The eternal optimism of the Clear mind

Clear just closed down.

Here’s how it worked while it was in business. You paid $200 for a one-year membership. You underwent a big, complicated background check to prove that you were extra-super-trustworthy.

In exchange, in a few big airports, you got to skip to the front of the TSA line for screening.

Now, you didn’t skip the screening itself. You still went through the X-ray machine and had to remove your shoes, belt, pocket contents, laptops, and plastic quart ziplock bag of toiletries.

You just got to cut to the front of the line.

A few people signed up. In certain airports, it was, indeed, worth actual money to cut to the front of the line.

This wasn’t Clear’s actual business plan. The actual business plan was that Clear would do detailed background checks on travellers, who would then be trusted to bypass security completely because they were extra-super-trustworthy.

Now, the TSA doesn’t even trust pilots, who go through the same screening as the rest of us to make sure they’re not bringing something extraordinarily dangerous onto a plane like a 3.5 oz bottle of shampoo. Because, of course, with a little bottle of shampoo, they could make a bomb, which they could use to fly the plane they are piloting into a building, something that is impossible for mere pilots sitting at the controls of the jet.

So as it turns out, the TSA never actually agreed to go along with this skipping-the-screening thing, and ultimately, all Clear was allowed to do was get you to the front of the line.

At this point, and here’s the interesting part, at this point, a rational businessperson would say, “Well, does the Clear idea still make sense if we can’t actually let you skip the screening?”

OK, maybe it still makes sense to charge to skip to the front of the line. Maybe there’s a business model in that.

In that case, though, why did they still do background checks? It doesn’t make any sense.

The environment changed. It turns out that Clear’s business model of prescreening wasn’t going to be possible. But they kept doing it anyway. What kind of organizational dysfunction does it take to completely ignore the changed circumstances and keep at a money-losing business?

What’s even funnier is that Clear could probably have been profitable if they had just skipped the one unnecessarily stupid part of their business model: the detailed background checks on all their customers.

Nobody at Clear did any thinking. They had a business model, the business model wasn’t actually possible, everybody knew it, and they still plugged away at it. Thoughtless optimism. I don’t know whether to salute ‘em or laugh.

Platform vendors

Dave Winer (in 2007): “Sometimes developers choose a niche that’s either directly in the path of the vendor, or even worse, on the roadmap of the vendor. In those cases, they don’t really deserve our sympathy.”

iSmashPhone: 15 Apps Rendered Obsolete By The New iPhone 3GS

When independent software developers create utilities, add-ons, or applications that fill a hole in their platform vendor’s offering, they like to think that they’re doing the vendor a huge favor. Oh, look, the iPhone doesn’t have cut and paste,  they say. Business opportunity! They might imagine that this business will be around forever. Some of them even like to daydream about the platform vendor buying them up. Payday!

The trouble is that only a tiny percentage of iPhone users are going to pay for that little cut and paste application. With any kind of add-on, selling to 1% of the platform is a huge success.

For Apple, that’s a problem. That means that the cut and paste problem isn’t solved for 99% of their customers. They will solve it, if it’s really a problem. And you’ll be out of business.

Filling little gaps in another company’s product lineup is snatching nickels from the path of an oncoming steam roller.

A good platform always has opportunities for applications that aren’t just gap-fillers. These are the kind of application that the vendor is unlikely ever to consider a core feature, usually because it’s vertical — it’s not something everyone is going to want. There is exactly zero chance that Apple is ever going to add a feature to the iPhone for dentists. Zero.

A visit to Microsoft and Google

From my latest Inc. column: “Giant corporations such as Google and Microsoft are like cities full of relatively anonymous people: You don’t actually expect to see anyone you know as you walk around. Going to lunch on either campus is like going to the cafeteria at a huge university. The other 2,000 students seem nice, but you don’t know most of them well enough to sit with them. Meanwhile, a typical lunchtime at my company is like Thanksgiving dinner: There’s a big meal you get to share with a bunch of people you know and like.”

Conferences in New York

Andrew emailed to ask why we don’t have a StackOverflow DevDays day in New York City. That’s a fair question! There’s a big software development community here.

