Joel on Shockwave

I’ve been working on developing a functional spec for an application over the past couple of weeks. It’s something I’ve done for most of my larger projects because it helps me organize and think through the design, but the one I’m doing now has to be interpreted by other people. So I’ve been doing a little reading on the subject to make sure I knew what other people might expect and ran across the site Joel on Software, which has several years worth of interesting, highly readable articles on software development strategies.

Naturally, he has an article — actually, a series of articles — on why functional specs are useful, what should go into them, and who should be responsible for them. I don’t agree with everything he says, but there is a fair amount of decent information there.

One thing that did catch my eye, though, appears in the example spec he links to from the articles. It’s a humorous example, written nearly six years ago, for a web site that tell users what the time is. Here’s his description of the site’s splash screen:

An annoying, gratuitous Shockwave animation that plays stupid music and drives everyone crazy. Splash Screen will be commissioned by a high-paid graphics animation boutique in a loft in Soho from people who bring their dogs to work, wear found objects safety-pinned to their ears, and go to Starbucks four times before lunch.

After the animation has played for about 10 seconds, a link that says “SKIP THIS” will fade into view in the bottom right corner. To avoid people seeing this and clicking on it, SKIP THIS will be so far down and to the right that most people won’t see it. It should be at least 800 pixels from the left border of the animation and 600 pixels from the top.

Clicking on SKIP THIS goes to Home Page. When the animation is complete, it will redirect the browser to Home Page automatically.

Open Issue
If Marketing allows, we should deposit a cookie on the user’s computer if they click SKIP THIS which will cause the animation to always be skipped in the future. Frequent visitors should not have to see the animation more than once. I talked to Jim in Marketing about this and he’s going to take point in convening a committee of Sales, Marketing, and PR to discuss.

Does that “annoying, gratuitous” description of an intro animation sound familiar? Does it sound like Shockwave? Or is it possible that even someone who worked in the software industry at a fairly high level was confused enough by the Macromedia/Shockwave/ marketing strategy to call a Flash animation “Shockwave”. Pretty funny, eh?

Astroturf, Fear, and Aspiration

Does the thought that you’re facing the most corrupt, sneakiest tactics ever devised by Republicans get you down? Do you imagine that they’ve sunk to record lows of devious behavior and worry that the nation can never recover?

Well, I can’t promise that the nation can recover from the Republican disease, but as for whether Republican tactics are new, I can point you to a little historical piece called “When the Little Guy Helped the Wealthy Keep Their Tax Secret” by Cynthia Crossen, in the “DÉJÀ VU” column from today’s Wall Street Journal. Crossen is the author of Tainted Truth: The Manipulation of Fact in America and The Rich and How They Got That Way and is an editor for the WSJ.

Crossen’s story describes how an Astroturf campaign (thirty years before Astroturf even existed!), an appeal to fear, and aspirational politics were used to beat back sunshine laws meant to shame millionaires into — wait for it — paying their taxes.

The problem came to light during a Senate investigation of the 1929 stock-market crash: Some of America’s wealthiest citizens, including the banker J.P. Morgan and his partners, were legally paying nothing in federal income taxes.

The solution, endorsed by majorities of both parties in Congress: Make individuals’ income-tax information public, and shame the evaders into paying their fair share.

Under the Revenue Act of 1934, anyone who filed a federal tax return would also complete another — pink — form, with his or her name, address, income, deductions and total taxes paid.

In 1934, Mr. [Robert] La Follette, a Progressive senator from Wisconsin, introduced the pink-slip amendment to a tax bill, and the measure passed easily.

Within months, a small conservative lobbying group, led by a Pittsburgh glass heir named Raymond Pitcairn, began stirring up a protest movement against pink slips, denouncing them as a violation of the constitutional right to privacy.

The group’s biggest challenge was to win over at least some of the vast majority of Americans who were too poor to be affected by the pink-slip law. Mr. Pitcairn appealed to their paranoia: If one day they earned enough to file pink slips, how would they feel about their finances being open to business competitors, high-powered salesmen, blackmailers and, the group’s most potent bugaboo, kidnappers.

Two years earlier, Charles Lindbergh Jr. had been snatched from his crib and found dead a few months later. The alleged kidnapper, Bruno Hauptmann, was arrested in late 1934, and after a widely publicized trial, was convicted in February 1935, just as the pink-slip debate was raging.

Hundreds of people copied Mr. Pitcairn’s boilerplate in letters to congressmen and editors, protesting the “outrageous invasion” of their privacy.

In June 1935, less than a year after it passed, the law was repealed.

Mr. Pitcairn had successfully manipulated public opinion on a matter affecting a tiny minority of Americans. “Minorities create news because they do daring things and act together,” he explained in a recruiting letter. “They get their way against larger numbers because they demand what they want and make a fuss about it.”

Read the whole thing, it’s truly entertaining to see this kind of thing in the WSJ. Just remember that because it worked 70 years ago doesn’t mean it has to work again. It’s like I always say: “Those who do not learn from history are stupid”.