Three Dot Lounge for November 16, 2014

Three dot lounge is a mostly-weekly collection of things that deserve more than a retweet. Stay tuned for fascinating opinions and pithy commentary. Also keep an eye on my Twitter feed for more interesting stuff.

Probe finds San Francisco Zoo gorilla pen unsafe

Probe finds San Francisco Zoo gorilla pen unsafe

Laurie and I were donors of fairly large donations to the SF Zoo for a number of years. We finally moved our donation money elsewhere for a a number of reasons, some of which included it being far enough away that we simply didn’t get up there very often, and when we went to member functions like night tours, they were so crowded they weren’t worth it.

But the big reason we pulled our funding was how poorly the facility was handling the upkeep and upgrading of its facilities (to be fair, at that time, the zoo was under the control of the City, which did an incredibly bad job of funding and a worse job of allowing the zoo to work around the city’s poor funding — since resolved by spinning the zoo out of City control). The zoo seemed to always have great plans to upgrade the facilities and poor ability to actually implement them.

The San Francisco Zoo is infamous for the Siberian Tiger escape that killed one person, but there have been cases of handlers injured during feeding, and now this tragic death of a gorilla.

Baby Lowland Gorilla

This was shot at that facility on my last trip in 2010. There’s a common theme among all three of the problems I mention: the two Tiger attacks both happened in WPA-era facilities that were planned for upgrades but never were; the Gorilla facility was built around 1980 and is 30 years old; the cause of death of the baby gorilla seems to be a combination of some operator inattention and a door without basic safety equipment (no beam alarm like every garage on every house has had for 25 years) and poorly designed and operating door mechanics.

I felt the facility the gorillas live in looked shabby on my last visit; state of the art clearly has moved on and the Zoo hasn’t updated the facility to match that. This lack of investment in facilities now has led to the death of their gorilla.

And unfortunately, given the people who have led the zoo over the years and the board that backs them, none of this surprises me. Which explains why they don’t get any of our money any more, and why my last visit there was four years ago…

this is an incredibly sad event, should have been 100% preventable, but wasn’t, and that just reinforces my belief that this zoo needs a complete reinvention starting with their executive and leadership teams. I don’t blame the handlers and the people on the ground, it’s not their fault the facilities at this zoo are so far behind state of the art.


Posted in Three Dot Lounge

Three Dot Lounge for November 2, 2014

Three dot lounge is a mostly-weekly (whimper) collection of things that deserve more than a retweet. Stay tuned for fascinating opinions and pithy commentary. Also keep an eye on my Twitter feed for more interesting stuff.

A Decade at the Fruit Company

A Decade at the Fruit Company

Don Melton talks about his time working for Apple at NSNorth. It’s a fascinating (and accurate) talk about building things at Apple, which in reality is a lot different than what people on the outside think it’s like. (for even more from Don and Nitin Ganatra, another ex apple development manager, check out iMore’s podcast Debug episodes 47 and 48. Fascinating stuff).

All of this matches up my experience at Mama Fruit. I spent most of my time — and all of the time after Steve returned — in IS&T where the deadline dynamics were different but just as intense. I never had to demo software for Steve, but I did watch as Steve would obsess about placement of a comma in a marketing email during a launch. He sweated that kind of detail on that many things around the company, which seems insane for a company of that size — and maybe it was — but it was one way to install that level of detail sweating into every aspect of the company, and that’s part of how he changed the company DNA to value and demand that kind of quality at all levels. That, I think, is a big reason why Apple is the company it is today.

You don’t “change corporate culture” by issuing memos. You do it by living it and embracing those changes starting at the top, and Steve knew that. It also at times requiring putting someone’s head on a stake outside corporate headquarters, and Steve wasn’t afraid to do that, too, when he ran into an organization head that wouldn’t buy in — and that was a huge problem at Apple when Steve came back and one Gil Amelios was fighting every day (and often losing).

