Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Writing my own bio

I came across the Amazon.com entry for my forthcoming book The Geek Atlas: 128 Places Where Science and Technology Come Alive and it contains an ugly bio for me. I asked the publisher to change it to which they said... please write a new bio for yourself.

Ugh. It's hard enough writing a book without coming up with something about yourself. Finally, I submitted:

John Graham-Cumming is a wandering computer programmer who has lived in the UK, California, New York and France. Along the way he's worked for a succession of technology start-ups, created the award-winning open source POPFile email program and written articles for publications such as The Guardian newspaper, Dr Dobbs, and Linux Magazine. His previous effort writing a book was the obscure and self-published computer manual 'GNU Make Unleashed' which saturated its target market of 100 readers in a matter of just months.

He has a doctorate in computer security but has forgotten everything he wrote in his thesis and is now deeply suspicious of people who insist on being called Dr., but he doesn't mind if you refer to him as a geek. He is the proud owner of a three-letter domain name where he hosts his web site: http://www.jgc.org/.

Given that I now realize that people get to write their own bios on the back of books it really makes me wonder about some of the pieces of outright puffery that authors come up with.

One author I know describes himself as a 'world-renowned researcher' on a topic that he appears to know almost nothing about.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Testing book titles using Google AdWords

My 'travel book for nerds' book, The Geek Atlas: 128 Places Where Science and Technology Come Alive, will be published in April 2009 by O'Reilly. As part of the process of writing the book I had to come up with a title. I had three titles that I liked: A Voyaging Mind, A Mind Forever Voyaging and A World of Discovery.

Ultimately, O'Reilly came up with the current title after doing their own market research, but before that I wanted to figure out which of the three titles would work best.

To do that I bought ads on Google AdWords that were relevant to the book (such as when people search for 'science museum') and set up three ads that would appear randomly. The ads all had the same text except for the main title which was one of the three possible book titles.

I let the campaign run for 30 days and then analyzed the results to see which one had the greatest clickthrough rate. There was a clear winner: A Voyaging Mind.

And for a long time A Voyaging Mind was going to be the book's title.

It seems to me that Google AdWords could readily be used for other such experiments: it's cheap, it's simple to target your experiment based on keywords so that you can choose the type of people exposed to the experiment and by setting up random display of a set of ads you can try out variations of an idea easily.

Obviously book titles are just one possibility. What other things could be tested using Google AdWords?

Friday, November 07, 2008

I am hiring in London

Are you a really good web-based UI developer? You've worked on rich Internet applications using technologies like AJAX, Flex, Flash or AIR?

Do you want to work in a small, venture-backed start up that's building a rich web-based user interface used to navigate terabytes of data?

You are based in London?

Email me.