the 300 million dollar button

One of the articles I shared most with my clients last year was a story by Jared Spool in which he describes how changing a simple button increased a site's annual revenues by 300 million dollars.

While my firm belief is that there are no silver bullets, no growth hacks and no get rich quick schemes, many of my clients and prospects had at least one 300 million dollar problem (or a figure nearby) which could be solved cheaply, quickly and easily. Think of things like:

  • Will your new contacts be just another skeleton in your LinkedIn contacts? Or do you have a seamless client experience in place that supports your company's brand, regardless of touch point, channel or device starting from your business card or referral?
  • Are your website visitors confused by what services you provide and how exactly you can help them? Or do you have a website in place that tells your story perfectly, how you can help your clients and provides options to directly get in touch with you?
  • Are you forgetting about your previous clients and prospects? Or are you leveraging digital channels and tools to keep in constant, valuable contact with your clients, prospects and leads?

I'd be very much interested in what your 300 million dollar problems or solutions have been. Let me know!

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summing up is a recurring series of interesting articles, talks and insights on culture & technology that compose a large part of my thinking and work. Drop your email in the box below to get it – and much more – straight in your inbox.

Big Idea Famine, by Nicholas Negroponte

I believe that 30 years from now people will look back at the beginning of our century and wonder what we were doing and thinking about big, hard, long-term problems, particularly those of basic research. They will read books and articles written by us in which we congratulate ourselves about being innovative. The self-portraits we paint today show a disruptive and creative society, characterized by entrepreneurship, start-ups and big company research advertised as moonshots. Our great-grandchildren are certain to read about our accomplishments, all the companies started, and all the money made. At the same time, they will experience the unfortunate knock-on effects of an historical (by then) famine of big thinking.

We live in a dog-eat-dog society that emphasizes short-term competition over long-term collaboration. We think in terms of winning, not in terms of what might be beneficial for society. Kids aspire to be Mark Zuckerberg, not Alan Turing.

Ask yourself: What ideas, spaces and lifestyles will you leave behind for your grandchildren?

Forget privacy: you're terrible at targeting anyway, by Avery Pennarun

The state of personalized recommendations is surprisingly terrible. At this point, the top recommendation is always a clickbait rage-creating article about movie stars or whatever Trump did or didn't do in the last 6 hours. That's not what I want to read or to watch, but I sometimes get sucked in anyway, and then it's recommendation apocalypse time, because the algorithm now thinks I like reading about Trump, and now everything is Trump. Never give positive feedback to an AI.

This is, by the way, the dirty secret of the machine learning movement: almost everything produced by ML could have been produced, more cheaply, using a very dumb heuristic you coded up by hand, because mostly the ML is trained by feeding it examples of what humans did while following a very dumb heuristic.

There's no magic here. If you use ML to teach a computer how to sort through resumes, it will recommend you interview people with male, white-sounding names, because it turns out that's what your HR department already does. If you ask it what video a person like you wants to see next, it will recommend some political propaganda crap, because 50% of the time 90% of the people do watch that next, because they can't help themselves, and that's a pretty good success rate.

There's lots of talk about advancements in artificial intelligence or machine learning, but very little about their shortcomings and effects on society. Surrounded by hysteria, mistaken extrapolations, limited imagination and many more mistakes we're distracted from thinking productively about our future.

The Bomb in the Garden, by Matthew Butterick

Now, you may say “hey, but the web has gotten so much better looking over 20 years.” And that’s true. But on the other hand, I don’t really feel like that’s the right benchmark, unless you think that the highest role of design is to make things pretty. I don’t.

I think of design excellence as a principle. A principle that asks this: Are you maximizing the possibilities of the medium?

That’s what it should mean. Be­cause other­wise it’s too easy to congratulate ourselves for doing nothing. Because tools & technologies are always getting better. They expand the possibilities for us. So we have to ask ourselves: are we keeping up?

We somehow think, technology becomes better because it gets faster. But that is simply confusing technology consumption for technology innovation. Consumption simply allows us to do more of the same, while innovation augments us to do things that were previously impossible.

in data we trust

The average person today is about as naive as was the average person in the Middle Ages. In the Middle Ages, people believed in the authority of their religion, no matter what. Today, we believe in the authority of our science, no matter what.

Neil Postman

We believe in data because it is the only objective fact we can hold on to. We count website visitors, conversion rates, click behaviours, heatmaps and how many people went through our sales funnels. The problem is that algorithms treat data as unbiased fact and we believe in the scientific objectivity of our algorithms' results. We no longer interpret data, we see it as unbiased and untouchable.

