David Fitzgibbon

What Can You Miss?

Next time you’ve been away from the office for a few days, ask yourself “what have I missed”?

What things have you not done, or not been aware of that have a true, lasting effect?

Probably not a lot besides small interruptions. Anything big enough will show up again.

Knowledge-seeking lottery

Knowledge-seeking, at a certain point, is like trying to win the lottery. You hope that with just one more book, one more documentary, or one more podcast will do it. It will give you the insight to illuminate that idea. An idea as valuable as winning the lottery.

Like winning the lottery, you’re more likely to get what you want just by doing the hard work.

Abbreviations

Abbreviations are often used in two selfish ways.

One, for speed. This is, when someone understands the context so well, they dont want to waste time saying all the words needed to give something its full title.

Second is for fear. They’re worried that people will think they dont know enough about a subject, so they create the illusion of understanding the context by using an abbreviation they do not understand.

Abbreviations exclude those who do not understand the context. Be careful of using abbreviations.

You can be kind by answering two quetsions:

  1. are these people new, and might not understand the context?
  2. are these people from a different context, with their own abbreviations?

If your answer to either is anything but a definite “no”, do not abbreviate.

Whose job is it?

When a new task appears that no one has done before, who “owns” it?

As ever, there are two more obvious outcomes.

One, we take the view that we are already busy enough doing the set of jobs we already have. Perhaps we shouldnt take on more. This is definitely safe, and keeps things predictable. Depending on how risky the new task is, this might be a wise decision.

Two, we take the view that, if we take on the job and do it well, we’ll be the leaders! Perhaps this is risky. We could fail to be first, we could fail to lead, or we could even just fail at being able to do the job. The rewards here tend to be larger though.

What should we improve?

We’re increasing our technological prowess as humans constantly, but what are we improving?

Is it better for a westerner to ask their Amazon Echo to play music, or to teach kids without access to education online?

The answer here is both. We need people to take their own interest in creating the technology, and we’ll all push forward. This is how we discover new capabilities and skillsets.

We just need to make sure we never leave anyone behind.

Time is like a Suitcase

We only have so much time. We hear this a lot, but I’m not sure we talk about it enough.

The main point we miss is not that we have limited time, but the specifics of how we’re limited by it. We know we can’t be a sports star, actor, musician, politician, astronaught, Michelin star chef and the leader of our country all in one lifetime, this is obvious.

Less obvious is that we cant do all the smaller things either, like: read all the books we want, go to all the parties, watch all the movies we want, have all the conversations we want, make all the money we want, sing all the songs we want, go on all the holidays we want, climb all the trees we want, eat in all the restaurants we want etc etc.

It’s like packing for a holiday. You imagine you can bring everything you want to explore a new destination. But when you pull out your suitcase, you realise how little you might be able to fit in.

Major hat tip to Tim Urban

Dancing with computers

Human interactions are like dances. We learn the steps when we’re young, and can navigate the dancefloor well by the time we’re adults.

Human-computer interactions are like dances too, but the computer doesn’t know the steps. We need to focus on designing our computer systems to be able to dance better.

AI is a new frontier. These are computer-human interactions. The computer will make up new dances which we will have to learn from them. How will the computer choose to teach us the new steps?

Money is a Battery

We’re often told that money isnt everything. If it isnt everything, then what is it?

I see money as a battery. It’s simply a social store of energy. In feudal times, you might have swapped a few eggs and some meat for a pair of shoes. This was a more direct trade of energy. The shoe vendor would have thought about how much energy it would take him to farm eggs and meat, saw that this would take him more enregy than it took him make the shoes, this was a good deal to him. And you, not being a shoemaker, saw that it took more energy for you to learn how to make shoes than it took you farming eggs and meat. A fair trade.

Nothing has changed for us except that we use money as a social measure of the energy a task taskes. You might still sell eggs and meat, but you store your sale in money, eg €50. Then you can use that €50 for anything. You can trade it for anyone elses energy. For example you might go to a show shop and trade it for €50 worth of shoe making energy.

