On walkabout in life and technology

VC Tries to Sell a Con

In Startups Are Hard. So Work More, Cry Less, And Quit All The Whining, Michael Arrington uses the 1994 post by overworked engineer Jamie Zawinski to make his point that startups are hard, Silicon Valley is awesome, you must work long hours, and if you do, the rewards are worth it. He states

But you also know that there is nowhere on earth like Silicon Valley. Nowhere else that is structurally designed to help you make whatever you can imagine into reality. Nowhere else where there are so many like minded people who are willing to sacrifice and work hard to create something new.

Jamie’s response is classic, in Watch a VC use my name to sell a con, he points out the real truth:

What is true is that for a VC's business model to work, it's necessary for you to give up your life in order for him to become richer.


So if your goal is to enrich the Arringtons of the world while maybe, if you win the lottery, scooping some of the groundscore that they overlooked, then by all means, bust your ass while the bankers and speculators cheer you on.

I love his final paragraph:

Instead of that, I recommend that you do what you love because you love doing it. If that means long hours, fantastic. If that means leaving the office by 6pm every day for your underwater basket-weaving class, also fantastic.

Hundreds of Sites Ordered Deindexed

A judge has ruled 700 domain names to be seized and removed from Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Bing, Yahoo and Google searches, on suspicion, not proof, of selling counterfeit goods. Whether the domain names are local or foreign, infringing or not, or even valid but caught-in-the-net business sites is immaterial. They are ordered seized and taken down without notice or recourse.

Of course, there is no law to force a registry to change ownership, nor a law to require the search engines to delist in this way, but the judge ordered it anyway. Says Law Professor Venkat Balasubramani on this topic yesterday:

Wow. I'm sympathetic to the "whack-a-mole" problem rights owners face, but this relief is just extraordinarily broad and is on shaky procedural grounds.

These days, even before SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, we have this and Operation in our Sites seizing huge numbers of domain names without notice, and without recourse, based on one-sided cases with no legal basis to execute these seizures.

Actually, there is a valid process for this. The DCMA takedown is a legal and fully doumented process. The alleged infringer is given a legal notice indicating the evidence found, when it was found, who found it, and a way to contact the issuer if there are any problems with the notice. It allows people mistakenly caught in the net to respond, and the takers down to correct any errors.

I am not saying the 700 sites were legitimate, but the process to take them down is most certainly not legitimate. What if the next site delisted without notice or recourse is my business site?

For more on this, see the Ars Technica article US judge orders hundreds of sites “de-indexed” from Google, Facebook.

The Readable Future

Brent Simmons nails it again in The Readable Future, talking about the tools we all use to bypass all the ads and clutter of publisher’s sites.

The future is, one way or another, *readable*.

Because that’s what readers want, and because the technology is easier to find and use and learn than ever. That trend will continue because developers live to give people technologies that make life better.


Matt Legend Gemmell writing on Copycats:

There’s an entire spectrum of terms available besides ‘copied’, ranging from “inspired by” to “plagiarised”, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing to be influenced by the work of others. The key is to ensure that you’re consciously agreeing with a design, rather than just aping (mimicking unthinkingly - a definition which no doubt does our hairy cousins a grave disservice). Sadly, much of the technology sector simply apes.

His conclusion is perfect.

Innovation is about making things new, rather than necessarily making new things. To do that, you naturally need to know what things are already out there. No-one is saying you should design in a vacuum, and indeed you’ll never be able to anyway. Know the market, know your competition, and certainly live and breathe in the sector you’re designing for.

Almost No-one Changes Their Settings

Following up on my recent I just want a Hamburger post, I came across a wonderful article by Jared Spool entitled Do users change their settings?.

In line with that I said about developers thoughtfully making decisions on options for their users, Jared makes some beautiful points

Less than 5% of the users we surveyed had changed any settings at all.


They assumed Microsoft had delivered it turned off for a reason, therefore who were they to set it otherwise. “Microsoft must know what they are doing,” several of the participants told us.

