Do you want to live forever?

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Do You Want to Live Forever?

Wandering through the quadrangles and medieval bastions of learning at the University of Cambridge one overcast Sunday afternoon a few months ago, I found myself ruminating on how this venerable place had been a crucible for the scientific revolution that changed humankind�s perceptions of itself and of the world. The notion of Cambridge as a source of grand transformative concepts was very much on my mind that day, because I had traveled to England to meet a contemporary Cantabrigian who aspires to a historical role similar to those enjoyed by Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and William Harvey. Aubrey David Nicholas Jasper de Grey is convinced that he has formulated the theoretical means by which human beings might live thousands of years�indefinitely, in fact.

Perhaps theoretical is too small a word. De Grey has mapped out his proposed course in such detail that he believes it may be possible for his objective to be achieved within as short a period as 25 years, in time for many readers of Technology Review to avail themselves of its formulations�and, not incidentally, in time for his 41-year-old self as well. Like Bacon, de Grey has never stationed himself at a laboratory bench to attempt a ­single hands-on experiment, at least not in human biology. He is without qualifications for that, and makes no pretensions to being anything other than what he is, a computer scientist who has taught himself natural science. Aubrey de Grey is a man of ideas, and he has set himself toward the goal of transforming the basis of what it means to be human.

For reasons that his memory cannot now retrieve, de Grey has been convinced since childhood that aging is, in his words, �something we need to fix.� Having become interested in biology after marrying a geneticist in 1991, he began poring over texts, and autodidacted until he had mastered the subject. The more he learned, the more he became convinced that the postponement of death was a problem that could very well have real solutions and that he might be just the person to find them. As he reviewed the possible reasons why so little progress had been made in spite of the remarkable molecular and cellular discoveries of recent decades, he came to the conclusion that the problem might be far less difficult to solve than some thought; it seemed to him related to a factor too often brushed under the table when the motivations of scientists are discussed, namely the small likelihood of achieving promising results within the ­period required for academic advancement�careerism, in a word. As he puts it, �High-risk fields are not the most conducive to getting promoted quickly.�

De Grey began reading the relevant literature in late 1995 and after only a few months had learned so much that he was able to explain previously unidentified ­influences affecting mutations in mitochondria, the intracellular structures that release energy from certain chemical processes necessary to cell function. Having contacted an expert in this area of research who told him that he had indeed made a new discovery, he published his first biological research paper in 1997, in the peer-reviewed journal BioEssays (�A Proposed Refinement of the Mitochondrial Free Radical Theory of Aging,� de Grey, ADNJ, BioEssays 19(2)161�166, 1997). By July 2000, further assiduous application had brought him to what some have called his �eureka moment,� the insight he speaks of as his realization that �aging could be ­described as a reasonably small set of accumulating and eventually pathogenic molecular and cellular changes in our bodies, each of which is potentially amenable to repair.� This concept became the theme of all the theoretical investigation he would do from that moment on; it became the leitmotif of his life. He determined to approach longevity as what can only be called a problem in engineering. If it is possible to know all the components of the variety of processes that cause animal tissues to age, he reasoned, it might also be possible to design remedies for each of them.

All along the way, de Grey would be continually surprised at the relative ease with which the necessary knowledge could be mastered�or at least, the ease with which he himself could master it. Here I must issue a caveat, a variant of those seen in television commercials featuring daredevilish stunts: �Do not attempt this on your own. It is extremely hazardous and requires special abilities.� For if you can take a single impression away from spending even a modicum of time with Aubrey de Grey, it is that he is the possessor of special abilities.

As he surveyed the literature, de Grey reached the conclusion that there are seven distinct ingredients in the aging process, and that emerging understanding of molecular biology shows promise of one day providing appropriate technologies by which each of them might be manipulated��perturbed,� in the jargon of biologists. He bases his certainty that there are only seven such factors on the fact that no new factor has been discovered in some twenty years, despite the flourishing state of research in the field known as biogeron­tology, the science of aging; his certainty that he is the man to lead the crusade for endless life is based on his conception that the qualification needed to accomplish it is the mindset he brings to the problem: the goal-driven orientation of an engineer rather than the curiosity-driven orientation of the basic scientists who have made and will continue to make the laboratory discoveries that he intends to employ. He sees himself as the applied scientist who will bring the benisons of molecular bi­ology to practical use. In the analogous terminology often used by historians of medicine, he is the clinician who will bring the laboratory to the bedside.

And so, in order to achieve his goal of transforming our society, de Grey has transformed himself. His �day job,� as he calls it, is relatively modest; he is the computer support for a genetics research team, and his entire official working space occupies a corner of its small lab. And yet he has achieved international renown and more than a little notoriety in the field of aging, not only for the boldness of his theo­ries, but also because of the forcefulness of his proselytizing on their behalf. His stature has become such that he is a factor to be dealt with in any serious discussion of the topic. De Grey has documented his contributions in the scientific literature, publishing scores of articles in an impressive array of journals, including those of the quality of Trends in Biotechnology and Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, as well as contributing commentary and letters to other publications like Science and Biogerontology.

De Grey has been indefatigable as a missionary in his own cause, joining the appropriate professional societies and evangelizing in every medium available to him, including sponsoring his own international symposium. Though he and his ideas may be sui generis, he is hardly an isolated monkish figure content to harangue the heavens and desert winds with his lonely philosophy. In addition to everything else, he has a remarkable talent for organization and even for his own unique brand of fellowship. The sheer output of his pen and tongue is staggering, and every line of that bumper crop, whether intended for the most scientifically sophisticated or for the general reader, is delivered in the same linear, lucid, point-by-point style that characterizes all his writings on life prolongation. Like a skilled debater, he replies to arguments before they arise and hammers at his opposition with a forceful rhetoric that has just enough dismissiveness�and sometimes even castigation�to betray his impatience with stragglers in the march toward extreme longevity.

De Grey is a familiar figure at meetings of scientific societies, where he has earned the respect of many gerontologists and that new variety of theoreticians known as �futurists.� Not only has his work put him at the forefront of a field that might best be called theoretical biogerontology, but he swims close enough to the mainstream that some of its foremost researchers have agreed to add their names to his papers and letters as coauthors, although they may not agree with the full range of his thinking. Among the most prominent are such highly regarded figures as Bruce Ames of the University of California and the University of Chicago�s Leonid Gavrilov and S. Jay Olshansky. Their attitude toward de Grey is perhaps best expressed by Olshansky, who is a senior research scientist in epidemiology and biostatistics: �I�m a big fan of Aubrey; I love debating him. We need him. He challenges us and makes us expand our way of thinking. I disagree with his conclusions, but in science that�s okay. That�s what advances the field.� De Grey has by his vigorous efforts brought together a cohort of responsible scientists who see just enough theoretical value in his work to justify not only their engagement but also their cautious encouragement. As Gregory Stock, a futurist of biologic technology currently at UCLA, pointed out to me, de Grey�s proposals create scientific and public interest in every aspect of the biology of aging. Stock, too, has lent his name to several of de Grey�s papers.

De Grey enjoys increasing fame as well. He is often called upon when journalists need a quote on antiaging science, and he has been the subject of profiles in publications as varied as Fortune, Popular Science, and London�s Daily Mail. His tireless efforts at thrusting himself and his theories into the vanguard of a movement in pursuit of a goal of eternal fascination to the human mind have put him among the most prominent proponents of antiaging science in the world. His timing is perfect. As the baby boomers�perhaps the most determinedly self-improving (and self-absorbed) generation in history�are now approaching or have reached their early 60s, there is a plenitude of eager seekers after the death-defiant panaceas he promises. De Grey has become more than a man; he is a movement.

I should declare here that I have no desire to live beyond the life span that nature has granted to our species. For reasons that are pragmatic, scientific, demographic, economic, political, social, emotional, and secularly spiritual, I am committed to the notion that both individual fulfillment and the ecological balance of life on this planet are best served by dying when our inherent biology decrees that we do. I am equally committed to making that age as close to our biologically probable maximum of approximately 120 years as modern biomedicine can achieve, and also to efforts at decreasing and compressing the years of morbidity and disabilities now attendant on extreme old age. But I cannot imagine that the consequences of doing a single thing beyond these efforts will be anything but baleful, not only for each of us as an individual, but for every other living creature in our world. Another action I cannot imagine is enrolling myself�as de Grey has�with Alcor, the cryonics company that will, for a price, preserve a customer�s brain or more until that hoped-for day when it can be brought back to some form of life.

With this worldview, is it any wonder that I would be intrigued by an Aubrey de Grey? What would it be like to come face to face with such a man? Not to debate him�a task for which, as a clinical surgeon, I would in any case be scientifically unqualified�but just to sound him out, to see how he behaves in an ordinary situation, to speak of my concerns and his responses�to take his measure. To me, his philosophies are outlandish. To him, mine would seem equally so.

With all of this in mind, I contacted de Grey via e-mail this past fall, and received a response that was both gracious and welcoming. Addressing me by first name, he not only had no hesitation in offering to give up the better part of two days to speak with me, but moreover suggested that we spend them close to the lubricating effects of invigorating fluids, as follows:

I hope you like a good English beer, as that is one of the main (open) secrets of my boundless energy as well as a good part of my intellectual creativity (or so I like to think...). A good plan (by which I mean a plan that has been well tested over the years!) is to meet at 11:00 a.m. Monday 18th in the Eagle, the most famous pub in Cambridge for a variety of reasons which I can point out to you. From there we may (weather permitting) be able to go punting on the Cam, an activity with which I fell in love at first sight on arriving here in 1982 and which all visitors seem to find unforgettable. We will be able to talk for as long as you like, and if there is reason to meet again on the Tuesday I can arrange that too.

The message would prove to be characteristic, including its hint of immodesty. And in a similar vintage was his response when I expressed hesitation about punting, based on friends� tales of falling into the Cam on a chilly autumnal day: �Evidently, your friends did it without expert guidance.� As I learned, de Grey is not a man who allows himself to be less than expert at anything to which he decides to devote those prodigious energies so enthusiastically trumpeted in the e-mail, nor does he allow himself to hide his expertness under a bushel.

