Mhairi Petrovic, the dynamic marketing mind behind Out-Smarts, stopped by the East 2nd office last week for coffee and to generously have me as a return guest on her regular podcast. We talked about SxSW, Ma.gnolia’s passing and I went public with my campaign of rants against the term social media. You can listen or download (and then listen) on the Out-Smarts blog.
Aside from a chance to wish you a belated happy new year, this is a short administrative announcement to kick off 2009. I’ve taken some new shared office space in the heart of Vancouver:
70 East 2nd Ave., Suite 302
Vancouver, BC V5T 1B1 [map]
If that spot sounds familiar, you may know it from previous tenants Capulet Communications, or any of the other tenants who inhabit the space: Boxcar Marketing, OnTrack Media, our leaseholder Echo Memoirs, and some others that I haven’t seen much of yet, but will get to know soon.
We caught some rare afternoon sunlight yesterday, so I grabbed my camera and made the best of it:
While I’ll miss the excellent coffee only steps away at WorkSpace, I’m looking forward to discovering the best lunch and brew in the Main and Broadway area. Help me out in the comments if you know where to start looking!
Back in February, I posted that I’d be moving on from full-time involvement with Ma.gnolia. A minimal amount of involvement was expected to help Larry on side-projects and minor contributions to Ma.gnolia’s ongoing operation. But that situation ended up being surprisingly fleeting.
At SxSW in March, we started talking about Ma.gnolia’s long-term future. As it was, the service required ongoing balancing of a small team keeping up with a very large database and engaged member base, the sometimes-turbulent nature of web app operations, and the overarching need to better capitalize on business potential without losing a fun place to do R&D on new web techs.
The plan: make the core Ma.gnolia application an open-source product and run a service providing hosted accounts with value-adding and customization services as revenue channels. More than just opening the doors to what’s already there, Ma.gnolia 2 will be a ground-up rewrite and re-take on the way the service works, structured specifically to make numerous community and feature configurations possible. Moreover, it throws our support fully into the open-source tradition that’s made important parts of Ma.gnolia possible.
To share the plan, Larry took to the stage at Gnomedex 8 with Tara Hunt. There they talked about Ma.gnolia’s history with open technologies, and announced that we’re going to take that trend all the way. As I’m a touch behind on my writing, I can point to some headlines that you might have seen a few weeks ago in the social web media (or is that social media web?)…
- Profy takes a look at the business strategy and how they interact with key aspects of the architecture.
- John Eckman at the open parenthesis blog gives a solid and detailed overview of the announcement, and pulls some good stuff out of the charter documents.
- The Mashable scoop you may have already seen.
- And Marshall’s ReadWriteWeb article that was read widely.
And so we come to my belated follow-up announcement, which is that I’ll be working extensively in Ma.gnolia 2 to re-design features and to make a space for the open product to live. It’s the first project that I’ve worked on with open-source as such a central focus, so I’ll be looking for advice along the way. I’ll also be writing about pieces of M2 and the overall project in more detail between now and December. It’s an amazing project to round out 2008, and I’m truly excited for the chance to build on what we’ve learned in round one.
If you like news about minor website updates and event news, then my friend, this entry is for you.
The first bit of news to share is that the ol’ Corvus site has received some cosmetic attention, which you might not have seen if you follow by newsreader. There have been some loose ends on the design that had been bothering me, and I was happy to hire web designer Eric Grossnickle to see to them. He’s done a nice job of spotting and making small changes with nice effect:
- Title headings have been lightened up and brought into line with the sidebar title colour
- Some extra spacing between content sections
- Tidying up the way comments are displayed
- List styles, as you can see here
- Thumbnails for bookmarks in Ma.gnolia-generated posts are positioned neatly to the right, with smaller type for tags
We didn’t forget everyone’s favourite stand-out style, Blockquote.
- And finally, the introduction/slogan box can be closed, and will not re-appear on subsequent visits (for a few months)
Eric also updated my old business card design, which had fallen out of sync with the site while I was passing out more Ma.gnolia cards. The new card design surprised me at first, but quickly felt right, and I’m eager to see the first prints in a few days. Here’s what the card’s new threads look like (pdf).
As for events, I wanted to note that I’ll be at Northern Voice in Vancouver next week. I’m also looking to brush up on my ten-pin game for Geeks Love Bowling at SxSW (go Flower Power), on top of the Interactive sessions and events. If you’re at either event, be sure to say hi.
