Hey Microsoft, Can I have a job?


This CONFIDENTIAL JOB APPLICATION to be read by AUTHORIZED PERSONEL!!! If you are not authorized, please leave!


Okay, have it you're way... Here it is...

Sometimes it happens to me that people ask me how to succeed at writing educational software for a living. I tell them I don't really know, but for starters, they might consider carefully studying everything I've done, and then be sure not to do any of it! In that jockular jugular, if you ever stumble into a chance to get a job at Microsoft, this is not the best way to open the door with them! Learn from my experience: Don't do this...

About a month ago, someone from Microsoft called me and asked if I knew of anyone in the San Diego area who might be able to head up a company to work with Microsoft (semi-autonomously, I guess) to establish a local entertainment and information guide. She said they plan to do this in several dozen cities with different companies.

Naturally I told her yes, absolutely, I knew the perfect person for such a job--Me!

I explained why I thought I was perfectly qualified and offered to send in a brief Bio of myself and my company, which I faxed within the hour. Next morning I called her and they had just had an earthquake--in Seattle! And me, not knowing about it, almost made a bad joke when she told me she hadn't been able to look at my web site or anything. She promised me she'd check it all out soon.

That was a Friday. The next Monday, I faxed the following followup letter to her. That was over two weeks ago now, so I guess I didn't get the job since I haven't heard from her. Not wanting to waste all that effort writing this stuff, I'm putting it on the Web for anyone who's interested. You be the judge: Should they have hired this loose cannon?

VOICE #:(206) 703-.... FAX #:(206) 703-....
May 6th, 1996
Dear Ms D....;

I have been considering what it would take to establish a useful presence in the manner you described to me over the phone during our initial meeting, and I've had a couple of thoughts about what you might be looking for.

First of all, you need a company headed by someone who has a basic knowledge of the Internet from a technical point of view. They need to be able to design easy-to-use, informative guides and centralized information stations.

But beyond some technical knowledge, the person needs access to other, more technical (and maybe more talented) people, since the GM/Publisher couldn't possibly be an expert in everything, and certainly would not be likely to spend a lot of time writing code.

However, all the technical stuff aside, a more important thing is the quality of the product that goes out to the "customer." Personally, I believe that is largely a product of timing. It is a matter of using the tools available to produce good interaction with the user. For example, we software-side companies have always had to "fight" the hardware for every byte. For example, I develop educational animation. It is smooth only because of careful use of string move instructions in Assembler language. I used these cumbersome techniques because I had to, to get smooth animation.

I know how to get speed from a machine if I demand it. This, of course, probably won't do me any good working on the Internet, except for one thing: I learned about the problems of timing. Back then, I would preread animations, I would display all the text before any of the pictures, etc. And of course, many of these things are still vital, because, although the machines became literally 100 times faster than those 8088's, the size of the images got proportionately bigger as well!

Even today, my educational software programs run fast, smooth, and are remarkably reliable. That is largely a matter of using the tools properly, and that is no different on the Web.

I have been a PC software programmer since the original 8088's (I started programming on DOS at version 2.1, for anyone at Microsoft who remembers that far back.) So I am familiar, though I don't program in, Windows 3.1 and WIN 95, and I probably know DOS from an applications point of view, better than all but a handful of people. I know, for example, that DOS is capable of multimedia. (The beauty of DOS is that it can be ignored.--Ed.)

The point is, starting on those 8088 IBM PC Jr's and 4 Mhz PC's and 8 Mhz XT's, I had to wring the maximum capability out of the environment to present a good product. Brute force alone won't work, you had to have a certain amount of finesse. Actually, on the 8088's you had to have a lot of finesse (if such a thing is possible) because all the brute force in the world wouldn't really give you good performance on that slow little CPU.

I realize that you do not want to get 20, or 10 or whatever cities all doing the same basic thing-the so-called "Microsoft Local". Oh sure, that would be great if you could do it-you'd save a ton of money. But the very idea of doing a local guide and information center at a national level strikes me as downright comical.

You want a Microsoft local, tailored to interact with other local groups and to Microsoft's corporate needs. But you want it locally flavored, and locally designed. Then in a year or two, you'll be looking at each city and figuring out who's succeeding and try to analyze (a fancy word for guess) why.

