• The Picture Element

    In Best Practices for Optimizing Images, I covered the issues related to optimizing your web images and making your pages as lean as possible. Part of the problem lies within keeping your pages responsive, as well. In Best Practices for Optimizing Images, I covered the issues related to optimizing your web images and making your pages as lean as possible. Part of the problem lies within keeping your pages responsive, as well. Many web developers have taken the easy way Read More
  • Best practices for optimizing images

    It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. At an average of five letters per word and including the spaces, that clocks out at about 6K per image. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get all of our web images down to just 6K and have them big and clear? Read More
  • Leverage the ‘Bus Theory’ to pick a memorable domain

    Being in the domain name business for more than 20 years now, the most common interaction I have with family, friends, and customers is, by far, the question, “Seriously, how do I pick a domain name for my small business?”. Read More
  • Website navigation: How to plan a joyful user experience

    Creating a clean website navigation plan is like designing an amusement park — you’re going to have a lot to do, a lot to see, and a lot of information to make available without overwhelming your customers. It’s not an easy task. Thankfully, there are a few patterns and guidelines that can get you started. Read More
  • Tips for strong website backups

    Stop everything you’re doing on your website right now and ask yourself this question: Is everything backed up? If the unthinkable happened in the form of a compromise to your site, could you restore from a reasonably recent backup? If not, you’re looking at the difference between a half-hour inconvenience and the potential of days of headaches restoring an entire site from scratch or, at best, bits and pieces of previously saved work. Read More
  • Adding color to the web development process

    Continuous integration is a wonderful thing. In the domains group here at GoDaddy, we build our code on a continuous basis. Every time a developer makes a change, our code is loaded, built, tested, and any problems immediately noted long before anything “goes live” to the rest of the world. Each build is measured for quality, and any failures or defects would constitute what would be called a “broken” build. While we have a Web-based interface that shows this and Read More
  • 1 The Picture Element
  • 2 Best practices for optimizing images
  • 3 Leverage the ‘Bus Theory’ to pick a memorable domain
  • 4 Website navigation: How to plan a joyful user experience
  • 5 Tips for strong website backups
  • 6 Adding color to the web development process

Much Ado About Technology

Christopher Ambler

Christopher Ambler is a Senior Architect at GoDaddy who writes sleek, performant, low-overhead Java and Scala code. In his copious spare time he can be found playing poker or listening to progressive music not in 4/4 time. He recently relocated to sunny California from Seattle.


The Ultimate Counter to the Exposure Pitch

Posted by on in Blog Entries

There are a decent number of stories going around the Internet, many of them recent, about how artists should push back on being asked to work for free. Let me state up front that I agree with this position to the tune of about 80%. There are times when working for free makes sense - if you're doing a favor for a friend, for example, or you're donating your time to a good cause. I've done some artistic work as a gift and I know some photographers who regularly shoot weddings as gifts (and that's an expensive gift!). I've shot bands that I love in exchange for being let into the venue for free and the necessary front-row stage-side access. I can be a fanboy like the next guy. This isn't about those times. This is about the times when someone who can and should pay for your artistic talent and time still asks that you do/perform their gig for free.

The latest, http://revolva.net/2014/11/13/an-open-letter-to-oprah/ describes how Oprah Winfrey asked an artist to attend and perform for no compensation (and, after pushing back on the issue, offered a little gas money before revoking the offer completely). The artist rightly points out that while "exposure" was dangled as the draw, her landlord won't accept rent payments in whatever quanta "exposure" uses for measurement. I'll stop using quotes around exposure now.

That outlined, I have found a sure-fire, ultimate counter whenever someone promises you exposure in exchange for your time, work and talent. The conversation goes something like this:

Promoter: Hey, Chris, I have this fantastic project I'm working on, and I need a photographer. I immediately thought of you because I love your work. You'd be perfect for this gig!

Photographer: Wow, thanks, I appreciate that! Let me read over these requirements... okay, yeah, that's a lot, but I can nail this for you. Let's talk fee and usage - what's your budget for this, and let me see if I can exceed your expectations.

Promoter: Well, there's the thing. The budget is zero for photography. We're spending a lot on everything else, and, well, we're just out of money. But look there are going to be hundreds of people there and they'll all see your work. You'll get tons of exposure out of this that should bring you lots of paid gigs.

