When things just don’t work.

I’ve worked with just about a million APIs in my life. But it seems that in the last few years in the rush to put an API together, some stuff just doesn’t work.

For example, Skype’s API (really a collection of commands rather than an API) claims that you can essentially play an audio file on a call.

Doesn’t work.

I’ve tried every possible combination without success. And the documentation is no help whatsoever.

Facebook is similar. You can write a standalone desktop application for Facebook. Just don’t expect to be able to log in and do anything. For that you will have to pop up a separate browser window to log in.And don’t expect to be able to update any Facebook information.

Google’s Blogger Beta is another example. Functionality doesn’t work as documented, and it keeps changing.

So what is a developer to do when faced with problems like this?


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Going the extra inch for the customer.

I noticed an advertisement on television the other night. As a favor to their customers, RBC, a Canadian bank, will waive their portion of the transaction fee to use another bank’s ATM up to three times a month.

Customers will still of course be paying up to $0.45 per transaction to withdraw their own money electronically with no human interaction, which of course costs more.

Isn’t that nice?


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The new walled garden.

Mathew Ingram comments that even with the new Facebook platform, Facebook is somewhat of a walled garden, intended to keep users inside:

There’s no question that Facebook is the hottest thing going in social networking right now, and the launch of the Facebook F8 Platform has made it even more important as a model of what is possible for such a network. At the same time, however, I think that there’s also a troubling element to the site, which is that Facebook is to some extent a walled garden. Dave Winer writes about it here, Jon Udell hints at it here, and so does Dabble DB co-founder Avi Bryant here. Others have also written about the same kinds of issues here, here and here.

I’ve written a couple of desktop Facebook applications, and the Facebook platform actually forces you to pop up a browser window to log in to Facebook, as opposed to providing an API call to do the same thing. In their developer forums they claim that this is done to protect users in case rogue applications pass their passwords over the internet in clear text. They fail to note that those same users would have to provide their passwords to those rogue applications. This is merely an ugly implementation to force users to stay within the walls of Facebook.

The web is great, but I use desktop applications for things like email, IM, and updating Twitter because I find them more convenient. Ignoring the potential benefit to users merely to lock them into your world may be wonderful in the short term, but when people get bored with Facebook, as they inevitably will, just shows a lack of concern for the user.

Whatever the goal of Facebook, if they have no intention of properly supporting desktop applications outside of Facebook then they should stop adverting that and just admit that they want to keep users inside of Facebook. And really, what kind of platform doesn’t allow you to do something simple like update your status?

The Facebook platform lets you do a couple things like query data and display it nicely within Facebook. It really doesn’t let you do a lot more than that.


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Beyond the reach of average consumers.

Mark Evans thinks that the price of the iPhone is a bit high:

Maybe I’m blowing hot air into the wind only to be proved wrong by the iJobs magic but I think far too many people are forgetting that Apple is wading into ultra-competitive waters with the iPhone. It’s not like there’s a lack of cool devices already on the market – Blackberry, Razr, Crazr, etc. And with prices starting at $499, the iPhone strikes me as being beyond the reach of the average consumers – although this is probably Apple trying to make the iPhone a premium item out of the gate while giving it wiggle room down the road to lower prices.

Both of my kids, at 15 and 17, spent over $400 of their own money to buy their first iPods. So $499 for the coolest phone available that also plays music and video with a big screen is certainly within the range of the average consumer.

And really, what is cool about the BlackBerry, Razr, or Crazr? A phone with a keyboard or a camera, an appointment calendar and a basic web browser, versus a phone with Safari and iTunes and other Mac apps. The iPhone is a video iPod combined with a phone. Sure a touch keyboard might not be as fast to use as a BlackBerry, but that’s just utility. The iPhone is the epitome of cool.

Just like many people, among them numerous Fortune 500 CEOs, are switching to Macs, so too will people switch to the iPhone. Apple isn’t selling a piece of technology; they’re selling an experience. And price really isn’t a factor.


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The internet belongs to the young?

Fred Wilson offered this thought yesterday, which touched off a firestorm of opinion:

It is incredibly hard to think of new paradigms when you’ve grown up reading the newspaper every morning. When you turn to TV for your entertainment. When you read magazines on the train home from work.

