February 2012

Reg Braithwaite's head on C-3PO's body, standing beside R2-D2 on the Tattooine desert.

In the latest essay on his Posterous, I Have a Bad Feeling About This, Reg “raganwald” Braithwaite, posts his contribution to Uncensored: A Charitable Project to Support the Open Internet. In it, he writes:

My perspective is a little like that of C3PO in Star Wars, a minor character throwing his hands up in dismay at calamity and providing others with an interesting viewpoint on the great events of the last forty years.

Like any space opera, the story of information technology is a very simple one. It is played out in a myriad of different ways by a revolving cast of characters, but it always has its loveable heroes, its predictably nefarious villains, innocent civilians to be saved, and bumbling bureaucrats that aren’t inherently evil, but begin every story aiding the forces of darkness out of a misplaced belief they are preserving law and order in their corner of the galaxy.

In it, he encourages us – the rebels – to resist the collective empire of the MPAA, RIAA, Intellectual Ventures and those who would impose things like SOPA and PIPA and stifle technological progress in the name of preserving outdated business models. It’s a good read – go there now!

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.



Shopify’s going to SxSWi – the South by Southwest Interactive Conference in Austin, Texas! It runs from Friday, March 9th through Tuesday, March 13th and if you’re going to be there, we’d like to catch up with you! Among the Shopifolks who’ll be there will be:

2011 barcamp tour logo

I’ll be speaking on the panel at the session titled 5 Brands Travel the US Inspiring Entrepreneurship. It’s a talk about the what, how and why behind the BarCamp Tour and the companies who were behind it (Batchbook, Grasshopper, Mailchimp, Shopify and Wufoo). Here’s the abstract for this talk:

Grasshopper, Mailchimp, Wufoo, Shopify, and Batchbook all joined forces in 2011 to create and execute the Barcamp Tour. We journeyed across the country together to work with 10 different entrepreneurial cities and help them put on a barcamp that would inspire / energize their communities. We shared our passions, listened to other peoples, and took in the unique character of each city we visited. Boy did we learn a lot. We would love to share those observations & experiences with you in hopes that you might take that passion back to your own community. We also wanted to explain why our 5 brands so strongly believe in free beer and hugs versus banner ads and trade shows. These word of mouth branding tactics have been a major part of all 5 of our company’s growth, and we are ready to share our secrets!

The session takes place on Sunday, March 11th. Usually, the Sunday slot is the kiss of death, but our talk takes place in the hangover-friendly timeslot: 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.. We’ll be presenting at the Omni Downtown Hotel (700 San Jacinto, at 8th Street) in the Lone Star room.

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.


path mea culpa

Straightforward actions trump mealy-mouthed PR, sorry beats sophistry. Nicely done.

For the backstory, see this article: Led Down the Garden Path.

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Shopify Apps and the Shopify Fund

by Joey deVilla on February 8, 2012

The Shopify Fund is a one million dollar pool of money that we’re using to encourage the development of apps built on Shopify’s ecommerce platform. We’ve funded the first four apps, which I’ve summarized in this article, and we’re on the lookout for more! The video above (4 minutes, 11 seconds) explains both Shopify apps and the Shopify Fund.

If you’re an app developer and want to get in on some of this Shopify Fund action, take a look at the Shopify Fund page and use the form to tell us about your app idea! We might fund it.

If you’ve already applied for the Shopify Fund but aren’t one of the first four to get funded, keep working on your app idea and submit it to the Shopify App Store! The fund isn’t just about getting new apps built, but also enabling developers to work on improvements to their apps. Submit your app, go to the Shopify Fund page and tell us about it! We might fund that development.

If you’ve got an app in the Shopify App Store already and you have ideas for a revision, go to the Shopify Fund page and let us know what they are – we might fund that revision!

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.


Led Down the Garden Path [Updated]

by Joey deVilla on February 8, 2012

now sending your address book

Update: Path’s CEO has apologized and promised to delete any collected data. See this entry.

It’s the top story on Techmeme at this moment: the socially-networked “lifestreaming” iPhone app known as Path uploads your entire address book to its servers.

This fact was discovered by Denso developer Arun Thampi when he decided that he’d build a Mac OS X client for Path at his company’s hackathon. To do this, he decided to observe the API calls that Path made to its servers only to discover that the data for his Contacts app – names, email addresses, phone numbers – was getting HTTP POSTed to https://api.path.com/contacts/add. To see the the full story, be sure to read Arun’s blog entry on the matter.

