AWS Official Blog

Amazon DevCon – Joel Spolsky

by Jeff Barr | on | | Comments

Introduced by Rick Dalzell, site translated into over 30 languages. Started in 1991 at Microsoft, started Fog Creek Software; wrote 2 books. Good quotes about refactoring and XML, bloatware (a mental health problem), Unicode.

Talk about the news, Jay Leno style!

No royalty in this country, use Jen & Brad instead.

Read questions he gets at his web site.

Q: My boss refuses to give me time to make a schedule. He says this would be time wasted, we should start coding immediately.

Two stars, one known, one not, putting out the same product. Creative Nomad Zen vs. iPod. 90% of all MP3 players sold were iPods (his stats, not Amazon’s). More expensive, less functionality.

Blue chip vs. off brand, always lots of off brands, clones and never as good. If you make a product you want to be the blue chip one and get the 90% winner take all market share. You never know what will be the blue chip. Example: Aeron Chair, looked like a bug. Lots of clones and imitators, comfortable and cost less, but not the Herman Miller.

Music is the same way (he’s an amateur DJ). Looking Glass (Brandy, #1 hit, now on Muzak), Lynrd Skynrd. New Orleans, Bourbon Street, this is all you hear. Both are huge hits. Can’t even hum it, takes two voices, it f-in rocks.

Q: What does it take to make a blue chip hit?

A: Make people happy, think about emotions, obsess over aesthetics.

Q: How do you make people happy? Tell a story: Walking down the street, saw a cat, no, it was a dog, took a picture for his blog. Stop at Starbucks, get quadruple mocha something with whipped cream and sprinkles. Try to upload picture to web site. Simulated Windows login process. Bad password, Critical Update Notification. Install now! Must be life & death, better do it. Indecipherable description, go ahead and install anyway. Connect, download, lose connection, etc. Plug in camera. Oops, need to reboot first. Sip coffee, wait. USB connect, device found, insert original Windows CD!  Do they really exist? Anyone seen one? Ask admin, bio break due to coffee, find MSDN subscription, get ISO, burn onto CD, ok. Eject CD, spill coffee. Run to bathroom, pull out USB cable, dialog “Don’t remove things without telling Microsoft first.” Onion: My Computer Hates me. 45 minutes of every day being a sysadmin.  People want things to just work.


Learned Helplessness
, when bad things happen to you that are out of your control, form of depression. Give people ways to exert control over their environment. Napkins to fold, windows to wash. Control over environment. This is what is attractive about being a programmer. Compiler does exactly what you say.

Abercrombie checkout page, 4 steps, in the order they designed. You are not in control. Vs. Amazon’s page, more info, user is in control of the process. Change address, billing, or just place order.

Logitech slide clicker, a button to push. Click, nothing happens, what’s the response? Push it harder. Devices take a lot of abuse. Bought on Amazon, uses Bluetooth, liked the reviews.

Abercrombie site again, clicks, update happens behind the scenes, no refresh. XML-HTTP-Request-whatever.

Need to do something extra. Julia Roberts vs. Sandra Bullock.

Step 2, emotions and SUV’s. His survey: which is safer for driver: SUV (Ford Explorer) or sedan (Toyota Camry)? 41 deaths/million for Toyota, 88 for Explorer. Twice as much less safe. Why? Higher, heavier (and harder to stop), harder to steer (inertia), legally a truck and doesn’t meet auto safety standards. But it makes people feel safer, why?

Clotaire Rapaille (Cultural anthropologist, odd French name), consults to GM and others. Airbags everywhere, round and soft, cup-holders everywhere. Reptilian level, bigger and higher, dominate, look down (powerful psychological nothing). Windows 2000 vs. Windows XP, close button like a little pillow -> safer by design!

Part 3, aesthetics. iPod, just a $400 bar of soap. Creative product has more features, cheaper. iPod comes in lots of colors, no way to change battery. When it goes the product is useless. $99 to replace, or buy a new one in a different color. Why no battery change? Compare to cell phone, did the Apple engineers not want to mar the outside of the iPod wiht a little latch? Fashion, style over comfort.

Paris, old apartment buildings. Look like NYC, Upper West Side. But there are no fire escapes in Paris. Parisians don’t want to mar the buildings with them. They classify the buildings as historic monuments to get around this. Fire -> burn to a crisp, but you look fabulous.

Success of iPod is because Steve Jobs is secretly French. Jef Raskin said he would make a great kind of France.

When he started the company it was 3 guys and 4 laptops (or vice versa).  Early client, startup, spent $3M on a global multinational consulting firm, trying to build a web site, big spec, nothing happened. Needed site in 3 weeks, we only have $68K left. So build a “demo” in 2.5 weeks. Bring in the execs, get their feedback. Project manager didn’t think it looked slick enough. Add some slickification, 1 day with designer, slick it up. Overjoyed, party, etc. Pixels on a screen, asking them to respond. And they did, at the most superficial possible way. Choose the pretty thing over the useful thing. Devs are not trained as artists. We’re not painters.

Developers punt, make skins. WinAmp as example.

Temptation to lapse into the Linux aesthetic, let the functionality bubble to the surface.

Brick wall covered in plaster,  peel-off effect. Artistic dialectic between beautiful and honest.

Louvre  vs. Pompidou Centre (all guts exposed). Command line vs.GUI.

No revolt yet against beauty in the UI.

Remember one thing. Misattribution, people won’t understand where their emotional reactions are coming from. Use this info in real life. Do same thing with software, put people in control, good emotional response, good physical feel, remind them of mom. Make it pretty, get good initial first reaction.

Applause.