When a Standard Isn’t

When a Standard Isn’t

Since I’ve been in full bore “old fart” mode for the past week or so, I may as well get this gem off my chest to cap off the week.

A recurring theme this week for me, professionally and personally, is the use (or misuse / misappropriation) of the meaning of words.

Take Standards. I wrote a post earlier today about “the emerging standard of OpenSocial” (emphasis mine). A standard is usually one thing by which some other thing is measured. Since there is an absolute dearth of any applications supporting OpenSocial, how can it be called an emerging “standard?” Hell – it doesn’t even purport to be a specification. At the very most optimistic is a very strongly worded letter with very strong recommendations as to what should be supported – but you can define any extensions you like. What the hell is “standard” about that?

Out here in the wilds of the World Wide Web, people bandy about “standards” as if they are passed down on high, when by and large standards are the most flimsiest of figments of the imagination.

Don’t believe me?

In reality, most “standards” come about because someone is first to crack an idea or concept, make it wildly popular, and everyone follows a “compatibility” formula to success. It is only after the market leader has been established that someone comes along behind, codifies what is in fact a fait accompli, and declares a “standard” now in place. Rarely has it worked the other way around, where someone publishes a document, calls it a “standard” and a successful market spring up around it.

I can think of a set of successful “standards” documents that arguably worked this way: the Q’uran, the Bible, and the Torah – but they are entirely outside the scope of this discussion.

I can cite several early technology examples: the IBM PC compatible (possible because IBM published the ROM code and opened the door to the wild success of PC compatible systems); the Hayes Modem AT command set, which revolutionized the ability of PC software to control modems of any make or manufacture as long as they could recognize the Hayes AT command set; the SoundBlaster audio card and command set, which allowed anyone who could communicate with SoundBlaster’s original code set to talk to anyone else’s SB compatible plug in cards.

This is just a handful of the pioneers who were wildly successful, created the “standard” first, and then had it codified by the marketplace. Again, the emphasis is mine.

Even in the web world, though there exist many so called “standards”, all of the successful ones came about as a result of one company dominating (for a time) and everyone else following behind and calcifying a “canon.” Netscape (plus their extenstions) for HTML; 3COM and Ethernet; Internet Explorer and DOM and XMLHTTPRequest (“Ajax” to many of you); with very few exceptions, the “standard” always recognized the de facto market leader, and THEN became codified canon.

Working code is always the coin of the realm.

If we all had to wait around for specification bodies to waive their hands and declare what standards we’d all use nothing would ever get done. Perfect is the enemy of the good.

I had a conversation with a new Facebook contact yesterday and he was talking about how things would get so much better for communication across social networks once social networking “standards” equivalents like XHTML and Acid were adopted. I reminded him that having a standard like XHTML and Acid codified did not force anybody to use them. How many websites follow XHTML? Far too few. How many browsers are fully Acid compliant? You could count them on one hand and 99 out of 100 people don’t use them.

First movers who capture the market set the standard. Twitter isn’t the best designed site, it’s not the prettiest. But they were first out the gate to capture lightning in a jar and it would damn near take a stroke of timing and luck to knock it out of position merely on the basis of looks, speed, and technical merit. The market has spoken, for good or ill.

So, the next time someone starts yammering about the OpenSource “standard” API, be polite. Smile. Nod. If you’re from the South, think “Bless their heart.”

The market always dictates the standard, not the other way around.

This old fart is now going back into his house and you kids can get your ball out of my yard before I call the cops.

Perspective and Vantage Point

Perspective and Vantage Point

I read a post this morning concerning OpenSocial and how Facebook was becoming like Microsoft, because they were “closed” and “not compatible” with the “emerging standard” of OpenSocial (as opposed to the “de facto” standard of Facebook).

First of all, if there is a dearth of OpenSocial apps (and there are) and if everyone is paying lip service but putting very few real dollars behind it, how in the hell is OpenSocial an “emerging standard?” If anything, it is a “hoped for” emerging standard for everyone kicking themselves for not being first mover in the market. By the time the OpenSocial folks get their act together, everyone will realize that it is NOT write once, run everywhere, but instead write fifty separate times to SAY you run everywhere – and of course the novelty of widgets long worn off and we’re off to the next thing.

The other thing that got my juices going was reading another blogger parroting the canard that Microsoft is not compatible with itself (probably wrote that on an Apple system, which makes the irony even more laughable). I bet Raymond Chen of MS would have something to say about how compatible MS has been over the years.

