02 November, 2011

User Profiling in Internet Advertising

There's fascinating article on The Register, How websites use your browser to sell you for cash. It explains some of the many techniques that internet advertising uses to profile users as they surf across multiple sites.

.... [we] came to the conclusion that with some minor tweaking, that firm is sitting on software nearly capable of delivering a Minority Report level of personalised advertising.
Below is the well-known clip from the Minority Report which demonstrates the future of Personalised Advertising - it's here already.



Do read the article, there are numerous links to other fascinating articles, such an explanation of a evercookie.

This article is fine for sophisticated web users, but what about Joe Public?
Legalisation (and enforcement) in this area is miles behind. The BBC reports on New net rules set to make cookies crumble:
European e-Privacy directive came into force in the UK in May this year. It mandates that users should be fully informed about the information being stored in cookies and told why they see particular adverts. This provides to gives some initial policy and some user protection from the use of behavioural advertising.
As part of its work to comply with the directive, the IAB - an industry body that represents web ad firms - created a site that explains how behavioural advertising works and lets people opt out of it. 

It should be no surprise that regulators are struggle to keep up, but a BBC article (admittedly from March this year), Governments 'not ready' for new European privacy law, indicates that they aren't even trying.

European rules aimed at giving consumers more control over how their web browsing is tracked will not be enforced come May, experts have said.
No European government has yet drawn up the guidelines for how the ePrivacy directive will be enforced.
The UK's Information Commissioner has indicated that it wants the industry to work out best practice before it starts wading in. From the same BBC article, Ed Vaizey, minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries, said:
"Therefore we do not expect the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) to take enforcement action in the short term against businesses and organisations as they work out how to address their use of cookies," he added.
OK, but when?

01 November, 2011

Ofcom Report provides pretty maps of Digital Britain

The UK telcoms regulator Ofcom provides its 3 year report on the state of consumer telecoms. It reports on fixed broadband, local TV, mobile base stations, digital TV, mobile coverage and digital radio, all displayed on maps. The level of granularity only goes down to the County level - a more local would have been more interesting.

To see the maps

Some nuggets of interest
  • British households download about 17 gigabytes of data on average every month over their home broadband connections, suggests a report.
  • About 900,000 premises cannot get 2G signals from all the UK's operators and 7.7 million UK places do not have 3G signals from the five operators that offer it.
  • 72 per cent of mobile calls are still made on 2G networks (except on Three, which doesn't have a 2G network);
Thanks to a summary from The Register, here's a diagram which shows who is providing broadband services: look at the market strength of BT: to be anticipated, I suppose, given that it was formerly a monopoly.

09 October, 2011

Steve Jobs - the world's greatest Product Manager and Product Marketer


The world mourns the loss of Steve Jobs who died on Thursday.

Remarkably, I have never owned one of his products, but without doubt, many of the pieces of technology that I use daily and are the tools of my trade have been profoundly impacted by him, his designs and his passion for user experience.

He is the world's best, best known and most successful product manager. All others follow in his wake.
He was so insightful to his users and their requirements that he relied on his own intuition rather than asking what they wanted.
His great gifts were an ability to second guess the market and an eye for well designed and innovative products that everyone would buy.
"You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them," he once said. "By the time you get it built, they'll want something new."
(From the BBC coverage of his death)

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak will remember Mr Jobs for
"knowing what made sense in a product ..... what wasn't going to sell and what wasn't .... when to lead the market and when to follow."
From a BBC interview with Steve Wozniak.


THAT is the sign of a product manager who has utterly internalised his markets and phooey customer-led design.

UPDATE: Some late night surfing uncovered this gem of an article from the NY Times describing  Edwin H. Land, the genius of Polaroid Corporation and inventor of instant photography, who was Job's hero and demonstrates the value of market research for real 'break-through' innovation (to use a Clayton Christensen expression).
There was no way to do consumer research on it, so I [I = Steve Jobs] had to go and create it and then show it to people and say, ‘Now what do you think?’” 
The worldview he was describing perfectly echoed Land’s: “Market research is what you do when your product isn’t any good.” And his sense of innovation: “Every significant invention,” Land once said, “must be startling, unexpected, and must come into a world that is not prepared for it. If the world were prepared for it, it would not be much of an invention.” Thirty years later, when a reporter asked Jobs how much market research Apple had done before introducing the iPad, he responded, “None. It isn’t the consumers’ job to know what they want.”

07 September, 2011

Enterprise software is much more valuable than B2C Internet

The Register writes a great article, Memo to kid coders: Enterprise software exists. Having recently gone back into B2B software as a product management consultant, it has been refreshingly interesting and challenging.

If you live or spend time in Silicon Valley, it's easy to forget that enterprise software exists, or that it still drives $245 billion in annual revenue.
Here's a gem of a quote from Aaron Levie, founder and CEO of Box.net (reported at Business Insider)
Why most startups are focused on consumers. "When you're 22 years old or 25 years old—the Y Combinator demographic—you have no context for the enterprise. If you're in your early 20s and you're hanging out with a bunch of other people in their early 20s, nobody has a sense of the kinds of problems that 'real workers' run into every day. They're running into a completely different set of problems like 'what's the party going on right now that I should be going to? What are my friends looking at on the Internet that I want to read? How do I share photos and videos?' That's their frame of reference for life." 
Here's another great quote (from the Register report)
All of which means we may be starving the enterprise of the industry's best developers. It could also mean, as former Facebook research scientist Jeff Hammerbacher once said, "the best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks."
I couldn't agree more!

01 September, 2011

Mobile Internet penetration nearly at 50%

In a widely reported report from the Office of National Statistics (see BBC report), mobile internet usage has risen from 31% in 2010 to 45% in 2011.

Home usage represented 77% of households, up 4%. Has the market saturated? Very likely, but I strongly suspect there is another effect going: mobile substitution for fixed line internet connection at home. Why bother paying for two internet connections, when smart phone users can tether their home internet requirements to their phone.

Mad as a box of frogs (to quote a former colleague of mine), operators are still permitting unlimited internet connection on their phones. For the sanity of the industry and to protect their future, they must cap this to 500Mb or 1Gb per month (for example). Relying on reasonable use clauses in contracts is insufficient to protect the operators from data hungry customers. More importantly, operators set the correct paradigm: this resource isn't infinite and if you consume more of it, you need to pay more for it.

Internet not needed here
Among the 23% of the population who remain offline, half said they "didn't need the internet." 
The ONS report is the first since dot-com entrepreneur Martha Lane-Fox was appointed as the government's UK Digital Champion, with a brief to increase internet uptake.
In a statement, Ms Lane-Fox said: "That so many offline households don't see any reason to get online reinforces the importance of the digital champions network that the Raceonline2012 partners are creating." 
Bless Martha, what an evangelist, I'd be quite happy with reaching 77% of the population with total addressable market of 88%. Of the remaining 12% of the market, I would assume that they might have additional ways of getting on the super information highway (eg at work)??

Other Tidbits
While 71% of 16 to 24-year-old who went online said they used mobile broadband, just 8% of internet users aged over 65 made use of the newer technology.
Only 71% of 16-24 year olds??? I find this figure unbelievable, at face value. This doesn't (shurely) indicate their usage. I suspect that this democratic borrows internet connectivity from others (eg the library or internet cafes) rather than owns the internet connection themselves.

The ONS survey also found a dramatic rise in the use of wifi hotspots - a seven-fold increase since 2011 - suggesting that the rise of 3G has done little to slow demand for free and paid-for wireless access. 
7 fold increase??? Really? I need to do more research, because I'm not seeing an order of magnitude increase. Comments anyone?

30 July, 2011

Google Plus - familiar territory


I had a look at Google Plus. (Here's their tour.) My initial reaction is: hmm, all sounds very familiar. Midentity (social software start-up that I co-founded that ran between 2002 and 2006) had many of the attributes of Google Plus.