Photographer: Oh, really? Well, hey, you know your stuff, right? You're pretty confident about this?

Promoter: Absolutely. 100% certain.

Photographer: Well, not to get stars in my eyes, but let me outline this. My normal fee for something like this would be on the order of $2000. If I do this for you for free, that's $2000 I'm not getting. But you say hundreds of people. Do you think I could get three paid gigs out of this?

Promoter: Easy. Do a good job and sure, I could see three people hiring you based on your work. Maybe even five!

Photographer: Let's say three, just to be fair. That means by giving up $2,000, I could make $6,000. That would be a profit of $4,000. That's not bad.

Promoter: Now you get it! I'm totally jazzed, man!

Photographer: Great! So here's my proposal - since you're so sure that I'm going to make this money, I want to cut you in. You pay me my normal fee of $2,000. In exchange, I'm going to split everything I book from this gig with you, 50/50 as a thank-you for giving me such an incredible opportunity. If I book three gigs, that means that you paid me $2,000, but I immediately turn around and give you $3,000 back. You actually make $1000 just for hiring me! And if I book five gigs like you said, that's $10,000 in bookings. You get $5,000, minus the $2,000 you already paid me, meaning you profit to the tune of $3,000 on this deal. The sky's the limit, my friend! Exposure!

Promoter: (crickets)

And that, my friends, is how you use math, science and common sense to take down the myth of exposure.

If you ever do this and it works, I'd really love to hear about it - share in the comments, any time. And feel free to share and repost this advice. It's free (as in beer) and I hope it helps someone spread the message.

PS: Any aspiring web comic who would like to take this conversation to a set of panels, get in touch. I'll trade the text for the art and we can both publish it. That's not exposure, that's barter, if both parties believe they're getting value. See how easy that part is?


The Holiday Slowdown?

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It happens every year about this time - the holiday slowdown. Lots of days off around holidays, people in the office taking time off meaning that projects seem to slide into January, comments like, "Yeah, let's just push that off until after the holidays..."

Same here, I suppose. I'm taking advantage of a lot of this time to catch up on loose ends, get a lot of reading done, and create planning specifications for things that, as I noted, won't really get started until after the holidays.

I hope you have a great holiday season and I look forward to more insightful (well, at least to me!) blog posts.

After the holidays ;)

Tagged in: Administrivia

You're Only Getting Half of the Lesson

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My friend Rick shared a story with me this morning, about a seminar and a lesson. I quote it here:

Once a group of 500 people were attending a seminar. Suddenly the speaker stopped and decided to do a group activity. He started giving each person a balloon. Each person was then asked to write their name on it using a marker pen. Then all the balloons were collected and put in another room.

The people were then let into that room and asked to find the balloon which had their name written on it within 5 minutes. Everyone was frantically searching for their name, colliding with each other, pushing around others and there was utter chaos.

At the end of 5 minutes no one could find their own balloon. Then, the speaker asked each person to randomly collect a balloon and give it to the person whose name was written on it. Within minutes everyone had their own balloon.

The speaker then began, "This is happening in our lives. Everyone is frantically looking for happiness all around, not knowing where it is.

Our happiness lies in the happiness of other people. Give them their happiness; you will get your own happiness. And this is the purpose of human life...the pursuit of happiness."

Ferris at the CBOENow, what does this tell us about happiness? Well, the concept is pretty well-known, if you help others, often that help will come back as help to yourself. A rising tide raises all boats, as they say. Selfishly, if you do nice things for other people, they're more inclined to do nice things for you.

I'm not telling you anything you don't already know.

So let's examine the actual events here, instead. Initially, everyone looked for their balloon, and had a 1-in-500 chance of finding it. Let's say ten people managed to do so and that they even helped a little by getting out of the room when they accomplished that goal. That still leaves 490 scrambling people. Clearly this demonstration, at this point, works. Chaos is bad. Random searching is the wrong protocol to solve this problem. The leader of the seminar deliberately picked the wrong algorithm to make his point.

A better algorithm is then described. Clearly, on its face, this makes more sense. But we can't leave it there. I asked Rick, "Okay, by what protocol did people call out the name of the person on the balloon they selected?" Rick answered, "The Starbuck's Protocol." Sure, everyone has their order. As they're ready, the barista calls out your name and you pick up your double cafe latte and go about your day. But in this story, there is no barista - there is no leader.

