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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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Category Archives: The Internet
A quick update on what I’ve been looking at for replacing Google Reader, for people looking at options.
I know a lot of people simply want to swap something out that does what GR does and not think about it. I decided instead that this was a good opportunity to rethink how I browsed and consumed data rather than just swap in a new version of the old thing. Knowing that most sites these days are involved with social media in various ways, I figured that if I tracked down those alternatives, I might be able to merge many of those feeds into other services rather than swap in a new feed reader. The goal for me became seeing if I could shrink the number of services I had to touch to browse this content, not find a replacement.
When I started, I had 360 feeds in my Google Reader subscription list. This was down significantly from when GR was my primary browsing environment and I would typically have 450-500 feeds in it. If that doesn’t explain why Google is dropping GR I don’t know what would; my subscription list had shrunk about 25% without me even realizing it.
Since so many sites autopost site activity to their twitter feed (hey, I do it, too. and I just set up a feed JUST for the site, so you can follow it without all of my chatter), I decided my primary goal was to move as many feeds to twitter as I could. If I couldn’t replace a GR subscription with twitter, my second choice was Google+, third was Tumblr, fourth was Facebook. If none of those worked, then for now I’ve kept them in GR until I make a final decision what to do.
The first surprise: Many of the sites on my GR subscription list were also already in my twitter lists, and I was effectively following them twice. That I was doing this wasn’t a surprise, that close to half of the subscriptions in GR were already in Twitter surprised me. That’s a lot of duplication. Much more than I expected. I was also right in thinking many of the subscriptions could be moved to twitter for browsing. Overall, of those 360 feeds, 160 were duplicated in Twitter and another 70-75 I could shift to Twitter (which I did).
That left about 140 feeds.
Google+ is useful for many things (don’t listen to the people who don’t use the service telling you it’s a ghost town), but as a replacement for Google Reader, not so much, primarily because it still hasn’t released the APIs that would allow for setups like Hootsuite to build auto-posting environments, so much of the content has to be “hand carried” over to Google. As such, it doesn’t have the content streams of material that show up as auto-posted updates that you see in Twitter and Facebook (and to a lesser degree Linkedin). At this point, G+ is really more self-referential than a funnel for outside content — and honestly, I kinda feel that’s an advantage. I also know it’s temporary and at some point, this will change. But for this task, I ended up not moving any feeds to G+. Now, once the auto-post APIs hit the service and people crank up the content, don’t be surprised if I move a hunk of my Twitter activity there. But not now.
So, tumblr. I’m still experimenting with Tumblr, to be honest. But I had about 20 Tumblr sites that I didn’t migrate from GR to Twitter, so I now follow them on Tumblr, and I’m starting to see the attraction to how Tumblr makes it easy to, well, stay on Tumblr. Some interesting design going on here.
And that leaves 120 feeds. And Facebook.
My relationship with Facebook is marked “it’s complicated”. I use it. I interact with people on it. I funnel content onto it so it’s shared with people I interact with there. And I keep thinking that it’s only a matter of time before Facebook gets disrupted, because it’s just not a fun site to use. I don’t like it’s “sticky finger” policy on information, which is why I funnel things onto it but create almost nothing directly on the site — most of my interactions there are reactions to other people’s actions, not initiation of actions. That and reposting funny stuff from George Takei. But there were a few sites where it made sense to follow them by liking their pages, but to be honest? I’d say 95%+ of the sites who’ve adopted Facebook as an information channel have also adopted Twitter. It makes sense, frankly, since nobody with a brain is going to manage these sites without help and automation, and anything that supports Facebook can basically give you support for Twitter with little or no extra effort. So I’m happy to say that Facebook took on very little of my Google Reader list.
If I were Facebook, that fact ought to worry me. My view of Facebook is that they’ve built a really successful business around being the place you water cooler with your friends, but the primary reason most of us are on Facebook is because everyone else is on Facebook, not because Facebook creates some really essential reason for being there. That means that what Facebook has ultimately done is reinvent AOL for the 2010′s, and that it’s ripe for disruption by someone who convinced those people to be on a different service. Facebook is about critical mass, not great services, and that’s a dangerous business model if you ask me, especially if some service has Facebook targeted and is willing to take a long-term, slow-growth view of the attack rather than worrying about doing it overnight (and THAT sounds a lot like Google+’s strategy to me, not that I’m saying they’ll succeed. but….)
So that leaves me 110 feeds I haven’t placed.
