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How Steve Jobs handles trolls (WWDC 1997) (garry.posterous.com)
244 points by ryannielsen on Aug 31, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 65 comments

Context: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenDoc#Cancellation

This guy is not necessary a troll, of course this is just speculation, but if a project he was working on for a few years got cancelled, I could pretty well understand his frustration, even if the decision to cancel turned out valid in the end from a business point of view. I don't think it is valid to stick labels on people (both on the "troll" and on Steve Jobs) without knowing the whole story.

I'm not sure which part of WWDC this might have been from, but long ago there used to be sessions with Q&A, feedback forums, and even sessions where you could talk to the VPs. What this guy did could even be labeled as perfectly reasonable in the right circumstances.

Nowadays of course, only the very rare session even has a 5 minute Q&A, and "Ask the VPs" went the way of Jamba Juice and Mac Pro LAN party funtimes. I was there for the butt end of Apple that cared about face-to-face group feedback at WWDC and I rather miss it. 1-on-1 in labs, dev forums, twitter, and personally knowing Apple engineers doesn't really make up for the educational/entertainment factor of putting engineers on the spot in front of a large crowd with a controversial question.

"Ask the VPs" went the way of Jamba Juice

Jamba Juice is still around.

I think he means that it went the way of Jamba Juice at WWDC.

Yeah, and I go there everyday when I'm in L.A. :D What gives?

I meant Jamba Juice at WWDC, for sure. Nowadays and for the last few years, it has just been Odwalla bottles during the morning and then they go lock it up so I have to lug around a few bottles to last me the entire day. The food seems to stay about the same, but drink-wise quality seems to be going down :) I miss my Jamba Juice and espresso bar.

I went to several WWDCs that had these Q&A sessions, and pretty quickly I stopped going to them. The problem was that the questions were usually very poor, and even when the questioner was asking something that I wanted to know the answer to, I already knew the answer: Either the person on stage didn't know the answer, or couldn't give it, or it was an issue that hadn't yet been decided and so there was no answer.

Many of the "questions" were more expressions of someone's opinion, and almost always these opinions disagreed with the direction Apple was going (otherwise you'd have no reason to complain, naturally) and in every case I can think of, I remember there being evidence that Apple had already considered the perspective of the person complaining.

Apple goes its own way, and of course some people are not going to like it. Many people who don't like it before the fact, do like it after the fact-- remember the derision the iPad and iPhone got between when they were announced and when they shipped?

These Q&A sessions did, however, make it pretty clear to me that Apple is both aware of people's issues, considerate of them, and revealing as much as it can in the normal course of events at WWDC.

Further, I don't think they provided Apple with the feedback they were looking for, and Apple has instead shifted towards establishing relationships with people in the relevant industries and the developer community and keeps in touch with them directly.

I think Apple gets a lot of the good feedback at WWDC from the labs. It used to be, when WWDC was smaller, you could develop relationships with Apple employees at the beer bust and thursday party. But now, I think it is the labs, and the labs provide a time where both parities can dig into the details of the issue, hopefully with code, and figure out the right solution. Also, when labs are use to educate newbies to a technology, the questions they ask is a strong form of feedback.

So, I think Apple is getting the feedback from the community, even more now than it did then. It has just found better ways to do it.

Oh, I absolutely don't deny that Apple is getting more useful feedback in other ways. I just miss the totally random, occasionally useful, and controversial questions. It was just another thing now gone that made WWDC feel like more of a community of developers together rather than a bunch of separate individuals when someone would get up and rant about something a bunch of people were angry about (but of course Apple isn't going to do much about). Now it's all focused on the individual, and the extent of one's "OMG x is getting deprecated!"/"there's a big problem here!" rants is "I'm angry too" posts on devforums, filing radars blindly, and complaining on twitter.

Either way, I still get the "can't talk about it", "don't know", and "file a radar" responses, so I guess it doesn't matter so much what happens at WWDC for me.

It was a question on OpenDoc so I assume '98 or '99. Possibly '97 since Jobs just took over as CEO and was slashing projects left and right.

It's from WWDC '97. It's in the title of the submission, the title of the linked post, the caption under the video, and if followed through to YouTube, the video description. :P

The guy, who is clearly pretty passionate about his point was responding to a previous statement by Jobs that Java was superior to OpenDoc and hence why OpenDoc was junked. This 'troll' was just calling Steve on a bullshit claim, and rightly so (and rather eloquently, I thought). Steve's considered, honest, respectful and above all direct response was a great counterpoint in turn. Well played, both of them.

