Tuesday, October 15, 2013

I Hate Meetings - Michael Lopp - Palantir

A bad meeting = Nth discussion on the same topic and no one owning the decision.

books by Michael

Bored people quit - that's what they do.

You are (at most) three years away from building something new. Look at resumes you'll see that people do this.

Irrelevancy is always just around the corner. And shows up usually when you're happiest.

Meetings exist to scale communication and to try to keep track of what might be about to go off the rails.

The process for making something happen = idea -> analysis -> execution
This process happens all in your head when it's just you. When it's two people you need to discuss it and sometimes it takes debate. What this is is a meeting.

The first meeting = it's not just you, together working to solve a problem, in a finite amount of time, and done as needed

All ideas get better with more eyeballs.

But now we have 30 people, not just two. Ideas are coming from every which way. Rapid and organic error correction. Low cost situation awareness. The most random shit becomes culture. Everyone knows everything and does everything.

This first round of 30 people represent the Old Guard. They don't write anything down and keep everything in their heads. They will likely have disproportionate power. Their instincts say that everything they learned at this size will work at a larger size. They run meetings based pretty much on the "first meeting" rule.

Now the company is larger and has 300 people. The company is working. Ideas are still showing up but there's lots of them, decisions are happening slower because it's hard to get input from everyone, and execution is now becoming stove piped. People are a little sad because they used to get to do everything put now roles are solidifying. Stories are retold and becoming myth. Situational awareness is now expensive. Increasing communication friction. Learning can no longer occur via osmosis (a clue to this is when people ask for a wiki). The New Guard is now here. It's stranger town.

The Old Guard can handle problems and fix things based on their political knowledge. They keep doing things the old way but this is where things go off the rails. The issue is that groups of people do not communicate at scale. We think we do, but we don't. The Old Guard just talks to the right people and things get done.

In this setup the Old Guard has no ability to anticipate problems because communication isn't scaling. Then inevitably something bad happens and someone says we should meet.

Meetings go viral when: the perceived value of the meeting goes up, it begins to seen as the only hammer available, and certain people are really good at running a meeting (they are meeting infectors and it is in their interest to exploit this talent).

The Mutated Meeting = Random people who aren't contributing, a lack of agenda, that doesn't respect attendee's time, that goes on forever and ever

Apple called people out of meetings who didn't contribute. And noise didn't count, it had to be signal.

What you need is consistent useful communication in all directions. There are three essential and good meetings that avoid things going off the rails. Preventative maintenance meetings avoid stuff exploding. The reward is silence which does take the fun out of saving the world when the sky is falling.

The one to one meeting
 the update meeting = every week, no matter what, 30 minutes at least (when you skip it trust erodes). Cheat sheet - three prepared points, a performance review, the supervisor's current disaster. The topic should be what you care about. Assume someone has something to teach you in the one on one
 the vent meeting = just nod and listen (don't get sucked in or commiserate, but lend an ear)
 the disaster = you don't want to have this
Staff meeting - every week (early), no matter what, 30 minutes (at least)
Dashboard: At apple there is the ET which is about everything going on in the company. It sets the tempo for what will happen next week. It handles the state of business
Special guest meeting: information from others and there is serendipity where you learn more
Tapestry meeting - frequently, not just when it's on fire, possibly over poker
        trying to build improbable relationships, culture, to get people to bond
        serendipity focus

All other meetings except those above need an expiration date. Never have it recur forever. You need an expiration date.

Success is (confusingly) silent. These 3 types of meetings are a way to nip problems in the bud. You should find out who is bored and who needs honest feedback.

You can only manage 3 - 7 people. Beyond that someone is suffering.

Meetings should frequently justify themselves. Vote with your feet on whether a meeting is important. Prune aggressively and get rid of unnecessary meetings.

Leveraging Logic as a Leader - Patty McCord - Netflix

It's not what you aspire to do - It's what you actually do

    Company First (if you don't have a successful company you don't need a culture)
    Judgment trumps everything (intelligence, speed, intuition)
    You can just tell the truth

Teams: Visualizing Greatness
    Imagine in six months if everything was amazing and you had the perfect team. What would be occurring then?
    What would you measure (metrics, deliverables, reporting, cross functional alignment, timeline, deadlines, due dates)?
    What would it look like (winning debates, winning tests, customer feedback, data & analysis, influence)?
    What would people have to know how to do in order to pull it off?
    What kinds of skill and experiences would lead you hear?
    And only after that do you think about who is on the team.

To build the right team first you need to know what you are going to build.
If you start with who you have, you may be limited in what you can do.
You now can tell the truth.
Which means people can decide if they are motivated by the work.
They know what they can do.
They can own their careers.
They can opt in or opt out.

The steps above would allow for a world where there would be no need for performance improvement plans. In truth a PIP just exists to justify letting someone go. It is better to be honest about the work and needs of the employees from the start. Also the steps above would keep interviewing from being a sin. It allows people to be honest and for people to do their best work.

If an employee is unhappy you should tell them to go interview. It will make it easier for them sometimes to articulate to a complete stranger regarding what they want. Also it will let them know what market value is for their job. And they may realize that the grass isn't greener and they'll come back more motivated. The catch is that if someone comes back you need to say "what did they offer you" and you need to offer it because that's what "market comp" means.

Good interview question: tell me about the day you went home and said to yourself "damn I'm good"

Netflix didn't have performance reviews. They had gantt charts and knew who was performing and who was lagging behind.

Pattern recognition - how to lean people. Pay attention to patterns. Learn to observe. People are rewarded differently, wired differently, and need to be treated differently.

Learn to observe how people react to: change, challenge, the unknown, each other, unexpected interruption, learning

What Patty did to innovate within HR is to just stop doing things. No more PIP. No more vacation policy.

Humans are organized for efficiency. You cannot avoid organization, it will form.

Leading from First Principles - Scott Chacon - GitHub

One hundred years ago there was a knitting mill where the employees were not paying enough attention to the spools of thread running out. The solution was to put kittens on the factory floor to play with yarn. What's more amazing than that it worked is that people were open to it.

