On Leave

I wanted to let folks know that I’m about to take a few months of leave. When I joined Google, my wife and I agreed that I would work for 4-5 years, and then she’d get to see more of me. I talked about this as recently as last month and as early as 2006. And now, almost fifteen years later I’d like to be there for my wife more. I know she’d like me to be around more too, and not just physically present while my mind is still on work.

So we’re going to take some time off for a few months. My leave starts next week. Currently I’m scheduled to be gone through October. Thanks to a deep bench of smart engineers and spam fighters, the webspam team is in more-than-capable hands. Seriously, they’re much better at spam fighting than I am, so don’t worry on that score.

One critical point is that I won’t be checking my work email at all while I’m on leave. My friend and colleague Amit Singhal took about six weeks off not too long ago, and his #1 piece of advice was to unplug from work email. So that’s what I’m going to do. I will set up Gmail filters to forward some of my outside email to a small set of webspam folks, but they won’t be replying to emails.

Q: Is this because of some specific event?
A: Nope. I’ve been talking about doing this with my wife for a while now, and it feels like the right time.

Q: You’re not going to check your work email at all?
A: That’s right.

Q: No, really? No work email?
A: Really. I’m thinking of it like a 30 day challenge, except for longer than 30 days. :)

Q: If I can’t email you, how should I communicate with Google about search topics or find out about new things in search?
A: I’m so glad you asked! There’s still tons of ways, from our webmaster forums to Office Hours Hangouts where you can ask questions to experts. On the social side, instead of sending SEO-related comments to me on Twitter, you can ping the Google Webmaster Central account. Likewise, make sure you follow Google Webmasters on Google+. A bunch of different Googlers will continue to speak and answer questions at search conferences too.

For broader search-related news, read our Webmaster blog or Inside Search blog. To understand how Google thinks about search, we’ve made hundreds of webmaster videos and they’re designed to be evergreen.

Our web documentation is superb: Google Webmaster Central is the best place to start. From there, you can find our Webmaster Academy, our help documentation, and our SEO beginner’s guide. We even made a mini-site about how search engines work.

One of the most important ways to hear from Google is to add and verify your site in Google Webmaster Tools. That’s the primary channel to find out about issues with webspam or other errors or notices.

Q: Are you doing anything fun?
A: Yup! I’ve been taking a ballroom dance class with my wife, and we’re going on a cruise in late August. Our 15th (!) wedding anniversary is next year, so we might do some early traveling to celebrate that too. We’ll also be spending more time visiting with our parents. I’m also trying a half-Ironman race.

And just to reiterate, the webspam team is in great hands while I’m out. I’m looking forward to trying this, so thanks for your understanding.

Bluetooth garage door opener

Today I made a Bluetooth garage door opener. Now I can open my garage from my Android phone. There’s a short how-to YouTube video from Lou Prado. Lou also made a website btmate.com that has more information, and you can watch an earlier howto video as well.

The project itself was pretty simple:
- Acquire a Samsung HM1100 bluetooth headset (the Samsung HM1800 also works). You can buy these cheap from Fry’s or eBay. I got mine on eBay for $10-$15.
- Crack open the earpiece on the Bluetooth headset and solder one of the earpiece wires to the base pin of a transistor. Solder red and black wires to the other pins of the transistor.
- Connect the red and black wires to the garage door opener. It turns out that most garage door openers are built to allow easy insertion of wires, which is nice.

That’s more or less it. My soldering was ugly as sin–too ugly for me to even post a picture. And rather than leave the house for some heat shrink tubing, I just left bare wires on the transistor, but everything works fine.

Lou wrote a nice Android app that’s free to install and then pay-what-you-want for a license. Then it’s just a single button to open or close the garage door. In theory, I could use Tasker to open the garage door automatically when I get home.

It’s not quite as sexy as Brad Fitzpatrick’s Android garage door opener, but it was a fun little project for a day.

On vacation the rest of November 2013

For the folks that don’t know, I’ve been out for a couple weeks and I’ll be on vacation the rest of November. If you’ve tried to contact me recently and haven’t heard back, that’s probably the reason.

Added: if you enjoy watching our webmaster videos, you can follow @googlewmc to hear as soon as we publish new Webmaster Central videos. It looks like @googlewmc is just about to hit 100,000 followers on Twitter!

Please help me run the Boston Marathon

On April 21st, 2014, I’m going to run the Boston Marathon. If you want to show your support, please donate to a good cause for cancer research. Anyone who wants to give is welcome. :)

So many people have been affected by cancer, including members of my own family. The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute funds basic and innovative cancer research. That’s why I’m trying to raise $9,000 for the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge.

Matt Cutts in the San Francisco marathon

I’ve been running for a few years now (that’s me at the San Francisco marathon), but this is the first time I’m trying to run to raise money for a cause, and I would really appreciate donations. It won’t give you more PageRank or a higher rank on Google, but Dana-Farber is a great institution and I’d love to raise as much money for them as I can before I run in Boston. If you can, please consider donating to kick cancer’s butt. Thank you!

Email backlog

This is a “hairball” post you can ignore. However, this post does trace my thinking about how to scale webmaster communication. Part of me wants to start answering questions I get via email by stripping out the identifying information and then replying with a blog post. Instead of one person getting a single reply, everybody could see what the answer is.

I spent most of the past week tackling my horrendous email backlog. At the start of the weekend, I was just touching 500 unread emails. I got it down to 218 unread emails and 264 total emails in my inbox. Of course, the ones that are left are the harder messages. And out of those 264 emails, 167 are from outside Google.

A few weeks ago, I flew up to the Kirkland office for a couple days to catch up with the Webmaster Central team. At some point, we were talking about doing videos for webmasters. Someone said “Why don’t we just grab a video camera and see how many videos we can shoot in an hour?” So we did. We managed to tape three pretty informative videos in about an hour, and that includes set-up/breakdown time.

So now I’m looking at these 150+ emails from outside Google, and I’m pondering about how much time I should spend on email compared to other things. Email is a 1:1 communication, so I could answer 10 emails and help roughly 10 people. Or in the same amount of time, I could comment on a forum, start on a blog post, or plan out another video that could benefit a lot more people. I did a series of about 15 videos last year when my wife was out of town, and the videos have been watched over 300K times and downloaded over 100K times.

So to make a long story short, I’m trying to figure out how I should handle email going forward. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but don’t be offended if I don’t reply to email as much going forward.

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