Jan Kubr

Posts Tagged ‘book’

A book read: Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug

In Uncategorized on March 9, 2008 at 20:34

Yes, I’ve finished reading another book. And not today, but on Friday. I’ve heard about this before, but now I’m actually experiencing it: If you get into the habit, you can read one book a week and later probably more. I wonder how that can change your personality. Ryan Davis said at last year’s RubyConf that the average number of books read by people from the IT industry is one a year. So if you read one a month, you’re on 12 times the average. And if you read one a week..

I think reading broadens your view. Reading a lot broadens it a lot. Even if you can’t name all the things you found interesting in the book a few months later after reading it, I believe it is there somewhere in your mind and it not only influences you, but also will pop up when the situation is right.

Writing a summary like this helps me remembering the book even better and helps you decide whether you’re interested in reading the book yourself.

So. Don’t Make Me Think is a book about web usability. Mostly usability of web sites, rather than web applications, but still pretty useful for webapp developers as well. Since the author preaches the “common sense approach,” the advices are pretty simple:

  1. General advice: Don’t make people need to figure out what you meant by things on your page. Make it obvious (not dumb). The experts will appreciate it as well.
  2. We don’t carefully read everything on the web page. We scan it and click whatever first seems to get us where we want.
  3. Don’t force people make complicated decisions. They are OK with taking more steps if deciding on each is easy.
  4. Don’t have too much text on your page, especially if the text is not necessary (“Welcome to this page!” kind of thing or lengthy instructions).
  5. Navigation should show on which page I am, how can I get to the homepage, in what section I am, and where can I search. Steve is a bit sceptical about using breadcrumbs (a series of links showing how you got to the section you’re currently at) and so am I.
  6. Homepages should answer four questions: “What is this?”, “What can I do here?”, “What do they have here?”, and “Why should I be here – and not somewhere else?”.
  7. Usability testing is neither complicated nor expensive.

I think especially the part where Steve shows how to do usability testing very effectively and cheaply is very interesting. He is planning a whole book on this topic, so that one should be great as well. Btw there’s a lot of tips for further reading in the book, too.

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A book read: Meatball Sundae by Seth Godin

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2008 at 11:23

I have never studied marketing. Now when I wanted to start learning a bit about it I could start with classics like Phillip Kotler (at least so I was told that he is a classic). Which is basically like looking back and realizing what has been taught last century. Or – because many people say we are experiencing a huge change in how goods are offered to customers – I could try looking into the future. You guessed what I picked. I grabbed Seth Godin‘s latest book Meatball Sundae.

The book is officially about how to avoid a meatball sundae in your company’s strategy. That is when the way you market your product is not in sync the rest of your organization. In short, when you make average stuff for average people but try to use new media to make it look remarkable.

Great, but I have no marketing strategy yet, so this was not all that useful for me. Fortunately, what the book is really about is that identifies 14 trends of today no marketer should ignore (my comments in italics):

  1. Direct communication and commerce between producers and consumers.
    No middlemen needed anymore. Etsy is a great example.
  2. Amplification of the voice of the consumer and independent authorities.
    In the past you just had to please one reviewer. Now everyone has a strong voice.
  3. Need for an authentic story as the number of sources increases.
    Don’t lie. Today it is too easy to find the truth.
  4. Extremely short attention spans due to clutter.
    So you better communicate your message fast.
  5. The long tail.
    “John Gourville, at Harvard, and Barry Schwartz (author of The Paradox of Choice) have each argued that too much choice is a bad thing, that it leads to dissatisfaction and causes people to put off decision making. Too much choice makes the statement ‘I’ll decide later because there’s just too much risk of screwing up’ more likely.
    A trip to the mall certainly demonstrates that this is happening. Tons of empty-handed shoppers are all walking around looking for the perfect item. And often buying nothing.”
  6. Outsourcing.
    Are you doing something that can’t be easily outsourced (done by someone else far cheaper?). And are you using outsourcing to your advantage?
  7. Google and the dicing of everything.
    Don’t expect everyone coming to your homepage first.
  8. Infinite channels of communication.
    So you want your own ones, nothing general.
  9. Direct communication and commerce between consumers and consumers.
    They are going talk to each other about you. What will they be saying? And can they trade stuff among themselves?
  10. The shifts in scarcity and abundance.
    Used to be scarce and is not anymore: E.g. hard-drive space. It’s scarce now: E.g. attention.
  11. The triumph of big ideas.
    You better have something extraordinary to be noticed.
  12. The shift from “How many” to “Who.”
    Better reach a few people who care about you than hundreds who don’t. Now it’s easier to find people in your niche.
  13. The wealthy are like us.
    Because they are us. You are eager to pay a lot of money for remarkable things.
  14. New gatekeepers, no gatekeepers.
    You don’t need to hang out with the big guys. Just do something people will want and they will allow you to influence them.

