Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mobile e-commerce & augmented reality?

When you think e-commerce what comes to mind? For me, I think Amazon.com and eBay.com. I remember reading somewhere that Amazon wasn't the first online bookstore, but in fact it was books.com - which is gone now by the way, and instead redirects to Barnes & Noble. Today, Amazon doesn't just sell books anymore, heck I can even order 18-inch wheels from there. But, what comes next? The e-commerce market is already at a point of saturation and it comes down to a battle-of-the-brands. Do I order this book from Amazon? or Barnes & Noble? or even Walmart? Should I buy a Dell from Dell.com? or from Walmart.com?

I blogged about social e-commerce at the beginning of this year, and some things are getting rolling in Collier's predictions, but we still have more to go before all her 2010 predictions are realized; sadly it won't be 2010; we're close I think, but I think social e-commerce is still a few years ahead. Its hard for these data silos to get broken down to really enable me to receiving recommendations from Amazon based on my Facebook friends or even tweets. Maybe I'm wrong.

But while these silos are up, m-commerce and augmented reality can go hand in hand, and it solves one of the problems faced by online shoppers; the "I'm not sure how this will look" problem. Its not a problem that every online store has, ex. I won't question how a PS3 will look like in my living room, nor will I question how a Mac mini will look like on my desk, so its not a problem there. It is a problem when buying something bigger, like furniture, appliances, decorations, wall paint, etc. Things that either take a lot of room, or might lead you to the dog house if your significant other does not approve take a lot of time to undo if you don't like where you placed it.

For e-commerce a picture is not worth 1000 words for most products out there. In the crazy world between my ears, I would go to the new place I'm moving into this month, pull out my iPhone 3GS and go to Ikea.com and start up their augmented reality furniture browser. I can then load up all the furniture I'm moving from the old place and see how everything comes together. It will then recommend other products based on the data it's collecting via my phone's camera, maybe different colours? maybe furniture pads to prevent the table from scratching the hardwood? Perhaps it'll recognize the TV and recommend a different place to reduce the glare in the morning since the windows face East?

Can it be done? I think so. The technology is already available. Where do you see mobile commerce heading in the next two years?

Friday, September 03, 2010

Don't tell me your TV supports Twitter (Part 2)

In Part 1 I ranted about the Samsung commercial that I caught on TV raving about accessing Facebook and Twitter from their new TV. I questioned how TV manufacturers are repeating the marketing campaigns the telecoms did a few years ago when the iPhone came out on select telecoms. The ones that weren't chosen such as Bell and Telus raved about their Blackberry, Palm and HTC lineups. They coined the term "social phones" or "smarter smart phone" and being able to access Facebook on their phones. Anyway, the future of mobile is in the apps, not the device nor the platform. I believe the same is true for TV.

In Part 2 I question the role of TV service providers and broadcasters in this new "smart TV" era that seems to be around the corner. The good thing that is going for these guys, is that they usually are Internet providers as well, or are at least partnered with an Internet provider. Smart TVs obviously need an Internet connection, so these guys will still be there. Their role could change a bit. As more Internet ready devices hit the market, it doesn't make sense for them to split their business into three lines; Internet, TV, Phone. What happens when we start getting fridges with WiFi / data chips? or washing machines? or even cars? I predict they'll just all converge into one line, connectivity and you pay for the data you use. Before we get there, we'll probably go through a stage where a standard package will give you X devices, a "gold" package gets you Y devices, and a "VIP" package gets you Z devices. Soon after that, that too won't cut it as it becomes the norm that devices have these connectivity chips built in.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fast Mover Advantage?

I just finished reading the book "The Accidental Billionaires" by Ben Mezrich. The book provides great stories into the lives of the "founding fathers" of probably the most successful website on the Internet today - Facebook - although it wasn't a first mover. What amazed me the most about the book is how fast everything was happening.

Maybe once upon a time "First Mover Advantage" was important, that time I believe is long gone. Maybe it was important when building and shipping any product or service was extremely costly and time consuming. It was probably an important idea or theory for the Space Race in the 60s and 70s. I don't think it is all that important today.

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/blackbutterfly/3051019058/

I think people should think more about the "Fast Mover Advantage" (I'm surprised there is no Wikipedia page on this today). The fast mover is able to counter all the hypothetical advantages associated with the first mover. Here is why:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Don't tell me your TV supports Twitter

Last night I caught a Best Buy ad on AMC about Samsung's smart/social/internet TV.  It reminded me of the Telus/Rogers/Bell BlackBerry ads a couple of years ago marketing Twitter and Facebook as features of their smartphones. They're still doing it with terms like "social phone" or "smarter smart phone" which I don't really understand.  I was still really excited about this ad, especially because it got the gears in the crazy place between my ears turning again...

Samsung seems confused about what to do with Google entering a market in which Samsung is one of the largest players. Add to that, Apple's arrival later this year with iTV. The same two companies that pretty much destroyed Samsung's chances in the phone industry. Samsung has its own OS for its phones, which also powers their smart tv - Bada. This is a bad idea:
  • PopularityRecent market results show iOS and Android capturing about 80% of the mobile web consumption. (Not including iPad). Since these numbers were gathered in June, the iPad has probably gained some more ground for iOS. Let's keep it at 80%. Samsung Bada's share is a fraction of that 10% for "Other", with probably an equal if not greater chunk of that "Other" going to SymbianOS.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Yahoo's culture vs. Google's culture

Two interesting articles I have read in the past week had to do with Yahoo's "hacker-centric" culture - or lack of. Two different views, one from Paul Graham's "What happened to Yahoo" post and the second from Ryan Grove's "What's happening at Yahoo!". Both were excellent reads and provide an interesting look into Yahoo's culture.

These articles got me interested in comparing both Yahoo! and Google, and see which is more a technology/software firm. I started out with the leadership team of both companies and counted how many engineers, scientists and mathematicians are in both. I could be wrong, but I'm considering a "hacker-centric" culture is composed of a high number of engineers, scientists and mathematicians. So I'll refer to these as "techies".

The results were pretty amazing. The higher that number is, the more "hacker-centric" that company is. Feel free to comment about this, if I'm being biased or overlooked something. One thing I did, but not on purpose was I double counted some members if they were in both the board of directors and VP lists, so the ratios are a little skewed, but still the difference is huge.

First insight was the very different leadership structure in both companies. The boards of directors for both are rather similar, nine members in Google's, ten in Yahoo!'s, roughly the same number of "techies"; four in Google's vs three in Yahoo. Nothing surprising here.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Daily Digest

Last night I came across this sweet web app called paper.ly that generates a newspaper of your Twitter feed daily. It comes with a pretty basic embed that displays a table of contents for your own personalized news paper that you can embed on your blog or website. The people I follow are mainly from the tech community in North America and the Toronto Twitter community. You'll find posts from the usual suspects like GigaOM, TechCrunch, Mashable, and Seth Godin. Also some local people like Alex Blom, Scott Stratten, Breanna Hughes and Joallore have appeared in my daily digest today. Anyway, if you are interested in seeing what the Twitter community I'm following is publishing on Twitter, feel free to bookmark this page.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Matt Ridley: When ideas have sex

Just came across this fascinating video on TED. Needless to say that when technological ideas have sex we can end up with the Twitters, Facebooks, iPads, iPods, iPhones, etc. etc. Enjoy.
At TEDGlobal 2010, author Matt Ridley shows how, throughout history, the engine of human progress has been the meeting and mating of ideas to make new ideas. It's not important how clever individuals are, he says; what really matters is how smart the collective brain is.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Stay on your toes, think proactively

I was coming back home today and while in the elevator the lady that just got on forgot to press her floor's button. She realized a little too late as we passed the 15th floor; her floor. She then press 17, but that too was too late, then she pressed 18, and again that was too late. She gave up and got off the 20th floor with someone else. At that point I was thinking, if she pressed 17 and 18 at the same time, she probably would have gotten off at the 18th floor. Anyway, no harm done when you miss your floor, I just thought its an interesting intro to this post.

