30 Mar

Open Source Project Watch: Brackets… by Adobe?!

A year ago I wrote about how the involvement of various media companies in open source software was worth paying attention to. It still is, but it is equally interesting to see commercial vendors back successful OSS that, on the surface, looks like it may be competing with their paid products. One such project is Adobe’s Brackets [home | Github], an excellent free code editor that has been going through rapid iterations and impressive adoption by developers – both those working on the software itself, its many extensions, and the broader population of people simply using it. Read More

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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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

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

18 Mar

Web Services and APIs Need to Advertise Their Health Status

It seems everything is now being turned into an off-the-cloud service, and as a case in point StatusPage.io launched in 2013 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 becoming so obvious and prevalent that they turn into products in their own right, though it often takes a bit longer than you might first expect for things to bloom to full maturity.

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

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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