Product Management :: Product Marketing

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.
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

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'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 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.