March 2004 - Posts
I've noticed a couple of geeky license plates lately, like Kent Tegels' :
And Carl Franklin's:
Once I went searching I found the motherload - The Internet License Plate Gallery. Pretty fun way to waste a half hour or so.
Knowing the struggles that people like myself, Mike, Don (and others) have been through with Fawcette recently - in terms of Fawcette's financial (and some say ethical) difficulties - it got me thinking about what times might be like for people running a magazine and/or conferences in the information saturated world we live in today. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that these publications are losing subscribers and revenue. I believe they are also facing a multitude of other challenges in terms of how to deliver and sell their content. Are some rags going to be forced into only distributing their content via less expensive channels like RSS feeds and web publications? How much longer will printed magazines be financially viable for technical content?
The Delivery Dilemma
For most commercial technical publications (TechPubs), paying subscribers and advertisers are the main two (if not the only two) sources of income. Some TechPubs also have sponsors. I've also written for TechPubs that had no sponsors or advertisers among their pages. The point is that, distributing printed media, whether it is magazines, disc's, newspapers or brochures - costs money. Maybe only five cents per magazine or ten cents per CD but, the costs add up. How are TechPubs going to balance out these costs if most of their content is consumed with a web browser? MSDN Magazine offers their monthly content online for free. So why would I want to pay for the printed magazine? Other TechPubs like asp.netPRO offer one or two opinion pieces for free online, but require you to enter a customer id (from a mailing label) to view their online premium content. Wrox followed a similar subscription model when their ASPToday, C#Today and other “Today” sites were popular, although they distributed no printed version of their content as far as I know. Then there are magazines like MCP Magazine, which not only have all their content online for free, but give a free subscription of their printed magazine to almost anyone, MCP or not. With the cost of printing not becoming any cheaper, how much longer will it be until we see entirely paperless distribution by these TechPubs? I give them three to five more years, tops. Why so little time? Read the next section.
Blogs: The TechPub content killer
Once upon a time (OK, until about 2001 or so) the argument could be made that the benefit you received from holding a TechPub subscription was that you caught a glimpse of up-and-coming technologies and sound advice from industry experts that was tough to find outside of more expensive channels like books or conferences. Nobody can deny the fact that these benefits have been blown out of the water by blogs. Blogs aren't the only ones doing the damage either; eZines and communities like CodeWise are also making an impact. For example, at last count there were between 300 and 350 Microsoft employee blogs. Some blogs, like those of CLR Architect Chris Brumme, contain more in-depth technical wisdom than you would find in the .NET Framework SDK Docs themselves. Also, on many Microsoft employee blogs you can find interesting information about products that are still in Beta or Alpha stages of development. "What unique benefit am I gaining from this magazine subscription or by attending this conference?" is becoming an awfully tough question to answer.
Blogs also provide a spotlight for the author to shine on them self. Blogs are more enticing to write for than a TechPub. Popular blog articles make only the author well-known (in most cases). It doesn't take long for other blogs to link to good information either. Post something interesting in your blog and you will likely receive more exposure than you expect. Another nice thing about blogs from the reader’s standpoint is that most are completely void of banner ads and flash animations that get in the way of articles you find on many TechPub websites. With all of this quality technical information available for free, what are TechPubs offering that they can justify charging for?
I'm a big fan of constructive criticism. So here are some ideas I have that I think might help TechPubs regain some attention and be able to offer something somewhat unique.
article I wrote on building Sharepoint WebParts, I received at least a dozen emails from people asking not only about my code but, about the steps I took while building the WebPart. I think it would benefit subscribers to be able to download step-by-step videos that they can watch. These videos (done by the article authors) could be 5 to 10 minute clips that show the technology, go back and forth between the IDE (code) and the demo, and provide any further information the author thinks might be useful to his or her audience. This idea might only be useful for larger articles - something that in article form would be 2,000+ words, not including code.
I feel pretty confident in saying that if someone can write a technical article, they can easily figure out how to make a how-to video with something like Camtasia
. If TechPubs are worried about their readership not wanting to download a large video file, just ask Carl
how many people regularly download his 60 to 75 megabyte “.NET Rocks!
