Saturday, May 31, 2008

What does the general public think about facebook, twitter, friendfeed, etc.

I am one of those guys that starts my mornings off by catching up on my twitter and friendfeed "feed". It is great to start off your day and see if anyone found a cool youtube video, or interesting blog article that I may never have discovered.

However, over the past few weeks friendfeed and twitter became a bit less useful for me since all the conversations seemed to revolve around the two tools and which one is better. Of course, I could have tried to find a few other folks on each of those tools that discussed other topics but I was too lazy to try and find new buddies.

Then I got to thinking. If I just read my friendfeed newsfeed, I would think twitter was at the end of its life, and facebook was playing second fiddle to friendfeed. I think decided to check out google trends and see the relative search volume for the terms "facebook,myspace,friendfeed,twitter". The results bring things back into perspective. Check out the screenshots below:

You could argue the valley is at the cutting edge and folks such as Scoble are way ahead of what the general public is going to do. However, you could also argue the population of the tech geeks does not represent the general public. It is interesting when the voice of a just a few folks can you influence your viewpoint so quickly, but as always the best way to make your predictions is based on data and a lot of detailed analysis.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

We need the "Daily Show" for the Web

I read John Stewart's America (The Book) a while ago and it was a pretty good laugh. One of the best pages of the book was the gameplan employed by the 24 hours news networks:
" 7 minutes actual news, 3 minutes breaking news, 25 minutes breaking newsgraphics, 22 minutes temperatures highs and lows in places you don't live....6 hours commercials....4 hours re-run crap from earlier in the day."

It seems like the same principles can be applied to the webosphere as well. When there is no breaking news, the big name bloggers try to hold on to news from the past and reshape it. Remember after Facebook released their platform, and then the other social networks tried to catch up. It seemed like that dominated techmeme for 2 - 3 months. Over the past two weeks, I have been reviewing friendfeed and twitter and it is amazing that most of my connections have been discussing the value of one service over the other. I think it is great for Friendfeed and Twitter that they get this free marketing service, but that is the type of discussion most people in a meeting would say "let's take it offline" (another name for let's never bring it up again). I know I have the ability to ignore those messages, and move on to the next interesting thing and I am doing just that. However, it's just a bit concerning when it becomes harder and harder to find great content. The long tail of blogs is accessible if you know what you are looking for and leverage the power of search but hard to discover via a tool like techmeme or digg nowadays.

It almost seems like any post put on techcrunch is going to show up on techmeme nowadays and it is almost guaranteed that other big name bloggers will put a minor spin on techcrunch's post on their own sites. This is perfectly legal and the beauty of giving everyone the ability to express themselves in a way to share their thoughts with the world but the content is becoming more vanilla. It is going to be interesting in the blogosphere as the popular bloggers get more popular, and the bloggers just trying to make a name for themselves get lost out on the cloud. As fewer sources contribute to material accessible on aggregation services such as techmeme and provide their viewpoint, we need someone with John Stewart's talent to bring a sense of humor and realness to everything.

Disclaimer: This is just my opinion that content seems to be becoming homogeneous across all the blogs that I used to visit on a frequent basis. I used to derive a great deal of satisfaction checking out my google reader blogroll and analyzing information that was dissected in so many different ways, and that just seems to be lacking currently. Maybe, I am just not looking at the best set of blogs or following the right people on tools such as twitter or friendfeed.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Downtime Exaggerations Yet Again

I heard twitter and friendfeed went down recently, and there seems to have been some issues with seesmic as well. I think it is too bad that the services went down, but I am able to survive for a few hours without accessing the latest tweets or friendfeed updates (maybe I should get some more friends on those services). I am sure all these companies are striving for uptime but they are going through their growing pains (i.e. hitting bottlenecks in their design, or running into issues out of their control)

The thing that frustrates me is when someone says never touch these services since they are unreliable or beware future downtimes. There was a newsflash on cnet recently about the downtime and unreliability of web 2.0 companies.

When people are complaining about downtime from these services they should think about how reliable their other services are:
a) how often do you face the dreaded blue screen of death on your pc? i am sure the amount of time people spend trying to replace a hard drive and recover files just once is greater than the amount of time they lose because of a web 2.0 app's downtime in a year.
b) do all of your desktop apps run smoothly 24x7?
c) forget about computers, how often do people deal with car trouble or airline delays and waste hours or days trying to get from point a to point b?

Again, I think downtime is disturbing but calling out Web 2.0 explicitly as unreliable is just not right. These companies in many cases are offering free services to consumers (a few of them make a good amount of money), and trying to make people's life better by enabling people to do things they never could have done otherwise. Rather than trying to tear them down, the critiques should try to understand the major challenges they are taking on.