Five years ago the four founders of GitHub were open source developers without business credentials. They worked from their homes. They ran the company on business minimalism which means they ran until they had problems and then fixed them. They ran an open source business which means:

- no meetings
- no offices
- no work hours (work when you feel productive)
- everything is asynchronous
- people self-assign work
- maintainers, not managers
- everybody contributes ideas (maybe only a couple provide vision)

The entire company works this way (even the legal department). They call these ideas their first principles (borrowing the concept from philosophy). There's no dogma that says "no managers" -- there's the argument of "is a manager the best way to get the value we want".

The 3 year old prosecution = "why" - your ideas should survive this. Direct the three year old prosecution at your business. Same idea as the Toyota "five whys" concept.

Examples of 3 year old prosecution

OFFICE - is it the same as the factory 100 years ago. Are you doing something because it has been done in the past or because it works for you?
First principles of the office:
- a place to work (maybe you have kids and you need a space you can get away to)
- creative collaboration
- serendipitous interactions
- meet the suits (auditor meetings etc)
- interviews and onboard people
- physically ship things to and from
- event space (for public or internal)

Note that at the office GitHubbers don't talk to each other because it's more fair to those not at the office and are on chat.

THE SCHEDULE - most people work about the same hours - 9 to 5 is "core hours" for meetings - why?
How often do you need to meet in person? Only for one of these things: strategy and brainstorming and serendipitous interactions OR heads down, uninterrupted implementation
Think about the university environment: you go to a couple classes a day and then you make up your study time on your terms. You decide who you work with and when you work on what. On the other hand kindergarten is someone watching you all day. Which does your office represent?
- set your own daily schedule
- mini-summits a few times a year (hack-house) to come up with a vision - it's up to the team to decide based on need for vision of communication issues
- whole company gets together once a year
- autonomous - there are benefits to allowing your people to work on their own. This also allows you to bring more diverse people into your organization. It's easier since good people will leave other companies to work for yours. For instance GitHubbers don't miss dance recitals.

MEETINGS - what is the output of a meeting? Who generally comes out ahead in these meetings? Does it support the best ideas or certain personalities?
- chat rooms
- discussion lists (@ mention people)
- as long as it is logged someone else can find out about it on their time. you never leave people out

MANAGEMENT - what does management do? Managers solve a lot of problems, but they are not the type of problems that GitHub has right now.
Why would you have managers?
Assign tasks, coordination, facilitating communication - at GitHub they assign for themselves (everyone is a mini-manager)
Hiring and firing - informed by team, but the four founders make the decisions

Venn Diagram: your skills and interests - problems GitHub has = overlap: what to work on
This is what they tell new employees to work on

By using software to allow cross company communication they have not put personal bias or selective memory in the mix.

Pay structures - why are you doing bonuses? is it maslovian based or reward based?

Long hours - do you implicitly or explicitly look for this and is it important for the business? Is it a badge of honor or a badge of foolishness

Benefits and perks - they've decided against free food because they want to be good community citizens and have people dine at local establishments

Retention counteroffers - in the long term is this in the interest of the company to have people there only for money?

With everything go to first principles and see if the thing is supported.

For their IP assignment legal document they passed it around and let employees fork it and give input which resulted in a better legal document in the end.

Ask these three questions on everything:
What are our values?
What are we trying to accomplish?
What is the best way to get there?

Are you willing to put kittens on your factory floor?

How to Create a Culture of Shipping Product Continuously - Hiten Shah - KISSmetrics

Founder Bombs - when someone high up gives ideas to others and they have no idea how to deal with this thing that came out of the blue and seems to be a request, but it isn't clear. One person realized that a founder bomb only matters if in a seven day period it is mentioned three times

The solution to founder bombs has been for founders to be more mindful and also to find someone who can handle that kind of input. The challenge is to effectively balance all the forces.

What are you working on? Why are you working on it? - ask these questions to a lot of people and you'll learn a lot about the company culture. What's most important is to watch how they articulate what should often be the same message for everyone. It's important that people understand why the company exists and what they are doing and how it fits in.

Closed door decisions - you shouldn't hear "they walked out of the room with a decision about what we are going to do". You should be sure everyone on the team understands the goal.

"Build products people want" - Paul Graham

Shipping continuously is not enough. You have to ship the right things. Great products are created by people for people. Don't ship shit. Make the right product.

"Hire the most amazing people you can. Communicate goals. Turn them loose. Profit." - Sam Schillace, Box

Amazon's Two-pizza teams (2PT) - 6 to 10 people - this is the maximum size of a team. This reduces communication barriers and group think. Kahn likes the one pizza rule of 3 to 5 people.

At Apple they have cauldrons, 3 to 5 people. During a 2 to 3 hour meeting you put all of the ideas into the cauldron. The idea of it is that the best ideas can bubble up from the cauldron without people thinking about who had the idea since all of the ideas go in blank into the cauldron. Don't worry about who's idea it is, value the idea on its own merit.

"The ultimate goal of building a company is to have the right product thesis at the right time." - Josh Elman

A product thesis is problems, use cases, and examples

Working backwards - "We try to work backwards from the customer rather than starting with an idea for a product and trying to bolt customers into it." - Ian McAllister Amazon
Amazon will create a fake press release first. KISSmetrics will write an internal blog post in the same sort of way. It forces you to really focus on what you want to build and why. It gets everyone on the same page about the project.

Cust Dev + Research + Metrics = Thesis -> solution team review (cauldron) -> Q&A on thesis -> plan solution -> defend the solution (iterate where necessary)

Golden motion - pick one metric or goal and build around that - happens with the solution team review

Seek feedback from your team. Have a postmortem.

Send a survey to employees - ask who hit it out of the ballpark last month, what feedback do you have. They are anonymous and optional. Find ways to get feedback.

KISSmetrics recently hired a happiness manager - half of her job is like an office admin/ executive assistant - the other half was helping the whole company be happy. She handles the monthly anonymous surveys, when is someone's birthday, what is someone's favorite beer. Someone focused internally and on the whole team.

