Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Today's thought : All successful large systems were successful small systems
This Gillmor Gang show (MP3) is worth a listen.

Several smart people cover the implications of iTunes handling Podcasts, whether Microsoft missed the boat on audio, and whether that's due to an obsession with DRM, and a a fair bit on RSS. Plus lots more.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Chris Dent asks Why Wiki?. He raises the important distinction between automation and augmentation.

Automation is trying to get computers to replace what people do. Augmentation is helping people do more.

I'd echo Chris's sentiments almost word-for-word. I also want to build tools to augment humans rather than try to replace them. Of course, augmenting human capability often requires automating repetitive chores. Email replaces the postman with machines.

But this distinction is good to keep in mind.

And here's the SDI angle. "Smart Disorganized Individuals" is my mantra. It reflects my aspirations as to what I want to make, or rather who I want to build tools for. Who do I want my software to empower in society?

Let's look at that last word : "individuals". I want to make software for individuals. What I mean is, I want to make software that helps people express their individuality. That helps them to solve their problems. That helps them to work better on their own terms.

What I'm sick of, is writing software for institutions. I'm sick of software that one person commissions for someone else to use. And which has features designed to oppress. I'm sick of software that's designed to impose uniformity on a workforce. Sick of software designed to police your actions. Sick of software that helps keep people under the thumb of their managers. That tries to turn the public into a mindless audience.

The good news is, I don't think I'm alone. Every day on the internet I come across people like Chris, who want to "augment" not "automate", who want to build cool stuff that people can really use to do their own thing.

There are plenty of the other sort too, of course. Companies who sell software to other corporations, designed to turn their employees into deskilled, replacable parts : call-centerization, content management with workflow modules etc.

But I think the individualists are winning. Content management dinosaurs are dying out. And smarter, more individual focused software is flourishing. People's expectations are rising. And it's a challenging but good time to be making software.
Bubbler - web publishing for the Flickr generation?

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Project Management - On Scale Larger than ever Dreamt :-)
Tom Peters's site meets Richard Florida to talk Creative Class.

I can't help feeling a bit disturbed though, that the instigator of Brand You has anonymous interviewers working for him. How about a bit of Brand Them? Would it hurt Tom's brand to raise independent stars in his stable?

Florida is great though.
Bill Seitz on Wiki As Pim

Friday, May 27, 2005

Robert Cringely has some interesting predictions about what things are going on at the moment, that might change the shape of the computer industry.

PBS | I, Cringely . May 12, 2005 - Inflection Point

What he didn't see is Apple's move into podcasting, although downloadable enclosures does fit Cringely's story of Apple's dominance of video.

Something for all software developers to think about ...
After reading Adsense Tips for Bloggers 6 - Relevant Ads I realize I have to emphasize that this blog is mainly about wiki. Yes, that's right wiki. Wiki in the enterprise, in small business, in the home, in the garden shed ... wherever. And that wiki is a great aid to personal productivity and success.

You got that, yes, Googlebot? Wiki? Hello? Can I have some wiki (or even hyper-text) related ads. Not ads about b**gs please.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Interesting new feature has appeared in Google Ads. There are now links to swap the ads to a slightly different set.

The ads are turning into content. In one sense, it's a promising evolution. Advertisers (or Google on the advertiser's behalf) are starting to see their message as something people will want to read. At the same time, as the ad-bar becomes a kind of contentful space controlled by Google. What else might they choose to put there?
Bill Seitz on Issue Trackers.

I'm not very happy how my online wiki is turning out for "issue tracking" in SdiDesk. I'm wondering if this is a "tool problem" or simply a "culture problem".

Needs some experiment ...
Why ‘Enterprise’ Development is Hard is also why small scale, independents, ocassionally and temporarily teaming up, ought to be able to out-compete "enterprises" any day of the week.
Ah ... AdSense came up with an ad for Eastgate's Tinderbox

Now that's an improvement. A product I'm glad to be seen in the company of. Also I note they're getting into the real, paper notebook side of things.
I advertised! Although only in a blog comment.

Free from 9 to 5 � Everyone wants to be free from 9 to 5

Nevertheless, I feel kind of embarrassed. Thanks "Eric" for making it easy.

This is what's hard about entrepreneurialism for people like me. I don't like asking for stuff. And "ask for the sale" is the first rule of selling.

The world is divided into people who don't mind asking for things, and those who do. And being willing to ask is a necessary condition for success.

This troubles me, because it's not clear that the skill of asking is actually "productive". It doesn't create value or bring new things into the world. It's a completely zero sum competitive activity. The most succesful "asking" (advertising, marketing, retail positioning) is succesful at the cost of a lost sale to another supplier.

Now, I don't see any harm in competition between suppliers as to who is going to make the best stuff, or the most useful aggrograte package of stuff. But when competition hinges on who is able to shout loudest, or who employs the salesman with the best Jedi mind-tricks, this just looks screwed up.

Obviously people need to get the message out. And maybe blogs and Cluetrain will make it so that engaged "Gonzo" marketing which actually makes all communication channels between suppliers and customers, informative and useful, will save us.