When things don't go to plan, most start to think reactively, how do I get back on plan? We panic and try all sort of different things to reduce the damage - with little consideration to the consequences of our remediation. Ex. You are driving on the highway and tailgating the person in front. Breaks go on, and now you are forced to slam on the breaks to avoid a collision. Thinking proactively would mean you wouldn't have been tailgating the person ahead, it would mean you were aware of what is happening around you. Isn't that what you get taught at driving school? Defensive driving is proactive thinking.

Even when things go to plan, you can begin to think reactively. Task 1 is done, on to task 2, then task 3, and so on. Following your plan blindly is also reactive thinking. I also think the longer your actions have been in line with your plan, the worse the consequences of your reactions will be when things eventually don't go to plan.

So, shit happens and you can't do anything about it, but good leaders shine when shit hits the fan. Good leaders are proactive thinkers. People who think reactively, are good at following, they're bad at leading; and that is okay. Not everybody can lead, and not every leader can lead all the time. I've been in positions where I followed great leadership; proactive leadership. I have also been in ones with reactive leadership. Its very different, but both offer lessons to learn. Good leaders know when to step out of your way and let you run with it. Because reactive leaders are bad leaders, and they're good at following, they expect others to blindly follow them - blindly following someone isn't proactive thinking.

Proactive thinkers are Linchpins.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

@flipboard - my personal magazine

I haven't tried this yet, and I don't have an iPad still, however this video is just screaming at me to go buy an iPad just for this app. It's kind of like how Shazam and UrbanSpoon apps in the iPhone ads were the "kick over fence" for me.



I'm not all that interested about using it for Facebook, the use case that appeals to me the most is its Twitter integration. Twitter is a brilliant way to keep up on news in any field, on any topic, any event.



I'm not that interested in reading any individual's Twitter feed on the Flipboard. What I'm interested in is something like NewsMap however personalized like Flipboard. For this to work the way I think I'll find it useful, it needs to support Twitter lists, more than off my feed. Following 350 people is not easy, it stopped being easy at 25, and this is where TweetAgora came to the rescue. TweetAgora tackles this problem from one angle, identify the noise to amplify the signal. Its a very good angle. I tried a lot of Twitter clients for the iPhone and Mac, and honestly no other app tackles it as effectively as TweetAgora.

There is another angle, the angle that Flipboard could come at it, from what I have learned from Bretton MacLean it doesn't support that angle yet. When the characteristics of the noise are known, we can improve the signal to noise ratio, however if you don't know these characteristics, then you could reduce the actual signal. One of the great things about Twitter is that it opened my mind to all sorts of different topics that I didn't know I was interested in, I can miss them in my global feed, and I won't have them in my agoras because the characteristics are still unknown to me.

So here is the meat of this post. I'm thinking some sort of crazy mashup of Twitter lists, combined with Twitter lists of members on Twitter lists I follow. Ex. If I follow list A, and user 2 is on list A and they own list B, perhaps mashing up the content in list A and list B will bring to my attention new stuff for me to read when I look at the Flipboard magazine that contains list A. After all, the magazine's soul purpose is to show you something you didn't know, and kill time. : )

Anyway, congratulations to Mike McCue and the Flipboard team. All the best. I can't speak for the app itself, but the video is sick! Help me kill time more effectively.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Dojo templates & Google Maps InfoWindow

I have been building mashups using Google Maps since 2007 and one problem I had is passing in the content for these bubbles that show up when you click on a marker i.e. the InfoWindow. One big annoyance with it, is that you have to pass in the HTML content as a string when opening the marker. I don't like it because I have to intertwine HTML inside of JavaScript. So how can we make this better?

Dojo Templates


Dojo Templates is the number one reason I love this library, I like the PubSub mechanism I posted about last time but not as much as the templates.

Dojo Templates allow you to associate HTML template files with your widgets, that get instantiated when Dojo parses your page and constructs the widget, basically replacing the references to your widgets with the widget's markup in the HTML template file.

First: my infowindow.html template file

<div class="infoWindowContainer" dojoattachpoint="infoWindow">
<h1>${title}</h1>
</div>

Don't worry about that ${title} thing just yet, but I guess you already can see where I am going with this.

Second: my infowindow.js widget

dojo.declare(
"nael.widgets.infowindow",
[dijit._Widget, dijit._Templated],
{
templatePath: new dojo.moduleUrl('nael.templates', 'infowindow.html'),
constructor: function(){

}
}
);

In this example, my infowindow widget's constructor is empty.

Next we create the marker. Here we using dojo.forEach to loop over all the points that were returned with our AJAX response to fetch points. this.map is the object within this map controller that references the Google Map. (This is the same controller from the previous post on Dojo PubSub mechanism)

dojo.forEach(pois, dojo.hitch(this, function(p){
var marker = new google.maps.Marker({
position: new google.maps.LatLng(p.lat, p.lng),
map: this.map
});
var content = "<div class='infoWindow' dojoType='nael.widgets.infowindow' title='"+p.Pois.name+"'>
" ;
this.addInfoWindowToMarker(marker,content);
}));


The important part is the line where we add the content. Yes, we still need markup in there, but now its just a placeholder for the real markup. We can pass attributes like title into the placeholder for nael.widgets.infowindow. So anything that you want displayed in the info window becomes an attribute. This allows you to focus on content, and not worry about presentation just yet.

The last method we call addInfoWindowToMarker creates a Google maps listener on the marker and connects the info window to it. Note, that the info window here, is not the widget we created in the beginning. The one at the top is "nael's infowindow" and only serves the purpose of templating.

addInfoWindowToMarker: function(marker,content){
google.maps.event.addListener(marker, 'click', dojo.hitch(this, function(){
this.infoWindow.content = content;
this.infoWindow.maxWidth = 300;
this.infoWindow.open(this.map, marker);
}));
}


If you try the above, and click on the marker, the content will still be empty. Because this is a widget, it needs to be constructed. You need to tell Dojo when to parse the DOM to look for new widgets that you introduced since the last parse.


google.maps.event.addListener(this.infoWindow, "domready", dojo.hitch(this, function(){
dojo.parser.parse(this.mapCanvasNode.id);
}));


We don't want Dojo to go looking through the whole DOM for new widgets, we know where the widget was added. So we can just tell Dojo to look for widgets within the div referenced by the HTML id this.mapCanvasNode.id)

Finally, back to our infowindow.html template:

<div class="infoWindowContainer" dojoattachpoint="infoWindow">
<h1>${title}</h1>
</div>


We can now adjust the template as we please without trouble, and this sure is much cleaner than doing this like I used to for years.

var content = "<div class='infoWindowContainer'>";
content += "<h1>" + title + "</h1>";
content += "</div>";


Maybe one day Google Maps will support templating the HTML for InfoWindows internally, until then, I'm sticking to the above when I can.



