Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Toy Company That Roks

I love toys. I mean as an adult, I really love cool toys. I mean kids toys really, not adult toys. I mean I love adult toys too (no, not those kind of adult toys)... like cool phones or i-prefixed digital thing-a-ma-bobs... but this is about kids toys.

One toy in particular - Rokenbok - has so captured my attention from the moment I saw it practically 8 years ago, that it has literally been blamed (or thanked, actually) for convincing me to have kids, as the only sane justification for me to buy this toy ;)

So, now I have kids, the boys are old enough, and we own this incredible toy.

Rokenbok is a creative building toy and a multi-vehicle, remote control construction site toy. You build a site which becomes the playground for the trucks. The building is just as much fun as driving the trucks once you're done. Each truck has a purpose, just like on a real construction site, and... well... I'll stop there, 'cause that's not why I'm writing this post (or I would have wrote it a year ago).

I'm not writing this post to thank Rokenbok for the incredibly responsive service I've gotten when I've emailed them about issues ("hey, this bulldozer won't go!"; response: "Give us the code from the bottom and we'll get a new one in the mail today" - and they did).

I'm writing this post to praise Rokenbok as a product company, particularly for their focus on kids and safety. They recently posted a new page on their website which describes their safety testing process - to re-assure parents in the wake of this horrendous rash of lead-ridden toys coming out of manufacturing plants in China. If you have a kid with a red Thomas-Train half in her mouth, you'll understand why this is such a big deal (or you should read other articles).

Rokenbok is not just re-assuring parents as a defensive measure, I think they truly have a strong, DNA-level commitment to the importance of safety in the products that they put in kids' hands - and they deserve credit for that.

Rokenbok has remained focused on they end user over all else. That was clear when we dropped (ok, drove) our first truck off a high ledge on an early site we built - and discovered that it was clearly built to withstand much more abuse than a normal toy... but the safety focus - from design to manufacturing - that's proof of their commitment. One example, besides that they don't dip their toys in vats of chippable lead paint, is the design of their admittedly choking-hazard-sized "Roks" (the balls scooped and dumped by the trucks). They designed them with "vents" so that "if one were accidentally inhaled, a child would still be able to breathe through the vents until professional help could arrive". If only all companies had such a focus on great products as a priority over cheap delivery.

I've heard that Rokenbok recently had a significant change in management - let's hope they maintain the same values.... Thanks Rokenbok!

Friday, November 2, 2007

22 years ago, dinosaurs (and my friends) roamed the earth

Seriously – 22 years is very long time... I recently hooked up with a close school friend whom I haven't seen in 22 years... a lifetime. By “close”, I mean that’s what we were then, but I haven’t seen her since. And while I feel like practically the same person, the world around me is pretty much a different planet. Country boundaries changed, some wars finished, new wars began, and technology changed a bit (!) and, well, my friend from 22 years ago turns out to still be a good friend :)

We looked at old pictures and new pictures of people we knew - people we know... and it really made it clear how much time has passed. I started to think of the things lost and the things gained in those years... so let's start two lists:

What we have today that we didn’t have 22 years ago:
  • Google, Yahoo, Facebook, MySpace.
  • WikiPedia, Technorati, Techcrunch.
  • Firefox, Safari, YouTube.
  • The web.
  • Laptops, iPods, flash drives, USB, 250gb hard drives the size of a British cucumber sandwich.
  • Digital Cameras (?).
  • Cell Phones (well... there was one I saw the size of a microwave oven).
  • Windows Vista, XP, NT, 3.1, 2.0.
  • Fear of Interns in the Whitehouse.
  • Fear of Republicans in the Whitehouse.
  • Azerbaijan and many other countries.
  • This blog, any blog, the word “blog” (and so many other words!)
  • Avaya, Agere, T-Mobile, Netflix
  • Brittney, Paris, Lindsay.
  • Virgin (Records or Atlantic)
  • K-Fed, J-Lo.
  • The criminal O.J. Simpson.
  • Shoes off at the airport security gate.
  • My kids.

What we had 22 years ago that we don’t have anymore:
  • The Soviet Union.
  • The big 8 accounting firms (Ernst & Whinney, Arthur Young, Arthur Anderson, Peat Marwick Mitchell, Price Waterhouse, Coopers & Lybrand, Delloite Haskins Sells, Touche Ross)
  • Wang Laboratories, Typwriters (I'm assuming they're extinct)
  • The artist Michael Jackson
  • The ex-Football Player OJ Simpson... Nicole Brown, Ronald Goldman
  • The artist known as Prince
  • Phil Hartman, John Candy, John Belushi, Chris Farley
  • Manufacturers Hanover Trust, Chemical Bank, ,
  • Floppy drives
  • DOS, Windows 1.0 (just barely)
  • Almost 3,000 innocent people lost on September 11, 2001, including some friends.
  • My Dad.

I could probably go on with this for a while..... but, I gotta get busy with the next 22 years...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

How Come I forgot about this NYTimes Story?

A good friend of our family who has been running a web hosting business since dinosaurs roamed the earth (well, you know what I mean - 1992), sent me this ancient (in web terms) article from the NY Times... It quotes my dad (!) back in November of 1996. The author references his HowCome site (which really was a blog-before-there-were-blogs, and so retro-cool looking at it today). The founder of Webscope (David), was also the founder of my Dad's passion for the web.

The look back at this is really fun...just as a reminder of where we came from: "In September 1995, Long Island had 904 officially registered commercial organizations at Internic in Herndon, Va. This year the figure was 4,933."
- I wonder what that figure would be today...

...and, of course, anything linking back to my dad makes me smile.
(Thanks, David!)

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

"May I have your attention, please"

Attention... Some want it. Some need it. Some give it. Some don't.
...and, yes, the mere existence of this blog puts me in category one, I guess.

An interaction with my 7-year old son brought up this whole stream of thought... He and my nephew were making impressive noise right at our feet while we were trying to have normal adult conversation about something which was completely irrelevant to the lives of these two resourceful first-graders. They decided that blowing a whistle and banging a drum – loudly – was the best way to get our attention. At first I treated the noise as part of the persistent, expected din you find in any house with kids. Then I realized that I was practically yelling to make myself heard, and finally shouted to them, “ENOUGH!... “ (hey, that worked). Followed by the gently delivered comment that every sensitive father must learn: “Please. Stop blowing that whistle or I really will crush it”.

“We’re just trying to get your attention!”.

I have to give them points for honesty and awareness - it's usually much more sub-conscious than that.

It struck me later that “getting attention” might be more a basic human need than just a phenomenon of competitive commercial coercion (although the latter is much more common). And now that web-based social networks have finally become recognized as potentially a more effective attention channel than others - here come the herds.

(this post grew pretty long... click here to see the whole story)Any business marketer, advertiser, publication, author, blogger, entrepreneur, actor, musician, politician, even Uncle Arnie is looking for anyone who will listen (“ know why oil prices will never go lower? I’ll tell you why...”). And while most of us play both parts – attention seeker and attention giver (or withholder), we walk through life now being blasted from every angle with people blowing their whistles or banging their drums.

So we invent filters, methods, channels, for optional listening. Specialized cable channels, Syndicated feed readers, NetFlix, podCasts and iTunes. On our social networks, it's our circle of friends and connections which (apparently) "control" the flow. And attention-seekers invent new ways to blast us. Spam, Pop-ups, elevator video screens, billboards, even street performers. So, while the attention market is mostly based on gaining customers, there are three other goals at work here...

First, friend seekers. Date-seekers in many cases, but also the likes of Uncle Arnie, looking for people to agree with him – to find people who share his view, trying to get attention in small ways, maybe just to prove to himself that he’s right or to get some recognition that he is smart – or hopefully, looking for more diverse opinions which can help him refine his own ideas.

Second, fight seekers. Like that dude at the party who moves from group to group just waiting to find someone who disagrees with his theories so he can more loudly describe them (after all, it’s hard to justify telling people your detailed theories when they already agree. It’s more fun for this category of person to try to convert others to their cause).

And third, is a common one: Fame. There’s a high degree of respect given to those who become famous (even ignoring, I think, the potential monetary value of such fame)... and, therefore, there’s a powerful draw for people to win the kind of attention that brings fame. Like the guys from that show ‘Jack Ass’, who, week after week, would risk personal harm, humiliation, and hatred just because that was their best devised shot at becoming famous (which, they eventually did).

