Speaking of Gawker

Always staying classy:

So Gawker.tv posted about my Star Wars Subway Car video today, but instead of embedding my video from YouTube like the rest of the Internet does, they ripped it from YouTube and uploaded it to their own site without permission. So I get no credit for any of the views of the video on their site. How nice! Also, by uploading their own ripped version of the video, they can prevent me from seeing any AdSense revenue and focus on making their own money from the ads surrounding the post. Awesome! And they link to Buzzfeed at the end of the post rather than, you know, linking to the group that made the video they ripped off. Cool! Oh, and to top it off, they throw in a little snarky comment about this being an upgrade from our previous antics. Sweet!

Slimy People & Boycotts

“Life is partly what we make it, and partly what it is made by the friends we choose.”

– Tennessee Williams

Note: Because of the subject matter, I’m cross-publishing this on my personal blog as well as my company blog. My apologies to subscribers of both.

Over the past few years I’ve become more and more rigid in how I live and do business. I’ve slowly adopted certain core values and have drawn a hard line when it comes to adhering to them.  By doing that, I’m making what I value, and don’t value, explicit. Sometimes it’s difficult to do and I miss out on certain things.  I understand that I may miss out one some good, but I also avoid what I consider bad.

People sometimes like to twist that around and make it seem like they have no choice.  It’s easy to forget that we have an abundance of choices in life, but almost all come with sacrifice. Often we take the presence of sacrifice as having no choice at all when, in fact, what we have have is a tough decision.  You could start a company, write a book or change careers.  Unfortunately,  that usually means watching less TV, getting a little less sleep or going out to the bars less.  It’s still a choice, just a difficult one.

One of my core values I have is ‘don’t interact with slimy people’.  What do I mean by slimy people?  I mean people who talk to you about ideas and, afterwards, you think to yourself ‘that’s just….slimy’.  Take these examples of things I’ve been told over the past 12 months:

“Once we get them on our platform, we make it so tough for them to get out that they’ll never leave.  We’ll get paid every month.”

“We’ll just package up our services on top of outsourced labor, tack on a healthy margin, and boom, we’ll be golden. The clients will never know.”

When it comes to friends and business relationships, it’s easy to avoid these types of people. You just avoid them.  Sounds simple, but as you’ll see, it’s not always easy to avoid these types of people without sacrifice.  When you’re honest with yourself, it’s easy to see who adds to your life and who subtracts from it.

However, ‘slimy people’ is not just limited actual people. It also applies to companies.  So, several months ago, I started to boycott companies . It all started with Fox News and the fallout from the Acorn footage. Since then, I’ve actively avoid any and all things Fox. That means no Family Guy & Simpsons. Do I miss those shows? Sure, but I feel better know that I’m not supporting Fox and it’s advertisers.

Next up is Gawker media. About 9 months ago, I stopped reading Deadspin. Their coverage evolved into glorified frat boy stories. Then, when the news of Gizmodo & the iPhone prototype broke, I thought it was sketchy, but didn’t really mind that much. Shady? Yes. Stupid? Yes. Also, I was already migrating towards Engadget for my gadget coverage anyway.

However, when they decided to publish the poor guys name who lost the phone, that was over the line. Not only that, but they published his photos, last name and Facebook snapshots. Now, there was simply no reason for this. If they wanted to throw someone under the bus, the could have named who sold them the phone. To go after the guy who did nothing wrong and who is probably freaking out was out of line. Slimy. Buh-bye Gawker Media and it’s sites. That includes Lifehacker, historically one of my favorite blogs.

Some other boycotts include:

Facebook – I’ve already written about how Facebook is rubbing me the wrong way.

Sea World – Read this article about their killer whales. Pay special attention to their “acquisition” strategies. Tell me if you would still pay money to see their show.

Nestle – An extremely old boycott, but still relevant.

This might all sound sanctimonious and pompous, but I assure you, it’s not.  Every person has to draw their own line.  The point isn’t to rally around me and boycott Gawker.  It’s to stimulate you to reflect on your own life.  Start to identify things that you almost speak out against, but you historically have not.  This could be friends, clients or companies.  Whatever.  The path to a happier, more fulfilling life is to remove any sort of waste or anything that doesn’t add to your life in a positive way. I’m challenging you to look at your life with a critical eye.  Start making tough decisions to sacrifice some small good-ness in favor of the greater good in your life and your business.

You’ll be much happier and more successful in the long run.

Distributed Version Control Systems

Most development and engineering teams have long since seen the benefits of using a version control system (VCS) to maintain and version their source code. For many years the popular free choice was CVS. That was supplanted several years ago by Subversion. Subversion adoption steadily increased throughout the years until it supplanted CVS as the default choice for companies wanting a free source control product.

Note: For the purpose of this post, I’m concentrating on free source control systems. There are several products, from Perforce to TFS to Clearcase that are widely used, but their price tags and complexity usually keep them out of the reach of smaller companies. (TFS does support Subversion, but it’s still several thousand dollars.)

That is, until a new breed of source control systems, called Distributed Version Control Systems (DVCS), emerged. Offering a more decentralized model than traditional VCS, DVCS promised to remedy some of the more clunky aspects of centralized VCS, especially when working with multiple branches and distributed teams. As such, scores of high profile OSS projects are migrating their code to a DVCS, including Python, Ruby on Rails to Linux.

But does that make it right for you, your team and your company?

It’s important to remember that this is a tool choice for your company as a whole, not just your engineering team. As such it’s important to include several factors when making a decision like this, such as:

  • What, if any, are the licensing costs for using the tools client? How about the server?
  • How user friendly is the tool? Does it require 3rd party GUIs or addons to work well for your needs?
  • What’s the deployment model? What types of servers, security and access will you need? What about backups and redundancy?
  • What kind of support do 3rd parties offer in terms of integration with the tool?
  • How mature is it? Can it handle what your team is going to throw at it?
  • Is it supported? How are security fixes rolled out? How easy are they to apply?
  • Who’s going to be using the tool? Just the developers? The engineering team? The entire company?


In the case of a DVCS, the tool choices are all stable and their usage is growing. Developers love them for their support of offline commits and much improved branching algorithms.

Note: Recent versions of Subversion have added the ability to merge branches that comes very close to the functionality offered by a DVCS.

However, rising above pure technical ability, most (maybe all) DVCS have some drawbacks. Three that come to my mind:

First, right now, there’s not a whole lot of integration with 3rd party systems. There is a nice ecosystem of bug trackers, wikis, file comparison tools, system admin tools and IDEs that offer built in support for Subversion. The corresponding ecosystem for DVCS choices is much smaller, though growing every day.

Second, the tools for working with a DVCS are pretty primitive and almost completely command line based. Now, this may not be an issue if developers are the only people working with the DVCS. However, non-developers are working with a VCS with greater frequency as the benefits of versioning artifacts and content become apparent. Trying to make them work with command line tools will not be easy.

Lastly, there is quite a learning curve between tradition VCS like CVS / Subversion and a DVCS. This could result in a gap in productivity. Though, as with any tool, the more experience your team gets with the tool, the better they will be at working with it. However, it’s quite easy to use a DVCS without using some of it’s major benefits ( like ease of branching, etc.. ) Thus without changing your workflow to utilize those benefits, you’ll be missing out on some of the very reasons to use a DVCS.

Note: I’m also ignoring the use case of maintaining mirrored repositories, one DVCS and one Subversion. In my opinion, I can’t see a team gaining enough of a benefit to outweigh the maintenance of two entire server solutions, complete with access control, backups, etc..

While DVCS are increasing in popularity, I’d have a hard time recommending them for a company to use as it’s VCS right now, except in some very specific circumstances. There’s just too much of a ecosystem to throw out by going with a DVCS over Subversion. Subversion is a known entity, it’s fast, it’s stable and it’s widely supported.

I have no doubt this is going to change in the ( possibly very near ) future. One of the nice things about most DVCS solutions is the ease at which you can migrate from a Subversion repository. As such, it’s probably best to wait for the tool support to catch up before taking the plunge.

Startups as walks and singles

WSJ recently interviewed the former CEO & CTO of GovWorks from the Startup.com movie. There’s a great quote from Tom Herman (CTO):

I think success for entrepreneurs really comes from walks and singles. And that’s what I aim for, and that’s what I encourage people I work with and to aim for—getting on base, occasionally you’ll see doubles. But it’s not about the triples and home runs, and no one gets grand slams. Yeah, there have been one or two in the past few years. But 10x isn’t realistic. And it’s not necessary to be a successful entrepreneur and to pay your mortgage.

I like it. In other words, avoid the churn that usually nickel-and-dimes you to death. Slowly and methodically build a successful company. Be the tortoise, not the hare.

Selling the Sizzle: Startups as Stepping Stones

Imagine that there are 3 parties involved in a startup:

  1. The customers of a startup
  2. The startup itself
  3. The companies and people that influence and shape the people in #2.

It used to be that entrepreneurs started at #2 and eventually, after some time, they evolve to #3 for other entrepreneurs.

One of the strange things that I have begun to notice is how many entrepreneurs are looking to jump to #3 right away. I think this goes along with the rise of the importance of a persons ‘personal brand’. Everyone is looking to start a conference, publish a book and start charging for speaking appearances as soon as they start their company. It’s really surprising when someone tries and sells me on their ‘startup consulting service’ when I know for a fact that their company is 6 months old and not even profitable.

It makes me realize how incredibly easy it is for one person to spin their history. If you can talk well and impress people who don’t have the ability to dig into what you’re saying, you can go from opportunity to opportunity on your spin. I’ve seen people do it. It’s amazing on many levels.

This isn’t a ‘karma will get these people’ rant. It’s just an observation. Obviously, there’s never going to be a short supply of these people. This is a piece of advice for entrepreneurs: don’t automatically believe peoples bs. If you’re going to listen to people and seek their advice, make sure that it’s coming from their experience and that it’s honest. Don’t listen to people who’ve read ‘Getting Real’ and suddenly want to tell you how to run your company.

Semantic Social Networks

The latest Chicago Semantic Web Meetup will be held during the first week of August. We’ll be covering semantic social networking and the presenter will be our NY organizer, Marco Neumann.

If you’d like to come, please RSVP here. We’re asking for $5 to cover the drinks and pizza for the night.