Is this true?

The users’ assumption that Microsoft had given this careful consideration turned out not to be the case.

It should be the case. As I wrote

It is our duty as developers to make the best choices for our users, to select the most useful defaults and to offer only the most necessary options.

If Your Site Does ..., You Hate Your Customers

There has been a lot of talk on the Internet lately on the inability for web site visitors to actually read the content on publisher’s pages because of all the annoyances and clutter on these pages. If you are one of these publishers, read on, this is to help you identify what frustrates your customers. If you are a reader like me, let me know of any major annoyances I may have missed out on.

If your site displays a full page ad for 15 seconds before an article can be read, you hate your customers.

If your site splits articles, even short ones, into multiple pages, you hate your customers.

Should I Wait?

As a technologist, I am often asked by friends and family whether they should buy a new gizmo now or wait a while for the next release of said gizmo.

I always have the same answer:

If you need it, buy it now.

I Just Want a Hamburger

Or too many choices lead to the inability to choose.

In the USA, when one walks into a restaurant to eat a hamburger, one has to endure a full interrogation. How would you like the burger cooked? Would you like cheese on it? What kind of cheese would you like? Would you also like bacon on it? Lettuce and tomato? Onions? Raw or Fried? Mayonnaise, ketchup, relish or mustard? Which kind of mustard? Do you want fries on the side? A pickle too? Sesame on the bun? Raw or toasted?

Give us a break. We want a hamburger, make by a professional in the making of hamburgers, and presented to us as the best mix of ingredients prepared properly that they believe makes a great hamburger. We did not go in there to make choices, we went in to eat a delicious burger, pay and leave.

It turns out software users want the same thing. Product, made by us, that satisfies their needs, without the options and choices and interrogations that make using it difficult, confusing and dissatisfying.

You Are Not Your Customer

One of the most common memes in software development is that great products come from a programmer scratching an itch. They needed software to do something, did not like what was out there, and created a great product. They were their own customer, they knew what they wanted and they made the software for themselves.

As with most meme’s, this one is only somewhat true. They did have an itch. They did create some software. And hundreds of programmers do this every day. But very few of them make great products with this software. Instead, they create something for themselves, to be used by themselves and never shared. And if they do share it, it’s usually a subset of a product that never grows, never sells and never becomes great.

So what about the ones who did create the great products? Ask any of them, the product that they created is not the product they envisaged at the start. In many cases, it’s not even the product they set out to do. The core of the product may still scratch their specific itch, but the essence of the product scratches the itches of their friends, family, co-workers and finally, customers.

One of the most humbling lessons a software product designer has to learn is that you have absolutely no idea how your customers are going to perceive, understand and use your product. And no idea what problems they are going to use your product to solve (screwdriver manufacturers had no idea people would use their handles as hammers). Great product designers value the experience of watching their customers use their products, seeing how they interact and respond, and love the feedback that customers give. Great product designers know how to filter that feedback down to its essence and meld the product to meet and exceed their customer’s needs.

The real thing these programmers did to make great products was to apply their experience in software and design to the real world problems of their customers, distill the itch into a simple to use and easy to understand product, remove all distractions and complexity, and made just that.

Programmers, you are not your customer. Your customers are your customer. They have different skills, experiences, needs, and backgrounds. Sometimes they know what they need, sometimes you do. Knowing when to listen to them and when to ignore them comes from understanding them, knowing them and the problem space and the possible solution spaces. And then making an informed decision. And in understanding the decision and its consequences. And then applying that decision to the product.

Make a product for the customers you know and understand, add your skill and experience into the mix, and you will make great products that will make more people happy than you can imagine.

F*ck You, Pay Me

For all you designers, programmers, indies and freelancers, I give you the best, most informative video, you will ever see. Mike Monteiro a.k.a. @mike_ftw, of Mule Design gave a talk on contracts and how to deal with money discussions.

Check it out: F*ck You, Pay Me.

Then follow his advice.