The Blogroll: Week 18

If you’re asking “what the heck am I looking at?”, here’s a primer. Also, if you know of an article or blog I should be reading, let me know.

The Blogroll

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Chris Aldrich - Webmentions: Enabling Better Communication on the Internet

As mentioned earlier, Webmentions allow notifications between web addresses. If both sites are set up to send and receive them, the system works like this:

  • Alice has a website where she writes an article about her rocket engine hobby.
  • Bob has his own website where he writes a reply to Alice’s article. Within his reply, Bob includes the permalink URL of Alice’s article.
  • When Bob publishes his reply, his publishing software automatically notifies Alice’s server that her post has been linked to by the URL of Bob’s reply.
  • Alice’s publishing software verifies that Bob’s post actually contains a link to her post and then (optionally) includes information about Bob’s post on her site; for example, displaying it as a comment.

A Webmention is simply an @mention that works from one website to another!

My non-developer brain says, “THIS IS IT. THIS IS HOW THE OPEN WEB WINS.” I’m probably getting ahead of myself, but this does give me hope. We should all collectively make this happen on all the sites.

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Cal Newport - The Peacock in Menlo Park: On Open Offices and Signaling Theory

The goal of an open office in this context is not to make employees more efficient, or to spark more brilliant cross-discipline breakthroughs, but instead to signal to new hires and investors that your organization is innovative.

Disruption and revolution are so valuable in the fiercely competitive tech sector that signaling these traits through a radical office layout might be worth the cost in reduced productivity. (This is similar, in signaling theory terms, to how a healthy peacock will expose itself to greater predation risk with a garish plumage to increase the chances it attracts a mate.)

Put simpler: If you were a Silicon Valley start-up, would you rather your 10x developers work from home to avoid open office distraction, or not be able to attract 10x developers in the first place?

I totally buy this. When you go in for your first interview, one of two things pop into your head:

  • You see a bunch of cubes or closed off offices that disrupt sightlines and make everything feel very conservative.
  • You see blue skies and sun on all sides because nothing is blocking the view — it’s the future of work.

The truth, unfortunately, is that getting shit done is all about minimizing distraction. People have been practicing feng shui for a long time, and one of the basic principals to maximize energy (also known as focus) is to not seat yourself to where your back is facing an entrance. In an open office, your back is wide open by design. It seems appealing at first (even if you’re dead-set against open offices, pretty designs are captivating), but I’d take the alternative every day. It’s why I don’t spend a lot of time in coworking spaces.

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Om Malik - Companies, like people, don’t change

Dr. House, a curmudgeonly brilliant reincarnation of another recalcitrant detective, Sherlock Holmes, famously observed, that people don’t change. Even almost dying doesn’t change people. It was one of his many astute observations. And you could apply that thinking to companies — because companies, at their very core, are all about people, and are an apt reflection of the people who lead these companies, and the people who end up working for them.

Like people, companies too, are genetically pre-programmed and obey what their DNA tells them. As a result, the culture that a company starts with is virtually hard to overhaul — not matter how much effort is put into trying to change a culture. The DNA of a company permeates its thinking, its business processes and most importantly its revenue models. Those start to define how a company is organized, and its people are incentivized. And that’s company culture.

I hear this a lot, but I don’t think I agree. I tend to think that people change when their experiences drastically, and permanently change. I don’t know if I buy a medium-length vacation “changing everything” as some like to claim, but me going to college 1,000 miles from my hometown fundamentally changed my thoughts about so many things. It didn’t happen overnight though — something clicked around year five. Change is slow.

To me, that’s our problem with the modern workplace. Companies get built, the founders often stay, but employees now move on before they’d ever have a chance to truly impact the culture. And when founders do leave, people expect wholesale change to come instantly — it takes time. Time for new leadership to install a new vision, and time for the stress of a toxic culture to wear off so people can start leading healthy lifestyles again. It’s hard to be open to change when your gut bacteria is telling your brain that you need to self-medicate at every turn.

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Khoi Vinh - What Is This Thing Called Design?

This more expansive definition of design has led modern practitioners to define design as more than just the visual. Every “touchpoint” where a user or customer interacts with a company’s products or services is seen as an opportunity to apply the principles of good design, from the emails they get to the technical support they receive to even the quality of offline, in-person interactions with the brand. The end result is no longer just a “good looking” or “user friendly” interface; the goal is now to create a satisfying if not delightful overall experience for users.

People who don’t do design or see design as windowdressing should absolutely read this post. Send it to your friends.

This is also, in sort of a roundabout way, a call to designers to bulldoze their way into the decisionmaking processes of the companies they work for. Designers need to be fighting for power — not only for the good of themselves, but for the good of the businesses they work for.

In 2018 and every day forward, good design equals good business.

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Cate Huston - Estimations and Orders of Magnitude

Call me a cynic, but I don’t expect software estimations to be accurate. Because software is built by humans – and they take sick days, and vacations, time to help their colleagues (hopefully), have off days as well as good ones.

But I still think estimations are worth doing. Firstly, because if we don’t have some reasonable concept of how long something will take, how do we compare the effort and impact of A vs B and make any kind of rational decision?

Mainly, though, because the order of magnitude by which we are off says something about the project. We should be off by an order of magnitude smaller than the one we estimated in. I.e. when we estimate in months, we should be off by weeks. When we estimate in weeks, days.

This seems reasonable.

The actual blogroll

(Blogs are ranked in order of appearances in these Blogroll posts. Also, I’m only listing blogs that don’t act as newspapers, because those are the ones I feel need the most support.)