Of course, to conceive of oneself as the herald and instrument of the transformation of death and aging requires a supreme self-confidence, and de Grey is the most unabashedly self-confident of men. Soon after we met, this unexampled man told me that �One must have a somewhat inflated opinion of oneself� if success is to crown such great endeavors. �I have that!� he added emphatically. By the time he and I had said our good-byes after a total of 10 hours together over a period of two days, I was certain many would accept his self-estimate. Whether one chooses to believe that he is a brilliant and prophetic architect of futuristic biology or merely a misguided and nutty theorist, there can be no doubt about the astonishing magnitude of his intellect.

De Grey calls his program Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, which permits him to say that it makes SENS to embark upon it. Here, in no particular order, follow his seven horsemen of death and the formulations for the breaking of each animal and its rider. (Those seeking more detailed information might wish to consult de Grey�s website:

1. Loss and atrophy or degeneration of cells. This element of aging is particularly important in tissues where cells cannot replace themselves as they die, such as the heart and brain. De Grey would treat it primarily by the introduction of growth factors to stimulate cell division or by periodic transfusion of stem cells specifically engineered to replace the types that have been lost.

2. Accumulation of cells that are not wanted. These are (a) fat cells, which tend to proliferate and not only replace muscle but also lead to diabetes by diminishing the body�s ability to respond to the pancreatic hormone insulin, and (b) cells that have become senescent, which accumulate in the cartilage of our joints. Receptors on the surface of such cells are susceptible to immune bodies that de Grey believes scientists will in time learn how to generate, or to other compounds that may make the cells destroy themselves without affecting others that do not have those distinctive receptors.

3. Mutations in chromosomes. The most damaging consequence of cell mutation is the development of cancer. The immortality of cancer cells is related to the behavior of the telomere, the caplike structure found on the end of every chromosome, which decreases in length each time the cell divides and therefore seems to be involved with the cell�s mortality. If we could eliminate the gene that makes telomerase�the enzyme that maintains and lengthens telomeres�the cancer cell would die. De Grey�s solution for this problem is to replace a person�s stem cells every 10 or so years with ones engineered not to carry that gene.

4. Mutations in mitochondria. Mitochondria are the micromachines that produce energy for the cell�s activities. They contain small amounts of DNA, which are particularly susceptible to mutations since they are not housed in the chromosomes of the nucleus. De Grey proposes copying the genes (of which there are 13) from the mitochondrial DNA and then putting those copies into the DNA of the nucleus, where they will be far safer from mutation-causing influences. 

5. The accumulation of �junk� within the cell. The junk in question is a collection of complex material that results from the cell�s breakdown of large molecules.  Intracellular structures called lysosomes are the primary microchambers for such breakdown; the junk tends to collect in them, causing problems in the function of certain types of cells. Atherosclerosis, hardening of the arteries, is the biggest manifestation of these complications. To solve this difficulty, de Grey proposes to provide the lysosomes with genes to produce the extra enzymes required to digest the unwelcome material. The source of these genes will be certain soil bacteria, an innovation based on the observation that ground that contains buried animal flesh does not show accumulation of degraded junk.

6. The accumulation of �junk� outside the cell. The fluid in which all cells are bathed�called extracellular fluid�may come to contain aggregates of protein material that it is incapable of breaking down. The result is the formation of a substance called amyloid, which is the material found in the brains of people with Alz­heimer�s disease. To counter this, de Grey proposes vaccination with an as-yet undeveloped substance that might stimulate the immune system to produce cells to engulf and eat the offending material.

7. Cross-links in proteins outside the cell. The extracellular fluid contains many flexible protein molecules that exist unchanged for long periods of time, whose function is to give certain tissues such qualities as elasticity, transparence, or high tensile strength. Over a lifetime, occasional chemical reactions gradually affect these molecules in ways that change their physical and/or chemical qualities. Among these changes is the development of chemical bonds called cross-links between molecules that had previously moved independently of one another. The result is a loss of elasticity or a thickening of the involved tissue. If the tissue is the wall of an artery, for example, the loss of distensibility may lead to high blood pressure. De Grey�s solution to this problem is to attempt to identify chemicals or enzymes capable of breaking cross-links without injuring anything else.

It must be obvious that, even condensed and simplified as they are here, these seven factors are enormously complex biological problems with even more complex proposed solutions. At least some of those solutions may prove inadequate, and others may be impossible to implement. Moreover, de Grey�s descriptions are sprinkled with such vague phrases as �growth factors� and �stimulate the immune system,� which might prove to be little more than slogans, as when he invokes yet-to-be-discovered �chemicals or enzymes capable of breaking cross-links without injuring anything else.� In addition, it must be emphasized that researchers have not come close to solving a single one of the seven problems. In the case of several, there have been promising results. Indeed, research on extracellular cross-links has already yielded several drug candidates: a company called Alteon, in Parsippany, NY, has begun clinical trials of molecules that it says can reverse the effects of some conditions associated with age. In the cases of some of the other problems de Grey identifies, however�such as the prevention of telomere lengthening or the transfer of mitochondrial DNA to the nucleus�it is fair to say that molecular biologists can only speculate about the day, if ever, when these attempts will come to fruition.

But de Grey is unfazed by this incompleteness. It is his thesis that time is being lost, and nothing is accomplished by pessimism about possibilities. For de Grey, �pie in the sky,� as one biogeron­tologist I consulted called his formulations, is a tasty delicacy whose promise already nourishes his soul.

But others can challenge de Grey�s science. My purpose was something else entirely. I found myself wondering what sort of man would devote the labors of an incandescently brilliant mind and a seemingly indefatigable constitution to such a project. Not only does the science seem more than a little speculative, but even more speculative is the assumption on which the entire undertaking is based�namely, that it is a good thing for the men and women now populating the earth to have the means to live indefinitely.

I arrived at the Eagle a few minutes early on the appointed day, which gave me time to record some of the words on the memorial plaque near the ­entryway, which read �An inn has existed at this site since 1667, called �Eagle and Child.�...During their research in the early 1950s, Watson and Crick used the Eagle as a place to relax and discuss their theories whilst refreshing themselves with ale.�

Thus properly steeped in history and atmosphere, I entered the pub just in time to see de Grey through the window, parking his ancient bicycle across the narrow street. Narrow, in fact, precisely describes the man himself, who stands six feet tall, weighs 147 pounds. His spareness is accentuated by a mountain-man chestnut beard extending down to mid-thorax that seems never to have seen a comb or brush. He was dressed like an unkempt graduate student, uncaring of tailoring considerations of any sort, wearing a hip-length black mackinaw-type coat that was borderline shabby. Adorning his head was a knitted woolen hat of a half-dozen striped transverse colors, which he told me had been crafted by his wife 14 years ago. As if to prove its age, the frazzled headgear (which was knitted with straplike extensions that tied under the chin) was not without a few holes. When he removed it, I saw that de Grey�s long straight hair was held in a ponytail by a circular band of bright red wool. But in spite of the visual gestalt, de Grey cannot disguise the fact that he is a boyishly handsome man. As for his voice, being the product of a private school followed by Harrow and then Cambridge, it hardly needs to be described. To an American, he is of rare fauna, and his distinctiveness was catch-your-eye apparent even among his Cambridge colleagues.

Having seen a photo of de Grey on his website, I was prepared for his beard, spareness, and even his laissez-faire attitude toward externals. But I was not prepared for the intensity of those keen blue-gray eyes, nor for the pallor of the face in which they are so gleamingly set. His expression was one of concentrated zeal, even evangelism, and it never let up during our subsequent six hours of nonstop conversation across the narrow pub table that separated us. In the photo, his eyes are so gently warm that I had commented on them in one of my e-mails. But I would see none of that warmth during the 10 hours we spent together, though it reappeared in the 15 minutes during which we chatted with Adelaide de Grey in a courtyard between laboratory buildings after our Monday session at the Eagle.

Adelaide de Grey (n�e Carpenter) is a highly accomplished American geneticist and an expert electron microscopist who, at 60, is 19 years older than her husband. They met early in 1990, midway through her Cambridge sabbatical from a faculty position at the University of California, San Diego, and were married in April 1991. Neither of them has ever wanted to have children. �There are already lots of people who are very good at that,� explained Aubrey when the subject came up. �It�s either that or do a lot of stuff you wouldn�t do if you had children, because you wouldn�t have the time.� Raised as the only child of an artistic and somewhat eccentric single mother, already at the age of eight or nine he had determined to do something with his life �that would make a difference,� something that he and perhaps no one else was equipped to accomplish. Why fritter away resources in directions that others might pursue just as well or better? With that in mind no less now than when he was a child, de Grey has trimmed from his days and thoughts any activity he deems superfluous or distracting from the goals he sets for himself. He and Adelaide are two highly focused�some would say driven�people of such apparent similarity of motivation and goals that their work is the overwhelming catalytic force of their lives.

And yet, each member of this uncommon pair is touchingly tender with the other. Even my brief 15 minutes with them was sufficient to observe the softness that comes into de Grey�s otherwise determined visage when Adelaide is near, and her similar response. I suspect that his website photo was taken while he was either looking at or thinking of her.
Adelaide, although at five foot two much shorter than her husband, looks his perfect sartorial partner: she dresses in a similar way and is apparently just as uncaring about her appearance or grooming. One can easily imagine them on one of their dates, as described by Aubrey. Walking from the small flat where they have lived since they married almost 14 years ago, entering the local laundromat, talking science as the machines beat up on their well-worn clothes. They are hardly bons vivants, nor would they want to be; they quite obviously like things just the way they are. They appear to care not at all for the usual getting and spending, nor even for some of the normative emotional rewards of living in our world�all at a time when the name of Aubrey de Grey has become associated with changing that world in unimaginable ways.

But six uninterrupted hours of compelling talk (most of it pouring out of him in floods of volubility let loose by intermittent questions or comments) and the consumption of numerous pints of Abbot�s ale still awaited us before I would meet Adelaide and be taken to the laboratory where de Grey performs the duties of his �day job.� Very soon after we began speaking, an hour before noon on that first day, I asked him why his proposals raise the hackles of so many gerontologists. And right there, at the very outset of our discussions, he replied with the dismissive impatience that would reappear whenever I brought up one or another of the many objections that either a specialist or layperson might have regarding the notion of extending life for millennia. �Pretty much invariably,� he curtly told me, their objections �are based on simple ignorance.� Among the bands of that spectrum that de Grey will not confine to a bushel is his feeling that his is one of the few minds capable of comprehending the biology of his formulations, the scientific and societal logic upon which they are based, and the vastness of their potential benefits to our species.

