Building the Modern Website: Part 0 -- Introduction

This post is the first part in a series about building a modern website. I'd appreciate feedback on what other topics people would have me cover. If you have any ideas or any other feedback, please leave a comment at the end of the article. I also recommend that you subscribe to my RSS feed, which will inform you when future posts are made.

Reasons for this Series

There are many old website still on the web. Many but not all are bad: some are just old and tired.. Perhaps you're reading this because....

Types of Development Delays

Here's some food for thought. Comments and further elaborations are encouraged.

Xeno's Paradox

in order to do A, B and C you need to do D and E, and in order to do C and D you need to do F... on and on, with further requirements added onto the end of the chain. The amount of progress toward the goal is constant, while at the same time the amount of work required to reach the goal remains constant.

Concrete Wall

The thing about predictions is.... ("Drupal is Dying!")

... that they seldom come true. And in the age of the forever web making bold but inevitably false predictions is eventually going to get fingers poked at you.

Almost a year ago now, podcasting jockey Chris Pirillo predicted that Drupal was dying because of a shortage of 'intelligent' developers.

I don't know if he's forgotten his economics lessons, but low supply means one of two things:

Building on Drupal to Reduce Costs

Building upon Drupal because it's 'cheaper' is a very poor reason to build on Drupal. It may be cheaper in the end than hacking up some closed-source commercial CMS to include the functionality that Drupal provides in its core distribution. But there's at least one thing to keep in mind:

Crap Creep

This was originally intended to be a rant about pointless Facebook notifications. After thinking about it a while, I realized that Facebook wasn't unique. Nor did only social networking sites exhibit the phenomenon of scope expansion, aka crap creep

What bothers me is not the encroaching ads, not the arbitrary banninations the process of transformation caused by trying to do everything and be everything to everyone. No wonder people get overwhelmed. In the late 90's it was banner and popup advertising, as people expecting something for nothing were expected to put up with a constant barrage of ads. Now? The new vogue is social networking features. Combine this natural tendency of trying to be all things to all people with the tendency of the social network to try to include *everything*, and you've got a nightmare on rocket roller skates.

The usability and value of Facebook has gone drastically downhill ever since they opened up an API. The many trivial applications have created a surge in useless invitations, and pollute the previously-informative status feed. Sure, you can customize where things go on your profile page, but you can't get rid of all the notifications you aren't interested in because their system doesn't learn from what items you click the 'X' on, and because there are more applications created daily.

The only web services vendor I can recall right now that *doesn't* do this to their services is -- go figure -- Google. Sure they've got a boatload of products but they don't try to shove everything on the same page.

Mark my words: the future of social networking applications is in sites which have a more tightly focused scope, or towards one particular interest. That is, unless social networking ends up being just another fad footnote in the rapidly-evolving Internet landscape.

The 'Groups' functionality of the big social networking sites might seem to do this, but it's not the same thing. On a social network devoted to a particular topic you can find only people who are interested in that topic. Not your coworkers, or creepy people from high school that you don't want to have to deal with -- just people with some sort of an interest in a certain topic. There's a sense of simplicity to that.

The presence of specific groups on larger social networking sites leads to a particularly annoying problem: too many Group Collectors. You've seen this type of person, Only slightly better than the Friend Collectors. They focused on joining as many groups as possible while never participating in any of them. I wouldn't be so annoyed with the type if they didn't insist upon sending 'join me in this group' notifications to everyone of their 'friends'.

I don't know how I would manage under the barrage of notifications if I were a friend collector. I think I'd go stark raving mad. As it is, they're irritating and useless ("Foo and Bar received a UselessSuperFancyWallPost -- click here to try to see it and be denied access")

The inevitable fragmentation of the social network is why platforms that allow distributed data management and distributed authentication are the wave of the future. An undercurrent to the current state of the 'net is that people already have too many user accounts and it's getting hard to remember who uses what. I've suffered from this problem ever since about 1999 or thereabouts. To this day I still can't login to most sites using the email I used to register as opposed to some username which I may or may not remember.

Techs like OpenSocial and OpenID. Drupal also has distributed authentication built-in if the admin enables it. I'm still exploring this feature but it looks very neat.

The greatest irony: I get group notifications from facebook groups whose purpose it is to protest against the pointless groups and group notifications! I want to choke and die at seeing those. It's not funny any more guys...

Every time my phone rings…

... it costs me at least 15 minutes of productivity. Possibly more.

The trouble is, getting into "the zone" is not easy. When you try to measure it, it looks like it takes an average of 15 minutes to start working at maximum productivity.
The other trouble is that it's so easy to get knocked out of the zone. Noise, phone calls, going out for lunch, having to drive 5 minutes to Starbucks for coffee, and interruptions by coworkers -- ESPECIALLY interruptions by coworkers -- all knock you out of the zone. If you take a 1 minute interruption by a coworker asking you a question, and this knocks out your concentration enough that it takes you half an hour to get productive again, your overall productivity is in serious trouble.

Some people wonder why I hate the phone. well, that's why. It's so easy to call people, and very hard to ignore. And before anybody says anything, no it's not that easy to remember to turn down/off the ringer before you get into the zone. Sometimes that just happens: the rest of the world be damned.

The War on Words — part 1

Equal, But Opposite

I'm confident it's not a 20th century invention to use words to mean the opposite of what they conventionally mean. But it certainly is pervasive. And annoying. And very, very dangerous.

Something I saw somewhere:

"English is the language that lets you talk until you figure out what to say"

Take for example, the phrase 'Digital Rights Management protections', which I came across recently.

Hiring good programmers

I try not to repost stuff from slashdot unless it's really remarkable, but here's one that's short and really makes the point. If you like it, you also might consider reading The Mythical Man Month and Joel Spolsky's The Bionic Office (and Finding Great Developers). RSS feed

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