Deadprogrammer’s Hierarchy of Web Needs

I recently received a phone call from a recruiter. He wanted to lure me away to some “big company” that still had “small company feel” to participate in a “redesign of a major website”. He felt like all of these things, as well as “a well stocked kitchen” were big selling points.

I am a veteran of many website redesigns, major and minor. I’ve come to dread the word “redesign” because very frequently it meant taking a perfectly good website and making it significantly worse, and then through major struggles making it marginally beter. In the past I wrote a rather bloated article titled “The Russian Tea Room Syndrome” about this. Today I would like to write a bit more about this, as this topic rarely leaves my mind and my life.

Earlier in my career, I had very little influence over the redesign process, but this is changing. This is the primary reason why my job title has the shameful word “Architect” in it: I write code and configure servers, but I want my say in strategery as well.

So, Michael, you might ask, what is the problem with redesigns? Aren’t redesigns about making websites better? Well, many redesigns suffer from not following IBM’s famous motto.

IBM has one of the best corporate mottos ever: CRUSH and DESTROY. Uh, I mean THINK. They even give out props with the word “THINK” on it and publish THINK magazine.

Many redesigns happen simply as a knee jerk reaction: oh, look company X is doing Y and using Z. When you sit in a meeting and somebody is describing a redesign purely in terms of things other people do, you are likely in trouble. No thinking is involved at all.

But sometimes it’s the type of thinking that is going on that is the problem. You have to think about the relative importance of things.

I have a picture by famous graffitti artist Banksy hanging on my wall. It is a metaphor about true and false importance.

In 1943 a Brooklyn College professor Abraham Maslow outlined what is now known as Maslow’s Hierarchy: a pyramid that ranks human needs. It looks like prior to him nobody really gave a lot of thought to relative importance of pooping and morality. Well, maybe a little – there’s a Russian idiom for a person of untrustworthy nature that originated during WWI when soldiers relieved themselves in rows, next to specially dug trenches: “I would not take a dump next to this person”. Also see “I hope they serve beer in hell

Here’s Maslow’s pyramid in all of its glory:

I decided I’d come up with the hierarchy of web needs:

standard adherence: strict XHTML, CSS, etc

choice of technology: language, CMS, OS, cloud/servers, etc

other features: widgets, games, microformats

multimedia: video, podcasts, interactive flash

design: graphical elements, typography, pleasing layout

semantic web: metadata, tagging

usability: text size, image size, logical layout, uncluttered interface, site name/urls, browser support

community features: comments, ratings, feeds

googliness: search, speed, security

content qualities: usefulness, interest, freshness, uniqueness

content: text, images, links

In my opinion unsuccesful redesigns happen when people start from the wrong end of the pyramid (always skipping the first step: I’m yet to meet anybody with power who thinks about these things are important).

I will expand on this in my next post.

Entrepreneurship Heros I

To celebrate my 2 year anniversary of working for Fast Company and Inc magazines, I decided to write 2 posts about entrepreneurship. Here’s the first one.

The owner of super awesome HMS Beekeeper store recently complained that people told her that she should close “because it’s ‘buy nothing day'”. I’m pretty sure that these people would have enjoyed my childhood in the Soviet Union, where most days were ‘buy nothing day’. Soviet Union was the kind of place where reporting your father to the secret police could make you a national hero, while engaging in business activity was a crime.

I was brought up in an environment where 99% of non-governmental commercial activity was outright illegal, and the allowed kind was considered extremely unwholesome by association. Just about any item produced by the Soviet industry would be stamped with a price in order to discourage illegal arbitrage, like this condom, for example:

These days outside of California it’s hard to imagine a society that considers this much commercial activity evil, but when I was a kid, any schoolchild caught engaging in commercial activity of any sort could get in a lot of trouble. Personal entrepreneurship was literally a criminal activity. This kind of an environment tended to produce excellent jet fighters, but pretty crummy condoms.

In America entrepreneurs get a lot of respect (outside of government and hippie circles), and they tend to start early. You always read about the likes of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates having business ventures in high school and college.

