Books: Ambient Findability: Peter’s book is out, go get it while it’s hot.

I noticed that Amazon changed the shape of their book page: they finally got rid of those side navs that nobody cares about. Page shape is one of my “things”, the default for many designers is to do a top and sidebar, and then use that on every single page of the website, whether it makes sense or not.

But different types of pages need different overall shapes, going as far as even getting rid of the global nav if needed. It makes the site much more focused and usable. Here’s 1 example: the instant archive page at mefeedia. It chucks the whole global nav altogether, and that’s not always a bad thing. I still have to test that particular one, by the way :)

PHP and MySQL are loosing the plot?

MySQL 5.0 release candidate is out with goodies such as stored procedures and such.


Mysql is trying to emulate Oracle. I see the same thing happening with PHP. It’s is trying more and more to emulate JAVA et all and trying to get acceptance in the “enterprise”. Zend’s site is all about the “enterprise”. And that’s all wrong!

Meanwhile, things like Ruby on Rails are stealing PHP’s lead in easy and fast web development. I heard a talk by a Google engineer trying to convince a MySQL crowd that they shouldn’t try to emulate Oracle, they should try to shoot higher than that and become the next web OS database. I don’t think the MySQL guys got it. That’s always the problem with a lot of open source software – they emulate leaders – they don’t lead themselves. Open office is the same – sure, they copy Microsoft Office. But MS Office is much more usable than OO – always a generation or two ahead. At least last time I checked (a few months ago).

Anyway, back to PHP-MySQL. The dynamic duo. Are they loosing the plot by trying to be “enterprise” friendly, instead of focussing on fast and cheerful web2.0-style development? I worry. Discuss.

looking for Firefox extension hacker

I need to find someone who can hack together a small firefox extension for a (very cool I think myself) project I’m doing.

I haven’t been able to find out where to find someone. Email to peter van dijck at google’s email system (you can piece this email address together, right? No spaces.) I can pay you some $$, not too much. I’m a big believer in browser-based stuff, and I want to start playing with some ideas I have for Mefeedia. This is something you should be able to put together in a weekend or two…

remote teams

I always assumed that “communication problems” with remote teams were mostly about culture and the difficulty of explaining stuff when you’re not standing next to someone. But I’m learning it’s also simply about the electricity going down or your phone battery running out.

Videoblogs go mainstream in Hollywood

I saw this ad today – notice the link to the director’s videoblog.


All the cool directors are making videoblogs. Peter Jackson makes videos about the production of King Kong, the Blue Tights network is a videoblog by the one and only Superman. I couldn’t find the ad again after making the screenshot though, and no Google love for David Rodenberg’s videoblog. It’s probably behind a Flash wall or something.

I stumbled accross Steve Krug’s Don’t make me think, second edition in a bookstore the other day, an it’s still brilliant. One of the few must-have books on web design. A true classic. Buy one for everyone in your team, including your boss.

The ability to roll out cool stuff efficiently

I am trying to grow my ability to roll out cool stuff quickly.

If you’re developing projects for yourself, that’s the number one thing you need. The 37sig guys have a lot of good ideas for that. Joelonsoftware has a lot of good ideas. What I like about them is that they are not afraid to go against “common wisdom” in software development. 37sig doesn’t do specs. That’s scary. And so on.

But I’m finding that there are many ways to do software development. Here’s one: I am working with a team in India. No idea if this is going to work – I’ve worked with overseas teams before and I’m well aware of the risks. I’ll report back later – can you roll out cool stuff fast working with a team in India, or will you get bogged down in communications/spec problems and misunderstandings? We’ll find out.

Anyway, back to this post. I spent this week working on my ability to roll out cool stuff fast. I’m working with a team, so I needed CVS. That’s installed now. I was getting painful wrists from all the typing, so I bought a computer desk today that is ergonomically better than the table I was working on. Check. I’ve set up my local development environment – http://mefeedia.peter. Working fine. I learnt to work with PHPDocumentor. No idea how much that’ll help my ability to roll out cool stuff fast – I’ll report back on that too.

What else? I have gathered the names and tels of a bunch of people willing to do usability tests. And I’ve set up a way to do remote testing. So I’ll start doing that too. Test the competition. Test my designs. I’m gonna do half a day of testing every week we develop. Will report back.

I’m off now. I’m gonna hang a bunch of stuff on the wall. So I can roll out cool stuff faster.

(Other stuff I’m trying is: Backpack, IM, mailing lists, …) Final Thoughts – AIGA Boston: “Form-makers, while valuable, are being passed by those who are attempting to use design to serve more strategic ends. And these form-makers, it is clear, have no idea.”

I hope IA’s can escape becoming commoditized. The good thing is that what we do (play with categories is as good a definition as any) is inherently strategic, because categories are so powerful. If only IA’s would realize the power they hold.

I also do feel that usability people have let themselves fall into the same trap. I know this isn’t fair to a lot of people who are doing good work, but as a profession they don’t seem to have advanced much beyond just fixing existing problems.

Joho the Blog: Yahoo vs. Google: Who’s the Chinese government’s very best buddy?: “But someone in Yahoo got a list of search terms the Chinese want blocked. They looked down the list and saw “Tiananmen Massacre,” “Dalai Lama,” “Falun Gong,” and maybe “democracy.” “Yup,” this person thought, “Our product can do that. No problemo.” Thus Yahoo wrote into its code the repressive values of the Chinese government.”

When values get embedded in infrastructure (as they often are), they become almost invisible and hard to catch.

Mefeedia in Businessweek’s Best of the Web

I’m quite honored to be listed (for, my video project) together with sites like Wikipedia, Flickr and the likes in an article by Businessweek in the Editors picks for the Best of the Web.

