Monday, January 29, 2007

Growth Industry: Newspapers!


Center for Media Research - Daily Brief: "According to a special release from The media Audit, newspapers are increasing their market penetration beyond 60, 70 and even 80 percent with the help of their websites. Ten daily newspapers ave achieved a net reach of more than 80 percent. "

When I was younger I got the local paper and the Sunday New York Times and often The Wall Street Journal. Then I started to get all my news through the Internet. I had searches set up for all the topics I really cared about and I thought it was really cool that I didn't have to deal with the things I wasn't interested in.

But over time I realized that I really missed the local news. And what was worse was that the little cocoon that my customized searches wrapped me in was leading me down a road towards ignorance. There were important stories that I would miss because nothing in my direct universe intersected with them.

Now I love my local newspaper's web site. I tend to read the articles in the local section every day and glance at the national items. It acts like a very valuable focus for me and obviously many of my neighbors. After that, things change. There are so many choices for national news and it seems like all of them offer a slightly different level of functionality / slant that the focus shatters to a thousand pieces.

I don’t miss the “easy weekend morning with the NY Times” too much. Although I don’t read it that often, I love the new NYT reader. Part of the ex-eBooks team were key in building this and it is beautiful to behold. Other than not being a local newspaper for me, this is the best of all worlds. It is very beautiful and immersive to read. Plus it is smart about pre-loading content so it’s already there when I want it to be and it keeps the well rounded coverage that is so needed. I hope this Reader and other innovations they have going are enough to overcome the hurdles facing them now.

One other personal note: The Wall Street Journal is an abomination. They are one of the few sites that accept advertising and also charge an annual fee ($80.00). This is like HBO running advertisements along with their premium content. It isn’t the money, it’s the principle. It’s the time and effort and distraction level.

But I don’t know if this strategy is a brilliant abomination or a stupid abomination. (The following are really rough numbers that I could find without too much work.)

WSJ paper: ~ 2 million circulation a day
CNN TV: ~ 1 million viewers a day
MSNBC web site: ~3 million visitors a day (this is not the largest news website, but it’s the one that I helped start, so there!)

Have they seen the writing on the wall and making sure the “gettings are good”? The WSJ is losing circulation and my guess is that their base is shrinking and will shrink dramatically over time as the paper generation dies off. Besides this, they are as susceptible to negative fashion trends as MySpace.

This is a great scene from the British TV Show “Yes, Minister”. It shows two very distinguished older gentlemen at what is obviously a very exclusive club.

Sir Humphrey: "Didn't you read the Financial Times this morning?"
Sir Desmond Glazebrook: "Never do."
Sir Humphrey: "Well you're a banker, surely you read the Financial Times?"
Sir Desmond: "Can't understand it. Full of economic theory."
Sir Humphrey: "Why do you buy it?"
Sir Desmond: "Oh, you know, it's part of the uniform."

Yes, Minister.
Series 2
Episode 6
The Quality of Life
First Aired: 3/30/81

I’ve heard so many things about how newspapers are struggling. The New York Times’ troubles are making the national headlines almost every day. There are those who say that newspapers are dead and I’m very happy that the above research proves them half-way wrong. I think that the old time delivery methods are going and the old time business models are gone. But the local news sites are going to become increasingly popular and local newspapers have a huge start on building their infrastructure, staff, resources, audience and branding. The business model for web sites is very different than the 200 year old newspaper model, but that doesn’t make it any less profitable.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Managing a Test Manager or Seeing the Big Picture

I was waxing nostalgic about my old career as a test manager and found a blog entry that was the same rant that I used to rant about all the time:

I wrote comment on the blog, and although it’s written to other testers, I think its biggest value could be to those people that have to manage test managers.

When I was a test manager, almost without exception, I was managed by people who had no clue about a) the purpose of test b) what test managers and test teams could do for them and c) when or why test needed any of their time, except for ship weeks. I had to teach my bosses the answer to all three of those things, but it was often hard because they thought they had the answers.

One of the lessons I learned as a test manager combined with those I learned running my own business can be summed up as this: Achieving the big picture is more important than getting people to tell you about it. Yes, managers have to know the progress towards a goal, but there is a right way and a wrong way to achieve that. I think every manager needs to be reminded occasionally that the purpose of employees is not to make their job easier. And sometimes, like with a test team, it isn’t as straight forward as it seems. Understanding the underlying strategic purpose of each person or group’s job is really the key to success.


Ok, back to the post, "Why counting is a bad idea", basically says that anybody who thinks that they are getting good information when test is forced to produce reports that say things like: “Number of Test cases prepared: 1230, Number of Test cases Executed: 345, Number of Test cases Failed : 50” is wrong.