Perspectives

There are usually two perspectives you can take in work.

One, where people judge you and the aim is not failing.

The other, where you explore with the goal of making something better.

Which do you prefer? Comfortable, or brave?

The trick is, you probably believe one is definitely the comfortable one or definitely the brave one. The answer is different for everyone.

Incredible Progress

We’re making incredible progress with “technology X”.

Two things scare me about that:

  1. WHY are we making this progress? What implications are there, good and bad?

  2. While we ( humans ) are making incredible progress with it, we didnt all sign up for it. Maybe we dont want to take the journey.

Slowness

Try slowing down, really slowing down, for just one activity today. I recommend during eating. You might find new enjoyment where you thought there was nothing else.

If you do find some new enjoyment in the activity it’s because you focused more on the activity. You may also have been less distracted by other stimuli.

Where else could you find new enjoyment by slowing down?

Emotional Economics

We all have emotional bank accounts. We make lodgements, withdrawals, we even take out loans and can go bankrupt.

Lets take an example. You have a friend who you see once a week. You tend to see them for an hour or two and it’s always pleasant. They’re making a little deposit in your emotional piggy bank each time. Then, lets say they ask you to pick up a bithday cake for their mothers’ birthday.

Two things happen here.

First, you might weigh up their emotional bank account balance vs the emotional cost of interrupting your day and getting this cake. They have pretty good credit, and this is a small withdrawal, sure, you’ll go get the cake.

Second, you’ll realise that by helping your friend out and getting this cake, you’ll actually make one large deposit in their bank account too.

There are plenty of other examples of emotional economics in action:

You know that friend you only see once a year, but they make a huge effort? They’re making a huge deposit to make sure they stay in equity with you for another 12 months ( that’s not a bad thing ).

You know that friend who loves to go out for drinks, and you have lots of fun with them, but they never pay for their round? They’re making lots of small transactions, but they’re slowly running out of emotional capital with your institution?

That person you were dating who you just broke up with? They just bankrupted you!

A lot of these interactions are one to one, and seem very financial, but remember that emotions can do something money cant, they can multiply. For example if you see someone helping and older lady across the road, they will both have gotten little deposits into their emotional coffers, and you might too, even though you werent involved in the transaction!

Another incredible things about emotional capital is that you can increase your profits by selling to yourself. If you’re emotionally in the red, feel free to take some time for yourself and it’ll soon get you out of emotional debt.

It helps to think about your emotional economics.

Writing

Seth Godin’s writing is excellent. It is concise, imaginative and informative. He got there by writing 6679+ blog posts and 18 best selling books.

My writing just got a little bit better.

Customer mistakes becomes your new promise

As a customer I have made a mistake that causes me to contact you for help. What you say next is a promise you’re making to me.

This is when you need to be careful, as there are two kinds of promise you can make me, each with its own dangers.

You might choose to promise me that my mistakes with your product are punished. It’s my fault, there’s nothing you can do, I will need to attend to my own issue. This is a promise you can easily keep as it takes no effort on your side, but be aware I may not recommend you.

On the other hand, you could make the promise that you will look after me and help me with my mistake, help me to resolve it myself, or even fix it for me without my own effort. This promise is a lot of work for you, and I will appreciate it hugely. This is where you need to be careful though, I now expect this kind of help which you have promised and will expect it. Will you be able to maintain this promise next time?

Be careful what you promise your customers when they make a mistake, it could lead you to making mistakes yourself.

Trust your users, like Amazon do

Have you ever had to cancel your credit card? You probably found that buying anything online became impossible, because they mostly paying with Credit Cards.

Yesterday I bought a Kindle book from Amazon. I went to my Kindle and downloaded the book and started reading it. Then when I checked my email, there was one from Amazon saying that they had trouble processing my card, and could I update it.

This is amazing customer service. They trust their users enough that they will still give you the product until you fix your payment system.

I believe this sort of customer service is needed more. Sure, some companies might lose some of their bottom line, but the trust between company and customer will flourish into future purchases.

