Thinking Through Tiger Launch and Eventual Free And Open Source Software Version
by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 03/23/2012
Okay, it’s stream of consciousness time. This is just a big brain-dump of everything going on with my work and technology, so that I make all the right decisions. A lot of people talk about brainstorming, and getting the best ideas out of a group. But really, if people like Steve Jobs listened to the wisdom of the crowd, he would have never made the controversial and contrarian decisions that made all the difference. People who can see and connect dots that other people can’t don’t necessarily benefit from brainstorming, and can find the process quite frustrating. It’s not that you think your ideas are better than others. It’s just that you would have to spend hours convincing skeptics of the brilliance behind an idea that would otherwise be off-handedly shot-down. I work best in isolation, with only a blank sheet of paper as my sounding-wall, and doing a process akin to brainstorming, but with myself. And so here it goes.
Yesterday, at a departmental meeting, we listened to a TED Talk by a guy named Andrew Stanton, who wrote the stories behind Toy Story and Wall-E. It was all about story-telling, which has been on my brain a lot lately. I delve into technical work, but I am being compelled forward by my own personal story, which I want to “read correctly” for myself, someday, and for any sort of legacy I may leave behind. Most people don’t leave much legacy, except for a footnote in the family tree. Every once in a great while, people leave epic legacies—and unfortunately, most of those have overtones of greed, ambition and conquest. I guess I’m cool with the ambition part of that, but am not too thrilled about the others. Every once in a GREAT while, you find someone who knit together a legacy out of passion, altruism, and things I find genuinely interesting. I’m realizing more and more that Linus Torvalds is one of those guys, which this Wired article once again made me realize http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2012/03/mr-linux/
I see that free and open source software (FOSS) is the passion-worthy tech thing within the average person’s reach. There was a time when it was being a HAM radio operator. Later, kit-computers became popular. Then, there was a whole slew of hackable home computers, like the Apple II and the Commodore 64 that inspired such passion. Today, a British charity fund is trying to recapture some of that with a $35 computer called Raspberry Pi. But whether or not that catches on, the entire category of software of which Linux, created by Linus Torvalds, represents is clearly the place where the collective state of humanity is being dragged to a better place, with the lowest level of corporate profit incentive, and therefore the highest level of sincerity and fairness to everybody. I’m hopping on that bandwagon one way or the other.
Now, even FOSS has its strings attached. Not all software licences are equal, and their plusses and minuses are hotly debated, sometimes “trapping” companies that use it to share back their innovations—something they’re not anxious to do for competitive reasons. That’s what happened with the now iconic Linksys WRT54g WiFi router, turning it into one of the most delightfully hackable platforms in history, letting hobbyists install features onto this $50 box previously reserved only for $20,000 routers.
But companies getting trapped into accidental altruism isn’t the biggest pitfall of FOSS. It’s how companies that have excess resources embrace and promote FOSS software primarily as a weapon against competitors for whom that same category of software is a cash-cow. Read about Warren Buffett on Castles and Moats. http://37signals.com/svn/posts/333-warren-buffett-on-castles-and-moats The moat is the competitive advantage, which something like iOS or Windows represents. To do well, companies must increase the protection, or competitive advantage, that the moat provides. But FOSS software has a moat-shrinking effect, which is only accelerated when a company like Google develops Android, makes it FOSS, and helps all comers put it on their devices. It seems fantastic at first-glance, but in reality, it’s very encumbered software because it relies on a corporate entity which can pull the plug on support at any time, or stop making future versions FOSS. The Python programming language is my FOSS language of choice, but it’s creator, Guido van Rossum now works for Google, so one must wonder whether Python is long-term healthy, or a pawn in a disruption strategy. Everything is a risk… except, seemingly for Linux itself. That’s pee in the pool now, and isn’t coming out. Everything else in your application stack is disruptiptible, and you just have to place your bets the best you can.
And now my stream of consciousness FINALLY gets to what I want and need to think about at this moment—pulling off my next step with precision and brilliance, getting all those little details correct that make all the difference. Great ideas fail every day, and never amount to anything. I’ve had several such endeavors in the past with varying levels of success—none fully satisfying: hitching my wagon to the ill-fated Commodore star, dragging a Commodore spin-off named Scala to success (GREAT story here), and moving to NYC and creating HitTail for Connors Communications. Each time, I began that wondrous ride to something big, only to have the anticlimactic end to the ride.
But this time, I have a great idea, and a story behind it. I do still work for “the man”, and my ideas are not being fully developed on my own time, so it has to be released under their auspices. But that’s okay, because it’s the most enlightened bosses I have had yet, and they have enabled me every step of the way. The kind of story I have to tell is precisely the kind, I believe, they would like told and associated with them. Today, it is of thought-leadership with connecting the dots with a new tool we’re releasing upon the world for free usage. But its usage only. It’s not getting under the hood and looking at the code. It’s not FOSS, where my heart is truly at.
If all goes well, the release of the tool in its current state is just the opening chapter of this story. The story I feel should evolve into that of a FOSS pied piper, leading a lot of people down this path of FOSS-y awesomeness, but not an expected route, and not a route that will be for everyone. While it starts with releasing this system to the public that I developed for my employer as a way of keeping an edge in the SEO space, it will (if allowed) quickly evolve into the making of a new Linux distribution that can run as a virtual machine on any x86 platform: Mac OS X, Windows or other Linuxes. I’ll teach how to plug that virtual machine onto a Cloud drive like Dropbox, so you can use it wherever you sit down—without even causing that much network traffic in the process. I’ll also show a neat trick of embedding it into a mouse.
