Tag Archives: internet

Engineering Management Thoughts Based on Facebook Experience

Yishan Wong is the new CEO at Reddit, an excellent social media site I have written about previously. In looking at his background I found some interesting articles he wrote on engineering management based on his experience at Facebook engineering.

He starts with “make hiring your number one priority, always.” To me this is a specific knowledge worker issue. Hiring is always important but the importance in knowledge worker settings (especially when there is quite a bit of poaching good people going on) is elevated. The system thinking affects are obvious from his article including: “Succesfully hiring the best people at all levels means that down the road, your internal promotion pipeline is strong.” This is especially important given his emphasis on promotion from within – of course he wasn’t hired from within for the CEO job at Reddit :-).

Of course as a Deming management advocate I appreciate his article stating process should be implemented by those who do the work. I do strongly disagree with his seeming desire for unformed processes. I strongly believe making processes clear and consistent is critical as is an effective culture of continual improvement.

He further writes: “All external management hires must be able to write code and show a high level of technical proficiency, up to and including the head of the technical department. If the company is a technology company, this should also include the CEO.” I disagree with this idea. I do agree it is preferable. My belief is that one reason (there are many others) we have done so poorly at improving management over the years is we treat it as the promotion path for technical experts (programers, accountants, production, sales…). They often end up focused not on the management of the system but mucking around in details others should take care of. I do believe in the value of a long history of dealing with the company. It is very valuable to know how to write excellent code, I just don’t see that as the top requirement.

Related: Learn to Code to Help Your CareerProductivity Improvement for Entrepreneurs (and Everybody Else Really)Involve IT Staff in Business Process ImprovementThe Myth of the Genius ProgrammerManagement sub-reddit

Innovation in Thinking and the Web

Investing time and effort to attract “the right kind” of contributors to a news site

He thought we needed to make the same shift with our users – instead of seeing having to engage with them digitally as a time-consuming and resource eating problem, we should be seeing our audience as an asset to the brand. Any online organisation that doesn’t include readers in the production chain is inherently inefficient.

I agree. And I think this is a good example of an organization needing to adapt to the changing environment. I thought about what I would do if I ran a news site and how I would try to take advantage of the possibilities to increase engagement using internet technology.

I do think if I was trying to increase engagement I would try to figure out how to highlight thoughtful commenters. I would probably try to look into something like the commenting system on Reddit (with Karma) and also the ability to follow commenters (like you can follow article contributers on Seeking Alpha). I would look at giving value back to good comments (maybe something like commentluv). I would definitely have a pages where you could view more comments by a commenter. I would try to set up categories and then list top commenters on local politics, local sports, health care… I would display in the order of popular comments (like Reddit) not just list in order made. There are lots of ideas I don’t see used (but I haven’t really thought about it until 5 minutes ago – maybe these are already widespread, or maybe I haven’t really though out why they wouldn’t work well).

I just remember a post here previously about a newspaper in Kansas that was taking some sensible actions, and seemed to get the value chain they were serving. I would also take a look at them if I were really going to do this for a news organization.

This blog has a failure miserable, engagement with readers. Hopefully I can work on improving that in the next year. My last post, Customer Focus and Internet Travel Search (is the effort of one of the 4 founders of Reddit).

Related: Joel Spolsky Webcast on Creating Social Web ResourcesJohn Hunter online (Reddit comments…)Delighting CustomersPrice Discrimination in the Internet Age

Customer Focus and Internet Travel Search

The internet should make finding airline flight information easy. Instead it is a huge pain. Hipmunk has taken on the challenge of doing this well, and I think they have done a great job. This video provides an excellent view of both web usability and customer focus. This is a great example of focusing on providing customer value and using technology to make things easy – which is done far to little at most companies.

Related: Innovation Example (Farecast – which seems to have been bought by Microsoft and broken)Making Life Difficult for CustomersConfusing Customer FocusJoel Spolsky Webcast on Creating Social Web ResourcesCEO Flight Attendant

Net Neutrality, Policy, Economics and Intelligent Engineering

I believe net neutrality should be championed to prevent decay of the usability of the internet. It seems to me internet connectivity is a natural monopoly that economic theory says should be a regulated monopoly. Smart countries have invested in providing much better internet connectivity that the USA has at much lower prices. Now in the USA we have companies that seek to control internet connectivity and then use that monopolistic control to favor higher margin efforts. So force those that have resources available on the internet to pay or the ISP threatens to degrade the connectivity to their resources.

chart showing internet connectivity speed (USA 18th)

The investment in equipment and fiber that allows internet connectivity has to be paid for. If those regulated ISPs wanted to set bandwidth use pricing that is fine with me. If we decided it is best to have one low price say $30 a month for access at a similar perforance of 10 other countries (Japan, Germany, South Korea, Canada, United Kingdom…) and then charge extra for individuals those that use more than some amount fine. But I think it should not be tied to whether you use service that haven’t paid the ISP money to be favored. The USA is currently 18th and slowed down, while others continue to speed up.

