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27 Aug 16:23

Apple Announces September 9 Media Event

by Federico Viticci

apple event is sept. 9th pic.twitter.com/xmDPB0Nxqr

— alyssa bereznak (@alyssabereznak) August 27, 2015

As first reported by Jim Dalrymple at The Loop, Apple has announced a media event for September 9 in San Francisco:

Apple on Thursday sent out invitations for a special event to be held on September 9, 2015. The event will be held at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco at 10:00 am.

In the event invitation (pictured above), Apple is using the "Hey Siri, give us a hint" tagline with an Apple logo recreated using the refreshed Siri interface of Apple Watch and iOS 9.

According to recent speculation, Apple is widely expected to introduce updated iPhones and a new Apple TV at its September event. The next generation iPhone, unofficially referred to as the iPhone 6s, is rumored to offer an improved camera, a stronger aluminum body, and faster performance across the board. A new Apple TV is also expected to be unveiled at the event, featuring a major redesign, an updated remote, and a refreshed software interface to go alongside an SDK for developers to build Apple TV apps.

At the event, Apple will also likely announce the official release of iOS 9, currently in testing with developers and the general public through a public beta. A Golden Master seed of iOS 9 is expected to be released soon after the event, with a public launch within 10 days in mid-September.

27 Aug 16:27

Apple announces September 9 iPhone event in San Francisco

by Igor Bonifacic

Apple has officially announced that it will host an event at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco on September 9.

The Cupertino-based company sent out an invite to press, pictured below, that features the tagline, “Hey Siri, give us a hint.”

iPhone reveal teaser

It is expected that the company will announce successors to the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The new iPhones are reported to feature a stronger exterior shell, a front-facing flash module and the ability to capture 4K video, among other improvements.

siri

The event is set to start at 10 AM PT, and you can expect MobileSyrup to cover the proceedings.

27 Aug 03:58

Renders of Microsoft’s upcoming Lumia smartphones show Windows 10 Mobile and PureView cameras

by Ian Hardy

Microsoft is reportedly planning to unveil a number of new devices in the coming weeks: two new Lumia handsets, along with the Surface Pro 4 and an updated Microsoft Band.

The Lumia smartphones are expected to be the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL, which are currently known by their codenames ‘Cityman’ and ‘Talkman’. Reputable device leaker Evan Blass has once again come through, showing off press renders of what he claims to be the Cityman (Lumia 950 XL) and Talkman (Lumia 950).

CNX6v5GWoAAqNOJ

Unfortunately, the complete specs are missing but the images reveal the two smartphones are powered by Windows 10 Mobile, and and each will feature PureView technology, which debuted with Nokia’s Symbian devices.

We’ve come to believe that the Lumia 950 XL will have a 5.7-inch QHD display, a Qualcomm octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, 3300 mAh battery, and a 20-megapixel PureView camera with Carl Zeiss optics.

The Lumia 950 is expected to have a 5.2-inch QHD display, a hexa-core Snapdragon 808 processor, a 3000 mAh battery and the same PureView camera. Both devices are also tipped to have replaceable back covers, USB Type-C inputs, and Qi wireless charging.

Source Evleaks
26 Aug 05:43

Chinese Companies Are Cutting Jobs Now, Too!

by mobilesociety

In the past 10 years I guess I wasn't the only observing that lots of European and US tech companies and network equipment vendors where laying off people and selling off parts of their technology and wondering how the story would continue. In many cases, Chinese companies picked up the parts and at least in Europe, quite a lot of people in the tech business are now working for Chinese companies. In many cases, companies regarded as 'Asian upstarts' by man in the industry only 10 years ago have become quite successful, often being on the market these days with new features well before the incumbent competition, especially in the LTE domain.

So far, this was a continuing trend. But I'm wondering if we are perhaps about to run into saturation here as well!? Today, I've seen the first article I can remember on a big Chinese tech company, Lenovo in this case, having had a massive dip in earnings and thus announcing that they will fire 3200 people or about 5% of their employees as a result. You can of course read this in many ways or perhaps it's only an isolated case but I wonder if the tech honeymoon in China is about to end as well?

26 Aug 06:14

Apple Auto – Silly season

by windsorr

Reply to this post

RFM AvatarSmall

 

 

 

 

 

The car makers can still win the battle for the digital car.

  • The seasonal news vacuum has left space for speculation as to whether Apple will manufacture a car to surface once again.
  • This time it has been driven by the news that a senior engineer from Tesla has jumped ship to join Apple.
  • This follows a number of other recent hires from the automotive industry for Project Titan.
  • This has triggered speculation that Apple is working on building a car but I still believe that this makes no sense and that Apple is really only looking at producing a head unit or infotainment system.
  • There are two reasons for this.
    • First. The engineers that Apple has hired are mostly those that specialise in autonomous driving, advanced R&D and quality control.
    • These functions and AI that drives them is very likely to end up sitting in the infotainment unit rather than anywhere else in the auto.
    • Second. Apple typically makes around 40% gross margins on the hardware that it sells and to start making cars would probably have a devastating effect on its gross margins.
    • This is because the auto industry is just not that profitable and in many cases car companies make far more money on the financing surrounding a car purchase than from the vehicle itself.
    • Consequently, I think that it will prove impossible for Apple to make 40% gross margins on engines, brake pads and wheels.
  • However, making an infotainment unit comes with a big risk.
  • The next generation of infotainment going into a car will require full integration into the car’s systems so that advanced monitoring and even autonomous driving will be possible.
  • This will require the co-operation of the automakers as all of the critical interfaces are completely proprietary.
  • Without their co-operation, any infotainment unit produced by Apple will be little more than an iPad glued to a dashboard.
  • This is where the automakers have to tread very carefully.
  • They must allow users to bring the Digital Life services that they know and love on their smartphones into the car with them in an easy to fun use way but at the same time they must maintain control over the infotainment unit.
  • If they leave a hole in the dashboard to plug an Apple unit into, then they will have lost what will become one of the biggest differentiators going forward.
  • In this instance they will become more like the long suffering Android handset makers.
  • Furthermore, the automakers must also show solidarity in keeping Apple out of their systems because if one of them lets Apple in and the users love it, then the game will very likely already have been lost.
  • One only has to look at how Apple has decimated the brands of the US mobile operators for evidence of that.
  • I suspect that Apple is still quite far away from having something ready to launch but the automakers are going to have to move quickly and in an area that is way outside of their comfort zone: software.
  • It is time they study history so that its repetition can be avoided.
12 Aug 03:23

AT&T Is Slowly Rolling Out WiFi Calling On iPhones with iOS 9

by Jeb Brilliant

IMG_4492I am over the moon that we’re finally getting voice calls over WiFi on AT&T. Everyone knows I’m a big fan of AT&T but I’ve been bummed out lately that the first half of 2015 came and went, Summer has come and now we’re in the home stretch and until today I haven’t heard about WiFi calling. But today is the day. Today I got excited about AT&T for the first time all Summer.

WiFi calling allows at this moment iPhone iOS 9 users to make voice calls over wireless internet. So next time I visit my cousin in Utah and stay in her basement where I get great WiFi but zero AT&T reception I’ll be able to make and receive calls. This is exciting news because as good as AT&T’s coverage may be they aren’t everywhere, like in basements and middle of big buildings.

I’m hoping that AT&T makes the right choice and chooses not to bill customers for making WiFi calls from outside the US while they’re roaming. T-Mobile is killing AT&T on the roaming front and it is not looking good. I know dozens of international business travelers that were staunch AT&T and Verizon customers that have dropped their carrier of choice for the free data roaming when they travel abroad.  This will really make a difference but I don’t think it will be enough.

Either way I’m very excited and now that I have the settings and get most of the way through the set up I’m sure my account will be enabled soon to make calls over WiFi networks in hotel rooms with bad reception and AirBNB homes in foreign countries.

IMG_4491One last thing Ralph, this is a great move that we’ve been waiting a long time for, I really hope though that you don’t consider this a final destination, it is just a stepping stone to a flat planet with no roaming. If I may give you my 2 cents I don’t think AT&T needs to give away free international data but should at the very least offer highly reduced roaming plans. Like 500min/texts and 1GB of data for $10-$20 while roaming. T-Mobile still has a better offer but you don’t have to beat their offer you’re beating them with coverage.

Good job AT&T, keep up the change.

