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:

Read More

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

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

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:

Read More

17 Mar

Ideas to Improve Software Documentation, Raise Productivity of Mere Mortals

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 More

18 Mar

Time to Pick Up a New Newsreader

I have been consuming newsfeeds since Pointcast (1996) and CDF/IE 4.0 (1998) so obviously once RSS gained momentum about a decade ago, I got hooked. It remains my main way to keep on top of both fresh news and background material. In recent years I tried several times setting up Twitter (by itself and via desktop clients such as Tweetdeck) but never reached an acceptable signal/noise ratio so I gave up and only check it out once in a while, certainly less than my daily RSS consumption. Read More

07 Mar

Customer Support Should Feed into Product Requests, Documentation

In our dealings with various SaaS vendors, it is interesting to see cultural differences translating into behavioral patterns. You can see from the outside which functions have heft, which ones are afterthoughts, and where are the missing integration points. A behavior that I see pretty often is a good level of quality in customer support, but a failure to properly integrate it with other parts of the company. That is suboptimal both internally for these companies, and from the perspective of the customer. Vendors miss opportunities to learn and improve, while the customer feels he’s dealing with well-meaning professionals hindered by a poorly designed organization.

In my experience two scenarios often play out that give the customer an overall “meh, whatever” feeling no matter how great the work done by support. Read More

21 Jan

Want Timely Firmware Updates? Don’t Buy a Nokia E71

To help other people from being sold a device that’s not going to be maintained by its manufacturer, let me warn you that some versions of Nokia’s E71 smartphone sold in the US (aka E71-2 NAM) have not received any firmware update since the product was introduced on the market last year. Meaning, known bugs have been fixed for some customers, but I and others are left hanging dry. That’s rich for a $400 unlocked phone sold by one of the biggest ecommerce players in the consumer electronics world (Newegg.com). It’s not like I bought the phone for cheap from the grey market and unlocked it with an unsupported hack.
Nokia is aware of the problem but doesn’t even have a deadline to fix it. I thought they finally meant to be a competitive player in the US but it seems I was wrong. Also, apparently Nokia is too poor to py for decent upgrade servers.
Looks like Palm is back in the game so if Nokia doesn’t get their act together I’ll be on the market again soon for an unlocked phone that can work worldwide and is actually properly supported by its vendor.
02/15/09 update: proceeded with the finally available update. Going through applications to see things are working fine, Gmail settings didn’t make it even after backup/restore (since the E71 doesn’t save user settings through firmware updates – yeah it’s stupid at that price range).

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.”