Creativity is just connecting things.
— Steve Jobs

Category Archives: Professional Blogging

A Quick Profile of Me at the Invision App Blog

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WHAT IS THE MOST FRUSTRATING ASPECT OF DESIGN?

I don’t like when people quit. And I don’t mean quit the job; I mean quit on an idea. You can tell they’re starting to quit because they start saying, “No,” or, “This is difficult,” or, “I don’t know how to do that.” Well so what? Figure it out. It’s tough because it’s called work. We can do this. We’re all here, we’re all capable, we’re all creative. We can figure this stuff out.

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Thank You, Steve Jobs

Reprinted here from the Cutter Consortium (full publication here) and Social@Ogilvy blog, to which I contributed these words:

I, like many who have benefitted from the genius of Steve Jobs, can’t imagine what my life would have been like had he stopped pursuing greatness. What would the world be like today if he had given up after being fired from Apple? What if he chose to leave the technology space altogether after such a public dismissal? What if he hadn’t founded NeXT and created the core of the next generation of Macintosh computers? For a while, we had a taste of that alternate universe; a myriad of beige boxes from every corner of the universe and a flurry of Windows releases that were so far from inspired, I don’t know where to begin.

Apple’s innovations help me every single day. So frequently, in fact, that I have to force myself to stop and take notice. Just last week, I was working on a project and needed to brainstorm with a creative partner in Shreveport, Louisiana, USA. I emailed him using my MacBook Pro and asked if he could do a video iChat. In a matter of seconds, he was showing me paper sketches and gesturing movements through our interface. He then held up his smartphone to the built-in iSight camera in his MacBook Pro to demo an augmented reality app he and his colleagues were developing. While chatting, I emailed him a PDF of my presentation made in Apple’s Keynote. A moment of silence suddenly came upon us. Looking into the camera, I said to him, “Do you remember when we were in college? What we’re doing right now would have been impossible!” He replied, “I know! This is Buck Rogers stuff!” Despite our collective imaginations, the thought of emailing presentations, easy-to-use live video chats, or powerful laptops that handled everything with ease was never in our wildest dreams. We laughed realizing that life was surreal — and real at the same time.

I collect rare Apple hardware. I own a prototype Apple Interactive TV set-top box, a Newton 2100 and 130, an eMate, and a developer edition of Pippin. I own those devices because they are beautiful reminders that life is about more than just “going with the flow.” These machines represent the embodiment of the idea that being creative is about trying something new. Something difficult. Something worthwhile. You’re right if you’re thinking, “Wait a minute, those weren’t created during Steve’s tenure as CEO.” People love to think of those products as failures or flops. I don’t. I see them as brilliant examples of Apple’s innovative what-if culture that Jobs created and, remarkably, endured despite his absence. To me, an organization that continues to push the boundaries in ways that redefine or create industries — without a fearless leader — speaks volumes.

If the time between his CEO tenure at Apple is any indication, I’m more than confident that his spirit will continue to inform and inspire Apple employees, Apple products, and legions of insanely grateful Apple customers for a long time to come.

On behalf of those who prefer the bar held high, thank you Steve. You will never be forgotten.

Sincerely,
One of the Crazy Ones

The Promise of Social Media

Events like those unfolding in Japan put things in perspective for me this week. SXSW seems so hard to think about when a Tsunami wave from Japan was captured on video in our backyard of Emeryville, CA:

Case in point but on a much smaller scale—a short blog post by Seth Godin also put things in perspective for me this week. He describes how the “drive-by technorati” regularly announce the death of different technologies. Yet, they generally aren’t involved in the “real work of creating work that matters and lasts.” It’s hard not to agree with Mr. Godin. You certainly can innovate in old spaces—for example: coupon delivery.

Thanks to Groupon, digital coupons have become the hot topic. But is this really the space in which Facebook should innovate? Coupon delivery? Social media’s most predominant and powerful platform could be thinking about new ways to make technology more personal, how to affect real third-party change in technology so that it is more social and, hopefully, useful to people. Would Steve Jobs, after hearing about the Facebook announcement, sit in his office and think, “Good thing they really get the idea behind the iPhone.”

Facebook has the potential to radically change our national education system, the ability to fundamentally alter how democracy in the United States works to serve the citizens, and the reach to inspire millions of people to do more good in the world than they do right now.

Too lofty? I don’t think so. Look at the recent effort by Craig Newmark with his newly announced Craigconnects project. Or what Twitter co-founder Biz Stone will take on with his new role as “strategic adviser for social impact” across the Huffington Post Media Group and the rest of AOL’s assets by developing a platform to help people share their work in their local community. He will create a video series about people and companies at the “forefront of philanthropy and corporate responsibility.” To quote Arianna Huffington, “Since one of our key goals is to explore and spotlight innovative ways that our company – as well as others – can do good, I’m thrilled that Biz Stone will be our strategic partner in this important endeavor.”

Mobile will play a massive role in getting big ideas off the ground. There is real innovation yet to come. I love the energy around social and mobile technology. This week just has me wishing for something bigger than a mobile coupon.

 

Thoughts On Location-Based Services

As mobile phones and other devices become more “location aware”, marketers are starting to wrap their heads around this new information about their consumers. I think this presents a huge opportunity to all brands, but most importantly, to those that are trying to improve their customer service/satisfaction reputations.

For example, let’s say you’re a big box retailer that needs to enhance its physical shopping experience. It’s tempting to shortcut the experience by immediately dangling an offer in front of them. The problem is, you don’t know what and who they’re shopping for. Also, you don’t know if they’re a repeat visitor. That rush to the offer alone will really damage any customer loyalty program when you lower the bar too far.

You might say, “So what. I don’t care who* the product is for. I just want to move it off the shelf.”

A lack of understanding of your customer makes you look desperate. Why not just extend the “check-in” range to the entire parking lot and, rather than mobile coupons, just stand on the sidewalk and throw money at people as they drive by? You wouldn’t do that, now, would you? I didn’t think so.

Instead of throwing cash at random people, try to create a content layer on top of the store experience. This content layer can help them make better decisions. Help them declare interest in a product and then build on that information. Help them get answers to their questions without having to run all over your massive store looking for someone with a certain colored shirt. Help them see the benefit of being in a reward program that encourages them to identify themselves via their mobile device). You could go so far as to offer assistance with the simple things by pointing out where the bathroom is in the 100,000 sq. ft. warehouse. Or, tell them the restrooms are equipped with a child changing station. Those things would be possible if your reward program could call those things out in advance. The content layer can be so much more than just a product wiki. Your brand personality is capable of being expressed in many situations outside of catchy taglines and talking animals on tv.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people use their mobile phones in a big box store (not holding it to their heads) and the first thing an in-person sales associate does is interrupt them. They try to get them off the phone and verbally reveal what they’re thinking. Usually, those sales associates get blown off and the customer walks away upset.

By making a mobile app location aware in a more robust way, you’re more likely to make that sale and improve customer satisfaction at the same time.

Nielsen and Nuts

For the uninitiated, Jakob Nielsen is a usability guru who made his name in the early 90s by criticizing the poor usability of many websites. His voice helped shape the web and is generally respected by just about all in the interactive field and simultaneously despised by designers who consider pushing the envelope a part of their jobs. It must also be said that in the early 90s, it wasn’t that hard to pick apart many websites with regard to usability because the entire industry was just getting started.

On to the topic at hand.

I’m not sure if he just had a bad, long 4th of July weekend, but his most recent “alertbox” posting on his website regarding blogs is screaming out for a rebuttal and is uncharacteristically scatterbrained. It is important to discuss this article because many Marketing VPs and IT Directors who search out advice on any web related subject will eventually come across Mr. Nielsen’s opinion and give it considerable weight.

His summary of the post is this:

“To demonstrate world-class expertise, avoid quickly written, shallow postings. Instead invest your time in thorough, value-added content that attracts paying customers.”

That’s a perfectly acceptable concept if your name is Jakob Nielsen and make your living partly through writing thorough, value-added articles for your website.

And it’s applicable for his first example — a top level consultant whose job is to expound on his expertise in person, not for free elsewhere.

Unfortunately, Mr. Nielsen then heads straight into the weeds where he tries to apply that same logic to corporations.

“Weblogs have their role in business, particularly as project blogs, as exemplified on several award-winning intranets. Blogs are also fine for websites that sell cheap products. On these sites, visitors can often be easily converted and the main challenge is to raise awareness. For example, a site that sells pistachio nuts should post as much content about pistachios as possible in the hope of attracting quick hits by people searching for that information. Some percentage of these visitors will buy the nuts while visiting the site.”

That quote has two points I’d like to address:

1. Blogs are fine for websites that sell cheap products?

Mr. Nielsen really should familiarize himself with TheFirehouse.biz. Granted it’s not a B2C level blog, yet it still makes an impact on consumers via the media. This blog is regularly quoted by many outlets (on and offline) and its importance to the Chrysler Group’s overall communication strategy is vital.

For example. When the Chrysler Group’s VP of Communications, Jason Vines, took big oil to task on a blog post, the media ran with it immediately:

The Detroit News:

USA Today:

And Jalopnik (an auto trade blog that speaks to consumers):

2. “On these sites, visitors can often be easily converted and the main challenge is to raise awareness.”

If Mr. Nielsen could expound on how blog readers can be easily converted, I’m sure every single marketer on the planet would kill for that secret recipe.

Unfortunately, blasting inbound search engine visitors with pages upon pages of detail on your product isn’t likely to be the best way to “easily convert” hits into sales. Those who stay long enough to read it may become slightly more informed but that’s it.

The question is this: Are people really shopping when reading your company’s blog? No. Probably not. They’re getting a feel for your company’s personality, for your commitment to your customers, products and future. That’s what you’re communicating.

[ORIGINALLY POSTED HERE]

YouTube on NBC

In a blatant attempt to take from YouTube’s audience, NBC has launched a new show called IYS (It’s Your Show). In their words, “it’s like YouTube for TV.” You could win up to $100,000 and/or $1,000 a week.

But wait a minute, Matt. Doesn’t this sound alot like America’s Funniest Home Videos? Why yes it does.

However, the major differences are:

1. AFV is on ABC not NBC

2. IYS provides individual “challenges” to put participants in the same starting point. Names, character types, or props are loosely defined so the participant then uses their creativity to create or embellish a story. I would love to know just how many videos NBC receives per “challenge.” I can imagine creating videos for the show would become tiresome when YouTube simply relies on real life instead of manufactured scenarios and pre-planning. They are already up to challenge #49 with the first challenge being issued on September 21, 2006.

This is one show to watch to see how long it really lasts since YouTube shows no signs of slowing down.

[ORIGINALLY POSTED HERE]

Defining Your Self Image

Microsoft’s Zune player is getting all the press lately since it’s release and it just made the rounds on the Today Show. The video has a section when after Matt Lauer and Al Roker make mention of how they’re “iPod guys”, Matt asks Al about what’s on his iPod right now (keep in mind, this is supposed to be about the Zune).

Al makes a quick comment about 1) how the Zune’s store is a little more “unwieldy” than the iTunes Store 2) he’s aware of the iPod rumors regarding larger screens and then 3) replies with some kids show music that he plays “for the kids in the car” and says something to the effect of how it’s what his kids listen to. Then he said something that really caught my ear. He said, “Hey, I drive a minivan. Cool was long ago left behind for me.”

Some people will say, “Come on Matt, it’s Al Roker. What do you expect?” But I still think it’s shocking that a person who went out and bought an iPod, downloads music from the iTunes store and actually continues to use his iPod even in the car defines his level of “coolness” by the car he drives. I wonder if Apple has done any research into consumer’s self image post-iPod sale.

[ORIGINALLY POSTED HERE]

How Zune Before You Sell Yours?

With user generated content sharing all the rage, along comes Microsoft and their interpretation of “sharing” as it applies to their new “Zune” MP3 player. New York Times tech writer David Pogue took it for a spin and wrote this:

“Microsoft is leaving nothing to chance here. The Zune will be available in 30,000 stores nationwide — versus 10,000 for the iPod, Microsoft says. Zune commercials will run several times during each episode of popular TV shows, bearing the slogan “Welcome to the social.” (Either there’s a noun missing there, or they’re using “social” as a noun, as in “ice cream social.”)

The bigger problem, though, is the draconian copy protection on beamed music (though not photos). You can play a transmitted song only three times, all within three days. After that, it expires. You’re left with only a text tag that shows up on your PC so that — how convenient! — you can buy the song from Microsoft’s store.

This copy protection is as strict as a 19th-century schoolmarm. Just playing half the song (or one minute, whichever comes first) counts as one “play.” You can never resend a song to the same friend. A beamed song can’t be passed along to a third person, either.

What’s really nuts is that the restrictions even stomp on your own musical creations. Microsoft’s literature suggests that if you have a struggling rock band, you could “put your demo recordings on your Zune” and “when you’re out in public, you can send the songs to your friends.” What it doesn’t say: “And then three days later, just when buzz about your band is beginning to build, your songs disappear from everyone’s Zunes, making you look like an idiot.”

[ORIGINALLY POSTED HERE]

Homeland Security Issues on YouTube

And you thought YouTube was all about backyard wrestling moves gone wrong or poorly executed viral marketing videos:

From the Washington Post:

Michael De Kort was frustrated.

The 41-year-old Lockheed Martin engineer had complained to his bosses. He had told his story to government investigators. He had called congressmen.

But when no one seemed to be stepping up to correct what he saw as critical security flaws in a fleet of refurbished Coast Guard patrol boats, De Kort did just about the only thing left he could think of to get action: He made a video and posted it on YouTube.com.

“What I am going to tell you is going to seem preposterous,” De Kort solemnly tells viewers near the outset of the 10-minute clip. Posted three weeks ago, the video describes what De Kort says are blind spots in the ship’s security cameras, equipment that malfunctions in cold weather and other problems. “It may be very hard for you to believe that our government and the largest defense contractor in the world [are] capable of such alarming incompetence and can make ethical compromises as glaring as what I am going to describe.”

[ORIGINALLY POSTED HERE]