Stop Using The Cup of Coffee vs. $0.99 App Analogy

Webrings 2k16
Okay, idea: have a javascript widget you can insert on article pages on your blog. This widget collects basic tracking data, offers the ability to follow the author, and depending on how the author configures it can do a few other things: display related articles the user might want to read, let users fav articles, and let users comment on articles (using Twitter OAuth, maybe with Medium's highlighting UI.)

Basically it's Medium for the decentralized web, or an up-to-date version of webrings. To replicate Medium's success there would have to be editorial judgment applied to who can join the network, but it would be interesting to have an "unlimited class" version of the widget where the only control exercised is what's necessary to avoid malicious activity (easier said than done, I know.)

If you have all this stuff you can create a site to serve as a front door, or several front doors for different topics. You can also create composite RSS streams, a social layer (mention other users in comments, or even in the main body of an article - the crawler could look for twitter handles or links to in-network sites in article text.) Oh, and you're well-placed to create a boutique ad network, assuming you sign up the right people.

The tracking data would be anonymized, of course, despite the impact on ad revenue. I want to make the tracking data fully public, as well, to emphasize how non-creepy it is.

Like Medium, it could turn into a drug if the traffic angle works out, but that would be a good problem to have. And you can drop out any time, the only thing you lose is the comment history (and the service could offer an export feature for that.)

Someone's gotta have tried this, right?

So are we gonna break desktops, phones or both
Long detailed fascinating ideas for the evolution of iOS and OS X

A lot of these are, cough, relevant to my current job as well.

It's hard for me to imagine developers building serious apps without root access to their development environment. On the other hand, who's to say that should drive platform evolution. Either way, the idea of OS X and iOS "growing together" is seductive, if only because it suggests a plausible future in which OS X still exists. Not sure how it squares with the constraints that make the iOS experience so unique - part of what makes iOS apps so great is the limited target area.

The scariest thing about eliminating OS X, which the author is aware of, is Apple's restrictive policies towards apps in the App Store.

Custom View Controller Extension Providers

I mean, maybe OLE's time has come again.

Measure customers, not dollars
Initiatives at Apple are evaluated by how well they create and retain customers, not on profitability

Combined with the fact that Apple basically never changes prices, you can see why (1) they're able to focus on quality and (2) they're so ruthless about operations.

Competing in an actually efficient market is terrible
It looks like (fingers crossed) my job in 2016 will involve making life easier for mobile app developers. I don't envy them, honestly.
The likely end state is the web becomes a niche product used for things like 1) trying a service before you download the app, 2) consuming long tail content (e.g. link to a niche blog from Twitter or Facebook feed).

This will hurt long-term innovation from a number of reasons:

1) Apps have a rich-get-richer dynamic that favors the status quo over new innovations. Popular apps get home screen placement, get used more, get ranked higher in app stores, make more money, can pay more for distribution, etc. The end state will probably be like cable TV – a few dominant channels/apps that sit on users’ home screens and everything else relegated to lower tiers or irrelevance.

2) Apps are heavily controlled by the dominant app stores owners, Apple and Google. Google and Apple control what apps are allowed to exist, how apps are built, what apps get promoted, and charge a 30% tax on revenues.
- The Decline of the Mobile Web

So despite the massive growth in mobile usage "it has gotten harder, not easier, to innovate on the Internet with the smartphone emerging as the platform of choice vs the desktop browser" and as a result VC firms (or USV at least) are less interested in taking risk there. A year and a half later they see more of the same.

But maybe better app discovery - potentially via models for using apps that don't require an install - can help.

Tech news sounding increasingly desperate
forlorn headlines from the Verge

Why everything is terrible now, tech giants edition
The history of the Internet and mobile is that in many categories the winner takes most of the market ... Lately, we’ve been wondering if there is an end to this pattern on the Internet and mobile. We think it is possible that an open data platform, in which users ultimately control their data and the networks they choose to participate in, could be the thing that undoes this pattern of winner takes most.
Blog post on AVC: Winner Take Most

Also some discussion in the comments about whether the pattern of startups rapidly growing into giants is over; maybe we're stuck with the giants we have and the innovations they deign to give us. Unless those open data platforms emerge ...

I don't know my history well enough, but I wonder how often mature, siloed markets have become standardized.