But we have a generation coming of age right now that has never relied on newspapers, TV, and magazines for their information and entertainment. They are the net natives. They grew up in AOL chatrooms, IMing with their friends for hours after dinner, and went to school with a Facebook login.

The Internet is their medium and they are showing us how it needs to be used.


Now Fred did try to correct the impression he left, but the damage is already done.

The internet itself is about 35 years old now. And we’ve moved beyond trying to emulate newspapers, television channels, and CB radio to what? Facebook and Myspace just emulate bulletin boards. With all due respect to sites like Flickr and YouTube, photos and video on the web are not innovative.

It is the attitude of people, mostly younger people, that has made a difference.It is their willingness to share photos, videos, and details of their personal lives that has created the value in companies like Flickr, YouTube, and Facebook. Perhaps older people are just more guarded about that sort of thing. Of course it may (and already has in some cases) come back to bite these young people in the butt.

Let’s just keep in mind that we’re really not talking about anything innovative here. Web 1.0 seemed to be all about attracting eyeballs. Web 2.0 seems to be all about getting people to provide free content and then benefitting from it. Creating a cute repository for that content is pretty simple really, given that all of the really hard stuff – the technology infrastructure – already exists.

I guess if there is any innovation here at all it is getting people to work for you for free. And that isn’t really true either since the people that contribute to sites like YouTube actually perceive value from being able to show off their videos.

Of course America’s Funniest Videos was doing exactly that 20 years ago. The internet is just the same thing on a different channel.

Shelley Powers and Kent Newsome have their own entertaining thoughts on the subject as well.


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Kids will be kids.

Who knew that you could be charged with placing a false bomb? [TimesSelect only]

It’s senior prank season, and this was the plan for the last day of classes Monday at Hendrick Hudson High School, not far from the Indian Point nuclear plant in Westchester:

Seniors went to three $1 stores and bought about 150 alarm clocks in the shape of houses or butterflies, which would be scattered throughout the school.

They would be wrapped in duct tape, so teachers could not shut them off by removing their batteries, and set for 9:15. And when they went off, the seniors would rise and march triumphantly outside to acknowledge that the fat lady — or at least her alarm clock — had sung. They had made it through high school.

Now, with 19 students facing felony charges for placing false bombs, it’s pretty clear it wasn’t such a good idea after all. And it’s leaving everyone mulling over the questions of what’s stupid fun and what’s just stupid, and where you draw the line between reaction and overreaction in a world that’s half “Jackass” and half Age of Anxiety.

Clearly these studentsintended this to be a joke. They were placing alarm clocks, not "false bombs". Yes they might have caused some concern, but this just seems like a case of "we’ll look stupid adults if we don’t punish somebody".

Even with all of the problems and dangers we face daily, we still need to be able to take a joke. Otherwise life will get pretty bleak.


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The joys of home ownership.

Some people in Jacksonville, Florida are concered about problems such as foundation cracks and mold and mildew in their Habitat for Humanity homes:

The Fairway Oaks owners took their complaints to Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, and of 56 who answered a survey for Legal Aid, 41 reported cracked concrete slabs, 22 had cracked walls and 48 said their houses were infested with insects or rodents, presumably because of the cracks. Others reported mold or mildew, nails popping out of plasterboard and other problems. The Habitat for Humanity local affiliate, HabiJax, maintains that the land at Fairway Oaks is stable and that most problems there are housekeeping issues, not structural. City inspectors this month examined six houses and found no violations. But in a vulnerable population, the perceptions have a life of their own. A project built with sweat equity and good will has had unintended consequences, and costs.

Now it seems perfectly reasonable to me that houses built in a volunteer blitz might have the odd problem such as cracked slabs, cracked walls, or popped nails. Every house I have owned has had similar problems. The best build house I ever owned was just outside of Boston, and it even had the occasional problem.

My current house has a pretty decent sized crack in the basement floor, numerous popped nails, and types of mold and mildew the likes of which I have never seen before. It cracks audibly at night. And we don’t have the humidity that Florida has. I can assure you that my house was not built by volunteers, and cost substantially more than the $60,000 figures mentioned in the article.

