Ben Langhinrichs

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July, 2009
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Genii Weblog


Civility in critiquing the ideas of others is no vice. Rudeness in defending your own ideas is no virtue.


Mon 27 Jul 2009, 11:33 PM
This is a difficult post for me to write, as I don't want to get in the middle of all the nonsense which has been percolating in parts of the community, but I feel like it would be a disservice to keep quiet on this matter.  In the past couple of days, there have been two announcements, first by Tim Tripcony of Lotus911 and next by Bruce Elgort of Elguji Software.  Tim announced that he had created a clone of StackOverflow.com, called Elenchus, "in about 7 hours" and then posted it on OpenNTF.org.  Bruce then announced the product which he and others have been hinting about, a Q&A system called IQJam.  (Note: while I do not work for Elguji, I have worked with Bruce before and he does use our CoexEdit in the IdeaJam software).

Now, leaving aside the fact that Elenchus seems to be a clear attempt at a spoiler, which is a tacky and undignified way for a prominent member of the Lotus community to act, what does each announcement do to the reputation of its creator, and by extension their company's reputation?

When Elguji brought out IdeaJam, it was heralded as an exciting and attractive website, but it has also proven its worth as an idea generation engine.  Many great ideas have been proposed, and some have been incorporated into Notes/Domino.  IBM follows the site closely, and the community has embraced it.  Elguji has carefully worked to enhance and build on that reputation.  IQJam seems like a natural extension.  I remember even trying to figure out how to use IdeaJam for a Q&A type purpose, and realizing that the functionality was too different to make it work.  I am excited to see IQJam, which has clearly been carefully designed with a mind to both creating a great product, and to protecting and enhancing further the reputation and credibility of Elguji Software.  How well the product  actually works remains to be seen, obviously, but everything about the design, development and announcement of IQJam speak to the professionalism and quality of the Elguji team.  If anything, this strengthens Elguji and its reputation by making it clear that they are not content to rest on their laurels (and there are plenty), but are reaching out to solve related problems for its customers.

But what about Elenchus?  Obviously, Tim Tripcony did not announce this as a Lotus911 product, but his announcement on his blog (with its prominent Lotus911 logo) does not clarify that the product is unrelated to Lotus911.  Furthermore, his name is frequently associated with Lotus911.  But why should this matter?

It matters because Tim doesn't seem to understand the difference between a hacked up imitation of a working system, and a polished, carefully designed and carefully produced product.  He was able to produce something that looked a lot like StackOverflow.com (some think too similar for legal comfort, although I don't really think that is much of an issue).  He was able to produce something that on a surface level seemed to work like StackOverflow.com.  Both feats are a credit to his ingenuity and to xpage development capabilities.  Neither has much to do with being a real product.  Tim's apparent belief that he is further along than he is represents a discredit both to him and to his employer.  Perhaps it shouldn't be so, but I can't read his post without wondering if there is a whole lot less to Bones, for example, than I had thought.  If a copied shell of an application created in 7 hours is passed off as a nearly finished product, that does not speak to the care and professionalism of Tim's company.  Now, I don't mean to slander Tim, who has clearly worked hard and written a cool demo showing some of the power of xpages, but it isn't close to being a real product, and he should know better.

Why am I so sure?  I haven't downloaded Elenchus and tried it out, so how can I say this with confidence?

Because I write real products, and every single significant feature in those products takes more than 7 hours of testing.  Even if I waved a magic wand and iFidelity appeared, fully formed and written, I could not and would not release it as if it were a real product.  Genii Software has a reputation,  as do I, and protecting that reputation requires more.  Protecting that reputation takes testing, and not just feature testing.  It takes testing of assumptions, testing by different people with different skill levels, testing of design flexibility.  It takes deliberation and reflection to be sure that you are meeting the customers where they need to be, research to ensure you are not violating anybody's patents, tweaking to ensure that installation, configuration and use are both easy and bullet proof.

If Tim had released Elenchus as a cool demo to show what you could accomplish in 7 hours, I'd be the first to cheer him on, and I'd also congratulate the Lotus911 folks for hiring such a smart and talented developer.  But his post does not claim that, and as such reflects poorly on his understanding of what a real product is, and by extension reflects poorly on his employer's judgment.  I wish it were not so, but that's the way I see it.  If an employee of mine were to release a product like this, I'd insist the he post an apology and clarification, and even if he did, I'd personally post an apology and clarification.  My company's reputation is too important to leave an impression like that floating around.  I don't know whether Lotus911 feels as strongly about its own reputation, but I'd assume they do.  How they choose to handle the situation will, like it or not, also have an impact on their reputation, whether for good or for ill.

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