I hate social networking

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I hate social networking. I despise it. All of it.

For me it’s a tool (like me, some would say).

“But, Aaron. You have 1500 friends on Facebook and nearly 10,000 on Twitter. You’re lying.”

Oh but I’m not. I used to love social networking. I used to travel to conferences where other social media people were just to, in hindsight, make myself look more like a stud. That’s why there are so many.

I’ve dated or slept with social media women just for access.

I’ve been that guy at SXSW that, as a former Austinite, I now mock. That one cutting to the front of the blocks-long line to a hot party just to utter those predictable, and douchey words, “Do you know who I am?”

I have the cred I so craved. Even years after I stopped the social whoredom. I get added to Social Media lists on Twitter every day? Why? Because someone thinks if you have 10k followers, you must be important, and therefore, you must be “social media”.

I am important. But not in that way. I am important to my 9 year old son who I don’t see nearly as often as I’d like. I’m important to my company because I can take their WordPress life farther than they dreamed.

I’m important to my friends… My real friends. The ones who drink beer with me or wish they were drinking beer with me like they used to.

I’m not important because I have friends or followers. And the quality of my life is not contingent on my social presence. I could give a shit less.

When you introduce me as technosailor, instead of Aaron, you do a disservice to me and you. You are the one caught up in the social insanity. Go drink a beer or watch Breaking Bad or, for god’s sake, go fuck your wife.

Come with me for a minute as I revisit a moment of my life.

It was 1998 and I was in my religious mode. I realize that most readers aren’t aware of this past and really prefer if I don’t get preachy. So I won’t.

But what was said from a pulpit 15 years ago lives on in me, as a life principle.

In the Old Testament book of Joshua, the story is told of the Children of Israel, after a generation of wandering in the Sinai desert after escaping Egyptian captivity, finally had the opportunity to cross the Jordan River into their promised land.

Joshua, their leader, was instructed to construct a monument in the middle of the river where they crossed on dry land. The monument was to be made of 12 stones (representing Abraham’s twelve sons an the tribes of Israel) and it was to be a celebration of gaining the Promised Land.

It would be really easy, after 40 years and finally attaining your goal, to stay there and live life there. Live in that glorious history and moment.

Except they had a job to do and a land to conquer. They couldn’t stay in that moment. They had to move on. That moment was glorious but they couldn’t stay. They had to do work.

And so we come back to social networking. I’ve been on Twitter since early 2007. I’ve been on Facebook since late 2006.

I could live in the glory of the Internet and social networking but I’ve got a life to live.

Some of you are still mindlessly operating with the idea you can make a living doing social media on the Internet. When you simply can’t. Only very few people can do it well.

As the Jordan River became a part of Israel’s every day life, social networking is a part of mine. I use it. I live it. I meet people there. It is not my life. And if its yours, you really need to re-examine your priorities.

Make the Web, Cloud Do Your Work So You Don’t Have To

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Photo by Balleyne

While perusing around the web yesterday (after sifting through my email post-vacation), I came across this Ars Technica article discussing the new Firefox upgrade timeline. It actually follows a similar upgrade timeline that WordPress adopted after WordPress 2.0 was released.

The new policy outlines a 3-4 month window for new major releases with limited security updates for releases outside of the current stable release.

The Ars article goes on to describe the angst that has come out of the corporate community as they have been lulled into a process of having to test new releases of software to ensure compatibility with their internal firewall’d webapps that have, in no small part, been created for a specific browser – usually Internet Explorer 6 or 7.

Browser Stagnation Caused IT Stagnation

A few years ago, the stagnation of browser support was broken as Firefox and Opera started a race to implement CSS3 features that were not necessarily status quo, as a result of Internet Explorer, and were not even blessed as part of an official spec. The browser makers just started doing it.

Notably, some of these browser-specific “add-ons” to CSS dealt with things that had been desired but only usable with browser hacks: rounded corners, opacity, etc.

Apple came on the scene, particularly with iOS (then iPhone OS), and put a tremendous amount of development efforts into WebKit. WebKit is a browser framework like Gecko, the framework that Firefox and the old Netscape are built on was. Apple’s take on WebKit was Safari. Google followed suit with Chrome awhile later, also built on WebKit.

What we end up with is a browser war with higher stakes than the famed Internet Explorer-Netscape war of the 1990s. We also see a lot more innovation and one-upmanship… something that can only be good for consumers.

The Ars article describes a tenuous balance for enterprise customers. That balance is the need to support internal firewalled applications while giving users access to the public web. The money quote from the article sums up the balance nicely:

The Web is a shared medium. It’s used for both private and public sites, and the ability to access these sites is dependent on Web browsers understanding a common set of protocols and file formats (many corporate intranet sites may not in fact be accessible from the Internet itself, but the browsers used to access these sites generally have to live in both worlds).

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If developers could be sure that only Internet Explorer 9, Firefox 5, and Chrome 13 were in use on the Internet, they would be able to make substantial savings in development and testing, and would have a wealth of additional features available to use.