The benefit of templating the InfoWindow becomes obvious when you are dealing with complex InfoWindows with functionality built into it such as sharing on social networks, embedded videos, AJAX requests, pictures, etc. All that stuff can be templated, and only the dynamic stuff that comes from the backend is passed through.

Of course, on top of being able to template your InfoWindow markup, it is much easier now to replace an InfoWindow with a version 2.0 of the InfoWindow. You just have to drop in the new and improved widget and template, then abide by the Pub Sub channels you have defined between the widget and the rest of the application.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Dojo How To: Publish / Subscribe

I haven't been using Dojo for a very long time, just over a year now, but its time I blog about all the little great features I have learned.

One of the features I like the most in Dojo is the Publish / Subscribe mechanism. Its flexibility allows you to cleanly implement communication between different components like modules, widgets, portlets, etc.

Lets get down to business. Say I have two controllers, a map controller, and the main app controller. The map controller owns the map object in my application, in this case a Google Map object. The app controller owns the communication with the user, browser, AJAX, etc. When my app loads, I want the map to go right to the user's location. The map doesn't care where I get the coordinates from, it just needs the coordinates.


startup: function(){

//some other startup code

//subscribe to the event we will get back from the app when coordinates are available
dojo.subscribe("nael.controller.app.currentPosition", this, this.eventHandlers.updateMapCenter);

//when Im done starting up, yell to the app controller saying Im ready for coordinates
dojo.publish("nael.controller.app.requests",["getBrowserCoordinates"]);
},


So the map widget will initialize the Google Map I'm using, do some other stuff, and when it is done it will publish to the app controller's "nael.controller.app.requests" channel. The message it sends to the channel is an array of arguments. In this case it is the request ["getBrowserCoordinates"]. Your channel names can be anything, I just use the Dojo module path to that widget and end with a good description of the channel, i.e. "requests"

On to the app controller:

The startup function of the widget just subscribes to the required channels

startup: function(){
dojo.subscribe("nael.controller.app.requests",this,this.eventListener);
},


One event listener for the "nael.controller.app.requests" channel. Notice that the listener just passes it to the appropriate event handler, the one we passed in to the channel.

eventListener: function(event){
this.eventHandlers[event]();
},


Finally, the eventHandlers object which will contain all our actual event handlers. Here we have the "getBrowserCoordinates" handler which was the argument ["getBrowserCoordinates"] the map passed into the channel.

eventHandlers:{
getBrowserCoordinates: function(){
if(navigator.geolocation){
navigator.geolocation.getCurrentPosition(function(position){
var coords = {lng:position.coords.longitude, lat:position.coords.latitude};

dojo.publish("nael.controller.app.currentPosition",[coords]);

}
);
}
},

Once the app controller receives the coordinates from the browser's geo location API, it publishes the coordinates to the "nael.controller.app.currentPosition" channel - which the map widget has subscribed to during its startup step. When the map receives that event, it tells the Google Map to re-center around the new point.

I'm doing it this way, to reduce the number of channels each module needs to listen to. I can easily bring the browser to its knees if I have a unique channel for each event I'm thinking of raising. Remember, kitchens get dirty one dish at a time. It makes sense to have one "requests" channel for the main app controller, (or every widget as a matter of fact) that all other components can just send requests to.

You may ask why I have a specific channel for the current position? I guess I could have done it similarly to the requests channel. However, I figured that all widgets will be asking the app controller for stuff, while not all widgets would need to know about the user's current position. If we have a "responses" channel that all widgets subscribed to, it could lead to a lot of unnecessary chatter amongst the widgets and too many event listeners. The second reason, is that the current position channel, may get pretty noisy if it is a mobile browser. Couple both reasons together, and you have a recipe for disaster

So why should you care about JavaScript Publish / Subscribe?


The same reason you would care about it for other technologies. Its a better and much more powerful interface between JavaScript modules. Without these channels and event listeners, you would have just called the getBrowserCoordinates method from the map, or worse, you would have called the GeoLocation API straight from the map. You don't have to use Dojo for this, other libraries also provide you with a pub sub mechanism, like YUI EventTarget. Other JavaScript libraries have it, or have plugins for it. Its a design pattern that makes sense.

Note: if you are still not using a JavaScript library for your web app development, you should seriously reconsider because you are wasting a lot of time re-inventing wheels and light bulbs.

Another example, say you need to add a new widget, instead of trying to figure out where you are all the right places to call a method in this widget from another, you just add the widget and subscribe to the event that is triggered. Change request done.

One final reason, Publish / Subscribe is an excellent way to build a mockup of application workflow. You can stub in some datsabase data and when the backend is ready, you just replace the stub module with the one that will listen to the right request channel, and publish to the right response channel. And as an added bonus, if you screw up the channels, nothing breaks, the messages just won't get passed and you won't see browser errors when functions aren't defined. It fails gracefully - which is important.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

John Underkoffler points to the future of UI

I caught this video by John Underkoffler - the science advisor for the movie Minority Report on TED the other day and it got me thinking about web interfaces, especially for online banking such as CIBC's and online billing such as Roger's. I'm not saying we need interfaces such as this for these kind of online applications, but we are surely due for a major overhaul of these interfaces. I sure hope we don't need movies about these before they become more mainstream.

Is technology capable of improving the interfaces for online banking/billing sites?



Hell yes! The customers just need to demand that. We have been stuck in this e-statement model for far too long. Technology isn't the hold up. We have had these brilliant interfaces in the wild for a while now. Consider Mint. That 15 person team was so successful they were even purchased by accounting software maker Intuit in 2009. So it is not technology that is limiting us, Mint did it and clearly they don't have as much resources as the banks or telecoms do. So what is the hold up?

Its a monopoly on my data


Consider the analyst who goes through some sort of overview of customer spending habits to figure out new plans or services to offer to these customers. Do they get a dump of the data? Probably not, you can't make sense of it. For these analysts to be able to see spending habits to justify new services they probably get to see some sort of visual, a chart, a graph, something. Human minds are visual, we are pretty good at spotting things if they are in a picture, not so good at spotting the one line in a contract that will
rip you a new one
cause you trouble in the future; that is why there are lawyers. Instead of dazzling me with loading icons please start focusing on delivering a little more value. I think as much right these analysts have to study my data to justify future products and services, I too have a right to my data to make sense of my spending habits. Here's a thought, I would happily pay $6 a month for that, instead of $6 a month for call display - which by the way probably requires you to do work to DISABLE. Why do we let these people reach into our pockets without providing anything of real value to us? Would you buy a car from a dealer who asks for more money to enable the 3rd gear? or charges you per minute per kilometer driving on an out of province highway? or you pay a service charge for filling up with a different grade gas?

Who would want this kind of stuff anyway?


Gen Y grew up in the Internet age, they expect this stuff to be the norm. Its only a matter of time before it becomes the norm so why fight it? I have been using Wesabe to make sense of my banking statements up until they posted a shut down notice. I didn't mind the hassle of exporting my statement and importing it in every month to see these beautiful spending charts. The tagging feature even allowed me to track my spending on smokes by making me more disciplined at buying my smokes from the same 2 places so that I could tag my spending at these 2 grocery stores as "smokes".


