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Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management. Photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and nature who is exploring the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found.
Author and Blogger. They are not the same thing. Sports occasionally spoken here, especially hockey. Veteran of Sun, Apple, Palm, HP and now Infoblox, plus some you've never heard of. They didn't kill me, they made me better.
Person with opinions, and not afraid to share them. Debate team in high school and college; bet that's a surprise.
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Monthly Archives: September 2007
and nobody really cares. which is great.
First chance to see the team in person — once again, I miss most of training camp (only about 2 hours on the first day, before we headed out of town to Oregon) and most of the pre-season games. One thing I always tried to do at Apple was schedule some flex time so I could visit training camp, and one thing that always happened was something that came up and kept me from going. It became sort of a running joke after a while — so what do I do? Two years in a row, I schedule my own conflicts instead. go figure…
Doesn’t really matter.
The Sharks looked pretty good. They more or less manhandled the Flames, until they decided to ramp it down and coast. the game wasn’t nearly as close as the stats might indicate, the Sharks got bored as much as anything.
They did look pretty good to me overall, though. Setoguchi saw limited time, but impressed. Roenick didn’t see limited time, and looks, well, old and slow, and took a number of “old and slow” penalties. But then, Mark Smith, who signed in Calgary just before the game and is basically the roster spot that went to Roenick, didn’t impress, either.
I would not want to have been wearing a flames jersey within sight of Keenan after that performance.
Davison looks to be the 6th defenseman for now, with Murray 7th. I expect once Sandis is released from substance abuse, he’ll be signed to some minimal contract as an 8th Dman and we’ll see what happens. It may be a pity signing, or simply the Sharks giving an old friend a chance — but what’s wrong with that? Don’t forget that Sandis was Doug wilson’s partner in the first season before Sandis hurt his knee, and so there’s a lot of “more than pure hockey” going on here. And the Sharks have a soft spot for Sandis, and have a history of reclamation projects, both well-known and not so. Some worked out okay, some (Link Gaetz) didn’t, and some (Brant Mhyres, anyone?) were, well, reclamation projects.
Sandis’s problems started with the Sharks, a kid a bit too young, with too many responsibilities, acclimation problems, a bit shy and nerdy, frankly. He also was sort of a real-life lab experiement that helped the Sharks understand what it took to bring in european talent successfully for both the player and the team, and the team has strongly benefitted from that; perhaps just for that reason, the Sharks will give Sandis a shot, giving both sides some closure. And Sandis is still well-loved in San Jose.
(Sandis, by the way, has a really funky record on his resume: he scored the first goal in San Francisco Spiders history, as he was holding out at the time and signed a deal with the IHL team; then he went off and rejoined the Sharks, and if I remember properly, THEN went and scored the first goal of the season for San Jose, too…)
I’m probably the only person in the universe NOT particularly worried about San Jose’s defense. Yes, we lost Hannan, but to me, Hannan and McLaren were very similar players, and the entire defensive corps was way too “stay at home”; swapping out Hannan for Rivet, which is effectively what we did, improves the power play a LOT and increases the blueline offensive capability. Yes, we lose some defensive-defense, but we have plenty to spare, I think.
And Rivet can teach Carle and Plasic how to play as an offensive defenseman, a benefit we need. Honestly, Robb Zettler teaching offensive defense? Not gonna happen…
I think Davison and Murray as a time-sharing combo is a perfectly acceptable 6th dman. As long as Vlasic doesn’t have a bad year, we’ll be fine. And if Sandis brings something to the table, that’s a benefit. But I’m not sure I want Sandis to teach the kids how to play…
I will admit — I really like the new home jersey, and I wasn’t sure I would. I still am not sure about the logo redo (wasn’t broken, why fix it?) but it’s no worse than the old one, merely different. It’ll probably grow on me. But the epaulets instead of those black underarms? That looks pretty nice, actually, and I thought the orange highlights addded to the look, didn’t clutter it. So it gets a thumbs up for me.
Other changes in the arena — the new video board absolutely rocks. Absolutely. well done. As someone sitting near me said last night, “I found myself watching the board, even when the Sharks were in our end of the ice!” True enough, and we’re three rows off the glass. THAT good. A nice thing is that it’s a purely software/video scoreboard now, so it’s got a lot more flexibility for different events.
And they finally redid the sound system, which has sucked since the building opened. We can actually — god help us — hear what is being said over the PA in section 127 now, unmuffled and without legibility problems. Well done. So THAT is what Joe Eich sounds like…
They also replaced the boards a wrap-around system similar to those seen in newer building (gah, that building’s over a decade old; I remmber it as a hole in the ground); The effect is pretty nice.
And a minor thing I noticed — they’ve retuned the lights. In previous years, some of the lights were turned off for hockey games because they caused bad shadows or glare; everything got re-aimed and now all of them are used in games; it makes it brighter in there (about an F/stop, I’m guessing); add in the light from the boards (it’s no longer dark, even with the lights off) and it’s a much brighter building.
