Daily Archives: February 26, 2006

Um, doesn’t this patent have prior art?

You know the world has gotten a little nutty when a Microsoft guy complains about a patent, but when Matt May last night at the Podcast Hotel told me a company is trying to patent AJAX, among other things, I was amazed when Matt said this patent looks like it tried to patent AJAX. I haven’t looked at the patent (the patent lawyers ask employees to refrain from looking at patents) Then he passed me a Slashdot article on them today.

We call some of this kind of behavior “patent trolling.” (I haven’t looked at the patent in question, so don’t know if it’s legitimate or not, I’m not a lawyer and all that). What’s a patent troll? A company gets a patent that it itself isn’t willing to commercialize in a product, but goes around to every company threatening that it’ll take everyone to court. Demands a licensing fee. Usually something like $20,000 to $150,000. And repeats, often stopping short of the big guys with the deep pockets (although in this case it looks like they are pitching it to the big guys).

Why does this work? Well, I interviewed one of our lawyers recently and he said that a patent case, if it goes to trial, will cost millions of dollars to defend. So, of course everyone settles out of court if the fees are far less than a potential loss in court.

The commenters over on Slashdot are unusually lucid on this topic. Makes for fun reading.

As usual, my disclaimer particularly applies here. This is my personal opinion and may or may not agree with anyone else’s opinions, in particular my employer’s. I haven’t checked with anyone else at Microsoft before writing this post.

What do you think? What should the responsibility of big companies be here?

Here’s an article in InformationWeek about this patent and the breadth of what it covers.

Is your company seeing a bozo explosion?

Guy Kawasaki gives some great advice to those of us who work in companies “how to prevent a bozo explosion.”

#9 got a little close to home. ;-) *

Anyway, one thing that I will always appreciate about Bill Gates is that he lets me walk around Microsoft with a camcorder so I get to study one of the world’s best businesses from inside (how many business school graduates get to do that?).

And, even better, I get to meet a LOT of people from a lot of different businesses, so have collected a few of my own rules about bozo explosions.

There are a few other things I’d add to Guy’s list after studying the problem in detail:

#15: If you are a software developer and if you spend more time in meetings than writing code you might be in a bozo explosion.
#16: If the first question out of your manager’s mouth is “can this be monetized?” you might be in a bozo explosion.
#17: If the name for your product is something like “Contosa Bozo Exploder 2006” you might be in a bozo explosion.
#17B: If your product’s box has 45% more text on it than an iPod box, you might be in a bozo explosion.
#18: If, when an employee comes up with a new idea the answer back is an email with the words “business value” repeated 13 times you might be in a bozo explosion.
#19: If, when you ask a business leader “what’s your philosophy?” and they answer “huh?” well, then, you might be in a bozo explosion.
#20: If more than three people have to be consulted to spend less than $100 million to acquire a company, or build something new, then you might be in a bozo explosion. (Committeeism guarantees slowness, lack of philosophy, and lack of creativity).
#21: If your marketing team can change the spec after the development team has started development, you might be in a bozo explosion. (Or, if your development team doesn’t communicate well, or listen to, the marketing team you might be in a bozo explosion).
#22: If your company forces you to work computers built in 1999, you might be in a bozo explosion (you do realize that having two monitors has been shown by several studies to make people up to 15% more productive, right? Are you working on two or more monitors yet? I keep visiting lots of companies and am suprised to see how many companies force their workers to use small, low-resolution, single monitor setups. They are literally throwing 5% productivity down the drain. For what? A $1,000 per worker savings? It gets worse when we’re talking about software developers who have to wait minutes for their companies’ code to compile (I’ve seen so many horror stories here it isn’t funny).
#23: If your best employees leave you might be in a bozo explosion.
#24: If you’re not allowed to write on your blog that you are in the middle of a bozo explosion you might be in the middle of a bozo explosion (hint: we don’t have such a rule at Microsoft).
But, back to #9. You knew I couldn’t resist, couldn’t you? Well, I personally think that a major company (IE, one with more than 1,000 employees) that only has ONE paid blogger IS potentially a bozo factory. I personally believe every employee should blog. But, then, I’m an edge case.