So if you’re curious about Steve and Apple, these are much better glimpses into the insides of the company than most, because Don was there, succeeded in it, and survived to show off the scars…

Twitter’s “peace offering” to developers is meaningless

Twitter’s “peace offering” to developers is meaningless

When I was wrangling developers for Palm, one of the things I used to tell them was to be very careful about building applications around third party systems where they had no guarantees their stuff would continue to work. In many cases they were scraping/hacking sites without formal APIs (like Google Voice, which hosed people more than once — but which never had any official access, so it’s not Google’s fault), but even with these published APIs, I suggested that if there were no guarantees of continues access/compatibility, or if the API ‘agreements’ included the standard ‘we can change our mind and do anything we want any time we want without warning’ clauses, I encouraged people to think twice about programming against those APIs. For the most part developers went with their enthusiasm, and unfortunately, some of the developers got seriously screwed along the way and had their applications killed off out from under them.

And then Twitter decided the developers that built all of the clients that basically made Twitter successful were inconvenient, and screwed the entire developer community built up around them. Which is exactly the kind of worry I had when I was telling developers to be careful about working with companies that don’t partner with third parties or give them any guarantees on access into the future. It was the perfect storm of how a company should never treat those that have been committing resources to help a company succeed by building an ecosystem around it.

And now Twitter is saying “well, forget that. things are all better now. really. come back”. It would be a cold day in hell before I ever wrote a line of code interacting with Twitter, to put it bluntly. They haven’t rebuilt any trust and I would never suggest someone get involved with this new “we don’t hate you any more” system. Not unless Twitter goes a lot further into guaranteeing they can’t — in their formal agreements — do to developers again what they did last time.

And in general, when you’re considering writing an app using an API, stop and look at what the agreements are; not just what they let you as the developer do, but what the company promises in return. Because you don’t want to invest months of development time only to wake up one morning with a broken app and a “we decided to go in a different direction” from the company you used to think you were a partner with.

There’s an even longer, larger, and more profanity-filled version of this discussion having to do with my long, deep look at diving into IOS programming in my “after Palm” life, and why I decided not to, because what I’ve just written goes just as strongly for App Stores like Apple, and Apple is a place that does not treat it’s developers well at all, and you need to go in with eyes wide open when treading into writing Apps that go into one of Apple’s App Stores. Just ask the Pcalc guy.


Posted in Three Dot Lounge

Traveling next week….

Apologies for the silence on the blog. Work’s been very busy, leaving few usable brain cells to write (among the projects I’m in the middle of — we’re doing a big event at Cisco Live Milan in January, like we did in San Francisco). I’m not going to be in Milan for the thing but I have been working on various parts of the programming. I think it’s shaping up nicely. And after that, we’re already in early planning for Cisco Live US in San Diego, and I do expect to be at the event for that one.

The relative silence will probably continue for at least another week, as I’m headed out to SoCal to meet up with some people and sync up. It’ll give me a chance to get some things decided, and also visit and spend some time with Mom. Not sure how much free time I’ll have, but if you’re in the general vicinity of CSU Fullerton and want to meet up at a Starbucks or Chipotle I’ll be down there late tuesday into Friday. And then hopefully off to Morro Bay for a day of downtime, since it seems a bald eagle has started hanging out at Sweet Springs and I’d really like a chance to see that if I can… I’m also going to try to get to Bolsa Chica at some point, but I don’t know if time will allow…

Posted in About Chuq

The Social Media Celebrity Diet

How much time do you spend on social media? How often a day (or an hour) do you stop and sneak a peek at Twitter or Facebook to see what new stuff might be there? How often do you let your social media interrupt you for a quick look?

No, I don’t need to hear the answer to that question. I’m uncomfortable enough trying to be honest with myself about the question. I don’t care what your answer is, anyway. But you should.

One of the changes I decided I wanted to make was to rethink what I did on social media and how much time I spent interacting with it. That decision was based on a few factors, but the biggest ones were that work continues to be really busy and I need to focus on it, and I’ve been frankly struggling with finding the right balance between work focus and social media. The way I had my social media usage structured involved a shallow dipping in and out along the day, and I’m finding that doesn’t work well now. It’s too interruptive, so I have to change some things up.

I’ve also been going through a research and explore phase, looking for new voices, studying new photographers, digging into some new topics, especially some of the drought and environmental issues I find myself wanting to understand better because of the way it impacts the refuges I’ve gotten so involved in photographing. When I’m in that mode, I tend to be adding a lot of people to my social media roles to find the voices I can learn from and enjoy interacting with, or new photographers to study and watch, that sort of thing.

