Open vs. closed networks

As part of my [thesis][] research, I have been reading a stack of books, including [Linked][linked], [Six Degrees][sixdeg], [Design For Community][dfc] and [The Future of Ideas][tfoi]. At the same time I’ve been exploring and studying various online communities, trying to determine what makes them tick.

Is there a common characteristic of successful communities? So far, I’ve been nursing along the notion that “openness” is a common feature (among others) of the groups and communities that I’ve been studying.

[thesis]: /archives/2004/05/my_thesis_topic.html
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My Thesis Topic

I am currently working on my thesis for a Master’s degree in Engineering Management. The topic I am studying and writing about deals with online collaborative environments and communities. Specifically, I’m compiling case studies of various successful online collaborations, looking for the qualities that are common among them. My hope is that I will be able to identify some fundamental characteristics necessary to foster effective collaboration across geographical and cultural boundaries.

The groups/communities I am currently investigating are the Apache Software Foundation, Wikipedia and {fray}.

I’ll be posting more on this topic in the near future.


Another door opens

Scripting News: “At some point in the next few months, there will be an open source release of the Frontier kernel.”

Congratulations to Dave Winer on reaching a new milestone in the history of Frontier. Another loop closes as a new door opens.

The roots of blogging today can be traced back, in part at least, to the release of Aretha in May 1995. At that time, Frontier was locked away, unused, unprofitable and largely unappreciated. It could have ended there. But Dave made the software free (as in beer) and so started a chain of events that eventually lead to Clay Basket, Manila, Radio, XML-RPC and RSS. It also helped launch the career of Brent Simmons, the author of NetNewsWire.

Of course, that is not the whole story of blogging, but Frontier and Aretha are clearly high up in the Blog family tree. I’m glad to see Dave and Userland taking it a step further and I look forward to seeing where this journey takes us. Thank you and good luck. Let a thousand flowers bloom.


The Power of Design

Business Week: The Power of Design (cover) The cover story of this week’s _Business Week_ is titled [“The Power of Design”][bw]. It focuses on the process and practices of design firm [IDEO][], a major competitor of [frog][].

For me, it’s an interesting look into the way a competitor does things. I think this article is good for IDEO, obviously, but also good for design in general, by exposing a broader audience to some of the current design best practices (contextual inquiry, rapid prototyping, usability testing), and the real business benefits to be gained from them.

The problem is, the article portrays IDEO as if it is the only company using these practices, which is far from the truth. frog, for example, uses many of the same practices–and some others–and we are not alone. IDEO is portrayed as the 800lb. gorilla in the design industry, while its competitors (including frog) are described as if we really aren’t much competition at all.

This paints a misleading picture of the competitive landscape (IDEO is only slightly bigger than frog, and we regularly compete and win against them), though I’ll concede IDEO is currently winning the PR battle. It stings now, sure, but ultimately this will be good for frog and our clients. Nothing like some strong competition for the “world’s greatest design firm” title to sharpen our focus and create opportunities to innovate internally, improve our processes, practices, and (ahem) our PR.



Actions speak louder than words

Headline from the Austin-American Statesman, my local newspaper: “Rumsfeld doing ‘superb job,’ Bush says” (registration required). Apparently, Bush gave Rumsfeld a public back-patting yesterday. Atta-boy Rummy.

The Senate also approved a resolution condemning the torture of Iraqi prisoners, and apologizing to them and their families. That’s a good start, but condemnations and apologies ring hollow if they are not followed by action.

This is a great opportunity to teach the Iraqi people a core tenet of democracy–that leaders are held accountable to the will of the people. It is precisely this accountability that separates our leaders from tyrants.

Speaking of accountability, consider this statement from White House spokesman, Scott McClellan:

“The president’s reaction was one of deep disgust and disbelief that anyone who wears our uniform would engage in such shameful and appalling acts.”

Are you kidding me? The president is laying all the blame for this at the feet of the prison guards? What happened to “the buck stops here?”

When Saddam was in power, we didn’t blame his soldiers for the torture conducted in his prisons–we blamed him. And rightly so. Then, we toppled him from power because of it (that and some as-yet-undiscovered WMDs). Following the same logic, what right does Bush now have to remain in power?

This is no time to be shifting blame, now is the time to show the Iraqi people (and the world) the power of democracy in action.


Sunday Night Movie

My wife and I wrapped up another busy weekend last night with what has become our Sunday night ritual — take-out Chinese and a movie. We started this habit when we were newlyweds (we celebrate our 9th anniversary this week), but back then we were watching the X-Files with our Mongolian Beef and Lemon Chicken. These days, NetFlix has replaced the X-Files. Last night’s movie: Big Fish. My fortune cookie read: “You are imaginative in using your skills.” Ha!


Happy Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is a little hard for me — my Mom passed away two years ago this February. So when this day comes around, it reminds that I can no longer call her up and make her laugh, send her flowers, whatever, something… anything. And it makes me think about the past Mother’s Days I “wasted” — by missing them entirely or just leaving a message on her answering machine. I wish I could call her now, but I can’t.

