24 Feb

Dear Enterprise Software Vendor

I’m a small business co-owner, but we’re also a growing business, and ambitious at that. Dear “Enterprise” software vendor that desperately tries to look mightier than it is, understand that I’m making sure it’s in our DNA to filter out your opaque, overly complex sales processes from the get-go. Not only will we not look at your product that won’t tell its price publicly, but I’ve made it company policy that anyone foolish enough to waste time with such vendors will see their contract terminated. I’m not an OSS zealot by any measure, but if your price is not public, you’re pretty much admitting your product is weak and overpriced.
We will not tolerate this crap and we will protect our productivity from your pre-sales BS. I bet that more and more businesses have been coming to similar conclusions these last few years. You want to see a company that gets it? Check out Atlassian (I’m not even their customer but these guys seem to do a lot of things right, from marketing to hiring).
I’m looking at security software in a couple different categories and bumped several times into this very brand of company that really, really doesn’t want our business. I guess they’re preying off bloated big companies because of widespread incompetence and CYA insecurity. These past few years, I think UltraDNS was the most egregious offender in the way they tried to sell to us. Those guys were really hilarious. We told them to never contact us again and eventually switched to Nettica for DNS management. Costs us $50 a year too for what I’m pretty sure is the same service.
It’s surprising how often the proper answer is just, “give me a break.”

13 Feb

Impressive Marketing at Skybox

As much as I think Chile can be world class in some areas, its web sites are usually a parody of bad mid-90’s layouts and broken code. Exhibit A: popular starting page chile.com (competitor sitios.cl isn’t much better). However, a few people stand out and clearly know what they’re doing. Not only is Skybox running geo-targeted ads in Facebook, they’re also combining geo-targeting with seasonal themes and quite likely, content targeting too. Exhibit B: lingerie ad on Adrants. The landing page could have been better customized to the ad unit, but as far as internet marketing savvy goes, I’m nitpicking and these guys are a decade ahead of most businesses in the country. Seeing an Axe skyscraper in Spanish on Facebook that mirrors the outdoors ads currently displayed here in Re

11 Feb

Getting Real about Internet Realpolitik

There’s sound, healthy skepticism about crazy conspiracy theories (“George Bush paid Mossad to blow up the Pentagon with a missile and make believe it was a plane”). Then there’s plain stupidity. People dismissing speculation about what caused the backbone cable cuts leading to massive outages in the Middle East and India as “tinfoil hat thinking” are massively deluded about how nation states behave. (Fun way to know for sure it happened in the first place: a former World of Warcraft guildmate located in Bahrain told us he had huge latency for days). I have no idea who’s behind these cuts, but there’s just very little chance it’s a bunch of unrelated accidents. The most ludicrous theory is that it was just the unfortunate result of trailing anchors.
Take this from someone two degrees from the people who sunk the Rainbow Warrior: this stuff does happen outside of movies. My father in law is an engineer at the DGA defense procurement agency while my father is a retired Army officer. What we were told when we grew up was: “I’m not telling you details about what I know and what I’m working on so that bad people can’t get information out of you.” It shapes and informs your view of the world! Part of it was specific to the Cold War, but terrorist threats were also hanging over Western Europe since the 70’s in various shapes and forms.
It’s funny to see people thinking they’re being all smart and educated and rational actually demonstrating one thing: they don’t know jack about what they’re talking about and are very, very naive. Yes, people are spouting all sorts of nonsense on the internet. Yes, you want to ignore most of it as idle speculation or even outright stupidity. No, it doesn’t mean everything is fine and dandy out there.
Bottom line is, after massive virus outbreaks these past few years, attacks against Estonia last year and now this, we think the chances that a massive Internet slowdown lasting weeks might happen in the next five years is not insignificant. I don’t want to pull a Bob Metcalfe on you, but we’re looking at what parts of our business may be made resilient to such an event. It may come from states, terrorists, organized crime, bored teens, or a combination of the above. If you’re managing servers I’m sure you’re routinely getting pounded by DDOS and scraping and all sorts of crazy behavior just like we are. This ain’t fun.
The Internet is designed for resilience, but if you look at backbone maps, there are failure points and the liability is there that the whole thing is made barely functional for significant lengths of time. You don’t even need to blow all interconnection points. Once you’ve removed some of them, the rest can slow down to a crawl through bottleneck effects. In theory you’re still connected. In practice all you get is time outs, you can forget about using web apps, let alone VOIP or streaming video. Maybe you can get load a 30kb web page once in a while. Not the end of the world, but a tough ride if 100% of your income is based on the assumption of smooth, fast, always-on broadband everywhere. The fact companies such as Google have their eyes on the backbone may in part be a hedge against such doom scenarios.