In February I’ll be wrapping up full-time involvement with Ma.gnolia, my longest and, by far, the most fulfilling gig to date as an indie contractor. I’ll still be a member of the Ma.gnolia community, and I have a couple side projects going with Ma.gnolia’s founder and my close friend, Larry Halff. I’m very proud of what we’ve built in Ma.gnolia, all the way from its inception through design, launch and the growth of a smart and friendly web community.
Almost every assumption I’ve held about application design and how people connect through the web has been challenged or changed by this project, and I like to think I’ve grown quite a lot from the experience. I also learned to wear and quickly change hats: on any given day I’d be manning the front-line of member support, talking with the Ma.gnolia community, designing new features and evolving existing designs, writing newsletters, co-managing development tasks, and of course keeping that classic sense of humor in play. Insert dreamy, retrospective montage here, perhaps set to a Jack Johnson tune.
Since we started Ma.gnolia, so much has changed, and there’s still a long way to go. The walls between websites that were once taken for granted have crumbled significantly with the rise of APIs, OpenID, Microformats, OAuth and the widening adoption of web standards. Software designers and even some business are seeing and serve the fact that people don’t act as atomic units, but as members of social groups where the relationship trumps all. Things change, and yet somehow feel familiar.
My role as Ma.gnolia’s product manager has introduced me to many interesting and honestly good people, and provided the chance to work with some very talented folks. The new perspectives and methods I took away from those contacts that have proven themselves over and over. Chris Messina and Tara Hunt of Citizen Agency, specifically, have profoundly changed how I think about many aspects of my work, from feature design to business policies to the right and wrong ways to engage with online communities. In a way, it’s been like a graduate course in web app design and product management.
What’s next? As I mentioned, I’ll still be hanging around the Ma.gnolia community. I’ve also begun some work with the Citizen Agency crew, and will be looking to engage more with the Vancouver development scene. Though I enjoy working in distributed teams, I think the soul does best when there’s more face-to-face interaction in the mix, so I’m really looking forward to that. But most of all, I’m excited about being able to bring what I learned in working with Ma.gnolia to new projects, taking that flower power far and wide.
Geeky Mac folks like yours truly have been following the story of how a Mac OS hack was successfully demonstrated at the CanSecWest security conference. The event, while it won’t impact most Mac users, it does bring back into circulation the usual suspect memes about Macs and security.
My favourite is the statement oft-repeated by security experts and Microsoft apologists, and most recently repeated in this MacWorld story:
Most Mac users see their operating system as being much more secure than Windows. Thatâ€™s true to a certain extent. But much of the Macâ€™s immunity from malicious attacks can be attributed to hackers going for the more widely used operating system to grab the most attention.
â€œIf a hacker turned their attention to the Mac, it would suffer just as much as Windows,â€ Wagner said. â€œAttacking the 95 percent of the market gets them more attention.â€
Aside from the fact that comparing Mac and Windows vulnerabilities is like comparing a donut with a block of swiss cheese (where you fine one hole in the Mac you’ll find 50 or so in Windows), the idea that market penetration is needed for hackers to pay attention is bunk.
Dino Dai Zovi, who took the $10,000 prize for his exploit at CanSecWest, has received a lot of attention from pundits, his peers, potential employers and legions of surprised Mac users. The reason is easy to understand: the more scarce an achievement, the greater its value becomes. Are we really to believe that hackers starved for attention don’t want to be the one known to get the first nasty OS-X virus into the wild?
Somehow, it’s assumed that hackers gain prestige by doing what everyone else is doing. If it were true that the greater market penetration leads to greater attention for successful exploits, why would anyone put a $10K bounty on subverting the platform that apparently nobody is too under-used for anyone to care?
Windows hacks are a dime a dozen and their value will continue to drop. Mac hacks are going for $10,000 just to see it happen. You don’t need to be a ‘security expert’ to know where the attention is.
In the absence of the time to write something substantial this week, I’ve opted for a two-part budget blog post.
The first part is for Mac Mail users. I discovered by accident today that you can change the highlight colour of any mail message or entire thread. Just open the colour palette, select the messages to highlight and pick your colour of choice. Voila, instant colour coding.
What’s interesting about this hidden gem of a feature is that it enables a simple form of a process (categorization) that most software would make more involved. It allows for ad-hoc categorization without any kind of setup, much like tagging systems do. Users can easily formulate and recall coding systems of 7 or so items, typically indicating priority or a workflow step, without having to articulate that system to the software in some kind of category setup. It’s the perfect example of ‘just enough’, and reflective of some deep thinking on the part of Mail’s designers (but not too deep).
The second part of this budget post is to let you know that I’ll be at Web Directions North on behalf of Ma.gnolia, and joined by Larry Halff, Ma.gnolia’s founder. If you see us around be sure to say hi.