 

24 Aug 18:45

Twitter Favorites: [fabulavancouver] At least 40 per cent of Vancouverites renting out some part of their homes. As I've always said: LandLord City. https://t.co/Fc0GgozzYh

Frances Bula @fabulavancouver
At least 40 per cent of Vancouverites renting out some part of their homes. As I've always said: LandLord City. biv.com/article/2015/8…
26 Aug 14:20

Ce Soir Merveilleuse

by pricetags
Yesterday evening, over on the decks of Canada Place – Dîner en Blanc.

2

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Just up harbour at CRAB Park – the first-ever Ce Soir Noir.

1

 

Or as The Sun cleverly described the two: Black and White and Bread All Over.  But in my opinion, heh, CRAB took the cake:


2a

2b

2c

2d

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One of the biggest differences in the two events, in addition to colour and demographics, was how the respective crowds arrived:

3

4

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Something never seen before: a playground full of kids, all in black.

5

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Bravo to the creators and organizers.  Just the right amount of people, creativity and civility.

bubbles

Photo by Michael Alexander

DSC09895

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Easy prediction: Ce Soir Noir will become a global complement to Dîner en Blanc.

Danger:  It will become so popular, it too may have to limit capacity.

And then: La Fête Gris.


26 Aug 14:01

This year’s LG Nexus 5 may be more like the G4 than we thought

by Ian Hardy

There is no doubt that Google will be co-releasing two new Nexus devices this fall, a smaller model from LG and a larger one from Huawei.

We’ve already seen a number of renders and live images of each device, with the the Huawei likely a 5.7-inche device, and the LG model between 5- and 5.2-inches.

A new spec sheet has appeared that potentially gives deeper insight into LG’s upcoming device, which reveals the smartphone to come with 5.2-inch 2560×1440 pixel display, a Snapdragon 808 SoC, 3GB of LPDDR3 RAM, and a 13MP IMX278 Sony sensor. These slightly differ from what was previously leaked last week, which suggested the LG Nexus will come with a 1080p display, an octa-core Snapdragon 620 processor and 2GB of RAM.

nexus-5-lg

The new Nexus smartphones are expected to be announced in October and run Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

26 Aug 12:08

Vancouver Bike Share Back in Vision Vancouver’s Sights – But Helmets are Still in the Way

by Average Joe Cyclist

Vision Vancouver is calling for bids for a Vancouver bike share program again. But can a bike share program succeed in Vancouver if the program doesn’t get an exemption from the mandatory bike helmet law?

The post Vancouver Bike Share Back in Vision Vancouver’s Sights – But Helmets are Still in the Way appeared first on Average Joe Cyclist.

26 Aug 14:01

Mozfest Pathways: It’s like the London Tube

by thornet

To illustrate how Mozfest is evolving its program to be more participant-centric, we thought to do quick, visual walk-through using the analogy of the London Underground.

Overview

mozfestmetro-map

When you first look at what’s on offer at Mozfest, it can look a bit daunting. Hundreds of sessions, activity all across the building, and seeming jumble of places to go.

That feeling is just like seeing a map of the London tube for the first time. Look at all those stations and lines! How crazy. Where am I? Where do I want to go?

The good news is that there is a method to the madness. Mozfest, like the London tube, is there to serve you. It’s designed to help you get to go where you want to go, to achieve what you want to achieve.

Some travelers like to get quickly to a specific destination. Some like to stop and get out at different stations, to have a look around and meet a friend. Others will start a journey wanting to go to one place, but then decide to change lines and end up somewhere else. Travel how you want to.

Your journey is in your control. You decide where you want to go and how you want to get there. The organizers just create some infrastructure to enable that journey and if needed, can assist you along the way.

This is what it could feel like.

Getting Oriented

mozfestmetro-ambassador

When you first arrive at Mozfest, you’ll be greeted by a friendly ambassador. They will welcome you and talk to you about what you’d like to get out of the festival.

They can orient you to the schedule and identify places or sessions that might be of interest.

Selecting your journey

mozfestmetro-pathway-red

For example, you may be a data scientist interested in learning about how to teach data literacy in your university. There will be a series of sessions to help you achieve this. We’re calling them “pathways.”

Like an underground line, these stops will be clearly laid out for you.

Changing your journey

Because this is your journey, you can change direction anytime.

So you may have started off on the data literacy path, but then realized there’s this amazing opportunity to learn how to advocate for open data and web standards in your local government.

That’s fantastic! You can switch pathways easily at any time.

mozfestmetro-interchange

And off you go on a new path!

mozfestmetro-pathway-black-line

It will be clearly signposted at the venue and online how to switch and get on your new path.

mozfestmetro-wayfinding1

mozfestmetro-wayfinding2

mozfestmetro-wayfinding3

Enjoying your journey

Of course, like any great trip, you want to enjoy both the journey and the destination. Hop off anytime to linger, have a coffee, meet a friend. Diversions and side-trips are a beautiful way to explore.

mozfestmetro-picnic

How it could look at Mozfest

The tube is a simple analogy to help participants and Mozfest organizers alike better understand how the participant-centric experience can work.

We can then easily imagine how these journeys and pathways will map across a single building.

mozfestmetro-flowroutes

Even when the festival is humming along, with lots of actions across many floors:

mozfestmetro-rave

We can signpost in very clear ways how to continue along your journey, what’s available to do now, or where to find assistance.

mozfestmetro-rave-signage

mozfestmetro-rave-floor-signage

mozfestmetro-flowroute-signage

mozfest12_report_html_621f864f

Travel with us!

Sound like fun?

Consider proposing a session for Mozfest or just grabbing a ticket and join us over the weekend.

Images by: Payload93, JRC Design, Rail Adventure, Google Doodle, Midlandstande.

26 Aug 00:00

Responding to Free

files/images/Tennessee20Promise20at20Cleveland20State_1.jpg


Ashley A. Smith, Inside Higher Ed, Aug 27, 2015


Who is surprised that a free college education would be popular? This article is about the Tennessee Promise program, suddenly flush with students, that is one of the standard-bearers for the new free college program in the U.S. "Tennessee has been hailed for its statewide initiative and is the basis for President Obama's America's College Promise ... Oregon will become the second state to offer a similar statewide program." Free education and affordable health care? Blame Obama.

[Link] [Comment]
26 Aug 00:00

Far from bust: five ways MOOCs are helping people get on in life

files/images/MOOCsPic2.jpg


Lisa Harris, Manuel León Urrutia, World.edu, Aug 27, 2015


According to the article, "Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) – free, short courses made available to everybody online – were expected to herald the end of higher education as we knew it when they began. But the hype soon died away and critics bemoaned the fact that learners quickly lost enthusiasm and dropped out in large numbers." But with MOOCs receiving so much criticism recently, it is worth pointing to the very substantial ways they have improved education over the last half-dozen years or so (quoted):

  • Many institutions, are using MOOCs to develop high quality online learning materials
  • learners are using MOOCs to enhance their attractiveness to employers
  • in-campus programmes that have a MOOC versions running alongside
  • MOOCs are making learning more engaging
  • MOOCs are opening up educational access

If someone had said to me that these could be achieved in the six years following CCK08, I would have been enthusiastic and pleased. I still am.

 

 

[Link] [Comment]
26 Aug 00:00

Online and Open Learning for Social Change


Contact North, Aug 27, 2015


This post is subtitled "What We Can Learn From The Gűlen Movement" and I confess, I have not heard of the Gűlen Movement before. The Gűlen Movement "is a worldwide civic initiative rooted in the spiritual and humanistic traditions of Islam and inspired by the ideas and activism of Mr. Fethullah Gűlen – named by Time magazine as one of the most influential people in the world in 2013." And it's another one of those movements founded around character: "Education is not just about learning a concept. It’ s about learning values, to be a person… and betterment of the individual toward a positive change in society." Sorry, no. No matter how ideal the values, a movement based in making everybody somehow the same is to me a non-starter. I personally believe in the value of things like social action - but it should be a choice, not a requirement; a mechanism, not an outcome.

[Link] [Comment]
26 Aug 16:00

Free is clear: Windows 10 installed on 75 million devices after four weeks

by Daniel Bader

Windows 10 is now running on 75 million PCs and tablets, according to Yusuf Mehdi, VP of Windows and Devices at Microsoft.

The company reached that number in four weeks, a milestone that is certainly attributable to the fact that Windows 10 was released as a free update to Windows 7 and 8 users.

Mehdi claims that 90,000 distinct hardware models have been updated to Windows 10, a protracted process that requires some users to wait weeks or even months to receive their “authorization”. Microsoft claims that its slow rollout has prevented the kinds of showstopping bugs often seen in distributions of this scale.

