An Open Letter to Internet Job Recruiters

The nice thing about having a blog is that you can pour your unfiltered frustration into it and walk away self-satisfied. Warning, this is one of those posts.

Dear New York City Internet Job Recruiters,

I’ve met several of you over the years, and many more lately now that the demand for talented people has outstripped the supply. For the most part, you are pretty nice people who are willing to go the extra mile to consider a good match of person and job and maybe even career, unlike the IT headhunters I knew in the early 90’s that were mostly middle men for resumes.

But, I have two giant gripes with the way you’re working these days:

1. Don’t ask me to do your job for you.
Yes, I know a lot of people, and yes I like helping them find new opportunities. But simply telling me about an open request you have tells me that you haven’t taken the time to build your network or don’t know how. Further, you’re being paid to do that, so if you want expert help you need to share a significant portion of your fee.

2. Great people are not found, they’re grown. There are simply not enough skilled workers to fill your jobs these days. This may be great news for you, but ultimately the companies you work for (and the clients they work for) will continue to suffer until you learn to cultivate good people. It’s easy to measure if a company knows how to do this, just look at the rate of employee turnover. If it’s under 5%, they do it well. If it’s over 10%, there are serious problems.

To illustrate the potential, I’ll tell you a story from the first dot com boom. I was working at a company that hired a certain smart guy as a receptionist. In between phone calls and signing for packages he taught himself javascript. Excellent, make him a developer. After a while doing that he wanted to be an information architect, so I trained him. At that point the company failed to keep engaging him, and he left to pursue a masters degree, where he formed a company with a classmate. Soon after his company was bought by Google.

That’s an extreme example, but I can tell plenty more about people hired that were not qualified, but had the right qualities, were smart, and got things done. A little training and encouragement made them qualified. But until your clients realize this and stop turning away good people, I’m done helping you.

Where’s the Hip Hop Culture Online?

chrysler300.jpeg Hip hop culture (at least here in America) has influenced not only our musical preferences but also our language, clothing, movies, and car styling. But you won’t see much of it online. The websites for hip hop artists resemble those for other artists, and the more innovative things are mostly done by us geeky white kids.

Why is this, and will it change? I asked my friend Elizabeth who’s familiar with both the online scene and hip hop. She says,

i’m not sure if the problem is available tools or simply culture and education. there are many tools available on the web. it may also be a difference in priorities. most of the people I know associated with “hip-hop” culture are more active/interested in making relationships in person and going to events vs. spending time online. online is just somewhere to sell things and post pictures and event invitations… maybe there is some web-evolution that cultures have to go to to adapt themselves to the web…?

I’m fascinated by the possibilities of hip hop infecting the web. And frankly I think the technology is a barrier to many low-income students. Rather than merely educate low-income students on tech issues, framing the offer as hip hop online — starting with what’s being done now like amplifying the functionality of event invites — could be more attractive and generative.

Five New SmartEx Classes in NYC + A Discount

After successfully launching Smart Experience this Summer with a prototype course, I’m very happy to have a stellar line up of teachers sharing their expertise this September and October. Here’s the class listing, and if you follow these links you’ll get a 10% Noise Between Stations reader discount…

Information Architecture 3.0
Oct 16 with Peter Morville

Interaction Design for Web Applications
Six sessions starting Sept 5 with David Malouf

Managing the Online-Offline Partnership
Oct 9 with David Wertheimer

Moving User Experience into a Position of Greater Corporate Influence
Sept 8 with Richard Anderson

Foundations of Interaction Design
Sept 12 with Karen McGrane

My Web Hosting Recommendation: Pair.com

Apparently a lot of people are suffering from downtime at Dreamhost lately. I’ve run one site with them and found everything they did frustrating, from the control panel to the uptime to the customer support. I’ve been a Pair.com customer since 1999 and love them. They’re not the cheapest, though when I consider they’ve had no downtime ever and I’ve only had to contact customer service once, that makes it quite a good value.

Feel free to use my affiliate code when signing up :-)

How to Manage Your Incoming Email

I haven’t had a chance to check out Mark Hurst’s newish book, Bit Literacy, but I was just listening to a talk he did for Ted a couple years ago on how to manage your incoming email, and I’m going to dive in and try it. Here’s the essential steps:

The overarching goal is to keep your inbox empty because inboxes are not good task lists. To get it empty in the first place, consider triage.

