Even great user-interface changes take time to be embraced

Michael P. Nov 16
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I just reorganized some icons on my computer. I’ve added some new applications to my normal workflow, and the previous organization wasn’t working out so great. The new programs were all related to a specific category of work, and I would normally use most of them at the same time.

So the changes I needed to make were clear: I added a new folder, moved all the applications related to that work category into it, and carried on with the new-and-improved organization.

Now 3 days after this change, I noticed something. I have just now gotten used to this new change. For the first 2 days, even though the new organization meant that each application was easier to get to and just a single click away, I would instinctively start to access them in their old location, 2-3 clicks away.

It was a very eye-opening revelation, to me.

Here was a case where clearly the old organization was bad, and the new organization was faster and greatly improved. The change of organization was *my idea*. I knew there was a problem, I came up with the very logical solution, and I was the only one who was going to benefit from it. I didn’t have to take into consideration other users, and it wasn’t someone else’s change that I had to try to understand and get used to.

As a developer of applications and interfaces, the important lesson is this: there are times that you need to make a change to some aspect of an application that will take time for users to get used to. Until they are used to it, they may not like it. They may HATE it and be very frustrated, because they don’t understand why it changed. Facebook deals with a huge number of these complaints every so often, when they make slight changes to their user interface.

If you make a change that people react to right away, even if you think it was a good change, just be patient and give it time - a few days at least. If your change was for the better, people will eventually see that, embrace it, and their habits will be changed.

Going to Chirp next week!

Michael P. Apr 11
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Company52 will be at Chirp, Twitter’s Developer Conference next week in San Francisco!

Our own Jonathon Hill will be traveling from the opposite end of the country (South Carolina) to attend the 2-day event, learn even better ways to create services and tools that interface with the Twitterverse, and rub shoulders with it’s creators.

Tickets for the conference day are now sold out, but if you already have yours and will be there also, find him or just say hi with…appropriately…a tweet! (@companyfiftytwo)

(If you’re a developer who may benefit from this, but can’t make it, video from the keynotes will be streamed live online.  Not quite the same, but it’s the next best thing!)

P.S.  We’ve been hard at work on something the last couple of months, and should have an exciting Twitter-related announcement in just a few weeks!

Always the best man in the room? You need to find a different room.

Michael P. Mar 30
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Several years ago, I felt stuck. Both in business and personally, it felt I like I was spinning my wheels but getting nowhere fast. The business I was running at the time wasn’t doing very well, and I was second-guessing myself as a leader….overall, the world of business just felt like a very hostile and hard place, that maybe I wasn’t cut out for.

It was most frustrating because I was motivated, talented, and had experienced a lot of success and gratification in the past, but wasn’t experiencing that right then, and had no idea how to fix it.

While I was wrestling with this problem, someone older, wiser, and more successful gave some advice that profoundly impacted me:

“If you are constantly the best man in the room, you need to find a different room. You need to *spend money*, if that’s what it takes, to deliberately get around people who are better than you.”

This person wasn’t trying to sell something. It was just pure counsel from experience. As soon as I heard it, the advice really resonated with me and I realized that was a major thing that was missing. It resonated because I had previously been around very acclaimed and successful individuals CONSTANTLY; either in person or by reading their books. But right then, I hadn’t been doing that, and found myself always feeling like I was the “best man in the room” (the pride and arrogance behind that feeling is a completely different issue…)

I also realized right then that I was observing a complimentary principle at work. This principle was discussed by John Maxwell, in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (audiobook | print), in the context of leadership as the “Law of the Lid” — where the “Lid” represents the limit of our leadership abilities.

The basic summary is this:  if you want your business, organization, or even family to grow, you must be growing and learning yourself - by reading and hanging around better people than you.

To illustrate this, on a scale of 1 to 10 if your leadership ability is a 4, the group you are leading will not be any more proficient at leadership than a 4. If you hire a 7, they will eventually become frustrated and move on. And it is practically impossible for you to train up someone to be any more proficient than your own proficiency level of 4. If you’re not growing, and someone you’re leading has the potential and drive to grow beyond your 4, they are likely to bypass you completely and learn from others.

It also means that if your followers aren’t growing, quite likely you aren’t growing.

After hearing that advice and starting to get back in the disciplines of meeting, talking with, and reading books by people who had accomplished more and different things in life, my horizons were quickly expanded about what was possible, and how to go about doing so. The world in general became a much brighter, more exciting, hopeful and dynamic place, and brand new doors of opportunity have continually opened ever since. I don’t mean it has always been easy since then, but at least I haven’t felt stuck, or felt like I was the only one experiencing difficulty.

Punctuating this topic, I’ll conclude with his oh-so-appropriate and most-quoted saying, in memory of world-renowned speaker, author, and my friend, the late Charlie “Tremendous” Jones:

“You are the same today as you’ll be in five years except for two things: the people you meet, and the books you read.”