As much as I'd love to manipulate my phone bill in 3D space, I will be extremely happy if my interaction with it becomes more 2010, instead of 1997. All I'm asking at this point is for 3 fairly simple, yet significant improvements:
  1. The ability to tag transactions, and to view my statement by tag for both billing & banking. Rogers already allows me to tag numbers, so you are halfway there!.
  2. View tags as a pie chart -or any other visual- for both billing and banking
  3. For banking, graph my "income" against "expenses", month to month, year over year.


Simple? Can you do it for 2010? And then if you agree that these add value to your customer, then how about you replicate Wesabe for 2011?


Minority Report science adviser and inventor John Underkoffler demos g-speak -- the real-life version of the film's eye-popping, tai chi-meets-cyberspace computer interface. Is this how tomorrow's computers will be controlled?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

the intersection of business and technology

Technology is useless if it does not deliver business value. Either it saves me time and hence money, or it makes me money. It has to be one or the other. Where does front end architecture fit in this picture? As the title points out, its right in the middle.

The front end is a misunderstood piece of any application, it is usually overlooked, underestimated, and belittled. Its fairly common to perceive it as "toying" around, "no/low value", etc. Its also very easy to believe that all the stuff that happens at the backend is the stuff that commands the big bucks. Unless you develop low level software such as compilers, web servers, drivers, etc. here is why you are wrong, and why front end architecture matters.

You can't deliver "customer focused solutions" if you belittle the front end


Successful front end architecture means focusing on what is important for the end user, not you the developer, nor you the SQL ninja, and not even you the business SME.
I don't know how this upside down tradition started, but I might have an idea. Application development usually starts with the back end framework, you know the Springs, and the Djangos, the Struts, and the Zends. None of these deliver any value to the user, they do add value to the delivery team and make them -in a perfect world- deliver better code, faster. So how did this tradition start? (One that focused on starting in an area that couldn't be any farther from the end user) My reasoning is that it started with equating building end user software with constructing a building. The first step of doing that, is to lay the foundation, the stuff that will carry all the weight of the rebar, steel, concrete, pillars, roof, and all the occupants and their equipment. All this stuff is as far away from the occupants of the building as possible, but it is by far more important than whether the doors open in or out. The occupants of a building are first concerned about their safety, a "customer focused solution" in the construction industry is one that is first safe for its occupants. Everything else comes later. However, when we use this analogy to building end-user software, we start out right off the bat focusing on the wrong things. A customer focused solution starts with the end user, what will he be interacting with, and then works backwards to define the solution that is required to support that end user.

You can't slap an interface on it


Okay, you can, but you shouldn't. Can you slap a steering wheel in the backseat of the car? Sure you can. Should you? probably not. Why is the steering wheel in the front? because the end user needs to see the road. Start with the end user and work backwards to the solution. A more accurate statement is actually "slapping a back end on it", or "wiring the back end to the front end". That you can do. Why? Because at that point you know what the user wants, and you know how your front end will achieve it.

Another reason why not to do this, is if you care about your users' experience, you would spend more time thinking through the front end, iterating and making it better. Forget the focus groups. Forget the design committees. Empower qualified, creative, and responsible people to make usability decisions. Have real users developers use your application, and keep your mouth shut. Don't show them how to use it, or what they're doing wrong. Observe, take notes, and make it better. Focus groups could just make you chase your own tail, as what happened with New Coke.

Phasing in features


Good back end frameworks and architecture allow you to phase in functionality as you progress in the project. A good front end architecture needs and should do the same. This means, just like a good back end does, a good front end must utilize a common framework. Today, not much focus is given to the front end. In fact it is assumed it can be completed 100% with a "big bang" approach. We don't use a "big bang" approach with the back end, why do you do it on the front end? Because you tried to slap an interface on it...

Front end components need to be thoughtfully designed, with re-use and phase-in in mind. Don't attempt a one-size-fits-all approach to these components. It might make for less development, but if your focus is "customer focused solutions" then you need to account for different use cases and different user types/roles. Also, just like back end components get re-factored when duplications occur, so must front end components. Why the double standard? because the front end gets belittled.

More data is better data


Yes, your gut can have a lot of say when it comes to the front end. However sometimes the change has no affect on your gut. Does it matter if your links are underlined? or are you just doing it because [insert your favorite reason here, ex. because my dog wags its tail when it sees underlined hyperlinks] Design your front end to be able to gather these usage patterns, because "customer-focused solutions" support their decisions on customers' actions. Don't even ask your customer whether they like A or B better, keep your mouth shut and observe. Do they use your application more? better? quicker? when A is there? or when B is there?

At the intersection of business and technology lies the role of the Front End Architect (FA). This person should be empowered and trusted to make front end architectural decisions based on supporting data that will deliver value to the end user. The FA, is not a business SME, they're not a designer, but they could be. They are a technical person, a developer with the scars to prove it. They work with the business to figure out how to deliver this end-user value. The FA also works with designers to iron out any usability issues that may affect the end-user value and can be fixed via enhancing the look and feel. They also work with the rest of the developers to keep front end components re-usable, and phase in friendly.

Do you have an FA on your project/in your organization?

Saturday, June 05, 2010

On selling customer experiences

I was looking at how much of a dent an iPad will put in my wallet when I noticed the mandatory field reminder on Apple.com's shopping cart. Then I came to this realization, Apple isn't a mobile device's company, nor a computer company, its a customer experience company. So much time is spent on just tweaking and perfecting the whole cycle. From the moment you browse their online store or their mortar-and-brick store, to the point you make your purchase, including the point when you receive your product, unwrap it - perhaps even record that joyous moment - and then finally start using it and then officially become a fan boy or girl. This happened to me in 2003/2004 when I purchased my first Mac, a PPC PowerBook G4.

Sorry, I went on a tangent there. Anyway, they are a customer experience company. The developers who built this form did not have to do it the way they did. This sick tooltip reminding you of the mandatory fields could just have been a red asterisk. However, because they are a customer experience company, they didn't do what every average Jack and Jill developer would have. As simple a page it is - a personal info page - it most definitely went through multiple iterations before it reached its current state.

Another example, lets say you don't look like a pirate but have a speech impediment. I'm a nice guy. If you seem like a nice person too, I'm going to do my best to understand you. However, that doesn't apply to your website or application. Don't make your product seem like it has a speech impediment - even if it looks great. Its just going to be awkward.

Learn from Apple guys, they don't have to do their site the way they do, they don't have to finnish their products the way they do, they don't have to meticulously design the packaging inside and out. But they do. And because they do, they're in the business of selling customer experiences. That is a very profitable business, and that is why Apple's stock P/E is twice that of Microsoft's.

Here's a great TED talk on "People don't buy what you do, they buy WHY you do it":

Friday, May 28, 2010

Chefs, Curators, & Developers

Besides that these people all eat, sleep, and lineup for the latest iStuff, developers ought to have another thing in common with chefs and curators. I would say software development is part engineering/science and part creativity, even as high 50/50 or maybe a little more.

Curators

The term "custodian of a collection" doesn't describe what curators really do. It almost makes it sound as if they just take care of a collection, but not necessarily care for it. A museum without a curator simply turns into a warehouse. It is the curators job to prevent that from happening. To care for the collection and keep an eye at the big picture.
Every piece, big or small, serves a purpose and delivers an essential part of the experience. The opposite of a curator is a hoarder.

Chefs

Similarly the chef does not just cook the food, they keep an eye on how the items on their menu works together, how the dishes enhance the experience, and how every ingredient in a dish works with the other ingredients. Every detail counts, and great head chefs will look after it all. They are food curators.
Musuems, food, and software is made better by what has been left out - purposely - and not what's included.

