Category Archives: community

Reaction to CoH (City of Heroes) community, and NCsoft’s response

(background: after 8 years as one of the world’s mid-tier MMO games, City of Heroes (+ City of Villains) is being shut down. The community banded together to ask if they could take over running the world that meant so much to them; NCsoft (the publisher, and a company I used to work for) said: no)

“No means no”

NCsoft is basically saying: “Please. We love you, but … you just *don’t understand*. It’s more complex than you could possibly imagine!”

That’s not a dialogue; it reads like a “this conversation ends when I stop talking” monologue.

“Why on earth wouldn’t you say yes?”

Lots of people wondering that. Obviously, being a public company, no-one’s going to answer that in public. We can only guess. But hear’s a few (over the top) suggestions…

If the community succeeds … then THE FEAR IS: some Executive(s), somewhere, are going to look like bad (I’m not accusing; I’m just saying that in corporates I’ve worked at, this kind of *fear* is common). A lot of the work they do is guess-work. That’s fine, they’re paid to make the best decision they can, while never truly know if they made the right one.

But if a bunch of inexperienced, eager novices come along and offer to do it for free. And – the worst possible outcome – they succeed … that could make someone look really bad.

Another thing I’ve seen in corporate politics at this level is a lot of “horse-trading”. i.e. sacrificing one project (that someone else resents, or has been snubbed by) in return for that person helping out out with a problem on a separate project, that you’re trying to rescue.

Who (individually or collectively) made the decision, and what did they stand to gain or lose? (they are probably worried about / aiming for / trying to win … something bigger than this single game. c.f. my 2009 post on why NCsoft is so huge a company gains nothing from “profitable” games, they need “mega profitable” games)

“Software is software”

Ha!

Has anyone found out yet what format(s) the data is in? Imagine the most insane, unwieldy, incomprehensible, inconsistent, unusable format that bears no relationship *at all* to the game itself … and you’re probably half way there.

This game was written *8 years ago*.

Read the biographies of the people involved. Were they non-game developers … academics with decades of expertise in distributed systems and real-time transaction messaging? … or … were they a bunch of smart guys trying to catch up with the academic research in the space of months, just enough to build and ship a major new computer game? And … most importantly … to make it “fun” before they ran out of budget.

I’ve not yet found an MMO where the people who made it feel – with hindsight – they had any idea what they were doing at the start. When they started, of course, many of them thought they’d covered all the bases, and were “well prepared”. Everyone tries their best up-front (or fails completely); but everyone finds it much harder than expected.

What should we/they do?

Looking at it analytically and logically, I’d give the community a very high chance of failing dismally if they were given the game. But … the eagerness, the excitement, the sheer determination: I’d give them a small chance of succeeding despite everything. Simply because: when you see this much determination, it often wins out and overcomes the obstacles in its way.

So, I say: Go for it.

They know the game they’re trying to (re-)create. The difficulty is simple: whenever you try to re-create a game, the temptation is always there to “improve” it … and 99 times in 100, you find you slightly misunderstood what you were “improving”.

Google’s Strengths & Weaknesses in 2012

In the past, I’ve had terrible advice from brilliant people. The best way to avoid that is to be careful to research the brilliant person and tailor your questions to avoid their weaknesses.

Tomorrow I’ll be meeting a bunch of people at Google London’s open day. I started by writing down a list of known strengths/weaknesses based on my knowledge and experience of the company and the people. Earlier this year I had some in depth meetings with Facebook, which gave me a fresh perspective on the similarities and differences. I think the list itself is interesting – modulo: it’s only my personal impressions:

google strengths

[comments in brackets to clarify some non-obvious points for anyone reading this]

  • innovating on the Web
  • bringing native tech to Web and making it as good as native
  • software development
  • worlds biggest/most popular search engine
  • …? focus on curation ?… [Page ranking etc is subtle curation]
  • tech brand associated with “quality”
  • massive scale advertising
  • algorithms for automating heuristic tasks (imperfect, vague domains)
  • enormous scale data manipulation
  • throwing hardware at impossible problems to make them possible [Street View]

google weaknesses

  • community [in general, but also specifically: Google Groups]
  • consumer marketing [many Googlers have said “we don’t need to; the brand is enough”]
  • building products that people want, rather than products Google staff enjoy [Wave, Buzz, Google Voice]
  • understanding consumers [Android]

2012: the year of UNcollaborative development, or: when GitHub kills Open Source

What happens when you get 2 developers working together, sharing their source? What about 10? … or a 100?

