The Death of the Tech Blogger

Recently Vincent decided come clean and face the inevitable, he’s just not a blogger. I strongly disagree about that, but agree that it’s pretty difficult to be an amateur tech blogger. (I’d also argue that it’s just one of his phases.)

Tech blogging is frustrating. The rumor mill is totally out of hand. Services have “failed” in hours after launch for minor fractions against bloggers’ ideals. The long-term view is totally lost, with the notable exception of blogs like Daring Fireball.

In “Fooled by Randomness”, Taleb argues how most daily news are just noise and that it usually is more efficient use of time to just read a weekly magazine. If something really big happens, you’ll hear about it anyway quite soon even if you didn’t follow the newswire. I think this is good advice. Again, Daring Fireball often just links to new things and it takes couple of days for Gruber to pump out a well-thought post, while others run around spewing rumors and speculation.

Secondly, tech blogging is time-consuming and conflicts in many ways. Vincent touched most of the issues, but for me, the major one is that I lost interest in following what goes on. I’ve no passion. There are so many Web 2.0 blogs that what can I add?

Here I believe it’s important to consider the reasons why someone blogs. For many, it’s therapeutic and way to express oneself. We have argued many times on this blog that blogging is a way to discover and learn about things. If these are the reasons to blog, it’s easy to see that once you’re not longer interested in the subject matter it becomes impossible to write about. However, it’s hard to see any other reasons for an amateur blogger who has a day job to write.

Similarly, tech blogging is easy if you live and breathe Web 2.0 (but you’re probably full of hot air rather quickly), but my interests these days are elsewhere. In my opinion, IT and the web today are very much commoditized and many “new” things feel incremental. However, it seems like even a new shade on a Facebook Like-button is front-page material and that’s why I dislike a lot of what these days goes as tech journalism.

Similarly, the sense of self-entitlement of many bloggers is way overboard. As everyone from Machiavelli onwards have advised, you really shouldn’t listen to such fickle groups but focus on your paying customers.

Sure, maybe I just have set my bar way too high. Vincent argues that the long form isn’t suitable for blogging. That’s true in a sense. But on the other hand, Twitter et al. have made the ulta-short form much easier than blogging. The friction to make a note about recent developments is much smaller in Twitter than with traditional blogging. I say traditional, because services like Tumblr and Posterous try to break this barrier. If you follow any of the authors of this blog on Twitter (and why don’t you?), you’ll see that in aggregate we’re still very active bunch – not just on this blog.

As mentioned before, for the past six months, I’ve had pretty good success with Tumblr (when it’s not down). It encourages focused blogs and short posts, which is great. It’s relieving when the software tells you that “it’s ok to just post an image and a caption. Or even just a link!” It’s a refreshing take. Besides, Vincent’s examples of one-thing-blogs as a learning device has always struck a chord with me. They work both as notebooks and diaries.

If I’d blog about what goes on in my life, I’d probably write about my fumbling attempts at data analysis discoveries at work (highly technical and because of my work, I couldn’t share results, data and the like. Making most posts hollow and vague), my dog (I already spam on social networks about it), computer games (I do that elsewhere). None of this is in the focus of this blog, which I have always felt to be the intersection of human and the computer and what that means.

Sure, someone might argue that moving from tech blogging to game blogging is not exactly an improvement. I’d answer that I’m just experimenting and trying to do it a bit differently. The quick reply probably would be that why not do that with tech blogging? I’ve felt that is what I’ve strived for, but, as said, lost the passion for.

I’m proud of many posts here. It’s the paradox of blogging that the poorer ones seem to be Google’s favorites. If that’s not discouraging, I don’t know what is.

If I were to start a new blog today, a better scope might be management. I’ve really enjoyed Cecil’s many excellent Enterprise 2.0 posts. It’s also easy to speak about work organizations because these days most of us spend 8 hours daily in such environment and it’s only lately that we have discovered that the web and the IT devices we use have changed the way we work and should organize our work. I believe there’s a lot we can do with the tech we already have today and whether you have iPad or iPad 2 matters very little. The interesting part is the applications of this technology and what it means.

Anyway, it’s much more fun to do cool stuff than to write about it. Tech these days is already easy.

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Not a Blogger

Newsflash!…

Last month, I’ve tried to relaunch Tech IT Easy, by writing on it several times a week. I love writing and, if I were getting paid enough for it, I’d do it all the time. But that is not the way the world works.

When we started Tech IT Easy, most of us were students. That meant that a. we didn’t have day-jobs and b. knowledge-proliferation was part of our day-to-day “job” description. Very compatible with blogging! Then, as people started working, we either tried to combine it with blogging (Jeremy blogging for Microsoft, Fidji blogging in her spare time, etc.), or we abandoned it. Some people very clearly said, sorry, I can’t continue writing for Tech IT Easy. Some companies told their employees working here, sorry, you can’t continue blogging and work for us. And some people, tried to make both work, with consequences on the quality of both the blog and the day-job.

