How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age

A friend recently made me a deal where he would buy me this book if I’d read it and tell him something that I learnt from it. I think this is all a cunning plan of his to get all his friends to do the same and save him having to read it himself but I’m never one to turn down a free book, especially when it is one that a former manager recommended I read. Well ok so he recommended I read the original which was written in the 1930′s. Since then there have been a number of books based on the same ideas for different audiences, even one in pink for teen girls (I am not kidding). This version attempts to bring the concepts into the modern age by using more recent examples and explaining how you can apply them to the internet age.

The title of this book always put me off. It made it sound like a textbook on manipulative practices to make people like you. That isn’t really what it’s about though. It’s more about changing your own attitudes and behaviours than it is trying to get others to change theirs. The claim is that others will react to your attitude towards them and often respond in kind so if you can change yourself for the better then you’ll see others respond to you in better ways.

The principles in this book are well worth anyone taking the time to read over and try to follow. This is particularly true of those in corporate environments and they are all vital for those who manage people. It should come as no surprise then that all of them are also covered to one degree or other in other management books that I’ve read. This means that nothing in this book was completely new to me. Some of the chapters did put some of the ideas into different contexts and had me thinking of ideas that might help me manage my teams though.

What I liked about the style of the book was its simplicity. It’s short and doesn’t mess around. You can see what all the techniques are from the table of contents. For many you don’t even need to read into the chapters to understand why they are important but the chapters provide useful examples of how they can be applied in certain situations. I’m planning on making a list of the chapter headings to stick up by my desk somewhere for quick reference. A couple of the chapters seem to go off the rails a little, particularly towards the end and some of the examples meant for the digital age felt a little contrived and jammed in for the sake of it. I do wonder if it might be as good to read the original and rely on yourself to figure out how to apply it to the modern world.

I think the thing I immediately drew from the book is that I am consistently too negative. I was at first going to make this post a scathing review of the book because for sure it does have some problems. But that would be ignoring all of the benefits you can get from reading it. And what would be the point? Maybe it makes me feel big and clever but it doesn’t make me look big and clever. So hopefully this is a more positive review that should convince you to take a flick through, it is certainly worthwhile if you haven’t read much like it in the past.

And now I feel big and clever for seeing that being negative only makes me feel big and clever. Ah well, can’t win them all.

Managing changes is the key to a project’s success

TomTom made an interesting claim recently. Their summary is “when it comes to automotive-grade mapping, open source has some quite serious limitations, falling short on the levels of accuracy and reliability required for safe navigation

This is a bold claim and they talk about recent studies that back them up. Unfortunately none of them are referenced but it’s pretty clear from the text of the article that all they are doing is comparing the accuracy of TomTom maps with existing open source maps. So they’re just generalising, this doesn’t prove a limitation with the open source process itself of course, just perhaps of a particular instance of it.

In fact having read the article I think TomTom are just misunderstanding how open source development works. Their basic complaint seems to be that open source maps are entirely community generated with no proper review of the changes made. In such a situation I’m sure the data generated is always going to be liable to contain errors, sometimes malicious, sometimes honest. But that isn’t how open source development works in general (I make no claim to know how it works for open source mapping). I’d probably call such a situation crowd-sourcing.

Successful open source projects rely on levels of management controlling the changes that are made to the central repository of the source code (or in this case mapping data). In Firefox for example every change is reviewed at least once by an expert in the area of the code affected before being allowed into the repository. Most other open source projects I know of run similarly. It’s this management that is, in my opinion, key to the success of the project. Clamp down too hard on changes and development is slow and contributors get frustrated and walk away, be too lenient and too many bugs get introduced or the project veers out of control. You can adjust the level of control based on how critical the accuracy of the contribution is. Of course this isn’t some special circumstance for open source projects, closed source projects should operate in the same fashion.

The part of their post that amuses me is when they say “we harness the local knowledge of our 60 million satnav customers, who can make corrections through TomTom Map Share“. So basically they accept outside contributions to their maps too. As far as their development goes it sounds like they function much like an open source project to me! The only claim they make is that they have better experts reviewing the changes that are submitted. This might be true but it has nothing to do with whether the project is open source or not, it’s just who you find to control the changes submitted.

There is of course one place where open source is at an arguable disadvantage. The latest bleeding edge source is always available (or at least should be). If you look at the changes as they come in, before QA processes and community testing has gone on then of course you’re going to see issues. I’m sure TomTom have development versions of their maps that are internal only and probably have their fair share of errors that are waiting to be ironed out too. Open source makes it perhaps easier to end up using these development versions so unless you know what you’re doing you should always stick to the more stable releases.

Just because a project accepts contributions from a community doesn’t mean it is doomed to fail, nor does it mean it is bound to succeed. What you have to ask yourself before using any project, open source or not, is how good are those controlling changes and how many people are likely to have reviewed and tested the end result.