Heuristics to Generate Startup Ideas

Looking for startup ideas? 🤔

Initially came across this fun list via Twitter:

His actual post, is embedded in his Tweet, but you can visit the list here. But in particular I enjoyed #8:

Turn open source projects in to SAAS businesses — Find open source projects that are very popular and turn these in to out of the box services for enterprises, e.g. PagerDuty is like Nagios.

Great entrepreneurial advice, and easily serves as a fun jumping-off point for any viable hack-a-thon. Any hacker or eager founder can find some amazing open-source projects and inspiration on Github.

My personal favorite startup adage, for any would-be-founder is, be the arms dealer.

Finally, it’s 2019

Looking back on 2018, I haven’t been this happy, or this productive in a very long time. It feels good to reflect on this past year. By comparison, when 2017 drew to a close, I came to the conclusion that it was a difficult year. It ended with mixed feelings of nostalgia, regret, and a lot of uncertainty.

2018 was a totally different ballgame though. I began the year with two very simple goals in mind:

  • Skill building
  • Health

That’s it. Underpromise and over-deliver 😁

I busted my ass at work (at the time, I was working for an ad agency). I learned lot’s of things there, (and re-learned even more outside of work hours). Let me tell you right now, there are merits to skipping happy hour with your co-workers and going home to work on side-projects (or just going home to relax).

I finally picked up React (and Typescript for that matter). Spent a lot of time with Shopify’s tools (for a side-project), went back to Ruby for a bit and spent a considerable amount of time with tried-and-true PHP.

While on the subject of PHP — I joined Vimeo full-time, as a Front-end Developer. Thanks to amazing and open environment here, I learned even more regarding React, Git best practices, and how to write good PRs. As a bonus, I became a better Designer — mainly via feedback and collaboration. The tried-and-true iterative design process has been missing from my work-life since college, and it feels good to be part of a team that treats design as a first-class citizen. I’m sure I’ll be writing more about Vimeo as time goes on.

I focused most of my energies on mental health, which I recommend to anyone and everyone for the year 2019. Taking time to relax more did wonders (although leaving the “Ad World” really did most of the leg work here, I do not miss the hours or the pressure). Exercising more self-control with screen-time when I’m off work was a big one for me too. I tried cutting back on video games as well (even if I wasn’t entirely successful with that, it is for the better).

I’ve also begun to switch gears in my morning/evening commute routine too. Listening to more audiobooks than news or podcasts has been a mostly positive thing. Mainly because when commuting home in the evening, it can be really stressful. Nothing is more dreadful than a packed, hot, humid subway car, full of hundreds of sighs and negativity as millions of New Yorkers head home after a long day in the office. For whatever reason, there’s something very soothing about audiobooks, even at the height of the evening rush-hour.

Which leads me to my running routine. However irregular the days may have been, I ran more in 2018 than the year before, which is good I suppose. On the days I did decide to run, I wouldn’t run further than 2 miles at the most. My regret for 2018 is that I probably should be doing more than just running. Perhaps a more varied selection of cardio that involves my other limbs like swimming, rowing, or something.

So yeah, 2018 was a pretty good year for my personal goals. But I have so much more in my life than just myself.

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Love you babe ✨😘

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My girlfriend, and best friend, Leah Constantine (@dumbcurator) joined The Metropolitan Museum of Art, a highly prestigious institution of art and history. But a week before that, in May of 2018 she graduated from The Pratt Institute School of Information’s Master of Science in Library and Information Science. Simply put, Leah’s amazing. Here’s her website.

In 2018, we didn’t travel as much as we would have liked. And that’s okay. For the most part, we stayed in NYC all year. I travelled to Texas for my step-father’s birthday and I was happy I did, because we skipped Thanksgiving with our families to save money. It panned out well for us, because for one, we did another road-trip to Texas for Christmas. And for two, we wanted to begin saving money for trips elsewhere for 2019. 

Also, there was a lot of really good movies I watched in 2018!

All in all, 2018 was a fantastic year of growth for my girlfriend and I — honestly can’t wait to see what’s in store for the rest of this year. For 2019, I’m going to focus on several things:

  • Focus on fitness and continue to monitor my health
  • Eat better (less meat, more greens)
  • Travel when possible
  • Make a dent in my student loans
  • Maintain one side-project at a time (instead of say 3 or 4, just keep it simple for goodness sake)
  • Read more books

See you next year!

