Product Management :: Product Marketing

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!!!

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 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.

12 January, 2011

Facebook's valuation and what do Harvard student use now?

A Daily Telegraph article, Will Facebook conquer the world?, uses the Goldman Sachs investment to discuss the future of Facebook.

Side note for history: Goldman Sachs invested $450 million (£288 million) in Facebook over the New Year period, taking the valuation of the site to $50 billion (£32 billion). The site has nearly 600 million users (rising at 700,000 people a day), putting the valuation of each user at the amazing amount of $100.

According to the article's author Will Haven, then, "No – the tide is turning, with fears about privacy on the rise."

I spoke to a former classmate of Zuckerberg’s and asked whether Harvard students use the site as much as they used to. “No, definitely not,” he said. “When I signed up, Facebook was a closed and exclusive community. It was exciting to be a part of it. Now that era’s over, Harvard students are much more worried about protecting, not sharing, their own data.”
So what do social media DO Harvard students use?? Anyone?

Email is for old people

The NY Times published an article before Christmas about the drop in usage of email amongst teens.

The problem with e-mail, young people say, is that it involves a boringly long process of signing into an account, typing out a subject line and then sending a message that might not be received or answered for hours.

NYT quotes these stats:
The number of total unique visitors in the United States to major e-mail sites like Yahoo and Hotmail is now in steady decline, according to the research company comScore. Such visits peaked in November 2009 and have since slid 6 percent; visits among 12- to 17-year-olds fell around 18 percent.
One interviewee said:
E-mail has its place — namely work and other serious business, like online shopping. She and others say they still regularly check e-mail, in part because parents, teachers and bosses use it.

The substitution is text, IM and Facebook of course.

I pondered this over Christmas and did some further research. The argument is 5-8 years old: exactly the same stuff around the rise of instant messenger. See Interesting article: E-Mail is for Old People from 2006

I recall (with the horror, due to the trust / privacy violation) witnessing teens accepting a friend of a friend into their contact list, merely so that one person didn't have to have two chats going simultaneously. (With horror, because in instant messengers, the connection is ongoing and provides online presence too, whereas email is merely a single transaction.)

In a more recent article from February last year, Email is for Old People, the substitutes are text, twitter, or Facebook.

Here are the use cases:
"How do you communicate anything substantial, with only 160 characters?"
  • "U only need 160 chars 2 say what U need 2 say. FYI."
  • "Facebook is for bigger stuff - and pictures."
  • "If you really need to write something big you just post it to your blog. I have an RSS feed of all my friends blogs."

Email has its place and won't be degraded to worthless. Teens lives are generally one dimensional: work, home, friends are all the same crowd, so one integrated tool will work for them. As they grow up, then the asynchronous advantages of email will be come useful to them.

05 January, 2011

NTT DoCoMo launches LTE mobile service

Hot on the heels of my previous post about Japan having 600 LTE base stations, then, on Christmas Eve (2011), NTTDoCoMo in Japan launched its LTE mobile services (ie USB sticks at this stage) under the brand name Xi.

According to the press release, then the speed looks pretty crispy for those of us in the UK.
In most outdoor areas, transmission speeds are up to 37.5 Mbps for the downlink and 12.5 Mbps for the uplink, but in heavily used indoor areas, such as the terminals at Tokyo International Airport, customers can enjoy up to 75 Mbps for the downlink, approximately 10 times faster than DOCOMO’s current 3G service with HSPA.
LTE also averages about three times more data in the downlink and two to three times more in the uplink, and transmission latency is just one-fourth that of HSPA.

According to the article on Gigom, then will fall back to the carrier’s 3G network in areas that lack 4G coverage (currently, Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka).

(Thanks to Eurotechnology for the original news alert.)

02 January, 2011

Skype's recent outage

Skype suffered a massive outage just before Christmas, crippling the service for 24 hours. Fortunately for me, I don't use Skype as my primary telephone and when I do use Skype, it is 'bursty'.

The detailed explanation given by Skype made me wonder about Skype's competitive advantage:
  • VoIP (shipping voice packets over the internet) is as old as the (internet) hills. 
    • Skype's incredible growth / user base is down to two aspects:
    • Product launch happened to be around the moment in internet history when people were (a) purchasing machines for their own use at home (b) broadband penetration was just taking off
  • Service does a slightly better job of routing VoIP packets over the internet using Skype supernodes.
Allow me to explain the last point (technicians might want to refer to Skype's explanation of its technology):
  • Skype uses P2P concept, meaning that the VoIP packets aren't sucked into a central server (from the 'sender' of the voice packet) and then squirted out to the client (ie the recipient / listener of the call). 
  • Instead, the speaker's machine sends the voice traffic directly to the listener's machine.
  • Previous VoIP service just lumped the VoIP out onto the internet and allowed the internet to determine the best method of getting the packets from speaker to listener. (Note that the internet is magnificently self-tuning to route packets in the most efficient manner from sender to receiver).
  • Skype differentiating factor is that, within its network, it defined some of its users' machines as 'supernodes'. (Skype's CEO indicates that there are tens of thousands of these supernodes.)
  • These supernodes take on additional responsibilities - see the detailed explanation. (I must admit that I thought that these machines took on a disproportional amount of traffic, but no mention of this is made in the explanation.)
The outage occurred when a bug in a particular version of Skype caused some of these supernodes to crash. (Technically, there was a precipitating factor before the crash, but I'll gloss over that.) This then overburdened the remaining supernodes causing a cascading effect, bringing down the whole Skype network.

  • In a networked-based or distributed-communication system, defining super nodes will create a vulnerability. (In a true P2P, each node is genuinely a peer of every other, so this isn't a concern.)
  • If you have a vulnerability, then for God's sake make sure you have control of the weak points. (If you read the detailed explanation of the failure, then you notice that Skype is reviewing its auto update policy of its software, so that Skype can autonomously self update these supernodes without users restarting their machine / Skype. You'll notice that Skype had already deployed a fix for the original bug, but not every machine had updated to the latest version. I assume that the update occurs when Skype restarts or when the machine restarts.)
  • It would appear that Skype didn't have an automatic way to promote node to becoming supernodes when a systemic failure started to occur to compensate for the diminishing network. (The detailed explanation of the failure indicates that Skype engineers had to put manually inject several thousands of "mega-supernodes" to compensate until the network of supernodes could recover.)
So, quite a mess, indicating that the disaster recovery plan needs some additional scenarios added!

Full credit to Skype for the level of information that they provided their users - see the Skype blog for December. Also, they offered paying users some credit to compensate for the lack of service - my voucher arrived today.