Thursday, December 07, 2006


For all those folks toiling in the depths of Corporate Life, may you find hope at a Big Box Retailer extraordinare.

Smashing the Clock
No schedules. No mandatory meetings. Inside Best Buy's radical reshaping of the workplace

Now THAT makes me smile. The fact that my sister sent it out is even better. Ah, hope springs eternal.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Means to an End

So Gizmodo might want to think a bit about why Apple would enrich network executives by paying them well for licensing their TV series for download through iTunes.

The movie studios resist, and Jobs can't be on the board everywhere.


Some of you know that my quiet has not been for lack of happenings. The main thrust of which is that I'm now in the online video industry, rather than the financial services.

And lo, the hype!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Will Work for Free

Rojo points this morning to Yay Hooray, where people are redoing famous logos in "Web 2.0" style.*

I want to know when someone at the top of the branding groups in one of these companies is going to get wind of this free brainstorming and take a lesson.

The question isn't really who will adopt these explorations, though the NFL logo above "illustrates" that a little creativity can go a long way. With a little work, that already screen-friendly logo could be print-ready and on NFL stationery in no time.

Companies are constantly "rethinking their brands" to remain relevant. As Yay Hooray demonstrates this morning, lots of folks out there play around with this stuff over their breakfast. Young, tech-savvy folks. Right smack dab in the middle of your company's key demographic.

Yes, marketers. Your target markets can provide input, too. Get in a conversation with them, gain their loyalty, and they will help you succeed. Mostly for free!!

Stop hamstringing your creatives with design-by-committee and let them work with your customers to create a "living" brand. Giving up a little control will help you stay relevant in the quickly-changing marketplace.

* No problem resisting the temptation to say that they are "Web 2.o-ing" the logos. I have my pride.

1. NFL and the NFL shield design are registered trademarks of the National Football League.

2. Tenkai designed NFL 2.0, but gets his/her satisfaction from the imaginative exercise. S/he leaves no identifying information. Well done.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Did You Hear That Tree Falling?

SXSW and the IA Summit must have given everyone a hangover. On Technorati, there are barely 3 pages of blog entries about Flickrites Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake appearing on the cover of Newsweek!

Now, your reaction may be that this is just a confirmation of the bubble. Be such a cynic at your own risk. My mom reads this magazine back in St. Louis, and now she might finally understand what I do!

Now, I won't say, "This is the best story ever!" It's ok, but gives too much space to myspace and the hangers-on that are trying to capitalize on exactly the same idea. BORING!

However, the story is a good intro for neophytes and indicates that there is a growing acceptance past the technorati that the Web isn't just for breakfast anymore. The highlight of the story is this nugget about 3/4ths of the way through:
Flickr was a good business, too, as many users chose to pay the $25-a-year fee for unlimited photo storage and relief from advertising on the site. But that's not why Yahoo bought it for an estimated $35 million. "With less than 10 people on the payroll, they had millions of users generating content, millions of users organizing that content for them, tens of thousands of users distributing that across the Internet, and thousands of people not on the payroll actually building the thing," says Yahoo exec Bradley Horowitz. "That's a neat trick. If we could do that same thing with Yahoo, and take our half-billion user base and achieve the same kind of effect, we knew we were on to something."
The New Wisdom of the Web, Newsweek, April 3, 2006

What a great paragraph! Look at the business realities that this highlights:
  • Little capital, lots of revenue: a small number of users paying for a service can generate outsized revenues (especially per employee).
  • Goodbye command center and call center: A small number of people (10 in Flickr's case) can run and provide service for a site that supports millions of people.
  • Participation is good business: get users to help you build the community.
These scale issues highlight the challenges for businesses today. The vaunted barriers to entry are crumbling. I'm interested to see if some of the small companies take some of their capital and try to take on larger players in the market. I'm thinking something like Flickr buying a camera manufacturer or myspace buying a mall complex to create. That's a stretch, but it's fun to consider.

On the flip side, imagine a large company whose financial ratios start looking more like Flickr's than GM's!

Thus far, Amazon, Yahoo, and Google look like they have realistic shots at making something magical happen. IBM looks like it wants a piece, too. I'm skeptical about the latter.

Plenty of companies talk a good game, but how many of the business leaders you know or see on the news truly understand how deeply these upstarts are connecting with their customers? Or even have the time to really observer their customers?

The big question is: how can we show the teeming masses of Ford Excursion-sized companies that they too can create great products and actually get real participation from their customers?

Aside: It's fun to think of an economy built of companies like Flickr, 37signals, myspace, etc. The idea borders on ridiculous, true, and I seriously doubt that anyone really wants to go through the macroeconomic devastation that would come with the collapse of the large enterprise economy.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

New Plane(s) of Existence

Hello, World!

Thanks for coming tonight. Just back from Vegas. Oops, I mean Vancouver. IA Summit, baby! I've got a bit of a snippet to share from Kathy Sierra's SXSW-inspired post about lightning releases.
So I asked what made myspace so compelling... why didn't she fall in love with LiveJournal? Her answer is a lesson for software developers (especially Web 2.0-ers), and was a theme of SXSW:

"myspace keeps doing what everybody really wants, and it happens instantly."