My former co-worker told me a story about his daughter who got into trouble for her entrepreneurial activities in 2nd grade. She and her friend decided to cash in on the popularity of Webkinz. They went into the business of selling hand-drawn counterfeit Webkinz trading cards. Surprisingly they were able to sell a good deal of those. The trouble came when the teachers noticed that they were engaged in market segmentation and variable pricing (which is a topic of one of my favorite Joel on Software articles). You see, the girls were selling cards at a discount to the popular kids and at inflated prices to unpopular ones.

This episode only increases my dislike of schoolteachers. If I were in their place I would have praised the girls for entrepreneurship, and explained to them that it’s copyright infringement that is problematic, while market segmentation is perfectly kosher, even if a little sneaky. I’d teach them about premium vs generic branding and how some people happily pay a lot more for identical items in different packaging.

Orly No Bite

No Bite is a fast and effective bad tasting, clear color bitter nail bite deterrent formulated to stop nail biting. Promotes healthy nail growth. Enriched with natural pearl for enhanced shine and durability. Can be use alone or over nail polish. Good for both men and women. Dries to a natural looking finish – not shiny. Does not wash off with water.

Control-It! 3 Jar ~ 21 Day Fingernail Biting Treatment OMEGA3 Extra Strength

Get the help you want from CONTROL-IT! Your beautiful, well groomed nails will enhance your overall appearance. You will feel and see the benefits of aloe, blended with our other natural ingredients to help moisturize and heal your cuticles The other products available use Cayenne pepper, acetone, and lacquer. A very volatile solution. CONTROL-IT! Nail Cream has been formulated to prevent casual biting or sucking of the nails. This results in an all natural unpleasent taste, to remind you not to bite. NOT BURNING PEPPER! This is very important for adults as well as children! Biting your nails usually leads to the skin around them getting irritated and unsightly. Apply Control-It! Nail Cream and feel the rough edges of your nail cuticles lay down in the first few days! Control-It! will do the rest! Our program will get you and your nails back on track, you will see the results. Our all natural ingredients have been formulated to include the essential nutrients you need to promote exceptional nail and cuticle growth. You will see results in 1 week, but full recovery takes about 1 month. This is a 3 jar package. Each 1/4 Ounce Jar is good for 7-10 days of treatment. Use for at least 21 days to ensure success.

Stop Your Nailbiting!: Permanently

This book provides the definitive cure for adult problem nail biting. The information and the technique supplied in this book offer effective, well-documented, and permanent relief from this frustrating habit. By reading this book, habitual nail biters can finally and permanently free themselves from the habit. It is the goal of this book to spread the message that life can be free from the pain and embarrassment caused by unsightly and unattractive finger nails and hands.
This book starts by carefully describing and defining the habit. There is more to this than many realize, and nail biters will benefit greatly by the information contained here. The knowledge and insight in this section form the foundation for beginning the journey to long, healthy and gorgeous nails. For example, many habit owners do not realize that nail biting is actually a two step habit. Both steps must be recognized and treated for the habit to be completely eradicated. The habit frequently also rears up unconsciously, and so the book also provides an effective tool for recognizing and altering unconscious behavior. Many questions are answered here and misconceptions about nail biting are discussed in detail and debunked.
After carefully defining the habit, the book then delves into why habitual nail biters pursue their habit. Incidentally, stress is rarely the cause of problem nail biting. Nail biting patterns that are frequently seen are then also discussed in detail. Reading about themselves in print will reassure nail biters that they are not alone in the world. Incidentally, research data indicates that the habit is wide spread across nationalities, age groups, and demographics. All of this information results in a powerful understanding of the habit. Many readers state that this understanding alone helps them to significantly reduce or even eliminate their nail biting problem.
However, sometimes information alone is not enough. So then, contained in the book is an ingenious and almost perfect cure to the habit. Described in the book is a simple to perform but highly effective technique for stopping nail biting. Many people who have tried the approach mention that they simply cannot believe how effective the cure is at permanently and efficiently treating their nail biting. Internalizing the information in the book and applying the technique described results in a very powerful therapeutic combination. Even long term habitual nail biters need just several weeks to completely and permanently break their habit. Some readers have even reported success just after several days. Once cured, the habit rarely resurfaces. Curing the habit increases self confidence and self esteem considerably.
After detailing the cure, the book provides documented and real case stories of notable successes with the treatment method. Case histories, pictures and testimonials are posted frequently on the book’s accompanying web site http://www.stopyournailbiting.com. Readers are invited to browse there at will and watch the anonymous and free forum discussion board to learn more. To complete the loop, the book details why other methods of nail biting habit control are not as effective or easy as the cure discussed. Many nail biters have tried various approaches to curing the habit. Such attempts often end in disappointment and frustration. The use of spicy creams and foul tasting lotions as a treatment option is addressed. Readers will learn that bad tasting lotions are not effective for nail pickers for obvious reasons. Finally, the book discusses children, and provides tips and tricks for working with children nail biters. The cure’s application to other similar ailments (cheek biting, hair pulling, and joint cracking) is discussed and readers are welcome to post tips onto the free web site forum for the benefit and well being of others.