Except it really is 26 feeds. Because along the way, I started looking at what was in my subscription list and thinking “why am I subscribing again? Is this really here because it’s useful? Or because it’s a habit?” — and so I started parsing out and deleting feeds that were either moribund, boring, unoriginal or just generally not worth migrating.
And so without really trying hard — I’m not joking when I say I’ve spent maybe four or five hours over lunch or evenings in the last couple of weeks bringing up feeds, visiting sites, seeing where else they post content, and then setting up the changes — about 75% of my “google reader” problem has been resolved. A big chunk of it literally disappeared when I realized how much overlap already existed between GR and twitter. I have a few sites that don’t have an easy replacement but also I don’t want to give up on. What to do?
For now, I’m waiting to see. A number of groups have announced plans to put replacement services in place. The one that interests me the most right now is Newsblur, but frankly, they’re still fighting to scale, so the best thing I can do for them is be patient and let them (so I am). there are at least half a dozen others charging into this space as well. And I can afford to wait until closer to the end to decide where to land. So I will. But even today, I’m only hauling out GR a couple of times a day, and only seeing 20 articles in it when I do, instead of it being a constant companion in my dock. By effectively compressing my media browsing into one fewer service, I’ve been able to squeeze about 45 minutes a day out of the time I was taking to “keep up”, while not feeling like I’m actually missing anything I’ll regret not seeing. I’m still seeing everything I want to see, and spending less time finding it. I win.
I also have Prismatic in the mix, but I haven’t quite decided where it fits in all of this. I really like Pristmatic as a discovery tool for browsing, not as a subscription setup. it seems to me they could easily add a “only your subscribed sites” mode to suck in Google Reader equivalent functionality and blow a bunch of this out of the water by doing both well, but it kicks serious butt as a way to find stuff you didn’t know to look for. It’s a key reason I’m being more liberal about purging subscriptions there were in the “just in case they say something interesting but mostly I ignore them” category. (I’ve tried Flipboard. I think it’s an awesome piece of technology; it just doesn’t click with me. That’s not their fault.)
There are lots of options out there that change the dynamics of content browsing, which is what this is all about. And that’s the reason I suggest everyone consider seeing this as an opportunity to rethink how you consume, not just shift your reader list to a new service. Get over the “I might miss something on the internet” mentality, purge the crap out of your lists, slim your time commitment to all of this,
I’ve found only one real loser in all of this, and it’s their fault. I’ve kept various RSS feeds from the San Jose Mercury News which help me see what’s going on in news, both locally and with a wider scope. The problem is, the ONLY places they want to let me see their content is via these RSS feeds, on their web site, or in their stupid iPad App. And in the latter two, they want me to see what they tell me to look at the way they want me to look at it; customization of the feeds to my preferences? Hell, they know better than I do what I want. Or so they seem to think.
So over the years, I’ve hacked together a set of RSS feeds off their site that customizes what they deliver to a rough version of what I’d like to see. there’s no way to duplicate that any other way. I have been, therefore, looking into options. Some of the content I can find replacements for easily, with things like @breakingnews (and I have). The sports info is pretty easy to replace, since the local teams have figured this out and have built out their own content teams.
But (surprise. sigh) local news is still an issue, especially if you’re trying to track down to police reports or restaurant openings and closings. There are some sites trying to grow into this space, like Patch, but nothing I’ve found that solves me problem in a way I want to adopt. So the search continues. But in the meantime I also decided, when I started looking closely at the feeds from the Merc, that the quality of them really sucked, and I was sifting through a lot of noise for very little signal. So I ended up deleting them. I’m still watching for a replacement for that data – but I’m also finding out it was stuff I didn’t really need and don’t miss much.
The news sites keep screwing it up, frankly, by trying to force us into their old models (“we’ll tell you what to read and how to read it”) instead of adopting new models that are tied towards creating/acquiring content and distributing it in ways where I can customize it to my interests, not their preferences. They also keep making the old mistake of trying to pretend that their redistribution of syndicated content is somehow something they can convince us is unique and special (and worthy of us giving them money for). I’d happily pay for really good local coverage in a form I can manipulate and filter. I’m not so interested in paying for a repackaged Reuters feed when a dozen other sites are already doing it better…. That’s a rant for another time, I guess. But this exercise is showing again how services like this are still heavily fighting the last war, not the next one…
My stance on this hasn’t changed. As far as I’m concerned, the tech blogosphere has collapsed into a largely worthless echo-chamber filled with idiotic babble about Apple’s share price and moronic product rumors. As a result I’m officially re-launching The Angry Drunk in the way I first intended to run it almost six years ago. I’ll expand on my intended content changes below and the technical changes in a later post. I suppose the easiest way to explain my intended vision for the content here is to start by explaining what The Angry Drunk will not be. The Angry Drunk is not:
If you want to know why I’ve lost most of my interest in writing about tech and Apple, Angry Drunk pretty much nails it.