I don't think Steve's claims about OpenDoc were bullshit at all, he was totally right that any limited success in that market was Java's to take and that OpenDoc had no chance whatsoever: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udyy2gQyNso

But he did directly insult that guy: "I know some of these people, they haven't done anything in 7 years… they leave, and act like the company's going to fall apart the next day…"

I'd hardly call the guy a troll. He was a developer who had sunk time and money into developing with a technology (OpenDoc) that Apple had just killed. He wasn't polite, but he was justifiably upset and dismissing him as a troll is both inaccurate and unfair.

"Troll" has been watered down by some people to the point where it is used on everyone who disagrees with them.

To an even greater extent, there's apparently no difference between liking something on its merits and being a fanboy. I remember when that term used to be thankfully limited to gaming circles.

Really? The PC vs Mac war has been waging since at least the early 90s.

It was at its worst during the G3/G4 era. Once Apple switched to Intel the rivalry sort of lost a lot of steam.

He was rude and abrupt, rather than a troll.

"Troll" still means someone whose goal is to make someone look bad.

In this case, the guy asked a question that he already knew the answer to in an attempt to make Jobs look bad by being the messenger.

Jobs evaded the question, instead of answering it, which was the only way to save face. With trolls, this is almost always the case, because they set up their question in such a way that there's no good answer to it.

>"Troll" still means someone whose goal is to make someone look bad. //

I've always considered it as someone who is trying to push your buttons, get an emotional response from you, make you mad. Making someone look bad is not necessarily trollish, they may well be bad and the comment is attempting to reveal the persons true nature.

Yeah, you should look up the definition of "troll" yourself because that isn't it.

Also, I don't think the guy really "knew" the answer to the question and had legitimate gripes as you would if a project you've been working on for the last x years was suddenly canned.

I'd call the end part questioning what Steve had been doing for the past seven years trollish.

The "inaudible" part of the question is: "I would like, for example, for you to express in clear terms how, say, Java, in any of its incarnations, addresses the ideas embodied in OpenDoc."

What does he say at the start?

>Mr. Jobs, you're a bridesmaid(?)....

>Here it comes...

"Mr Jobs, you are a bright and influential man."

Kind of reminds me of this story: http://techcrunch.com/2010/09/08/kno-raises-46-million-more-...

I know one of the early engineers who wrote the low-level software for that device. He was one of the more arrogant engineers I've known and basically dismissed the iPad because it didn't have enough "power." When he showed me the Kno tablet, I said "I couldn't even fit that thing in my backpack, let alone on any desk. You're never going to sell this thing to people." He insisted that power was more important.

And it turns out he was wrong because he was thinking like an engineer. Kno scrapped that idea and decided to build exclusively for the iPad. http://techcrunch.com/2011/04/08/kno-bails-hardware-30-milli.... Good on them.

The "trolling" (hardly) aspect is a non-story. What's brilliant about this video is the message of starting with the customer experience, and then pick the technologies to serve the customer best.

Should you develop web, desktop, or mobile apps for your next startup? Watch the video. Find a problem, then pick the technology stack that provides the best solution and experience for your customers.

This was really interesting, because lately I've been asking myself how to improve my design ability by starting with the technology or starting with the customer.

I will read through the App Engine docs every day or so to figure out what cool thing I can make out of the APIs provided. Maybe I should forget that and just think to myself 'what would I want to use?'.

IF you have access to Apple's WWDC videos there's a great session about designing iPhone apps in the 2008 videos. (They have the same session every year, but as WWDC has grown it has shifted a bit to be more... useful for the masses.) It will be called "Designing iPhone Apps" or maybe "building great user interfaces" or something like that.

They go thru Apple's process for product development in some very useful detail. I won't try to relate it because I'll get it wrong, or get phases out of order, but the short answer to your question is they design the product, then work on the technology to bring it to life.

I think this session is probably the most revealing Apple has ever been about their "secret sauce". It isn't really proprietary, but they apply it all the time, and to every single product.

I think much of the Steve Jobs mystique comes from Apple simply embedding this practice into their methodology... and they reveal it plainly in at least the 2008 WWDC video (though I think it gets more obscure in later years.)

The 2008 one to watch is Session 351: iPhone Application User Interface Design.

That one session was worth the entire amount of money I paid to go to the conference.

