Tag Archives: Technology

Apple’s iTunes Remote app and one guy

[Crossposted at A Man with a PhD]

Apple’s iTunes Remote app was developed by one person – report
[Via AppleInsider]

Apple’s iTunes Remote application for the iPhone has not been updated in over 8 months because the software was written by just one person, and he is currently busy with other projects, according to a new report which describes Apple as “a huge startup.”


Here is how he describes the way Apple runs things:

Apple doesn’t build large teams to work on every product they make. Instead, they hire very few, but very intelligent people who can work on different projects and move around as needed.

One day you might be working on the Remote app, and the next day you might get pulled on to another project that needs your help.

The engineers on the Mac OS and iOS teams move back and forth between the two projects based on release cycles and what needs to ship next.

That is how we worked at Immunex – whatever was on fire got the bucket brigade approach. we all worked on multiple projects at the same time, allowing us to drop something that was going slow and pick up on something that needed more attention.Once we had gotten our role done, we handed it off to the next member of the bucket brigade and picked up another project.

In order to make this work well, there needs to be constant vetting of the progression by everyone involved. Any bumps in the road can be smoothed over if more eyes are on the prize.

Thus everyone feels a part of a successful project, even if they had a little part. Immunex’s great drug was Enbrel. I had a very small part working on that molecule quire early. While only peripheral to the amazing work done by others, I felt every bit as proud of its success.

Plus this approach keeps smart people interested and helps prevent empire building, which can be a real detriment to the rapid actions a small team needs to make.

Any company basing its success on the creativity of its employees needs to have a management style closer to Apple’s or Immunex’s.

Its late and I’m rambling about Scienceblogs

I continue to have some discussions in comments of my Scienceblogs post that results in a treatise on my part. Greg Laden is the most recent victim of my verbosity – he has a great blog.

And, as with the previous reply to David Croty, I’ve decided to put it up as a post. Mainly because I wrote so much that it deserves more recognition with its own title, for instance. Plus it is very late and I do not feel like cutting it all down. I hope it looks okay in the morning.

So I make it a post. But it covers some more of my thoughts about the community that has been forming at Scienceblogs and where it will go from here.

First, Greg’s comment:

Just to expand on the point a little: For the most part, Scienceblogs has been explicitly non-communal. It is a network, there are communication channels (but not used by most bloggers) and things do get organized now and then (like a fundraising drive that about 20% of the blgogers engage in every year).

This is all very much on purpose. We blog as indy bloggers, and the ‘overlords’ (Seed’s Sb staff) organize all this internal network wide link love (reader’s picks, ed’s picks, most active, Page 3.14, the front page, 24 hour page, RSS feeds, etc.) and make links between things like NYT and NGS. But as bloggers, we’re just blogging away.

In once sense, I would say that PepsiBlawg Gate was an example of a “community” forming out of a thing that really wasn’t much of a community because most bloggers had fairly negative feelings about the blog so some degree of organization happened.

It would be interesting in the end to look at the kinds of things people do and their reaction to the Pepsiblog. There may be some stark (and thus perhaps not really that interesting in the end) patterns there. For the most part, labby research scientists did not quit, journalists and book writers did, for instance. Which brings up a point that Bora has almost talked me out of but not quite yet: Journalistic modus operendi, ethics, etc. are fundamentally different than for scientists. Not saying one is better than the other … just that they are fondling different parts of the elephant.

Which is a thought I’ll leave you with but I don’t recommend keeping in your head for too long.

My reply:

Even though my connection with the Scienceblog community was as a reader and sometimes commenter, as a scientist I feel confident that I can provide an opinion (My family knows that I have an opinion on everything so maybe that is a personal trait rather than a professional one. But ‘as a scientist’ sounds better than ‘as a know-it-all’). Confident mainly because I have been a part of several real-life enactments of just such a ‘community’ of researchers, connected by weak ties, who, through a precipitating event by ‘outsiders,’ came together to take some sort of action.

So, I think to a certain degree we may be arguing semantics about what really defines a community. In large measure, Scienceblogs is a network with mostly weak ties, but with some links perhaps a little stronger than others. And while there was not a decided push to create a defined community with uniform rules, titles and positions, when humans work along the same lines, doing similar things – even in digital space – connections get made and a sense of comity starts to emerge.

