A man can control only what he comprehends, and comprehend only what he is able to put into words. The inexpressible therefore is unknowable. By examining future stages in the evolution of language we come to learn what discoveries, changes and social revolutions the language will be capable, some day, of reflecting.

Stanislav Lem


Long time ago…

After years of having this account getting dust over dust, I’ve decided to start using it again. Now with short posts, mainly about software and relative subjects.

As before, I’ll be writing in three languages, mainly english as I live in the US, then spanish as that one is my country language, and finally catalan, just because I like it.

Nicaraguan Sign Language

Surely you are aware of this story. San Judas, Nicaragua, in a neighborhood called Managua was opened Villa Libertad. Quite a name for a school and what a school for deaf children.

This was a success story for the users and a big fail for the authors. Teachers tried to train students in lip-reading and speaking Spanish. While adults get involved in this unfruitful game, the children became to communicate with each other creating their own conventions. This way was born a new and fascinating language. Over time, this language gain in complexity and developed verb agreement and a lot of grammars.

Here we have a lot of lessons and for linguists a science fiction opportunity to explore human communication but without the fiction.

Listen to your users

Nicaraguan government and the school staff didn’t saw what was going on within the children, they didn’t hear or had attention to what those small creatures were doing. In those years, children and crazy people had no voice.

With users of computer software we have a very similar tradition, even now you can hear some technical people using the word “user” as a pejorative. It was not until the recent years that developers became aware of the importance to listen what their users have to say.

People want to communicate

You don’t need to force people to communicate, they will do it all by them selves if you just allow them to interact. Of course, if you make easy communicative interactions then surely people will communicate more.

It is an uncontroversial conclusion that “social media” systems are so successful because of the communicative opportunities they create or extend among people.

People adopt communicative conventions

The first children at Villa Libertad just used a few signs, but as soon other children adopted those signs, more and more were added and a grammatical structure were created to communicate more efficiently. All those linguistics artifacts are conventions adopted and “upgraded” by generations of children.


Not an awesome story as the one of Nicaragua children is that of Twitter, where users have created a lot of “alternative” functionality integrated later by the developers.

Of course, users have influence from previous experiences, the same as speakers of a language import words and grammars from other languages. I remember when IRC were the “social media” available at the time. Those days, people used “@” sign to “address” a person in a message. Hash “#” where channels and a lot of emoticons were used.

Reading Scrumban


Reading Scrumban: Essays on Kanban systems for Lean Software Development

I’ll be honest. I didn’t enjoy this book. Nevertheless, there are a lot of interesting ideas on it, enough to recommend its reading.

In the introduction, Corey Ladas resumes his book as a critic to the so called “old Agile methodologies” and presents his own work not only as the new proposal being different, but as the finest paradigm for software development. Reading further seems that the one Agile methodology that the author knows is XP, I guess he knows a lot more, but the only one he talks about is XP. I find difficult to criticize the Agile movement taking only a very partial sample as XP.

The Agile movement is more than a single methodology, but a form of thinking and living software development. You can be an old fashioned Agile developer or a vanguardist one, but Agile the same. The “costume” is a matter of personal and team preferences.

Scrum-ban is just another strategy of organizing workflows that indeed seems to be a good one, but present it as an anti-pattern for Agile is absurd and by no means necessary.

Scrum-ban takes almost everything from Kanban, a methodology more focus on product development than software. The main idea is to enforce auto-control of the workflow by the team using a quite simple pull system.

The attractive of Kanban and Scrum-ban is their simplicity of implementation. You can become your team a Srum-ban team even if this is your first experience with Agile methodologies with no sophisticated tools or an extensive knowledge.

The protocol of Scrum-ban is inherited from Scrum, but evidently you can be as protocolary as in XP or as free as in Crystal. In fact, Scrum-ban tries to reduce the protocol in Scrum reducing the time that meetings require. This protocol reduction leaves you in a scenario more alike to Cockburn’s self-made methodologies, which is my personal election, to have a self-made Agile methodology with a Srcum-ban pull system.

