Monthly Archives: October 2006

Comment on Joelonsoftware blog–Book Review: Beyond Java

Book Review: Beyond Java

I like most of Joel’s stuff. But I just feel he should appreciate a little more of the “new stuff” such as agile programming, java, python and so on (it is a general feeling I feel he has by reading most of his blogs). Here Joel cited No Silver Bullet as his reason of standing against those new things.

“It’s probably because we read No Silver Bullet, a stunningly important essay from way back in 1986, by Frederick P. Brooks (he of Mythical Man-Month) that has proven again and again to be spot-on.

Programming consists of overcoming two things: accidental difficulties, things which are difficult because you happen to be using inadequate programming tools, and things which are actually difficult, which no programming tool or language is going to solve.”

Well, I read Mythical Man-Month too. I was surprised that Frederick P. Brooks has predicted agile methodologies so many years ago. In other words, agile programming is following exactly what Frederick P. Brooks had outlined as possible solution/improvement to programming.

With all that said, I can understand Joel’s sentiment against agile programming and so on. But just because some people abuse these terms, it doesn’t mean Joel should discredit these new things.

Don’t know why there is no place to comment on Joel’s blog. So I have to comment on my own blog.

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Reading the book: The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture

I am reading halfway through the book about google titled: The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture. It certainly provides a lot of insider stories about silicon valley that would be hard for me to know without this book. More importantly, it gave me more concrete experiences of building IT startups in US, with all the difficulties and opportunities I should expect. It is like the kind of books (for example, Zeng Xianzi) I read in China that helped me get some basic understanding of doing business in China. In term of learning theory, books like this serves as scaffolding knowledge for beginners, while the real practice in society serves as the activities in so called Activity Theory that will shape your real thinking, and make you keep improving yourself by reflecting on your practices. Anyway, below is what I felt about reading this book.

It certainly makes me appreciate more of google’s position as the totally dominant search engine of the Internet. Yes, google is just the guy in the joke who wants to download the whole Internet. But google actually did it. This is really an awesome job. Imagine google downloaded the whole Internet and indexed it! (Well, who has an idea what fraction is google’s repository of the whole internet?) With the whole Internet in its repository and can be searched quickly, certainly that is a big asset. Furthermore, the author illustrates all the advertising techniques google can leverage by combining with other channels. I haven’t thought that far yet. But is the author exaggerating too much?

I’ve always dismissed google as a search company. Well, I should have appreciated more of a search engine as the gateway to all the scattered (distributed) websites on the Internet. But I did have my reasons to dismiss google. It is just a search engine, anyway. There is really not a lot of revolution or innovation there. The Internet and web, to me, offered endless space for creation than merely a search engine. What web2.0 differs from web1.0 is that web2.0 taps into that endless creativity and possibility. For web1.0, most of it is just a process of digitalization, moving traditional stuff online. That is it. But for web2.0, it is creating things that we don’t have in the past. Web2.0 is really in the true sense breaking all the physical limitations. Google’s grand mission to organize and deliver information globally, to me, is not that grand at all, at least not compared to what is hopeful to be brought about by what is dubbed web2.0. To me, the great hope of Internet and web bring to us, is not merely access to information (although it is certainly an important part), but more importantly or correctly is to leverage cooperation. The history of human being can be summarized as a history of how people organize/cooperate together. We formed various kinds of organizations in the history. Internet and web will change fundamentally the way human being organize together, by breaking down the elements and reassembling the elements through various forms in the fearless pursuit of the core values, being it free market, journalism, public administration, or learning.

Web1.0, in this view, provided merely one way for people to cooperate, e.g. through links. Thus google took advantage of such inputs of cooperation by people across globe in its search algorithm of PageRank. Web2.0, however, added more ways for people to participate in this global cooperation. People participate more deeply in this global cooperation through web2.0. Tagging, as I said before, combined with links, can be very powerful. Actually, link is just one kind of tagging. Tagging is the more general form. So instead of just tagging it with a link, you can tag it with anything. Also you can tag anything. There are more ways of tagging things than what we have used so far. (To go deeper, actually we are conducting exactly the activities of living center forming patterns as theorized in the book Nature of Order.) Let me come back from the deep theoretic things to easy things now. To put it simply, tagging provides more easy ways for people to participate in the cooperation globally. Thus we now have a way for people to cooperate in various specific domains such as bookmarking, photo sharing, reviewing and so on. Tagging is a very good way to collect inputs from many people. Through global cooperation, we are able to tap deeply into the core values of various domains.

If just for search, I think google is more like a web1.0 company. The book confirmed my suspicion of google. As I have known for a long time, its founders cannot be counted as very great people, at least not compared with many great people I know in China, in term of broad and deep knowledge and life experience. (Or just compare them to Bill Gates and Dell. Both gates and Dell’s success is the result of long time pursuit since their childhood. They had a vision, and they persisted. Finally their vision paid off. But google’s success is more like accidental than a long time pursuit. The two founders discovered the idea of PageRank accidentally and at the beginning they didn’t know what to do with it. Simply, from what I have read, the google guys didn’t have a vision, at least at the beginning.  Although I trust some of my friends who lack vision. I generally trust people more if they have a vision. Especially for people who I have never met, I can trust them solely based on their vision. ) Their creativity is certainly not very impressive. The AdWord actually copied the model from Overture. Google was put into the category of web2.0 company by O’Reilly mainly because it figured out a way of making profits on the Internet. But this credit should actually go to that creative mind in Overture. What google should be credited for is probably their always customer first motto: don’t do evil. But this motto actually doesn’t always hold true for google either. Googel’s motto should actually be called “Don’t do evil (unless you are going to lose a lot of money)”. (Well, here is a philosophical question. Adam Smith argues that the grand mission of businessman is to pursue maximum profit. And by pursuing maximum profit, the businessman contribute maximally to society. The capitalism, as designed by Adam Smith, is a great design for people to cooperate with each other through free market. I do think it is a very great design. But is the free market always inline with moral values? Moral values, such as good and evil concepts used by google, are always non-scientific to me. What kind of market is real free market that will really align with moral values? I figured the Internet and web will play a very big part in bringing about the free market) In google’s China deal, there are better approaches to handle it. But anyway, if google claims “Do no evil”. Then that claim should mean something. If google gives an excuse of losing market, then it should change its motto to: “Don’t do evil (unless you are going to lose a lot of money)”, or discard its motto and tell everyone google is just using a mathematical function in guiding its conduct: putting all the inputs into the function, if the result is greater than 0, then do no evil. If not, do evil. Anyway, I always feel this kind of good and evil thing doesn’t stand looking deeper into it. It always messes you up.

PageRank and the scalable infrastructure to support massive database are great tech. These are what the two founders of google should be given credit for. They should also be given credits for a little belief in serving customers. However, my understanding of computer science is as a bridge between physical science and human science. If google just stays as a search company, I wouldn’t care about it much.

Only recently, I started to admire google, but not for their search. It is because of their adoption of open source model in their workforce. Well, I don’t know whether they are intentionally pursuing this direction. But it is the direction I would love to explore. It is revolutionary in releasing people’s creativity and let them cooperate creatively. It is only in this sense that I admire them. I would love to think they transformed from a merely a search company to a company really representing the promise of Internet and web.

Anyway, always solute to the winners.

BTW, the food in BN starbucks is really bad. I have to put up with it to save time.

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