One thing the sharks didn’t do (oh well) was theatrical lighting like GM place does. If you want to know why that’s a nice thing to have? just think about the 20 minute delay before the first game in London…. Shuttered lights avoid that but allow you to dim them for effect, something vancouver uses to good impact.
And now it’s time to drop the puck!
Man, it’s already wednesday, and I’m still unpacking. Had an interview yesterday, which I felt went well — I’ve had some real dog interviews for some reason, and I haven’t been happy with how I’ve been handling them, but this one I thought was more up to my expectations for myself. I think I’m finally hitting that point where I’m ready and interested in going back to work, and that may be part of it. We’ll see.
Later today, I got introduced to one of these mythical stealth startups through a friend, and for some reason they want my thoughts on the thingie they’re building — and I’m horribly curious about it because it sounds like a fascinating new technology. Not an interview, it’s really more feedback on their plans. Should be fun, and that’s the last I’ll talk about it because as far as I’m concerned, it’s an NDA thing, even though we haven’t discussed that. Won’t even mention the market segment right now. But if they’re doing what they seem to be doing, it’s going to make life interesting down the road.
And another interview tomorrow, which I’m looking forward to; an other really interesting opportunity. And I came back and poked at a couple of other companies and we’ll see if anyone pokes back. And I have some work to do on the technical review, and I need to get that done this week…
Of course it’s digging out time. Even with good and reliable wifi in the hotels (getting easier and easier), I made a conscious decision to sort of go darkish and actually take the vacation.
Took about 1000 photos over nine days and 2300 miles driven. Fall arrived in Portland at about the same time we did, so we hit a bit of rain, but nothing anyone who likes Portland is going to notice. We spent the grey and rainy day driving up the Gorge and visiting some of the falls, then out to the Dalles, and inland and back through the Hood area. Absolutely-freaking-gorgeous. Some shopping and the ritual trip to Powell’s on day 2, plus stops at Penzey’s Spices and , and we were happy campers.
We actually, after having set things up to stay near the Tri-max, didn’t use it, we limited downtown to Powell’s and drove in. But we did a fair amount of exploring down in Hillsboro and also in Tigard and Lake Oswego. Some nice stuff going on up there. As we drove past Orenco Station the first time, Laurie noted “hey! they’re building a new false old downtown!”
which is true, very similar in concept to our Santana Row, and very nice, actually. I like the mixed use retail areas when they’re done well, and this one (which also, for those in the Bay Area, has some extended housing areas like Rivermark does in Santa Clara) seems pretty nice. It also had a New Seasons market in it, which frankly, for all we talk about the bay area being such a foodie region, points out just how pitifully bad out supermarket setup is around here…
Then it was off to Astoria (actually, Seaside), where we based for a couple of days, and we headed up to Long Beach and Cape Disappointment for some birding and photography, stopped by Cellar on 10th and ended up having a nice long chat and leaving with 15 bottles of good NorthWest grape stuff, dinner at Baked Alaska (cemented itself as my favorite spot on the coast), but also a rather nice italian meal and downtown seaside. You gotta love an italian place that puts up a “no, we do NOT have pizza on the menu” sign! (grin)
Then a couple of nights in Newport, dinners at Las Cabanas (really nice Mexican, especially for Oregon) and a new place (for us) call Szabos, which can best be described as a roadhouse — a bar with tables and TVs with the USC game on it, but the food was far from an afterthought; we watched as the locals piled in (almost always a good sign), and I had some of the best damn fish and chips I’ve had in years.
We decided not to visit the aquarium, in favor of exploring — up Yaquina bay to Toledo, south to Seal Rock, north to Boiler bay; a good chunk of time up at Yaquina head, where the wind was so fierce it made my eyes water despite having glasses on AND binoculars covering them.
Birding was pretty quiet. Yaquina Head was as usual busiest, with Brandt’s cormorants nesting, some marbled murrelets, a non-breeding (white) pigeon guillemot that confused the hell out of me for a while, a couple of common loons, and the normal gulls, and over 100 surf scoters. Up in Yaquina bay I found a mew gull in among a flock of “usual suspect” gulls, and a young hooded merganser — pretty much the only duck of the trip other than a couple of small groups of mallards. Lots of stuff has migrated out; only saw two common murres, even up around Point Disappointment where they nest, but no shorebirds — the summer residents were gone, the winter ones haven’t arrived yet, even at shorebird strongpoints like seal rock.
No whales. Word was they were up around depoe bay, but we didn’t see them this trip.
Down at seal rock, I spent some time with a nice lady who came down to seal rock expecting, well, seals. And there were some — we found five or six in the water — but none actually on shore, and I could never get her to see them in the water using the binoculars, so I finally hauled out the spotting scope so I could set it up and aim it for her; that worked out great, because once I showed her what to expect, she was able to find some of the others on her own. At the same time, the local song and savannah sparrows were laughing at me and running every time I tried to get a look at them, and there wasn’t a shorebird in the entire beach area. ohwell…
As I get the photos posted, I’ll talk more about stuff. But for now, gotta go fight the bermuda grass again…
I’ve been interested i this topic for some time. Right now I’m reading 848 feeds for my link blog in Google Reader. I’m way overloaded with feeds. Now, imagine I only had 10 minutes a day to catch up on my feeds, how would I do that?