Right now, neither you, nor I, nor anyone else actually knows what will work-even the successes, which there have been on the Internet, may have worked for complex and obscure reasons--in other words, the same idea may not be the best solution everywhere, and it may not even work anywhere else at all!

This means you undoubtedly are looking for lots of local initiative, so that you can try lots of different solutions all at once. And you probably also would like this to happen as quickly as possible. Time lost is not recoverable, especially when you lose percentages or gain competitors. In addition, why be second when you can be first? Here in San Diego, I'm not sure anyone would ever call you first, but I'm sure you can still be best if you try...

In any event, time really is of the essence. Various cities will be given a chance to have special promotions due to events that just happen to occur for them. Atlanta has the, um, what-zit. San Diego has the Republican convention, with 4,000 delegates and 10,000 press. Those press can't all interview delegates all the time, can they? Then the delegates would never get anything done! (Some say that's pretty inevitable, anyway...) I say, let those hapless denizens of the press interview our programmers, our writers, and our staff who are working 24 hours a day (12 hour shifts) to output the necessary changing information-like what hotels still have rooms in a 50 mile radius of the city, and who's serving good food at 3:00 am.

San Diego's local online service needs to work this angle. Press about it would be national, which would benefit every other city where you have Microsoft Internet Local Support. By the way, I told you that we had had the Super Bowl recently, but I'm wrong. We're scheduled to get it in 1998, so that's the next Really Big Thing that's going to happen in San Diego, and that's a way's off. We're not New York or Los Angeles. We don't get Really Big Things all that often. So we have to make hay while the sun is shining. (Actually San Diego gets a lot of sun.)

In August of this year there's the California Computer Expo (CCE), which I believe is the most attended computer expo for the pubic in California with over 30,000 expected this year. I've had a booth at all previous shows and will lecture about the web at this one. Microsoft always has a nice booth there. (My booth was right next to them two years ago.) The local Microsoft Internet company should start planning right away-talking to the CCE and to the Microsoft group that plans to be there. CCE is good for some local press, but nothing like a national political convention.

I wanted to be sure to mention some of the things I think are more important than technical wizardry. First of all, there's editing and writing. A list of which restaurants serve bok-choy within a 10 block radius of your present location would be nice, but a review of how good the bok-choy there is, would make it ideal. The Microsoft local company would need to hire reviewers, investigators, and lots and lots of information collectors. This would help set you apart from being 'just' a warehouse of information.

Any idea for an informative guide won't work without the help of local businesses, particularly small businesses. The small businesses need to be convinced that they want to update their information at the Microsoft Local web site regularly. They must keep updating the information and be sure it's current.

The local Microsoft company should never type or scan in a restaurant's menu, but the restaurateur should be convinced that that is a worthwhile thing for them to do, with prices, and of course with their hours as well. A nice color picture of the joint and the chief cook and bottle washer. Can the yellow pages offer that? Of course not-then we wouldn't call it the yellow pages, would we?

Some bars-excuse me, nightclubs-will want live video feeds, I guarantee it. Feeds coming in and feeds going out. For one thing, the Web is generally free--they pay high rental charges for some things right now. But a good webmaster can link all kinds of interesting things. From dance clubs around the country linked with video images, to a good web surfer simply doing his thing in front of a live audience. Video game halls need these things. For example the best people at twenty video game centers around the country are playing each other in some sort of competition, then the running scores will likely be transmitted via the Internet.

Sports centers would use the Internet for up-to-the-minute scores and live images. With Microsoft in the backbone, surely something like that can be offered! These information center types of things will draw in customers to the business. Local box scores for Little League teams in San Diego. I think Microsoft needs to make sure things like these are easy for the local Internet companies to offer to the local businesses. JAVA, SHOCKWAVE, whatever it takes. Write our own code if we have to, of course...

Another area that should not be forgotten is the ability of such a service to provide for urgent information. For example, some of the local hospitals offer information read-back services by phone now ("Press 457 for information on Sleeping Sickness, press 458 for information about Snakebites, Press 459...") Perhaps they can be convinced (it shouldn't be too difficult) to put that sort of information on the web, conveniently linked to the Microsoft Local information center. Stored at the Microsoft Local Internet Center equipment, if that's what fit's into your business plan.