Trading PlacesIf this were played-out as described, the exercise would look like a rough day in the pit at the Chicago Board of Exchange (that wild place Ferris and friends visited on their tour of Chicago and the setting for the payoff of one of the greatest movies of all time, "Trading Places."). To make this work properly, you need a leader to coordinate the protocol. The leader could tell everyone to quickly and quietly pick a single balloon. Then the leader could say, "If you know the person, please immediately walk to them, swap balloons with them, and then if you have your balloon, please exit the room. Start this now, while we continue. Now, we'll move quickly: if the name on your balloon starts with an 'A,' please raise the balloon up high and, as I point to you, say the name. Then follow the previous protocol - if you hear your name, go get your balloon, swap, and leave. We'll move as quickly as we can through the alphabet. Someone bring me a double cafe latte."

That's just one possible protocol. As a software architect, I immediately can think of some pretty interesting optimizations that I'd love to try. But for a quick "teach you a lesson" exercise at a seminar, if someone stepped up and took the lead and made this work, I'd keep my eye on them and find out if they're looking for a new job.


Tagged in: advice business insight

Help Me to Help You

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Dr. Gary Chapman’s book, “The Five Love Languages,” is a well-known tome on five ways that humans tend to express and experience love for one another. Of the five, one is “Acts of Service.” That is, doing things for other people. As it is in life and relationships, so it is in business. Often, helping others through actions can provide benefits not only for the recipient, but also for the helper.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

One challenge, however, is in knowing what one can do for someone. Sure, it’s possible to just come out and ask. “What can I do for you?” is probably one of the most used phrases in the English language, after all. “How can I help you?” is the opening salvo in almost all customer service conversations (don't get me started on the grammatically frightening, "Can I help who's next?"). But what about the business partner or colleague? Would you just ask, unbidden, what they need? And if they told you, would you be ready to lend help then and there? My suggestion is that there are better ways to build a knowledge set of what your friends and associates might need such that you’re prepared to lend help if and when the ability or circumstances dictate. And you can do this in a way that doesn't create an immediate expectation or obligation that you may not be able to easily fulfill.

Here’s how I do it – ask open but probing questions, often on social media where the time to think and answer doesn’t prohibit a good, candid response. One of my favorites is to simply ask, “What are you working on right now that’s got you really engaged?” Of course nobody is going to spill the beans on their secret project, but even just a hobby activity will give me insight into what I might be able to aid.

Another go-to question: "What is your current achievable goal, and what is your current blue-sky goal (whether you think you can achieve it or not – aim high)?" You’d be surprised how many people have goals that they feel are unachievable that, with your easy help, might be within reach. And often, your help is no sweat for you, but you would have never known if you didn’t ask. And your friends and associates would never think to ask you most of the time.

Yes, sometimes you run the risk of “butting in,” but I would counter that if they liked your question and put the time into giving you an answer, no matter how short, you run very little risk in offering help.

And in helping others, you often help yourself. Remember, I’m selfish that way.

So what is your current achievable goal, and what’s your blue-sky goal? Seriously, use the comments here and spill! Someone else might be able to help.

Tagged in: ideas insight

When It Comes To Equality, I'm Just Selfish

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I’m going to start off with a story, which, I promise, is relevant. I am a proponent of marriage equality. I can be flippant about it and note that I feel that everyone should get to experience the pain of marriage, but that’s not fair to my wife, who is one of the greatest people I know. I actually have my reasons for being in favor, which I will get to shortly. But first the story.

A few years ago an organization that goes by the name of The National Organization for Marriage launched a campaign against marriage equality that they called “Two Million for Marriage.” Their goal was to get two million people to march in Washington and declare their support for marriage being reserved as a one-man-one-woman institution. They branded this campaign, “2M4M.”

The problem was, of course, that they failed to get the obvious domain name for this campaign, 2m4m.org. Being in the domain name business, it was the first thing I checked, and I got it first, before they realized their error. The next move was obvious: I created, in about 48 hours, a fully formed campaign web site for my own campaign, 2M4M: Two Men For Marriage. Yeah, that was me.

It was a spoof site, to be sure, but also made the point for marriage equality. I was pretty proud of the site and was thrilled when it went viral. Did it change anyone’s mind? Of course not. But it was just one milestone in a larger movement, and I’m glad I got to play my part.

