November 13, 2012
@ 01:38 PM

I’ve had about four hours of sleep but can’t seem to go back to sleep. There’s a pain of loss that feels like a death in the family and I hope writing this down helps in some way of dealing with it.

Yesterday it was announced that Steven Sinofsky is leaving Microsoft. As someone who considered Steven to be a role model of executive leadership and a source of my faith in the future of Microsoft this is a big shock. Part of me acknowledges that change is a natural part of life and nothing lasts forever but this is still a difficult incident to digest. Steven was a leader who understood how to leverage the strengths of an organization to build world class products while protecting the organizations from its inherent self defeating nature. As the saying goes a group is its own worst enemy.

When I think about Steven Sinofsky’s leadership style, I’m reminded of Joel Spolsky’s guide to interviewing which has the following succinct description of a great hire

In principle, it’s simple. You’re looking for people who are

  1. Smart, and
  2. Get things done.

That’s it. That’s all you’re looking for. Memorize that. Recite it to yourself before you go to bed every night. You don’t have enough time to figure out much more in a short interview, so don’t waste time trying to figure out whether the candidate might be pleasant to be stuck in an airport with, or whether they really know ATL and COM programming or if they’re just faking it.

People who are Smart but don’t Get Things Done often have PhDs and work in big companies where nobody listens to them because they are completely impractical. They would rather mull over something academic about a problem rather than ship on time. These kind of people can be identified because they love to point out the theoretical similarity between two widely divergent concepts. For example, they will say, “Spreadsheets are really just a special case of programming language,” and then go off for a week and write a thrilling, brilliant whitepaper about the theoretical computational linguistic attributes of a spreadsheet as a programming language. Smart, but not useful. The other way to identify these people is that they have a tendency to show up at your office, coffee mug in hand, and try to start a long conversation about the relative merits of Java introspection vs. COM type libraries, on the day you are trying to ship a beta.

People who Get Things Done but are not Smart will do stupid things, seemingly without thinking about them, and somebody else will have to come clean up their mess later. This makes them net liabilities to the company because not only do they fail to contribute, but they soak up good people’s time. They are the kind of people who decide to refactor your core algorithms to use the Visitor Pattern, which they just read about the night before, and completely misunderstood, and instead of simple loops adding up items in an array you’ve got an AdderVistior class (yes, it’s spelled wrong) and a VisitationArrangingOfficer singleton and none of your code works any more.

One of the interesting problems that faces a large software company is that it is very easy to become full of smart people that don’t get things done and then institutionalize this behavior by crowning them software architects or some equivalent. Steven’s leadership style encouraged a process and organizational structure, which you can read about in his book One Strategy: Organization, Planning, and Decision Making, that encourages getting stuff done by limiting the ability of the organization and people within the organization to take up positions where they strayed far from the goals of shipping a valuable product on time and within budget.

There are lots of people who disagreed with his philosophy and approach but it is hard to argue with the results of his efforts. Under him the team that shipped Windows Vista turned around and shipped Windows 7, the big ass table became one of Oprah's favorite things and one that’s close to home is that a mish mash of confusing consumer synchronization products became SkyDrive.

The way things get done in Steven’s organizations is so straightforward it hurts. You spend some time thinking about what you want to build, you write it down so the entire team has a shared vision of what they’re going to build and then you build it. The part where things become contentious is that getting things done (aka shipping) requires discipline. This means not changing your mind unless you have a good reason to after you’ve decided on what to build and knowing when to cut loses if things are coming in late or over budget. A great post about what it is like for an engineer working in a Steven Sinofsky organization that embraces these principles was written by Larry Osterman about Windows 7.

Each of the feature crews I’ve worked on so far has had dramatically different focuses – some of the features I worked on were focused on core audio infrastructure, some were focused almost entirely on UX (user experience) changes, and some features involved much higher level components. Because each of the milestones was separate, I was able to work on a series of dramatically different pieces of the system, something I’ve really never had a chance to do before.

In Windows 7, senior management has been extremely supportive of the various development teams that have had to make the hard decisions to scale back features that were not going to be able to make the quality bar associated with a Windows release – and there absolutely are major features that have gone all the way through planning only to discover that there was too much work associated with the feature to complete it in the time available. In Vista it would have been much harder to convince senior management to abandon features. In Win7 senior management has stood behind the feature teams when they’ve had to make the tough decisions. One of the messages that management has consistently driven home to the teams is “cutting is shipping”, and they’re right. If a feature isn’t coming together, it’s usually far better to decide NOT to deliver a particular feature then to have that feature jeopardize the ability to ship the whole system. In a typical Windows release there are thousands of features and it would be a real shame if one or two of those features ended up delaying the entire system because they really weren’t ready.

The process of building 7 has also been dramatically more transparent – even sitting at the bottom of the stack, I feel that I’ve got a good idea about how decisions are being made. And that increased transparency in turn means that as an individual contributor I’m able to make better decisions about scheduling. This transparency is actually a direct fallout of management’s decision to let the various feature teams make their own decisions – by letting the feature teams deeper inside the planning process, the teams naturally make better decisions.

Of course that transparency works both ways. Not only were teams allowed to see more about what was happening in the planning process, but because management introduced standardized reporting mechanisms across the product, the leads at every level of the hierarchy were able to track progress against plan at a level that we’ve never had before. From an individual developer’s standpoint, the overhead wasn’t too onerous – basically once a week, you were asked to update your progress against plan on each of your work items. That status was then rolled up into a series of spreadsheets and web pages that allowed each manager to track all the teams’ progress against plan. This allowed management to easily and quickly identify which teams were having issues and take appropriate action to ensure that the schedules were met (either by simplifying designs, assigning more developers, or whatever).

Transparency was also a cornerstone of Steven’s leadership style. The level of transparency into the organization’s decision making process via formalized mechanisms as described above as well as his personal decision making process has been unprecedented in my experience at Microsoft. It may not be as transparent as Google’s TGIF but on the other hand, I don’t think there’s anywhere else at Microsoft where visibility into how and why decisions are made was as clear as in the Windows organization.

At the end of the day, I’ll miss Steven and his influence on Microsoft. I’d like to think I became a better manager and leader from my time working spent working in his organization as well as the multiple exchanges we had over the years. Thanks for the memories.

Note Now Playing: Fall Out Boy - Thnks fr th MmrsNote


Categories: Life in the B0rg Cube

September 22, 2012
@ 03:06 PM

Last month I read Mike Arrington’s Why I Changed My Mind On Klout (And Invested) and thought to myself that I’d similarly changed my perspective on the much maligned social influence measuring service, Klout. My road to changing my mind on Klout was due to two unrelated sets of occurrences.

