Christian Heilmann

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Archive for December, 2008

Working in the now – video of my talk at Paris Web released

Friday, December 19th, 2008

Paris Web – one of my favourite conferences last year – just released all the videos of the presentations. Most of the presentations are in French, but mine is in English:

In the talk I advocated re-using components and systems we already have to work faster, deliver better and have less hardware and software overhead in doing so.

These are:

Translating or localising documentation?

Friday, December 19th, 2008

We just had an interesting meeting here discussing plans of how to provide translations of our documentations in different languages. I am a big fan of documentation and have given several presentations talking about the why and how of good docs. In essence the “good code explains itself” talk is a big fat arrogant lie. You should never expect the people using your code to be on the same level as you – that would defeat the purpose of writing code.

Fact is that far too much software has no proper documentation at all let alone translations into different languages. This is because there a few issues with translating documentation:

  • Price – translation is expensive, which is why companies started crowdsourcing it.
  • Quality – crowdsourcing means you need to trust your community – a lot (looking at Facebook’s translation app shows a lot of translation agency spam in the comments – not a good start)
  • Updating issues – in essence, you are trying to translate a moving target. With books, courses and large enterprise level software the documentation is fixed for a certain amount of time. With smaller pieces of software and APIs the docs change very frequently and you need to find a way to alert the translators about the changes. If you crowdsourced your translation this is a request on top of another request!
  • Keeping sync – different translations take a different amount of time. Translating English to German is pretty straight forward whereas English to Hindi or Mandarin is a tad trickier. This means that translations could be half finished when the main docs change – which is terribly frustrating to those who spent the time translating now outdated material.
  • Relevancy – your documentation normally spans your complete offer – however in different markets some parts of your product may not be available or make any sense. Translating these parts would be pointless, but it also means that tracking the overall progress of translation becomes quite daunting.

All of these are things to consider and not that easy to get around. Frankly, it is very easy to waste a lot of time, effort and money on translation. It makes me wonder if there really is a need for translation or if it doesn’t make much more sense to invest in a localisation framework. What you’d actually need to make your English product available for people in other locations is:

  • Local experts – this could be someone working for you or a group of volunteers that see the value of your product for their markets.
  • Easy access collaboration tools – this could be a wiki, a mailing list or a forum. Anything that makes it easy for people to contribute in their language and with their view of the world. If these tools make collaboration easy without having to jump through hoops people will help you make your product more understandable in their region.
  • A local point of reference – this could be a blog or small presence of your company in the local language or a collaboration with an already established local partner or group.
  • Moles – most international developer communities have their favourite hangouts already. Instead of building one that might not be used (not every country is going “wahey” when a US company offers them a new channel) it makes sense to have people who speak that language and that you trust be on these channels, listen to what people need and offer the right advice pointing to your documentation.

What do you think? do you have examples of where this is done well and what worked and didn’t work? Here are two I found:

TTMMHTM: Accessible Currency converter

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

And a nice quote from Carrie Fisher:

Even now, many years later, people are still asking me if I knew Star Wars was going to be that big a hit. Yes, of course I knew. We all knew. The only one who didn’t was the director, George Lucas. We kept it from him because we wanted to see what his face looked like when it changed expression.

On measuring evangelism success

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

I am right now in Santa Clara, California for the end of the year wrap-up and planning sessions of the Yahoo Developer Network. One thing I am realizing is that it is very tough to measure the success or really the impact of what an evangelist does. As my company does not have any commercial programs that tie with the offerings I talk about (all the APIs are free but some are limited to a certain amount of hits per day and there is no way to “buy” more – BOSS is working on that though) I don’t make the company any money.

What I do though is go out there and tell people about the things we have. On the flipside I get feedback from the outside world and see implementations of our work to feed back into the company. This is worth a lot – you cannot determine the quality of a product if you are the one who did it.

This is the same for every evangelist/advocacy role in any of the companies out there. The problem is that when reporting what you’ve done up the hierarchy in a company a lot of things get lost. Measuring the success of a company is a very tough job and it increases with the size of the company. This leads to terrible decisions being made (there will be another post about this here).

