sense on phones in a way that it never did on desktop keyboards.

Continue reading “The revenge of QWERTY”

Meet The Makers is coming back

Twelve years ago today, I hosted my first Meet The Makers conference in New York City. Later that year I did two more events in San Francisco and NYC. The events were incredible, featuring interviews with the people responsible for some of the biggest online products and sites like Monster, DoubleClick, Google, E*TRADE and MapQuest.

In 2003, I put the live events on hiatus to build my blog network, but I continued producing long form interviews with a variety of creative people: web designers, entrepreneurs, authors, marketers and even cartoonists.

Looking back on my career, I’ve been fortunate to work with hundreds of amazing brands, but hosting Meet The Makers is easily the best job I ever had.

The tagline of Meet The Makers was “Creative people in a technical world.”

Soon, I will bring Meet The Makers back to continue exploring the tension between art and technology while profiling people who have built amazing things that we all wish we’d created ourselves.

Follow @meetthemakers on Twitter to get updates on the relaunch.

AOL address books hacked

I woke up on Sunday morning and saw four spam messages in my inbox from an old AOL account of mine that I almost never use. This isn’t a new thing, nearly every email address gets used to send spam via a process called “spoofing.”

Spoofing happens because anyone can send email as via sloppy, but common, mail servers that allow open relaying. Open relaying means they don’t verify that you own a particular account. They just pass your mail along to the next server. The reason email works as an identity system is that ideally only Bill Gates can receive email sent to Again, anyone can send as him. I can send email as, but I won’t get your replies so I don’t.

Continue reading “AOL address books hacked”

Embedded tweets with photos are hot

If your embedded tweet has an image in it, that image shows up at the top of the embedded tweet.

Compare a screen shot of one of my tweets on with the embedded version of the tweet here on my site.

On Twitter:

That is one fine looking embed!

As I recall, older versions had the photos below the text. Or maybe I’ve only ever seen photo tweets on other sites via screenshots taken from Either way, I love how the photos are prominently displayed at the top. Can’t you tell?

Here are more options for embedded tweets — allowing you to turn off the conversations, hide the data cards, show related headlines and customize the design and alignment.

UPDATE: The photos moved to the top just a few months ago. I was worried it had been that way for years and I was late to discover the change.

The Contently Show: How Nimble Publishers Survive

I met the Contently founders a long, long time ago when I was co-hosting the NYC Open Angel Forum. Of all the companies who pitched our audience of investors over Shake Shack burgers and beer, I think they’ve gone the farthest. I mean furthest.

Anyway, they’re a great NYC startup success story and they interviewed me for their show about the future of publishing.

I had a blast. I hope you enjoy it too.

Entrepreneur’s 10 Questions on Mobile

Kim LaChance Shandrow, a great writer I worked with in the early Crowd Fusion days, is now writing for She interviewed me about building mobile web sites.

Some of my answers were too long to make it in:

Invoca is a cloud-based service for tracking inbound call activity. When I first saw them years ago, they were called RingRevenue and they were pushing businesses to show phone numbers in Google search ads. Now they’ve got 3,000 customers and have raised a ton of money. They’re here to stay.

Never forget that a customer who is checking out your business on their phone … is holding a phone.

I’m glad they kept that last line. I’ll be using that again the next time I give a talk on mobile.

Another recommendation that didn’t make the cut:

If you want to get a deeper understanding of the challenges and strategies for conquering mobile, visit A Book Apart. They have brief, laser-focused books written by industry experts. Mobile First and Content Strategy for Mobile are both incredible resources whether you are building mobile sites yourself or managing designers who are creating your mobile site.

Luckily, they kept another one of my favorite pieces of mobile development advice:

Make sure that you test your mobile site on as many devices as possible, not just the one your team or your CEO uses. Fortunately, most cities have a free mobile testing lab. It’s called Best Buy.