We believe in data because we think it's objective and will give us the full point of view. But we're past the point of just experimenting. Our technologies have real implications and become the foundation of our world and our businesses. We expect the computer to take over our thinking, willing and judging mind, which of course is doomed to fail.

Data is great to analyze & optimize specific processes, specific domains. But if we keep seeing data as the only truth we miss out on the big picture and forget about what really counts – building and maintaining a relationship with our clients.

broken websites

Recently, a client of mine showed me their new website for their consulting business. Four months in the work, fully responsive, neat, fast and a good looking. He asked me about my opinion, smiling from ear to ear. I looked at it and said I liked it, but...

But what?

Where do you explain who's your ideal client and what expensive problem you're solving for them?

Ehm... he said

Where is the call to action? Do you have any workflows, like drip campaigns, newsletter and contact possibilities in place to connect and keep in touch with prospects?

Ahem...

What does the workflow or funnel from the landing page towards qualification and acquisition of a client look like?

Uhh...

You see, design is utterly important, but functionality trumps design. A website that looks nice, but does not explain why and how you solve a client's problem is not helpful. A website that shows how to solve a client's problem like a champ but looks shitty is pitiful but works. Good design and functionality together is killer.

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summing up is a recurring series of interesting articles, talks and insights on culture & technology that compose a large part of my thinking and work. Drop your email in the box below to get it – and much more – straight in your inbox.

The Best Way to Predict the Future is to Create It. But Is It Already Too Late? by Alan Kay

Albert Einstein's quote "We cannot solve our problems with the same levels of thinking that we used to create them" is one of my favorite quotes. I like this idea because Einstein is suggesting something qualitative. That it is not doing more of what we're doing. It means if we've done things with technology that have gotten us in a bit of a pickle, doing more things with technology at the same level of thinking is probably gonna make things worse.

And there is a corollary with this: if your thinking abilities are below threshold you are going to be in real trouble because you will not realize until you have done yourself in.

Virtually everybody in the computing science has almost no sense of human history and context of where we are and where we are going. So I think of much of the stuff that has been done as inverse vandalism. Inverse vandalism is making things just because you can.

One important thing here is to not get trapped by our bad brains, by our thinking abilities. We're limited in this regard, and only tools, methods, habits and understanding⋅can help us to learn to see and finally get to a higher level of thinking.

Don’t be seduced by the pornography of change, by Mark Ritson

Marketing is a fascinating discipline in that most people who practice it have no idea about its origins and foundations, little clue about how to do the job properly in the present, but unbounded enthusiasm to speculate about the future and what it will bring. If marketers became doctors they would spend their time telling patients not what ailed them, but showing them an article about the future of robotic surgery in the year 2030. If they took over as accountants they would advise clients to forget about their current tax returns because within 50 years income will become obsolete thanks to lasers and 3D printing.

There are probably two good reasons for this obsession with the future over the practical reality of the present. First, marketing has always managed to attract a significant proportion of people who are attracted to the shiny stuff. Second, ambitious and overstated projections in the future are fantastic at garnering headlines and hits but have the handy advantage of being impossible to fact check.

If your job is to talk about what speech recognition or artificial intelligence will mean for marketing then you have an inherent desire to make it, and you, as important as possible. Marketers take their foot from the brake pedal of reality and put all their pressure on the accelerator of horseshit in order to get noticed, and future predictions provide the ideal place to drive as fast as possible.

And this does not only apply to marketing. Many fields today, computing & technology included, are currently obsessing about a revolutionary potential that has always been vastly, vastly overhyped. The hype surrounding these topics is sometimes so pervasive that raising skepticism can often be seen as one's failure to recognize that the hype is deserved.

Design in the Era of the Algorithm, by Josh Clark

Let’s not codify the past. On the surface, you’d think that removing humans from a situation might eliminate racism or stereotypes or any very human bias. In fact, the very real risk is that we’ll seal our bias—our past history—into the very operating system itself.

Our data comes from the flawed world we live in. In the realms of hiring and promotion, the historical data hardly favors women or people of color. In the cases of predictive policing, or repeat-offender risk algorithms, the data is both unfair and unkind to black men. The data bias codifies the ugly aspects of our past.

Rooting out this kind of bias is hard and slippery work. Biases are deeply held—and often invisible to us. We have to work hard to be conscious of our unconscious—and doubly so when it creeps into data sets. This is a data-science problem, certainly, but it’s also a design problem

The problem with data is not only the inherited bias in the data set, but also in algorithms that treat data as unbiased facts and humans believing in the objectivity of the results. Biases are only the extreme cases that make these problems visible, but the deeper issue is that we prevent ourselves to interpret and study nature and thereby defining our limits of interpretation.

getting rid of humans

So apparently the AI revolution is coming. Taxi and truck drivers will be replaced by self-driving cars, robots will replace workers, drones will be delivering packages to our doors and big data algorithms will find our perfect date. Also, robots will soon take over the world.

