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

10 May

Zapier Devs Read My Mind, Among Other Feats

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.

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

28 Jun

Open Source is, Well, Source Code

David Erickson posted an entry I meant to write for years. Open source is great at a lot of things, but let’s face it, documentation is often incredibly lousy. I’m spending a lot of times these days looking at what we can and can’t do with our PHP/Wordpress/OpenAds toolset. Sometimes it really feels like a root canal to get answers to seemingly simple questions. MSDN is far from perfect, but it’s heaven compared to, say, how variable scoping is defined on the php.net site, empty pages in the WordPress codex, or confusing PAN/MMM roadmaps (though OpenAds is at last starting to clean its house on that front).
For-profit companies built around open source projects need to understand this is a critical missing piece. Unlike David, I don’t have high hopes that users are suddenly going to turn into good documentation writers. This is a tedious, time-consuming job and you need to keep the content updated. It has to be funded because it won’t work as a labor of love. Yes, you can buy O’Reilly books, but I don’t think the book market alone solves it.
(Sorry, my comments are broken and won’t be fixed for a while, please comment on your own blogs!)
Somewhat related from the archives: Open Companies More Important than Open Source.
02/02/08 update: Bottom line, all weblog apps suck in some way.

27 Aug

The Microsoft Office I Really Want

Are you looking forward to the next release of Microsoft Office, whenever that is and whatever it will do? Yeah, me neither. However, I can see how a lot of value could be delivered on top of supposedly ultra-mature products. Consider the needs of a virtual team doing things such as product management and business development. Sure, there’s an increasing number of web apps to cover such needs, but frankly, you can Ajax them to death and Excel’s frontend is still going to beat them to a pulp in terms of responsiveness, flexibility and depth (yes I want to be able to sort and filter and use garish colors if I want to). I tried Jot during its beta and even the regular text wiki experience was painful; every web grid I’ve played with was just that, a toy. Imagine that enabling keyboard shortcuts in GMail was considered a breakthrough. (Breathing down the neck of MS-DOS if you ask me, but everything old is new these days.)
What I really want is seamless integration between Excel on the frontend and an online relational database on the backend. No, I DON’T want some intranet Office Server crap or Groove client overload that I have to install and maintain myself, because that’s just not going to happen. And I’m not talking about just connecting Excel to some SQL source and browse it remotely (a feature I’ve been using once in a while), because this starts from the assumption someone created a SQL database in the first place. Nice but not nearly enough.
What I want is an internet application with a desktop frontend, with a choice of providers you can plug into, just like you can source other hosting services. The whole “internet Excel stack” should automagically normalize and synchronize the pseudo database work that most people do with it. And if it looks and tastes like a bunch of names and addresses, I should likewise be able to read/write/synch them through Outlook contacts. Wikify/blogify Outlook Today to have a mini-portal to point people to stuff and keep them on the same page (putthat stuff on the private web too), and we’re all set.
The magic part so unlike what’s available today is that you could start right from Excel, doing the junk you’ve done with it for a decade, but now it gets all cleaned up and consolidated so that your team can jump in without email attachments and tedious manual mergers. With synchronization down to the cell level (Just Figure It Out, sharing whole files is technology from last century and it’s a waste of our time).
Recap in case someone from Microsoft reads this (Scoble ping):

  • ASP service as a priority, not a half-baked afterthought.
  • No extra client install on top of the latest default MS Office install.
  • Make it as much backwards compatible as possible.
  • No crap that just doesn’t happen to work on Office Mac.
  • No glue grunt work necessary on my end to make the magic happen.
  • Data entry starts with Excel and Outlook.
  • Data goes into tidy, secure, backed-up server heaven by wizard magic.
  • Integrated basic wiki/blog/portal.
  • No butterfly, no dog, no silly animal whatsoever.