As an evangelist/advocate the hardest job is to tell people exactly what your impact was. A lot of what you do is planting mental seeds and inspiring people to work differently – that can’t be measured in hard figures. Other companies measure the success of an event for example by how many business cards were collected and have a department that follows these up by contacting people. I don’t like this much, first of all because a lot of the people I meet don’t have business cards but follow me on twitter instead and secondly because they gave me the card and not the company.

So in order to measure the success of any developer network we need your feedback and success stories of how what we’ve explained and shown has impacted your work. A blog post like this one on Yahoo Pipes makes me happy, as do tweets like this one.

While I am happily scrounging the web for these gems it is annoying that I need to do that. The biggest problem is that people are not commenting any longer. I don’t know why – personally I love to give a comment on where I found out some information. It keeps my concerns and the original message in context. When I twitter my personal view on something the 140 character limit and lack of original text will lead to information loss.

So my wishes from all of you on behalf of all the people in big companies organizing and supporting developer events (yahoo, microsoft, adobe, sun, paypal, ebay…) are following.

If you enjoy free information, swag, being able to directly reach internal experts and being able to network with a select group of like-minded people:

  • please leave comments on the blogs/announcement pages of the events (in our case the YDN blog and upcoming – a lot of people only look there and don’t have time to scrounge the web for all the info.
  • Use tags we provide at events to tag your photos, blog posts, tweets, videos…
  • Tell us about cool implementations and changes in your company based on what we talked about – we are happy to feature those and send you link love and there is nothing cooler than telling the world how someone else but us have done something cool with our stuff
  • If you sign up for an event – show up (or send a colleague). I am getting terribly sick of spending a lot of money to hire locations and have 150 sign up to the event in the first 10 minutes – effectively blocking out people that should be there – and then 20 show up! This is wasted time and money – and in the current climate that is not a clever thing to do.

I love my job and I am doing quite extensive work to make the IT industry understand that tech evangelism is not a waste of money but that there is a massive need for it. Marketing and PR departments just cannot reach geeks and internal geeks have neither the drive or the opportunities to talk to the world about the great things they do. I am very sure that innovation and change in IT is not coming from top down but from people who dare to talk to the right people to initiate change. As I put it in my talk at accessibility 2.0 geeks that care are the drivers of innovation and I don’t want to lose the opportunities we have right now.

When I started in IT events were massively expensive and I had to negotiate for months with my managers to get tickets. We are past this – thanks to developer networks and evangelists. I’d hate to see this go and developers falling back to being deliverers and not allowed to go out and play.

Media Interviews – or “How I became an accidental file sharing hero”

Monday, December 15th, 2008

Two weeks ago I went to Sweden to attend a geek meet and give a workshop at bwin. I didn’t know that me coming to Sweden was big news, but apparently this was the case and the people at creuna organized some interviews with me – one with the Internet World (still to be published) and one with Dagens Industri – the Swedish equivalent of the Financial Times.

Well, first of all I made sure that both understand that I was there as Chris – not as Yahoo, so all my views in these interviews are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Yahoo. This is important to point out as I cannot speak for Yahoo unless I officially say so.

Secondly I was pretty amazed how the one hour interview came down to me saying that illegal file sharing cannot be stopped. What happened was the following:

We started the interview with me explaining that I am here as Chris and for the geek meet – and that I will not comment on any Microsoft/Yahoo related debates (as the interviewer had brought printouts of this information).

We talked about:

  • how I get deja-vu moments of the first .com crash right now,
  • what I talked about at the geek meet (the importance of performance of your sites and how cool it is to play with the web’s data),
  • where development is going in general (there are a lot of free hosted services and data here, use them),
  • the idea of open source and how it empowers you to create innnovative software fast as the world is your testers and contributors and
  • we touched on file sharing and how the speed of the distribution is a great example of how we should distribute all our products on the web – something a lot of companies already do.