The first step to changing my mind were the high profile acquisitions of Vitrue by Oracle for $300 million and Buddy Media by Salesforce for $689 million. Both companies were sold for hundreds of millions of dollars for building enterprise versions, tools for managing a company’s social media profile across social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google+. The lesson from these is that just because something sounds dumb as a consumer play doesn’t mean it isn’t a great enterprise play. More importantly it made clear that helping companies figure out social media is a serious business.

The second incident contributed to my rethought perspective on Klout was Facebook's acquisition of Karma. Karma was co-founded by Lee Linden after his initial success with Tapjoy which grew to a company with a $100 million in revenues. Lee was a friend of mine during his Microsoft days and I can still remember him as this hyperactive guy who couldn’t stop talking about starting his own company and taking advantage of the opportunities in the industry. I remember him telling me about his idea for a mobile startup that would be an ad exchange which would help mobile devs maximize the revenue they got from ads in their free apps. I thought the idea had a low barrier to entry but don’t remember actively pointing that out. A few pivots later, the idea evolved into a pay-per-install ad network that was pulling in a $100 million a year. The lesson from this was that once a good team actually learns the challenges particular businesses face in an area, they can pivot their product to better serve those customers.

So how do these things apply to Klout? Klout tries to figure out who the experts are at particular topics in various social networks. This is valuable to at least two interesting players

  1. Social CRM products: The companies acquired by Oracle and Salesforce now can sell products to companies that help them better manage their Facebook and Twitter profiles but there is still a missing piece. The next logical step is helping companies figure out who their most valuable followers are on those sites and helping them target those customers. Helping a local business like the Pro Sports Club in Bellevue (for example) to figure out a one stop shop for creating and posting to a Facebook, Twitter and Google+ is cool. But even better would be telling them which of their customers they should give a few perks who they could be confident have a lot of “clout” with their audience on things like fitness recommendations. Helping the Pro Sports Club find the budding Jillian Michaels in their customer base would be worth a ton of money to them.

  2. Twitter: The gripes about how bad the targeted ads are on Twitter are the stuff of legend. Personally I have grown tired of the number of times I’ve seen ads for women’s hair products or home installations of air conditioning systems in my Twitter stream. Even though it is a crude approximation, the inferred topics of influence on my Klout profile would be a much better basis for Twitter to decide to use for showing me ads than whatever algorithms is using today. From Twitter’s perspective, Klout is sitting on a goldmine of information. An attempt to acquire Klout by Twitter sounds as inevitable as their acquisition of Summize to beef up their search product a few years ago.

In short, after thinking about it I’m convinced Klout provides a valuable service that is worth a lot of money to certain players in the industry. That said, as a social media user I do think it’s unfortunate that there is a service that provides a score for one’s participation in social media since it creates a set of incentives that may lead to unsavory behavior that harms the ecosystem as a whole.

Note Now Playing: Trey Songz - 2 Reasons (featuring T.I.)Note


Categories: Social Software

I’ve spent the last two years leading a PM team that has been part of building software experiences that make me immensely proud. The team has built software experiences that millions of people will use in Windows 8 and a developer platform will enable thousands of developers to build great software. Over the course of the past year we’ve delivered

  1. The social experiences in the Windows 8 People app. With Windows 8 you get a great browse and share your friends’ updates on Facebook and Twitter. The feedback we’ve received about this functionality has been extremely positive which has been quite humbling.

  2. A straightforward way for Metro style apps to take advantage of Single Sign On in Windows with the Live SDK.

  3. A developer platform for SkyDrive which has enabled developers to integrate SkyDrive across multiple apps, websites and devices.

This has been one of the most exciting and fulfilling times of my career. After about eight years working in the same organization at Microsoft, first as part of MSN and now Windows Live I’ve decided to move to another part of the company.

Over the course of the past few years, I’ve looked on at Microsoft’s search competition with Google and often wondered why although there’s been a lot of focus on beating or matching Google in search relevance and experience, there hasn’t been as much heard about how we’d compete with AdWords especially since that’s actually how we make money in the space.

Recently I was giving one of my friends who works in our ads space feedback after using a number of ads products including Facebook ads, Google ads and Microsoft’s. He asked if instead of complaining about what I wouldn’t rather just come join the team and actually help out. I thought “why not?” and since then I’ve become a lead program manager on the Bing Ads team.

My new team will be responsible for a number of things including the Bing Ads API. Regular readers of my blog shouldn’t expect any changes. If anything I’ll try to increase my pace of posting once I’m ramped up in my new gig and can come up with a sane blog posting schedule.

Note Now Playing: Big Boi - Fo Yo Sorrows (featuring George Clinton and Too Short) Note


Categories: Personal

Eran Hammer-Lahav, the former editor of the OAuth 2.0 specification, announced the fact that he would no longer be the editor of the standard in a harshly critical blog post entitled OAuth 2.0 and the Road to Hell where he made a number of key criticisms of the specification the meat of which is excerpted below

Last month I reached the painful conclusion that I can no longer be associated with the OAuth 2.0 standard. I resigned my role as lead author and editor, withdraw my name from the specification, and left the working group. Removing my name from a document I have painstakingly labored over for three years and over two dozen drafts was not easy. Deciding to move on from an effort I have led for over five years was agonizing.

There wasn’t a single problem or incident I can point to in order to explain such an extreme move. This is a case of death by a thousand cuts, and as the work was winding down, I’ve found myself reflecting more and more on what we actually accomplished. At the end, I reached the conclusion that OAuth 2.0 is a bad protocol. WS-* bad. It is bad enough that I no longer want to be associated with it. It is the biggest professional disappointment of my career.

All the hard fought compromises on the mailing list, in meetings, in special design committees, and in back channels resulted in a specification that fails to deliver its two main goals – security and interoperability. In fact, one of the compromises was to rename it from a protocol to a framework, and another to add a disclaimer that warns that the specification is unlike to produce interoperable implementations.

When compared with OAuth 1.0, the 2.0 specification is more complex, less interoperable, less useful, more incomplete, and most importantly, less secure.

To be clear, OAuth 2.0 at the hand of a developer with deep understanding of web security will likely result is a secure implementation. However, at the hands of most developers – as has been the experience from the past two years – 2.0 is likely to produce insecure implementations.

Given that I’ve been professionally associated with OAuth 2.0 over the past few years from using OAuth 2.0 as the auth method for SkyDrive APIs to acting as an advisor for the native support of OAuth 2.0 style protocols in the Web Authentication Broker in Windows 8, I thought it would be useful to provide some perspective on what Eran has written as an implementer and user of the protocol.

