Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My 18 months working at The Washington Post

December 19, 2013.

Yesterday was my last day as an employee of The Washington Post. I completely enjoyed working for a great institution. I've dedicated nearly the last 20 years to two foundations of democracy: newspapers and public education. The last 18 months at The Washington Post were great.

I’m very proud of the work I did on the mobile web version of The Washington Post. You can see it when you go to http://m.washingtonpost.com on your phone. On a desktop browser you can see it by going to http://m.washingtonpost.com/settings and setting mobile version. I came in late to the project and the initial development work was done by David Young and Thad Cox. I learned a lot from both of them. We were part of a great team. No other paper’s mobile web application supports offline reading as well as The Washington Post and has the performance this feature provides.

Live sports scores and other content like Post Pulse and Topicly are displayed in this version using wpwidgets. This is a technology that I developed and expect it will be used as long as the current platform is supported. It was one of my better accomplishments.

I am very proud of the implementation of comments on mobile web. I love the performance and the clean display using Joey Marburger’s design and Sean Soper’s excellent Argus platform. I came away believing adopting graph database technology to comments will revolutionize web comments especially with paywalls. That is for the future.

Another accomplishment was the 2012 Election Night coverage that was designed specifically for mobile. I had the privilege of working with the very talented Katie Park on this project. Nodejs was used on the backend to convert the Associated Press election results API into SVG maps. These were then converted into PNG maps on Amazon Web Services for mobile. Various techniques were used to take advantage of cache but still provide the latest results. One take away was that no news organization can report on elections without JavaScript.

Duncan Graham became a good friend at The Post. We worked together to host The Washington Post JavaScript Users Group. It was out of these meetings that I developed the concept of JavaScript Journalism and hoped that it could be a common vision for the newsroom and IT.

The final item I want to mention is the concept app called PostDeck. I’ll write up more details in a separate post. I completely enjoyed developing this design and tablet vision of a large newspaper. The feedback from my fellow developers was appreciated.

The Washington Post is very innovative and the entire industry has huge opportunities ahead. I wish my former colleagues the best. Thanks to all the staff, not just the ones mentioned above, for a great 18 months. I’ll miss working with you and look forward to seeing your great work for years to come.

I will be moving on to develop my own apps at http://daly-apps.com. I'll post more about these web apps separately. 

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Bezos Getting $175 Million Membership Value in The Washington Post

With the purchase of The Washington Post by Jeff Bezos, he is acquiring a 'membership' alone that has a value of $175 million. He is also purchasing many other assets for his $250 million.

For the last year at The Washington Post, I've argued internally that paywalls turn readers into members of The Washington Post. Paywalls turn newspapers into membership organizations. In other words, the subscriber database transforms into a very valuable digital membership database. For many internet companies this is their primary value. The membership profile of a Washington Post reader is richer and thus much more valuable than most internet memberships.

While paywall revenue is certainly valuable, the real value in a paywall is acquiring a credit card number for each member. Having a credit card on file for readers completely transforms the newspaper business model.

Paywalls turn newspapers into e-commerce operations. 

This is easily understood in looking at how digital ads will change. Any ad can now have a 'buy me now' button with a credit card on file. This substantially reduces the 'friction' in converting an ad viewer into a customer. The staff selling ads now has a much different job selling a product into a 'news app store'.

In a print newspaper you read the same ads as everyone else. When reading a newspaper online the ads (or products) are targeted based on your profile. The better the profile, the better the targeting and the value of the ad. With a credit are on file the profile is even richer. The depth of a newspaper membership is a marketer's dream.

The online profile also allows The Washington Post to be competitive in some markets again. For example, many believe that newspapers have lost the classified ad business to Craigslist. The Post's membership profile is stronger that Craigslist leading to several opportunities.

The value of a credit card on file can be approximated. In the tablet marketplace revenue comes not only from the hardware sale but from app store sales. When HP launched their ill-fated tablet, having a credit card on file was so valuable that they gave away $50 in merchandise just for putting a credit card on file in their app store. When Android was launched, Google received a lot of criticism because of the low number of customers with credit cards on file for their app store. Amazon was able to instantly create an app store because they had credit cards on file. This is ample evidence of the value of having a online profile with a credit card on file.

How did the $175 million figure come from? I believe that The Washington Post can easily get credit cards on file for one million members. This is based completely on extrapolating publicly available circulation numbers and online traffic. This is not based on any internal numbers. (In fact I have very limited access to any numbers at all in my job.) The number of subscribers and revenue from Apple's app store are available. These rough numbers suggest an estimated contribution of $175 per member to Apple's valuation. So I used this figure to value The Washington Post membership. While the $175 figure may be high, the member estimate is probably low. 

I think Bezos purchase of The Washington Post will accelerate the transformation of the newspaper business model that I think was inevitable. The biggest personnel impact will be in expanding IT department because of the importance to build the online profile. Next, as I explained above, will be a change in advertising sales.