There are just too damn many people chasing too few really interesting stories, and what’s become important is to be fast and first, not insightful — or even correct. I could build a pretty successful career around making up rumors and pushing affiliate advertising, but I need to sleep at night, and I’m not interested in turning into yet another rumor site. It’s sad that I don’t even have to be right, I just have to tell people that I have sources, and they’re never held accountable for vein wrong; everyone just rolls off to the next damn rumor and starts drooling again.
Apple, of course, is held accountable for not living up to the rumors. But the rumor inventors keep getting pageviews. even the big name rumor mongers — the ones who write for “legitimate” sites (like forbes, or the financial industry) don’t get held accountable for being wrong. They just get press for their next round of ‘analysis’. Frankly, I got pretty sick of the whole mess, and I found that my entire set of tech-oriented postings were turning into “that’s bullshit… He’s full of crap… it’s all bogus….”
you know what? I don’t enjoy being a negative suck.
But I’ve been thinking long and hard about what I want this place to be about, and the kind of stuff that rolls through the geek blogosphere these days isn’t it. I’m not trying to drive pageviews. I’m not interested in doing the Gizmodo troll thing and posting 30 articles a day, each 100 words of original content or less. My interest is in studying a topic, understanding what I want to say about it, and then writing about it, and writing about it in some detail. In other words, something diametrically opposite to what seems to be the trend in tech blogging.
Although I’m starting to see a reaction to the short-fast-first, and I think it’s going to grow, and if it hits critical mass, it’s going to make some blogging sites rather unhappy. There’s a growing interest not in quick hits and fast reactions, but in actual thought and analysis, and I see the long-form content becoming fashionable again.
Fashionable or not, I don’t care. It’s what I want to write, and it’s where I’m pointing this blog. Not posting every day? Horrors. I guess I’ll survive — but I’d rather post less often, but when I post, it actually says something interesting and informative. That’s what I’m trying to do now.
And if you prefer “first post!” stuff, well, plenty of places to get that. Just not here.
Because of the announcement to retire Google Reader, I’ve been visiting web sites to understand what (if any) contact points those sites have other than RSS.
I’ve also been working on some updates to my own web site (again), and spending a fair amount of time looking at how other people do various things to help decide what to do about mine.
The results are not pretty.
Beyond this basic reality, of course: when Google Reader retires in a few weeks, a lot of people who current subscribe to your site are going to lose access to it. Are you working on alternatives for them? Are you going to make it easy for them to switch to a different setup? Or are you assuming that they are going to simply moves to one of the other RSS readers? Or even know they have to? If you don’t tell them what options they have and what they can do to continue watching your site, what percentage of your readers will go dark when Google Reader does?
Seems to me anyone who depends on an RSS feed for subscribers ought to be working on a plan to help their readers transition.
But beyond that, there are a lot of web sites that seem mostly interested in convincing me not to use them or subscribe to their content. Here are some common highlights. Am I talking your site here?
Are you hiding?
Are you on twitter? Facebook? Pinterest? If so, why are you hiding that from me? It’s amazing how many sites don’t mention what other places the site has a presence. Or if they do, they stick it in a random place. sometimes it’s on the “about” page. Sometimes a “social media” page. sometimes the footer. Sometimes they put in in author pages, and sometimes it’s just stuck on a random page somewhere for laughs. Lots of times it’s missing. And far too often, it’s promoting a link to something that’s broken.
With Google Reader going away, making it easy for readers to find a way to stay in touch with your content other than RSS is going to be increasingly necessary. So IMHO, your key points of presence (twitter, Google+, Facebook) need to be on the front page, above the fold — in other words, in your header, preferably on every page. And then list all of them on your about page, or on a social media page easily found from the about page or about menu. As the non-geeks figure out what it means to have Google Reader go away, they’re going to want options. Don’t hide them.
