Welcome to This Week in Modern Software, or TWiMS, New Relic’s weekly roundup of the need-to-know news, stories, and events of interest surrounding software analytics, cloud computing, application monitoring, development methodologies, programming languages, and the other issues that influence modern software.
This week, our top story is an unprecedented apology to developers from Twitter.
TWiMS Top Story:
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to Developers: We’re Sorry—Fortune
What it’s about: You expect a certain amount of hubris at major tech company events, but Twitter’s Flight conference struck a more humble, conciliatory tone with the 1,500 or so developers in the audience: The CEO apologized for the company’s rocky relationship with devs in the past and promised better days ahead. Dorsey and other Twitter execs then tried to show they meant it with a slew of new developer-focused announcements, spotlighting mobile and the enterprise. There were updates to its Fabric mobile development framework (including closer integration with Fastlane for simpler submission to app stores), email login support for Digits (its mobile two-factor authentication tool), and Gnip Insights (enterprise-oriented APIs for tracking and analyzing audience engagement on the platform).
Why you should care: Major platform companies—think Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, etc.—have long understood the importance of third-party developers to extend their ecosystems. But Twitter has a rockier history with devs, going back to the company’s pre-IPO history, when in 2012 it heavily restricted its rules and APIs governing third-party client apps built on top of the platform. That move even helped spur an developer-oriented alternative network called App.net born largely out of frustration with changes to Twitter. Jack Dorsey’s return as permanent CEO marks an ideal time for Twitter to repair its relationships with developers and reinvigorate the platform, especially as it appears set to double-down on mobile as its best bet for user and revenue growth. Fortune’s Jonathan Vanian notes that Dorsey “flattered developers by detailing how they helped expand Twitter’s reach in its early days by building their own apps and services on top of it.” For more analysis of Twitter’s situation and Dorsey’s impact, check out Om Malik’s piece in The New Yorker.
- Twitter Promises More Transparency, Data Tools to Woo Developers—ZDNet
- Jack in a Box: Can Twitter Be Saved?—The New Yorker
- Here’s Twitter’s Argument for Why Developers Should Give It a Second Chance—VentureBeat
- The Best New Features Unveiled at the Twitter Flight Conference—MacWorld
What it’s about: The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) recently made a significant admission: “We messed up.” That’s IAB’s Scott Cunningham, senior VP of technology and ad operations as well as GM of the IAB Tech Lab, in a blog post. Cunningham was referring to the recent spotlight on ad-blocking and related technologies, and notes advertisers and their tech teams have to shoulder a big part of the blame: They lost sight of the user. That’s significant because, well, advertisers don’t like ad blockers—but instead of just crying foul, the IAB announced its LEAN Ads program as an alternative to existing standards for Web and mobile advertising. The acronym stands for “Light, Encrypted, Ad choice supported, Non-invasive ads.” It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but as Cunningham notes, the ad tech industry might not have much choice: “The consumer is demanding these actions, challenging us to do better, and we must respond.”
Why you should care: Mobile ad-blocking technologies received renewed attention after Apple enabled them with iOS 9 and then Google stoked the fire with its Accelerated Mobile Pages Project. But the ad-blocker debate seems to engender a misguided generalization that people want to block ads just because they don’t like ads. Rather, it’s increasingly apparent that many mobile users block ads for performance, experience, and security reasons. That’s a lesson that mobile developers would do well to heed: If you disregard performance, experience, and security issues, your users will get rid of the unnecessary stuff or go elsewhere for what they need. It’s also a reminder that the mobile landscape is very much about iteration and evolution, which in turn sometimes requires difficult self-assessment. From the competing visions of the two-headed Google-Apple oligarchy to the soon-to-be-mainstream unlocked phone and a bevy of other issues, there’s never a dull moment for mobile developers (see the links below).
- Getting LEAN With Digital Ad UX—IAB
- Publishers Straddle the Apple-Google, App-Web Divide—The New York Times
- The Rise of Unlocked Smartphones Will Transform the U.S. Wireless Market—Fast Company
- 11 Things Every Mobile Product Manager Needs to Know—Apptimize
What it’s about: Hey, developers are people, too, and we’ve all got our bad habits. InfoWorld’s Peter Wayner lists nine bad habits particular to the programming population, from using
goto to stuffing too much code into a single line to “yo-yo” code, along with a half-dozen other programming no-nos. And Wayner offers up a brief history and explanation of the potential problems each one causes, which might be especially useful for younger developers who avoided some of these bad habits simply by virtue of when they first got their hands on a laptop and a compiler. The infamous “spaghetti code” that often results from an obsessive love of
goto statements, for example, has largely been subdued by structured programming and other factors.
