Working at Reddit: Wired. Working at Wired: Tired. And Bummed.

A scene from the movie 'Office Space'.

One might say that for Aaron Swartz, one of the people behind Reddit, the honeymoon resulting from their purchase by Conde Nast/Wired is over. The problem is that one would be wrong — judging from some earlier entries in his blog, there wasn't a honeymoon at all, at least from Aaron's point of view.

Here's a snippet from his latest blog entry, Office Space, in which he describes what it's like to work at his new digs, the Wired offices in SOMA:

You wake up in the morning, take some crushing public transit system or dodge oncoming traffic to get to work, grab some food, and then sit down at your desk. If you're like most people, you sit at a cube in the middle of the office, with white noise buzzing around on every side. We're lucky enough to get our own shared office, but it's not much better since it's huge windows overlook a freeway and the resulting white noise is equally deadening.

Wired has tried to make the offices look exciting by painting the walls bright pink but the gray office monotony sneaks through all the same. Gray walls, gray desks, gray noise. The first day I showed up here, I simply couldn't take it. By lunch time I had literally locked myself in a bathroom stall and started crying. I can't imagine staying sane with someone buzzing in my ear all day, let alone getting any actual work done.

While I'd rather have my own office, I can't complain too loudly about the open office space at Tucows. It's not ideal, but I've worked in worse setups, and it's possible to be productive in such an environment. It may have helped that I've done my time at computer labs back in University, back when home machines didn't have the muscle to run Unix and could only hook up to the network via a 14.4 modem. I understand the bit about the noise from the highway; I worked in a San Francisco warehouse building near the same highway back in 2000 and 2001 and know how noisy it can get.

As for distractions from co-workers, I don't mind. I often welcome it, but that's my ENTP personality type, and talking to people is part and parcel of holding the title of technical evangelist.

While I would bristle at some of the the technology diktats set by Conde Nast (standard-issue old iBooks, only one approved email client, the administrative website is accessible only via the standard-issue machines), I don't think I'd have as big an issue with the Wired office environment. In fact, I'd probably say “Whoa! I work at Wired!” every few minutes for the first month.

I'm not as inclined as some commenters to Aaron's post to dismiss it as whining; I hung out with him quite a bit at the first O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference back in early 2002 and consider him a friend. I don't think that writing such a blog entry so early in his tenure as a Conde Nast/Wired employee is going to make management feel happy, but it does make for some interesting reading.

I wonder how long he's going to stay there.

Perhaps his entry should lead you to ask yourself this question if you're an office worker: Is Aaron having a “who moved my cheese” spell or unsuited to office life? Or is he right, and have you swallowed the Big Lie?


Will the iPhone Be Here in 2007?

It looks like Bloomberg has started to dig into the rumor that a Taiwanese contract manufacturer, Hon Hai (which does business as Foxconn) has secured contract to make 12 million iPod mobile phone handsets for Apple.

Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., the world's largest contract electronics manufacturer, declined to confirm or deny a newspaper report that it will make mobile phones with iPod music-player functions for Apple Computer Inc.

The company won a contract to make 12 million iPod handsets, the Commercial Times reported today, citing unidentified industry sources. Taipei-based Hon Hai doesn't comment on market rumor, spokesman Edmund Ding said, while Vincent Tong, at Hon Hai's handset-making unit, also declined to comment.

I ignored this rumor when it surfaced yesterday, since it originated (or rather, it's translation originated) with the less-than-dependable DigiTimes. We'll see, I guess.

At any rate, this rumor has taken on some more heft as a few Wall Street analysts have plugged the handset numbers into their revenue models for AAPL, seeing some significant new cash flowing to One Infinite Loop. This story from AppleInsider quotes Bear Stearns' Andy Neff's take on the Foxconn rumors.

"Extrapolating the news reported by Commercial Times in Taiwan (of Hon Hai shipping 12 million Apple iPhones in the first half of 2007), we ran some numbers to get a sense of the incremental impact," Bear Stearns analyst Andy Neff wrote in a research note to clients Wednesday morning.

The analyst, who had been modeling the Cupertino, Calif.-based iPod maker to earn $3.07 per share on $24.5 billion in revenue during 2007, said sales of the new device could add an additional $0.70 in earnings-per-share and $6 billion in revenue.

"Our estimates include 30 percent potential cannibalization of total (current) iPod unit sales by iPhone introduction," he wrote.

Neff's other assumptions (which are probably of more interest to buyers of Apple phones than buyers of Apple shares) are that the phone itself would be priced at $300 without a carrier subsidy.

