Release Your Metaphors

Recently, Josh Ross noted how the metaphor of business as war is changing into a metaphor of voluntary cooperation. People are speaking about making their businesses more social. At the surface, this might seem like when the conversation was about making Web sites more interactive. This isn’t fashion. It isn’t the latest technique for improving retention. It’s a rip tide pulling us into the future and Facebook has been paddling madly in the same direction.

Sadaam Hussein

As Josh rattled off several business-as-war metaphors, I thought of the work of Lloyd deMause at The Institute for Psychohistory. In particular, I reflected on the powerful metaphor of the Killer Woman who appears in popular culture prior to cultures launching into war. These metaphors are gels filtering the light of truth. You may be aware that something’s not quite right, but the mood is certainly colored.

In business, it feels natural to slip into aggressive language towards our competitors and our clients. Some of us slip easily into the role of crusader, sacking the infidels at all costs. If we’re lucky, someone hasn’t paid attention from the beginning. They stumble into the bad movie unfolding and ask everyone, “why are you watching this terrible shit?”

I recall a year where the company I worked for was on a wonderful run for a client flush with cash. We were expanding into new departments and ready to please. Christmas approached and managers were eager to dispose of budgets. A request came to build something like a hit piece on the client’s competitor. The idea rolled along for a while. Usually, the engineering team was the last to hear of projects, sometimes not until creative was finished. My team was were the latecomers wandering into a bad movie. To the credit of the entire team, we regretfully refused to sacrifice our integrity.

Josh says our habit of discussing business as war obscures the truth, makes us complete the mission without regard for the greater value. The new social metaphor aligns with human needs. People need relationships. They need to cooperate. We need to trust each other. We need to know our authentic selves. Without an aggressive metaphor to get in the way, we gravitate towards this type of interaction.

"Making the world more open and connected"

I heard Mark Zuckerberg say the purpose of Facebook is to encourage greater connectedness and openness between everyone. This isn’t a strategy for ending war metaphors. It’s a strategy for ending war. I heard Stefan Molyneux say that the way we end violence is through multi-generational improvement of parenting. This is the corollary to deMause’s theory that war is a symptom of child abuse.

I knew I had to write this piece when an unsolicited ad for Guy Kawasaki‘s new book, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions, dropped into my inbox. He says his book “explains how to create delightful, voluntary, and mutually-beneficial relationships with people.” Ten years ago, Guy released a book called Rules For Revolutionaries.

Metaphors matter. The leading edge of our culture is using more life-affirming metaphors. I won’t ask you to execute the old metaphors. Release them. Free them to help us in other ways. Embrace the new metaphors. This is how we change the world.

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Business Personal

Eighteen Intelligence

Leon AtkinsonMy life has been quite busy lately. After nearly two years as VP of Engineering for BTS, I left to start a consultancy. It began with a casual comment to a few friends that if they had 2-3 months worth of work for me, I’d consider cutting loose. Mark Celsor has been dealing with a flood of new business in the past quarter and was eager to have me work with Vine Street Interactive. Meanwhile, Jenny Martin asked me if I knew anyone available for Facebook API work. Fortunately–or unfortunately depending on perspective–both of them wanted my help right away. Saying yes to either of them meant saying goodbye to BTS. Saying yes to both of them meant saying goodbye to daylight….well, nearly so.

Since October, I’ve been working two full time gigs while also making preparations for the launch of my new company, Eighteen Intelligence Corporation. For tax reasons, the paperwork won’t be filed until January. California makes all corporations pay a minimum of $800/year in taxes, so it makes sense to start a company early in the year. I’ve been trying to work about 10-12 hours/day 7 days/week for more than a month. I’ve had to take a day off here and there to prove to my family and myself that I still exist. I see light at the end of the tunnel now, as one of the two projects is going into the bug-checking phase and should launch in a couple of weeks.