Businessweek has a special: It’s A Whole New Web: “And this time, it’s Your Web. No longer content to be merely viewers and consumers, people increasingly are taking an active part in creating their online lives.
At many new Web sites and services, the creative energy of countless souls virtually crackles off the screen. They’re cobbling together their own services from customizable Web sites and Lego-style pieces of Web software.”

Indeed. And this is where it gets interesting: “Media and entertainment companies, which have profited by becoming gatekeepers, sit right in the crosshairs of Web do-it-yourselfers.”

There are some amazing sites I hadn’t heard of. “An average of 6.2 million photos are uploaded to Cyworld each day”. Holy shit. That’s what happens when cellphones really kick in.

Google search: good enough?

Technorati Weblog: Welcome to the Blogosphere, Google!: “I welcome the competition. We’ve got some tricks up our sleeves too.”

You have to admire a company that is brave enough to take on Google in search, of all things.

I wonder though, Google’s big advantage is the server infrastructure they’ve built up. They know scaling better than almost anyone on the planet.

There is no doubt in my mind that Technorati’s search is superior to Google, but they are having serious scaling problems. Google doesn’t have to be better, in fact they can be worse than Technorati and still win, if they’re just Good Enough and Fast. Technorati is better than good enough, but not fast. Which is a problem.

This reminds of of Bloglines. The weird thing with Bloglines is that they have lots of crazy features (have your own blog, a great API, …) but I bet that 90% of their users use them only for one thing: reading blogs. They got that right.

I have the same problem speccing the next release of Mefeedia. Coming up with lots and lots of cool features is easy. Way easy. But finding the real value in a video aggregator and nailing that is much harder. Perhaps sites have to just develop stuff and some of it will stick? Flickr started as something quite different from what it is now, the photosharing sticked so they went with that.

IA’s should program and build cool shit.

A lot of my friends are information architects and designers with great ideas, about strategy, usability, business, you name it. Itching to make some cool shit after years of consulting. But when I talk to them, they often lack the ability to efficiently bootstrap stuff, because they’re used to working with teams of coders who implement for them. They are reluctant to build stuff themselves. (With “they” I mean “me”.)

A startup with a bright idea doesn’t have teams of coders though. You gotta build stuff yourself. At least the first prototype. Bootstrap it.

Which is why I’ve decided to learn how to program. Again. I’ve been using the same skills I had 5 years ago to build my cool shit, and it’s not enough anymore. That, and the idea that programming is as important a skill in the ability to roll out cool stuff as strategy/usability/… are.

So I’m trying to convince my designer/IA friends. Learn how to program. It’s scary, if you’re 30-something. But sit down for a month and just do it.

video schmipod by November 9th?

This week’s Apple hype (the phone and stuff) was pretty dissapointing.

Today, I followed a random ad somewhere (yeah), and found this page:

Do they know something that we don’t?

I am still a big believer in the video ipod – Apple’s not gonna give away that market to Sony’s PSP without a batlle, but they want a big splash and the market isn’t ready yet. Maybe in a few months? These things go fast. And will Mefeedia then have an ipod mode, to route around that fairly fucked up Apple directory?

Don’t buy those christmas presents just yet :)

Intel’s anthropological army – ZDNet UK Insight: “And we looked at cultural groupings in London, Tokyo and Los Angeles, because we wanted to know whether there were greater similarities between people in those environments than differences. So we looked at 22 to 34 year old women, and there were great similarities. But then we checked women in Brazil, and there was a huge difference. Technology is a matter of life and death in big cities in Brazil, literally. Mobile phones were given to children, so they could be kept track of. But you don’t take out a laptop in public, because you risked bodily harm from someone willing to steal it. Yet home computers were fantastic, because they kept the kids inside and engaged instead of being at risk outside.”

God, this stuff always fascinates. My girlfriend is doing ethnographic research (the real stuff) in NYC these days – amazing. is a good idea (letting me create my own startpage was always a good idea), executed better than, say, my yahoo and such. It’s got lots of nifty ajaxy interaction, and some nice ideas. But still.. not quite there yet. It just doesn’t let me create the page I really want easily. If someone can crack this problem (I’m not sure it can be done), I’m sure they’d be very popular. Let me create my own homepage ridicilously easy. We’ll see where they go with this. It’s good to see innovation coming out of MSN again.

craigblog: Katrina survivors need ‘net access: “due to the seeming lack of computing facilities arranged for the neediest victims at the shelters — 40 computer stations for 10,000 victims at the astrodome seems grossly inadequate — and are wondering what else is being done to give victims internet access so that they can connect with the many thousands of amazingly generous US citizens who are looking to do what our government seemingly cannot, at least in a timely fashion.”

All the talk about setting up cybercafes and such seems naive to me. Here’s an idea, which would be logistically hard enough but should still be doable: why doesn’t someone close to the disaster and with a printer PRINT OUT ads like these from craigslist and hands them out in places where people gather?

I just came to Belgium, so I thought I’d share the European word on the street about the Katrina events.

“I’m not sending money – why should I? So they can use it to wage war in Iraq? And Bush said on TV they don’t need any help.”

“They’re shooting at their own people! Unbelievable! They said on the news that the military knows when they’re allowed to shoot.”

“The planes with help are waiting in the Belgian airport, but they haven’t gotten permission from the US governement yet.”

“Their governement doesn’t take care of its people. No pension, no healthcare, now this.”

“Imagine being a soldier in Iraq if you are from that area! When you should be helping out at home.”

“It took Bush 2 days before he went to visit the area! When anything happens here, the prime minister and the king are there within hours.”

We all feel for the victims, but the way this is being handled is quite unbelievable.