I suppose what I’m getting down to is the issue of disclosure. When companies ask people not to blog, it’s because they’re afraid that either trade-secrets or proprietary methodologies that they’ve trained their employees with will get leaked out. And when they ask people to blog, it’s often for the purpose of marketing. Either can have pretty dramatic consequences on blog content.

Last year, I’ve published some entrepreneurial diaries, which I thought were revealing (and hopefully helpful) enough, but I couldn’t really write about the day to day things, which would be even more helpful. So the censorship that I’ve had to impose on myself, either meant that I didn’t write or that my writing was as vague as possible.

Marketing-wise, I think there have been some incidences on Tech IT Easy as well, they weren’t mine, though I feel personally responsible. The consequence has also been a reduction in the quality of the content, which was either very biased or overly self-promotional, and no-one (except Google) likes to read that.

So, while I work out this conundrum on my head and perhaps with some people, I don’t think that the content on Tech IT Easy will change very much. If I have stuff to say, I’ll blog it. And other’s will do the same. But in the future, we will come to a point where a hard decision has to be made: can Tech IT Easy exist in the vacuum between work and the open internet? If not, will we shut it down? If yes, how can we prevent the reduction in quality caused by economic factors?

If you have an answer, I’m all ears.

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Opening up

I don’t know what to write about yet, perhaps the co-relation between blogging and ideas. I attempted a similar post last week, and restricted it mostly to differing learning styles. In short, some people (me) learn as they write, some as they hear, some as they see, some as they speak. As a human being, I feel our purpose in life is to evolve our brains more than anything else, so how intellectual activities fit into our lives, how technology is changing our ability to express and consume intellectual content, is relevant.

The way I like to blog is very much spontaneous. I find that ideas that take a long time usually don’t make good blog posts, they make super-long blog posts. In fact, every time I start blogging (like I did recently), they are all ideas that have been floating in my mind for some time. And then I end up writing blog posts with 976 words, like my last one, and it probably sucks for you, the reader.

The no. 1 rule of blogging: it’s not a once-a-week activity. Writing everyday forces you to become efficient with your words, you need to save some for the next day.

Blogging and ideas then! When I wrote about (re)positioning, I was thinking about Repositioning, the book I’m currently reading by Jack Trout. It’s not as good as its predecessor, Positioning, but it’s a nice refresher for people that haven’t read the original in a while. It continues to make interesting points about marketing, points that are relevant to my current activities at work. So, I write to process what I learn from the book and try to fit it into the context of my business. Same with my post on “Managing Teams” and on “Good Ideas,” which are based on real experienced and processed through my blog posts.

Blogging and confidential ideas! There is a reason that I am so vague, because publishing things that are internal to your business just doesn’t seem like that good an idea. I’m fascinated by Fred Wilson’s workflow, who has published a blog post every day since I’ve started reading AVC.com. How can a venture capital afford to do that and does it not affect his business negatively? It seems not, he takes great care phrasing his arguments and comes forth as a guy you want to do business with. While he doesn’t blog much about Union Ventures, his business, he does manage to advertise it as a solid venture capital firm.

I believe that if your business benefits from making new connections with customers (and what business doesn’t?), then finding a way to blog in an engaging manner, is something entrepreneurs should take up. And perhaps more transparently than me! Ok, 463 words is where I call it quits for today.

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(Re)Positioning Yourself

Positioning is a marketing concept that is expressed through verbal, numerical, and visual cues. As such, it is easily identifiable, if you know what to look for. But the fun is less so, if you try to do it yourself.

Beer vs. WineLet me give an example of what positioning is. Last night, I’m waiting for a friend in a beer bar. The menu above the bar shows a million and one beers from around the world, all priced between 3 – 10 euros. Far in the corner, away from the door, is the wine menu, prices starting at 23 euro. What is the message? Buy our beer, not our wine!

Let me give an example of a (re)positioning strategy in development. A team is seeking to reinvent a small business that’s been generating cash-flow for a few years and wants to enter a new, more profitable market. So the team has to understand what are the values desired in this market and how to communicate those to customers. Stuff under consideration includes the name of the business and products, the visual and textual communication of the advertising material, and how to fit in with the buying process of customers.

It’s tricky, because mistakes can be extremely costly. Something to consider: are they truly understanding who their customer is and are the underestimating their competitors’ ability to undercut their market? As is apparent by these questions, erroneous positioning strategies come out of not completely understanding at least the important variables that underly them. We can shout all we want, but it only makes sense to those people that speak the same language, and if not too many people shout at once.

There is also a taste and/or luck component. Consumers get bombarded with so many messages every day that it makes sense to filter out as many as possible. Most me-too messages and the companies sending them, land in the proverbial spam folder, so apart from having the right message for the right customer, your message also has to stand out in a way that is smart and tasteful, rather than loud, or worse, bland. That requires real talent!