Well, I don't believe a single word.

What I believe is this: we are immersed in technology that is quietly reducing human interactions.

We stare at our devices while waiting for the next train and avoid the glance of the pretty girl/boy a few meters away, we use online ordering and delivery services in order to not sit alone in a restaurant, apps to call a ride or get the fastest route from A to B so that we don't have to talk to anyone. We use personal assistants and online stores so that we don't have to talk to that shop assistant, social media where everybody seems to have a perfect life in order to avoid the sometimes harsh conversations of the real life. All powered by AI, which allegedly should make our lives better.

But we humans don't exist as segregated individuals. We're social animals, we're part of networks. Our random accidents and behaviours make life enjoyable.

We should use our technologies to augment these capabilities, to make us better humans. This is the reason why I tell my clients to make use of their website to start genuine conversations with their clients, to help them to make their life better. That is the sweet spot of our technology, of our websites, of digital innovation and automation.

digital laziness

A few months ago, Facebook wanted us to send them copies of our nudes so that they can block those images if they are later uploaded by someone else. I don't even want to know how they came up with such utter nonsense. But regardless of that, it is a perfect example of what I call digital laziness. Instead of fixing the actual, hard and sometimes messy problem we come up with an easy technological solution.

I often get approached with similar requests – well, not nudes – but similar nonsensical ideas. We want 10,000 visitors on our website! We want to sell our high touch consulting service directly from our website! We don't want to do anything and still be able to grow our business!

We can use websites, drip campaigns, newsletters and digital marketing strategies to get more and better clients. But we'll fail utterly if we don't assert the fundamental goal we're trying to achieve. Instead, we have to see the above as tools we can use to reach these goals and augment parts of our businesses.

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summing up is a recurring series of interesting articles, talks and insights on culture & technology that compose a large part of my thinking and work. Drop your email in the box below to get it – and much more – straight in your inbox.

The "Next Big Thing" is a Room, by Steve Krouse

Our computers have lured us into a cage of our own making. We’ve reduced ourselves to disembodied minds, strained eyes, and twitching, clicking, typing fingertips. Gone are our arms and legs, back, torsos, feet, toes, noses, mouths, palms, and ears. When we are doing our jobs, our vaunted knowledge work, we are a sliver of ourselves. The rest of us hangs on uselessly until we leave the office and go home.

Worse than pulling us away from our bodies, our devices have ripped us from each other. Where are our eyes when we speak with our friends, walk down the street, lay in bed, drive our cars? We know where they should be, and yet we also know where they end up much of the time. The tiny rectangles in our pockets have grabbed our attention almost completely.

These days almost every room is equipped with electricity, light and buttons to control it. It's so common that we hardly trouble ourselves thinking about it. It is not a device we carry around in our pockets, have to charge up every night and buy a new version every two years – like a flashlight. Imagine how small and lonely a world like this would be, where everyone carries his own, personal flashlight, seeing only one thing at a time and having one hand always busy.

Machine Teaching, Machine Learning, and the History of the Future of Public Education, by Audrey Watters

Teaching machines were going to change everything. Educational television was going to change everything. Virtual reality was going to change everything. The Internet was going to change everything. The Macintosh computer was going to change everything. The iPad was going to change everything. And on and on and on.

Needless to say, movies haven’t replaced textbooks. Computers and YouTube videos haven’t replaced teachers. The Internet has not dismantled the university or the school house. Not for lack of trying, no doubt. And it might be the trying that we should focus on as much as the technology.

The transformational, revolutionary potential of these technologies has always been vastly, vastly overhyped. And it isn’t simply that it’s because educators or parents are resistant to change. It’s surely in part because the claims that marketers make are often just simply untrue.

The hype surrounding our technologies is sometimes so pervasive that raising skepticism can often be seen as one's failure to recognize that the hype is deserved. This is the game we're playing. It's no longer about the real transformational power, about real change & potential, but mostly about a superficial pop culture.

What We Actually Know About Software Development, and Why We Believe It’s True, by Greg Wilson

Think about how much has changed. Some things have changed without recognition, sadly the way we build software hasn't. There is nothing you do day by day that wouldn't have been familiar to me 25 years ago. Yes, you're using more powerful machines, yes you're using browsers and all this other stuff. But the way you work day to day has not improved.