Some Links:

Scrumban at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Scrumban-Systems-Software-Development-ebook/dp/B004SY63BY/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1316368812&sr=8-2

Selling People

“I’m not in the business, I am the business” says Rachael to Deckard in Blade Runner and seems that we also would say those very same words when talking about Google and Social Media platforms.

That’s at least the point of view that Don Norman wants to set down in his talk at the dConstruct conference. “You are the product” says Norman in very convincing words, as he usually does. Google is selling people, that’s the idea, and yes, they do, but that is, we must recognize, just a nice metaphor. Metaphors are risky, and this one is not a happy exception.

What is Google selling? This is the proposed problem. So, we are talking about the business model of Google. That’s a huge problem; you can face it from a lot of points of view, even if, like me, you don’t have a direct source of information about their business strategy.

Why is so tempting to say that Google is selling us as a product, to reduce the big problem to this simplistic assertion? I don’t know for certainly, but my best guess is that we are used to say such kind of things. People are used to say that Media companies are manipulating us with television and fabricated news. They like very much to believe that we live in a world of science fiction, with a Big Brother and some evasive illuminati controlling our destiny. Maybe that’s how the world really is, but there are other possibilities, less fancy but at least equally probable if not more. Those other possibilities start with the opposite assertion: Marketing and media companies do their best efforts to guess and deliver what people wants. They do what we ask them to do because they want to be consumed by us. It’s a media market and we all are players on it.

Google has a lot of users. Some of them are the advertisers, as pointed out by Norman, they are paying the real money, and they have a customer support service and invoices. And yes, if we are looking from this point of view, we all are the product. Well, not exactly. What Google really sells to the advertisers are clicks and appearances, these represent potential buyers to the advertisers, and these potential buyers are indeed real people. This is why can be said that they are selling people. But they don’t, they sell a probability of conversion. If you want to say that they are “selling people”, that’s fine by me, it’s a provoking metaphor, but not very accurate one.

We also can look the problem as a funding problem. If you are centered on users like you and me as the real users of Google, then the product are the search portal, gMail, Google Docs, etc. Those are products on their own right. We are paying for them with our visits (appearances) and our clicks on the advertisements. It’s not money what we pay, but a possibility of it. So, the quid seems to be: we are the users, Google sites are the products and advertisers are the funding source.

There is also another interesting option. You can think on the advertisements themselves as the products, we are the users, advertisers are the funding source and Google sites are just points of sale. This is a merchandising problem, on how you present a product to your customers. The customers are paying you with “clicks credit” offered by advertisers. But out there are a lot of other stores where the same products are sold, so must make your own stores more attractive to potential customers. That’s way you pay so much money for developing and buying points of sale.

So, if we are the customers, asked Norman, why we are not getting any real customer support from Google?. Remember that we were talking about a market where companies deliver what we ask? I must guess again, knowing for good seems to be impossible on these matters. Google doesn’t have customer support for us because we are not asking for it. We are not used to ask for customer support on services offered to us for free, but maybe we can change in future years and begin to ask for customer support even on free services. You can say also that they don’t offer us customer support because it would be very expensive to sustain it. That’s true, it could be very expensive and maybe would make unprofitable their actual business model, but if we, the users, were to stop using their systems because they don’t have customer support, then they should be doing some changes to their business model that allows them to offer us customer support.

My point is that the problem of Google business model is not as easy as saying “Oh!, it’s quite simple, Google is selling people!” and that when you are talking about Social Media platforms, you are talking about very complex problems that you should face from a lot of directions. You are selling people to advertisers, but also you are selling your site to these very same people, and you are also selling adds to them, and must probably, you are doing a lot more of things.

Some links:

Note on Don Norman’s talk: http://gigaom.com/2011/09/05/don-norman-google-doesnt-get-people-it-sells-them/
Don Norman’s page: http://jnd.org/
dCosntruct Conference: http://2011.dconstruct.org/
Brighton Digital Festival: http://brightondigitalfestival.co.uk/