A key concept of Midentity was the ability to divide one's network of contacts into sub-groups. Midentity believed that you shared different content about yourself, based on the identity that you presented to them: Business, University friends, close buddies, tennis club, in-laws, etc.

In this way, you could share content appropriately and selectively with others in a way that is relevant to your connections. ie Google Circles.

Midentity's go-to-market service was a group text messaging service called Circles (text your message to your Circle's number, then the service delivered your message to all participants; if a participant replied, the reply went to all). ie Google's Huddle.

And yes, we were heavily focussed on mobile (the name Midentity stood for My Identity and Mobile Identity) and we experimented integrating with some instant upload features using early version of Shozu's phone software. ie Google Instant Upload.

Techcrunch carried an article, When Google Circles Collide, about how the author, Rocky Agrawal, uses multiple products to selectively share his content with his followers.

Do scroll down the article to heading 'The unsolved social network problem' in the article.

Streams of Content
The biggest unsolved problem in social networking remains unsolved with Google+: separating signal from noise. Twitter, it seems, doesn’t even want to try.

One person I follow on Twitter actually tags most of his posts. I’m interested in his content on tech, business and aviation. But I couldn’t care less about his Chicago tweets


I totally agree that this has become one of the pains of social networks – finding the updates that matter.

Actually, this is the reason why I purchased this stream121 domain – as I envisaged the problem in 2005 – the problem of filtering everyone else's content that's relevant to an individual. ie Google Sparks.

With that said, I have never gone out to solve this problem....... An opportunity lost? Yes for sure, but I always believed that the identity problem was a more fundamental one to solve.

(Apologies that this entry was so long in the making - it was stuck in draft mode for some unknown reason.)

13 June, 2011

LinkedIn's IPO and Lumpy Bubbles

The LinkedIn IPO on NY Stock Exchange (not the NASDQ) on 20th May generated a frenzy of debate on the front page of business sections. Here are the bare bones of the story:
  • The company had hired Morgan Stanley and Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch division to manage the I.P.O. process. After gauging market demand — which is what they’re paid to do — the investment bankers priced the shares at $45. 
  • The 7.84 million shares it sold raised $352 million for the company. For this, the bankers were paid 7 percent of the deal as their fee.
    The price soared on the first day to $120 in intra day trading. The price has remained above $70 per share since then.

(Source: Google Finance)

I, like others eg NY Times' Joe Nocera think that LinkedIn's were (embarrassingly) poorly advised by Morgan Stanley.

This first day trading spike generated lots of chatter about another bubble. Here's the graphic from the Economist article: Welcome to IPOville - Social-media firms see champagne; others see bubbles




My view from this side of the Atlantic is much more conservative. There are pockets of frothiness, but it isn't across multiple sectors or sustained. Some companies will generate a disproportionate amount of interest (and column inches), but outside of that one company under the spotlight, there isn't tremendous demand pushing up prices across multiple companies.

I agree with this sentiment expressed in the Register: There is no big Silicon Valley tech bubble, says VC king in early May.
Forget what you may have heard: there is no massive tech bubble in Silicon Valley.
Instead there are hundreds of little bubbles, and they're set to begin popping at the end of this year. That's according to investor and "co-maintainer" of the bubble-blowing AngelList, Naval Ravikant. 
Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures expressed it well at the end of April this year in a blog post, The Word Bubble:
But I am equally sure that we are in the glass is half full part of the cycle. Investors are focusing on the upside and ignoring the downside. That part of the investment cycle lasts for a while and then things change and investors focus on the downside and ignore the upside. Markets are defined by greed and fear. We are in the greed mode right now. 
Unfortunately, all these column inches will distract lots of people which will self stoke the entrepreneurial / VC sectors into investing in some very questionable businesses and markets.

I envisage danger down the line.

03 June, 2011

El Reg pans Orange + Barclaycard's NFC implementation at launch

The Register, that caustic IT news service (motto: "Biting the hand that feeds IT"), gives Orange + Barclaycard's new pay-by-phone service called 'Quick Tap'.

Quick Tap is enabled at 50,000 stores in the UK and for purchases under £15. Here's the official press release and their overview page. The introductory video is below.


The Register gives the service a hammering (El Reg pays by phone – mmmm, free cookies! - a strange headline, but it appears that although the Register's journalist munched the cookies, there was no sign of the transaction in Barclaycards's transaction log!).

The poor reviews doesn't fault the payment process (which appears to be seamless /magical), but the initial setup and configuration of the payment mechanism on the phone and then the ongoing account management.

In conclusion, El Reg reports:
It will be a few months before anyone else commits to using the system, and we're not convinced the infrastructure is quite ready yet despite the point-of-sale process working so well. Proximity payments from phones will happen, and Quick Tap is the first in the UK, but like most first movers it's more than a little rough around the edges.

29 May, 2011

Product Management – who cares?! A VC speaks

Cambridge Product Management Network's keynote event this year will be held on Wednesday 29th June. More information at CPMN's website.

Who needs product managers anyway? Don’t they just stifle innovation? Don’t they get in the way of building stuff?

Having co-founded nCipher, a successful Cambridge IT company, and now an active entrepreneur and one of the team at Amadeus Capital, Alex van Someren has a view. Now’s your chance to hear it.

Alex is a General Partner in the Seed Fund at Amadeus Capital in Cambridge, UK.

Alex has worked in the technology industry since the 1980s. He co-founded ANT Ltd in 1990 to produce networking products, including Web Browser software licensed to the Oracle Corporation. ANT plc was listed on the London AIM market (AIM:ANTP) in 2005.

In 1996 he co-founded nCipher to develop internet security products using advanced cryptography. The company became a world leader in IT security, counting major banks, finance companies and governments among its customers. As CEO at nCipher he raised a total of £14m ($25m) in venture capital funding before he led the company to an IPO on the London Stock Exchange in 2000 (LSE:NCH) at a £350m valuation. nCipher plc was sold to Thales SA in 2008.

Alex lives in Cambridge, UK and is married with three children. He was appointed an Entrepreneur in Residence at the Judge Business School, University of Cambridge in 2005.

14 May, 2011

Microsoft overpays for Skype

  
Microsoft acquires Skype for $8.5bn, becoming MS's largest acquisition. Quick history (with big numbers) associated with Skype:

  • Skype was founded in 2003 by Swedish entrepreneur Niklas Zennström and Dane Janus Friis
  • In October 2005, EBay outbid Google and Yahoo! Inc. for the loss-making company and paid $2.6 billion for the privilege. (I thought that was madness then!)
  • Zennström and Friis fell out with Ebay about patent licensing of some of the key technology in Skype (Truly incompetent due diligence from Skype - surely the IP should have been bundled into the acquisition?!?)
  • In 2007, EBay wrote down the value of Skype by $900 million.
  • EBay's CEO, John Donahoe, sold 70 percent of Skype to a consortium of investors (Silver Lake Partners, CPPIB, Andreessen Horowitz)  in November 2008 in a deal that valued Skype at $2.75 billion. 
Today

The Deal
  • Microsoft pays Skype for $8.5bn
  • This marked a 300% increase in value for the company in the three years since the eBay write-down in October 2007.
  • The price Microsoft agreed to pay for the company is 32 times Skype's operating profits
  • EBay said it will reap more than a 50% return from the company’s $2.6 billion investment in Skype Technologies SA six years ago. (Source: Bloomberg)
  • $14.70 is what Microsoft paid per user for Skype. When eBay bought Skype back in 2005, they paid $45.60 per user. (Source: 14 And 116: These Two Numbers Explain Why Microsoft Dropped $8.5 Billion On Skype)
  • 116 is the number of days until Microsoft makes the money back in operating cash flow. Microsoft had $26 billion in operating cash flow last year. So $8.5 billion works out to around 116 days of cash flow for Microsoft (Source: 14 And 116: These Two Numbers Explain Why Microsoft Dropped $8.5 Billion On Skype)

Was the deal over valued?
Lots of respected analysts think that this was a fair investment by MS - given all the possible synergies between so many of Microsoft's products (Windows Phone 7, Kinect, Lync, etc.), but in my opinion they overpaid.

