The Starfish and the Spider

I don’t normally do this, but my friend John Lilly featured a book on his blog that sounds extremely interesting. I’m going to pick up a copy myself, but I thought I’d let other people know about it here as well.

John’s post can be found here:
The Starfish and the Spider, by Ori Brafman & Rod Beckstrom

John is a good friend of mine, and also currently happens to be the COO of Mozilla, makers of the ever cool Firefox browser. This is his personal blog, but hopefully he won’t mind a few extra page views today.

John & I pursued similar programs at Stanford, separated by two years. We were both Coordinators for the famous CS 198 program, and we both pursued a Master’s degree in Computer Science, with a focus on Human-Computer Interaction under Terry Winograd.

Like John, I haven’t read a good book on human-computer interaction and/or design in quite some time. But this one sounds extremely interesting and relevant. A quote from John’s summary:

The premise of this book is that there are a couple of very distinct models for organizations: centralized (the spider) and wholly decentralized (the starfish). The authors (Stanford GSBers, but worth reading in spite of that…) use this analogy: cut off the head of a spider and the spider dies. Cut off an arm of a starfish, and you often end up with two starfish. Starts by exploring the Spanish conquests of the Incas & Aztecs (spider organizations) and comparing them to the United States’ mostly ineffectual campaign against the Apaches (a starfish organization). The Apaches were harder to fight against because decisions weren’t made by any one person, but were made on what the US would have perceived as the edges — by medicine men who were empowered by their community. The strange thing (for the US, at any rate) was that whenever they killed any of these important people, more would spring up in their place. I thought it was interesting that the authors point to the US giving the Apaches cattle as something that ultimately led to the disintegration of their coherent society. (The implication here is that the sedentary nature of livestock & farming necessitated the creation of societal structures which were more centralized and less flexible — spider-thinking, where there was only starfish-thinking previously.)

Understanding the right organizational structure to produce truly excellent software is one of the reasons I pursued graduate programs in Human-Computer Interaction and Business.  With the incredible amount of innovation and dynamicism on the web and in e-commerce today, it’s an incredibly relevant subject.

I think I’m going to have to pick up a copy.

Firefox 2 Gets Some Attention

Mozilla Firefox 2 Logo

Nice post from Chad Alderson today about features he likes in Firefox 2.0.

Firefox 2 Owns

I’ve already posted about my favorite unsung feature in Firefox 2 – the ability to automatically recover all of your tabs in the case the computer or Firefox exits unexpectedly. It single-handedly saved me over 45 minutes of work one night as I was blogging.

Chad, however, has picked up on spell-check and better tab navigation as his favorite features.

I’m personally attached to Firefox because I have such close friends on Mozilla team. They have a tough problem – Firefox is clearly the front-runner and thought leader for modern browser design. Others can make significant progress through imitation – the Mozilla community has to really move in new directions to keep ahead of the pack.

Firefox really popularized tab browsing, so it’s not suprising to see that they are able to take the feature set to the next level. Enhanced navigation, session recovery are all insights you develop once you already have familiarity with tabbed browsing.

It’s very interesting to me to see which features people find useful in Firefox 2, and which features they love. I predict they’ll be separate lists. I think spell check is probably the most useful feature to date for me, but thanks to that one crash, the saved session is my favorite feature by far.

Kudos again to the Mozilla team for a great launch. If you haven’t already, go get Firefox 2!

Make Love, Not Warcraft

I found this posting of the South Park episode 1008, Make Love, Not Warcraft today on Tony Chor’s blog.

Make Love, Not Warcraft

If you hate South Park, don’t bother clicking. There is nothing so redeeming about this episode to change your mind. But, if you are a fan of online gaming, you might just find this episode to be hilarious.

The video is hosted at dailymotion.com here.

As a side note, Tony Chor is a friend from college who went into program management at Microsoft around 1990. He currently is the Group Program Manager for Internet Explorer 7, so they are all celebrating their recent release.

In a funny twist of fate, another friend of mine, Michael Schroepfer, is currently the VP of Engineering for Mozilla, responsible for Firefox 2.

Small world, huh?

Tony’s blog is here. Mike’s blog is here, although he hasn’t posted in a few months.

Mozilla Firefox 2.0 Beta 2 is Great!

First of all, let me just say that I’m very biased here.

I’m biased because:

  • I’m a former Apple employee and Mac lover. So it’s not likely that you’d find me posting great things about Internet Explorer.
  • I’m a former developer, and so I’m predisposed to be a fan of open source projects in general, and Mozilla Firefox is a real champion of this movement.
  • Two of my close friends are part of the management team of Mozilla.

But, I just had one of those moments – those rare bad moments that distinguish a great product from the merely good enough.

Here I am, writing a post for my blog that requires dozens of links. I’ve carefully opened them all in tabs, so I can paste them in, one-by-one.

I’m using Mozilla Firefox 2.0 Beta 2. Using Beta software is always risky – things happen. In this case, things did happen.

The browser quit, unexpectedly. Not unlike other browsers, like IE & Safari, which seem to quit randomly on a weekly basis.

I fire Firefox back up, dreading the over 45 minutes of lost work… and then I see a dialog. Do you want to restore your session, or start a new one? Apparently, your last session closed unexpectedly.

AMAZING. All my tabs are there. And, with a nod to WordPress.com, an auto-save of my blog post to boot.

WHAM. No work lost. No time lost. Back in the saddle, without a minute to spare.

So, to Michael Schroepfer, John Lilly, and the rest of the Mozilla team, hats off to you. Mozilla Firefox 2.0 is a great product.

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