Less is More – What’s The Big Idea

When Apple took the world by storm and created the iPhone, it was the device’s simplicity, rather than its complex list of features, that won the day. In technical terms, we call this elimination of unnecessary state; the process of reducing the list of options to eliminate the clutter.

Apple understood this concept, and made brilliant decisions to reduce features in order to give it the friendly factor. You will notice one button instead of 18, one device instead of exposing their iOS to the open market, one place to download apps and music, the latter of which has given them much control profitability.

Consumers rave about the iPhone’s intuitive and user-friendly nature. The reduction of state and good design is what gave it life, allowing only one application at a time with only one physical button. No confusion. Easy. beautiful.

Programming is the same in many ways, with no fewer temptations to add multiple features.

Look what happens if you add one parameter; You are creating a true condition and a false condition. Then add another parameter. Now you have 2^2 or 4 conditions that you will need to test. Add a third and you are at 8 conditions.  In this vein, Windows clearly offered many features and services (internet, phone, contact management) but its first phone, with all its working parts, was a bust.

More features = more working parts = more opportunity for clutter or failure. Complex API’s are necessary. Nowhere does this rule hold truer than when you are dealing with vast amounts of working data. In the end, if it is not simple to read or use, it will collect dust.

I have seen many instances where a new piece of software was installed to solve “every” problem a company was having. The challenge? Such solutions are big and scary and often come with a giant learning curve. This is why Basecamp grew so quickly (it solved one big problem), and why Workamajig, a much more complete system, requires so much effort to sell, train, and install, and why they need a one-year contract to get things going. If people don’t invest in the idea, they will not use it. It’s just too hard.

The world of apps is taking off so successfully for the very same reason. Mobile Apps handle one idea, big or small, at a time. So, if you want your launch to be successful, you may want to do a little elimination of unnecessary state on your own. What big idea do you want to solve?


What do CFO’s Want?

CFO’s and business owners want feedback from their programmers, which is tough when often times the better programmers have spent their lives incubating skills that borrow from their ability to return phone calls.  And costs for a web site are all over the place; from several hundred dollars for a simple revision to a hundreds of thousands of dollars for a site with vast databases, and volumes of functionality. So – when a project depends on a high level of accountability and communication, and all of them do, clients just want to know what is really happening behind the veil of code.

All consultants’ fees are based on a daily billing rate, which reflects the value they place on one day’s labor plus expected overhead expenses. These rates appear in fixed fees, monthly retainers, hourly billing or even by measuring a company’s performance.  Either way, those fees must be justified with the quality of their work combined with effective communication and reporting.

The savior of the coding hero is to maintain good internal systems and to enjoy the ability to recognize weakness and to compensate for it by surrounding one’s self with colleagues of varying skills and personalities.  This wisdom steers a client away from hiring one-man shops where “man-down” doesn’t mean the death of a project.  Consistency comes when redundancies are as present as the front-line programmer.

At Whiteboard, we make a habit of communicating internally through continual education, participation in the open source community and a diligent internal peer review process.  In doing so we encourage our staff to pay attention to the details.  It also keeps us talking, keeping all parties informed.  Upon request, our clients receive online access to reports that monitor the progress of each project, including time sheets.

We have cleaned up many messes created by one-man shops or companies who care little for the details.  And while we are grateful for the opportunity to do so, we feel your pain and look forward to providing relief.

 


The Great Security Question Hoax

Much of our identities are locked away in the ether. Kept safe in vapor pockets by banks and wireless providers with paper thin questions like, “What is your mother’s maiden name?”  We’ve all answered them, developing password fatigue as we try to remember our favorite sports team or if we used our grandfather’s given name or “Gampy.”

Some things are not that hard to figure out.  That Sarah Palin and her husband Todd met in high school was ferreted out by one such hacker just before her Yahoo mail became public knowledge.  Same with the name of Paris Hilton’s dog. Yep. Hacked.

A paper in Technology Review states, “researchers from Microsoft and Carnegie Mellon University plan [showed] that the secret questions…are woefully insecure.” Participants in a study were able to guess 30 percent and 57 percent of the correct answers of security questions asked in the top-five list of guesses. Of people that participants would not trust with their password, 45 percent could still answer a question about where they were born, and 40 percent could correctly give their pet’s name.

With all the insecurity, security questions are still used as an authenticator by key institutions as an extra security layer. Yet it’s an old-school (circa 1906) solution to a new-school problem in an age where Gampy’s name is one blog post away from a hacker’s cheeseburger in paradise.

Good security questions are hard to design as they need to be definitive, applicable, memorable and safe. If the question is too hard, it might be easily forgotten by the person who is being protected. In the study mentioned earlier, participants forgot 16 percent of the answers within three to six months.

— If the question is too easy, the world of hurt can be indescribably huge.

As a user, you could increase your own security by giving false random answers, calling the bank for a reset whenever you forget them. Still, it is a work-around for a system employed way too liberally by banks that know better.

Perhaps they do it to make customers feel like they are participating in their own security. And better systems, like sending new passwords by email, require hiring an extra person on the phone bank as customers need tech-support when they forget how to use these systems or when they lose auto-generated emails in their spam filters.

Password questions are still king as there is no viable alternative.  They reduce customer phone calls, giving companies incentive to keep status quo.  Still, finding the balance between customer convenience and protection from identity theft might be difficult. With much at stake, responsible corporations with our identities in their hands might consider titanium locks over vapor.