Well, the answer up to now was TechMeme or one of its sisters.
TechMeme actually works great. Tracks thousands of news feeds and every few minutes it remeasures which ones are most important. Problem is that TechMeme only covers tech news. Its sister sites cover gossip, or regular news/politics, or baseball.
But what about 800 custom feeds that you hand picked?
There’s nothing quite like a vacation to bring this point home. It switched me from being a net browser, where I was more-or-less online more or less constantly and browsing my news feeds during those empty spots where I was waiting for something into someone who was offline most of the day, and coming back to the hotel room to find — 1200 unread articles. A couple of hours of plowing through later, it was a real education on just how much time “being connected” could cost. More than I want to spend.
So I spent some time the other night looking at not HOW MANY feeds I read (a bit over 400, the number I”ve generally been comfortable with) but that combination of feed volume compared to the value of the content.
And then I started purging. It’s now 350 feeds, and coming back after a full day on the road, the feed had about 450 articles in it; dropped about 12% of my feeds, but over 50% of the NUMBER of articles. It was actually pretty straightforward: look for the feeds with the largest number of messages and asking myself “when was the last time I got something useful here? and is it worth all this noise to find that?”
Sometimes the answer is yes — one of the busiest feeds was the TSN sportswire (not surprising), but looking at it I realized I didn’t need the TSN feed AND the ESPN feed AND the Yahoo sports feed, because they overlapped so closely, and TSN had the best hockey coverage.
But I also dropped feeds like Luxist; high volume (drives page views!), mostly pointers to other stuff, fun content, but — don’t really need it. This is, I think, a place where sites like Luxist and Engadget and Gizmodo are vulnerable: when people stop to think about how much content they post compared to the value of the content; being primarily farmers of information from elsewhere, they’re logical places to economize your time, unless they are farming a core interest of yours (I have kept Engadget for now, but to be honest, it was a close call; I’m still considering it. Places like Xbox360 fanboy went bye-bye, not because they don’t have good content, but — I’m just not that into them.
I also foldered my feeds not by topic (“tech feeds”, “gaming feeds”, etc), but by priority: “primary feeds”, “secondary feeds”, “free time feeds”, “flickr photos”. That way, if I’m in a hurry, I can just look at my “A list” feeds and leave the rest for later, or use “skim mode” in Google reader to cherry pick a few items and mark the rest read, or simply zero out the lower interest feeds and move on. I’m finding it can save me a hunk of time — which can be better spent creating content rather than trying to keep up with it. All to the good.
Maybe it’s time for folks to start thinking not about how many feeds they read, but how much time they spend reading them, and looking at which feeds are a good value at the investment of that most rare and valuable commodity: time.
You’ll note for the record that Scoble is still on the list, because he’s great at concentrating the larger data stream into a form to help me find the stuff I’m interested in. He is, in fact, a wonderful embodiment of what I saw as a new career path way back in 2003:
Chuqui 3.0.1 Beta: The commercialization of weblogs…:
the data miner — the person who either has a focus on a specific topic (whether it’s alternative music, nanotechnology, or science fiction) and who mines the data stream to supply content on that topic — not so much writing on a topic as acting as a filter on what’s written, much as a magazine editor chooses what stories to publish, and filters the submission stream into a magazine their subscribers want to read… (a third option, somewhat a variant of this second, is the “miner by request”, who’s specialty is finding what they’re contracted to find, but in this case, a weblog is more a marketing vehicle than a distribution tool…)
Of course, that model depended on micropayments, really, and the market moved to an ad-based model instead. Not bad, but instead of my paying someone like Scoble $5/mo or $10/mo to make it worth them mining the stream for my benefit, you have sites like Luxist and Engadget mining the streams, but twisting the content to maximize page views and effectively forcing you through their site (preferably repeatedly). Personally, I much prefer how Robert does it, because he’s more centric to his users, not his advertisements. Maybe he needs a tip jar…
(that 2003 piece actually builds on something I wrote even further back in 2001, but that link’s dead due to my continuing re-arrangement and I need to find and fix that. gah… but that re-organization’s another post in another category….)
I do wish the micropayment model had taken off; it’d make it possible for someone like Scoble to make some money off of what he does without having to turn it into the kind of model Engadget uses; and don’t think I have a problem with that — I don’t, and I’m actually going to be adopting some aspects of it soon — but it’s unfortunately a model that isn’t as end-user centric as it could be.
If you were expecting emotion and sentiment think again. If you were expecting a Tony Gwynn-like farewell or a Cal Ripken-like embrace, sorry to disappoint.
The announcement came in typically, weirdly Bondsian fashion. Bonds was informed of the team decision by Peter Magowan during Thursday night’s game. Always the mercenary, he posted the news on his personal Web site Friday.