Social media: websites, not a lifestyle choice

When’s the last time you heard someone say “[ site X ] is so addictive, you go on for just one minute and you lose an hour!“.

If you, like me, have found yourself saying something like this but then also wishing you had more time to do things like learn a new skill, spend more time with friends or family, then the following trick might help you out.

For me the worst offenders were Twitter, Facebook and Imgur. Others that I know people get addicted to are YouTube, Reddit, Wikipedia etc. The common thread to these sites is that they’re not created to solve a problem or help you complete a task, they’re designed to be browsed. Much like a casino, they are also designed to keep you where you are and to keep on browsing making the site owners more money every time you see an advertisement.

Let’s get it clear, I’m not saying that these sites are bad, they’re very enjoyable and I still love visiting them. What I’m going to argue against here is that they can start to control when you visit them.

These sites send you notifications. To your phone, email even by SMS. Also, because there is no goal to these sites, there is no point when you’re “done”. There’s no point you reach when you’ve “finished” reading Facebook, you can always post something else or reminisce about that great party you were at. This is why these sites can take up so much of your time. If you want to get that time back and still enjoy these sites, I recommend the following.

Notifications

Turn these off, right now. Turn off notifications on your phone, turn off email notifications and turn off SMS notifications. These are the worst offenders for taking up your time. They demand your attention right now. They ask you to stop doing what you’re doing and potentially lose another hour swimming through their site achieving not very much in real world terms.

Skimming

You do not need to read everything on these sites. That guy you met once at that party, he got a new pair of shoes? Who cares. This doesnt affect your life in any way and you’re going to forget about it tomorrow. I recommend you reply to people who have contacted you and then take no more than another five minutes to skim the rest of the feed. You aim here is not to read everything. You aim is to, as quickly as possible, run through the feed only slowing to read when there is a post by someone that you would meet regularly or is important to you. This way you still keep up to date with friends, but don’t waste time on things that aren’t important.

Make time

You dont want to completely just vanish from these sites however. You do still want to keep up to date with friends and know what’s going on. That said, you dont want to waste an hour again. So, the solution is to set a time limit. Give yourself 15 minutes ( even this I think is a bit long ). 15 minutes once a day to check up on your social media is more than enough. In that time you can reply to anyone who has make contact with you and you can skim your timeline. Eventually try 10 minutes every 2 days. Keep checking these sites less regularly till you find a balance that works for you.

Use idle time

Even better is to carry out this time limited check when you have idle time. I try and do this on the train to work. The journey is only about 15 minutes, so I have that long to check my social media. That means I’m then done for the day and can apply myself better when I have more active time at work or at home. You could also do it in a queue, during your lunch break, waiting for the bus etc.

I estimate that, using these techniques, you can save yourself at least 3 - 5 hours a week. I certainly have. Think of all the things you could do! I’ve been cooking more, exercising more, spending more time with friends and even wrote a little book, something I’ve wanted to do for years but have never felt I had the time.

Apps should be a bonsai plant, not a hedge

Everybody has different opinions on how to make apps.

There tend to be two camps, those that want to make lots of features to sell to people, and those that want to make as few features as possible to limit scope and focus on doing a limited set of things well.

I tend to lean more towards the doing little well way of thinking, but I havent quite been sure where to stop cutting out features.

However I recently saw a random flicker of an image on TV of a bonsai plant as I was switching channels. This I think is a great metaphore for making apps. A bonsai tree is carefully cultivated. The tree must be watered and kept in the right light. But it must also be trimmed. It is never trimmed so much that it is not still beautiful, and this trimming helps the plant to survive.

That’s what I’m after

The Pastry Box Project

I’ve recently discovered the blog / idea bakery called The Pastry Box Project.

This, for me, is a brilliant idea. Each year the blog gets 30 top web people to promise to write a blog post between them for a year. The posts tend not to be very long, but they’re always interesting, and from some top talent.

Some of my favorites so far have been from Andy BuddWilson Miner. There are funny posts, inspiring and sometimes tackling industry issues.

