Seth Godin on ‘hard work’, this Labor Day

A personally poignant piece by Seth Goding on the meaning of ‘hard work’ in today’s economy.

He writes:

“…Richard Branson doesn’t work more hours than you do. Neither does Steve Ballmer or Carly Fiorina. Robyn Waters, the woman who revolutionized what Target sells — and helped the company trounce Kmart — probably worked fewer hours than you do in an average week.

None of the people who are racking up amazing success stories and creating cool stuff are doing it just by working more hours than you are. And I hate to say it, but they’re not smarter than you either. They’re succeeding by doing hard work.

As the economy plods along, many of us are choosing to take the easy way out. We’re going to work for the Man, letting him do the hard work while we work the long hours. We’re going back to the future, to a definition of work that embraces the grindstone.

Some people (a precious few, so far) are realizing that this temporary recession is the best opportunity that they’ve ever had. They’re working harder than ever — mentally — and taking all sorts of emotional and personal risks that are bound to pay off.

Hard work is about risk. It begins when you deal with the things that you’d rather not deal with: fear of failure, fear of standing out, fear of rejection. Hard work is about training yourself to leap over this barrier, tunnel under that barrier, drive through the other barrier. And, after you’ve done that, to do it again the next day.

The big insight: The riskier your (smart) coworker’s hard work appears to be, the safer it really is. It’s the people having difficult conversations, inventing remarkable products, and pushing the envelope (and, perhaps, still going home at 5 PM) who are building a recession-proof future for themselves.”

Seth Godin is working today, Labor Day.

So am I.

Fund setup for Open Source’s Greg Stein, who was attacked last Friday

Greg Stein was mugged and seriously injured outside his Mountain View home last Friday evening.

A cowardly and vicious act was made even more despicable by the fact that Greg was already on crutches from a climbing accident, and as such was unable to fend for himself.

For those who don’t know Greg, he’s the engineering manager for Google’s Open Source efforts and the Director of the Apache Software Foundation. If you’ve used SVN then you’ve benefited from his work.

Last night Kevin Burton, Olya Lapina, Sofia and myself went down visit Greg and drop off some food and juice for him. He’s on the mend, but he’s still in a bad way – he was beaten pretty badly and we’re all concerned that he makes a full recovery from this – both physically and mentally.

With this in mind, Kevin is rallying together a fund to send Greg on a retreat of respite and recuperation.

I’ll let Kev explain:

“So here’s the plan. We’re all worried about Greg and want to do something nice for him. He really just needs to take some time away and relax and get better.

Based on ALL the hard work that he has given to the community I think we should start taking up a collection to do something nice for him. ”

“Once this is done then we can do something REALLY nice for Greg like send him to a resort in Big Sur for a week or two where he can just relax and get better.

Obviously, if you want to reach out and do something personal for Greg don’t let us stop you. We also want to organize a bunch of people to bring Greg dinner every night for a while so that is an option as well.”

So far the fund has raised $600 with the hope of raising $2k. Any overflow funds will be donated to the Apache Software Foundation, and the fund has Greg’s complete blessing.

If you would like to donate to the fund, please visit the links at the bottom Kev’s blog post. You can also find out more at the fund’s Google Group.

Thank you.

Deflating a little of the Jon Schwartz’s Java puff…

Wow, Jonathan Schwartz proves he’s good at navel gazing.

But you can’t paper over all the cracks…

I know that sounds audacious, but wherever I travel in the world, I’m reminded of just how broad the opportunity has become, and how pervasively the technology and brand have been deployed. Java truly is everywhere.

Ask a teenager if they know Java, and they’ll point to their favorite mobile applications, the video uploader for their social network, or their game console. As for working professionals, I had dinner with a financial analyst a few months ago who said he saw the Java launch experience “a few times a day” when accessing intranet applications – as did tens of thousands of his fellow employees. Daily. Global companies like Google and eBay (and Vodafone and Citigroup) are built on Java, every major PC manufacturer bundles Java upon shipment, as does every mobile phone manufacturer

(emphasis mine)

Er… except Apple. Sorry, no Java VM in the iPhone, Jonny. And whilst today the iPhone is still relatively small in terms of market share, it’s presence is important as an indicator of the future tech-stack we will see on medium-to-high-end phones.

The mobile platform is moving towards being web-orientated and away from app-orientated. In real terms moving forward, we’re going to see ubiquitous and vendor-neutral HTML/CSS/Javascript as the key technologies on the mobile and not vendor-locked J2ME, etc.

Speaking at the Office 2.0 conference

I’m pleased to announce that I will be speaking on a panel at the forthcoming Office 2.0 Conference, which is taking place in San Francisco on Thur 6th and Fri 7th of September 2007.