How do they do it?

Great museums don't happen overnight, they happen over time, time spent doing the same thing - improving the museum. The task is never done. It's iterative, and perpetual. Curators aren't afraid of tossing things out because they don't work, or something better came along. Curators are careful not to hoard shit, even if it's all good shit. They don't go about it alone, they get feedback from other curators, from their clients, and finally their gut & others' guts. Your unconscious brain has a lot to do with this task, sometimes it is hard to explain, but often your gut is on target.

Lessons from Chef Ramsay

The number one thing Gordon does to fix a failing restaurant is "cut the crap" - after he is done ripping through the owners of course. If you watch the show, you probably have seen him throw out half the menu - if not all of it in some cases. Take the episode of the "Curry Lounge", tons
of curry based dishes. None of the waiters guessed what any dish was during the blind fold taste test - except for the french fries; at an authentic Indian restaurant. Chef Ramsay tweaks and iterates over the food, how it's made and served over the course of the week. That's his formula. That is why he is a great head chef.

Don't be scared of "No"

There are many good reasons for saying "No". There are also wrong times to say "No". Say you are at a restaurant, and you ask the chef to skip the pistachio on your baked chicken because of allergies. That is a valid request you cannot say "No" to. On the other hand, don't be surprised if the chef says "No" while at an authentic Italian pizzeria and ask for extra cheese on your Pizza Terreno - he knows better than you. A good way to say "No" is to always provide reasons and alternatives. Most clients will consider alternatives, after all they are paying you to provide the best possible service you can afford them. Sadly, you don't always win, or you are just wrong and you lose the battle and have to provide exactly what you have been asked.

"But that is not how we do things around here"

There is always room for improvement, and there is always areas and times where you can play the role of the curator at what you do. Always start with the things you control. What if you work at a hypothetical restaurant that followed the Waterfall model? retarded right? but at every point in the process a curator could help, and a curator can make the experience better - even a little. This Waterfall restaurant basically takes orders at 5pm, by the time they are validated and cooking starts at 8pm. Then the dishes get checked, fixed and reheated. Food starts to come out at midnight. And into the wee hours of the morning the cooks have gone mad trying to
figure out what was ordered eight hours ago. Every single role in this kitchen can play the curator in what they are doing. As badly suited the experience is, it's much worse if everybody minds their own business and blindly follow the blind.

Kitchens get dirty one dish at a time

"Too many chefs spoil the soup" True, and applies everywhere. Why else do the Marines and special commandos operate in small, tightly knit groups? Do you seriously believe that anything will need an army of develop
ers yet the army elites can perform heroic missions with a team of 15?
Don't let your kitchen get dirty, it's easy to say you will do it later, but know that your effort to clean it does not have a linear relationship with how long you left it dirty.

Everybody can be a curator

Whatever business you are in, you are involved in curating and improving the product/service you provide. Whether you design buildings, write software, an author, or a sales guy, a president, or an army general. We all do it. We all know that the first draft of an essay is always the worst. When you walk into a board room to make a pitch, how many times do you revise and tweak that slide deck? how many times do you do it the night before? or even 30 minutes prior? We all do it.

So here is the big question, when did we say that code should be written once and done with? What tends to happen with development teams is this task is not performed as often as it should - specially as the team size grows. It gets worse when dates start to slip, as things like continuous improvement and cleaning up the kitchen are ditched. Here is the other problem, managers, executives, planners, etc. don't like to see tasks that don't have end dates on the plan. They want to know things like effort spent, time elapsed and percentages for each. An iterative task only has elapsed time, but nothing to identify how much is left because it's never complete. The affects of this curating task are phenomenal. Almost always you will be amazed by how little you changed or even better removed and how substantial the improvement was.

Making something better is never easy

...but the harder the decision, the better shape that thing is. To be successful at being a curator you really need to understand what your customer wants. Not just a little, you need to get in their head and figure shit out. You need to figure out how you can add value, or if you just can't. Value add is highly dependent on the context. If I am in a rush, fast food will be the best value for me at that time. I'm hungry, and need a quick solution. On the other hand, you wouldn't take your wife there on your 10th anniversary. The best way to bring yourself to a point where you can understand how you can add value, is by aiming for the simplicity on the other side of complexity. If you are looking for a good healthy relationship, you need to invest the time up front, you need to climb that complexity hill, sometimes it's steep, sometimes it's long, but rest assured it will flatten out after the peak. Thats where you want to be. Not many people make it to the other side, most will be hanging around at the base or on the way up. That region is highly competitive. The elite don't hang out there. Take Apple for example. We can consider Apple to be one of the elites of the tech industry - almost like they have the Midas touch. People have tried to replicate the iPod with little success. This week, slowly but surely Apple wrestled the 2nd highest market cap from Microsoft - without even dominating the market. They know their customers, and they don't even want everyone to be their customer.

Everything looks great on paper, it's not until it comes to life you start spotting glitches and things to improve. Good restaurants will shutdown for a day occasionally and just cook the whole menu and their staff will critique everything and make adjustments. Iteration is key. In school you are taught to review your essays, read them out loud, tweak and adjust the paragraphs, shuffle things around, all of this to find the essence and flow of what it is you are trying to accomplish.

There are only two kinds of developers.

Those that just get shit done - literally -, and those that will get it done very well. From a time line point of view, you won't be able to tell the difference. They both finish on time, and their stuff will work. However, the first, don't care about what it is they are building, don't care about who they are building it with, they put in their hours, get paid and that is it. Excellent developers don't have to be geniuses or come with Masters & Phds. These are the ones that want to be proud of what it is they are building. They are the ones that think several steps ahead, and design for change. They will embrace change if it makes what they are building better. They will try to resist change that adds no value. They are the ones that keep an eye on the big picture. Those are the ones that will invest the extra time to re-factor the redundant classes they spotted. They are the ones that experiment and try stuff out because they are always on the look out for a better option. They are the ones that will tell you "No, you shouldn't do that". That is how you separate the two. An excellent developer will wave his hands and yell when something is just not right. The first kind will shrug their shoulders and pile on the dishes.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Mythical Man-Month

I think it was in first year software engineering that we had to read this book, and nine years later I really, really understand the underlying purpose of this book. It may just be yet another book back then, but the lessons that are hopefully learned from it will last a life-time - not just for software projects, but any project.

The Mythical Man-Month

Unfortunately on software project plans, developers, designers, testers, business analysts, product managers, etc. etc. are considered "just another resource" that are added and removed off of tasks. The assumption is that all are equally effective and skilled in all the required domains, and all will produce the same volume and quality. So in a perfect world it makes sense to scale the team to meet deadlines, although we don't live in a perfect and linear world, this is still the method of choice. Even though the biggest effect of this method; drastically increased non-linear communication time is widely known but mostly ignored.

Sadly this is the state of this industry, project plans that are too often disconnected from reality. I think part of the problem is driven by dividing tasks into a unit of time, after all that is how budgets are built, teams are put together, and progress is tracked. However on the other hand, this unit of time does not measure the real size of the task. Its just an illusion. Its like a building, we don't measure building size in number of months it took to build, we measure it by number of floors or in meters i.e. something relevant and real. If a 40 meter building was estimated to take 12 months, and in 6 months we are at 10 meters, then we are 25% done, and not 50%. However if this building were a software project its assumed we are 50% complete. Then at 10 months we realize we won't meet the deadline, forget about the Mythical Man Month and scale up. Why did this happen? Because software does not have a realistic metric, software is abstract.