As an ex-test manager I disagree that numbers are bad, they are vital, but probably not why you think.

The purpose of testing is not to find a large number of bugs. I remember a project where I had two very different developers. Developer 1 was a little sloppy and did mostly UI type programming and his weekly large check-in was worth an easy 20 bugs. Developer 2, who was a god, did the deep architectural stuff and did a check in perhaps every month. We were lucky if we got one bug off of his code with a solid week of testing. Typically all the bugs from the testers of these developers were high risk bugs, but 80 bugs to 1 bug was no way to judge the productivity of the testers or the stability of the product.

Testing’s job is not about quality assurance, either. Everybody on the entire product team must own quality. If anything close to a “They will find this in test” attitude grows in your development team, that product is doomed to be low quality. This product will never feel right, it will never be smooth. No matter how much time and effort the test team puts on it. The old joke between Microsoft Test Managers was “I own quality for the length of time it takes my boss to walk to my office.”

So, if the purpose of the test team isn’t to find a large number of bugs (even high risk bugs) and it’s not to assure quality, what is it that they are asking us to do?

The purpose of the test team is to accurately communicate the status of the product.

The amount of testing applied and the number of bug reported are the best way to know the current status. But only when the status is communicated in context of the entire environment, which includes people, bugs and coverage, project goals and schedule. Those that try to simplify something thing this big and complex in to “500 cases run and 4 bugs” is very likely to have a huge surprise waiting for them at ship time.

Or to put it another way: A spec isn’t done when it hits 100 pages, why is it logical to think test is done at 100 test cases?

In the above example, I, the test manager, knowing what I know about the changes the developers are making and seeing the number, location and types of bugs, and by talking to the whole product team (especially testers), could make a very good educated guess as to accurate product status.

I could say something like, on a scale of one to ten, we are a three. Last week we were a two. But there is a lot of new code coming in, so I suspect next week we will be a two again. But after that, we are doing a stability drive towards beta, and if things go as planned, and we are mostly on track for it; right now I have a confidence level of nine. These are the numbers they really want, but don’t know how to ask for. This kind of roll-up needs to be done for all the different product areas, too.

If you do not give the rest of the product team that kind of black and white numerical status roll-up, they will find some horrid way to squeeze one out of you, and they generally go to test cases or worse.

One exception to numbers that I have seen work is pictures. I’ve known of some product unit mangers that were most happy with something as simple as a picture of a stop light. Green – Things were humming along as planned, Yellow – there were some storm clouds gathering that should be addressed now and Red – the product was blocked or there was some other huge catastrophe. It sounds simple, but it generally takes the test manager quite a few hours to accurately color.

The management team just wants some simple way to accurately know the status of the project. It’s not their desire for numbers that is wrong. In a void of anything else, they ask for what they think they want. It works out much better if the test team can supply them with the status numbers they really need before they think to ask for those other abominations.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Moments of Transition

"The future is all around us, waiting, in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain." Babylon 5.

The companies that produce computer software products are in a moment of transition. I’m not talking about the big products like Windows and Office and Photoshop, they are now a different thing. I’m talking about the newer stuff. The unnamed stuff. Although there is an incredible amount of activity all around us, we are all waiting for real answers. We are in a moment of transition.

I was always taught that just about any problem can be broken down into Who, What, When, Where, Why and sometimes How. But we are in such a great moment of transition right now; most of those questions do not matter any longer.

Easy ones first

When is now, it’s always now on the web.

Where doesn’t really matter. I need a link. It can be to anyplace.

What has consumed both How and Why

It used to be that if IBM made one product you liked, odds were that you would like their other products. But perhaps more importantly all IBM products would work together. And you could stand around at cocktail parties and say “I use IBM” and everybody around you would go “Oh, yes, quite right.”

But, the pace of innovation (technical & societal) has increased so quickly that companies are scrambling to get any kind of offering out there. The best of breed product might be from one of the big guys or by two college students working out of their dorm room. And that could change tomorrow. The big guys used to have the distribution channel to protect their markets, but those days are gone. Now chatting on MySpace about a particular product you use would probably bring as many comments of “That one Rocks” as “That one Sucks”.

Why do you produce this product? So many business models are in the air and a thousand other things are shaking out. Profit motive is always good and eventually necessary, but it’s not a good enough reason to dive into a moment of transition. There is one thing that still counts. Why do you produce your product? Passion. Customers will not accept a different answer. They need to feel like you are worth the time and effort they’ll take to deal with your product. That you are going to stick in there with them. That next week’s version will be better than this week’s had been. That you won’t turn tail but instead your company is going to stay on top of this moment of transition until it’s time to take a deep breath.

