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.

media mashup tools do not make me a good producer

Thanks to my friends at GoToWeb20, I have a shortened morning, having spent the last 30 minutes playing with a media mashup tool they discovered by Vuvox. Embedded here is a sample:

It's Flash-based - so the styles they provide have some level of click-interaction while viewing... very slick. I picked a very subtle, hardly-dynamic style for these photos, but there are lots of other styles to choose from... (go ahead - click the flowers... go on... don't be afraid... it's not a banner-ad in disguise...)

If you like that, you should also check out iBloks - also a media mashup and publishing tool, but possibly further along in their product lifecycle than vuvox, with many options for sharing and gadgetry, and even a place for Agencies, Designers and artists to make money with iBloks. Yes Greg, an ecosystem ;) . Another differentiator here seems to be the focus on 3D animated models as the basis for media presentation.

You can just use the free models that they provide as your theme, or go to the "SHOP" tab and use a custom model (Mods), Themes, Music, Photos and Video... You can even create gadgets to share your creations... There's more depth here that I won't get into, as I have no time for a full review (now that I used my time playing ;)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day Retrospective

Here's last year's Father's Day Google home page logo... I really loved that logo. In fact, I liked it so much, I kept it... It just had some special meaning to me. My dad spent many good days with me, and then with his grandchildren, at the water's edge, teaching us to fish, or just enjoying the passage of time while fishing together.

So when I saw this year's Father's day logo, I thought it just wasn't as good as last year's... although, it, too reminds me of great times with my dad - swimming, snorkeling, relaxing on the beach or by a pool.

Then I realized why I was a bit dissappointed with this year's logo... in fact, it wasn't the logo at all... it's just that this year's father's day itself just wasn't quite the same as last year's.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Learn Decision making skills from the (US) government

At first I was quite surprised with the "wealth" of information available on the Small Business Administration site.... at least at a high level - ya'know, squinting. They have 4 nicely organized sections to "Plan your business", "Start your business", "Manage your business" and "Getting out"... So I'm looking through the basic headlines of each subsection thinking "hey, this is pretty good..." seeing things like "Choose a structure" and "Lease Equipment" and "Get Insurance" - a total of 30 sub-categories, including the one which caught my eye enough to go deeper, labelled "Make Decisions".

Following that link gave me three subsequent links - including the winner of my next click, called "Are You A Good Decision Maker?".

Here lies the key secrets to government beauracracy (which they apparently think should now be applied to small businesses).
The first section, called "Ten Steps to Wise Decision-Making" should actually be called 'Ten ways to put off making a decision for as long as possible'... Each step requires deeper and deeper analysis of the potential alternatives - with no limits - starting with defining the decision to be made and the insightful lesson to ask yourself "Do you really need to make a decision? (if you do not have at least two options, there is no decision to be made)". Then to "Brainstorm as many different alternatives as you can imagine - let your imagination run free..." - including the wise suggestion to "just be sure to write everything down" (clearly there was an auditor on the editorial staff). The next 6 steps require further discovery and then deeper dives into all the potential alternatives of your pending decision which may exist in this universe and elsewhere (at this point, I fully expected them to suggest that I go search my grandmother's attic - or attend 4 more years of college to uncover even more potential alternatives).... afterall, "Additional information generally leads to more alternatives"... so I should "check out", then "Sort through", then "visualize the outcomes", then "do a reality check" (you think they did one?), then, finally, pick the "wise decision" and "Get started!". So here in step 9 is where the true decision-making spirit glistens... "Second-guessing yourself will only cause grief" so "you always have the option of changing your mind in the future" - which sounds like a euphamism for 'go to step 3 and randomly choose another of your deeply analyzed 417 potential alternatives'. Oh my.. step 10 actually does suggest this - "If the decision did not come out the way you planned, go through the complete decision-making process again"....

So, I'm guessing this process wouldn't work well for decisions like "Should I check my parachute?" - cause if I am unhappy with decision alternative #17 in that case, I'm probably not able to "go through the complete decision-making process again". I know, an extreme example - but just needed to make the point... 'cause even a decision like "should we spend our full year's marketing budget on this TV ad" is not exactly reversible...and it feels as important as the parachute example to the small business owner...

The best part (yes, better than the other best part) was in the next section labelled "Common-decision making mistakes" where they list "Not listening to your feelings or gut reactions" as a mistake... Huh?! The process never mentioned anything about intuition or gut reaction before now!! Where was that advice when I needed it! I could have saved 4 months and 62 yellow pads if I just listend to my gut from the beginning!! Why'd ya tell me to keep looking for alternatives!!