I hope the other project wraps up mid-December and leaves me a couple of weeks to enjoy the holidays. I expect to available to you help you with projects in January. How can I help you? Thanks for asking! If you’ve worked with me, you know what I’m capable of. (Horrible, isn’t it?) I’m concentrating on building Internet applications, particularly those integrated with Facebook. I’d enjoy helping you start from a requirements specification and see the project all the way through launch. I can help in a CTO-ish way to set up best practices for your team, or I can be a really fast coder who helps you make an insane deadline.Eighteen Intelligence Logo

You can read more blah-blah-blah marketing stuff at the Web site. Please contact me about any opportunities for us to work together. Thanks! And since it is the season, I should also thank a few people who’ve helped me out recently. Thanks to the BTS folks for employing me. Thanks to John Szeder for sending leads and projects my way. Thanks to everyone who’s already asked about my availability. Thanks to Kathy Marshall for accounting advice. Thanks to Jenny and Mark for the projects that enabled me to launch this adventure. And of course, thanks to Vicky and Tre and Henry for putting up with me toiling in the basement office.


Track Your Migraines on Facebook

Many people suffer from migraines, a kind of storm in the brain that causes more than just headaches. I am one of those people. After I’d heard Mark Zuckerberg speak at last year’s Facebook developers conference, it occurred to me that sharing the experience might fit with his vision to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.

migraines screenshot

I had an app done in August but got distracted for several months. Over the Christmas break, I found the time to polish it up and release it. The main feature of the app is a personal database of migraine events with the aim to helping you discover patterns or triggers. In the context of Facebook allows you to automatically let your friends know you’ve had a migraine. That could lead to better understanding or just a feeling of comfort.

You can get started using the app by visiting the Migraines About Page on Facebook.

One advantage in waiting was the the new template bundles for the news feed is working flawlessly. In August it was brand new and buggy. I also had more fun with the Google Chart API. Once you get a few migraines recorded, I can generate a pie chart of how severe they are and a line graph of how many you have each month.


Facebook Platform Team Are Thankful

What a nice surprise! As a developer on the Facebook platform for more than a year, I get occational messages from Facebook about new features, such as the revolutionary Facebook Connect functionality that went live recently.  I was pleasantly surprised to find a note from the Platform Team thanking all 600K+ developers!

We wanted to take a moment and thank you for all of your great work and amazing applications that have helped make Facebook Platform the largest and fastest-growing social platform over the past year and a half. As we end 2008 there are over 660,000 of you worldwide building applications that give users more powerful ways to share and connect, and collectively your applications have reached nearly 140 million people.

It’s a stark contrast to the total lack of developer love shown by MySpace. I hope Santa leaves some coal in their stockings. I have no doubt there will be many presents under the trees of the Facebook Platform Team.

I am so very pleased to be working with Facebook in their mission to bringing people closer together. Little notes like this remind me of Mark Zuckerberg’s presentation last July and how I came away feeling inspired. So, to Facebook, I’d like to say, “no, thank you!”


MySpace is not Friendly to Developers

I’m reasonably certain now that unless MySpace wakes up and fixes their developer approach, they can expect to lose out to Facebook. The experience for the developer is so off the mark over at MySpace, it is no wonder that after nearly a year of being available, innovation in the applications is stagnant. The reason is simple: MySpace makes it too hard on developers. The rest of this post is rant against MySpace’s developer platform.

Facebook set a standard for the developer experience. It works as follows. I join the developer group; I’m a developer. I don’t wait to be approved. I self-identify and I get started. I can immediately build a demo app. I can place it in a sandbox mode where only people I’ve designated can view it, or I can just make it live. Once I think it’s polished, I can submit it to Facebook’s directory. That will get me some free advertising. Or I could skip it. I could drive traffic to it with ads. It doesn’t matter. Facebook offers me the freedom.

Facebooks offers a system for certification that shows off my app as complying with their ideals for apps. I have to pay for this, and for most apps, it’s probably not worth it. I like that Facebook is trying this and letting the market decide. I suspect consumers won’t care about the certification, but I still appreciate them experimenting and letting developers opt in.

MySpace takes a big brother approach to developers. You apply to get an account, and you wait. I’m not sure what they actual check about people, perhaps that their email isn’t fake. Once you get into the developer program, you must create a “profile” for each application you develop. That requires a unique email address, even for a demo app. This must have been someone’s bright idea to overload the meaning of profiles at MySpace instead of generating unique IDs…except, apps do have unique numeric IDs. Facebook got this right–create an app, get a long, unique ID. Plus, on Facebook, I am shown as the developer. I don’t have some other email address that MySpace sends junk to.

On MySpace, I can see my app, but no one else can until it’s approved. This isn’t actually clear, since as you visit the live versions of your profile or home page, you see your app. If you recommend the app to a friend, no error is generated. I only understood this after I looked over a friend’s shoulder to see that my app did not appear for him when he looked at my profile.