Most companies will look at the bottom-line, when they decide on a message. That can mean that they work out of their strength, their production capability perhaps, or from a financial stance—”by not accenting this feature, we can reduce the production price by 30%.” That will never change, but it also highlights a lack of understanding what the real value of a product is in the eyes of the consumer. An example that comes to mind is tablets, where manufacturers employed different strategies on show-casing their utility in this new and untested category. Most Android tablets, for instance, tried to compete on hardware specs, but cramming too much into these machines also raised their price. Apple’s response? They don’t mention any hardware specs, except where it would affect the customer experience: speed & graphics. And they remove as many expensive parts from the equation as possible, to keep the other objection to a minimum: “This new product that I’ve never used, I don’t want to pay too much for it.”

I’d also like to briefly talk about metric-based design, which is a likely future of marketing. It basically leaves the concept of taste up to the customer, rather than a designer. Tim Ferriss chose the title of his books through testing its effectiveness in different settings and with many customers, companies like Amazon A/B test their site, sometimes many times in a hour across different samples of customers, to find out if a design change makes sense. That feels like the future of positioning, where is becomes more of a measurable science than a (M)adman’s dream. As paper products become digital, I’m sure every message we receive will have been tested in real time, adjusted to our Facebook likes and tweets, until perfectly positioned. Assuming of course that there isn’t too much of it, which just means that no matter how good the message, we will ignore it anyway.

Marketing is kind of like antibiotics: give a person enough of it and the drugs stop working. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when metric-based design becomes commoditized, not too far from now. Then, authenticity and a focus on variables that cannot be tracked so easily, comes to the forefront again. My gut says, that the really good advertising agencies already know that this will be the outcome and are keeping their creatives on the payroll.

I feel like Positioning and RePositioning, both books written by Al Ries and Jack Trout, shouldn’t be cheapened as to hold little value in today’s measurable marketing media. We should try to understand the fundamentals and how many companies in the past went wrong. The key-reason for their failure seems to be not understanding what companies really value about the product, instead focussing on promoting the wrong features, perhaps because there are bottom-line advantages to those particular ones (i.e. what I said before). Companies should also keep their messages simple and relevant, rather than make changes that confuse customers. And finally, there continues to be room for intelligence and authenticity in advertising, even if the majority of companies will make the business decision to go for mass-, me-too-, and loud marketing, which will always be cheaper and easier on themselves.

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Robots At Our Doorstep

Robots at our doorstepThere’s a really, really interesting blog post that talks about robots a little bit. It’s by Paul Miller on IEEE Spectrum and draws a parallel between how the personal computing industry got started and the state of robot development today. Specifically, it talks about hardware hackers. If you want to dig even deeper, there’s another interesting article by Phillip Torrone at Make on the popularity of the Arduino. The Arduino, if you don’t know, is used by hackers worldwide as a component to connect a variety of devices together. At previous companies, I used it twice. Once, to connect a Wiimote controller to a USB port and do interesting gesture-related stuff with. And another time, we used it in robots that detected RFID chips and were controllable over the Internet.

A few years ago, Fred Wilson wrote about one of his portfolio companies, Bug Labs. What was different about it was that it was uncharacteristic of a Union Venture investment (Fred’s VC firm). Specifically it was hardware, while UV invests in services like Twitter and Etsy. But what was interesting about Bug Labs was that it was a business that built modular hardware. If in the software & web revolution, programming languages formed the lego blocks that created operating systems, applications, and the web, then a hardware revolution would require similar core-components, that are easily modifiable and combinable. Specifically, the cost of these components has to be very, very low, for hackers to emerge (or society has to be wealthy enough to afford it).

Two trends about that. One, China. For weeks now, the book “Dragons at Your Door: How Chinese Cost Innovation Is Disrupting Global Competition” has been sitting in my bookshelf, asking me to read it (I’m currently reading “Made In Japan,” a book about Sony). As the tag-line suggests and as most of us know, China is killing margins in the hardware industry. Netbooks, mobile phones, and pretty much another other device ranging from watches to cars, is being developed in China at a cost that’s hard to match in the Western world. And, ignoring the cries of the (former) imperialists, that is a good thing. It will blast off a revolution in hardware hacking that will parallel what we’ve so far only been able to do virtually, in code.

The other trend is that of affluence. It’s insane if you hear stories about a recession and simultaneously devices like the iPad sells like hotcakes. Yes, it is the cheapest of the tablets, the main contenders anyway, but it’s still an undefined category. Kind of like robotics, I guess.

Any new technology needs a good cost perspective and a good market perspective, and ignoring the future complications that will arise with developing smart robots and afterwards killing the same robots for wanting to kill us, there’s a promising future for robotics.

The other side is tools. I don’t know too much about that, except that if hardware can run code, we’ve pretty much been getting that covered in the last 3 decades.

I for one welcome our new robot overlords. You should too!

Knight Rider rules

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Managing Teams

We’ve got a pretty tight team this year, much like last year, but with some changes. I’d like to write a little about team-dynamics and what I think that works, without getting into details, if possible.

managing teamsWhat I previously wrote about teams is plenty. I met Jeremy when we did a project analyzing what teams best start startups and it’s been a pre-occupation of mine ever since. On Tech IT Easy, I’ve written about the brains & brawn component in teams and about codifying processes. On my free time, I climb a lot, which is all about building strong relationships based on trust with your partner or partners. While some of these are basic (process-coding is not), there’s a working relationship that has to develop that caters to team-work.