Now I’m shifting back to efficiency mode. My goal was to cut 30-45 minutes a day out of my social media interactions, but more importantly, set it up so that those times can be fewer and longer rather than this stone-skipping-the-firehose style I’d been using. The reality is, it was impossible to track everyone I’d followed in the new model. I was spending all of my time jumping around looking to see what I’d missed.

That’s a bad thing.

So, time for the social media celebrity diet. But first, a question needs to be answered: Why am I on (name social media service)?

For twitter, the answer is that I use it to track some things that happen in real time (news, replacing my newspaper or TV news — especially local); it allows me to interact with interesting people I’ve gotten to know; it lets me follow people I view as thought leaders on specific topics of key interest to me right now; and finally, it lets me more casually follow some people/sites that are very good at first level filtering of the rest of the firehose and surfacing stuff I don’t have time to go searching for myself but I generally find interesting.

I’ve become very disheartened by the “like/follow/plus” faux-interaction models prevalent on these social sites. Somehow we’ve been convinced that lots of followers assigns validity and importance to what we say, or something. But people chase followers like there’s some prize for the biggest, heaviest charm bracelet. Did you know you can buy fake followers for $5 for 10,000? Seriously, it’s easy to find sites that’ll sell them to you. That gives you a basic value for a follower — effectively zero. So why this fascination with big follower numbers?

I’ve also really gotten tired of the like/plus1 thing. it’s like organizing a big party and watching everyone who shows up spending the entire evening  running from person to person to say hello, and never actually stop and talk to anyone. It lets you think you’re accomplishing something, maybe, but what exactly is it you’re accomplishing? Some trivialized feeding to data to the Twitter or Facebook or Google algorithm about some superficial definition of “good”. Even at that, whatever signal you’re contributing to that data feed is probably overrun by the noise of the various bots out there who are attempting to game the algorithms for their masters.

What none of this really is is that it’s not really social. It’s not interacting. It’s not conversation. It’s people wandering around and saluting anyone they see that’s passing by going in the other direction. “Evening, Guv’ner!” “Be Seeing you…”

That sort of casual, shallow kind of interaction may suit the algorithms of the owners of these sites, but I believe it’s destructive to the goal of actually talking to the people around me, in part because without really realizing it, it can end up wasting a lot of time. I also think it encourages that shallow, constant,  interruptive style of using social media that makes it hard to focus on other things well.

If I needed to take time out of my social media “time budget”, it was a logical place to do so. I decided to strip my following feed down to the essentials — key information resources, key thought leader types in topics I’m tracking closely (like the drought here in California) and a few news feeds. And the people I’ve built some relationship with and talk to on twitter.

I ended up stripping out about 60% of the accounts I was following. About 10% of that was accounts that hadn’t posted a tweet in > 90 days and were abandoned. About 10% were bots of various sorts (sorry, Karl). The rest were real people — and the hardest to let go were the ones I know, but which I long ago stopped actually conversing with; my life is littered with “we should do lunch” a lot more than it’s littered with lunches and coffee, and while I’ve tried to change that, the reality is there’s still only 24 hours in a  day, no matter how hard I squeeze the calendar. Sometimes refusing to admit that makes it worse, too.

So yeah, I’ve dropped a lot of people I know in some way or another and like, but sometimes life requires sad choices. On the flip side, I now have a twitter feed that I can pull up a couple of times a day instead of a couple of times an hour, and actually see what’s going on instead of madly skimming past it hoping not to miss something important. And that’s what I need at this point. One problem I think we have on twitter is this feeling we’re missing things, so we try to grab too much of the firehose and process it through — and the end result is that we miss stuff because we’re trying too hard. I’m trying here to narrow my focus and use that slimmer feed well, instead of trying to skim a huge feed and hope I actually saw what was being said and understand the context. I got tired of constantly feeling like I was struggling to keep up — and the only solution to that is to follow less.

I’ve done something similar over on Google+, only over there, I did some major bariatric surgery and cut about 80% of the accounts I was following. A sample of those accounts showed a fairly large percentage of them (20% ish, I’d say) and been abandoned. A lot of that was me following others to watch and study their photography because I was trying to understand some things to improve my own work; now, it’s time to stop and and put the time and energy into my own work directly.