On Mediocrity and Having Hobbies

Contributing New York Times opinion writer, Tim Wu:

I’m a little surprised by how many people tell me they have no hobbies. It may seem a small thing, but — at the risk of sounding grandiose — I see it as a sign of a civilization in decline. The idea of leisure, after all, is a hard-won achievement; it presupposes that we have overcome the exigencies of brute survival. Yet here in the United States, the wealthiest country in history, we seem to have forgotten the importance of doing things solely because we enjoy them.

[…]

But there’s a deeper reason, I’ve come to think, that so many people don’t have hobbies: We’re afraid of being bad at them. Or rather, we are intimidated by the expectation — itself a hallmark of our intensely public, performative age — that we must actually be skilled at what we do in our free time. Our “hobbies,” if that’s even the word for them anymore, have become too serious, too demanding, too much an occasion to become anxious about whether you are really the person you claim to be.

While hyperbolic at first, I think Tim is onto something here. Having a hobby is hard. There’s certainly a deep social expectation that one must be an expert to satisfy the appearance of a hobbyist. I’ve felt it. What once was leisure, is now subject to the intensity and bombardment of excellence.

There’s nothing’s wrong with maintaining mediocrity — and there’s certainly nothing wrong with amateur hobbies either. Be it painting, drawing, yoga, reading, jogging, or even playing video games (or golf, for  a different generation). Skill shouldn’t matter in the arena of hobbyists. That’s the whole point. It’s just a hobby.

I’m not saying hobbies have no room for improvement. I’m sure many will seek out means to hone their craft. Others will not. Some will become frustrated and move onto other hobbies. That’s how it should work. Probably best to ignore societal pressures to pro-actively level-up your hobby too. Let’s say you enjoy gardening. You’ve’re under no obligation to study up on heredity, and follow the footsteps of Gregor Mendel in breeding varieties of pea plants. Because, well that would no longer make it a hobby wouldn’t it?

The entire concept of having a hobby at all is because we enjoy leisure and relaxation. Focus on yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

The Separation of Content and Design Dilemma

I recently wrote about <div> tags and it got me thinking a lot about the age-old content and structure dilemma in Web Design. Let's back up.

A List Apart published about this back in 2004. It's a good, short read. But for the layman — what's the issue here? Well it all comes down to what is considered content and what is design? This has classically been know as separation of content and presentation.

CSS Zen Garden

Let's start with CSS Zen Garden. The purpose of CSS Zen Garden is two-fold:

  • Push the envelope as far as possible with CSS
  • Don't change the content of the page, just alter the design

From the Zen Garden homepage:

There is a continuing need to show the power of CSS. The Zen Garden aims to excite, inspire, and encourage participation. To begin, view some of the existing designs in the list. Clicking on any one will load the style sheet into this very page. The HTML remains the same, the only thing that has changed is the external CSS file. Yes, really.

Here's two recent designs submitted by Trent Walton and Andrew Lohman. You can see all the designs submitted over the years here.

It's a fun exercise. Looking closer at the preamble, we can see that the content is preserved. It begins as follows:

The Road to Enlightenment

Littering a dark and dreary road lay the past relics of browser-specific tags, incompatible….

The preamble heading, followed by a paragraph.
Trent's design (left), Andrew's design (right)

Trent, has a rule above and below the heading (but it's really a background-image). It has a type treatment, and the paragraph is set as if it were woodtype. Very cool.

Andrew's is very refined. Rightfully so, his theme is called Mid Century Modern. It has a sensible sans-serif heading, and ample line-height for the paragraph. Upon close inspection, the color is set as a deep navy instead of a black or gray. So, what is considered design and what is considered content here? 

Design is akin to the style and blueprint. Typography, arrangement, color, etc. Hopefully the design is componentized or atomic.

Content is just the meat and potatoes. Imagine your text, images and embedded content arranged like a page in a book. Flowing from top to bottom, left to right. This content exists in flow, sectioning, heading and phrasing content elements.

Breaking the Rules

If your content calls for breaking the flow of content, you are breaking the design of the page. This is why page builders are bad for WordPress. It can cruft up your content with architectural shortcodes (when they shouldn't be there at all). It's an abomination. Look at this mess:

Are you fucking kidding me?

The crux of the content and design dilemma is there are two separate modus operandi when it comes to publishing on the web. There is authoring content, and there is designing content. They are separate and for good reason.

A WYSIWYG is a composer designed to help you author words. Not unlike Microsoft Word or Pages.

When web authors want rampant design control they turn to tools like InDesign or Sketch to draw up their ideas. Typography, layout, templates, components, paragraph styles, shapes and masks:

That design is then converted to page templates and component files by a developers hands. Then page content is piped through those files onto the page at the request of the vision of the designer.