Basically I’m connecting a bunch of dots… replatforming myself onto Linux / Apache / Python in the process. I’m learning the ins-and-outs of the platform. I’m taking a few years to really gain my legs and know what I’m doing, and then, I’m doing version 2, fixing and eliminating many of the things I didn’t like the first time around—the largest of which, is the necessity for hosting. Everything about this project and platform is so deliciously generic and plumbing-like, that I have divined a way to turn it into a general technology education curriculum… a series of tricks… the connecting of the dots that I need to do for my version 2, but which I feel I could knit into a story that unfolds as I carry it out myself.
This writing is to ensure that my next steps really compel me down this route.
1. Maintain control (allow for outside-the-box decisions) 2. Document everything (make it a compelling story) 3. Don’t go down in flames (paranoid pedanticness) 4. Get all the little details right (ignite a self-fueling fire) 5. Be at the helm of a passion-worthy endeavor
I need to put some more thought into the things that I do want to become known for and the things I don’t want to become known for. My personal site, because of my personal work journal, will rise to more and more prominence. Really the personal work journal aspect of it is in order to allow me write prolifically, and just get stuff out there for what it’s worth—especially experimenting. HitTail, and to a lesser-degree Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools, kicks in and tells me where the interest is. There is a certain amount of FOLLOWING the advice of my searchers, playing into their interests, and using that as a toehold to build the site traffic up in general. You can totally see where the big veins of interest reside, based on the occasional bit that you publish that taps into these veins.
Based on my experimenting so far, I can really see there’s enormous interest in the advantages of the Python programming language, and in running QEMU on Mac OS X. Fortunately, both of these align very nicely to my master-plan. I should really lay out that master-plan. It’s also something of an editorial calendar, and the ability to gauge interest and juice the traffic a little bit with future-looking keywords.
A lot has to start happening in the script for the video. The script has to also work as instructions on getting the bookmarklet.
Spreadsheets live on the Web these days, and so does data. So it only makes sense that these two worlds mash-up—easily allowing you to flow data right into your spreadsheets with the click of a button.
The most common example, which you can try right now, is performing a 25-page web-crawl, by visiting a site of your choice, and clicking the bookmarklet. 360iTiger will start populating rows in the spreadsheet with title and meta tag information, letting you watch it fill-in as it goes.
Previously, you would have needed special crawl tools—or a lot of copy-and-paste from view-source. Now, it’s exactly as easy as pinning it in Pinterest, or reading later in Instapaper—as with any bookmarklet app.
Notice the question-marks that were left behind by the crawl—under columns named tweets, likes and plusses. With just one more click—but this time, inside the sheet—the tool starts replacing those question-marks with data drawn from the sources.
In fact, we could have just started with a list of URLs and, and checked their social counters. 360iTiger will be growing as the Internet landscape grows, connecting to ever-more sources, thereby—bestowing ever-more capabilities upon the average spreadsheet user.
We invite you to use it today in its primary function as a time-saving tool for lightweight SEO and Social investigations. So, go ahead and visit tiger.360i.com, grab the bookmarklet, visit a site you’d like to crawl, and give it go! We look forward to seeing you in our community.
Okay, it’s the next day. Where are we now? Wednesday is the Public Tiger launch date, and there’s a lot of communication to refine the press release. My work right now is primarily the video. You have to work on this video with single-minded determination. You have some time to work with to refine it, but you have to make some good decisions right now.
While it is possible to just use OS X natively to record screen cam sessions through Quicktime, I’m not going to be able to zoom-in on and highlight things. This bookmarklet video is going to fly past very quick, and serve as both the elevator pitch, and instructions to get started. The goal here is with as few words and and as short a time possible, give people everything they need to start using Tiger. That can be contained to under a minute, so we’re really talking about a minute here. And I’ll use that video everywhere, instead of the different versions for different browsers. We can always do that later. The process is more-or-less identical for every browser, so my time is best spent focusing on one killer video—the HitTail video of 360iTiger.
The video is clearly going to be heavily edited, and zooming in on the parts that are most important. This is going to be an exercise in concentrated communication—almost meme manufacturing. A super-concentrated Ah-Ha! moment!
Okay, don’t skimp. Use Screenflow on the Mac. Even at $100, it’s considerably cheaper than TechSmith Camtasia on the PC. Okay, done. Just bought Screenflow, and am downloading it to my home Macbook Air. I’m hoping it will be no problem putting it on my Macbook Air at the office as well. But either way, I need to make my script tight, tight, tight! Practice it. Visualize the screen. Imagine the transitions. It’s all about the subtleties. Excluding so much “oh, of course!” that everyone will be kicking themselves for not doing it first.
I’m getting into that mode of when I made the HitTail video. My confidence is growing, now with the Screenflow program looking pretty awesome and intuitive, and exactly what I need in order to make a cooler-than-cool experience, without the Herculean, monumental effort that was required in Flash with HitTail. This lends itself to screencam very well. It’s all going to be in the scripting and editing.