Nothing to Hide: Living with Complete Email Transparency - Patrick Collison - Stripe

Had unconventional ideas: no office, pay everyone the same, not having a phone number, not having a receptionist

Later realized an office is needed if you have a few employees. Also that compensation has to vary.

Believer in ambient transparency, where you can overhear things in the office and join in if it is important to you.

At first it was just a couple brothers and they shared an email address so they'd be on the same page. With a third employee they configured gmail so all 3 could log into each other's inboxes. Later they configured the server to automatically BCC everyone on every outgoing message. This scaled to around 6 people, but of course they needed a new solution to scale further. For each functional area there was an email address. So for instance there was "ops" and "finance" which you could CC on any email if it was relevant. A new employee configures which of many accounts they will subscribe to (there's a script for it). It gives an ambient feel of what's going on in the organization. This means they aren't surprised by things that are happening. Employees are able to discover a lot just by searching through the stream. Also people get to learn about things outside their area, like for instance "legal" is a popular list for many who have nothing to do with it. A benefit is that this system seems to reduce politics. Some of politics is controlling the flow of information, but no one can do that. Some issues are that people get confused by things or a little surprised, but they seem to get used to that. Also it can be used as a crutch for implicit agreement by merely CCing and not getting authorization. People can loose too much time in email if they don't have good time management.

Overall there is a hive mind mentality where everyone can be involved. Other tools that can help for this are HackPad. It allows for transparency. By having this overall transparency meetings can be more efficient. Especially it calms fears about the board meeting. At Stripe a random employee is always invited to the board meeting to take notes and pass them out to everyone.

Lessons learned

1. get an office
2. it is net better to not have project manager. better to have engineers to manage. there is a faster iteration cycle when this happens. you get twice the amount of iterations
3. self discipline matters most in hiring people
4. hiring individual contributors who can be highly useful (have people do real life activities like find bugs or refactor code instead of text book problems)
5. a change of environment can have an amazing impact. hack trips to foreign countries are extremely impactful
6. happy culture is built from hiring happy people
7. don't underestimate how much people will want to learn about other areas of the company. bring them to important meetings, be transparent
8. have as much discussion about your code as possible - ways of doing things - idioms
9. have a build and run distinction in your team. every week have 25% of the team handle run while the other 75% handle build
10. make sure that group chat happens in your company. its a communication tool and a culture tool
11. have a shipped@ email address for people to send to when you have shipped something. it feels good to send to that email address and allows people to see what has happened. do pay attention though to the results of shipping (it's not a good thing to ship a bad product)
12. have a social@ email address to allow people to easily set up group outings (like, I'm going out for a drink, who wants to come along)
13. at around 25 people have a company chef it actually makes financial since versus eating out and people love it
14. visit your users on a frequent basis and get the rest of the company to do it too
15. offices are often not good for working late into the evening. the lights are often too florescent for evening hours. get ikea floor lamps to give a warmer feel at night. it helps people do their best late at night. (this lesson has been proven each time Stripe moves into a new office as they immediately see few people staying late until they correct the lighting)
16. tell everyone why you've fired someone. it helps reassure others about what happened and why.
17. thank people profusely if they give a criticism about the company (it's hard to speak up, so reward it)
18. constantly find ways to praise those who do the undervalued work.
19. preserve values more than culture.
20. don't talk about someone who's not present and incourage others to do the same

get involved: hack pad at bit.do/cultivate - https://hackpad.com/Culture-Hacks-8WwaHfFfZfl

Things that would be helpful - group chat lines (searchable logs, all OS, inline images) they use IRC - screen sharing collaboration for code (both terminal and screen)

What *Do* You Do All Day? - Kate Matsudaira - popforms

praise isn't always proportional to effort

how do you measure performance? hours (this isn't great), lines of code (supports inefficiency), bugs & tests (doesn't work), features (how do you measure the effort though)

the better you are at your job, the less people know about it because you don't ask for help or lean on others -- you gain autonomy

in teams without managers each member is actually expected to be a manager -- someone still has to lead

we need leadership, not likership

Abraham Lincoln lost almost all elections and failed at what he did until he was 51 and became president

leadership is a decision not a position

positive use of power is good leadership

sources of power: formal & informal

informal power is charisma, expertise, or relationship based

charisma - you have it or you don't. luckily it's not required

expertise - educate yourself and you'll gain it

relationship - build trust (it is essential)
    what is trust? your relationships with everyone are important (it is a weighted graph)

    elements of trust: relationship architecture, reputation, contribution

    contribution - what you do, setting an example, practicing what you preach (never ask something of someone you wouldn't do yourself)

    have integrity - even when people aren't watching

    ask for engineering integrity - how does the system fare a few years after go live

    know your timing - analyze (incorporate) -> estimate -> (confidence) -> actual -> (validate) -> analyze
    being on time shows you think other people's time is as important as your time
        ... and if you show up on time you've predicted the future accurately

    think about your coworkers - who is the person you admire the most? what qualities? Now, think about yourself, do you have those qualities?
     make sure others feel that you feel they are important - when you walk around imagine everyone is wearing a sign that says "i want to feel important today" - how can you help them with that
    celebrate wins - let people know when they've done a job well - help people celebrate
     be open to ideas that sound wrong. ideas are fragile. take an interest in other's ideas. take a moment before responding... then explore the idea
     empathy and attitude - when you come to work you should have sunshine not rain clouds. be cautious about commiserating with people. listen with empathy, but try to have good attitude and not take sides, but instead reframe (are we sitting on a boat in the rain, or are we on a great adventure?)

        relationship architecture - it's the trust graph of your relationships with others. Make 2 ordered lists: 1. the most important people on your team (those that get things done) 2. the people you have the best relationships with
        there should be a lot of overlap in these lists. you need to be more intentional with your relationships
        you are the average of your five best friends
        start with the leaders. don't' focus on title, look for the people that everyone follows. the people who stand up and everyone follows.