There was a dream, 20 years ago, that the total would be greater than the sum of the parts. That developers could *re-use* each-other’s code.

Sadly, that dream – in 2012 – is poisoned.

What I’m going to describe here happens a lot – although in absolute terms, I hope it’s just a drop in the ocean. Maybe it’s nothing to worry about. Or maybe … well. In the last 15-odd GitHub projects I’ve tried to use, it affected more than a third of them. Such tiny stats are statistically meaningless, of course – but if you look at the causes of this, I think it’s more likely part of a general trend – and that really is worrying.

So. What’s going on?

The curse of Github

I love GitHub, I’m a paying member (and I regularly sell it to clients and colleagues) but … in some ways, it’s IMHO actively preventing collaboration.

Just to be clear: it doesn’t have to be this way – you can run your own projects on GitHub and prevent this happening.

But … GitHub makes this the path of least resistance, and that means – in the world of Open Source – it’s the path that gets most followed

When you fix a bug on GitHub, you have to wait for the original project author to “accept” your fix.

If they don’t accept it, as far as collaboration goes: you’re screwed. There is no “plan B” for collaboration.

Your only option is to tell the world:

“Stop using his project! It sucks! Use my project instead! I promise I’ll be a better merger!”

But then … if *you* stop accepting fixes for a while, one of the developers fixing YOUR bugs will have to do the same thing.

And each of these “Stop! Use mine instead!” calls is one-way: once another developer who’s making use of the source moves to a sub-fork, they can never go back. In theory, the original Author could do a back-dated merge … but in reality, that won’t happen, because of the cost involved:

Back-dated merging is combinatorially expensive

In practice, that’s more expensive than a normal person can afford, in terms of time and effort.

For each SubAuthor they want to back-merge with, they have to check every single change that person has made … against every change that they’ve merged already, from every single source. Otherwise they break the previously-merged code. Usually, each individual SubAuthor makes an incompatible change sooner or later – and so prevents the original Author from ever merging with them.

It’s no surprise – usually by this point the Sub Author has given up on the original Author (can you blame them? the Author has disappeared and ignored merge requests for months or years by this point)

So, in practice, very few GitHub authors (so far: none that I’ve seen) re-merge SubAuthor projects once the SubAuthor has really got going. On the projects I’ve been involved in, when a popular SubAuthor disappears for a while, there’s been a desperate scramble by the SubSubAuthors to find the guy/gal and beg/bribe/bully them into merging – otherwise we know that our combined efforts are about to be blown up.

What? Well …

The actions of the Author can undo the work of the Collaborators

Say you have Author “A”, and 3 people making changes and fixes to the code (“B”, “C”, and “D”).

At first, while A accepts merges quickly, B, C and D are all sharing code together – in practice, they are collaborating. However, they are not truly sharing code – GitHub does not allow this – they are sharing code with a Master (A), who is forwarding their work to all 3 of them.

When A disappears, B C and D can no longer collaborate. If A disappears with merges pending … then B/C/D find they have 3 distinct codebases, and no way within GitHub to do a simple cross-merge.

Now, the situation is not lost – if B, C, and D get in contact (somehow) and negotiate which one of them is going to become “the primary SubAuthor” (somehow), and they issue manual patches to each other’s code (surprisingly tricky to do on GitHub) … then they can resume collaboration. I’ve done this myself – it works. But it’s massively more complex than the process they were using before, which was *one-click-merge*.

In practice, at this point B/C/D will stop collaborating. Sad, but true. This happens over and over again on GitHub projects – when a SubAuthor arises, the other collaborators stop collaborating and become new SubAuthors in their own right.

Often it feels like watching a religion split, with each of the senior priests declaring themself “the new Prophet”, and going forth to spread (their) word…

Net effect: GitHub may be killing open-source projects

In theory, GitHub is wonderful.

But the combination of its bad design around some core use-cases, and its intransigence when it comes to the VERY common case of a single person disappearing … have lead to the point where I believe it’s killing projects. This is a gross generalization – and not every project that loses its Author will get this problem – but I’ve encountered more and more “dead” projects on GitHub over the course of 2011.