” audio files. I believe he's had something like 400,000 downloads between his site and MSDN since the show started. The majority of developers have had broadband for years.
Survey your readers and find out what they want to hear about
One thing that blogs have going for them - that most TechPubs do not - is the way that people who keep blogs ask their audience what they would like to read about. I've seen this in several blogs but, not at any TechPubs. I'm not talking about a web page with a feedback form. Put a survey on your site and give it high visibility. When I find sources of information that often discuss things I'm interested in, I will come back religiously.
Don't get me wrong, despite the trouble I've had getting paid and everything else, I still visit TechPub websites and think they have a place in the media. I'm not the only developer that enjoys writing, either. I just think that the format that worked for them in the 90's is not what's going to work for them in the future.
As a developer, many times things are not as easy as they seem.....yeah, I'm used to that fact now.
For one of the projects I'm currently working on, I've decided I'd like to have an option to enable or disable auto-generated RSS feeds. I would like it if these feeds, when generated, were password protected.
So off I went looking for information on password protecting RSS feeds. Hmmm...not much out there on the subject. It seems that the idea of password protecting RSS feeds is still in it's infancy. So I thought before I spend more time looking for answers, I should define my question and requirements as specifically as possible. Here's what I came up with.
I want to be able to support password protection of my RSS feeds through the following authentication methods:
- HTTP Basic
- Integrated Windows (NTLM/Kerberos)
I also would like to be able to support users receiving different feed items based on a permissions/security model of some kind so that I could offer the ability to control who sees the RSS data at the item-level, not just the feed level.
Reading over the RSS 2.0 specification, I saw nothing related to security, so I assume that security implemented for the RSS feed is handled on one end by the web server handling the HTTP request for the RSS feed, and on the other end by the client requesting access to the RSS feed. The client should collect a user name and password, and put that information into the request to the server. I'm curious to know how (or if) sites like UserLand, or ASP.NET Weblogs offer password protected RSS feeds, and on the other side of the fence, how are RSS aggregators like NewsGator, NewzCrawler, SharpReader, etc. handling password protected RSS feeds?
Something I've been thinking about lately, is the “R” side of R&D. At many technology organizations you hear about budgets for R&D. But what exactly happens as aspects of research? Is research comprised of proof of concept applications? Is it research done on target markets for your product(s)? I've heard (but only seen a little) of Microsoft's research labs. What goes on there?
My best guess is that research is carried out by many groups or individuals within an organization. The marketing people research the most effective advertisement and sales strategies while the technical people research the best ways to achieve performance or security in the systems they build. However, I don't have much evidence to support these claims. So I'm opening this discussion up to those of you reading this.
- Do you do anything you would consider Research as part of your job? If so, what is it?
- Do you think research is an important part of software development? Is it given enough attention?
Like many other bloggers, yesterday morning I read the news about Tom Rizzo saying Yukon and Whidbey probably wouldn't get released until the first half of 2005. I felt like blogging about it right away but, thought it might be better first to hear what other people had to say. Not that their opinions would sway mine, but I thought perhaps more “behind the curtain“ information might be brought forth.
Frans, Mike, Martin, Jesse, Paul, Donny and others have all chimed in so far, with many more people commenting on their posts.
It seems thus far that the general consensus among the “very early adopter” community is that the Whidbey release should be decoupled from the Yukon release; and as .NET developers, we care much more about the features being promised in Whidbey than we do about anything like CLR integration in Yukon. Personally, I'm looking forward to both equally as much.
The impression I get though, from some of the posts I've read so far, is that of a knee-jerk reaction. I think some more thought could (and should) be given to the matter before sticking it to Microsoft. I'll admit that with delays like this (of software products) I tend to, at first feel a bit disappointed. After all, it means the longer I'll have to wait to play with some new dev toys. Having said that, I usually come around to thinking about what most people know as "The Golden Rule". I know (from plenty experience) how it feels to have customers hounding you about letting the schedule slip, and that they wanted everything yesterday. I'm sure many consultants understand this as well. And yeah, Microsoft has been dangling the Whidbey and Yukon carrots in front of our noses for a while now but, then again, so would I if I had something as cool. But one thing is universal. Applying more pressure to software development does not lead to a better or quicker release. Don't forget the saying, “Good, Fast, Cheap. You may choose two.“
So, before yelling at Microsoft about their products slipping here are some questions to think about:
1. Do you have all the information behind the reasons for the delay? As in, have you talked with the folks at Microsoft who are building the products? Be sure you're making an informed complaint.