07 Feb

Losing Money to Make Money

Got the worst and best out of Macy’s today. It didn’t start that well. They have a clearance right now but when it was time to pay on their site, they wouldn’t take my debit card. Since I have a Visa with a US bank that I order with on American web sites all the time, that wasn’t expected. I IMed one of their reps to ask what was going on, and that was the first good surprise, as someone who knew how to properly spell English spotted in 30 seconds that I was ordering through a non-US ISP, which macys.com won’t allow. The rep pointed me to a phone number which I called a couple hours later.
Over the phone, another rep took my order very nicely and patiently, though we were both bitching at macys.com extreme sluggishness by then (must be the clearance). She found extra discounts on pretty much every product I wanted to order and threw free shipping on top of it though I was under the $150 that qualified for it. I paid $107 for 5 brand-name sweaters and a jacket!
Macy’s, kudos for your rep training and your pricing flexibility to save face, protect your brand and make a customer happy. Macys.com, get bigger servers to handle clearances and rewrite your error messages, thanks.

07 Feb

Distributed Workforce Gone Wild

Steve F., web developer, Maine USA: “I gotta go help my girlfriend with the snow blower, her car’s stuck.”
Olivier T., COO, Central Chile: “Sure. Meanwhile I’ll go walk along the beach to ogle the hotties in thongs hired to promote bear and cheap perfume.”
I’d post a picture but it would turn my blog into an R-rated publication. Anyway my wife keeps me on a short leash so I can’t take the best pics. Sideways glancing while walking is a vital skill for married men.

06 Feb

Apparat – Walls

Walls is one of those albums showing that two decades in, electronic music still has legs. There’s really good stuff coming from Germany these days. I haven’t been in Berlin since about 18 months after the fall of the wall (crap, I can’t remember for sure whether I went there in the summer of ’90 or ’91). By then civilians drove through from West to East unimpeded, but since my father was in the military we had to check in through checkpoint Alpha at the start of the Autobahn. It was the weirdest thing to lose 20 minutes to what was obviously an obsolete remnant of the cold war, what with the thousands of cars driving by freely and Charlie gone. Already different from the experience related by another “military brat” in 1988. In the fall of 1989 I remember feeling elated for Eastern Europe but thinking it would take a generation for Germany to reunite. It was only mildly comforting for my self esteem to be proven so wrong in company of people such as Mitterrand, the French president at the time.
East Berlin at the time was still a ghost town in some places, with drab buildings showing ugly WWII scars, grey figures looking at us through heavy curtains, Trabant testaments to Communist ineptitude. Cranes were starting to rise though and I’m sure it’s a very different city now. Berlin is a sprawling city ten times the size of Paris for just 50% more people, which makes it hard to wrap your head around, sort of Europe’s LA, giving you the cold shoulder and not caring one bit about you.
Remembering this trip makes me think of my late uncle Andr

05 Feb

Offline Web Apps: Not Just for Offline Use

Excellent post last month on the Google Gears blog. We have a few people that like to live in the countryside where all they can get is high-latency satellite broadband. I’m myself considering buying land here in Chile where the best internet access I may get for the foreseeable future is 3.5G (UMTS/HSDPA) (not sure what the latency is, but probably not too good). Waiting 10+ seconds between each salesforce.com page load for instance is a real productivity killer. Google Gears is important infrastructure stuff that Microsoft should pay very close attention to.

02 Feb

The Chilean Sea is Not to Be Given Away?!

We’ve started to (carefully) explore to what extent there might actually be value in the current crop of social networks. We were involved in earlier waves – from Ryze to the now defunct Soflow – with little to show for it, so we chose to sit out of Facebook and Twitter for a long time, mostly for signal-to-noise issues. Feverish hype or not, I think the jury is still out, but I admit there seems to be staying power here.
Anyway, today’s weird FB discovery (in the sense that I just stumbled on it), or maybe it is telling, is the group named El Mar de Chile no Se Regala!!!! which loosely translated is this post’s title (though I’m using my own bewildered punctuation). 3,169 members to support Chile’s position in one of its territorial disputes with its neighbors! I wouldn’t have thought people would create groups around rather arcane geopolitical issues, and that’s before Facebook has even been localized. Peru’s FB network is half as large as Chile’s, which I guess reflects its smaller online population (broadband is expensive in Chile in PPP terms, but I think it’s much worse in Peru). The El pisco es Chileno group seems more at home on FB, since the dispute between Chile and Peru over paternity for a regional drink is more of an informal joke of an issue to rant about over a pisco sour. Speaking of which, I like this cocktail but also highly recommend amaretto sour. How’s that for a conclusion about world affairs seen through the lens of social networks?