Most of software development today is based on myth, superstition or arrogance. And this won't change until we're willing to be humble enough to admit when we're wrong. Only then we can find out how the world actually works and do things based on that knowledge.

black belts and silver bullets

This year I tested for the 2nd Dan black belt in Taekwondo, after preparing almost three and a half years. Black belt exams are an interesting beast. They feature an extremely deep curriculum, but most importantly there is a minimum time requirement for advancing from one rank to the next. The reason is a very simple one: time is needed for techniques and the individual to mature. The point is that it is a journey, not a result. There are no tricks, hacks or silver bullets.

Similarly, tricks, hacks or silver bullets never made a big impact for my business. And honestly, they have never made a big impact for any of my clients either. If there is a trick or hack it's always been crafting holistic, consistent and high-quality experiences.

Crafting these experiences takes time. Only when all parts of a (digital) business strategy (positioning, right channels, product/service-market-fit) align, you get something that is better than the sum of its parts. And an enduring process, which will bring new clients, growth and revenue for a time to come.

summing up 105 - the mother of all demos

Today, exactly 50 years ago, a man invented the future.

If you've been following my writing, talks and ideas you've certainly heard his name: Doug Engelbart.

On 9th December 1968, he and his team demonstrated the prototype of his vision at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco in front of about 1,000 computer professionals.

This demo introduced so many key concepts we still use today: the computer mouse, windows, graphics, video conferencing, word processing, copy & paste, hypertext, revision control, a collaborative real-time editor and much more. No wonder it's also known as the Mother of all Demos.

What's so striking about Engelbart's demo however isn't how much has changed since then, but how many things have stayed the same.

To celebrate this somewhat special day, I want to deviate a bit from my usual format and highlight some of his key ideas which impress me to this day.

The Mother of all Demos, which I alluded to earlier, is certainly one of the most important pieces of our computer history. If you can spare some time this holiday season, I can only commend to watch parts of this demo. It was a jaw-dropping experience for me. And a testament to what can happen when you get a bunch intelligent people together and ask them to invent the future.

The ABCs of Organizational Improvement is a framework I rely heavily on when working with clients. It depicts three types of basic activities which should be ongoing in any healthy business:

(A) Business as usual: Processes you can find in every business and include the core activities, such as developing a product, manufacturing, marketing, sales etc. It is all about execution and carrying out today's strategy.

(B) Improving how we do that: Thinking about how to improve the ability to perform A. This includes training, hiring, adopting new tools & processes, workflows or bringing in external consultants.

(C) Improving how we improve: How can we improve how we improve? How can we get better at inventing better processes in B? It's this part most businesses struggle with, but at the same time brings the most value. This kind of meta-thinking is the shift from an incremental to an exponential improvement and ultimately the advancement of the business as a whole.

Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework lays down Engelbart's fundamental vision. In there you can find his famous example of taping a pencil to a brick and thereby significantly slowing down the ability to write. When you make it harder to do the lower parts of an activity, it becomes almost impossible to do the higher parts of an activity – like exploring ideas, structuring your thoughts & ideas or to distill the essence of something to the essential. Our tools influence the thoughts we can think, and bad tools interfere with thinking well.

Engelbart's vision went much further, as he intended to augment human intellect and enable people to think in powerful new ways, to collectively solve urgent global problems. To really understand what he means by that, you have to forget today. You have to forget everything you know about computers. You have to forget everything you think you know about computers. His vision is not about computers, it's about us and the future of mankind:

Technology should not aim to replace humans, rather amplify human capabilities.

Engelbart’s vision & philosophy continues to influence many technologists today, myself included, I hope I could explain why.

bicycles or tricycles

Would you rather go across town on a tricycle or a bicycle?

It is clearly easier to learn to ride a tricycle, but nowhere as efficient as a bicycle. Learning to ride a bicycle is hard. But in the end it seems to be worth it – you don't see many tricycles around these days, do you?

Similarly, is it better to use tools that are easy to learn and use? Or is it worth to put in the time to learn and master difficult, powerful tools? On one hand, simple tools may be easy to learn and use, but it will be hard work to accomplish difficult tasks. On the other hand, difficult and powerful tools call for considerably more skills, but the ratio of time to effort is dramatically higher. And this is a very interesting perspective: If you happen to use the computer as a tool for your lifetime, isn't it worth to invest time, become skillful and save time in the long run?

you vs. i

Clients don't care about you.

They don't care if you have a mortgage to pay. They don't care if you have to pay your bills. They don't care if you have to feed your family. They don't care why the project is late, what clothes you wear, where you went to school or your favourite dish.

The only thing clients care about are themselves and their problem.

We're only talking to them because they believe – even a little bit – that we're able to better their situation.

