Invisible Autoupdater: An App’s Best Feature
August 31st, 2011, 7 comments

Ben Goodger, writing about Chrome:

Autoupdate is one of Chrome's killer features. It is magical because it continuously updates an entire development platform invisibly, frequently. Supporting it has driven how we structure our development processes. It was also one of Chrome's first features. Delving back into project history long before we launched publicly in 2008, the autoupdate project was one of the very first we started working on. The idea was to give people a blank window with an autoupdater. If they installed that, over time the blank window would grow into a browser. And today, some five years after our autoupdater started updating a mostly blank window that could barely load webpages, it is now an engine for delivering an incredibly sophisticated web technology platform onto our users' computers, which in turn allo

If I could start building ThinkUp all over again, I would've built its autoupdater first. No app should annoy users with the work of downloading and installing a new release; it's a big reason why app stores are a better way to get software. Speaking of, you should download ThinkUp beta 15 right now.

Open Source 101: My Refresh SD Talk

August 12th, 2011, 2 comments

Open source software culture and development can be difficult for tech enthusiasts without experience with it to grok, so I was thrilled to run a discussion on the basics of open source at Refresh SD this week. Check out my slides above.

I'm actively working on becoming a better speaker, so I'm testing different preparation techniques. For my CodeConf talk, I wrote my entire transcript word for word and basically memorized it, rehearsing it full-through several times. This time, my audience was a smaller, less specialized group, and I reserved half of my 45 minutes for Q&A and discussion, so I tried a more casual approach—just put together the slides, an outline, and went for it. It worked. I'm happy with my SpeakerRate reviews, even though I still have to learn to slow down and relax. So, while this isn't a straight transcript, here's a brief overview of what the talk covered.

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ThinkUp Beta 14 Now Available
August 9th, 2011, 2 comments

Just released our 14th (and hopefully last) beta of ThinkUp today. Download beta 14 here. If you're interested in getting involved in an open source project with users ranging from Steve Martin to Leo Laporte to the White House, here's how to contribute.


Randall Stross, writing for The New York Times:

At Apple, one is the magic number.

One person is the Decider for final design choices. Not focus groups. Not data crunchers. Not committee consensus-builders. The decisions reflect the sensibility of just one person: Steven P. Jobs, the C.E.O.

By contrast, Google has followed the conventional approach, with lots of people playing a role. That group prefers to rely on experimental data, not designers, to guide its decisions.

The contest is not even close. The company that has a single arbiter of taste has been producing superior products, showing that you don’t need multiple teams and dozens or hundreds or thousands of voices.

MySpace creator, Tom Anderson, writing on Google+:

There is a time and place for you to make your visionary decisions & insights and there is a time and place to cast your net wide and far to draw inspiration from the "poorly-informed masses"—in fact, I'd argue that with the right frame of mind, you may actually be led to your ideas by those very same "masses" because they were expressing their "fickle whims"—even if you don't do what they say.

What Tom said.

August 2nd, 2011, 12 comments


John Mayer: “Manage the Temptation to Publish Yourself”
August 2nd, 2011, 3 comments

Mayer realized that pouring creativity into smaller, less important, promotional outlets like tweets not only distracted him from focusing on more critical endeavors like his career, it also narrowed his mental capacity for music and writing intelligent songs.

"The tweets are getting shorter, but the songs are still 4 minutes long. You’re coming up with 140-character zingers, and the song is still 4 minutes long...I realized about a year ago that I couldn’t have a complete thought anymore. And I was a tweetaholic. I had four million Twitter followers, and I was always writing on it. And I stopped using Twitter as an outlet and I started using Twitter as the instrument to riff on, and it started to make my mind smaller and smaller and smaller. And I couldn’t write a song."

Related reading: Facebook and Twitter are creating a vain generation of self-obsessed people with child-like need for feedback, warns top scientist.

Also somewhat related: We share too much, and it’s stifling innovation.

FAQ: What headset do you use on TWiG?
July 28th, 2011, 5 comments

Viewers often ask what headset I wear on This Week in Google; here's a complete list of all the gear I use for the show with handy-dandy links.

