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The problem with Google Hangouts: Intent
I was psyched to see a new version of Google Hangouts announced yesterday. I’ve been trying to use the web version of hangouts with people for months, it’s better that Skype when you finally get everybody in there. That’s the problem though, it was never clear how to get people into the hangout - G+? Email? Phone notification Does it have to be a Google Account? And so on. It’s enough that you just give up. (Pro tip: The best way ends up being to attach a hangout to a calendar appointment. Say goodbye to conference dial ins and webex).
So I got the new hangout app right away and started using it, and it does indeed merge GTalk and Hangouts into one place. However, there’s a new problem: I don’t know what’s going to happen to my message when it’s received. It might just show up in an IM window, or it might buzz someone’s phone, so I’m not sure what priority I’m assigning the message when I send it.
For me, communication priority goes in this order: phone call > text message > IM > email > raven. Which one of these is hangouts? I don’t know anymore, so I found myself switching to text message when the priority of my message went up. I don’t know if a solution will become obvious as I use it more, but for now I’m not sure where it fits in.
The GIFs might be the best part of this article on IX animations.
These are the wins hidden in flat design, the things that don’t show up in screenshots.
“Positive and negative. You’re a bit, aren’t you?”
“On the other side of the screen, it all looks so easy.”
Can the Bitcoin blockchain be compromised for $1.2M?
John wrote up a great, simple description of Bitcoin yesterday and since I finally understand how Bitcoin works (do I?) I wondered what the cost would be to take control of the longest blockchain and compromise Bitcoin. This is also in the comments of John’s G+ post, but the two options I thought of are: a big botnet, and a bunch of ASIC hardware. Here’s a spreadsheet showing my calculations and the result is that you could buy ~$1.2M of ASIC hardware and control ~50% of the compute power going into Bitcoin. John estimates that even controlling as little as 20% of the computer power could cause serious problems, meaning you could do some real damage with $300K.
Does this make sense or have I misunderstood? Happy to hear criticisms in the comments over on John’s G+ post.
Software patents should at least include the code
Patents on physical products include diagrams and instructions such that someone versed in the field could understand and reproduce the invention. This is supposed to be the trade-off patents provide to society - the full disclosure of an invention in exchange for a period of exclusivity. It’s actually a pretty cool idea when it works properly, but it isn’t working at all for software.
In the case of software patents (ignoring for the moment that software isn’t really supposed to be patentable at all), we happen to have a great way to specifically define the invention: the software itself! Any patent covering software should have to include runnable code, and part of the process will be to actually perform the operation in question. Imagine this was the situation when the first MP3 encoder was developed:
- We would all suddenly find out about this new great audio compression technology, and get to see exactly how it works.
- Code for the encoder would be in GitHub - cool!
- If you want to use it now, you license it.
- 20 years later (ok that feels long, let’s say 7 years) that code switches automatically to an open source license and everyone can freely encode MP3 files.
- Innovation continues with better encoders that you would license if necessary, or you’d use the now open source original encoder.
Note: you aren’t patenting the actual code, that’s just the defined method for accomplishing what’s in your patent. If we had people patenting the code itself it wouldn’t be long before we were paying royalties on if statements.
And of course the other option is no software patents at all, but if we have software patents we should at least enforce the benefits they’re supposed to provide.
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Turn off your email indicator
About 6 months ago I removed the menu bar notifier for new emails on my Mac. Now I just keep a tab open to gmail in my browser and check it with no particular frequency.
What seems to happen though is that if I’m doing interrupt driven work I end up seeing new messages just by seeing the title in the tab. However if I’m programming or focused on something then I forget to check and I stay focused. I found I was powerless against the little glowing mail icon, so I just got rid of it. Give it a try, I doubt you’ll go back.
The monkey stare test for startups
Chris Dixon has a post relating to one of me and John’s biggest pet peeves: people who say they’re working on a startup but aren’t. I don’t even mean the people that are always “about to get started on their great idea.” I’m talking specifically about people who work at big companies and claim they’re a startup. There are two main forms:
- “I founded a startup, it’s an IBM internal project but it’s basically a startup.”
- “I’m employee 600 at [super famous company in hyper growth mode everyone wants to work at], you know - a startup.”
We once met a guy who introduced himself as a “serial entrepreneur”, then went on to list his experience as “Boeing and Microsoft.” Holeee sheet. Are you kidding me? This leads to our infallible test for whether you’re actually working on a startup. Simply tell your aunt or uncle what you’re working on and watch for this look:
Congrats - It’s a startup!
To be honest, getting that look doesn’t feel too good. I’ve done something to cause this look a few times now. In 2005 I left a stable job with great benefits at Columbia University to write “apps” for “smart phones.” Guess what happens when you tell your uncle you’re writing software for phones in 2005? Monkey stare. Then in 2007 the iPhone comes out, apps are in all the local papers, I start writing apps for Google and it’s high fives all around the Christmas tree. But then guess what happened? “No, I don’t write apps anymore, I started a company around open source legal documents” resulting in a 45 minute continuous unbroken monkey stare that neither of us have quite recovered from.
It’s important to get used to monkey stares, in fact you should expect them for anything that’s worth doing. Did you think close family was psyched when they first heard about Twitter? I can only imagine the monkey stares, must have been intense. Obviously that worked out just fine. And what if you don’t end up starting the next Twitter? You’re taking a real, honest shot at creating something brand new, and that’s pretty awesome. Worth a few weird looks.
Your startup needs a reason to exist
The struggle to get coverage and interest for your startup can be simplified if you have a reason for existing. The clearer that reason, and the more thoroughly it permeates your product - the stronger a reaction you’ll have from users, and the easier it will be for press to see a story.
For example, this story about Kings County Distillery in the Times. The way a tiny company like that gets coverage in the NY Times (and also a ton of other places) is by having a reason to exist. “The first legal distillery in New York City since prohibition” makes for a great story. “We decided to make some booze because people like booze” is not so good, but this is the kind of story most startups are pushing and wondering why they’re seeing no interest. Also, check out how they carry the whole “local moonshine” thing all the way through to their packaging:
(Image credit: Michael Appleton for the New York Times)
I have actually seen those bottles in a liquor store and thought “did someone just make that at home?” They definitely stand out against the slick packaging of big name brands. That bottle is probably also much cheaper to produce, which is a great example of turning a weakness (limited packaging budget) into a strength (distinctive and consistent brand appearance).
The reason our startup Docracy exists is to give control of legal information back to regular people. “Legal for the People.” Surprisingly, no one’s made something like this before. Places to get contracts before we started were just lists of forms and a bunch of text (if you’re lucky). We made the person behind the contract as important as the contract itself:
And we try to do everything with the interests of the average person in mind. Add in the fact that neither of the co-founders are lawyers and you have a great story and reason to exist: “Two hackers try to take back the law for the average Joe.” You can check out the links at the bottom of our homepage to see how the press has responded. And like the homemade packaging on those bottles, we try to have a distinctive look consistent with our reason to exist. It gives people a reason to find out more, and remember us when they do.