Don’t get in the way
Why is it that so many sites thin the first thing they should do when I go to their site to read something is prevent me from reading it? I don’t care if it’s because you want me to download your app (no! just let me read this article!) or subscribe to your newsletter (no! just let me read this article!). Or you stick up an interceding ad for me to watch before I’m allowed to read the content (this, actually, I have some sympathy for, because I know you have to pay the bills. Except for the sites that won’t let me skip past the ad; that’s greedy, and rarely do I wait). You get special bonus points if you don’t take no for an answer, and push this on me every time I visit the site. Except after a couple of times of visiting the site and getting hit up like this, I stop.
And consider sharing links to sites that do this? Don’t hold your breath… the reality is, when you and your site put your interests (sucking my information out of me so you can market at me) ahead of my interests, what you really do is make me not want to read your content. And depending on how annoying you are, I won’t. So you may think you’re doing something positive (“look how many subscribers I’ve added to my mailing list this month!”) and lots of SEO pundits suggest these techniques as ways to drive that stuff — have you ever pondered how many potential subscribers you lose by being so pushy? How many link shares you lose from people who refuse to send friends to sites like that? And it’s unnecessary. There are less intrusive but useful ways to do this.
I mean, seriously. How often do you enjoy shopping at stores that require you to swipe your credit card as you enter and not when you check out? think about it.
Are you using your site’s page space effectively?
Speaking of links, have you stopped to consider just how much of your site’s screen real-estate you’re giving over to those social media sharing buttons? And how wonderfully they clash with your carefully built site design? When was the last time someone actually referred an article of yours to Stumbeupon? Or Reddit? or Digg? Six months ago? Never? In reality, you probably can’t tell me because you don’t know — so why are you giving those buttons VIP-class real estate on your site? Or promoting links to sites you don’t use and may never have actually visited. Do you know if getting a wave of users from Reddit visiting you is a good thing? Or just lots of useless pageviews?
Are you a ghost town?
Sometimes I think people never actually visit their own sites, or clicked on links on their site.
What does it say when I click a link that takes me to your twitter account, which you haven’t used in six months? (or replace twitter with Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, or name whatever trendy fad thing you stuck on your site that you got bored with a week later. Or which fell over and died, and now you have a link to, well, nothing. All you’re doing is convincing me you’re not really active and that your site content is old and stale. Now that’s a solid marketing message, right?
If you’re not active on a service, don’t promote a link to it.
I’m not even going to talk about sites that still heavily promote Google Friend Connect. Forever god, why is 20% of your site front page filled with content about it?
Is your contact mode telling me to email you at fred at gmail dot calm? WHY? That is so 2002. Why make it hard for users to contact you? Worried about spam? Here’s the hint: your mail provider has spam figured out, or you need a new mail provider. And those “obfuscated” email addresses were figured out by spammers long ago, if they remotely cared to. This is one of those techniques that long ago stopped being useful, but people keep doing it. Why? Because, well, someone somewhere told them to.
Just cut it out. It’s like copy protection on software: it doesn’t stop the people you want to stop, but it gets in the way of people you actually want to contact you.
Those are the highlights of my recent tour. Have I missed any of your favorite site mistakes?
All companies cancel services and abandon apps. The difference with Google Reader is that they’ve canceled something beloved.
Almost every service cancelled has fans that loved the service.
The true difference here is that Google Reader was a service beloved by high profile bloggers and media types who have a platform to complain about it where people actually listen.
Honestly, I’m still not convinced that (a) it didn’t deserve to die, and (b) that by finally pulling the plug, Google did everyone a long-term service by removing the thing that it no longer was investing in but was preventing anyone else from attempting to innovate in this space. Given the reaction of various companies since the announcement, instead of complaining about this, I think maybe Google deserves our thanks for finally getting out of the way and letting this market space bloom again.
You know, actually, this may end up being the best thing to ever happen to RSS. Time will tell.
Justin sums up my view on Google Reader shutting down almost perfectly.
My initial reaction was “oh, dammit”, not because I’ll miss the service, but because it was going to force me to make changes to my habits on their timing, not on mine. And frankly, I’d expect 90% of the negative reaction we’re seeing out there boils down to a variation of that. Google Reader today is nothing more than a comfortable pair of slippers that we now have to replace.
It’s very replaceable. Ten minutes of quick exploring and I believe 95% of what I do on Google Reader (which is down about 40% from my peak usage; Iv’e been adding almost nothing to it for a couple of years, I just haven’t been moving stuff off of it) will be replaced easily by some judicious creation and monitoring of Twitter Lists. Or I could do pretty much the same on Facebook (but I won’t).
