Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Joined the Twitter Reformation

I joined twitter this week after DHH was singing it's praises.  Interestingly enough, he wasn't on twitter himself at the time but joined up two days later and had over 1,000 followers by Tuesday.

So far it's been good, but I can't help but feel like this is another social network that's going to dry out soon.  Robert Walton put it well:

"Almost all of my friends are on Twitter now, which has become the new Facebook, which has become the new Myspace, which has become the new.."

My thoughts exactly.  Facebook was great for a few months but I never go there anymore.  It's too diversified...I don't need all the updates, I don't need another mailbox to check, and I definitely don't need another IM client (if you ask me, whenever a website introduces their own IM system it's a clear sign it's jumped the shark.)  I couldn't stand myspace from the beginning. 

Twitter's boiled down feature set is all I want right now.  Twitter's really just a group chatroom where none of us are chatting with the same mix of people.  It's fun for today, but we'll see if it lasts.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Friday, April 25, 2008

Hire Healthy People

The Illustrious DHH has a great post up on the 37Signals' blog about how he enjoys working with Family people that I really agree with, and not just because I'm now a family person myself.  The post really isn't about working with parents; it's about working with people who keep a healthy work-life balance.  Having immutable constraints on your time forces you to ignore the little details and get things done.

One of the things we ask in our interview process here at Effective UI is whether or not you're involved in any extra-curricular activities (having a family certain counts.)  Regardless of what those are, it shows us you're probably forced to keep a healthy perspective on work when you're doing other things as well.

Another good characteristic of people who live outside of work that DHH didn't mention is that they know how to commit.  If you're committed to volunteering or playing soccer or doing anything that requires regularly sacrificing your time, it's more likely that you'll commit to our company and be a more enjoyable person to work with.  Being committed means you're more likely to enjoy your time with us, more likely to get involved in fixing company processes, and more likely to care about what happens to the rest of us.  No one concerned with company culture wants to hire a mercenary.

TypeRacer: Fun, fun, fun.

There's a lot of talk these days about "user experience" - how can we create great experiences that drive business results? How can we tie people emotionally to our software? What kinds of interfaces do people like to use? What's the common denominator for the best applications out there?

These questions have many answers, and the inquiry is certainly worthwhile. But sometimes, I think, we get too hung up on the details. We worry so much about technology choices and whether or not we can implement drag-and-drop/mashups/social networking/slick animations/3D that we forget about something pretty simple. That's right, kids: we forget about fun.

Not TypeRacer, though. They didn't forget an ounce of the fun (full disclosure: I'm a sucker for typing games. I remember my seventh grade typing class, and the inexplicable drive I felt to conquer the terrible IIgs typing game we played all class, every class. Years later, I became hopelessly addicted to PopCap's TyperShark). Not since iSketch have I been so hooked on an online game.

TypeRacer is dead simple: type in your name, wait for the green light, and type a pre-defined sentence as fast as you possibly can. The faster you type, the faster your little VW Bug moves across the screen -- hopefully fast enough to beat all of the other players competing against you in the same heat. I found myself playing over and over again -- "this is really my last game, for real this time" -- loving the feeling of waxing the chumps puttering across the screen at 25wpm (no offense, of course), and losing my cool when I get beat after mistyping strange words like "ultraviolence".

But here's the beauty of it: it's crazy fun. And there's hardly anything to it. The technology? HTML and Javascript. That animation of the VW Bug moving across the screen? Just an image getting moved about 50px at a time. The login process? Just type your name, no password required. The spoils of victory? An ever-shifting leader board (on which I was excited to find myself competing against the revered Mr. Jamis Buck). The sentences you type? Repetitive at best.

But I'll tell you what, I can't stay away: there's nothing like a little head-to-head competition, a simple interface, and an assault on my pride to keep me coming back for more. Yeah, I'd love to be able to play against my friends, and the leader board could use a better way of tracking scores (I'm not exactly sure when scores seem to randomly drop off). But these are small quibbles with a great app.

So here it is: you don't need the latest technology. You don't need whiz-bang effects. You don't need crazy, exciting, innovative new features. What you need is a good idea, boiled down to its core, and a great, accessible, fully-realized implementation of that idea with as much of the complexity removed as possible. It doesn't matter what technology you choose (remember how they shot The Blair Witch Project on tiny little camcorders?); let the zealots have the religious wars while you make a great piece of software. Use what you know. Make something people have a lot of fun using, and you'll certainly be a success.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

We're on The Flex Show!

Brad Umbaugh and I were interviewed on The Flex Show last week discussing our use of 3D in Discovery Earth Live. You can check out the full interview here if you're interested.