Now comes the popularity of social networks - LinkedIn, Facebook, Orkut, etc. as semi-controllable (implying semi-uncontrolled) communication channels... and here come the attention seekers. First the date-seekers and friend-seekers, then, the fame seekers (they only come after there's enough people watching to create fame)...and then, the professional, commercial attention-getters (businesses, advertisers, etc). I'm suddenly getting poked, compared, bitten... I'm getting virtual gifts and invited to play games... all by people I either know well or at least recognize as those I've invited into my virtual social circles. I'm also getting some valuable attention requests from people with really good ideas and invites to keep in touch with old friends. These new(ish) channels can really be powerful to control the inflow once you learn how - but they're even more powerful for the attention seekers, as we are all more likely to give our attention to someone who has already gotten the attention of one of our friends.

No matter the channel, we each have this powerful resource we can either offer or withhold – our Attention. But manage your network of friends or you might find you've opened your door to more attention seekers than ever. Just like the theory of email-bankruptcy - where people are just starting over and tossing aside their old email piles, you might find yourself declaring social (network) suicide, and killing off your current social profile and the network of 'friends' as the only way out from under the weight of that news feed.

When we are looking for entertainment, or a product or a service or a friend, we can offer our attention and listen for a while, or we can say “Please, stop blowing that whistle, or I really will crush it”.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Porn Potato

In case you don't get the reference in the title... The origin is here.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. I was on the train last night. I found a seat, but before I sit down, I find my eyes facing the back of the 50-something guy seated in front of me and my eyes are immediately drawn to the full-screen image on his phone. It’s Porn.
On his phone.
And he’s clicking the screen... to another image. He’s surfing. On his phone. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that”.

He can definitely sense that I’m right behind him (I’m barely 2-feet away) and others are just as close, looking at his phone screen as clearly as he is, and he makes no defensive, nonchalant, screen-blocking gestures, no dirty looks. So I don’t feel embarrassed for him, because he has no embarrassment... which is all fine.

He’s just thinking “That’s right. I’m here on the train ride home, checking out some porn. On my phone. Yes siree... great way to unwind after a tough day in the salt mines”.

Dude! What’s up? If your wife calls on that phone, you gonna say “yes, I’m on the train – I’m getting off soon” (oops)... And it’s not even an iPhone... so he can’t zoom in with his sweaty little fingers. Imagine Apple marketing to that use case... I could just imagine the white silhouetted iPhone porn surfers to go along with their cool ipod campaign.

I know... Half the people reading this will probably think I sound uptight("It’s just porn".) On his phone? The other half will probably be offended that I could even mention this whole story ("That's disgusting, don't give other people ideas").

Now, every time I see someone hovered over their phone, I’m just gonna wink, smirk and give them a knowing nod.. or maybe I’ll add, in my best Borat voice, “Niiiice – you make a sexy time on your phone!”.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Social networks might actually be semi-anti-social

It struck me the other day, watching several phone potatoes doing their "social" thing, that while people are communicating more than ever – on phones and through (ahem) “social” networks and email and text messaging – that they (we!) might actually be more isolated than ever.

You know... Head down over the keyboard, smirking about that zombie bite you just got, or crunched up to our phone screen, hanging on to every word of that really useful twitter from Sally, about how she "likes the hot pepper dip" she's eating while she sits there alone twittering (sounds weird - doesn't it? Sally, sitting alone, "twittering"). Yeah - seems pretty isolating...

What I’m not sure of is whether we are using time which we would be alone anyway to now communicate with others, or are we taking time which we otherwise might have spent with others, physically, to now be alone? Have we just harmlessly, and maybe beneficially, moved the communicating part into bits, bytes and broadband? or have we lost something?

So the “networking” part of “social networking” isn’t arguable, but is it really “social”? I know that It’s more interesting for me when I am in the physical presence of people with whom I want to socialize, but I just don’t have that much time to socialize in the same physical location with others as much as I’d like.

So maybe that’s the key to “social networking” – maybe it makes up for our modern compression of time, to allow us to continue to communicate with others without the normal requirement to plan it and physically travel to a common location. Maybe it’s just like video conferencing at work, which, in theory, saves a trip. The experience is not as satisfying and not as productive, but it’s good enough. So “social networking” is really more like “virtual socializing” ? That puts a negative spin on “Socializing”, rather than a positive spin on “Networking”... but who wants to admit that our lives are just so full of interesting things that we’ve had to downgrade our social experience... Yuck – that sounds really negative – where actually, it’s only negative if technically-based social networking has replaced physical socializing.
It’s actually a positive change if we haven’t reduced real socializing but rather use online social networks and our mobile phones as an add-on to getting together with friends... yeah... I love virtually-social-electronic-communication... really, I do.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Planning Trips Together

Planning trips can be fun...(Ha!) ...vacation trips, not business trips. But no matter what type of trip I'm planning, there's almost always a need to share the itinerary, if not the planning process itself, with other people.
So, of course I see an opportunity to use a Google spreadsheet here (yes - I know Google Calendar is the more natural choice...). I was inspired by another spreadsheet I found online - where Disney trips specifically were being planned - to create a generic template that anyone could use to plan a trip. Knowing how hard that was (the Disney trip), I could relate to the value of having a 1-page view of the whole trip - particularly the meal reservations (don't get me started on that topic).

The main feature of the template is the automatic creation of the "Agenda View", which is a shortened version of the schedule (yes - I know Google Calendar has the best Agenda view)... so as you fill in the Trip Planner matrix on the front page, the Agenda View is populated with that data. You could even share a link to the published version of that simpler Agenda View with people - and as you update your plans on the main page, they'll always see the most recent version (as long as you use the "automatically re-publish" option on the "publish" tab).

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Definition: Phone Potato

I mentioned this in a prior post, and got a couple of sideways looks... so.. here's the definition of a Phone Potato (aka "mobile 'tater", derived from the english "couch potato, which is also taken from the latin root "potato" which means "useless until cooked and eaten").

You’ve seen them. They are always “on the phone” – not always talking, but always on... in one of two positions...
Position 1: phone pressed to head - lips blabbing.
Position 2: phone clutched in hands - fingers flailing.
They’re totally connected to anyone they know for... well, whatever...
They never look up at you, even if they decide to talk to you.

These people are in their own state of aloneness, interacting with a device which may or may not include others on the far end (It’s not just for phone calls anymore). They can not bear to be without their phone and they are always actively using it, regardless of what else might be happening at the time. They’re doing it while they walk, while they drive, while they eat, while they hang out with their family. There’s no place they won’t answer the phone – car, restaurant, doctor’s office waiting room, even the potty is in-bounds (regardless of whether their counterpart on the other end cares to hear toilets flushing and, whatever else - they probably even shamelessly say “one sec” while they absolutely need both hands for... you know...). These are the people who would probably halt sex to read that text message.

How do they keep their phone charged? Talking is just one thing – texting is the other... doing everything from finding out what street corner their friends are hanging out on (which is sort of useless, since they have no intention of actually moving their body to that location when they are perfectly happy texting), to checking out the latest buzz on celebrity-gossip or, more likely, school-gossip.. AHA! School...yes... these are often kids... The mobile marketers must have an official age range they target – probably 13-18. They’re a huge crop of potatoes, but they’re not the only ones... the ultra-mobile (ultra-young) professional might be the next largest crop. Always on, always working. They equate being on the phone with working, or, when they are physically at work, they’re multi-tasking across their social and professional existences, which are likely so overlapped, that they are virtually one thing.

Quick - Here come a few now! Get me a pot of boiling water and some sour cream - I'm hungry...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Phones ARE more like TV, but not because of new content

It’s not just the addition of content from television which makes mobile phones and PCs the new TVs. There’s a deeper analogy which struck me (and, yes, which I thought I should share... hey, if you don’t like it, change the channel ;)

The historical adoption of TV into the majority of homes seems to have an interesting parallel to what we’re seeing now with technology products – that is, in theory it connected people, but in reality, while it connected some people in a shallow sort of way, it isolated many others deeply. As TV became mainstream – starting in the 1960’s (?) – people probably used the physical presence of others (in the same room watching the same TV) as a way to justify the sedentary act of watching actors be active rather than being active themselves... “It gives the family a chance to be together”. Right. Sure. Family interaction was the benefit of TV. Each family member in the same room doing the same thing, looking in the same direction, laughing at the same time, acknowledging each other’s presence during commercials (thank goodness for ads!), but otherwise, cognitively alone. I don’t doubt that this is actually true (the good parts) for many families who watch the once-or-twice weekly “24” or “Idol” together as a family. I’m more thinking about the every-nightly spud family.