relationship troubleshooting

            - relationships are like filmstrips
            - apologize swiftly and sincerely (don't go to boss or HR)
            - don't deflect when there is confrontation

archetypes            - the jerk - dealing with difficult people - pause - a lot of times people are difficult because they need recognition or to feel important
            - sharkasm - the passive aggressive - seek resolution with someone's interests not their position - people hear what they want to hear
            - the outspoken one - has opinion on anything - sometimes experts - repeat back what you hear to them - list options and vote (put what people say on the whiteboard so they know they are heard)
            - the strong silent type - using post it notes to vote helps - talk to introverts one on one after meetings and pay attention to them, focus - ask questions wait for answers
            - the complainer - whine and act defeated - stay positive but realistic - just state the facts and how they'll be addressed

        Focus on the long term - be deliberate with who you have relationships with. difficult people change if you change. with your support and interest people can change.

where does success come from? it's not projects or work, it comes from people

Cracking the Culture Code - Elaine Wherry - Meebo

Your reason for everything (even free food) should tie into your vision
Culture is not the things we see; it is not the artifacts (bean bag chairs, free food).

The Meebo policy is to pay for lunch if you have it with two or three employees since that fosters community.

Meebo was hyper communicative, but people were feeling out of the loop. The issue was that the mission and vision weren't clear so people didn't know how things fit together and had no larger perspective.

Culture = Artifacts + systems and values + truth

For our companies truth is defined by the market
This has problems since it changes and is short term
It is also unfair
Salaries are based on what the market pays not what you deserve

There are some uncomfortable truths you need to face and be both honest and open about.

Besides the market we rely on vision and data for truth

Look back to shape your vision -- find what people said about you in the past

Making digital life surprisingly simple = Meebo's vision

Moving towards truth is via trust. It is either given or earned

Culture tends to go from given trust to earned trust to a mix as the company gets on its feet.

Why does Zappos offer 4k to new hires to quit?

Badgeville gives stickers that people put on their laptops when they do something well. It is an example of trust earned.

Staff should be exceptional people who give 100% and deal well with change.

Culture can be groomed

Hiring is really really hard to change

Culture is top down

Leadership is same values, different actions

Adaptability is huge

Culture is not a cult -- it's a way of doing business

We are not reinventing the wheel

How I failed - Tim O'Reilly - O'Reilly

Failure: Not making sure that my team was hearing what I was actually saying.

You don't know what book you wrote until you know what people are reading

[TK:Pyramid pic]

"You can leave anything out as long as you know what it is" - Hemingway

Good fiction has way more depth than what you are given. The author knows more than they consciously reveal.

[tk Decision filter pic]

O'Reilly learned late of the sponsorship model for events

O'Reilly has strength in doing good ideas just to do them, but sometimes goes wrong because they don't know how it fits into their vision

Failure: listening to "that's how it's done"

Insight and fresh thinking should be applied both inside and outside. Just as much as you try to understand the market and customers you need to understand your employees.

Failure: lack of financial and operational discipline

Cash flow positive = putting money in the bank. O'Reilly was profitable but not cash flow positive for too long

"Happiness is positive cash flow" - Fred Adler

Amazon says, we don't spend money on anything that doesn't help customers

Treat the financial team as co-founders

Hold teams accountable to their numbers (financial or otherwise)

Tim thinks he failed when he let people off the hook on their numbers

Run lean, reinvent tirelessly

Run lean and when you pivot reassess your staff

Work hard on your internal culture

Drive by Dan Pink - autonomy, mastery, & purpose = what employees need to be motivated

Failure: tolerating mediocrity

Sometimes you need to cancel a project at the last minute because it isn't good enough. It might be disruptive but you can try to have processes that help mitigate it

"Keep stretching the bow, you repent of the pull" Lao Tzu
If you keep pulling back on the bowstring your arm will start to shake and you will progressively ruin your aim

Stand up for greatness

Failure: hiring supplements not complements - hire people that are not like you and bring more and bring diversity to the table

As a leader you should not be the best person in the company at any one thing. Applies to both strengths and weaknesses

Failure: I'll take care of that - compensate for the employees weakness is not good

A leader can be a handyman that just deals with what's lying around rather than an engineer.

The organization you build is more important then the product you build in the long term.

O'Reilly has the vision of being an education company. That's why it can hold events like Cultivate and not stray from the vision. They aren't just a book company.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

TOC: Closing Thoughts

1. We're in the early innings of this game. We'll look back in just a few years and think how quaint it was. Things will continue to change.

2. The start up space is critical. There is some innovation within the houses, but most of it is happening with start ups. Traditional publishers would do well to collaborate with these start ups.

3. We're starting to see companies use technology but not for technology's sake.

4. What is it that you do in your house that is unique? That is what you want to invest in, outsource the rest.

5. Community is first. You can't just put out a site to sell eBooks and have it work, you need to create community (it's what worked for O'Reilly).

TOC: Brain Pickings - Maria Popova

Brain Pickings is a website that is supported directly via readers.

How do we support alternatives to ad supported journalism? The problem goes back to the original newspapers. Today writers can focus on a site and readers will follow them. Although it is simple to be online, it is not cheap. Brain Pickings costs $3,600 a month. Add a minimum wage employee and it is nearly $7,000 (instead Maria works 18 hours a day on her own).

RadioLab is on public radio and does the normal fund raising, but they now do live shows too to bring in money. 99% Invisible rose the most money on Kickstarter ever recently.

Spot.us is community funded reporting. Flattr allows for a sort of subscription way to spread money amongst content creators, though it's trapped in circular logic that no one signs up for flatr because there are no donations and no one donates because no one is signed up.

When any one way becomes they way, that becomes a dangerous thing.

TOC: Library Journal - Meredith Schwartz

Patron Profiles is a survey that went straight to the consumers rather than having data colored by the librarians.

eBooks are becoming a bigger part

The majority of library user households are middle income. They are also book people. Patrons of libraries are active book buyers. eBook library borrowers are even more likely to buy books.

There are 16,700 libraries and 2,400 bookstore outlets. As bookstores close, more and more they are the place readers go for books. 37% of those surveyed lost their local bookstore in the past year and 47% of them increased their library use.

