The Official Blog of Cogmap, the Org Chart Wiki


Archive for the ‘Home Page’ Category


Cogmap’s Home Page is actually fairly awesome

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Cogmap’s home page is awesome. It is awesome like an Apple product. That is how awesome it is.

I was contemplating Cogmap’s home page today and how I could change it to make you love Cogmap more. (Cogmap is both severely under-resourced and was created pre-good tools for split-testing, so no other home page has ever really existed.)

Here is my story:

One of the great things about Apple marketing is that all they do for marketing is show you how to use the product. When people go buy an iPhone, they already know how to use it because the commercials they saw that made them want the iPhone trained them how to use it.

The Cogmap home page is fairly similar in that way. It does a great job of showing you what the product does and how to use it – it’s usability, much like a good Apple product, is its best feature.


Your First Day

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

walrusNot enough companies work hard to make an employee’s first day at work special. Frankly, I include myself in that category. But I am a big believer in first days. The old saying is true: “You never get another chance to make a first impression.”

An employee’s first day is that chance to make an impression. A chance to establish tone and culture. For the employee, it would be nice if it was a mix of unboxing an apple product and a trip to Disneyland – a thoughtful experience that shows that you are thinking about them, that they are going to have a great, great time, and that they will never be happier.

I am a big believer in getting people right to work. On the first day, an employee will never think more highly of a new organization, be more eager to make a great first impression, and more excited to show the kinds of contributions that they are capable of. Don’t waste a new employees excitement with filling out HR forms – help them show you what they are eager to demonstrate: how incredibly productive and useful they can be as a member of your team.

Most companies screw this up because it is hard. Usually it takes time to figure out how to get someone productive in your work environment. Hey, if great on-boarding was easy, everyone would do it.

The Best Cogblog Posts of All Time – 2009 Edition

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

NFL Division Rivalries 101

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

A quick post for all the dad’s and/or husbands in need of help out there.

My kids wanted to better understand division rivalries in the NFL, but they can’t read (3/4 years old). So I built a handy, dandy graphical chart that you can share with your children.

A Handy Dandy NFL Division Rivalries Chart

It is hosted on github, so feel free to fork it and make this chart more useful. My kids have studied this chart every day for weeks. Within days your kids can also know their divisional rivals.


How To Put Twitter Into Your Email

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

A review of Gist, Rapportive, and Etacts

Everybody wants their email to be better. I recently tested a variety of email plugins that focus on bringing social data into gmail. The short answer is: Use Etacts. Here is what I saw:

Three companies are the market leaders in the space:

  • Rapportive
  • Etacts
  • Gist

Rapportive has raised $1m from an impressive group of angels: Dharmesh Shah, Jason Calcanis, Paul Buchheit, Dave McClure, David Cancel, CRV, etc..

Etacts has raised $650k from Y Combinator and Ron Conway.

Gist has raised $10m+ from Foundry and Vulcan Capital.

Interestingly, I think this explains why Gist has seemingly much better marketing, but it fails to explain why Gist’s product seemed not as good.

Disclaimer: I was looking for a specific kind of added value. It could be that these products do other things that I just fail to appreciate. Most specifically: I am not interested in spending any time on other web sites, I just want my gmail to be better. Caveat emptor.


Anyway, here was the Gist UI in my gmail inbox.

I was looking at an email thread with my lawyer, so it shows his latest tweet and my latest tweet. Links to our facebook and twitter.

It also put the whole thing in an iframe out to the side. It felt like it loaded a lot slower than other things. While I bet owning an iframe is a lot easier from a backend support perspective – you don’t break when they change gmail, it felt a lot more web 1.0 than the other solutions.


Rapportive was well implemented, but had no features. It successfully found that I am LinkedIn to Mike, but didn’t include tweets. All it really lets me do is easily click through to Twitter/LinkedIn/Facebook and record a note about a person – kind of CRM-ish.

Both Etacts and Rapportive integrate neatly into the gmail pane so I barely notice they are there unless I want data.


Etacts is the easy winner, hands down. It identifies that we are LinkedIn and shows me shared connections. It shows me several of his last tweets, and it shows me other related threads. Finally, they offer me the “Remind me to contact” feature (a note feature similar to Rapportive was below the fold here), which I am actually intrigued by – I should stay in contact with people better than I do.