The exec also used Twitter to talk up the success of the updated Windows Store, which is seeing six times more app downloads per device than Windows 8. Developers that shunned Windows 8 for its poor adoption rates appear to be taking better to this new version, which features better tools and a much larger potential user base.

Windows 10 has yet to make its way to smartphones, but the company says it is working to release it by the end of the year. Microsoft is reportedly hosting an October event in New York City where it is expected to unveil two new high-end Lumia devices running Windows 10, after which the software will roll out to other handsets.

SourceYusuf Mehdi (Twitter)
26 Aug 16:32

Apple’s content blocking is chemo for the cancer of adtech

by Doc Searls

Intravenous equipmentThe tide of popular sentiment is turning against tracking-based advertising — and Apple knows it. That’s why they’re enabling “content blocking” in iOS 9 (the new mobile operating system that will soon go in your iPhone and iPad).

Says Apple, “Content Blocking* gives your extensions a fast and efficient way to block cookies, images, resources, pop-ups, and other content.”

This is aimed straight at tracking-based advertising, known in the trade as adtech. And Apple isn’t alone:

[Note: far I know, there was not a term for tracking-based advertising until adtech seemed to emerge as the front-runner. I chose it for this post because others (e.g. the first two examples above) have done the same. Tell me a better word and I’ll swap it in.]

Here’s Apple’s tech-speak on the feature:

Your app extension is responsible for supplying a JSON file to Safari. The JSON consists of an array of rules (triggers and actions) for blocking specific content. Safari converts the JSON to bytecode, which it applies efficiently to all resource loads without leaking information about the user’s browsing back to the app extension.

This means the iOS platform now supports developers who want to build sophisticated apps that give users ways to block stuff they don’t like, such as adtech tracking and various forms of advertising — or all advertising — and to do it privately.

This allows much more control over unwanted content than is provided currently by ad and tracking blockers on Web browsers, and does it at the system level, rather than at the browser level. (Though it is executed by the browser.)

How likely is it that these apps will be built? 100%. One of those is Crystal, by Dean Murphy. His pitches:

  • Remove advert banners, blocks, popovers, autoplay videos, App Store redirects & invisible tracking scripts that follow you around the web.
  • Pages render more than 3.9x faster on average*.
  • Reduces data use by 53% on average*.
  • *Benchmarks calculated from a selection of random pages from 10 popular sites.

In iOS 9 content blocking will transform the mobile Web: I’ve tried it., Owen Williams (@ow) of TheNextWeb gives Crystal a spin, finding it delivers on its promises, one of which is to blow up advertising as we know it, at least on mobile.

The politics and economics involved are both complicated, and need to be unpacked. Right now the default assumptions are:

  1. Publishers will lose, because they depend on advertising that will be blocked; and
  2. Apple will win, because publishers will be driven to the company’s News app, on which Apple can make money with its own advertising system, called iAd.

While these assumptions might be correct, they are part of a much bigger picture, which will surely change as content blockers such as Crystal get adopted.

First, the market is very unhappy with abuses to personal privacy. Studies by Pew, TRUSTe, Customer Commons and Wharton all make clear that more than 90% of the connected population doesn’t like privacy abuse on the commercial Web. Ad and tracking blocking, through popular browser extensions and add-ons, is already high and continues to go up. It is therefore safe to say that iOS apps like Crystal will be very popular.

Second, there are two kinds of advertising at issue here, and it is essential to separate them (which I do, at length, in Separating Advertising’s Wheat and Chaff). One is tracking-based advertising, or adtech. That’s the kind that wants to get personal, and depends on spying on people. The other is plain old brand advertising, which isn’t based on tracking, and is targeted at populations rather than individuals.

Third, Apple’s iAD is for brand advertising, not adtech. That’s what I gather from Apple’s literature. (See here, here, here and here.) This puts them on the side of wheat, and Apple’s competitors — notably Google, Facebook and all of adtech — on the side of chaff.

Fourth, Apple has put a big stake in the ground on the subject of privacy. This is clearly to differentiate itself from adtech in general, and from Google and Facebooks in particular.

Fifth, brand advertising is more valuable to publishers than adtech. Its provenance and value are clear and obvious, it sells for better prices, and — while some of it may be annoying — none of it shares its business model with spam, which adtech does. Nor is brand advertising corrupted by fraud, which is rampant in adtech. So rampant, in fact, that T.Rob Wyatt, a security expert, calls adtech “the new digital cancer.”

This is why content blocking is chemo for the cancer of adtech. It is also why it is essential for everybody involved in the advertising-funded online ecosystem to start separating the wheat from the chaff, and to make clear to users that the wheat — plain old brand advertising — is (to mix metaphors) the baby in the advertising bathwater.

However it goes down, the inevitable results will be these:

  1. Brand advertising will be seen again as the only legitimate form of advertising.
  2. Brand advertising will again be credited for doing the good work of funding publishers (also broadcasters, podcasters and the rest)
  3. Adtech, and spying in general, will be shunned, as it deserves to be.
  4. Adtech will still live on, rehabilitated and cleansed, as a trusted symbiote of users who give clear and unambiguous permission for trackers they bless to dwell in their private spaces and give them optimal personalized advertising experiences.

In other words, what I said at the close of the Advertising Bubble chapter of The Intention Economy will come true:

When the backlash is over, and the advertising bubble deflates, advertising will remain an enormous and useful business. We will still need advertising to do what only it can do. What will emerge, however, is a market for what advertising can’t do. This new market will be defined by what customers actually want, rather than guesses about it.

* As a term, “content blocking” is an unfortunate choice, since until now it meant government censorship. But the deed is done. From this point forward it means you get to block stuff you don’t want happening on your mobile device.


Later (2:36pm) — So I tweeted this post here, not long after it went up, and the response is split between yea and nay. Since I have no argument with the yeas, I’ll take on the nays…

@cpokane writes,

it is offensive to us who work in adtech by day and nurse the result of cancer by night, at home. disappointing metaphor.

Gareth Holmes (@mgrholmes) adds these:

No offence to @dsearls but comparing ad tech to cancer is beyond hyperbole. FACT: ad tech has been keeping the internet free since 1993

@cpokane having never met @dsearls I only hope he doesn’t have to wait until he’s lying next to a dying loved one to realise he was wrong.

And Vlad Stein (@vstein) weighs in with this:

@dsearls Couldn’t imagine a stupider, more offensive title. Ad tech is what makes free online content viable, like it or not.

No offence taken. Or meant to be given. Cancer is a common metaphor for many things that are not. So is chemo: a medicine that sickens a patient while killing (or at least trying to kill) his or her cancer. Tell me a better metaphor and I’ll gladly use it. (I have also experienced loved ones dying of cancer, and I’m not sure they would have disapproved of the metaphor.)

As for hyperbole, guilty as charged. I’m making a strong point here, and one almost nobody else (other than Don Marti and Bob Hoffman) is making — or has seen sunk it. The market sentiment against surveillance-based marketing — aka adtech† — is strong, growing, and almost entirely ignored by the whole adtech business.

Apple’s move with content blocking has profound B2C and B2B implications.

On the B2C side, Apple is working on behalf of its paying customers. This is huge. There isn’t a customer on Earth who wants to be tracked like an animal without clear and explicit permission, or to have pages slowed by tracking cookies, beacons and ads fed by distant servers. Especially on mobile. Apple knows that because they talk on the phone and in stores every day with those customers. They’ve also seen the abundant research (some cited above) that make clear how much people hate having their privacy violated, which Adtech does with abundant impunity. Meanwhile adtech doesn’t talk to those customers. It only follows them. Ain’t the same.

On the B2B side, Apple with iAd is siding with non-tracking-based brand advertising, and (passively, not naming names) against adtech. While I consider it icky and controlling of Apple to trap all magazines inside its News app, and to sell additional advertising within that space, Apple is doing the whole advertising business a favor by not doing tracking (i.e. adtech) in that space. What you’ll see are ads in there selling for higher prices, and both publishers and brands appreciating the lack of confusion by readers about the provenance and motives of those ads.

Next, saying adtech (or anything) has kept the Net free is like saying coupon flyers have kept geology free. The Net was born free and remains that way. Same goes for the Web. They support an infinite variety of sites, services and activities, and not just commercial ones. (More about that here, here and here.)

