Friday, December 30, 2005

Flickr's 2005-Your Single Best Photo Group

Flickr's 2005 "Single Best Photo" group is amazing:

Everybody contributes one photo, and the results are amazing.

You know what's really amazing about this? The Flickr 2005-Your Single Best Photo phenomenon was not a result of "Customer Focused Design". The Flickr team didn't sit down and identify top customer scenarios, then prioritize features from 1-10 based on their customers' preferences.

The Flickr team built a lot of cool stuff, and let their users throw stuff against the wall until something stuck.

I think that most of the time, when people talk about how "innovative" a company is, they're really referring to qualities like "cool", "willing to experiment", "willing to do something just because it feels right" - willing to repaint your company web site with a tribute to Rosa Parks, willing to replace your corporate logo with a starry night version on van Gogh's birthday.

The authors of Why Business People Speak Like Idiots recently came to Microsoft to chide us on some of our shortcomings related to the above (namely, lack of personality). Could Flickr's "Single Best Photo" phenomenon have happened at Microsoft? Not as a feature or special project, but as a grassroots occurrence? On Spaces? Messenger?

Would Microsoft connect with their customers and the world by replacing the content on with something heartfelt to honor a death at the spur of a moment?

We dye all of our campus fountains green internally for a launch, yet we're so reluctant to show customers this side of our company. Why?

Campaigns like Start Something are manufactured out of marketing divisions. I'd argue it's time to take a hint, and let our most valuable developers shine through experimenting and bringing cool stuff to the world just because it feels right. But if you were an executive, would you buy that pitch?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Vegas: Night 3

Woke up and got a facial at the Mirage spa, followed by a quick hotel breakfast. Did some browsing at the Forum shops, but didn't buy anything (was too bummed about being down $195). Had a quick lunch with friends at Chinois, then went back to the hotel to take a nap.

Got sidetracked by the Blackjack tables on the way to take a nap, and spent 4 hours of hard work making back my money from the night before. Sat next to a big black woman playing 3 hands of $100 bets singing and clapping Hercules, Hercules, Hercules after every big hand. Sang with her after picking up $150 on double-split aces. Walked away up $75 (net, including losses from the night before).

Had dinner at Prime in Bellagio, and saw O again after 2.5 years. It was just as amazing as the first time. Wow.

Returned to the tables to throw down some serious cash before skipping town. Back down. Way down. No numbers will be mentioned, mostly because I'd rather have forgotten about it by the time I'm ready to have another go next year.


Vegas, baby!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Vegas: Night 2

Woke up and ate breakfast. Met friends at the Mirage VIP lounge (I’m not really very important, I just play the part in Vegas), then went over to the Wynn to check out the Ferrari shop (cool pictures on the way). Then back to the Mirage for a little Blackjack and a deep tissue massage.

Snacked at Spago over at Caesars, then over to the Palms for a tasty meal at Nine. Cabbed it over to Caesar's for drinks at Pure. Line and cover looked like a bitch, so props to Joey for getting us on the VIP list (more cool pictures on the way).

Back to the Mirage for more Blackjack ($245-> -$195. Ouch.)

Some adventures omitted. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Now off to sleep. Did I mention my hotel room has a pornstar mirror wall that runs along the side of my bed? Shibby!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Vegas: Night 1

Arrived at The Mirage in the early afternoon. Saw Ka. Ate at SEABLUE (oysters, prawns, scallops, lobster, seared yellowfin tuna, liquor, wine, coffee, and lots of dessert). Played BlackJack at The Mirage (12am-3:30am; $200->$445).

I forgot how unreal Vegas is.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Happy Holidays!

Just wanted to wish everybody a happy holiday (if you're celebrating one)!

I'm down in Los Angeles with my family for Hanukkah, and heading out to Vegas this week for a little bit of fun. Then back to LA for New Years, and finally on home to Seattle.


Thursday, December 22, 2005

Work Hard Play Hard at Google

A few weeks ago I blogged about Work Hard-Play Hard vs. Work-Life Balance.

Here's what it's like at Google. Yes, it's anecdotal, but I've heard similar things from Scoble upon his return from the GooglePlex, and from my buddy who just finished interning there (the same one who interned with, and initially convinced me to apply for a job at Microsoft).

Look at folks starting to respond in Mini's comments:

That is completely idiotic. Putting in code at 4:00 AM is all about testosterone. If this is what Google is all about then ride the stock wave while you can, bubba. Where I come from this is called bragging.