  • Messaging: email started open & tiny; grew huge. Email sticking around but some of this usage going to service-specific messaging
  • 1-1 chat: started proprietary, went open, now back to proprietary
  • Group chat: started open with IRC, center of gravity now proprietary
  • Publishing: AOL replaced by tiny/open http. Maybe going back to proprietary with Instant Articles
  • Cloud storage: WebDAV is dead; iOS's storage provider API does standardize/commoditize this to an extent
  • Identity: OAuth kinda ... services that want users to be able to log in via OAuth still need to decide which identity providers they want to support, and often they decide to go Facebook-only.

It's funny how Valley types can simultaneously believe "we're far-seeing geniuses who have nothing to learn from the chattering class" and "well nobody knows what will really work, let a thousand flowers launch." Wait am I about to write a thinkpiece

Another good post about WeChat
When One App Rules Them All

WeChat has millions of "official accounts" - they're described as "apps within apps" here, but the author goes on to clarify that they're really web pages. Pages that WeChat gives APIs to handle payment, access to location, messaging - think of the amount of dev work it would take a typical mobile site or app to recreate that. Then think of how much more cumbersome and risky it feels to hand out credit card info or your email address to another site with janky UX and unknown data handling policies. As someone with a bias toward decentralization, it's terrifying how much more sense it makes to have a single provider mediate interactions this way.

What happens if Android tries to build in the same set of capabilities in at the OS layer? Or lets you swap in and out different identity/payment providers?

Don't look under there
The Verge's web sucks (HN comments)
Just to put this in some rough perspective: Assuming I had a 1GB / month data plan, I could visit sites like The Verge about 3 times per day before I hit my cap. If I'm lucky, some or most of this will get cached between requests so it won't be quite that bad. In fact, another report tells me that a primed cache yields 8MB transferred - so maybe 4 visits per day.
Relevant to my day job. Unfortunately.

"in China ... WeChat is the web"

Okay divide by two given this guy's motivation to pump Kik's valuation but still.

Less breathless very interesting look at Chinese mobile UI patterns.

Pick your battles
I asked: 'I wonder if there's ever been a software company that said "you know what, we're going to do everything slowly. 100% stop and smell the roses pace." But did a good job at what they did do.'

Well ...
In the late ’90s I got a chance to tour the legendary Massachusetts computer company Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC, later bought by Compaq), and the difference in culture was remarkable. There were people at DEC who had been working on threading (the manner in which operating systems manage concurrent sets of linear processor instructions) for twenty years. Half the people had PhDs in their areas of specialty. Corners were never cut to release something earlier.

Ah, I thought. This is why Microsoft won.

Interesting argument that display ads will come down in price eventually ... a lot
Social Advertising Economics. Implications for the future of FB/TWTR etc. He recently admitted to getting the timing wrong on this, but still thinks things will play out as predicted. He also thinks app install ads will come down in price, that they're inflated by VC-glutted startups looking for growth.

Instant Feedly add.

Ignore this and die
"People's trust in the cloud — in technology — is based on a trust that it will work predictably and at their direction." - @grimmlem

"What was that non-sucky domain registrar again?"

Mobile is easting the world

Federated, social, networks?
Google+ doesn't have permalinks for comments so you'll have to search to find Tom Coates's epic rant vs the idea of federated social networks. It's compelling in many ways but I disagree with his minimization of the achievements of email and IM. It's true that they're not a cash cow for many companies, but from a user perspective I think we're clearly better off with open email rather than stuck in a walled garden.

His rip on standardization also misses the mark for me. What's wrong with having some layers of the app stack stabilize?

On this topic, it would be really interested to understand what happened to Usenet.

Except this time I'm not an engineer
The line for the open bar wasn't as long as you'd expect, but the bartenders were mixing complicated drinks designed to impress, so there was a wait. Eventually a circle formed to make space for the belly dancer, pushing the bar line away and moving people closer to the bouncy castle, the fire engine red Tesla and the indoor waffle truck. The music went from hip-hop to something vaguely Middle Eastern. I didn't stay for the fire dancing, but it must have been a trick to thread the poi balls through all the hanging paper lanterns.

Joseph and I goggled.
"Do you have any idea what this company does?"

Next night, Sichuan food.

"Hey Kasima, know any engineers looking for work?" And we laughed and laughed and laughed.

And ... yes, I'm at a startup, again, in a converted industrial space in one of the highest-crime areas in San Francisco. Venture funding inside, 10% unemployment outside. Let's not fuck up.

