More and more websites are increasingly made by assembling back-end libraries and front-end components provided by third parties, rather than built in house. Web developers typically spend less time coding than integrating code from others, among other tasks. Face it, most organizations don’t have the resources to compete with the collective work put into a WordPress or Bootstrap, and even if they do, in most cases it wouldn’t be a good use of said resources.

Think of it as a supply chain, like how car “manufacturers” are actually assembling components more than they are “building” products from raw materials. They focus their actual component manufacturing on a few critical parts like engines – and even then often in collaboration with competitors – but they get parts from a whole ecosystem of suppliers. Aircraft makers are not even in the business of making engines! How we go about making websites is going through a rapid and exciting phase of maturation. To the “build or buy” question, the answer is increasingly “buy”, though money is not even necessarily involved. Read the rest of this entry »

Over many years I’ve found a lot of good hardware and neat apps that work well together. In the spirit of the setup and how I work interviews, here’s my advice on picking desktop hardware, some of my favorite software, and various productivity shortcuts, all of which may prove useful to other multi-monitor Windows users who work with a wide variety of applications. Warning: this is a relatively geeky entry, but these recommendations are the fruit of years of hard-won experience! Beyond advice above specific products, I hope you’ll get some methodological help out of this entry, as technology adoption is a madness that requires method. Read the rest of this entry »

I don’t speak Chinese, so I rely on English editions of Chinese media to have a bit of a local perspective. The state-owned media such as Xinhua tends to run pure propaganda right out of their government/party/military masters. It’s so laughably bad it’s good. There is some fledgling independent media though, and among them I’ve been reading Caixin with interest for a while. I think Western media – and its media about the media – should stop their navel gazing and pay more than token attention to events such as China Media Capital (CMC) taking a stake in Caixin Media late last year. There is of course some amount of Western reporting, and meta reporting, on this, but it tends to be ghettoized in sections about China/Asia. Approaching such issues primarily through the lens of geography strikes me as somewhat provincial, but this may reflect audience preferences that publishers don’t dare challenge. Read the rest of this entry »

The last couple of years has seen a burst of experimentation in the news world to go beyond the print-inherited definition and delivery of news stories/articles/entries. That is genuinely great, but it remains hard, even for leading organizations with vast resources, to scale beyond one-offs. This is due to a mix of interlocked factors, including: CMS constraints coming from strict database schemas and content types, workflow friction, culture, and front-end technology that’s still very much a work in progress.

I plan to cover this more at length in due time, but in the meantime here’s a quick conversation with Elise Hu from NPR and NYT’s Jacob Harris on this very topic: Read the rest of this entry »

Over the past decade, the headline of this entry, first published in October 2004, seemed less and less outlandish. By March 2014, Larry Page had made that a very explicit goal, echoing Bill Gates’ earlier promise of a computer on every desk and in every home. Here is how the idea that Google would get into the internet access business – as a fundamental enabler to bigger things, not in a Comcast incumbentish (hereby a word) way – turned into reality over the years: Read the rest of this entry »

Because everything is now being turned into an off-the-cloud service, launched last year to let companies outsource their availability dashboards. They already have lined up a nice customer roster, with a monthly runrate now above $30K. It is rewarding to see best practices become so obvious and prevalent that they turn into products in their own right, though it always take a bit longer than you might first expect.

This entry started with a 2004 post, and spans more than a decade since I started ranting about the need for API and web service providers to provide transparency into their operations. Check out how things propagated:

Read the rest of this entry »

The explosion in the quantity and quality of both commercial APIs and open source projects is a huge enabler for digital start-ups and small businesses. Instead of painfully rolling your own version of, say, sending email newsletters or displaying a media gallery, in many cases “there’s an app for that.” However, behind the numbers, the very uneven quality of the documentation made available with said APIs, plugins, and packages, is a serious impediment to fully realizing the productivity gains promised by these vibrant ecosystems. (Wow this sounds way too much like an enterprise software whitepaper!)

Typically documentation takes shortcuts by implying bits of knowledge that the reader may not have, skipping necessary steps, leaving out important nuances, or providing incomplete and obtuse examples. These issues are compounded because of today’s development by integration more than pure coding. I’ve been thinking about how this could be alleviated. Read the rest of this entry »

Like many people developing with WordPress, I used to use XAMPP to run a Linux/Apache/MySQL stack under Windows. This beats developing directly off a remote server by a long stretch (in case anybody still does that), but it turns out to be quite a hassle as you wrestle with / vs \ in paths and other discrepancies between the Unix and Windows worlds. Developing in an environment as close to production as possible ends up being a much better choice. Popular free tools to do so are:

  • VirtualBox to run other operating systems within your own
  • Vagrant to manage development environments within VirtualBox
  • Puphpet, a wizard-like interface to help set up Vagrant through Puppet automation scripts.

Yes, these work somewhat like Russian dolls, as modern web development has a severe case of tools to set up tools to set up tools. It can get a little crazy at times, so you want to find the sweet spot where you gain efficiency without becoming a slave to your toolset (which is supposed to save you time in the first place). Getting this up and running is a big enabler for continuous integration, and why you would want to think and develop that way is the topic of a separate entry. In this post I’ll share some practical details to contribute a little back to the open source community and not just consume its benefits passively.  The end result is a fully functional Unix environment serving a WordPress website locally on a Windows PC.

This entry is written from the perspective of “Unix as a foreign language” from a Windows native. It does assume that you have read the basics about VirtualBox and Vagrant, and focuses on common roadblocks that I’ve encountered along the way. Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve put together lists of teams and people working at the intersection of news publishing, data, visualization, and online/mobile/software development to get a better sense of who talks the talk and who walks the walk. There’s a strong UK presence, while some organizations are missing that you’d expect might want to show up.

This would deserve some analysis (anyone up to datamine Open Source Report Card?), maybe later.

1. Github repositories from news orgs Read the rest of this entry »

This API status meta dashboard is great, as it scratches an itch I’ve had for almost a decade. I meant to suggest to the Zapier folks that they develop exactly that, but didn’t end up sharing that thought, and here they are! Brilliant team, excellent product. Now they need to customize the datatable and RSS feed so that they can be filtered based on APIs you actually use as a Zapier customer.

About this blog

I'm CEO of an online/mobile trade publishing firm in the marketing and defense verticals. We strive to make news and data digestible and useful in an environment that is noisier by the day.

This personal blog mixes my thoughts and interests on politics, business, publishing, software, and more. Over the years I have posted items that turned out spectacularly wrong, and a few posts that better stood the test of time.



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