Classic. Does MarkL have a family? You can get off working like that when you're in your 20's, not getting laid on a regular basis, and wanting nothing more than to be coding. We've all done that. But at some point, life gets to you and you have kids, and other things going on. Is it worth not seeing your kids so some geek out there can have 1GB of free email? Not in my world.

I hope they aren't Microsofties.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Impact of College Hires (and Mini-Microsoft)

There's an interesting conversation going on in the comments over on Mark Jen's blog about the impact of college hires at a company like Microsoft vs. small startup companies.

Some of my own observations:

For starters, both Steven's blog and Mark's blog (and all of our recruiting blogs) have primary or secondary goals of recruiting readers to work for their respective companies. So, don't take everything that you read at face value. Ask a few people who work for Microsoft, and ask a few people who work for startups. As Dare pointed out, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle of what these two say. Also keep in mind that in order to be applicable to a large number of people, this dialog needs to remain about "Working for Microsoft vs. working for a startup" -- not "Working for Microsoft vs. working for Plaxo". Your mileage may vary from startup to startup.

I have a unique perspective because I've worked at 2 startups ( and Xtime) out of college (one internship, one full-time), and I've worked at Microsoft out of college (after returning to finish college). In my experience, and again, while your mileage may vary both across startups and across groups and positions at Microsoft, I was able to make an impact at all three places.

That said, at Microsoft, I've felt expected to make a much larger impact than anywhere else I've ever worked. When I first started, I would raise questions like "Which architectures should our product support?" I was quickly told, in every case, something along the lines of "We pay you to tell us that. Go figure it out." I work on a brand new product, and have impact (read: decision-making power) over much of what we do or don't do and how we do or don't do it across at least three large feature areas for which I am responsible. I also participate in, and influence, the development of features and products I'm really not responsible for, simply by weighing in and providing feedback when I'm so inclined. In my experience, having this type of impact at most startups straight out of college is unheard of for the reasons Steven cites.

On grunt work:

At a startup, you will do grunt work. But you'll probably enjoy doing grunt work due to the high pressure, "make or break" situation of which you'll find yourself a part. It's like Mark says - everyone does grunt work when it's necessary to get the job done (in a healthy startup, at least).

At Microsoft, there is grunt work too. There's less grunt work, because the role of a Microsoft employee is usually more specialized than the role of a startup employee. I know about 20-25 college hires, and very few are spending a significant amount of their time "taking care of build scripts, fixing code in bugs they didn't write, and setting up test machines" (and certainly no more than they would at a startup). For example, in my division, we have test labs, with test lab systems engineers and network engineers that specialize in being the best at designing and building out test environments. As a Program Manager, I'm paid to plan, design, and drive implementation of new software features -- not set up test machines (though I did poach and set up a pile of "test" servers in my office purely for fun - *whistles innocently*).

At both startups I worked for, I spent a significant amount of time setting up test machines (in addition to programming, and doing a very wide variety of other things). In my opinion, one situation really isn't better than another - they're just different. You need to decide which you would prefer. And as for grunt work - there's grunt work everywhere. The best workers are the ones who identify it and step up to do it without being asked - at a startup or at Microsoft.

On Mini-Microsoft:

This part of Mark's post really gets me:

if you want to know what working at Microsoft is really like, check out Mini-MSFT’s blog and the comments people leave there. I guarantee you that’s the real deal.

Let me tell you a little story. Back at the University of Michigan, students would protest a wide variety of things day in and day out. We'd debate the University's affirmative action policy. We'd debate selling Coke due to the company's negative environmental impact on water sources in distant parts of the world. We'd actively protest budgeting decisions. Every student government candidate would make extending the campus library and gym hours a central issue to his/her campaign.

Some of these issues were serious. Others were silly. Either way, they made big headlines - in our school newspaper, our local city newspapers, and sometimes even in larger national publications. If, without any context, a UofM recruiting candidate were to be thrown into the middle of one of these chaotic debates with some students literally crying over their "oppression", he/she might think the student body was oppressed, and the University simply a messed up place.

In fact, the opposite is true. The University of Michigan is a great place because of the conflict, the debate, and its tolerance thereof. I'd draw similar parallels to Microsoft. At no other company will you find such an open environment where people openly debate everything from the company's policy towards gay rights to the company's policy towards free clean towels in the locker rooms (nevermind the fact that Microsoft's buildings even HAVE locker rooms!).