On the other hand, when you're in writing mode, you just need tools like Pages. Simple, pre-defined styles, no-frills, italics here and bold here, lists and images:

Few tools, offers the best of both worlds for single-common user. I wish WordPress was at that intersection but it's not yet — Squarespace is getting there. Other things like Wix or Dreamweaver are laughable. I mean it's obvious why, this concept is abstract. Content isn't always content (example: is a navigation content?). Design rules can be arbitrary and styles are clearly subjective to enforce (not unlike CSS).

Therefore we continue to live and die by the separation of design and content. While the spectrum of design roles are changing, the tools are not. Macaw was probably the closest tool to bridge that gap but now it's basically Invision Studio. I would've been cool to see the Macaw team join forces with the like of Automattic for actual publishing. So yeah, we'll see what happens.

But, maybe I'm wrong. But in the past 10 years, the web designer dilemma persists on. I wouldn't be surprised if it persists another decade.

The Case Against Bitcoin

From Emily Atkin at The New Republic:

No one may be using Bitcoin, but we’re all paying for them. Bitcoin analyst Alex de Vries, otherwise known as the Digiconomistreports that the coin’s surge caused its estimated annual energy consumption to increase from 25 terawatt hours in early November to 30 TWh last week—a figure, wrote Vox’s Umair Irfan, “on par with the energy use of the entire country of Morocco, more than 19 European countries, and roughly 0.7 percent of total energy demand in the United States, equal to 2.8 million U.S. households.” (As of Monday, the figure had reached nearly 32 TWh.) Just one transaction can use as much energy as an entire household does in a week, and there are about 300,000 transactions every day.

A single Bitcoin transaction…can use as much electricity as an entire household uses in a fucking week. As the value of Bitcoin and mining difficulty soars, the plummeting efficiency is only going to get worst. Sure the returns are insane, but is it worth it? Hell no. Surely there's got to be a ceiling to this madness?

More recently, Paul Ford contributed his thoughts on Bitcoin to Bloomberg:

It’s not that I want Bitcoin holders to suffer, really. As a technologist and entrepreneur, I’m sympathetic to and admiring of risk takers. But as a writer, I enjoy the sheer human-condition-revealing sport. I’m happy to watch other people play video games without playing myself. I’ll watch poker, but I’ve never bought a deck of cards—and when I watch football, I keep the official NFL rulebook open on my phone. For whatever reason, I tend to like the rules more than the game. Bitcoin is at some level just a set of rules, defined by software, that has become one of the world’s weirdest games. And people who invest in an unmanageable abstraction, then panic when it underperforms, are very entertaining.

[…]

The people tossed around by the cryptocurrency tempest—their only sin is belief. (Well, and greed.) But here I can only smile warmly and sigh. I know what it’s like to believe.

Pure greed. All at the expense of our pale blue dot.

Bitcoin has become the litmus test strip for all cryptocurrencies. As they continue to become more and more tightly bound (more and more trading pairs are cropping up everyday), we are setting ourselves up for a world of hurt. This won't end well. When Bitcoin moves, all alts move.

There's a lot of other really great, efficient cryptocurrencies out there. Litecoin, Ripple, and even Ethereum are decent contenders. There's also no shortage of shitty alt-coins too, don't get me wrong. 

I'm no soothsayer, but Bitcoin wasn't designed to scale. It wasn't designed to be efficient. It wasn't designed to last forever. It has limits. Other cryptocurrencies have had time to adapt and evolve to meet demands that Bitcoin can't. Bitcoin will bequeath its throne in my lifetime. 

The Fight for Net Neutrality Edges Onward

Yesterday, on paper — #NetNeutrality died. But there is a glimmer of hope. As it turns out, the new reclassification and bullshit order won't go into effect until May or June. The order passed in December, merely gave the FCC power to begin steps to reclassify on the "effective date" of April 23rd. Now, Ajit Pai can begin his crusade to disassembling our internet rights.

Tom McKay:

As CNET noted, once the Office of Management and Budget approves the move, that will start a new waiting and public comment period before the new rules go into effect. This new system likely won’t go into effect until at least late May or June, per the Register. 

Among other things, the new rules would reclassify internet provision as a Title I instead of Title II information service, which would allow ISPs to implement paid prioritization programs, as well as block or throttle content from competitors or just about anyone they wager is using too much bandwidth. Broadband providers will mostly cease to be regulated by the FCC, and thereby be bound only by their own promises (the FCC cleverly passed most of its authority to penalize ISPs that lie to customers to the Federal Trade Commission, a separate agency ill-equipped to handle telecom issues).