So call your Mom, if you can. Tell her you love her. Make her laugh.

Still, I am lucky to have some wonderful women in my life, that are mothers or like mothers to me. So to Colleen, my wife; my step-mom Pat; my Grandma-Kaye; and my mother-in-law Sharon — today is your day — enjoy it. I love you all very much.


Google, the fallback for trackback?

Sometime yesterday or early this morning, flowdelic was added to the Google index. It’s official — I’m now “in the book” as it were. Yeah.

As I expected, my site is in the top spot (easy to do with an invented word I guess), but I also found some sites that that pointed here that I didn’t see previously. Thanks and thanks.

It’s great to see those other links — but I wonder, why did I have to wait on Google to find them? Having been a reader of blogs for some time (okay a really, really long time), but not an author, I had thought that trackback links were more automated than they appear to be. I found the very helpful How TrackBack Works — but it really just confirmed what I’d recently discovered — trackback is a very manual, error-prone process. (BTW — I’m also using MoveableType)

That’s not what I expected. My expectation was that if I linked to another blog’s post in my blog entry, that link would be extracted when I posted the entry, and a trackback “ping” would be sent to the referenced article automatically. I understand that trackback URLs are different than permalinks — but shouldn’t the remote blog system be able to map permalinks to postings?

Why do I, the user, need to go track down a special URL? Is this how all blogging systems work — or is this something specific to MoveableType?

Before I got the hang of this I was entering permalinks into the “URLs to ping” box in my editing interface. (Why should I need to type these in at all?) MT gladly accepted these and dutifully “pinged” the incorrect URLs I had given it without a hiccup. I would have expected to see some kind of error message if the ping wasn’t accepted. At least then I would have know I was “doing it wrong” and could have learned faster how to do it right.

I see trackback as a crucial feature of the blogsphere. It enables readers to follow a conversation from blog to blog. Wouldn’t it be cool if RSS readers could organize posts by thread as well as by blog? Without that I feel like I’m missing part of the conversation (and I probably am). Why should the burden fall on users to discover and follow cross-blog threads? If any RSS readers do threading, I’d like to know, I just haven’t seen it yet.

It seems obvious to me that trackback is a useful feature of blogging — but to be really useful, it has got to be reliable. And if the reliability is based on trusting blog authors everywhere to track down and correctly use trackback URLs, well we’re going to have to continue to rely on Google to piece together strands of conversations for us for the foreseeable future.

UPDATE: I found “A Beginner’s Guide to Trackback” on the MoveableType site. There, I found that there is an auto-discovery feature that works how I would expect it to work. Nice. But — if that’s how it works, why didn’t I get trackback pings from all the sites that linked to my posts? It still seems that trackback reliability leaves something to be desired.

Also, I wish I could use the bookmarklets too, but they don’t work in Safari. (My laptop at work is Windows XP, but at home I have a G4 PowerBook with Mac OS X.)

About Me

A little late to the party, but happy to be here

Today I had the honor of being Scobleized. Given my measly two posts and the plain vanilla look of this blog, Robert has been most generous to point his readers in my direction. Thank you. I’ve just joined this party, and I feel welcome already.

First, I should apologize for the lack of personal information available on this site. I will fix that. I’m glad Robert was able to dig up a press release to introduce me — but it’s a shame that it is more than 6 years old.

So who is Mason Hale?

I am Chief Technologist at frog design, a highly-regarded design firm that has been consistently churning out great products and customer experiences for some 34 years now. I founded and manage frog’s digital technology consulting practice. We design, prototype and build websites and software for clients including Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, General Electric, and T-Mobile. We specialize in creating rich, intuitive user interfaces using technologies such as Flash, Dynamic HTML, ASP.NET/C#, and Java.

However, this site is my personal site, and the views expressed here are my own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer. In addition, because the work we do is highly-confidential — I am generally not at liberty to to discuss the projects or clients I might be working with at any given time. So don’t expect this to be the “inside frog” blog.

That said, I am very lucky to work with some really smart, creative people on challenging, thought-provoking projects. That is bound to influence my thinking, and by extension this blog.

I am a husband and father of three — two boys, one girl. I live in Austin, Texas — and love it here. My undergraduate degree is in film production (radio-television-film) from the University of Texas at Austin, where I was a classmate of Robert Rodriguez and Matthew McConaughey. I went to high school in Fort Worth. Before that I moved around a bit, with stops in Breckenridge, Colorado; Casper, Wyoming; and Houston.

Some of you may remember me from my early involvement with Userland Frontier — the predecessor of today’s Manila and Radio Userland products. With Dave Winer, I spearheaded the development of the Frontier CGI Framework — a popular toolkit (at the time) for creating web-based applications on Mac OS web servers. I learned an amazing amount during that period of my life, and I’m very grateful to Dave and the rest of the early-Frontier community for that.

Today, I am in the final throes of completing my master’s degree in engineering management. I’ve completed all the coursework and am working on my thesis now. You can be sure I’ll be floating some of my ideas here.

That’s a brief, but more current and well-rounded introduction. I look forward to connecting with old friends and making new ones. Sorry I didn’t get here sooner.