And there’s more. This book is worth reading, don’t hesitate. Although Seth calls it “not short,” it will be a quick read for you. You can also check videos at Open Forum where people like Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia) and Sean Parker (Napster, Facebook, Plaxo) express opinions on the same topics.

Founders at Work quotes 2

In Uncategorized on February 23, 2008 at 15:11

Finally I finished reading Founders at Work. My biggest take away? It is incredibly hard to bring your startup to success. You need to work super hard for a few years and have incredible amount of perseverance and passion. And I doubt it is only the examples Jessica Livingston shows us in the book. It even discouraged me a bit to start a “real” startup.. At least without a strong co-founder or a very very good idea.

Building a startup is not about getting rich easily. If this is your main goal, you’re going to fail. You need to love what you’re doing and want to change the world. The money might come as a nice side effect. If you’re lucky.

The second thing I realized is the are million and one way to build a startup. If someone says something doesn’t work, he might actually mean, “It didn’t work for me.” It might work just fine for you though. And the other way round as well; purely replicate someone else without paying close attention to your own situation will kill you.

Brewster Kahle, WAIS Internet Archive, Alexa

“The Macintoshes were helpful because they had TCP/IP for them, where Windows didn’t. It wasn’t until Windows 95 came out 6 years later that Microsoft caught up.”

It made me think: Will Microsoft catch up again when there’s enough money in this “new web” stuff?

“We’re now in 2006, and it’s hard to believe how pathetic things are. We don’t even have books online yet. I don’t know why the world moves so slowly. Everybody says, ‘Oh, it’s moving so fast.’ And it’s like, ‘No, I don’t think so. It’s been forever.'”

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Founders at Work quotes part 1

In Uncategorized on February 1, 2008 at 22:27

I have been reading this great book Founders at Work which consists of interviews with many startup founders about their beginnings. I’ve read a little bit over a half and realized I’ve bookmarked too many quotes already. So I decided to put them up here in two parts instead of doing the traditional one “A book read” post.

Max Levchin, Paypal

Livingston: “What can big companies do to preserve a startup culture?”

Levchin: “I don’t know. Less PowerPoints. (…) As you grow larger, you need more structure and organization and meetings. My theory is that you sort of subdivide, and you make smaller units and you give them a lot of power and responsibility. You let them make it or break it. But I have no practical knowledge as to whether this works or not.”

“I think we didn’t know what we were doing. I think the hallmark of a really good entrepreneur is that you’re not really going to build one specific company. The goal – at least the way I think about entrepreneurship – is you realize one day that you can’t really work for anyone else. You have to start your own thing. It almost doesn’t matter what that thing is. We had six different business plan changes, and the the last one was PayPal.

“‘We’re trying this, this week.’ Every week you go to investors and say, ‘We’re doing this, exactly this. We’re really focused. We’re going to be huge.’ The next week you’re like, ‘That was a lie.'”

“‘We changed our business plan.’ And these guys were like, ‘What?’ They just put down $4 million to see something happen, and we said, ‘Sorry, we’re not going to do that; we’re going to do this.'”