She said they respond to feedback, "As soon as you think of something, it's in there."


Then she said the weirdest thing of all: "myspace is like a whole new plane of existence." She wasn't kidding.

Kathy Sierra, speaking with her daughter Skyler
Ultra-fast release cycles and the new plane, Creating Passionate Users, March 16, 2006

Going on to explain that Threadless and 37Signals are proponents of the approach, Sierra seems to get a little carried away with her post SXSW brainwave hangover.* Herein lies an assumption that adding instantaneously to the functionality equals rabid user loyalty.

Au contraire. Reality is slightly more mundane, but no less powerful. By starting small and building piece-by-piece, these sites actually know their users well enough to observe activity and add in small additions that follow naturally what their users seek.

There's even a danger inherent in following the crowd so closely, especially in social software. The engaged masses can help you spark their fickle bomb and derail your quickly growing organism.

You might say that myspace and 37Signals have gotten lucky so far by not tripping too badly. Or, you're seeing excellent "generalists" showing both their user research, product manager, and design skills on their small, dedicated user base.

Hourly/daily releases are not prerequisites to creating the kind of passion. Do your homework (user research, activity monitoring), then pick the things that will have the most impact and focus like a laser on those things. I'd argue that inability to prioritize is the bane of most organizations and projects, both on the web and off.

That's the real motivator here - if you ask for feedback and generate interesting solutions to problems and new ideas, your users trust you more to deliver what they need and have less time to become disillusioned. The cycle feeds upon itself. More trust, less opportunity for problems, more help to keep on the track, MORE trust, LESS problems, MORE help, and so on.

Make progress, and the users will even cut you some slack if there is a missed step.

One thing: most situations call for release frequency based on best effort. Most websites can reasonably release new functionality or fixes a few times a month or more. A sports team usually has to wait until the season is over to make significant changes in your gameday experiences. Large public works projects can take several years.

Should you follow the wrong path, you will go the way of Friendster. Get buzz, have the attention of a rabid set of users, then off the rails you go!

* I can relate. I'm still drawing flux capacitors all over the place after returning from Vancouver. More on that in several upcoming posts.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Testing the Dam

Hello there, stalwarts! I haven't disappeared. Just letting some new ideas percolate.

As a humorous aside, take Khoi Vihn's excellent description of travel to SXSW Interactive last week:
My outbound flight, from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Austin, TX, was practically a Gen-X school bus, loaded with twenty-five to thirty-five year old media professionals wearing hipster glasses and expensive jeans. The woman seated next to me swore we had been seated in order of the model of iPod we carried.

I'm off to the IA Summit next week. While it may not have quite the cachet of SXSW, it was one of my 2005 highlights. I fully expect it to light the fuse in my head to spark the deluge. Watch out.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Yin Yank

On a flight from New York to San Francisco, I had the lately-rare opportunity to actually sit and read a magazine. The February 2006 issue of Wired tagged along for the ride, and inside crouched an opinion column about the Sony DRM debacle (by Bruce Sterling) and the cover story revealing Lego’s embrace of an ubercustomer group that helped jumpstart their product development.
Until recently, companies were skittish about customer innovation, fearing that outsiders might leak technical secrest or that they simply lacked the necessary technical skills. But Lego warmed to the open source ethos. It’s clear to the Lego execs that Mindstorms NXT would be a lesser product without the MUPers’ (spell out) input.

Inviting customers to innovate isn’t just about building better products. Opening the process engenders goodwill and creates buzz among the zealots, a critical asset for products that rely on word-of-mouth evangelism.
Geeks in Toyland, Wired 14.02

Great point, to be sure, but what product doesn’t rely on WOM these days? With falling effectiveness of traditional media marketing and ever-increasing competition for customer’s attention (online and off), the best chance at (continuing) success is to engage customers in R&D efforts.

In contrast, Sony responded to their fear of piracy by black-boxing their offering and adding what amounts to spyware on their users machines. Great idea, Sony, wreck our computers. That’s the way to inspire trust in your dedication to the customer.

Why not come up with ways to see where your music is popping up and use the info to sign and distribute new and more artists?

Lego’s approach represents the antithesis of this attitude. Responding to the reverse engineering of their proprietary Mindstorms robot control code, they opened up their software licensing agreement to include a “right to hack."

Much like Firefox, this turns some of your best, most technically adept customers from potential competitors into partners-in-crime. Do you think Firefox would have ever been built if MSFT built the original IE code, let it loose on the world, then continued to cherry pick the best ideas and write them into the software? No way, instead, people would be writing extensions and plugins for IE.

In the end, this approach embraces your customers. If you can be trusted, they will protect your products at the same time they drive you mercilessly to keep up with their ideas. In the end, letting go of this control focuses your development efforts and helps you invest in the right opportunities.