I shall be a panellist on “Feeds and API’s in the Enterprise 2.0″.

I’m looking forward to talking about the use of API’s to increase both internal productivity across the org chart – such as enabling disparate development teams to build upon the platforms built by their peers in other parts of the organization.

And of course, leveraging API’s and feeds externally to your customers brings all kinds of unexpected benefits from innovation through to customer loyalty – which is of course primarily the kind of work I’m doing as a consultant these days.

Early bird registration is still available, and all attendees receive a free iPhone!

Office2.0 Conference.

Skype Outage: Too many holes in the official explanation for my liking

Having blamed Microsoft windows updates for the collapse of the Skype network, the beleaguered p2p VoIP company has spun another yarn now ‘clarifying’ that it’s not really Microsoft’s fault after all.

Their second explanatory post contains more hot air than a dodgy datacenter with a broken air conditioner.

I would urge you to read both posts, as they contain a couple of contradictions and curious points – including:

Post 1:
“The disruption was triggered by a massive restart of our users’ computers across the globe within a very short timeframe as they re-booted after receiving a routine set of patches through Windows Update.”

Post 2:
3. How come previous Microsoft update patches didn’t cause disruption?
That’s because the update patches were not the cause of the disruption.

This seems very odd, given that every Microsoft update requires a restart. There was nothing different with this latest windows update on that front. Thus to say that the reboots caused the outage makes no logical sense without the addition of a further factor (which they don’t appear to be disclosing).

As GigaOm rightly questions – how come this happened on a Thursday, when MS patches are released on a Tuesday? There appears to be no answer to this.

Skype have attempted to reassured us that this won’t happen again:

“Yes, the bug has been squashed. The fix means that we’ve tuned Skype’s P2P core so that it can cope with simultaneous P2P network load and core size changes similar to those that occurred on August 16.”

However, the lack of transparency as to where this fix (and thus where/what the actual problem is) makes this less convincing. If the fault and fix lies with the clients (the Skype softphones) then this fix is only good if everyone updates – which seems unlikely given some less than compelling new features. If people don’t update then the problem still remains.

If the fix is in their server architecture (that is under their control), then that says a lot about just how ‘distributed’ and ‘p2p-like’ Skype is.

For me further explanation is needed for me to feel that Skype can be relied on as a robust business tool (of course, Skype is not a replacement for emergency call use and I am not assuming that degree to reliability and resilience).

I wrote back in early 2006 that the Skype network relied too much on so-called ‘supernodes’ and I personally believe that the main element of the ‘perfect storm’ (Skype’s description) that they’re not disclosing is that the Skype network is running too low on supernodes.

Normal Skype clients that happen to be running on un-firewalled connections are candidates to become supernodes. In order to relay the Skype calls across the internet, Skype uses these unwitting user’s computers and bandwidth, bringing degraded memory, cpu and network throughput performance. There is no benefit or pay-off for being a supernode and there’s no opt-out or indication that your Skype client is being used as one.

I can’t think of any reason why anyone would want to leave their computer in the position that it could become a Skype supernode and it is for this reason that I believe their availability has dwindled and thus the integrity of the Skype network could be on a knife-point.

Far more transparency and technical explanation is needed from parent-company eBay to reassure my concerns. Given it relies on the same network architecture, anyone looking to use Joost as a broadcast platform would be wise to keep across these developments too.

Some thoughts on good conferences to attend

I’m late to the party, but there’s been a bit of a buzz going around about what conference are worth attending in the industry calendar.

It all started with Alex Iskold’s post on Adaptive Blue’s blog, suggesting which conferences offer the best sponsorship opportunities for your fledgling startup (a good post, btw).

I can’t suggest which are the best conferences to go to market your product, but I’d like to make a stab at some of the best conferences to attend in you need to market yourself.

I’ve managed to establish a pretty good contact network over the past couple of years and I put a lot of this down to attending the right events (ok, and working for a high-profile company, but I can’t help you with that!)

ETech – San Diego, USA
ETech is where it started for me – 2005. It was my first industry conference.

I didn’t go this year because it clashed with the start of my work with Orange (delayed already because of the death of my Grandmother). And from what I heard, it was not as good as previous years. However, it’s still a conference I would attend simply because of the people who go – a good mix of devs and techs through to business people and CxO’s. I’ve rubbed shoulders and shared words with Jeff Bezos and Ray Ozzie whilst I’ve attended ETech, and made some good long-term relationships with many key individuals from ETech.

Future of Web Apps – London, UK (plus elsewhere)
If you are in London/UK, I think this has to be a ‘must-attend’ event – and the next one is in October. They also do them in the US and I think there are plans to hold them in other continents too. However the UK one is where it all started, and every year feels like a real coming together of the UK internet industry.