The rest I’ll have to figure out. But honestly, this is no big deal. It’s long overdue. And it’s a good reminder that you shouldn’t put yourself into a position of depending on a service you can’t pay for, or for which you can’t identify how the service is generating revenue to fund it. On both Twitter and Facebook, you don’t pay for it but I see what their financial models are. And on both, I’d be willing to pay a reasonable fee to turn off all advertising and support it directly. I’m not holding my breath.
So this is a warning about becoming dependent on charity services. And being dependent on services that have clearly stagnated and aren’t being invested in by their owner. Both were true of Google Reader, and this is the ultimate resolution for a service in that situation; it’s just a matter of when.
And most of the people doing most of the complaining know better and should have seen this coming. Probably did see this coming, in fact — but like that comfortable pair of slippers that finally wore through the sole, it’s not that they have to replace the slippers that’s the problem, it’s that they already had plans, and now this is forcing them to rearrange their plans so they can go buy a new pair.
And that is, if you think about it, little more than a first world problem of the first degree…
Last November, our friends at Infoworld reported that Apple’s iCloud email system silently blocks emails containing certain phrases. And that hasn’t changed in the intervening months, as Macworld UK reports. Granted, the phrases in question may not be the kind that you’re likely to exchange with your correspondents. Through our own rigorous testing, we’ve managed to confirm that emails containing the phrase “barely legal teen” are simply never delivered to iCloud inboxes. In fact, we found that even emails with the offending phrase contained in an attached PDF—even a zipped PDF—were blocked. Even if you, like us, would almost never receive a legitimate email with such a phrase, this could still be problematic.
Back in the day when I was designing and building the original lists.apple.com (oh my god…. see note below), one of the things I wanted to do was try to limit the ability of those occasional disagreements from flaring up into full-fledged flamefests (this is, of course, still one of the holy grails of community management). I decided to try to see if we could catch them as they escalated by adding a “PG-13″ filter to the incoming email; the idea being that when the language started escalating into profanities that things were probably getting out of hand. The hope was that if users got their nasty words bounced back it’d make them back off and think twice. Or at least give the admins some warning and time to wander in and see what was going on and intercede.
The filter was pretty simple regex checks, looking primarily for the “seven deadlies”. And it worked pretty well, except when it didn’t.
I soon got to know a great Mac programmer by the name of Igor Livshits. We had a number of great conversations about the strengths and weaknesses of simplistic pattern matching in spam filtering. I started tweaking the filters so that Igor could actually use the mailing lists again (you DO see the problem, right?) — and spent time over the next few months testing and tweaking and tuning. And ultimately, I removed all filters except for the Big One, because there were just too many false positives.
And that’s the problem. Users hate spam, and want it to go away. Until their email starts disappearing or being rejected by over-aggressive filters. And then everyone learns that the only thing worse than spam are false positives. So if there’s any questions about legitimacy, the email needs to be let through — and honestly, reputation systems have really solved this problem to a couple of decimal points.
So filters like this seem like a good idea, but if they start trapping real email, they need to be turned off. And blackholing emails makes it even worse. Yes, it’s a hassle and a resource suck to reject and return as bounced spam emails, but if you don’t, then you lose any chance of a feedback loop to let you know when your system is throwing these false positives. And that’s bad.
And the bottom line? be really, really careful building systems where there aren’t good metrics on accuracy and feedback loops that can tell you if the system is misbehaving. Even if this filter is 99% effective in trapping spam, blackholing that other 1% is a really bad thing because it impacts the reputation of your entire service. And since you don’t have feedback loops in place, you don’t know, until way too late…
(note below: taking a look at lists.apple.com for the first time in many years, I see — it’s still basically the setup I built and handed off, including using Mailman 2.x. Part of that is sad, because the reality is email systems simply haven’t been innovating much over the last 15 years or so, but mostly, I think this is neat, because it’s rare and awesome to see a system you built still humming away years later where nobody saw any big urgency to rearchitect or throw it out and replace it — when stuff just works, that’s the best result you can hope for…)
Free accounts have three main limits: they can only follow up to 40 people, they have lower limits for App.net’s new file-storage APIs, and they require an invitation from a paying member. Fair enough, I guess. What previously made me doubt App.net’s future was that it wasn’t growing quickly enough, and I assumed that a lot of the paying members would decline to renew their accounts when their time was up.1 I’m still worried about that.