Within minutes of the posting, the scrambling Giants called a Friday-at-rush-hour press conference.
In the interview room there were three seats and three bottles of water and two participants: Peter Magowan and Brian Sabean. Bonds was not there for what should have been a sentimental moment but ended up being a clinical discussion of the surgical removal of No. 25.
And so ends the Bonds era, as it probably should. Not with a “final tour” and celebration, not with a stadium full of fans cheering one of the best players in baseball into the sunset, but with a press release and a press conference where the guest of honor(?) simply didn’t show, leaving his bosses to tap dance and try to spin Barry in as positive a light as they can — and finding it tough to do.
Is anyone really surprised? Because as good as Barry has been, and I’ll be the first to acknowledge it, he’s been a constant PR nightmare for the Giants and league, because he’s always believed that he deserves every accolade, and refused under any circumstance to reach out back to fans, to teammates, to the team or the league.
The top superstars have known they need to at least put on a show of reaching out to the fans — think Cal Ripken when he was more or less bodily assumed into heaven — but Barry? if jesus returned to earth to get his autograph, Barry would have him go though his agent. For the fans to want to connect to a player, the player has to at least put on the act that they don’t deserve all of the fanfare. Barry has always acted as if it was never enough; more than enough to put off many fans.
And so again, this leavetaking from the Giants won’t be a proper send off for Barry; he deserves more, he’s earned more — and yet we have to remember he orchestrated this. Something about Barry always seems to end up setting things up so he can walk away feeling bitter and disappointed about how it all ended.
And somewhere, deep inside, that seems to be how he wants it to be. He had everything going for him, steroids notwithstanding, to be the kind of player and person that owned the team and town and fans. Instead, we have this.
And if there are two things I would have guaranteed about this situation, it’s that (a) it was going to go down something like this, and (b) Barry will find a way to blame everyone else for it because we, his fans (and owners and teammates) don’t show him the proper respect, teh respect he earned.
Problem is, he only earned part of the respect he was due: the part on the field. His play is unquestionable. But he chose not to get involved with earning respect from others as a person, only as a player, and so he left a huge part of his legacy missing. He never seems to have figured out that the truly great players are both players AND people — just ask Tony Gwynn.
As someone who would fall into the “love watching him hit the ball, no asterisk (unless you put asterisks on a lot more entries), he is a scapegoat for a larger problem allowing other better-loved players to skate around the problem (but he earned that by being distant, whiny and pissy — but while I’d watch him play, I wouldn’t invite him to dinner” category of Bonds fan, I’m goin to miss watching him play, but not the rest of the mini-drama that comes along with Barry. That mini-drama that is always surrounding him, and never his fault.
And so it ends, not with a bang, but with a whine.
Frankly, as it should be. which is too bad, but it’s what Barry wanted. Why? maybe not even he knows. But he’d be a happier person if he figured it out, I think.
today was the first day of camp for the Sharks today, and I wandered down for a bit to take a look at what was going on.
you forget just how bloody big these guys are until you get close to them.
The practice seemed high tempo and spirited. I won’t pretend to have any deep insights for having watched cycling drills by half the team for about an hour. I’ll leave that to others… (grin)
I will say that the energy level seemed high, spirits were good but the players seemed very focussed and down to business. Very little horseplay and nobody seemed to be dogging it.
the “this seems, well, weird” moment: realizing that one of the coaches on the ice was Bryan marchment (along with Wayne thomas and Rob Zettler); it made me flash back to the old IHL and the Las Vegas Thunder, when we were down there for a couple of games, and ex-Shark Lyndon Byers was playing for them.
Byers was named assistant captain, and was asked to take a leadership role with the younger players. And he humorously mused about that in the newspaper with a “me? a role model?” quote.
I actually have a fondness for Marchment, as former readers of our Dallas Stars mailing list (now retired) might remember. For all his reputation and repeated suspensions (mostly earned, but towards the end, his reputation preceeded him at times), he actually could play some pretty good hockey.
The day San Jose traded for him, I stood up like many and had a big, noisy fit about on the list; I also have to admit that it took about two games watching him and isolating his game on the ice to realize what he brought to the sharks — above and beyond physical play and intimidation.
He was a good hockey player; and I admitted it. Dirty player? sometimes; so are lots of guys. Who’s a dirtier player, Marchment or Chelios? tough call. But mostly, I think Marchment’s game was not that he was trying to hurt guys, it was that he was playing the game his way, and simply didn’t worry about whether someone got hurt. That wasn’t his problem, his problem was getting the job done without getting himself hurt.