Some say you get better at estimating over time, but that too assumes we live in a linear world. Ex. Project X took us 3 months, so we will estimate that project Y will take 9 months. We don't live in a linear world, and humans aren't good at estimating non-linear stuff. We may think that the second project is 3x as long as the first, but it could be x^2. However the hope is that over time you can make a non-linear project more linear by improving the processes for the non linear components. That effort is also non linear.

You can try to measure by team size, effort, or lines of code, etc. but all are just an illusion of measurement, none are real. Whether you measure buildings by floors or meters, you can translate between both. On the other hand, you can't translate lines of code into time, effort or team size.

I don't know what a better alternative is, but surely it is not this. Perhaps the problem is just trying to estimate that far into the future with too many unknown variables. Feel free to comment.

I recently read the book "ReWork" by the guys at 37Signals and one paragraph I absolutely loved has to do with project estimation.


The book is a must read.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Crash 'n' Burn: The 11th hour for Flash

Adobe's rhetoric continues after the curve ball Apple threw. The whining continues with this post: On Adobe, Flash CS5 and iPhone Applications.

Sadly, the whining doesn't change anything, and Adobe's argument would have been more valid if they didn't trying to lock developers into Flash/Flex and if it -Flash- were really open. Also, I think Adobe's Flash/Flex tools favor developing using Cold Fusion on the server side... you can use other server-side technologies however I believe the tools "play" better with Cold Fusion.

Apple's decision makes 100% business sense to me. They're advocating for their own platform, or open standards. Just like Adobe advocates for their own platforms, or open standards. What's wrong with that?

Flash filled a void in the 90s, but where is that void today? Is it even still needed? Yes its far superior technology, but its a closed technology. And to think that Android will succeed because it has Flash is just absurd. Android could be the iPhone's real challenger ONLY because it is open. The above post also seems to confuse "open" with "cross-platform". They're very different. Flash is cross-platform because its not open.

Flash needs something different right now, we don't need Flash to deliver rich content online anymore. We don't need flash to deliver sexy fonts. We don't need Flash to scroll and fade text. Soon we won't need Flash to play video - my Youtube embed below is still in Flash- . We don't need navigation built in Flash. So much stuff we needed Flash for (right or wrong) , that are just not needed today.

On to Flex, Flash's younger cousin. We - the majority - don't need that as well. Slowly but surely applications will move to the web. They may have some Flash components that could now just be as easily done in HTML5 or even HTML and some nifty JavaScript. Where I can see Flex fitting, is for these extremely specialized software, such as CAD or medical imaging. Such software is expensive and time-consuming to write, and would be a pain to translate into different operating systems. Such software also comes with heavy visualization, so its a good fit with Flash. Maybe thats where Flash will head, who knows? But there is definitely hardly any room today for Flash on the web.

This song is dedicated to Adobe Flash, I don't know who your savior will be, but you really need one right now...bad.

How to throw usability out the window - Part 1

Sometime between when I paid my Rogers bill last month, and when I tried to look it up this month, the Rogers site was "upgraded" to portal. I'm not sure what it used to be before, but I think now it sits squats on top of the BEA Weblogic portal - now owned by Oracle.

Note: This is only part I, the Rogers Portal went offline while I am writing this. To be continued when its live again...


The Loading Dial Syndrome


Who hasn't seen one before? its a great little technique to let the user know something may take some time to come up - note the keyword is "something" not "time". If in your site's case "something" is replaced by "everything" then something is definitely wrong. Sometimes you just can't make things any faster, especially today when portals by nature provide seamless integration between different internal and external applications. At some point, its just out of your control. However, if your site suffers from the Loading Dial Syndrome you are definitely doing it wrong, and its just not out of your control.

By the way, when the loading dial in the middle disappears - after a minute or so-, nothing actually loads. I end up with all this blank space in the middle of my screen. Obviously a bug of some sort, but hey I'm trying to pay my bills here, not QA your application. For the record I wouldn't mind doing it if it was optional (i.e. I choose to jump to the Beta version) plus I receive a reduced bill.

Navigation


So after going to the "Bills & Payments" tab I see a list of my previous bills and I can dive into any of them by clicking the "Bill" link next to each. I then see the screen below:


Whats the problem? How do I go back to seeing all my bills again? I can't even click on the same tab again. The only way I found is to click on another tab, and then click back on to "Bills & Payments" and then the view is reset to the initial state. Almost like driving a car that can't be put into reverse.

The other thing about this screen, is that effort was spent on meaningless details, such as the red dropdowns with the white gradient background.

The thing about usability is that when you get too deep into something, you miss these obvious issues. I'm sure they looked like non-issues during develeopment, but take a step back and Don't Make Me Think. Sure, there's rounded corners, pretty shadows and loading dials, but none of that will make me login more often if its too darn slow. Now I have two things to dread about the end of the month, finding out how much $ I am about to spend, and trying to use this PoC. - and that doesn't stand for Proof of Concept.


Monday, April 19, 2010

there will always be someone who can do it cheaper

For most companies offering professional services, the business model is based on cost plus billing. This includes people like lawyers, consultants, accountants, marketing agencies, etc.
This is fine for starting up and getting the $ rolling to keep the lights on. However at some point you realize that that was fine for starting out and that it is completely flawed and doesn't make any economic sense in the long run.

I'll start with one issue with this model, basically you are capping yourself - I cannot generate anymore revenue than:
Number Of Hours I can reasonable work per year X my hourly billing rate

You work an hour, you earn an hour. Growth is extremely tough because for professional services, you end up doing two things:
  1. Hire more people to effectively generate more hours per day to sell (ex. just like a manufacturing company would build more and bigger factories)
  2. Improve and automate certain processes so that you focus on tasks that add the most value. (ex. just like a manufacturing company invests in better technology like robotics to increase throughput)
Number 1 is bad. Number 2 is great.

But the biggest problem is that you are now distracted. You are doing everything you can to generate more hours because that is what your business model is telling you need to do to make money. You are now faced with a dilemma with your customer because your business model has put you in a position to choose quantity over quality in order to be profitable. You then get into the argument of convincing your customer some task will take that many hours, while they try to convince you it will take less. This wouldn't happen if you focused on selling and delivering value.

Nobody gets into the professional services business to sell time. They want to sell value. Not hours. A salesperson can talk you into buying a Hyundai. They can't talk you into buying a Ferrari. People who buy Ferraris say "I'm buying that". People who buy Hyundais say "I need a car". There are many providers for the Hyundai class of cars, you don't want to be in that ruthless, volatile, price based market. Just like the whole Mac vs. PCs. Apple isn't in the $500 computer market for a very very good reason. You don't want your competitive advantage to be your price or hourly rate. Just like driving on the highway there is always someone behind you driving faster; there will always be someone who can do it cheaper or quicker. And with a global economy that is a fact.

So what is one to do? Don't tie your price to effort - easier said than done of course. Its hard because you are selling something mostly invisible, something customers will not see until "it" has been delivered. But people usually like to see what they are getting for their investment. I don't want to just give money away, but since I can't see "it" I'll settle for seeing hours. Then you fall into the trap of believing that more hours equals more of "it" or better of "it" - which we all know is not the case.

