I got a big kick out this post by Kevin. I’ve been friends with Kevin a long time, and through discussions over lunch, coffee, or beers over several years I’ve watched him wrestle with issues about working and launching new companies in a super-networked world. The nature of doing business, especially in technology, is changing dramatically and it looks like Kevin is way ahead of the curve piecing the puzzle together. My discussions with him helped form the basis of my Master’s thesis (Learning from Open Source) but now he’s taking it to a new level. Kevin’s also written a new book, which he describes as a field manual for launching new ventures in a network economy. I’m definitely looking forward to reading it.
I was a presenter at Microsoft’s Mix ’06 conference, held in Las Vegas March 20-22. Videos of all the sessions (including mine) are now online. I presented with my frog design colleague, Nelan Schwartz. The title of our session was “Better Design, Built Faster: Using New UI Technologies to Speed Development.” Here’s the session description:
Achieving complete separation between visual design, content, and logic has long been the Holy Grail of the Web design world. By keeping these separate layers loosely-coupled, they can be developed and changed independently of one another, resulting in faster, more parallel development and more manageable code. That is the vision, but in practice, achieving truly clean separation has been easier said than done. New techniques with AJAX and CSS, and new technologies such as Windows Presentation Foundation (formerly code named “Avalon”), have made achieving the ideal of clean separation more attainable. This session dives into the experiences and lessons learned by Frog Design while using these techniques and technologies on real projects. We explore the impact (good and bad) on processes, collaboration, and efficiency.
As you can quickly deduce from the frequency of posts to this blog, I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus for the past six months. I have a lot of other things competing for my attention, and keeping my blog updated is pretty far down my list of priorities. After having a blog for a bit, I naturally arrived at some ideas for making it better. And in a way these ideas have contributed to my laxity. I have a mental picture of my new blog (which is much improved) and so posting to this, my “old” blog, is now somehow a little less appealing than it was before. I feel like I need to do some renovation around here, but I just haven’t had enough free hours strung together to sit down and do it.
But in the last two weeks or so, I’ve had three separate people comment on the lack of posts to my blog. Two of these were strangers I had never met before, candidates interviewing for positions (by the way: frog is hiring) who had Googled my name prior to their interview. Knowing that some people are still reading these pages gives me motivation to tidy things and update a bit more frequently. Spring break is coming up, I’ve requested a few days of vacation, and we’ve farmed all three of our kids off to visit their grand parents. Colleen and I aren’t quite sure what we’ll do with ourselves, without having to shuttle kids around to school, baseball practice and birthday parties. So with any luck, I’ll squeeze in some time to work on flowdelic.
One other thorn in my side, that has soured me a bit to the whole idea of blogging is comment spam. I’ve got comment moderation turned on, and I’ve never let a spammy comment get through, yet I still get 50 or spam comments a week here. Continually having to delete advertisements for online pharamacies and poker sites (and worse) has made this a little more of chore and a bit less of a joy than I had hoped for.
Although I finished my master’s report nearly six months ago, I just now got around to publishing it here. I’ve distributed it to a few friends and colleagues, some of whom have asked to link to it. So here it is: Learning from Open Source. This version is slightly edited from the version I submitted to finish my master’s degree. For more about the topic, see My Thesis Topic.
Somewhere in my surfing today, I ran across a link to Scott Rosenburg’s post titled “[Blogs, bosses and bucks][bbb].” This caught my eye, because in my [thesis] research, I’ve been thinking about the role money and power structures have on collaboration amongst virtual teams.
In my research, I’ve been studying successful “open” collaborative communities like the Apache Software Foundation and Wikipedia, looking for “new” practices that could be applied to help virtual teams be more successful in a corporate setting. But what I’ve found is that the practices used by these organizations have, for the most part, already been widely documented in business and academic literature. These include things like have a well-defined purpose, clearly defined roles and responsiblities, recognition of achievement, etc.
It is not that these groups are doing anything drastically different, yet it does appear to be the case that good management practices seem to occur more naturally in these contexts. Why? Ultimately, I think it ties back to two key things:
- Volunteer organizations are easier to leave. Volunteers who lose interest in the project will simply move on to something else
- Criticism and alternate ideas are freely shared, because no one is afraid of losing their jobs in retaliation
I’m sure there is more to than this, but these two factors play together as well to promote strong leadership. In these organizations, leaders emerge not because the wield the power to over someone else’s paycheck, but rather based on their ability to build consensus and the value their own contributions to the project. When leadership fails in an open organization, it is obvious if not immediate. Failing projects are identified by recurring flame wars and by an inability to keep a steady, stable group of contributors involved in the project.
My point is not that leaders in volunteer organizations are better than their corporate counterparts, but rather that the role of money can mask poor leadership in an organization. Is everyone involved because they want to be? Or are they just drawing paychecks until they can find a better position somewhere else? Is the lack of debate a sign of silent agreement or fear of retailiation?
To tie this back to Scott’s article — I agree that in many organizations, the fear of being fired is going to keep people from blogging. But I would also argue that creating an environment that punishes criticism and curbs open debate can also put a company at a distinct disadvantage.
I agree with Tim Bray’s statement that companies who don’t adopt blogging will be playing “catch-up” — not because blogging itself is inherently advantageous (though it may be), but because it is an outward symptom of a company that internally values open sharing of ideas and criticism.
I had planned to spend a few hours this weekend converting this blog from [MoveableType][mt] (the software I was previously using to write this blog) to [Wordpress] (the software I am using now) and customizing my blog a bit in the process.
As it happened, I ended up having a better weekend that I had planned. The weather was terrific, and I spent most of my time outdoors with family and friends, including the better part of Sunday floating in the cool, clear waters of the Blanco river.
So I didn’t end up with much time for blogging this weekend, but I’m not complaining. Nevertheless, I’ve got WordPress installed and my MT data converted, all in a little less than 30 minutes since I started. Very nice. Now that I’ve got it running, I’m finding there is a lot to like in WordPress. I’m looking forward to hierarchical categorization, link management, and comment moderation in particular. I’ll being squeezing an hour here and there this week to finalize the conversion and customize the look and feel.
Warning: MoveableType techno-rant ahead…
Lately, every time I save a new post I get an “Internal Server Error” message from MoveableType. The error in my server log reads: “Premature end of script headers: /var/www/html/mt/mt.cgi”. After a lot of Googling I found a mention somewhere (can’t seem to find it right now) that indicated SmartyPants might be the culprit.
SmartyPants is a MT plug-in I use, which converts straight-and-boring quotes (“) to typographically-correct curly, or smart, quotes “like so.” I removed SmartyPants, grudgingly, as I like to be typographically correct, and the problem disappeared, for a while. Now it is back.
Unfortunately, because I had set “Markdown + SmartyPants” as my default text format, when I re-rendered my site, all my postings reverted to the “None” formatting option. Blech. Worse — all my RSS feeds were updated, with raw, unprocessed [Markdown] code in them. My apologies to everyone who may have seen a “flowdelic” update in their RSS readers, only to find a bunch of old posts, but stripped of formatting.
So last weekend I planned to take a crack at learning the MT template language and finally customizing my templates. But instead, I spent my time tracking down Internal Server Errors. Sorry kids.
All is not lost however, I think I have found my solution — WordPress. WordPress is open-source blogging software that has gotten a lot of recognition of late, and it has typographical-correctness built in! The fact that it is written in PHP is appealing too, as I am much more comfortable with PHP than Perl.
So rather than investing in wrestling with/learning MT when it looks like many are leaving in the wake of the new MT 3.0 licensing brouhaha, I’ll be trying my hand at WordPress this weekend. Wish me luck!