In fact, commercial activity was impossible on the Internet before NSFnet (the one non-commercial network within the Internet) stood down on 30 April 1995. After that ecommerce took off. (Amazon and eBay were both born in ’95.) So did advertising, but not as fast. Adtech (or ad tech) didn’t take off until well after the turn of the millennium.

This blog has been free and viable since 1998, by the way, without an ounce of advertising. So has everything Dave Winer‘s done. Without Dave we wouldn’t have blogging, syndicating (e.g. RSS) or podcasting as we know it.

Something worth thinking about: if we had jobbed out inventing and developing the Net and the Web to commercial interests, would they exist?

26 Aug 15:39

Read/Write

Every year, we have a few conferences that concern literary hypertext, electronic literature, hypertext narrative, or what you will.

At conferences like these, one finds two kinds of papers. We have papers intended to be presented, justifying the author’s travel costs, tenure, and grants, and we occasionally have papers intended to be read, papers that call attention to work the author admires or detests, papers that try to move current practice or change current taste.

I’m not talking only about papers intended for a broad audience. The second type of paper might be written, for example, for a very small audience of technological experts. But these papers are meant to be read, and perhaps discussed and argued about; the other sort are meant to be admired.

My desk is now awash in monographs and papers: Mason’s “On Games and Links,” the new(ish) Janet Murray monograph that nobody (literally) mentioned to me, Harmut Koenitz’s collection on Interactive Digital Literature. What have I have missed? And where are the arguments over it?

Email me.

26 Aug 17:15

When Is The Best Time To Publish?

by Richard Millington

Some time ago we discovered sending messages at fixed intervals led to a bigger audience.

We trained the audience when to listen. This helped us plan content calendars

Then the internet (and sites like Mashable/Lifehacker/BoingBoing) discovered higher post frequency was strongly correlated with higher levels of traffic i.e. the more you speak, the more people receive the message.

We combined both lessons to create a monster.

The content calendar triumphed over the message. Posting at increasingly short intervals became more important than having something important to say. This hasn’t helped anyone. Instead of training an audience when to listen, we trained an audience when to ignore us (and made it harder for the good stuff to find the market).

If you’re trying to find posts for calendar spots instead of calendar spots for your posts, you’ve failed (and frequency might not be as significant as we think)..

To compensate we’ve tried to find silver bullets such as the optimum time to post. This is the mythical moment where the maximum number of people will open, click, retweet, or share. This naturally correlates with the time most people are online and looking at their e-mail/Twitter/Facebook (probably 11am to 1pm).

This too is nonsensical. We’ve decided to speak at the very moment everyone else is speaking.

 

When Is The Best Time To Communicate?

The best time to communicate isn’t when everyone else is speaking. It’s far simpler. The best time to speak is when you have something to say and someone willing to listen.

We’re slightly better at the former than the latter.

 

Do you have something important to say? 

Having something important to say comprises of four things; new, unexpected, useful, and urgent.

  • Is it new?  New means there’s genuinely something new in the topic. Something has changed. An event has taken place. The topic is different now. You can create these events, for sure, but there must be an event. An incremental difference isn’t as interesting as a clear contrast or departure. What event has taken place between now and the last time you addressed the audience? If there’s nothing new, you have nothing to say.
  • Is it unexpected? Unexpected means the audience isn’t expecting it. The sun rising today isn’t news, neither (sadly) is the world getting gradually warmer. Your audience doesn’t care if the audience has grown, nor if the organisation is taking greater market share. To adapt an old corollary, if you can’t say something unexpected, don’t say anything at all.
  • Is it useful? Does the audience have any use for the information? This can be practical (how to resolve a challenge or do something better). This can be prescient (how to stop something bad happening or prepare for something good). It can be uniquely entertaining. It can be emotionally beneficial too. The message has to be useful to that audience.
  •  Is it urgent? Does the audience need the message now? Why not tomorrow or next week? Perhaps even next year? Why does your audience need to receive the message now (as opposed to you wishing to send the message now)? This urgency relates to all of the above. You need to communicate the urgent in the message.

If you have a message that passes all four tests, you have something worth communicating. Sadly, this isn’t the same as having an audience willing to listen. There are specific moments where the audience has the means, motivate, and opportunity to listen to your message.

 

Do you have an audience willing to listen?

Climate change is an important message, but the audience isn’t willing to listen. Our means and motivation to listen to messages shifts frequently (often without fair warning).

Willingness to listen comprises of four elements. Does the audience have the means to receive the message? Can the audience give the message a good level of attention? Does the audience have the motivation to read and act upon the message?

  • Can the audience receive the message? We get far too excited about this part. Ensuring a message reaches an audience is as easy as being in the same room at the same time or having an e-mail/postal address/phone number. It becomes more complicated when we use Twitter/Facebook, where unread messages are missed rather than stored. If it’s an important message, don’t rely on social media to spread it. Rely on a medium you can ensure it reaches the post box.
  • Can the audience devote enough attention to the message? Posting when everyone else is posting isn’t very useful. Someone reading on their mobile device probably isn’t going to give your message much attention neither. Perhaps weekends, evenings, and holidays are better? If you’re part of the shouting chorus, no-one can distinguish your voice.
  • Is the audience willing to listen? If the audience doesn’t know and trust you, your message will struggle to gain traction. It might not be opened, believed, or acted upon. It’s chicken and the egg, but to have an audience willing to listen you need a good track record of only sending important messages.

Throw away the schedule. Identify the important messages. Use a medium that guarantees receipt of the message, at a time the audience can devote attention to the message and when the audience is willing to accept the message.

On November 12th, we’re going to explain how to optimise every message we send to every member of the audience. You can sign up here: http://sprint.feverbee.com

26 Aug 15:00

A Baby’s View of the World!

by Rebecka Wiklund

Finally, with Narrative Clip, we get to see the world through Baby Davis’ perspective!

As we know from part 1 and 2 in this series, Rebecca has done a lot to document her baby’s life, and in this third and last part of the series, she shares with us the very special ways in which she collects memories and photos of Davis’ first year of life – and her plan of how she will one day hand them over to her son when he is older. 

Very Special Memories

Aside from gathering memories with photos from the Narrative Clip, Rebecca has a time capsule for baby Davis, where the family collects all types of items and memories from Davis’ first year. The capsule is to be sealed on Davis’ first birthday, and by that time it will hold letters from the family mentioning things going on in the world or in Davis’ life during this first year, along with newspaper clippings from the day Davis was born, his birth announcement and hospital bracelet, photos, and everything else they think will be of value to him in the future.

“At my son’s first birthday party, we will have a time capsule sealing. All items will be placed in the container and sealed. We haven’t completely settled on a date of opening yet, but it might be his 18th birthday or high school graduation.” Says Rebecca

Halfway through her pregnancy, Rebecka also created an email account for her baby. To this email address, she send short email notes of her thoughts to Davis. The emails, together with short videos that Rebecca is making will function as a little collection for Davis to remember his mother by in the future.

“The reason I did this is because I now cherish the two voicemails I have left that were my father, one was on my birthday where he sang to me. I listen to that just to hear his voice again.”

A Baby’s View of the World

At times, Rebecca clips her Narrative Clip to baby Davis’ clothing. She was kind enough to share some of the funny and lovely photos she got with the Narrative Community here on our blog. Take a look at what her Clip captured last:

A Babys View of the World!“Daddy feeding Davis at a restaurant”

A Babys View of the World!“Sitting in the buggy waiting for fireworks on 4th of July”

A Babys View of the World!“Davis’s Grammy waiting for fireworks”

A Babys View of the World!“The sunset while waiting for fireworks”

A Babys View of the World!“Shopping at Davis’ favorite store because it has the shopping carts with car wheels!”

A Babys View of the World!“Mommy and Daddy shopping”

A Babys View of the World! “Mommy letting Davis pick out a shirt”

A Babys View of the World!“Smiles with Mommy!”

Have you ever wondered what the world looks like through your baby’s eyes? When pre-ordering a Narrative Clip 2, you get a great discount when you sign up and use your Karma points. Get it while it lasts, and start collecting memories for your baby, just like Rebecca does for baby Davis. 

The post A Baby’s View of the World! appeared first on Narrative Blog.

26 Aug 19:01

people, not users!

by d

How we relate to things is dictated by how we think about them, which is strongly influenced by how we communicate about them… and the words we use for that purpose. Terminology matters beyond mere semantics. How we think about how our products are used, and the people who will be using our products, shapes what we build. I don’t care how obvious this may be, it’s still useful to say it, to be mindful of it.

We are people, not users.