Or even shorter: no server, no install, no programming. Get back to your end-user roots, drop the full-time IT department requirement mindset, and charge a tax to your product and marketing teams every time they use the word “deploy”. Whie you’re at it, drop silly names such as “Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003″ (I’m not making this up), really this should be how Office works out of the box. Do the hard work so I don’t have to, damn it! A team of several people needs to be able to be up and running almost instantly: “Got Excel? Fine, click on this URL, here’s your password, and start updating the sales pipeline already.”
Of course it’s not going to happen. Microsoft will die fat through death by incrementalitis (propagated by the nasty Enterprise virus). For people who start companies now, Microsoft is the new IBM. If you grow your business to the point where you need some IT guys, you’re going to whip them until they figure out “the internet way” rather than deploy heavy infrastructure within your walls.
Update: Robert tells me I might be surprised by what’s coming. We’ll see, I’d love to be proven wrong.
08/29/05 update: a comment below gets me to look again into Salesforce.com, which leads me to Salesforce.com: The MS Office Killer, Salesforce.com Vs. Microsoft Office? No contest. This Multiforce page is a bit abstract though.
09/19/05 update: Server-side Excel (different idea, interesting too).
10/10/05 update: Excel 12 blog.
06/06/06 update: Google Spreadsheets complements Excel?.
08/04/15 update: Zoho Sheet integration into Zoho CRM.

23 Jan

State of the Software Development Management Tool Market

As recently as 18 months ago it seemed there wasn’t much to handle software product development except either bug databases, generic wikis and intranet platforms, or maybe expensive and (for my purposes) cumbersome enterprise software, which is not what I’m interested about.
Now that I’m looking again at this though (we need something to keep our growing team in synch at Soflow), there are at least three new applications meant to address the need for the right mix of structure and flexibility:

Atlassian provides both issue tracking and collaboration but I’m looking for a single tool that seamlessly supports the whole product management and development process, from business case to user requirements to functional specs to tracking development progress, tests and debugging. Borland has CaliberRM but it needs its own server (the fact it comes both with a web and a desktop client is attractive though) and is not exactly cheap. But if I look in that direction there are plenty of requirement management tools.
Here are my notes so far:

Read More

11 Dec

Proof That Microsoft Lost It

I’m setting up a Shuttle mini PC for friends. Of course I don’t bother to buy a floppy drive, who needs these things anymore? Well, a freshly bought Windows XP OEM CD ROM, that’s who. You can’t install a third party driver (in this case, a SATA PCI board because I bought the wrong Shuttle reference without SATA onboard – thanks Shuttle for using ambiguous product references) from a CD ROM. How fucking pathetic is that?
Thanks for nothing Microsoft for forcing me to a) shut down my own PC to get the only floppy drive left in the house, b) put it in the Shuttle to install the damn driver, c) remove it from the Shuttle, and d) put it back in my own PC. I appreciate the waste of time because you’re too busy fixing holes in your product and working on Cairo 2008. I can’t imagine how mad I’d have been I didn’t own a floppy drive at all. (Robert Scoble, you’re welcome to report this to whomever is in charge of blowing the heavy layer of dust off of Windows XP – someone should tell Steve Ballmer that’s what you currently have for sale.)

29 Oct

Testing Big Software Projects Not for Wimps

Scott Guthrie (a Microsoft product unit manager on web platform and tools who got ASP.NET started): Testing ASP.NET 2.0 and Visual Web Developer:

"[W]e need to deliver [ot] on the same date on three radically different processor architectures (x86, IA-64, and x64 processor architectures), on 4 different major OS variations (Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows 2003 and Longhorn), support design-time scenarios with 7 different Visual Studio SKUs, and be localized into 34+ languages. […]
My team will have ~105,000 test cases and ~505,000 functional test scenarios covered when we ship Whidbey. […] My team currently has 4 labs where we keep approximately 1,200 machines."

In semi-related news, I see more people waking up to the fact Google might turn into a significant Microsoft ISV.
11/22/04 update: Google Deskbar Plug-in .NET Development Kit.

26 Oct

Macromedia FlashPaper Lighter Alternative to Acrobat?

Dave McClure:

"Every time i load up Acrobat Reader to view a PDF file, i might as well go get a cup of coffee — it’s a complete dog, and not at all appropriate for viewing lightweight docs over the web. Then along comes Macromedia FlashPaper, and I’m amazed this product hasn’t already obliterated the portable document market."

Interesting. I second Dave’s comment on Acrobat’s sluggishness, this is really aggravating. FlashPaper has an API and isn’t even new.
04/18/05 update: Adobe to Acquire Macromedia.

31 Aug

What Is Tableau Visual Spreadsheet?

Tableau Software:

A Visual Spreadsheet is an interactive canvas that allows you to explore, analyze and create reports from databases. It lets you display, filter, sort, group, drill-into, calculate and summarize data using a “live” interactive window into your databases.&quot

This looks like charts within pivot tables, aka pure porn for data geeks. Tableau, a Stanford spinout, just raised $5M. That’s a reasonable "flip to Microsoft" bet.