Path CEO Dave Morin sent a reply to Arun, explaining that the data is used only to help users connect to their friends and family and nothing more. He also said that they “proactively rolled out an opt-in for this” on their Android client a few weeks ago and will include the same opt-in feature on the next version of the iOS client. For anyone who has the current version on their iPhone, that feature came a little too late. This is bad, and the fact that Path has recently been working on “proactive” fixes suggests that they know it.

I have Path on my phone because it’s a gorgeous app and a number of my friends and coworkers were on the network and encouraging me to take it for a spin. That means that my contact info resides on Path’s servers. A good chunk of my life is public by my own choice, so I can live with Path having my own address and phone number, but nobody else on my contacts list signed up for that. Furthermore, inclusion in my contacts list doesn’t necessarily imply that they’re someone I want in my social network graph. But Path can’t discern between my friends and family and others like my ex-wife, my local cab company or that client in Australia who just had a couple of questions. You’d think that Path would’ve learned the lessons of “Fuck You Google”, in which a woman wrote about how Gmail overshared her info with her abusive ex-husband.

It’s an even bigger problem in the case of celebrities, who presumably have other celebs’ numbers in their on-phone Rolodexes. Take a look at this tweet from Alyssa Milano:

The response, by the way:

And did it also upload my notes about people? (Yes, I’m one of those people who actually uses the “Notes” field in Contacts. For business contacts, it’s all part of the schmooze; for friends and family, it’s so I remember things like their likes, dislikes, birthdays, anniversaries and other little things.)

In the comments to Arun’s article, iOS developer Matt Gemmell suggests the following to Dave Morin:

Why are you uploading the actual address book data, rather than (say) generating hashes of the user’s email addresses locally, then uploading just those hashes? You’d be able to do friend-finding that way, and similarly if you uploaded hashes of all email addresses in the user’s address book, you’d be able to do your notifications of when a friend joins. At no point would your servers ever need to see the actual email addresses or phone numbers from our contacts.

He also points out that sending the entire Contacts database to their servers may be a violation of the App Store’s terms and conditions. In fact, section 17.1 of that T&C states:

17.1: Apps cannot transmit data about a user without obtaining the user’s prior permission and providing the user with access to information about how and where the data will be used.

Dave Morin’s been firefighting ever since the news about Path got out. He’s stayed on message with the “we’re not trying to be evil here” line, but with the faith in Google’s “Don’t be evil” mantra pretty much gone, it’s not very reassuring. On the bright side, he has made it clear that if you want your address book and even your Path account deleted from their servers, you have but to send an email to service@path.com.

Update (February 8, 2012): Mike Arrington has put online what I’d been thinking (but didn’t think Path would ever do without a lot of pressure): they should simply delete all the address book data they pulled. It would be an excellent goodwill gesture; let’s see if they take up his suggestion.

(Little hint, Dave: if you keep overusing “proactive” and “proactively” the way you have in your responses and tweets, it becomes a filler word, like “um” and “uh”. Especially when such “proactivity” seems limited to stating that you’re not doing anything wrong.)

There’s been some freaking out over Path in the comments for Arun’s blog entry as well as in other venues online, but it’s time to let cooler heads prevail. Let’s see what Path does in the next 48 hours – as Arun himself puts it, “I hope we can keep calm and continue to discuss this sensibly”.

If you’re developing software that makes use of people’s personal info, let this be a lesson!


Shopify’s Looking for a Director of Operations

by Joey deVilla on February 7, 2012

Does the diagram below pique your interest?

shopify director of operations

How about this shell session?

shopify director of operations shell

If both of these images have made you think “tell me more!”, you’ll want to:

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.


Farewell and Thanks, Jeff Atwood!

by Joey deVilla on February 7, 2012

Jeff Atwood: He's got electrolytes! Joey deVilla interviews Jeff Atwood at Microsoft PDC 2008 for a videoMe interviewing Jeff at the Microsoft Professional Developer Conference in October 2008.

Jeff Atwood made the web better when he co-founded Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange. These high-signal, low-noise questions-and-answers online places have grown from a single site whose audience was software developers to a network of 80 or so that cover an increasing number of topics and interests.

Yesterday, he announced that effective March 1st, 2012, he will no longer be part of the day-to-day operations of Stack Exchange. It’s a startup, and startup life and family life, especially with young children, can be very incompatible. Jeff has a young boy and two twin girls whose age can still be measured in days. He’s decided to take more time to be with his family, and I can’t help but approve.

Thanks for everything, Jeff, and we’ll see you out there!

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.