Saturday, August 18, 2007

Six Months !

Hey, my company's six-month anniversary came and went and I forgot to blog it. We started this journey on Feb 14th of this year. We're not as far along as I'd like, but given that I started this adventure with a seriously rusted set of technical skills, well.. maybe I'll learn to give myself some slack.

My original plan was to have a Flex prototype up and working by May 15th. That target date flew by and I had it ready by about June 20th.

Our next milestone is to have an alpha launch by Aug 31st. After that, we shall have weekly miletones and we'll "iterate, iterate, iterate"!

Most days I feel like I can't work fast enough, and that this is taking way too long to get into alpha. However, looking back...

On Feb 1, my tech skills were limited to the RPG procedural language, DB2 (and SQL), midrange architecture, HTML, and some hacking experience with linux, assembly, C and java. from 1994-1996. But I was pretty seriously rusty in anything outside of RPG procedural programing and relational database design and implementation using DB2, SQL, and DDS.

Since then, I've learned Flex and Actionscript3, javascript, python, django, more modern HTML and CSS practices, apache server administration, object-oriented techniques, MVC framework, some RoR (not much, but enough to hack through it if I had to) and coding for the Facebook platform. I'm no expert or guru obviously - but enough of a generalist to competently build, and to keep learning.

I did it by doing - building some mp3 players, building our prototype in AS3, building a Facebook app in django and FBML, and so on.

In other words, I hacked. And made countless mistakes.. boy, my original AS3 code is ugly! Wow. Unsightly. But with help, and advice from more experienced coders (thank you all !), I've re-written most of it using the Cairngorm microframework for AS3 and the django framework & javascript for XHTML.

I'm taking this moment to pat myself on the back. Because compared to damn near everyone else I've met in tech circles, I've felt like an idiot!, but looking at the last 6 months' work as I've written it here.. I gotta say: not bad. I still want to work faster, and more efficiently.. but that will come.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Jeremiah Owyang on Web Strategy and Facebook

"If you’ve not already figured it out, the corporate website is becoming less relevant, and web marketing (and support) has spread off your domain and google results. You also know that prospects trust the opinions of existing customers (who are ‘like them’) far more than marketers, and Facebook let’s these communities of practice assemble, your brand is decentralized –embrace!."

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Doc Searls on Advertising

"Advertising has always been woefully inefficient. Improving targeting and making advertising accountable by counting click-throughs does not solve the problem that advertising has always been an exercise in guesswork. At some point the guessing ends — not by absolute improvements in targeting, but by the creation of new methods by which demand finds supply. These methods will be anchored in better tools for customers, and better means for sellers and intermediaries to satisfy demand by connecting to better-equipped customers.

The Net revolution has always been about radically improving the connections between demand and supply, and about equipping profusions on both sides of the relationship — while reducing intermediary costs and frictions in the direction of zero.

As a term for describing this development, “commoditization” is a misleading failure. Roles are changing far more than “content” — a term which itself misleads by reducing the informing of people to deliverable commodities. People still need to inform other people. More ways to do that will emerge. There will be business models there. Supply and demand will find each other. We need to figure out how to make new and better money with new and better roles. Advertising will still be part of that picture, but it won’t fund the whole thing."

Thursday, August 09, 2007


I was at the Twiistup 2 event last night in Venice, CA and had a great time hanging out with SoCal geekdom. The tech sector is exploding down here, and it's damn exciting.

I have no voice left, and am just getting my coffee, so I'll blog more about this later. But suffice to say it was cool, and there's a lot happening that you should check out. Among others, take a look at Elephant Drive, Fafarazzi, Geni, Teleflip, Beat9, Goowy/YourMinis and Verse Studios.

(uh, and oh yeah - that wasn't Bono. Sheesh.)

update: Forgot one... sorry about that!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Self-Expression Advertising

What is Self-Expression Advertising?

It's a form of advertising by means of self-expression, of course!

"I like this/I am this" is the key concept here* - and it's not a new concept. If I identify with a certain product strongly enough for whatever reason - aesthetics, prestige, etc. - I'll be more than happy to wear their t-shirt, or jacket, or whatever with the big 'license plate' logo. Manufacturers and rocks bands have known about and marketed this way for decades (see the designer products markets), and now web advertising is finally catching up.