Of course, he did — I was watching the night he got concussed and went into convulsions on the ice. I don’t think I reacted as strongly to any on ice injury, other than perhaps Malarchuk (who was goalie for the Las Vegas Thunder when Lyndon Byers was the captain. small world — and the team had this young phenom named Bonk, who went on to become a first pick and a good, solid, third line center. For the record, at the time, I said he was a good mid-first round draft, not a top draft or top three. I guess for once I was right — and if he’d been drafted 12th or 15th, people would think Radek Bonk has had a good career; as a top draft, he’s been a big disappointment. be wary of getting what you ask for, and having to live up to it)
But I digress. Given camps are opening, I can. It means hockey isn’t far away, and the season tickets will be arriving any minute now… (seriously).
time to drop the puck!
While I’m thinking about it, a few quick updates on things that are going on, especially for mom, since I never call…. (actually, tried today, got no answer. She’s right, though, I haven’t, but I’ve been in an introspective mood, mostly thinking and planning on things, and didn’t really feel like I had much to say, other than “no, I don’t have a job, and no, they aren’t lined up at the front door yet…” (since, of course, my mom firmly believes I’m the best damn whatever it is I do that exists here in Silicon Valley. Which I might be, but convincing folks of it is easier said than done…)
That said, I have a return round of talking with a company later this week, which is nice. It’s an interesting situation in an interesting company, one of the ones I targeted on my “A” list. I’m letting myself be moderately encouraged, since it’s still got a ways to go, but it’s nice to be moving into a later round of talks. There are some other things bubbling in early stages and a few things where I haven’t heard back; I knew it’d get quiet around Labor day as everyone madly tried to take time off before kids went back to school, then madly tried to catch up for being off, but some of the things in the pending queue are being slipped into the “cold” bin unless they pop back up and say hi. there is one other thing in a very preliminary state, but I don’t expect anything to happen until after our trip to Oregon; if it pans out, it sounds truly fun, though.
All in all, given the intensity of the job hunt (basically none in July, and been slowly ramping it up and widening the scope since), this is about what I expected. Taking my time, looking for what’s right, not what’s fast. Only been in the last week or so I’ve really started thinking I’m ready to get back into it and get going; projects I wanted to get done around here are finally finishing up, and that’s making me feel good.
there has been some nice movement on other fronts. I have a freelance gig doing technical editing/review of a book for someone. I’ve done that a few times in the past, and really like it, and maybe it’ll lead to other gigs down the road. Nothing to get rich on, but I didn’t do it for the money, I did it to help out someone and dip the toe back in the water on the writing side.
I also spent some time in the last couple of weeks talking to an old cohort I’ve done some writing for in the past, and while I haven’t really been thinking about geek writing as I look to reboot my writing side of life, he encouraged me to think about writing for him again, which I have. that’s led to some ideas about using OS X as a LAMP development platform and writing a series of articles on that. The notes I’ve put together look a lot like a book, not a series of articles right now, but that’s no big deal. I also decided to leave this one on hold for a bit, since I really want to see how Leopard affects this, but not enough (at this late date) to upgrade my developer status to get an early look. No real need. Besides, on the unlikely event I find a job at Apple, I have to be careful committing to writing if there’s going to be a conflict there. it’ll keep, so I’m playing with it but not in any real hurry. We’ll see how it goes, but I know lots of folks are doing the Mac as a programmer’s box for LAMP development, and this seems like an interesting thing to write about…
When Laurie and I talked about my taking some time off, one of the things I knew was that this wasn’t going to be “time off”, instead, it was, as I put it, sweat equity in myself and in stuff we’d had going but which suffered when I was down in the rabbit hole at Apple. Or as I like to put it, for someone who’s “not working”, I’ve been pretty busy.
I’m pretty happy with the results. I have the front yard cleaned up (more on that some other time), and the first round of the war with the bermuda grass went to me, but not without a fight. More importantly, the living room remodel is within sight of the end; I finished the trim on the hall closets today, got the bulkhead in the hallway around the ducting closed in, and so the place is looking more and more like a house, less and less like a construction zone (one which got halfway done in 2005, and the stopped for, like, 18 months). Given we started that remodel back in (god help me) 2002 when we tore out the carpet and laid the new floor, five years is bloody enough — but given we’re transforming half of the square footage of the house, in some ways pretty radically, it’s not a trivial amount of work — and that includes both bathrooms (new vanities, sinks, toilets, wall fixtures — everything but the tub and the tile floor).
Still, another 4 or 5 days, and it’ll be ready for paint. I still need to do the new mantle for the fireplace (a custom piece I’m building using Bocote and Wenge woods), a little more trim work, the base moulding, and replacing all of the outlets and switches and plates. A week or so putting in the new bookcase/wine rack and wainscotting in the dining room, and replacing the door between the dining room and the library — and we’re ready to paint. Which I’m letting someone else do, happily.
When I started all of this, I cleared out and reconfigured the workshop out in the garage; I’m really happy with it so far, too — a lot more flexible and uses the space better. So far, so good.
Of course, remodeling is never really done. We still need to redo the cabinets in the kitchen, and we’re talking about rebuilding the closets in the bedroom and laurie’s office (one joy of living in an Eichler: storage space is always a priority), and I found a really nice floor for my office….
A while back, Jason Calcanis talked about hiring an Ombudsman for Mahalo.