There are not a lot of variables over How to build it. Hire excellent people and treat them really well. Do lots of quick product cycles. Stay in an almost a perpetual beta. Take in as much end user feedback and content as is possible. Write to open standards where available and open your own standards to the public when you have to invent new ones.

And How to market is simplified. Your message is the message detailed by the What section. It is to use Web Pages, Blogs, Communities, Email, Web Casts, etc. that all talk about What your company is producing and, oh yes, how passionate about it everybody is. You can’t even dig down into features and cost benefit analyst because all that could change tomorrow.

So, right now, it all comes back to What. Anytime the only question that makes sense is “What the heck are we doing?” it is a sure sign we are in a moment of transition.

I’m not saying that things are easy or even as black and white as I’ve portrayed them above. And doing the exact opposite of everybody else but being really clever about it can work every time, too. No, the thing to take away from this is where to put your resources. During a moment of transition, transition the company. This is the time to try as many new and unique things as possible. Really let your employees soar and step out of anything that might be considered traditional for your company or market.

The moment of revelation is coming soon. This is the time when people are no longer interested in becoming something new, but instead want to figure out who they are. We will all want to simplify our lives, pick what really works and jettison the rest. Of the hundreds of things that were tried during the transition, a very few of them will become part of us, part of our future. When that moment of revelation comes; Nuance matters, Polish matters, Quality matters.

This moment is also a moment with great potential, and you will know when it is back because the five W’s will be back.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

eBooks and pBooks

Yesterday I said "For example, I read all the time, but only some of that is done in pBooks or eBooks."

And it was pointed out to me that pBooks is a rather obscure term.

Here is the definition:


Semi-portable macroscopic devices into which information and stories were typically inscribed by means of inks printed into "paper". Primarily made from trees and various plants and fibers, and commonly found glossed and polished on the outside or wrapped in cowhides.

P-books were considerably weighty depending on the amount of information stored inside them, and despite their size USUALLY CONTAINED ONLY ONE TITLE!!

Full sets of Encyclopedia inscribed in p-book format often WEIGHED MORE THAN A HUMAN BEING!!

"Libraries" of the time were ENTIRE BUILDINGS DEVOTED TO LESS THAN ONE EXABYTE of information!!!

You will never know the joys of owning over a thousand p-books until you move them down six flights of stairs and back up three more. Makes you wonder how people lived through their University days back then without constant chiropractic care..

Monday, January 22, 2007

Google plots e-books coup

Google plots e-books coup - Sunday Times - Times Online

Every seven years somebody resurrects the idea of eBooks. I was on the Microsoft Reader 1.0 team in 2000. They were some of the best days of my life. We had a saying: Every seven years the eBook comet comes back through earth’s solar system. We thought that we were the generation that was going to make the comet impact on earth, but we only got it to graze the planet. Now it looks like Google is going to take up the current rotation. I wish them a better ride than we had and thought I would share some of the lessons I learned.

Do NOT talk to the Publishers.

As a rule these guys are greedy and clueless. Just look at what the record producers are doing for media players and you get a sense of what these guys can do to eBooks. There are exceptions, but I still wouldn’t get into bed with them. These guys sucked 30 to 60% of the eBooks business development and marketing efforts away and we had very, very little to show for it. What little we did get wasn’t enough in the end. The book industry has been struggling for 30 years. Things are so confused that many authors are not sure who, if anybody, has the rights to publish their books in an electric format. Their book may not even exist any longer in electronic format. Anything easy you ask the publishers to do for you will be almost impossible for them. They can sure talk a good talk though. They had our guys going the whole time. Every time your business development person falls into the trap of thinking that all will be well if we get the publishers in our playground, slap him/her very hard.

Oh, and approaching authors directly was a lot of fun but ultimately just as frustrating.

Figure out a way to do both paper and screen layout.

Adobe Reader is all about paper page layout. If an author says that word “x” is the last word on page 1, then word “x” will always be the last word on page 1. It doesn’t matter if the document is being viewed on a 21 inch flat screen or a cell phone. This is necessary for business documents where you want to be able to say something like “Turn to page 24 of your document” and have it be meaningful.

Microsoft Reader went the opposite direction; we were all about the screen. We invented ClearType and gave it to the operating systems. A LIT file will always format itself as best as it can for the screen it’s being displayed upon. There isn’t even a concept of real paper. If you wanted to print out a passage from a book you need to copy and paste it into a different program. But the readably inside the Reader is to die for. No matter what your screen size, you can almost smell the scent of fine heavily clayed paper.