Becoming a “couch potato” was probably an un-recognized issue for a decade, particularly since remote controls didn’t exist (yes – you had to actually get off your butt to change the channel... but there were less than 13 in the US, so the 10 feet you had to walk for each channel change could not happen often enough to be considered exercise, sorry). The couch potatoes germinated there on the couch whether in the presence of others or not (afterall, potatoes are grown in crops of many, not alone), whether they were trying to do other ativities or not. Once people started eating dinner in front of the TV, it was all over...

Which, finally, brings me to the analogy... The Phone Potato. The person who just can’t stop using their phone. For example, during dinner... They’re not just making that “are the kids ok with the babysitter” call... no, they’re just chatting, or texting... You’ve seen them – maybe even in the mirror (yes, you). And the same is true of the Laptop Potato (who, me?).

I am not being critical of the communication aspects of TV or the mobile phone or the web... the speed at which (valuable) information travels across all technology medium is amazing and absolutely beneficial. The part I’m being critical of is the replacement of otherwise social, creative, innovative, physically active and interactive activities between people (or alone) with the anti-thinking behaviors often observed in the Couch Potato, Phone Potato or Laptop Potato (uh oh... I think that last one might be me!). It's is a sad change which just needs to be, well, recognized, before it consumes too much of our lives without adding value or happiness.

The sad part is that I almost always observe the phone potato behaviors in teenagers – probably parallel to the observations in the 60’s, when young people at that time learned couch potato germination and farming as an innate human activity, which it is not - but through young people, it is being sewn into the fabric of modern human existence (i know, too deep).

"I'm the slime oozing out from your TV set"
- Frank Zappa

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Competing with software today vs. yesterday

It used to be very hard (more investment) to crush (win) a given business area with a killer software product - corporate or consumer. It was harder to actually code (program) quality, easy-to-use software (I think) – which meant it would take longer to produce, which meant you better get it right. “Getting it right” meant spending more time on requirements gathering, more time on testing and therefore, (in our infinite developer wisdom) less time on usability – after all, there was no time for those “nice-to-haves” and no recognition of its value in comparison to getting the business rules right. All of this, by definition, meant that the software took longer to deliver, which, in turn meant that it was more common for users to outgrow the software by the time it was delivered - particularly in the corporate environment.

Users often never got any value (ROI) from software which took 1-2 (or more!) years to deliver. But, even in that environment, (which I think I describe as more grave than it was) sometimes you could get it right and win – and then, as a software vendor at least, you could win big since it was so hard for others to compete (for the same reasons it was hard for you to win).

Gaining market share was even harder. From the customer’s perspective, in the face of their large investment in a software product (nothing was free back then and just the installation cost was something never to take lightly), they had a much stronger “follower comfort” motivation – perceiving it to be safer to go with the leader (“you can’t be fired for using IBM”). That meant you needed customers to get customers. A key reference customer was necessary and critical mass was, well, critical to succeed. In Financial Services, if you did succeed as a software vendor, you were bought by Sungard – they knew how hard it was to win, so they let other companies do it and then just bought them (all... so many, in fact, they have to present them in an alphabetic index ;).

Today, it costs less to enter a given market with an idea and then to fix it, expand it, scale it – or even abandon it. Less up-front time on requirements gathering (because you can credibly limit v1), which means getting software into the hands of users earlier, which provides better usability feedback, which produces better software. There are even basic automated services - APIs - , like transaction processing, storage, etc, which are a snap to integrate.

Overall, the time to produce something valuable is shorter and it's more iterative, delivering value in stages. Programming is easier. And deployment... OH! Deplyment! Those barriers are lifted almost completely – at least for web services (SaaS) – allowing developers to get software into the hands of end-users immediately, without even an approval or onerous legal process (if both sides willingly participate).

All this means there are more competitors. Big companies need to compete with small companies (who, by the way, might be able to alter pricing due to their lower R&D legacy). Old companies compete with new. Customers probably have lower switching costs too, due to their ongoing demand for ‘switchable service’ as part of the service they choose (ironic, isn’t it – that to win a customer’s business today, you hove to prove to them that they can easily stop using your service).

Competing today is actually, well, fun! Got an idea? Try it! Get it out there!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Office 2.0: what it looks like

These were some notes I made before the conference when thinking about "What is Office 2.0?". I didn't bother trying to mention most of this stuff on my panel, as it seemed over-covered, but thought it was worth putting some of these here for...well... just to put it somewhere (and for dispute or expansion, if you are in the mood). I also didn't focus on the technical characteristics of the tools, but rather some higher-level perceptions of the business environment (not really knowing whether that is useful)...

  • Mobile and Remote
  • Flexible (full-timers, specialized part-timers and contractors)
  • More productive and happier (when working)?
  • [negative point] Too connected - difficult to draw the line between work and home life

  • (ignore the buzzword 'knowledge worker' if you're like me, but still fun to check out acidlabs' view which seems relevant here)
  • Collaborative (available, easy and practical via the technology)
  • Easily procured, standard business services (yes, SaaS)….
  • Self-customized services (yes, a mix of standard and customized)
  • More integration between automated tools to support custom workflows (e.g. human interaction supported through integration with communication tools like sms and email)
  • Collaboration supported as an expected feature (as prevalent as copy/paste is today)
  • Lots of standard services used underneath business-specific apps (e.g. S3, Checkout, etc.)
  • Practical do-it-yourself customizations (via options and integrations, not programming)
  • Less package software installations locally
  • Less custom developed corporate software
Competitive Environment:
  • More competitors
  • Faster pace of innovation
  • Many smaller niche businesses quickly meeting specific vertical needs
  • [negative point] Too many choices for businesses, if that's possible, in the shorter term (until real winners rise to the top)
...maybe all too obvious to justify a blog post... oh well - too late.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Tough memories of September 11th, 2001

Six years ago last night was a great night. A normal night. I started my commute home at a reasonable time, and sat on the 40-minute train ride with a friend I haven’t seen in a while – Mike Gogliormella. He was energetic that night as he explained to me that 50 of his close associates at eSpeed were laid off that day – meaning he wouldn’t see them tomorrow… but he still had his job. So he was clearly having mixed feelings – happy to still have his job, but sad that others did not. I remember he had a really short hair cut that night and was wearing a baseball cap. He told me about the haircut he got while on vacation with his wife, Daniela (another good friend) and newly adopted daughter, Gillian. He just lit up when he spoke about his daughter and his family. She was only about 6 months old, and given that my first son was just 11 months old at that time, I could totally relate to the joy and amazement he was feeling then and about to experience in the coming months.

That was the night of September 10th. I went home that night and told my wife “Guess who I rode the train with – Mike G.!” and answered all the obligatory questions about how he was doing, the baby, etc. Mike also went home and probably said “Guess who I rode the train with – JR”, and answered the same questions from his wife.

The next morning seemed like the start of any other day...
(this post is long... click here to see the whole story)
Another day where I would try to figure out how to get my new business off the ground, having left a big corporate job to start ITK Solutions only 3 months prior. My partner was traveling in London and I was alone in our new office on the 23rd floor of One Liberty Plaza which faced the South Tower of the World Trade Center directly across Church Street. It was a great office and we worked hard to find it and negotiate it. I did lots of legwork to find all the possible locations for full-service office space, and then went and looked at about 12 locations. I narrowed the search down to 2 choices for my partner to see when she came back from London (she was relocating once I got the business up and running). In May of 2001, while she was in town, we looked at One Liberty Plaza, which we both loved, and then took a walk across the street to see our other choice: a renovation in progress, on the 93rd floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Margaret Echterman, a very friendly and persuasive sales person from the management company which ran the office space met us in the lobby and rode the long elevator ride with us to give us the grand tour. It was, ironically, filled with lots of dust and studs and debris, but even then, you could see that this office was going to be spectacular. We stood for a while in what would likely be our office, looking down almost 1000 feet. There was nothing like it. In the lobby after the tour, Margaret told us the office would be ready by June 1, and offered us a 50% discount off the published leasing rates. Wow. I was sure that with that deal, this would be our space… so, we took that deal back to Claudia – the similar office manager / sales person at One Liberty Plaza and told her “if you can meet that deal, we’ll take your office, otherwise, we have to go across the street”.
Claudia met Margaret’s deal. So we graciously declined Margaret and moved into One Liberty Plaza. I walked away really liking Margaret, a bit jealous that I wouldn’t be occupying that incredible office space on the 93rd floor of the south tower.

