01 Dec

Insta Case Study: Feature Update Notifications Down Right

icon-counterKudos to Intercom for the very smart way they integrate their change notifications to the application itself. First, they use the increasingly popular “counter over an icon” notification that is not too obtrusive yet does the job (I just wish LinkedIn stopped abusing this pattern to attract my attention to weak signals I don’t care about).

Once you get there, as you’ll see in the screenshot below Intercom combines several good ideas that add up to a very smooth delivery. Keep reading to see a screenshot and learn on all that’s right about their approach:

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24 Nov

Where to Register Domain Names, Host DNS, Email

After my previous post on hosting, here are some quick notes on some other essential bits of online technology and favored/hated vendors, from the perspective of a small business looking for solid but very cost-effective solutions. I tend to pick vendors really good at one thing, rather than those mediocre across a broad range of services.  Read More

22 Nov

Website Hosting Tech: What to Choose and Why?

If your head is spinning from the deluge of tech product announcements that make you feel like you’re always trying to catch up, no matter how close you stick to technology developments – breathe deeply, you’re not alone. Here are a few pointers to frame how to think about the costs and benefits of various types of web hosting. In short, there is no silver bullet, and like most things it’s all about cost-benefit trade-offs. Yes, “the cloud” is becoming better and new solutions seem to crop up like mushrooms after rain, but you can spend days researching vendors that in the end, are pretty close to each other and won’t impact much how your business is doing. Some questions to ask yourself: Read More

08 Oct

Why Media Companies Should Pay Attention to Software Development/Operations Integration

Many if not most media companies invest relatively little in software development. But those that do have been grabbing the attention of an increasing number of readers, subscribers, advertisers, and investors. What to do if software is not in your DNA, and why do you want to do something about it in the first place?

Adopting new tools and workflows is work, no matter how you slice it, so I will highlight that this is not just about operational quality control or developer productivity – though these are important in their own right – but more importantly about maintaining competitiveness in light of shifting readership expectations and behaviors. Here is the business case for paying attention, and carefully adopting, some of the latest methodologies popular in web development circles. For many organizations this may require a significant cultural shift. Read More

12 May

How to Make the Best of Website Development Trends, Circa 2014

More and more websites are 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 More

28 Apr

How I Save Time with the Right Shortcuts, Handpicked Apps, and Finetuned Hardware

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 More

08 Apr

Will Caixin Preserve Its Editorial Independence?

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 More

07 Apr

The Challenge of “Snowfall At Scale”

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 More

26 Mar

Out-of-Left-Field Idea of the Day: Google Broadband

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 More

18 Mar

Web Services and APIs Need to Advertise Their Health Status

Because everything is now being turned into an off-the-cloud service, StatusPage.io 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:

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