Both of these programs are correct. As an author sometimes I will want one and sometimes the other. Sometimes a document will only work one way and sometimes the mode I need is situational. I need the reader to do the right thing on every platform and screen size or give me an easy way to control this as an author.

Microsoft = readability and immersion. Adobe = business and collaboration. Put both of these together and the world will beat a path to your doorstep.

It *so* isn’t about DRM.

About 30% of the Microsoft Reader’s product team’s efforts went into DRM and it was a pretty big failure. Yes, some sites still use it, although it has been hacked a few times. Mostly you hear users that have over $100.00 worth of eBooks who can’t read their books any longer clamoring for Congress to do something. So to sum it up, Microsoft Reader DRM really made people angry and it didn’t work.

The thing that is saving the record industry is new artists and people ripping their old CD’s. The new artist angle can work for eBooks but not the CD ripping. So if your efforts to get current content will be mostly fruitless that leaves new content. That’s OK, there is a boom going on in the self publishing industry and it’s only going to get better. Everybody who has kept a blog for any length of time could easily create a book and already has an audience.

To avoid DRM, but to keep it simple, you have two kinds of eBooks; those with advertising and those without. Just like the Google Blogger model, it is up to the author which path they would like to go down. This way if somebody posts the eBook, that’s great! They email it to their friends, great! There is no genie to keep in the bottle because there isn’t a bottle.

I would also add the sub-case where a book can be sponsored, but that could probably wait for the second version. It would be nice if the advertising payback could be enough that best selling authors will still be able to make about the same amount of money or more. It would be nice if the authors could have some say over what ads go into their book. It would be nice if the author could choose to include more or less ads to change their monetary rates. It would be nice to do a bunch of other things, but all of them pale in comparison to the effort it takes to do a small DRM system.

Other Random Notes:

Don’t count Microsoft out. The number of LIT files that are sold each quarter steadily grows. It is sites like this and this and Powells that keep the train chugging along. Yes, the Reader program itself is getting a little long in the tooth, but the new stuff in Word is very cool. But the real core, the people that made up the heart and soul of the Reader team, still work together. They could suit up and be taking prisoners very quickly if Microsoft decides to really go down this road again.

I would try to keep eBooks as just one of my design criteria. For example, I read all the time, but only some of that is done in pBooks or eBooks. It would be nice if my RSS feeds were on my device every morning and I could go through during lunch them in a pretty way. Or perhaps any RSS post that was over 3000 characters would automatically switch to an easier to process format. A lot of people on the Reader team would create photo albums in LIT format because they were so beautiful on every device and also had the killer compression.

Be the king of the study guide. Everybody uses their computers to do research. I want to be able to bookmark content in blogs and web pages, office documents and PDFs, etc. I want to be able to do it by keyword. So if I’m writing an essay on something, I can bookmark anything that looks interesting and it all comes together in a Google eBook for me to study.

Join me and worship at the feet of Bill Hill and OSPREY. Not all the time, but whenever possible.
Empower anybody to create a document for your reader. Try to stay as far away as you can from creating authoring tools. I would look seriously into using Word’s new .DocX XML format as my native format. (It is now an open standard approved by ECMA and free to use.) It would rock if you could read PDF and LIT files.

Ok, this one is really cynical, but by law publishers need to offer handicapped people a reasonable product experience. Publishers may be more inclined to offer their books in your format if your reader is the absolute best for disabled people. I would also make sure the non-profits that might pursue this are well funded.

Give money to the University of Virginia Library. They rocked and Microsoft kind of left them high and dry when the Reader team was reorganized.

NIST used to be really into eBooks and were doing a great job driving reasonable standards but I don’t see anything current on their web site.

Automatically create the infrastructure so that every eBook has its own web community (social) on your servers. Capture the author's contact information and keywords and a summary, and of course an advertisement. Allow the author to customize these sites and sign up for a cut of the advertising revenue. Yes, 98% of these communities will languish, but they are still helpful just in their uniformity. The ones that take off will more than make up for any costs here. (Imagine if you got a penny for every web page ever written…)

Do *not* piss off librarians. They are very nice people and very, very smart. As much as the publisher’s don’t get it, librarians do. Also, nothing will happen in this space without them. Win them to your side early and court them constantly.

Expect some pretty bruised feelings from customers, vendors, ISVs, publishers and authors. We (the Microsoft Reader team) were so sure that this time was the time and it ended up we were wrong, the comet needs to make another pass. I wish Google the best.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Open souce OS - You get what you pay for.

The “My father has a barn, let’s all put on a play!!!” of software operating systems. Or one of the places where the t-shirts have it wrong.

