Microsoft Social Bookmarking… sigh

May 27, 2008

Mary J Foley notes that Microsoft are looking to get into social bookmarking. It’s really a bit too late to make a dent in the market and mind share of the incumbents like Yahoo owned del.icio.us. And if the tumbleweed rolling through the community content section at MSDN is anything to go by this latest venture could only go badly.

Microsoft seem to be like that uncool kid in school who never got it. And the harder they try to jump on the bandwagon the more they look like they never will.


Features that Suck!

May 21, 2008

Features come in many types: only one type really matters. The rest suck!

The one that matters is the User Requested Feature. Sadly its apparent that this type of feature never crosses the mind of many of the folks that build applications and web sites. And even more sadly these features tend to be complex so get dropped first when projects enter Phase 3.Designed by someone who likes tetris

The first type of feature that does not matter is the Developer Feature. These can range from outright bugs to messy APIs that can only be used if you know what going on behind the scenes. Diabolical UI Crimes also belong in this category. These confusion inducing features come from a lack of User Requested Features.

The second type of feature that does not matter is the generic spec feature. These usually come about due to BAs  guessing what users would like from their application. “Well we have a list of things… so… we’ll definitely need to sort by every column, …bound to be important”

Outlook is a perfect example, you can sort and group (slowly) all your email but what you really want to do is search, which you can’t do. Contrast that with GMail. Give people what they want not what you think they want. Lookout did just that and Microsoft bought them to hide their shame. Again this type of feature comes from a lack of User Requested Features.

When the owners wife adds a feature...The third type of feature that is not important is the old technical expert feature. These come in the form of ropey architectural decisions like “we’ll use technology blah” from technologists that are now above programming so just deal out great wisdom… yawn. If you can’t code it, don’t suggest it.

The fourth (be certainly not final) type of feature that doesn’t matter is the infinite configurability feature. Whenever a decision point comes; you go both ways and then let the user configure which behavior they ‘want’. Let me tell you a secret: users don’t care, and being asked just angers them. Take as many decisions as possible, use intelligent defaults and don’t make users think!

User Requested Features are almost the only type of feature your software should have. The problem is that they can be complex, tricky to implement and usually require some creativity to solve. But they’re so neglected there is always some low hanging fruit.

So… if you’re a developer, try asking your users for a small feature they would like and …just add it. If you work for BigCo you’ll start making powerful friends and if you work on the Internet you’ll drive more traffic!

And who knows you might just enjoy it…


Suboptimal Voluntary Software

May 12, 2008

For most of us software can be broken down into two rough categories; software we have to use and software we choose to use.

I’ll leave software we choose to use for another time. But when you look at the software you have to use it becomes apparent that there is a whole spectrum of quality and, possibly, room for some innovation.
There are lots of reasons we have to use certain software. Often it’s part of our job and the software, at best, does something boring but does it well. But more likely it does something boring very very badly. This kind of software could be home-grown or built by the CEO’s golf partner’s hair-dresser’s software consultancy. If this type of software is a large part of you work day; despair!
Achievement eh?
Other times we’re tied into something like iTunes or Hotmail. There may be better alternatives out there buy the hassle/danger of changing is too great so we just stick with something that ‘does the job’. This type of software benefits from an incumbent bias which can give it clout long after it has gone stale.
But the most interesting category (if you’re looking to build a start-up anyway!) is the type of software that falls short but does not deliver. Lets call it Suboptimal Voluntary Software (SVS). The First S could stand for something else too. There are obvious examples of SVS like flight booking sites, food ordering sites, your bank’s online banking site (which doesn’t have RSS) etc.
There are companies moving into the example areas but the category of SVS is vast. Often innovation in this area is tarred with the “build a better mouse-trap” brush. But there is a lot more to it than that; often replacing the existing mouse-trap is not possible, not enough people are ready for change or the technology is too fiddly. An elegant example of a clever innovator in this space is TripIt. Check ’em out!

…anyhoo, if you’re a programmer and want to be an entrepenuer, try and improve the SVS you have to use.