That is actually a smart idea, but in its way it doesn’t go far enough. An independent watchdog who oversees and plays watchdog over a company is a good thing, but these companies need more than a watchdog.
They need advocates. People INSIDE the company who are involved with the customers and involved with the day to day operations of the company where they can influence decisions as they happen, not just criticize and rally for improvements after the fact.
I’m seeing the need for this on Facebook; note that I’m not picking on Facebook because it’s screwed up, because for the most part, I think it’s doing pretty well — but there are rough edges, and many of them seem to me to be situations that could be avoided if the company was better connected to and listening to its users. Getting pro-active instead of reactive, and the problem with an ombudsman is that it is external and by definition reactive.
Now, this isn’t exactly new from me, back when I left Apple, I brought up the idea that Apple could really use a Customer Ombudsman:
Chuqui 3.0.1 Beta: Jobs I wish I could have taken at Apple (Apple Post-mortem, part 2 of some number….):
4) Customer Ombudsman (aka Chief Privacy Office, aka the Royal Avatar of the Customer). This is actually another job I talked to a number of folks about. Some understood what I was trying to do and agreed it was a necesssary thing, nobody could ever quite figure out who it should report to or how to bell this particular cat. Is this in Marketing? Legal? Applecare? Engineering? Probably Applecare, but I always suggested Legal, because Applecare is the primary support provider for Apple, and reporting into that structure creates a potential conflict of interest for a true Ombudsman.
The more I explore the social networking space, the more I think people like this are crucial for the good operation of the social network. They really aren’t Ombusdmen, though, because they need to be internal to the company (more on that in a bit), and you can’t simply take customer support and bonk them on the head with the advocate wand — this is a different function. It really is, in a way, an evangelist position, but one where you have someone evangelizing the customer into the company, not going the other direction.
And this person needs the ear of upper management, and this person (or group) needs to be involved in decisions about the products just like a database architect or a UI designer is — only their job is to help the other parts of the company understand how the customer fits into the equation and how proposed changes (to code, to UI, to policy, to whatever) will impact them and how they’ll react.
Today, the customer is a key part of the system being designed, not just a user of it, and yet these companies haven’t really integrated customers into the design process closely enough.
A couple of recent examples:
First, Danah, via Scoble:
Danah Boyd writes that she’s she is “utterly confused by the ways in which the tech industry fetishizes Facebook”.
She asks some good questions and makes some good points. Lets go through them. My answers in italics.
1. “In an effort to curb spam, they killed off legitimate uses of mass messaging, silencing those well-intentioned users that adored them.” Totally true. It’s ridiculous that I can’t add more than 5,000 contacts. Even worse is the scalability of the platform they designed. Many of the apps I’ve been using lately simply don’t work if you have more than a couple hundred of contacts.
Or this situation noted in TechCrunch:
One such way to use Christian’s code was to incorporate it into a program that takes status updates and pushes them out to multiple status handlers such as Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Adium, and Quicksilver. Another use could be to take information from a music player, instant messaging program, or blogging platform and automatically make Facebook status updates from any activity (such as newly played songs, away messages, or post headlines). After publishing the code, Christian indeed found that several other developers used his code to create programs around the idea of “federated status”.
This past Thursday, however, Christian received an email from a Facebook engineer that requested he take down the code from his blog. While recognizing that Christian was simply trying to provide something useful, the engineer insisted that the code was, and had always been, against Facebook’s terms of service (see “User Conduct” section, bullet #3). As a way of explanation, he suggested that allowing people to automate against Facebook from outside of the site would create a “slippery slope”. The engineer backed up his request by insinuating that he would disable Christian’s Facebook account and/or take legal action if he refused to remove the code.
After Christian stood by his post, Facebook demonstrated on September 4th that it wasn’t bluffing and shut down his account.
The first one? A change, probably a necessary and legitimate one, but one that wasn’t well-understood how it’d affect users, and at best, not well documented out to them.
The second? A perfectly legitimate use of Facebook, or it should be, but it was disallowed because of the old “slippery slope” argument. That’s one I know well, because I used it a lot in my days running communities and mail lists — and one I finally realized was a cop out, because part of being the mom is using judgement and setting reasonable limits, not just throwing up brick walls at the easy places. The reality is, Christian’s code is useful and Facebook should have realized it benefitted its users and allowed (if not adopted) it, even if it meant rewriting rules or clarifying existing ones.
Instead, in both cases, we basically got a “because I am the mom, and I said so” reaction. Decisions were made based on rules, not situations, and for the convenience/ease of the company, not the users. It’s these kind of things that slowly kill user enthusiasm and gives them reason to no longer cheerlead or innovate around a product or platform.
Here’s a third one, one I was involved in.
Facebook notes has a feature where you can import your blog via your RSS feed. I decided that was a neat idea, so I wired it up; only since I have multiple blogs, with more stuff coming, and things like my Flickr photos and other places where I have a virtual presence, I’ve created a Yahoo pipe which aggregates all of that stuff into a single feed. I wired that up to Notes and it went off and did whatever it does.
