If you’re searching, you’re probably shaving the yak.

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The more you code, the more you search. It’s just a fact of life. There’s no way any programmer has time to write every line of code herself, so all we hit the Google bar and begin hunting for the code we need to get the job done a bit quicker.

But quicker isn’t always…well, quicker. One search often leads to another which leads to a chat board that leads to a threaded discussion and so forth and so on and pretty soon you’re shaving a yak trying to figure out where the last 60 minutes of your life went.

Hold on…doing what? Yak shaving is one of those terms that, on the surface, makes no sense whatsoever. But it conjures such a bizarre image that, once you understand its meaning, you’ll recognize it just about everywhere you go.

How does one shave a yak?

One of the most cited definitions comes from The Jargon File, courtesy of Eric S. Raymond:

Yak shaving is…any seemingly pointless activity which is actually necessary to solve a problem which solves a problem which, several levels of recursion later, solves the real problem you’re working on.

The entry refers to what may be the seminal definition by Carlin J. Vieri, Ph.D., described in an email from Jeremy H. Brown to his colleagues in the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab back in 2000.

Yak shaving is what you are doing when you’re doing some stupid, fiddly little task that bears no obvious relationship to what you’re supposed to be working on, but yet a chain of twelve causal relations links what you’re doing to the original meta-task.

The term has been propagated by two blogs, one by Seth Godin and one by Joi Ito, who notes that yak shaving can have some positive effects. But the definition seems to ultimately go back to an episode of Ren & Stimpy. Adam Katz, another alumnus of the MIT AI Lab, wrote:

Though not a regular viewer of Ren and Stimpy, I did see the ‘Yak Shaving Day’ episode and thought it bizarre enough to be the end of a long chain of tasks.”

And then writer Alexandra Samuel offered another bit of etymology on her blog, which effectively boils down to that time of year, every year, when Tibetan villagers realize that their rice harvest could have been be made easier if they shaved their yaks to facilitate rice-paddy bridge crossings.

But if you really want to see what yak shaving is, check out this perfect illustration from an episode of Malcolm in the Middle.

And…there you go. I’m officially shaving the yak about shaving the yak. For programmers, the idea of getting caught up in meta-tasks is all too common. But the very act of realizing you’re doing something just may be the key to salvation.

Finding another ways – or maybe a better razor

In his blog, “Don’t shave that yak – God loves lazy programmers,” Pete Warden noted,

“I swear that the biggest reason I’m a more effective programmer now than when I was 20 is that I’m better at spotting when I’m shaving a yak, and finding another way.”

Like Pete, we found a better way and it became the basis of ANSWR, an elegant Google plug-in that helps you tag, annotate and instantly share your searches. Look, here’s our ANSWR results for yak shaving stories.

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Best of all, friends don’t let friends shave the yak either. Because when your team uses ANSWR, it becomes a instant collaboration platform. One tagged search means others can see what you found useful, comment on it, improve it, or add to it…which helps everyone work more efficiently. And ultimately, that’s what coding should be all about.

 

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Learn more about how ANSWR can help you curate smarter and share better with your team.

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If you’re searching, you’re probably shaving the yak.

ANSWR For Teams

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We’re proud to announce the public availability of ANSWR for teams beta!

We all spend a lot of time using Google to research technology solutions, search for code snippets and sift through the recommendations that we find. Even the simple searches for syntax or setup steps can often cause us to waste more time yak shaving than we intended. We know the answer is out there and someone on the team probably has already looked for it, we just don’t know who or where they found it. So I search and you search and we all search.

And it sucks.

Until ANSWR. And now it’s free for small teams!

Here’s how:

  1. Add the ANSWR extension to Chrome and upload any or all of your useful bookmarks
  2. Then with only one click, use ANSWR to bookmark, hashtag and annotate answers, sites and pages.
  3. ANSWR instantly makes these finds available to you and your team and puts them in the place you already are – at the top of the Google search results.

There is so much more to the platform but those are basics that make ANSWR so valuable and easy to use.

At ANSWR we eat our own dogfood and it has made our whole team faster & has made everyone smarter by turning search into a team based knowledge sharing tool. That said, we’re still a small team and would love to help other teams get faster while learning from your expertise and feedback.

Get started, it’s easy:

  • Download ANSWR now and use it for yourself and with your team
  • Share it with your friends who you think could benefit
  • Please let us know what you like and what you don’t or what features you’d like to see next – feedback@answr.com
  • Learn about new features here – Like Firefox support or HipChat and Slack integrations of your knowledge (coming soon!)

So jump on the beta. It helps our team every day and I believe it will really help you.

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Learn more about how ANSWR can help you curate smarter and share better with your team.

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ANSWR For Teams

Search Sucks

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For those of us in the tech industry, who rely heavily on the internet to do our jobs, having all of the world’s information at our fingertips can be both empowering and disarming at the same time.

Whether we’re talking about software developers with a coding problem or support engineers with hardware issues, our first stop is the Internet and most likely a Google search. From there we bounce between different sites, scroll through forums and retool our queries in an effort to identify the best answer for the problem at hand.

Each of these search missions seems to take frustratingly longer than it should and is often made up of many queries and results strung together to find just one answer. Then, just like us, our teammates consistently embark on the same or similar time consuming search missions in an effort to find those solutions again at a later date. Let’s face it, search sucks but repetitive search sucks interminably more.

When one person on your team finds the answer, everyone should have it.

I have tried many different techniques to avoid relentlessly banging my face on my keyboard in frustration when I can’t find the elusive piece of content that I ran into on the internet a few weeks ago. They all eventually become unwieldy.

Seriously, how many bookmarks can one person have and maintain? I’ve also turned to internal wikis and various knowledge systems to keep track of important information and share it with my teams but they all seem to go stale rather quickly, requiring an inordinate amount of care and feeding.

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All curation grows until it requires search. All search grows until it requires curation.” — Benedict Evans

Curate, Annotate, Share

The key principal of taking the time to curate information is to avoid that frustration and to make finding the answers faster a second, third and fourth time. It’s also to keep your teammates from doing the same by sharing pertinent information with them in a seamless way.

All of my half-measures and attempted solutions just shifted the problem from one system to another and so on. Ideally, I’d be able to mark a useful piece of content, make a few notes on it, share it with my team and never think about it again until I or one of my teammates need to access it.

At ANSWR we were built upon this principal and feel that we have the solution. Browser based, one click sharing and annotation of valuable information, seamlessly integrated into how you already work. We save you and your team time and a few broken keyboards.

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Learn more about how ANSWR can help you curate smarter and share better with your team.

Keep up with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Search Sucks