In the interview we discuss the nature of 3D interfaces, some things to think about when attempting 3D, and just barely scratch the surface on the differences between Papervision3D and Away3D. Kinda timely given Andrew's post on 3D just a few days ago.

Finding the "right" way to use rich innovative features like 3D is a topic I'm really passionate about. We didn't get into the usability aspects of it as much as I'd liked in the interview, but I'm hoping to do a panel at MAX or Web 2.0 NYC later this year and get more into it. Is that something you'd be interested in? Leave us a comment if you don't mind.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Want a job at Google?

Here's a posting I got from a friend today.  If you're interested, send me an email at rj [dot] owen [at] effectiveui [dot] com and I'll put you in touch.


Search Quality Associate (Webmaster Communications) - Mountain View  

Do you have a passion for Google and the Internet? Do you desire to help improve the quality of Google's search results while impacting millions of users on a daily basis?  
Google's Search Quality Evaluation team is recruiting enthusiastic, web-savvy individuals to work with new technologies in order to improve the quality of Google's core search product. With a focus in webmaster communications, you'll be responsible for maintaining external communication with web publishers while also focusing on search quality improvements. The ideal candidate will be detail-oriented, have strong analytical skills, and bring innovative ideas to improve access to relevant information on the web. Candidates will also be passionate about technology, be familiar with typical web practices such as managing a domain name as well as with Internet infrastructure, including WHOIS directories and Internet Protocol. 

  • Investigate designated domains and URLs and identify areas of concern and interest
  • Troubleshoot technical issues and collaborate with engineering teams to make large-scale search quality improvements
  • Establish and maintain proactive communication with external web publishers
  • Work on special projects and cross-functional initiatives within Google


  • BA/BS degree
  • 1-3 years related experience in an Internet company and with web research a plus
  • Fundamental understanding of HTML and JavaScript
  • Familiarity with typical web practices such as managing a domain name
  • Familiarity with internet infrastructure such as DNS, TCP/IP and WHOIS
  • Previous experience with a programming language such as Perl or Python a plus
  • Public speaking experience a plus
  • Blogging or online content editing samples a plus


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

re: HuddleChat

37Signals CEO Jason Fried's response to HuddleChat:

"We're flattered Google thinks Campfire is a great product.  We're just disappointed that they stooped so low to basically copy it feature for feature, layout for layout. We thought that would be beneath Google, but maybe its time to reevaluate what they stand for."

"Oh shit.  Google's giving something better away for free."

Copying Campfire "feature for feature, layout for layout" is about as complicated as copying a single text field, a single button, and big viewing area - it's not exactly patentable rocket science here.  Sorry, Jason, but there are good reasons most web companies don't charge for these insanely simple apps, and one of those is how easy it is to replace them.  

Lest you misunderstand, let me go on record as saying that, for the most part, I love 37Signals.  I love the simplicity of their applications and the perspective they bring to the web community on their blog.  I even think they have a right to be upset - if I sold burritos and someone opened a burrito shop next door that sold bigger burritos I'd be mad too.  But that's not unethical; that's competition.  When you boil a problem down to the basics and provide a very basic solution, it's pretty hard to compete without copying, at least in part.  Since problem boiling is 37Signals' bread and butter, they should be used to this by now.

What makes this response a that Jason and everyone at 37Signals are usually very forthright and very reasonable.  They're a little arrogant and sometimes silly, but this sort of smug posturing just seems out of character.

If HuddleChat manages to take any large set of users away from Campfire, it will only be because 37Signals failed to incorporate enough of the features their users requested and failed to make the application free, and that's not stealing - that's called innovation.

Apparently Jason's not the only one at 37Signals to get a little upset about HuddleChat.

Update:  Google killed HuddleChat last night, fearing the ill will of the development community.  I guess competing with 37S wasn't on their radar after all.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

AIR + Linux = .....Lair? Airlix? whatever

After a long month of relaxation, I'm happy to announce that I'm back at working, heartily blogging again. For those of you who may be concerned, I was out on paternity leave and am happy to announce the birth of my daughter Quinn, who was born March 4th. She's already shown herself to be good at criticizing user interfaces, having run in to a few diapers and bottles that just didn't work the way they should. She made them pay, believe you me.

On to business!

Adobe announced recently that AIR will be released for Linux and has released a beta version on their beta site. My buddy Dave Meeker has a great analysis of what this means for the desktop on his blog, so I won't repeat it here. Check it out.

Second, I've been accepted as a regular blogger on - an O'Reilly blog about all things RIA. I'm very excited to join the team and will do my best to keep both blogs updated regularly. Today we had a ground breaking post talking about some new features in the next version of Silverlight that might cause Adobe some problems - check it out. ;)