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 http://www.yahoo.com/favicon.ico. 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.

Ray

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. :)

 

 

"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.
http://vimeo.com/50867951

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:
http://techcrunch.com/2013/07/25/prim-laundry/

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 GhostBlogWritingService.com was not invented yet. Hmm, can I pitch you on a business idea, TechCrunch?







List of all iPhone owners in the world

Do you want to create a list of everyone in the world that has an iPhone?
Here’s how: Simply write a script to cycle through every possible phone number, and mimic the web service call that the iPhone Messages app uses to see if a phone number has iMessage capabilities. See below for a screenshot showing how Messages does this.
And yes, I know the receiver has to have iOS5 for this to work, but eventually most iPhones will have iOS5.