Joe Kraus, Excite

“You never know anything. The hardest part in a startup is that you wake up one morning, and you feel great about the day, and you think, ‘We’re kicking ass.’ And then you wake up the next morning, and you think ‘We’re dead.’ And literally nothing’s changed.”

“Even up to the time when Excite was several hundred people and we were the fourth largest website in the world, it didn’t feel real. It doesn’t feel like you’re really doing something huge. On some level it feels like you’re fooling people – like, are we really doing this?

“It’s the whole sausage and sausage factory problem: when you’re outside and you only see the sausage coming out you think, ‘That’s pretty tasty.’ When you’re on the inside and you know how it’s made, it’s terrifying. (…) It’s never, ‘We set out this well-orchestrated plan, we’re executing it, it’s going exactly according to plan.'”

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A book read: Defensive Design for the Web

In Uncategorized on January 22, 2008 at 21:56

This is a terrible book. After you read it, you’ll feel lousy, lose your self-confidence, and make your to-do list longer than ever. In other words, this book is very useful and contains some great tips.

The authors of the book suggest that you plan for situations when things go wrong on your site. That you should care about the user’s experience even (especially?) in crisis situations. If things go wrong (and it’s far from “they never do”), it is an unpleasant situation for the user, but you have a great chance to show him the way out and make her happy again.

The structure of the book is very simple and straightforward. Each of eight (main) chapters talks about a specific aspect of (almost) every website and contains a few guidelines on what the most common mistakes are and how to correct them. Each guideline is accompanied by examples of site that follow the guideline and those that don’t. These chapters talk about:

  1. Displaying obvious error messages and alerts
  2. Providing clear instructions
  3. Creating friendly forms that are easy to complete
  4. Overcoming missing pages, images, or plug-ins
  5. Offering help that’s actually helpful
  6. Eliminating obstacles to conversion (e.g. unnecessary ads, registration, navigation etc.)
  7. Delivering the rights results with smart search engine assistance
  8. Making sure unavailable items don’t become dead ends

If you don’t feel bad enough after all this, you have the chance to take a Contingency Design Test in the next chapter which will help you evaluate your site. If just by any chance it doesn’t turn out that good, the next chapter contains some great tips on how to make “error recovery and prevention part of your long term design process.”

And this book is even a quick read! Recommended.

A book read: Palestine by Joe Sacco

In Uncategorized on January 4, 2008 at 11:38

Palestine by Joe Sacco is not a novel I’d look for myself. Which is quite a shame actually. Fortunately I have great friends who give me interesting books like this one.

Palestine is a comics which makes this rather thick book a fun and quick read. The plot takes place in 1991 and 1992 when Sacco traveled around Palestine and met and interviewed many people there. I had been’t really familiar with many of the facts about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but I had been kind of on the Israeli side. Why? That’s a good question. I think it’s because of the media that present Palestinians as terrorists and Israel Jews as victims. Well, this book might be biased the other way, but at least helped me open my eyes a bit.

What it shows is people whose country has been taken over in 1948 by someone who may have lived there in the past (a long time ago), but never actually had had a regular state there. So basically you live in your village peacefully and then some soldiers come and chase you out. To make sure you won’t come back, they burn your house down. Then you live in a refugee camp for almost 60 years and your kids and grandkids have never seen anything else apart from it. You can’t leave your house at night because of the curfew.

And if you haven’t been in prison, you certainly know someone close to you who has. You know many people that have been shot or hurt by the Israeli army. Eeach small protest is punished big time. Did your kid throw a stone on a soldier? Might have been your kid, actually. We’ll saw off branches from the olive trees your income depends on (and that take at least 5 years to grow up again). Often people are tortured to confess even if they are innocent.

It reminds me what I heard about communism a lot.  Now imagine you’re 15, you live in a refugee camp, and all the above is part of your everyday life. What would you do?

Just something to think about when you read the news..