I had one person email me to ask me about being unfollowed. What I told them was simple and pretty much what’s above: it’s nothing they did , but with this much time, I can only manage so much traffic on twitter, and I cut until I hit that point. I’m sure they weren’t thrilled with that answer, but it’s that trade off we all have to make at times (how often do you still interact with those people you swore you’d keep having lunch with from the company two jobs ago?)

I will make one unsolicited suggestion: if you’re using a service that tracks who follows or unfollows you on twitter, and if having someone unfollow you on twitter bothers you, you’re doing it wrong and you’re watching the wrong things. You should be putting energy into interacting with people and putting yourself and your content out there, not how lists of random names are changing over time. It’s another form of charm bracelet collecting and I think it’s a destructive one. So stop it and talk to folks instead.

I’m not saying don’t follow your numbers — a growing follower list is an indication you’re doing things that interest people and a shrinking one indicates you’re pissing them off — but I think it’s a bad idea to follow the metrics too closely or try to dig too deeply into the details. People follow you for a lot of reasons, and people unfollow you for just as many. I’d say half the people following me any given week are spammers or marketers in some form who aren’t really following me, just trying to convince me to pay attention to them — so once you dig into those kind of details, it’s pretty easy to just back off and not think about it too hard.

Another thing I recommend you stop doing is using a list to read twitter. Lists are fine to track specific subsets you want to watch at times, but if you’re following too many people to follow them on the main feed, you’re doing it wrong. Worse, you’re not fooling anyone. Believe it or not, we can tell how many people you’re following, and if that number is more than a few hundred, either you’re Robert Scoble or you’re acting spammy. Cut your following list down to those you’re really following and stop pretending. To be blunt, the larger the number of people you’re pretending to follow, the more likely I’ll drop you from my lists as someone who either is clueless about what social media is supposed to be about, or someone who’s following people because they’re trying to get people to pay attention to them. The larger the following number, the less likely you’re going to be interesting to me, because the more fake the account looks.

And if you do think about it, realize this: if someone you know does unfollow you and you notice or have a report that tells you, chances are if you did something to cause it, you’ll probably know why. and if you don’t know why — the reason probably had nothing to do with you. So why stress out about it? My suggestion: don’t.

Ultimately, I’m finding that the changes I made to my social media activity have cut about 40 minutes a day from the social sites. More importantly, I’m comfortable only viewing a few times a day, so if I’m trying to focus on something,  don’t get that nagging thought that I’m missing something. The speed of the feed is something I can manage, so I don’t have that background stress of feeling a need to keep an eye on it.

Which, among other things, means I’m getting more writing done in the evenings, because I’m not trying to catch up on stuff I didn’t have time for during the day…

Want to figure out how to avoid Social Media bankruptcy? Want to find more time for other things? Try my Celebrity Social Media Diet. it’s really simple:

  1. Figure out how much time you can budget to social media per day.
  2. Start stripping out the less interesting pieces of your social media until the time you spend is within that budget.
  3. Realize how much time you were really spending on social media that you didn’t really realize you were: and how much of that time had little or no real value to you.
  4. Then go do something more interesting with the time you pulled back into your life.

The social sites are things where your commitment and time involvement grows slowly as you go along. Every so often you need to take a step back, take a close look at where you’re putting your time and how much value you’re getting out of it, and do a re-evaluation and strip out that stuff that’s taking up time but not returning anything really useful. Even if you only pull back 15 minutes a day, that’s still 15 minutes you were wasting without really noticing. In many ways, the social sites are like the fast food of the online universe: you can eat fairly healthy at a fast food joint, but you have to think about it and do some planning.

if you don’t, you may end up like so many others doing the bulimic binge and purge cycle of loading up your feeds and fixing it by declaring bankruptcy. going from one extreme to another isn’t the right strategy and will pretty much guarantee you never really enjoy what you can get out of these sites. Stopping and taking some time to realign your usage of them to your needs and priorities and free time, however, can let you course correct without ever hitting that point where you feel no choice but amputation…




Posted in About Chuq

My take on Google+ today

As part of my research into both whether to retire as lead in the Bird Photography group and as I’ve been auditing my social media commitments in general,  I’ve been trying to get a feel of what’s happening on Google+.