Thus insider slang terms like Sciblings, blogchild and Overlords developed. You would see memes and arguments sweep through certain blogs. There obviously were some strong connections that provided rapid information transfer between Sciblings.

There was an nascent community just waiting for an event that would precipitate action, making many weak ties much stronger, while breaking some altogether.

In the instances I have been involved in, a bunch of independent-minded, “leave me alone to do my work” researchers came together because a decision was made by upper management that directly affected the scientists – a decision that was never discussed with them until AFTER it was made. The scientists were left out of any input in the decision, even though it affected every single one of them.

In each case, there was a rapid meeting called by the researchers to discuss what they should do. Scientists who had never been in the same room with each other were now discussing the proper response with each other. Action had to be taken and committees were formed.

Instead of a bunch of weakly tied people, there were now a lot of very strongly defined paths for communication.

Perhaps this is only an aspect of egomaniac researchers, who think they have to be informed beforehand about anything and have a part of every decision. I do not think so. I think it can happen with any community when the weak ties that are present are tugged by an outside “threat.”

Heck, I’ve seen it happen in neighborhoods when a new development appears on the city plans.

What I think happened with the PepsiBlawg Gate was a crystallization of a large fragment of the network because, to some, it became obvious that the reasons they had joined and maintained even weak ties in the network /community were in conflict with what the ‘Overlords’ wanted to do. The lack of communication, and the ‘disrespect’ that engendered, meant some sort of response was needed.

And I’ve been fascinated by that response, because it has taken many forms. Some people exited without any need for real consultation. Some did not begin to really think about it until others in the network/community that they respected made a decision – Bora being the strongest example. Still others, such as PZ, decided to take direct action and go on strike unless the ‘Overlords’ listened to them.

These are all ways one would expect different people in a community to respond to change. It is what I spend my days examining at SpreadingScience.

I do not think Scienceblogs will vanish. It’ll be different. I think there will be much more defined communication between members, with regular meetings between the bloggers and the people from Seed Media. Instead of an ad hoc sort of network/community, it may very well become a much more defined one. Like the taming of the Old West, it may be more or less attractive, depending on the outlook of the individual. The bloggers who left may very well continue to link and discuss things written on Scienceblogs. The reverse will also happen.

In effect, there will be a much wider network/community with some very strong, defined ties that were not present before. I expect other types of science blogging sites to become important – such as Science 2.0 and others. It’ll be great for most of the bloggers and their readers. It may just not be quite as optimal for Seed as it had been before when they virtually had cornered the market.

And that was kind of my point in the post. If Seed had been a little better about servicing its bloggers, it would have kept the market pretty much to itself. Now, not so much. Meaning that, as far as it might be concerned, there is a loss in value that might take some effort to recreate. Effort that it would not have needed if it had not ticked people off.

Finally, I think that the different viewpoints between scientific journalists and journalistic scientists makes for a much better description of the elephant than either alone. In any effective network/community, diversity of world views is a key part. It is very hard to solve complex problems over and over if everyone thinks the same way. It is the friction that arises from the different views that eventually allows us to make the wise decision.

Do not tick off the community you created if you want it to survive

science by o palsson  

Bora and PalMD leave ScienceBlogs: What to do now?
[Via Respectful Insolence]

I can’t believe it.

I really can’t believe it.

I really, really, really can’t believe it.

Bora has left ScienceBlogs.

Readers of just this blog probably don’t know what a body blow that is to the ScienceBlogs collective. Readers of multiple ScienceBlogs probably realize that Bora was the proverbial heart and soul of ScienceBlogs. It’s news that’s left Isis the Scientist speechless and GrrlScientist “deeply upset.” Even ScienceBlogs’ big macher PZ Myers has pointed out how Bora compared the situation here to to Bion’s Effect, where the departure of a few people at a party triggers a sudden end to the event. I don’t know whether Bora’s departure is the seismic shift that leads to the collapse of Sb or not, but I do know that it’s a wake up call to me that maybe I was too quick to go back to business as usual after our corporate overlords decided to invite a corporate blog to be added to the Sb stable as co-equals with the rest of us, hopelessly blurring the line between content and advertising.