In fact, it can be argued that to its detriment MS has clung tenaciously to keeping its systems entirely backward compatible and has forced it to not recognize the right time to jettison old technologies and embrace the new world order (web, mobile, online TV, gaming – at least initially).

I can give a real world personal example of how well MS has kept consistent and compatible with itself. I wrote an MS-DOS C language (version 1 or 2 of the compiler – so long ago I forget) program that did electrical contractor estimating in 1987. It was used to estimate the “new” (at the time) Nashville airport terminal project for the prime contractor.

I wrote my own screen and form handling (replete with direct video memory writes) using the old Btrieve B-tree data handler (not database – schemas were for wusses back then). Pretty cool stuff for the time and fast as well.

Fast forward to 2006. I get a call from the contractor. HE WAS STILL USING THE ORIGINAL PROGRAM. He wanted me to add a few new features. I would have been glad to do so… except after almost 20 years I couldn’t find the original source. Long story short, the project was re-written as an MS Access application by a friend common to me and the customer.

Folks, that is an application that ran for nearly 20 years (!!!) without modification across multiple generations of MS operating systems. And almost spanned a generation of human life.

Look, Microsoft can be said to many things. Many bad things. Most of them true.

But please – if you say that they (Microsoft) are not consistent with themselves, that they break with each generation, you gotta do more than parrot the basement losers who have never held a paying job in their life. Because the fact of the matter is that most companies do a damn good job at remaining as backward compatible as they can to remain as profitable as they can for as long as they can.

I challenge anyone to show me an Apple application that has run continuously on whatever hardware is current at the time with no code changes from 1987 in a working production environment.

I really would like to see it, but I wouldn’t hold my breathe. These are the same guys, remember, that come out with a new iPod the minute you buy one; a new iMac with an OS that is not compatible with the old hardware. The makers of the Newton.

Disclaimer: I have owned both PCs and all generations of the iMac, have two iPhones, and a handful of iPods spanning all generations.

We tend to make ridiculous generalizations because we lack perspective or our vantage point is too close to the ground to see above the horizon (forward and backward pointing).

I’m not saying one’s point of view is only valid after years of experience (though there is much to be said about that assertion), nor am I saying that wisdom comes only with age (it doesn’t).

I am saying that before we make pronouncements about what is standard, what is reality, we should at least try to do a sanity check beyond the view of a couple of years, beyond the span of our echo chamber that is the social media / social graph / web two oh hype machine, beyond our personal knowledge.

Without context, continuity, and perspective all we are doing is generating is comedy. And it’s not even that funny.

Engagement: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Engagement: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Vizzini: Inconceivable!

Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means, what you think it means.

– The Princess Bride

Anyone who has seen the movie The Princess Bride understands the humor in Vizzini the Sicilian’s exclamation; he has uttered “Inconceivable!” a dozen times in the movie, only to have what he deems to be “Inconceivable” become not only the possible but reality.

Social Media mavens /pundits / gurus /strategists are a bit like Vizzini in that they tend to think words means things they actually do not.

For example: Engagement. To most of the world, the word engagement entails a reciprical arrangement where something is expected of both sides. However, in the context of social media, what engagement usually means is that people are merely exposed to each other in some way, but very little is expected of any given social contact. I can Twitter til my fingers fall off, you may be following me, you may think we’re engaged, when in fact you may never respond to me. Some consider that engagement. It most definitely is not.

Another example: Friend. In most of the world, a friend is a person who will do most anything for you, regardless of personal consequence, because of amity, love, and dedication. There is prevenient trust implied. In the context of social networking, a friend is at best what one would call an acquaintance in the real world and implies only that a person known as a friend in any given nexus of the social graph is simply allowed access to you and your personal information with no expectation whatsoever of reciprocity or even fair treatment.

In short, social networking uses many real world words to imply the concept of trust and relationship, when in fact nothing of the sort exists online. You can no more “trust” someone you don’t know online without context, contact, and prevenient /pre-existing relationships. Yet, each social networking silo tries to mask this weakness by following, friending, trusting, joining, inviting.

Just because we call something by a name does not make it that name.

Social networking tends to amplify and force multipy our baser and better natures, but what it cannot do is short circuit the building of meaningful relationships.

That still takes time and active reciprocity.

Everywhere and Nowhere

Everywhere and Nowhere

This is one of those posts that would probably come off as a very cool video riff, if I didn’t have a face for radio. So, a bit of a rambling brain dump follows. Be forewarned.

Just finished an article titled Everywhere and Nowhere.

