Entries from August 2005 ↓

Confidence in Your Product

Apple is offering a 30-day trial of the Mac mini. They should think about doing this for the iPod, as well.

Apple is all about the “first-run experience,” which is something Steve Jobs has harped on for years. The thought is that the first time someone starts their new computer better be the best experience they’ve ever had. Although they will boot the machine up hundreds or thousands of times, make an impact this first time and you’ll have them for life. A 30-day trial fits perfectly into this mindset.

And it should also work with iPods, which have smaller shipping costs and, from what I hear (not being a user myself), set the standard in MP3 player ease of use. Although an iPod requires other equipment to use (a computer and internet connection), and the price point is not as high as the Mac mini, I’d imagine this is something Apple is considering. Since 30-day software trials have become the norm, could Apple be breaking ground with 30-day hardware trials?

UPDATE: Apple cancelled this promotion after 24 hours. They did not give an explanation, but I’m sure we’ll hear more in the coming days.

How to Start Your Service With a Bang: Defeating Lock-in

There’s a bit of blogging buzz around the fact that Bloglet is having reliability problems and that their support emails are bouncing. Bloglet is a service that allows readers to subscribe to email updates of your blog. Until a few days ago I was using them, but I’ve just switched to FeedBlitz. Lucky for me I only have a handful of email subscribers since my blog is but a few months old and most of my audience uses RSS readers. But some people, like this guy, have 1000 email subscribers. Ouch.

So although it’s a no-brainer to make the decision to switch, the real problem is how to extract your data from the existing service. The only way to do it is to manually copy/paste the data page by page from the HTML (all 50 pages of it). Yuck.

The smartest thing FeedBlitz has done is include an “Import from Bloglet” tool that extracts all of your current subscribed email addresses from Bloglet. This is essentially what Microsoft did in the early 90s when they launched Excel by including the ability to read Lotus 123 files. And we all know how that one turned out.

Bravo for FeedBlitz for a well-executed coup.

Becoming a Better Developer Part 4: Know What You’re Building

There’s an old story that goes something like this:

A visitor arrives at an IT department and approaches a software developer. He asks him what he’s doing, to which the developer replies:

“Writing code.”

He walks to the next cubicle and asks the same question of another developer. He replies:

“Building a web page.”

He walks to the next cubicle and asks the same question of yet a third developer, to which she replies:

“Writing a piece of web-based software that will make it easier for our customer service reps to assist customers.”

Why are their answers so important?

Knowing Where You Fit
Someone who knows what they’re building can see their place in the big picture. They realize the importance of their work and know without explanation why it’s important. If the application begins to crash in the production environment and someone comes running for the developer, won’t they have a greater sense of urgency if they know it’s affecting the company’s bottom line?

A Sense of Purpose
People who know what they’re building have a sense of purpose. It makes them feel as if they are serving a greater good, whether that good is a single person, a department, or the entire company. Purpose makes people work a few extra hours to finish a project on time. Purpose makes developers take one more crack at fixing a hard to find bug.

If You’re a Developer
Ask about the big picture. Find out why it’s so important that all of a sudden every button on the account summary page has to be red instead of green. Ask your manager, his manager, or the guy in marketing. If you ask questions with an obvious posture of learning, people will notice and appreciate the fact that you care.

If You’re a Manager
Educate your developers. Talk to them about what the company does from a broader perspective, and make them see why it’s so important that an application works. Show them how it helped generate a huge amount of revenue for the company, or how it allows the finance department to reconcile month end numbers in an hour instead of three days. At the beginning of every new assignment, ask them if they know what they’re building.

An MBA Without the Cost

Josh Kaufman has created the Personal MBA 40, a list of 40 books that contain the information necessary to understand and succeed in today’s business environment. It’s an interesting idea and one that I firmly support, since I tend to learn better from books than from schooling.

There’s also an equally edifying 30 Book MBA in Entrepreneurship at OverMatter.

So, without further ado, here is my list of 11 Books for Software Entrepreneurs:

The Silicon Valley Way
Hackers & Painters
The Tipping Point
Joel on Software
How to Become Ceo
How to Become a Rainmaker
Million Dollar Consulting
Live Rich
Accidental Empires
High Stakes No Prisoners
Competing On Internet Time: Lessons From Netscape and Its Battle with Microsoft

What are your must-read business or software books?

Google Given the Go-Ahead to Print Their Own Money

Google is hitting it out of the park left and right. There’s Gmail, Google Maps, Desktop Search, rumors of free Wi-Fi, even talks of them taking over the world. It seems like their name is constantly in the press, even when nothing is launching. Most companies would kill for that kind of publicity.

Add one more mention to the list:

Google is planning to sell 14.2 million shares of stock in a secondary public offering worth more than $4 billion.