MS are no novices in any of this technology. Skype does have some advantages - intelligent routing for one (see Skype's explanation of its technology)
 
I think there are two logical reasons for this acquisition:
  • User Base 166m users making international calls. By plugging Skype into WinMobile 7, it gives MS a way to get a bunch of well connected users making premium international calls from their mobiles. (IMHO, people avoid making international calls from their mobile phones because of its outrage expense.) This gives a neat way for operators whose users on WinMob phones to take voice calls off 3G data network and onto 2G voice network (See my post on 3 launches X-Series for how this could work.)
  • Keeps Cisco from getting its hands on Skype Apparently Google came knocking, but was told the starting price was $7bn, but I think this would have muddied Andriod's strategy. An acquisition by Cisco could have seriously dented MS's interest in the enterprise unified communications market now and in the future. (Note that Skype's CEO Tony Bates is a former Cisco execs appointed in October last year.)

Some great blog posts on reasoning:

11 May, 2011

P2P Social Networks versus Group Management Software


I've been in social software for 9 years – almost before the term was started. I enjoy contributing to the alumni network for Judge Business School at Cambridge University. Naturally, we have our own online network, called the 'Common Room'.

We've run into a problem – recent graduates ie those that did their MBA in 2004/5 onwards are glued to Facebook in order to interact with others – to the detriment of any other social software.

This article intends to explain why the Common Room (and other Group Management software) will continue to remain much more useful and relevant than Facebook.

Group Management at the core of the network

There are two ways to manage a network:

  • At the edge: means that each individual manages their connections and the level of information that they share by themselves. 
  • At the centre: means that management is done centrally, by an appointed person(s) of the organisation.
Solutions between these two extreme have to make compromises between these two models which introduces technical and user complexity, ultimately confusing the end user which make participation harder.

Facebook Groups falls between these stools.

Facebook is good / bad at ….

Facebook is great – brilliant for connecting for individuals to connect with others – sharing ongoing updates, as well having the one place to house your profile information. It's perfect for students to join up together online (err, that was what is was invented for, right?!?).

Btw, many people outside the US don't realise that a ‘Facebook’ on American university campuses was the ubiquitous book that was handed out to all first year students so that they could quickly get to know each other. It was a book of faces and names possibly with some other information eg home town, birthday, interests, sports. Of course, the first thing that everyone does is flip through it looking for hot guys / girls – I did it myself at my American high school in New England.

Unfortunately, the elegant P2P social network model breaks down when it crosses from being a network of peers to being a group with a common interest. Certainly a group with a common interest can be set up on P2P networks. It fails because every individual has to join that group. Given that setting up the group is free and pretty painless, then lots of similar groups proliferate.

Remember Metcalf's Law? The value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of users of the system. The value of a large network is disproportionately more value than lots of little, ill-formed networks.

For the Alumni of Cambridge Judge Business School, there are Facebook groups for each year, country, location… except that it is inconsistent: many countries are missing, locations are based on the passion of the group leader and the naming convention is (inevitably) inconsistent.

Entrance to the community is done via invitation or more practically by request. The group manager has to undertake the verification of membership. Do they have the time to do that? I doubt it.

What happens when the group leader leaves / resigns / becomes too busy? Unfortunately, there’s no way for someone else to take over the management of the group.

Facebook and Privacy

Facebook have really, REALLY struggled with the issue of privacy. The user generated content is incredibly engaging, but what attracts new users is the mass of information on their friends – the more is disclosed, the more engaging that content becomes. Squirrelling information away is fundamentally destructive to Facebook.

Facebook blundered around the privacy issue. Facebook Beacon was an early version of Facebook Connect which enable certain activities on partner sites to publish activity on third party site to the user's News Feed. The colossal error of judgement was that it was default opt-in, rather than default opt-out. Worse, at launch, there was no opt-out.

Step forward Group Management functionality (again)

I was involved in Social Software before the term existed (it was community software back in the late 90s) so it is good to see its relevance today.

Group Management requires the appointment of someone to act a gatekeeper and referee (if required) to the community. This is required when everyone doesn’t know everyone, but would like to connect across a large network.

The Gatekeeper is nominated by the community to control entrance and exit. Once the community trusts the gatekeeper to do a good job then then the community is likely to be much more virulent and healthy because each member has been vetted and is likely to more trustworthy.

The Gatekeeper acts as a referee. It represents the (independent) court of appeal for any behaviour that is deemed to be detrimental to the community (eg spam or over communication) or a disagreement within the community.

Conclusion

Facebook has its uses, but not really in professional membership organisations. Bring on Group Management functionality please!

09 May, 2011

UI Challenges of Paperphone and Snaplet

Researchers at the Human Multimedia Lab at Queen's University, Canada have developed two functional paper computing devices: Paperphone and Snaplet. What's novel is the use of bending the flexible displays to provide input. For example, bending the top corner of the paper phone is 'go to next page' when reading an e-book.

However, what made my mind boggle was the UI challenges for the Snaplet. If it is bent around your wrist, it acts as a super duper watch / media player / calendar, etc. If you take it off your wrist and it is flat, then it converts to a note-taking tablet.

Here's a video of switching between the two modes.

06 May, 2011

Product Management Interview Questions

Ken Norton, Senior Product Manager at Google, formerly at Yahoo!, Jotspot, Inktomi (see LinkedIn profile), wrote a fantastic article, How to hire a product manager. It was originally published in June, 2005.

The article is a great read. Unfortunately, the author has chosen to prohibit any derivative works (see license), so I unable to precise the article and highlight my favorite parts.

Instead, I point my favorite parts out. Do read the introductory section in which Ken compares Product Management in a large company vs PM in a small company.

Ken's article divides his hiring requirements in six major attributes:
  1. Hire all the smart people
  2. Strong technical background
  3. "Spidey-sense" product instincts and creativity"
  4. Leadership that's earned
  5. Ability to channel multiple points-of-view
  6. Give me someone who's shipped something
My only modification to this list is modify (5)   Ability to channel multiple points-of-view.

I would like to rename it: "Have a good nose to appreciate and understand how other business functions operate".

Ken highlights the point that a Product Manager plays a devil advocate role and representing all (or as many as possible) interests in any discussion. Ken lists pre-sales engineering, support, developer relations, business development, legal, or customers. Of course there are many more.

A product manager has to have a good nose to understand the impact of their decisions on other functions, as product decisions impact many other business functions and processes. For example, choosing to sun set a product (a product management decision ultimately) might have a radical impact on one sales person's commission (sales and sales operations). Before you announce that PM is jettisoning a product, has the impact to that sales person / manager / director / VP been thought through?

Key Questions:
  • Are you familiar with the Pragmatic Marketing Framework? How was it / have you applied it in your previous career history? 
  • What business functions did you do that were missing from the Framework and why?
  • Can you describe an example of unintended consequences of one of your decisions? What could you learn from it? 
  • Can you give me an example of how you achieved an objective at the second attempt?

04 May, 2011

Migrating from Hosted to the Cloud - my case study

 

Here's a case study that I did with Rackspace (who provided the Cloud) and Webmetrics (performance monitoring) about moving from hosted to cloud environment.

Key

03 May, 2011

Amazon's outage questions Forrester's explosion in cloud usage


Amazon Web Services, the pin-up of the cloud industry, suffered a serious outage (read The Register coverage: Amazon: Some data won't be recovered after cloud outage).

Four days later (with Amazon struggling to put everything back in place), Forrester Research publishes an optimistic report entitled, Sizing the Cloud, about SaaS usage.

