Philosophy & Culture
I opened our fridge, and this is what I saw:
It occurred to me that this moment sums up exactly why Concrete is an excellent place to work. Let me put it out there for you:
Reason 1? An abundance of beer.
Reason 2? An abundance of humor. No, for the confused amongst us, we aren't PETA-hating, raw-animal-eating nutjobs. We are, however, irony-loving, hipster-leaning, Arrested-Development-watching nerds.
(Note: I did not open the bag.)
I arrived at work today and prepared to engage in my typical morning routine. Step 1: Put lunch in fridge. Step 2: Brew Coffee. Step 3: wait nervously until step 2 completes. Step 4…well, you get the idea.
So, after a bit too much sun and tequilla, I'm back at work after a couple of weeks on the Yucatan. Back to the "real world". It's a bit of an adventure emersing yourself in a foriegn country where you barely speak the language. The strange thing is that first week I was surrounded by not spanish speakers, but chain smoking germans. I was studying at a small spanish school down there where most of the residents were from northern europe. Fortunately for me, most of the europeans knew about 4 or 5 languages, so english became the spoken language when I was in the room. I was staying in Playa Del Carmen, which is a cool little beach town that has become the fastest growing city in North America. It's a lot cheaper & more laid back than the spring-break-partier destination of Cancun to the north. After refreshing my poor Spanish skills in Playa I rented a car (driving in Mexico is insane btw. One-way streets and individual lanes are sort of arbitrary concepts there). I headed south to spend a few days in these primitive cabana-bungalows in Tulum, which turned out to be on a nude beach. Then ventured inland to explore the various mayan ruin sites around the peninsula. Uxmal was probably the highlight. A good trip all and all. It definity served its intended purpose of giving some time to reflect and to momentarily re-evaluate this strange american culture we live in.
Hey all, this is Andrew. I'm Director of Technology here at Concrete Websites, and I'm going to take the reins from Franz for a second.
I've been making websites for more than ten years – first as a production/HTML guy, then a web and database programmer, and now as a director of some very talented programmers. Through it all, a number of things have remained constant. One of those is the impressive amount of bullshit involved when talking about the web. For example, in preparing for this post I took a trip to The Web Economy Bullshit Generator, and while its layout is dated, its content is as hilarious and spot-on today as it was when it debuted. And as the web changes, new sites have arisen to chronicle its changing lexicon. Everyone, it seems, is hatin' on buzzwords.
Why do buzzwords get such a bad wrap? See, as engineers, programmers and information architects, we like precision. We crave it. However, language by its nature is mostly antithetical to precision; terms that get created to express complex concepts can't help but miss some of the nuance, because that's what language does: it distills the complex into something that a person can wrap their minds around without wanting to shoot themselves in the face. But engineers look upon this compromise between precision and accessibility with disdain, and as a result consider buzzwords a bunch of hokum.
I understand this distrust. However, as I've moved from doing day-to-day work in the trenches to more conceptual and managerial work, I've found myself engaging in the unthinkable: I've started to use terms like those so mocked above in serious and non-ironic ways. It started with AJAX, a decent word used to express a technical concept. Now I can't stop: words like "leverage," "scalable," and "monetize" are a part of every day conversation.
Why all the back-story? Hopefully, it convinces you that what I'm about tell you isn't the result of some knee-jerk antipathy toward "buzzwords." I use buzzwords. I think they have their place. I think they can assist in communication. However, when used in excess and in place of any actual content, they deserve to be mocked mercilessly.
Let such mocking commence. The victim? TechCrunch. Their latest article, Bill's Gold Watch, is bafflingly incoherent. Check out some of these quotes, as helpfully disected from the "article" by the second commenter:
- "cloud infrastructure battle"
- "made that platform relatively salivating"
- "while Google methodically mows down the marketplace"
- "going to consolidate Facebook's equity in social metadata and create a groundswell of OpenID adoption"
- "warm fuzzy feelings for Web site owners who become part of an expanding network of reuse of the original log-in"
- "The terms of service for accessing social clouds will normalize over the next few months as users gravitate toward sites that leverage their original investment in OpenID registration"
- "producing affinity based on less work, common interface guidelines, and pressure on Facebook and outside clouds to modify their terms of service to avoid having to reinitialize access to their social data over and over."