Ryan, Gill and Lisa of CarsonSystems put on a fine event that’s worth every penny and some. As one of the few events in the UK it attracts developers, business people, founders and VC’s – everyone basically.

Gnomedex – Seattle, USA
I love Gnomedex. I’ve only been once, but looking forward to going next week for the 2007 conference. The final tickets are still available if you want to go. The size of the event is small (200-300 people) but it attracts many key people – giving you a much better opportunity to network and get to know people.

Also, the conversational style of the event (the audience participates in the presentations) allows for some challenging debate and frankly an opportunity to demonstrate your areas of expertize. I find this a great ‘conference hack’ as it inevitably breaks the ice afterwards with people either agreeing or disagreeing with your question/point/speaker’s answer/etc.

Lift and Reboot – Europe
Now, I’ve never been to Lift or Reboot, and so I could be talking out of my arse here. However from observing the conference sites and speaking to people who have attended, these seem like two unique conferences that focus on the individual attendee and not the company they represent. In other words, you attend as yourself and not the company or establishment you are affiliated with.

I’d really like to attend one of these conferences, but sadly I think it’s unlikely until I move back to Europe. However…

Defrag – Denver, USA
Defrag Conference appeared on my radar a few weeks ago, and I booked up to go immediately. It looks like it’s in the spirit of Lift and Reboot and I particularly like that the organizers have chosen to locate the event outside of the Bay Area, despite that they espect many of the attendees to fly in from the Bay Area.

It looks like a great opportunity to literally ‘defrag’ away from the buzz and take stock of what’s really going on in social media right now. Like lift and reboot, I’m hoping people will attend ‘as themselves’ and not the company they are affiliated with – to get some really interesting and impartial debate going. We’ll see!

Community events – EVERYWHERE!
Perhaps the most important events to go to, however, are the community and grassroots events that are being held in your area. And if there aren’t any, well start some!

Jeremiah is spot on with his observations about this, so rather than repeat it all here – go check out his post.

(Due to time constraints, I’ve not hyper-linked this post up to the respective conference sites – will try to do this soon. I’m experimenting with various time slots in my day schedule when I can spend blogging – sadly these are finite gaps and as such the blogging has to fit the time and not the other way around :( )

Stowe Boyd’s Brannan Street Irregulars – and the need for a corporate façade

Stowe Boyd highlights the importance for consultants to have a good ‘corporate shell’ or ‘corporate façade’ for their work.

(Stowe parted company with Blue Whale Labs some months ago, and is now consulting (and blogging) under the wonderfully titled ‘Brannan Street Irregulars’. Apparently a lot of people still think is with Blue Whale in the same way I occasionally get people assuming I’m still working with Citizen Agency.)

Creating such a shell is something that I’ve been realizing I need to do. My reluctance has centered around the fact that under the terms of my US visa, I am granted permission to work as an independent consultant and as such I am not able to operate as a named LLC or C-Corp. I therefore can only legally operate as “Ben Metcalfe”.

However, as any successful consultant in this industry will tell you, one’s blog(s) and one’s consulting gigs kind of go hand-in-hand. And the name of my blog – and any allure of a corporate shell it might bring – are completely separate to my visa satus.

And so it is for this reason that I have decided to seek a new name for this blog and subtly my consultancy work that goes with it.

Also, it will be nice to go to conferences and not have:

Ben Metcalfe
BenMetcalfe.com

or

Ben Metcalfe
Independent Consultant

on my conference badge anymore.

Suggestions for the new name gratefully received, although I am mulling a few of my own :)

Engineering ‘talkability’ into real-world products

I really liked the article “Give ‘em Something to Talk About” on Fast Company.

It looks at Cluetrainy approaches to creating conversation in real-world products and gives a couple of interesting real-world case study examples.

In particular I like the inclusion of Hilton’s Doubletree family of hotels (I haven’t stayed in one before yet) because the product is a clear example of a ‘middle player’ – something which has always been hard to market in our ever-polarizing and segregating consumer market of either quality-orientated or budget-orientated consumers.

It turns out Doubletree offers choc-chip cookies to guests when they check in, which is part of the ‘conversational pieces’ they introduce into the hotel experience. To each individual guest, this appears unique and extraordinary which in-turn creates fodder for conversation.

As the article quite rightly concludes, this ‘talkability’ is something you have to build in at the beginning – and every subsequent step – in your product’s development:

“The fact is that talkability is not a reflex for most of us. We have to work at it. Many companies today seem to believe that word of mouth is something marketers conjure up after a product launch. That’s a tough assignment, akin to hiring a PR agent to generate street buzz about your office’s “white elephant” Christmas party. If you wanted buzz, wouldn’t it have been a better investment to throw a cooler party?

Conversations can’t be “snapped on” after the fact. You have to plan for them. So what’s your plan? How can you give your customers something to talk about?”

But this all leaves me with a curious observation: it seems to m that it’s getting harder to build this talkability into web-apps. Moreover, many social-orientated web-apps seem to confuse the social media elements of their proposition (adding friends, etc) as their ‘talkability’ factor.

The two, I think, are actually quite different.

Unifying the mobile platform: why the iPhone is really important

The reason why the iPhone is an important phone is not because of its shiny gadgetness or its touch interface. It’s not even important because it’s the first serious media player to be combined with a phone.

It’s important because of its web-based approach to application development. I believe this approach will spawn other manufactures to follow suit and in turn we will find ourselves with a truly unified development platform not owned by any single vendor or manufacturer.

Right now developing applications for mobile phones is a pain with no single way of rolling out an application to every phone (or even the majority of phones) on the market. Sun’s J2ME was supposed to solve all this but instead we still have a chaotic environment of different MIDP profiles, screensizes, capabilities and even carriers who prevent unsigned (read: non-rev-shared) java applets from running on some of their phones.

This is kind of what the world of computing was like before the Internet – when Macs wouldn’t read files created on PC’s and vice-versa. The internet came along and a common set of standards were created that allowed documents to be interchanged between any computer. Later on we managed to coerce those standards into lightweight applications that more often than not provide all the functionality we needed.

I believe we are finally going to see this happen on the mobile phone. Apple is leading the way by promoting the iPhone’s Safari browser as the development environment for the iPhone – but there is no reason why this can’t be emulated on other phones too.

Apple is setting the bar for future high end phones and the way to achieve the kind of features they are offering on other platforms is to also go the browser-orientated route too. That’s what will convince phone manufactures like Nokia and Sony Ericsson to focus on the browser in their future phones and in turn unify the platform for all of us.

The other ingredients are in place too. Opera is a great little browser on the phone and until today’s iPhone release was by far the most advanced mobile browser for javascript and early-ajax functionality. I’m sure they’ll be looking to partner with (or even sell to) a major manufacture to continue it’s development. Microsoft is already investigating this area with DeepFish, although it’s not current available for general use.

Google’s significant backing of Firefox development and its interest in the mobile space must also guarantee something is going on with Firefox. However we in the community need to make sure that the Mozilla/Firefox engine doesn’t get 0wned by Google solely for their benefit in the Google phone.

But not going to get one today…
So I swung by the Apple store in downtown San Francisco to check out the scrum just as they opened their doors at 6pm to start selling the iPhone.

It was chaos and there’s no way in the world I’d have wanted to spend more than a few hours in that environment – certainly not a 24hrs+ in line.

Most of the people queuing up wanted it because it’s the latest cool shiny gadget – and that’s fine, but it doesn’t float my boat. But it was interesting to spot a few interesting faces in the line, such as Netvibe’s Tariq Krim, who were buying it “solely for the API”. Tariq doesn’t even live in the US but can see the benefit of having one to build out Netvibes onto.

Personally, I’d love one for development but I have no interest in it as a consumer phone nor do I wish to be an AT&T Mobile customer.

Today it’s all about the “I have it first” crowd – and that’s not a head space I think is all that positive. I certainly don’t want to be part of it, but it’s one that Apple feeds off with great success. “A marketer’s wet dream” as my wife described it.

I look forward to reading the inevitable technical reviews of the phone and the official development documentation to grok when I need to build something for it. I also want to see what Blackberry, Nokia, Microsoft and Sony Ericsson have in the works in response.

(disclosure: Orange France Telecom is currently a significant client of mine, although I do not work in any mobile-related area for them. I do work on a project that is a competitor to Netvibes, mentioned in this article.)

Bret Taylor leaves Google Code to start Benchmark-backed startup

Congrats to Bret Taylor and his friend Jim Norris who have taken up Entrepreneurs in Residence positions at Benchmark Capital.

The position allows them to work on their start-up idea and immediately start receiving support and resource from Benchmark. It’s a pretty sweet opportunity, but they both deserve it.

Bret and Jim were part of the small team who created Google Maps – the project which unintentionally kick-started Google’s foray into the world of mashups.

It’s therefore no surprise that Bret went on lead Google’s developer network Google Code, which is how our paths first crossed whilst I was leading backstage.bbc.co.uk.

Bret and I gave a plenary talk at the 2006 Computer Human Interaction conference about the usability of mashups.

I wish Bret and Jim all the best with their new venture, and can’t wait to find out what it is. I’m guessing it’ll be map/geo or mashup related, but they have has told VentureBeat it’s ‘consumer orientated’ so that rules out mashups.

Best of luck guys.