You can't stop tying your price to effort if you are delivering the Hyundais . You need to have the Ferraris of whatever service you are providing. Take an accountant. At first you'll charge an hourly rate. After some time you realize you are consistently providing your customers a better tax return than other accountants in the area. Now you can step out of that ruthless, price based market and start charging a premium or a percentage around a service that kind of looks like a product. Now if customers want cheap, they can go to Joe Blow and Co for their tax needs. Why? because you don't deliver cheap. You deliver value, and you have the numbers to prove it.

So now you got rid of your hourly rate, and are focused on delivering value. What can go wrong? You could still get distracted about what value is. Your perception of value may not be shared by the customer. Here's an example. I did my taxes an H&R Block when I was a student. I loved it because I got my tax return right there, and it only cost me $50 or so. Why wouldn't I love it, I pay them $50, and they give me a cheque for a $1,000 on the spot. A couple of years ago, I went to do my taxes there, and their printer was broken; they couldn't print the cheque. They then sold me on taking my return on their H&R Block debit disaster card. They thought it was an added value, I can use it just like a debit card; and it will charge me a fee per transaction just like a debit card. I was livid. But it didn't end there. The bank that sponsored this debit card, wasn't the bank I use. That bank also stopped issuing bank drafts to non-customers, so I couldn't easily transfer my return to my own bank account. I was left with one option, go to my bank's ATM machine, withdraw the limit I can withdraw, walk to the teller, and deposit it. Rinse and repeat until my tax return was in my account. So here we have a typical case were one's "value add" idea wrecked havoc on a customer of at least five years.

Understand your customers' needs. Understand how to add value. Don't confuse value with effort, then learn how to charge for that value add. Don't be the "cheaper" or "quicker" service, its only a matter of time before someone else figures out how to do it for less or faster.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

First Google Maps Mashup Turns 5 Years

Last Thursday the Google Maps mashup turned 5. Paul Rademacher posted this on Craigslist announcing a Google map mashup of housing properties. That post started it all. Back then, there wasn't even an official API for Google Maps. That mashup now lives at housingmaps.com.

Congrats to Paul on this milestone. That experiment started the whole mashup building community, and the reason why Google Maps has an API today and why we have sites like zoocasa, University of Ottawa Campus map, twittervision, and many more mashups built on top of the Google Maps API.

If you are interested in building a Google Maps mashup, get in touch with ThinkWrap's Google Maps Gurus.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Microsoft courier

I just saw this concept video for "Microsoft Courier" and its pretty good. If it makes it out to market, and just based of this video it definitely kicks the iPad's ass! I was shocked that this is coming out of Microsoft; if this makes it out to market, then maybe Microsoft still has hope after all...

Saturday, March 06, 2010

On advertising online. Be powerful, not desperate.

Okay, I'm giving Microsoft a break this time, so what could have been "why not microsoft (part 3 of many) turned to be quite a positive video from Microsoft...

This real life story is pretty good, there were no sneaky, below the belt punches. It showed how MS Office worked for this couple and helped them stay organized.



I don't mind witty commercials with side comments against competitors. What bugs me though is when the material is not entirely true and filled with FUD - fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Such commercials come out very weak and desperate.

Here are some examples of advertising that poke fun at competitors, but the difference is that they were powerful messages, and not desperate attempts.




And of course, we can't forget these excellent Mac vs PC ads on the NYT. This was my favorite.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Synchronized Cardioversion is print media's only chance

I just watched an interesting video posted on Mitch Joel's blog under the post "Print is Not Dead". The video is an attempt by some print magazine people to convince the rest of us that print magazines will still be around. Will they? 5 years from now? 10 years from now? I'm betting on no.

This video is exactly the problem with the current print industry. They are still in denial. And why wouldn't they be? It is not an easy to think about a technology killing another - especially when one works in the technology on the receiving end. Besides, what else could they have said? "Yes we are facing some challenges, but we are working on revolutionizing our model?" Yes that will work well for the advertising bottom line.

I absolutely agree with Mitch about the false thinking that Twitter or Facebook are challengers to print magazines. Those are not the technologies that will replace print. I'm surprised they didn't even mention mobile devices? The iPad? any other tablet? hello? However I disagree with the title.

On another blog, linked on Joel's. I read the following comment by "Jen":
If this story is best told in print, why are they telling it on a YouTube video?
Absolutely! Why? These print executive big wigs ought to reply.

So, why will print die? And by print I mean almost all variations of print media. National newspapers, books, national magazines, etc. I say national, because I still see some room for the local, neighborhood type of magazine/newspaper. Those serve the immediate community around them will still have a niche to fill.

  1. Its not portable. Yes, yes I can carry it in my bag man-purse but I have to remember to take it with me of course, and I have to pick up the right one that had the article that I wanted to read on the train. So, it is not portable.
  2. Its not searchable. You just can't do it with print. Gutenberg did not envision this when he started building the printing press. Way back then, the problem was copying and distributing books, not indexing them since there was no need for that. Unfortunately, these magazine executives are still stuck in the Gutenberg era.
  3. I can't share it, I can't tweet it, I can't start a public discussion about it. I can't refer to it later. So I read an article in the latest Times. How do I share it? Well I can lend the magazine out. My dad used to cut out the articles he was interested in and would stick them in his own 1980s version of InstaPaper i.e. a filing cabinet living room floor. But then back to number (2), he couldn't search it, but he did however have an indexing system; that he only knew how to use. My dad would then photocopy that snippet and share it with whoever. Times have changed, and today's technologies simply do what generations before us have done; but better. I'm sure 10 years from now my beloved iPhone and InstaPaper will be prehistoric, so why is it hard to say that print is prehistoric? Its been around for hundreds of years.
  4. Its not interactive. This is probably one of the things I have seen the print industry pay attention to. CBS apparently ran an video ad in a magazine in fall of 2009, and Esquire has an augmented reality edition of their magazine. I don't know how well these were received, did it work? well they do it again? who knows? But we know they tried to bring interactive material to a magazine. If you can say it with an interactive video then why just say it in words or pictures?
  5. It doesn't know who I am. The last two points are close to me. I am an evangelist for personalized and location aware anything. I would be in fact very disappointed with technology if these two points don't become as main stream as a coffee lineup at Tim Hortons in 20 years. Serving ads blindly is retarded, just like crossing the street blind-folded is retarded. But, if you are being chased by Michael Myers downtown Toronto and you happen to be blind-folded and can't take them off, then sure I guess you have to cross the street blind. This is the state of print advertisement. I'm sure careful consideration is taken to match ads with content, but there is so much you can do when you know very little about who is actually reading.
  6. It doesn't know where I am. This is an even bigger point with me. However, this one is not that far off from being realized - I think. The iPad whether it flops or succeeds will give this market the synchronized cardioversion it has been asking for. The ads will target me based on where I am. Advertisers will push their content to my device, and I will only see it if it matches certain criteria about me, my current location, or perhaps whereabouts, the time of day, weather, where I have been going, etc. In the crazy world between my ears I am able to subscribe to content I willingly publish on the Twitters, Facebooks, Foursquares, Flickrs, blog, etc. and present me with ads that match what I publish. If Foursquare shows I am bouncing between Cooksville and Union Station every day, maybe I'll see a Go Train ad when I'm reading an NYT article on an iPad? Or maybe when my kid loses their new cell phone and I go Kunfu Panda on Twitter I see an ad for someone selling the same phone on Kijiji - with the same serial number; then I'll see an ad for a new set of butcher knives on sale.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

why not Microsoft (Part 2 of many)

Round 2 of this series. I'm about to gut this video and turn it inside out. Kids, cover your eyes, this will get ugly.

