Inventing Favicon.ico

In 1998, I was a junior Program Manager on the Internet Explorer team at Microsoft. My first project was shipping Internet Explorer 4 Plus, a CD-ROM with Internet Explorer 4.0 and a whole lot of trialware junk that we sold for $49. Yep, gather around, kids – let me tell you about a time when browsers were sold in physical boxes at CompUSA. And a pack of gum cost a ha’penny, and Coke still had cocaine in it!

Anyway, I digress.

We had shipped Internet Explorer 4, and we were busy with Internet Explorer 5, which was chock full of awesomeness, like offline browsing using Channel Definition Format (remember when Pointcast was worth $450 million?), an all new Trident engine, and “Weblications,” a way-too-early-attempt to let devs build rich apps in the browser – though I guess that did lead to the invention of AJAX.

In those days, I was always at work until 10 PM, mainly because dinner was free and I had no life anyway.

And one of those nights, one of the senior devs Bharat Shyam asked me to come over to his office to look at something. I’m sure I was in the middle of writing some amazing yet useless spec/patent. So I walked over to his office and he was hunched over his 133 Mhz Pentium PC, one window full of Win32 C++ COM jibberish, and the other with his local build of IE5. He said, “check this out,” and in IE he added a favorite (aka bookmark, for you Chrome-heads). Amazingly enough, the favorite had a fancy icon to the left of it! Never before had anyone developed the “technology” to do such a thing. Marc Andressen hadn’t though of it, and that guy was rich, right?

Bharat said, “this is good, right? Check it in?” And I said, “yeah, sure, how does it work?” And he said that you just had to put a file named favicon.ico at the root of your IIS Server, and you were good to go! So I said, “sure that sounds good,” and I went back to my office.

The next day, my manager called me into his office. He said, “did you OK this checkin?” And I said, “yeah, sure.” And he scolded me because he said Bharat had taken advantage of me – he was looking for a junior PM to OK this late checkin, and I should have said no. I promised to do better.

But now I look back & realize that we did the right thing. Seriously, how risky was this feature?

And I still remember telling my friend Michael Radwin at Yahoo about favicon.ico. He was looking at Yapache logs for fun as he does, and he had noticed an unusual spike in HTTP requests for He said, what the hell is favicon.ico? And I explained it to him. He was so excited that he slammed a favicon.ico onto the server, which might have been one of the first official favicons in existence.

So there you go, the story of the invention of favicon.ico. For the kiddies.


You’re holding it (your email) wrong

I’ve changed all my native email apps to sort conversations “newest at the bottom,” like Gmail.

When I read an article on the Internet, or anywhere, I read it from top to bottom. Why, then, would you read a conversation thread from bottom to top? Is the UI optimized for reading while hanging upside down from the ceiling? That sounds like a 5% case to me at best. :)



Visual Design is Pri 1. Interaction Design is Pri 1er.

Skeuomorphism vs. Flat Design arguments fill the tubes. Especially with iOS 7 going flatter.

Skeuomorphers think that Flat Design lacks the natural touch that makes things feel good.

Flat worlders think that Apple Calendar’s leather stitching is Literally the Anti-Christ.

Who’s right?

As usual, nobody’s right and nobody’s wrong. Good designs can have touches of Flat, and hints of Skeuomorphism where appropriate.

Mark of the Beast?
An affront to nature?

iOS 7 removed physical-looking buttons, but kept translucence. Windows Phone is very flat and digital-first, yet it has a skeuomorphic On-Off switch.

Where’s my Settings button?
That acts like a physical switch!

So instead of spending all your time on this UI Quagmire, I recommend the following:

  • Spend most of your time on your Interaction Design. Make sure your product is extremely easy to use. Everyone on your team should care about good interaction design. Don’t just hand this off to a Visual Designer – work across engineering, product management, and design to nail the interaction design.
  • Spend the rest of your time on a great design. I said great design. Not “flat” or “skeuomorphic” design. Just great design, full stop.

Visual Design is Pri 1. Interaction Design is Pri 1er.

It’s like what Steve Jobs said in the NY Times:

”Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like,” says Steve Jobs, Apple’s C.E.O. ”People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Next time you’re yelling at someone about the merits or faults of rounded corners, remember to take a breath. No amount of visual design can save bad Interaction Design.

