The irony of not loving software when you work for a software company

Today was one of those days where I spent too much time futzing around with software I didn’t really want in order to get rid of software I liked even less. Sick thing is, I actually felt like I accomplished something because all the little pieces more or less worked together in the end.

Isn’t it funny how the software we supposedly need to do our jobs (in this case, read my corporate email) is the stuff we aren’t happy with? I mean, I would never choose software this annoying if I were spending my own money. Well, I wouldn’t choose to spend money on email clients at all if it were up to me. But it isn’t up to me, so I must run Microsoft crapware on my Mac, one way or the other. I can have XP in Parallels so I can run Outlook, or I can have MS Office 2004 and Entourage for email.

Right now, I’m trying to figure out which is the lesser evil. Given the crazy long startup times for XP and its piggish memory habits, I’m leaning toward Entourage. I got that up and running and talking to the Exchange server today. I don’t think the calendar is going to play as nice as I’d like, and it may be even more difficult for me to schedule meetings with other people, but somehow I think I’ll manage not to let that bug me too much.

It will be an adventure of sorts, if I can really ditch XP in corporate land. Maybe I’ll finally commit to one of those Mac-only productivity/life management uber-programs. I’ve got DEVONthink installed and the scary we’re not kidding beta version of OmniFocus. I’ve got at least three text editors, not including the ones that came with OS X or are really word processors. I never even open iCal. After a brief flirtation with a mind-mapping app, I’ve left it alone. I dutifully skim all those 10 ways to use Quicksilver to take over the world posts. Meh.

I think my problem is that I don’t love software.

I love what some software can do, mind you. I love what I’ve learned to do and am learning to do with my photography in Photoshop. I love how NetNewsWire doesn’t choke on 150+ feeds and lets me manage my subscriptions the way I want to. I love the little widgets that tell me the weather and that my laptop is about to cook my legs and who my new gmail is from. I don’t feel like any of these things are trying to take over my life, though.

I want to use tools that don’t get in my way, that let me be messy if I want to be, that just work, that are adaptable beyond color schemes. I want software makers to realize that I don’t care about software. I don’t want software running my life. I want to do stuff, not Get Things Done.

When should corporate firewalls act more like cell membranes?

I’m headed over to the airport, for a trip to the Intuit mothership in Mountain View. I’ll be there for a series of meetings, which should result in moving collaborative efforts behind the firewall further along. My main interest in this is social networking behind the firewall. (I’ve posted before about how it would be a good idea for corporate directories to be more like facebook.)

As part of the process I’ve spent some time poking around in IBM’s Lotus Greenhouse, which is their beta environment for things like Connections. (If you have access, you can find me and my experimental blog in the greenhouse.) I think it is great that IBM is actively soliciting feedback and letting users kick the tires in that environment. The most important change I think they need to make is to support users directly connecting with each other: give me contacts, friends, whatever you want to call them, but let me connect with people. That is, after all, what social software is for.

This extranet-like beta environment also has me thinking about the firewalled world in general, and how I think there will be increasing pressure — from employees — for a more flexible environment. As the use of social tools (blogging, del.icio.us-style bookmarking, wikis) expands behind the firewall, I think we need to ask questions about the value in creating corporate walled gardens.

I don’t mean in the the way that question is more frequently thought of, either. Not the overly suspicious “what is the ROI of employees blogging?” but poking at the assumption that everything needs to live behind the firewall. There is a risk that dark blogs have the potential to scale the echo chamber to deafening proportions faster than the public web. Now, this can be mitigated by the bloggers themselves reading, writing about, and linking to folks on the outside. I see internal Intuit bloggers linking out to great stuff all the time; but I worry that a large enough company blogosphere could still be an impoverished one, compared to the public web. It makes me happy when I see what I think of as “permeable firewall” experiments, where the firewall functions more like a cell membrane — such as the Avenue A | Razorfish intranet‘s use of publicly generated del.icio.us tags.

I realize there are things — trade secrets, financial data, etc. — that always make sense to keep off the public web. When we get social networking a la facebook/myspace/yasn at work, I know I don’t want my profile info out here. I don’t want to publish my private cellphone number to the world; I don’t need cold calls from recruiters who have harvested my info. And there are things that aren’t ready yet — not everyone is willing to share their still-baking ideas with the world.

Of course, I am. That’s part of why I have a blog. As we we trend toward more transparency, I expect to have even more company.

Don’t call me (even if you get a clue)

Whenever I see the staring red eye of my voicemail light I think, “if you really loved me, you’d send me email.” I had to deal with the light when I went in to the office today. The message I heard contained possibly the longest and most clueless stringing together of buzzwords ever in one almost-sentence: “web development, interaction design, css, ajax, flex, lots of web 2 technologies, user experience, and information architecture.”

Note to companies looking to hire people who “get” the web: clueless recruiters are the wrong approach. They sound bad, and that makes your company sound bad.

Why would anyone who gets it want to go work for a company that so clearly doesn’t get it they can’t even find a headhunter who sounds even an eensy weensy bit convincing on voicemail that they get it? A stratospheric level of cluelessness isn’t a rewarding challenge to take on, it’s annoying. If you are exposed to it long enough, it will suck the will to think and live right out of you.