Before you hire us…

Matt B. Mar 23
1 Comment »

Before we agree to work with a client, this information is required reading. Some people might think we are crazy, but let us explain:

We have clients ranging from the shop down the street to international Fortune-level companies. The size of your organization doesn’t matter to us. What does matter is how seriously you take your business or organization.

If you don’t value your work enough to have it professionally presented, then we are probably not the best company for you. If it goes out with our name, it is going to be our best. We expect the same from our clients.

However, we believe that you do care about who you are, and what you do. After all, you are reading this, and that means you take the time to find out who you want to work with. It matters to you. You are the kind of person we want to work with.

  • Excellent quality takes time and/or money - There is a direct relationship between the quality of a website - it’s design and functionality - and the amount of time and money it takes to produce it. In the web world, you get what you pay for.
  • We are trained, experienced professionals. Not amateurs or hobbyists - The minimum internet work experience among C52 developers is 10 years.
  • Development is a partnership - Just as you choose C52, we choose to work on your project. We do not accept every potential project or client who contacts us. Development is a 2-way relationship requiring clear communication and understanding on both sides.
  • Custom development is never 100% predictable - The very nature of creating something that doesn’t already exist means that there is unknown information. This means that all timeframes and costs are estimates based on the information currently known. This is true of even the most experienced and highest profile development companies, such as Apple, Google and Microsoft. Our professional experience doesn’t means that we can predict all obstacles in advance, only that we are able to adapt quickly and work around them when they arise.
  • A signed contract and written work spec is always required before we start - This provides both you and C52 the freedom, and safety, that come only with clearly defined boundaries.
  • Priority / emergency work costs more - We have a schedule, based on first-come, first-served. If you want your work prioritized, we are often able to accommodate, but we must charge a higher rate.
  • We specialize in reliably producing quality work fast. Not on being the cheapest - What makes our work reliable is experienced professionals. What attracts and retains experienced professionals is competitive pay. If you don’t care how it looks or works, or when it gets done, there will always be somebody who will tell you they can do it cheaper.
  • We don’t like collections. Please treat our invoices with the priority you want us to treat your project - The excellent value we are able to provide clients is made possible by an amazing 90%+ on-time payment rate. By serving clients who truly value the work we perform, and not playing games with invoices, we are able to have a very streamlined cash flow and focus our resources on producing excellent work fast.

Calculating the value of redundancy to you

Michael P. Mar 22
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Just think about what it would mean if your website, application, or server was down for a minute. How about 5 minutes? An hour? A day? A week?? Insurance is for people who have something to lose. If your website being offline won’t affect anyone substantially, you don’t need to have a very complicated or expensive redundancy plan in place. But you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog, either.

Your business may be large enough that you know right away, without thinking, that “Oh, we can’t afford to be down at all, ever. Whatever the cost, our site has to be up or we lose trust and revenue.”

From an economics side, I can tell you right now that more of you think that is true of your business than is actually the case. No, I’m not trying to be mean; just realistic. I understand the trust factor that’s lost when your system isn’t 100% reliable, but people are more forgiving, on a whole, than we are given credit for. And trust can be maintained with good communication when your site is down.

Even with that comment, it’s still true for some of you that reliability is worth whatever the cost. Such cases include client contracts where you have a minimum service level agreement, which failing to meet could result in the loss of a very lucrative contract. In those cases, you should absolutely spend whatever it takes.

But between those extremes of “whatever the cost” and “redundancy is worthless to me”, there is a whole lot of territory. And you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) be haphazard with what you do with that middle ground as your business grows.

Here’s how to calculate redundancy’s worth to you:

1) Figure out your profit per day from your site / application.
2) Divide your profit per day by 24 (for 24 hours).
3) Divide this number by 60. This is your profit per minute.

These 2 numbers are your first stab at an estimate of your “lowest average downtime expense”, but they still may not tell the full picture. So…

4) Figure out (or estimate, if you’re planning a new business) your peak and valley times, in terms of traffic and revenue
5) Figure out what your peak hour profit is.
6) Divide the peak hour profit by 60 (for 60 minutes)

Now you have the “highest average downtime expense” figure. You’ll have to look at the lowest and highest average numbers you just calculated and figure out how you want to process them. But if your per minute numbers are more than $5-10, then you need to have at least some sort of basic “hot” (fully operational, ready to come online at a moment’s notice) redundant system in place, to stand in for your primary system while you fix it and bring it back online.

The higher those figures, the more you should be willing to spend - because that’s the lost revenue you’ll have for every minute your site is inaccessible.


To demonstrate, let’s apply this calculation to Apple’s iTunes Music Store, since we have some good real-life estimates to work with:

1) Profit per day: 3,000,000 songs per day x $0.25 estimated profit per song = $750,000
2) Profit per hour: $750,000 ÷ 24 = $31,250
3) Profit per minute: $520.83

Since we don’t have any information readily available about the iTunes Music Store’s peak hours, we’ll just stop here.

So for every minute the iTunes Music Store is down, it costs them a minimum average of $521. If it would take 30 minutes to restore a failed server / switch / internet connection, that means they should spend at *least* $30,000 to make sure they have a completely operational server cluster in another location, so if anything happens to their primary one, they can switch over.