A book read: How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie

In Uncategorized on December 28, 2007 at 11:22

OK last book about personal development. Seriously. For some time at least..

If you know me, you might find me quite a social person, but you know that deep inside I’m still rather a geek. Also I tend to be arrogant; especially against people who “don’t get it” (whatever that it is in the moment). I hoped this book could’ve shown me a way out of it a bit. And it did, actually. It is a good book. A bit too wordy, so you might read some paragraphs very quickly or even skip them, but still. This book was written in 1936 and it is the first book on human relations, by the way. The book has four parts with clearly stated tips in each. Here they are with my comments in italics:

Part One: Fundamental Techniques in Handling People

  1. Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain.
    People are often different from what you want them to be. However, instead of forcing them to change and criticizing them, try to understand them.
  2. Give honest and sincere appreciation.
    At many places in the book, Dale mentions that none of the techniques presented works unless you really mean it. Shallow flattery is not what will work.
  3. Arouse in the other people an eager want.
    Always talk about the benefits there are for the other person, not for you.

Part Two: Six Ways to Make People Like You

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
    The word genuinely is very important. If you just pretend to be interested, you fail. There is something interesting about everyone and everything; you just need to have an open mind.
  2. Smile.
    It’s not that it will make you look better, it’ll help you feel better.
  3. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
    I’ve been careful about this since one of my ex-girlfriends broke up with me because I wasn’t mentioning her name enough. So no big lesson for me here this time..
  4. Be a good listener. Encourage other to talk about themselves.
    I’m pretty good at this. Although you might learn a bit by talking yourself (or writting a blog after all), listening (reading) is far more important. Then instead of talking, just act.
  5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.
    What does the other person want? What can I do to help make it happen?
  6. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.
    Everyone wants to feel important. And, in a way, everyone is important from one reason or another.

Part Three: How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking

  1. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
    If you argue and you prove you are right, you lost anyway. The other person is not going to like you and they will seek the first opportunity to “beat you” the next time.
    You might know you’re right. But you don’t need to argue. As Dale says, “any fool can do that.” Be smarter. What are the benefits of having the argument?
    I tend to do this mistake quite a bit. I win – and then what? It does not make me feel much better, but it does make the other person feel bad.
  2. Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, “You’re wrong.”
    See above, to win an argument should be rarely your goal.
  3. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
    It is unbelievable how many people can’t admit their mistakes. And saying “it’s my fault” works like magic! Also see step 4 in Joel’s Seven Steps to Remarkable Customer Service.
  4. Begin in a friendly way.
    Be friendly from the very beginning. Care about the other person even if you don’t know them well yet.
  5. Get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately.
    Hmm, not sure about this one. Dale wants us to ask questions where the other person obviously will say yes (like “Do you want to save money?”) and get to the point where they will answer yes to whatever you want them to do, too. That sounds like a rather cheap (sales) trick to me, but it might work. I’d more concentrate on tip 8 from this section, though.
  6. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
    Especially good with complaining customers. Let them talk. And (important!) don’t think “lalala, are you going to stop yet?” Listen, appreciate that this person is sharing her thoughts with you, and learn from them.
  7. Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.
    I think this is a very powerful one. It is certainly difficult because everyone is proud of their own ideas. But it might not be all that important who came up with the idea first, right? If anything you want to happen happens, who cares whose idea it was?
    Sometimes you do need to take credit for your achievements because people might think you are useless otherwise. But don’t do it just to feel smarter and better than others. It won’t help anyone.
  8. Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.
    Crucial. Where does the other person come from, what is her background, what are his goals? Why is she doing what is she doing and how do you fit into the picture?
  9. Be sympathetic with other person’s ideas and desires.
    Don’t be like “who are you to tell me what is better for me?” Don’t make fun of people’s desires because if you were the other person, you might want the same. Again, try to think as the other person.
  10. Appeal to the nobler motives.
    If someone insults you, don’t answer in the same tone. “Any fool can do that.” Be nice instead. Turn your enemies into friends easily.
  11. Dramatize your ideas.
    Don’t just plain tell your ideas; come up with a way to demonstrate them.
  12. Throw down a challenge.
    If you want someone to do something difficult, try to call it “the most important task of this project” for example.
    Also, if you are able to stimulate competition, in the positive “desire to excel” way within your team, you’re on your way to success.

