Archive for July, 2011

Avdi and I Discuss Remote Working

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

In case you missed it on Twitter and Google+, I was interviewed recently by Avdi Grimm for the Wide Teams Podcast. Here’s a link to the interview:

http://wideteams.com/interviews/podcast-30-dan-menard-of-macadamian/

In the interview, Avdi and I discuss what it’s like developing software with geographically dispersed teams, and how we make this work every day at Macadamian.

Give it a listen, and let me know what you think!

Do As Much As You Can (Even When You Can’t Do Very Much)

Monday, July 18th, 2011

It’s easy to blow off responsibilities when you’re busy.

It’s easy to care less about something when your attention is constantly in demand.

It’s easy to skip a recurring task — just this one time — and make it up next week.

But by doing any of the above, you’re cheating yourself. And you owe yourself more.

The little things matter a lot.

You know about the little things, right? They’re the ones you consider skipping. The blog posts you don’t bother writing, because you’re tired, and you only have like 34 minutes and really what good are you going to write in such a short period of time?

But 34 minutes is still a whole lot more than no minutes. You owe it to yourself to take advantage of that time. Sure, your 34-minute post isn’t going to be the best one you’ve ever written, but does that automatically mean it’s not worthwhile? You’ll still learn a ton, and it will still be fun to write.

Do it.

And I’m not just talking about blogs.

Party too hard this weekend? Must be tempting to phone it in on Monday. Find some excuses, push a few things to tomorrow, whatever. You have to leave early to take the kids to soccer anyway, so you may as well relax and take it easy.

Don’t let rationalization fool you. You’re better than you give yourself credit for.

You have most of a day. You won’t be working at full strength, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take on a mean-looking todo-list and still win. You’re an underdog, and underdogs don’t give up. They push and use every bit of energy they’ve got to do what they shouldn’t have reasonably been capable of doing.

Be unreasonable.

Yes, I’m talking to you.

I know you have moments where you think of calling it off. You think of caving, of letting this one go. Everybody does.

Just remember: Something is always better than nothing. So go make something of that time, that energy, that everything.

Don’t make nothing.

Why Google+ is Going to Succeed

Monday, July 11th, 2011

It’s official, I’m making a call: Google+ is going to work out just fine.

I know there are plenty of skeptics out there, so let’s go ahead and address the most common concerns:

Common Concern #1: Google+ can’t compete with Facebook.

The idea: Facebook is too popular, and a new network like Google+ won’t gain enough traction to reach critical mass.

Why that’s dead wrong: Google knows a thing or two about taking on massively-successful competitors. If it can hold its own against Apple and Mozilla, it can hold its own against Facebook.

The long answer:

Google doesn’t try to gain market share in one overwhelming blow. Google prefers slow, steady growth.

Look at Android. When it launched in Q4 of 2008, Apple had already sold nearly 10 million iPhones — and Steve & co. were getting started. Google didn’t try to win these users over immediately; they gradually earned market share one user at a time. Now Android is more popular than iOS, and all signs point to continued, step-by-step growth.

Need more proof? Let’s talk Chrome. At launch in 2008, Google’s browser started out with roughly 1% of the world’s internet users. Since then, Chrome has slowly crawled along, picking up half a percent of the market every month or so (stats). It now owns a whopping 20% of the browsing market, and there’s no reason to believe it’s going anywhere but up. Half a percent at a time.

Google+ isn’t out to crush Facebook all in one go. It’s going to slowly pick up users, little by little, until it’s a force to be reckoned with in the social media space.

Common Concern #2: Google+ is going to end up just like Google Wave.

The idea: Google’s last major product launch failed. Why should Google+ be any different?

Why that’s dead wrong: Google learns from mistakes. It’s a wildly successful company full of incredibly smart people. If anything, Wave’s failure will help the Google+ team overcome similar challenges.

The long answer:

Google Wave failed for a lot of reasons. It was difficult to explain to others, its success relied too much on developers, and invites were a mess. Google+ has fixed all of these problems.

“It’s just like Facebook” is an adequate description of Google+. Everyone knows Facebook, and that begs questions like “well, what is different?”. These conversations show what Google+ is really about: polish. It doesn’t have a bunch of killer new features, it just has a slightly-better version of the features common to most social media tools.

The invite system is much improved as well. Google Wave fed users a meagre handful of invites on an ad-hoc schedule. This meant carefully choosing who to invite, any only inviting a few friends at a time. The invite system for Google+ is more like a valve; when the servers can handle more users, the valve opens, and everyone can invite as many people as they want. When capacity fills, the valve closes, and we take a short break until the next tide.