The Good: Easier to work with than OAuth 1.0

I’ve been a big fan of web technologies for a fairly long time. The great thing about the web is that it is the ultimate distributed system and you cannot make assumptions about any of the clients accessing your service as people have tended to do in the enterprisey world past. This encourages technologies to be as simple as possible to reduce the causes of friction as much as possible. This has led to the rise of drop dead simple protocols like HTTP and data formats like JSON.

One of the big challenges with OAuth 1.0 is that it pushed a fairly complex and fragile set of logic on app developers who were working with the protocol. This blog post from the Twitter platform team on the most complicated feature in their API bears this out

Ask a developer what the most complicated part of working with the Twitter API is, and there's a very good chance that they'll say OAuth. Anyone who has ever written code to calculate a request signature understands that there are several precise steps, each of which must be executed perfectly, in order to come up with the correct value.

One of the points of our acting on your feedback post was that we were looking for ways to improve the OAuth experience.

Given that there were over 750,000 registered Twitter developers last year, this is a lot of pain to spread out across their ecosystem. OAuth 2.0 greatly simplifies the interaction model between clients and servers by eliminating the requirement to use signed request signatures as part of the authentication and authorization process.


The Bad: It’s a framework not a protocol

The latest draft of the OAuth 2.0 specification has the following disclaimer about interoperability

OAuth 2.0 provides a rich authorization framework with well-defined security properties.  However, as a rich and highly extensible framework with any optional components, on its own, this specification is likely to produce a wide range of non-interoperable implementations.

In addition, this specification leaves a few required components partially or fully undefined (e.g. client registration, authorization server capabilities, endpoint discovery).  Without these components, clients must be manually and specifically configured against a specific authorization server and resource server in order to interoperate.

What this means in practice for developers is that learning how one OAuth 2.0 implementation works is unlikely to help you figure out how another compliant one behaves given the degree of latitude that implementers have. Thus the likelihood of being able to take the authentication/authorization code you wrote with a standard library like DotNetOpenAuth against one OAuth 2.0 implementation and then pointing it at a different one by only changing a few URLs then expecting things to work is extremely low.

In practice I expect this to not be as problematic as it sounds on paper simply because at the end of the day authentication and authorization is a small part of any API story. In general, most people will still get the Facebook SDK, Live SDK, Google Drive SDK, etc of their target platform to build their apps and it is never going to be true that those will be portable between services. For services that don’t provide multiple SDKs it is still true that the rest of the APIs will be so different that the fact that the developer’s auth code has to change will not be as big of a deal to the developer.

That said, it is unfortunate that once cannot count on a degree of predictability across OAuth 2.0 implementations.

The Ugly: Making the right choices is left as an exercise for the reader

The biggest whammy in the OAuth 2.0 specification which Eran implies is the reason he decided to quit is hinted at in the end of the aforementioned disclaimer

This framework was designed with the clear expectation that future work will define prescriptive profiles and extensions necessary to achieve full web-scale interoperability.

This implies that there are a bunch of best practices in utilizing a subset of the protocol (i.e. prescriptive profiles) that are yet to be defined. As Eran said in his post, here is a list of places where there are no guidelines in the spec

  • No required token type
  • No agreement on the goals of an HMAC-enabled token type
  • No requirement to implement token expiration
  • No guidance on token string size, or any value for that matter
  • No strict requirement for registration
  • Loose client type definition
  • Lack of clear client security properties
  • No required grant types
  • No guidance on the suitability or applicability of grant types
  • No useful support for native applications (but lots of lip service)
  • No required client authentication method
  • No limits on extensions

There are a number of places where it would be a bad idea if an implementer decided not to implement a feature without considering the security implications such as token expiration. In my day job, I’ve also been bitten by the lack of guidance on token string sizes with some of our partners making assumptions about token size that later turned out to be inaccurate which led to scrambling on both sides.

My advice for people considering implementing OAuth 2.0 on their service would be to ensure there is a security review of whatever subset of the features you are implementing before deploying the service at large. If you can’t afford or don’t have security people on staff then at the minimum I’d recommend picking one of the big guys (e.g. Google, Facebook or Microsoft) and implementing the same features that they have since they have people on staff whose job is to figure out the secure combination of OAuth 2.0 features to implement as opposed to picking and choosing without a frame of reference.

Note Now Playing: Notorious B.I.G. - You're Nobody Till Somebody Kills You Note


Categories: Web Development

July 15, 2012
@ 11:04 PM

A few weeks ago Dalton Caldwell, founder of imeem and Picplz, wrote a well received blog post titled What Twitter could have been where he laments the fact that Twitter hasn’t fulfilled some of the early promise developers saw in it as a platform. Specifically he writes

Perhaps you think that Twitter today is a really cool and powerful company. Well, it is. But that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t have been much, much more. I believe an API-centric Twitter could have enabled an ecosystem far more powerful than what Facebook is today. Perhaps you think that the API-centric model would have never worked, and that if the ad guys wouldn’t have won, Twitter would not be alive today. Maybe. But is the service we think of as Twitter today really the Twitter from a few years ago living up to its full potential? Did all of the man-hours of brilliant engineers, product people and designers, and hundreds of millions of VC dollars really turn into, well, this?

His blog post struck a chord with developers which made Dalton follow it up with another blog post titled announcing an audacious proposal as well as launching the Dalton’s proposal is as follows

I believe so deeply in the importance of having a financially sustainable realtime feed API & service that I am going to refocus to become exactly that. I have the experience, vision, infrastructure and team to do it. Additionally, we already have much of this built: a polished native iOS app, a robust technical infrastructure currently capable of handing ~200MM API calls per day with no code changes, and a developer-facing API provisioning, documentation and analytics system. This isn’t vaporware.

To manifest this grand vision, we are officially launching a Kickstarter-esque campaign. We will only accept money for this financially sustainable, ad-free service if we hit what I believe is critical mass. I am defining minimum critical mass as $500,000, which is roughly equivalent to ~10,000 backers.

As can be expected as someone who’s worked on software as both an API client and platform provider of APIs, I have a few thoughts on this topic. So let’s start from the beginning.

The Promise of Twitter Annotations

About two years ago, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo wrote an expansive “state of the union” style blog post about the Twitter platform. Besides describing the state of the Twitter platform at the time it also set forth the direction the platform intended to go in and made a set of promises about how Twitter saw its role relative to its developer ecosystem. Dick wrote

To foster this real-time open information platform, we provide a short-format publish/subscribe network and access points to that network such as, and several Twitter-branded mobile clients for iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android devices. We also provide a complete API into the functions of the network so that others may create access points. We manage the integrity and relevance of the content in the network in the form of the timeline and we will continue to spend a great deal of time and money fostering user delight and satisfaction. Finally, we are responsible for the extensibility of the network to enable innovations that range from Annotations and Geo-Location to headers that can route support tickets for companies. There are over 100,000 applications leveraging the Twitter API, and we expect that to grow significantly with the expansion of the platform via Annotations in the coming months.