Last year, my company had a structure of 3 directors, each responsible for different tasks and each with their own sub-teams. I was general manager and manager of a sub-team focussed on business development, so I had to ensure that both my sub-team and the overall company team worked well together. It’s hard to do, particularly if one the one end, your team includes fellow shareholders and on the other end, it includes under-experienced interns.

Good team-dynamics require the mastering of politics and training.

On a management level, we had an overall strategy that we wished to execute in a certain period and bi-monthly meetings to report on progress, determine next steps, and adjust the strategy if necessary. An important dimension is that of budget, which really affects your ability to say yes to things, but it’s also a good pressure that keeps you lean and hungry to do more for less money.

On an intern-level, you start with a contract (optimally on a management level also), which sets out deliverables that have to be met within the employment period. Depending on the experience, you have to set apart time for at least 2 meetings per week during the first 3-4 weeks, after which the intern should know what to do. But I find it equally important to always keep your door open to discussions, as that reveals a lot of information left out of end-of-week reports and promotes team-bonding. In the end my management style is that smart and hard-working people are rewarded into “the family,” while the weaker bunch gets honest feedback appraisal and a time to improve on them.

This year, we changed our structure somewhat, with me taking on the role of operations manager and my partner becoming general manager. That means that the management style also changes, though I manage my sub-team pretty much in the same way. One thing that I think my partner is improving upon is on setting todo’s, which are assigned at the beginning of every week in a meeting. It keeps us focussed and also makes us realise what we’ve accomplished in the weeks before.

Another change is that we’ve simplified the decision-structure on a director-level, essentially creating sub-units that have executive power. That means that decisions can be carried out more quickly and independently. The negative is that a bad manager can then bring a division down, so we try to prevent that… :)

I’m sure, I’ve written this before on Tech IT Easy somewhere, but I’d just like to reiterate the main points that I feel make up good teams.

  1. Talent is subjective: I purposefully haven’t written about it here, but I think that need (setting good specifications) and good management outweighs talent. My opinion on that may evolve somewhat.
  2. Politics can be the death of teams: I believe in simple goals and confusing that with arguments based on legal, financial, or personal preference, can really kill the productivity in a team.
  3. Good expectations are the beginning, good training is the middle, and good rewards are the end… taking a cue from a book in my bookshelf on writing stories. I really believe that most projects go wrong because there wasn’t enough preliminary work being done (expertise being gathered) and expectations were not expressed clearly. You always have to hold a standard against someone’s work, and the most effective way to do this is in black and white. Even if goals change, then these goals have to be expressed explicitly. Training, I’ve written about above, but involves staying involved and keeping your door open. And rewards are not just financial but making the team-member more part of the family (you work hard, you earn trust).

Building and managing teams is a complex science and I’m sure that my feelings and knowledge about it will evolve over time. But it’s a very rewarding work, because you build up a group of people that can become like your family, sharing the workload and sharing the gains.

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Good Ideas!

Becoming a more prolific writer on Tech IT Easy, means that I’m moving back to “napkin-work,” i.e. coming up with ideas for this blog post on a whim and seeing where they take me.

Startup JuryYesterday, I sat on a jury evaluating ideas that came out of a number of student teams developing game in a water-environment (wasn’t too long ago that I was the one pitching my ideas in a student competition… sniff). It was my first time, so I thought about how to act and what to do.

How to act… I thought about all the juries that I’ve seen on TV and in real life, and a suit and tie seemed like a must. So I dressed up like Donald Trump with a black suit and power-tie. Turned out that was overkill, but ok, I stand by my choice.

What to do… I was asked to provide the “commercial” perspective, so I chose the three characteristics that I felt were most crucial in such a decision:

  • market potential
  • cost structure
  • IP

I then tried to give ratings to each team based on these variables. The slight complexity comes out of cost structure really, because being too expensive is not a good thing, so I couldn’t give a higher rating for high cost. Also, high cost is ok if IP is strong and the game is fun (market). So in the few minutes that I had to make a decision, there wasn’t much time to weigh those against each other.

What was certain was that one team stood out much farther than the rest. I can’t speak about the specific game, but these are the points that influenced my decision:

a. their pitch and demo was great: this is nearly as important as the product itself!
b. they thought out the system from start to finish, making it easy for users to understand and accessible by adding difficulty levels that you could start with.
c. they made it both fun and competitive (their demo showed a whole bunch of smiling faces, which rocked)
d. It used a number of technological components (partially developed by www.aquacinema.com), that did increased the cost, but also gave it a great IP potential.
e. there was a strong marketing component in that they included uploading videos to Youtube/Facebook/Twitter/etc. — fun for users, great for the venue-owners.