Part Four: Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment

  1. Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
    Even if it’s sometimes too obvious, it never hurts you stress something positive before you get to the not-so-nice things you want to say.
  2. Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.
    This is hard to do I think, but very powerful. Dale says for example: Suggest you give people more time for the job if they need it to make things better. They might say to themselves: “I’m not that slow, I’m can do better!”
    Dale also suggests you avoid the word “but” and you use “and” instead. Compare “you do well, but you can do better” with “you do well and I know you can do even better.”
  3. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
    Again, admit your mistakes. Sounds easy, ha?
  4. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
    Wouldn’t be better to do this instead? Why do you take this approach here? Many people will find themselves wrong without you telling them directly.
    One thing comes to my mind here: Note that you might be wrong and the other person might be right. Now you think something is wrong, but it might not be the case. If you ask “why do you this?” first, you’ll never look like a fool.
  5. Let the other person save face.
    ..you’ll never look like a fool = you save your face. Which is what everyone wants. The best way to make an enemy is to point to their mistakes in front of other people. The best way to make a friend is to sort the person’s mistake out without talking too much about it.
  6. Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be “hearty in you approbation and lavish in your praise.”
    Everyone likes compliments. Don’t forget to be sincere though. Praise what you really like.
  7. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
    Again, people want to feel important. Give an important name to what people do and they feel better about it. Don’t be shallow though.
    I got an e-mail from Killer Startups saying that they’ve published a review of Flempo. The e-mail starts with “Dear CEO, we wanted to let you know..” Did someone from them read this book?
  8. Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
    I’d say: instead of talking about what all has the mistake caused, start working on the correction.
  9. Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.
    Don’t say “do this because it’s your job,” try to think what good can the person gain by doing it.

Dale has many examples for each of the tips. Some are very useful, some less, some seem to belong to another part of the book. But all are worth reading, that’s for sure.

All of the tips are very important of course. The main thing I’m taking from this book though is:

If you want to make a person your friend or influence them, try to think as they do. What are their motives, desires, goals? What would I want if I were in their position with their background? What would make me feel important and appreciated and what would make me feel lousy? What is it the other person needs to do to make me feel happy?

A book read: Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2007 at 22:32

Think and Grow Rich might be a book you might be ashamed to tell other people you’re reading. They might think you’re greedy or just weird. If you’re like me (and I certainly am), you won’t care. But if you care even a bit, I might say this book is not worth it.

A while ago I said that The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is the single book about personal development you need to read and that I won’t read any anymore either. Well I lied and during this book I kind of regretted it. If you have read The Seven Habits, then you only need to quickly skim through Think and Grow Rich. Or you can read my summary that follows right now.

The book talks about how to gain wealth, but I think it can be generalized to “how to achieve your goal.” It is expressed in it that simply by changing your thoughts you can achieve anything you want. If you think in a certain way, you’ll begin to act accordingly and you’ll be getting closer to achieving your goal. The following thirteen steps are recommended:

  1. Desire.
    You need to truly want to achieve what you set out to do.
  2. Faith.
    You need to believe you can do it.
  3. Autosuggestion.
    You repeat your objectives to yourself so much you get crazy. I mean they become a part of you. Or something
  4. Specialized knowledge.
    Knowing something unique is key. Note that it doesn’t have to be you knowing it, it can be people in your “Master Mind” (see below).
  5. Imagination.
    You need to be able to imagine that what you set out to do is possible. You need to be able to imagine yourself in the future in the role you dream of.
  6. Organized planning.
    You need to have a clear and detailed plan of how you want to achieve your goal.
  7. Decision.
    You need to be able to make decisions and act on them rather than procrastinate. Reaching decisions promptly and changing them slowly is encouraged.
  8. Persistence.
    “You should carry on despite all opposition until you attain your goal.”
  9. Power of the Master Mind.
    You need to form a group of people that will help you reach your goal from one reason or another.
  10. The mystery of sex transmutation.
    You should transmute your sexual energy to power that will support your goal.
  11. The subconcious mind.
    You should train your mind to be positive and focused on your goal.
  12. The Brain.
    Your should stimulate your brain to reach a high rate of vibration because this way it will become “highly receptive to ideas it picks up from the ether.”
  13. The Sixth Sense.
    You don’t want to know about this one.

