Get rid of multitasking if you want to not suck

Stop the Madness

I have come to the conclusion after years of multitask creep that it is not working for me. Yes, I can bang though a tons of low-level tasks while responding to emails, reminders, meeting requests, tweets, IMs and physical interruptions but I have found it increasingly impossible to concentrate on doing the more creative work that I actually enjoy doing. There is just no getting around it – creative projects, whether software development, design, writing, composing require significant bursts of sustained concentration. Loneliness is actually your friend. I have disabled all real-time audio and visual signals on every piece of electronics I own and set up a very quiet, zen home office and studio space. I think it is working.

A classic article on this topic:
The Autumn of the Multitaskers – Magazine – The Atlantic.

Digging jsfx

Building an HTML5 browser based game or synth? Need some fresh sounds for those nav mouseovers on your step uncle’s used car site? This is the JavaScript library for you. (Requires browser WAV support)

There is  definitely something useful here. I am going to mess around with this more.

It’s Not A Redesign If You Don’t Cut Features

Works for christmas, not for websites.

A content website that has been live for any length of time will contain feature bloat: editorial modules, revenue features, social doo-dads and third party widgets etc. If you talk to the right stakeholder, EVERY feature on a website is “vital” but how many really are? Removing features can dramatically improve site engagement metrics by improving load performance and removing user friction. That sounds logical but reduction is not an easy pathway for organizations to follow. It is not easy to reduce in art and it is not easy to reduce in business. There are a lot of people involved in a website who feel their existence will be threatened if various pet features are no longer on the site. Feature trim is a useful exercise that should be conducted during redesign but rarely is. Most major redesigns I have participated take an existing feature set almost as a given and then add a new layer of stuff on top of that making it very unlikely the new site will perform better by any metric. The only way to do away with this type of “redesign” is to go back to the numbers and make every existing feature prove its usefulness by data only. If there is any doubt, the feature should be out. Nothing personal.

Posted from WordPress for Android

On Having a Super Power Skill

The Last Goat of Krypton - she codes in python

There is no question that this is a great time to be able to code but what of the Super Power skill thing? What does it feel like to have a “super power” skill? Do you know it if you have one? Is it something that becomes part of your overall mojo like a Superhero’s special powers? Here is a quick checklist I came up with to experiment.  I figure you probably need to have a good score on ALL of these to feel like Shazam every morning:

  • Interesting, challenging work that actually matters.
  • Membership in a robust, diverse and stimulating professional community.
  • Ability to easily change jobs when they suck or when a geo change is desired.
  • Good pay and long-term career growth expectations.
  • Flexibility with work configurations to meet multiple personality/lifestyle needs.

Doctors seem to have obvious “super power” jobs because of the perfect 10 they score on the “societal value” side and generally great pay side of things but then some of the physicians I know feel overly tied to their practices in a golden handcuff, freedom-robbing way and complain of soul-sucking drudgery working within a sector of the economy that is heavily centrally managed and litigious. My buddies who do useful things like fix cars or renovate bathrooms seem to enjoy solid pay, a good deal of day-to-day freedom and they definitely do things that we all need and value but then they complain to me about toxic customers, high costs of running a small business and high exposure to regional economic downturns. The programmer community I am a part of is similarly a mixed bad of joys and sorrows any given moment. It is definitely great to be able to do something well that few of us know how to do at all but there are a LOT of people who can say that. Great farmers who feed us, teachers who teach us and artists who enlighten us – seems they could easily get capes too if we are handing them out. Providing they are feeling good about things.

WordPress 3.1 is Awesome

Django Reinhardt would have liked WordPress

Yes WordPress 3.1 is out. I have upgraded to 3.1 on every WordPress install I run including the 100% wp popdust. We have been using the 3.1 RC versions on our dev boxes for weeks so this transition has gone smoothly. While the admin bar and new internal linking feature are getting a lot of press, I am most excited about being able to more easily create archive pages of custom post types and to query custom types and taxonomies more easily. We also intend to be banging on get_users for some ‘related users’ features we are working on.

This was a challenging release for the WordPress core team and contributors and my hat goes off to them for their efforts and for making careful decisions about what to pull from this release in the interest of stability. Two yeas ago I was fortunate to be on the team at CBS that spearheaded the migration of 120 of the CBS Radio sites over to WordPress. Despite the fact that WordPress was already powering CNN blogs and a massive piece of NYTimes Traffic among countless others, the WordPress migration was still considered to be a bold and aggressive move in the snakeoil-polluted  ‘enterprise CMS’ world. You are using WordPress to power the whole site? Are you crazy? Guess what – it worked great. Thanks to some great consulting from a top WordPress agency, we found that WordPress could handle anything we threw at it (and we threw a lot of crazy business rules at it let me tell you). There was no downside. Editorial started to enjoy creating lots of content, users became more engaged and loyal and jaded developers were suddenly inspired to be building on sophisticated open source software instead of putting in support tickets and devising ugly hacks to wrangle proprietary systems.  Such a decision would be positively mainstream today. WordPress is simply a great content platform and it the features that just came out in 3.1 only further enhance its flexibility.

Speeding up Email and Ditching buttons

Save people time and earn their traffic

This is where a email needs to evolve – both on the UI/UX side and the etiquette aide. The fact of the matter is, younger people dislike and do not use email as much …and for good reason. It feels like a slower form of digital communication. If it feels slower it is slower.

  • Emails often imply or demand inefficient and irrelevant ‘analog letter etiquette’ both in tone and formatting.
  • Enterprise email clients and best-of-breed web-based clients like gmail overwhelm you with options for formatting, cc boxes, draft saving etc.

Most of the time, all you want to do is dash off a simple one sentence line of text and fire it off to someone you know. SMS, baby.

We ditched the <vote> button on the poll product we built and have never received one complaint from end users despite serving over 500,000 polls a month. A vote occurs the moment you select a radio button. One click.  This may violate some arcane notion of “how a radio button is supposed to function” based on 1990s web interface rules but it also saves time.  Guess what matters more?

100,000 seconds is almost 28 hours. In other words, I’ve probably wasted a day of my life hitting that stupid button

Gmail Lite: If You Build It Google, We Will Come.

User Driven Development

wizard of oz - the man behind the curtain
Fake it Till You Make It

I like faking functionality and shipping quickly to gauge real world uptake prior to development. This is not always feasible but if it is, it has a lot of upside. Developers do not like to carefully build out features that are possibly going to get killed.  They often resolve this dissonence in two ways:

1. Build a partially implemented feature and push live as a ‘live prototype’ with the idea that the module can be refactored if it actually survives. The danger with this is that the ‘prototype’ might suck and that the planned re-factoring often never happens. Matt Mercieca makes the case that a badly implemented feature that is released into production should not be called a prototype at all.

2. Kill it in process – leverage the fact that correct implementation of an unproven feature would be time-consuming to force management to de-prioritize it against other initiatives that have proven value. This means that the feature may never make it in front of the user.

With a faked feature already in the wild and successful, Developer can be told to build it out smart, built it to last and to scale and s/he will believe that there is a reason for this effort beyond pure hope.

Posted from WordPress for Android

Great Introductory Video on Scalability from Harvard Computer Science

Before The Meltdown

The next time there is a substitute teacher on duty at your workplace, pull down the shades and gather all of the junior engineers and non-technical managers around for a great introductory video on Scalability from Harvard Computer Science. The core topics discussed in this video need to be well understood by anyone claiming to be an “internet professional”. (eew) That includes you too, Randi-from-BizDev btw.