Why is this such a big deal?


A few days ago, I discussed how an ad hoc community – the Tour de France peloton – controls group behavior. I also made a mention of how the group deals with perceived outside interference. In the case of the Tour, the peloton adopted a behavior that benefited the group, to the detriment of individuals or the outsiders.

Here, we also see some behavior dealing with external interference. In this case, it was the inclusion of a blog that was bought by a corporation in order to provide its own views, without any real communication with the community about what was happening.

The group did not take well at all to this event at all. Read Bora’s post to get an idea of what happened and why these responses are being made.

What we have here is somewhat the opposite of the group coming together and getting stronger in response to outsiders. The group is, in response, may breaking apart. In part, this may be due to the particular instance – the inclusion of a new member actually undercut the entire reason for the group to exist. But it is also due to the same technologies that make it so easy for ad hoc groups to form.

Scienceblogs is a great example of the benefits and perils of technology. Ad hoc groups can be created very easily. Seed Media did this and worked to create a community that would support and attract people who would allow it to stay in business.

Now it appears to have messed things up by forgetting that in a Web 2.0 world, the community must be served first or it will leave.

The people of the community were creating all this content because they enjoyed the community, not because they made a lot of money or wanted Seed to make a lot of money. Most had other careers. They wrote at Scienceblogs because of the network of people they were a part of.

Apparently the managers of Seed did not really understand why it was that these people were even there. They needed to make some money and completely ticked off the community with their ham-handed process. They forgot who there real customers were.

Most media still think that servicing advertisers is the bedrock of their business. But, for businesses who require networks to survive, servicing the network is paramount. Without the bloggers, there is not Scienceblogs, no matter how much advertisers are feted.

Technology makes an ad-hoc community really easy to create. And it makes it really easy for the community to change its mind, for individuals to leave and aggregate at a new community if they are not happy.

Compare where Facebook and MySpace were 3 years ago to their relative popularity now. The same will befall Facebook if it forgets this.

I think that while Scienceblogs will survive, it will never again be THE place for people who write about science. Already other sites, such as Field of Science and Genomes Unzipped, are picking up new people.

I imagine that we will now have several well-connected networks of blogs about science, providing greater diversity and wider ranges of information to move around. Technology will not make it much more difficult for readers for read – adding Field of Science’s RSS feed to my aggregator adds minimally to my daily efforts.

The only one really harmed here, in the long run, will be Seed. The bloggers can easily become parts of other networks, taking the readers, eyeballs and advertisers with them. There will just be fewer for Scienceblogs to use to support itself.

New Seminar – You’re not crazy. You are innovative.


I’ve been working on a series of seminars. I hope to announce more of them soon but I have the first one ready.

You’re not crazy. You are innovative. will examine the disruptive innovators in a community. These people are absolutely critical for the introduction of new ideas into an organizations – ideas that could make or break the success of the company.

Yet often these people are seen more for their disruptive activities rather than their innovation. The majority of the community – the people who simply get things done – views disruption negatively because it changes their workflow, making it hard to simply get things done. Doers distrust disruptors.

This seminar will explore how human social networks adapt to change and why the disruptors are so often not listened to. It will demonstrate that the social networks of disruptors and doers look very different and how Web 2.0 tools can be used to identify members in each group.

It will also provide insights into human social networks that can empower disruptors, making it easier for their innovative ideas to traverse a community and have the major impacts that they should.

The next class in Seattle will start soon. I can also provide seminars for groups. If you would like to attend, send us an email.

How an efficient company makes a ton of money

efficient by NeoGaboX

Apple’s Incredibly Efficient Growth
[Via Daring Fireball]

Steve Cheney analyzes Apple’s R&D expenditures and acquisition pace:

Organic growth is the term coined for growing internally, not via merger or acquisition. Apple has embraced this strategy over its existence, averaging only about 1 acquisition per year during the past 25 years. In contrast — during the past four years alone — Microsoft bought 45 companies, Google 40, and Cisco 30.