So, I clicked to publish my app, and I waited two days. I was irritated to find it rejected. I got boilerplate complaints that I had to decipher how they related to my app. And I got this warning at the end of the email: DO NOT REPLY TO THIS EMAIL. THIS MAILBOX IS NOT MONITORED. (Yes, it was all in caps like that).

Some of the issues were valid, and it was good to get the feedback. I hadn’t tested the app on MSIE, and some quirks in the Javascript prevented it from working on that browser. Other issues are bogus and prevent me from providing the experience that is best for the users.

I want to allow my users to install the app either on their profile, for their friends to see, or on their home page, for their eyes only. It’s a reasonable decision. MySpace keeps telling me  “must contain unique content on every application surface“. I’ve actually seen other apps behave this way, so I can only assume that whatever mindless approval mechanism is in place (human or otherwise) is just happening to catch me. Perhaps other developers have figured out that you develop your app once for approval and then again for being useful. I have to finally get approved before I can test that idea.

I’m on my third round of asking for approval. I’ve made 5 minutes of changes today and now I can wait another 24 hours to see if I get satisfaction. One of the latest bit of feedback, which was new to the latest round but had been there from the beginning, is related to targets for links. If you link off of, then you must set your link to target a new window. I see why you have to do this–the app is in an iframe and it loads the remote site in the little frame otherwise. MySpace hosts the application code. Why don’t they just add targets to links themselves? Facebook touches every bit of code to make it work best with their site.

I can only conclude that MySpace does not think of developers as providing value for their site. Facebook clearly understand the fair exchange of values. Developers make these sites more attractive to users. The more time spent on Facebook, the more ad revenue for Facebook.  MySpace seems to take the attitude that developers are miscreatants who must be forced to follow the rules. Facebook has a laisse-faire attitude. Developers try ideas in the market and Facebook only intervenes in cases where the apps are clearly being harmful.

It’s an interesting balance. Certainly MySpace tends to allow it’s users run rampant. They still allow users to place big chunks of CSS code in their “about me” profile box. Facebook attempts to keep the user experience uniform. You don’t get to have a black background on your profile page. It’s clear that Facebook spends time on serious user experience development. MySpace continues to appear to be an ugly hack.

Update 12/19: Of course, the next day I get a brand new complaint from MySpace. Today, it’s “Canvas Surface of the app is not appropriately sized to fit the module.” When I get these complaints, they include a link to Application Guidelines. That previous complaint about unique content quoted these guidelines, but this time I can’t find the word size anywhere on the page! Maybe that guideline was revised away the last time they updated the guidelines November 19th. I think I’ll just turn off the canvas page completely like I did the home page.

Update 12/22: I guess the reviewers take weekends off. Of course, the app was rejected yet again. Last Friday I used the checkbox on the developer console labeled “Enabled”. I unchecked it. I didn’t bother to click to where the “canvas surface” used to be because I logically assumed that with it disabled, there’d by no point. Applying logic to this process is clearly a mistake. The rejection I this time complained about an invalid canvas surface. It’s invalid to uncheck the checkbox?!? Why is it there?!? OK, so, the canvas is turned back on with just some plain text explaining that although I don’t want anything to be here, I have to put something there. I have to admit, I’m just about done screwing around with them. I feel like I’m talking to a random error generator.

Update 12/26: I guess putting some text for the reviewer on the canvas page works because I got a reply that makes it seem like it’s in reply to my complaint. Still, the app was rejected. This time it’s because I used the word “MySpace”, which implies affiliation with MySpace. Right. I did did get some advice for how to disable the canvas: redirect the user to the profile. I think the advice was meant to be about gadgets.views.requestNavigateTo(), although the advice mentioned navigateTo, which I think is a method on the window object in MSIE. I decided to be nice and tell the user that they are about to be sent to their profile page by including a 3 second timeout with a link to go their immediately. I wonder what error the MDP folks will complain about next.

Update 12/29: I’m finally approved. Now that I am, I can see that any change I want to make must go through the approval process again, even just a small text change. I have to think that however they are reviewing apps, it can’t scale up if they ever match Facebook which has more than 660K developers. It also strikes me that rapidly adapting the app to user behavior will be dampened if you have to wait a day for every change to be approved.