There was a lot of excitement in the industry about Twitter Annotations both from developers as well as the usual suspects in the tech press like TechCrunch and ReadWriteWeb. Blog posts such as How Twitter Annotations Could Bring the Real-Time and Semantic Web Together show how excited some developers were by the possibilities presented by the technology. For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, annotations were supposed to be the way to attach arbitrary metadata to a tweet beyond the well-known 140 characters. Below is a screenshot from a Twitter presentation showing this concept visually

Although it’s been two years since the Twitter Annotations was supposed to begin testing this feature has never been released nor has it talked about by the Twitter Platform team in recent months. Many believe that Twitter Annotations will never be released due to a changing of the guard within Twitter which is hinted at in Dalton Caldwell’s What Twitter could have been post

As I understand, a hugely divisive internal debate occurred among Twitter employees around this time. One camp wanted to build the entire business around their realtime API. In this scenario, Twitter would have turned into something like a realtime cloud API company. The other camp looked at Google’s advertising model for inspiration, and decided that building their own version of AdWords would be the right way to go.

As you likely already know, the advertising group won that battle, and many of the open API people left the company.

It is this seeming change in direction that Dalton has seized on to create


Why Twitter Annotations was a Difficult Promise to Make

I have no idea what went on within Twitter but as someone who has built both platforms and API clients the challenges in delivering a feature such as Twitter Annotations seem quite obvious to me. A big problem when delivering a platform as part of an end user facing service is that there are often trade offs one has to make at the expense of the other. Doing things that make end users happy may end up ticking off people who’ve built businesses on your platform (e.g. layoffs caused by Google Panda update, companies losing customers overnight after launch of Facebook's timeline, etc). On the other hand, doing things that make developers happy can create suboptimal user experiences such as the “openness” of Android as a platform making it a haven for mobile malware.

The challenge with Twitter Annotations is that it threw user experience consistency out of the Window. Imagine that the tweet shown in the image above was created by Dare’s Awesome Twitter App which allows users to “attach” a TV episode from a source like Hulu or Netflix into the app before they tweet. Now in Dare’s Awesome Twitter App, the user sees their tweet an an inline experience where they can consume the video inline similar to what Twitter calls Expanded Tweets today. However the user’s friends who are using the Twitter website or other Twitter apps just see 140 characters. You can imagine that apps would then compete on how many annotations they supported and creating new interesting annotations. This is effectively what happened with RSS and a variety of RSS extensions with no RSS reader supporting the full gamut of extensions. Heck, I supported more RSS extensions in RSS Bandit in 2009 than Google Reader does today.

This cacophony of Annotations would have meant that not only would there no longer be such a thing as a consistent Twitter experience but Twitter itself would be on an eternal treadmill of supporting various annotations as they were introduced into the ecosystem by various clients and content producers.

Secondly, the ability to put arbitrary machine readable content in tweets would have made Twitter an attractive mechanism as a “free” publish-subscribe infrastructure of all manner of apps and devices. Instead of building a push notification system to communicate with client apps or devices, an enterprising developer could just create a special Twitter account and have all the end points connect to that. The notion of Twitter controlled botnets and the rise of home appliances connected to Twitter are all indicative that there is some demand for this capability. If this content not intended for humans ever becomes a large chunk of the data flowing through Twitter, how to monetize it will be extremely challenging. Charging people for using Twitter in this way isn’t easy since it isn’t clear how you differentiate a 20,000 machine botnet from a moderately popular Internet celebrity with a lot of fans who mostly lurk on Twitter.

I have no idea if Twitter ever plans to ship Annotations but if they do I’d be very interested to see how they would solve the two problems mentioned above.

Challenges Facing as a Consumer Service

Now that we’ve talked about Twitter Annotations, let’s look at what plans to deliver to address the demand that has yet to be fulfilled by the promise of Twitter Annotations. From we learn the product that is intended to be delivered is

OK, great, but what exactly is this product you will be delivering?

As a member, you'll have a new social graph and real-time feed that you access from an mobile application or website. At first, the user experience will be very similar to what Twitter was like before it turned into a media company. On a forward basis, we will focus on expanding our core experience by nurturing a powerful ecosystem based on 3rd-party developer built "apps". This is why we think the name "" is appropriate for this service.

From a developer perspective, you will be able to read and write to a Twitter-like API. Developers behaving in good faith will have free reign to build alternate UIs, new business models of their own, and whatever they can dream up.

As this project progresses, we will be collaborating with you, our backers, while sharing and iterating screenshots of the app, API documentation, and more. There are quite a few technical improvements to existing APIs that we would like to see in the API. For example, longer message character limits, RSS feeds, and rich annotations support.

In short it intends to be a Twitter clone with a more expansive API policy than Twitter. The key problem facing is that as a social graph based services it will suffer from the curse of network effects. Social apps need to cross a particular threshold of people on the service before they are useful and once they cross that threshold it often leads to a “winner-take-all” dynamic where similar sites with smaller users bleed users to the dominant service since everyone is on the dominant service. This is how Facebook killed MySpace & Bebo and Twitter killed Pownce & Jaiku. will need to differentiate itself more than just being “open version of popular social network”. Services like and Diaspora have tried and failed to make a dent with that approach while fresh approaches to the same old social graph and news feed like Pinterest and Instagram have grown by leaps and bounds.

A bigger challenge is the implication that it wants to be a paid social network. As I mentioned earlier, social graph based services live and die by network effects. The more people that use them the more useful they get for their members. Charging money for an online service is an easy way to reduce your target audience by at least an order of magnitude (i.e. reduce your target audience by at least 90%). As an end user, I don’t see the value of joining a Twitter-clone populated by people who could afford $50 a year as opposed to joining a free service like Facebook, Twitter or even Google+.

Challenges Facing as a Developer Platform

As a developer it isn’t clear to me what I’m expected to get out of The question on how they came up with their pricing tiers is answered thusly

Additionally, there are several comps of users being willing to pay roughly this amount for services that are deeply valuable, trustworthy and dependable. For instance, Dropbox charges $10 and up per month, Evernote charges $5 and up per month, Github charges $7 and up per month.

The developer price is inspired by the amount charged by the Apple Developer Program, $99. We think this demonstrates that developers are willing to pay for access to a high quality development platform.

