Where’s the “9 to 5” hackathon?

To give a little background to a Twitter conversation I had this week:

I came across a hackathon announcement that sounded pretty interesting. It’s scheduled from a Thursday afternoon until Saturday night, with “open ended” hacking starting at 19:30 on Thursday.

I tweeted: “If hackathons weren’t designed for people without a life/family, I’d be in!”

The organizer responded: “Our Hackathon takes only 2,5 days. I guess you could easily find a way to attend :-)”

My answer: “I guess you could easily find a way to “hack” in daytime, sparing nights and weekends :-)”

I’d honestly love to be there. I enjoy being exposed to passionate people and their ideas, and to get creative together. But I’m too old for pulling all-nighters. And I don’t want to miss seeing my kids before they go to bed, and spending the weekend together with my family, unless there’s an extremely good reason to. (A customer’s production system going down is a good reason. A just-for-fun hackathon isn’t.)

The typical hackathon format which assumes or glorifies coding all night feels exclusionary to me. It’s a hurdle for the working single mom, for the introvert (who needs a break after 10 hours of intense socializing), and for us older geeks. I wonder whether you really are after the best ideas and results, or rather want to polish your image with Instagram pics of overcaffeinated hipster hackers. (I’m not judging you. I honestly just wonder.)

Martin W Brennan makes similar points in Why Many Developers Don't Participate in Hackathons: “Alex Bayley discussed her reasons for not loving hackathons […], such as the physical demands of a 24- or 48-hour event (Bayley is 39 years old). This also brings with it health concerns involving poor lighting, ventilation and diet, as well as excessive caffeine intake to stay awake for an unnatural number of hours. […] Age-related exclusions result from older potential participants often having too many real-world responsibilities to take part, but the exclusions seem to extend to gender as well.”

These folks are proposing alternatives:

Will Larson – Healing a Burned Out Team: “Hackathons during working hours are a great opportunity for the team to try out something new, ideally with people on the team they don’t work with as often, and get in some positive experiences together. (I’ve historically been very anti-hackathon because they are so often scheduled in a way [that] prevents individuals with families and external demands from participating, but I’ve since found that they’re pretty effective and purely positive if you can schedule them exclusively during normal working hours over the course of a day or two.)”

Chris Gathercole – Hackathon? No, not yet. Ideas Splurge!: “Hackathons are […] a big commitment from everyone involved (at least two longer-than-9-to-5 days out of the working week). They are […] highly stressful (if done properly) even for the experienced contestants. […] An Ideas Splurge […] is more inclusive, and less off-putting to newbies. […] It leaves folks wanting more, rather than, as with many hackathons, 'well, I’m glad that’s over'.”

Sat, 24 Sep 2016 20:23:00 +0000

I’m. So. Slow.

Today, our 4-year-old thanked me for making him walk home from kindergarten: “When we drive home, we’re so fast. I don’t want to be fast.” He’s also always the last person to finish when the family eats together – just as I was, and my father before me. I guess being slow runs in our family.

I eat slowly. When time is short, I prefer not eating at all to having to hurry. I move slowly: Walking is way better than driving, or even riding a bike. If I cannot fully enjoy the moment, I’d rather skip it.

That’s why Derek Sivers’ “I’m a very slow thinker” resonated so deeply with me. He writes: “I’m a disappointing person to try to debate or attack. I just have nothing to say in the moment, except maybe, 'Good point.' Then a few days later, after thinking about it a lot, I have a response.”

I’m a slow thinker myself: I’m quick with questions and ideas, but slow to answer, decide, or judge. (What do you call the opposite of “jumping to a conclusion”?) Being fully aware of the breadth of possible explanations – and of everyone’s point of view (the burden of being empathic) – I know I need time to think things through.

Of course, sometimes I’m simply slow because I’m daydreaming, with my head in the clouds. (Understandably, my wife often hates all that slowness.)

The above probably makes sense to you, but I guess it sounds weird if I say I’m even slow to feel, to build up emotion. Of course I don’t feel nothing: I immediately sense excitement or unease. But it takes a while for me to develop or discover my true feelings, to find out how happy or upset I really am.