Unfortunately, a side-effect of having 60,000 bright, rambunctious protester employees, is that dirty laundry will be aired publicly - no matter how insignificant or unrepresentative of the general situation. When Microsoft recruits come across the Mini-Microsoft blog, they get a skewed picture of reality -- despite the often insightful writing and comments. I'm still not sure whether or not I think the benefits of Mini-Microsoft outweigh the negative impact it has on recruiting, branding, etc. I highly support efforts by Chris Jones and others to create internal "safe" blogs that take on the hard issues and promote debate, and wonder if these provide a sufficient middle ground.

I think that Steven Sinofsky is going a bit overboard by removing comments that link to Mini-Microsoft. Mini-Microsoft is credible. Sadly, I think the reason some people detest the blog so much is largely because it is in fact credible. Anonymity doesn't affect the credibility of the actual information. If the information is wrong, take on the information, not the author (especially in this case, where Mini-Microsoft has actually proved himself to be rather intelligent and engaging).

And if you do believe that anonymous information cannot be credible, it still leaves me wondering... when did lack of credibility become a reason to start censoring comments on a blog? Blog comments that aren't credible still have the potential to promote insightful discourse and debate.

Anyhow, just my 2 cents. I was going to leave it as a comment on Mark's blog, but it got a bit long-winded. Sorry 'bout that.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

What the heck's a PM?

People are constantly asking me what exactly it is I do as a "Program Manager" at Microsoft.

Steven Sinofsky has the answer.

The funny thing is that while everything Steven writes about is true and central to my job, there's so much more I see and do. We really do invent our own jobs - and mine is certainly constantly changing and evolving!

If you have any questions about the PM position at Microsoft, shoot them my way (preferably via comments!)

(Now off to the company party for real...)

Zen Neeon?

Well, just as my roommate picked himself up a new iPod Nano, my 6 month old iPod shuffle died entirely on me.

I'm in the process of sending it back to Apple for replacement, and in the meantime started looking around again for a PlaysForSure device that meets my needs.

Finally, it looks like one is coming! The new Creative Zen Neeon 512/1GB/2GB is small, flash-based, rechargeable - albeit via cable and not direct connector (the old ones took AAAs), has an FM tuner for those TVs at the gym, a display, and 32 hours of playback time!

It still doesn't look as sexy as the Nano, and doesn't do pictures/video, but the FM tuner has really become a key feature that the iPods lack. And maybe when I have a device that isn't locked to 1 music store, I'll start buying music online (I still buy and rip CDs -- not a fan of lock-in).

Anyhow, it looks like the flash Neeon isn't being sold just yet. Has anyone had a chance to play with one?

Now, off to the company holiday party I go!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Business and Software Reading List

Joel on Software has posted a great reading list of books on business and software management. Check it out.

I've read (and highly recommend):

The Mythical Man-Month
21 Dog Years
Crossing The Chasm
The Tipping Point

I guess I have a ways to go to catch up with Joel. A bunch on is list have been recommended to me by many people already and are either sitting on my nightstand or on my Amazon wishlist.

I'd also recommend checking out:

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Good to Great
Brand Harmony

What's Running Through Adam's Head

Here's a rundown of what's been running through my mind lately...

Cool Restaurants

I went to two cool restaurants recently in LA: Magnolia and BOA. Magnolia's a cool new trendy bar/restaurant. No reservations, and a bit of a wait, but a great bar, great food, great people, lots of fun. BOA was one of the best steakhouse dinners I've had in awhile - modern, lively, great music. Highly recommended.

I've also started keeping a list of cool restaurants, bars, dessert places in my new hometown of Seattle. I'm trying to figure out how to incorporate it into the blog, which brings me to my next thought...

Blog + Wiki = Bliki

Actually, I cringe at the thought of saying "check out my bliki" out loud. ;-) But my thinking here is that the difference between a blog and a wiki at this point is mainly that a blog is primarily temporal, and a wiki generally has many contributors. The line is getting greyed, as it should. We've got blogs with many authors, but what I'd really like to see is blogging functionality that isn't necessarily temporal. I have a feeling some blogging infrastructures (Wordpress?) provide features like this... I wish Blogger did too.

