New Theme, New Day

I have spent the weekend at Word Camp NZ. The event was the first of its kind in New Zealand and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

As it turned out the event was excellent, so much so that I am now feeling inspired enough to start writing on my blog again.

I particularly enjoyed listening to WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg’s keynote. I love learning about the history of  businesses and how they and their products have evolved.

You can check out Matt’s presentation here.

The first step in my rejuvenated passion for this blog has come in the selection of  a new theme. Fresh look for a fresh approach.

The second step was updating my version of WordPress from 2.2 to 2.8.1. As always WordPress makes it so incredibly easy. The ease of installations, upgrades, theme creations, plugins etc.. are all a real testament to WordPress’s commitment to making everything as simple as possible for their users.

The third step was this post as you just have to jump back into it.

I hope the energy and enthusiasm that so often comes from being in conferences will last as this weekend is now coming to an end.

Word Camp NZ 2009

Word Camp NZ 2009, Photo: Jeff Wegesin

New York Times- Article Skimmer

The New York Times has released a prototype of a new way to access their articles: The Article Skimmer

Down the left hand side are the topics that you can choose from and on the right is the content with teasers for each article.

It definitely has a magazine feel and seeing the content laid out this way is a nice change.

The only thing obviously missing is the date the article was published, giving you an idea of how often content is recycled through.

The write up on the Article Skinner mirrors the experience of using it to “Sunday browsing”- laying out your paper on the coffee table to take in as much content as possible.

I wonder if this means that the Article Skimmer will only be used for Sunday’s edition?

Geeks are Creatives too

I was reading an article How to Manage Geeks. A friend sent it to me, probably because I work with a team of developers.

I am not sure how I feel about the word “geek”. As a kid, it was insult, but now it’s a term used widely about amongst the “geek” community to describe themselves. If used appropriately, it’s no longer derogatory. Times they sure have changed!

I don’t consider myself a geek, but I suspect to someone outside of the “IT world”, a product manager building online web applications is a pretty geeky profession! (The truth is that I love my job, so maybe I am a geek…)

Anyway I wasn’t sure what to expect reading the article, whether is was a joke or serious, but it was the real deal- a true “How To” on the dos and don’ts of managing a “geek”.

I am writing about this because one of these “How Tos” really stood out for me- #10 Remember that geeks are creative workers.

I think quite often in website or application development, it’s easily forgotten how much design is required by software engineers to give life to the specification documents and the designs that accompany them.

Whether you are creating something for the first time or extending an existing product- the engineer needs to think about the problem holistically and design a solution that meets the specifications and looks and works like the design while ensuring it’s a solid build with minimal bugs.

Through this design process they also need to feed back to the team any suggestions for revising the specifications or design based on technical constraints or suggestions for improvements.

This technical design phase is critical to the success of any project.

So I do agree- give the “geek” a creative environment to work and allow them the time and freedom to design their software as allowing for this will only result in better products, websites and applications.

Taking Inventory

Wow it’s been a long time since I posted anything on my blog. I am going to have to blame computer burn-out, which has subsequently been cured with a 4 week holiday only logging on for the occasional email. :-)

Anyway, a lot has been happening since the 5th of August as the world walks on egg shells waiting for the US government to approve the billion dollar bail out plan.

I have been particularly interested in the coverage relating the future of Web start-ups in this time of economic turmoil. Half the commentators are doom and gloom and others trying to  remain positive and offer advice on survival.

As unemployment rises, credit contracts and people need to tighten their spending, any business needs to take inventory of where they are at and evaluate the situation.

The first and most important question is- do we have the money we need to survive? Can we keep operating?

Ultimately, money should be coming from customers from a sound business model and good revenue streams. This is essential. You need this to survive and it’s required if you want someone to invest in you as you will need to demonstrate how they are going to make money out of their investment.

The second question is (are)– am I executing an awesome product and are we a great company with an awesome customer experience?

In a time when the economy is contracting there is no room for mediocrity. If I have to choose between a great product or a mediocre one, I will choose a great one. If I have to choose between a company with friendly customer care or one that doesn’t return my emails, I am going with the friendly crew. If my disposable income is shrinking I need to be selective on things I am going to pay for, so I want the best.

What does your inventory tell you:

  • Do you have money to survive?
  • Is your business model solid?
  • Are you building an amazing product?
  • Do you treat your customers well?

Aurora- Love to hate the video

Adaptive Path has launched a new web browser interface concept that they have been working on in conjunction with Mozilla labs.