Of course … the way GitHub is designed, *those projects do not appear to be dead*. Often they appear to be very much “alive” – there’s tonnes of activity.

But all that activity is going on in radically different and massively incompatible forks. It’s wasted time and energy, it’s programmers fixing the same bugs – multiple times – because they are NOT collaborating any more.

In the case I cited at the start, 100-plus developers have (probably) re-written the same fixes for the same problems.

i.e. the total effect of this project is tending towards ONE HUNDRED TIMES less than the sum of its parts.

Note: LESS … not more!

There’s some value there, still – anyone can come along and start from the original project and make their own fork. But it’s a sad and sorry fraction of what the Open Source world dreamed of when the word Collaboration was fresh and exciting.

This is UnCollaboration. And its becoming depressingly common.

StackOverfow: PLEASE fix your search engine

StackOverflow.com has long had one of the worst search-engines I’ve ever seen. It’s clearly a simple thing hacked together. It generally doesn’t work, and most of the people I know use google isntead, and rely upon Google to collage all the stackoverflow results together.

Occasionally, you have search terms where Google gives you lots of non-programming hits (e.g. “iphone video (something)”. So the above method fails, and you have to use the appalling SO search engine.

Then you get this, because the search engine is so poor that it often ignores search-terms, so you have to creatively re-search and experiment to find the results you need:

ARRGGGH!!!

Top steps tips viral mobile iphone success profit

Did that get your attention?

In the last day or so, I’ve seen a barrage of crap on this topic – much of it ACTIVELY destructive (it’ll make your iPhone apps less successful than if you didn’t do it!). I’m not going to hotlink most of them – they don’t deserve the attention – but some of them mix bad with good, e.g. a guest post from someone with some good points, but also glaring inaccuracies.

So, some myths:

Thursday is the best day to launch an app

No. It’s one of the worst days. Why? Because every idiot who ever read “Thursday is the best day to launch an app” … now launches their apps on Thursday. Duh!

Facebook and Twitter sharing will make your app “go viral”

Virality is based on value, not on the presence of a corporate logo. Find some *real* iPhone developers, and ask them what happens if you launch an app with sharing in it.

Only apps that are already spreading virally, and heading for major success, ever benefit from this integration.

i.e. don’t bother until you actually need it; in some cases, for big apps, where you’re confident of 100,000 initial downloads … you may need it at launch. Most apps don’t.

Choose carefully every word in your iTunes description

Nope. Ask any experienced developer how many of their users read the iTunes description, and they’ll probably laugh at you. There’s a really, really good reason for this (but this is a post on what NOT to do, not what to do).

Check-in makes your app as popular as FourSquare

Um … WTF? How stupid are you?

“You need check-in on everything. Let your users check in to articles, blog posts, events, places, shopping items, videos, or even slide share feeds ☺.

People love to tell their friends where they are and what they are doing, so just make it easier for them.”

Who’s that from? Oh, yes – a company that doesn’t actually make apps, but sells a product to churn out crummy identikit apps, where “check-in” is one of their features.

No. In general, it just annoys people. Unless it’s part of the app’s core activity – but in that case, you never had an option to “not” include check-in. (also: why are you even trying to compete with 4square? Have you any idea how tough that is?)

Chart ranking is everything

Again, this is from the school of:

“I am a marketing person who doesn’t make apps, and doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Nor do I bother to ask anyone who does”

…because this info is several years out of date (i.e. a lifetime in App Store terms). In fact, for the last 10-18 months, chart ranking has been largely irrelevant in a lot of sectors – largely due to the surge in FAAD and their ilk.

Engaging with “the community” will give you huge sales

Sad but true: first you need a success before you even have something we’d call “a community”. You need a substantial number of downloads – AND daily actives. “Ten of your mates downloading it once” does not a community make.

Variant: for games, pandering to the TouchArcade community

Ask a game developer how easy / successful it is to promote your game on TA.

Again: back when almost no-one was doing it, this helped enormously. But that was years ago. Now … good luck getting any visibility amongst the sea of other developers doing exactly the same thing.

And finally…

If you feel you want even more “gotchas” and things to avoid, have a look at Jake Simpson’s very recent (February 2011) experiences of trying many of these – and more! – and having them fail miserably.