But they can’t assume that, and so they have to avoid desirable features or waste time working around their absence. And a major reason—not the only reason, but a substantial one—is corporate users. Corporate users who can’t update their browsers because of some persnickety internal application they have to use, but who then go and use that same browser on the public Internet. By unleashing these obsolete browsers on the world at large, these corporate users make the Web worse for everyone. Web developers have to target the lowest common denominator, and the corporations are making that lowest common denominator that much lower.

As someone who has worked on the web for more than 10 years and who has also worked in Enterprise, I agree.

I remember when I worked for the Navy and the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) was in deployment. It was a massive headache for everyone involved because the assumption with that contract was that systems could uniformly be tied together and standardized. By my understanding, they finally achieved that last year, but not until after being years late and hundreds of millions over budget.

I don’t know the final deployment as my contract with the Navy ended back in 2004. I know that proprietary systems were in place that were designed to a function and not to a standard.  When standards were introduced as necessary requisites for any system in that eco-system, the implications were huge.

This is the world we live in today where, as the Ars article points out, browsers that must live in a world of compatibility and still access the public web drag the rest of us down.

Outsource Your Shit and Focus on Your Core Business

But Ars already makes that point. I’m not making it again except to highlight the validity of their thoughts. My point is more intrinsic to startups, small businesses and entrepreneurs and I make it delicately as it has, in some ways, countered some of my thoughts in the past.

Why should you worry about building applications to a function when you can build them to a standard? Or better yet, why should you build from the ground up to a function when you can use external, cloud-based services built to a standard.

Take Microsoft’s just-announced Microsoft Office 365. Now, I don’t know anything about this product so don’t take my commentary as an endorsement in any way. We use Google Apps at WP Engine (another good example of exactly what I’m saying here).

In Office 365, you have a common piece of line-of-business software (Microsoft Office) available for a subscription and hosted in the cloud. This eliminates IT Administrators requirement for testing on the internal network. It’s on the web! Everyone has the web! And it doesn’t need (and in fact, cannot work) with non-standard browsers. And you don’t even need Microsoft’s browser to use it.

Suddenly, IT Administrators along with Microsoft have saved the Enterprise tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars in man-hours testing and re-resting for OS compatibility. And suddenly, IT Administrators along with Microsoft have taken the chains off users to have freedom of choice in their browsers (which, by the way, is more than a pie in the sky idealistic thing… it’s also a cost-saving efficiency thing). And also suddenly, Microsoft has released the web to be able to thrive and not be retarded by corporate requirements.

This kind of thing makes perfect sense. Why re-invent the wheel? Why put resources into something you don’t have to? Why not let a third party, like Microsoft or Google, worry about the compatibility issues in line-of-business software.

After all, your company isn’t in the core business of building these applications. You are in the line of business of doing something else… building a product, a social network, a mobile app, a hosting company, etc. Your software should not define the cost of doing business. Your people and your product should.

UK Plans to Keep Kids Safe on the Web, Ignores History

2008 is drawing to a close, a new U.S. Presidential Administration is on the threshold of taking power and the UK is seriously looking to the largest age restriction initiative ever undertaken in the history of the internet.

In the UK, there is a such thing as a Culture Secretary who is responsible for the entertainment of British subjects. I kid you not. This is a Cabinet-level position in charge of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. According to the official website, Culture is responsible to “improve the quality of life for all through cultural and sporting activities, to support the pursuit of excellence and to champion the tourism, creative and leisure industries”.

That’s right. Culture has their hand in your family trip to the amusement park, the art museum or a trip to the ballpark.

According to a Daily Telegraph story, they also plan to have their hand in your web-surfing as well. The idea is that Internet Service Providers servicing the UK would be required to provide child-safe surfing opportunities. The trickle down would be that website owners and developers would have to adhere to a “ratings” system, similar to what is in place for motion pictures and video games.

They plan to work closely with the Obama administration to ensure that the standards established are not simply UK-centric, but also US-centric. In essence, the governments are attempting to ramrod a standard down the throats of the western world.

To be fair, there is justification in wanting to see a child-safe portion of the web. We all want what is best for kids, but the truth is that parenting starts at home and does not involve a village. What I would prefer to see is a recommended set of standards that would assist parents in screening and moderating the internet activity of their child.

Also to be fair, history tells us that simply declaring standards for the web does not ensure that such standards are adhered to. A full eight years later, the best commonplace standard for web markup (XHTML 1.0 Transitional if you must know) has yet to be fully adopted. U.S. Government websites are required to be Section 508 Compliant (which is a set of standards to assist in accessibility, particularly for those who are blind or colorblind). Many government sites still do not meet this standard.

Even outside the web, the DTV transition fast approaches, yet it fast approaches again and it is doubtful if it will actually arrive in February as is currently projected. That is because the new standard has not been quickly adopted and the government is forced to extend their deadline.

In the best of scenarios, the web industry self-polices as it always has. In the best situation, we come together and innovated around a widely accepted and understood standard. In the best scenario, the government utilizes the standards and innovations that the web industry itself has created to solve the very real problem of creating a child-safe internet.

But at the end of the day, the Village cannot solve this problem. We can only bring ideas and tools to the table. Nothing we, or the government, do will protect children. Parents have that responsibility and should exercise their roles, instead of passing the buck to someone else.