Open Letter to Nintendo, or anyone else that makes both gaming hardware and software

I recorded a webcast of this post, which includes a cool New Super Mario Bros Wii on Mac demo.

But if watching the video is too slow, I’ve provided the raw “Powerpoint notes” below.

Nintendo makes amazing games. The Zelda and Mario games are best in class for casual gamers and kids. I demo’d Zelda for NES – yeah, the original one from 1986 – to Connor and now he’s hooked.

Mario is to games as Robert Downey Jr. is to movies. Put Mario on a game, or make another Iron Man movie. Either way, you can start driving to the bank before the game/movie even goes live.

But – Nintendo has a problem. Wii U is losing money.

Nintendo has gone into the red. $36B Yen in losses last year ($370 million).

Build new touch-first Zelda and Mario titles for iOS and Android phones and tablets. Don’t let others rip you off.

And when I say touch-first, I mean redesign the entire game with the touch assumption. Just like how Apple redesigned all their apps for touch. They didn’t just layer touch on top of old OS X UI. They built a great new experience for touch.

I think these will sell quite well and revive Nintendo. People flock to Mario like 20-somethings flock to Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man movies.

Then Nintendo can even consider porting to (gasp) Xbox and Playstation. Just like how MS sells Office on PCs and Macs and wins on both OSes. If you have the best stuff, don’t hold it back for just your OS.

And even build games for the Apple TV app store (probably coming) and Chromecast app store.

Look, I can already run Mario on my Macbook just fine – this will also work on a future Apple TV with a bit more power.

Then, Nintendo has a choice. They can keep building hardware, but it needs to be best in class.

3DS – has to be better than your iPhone and iPad at playing games, or cheaper. A 3DS costs $199 – know what else costs $199? An iPhone. Which does way more, better. An iPod touch also costs the same, if you want to avoid the contract and buy something for your kids.

Wii U – has to be better than the Xbox One, PS4, AppleTV, Chromecast, and Smart TVs. Or way cheaper. A Wii U costs $350. Way too expensive. An AppleTV costs $99, a Chromecast costs $35.

Or if they can’t compete, exit hardware and build the best games.

Saving Space on your iPhone

I know how you feel, fellow First Worlder. Clean water ain’t enough. 
Your 16 GB iPhone is full. In iTunes, you’re staring at that huge Other category. What’s in there? Unicorns? World Peace? What else could be consuming so much space?
I’m here to help you. Let’s start with the basics.

Go to Settings – General – Usage. iOS sorts this list by size. Delete that Spanish app – yeah yeah, I’m sure you plan to learn Spanish one day, but right now you need space for Angry Birds 7.

Simply sync less – music, photos, videos, etc. I won’t bother with a screenshot for this.
Sync all your personal videos to iPhoto & delete them from your device. 
This one’s a little more clever – convert all your music to 128kbps when syncing. For most people, this will save space & you won’t hear any difference in quality. And if you’re Neil Young and you hate it, just uncheck the box & sync again to get your original massive music files back.
Now, here’s the kicker that will earn you a Ph.D in saving space. Not because it’s hard to do – in fact, it’s possible that you have already done this. But because it exposes a “bug” of sorts in iOS.
Warning – I’d only follow these steps if you have Photo Stream turned on. I’ll tell you why later.
  1. Sync your iPhone to iPhoto.
  2. Import your new photos & say OK to delete them off your device. 
  3. Then, look for the button below – Remove Photos from Ray’s iPhone. Clicking this will remove all photos except your Photo Stream, saving you a ton of space in photos. If you are worried if this is the right thing to do, keep reading.