I remember the morning of September 11, 2001, was a perfect, slightly breezy, sunny sky. In my office before 8:00 am, I was temporarily confused by the morning sun beaming into my west-facing window (I think the sun rises in the east, right?). I had to look out and up to realize that it was the reflection of the sun off the east side of the South Tower. In hindsight, that was the only morning I ever noticed that happening.

I stepped out of my office a bit before 9am. Standing at the sink in the mens room, I began to hear an announcement over the building’s speaker system and began to walk toward my office. “We are investigating the problem. Please stay away from the west side of the building. Please move to the east side of the building.”

Naturally, I ignored the announcement. As I walked down the hallway, past the other offices of other small companies, I could see the air outside their windows was filled with paper flying everywhere – a sight normally seen only during a parade for one of our winning sports teams (ticker tape parades, after all, originated down here on wall street). But there was no such parade. I entered my office and saw even more debris flying outside my window. Being so close to the World Trade Center towers, I had to push my face against the glass and look up to see what was wrong – there was a pattern of holes, and clearly the burnt result of fire, on the east side of the North Tower. Given the size of the holes I could see, I remember thinking that a small plane or helicopter must have crashed into the building. I also remember immediately thinking about my friend Mike G., knowing that eSpeed occupied the upper floors of one of those towers. Trying to rationalize this event, my mind was racing. I thought that maybe one of the people who got laid off from eSpeed decided to crash his small plane into the building in a desperate act of revenge.

I walked to the shared area of the office, where there was a TV with live coverage of what we all believed to be a horrible accident. It was much worse than what I was seeing on my side of the building. Several of us who arrive early, but have never spoken were watching the TV with amazement as this event unfolded directly across the street. I remember saying out loud to nobody in particular “people are dying right across the street”.

I walked back to my office and my phone rang. A business acquaintance from London “What’s going on there? Are you ok?”. “I can’t really talk now” was my response and hung up quickly. I called my wife to tell her to turn on the TV and also to tell her that I would likely just leave the city now to avoid all the inevitable craziness later (I had no idea). I looked awkwardly up out the window again just for a minute and grabbed just my phone and headed back into the lobby. I walked past the office of my friend Evan, who occupied an office on the south side of the building, and we anxiously chatted about what could have caused this explosion across the street… in the background, out the window, paper and debris was still falling. “Maybe it was a small plane, or someone shot a missile?”, I think he said... all speculation in our state of complete anxiety.

I went further up the hall to see the TV again – as it felt safer at this point than pressing my face against the glass in my office to see what was happening across the street about 50 stories above my 23rd story window. The smoke was increasing, the situation seemed worse. I walked back toward my office on the West side, ignoring the continuing building announcements “stay away from the west side of the building. Do not leave the building.”. I ignored those announcements too. I passed Evan’s office again and said “I’m just going to go home” and continued walking.

As I put my hand on the door knob of my office door, there was a huge explosion which rocked the building – and I ran. The explosion was so powerful and loud that I expected to see a fireball chasing me as I ran back down the hall. Then Evan screamed “It was a jumbo jet! It was an airline jet! I saw it! A huge passenger jet!” and he then ran with me – to the elevators. You could practically feel our hearts pounding – all the people in the elevator – but nobody talking. The debris on the ground was growing and swirling in the wind, and now there was much more falling from the sky from what we now know was the second plane. I used the east-facing exit doors, thinking that I would have less chance to get hit by anything falling from the sky if I put my building between me and the towers. So many small memory snippets in the next few minutes:
...dust gathered already in the revolving door... people waiting to exit, not sure if they should go out in the storm (just like when it’s pouring rain)... a man in a daze, thoughtfully picking up and analyzing what looked like a piece of a metal wall – maybe even a part of the cabin of the plane... several people hysterical crying… crowds gathered at the intersections on Broadway where there was a view between buildings of the burning towers… cops clearly confused about where to send people and sometimes staring up at the buildings themselves…

I hesitantly walked across Broadway to the subway station under Nassau street, thinking that the risk of being underground was less than the risk of being in the shadow of the burning towers.

Underground, things were eerily quiet. Most people had no idea what was happening above them, but some definitely did. I remember seeing two people I knew really well from my prior job at JP Morgan, and just ignoring their presence. I wasn’t really ready for the “how are you” conversation. There was an elderly woman strangely babbling about how we’re all going to die, and another woman uncontrollably crying and shaking creaming at her to shut up.

I got out at Penn Station, and everything seemed normal. There was no view of the towers. My train would not be leaving to take me home to New Jersey for another 40 minutes…. So I called my wife and she nervously just asked me to leave Penn Station, for fear that it was another target. I walked the streets for 30 minutes and then boarded my practically empty train – it was approx 10:00 I think.

On the mostly quiet ride home, some people were talking about the event and I could hardly listen – it made me sick to hear people talking about it. Then, as we exited the tunnel on the NJ side, someone looked back at Manhattan and said “Is there only 1 tower? Oh my god, there’s only one tower!”. I turned to the guy near me and we gave each other the same “they are crazy” look… I actually looked back a the burning towers in the distance (you could see them from quite some distance away) and said “It’s just the angle we’re seeing them from, the other tower is behind that one”. My mind would not let me see that one of the towers was already gone. Other people on the train who were able to get a connection talked about how planes were crashing into other places in Washington and elsewhere, and how there was a belief that many other jets were still in the air headed towards other targets.

When I arrived in Summit, my wife picked me up and I still didn’t feel safe. I hugged her tightly and cried uncontrollably. I also remember looking nervously up at the sky, irrationally expecting to see a jet descending on one of the local buildings. The sky was perfectly blue. My 11-month old baby was smiling in his car seat, happily naive to the events. The fear at this point was so high, that we decided to fill both cars with gas and stock up on bottled water – which we did. Then we went home and watched the news – for almost 24 hours straight. At one point, Channel 5 was broadcasting live phone calls from people who had “missing” loved ones – believed to potentially be alive at some area hospital or elsewhere, just lost in the all the hysteria… and my friend Daniela was suddenly speaking on TV, asking people to contact her if they knew where Mike was.

I later learned that Margaret Echterman was killed that day, sitting in her newly renovated office space on the 93rd floor of the South Tower. A good friend of the family, Ian Thompson, was also killed, as was Tom Farrelly, one of the nicest people I ever knew at JP Morgan, and John Cruz, a young man I worked with on the trading floor at JP Morgan who took a job with a bond trading firm in the World Trade Center.

I feel lucky to be here to tell this story.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Popularity caused by Popularity

Thinking about the competitive environment in web applications as part of the whole Office 2.0 conference pre-think, it seemed worth analyzing (a gross overstatement) what makes some new applications just zoom past the competition in terms of user popularity - and therefore, success (from a usage, not a revenue, perspective).

The examples already seen are obvious, including auction markets (eBay), Video (YouTube), demographically-focused social networking (MySpace, LinkedIn, FaceBook) and plenty of others. Popularity seems to bring popularity. Once a winner is chosen in a certain cross-section of function and demographic (or business vertical), it becomes a peer magnet. The obvious reason this occurs is:
  • Critical Mass. It often adds value to have more people involved in a service – for example with bidding services, you want 200 potential bids, not 2... or with social networks, there's not much sense to using one which your friends won't use.
But there are 3 other reasons people (or their companies) select particular apps, which might apply more to non-social business-focused apps or at least apps which do not rely on critical mass:
  • Trust. People perceive something that other people already use as more trustworthy and safer. "If Avis and Budget already use for CRM, than I'm probably ok selecting it for my business".
  • Laziness. Given the time commitment of a proper analysis to chose a service, people are willing to save time by going with what peers are already using.
  • Promotion and Buzz. The more people use a service the more other people hear about it and the more likely they are to at least try it (then it must rely on it's own value).