I wanted de Grey to justify his conviction that living for thousands of years is a good thing. Certainly, if one can accept such a viewpoint, everything else follows from it: the push to research beyond the elucidation of the aging process; the gigantic investment of talent and money to accomplish and apply such research; the transformation of a culture based on the expectation of a finite and relatively short lifetime to one without horizons; the odd fact that every adult human being would be physiologically the same age (because rejuvenation would be the inevitable result of de Grey�s proposals); the effects on family relationships�it goes on and on.

De Grey�s response to such a challenge comes in the perfectly formed and articulated sentences that he uses in all his writings. He has the gift of expressing himself both verbally and in print with such clarity and completeness that a listener finds himself entranced by the flow of seemingly logical statements following one after the other. In speech as in his directed life, de Grey never rambles. Everything he says is pertinent to his argument, and so well constructed that one becomes fascinated with the edifice being formed before one�s eyes. So true is this that I could not but fix my full attention on him as he spoke. Though many possible distractions arose during the hours in which we confronted each other across that pub table, as people came and went, ate and drank, talked and laughed, and smoked and coughed, I never once found myself looking anywhere but directly at him, except when going to fetch food�a full lunch for me and only potato chips for him�or another pint. It was only when reflecting upon the assumptions on which his argument is based that a listener discovers that he must insert the word �seemingly� before �logical� in the second sentence of the present paragraph. Here follows an aliquot of de Grey�s reasoning:

The reason we have an imperative, we have a duty, to develop these thera­pies as soon as possible is to give future generations the choice. People are entitled, have a human right, to live as long as they can; people have a duty to give people the opportunity to live as long as they want to. I think it�s just a straightforward extension of the duty-of-care concept. People are entitled to expect to be treated as they would treat themselves.

It follows directly and irrevocably as an extension of the golden rule. If we hesitate and vacillate in developing life-extension therapy, there will be some cohort to whom we will deny the option to live much longer than we do. We have a duty not to deny people that option.

When I raised the question of ethical or moral objections to the extreme extension of life, the reply was similarly seemingly logical and to the point:

If there were such objections, they would certainly count in this argument. What does count is that the right to live as long as you choose is the world�s most fundamental right. And this is not something I�m ordaining. This seems to be something that all moral codes, religious or secu­lar, seem to agree on: that the right to life is the most important right.

And then, to what would seem the obvious objection that such moral codes assume our current life span and not one lasting thousands of years:

It�s an incremental thing. It�s not a question of how long life should be, but whether the end of life should be hastened by action or inaction.

And there it is�the ultimate leap of ingenious argumentation that would do a sophist proud: by our inaction in not pursuing the possible opportunity of extending life for thousands of years, we are hastening death. 

No word of the foregoing quotes has been edited or changed in any way. De Grey speaks in formed paragraphs and pages. Many readers of Technology Review are all too familiar with how garbled we often sound when quoted directly. Not so de Grey, who speaks with the same precision with which he writes. Admittedly, some may consider his responses to have the sound of a carefully prepared sermon or sales pitch because he has answered similar questions many times before, but all thought of such considerations disappears when one spends a bit of time with him and realizes that he pours forth every statement in much the same way, whether responding to some problem he has faced a dozen times before or giving a tour of the genetics lab where he works. His every thought comes out perfectly shaped, to the amazement of the bemused observer.


De Grey does not fool himself about the vastness of the efforts that will be required to make the advances in science and technology necessary to attain his objective. But equally, he does not seem fazed by my suggestion that his optimism might simply be based on the fact that, having never worked as a bench researcher in biology, he may not appreciate or even understand the nature of complex biological systems, nor fully take into account the possible consequences of tinkering with what he sees as individual components in a machine. Unlike engineers, the adoption of whose method­ology de Grey considers his main conceptual contribution to solving the problems of aging, biologists do not approach physiological events as distinct entities that have no effect on any others. Each of de Grey�s interventions will very likely result in unpredictable and incalculable responses in the biochemistry and physics of the cells he is treating, not to mention their extracellular milieu and the tissues and organs of which they are a part. In biology, everything is interdependent; everything is affected by everything else. Though we study phenomena in isolation to avoid complicating factors, those factors come into play with a vengeance when in vitro becomes in vivo. The fearsome concerns are many: a little lengthening of the telomere here, a bit of genetic material from a soil bacterium there, a fistful of stem cells�the next thing you know, it all explodes in your face. 

He replied to all this as to so much else, whether it be the threat of overpopulation, the effect on relationships within families and whole societies, or the need to find employment for vibrantly healthy people who are a thousand years old: we will deal with these problems as they come up. We will make the necessary adjustments, whether in the realm of potential cellular havoc or of the tortuosities of economic necessity. He believes that each problem can be retouched and remedied as it becomes recognized.

De Grey has some interesting notions of human nature. He insists that, on the one hand, it is basic to humankind to want to live forever regardless of consequences, while on the other it is not basic to want to have children. When I protested that the two most formative instincts of all living things are to survive and to pass on their DNA, he quickly made good use of the one and denied the existence of the other. Bolstering his argument with the observation that many people�like Adelaide and himself�choose not to have children, he replied, not without a hint of petulance and some small bit of excited waving of his hands,

Your precept is that we all have the fundamental impulse to reproduce. The incidence of voluntary childlessness is exploding. Therefore the imperative to reproduce is not actually so deep seated as psychologists would have us believe. It may simply be that it was the thing to do�the more traditional thing. My point of view is that a large part of it may simply be indoctrination....I�m not in favor of giving young girls dolls to play with, because it may perpetuate the urge to motherhood. 

De Grey has commented in several fora on his conviction that, given the choice, the great majority of people would choose life extension over having children and the usual norms of family life. This being so, he says, far fewer children would be born. He did not hesitate to say the same to me:

We will realize there is an overpopulation problem, and if we have the sense we�ll decide to fix it [by not reproducing] sooner rather than later, because the sooner we fix it the more choice we�ll have about how we live and where we live and how much space we will have and all that. Therefore, the question is, what will we do? Will we decide to live a long time and have fewer children, or will we decide to reject these rejuvenation therapies in order that we can have children? It seems pretty damn clear to me that we�ll take the former option, but the point is that I don�t know and I don�t need to know.

Of course, de Grey�s reason for not needing to know is that same familiar imperative he keeps returning to, the impera­tive that everyone is entitled to choice regardless of the possible consequences. What we need to know, he argues, can be found out after the fact and dealt with when it appears. Without giving humankind the choice, however, we deprive it of its most basic liberty. It should not be surprising that a man as insistently individualistic�and as uncommon a sort�as he would emphasize freedom of personal choice far more than the potentially toxic harvest that might result from cultivating that dangerous seed in isolation. As with every other of his formulations, this one�the concept of untrammeled freedom of choice for the individual�is taken out of the context of its biological and societal surroundings. Like everything else, it is treated in vitro rather than in vivo.

In campaigns that occur across the length of several continents, de Grey�s purpose is only secondarily to overcome resistance to his theories. His primary aim is to publicize himself and his formulations as widely as possible, not for the sake of personal glory but as a potential means of raising the considerable funding that will be necessary to carry out the research that needs to be done if his plans are to stand any chance of so much as partial success. He has laid out a schedule projecting the timeline on which he would like to see certain milestones reached. 

The first of these milestones would be to rejuvenate mice. De Grey would extend the life span of a two-year-old mouse that might ordinarily live one more year by three years. He believes funding of around $100 million a year will make this feasible �10 years from now; almost certainly not as soon as seven years; but very likely...less than 20 years.� Such an accomplishment, de Grey believes, will �kick-start a war on aging� and be �the trigger for enormous social upheaval.� In an article for the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences [de Grey et al., 959: 452�462, 2002], which lists seven coauthors after his own name, de Grey writes, �We contend that the impact on public opinion and (inevitably) public policy of unam­bigu­ous aging-reversal in mice would be so great that whatever work remained necessary at that time to achieve adequate somatic gene therapy would be hugely accelerated.� Not only that, he asserts, but the public enthusiasm following upon such a feat will cause many people to begin making life choices based on the proba­bility that they, too, will reach a proportional number of years. Moreover, when death from a disease like influenza, for example, is considered premature at the age of 200, the urgent need to solve the problems of infectious disease will massively increase government and drug company funding in that area. 

In addition to accelerating demand for research, the tripling of a middle-aged mouse�s remaining life span would bring in entirely new sources of funding. Because governments and drug companies tend to favor research that promises useful results in a relatively short time, de Grey is not counting on them as a source. He is relying on an infusion of private money to supply the funds (significantly more than the cost of reversing aging in mice) that it will take to successfully fight his war against aging in humans. De Grey believes that once aging has been reversed in mice, billionaires will come forward, intent on living as long as possible.

Is it likely that the photograph of a long-lived mouse on the front page of every newspaper in the world would be greeted with the unalloyed enthusiasm of a unanimous public? I doubt it. More probably, acclaim would be balanced by horror. Ethicists, economists, sociologists, members of the clergy, and many worried scientists could be counted on to join huge numbers of thoughtful citizens in a counterreaction. But of course, if we are to accept de Grey�s first principle, that the desire to live forever trumps every other factor in human decision-making, then self-interest - or what some might call narcissism - will win out in the end.

De Grey projects that 15 years after we have rejuvenated mice we might begin to reverse aging in humans. Early, limited success in extending the human life span will be followed by successive, more dramatic breakthroughs, so that humans now living could reach what de Grey calls "life extension escape velocity." De Grey concedes that it might be 100 years before we begin to significantly extend human life. What he does not concede is that it is more likely not to happen at all. He cannot seem to imagine that the odds are heavily against him. And he cannot imagine that not only the odds but society itself may be against him. He will provide any listener or reader with a string of reasons that are really rationalizations to explain why most mainstream gerontologists remain so conspicuously absent from the ranks of those cheering him on. He has safeguarded himself against the informed criticism that should give him cause to ­rethink some of his proposals. He has accomplished this self-protection by con­structing a personal worldview in which he is inviolate. He refuses to budge a millimeter; he will not give ground to the possibility that any of the barriers to his success may prove insuperable.