If you're confused as to why #NetNeutrality matters, take a look at what happens when ISPs force their subscribers to pay for "premium" bandwidth "packages" in Portugal. It's a nightmare, and completely disgusting.

Join the battle for Net Neutrality here.

What is a <div> Tag Anyways?

Hop aboard. Let me tell more about flow content and proper HTML sectioning.

Seriously. What the hell is a <div> tag? When I first got into web design, I had no idea how a web page worked. I had no concept of HTML elements, let alone the <div> tag. Unbeknownst to me at the time, developers were pushing the limits of CSS and Flash to make compelling, thrilling websites. 

After sometime, it became clear that the web is made up of hyperlinked text files (and very clearly not Flash). That's it. Plain and simple. Even to this day. At a fundamental level, servers powered by PHP, Ruby, JavaScript or whatever — all pump out text documents (encoded by a markup language called HTML) that browsers can understand and parse (despite minor rendering differences it's amazing that it all works). These linked text documents or hypertext, are plainly speaking webpages.

Just some <div>s hanging around.

Learning how to write a valid HTML document took a lot of trial and error, considerable patience from my mentors, and fixing my mistakes along the way. So, if you have any hypertext mysteries let me know — I'll pay it forward, leave me a note in the comments. ☺️ Onward!

HTML Content Categories

I never really was given an answer for such a seemingly simple question: what exactly is a <div> anyways? I mean there are some very obvious elements at our disposal:

  • The <p> is a paragraph tag.
  • The <blockquote> is a blockquote tag.
  • The <ul> is an unordered list tag.

All HTML elements have inherent uses, and belong to certain content categories. The <div> belongs to the flow content category. Here's some other HTML content categories:

  • Metadata content (out-of-band information and meta)
  • Flow content (typically contains text or embedded content such as the <div>)
  • Sectioning content (headers, footers, or sections — organizational structure is important)
  • Heading content (heading levels, sub-headings, etc.)
  • Phrasing content (these define the text and the mark-up inside paragraphs such as <em>, <strong>, or things like <span>s)
  • Embedded content (these are typically external resources such as <iframe>, <canvas> or even <svg>s)
  • Interactive content (these are your <button>, <textarea> or <label>s)
  • Palpable content (this one is a bit abstract, but these are elements who are neither empty nor hidden, important for script manipulated content) 
  • Form-associated content (these are typically children nodes of the <form> element, or children of the form attribute)

This brings us just about up to speed to talk about the the Content Division Element, or the <div>.

The Content Division Element, or The <div> Tag

While some elements have a more obvious progeny, the <div> is a bit different. It's something of a marriage between a generic container and an inline-container, but somehow… it's neither.

From the <div> Mozilla HTML Reference:

The HTML Content Division element (<div>) is the generic container for flow content. It has no effect on the content or layout until styled using CSS. As a "pure" container, the <div> element does not inherently represent anything. Instead, it's used to group content so it can be easily styled using the class or id attributes, marking a section of a document as being written in a different language (using the lang attribute), and so on.

There you have it. While the <div> has no stylistic weight, but it can turn some heads with a litter bit of CSS love. But it's true purpose is one of organization. Take for example, the typical and highly sought after Holy Grail Layout:

A basic Holy Grail setup with proper sectioning content

Simple and empty for now, we can further sub-divide our sectioning content areas (<header>, <nav>, <main>, etc.). We'll use <div>s to contain and organize the inner content:

The same sectioning content, with further divisions using <div>s

And violá! Inside your <div>s you put your heading, phrasing, or embedded content (or anything else for that matter). It's all about organization. 👌

The <div> Soup Problem

It's important we use sectioning content and flow content properly. Otherwise we'll end up with <div> soup like Google:

Uh…

Look at that mess!

While it's not the end of the world, div soup presents a readability and productivity challegne for humans. Let's say you inherit a project built like the figure above. There will be a considerable amount of technical debt, learning the organizational structure, and possibly re-factoring the div soup for efficiency. Web Components may be a future solution, but I don't think it's a winner.

Anyways, thanks for joining me on this journey to the center of the <div>. The web's most prolific flow container.

Further Watching:

Professor Brailsford makes a guest appearance on Brady Haran's Computerphile, and has some hot takes about HTML and programming. Brilliant fun.

Valve has Acquired Campo Santo

In a seemingly odd turn of events, Valve has acquired Campo Santo. The creative brains behind the insanely popular and wildly fun game, Firewatch clearly have caught the eye of Valve. While I'm happy for everyone involved — as a gamer, I'm very concerned.