The showroom effect of the library: 26% of print borrowers buy the same title and 72% of ebook borrowers do.

Far more libary patrons than the average person have tried an eBook.

57% of people who tried to check out an eBook couldn't find their book and 22% of them were so frustrated they gave up on eBooks.

"Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs are by elevators" - Stephen Fry

TOC: Reinvinting Comics & Graphic Novels for Digital

Thrillbent - Mark Wade

[This is the most exiciting publishing technology I've seen at TOC this year.]

Comics have been crafted to work in the printed page in a portrait format. It does not work in landscape mode. The art was designed for a certain canvas and doesn't work on the screen; it does not take advantage of the digital space.

Motion Comics tried solving this problem a few years back by adding a little motion and sound, but these aren't comics. What makes comics comics is that the reader is in control of the pace that you are reading [this theme came up earlier].

Thrillbent is trying to retain what makes comics special and take advantage of the medium. It puts you in control of the pace. It makes use of panels in a way that depends on the page turn rather than the reader reading from left to right. You can replace an existing panel or modify an image rather than move to an entirely new layout. Dialogue can be handled by changing the voice bubbles or adding background explanatory images. It takes advantage of what digital does.

On the site the panels all load dynamically rather than reloading the whole page. The layout is responsive, so it adapts to the browser size. The fonts are optimize and it works with landscape format.

Print costs have risen so how that they looked at going digital first with an eye towards maybe doing print later. So now they publish on a regular business and sell via comixology which recoups all of the production costs. Nobody gets rich but everybody gets paid. One revenue stream covers all their costs which free them to experiment in other streams. The online content is free.

TOC: Content is Still King


Think of themselves as an entertainment company, not a publisher. They create "Byliner Original" which are eShorts. They make them available in many formats (print, digital, audio) including a subscription model. Every month 90 million readers seek out work by a specific writer. For instance Atwood has 461k looking for her writings. But it isn't easy for these readers to find.

What is needed is like a GitHub for authors, a writer specific stream of stories easily discovered and followed. Byliner creates live digital feeds of a writers entire body of work. It turns the author's byline into a powerful reader acquisition tool.

Byliner has an HTML5 based subscription reading service that combines these digital feeds (sort of an IMDb for authors) and a Netflix of books into one system.

TOC: Startup Showcase Winners


Bringing books to the rural countryside by turning photocopy shops into print on demand bookstores. They tell coffee shops you will be the bookstores of the future. They offer a legal means to print books from reputable publishers. [This to me is the feel good story of the conference. It is like an example straight out of the book Switch]


A new type of tool for digital, dynamic, data driven story telling. CatroDB works entirely in the cloud and works with a variety of devices. It makes mashing up data quick and easy. In a handful of minutes you can take tweets and drop them on a map to visualize locations.

Old weather – a project that took old ships longs with weather and location data to make it visualized.

Borne Digital

Books that adapt to the reading level of the child. As children read they can pay attention to how quickly they read and how they answer questions in order to offer the child the correct reading level. This data also powers dashboards for parents, teachers, and publishers. These are digital books that can offer higher prices because they are a better product. They are adaptive eBooks.

TOC: Debate: eBooks vs. Web Apps for Interactive Content

eBooks - Bill McCoy

Publisher’s need scale. It’s the business of multiple titles. Authors need scale and tools (InDesign, PDF, etc). Tools should be made that then the publishers use to do their work. We need to think about design and rich content, but this should be done by designers, not programmers. The inmates should not run the asylum (see the book). Programmers should be used to create tools with which designers create. You can only hire so many programmers, it doesn’t scale. You can though have a few programmers create tools with which to have a lot of designers create a lot of things. There is an importance to have rich experience and consistency. The consumer wants a certain amount of consistency and not to have to figure out every different thing they read. If you need interactivity, use building blocks (widgets), don’t have it built from scratch. Just look at the web where most pages are built with templates not from scratch.

Aerbook.com allows creating digital books with motion and animation with CSS.

Apps - Sanders Kleinfeld

O’Reilly is now realizing all of their books in ePub3 format. So O’Reilly believes in ePub, however, web apps are the way of the future. He looked at his book HTML5 for Publishers in multiple browsers but most of the readers didn’t support the ePub3 features built in. So they took the book and created Chimera, a web app reading system for browsers that could display ePub3 in various browsers.

Being online and being social is offered by web apps. It facilitates feedback about the text. URLs can easily be used to post links to the content directly into a specific section of the book. The book can link out to many other resources and in turn they can link into it.

If you want to do all of this interactivity now, you need a web app because otherwise you’re waiting for Amazon, B&N, etc. to catch up with you (notably Apple’s iBooks does fully support ePub3, but they’re the exception).

O’Reilly puts out over 100 books a year. They can’t build an app for every book, but they can build something like Chimera and have a bunch of books published in it. Or for instance they have Atlas, which is an XML editor for ePub. Atlas is able to export formats for Chimera. So they’ve built a platform instead of building only a single book.

McCoy: It is important to use HTML5 where it makes sense for your business before the eReaders catch up. But instead of developing tools you should find other tools out there. Web apps are an option, but you need to pay attention to standards, which get you things like accessibility (for the blind for instance).

Kleinfeld: The impression that creating the web app is too hard for publishers is wrong. The elephant in the room is that eBooks are software. You are in the software business, do you want to give away that core part of your business to someone else? O’Reilly did build Chimera, but it’s built on tops of things like Rails so there are standards, dozens.

M: Dozens? Shouldn’t you instead as a publisher be using one product?

K: There’s a sliding scale depending on what you need to do. WordPress might be all you need and is a viable option. O’Reilly takes it a little further. Bottom line either way you are online.

M: But if you’re creating a site how do you sell it? You don’t have a product. Are you going to use a pay wall?

K: There are different models. We are not putting all our eggs in one basket. We need to figure out how to monetize web apps, but even with that unknown they are the way of the future. Wrapping up your content in someone else’s DRM (Amazon) and giving them 30% is not the way to go.