All this makes de Grey sound unlikable. But a major factor behind his success at attracting a following has less to do with his science than with himself. As I discovered during our two sessions at the Eagle, it is impossible not to like de Grey. Despite his unhesitant verbal trashing of those who disagree with him, there is a certain untouched sweetness in the man, which, combined with his lack of care for outward appearance and the sincerity of his commitment to the goals that animate his life, are so disarming that the entire picture is one of the disingenuousness of genius, rather than of the self-promotion of the remote, false messiah. His likability was pointed out even by his detractors. It is a quality not to be expected in such an obviously odd and driven duck.

But the most likable of eccentrics are sometimes the most dangerous. Many decades ago in my naivete and ignorance, I thought that the ultimate destruction of our planet would be by the neutral power of celestial catastrophe: collision with a gigantic meteor, the burning out of the sun�that sort of thing. In time, I came to believe that the end of days would be ushered in by the malevolence of a mad dictator who would unleash an arsenal of explosive or biological weaponry: nuclear bombs, engineered micro�rganisms�that sort of thing. But my notion of �that sort of thing� has been changing. If we are to be destroyed, I am now convinced that it will not be a neutral or malevolent force that will do us in, but one that is benevolent in the extreme, one whose only motivation is to improve us and better our civilization. If we are ever immolated, it will be by the efforts of well-meaning scientists who are convinced that they have our best interests at heart. We already know who they are. They are the DNA tweakers who would enhance us by allowing parents to choose the genetic makeup of their descendants unto every succeeding generation ad infinitum, heedless of the possibility that breeding out variety may alter factors necessary for the survival of our species and the health of its relationship to every form of life on earth; they are the biogerontologists who study caloric restriction in mice and promise us the extension by 20 percent of a peculiarly nourished existence; they are those other biogerontologists who emerge from their laboratories of molecular science every evening optimistic that they have come just a bit closer to their goal of having us live much longer, downplaying the unanticipated havoc at both the cellular and societal level that might be wrought by their proposed manipulations. And finally, it is the unique and strangely alluring figure of Aubrey de Grey, who, orating, writing, and striding tirelessly through our midst with his less than fully convinced sympathizers, proclaims like the disheveled herald of a new-begotten future that our most inalienable right is to have the choice of living as long as we wish. With the passion of a single-minded zealot crusading against time, he has issued the ultimate challenge, I believe, to our entire concept of the meaning of humanness.

Paradoxically, his clarion call to action is the message neither of a madman nor a bad man, but of a brilliant, beneficent man of goodwill, who wants only for civilization to fulfill the highest hopes he has for its future. It is a good thing that his grand design will almost certainly not succeed. Were it otherwise, he would surely destroy us in attempting to preserve us.

Sherwin Nuland is clinical professor of surgery at Yale University's School of Medicine and teaches bioethics. He is the author of How We Die, which won the National Book Award in 1994, and Leonardo da Vinci. He has written for many magazines, including the New Yorker. Over three decades, he has cared for around 10,000 patients.

How to Start a Revolution

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Tipping Point - Net Version

How to Start a Revolution

Paraphrasing the main ideas in Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point


HappyFeet has made the best effort possible to put these items in some form of coherent order. This book used alot of marketing/business angles. I chose to replace those examples, etc. with art, creativity, and revolution. Use this to make the truth bloom.


  • That one dramatic moment in an epidemic when everything can change all at once.
  • The moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point, a place where the unexpected becomes expected, where radical change is more than possibility. It is a certainty. Epidemics...
  • Tip b/c of the extraordinary efforts of a few select carriers. But they also sometimes tip when something happens to transform the epidemic agent itself.
    1. Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.
    2. Are another example of geometric progression: when a virus spreads through a population, it doubles and doubles again into infinity.
    3. Epidemics are a function of the people who transmit infectious agents, the infectious agent itself, and the environment in which the infectious agent is operating:
      • They (Epidemics) have clear examples of contagious behavior.
      • They both have little changes that make big effects.
      • It takes only the smallest of changes to shatter an epidemic's equilibrium.
      • They happen in a hurry.
  • This is the most important trait, b/c it is the principle that makes sense of the first two and that permits the greatest insight into why modern change happens the way it does.
  • Epidemics involve straightforward simple things; a "product" (I put this in quotes b/c Gladwell writes this book using mostly marketing/business ideas. However, I see it as a way to spark revolution.) and a message.
  • In order to create one contagious movement, you often have to create many small movements first.
  • Contagiousness is in larger part a function of the messenger. Stickiness is primarily a property of the message.

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There are exceptional people out there who are capable of starting epidemics. All you have to do is find them. With an epidemic, a tiny majority of the people do the work. Once critical factor in epidemics is the nature of the messenger. Messengers make something spread.
Word of mouth is still the most important form of human communication. Rumors are the most contagious of all social messages. Connectors

  1. People with a special gift for bringing the world together, people specialists
  2. Know lots of people
  3. Have an extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances, making social connections.
  4. Have mastered the "weak tie"; a friendly, yet casual social connection.
  5. Manage to occupy many different worlds and subcultures and niches. By having a foot in so many different worlds, they have the effect of bringing them all together.
  6. Acquaintances represent a source of social power, and the more acquaintances you have the more powerful you are.
  7. Social glue: they spread the message


    • Information specialists
    • Once they figure out how to get that great deal, they want to tell you about it too.
    • Solves his own problems, his own emotional needs, by solving other people's problems.
    • Have knowledge and the social skills to start word-of-mouth epidemics.
    • A teacher and a student
    • In a social epidemic, Mavens are data banks. They provide the message.



    • Have the skills to persuade when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing.
    • Little things can make as much of a difference as big things.
    • Gives nonverbal clues that are more important than verbal clues.
    1. "Interactional synchrony": human interaction has a rhythmic physical dimension. We dance to each other's speech�we're perfectly in harmony.
    2. Motor mimicry: we imitate each other's emotions as a way of expressing support and caring and, even more basically, as a way of communicating with each other. Emotion is contagious. "Senders" are very good at expressing emotions and feelings. They are far more emotionally contagious than the rest of us.
    • Persuasion often works in ways that we do not appreciate
    • You draw others into your own rhythms and dictate the terms of the interaction.

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There is a simple way to package information that, under the right circumstances, can make it irresistible/sticky and compels a person into action. All you have to do is find it. In order to be capable of sparking epidemics, ideas have to be memorable and move us into action. Content of the message matters too.

  1. What is needed is a subtle but significant change in presentation to make most messages stick.
  2. The elements that make an idea sticky turn out to be small and trivial.
  3. "Clutter" has made it harder and harder to get any one message to stick. The information age has created a stickiness problem.
  4. Pay careful attention to the structure and format of your material, and you can dramatically enhance stickiness.
  5. Can tip a message by tinkering, on the margin, with the presentation of their ideas THE POWER OF CONTEXT

We don't necessarily appreciate that our inner states are the result of our outer circumstances. We are more than just sensitive to changes in context. We're exquisitely sensitive to them. And the kinds of contextual changes that are capable of tipping an epidemic are very different than we might ordinarily suspect. The impetus to engage in a certain kind of behavior is not coming from a certain kind of person but from a feature of the environment.

  1. Small changes in context can be just as important in tipping epidemics.
  2. An environmental argument.
  3. What really matters is little things
    • "Broken Windows Theory": in a city, relatively minor problems like graffiti, public disorder, and aggressive panhandling, are all the equivalent of broken windows, invitations to more serious crimes (Rudy Gulliani's belief)
  4. An epidemic can be reversed/tipped by tinkering with the smallest details of the immediate environment.
  5. There are specific situations so powerful that they can overwhelm our inherent predispositions.
  6. Human beings invariably make the mistake of overestimating the importance of fundamental character traits and underestimating the importance of the situation and context. We are a lot more attuned to personal cues than contextual cues.
  7. Character is more like a bundle of habits and tendencies and interests, loosely bound together and dependent, at certain times, on circumstances and context.
  8. The convictions of your heart and the actual contents of your thoughts are less important, in the end, in guiding your actions then the immediate context of your behavior.

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"There seems to be some limitation built into us either by learning or by the design of the nervous systems, a limit that keeps our channel capacities in this general range (i.e. the human minds inability to comprehend things beyond sets 7)" �George Miller "The Magical Number Seven"

"The figure of 150 seems to represent the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuinely social relationship, the kind of relationship that goes with knowing who they are and how they relate to us. Putting it another way, it's the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar." �Robin Dunbar,

  1. Even relatively small increases in the size of a group [beyond 150] creates a significant additional social and intellectual burden.
  2. The rule of 150 suggests that the size of a group is another one of those subtle contextual factors that can make a big difference.
  3. Peer pressure is much more powerful than a concept of a boss
  4. Transactive memory: we store information with other people. Since mental energy is limited, we concentrate on what we do best.
  5. Groups of 150 are an organized mechanism that makes it far easier for new ideas and information moving around the organization to tip; to go from one person or one part of the group to the entire group all at once.


First Lesson of the Tipping Point

Starting epidemics requires concentrating resources on a few key areas. Your resources ought to be solely concentrated on the Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen.

Second Lesson of the Tipping Point

The world does not accord with our intuition. Those who are successful at creating social epidemics do not just do what they think is right. They deliberately test their intuitions.

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Important Conclusion!

What must underlie successful epidemics, in the end, is a bedrock belief that change is possible, that people can radically transform their behavior or beliefs in the face of the right kind of impetus. Tipping Points are a reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action. Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push; just in the right place; it can be tipped. NOTES, ETC.

Diffusion model: a detailed, academic way of looking at how a contagious idea or "product" or innovation moves through a population.