The thing I’ve always noticed is that no one ever says, ‘I want one of those.’ The proposition is always promoted as an ideal solution for someone else’s computing needs — and almost without exception it’s a use case the speaker has no direct familiarity with.

That's a good point but um let's talk about how enterprise software is sold for a second.

Superb presentation on getting a job in product management

There isn't a lot of good information online about product management, at least compared to related disciplines like engineering, design and marketing. This presentation by Shreyas Doshi is a straightforward, fearless look at what it takes to get a great product manager role.

Why all bloggers need to optimize their feeds for me if they want to get rich
So John Gruber makes money off his full-content RSS feed. There's a reason for that. If I open up Google Reader and see that Daring Fireball has a new entry, it's usually my first read. I even click on the ads. Part of that is because I'm a geek and an Apple fanboy, but on the other hand, I haven't bothered to subscribe to TUAW or Cult of Mac.

I read everything he posts is because his signal to noise ratio is very, very good. I'm interested in most of the posts he makes, and I'm interested in most of the words he writes. If he posts a link, he usually has just a few lines of commentary, where the other blogs listed above might pad their entry with a couple hundred words of "analysis". That's excusable, and easily skippable in any feed reader. But what's less forgivable is the number of posts they make I'm simply not interested in. I already subscribe to too many blogs, I don't need to add any junk.

There's a reason post-Gawker blogs work the way they do (post early, post often.) If your readers are web surfers, hopping from site to site, you want to make sure you have new content for them on a regular basis, to maximize page views and ad clicks.

The dynamic for someone using a feed reader is completely different. I have no problem finding new content. There's no way I can read everything in my feed reader, every day. I have to prune poor-performing feeds (poor signal to noise ratio) on a regular basis so I can make sure that I spend as much time as possible reading good stuff.

That means the sites that I'm most likely to subscribe to, read, and stay subscribed to, will be more concerned with quality than quantity. I can follow perfectly blogs that post only once a month, because I'll never miss their new stuff. If it's good, and there's not too much of it, I'll read it all. No offense to the talented pro bloggers out there, but that's not exactly the dominant model. (It's as if they've forgotten their original mandate to be filters of content; now they're just adding sugar and carbonation to the firehose.)

Now, I don't know how popular feed readers are going to get. But I hope they get very, very popular, because once publishers figure out how to serve them, I have a feeling we'll spend a lot less time searching for good writing.

How to make original content production profitable on the Internet
Fantastic Wired piece on Demand Media, a $200 million, profitable, growing-like-crazy company that produces original online content. And it's not porn. How? Algorithmically generated article ideas, written Mechanical Turk-style for about $15 apiece.
But once it was automated, every algorithm-generated piece of content produced 4.9 times the revenue of the human-created ideas. So Rosenblatt got rid of the editors. Suddenly, profit on each piece was 20 to 25 times what it had been. It turned out that gut instinct and experience were less effective at predicting what readers and viewers wanted — and worse for the company — than a formula.
Even the comments section has fascinating stuff. From a Demand writer:
We are paid in residuals, which means nickels and dimes trickling in over the long haul. But they add up. I clear about $1,000 a month at eHow, and as I build up my library there, I expect that income to rise by quite a bit.
Which actually ties in with someone Demand's cartoon character CEO said:
Long term, we’ll make more money by increasing quality.
And I bet he means it. Only, can a public company afford to think about the long term?

Charlie Rose interviews Bill Gates
You feel sorry for Rose, first of all, because not only is Gates smarter, but Rose is in over his head on the technical stuff. He has one good probing question in each area, and then he's done. He has no chance to pin Gates on anything.

(Example: Rose is asking Gates about web-based applications. Gates defines the perfect "web-based app" as basically a desktop app that downloads updates. That's it. And Rose lets that fly. You have to feel sorry for Ray Ozzie, if this is how well Gates understands what he's trying to do.)

But the bigger reason this is a crappy interview is because Gates has no interest in it apart from as a PR exercise. He has no concept of it as a conversation, something that might teach him something or help him reflect. To him it's entirely a one-way exercise, and he's going to use it as a channel to push his goals. His goals are mostly noble, you can't accuse him of being a sociopath, but if you want to see Microsoft's culture problems in miniature, look no further.

Geeking out, travel updates will resume shortly
If I ever release software again (after the ReShuffle Smart Playlists deleted my library debacle) I will definitely use the Do What The Fuck You Want To Public License.

"What these new models feel most like is open source hardware: the replicable-for-low-unit-cost part is free (with hardware, that's the design once it's drawn on), and what costs money is where costs are actually incurred."