There's another part of the talk (not included in the linked clip) where someone asks Steve what things they'll do differently than the rest of the industry. Steve responds that being different isn't important; what's important is being better. The two have a back and forth on this issue — it's hilarious in hindsight given the perfectionist nature that Apple has come to embody.

And for what it's worth, the market seems to have proven Steve right. Nowadays, we can see some of Apple's competitors resorting to "different" in an attempt to gain traction. Doesn't seem to be working for them, either.

This is the moment I was referring to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnO7D5UaDig#t=12m17s

That is also a great example of how often Steve Jobs contradicted himself. After saying he didn't care about being different or spending money on TV ads, he started his talk at the next WWDC with the "Think Different" TV ad.

Perhaps Apple thinks different by being better, not just different for the sake of being different. I think maybe you're giving evidence for, not against, the post you replied to.

You mean he didn't think TV ads were going to be effective and then he had a different thought on the effectiveness of TV ads?

It's helpful to watch the preface video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=u...!

This is a lesson Microsoft needs and has never really learned, neither under Gates nor Ballmer. The bizarre approach in Windows 8 that has all kinds of UI doing the same thing with no clarity around development platform sounds exactly like what Jobs talks about with people going in 18 different directions.

It also contains some really great words from Jobs like:

"You think about focusing, you think focusing is about saying "yes?" No. Focusing is about saying no. And you've got to say "no," "no," "no." And you know you're going to piss off people. and they go talk to the San Jose Mercury and they write a shitty article about you. And it's really a pisser. Because you wanna be nice, you don't wanna to tell the San Jose Mercury the person who is telling you this was just asked to leave, or this or that. So you take the lumps, and Apple's been taking their share of lumps for the last six months. In a very unfair way. And it's been taking them like an adult and I'm proud of that. And there's more to come, I'm sure. There'll be stories like that, they come and go, but focus is about saying no. And the result of that focus is going to be some really great products. Where the total is much greater than the sum of the parts."

You can also see why the guy questions (in OP video) Jobs: "And when you're finished with that, perhaps you could tell us what you personally have been doing for the last 7 years." -- Jobs mentions that some of the guys who "tell stories" haven't been doing anything last seven years.

Thanks for writing this down. That is a really great talk.

It reminds me both of Microsoft, but even more of Google. Can anybody clearly state where Google is going today? There are so many projects at Google that it is hard to see a coherent vision for the future.

Of course the difference between Google/Microsoft and Apple in 1997 is that Apple didn't have a profitable core business (Windows and Office for Microsoft, Adwords for Google). Google and Microsoft can afford to spread out, but Apple's only chance in 1997 was to focus.

It's also interesting to note that in their early days, both Microsoft and Google were very focussed. They started to spread out when they started earning more money than they could spend. Apple, on the other hand, stayed focused. There is no Apple product that doesn't have a clear purpose.

This thread seems to be more about individual products whereas Jobs here was talking about the direction of the company and its strategy. I don't think they are directly comparable.

But Google at least certainly suffers from a lack of focus as a company. That's what 20% time is, effectively, and while there are some good arguments against it, it seems to work for them. Perhaps the 'no' comes into play when deciding what to throw more resources behind? It might be reasonable to compare loosening the reins on your engineers a bit to pure research where it is hard to get a concrete answer for what technologies something will lead to, but you allocate some funding for it anyway.

As far as I can tell, the goal of Windows 8 is to have 2 kinds of UI: a traditional mouse/keyboard computer interface, and a touch-optimized Metro-derived interface. Since Lion and the iPad have different interfaces, this doesn't seem obviously wrong to me, but perhaps I've misunderstood your point?

The communication about the development platform has been awful. Almost no one seems to understand what they're doing at all, and Microsoft needs to own that problem and fix it. But Peter Bright over at Ars Technica has written several pieces about how everything we know seems to fit together, and it seems to boil down to: (1) C++ isn't going anywhere, (2) there's a huge base of .Net developers, and .Net isn't going anywhere either, (3) there's also a huge base of developers more used to web-standards based tools, and we don't want to make them learn .Net or C++, so there will be tools for them too, (4) there will be a new common UI layer for all of these to improve consistency.

I think the point is that Lion and iOS are two different products specializing in two different UIs, whereas Windows 8 is one product trying to provide both UI styles. This means Windows 8 will have trade offs that are not present in a more specialized OS.

The bizarre approach in Windows 8 that has all kinds of UI doing the same thing with no clarity around development platform sounds exactly like what Jobs talks about with people going in 18 different directions.