Nevertheless, I see so many websites and newsletters talking about themselves, their team, their vision, their products & services and so on. And while these might be interesting bits here and there, they simply don't help you advance your business.

You want to make your communication "you" focused, not "I" (we, us, ...) focused. Help your clients understand how you can help them and what expensive problem you solve for them. Great websites say "you" – they don't say "I".

tyranny of choice

While travelling I specifically try to avoid restaurants with large menus. Why? Because they make me miserable.

First, you spend endless time just browsing through the menu, looking for the best dish (whatever that means anyway), comparing each and every option, and struggling to decide. Then, just after you found something to order, the dish is either not available or right after ordering, the neighbouring table has found an even more delicious meal. You wouldn't be happy with yours anyway. You're welcome.

Logic suggests that having options allows people to select precisely what makes them happiest. But as studies show, abundant choice often makes for misery. This holds true for websites as well.

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summing up is a recurring series of interesting articles, talks and insights on culture & technology that compose a large part of my thinking and work. drop your email in the box below to get it – and much more – straight in your inbox.

People don't change, by Peter Gasston

People – I think – don't change that much. What changes over time are cultural differences and values, but people have the same goals, the same desires and the same urges.

Technology matches our desires, it doesn't make them. People haven't become more vain because now we have cameras. Cameras have been invented and they became popular because we've always been a bit vain, we've always wanted to see ourselves. It's just the technology was never in place to enable that expression of our characters before.

The more I study history the more I understand that people from different cultures, people from different historical periods... we're not exceptional, there's nothing exceptional about us, there's nothing exceptional about them. The technology might be new, but the way we react to it, the way we use it, is the same it always has been.

Whatever we think about ourselves, we aren't more intelligent than our ancestors. Neither were they more intelligent than we are. But technology and knowledge plays it's role in augmenting us – and that is what makes us better.

Education That Takes Us To The 22nd Century, by Alan Kay

When we get fluent in powerful ideas, they are like adding new brain tissue that nature didn't give us. It's worthwhile thinking about what it means to get fluent in something like calculus and to realize that a normal person fluent in calculus can outthink Archimedes. If you're fluent at reading you can cover more ground than anybody in the antiquity could in an oral culture.

So a good question for people who are dealing with computing is what if what's important about computing is deeply hidden? I can tell you as far as this one, most of the computing that is done in most of industry completely misses most of what's interesting about computing. They are basically at a first level of exposure to it and they're trying to optimize that. Think about that because that was okay fifty years ago.

Probably the most important thing I can urge on you today is to try and understand that computing is not exactly what you think it is. You have to understand this. What happened when the internet got done and a few other things back in the 70s or so was a big paradigm shift in computing and it hasn't spilled out yet. But if you're looking ahead to the 22nd century this is what you have to understand otherwise you're always going to be steering by looking in the rearview mirror.

If someone today could outthink Archimedes and anyone who is literate can cover more ground than any oral culture... What can someone do with a computer today? The most interesting point is that it isn't as much as we think. We keep mouthing platitudes about innovation and pretend we're much more advanced than our ancestors. But the more you look at what computing can really be about, the more pathetic everything we're doing right now sounds.

Why History Matters, by Audrey Watters

“Technology is changing faster than ever” – this is a related, repeated claim. It’s a claim that seems to be based on history, one that suggests that, in the past, technological changes were slow; now, they’re happening so fast and we’re adopting new technologies so quickly – or so the story goes – that we can no longer make any sense of what is happening around us, and we’re just all being swept along in a wave of techno-inevitability.

Needless to say, I don’t think the claim is true – or at the very least, it is a highly debatable one. Some of this, I’d argue, is simply a matter of confusing technology consumption for technology innovation. Some of this is a matter of confusing upgrades for breakthroughs – Apple releasing a new iPhone every year might not be the best rationale for insisting we are experiencing rapid technological change. Moreover, much of the pace of change can be accounted for by the fact that many new technologies are built atop – quite literally – pre-existing systems: railroads followed the canals; telegraphs followed the railroads; telephones followed the telegraphs; cable television followed the phone lines...

So why then does the history of tech matter? It matters because it helps us think about beliefs and practices and systems and institutions and ideology. It helps make visible, I’d hope, some of the things that time and familiarity has made invisible. It helps us think about context. It helps us think about continuity as much as change. And I think it helps us be more attuned to the storytelling and the myth-making that happens so frequently in technology and reform circles.

We're confusing technology consumption for technology innovation. Innovation augments ourselves to do things that were previously impossible, consumption just allows us to do more of the same. Maybe better, faster of whatever, but still the same.

i loathe restaurant websites

My god, I really loathe restaurant websites.

