Tuesday, September 30

Book Review: Purple Cow

Hated it. I knew nothing about the author (Seth Godin) before reading the book, it was just a title I had heard tossed around at a conference or on a podcast, I can't recall. After reading the book and asking myself how could it be so widely heralded, I did some research on Godin. According to the good old Wikipedia, he has "one of the most popular blogs in the world" and "is the author of 11 bestselling books." I've not read any of his other books, nor do I read his blog, so my initial theory is that Purple Cow is simply riding the coat tails of his other successes. Of course, I'm not completely blind to the possibility that I just might not get it. But back to the book...

The book is short, and the chapters are really short. Each chapter averages maybe two or three paragraphs. It reads very much like a blog, and I'd guess it's essentially a scrapbook of Godin's posts. If I hadn't been privy to the blogging phenomena, I'd probably have described this book as The Art of War for marketing, a collection of quips and anecdotes.

Again Wikipedia sums up the book's premise pretty well:

"...marketers no longer have the power to command the attention of anyone they choose, whenever they choose. ... Godin asserts that the only way to spread the word about an idea is for that idea to earn the buzz by being remarkable."

It struck me as a lot of armchair quarterbacking. The author builds some pretty big bridges over the chasm between cause and effect with bold and broad statements along the lines of "product X was crazy successful because of tactic Y," glossing over any possible nuances of the relationship between the two or other possible external market factors. As I read it, my mind kept conjuring up the image of Andy Rooney and his rants at the end of every episode of 60 Minutes.

In summary, I don't regret reading the book, I just didn't enjoy it. Now I know who Godin is and what he preaches so the next time I encounter his name I'll be able to better participate in the conversation. The book also made me think; unfortunately it made me think the author is more about braggadocio than pragmatism.

Monday, September 15

Stack Overflow is open; Experts Exchange can suck it

How any times have you run into some obscure problem with a piece of software, you copy and paste the cryptic error message into Google, and the first match that comes up is a link to Experts Exchange, the site that supposedly has all the answers but wants you to pay to see them? Yeah, me too. Well their business model took a pretty big hit this morning...

Joel Spolsky of Joel on Software fame and Jeff Atwood, who I'd never heard of before the Stack Overflow podcast, have finally opened up the doors to Stack Overflow, which is essentially a free version of Experts Exchange. I've been in the beta for a few weeks and I've got to admit it's pretty damn slick!

So here's my call to arms: all you Ruby on Rails fanatics, get on over there and start contributing the knowledge, it's very .Net and Java heavy so far.

Thursday, September 11

Interview with eBay architect worth a listen

Normally I'd save something like this for my Twitter feed but I think the latest espisode of Software Engineering Radio is worthy of a dedicated blog entry. In episode #109 Markus interviews Randy Shoup about his role as a Distinguished Architect at eBay. The interview plays like a scripted version of a conference presentation - you can see the slides and bulleted lists in your head - but that doesn't distract from the excellent content. Randy goes into detail about the architectural compromises eBay has to make in order to value performance, stability, scalability, and up-time above traditional "best practices" of software development like referential integrity, transactions, etc. It will either enlighten or infuriate you; either way it's worth a listen.

Sunday, September 7

Book Review: Predictably Irrational

The author artfully tells the tales of a dozen clever experiments in human behavior demonstrating the power of suggestion, sexual arousal, the placebo effect, dishonesty, and peer pressure. As the title suggests, the book asserts that human behavior is sometimes irrational but completely predictable. For example, humans are prone to think more expensive products are more effective simply because they cost more, such as with name brand drugs versus generic. This might be a tale of psychology but it hit more as a little black book of marketing tricks, not just between products and consumers, but between consultants and clients, perhaps even between bosses and employees. It opened my eyes to the ways I might be, or have been, persuaded to make illogical decisions. I'll be a lot more skeptical and wary in future dealings with salesmen and managers. It's a relatively short book - a quick read - and the author does a fine job of explaining everything in layman's terms. Check it out.