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    Blog entries for June, 2006

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    Elijah, my wife and I just spent Tuesday night in Newark. On a round trip through Newark on Continental, we missed the connection both times due to a delayed first flight, spent an hour sitting on the runway twice on two different flights, and all four flights were delayed. It's been a while since I had so many screwups on one trip.

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    Some may have read our attempt to summarize and bibliography design thinking, for an alternate take Donald just found a great video from Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO. At Red Hat we're using a "7 steps" way to explain things, Tim Brown one-ups that with 3 phases (inspiration, ideation, execution) and then he nests more detailed steps across the phases. Multilayered! Consider my mind blown by the IDEO experts.

    More seriously, things I thought were really interesting in this video included the emphasis on culture and empathy and not just process, and I liked the discussion around the Venn diagram about how design, engineering, and business relate.

    BTW if you are grudgingly interested in this design stuff but have "buzzword allergy" two recommendations I'd make are the old Nightline video showing IDEO making a shopping cart (you have to pay for it, but you can see the activities rather than read about them) and Designing for People which is from a pre-buzzword age. IDEO's Art of Innovation is pretty straightforward too.

    Seth Godin started some blog conversation about getting people to switch from one product to another in an existing category, interesting if you read the various comments and posts some of which relate to Firefox, Linux, etc.

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    Good comments from Joe, inspiring me to ramble a bit in a loosely-related way... I haven't really written my "personal thoughts" blog about Mugshot yet.

    First, let's not overcomplicate things by thinking there's more to "get" than there is... our goal was to get something out as quickly as we could that showed the kind of stuff we wanted to do, with just 3 developers initially (we've added one more now). On the one hand I'm proud of what we've accomplished given the time and resources, especially considering that we were a bunch of C programmers who had to learn Javascript, CSS, Java, EJB3, databases, ActionScript/Flash, Windows C++, COM, on and on all from scratch. And that we went in various directions that didn't work out before ending up where we are.

    On the other hand for this to be really exciting we have to do a lot more. It would suck to do the lot more all behind closed doors for another year, so we posted our codebase and our manifestos and notes and hopefully some people will find it interesting.

    One question I hope people find interesting, whether as part of Mugshot or not: how can we go straight to people who aren't using Linux and open source already, and start providing more of value to them more quickly? It's an open question, I don't pretend to have the whole answer. With Mugshot we're exploring only a small fraction of possible angles on this. Firefox and Wikipedia are a couple of existing successes. But there's so much more to be done.

    Getting people to switch their whole OS, or even web browser, is an inherently hard activity... while there's steady progress, my hypothesis is that we could move open source a lot farther and faster by supplementing and enhancing these efforts with additional directions whether Mugshot or One Laptop Per Child or [your idea here].

    We have done some quiet non-tech-community marketing... Mugshot was stealthily live in various forms for the last few months or so, first with our friends and family, then with people from Google ads we ran on "customize your MySpace" type of sites. The ads landed on a focused page about the "music on MySpace" feature and we had some success with this. We still have a generic placeholder ad landing page that we aren't using right this minute, the old landing page was more focused on the "customize MySpace" message (it probably always makes sense to hand-tune the landing page to the context someone arrives from).

    For signing people up a reality is that nobody will watch a screencast or read a lot of text ... we just have to make signing up as simple as possible, and (more valuable) get to the point where we have good word of mouth and friends are encouraging their friends to try it. I won't try to predict what that will require... if we tune what we have a bit more it might be enough, or we might need more or different offerings. The only way to find out is to try.

    Writing the Google ad a while back was an interesting exercise because there's a brutal limit on number of characters and the ad has to work in the context of a purpose-driven search or related page... I ended up using:

    Current Song on MySpace
    Free service - show what's playing
    on your desktop, live on your page.
    That's just about the absolute max length Google allows. Remember this ad ran on sites about customizing or creating MySpace profiles. We don't have immediate plans to run more ads (we have a ginormous backlog of people wanting accounts already) but trying to write these (and think of relevant places to run them) remains an informative exercise - ideas welcome.

    For the tech community a screencast is a fine idea, we're hoping to go one better and just clean off the "I would like an invite" list so people can try it out.

    I do think the tech community's "how is it different?" question doesn't exactly match how "normal people" would think about it... especially when answered via equations: "links + social networking + IM = yay!", I have an apropos blog post from over a year ago before Mugshot existed. My gripe about this mode of thinking is that it ignores specifics of the concrete user experience that matter quite a bit, while also missing the "big picture" inspirational goals I was talking about a minute ago. In the tech world we tend to focus too much on the intermediate abstractions, neglecting both the big picture meaning and the important details.

    When arguing against the "social networking" label I'm not trying to say that Mugshot is the most revolutionary idea on earth, if only you understood it.

    Instead, my idea is that for potential contributors, thinking "social networking" or "links + social" or something like that won't get you on the same page as the existing Mugshot team. We're trying to think both more broadly ("open project," "freedom," "entertainment", "design") and more specifically (prototypes and running code), and on our good days we manage to focus on people's needs.

    Thinking about a category like "social networking" as the goal just doesn't work for me because it predefines what we can do. (I'm also not a fan of goals like "a desktop" or "a web browser" or "a window manager," by the way, though in the past I obviously did think that way. If I were dictator of GNOME today the first thing I'd do is change the project definition on the front page of to something broader and more open-ended.)

    What I'd like to encourage is either thinking concretely about the details of user needs or the user experience, or thinking broadly about all the stuff the project could do in the big picture, and keep some allergy to thinking in terms of existing technology names or trends (even when they apply, to me they're just a bad place to have my head).

    Joe asks how Mugshot will change your life... I think that remains to be seen. What we have so far might be pretty cool to people, or it might be flawed in fundamental ways requiring some whole new directions, or flawed in simple/cosmetic ways that we have to fix.

    My dream is to have a great userbase in a year or two made up of people who aren't using Linux and open source today. Lots of "ifs" stand in the way but that's my ideal scenario and I think it opens up lots of opportunities for open source (and projects such as GNOME) if we can accomplish it. In any case I'd rather try than not try.

    Putting this abstract debate aside for a minute ;-) at the moment we're wrestling with unglamorous Nautilus 1.0 type performance bugs, if you're familiar with that bit of GNOME history... e.g. leaking 8 threads per http request (amazingly, a modern 64-bit Linux system appears to survive this for hours at a time!). The good news is that we can get 1000% performance wins with 1-line fixes...

    I have to stop talking and start hacking at this point ;-)

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    Luis, a couple quick fixes I can think of would be:

    • add "swarm" notification to the group chat (see "Join Chat" on group pages), right now if you join there's no way for other people to know there's a conversation happening
    • display AIM and other type of IM links on people's /person pages, possibly also next to their name in the Mugshot chat for example so you can quickly start a private conversation

    Good project ideas...