I’m reading a lot of VCs these days (Fred Wilson, Paul Graham, etc.) and they often talk about the team and how that outweighs the idea. Paul Graham writes in his essay ‘What We Look For In Founders,’:

“[Determination] has turned out to be the most important quality in startup founders. We thought when we started Y Combinator that the most important quality would be intelligence. That’s the myth in the Valley. And certainly you don’t want founders to be stupid. But as long as you’re over a certain threshold of intelligence, what matters most is determination. You’re going to hit a lot of obstacles. You can’t be the sort of person who gets demoralized easily.”

There’s a difference between pitching an idea and setting up a business. It takes much longer and you’re going to hit a lot of snags. But what these guys were able to achieve in a short 4 weeks, shows to me that on all fronts — Determination, Flexibility, Imagination, etc, — they did great and could do great. I find it’s only possible to judge this on the basis of a good idea, rather than looking at the person alone (past performance is also not a picture-perfect indicator). So whenever I read about “focus on team,” or “why you’ll be a bad entrepreneur,” I think, they probably didn’t have a good idea at the time.

To end (because I wrote a crazy long essay in 10 minutes now), the other half is of course execution. This team executed well, and that is the other third of a good idea.

Good ideas = the idea, the execution, the team.

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Why blogging makes me a better worker

learning styleFor the record, I include Twitter, Facebook, and certain other Internet activity into my categorization of blogging, because they all share the characteristic that I wish to write about today.

It should come as no one’s surprise that I spend a fair amount online, whether it’s this bog, Twitter, or Facebook. All-together, I’d say I actually spend less than an hour a day “creating texts online,” but that’s certainly now how it would appear to an outsider, I guess. I get plenty of comments from non-tweeting or -facebooking friends about how many updates I post (apparently I tweet more than Stephen Fry, whatever that means), but it’s really not as time-intensive as it appears.

Blogging (again used as an umbrella term) is an outlet, one that feeds into loops of reading a lot and an overall attempt to be connected to what is happening in (mostly) the tech world. So whenever I blog or tweet, it’s actually a consequence of having gotten a micro-percent smarter than I was before that.

I’m forgetting where it read this, but there’s a story somewhere of the different learning styles of people. Some see and remember, some hear and remember, some speak and remember, and some write and remember. Like Churchill, I believe, I definitely consider myself one of the latter category. Not working within your learning style can have disastrous consequences, as I remember reading in that article, which happened to a US president that took over from someone that liked to read to learn, while he actually like to speak to learn. So being overwhelmed with too much paperwork, actually made him a much worse president.

Blogging is a way for me to learn, as I found out while trying to cheat for some exam as a kid and ending up memorizing my cheat-notes because I wrote them down. So, similarly, I develop an inner encyclopedia of what is happening around the web & life, by writing about it.

But there is a crux for employers, which is what if an employee writes about something unrelated to the task. I (sadly) don’t work with iPad’s every day, should I write about them? This is the real point I wish to make, I believe the answer is absolutely YES.

I think about the alternative, last year, and I made one hell of an executive, focussed on the task. But since my outlet for learning is writing, I’m not sure how much I could tell you about that year today (apart from my spares entrepreneurship diaries on Tech IT Easy).

Writing about different topics just unlocks the brain for more learning, just like doodling can lead to a great painting or idea. Your brain plays around with concepts and that helps you process other concepts better.

I know this isn’t quantifiable and I personally hate non-quantifiable “opinions,” but this is something I wholeheartedly believe: if you learn by writing, updating a blog regularly will be a benefit to your brain and hence your work.

P.S. if you do run across that article, please let me know and I’ll update this post with it.

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Splendor and misery of the knowledge worker


(Version Française)

Knowledge worker: one who works primarily with information or one who develops and uses knowledge in the workplace. (Peter Drucker – 1959)

A simple yet visionary definition which becomes all the more more relevant today as an ever increasing part of our happens in the so-called knowledge economy where goods and services can be developed, bought, sold, and in many cases even delivered over electronic networks.

While New media increases the production and distribution of knowledge, they also play a significant role in the dissemination of information, the social fluidity and the empowerment of knowledge workers.

Yet, do we fulfill our potential and are we liberated from any constraint ? The Social Network movie delivers some answers …

Continue reading this post »

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Tilt!!!

Does electrocuting a person so many times lead to different behavior? I’d like to think so. I’m referring to Instapaper‘s Tilt-scrolling of course (see video below), arguably the best feature in the app and for the small iPhone screen I read many articles on. Why does tilt-scrolling work? Because the finger doesn’t get in the way of the text and the small iPhone screen means that you have to scroll down often. It’s quite addicting.

What’s interesting to me and lead to the Pavlov’s dog reference is that I also started playing this other game largely relying on tilting, only days after intensively getting into Instapaper 3 reading. It’s called Dark Nebula 2 and belongs in the class of tilt-based games like Labyrinth and Super Monkey Ball. I’ve never much been into this kind of stuff, but somehow my tilt-based reading made me more adept at it. Strange…

That’s all I really want to say. There should be more tilt-based stuff on tablets. Who wants fingers in the way of their content? Not me!

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Blogs are to Books are what TV-Shows are to Movies?