The 2008 ITIF Broadband Rankings show the USA in 15th place, out of 30 OECD countries, for broadband adoption, speed and price. In 2001 the USA was in 4th place.

If ISPs don’t want to be in the business they should be in – providing internet connectivity. Fine, get out of that business and go into the business they want to be in. But don’t try to take control of a natural monopoly and then use that control to extort money from those that rely on the natural monopoly.

Google accused of YouTube ‘free ride’

Some of Europe’s leading telecoms groups are squaring up for a fight with Google over what they claim is the free ride enjoyed by the technology company’s YouTube video-sharing service. Telefónica, France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom all said Google should start paying them for carrying bandwidth-hungry content such as YouTube video over their networks.

I can understand why they would think that way. But isn’t it equally valid to say hey those that pay you for internet connectivity really want to use YouTube. If you need to make more investments in your infrastructure to support your customers use, then do so and raise the prices. I completely disagree with the ISP negotiating what content users can see. But if that were to happen why couldn’t Google instead of paying say, hey your customers really want YouTube – if you don’t pay us we won’t let you deliver it to your customers?

Net Neutrality: This is serious by Tim Berners-Lee

When I invented the Web, I didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission. Now, hundreds of millions of people are using it freely. I am worried that that is going end in the USA.

Yes, regulation to keep the Internet open is regulation. And mostly, the Internet thrives on lack of regulation. But some basic values have to be preserved. For example, the market system depends on the rule that you can’t photocopy money. Democracy depends on freedom of speech. Freedom of connection, with any application, to any party, is the fundamental social basis of the Internet, and, now, the society based on it.

Let’s see whether the United States is capable as acting according to its important values, or whether it is, as so many people are saying, run by the misguided short-term interested of large corporations.

I hope that Congress can protect net neutrality, so I can continue to innovate in the internet space. I want to see the explosion of innovations happening out there on the Web, so diverse and so exciting, continue unabated.

Google’s Traffic Is Giant, Which Is Why It Should be Your ISP
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Workers Allowed Recreational Use of the Internet are More Productive

Freedom to surf: workers more productive if allowed to use the internet for leisure

“People who do surf the Internet for fun at work – within a reasonable limit of less than 20% of their total time in the office – are more productive by about 9% than those who don’t,”

According to the study of 300 workers, 70% of people who use the Internet at work engage in WILB. Among the most popular Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing (WILB) activities are searching for information about products, reading online news sites. Playing online games was the fifth most popular, while watching YouTube movies was seventh.

The attraction of WILB, according to Dr Coker, can be attributed to people’s imperfect concentration. “People need to zone out for a bit to get back their concentration.”

I wouldn’t take 1 study of 300 workers as the final word on the topic but I believe as a general principle it is a good idea to allow recreational internet use when appropriate, as I wrote in 2006. Such access does create the possibility for abuse but managing that risk is better than policies that are far too restrictive.

Related: Hire People You Can Trust to Do Their JobRespect for People – Understanding PsychologyManagement By IT Crowd Bosses
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YouTube Uses Multivariate Experiment To Improve Sign-ups 15%

Google does a great job of using statistical and engineering principles to improve. It is amazing how slow we are to adopt new ideas but because we are it provides big advantages to companies like Google that use concepts like design of experiments, experimenting quickly and often… while others don’t. Look Inside a 1,024 Recipe Multivariate Experiment

A few weeks ago, we ran one of the largest multivariate experiments ever: a 1,024 recipe experiment on 100% of our US-English homepage. Utilizing Google Website Optimizer, we made small changes to three sections on our homepage (see below), with the goal of increasing the number of people who signed up for an account. The results were impressive: the new page performed 15.7% better than the original, resulting in thousands more sign-ups and personalized views to the homepage every day.

While we could have hypothesized which elements result in greater conversions (for example, the color red is more eye-catching), multivariate testing reveals and proves the combinatorial impact of different configurations. Running tests like this also help guide our design process: instead of relying on our own ideas and intuition, you have a big part in steering us in the right direction. In fact, we plan on incorporating many of these elements in future evolutions of our homepage.

via: @hexawiseMy brother has created a software application to provide much better test coverage with far fewer tests using the same factorial designed experiments ideas my father worked with decades ago (and yet still far to few people use).

Related: Combinatorial Testing for SoftwareStatistics for ExperimentersGoogle’s Website Optimizer allows for multivariate testing of your website.Using Design of Experiments

Management By IT Crowd Bosses

John Hunter's IT Crowd badgeJohn Hunter’s IT Crowd badge (Reynholm Industries)

The IT Crowd is a great BBC show on an IT support office in a large organization. The IT staff are knowledgeable and tired of dealing with foolish users of IT. And you wouldn’t want to watch for any customer support tips (though companies like United Airlines might do just that). Anyone involved in IT know Internet Explorer 6 is not an acceptable tool in this day and age. But some IT departments don’t let that stop them from forcing it on their users. Orange UK exiles Firefox from call centres

Yes, the corporate world is taking its sweet time upgrading from Microsoft’s eight-year-old Internet Explorer 6, a patently insecure web browser that lacks even a tabbed interface. Take, for example, the mobile and broadband giant Orange UK.