  • Product work is better than in-house work
    • " a product company, for example, if you’re a software developer working on a software product or even an online product like Google or Facebook, the better you make the product, the better it sells. The key point about in-house development is that once it’s 'good enough,' you stop."
  • Management is a chore, and managers shouldn't make technical decisions
    • "What I was used to from the west coast was an attitude that management is just an annoying, mundane chore someone has to do so that the smart people can get their work done."

Tools we use to run our business
Good list of online tools the Litmus team uses.

The rot has definitely set in at Facebook
"Your favorite bands, businesses, and products are coming to Facebook. Check out Dave Matthews Band, become a fan of (RED), or search for your favorite brands."

Ooo! My favorite brands? Radical!

("ok, smart guy, how would you do it?" don't even market this feature yourself. the brands will naturally want to spread the words to their fans - let them do it, in a way that works for their people.)

barcampLA 4: Amazon EC2 / S3
Guy from Elephant Disk is here, they're one of EC2+S3's biggest users. They only use it for non-real time stuff right now. He's terrified of stories about companies that use EC2 as their only web servers.

  • EC2 instances have no persistent storage - need to code your own persistence solution.
  • No static IPs - need some sort of dynamic DNS client.
  • What happens if Amazon pulls the plug or changes something crucial? No SLA.
    • AWS is actually showing up in Amazon's financials. Helps assuage fears of it disappearing.

Companies built on EC2
  • RenderRocket
  • The AWS forums have lots of good examples and feedback
  • Many more companies using just S3

Some companies have started to wrap services around AWS (e.g. RightScale) - check the partners page of AWS.

But: if you have something that parallelizes well, need scalability on demand, and can deal with the constraints, AWS is the shit. "AWS is the perfect startup environment; my credit card loves AWS."

Strategy and culture at Amazon
HBR interview with Bezos, to read later. I've always wondered what a business built around that much data looks like.

Dead on.
The people who buy enterprise software aren’t the people who use enterprise software. That’s where the disconnect begins. And it pulls and pulls and pulls until the user experience is split from the buying experience so severely that the software vendors are building for the buyers, not the users.

I may need this as ammunition at some point.

It's a terrible article, but at least someone's talking about design as a CEO-level issue. But this article is still written as if design was a purely conceptual or artistic problem, when there's a critical organizational dimension. Especially for software or software-based products like the iPhone, UI design is linked to technical architecture is linked to your business relationships. Someone needs to view it all as an integrated whole, make the right decisions (does "design" cover hardball negotiations with record companies to ensure flat pricing for digital downloads?) and get the organization to fall in line. That's why a dictatorship like Apple finds it easier to make great products than Microsoft with its warring fiefdoms.

Oh and then he goes completely off the rails: Indeed, your brand is increasingly shaped and defined by network communities, not your ad agency. Brand manager? Forget about it. Brand curator maybe.

Having used Apple as his jumping-off point, he then forgets that Apple succeeded by leading, not following. Apple is even willing to fuck over its users if it thinks the product should change.

IP network economics
Links from Hack the Planet. "Undifferentiated Networks Would Require Significant Extra Capacity", "Data networks are lightly utilized, and will stay that way", and "The economics of the Internet: Utility, utilization, pricing, and Quality of Service".

Utilization by Network

What different age groups are doing online: creating, commenting, tagging...

Would be nice if people stopped considering the success of open source (both as a development model and in terms of corporate adoption) as this impenetrable mystery.

Search with a live guide. This is my personal high water mark for Bubble II, VCs will give money to two guys and a pet rock. How can this ever scale?

This whole "less is more" thing can go too far. All else being equal, more features = more customers. Yeah, even for the iPod. The iPod's design would have gotten it nowhere if it didn't have the key features.

Resources for high-tech startups in Socal.

Too. Many. People. (see also)

(the post that started all this should be required reading in every application design course, although I think his reductio gets a little absurdum ... wait a minute, does application design exist as a discipline at all? programming, database design, UI design, sure ... but application design understood as a very special case of product design?)

(what the apple process looked like)

Steve Jobs interview
Wired interview from 1996.
Jobs: Who do you think will be the main beneficiary of the Web? Who wins the most?
Wired dude: People who have something -
SJ: To sell!
WD: To share.
SJ: To sell!
Hee hee.