A couple of days later, I noticed it wasn’t importing, so I checked, and it told me there wasn’t a feed wired up. Weird, I must have screwed up, I thought. So I wired it up again.
A few hours later, I get the bitch note, threatening to terminate my account if I don’t stop abusing the notes feature. they also put up a note on my home page warning me the same. And they disable the Notes feed again.
Well, THAT’s interesting. I only did what they told me I could. So I grumped a bit and fired off a note to the support group. A couple of days later (I’ll give them credit, it WAS labor day weekend — no complaint about response time), I got a note back from Lyle. The gist of it was “we limit behavior we feel is abusive or annoying. we won’t tell you details of what that means. We can’t stop the system from doing this. And thanks for your understanding…”
There are so many things wrong here it’s not funny. Here are the highlights:
1) I’m told I can do something. When I try it, it sets off an alarm and what I’m doing is disabled, but they do it silently. So I think I screwed up — once I actually notice the problem.
2) So I try it again, and they threaten to ban me.
3) the problem? when I initializer the feed, it pulls in all of the new items. Which, since it’s a new feed, means all of the items. Which, in this case, evidently was enough to trigger their alarm. Note that there is no way for me to say “only import items from this point” or “only import the last ten items” or something. I HAVE NO WAY to not set off this alarm with this feed; the user has no options to avoid this.
4) and according to Lyle, Facebook has no way (and pretty clearly, no interest) in whitelisting a feed around the alarm. Why can’t someone take a look at it and say “oh, okay, we’ll clear the flag for this and see what happens”; instead, It got the double-barrel of “if you trip the alarm, you’re doing something bad’, and “so don’t do it”. Even though I was only doing what they told me I could do.
What I took away from this was that Facebook is a company without a strong customer focus. They may THINK they have one, but they don’t. For instance, and this is a trivial one, if you have a new feed and you’re going to trigger an alarm if it imports more than, say, 15 items to start, why not ONLY IMPORT 15 items? Why threaten someoen with a ban when you could instead use a rate limiting feature instead of a ban alert? They actually don’t give me the tools I could us to solve this problem myself, they don’t give support tools to fix the problem for a false positive, and they don’t actually build the system right in the first place, because they could avoid this simply by saying “well, we only allow THIS activity, so let’s make the system only accept that”.
These are all rough edges to the design of the system, but they’re all rough edges that indicate that they aren’t thinking like users or spending much time as users.
The customer focus is missing. And yes, spam preventions and abuse issues are important — but so is allowing the customer to use the system, and that latter aspect just doesn’t seem as high a priority in their designs. There are so many ways they could have turned this into a positive — does it really matter if my notes get imported over 48 hours instead of right away? Not really. Or if only the last ten get imported? Not really. but those options don’t exist. I used the system they way they told me to, with the options avaialble, and got faceslapped for it. Not a huge deal, but not a great way to evangelize customers, either. Ditto with how they handled Christian’s case above.
And that would be the role of a Customer Advocate: to think like the customer, to represent and lobby for the customer, to evangelize the customer within the company. That’s very different than Customer service or support, or from being an Ombudsman. Someone who’s job is to know the customers well enough to say “hey, why not rate limit Note importation isntead of throwing ban threats? Save the bitch notes for abuse if it happens over a period of time”; or someone in management willing to look at what Christian was trying to do and saying “you know, that ought to be allowed, let’s make it happen”.
Only it didn’t. And that’s because a key cog in these social systems is the user, and the user doesn’t have representation within the company except in reactive ways, or in very limited ways through focus groups.
Who speaks FOR the customer inside of Facebook? As far as I can tell, nobody. And that’s a need that all social networks are going to have. that AND an outside ombudsman to keep them all honest, including the users.
(and I’ll bet, as people read this, there will be people from Facebook getting really honked and saying to their screens “yes, we do too!” — and my response is, as an unofficial, unappointed, temporary Ombusdman, that you think you do, but from the point of view of the user, the systems and processes put in place aren’t very user friendly. They’re company-easy, and that’s a bad philosophy for a system that depends on users to make it function…)
Update: well, here’s another instance of Facebook making life harder for its users, for no real purpose other than convenience of Facebook. Or following the rules. Or something like that…
I’d be more sympathetic to Facebook if these things really were abusive to the system. In fact, they merely act kinda like things that might be abusive under some circumstances, but aren’t abusive themselves. That kind of logic just amuses me, in a depressing way…
Facebook apparently shut ’em down. It strikes me as always wrong, as couldn’t-possibly-be-right, to take an action which decreases the quality of the user experience with your product.
Ian left a comment about Mark Bell I wanted to pull out into its own posting:
Two for Elbowing: More on Mark Bell:
Something really smells about the NHL suspending Bell out of the blue, after he played in the league for a year, and after the terms of his plea bargain were set (i.e. agreeing to start his prison stay after the NHL season).