When we “use a car” we think of ourselves as a person who drives, not “the user of a car”. You drive. The act of driving is not intrinsic to you, it’s temporary, just something you’re doing. When you use a pen, you are writing, when you use a brush you are painting. So what are we “users” of software and services (and all things that make up the Internetdoing? And what does “user” mean, anyway?

Let’s look at the dictionary definition of ‘user’:

user |ˈyo͞ozər| noun

1 a person who uses or operates something, especially a computer or other machine.

• a person who takes illegal drugs; a drug user: the drug causes long-term brain damage in users | a heroin user.

• a person who manipulates others for personal gain: he was a gifted user of other people.

So according to this, if you’re a user you might be using a computer ‘or other machine’, a drug addict, or possibly a sociopath.

Great.

We can’t erase the other (pre-existing) interpretations of “user” from our heads, so just on this basis ‘user’ is not a great term. But let’s set that aside anyway and put things in context. Where did this specific use (ahem) of the word come from? How did it come to be used in computing? For those who don’t know what “Multics” means, The Jargon File –and if you don’t know what that is, wikipedia, as always, can help— sheds some light:

user: n.

1. Someone doing ‘real work’ with the computer, using it as a means rather than an end. Someone who pays to use a computer. See real user.

2. A programmer who will believe anything you tell him. One who asks silly questions. [GLS observes: This is slightly unfair. It is true that users ask questions (of necessity). Sometimes they are thoughtful or deep. Very often they are annoying or downright stupid, apparently because the user failed to think for two seconds or look in the documentation before bothering the maintainer.] See luser.

3. Someone who uses a program from the outside, however skillfully, without getting into the internals of the program. One who reports bugs instead of just going ahead and fixing them.

The general theory behind this term is that there are two classes of people who work with a program: there are implementors (hackers) and lusers. The users are looked down on by hackers to some extent because they don’t understand the full ramifications of the system in all its glory. (The few users who do are known as real winners.) The term is a relative one: a skilled hacker may be a user with respect to some program he himself does not hack. A LISP hacker might be one who maintains LISP or one who uses LISP (but with the skill of a hacker). A LISP user is one who uses LISP, whether skillfully or not. Thus there is some overlap between the two terms; the subtle distinctions must be resolved by context.

Early computers were large, expensive systems that needed “administrators” and naturally people who could “use” but not “administer”.

“User” did not originally indicate a person. In a networked environment, at the network management level it may, for example, make sense to label a computer as a “user of the network”. In fact, UNIX considers any actor in the system, whether human or synthetic, to have a user (and a group) attached to it as a way of indicating access privileges to different functions or services. The “user” in UNIX is really a property that can be attached to things to indicate permissions and other relevant information (for example, a user will typically have a password, used for authentication, a home directory, etc).

Over time “the person named Joe Smith has a user in the system” turned into “Joe Smith is a user in the system.” We started to mix the concept of a user being a virtual entity controlled by a person with a way to refer to the person themselves.

This use of terminology migrated from terminal-based systems (UNIX, et al) to desktop computers and beyond. An iPad, for example, has no need to distinguish between a user and an administrator. We are, in effect, “administrators” of our iPads, but we still call ourselves “users.” Incidentally, that’s what anyone building software for it calls us, and themselves, as well.

This is one of the reasons why so much of the software we use everyday feels impersonal: it was built for a “user”, a faceless entity that may or may not be human. If you happen to build software and disagree, I challenge you to visualize what comes to your mind when you think of the “user” of your software. For most of us it’s not a person, no face, no arms: a shapeless blob of requirements that, somehow, can manage clicks and taps and keypresses. It will take a concerted effort on your part to picture an actual human doing something specific with your software. And it should be the other way around.

So, why is this a problem?

We are more than what we use, and because we have purpose we are doing more than just using.

Homer is baffled when he can't find the 'Any' key.

Homer is baffled when he can’t find the ‘Any’ key.

The effects of ignoring this simple truth seep in at all levels of language and thought, and ultimately define and constrain what we build. We think of “the user” of software. The user of piece of software. Who’s unique in that sentence?

In general, we talk about what a person does, we describe their actions, we don’t define the person as a generic, interchangeable element while giving the privilege of specificity to the tool. Except in software.

In software, the designer of a word processor would generally refer to the person using their software as “the word processor user.” (let’s ignore, for the moment, the insanity of calling a tool for writing a “word processor.”)

Someone designing a hammer would not call the intended audience for their product “hammer users.”

They would give them purpose and a name. Carpenter, Sculptor, and so on, and in doing so they would be defining a context in which they intend their tool to be used, context which would then aid in making the design better adapted to its intended task.

The designer of a pen would think of a person using the pennot a “pen user”. A “user” uses the pen to let ink flow from the pen to the paper, permanently marking it in a way that may or may not make any sense. A person who writes has a purpose: a memo, a letter, a book. In that purpose you also discover design constraints. A pen used for calligraphy is different than a pen for everyday use, which is different than a pen used at high altitude, or in space, or for drawing.

Beyond “purpose” there’s something else that a person has that is frequently ignored by software: a life.

Just thinking of “the user experience” is not enough. A lot of software, and certainly the vast majority of dominant software and services, appears to rely on the Donald Trump principle of design: it screams ME, ME, ME. You want to shut down your computer? You can’t: your “word processor” demands that you make a decision about saving or not that file you were editing. Are you highly stressed while driving your car because you’re late to a job interview? Deal with it: your preferred social network wants you to check out the photo of a friend having lunch while on vacation, while you’re also being told that there’s a great offer on coat hangers at a nearby mall, and your calendar is alerting you that you have lunch with a friend soon, even though it’s set for 6 pm and the appointment was mistakenly set for the wrong time, then duplicated for the right time, leaving the old one intact. And who has lunch at 6 pm anyway?

How one would fix this problem is a good question. The answers will be heavily dependent on context. My point is that it’s a question we’re not asking as frequently as we should, if at all. And calling people ‘users’ gives us a pass on that.

Profile photos or friends are used frequently to lend an air of ‘humanity’ or ‘personalization,’ but strip that away and it’s the same content, the same links, the same design, the same choices. Conveniently, it also creates a barrier, and in the process defines a type of human-machine dialogue that puts the weight of decisions and results on “the user” while software absconds, claiming nothing is its responsibility.

We can do better than that.

For a while now I’ve been avoiding the term ‘user’ in everything I write, be it code or prose. It’s hard. And it’s completely worth it.

We are people, not users, and what we build, how we build it, and why we build it should reflect that.

PS: There’s other aspects to this that I’ll expand on in future posts.

PPS: One of those topics is, specifically, how the more recent software development practice of creating “user stories” fits into (and affects) this practice is a topic for a future post. Spoiler alert: it’s not enough. :)


26 Aug 13:24

Expressing distrust within the #OpenBadges Ecosystem

by Serge

Recently, I have been confronted with a rather unnerving situation where the sense of ethics of certain entities (could be people and/or organisations) was, to say the least, questionable. As I wondered how to react to this situation and how to convey my lack of trust in within the Open Badge Ecosystem, the idea of a Badge of Distrust came to mind.

As my take on badges is that they are trust statements (I’m working on refining that definition, but that will do for the time being), I realised that issuing distrust badges would put me at odds with my position where trust is understood as a positive value, as in I trust this person’s integrity. In my frame of reference, the utterance I trust that this person is a thief has a very different meaning coming from a gang leader looking at a prospective associate or from a law abiding citizen reporting a crime. For the gang leader it means “he/she is one of us” while for the law abiding citizen it means “he/she is one of them” — things can become quite convoluted when a thief steals from another thief…!

As one of the basic rules of the Open Badge Infrastructure is the recipient has the option to reject the badges they do not wish to collect, we could imagine a perfectly secure digital world where a thief would be very happy to collect a “master thief” badge from a gang leader as it could be beneficial to his/her idiosyncratic employability — crooks know how grow their own trust networks and prisons are their Open University! On the other hand, if a similar badge was issued by a law abiding citizen, it is very unlikely that he/she will ever collect it. A Badge of Distrust is not something that people are likely to collect — although, if someone like Tony Blair offered me such a badge, I would be delighted to promote it at the top of My Values badges. I would consider being distrusted by such an individual a badge of honour!

From the previous example we can foresee that accepting Badges of Trust from friends and Badges of Distrust from foes is a powerful means towards building and nurturing trust networks of all kinds — a property that should be fully explored in the development of the Open Badge Passport. 

