Monthly Archives: June 2012

Not Critical? Give It Away

This week, I attended the Velocity Conference, a conference focused on “building a faster, stronger web.” Many of the talks focused around gathering metrics, including RUM, synthetic performance data, and system health monitoring. The data points of interest go beyond simple web traffic and hit counts and focus on how users engage a site, how the experience and speed of the site affects conversions, and quickly diagnosing issues when they come up.1

Everybody Builds The Same Thing

“At [Acme], we built Widget X […],” was a phrase I heard innumerable times. Web development teams are faced with very similar problems, regardless of the market their business is in. They’re gathering data to show the business how visits convert to sales, as well as how the site performs across the combinations of browser, geography, and connectivity that constitutes their visitors.

In most cases, these tools are tightly coupled to business data, giving incredible visibility into how systems work, and how deployments impact site and business performance. Unfortunately, this tight coupling can make it difficult for others to benefit from this work.

It was discouraging to hear about talented teams doing the same work by building the same types of tools, mostly unbeknownst to each other. Of course, there is the egotistical issue of building the roundest wheel, but that didn’t appear to be the case. Instead, these teams weren’t in a position to share their work.

Give It Away

Aaron Kulick (@gofastweb) made a comment during his talk A Web Perf Dashboard: Up & Running in 90 Minutes that really resonated with me. While showing some screenshots of a dashboard used at WalmartLabs, he mentioned that he’d asked about sharing data, because it would be interesting to engineers, but wouldn’t mean much to competitors. Of course, the legal department had vehemently prohibited that. The good news was that the technology they’d used was available as open source; they’d simply stacked components together to build their monitoring.

Twitter has open-sourced a mountain of software developed by their engineering teams. Finagle is the foundation of their next-generation systems, and it’s available for anybody to build on. There are other companies building systems to accomplish the very same things Finagle does. The platform allows Twitter to build their systems more quickly, but isn’t directly related to the specific value they’re aiming to provide. Recognizing this, they’re generously giving it away.

Competitive Advantage

What about competitors? What’s to keep Facebook from coming along and “stealing” Twitter’s work by using Finagle in their own applications? If that were to happen, Facebook could successfully sidestep all of the effort required to build Finagle.

Yes, that’s a very narrow view of a bigger picture. It’s also a highly contrived example, because while their targets are similar, Twitter and Facebook seem to be aiming at different targets. If you’re going to make the argument, however, you should step back and remember that both companies are also heavily relying on the work of the other. 2 There is mutual benefit.

We All Move Forward Together

The effects of open source were plainly visible all week at Velocity. The web has a deep history built on the shoulders of open source: Apache httpd, PHP, Linux, MySQL, Python, Ruby, Perl. It’s currently moving forward quickly with Node.js, MongoDB, Scala, Redis, Tornado, Nginx, Varnish, Stud, HAProxy, and countless other open source projects graciously shared by their developers. These examples all highlight the incredible progress that has been possible because of open source.3

Did I mention Chrome, Firefox, and WebKit?

  1. One demo I saw showed the ability to diagnose a single customer’s issues on the site within seconds of an error, and backtrace their clicks on the site.
  2. Twitter has used Cassandra, a project Facebook started.
  3. As a cynical quip, consider a major alternative: IIS on Windows. Threads!

The Extra Detail

Good Morning

This morning, I had the good fortune of working out in a very nice gym here in Phoenix. I’m traveling for work, and the hotel we’re staying in is gorgeous. Undoubtedly, these accommodations are incredibly expensive, judging by the impeccable grounds and facilities I’ve seen.

For some reason, though, the most impressive part of the morning was the smallest detail. I’d just completed my run and felt a little shelled out. I made my way to the water cooler in the corner, and noticed a welcoming plate of freshly washed apples – green and red varieties.

That plate of apples cost seemingly nothing compared to the money each of the people in that gym was spending to stay here, but it got me thinking.

