Category Archives: Business

Good Contracts Make Good Business. Or, ‘F*ck You, Pay Me’

When I talk to new free-lance programmers about running a business, there are two core pieces of advice I offer. The first is that it‘s almost always better to have a little high-paying work than a lot of low-paying jobs. The other is the importance of a lawyer-reviewed contract that clearly defines the work to be produced, the date by which it will be completed and the cost of that work.

So I was very pleased to come across a Creative Mornings talk, given by Mike Monteiro of Mule Design and his attorney, Gabriel Levine, which reinforces and expands upon those basic ideas.

(via zeldman.com and Google Reader Play)

This is a long video (40 minutes) but worth every moment. But for the tl;dw crowd, here’s a synopsis of the salient points:

  1. Contracts protect both parties – you and your client.
  2. Don’t start work without a contract.
  3. Don’t blindly accept your client’s terms.
  4. Anticipate negotiation but don’t back down on important stuff – payment, deadlines and your intellectual property rights in the work until final payment is received.
  5. Lawyers talk to lawyers. If your client is talking to you in the presence of, or through, his lawyer, get yours or don’t talk.
  6. Be specific and confident about money. Ask for the rate you deserve and don’t back down on terms.

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The Danger Of API Development: Making Something Too Good

On CNET, via slashdot: Lendle, a Web site that had helped facilitate the loaning of ebooks among Kindle users, was effectively destroyed when Amazon shut down Lendle’s access to its Kindle API.

Lendle first reported the news via Twitter: “Amazon has revoked Lendle’s API access. This is why the site is down. It’s sad and unfortunate that Amazon is shutting down lending sites…According to Amazon, Lendle does not ‘serve the principal purpose of driving sales of products and services on the Amazon site.’”

According to Lendle co-founder Jeff Croft, “at least two other Kindle lending services” have been terminated from the API.

The problem with Lendle and its cousins is simple: It was too good at what it did.

Amazon does allow one-time loans of an ebook for up to 14 days, but they expect such trading to be among intimates. Lendle greatly expanded the ability for one person to trade with a complete stranger, and as a result posed a serious threat to potential Kindle edition sales.

After all, if I can’t find someone to lend me an ebook, I probably have to buy it. Put me in big enough a room of Kindle owners, however, and I’m likely to find what I am after for free.

I don’t care to get into copyright, the nature of modern publishing, or the like. I’m far more interested in pointing out the problem with using third-party APIs that this illustrates: If you make something too good, there’s usually nothing stopping the API service from cutting you off and stealing your work.

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The Lessons We Should All Relearn From HBGary

Ars technica published a long (by Web standards) story yesterday about the hacking of HBGary by Anonymous. It is absolutely, positively, must-read information for all beginner Web developers — for that matter, for experienced Web developers, too.

For those unfamiliar with the story, HBGary is an information systems security consultancy. It’s not huge, but it’s been successful getting work with the federal government and several other companies.

But HBGary wanted to get bigger; to exploit the headlines and prove itself worthy of major government and corporate contracts. So HBGary hatched a couple of schemes.

One was to help Bank of America discredit WikiLeaks with a disinformation campaign and character assassinations. The other was to “unmask” the Anonymous hackers who set off several DDoS attacks against Visa, Bank of America, and others perceived as having harmed WikiLeaks.

Unfortunately, HBGary boss Aaron Barr decided to go public with his plans to expose the alleged hackers. So Anonymous decided to attack HBGary, and the rest are our lessons for the day.

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RIP, Facebook Page

Well, it was an interesting experiment. But my Facebook Page was a wonder of how not to do social media. It was little better than a bookmarking service, and I already use several of those.

On the other hand, Twitter is a far better option for communicating about my business and this blog, and is actually resulting in two-way communication. So I’m going to focus my energies there.

My Facebook page is no more. Long live my personal Facebook profile.

‘Behind Every Great Fortune Is A Great Crime’

Federal postal authorities with Vitaly Borker after they arrested him on Monday at his home in Brooklyn.

Federal postal authorities with Vitaly Borker after they arrested him on Monday at his home in Brooklyn. Robert Stolarik for The New York Times

The headline to this post is via Chris Rock, who repeats that line during his “Never Scared” comedy special (link very NSFW!), speaking about the difference between being rich and being wealthy.

It means that significant, lasting wealth is often created by exploiting something new, or using some means to circumvent the kind of behavior most people would consider fair or reasonable. The patron of the exhaulted Kennedy clan made his fortune from bootlegging and insider trading before the 1929 stock market crash. Rockerfeller, Vanderbilt and Morgan were the great robber barons of the U.S. industrial revolution.

I mention this because Vitaly Borker, proprietor of decormyeyes, was arrested today on federal charges of “mail fraud, wire fraud, making interstate threats and cyberstalking.”

Borker, as you will remember from this blog, discovered some time ago that Google’s PageRank algorithm didn’t consider whether the mentioning of an online store was positive or negative. (Google claims this is no longer the case.) Therefore, Borker took a extremely combative approach to customer complaints, intentionally stoking animosity, so that his online store would appear in multiple online complaints, often at very reputable, PageRank-enhancing Web sites, such as Get Satisfaction.

It seemed to work well, and I admired the ingenuity behind it, if not the tactic itself. Seems now, however, that Borker will be a test case as to whether anti-service, and preying upon the gullible / lazy, is at an end. (I might also note that this is further proof that for all the caterwauling, good journalism isn’t dead; if anything, it’s more valuable than ever.)

All links in this post on delicious: http://www.delicious.com/dougvdotcom/behind-every-great-fortune-is-a-great-crime