I had a number of projects I was considering to build around G+. When Google decided to restructure and change direction and Vic decided to move on, I put everything on hold waiting to see what G+ had planned. Since then, I haven’t seen a sniff of a roadmap or any indication Google planned anything; the service seems to be standing still, mostly. I’m not seeing anything I’d call significant functional upgrades. there have been changes, most of them leave me with a “with all the crap that needs doing here, you’re doing that?” reaction.

In the last few months I’ve seen an increase in server errors, indicating they aren’t scaling the hardware to support the service enough to support usage. The bug where content in a community disappears for some users for some period of time (indicating sync errors between server instances and servers that don’t get updates at all buried in the round robin) isn’t fixed.

When Google released communities on G+ I thought it was a great start (and it is); unfortunately, they haven’t followed it up with any significant enhancements and the design has some serious flaws — ones

As I’ve been researching and writing this piece, Google has released a new feature, Polls, for communities. It’s great to see they’re working on this and adding new features, because that’s a great indication that Google hasn’t shipped off G+ to “Google Reader Siberia”, but my initial reaction to Polls is minor disappointment. Polls are like Facebook Likes or G+ plusses: trivially easy interactions with very little real engagement of very limited scope and even less value.

It’s the kind of community design that frustrates me, because it’s community design to emphasize the trivial and fleeting. There’s a lot to like about G+ communities, but it has one huge flaw, it’s almost impossible to foster serious conversation or ongoing dialog about anything because new material hides the older ones with no way to float it back into view. This makes building communities that are more than “hey, look at my picture and like it!” very difficult, and it encourages that “click and forget” mentality.

This design benefits Google and serves it’s goal well: it wants to push a constant stream of “stuff” in front of people who will help it understand (by plusses and comments that feed Google’s algorithms) what “good” is. but it doesn’t serve communities well, because good communities are built around the interaction between members and members getting to know each other.

Google+ communities today are something like a conference where everyone gets together and spend all of their time saying “good morning” to everyone else at the conference, but never actually give talks or have panel discussions. there’s more to life (and communities) than saying “hello” and thinking that accomplished something.

The bird photography group continues to show a healthy growth of members (we’re almost at 15,000) but when you dig behind the obvious number, I don’t think the result is particularly healthy. A number of our former top members are no longer contributing and many have stopped interacting with G+ completely. I have been tracking the members who have won contests for five quarters now. The numbers are clear:

2013Q3 149
2013Q4 338
2014Q1 113
2014Q2 136
2014Q3 83

There is a lot less diversity in the group. I went back to the 2013Q3 group and did some checking of names I remember as being active contributors to the group; overall, about 50% of them haven’t posted to Google at all in 60-90 days, so they seem to have abandoned the platform completely.

Of the ones that still post to Google but are no longer active in Bird Photography, most of them haven’t shifted to different groups — but are posting only to their public stream. What this tells me is that it’s not that there’s a problem with the way we were running the Bird Photography group, but that they didn’t find value in groups at all and have stopped using most or all of them.

Other aspects of G+ — like #hashtags — seem to be the preferred discovery tools for them now. Given communities were designed to take on the functionalities users self-created around hashtags early in the life of G+, it seems a large number of members have decided they prefer hashtags.

Another experiment I’ve been working on is the Bird Photography Today page, where I tried to compensate for the inability to show off the best work within Bird Photography group by pulling it over to the page along with other content I thought might help drive interest of both the page and the group. I thought the page did pretty well for a while, with good growth and a lot of interaction on the material posted, but over time, it seems that’s stagnated and stalled. Overall interest in the material, as seen in interactions like plusses, has fallen way off.

Google’s analytics for G+, beyond total members of your group, are nonexistent. It’s impossible to see what folks like or dislike beyond trivial plus numbers. It’s impossible to see how many people are visiting a group or what they’re doing. It’s all guess work.

One thing I wanted to know was whether this stagnation I’ve seen was a problem in this group, or more widespread. So I’ve spent a couple of weeks of evenings digging into communities across G+ looking for ones I thought were interesting and doing more than “post pictures and plus them” type interactions.