Microsoft spent seven times as much as Apple on R&D over the past four years.


I saw this while working at Immunex – a well-designed and well-run company with a culture of innovation can beat larger, more well-funded companies every time.

Big Phama outspent us by a huge amount, and had many more people working on the same projects, yet we continued to get things done before them. Same with Apple.

It is possible to grow quite large and still maintain this culture. It helps tremendously if the guys at the top are not sales or marketing types, who generally seem to have no clue about rapid innovation and efficient management design.

Buying companies sucks away energy that could have been more efficiently used. It seems that MBAs think the mergers and acquisitions are the way to grow. Immunex did not think so and neither does Apple.

Doers, mediators and disruptors

network by Arenamontanus

On self determination
[Via Seth’s Blog]

I posted this eight years ago (!) but a reader asked for an encore.

…are we stuck in High School?

I had two brushes with higher education this week.

The first was at a speech I gave in New York. There were several Harvard Business School students there, invited because of their interest in marketing and exceptional promise (that’s what I was told… I think they came because they had heard that Maury Rubin would make a great lunch!).

Anyway, they asked for my advice in finding marketing jobs. When I shared my views (go to a small company, work for the CEO, get a job where you actually get to make mistakes and do something) one woman professed to agree with me, but then explained, “But those companies don’t interview on campus.”

Those companies don’t interview on campus. Hmmm. She has just spent $100,000 in cash and another $150,000 in opportunity cost to get an MBA, but…


I’ll discuss this in greater detail later but I wanted to discuss a little why the young woman replied the way she did.

We have a probably seen this figure graphing the number of people that adopt a new workflow or innovation as a function of time:


A small number of people chose the innovation rapidly, while the majority takes much longer. Part of the problem Seth describes arises because, that in my experience, many of the people in MBA schools have come from the middle of the figure, while someone like Seth comes from the earlier segments.

It turns out that people in each of these segments often exhibit a defined pattern of behavior.

The majority in the middle (67% of the total) are doers. They are the ones who get things done. They follow a workflow that generates positive results and see it to the end. They are process-driven and the backbone of any successful venture. If things do not get done, if details are not taken care of, then failure usually results.

Doers are justifiably resistant to change. Change can slow down the workflow. It can introduce a process that has not been proven to produce positive results. They hate anything that does not have a defined metric for success.They want proof it will work before changing. That is why they are in the middle.

The small percentage of innovators are disruptors, bringing change to the rest of the community. They are always finding new things that work, often after experimenting with many that do not. And they are always telling the doers that they are doing things wrong, that there are better ways to accomplish a task and generally disrupting the workflows of the doers.

These two groups are absolutely necessary for a successful organization. But they are often in opposition, with the disruptors upset that no one will do anything they say and the doers upset with the disruption that comes from change.

The critical people in a community, and the ones that actually are often in very short supply, are the so-called early adopters. They happen do be unique people who can listen to the ideas of the disruptors and translate them into processes that the doers can accept. These mediators are often well trusted by both communities because of their abilities to let just enough vital change through to the community to allow things to get done better while slowing down those things that would disrupt successful operations.

So, a doer with an MBA is going to follow procedures that have worked well in the past – campus interviews. Being focussed on current processes, it is not likely that she would have been able to accomplish novel approaches on her own. And, if somehow she met a CEO of a small company at a party, she would most likely not have been attracted to his proposal to come work for him.

But an excellent mediator, such as Seth, will explain to her how to use some of the ideas he has seen work well – small company, make mistakes. Now, it is much more likely that given the opportunity to work at a small company, she will actually consider it.

The manner by which change traverses a community seems to follow a very common framework. In many cases, the reason useful change does not get used by a community is that the ideas of the disruptors can not get to the doers. Because there are often not enough mediators.

One of the great innovations of online technologies is that they leverage the reach of a small number of mediators, allowing them to have a much greater effect than in an Industrial world. Thus a community without enough mediators to be successful 50 years ago can, by properly using Web 2.0 techniques, make those mediators much more influential. This will enhance the rate that innovations traverses the company.

