Year-end chaos

Liz and I have been working to get ready for the FogBugz 6.0 World Tour, in which I travel from city to city (accompanied by a programmer) giving demos of all the cool features in the upcoming version. This is basically about the same logistical complexity as planning a family trip to DisneyLand, times 32.

Very little has been finalized, but it looks like the first round will hit Vancouver, Seattle, Chicago, New York, Princeton, Philadelphia, Boston, Toronto, Waterloo, Washington, Atlanta, Dallas, Austin, Denver, San Francisco, Berkeley, Newark (CA), Mountain View, Santa Monica, Irvine, and San Diego. The second round will hit Auckland, Christchurch, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Munich, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, London, Cambridge, and Dublin. Whenever my squirt nephew decides to have his bar mitzvah, we’ll come to Tel Aviv.

Given the cost of flights, hotels, rental cars, meals, catering (we’ll serve refreshments), printing (we’ll pass out brochures), FogBugz polo shirts, etc., it looks like the cost for this trip is going to come to about $64 per attendee… that is, it’s costing us $64 to put on a live demo of FogBugz for each person who attends. Phew. No wonder people do those crappy webinar things instead. I still think it’s worth it, though.

The universe aligns to prove my point

Clay: “…the sites that suffer most from anonymous postings and drivel are the ones operating at large scale. If you are operating below that scale, comments can be quite good, in a way not replicable in any ‘everyone post to their own blog’”.

Dave: “…he says that I don’t allow comments on Scripting News. That’s not exactly true, there are comments here, but you have to look carefully to find them. I find this ups the quality enormously — people don’t generally comment here to embarass anyone or to provoke a fight — there isn’t enough traffic to interest those people. But the people who want to add information to a thread here on Scripting News, and have been reading the site long enough to know what it’s about, they find their way to the comments and add something to the mix.”

Both excellent comments. Thank you. This is an example of people posting their replies on their own site. There is a lot more value to them than the comments about this post on my own discussion forum. Why? Because I know who Clay is, I’ve met him, he wrote A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy, which, to this date, is the most important, insightful, and brilliant understanding of group dynamics in online communities. Dave has something to add to the conversation; some thoughts he’s had since the article I quoted him on. Great content, in their own spaces.

And you’re not only hearing their replies because I’m telling you about them. You might be hearing about it from Techmeme, which has really cool algorithms to figure out where the conversation is, and put it back together. Look at Techmeme right now:

They reconstructed the conversation magically for you. Of course, Techmeme only works for the biggest, noisiest bloggers. But Bloglines will do it for anyone.

PS to Clay: I’m still in awe at:

Now, there’s a large body of literature saying “We built this software, a group came and used it, and they began to exhibit behaviors that surprised us enormously, so we’ve gone and documented these behaviors.” Over and over and over again this pattern comes up. (I hear Stewart [Brand, of the WELL] laughing.) The WELL is one of those places where this pattern came up over and over again.

I apologize for falling into such a common pattern!

Learning from Dave Winer

Even if you never read a single thing Dave Winer wrote in his 439 years of blogging, it’s worth taking time to study his ideas about comments on blogs (he doesn’t allow them).

“…to the extent that comments interfere with the natural expression of the unedited voice of an individual, comments may act to make something not a blog…. The cool thing about blogs is that while they may be quiet, and it may be hard to find what you’re looking for, at least you can say what you think without being shouted down. This makes it possible for unpopular ideas to be expressed. And if you know history, the most important ideas often are the unpopular ones…. That’s what’s important about blogs, not that people can comment on your ideas. As long as they can start their own blog, there will be no shortage of places to comment.”

The important thing to notice here is that Dave does not see blog comments as productive to the free exchange of ideas. They are a part of the problem, not the solution. You don’t have a right to post your thoughts at the bottom of someone else’s thoughts. That’s not freedom of expression, that’s an infringement on their freedom of expression. Get your own space, write compelling things, and if your ideas are smart, they’ll be linked to, and Google will notice, and you’ll move up in PageRank, and you’ll have influence and your ideas will have power.

When a blog allows comments right below the writer’s post, what you get is a bunch of interesting ideas, carefully constructed, followed by a long spew of noise, filth, and anonymous rubbish that nobody … nobody … would say out loud if they had to take ownership of their words. Look at this innocent post on a real estate blog. By comment #6 you’re already seeing complete noise. By #13 you have someone cursing and saying “go kill yourself.” On a real estate blog. #18 and #23 have launched into a middle eastern nuclear conflageration which continues for 100 posts. They’re proving John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory every day. Pathetic. On a real estate blog. Lockhart Steele, is this what you want Curbed to look like? Really? It’s not fun, freewheeling freedom of expression, yay first amendment!. It’s mostly anonymous hate speech.

OK, that’s an extreme example… or is it? I don’t know how many times I’ve read a brilliant article someone wrote on a blog. By the end of the article, I’m excited, I’m impressed, it was a great article. And then you get the dribble of morbid, meaningless, thoughtless comments. If the article, for example, mentions anything in anyway related to Microsoft, you get some kind of open source nuclear war. If the article mentions web browsing in any way, there’s always some person without an outbound filter who feels compelled to tell you about how he uses Opera, so he doesn’t have this problem, although, frankly, I could care less what Anonymous uses. He’s not even human to me, he’s anonymous. What web browser he uses doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. It’s not a single bean. It’s not even the memory of last week’s huevos rancheros. It’s just noise. Useless noise. Thoughtless drivel written by some anonymous non-entity who really didn’t read the article very carefully and didn’t come close to understanding it and who has no ability whatsoever to control his typing diarrhea if the site’s software doesn’t physically prevent him from posting.