M: Yes, walled gardens are not the way to go. We’re both about open standards.

Audience: Pay walls vs. discoverability

M: Inkling has done a good job of figuring this out. Safari and NYT has a somewhat good way of handling this.

K: Being on the web is critical and part of the business, but you don’t need to hire a bunch of developers. The standards are out there, like ePub3.

M: When is O’Reilly going to move away from PDF?

K: PDF is actually our most popular download from our site. Maybe due to the audience.

M: PDF is the portable format, but ePub is as well. A web app doesn’t give people the portability.

K: HTML5 application cache allows you to go offline with your site.

Audience: What about eInk?

M: eInk is on the way out. Tablets are so much more compiling.

K: Agreed. Tablets vs. phones is a big question.

M: PDF is bad for the phone as it does not adapt well, which is where ePub does better.

Audience: is this build vs. buy?

K: Realize your strengths. O’Reilly has the developer base to scale up whereas other publishers might not be able to do this.

M: Tools for HTML5 should be part of your core competency. You should try to buy, but if its not there go ahead an buy.

TOC: Creators & Technology Converging: When Tech Becomes Part of the Story

How does new technology affect the creative process?

Motion Poems - Todd Boss

Started in corporate marketing. Pushed the first magnetic poem kits by teaming up with American Poetry Society and set up magnetic walls around the US and then decorated the new VW Beetle with them.

Writes poetry for people who hate poetry and writes to be accessible. Poetry has a point of sale issue in that there’s no way to have a sample of the poem to know if you want it. You need to read the whole thing and there’s an imaginative investment that is needed for poetry before you can understand it (unlike most everything else).

Todd teamed up with an animator who turned some of his poems into animations and then it turned into the company Motion Poems, which uses the work of many poets. They want to work with poets and the institutions that support poetry like publishers. The Motion Poem becomes not only a work of art in its own right, but also becomes a marketing tool for the poet.

Minneapolis Minnesota has the biggest art board in the country and it helps support Motion Poems (also KickStarter).

Digital Fiction - Kate Pullinger

Project: Landing Gear. A mix of video and text across the screen. At the moment it is a proof of concept.
Prologue: Flight Paths: A Networked Novel.; Landing Gear; Epilogue: Duel

The Alpine Review - Louis-Jacques Darveau

www.thealpinereview.com about things that matter, a compendium of ideas built by an international team. Neo-mania = technology for its own sake, which can cause fatigue. You can connect to anyone, but to what end? Technology is not the answer, it is the amplifier of intent. Some of the new forms of publishing are almost rational to the point of being boring. There’s a lot of sterile data around us that impairs our ability to think. We fall into a pattern of information overconsumption (not “information overload” because its our choice); The Alpine Review is about perspective (a mountain lets you see the unexplored valleys or nooks in the mountain). Perspective is the answer to the flood of information.

Why print and not digital for The Alpine Review? Permanence is important; we have multiple senses, which is important. People are buying handmade physical crafts these days as a reaction to the digital world. Analog watches give us a sense of time. Computers that are sealed shut (like MacBookAir) are very removed from our senses and us.

Technology does help The Alpine Review. They collaborate with contributors from around the world and also costs are lowered. It also allows for better marketing.

The Silent History – Eli Horowitz and Russell Quinn

Eli worked at McSweeney’s where they spent a lot of time thinking about the book as object, but around 2009 they admitted they had to move into the digital world. It felt like the content was squeezed onto the Kindle in a grey slurry.

In trying to figure out what could be done online with the same sensibility that was applied to the device that was applied to the book. Thoughts like “updates are relatively easy” “we carry these devices around” went into the design.

The Silent History is a novel told by 120 voices. Each day a post is sent to your phone and the post is a part of an oral history. Each day, each week, and each month had an ark to it. So this was not a work shoved into a digital format, this was composed for the digital world. The screen was split between testimonials (circles) and pins on a map. You have to go to the location to read that part of the content. The idea is not that you’re simply unlocking it, but that the setting is part of the text and you need to be there to understand it. This is a novel that can be explored. Readers have responded eagerly to the book.

There is a lack of patience with traditional publishing within McSweeny's so they just started creating The Silent History (with no thought even of VC).

TOC: From Eye to Brain: Content Design & the “Last Mile” Problem - Peter Meyers

A book is for document organization.

Immersion is one of the big benefits of the page after page format of a traditional book. However the page after page format hides the really great moments in the book, you need to read it to find those moments. Yes, sometimes they are excerpted on the back of the book, but overall they are hidden within the book.

Other mediums have found solutions for this. Magazines advertise on the cover what’s hidden within the media (often headlines are on the cover). Browsing the outside gives you insight on the inside.

Steven Johnson – Where Good Ideas Come From – The annotation sketch note map is both a video advertisement for the book, but it also gives the game plan for the book and shows the reader the insides of the book. The video gives insight into the author, but also the map alone on the book makes the book more marketable on its own.

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. The table of contents is laid out in a grid. The piece in the middle of the grid are highlighted because the author indicated they were key ideas. There are little visual indicators (higher and lower stacks of paper) to show how much content is devoted to certain topics. It also pushes people towards experiencing the book in a non-linear way.

The Secret War Between Uploading and Downloading is not quite the right thing, but it is a great step forward in exploring how a book can present itself at first small (executive summary) then medium, then large (traditional book). It allows pinch and zoom into sections where it’s first a toc, then summary paragraphs, then chapters.

eBooks should not be “we have this mass of multi-media files lets dump them in” they want thoughtful curating and inventive use of the media.

“I believe our attention is well-directed these days thanks to good algorithms and great curators, but it’s like a flashlight beam whipping around the room. Never resting. Never returning. What’s the alternative?” - Robin Sloan

A big block of text pushes us off readers who are used to quick snippets on the web. It can almost be a wall. Sloan made an eBook app, a tap essay, which prints a line with each tap. It aerates the text, giving space to the words and space for yourself to ponder the words. He also uses different background colors, all caps, and font color for effect. He has a page that has this:

Maybe that’s a reasonable
on the interne tor anywhere else:

And only on that page does he offer a share button, which communicates the idea that he thinks this is the part of the text worth sharing. It highlights it as a major point. There’s a rhythm to the writing that is reveled with each tap, a rhythm to language that the digital world can communicate.