2. What percentage of Microsoft's Visual Studio and SQL Server clients are really ready for Whidbey and/or Yukon? If they were released tomorrow, what percentage would be upgrading their development environments and data centers?
3. Would you rather wait longer and have more features and fewer bugs or vice-versa? And - which is better for Microsoft? After all, this is a business decision (that most developers don't think about objectively).
4. Are you, a .NET Developer/Blogger/Trainer/Writer/Thinker even anywhere close to the mainstream in terms of adopting technology? I can answer this one for you. You're not. You're way ahead of most people using Microsoft's development tools. I still know plenty of developers using VB6 and don't even know what a blog is. Microsoft is not disappointing as many people as it may seem, IMO.
This opinion, as unpopular as it may be, is mostly due to the fact that when I've got customers hounding me for a release or update, I usually think, “get off my back, will ya?”. And since I don't enjoy being a hypocrite, I'm not going to do that to Microsoft (or any software company for that matter).
UPDATE: I agree with the people that are saying they think it's silly for Yukon to delay Whidbey (although I think we haven't been told exactly why). I also don't entirely agree with what Tom Rizzo said about how customers really want the database and dev tools to come out at the same time. My point was really just that I think getting upset over software slips is most times, pointless.
I've finally decided what my next project is going to be, but I haven't been able to come up with a name for it yet. This is a hobby project - just for fun and self-education. I've decided to build a “fantasy sports” framework - something that can allow you to sort of “configure” any kind of fantasy sports leagues using a common framework. It would probably have to be hooked up to a stats engine or service. I'm still working through the architecture ideas in my head. I envision it as being to fantasy sports what .Text is to blogging. Anyway, I need two names.
First - a name for the framework. I had thought about something like “Fantasy Sports Framework” (FSF) but that sounds too bland to me. I'd like something that sounds more sexy.
Second - a name for the website that I use to implement the framework on. Something like “FantasyMaker.com” or at least something along those lines. This would have some kind of “Powered By (first name)“ image on it.
All suggestions are welcome.
I saw the new “MSDN” style look that foO implemented on one of his sites and it made me think that this might be a good chance for me to share with the rest of you some screen shots of a new web application called “EVS“ my company has developed recently. We decided to go for an Office 2003 look with our menus and toolbars. Since we can count on IE 5.5 or later being the browser used to access our application, we used the 2003 widgets from Ed Boelzner. Our icons were done by Ivan Boyko of VisualPharm. Has anyone else done a sophisticated web UI lately? If you have please send me some links or screenshots - I think it would be fun to compare notes. I've been really into playing with Paint Shop Pro 8, Photoshop CS, and Illustrator CS lately, along with different CSS filters.
thumbnails (click to see full-size version)
Today I came across this site, run by Mike Walsh (who I think is a Sharepoint MVP - or should be). I think it's great how he “dogfooded” (if that's a word) Sharepoint itself in making the site. He's even recently published an RSS feed on his site for his blog that is filled with even more helpful Sharepoint information. My guess is that experienced Sharepoint developers have already discovered this site but, for those of you new to Sharepoint or that want to learn more about it, I'd highly recommend Mike's site and blog as resources.
The other day I had been thinking about how perhaps there is something to be said for hiring less experienced developers because of how sometimes older, more experienced developers are said to be “set in their ways”. Then I thought, “Why not ask someone who's hired a fair amount of developers?”. So that's what I did. I asked Joel. What surprised me more than his answer however, was the discussion it sparked. About 70 posts in one day. Mr. Spolsky must have even more fans than I thought.
If you're anything like me (and most other developers I've talked to) then you'll appreciate this:
More Posts Next page »