Let me tell you how this translates to me:

  1. Desire.
    You need to be motivated. The best strategy here is to do something you’d enjoy even if it didn’t help you reaching your goal.
  2. Faith.
    You need to be self-confident. You don’t set out to do impossible, so you are able to do it. Don’t lose hope.
  3. Autosuggestion.
    Well I dunno. You need to be focused, sure. I’d stay there though.
  4. Specialized knowledge.
    Yep, pretty clear I’d say.
  5. Imagination.
    This might be actually more important that I’d thought. Brave ambitions must be outside of your “comfort zone;” it must be something that is not immediately natural to you. But you need to believe it can be done and for that you indeed need a lot of imagination.
  6. Organized planning.
    This is crucial and I’m actually glad this book reminded me of this. It seems to me now that it has to make things so much easier if you not only set the goals, but also clearly define the steps how you want to get there. Napoleon Hill suggests in the book the plan to be very detailed. If you try to write such a plan, you’ll see that seeing the “intermediate steps” on paper make your goals much more probable and real in your mind.
  7. Decision.
    Don’t procrastinate. Act. I’m not sure about the “changing decisions slowly” part, but I understand it in the way that if you have a clear goal in mind, you don’t change your decisions every day.
  8. Persistence.
    Haha. The famous quote “Winners never quit and quitters never win” Seth Godin picks on in his book I read recently comes from this chapter. And what Seth says is “depends.” But he also admits that if you are sure that what you’re doing is working, you need to persist and get through hard times because if it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth it.
  9. Power of the Master Mind.
    Very important. You need to have people around that help you and benefit from helping you because that keeps them motivated.
  10. The mystery of sex transmutation.
    This is the first time I’ve heard about this and found it quite interesting. The chapter doesn’t give anything specific on this topic though. How can you use your sexual energy to come up with revolutionary ideas thus remains unknown. I think I’ll keep using my sexuality in the traditional way…some people will appreciate it that’s for sure..
  11. The subconcious mind.
    OK next.
  12. The Brain.
    This might not be that silly as it sounds, but is probably quite hard. I’ll keep it in mind though.
  13. The Sixth Sense.
    This was the weirdest thing ever.

It wasn’t that bad after all. I ended up having two clear goals for the next two years on paper. And it really feels they are closer to me now. Having the end of the year around the corner, I suggest you to do the same.

[A book read] The Dip

In Uncategorized on November 25, 2007 at 11:19

I finally got around to buying a copy of Seth Godin’s latest book The Dip. I read a lot about it on the book’s blog before, but finally bought it when I was in the States a few weeks ago and read it while waiting for the planes back (it is a very short book).

If you skim through the Squidoo lens, you’ll have a pretty good idea what the book is about. The old saying is winners never quit. However, the book says it is OK to quit if you realize you’re in a dead end and what you’re doing doesn’t get you any nearer to your goal. It is OK to stop doing what you’re doing and change strategy.

The obvious problem and the actual difficult skill here is how to realize when to keep pushing (and not to stop just because things are too hard) and when to quit. And no, the book doesn’t answer that. Apart from saying you should come up with a metric and measure your progress towards your goal. If the numbers don’t get any better, quit.

The following quote summarizes the book for me (p. 68):

“Quitting as a short-term strategy is a bad idea. Quitting for the long term is an excellent idea.”