Ok, so you’re a normal human, and you sync your iPhone to iPhoto every once in a while. And when it asks you if you want to delete the sync’d photos off your device, you say Yes. So – if you are always deleting your new photos off your device, why is the photo library still so large?
Reason 1 – the Photo Stream is keeping your last 1000 photos on your device. On my iPhone, this takes up 900 MB. If you can live without Photo Stream’s cool auto-share and auto-backup features, just turn it off and save nearly a GB of space. That said, I love Photo Stream & I don’t want to turn it off. Though I would like to see a newer smaller default (500) or an option to reduce it to 500 photos in iOS.
Reason 2 – this one’s weird and is the “bug” in the system. Whenever you take a photo, iOS saves it to the Camera Roll & then makes a smaller duplicate of it in your Photo Stream directory. Within seconds, iOS magically Wi-Fi syncs the original photo to iCloud & radiates it out to all your other devices. So, a week later, when you connect your iPhone to iPhoto, iPhoto says “I’ve already sync’d these photos, so I won’t ask you to re-sync.” But that’s the problem – since iPhoto is not sync’ing these photos off your device, it is also not asking you to delete them. So the photos stay on your phone forever, eating up space. Unless you click the button shown above in iPhoto – Remove Photos from Ray’s iPhone. It’s safe, because Photo Stream already saved full-res originals of your photos to the iCloud & your Mac.
But – you say, I want my camera roll. I don’t want to delete all my recent photos. But I also want a lot of free space. After consuming the cake, I would like to still have it. A paradox.
Apple has a solution for you – remember, when you took the photo in the first place, iOS automatically made a smaller dupe of it in your Photo Stream directory. So if you delete all your photos through iPhoto, you still have all of them in your Photo Stream. Granted, they are 900 KB versions instead of 3.2 MB ones, so they are not quite as high res, but on the iPhone, most people can’t tell the difference. 
I’ll send more tips later, but the final one here was really useful for me. I probably saved 1.5 GB of space by clicking that Remove button.

"Can’t Someone Else Do It?" is Necessary but not Sufficient as a Business Justification

I always recommend humor when you’re trying to convince someone of something. Please watch this very short video as a Primer before reading this article. The reason for the boldface will be clear soon, I promise.

Ok, let’s talk about Prim. Prim, please don’t take this the wrong way, I am just making an example out of you. Here’s a glowing article about them:

This business suffers from the Free Pony Initiative problem, often felt in my state of Washington. Many years back, voters approved I-776, a measure to drop car license tab fees to $30/year. A friend & I joked that the ballot should have read:

  • I want a Free Pony.
  • I do not want a Free Pony.
Because voter initiatives often come down to pure 10 second ad campaigns, where Tim says “Do you want to pay less for your car tabs?” And you say, yes. I want a Free Pony. And Washington state residents are happy, especially 5 year old girls. You have locked in the 5 year old girl vote.

Ok, I overreached. Because this vote was actually very close, which helped me regain trust in the system. And Free Ponies aren’t free due to care & feeding, but that’s just a breakdown in my analogy. Let me get back to the Prim thing.

Prim is asking a classic business question, “Can’t someone else do it?” Think about it – many successful businesses answer this question. I don’t want to find a page on the Internet by typing in random URLs until I find it. Can’t someone else do it? Yeah, someone can – Google & Bing. They are basically doing it for you when you type in “where can I find a state where small horses are given away through voter initiative,” and Bingle tells you “Washington.”

So yes, I do not want to wash my laundry. I do not want to clean my house. I do not want to take out the trash. I do not want to chop the onion for my mise en place. Can’t someone else do it? 

Sure, but if you are a business that is offering to do this, stop & ask yourself:
  • Do you do it more efficiently than others? Do you have a competitive advantage that is sustainable? Perhaps Yin Yin Wu is the world’s best launderer (yes that’s the right word), and she’s doing all the laundry by hand? Maybe she built a robot that launders better than the Mafia (mixed metaphor)?
  • How much will people pay for your service? Call that x. Let me give you a business equation that I provide all of the companies in my portfolio:
    • If (x < Cost of you paying people to drive to a house & pick up laundry & drop it at the laundromat & pick it back up & drop it off & handle disputes where you lose the laundry or damage it & handle cases where your drivers steal things or crash their cars)
      • doNotDoBusiness();
  • And let me provide a related equation:
    • If (x is NOT bad) AND (you become profitable & successful)
      • How long do you think it will be before LaundromatX starts cutting out the middleman & offering pick up services? I’ve seen this offered before, but the cost is so prohibitive that only Silicon Valley Dreamers use it.
Before I started writing this, I also considered, Can’t Someone Else Do It? I’d rather go down to Microsoft’s fancy new Cafe 31 & have a Chicken & Waffle Sandwich (no joke, delicious). But was not invented yet. Hmm, can I pitch you on a business idea, TechCrunch?