Which raises the question of just how Apple would decide to break into the phone market? In the US and Canada, mobile phones are sold largely as a subsidized accessory to your wireless service contract. The carrier absorbs some of the cost of the handset in exchange for a one or two year commitment. As a consequence, they control the user experience (electing to disable features that might conflict with their business strategies) and the branding to some degree (my Motorola handset has T-Mobile logos on it). If there are two things Apple guards with intense passion, they're the user experience of their products, and their branding. Seems like the conventional way to sell mobile phones doesn't apply to Apple.

Some have speculated that Apple might start their own mobile phone service, leasing the wholesale wireless network from one of the large carriers to create a Mobile Virtual Network Operation (MVNO). Virgin Mobile is an example of the MVNO business. Unfortunately, it's one of the very few examples of a successful MVNO: Disney, ESPN, MTV, and many others have tried, and failed, to create MVNOs that are extensions of their core brands.

Wired's Leander Kahney took a look at this situation a couple of days ago, and raised an interesting third possiblity:

The most likely scenario, as Jupiter analyst Ian Fogg has pointed out, is that the iPhone will be a stand-alone device that will accept a standard SIM card. You'll pop the SIM card out of your current cell phone and plug it into the iPhone. It'll be just like buying an unlocked handset from Asia, except you'll buy it at an Apple store instead of on Craigslist.

An iPhone with no provider strings attached would be better for the online iTunes store than selling tunes over the airwaves, as some cell companies are trying to do.

Instead of cutting deals with carriers, Apple stays neutral. It also stays in control of the user experience, branding, and selling, keeping Apple front-and-center with the customer.

Could that work? Well, there's a small population of gadget freaks who will buy imported, unlocked handsets at a premium for their exclusive features (their size, finish, software, etc), but that's not a large enough market for Apple to care about. What may be on Apple's mind, however, is the number of people willing to spend $250 for an 8GB iPod nano. Might they be willing to spend, say, $50 more to have that iPod nano come with a phone? That's a pretty interesting possiblity. Where it's difficult for someone to justify buying a mobile handset from Nokia or Motorola when it's available for less when bought through a carrier (after all, it's the same handset regardless of whether it's subsidized or not), Apple's working with a very different value proposition.

Apple may be one of the few companies who can end-run the carriers, since they're not selling a phone; they're selling an iPod that happens to have a phone feature.


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SiteMaps Explained

By now, you've probably seen the news splashed all over Techmeme about the decision by Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! to support SiteMaps. In case you haven't, you can check out these articles:

The news of the agreement is everywhere. What you won't find easily is a layperson-friendly explanation of what SiteMaps are. That is, unless you happen to be a Global Nerdy reader.

What is a SiteMap, Anyway?

A SiteMap is an XML file that contains information about one or more URLs on a site. The information on the URLs is for the benefit of search engines and other applications that crawl or index the site.

The minimum information that a SiteMap must provide is a list of URLs. Normally, a search engine would have to explore all the links on your site to build a map of it; a SiteMap listing all the public URLs on your site would ensure that your site got indexed more quickly and that no URL got missed.

If you're so inclined, you can provide the following additional information for any URL in your SiteMap:

  • “Last Modified” date and time. This is the date and time on which the page corresponding to the URL was last updated.
  • Change Frequency. This describes how likely the page corresponding to the URL is to change. This value can be one of:   

    • always (Used to describe pages that are different every time they are accessed)

    • hourly

    • daily

    • weekly

    • monthly

    • yearly

    • never (Used to describe pages that are archived)

    Note that these are hints to the search engine and not commands — a search engine may be programmed to very occasionally crawl a page whose change frequency is declared as “never”.

  • Priority. The priority of the page corresponding to the URL relative to other pages in the site, on a scale of 0.0 (lowest) to 1.0 (highest), with the default being 0.5. Note that this is a relative scale; giving all your site's URL a priority rating of 1.0 simply tells the search engine that no page on your site is more important than any other.

Keep in mind that SiteMaps are simply a way of giving search engines a listing of URLs and few bits of information about them. They're not directives to be followed by the search engines or their spiders. What each search engine does with the information in your site's SiteMap will vary from engine to engine.

That's really all there is to SiteMaps if you choose to ignore the XML gobbledeegook (and if you really want that gobbledeegook, see the SiteMaps Protocol page). Like the last agreement between the major search engine players — the agreement to support the “nofollow” attribute for links — the technical component is incredibly simple; the notable thing is the cooperation between the major players.


The Times Talks About Incompatibe DRM Formats

A little post-Zune (pre iPhone) primer in DRM, and its effect on customer choice, from the New York Times:

THIS week Microsoft introduced Zune, its answer to Apple Computer’s mighty pairing of the iPod portable media player and the iTunes music and video store. Though Zune offers a new choice for customers, it also highlights how restrictive such choices can be.