I’ve already mentioned above that network effects are working against as a popular consumer service. The thought of spending $50 a year to target less users than I can by building apps on Facebook or Twitter’s platforms doesn’t sound logical to me. The leaves using as a low cost publish-subscribe mechanism for various apps or devices I deploy. This is potentially interesting but I’d need to get more data before I can tell just how interesting it could be. For example, there is a bunch of talk about claiming your Twitter handle and other things which makes it sound like developers only get a single account on the service. True developer friendliness for this type of service would include disclosure on how one could programmatically create and manage nodes in the social graph (aka accounts in the system).

At the end of the day although there is a lot of persuasive writing on, there’s just not enough to explain why it will be a platform that will provide me enough value as a developer for me to part with my hard earned $50. The comparison to Apple’s developer program is rich though. Apple has given developers five billion reasons why paying them $99 a year is worth it, we haven’t gotten one good one from

That said, I wish Dalton luck on this project. Props to anyone who can pick himself up and continue to build new things after what he went through with imeem and PicPlz.

Note Now Playing: French Montana - Pop That (featuring Rick Ross, Lil Wayne and Drake) Note


Categories: Platforms

I read an interesting blog post by Steven Levy titled Google Glass Team: ‘Wearable Computing Will Be the Norm’ with an interview with the Project Glass team which contains the following excerpt

Wired: Do you think this kind of technology will eventually be as common as smart phones are now?

Lee: Yes. It’s my expectation that in three to five years it will actually look unusual and awkward when we view someone holding an object in their hand and looking down at it. Wearable computing will become the norm.

The above reminds me of the Bill Gates quote, “there's a tendency to overestimate how much things will change in two years and underestimate how much change will occur over 10 years”. Coincidentally the past week has been full of retrospectives on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the iPhone. The iPhone has been a great example of how we can both overestimate and underestimate the impact of a technology. When the iPhone was announced as the convergence of an iPod, a phone and an internet mobile communicator the most forward thinking assumptions were that the majority of the Apple faithful who bought iPods would be people who bought iPhones and this would head off the demise of the iPod/MP3 player market category.

Five years later, the iPhone has effectively reshaped the computing industry. The majority of tech news today can be connected back to companies still dealing with the fallout of the creation of the iPhone and it’s progeny, the iPad. Entire categories of products across multiple industries have been made obsolete (or at least redundant) from yellow pages and paper maps to PDAs, point-and-shoot cameras and netbooks. This is in addition to the sociological changes that have been wrought (e.g. some children now think a magazine is a broken iPad). The most shocking change as a techie has been watching usage and growth of the World Wide Web being replaced by usage of mobile apps. No one really anticipated or predicted this five years ago.

Wearable computing will follow a similar path. It is unlikely that within a year or two of products like Project Glass coming to market that people will stop using smartphones especially since there are many uses for the ubiquitous smartphone that Project Glass hasn’t tried to address (e.g. playing Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja at the doctor’s office while waiting for your appointment). However it is quite clear that in our lifetime there will be the ability to put together scenarios that would have seemed far fetched for science fiction just a few years ago. It will one day be possible to look up the Facebook profile or future equivalent of anyone you meet at a bar, business meeting or on the street without the person being none the wiser simply by looking at them. Most of the technology to do this already exists, it just isn’t in a portable form factor. That is just one scenario that not only will be possible but will be commonplace with products like Project Glass in the future.

Focusing on Project Glass making smartphones obsolete is like focusing on the fact that the iPhone made iPod competitors like the Creative Zen Vision obsolete. Even if it did, that was not the interesting impact. As a software professional, it is interesting to ask yourself whether your product or business will be one of those obsoleted by this technology or empowered by it. Using analogies from the iPhone era, will you be RIM or will you be Instagram?

PS: I have to wonder what Apple thinks of all of this. When I look at the image below, I see a clunky and obtrusive piece of headgear that I can imagine makes Jonathan Ive roll his eyes and think he could do much better. Given Apple’s mantra is “If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will” I expect this space to be very interesting over the next ten years.

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Categories: Technology

I stumbled on an interesting blog post today titled Why Files Exist which contains the following excerpt

Whenever there is a conversation about the future of computing, the discussion inevitably turns to the notion of a “File.” After all, most tablets and phones don’t show the user anything that resembles a file, only Apps that contain their own content, tucked away inside their own opaque storage structure.

This is wrong. Files are abstraction layers around content that are necessary for interoperability. Without the notion of a File or other similar shared content abstraction, the ability to use different applications with the same information grinds to a halt, which hampers innovation and user experience.

Given that one of the hats I wear in my day job is responsibility for the SkyDrive API, questions like whether the future of computing should include an end user facing notion of files and how interoperability across apps should work are often at the top of my mind. I originally wasn’t going to write about this blog post until I saw the discussion on Hacker News which was a bit disappointing since people either decided to get very pedantic on the specifics of how a computer file is represented in the operating system or argued that inter-app sharing between apps via intents (on Android) or contracts (in Windows 8/Windows RT) makes the notions of files obsolete.

The app-centric view of data (as espoused by iOS) is that apps own any content created within the app and there is no mechanism outside the app’s user experience to interact with or manage this data. This also means there is no global namespace where other apps or the end user can interact with this data also known as a file system. There are benefits to this approach such as greatly simplifying the concepts the user has to deal with and preventing both the user or other apps from mucking with the app’s experience. There are also costs to this approach as well.

The biggest cost is as highlighted in the Why Files Exist post is that interoperability is compromised. The reason is that it is a well known truism that data outlives applications. My contact list, my music library and the code for my side projects across the years are all examples of data which has outlived the original applications I used to create and manage them. The majority of this content is in the cloud today primarily because I want universal access to my data from any device and any app. A world where moving from Emacs to Visual Studio or WinAmp to iTunes means losing my files created in those applications would be an unfortunate place to live in the long term.

App-to-app sharing as is done with Android intents or contracts in Windows 8 is a powerful way to create loosely coupled integration between apps. However there is a big difference between one off sharing of data (e.g. share this link from my browser app to my social networking app) to actual migration or reuse of data (e.g. import my favorites and passwords from one browser app to another). Without a shared global namespace that all apps can access (i.e. a file system) you cannot easily do the latter.

The Why Files Exist ends with

Now, I agree with Steve Jobs saying in 2005 that a full blow filesystem with folders and all the rest might not be necessary, but in every OS there needs to be at least some user-facing notion of a file, some system-wide agreed upon way to package content and send it between applications. Otherwise we’ll just end up with a few monolithic applications that do everything poorly.

Here I actually slightly disagree with characterizing the problem as needing a way to package content and send it between applications. Often my data is actually conceptually independent of an application and it is more like I want to give access to my data to apps not that I want to package up some of my data from one app to another. For example, I wouldn’t characterize playing my MP3s originally ripped in Winamp or bought from Amazon MP3 in iTunes as packaging content between those apps and iTunes. Rather there is a global concept known as my music library which multiple apps can add to or play from.