As you can see, I’ve only recently started reading, since a tweet I saw on New Years about the new group of writers. However it really has been a pleasure to get to read a new little idea everyday.

Have a look, see if you enjoy it. I think you will.

Never create for Social Media

A lot people care about having a lot of “likes” on Facebook or followers on Twitter. They want to be wanted, as the aptly named Cheap Trick would say.

This, though, is an empty endeavor and sadly too many companies see this as their marketing “plan”. They see social media as the silver bullet that will solve their problems.

You can understand how a lot of people might come to this understanding. Before, a lot of online marketing took place by email. You had your mailing list, you had what you wanted to say, and you fired it off to the masses. The idea was, through enough mud and something will stick.

But people (that’s you and I) have gotten savvy. We dont just open an email anymore. We first see who it’s from. If we dont like that person/company we might just delete it. If you still have our attention then we read the subject line. Nothing of interest? Delete.

This is how people consume email these days. You need to nail your subject line and make sure that you’re someone that the user WANTS to receive mail from to stand a chance of them actually reading your email.

What marketers dont realise is that social media is just the same. Just because you’ve managed to get a post into my Facebook stream, that doesnt mean I’m going to read it. It just means that it’s in my inbox and I’m going to see if it’s something that I want to read.

So where can the marketers go from here?

Inward.

Forget about try to make social media a success. To me, agressive social media is like running up to someone and asking them to be your friend. That wont work all the time, and when it does it could be scary. Instead, focus on your product. Try and make it engaging. In fact, try and make it lovable. Then, in their own time, people will spread that love.

Arron Walker, a designer for Mail Chimp put time and love into their mascot

The Gifts of the Internet

I started in web design and development quite late. Unlike these kids, who I’m really admire, I only started really getting into web work during my masters.

The kids in the above article are as young as 14 and are now world renowned for being at the top of their craft. Compared to these guys and gals I started really late, in my early twenties.

I didn’t have the money to pay for expensive tutorials or to pay for extra lessons, and my masters wasn’t really teaching my what I needed to know either to get ahead in the web.

I realized I was going to have to teach myself, or rather, find people who would teach me. What I found was an entire world of people who were willing to teach me for free!

The internet gives a person the power to give gifts

I was reminded of how these free learning resources were gifts when I watched a recent video. Frank Chimero explains in his Do Lecture, gifts involve a cost. A person must stand to lose something to give a gift, whether it be time, money, effort or something else. He gives an example of a friend of his who gives an app away, for free. This he describes as a digital gift. His friend spent all the time and effort of creating the app, only to gave it away.

I was surprised that Frank seemed to have a tough time thinking of digital examples of these gifts.

I could mention a huge list of people that give away their knowledge for free. That’d take all day because there are so many. I’m going to point out NetTuts+ because this site has made the biggest impression on me.

NetTuts+, a site that provides free web related tutorials. They write a lot of PHP tutorials on the site. While I was doing my Masters I had to learn some basic PHP. I sucked. I really sucked. I just couldn’t learn it. It wasn’t that the concepts were particularly tough, I just found that they way it was being taught to me didn’t work. I wasn’t very upset. I didn’t really get what all this code could do and I just wanted to get my assignment finished.

However, when I found NetTuts+ I was able to find examples of what I had to learn for college. This was great. I could get the project done quickly and be done with it.

However, NetTuts explained everything really simply. I got it. I realized that they liked what they was doing. Then I realized that it was kinda cool. When I has my assignment finished I looked up the basics of PHP, just to see what was going on there. That was pretty cool too. I started another tutorial to try out the tricks there. I loved it.

I could have just copied the solution for my college project from someone in my course the next morning. But fact that I looked it up that night and that I had someone explain it to me well, sparked a passion in me once I understood it. I had found the thing I loved to do. I had found that precious “Thing I Want to Do with My Life!”. And the best part about this was the price that I had to pay for all the education NetTuts+ gave me.

$0

Over the next few months, with their tuition, I learned PHP. Soon I had created a website for a local youth group organize their events. 6 months before this I couldn’t have imagined creating such a thing, but now I could create it. I enjoyed creating it and I had gotten all the information about how to do it, for free.