There remains the configuration of a Badge of Distrust sent to a foe. Why would a foe accept a badge of distrust? What would its value be if not collected? To explore that question further, we first need to reflect on why we would need to issue Badges of Distrust?

Why would we need Badges of Distrust?

Badge of ShameThe Open Badge Ecosystem is a conversational system, where things are not fixed once and for all. The value of credentials is not absolute, it varies across space and time, as well as with the position of the observer within the network. Looking at the dynamics of networks construction, their topology, how clusters are formed and relate to each other, will help us compute the level of confidence one might assume in making a decision based on the information provided by the network. Would the introduction of a distrust component, a Badge of Distrust (BoD), improve the quality of the decision making process? Are there potential risks associated with BoDs?

Trust is rarely an all-or-nothing affair. One entity might not be trusted for a specific thing while fully trustworthy for others. For example, the painter who is supposed to work on the windows of our house (who is definitely not the person at the source of the unnerving situation mentioned above) can be trusted for doing a great paint job while not really being trusted for delivering his job on schedule (two months delay and still not finished!). There are also different domains of (dis)trust: it is not the same thing not to finish within schedule and to be at odds with ethics. How could that be expressed within the Open Badge Ecosystem?

If the Regional Chamber of Trades and Crafts delivered to its members a series of badges such as qualified painter, on-time delivery, on budget, that clients could endorse, many endorsements of the qualified painter and on budget badges with very few for the on-time delivery badge would be an indicator of a trustworthy professional, that should probably not be hired if one is on a tight schedule! In the absence of such badges to (not) endorse, there is nothing I can do within the Open Badge Ecosystem to express that my painter cannot be trusted for on-time delivery. Yet it is a piece of information that would be useful to future clients — and to help the painter to reflect on his practice.

Now, consider a group of ten professionals declaring trust for each other by endorsing each others’ badges. Imagine that one of them has his behave ethically badge endorsed by only two colleagues, while the good presenter badge is endorsed by nine. One might be led to conclude that ethics is not his/her forte. If wondering whether the discrepancy in the number of endorsements is an accident (didn’t think to endorse it, my mistake, sorry!) or a conscious act (no way!) one means to confirm or infirm the initial impression would be to invite those who have endorsed the other badges to endorse the behave ethically one as well. None or too few responses could be interpreted as a confirmation of the initial impression. The negative message received from the lack of responses would be reinforced if, among the non-respondents, several had endorsed the behave ethically of other members of their communities.

The problem with this kind of inference (not endorsed, therefore not to be trusted) is that it is all wrong. Having no information about something cannot be taken as the basis for a negative inference! If we have no information relative to tomorrow’s degree of sunshine, it does not mean that we should expect rain. While a 20% rain forecast is equivalent to 80% dry, 10 people believing that one person behaves ethically is not equivalent to the rest of the person’s network minus 10 people believe that this person does not behave ethically. It is the kind of reasoning used by totalitarian regimes and warmongers — if you are not with us, you are against us! Moreover, as there is no reason to force everyone to have a behave ethically badge, not endorsing it is not even an option.

If we believe that a piece of information relative to distrust is critical to the efficiency of a trust network, then we probably have no option but to introduce something akin to Badges of Distrust

How could Badges of Distrust Work?

As discussed above, Badges of Distrust will most likely not be collected by their earners, although they might be sent to them to give them a chance for reflection and a rebuttal. And if collected, it is very unlikely that the recipient nor the issuer, will make them public. 

One possible solution would to keep a copy of a BoD in the restricted area of the Open Badge Passport of the issuer, an area only accessible to services and people holding the right credentials — e.g. having the right badges! 

If the Badge Alliance offered a trust mapping service, this service could have access to BoDs to inform the map. A good trust mapping service should be able to differentiate between authentic BoDs and those that would come from trolls or other cyber-warmongers.

For example, if Amnesty International created a generic War Criminal Badge one might be tempted to create an instance for a certain T. B., keep it in their Open Badge Passport, then provide access to Amnesty International and other social activist networks. To avoid abuse, there could be conditions associated with instantiating such a badge, for example limiting it to Amnesty International members (i.e. holding an AI membership badge). As creator, Amnesty International would also also have the ability to revoke unfairly issued badges.

A BoD issuing sequence could go like this:

  1. Amnesty International creates a new Badge Class: War Criminal. Those badges can only be instantiated by one of AI’s officers.
  2. An instance of a War Criminal badge is created by an officer for a certain T. B. which is kept in the restricted area of Amnesty International Passport.
  3. Amnesty International members are invited to endorse this badge then share their endorsement within their trust networks as part of a campaign for the indictment of T.B.
  4. Members of the trust networks of AI members are invited to endorse the endorsement badge and invite the members of their own trust networks to endorse their own endorsement
  5. etc.

The choice to “endorse the endorsements” scenario instead of endorsing the original BoD could make sense in a context where Amnesty International only accepts endorsements from their members and not from second degree connections. It is also a means to show how chains of trust could emerge out of chains of endorsements. In this example, a network of trust is expressing strong distrust towards a a war criminal.

Of course, once introduced, less reputable organisations and individuals will be tempted to use BoDs for less worthy goals such as flaming and bullying. While it is not a risk to be taken lightly, those things do not need BoDs to happen. What we should rather explore is how the information collected from trust networks could help smother any such attempt and confine trolls and other cyber-warmongers within their own trust networks — after all, creeps have the right to create their own communities of practice, in cyberhell!

Conclusion

At its current stage of development, the Open Badge Infrastructure, and practice has solely focused on positive credentials. The only negative action possible with a badge is its revocation. How can this be reconciled with what happens in the real world where positive and negative statements are being issued, e.g. recognise that one person a has high sense of moral integrity while another has a poor sense of ethics? At a more trivial level, how could I convey the information that my window painter works well but not on schedule?

While Badges of Distrust (BoDs) have been explored as a possible response to the need of expressing negative credentials, their introduction might have a perverse effect such as creating the conditions for slander, defamation, bullying, etc. Simultaneously, BoDs could trigger a reflection in the receiving party that could lead to further positive credentials this time — and/or the emitting party could revise an unjustified judgement after rebuttal.

Is it a path worth exploring? Is it safe or are we going to open a can of worms? Should those initiating their development deserve a BoD?

PS: I would like to express my gratitude to those (unnamed) who have (unknowingly) contributed to feeding this post and stimulated improvements in the design of the Open Badge Passport.

26 Aug 00:00

Million Dollar Products

The mid 2000s were a crazy exciting time to be a hobby programmer. We’d suffered through a decade or so of trials to test our merit — The ASP/PHP Wars, The Trouble of Tables, DHTML, WAC-FR & sIFR, and of course — IE 5.5 for Mac. But things were finally looking up. We had a free database that was easy to administer, hosting was becoming affordable, broadband was becoming the norm in middle-class households, browsers could render CSS half-competently, web frameworks were becoming accessible to novices, and best of all, we could finally use transparent PNGs. The web was coming of age, and the barrier to entry was falling fast. If you had a computer, internet, and some free time — you could help build it.

As for myself, it felt like I had accidentally accrued the skills to turn dirt into gold. The blogs I followed trended toward product launches, and it felt like everyone around me was succeeding. The formula for success seemed simple:

  1. Pick a task that people already use software for (communicate, organize, write, etc).
  2. Build a better piece of software to accomplish the task.
  3. Iterate on it with customer feedback.
  4. Build up enough revenue to quit your job and work on it full time.

I can’t help but feel our industry doesn’t think this way anymore. It feels like the hobby programmers of today are only interested in building Unicorns — a really stupid name for companies valued at a billion dollars or more. People don’t start hacking on projects anymore, they become CEOs and start looking for funding. If it doesn’t capture the entire market, what’s the point of showing up?

This shift in mindset has made Silicon Valley feel like some kind of Wall Street 2.0 Incubator. We’ve attracted the worst kinds of people to our industry, grown our companies recklessly fast, insulted our customers with security breaches & poor quality, exploited our employees, and signed away most of our winnings to professional executives and venture capitalists. We stopped building products that allow people to do more. Now we build products that make people use more.

Working in software isn’t as exciting as it used to be. Reasons to be excited are drowned out by assholes announcing how busy they’ve been fucking people over to make themselves rich. It’s embarrassing.

I don’t think Unicorns are good for our industry.


I’ve grown to love the concept of a family business over the past few years. Operationally speaking, they’re the same as any other business. But philosophically, they’ve made decisions about how to run the business such that it benefits & reflects the values of the family running it. I like these businesses because they tend to treat their customers much better than traditional growth-focused businesses.

