Tag: Baltasar Gracián (page 1 of 3)

Using Twitter as a lens for some thoughts on launching products

This week, several people have asked me whether I’m ‘nervous’ about the first test of MoodleNet, a new open social media platform for educators, focussed on professional development and open content. We’ve invited 100 people (50 English testers, 50 Spanish) to have a look and give us some feedback over a three-week period starting from next Tuesday.

To answer their question: no, I’m not. That’s not because of arrogance or misplaced optimism, it’s because of something that Baltasar Gracián talks about in The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence, a book I read from every morning:

Don’t arouse excessive expectations from the start. Everything initially highly praised is commonly discredited when it subsequently fails to live up to expectation. Reality can never match our expectations, because it’s easy to imagine perfection, and very difficult to achieve it. Imagination weds desire and then conceives things far greater than they actually are… Good beginnings serve to arouse curiosity, not to guarantee the outcome. Things turn out better when the reality exceeds our initial idea and is greater than we anticipated. (Baltasar Gracián)

I think we could sum that up with ‘managing expectations’. It’s kind of the opposite of Silicon Valley hype, and useful when you’re developing a product for the long-term.

Talking of Silicon Valley, let’s have a quick look at what Twitter looked like when it launched (start at 09:05):

They were testing a value proposition, something like: “Do people want to tell the world what they’re up to in text-message sized updates?”

The answer, of course, turned out to be in the affirmative. But it took a while. I joined Twitter in February 2007, a few months after it launched. I loved it and, as I was teaching at the time, ran Twitter workshops for my colleagues. Most of them appreciated my enthusiasm, but didn’t think it would catch on.

Twitter took about five years to go mainstream. Here’s a potted history of that time period from the Buffer blog:

  • July 2006: ‘Twttr’ is available to the public
  • October 2006: Sign up for Twitter without your phone number
  • May 2007: You can block others and Twitter gets a mobile site
  • May 2007: Twitter gets an @replies column
  • August 2007: Twitter Profile Search goes live
  • September 2007: Tracking Twitter alias #Hashtags goes live
  • September 2008: Twitter gets Trending Topics
  • March 2009: Twitter introduces “Suggested Users”
  • October 2009: Twitter launches Twitter Lists
  • November 2009: Twitter unveils the new native RT function
  • March 2010: You can now add your location to your Tweets
  • April 2010: Twitter launches “Promoted Tweets”
  • September 2010: Twitter introduces the “New Twitter”
  • June 2011: Twitter launches its own link shortening service

So let’s just stand back and look at this for a moment. The functionality that we would say was pretty core to Twitter took a good while to roll out. Another interesting fact, not really highlighted in the Buffer post, is that many of these involved Twitter responding to what users were doing or had invented.

For example, people were using ‘RT’ to manually retweet posts way before November 2009. Meanwhile, hashtags were an invention of Chris Messina, and initially rejected by Twitter as too nerdy. Users who like what you’re trying to achieve will help you reach that goal.

Before Twitter became a publicly-traded company in 2013 it was much more focused on the ecosystem it was creating. One of the best things about early Twitter was that there was a huge range of clients you could use to access the service. In fact, the ‘pull-to-refresh‘ functionality that’s in almost every mobile app these days was invented by a third-party Twitter client.

Returning to MoodleNet, the reason it’s taken a year to get to this point is because of all of the preparation we’ve done, and all of the other kinds of testing we’ve done up to this point. So this is just the next step in a long journey.

Our value proposition is: “Do educators want to join communities to curate collections of resources?” The answer might be negative. In that case, we’ll go back to the drawing board. My hunch, though, borne out through tens of hours of conversation and experimentation, is that there’s something in this, and it’s worth pursuing.

All in all, I’m excited about this next step and looking forward to getting user feedback on the fantastic work my team have done.


Image: sketch of early Twitter taken from a 2018 tweet 

Wednesday Wisdom #34: Promises

Wednesday Wisdom #34: Promises

Actions, as they say, speak louder than words. Don’t trust people who trade in promises rather than deeds.


The whole set of Wednesday Wisdom images can be found in my Creative Commons-licensed Flickr set.

Image CC BY Vlastimil Koutecký

Wednesday Wisdom #29: Completion

Wednesday Wisdom #29: Completion

One of the most pernicious things that young people learn when they’re younger is a ‘fixed’ mindset. Carol Dweck defines this in the following way:

In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb.

Instead, we should all realise that we’re a work in progress:

In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.

If I do one thing with my children (other than show them unconditional love) it will be to develop this growth mindset in them. In the other direction lies a dangerous form of conservatism.


The whole set of Wednesday Wisdom images can be found in my Creative Commons-licensed Flickr set.

Wednesday Wisdom #26: Friends & Enemies

Wednesday Wisdom #26: Friends & Enemies

This maxim from Baltasar Gracián’s The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence is a bit Machiavellian. However, it’s also absolutely true.

The whole set of Wednesday Wisdom images can be found in my Creative Commons-licensed Flickr set.

Wednesday Wisdom #22: Have Double of Life’s Necessities

Wednesday Wisdom #22

This maxim, #134 in Baltasar Gracián’s The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence, could be read in an unhelpful way. But instead of reading this as a celebration of selfishness, I see this (especially in the light of his other maxims) as an exhortation to be what Nassim Nicholas Taleb would call Antifragile. Have options. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.

The whole set of Wednesday Wisdom images can be found in my Creative Commons-licensed Flickr set.