It’s clearly intended as some sort of statement to other players, but I don’t know what that statement is, exactly. It smacks of grandstanding,
I had the same reaction: I couldn’t believe that the punishment by the NHL wasn’t agreed upon as everything else was being worked out, because it makes no sense for Bell to set up his prison so he can play the season — only to have the NHL suspend him. Either the NHL is being a twit here, or Bell’s agent blew it big time in coordinating the details.
Now, if Bell only misses a few games, it’s a symbolic slap on the wrist, and that’s not so bad, but right now, this isn’t making the NHL look good — letting him play an entire season before suspending him is stupid; either he has a problem and they should have gotten him into the program a year ago, or he doesn’t, and this makes no sense other than some kind of grandstanding stunt.
Now, having said that, I can understand the league waiting until the court action is done to punish Bell — that’s due process — but this wasn’t presented as a punishment, this was presented as being put into a substance abuse program. Suspending him a few games for a braincramp that makes the league look bad? fine. Putting him into an abuse program when it’s not warranted? Makes the league look bad.
And there’s no indication there is an abuse problem here, just the results of a mistake and a long court case.
I’m not exactly Mark Bell’s biggest fan here — but what the league is doing is at best badly communicated to the real world, and that’s making the league look punitive and arbitrary.
Here’s hoping this — at the least — gets clearly explained and put behind everyone….
A few thoughts on the Roenick signing by the Sharks, from the guy who’s been standing here for the last few months saying “Jeremy. go home. it’s over”.
It is, but there are aspects of this deal I find intriguing. Roenick is playing for minimal money, so this doesn’t really cost the Sharks anything. He has things to prove (that it’s not over, for one), so I expect he’s going to work his butt off to earn that money. He has a significant milestone close, so that’s going to add to the motivation, but is also close enough that it won’t hang over his head or the team’s head long — and if it isn’t working out, once he passes it, makes it easier for everyone to call it if needed.
So the risk here is low. The important thing is to set the proper expectations. Given the low money value – that’s easy if you think it through.
If there was one thing missing from the team last year, it was an attitude of consistent grittiness, of not being pushed around. There were times when the Sharks were unstoppable, and there were times the team got too passive.
One thing Roenick is not: passive.
So the way to view this deal is see the contributions as off-ice. As a setter and teacher of attitudes, a locker room influence. Anything Roenick does ON the ice is a bonus; his primary job, in my mind, is teaching the kids how to play more like he does, to help draw out their potential.
At some level, I’m not expecting much out of this deal. He’s effectively replacing Mark Smith, and while I don’t think this is an upgrade off of Smith, it’s now downgrade, and he in-locker-room aspects can help this team. He’s also the kind of guy the local reporters are going to love to have around, and heck, that can’t hurt.
So I’ll give him a thumbs up for now, and we’ll see what happens. And, you know? it’s good to see him get a shot at his milestone. Let’s see how he returns the investment the Sharks are making in him.
(and I see the hand of Mike Ricci in this; since they played together last season).
Truly, it matters not whether Mark Bell skates for the Maple Leafs anytime soon.
At least not to me. It certainly matters to Bell and probably to John Ferguson, who’d like to see this part of the San Jose deal pay some dividends.
What really matters in this case are two things.
First, that the victim – remember, there’s a victim here? – gets reasonable restitution for his injuries apparently suffered when Bell rear-ended him a year ago. Imagine what it was like for that fellow watching Bell play all last year. Imagine if it was your brother or your dad.
The second important matter is that Bell really gets help, which hopefully he is doing. But this isn’t something that’s just going to go away, and it isn’t something that is going to be fine just because Bell says it is. Clearly, drinking is a problem Bell has been battling since he was in junior hockey, and that was a long, long time ago.
It’s not clear whether he’s an alcoholic. But he quite obviously struggles with the bottle.
So if it means he has to sit out all year to become a healthier person, I’m good with that.
This was discussed on XM a bit yesterday, and the indication there was that this was part of the process following the conviction, and that Bell has evidently been clean for a year, so he’s only expected to miss a few games at the longest. A punitive action, I guess, but to be honest, he’s already played an entire season. For the NHL to suspend him NOW seems to be sending a message that, well, what? that they feel like they have to do something for show?
we’re well over a year from the event — the NHL isn’t exactly being pro-active here. Makes it hard for me to stand up and congratulate the NHL for dealing with this issue.
Oh, and the victim? Turns out he was unlicensed and uninsured. Driving illegally on a number of accounts. From local reports stonewalled discussions of restitution and filed a civil suit, which to me looks like a money grab attempt.
Now, that doesn’t for a second minimize what Bell did or excuse his actions — but this “victim” isn’t exactly an innocent, either. I don’t have any sympathy for Bell, although his mistake seems to have been an series of stupid but not malicious brain farts. Unlicensed drivers here in the Bay Area are a huge problem that cause hell for those of us who do follow the rules and the law — and they’re a class of people around here that also causes a disproportionate percentage of the accidents as well.
Makes it very hard for me to find much sympathy for the victim here, either.