What came out of the interview is this (translated with Google translate – as the site has frames, this is a bit of a pain):

Yahoo-evangelists: “Illegal file sharing can not be stopped”
Chris Heilmann, Yahoo
The illegal file sharing can not stop because people will always find a way around laws and prohibitions. It says Yahoo-evangelist Chris Heilmann, and calls on companies to see the possibilities of illegal file sharing instead of trying to fight it. “This is an effective way to disseminate information across the world and should really be something one would have to pay for,” says he.
“I think it is better to join than to try to combat.”
Chris Heilmann are glad to work at Yahoo, which he considers to be an open business. As evangelists, he is having and developing new applications for Yahoo but he also goes around the world and lecturing. He always puts his lectures on the Internet and it is then open for others to use them.
“This has given me much back and people have translated my förläsningar free in a lot of different languages,” he explains.
As the author of four books has he himself had their works pirated copied and distributed online. He says that as soon as he releases a new book is the downloaded as a PDF file, the day after.
“I do not care and tells my publisher that it costs more than it gives to try to stop this. People who want to buy a book makes it and people who do not want a book download a pdf. This does not affect the reading or sales, “he said.
So you think companies should just accept this?
“Does this happen as it happens, I do not think you can stop. In the 1980s, could studios releasing the film on several different occasions around the world and earn money every time. They do not seem to have understood that the world does not look like longer, but the Internet has done so everyone can get the video when it comes out, “answers Chris Heilmann.
“Instead of embracing this and see it as an opportunity called everything from piracy and illegal file sharing.”
According to him, the copyright laws that often put to it, and he is tired of companies that obstruct the material and excludes certain countries from taking part of it. He thinks that the basic idea to the internet is freedom and openness and that people often forget about it.
He also seems to have an eye on the file-sharing debate that is ongoing in Sweden.
“Sweden is a great country in terms of copyright laws. Take, for example, Pirate Bay, which they have pursued for years without anyone has been able to do something about it,” he says.
“I do not understand what people do not understand – opening up is a good idea.”

Bit condensed, isn’t it? Then again, it doesn’t contain anything I don’t believe in – I would love to use and might even click their ads but as I don’t live in the US I can’t. I have to say I liked giving the interview and the interviewer was very interested in the whole concept of Open Source and Creative Commons – however, when I asked to get some of the photos they took of me I was told that that’s not the way they commonly work :)

Update: Apparently I missed a second post in the magazine where they cover the other bits we talked about :


“The situation is similar at the it-crash”
Updated 2008-12-14 09:36
Chris Heilmann – veteran of the IT industry and now “evangelists” on Yahoo – think that current market situation and then it-bubble burst similar. Now he is afraid that companies will save on the “wrong” things that stand. “As IT bubble burst ended companies that believe in their developers – people who built up the company’s technology lost its credibility. Now that companies are saving as much money, I can see in me a similar situation, “says Chris Heilmann to during a visit Sweden.
After the crash, it was the great lack of money from many big IT companies, which, according to Chris Heilmann led the people did not have the space to play with new ideas.
Chris Heilmann think it important that business now rather than save money by doing the right things, for example by making their staff and their products more efficient.
He also hopes that the IT companies spend their money on solutions that make people’s lives easier and not a lot of “nonsense”.
“Take Facebook for example, 90 percent of applications as there are types out to throw a sheep at someone or something similar. Such a thing will get attention and to withdraw the money in one month but does not help people at all”, he says.
He also advocate that more companies open up and share information on their systems. This allows creative people come up with solutions without companies even have to ask or pay.
Here he finds his own company Yahoo has come a long way. Yahoo recently began offering the opportunity for people to make use of free technology behind the company’s search engine to build their own. If it becomes a popular search engine, then Yahoo paid for the technology, or alternatively, a portion of advertising revenue.
“Yahoo has done this for a while now, our information is in principle free to use for everyone. I like this new approach and find it very brave of Yahoo. In ten years we have protected our information and our systems”, says Chris Heilmann.
What do you think that Google does better than Yahoo?
“I love such as Google Reader and do all my browsing through it. Then I think it was brave and well done to develop the browser Chrome,” he responds.
“I have no problem to tell people what I think Google does well, but compare itself with its rival all the time it is just a game. If Yahoo tomorrow is better than Yahoo today, so we have come nowhere.”
In the future, he thinks today’s portal – a sort of bulletin boards, which gathers information from various Internet – will die out. Instead, he thinks the sites are becoming more and more personal. He argues that this is the way to go if companies want to continue to make money from advertising.
“For me personally, there are too many different things such as Yahoo. I do not care about the weather in Palo Alto, or how the stock market yesterday, I just want to have news and my e-mails,” he explains.
“Companies must give people the chance to choose the type of information they want. Advertising can only succeed if you know what people are interested.”