My work at The Washington Post is coding primarily for mobile web. You see my work when you visit washingtonpost.com with your phone's browser. I've took this job just over a year ago. The views here are my own.

Personally, I'm excited to see the newspaper transformation from the inside. The Washington Post is known to foster innovation. Many people will now be interested in working here and I'm already here.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

JSConf 2013 in Review

JSConf, as several others agree, is a great and important conference. It keeps getting better each of the last five years. This post focuses on this year's presentations and the cumulative effect of the talks. When possible, I'll link to the slide deck. (Videos will come in a few months.) There were too many to review them all.

First, the Web is the platform. JavaScript is the VM. Brendan Eich in his talk, JavaScript Is 18, showed the game "Unreal Tournament" running in the browser without a plugin. Written in C++, the target was ASM.js. Everything will be either written in JavaScript or compiled (built) to JavaScript. Yes, everything! His slides do a nice job of showing how the web stack has grown.

This is not saying that JavaScript replaces C++. As Brendan pointed out, ASM.js is not meant to be hand coded but a target. So if I was writing in another language, I'd want to make sure it could be "compiled" to JavaScript or I'd write it in JavaScript. Note, two days prior he gave the same talk at Fluent which is available on video. "Always bet on JS."

Second, because a build phase is now fairly common JavaScript and CSS are intertwined. For example, you can tweak you JS for performance, but you still have to be concerned with the performance of your CSS. Nicole Sullivan's Creating Living Style Guide reinforced this. She provided hard numbers (60% faster to first byte and 11% increase in page views) for refactoring an existing site's CSS. She suggested using Grep, CSSLint or CSSCSS to look for duplicates. Other talks like Adobe's TopCoat  and Rebecca Murphey's Optimizing for Developer Delight (in her "Build Everything" section) also emphasized this.

Third, there is math. College level stuff like linear algebra and matrix manipulations. Raquel Velez @rockbot rocked the house with her talk AI.js: Robots with Brains. She is now a contributor to the Johnny-Five library for Arduinos and was a leader for the NodeBots day. One of the talks that generated the most buzz during JSConf was Making WebGL Dance by Steven Wittens. I'm just starting to go through the slides because I was in track B during this talk. (jdalton's performance talk also got buzz.)

Fourth, responsive design took some serious hits. For most people it means one code base using media queries to use different parts of the css or js to produce different layouts. Brian Leroux who is working on Topcoat at Adobe emphasized we may never be at the point that serving one set of files provides the best experience. Adobe open sourced their research.  Topcoat has desktop and mobile versions. In DOMkata: The Dark Art of Mobile Web during CSSConf Mike Stamm, WSJ mobile web lead, showed the difficulties determining just browser width.

Angelina Fabbro presented JavaScript Masterclass: How you you go from being a good developer, to a great one? This was one of my favorite talks. I've recently started considering myself a below average JavaScript coder because about 50% of us are. It provides a new perspective. One of the reason's I attend hackaton's is to see how I am doing. She created nice checklists that are useful to figure out how you want to grow as a coder.

Boom! Promises/A+ Was Born: The story of Promises/A+ told by Domenic Denicola was inspiring (liveblog). It was an interesting analysis of the JavaScript community because it shows how to get things done starting as one person. His checklist on "What made the Promises/A+ effort work so well" is a step by step guide for anyone. I especially like how the testing was such a key part.

Angus Croll added seven more authors to his previous literary figures writing JavaScript. Hilarious presentation that forces you to examine one's own writing style.

yayQuery's appearance at JSConf was LOL for nearly a full 30 minutes. Showed Best of Video. Hilarious. In 2010 I had at the pleasure  to sit at the same table as them along with Brendan Eich. As I said then, "Clearly the next generation of javascript and funny." Rebecca Murphy, Paul Irish, Adam Sontag and Alex Sexton all continue to make significant contributions to the JavaScript community.

The day between the talks harkened back to the first JSConfs where the same people sat together all day. This year I was at a table was in the NodeBot event. Every participant (attendee) at JSConf receive an Arduino. Our team built a robot arm that typed "helloworld.js" (second video). My teammates deserve most of the credit: Bryan Hughes, Mike Surowiec and Rahul Ravikumar. Every reason to believe that they will have as much success as my yayQuery tablemates have had. Revived memories of my electrical engineering and breadboarding days. Thanks to Rick Waldron, Raquel Velez, Sarah Chipps and other for leading this.

Other talks were also significant. I missed most of the Track B talks. Also missed several of the CSSConf talks. And a few of the talks were so code heavy that I'll have to sit with the presentations to really understand them like Master the CLI with Node and schema liberation with json and plv8. Thanks to all the presenters who took great efforts to make a presentation.