Users should log into the system (or come in as anonymous, of course) so that they can personalize the displays for their needs. For example, vegetarians should only have to tell the system once that they don't eat their friends, and from then on from login to login, no matter where they login from, it knows not to suggest a place for eating ribs.

At least here in San Diego, if not elsewhere, I think a lot of companies, organizations, recreation centers, whatever, really are learning to use the web for "real work." Everyone here is investigating it. Companies recognize that it is a powerful communication media for advertising, and for support. Savvy media companies know that the web will only grow, and that even at this infant state, it is a very useful tool. Convincing them of this, at least convincing San Diego companies, has largely been done already.

It's just a matter of helping them figure out what they need to do to fit into a grid of information. Why should a local movie theater care to be on the Web at all, or care to maintain the information in a timely manner? But if they all did it, and the information was aggregated and displayed in a useful manner, and if computer savvy citizens were online basically 24 hours a day (which is certainly the goal in life) then no one would bother calling the theater anymore, or even checking the local paper.

But if the information isn't concise, which would require some level of cooperation among all the theaters in this example, then the whole project is, at least in part, a failure. So we would need to get the information! If only 40% of the theaters participate, that is not 4/10th's as good as if 100% participate. It's more like a hundred times worse than if 99% participate, and infinitely worse than if 100% participate. There has to be cooperation, because if the user has to click on each theater to figure out who's playing something they want to see, they will go scan the paper. It's faster. But if the IP gives them a localized map and lists the theaters nearest them according to start times, they can actually save time and it becomes more convenient. That requires close to 100% participation. At 40%, just about everyone will go scan the page in the local paper instead, which we all know has virtually 100% participation right now.

You and I can probably think a zillion reasons why the web solution is better, but our reasons may be things the theater owner never thought about. They look at web support as an extra expense: "I have to do newspapers and a phone message system anyway. Why should I do the net as well, that's just extra work."

A couple of good reasons are saving time and money. By starting with the information in Web-compatible form, the theater owner can output it to a high quality laser printer for creation of the daily advertisements. The newspaper could download them automatically. Voice response systems could take the web information and enunciate it over the phone. So now, instead of supporting three different media-phones, newsprint, and the web, they really only support one new media-the web-and the others are supported practically automatically. Not bad for a system that is virtually free! This kind of logic needs to be explained again and again, in a hundred different business scenarios across the country.

Perhaps Microsoft should have a newsletter that goes between the local internet companies, that offers suggestions for breaking down those kinds of barriers.

I have a saying. It goes like this: "I don't know how people are going to make money on the web, but I do know this: Soon, regular people will be able to make money on the web. And when that happens, the one's who actually will make money on the web will be the ones with content. And the ones with content will be the ones who recognized early on that they had to start creating the content now."

In keeping with the idea that you are looking for local talent, I have considered a short list of the first ten or twelve people I would call upon for help if you gave me a chance to head up the team here. I'm sure they will have a lot of suggestions as well.

Thank you, again, for the chance to present myself concerning this project. Please be sure to check out the articles at my web site about the web. We both know that right now is the time to act on the web. My particular sense of urgency is due to the peculiar fact that the Convention is just around the corner in this town, and the California Computer Expo is the same month.

Any company would want to jump on these opportunities with both feet because opportunity knocks when it feels like it, not when you feel like it, and you just have to react. I'm just suggesting you push "San Diego" forward in the pack so whoever gets the job here, gets a chance to capitalize on these important upcoming events. I hope it's me, of course...

Please do not hesitate to contact me if there is anything further you would like me to consider about this matter, or about anything else, for that matter! It has been a pleasure thinking about the possibilities such an arrangement can offer.


Russell Hoffman
Owner and Chief Programmer
The Animated Software Co.

Written by Russell D. Hoffman


For more thoughts on the Web, please visit these sites:

Table of Contents

The Animated Software Company

Mail to: rhoffman@animatedsoftware.com
First presented online on May 21st, 1996.
Last modified March 27th, 1997.
Webwiz: Russell D. Hoffman
Copyright (c) Russell D. Hoffman