NB: Jake’s experience was particularly harsh, and actually goes more negative than I think is accurate, in general. At some point, I’ll do a followup that looks at the good parts (things you SHOULD do, that never seem to get old).

But, let’s be clear: mostly, this is standard Marketing. If you’ve hired someone to do your marketing who even bothers to read these sites, you made a mistake. Instead, find someone who’s good enough at marketing to invent the tactics they need all by themself. Preferably, hire someone for their skill at marketing “strategy”, not for their knowledge of “tactics”.

Trademarked game-names – Stick it!

Oh dear, Sheridan’s. Money talks? After winning so much (accidental?) respect in the games industry, for defending against The Wicked Edge of The West, you then had to go and sue developers for using the word “Stick” in the names of their games.

Reaction? Well … severe enough that this lawfirm just put out a press-release to defend itself.

IMHO, this one is a little shakey, but I’m no lawyer and TM law is notoriously strong … so it’s unlikely any of the current crop of defendants can afford the legal fees. If I had the spare cash and I were in their situation, I’d defend it vigourously – but only if I could afford to lose the money; chances of success wouldn’t be great. Maybe Stick Golf has enough cash from their Apple featured status (but doesn’t the fact they’ve been ignored for a year, despite being top of the App Store, rather weaken the TM attack a little?) The trademark certainly exists – but I can think of a lot of minor (and some not-so-minor) unlicensed uses of it over the past 10 years (yes, 10 – i.e. 5 more years than the trademark’s been around – so the TM isn’t perfect), and I bet a good enough law firm could make quite a fuss with it.

Hmm. It’s obvious this was going to cause a big reputational hit, and perhaps someone at Sheridan’s deserves a firecracker lit under them for making the call on this. At what point should a lawfirm decide to reject a client? IMHO, and IME, in any service industry you’re as defined by the engagements you refuse as by the ones you accept. “Ignorance” seems an unlikely defence here, given they’ve got Alex Chapman, who I’m sure had a good idea what might happen if they did this.

How bad? Well, Sheridan’s is big enough they probably don’t care about the indie-dollar; so, maybe it really won’t affect them. Except that a lot of us sooner or later hold senior corporate positions, and we don’t tend to forget companies that go around shafting our fellows. Althouh Sheridans already does badly on Google thanks to pure bad luck – Tommy Sheridan – once you filter out the story of the swinger getting sued, indie-rage starts to make big inroads into the other links. Oops.

TEDxBrighton only receives positive feedback

It’s a bit mean to hilight just one culprit here – this isn’t that rare – but it’s something I’ve been meaning to talk about for ages. Sometimes, bad or broken user-interface has a direct, measureable impact on a business, due to increased customer-support costs (usually CS is paid by the minute or by the hour), or due to incorrect marketing and sales campaigns that are funded in future.

I’m not a UX person, I’m a games person. So, of course, it’s the game-design side that interests me here. Are there any free, public reports on the same phenomenon in games? I have vague memories of this coming-up at at least one of the games companies I’ve worked for, but we couldn’t find sufficient evidence at the time. IIRC, the argument was over “where is the point of diminishing returns?”, given the idea that decreased costs in support-queries justify *some* additional spending on the user-interface for a game.

Anyway, in the case I just saw, people who applied for TEDx but failed to get a ticket are auto-subscribed to a mailing list whether or not they asked for it (not unusual, but the practice always stinks of spam to me), and if they unsubscribe (manually) then their comments just get ignored: the website has been constructed so that the feedback form can’t be submitted.

I’m sure it was an accident (I’m assuming they checked the form before going live, but that it only works in one web-browser. All I know is that it didn’t work in Firefox). Either way, it would seem to ensure that “the first licensed TEDx conference” has great feedback when the licensors come to evaluate it.

Will this cost them? Not so clearly as other examples (see below for anecdotal evidence), but cost may come when they fail to take into account the negative feedback that people tried to give them, but was never received. (I’m assuming that nearly everyone who unsubscribes will have negative feedback – although in the past, when I’ve been monitoring un-sub forms, we’ve often seen 5-10% positive comments in there too. Sometimes you even see people “apologizing” for unsubscribing from your mailing lists!)

Going back to the issue of *actual* financial loss … this reminds me of a couple of talks at last year’s UX Brighton conference, and the websites listing black-hat/white-hat ways of “manipulating” the audience by making the “unsubscribe” and “refund” forms legally valid but practically impossible to complete.