  1. Innovators: the adventurous ones. Visionaries.
    • Connectors, mavens, and salesmen make it possible for innovations to connect with the early adopters. They are translators: they make ideas and information from a highly specialized world and translate them into a language the rest of us can understand. They drop extraneous details and exaggerate other details so that the message itself acquires a deeper meaning.
  2. Early adopters: the slightly larger group that is infected by the innovators. Visionaries.
  3. Early Majority: the deliberate and the skeptical mass, who would never try anything until the most respected of this group try it first.
  4. Late Majority
  5. Laggards: the most traditional group that see no urgent reason to change.

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© Copyright 2003 Robert Paterson. Last update: 03/02/2003; 11:43:37 AM.

Top Ten Privacy Resolutions for 2005

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EPIC Top Ten Privacy Resolutions for 2005

Top Ten Consumer Privacy Resolutions

Protect Your Privacy in The New Year!

1. Engage in "privacy self defense." Don't share any personal information with businesses unless it is absolutely necessary (for delivery of an item, etc.). Don't give your phone number, address, or name to retail stores. If you do, they can sell that information or use it for telemarketing and junk mail. If they ask for your information, say "it's none of your business," or give "John Doe, 555-1212, 123 Main St." Don't return product warranty cards. Don't complete consumer surveys even if they appear to be anonymous. Profilers can build in barely-perceptible codes that link you to the survey, and this data goes straight to direct marketers.

2. Pay with cash where possible. Electronic transactions leave a detailed dossier of your activities that can be accessed by the government or sold to telemarketers. Paying with cash is one of the best ways to protect privacy and stay out of debt.

3. Install anti-spyware, anti-virus, and firewall software on your computer. If your computer is connected to the Internet, it is a target of malicious viruses and spyware. There are free spyware-scanning utilities available online, and anti-virus software is probably a necessary investment if you own a Windows-based PC. Firewalls keep unwanted people out of your computer and detect when malicious software on your own machine tries to communicate with others.

4. Use a temporary rather than a permanent change of address. If you move in 2005, be sure to forward your mail by using a temporary change of address order rather than a permanent one. The junk mailers have access to the permanent change of address database; they use it to update their lists. By using the temporary change of address, you'll avoid unwanted junk mail.

5. Opt out of prescreened offers of credit. By calling 1-888-567-8688 or by visiting, you can stop receiving those annoying letters for credit and insurance offers. This is an important step for protecting your privacy, because those offers can be intercepted by identity thieves.

6. Choose Supermarkets that Don't Use Loyalty Cards. Be loyal to supermarkets that offer discounts without requiring enrollment in a loyalty club. If you have to use a supermarket shopping card, be sure to exchange it with your friends or with strangers.

7. Opt out of financial, insurance, and brokerage information sharing. Be sure to call all of your banks, insurance companies, and brokerage companies and ask to opt out of having your financial information shared. This will cut down on the telemarketing and junk mail that you receive.

8. Request a free copy of your credit report by visiting All Americans are now entitled to a free credit report from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union. You can engage in a free form of credit monitoring by requesting one of your three reports every four months. By staggering your request, you can check for errors regularly and identify potential problems in your credit report before you lose out on a loan or home purchase. Currently, these reports are available to residents of most western states. By September 2005, all Americans will have free access to their credit report.

9. Enroll all of your phone numbers in the Federal Trade Commission's Do-Not-Call Registry. The Do-Not-Call Registry ( or 1-888-382-1222) offers a quick and effective shield against unwanted telemarketing. Be sure to enroll the numbers for your wireless phones, too.

10. File a complaint. If you believe a company has violated your privacy, contact the Federal Trade Commission, your state Attorney General, and the Better Business Bureau. Successful investigations improve privacy protections for all consumers.

For more information about privacy, visit the Electronic Privacy Information Center at

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26 Steps to 15k a day

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26steps to 15k a Day

Site Builder

26 steps to 15k a Day

By Brett Tabke, Feb 2, 2002
Originally posted as Successful Site in 12 months with Google Alone

The following will build a successful site in 1 years time via Google alone. It can be done faster if you are a real go getter, or everyones favorite: a self starter.

A) Prep Work:

Prep work and begin building content. Yep, long before the domain name is settled on, start putting together notes to build at least a 100 page site. That's just for openers. That's 100 pages of "real content", as opposed to link pages, resource pages, about/copyright/tos...etc fluff pages.

B) Domain name:
Easily brandable. You want "" and not "". Keyword domains are out - branding and name recognition are in - big time in. The value of keywords in a domain name have never been less to se's. Learn the lesson of "" becomes "" and why they did it. It's one of the powerful gut check calls I've ever seen on the internet. That took resolve and nerve to blow away several years of branding. (that's a whole 'nuther article, but learn the lesson as it applies to all of us).

C) Site Design:
The simpler the better. Rule of thumb: text content should out weight the html content. The pages should validate and be usable in everything from Lynx to leading edge browsers. eg: keep it close to html 3.2 if you can. Spiders are not to the point they really like eating html 4.0 and the mess that it can bring. Stay away from heavy: flash, dom, java, java script. Go external with scripting languages if you must have them - there is little reason to have them that I can see - they will rarely help a site and stand to hurt it greatly due to many factors most people don't appreciate (search engines distaste for js is just one of them).
Arrange the site in a logical manner with directory names hitting the top keywords you wish to hit.
You can also go the other route and just throw everything in root (this is rather controversial, but it's been producing good long term results across many engines).
Don't clutter and don't spam your site with frivolous links like "best viewed" or other counter like junk. Keep it clean and professional to the best of your ability.

Learn the lesson of Google itself - simple is retro cool - simple is what surfers want.

Speed isn't everything, it's almost the only thing. Your site should respond almost instantly to a request. If you get into even 3-4 seconds delay until "something happens" in the browser, you are in long term trouble. That 3-4 seconds response time may vary for site destined to live in other countries than your native one. The site should respond locally within 3-4 seconds (max) to any request. Longer than that, and you'll lose 10% of your audience for every second. That 10% could be the difference between success and not.

D) Page Size:
The smaller the better. Keep it under 15k if you can. The smaller the better. Keep it under 12k if you can. The smaller the better. Keep it under 10k if you can - I trust you are getting the idea here. Over 5k and under 10k. Ya - that bites - it's tough to do, but it works. It works for search engines, and it works for surfers. Remember, 80% of your surfers will be at 56k or even less.

E) Content:
Build one page of content and put online per day at 200-500 words. If you aren't sure what you need for content, start with the Overture keyword suggestor and find the core set of keywords for your topic area. Those are your subject starters.

F) Density, position, yada, yada, yada...
Simple, old fashioned, seo from the ground up.
Use the keyword once in title, once in description tag, once in a heading, once in the url, once in bold, once in italic, once high on the page, and hit the density between 5 and 20% (don't fret about it). Use good sentences and speel check it ;-) Spell checking is becoming important as se's are moving to auto correction during searches. There is no longer a reason to look like you can't spell (unless you really are phonetically challenged).

G) Outbound Links:
From every page, link to one or two high ranking sites under that particular keyword. Use your keyword in the link text (this is ultra important for the future).

H) Cross links:
(cross links are links WITHIN the same site)
Link to on topic quality content across your site. If a page is about food, then make sure it links it to the apples and veggies page. Specifically with Google, on topic cross linking is very important for sharing your pr value across your site. You do NOT want an "all star" page that out performs the rest of your site. You want 50 pages that produce 1 referral each a day and do NOT want 1 page that produces 50 referrals a day. If you do find one page that drastically out produces the rest of the site with Google, you need to off load some of that pr value to other pages by cross linking heavily. It's the old share the wealth thing.

I) Put it Online:
Don't go with virtual hosting - go with a stand alone ip.
Make sure the site is "crawlable" by a spider. All pages should be linked to more than one other page on your site, and not more than 2 levels deep from root. Link the topic vertically as much as possible back to root. A menu that is present on every page should link to your sites main "topic index" pages (the doorways and logical navigation system down into real content).
Don't put it online before you have a quality site to put online. It's worse to put a "nothing" site online, than no site at all. You want it flushed out from the start.

Go for a listing in the ODP. If you have the budget, then submit to Looksmart and Yahoo. If you don't have the budget, then try for a freebie on Yahoo (don't hold your breath).

J) Submit:
Submit the root to: Google, Fast, Altavista, WiseNut, (write Teoma), DirectHit, and Hotbot. Now comes the hard part - forget about submissions for the next six months. That's right - submit and forget.

K) Logging and Tracking:
Get a quality logger/tracker that can do justice to inbound referrals based on log files (don't use a lame graphic counter - you need the real deal). If your host doesn't support referrers, then back up and get a new host. You can't run a modern site without full referrals available 24x7x365 in real time.

L) Spiderlings:
Watch for spiders from se's. Make sure those that are crawling the full site, can do so easily. If not, double check your linking system (use standard hrefs) to make sure the spider found it's way throughout the site. Don't fret if it takes two spiderings to get your whole site done by Google or Fast. Other se's are pot luck and doubtful that you will be added at all if not within 6 months.

M) Topic directories:
Almost every keyword sector has an authority hub on it's topic. Go submit within the guidelines.

N) Links:
Look around your keyword sector in Googles version of the ODP. (this is best done AFTER getting an odp listing - or two). Find sites that have links pages or freely exchange links. Simply request a swap. Put a page of on topic, in context links up your self as a collection spot.
Don't freak if you can't get people to swap links - move on. Try to swap links with one fresh site a day. A simple personal email is enough. Stay low key about it and don't worry if site Z won't link with you - they will - eventually they will.

O) Content:
One page of quality content per day. Timely, topical articles are always the best. Try to stay away from to much "bloggin" type personal stuff and look more for "article" topics that a general audience will like. Hone your writing skills and read up on the right style of "web speak" that tends to work with the fast and furious web crowd.

Lots of text breaks - short sentences - lots of dashes - something that reads quickly.

Most web users don't actually read, they scan. This is why it is so important to keep low key pages today. People see a huge overblown page by random, and a portion of them will hit the back button before trying to decipher it. They've got better things to do that waste 15 seconds (a stretch) at understanding your whiz bang flash menu system. Because some big support site can run flashed out motorhead pages, that is no indication that you can. You don't have the pull factor they do.