No, I don't want to sign up for your newsletter. I don't want to see your open positions. Read your food & drinks blog. Learn about your cassolette of white asparagus served with black garlic and saffron sauce. See photos of your latest celebration. Know the favourite wine selection of your general manager.

All haystack and no needle.

There's only three things I want to be able to do: know what food they're offering, get the address/location and make a reservation.

Similarly, on business websites I see a similar trend. There are many and long pages about the founders, about their vision, their history, their teams – and of course blog posts from 2 years ago and articles nobody reads.

Regardless of the size of those websites, they're often presenting an information underload, not an overload. The actual valuable content is hidden somewhere in this big haystack. And of course you can guess how much effort a prospect will put into finding those pieces. In my opinion all businesses need these three pages:

  • one describing the expensive problem of the client
  • one describing the product/services which solve the above problem
  • one to get in touch with the business

That's it. Adding valuable content on top of these is of course always a good thing, but you need to get the basics right.

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summing up is a recurring series on digital strategy topics & insights that compose a large part of my thinking and work. drop your email in the box below to get it – and much more – straight in your inbox.

Rethinking CS Education, by Alan Kay

If you want to get something done, the way you do it is not so much trying to convince somebody but to create a tribe that is a conspiracy. Because anthropologically that is what we are more than any other thing. We are tribal beings and we tend to automatically oppose things outside of our tribe, even if they're good ideas, because that isn't the way we think – in fact we don't think we're not primarily thinking animals.

The theatrical part of this is lots bigger than we think, the limitations are much smaller than we think and the relationship we have with our heritage is that we are much more different than we think we are. I hate to see computing and computer science watered down to some terrible kind of engineering that the Babylonians might have failed at.

That is pathetic! And I'm saying it in this strong way because you need to realize that we're in the middle of a complete form of bullshit that has grown up out of the pop culture.

We're stuck in conversations around hypes and trending technological topics. At the same time our world gets ever more complex and throws ever more complex problems at us. I really hope that we can grow up soon and use the power the computer grants us to actually augment ourselves.

Neither Paper Nor Digital Does Active Reading Well, by Baldur Bjarnason

A recurring theme in software development is the more you dig into the research the greater the distance is between what actual research seems to say versus what the industry practices.

Develop a familiarity with, for example, Alan Kay’s or Douglas Engelbart’s visions for the future of computing and you are guaranteed to become thoroughly dissatisfied with the limitations of every modern OS. Reading up hypertext theory and research, especially on hypertext as a medium, is a recipe for becoming annoyed at The Web. Catching up on usability research throughout the years makes you want to smash your laptop agains the wall in anger. And trying to fill out forms online makes you scream ‘it doesn’t have to be this way!’ at the top of your lungs.

That software development doesn’t deal with research or attempts to get at hard facts is endemic to the industry.

It seems crazy to me that most other subjects look at their history, while computing mostly ignores the past, thinking that new is always better. The problem these days isn't how to innovate, but how to get society to adopt the good ideas that already exist.

If Software Is Eating the World, What Will Come Out the Other End? by John Battelle

So far, it’s mostly shit. Most of our society simply isn’t benefiting from this trend of software eating the world. In fact, most of them live in the very world that software ate.

The world is not just software. The world is physics, it’s crying babies and shit on the sidewalk, it’s opioids and ecstasy, it’s car crashes and Senate hearings, lovers and philosophers, lost opportunities and spinning planets around untold stars. The world is still real.

Software – data, code, algorithms, processing – software has dressed the world in new infrastructure. But this is a conversation, not a process of digestion. It is a conversation between the physical and the digital, a synthesis we must master if we are to avoid terrible fates, and continue to embrace fantastic ones.

Only those who know nothing of the history of technology believe that a technology is entirely neutral. It always has implications, positive and negative. And all too often we seem to ignore the downsides of this in our physical world. The world we live in, and the technology as well.

most businesses' positioning is terrible

When was the last time you visited a business website without having a clue what they were offering? Unfortunately these beasts are far too common – and hurting business as well.

To lay it on the line: most businesses' positioning is terrible.

Websites are unforgiving in that regard. You can't control who's visiting your website. You can't control what they read. You can't control how much they read. You can't control how long they stay. And so on.

While you can get around this at an event or conference by talking a few minutes more about what you and your business actually do, you don't have that chance on the web.

The solution: A compelling positioning that helps your ideal clients understand how you can help them and what expensive problem you solve for them.

I know it's hard work and hard choices, but in the end it's worth it – if you want to succeed in the long run.

another one bites the dust

I don't remember the last time I've been so creeped out by a technology as I was by Google duplex, an artificial intelligence that can make phone calls on your behalf, booking salon appointments or restaurant reservations and pretending to be human.