So back to the question that is the title of this blog post; have files outlived their usefulness? Only if you think reusing data across multiple applications has.

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Categories: Cloud Computing | Technology

A story I’ve been following with some bemusement on Techmeme is the freak out about the Girls Around Me app. It started with the article in Cult of Mac titled This Creepy App Isn’t Just Stalking Women Without Their Knowledge, It’s A Wake-Up Call About Facebook Privacy [Update] which strangely blamed Facebook for the fact that an app was written using the FourSquare API that showed women who had recently checked in on FourSquare. True, some of these women had linked their Facebook accounts to FourSquare so one could click through to their Facebook profile but they also can link their Twitter profiles as well which is strangely not mentioned in the original article.

The reactions against the app have been swift. FourSquare banned the app from calling their API and listed a number of Terms of Service violations as the reason including


We also reserve the right to revoke access to our API for any reason, at our sole discretion. That being said, we aim to be consistent and transparent in our policies and how we enforce them

Apple has similarly acted against them and pulled the app from the Apple app store as well. I’ve found all of this interesting since none of this is new and FourSquare itself enables and encourages the sorts of thing this app has done.

The notion of using check-ins as a way for single people to find where the ladies are during a night out is not new. The eponymously named Where The Ladies At app has been doing this for over a year but anonymizes the information so that you can tell that there have been 10 check-ins from women at that new nightclub in town and only 3 from the bar nearby but doesn’t show who they are. However FourSquare itself had already signaled that it planned to move beyond anonymization in an interview granted to the Wall Street Journal a mere three weeks ago titled Foursquare Moves Beyond Check-Ins which states

Crowley said the company started noticing that many of its 15 million users weren’t using the app’s main function: a check-in feature that lets people broadcast where they are to their friends. Instead, users are increasingly turning to a feature the company launched in February last year called Explore, which gives users data about places around them that their friends have visited and shows them tips that have been left behind.

“There are a lot of people using Foursquare who aren’t checking in. People just open the app to consume data,” explained Crowley. “That’s a really important and interesting trend.”

Crowley said he had an epiphany at the end of 2011 that he needed to pivot the app to make consuming data a more central experience. For example, Crowley said Foursquare’s next version will focus more on Explore. The company also launched a feature in October called Radar, which users can turn on to alert them when they are near places Foursquare thinks they might enjoy.

If you are a FourSquare user, you can try out and it is hard to understand why it is OK but Girls Around Me isn’t. I posted a screenshot of the Explore part of the FourSquare iOS app and here it is showing me some coffee shops in the Puget Sound area.

Within two clicks I was on the Facebook page of someone who was currently at a Starbucks listed on the map. This is the same feature that Girls Around Me got pulled from the Apple App Store from and that FourSquare calls a violation of their terms of use. Does that mean the FourSquare iOS app is going to be banned by FourSquare?

The reality is that this is the first time the media has really stopped to think about the risks of using FourSquare and has blown some of their realizations out of proportion. The fact of the matter is if

  1. You connect your Facebook or Twitter account to FourSquare AND
  2. Enable public check-ins

Then total strangers can see where you currently are in real-time and look up more information about you than you’d expect a total stranger sitting across from you at Starbucks would have.

I think this is really a user education issue about the risks of taking the above two steps. I also think this is being blown out of proportion by the tech press who don’t use FourSquare and can’t come to grips with the fact that people may be OK publicly sharing where they are on FourSquare since they had to turn on the feature in the first place. Of course, FourSquare pushes you to do this by tying being able to become the mayor of a location to sharing your check-ins publicly but it is still a step users have to explicitly take.

Personally I can’t wait to see if Apple or FourSquare ban the FourSquare iOS app for enabling the same scenarios as the Girls Around Me app. ;)

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If you hang around technology blogs and news sites, you may have seen the recent dust up after it was discovered that many iOS apps upload user address books to their servers to perform friend finding operations. There has been some outrage about this because this has happened silently in the majority of cases. The reasons for doing this typically are not nefarious. Users sign up to the service and provide their email address as a username or contact field. This is used to uniquely identify the user. Then when one of the user’s friends joins the service, the app asks the friend for their contact list then finds all of the existing users they whose email addresses are in the new users list of contacts. Such people you may know features are the bread and butter of growing the size of a social graph and connectedness in social applications.

There are a number of valid problems with this practice and the outrage has focused on one of them; apps were doing this without explicitly telling users what they were doing and then permanently storing these contact lists. However there are other problems as well that get into tricky territory around data ownership and data portability. The trickiest being whether it is OK for me to share your email address and other contact details with another entity without your permission given it identifies you. If you are a private individual with an unlisted phone number and private email address only given to a handful of people, it seems tough to concede that it is OK for me to share this information with any random app that asks me especially if you have this information as private for a reason (e.g. celebrity, high ranking government official, victim of a crime, etc).

As part of my day job leading the program management team behind the Live Connect developer program which among other things provides access to the Hotmail and Messenger contact lists, these sorts of tricky issues where one has to balance data portability and user privacy are top of mind.  I was rather pleased this morning to read a blog post titled Hashing for privacy in social apps by Matt Gemmell which advocates the approach we took with Live Connect. Matt writes

Herein lies the (false) dilemma: you’re getting a handy social feature (automatic connection with your friends), but you’re losing your privacy (by allowing your friends’ email addresses to be uploaded to Path’s servers). As a matter of fact, your friends are also losing their privacy too.

What an awful choice to have to make! If only there was a third option!

For fun, let’s have a think about what that third option would be.

Mathematics, not magic

Hypothetically, what we want is something that sounds impossible:

  1. Some way (let’s call it a Magic Spell) to change some personal info (like an email address) into something else, so it no longer looks like an email address and can’t be used as one. Let’s call this new thing Gibberish.
  2. It must be impossible (or at least very time-consuming) to change the Gibberish back into the original email address (i.e. to undo the Magic Spell).
  3. We still need a way to compare two pieces of Gibberish to see if they’re the same.

Clearly, that’s an impossible set of demands.

Except that it’s not impossible at all.

We’ve just described hashing, which is a perfectly real and readily-available thing. Unlike almost all forms of magic, it does actually exist - and like all actually-existing forms of magic, it’s based entirely on mathematics. Science to the rescue!

This is the practice we’ve advocated with Live Connect as well. Instead of returning email addresses of a user’s contacts from our APIs, we provide email hashes instead. That way applications don’t need to store or match against actual email addresses of our users but can still get all the value of providing a user with the a way to find their Hotmail or Messenger contacts who also use that service.