The many conflicting approaches to rights management can also limit choices. Apple, for instance, does not license its rights-management technology, FairPlay, to other companies. So customers with songs from the iTunes store have to stick with the iPod. The same applies to the Zune player and Zune Marketplace.

Given the number of competing formats, Apple seems to offer the safest bet. IPods are nearly ubiquitous, and the iTunes store — which has sold more than 1.5 billion songs — looks as if it will be around for a while. But there are alternative strategies for those who want to try players other than the iPod or preserve options for the future.

Ah, even when Apple's DRM is just as much an instrument of lock-in as Microsoft's, Apple still wins.


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Internet Ads Cross the $4 Billion Mark

In the O'Reilly Radar paper Web 2.0 Principles and Best Practices, one of the six “market drivers of Web 2.0” is the abundance of new revenue opportunities for web site and applications, thanks to a 37% percent growth in online advertising in the first six months of 2006 over the same period in 2005. According to the report, spending on online advertising now exceeds business magazine ad spending and is set to soon surpass consumer magazine ad spending.

Here's the graph that accompanies that point:

Confirming the O'Reilly observation is the just-released Interactive Advertising Bureau's report that internet advertising revenues have surpassed the $4 billion mark for the third quarter of 2006. Here's their graph:

Jason Calacanis believes that internet ad spending, high as it is, will only increase, citing the following reasons:

  • There are more advertisers online today
  • It's getting easier to spend money online
  • Google Adsense/Adwords (a huge part of the point above)
  • Yahoo, MSN, AOL, and Google reaching scale, which in turn allows major advertisers to reach comparable audience sizes to TV
  • Audiences shifting from TV, radio, and magazines to the Internet

What does this all mean? Here's my take:

  • Watch for an increase in “long tail” marketing. It may get you only a slice of the pie, but that pie's very big now, and continuing to grow. That's not just me saying it, it's also in O'Reilly's Web 2.0 paper. (See? I just saved you $375.)
  • Watch for an increase in “long tail” web applications and sites. In the 1990s, the “planetary alignment” of the CD-ROM, RAD tools, desktop adoption and a willingness to outsource development made it possible for an ecosystem of small niche desktop application developers and customers to flourish — I know, I was a developer in that ecosystem. The current alignment of broadband adoption, Ajax, scripting languages, frameworks like Ruby on Rails and internet advertising makes it possible for a similar ecosystem of web application developers and web site writers and their customers and readers. Think of it would've been possible to build it before the age of AdSense, but it wouldn't be making $15K a month.



New Word: "Podenfreude"

After all the Zune-slapping I've been seeing over the past week, I hereby declare the coinage of a new term: podenfreude. Derived from the German schadenfreude, podenfreude is the malicious satisfaction that iPod owners get when reading bad reviews of the Zune. Feel free to work it into everyday conversation!


Zune's Disastrous CNN Appearance

George pointed to it in his entry titled Zune Clearance Sale: All Links Must Goa Michael Gartenberg piece on the CNN segment in which in the Zune gets covered and “un-sold”:

Gary Stein – “I watched CNN this morning and Soledad O'Brien literally interrupted the tech-biz reporter, who was talking about the Zune, to extoll the virtues of her new, $70 iPod Shuffle. The next time the story came through the cycle, she had gotten her iPod out of her office and demonstrated how cool it was that you could clip it, and essentially un-sold the Zune, and pitched the iPod.”

It's one thing to read Stein's and Gartenberg's summaries of the report, but it's another thing altogether to watch this little train wreck. Thanks to YouTube, you can:

The first sign that things are about to go terribly wrong is when guest reviewer Andrew Ross Sorkin says that the Zune “does a couple of things that are a little bit cooler than the iPod, but a lot of things that probably aren't”. He then goes through a short list of Zune's features, but Soledad and Miles O'Brien's questions reveal each one's downside. When he brings up the “backlash against the iPod”, Sorkin sounds like he's pulling a “Hail Mary” play from the Microsoft marketing handbook.

If that weren't enough, Soledad then decides to show off her new iPod Shuffle. “Now that's the thing that's a lot sexier than this,” replies Sorkin. Bad enough that the Zune's getting trashed in its own segment, but it's getting beaten out by Apple's cheapest iPod. Sorkin counters by saying that Microsoft will eventually come out with something almost as nice-looking as the Shuffle. (Dude, when you promote vaporware, you should say that it will be better than the existing competition, not a second runner-up.)

No train wreck is complete without a spectacular explosion at the end, and it comes in the form of Miles O'Brien's unintentional punchline: Miles O'Brien, looking at the Zune, asks “Why don't they get some decent design people?”

Ten years ago, a Microsoft product getting featured on CNN would be fawned over by the anchors and have competitors running for the hills. It's a different world today.