Here are some quotes taken from Silicon.com: SaaS spending to rocket in next five years:
  • Revenues from SaaS will increase from $21.2bn today to $92.8bn in 2016, by which point SaaS will account for roughly 26 per cent of the packaged software market.
  • After 2016, however, the market will come closer to saturation, and SaaS growth will be far less impressive between 2016 and 2020.
  • Revenues from SaaS will help the global market for all types of cloud services increase from $40.7bn in 2011 to $241bn in 2020. 
  • However Forrester analysts predict that not all cloud-based services will see uninterrupted revenue growth to 2020: The infrastructure as a service (IaaS) market [Arthur: ie Amazon Web Services) is expected to grow from $2.9bn to $5.9bn between 2011 and 2014, before shrinking to $4.8bn in 2020.
Competition in the IaaS space is intense, with over capacity and competition driving down costs leaving only those with massive scale (eg Rackspace) with the deep pockets and the clout to compete.

Continued differentiation in IaaS and SaaS is essential.

28 April, 2011

GroupMe - Group SMS, teleconferencing and more


GroupMe does Group SMS, presumably much like my own startup, Midentity, did MiCircles in 2003 - hard to think that was 8 years ago! (Click here to see the MiCircles home page on the Way Back Machine.)

GroupMe adds more though teleconferening. Once you're connected with others, then you can share your location or photos.

The analogy that I like to use is that once you have established a washing line between two people, lots of information can be put on the line and winched over.

Getting connected only the first part. The big question is what happens next.
  • Facebook have determined that other people's content is the most important thing - sharing photos. Hence why they want people to make public as much information as possible.
  • LinkedIn wants to make money out of Job Ads
  • etc, etc 
However, I think the real value of being connected, is easing individual to individual communication: uniting (into one common interface) all of the communication protocols that we commonly use would be hugely beneficial (across all devices): a single address book for email, phone calls, SMS, IM.....

Anyone got any product suggestions for this? Or should I pull out my copy of the Midentity business plan (circa 2002) and re-do it all again??

Ubuntu targets disgruntled Windows users


I mentioned Linux Mint in a blog post a couple of months ago, Linux Mint - Desktop OS that should have Microsoft a little worried.

Ubuntu - the operating system on which Mint is built on - has released version 11.04 (code named 'Natty Narwhal'). See Ubuntu's What's New.

Canonical marketing manager Gerry Carr says
"We focus on people who are likely to switch to Ubuntu," he said. "We think it's people who are moderately tech-aware, who – presented with an alternative – are likely to use an Android phone rather than an iPhone, [who are] more likely to use the challenger brand rather than the main brand. The majority of these people haven't just not heard of Ubuntu, but haven't considered an alternative to Windows outside of Mac."

Source: The Register: Ubuntu seeks Android-packin' Windows deserters

Note that the Reg slammed the beta of this release, Worst Ubuntu beta ever
Bugs aside, the reviewer did NOT like the new Unity interface which replaces GNOME.
The real problem is that Unity can't do half of what GNOME can do.
On the surface Unity looks good. In fact, Unity will most likely one day trump GNOME in many ways - it's noticeably snappier than GNOME, works well at just about any screen resolution and even appears to be designed with touch-based devices in mind. Eventually, come Ubuntu 13.04 or so, Unity will seem like a brilliant move, but the transition is going to be bumpy.

22 April, 2011

LocalMind wins O’Reilly Where 2.0 Startup Showcase


LocalMind wins O’Reilly's Where 2.0 Startup Showcase. Here's the video of the interview with Robert Scoble.

Here's an outline of LocalMind:
Localmind gives you the ability to send any question you want to someone that is at a location you are interested in. That person (who is either a Localmind user or one of your Foursquare friends) receives the question to their phone and responds, in real-time.
Lenny was my Engineering Manager whilst I was the Product Manager at Webmetrics.  He was a very sharp guy - with wisdom (not merely knowledge) beyond his years. From a product manager's perspective, he was a highly adept project manager, meaning that I didn't have to do low-level project management or run sprint / scrum meetings - a massive relief.

Lenny was a star at Webmetrics - the man deserves to do well  with LocalMind!!

Update: Scoble posted this earlier: LocalWhat’s the best SXSW app? So far, for me, it’s LocalMind. Here's a great video interview with Lenny explaining the service:

20 April, 2011

Some good but tough questions for new ventures

I don't recall how I landed on this article about willingness to invest in web 2.0 start-ups, written by Tom Shields, managing director at the Woodside Fund, a venture capital firm.

He asks some great questions for any business idea, but particularly for Web2.0 ventures. Worth paraphrasing I thought:

1) What gives you an unfair advantage?” 
Most likely that takes the form of deep technology, proprietary content, or an exclusive business deal.

2) What is your business model?
One thing technical founders often do is put the product or service out for free, planning to put in the business model later. Often, however, the business model needs as much rapid development as the feature set, and can take quite a while to emerge.
3) Are you a feature or a product?

If your service depends on another service or community, like MySpace, then you’re going to face questions about why MySpace wouldn’t just duplicate your functionality. There is a fine line between “boiling the ocean” (trying to do too much) and being just a feature, and that’s where you want to position yourself.

Finally, there are a couple of characteristics that will definitely help your case. One is a clear understanding of your short-term direction, and the specific milestones you are trying to reach – e.g. number of visitors, downloads, etc. Another is a culture of rapid prototyping and fast learning.

14 April, 2011

Social media marketing should sit alongside traditional marketing techniques not replace them

In this Cambridge Network article, "Is using cheap social media a cop-out for marketers?", Simon Carter from Fujitsu eloquently makes the point that leaping from product concept to social media marketing misses out critical steps in the marketing process:
Junior Brand Managers think social media is a great way of getting their message out to a wider audience at virtually no cost. The problem is that it’s cheap churn and too often, the stuff we as marketers are taught in the classroom about targeting; about the right message; about good creative and the proposition and so on, are forgotten.”
I couldn't agree more: SOOO many times I have seen the splurge to social media when the product and business proposition is poorly thought out.

The whole Agile development movement with its iterative development enables (I won't say encourages!) the 'chuck it out and see what happens and we'll respond quickly' approach.

Marketers need to stop and think and go back to the basics before opening their mouths and preaching something that hasn't been thought through.

Stopping and thinking logically (with an external perspective) is a lot of what I do for my clients: I call it market analysis and product roadmapping.

13 April, 2011

Voting on Social Network Users’ Bill of Rights


SXSW panel kicked this off. Here's the voting on the each right - taken from Jon Pincus's Liminal States blog:
41 yes 0 no Honesty: Honor your privacy policy and terms of service
41 yes 0 no Clarity: Make sure that policies, terms of service, and settings are easy to find and understand
41 yes 0 no Freedom of speech: Do not delete or modify my data without a clear policy and justification
33 yes 4 no Empowerment : Support assistive technologies and universal accessibility
35 yes 2 no Self-protection: Support privacy-enhancing technologies
37 yes 3 no Data minimization: Minimize the information I am required to provide and share with others
39 yes 1 no Control: Let me control my data, and don’t facilitate sharing it unless I agree first
39 yes 1 no Predictability: Obtain my prior consent before significantly changing who can see my data.
38 yes 0 no Data portability: Make it easy for me to obtain a copy of my data
39 yes 0 no Protection: Treat my data as securely as your own confidential data unless I choose to share it, and notify me if it is compromised
36 yes 2 no Right to know: Show me how you are using my data and allow me to see who and what has access to it.
24 yes 13 no Right to self-define: Let me create more than one identity and use pseudonyms. Do not link them without my permission.
35 yes 1 no Right to appeal: Allow me to appeal punitive actions
37 yes 1 no Right to withdraw: Allow me to delete my account, and remove my data

So it’s in general overwhelmingly positive: five rights are unanimous, and another eight at 89% or higher. The one exception: the right to self-define, currently at about 65%. As I said in a comment on the earlier thread, this right is vital for people like whistleblowers, domestic violence victims, political dissidents, closeted LGBTQs. I wonder whether the large minority of people who don’t think it matters are thinking about it from those perspectives.