Everybody’s normal till you get to know them, I suppose :)

Thu, 08 Sep 2016 11:36:00 +0000

Dominic Grzbielok: It’s DAMned hard to search for a Digital Asset Management system

On his blog, Dominic Grzbielok (of Munich-based startup TargetVideo) tells the story of his search for a DAM system:

VerDAMmt schwer, die Suche nach einem Digital Asset Management-System

(The blog post is in German – the title translates to “It’s DAMned hard to search for a Digital Asset Management system”.)

He explains why it indeed is “terrible to shop for a DAM system”, as I had guessed in DAM, a market with no reviews or critics:

Requirements are complex, there’s tons of systems (he looked at 80 DAM products), the market is intransparent (reviews and public criticism are rare, apart from Ralph Windsor’s DAM News), analyst reports are expensive and it’s unclear whether you can trust them, and DAM consulting isn’t cheap either.

An excellent article and a rare insight into the DAM buying process from the customer’s point of view – don’t miss it if you can read German, or deal with the horrors of Google Translate.

Disclaimer: Our company’s DAM system was one of the 80 products on Dominic’s list. In the end, they chose Cantemo Portal.

Thu, 25 Aug 2016 20:00:00 +0000

David Diamond: Metadata for Content Management

I enjoyed reading David Diamond’s new book Metadata for Content Management. He’s covering everything a DAM system or CMS customer needs to know about metadata fields, contents and policy and how they affect search, workflows and interoperability. The book is written for practical use, in plain and fun language and with excellent examples for every single point he makes. (Disclaimer: I’m listed on the “Thanks” page of the book so I’m slightly biased.) Check out the table of contents, an excerpt and Ralph Windsor’s review.

Good metadata schema design rarely gets the attention it deserves in DAM projects. I’d ask our project managers to send a copy of David’s book to each new DAM system customer so they can prepare better for the requirements workshops we’re doing… if only Adaptive Metadata (as implemented by David’s employer, Picturepark) weren’t so prominently featured in the book.

Read the full article…

Mon, 15 Aug 2016 09:58:00 +0000

To my new colleague

Our company, Digital Asset Management (DAM) vendor Digital Collections, is looking for a Web developer based in Hamburg, Germany. Of course there’s a conventional job offer over on the company Web site, but since you and me will be working closely together, I’d like to add some thoughts – nothing official, just my personal opinion. Don’t let it scare you away; I’ll be your colleague, not your boss! (If you want to know who this weird guy is, here’s more about me. Sorry I’m writing this in English; my blog has some international readers, and you’re used to reading English anyway.)

First of all, I’m happy you’re considering to join us! Web developers are highly sought after these days, at least here in Hamburg. We’re competing with companies much cooler than ours: Our office isn’t trendy, many of us are middle-aged, there’s not many perks except for free coffee and drinks, a fruit bowl, and the occasional home office day (good hardware ain’t a perk anymore). I guess we’re paying well, but I don’t really know. So what made you check us out?

Read the full article…

Fri, 12 Aug 2016 11:14:00 +0000

Product idea: “City” visualization for software systems

SimCity screenshot

Most software systems are incredibly complex – think large monolithic software, distributed systems, or systems composed of microservices (or self-contained systems). When something goes wrong or the system needs to be changed, developers and administrators have a really hard time figuring out what’s going on inside it.

According to the Economist, David Gelernter once said that “beauty is more important in computing than anywhere else in technology because software is so complicated. Beauty is the ultimate defence against complexity.” Since reading about Gelernter’s “Mirror Worlds” ten years ago, I’ve been dreaming of a SimCity-like visualization of software systems, processes and workflows that shows us messages and data moving between their different parts, and lets us inspect and interact with it. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see data moving back and forth as traffic on the streets? Isn’t it unfair that gamers have access to such amazing graphics, while our admin and devops tools are stuck in the 1980s?