In those cases, the gain/loss is usually quantifiable (allegedly). Although the practice was unanimously reviled by people at the conference, someone stood up and admitted to some experience in it – with the observation that although it “Worked” the client had then asked to un-do the process, because it increased the number of angry people phoning Customer Support (instead of using the website), and CSR staff are expensive enough that the practice had decreased profits.

TED: rejected

With only 250 tickets available, I guess a lot of people in Brighton will be getting one of these today:

Dear adam martin

TEDxBrighton

I’m sorry to inform you that your application to attend TEDxBrighton on 21st January has been unsuccessful.

As the first TEDxBrighton event, and offering free tickets, we have had a huge level of interest and the ticket application was very oversubscribed. … hope that in the future we might be able to offer a TEDxBrighton event with a larger capacity than the 250 this one can host.

Selection criteria in 2011…

It was an unusual process for a public event – the tickets are free, but there’s very few of them, and to be “allowed” a ticket you had to go through a review process, answering questions from the obvious, like “who are you?” to the bizarre, like “what’s your favourite web-site?”.

I remember at the time thinking it seemed very reasonable at the start, but increasingly invasive and judgemental towards the end. You want to allow/deny access based on the personal reading habits of the visitors? IMHO that comes perilously close to opening a can of worms that conference organizers should be steering clear of.

But it’s a brand with a very high reputation, so I ran with it, intrigued to see what would happen. I felt I had as good a chance as anyone – the conference is taking place in my home city, very close to where I live, and many of the TED themes have been a big part of my career and background.

Now that it’s done, I’m rather disappointed. (and of course disappointed too not to be attending the conference!) For such a high level of invasiveness, and an arrogant (although justified!) approach of “don’t call us, we’ll call you … but only if we like you enough”, I was expecting at least *some* kind of feedback :). This is the age of feedback, A/B testing, validation, and openness.

(c.f. my post the other day on UK Education and the A-Level blacklists: on the whole, those institutions that are holding-back info about public decisions tend to be frowned on these days)

What were their criteria? Who did they accept, and who did they reject? Why?

It’s not who you choose, it’s *how* you choose them

Over the years, I’ve become innately suspicious of any and all selection processes that aren’t fully “open”: with the judging criteria clearly documented in advance, and ideally with actual (theoretical) examples of good and bad submissions.

Partly … because of my own experience as a judge. I’ve judged or helped judge everything from obscure community programming contests, through game-design contests with cash prizes, to competitions giving hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash funding to new businesses.

Every time the judging criteria were given to candidates in advance, the overall quality of submissions was massively better, across the board. Every time the criteria were vague or secretive, the volume of crappy submissions was depressingly high.

…speaking of which, I still have some user-submitted game ideas from 6 months ago that I promised to review publically and critique on this blog. Every time I fire up the laptop for a long journey, I pull them out and go over them again, and I can only apologise profusely that most of them are still unpublished. A new-year resolution for me, perhaps?

Someone at LinkedIn needs to be fired

LinkedIn has unofficially officially removed their “updates” system – you can no longer find out what’s changed in your contacts’ roles, busines, lives, etc.

Some idiot at LI corp – who apparently is unaware of the normal consequences of becoming the lowest-common-denominator (i.e. unless you are the market leader on size, and *force* your competitors out of business, you price yourself out of existence. Well, you’re nowhere near Facebook, so you’re most likely to just put LI bankrupt) – has replaced it with a massive, 5-page long aggregation of twitter feeds.

(currently 5 pages on my account, but who knows how long it will get if more people add their twitter accounts?)

There’s a website for that – it’s called Twitter.com. Funnily enough, I already have 5 different Twitter clients, and they do an AWESOME job of subscribing to the twitter feeds I want to read.

None of that is applied to LI, of course – LI simply *forces* me to view everything that is tweeted by anyone. It’s as if the LI management team HAVE NEVER USED TWITTER IN THEIR LIVES, and have no idea how it works. Amazing!

The (hypothetical) idiot at LinkedIn has clearly achieved something – they’ve given a very short-term boost to the “Activity” on the site. At the cost of removing functionality that used to be there.

I suspect this is the beginning of the end for LinkedIn. At this rate, it will get more and more useless.