Wednesday Wisdom #21: Born in the right century

Wednesday Wisdom #21

I’ve decided to resurrect a series I started and then abandoned five years ago called Wednesday Wisdom. You can see the previous posts in the series here. This one is actually a lengthier version of #12.

I’m a big fan of Baltasar Gracián’s The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence. In fact, it’s the only dead-tree book I carry when I’m travelling. People wax lyrical about Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and other Stoic philosophers, but I’ve found none so applicable to modern life as the words this 17th century Jesuit priest.

The whole set of Wednesday Wisdom images can be found in my Creative Commons-licensed Flickr set. All of the existing ones are quotations from Gracián, but going forward, I might mix things up a bit!

On writing every day.

750words semantic analysis

There’s two books I read regularly. Both of those books are by authors who evidently love the written word but treat it quite differently.

The first is The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracian, a 17th century Spanish Jesuit. I read his short, pithy maxims every single day on repeat. When I get to number 300, I flick back and start at number one again.

The second, which I’ve read many times is Michel de Montaigne‘s Essays. This rambling, inconsistent and charming tome is by a 16th century landowner and reluctant public servant. I (and others who have read him) feel like I know him personally.*

Both works make me want to write not just about the kinds of things I write about on this blog, but just for myself. Not necessarily for an audience, and about anything I want.

Ideally, I’d write in the series of journals I’ve kept since turning 18. Realistically, I write in there sporadically, and usually when I’m feeling down. I want more regular outpourings and means typing instead of physically writing.

I’m a fairly fast touch-typist. I used to be up to the heady heights of around 100 words per minute (wpm), but nowadays I’m happy with 60-70 wpm. That’s obviously way more than I’d get if I was scrawling: I’d be lucky to hit 30 wpm, and even that would be illegible.

Thankfully, and you’ll be delighted to know there’s a point to this post, I’ve re-discovered a place that embodies this ‘private, unfiltered, spontaneous, daily’ element for which I’ve been grasping.

Not only is 750words.com extremely well-designed, but it’s got semantic analysis of what you write, co-operative style values and badges!** The image at the top of this post shows some of the analysis the site does. There’s more than the limited amount I’m sharing there. 😉

Read this for Buster’s (the site owner) reason for creating – and continuing to run – the site:

750 Words exists because of mutual good will between myself and the people who use it. The site wouldn’t exist without the generosity, patience, and humor of everyone involved. Rather than charge for the site, I want to keep the site free, and simply offer an opportunity for people who have the means and the desire to help keep things going. I don’t want to make a ton of money, I just want to have enough to justify the time, energy, and money it takes to build, maintain, and enjoy, while also keeping the spirit of it fun and friendly.

That’s my kind of site. 🙂

*I’m also greatly enjoying Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live: A life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer.

**Although not, sadly, of the ‘Open Badges’ variety.

3 principles for a more Open approach.

This exchange on Google+ with Rob Poulter (referencing my previous post on platforms and standards) got me thinking. The highlights are below.

Rob:

Ultimately I don’t think the problem is between native vs web, the problem is one of closed vs open, and not in a Google PR way. The things we tend to care about in the online world are services, not apps. Services see us passing responsibility for our data on to a third party, and usually based on features rather than interoperability or longevity. At the end of the day, if there’s something which we would mind losing, it’s our responsibility to keep it, not some third party.

Doug:

My issue, I suppose is platforms becoming de facto standards because ‘everyone uses them’. Kind of like Dropbox and Twitter and so on…

There’s definitely an elision which I need to resolve in my thinking between ‘HTML5 webapps’ and ‘openness’. Thanks for the pointers!

Rob:

The standards thing is tough I guess. Who wants to be the business that boasts of how easy it is to jump ship? Especially for social applications like Twitter, Facebook, G+ etc (Dropbox and other personal services not so much since they tend to compete on features and can’t rely on “hey, all your friends are here, you’re not going anywhere”).

I pointed out that Google Takeout actually does allow you to export your data from Google to other platforms. But, as Rob responded, not the comments on other people’s posts.

All of this made me think about my principles for using software and web services. It reminded me of Baltasar Gracian’s constant reminders in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (which I read on constant repeat) that it’s easy to begin well, but it’s the ending well that counts.

So, I’ve come up three principles to guide me:

  1. I will use free and Open Source software wherever possible. (I’m after the sustainable part of OSS, not the ‘free’ part)
  2. If this is not possible then I will look for services which have a paid-for ‘full-fat’ offering.
  3. I will only use proprietary services and platforms without a paid-for option if not doing so would have a significant effect on my ability to connect with other people.

What’s in and what’s out? I’ll stick with Twitter and Google+ (but will try to connect with people I follow in additional ways). Evernote, Spotify, Skype and Dropbox are fine for the time being (I pay for them). I’ll try and move away from GMail and Google Calendar.

Any suggestions for replacements?

 

Wednesday Wisdom #20: Disreputable occupations.

This is the last in my ‘Wednesday Wisdom’ series. :-p

You can purchase an inexpensive copy of The Art of Worldly Wisdom book from Amazon or read it online for free via Google Books. The whole set of Wednesday Wisdom images can be found in my Creative Commons-licensed Flickr set.

Wednesday Wisdom #19: Be a person of integrity

It’s easy to swim in the same direction as the rest of the fish or to follow the wishes of the mob. What takes integrity is making a stand, drawing a line in the sand, and clinging to integrity. 🙂

You can purchase an inexpensive copy of The Art of Worldly Wisdom book from Amazon or read it online for free via Google Books. The whole set of Wednesday Wisdom images can be found in my Creative Commons-licensed Flickr set.

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