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Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names
July 28th, 2011, 6 comments

Google+'s recent enforcement of a "real names" policy strikes me as an engineer's approach to accountability—black-and-white, when there's plenty of grey. While G+ developers didn't fall for many of the falsehoods listed in the article, it's an amusing look at what happens when inexperienced programmers create identity systems.

The First Time I Understood the Value of Anonymity
July 26th, 2011, 11 comments

There's a great conversation going on about why social networks, specifically Google+, shouldn't require that all its users register using their "real" names. To catch up, read Skud, Caterina, and Anil. I've got nothing to add to their points, except a quick personal story.

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To China and Back

July 25th, 2011, 13 comments

I just returned to the States from a trip to China, where I toured Beijing, Shanghai, and surrounding areas. I climbed the Great Wall, walked through Tian'anmen Square, "ate" a cup of tea at the plantation where the leaves grew, visited a jade museum, a silk factory, and a handmade carpet factory. I saw vacuum-packed chicken feet, got an herbal prescription from a Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor, tasted "trotters," used a squat toilet, sailed on a dragonhead river cruise boat, and did my best to circumvent the "Great Firewall." It was a good nine days.

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Kevin Kelly’s Six Months to Live
July 25th, 2011

This oldie-but-goodie 1995 episode of This American Life features Kevin Kelly, editor of Wired and Cool Tools blogger. His story of a "new beginning" had me welled up in a Beijing airport; subsequently spent the rest of my vacation pondering what I would do given only six months to live. It wouldn't be too different from what Kevin did. (Thanks, APJ.)

Edward Tufte’s “Slopegraphs”
July 11th, 2011, 1 comment

Charlie Park says the sparkline's lesser-known sibling, the slopegraph, is about to get its day in the sun. I'm already thinking about interesting ways to use these in ThinkUp.

Blogger/Twitter co-founder Evan Williams on blogging’s future
July 8th, 2011, 1 comment

What’s changed is that "blogging as we knew it" is no longer the easiest way to express oneself online, so it is not the choice for the most casual users. You have to be a bit more dedicated to blog than to tweet or post on [Facebook] now and then.

Indie personal bloggers are much fewer and far between then back in Blogger's heyday. That means people who are doing it are more dedicated to personal publishing than ever, and that there's the first ingredient of a great blog.

This Is a Social Media Background Check
July 7th, 2011

Mat Honan, who is ripping it up at Gizmodo, on employers running social media background checks on job candidates:

We ran background checks on six Gizmodo employees, including our editor in chief Joe Brown, and all but one came back clean. [..] I flunked hard. When that happens, Social Intelligence creates a report, which it would then send to an employer. And if you don't get a job because of your social media report, you can request a copy. Mine's filled with delightful details, like "subject admits to use of cocaine as well as LSD," and "subject references use of Ketamine."

Basically, I may never work again.

iTerm2 Hits Version 1.0
July 7th, 2011, 2 comments

Awesome, free, open source Mac OS X Terminal replacement offers a bunch of features over Terminal.app. Worth mouseless copy, paste history, and instant replay alone. (via)

Google+ Help: Public Profiles
July 5th, 2011, 4 comments

While "the stream" in Google+ gets tweaked for better privacy control, Google Profiles are now required to be public. From the help document:

We believe that using Google Profiles to help people find and connect with you online is how the product is best used. Private profiles don’t allow this, so we have decided to require all profiles to be public.

Keep in mind that your full name and gender are the only required information that will be displayed on your profile; you’ll be able to edit or remove any other information that you don’t want to share.

If you currently have a private profile but you do not wish to make your profile public, you can delete your profile. Or, you can simply do nothing. All private profiles will be deleted after July 31, 2011.

On requiring that users enter either Male, Female, or Other into the "Gender" field in Google Profiles (argh, gender is not sex), Danny O'Brien writes:

A strange omission in an otherwise very sensitively put together service: I'm a bit (honestly, very) weirded out by the fact that G+ requires you to provide a gender, and then makes it compulsorily world viewable (try editing who gets to see it in your profile).

That's often a particularly sensitive bit of information; especially if you identify as "Other". I mean, I can't be the only one thinking that constructing a list of people who identify as Other in a local area isn't something that we want to enable. Or women for that matter.

Speaking of gender identity, it appears that only 10% of G+ field testers identify as female. I'm trying to get a confirmation or denial from the Googlers-in-charge on that.