When he gets to the sentence “it’s like a flashlight whipping around the room” is in white text on black as opposed to the text before. He then greys out a sentence as if to lower his voice. Then there’s a blank page which says to the reader to take a rest.

Writing like this is paying attention to the materials we use to write with.

There is a web-based book called Welcome to Pine Point. It has drawings and an instrumental sound track. Words on a screen interact differently with other kinds of media. It is always difficult to get people to pay attention to text and not the media, so often people put a large amount of text and not much media. In this book however the opposite is done and the text is short, almost poetic. It is a remarkable example of integrating different kinds of medium.

The problem with video is it deprives the reader of the pacing control they have with text. With text you can go back and reread or read at a different speed at your choice. Video forces you to go at its frame rate. In the print world you can handle a recipe by laying it out in storyboard fashion with the text within each image. There’s less cognitive burden because you don’t need to attach text and picture. Hello Cupcake is a great example of giving the control to the reader. Wiping your finger across the page scrubs the images forward at your own pace. The stop motion video with scrubbing is the best of both worlds.

www.wearemudlark.com/orchestrated/winter_1.html Has a pairing of text to the music that really helps you understand the music. It was originally spoken word on a CD, but now it offers a much better combination of description and music. It illuminates the pieces in an effective manner.

On Writing

Several Short Sentence about writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg

The world is a hellish place, and bad writing is destroying the quality of our suffering.” – Tom Waits

Thinking about line length (look at marketing descriptions) when writing.

TOC: You Bought it, But Do You Own It – Bill Rosenblatt

Amazon’s patent on digital resale was filed in 2009.

Publishers would not be allowed to forbid or restrict libraries to lend eBooks freely. Copies would last forever and there would be no more confusion or complexity. Currently the big six publishers all have different library rules. Every publisher would have to use the Random House model of license, but unlike RH the libraries would get consumer pricing, not the current higher price.

In Europe its been stated that a license that looks just like a sale is legally a sale. In America it is not clear (though the opposite is clearly true, if it doesn’t look the same a license is not a sale).

Amazon is clear that they are licensing not selling you books. Apple has a similar though not so clear policy with iTunes.

Copyright Office in 2001 was asked to offer an opinion. To have consumers resell they would need to delete after they hand over a copy and that’s not reasonable to assume we can trust consumers. What we would need is a formalized “forward and delete mechanism”. Since we don’t have this the Office said to wait to see how things go.

A forward-and-delete mechanism would have to be sure to delete all copies from the consumer. One idea is to have only one key and encrypt the eBook, so passing on the key would cause the eBooks to be useless.

Providers in this space: Lexink, ReDigi, Rekiosk.
There were failures in the music space: Weed, Peer Impact, File-Cash, Bitmuk, Bopaboo (various use of watermark and CRM)

ReDigi is of note right now. They take a cut of the resale and give labels or artists for music. Looks at watermarks or metadata in the files to delete copies on your computer. They admit this doesn’t work if you have one device running ReDigi and one device not.

ReDigi is being sued by Capitol Records (EMI) because they saw this as a first test case for Digital First Sales. The judge did not offer a preliminary injunction, which means the judge does not assume the trial will succeed.

The whole idea of First Sale is that the publisher has nothing to do with the second and preceding sales, but ReDigi is involving them. Also another question is if users violate the terms of use, does that trump copyright law?

OverDrive (who has an obvious vested interest) did a study that say libraries lead to sales for publishers via discovery. Publishers are skeptical of this. Given the current law, libraries don’t stand a chance in the eBook world. Furthermore Amazon directly markets AmazonPrime against libraries.

Libraries became involved with the Owners Rights Initiative, which is lobbying in Washington. They state: “if you bought it, you own it”. Other businesses are involved as well such as eBay, RedBox, GoodWill, Chegg, Powell’s, AscdiNatd, overstock.com, QualityKing, CCIA (they’re thinking of used copies of software), and of course ALA (there are others).

The big winners of digital first sales: Users, retailers that sell used, libraries
Neutral: authors
Losers: publishers, retailers that don’t sell used

Why do websites have a “buy” button when you are actually licensing? Shouldn’t it say “rent”? Well no because “buy” is what consumers understand.

Larger publishers could create their own libraries

Before digital, courts ruled in favor of “fair use” which allowed copying, but it was very specific about audio, video, and software. It may not apply to digital world since the laws were so byzantine and specific.

What about international? Europe has a concept of exhaustion. Things are more clear in the US because it has so many more lawsuits so more has been tested.

TOC: The Third Tier: Between the Big Six, and Self-Publishing, a Digital-First Business Model

Atavist - Evan
Multimedia non-fiction short books. Kindle singles, etc. Publish through website/app. Narrative non-fiction and software company. Create their own software and use it to publish their content.
Paying authors from magazine world model, no royalties. Their product was a hybrid of magazines/books, so authors get 4 figure fee and 50% royalty on post-platform. They get the fee from the first sale. This incentives them to help market.
Used a contract that was based on real contracts, but for a year or so no lawyer even saw it. World/not world rights don’t make sense these days – it’s all the world and revenue will be split with author/publisher. They share rights with author after 120 days if author wants to jump ship – this way they prove value and if not author is free to go elsewhere (though atavist can still publish).
Get the author involved with marketing in a partnership type relationship rather than let author think they’re on their own.
Want customer to be equally happy wherever they buy a product, but they prefer to have customers come straight to their website which is better for them in the long run. Want people in their world, their base.
Self funded for first two years. Making money by licensing software so they don’t need to actually sell content to be ok (though now they are doing well with the content).
Use public domain materials and freelancers, but with small efficient team feels they have same standards as big publishers.
No inventory to create overhead. Office can be the only overhead.
4 – 10 people start to finish.
Publishing is not the sexiest place for programmers to go. Started out with self taught programmers. Have found literary engineers who have their own projects to. Can’t really afford most engineers
Trying to build a platform for storytelling in the long run. A unique kind of storytelling that’s different from books and magazines.
Part of BrightLine venture.