Firewatch is a fucking fantastic game. It was co-produced by Panic (creator of Transmit, among other software). As of writing, Cabel Sasser has been quiet on Twitter in regards to the news of Valve's acquisition. Which, also concerns me.

It should also be noted that the Firewatch website is really rad too. Check it out here.

Valve hasn't produced a single game title since 2013. The software company has clearly been far more concerned about Steam and hardware (or lack thereof?) since their last release, Dota 2.

Parsing the press release from Campo Santo is bittersweet:

The twelve of us at Campo Santo have agreed to join Valve, where we will maintain our jobs as video game developers and continue production on our current project, In the Valley of Gods.

[…]

Yes, we’re still making In the Valley of Gods (as a Valve game!); yes, we’ll still support Firewatch; and yes, we’ll still produce The Quarterly Review and our regular blog content. Thanks so much for your interest in our games and we’ll see you in Washington. Cheers.

On one hand, it's great to see Valve making serious creative moves, and poaching some amazing talent. Valve has historically made some of the best games I've ever played. No doubt, they'll produce more games that fall into the same echelon. With cart blanche from Valve, they can produce some insane titles in coming years for Valve. I mean, Valve now has some of the lead developers from the award-winning The Walking Dead S1 title.

But on the other hand, Campo Santo really has some real grit. And, honestly, the gaming community could use more independent studios. As larger studios gobble up talent, everything (from creative, to platform choice) can become a bit incestuous. Which is bad for gamers.

I'm hopeful… but skeptical about this acquisition. Turns out, I'm not alone.

Further Reading:

Revisiting Card UIs

Who doesn't love going down the rabbit-hole on Wikipedia? Easily one of the most beloved treasure troves of information.

Well, a couple of days ago, Nirvar Pangarkar (@nirzardp), Designer at the Wikimedia Foundation documented his process for rolling out a new feature at Wikipedia. This new feature, isn't particularly groundbreaking. But, I do suspect it will become the norm for Card UI components on the web.

It's called, Page Previews. Something of a marriage between alt-text and a card. Check it out:

Graphic by Nirzar Pangarkar/Wikimedia Foundation, CC BY-SA 3.0. Text and images from the indicated Wikipedia articles in various languages.

This looks pretty cool. It's also live by the way! This was literally rolled out 48 hours ago. Visit any random Wikipedia article to see it for yourself.

An example of a page preview while hovering over the hypertext "home computer" in the Apple II article.

It's definitely not a new idea, but it's an effective use of card UIs nonetheless. It's an even better example of design solving a problem. To be brief, Wikipedia was having a problem with users rabbit-holing maybe a little too much or in other words, a lot of random pageviews ≠ learning:

This is one of the most iconic and popular user patterns we see on Wikipedia. People start on one article, and then head somewhere else, and then somewhere else, learning about lots of different topics along the way.

We design for these readers, optimizing not for page views or engagement — but for learning. And it turns out that context is a key part of learning.

Nirzar goes on saying that it's possible this preview card UI language could be extended to the wikipedia editor tools and other content types (think audio playback, pronunciations, or quotations). Neat!

While we're on the subject of context, I want to share this tid-bit from Dave Rupert's, Pitfalls of Card UIs:

I’m of the opinion that all cards in a Card UI are destined to become baby webpages. Just like modals. Baby hero units with baby titles and baby body text and baby dropdown menu of actions and baby call to action bars, etc.

The desire to reduce clicks increases complexity and raises the cognitive load. Depends on your situation, but I honestly think the workaround here is to go back to having a strong detail view pages. Scope cards in your UI to truly being previews or –to borrow a term from the watchOS Human Interface Guidelines– a “glance”.

Dave's note about cognitive load  is important for Wikipedia. A page preview card potentially disrupts a users desire to bounce. Allowing Wiki-users to consume as much contextually relevant content possible before bouncing. Looks like a win for Wikipedia, and a win for staying on topic the next time you're researching anything on Wikipedia.

I guess cards are destined to become little baby webpages! 👶

Note: if you don't see page previews while on Wikipedia, you may need to login first and enable it under Preferences > Appearance.