Here’s my worry about app.net. I’d really like to see them succeed, but I stayed away not because of the money, but because of time. One more service is one more place where time gets eaten away, a little bit here and a little bit there. So I decided to sit back and wait until the service gave me a reason to think I was missing something by not being on it (this is my standard reaction to the latest hot new social network….)
I’m still waiting.
I feel like I’m missing absolutely nothing by not being on it. And I see nothing they’re doing that’ll change that any time soon. And in fact, the group of people and services I do monitor, the chatter ABOUT app.net had gone to effectively zero until this membership change. Not even a “don’t forget to follow me on app.net” have I noticed for a while.
Will this move change that? Maybe.
But I’m not really hopeful it will.
Geeks tend to put down marketing, but good marketing works. And app.net’s marketing has, basically, been to tell the geeks they want to be on it. Which they did, then when nobody else joined them, the geeks mostly migrated back to twitter and turned app.net into a semi-private chat room. At least, from what I can tell from the outside.
app.net is an interesting idea that’s failed to gain traction. Now the question is will going freemium fix that? Or did they miss their window of opportunity? If they ever really had one?
“We are outraged by this behavior,” an anonymous Pirate Bay spokesman told TorrentFreak. “People must understand what is right and wrong. Stealing material like this on the Internet is a threat to economies worldwide. We feel that we must make a statement and therefore we will sue them for copyright infringement.”
This would be one of the better pieces the Onion has done in a while – except the Onion didn’t do it, and the Pirate Bay people seem dead serious, and completely oblivious to the irony of their position.
Yes, I’ve started using Flickr again. Why? Well, things change.
One non-trivial reason: Marissa Mayer. The road back is still long and hard, but I now have enough confidence she’ll pull it off it’s worth doing something to support that effort. Other than going to work for Yahoo myself (not likely to happen), I can at least show some moral support by putting my stuff back on a Yahoo site. So I did.
But that wasn’t the only reason; another was more selfish. When I sat down and took a close look at what it’d take to upgrade my gallery software to do the things I wanted — I realized I could spend my time geeking my gallery software, or I could take pictures to post on the gallery software, but practically speaking, not both. As my own IT boy, I had to make a build vs. buy decision, and frankly, going with “buy” was an easy one.
But which site? I love Smugmug, but when I made a decision to move away from any pretense of generating revenue on the images, it became more expensive than I wanted to pay. There are things I like about 500px, but there are things I really don’t like about it, too. With the release of communities on Google+, I’m a lot more active there now (come join us on the Bird Photography community!) but to be honest, I still think Picasa is trailing too far, and I just don’t feel it does images justice.
There are other solutions out there, but none of them have the community or social aspects of Flickr. If I were just looking at dumping images on a site, I’d go with OpenPhoto.
But ultimately, flickr “won” the bake off. And now that I have my images back on the site and organized, I’m happy. And will remain happy, unless I wake up one morning to a notice that the site’s shut down because Yahoo’s been sold to some Swedish conglomerate…
But I’ll worry about that if and when that happens.
Now, if only Yahoo would announce plans to fix Yahoo Groups. Or hire Mark to do it. There’s a huge potential there, if they bring in the right people to work on it and are willing to think a bit outside the “it’s only email” box…
I wanted to point community management folks at some discussions and resources that are coming out of this year’s OSCON. David Eaves did a keynote and a longer talk on the Science of Community management that I found just fascinating — I’d planned on doing a quick glance at it to see if I wanted to squirrel it away for a more detailed look this evening, and got sucked into it.
A big takeaway from me was his comment that these communities are viewed to be meritocracies, but really aren’t. Whether it’s Open Source (i.e. geeks with code) or other kinds of communities, expertise in the subject matter is likely what brings you into the community and begins your involvement in it, but promotion within the hierarchy of the community structure is tied much more strongly to soft skills than pure knowledge — it comes down to communication and leadership and interpersonal skill sets instead of how much you know.
Eaves also talks about a few techniques to try to mitigate some of the friction points that show up in communities, such as flagging new users so that the community can cut them some slack and help indoctrinate them into how the community operates. I’ve done that in the past with good success (I also think it can be useful to build a team of volunteers willing to act as mentors who will take new members under their wing and help them jump off the first cliff of interaction that intimidates so many people, and run some interference against the more — willful — members in the community).