Which brings me to the issue of women in computing and the current situation around this issue. Just as my close personal friend Ferris once said about Europeans, why should I care about this issue? I’m not a woman.

“I'm not European. I don't plan on being European. So who gives a crap if they're socialists? They could be fascist anarchists, it still doesn't change the fact that I don't own a car.”

The reason I care is the same reason I care about marriage equality, even though I’ll never really need the rights that the equality movement is securing: I’m selfish.

There is No Such Thing as a Selfless Act

Researchers Lara Aknin, Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton concluded, "Happiness runs in a circular motion". In their research, they found that by spending a financial windfall on someone else, participants in their study felt happier, and when they felt happier, they were more inclined to spend money on others. This applies to all aspects of life, be it giving money or giving help. Ultimately, people “do the right thing” because it makes them feel good to be doing the right thing. This is subjective, of course – not everyone agrees on what the “right thing” is. Like Potter Stewart, you know it when you see it.

In the same way that being generous can be seen as selfish because it makes the giver feel good, doing the right thing, socially, can be seen as selfish because it can also promote the needs and desires of the person helping. The fact that “doing the right thing” makes one feel good is simply a bonus, if you will. In this way, I (and others) would argue that selfishness is a good thing.

This, in and of itself, might be enough. But wait, there’s more.

So What Are the Selfish Goals Here?

Call me naïve and perhaps call me simplistic, but, at least for me, it all boils down to one, simple truth: everyone deserves to be able to play by the same rules. We can debate what those rules are, and we can even tweak them now and again to make things better, but once we decide to play, everyone should be playing the same game. I realize there are a myriad of other issues, and I’m not dismissing any of them. But without the acknowledgement that there should be a fundamental base of fairness, we’re building on a very shaky foundation.

It’s All About Me

So how does being selfish play into the issues of social fairness? Simple: taken as a whole, it applies to me as well. There are areas in which I could make an argument that the issue affects me, personally - aspects of life where those entrenched in power are actively working to maintain that position and prevent participation. Some are trivial. Some are very serious. To be fair, most don’t rise to the level of the issue at hand, and I am genuinely grateful for the luck I’ve had in life. But some do apply to me, and even those few are enough to demonstrate the point.

The position, then, is that if I want any credibility when I call out things that I find unjust to me, personally, I’d best be prepared to call out those things that are just as unjust, even if they don’t apply to me directly. If I’m going to be selfish, I’m going to be consistent about it.

Is That It?

No, of course not. As I said, there are reasons for days why the issue is as important as it is complex. My engagement barely scratches the surface. But in the realm of selfishness, I could make the argument that a diverse workplace is a good one for me, and that it’s to my direct benefit to live in a world where this problem doesn’t exist. I, and my company benefit from all viewpoints and skill sets. I want to hire lots of talent and not have to worry about silly things that, at least to me, should not matter. I’m selfish in that I want my life to be easier in this respect. I’d like to work with people based on their skills and talents. Plus, let’s be honest, I can be a pretty myopic guy sometimes. One thing I’ve learned is to always run my stupid ideas past my wife, who gives me viewpoints and insights I simply never would consider on my own. It’s naïve to think that the fact that she’s a woman doesn’t play into this. She has angles that I, as a man, would never have (and the opposite is also true). It’s an advantage to me to have this resource. I’ll take that advantage any day of the week.

The Electric Third Rail

I debated for a while before writing this. Is this position just too simplistic? Is anyone going to think I’m trivializing the issue by trying to boil it down? Worse, am I setting myself up for someone to say, “So, Chris, you only care about the rights of others because if you don’t, you don’t get yours?” While none of those are true (indeed, my point is somewhat the opposite of the last possible response), they’re valid presumptions. So I dance around the electric third rail, but I felt that my position was worthy of calling out. If this is somehow misinterpreted, the fault is mine for not being as clear as I could be.

Unfortunately, I have no great ideas on how to solve the current problem, but I’m thinking about it. I’m listening and learning. And if I have ideas, I’m throwing them out there. Often, they get laughed-at, but I’ll keep it up and see if maybe I get lucky at some point. It happens now and again, like finding the missed domain name registration that lets me strike a point in favor of doing the right thing. Seriously, that felt really good. At the end of the day, it’s a basic way of saying, “this should be obvious, now let’s work on the problem.”

Because if it’s not right for you, then it’s not right for me. And I’d like it right for me.

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