Archive for March, 2010

Iteration kills the Lizard

March 29th, 2010

Life is like high school. That’s why adults join (Facebook) groups that do nothing but pick others to pieces for their mistakes. It’s just more fun in a group, isn’t it? Besides, it’s safe. You can hide within your 1,000+ peers, too. No personal responsibility. No effort. No value.

What would entirely change the game is a cause. It’s not bad to say “Now here’s a bad example of [whatever]” as long as you say “here’s how you make it better”. But it’s the selfishness of the Lizard Brain that hinders the process. The idea of a limited marketplace. If one person stepped in and helped for free, the lizard assumes, this will ruin business once and for all.

What it really does is iterating the rules of the group on the group itself. That’s what the Lizard’s afraid of, to be killed by the very same means he’s been devising to uphold power. Today this happens quicker than ever.

China, Germany

March 28th, 2010

A German Court has ruled that Google must exclude a link to an article with dubious claims about a German citizen not only from its German site, but also the international Google search results — but not those in Austria and Switzerland. And the German Federal Constitutional Court has encouraged other German courts to pursue similar international incidents — in the interest of the people who might damaged by international reporting. The thing is, of course, that these legal proceedings are carried out by German Law standards.

Makes me wonder why people are upset about China.

Needful software (II)

March 28th, 2010

A project management software for Mac that is compatible to MS Project and offers the same features, only better. And which can be fully integrated with iWork. And MS Office. Filemaker too (just in case the one person who needs it shows up). Plus Google Docs — and Google Wave, of course (no pun intended — there’s quite little buzz about it recently, or is it just me?)

Can you make it? Pretty please?

Needful software (I)

March 28th, 2010

I’ve been using computers for about 20 years now and never had any issues in terms of violating file system limitations. One reason certainly was that I never ran the risk of having too long/deep folder structures because there wasn’t that much data. This of course changes when you have a constellation where you have a desktop workstation and a notebook for working remotely, and use the desktop PC to store your backups as well. You can pretty easy end up with a folder structure that has more than 255 characters (including filename and extension). What happens next is your computer crashing without warning every time the automatic indexing hits the folder. I only discovered it because I tried to move all the data to a Linux-based NAS (which has an ext-3 file system with almost the same limitations as NTFS on Windows). For some reasons Windows doesn’t give a warning when you put a folder structure of critical length into another folder but has no problem telling you thereafter taht it cannot do anything because it’s broken.

The core question is: How do we organize data? What’s most annoying about the classic folder concept is that it only allows for one context in which data can be represented, but technically, it doesn’t matter. The file system itself is nothing but a giant database where a string variable points to a physical area of your hard drive. Some more information that is stored there: file size, file type (extension), creation date, modification date.

I’d like someone to come up with a piece of software that hooks in at this very basic level and gives me whatever contextualization of the data I like, say, by last modification date, document type and a number of tags I have entered. Or the other way round, with a single click, not going through the whole procedure again. It’s all built in, but not being used. To be clear: I don’t want a search tool, what I’m asking for is a flexible explorer (hint: if you’ree finished making it, flexplorer.com is already taken — by a Cayman Island Domain Troll of course. Flexplorer-xp or winflexplorer are still up for grabs).

Keep them coming

March 27th, 2010

This news was quite surprising: According to a recent study of  the MAAWG, about half of all internet users still read spam emails, and one quarter even reacts on them by clicking links, opening attachments or forwarding. The Dark Ages are not over yet. Please don’t tell anyone asking for cheap means of marketing.

Letter from a Leader

March 27th, 2010

Even though it’s now almost 3 years old, it’s still a perfect example of how not only to lead your company, but also your tribe of customers: Steve Jobs – To all iPhone customers. The remarkable part is not the coupon, of course.

Landing nowhere

March 26th, 2010

Sometimes you really wonder. There’s been so much writing about how to design landing pages or the starting page of a web presence, and still there are too many companies still not getting it. It’s OK to have a website that uses lots of JavaScript. It’s even OK (though not clever) to have a website that requires the user to have Flash installed on their computer (let’s see what happens when HTML5 is official standard). But it’s not OK to have a site that doesn’t display anything. Well, basically you’re damaging yourself — imagine a client with millions of dollars ready to spend on you — but he can’t, because he can’t even access your contact info. Bad luck.

Back in 2002 the challenge for web designers and programmers was to make a site that looked the same on every browser on every OS. Then it changed to convince your client to have a page that displays at all. I wonder what’s next.

