Archive for August, 2010

Learn tech corporate PR in one easy step!

Changing your product’s features? Just follow this template and you’ll be golden:

As part of our ongoing efforts to [PICK ONE: ENHANCE OUR USER EXPERIENCE/IMPROVE ACCOUNT SECURITY/DEVELOP THE BEST PRODUCTS FOR OUR USERS/BLAND RESTATEMENT OF CORPORATION’S MISSION STATEMENT], soon our system will no longer [DO THIS THING THAT A SUBSTANTIAL MINORITY OF YOU REALLY LIKED]. In order to [HALF-ASSEDLY APPROXIMATE THAT THING], you can [TRY THIS VERY INCONVENIENT WORKAROUND THAT YOU PROBABLY WON’T EVER USE].

To learn more about [THE USELESS WORKAROUND], visit [HYPERLINK TO HELP CENTER ARTICLE THAT WILL ONLY MAKE YOU ANGRIER].

You’re welcome!

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Everything you know is wrong – er, derived from a few official sources

Josh Marshall reposts an interesting letter from Terry McDermott, author of a book about 9/11. His last paragraph:

The craft of reporting as it is practiced in the United States doesn’t really exist in much of the world. Britain, Germany, Spain do something that approaches what we do, but they are heavily reliant on official sources. There is relatively little knock-on-1,000 doors sort of reporting that I or Larry Wright did in these countries. There is no tradition at all of doing this within the Arab world (in large part because if you do it, you go to jail). Pakistan has a vigorous press, but its vigor derives largely from presenting different political views, not independently-derived sets of facts.

It’s rarely discussed how much of the data that the world relies on is both bad and also poorly scrutinized.  Take your credit report. There’s no real incentive for Experian to enforce strict quality control on its data – and so credit reports can often contain information that’s outright false . And yet major social institutions are being built on this rickety foundation; some employers take Experian at its word and think twice about giving people jobs if Experian says they’re credit risks.

With the vast scale of data we have these days comes a tremendous amount of imprecision. It’s hard enough to just make sense out of the information we have. How much mental energy do we have left to question whether the information we have is even any good?

You only get so many bites at the apple

Google dumps Google Wave, an interesting product whose failure illustrates a few of the place’s weaknesses:

  • Building stuff out of the digital equivalent of particle board. Wave was a decent idea executed in a slapdash way. The one time a friend and I tried to use it to collaborate on something, it was so painfully buggy and slow that we gave up after 10 minutes.
  • Believing that what you need must be what everybody needs. The most intuitive use for the thing was…whiteboarding ideas in a corporate environment! Big surprise that this failed to catch on with the 5+ billion people who don’t have to think about synergy all day.
  • Treating principles like “fail fast” as mantras rather than guides. Sure, there are opportunity costs to staying invested in any product. But too often, I think, Google closes the door on ideas that it rushed through too quickly to fully explore and understand. This (combined with the usual corporate bootlicking) results in crazy groupthink on future projects when everyone falls all over themselves to say “we can’t do that, it’s too close to Failed Product X, which was a miserable failure” while not fully comprehending what  went wrong. This in turn heightens the stakes for future endeavors because you know that an overall failure could well make successful components of your project/product radioactive.