The speed at which people communicate in this new environment, fosters this phenomenon, since the above reasons given rely on knowing what applications or services others are using. Maybe this is why it seems that a winner in more recent years becomes a winner faster than in the past... or maybe it's just that time seems to be going by quicker...

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Office 2.0: Death of the Application?

From the Office 2.0 conference, this session (named the same as this post) addresses a direct question, which is: Are web-based applications going to replace installed software applications? I'm no pro-blogger, so real-time posting during the event, and providing complete coverage was not my goal here (whew... good thing, since i saved much of this post in draft and now posting almost a day later). The main reason I wanted to blog about this topic was that I have some opinions in this area and at the beginning of the conference had this strong sense that 10 years from now, we will actually think back to traditional shrink-wrapped and vendor-customized installed apps and think "wow, remember that? That sucked." (in fact, I've already thought that). I'm also not going to try to provide a transcript of the session here - just some high level concepts which were discussed - so if I attribute things to specific speakers, it's not meant to be a quote... apologies to the speakers if I missed your point...

The panel, moderated by Greg Ruff, includes Mark Bagley, Danny Kolke, Greg Olsen, Ramana Rao, Rajen Sheth and Frank Zamani

So - Is the traditionally 'installed' app dead to be replaced by the web app?
I don't see a binary answer, as there was for vinyl records or rotary dial phones... but there is clearly a shift to web-based services and software, particularly for business applications. This is not a quick transition by any means, but the pain of installing packaged software and "running it" on your own infrastructure (servers or desktops) is just too painful and time consuming when compared to web-based software. Even the traditional "evaluation period" and eventual procurement through the contract process is painful - which seems to disappear with web-based trial and procurement (although it really just takes another form).

The panel had a few interesting points:
- Users might not care at all about the app (whether it's online or installed on their desktop) they just want to get their work done.
- Users are frustrated by the inefficiencies of installed apps, particularly the persistent issues of upgrading, lack of connection to other users, etc. and are therefore willing to take risks perceived in online apps which have very low barrier to start using.
- IT should be focused (in the enterprise) on making the users within the company more efficient.
- CIOs are challenged to understand and then measure the risks with new web-based apps that their internal users want (or demand). The current mentality includes comfort in internally-stored data and fear of data 'in the cloud'.

Questions from attendees:
Question: History had many cycles of 'lots of products early, then consolidation into larger successful players' - will this current cycle buck that trend?
Olsen: within organizations, there will be some drive toward consolidation, but there will be smaller players with persistent success and real value.
Rao: If you think of it as "Sites" - is it reasonable to think there will only be a few 'Sites' one day?
Ruff: past cycles were driven by the economics - efficiencies in the process. This cycle might not have the same inefficiencies to drive consolidation.
Kolke: There are still many companies keeping books on paper ledgers, and desktop productivity app adoption rates are down for the first time ever which might be indicative.

Question: How does 'coolness' relate to success - in other words (i think) as apps are less cool, will there be less activity in development and will they become less successful?
Bagley: might depend on integration between apps
Kolke: faster cycles have a huge impact on success, since user needs are more quickly satisfied (rather than using 2-years ago requirements by the time software is done).
Sheth: Relevance to users is the key - good software will be successful.
Olsen: Products which are successful (that is, they still sell) will live on (me: I like to call this 'success breeds success')
Zamani: Delivery by software providers also requires strong performance to meet the scale of use.
Rao: There is nothing cool now - that's over already. So the new cool is "usefulness".

Question: (fr Dan Farber) Microsoft can't yet feel the impact of the smaller players, so what makes you confident that your bubble won't burst? What makes you think that the reality is user-created apps, web-apps, etc delivered so differently than the status quo?
Kolke: Integration with existing apps make the Etelos platform relevant. There's more pull from users who need solutions now.
Olsen: We can see what people are building with our product - and if they are building useful stuff faster - and there is traction in spaces that are not well served.
Bagley: companies like EchoSign have a value proposition. Time to market is super fast now and deployment costs are virtually free.
Zamani: Yes, it's tough to compete with the largest companies, but there is an opportunity here to build market share while the big boys wake up.
Rao: asked the audience whether they really feel that the smaller companies are just spinning their wheels.
- - - - end of panel - - - -

me: Any shift in product innovation, including technology products/services, opens a door where the smaller players can innovate and roll the dice (i.e. spend money) on winning customers and becoming a successful, viable business. The prize they shoot for is some exit strategy (being bought by the slower, bigger players who just need that advantage of speed) or an actual continuously profitable business.

[Update: Some similar ideas on the Google Enterprise blog post...]

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Bloggers do it better than me...

The blogosphere rocks. (hey, Firefox spell checker doesn't recognize 'blogosphere'!... and it asked me to capitalize 'Firefox' ;).

We launch some new features in spreadsheets, and the pro-bloggers provide some super-fast discovery, analysis, tie-ins to other news... and then there's the reader comments, usually adding more value... it's just so consistent.... so follow the above links rather than depend on me to provide the details...

Software as a Service: the objectification of business processes

Software as a service (SaaS) has clearly become one of those dreaded buzzwords which now gets a fair share of buzz in blogs, groups, forums and even in corporate IT circles (Ack! …and now in my blog!). Everyone is on the bandwagon it seems, whether through action or just rhetorical agreement (hard to tell in some cases). Many would just call it good design – the componentization of software down to smaller, expert, well-tested units, but it’s the new(ish) ease of delivery that has come along with web 2.0 which has made this otherwise old concept something to talk about again (with a new acronym, of course). There is, in my opinion, an overlap of 2 specific concepts in many discussions on SaaS - which I mentioned on a recent Panel and thought I should expand a bit here:

First, is the true delivery of software services – that is, things like Amazon’s S3 and EC2 services, which allow developers of business-aligned software to focus on the business and not on the commodities (like storage or CPU scaling). Online mapping services (like, uh… Google’s!) are examples of another huge class of services which help web-masters enhance the value of their sites or provide mash-up artists a (now almost cliché, but) cool way to visualize location data. When creating web content, there are literally hundreds of software services which you can leverage through the magic of http (in the simplest form). This category is not often referred to as SaaS, but sometimes it is mixed in.

Second, though, is the main category of more commonly discussed Business Services – the delivery of specific business processes as, well, true services. “Service as a Service” is what I called it when someone recently asked me about the trends in SaaS. It seemed they were in that gray (or is it grey?) area between software components as services and actual Business Services…

When discussed in the context of how businesses can easily acquire and implement basic business processes using 3rd party services offered online (payroll, contract management, expense reporting, printing services, ...and... Sales Process Mgmt, etc) it seems that business services are the target (business-Service-as-a-service). When the context is an actual software service itself, or the building of a web-based product or service which leverages other software web-delivered components, then it’s Software-components-as-a-service. In those latter cases, the service itself is the delivery of software. Back to that gray (or is it grey ?!) area inside of which things like e-mail, content management, even blogging tools and others might fall… but so what…. I’m not looking to resolve all things into 2 distinct categories here, just trying to help people talk on the same level when they are not in that grey (whatever) area. ;)

I know the term “Service-as-a-service” sounds like an idiotic reference to nothing, but my point is that business services can finally be delivered in a way which is easily acquirable by customers, as true services, with:
- clear, non-obtrusive contracts (the business kind… you know, ToS you feel no obligation to read ;)
- clear communication contracts (the implementation kind… “you give us A , we give you B”)
- pay as you go – with clear pricing
- strong support (imagine that)

Yes, web software makes that much more viable, but it is different than Software-components-as-a-Service. It’s the “objectification of business” – where all business services become clearly defined objects – with associated data and processes, and for which there are (hopefully) experts to service all of our individual businesses. It really is an extension of object-oriented design concepts (from programming) applied to business processes. Modular, simple to develop, easy to understand and maintain, and (probably the most important part when put in the business services context) pre-existing and proven.

The best example in my mind is Payroll services (avoiding the more obvious example used because of their early vision of online services). Who today is starting their own business or running a successful large business and doing payroll themselves? (except ADP themselves, of course). There was a progression somewhere in the history of business automation from do-it-yourself processing (manual payroll, in this example) to do-it-yourself programming (roll your own payroll software - yuck) to packaged software (buy vs. build) to Software as a Service… Aha! That’s why we call 'business services delivered online', 'Software as a Service'… because we didn’t jump from manual business services to web-delivered automation in one step – we went through a stage of business services being automated with packaged software. One day, will we look back and laugh?