There are two reasons New York is low on my list. The first is cost. Hotels, venues, and catering are prohibitively expensive in New York. At a medium-class hotel, say, the Marriott on the East Side, giving everybody one coffee break with coffee, tea, soft drinks, and nothing to eat costs $23 per person [PDF]. It’s simply impossible to do a $99 one-day event in New York.

The other reason is attendance. I don’t know why, but techies in New York just don’t turn out for events at the same level as other cities. When we did the FogBugz world tour we had three times as many attendees in London as New York. Maybe New Yorkers are extra busy. But turnout is always surprisingly thin in the city.

It’s a particularly bad place to do tech conferences, too. Hotels are $600-$700 a night. Everything about putting on a conference is remarkably expensive. And half of your attendees wander off to visit the Statue of Liberty when they should be in your Python tutorial meeting.

StackOverflow DevDays: Five New Cities

Whoa. Less than a month ago, we announced first Stack Overflow DevDays and opened registration to 300 people in each of five cities.

Well, that sold out pretty quickly. Ryan Carson, who is taking care of all the conference logistics, was pretty sure we’d be able to book larger event spaces, so we allowed even more people to register… we’ve got 2388 people booked worldwide so far, including over 800 in London, but it’s clear that with just five events we weren’t going to be able to accomodate all the people who want to spend a day meeting online Stack Overflow friends in real life and learning a little something about some hot new programming topics.

So, we decided to take the show to five more cities. Here’s the new schedule—click on a city to register:

Oct 07 Boston NEW!
Oct 14 Austin NEW!
Oct 16 Los Angeles NEW!
Oct 19 San Francisco
Oct 21 Seattle
Oct 23 Toronto
Oct 26 Washington DC
Oct 28 London
Oct 30 Cambridge, UK NEW!
Nov 02 Amsterdam NEW!

Tickets are $99 in the US, €84.75 in Amsterdam and £85.00 in the UK. A limited number of very cheap student tickets are available. If you already booked but want to change cities, email

In the meantime, I’ve been working hard lining up speakers. I’ll be speaking myself in all ten cities, as this will be the launch event for FogBugz 7 and a new product now under development by the Fog Creek summer interns, who just arrived and are already coding away earnestly. Jeff Atwood will be speaking in San Francisco. Scott Hanselman will be speaking in San Francisco and Seattle. Jon Skeet will be speaking in London. The basic agenda should, more or less, include: Android, Python, Google App Engine, iPhone development, ASP.NET MVC, jQuery, FogBugz, Mercurial and DVCS, and a different speaker from academia in each city. There will be lunch, two breaks, and we’ll organize some kind of birds-of-a-feather post-conference meetups.

Anyway, at the current rate, it’s pretty clear these conferences will sell out long before the events themselves, so don’t wait until the last minute to decide.

Get a job

The Joel on Software Job Board has been working well since we launched it almost three years ago. It logs about 220,000 unique visitors every 21 days, including many passive job seekers who have RSS subscriptions.

But a few employers place ads and just don’t find anyone. I’m pretty sure we’re the only job listing service in the world with an unconditional money back guarantee, so these people call us and we give them their money back. It’s not a lot, usually just two or three a month, but I’d still prefer to have a wider audience for these job listings as long as it didn’t diminish the quality of resumes.

In the meantime, Stack Overflow has been attracting a huge community of smart developers—we’re running over 3.7 million unique visitors a month.

So today we’re launching a new Stack Overflow job board and a Server Fault job board, which will both be linked up with the Joel on Software job board. Any ad placed on one appears on all three sites. This will be a great way to recruit great programmers and a great place to get great jobs.

It’s not much of a secret, but Stack Overflow is already a great place to find good programmers, because you can see how good people really are by reading the answers that they post. I’ve noticed a lot of people putting their Stack Overflow reputations on their resumes, and we’re starting to hear stories of people who got jobs through the site. Jeff and I are committed to building features to make this easier in the next “six to eight” weeks. For example, I’ve always hated traditional resumes, which just don’t give the right kind of information about a candidate. If you wanted to hire an iPhone developer, would you rather know that person’s Stack Overflow stats in the iPhone tag and read their answers to technical questions? Or would you rather know where they went to college?

If we pull this off, getting jobs in the tech industry will be a lot saner.

In the meantime, if you are hiring, do yourself a favor and try placing an ad on Stack Overflow. (FAQ) If you’re looking for a job, check out the listings.