According to a support technician working in the company’s Bristol call centre – who requested anonymity for fear of losing his job – Orange UK still requires the use of IE6 in all its call centres, forbidding technicians from adopting Mozilla’s Firefox or any other browser of a newer vintage.

This technician tells us that about a quarter of the Bristol staff had moved to Firefox after growing increasingly frustrated with IE6’s inability to open multiple pages in the same window and overall sluggish performance. But a recent email from management informed call-centre reps that downloading Firefox was verboten and that they would be fined £250 if their PCs experienced problems and had to be rebuilt after running Firefox or any other application downloaded from the net.

Great management. Provide only an outdated and poor tool. Then threaten to fine employees that try to get a tool to allow themselves to do their job. Yes, it makes sense to setup rules for managing IT resources in a company but it is not acceptable to provide extremely outdated tools and then instead of fixing the problem when employees can’t stand your lousy service any longer you threaten to fine them. Wonderful. I guess you could call it the punishment-by-threat-demotivation-drive-in-fear management (for those that think Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards model is too light on the punishment part of management).

Related: Stop Demotivating Me!Software Supporting Processes Not the Other Way AroundLean IT Systems – Not ERPThe Defect Black Market (another theory X IT management example)Change Your Name
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Google Innovates Again with Google Wave

Google Wave is a new tool for communication and collaboration on the web, coming later this year. They are developing this as an open access project. The creative team is lead by the creators for Google Maps (brothers Lars and Jens Rasmussen). A wave is equal parts conversation and document. People can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more. You really have to watch to understand what it is.

This is a long webcast (1 hour and 20 minutes) and likely will be best only for those interested in internet technology solutions. But it also provides useful insight into how Google is managing the creation of new tools. But the ideas are not explicit (the demo was meant to present the new product Google Wave, not explain the thought behind producing useful technology solutions), so you have to think about how what they are doing can apply in other situations.

For software developer readers they also highly recommended the Google Web Development Kit, which they used heavily on this project. They also have a very cool context sensitive spell checker that can highlight misspelled words that are another dictionary word but not right in the context used (about 44:30 in the webcast). And they discuss using Wave to manage bug tracking and manage information about dealing with bugs (@ 1 hour 4 min point).

Very cool stuff. The super easy blog interaction is great. And the user experience with notification and collaborative editing seems excellent. The playback feature to view changes seems good though that is still an area I worry about on heavily collaborative work. Hopefully they let you see like all change x person made, search changes…

Related: Eric Schmidt on Management at GoogleJoel Spolsky Webcast on Creating Social Web ResourcesGreat Marissa Mayer Webcast on Google InnovationGoogle Should Stay True to Their Management PracticesAmazon Innovation

Joel Spolsky Webcast on Creating Social Web Resources

Joel Spolsky webcast on creating Stack Overflow (with the goal of providing answers to professional programmers) using ideas from anthropology. Once again he provides great information. This is particularly interesting for software development but also just a good presentation for understanding the importance of customer focus and systems thinking.

What they focused on and did:

  • Voting – Reddit… (see our management Reddit)
  • Tags – lets you see what you want and to block tags you don’t want to see.
  • Editing – letting users edit the questions and responses. For a technical question and answer system this is very useful (based on my experience).
  • Badges – people like to earn “credit” (psychology)
  • Karma – “people are willing to do for free what people are not willing to do for small amounts of money” (psychology)
  • Pre-search – provide quick view of previously answered questions
  • Google is UI – Assumption: “the front page is Google search” – build based on the idea people will search via Google
  • Performance – 16 million pages a month with 2 web servers. They are using the Microsoft stack, not open source.
  • Critical mass – they focused on getting a large user base on day one of the beta site

Related: posts related to Joel SpolskyDell, Reddit and Customer FocusInformation Technology and ManagementWhat Motivates Programmers?

Build Your Business Slowly and Without Huge Cash Requirements

Get Rich Slow by Josh Quittner

At no other time in recent history has it been easier or cheaper to start a new kind of company… These are Web-based businesses that cost almost nothing to get off the ground

The term ramen profitable was coined by Paul Graham, a Silicon Valley start-up investor, essayist and muse to LILO entrepreneurs. It means that your start-up is self-sustaining and can eke out enough profit to keep you alive on instant noodles while your business gains traction.

“At this point, it would be hard for companies to get any cheaper,” Graham said. Since everyone already has an Internet-connected computer, “it’s gotten to the point that you can’t detect the cost of a company when added to a person’s living expenses. A company is no more expensive than a hobby these days.”

I see a great deal of truth to this and it provides interesting opportunities. Including being able to build a business slowly while still working full time. I have written about Y-combinator previously they have helped make this model popular. And the services these companies make seem to me to often be much more refreshing than ideas so watered down they lose much passion (so common from so many companies). Though some large companies provide great web sites.

Related: Some Good IT Business IdeasFind Joy and Success in BusinessOur Policy is to Stick Our Heads in the SandSmall Business Profit and Cash Flow