So Penelope Trunk wrote a book. I previously wrote about her here. A commentator on one of blog-posts asks:

Penelope,
I read your blog regularly. Is there anything in your new book that I wouldn’t have already gotten from your blog?
Either way, I’ll probably buy it… but I was just curious.
Posted by Kelly

Penelope responds:

Kelly, 
I think the difference between a book and a blog is how big the idea is. So a blog is a pile of many small ideas. A book is one, big idea. So the book does not have small ideas that you don’t know, but the book is sort of curated to add up to a big idea. 
Organizing my thoughts into grand ideas that come at the end up a buildup is harder for me than writing posts. This is how I know that a book is different than the posts even if there are no new posts. 
I hope this is a good answer. And thank you for buying the book :)

Penelope

I’m also reading one of Seth Godin’s books, Linchpin, which I understand is like many of his books, collecting a number of blog posts together. Penelope calls this curation, I’m sure Seth has a name for it too.

Consuming in chunksOne thing that I feel has changed in the landscape of media consumption is consuming in smaller chunks. Whether it’s buying single tracks from iTunes or watching TV-shows, our consumption time gets smaller and smaller. I don’t know much about purchasing single tracks from iTunes, I prefer buying a whole album because you get more for your buck. But my listening behaviour is based around playlists, often using iTunes smart playlist feature, called Genius, which works similar to Pandora’s algorithms and is the way Spotify is supposed to work. I rarely put on an album and listen to the whole thing in sequence. Does that change my behaviour in terms of consumption? I guess that I appreciate the “curation” that albums, often soundtracks or compilations, provide. Purchasing playlists compiled by “experts” is a killer product, if that already exits, and I really miss the online mixtape movement that was hot a few years ago, but got sued off the table.

TV-shows is something I happen to know a lot about, because I love watching whole seasons of shows. Starting with “Star Trek: The Next Generation” as a kid, “Babylon 5” (yes, I’m a scifi nerd), “Friends,” “the Sopranos,” “Veronica Mars,” and more recently “The Shield” and “The Wire.” TV has always been a threat to movies, as a technology, but now it is a threat on a much larger scale. You cannot tell the story of The Wire in a 2 hour movie. It’s 5 seasons of 24 episodes and the depth through which you get to know the characters is impossible to match.

Now, David Simon, creator of The Wire, is a genius. So is Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek. Seth Godin is arguably a master of his craft, and so is Penelope Trunk. So the analogue between TV-shows vs. Movies and Blogs vs. Books only works if the creators are professionals and their individual chunks of content represent that quality. Could any blog be turned into a book? I’d love to see a book comprising of curated AVC.com content (written by Fred Wilson) and even a coffee-table book by Jason Kottke (Kottke.org). I of course do not want to produce one for Tech IT Easy, and there are many blogs that I do not need to see in book form.

The evolution of the Internet has created a similar scenario for Book publishers and Newspapers that TV has caused for Movies. But the latter have had to adapt, moving to the small screen or hyping up 3D (not a fan anymore) to draw people back into cinemas. We’ll see whether the same adaption will occur for book publishers that newspapers are making towards e.g. the iTunes model. It’s definitely interesting to see some movement into the opposite direction, blogs turning into blogs.

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Paradigm Shifts Between Phone, Tablet, Desktop & Web Interfaces

…Or how not to approach development. It’s busy in Vincentland, but I’m still determined to regularly update Tech IT Easy. Today, my question is: What determines the choice for a platform? Is it market, personal taste and talent, or the desire to create something that fits a certain paradigm? In the end, no matter how cool or uncool, we’re talking about a technology choice, which is affected by cost (time & financial), the tools available, and the potential return on investment. Just to put it coldly…

I’ll be honest. I have become a big fan of the tablet paradigm. Similar to the Nintendo Wii, it’s a blue ocean that not only addresses the un-targeted space of everyone that doesn’t use computers (from toddlers to old people), it also represents a potential (!) future for computing, away from the constraints of the abstract mouse and the oh-so-square keyboard. It’s a portal into right-brained computing, which I’ve written about several times before. Traditional computing is left-brained, it’s logical and doesn’t allow for the unstructured approach to creativity & thinking that materials like paper does. We’ve long needed a digital equivalent, and it quite possibly is here today (or soon anyway).

The biggest obstacle to tablets becoming mainstream is not software, it is cost. You can justify the cost of an (Apple-priced) laptop in a work or school context. It drastically increases your productivity. While Apple has tried to keep the cost of its tablet-line relatively low, there’s no equivalent formula for calculating the return on investment from tablet-computing yet, because the money-making processes aren’t easily carried out via that medium yet. At some point, I envision tablets becoming clients hooked up to a massive server, docking into a pseudo-computer with a keyboard and (something akin to) a mouse. That would require a central computer to act as storage and a well-thought-out dock that is on people’s desks. The reason this doesn’t exist yet, is because no-one’s sure how to interact with the touch-screen when it’s standing up like a display — it’s an ergonomic conundrum.