Detecting Contagious Outbreaks Through Social Networking


Fascinating (and compelling) methodology that has demonstrated to be valid - that you can detect the likelihood of contracting a contagious outbreak of an epidemic by monitoring the health of your friends.

Dr. James Fowler, Professor of Medical Genetics & Political Science at University of California (San Diego) proposed that people who have more friends will tend to become infected by contagions sooner than others with fewer friends. Thus, monitoring friends is a good way to detect outbreaks at an earlier stage.

To test the method, Dr. Fowler and his team recently studied an H1N1 flu epidemic at Harvard College. Results showed that by simply monitoring the friends of randomly selected individuals, two weeks of advanced notice could have been given for this particular outbreak.

Thanks to UCSD Connect's for this notification of a talk by Dr Fowler

Tiwtter hardens its API use

In this excellent article on O'Reilly Radar, Mike Loukides is disappointed that Twitter has choosen to harden third party apps to access its API. A number of these provided little or no value-add on top of Twitter own interface - and these are the services that Twitter wishes to eliminate from its ecosystem.

Every service and brand MUST be able to manage its user base / user experience. Asking permission is a key part of playing in the ecosystem. Just because the end service to the user is free doesn't mean that some sort of throttle is morally wrong.

Personally, I think Twitter needs to focus on revenue: improving the quality and reducing the number of satellites will make revenue extraction easier. Arguably, it runs the threat of spurring users to churn to a competitor.

Competitors to Twitter
And, as I keep on saying, there doesn’t appear to be a viable competitor to Twitter yet – and I don’t know why: the service is deadly simple.


We, at Midentity (my own (now failed) start-up) , built Twitter in a morning out of the infrastructure that we had already built in 2003. We had developed a group SMS service, Micircles (here's our home page on the WayBackMachine . A little known fact is that Tweets are limited to 140 characters so that they could fit in an SMS message which is 160 chars max.We couldn’t see how we could make money out of the service – so we didn’t launch it.


Do believe that if a competitor arrives on the scene, then Twitter will fragment – as everyone will realise that it is the individual (ie identity) that is the important thing, not the service.

12 April, 2011

Google’s secret sauce

Google's secret sauce - or rather one of them - is its operational expertise at deploying and managing vast (I mean really vast) numbers of servers in its operation.

Google’s Servers
It uses commodity computers with its own Linux-based Operating System (see Wikipedia), both of which have been tuned to Google’s requirements.

It is ‘reasonably’ estimated that it has 1 million of them - the largest server farm in the world by far. Here’s an eye watering graphic from Gizmodo: Google’s Insane Number of Servers Visualized (April 2010).

(Want to know who the other big server boys? see DataCenterKnowledge)

Google are notoriously secret about its hardware, so I think these figures are only ball park estimates.


Performance IS important
This operational horse power is a key competitive advantage is Google's business operation. For example, user responsiveness is critical. These stats are taken from the Velocity Conference 2009 and reported by its organiser, Steve Souders on his blog post, Velocity and the Bottom Line:
  • Bing found that a 2 second slowdown changed queries/user by -1.8% and revenue/user by -4.3%.
  • Google Search found that a 400 millisecond delay resulted in a -0.59% change in searches/user.
  • At Google, one experiment increased the number of search results per page from 10 to 30, with a corresponding increase in page load times from 400 milliseconds to 900 milliseconds. This resulted in a 25% dropoff in first result page searches.
  • At Shopzilla, a year-long performance redesign resulted in a 5 second speed up (from ~7 seconds to ~2 seconds). This resulted in a 25% increase in page views, a 7-12% increase in revenue, and a 50% reduction in hardware.

Google’s own dedicated network
Google itself has a massive internal network. If you think of all the crawling that Google does, then the spider will be want to shuttle that information back to its nearest home base. Given the number of sites that Google crawls, it’s a really good idea to have ‘home’ nearby.

Here’s one estimate for the volume of traffic:
60 percent of Google's traffic was being channelled through direct interconnects that link its massive data centres to one another.
Significance?
Given Google's secrecy around its operational expertise, then it should take note of Facebook open sourcing its data centre design recently.

Facebook open sources data centre design


Facebook's has committed to open source its data centre design. This will surely threaten Google competitive advantage.

Firstly, this is what Facebook did:
Facebook then took the revolutionary step of releasing the designs for most of the hardware in the datacenter under the Creative Commons license. They released everything from the power supply and battery backup systems to the rack hardware, motherboards, chassis, battery cabinets, and even their electrical and mechanical construction specifications.
(from O’Reilly’s Jesse Robbins' blog post)

The result: Facebook’s shiny, new, custom-built datacentre in Prineville, Oregon, USA uses 38% less energy to do the same work as Facebook's existing facilities, while costing 24% less.

Side note: Dunno quite why Prineville was chosen. Cost of electricity is a massive factor, which is why Google and other choose locations near hydro power plants, but this is not the case in Prineville. See article at OregonLive.com.

Facebook can do this because its competitive weapon is entrenched and massive user base which is unlikely to wander off anywhere soon. Facebook is sticky, 'coz all your friends are there too.

Why should Google be concerned? Well, Google isn’t a one trick pony, but search is very, very, VERY important to it and user can more easily churn to another search engine than users of Facebook.

Search needs muscle - and operational muscle is one of Google's secret sauces - see my next post on Google's Secret Sauce.

Data usage on smartphones delivered mostly by Wi-fi


By 2015, Juniper analysis predicts that 63% of data will be delivered to smartphones by wi-fi and femtocells versus over the mobile networks (here's Silicon.com's Cheat Sheet on femtocells).

The quantity of data required will be 14,000 Petabytes (1 Petabyte = 1 million Gigabytes). This is an eye boggling amount of data - equivalent to 18 billion film downloads or 3 trillion music tracks. This is 'chunky' - Apple recently purchased 12 Petabytes of data from Isilon Systems, rumoured for video storage for iTunes.

There are two opposing effects here in mobile data:
  • users using wi-fi for browsing / increased wi-fi penetration
  • fixed to mobile substitution - ie people pitching their fixed line data connection for all mobile data connection

So the net effect is pretty big data chomping, but not as bad as mobile world feared some time ago.

08 April, 2011

Your local personal info bubble - kinda



I originally discovered Bump Technologies via a BBC article entitled 'Business cards side-lined by digital contact revolution'. The article sited an example of two people meeting and 'bumping' their phones to share a business card with each other (ie physically bumping their phones together).

Intrigued, given that the concept was close to my own start-up of some years ago, Midentity, I researched bu.mp at little further: Bump provides the ability to share information within a local physical place, completely ignoring all the connectedness on a smartphone: 3G (or 4G even), Wi-fi etc.

Or so I thought.

In reading their FAQs, Bump appear to provide the most complex solution imaginable.
  • Step 1: The phone (fitted with an accelerometer ie senses movement) senses that it has been 'bumped'
  • Step 2: Phone sends what's being shared (a contact profile, photo, proposed business meeting etc) to bump's servers.
  • Step 3: The matching algorithm listens to the bumps from phones. This calculation includes the location information (you need to turn on your GPS in order for this to work) and characteristics of the bump event (whatever that means!).
  • Step 4: For exchanging contact information (and possibly other data types), confirmation is required by sender + receiver before info can be exchanged.

The FAQs state that: If you are bumping in a particularly dense area (ex, at a conference), and we cannot resolve a unique match after a single bump, we'll just ask you to bump again.

Boy, doesn't all that sound complicated? What about turning on Bluetooth and waiting for a particular file and auto-accepting it?

So is your local personal info bubble? This is a concept I remember excitedly chatting about in San Diego with Mark Bowles, the founder (perhaps co-founder??) of Staccato Communications
Sidenote: Artimi, a high-profile company based here in Cambridge doing Ultra Wide Band, merged with Staccato to become Veebeam)? 
Well yes, but given the complexity, to quote Spock, "but not as we know it, Jim".