We don’t really have a concept of family owned software businesses yet, but I do think we can try to emulate the best parts of them. What would that look like?

Treat People Well + Make Money + Build Rad Shit

In most software businesses, revenue is looked at as a metric of unlimited potential. With unlimited potential comes unlimited opportunity costs. Almost every decision feels like it weighs against future maximum revenue. But what if you purposefully put a target on the amount of money you want to make to one million dollars a year? Instead of worrying about opportunity costs at every turn – taking funding, hiring that sketchy VP of Sales, partnering with that company you hate — you can focus your effort elsewhere: employees, customers, and product.

Employees

You don’t need a lot of employees to run a million dollar product. I’d say you can do it pretty well with about five1:

  • 1 person focused on the business/company
  • 1 person focused on customer support
  • 3 people focused on product development

Five people is a small enough number to treat very well as a company. You don’t have to worry about getting tangled in communication struggles, management strategies, political battles, and satisfying hundreds of people with every decision. You can get to know five people really well. Everyone can build a strong connection to each other.

Since you’re not focused on growing your valuation, you can ignore the employee-hostile game of Stock Options. Instead, you can choose employee-friendly equity strategies like performance bonuses, profit-sharing, and granting actual equity (shares) & issuing dividends. Everyone involved can make a lot of money and have a real incentive to invest themselves into the business.

Since you’re not playing the Stock Option game, people can leave when the time is right without ruining their financial future. Employees can leave or stay because of the work and the company, not tax law. Nothing is more poisonous to your company’s work ethic than having a bitter employee stick around when they’re no longer invested.

Five people is a small enough number to manage well. Common practice says 5-7 people is about the right number. You don’t have to implement any complicated management strategies. You’ll probably be managing them without any explicit effort because you’ll have a relationship with every employee.

My point here is that sticking to a small number of employees avoids the vast majority of difficult problems in running a company. And as every engineer knows, the best way to solve a problem is to not have it in the first place.

Customers

If you want to make a million dollars a year, you don’t need millions (or hundreds of millions) of customers. 12,000 paying customers at $7 per month can do it. That’s not an insurmountable amount of people.

You don’t have to cross cultural boundaries to get 12,000 customers, which means you aren’t trying to force one design pattern for everyone in the world. You don’t have to worry about internationalization, localization, or learning how business is done in Japan. You can stick to what you know, and do it really well.

12,000 is a small enough number to make sense of your customer metrics. You can build an intuitive understanding of the flow of signups, upgrades, downgrades, and cancellations. You can reach out to people who enjoy your product and those who don’t. Ask them why. Get to understand your customer’s motivations.

This all makes for a better relationship between the company and its customers.

Product

Product teams are fueled by context. With a small team and a small customer base, every member of the product team can build a solid understanding of your customers and the business. This makes for better product decisions, which means more revenue and higher customer satisfaction.

The most common poison for a product team is communication overhead. In order to put up the best solution for the problem, you need to be able to get lost in it. You need long stretches of uninterrupted time2 to do your job best. Most businesses don’t admit how costly things like company wide announcements, project management, interviewing, internal politics, and large scale collaboration are on productivity. They all work against flow, and should be considered a handicap on product teams. Small teams substitute process with trust, eliminating overhead.

It’s an order of magnitude easier to change direction with a small company. Big companies are like cargo ships — they can turn, but it’s going to take quite a while. Being able to change direction quickly makes it cheaper to throw away an idea that isn’t panning out well. You don’t have to force bad ideas. Bad ideas can fail and be replaced by good ideas. This is how you build a good product.

Make Money

Ignoring the valuation game makes the whole process of making money extremely straight forward. The more money you bring in, the less money you spend, the more money you take home.

Software is an extremely high margin business. We have all kinds of financial freedom that other businesses never experience. Once you get to the point where you can make payroll, money starts to add up fast. Other businesses require additional storefronts, employees, or raw materials to grow. But software doesn’t work that way. A 3 person product team can grow a product indefinitely.

And that’s kind of the thing about million dollar products. They rarely stay million dollar products. It might grow to a twenty million dollar business. But so long as you’ve built your values around the idea of a million dollars, you will grow in a high-margin, high-quality way.


You can make a lot of money building Unicorns. I’ll (eventually) do very well off my last gig because of it. It’s a fine way to run a software business. It’s a very fast, very intense way to operate. The whole world pays attention.

But this tunnel-vision our industry has settled into is silly. It’s skewed our motivations and confused our priorities. Not every product needs to be a Unicorn.

There’s a million other ways to run a business. People don’t start pizza shops to compete with Dominos. They start them because they love pizza.

And everyone knows the local pies are better.


1: This is far from a rule — it’s an example. Don’t take it too literally.

2: A 5 minute interruption may only take five minutes, but it can cost hours.

26 Aug 20:36

Adobe’s Project Rigel

by Federico Viticci

Stephen Shankland, writing for CNET on Adobe's plans for Project Rigel, a new photo editing app for iOS:

Photoshop is so well known that the product name is synonymous with photo editing. But the software itself is a success only on personal computers, not smartphones or tablets.

Photoshop's maker, Adobe Systems, hopes that will change in October at its Max conference for developers and creative professionals when it introduces a new Photoshop app for editing photos on Apple's iPhones and iPads. The free software, called only Project Rigel for now, is designed to bring a more accessible interface to what can be a dauntingly complex program on PCs.

Probably a smarter move than the old Photoshop Touch app to focus on photo editing for iPhone and iPad with advanced tools. The app will be free and act as a “bait” for the subscription-based desktop Photoshop. It'll be interesting to compare this to existing apps such as Pixelmator and Snapseed.

∞ Read this on MacStories

25 Aug 18:35

Twitter Favorites: [InklessPW] @InklessPW I prefer more people at more debates. It's fair for people to be angry at Mulcair. But the strategic play isn't opaque.

Paul Wells @InklessPW
@InklessPW I prefer more people at more debates. It's fair for people to be angry at Mulcair. But the strategic play isn't opaque.
26 Aug 18:50

Recommended on Medium: PhoneVR and Powered Headsets are still a useful way to think about the VR Headset landscape

It was interesting to see this article by Kevin Carbotte on Tom’s Hardware writing the article “Every Type of VR Headset (So Far)…

Continue reading on Medium »

26 Aug 22:30

Facebook announces M, a personal assistant for Messenger

by Igor Bonifacic

Facebook today announced a new Google Now and Siri-like service for its Messenger app called M.

Like those two assistants, M aims to help fulfill a variety of requests for the user.

That catch is that there are a group of Facebook employees, called M Trainers, overseeing each and every query.

“It can perform tasks that none of the others can,” said David Marcus, the vice president of messaging products at Facebook, in an interview with Wired. “That’s because, in addition to using artificial intelligence to complete its tasks, M is powered by actual people.”

Practically, the service works like so much of Messenger. There’s a new button at the bottom of the app, which allows users to send a note to M. Once a message is received, Facebook’s software will parse the request and ask follow up questions. As it completes a request, M will provide updates, and one of the trainers is there to ensure that the request is completed. However, from the user’s perspective, they’ll never know if they’re interacting with a piece of software or a person.

Sometimes the human element and software will collaborate to complete a request. For instance, if a person asks for help planning a surprise birthday party for their friend, the software side of M could book an Uber ride for that friend while at the same time the trainer sends them a box of cupcakes from their favourite bakery.

M is currently in limited release with only Messenger users in San Francisco having access to the personal assistant. It will be interesting to see if Facebook is able to find a way to scale the service beyond the confines of Silicon Valley. Despite its well-deserved place of prominence within the tech world, Silicon Valley has given birth to products that have had little appeal outside of its affluent borders. It was only a little more than a year ago that Secret, the anonymous social network, shut down when it couldn’t gain traction outside of the Valley. This, despite the fact that it launched with much fan fare there and $35-million in startup capital.

However, if there’s a company that can make a service like this work, it’s Facebook. In his interview with Wired, Marcus told the publication that the plan is to give M’s machine learning algorithm time to study the requests people make of it. The hope is that this will not only help reduce the need for hiring huge numbers of trainers as the service grows and evolves, but will also make it so that the service can help any one of Messengers 700-million users and counting.

SourceFacebook
ViaWired
26 Aug 23:47

Engineering Productivity Update, August 26, 2015

by jagriffin

It’s PTO season and many people have taken a few days or week off.  While they’re away, the team continues making progress on a variety of fronts.  Planning also continues for GoFaster and addon-signing, which will both likely be significant projects for the team in Q4.