- "starting to accelerate in real time streams over Jabber and XMPP"
- "allowing the kind of piping currently enabled between Gchat/Talk, iChat, AIM, and Twitter, which together produce a common set of streams that all are recorded and archived in Gmail's Chat repository"
- "the last time we saw this type of viral spread, it was Adsense carried on the river of the blogosphere"
- "social graph being formed out of the combination of follow and filtered Track"
- "can provide infrastructure to model the unique characteristics of Twitter's dynamic graph using Facebook's avatars"
- "can fit into this like a glove, feeding downstream vertical versions of affinity groups to skinned Silverlight containers"
Jesus. Come on! I first thought of this blog post after reading the sentence "It's not that Friend Connect is going to slow Facebook down; to the contrary, it's going to consolidate Facebook's equity in social metadata and create a groundswell of OpenID adoption which in turn will drive Open Social app development." Who actually believe this?! I'll talk to you all day about social networking, social bookmarking, and grid/cluster computing, but if someone opines in my presence about the "social cloud," they're probably in for a confused look, at the very least. And the sentence "Live Mesh can fit into this like a glove, feeding downstream vertical versions of affinity groups to skinned Silverlight containers." It reminds me of that episode of The Simpsons, in which Lisa, upon seeing a sign for a "Yahoo Serious Film Festival," remarks, "I know those words, but that sign doesn't make sense."
Every industry and field has its echo chamber, in which nonsense is amplified to the point of credulity. The web, with its ability to propagate concepts so quickly and effortlessly, is probably worse than most. Perhaps TechCrunch is a victim of this. Or perhaps they're just trolling for article hits. But if you want people to take you seriously when you say something, it helps to actually say something! I'm convinced that's the true problem with buzzwords: they make it all too easy to write 500 word articles without saying anything at all.
Some sites that I think are making the world a better place:
Minti.com – a parenting site that people seem to really use to reach out and find solutions and fellowship in parenting.
FreeRice.com – a mindless game you can play where the more you play the more rice they donate to the World Food Program. Does it make a difference? I dunno, but I like the idea of the energy people put into games being recycled into something useful.
SchoolPulse.com – full disclosure: we made this. That being said, the idea of teachers, parents and school administrators having another way to communicate appeals to the BBS guy in me who thinks that people can open up in different and sometimes better ways through digital media.
current.tv – I actually liked the last version more than this, it was easier to find the indie political videos. I like getting my news from the many, not the few.
I'm not going to name a political site, cause it's been done to death and frankly I don't really spend any time on a candidate/issue site.. weird.
Besides, that'll give you some thing to post about, and tell me what else am I spacing?
If the web can make the world a better place, lets have some more examples….
Just catching up on my New Yorker articles and read this interesting one by Eric Alterman about the death of the newspaper.
Yes, newspapers are dying, in fact – they predict the last one will be delivered to the last door on 2043 (not sure how they came to that, but yay for trees.)
The real point I took from the article was "good God! this is horrid, because original reporting is HARD and EXPENSIVE… Blogging is all well and good, but all bloggers do is pontificate and comment on other original sources"… which to a great degree is true.. (omg, is that me admitting to being full of bs?)
had yet another client meeting today where someone wanted "a corporate blog," yet when asked "list 100 topics right now" question had little to offer.
the best solution to this in my eyes is a centralized blogging interface for all employees & associates, with tag/category based cross referencing and featured embeds throughout the rest of the site for depth of content and SEO purposes.
Models? Patterns? ARRRRG!
In previous versions of Concrete we've kept the technical architecture for how pages are presented pretty simple. Every page is a single type. Each type has a PHP file that handles presentation, and a record in the CMS that defines default/shared blocks you want to always show up. When we build sites ourselves, this typically works pretty well for us.
Sadly, it tends to get out of control when other people start playing with it. Our developers tend to think of page types as functional, and aesthetic idiocyncries from section to section are handled in that presentation PHP. So if you have a page type of "Case Study" it's going to use the same template no matter where you put it in the site. If you have case studies both in your Product section and Services section, we would A: make the navigation block that renderes that primary nav handle how it looks, or B: add some logic to the template to do area specific presentation stuff based on where you are in the category tree.
A lot of the development shops we've partnered with in the past tend to think of page types as silos or areas of the site, not functional break outs. So Products and Services both get their own page type because they have different side bars. Now when you add a Case Study that was originally designed to show up in the Services area to the Products area, its gonna have the wrong header color. All of a sudden you end up with a ba-gillion page types to handle these scenarios, which basically defeats the whole point.
The resolution we seem to have come to is split the concept in two. In Concrete 5 you will have page types that map to what goes on a page. You will also have Themes that are presentation focused, and control where and how that content/functionality is presented. Themes will contain templates that map to page type names. Every theme must have at least one "default" template, which will be used for a page type if no specific file exists.
By splitting this in two this way we hope to handle more diverse situations in a more intuitive way for end developers/site owners – my only fear is introducing too many labels and leaving people wondering where their presentation layer is coming from.
As a youth, you tend to think price is in some way related to cost.
It is not.
It's easy to be taught this in your MBA course, it's easy to think this is evil from your Marxism course, but I have found it really is the way of things. The answer to "how much is that doggy in the window?" is at best "what's he worth to ya?" and at worse, "how much you got?" How much time, care and energy went into raising the bitch and birthing the puppy have nothing to do with it. (yes I choose that metaphor to create a credible excuse to curse. son-of-bitch-shit!)
It's not all strategic crap and programming around the office.. in fact an awful lot of time gets wasted with stuff like this fantastically amusing video: