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February 24, 2009

FOWA Miami 2009 Notes

Jason Fried

Jason opens the conference with an inspirational keynote-style, rambling, slideless talk. Main ideas:

  • Look for byproducts of your business and profit from them
  • Fail early, fail often is invalid in business. Learn from success.
  • Free is overrated, actually it's harmful. Freemium works, but paid works better. 37signals sees much better upselling with clients that start with paid plan than with free. (Duh?)

Jason doesn't care about the competition, doesn't think about them -- just focus on building a great product. The success of competitors doesn't bother him.

As free services fail there's going to be a "flight to quality", to stable companies that make money

37signals was recently looking for a VP or Marketing and Business Development manager. Stopped rather quickly once realized they "didn't know what it fucking meant". Suggestion, before you hire someone try doing that job yourself so that you understand what you're looking for.

During the Q and A Robert Dempsey asks whether there will be consolidation in the web app field or whether OAuth and other integration technologies will help single-function apps thrive. Jason thinks integration without a cohesive user experience is a pipedream. On the other hand, big uber-apps don't work either, so maybe vendors offering multiple tools (like 37signals? heh) will continue to succeed.

37signals has 12 people now, after hiring 4 people in 2008. Key productivity advice is to stay the hell away from each other -- interruptions kill productivity. Totally opposite philosophy from the way that Hashrocket works.

Dion Almaer and Ben Galbraith

Dion left Google (news to me) to join Mozilla with Ben. Their talk is about the future of the browser. Lots of talk about how Ajax has pushed the state of the art forward. The focus of their talk is a set of four technologies that will change the world of web apps.

  • Canvas. No startup delay, works on iPhone.
  • Fast Javascript. Crappy status quo is a real pain-in-the-neck for web application teams. New runtimes are order-of-magnitude faster and are capable of heavy-duty processing. In other words, Photoshop would be possible in the browser now.
  • Web workers. Threading for web apps?
  • Desktop Integration though native service APIs exposed by Fluid, Mozilla Prism and other webby containers and operating systems.

Bespin (in-browser open-source IDE and code editor) looks really cool.

They use Delicious Library (half-million in profit) as example of making refined, sexy versions of apps that have been done a million times before.

Amazing conference animations by Chris Kelley.

Dan Theurer

Sadly, this presentation is not working at all. It's a code-oriented talk about the open APIs provided by Yahoo, but the presentation slides were corrupt and didn't work. Dan is up on stage trying to talk his way through api descriptions and code examples. Terribly painful :(

Joe Stump

The lead architect (or something) at Digg, was the seventh developer hired. Everything was chaotic in the beginning, and Joe is going to talk about the hurdles in scaling a team as you scale up and implement process.

His .vimrc file is 20 lines and has been the same for last 10 years. (In other words, developers are stubborn.) Other attributes of developers:

  • Whining
  • Laziness
  • Eccentric

(Generalizations bad, mmmkay... I don't think he meant any harm though, but this is feeling very cliched so far)

Tells story of things that top developers have gotten from hiring companies: $50k shower installed into office "since I do my best thinking in the shower" and $30k fully-functioning desk made out of LEGOs. Funny, but I missed the point. That developers are difficult?

Good point made about team size: need to keep the size down to 5-7 people at most. (Actually, I say that 2-4 is optimal.) Break up large groups into teams with specific responsibilities.

Strong advice about code repositories. "Can't believe that I have to put this slide up here." As I've been ranting about lately, there are still teams out there not using source control. "If you have a development team that's not using source control you have to fire the team or fire yourself" - Joe Stump

Joe says to Promote Ownership (in contrast to XP's shared ownership), but I think he's talking about at a team level.

"You should have frameworks (Rails, Django, etc)... it doesn't matter, it's all about lowering barriers to entry, and frameworks definitely help there" He's been playing with Django and likes it, but Digg is not porting their 500k lines of code to Django.

Testing. Unit testing.

21 developers and 5 concurrent sprints going on.

They're writing code so quickly that they can't get it through QA and integration rapidly enough.

Kristina Halvorson

Copy sucks. Needs time and organization. (Didn't get that much out of this short talk.)

11 women out of 800 people registered.

Challenges for organizers

  • Fewer women applicants
  • Fewer women on circuit
  • Fewer "high-profile" women speakers

The potential speaker's challenge:

  • Lack of role models
  • Lack of support and resources
  • The girl/boy thing. In classrooms, a boy will raise his hand whether or not he knows the answer. Girl will only raise hand if she knows the answer. (Basically it takes hubris to be a presenter.)
  • Perceived "white boys" club. See Chris Messina's post about that

Tag speaker ideas and offers with #fowaspeak Ryan will be listening for future Carsonified events.

Aza Raskin

Open-source is chaordic (ordered chaos). Decision-making is pushed to the nodes. Technically Aza has 1 person working on Ubiquity fulltime, but he has 10 core contributors. Mozilla Labs operates in an open-source manner internally, there isn't really a traditional division of labor.

(I'm missing the point of his call to action about the 270 million users and designing for it.)

Aza calls for "the wiimote of the browser world". He's asking for disruptive development in that space?

Neat conference trick. Tells everyone to raise their hand, then thanks everyone for volunteering and picks one person to "describe your significant other in 30s without disclosing their gender". Immediate fail by the volunteer, who began "she does..." Point it, it's difficult to leave gender out of the way we communicate, yet computers do that all the time.

Couching problems in terms of people rather than technology.