Use headers, and bold standout text liberally on your pages as logical separators. I call them scanner stoppers where the eye will logically come to rest on the page.

P) Gimmicks:
Stay far away from any "fades of the day" or anything that appears spammy, unethical, or tricky. Plant yourself firmly on the high ground in the middle of the road.

Q) Link backs:
When YOU receive requests for links, check the site out before linking back with them. Check them through Google and their pr value. Look for directory listings. Don't link back to junk just because they asked. Make sure it is a site similar to yours and on topic.

R) Rounding out the offerings:
Use options such as Email-a-friend, forums, and mailing lists to round out your sites offerings. Hit the top forums in your market and read, read, read until your eyes hurt you read so much.
Stay away from "affiliate fades" that insert content on to your site.

S) Beware of Flyer and Brochure Syndrome:
If you have an ecom site or online version of bricks and mortar, be careful not to turn your site into a brochure. These don't work at all. Think about what people want. They aren't coming to your site to view "your content", they are coming to your site looking for "their content". Talk as little about your products and yourself as possible in articles (raise eyebrows...yes, I know).

T) Build one page of content per day:
Head back to the Overture suggestion tool to get ideas for fresh pages.

U) Study those logs:
After 30-60 days you will start to see a few referrals from places you've gotten listed. Look for the keywords people are using. See any bizarre combinations? Why are people using those to find your site? If there is something you have over looked, then build a page around that topic. Retro engineer your site to feed the search engine what it wants.
If your site is about "oranges", but your referrals are all about "orange citrus fruit", then you can get busy building articles around "citrus" and "fruit" instead of the generic "oranges".
The search engines will tell you exactly what they want to be fed - listen closely, there is gold in referral logs, it's just a matter of panning for it.

V) Timely Topics:
Nothing breeds success like success. Stay abreast of developments in your keyword sector. If big site "Z" is coming out with product "A" at the end of the year, then build a page and have it ready in October so that search engines get it by December. eg: go look at all the Xbox and XP sites in Google right now - those are sites that were on the ball last summer.

W) Friends and Family:
Networking is critical to the success of a site. This is where all that time you spend in forums will pay off. pssst: Here's the catch-22 about forums: lurking is almost useless. The value of a forum is in the interaction with your fellow colleagues and cohorts. You learn long term by the interaction - not by just reading.
Networking will pay off in link backs, tips, email exchanges, and in general put you "in the loop" of your keyword sector.
Take Giacomos first post in the other thread mentioned above - he could have lurked, read, made his judgements, learned, and went off to write up his thesis. However, the step forward and the interaction has probably taught him far more about what he is concerned with than if you would have read the forums front to back. In the process he met some people that may in turn be useful resources in the future.

X) Notes, Notes, Notes:
If you build one page per day, you will find that brain storm like inspiration will hit you in the head at some magic point. Whether it is in the shower (dry off first), driving down the road (please pull over), or just parked at your desk, write it down! 10 minutes of work later, you will have forgotten all about that great idea you just had. Write it down, and get detailed about what you are thinking. When the inspirational juices are no longer flowing, come back to those content ideas. It sounds simple, but it's a life saver when the ideas stop coming.

Y) Submission check at six months:
Walk back through your submissions and see if you got listed in all the search engines you submitted to after six months. If not, then resubmit and forget again. Try those freebie directories again too.

Z) Build one page of quality content per day:
Starting to see a theme here? Google loves content, lots of quality content. Broad based over a wide range of keywords. At the end of a years time, you should have around 400 pages of content. That will get you good placement under a wide range of keywords, generate recip links, and overall position your site to stand on it's own two feet.

Do those 26 things, and I guarantee you that in ones years time you will call your site a success. It will be drawing between 500 and 2000 referrals a day from search engines. If you build a good site with an average of 4 to 5 pages per user, you should be in the 10-15k page views per day range in one years time. What you do with that traffic is up to you, but that is more than enough to "do something" with.


Open source publishing


John Bartlett owns and operates Bartlett Publishing,
which puts out approximately four titles per year in programming,
business, and ... religion. Huh? Those don't go together, do
they? This is the strength of small publishing, to bring together the
disparate genres that make up a particular publisher's passion.

Bartlett is a true believer, in God and Linux. He chose open
source tools because he "believes in free information." He uses the
DocBook DTD,
running the manuscript through OpenJade with a heavily
customized version of Norman Walsh's
. "Using OpenJade and Norman Walsh's stylesheets to
typeset gives me a huge advantage in both costs to produce a book and
time to market. In particular, with DocBook, an index is amazingly
easy to produce," says Bartlett. Post-processing of the PDF is done
with Perl's Text::PDF module
and Adobe
for complex work. A professional graphic artist produces
the cover and Bartlett does post-processing with the GIMP. Finally he uploads the finished
materials to CafePress or LightningSource.

Bartlett's recommendation of the open source tools he uses is
unequivocating. "DocBook makes your book look professional with very
little effort. The combination of DocBook and a good cover artist
gives you very professional results with a minimum of time and money."

John Culleton of Able
Typesetters and Indexers
provides services for small- and
self-publishers with a completely Linux-based workflow using variants
of TeX. First, he keys in and
corrects the source text in Gvim.
Culleton compiles the text to PDF with ConTeXt or pdfTeX and views
the output in Xpdf. He
also uses various other bits and pieces: grep; the Ghostscript ps2ascii

translator; pfaedit (FontForge); PSUtils
for brochures, makeindex
for indices, and some custom macros and scripts. He does image
processing in the GIMP and has recently begun using Scribus for book covers because it
can handle ICC profiles and
produce CMYK output.

Culleton makes two points about the strengths of open source
software. First, "All of these tools are supported by active email
lists. I don't have to call an underpaid clerk.... I
get superior support from users and maintainers of the software." (Ask
any XPress user about Quark's customer support. It's infamous.)
Second, when Donald Knuth backed away from TeX, others picked up the
torch. Development continued and TeX is still going strong.
Meanwhile, in the proprietary world, PageMaker is dying a slow and
painful death and is no longer the behemoth of book production;
FrameMaker has been losing ground as well. Adobe now pushes InDesign.
QuarkXpress went years between updates on the Mac, still
the dominant desktop publishing platform. With proprietary software,
Culleton says, "[You] face the potential discontinuance of the
product, just like users of the once excellent WordPerfect have found
their own purgatory -- the Curse of Corel."

Posted by klsh

Financial fitness for Entrepreneurs


Financial Fitness for Entrepreneurs

I thought I'd give you a break from the DNC coverage in the blogosphere (and everywhere else).

I wrote the following article on "financial fitness for entrepreneurs" last year for the Kauffman Foundation's Entreworld web site so it's reasonably fresh; I got a lot of positive feedback and it ended up in USA Today. It's aimed at any entrepreneur - not just those running venture funded companies. While it's aimed at an early stage entrepreneur, I think it's useful whether you have one employee (you, the founder) or thousands of employees in your business. It was "professionally edited", so it lost some of my special voice (you'll notice the lack of cuss words.) Enjoy.

While creating a growth business can be exhilarating, many entrepreneurs – especially those starting a company for the first time – don’t pay enough attention to some core issues surrounding the financial management of their businesses.

Often, founders don’t have formal training in finance – they’re “techies” launching the next Apple Computer or Netscape, professionals putting together advertising, management consulting, or human resources agencies, or super-salesmen types who’ve figured out how to sell a pizza or deliver a package faster, better and cheaper. Always, they’re intimately involved with their core product or service. Often, they are too busy to burrow into the details of some of the company’s functions, of which finance is the most critical.

These entrepreneurs are savvy enough to know they must work with financial professionals, such as their CFO and outside auditors or CPAs. However, no matter what their background or inclination about finance, founders need to have a working understanding of the basics. An elementary level of financial literacy means they’ll work more intelligently with their financial advisors and become the first line of defense for spotting potential problems in the young company.

What follows are some fundamental financial tenets that all early-stage entrepreneurs should be aware of, understand, and heed.

  • Cash is king: No matter what, don’t run out of money. Nothing else in this article matters if you run out of money. This means know your burn rate (the net cash that is flowing out of your business each month) and be aware that your low cash point for any given month may not be at the end of the month. In other words, don’t get caught planning based on full month figures only to find that you do not have enough money to pay your most important vendor on the 15th because your customers don’t pay you until the 30th.
  • Put in real financial systems from day one: Lots of entrepreneurs figure that they’ll “get around to putting in real financial systems someday soon.” Of course, that rarely happens, especially if no one on the founding team has a strong financial background. The cliché, “It’s better to build on a strong foundation,” applies. Put the foundation in place early so that as your business grows, you are on solid financial footing.
  • Measure everything: If you have real financial systems in place, you can measure everything. Be obsessive about it. Some things that you’ll measure will be similar to what most other businesses measure, such as your P&L, balance sheet, and cash flow statements. Other things will be unique to your business – oriented around your specific customers or products. As your business grows, make sure you evolve and expand what you measure to best reflect the current state of your business. Look especially for metrics that will help tell you where your business is going, not just where it has come from. Financial systems can and should capture more than just historical financial results.
  • Build an annual operating plan: Be disciplined about creating an annual operating plan and budget every year. You should have it finished before January 1. This is your easiest benchmark to measure against - your own expectations. If you don’t set them, you won’t know how you did.
  • Use your vendors to fund your business: Vendors love to get paid on time (or early). However, as a young business, your vendors will appreciate consistency of payment over timeliness. While most vendors will want to be paid within 30 days (or less), it’s typical to stretch payables 45 to 60 days. The key is to pay consistently – if you have a vendor from whom you continually use services or buy products, don’t store up your bills and pay in one lump sum sporadically. Instead, send regular payments. Also, don’t dodge calls from vendors about paying late. Tell them when you are going to pay them, and then make sure you follow through.
  • Use your customers to fund your business: Customers – especially ones that value your products and services – will often be willing to pay on very short terms. Don’t be bashful about asking them to prepay, especially if you are a service business.
  • Be careful of personal guarantees: Banks love personal guarantees. Entrepreneurs hate them. You should avoid them if you can – only sign one as a last resort. You are already investing a huge amount of your personal assets and energy in your business. If you can’t get financing based on the strength of your business, you should question whether it’s the right kind of financing. In the upside scenario, when your business succeeds, the personal guarantee doesn’t matter. It’s the downside case you should be worried about, because you could lose major personal assets like your house.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is: While this is generally true in life, it’s especially true concerning financial issues surrounding an early stage company. Your books should always balance, financings will always have a cost, and investors are always going to have strings attached to their money. Ask questions, be wary, and know what you are getting into.
  • Finance your business appropriately for what you are trying to create: One of the most common mistakes an early stage entrepreneur makes is trying to raise the wrong kind of money for the business. It makes no sense for a service business that could potentially be a $5 million company within three years to try to raise $10 million of venture capital. Correspondingly, it doesn’t make sense for a capital-intensive company that needs to build a plant to raise $250,000 of angel money.
  • Choose professionals carefully: It may be tempting to use your wife’s brother’s friend’s neighbor as your lawyer, because he will give you a great rate and you see him at the neighborhood barbecue, but you get what you pay for. The same is true for accountants and other services that your business will use. Find professionals who know what they are doing and have experience with young companies.
  • Don’t take anything for granted: Double-check everything. If you have the right systems (did I mention that you should have good systems?), this is easy. If you don’t, reread the second bullet point and put in the right systems.
  • Pay your taxes on time: Unlike customers and vendors, our local, state, and federal tax authorities don’t appreciate being used as financing sources for your business. In addition to potentially incurring onerous penalties, missing or delaying tax payments is often a serious crime.

