Today is a very rare interview on the SEP blog, but one I felt would be very worthwhile having. Rob Kerry (aka EvilGreenMonkey) is the Editor of Sphinn, and one of Danny Sullivan's right hand people!
Lately there has been some ruckus on Sphinn, and of course I piped in and gave my two cents worth, saying I thought it was all just a matter of a communication breakdown. I didn't think the channels were fully open for dialogue.
Wow … was I surprised. Within a matter of minutes, EvilGreenMonkey responded, and made sure I knew those channels were open. Cudos to Rob. He also filled me in a bit on how Sphinn operates, which help put things in perspective for me.
Accordingly, I thought that perhaps if we could share this new found knowledge about Sphinn and its editor, and help everyone get to know Rob a little more, maybe 2-way communication would flow more smoothly going forward.
So, here we go:
Rob, thanks for taking the time to speak with me.
1) Lets begin by having you tell us all a little about yourself (married, kids, where you live, your company, favourite hobbys, etc.)?
I'd like to think of myself as an average 24 year old, except an ubergeek with the mind of a 60 year old. Sounds strange, although I like nothing more than complaining about modern music and switching over to Classical FM, as well as commenting on trendy bars that don't have draught beer and charge you twice the price for a small bottle of weak imported lager!
Although I grew up in the leafy suburbs of Hertfordshire (England) and spent a few years house-sharing in Hammersmith (West London), I've recently bought an apartment and settled down in the mighty town of Rochford, Essex. The town was home for Stargate SG1 superstar Amanda Tapping (well, until she was 3) and just 5 minutes drive from Southend's windy beaches and world class football club.
As for my job, now that's where it gets complicated. My main job is Head of Search and Co-Founder of Ayima Search Marketing , a 9 person strong London-based SEO company that specialises in getting blue-chip companies high rankings, traffic and conversions in the most competitive industries. I also run a number of affiliate projects in my spare time, using both natural and paid search to compete with brand sites. You're more likely to stumble across me at Sphinn however, where I recently took up the role of Editor under my pseudonym of "evilgreenmonkey".
2) How Did You Become Involved With Search?
I conducted a lot of research during my lunch hours at school to try and find the best deals on hosting and domains, which is when I realised that some of the best offers were hard to find using the big search engines (AltaVista and Lycos I think). I therefore decided to make my first professional website a domain registration service, reselling names off of the lower cost and poorly ranking domain companies. I built up an information resource on domain names, coded a WHOIS script and order form in Perl and asked friends, directories and other websites to link to me. I could see from reading my website's log files that I was getting traffic and orders from search engines, and started to expand into offering web hosting as the internet and my knowledge grew.
I was fascinated by e-commerce and learning how search engines worked, in fact I spent the revision time before my all-important GCSE (Age 16) exams researching how Google worked and why I wasn't ranking as well as on the other search engines. My ability to soak up knowledge ended up helping me to get very good GCSE exam grades without revising, although this didn't work so well for my later exams. I was desperate to leave school and start a career involving the internet, conflicting with my school's view that I'd end up flipping burgers if I didn't go to University (schools effectively earned affiliate commission on each student that they sent to a University back then). My sister mentioned to me that she worked in the same office building as an "internet millionaire", who by chance happened to run a web hosting company that was hiring. They asked me to join their SysAdmin/Tech Support team immediately and bought my modest hosting business, whilst I continued to study and practice my interest in Search Engine Optimisation.
After a brief attempt at co-running a Web Hosting/Design/SEO shop, I then joined a fledgling UK marketing agency called Steak Media, to form their SEO team. At about the same time, I started getting more involved in the forums at Search Engine Watch, becoming a moderator and then the Editor when Elisabeth decided to leave the site.
With the support of the Directors at Steak, I built up a small SEO team and we worked with some very big clients, although I ran out of room to grow – which is when I met the guys from PartyGaming. Before the US banned online gambling, PartyGaming was the dream job for an
SEO. We had to compete for the most competitive terms in search, but had a fantastic time whilst doing it. The SEO team became a second family to me, we're all great mates and enjoy organising events such as London SEO together. As the work and atmosphere changed at PG, we each decided that it was time to move on and to continue our skills in different markets – which is when Ayima Search Marketing was born.
3) What is your role With Sphinn, and what does that role entail?
I was previously unable to participate in Sphinn due to my commitments at Search Engine Watch. Rand and I started chatting during a conference, which is when he mentioned that Danny was looking for an Editor for Sphinn. Elisabeth and I had a fantastic time working with Danny when he was still at SEW, so I jumped at the chance to work with Danny again. My role as Editor started in September last year, with a role to manage discussion and administration on a day-to-day level as well as helping to plan ideas for new features and improvements. Danny is an extremely busy man, helping to run all of the Third Door Media brands including Search Engine Land and Search Marketing Expo, so I primarily try to take as much of the workload in running Sphinn off of his hands.
4) What Are Your Objectives for Sphinn in the Next Year … and Perhaps You Could Elaborate How it All Operates?
Our main aim for Sphinn is to continue growing the site and become the first destination for news and discussion about internet marketing. We have similar challenges as Digg when it comes to ensuring quality and balance, so we'll continue to role out new features to help with this. A controversial feature that will soon be released is the ability to Desphinn a story, effectively voting it down. We hope this will help the community to decide what articles
they don't like as well as what they do like. Danny, Michelle and I are always listening to the Sphinn community, and have the agility to adapt, improve or even remove new features that do not have an overall positive effect. We're also excited about our future plans for personalisation, allowing Sphinn members to decide what content and which authors are important to them.
5) What are Some of the Challenges You Face at Sphinn?
Sphinn runs off of an open source application called Pligg, which is a fantastic creation – but seems to have as many bugs as it does features. Michelle (our Sphinnmaster and Technical Director at Third Door Media) has been a miracle worker with squashing all the bugs and
implementing some very complicated functionality that would take forever for me to code. When joining Sphinn I found that the issues of spam and misbehaving users was at a level I'd never seen at SEW before, so I've worked with our Moderator superheros to clamp down on off-topic posts and starting to steer users and discussion in the right direction. This has sometimes been seen by Sphinn members as over-controlling the community, although without making some of the tough decisions, we'd end up with chaos. We often get complaints from people who posted ridiculous things such as adverts for Pine Furniture; although sometimes there are decisions which are much harder to make and that may be controversial in the community, but we think will ultimately help in the long term.
6) How/Where Can People Meet You In Person? What Should They Say to Grab Your Attention Given There Will Likely be Many Who Want to Talk to You Too?
As the spam prevention and moderation tools become more advanced at Sphinn, you should start to see me commenting and starting discussions on the site a lot more. Off-line I try to attend as many conferences as possible, including SMX, SES and Pubcon events. This
year you can find me at SES London, SMX West, SMX Munich, SMX Advanced and SMX London. I also attend some small local and European Black Hat meet-ups. As mentioned before, the guys from Ayima also run a popular bi-monthly meet-up in the UK called LondonSEO, where we discuss search whilst drinking copious amounts of alcohol.
7) What Keeps You Busy When You're Not Working, or Moderating at
Sphinn? Are You a Soccer Fan? Are You a Social Media Junkie?
To be honest, work and Sphinn takes up most of my time. I do live by the philosophy that 5 nights of socialising is better than 2 though, so can often be found in London pubs with friends on weekdays and recovering at home on weekends. I'm sure this will all change when I
leave my bachelor lifestyle, although I'm enjoying it while it lasts!
Well thank you Rob … both for taking the time to talk to me, and for helping me to understand that the lines of communication on Sphinn truly are open! I'll buy the first round at SMX West.