Lots of fascinating stuff here, and it’s too bad his longer talk isn’t online. It’s great to see people starting to work on creating community metrics and how we can build data to help us understand the drivers within a community and help us understand how to create systems that will help us monitor the health of a community.
Definitely check out his keynote. Also check out Tim’s keynote, which is a fascinating look at what boils down to “the stuff that isn’t in the metrics tends to get ignored”, which I took as a warning to understand what your numbers aren’t saying about what you’re studying…
And finally, Eaves recommended the book Team Geek: A Software Developer’s Guide to Working Well with Others which looks fascinating, and is now on my Kindle for this weekend’s amusements….
Micah Lee and Peter Eckersley for the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
Apple’s recent products, especially their mobile iOS devices, are like beautiful crystal prisons, with a wide range of restrictions imposed by the OS, the hardware, and Apple’s contracts with carriers as well as contracts with developers. Only users who can hack or “jailbreak” their devices can escape these limitations. “Join us now and share the software, you’ll be free, hackers, you’ll be free-ee-eee!” – Some crazy-eyed old neckbeard.
Seriously, EFF, just shut up.
I really want to support the EFF. I know a good number of people who are involved with them. I’m in agreement with their primary goals and their positions in general. Lots of my friends are big supporters.
And yet, every time I’ve considered sending them money to support their cause, they say stuff like this, and remind me that deep down inside, they’re primary DNA is, well, Stallman-esque. It’s the same issue I have with being a huge supporter of open software, and being completely unwilling to support the GPL (thank goodness more rational licensing schemes came out of the movement).
At one level, I understand that many times the only way hold back the folks these groups are fighting is to take extreme positions and fight “no compromise” with “no compromise”, but, well, I reserve my funding and commitment to more moderate causes. And that’s the ultimate problem I have with the EFF (they’re in good company, I feel the same way about Greenpeace) — there’s a fine line between fighting for an important cause and going all radical over it, and the EFF is on the wrong side of that line for me. And this is a great example of why I think so.
EFF: damn glad they exist and are fighting the fight, but I do wish they weren’t quite so extremist about some of their positions. But I long ago realized that wasn’t going to change.
Here’s the latest entry in the “You are an idiot if…” contest, this one for Facebook. A teenage girl wasn’t thinking, and after helping Grandma count her large stack of money (that evidently isn’t in a bank because evidently Grandma doesn’t trust banks), she took a picture of the money and posted it to Facebook. In public. It turns out the girl’s home address was also in her Facebook profile. In public.
That’s two really stupid things to do that combined into real trouble, because shortly thereafter, the robbers showed up at the girl’s house with knives and clubs. Fortunately, Grandma’s address wasn’t public, but the girl’s mom was robbed, and I can guess that fun.
So it’s time for the every-so-often reminder that the internet is a big, scary place and you have to be careful out there. Always check out your profiles when you’re not logged on to a site to see what they’re saying, and ask yourself if that information is what you don’t mind having someone with knives and clubs and a big black ski mask see.
Beyond that here are a few suggestions from someone who’s been doing this for a long time (and has on a couple of occasions needed to be careful about who knew where I lived…)
First, don’t put your real addresses and phone numbers on your profiles or web sites casually. Sometimes you need to have contact address or phone numbers out there for professional reasons. Here, a rental box is your friend. I’ve used UPS store forever. Back when we ran our consulting business that was the address of record. Now, it’s the address of record for anything that happens online (like domain registrations), plus, they take in all of our packages so you don’t get into the “left on the porch and disappeared” problem. That alone is worth paying a few bucks a month for me, given the quality of package delivery here in the U.S. today (FedEx @Home, I’m glaring at you right now).
So if you decide to hunt me down, you’ll find I live in a 3″x4″ little metal box. Good luck with that. (this does not imply you can’t find my real home address. I know if someone is motivated, you can. But it stops the trivial crackdown and the stupid hot heads).
As far as phone? I publish my cell phone number when I need a phone out there. But I long ago realized just how high a percentage of incoming phone calls were useless to me, and stopped worrying about being interrupted. My bottom line: if you don’t show up in my caller ID as someone I know, I won’t answer. If you don’t leave a message, then it wasn’t really something I needed to interrupt my life to answer, was it?
There’s a larger issue with this kind of “here I am” identification — Foursquare. I experimented with it at one point, decided it wasn’t for me. One reason: I’d really rather not telegraph where I am, especially when “where I am” is not home. As someone who’s self-admitted online to be a computer person and a photographer, do I really want to make it easy for someone to decide the house is empty but perhaps full of high value toys? Even worse, telegraph that when in fact Laurie might be at home?