Saturday, September 1, 2007

See you at the Office 2.0 Conference

Almost a year ago - it was October 10-11, 2006, actually - I participated in the Office 2.0 conference where we (Google) announced the combination of two of our collaborative content creation/editing products: Spreadsheets, which was in Labs at the time, and the Word Processing product formerly known as Writely. Google Docs & Spreadsheets won't even be 11 months old when this year's Office 2.0 conference is held.... which is really just a shocking (to me) reminder of how young this space is.

This year, I'm humbly participating on the opening panel called "What is Office 2.0 and the Future of Work"... Moderated by Om Malik, Founder, GigaOmniMedia and including the following panelists:
Steven Aldrich, VP Strategy & Innovation, Small Business, Intuit
Denis Browne, Vice President, Development, SAP
Danny Kolke, Chief Executive Officer, Etelos
Richard McAniff, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Office, Microsoft,
...and, uh...
Me, Product Manager, Google Docs & Spreadsheets (yes, mostly the spreadsheets side), Google

If you're in San Fran next week, check out the conference - or just keep tabs at the conference site... or follow Ismael Ghalimi, the creator of this conference, on his company blog. Last year's event turned out to be a place where I met some incredible people with whom I still stay in close contact... so I have high expectations for this year's event.

Friday, August 24, 2007

An easy prediction: Product fails due to packaging

Ick! What happened to my water!? Is this some sort of practical joke? Nope - sealed bottle... must have been contaminated and then sat in the hot car for several months and started growing...or... wait... maybe it's actually not water? Maybe it's an actual water-like drinking fluid intentionally colored to look like skunk juice! No way... Is it? It is!! Why didn't I figure that out sooner.... Why was I so quick to judge this poor product as water gone bad? Maybe because it's IN A WATER BOTTLE! What marble head decided to do that - to put a ghastly green tinted, skunked-out-water-looking substance in a container that has become synonymous with bottled spring water? It makes me almost sick just looking at it, how would I ever bring myself to drink it? The failure here, or my prediction of failure - to be fair, is in the packaging only, not in the product. The product could be the absolute best Green Tea drink on this side of the universe, but nobody will ever know. I can only think of a few paths which brought our targeted product manager to the decision to use that water-bottle container:

1 - Mr. Efficient: He saw no need to create a whole new package when they've already got warehouses full of those handy plastic bottles.

2 - Mr. Impatient: He was in a huge hurry after tasting this breakthrough refreshment (from a vat, no doubt, certainly not from the container in question) that he needed the fastest path to market... and was told "we have this warehouse full of containers from the water division..." and took the fast path for fear that competitors might discover green tea as a marketable refreshment (?).

3 - Mr. Wrong: He actually thought that the container itself was the breakthrough. Calling the whole team together one morning, after months of trying to figure out how in the world they were going to unload all this disgusting green tea, and said "I've GOT IT! We'll ship it in water bottles! Water Bottles I tell you!! That will make people think 'Refreshing! Clean! Tasteless!' - Brilliance, I tell you! Brilliance!"...

4 - Mr. Victim: He created the best drink product he possibly could, but has no involvement whatsoever in the packaging decision... his own forehead is red from how hard he slapped it the first time he saw his own product on the shelf.

I can't even bring myself to taste it... so don't ask...
If I turn out to be wrong, and this drink becomes the new Monster Energy drink phenom, I promise to drink a bottle of it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

More product insight from the 6-yr old

"Dad", he said, sitting in front of the Mac at home, which is right next to his admittedly older hand-me-down wintel laptop, "Macs are the best computers, aren't they"... It wasn't a question at all (hey, Steve, are you listening? or are you sick of all this praise?). He was just looking for acknowledgment that he was right. "What makes you say that?", I asked, conveniently forgetting that I have an apple sticker on my wintel notebook 'as a statement' (that's the answer I gave about 5 times over the past week when people mentioned it's presence).
Now, if you read this far, you may as well pay attention, because here's the insightful part... He said, "Well, the Mac takes, like, not even a minute to turn on, but the laptop takes, like, forever!"
I was hit with that "oh yeah" brick in the head with that simple insight - that something as simple as boot-up time might actually be the differentiator for some people... in fact, it might end up being the differentiator for me. When I want something fast off the web, and neither machine is on, I pop on the Mac - and that happens more and more these days.

I was about to give him the "some people think Macs are best and other people think..." and then stopped myself and said "You're right"... realizing that speed - actually, convenience - really does drive customer perception and brand value...

"Give the Governor a harumph!" - Hedley Lamarr

Monday, August 20, 2007

Quick Blogger Tip: Post Date is actually Create Date

I noticed this once before, but it got me again on my prior post... so figured I should pass it on to other users... If you post an entry from a previously saved "Draft", the date of your post will apparently be the date you originally saved the Draft rather than the date you actually posted. This could cause some of your posts to appear out of order... like for me, where my "How long can you live..." post was posted after my "Plane Boarding..." post - but drafted earlier - so their order in my blog was the reverse of what I expected... I sometimes put a post idea in draft form a week before actually posting it - so this is relevant to me.
You can actually change the Post Date of a post... so it's an easy issue to fix... which I'll go do now ;)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

How long can you live? Ask your broker...

Most mutual fund companies and brokerage houses (Fidelity, Schwab, etc) offer their customers a full service review of their portfolio - basically to help them understand their current finances and to suggest changes to help them meet their financial goals. If you can spend the time to outline all your expenses and a few other details, it's a pretty useful service. So, someone I know did this with Fidelity last week and got a full report - most importantly showing her that she can live off her income and assets, given what she told them about her expected future expenses, until the age of 86. Not bad...

But later that same week, she was showing me the report online, which used updated (ahem, lower) stock prices to give a more accurate value of her portfolio...and things, uh, changed...
"Huh, will you look at that.. now I can only live to 84!".

If you think it's stressful watching the value of your portfolio change day-to-day, imagine watching your financial longevity change day-to-day. Maybe this would be an effective method to treat addicted gamblers... "That bet just reduced your lifespan by 3 years"... nah... that wouldn't work... they would just keep trying to bet their way to an eternal existence...

Friday, August 17, 2007

Plane Boarding - great comedy, bad process

This is a story of poor customer service and process change (or lack thereof)... not just comedy...

"I'm sorry, if you are not Elite, you'll have to step off the blue carpet"...
This, the words from the serious Continental employee who was trying to follow her employer's rules regarding their never-changing plane boarding process. You can see the customer is thinking "Seriously? You want me to board the plane 5 feet to the left because otherwise I've just wiped out the only benefit you give to frequent flyers, which is that they can walk on the blue carpet?"

A long time ago, they came up with a process of boarding planes by row, starting with the back of the plane, so that Mr. Oblivious - who needs to stand in the middle of the aisle while he inspects his blanket, finds a non-existent pillow and unloads the specific items from his carry-on before finding the perfect place for it in the overhead - won't hold up the whole production of passengers getting seated so we can take-off within an hour of our scheduled time. The idea was reasonable. Execution often fell short, but that's expected when you have virtually no control over your customers. But, then, they added another bright idea - that is, giving special boarding priority to customers who fly often. They call them "Elite" (ahem... I've seen them all, and I could easily attain that status, and believe me, we are all far from Elite). What they didn't plan for was the incredibly high percentage of flyers who would attain that status... seems to be 50-80% of all passengers on flights I've taken. So the boarding process starts with "needing assistance" and "travelling with children" and then, they open the special walkway with the blue carpet and call "We are now boarding our Elite customers"... Stampede! Virtually everyone in the cow pen rushes to the little blue carpet thinking they are part of a select few... trying to tell the people in front of them "excuse me, I am Elite"... only to find out that the whole stockade is filled with Elitists... and now, after the Elite majority have experienced the soft feel of the 6 foot long blue carpet and lined up in the walkway to the plan, the airline employees smugly close the blue carpet entrance and ask people to go through the non-elite entrance... and call "Rows 675-699 only"... as if it matters at this point to load the plane "by row, starting with the rear of the plane", with everyone now waiting in the jetway for Mr. and Mrs. Oblivious Elitist to do their little routine.

omg... there are so many solutions here... but there's no incentive to implement them. Imagine a single Continental employee saying "this is crazy - we'll board the Elite people first, but by row"... there would be an uprising from the Elite person whose got row 7 and the empolyee would probably be saddled by the FAA with all the blame for anything that went wrong on that flight for not following procedures.