Link: RSS is Undead

https://techcrunch.com/2018/04/07/rss-is-undead/

Danny Crichton makes some excellent points in this Techcrunch piece. RSS and Podcasts share very similar product design problems. The problems are are two-fold:

  • Discovery is almost always word-of-mouth (the exception however is advertising on Overcast, which is a stellar podcasting experience to say the least).
  • Curating your feed is currently topic-orientated, when it should be people-orientated. That’s the secret-sauce of Twitter Moments and Reddit. Or, to go deeper into the problem engagement is the signal these algorithms look for. Therefor a revival in RSS hinges on a product leveraging those signals, otherwise you’re just subscribing to hundreds — if not thousands of noisy RSS sources to jam up your unread feed.

From Techcrunch:

Next, RSS readers need to get a lot smarter about marketing and on-boarding. They need to actively guide users to find where the best content is, and help them curate their feeds with algorithms (with some settings so that users like me can turn it off). These apps could be written in such a way that the feeds are built using local machine learning models, to maximize privacy.

An excellent point. Apple does this with aplomb for a number of their products. Photos, video collages, and even iMessage emoji suggestions all use machine learning and protect end-user data privacy. It’s a technique called differential privacy. Craig Federighi of Apple talked about this approach in his interview with Wired in 2016:

“Differential privacy is a research topic in the areas of statistics and data analytics that uses hashing, subsampling and noise injection to enable…crowdsourced learning while keeping the data of individual users completely private. Apple has been doing some super-important work in this area to enable differential privacy to be deployed at scale.”

In light of the recent Facebook personal-data implosion — I for one, hope RSS makes a comeback.

Tide NYC

It’s no secret that I love DigitalOcean. I host this site on a DO Droplet. Hell, I host most of my web projects with DigitalOcean. Pretty much ever since 2012. They have a great product, that has never really disappointed me.

Another reason I love DigitalOcean? They host events for all walks of life. They host Hacktoberfest, an annual hack-a-thon. They get everyone amped about closing open issues, unit testing and it’s a nice way to get a bunch of nice people together to support open-source.

On April 24th, DigitalOcean is hosting an afternoon of tech talks. I would say this event is aimed at the backend/founders audience. You’ver software engineers, development team leads, dev-ops, co-founders, and CTOs. If that’s not your jam, hang tight for the summer, or better yet Hacktoberfest!

Here’s the lineup for Tide NYC so far:

  • Ben Uretsky – Co-Founder & CEO, DigitalOcean
  • Shiven Ramji – VP Product, DigitalOcean
  • Anshul Pandey – Co-Founder & CTO, Accern
  • Reynold Harbin – Director, Product Marketing, DigitalOcean
  • Russell Bierschbach – Managing Partner, RouteTrust
  • Yvan De Boeck – VP of Software, Bevi
  • Nic Jackson – Developer Advocate, HashiCorp
  • Bryan Liles – Staff Engineer, Heptio
  • DigitalOcean Hatch Founders
  • Tammy Butow – Principal SRE, Gremlin
  • Ariel Jatib – Founder, StackPointCloud
  • Dan Kohn – Executive Director, Cloud Native Computing Foundation
  • Manju Ramanathpura – Senior Director, Product Management, DigitalOcean
  • Mike Roberts – Partner, Symphonia
  • Shiven Ramji – VP Product, DigitalOcean

This looks really cool. Jam-packed with insights from executives, and co-founders. If you run a web product, you should RSVP. Maybe I’ll see you there 👀

Link: Announcing 1.1.1.1

Cloudflare has a lot to offer. They provide DDoS protection, site reliability products, SSL certificates, CDNs and a whole host of other web-related services. Today, they announced (with help from APNIC), they want to provide a privacy-first, blazing-fast DNS service.

You might be wondering, what is DNS? Well, every single click, HTTP request and Google search begins with a directory lookup. When you click on a link, your device is actually asking the directory to figure our “where is this domain or site?” Since most ISPs are snooping your web traffic, and are becoming increasingly slow to even resolve these requests to your requested destination — changing your DNS can positively improve your browsing experience.

DNS performance chart from: DNSperf

This is seriously great news for the web. Even better news for privacy. Cloudflare promises to never sell your traffic information to anyone. Also, remember when Turkey was blocking Twitter traffic? Yeah, this is a solution to state-sponsored DNS meddling. Privacy-first DNS services are very important to the health of the web, and openness. So happy to see this news, especially since Cloudflare’s recent banning customers for publishing hate speech sites. I think CloudFlare is making all the right moves.

If you want to change your DNS provider on Android, macOS, Windows (or any digital device for that matter), CloudFlare put together a microsite to help you get started. It takes 2 minutes, if that.

You can read more about this awesome announcement from Cloudflare, here on their blog.

Planning to Plan

It’s amazing that anything gets done.

