Monday, June 26, 2006

Blog slow down

Since returning from holiday I’ve been blogging less - some might argue this is a good thing. I’ve always tried to aim for about one blog entry a week, I think so far this year my average has been closer to two, so yes, I probably should slow down.

So, don’t worry, I’m still here, I still intend to keep blogging but I’m happy to do it at a slower pace - hopefully less quantity more quality.

Several forces are conspiring here to slow me down. First is EuroPLoP is just a couple of weeks away. At EuroPLoP we review writers papers, we tell writers what we think of their work. This means that you have to read a lot of papers before you get to the conference - I’ve read two, I’ve got another four to go.

Again this year I’m running a focus group with Lise Hvatum. This will build on last years successful focus group on Conway's Law and will discuss how social forces effect software architecture.

And just for fun, I’m the Focus Group chair at EuroPLoP this year, so a little more work there too.

The second force that is at play is my book. Regular readers will have heard occasional mention of this from time to time, well, I’ve decided to go for it and attempt to write a book. Actually, this book has been in development to some degree for the last two or three years. With the publication of Pattern Languages of Program Design 5 (yes, the physical copies arrived, hurray! I can hold it in my hands!) I’ve been enthused some more to finish this project.

I actually gave a friend some of the more recently written, unedited, chapters and got some really good feedback so that has given me more impetuses. And finally, when I look at all the material I have I can see that I’m damn close!

I’ve already approached one publisher and I’m waiting for my feedback, I’m trying to see rejection as a good thing, it will help me focus what I do next - but I’m hoping for acceptance!

As if this weren’t enough I’ve got a bunch of other things going on in my life just now which I won’t discuss in a blog.

So, dear reader, I hope you don’t mind if I slow down my blogging just a little bit.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Book review: The Search (Battelle)

While I was in Russia I got to do a lot of reading, in fact, I started The Search (John Battelle, 2005) on the plan to Moscow and finished it a week later on the flight back to London.

This is one of those books that got a lot of publicity last year, silly thing is, the anti-hype person inside of me tends to automatically avoid books that get a lot of hype. So, it wasn’t until one of my colleagues at work, Julian, suggested I read this book that I actually bought a copy, then it took me a couple of months to actually find time to read it. Now I have I’m glad I did and I need to say thank-you to Julian - perhaps in future I shouldn’t avoid books because they get a lot of hype.

The book has two themes, the first is the history, creation and growth of Google, in that it is a book in the mould of Start-up (Jerry Kaplan, 1994) - although its not the insiders view Kaplan gives and which makes that book worth reading.

Second it is a history of internet search, which is itself the history of one part of the internet story from 1995 through to 2005. Here the book is more like Robert Cringley’s Accidental Empires (1992) - another book worth reading.

I suppose Battelle could have written two books, one for each subject and just referenced the other. In parts you do get the feeling you are reading alternating chapters of two books but on the whole this approach works. You can’t really talk about Google without talking about Alta-Vista, Gopher, Yahoo and such, and neither can you talk about search without talking about Google so on balance I’m glad he put the two together.

Battelle thinks search is important, and he thinks search will (is) change the world. His argument runs like this: there is a mass of information on the internet, but if you can’t find it is fairly pointless. Therefore, search is key to leveraging all this information. This puts search, and search companies, in a key position to control the internet.

Although the book doesn’t specifically talk of Web 2.0 it does talk about a key part of Web 2.0 and therefore makes you think a lot about how the web is changing and were it might be going. For this reason alone its a good read and I recommend it. And by telling the Google story alongside this the book is a compelling read.

One of the thing the book has made me think about is the Quaero project. For the first time I understand why the European Union is getting involved in search. OK, I understand why, I understand we might consider search a public good, we might want to avoid the control Google, Yahoo or MSN could hold but as of yet I’m yet to see why we should spend public money on a problem the private sector is actively solving.

One footnote of reservation. Battelle almost exclusively talks about internet search, and his arguments are based on internet search. Unfortunately this does miss a big part of the search story and future, that of Internal search, search within the corporation. So there is no discussion of Autonomy, Verity or FAST. This is market that is important and is going to change in the near future, Oracle have just entered and Microsoft have stated an intention to enter. It would have been nice to see a chapter on this but the book still works without it.

So, in conclusion, The Search is worth reading, whether you are interested in technology, business or just the web in general.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Making sense of Russia

One of the things I try and do in this blog is make sense of the world around me. In fact, I think most of what most of do in life is to try to make sense of the world around us. Making sense of the world is a driver to learning and change.

I spent all of last week in Russia - I won’t go into why, those who know me know why, those who don’t, well....

A couple of days in Moscow then on to Siberia, Novosibirsk and Akademgorodok to be exact. And before you ask, no it wasn’t cold, it was hot actually, 30C a lot of the time.

So, I spent the week trying to make sense of Russia. It is tempting to try and understand Russia as America. Two old adversaries have a lot in common, the vastness of the countries being the most obvious but Russia is not another America and it doesn’t make sense to try and understand it as such.

Its also tempting to compare Russia with European like France, Germany, Britain. Indeed, Russia is a European country, and it shares a common history with Europe, it was Russia that defeated Germany and before that France - on both occasions allied to Britain. True, many Russians, maybe most, consider themselves Europeans but Russia is also different from other European countries - no other European country has a Pacific coast.