Frankly, while those kind of groups exist, they’re really rare, and the admins put a lot of work into building the interactions within the group because it’s clear for them G+ doesn’t make it easy for them, either. So it’s not how we’re running the group, it’s how G+ is designed. Mostly, what I found was a lot of empty groups without anyone managing them, full of spam, wallpaper reshares and low value crap.

It’s incredibly hard to find groups where there’s real conversation and discussion. For the record, discovery on G+ is ludicrously bad. I can’t even tell it I only want to see groups in English, so there are many nights the list of “Communities you might like” were in Russian, or Korean, or Japanese, or in random languages I couldn’t identify. One night G+ insisted I really wanted to see middle-aged singles dating groups, another night it was race cars, and another night my recommendation list was full of groups of nothing but groups of animated gifs of cats and dogs and other cute stuff. Kawaii! Seriously, the crap I do in the name of research…

My takeaway from all of this; Google doesn’t really give a damn about communities. They put them out here, and then basically ignored them. Discovery is terrible — I think those recommended lists are effectively random pulls from the database. it’s amateur stuff.

From digging in manually and not based on any numbers Google lets you see or releases to the public, my sense is that more people are abandoning the service than joining it. Where there is membership growth it seems to be away from North America — india and asia especially. The primary use of G+ seems to be casual resharing, similar to Pinterest, but I don’t think G+ works nearly as well as Pinterest for that kind action.

I think the Bird Photography group is doing well in its current form. There’s nothing wrong with it, nothing broken. The moderator team has done a great job in keeping it moving in the right directions — but I don’t think we’re seeing as many high quality images as we used to, and we’re definitely not seeing them from as many members. This doesn’t seem to be anything we’ve done wrong with managing the group; it seems endemic to G+ as a service. There’s still value here, and a good number of people getting good value from the group, but it’s stagnant, not growing. While I’ve decided it’s time to retire and Steve is coming on to lead it in the next phase, I have nothing but good things to say about the group and what we’ve accomplished, and I think it has a great future.

I’ve explored a bunch of things I wanted to do on G+, either to enhance Bird Photography or as new things — and in all cases as I started planning them out, I realized that it would be difficult to make them thrive the way G+ was designed. ultimately, I tabled everything again. Nothing has come along to make me want to wake them up and implement them.

My challenge has been anything I wanted to do to enhance what we had was hindered by the designs of G+ and I never found a way to make those community enhancements thrive given what I could do on the site.

Google+ communities were an interesting start with some problematic design flaws because of Google’s intentions — it wants us to flow judging info into their algorithms more than it wants real communities. For some stuff this works well, but for the kind of communities I want to build, it doesn’t. Given I need to slim down the time I spend

I’ve decided to step to the sidelines but that’s more about what I need than any problems on G+ or the community. I”m still not convinced G+ can ever thrive as a user community site, because the design is heavily biased by Google’s needs — feed the quality algorithm — and not by a wish to build a thriving community site. Use it in ways that work with Google’s designs and you can do some great things; fight it and you’ll struggle. I’m not interested in the struggle right now.

My bottom line: It may be the data I’m seeing above isn’t representative of the service as a whole, but early on, the only group that really took to G+ strongly was the photographers, and what I’m seeing is that group has at best stagnated, and is perhaps starting to pull off the platform. Communities had energy early on after release, but hasn’t seen a lot of innovation and it seems to me many G+ members have given up on them.

To be a bit blunt about it — I think groups on Flickr have a design that reeks of the 1990s and are desperately in need of a redesign, but I also think in many ways they’re a better place to build an active and interacting community than G+ Communities. that said, Flickr falls to many of the same flaws and problems G+ communities do, which you can see by the mass proliferation of “post one like three” type groups aimed primarily to attempt to manipulate the Flickr ‘quality’ algorithms.

I’ve decided to step back from the “casual like” ecosystems and try to focus more on good content and conversation and real interactions. I’m not suggesting everyone else should, too, but think about it. Just what does that “like” mean in the grand scheme of things? Does it really accomplish something useful, or just make you feel better and let you think you did?

Posted in Community Management, Computers and Technology