07 April, 2011

User Centric Design

Over the last couple of days, I have been discussing a product feature with a  friend who runs a start-up in Silicon Valley.

On the subject of the finer details of the user process flow, there were a variety of opinions (are there always??).

I summarised, 'At the end of the day, there's only one opinion that matters, not Fred's / Bill's / James's, the user's opinion.'

This reminded me of the Practical Rules for Product Management. I repeat the ones relevant to user design here:
  • RULE 8:  Your opinion, although interesting, is irrelevant.
  • RULE 9: The building is full of product experts. Your company needs market experts.
  • RULE 12:  The answer to most of your questions is not in the building.

31 March, 2011

Product Manager's Playbook

CPMN
The Cambridge Product Management Network held a interactive session entitled 'What a Product Manager does on the first day / week / month / quarter in their new role' on 24th March, 2011 lead by me, Arthur Meadows.

The session was attended by Cambridge's finest and highly experienced Product Managers and together, we built a 'playbook' of recommended steps / milestones for new Product Managers as they start their new role.

The results are available here, Product Manager's Playbook. Consider this to be a Product Manager's personal project plan.

BIG Hint: This answers that age-old interview question: 'What will do if we hire you'. Also, this follows nicely on from my article 'How to hire a Product Manager'.

30 March, 2011

Advertisers spend £1 in every £4 on the internet


The Internet Advertising Bureau in the UK (in conjunction with PriceWaterhouseCoopers) publishes its bi-annual advertising spend study.

Here are some headline figures that made me think:
  • Online advertising’s share hits 25%, as advertisers spend £1 in every £4 on the internet. That represents £4 billion!
  • Social media boosts online display by 27.5% on a like-for-like basis to £945 million. 
  • There was nearly 200% surge in display advertising in a social media environment (on a like-for-like basis) and 91% year-on-year (absolute growth) in video formats. 
  • Paid-search continues to perform strongly with growth of 8% year-on-year on a like-for-like basis to £2,346 million, representing 57% of total online spend (61% in 2009).
  • Mobile advertising has experienced a 'staggering' 116% year on year growth (on a like for like basis), up from 32% in 2009. (Arthur: don't get excited, it is only worth £83 million, so 'staggering' is over egging it!)
Other stats
  • By December 2010, the UK’s active online user base had grown to 40.3 million. 
  • 47% of at home UK internet users access the internet with a connection speed of between 2Mb and 8Mb. 14% access online with a connection speed of over 8Mb. (Source: UKOM APS/Netview December 2010).
  • Social networks now account for 25% of the time spent online in the UK. 

25 March, 2011

LinkedIn has 100million users


Congratulations to LinkedIn for punching through 100 million users recently. I received an email from Reid Hoffman, CEO, as one of the first million users (actually I was one of the first quarter of a million users) to say thank you for spreading the gospel in the early days.

Here's the blog post announcing the milestone. And here's a page full of stats on LinkedIn's members. For me the most interesting is 1.3+ billion connections between our members - clearly it depends on how you determine what a connection is (does it include a post in a Group for example?).

All good news when you consider that LinkedIn has filed for IPO in January this year. Key figures: Net revenue in the first nine months of 2010 was $161 million, with a profit of $10 million.

14 March, 2011

Cambridge Startup Weekend


I attended the Cambridge Startup Weekend over the past weekend.
Startup Weekend is an intense 54 hour event which focuses on building a web or mobile application which could form the basis of a credible business over the course of a weekend.

There was a huge amount of enthusiasm and excitement at the event for building products and businesses. Here’s the format:
  1. 150 people registered to attend
  2. On Friday evening, 45 (yes, forty five!) people pitched their idea in 90 seconds or less
  3. Each attendee is given three votes to choose the concepts that they like
  4. The top dozen ideas or so re-pitch to the audience
  5. Each person in the audience then joins a team of their choice and starts
  6. Mentors and grey beards are on hand to provide guidance
There were a couple of ideas that I liked – interestingly enough, two of these ideas received virtually no votes. Of the ideas that won through to the second round, I couldn’t see any that would really have any commercial viability. (I admit that I didn’t contribute any ideas of my own.)

What WAS really apparent was:
  • All the companies need to start by concentrating on their business strategy first, before writing a line of code. From the judges’ questions, it was clear that this is what they were interested in.
  • The intersection of technology and markets is the heart of Product Management’s role. This event would have been more commercially successful if there were more PMs knocking around. However, their presence would have deflated the enthusiasm of the budding entrepreneurs which is the exact opposite of the required outcome!
  • Although, I arrived late at the adjudication ceremony and I didn’t get to see all the final presentations, it was interesting to see how the businesses morphed over the weekend.
In the end, I teamed up with a couple of PhDs doing digital identity from the University of Newcastle. See their announcement of Identity Deployment of the Year (IDDY) 2011 Award from Kantara. It was great because they brought me up to date on progress on DiD in the last 6 years that I haven’t been paying attention. I shared some knowledge with them about the early days of DiD.

Interestingly, not much has changed – the big problems in identity haven’t been solved. Many of the participants have changed their business model though. The industry body, Kantara, has taken over the mantle from Project Liberty - not quite sure why Liberty died.

10 March, 2011

User Experience Commandments

I was discussing some UI concepts with a buddy in California when I uncovered this gem of a site on Web Design: 10 Usability Tips Based on Research Studies.

Cameron Chapman refers to these as tips, but some of these are way more important: veritable commandments of interface design.

Here are my comments on these commandments / insightful advice or Tips that need clarification:

Tip 1: Forget the "Three-Click Rule" 
Old theory (well, 2001):
The idea that users will get frustrated if they have to click more than three times to find a piece of content on your website has been around for ages. 
Today's Common Sense:
The focus, then, shouldn’t be on reducing the number of clicks to some magically arrived number, but rather on the ease of utility...... - don’t let the arbitrary three-click rule stop you. 


Tip 2: Enable Content Skimming By Using an F-Shaped Pattern
Analyses the ‘Heat Maps’ of user attention. Either the ‘Google Golden Triangle’ - most clicks are in the top left and a couple on the right hand side (The right hand side is where Google makes their money, of course!).


Example of Google Heat Map

Looking at this heat map, one wonders why anyone puts anything on the lower right hand side of their side – I suppose to look balanced.

Jakob Nielsen, that guru of web design, whose own site now looks Neolithic in design discusses an F shaped pattern.


More on this research at www.useit.com/eyetracking.


Tip 3: Speed Up Your Website
Microsoft’s analysis on their search engine, Bing, showed a correlation between website speed and satisfaction, revenue generated per user and clicking speed.

To get a handle on your site’s availability and speed, I used Webmetrics (Arthur's tip: they have a free trial). See also this case study that I conducted with them on the impact of moving to the cloud on page performance. (Declaration of bias: I used to work for Webmetrics)



Tip 4: Make Your Content Easily Readable
people only read 28% of the text on a web page and decreased the more text there is on the page.



Tip 5: Don’t Worry About "The Fold" and Vertical Scrolling

Hmm, this research is incomplete in my opinion. Cameron links to better article: The myth of the page fold: evidence from user testing.

In my opinion, content the above the fold must be interesting and engaging to warrant more browsing FULL STOP / PERIOD.

People would rather scroll down a page or two to find stuff, rather than having to click on yet another link and wait for another page to load.

So DON’T cram ALL your content above the fold on every page.

Example: if you have a long article to publish, it is much preferable to have the article all on one page, rather than break it across 3 pages. (Don’t you hate newspapers when they do this – it really hinders skim reading!)



TIP 6: Place Important Content on the Left of a Web Page



OK, this advice is correct, but again, doesn’t go deep enough. YES, put your important on the left (doh!), but web users have become so familiar with the 3 column model of websites that they zone in on the middle 50% of any website.

  • Left hand column is 15% wide and contains navigation and then ads
  • Middle column is 60% wide and contains the meaty content
  • Right hand column is 15% and contains ads exclusively.
So, my advice is to focus on the first paragraphs in your middle column – we’re back to the F-shaped Pattern above.