Highlights

Treeherder: camd rolled out a change which collapses chunked jobs on Treeherder, reducing visual noise.  In the future, we plan on significantly increasing the number of chunks of many jobs in order to reduce runtimes, so this change makes that work more practical.  See camd’s blog post.  emorley has landed a change which allows TaskCluster job errors that occur outside of mozharness to be properly handled by Treeherder.

Automatic Starring: jgraham has developed a basic backend which supports recognizing simple intermittent failures, and is working on integrating that into Treeherder; mdoglio is landing some related database changes. ekyle has received sheriff training from RyanVM, and plans to use this to help improve the automated failure recognition algorithm.

Perfherder and Performance Testing: Datazilla has finally been decommissioned (R.I.P.), in favor of our newest performance analysis tool, Perfherder.  A lot of Talos documentation updates have been made at https://wiki.mozilla.org/Buildbot/Talos, including details about how we perform calculations on data produced by Talos.  wlach performed a useful post-mortem of Eideticker, with several takeaways which should be applicable to many other projects.

MozReview and Autoland: There’s a MozReview meetup underway, so expect some cool updates next time!

TaskCluster Support: ted has made a successful cross-compiled OSX build using TaskCluster!  Take it for a spin.  More work is needed before we can move OSX builds from the mac mini builders to the cloud.

Mobile Automation: gbrown continues to make improvements on the new |mach emulator| command which makes running Android tests locally on emulator very simple.

General Automation: run-by-dir is live on opt mochitest-plain; debug and ASAN coming soon.  This reduces test “bleed-through” and makes it easier to change chunking.  adusca, our Outreachy intern, is working to integrate the try extender into Treeherder.  And ahal has merged the mozharness “in-tree” configs with the regular mozharness config files, now that mozharness lives in the tree.

Firefox Automation: YouTube ad detection has been improved for firefox-media-tests by maja, which fixes the source of the top intermittent failure in this suite.

Bughunter: bc has got asan-opt builds running in production, and is working on gtk3 support.

hg.mozilla.org: gps has enabled syntax highlighting in hgweb, and has added a new JSON API as well.  See gps’ blog post.

The Details

bugzilla.mozilla.org
Treeherder
Perfherder/Performance Testing
  • talos cleanup and preparation to move in-tree
  • perfherder database cleanup in progress for simpler and more optimized queries. This is mainly preparatory work for making perfherder capable of managing/starring performance alerts, but as a bonus perfherder compare view should load virtually instantly once this is finished. 
  • most talos wiki docs are updated: https://wiki.mozilla.org/Buildbot/Talos
TaskCluster Support
Mobile Automation
  •  [gbrown] Working on “mach emulator” support: wip can download and run 2.3, 4.3, or x86 emulator images. Integrating with other mach commands like “install” and “mochitest”.
  •  [gbrown] Updated mochitest manifests to run most dom/media mochitests on Android 4.3 (under review, bug 1189784)
Firefox and Media Automation
  • [maja_zf] Improved ad detection on YouTube for firefox-media-tests, which fixes our top intermittent failure for long-running playback tests.
General Automation
  •  run-by-dir is live for mochitest-plain (opt only); debug is coming soon, followed by ASAN.
  • Mozilla CI tools is moving from using BuildAPI as the scheduling entry point to use TaskCluster’ scheduling. This work will allow us to schedule a graph of buildbot jobs and their dependencies in one shot. https://bugzil.la/1194264
  • adusca is integrating into treeherder the ability to extend the jobs run for any push. This is based on the http://try-extender.herokuapp.com prototype. Follow along in https://bugzil.la/1194830
  • Git was deployed to the test machines. This is necessary to make the Firefox UI update tests work on them.
  • [ahal] merge mozharness in-tree configs with the main mozharness configs
ActiveData
  • Bug fixes to the ETL – fix bad lookups on hg repo, mostly l10n builds 
  • More error reporting on ETL – Structured logging has changed a little, handle the new variations, and be more elegant when it comes to unknowns, an complain when there is non-conformance.
  • Some work on adding hg `repo` table – acts as a cache for ETL, but can be used to calculate ‘per push’ statistics on OrangeFactor data.
  • Added Talos to the `perf` table – used the old Datazilla ETL code to fill the ES cluster.  This may speed up extracting the replicates, for exploring the behaviour of a test.
  • Enable deep queries – Effectively performing SQL join on Elasticsearch – first attempt did too much refactoring.  Second attempt is simpler, but still slogging through all the resulting test breakage
hg.mozilla.org
WebDriver
  • Updated 
Marionette
  • [ahal] helped review and finish contributor patch for switching marionette_client from optparse to argparse
  • Corrected UUID used for session ID and element IDs
  • Updated dispatching of various marionette calls in Gecko
bughunter
  • [bc] Have asan-opt builds running in production. Finalizing patch. Still need to build gtk3 for rhel6 32bit in order to stop using custom builds and support opt in addition to debug.
charts.mozilla.org
  • Updated the hierarchical burndowns to EPM’s important metabugs that track features 
  • More config changes

26 Aug 00:00

Beginning the Fourth Decade of the "IT Revolution" in Higher Education: Plus Ça Change


Kenneth C. Green, EDUCAUSE Review, Aug 27, 2015


For many reasons which are off topic to this newsletter, I don't think productivity is the measure we should use to assess the impact of computer technology. Productivity is the measure of the old economy. And I'm not sure I agree with these priorities as reported in EDUCAUSE Review, but I feel duty-bound to report them (quoted):

  • User Support. Colleges and universities across all sectors must commit to major improvements in user training and support.
  • Assessment. Opinion and epiphany cannot be allowed to dominate the conversations about institutional IT policy and planning.
  • Productivity. It is now time for academic leaders, including higher education's IT leadership, to have frank, candid, and public conversations about productivity
  • Online Education. Institutions must commit to significant and sustained efforts to evaluate their online efforts.
  • Recognition and Reward. We must move to an expansive definition of scholarship in order to value the efforts of faculty.
  • Data as a Resource. Higher education institutions must stop using data as a weapon against students, faculty, and programs.
  • The Value of Information Technology. Institutional leaders must do a better job of conveying the value and impact of higher education's investments in information technology.

Honestly, none of this excites me. None of this has anything to do with making people's li8ves better or  making society better. It's a list of priorities for accountants. Maybe if the author weren't so ambivalent about education and technology (and maybe if the presidents, provosts and CIOs surveyed had more of an investment in it) we'd see something more exciting. But this just leaves me empty.

[Link] [Comment]
26 Aug 00:00

Data, Technology, and the Great Unbundling of Higher Education

Rolandt

jj


Ryan Craig, Allison Williams, EDUCAUSE Review, Aug 27, 2015


Unlike the  dull-as-dishwater set of priorities listed by Kenneth Green, this post has some more exciting projections about the future of technology in higher education. But it should be noted that this comes at a cost - a crisis in traditional institutions, a crisis that has been slow to develop but is now approach a crest: "In a survey of 368 small private colleges and midsize state universities, 38 percent failed to meet their 2014– 15 budget for both freshman enrollment and net tuition revenue.... Like the retailer and restaurant markets, the middle of the higher education market is being hollowed out from both the top and the bottom."

Let's look at what we can do if we get it right:

  • Accessibility - "Yet before digital delivery transformed distance learning to online degrees, accessibility was not universal."
  • Affordability - "the real higher education story of the decade is the crisis of affordability. Current and recent students amass unprecedented debt loads by the time they graduate....  online delivery should be a solution to the crisis of affordability." - "Solving for Affordability: Competency-Based Learning"
  • Efficacy - "If any product or service should be designed so that a stoned freshman can figure it out, it should be higher education." - "Solving for Efficacy: Adaptive Learning and Gamification"

This is a good article. I don't necessarily agree that competency and cradle-to-job design is the way of the future, but there is no question the 'unbundling' described by the authors is. 

"In an era of unbundling, when colleges and universities need to move from selling degrees to selling EaaS subscriptions, the winners will be those that can turn their students into "students for life"— providing the right educational programs and experiences at the right time. This becomes possible when individuals own their competencies and allow institutions to manage their profiles, suggesting educational programs and even employment." Oh - but are universities ready for that?

[Link] [Comment]
24 Aug 22:01

Recommended on Medium: Coming Out as Single And Childless

I turned 40 last summer (2014), and it hasn’t been easy.

Continue reading on Medium »