‘StackOverFlow For X’ : Why It Is A Very Bad Idea

Programming is a unique profession in many ways, and those unique factors are the reasons why StackOverFlow even exists. The need for an immediate solution, the fact that it can be tested, the fact that most of the answers are answers and not opinions, and most importantly, the possibility of a points system working in the right way – programmers respect each other, even in a competitive scenario – all of these are the reasons why a karma based Q&A site works for Programming.

There is possibly no other domain with these characteristics. Which is why it is a very bad idea to attempt a ‘StackOverFlow for X’. As always we are happy to be proven wrong here, but we think we got this one right.

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‘The Hacker News Frontpage Protects Itself’

From PG’s What I’ve Learned From Hacker News:

“Or perhaps the frontpage protects itself, by advertising what type of submission is expected.”

If you think about it, that is a solid lesson that is applicable for many, many things. Some examples below:

1. The current employees of your company protect themselves, by advertising the type of people expected to be hired at the company
2. The existing technology, coding and testing standards protect themselves, by advertising the kind of rigor expected in these areas
3. The ethics and morale at the company protect themselves, by advertising what type of activity is expected
4. The current standards of customer service at your company protects itself, by advertising what type of customer service is expected

But the specific lesson that anyone working on a product can pick up is this: build in some mechanisms by which the part of your product that defines the product – can protect itself. It could be a frontpage like Hacker News or it could be something that totally sits in the backend, like for example how fast Google is. Or it could be totally something not related to the product per se (Zappos and customer service, for example) – but ensure that the mechanisms are in place to ensure that the piece that you are essentially known for, can protect itself.

The Hacker News frontpage protects itself. Can your product’s defining element protect itself?

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Base Your Business On An Irrational Behavior

Most consumer internet success stories of the last 5-7 years share one common trait – they are based on at least one consumer behavior that can be classified as ‘irrational’. Well it could be ‘predictably irrational’, but it is most definitely irrational. This applies to all the biggest success stories you see around you: the heuristic is this – you must be able to ask the question, “Who would have thought that people would” and then complete the sentence. Here are a few examples:

Who would have thought that people would share their whole life online (Facebook)
Who would have thought that people would get addicted to short real-time status messages (Twitter)
Who would have thought that people would need a separate social layer on top of photos on iphones (Instagram)
Who would have thought that ..

Base your business on an irrational consumer behavior. In the consumer internet space, you are more likely to succeed that way – and if you do, you will succeed wildly.

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Coding As A Substitute For Meditation?

Here is the Wikipedia definition for meditation:

“Meditation is a practice in which an individual trains the mind and/or induces a mode of consciousness to realize some benefit,[1] although it can be argued that meditation is a goal in and of itself.[2]”

It is definitely not a stretch to compare that explanation to coding, particularly when you are ‘in the zone’. Tools are involved, but so does meditation. It is about focusing on one thing. It is about bringing your mind’s various powers to help you in the now. It is about zoning out of everything else. It is about realizing how powerful your mind can really be.

So the real question is this: Is it possible for us to spend a chunk of time (say, one hour) coding, zone out of all interruptions / thought branches, and come out as refreshed as we would, if we had meditated in silence? If yes, then can we just substitute meditation with coding? If not, why not?

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Apple’s Maps Effort

Reverse Engineering a success story could sometimes go horribly wrong. Apple’s latest Maps debacle could fall squarely in that bucket. While it is all too great to imagine owning up all the location goldmine, the path to that is not all rosy, as Apple painfully realized, albeit a little late.

If the reports on Apple’s fallout with Google are true, voice navigation is the crux of the issue. While Apple rightly got the importance of voice navigation right, the move to do away with Google Maps (with a substantial amount of time remaining on the contract) might be an exercise in revere engineering success, gone wrong. We wonder, the right reaction would have been to go with a Siri add-on on top of Google Maps and use the one year to build out Apple maps right.

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Microsoft’s Nokia Deal

This from Bloomberg:

Microsoft Corp. will pay Nokia Oyj more than $1 billion to promote and develop Windows-based handsets as part of their smartphone software agreement, according to two people with knowledge of the terms.

Nokia will pay Microsoft a fee for each copy of Windows used in its phones, costs that will be offset as Nokia curtails its own budget for software research and development, said one of the people, who declined to be identified because the final contract hasn’t yet been signed. The agreement runs for more than five years, the people said.


We were reminded of the original “pay per processor” licensing deal that made Microsoft the giant it is today, where the OEM paid a license fee to MS for each PROCESSOR sold, regardless of whether Microsoft OS was used or not. Of course, the new deal is not the same (that practice has been considered monopolistic, and has since been discontinued). But Microsoft is definitely struggling in trying to reinvent its magic, or should we say, reverse engineer its success.

Taleb’s definition of the Reverse Engineering Problem:

Reverse Engineering Problem: It is easier to predict how an ice cube would melt into a puddle than, looking at a puddle, to guess the shape of the ice cube that may have caused it. This makes narrative disciplines and accounts (such as histories) suspicious.

Will Microsoft be better off trying to predict how an ice cube would melt into a puddle, than predicting the other way round? Trying to reverse engineer the success of the PC Era’s MS DOS/ Windows will in all probability be an exercise in futility.

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