The premise basically is that the walled gardens of social networking today (Facebook, MySpace, LI, and others) are really the walled gardens of old (AOL) and that users, because none of the walled gardens can provide best of breed services in all facets force users to use other services to go beyond the walls to do anything useful.

There is a lot of “truthiness” to this, but it goes deeper than that.

More than once today I have heard or read about microblogging on Twitter and Seesmic driving folks away from blogging, where before I have heard that blogging was driving out the notion of the corporate website.

In fact, what is really happening is that one’s online identity, brand, presence, persona, whatever – is all of these and none of these. It is necessary for one to have a corporate website, like it is necessary to blog in some form, like it is necessary to have some take on social networking – but none of these are sufficient means in and of themselves. The social web is a diffuse concept and doesn’t live solely on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Bebo. FriendFeed, Plaxo, and SocialThing! try to aggregate some of this above the flow conversation, but aggregation has yet to solve the diffusion of attention, content, and services that comprise our online presence.

What it means is that for one to be successful on the web today is that you have to work your ass off (as Loren of 1938media so aptly put it in his video on A-Listers), because the easy breezy salad days are gone. One must be everywhere at once, or at least be very, very smart about where their presence is most needed online at any given time.

The FB app land grab is way over and you can’t throw a rock in any direction without hitting someone who was at Davos, or TED, or SXSW, or Burning Man. Everybody has a blog. Everyone is in affiliate marketing.

Sadly, very few people have anything of value to say, or to listen to.

I twittered earlier today that one should BE or DO something interesting, and the rest would take care of itself.

My advice therefore for anyone trying to grok their way through social networking 2008 is to take care of the message first, and the appropriate medium will present itself.

Just be prepared to be Everywhere and Nowhere somewhere along the way.

Health Insurance Costs

Health Insurance Costs

Health insurance costs in the U.S. are totally whack.

Today was a day that I had been expecting but not relishing – the day our health care insurance renewal notice arrived. And the requisite cost increase – again, expected but not looked forward to.

Our monthly major medical costs for a family of 4, with a $3,000 deductible, will be over $1,000 a month starting in May.

We go to the doctor maybe once or twice every six months. We haven’t been in the hospital in the past dozen years. We don’t have a chronic illness. In fact, our company experience has been quite exemplary over the last 12 years.

And yet, every year for the past ten years our rates have increased 12% to 22%. This next year, our rates will increase by almost $200 a month.

That’s a cost that is not easily passed along to customers, and it comes right off the bottom line.

Net-Net, it is not surprising at all that people “go naked” (without insurance).

We will be doing some real soul searching to put together an alternative approach to our major medical coverages in the next six weeks, because the existing situation has become entirely untenable.

Are Resumes Necessary?

Are Resumes Necessary?

Seth Godin had a post this morning on Why bother with a Resume?

It got me thinking: in my professional life, spanning 1985 to the present, I have NEVER gotten a job as a result of a resume. Never.

That’s not to say that I don’t have a resume or that I have never submitted a resume. Simply that a resume in and of itself has never brought me to anyone’s attention nor has it been the tipping point that has been the deciding factor on a paycheck for me.

Resumes are the HR equivalent of flowcharts in the programming world; they are obsolete the moment they are written, and bear little resemblance to the object they purport to describe.

As Seth astutely points out, if you are remarkable as a person, a resume is entirely superfluous.

So – what is a better use of your time: to create a kick ass Resume, or to become Remarkable?

Morning Chuckle Over Sarah Lacy’s Latest BusinessWeek “Piece”

Morning Chuckle Over Sarah Lacy’s Latest BusinessWeek “Piece”

I LOVE IT when an employee of a news organization or the press lectures Entrepreneurs on the need to get “business savvy.”

How savvy does one need one need to be to cash an employers’ paycheck, Sarah (did I say that out loud)?

Granted, too many Entrepreneurs equate “funded” with “profitable” – but someone who can’t even do THEIR job competently, working for a big employer paying their way to conferences week in and week out has ZERO cred with me in discussing how web idealists need to get “serious” about business.

“He jests at scars that never felt a wound” – Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Getting it Right, Versus Getting it Now

Getting it Right, Versus Getting it Now

We often convince ourselves that immediacy is the most important thing. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t.

For example, the immediacy of the news that Sarah Lacy’s interview from yesterday with Mark Zuckerberg at SXSW had gone horribly off the tracks was fascinating to those of us watching from afar on Twitter, in real time, and was surely disconcerting for Ms. Lacy, who failed to grok first how badly she had stumbled, and then immediately afterwards, failed to grok that she had failed at all. Twitter was almost as much the story as was the interviewer missing the mark.