Allowing people to choose their ads, giving them incentive and making it easy & fun to do so and making the process a vehicle for self-expression, is a great way to advertise on the web.

Advertising then becomes a form of self-expression and a conversation between the viewer, the content provider, and the vendor - the relationship here is probably complex, and I'm toast at the moment after having been coding all day, but I'm right. Don't argue, we're good to go on this one.

This, my friends, is gonna be huge.

* from "The Substance of Style", V. Postrel

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Learning the learns

I've been learning the Facebook platform these last few weeks and before that I was getting our prototype into a state ready for review. Coding day and night, and as Paul put it the other day "learning the learns". I knew I'd need a widget strategy for our product and as soon as Facebook launched their platform last May I quickly knew that FB was going to play a big role in that strategy. As soon as I returned from my last trip to SF a couple of weeks ago, I jumped into learning the Facebook platform markup language (FBML), and really started coding in earnest with django rather than with PHP.

Oh yeah.. lots of learns. Re-tooling my rusted tech skills to actionscript, javascript, python, linux, and apache has taken longer than I'd hoped (three months to learn it all was unrealistic!), and developing while you're learning something new sometimes feels like you're trying to ride a 10-speed in molassess.* I'm used to developing very quickly on an iSeries, and so have had to change the expectations I place upon myself as I now produce code more slowly; some skills translate from my former hacker life - on the one hand I can design a database, normalize it in my head, and get it modeled & implemented very quickly. On the other, I'll make basic mistakes in code that put me behind schedule by days, or I'll hack together programs that require later re-design. My debugging skills are getting back up to top quality, which is good, and I know of more efficient frameworks now that I seldom needed on an iSeries.

I commented to a friend that music production was a much faster process than consumer web product development. His reponse was that it wasn't - just stick with what I'm doing and eventually it'll be as natural as walking. He's right, of course - and what I should have said was that music production feels like a faster process.

However, all this being said - back in January I had no idea how to code in as, js, python, how to use django, or how to develop an application on Facebook. Now I can do all of these things, and even launched a small app on FB the other day. I gave myself one week to get it functioning, and another week to polish it to a rudimentary state for launch. I'm not really taking advantage of the platform's incredible access to a huge social graph yet - that's by design - and the program I created is at the limits of my javascript expertise as of last Friday. But as I learn, and as users respond, I'll enhance the app, change it, and connect it further to points of engagement into FB's social graph. At the moment I'm not proud of it - the UI still needs work, and the overall functionality will be improved as I figure out how to do what I want, and how to implement what Paul has designed. (Hint: It's cool!).

I attended the L.A. Facebook Developer's Garage last weekend and asked a couple of people to "beat the crap" out of my app - in other words, review it with a critical & professional eye and offer constructive criticism. Thanks to Max, Kareem, Ryan and Otis for taking a look and offering said criticism. As a result, I changed the program and am much happier with the results. As I built my app, I paid no attention to flow, or design - a HUGE contradiction to my usual development philosophy: design first, then technology. However, as an exercise to learn some hacking skills, I broke my own rules. Jump into the code, quickly, and start swimming.

I'm looking forward to getting back into Flex, but have been having a blast with django and python. This stuff is very cool. Once I'm back coding in AS3, I'll be implementing the cairngorm framework, which is a very lightweight MVC microarchitecture that provides a very easy-to-maintain framework on which to hang code. I'll never go back to coding RPGLE on an iSeries, ever again if I can help it. While the iSeries is a fantastic piece of hardware, and I'd love a new one with a linux partition the size of Montana, I can't go back to the mind-numbing tedium of 1980s-style shitcode.

I'm also looking forward to more of the business stuff. Unlike many hackers I've met, I like the business work of business. But in the meanwhile, I'm getting closer to the point where coding for the web is as easy as walking.

If you're an as(2 or 3) or js coder, and interested in some side-work, send me an email.

*Orson Welles is alleged to have said that working in Hollywood was like 'trying to ride a tricycle in a barrel of molasses' or words to that effect.