Why Microsoft is offering roughly five hundred flavors of Vista
Look, it's not that complicated. Microsoft is engaging in something known as "price discrimination". The word "discrimination" in this case isn't pejorative, it just means they would like to be able to charge every customer exactly what they are willing to pay. The feature differences between the versions of Vista are just their attempt to make the price differences seem reasonable.

This is the dream of the supplier. Offer your product at $69, and you miss extracting cash from people who are either more well-off, or want your product more - people who would have been willing to pay $100 or more for it. You also miss out on customers who would have bought at $68 or $67.

When companies try to engage in price discrimination directly, people get mad. Amazon got slammed for engaging in it. So companies offer slightly different varieties of a product at different price points, high-priced extras, and the like.

Steve Jobs likes to talk about how he launched the original iMac in a single color in order to give his organization "absolute focus". Microsoft's obviously not headed down that path. They'd probably be better served by more Apple-like discipline in the offering. But there is a reason, well-thought out or not, that they're doing this.

Daniel says I should watch this.

Finally someone tackles the central issue: where's the bottleneck? For what it's worth, I think there's too much money in getting bits to and from the user for this bottleneck to last. In the long run we'll all have multiple competing sources of connectivity.

However there's another point: if the bottleneck is in part an artifact of government-erected barriers to entry (rules on spectrum use, rights to lay fiber) than the government has a positive responsibility to ensure that the oligopoly it created is working for the public good. This pattern crops up all the time - eliminating rent control should increase supply, but not if cities prohibit developers from building low-income housing.

Six Apart gets it. A lot of companies would try to unify TypePad/LiveJournal/Vox to serve nebulous branding objectives. 6A recognizes they're overlapping but separate products that need distinct identities.

Anyway, Vox might be cool. I'm sick of crappy, walled-off social networking sites.

"Today there is rough price parity between (1) one database access, (2) ten bytes of network traffic, (3) 100,000 instructions, (4) 10 bytes of disk storage, and (5) a megabyte of disk bandwidth. This has implications for how one structures Internet-scale distributed computing: one puts computing as close to the data as possible in order to avoid expensive network traffic."

Paper claims this situation is unlikely to change: historically, telecoms prices have not declined the same way chip prices have. (But I thought we had all this dark fiber, and it's the last mile that's the problem?)

Life after the Video Game Crash, or, Why Nintendo Won't Seem So Crazy in 2005
From March 2004. Looking pretty damn prescient in February 2006.

The Come To Me web
"The metaphor and model in the 'I go get' web was navigation and wayfinding. In the 'come to me' web a model based on attraction."

Amazon Mechanical Turk
Do simple tasks for Amazon. Apparently if you work hard you can get around $6 an hour. That's a princely sum in a lot of the world, wonder if this will be international.

Haddock sez: "It's bloody tremendous. Full of Belorussian PhD students, with a penchant for whipping up web apps for £2.50 and a packet of fags."

Democratizing Innovation
Or, how to get users to do your R&D for you.

The Long Tail
Quit blogging and finish the book already.

the elements of user experience
Us consultants love these one-slide frameworks. Isn't that right, Eric?

what's missing from contextual advertising
i am wary of battelle (don't remember why) but this might be worth reading

the secret source of google's power
Google is no longer the PageRank company, it is the king of web apps.

"I've written before about Google's snippet service, which required that they store the entire web in RAM. All so they could generate a slightly better page excerpt than other search engines."

amazon employee blog
They have whiteboards in the elevators. recommendations
Amazon uses a pretty shallow model for recommendations.

Peopleware, 2nd ed.
"DeMarco and Lister demonstrate that the major issues of software development are human, not technical..."

You don't say. I wonder what they think of pair programming.

Coase's Penguin, or Linux and the Nature of the Firm
"In this paper I explain that while free software is highly visible, it is in fact only one example of a much broader social-economic phenomenon. I suggest that we are seeing is the broad and deep emergence of a new, third mode of production in the digitally networked environment. I call this mode "commons-based peer-production," to distinguish it from the property- and contract-based models of firms and markets. Its central characteristic is that groups of individuals successfully collaborate on large-scale projects following a diverse cluster of motivational drives and social signals, rather than either market prices or managerial commands."

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal
Economics prof holds forth.

Productivity software? Wal-Mart has your productivity software right here, pal. Apparently Wal-Mart has been one of the main agents of productivity growth. Obviously I love technology for the pure coolness factor, but hard data on how it's useful to organizations -- think supply chain optimization -- gets me all excited.

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