In part, the immediacy of any moment can betray us, because we are given no time for careful consideration of “what the hell just happened to us. ” I’m sure that after a little time of review, and some reflection, Ms. Lacy will come to the realization that she had conducted an interview in a style neither conducive to the audience nor to the person being interviewed. Her immediate reaction was “screw you guys, I’m Sarah Lacy.” I bet a year or so from now, looking back, that future Sarah Lacy will hold many regrets over the response in the immediacy of the moment of the Sarah Lacy Version 2008.

This “nuance of the now” is lost on the web, where even a monumentally bad interview is being (thankfully for Ms. Lacy) overshadowed by the still breaking news of Elliott Spitzer and his personal problems coming to light.

I was just as guilty as anyone this afternoon of tweeting about the rumors flying fast and furious, once the story hit the NYT online web site. Within the span of ten minutes, I had followed three different rumors that turned out to be wildly inaccurate. When Spitzer did come to the mike, it was anti-climatic and added nothing to what we knew (or what we thought we knew).

In short – we will know more accurately what the true story is later with Spitzer than we do today, because the story will have time to be vetted for accuracy and time will be given for careful and considered reflection of the facts. The same will be true with the whole Zuckerberg interview fiasco.

Both stories may be entirely forgotten twelve months downstream. Or each may have deeper meaning than we can foresee in the moment. That’s the point – without some separation we have no perspective.

Just because we can “know” something – now – does not mean that we have the whole story now, or that we have time in the immediate moment to grasp the significance of what we are watching in the now, ever increasingly in real time.

Watching the Spitzer story unfold today I was reminded of the day 26 years ago when Ronald Reagan was shot. Wildly inaccurate information was flying about; about James Brady dying (he didn’t) and Al Haig being in charge (he wasn’t). That is the closest I can come to describing the flow of what was happening today in the news, though the seriousness of a politician getting caught in sexual misconduct comes in no way close to the seriousness of an assassination attempt.

We have the ability to communicate “in the now” to a broader audience with an immediacy only imagined a short while ago – but it does not give us greater insight or understanding. That still requires time, careful consideration, and judgment.

They still don’t have a Web 2.0 service for common sense. But I hear they’re working on it.

Customer Service – The SLA is the MINIMUM Expected

Customer Service – The SLA is the MINIMUM Expected

When you are under a Service Level Agreement (SLA), this spells out the normative and expected response times for service, failure response, and resolution protocols. SLAs are usually in place to outline what the minimum level of responsiveness to a customer issue will be, and what the penalties for missing these minimum levels of service targets will be (monetary, free services, discounts, whatever).


I had the ol’ “we had the server up and running under the time allowed in the SLA” canard thrown up in my face this morning. Technically, the Managed Hosting Firm DID have A server running ONE of the customer’s web sites restored, after a bad hardware failure.

However, the main customer sales application was down all weekend, and was unavailable for a trade show that the customer had over the weekend.

In fairness, the customer did not make the Managed Hosting Firm aware that things weren’t 100%. They called me, who wrote the sales software, to see if I could figure out what was wrong. I found the issue, and we resolved it a few minutes ago. Four hours into Monday, from a Friday failure. Unacceptable.

The ultimate reason that the software did not come back up is that the Managed Hosting Firm (a) did not take reasonable care to notify the customer of what failed and what corrective actions were taken, (b) the system was NOT restored to working state as it existed prior to failure, and (c) the system was not tested in full before signing off.

This wasn’t a $15 a month hosting deal. This is a managed services contract where the customer is paying a Steak Fee for apparently Baloney Service.

If you are running a services company, don’t stop at the minimum. Worse, don’t NOT do the minimum and act huffy when it is pointed out that you didn’t DO the minimum; and don’t blame the customer for not checking your work.

The Squeaky Wheel (Sometimes) Gets the Grease

The Squeaky Wheel (Sometimes) Gets the Grease

My posts here and on Facebook yesterday were written out of frustration. Frustration over cutting through the noise in order to get to a good signal. Frustration over being centered on tools rather than tasks. Seeing my way through.

As a result, directly and indirectly, of these vents (not quite rants) I received several new requests for proposals.

The Squeaky Wheel does sometime get the grease. If the wheel is too squeaky, it also gets replaced. But that is another post for another day.

Thanks to all who contributed notes, disagreements, thoughts, and encouragements yesterday.