Finally, thanks to all the people with kind words for my talk on JavaScript Journalism, The New ProfessionSimeon Willbanks, Kevin Old, Kevin Lamping, Mark Gayler, Trevor Landau, Francesco Rizzi, Roger Raymond and many, many others including my Dad. I apologize for not mentioning others by name.  It was an honor be in Track A and thrilling to present a unique perspective on JavaScript.

I am seriously considering leading a JS Journalism Conf in fall 2013. Let me know if you are interested.

Other diaries and comments:
James Long
JSConf Storify by Azat
EndPoints Blog
Bryan Hughes Day 1 (with nice comment on my talk), Day 2 (about our robot), Day 3

You Should Speak At JSConf

My other JSConf posts since 2010.

Monday, June 03, 2013

ToDo After JSConf 2013

After every JSConf I have created a list of things I want to learn. For example, in 2010 nodejs topped the list. Once again this year the list is public:

  1. three.js
  2. BEM naming convention
  3. WebRTC - see Remy Sharp
  4. Casper.js, spooky.js and schoolbus.js for node - if good enough for jeb
  5. vektor.js - for robots
  6. asm.js - actual docs, not articles
  7. topcoat.io
  8. csscss
  9. creative.js
  10. more grunt

Friday, May 31, 2013

JSConf Differences Since 2009

JSConf 2013 is the fifth annual event. Here are 5 differences that I've noticed since then.

  1. Less need for power strips. Everyone has Macs with good batteries.
  2. More diversity. Keeps improving.
  3. JS Everywhere continues. Almost only JS on browser 5 years ago. No robots, etc.
  4. Track B room is bigger than the entire room for 2009.
  5. More people have JS jobs. 
What has not changed is the humor of yayQuery, quality of the speakers or excellence of the Williams and volunteers.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

JavaScript Journalism Examples

Examples of JavaScript Journalism from my presentation at JSConf 2013  are now on http://jsjournalism.com. These examples are from around the United States and one from France. The presentation will be there later today (5/29).

Monday, February 25, 2013

"They Became What They Beheld" by Edmund Carpenter or Marshall McLuhan?

One of my favorite books is They Became What They Beheld (1970) by Edmund Carpenter and photographed by Ken Heyman. The origin has been a bit of a mystery.

In the note above the copyright of the book it states:
The text owes much to Marshall McLuhan who, in fact, co-authored an earlier version. We are indebted to the authors quoted and their publishers, and to Harper's Bazaar in which some portions of the material appeared.
The obituary for Edmund Carpenter in The New York Times on July 7, 2011, included this paragraph:
His collaborations with McLuhan included numerous jointly written articles and the anthology “Explorations in Communication” (1960). The article “Fashion Is Language,” which appeared under McLuhan’s name in a special McLuhan issue of Harper’s Bazaar in 1968, was actually written by Mr. Carpenter after McLuhan went into the hospital for brain surgery. It was published in book form, in 1970, under Mr. Carpenter’s name, with the title “They Became What They Beheld.”

There is a footnote in McLuhan is Space: A Cultural Geography (2003) by Richard Cavell which states:
Edmund Carpenter suggest that he was the author of the Haper's article, though when it appeared in an altered version as part of Carpenter's They Became What They Beheld (1970), Carpenter credits McLuhan's input into the volume. See Carpenter's Remembering Explorations,' Canadian Notes and Queries 46 (Spring 1992): 3-15; reprinted in a slightly different form in Theall's Virtual Marshall McLuhan.
So I went to "The Not-So-Silent Sea," Appendix B of Virtual Marshall McLuhan where Edmund Carpenter wrote:
Harper's Bazaar commissioned Marshall to write a special McLuhan issue. He was about to undergo surgery. The fee was large & needed. Not a word had been written, not a photograph assembled. On Friday, the publisher warned me: if an acceptable manuscript wan't in his hands by 9 a.m. Monday, the contract was cancelled. It arrived on time and appeared under Marshall's name. Three years later it appeared as a book, They Became What They Beheld, under my name.
Out of curiosity I will probably buy the April 1968 issue of Harper's Bazaar from ebay. But given the above information, it is pretty clear to me that Edmund Carpenter deserves the credit for both works.

I think of these two works and Understanding Media as collaborative efforts of two brilliant men and very close friends. In the former, Carpenter completed the work, in the later, McLuhan completed the work. Collaboration is difficult in print and authorship is not always an easy definition.  

In my opinion, They Became What They Beheld deserves the same respect as any McLuhan book. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

JSConf 2013 Speaker: JavaScript Journalism

I'm honored to be accepted as a speaker at JSConf 2013. I'll be speaking on JavaScript Journalism.

It is time that news stories told with JavaScript get recognized as a form of journalism. It took years for photo journalism to get the recognition it deserves, now is the time to recognize JS Journalism. 
Most news organizations presented election news using JavaScript. News home pages often have more JS than text. 
A bit of history. A bit of academia. A bit of current news. A few guesses about the future. But nothing about the future of newspapers.
UPDATE: Here is the slide deck and examples.