How does anything ever get done? Have you ever thought about it, I mean — it's amazing that tunnels or bridges are built, elevators are renovated, inventions are made and progress happens. Sometimes I take a step back and marvel at the fact that emails are sent, plans are drawn, and things get done.

Other times — emails are sent, plans are drawn, and things don't get done.

XKCD

A parable: Asana

In 2004, Justin Rosenstein dropped out of Standford to go work at Google. According to Wikipedia, he began there as a project manager. At Google, he helped create and launch various products, from Gchat, to Google Sites. Almost immediately, he noticed that most of the time at work — wasn't real work. It was mostly planning and status meetings and ensuring project timelines were met.

While at Google, he put together a project management tool to internally keep track of projects and deadlines. When Rosenstein left Google to oversee product design at Facebook. He had to leave the software he made behind. Almost immediately, he saw that Facebook was struggling with status meetings, and wasted productivity as well. So he built a new and improved project management software again.

Only this time, Dustin Moskovitz (co-founder of Facebook) immediately took note of just how important project management software is in the workplace. Rosenstein and Moskovitz ultimately left Facebook in 2008 to create Asana. A key player in the project management toolspace. In the beginning, it was really the only true competitor to Basecamp.

Nowadays, you have so many to choose from it's not even funny. More on that later.

What's fascinating about this Silicon Valley tale, is when Justin and Dustin were initially planning Asana, they figured they could launch in a year's time. However, Asana wouldn't launch for another 3 years. The fact that a prestige ex-Googler and one of the co-founders of Facebook couldn't iron out a solid release date for their product should serve as a warning to anyone. Wether you're a product manager, or a designer scheduling production estimates — no one can say, with certainty, just how long anything takes to do.

It's so evident that making plans aren't really making plans. They're really just guesses. So why don't we treat them as such?

Let's call perfection what it is: low-priority.

To make matters worse, when deadlines are fast approaching and it's all hands on deck — the last thing you want to worry about is perfection. There's a fantastic French adage that supposedly Voltaire once said:

Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien (The perfect is the enemy of the good).

— Voltaire

He's so fucking right. If you waste your precious time perfecting every last detail on a painting, it will never be done. If you laboriously edit and re-work your writing you'll never publish. The same goes for literally every work category, from producing films, to getting your business up and running. The time is now. Focus on what's at hand, and focus on meeting your deadline.

I'm not saying "just get it done and worry about quality later." There's a stark difference between a rush job and a completed one. Completing a task or hitting a deadline should feel good, and it should feel right. It should make your world feel lighter. If you complete a task in a rush, you'll regret it. Chances are you're going to have to do the work twice over. And that my friend, nobody plans for.

So, what's the solution here?

The stark reality is we all live and die by the deadline in the end. If projects are piling up, and quality control is becoming an issue — it's time to level up.

So, first we need to breakdown projects into sub-tasks. This is called chunking, more on that here.

If we breakdown a project into sub-tasks, we can plan our project (err I mean guesses). Furthermore, we all strive for good work, but if we can get ahead on the smaller sub-tasks we can focus on delivering before a deadline. Even better we may even have time to spare to perfect a project, and exceed expectations.

Tackling each individual sub-task (an I mean everything) inches us one step closer to crossing the finish line. This is really important here. Track. Everything. From concepting to production to hand-off. Everything. needs a checkbox. Seriously.

Now, arm yourself with a project management tool and get to tasking! There's plenty to chose from:

Once you begin adding your various projects, it will feel less like a to-do list, and a lot more like note-taking. Offloading meeting notes, small details or dates you need to remember should feel refreshing.

The #1 reason why this is so important is because due-dates are at best, guesses. Since, we're armed with a project management software, we can assign tasks, and the entire project is public to your organization. So, everyone is on the same page. Everyone is 100% aware of what's on their plate, aware of what's holding a project back, or what's up next.

With any luck, there shouldn't be anymore frantic searches for the latest email chain, or referencing a private Slack message in an email. All of your project communication belongs in the project management interface. All in one place. Make sure to inform your team that any discussion, changes or notes for a project should live in a project or task. If anyone is feeling lost on a project status — they can just go to the project and see the living document from inception to its current state.

Death to status meetings.

The beauty of all of this? No more status meetings. Simply put, there's no reason to have them. If everyone can see each-other's tasks, projects and dates, why even bother with a status meeting? The modus operandi of the modern-office worker should no longer be decoding cryptic emails.

But if you're weary to let go of email, I would recommend Basecamp. It's simply-put — the best, and almost every kind of notification you can imagine is recorded and batched into emails. Imagine a status update every morning of what your team is up to the day before.