The bigger problem is simply that having a device with too many faces — touch-interface on the one side, desktop power-horse on the other — creates a confusing paradigm for both users and developers. Would there be software that only works on the tablet-side, or would a software have to be “cross-platform?” It appears to me that this problem is being addressed in Apple’s new operating system Lion, that integrates features from OS X and iOS, but we’ll see if and how it works in practice. In any case, it will be designed to legacy-support the last few generations of Mac-computers, which all use a traditional mouse and keyboard interface. Future versions may be a fabled iMac that is also whole-or-part touch-screen, we’ll see.

Mac OS LionTouchscreen iMac

The difference between phone and tablet is clear: minimal screen-size and processing power (somewhat changing) and maximum portability. Tablets are also portable, but more armchair or go-to-a-café portable than wait-in-line-in-the-supermarkt portable. Not having used a tablet everyday yet (but it’s happening soon), I don’t quite know how this translates to applications. I do expect to use a tablet as a magazine and book reader, and would love to use it as a boardgame replacement with other people(!), both of which are natural to either the armchair or café context. The phone interface naturally lends itself to casual use, whether it’s a 1 minute game or a quick browse through the news or mail. While the iPhone’s retina-display is beautiful, beautiful for reading eBooks, it’s still a nicer experience on a bigger screen or a dedicated eBook reader.

Desktop software is geared towards productivity, both in an office and entertainment context. If you see how some people play StarCraft, you’ll understand that there will never be such a game on a console (though we’ll see about tablets). Equally first-persons-shooters that are released in parallel on desktop and console perform much, much better on the desktop. There’s no beating the mouse and keyboard-combo, whether you’re typing away in Excel or fragging your enemies to little pieces.

Regarding the web, I was fascinated to read the Ars Technica article, entitled “The Strategy Tax.” It refers to the scenario where Microsoft’s Office business unit was competing with the Web devision and was blocking the latter’s ability to innovate. Or so they say, but looking at what’s being on the Web now in terms of Office-alternatives, this is a credible claim. The desktop’s limitation is the lack of sync (something that the Google laptop is trying to address), which affects distribution and security (in the back-up sense). While it supposedly doesn’t yet have the matching horsepower that a Mac Pro or Alienware desktop computer would have, you can clearly switch between both — use the web for streaming and the desktop for processing — very effectively.

To summarise, following are the paradigms that I understand these four platforms to fit into:

  • Standing in line portable: Phone. Mostly used for quick activities on the road, like checking your todo’s, playing a 1-10 minute game, or browsing some quick news or mails. I see the interface for this being as reaction-fast as possible. We just want to launch it and go.
  • Armchair portable: Tablet. Mostly used for activities that take at least half an hour and can be done on the couch, e.g. reading or playing a game (I’m purposefully leaving out complex activities like drawing or making music, both of which have both hobby and professional applications. Launch time is important, but there’s more room for multi-tasking and displaying rich information.
  • Workhorse: PC. The powerful combination of mouse and keyboard, together with other factors contribute to its use for activities that require a lot of productivity. We care more about ability and features here than speed (though no one stops caring about speed).
  • Connected: Web. We favour the web because it keeps us in connection with stuff that is relevant to the task. That affects things like storage, security (both positively in the sense of backups and negatively in the sense of encryption), and more. Since the interface is used in the context of either a phone, a tablet, or a desktop, we tend to require a fitting interface and functionality from web-apps.

But why do I ask all these questions? In the end it’s a distraction, because I’m the type of person that asks a million questions to be sure before engaging a trajectory. In my case, I use so many Touch-interface apps and hate PCs so much, that I want to try developing (small) apps for that platform as well. But I’m also wondering about the future of these platforms and if developing for them is a safe investment. If you ask me, they are, but the exact shape isn’t clear yet. And it’s up to software developers, more so than hardware-developers, to define how tablet-platforms will be used, by toddlers, the elderly, and my generation—the 25-45 age-group.

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Artful Pitching

My partner, Graham, is a bit of a wonder. He’s been in “the biz” of telepresence for some time, starting as an inventor / artist and really being part of the core of how to connect remotely to someone else since the 80s. With my company, AquaCinema, too, he’s worked with some key-players in VR and 3D in the 80s and really got the fundamentals down. Add to this the kind of confidence and charism required to convincingly pitch ideas and you got someone that could sell you the world, starting with the piece of land under your feet.

everything starts smallSo, yesterday, during a meeting I noticed that he had trademarked something really small, let’s call it “product ant.” I didn’t see the relationship between “ant” and what we were building now. But then he explained the ecosystem, the relationship between our current product, product ant, and “where we were going.” And suddenly my vision opened up to see an integral picture of what was really a beautiful reality of what this business could become. I looked around the room and everyone had the kind of glistening in the eyes, that you have when you perceive something you want to believe in.

Every pitch is different and the last few days, you could get a big insight into how a company like AirBnB tried to pitch their business to a VC like Fred Wilson. Especially read the behind the scenes emails that Paul Graham shared. It was hard at that time to see the potential that AirBnB had. But the cereal stunt and the plan showed that these were entrepreneurs that could possibly* pull of that vision (*: remember that 9/10 startups still fail, so it takes a lot for ideas to come to fruition, but a strong team is a great start!).