Winning the Baltimore Hackathon

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010
I participated in the Baltimore Hackathon this past week and had a ridiculously awesome time. How great: we won!
I wanted to talk about my experience and our strategy, although it will probably not be instructive to anyone.  I had had a weekend project sitting in my queue for more than a year.  As is well documented in other places, I had read a story about how the Huffington Post split-tests headlines for their articles and had thought, “WordPress blogs should have that!” A little research had implied that such functionality did not exist, but I thought it seemed easy to build using the WordPress API.
When I read about the Hackathon, I thought it sounded like a perfect place for me to try and scratch the itch: If I could get one good coder for 2 days, we could probably get it done. In spite of this, I assumed that I probably would not be able to attract a developer to work on such a simple project, but I figured I should take a shot so I could knock this off my to-do list.
When I got there and did my chat about my project, only two people self-identified as PHP developers – both college students that seemed uninterested in the small scope of my project compared to other ambitious plans to build entire web apps. Then, right as I despaired at attracting sufficiently skilled talent to be able to bang this out, Pete Bessman jumped in and said that he loved the idea and wanted to work on it. What did Pete love? As he said repeatedly, “The reach to grasp ratio on this project is very good.” Pete and I hunkered down in the quietest corner of the Hackathon (hence I think there are fewer pictures of Pete and I working than any other project at the Hackathon, I suspect) and got to work. While Pete started working on the basic infrastructure of the app, I dissected some WP plug-ins to understand how WP handled things like namespaces. I found the first few API calls that Pete needed to implement and I wrote the algorithm we would use for testing headlines. Pete then implemented everything lickety-split. By the end of the first night, I had realized two things:
  1. My wife wasn’t going to let me disappear all weekend
  2. We would finish way ahead of schedule
Our project was far less ambitious than most of the other projects going on, so I started thinking at the end of the first night about how we win and my answer was “user adoption”. Certainly, we could have added many more bells and whistles, but I have always had a “ship early and often” philosophy, so Pete and I agreed that we should tightly limit the feature set and get it out there. After spending the morning of the second day writing code for the admin menus, I then moved onto marketing the plugin while Pete finished making it sing. By Saturday night we had established a relationship with prominent WP plug-in blogs and had an account on the WP plug-in official site. By Sunday, we had positive reviews of our product, some tiny level of adoption, and the look of something with some traction.
While I did not attend at all on Sunday, Pete presented our success on Sunday afternoon and by all reports was awesome. He has a nice flair for showmanship and we were able to turn our story of rapid user adoption into a successful Hackathon victory. As Pete told me when I asked him about our performance relative to other Hackathon projects when it was time for the judging, “every project there was more ambitious than ours in some dimension but many of them had last minute problems completing their work that made it hard for them to win and none had the 24 hours of rapid adoption to endorse their product like we did.” Further evidence that tightly controlled scope was very effective.

Huge thanks to all involved – having events like this to help people like me scratch an itch is awesome. Also, I got a much bigger job done: As I told Chris Brandenburg when I saw him the first night and he asked what I was doing there, I said: “Scouting for talent”. His response: “Yeah, me too.” Pete Bessman has a job for life. He is awesome. Thanks to all my friends at Millenial. I would like to think that when Millenial doubled the prize money, that was really Chris hooking me up as he anticipated my victory. Thanks Chris!

Obviously, I should thank my wife as well.  She watched the kids Friday and Saturday while I indulged my inner geek. It is very tough for old guys like me to do things like this, but supportive significant others are critical for career success and we saw further evidence here.

Guerilla Marketing 101: Hijacking Hackathons

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

I spent the weekend at the Baltimore Hackathon (more on that later) and learned a valuable lesson that I would offer up to almost any company whose business consists at least partly of marketing APIs: Hijack a Hackathon.

Tropo was a sponsor of the Baltimore Hackathon and their strategy was simple: They didn’t just show up with T-shirts (although there were plenty of T-shirts), they showed up with a bunch of developers and some sweet random prizes (A Kindle! OMG!). They then announced that the project at the end of the Hackathon that best used their APIs would win the random prizes. Virtually every hacker in the building went from “I want to make something great” to “I want to make something great using Tropo.” If Facebook had shown up with a Macbook Air, they would have had 50 developers cranking away on the Facebook API. Instead, Tropo had talent and dominated the hackathon.

The Tropo engineers were around all weekend ready to help developers hack on their stuff and answer questions. And they liked being a part of a Hackathon, so it was probably a job satisfaction win for Tropo.

It was a stroke of genius. People needed focus and people love prizes. By showing up with sweet prizes in exchange for attention, Tropo gained several advantages:

  1. This whooped “sponsoring” cold: They actually have developers that are not just aware of their API, but they have experience with it. The next time people at the Hackathon have a situation that calls for Tropo-like tools, they will certainly think of Tropo. Further, assuming the product was good, they will be favorably inclined relative to competitors like Twilio.
  2. If they had sponsored their own Hackathon, probably nobody shows up. By hijacking the Baltimore Hackathon, they maximize spreading the mindshare.
  3. They can cherry-pick talent. This was like an extended interview for some people. Tropo engineers got to see a bunch of geeks at work. That could turn into job offers.

The next time I have a product with APIs, I am definitely going to fly around the country hijacking hackathons as part of our marketing strategy.

Ad System Ecosystem of 2012

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

Everyone loves a good ecosystem slide.  In fact, in the ad space, virtually everyone has seen the GCA Savvian slide re-used in 100 different contexts:

When Terence Kawaja left GCA Savvian to form Luma Partners, he promptly put out another one.  In fact, he gave a pretty laminated version to AdExchanger while I was standing right next to John and when I asked for one, I got blown off!  True story.  Anyway, this is the ecosystem in 2010 according to Luma:

I have good news, and a revelation for people in the online advertising space.  I have traveled into the future and brought back Luma Partners slide from 2012.  And lo, the slide was presented:

Or was this from a secret internal Google presentation last week?  Only TechCrunch knows for sure!

Cogmap’s host, Media Temple, got hacked. Pardon the interruption.

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Yeah, that malware notice Google flashed was kind of the real deal.  Our illustrious hosting provider got hacked.

Sorry about that.  We have taken efforts to ensure that we cannot be hacked in this fashion again, regardless of what happens to Media Temple.

Cogmap World Tour

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Cogmap is out and about.  If you want to meet Brent, I will around soon enough.

Here is where I will be.

NYC: January 19th and 27th, February 3rd

Annapolis: January 26th

Philadelphia: January 22nd

San Francisco: March 7 – 13th

My email: brent at this domain.

If you want to hang, but these days don’t work, let me know.  Going to be really hitting the road for the next month or two I suspect.