There are also concerns that the houses were built on a former dump:

In the early 1990s the land held a blighted public housing complex, built on land that had been used, in isolated pockets, as a dump. After complaints by residents, the Environmental Protection Agency tested the soil for contamination. The E.P.A. concluded that the land was safe but noted that two buildings had been demolished because of soil settling, possibly caused by debris decomposing under the soil. A later soil test found elevated levels of arsenic, but the Florida Department of Health determined there was no significant health risk.

This is more common than one would think, and it is typically the city that doesn’t bother to tell the homeowners, as in this local case a few years ago:

In 1998, thirty-five families on Ralgreen Crescent in Kitchener filed a lawsuit against the City for $65 million because of damages caused by an old municipal landfill site. Their homes were built on or near the landfill. The residents have been experiencing illnesses suspected to be caused by landfill gases leaking into their basements. Structural damage, including large cracks in the foundations, exterior walls and floors and garages, has occurred in their homes. The residents claim that the shifting of the ground as the garbage decomposes causes this damage.

The city never bothered to mention the problem when these people were buying their homes either.

The important thing to note here is that ho matter where your home is, who built it, or how much you paid for it, you are going to experience the occasional problem, though some will certainly be worse that others.

Home ownership, much like life, is a gamble. And generally a pleasant one.


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A TV guide for a changing world.

Seth Godin asks:

Who is curating YouTube? Who’s the TV Guide of a world with a million channels?

Google is. In a world of a million channels – or even a billion channels – allyou can do is search for what you want.

In fact TV Guide wasn’t always the most effective tool as the number of channels grew. It wasn’t easy to quickly find exactly what you wanted without scanning linearly through the pages.

Google, on the other hand, lets you immediately target what you want and get right to it. You could even create search "presets" for what you want to watch and quickly find it. Or somebody could build a mashup that watches Google for what’s new on each "channel".

Or if Google is smart, they could allow users to create their own RSS feeds for what they want to watch.

There are as many ways to find things as there are things to find.


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Hiring great people.

I’ve worked for a bunch of companies and I’ve been through a lot of different hiring processes. Company A only hires really smart people. Company B only hires PhDs. Company C gives personality tests. And all of those processes haven’t necessarily resulted in finding exceptional people.

But the most concise description of how to hire great people that I’ve ever seen comes in Marc Andreessen’s latest post.He lists three specific criteria that he looks for:

  • Drive
  • Curiosity
  • Ethics

I love his definition for Drive:

I define drive as self-motivation — people who will walk right through brick walls, on their own power, without having to be asked, to achieve whatever goal is in front of them.

He also describes his ideal hiring process, including preparing written questions. I agree, but I also like to be able to see where our conversations take us, anticipating the kid of situations that we will encounter when we actually work together.

The one thing I’ve seen over time though, is that great employees often have particular quirks that just have to be lived with. The best way to minimize the impact is to have a good manager who knows how to deal with them.

Of course I’m still looking for a company that actually values those things in their employees.


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I saw this over at Newsome.Org, who borrowed it from Bob Meets World, and thought it might be fun to carry on.


Below is a matrix of 120 stars, I have already added a link to my blog onto one of the stars, all you need to do is copy and paste the grid into your blog or website and add your own link to one of the other spare stars, and tell others to do the same! You also may want to change or edit the first few paragraphs, and the last paragraph to suit your blogging style.




When I receive a ping back once you have added the Viralink to your site I will add your link to this grid, and each person who copies the grid from this blog will also link to your site!

>No Porn Sites
>One link per person only! (do not hog the viralink!)
>DO NOT change or tamper with other individual url’s

Here are how the numbers add up, I will use the term saturation to describe the spread of the Viralink with Zero being your blog 1 being 1 link down, 2 being 2 links down and so on.


0 – 0
>1 – 3
>2 – 12
>3 – 39
>4 – 93
>5 – 336
>6 – 1065
>7 – 3252
>8 – 9813
>9 – 29,496
>10 – 88,545

The above numbers rely on 3 people copying and pasting the Viralink onto their blog and that being replicated 3 times continuously 10 times. The best strategy with this is to start early and tell all of your blog and online friends!

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