City of Austin Website Controversy

March 25th, 2009 6 comments

Disclaimer: the comments of this post represent my own, personal point of view, not the point of view of my employer.

I woke up this morning to discover the twitterversy surrounding the City of Austin’s decision to potentially hire a firm from California to redesign the city’s website. A flurry of tweets later a twitnagture page was created to document the collective outrage of Austin’s interactive community. For the record I signed the petition.

Updated: there is now also a Facebook group for this.

Admittedly, on the surface it seems ludicrous to hire a firm from Sanat Clara, California, Cignex Technologies,  to design the public face for the city. Given the economic situation shouldn’t we keep the business here in Austin? Wouldn’t it be less expensive to work with a local firm?

According to the report, there were 3 bids from the 200+ firms that an RFP was sent to. Of the 3, the lowest bid was from Cignex. It was lower by more than 600,000.

All that aside, this decision is tone deaf. At worst, it is a slap in the face of one of the country’s major interactive hubs.

Lost in the controversy are a few of issues:

Conflict of interest: By working with a firm from California, Austin has avoided the inevitable issues of influence peddling and conflict of interest in selecting a vendor. With at least 10 – 20 major interactive firms here in Austin, any number of which likely have contacts on the city council, working with an outside firm helps to avoid the issue.

Who is making the noise? I can’t help but notice that the people making the noise on this topic are often from firms that would stand to benefit from working with a local firm, or at least friends and colleagues. I am definitely of two minds about this. Having been faced with the decision to lay off team members myself, I applaud their efforts to garner ever dollar for their firms available in order to sustain their businesses. But, I think that they should admit that there is at least a little self interest in their outrage. Also if they were so interested in the work, why didnt they respond to the RFP?

Tone: Outrage is exactly the tone that is being used. Many of those making noise on this topic of colleagues, peers or people I admire, so I hesitate to even raise the issue, but I have to ask, with all the issues facing our city, state, country, and world, is this really the most important issue to focus on? And if it is, is the tone justified?

Ok, enough noise in the echo chamber. I have a modest proposal to resolve this issue.

My proposal:

Let’s team up with a city in California & implement a small trade agreement. For the sake of my example, let’s use San Jose, but certainly and city will do.  Austin and San Jose should agree to engage of firm from the other city to design and implement their web sites using identical (or at least comparable) budgets.

The benefits of this proposal are three fold:

1) Financial: the net dollars would be kept in the community. Sure some budget money flows out of Austin, but a similar amount flows back into Austin.

2) Avoids conflict of interest: by selecting from a pool of potential interactive firms in our partner city, we avoid the potentially nasty conflict of interest issues that arise from hiring a local firm.

3) Ego & reputation: Our fair city’s reputation as an interactive leader can be maintained, by providing a simple explanation for why we hired a firm from another city to paint our face.

This proposal was put together quickly. Undoubtedly, this solution has flaws. First and foremost, getting 2 cities to needs website updates at the same time and having a comparable budget seems challenging. This solution is also no doubt open to influence & manipulation as well. However, I believe that both of these issues should be solvable.

What can be done to improve it?

Categories: austin, social, websites Tags:

SMX Search Analytics?

February 28th, 2009 2 comments

I will be speaking on the Analytics & Competitive Intelligence at SMX Search Analytics, in Toronto, at the end of March/start of April.

The rest of the panel looks very strong: Helen Overland, from non linear creations; Khalid Saleh, from Invesp; and Dharmesh Shah, from Hubspot will all be participating. Vanessa Fox will be moderating.

My session will focus on 2 key areas: how to communicate competitive intelligence data within your organization and how to take effective action based on this data.

I will be the 2nd Apogee speaker at Search Analytics. Alissa Ruehl from Apogee will also be speaking. She will be part of the Analyzing & Converting Paid Search Traffic panel. Alissa heads up our Website Effectiveness practice, so she will bring a lot to the panel.

If I ran an online store that sold clothes, shoes, or glasses

February 28th, 2009 No comments

If I ran an online store that sold clothes, shoes, or glasses, I would let customers upload pictures of themselves in the clothes and make it easy for website visitors to filter the photos by people that look like them.