So, no. I don’t want to make it that easy for someone to decide I might make a fun target for a visit. So I don’t Foursquare.
if you do, fine. but have you stopped to think about the kind of trail you’re laying down, and what it might tell someone? And what other information you’re giving them to make it easy to take advantage of you?
I realize that’s how the mentality of the internet is headed, especially with younger users. But… is that really a good idea?
Hewlett-Packard chief executive Meg Whitman said in a conference call with analysts that she is “cautiously optimistic” that the company’s financial results are stabilizing.
“We are creating the process to adapt to innovation and product leadership,” Whitman said. HP will take a $1.8 billion charge and it will reduce its work force by 27,000 jobs by October 2014. That will save $3 billion to $3.5 billion by the end of October 2014.
Since I’ve opened my big mouth about this, a couple of quick words on Meg and HP, spoken as one of the earlier rats off of the sinking ship called webOS….
I am not predisposed to be a fan of Meg. Just putting that out up front. But since she’s taken over HP, she has impressed me with her willingness to dig in to find the right answers, and her willingness to make hard decisions and tough investments to make things work.
That said, the first email I got the day HP bought Palm was from an old Apple friend who had moved on to HP. And he wrote me and said “get the hell out before this place eats your brain”.
He was right (he since has left HP, also). HP tried very hard to keep itself from engulfing webOS and Palm, and succeeded as well as they could, but interactions with the mother ship were inevitable, and when they happened, it was almost scary how interactions there went.
In one of my attempts to get the forums upgraded for the developer portal (remember that initiative? sigh), I had a meeting with the team in charge of web forums and community tools for HP, to explore options with them. It went something like this: “Here’s the tool you’ll use. Here’s how you’ll use it. We’re a busy team, so we’ll find a place on our calendar and then tell you when you’ll be allowed to migrate. Here are our usage processes. And you’ll love every minute of it”.
I tried three different times to shift the discussion into, well, actually talking about my needs and requirements and it was made clear that was irrelevant, that at HP, you did it the HP way and that was that.
I left that meeting, went back to my management, and said “we can’t let them get anywhere close to us. The forum upgrade is on hold until we can figure out how to hide from them”, and stopped returning phone calls.
THAT is the reality Meg is having to fight right now. AT HP, there’s a culture of innovation — if you fill out the project plan in triplicate in advance, it’s approved by the global council of plan evaluation, and there’s a 100% chance of success before you even start, and it doesn’t violate any of the 37 volumes of rules and processes along the way that define “the HP way”.
Back in the bad old days at Apple (the Spindler/Amelio era), there were chunks of Apple that took the “here’s how we’re doing business, we outlived the last two CEOs, so we’ll just ignore you until they fire you, too” attitude. It wasn’t until Steve came back and started putting heads on pikes outside of infinite loop that he broke that “what’s good for my group is more important than what’s good for the company” attitude in some parts of the company.
HP has an even bigger problem — no only is that kind of “protecting my turf” going on, but the company is so damn huge that inertia and process overrules everything. It feels like you’re diving for oysters from an aircraft carrier. For Meg to turn HP around, she not only has to find and root out the fiefdoms of “this is my place, and you’ll do it to my convenience”, but she has to figure out ways to give HP flexibility in process and operations so it can try new things. What I found was that every time I dealt with the “mother ship” part of HP, everything shoved you back into “this is how we do things”, and any time you wanted to do something that wasn’t a 100% fit with the process, all energy expended went towards putting you back into the process. So either you did it “the HP way” (i.e., whatever was easiest for whatever team you were dealing with), or you went rogue and did things more or less under the cover of darkness (like, say, hosting your developer portal at an external colo instead of with the HP IT teams…)
It’s a hell of a way to run a business. Fixing it will be tough, and I wish her luck. She’ll need it (and a ruthless attitude, a few public executions to shake up the fiefdoms, and some pikes installed in front of corporate headquarters for the heads). I think the problems are similar to the ones Carol Bartz ran into at Yahoo, and Yahoo won. I don’t think the fight at HP will be any easier.
Me? I’m just glad I got out of there with my brain intact (mostly). But as it stands, the words “HP” and “innovation” are fundamentally incompatible, because the company that HP has evolved into is like that aircraft carrier; very good for some things, but nimble navigation is not one of them. And that’s the core problem Meg has to figure out — if she chan.