Dave is absolutely right. The way to give people freedom of expression is to give them a quiet place to post their ideas. If other people disagree, they’re welcome to do so… on their own blogs, where they have to take ownership of their words.

I’m really losing patience with anonymous posts, “anon”, “anon for this one,” people who don’t even have the energy to sign their messages with a made up name and leave the whole signature blank. Frankly if every anonymous post disappeared from the Joel on Software discussion group, the overall quality of the conversation would go up, way up, and the discussion would be way more interesting. Try this as an experiment: read through the last few dozen topics on the discussion group, and imagine that all the “anonymous” and signed-blank posts just disappeared. Would the quality of conversation be higher? Would that be a place you’d be more likely to want to spend time in?

Open house today

Reminder! The annual Fog Creek open house is today (Thursday), so if you’re in New York, I’d love to meet you in person and show you around.

Come on by between 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm to see our offices and meet the Fog Creek team including this years’ interns, a.k.a. the caribou, the software management trainees, and me. Bring your boss to prove how private offices, 30″ LCDs, and Aeron chairs are possible. See the fish. Drink free wine. Show off your new iPhone. No RSVP necessary.

Fog Creek Software is at 535 8th Ave., on the 18th Floor.

Gearing up

I’m still working ferociously on getting ready for the FogBugz World Tour. We won’t have the final list of cities until we can get hotel meeting rooms confirmed in each city, but it looks like the first round will hit about 20 cities in the US and Canada plus a few stops in New Zealand, Australia, and Europe. In any case, I’m looking at about six weeks on the road.

Fog Creek’s office manager Liz is planning all the logistics for the event. Today she faxed around about 80 RFPs to hotels to get meeting rooms lined up. (There’s a huge business opportunity there–getting hotel event coordinators onto the Internet). I have to buy a bunch of gear:

  • a very light, bright, robust video projector
  • a very portable PA system and a couple of lavalier mics
  • a subnotebook that can serve as my primary desktop while I’m on the road but which won’t break my back

Is there such a thing as a video projector which connects to the PC using Cat-5 instead of video cable, so I don’t have to carry a 50 foot video cable around?

What’s a good subnotebook? Does anyone have any experience (good or bad) with the new flash-drive based notebooks?

What about the portable PA systems? Is there something self-contained that fits in the overhead bin on a plane?


Steve from Richmond, VA, wrote in to ask a couple of questions:

“With software development, is it better to get something out there with customers and then continually improve or build the best wiz-bang software and then start marketing?”

That depends. You want to avoid the Marimba Phenomenon, where you get so much publicity in the early days that everybody checks out your underwhelming offering and decides that you’re never going to have something worth looking at. (I should rename this the phenomenon, in honor of Microsoft’s horrible launch of Or the Zune phenomenon.) On the other hand, small startups are unlikely to have the problem of too much attention, so most companies with a 1.0 product can certainly get real customers with their earliest usable versions and build from there.

Steve is starting a company with a software developer.

“Assuming the software developer is getting paid at a reduced rate, but concurrently with his development. If you were giving also giving him some equity in your company, would you make that equity contingent on phases of the software getting done, the entire software getting done or vesting over time.”

The standard solution is to vest over time — anywhere from four to seven years — with unvested shares being forfeited if he leaves for any reason. If the software doesn’t get done, you fire him and he loses the unvested shares — it’s not necessary to make the vesting contingent specifically on finishing the software (besides, “finishing” software would be too hard to define in a contract).

You can set it up either as normal vesting (where he gets, say, 20% of the shares every year) or reverse vesting (where he gets the shares up front, but you have the right to repurchase them for a penny, and this right evaporates by 20% every year). Reverse vesting is preferable for tax reasons, because at the time you give him the shares, they’re worth a lot less, so there’s less income and more capital gains, which are taxed at a lower rate.

Business of Software Conference

The Business of Software conference coming up at the end of October is new this year, but it’s got a pretty phenomenal line-up of speakers:

Also speaking: Dan Nunan, Jennifer Aaker, Jeffrey Pfeffer, Bill Buxton, and me. Register here.

Why we reimplemented SQL Server Mirroring

Our systems administrator Michael Gorsuch explains it: “So, yes, even though the SQL Server Mirroring technology sounds like an ideal fit at first, it is easy to see how it doesn’t really suit our needs.”

Back in 2001, I wrote: “When you’re working on a really, really good team with great programmers, everybody else’s code, frankly, is bug-infested garbage, and nobody else knows how to ship on time. When you’re a cordon bleu chef and you need fresh lavender, you grow it yourself instead of buying it in the farmers’ market, because sometimes they don’t have fresh lavender or they have old lavender which they pass off as fresh.”

Fog Creek Open House

We do it every summer… an open house at the Fog Creek offices in New York City.

Come on by next Thursday, July 19, 2007, between 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm to see our offices and meet the Fog Creek team including this years’ interns, a.k.a. the caribou, the software management trainees, and me. It’s always a fun chance to meet other software developers in the New York area and geek out about impedence mismatch. Bring your boss to prove how private offices, 30″ LCDs, and Aeron chairs are possible. Drink free wine. Show off your new iPhone. No RSVP necessary.

Fog Creek Software is at 535 8th Ave., on the 18th Floor.


Maxim Shemanarev: “The amazing thing is there is no rocket science! Nothing to patent! All information is publicly available and/or deducible from what we see. You only need to use a bit of your engineering intuition plus common sense. So, it goes. You can download an application with full sources in the end of the article and play with it, but not now, please. Now be patient to read rather a long story.” Wow!