(This is an extreme example used to illustrate a principle. It’s worth saying that even before you reach this level, there are multiple options available worth considering that result in a more complicated and cost-effective solution than simply having a duplicate data center in a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th location.)

How much should you spend on redundancy plans? Well, how much insurance do you want? In my case, 2 weeks down in 2004 due to a non-existent backup plan (story here) resulted in an immediate direct cost of $4,000 and ultimately the demise of a $100,000/yr business. Knowing what I know now, a few thousand dollars’ worth of redundancy “insurance” would have been a very wise investment.

Redundancy, Redundancy, Redundancy

Michael P. Mar 21
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If your business, or any part of your business, relies on being online, you need to have a backup and disaster recovery plan in place and tested. It doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive or complicated, at least not at first. Of course, the more critical your site / application / server is to your business, the more elaborate your redundancy needs to be. (this related post discusses a way to estimate and calculate how much you should be willing to spend on redundancy)

I learned this the hard way back in 2004, at the cost of a business. I had helped start a local online real estate advertising site 4 years before, which was doing very well. We had over 1,000 visitors a day, and the business was producing over $100,000/year in revenue - more than $2,000 a week. We had just replaced the old “static” site with a new high tech form-based one that made adding new properties much simpler. But due to other bad decisions, unrelated to this article, we’d chosen a technology that meant we had to move our hosting from a shared environment, where someone else was managing the server, to a full-blown self-hosting arrangement.

There was a team of 3 involved in developing and running the site, and we knew enough to know we needed backups, so we got a tape drive for the server and figured out what programs we needed to use to backup everything. But in the midst of the site and server transition, things were changing so fast that we didn’t bother setting up the backups to run yet.

In February, the dust was starting to settle, and we had an annual planning meeting to set priorities for the coming year. I had a very strong feeling that one of the first and highest priorities coming out of that meeting needed to be finishing and testing the backup system, which I assigned to the lead programmer / system admin at that meeting. We all talked about it, were in agreement, and moved on.

To my great discredit, I never followed up on that assignment. Less than a month later, our server was hacked and taken over by a Russian spammer. At first I wasn’t concerned, because “we have our backups, right? We can recover quickly.” Our designated system admin informed me, sheepishly, that no, the backups weren’t running because he’d run into an obstacle and hadn’t gotten around to finishing it yet. So began a 2-week nightmare.

The site was totally down and inaccessible for those 2 weeks, as we worked literally around the clock to rebuild the server configuration and recover files as best we could. During that time, there was *no* new business (the signup process was on our website), and customers who had paid to be advertised on our site were furious and some were demanding at least partial refunds. With good management we may have been able to fully recover, but there were other factors later, events set in motion by those 2 weeks of being offline, that gradually killed the entire business. All for lack of a backup.

And I wasn’t the only one; in 2009 there was another high profile backup failure that nearly killed the social content site ma.gnolia.com.

Inaugural Post: Welcome to C52′s Blog

Michael P. Mar 20
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We aren’t really anything special.  By that, I mean, it would be nice to say we are worth listening to because we’re all smarter, more perfect, more experienced, channeling the voice of God, or some other dramatic claim that demands your attention.  But that’s not the case.  In fact, we’re constantly learning from so many people who are smarter and more experienced than us. It has taken us a long time to “find our voice” and feel like we had anything intelligent to add to what is already being said by others - even better than we could say it.

And we don’t just talk because we love hearing ourselves talk.  We didn’t rush to setup a blog right away when our company formed 2 years ago just so we could have a place to toot our own horn.  We set out to be thoughtful and deliberate about what we should write about, thinking through how to best serve people with our experiences, and who our audience really is.

But while we aren’t supernaturally gifted with perfection, everyone at C52 is hard-working, talented, and passionate about what we do.  And after an average of more than 10 years each, developing & launching more than 10 major online applications, our team has gained a lot of experience.

And so it is, now standing on the shoulders of years of giants who have come before us, we are setting out to use this blog as a platform to share these experiences and lessons with you. So that you may learn from our mistakes instead of your own, and hopefully be saved from a whole lot of headache, heartache, and expense.

What you will find here is not just another technology blog, design blog, or business blog. We’ll be writing from the front lines of where ideas turn into reality.  Where the ideals of technology have to be balanced with the constraints of finances, timelines and general usability.  We’ll deal with the everyday problems and solutions of starting up and running businesses; using the latest open source technologies to develop applications for commercial and social benefit; researching and designing user experiences appropriate for target users; maintaining good client relationships; selling and marketing online applications and services; and gaining social trust online and offline.

Since we weren’t born with this gifting of knowledge and experience, which was gained the old fashioned way through good ol’ hard work and research, that means that you, too, can learn it. We’ll explain everything in a down-to-earth way that doesn’t condescend or treat you as though you are inferior if you don’t already know it. Welcome to Company52, where we now declare this blog “open”!