Let's move away from destination sites. From people having to go places, and make computers do stuff for them instead. Can't wait to see actual Ubiquity demo. I'm sad that technical problems are ruining some of the talks here.

Dave Morin

We've only been thinking about people for the last 2 years. (Really?) Never been a better time to be doing what we're doing than now -- the building blocks are there to build the applications that we've been wanting to do for years. Facebook is just one of the companies providing the social graph.

Facebook has 175 million people (and 660 thousand developers) as of February 2009. Facebook Connect is the first step in enabling everyone on the web.

(Sigh, almost ten minutes in, the speaker is wayyy loud, lunch is late, and this talk has said nothing so far. Frustrating. Also, although his slides are actually on the screen, he's having trouble with the clicker.)

Talks about beefier activity feeds and activitystrea.ms which looks interesting, but overall I couldn't bring myself to get excited about this talk. Very high-level.

Joel Spolsky

Don't treat software like assembly-line factory. Be like a movie studio, bring the best talent. We live in a winner-take-all society, there's only going to be one big social networking site, one microblogging service, etc. It's all about talent. Disproportionate reward example: one of his summer interns built their job listing site in 2 weeks. Over 2 years it's earned $1,043,767 dollars, paying for 6 years of intern expenses, many times over.

Based on Yale CS students statistics, there is no connection between the time taken to do an assignment and its quality. (Ratio between best and worst developers is 10 to 1.)

Bottom line: Emphasize talent in recruiting, treat them like rockstars, invest in a great office and working environment, keep them all together, long lunch tables for everyone to eat together. All great advice.

Check out Fog Creek's new office, it's gorgeous and is attracting a lot of attention.

Dave McClure

Unfortunately I missed what AARRR acronym means. He's talking very, very quickly. This appeared to be a quick talk about optimizing for "Conversion Improvement". Advice is to stop iterating when conversion increase slows down. The break

  • 80% on existing feature optimization
  • 20% on new feature development, possibly less

Shows a conversion dashboard with stage, conversion status, percentage columns.

Measure stuff. Keep it Simple. As founder concentrate on metrics.

(Gotta say these slides with dark colors on black background are really difficult to read, even on the good FOWA equipment. Presentation FAIL.)

Alex Hunter

The presenter works at Virgin on redesign of their main website (for which he will debut mockups today). The talk is Brand 2.0 - Why should people love you? (Should be interesting.)

  • Loyalty
  • Transparency
  • Conversation
  • Giving a fuck (LOL)

People are the new brands: think Branson, Jobs, Ryan Carson (lol)... man, but this is a powerful line of thought. You have to believe that you are creating the best possible, the best in history service or product in the history of the universe. (Ha! Captures exactly how I run Hashrocket, doesn't it?)

"Consistency is not Dogma"

"Consistency is a state of mind... like winning"

Example of blog.digg.com as one of the best corporate blogs ever. Diggnation has a 250k audience and has 10 live events per year where massive amounts of fans celebrate them.

Props to design agency Rokkan for redesign of Virgin.com. Alex is really excited about Facebook Connect. According to Ryan, Alex is "putting his ass on the line" by making virgin.com content user-driven.

Francisco Tolmasky

Ryan warms up the crowd by telling us he's been under NDA for months and that what Francisco will be announcing today will be "fucking amazing". Okay, we're ready...

Aristo is a new UI component being integrated into Cappucino and is purely open-source. Made by SOFA. The actual photoshop files (including the iterations that led to the final version) are on Github. In other words, you can use that to learn how to create a beautiful look and feel. (Awesome)

"Write once, layout everywhere" (Sorry, I was enraptured by the Atlas demo, so I wasn't taking any notes.)

Gary Vaynerchuk

Oh man, he's rocking it. Lots of quotable quotes.

"Why in the world should Kanye's next album share anything with Apple."

"You're going to have douchebags like me" running around teaming up with content-providers to monetize.

"You're going to go back to your hotel room and ask yourself, 'Why am I working at this company that sucks straight shit!?'"

He wants to buy the New York Jets. (And he probably will eventually, heh.)

You have to have passion.

It's all about the hustle. (Yah, preach it!!! And checkout my Hustle talk)

"I need to hustle more. I'm doing too many speaking engagements."

Agrees with Jason Fried, he doesn't believe in making mistakes. Everything he's done is potentially a mistake, but when you cry, you're stuck. "Stop crying."

"The fact that you know what FOWA is means that you should win... that's the game"

"There's too many primadonnas in this business... people are idiots. They're gonna lose and they're gonna lose hard because they think they're hot shit."

I asked him how many years until he buys the jets. He said 25, but if he can't he'll take out the NFL. "Fuck the NFL" (ROFL!)

"All this world is doing is making the person with the chops win... If a restaurant is awesome, but sucked at marketing, it could die (in the past)." Not now, because online fans would save it.

"You want a marketing strategy? CARE!!!"

"If you were not selling stuff before the age of 13, YOU ARE NOT A SALESMAN! ... You have to know who you are!!!"

"When's the tipping point? THE DAY YOU START, ASSHOLE!" He doesn't care about numbers and SEO. He doesn't worry about dumb shit like that, just pump out great shit and care. When he was starting out he went out to every wine blog and became part of the conversation.

"I have never drank a Red Bull in my entire life." (Comment from the crowd: "he snorts it" LOL) Offers to pitch it if anyone from Red Bull is watching and interested.

"If you're in this room trying to convince someone to use Facebook or Twitter, stop it."


Congrats to Ryan Carson and his crew for another fantastic event. Very inspiring. - Obie


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