Update : if you hear a muffled thudding sound as you read this blog-entry, that's my commercial super-ego who wanted to make the above "Cluetrain" link into an Amazon link which pays a kickback. This time, I managed to have said commercial super-ego stuffed into a box and the link goes to the online version of the book.
Getting Things Done: "Official" Definition

David Allen has a go at pinning it down. Now, in one sense, since he wrote the classic book, he has every right to try to control the definition.

On the other hand, GTD is beloved of the disorganized and creative. Often these people are fairly relaxed about allowing terminology to wander and extending ideas through metaphors and analogies but still aspire to a little more self-control.

Possibly a fairly loose definition of GTD has been part of its success. People think they know what it's about, but are really mapping it onto ideas they received second and third hand, and which they've personally remixed with other intuitions. Maybe they'll prefer a fairly loose notion.

Having said all that, the actual definition Allen gives waffles like Belgium. So maybe he knows his market pretty well ;-)
Vaspers the Grate : Keep Blogging!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Ross Mayfield points out that small companies can outsource the employing of their employees.
Ross Mayfield's Weblog: How to fire your team and make them happy

Questions :

Is there a catch?

Is this different from an employment agency?
Vaspers the Grate follows the Hugh Train's advice ... with added deconstruction.
On second thoughts, I'm not very convinced at all that Google's AdSense is any sort of business model for this blog. Ads needs loads of people. Whereas self-describing Smart Disorganized Individuals are probably rare as hen's teeth.

Not only that, but after casually glancing at some of the ads so far, I don't think they're that well matched to the content yet. Maybe they'll get better. (Is AdSense adaptive?) But how many times do I need to mention "wiki" before I get a wiki related, rather than blog related ad?

Hugh Macleod has news of some ideas that might help on the modelling front.
Dave Winer's podcast of May 21st has a good discussion of his coming OPML outliner, an example of what he's calling an "Idea processor".

What does he want? Extreme easiness. Cool!
SdiDesk Wiki: DifferentBrowserRequest

Could SdiDesk open links to external sites in another browser rather than IE? I'm sure it could, but it's not so straightforward.

Some experiments to be done.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Release Early, Release Often for proprietory software?

I got a copy of Real Basic via their competitive upgrade scheme for Visual Basic owners a couple of months ago. I've looked at it, and at one point thought about porting SdiDesk to it. The deal breaker is that there's no equivalent to Visual Basic's DHTML control. Nevertheless I'd like to try something using RB this year. And I'm following their "getting started" mailing list.

Currently there's a fair old discussion on that list about REAL Software's "Rapid Release Plans". RealBasic 2005 will be released with a 90 day release cycle. In other words, they plan to bring out new versions more or less every 3 months.

Some users are suspicious that there's a shift towards a "rental" model for the software, but REAL point out that if you allow your subscription to upgrades to lapse you won't lose your existing software. You just won't get any more upgrades.

So how and why are REAL Software making this shift? In their PDF white paper they point out :

In a nutshell, the amount of time a company can take to develop and release a software product has traditionally been driven by the needs of the retail distribution model rather than the needs of the software developer and its customers.

Now, naturally, the internet makes it possible to shorten that. "Live" updating to customers of existing products is often used to distribute bug fixes.

However, this introduces its own problem : if a company is developing a new version of a program, while continuously distributing fixes to the existing release, it ends up working on two versions of the code at the same time.

That adds plenty of cost. Both the dual effort and in managing and synchronizing the two versions of the code-base. The rapid release model tries to reduce this cost by making new releases smaller, more incremental improvements.

The idea is not that software is written any faster. Simply that if you intend for release 2.0 to add 6 new features over 1.0, it's better to add one feature and release it every three months, than wait and release them all after 18 months. After each three month cycle, the "current" version is refreshed, and any new bug fixes can be made to that. New development, and maintainence of existing releases is easier and cheaper to keep synchronized.

As well as reducing the cost of maintaining two versions for 18 moths, rapid release also allows the company to be more flexible if the user's requirements change. This reduces the risk of working on something that will be out-dated or unwanted when finally released.

Another point made by REAL, is that the media itself is changing. The print media are being supplemented or surpassed by the online media : mailing lists, blogs and discussion forums which are, themselves, working on shorter time-spans. The result of more, more frequent, releases, is more points to touch this fast moving online media. Every release is an opportunity for an online discussion, bringing the product to the attention of new people.

As REAL put it : In the Internet marketing game, each new
release provides a fresh opportunity to grab a fleeting moment of
coverage and online advertising can be focused on the benefits of each new release.

Having listed these benefits of pulverising the development of software into a finer granularity, REAL then have to worry about a different problem. What's the business model?

Here a new set of forces come into effect. While the company and users benefit from the faster release cycle, there remains a problem of how to charge for it. The user's perception is likely to be that she shouldn't be spending more money every three months. The last bastion of slow cycle thinking is in corporate purchasing departments. Especially when the company must think about whether the upgrade is worth it. If you need to get permission from your boss's boss.

At the limit, small payments for small pieces of value tend to fail because the cost of decision making outweighs the benefit of the purchase. Users prefer a scheme which aggrogates several cheap pieces of value into a single larger price because it's easier to reason about and decide.