OpenAir Publishing - Jon
Instructional books
Video content is royalty only, which gets providers to market.
Customer is the user. Thinks that way every step of the way. It translates into the higher ratings and word of mouth.
Experiment with free and different prices. For instance Starbucks and Crate&Barrel free books.
Using inkling habitat to make great books. Discover platform has seen great results already.
They share revenue with authors rather than base it on a more common royalty structure.
3 – 10 people start to finish. Salaries for team and fees for production.
Concentrated on front end development at first (high end) then switched to inkling habitat.
Be the leading digital first non-fiction digital publisher is the long term goal. To take advantage of the new medium in new ways (like TV in the beginning which started as plays on film but then turned into things that only work on TV)

Plympton – Jennifer 8. Lee
Serialized fiction for digital reading. Partnering with dailylit.
Great media company needs great content and great distro.
Modest advance for authors, but revenue share at back end. Left it open since market is eveolveing
Higher risk higher reward author compensation model.
You keep most of the rights unless otherwise specified.
Contracts are writer friendly, but tied fortunes together. Blanket contract with world rights, digital, print, drama, merchandizing, etc. Anything to do with text (translation, print, audio) then Plympton got higher share of royalties because they put in more effort. With other things they knew someone else had put in the effort. Prefer working with things from the start because of how much they want to be a part of.
[didn’t realize the amount (little) of effort involved in publishing on iPad but not UK]
They need to know who purchases their copies. Via Amazon you don’t know who bought the part of the book. Much better to manage the relationship, hence dailylit partnership.
Facebook has helped them build the right list (women over 40 spend more on their product and are cheaper for Facebook ads).
They do physical book giveaways via goodreads which builds a list that they can then market to (pBooks made via Amazon)
Just turned profitable.
Creating great content at scale is not helped by technology, but marketing at scale is helped with technology.
Got programming from friend by trading python scripts for okcupid profile. Bartering helped with costs. Got students to help by offering sundance tickets.
Trying to have a route from MIT course6 into Plympton.
Want writers to be able to write for a living.  Serial publishing is difficult right now, but they want to find the way.
Jennie started because she wanted to make a difference in the world.
Imprints are for publishing ego and not for this model.

TOC: Density

Density - Tobias Nielsen

International book marketing for the small publisher. How to compete.

20,000 titles in hardcover is a huge success in Sweden

Sometimes the digital edition in English of the Swedish title is offered by a competitor at half the price.

International Competition
What you buy: translated vs original
When you buy:
-                the fans
-                titles in English: time, price, search (status) (search shows the English translation right next to your Swedish text)
-                the buzz

English language can sell 13 times better than Swedish version in Sweden.

Tying back to the keynote, ABBA wrote the narrative for how Swedes can go international

Key Lessons
Focus – being available is not equal to being discovered
Dedicated distributors vs. self-publishing platforms – dedicated distributor helps get your titles featured which is why they are better
Monitor, evaluate, and adapt
Local PR support is very helpful (local agencies w/n market you want to enter) work with aggregators who are in contact with online booksellers
Don’t be Swedish – thought that labeling as Swedish would be useful, but in truth most people want a general take away and don’t care about that branding

Stockholm text launched last summer 2012 with 15 titles. 4 of 15 titles did well. Mystery and crime fiction did well. Used creative campaigns, active price stargy, and focus on retailer promotions. Thought as a traditional print publisher instead of out of the box.

40k – Italian publisher who thought digital would be easy, but some of the big hurdles are the same as print

Crossroads ahead
Digital-first vs. physical books
Niches vs. the big market share
Densified format (short reads) vs. traditional format – kindle sales show that densified does better, though you are locked into certain number of words and low price (especially if you assume long tail is true)

Knowledge is important
Specialized knowledge critical
But clear and fast
Hence, “densify” knowledge
A gap exists today


TOC: Designing and Creating a Social Book App using Open-source Technologies - Haig Armen

Strategy – PhoneGap
Design – jQueryMobil
Glue - JSON API bridge

Recomended reading: A Social Book and 50 Years of Life Online by Alexandra Samuel

Can reading a book be a participatory and a social experience?

The social component should be integrated in such a way that it does not get in the way of the original content of the book.

How can the book be dynamic?

Problems with social books:
  1. Social usually means sharing quotes outside the book – Facebook Twitter
  2. Reader's comments are private and hidden from other readers
  3. Comments are separated from the text into another space

Stack: Native application <= phonegap => HTML CSS JS <= JSON API => Wordpress CMS

PhoneGap was bought by Adobe so it’ll be part of DreamWeaver. Cordova became the open source version of PhoneGap.

Gestures are the way to navigate a book, because the closer the user gets to the content the more they engage with it.

In 50 years book the table of contents is a decade view with each decade color coded. It allows you to go into a year list of each decade and each year is an article.

Pinch drills into content, reverse pinch goes back.

There are little indicators with numbers to tell you how many comments are available. They open to reveal all comments. Comments can be rated to be promoted to be part of the text.

PhoneGap Build is a webservice that creates an app for you with the HTML that you send to it.

To use PhoneGap in XCode turn off “automatic reference counting”


HTML meta tag “viewport” needs to be added to keep the browser from scalling
Embed the jQuery CSS and scripts
will use a “data-role” argument to tell jQuery about the div container.

A little bounce animation on interactive elements makes a huge difference in intuitive design.

Clear  (a to do list app) has a good interface for teaching you how to use it

All of the code for this social book project will be on github when its complete. Watch @haigharmen on Twitter for updates

Each paragraph in the book was a Wordpress post. This facilitated comments because they’re regular Wordpress comments.

Revenue stream should be based on the content and not the app

Chose native app over open web because it makes it so much easier to offer offline support.

They need a name for this open source social book project – tweet the name to hashtag #socialbook