Getting news in the mobile connected world

So, I’m driving to the nearby Barnes and Noble to use their Wifi and get some work done. Plus I get a discount on their coffee. I get a voicemail on my iPhone from my Mom saying she hopes I’m not in downtown Seattle, that it looks like a real mess.

Not having a clue to what she was talking about, I checked Google News. I found a couple of articles like this one, about a man wandering around near the Courthouse with some sort of device on his arm. The police has him in custody and were examining the device.

Then I ran across this article which quoted a Police tweet about the incident:

In a tweet, Seattle police said, “Adult male in 300 block of James has made general threats against persons and property. He has taped an unknown device to his left hand.”

Whoa. I had not thought about that at all. You can follow the whole incident on their Twitter page! Here is a picture of the description so far:

seattle pd twitter

Jeez. They have a picture of the device online already! Who would have really thought 5 years ago that information about something like this could not only be readily available but that organizations, such as the police, would be on the front lines of providing it. we no longer need to wait for the evening newscast or the paper the next day to get informed.

And as I finish this, the Twitter feed states that the downtown streets have been reopened.

Disruptive technology seldom is accurately described during its disruptive period

Apple’s “history of lousy first reviews”
[Via Edible Apple]

From the original Mac to the iMac to the iPod and even the iPhone, early reviews of revolutionary products tend to evoke a lot of negative reactions. The Week takes us back in time and examines what reviewers have historically thought about Apple’s latest and greatest creations.


The problem with so many new, disruptive technologies is that most people do not understand them. Let me pull back a little bit to discuss how innovations are accepted by a community, using the model proposed by Everett Rogers.


The majority of people do not change, do not take up new things, very rapidly. They like to stick with what they know.

A small group do accept new things very fast. These so called innovators are the ones that almost always make up the tech community.

Read any tech blog and you’ll see all sorts of stuff regarding the coolest new toys. They know in detail just why a new product is worthy, usually because it is the best, fastest, newest.

Now, to get new technology out of the hands of the innovators and into the majority requires the work of early adopters. These act as filters, helping move innovations that can make a real difference to the majority, out of the hungry hands of the innovators.

These people are pretty special because, for all sorts of reasons, the majority just will not listen to the innovators. They are too disruptive. They might listen to the early adopters because this group seems to know how to mediate between the two groups that often fail to communicate at all.

Now, the people who write about high tech are usually of two types (and this holds for any writing about rapidly changing technologies). They either write for the innovators, providing insights into the newest. Or they write for the majority, providing a comfortable view of how the rapid churn of the new can be ‘controlled’.

To really be successful, a technology needs to move out from the innovators to the majority. But who will write about this? Those that cater to the innovators will not because the technology that is usually being moved is ‘old hat.’ That is who their audience is.These writers always tell us how there are faster things with more memory that can do the same thing. “My hand-built PC is able to do three times as much for half the price.”

And what about those who cater to the majority? Well, they are usually skeptical of anything new. That is who their audience is. So this disruptive technology is often viewed in the same way as any other – something to be feared and watched carefully. “This computer is really slow and will never replace the speed of a mainframe.”

If you look at the criticisms of Apple products over the years, especially the ones that have been shown by history to be flat out wrong, you see they fall into one of these two bins.

What Apple has done, more than most other companies, is act first to move technologies and ideas out of the hands of the innovators, into the land of the majority. This does not mean they have to be the most innovative or always have the best ideas. What they have been successful at is becoming the premier company of transitioning technology. They filter out the technology, finding the best ones to move out to the majority.

Few companies are able to do this even once. The fact that Apple has done this in multiple product categories is amazing.

And, just as early adopters are usually the opinion and thought leaders of a community, so Apple is watched to see what will become the new paradigm for the majority. This explains why keynotes given by Steve Jobs can bring down the internet.

Most pundits and commenters on Apple, and on any disruptive technology, will continue to get it wrong. Few people are able to effectively, and accurately, discuss the views of the early adopter segment. I think that might be because to do that requires someone who can simultaneously understand both the views of the innovator cohort and the majority. These people seem to be pretty rare and can probably find a more lucrative livelihood than writing for a magazine. Perhaps working for Apple.