Tip 7: Whitespace of Text Affects Readability

Some obvious advice and some less obvious advice – see the post for the details - I won't cut and paste someone else's content verbatim.


Tip 8: Small Details Make a Huge Difference
…..how removing a button and adding a clear error message to avoid user errors in a checkout process increased revenue by $300 million in just a year. The first month witnessed a 45% additional sales attributed to the revision of the checkout process.
If you’re a start-up, there are SOOO many ways to improve any given site. It’s difficult to know where to start-up – you just gotta plunge in I guess…..



Tip 9: Don’t Rely on Search as a Crutch to Bad Navigation
Search, in this context, means search within a site not Google / Yahoo / Bing. Doh - obvious



Tip 10: Your Home Page Isn’t As Important as You Think

People deep link to you and your site.

Therefore, a higher focus on landing pages versus your home page can get you more bang for your buck in terms of conversion and user-retention opportunities.

07 March, 2011

How to hire a product manager

Having come back to the UK from US (where Product Management is much more mature discipline), I have been saddened (and, on occasions, appalled) by the level of ignorance of non-Product Managers about Product Management.

Having seen some pretty 'shonky' job advertisements for Product Managers, I thought I'd better lay out some guidelines for everyone's benefit: How to hire a Product Manager.

Comments welcome!

27 February, 2011

NFC in phones by replacing the SIM only

SK Telecom from Korea has embedded NFC into the SIM card without requiring any chipset in the phone. At the moment, the technology can only read NFC signals, but can't broadcast them. From BBC: NFC tags could make phones wallets of the future.

Read and broadcast is coming apparently.

Q: What's the impact?
A: Well, you don't need a new phone get NFC, just a new SIM card, so the barriers to adoption are much less.

26 February, 2011

Next generation Computer Interaction - Kinect Hacks

Microsoft Kinect is an extra bit of gadgetry that you attach to one's Xbox that does some cool things: it recognises your voice and it recognises that your movements. For non-gamers (eg me!), then this is a step-up from Wii - you have to hold a Wii to do the same thing. Have a look at MS's
Kinect trailer).

Well, clever geeks have taken this on board and created some pretty cool computer interactions.



My favourite is the Swim Browser  (see the video), which describes itself as hands-free browser. (Translation: a browser that allows you to surf the web by waving your hands around). It was the winner of 2011 PrimeSense/OpenNI developer challenge, so err..., other people think it's good too.

I sense that we are only at the beginning of this....

16 February, 2011

Nokia lashes itself to Microsoft for its smartphones

Last week, Nokia, that doyen of phone manufacturing companies, lashed itself to Microsoft's Windows 7 phone operating system for its future smartphones. Nokia is in the midst of turbulent times. Stephen Elop, its new boss of 5 months, sent his staff an memo on 11th February warning them that they were standing on a burning oil platform and risked being consumed by the flames. The firm will also get a new operational structure and leadership team, more of whom will come from outside Finland, aka ‘de-finnistration’.

In 2G and 2.5G phone era, Nokia were all conquering: they perfected the 'candy bar' phone and made an elegant user experience, built on sound technology. As users ventured beyond calling and texting to surfing and dedicated applications, this design started to creak. The advent of touch technology really demonstrated that Nokia had lost its golden touch.

Further details of the partnership: Microsoft's Bing will power Nokia's search services, while Nokia Maps would be a core part of Microsoft's mapping services.

On reflection, this announcement isn't too surprising. Stephen Elop formerly head of Office Products at MS was recruited as Nokia's CEO 5 months ago. He will have the historical and cultural capabilities to make this marriage work.

The tech press have been making a big deal of this announcement. But let's not forget that Nokia still makes about one third of the world's phones and remains extremely powerful in the developing markets of the world. Any phone manufacturer would be delighted to swap places with Nokia.

This isn't a company in crisis, but it does need a kick up the pants. Phone manufacturing today is much more about providing the building blocks for an ecosystem and less about filling the end-to-end solution with single solution technology.

In this respect, I think that, of the two front runners in the smartphone battle, iPhone and Google's Android, Android is better positioned, as Apple remains draconianly closed. However, I do believe that Apple will open its iOS to a greater degree within 18 months' time. RIM's Blackberry remains in trailer in the race and will most probably remain niched in the enterprise market.

Microsoft are likely to be VERY pleased with this new relationship. Historically, it has spent colossal amounts of money on mobile development, with little real traction. Access to this mobile giant (I refuse to call it a dinosaur yet) will bolster its credibility.

However as Rory Cellan-Jones writes in the BBC news story:
The cruel verdict from some is that two turkeys don't make an eagle .... This is a huge moment which could shape the future of an industry.

However what did make me sit up and think was the Economist's analysis (Nokia falls into the arms of Microsoft) and the analysis below of market share vs profits (source is credited to Asymco)



Incumbents are receiving a battering from Apple (particularly Nokia), which is fleecing the profits in the industry. We're likely to see an increasing number of partnerships and acquisitions to counter the Android + iPhone duopoly. I believe it also augers the end of European telcos doing handset manufacture.

One nagging thought: what are the implications for Japanese highly advanced mobile technology, now that the ecosystem battle has superseded the device wars??

13 February, 2011

Product Management in small technology companies

CPMN
Last month's Cambridge Product Management Network monthly meeting was a gem. Rob Davis gave an excellent presentation on Product Management in small technology companies (click this link to see slide deck).

What made it really interesting was that Rob distilled 10/15+ years experience in embedded software, hardware + software and purely software.

Key lessons learnt:
  • Be brave
  • There's more than one way to skin a cat
  • Just do it

Key Influences:

An excellent 'So what' Question and Answer methodology for Product Managers to keep in their heads at all times:
  • To: Description of user segment
  • Who: Have a particular set of characteristics
  • We Provide: Name / Description of Product
  • That: Provides specific user benefit / user function
  • Unlike: Competitors' Offering
  • Our Solution: Requirement from Customer to adopt / benefit
Next month's presentation on Pricing should be excellent - see you there!

09 February, 2011

iPhones are for dirty sluts

The Register, as well as being an excellent source of tech news, occasionally has amusing, well-written articles.

So this article, NY hookers cross street from Craigslist to Facebook, talks about a study by sociology professor (!!) that undercovered that Facebook has become the primary social software service now that Craigslist has shut down it Adult Services section last year.

However, the gem in the story is the reference to the value of the Blackberry brand.
This symbol of professional life [ie owning a Blackberry] suggests the worker is drug- and disease-free," Venkatesh [aforementioned Prof] explains. 
The article notes that:
Of prostitutes that own a smartphone, 70 per cent have BlackBerries while just 11 per cent own iPhones.
El Reg readers display their sense of humour in the comments on this story.

31 January, 2011

Contactless payments coming to the UK in the summer 2011

Near Field Communication is the swipe 'n' go technology that enables the ticket payment at the London Underground's barriers via the Oyster card.

Everything Everywhere is launching contactless payments in the UK this summer in collaboration with Barclaycard - see press release. The Register has some of the details of the technology - UK proximity payments by phone this summer.

Retailers that have signed up are: Pret a Manger, Little Chef and the Co-op amongst others. Obviously, this requires special terminals in store to make happen. AND this will require special chips in credit cards (and phones - more on this later on in this article) to work.

In short, in order to make all this work, lots of players have to have signed up to the concept and make a lot of investment.
  • Firstly, the credit card providers have been shipping replacement cards to their customers with an embedded contactless chip. There are now 11.6 such cards according to this article from the BBC - Orange customers of Everything Everywhere get mobile payments.
  • Secondly, credit cards with a pre-pay facility have helped. I find it amazing that pre-pay credit cards have take so long to come onto the market. Not sure why it has take so long - any comments anyone??
  • Thirdly, retailers need to make the investment in the terminals in-store.
So quite an ecosystem..... coming up next, embedding the contactless chips into mobile phones - the long awaited m-payment revolution. But wait, contactless payments via mobile phone is a commonplace transaction in Japan.