Web 2.0 is Identity 1.0

November 29, 2007

Identity has been something that, as a society, we’ve been trying to get right for a long time. And it’s a difficult problem to crack, as the rise of identity theft goes to show. I’m not interested in a nitty gritty discussion of authorization models, although in light of the government’s recent blunder, one would certainly be prescient. Nor am I interested in the layers of ‘user’ that exist in modern computer system. I’m interested in my identity on-line.

greatwar1.jpg

Until recently, your email was most likely the proxy for your on-line identity but; with the sigmoidal growth of Facebook; for many people that is changing. Facebook is now the defacto standard identity for students. Google & pals are hot on their heels, but why?

The huge amount of demographic information in Facebook is like crack to advertisers and since Google is the world’s largest advertising company their interest is guaranteed. But the real reason is: Facebook have a better data model. Google’s complimentary services have ‘Chinese walls’ that block interaction. EBay have 21 different logins across their empire. These partitions are artificial but were once necessary to instill trust.

But now people trust the web with their personal information. In fact they don’t even care if their information is shared with gusto. This trust, in some cases, may be misplaced; but as more people do it, more mainstream companies move in; making the web a safer place (Dell won’t steal you identity, for example).

Unified identity is critical to the future of the web. And it’s interesting that something that was previously provided by governments is now a commercial entity.


3 types of programmers

November 26, 2007

Jeff Atwood has a pretty formulaic piece on there being 2 types of programmers. 20% Gurus and 80% Morons is effectively his argument and it’s a pretty slack one. There are lots ways to slice and dice the development community into different groups but at the sweeping generalization level (where Jeff casts his net) there are definitely 3. I’ll call the third group that Jeff missed; Executive Programmers (EPs for short)

EPs make up a small minority, their ranks include people like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Not all are entrepreneurs but all are business people or leaders. Steve Jobs is a great example because his business partner Steve Wozinak is one of the worlds top Gurus (one of Jeffs 20%ers).

But without Jobs; Wozinak would have been nothing. His incredible gift for being a technologist would never have been expressed in a world-changing way. That’s not to say Jobs could have done it on his own. Nor did Zuckerberg write every line of facebook. Nor did Gates write Windows 3.11 but each is perfect example of an Executive Programmer.

To paraphrase Bruce Lee: “To the Executive Programmer, a program is just a program.” EPs understand how their systems fit into the economic and social context of the day. They get the actual value of technology. And some of them change the world.

So if you think you’re a Guru and you’re a little bored of all the same old ideas orbiting about; why not take the next step and make your own a reality.


What next for Microsoft? Bill 2.0?

October 30, 2007

Microsoft seems to be in a quandary at the moment. Vista was late, over budget and the single greatest step forward for Mac OS X and Desktop Linux ever taken. Their various labs are full of brilliant ideas that never get beyond demo.

To be fair to Microsof t they do bare the weight of backward compatibility for the majority of the worlds computers but it still doesn’t explain their lack luster performance. Their stock recently jumped twice, once for (now exMicrosoft) Bungie’s Halo 3 and once again for their purchase of a minoroty stake in Internet hype-Juggernaut Facebook. These are not the kind of things that should be driving their share price.

In contrast all of Apple’s recent gains have been core product related and Google’s dues to their ability to print money.

So the question is; what now for Microsoft? Why not bring back Bill? All great companies are run by one great man (or woman). Why? Because committee’s have no vision. Leaderless least common-denominator thinking saw Apple languishing before Jobs came back. IBM was lost once Tom Watson stepped down. Ellison is Oracle. The list goes on.

Corporations run by ‘good corporate goverance’ alone are doomed to fail.

So I say; bring back Bill. Pull support for everything, scrap backward compability, delete the source to Vista and start again. build products people want, buy BumpTop, bring out Seadragon, sell free calls though Xbox Live and kill everything that doesn make a ton of profit.

It would cetainly make for a more interesting Microsoft… but I guess, when you’re number one; why try harder?


Bye Bye SCO

September 19, 2007

Follow this link (NASDAQ:SCOX) quickly, cos it won’t point to anything for long. Looks like SCO has filled for Chapter 11 and will soon be delisted from the NASDAQ.

SCO has had precipitous fall from it’s opening price of nearly $100 to just 20c as I write. I remember thinking that SCO had no case when they first tried to bagsy *nix and I guess I was right.

Is this a hint that intellectual property is not as valuable as mind share?