Research papers are one of my biggest Internet weaknesses. Another one is post-mortems. If we learn from others' mistakes, then post-mortems are solid education... they're experience reports in their most tangible form.
For some reason, it seems there have been a whole slew of interesting ones on the net recently. Here they are:
- Lambda the Ultimate cited this analysis of why Symbolics failed, as footnoted by Daniel Weinreb. Short story: too much technology, too little business focus. Still, interesting to get the inside view.
- Even better are Daniel Weinreb's posts about the history and impact of Object Design and Objectstore. Orthogonal persistence once seemed like a Really Good Idea to me, until we tried it at Electric Communities in the mid-nineties and couldn't make it work. Even so, it looks like there are some valid use cases that Objectstore exploited about as well as possible. Did you know Amazon evidently relies on Objectstore caching for their entire inventory database?
- Switching gears almost completely, from civilized discussion to rabid flaming, Zed's infamous rant on leaving the Ruby community deserves mention. (WARNING: SOME NOT-SAFE-FOR-STRAITLACED-WORKPLACES CONTENT!) I have to admit I have a weakness for, shall we say, colorful language. The BileBlog (WARNING: DITTO!) was entertaining for a long time, though recently it's gone dark... maybe Hani decided the career impact wasn't worth the flameful fun. I've been tempted to go balls out and get explicit here, but the more I consider it, the less necessary it seems. Wait, that was all a huge digression away from the facts, which are that Zed's rant is entertaining but I have no idea how accurate it is, and his comic self-promotion makes it hard to tell when he's being serious and when he's not, which hinders his message. He kind of wants to have his cake ("I'm so awesome, truly") and eat it too ("Can't you tell I'm mostly joking?"), which doesn't do him any favors.
- Meanwhile, the poor beleaguered Open Source Applications Foundation recently announced that Mitch Kapor is washing his hands of it all. No more funding on his nickel, almost two-thirds of staff laid off, and Katie Parlante left to try to turn it all into real revenue somehow. After six and a half years of Python hacking, they still barely have a usable application. Scott Rosenberg already told the whole epic story, but this seems like almost the last gasp. Open source projects can perish without clear architectural and requirements leadership, and OSAF will forever be the paradigmatic example. (I largely agree with, again, Dan Weinreb's take on it all. I wonder if a good dose of RPython would help out Chandler at all?)
- Finally, this isn't new news (totally the opposite!), but I've got my own personal post-mortem skeleton in the closet, namely my involvement with the legendary Xanadu project. I'm quoted in the Wired post-mortem article. Some of what I said there was classic "this kid is young and bitter" uncensored vitriol. I'm glad that the brilliant people I worked with there understood that, because I want to work with some of them again some day! But overall, there is a lot of truth in that article, and it's just a great read regardless. (Warning: that link is to the printer-friendly version, and Wired, under their new Conde Nast overlords, has lost their web-fu and has broken image links everywhere. Doesn't matter; the text is all that counts in this instance.)
I've made some whopper mistakes in my career -- some quite recently -- and it's too bad it will be a long time, if ever, before I get to tell the tales. (The downsides of modern tight-lipped corpocracy....) Still, we (hopefully) live and we (hopefully) learn. The more post-mortems, the better!