We also provide code samples that show how to work with these hashes and I remember being in discussions with folks on the team as to whether developers would ever want to do this since storing and comparing email addresses is less code than working with hashes. Our conclusion was that it would be just a matter of time before this would be an industry best practice and it was best if we were ahead of the curve. It will be interesting to see if our industry learns from this experience or whether it will take external pressure.

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Categories: Web Development

Towards the end of last year, I realized I was about to bump up against the ”use it or lose it” vacation policy at work which basically means I either had to take about two weeks of paid vacation or forfeit the vacation. Since I hadn’t planned the time off I immediately became worried about what to do with all that idle time especially since if left to my own devices I’d play 80 straight hours of Modern Warfare 3 without pause.

To make sure the time was productively used I decided to write a mobile app as a learning exercise about the world of mobile development since I’ve read so much about it and part of my day job is building APIs for developers of mobile apps.  I ended up enjoying the experience so much I added an extra week of vacation and wrote two apps for Windows Phone. I’d originally planned to write one app for Windows Phone then port it to iOS or Android but gave up on that due to time constraints after some investigation of both.

I learned a bunch about mobile development from this exercise and a few friends have asked me to share of my thoughts on mobile development in general and building for Windows Phone using Microsoft platforms in particular. If you are already a mobile developer then some of this is old hat to you but I did find a bunch of what I learned to be counterintuitive and fairly eye opening so you might too.

Thoughts on Building Mobile Apps on Any Platform

This section is filled with items I believe are generally applicable if building iOS, Android or Windows Phone apps. These are mostly things I discovered as part of my original plan to write one app for all three platforms.

  1. A consistent hardware ecosystem is a force multiplier

    After realizing the only options for doing iPhone development on Windows was the Dragon Fire SDK which only supports games, I focused on learning as much as I could about Android development options. The Xamarin guys have MonoTouch which sounded very appealing to me as a way to leverage C# skills across Android and Windows Phone until I saw the $400 price tag. :)

    One of the things I noticed upon downloading the Android SDK as compared to installing the Windows Phone SDK is that the Android one came with a bunch of emulators and SDKs for various specific devices. As I started development on my apps, there were many times I was thankful for the consistent set of hardware specifications for Windows Phone. Knowing that the resolution was always going to be WVGA and so if something looked good in the emulator then it would look good on my device and those of my beta testers not only gave piece of mind but made UX development a breeze.

    Comparing this to an ecosystem like Android where the diversity of hardware devices with varying screen resolutions have made developers effectively throw up their hands as in this article quoted by Jeffrey Zeldman

    If … you have built your mobile site using fixed widths (believing that you’ve designed to suit the most ‘popular’ screen size), or are planning to serve specific sites to specific devices based on detection of screen size, Android’s settings should serve to reconfirm how counterproductive a practice this can be. Designing to fixed screen sizes is in fact never a good idea…there is just too much variation, even amongst ‘popular’ devices. Alternatively, attempting to track, calculate, and adjust layout dimensions dynamically to suit user-configured settings or serendipitous conditions is just asking for trouble.

    Basically, you’re just screwed if you think you can build a UI that will work on all Android devices. This is clearly not the case if you target Windows Phone or iOS development. This information combined with my experiences building for Windows Phone convinced me that it is more likely I’ll buy a Mac and start iOS development than it is that I’d ever do Android development.

  2. No-name Web Hosting vs. name brands like Amazon Web Services and Windows Azure

    One of my apps had a web service requirement and I initially spent some time investigating both Windows Azure and Amazon Web Services. Since this was a vacation side project I didn’t want expenses to get out of hand so I was fairly price sensitive. Once I discovered AWS charged less for Linux servers I spent a day or two getting my Linux chops up to speed given I hadn’t used it much since my the early 2000s. This is where I found out about yum and discovered the interesting paradox that discovering and installing software on modern Linux distros is simultaneously much easier and much harder than doing so on Windows 7. Anyway, that’s a discussion for another day.

    I soon realized I had been penny wise and pound foolish when focusing on the cost of Linux hosting when it turns out what breaks the bank is database hosting. Amazon charges about $0.11 an hour ($80 a month) for RDS hosting at the low end. Windows Azure seemed to charge around the same ballpark when I looked two months ago but it seems they’ve revamped their pricing site since I did my investigation.

    Once I realized database hosting would be the big deciding factor in cost. It made it easier for me to stick with the familiar and go with instead of as a LAMP  server stack. If I had stuck with LAMP , I could have gone with a provider like Blue Host to get the entire web platform + database stack for less than $10 with perks like free credits for Google ads thrown in. With the WISC stack, hosters like Discount ASP and Webhost 4 Life charge in the ballpark of $15 which is about $10 if you swap out SQL Server for MySQL.

    These prices were more my speed. I was quite surprised that even though all the blogs talk about AWS and Azure, it made the most sense for my bootstrapped apps to start with a vanilla web host and pay up to ten times less for service than using one of the name brand cloud computing services. Paying almost ~$100 a month for services with elastic scaling properties may make sense if my apps stick around and become super successful but not at the start.

    Another nice side effect of going with a web hosting provider is the reduced complexity from going with a cloud services provider. Anyone who's gone through the AWS getting started guides after coming from vanilla web hosting knows what I mean.

  3. Facebook advertising beats search ads for multiple app categories

    As mentioned above, one of the perks of some of the vanilla hosting providers is that they throw in free credits for ads on Google AdSense/Adwords and Facebook ads as part of the bundle. I got to experiment with buying ads on both platforms and I came away very impressed with what Facebook has built as an advertising platform.

    I remember reading a few years ago that MySpace had taught us social networks are bad for advertisers. Things are very different in today’s world. With search ads, I can choose to show ads alongside results when people search for a term that is relevant to my app. With Facebook ads, I get to narrowly target demographics based on detailed profile attributes such as Georgia Tech alumni living in New York who have expressed an interest in DC or Marvel comics. The latter seems absurd at first until you think about an app like Instagram.

    No one is searching for "best photo sharing app for the iphone" on Google and even if you are one of the few people who has, there aren’t a lot of you. On the other hand, at launch the creators of Instagram could go to Facebook and say we'd like to show ads to people who have liked or use an and who also have shown an affiliation for photo sharing apps or sites like Flickr, Camera+, etc then craft specific pitches for those demographics. I don’t know about you but I know which sounds like it would be more effective and relevant.

    This also reminded me that I'd actually clicked on more ads on Facebook than I've ever clicked on search ads.

  4. Lot's of unfilled niches still exist

    I remember being in college back in the day, flipping through my copy of Yahoo! Internet Life and thinking that we were oversaturated with websites and all the good ideas were already taken. This was before YouTube, Flickr, SkyDrive, Facebook or Twitter. Silly me. 

