Software is written to solve a problem. Sometimes, it’s more than one problem, but you get the idea. Being someone who both uses and writes software, I’ve found the best software out there doesn’t just solve a problem, but was written with a clear and definitive opinion about how that problem should be solved. That’s not by accident or coincidence, it’s very much causal.
I’ve worked for *aaS companies for about the last 7 years. Monthly software subscriptions literally pay my mortgage, so I get the benefits of building businesses around predictable monthly payments. But that being said, not every online business lends itself to being subscription-based, and there’s a few companies out there that need to stop.
There’s a general trend in appplications these days to turn every element of their user interface into a “block,” or some other type of common component. WordPress is the latest public offender on this front, but I’ve also put up with this approach with other products in a professional setting, and it needs to freaking stop.
Generally speaking, my posts are for people who are already working professionals. However, after a couple of spectacularly bad initial interviews (not even making it to a technical screen), I’m starting to think it may be prudent to offer some advice to the younger set hoping to become working professionals.
After my recent post about moderation on social and community applications, I realized that my comments focused almost exclusively on moderating public posts (or posts to a largely public feed). But what about private 1-1 messages, private groups (whose updates may or may not appear in a feed on the main page), and other, more “private” (relative to the rest of the site) forms of posting? Would the sort of tools and guidelines I called for work there, or would something else be needed, and if so, what?
Wil Wheaton recently left Twitter and gave Mastodon a try, only for it to not last very long. The “long story short” version of it was that as soon as he joined an instance and starting posting (or “tooting” as the Mastodon kids call it), people started spamming the report this post function until the instance’s admin had to remove him in an attempt to stop the flood of report spam. There’s an interesting blog post by Nolan Lawson about looking at this as an attack or harassment vector that got me thinking about some changes to community-level moderation tools that might help stem this sort of abuse.
This is a case study in why it’s important to focus on the problem rather than what you think you want. Perhaps you remember griping about how expensive your cable bill was, and how you only watched a small subset of the channels offered and wondered why couldn’t you just pay for just those channels. Well guess what? Now that Disney is launching it’s own streaming service (Disney Play), we’re approaching that future. Unfortunately, it’s a future that comes after we’ve already seen the promise of a future with aggregated digital content like YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu.
Almost every time I see a report on how a company’s stock is doing, or why the price did whatever it just did, I become more and more convinced that there’s no actual rational behavior or logic going on in stock trading anymore. Companies will report a great quarter and the price will tank. A company will announce plans to expand as well as what they did to complete that plan, and the stock price will drop because they had a large expense that quarter. It used to be that it was considered good advice to have a lot of your stock portfolio consist of “blue chip” stocks – the price would be largely stable and they paid dividends regularly. Now everyone wants to get in on “unicorns” (startups valued at over $1 billion dollars, which is generally insane to begin with), or focus on high growth stocks, with an insistence that they always be high-growth stocks. More and more I’ve become convinced that the stock market is largely a BS engine driven more by hype than actual economics.
If you work in any industry that makes use of other people’s data, and odds you’ve been hearing a lot about a new European Union law going into effect called GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation if you’re curious). I’m not going to get into the law’s requirements – if it applies to you then odds are the attorneys working for or retained by your company have already discussed what you need to do to be in compliance, that’s not what interests me here (besides, I’m neck deep in implementing the things my company’s lawyers said need to be implemented to say we’re in compliance). After hearing people say that Facebook’s latest scandal could/should result in GDPR-style regulation in the US, I thought I’d take a closer look at the ideas behind GDPR, and see how well they stack up as well as take a passing look at how good or bad they’re likely going to be.
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Facebook’s been in the news recently, specifically around the exposure of millions of users’ worth of data to a firm called Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica allegedly used this to help various Republicans, including Donald Trump, during the 2016 election cycle. And to hear a lot of people talk about it, that’s the last sign before the start of the apocalypse, or something like that. To be honest it’s been hard to find a calm take on the whole thing, which has been part of the problem. People are shocked at how much data Facebook has on them. They can’t believe that Facebook lets people use this data to target ads to others. Or that companies may use this targeting for political advertising to try to swing an election. Or Facebook was “breached” (everyone else’s word, not the correct one) and this data leaked out. The truth is that while there were some problems with Facebook, and some bad actors at play, we’re focusing on the wrong things here, and it’s inspiring us to hysterics instead of reasoned analysis and reasonable responses.
I’m going to pause here and just make a note that I work for an email marketing company that emphasizes segmentation and targeted marketing. I’ve also written a Facebook application to create custom audiences on Facebook and keep them synced with their source mailing list. None of this requires data from Facebook users, so I don’t capture any sort of profile information, and all the opinions I’m writing here are my own, but it’s probably worth bearing in mind that my employment revolves around targeted marketing and I have done work to help marketers sync some of their “targeting” over to Facebook, so clearly I’m not as bothered by the concept of targeted advertising as some people may be.