One could probably criticise that it's unethical not to disclose that a machine is on the other end of the line, that we exploit employees of small businesses as involuntary robot nannies at no charge, that this technology will be deployed and used regardless of any consequences, or our blind faith in technology. But it's none of that.

The reason why I am creeped out is this:

The fathers of personal computing, most importantly Doug Engelbart, dreamed about making humans better with the help of computers, to assist rather than replace humans, to augment humans with computers. What we increasingly see however is a trend of using humans to augment computers.

We should be better than this.

summing up 102

summing up is a recurring series on topics & insights that compose a large part of my thinking and work. drop your email in the box below to get it – and much more – straight in your inbox.

The Cult of the Complex, by Jeffrey Zeldman

In an industry that extols innovation over customer satisfaction, and prefers algorithm to human judgement (forgetting that every algorithm has human bias in its DNA), perhaps it should not surprise us that toolchains have replaced know-how.

Likewise, in a field where young straight white dudes take an overwhelming majority of the jobs (including most of the management jobs) it’s perhaps to be expected that web making has lately become something of a dick measuring competition.

It was not always this way, and it needn’t stay this way. If we wish to get back to the business of quietly improving people’s lives, one thoughtful interaction at a time, we must rid ourselves of the cult of the complex. Admitting the problem is the first step in solving it.

Solutions to many problems seem most brilliant when they appear most obvious. Simple even. But in many cases we throw everything we have against the wall and see what sticks. It's on us to recognize when we forget that our job is to solve business, client and most importantly human problems.

The Relativity of Wrong, by Isaac Asimov

In every century people have thought they understood the universe at last, and in every century they were proved to be wrong. It follows that the one thing we can say about our modern "knowledge" is that it is wrong.

The basic trouble, you see, is that people think that "right" and "wrong" are absolute; that everything that isn't perfectly and completely right is totally and equally wrong. However, I don't think that's so. It seems to me that right and wrong are fuzzy concepts.

A very interesting thought which reminds me very much of a short poem by Piet Hein: The road to wisdom? — Well, it's plain and simple to express: Err and err and err again but less and less and less.

Known Unknowns, by James Bridle

Technology does not emerge from a vacuum; it is the reification of the beliefs and desires of its creators. It is assembled from ideas and fantasies developed through evolution and culture, pedagogy and debate, endlessly entangled and enfolded. The belief in an objective schism between technology and the world is nonsense, and one that has very real outcomes.

Cooperation between human and machine turns out to be a more potent strategy than trusting to the computer alone.

This strategy of cooperation, drawing on the respective skills of human and machine rather than pitting one against the other, may be our only hope for surviving life among machines whose thought processes are unknowable to us. Nonhuman intelligence is a reality—it is rapidly outstripping human performance in many disciplines, and the results stand to be catastrophically destructive to our working lives. These technologies are becoming ubiquitous in everyday devices, and we do not have the option of retreating from or renouncing them. We cannot opt out of contemporary technology any more than we can reject our neighbors in society; we are all entangled.

As we envision, plan and build technology, a human bias will always be part of it. We can't just pass our responsibility to technology and bury our head in the sand. The question we should and have to pose ourselves is be a different one. How can we use and leverage technology as a tool, as ways to augment ourselves to do things that were previously impossible? I think collaboration and cooperation might be an answer.

summing up 101

summing up is a recurring series on topics & insights that compose a large part of my thinking and work. Drop your email in the box below to get it – and much more – straight in your inbox.

The "Space" of Computing, by Weiwei Hsu

Today, we have been building and investing so much of our time into the digital world and we have forgotten to take a step back and take a look at the larger picture. Not only do we waste other people's time by making them addicted to this device world, we have also created a lot of waste in the real world. At the same time we're drowning in piles and piles of information because we never took the time to architect a system that enable us in navigating through them. We're trapped in these rectangular screens and we have often forgotten how to interact with the real world, with real humans. We have been building and hustling - but hey, we can also slow down and rethink how we want to dwell in both the physical world and the digital world.

At some point in the future we will leave this world and what we'll leave behind are spaces and lifestyles that we've shaped for our grandchildren. So I would like to invite you to think about what do we want to leave behind, as we continue to build both digitally and physically. Can we be more intentional so that we shape and leave behind a more humane environment?

What we use a computer for on a daily basis, is only a small part of what a computer could offer us. Instead, most of our conversation evolves around hypes and trending technological topics. What we desperately need is to take a step back, and figure out ways of thinking to tackle complex problems in a ever more complex world.