Even better, Basecamp has a feature called Check-in Questions, pre-formatted questions you and your team can answer at the end of the day. All of the replies are rolled up into a thread, and the whole team can read them. So if you're really into daily or weekly statuses, that can still be a part of your business — but it doesn't have to be a disruptive all-hands on deck meeting that derails productivity for an hour.

Further Reading (and Listening):

Death by a Thousand Likes

I'm hitting the rant-wheel again. Facebook's potential data breach (nearly 5 million accounts affected) illustrates just how frail and weak the web has become.

It's of our own doing too. We all jumped aboard the Facebook train and did so willingly. Well now, we're paying the price. Almost two-thirds of all internet traffic are siphoned through the what has been dubbed, The Trinet. To be brief, Facebook and Google now control over 70% of the worlds internet traffic. That my friend, is not good. Good perhaps, for cat GIFs or dog memes. But, not so much for the health of the web.

The web, exists as a series of connected nodes. I link to something, you link to something… we all link to something! That's the idea behind hypertext. Documents connected by hyperlinks. It's a beautiful idea, and it's what makes Wikipedia, blogs, and even "liking" things — so much fun.

An illustrated image o fa healthy network. Multiple nodes connected together. Unity and strength.
A healthy network. Connected, strong hyperlinks.

The problem, is when large networks (like Facebook) contain hyperlinks behind closed doors. For example, if I don't have a Facebook account, I can't see a lot of the content, events, or posts behind the blue gates of Facebook. Mainly, that's because some people prefer private accounts, so a lot of that content is hidden for good reason. No judgement there. I get it. But, what private users might not realize, is that their interests and activity (regardless of your privacy settings) are publicly sold to the highest bidder. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Advertising is the crucible that has forged hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of online businesses and creators. Social media, newspapers, and bloggers all depend on that sweet sweet nectar: ad revenue. I've even taken a piece of that pie. Some ad networks spread web page bloat. Sending dreadfully large ad assets to otherwise small webpages, causing painfully long load times. Which, sucks. Or worse, cookie tracking. Not all ad networks are shitty though. Point is, it's not all bad out there. But, ad networks need to get their shit together too. That will probably be something I rant about another day.

An illustrated example of a dying network. Unconnected, weak and dying.
A weak network, such as Facebook. Closed off, weak hyperlinks.

Alas, to make matters worse, last year several really terrible senators sponsored a bill that would allow ISPs to sell your browsing history to advertisers. Without consent from subscribers, mind you. Um, no thank you. It probably wouldn't be a big deal with consent, but that's not the point. It's the shear amount of power and the continuing lack of responsibility from ISPs, and Silicon Valley has been the problem and will continue to be the problem…

Unless, we the people — setup government oversight. Which sadly, doesn't seem like something this Whitehouse administration is keen on doing. This week, Paul Ford —  legendary hypertext crusader and author called for the US to create a Digital Protection Agency. I 100% agree. It's in our best interest to keep our data safe and protected. We have consumer protections, environmental protections, safety boards, air traffic controllers, bank regulators, and financial comptrollers. Where's the Sheriff of the Wild Wild Web?

I do have hope. The web is a resilient, transient, amorphous thing. It's changed a lot in the past 30+ years. Hell, it's changed me, for the better. If you too want to see a healthy web again, live extramurally. Dump Facebook. Buy your domain. Own a piece of the web, and fight the good fight. Don't forget to vote others into office that feel the same way.

Our Patch of Dirt

In cosmological terms, we exist as an exception to the rule. The rule (as far as we know as I'm writing this at least), is their is no life beyond Earth. But somehow, billions of years ago, by shear dumb luck, soupy primordial proteins assembled amidst the backdrop of chaos. They wiggled themselves into a fortressed heap of snot and somehow managed to morph into complex multi-cellular systems. All of this, happening slowly over epochs of time, across an ever-changing and unfamiliar landscape — on a patch of dirt and water whirling through icy-cold space.

It's amazing stuff. We take it for granted so often. We really are lucky to be here. This morning as I was commuting to work, I was reminded of just how crazy it is we're here — like doing things, working and living under one roof on this humid lump of soil. Needless to say, I went down the rabbit-hole on the web and found some great reading about Abiogenesis, life on Earth and other topics I wanted to share:

Even further reading:

  • A Nihilists Guide to Meaning [Melting Asphalt]
  • Empty half the Earth of its humans. It's the only way to save the planet. [The Guardian]
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