Russia has always been different to European and American nations. And in the twentieth century it cut itself off from many developments there. While the forces of markets and standardisation mean that Germany, France and Britain increasing look alike, an in turn look like America, Russia was cut off from this. Consequently it is different.

And as an outside it is always tempting to view a country as “wrong” or broken. Supposedly one of the signs of culture shock is thinking things are broken. Each country has its own forces and priorities. Russia may be different but sometimes these are for the better.

Take for example airport screening. Same metal detectors, same procedure, but there are two baskets for your belongings. This confused me but is actually better. One is just for shoes. After all, shoes are dirty things, why put them in the same basket as a coat?

From a technology point of view Russia is really interesting. It industrialised later and then cut itself off from development and created its own versions of technology o we have Tupolev instead of Boeings. That makes it interesting; some technology is better, some not so good.

It is only 15 short years since Russia re-engaged but in places it looks very, well Western. I think it was William Gibson who said “The future has arrived, its just unevenly spread around.” You could say something similar of Russia. Some places, some shops, restaurants, houses wouldn’t look out of place in London, New York or Paris. But its not consistent, elsewhere you find stark evidence of old-Russia. I think Russia will always look different to western eyes, if only because they use a different alphabet.

On the whole I’m hopeful for Russia. It has its problems - not least the current Government. To be fair, they have a difficult job to do, what worries me is not so much what this Government does but that it is laying foundations that a future administration could abuse.

Still I had a couple of positive experiences. Twice I encountered Russian officialdom. If you believe the press then bribes should have been exchanges. On one occasion the official was reasonable, played by the rules and the situation was resolved as well as it could be and now bribes were asked for or paid. On the second the person concerned stood up to an official who was over stepping the mark and who then backed down.

Perhaps Russia has turned a corner here, or perhaps the western press are just wrong.

Finally, nobody I was with and nobody I saw drank vodka. At least among the people I was with, young, successful - the new middle class - beer was the drink of choice.

I’ve made a little bit of progress in understanding Russia but like the country itself there is much more to explore and make sense of.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Some of my blogging rules (of thumb)

Its a year since I started blogging and I promise to reflect more fully on the positive and negative aspects of blogging. In the meantime, just before I go on holiday, I’ve had a go at codifying the rules of thumb I use when creating a blog entry

1. One blog entry one idea

Not always that simple but what I aim for.

2. Know what you are going to say before you start writing

Don’t ramble. Have a unified idea up front before you start writing. Sketch it out in your head, on paper or on the dictation machine - it helps if you can talk it through from start to end, that also helps keep it short.

Don’t ramble.

3. About individuals: If you can’t say something nice about someone then don’t say anything

Courtesy - an old idea I know, plus you don’t know when you’ll meet in future so don’t be horrid about someone unless they’ve asked for it.

Two exceptions: authors and politicians, they put their head up and expect to get shot at.

Fellow bloggers? I don’t know, Robert Scobie or Nick Carr, they are bloggers who I see as fair game - well, they both have books so maybe they are authors, but people like myself? Like my work colleagues who blog? No, these are ordinary folk, don’t be horrid to them.

4. Don’t change blogs after they are published– especially not the title

If I revised blog posts after the event I’d be here all day revising them. In some ways blog entries are a matter of record. Plus, knowing that you won’t change them helps you focus and think seriously about what you published.

I have changed a few entries within minutes of writing them, just to fix errors (spelling, grammar, logic, word missing) and I changed the title once but it really adds to the time it takes to write and entry so better to get it right before you publish.

5. Remember you next boss could be reading this blog

This cuts both ways: someone could read this blog and decide they want to hire me – unlikely but it could happen, I suppose. Then again I could be in line for a job and they decide to do some due diligence on me, wouldn’t be hard to find this blog, and I could wreck my chances of getting the job.

So, don’t give offence, don’t get too wacky, and if you do say something wacky then explain your self and give evidence.

6. Remember you current boss could be reading this blog

Try to be objective, don’t get hung up on events in the company; yes things that happen in work will inspire thoughts and ideas, try to generalise them and look for supporting evidence outside the company - otherwise it is just a comment on one company.

Don’t talk about the company directly, don’t disclose confidential information, don’t talk about current events in the company (comes from 3 above). Keeps life simple.

7. Remember you colleagues could be reading this

Blogging can be a great way to introduce new ideas to your colleagues but you are also responsible for being objective and not beating up on the company or for giving co-workers (too many) wacky ideas.

8. Don’t write in anger and haste

Yes blog entries are written quickly but I do try to read them through and correct them at least once before they are posted. Sometimes I get wound about something and want to blog it there and then - doing so is a good a relief valve. But, and it is a BIG BUT, don’t post it as soon as you’ve written it. Sit on it, if after a couple of days, when you’ve calmed down it still seems like a good then post it.

I have 2-3 blog entries that have never got posted because after a couple of days I realized they were written in anger and in hast, they weren’t as objective as they could be and they could give offence. Unusually these entries violate one of the rules above - and frequently ramble - so it is best to recognise the need to reflect before you post.

9. Strive for objectivity but don’t get hung up on it

I’d love to be objective but it would take too long, but it would require lots of research... and actually I don’t think true objectivity exists, at some level there is always context and opinion. Still, try to be objective, don’t be too biased, think through your arguments.