A couple days ago,  I had received an email from Adaptive Path’s marketing manager inviting one and all to their offices for the launch party on 6 August. Yes, this did spark a level of interest as they promised to demo the future of the web.

Alas living on the other side of the world was going to prevent me from attending, but today I found I was able to find information online (video) about their project Aurora.

I was really excited to watch the video as I have a lot of time for Adaptive Path. I enjoy their blog and appreciate the work they’ve done. Then the video started… wow was it cheesy. I had a hard time watching it.

I am not sure who came up with the concept of the farmer or who they are targeting for the discussion, but I feel they really missed the boat for the viral PR that would have come from a really hot video.  Also, the video is the opportunity to tell their story and I felt like I was watching a mockumentary.

Okay enough about the video.

Other thoughts were. Aurora feels really early and unpolished. Yes absolutely, the UI of the browser is still in its infancy and changes to browser behaviour are inevitable.

Whether those changes are as Aurora predicts or more all encompassing like the Monitory Report where the line that separates the computer and reality are blurred– only time will tell.

You can check out the video on Vimeo.

SearchMe

I came across a cool new search engine today- www.searchme.com

I have seen a lot of new search engines over the years, but this one has stuck out for me because the interface is like browsing through your iphone or touch looking for new albums.

To help you find what you’re looking for, categories are presented with each search, which allow you to refine your results. If you click on the little arrow at the bottom you’ll be presented with description of the pages, so you don’t have to click on each site to see what it’s all about. Also, the speed of results seems to be fast and pretty accurate as I was able to find what I was looking for for each time I searched.

So far, the only problem I had was that it didn’t support Safari yet.

It’s only in beta, but I wonder if it’s got a chance against Google as it’s going for a new type of search experience- something visual and fun.

If it does take off, web designers beware as people like pretty things and will probably be drawn to clicking  on sites that attract them.  It gives even more reason to try and get into the mind of your audience- not only do you have to think of keywords that will attract your users, but you will also have to consider how your visual design impacts your users desire to click through from search engines.  Very cool.

How do you start your development projects?

The starting point- it’s different for every project and often it’s not where you thought it would be.

A project can start because there is a business requirement or a user need. Either way,  I have found over the years, it doesn’t matter how big or small your project is, there always needs to apply a business analysis layer to it.

I say this, as people on a project team, especially the solution design team, need to understand the who, what, when, where and why if they are to deliver an excellent outcome.

Quite often it’s the why that ends up being the most important factor as you really need to get in there and understand what the problem is before you can solve it.

I don’t think you’ll ever regret taking the time at the start of a project to dig into the questions,  allowing yourself to develop a well structured problem before diving into developing a solution.

I read an interesting article today on the Six Secrets of Top-notch Business Analysts.
Having worked with many BAs and as one myself with multifaceted teams,  this article resonated well with me.

Check it out here

Are we too comfortable online?

When is the last time you actually sat back and thought twice about entering a credit card in a website? Or thought about all the personal information- name, birth date, high school, address, phone number, place of employment, friends that you’ve put onto a social website for public consumption?

Websites like Facebook are not banks and do not have a 100% guarantee, you can’t call them up and say, “hey someone is stalking me at my house because of the information I put on your site”.

Why don’t people care about this about their most personal asset- their identity?

Identity theft is alive and well in our global village and it astounds me how blasé people are about it.

I suppose the moral is to always think twice and assume nothing before putting information online..

  • Ask yourself, do I care that this is online and people can see it?
  • Check the websites privacy statements and terms of use. For private online accounts, such as a bank or a company that bases its product on privacy- you are probably going to be okay. But read their terms and how liable they are
  • Double check your social networking profile security options- am I as secure as I want to be?
  • Remember email is not secure. Even if you are sending it through a site like Facebook- people are getting an altert to your message and a copy of your message sent to their personal email address which may be monitored at their work or be insecure
  • Do I have enough information on my website that someone could call my bank and pretend to be me?
  • Remember when you accept someone as your friend, then they are your friend; now they can see as much as your best friend even though you only met them at a party the weekend before.
  • Remember a social networking site is an online tool, meant to be online, so ask your self why anyone needs your home address
  • Also ask yourself what personal details on my profile are so mission critical (such as phone number or address) that someone can not send me a message to find out
  • Remember when making an online purchase to consider what site you are putting your credit card details into (including home address) before making a purchase
  • Always look for the http”s” and never buy anything when surfing the web on an unsecure wifi network- such as those you find in airports. You don’t know who’s watching you!