Wednesday, October 25, 2006

API promotion, Joel Spolsky, tech writing



My client wants to promote an API (application programming interface) to the developer community. I told the client to make sure that they have a good API to begin with, and a good developer tools and support system, often called an SDK (software developers kit), or DP (developer program).

Seeing an API as a "product" and developers as "end-users" or "customers" of the API seems to be a rather new idea. I've been researching this field, emailing developers, registering at developer web sites, and talking to colleagues.

I needed to get up to speed on the developer community, who they are, what they do, how they think, what they need, how to help them. I would never try to exploit or push something at any audience, as my loyal readers are well aware. The blase, understated, low key approach is best for nearly every sales or marketing situation. Aren't we all fed up with hype, high pressure sales, dopey aggressive marketing? I sure am. I hate pushy sales efforts and ham-fisted influencers.

Most people buy more product if you just leave them the hell alone. Set up an environment where the product sells itself, and let your customers browse at their own pace. Seek the benefit of the customer, even if it means encouraging them to go elsewhere to get a more relevant or better product than what you offer.

Sound like marketing suicide? Then you have no experience in this field. Soft, modest, intelligent approaches work best in every sales situation, and I bet my reputation on it. Any sales that is called "a numbers game" is bullshit. "Numbers game" means annoy as many people as possible, until you find some poor chump you can bully or trick into buying your crap.

Truth. Honesty. Friendliness. Altruism. Problem expertise (not just product expertise). That's what makes legitimate sales. And a gentle, but confident approach generates repeat sales and customer satisfaction.

Anyway, I did a ton of research online, then after a few weeks, decided to go to Barnes & Noble to see what I could find. I looked, not at marketing books, but at books on software project management, extreme programming, software development, and other related topics.

Then, I stumbled upon two books from a guy whose blog I already read and enjoy, a pioneer developer and early blogger: Joel Spolsky. This guy is a profound and funny writer. He has the rare gift of drawing analogies. He can make abstract, complex, specialized concepts seem simple, plain, and easy to understand, without dumbing them down with oversimplicity.

Joel Spolsky is the best technical writer I know.

He's the founder of Fog Creek Software, and one of the first bloggers in history. Joel worked at Microsoft, where he designed VBA on the Excel team, among many other astonishing achievements. He hires only programmers who are good communicators, can also write normal English, and tech specifications, really well.

When I make my next trip to NYC, he is someone I would love to meet, even for a few minutes, just a little "Hello, Joel, you're The Man!"

If you're a programmer, project manager, IT department head, software salesman, or computer user of any type, even a teen hook-up blogger, you should consider getting some Joel Spolsky in your brain.

Go to his blog, Joel On Software. If you like what you see, then get these two books pictured above:

Joel On Software (Apress, 2004)

The Best Software Writing 1 (Apress, 2005)

These books rank at the highest level for entertainment, information, writing skill, humor, and wisdom. I put them up there with the best: Tom Peters, Jakob Nielsen, Seth Godin, Chris Locke, David Weinberger, Al and Laura Ries, Harvey Mackay, Jacques Derrida, Peter Drucker.

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