These moments are rare but prove that without an open mind and some suspension of disbelief and cynicism, we won’t get to witness possibly great ideas being pitched and being realised.

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The Missing Stat

This post started with the wrong premise, that Facebook wasn’t providing enough stats to page administrators. Last night I received a mail from Facebook that outlined some brief stats from a page that I administer. It looked like this.

Facebook Page Statistics

At first I thought, nice thanks. Then I thought that what I was really missing were statistics that fit my own behaviour around pages I subscribe to. I never visit a page, except the first time I join it. Typical behaviour for a page’s updates are that they appear in my news-stream, where I then either comment, like, or hide the stream. My question was, where are those stats? The answer was that that data is made available to page administrators, in the form of Facebook’s “Insight Page,” which:

“provides Facebook Page owners and Facebook Platform developers with metrics around their content. By understanding and analyzing trends within user growth and demographics, consumption of content, and creation of content, Page owners and Platform developers are better equipped to improve their business with Facebook. “

So that’s pretty cool and disarmed my outrage somewhat. Then I created a Tech IT Easy Facebook page to check out this fabled Insight dashboard (I don’t have access to this data from the other page). Below is a screenshot of the (blank) data that you get access too. I am missing the data regarding for how many people are actively seeing the page updates in their newsfeed.

Facebook Insight Page

As social networkers, we, the people, have all become somewhat experts on how and when to do an update. We’ve all seen the error of people’s ways, when they write whole essays on Twitter (tweet after tweet after tweet, thanks Steve Martin, you’re out!) or updates that add Very.Little.Value., like “ouch, my new tatoo hurts,” and “help me, I’m stuck under my bed and I can’t get out!” (actually that is serious, even though what are you doing Facebooking about it?). My typical behaviour is to unsubscribe or hide such updates from my view, my newsfeed, my life (not the emergency one, of course, which was meant as a joke!).

It seems kind of relevant to someone that uses a page for marketing knows how their behaviour affects the behaviour of others (most people that start Facebook pages aren’t actually marketeers, so they need even more help). It seems like there are a whole bunch of questions to ask, such as:

  • do I write too much or too little?
  • is my content interesting or boring?
  • what behaviour follows my updates, e.g. do they click a link, like, comment, or hide?
  • Etc.

I don’t even want to get into how interesting statistics are for regular people, who just want to know how their behaviour affects others.

Solving that problem seems somewhat of a conundrum. For one, statistical dashboards have a learning curve and how do you provide the support to all your users when they have access to and questions about all this data? The Google analytics suite (analytics, feedburner, adsense, etc.), which offers free functionality for most people, also requires you to know how to cut and paste a piece of html into a site you want to track. That work alone prevents the “common people” from getting access to complex statistical data.

The mail I got this morning from Facebook would allow me to resend that data to people who are signed up to the page. But the statistics are so simplistic that they are nearly non-telling.

I would love to have stats for my regular Facebook and Twitter pages, but that too isn’t provided for, though I can track the limited click-data that bit.ly gives me (question is how long Twitter will allow for other URL-shorteners to exist). I imagine that people with pro-Twitter-accounts get similar dashboards to the Facebook Insights one.

The title of this post is just as much about the missing stat in Facebook Insights as it is about the missing stat for the pro-sumer, that I imagine we are all being trained to become.

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Instapaper 3 is out

NewImageBest.app.on.my.iPhone. Period. So Instapaper 3 is out on iOS, which makes the app a whole lot more social and collaborative. What Instapaper does is that it allows you to save articles to it, after which it takes out all colours, (most) pictures, and side-bars, so you can focus on what really matters. If it wasn’t competing with my eBooks, I’d just end up reading the amazing wealth of free information that people manage to publish for us everyday.

Instapaper 3 brings a slightly updated look — ‘starring’ has changed to ‘liking’ for instance — and integration with Facebook, Twitter, and your whole shebang. One thing I noticed is that I have no Facebook friends that use Instapaper, just Twitter ones. But that’s ok, Twitter is cooler than Facebook.

And one thing I’m missing big-time, is some kind of search. Ever since Delicious left the web in terms of relevance, somewhat replaced by sending links to Twitter, I’ve been using Instapaper to collect those stories I’d like to read at some point. Somewhat the point of the app, I gather. But the consequence is that I only really read the top 5 stories that I saved, because those are the ones that appear on my iPhone screen without scrolling down (the cost of linear interfaces). And when I leave an article that I was reading to check on something, I never know where to find it again. This is a design-issue, Marco Arment, developer of the app, is big on design, so I’m sure he’ll figure this out.

Correction: I just figured out that you can scroll up to see the search box. D’oh!!

IMG 0984

For the rest, you’ll never have a better reading experience where reading online articles is concerned. And all thanks to Instapaper. Thanks Marco!

You can check out Instapaper online at Instapaper.com, but it’s really best consumed through either your iPhone or iPad. If you follow me on Twitter, you can check out what articles I ‘liked.’ :-)

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