Dockercraft, a Minecraft-based admin UI for Docker containers, is the closest thing I could find so far. The CodeCity and UrbanSim projects (the latter evolved from ViziCities) are neat city visualizations. But the thing I’m dreaming of doesn’t seem to exist yet.

I hope that someday, 3D game engine tools become so easy to use that this medium-skilled Web dev can use them to build “city visualizations” all by himself. Please let me know which tools you can recommend, or whether what I’m looking for is already available!

Image: Sim City 4 Car Crash by haljackey (license: CC BY 2.0)

Sun, 31 Jul 2016 21:39:00 +0000

Speak the customer’s language and put content first in your DAM UI

We’re currently designing our DAM system’s next generation user interface (UI), and one of the things I’m thinking about a lot is how to present content, and how to navigate it, in a way that makes sense to the people using the DAM.

Mental models

For the DAM vendor, it’s natural to view a DAM system as a generic container for any kind of “assets” or “content”, plus functionality for operating on those assets. If you asked me as a DAM developer for the main sections of a DAM, I’d go for something like “Search, Edit, Upload”.

Here’s how some DAM products name their main navigation items (the first line is from our DC-X product), exemplary of the “generic container” approach:

Read the full article…

Fri, 24 Jun 2016 10:43:00 +0000

Where do I put search result context in schema.org?

I’ve been advocating schema.org for DAM interoperability for a while now, but mostly from a theoretical perspective – I didn’t have any implementation experience to back my claims up. This is supposed to change now as we’re trying to base parts of our new DAM UI on the schema.org vocabulary.

But of course, where the rubber meets the road, there’s unexpected challenges. I had already figured out how to express core asset data using schema.org, but a real DAM UI’s central aspect is search. And searches don’t just consist of the found objects’ data, but also of context and controls (to borrow a phrase from Ruben Verborgh’s excellent Turtles all the way down).

Here’s some things I need to know to render a good search UI (along with related OpenSearch and Hydra property names where available):

Read the full article…

Mon, 30 May 2016 12:25:00 +0000

Digital Asset Management resources

Just a short collection of essential links for people new to Digital Asset Management (DAM).

Other (and more complete) DAM resource listings:

Blogs and news sites:


Other sites:

Thu, 28 Apr 2016 18:36:00 +0000

Distributed DAM: From silo to search engine

This week I dived into product management: gathering requirements for our DAM product, sketching and specifying new features, taking screenshots and writing discussion documents. It’s an important process (here’s an outline) – we don’t want to build stuff our customers don’t need.

But I’m getting lost tracking the documents and files produced during this process: To-dos and discussions in Basecamp, documents in Google Docs, PDFs and photos of paper sketches in Dropbox, and wireframes in myBalsamiq. A bit ironic given that I work for a DAM vendor, isn’t it? After all, my favorite DAM system claim is to be “the content hub for all your digital creations”…

I could (manually) create copies of all these documents within our DAM. But they’ll get modified in the originating systems, and new documents will appear which I’d have to copy as well. In this case, most of my digital assets need to live outside the DAM (for editing and sharing) so the DAM system isn’t of much use to me.

Can’t our DAM software be a bit more like a Web search engine, or “enterprise search” software, and not care where a document is located as long as it is accessible? Why does our software require the records and metadata to reside in its local database? (I already discussed this in “Dreaming of a shared content store”.)

I wonder whether a modern DAM system should let us “manage” decentralized or distributed assets: We should to be able to not just find them within the DAM, but also add/edit metadata and rights information. (That structured data associated with the “remote asset” could well live within the local DAM database.) Wouldn’t it be great to sign up to a fresh cloud DAM system and have it automatically index and link my Dropbox files, Google documents and Facebook photos – then letting me search and organize them?

This sounds way easier than it is; it has its drawbacks and will be a pain to implement. (Yes, I’d be the poor developer struggling with all the fragile connectors to other systems.) But that’s the DAM system I wish I’d had this week.

See also: Cloud software, local files: A hybrid DAM approach and System architecture: Splitting a DAM into Self-Contained Systems.

Fri, 22 Apr 2016 14:22:00 +0000