Why you should care: It’s kind of fun to check off which of these bad habits you’re guilty of. (Don’t worry, we’re not checking your answers.) But Wayner’s not just savaging the bad habits of middling developers—he makes the case for why some of these maligned practices could actually be useful in specific circumstances. That
goto statement of such ill repute, for example: Wayner points out that “Often an artful
return will offer a very clean statement about what the code is doing at that spot. Sometimes adding
goto to a case statement will produce something that’s simpler to understand than a more properly structured list of cascading if-then-else blocks.” Food for thought, given how many “bad habits” of programming are so named because they lead to messy, inefficient code.
- 5 Ways to Love Your Code Forever—New Relic Blog
Software Eats Healthcare, For Dummies—Alex Danco
What it’s about: Much as New Relic is fond of saying, “Every business is a software business,” software has yet to take a huge bite out of healthcare. For starters, making a real difference in this critical industry will take a whole lot more than doctors carrying tablets and patients using health-monitoring apps. Alex Danco believes software will eventually eat healthcare, and with tasty results, but first we need to understand much more about how the healthcare system works. Among other fundamentals: “healthcare,” unlike “biology” or “medicine,” is not science—it’s business. Recommended reading for anyone in that “business”—and for all of us who want to understand exactly what we’re paying for (and why) when we visit the doctor.
Why you should care: Danco pins the problem largely on the “fee for service” model used in most healthcare scenarios, regardless of the health concern or who’s paying the bill. Moreover, Danco says former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale’s “bundling and unbundling” quote about making money is equally applicable to healthcare as it is to software. He notes the electronic health records (EHR) era as an unexpected catalyst for unbundling “all of the low-end services that were expensive but not profitable.” You don’t need to go to the doctor to check your blood pressure; you can do it at a pharmacy or even a grocery store.
The next phase, Danco’s predicts, will be HIPAA-compliant communication tools (“Slack for healthcare”) unbundling low-end healthcare tasks that take time and don’t turn a profit for high-end healthcare providers. That will in turn enable “collective networks of people who all have common goals and all have common solutions. And then the magic happens: if everyone is bundled into common networks with common goals and fixed upfront costs, THAT’S WHAT SOFTWARE SOLVES.”
- How Applications of Big Data Drive Industries—Simplilearn
Why you should care: There’s been plenty of attention paid to teaching kids coding and other computing concepts, including adding or increasing it to public school curriculums. But to really make an impact, it’s important to start early, even before kids begin formal schooling. Interestingly, the authors say the planned project—aimed at children ages 7 and under but really for any age—will be a print book only, with no plans for a digital version.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics Says iPads Are Okay for Infants (Sort Of)—Co.Design
What it’s about: Give Katharine Patterson credit: When she says she’s going to do something, she does it—“it” in this case being “living in a van on the streets of San Francisco to avoid paying exorbitant rent.” The kicker: Patterson’s employed as a software engineer at an unnamed tech firm. (SFGate notes a LinkedIn profile for a person with the same name and job title currently working at Google.) She wrote about the experience in a recent post for Quartz, and documents her journey on her blog, which includes photos of how she’s redecorating the inside of the 1969 VW camper van she bought. And apparently Patterson is part of a trend. Another young Googler is saving 90% of his paycheck (and paying down student loans) by living in a 128-square-foot truck in a parking lot on the company’s Mountain View campus. The 23-year-old is also, of course, documenting his story on his blog, where he keeps a “Net Savings” clock that just recently moved into positive territory, meaning his savings on rent and other expenses have exceeded the $10,000 he spent on the truck and other upfront costs.
Why you should care: To her credit, Patterson seems self-aware and understands that many people live in cars—or on the streets—because they have no other choice. She acknowledges she’s doing it by choice, and is able to eat, shower, and do laundry without undue anxiety or hardship. Patterson’s also aware that what she’s doing is technically illegal and potentially dangerous, and wrote a follow-up post on how she stays safe. But there’s something troubling going on when people near the top of the economic pyramid can’t afford to live near their highly paid dream jobs.
- A 23-Year-Old Google Employee Lives in a Truck in the Company’s Parking Lot and Saves 90% of His Income—Business Insider
- Googlers Living at Google: Tiny Spaces, Probably No Sex—Re/code
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