Google+ isn’t Wave. It’s not just a different product, it’s a better product. Run by a better team, with a better plan going forward. Why expect anything less from an internet powerhouse with a proven track record?

Even if I’m wrong, I still win.

You know what the best part is about Android vs iOS and Chrome vs Firefox?

Of course you do. Competition.

High-profile technology wars bring major innovation to the market, and that’s always a win for users. Just look at how much smartphones and browsers have advanced in the past three years or so. All of it thanks to increased competition.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if Google+ succeeds. The real value is the threat — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yammer… they all have to up their game to stay competitive. As a user of these networking tools, we’re certain to benefit for the foreseeable future.

What do you think?

This post also appears on the Macadamian blog.

Browser Innovation Occurs in Cycles

Monday, July 4th, 2011

Who are the most innovative browser-makers right now?

  • If you’re hip and trendy, you’ll probably say Google (and you’re right).
  • If you’re a bit of a techie, I bet you’ll say Mozilla (also a good choice).
  • And if you’re an honest web developer, you’ll say Microsoft (equally correct).

I’m sure there’s enough flamebait in that list to start a dynamic discussion, but I’ve got another question first:

Who were the most innovative browser-makers ten years ago?

The list looks something like this:

  • Apple (back when they were unpopular).
  • Mozilla (pre-Firefox).
  • Opera (obviously).
  • A whole raft of independent developers.

Notice anything?

The current wave of browser innovation is driven by the big players.

You can complain all you want about the travesties Microsoft has wrought upon the development community, but they pioneered in-browser GPU-acceleration with IE9.

Chrome and Firefox hardly need justification. The number of features they’ve introduced that are now must-haves is staggering. (Pinned tabs, tabs-on-top, private browsing, and built-in debugging tools, just to name a few.)

But it wasn’t always this way.

The previous wave of browser innovation was all about the little guys.

Before the days of iPods and Macbooks, Apple was struggling to keep OSX afloat. Many called their decision to make a browser a mistake, but Safari 1.0 was a boon for the web’s widening world. That’s where webkit got its roots, and we’ve been blessed with the fruits of its labour ever since.

Mozilla was making a browser by its own name, with platform-specific spin-offs like Camino and K-Meleon. The trials and tribulations of the heavyset gecko platform encouraged a culture of ruthless javascript performance improvement — a culture which still thrives to this day.

Opera was the de facto non-Microsoft choice at the time, and did wonders for open standards. As much as we like to take this for granted, there was a very real time in the early 2000s where every website had to be written twice; once specifically for IE, and once for all other browsers.

Then there were the independents. The Shiiras and the Avants. The stepping stones that lead to the giants we surf the web with today. Each contributed to a better web. A stronger web! And we wouldn’t be where we are today without them.

But how did we get there in the first place?

The rise of small-time browsers was driven by a number of forces:

  • The late 90s were ruled by then-juggernauts Netscape and Microsoft.
  • Internet Explorer began devouring market share, and users wanted alternatives.
  • When Netscape folded, it (thankfully) left behind a rich, open-source codebase.

Then, as the browser evolved from geeky toy to application that everyone needs, the costs associated with developing and maintaining a modern, working codebase soared. Suddenly the hodgepodge teams working out of basement apartments couldn’t compete, and the rest is history.

So the cycle so far has looked something like this:

Big Juggernauts → Low-budget Developers → Major Companies

What can we expect to see going forward?

I don’t see an indy-browser renaissance on the horizon. Lately it’s been the opposite: we’ve lost Flock, Opera is flailing, and the myriad of mobile browsers haven’t mustered but a whimper against their built-in counterparts — a far cry from the independent revolution discussed above.

The competition between the current super-powers is more than enough to keep us in an innovative state, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

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What will the next wave of browsers look like? How will they gain traction? Where will the innovation come from?

Happy Canada Day!

Friday, July 1st, 2011

Whether you’re sitting at home because you’re not into crowds, or you’re nursing a hangover from starting the party a night early, or you don’t even observe my favourite holiday, I’ve got just the thing to make your afternoon a little better.

One of the best blog posts I’ve ever read went up exactly a year ago today. It has nothing to do with Canada — or any major holidays — but if you’re into motivation and goal setting, this is a must read.

Allow me to present: Glen Stansberry’s Halfway.

It’s short, and it’s excellent advice.

Happy Canada Day! Or, if you’re somewhere else in the world, happy Friday afternoon!