The Dictionary of Corporate Bullshit: An A to Z Lexicon of Empty, Enraging, and Just Plain Stupid Office Talk

This caustically funny Webster’s of the workplace cuts to the true meaning of the inane argot spouted in cubicles and conference rooms across the land.

At a price even an intern can afford and in a handy paperback format that won’t weigh down your messenger bag or briefcase, The Dictionary of Corporate Bullshit is a hilarious guide to the smoke-screen terms and passive-aggressive phrases we traffic in every day. Each entry begins with a straight definition followed by a series of alternative meanings that are, of course, what is really meant.

Take, for example, the widely used, seemingly innocuous term brainstorming:

1. to generate ideas as a group in an accepting environment and in a free-form manner
2. a supposedly relaxed forum in which no idea is a bad idea – that is, until you generate a bad idea and are met with uncomfortable silence/looks that suggest you are retarded or really uncool/the feeling that you are about to be fired

Beyond deciphering corporate commonplaces, you’ll learn the PC term for secret Santa (Holiday Harry); why the Blackberry is “most commonly referred to as a ‘Crackberry’ due to its highly addictive nature”; and that when a co-worker says “Have a good night”, they really mean: “this meaningless, seemingly interminable exchange of small talk is now over. I am no longer speaking to you, and will now flee this awkward social situation. Don’t even think of asking which way I’m walking.”

Just remember to read this only at COB (close of business) to avoid being busted (caught idling by your boss).

From the Trade Paperback edition.

I’m Still Here!

As you might have noticed, dear readers, my blogging frequency is not what it used to be or should be. It’s not that I have writer’s block – in my GTD project folder I have enough notes for several hundred posts. But with the time constraints that a new baby, a demanding day job and several Quadrant II projects put on me, I have trouble finding motivation to sit down and craft my posts.

Still, blogging in itself is a Quadrant II activity, and even though so far I failed to make any real-life friends with it or attain any career-related connections, there’s the question of monetary gain. Belieive it or not, but even a small blog like mine, with only about 1000 readers or so, makes me enough money to pay for the hosting fees, and then buy myself a significant New Year present. I am talking a rather nice and expensive lens kind of money. Over the time, I had some thoughts about online advertising, and today, in order to make up a little for my blogging hiatus, let me share them with you in the next post.

Weyco And Smell The Smoke

From The Daily Free Press:
“… Okemos-based Weyco Inc., instituted a no-smoking policy in 2003, purportedly to save on the cost of health care benefits for its employees. The policy forbids employees from smoking both in the workplace, and at home. Weyco offered help to employees trying to quit and has said that 14 of its estimated 20 employees who smoked kicked the habit before the policy went into effect.”

Somehow I imagine the “help” that this company provided exactly as described in Stephen King’s short story “Quitters Inc.” that later became a part of the movie “Cat’s Eye“:

First offense – your wife gets some electric shock treatment. Second offense – you get one. Third offense – you get it together. Fourth – your kid gets beaten. And so forth.

And after you stop smoking you get the bill for 5000.50.

Quitters Inc is conviniently located right next to the United Nations at 237 East 46th Street, by the way. Don’t forget to ask them about their weight loss plan.

I bet once Weyco is done with the smokers they’ll go after the fat people.