That’s the list. Read it over, familiarize yourself with it, and begin developing a lay entrepreneur’s understanding of finance. You’ll then be able to work deftly with your pros to put the company of your dreams on the sound financial footing necessary for success.

Idea Facilitation


Idea Facilitation Tips

This list of ten tips for facilitators comes from the book Facilitation: A Door to Creative Leadership by Blair Miller, Jonathan Vehar and Roger Firestien. In Roger's newletter "Innovation Expresso," he reprints these tips and states: "There are a number of factors that contribute to groups being uncreative. However, the most damaging creativity killer in a group is a poor facilitator." (See Jonathan Vehar's site for his latest newsletter.)

  1. Treat each other with respect.
  2. Be supportive of each other's ideas.
  3. Focus on the possibilities, not the obstacles.
  4. Be curious, be suprised, have your thinking provoked.
  5. Take responsibility for your own safety.
  6. Encourage others with support, not pressure.
  7. Acknowledge the contributions of others and appreciate their greatness.
  8. Try to suspend your own judgments, certainties, and assumptions.
  9. Be receptive to feedback and willing to change your thoughts, opinions, and behaviors.
  10. Have fun! Don't take yourself too seriously.

Here's an 11th tip for ideation sessions: Read the Rules.

Several years ago, Andy VanGundy did some research that showed that the simple process of reading brainstorming guidelines to the ideation group resulted in 50% more and better ideas. Alex Osborn, the father of brainstorming, defined four basic brainstorming rules which have been added to and modified for the past half century. Here is a list of the ones we currently use:

Judge Later: During the idea generation process, there should be no judgment ... not even groans, frowns or "great idea!" remarks. Just keep pumping out the ideas and go for quantity not quality. The judging process will come later.

Avoid Discussion: Avoid stories, discussions, and elaborations on how the idea could be done or how great it might be. Just keep generating ideas.

Capture Ideas: Every idea must be captured fully either by a person doing the recording or by each person writing their ideas on sticky notes (one per sheet) or any other capture process.

Be Specific: Every idea should be specific and actionable -- no generalities such as "improve communication." Each idea should include a noun and a verb, such as "distribute a weekly newsletter."

Build: Build on other people’s ideas -- make them bigger, smaller, a different color, turn them inside out. Say, "Yes, and ..." For instance: "Yes, and we could distribute it by email or in payroll envelopes."

Participate: Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. The best idea may be in the mind of someone who has never, ever had an idea before so it’s important for everyone to contribute all ideas.

Set Time Limit: Set a time limit for generating ideas ... ideally, not more than 30 - 45 minutes. At the end of this time, take a short break and assess where you are.

Number Your Ideas: IDEO, the award-winning design firm believes that numbering ideas stimulates the flow of ideas and thinks that 100 ideas per hour indicates a good, fluid brainstorming session.

How to be a winner

From, a post by Assistant Professor Andre DeHon

How to be a Winner

Advice for students starting into research work

[N.B.: Observations and recommendations based on first being a
UROP student at MIT and later supervising numerous UROP students at
MIT and undergraduates and graduate students at UCB.]

Don't get hung up trying to understand everything at the outset

The biggest challenge you face at the onset of any new project is
that there is a huge (seemingly overwhelming) amount of stuff you need
to know to tackle your problem properly. While this phenomenon is
true in the small for the beginning researcher, it is also true in the
large for any research project. So learning how to cope with this
challenge is an important skill to to master to become a good
researcher. In contrast, blocking your action and progress while
waiting for complete knowledge is the road to failure.

Coping mechanisms employed by winners include:

  • prioritizing (what do I need to know most)
  • read (everything made available to you, and seek out more; but
    don't put months of reading between you and getting started
    doing things.)
  • multithreading (when blocked on one item or path, is there
    another I can productively pursue?)
  • pursuing multiple, possible solution techniques (maybe
    some have easier/less blocks paths than others)

  • wishful thinking (ok, let's assume this subproblem is solved,
    does that allow me to go on and solve other problems?)
  • pester people who might have some of the information you need
    (you might think they should know what you need to know,
    but often they don't have a clear idea of what you do and don't know;
    start by getting them to give you pointers to things you can use to
    help yourself. Show respect for their time and always follow up
    on the resources you've been given before asking for a personal
  • propose working models --- maybe they are wrong or different
    from others, but they give you something to work with and something
    concrete to discuss and compare with others. You will refine your
    models continually, but it's good to have something concrete in mind
    to work with.

Losers will stop the first time they run into something they
don't know, cannot solve a problem, or encounter trouble
slightly out of what they consider ``their part'' of the problem and then
offer excuses for why they cannot make any progress.

Winners consider the whole problem theirs and look for
paths around every hangup.

Losers make sure there is someone or something to blame for
their lack of progress.

Winners find ways to make progress despite complications.

Losers know all the reasons it cannot be done

Winners find a way to do it.

Communicate and Synchronize Often

Of course, when you do have to build your own models, solve unexpected
problems, make assumptions, etc. do make sure to communicate and
synchronize with your fellow researchers. Do they have different
models from yours? What can you learn from each others' models and
assumptions? Let them know what you're thinking, where you're stuck,
and how you're trying to get around your problems.


The whole problem often seems overwhelming. Decompose it into
manageable pieces (preferably, with each piece a stable intermediate).
Tackle the pieces one at a time. Divide and conquer.

This may sound obvious, but it works. I've turned numerous problems
which appeared ``frightening'' in scope into many 1-day or 2-day
tasks, and then tackled each nice, contained 1--2 day task as I came to
it. As I understood more, new problems and tasks arose, but they
could all be broken back down to bite sized pieces which would be
tackled one at a time.

Be Organized

In computer systems especially, the biggest limitation to our ability
to conquer problems is complexity. You need to work continually to
structure the problem and your understanding of it to tackle the
inherent complexity. Keep careful track of what you have done and
what you need to do. Make lists; write it down; don't rely on your
memory (or worse, yet, your supervisor's memory) to hold all the
things you need to do and all the intermediate issues you need to


Make priorities in your efforts and check your priorities with your
supervisor. A common occurrence is for your supervisor to ask you to
do A, forget about it, and then ask you to do B before you could
possibly have finished A. If you are uncertain on whether B should
take priority over A, definitely ask. Sometimes it will, but often it
won't, and your supervisor will be glad that you reminded him you were busy
solving A. Keep track of B, and when you finish A, see if B still
makes sense to pursue.

Realize that your supervisor is busy

Your professor or graduate student supervisor is busy. He hired
you to help him get more accomplished than he could have on
his own. Your biggest benefit to him is when you can be self moving
and motivating.

Do not expect your supervisor to solve all your problems.
Find out what he has thought about and suggests for a stating point
and work from there. But, realize there may become a time when
you have put more quality thought into something than he has (and this
will happen more and more often to you as you get into your work).
So, when you think you see or know a better way to solve a problem,
bring it up
. In an ideal scenario this is exactly what should
happen. Your supervisor gives you the seed and some directions, then
goes off to think about other problems. You put in concentrated time
on your problem and ultimately come back with more knowledge and
insight into your subproblem than your supervisor.

As a supervisor, I work in two modes:

  1. Until a student has demonstrated that he has thought more deeply
    about the problem than I have, I strongly advocate that he start things my

  2. Once a student has examined a problem in depth, then we
    can discuss it as peers, and generally the student becomes the
    expert on this subproblem, and I can offer general advise
    from my experience and breadth.


Once you've signed up you have to deliver. But, you do not have to
deliver the final solution to everything at once. This, in fact, is a
fallacy of many people and research projects.

Losers keep promising a great thing in the future but have
nothing to show now.

Winners can show workable/usable results along the way to the
solution. These pieces can include:

  • solutions to simplified models
  • pieces of a flow
  • intermediate output/data
  • measurements of problem characteristics
  • stable intermediates (see below)

Demonstrate progress. This allows your supervisor to
offer early feedback and to help you prioritize your attention---this will
often help you both make mid-course corrections increasing the
likelihood you will end up with interesting results in the end.
Requirements and understanding invariable evolve (remember the
key challenge at the beginning is incompletely knowledge). Change and
redirection is normal, expected, and healthy (since it is usually a
result of greater knowledge and understanding). The incremental model
is robust and prepared for this adaptation while the monolithic (all-at-once)
model is brittle and often leads to great solutions which don't address
the real problem.

Incrementally grow your solutions (especially software). In
the new chapters which appear in the 20th Anniversary edition of
Mythical Man Month, Brooks identifies incremental development
and progressive refinement towards the goal as one of the best, new
techniques which he's come to appreciate since the original writing
of MMM. From my own experience, I
whole heartedly agree with this, and it does have a very positive
impact on morale (yours, your team's, your supervisor's).