There’s four steps to follow:

  1. Go to the most important emails first, i.e. personal emails from family and friends. Get them out of the inbox by replying, forwarding, printing, filing, whatever.
  2. Go to the least important emails next — FYIs, Newsletters, etc. Read them now or delete them. Do not save them.
  3. Go to action items that require two minutes or less. Do each action item right now and delete or file the message.
  4. What’s left is action items that take longer than two minutes. Move these onto a proper to do list then file or delete.

Blow Open the Social Media Doors

David Pogue with some good ideas from everyday life:

It seems to me, though, that we haven’t even scratched the surface [of social media potential]… I was thinking about this — a LOT — as I lay in bed last week, sicker than I’d been in years. I hadn’t eaten for two days, and I was nervous about being well enough to travel to a speaking engagement the next day. (Is it just my imagination, or are the bugs getting a lot nastier these days?)

I kept thinking: Surely I caught this from somebody — somebody who now knows what this virus’s course will be.

When my kids come down with various horrible flu variations, and it gets bad enough to see a doctor, we often hear from the pediatrician: “Oh, yes, it’s going around. You’ll have vomiting for two days, and then you’ll get better.”

Well, gosh darn it, why couldn’t someone have told us?

The Tom Sawyer Effect — Old Media Fallacy?

Just when you think the traditional media is getting over their jealous gripe with new media we hear of the snarky Tom Sawyer Effect, websites that avoid the arduous task of painting the fence (creating content) and instead convincing your friends (customers) to pay for the priviledge of painting it themselves.

Point taken, some lame sites do ask too much of their customers. But after consulting to several different established media firms in my career I sense a lack of appreciation for the power of the application. Flickr doesn’t just succeed because people contribute photos — Snapfish and others did that long before. Flickr enhances that experience through use of design and enhances the photographic network through its API.

And the longer the publishing-centric companies ignore this fact, the longer they will fester in old business models that become increasingly irrelevent. A website that allows visitors to contribute content is a far cry from a platform like Daylife that allows customers to manipulate content.

Having the API Rug Pulled Out From Under You

John Hagel observes how “the large Internet players are wearying of the high acquisition premiums for attractive Web 2.0 companies and are increasingly deciding to grow their own copy when they see an interesting venture.” So if you’re a start-up, what’s your new exit strategy? Hagel says…

The only sustainable edge in Web 2.0, as in all businesses today, is to get better faster by working with others…

There are basically two ways to do this. First, you can accelerate the innovation in the services you offer so that you are constantly one or two (or more) steps ahead of those tempted to copy you. Second, you can find ways to use your service offerings to build trust-based relationships with your users, ideally with some powerful network effects that will make it very difficult for later entrants to pry these people away from your service.

Need Help Providing Internet Education to the Disadvantaged

The skinny here is that I’d like to work on correcting the uneven access to Internet jobs (great jobs, btw) by providing education to the disadvantaged. By disadvantaged I mean — here in New York City — mainly blacks and Hispanics, but generally those with lower income. I’m not sure how organizations who provide such services identify customers in this segment. I’ve already got some plans in the works for an educational service, and a small but important component of it is figuring out how to make the education available more widely.

Lately this has become a hotter topic in the blogosphere — with Kottke sparking a thread and Zeldman, Nick, Mike, and Anil supporting this point of view.

Someone asked, Where are the barriers then? Here’s a few:
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Netflix’s Competitive Advantage

I’m developing a new course, Introduction to Internet Business Strategy, that I’m pretty excited about. Ironically, though everyone in the Internet industry discusses strategy, it’s difficult to find any standard references on the topic. This presents a great opportunity for me to plunge in and synthesize the basics as well as to examine what role design has played so far.

Netflix home page One company I’m reverse engineering is Netflix. The store-less video subscription service claims to bethe world’s largest online movie rental service, providing more than 6.3 million subscribers access to more than 70,000 DVD titles.” They have an impressive physical presence too: “Netflix operates 42 shipping centers located throughout the United States… On average, Netflix ships 1.575 million DVDs each day.” And though they compete against giant Blockbuster as well as smaller chains and neighborhood shops as well as video-on-demand services, earnings have doubled each year the past three years.

So how do they do it?
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