Yeah... I'm sure they just mis-titled this whole thing...

Friday, June 8, 2007

Driving to Venzuela to fill up my tank

Wired Magazine (June) had this great 1-page graphic comparing gas prices in about 35 countries. I had to turn it into a spreadsheet so I could sort it and chart it...
Maybe my father-in-law is right...maybe there are laws/regulations preventing us (in the US) from importing refined gas from other countries who could provide it much cheaper. In Venzuela, for example, gas costs $0.17 ! I could fill my tank for $3.40 !

Once I figured out how to calculate land distance from New York to Caracas, I discovered that it's almost worth it to drive to Caracas to fill up my tank ;)

The only problem is that it would cost somewhere near $715 to get there (at NY prices) to that I could spend only $44 to get back (at Caracas prices)... all this assuming it wouldn't impact my gas mileage to have a 250 gallon trailer pulled behind my car... (it would take 12 tank-fulls to get back home)

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Are you changing your email address again?

If you have an email address with your current ISP (provider of internet connectivity ) - please stop. You are destined to annoy your friends and lose contact with them... Think about it... you move houses to a new town with a new ISP... bye bye old email address... or your phone company or favorite pizza place offers you a better deal on internet servcies - and you don't sign up only for fear of losing that horrible current email address which you've now shared with your whole world of contacts... Your Internet Service provider (Comcast, Verizon, BT, etc) will not give you a free email address if you decide to stop using their services... And, when you do change, PLEASE don't just change your email address to another non-committed email provider...and if you do, PLEASE don't send me your pathetic little "I'm changing my email address from to joe476221@ISPnextYear.yuk". I've received at least two such notices from friends lately - and while I had an easy time explaining why this was not a smart move, I realized that I've seen no marketing to this point from any 'independent' provider of more continuous email services (iow, not associated with your connectivity, like Google, Yahoo, msft).

So - what email address would you want if you could have anything? How about ? Why not come up with your own domain name and then create email addresses for your whole family at that address? I know - "how the heck do you do that?" - well, besides finding a web domain you like that is available, it's actually pretty easy... Of course, my preferred way is the free way - using Google Apps for Your Domain.. I can give more details if the sign-up page isn't speakin' your language... just ask.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Growing Products, literally

Probably the most over-used analogy is to compare almost anything which requires work - businesses, products, even relationships - to a garden (or even a single plant). You know... water it, give it sun, pull the weeds around it, rid it of pests... and one day you'll reap the rewards of the fruit. It's a good analogy usually. But the other day, I got a view of the most beautiful flowers, close up, in my kitchen, which made me think that the analogy goes deeper than the obvious.

There were about 70 peonies, cut from the garden, practically exploding in color on my kitchen counter, and I was totally frozen by their beauty (I know, too much feminine side.. deal with it). First of all, I immediately realized "that's why she does it", thinking, of course, of the hours of time and energy my wife spends planning, ordering, planting and caring for these (and hunderds of other) plants. The basic part of the analogy, about how hard work and proper caring can really bring rewards, was truly proven here... but then it occurred to me, that there is also a time limit to the reward. In this case, the appreciation of these incredible blooms could only last for a few days at most. In fact, in time, no matter what we did, the beautiful flowers would turn into crumbly, dead vegitation, rotting away in stinky swamp water vases (yuck). I quickly grabbed my camera in an effort to prolong the time I had to appreciate the flowers in their current colorful state.

So that whole analogy, including the time element, applies nicely to human relationships.... they take work to bring continuous reward and in time, no matter what we do, relationships fade and die... whether (but hopefully not) due to lack of proper caring, or just the natural aging of life into death. (that's the deep part...sorry... no more of that..)

The analogy also applies really well to Products (ah.. again.. my point... at the very end of a long post... I have to stop that). Some products take tons of work for a very brief, but powerful (or mild) reward... like a great event... a family reunion or wedding, for example... which takes lots of work, but brings great joy only for a very brief period of time. Other products also take lots of work but continue to flourish and live and bring reward for many, many years. Developing pharmaceuticals, for example, have the potential to bring great reward for as long as we can see. The Polio vaccine is an instance of that. Imagine the work involved - but the reward is continuous.

...and the key thing that I learned by looking at those flowers the other day, is to appreciate the reward as fully as possible while you have it - particularly since you know the reward won't last.