Do you mean adding the Ribbon to Windows Explorer and the announcement that you can develop Windows apps in Javascript (respectively)?

Well, more to the point is that the ribbon/Windows apps and the tablet-y Javascript apps look like entirely separate design philosophies crammed together in one product.

Hmm... I think I read his comment differently, as having two independent clauses:

Windows 8...

* has all kinds of UI doing the same thing

* no clarity around development platform

"Mistakes will be made, but that's good because it means decisions are being made."

What a great insight, it's really striking a chord with me right now.

"And, one of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards..."

This is such a common idea in business strategy that I have a hard time believing that most large companies don't, at least at the top, understand it. However, it also seems like a principal that is very hard to stay focused on as a product or service flows down throughout the company. There has to be a very good reason why this strategy flows through Apple's veins, yet gets lost in the mix of many of its competitors.

This is not an easy thing to do. Customers sometimes don't know what they want or how to articulate it.

If you keep having focus groups with customers and continually implement what they ask for you might end up with something like MS Office where you have a kludge of actions buried within and across multiple menu items.

As a contrast to that look at Windows Phone 7. If you've ever used it it's rather elegant. I feel that they looked beyond the "comments box" and dug deeper. It truly feels like they made sure the devices it runs on are communication devices (making calls and texting) first and layered in modern smartphone functionality (applications and cloud storage).

Working backwards from the customer isn't necessarily giving the customer what they're asking you for, but defining a product which will, in fact make something easier, more fun, or scratch an itch to the extent that they will give you money and convince their friends to do the same.

Exactly. Customer outcomes don't have to be described or defined directly by the customer.

And you have that famous quote from Henry Ford that may or may not have been spoken by him:

"If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."


I think you're mistaking "customer desires" and "customer experience". What Jobs is referring to is, what does the customer need, not what they want.

This requires far more than polling users and focus studies. It requires a deep conceptual understanding of what drives your target market (often not your current customers!) and how to get there.

Understanding the Kano model allows you to focus on the "right" features: https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Kano_model

Two great things to note about this video: 1. Jobs puts a good amount of time thinking about what he is going to say. Many presenters would just start speaking, some would ramble, even just a little. Pauses can be a good thing in a presentation for both the speaker and the audience. 2. Start with the customer experience. Absolutely.

Yes, he does spend time to think. Even when he's saying that you can please some people some of the time, you can tell that that is not the real answer, he's still thinking. I think that's his method, say some fluff to fill the time while thinking about the real answer. I saw this another time recently, and I quote from the article in http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2924987 :

The first part of his answer I've completely forgotten because it seemed to be a canned spiel that he had used before. It had something to do with Apple's products or mission. I started losing interest because it sounded like something I might have even heard Steve say before at a keynote. I felt a bit disappointed that my one chance to learn something new and unique about Steve was probably about to end.

But then, as if to try again at my question, he added a second part to his answer.

His response is almost as great as jean patches. Man, that probably makes me sound like a troll. Oh well.

Here's to one of the greatest capitalist visionaries of our lifetime though. In jean patches no less.

That was the first thing I noticed too. What's up with that?

I think huge jean patches are valid 90s style. Maybe not as late as 1997, but they undeniably pair pretty well with the huge teal "Developers" jotted script marquee behind him. It was a different time.

Valid for Theo Huxtable, maybe. Not sure it was working for Steve.

He looks ridiculous, sure, but you can't look at that image with the huge stage decoration and the jean patches and think its any time but the 90s.

I didn't wear them because they were in style. I wore them because that was the only way to save my favorite pairs of jeans from the massive rip in both knees.

This is a great video. For one, it showcases SJ's confidence in deprecating technologies for the benefit of newer and better things.

It also underscores the importance of being able to translate tech "pieces" into compelling products. I'm an app developer. When reading documentation for the latest release of iOS or Lion SDKs, and seeing all of the new APIs, I feel like a kid with a brand-new box of Legos. The challenge (and art) is in combining these technologies to build something actually catchy.

> I would like, for example, for you to express in clear terms how, say java, in any of it’s incarnations, addresses the idea (inaudible).

I believe the (inaudible) part is "embodied in OpenDoc".

Only in America could "what have you been doing the last 7 years?" be considered an insult.

I consider it an interesting and spot-on question with, in fact, a very nice answer, too.

Someone who can't deal with questions like that probably should never dream of becoming CEO of any company at all.

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