The asterisk is because my employee review goals show that I’m not paid to “only blog.” I’m facing 197 emails tonight (many of which don’t have anything to do with blogging). Tomorrow I’m going to Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Strategies conference in New York to speak. And, really, my “day job” is to do videos for Channel 9 anyway. I don’t look at that as blogging. Most of my blogging is done at nights and on weekends, so Microsoft gets blogging mostly for free. Who’s the bozo here? :-)

How can you get out of being in a bozo factory? I’m seeing some best practices:

1) Stop having meetings. Put a 23-year-old in charge and let her ship and get out of her way. At Microsoft that’s Sanaz Ahari (and Scott Isaacs and a few others who are just kicking butt). Or, have a “meeting dictator.” At Amazon Jeff Bezos is famous for coming into meetings and challenging the team who organized the meeting “give me the three reasons why we’re having a meeting.” If they can’t answer, he leaves. Hint: it isn’t good when Jeff Bezos leaves your meeting like that.
2) Have your development team over for Xbox and pizza instead of keeping them locked in their offices during ship nights. I watched Jeff Sandquist do this and his team has done magical stuff in just a few weeks. (You’ll see their work real soon now, it blew me away when I saw it last week. It’s amazing what three developers can do in less than a month).
3) Tell your development team to do something better than the competition. Anything. And then fund it. Expect it. I’ve been watching the Virtual Earth team under Steve Lombardi and have been impressed.
4) Listen to your blog’s commenters, even if it hurts. The IE team hasn’t had the public corner turn yet, but those guys respond to every customer’s request I’ve been getting. Often within minutes (you should see the email I get and pass along). At some point that’s gonna mean they get a killer new feature that you weren’t expecting. I remember one post they had had about 1,000 comments. Or visit the IE wiki. That was started by customers. Not done by a Microsoft employee and it’s watched often by the team.
5) If your team blogs, even when it has no customers, or worse, is derided by the community, you’re on your way off of the bozo explosion. Something interesting happens when you have a conversation with people about what they want. It focuses meetings and gets things going.
6) Get great competitors. Seriously. Stuck in a bozo explosion? Watch what happens when your competitors get rid of their bozos. Everyone notices and that pushes management into action. If they don’t, then you really know you’re on a bozo explosion and that’s a good opportunity to leave.
7) Keep people from changing the spec. A few teams at Microsoft are developing by using scrum (an agile development process where you lock down the requirements for a month and keep people from changing them while you “sprint” to complete that work) and are seeing great results. One manager told me this transformed how they worked and got stuff done.
8) Reward good work. Publicly. With cash. Nothing will get more good people to want to join your team. Nothing.

How do you know you’re in a Bozo explosion? Have you been in a company that successfully has gotten out of it?

Bubbleshare Albums impress

I’m on Skype with the ever passionate Albert Lai, founder of Bubbleshare right now. I keep giving him heck “how are you better than Flickr?” I ask.

He answers: check out my new album on my blog. Now THAT is cool!

Even better, Bubbleshare is holding a storytelling contest. You use his new album technology to tell a story. Here’s one entrant who is telling a story for children.

I’m off to try this out.

Origamisms

I can’t visit a memetracker like Memeorandum or TailRank without seeing something about the Origami project. There’s pictures, on Engadget, and there are videos and other speculations elsewhere.

My own Origamisms started back last Spring when I visited Otto Berkes in his office and saw that he was tinkering with dozens of portable devices. Otto was one of the four guys, I hear, who started the Xbox team, but now was working in building 32, which is where the Tablet PC team was hanging out. He showed me some wood prototypes that excited me. They were small, would open up new usage models (I want to buy one for my son, for instance, to take to school to take notes on) and were fairly low cost.

Anyway, I’m going to keep my mouth shut about the rest of the deal, cause Otto and his team deserves their day in the sun. Let’s get back together on March 2 after the announcement and see what you think.

3 a.m. at the Podcast Hotel

What a night. Still recovering from it. The Podcast Hotel was really hopping until 3 a.m. There were podcasters all over the place, but the music was awesome. Far better than I expected. Samantha Murphy played us a little private concert and gave us a world premiere of one of her new songs (here’s a blurry Flickr photo of her giving her performance that shows the energy she puts into her music). Her latest album is named “Somewhere between starving & stardom.” I asked her where she lives and she said she stays on the road 100% of the time going between gigs. Her fans loan her cars and give her money. She’s going to Nashville next month. Here’s hoping she finds that elusive break.

She has a blog and free music to listen to. You should give her a try.

When I was there I asked a few people “what’s the best blog/podcast about the indie music scene?” All the fingers pointed to C.C. Chapman’s efforts. Subscribed!

Why are small conferences so fun? How often can you get this close to a talented musician while she tests out her new songs on you?

I have a feeling the next Podcast Hotel will be a weee bit bigger.