There was value in the whole process though - comedy.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bet you didn't know MIT was in California

Last night, I participated as a panelist on a discussion on "Enterprise 3.0"... (I'll get back to that title in a minute). The MIT club of Northern California (organizers of the event) keep the east coast university alumni connected on the opposite coast - and there are plenty of 'em (MIT alum) in the Valley... Every few weeks, the club hosts events with a panel of relevant speakers on a certain topic in one of many categories. It's a good mix of casual atmosphere with a professionally organized and moderated discussion. Audience involvement is encouraged and the events are open (and very cheap)... This event was moderated by Sramana Mitra - a very smart "entrepreneur and a strategy consultant in Silicon Valley since 1994".
A few people have asked for the list of points I used during my intro discussion, so here it is in raw form... at the risk of it being irrelevant and useless without the context of the discussion ("then why post it JR?".... ). The other panelists - Cliff Reeves (Microsoft)[update 8/20: Cliff posted about the event], Tim Harvey (Webex) and Tom Cole (Trinity Ventures) were all very interesting.

Back to the name of this event... I was somewhat critical of the terminology used in the title of this event (as was a more often read blogger), as I feel that while "Web 2.0" was a useful stake in the ground on a significant shift to robust, web-based applications, and "Enterprise 2.0" was clearly just a conversion of terms to express corporate use of such applications & technologies, the term "Enterprise 3.0" makes a leap into something that will only get lost in definition conflict (which seemed to begin when Eric Schmidt was asked in public to define/predict it - which I discovered thanks to Orli). I feel that Enterprises are just now starting to tackle the movement to web 2.0 apps and are therefore just now helping to shape enterprise 2.0... so defining 3.0 is more simply stated as "What's the next huge shift in how businesses will apply technology and when will it occur". In hindsight, maybe that is easier (shorter) to just call Enterprise 3.0... nah.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

New product is ready for distribution

The analogies of garden growing to product development turn out to be pretty good - the only difference being that you don't need too much experience, training or skill to achieve greatness in the former (I know some of you might say the same for the latter). In fact, in about 60-80 days, and without much more than about a day or two up-front investment (dig!) and about $25 acquisition cost (to improve my time to market - I could have started with $1.99), I had produced the most incredible tomatoes. What a great confidence booster! From virtually nothing more than dirt, water and some labor, it turns out you can produce something that tastes great with a bagel and cream cheese - and looks good too!
I'll have to try this at work... If the analogy is right: some up-front design (just layout and spacing), promotion (dig), some positive energy (sunshine), some incentives (water), checking up every couple of days (yeah), some bug eradicating (uh huh), some hand-holding (stakes to keep them from falling over)... and bam! A Great Product!
Now - how does all this work in the winter?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Pity the marketers - part II - with a vengeance

This post will prove beyond a reasonable doubt that I think of "products" regardless of the situation, location or activity. Unfortunately, it might also cause some of you to just stop reading my blog. oh well.
The other day while I was ... well... you'll figure it out, I looked down and saw a LOGO INSIDE the "potty on the wall" (as my son used to call it). There was a corporate logo conspicuously printed on the screen that both deodorizes and prevents foreign objects from entering the drain of the urinal in the public men's room. (yuck, I know, forgive me).

So - why does Rochester Midland Corporation (RMC) want their logo in the toilet? I guess if your product is made for the urinal, and you are the unfortunate fellow responsible for marketing it, you take whatever opportunities present themselves. Poor marketer.

Too bad for RMC that they can't sell that ad space to other companies - and luckily for us... I think it would ruin my day to see a "Drink Budweiser" ad in the urinal... but it would be relevant, I guess ;)

So - looking a bit more into this (why? I have no idea.), the competitive market for these bathroom products is actually fierce! If you do a search for "urinal screens" (omg - this is now in my search history!), you'll see a full and competitive list of advertisers who want your... uh... business. Seems they're paying $2.50 - $3 per click on those terms... and while there's enough data to see search trends on the term "urinal" (go ask the Aussies and Romanians why they lead the pack on that search term), it pales in comparison to the search volume on the more generic term "bathroom" (where the UK pulls ahead in search volume).

Then, of course, there are many definitions for that pair of terms "urinal screen" - just ask, whose tagline in their ads is "Because no one wants to see your hiney".

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Pity the marketers - or envy them...

You like this little critter pictured here?
I don't... but that's only because I know that he's a dressed up, smirking, wise-ass peice of snot (literally). When I found him under the drivers seat of the mini-van, I recognized him from his commercials (but, no, I could not name the product, until I turned him around to find the product name happily advertised on his eensy weensy, tightly-fitting, booger-soaked sport shirt)...
I asked my wife very skeptically "How'd he get here?"
Turns out, she was surveyed upon exiting the local drugstore about her knowledge of "Mucinex" - the drug which little-snot-man represents... Luckily, she knew nothing of it.... but as a "gift" for her troubles, the marketing rep doing the survey gave her "Mr. Mucus" (his actual name). Actually, the rep handed him to our 15-month old in her carriage - and I can just imagine what my little baby was thinking ("AHH!! get it of me! get it off me!).

Anyway... I was sure this would be a post about how some marketers are so clueless about what sells, and how I pity the poor souls who are tasked with inventing campaigns for products which are associated with unfortunate bodily fluids - but now, I'm not so sure. A couple of days ago, I read the "Hits and Misses " column in the June issue of Business 2.0 - and sporty little mucus man was pictured and marked as a HIT!
Mucinex has soared like loosened phlegm to the No. 2 spot in the cold-medicine market. The success is largely due to memorably gross advertising that personifies congestion as "Mr. Mucus,"

If you read that whole column, it's not clear that the marketing genius who thought up the scheme of dressing up a blob of mucus, and naming him, is responsible at all for the success of Mucinex - but the drug is successful.... so the campaign certainly didn't turn off people as much as it did me...
I wish I could get Seth Godin (marketing master) to give his opinion on this one.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Disposable Printers and the Electronic Graveyard

My dad coined that term "the Electronic Graveyard" sometime in the 80's and wrote about it in the mid 90's, as a way to describe our basement... not the whole basement, but a significant portion of real estate in the basement which contained a heap of practically useless home audio, video, and "modern conveniences" such as vacuums, toasters, microwaves and other stuff that plug into the wall. For some reason, these devices were too good for the garbage, so they got a semi-permanent resting spot in the basement. In fact, after a while it almost seemed like we enjoyed the very nature of the pile and celebrated the addition of another abandoned appliance. There were only a couple of reasons why these devices would be added to the EG:
1 - It wasn't broken, it was just replaced by something better... which is why it couldn't rightly be just thrown away. So we'd place it down in the "bogey basement" (my sister's term) in hopes that one day it would somehow evolve into something more useful or be adopted by some poor soul who was more than two generations of technology behind us.

2 - It was broken. These were the items which deserved to be either fixed or thrown away.

So let me focus on these broken items (as if you had a choice of how long it takes me to get to my point). Throwing these items away just seemed wrong... first, because the item clearly still had some value - maybe 10% of it's replacement value on eBay for some hobbyist who also had a broken one and needed some parts - but this is where the "cycle of not worth it" continues - since just the effort to package the item seemed more than this broken device deserved. The other path - fixing the broken item - was deemed as a "good money after bad" approach, since the cost of even asessing the remedy would clearly be more than we'd need to spend getting a brand new one.

And finally - this is my point. I have a respectable electronic graveyard which is secular - allowing only printers onto its grounds... but it's not in my basement - it's amongst the living, in my home office. One on the floor below my desk, one on top of my kid's toy box which contains all the annoying, loud toys which we just assume they never see again (or not until they're strong enough to lift that all-in-one Epson Printer which now just feigns printing when connected). That Printer was $99 originally. It would cost $65 for someone to look at it to assess the problem (not fix it - assess it). The one on the floor, unfortunately, is a $350 large format photo printer which won't even turn on. Since I discovered that large format is not something I do at home, this printer could be replaced for about $$150 - $200.