I thought that there had to be a catch. There must be something in there that costs me money. I have to have just gotten a sample. But no. This was all free. This was a gift.

Sure there are Premium accounts and books to buy on the NetTuts+, but they aren’t required to access most of the content. I have made some of these purchases since. You have to support those that support you, and I refer to the site at least once a week. However, I dont give my money simply in exchange for access to content. I am trying to repay them for the gift they have given me.

That’s what really makes me love the internet. Armed with just a crappy laptop, an internet connection, some willpower and these gifts you could arguably teach yourself how to make most of the websites on the internet. You wouldn’t have to pay for Text Editors, Image Editors, Frameworks, 3D design programs, anything, if you don’t want to. Hell you could even get the operating system for free.

This is what the internet it about. Sharing our knowledge. Sharing our expertise. Sharing our time. Sharing our gifts.

I’m starting this blog because I want to try and give back to those that have been so kind to me. That is said a lot in this industry “I wanted to give back”. Hopefully this post explains what that is. I want to give back that knowledge that I got for free. I want to dust it off, maybe make some of my own adjustments, make a few observations and hopefully hopefully create something new and useful. I want to put in my time and effort. I want to give away my knowledge. I want to give some other bright eyed young buck the gift of learning about the generous wonder of the intertubes.

Wish me luck, David

Dalai Lama Inspires Web Design

Not everyone would expect to find inspiration for web design or development from the Dalai Lama. It’s hard to imagine that the 76 year old religious leader would understand the best practices of interacting with users on the web. I certainly didn’t expect it. I’ve been following the Dalai Lama (@DalaiLama) now on Twitter for a while. He nails it, and I’m going to try and explain it to you now.

Most of the Dalai Lama’s tweets appear as short Buddhist teachings or proverbs. They teach understanding and living at peace with the world and those that inhabit it. What’s wonderful is that these teachings, I think, can often show us how to better treat our users and others in the community. Let me show you some examples.

Creating positive user experiences

Compassion is a deep desire to see others relieved of suffering; love is the other facet, a strong wish to see others happy.link to source
This teaches that you should follow best practices and create positive user experiences. How’s that? Well you can show compassion for your users by serving them a rounded button created by CSS3 rather than creating this effect with images. This will save them the suffering of longer download times.

The second part of this teaching can be fulfilled by providing love in the form of fallbacks for those users whose browsers might not support these new CSS3 rounded corners. Show that you love all of your users by serving up images for these users so that they can still see your design as intended.

Accessibility

Whatever steps, however small, one can take towards learning to reduce the influence of the negative emotions can be very helpful.link to source
Yeah, maybe adding in those tab stops and titles on anchor tags might only take a second, and nobody really looks at them anyway. Taking these small steps and adding these elements might only take a second, and they could greatly help the browsing experience users in certain situations.

Give back to the community

It seems wrong to think kindness is exclusively the business of religion; something to be neglected if one isn’t interested in spirituality.link to source
This saying is much more straight forward, and part of the inspiration for me starting this blog. These days everyone is looking for the best deal for them. They want free, fast, bigger, better, now. What the Dalai Lama is telling us here is that, whatever life you might live, you should always try to give back. People like Paul Irish, John Resig and others are examples of people who exemplify this way of living.

Use the best tool for the job

Something that I only realized later about the Dalai Lama’s tweets is that they are just that, tweets. 140 character tweets are perfect for his short teachings. I think that this is why the he has 2,131,491 followers on Twitter. He also has a Facbook page but this is not as popular ( 1,819,580 people like him ). The medium of Twitter perfectly suits the messages that he is putting out.

The web community could learn from this too. So often we go for our the technologies that we are most comfortable with. Are you sure that jQuery is the right javascript library for your task? Do you really need the whole HTML5 Boilerplate when there are more concise alternatives?

The main aim of this article is not to convert people to buddhism but simply to show that inspiration can come from anywhere. All you have to do is look for it.

David Fitzgibbon ©