What’s the extra detail I’m putting into the things I do?

If I’m building something, have I put special attention that somebody will notice, and probably tell somebody else about? What about relationships? Have I put an extra amount of effort into something my wife wouldn’t expect me to think about or ask?

Sometimes the extra detail is trivially easy to execute, but just needs to be considered. It will be noticed, and somebody’s day may be different because of it.


How does Apple keep secrets so well?

The best part? After Steve goes to Japan, Bertrand sits JK down and has a talk with him about how no one can know about this. No one. Suddenly, the home office has to be reconfigured to meet Apple security standards.

Great behind-the-scenes story on the Intel project.

The Intel Switch

The first Apple computer I owned was a G4 Mac mini (PowerMac10,1). It was a PowerPC-based 1.42 GHz machine with a 1GB stick of RAM I’d installed with putty knife surgery.

Quite frankly, it was a dog. iTunes was slow, iPhoto was slower, and Safari was a beachballer. So when Steve Jobs confirmed the Intel Macintosh rumors on June 6, 2005 at WWDC, I was pretty excited. My custom-built PC from a couple years previous felt much snappier than the Mac mini I desperately wanted to love.

In January 2006, I finally got a Macintosh I could love. I bought the first iMac (2GHz Core Duo) with an Intel CPU, and I loved it. The machine was incredibly fast and had a gorgeous 20″ screen1. I was completely sold. I was a Mac.

Then on April 5, I felt the wind leave my Macintosh sail. Apple announced Boot Camp, an application for installing Windows XP onto Intel-based Macintosh computers. The hacker community had been doing this since the Intel builds of OS X leaked, but this was an official process blessed by Cupertino.

How could they do this? Especially after they’d seemingly started to gain momentum with curious iPod owners checking out Macs. Lots of people wondered if they were trying to focus on hardware, which seemed highly unlikely. In the WWDC keynote, Steve emphasized that the Intel switch was about making the best computer they could for their customers, with a long-term view in mind. Blessing Windows on those computers seemed insane.

Of course, it’s clearer now. Intel and Macintosh was only part of the story. We hadn’t yet heard of the iPhone or iPad, or what we now call iOS.

Interestingly enough, I know very few people that run Windows on their Macintosh bare-metal; most people seem to run Windows in Parallels/Virtual Box/VMWare. Instead, there’s a large community of people interested in running OS X on cheap Intel machines.

With Apple’s announcements at this year’s WWDC regarding Mountain Lion (OS X 10.8) and the new Macbook Pro, it seems Cupertino still has a sharp focus on making the very best computers for their customers.

  1. I finally replaced that original iMac with a 27″ model last fall. The old iMac still works great, and is used frequently for capturing old VHS movies in iMovie.

The Aged 3GS

Apple formally announced iOS 6 yesterday at the World Wide Developers Conference. There are an incredible number of new features, including many surprises. Among the biggest surprises has to be that Apple will continue to support the iPhone 3GS.

When the iPhone 4GS was released last fall, Apple opted to continue the life if the 3GS. AT&T gave it away with a two-year contract (it is now $.99 I believe). Apple is usually quick to end a product, even if there is a little demand for it. It must have been too difficult to ignore the demand for a low-cost iPhone, and the demand is apparently unchanged.

The iPhone 3GS is one week away from it’s third public birthday – an incredible milestone for a mobile phone these days, especially in the smartphone market. The fact that it still has the attention of Apple has to mean they’re serious about flooding the phone market with iOS. Unfortunately for developers, it means that they’ll have to continue designing interfaces for phones at both 1x and 2x (Retina) resolutions. Many (myself included) hoped that iOS 6 would be the chance to return to single-scale UI support.


The $4 Million Complaint Call

“Every customer needs to be treated with respect, and no customer should be left dissatisfied.”

It’s easy to lose sight of how important each customer can be. For a small company, they may turn out to be your marketing department.