  • Delegation of mail and calendar. Once upon a time, in a world when dinosaurs roamed freely on this Earth there was a need to do this. (Okay, it wasn't that long ago, but you get the point). However today, I don't think this is needed anymore. You get an e-mail invite, and you can quickly accept or reject it, find out if it conflicts with other meetings, etc. The need to delegate your mail and calendar is now obsolete. There is an exception to every thing, and some executives may still have a need for this, but come on, how many of these executives are there out there? This point is moot at best.
  • Folders or labels. That is the question. Yes you can't create folders because the whole concept of organizing mail in folders is from that 'dinosaur era' I mentioned above. The problem with folders, is its one-to-one. How do I file an e-mail as "High priority, I'll lose my job if I don't get this sorted out ASAP" and "this is for project X". Then after completing this task, I want to tag it with my "followup" tag so that I remember to check in a month later. I don't want to lose the other tags. I haven't found a way. Again, once upon a time, when you got physical mail you had to file it somewhere, you can only file it once. E-mail is different, and if you haven't figured that one out yet, then yes you should get an assistant.
  • Full corporate directory, and contact delegation. Ok you lost me here. There is an address book. I can search for people in it. Thats all most of us need.
  • Folks, its called GMail, and not GRemoteWipePhone. If that is available via Outlook, then it shouldn't. Remember point #3 from the first part? A costly excess of tools for people who don't use them.
  • Can't Manage Conference Rooms. These guys must be looking at the regular, public gmail and not the corporate google apps. You can manage conference rooms, and schedules. AND double booking still happens on Outlook. Don't blame the tools.
  • Sure, lets say you do need to install all this stuff to hookup Outlook with GMail. Sounds like FUD to me, but for the sake of argument I will accept this. Here, the problem is really Outlook. The world is moving to web based applications, keep up. You only need a browser if you were using it via the web interface, which by the way does not contain a costly excess of tools for people that don't use them. On the other hand, if you are obsessed with Outlook or absolutely need it - for whatever reason - , then perhaps Google Apps and Gmail is not for you.
Judge for yourself.




Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why not Microsoft (Part 1 of many)

I just saw this Microsoft channel on Youtube comparing Microsoft solutions with Google's. I couldn't resist writing this up.

  1. If I need to mix different features in a blender then its not easy to manage. In fact it could very well turn out messy.
  2. "Documents zip across back and forth without a hitch". Okay, but what usually happens when you have "documents zipping back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth, and..." Think turning the blender on without closing the lid.
    I'm also not sure why the diagram above shows a "phone" between a "PC" and a "browser"? Are you seriously telling me to e-mail my 40MB powerpoint slide on dialup? back and forth..back and forth..back and forth?
  3. "A costly excess of tools for people who don't use them" I just don't understand how the fool who approved this could have done so while keeping a straight face? Isn't MS Word and Outlook bloated beyond belief with tools that most people don't use?

Here's the video. Judge for yourself.


Saturday, January 30, 2010

On the rise of social eCommerce

Deborah Collier published her five predictions for social e-commerce in 2010:
  1. Goodbye to the Middleman
  2. The Year of the Deliver Company
  3. Creative Sponsored Advertising
  4. Mobile Commerce Revolution
  5. Free Culture Frenzy
Her predictions can't be anymore bang on, if these become a reality of 2010, then we are well on our way to reaching that stage of "Social eCommerce" in the first half of this decade.

As it stands today, our eCommerce networks are all rather isolated and built up silos. We have the Amazons, the Ebays, the Facebooks and the iTunes and App Stores to name a few. Social eCommerce requires these imaginary walls surrounding these walled gardens to come down - and I do expect them to. The reason they will is because as much revenue these networks generate, there is still much more left on the table. We just need to reach out for it.

The elimination of the middle man is a big step. Online applications that have carved themselves a small niche of the market have risen. Not surprisingly these bleeding edge, creative and unique applications are not operated by large corporations, but by the John and Jane Does that have operated them out of their home office or even basements. In today's online world a business does not need to provide a whole lot of services and products to corner the market - in fact focusing on your niche and a small set of products and services guarantees that you will provide better results. Amazon allows me to sell my books to other people, I can sell my old computer on eBay, or my music on iTunes. There is no middle man involved. I would say the middle man is mostly eliminated at this stage.

Delivery is an interesting service, as it increases with the growth of C2C markets, because the middle man does not exist. We are yet to see a creative, bleeding edge and unique process for delivery. Its a harder problem to tackle, but definitely still possible. I don't expect this advancement to come from the national postal services. Its tragic, but these creative solutions come out of the basements and dorm rooms of the World. The big corporations are too sluggish and paralyzed to move with the speed required for this sort of advancement.

Creative, seamless and relevant advertisement is a personal interest of mine. The future of online ads in the social eCommerce phase would be heavily wired with the abundance of data on today's and tomorrow's social networks. We have some creative advertisement solutions today such as AdSense that would push ads based on the content on the page. That was last decade's technology, the 2010s need something new that is even more seamless, more integrated, and finally more relevant to me. The only way I can see these advertising engines outdoing themselves is by personalizing these ads. The data to drive such personalization is present, just locked away in these individual silos.

Mobile. Mobile. Mobile. The iPhone has revolutionized this arena. When I went to highschool, not all the kids had cell phone, a good chunk did, but not everybody. I didn't get my first cellphone until grade 10 I think. Similarly with university, at least the earlier years. Slowly the mobile population grew, but at that time it was fairly uncommon to see a smart phone within the hands of a twenty year old. Today that is different. Now we spend more time with our iPhones, Blackberrys, and other smart phones than we do on our laptops or computers. This is just another bundle of cash waiting for someone to reach out. Those who don't keep up with these trends will surely suffer. Generation Y is closing in to their 30s and 40s, these are the future customers and they will naturally surround those that provide such services.

The freemium model. Another prediction that is directly tied to Generation Y. Unlike the preceding generation, this generation expects to get basic features for free. This generation does not tolerate the service charges and system access fees. I don't expect these old fashioned models to remain much longer. Take the service charge I pay to CIBC, what do I get in return for it? Absolutely nothing. On the other hand, they get to invest my hard earned money, make money off it, and then have the nerve to charge me a service charge or fee to take it out? They ought to be paying me a service charge! That model will change. On the other hand, I would gladly pay a service charge to get premium features for my online banking, as well as mobile banking - and by premium I don't mean printing my paper statement on my screen. Rogers mobile has slowly started introducing such free features to their customers. This includes the "My Account" Rogers iPhone app to monitor my usage, free Rogers OnDemand Online and the ability to tag phone numbers with names on my online billing. Not rocket science, but its an excellent step forward. Stop thinking of the web as e-paper.

In a perfect world, the data I publish on Facebook, could generate sales on Amazon, that will provide recommendations from Ebay along with tunes to match the occasion from iTunes in an experience that is seamless wrapped with personalized ads from Google.

Unfortunately we don't live in a perfect world, but these visions and ideas can' t be that far fetched. However, such ideas are a dime a dozen, what is important is how these ideas are executed, and not who is the first to execute them.