AND not OR

by havoc

The book Built
to Last
has a famous discussion of the “Tyranny of the OR,”
pointing out that mediocre companies force themselves to choose short
vs. long term, or values vs. profit, or whatever; while great
companies find a way to do both things at the same time. The desired
state isn’t balance (some values, some profit); but both. Do
both things 100% by coming up with innovative and clever approaches,
don’t trade off one vs. the other.

A cliche computer industry example, perhaps, would be all the search engines
that lazily traded off user experience vs. advertising revenue; while
Google spent the time to figure out how to have better user
experience, and more advertising revenue, at the same time. I
like to think the RHEL/Fedora model Red
Hat arrived at after many years of trial-and-error is a similar kind
of thing; other companies either settled for a “proprietary frosting”
model or failed to become profitable. I won’t try to take a position
on whether Google or Red Hat will (or do) manage to consistently get
it right, but these two examples make sense to me.
Another open source company that seems good at this is
Trolltech.

I don’t really want to talk about the computer industry, though. My
favorite examples (what I really want to blog about) are a couple of
magazines I read, Game Informer and
Entertainment Weekly. Most magazines
about video games or entertainment are terrible, full of fluff
crap, gossip, more ads than content, and unreliable reviews.

These two magazines both have a similar format, which I think of as
the front half and the back half. Before a movie/book/game comes out,
they will do almost-always-positive “preview” articles talking about
why the thing could be good, interviewing the people making it, and
discussing the concept. These articles are fairly advertiser-friendly,
but I think are also what readers want (or at least what I want). I
want to hear why the director or game designer thinks their product
will be exciting, so I can judge for myself. I wouldn’t want some
snarky magazine writer’s opinion at this stage. Everything gets a fair
chance at success. The cover story and cover art normally point to
articles in this “front half.”

Both magazines then have a “back half” consisting of reliable,
well-written reviews that are perfectly willing to be negative. These
appear “just in time” when the movie, book, or game comes out. Often
the same product appears in the “front half” first and then “back
half” in the following issue. The magazines both seem to avoid putting
a preview and a review of the same product in the same issue if they
can help it.

The magazines even have a similar tone, with a lot of humor and a
level of intelligence somewhat above e.g. the Boston Globe or
Associated Press movie/book reviews, but less pretentious than the New
York Times or Time Magazine reviews. And they have readable graphic
design, vs. the our-Quark-XPress-person-is-on-acid train wrecks you can
find on the newsstand. Finally, they tend to cover all products, not
only blockbusters or only independent/artsy stuff.

The upshot is that these magazines appeal to a wide audience, they are
advertiser-friendly AND reliable advisers, both fun to read AND smart.
To me that makes them great role models.

(This post was originally found at http://log.ometer.com/2005-08.html#27)

My Twitter account is @havocp.
Interested in becoming a better software developer? Sign up for my email list and I'll let you know when I write something new.
Name
Email *