The difference between the creative and the commonplace

tufte by BruceTurner

Edward Tufte Presidential Appointment
[Via Daring Fireball]

President Obama has appointed Edward Tufte to the Recovery Independent Advisory Panel, “whose job is to track and explain $787 billion in recovery stimulus funds”. Outstanding.


This is pretty cool. Tufte is one of my favorite people, not only for his highly original books on data presentation but also for his sheer force of personality. He is one of the most entertaining, enlightening speakers I have ever heard.

I attended one of his workshops in Seattle probably close to 20 years ago. There was an interchange that has stuck with me ever since, because it so succinctly illustrates the divide between truly original, innovative change and the typical corporate response.

Tufte was discussing the different interfaces between the Mac OS and Windows. After going through a lot of the pluses he saw in the Mac and a lot of the minuses in Windows, he stated that the Mac looked like it had been created by one or a small group of people with a single purpose, a single view of how the information should be presented, while Windows looked like it had been done by a committee.

He then said that all the best presentations were this way – a single point of view forcefully pushed onto everyone. Someone in the audience then asked but what happens if your single point of view turns out to be wrong, to not work.

Tufte replied, simply, “You should be fired.” You could almost audibly hear the intake of everyone’s breath. That is exactly what they feared and why they would always want to retreat into committee decisions – they can’t be fired if the committee made the decision. FUD is what drives most people.

The creative, the innovative do not really fear failure, often because they are adaptable enough to ‘route around the damage’ quickly enough. They do not usually doubt the mission they are on and are certainly not uncertain about the effects. Read about the development of the Mac. They were going to change the world, no doubt about it. While you can see that there really was a focus of vision, there are also lots of ‘failures’ that had to be fixed. The key was to fail quickly, leaving time to find success.

And permitting committed individuals to find their own way to success rather than rely on committees to fix them.

Committees very seldom fail quickly, since failure is the thing they fear the most. They would rather succeed carefully than perhaps fail spectacularly. And they very seldom produce revolutionary change.

Single viewpoint, change the world, rapidly overcome obstacles, adaptable. All characteristics of successful change. They do not fear spectacular failure because the fruits of success will be so sweet.

An interesting juxtaposition

data by blprnt_van

Reaching Agreement On The Public Domain For Science
[Via Common Knowledge]

Photo outside the Panton Arms pub in Cambridge, UK, licensed to the public under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike by jwyg (Jonathan Gray).

Today marked the public announcement of a set of principles on how to treat data, from a legal context, in the sciences. Called the Panton Principles, they were negotiated over the summer between myself, Rufus Pollock, Cameron Neylon, and Peter Murray-Rust. If you’re too busy to read them directly, here’s the gist: publicly funded science data should be in the public domain, full stop.


and this

BBC News – Science damaged by climate row says NAS chief Cicerone
[Via BBC News | Science/Nature]

Leading scientists say that the recent controversies surrounding climate research have damaged the image of science as a whole.

President of the US National Academy of Sciences, Ralph Cicerone, said scandals including the “climategate” e-mail row had eroded public trust in scientists.


He said that this crisis of public confidence should be a wake-up call for researchers, and that the world had now “entered an era in which people expected more transparency”.

“People expect us to do things more in the public light and we just have to get used to that,” he said. “Just as science itself improves and self-corrects, I think our processes have to improve and self-correct.”


It is important for Federally funded research to be in the public domain. But, Universities, who hope to license the results of this research, and corporations, who will not as likely commercialize a product if they can not lock up the IP, Both of these considerations must be accounted for if we want to translate basic research into therapies or products for people.

So, as the Principles seem to indicate, most of this open data should happen AFTER publication, so this would give the proper organizations to make sure they have any IP issues dealt with.

But what about unpublished data? What about old lab notebooks? The problem supposedly seen now has nothing to do with data that was published. It has to do with emails between scientists. Is this relevant data that should be made public for any government funded research?

Who determines which data are relevant or not?

And what about a researcher’s time? More time in front of the public, more time filling out FOIs, more time not doing research in the first place.

The scientific world is headed this way but how will researcher’s adjust? There will have to be much better training of effectively communicating science to a much wider audience than most scientists are now comfortable with.