    The same can be said about mobile apps today. I hear a lot about there being 500,000 apps in the Apple app store and the same number being in Android Market. To some this may seem overwhelming but there are clearly still niches that are massively underserved on those platforms and especially on Windows Phone which just hit 50,000 apps.

    There are a lot of big and small problems in people's lives that can be addressed by bringing the power of the web to the devices in their pockets in a tailored way. The one thing I was most surprised by is how many apps haven't been written that you'd expect to exist just from extrapolating what we have on the Web and the offline world today. I don't just mean geeky things like a non-propeller head way to share bookmarks from my desktop to my phone and vice versa without emailing myself but instead applications that would enrich the lives of millions of regular people out there that they'd be gladly willing to pay $1 for (less than the price of most brands of bubble gum these days).

    If you are a developer, don't be intimidated by the size of the market nor be attracted to the stories of the folks who've won the lottery by gambling on being in the right place at the right time with the right gimmick (fart apps, sex position guides and yet another photo sharing app). There are a lot of problems that can be solved or pleasant ways to pass the time on a mobile device that haven’t yet been built. Look around at your own life and talk to your non-technical friends about their days. There is lots of inspiration out there if you just look for it.

  5. Look for Platforms that Favor User Experience over Developer Experience

    One of the topics I’ve wanted to write about in this blog is how my generation of software developers who came of age with the writings of Richard Stallman and Eric Raymond’s The Cathedral and the Bazaar with its focus on building software with a focus on making the developers who use the software happy collides with the philosophy of software developers who have come of age in the era of Steve Jobs and what Dave Winer has called The Un-Internet where focusing on providing a controlled experience which is smoother for end users leads to developers being treated as second fiddle. 

    As a developer, having to submit my app to some app store to get it certified when I could publish on the web as soon as I was done checking in the code to my local github repository is something I chafe against. When working on my Windows Phone apps, I submitted one to be certified and found prominent typos a few hours later. However there was nothing I could do but wait for five business days for my app to be approved after which I could submit the updated version to be certified which would take another week in calendar days. Or so I thought. 

    My initial app submission was rejected for failing a test case around proper handling of lack of network connectivity. I had cut some corners in my testing when it came to testing network availability support once I discovered NetworkInterface.GetIsNetworkAvailable() always returns true in the emulator which meant I had to actually test that process on my phone. I never got around to it by telling myself no one actually expects a network connected app to work if they don’t have connectivity.

    The Windows Phone marketplace rejected my app because it turns out it crashes if you lose network connectivity. I was actually pretty impressed that someone at Microsoft is tasked with making sure any app a user installs from the store doesn't crash for common edge cases. Then I thought about the fact that my wife, my 3 year old son, and my non-technical friends all use mobile apps and it is great that this level of base set of quality expectations are being built into the platform. Now when I think back to Joe Hewitt famously quitting the Apple App store and compare it to the scam of the week culture that plagues the Android marketplace, I know which model I prefer as a user and a developer. It’s the respect for the end user experience I see coming out of Cupertino and Redmond.

    This respect for end users ends up working for developers which is why there really is no surprise that iOS devs make 6 time smore than their Android counterparts because users are more likely to spend money on apps on iOS.

Thoughts on Microsoft-Specific Development

In addition to the general thoughts there were some things specific to either Windows Phone or WISC development I thought were worth sharing as well. Most of these were things I found on the extremely excellent Stack Overflow, a site which cannot be praised enough.

  1. Free developer tools ecosystem around Microsoft technology is mature and surprisingly awesome

    As a .NET developer I’ve been socialized into thinking that Microsoft tools are the realm of paying an arm and a leg for tools while people building on Open Source tools get great tools for free. When I was thinking about building my apps on Linux I actually got started using Python for a web crawler that was intended to be part of my app as well as for my web services. When I was looking at Python I played around with and wrote the first version of my crawler using Beautiful Soup.

    As I moved on the .NET I worried I’d be stuck for such excellent free tooling but that was not the case. I found similar and in some cases better functionality for what I was looking for in Json.NET and the HTML Agility Pack. Besides a surprising amount of high quality, free libraries for .NET development, it was the free tools for working with SQL Server that sent me over the top. Once I grabbed SQL Complete, an autocomplete/Intellisense tool for SQL Server, I felt my development life was complete. Then I found ELMAH. Fatality…I’m dead and in developer heaven.

  2. Building RESTful web services that emit JSON wasn't an expected scenario from Microsoft dev tools teams?

    As part of my day job, I'm responsible for Live Connect which among other things provides a set of RESTful JSON-based APIs for accessing data in SkyDrive, Hotmail and Windows Live Messenger. So it isn't surprising that when I wanted to build a web service for one of my side projects I'd want to do the same. This is where things broke down.

    The last time I looked at web services development on the WISC the way to build web services was to use Windows Communication Foundation (WCF). So I decided to take a look at that and found out that the product doesn’t really support JSON-based web services out of the box but I could grab something called the WCF Web API off of CodePlex. Given the project seemed less mature than the others I’d gotten off of CodePlex I decided to look at ASP.NET and see what I could get there since it needs to enable JSON-based REST APIs as part of its much touted JQuery support. When I got to the ASP.NET getting started page, I was greeted with the statement that ASP.NET enables building 3 patterns of websites and I should choose my install based on what I wanted. Given that I didn't want to build an actual website not a web service I didn't pick any of them

    Since I was short on time (after all, this was my vacation) I went back to what I was familiar with and used ASP.NET web services with HTTP GET & POST enabled. I’m not sure what the takeaway is here since I clearly built my solution using a hacky mechanism and not a recommended approach yet it is surprising to me that what seems like such a mainline scenario isn’t supported in a clear out-of-the-box manner by Microsoft’s dev tools.

  3. Embrace the Back Button on Windows Phone

    One of the things I struggled with the most as part of Windows Phone development was dealing with the application lifecycle. The problem is that at any point the user can jump out of your app and the operating system will put your app in either a dormant state where data is still stored in memory or tombstone your app in which case it is killed and state your app cares about is preserved.

    One of the ways I eventually learned to thing about this the right way was to aggressively use the back button while testing my app. This led to finding all sorts of interesting problems and solutions such as how to deal with a login screen when the user clicks back and that a lot of logic I thought should be in the constructor of a page really should be in the OnNavigatedTo method (and don’t forget to de-register some of those event handlers in your OnNavigatedFrom event handler).

I could probably write more on this but this post has gotten longer than I planned and I need to take my son to daycare & get ready for work. I’ll try to be a more diligent blogger this year depending on whether the above doesn’t make too many people unhappy.

Happy New Year.

Note Now Playing: Kanye West - Devil In A New Dress (featuring Rick Ross)Note


Categories: Programming | Web Development