Isn’t this always the issue with buying clothes online? You just don’t know what it will look like on you. Fine; find someone that looks like you and be the judge.

Online retailers will resist this, just like they initially resisted reviews. Why? For the same reason that they resisted review: because someone might say something bad in the review. In this case, some people might look bad in the clothes, which would conflict with the brand’s image.

Why do this? If you know you will look bad, you won’t buy the clothes anyway. And arguably, I don’t want you wearing them either. But if you can see that you will look great, then I just upped my conversion rate and got another endorsement out on the street.

Categories: ecommerce Tags: ,

Interactive Austin 2009 (IA09) Update

February 22nd, 2009 No comments

The details for IA09 (Interactive Austin 2009) are coming together nicely. Big thanks to Mike Chapman for his efforts.

  • The date is set: April 27, 2009.
  • The location is set: Norris Conference Center
  • The program is set and session details will be be posted soon.
  • The keynote speakers, Dion Hinchliffe and William Hurley, have been announced. The other speakers are locked in and information is being added to the event site.

I will be speaking on the Search, Analytics and Metrics panel. More information on the rest of the panel will be coming soon.

You can get updates and more details by following @ia09 . Alternatively, it looks like we have settled on the #ia09 hash if you want to keep up with the conversation. We can see how many people interested in IA Summit 2009 #ias2009 show up :).

Things I Liked This Week

February 22nd, 2009 No comments

Connecting to people:

I noticed that business intelligence blogger Stephen Few includes his signature at the end of each blog post. It’s a small detail, but it changed my perception of his posting. No longer was it a blog post, mass marketed to anyone who reads his blog. Instead it become a letter to me, an individual reader. Small change, big impact. Nice.

Making me think:

Seth Godin’s “Do You Deserve It?” post. This is an issue I think about a lot. I am been amazingly fortunate in my life. The circumstances of my birth (first world country), my parents (well educated, focused on a education and a work life balance), my friends and family (good people). His question, “what are you going to do with it now that you’ve got it?” is spot on. Now I need to do something about it.

Smarter Technology:

The new Canonical Link Tag introduced by Google, Yahoo, and MSN. Although technically introduced the week before at SMX West, the utility of this really only sank in fully this week. Great tool. I hope the search engines support it well.

Friends & Talks:

Dinner with friends at Boulevard Grill on Saturday night. The place isn’t much to look at, but the food is great. All in all the the evening had food, drinks, and great conversation; followed by the surprise of other friends showing as well. The very definition of what a neighborhood bar should deliver.


The Panama Boquete I picked up from Anderson’s Coffee yesterday. Rich flavor, with a hint of caramel. Great flavour and a great deal at $8.95/lb.

Categories: liked Tags: , , ,

Units matter

February 16th, 2009 No comments

I was reading the Austin Statesmen online today when an ad caught my eye. At first I thought it was because the design used a particular shade of green known around our house as Ellen Green because my wife wears it so much. Then I thought it was because the designer had accomplished the difficult task of combining the blue, green, and aqua with the pink background. Finally I realized I was attracted because something was missing.

Do you see it? (or rather do you what isn’t there?)

Screen capture of Dillard's display ad for an Estee Lauder promotion

Screen capture of Dillard's display ad for an Estee Lauder promotion

Read more…

Follow-up to WAW Austin February 2009

February 11th, 2009 No comments

I spoke at WAW Austin today. We had a nice meeting session, trying a new location, Grapevine Market. Great questions from the group, but @Biren, Bruce, Jeff, and Sara really stood out. @dirkmshaw wasn’t there, but we talked about his tweeted question re: talking about engagement for your CFO.


Here is a PDF of the handout from today’s session. Will follow-up with a more web friendly version and also answers to a couple of follow-on sessions.


Also, here are links to a couple of the resources that were mentioned as well.

Web Analytics Wednesday Austin – February 2009

February 9th, 2009 No comments

I will be speaking at this month’s Web Analytics Wednesday Austin. The focus for this month’s (February 2009) session will be on techniques for measuring user engagement.

Starting Over

February 7th, 2009 No comments

I got tired of messing around with some hosting and domain issues last weekend. It was probably impulsive, but I started over. I killed the old blog and created a new version. Enjoy.

Categories: about Tags: