No, Suw and I have not been lazy bloggers, as a matter of fact, we’ve been itching to blog. A lot of you have mentioned to us in e-mails how slow Strange has been and time outs you’ve had when trying to post comments. Corante has been getting pummeled with spam (still is), and Movable Type doesn’t really handle spam or lots of comments very well. Lots of MT sites are struggling with this issue. The Corante tech team has been working hard to sort this out. An MT upgrade ‘borked the server’ and we’ve been down. But we’re back.
Back in 1998 when I started teaching myself web design, I would spend a lot of time talking to clients and trying to explain what the web is, and why they needed a web site. Most of them didn’t grok it, and disappeared back into their analogue world. The internet wasn’t all that new, but it was new to them.
The design cycle was pretty long. There’d be meetings where I’d try to figure out what they wanted. Then I’d go away and put together the site architecture – which pages link to which and what do they have on them? I tended to work very hierarchically, starting with a home page at the top and then creating a sort of family tree of pages. I’d do draft designs at the same time – screens, rather than wireframes, because most of my clients weren’t sophisticated enough to know what a wireframe was. (Come to that, neither was I.)
Then we’d haggle. They’d tell me I was charging too much, so I’d pare down the scope of the project and give them a cheaper price. Eventually – hopefully – we’d have a deal. I’d then go away and design the site, frequently also editing or writing the content, and Photoshopping the images.
Then I’d upload the site to their hosting, they’d pay me (or I’d sue their asses), and that would be that. Job done.
Some projects took months, half a year or more. How quaint all that seems now.
That was eight years ago, but I am still having the same conversations now. All you’d have to do is replace ‘internet’ with ‘web 2.0’ or ‘blog’ and you could parrot one of my client meetings from ’98 almost verbatim and no one would notice.
The problem is, companies are still have very long decision making cycles. These painfully slow processes are fine when the world around you moves slowly, but technology changes quickly. If you want to get the best out of social software and ‘web 2.0’, you have to be on top of what’s going on. That doesn’t mean jump on every bandwagon that goes past, but it does mean assessing and adopting new tools at a speed a bit faster than glacial.
IT departments are used to the traditional software development model – one, two or more years before releases, and what you get is what you’re stuck with until the next update, bugs or no.
Web software doesn’t work like that. The adage ‘release early, release often’ has been taken to heart by many of the developers working on social software and web apps. Start with a limited alpha, move on to an invitation-only beta, scale your beta slowly and then, eventually, you might reach the mythical Version 1.0. Or not, depending.
For users of this kind of software, the update is a regular attraction. Some software even updates on a nightly basis, with test builds released for the keen user to try in between major releases. And you do have to keep up, not just for the bug fixes, but for the new features which are quietly released, with no fanfare and, usually, no additional fee. Major upgrades you might have to pay for, but in the most part, these small apps accrete features as a matter of course.
Within big business, this poses a problem. If you have a traditional IT department that likes to slowly do its due diligence, it’s going to find that the software it assessed a few months ago is unrecognisable today. It’s tempting to say that this is irrelevant – businesses use enterprise software so why should they care that the small developer releases early and often?
Well, if you want a decent RSS aggregator, or a desktop blogging application, or even just a blogging platform, you’ll be hard pushed to find anything half decent from a major player. All the good ones are created by companies (or individuals, or open source communities) orders of magnitude smaller than your normal enterprise mush.
Why does this matter? Well, whilst your IT department is faffing around on a never-ending cycle of due diligence, you’re failing to take advantage of the really useful stuff that’s out there. The opportunities to use blogs and RSS and wikis to help your staff do their jobs more easily and more efficiently are passing you by.
So I’d like to propose a new adage for those struggling with the concept that software doesn’t have to be perfect to be useful: Adopt early, adopt often.
All blogs go through phases – it’s part of the blogging lifecycle. Right now, as you may have noticed, Strange is a in a bit of a fallow period as I try to get on top of all the work that’s come my way recently. Don’t fret, you’ve not been abandoned, but don’t be surprised if blogging here is a little light over the next few weeks.
Just in case you were wondering why I’ve written so little here over the last month, it’s because I’m up to my eyeballs in deadlines. One rather unexpected event was that I got myself a literary agent, so suddenly had to put together a book proposal. More news on that as I get it. I’m also working on some stuff for this blog which I think you’ll find worth the wait, so bear with me!
Sometimes I get really fed up of blogging. Particularly metablogging, which can turn into either stupid puerile snarf-fests or teeth-grinding tedium. Lately, it’s been more metacrap than metablog in the metasphere, and I’m metafedupwithit.
I haven’t been reading, either. They say that when a blogger isn’t blogging it’s because s/he isn’t reading. Actually, they don’t, because blogging wasn’t invented when whoever said that first said it, but if it had been they would have said it, and they will would have been right. My aggregator is again clogged to the gills with unread posts – it topped out over 10,000 yesterday until I ruthlessly marked a whole bunch as read. Pff. Who cares?
It’s all part of the blogging life cycle or, more accurately, blogger mood swings: Enthusiasm. Over-enthusiasm. Habit. Tedium. Huffiness. Abandonment (temporarily or otherwise). Rekindlement. Lather, rinse, repeat ad nauseam.
Ok, I made the word ‘rekindlement’ up, but I rather like it and see no reason why it should not now pass into the English language.
The weird thing about writing a blog like this, for a publisher like Corante, is that one feels one really ought not fall prey to such mood swings. One feels that by writing under the banner of SEB (Someone Else’s Brand) one ought to somehow be exempt from the emotional cycles that affect personal blogging. Of course, that’s bullshit. The same way as the journalism/blogger discussion is bullshit. The same way that the neverlinktoAlisters meme is bullshit.
And you know, this urge to always make a point, instead of just express myself. That’s bullshit too. I am sure you are smart enough to figure out your own points, draw your own conclusions and if you’re looking to me for answers well, the news is that I ain’t got none.
Normal service will be resumed as and when I can be arsed.
In case you were wondering, the jiggery pokery in the RSS feed over the last 24 hours was due to the kind people up at Corante Towers fixing it so that it’s a full post feed instead of excerpts only. I prefer full feeds, so I’m pleased with the new arrangements. Means you can now enjoy Strange (if ‘enjoy’ is quite the right word) from the comfort of your aggregator.
I used to have a blogroll hard-coded into the right-hand side-bar of this page, back before the Great Template Update, but it went by the wayside and was lost forever. But now, if you look to your left and down a bit you will see my new, nascent blogroll, still in its formative stages, yet to spring forth in glorious bloom.
So, whilst I populate it with links from my aggregator, do feel free to tell me what you would link to if you were me.
(By the way a ‘shufti’ is a look or a glimpse, and it comes from the Arabic ‘saffa’ – to try to see.)
The guys here at Corante have furnished me with a very swish new look, which I hope you like as much as I do. There might be a few hiccups whilst we get everything working properly, so please do bear with us through the changeover.