I wonder, is there a community anywhere for maintaining business contacts, viewing resumes, while preventing spam and leaving you in full control of who sees what and who can contact whom?

HMRC disdains Internet standards

Is there a place to complain that UK government departments are breaking the internet standards and refuse to fix their websites?

Occasionally, you find sites that do this. Usually, when you tell the organization, they’re a little embarassed, and rush to fix them.

From HMRC, I got a polite, pedantic, *but entirely incorrect* response telling me that the “standard” was X, when I know that to be false (as does anyone who has read the offiicial standards, as documented by the Internet RFCs).

They apparently can’t be bothered to read the standards, and don’t care that they’re wrong.

No wonder so many people hate civil servants: holier-than-thou attitude coupled with being clearly, inarguably, wrong. Sigh.

Awesome Ad Agency FAIL: Steal, then Insult

(where normaly people might “Be original, then Apologize if you fail”)

Just a minor piece of recent DRAMA! DRAMA!, something to cheer up the week…

This excellent piece of Advertising / Fun / Augmented Reality / Creativity was – like most big-budget ideas – based on someone else’s idea, someone who had the basic idea (and proved it non-commercially) first.

So far, so good.

This is the 21st Century. People notice when you clone ideas, and they comment. A lot of comments are brief and reflect the emotional reaction rather than a considered opinion. Especially if you disingenuously claim to have invented the idea, and put out press releases to that effect … when there’s plenty of evidence suggesting otherwise.

Still, that’s how life goes; you try something, you veer too close to “copying”, and you get some minor pillorying on a public website. You re-adjust; next time, you’ll try to add a bit more novel to an idea – or you’ll work harder to give credit where it’s due.

OR … or, one of your team can always just go for the all-out nuclear option, and insult everyone and everything in sight. In the world-readable comments thread. For bonus points, you can then delete your comments a day later when you realise what a douchebag you appear, and how damaging it’s become to your future career:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/pixelsumo/4752204508/sizes/o/

(I love how Nicholaus is naive enough / bad enough at his own career to imagine that simply deleting or editing a comment makes all evidence of it vanish :))

Low-cost publishing = easy-to-kill content

One great achievement of the web is the huge reduction in barriers to publishing. But the flipside is that we now see extremely low incentives for publishers to keep content “live”. Back when it cost money to publish info, you had good reasons to *keep* your content live once it had been published; you had a revenue stream to protect.

Nowadays, with publishing costing nothing, it’s often un-monetized. All it takes is the slightest increase in hassle for the publisher, and they’re better off killing the content entirely.

That’s the case with a site I just shut down. A small, incomplete – yet moderately valuable – resource for iPhone Developers, with a few thousand unique visitors a month. Too small to be worth monetizing, so I hadn’t. I was eating the (very small) hosting and support costs, until someone abused the site, and those “support costs” became non-trivial.

iPhoneDevelopmentFAQ – history

I created this site at the start of 2009, because there was no good FAQ for iPhone Development (AFAIAA there still isn’t; even today, the nearest you can get is StackOverflow. SO is great, but … a lot of subjects are “forbidden” under the site terms, and the site-search is very weak).

I set it up to be low maintenance, and to allow multiple people to moderate it (very similar lines to SO, but slightly less open, and a lot more “niche”).

In the past two weeks, after more than a year of “no active moderation”, we saw forged posting credentials and then pointless offensive questions. First rule of running a passive website: leave it configured to report (surreptitiously) on all unusual activity, so you can see if it gets out of hand / abused / attacked / etc.

Options

Deleting offensive content requires only a couple of minutes (to remember the password, login, and hit delete).

Checking what happened with the forged credential (probably unrelated) is more like half a day to a couple of days. I could audit the code, audit whatever 3rd-party PHP libraries were being referenced, and almost certainly plug the hole (or holes).

Or … I could do what I actually did: two lines of typing, and Apache kills the site. In a way, it’s a bit sad – it had background traffic of a few thousand uniques a month – and the whole thing is now gone.

The fragility of niche interests

At the end of the day, I get *zero benefit* from this site. I pay a tiny amount for the web-hosting and the domain-hosting, so it’s almost free, and I’m happy to leave it running for the benefit of the thousands of visitors each month.

