dec 04 2014

I was talking to the owner/manager of my favorite restaurant this morning over breakfast.

He noticed I was having a hard time cutting the pizza dough that they put under their eggs benedict. (It's a pizza joint at night. But they also have breakfast pizzas. I digress.) We started joking about ways to fix it. Half-jokingly, I said he should bring me a steak knife. He was horrified. "I /could/ do that, but I'd much rather just fix the dough itself. If you don't need a steak knife, you shouldn't have one." A fair point.

This got us talking about expectation-setting in restaurants. He hesitated to give me a steak knife because, in his experience, "When you give people a steak knife, they expect what you give them to be really tough." In other words, it primes them!

At his previous restaurants, he said, they would give steak knives out for veal scallopini, which you're supposed to be able to eat without a knife altogether. Maybe this was intentional, maybe this was out of habit, he wasn't sure. Either way, they noticed that people were actually sending perfectly good cuts of meat back because they thought they were too tough. Sending them back!

Where else does this happen in restaurants? 1. Table cloths. If you sit down at a table with tablecloths, he said, you'll sit up a little straighter and expect a fancier meal. 2. Wine glasses in the place setting. Our friend hates this one. He says restaurants do it partly because of tradition — but also because it primes you to order a bottle of wine (and, in doing so, up your check size).

For its part, GG's includes a little ceramic dish of sugar packets in the place settings at brunch. Without fail, we always order coffee.

nov 26 2014

Here's a job description for the team of non-technical people I never got to build at Branch:

The Branch People Team

We help our team understand the people who use our products and how to communicate with them better.

Our team takes its name in part from the saying, “People not numbers.” At Branch, we think it’s important to remember that our users are people — not numbers on a spreadsheet or lines on a graph. Their stories and experiences can (and should!) inform what we build and how we build it, and we think that learning from them is as vital to building great products as are engineering and design.

Day to day, this role takes many forms.

Externally, we try to communicate our products to people in a way that highlights what makes them special. We work with the product team to write site copy and external messaging, and make sure people know we’re listening to what they have to say, whether it’s in a tweet, in an email, or on their own blog.

Internally, we work to better understand the people who use our products and communicate what we learn about them back to the design and engineering teams. To do this, we use both qualitative user research and quantitative data with the goal of challenging our assumptions and directly improving the products we build.

If you love talking to people, love asking questions, and love improving — whether it’s your skills, your product, or your company — you belong on the Branch People team. Say hi.

nov 20 2014

The best content creators are in New York, but everybody has ideas.

nov 18 2014

How profitable does a business need to be for it to be worth building?

A lot of people like to ask: "Is this a media company or is this a technology company?" I've always thought this was a stupid question, but there's probably a lesson in there somewhere. Let's try to find it.

I've always thought this was largely a question of values: What do these people value? How do they approach problems? These are good (and important) questions. They have a big impact on who you hire and how you allocate resources.

The more cynical interpretation is that it's also a question of outcomes: How well can this company do? How big can it get? How ambitious are they?

  1. There might be a semantic trick here: Media is really just information. Information is scalable. Google.com gets you information.
  2. But Google.com is built on top of existing formats. It can only be as good as the stuff underneath it. The places it sends you to.
    1. Now they're formatting some stuff of their own, but it's mostly all the easy stuff: Sports scores, weather reports, stock prices. Definitions, too, but they mostly just scrape something random from Wikipedia.
    2. Google isn't good at the kind of stuff that humans create.

To me, this looks like an opportunity to move up the value chain: Up toward where the media is made. Up toward where the information gets created, before it's processed and packaged and sent out for delivery. I think it's important to make better sausage.

I wish this was aligned with profitability more than it is. I hope there's a way to make it more aligned.

Will it ever be as profitable to make the sausage as to deliver it? Does this make it any less admirable a thing to do?

I guess something can be admirable even if it's not a good investment opportunity.

nov 18 2014

Some things I've been thinking about lately:

  1. anti-authoritarianism
  2. what it means to be a critic or to critique
  3. freedom of expression
  4. freedom of speech
  5. freedom of assembly ("right to be organized")
  6. creativity
  7. values
  8. corporate means a body of bodies
  9. freedom
  10. liberty
  11. privacy
  12. freedom versus liberty versus privacy
  13. access to information
  14. openness
  15. rights
  16. democracy
  17. participation
  18. individualism
  19. community

nov 18 2014

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about unconventional roles.

I have them, to some degree, in both my professional and personal lives. I have only recently realized this.

At work, most of my roles have been ambiguous ones. In some cases, that means it's part of my job to come up with my job description. In others, it means they were created "just for me." At Branch, as the only non-technical member of the team, it meant that I had to constantly rengotiate my role relative to the company's ever-changing priorities. This happened in big ways and small ones.

I became elastic.

In my personal realationships, I have also negotiated unconventional roles for myself and for my partners. All that is infinitely more nuanced than professional roles, of course, but I've realized that many of the tacit agreements that exist in my friends' relationships don't exist in mind. Not even close.

I'm not sure where to put agency here: Did I seek these roles out? I'm not sure.

There are upsides and downsides:

  1. Upsides: I like the idea that I can negotiate myself into a role I want to be in. I can count on fluidity. It's liberating. It's also forced me to learn how to figure out what it is I want, and also to communicate and, eventually, advocate for it. I no longer fear ambiugity. "Through chaos comes opporunity."
  2. Downsides: Elasticity is a tax. Mostly, it's a tax on your creative energy. It is exhausting to renegotiate your space and function and status again and again. If you stretch a rubber band enough, it wears out.

I am more sure of this set up personally than professionally. I've thought about telling myself to try another kind of professional role for a while: One that's clear and defined and has a low risk of changing. Maybe that would enable me to accomplish more. Maybe not.

nov 18 2014

It's really hard to be honest on the internet.

I am going to use this as a place to be honest.

oct 4 2014

This is the first time I've ever put something I made on the internet!

Like with going anyplace, I learned a lot just by getting here. Here are some things I understand better now:

  1. Why people felt so comfortable on the web, back when it was all like this. It is so quiet here.
  2. How much ownership matters. Here, I'm an owner. But in most other places, I only rent. This leaves me at the mercy of mostly benevolent (but occasionally grouchy) internet landlords who, like their real world counterparts, don't take very kindly to painting the walls.
  3. What hit counters are for. I know lots of people could find this, but I trust that most of them won't. Am I wrong? Is everyone here, but I just can't see them because the house lights are down? Hello?
  4. How you'd want to share the web and the places you create there with everyone and no one at the same time. This often gets conflated with issues of community, but I sense that it goes much deeper than that. The impulse is very territorial and, in a way, colonial.
  5. That your computer's Terminal, like your city's, is built to take you places. (Like Paul's little server.) Somehow that idea had never occurred to me, although it now seems obvious. Metaphors!

Coincidentally, this is also the first time I've put writing on the internet in (too) many months. (See, that wasn't so hard, now was it?)

Say hi on Twitter: I'm @libbybrittain over there.