One of the cooler features on Google Spreadsheets

One of the features on Google spreadsheets that has saved me a lot of time recently has been the ability to create a quick web form based on a spreadsheet template to collect information from end users. The use cases are endless for this type of tool are endless. For example, how often do you send an e-mail out to people asking for feedback or trying to determine a convenient time for people to get togethers, or ask people to provide comment to your blog post. The problem with e-mail replies or blog posts is the data is unstructured and the owner of the post needs to structure the information manually and make sense of it. With the web form capability in spreadsheets, the analyzer of the data creates a quick webform and can review the data whenever he/she wants.

If you want to play with it login to google docs, and create a spreadsheet with a few columns. Click on the share tab and you'll notice a new option to "Invite people to fill out a form". I have attached a few screenshots on how things look:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How do you prioritize projects?

Being a former engineer and now a dedicated product manager, it really is tough for me to ask this question. At my prior gig, several of our products had been existence for more than a decade and still had large R&D investments in them beyond low cost maintainence projects and now you see maturing app on the web that have not changed visibly.

In reality, every product reaches a point in its lifecycle where the benefit of building new features significantly outweighs the cost. If you are one of the market leaders in your space, and that space is maturing it is best to take a step back from your day-to-day duties and think about where should we be five years from now. Building one off enhancements may delight a portion of your userbase, and generate some incremental revenue but once you are large enough the incremental revenue no longer matters in the grand scheme of things. Customer satisfaction is definitely priority #1, but there needs to be a good way of prioritizing requests from customers beyond focusing on how much have they spent with me already. The goal should be to keep them happy, but also ensure you are using your staff to keep thousands or millions of other customers happy. Focusing on the head of the tail is definitely profitable but at a certain point you maximize your reach.

With mature products, you should step back and think about changing the lives of people in a way they never thought about with your existing product set, or attacking whole new areas. Focusing on the same area repeatedly increases complaceny within an organization, frustrates the workforce, and ends up being detrimental to your customer base in the long run. Imagine how much easier it will be to motivate your R&D organization if your focus is always being the most innovative product, and for your sales team if your product is so different from anything else on the marketplace.

In the end, the more innovation are thought leadership you provide your customers the better off they are going to be.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

"Enterprization of the Consumer"

Over the past couple of years, everyone has been talking about "consumerization of the enterprise." All the folks from Generation G(oogle) are demanding the Google/Amazon like user experience from their enterprise apps. That is definitely true, but I am not sure if a change in user interface is compelling enough for an enterprise to pour millions of dollars into a new software package. I would be the first person to agree that my enteprise apps should support the search capabilities I get with Google Search or one click shopping capabilities of Amazon, but if I was running a company that is running on an existing solution with a few unhappy users would I be willing to make a wholesale change. Being the conservative guy that I am, the answer is no. There needs to be a huge return on investment to make a change in enterprise solutions.

However, I do think enterprise vendors get a rap for being old and stodgy. I think they could innovate faster and wish they would, but if you look at what is happening in the consumer world today a lot of those problems have already been attacked by enterprise vendors extremely successfully. Here are a few examples:


For the year and a half, everyone was talking about how the facebook platform, and home pages like Netvibes are going to enable the end users to tailor applications to meet their needs. Widgets are cool and fun, but if you want to see a really robust application platform check out the offerings of PeopleTools or Salesforce APEX. Being able to modify a business app with zero coding is pretty cool.

Data Portability

There is a lot of buzz on the web about concerns with walled gardends and supporting things like OpenID. Enterprise software vendors have had to deal with this challenge for years. The fact is most companies have not standardized on a single (let alone ten) and being able to operate with different vendors and support things as single sign-on is an absolute must. Sure you may need consultants at times to build integrations but a lot of the infrastructure is available.


Nowadays when you hear of a partnership between a Facebook and Bebo it is huge news. Partnerships in the enterprise world is an absolute must. For example, SAP is a partner of Oracle as many of its customers use the Oracle DB as their backend. These partnerships are common place and different incarnations of them are forged regularly.

Backward Compatibility

Enterprise vendors must maintain backward compatibility on APIs, and allow admins to revert to the original version of the app if an upgrade goes awry. In the consumer world that is often ignored by vendors and it is assumed developers and end users will often love the latest and greatest version of an application. That is not necessarily true as you see more and more apps offering users access to the original version and newer version of applications.

Hosted Platforms

There are probably more vendors supporting some type of support for hosted your apps on their cloud, however, enterprise vendors have been getting into this space for a while. Salesforce has been hugely successful, and Oracle/SAP are trying to catch up.

In the end, I think the enterprise software folks have tackled a lot of issues that are affecting the consumer arena but not gotten their share of attention. It is too be expected since not many people touch an enterprise app on a daily or even weekly basis beyond their corporate calendar and e-mail apps. There is a lot of learning that can be done on both sides of the fences.