REAL clearly understood this, because they're bundling several upgrades under a single price. Or rather a 12 month subscription (which should cover more or less 4 releases, though it's not clear what happens if a release slips a couple of weeks and you only get 3 in your 12 months)

Those 12 months might still be too short for people, hence the low-level kvetching on the RB mailing list. But it's in the right direction. Maybe if REAL demonstrate this working over the next year, they could make longer term subscriptions available and some customers will prefer them.

All interesting stuff. Obviously, rapid releases are a corner-stone of eXtreme Programming, and other agile methods. But the business model is another thing to think about, with wider implications than just releasing software.

Finer granularity gives more flexibility and reduced co-ordination. That's implicit in free-software and one of the reasons that weblogs are exciting. It's why loose agregations of smart, disorganized individuals; free agents, bootstrappers and microISVs can compete with larger, more structured groupings.

But there's sometimes a mismatch between the granularity and time-scales of those people, and the requirements of customers. So there's a need for a kind of adapter pattern. For encapsulating a fast spinning, high kinetic energy production, and presenting a slower moving interface to the outside world. Something like a gear box.

Smart disorganized individuals like to do a little bit of lots of things. But sometimes this needs to be packaged up as one big, consistent thing. One strategy is learn self-discipline. But self discipline isn't always cheap or desirable. A software company doesn't want to revert to 18 month release cycles just to appeal to purchasing departments. And maybe you don't want to revert to doing one thing for six months, just because the employer needs it.

But if you're going to avoid self discipline, you'll need something else : an interface, a bundling strategy, or tools which can tame the chaos.
A View from Elsewhere : Whatever Happened to the Micro ISV?

Sunday, May 22, 2005

This, the SDI blog, blog is starting to warm up. Just added a call to my new (in progress) blogroll generating script. (See the right-hand column).

And some, er, Google ads down the side.

Why? What's up with that?

Well, I'm a "portfolio worker" (read, under-employed). I have a regular part-time job, teaching programming in the university, which I love doing. And I'm starting to do some contract work too. Nevertheless, this isn't keeping me in the manner to which I'd kind of got accustomed. But I don't really want to give up teaching to go back to full-time programming.

So I decided I'm going "pro". I want to try to get some kind of income from some of my online activity.

Of course, most of my online life is still emphatically non-commercial. But I'm going to do some experiments with a slightly different attitude. This blog will be run on different principles to my other stuff. It will be focussed ... ;-) ... and well written ... ;-) ... and regularly updated ... ;-) ... and intended to capture a larger audience than my personal blog and other online writings.

It's also aiming to be "profitable". Sort of.

I'm starting with a first mission that's relatively low-aspiration : I want to build up the audience and revenue from this blog and SdiDesk related activities to pay my monthly hosting bill. That's about 16 dollars a month. If I get there, I'll have at least found where my bootstraps are, and will promptly set about trying to pull at them.

Over the next few posts I'll start to further develop the themes of this blog and what I'm trying to do. The mantra "Smart Disorganized Individuals" sums up what I'm about. But I'll need to keep elaborating. SdiDesk is part of it, though not the whole thing story.

If you look at my blogroll, you'll see links about the increasingly fashionable area of life-hacking, getting things done, mind-mapping, idea processing etc. It's hard to be as disorganized as me and not to care about this kind of thing. Or not be attracted to the tools. On the other hand, you probably won't find me lusting over brands of paper notebooks. [That attitude must change! If it brings in ad revenue, you'll be writing 500 words on Post-it notes - Ed]

So this blog isn't going to be a "me-too" copy of 43-folders or life-hacker. (For one thing, it will be a damn-sight less Mac obsessed than 43-folders. :-)

You'll also see links to people trying to be Micro ISVs. That's quite a tempting idea too. But it's hard to reconcile with being still fairly dedicated to the ideal of Free Software. I'm not going to start charging for SdiDesk or anything like that. [Careful! - Ed]

No, really, I'm not!!! Although, remember I am (at least later this year) available to do custom modifications.

Even shareware works on a certain guilt-trip that's hard to maintain while explicitly giving people the four freedoms. So, I know you can be a reasonably succesful software company with some sort of free-software commitment. But does it make sense to try to be micro and free? I'm not optimistic. Hell, even smart, experienced developers with popular weblogs are finding it hard to reach their minimal targets in this game.

Maybe this is an experiment in absurdity ... ;-)

Friday, May 20, 2005

If you do a search for the word "wiki" on Amazon.com, it's surprisingly empty.

I suspect there's an opportunity for someone there ... :-)

Update : that's interesting. Amazon tells me I have a bug in the browser when I click that link. Seems like you can't simply copy the URL from search result pages.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Joel Spolsky's Project Aardvark gives Fog Creek's student temps a chance to build a product from scratch in four weeks.

They're making a video too.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Well, that's not too bad. Only a year and five months since the first post ;-)

But now, SDI the blog is being resurected from hibernation ... just as SdiDesk 0.2.2 is released.

Watch this space ... (but you can talk quietly amongst yourselves while you're waiting.)