But if it’s going to start costing me hundreds (or thousands) of dollars in lost time when I would otherwise have been doing paid contract work (every hour not working is an hour’s salary lost) … then the balance switches and (as in this case) I’m obviously going to kill the site.

I expect that the people who abused the site were just being thoughtless, and probably wouldn’t have ever gone back anyway. But I can’t afford the time to make sure.

Ultimately: Who has the time for this? A handful of callous acts just killed a repository of info.

Farewell, Metaplace

I got this in my inbox a few days ago, and it’s been forwarded to me by a few people since:

(NB: the fact that you still have to login MERELY TO READ THE DAMN FAQ linked from the PR statement is IMHO symptomatic of some of MP’s problems :( )

metaplace.com is closing on january 1, 2010

We will be closing down our service on January 1, 2010 at 11:59pm Pacific. The official announcement is here, and you can read a FAQ guide here. We will be having a goodbye celebration party on January 1st at 12:00noon Pacific Time.

Some of the correspondence I’ve seen on this – what went wrong? what should they have done differently? – has been interesting. Personally, I’m in two minds about it. I think there were some great things about and within MP, but from the very start I felt it had no direction and too little real purpose (and if you ask around, I’m sure you’ll find plenty of people who’ll confirm I said that at the time).

I’ll hilight a couple of things that haven’t come up so much in conversations:

Bad

  1. On the face of it, MP was “the bad bits of Second Life…” (poor content tools, poor client, no direction, no purpose)
  2. “… without the good bits of Second Life” (no sex, no mainstream publicity, wrong target audience to charge millions of dollars in land-rental to)
  3. Poor discoverability (how do you find something cool in Metaplace? Go to site, login, download client, wait a lot, browse a weak index, wait for more downloads, wait for content to stream in … etc)

Discoverability was IMHO the killer: this is something that so many “hopeful” social sites and systems get wrong, and only a few get right. The best examples are still simple: browsing your friends’ friends on Facebook by looking at photos of their faces (hmm; who do I fancy?), or using Google to find things you’re looking for (the gold standard in tech, but also the base *expectation* of the modern web surfer).

The history of SLURLs in Second Life should probably be required reading for people interested in this – if you can find ways to experience / re-live life pre-SLURLs, and read through some of the trials and tribulations that Linden went through in getting them to work.

And even then, of course, SL still had no browsability – but it least it had “open” bookmarks and copy/paste references you could share with people, and embed in webpages. That was barely acceptable (and still “awful”) back when SL was in its prime; the equivalent “minimum acceptable” is probably Faceboook Connect with full Facebook integration (i.e. not just FC-login, but having a bona fide FB app too that acts as an alternate access-path for your virtual world).

Good

  1. Well, obviously, there was a lot of great content in there. I only skimmed it, but apart from the problems above, I saw a lot of interesting stuff
  2. The AJAX/CSS/HTML GUI … it was really easy for me to mess about gaining and browsing badges (both mine and other peoples).

Early on, I found the AJAX vs Flash part particularly interesting. The former showed up how weak the latter (the world-client) was: sometimes I went to the site, all happy about the badges, the popovers, etc, and as soon as I got into the Flash client, my mood would drop noticeably. Eventually, I stopped bothering visiting at all; I dreaded the slow, unwieldy, “clicking all over the place to move fractionally”, Flash experience.

One question I had was how much this was to do with the languages / platforms involved: did AJAX/CSS inspire the people working in it to make lighter-weight, faster, more abstracted core experience? Or is this just coincidence? There should be literally no reason why either of those platforms forced the designers to provide the experiences that way (Flash is capable of a much faster, snappier, fluid usability experience – it’s been excelling at this for years).

Web 0.1: Apple Customer Support: “please don’t email us, just sue us”

I saw an article recently that described this attitude nicely: certain weak marketing executives believe that the purpose of a “conversation” is for them to have more ways of telling the customer what to do; they are seemingly incapable of understanding the idea that a “conversation” involves listening to the other person.

To them, email is a “one-way broadcast medium for us to tell the customer what to buy”, rather than “a two-way communication medium that allows us to listen and respond to our customers”.