"Gather ye rose-buds while ye may, old Time is still a-flying: And this same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be dying."
by Herrick, Robert
Quote Provided By Quotations Book

Your whining sales person is living in my house

A friend was recently complaining to me about their woes of selling products to corporate IT departments - knowing that I can relate to their pain from a previous life. He's sure the people working at the target company would love their product - in fact they've told him, but he can't convince the corporate IT guys. This is no surprise, given that the IT guys are in the business of risk aversion as a priority over innovation or risk taking - even if there is a huge potential gain in productivity or revenue or whatever... (I'm not sayin' that's right, I'm just sayin' that's how many corporate IT groups operate)... So.. my friend's product continues to grow (albeit slowly) by appealing directly to the people working in operational jobs within the company... under the radar of their IT group.

We've seen many products succeed by being offered directly to the end customers rather than those in charge of purchasing - either by chance (the end customers find it and fall in love with it) or by design (the product is targeted to the end customer directly as a sales method to get around those in charge)... then the end-customers sell the product to their guardians from within - they become moles.

So it struck me that kids are probably the most powerful moles - little sales people living amongst us... How else could you sell sneakers with concealed wheels in the soles - you can't market those to sane parents directly (apologies to the 95% of my parent-friends who have purchased these). But when a kid whines for a few months about getting this seemingly insane product - the parent has about one choice to stop the whining - and that sells product. Drug companies selling perscription drugs directly to the public, inject every doctors office with whining patients who suddenly start requesting certain drugs... TV Show producers get their target audience to sell their product when they "ask their cable company to add the Freak-of-the-Week-Channel" (they probably bought ads on Desparate Housewives for that specific show).

Who is your end customer? Are they whining enough to sell your product for you? Just be forewarned - if I ever get a hold of the people who put candy bars in supermarket checkout lanes, I'll lock them in a room with my kids for a few hours during a good sugar high from their fabulous, artificially flavored food-stuff.. and I'll leave them there during the post-sugar-high crash too...

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Deadbeat dads = Fisherman?

Someone must have done a study and found that either there are an unusually high number of deadbeat dads who go fishing, or, that fishing is a major cause of responsibility neglect... Knowing how crazy I was about fishing a few years back (but only before having kids... really...) I think the latter is more likely the case...
Anyway - tonight, I needed to buy my fishing license online... and before I could complete the transaction, I was presented with this pop quiz which forced me to answer Yes/No to the following questions:

a) Do you currently have a child-support obligation?
1. Are you in arrears in payment of your child-support obligation?
2. Does the arrearage match or exceed the total amount payable for the past six months?
b) Have you failed to provide any court-ordered health insurance coverage during the past six months?
c) Have you failed to respond to a subpoena relating to either paternity or child-support proceeding?
d) Are you the subject of a child-support related warrant?

Seems that the fishing license is only one of many things a deadbeat dad (I'm assuming "deadbeat parent" is the politically correct term?) is prevented from obtaining... which puts this in pespective... but on its own, it seemed odd... then funny... then sad (gimme a break - I meant sad for the kids! not for the poor dad who can't go fishing now ;)
That said, I'm going fly-fishing tomorrow morning (really).

What's in YOUR mailbox?

Dear Pat Johnston - Director of Consumer Credit / Capital One,
I really need a few more offers from you before I finally collapse in a heap of return envelopes, important disclosures and fake cardboard credit cards. Only 7 generous offers from your company this week - not enough to wear me down. But, please feel free to continue trying - change the language of your offer (just slightly), or give me 0.0% APR for 18 months rather than 12, or 5.9% financing for *life (btw, what's that asterisk?), or maybe use a "Yes, I Want It" sticker rather than a checkbox, or try "Very Urgent Matter" on the envelope rather than the plain old "Time Sensitive Material"... I think eventually, I'll just give in just so you'll LEAVE ME ALONE! But wait, if I take one of your god-forsaken credit cards, will you actually stop harrassing me?

What's my real incentive here? How about if I take two cards? Then will you stop? How about if I promise to watch your annoying spokesperson's movies or reruns of his TV shows until I'm sickened even more than I am by your waste of paper and waste of mailbox space (not to mention my garbage can space!) Please! Just Stop!

For now, I'll just keep sending back to you all that helpful marketing material in each and every pre-paid return envelope you provide - as my own personal recycling effort... maybe everyone i know can do that too... I hope you appreciate that.