For example, let's say I'd like to post a wiki-like page with a list of my favorite bars and restaurants. I'd like to update this page over time, possibly exclude it from my syndication feed so updates aren't sent out every time I add a restaurant -- this page should be omnipresent, not archived by the date on which it was originally posted. I think I could do a lot more with this site if it were 80% blog and 20% wiki (and conversely, I bet some wikis could use some 20% blog functionality too).

Alaska Airlines Check-In

At LAX, all of the Alaska Airlines Check-In stations now use electronic checkin machines. No more people (except for a first class line which still gets real people). I guess this is actually a good thing, except that the interface on their electronic checkin machines is absolutely horrible, has about 10 unecessary steps, and generally pisses me off royally every time I nee dto use it.

UPS Requires Gov't ID to Send Packages

I was at a UPS customer service center a few weeks back, and noticed a sign announcing that government issue photo ID would be required to send packages as of a certain date. I hate the fact that I have to show my ID to fly, but I'll put up with it. Requiring ID to send mail though? Privacy is going down the tubes... quickly.

I'm Subscribing to More Magazines

If RSS is so great, why am I subscribing to more magazines? I recently ditched the Wired RSS feed and subscribed to the print magazine. I like kicking back and picking up a big paper magazine with fun, cool, colorful ads, yet I hate ads in RSS feeds, and working through hundreds of new items each day feels more like work than pleasure. Hmm.

Wireless Laser Desktop 6000

My dad recently bought a Wireless Laser Desktop 6000 mouse and keyboard. I liked it so much, that I went over to the company store the other day and bought one for myself. It's so amazingly precise, beautiful, and ergonomic. I highly recommend it.

Cheek Kisses

When I was down in LA, I went out to a few bars with friends. When they introduced me to some of their friends, everyone expected kisses on the cheek. This is just weird. I mean, ok, on the surface it is rather fabulous. But c'mon, as if handshakes aren't bad enough. If it were up to me, we would all press our palms together, bow slightly, and say "Namaste".

The Windows Brand

The Windows brand is NOT cool, so why did we rebrand MSN as Windows Live? If it were up to me, we would create a new brand completely detached from Microsoft, Windows, and Office. That's what Xbox did. And why is Xbox cool? Because Xbox marketing realizes that Microsoft isn't, and keeps the brand completely separate -- so much so that people think Xbox is some strange offshoot secluded devision of the company (which it isn't). Windows is going for "clear, confident, connected" (whereas OS X goes for "cool, unlike Windows" -- check out their white on black magazine ads). Fine. But not sexy. MSN services should be going for "cool, kickass, sexier-than-google-yahoo-and-aol".

The Zelda Effect

I'd like to call for the abolition of "next" and "more" links -- in software and on the web.

Remember how the original Legend of Zelda game transitioned between map screens? When you would walk over to the edge of the map piece on the screen, more map would simpy transition into play.

This is what I call the "Zelda Effect". Why should I ever have to click "Next" to see more search results? How about when I get down to the 10th result, just show me the next 10?

Jill and I are talking about doing something like this with Ping. Another great example of this done in a really seamless way is Google's Picasa.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Snow Crash

Over Thanksgiving, I had some free time to do some reading for pleasure, and finally finished Snow Crash.

Wow. I know I'm about 15 years behind, but what an amazing book. After reading tons of business/marketing/pop-culture psychobabble back-to-back, picking up an amazing piece of fiction was a treat.

It has a great Wikipedia page, but be warned that it contains spoilers. The coolest thing by far was realizing how many of Neal Stephenson's imaginative ideas are coming true today - especially around the idea of the metaverse where people buy virtual real estate that sustains economies. I recently read a news story about this happening today. What will happen tomorrow? And will governments become less significant as corporations become more and more globalized?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Sleeper Cell, More Skiing, Ramblings...

My good friend Jegan Paren Rajeswaran told me tonight about Sleeper Cell, a new Showtime series. I'm a complete sucker for these shows, and watched a few episodes. Not too impressed (the writing is a bit lacking), but it's enough to keep my interest.. for now. I also love the soundtrack, which I'll probably never be able to find or buy.

I took the day off of work and went skiing with my neighbors at Crystal Mountain. Taking the day off was bad, but oh did it feel so good! ;-)

Ski pictures are here, and I've posted video of Javila, Steve, and me on Google Video too (I was feeling especially dorky today).

Tomorrow, it becomes illegal to smoke in bars and restaurants in Seattle. This morning, I walked past a local bar having a "Prohibition" party tonight to celebrate the last night of freedom before it is taken away.