Today, I received a great example. Here’s an email I received one month ago, from Apple:

“Thank you for renewing your iPhone Developer Program membership. New Expiration Date: 10 Aug 2010”

And here’s the email I received today, from Apple:

“your iPhone Developer Program has expired” (sent from address: “noreply-iphonedev@apple.com” )

A triple-whammy on appalling customer support there:

  1. Erroneously (I hope) claiming that they are NOT providing a service they have committed to providing
  2. Taking money from a bank account in return for a service that they then don’t provide (that bit’s illegal)
  3. …and:
  4. Sending all correspondence from an email address that they mark “noreply”; i.e. “if we (Apple) screwed up, we don’t want to hear from you. We don’t want to fix it. Go away”

I especially like the way they put this all together, so you get the implication that:

Apple would prefer me to sue them (Apple), or file a claim against them for fraud, than to let me send them a simple email and spare them the fallout of their stupid mistake.

Using a two-way media to deliberately ignore your customers? That’s Web 0.1.

GDC09: Meaningful Social Reality Games

Austin Hill, Akoha

Summary

Conference organizer introduced this as “during this first talk, think about the platform they’ve made, as much as you do the game; that could be especially interesting for this audience”.

I totally support the principles and the ideals. The game looks fun and interesting, and at the same time taking a very “Don’t worry, be crappy” approach to core game design: lots of classic mistakes made, obvious stuff. Is this a case of being brave enough to deliberately make the mistakes they understand (because they’re easy to fix later when you’re more successful – and it leaves you more spare time to focus on fixing/avoiding the mistakes you don’t understand yet) – or just naivety?

Interesting to hear the philosophy that fed into the creation of the game, the speaker’s personal journey and how it informed the design. On the other hand, I was a bit disappointed how little actual content there was in this talk. It was perhaps 50% or more made up of a few long video clips. They were long and very little was pulled-out / emphasised from them. Most had very little information content per minute. Worst example was a mildly entertaining video of one of their players giving an intro to the product – but, frankly, so what? This was “new” and “interesting” 4 or 5 years ago, but by now it’s happened thousands of times over, and we’ve all seen it for many games. I didn’t understand why we were watching it.

I have a sneaking suspicion that – given he’s a VC – the speaker was pitching that video stuff to show “look, we have players who love our game”. That’s interesting and exciting to investors who have little or no immersion in the online world, but IMHO for game developers that’s just par for the course these days. No?
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Free iPhone developer meetups

I just received an “invite” to a pay-for event in London about “smartphone development”: an evening in a bar with a couple of speakers and some networking.

So … you can go and listen to an iPhone developer, an ex EA person, and an ex Motorola person, and pay for the priviledge, organized by non-developers. The cost is 50% more than you pay to go to world-famous VC/angel/investor networking events such as First Tuesday.

Or … you could go to one of the many near-identical networking + speaker events that are free, and run by real developers. Here are four examples which show that Upcoming, meetup.com – even Facebook and LinkedIn – are your friends here, with loads of stuff going on.

The issue of “how” you organize these things and “what” you provide has been on my mind a lot recently, as we’ve just started a fortnightly one in Brighton (for anyone and everyone interested in commissioning, designing, developing, and launching iPhone apps). I’ve been trying out all the above sites for arranging this (I can write up some notes about the pros/cons of the different sites if anyone is interested). If you can’t find something in your local area … why not start one of your own, all it takes is making a page on Upcoming.com, and emailing the local game / mobile / iphone / OS X developer communities … takes about 30 minutes, max?

Personally, I find the grassroots events organized by people actually making this stuff on a daily basis the far more compelling option. I also find that “special name speaker” events tend to focus on the audience being expected to shut up and listen, rather than share and learn collectively – which isn’t much use to me these days. Unconferences for the win!

Of course, sooner or later, if your event gets popular, you’ll have to start charging because the only venues big enough require large payments, and the organization effort becomes too much to do in your free time. But for the small events? My advice: if it ain’t free, don’t go.

Tabula Rasa: Going down in a burst of glory

http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=22528

“It is probably safe to say that, despite decades of ever more spectacular Hollywood visions of extra-terrestial domination, humanity in its worst nightmares never imagined it would have to contend with spawn-camping aliens.”

(also … If that article is accurate, sad but unsurprising to hear that (apparently) the underpowered server tech for TR yet again managed to make a misery of gameplay, even at the very end. If that article is accurate, then well done to the ops for managing to get some instancing sorted out, but note to self: never let this happen with future twitch-based / FPS MMOs)