Pace Layering: How Complex Systems Learn and Keep Learning, by Stewart Brand

Fast learns, slow remembers. Fast proposes, slow disposes. Fast is discontinuous, slow is continuous. Fast and small instructs slow and big by accrued innovation and by occasional revolution. Slow and big controls small and fast by constraint and constancy.  Fast gets all our attention, slow has all the power.

All durable dynamic systems have this sort of structure. It is what makes them adaptable and robust.

The total effect of the pace layers is that they provide a many-leveled corrective, stabilizing feedback throughout the system.  It is precisely in the apparent contradictions between the pace layers that civilization finds its surest health.

We're too often thinking about the superficial, the fast, the shallow. And that is not necessarily a bad thing - but it will easily become if it's the only thing we do. This concept is one of those that, once your brain has been exposed, you start seeing everywhere.

The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral, by Mike Caulfield

I find it hard to communicate with a lot of technologists anymore. It’s like trying to explain literature to someone who has never read a book. You’re asked “So basically a book is just words someone said written down?” And you say no, it’s more than that. But how is it more than that?

I am going to make the argument that the predominant form of the social web — that amalgam of blogging, Twitter, Facebook, forums, Reddit, Instagram — is an impoverished model for learning and research and that our survival as a species depends on us getting past the sweet, salty fat of “the web as conversation” and on to something more timeless, integrative, iterative, something less personal and less self-assertive, something more solitary yet more connected. I don’t expect to convince many of you, but I’ll take what I can get.

We can imagine a world that is so much better than this one. And more importantly we can build it. But in order to do that we have to think bigger than the next hype, the next buzzword and the next press release. We have to seriously interrogate the assumptions that are hidden in plain sight.

archive

2018

summing up 100 summing up 99 summing up 98 summing up 97 summing up 96 summing up 95 summing up 94

2017

summing up 93 vdb17 summing up 92 summing up 91 summing up 90 summing up 89 summing up 88 summing up 87 summing up 86 razzle dazzle websites summing up 85 your business in munich podcast summing up 84 summing up 83 humane websites summing up 82

2016

websites are processes summing up 81 the lost medium - live summing up 80 my voxxed days belgrade talk summing up 79 summing up 78 summing up 77 on discoverability summing up 76 summing up 75 summing up 74 summing up 73 summing up 72 on ditching css frameworks and preprocessors summing up 71

2015

we really don't know how to compute the interactive web logic or biology on advice the gervais principle the psychology of pricing change of affiliation empowering kids to create the web we lost information entropy all my blogs are dead project managers, ducks, and dogs marking territory lego's 1981 ad campaign building a princess saving app summing up is dead, long live summing up summing up 70 summing up 69 summing up 68 sketchpad summing up 67

2014

the humane representation of thought summing up 66 summing up 65 networks without networks summing up 64 summing up 63 summing up 62 summing up 61 summing up 60 summing up 59 not just a label relaunch summing up 58 summing up 57 summing up 56 summing up 55 summing up 54 summing up 53 the help me help you dinner summing up 52 summing up 51 summing up 50 summing up 49 summing up 48 summing up 47 summing up 46 summing up 45 summing up 44 summing up 43 summing up 42 summing up 41 the internet regression summing up 40 summing up 39 hiring and firing for startups summing up 38 pencil and paper thinking big ideas summing up 37 summing up 36

2013

summing up 35 the future of computing summing up 34 summing up 33 summing up 32 summing up 31 summing up 30 summing up 29 summing up 28 summing up 27 luck summing up 26 summing up 25 summing up 24 summing up 23 summing up 22 summing up 21 the bullet hole misconception summing up 20 dear mr nokia summing up 19 some thoughts on the real world by one who glimpsed it and fled summing up 18 summing up 17 do not be a front rudder summing up 16 summing up 15 gnome outreach program yearbook 2013 summing up 14 on why removing features makes people unhappy summing up 13 summing up 12 summing up 11 quick tip for remembering names at, during and after meetings summing up 10 summing up 9 summing up 8 summing up 7 summing up 6 summing up 5 application specific passwords for dovecot summing up 4 summing up 3 summing up 2 summing up 1 jquery scramble plugin

2012

typical development processes of free and open source software projects the sane way of adding custom latex packages summer of code is over - a summary the gnome bazaar gnome outreach program yearbook 2012 that is all folks gnome release schedule

2011

creating beautiful graphics with pgfplots return of the travelling gnome missing in action gnome screencasts - take six gnome screencasts - take five gnome screencasts - take four gnome screencasts - take three gnome screencasts - take two gnome screencasts hdr photography cheese was taken over by the portuguese opw is over gnome video effects gallery


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