Smoking bans are a tricky issue for me. Other than a drag here and there, I'm definitely not a smoker, wouldn't date a smoker, and don't love hanging out in smoke filled rooms with poor ventilation. So for purely selfish reasons, I'm not gonna mind the smoking ban.

That said, all things considered, I'm not about forcing my own preferences on others on principle. But alas, the ban passed. All the better, I suppose.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Don't Worry About What You Do, Worry About What You Don't Do.

I was reading a Just do it! post over on the Xooglers blog, and came across this insight:
Most organizations worry about the negative consequences of the things they do. Google, thanks in no small measure to Larry and Sergey's leadership, tends to worry more about missing out on the potential benefits of things they don't do.
For better or for worse, I love this way of thinking. I think most companies have a CYA policy in place. First, a bunch of process leads to risk assessment for each decision that is made. Okay, fine. Then, if any line item on the risk assessment leads to "Might be sued for doing X" or "brand/image may be tarnished for doing Y", the idea is generally shot down -- or "tabled for this release" (i.e. indefinitely put on the backburner".)

Without getting into specifics about all of the things that Microsoft might not have done for legal or image reasons, I've seen several specific examples of this way of thinking in my work experiences over the past 6 months (luckily, none on my project.. so far). I'm not suggesting anyone jump in and take every risk that presents itself blindly, but sometimes erring on the side of caution is NOT good policy!

In the worst cases, the risk isn't even as severe as a lawsuit or negative publicity. Rather, it's a risk that some technology/standard won't be adopted. For example, why will Internet Explorer be the last major browser to support RSS, and why doesn't Windows Media Player natively support Podcasts? Because hardly anybody had heard of these technologies and there was a significant risk early on that hardly anybody ever would! Lame.

I think this is actually one of the primary reasons why people do not perceive Microsoft as being "innovative". It's not that the company isn't innovative, but rather that Microsoft products aren't usually the first to jump on the 'latest trend' bandwagon and be first to market with the latest trendy features (even though we can point you to research papers and proof of concepts from 3-5 years ago in which a variant of the trend was pioneered at Microsoft).

How does a company change? I'm not sure it does, first and foremost because I'm not sure this policy is bad for business all of the time. It pisses off the innovators and early adopters (tech geeks aka the Slashdot crowd), but does it hurt the bottom line? I'd actually argue that historically, for Microsoft, it hasn't.

But now that Google... and Firefox... and others... are on the scene... doing all of the things that Microsoft might not have ever considered doing for this that or the other reason... and doing them first... who knows... perhaps a culture change is already in the works.

Evolve or die, right?

Just Another Manic Sunday...

Did you see Live Meeting on The Apprentice this past Thursday?

Gretchen has posted some info on an opportunity to work at Microsoft on Live Meeting, and a link to a funny commercial. Hehe, I like.

On another note, I'm completely backlogged on my blogging - lots of cool stuff to write about and very little time.

On Friday, I had coffee at Microsoft with Mark Jen. Mark seems like a cool, bright guy. Thanks for hitting me up. :-) (BTW, if any other readers out there find themselves bumming around this neck of the woods, I'm always up for an afternoon dose of caffeine.)

Mark's friend introduced me to Have you seen it? Pretty cool concept.

Yesterday, I went skiing at Mt. Baker. First ski of the season, and an awesome ski it was! I'm hoping to get quite a bit more in this season.

Anyhow, having declared today Super-Productive-At-Home-Sunday, I hope to do some catching up on blogging and other "To Do"s. I'm also planning on launching another blog later today, with a specific focus on location aware software. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Bus WiFi

The bus I take to work now offers free WiFi. Rock on!

(via Mike)

... and Jeff notes that using WiFi AP MAC addresses to pinpoint location just became a whole lot harder...

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Ping! Usability Testing!

Jill and I did our first paper usability tests on Ping! Woohoo!

We've posted some mockups here, and notes from the usability test here.

I'm definitely bought in to early usability tests on paper proof of concepts. What do you think?

Windows Live Mobile Is Here!

Congrats Mike on shipping Windows Live Mail for mobile devices!

Windows Live Search (web and local) has also launched. I've been playing around with it for a while now, and have gotta say it's been a great resource to have on the go.

This is one of my favorite teams at Microsoft. No doubt we're gonna see some really cool stuff coming from them in the future. Keep up the great work, and again, congrats!