So - now what. Two broken printers.
One thing I discovered, after about 10 months, is that they probably won't magically start working. My wife actually abandoned that approach after 4 months or so and brought home a perfectly operable $99 HP. And that raises the main question: Are printers now disposable? Are all things electronic so cheap to produce and purchase, and so non-trivial to fix, that we should just create a better infrastructure to dispose of them when they're "done"? I'm assuming there are fairly inaccessible recycling programs for electronics - but, back to the "cycle of not worth it", it would take me the better part of a month to find one... I've considered attempting my own program of launching these things into an upper orbit, but figure my neighbors wouldn't approve of the testing phase which would probably see a printer or two crashing through their roof to end up on their kitchen table due to a failed rocket booster or some such nonsense.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The iphone is perfect, but the Mac is not

So far my experience with my iPhone has been almost perfect - that is when it is not connected to a laptop/desktop. Here's why....

I buy the iPhone, convinced that it will be the perfect device and accepting the possibility that it might be the trigger to get me to move over to a Mac.

We have a mac at home with all our music and photos on it, but I use my IBM work laptop for everything else (all work, all the time, basically)...
The iPhone will not do anything (sans emergency call) without activation - and that can only be done via iTunes.... so
- I plug my phone into the Mac... nuthin. Check connections, surf, search, read, AHA! Simple... I have to upgrade to iTunes 7.3!... so
- I do. Online download - it's a snap... this mac is great....
- Plug the iPhone back in... nuthin. Check connections... surf, search, surf, read.... ahA! I missed this the last time! I need to upgrade my OS to 10.4 !! Darn! Oh well... I can accept that.. I've had this Mac for over 2 years... so...
- It was too late the day I bought the iPhone to go back to the Apple store... and there was no chance that I could wait to try my iPhone... so... since I already got iTunes for my PC a while back as part of a Quicktime upgrade...
- I plugged my iPhone into the PC... and VOILA! Activation begins and ends within 5-10 minutes and my AT&T transfer of my phone number is done within 20 minutes... wow. That WAS easy.... so
- No music... and just a few photos (misc ones I had handy on my PC... but I can live with that... a couple of days later........
- Went to the Apple Store... bought OSX 10.4!
- Got home and installed OSX 10.4... not a simple proces, since I got what's known to Mac lovers as "Kernel Panic" - sort of the same thing as when you microwave your popcorn too long and you get that burning buttery-chemical smell - only without the smell - just the panicked kernels... anyway...
- Turns out to be my external hard drive and i surf, read, surf and never find anything... just figure it out myself.
- Got it! 10.4 runs! ... so,
- Plug in the iPhone! .... "sorry... this device requires OSX 10.4.10"...
- Wait! I have 10.4. uh...(click 'about this mac'... )... 10.4.6. great.
- Go to download 10.4.10 - 170 Mb... ugh... 30 minutes later, it's still installing... ugh... finally! installed!
- plug in phone.... again... "Sorry... iTunes cannot start - you need to download the latest version...". UGH!!!
- Go to look for updates... download... install...
- plug in phone.... (yawn)... nuthin.... kick the Mac.... nuthin...
- Surf, read, surf... "try restarting the machine" says one help entry... so
- I do.
- plug in phone..... (yawn)... itunes comes up.... phone is recognized... wow... (yawn)...
- Remember I Synced the iphone with my PC earlier - and got all my contacts on my phone now... this is relevant to the next step...
- try to drag some music on the iPhone... no go... right, it's the sync thing... i pick an itunes directory to sync some music... "Are you sure you want to erase everything off this iPhone to begin syncing to this computer? You can only sync to one computer."... ARGH!!!
- gave up.

Like i said... my iPhone is incredible - but so far, it's living in sin with my PC.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Don't wait for a feature - write it yourself...

Had to share this, for those of you who don't see the Google Docs & Spreadsheets blog... A spreadsheet filter application was developed using the Spreadsheets API by an intern (go Alex!) on the spreadsheets team. Really valuable when you often work with just a few rows in those large-ish spreadsheets which have many (many!) rows of data...

This app lets you create a bookmarkmarklet (that's a bookmark created by dragging a link to your bookmark bar on your browser) to any of your spreadsheets... it should be self-explanatory - but you basically just feed it the URL of your favorite published spreadsheet...

I got one

I never expected to want one, but once I saw the iPhone in action, that urge to own one just kept gnawing at me... I gave in... hey, I needed a new mobile provider anyway (nice try JR).

I was fully expecting to have the "why did I do that" regret after 24 hours - but given the experience so far - including the transfer of my mobile number to AT&T - there will be no regret. In fact, I may need two of them ;) The only thing that almost ruined the experience was that the iPhone actually would NOT activate using my home Mac... it requires OS/X 10.4 (I'm on 10.3) even though the newest iTunes version (7.3) installed/works find on my OS. So... without hesitation, I used my IBM Laptop with iTunes installed and, bang. Done.

If I had to pick my favorite experiences in the first 12 hours since activation, it would have to be first the reading of my GMail account via POP. The speed was great (full signal from home now - unlike my pathetic 2 bars from T-Mobile) and the zoom-in capability (I love that!) gave me easy access to my first PDF (the invoice from the Apple Store!).

The other obvious highlight is MAPS... the pics in this post show it as good as I could in a minute or two... i can create my own maps using My Maps - and then access it on the road... I created one for a tour of NYC a few months ago - and that's the one shown in these pics. wow.
More to come on this, I'm sure.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Darn... I forgot to mention the new Doclist we launched last week... I've been trying (really!) to avoid too many posts related to the Docs & Spreadsheets product... But this time, I'm surprised at my own self-control - 'cause I love this new doclist... Have you tried the search bar type-ahead yet... Muah!! Ron explained it well in our team blog, so I'll stop there...
I know we had a fairly low bar to meet, and we still need a bunch of features people want (including me), but it is a huge improvement...

Anyway - that was just catch-up...

the real reason for this post is to profess my way-too-early love for the yet-unproven, barely-seen iPhone! I finally got my hands on one today for about 4 minutes. Do you think I called my mom? No. I should have. But I forgot this thing even lets you make calls... I immediately went to to check out the doclist - and then, as fast as I could, opened a spreadsheet... and, Voila! There it was!

In it's full browser glory! (calm down, JR, you geek-loser). The proud owner of this particlar iPhone got it away from me long enough to show me how to zoom in (wow... just like Jeff Han's Demos on the big screen), and that's when I snapped this second picture... oh... what's that... a "trying to reach" message... oh - right - Ajax communication in a collaborative edit session don't yet work on the iPhone browser... oh well... full disclosure is always best anyway - besides, viewing the spreadsheet worked beautifully! So just don't try to edit remotely yet... So now - what to do... buy v1.0 and risk the yet-unknown new product-itis symptoms - maybe a battery failure re-call or a cracking-screens problem? or wait to get the perfected v2.0 in a year... hmmm.... Nah... this is Apple... v1.0 is good enough!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The promise of portals is finally here - as gadgets

The SIFMA Technology conference is in NY this week (sorry - that's the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Assoc) and I'm not attending, but I know some old friends are. I hope they picked up some good tchochkes for me... anyway...

I remember many (many!) years ago at those shows (then called SIA, and before they brought along the cast of the Sopranos to sell IT services - seriously) there were many companies singing the virtues of their Portal products - trying, of course, to sell to the corporate IT teams to sell their internal bankers, brokers, operations teams, etc. It sounded great - but it was too early. Every solution was proprietary or based on a not-yet-and-not-ever-to-be standard which was "awaiting approval" by the W3C or some other speedy standards body... And besides, the internal products were on dozens of incompatible platforms with really poor integration methods.
But now, about 12-15 years later, I think we're there - and it's the consumer market which is driving both the standards (de facto) and the methods and some actual content.

It's all best shown with pictures - which were beautifully collected and displayed on LifeHacker... a bunch of iGoogle screen shots ("show us your iGoogle"), including a very compelling Finance-oriented personalized page... something that really strengthens my belief that this gadget model will take over the corporate market. The simplicity of delivering consumable snippets of applications in windows which can be directly interactive and then expanded when needed is smart and usable and, for me, perfect. It's not just a google thing - Yahoo had some great portaly-gadgety stuff early on, and now pretty much everyone does - but I can sing the praises of iGoogle freely, as it's not my product :) and I really do love it.