While Google’s success has awakened discussions of the dot com boom, without the mass hysteria pushing companies’ stock prices into the stratosphere, I don’t see it. Although Google’s stock is extraordinarily pricey these days (around $280 a share), one company does not a bubble make.

Do you see any signs of a new tech bubble?

Humor: Project Managers and Developers

Like a Dilbert cartoon, Paul Vick nails the interactions between project managers and developers in his post How to be a PM at Microsoft.

I laughed out loud more than once.

This reminds me of when I was a consultant and a client decided to add a new feature during a meeting. He asked for an estimate and I told him that it was our policy not to give estimates without being able to sit down and think through a change. He started to get angry and really pushed me for a number so I told him less than two weeks, whcih made him really mad since it was obviously a much smaller change.

My experience with this type of thing is that in a meeting, in front of a lot of people, giving estimates is bad, bad, bad. Even if you’re dead on accurate, if everyone gasps and tells you its too high, you will cave to peer pressure. In the end, we worked through some numbers in the meeting and the client was satisfied, but usually just saying “We don’t give estimates without preparation” is enough to buy you some time.

Japan to Launch a High-Speed Internet Satellite

Japan has announced plans to deploy a massive satellite that will provide high-speed internet (100 Mbit/sec, i.e. faster than you can imagine) to mountains, remote islands, bullet trains, airplanes, and ships. With a 66 ft. dish, even a cell phone will be able to transmit at 10 Mbit/sec, or about 20 times faster than today’s mainstream DSL services.

The disappointing part of the story is the planned operation date of 2015. I figure by that time we’ll be busy flying around in our cars and surfing the web at light speed on our iPod/digital camera/cell phone/PDA/voice recorder devices. So some clunky 100 Mbps connection is going to seem like the stone age.

And although the satellite approach is extremely pricey, it opens up the possibility that we could one day have broadband internet in every corner of the world, as mentioned in Using Technology to Fight Poverty.

Feedback on My Article "Using Technology to Fight Poverty"

I’ve received a lot of feedback on my article Using Technology to Fight Poverty (in addition to several links – special thanks Scott Mitchell and Adnan Masood and Mike Gunderloy). Thank you everyone for your emails and continued support!

Here are a few of the comments I’ve received:

“I hope it makes an impact on everyone who reads it.”

“Trust me, I have no idea what the answer is. At the very least we can not consume more than we need, but even at that, we are impacting the planet and it’s people radically. Maybe even that sounds over inflated, but I really believe it. We read an article in National Geo about our consumption of oil on the planet, and if other countries had the same level, we would deplete the resource very quickly.”

“I think your article is thorough and a great resource for people with a heart and affinity for technology (or who see the value in it).”

“It’s an interesting idea, although I wonder how much of that profit margin will see its way to the actual drum makers. (Call me cynical.)”

“I read your article today. I’m impressed with the work you’re doing, and it made me feel like such a slacker — the amount I spend on coffee alone made me guilty.”

My reply: The objective of this article is certainly not to make people feel guilty; awareness is the goal, since that will have a more lasting impact.

“Thank you for being moved by what you saw. Thank you for bringing it to others and using your gifts of practicality and ingenuity to show us the disparity in the world. Your admonition does not fall on deaf ears. Thank you for reminding us of our obligation to others. It is too easy to forget.”

“A must read for everyone who believes in ‘One does evil enough when one does nothing good.‘”

Petition for Peace in Northern Uganda

For 19 years, a war has flared in northern Uganda between a rebel group and the government. The war’s main targets are not the combatants. The targets are children.

Over the course of the fighting, an estimated 30,000 boys and girls have been abducted and forced into being soldiers and sex slaves. Thousands of children and their families have been killed; hundreds of thousands live in squalid, unsafe camps.

Click here to sign an online petition to tell president bush, senators and congress members you want the united states to take the lead in ending the worst abuse of children in the world.

Apple May Launch a Cellular Network

According to this article on Forbes.com, Apple is developing a hybrid iPod/cell phone with Motorola (read: instant best-seller), and there seems to be an increase in companies talking about starting their own virtual cell phone networks using existing carrier infrastructure. ESPN, Earthlink, and Disney are all launching virtual networks (the “virtual” indicates these companies are just the brand. Companies like Sprint, with their towers and call centers, are the backbone).

So although Apple hasn’t made an announcement, there is speculation.

Not a bad move from a business perspective, considering most of the cell phone carriers have balked at carrying iTunes-enabled mobile phones. If Apple plays its cards right they could really be making a move into the consumer electronics space, something I would never have suspected a few years ago. With Apple’s (read: Steve Jobs’) sense of design and customer-focus I’m anxious to see how they can improve what’s turned into an industry of cheap products and poor customer support.

Do you think this is a good move for Apple?