The last time I visited Japan (5 years ago), a friend lent me an Suica-enabled phone, which allowed me to swipe through Tokyo's subway - fantastic. I'm told that if you wish to pay for something in a newsagent's in Japan, then Johnny Foreigner will be one of the few people that pays for sweets, cigarettes, etc with coins and notes, whereas the natives will be using their phones.

The mobile environment in Japan is very different to GSM world: the operators are tightly integrated with the handset manufacturers. Financial Regulations permit operators to run pre-pay services for services other than calling, texting and accessing content on their mobile phones.

Back to Europe...
Pan-european mobile payment system, Simpay, failed in June 2005 (see Simpay halts mobile commerce project). There are a number of reasons for this, but mainly it was the inability for the ecosystem to coalesce around the concept.

This time around, competitive pressures are MUCH stronger. Apple, with its App Store, has shown the consumers will buy goods via their handsets and have done VERY well to cream off lots of profit from these transactions. The operators are very unwilling to surrender this potential revenue stream to a handset manufacturer - particularly Apple - that really turned the screws on UK Operators when it launched in this country - see O2 wins Apple iPhone deal - at a hefty price (from September 2007).

Also, Kenya's MPESA, a mobile wallet, has been an outstanding success - see this nice story from BBC.

28 January, 2011

My unbreakable rule of software releases

A company that I follow (unnamed, to protect the hard working!) posted this tweet on Friday lunchtime:
v3 is very close to being released, before the end of today, just not sure which time zone ;)

This reminded me of my own unbreakable rule of software releases, which those that I have worked with will tell you, I have broken on occassions:
Never after 3pm and never on a Friday and never, ever after 3pm on Friday.

Towards the end of any work day, then emotionally, there's a huge push to get this d*mn release out the door. This is the time when you slack off: you turn a blind eye to some bug-ette which (you know in your heart of hearts) could be a show-stopper; or you skip over a technical check during the launch process - the type of check that has never previously been a concern, but today, because someone else took a little shortcut elsewhere, this issue just catches you.

Friday is even worse, because you just don't want the prospect of release hell hanging over the weekend and to really drain morale on Monday morning.

My advice: JUST DON'T DO IT - it can most probably wait until the morning / Monday, when:
  • everyone is refreshed
  • everyone has had some time to mentally run through some scenarios that may have gotchas in them and to validate one last time.
My own scars
Yep, I have the scars of Friday release at 4pm. It was a stressful release that got pushed from the previous day. We were hard at it and finally released the shiny new version in the late afternoon. We hung around and checked and validated until 6.30pm. Then we went home. I checked on it again at 8pm that evening. Checked on it on Saturday late afternoon - all appeared fine, but the stats looked a little out of whack. Hmm, I thought, well, perhaps the boys changed something - I'll ask 'em on Monday.

Monday morning rolls around. The CTO has noticed the stats immediately, digs around and discovers the registration server had run out of disk space and had fallen over: no user could register for our service over the weekend. UGH!!!

Footnote
Another big disadvantage of doing a release out of office hours is that within your partners and hosting providers etc, etc, you run into the 'second line' problem. The weekend / overnight staff aren't generally as skilled or as quick (nice, big, sweeping statement here!) when you really need their 'first line' players (an ice hockey term) to sort out the problem quickly for you.

My number one software mantra

If you want it real bad, you'll get it real bad.
This was told to me by the Manager of Documentation (hmm, you can tell how long ago that was, by the title), when I was a young tester in Dallas, Texas.

(It sticks in the mind better, if you imagine it said with a Texan drawl!)

26 January, 2011

There are only 12 Kinds of Television Ads in the World

In 1978, Donald Gunn, the creative director for the Leo Burnett, the advertising agency took a year's sabbatical and studied the best television ads he could find.

He determined that all ads fall into the following categories:

Demo ad:Visual demonstration of a product's capabilities
Show the need or problem:Demonstrate the problem and then show the remedy (eg a dropped mobile phone call)
Symbol, analogy, or exaggerated graphic:Same as (2), but the problem is a feeling, so the problem of pounding headache is symbolically represented as a drummer pounding a bass drum.
Comparison Ad:Compares product with competitors
Exemplary story:A short narrative is played out, which illustrates the product's benefits (Jenny's school play is tonight, but there's a stain on her costume. What will mum do?)
Benefit causes story:Shows a series of scenarios all because the central character adopts the product
Testimonial:'I had that problem until I used brand X'
Ongoing characters and celebrities:the use of a recurring character, or celebrity, can help cement a brand's identity into the viewer's brain. eg the Energizer Bunny
Symbol, analogy, or exaggerated graphic:Same as (3) but it demonstrates the benefits of the product (rather than the problem)
Associated user imagery:People achieving brilliant things all because they use this product
Unique personality property:A pitch from the founder or endorser (eg James Dyson for vacuum cleaners, Remmington for electric shavers)
Parody or borrowed format: The use of the product is parodied, so that the product is tied to parody. The ad relies on the user understanding the parody

Original article by Seth Stevenson at Slate.com. Go to the site for examples of each ad.

21 January, 2011

Sports stars twittering – common sense anyone

The BBC last weekend discussed Twitter in the context of sports stars and footballing brands. Twitter ye not?


As with any new technology, it has a cycle of early adoption by individuals who understand on how to capitalise on it, some initial success stories. Then others adopt the technology and after some time, use it inappropriately (more likely naively). There’s a fall out which attracts the attention of the authorities – in this case the Football Association who manage football in the UK. 

Ignorance of the technology terrifies authorities and they try and shut it down. Attitudes like this below (from BBC's website) aren't helpful: 
QPR manager Neil Warnock has subsequently banned his players from using Twitter to talk about club matters.
"I've had a word with the lads about this: they can use Twitter all they want as long as it has nothing to do with the club," Warnock told the Fulham Chronicle.
The ability for individuals to openly publish has been around for a long time, twitter is an easier way to do this from a mobile device.

Fortunately, the FA would appear to have a mature view on the subject: 
It is understood the FA sees social media no differently to other public forums and has strict rules on alleging bias or questioning the impartiality of officials. 

I hope (and assume) that all new players receive induction about publicity, speaking to the public and the press and have clauses in their contract which talk about bringing their club and game into disrepute. Clearly, players want to establish their personal brand, but they play for a team and represent the sport. 
The FA’s policy towards twitter is (and should be) exactly the same – nothing wrong with a refresher on policy and also nothing wrong with having a PR refresher with the players, encouraging them to adopt the technology and how to use it to their advantage.

14 January, 2011

App Store - a concept not a brand

According to the The Reg, Microsoft disputes Apple's 'App Store' trademark.

I have gotta agree with MS here.

Without doubt, Apple own the most famous 'App Store'.

Others exist of course: handset manufacturers building ecosystems around their devices. Indeed, I recall some ecosystems trying to collaborate together to make their apps deployed on one ecosystem simple to deploy on others. 'Write once, run anywhere' mantra. (Can't find the link at the moment.)

The elephant in the room is Microsoft. They have Microsoft Marketplace which seems to have gone through an evolution or two, according to Wikipedia.

In 90s, surely this could have been the mother of all App Stores, as Microsoft could have leveraged its incredibly powerful developer network to promote developers' software to each other and the world.

Heck, the thing could have had virtual currency with:
  • e-commerce store for all apps that ran on MS platforms
  • developers purchasing software components from Microsoft and each other (Indeed it could be possible that MS could defer licence fees for developers purchasing its software until the software made money on the e-commerce store)
  • advertising
  • reviews + forums
  • ....

Perhaps this existed and I missed it or perhaps MS missed the elegance of the concept completely, but I bet Microsoft are kicking themselves for not building a really solid wall to nurture their developer community.