Common mistake

March 26th, 2010

There seems to be an expectation, even by people who usually think progressive, that the new should adapt to the old. It could be means of collaboration like software or a new colleague joining your team, somehow there’s a ubiquous, subliminal sense of “embrace the status quo first and then -maybe- you can share your thoughts”. Opportunity killed in less than a second. This doesn’t mean I suggest doing the opposite — it doesn’t make sense either when you overthrow everything just for the sake of overthrowing, you’ll never get to work.

What makes sense indeed is to seriously consider that adaptions of the old can cause a much larger progress in general, even if it requires more effort — which is quite likely since it’s been around and running in the same groove. Of course this is safe, but it slows down the pace. What do you need more to keep up? That is the question. The businesses and people who are open to this and have developed a culture of being able to adapt quickly are the ones that outperform the stubborn ones.

Brainstorming

March 25th, 2010

The other day we had a brainstorming session with 4 colleagues to develop ideas how to introduce a new show host on our channel. Using the 6-3-5 method (yep, also works with only 4 people, who’d have thunk it), we developed 10 ideas for TV spots in about 2 hours. But that’s not the interesting part, that’s what you expect. Also, there were two more ideas that two members of the group had had the day before that were also thrown in.

The interesting part was the selection process that followed, because our task was to select one idea and turn it into a concept. It was interesting because of the interactions, the discussion culture, expectations and people changing minds. Most fascinating to me was this: One person totally refuses an idea, two like it and one is totally excited about it. In the course of the process, the nay-sayer for non-obvious reasons turns into a fan of the idea, which confuses the two others (the idea’s advocate is quite happy), because their expectation has been different.

After all it is possible to turn opponents into fans, though it may take effort, and most importantly avoid questioning the person or their motives. That doesn’t get you anywhere. Give it a little time so the idea can sink in, and sometimes 5 minutes later there’s a different situation. Worth a try, especially when it requires you to overcome your prejudice and negative expectations.

Magic, not managed

March 23rd, 2010

If you’re into music you might have heard of CD Baby and know about their story — if not, you should pay them a visit.

A few days days ago, CD Baby founder Derek Sivers posted two tweets:

Definitions of “founder”: (1) a person who founds or establishes some instituion (2) stumble and nearly fall: “the horse foundered”

Oh I definitely stumbled and fell bad. I was a horrible manager. That’s why I sold the company: personal failure, not success.

Having listened to some interviews with him, Derek seems a modest person to me, but very clear and determined about what he wants to achieve with what he’s doing. I didn’t know that when I gave my former band’s first album to CD Baby back in 2004 — but because I had a good feeling about the company. Today I know that Derek himself put a lot of effort in to make it work and keep it going, spending long hours on programming, maintaining and improving the system. And somehow you noticed.

Maybe I’m romancing here, but you think different about something when you have an idea of what’s going on behind the scenes. What the public didn’t know back then was that Derek wasn’t good at managing (if you want to know in detail, most of his interviews are still available). But it wasn’t important. Maybe this caused some occasional damage, but I’m pretty certain that his vision and his passion were enough to create a tribe and make people come to work every day at CD Baby, as well as it attracted musicians who would have CD Baby distribute their music, and millions of people spending millions of dollars to discover new music by original artists.

And then Derek sold the company, for reasons I can understand in a certain way. And I believe this was when the game changed as an inevitable matter of course. Though he’d been releasing newsletters announcing CD Baby had sold 5 million albums and more, generating tens of millions of dollars of profit paid to the musicians, people were not really aware that this had been a multi million dollar company. It didn’t look like it. It didn’t feel like it either. But selling your company for $22 million changes everything, especially when you sell it to another company. Had he sold it to an individual, it might not have changed that much — but that’s speculation.

A company as new owner shone a different light on the company you thought you knew. Besides, they made one of the top mistakes: a site design overhaul. That’s IMO the worst, because most egocentric, first official action you can commit. Good news was, the first new president wasn’t in charge for long. Then came a new one, and he screwed up completely by deciding the whole system (including the visual design, once again) needed to be rebuilt. The rest is (sad) history. I’ve rarely seen such an outrage persisting over months on the one hand, and on the other such an unmatched foolishness (Statements like “Good news! We’ve set up a new system and we haven’t tested it beforehand. It’s not fully functional as of now, but it will be in no time! Stay tuned! CD Baby loves you!” No time turned out to be about 5 months. Not only was the site not working, but artists were not having access to their accounts, money was getting lost, the no-works).

Not only doesn’t it feel right any more, but millions of people have been let down by a company they used to love. Here’s the real mistake. The magic is gone. Now management is in charge. People did forgive mistakes back then because they didn’t expect flawless results as long as they were certain someone was doing everything they could becaused they loved their work. With management in charge, people get the notion that now they’re doing serious business. Serious as in unforgiving, no kidding, meet my lawyer. Doesn’t sound like musicians helping musicians, does it?