Target stable intermediates

Look for stable intermediate points on your incremental path to
solving some problem.

  • points where some clear piece of the problem has been solved
    (has a nice interface to this subproblem, produces results
    at this stage)

  • things you can build upon
  • things you can spin-out
  • things you can share with team members (allow them to help)
  • points of accomplishment

Don't turn problems (subtasks) into research problems

Often you'll run into a subtask with no single, obviously right
solution. If solving this piece right is key to the overall goals,
maybe it will be necessary to devote time to studying and solving this
subproblem better than it has ever been solved before. However, for
most sub-problems, this is not the case. You want to keep focussed on
the overall goals of the project and come up with an ``adequate''
solution for this problem. In general, try to do the obvious or
simple thing which can be done expediently. Make notes on the the
possible weaknesses and the alternatives you could explore
should these weakness prove limiting. Then, if this does become a
bottleneck or weak link in the solution chain, you can revisit it and
your alternatives and invest more effort exploring them.

Learn to solve your own problems

In general, in life, there won't always be someone to turn to who has
all the answers. It is vitally important that you learn how to
tackle all the kinds of problems you may encounter. Use your
supervisors as a crutch or scaffolding only to get yourself started.
Watch them and learn not just the answers they help you find, but how
they find the answers you were unable to obtain on your own. Strive
for independence. Learn techniques and gain confidence in your own
ability to solve problems now.

Nine things you can do to make your website better


  • Conceive, design and organize your site to be exactly what it is: a web site.

    The Web is not print. While this may seem like an overtly obvious statement, designers, programmers and users trip up on this very issue every day. It's a common misconception, which branches off to notions like "a site author can control how a site looks to the pixel" and "a well-written web page will look exactly the same on all browsers." Let go of these ideas from the very start. Accessing a web site is a client-server interaction which varies in ways dependent upon several variables, not the least of which include connection speeds and client hardware, software and configuration.

    So, as you make decisions about your site, carefully consider and exploit the medium. Make no assumptions about the user, because a dizzying array of configurable clients can access your site. Not everyone has Javascript and cookies enabled, or is sitting in front of that great 22-inch monitor that you are, or is using IE on Windows. Accept that your "pages" will not look exactly the same to everyone. Remember that search engines will run indexing software on your site and this software only understands text (for now). Don't focus on visual design, concentrate on making your site as usable as possible. Users should be able access your site quickly and intuitively and even bookmark (a misnomer that points back to the Web=print misconception) specific documents on it; so go nuts and facilitate this.

    The rest of these recommendations aim to help achieve this end.

  • Validate your markup.

    There are rules which specify how to create documents renderable by web clients. Follow them. Markup is either correctly written or it's not. If you're using pure CSS and XHTML or just plain ol' HTML, make sure your markup is correctly written by using a validator: software which checks markup for mistakes. This one and this one work just fine. If your markup is valid it has the best chance of rendering on the widest array of clients. If you have invalid markup, don't assume that just because your browser is forgiving that everyone else's is.

  • Avoid frames and splash pages.

    Frames on a web site are not ideal for lots of reasons. Frames prevent the user from being able to bookmark individual documents on a site. They present related information in separate documents, which keeps search engines from associating related information. They require that a browser make more than one document request per document, which increases client-server connections and eats server CPU cycles, network bandwidth and users' time. Frames are also, coincidentally, being deprecated.

    When I say "splash page", I am referring to a welcome page with one link on it to "enter" the site. Splash pages are unnecessary and meaningless. The first time a user goes to your site, it might seem like a nice effect. But every time after that, a splash page just gets in the way. For a search engine it makes the bulk of your site another needless step into the hierarchy. Don't make users, robots and your server work harder than necessary to deliver the content on your site.

  • Optimize your site to be as small a download as possible.

    Making a user wait for your site to download is the best way to get him or her to go elsewhere. While creating your site, remember that more than half the web surfers in the US in February of 2003 used a 56k or less dial-up connection. Entire books and web sites are dedicated to the subject of how to optimize a site, so I won't even attempt to cover the subject here.

  • Make your site URLs as short, descriptive, static, technology-inspecific and permanent as possible.

    Remember that your site's navigation URLs can be totally independent of the physical file system on your server. What I mean is, if you have a


    file on your server, the URL to the about section does not have to be (and should not be)


    Decide on your site URL structure before you begin creating the documents which will present the information. Make them as short and descriptive of the content as possible, and avoid any indicators of the technology behind them. Avoid file extensions (like .php, .htm, .html, .asp) and don't expose query string parameters. Google specifically recommends using "static" (querystring-less) links to every document on your site. For example, if you have a section which describes the staff of a company, don't use


    to point to the staff page. Use


    instead. Then use


    for Joe Smith's page, instead of


    Once you've determined the URLs for your site, use server-side technology to make them work.

    Finally, once you create a URL which points to a section on your site, stick to it. If you follow these suggestions from the start and then re-organize your site, your URLs don't have to change. However, if you absolutely must change a URL, make sure the original URL redirects or points to the new section, so that cached search engine referrals and bookmarks still work.

  • Make the information on your site textual, and offer non-Javascript-dependent navigation.

    Images on a web document, while meaningful to human eyes, are actually just a collection of 1's and 0's to search engine indexing software and non-graphical browsers. Make sure all of the information on your site exists in a text format. For example, if your site has a masthead which is an image that contains the title of your site in it, make sure you set the alt attribute to describe the content of the image. You should even ensure that the most relevant information on a page appears first in your markup, and make other elements (navigation, etc) follow.

    Short of installing a text browser like Lynx, a good test to see what your site looks like to an indexing robot or a non-graphical browser is to turn off images in your browser. If you're using Internet Explorer, to do this, in the Tools menu choose Options, and on the Advanced tab go to Multimedia, and uncheck "Show pictures." In Mozilla, go to Tools, Image Manager, and choose "Block Images from this Site." Then view your site, and make sure that without images, all information is adequately represented. This same concept applies to all objects (like Flash movies and Java applets.)

    Additionally, remember that search engine robots do not execute Javascript. If any navigation elements on your site use Javascript, set the onclick attribute of the a element to the Javascript call, and the href attribute to the destination of the link. This way Javascript-enabled browsers will execute the script, and the link will still be usable to non-Javascript-enabled clients.

  • Actively direct search engine indexing robots.

    Search engine robots want instructions on how to correctly index your site, so give 'em to 'em. Read up on search engine guidelines and features (like caching site text and image search). Determine how and what areas of your site should be indexed. The use of meta tags and the robots.txt file are the most common methods of directing robots to your content. Use this robots.txt validator to ensure your robots.txt file is correct.

    For example, Google has been's biggest referrer since day one, but I noticed that often users from Google would land on pages that weren't the most relevant to their search terms. So I checked out how the Googlebot indexes sites. I wanted robots to index only the permanent locations of posts, but not the front page (as it constantly changes to show the latest post). I don't want any of the images or text cached and presented out of context. I also have a page or two that I don't want anyone to find via a search at all. So here's my robots.txt file which lays out some of these instructions. Additionally, the robots meta tags on my front page say "noindex,follow,noarchive", which effectively tells robots to follow links but not to index or archive the front page. The same tag on any post page says "index,follow,noarchive" which tells robots to index the content on that page but not to archive it.

    This way, if the day the Googlebot indexes my site is the day I have a post on the front page about a dog, with a link to the dog post's permanent URL, the Googlebot will index only the permanent location of the dog post. Four days later, when my front page has a post on it about a cat, and someone searches for dog, the only pages returned should be the dog post (and any associated documents) and not the front page.

  • Serve "friendly" error messages.

    The most unhelpful, dead-end message you can get from a web server is:

    404 Not Found 
    The web server cannot find the file 
    or script you asked for. 
    Please check the URL to ensure that 
    the path is correct. 
    Please contact the server's administrator 
    if this problem persists. 

    A usable web site does a lot better than that. Hook up friendly error messages which include navigation to documents that do exist or don't throw an error, a search box and/or a contact email address. Get creative.

  • Don't "click here."

Recommended Reading:

Extractions from "Time for a Redesign: Dr. Jakob Nielsen"

Good interview with Jacob Neilsen, whose website is a great resource for how to build good websites.

Nielsen's "Alertbox"

Adaptive Path's incisive essays on information design, architecture and usability

Slashdot blurb:

CIO Insight's executive editor Brad Wieners interviews Web site design usability evangelist Jakob Nielsen about design mistakes like poor search, discusses organizational resistance and common barriers to doing usability reviews, concluding with Nielsen's Adobe PDF and pop-up pet peeves, common redesign errors and budget advice when it's time for a redesign, either for your Web site or company intranet. And just to make it more usable and readable (so you don't have to click through multiple pages), you can read the entire Jakob Nielsen interview on one printer-friendly page with fewer graphics and a bandwidth-saving document size for people using dial-up Internet connections.

Notes from this article, originally at,1406,a=129234,00.asp

Pet Peeves in General

  • Fail to include a tag line that explicitly summarizes what the site or company does.
  • Neglect to use a liquid layout that lets users adjust the home page size.
  • Don't use color to distinguish visited and unvisited links.
  • Use graphics to decorate, rather than illustrate real content.
  • Give an active link to the home page on the home page.

Source: Dr. Jakob Nielsen's "Alertbox," November 2003

B2B Tips

To make the most of your B2B Web site, nielsen recommends that you "Help your fans help you" win their business. Provide the resources prospective clients' need to sell your products and services internally. Offer these aids:

  • Downloadable product photos, preferably ones that show the product being used.
  • White papers that demonstrate ROI. Make these short, and don't use PDF; standard Web pages make it easier for advocates to cut and paste text and images into their memos and presentations.
  • Links to external press coverage that demonstrates that independent sources have covered you positively.
  • Downloadable tables showing your product's main specifications, benefits and price, along with competitive comparisons.
  • Downloadable slide shows, preferably in PowerPoint format.
  • Ongoing updates through an e-mail newsletter, which can offer advocates hints about tidbits to feed their bosses.

Source: Norman Nielsen Group Inc.