Open Source: This is a term that most people are familiar with, but it's worth re-stating. The open source revolution, where information is freely distributed and editable, is already reshaping a number of industries and upsetting traditional economic and intellectual property models. Wikipedia has very quickly become the world's largest repository of encyclopedic information. Linux and other open source software continue to rival the big players. And looking further down the line, there's the potential for open source science, culture, and the disturbing potential for open
source warfare
. --

I hate how these religious zealots steal the meaning whenever anybody does anything nice. They claim that Ben Franklin was all about Open Source. Just because people want to give something back to the community doesn’t mean they want to give it all. Read Franklin’s autobiography, he was very clever in how he went about making his fortune and doing good things for society at the same time, not in exclusion to each other.

And I absolutely love the “open source software continue to rival the big players.” They can never give me one example. Netscape was a huge before it was Open Source, but now it has a less that 1% market share. If Linux was going to take off it would have already. Linux market share is 0.37%. Yes, that’s right. The software that is “rivaling” the big players has less than a 1% market share after over 15 years of trying. Linux first came out about the same time as Windows 3.1 did. (Market Share Source =

Yes, free is a great thing to college students. It’s very cool to hate Microsoft. Apple computers haven’t been that wonderful lately (4.15% market share). And it makes a person feel so empowered to be writing chunks of operating systems before they’ve graduated from college. Our rebellious lost boys need a wonderland; they need to find Open Source Land where everything is free (especially food and rent) and everybody always does good things for each other and all the problems are equally hard and fun to work on and candy grows on trees.

I know people that worry about this while working at Microsoft. They think that Microsoft’s short term prospects are dim because of open source. And it does seem like the one thing that all the open source people all have in common is a deep dislike of Microsoft. I commiserate. It must really hurt to want to be an operating system programmer more than anything else in your life and the only company that really does it won’t hire you. And it has to be awful to be a competitor to Microsoft, especially if your company needs an operating system. Microsoft was pretty much the only game in town until modern Linux. Actually Microsoft still is the only game in town, but you can make up for spurning them by using Linux with zero cost of goods and some PR.

Doing it for free is just a huge chunk of the problem. Yes, it’s nice to give something back, and there are ways that are 95 times (i.e. Windows market share) more effective. They can make the world better and give something back in Windows world, but it just isn’t considered cool enough. How Junior High does that sound?

But did they ever stop and think about who does get paid at a Linux company? The janitor sure does. None of them would volunteer their time and effort cleaning up because of the glory of open source. The guys that market Linux get paid extremely well. We are talking "high end BMWs" well. They are saving companies like IBM millions of dollars. Managers? Yes, paid very well again. Product Support Phone Answerers? Yes, they get paid pretty well. Program Managers? Not needed, any attempt at managing this program would be ignored. Testers? Not needed, there really isn’t such a thing as formal testing going on (and IMHO, this is part of the reason that the market share is stuck under 1%.) Developers? Not paid. Nothing. They are being used to do almost 100% of the real work and I do not understand why people this smart haven’t figured that they're the only ones not getting paid.

To me, real tragedy is that we live in a time in history where t-shirts are probably the most powerful people and they can effect change on a global level with very little effort. There is a window now that is unprecedented and nobody knows how long it will last. A program they write today could be run by a million Chinese people tomorrow. The Chinese government is already taking steps to protect their populace from us. It's pretty cool to be feared by the largest country on earth.

T-shirts are also some of the most idealistic people on earth, espcially the ones I know that are into open source. Most of them really strive to use their powers for good. But because of the open source movement this opportunity is drained away to things that do not count for much. Some of the smartest people in my generation’s life work are only seen by a fraction of people because it's cool to hate Microsoft. Some of the neediest causes will not get donations because the people that would give to them have put their best efforts in to endeavors where they don’t get paid. And rather than doing something about that Chinese thing, they are worrying about which of 8 different desktop mangers is the best this week.

Rather than empowering the world, open source drains it.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

MySpace is dead.

Ok, it's not dead yet. It's feeling particularly well, but it is doomed.

It won't go away 100% but it will go away 80%. Why?

1. AOL.

AOL flourished and expanded and was considered "the" place while the whole of the Internet existed. I remember the day AOL turned on their portal to Usenet (primitive discussion boards where practically the whole Internet population gathered to talk). It was a scary thing because suddenly all these AOL people started talking about how unsafe things were and the first spam started and all the old Internet people just shuddered.

After the first wave, most of the AOL people never ventured out of the safe AOL boards for a decade. They were afraid of the vastness and chaos of the Internet and so they crawled back into their little fish bowl. It was a no brainer for most AOL members. They got a CD in the mail and stuck it into their computer and found a board or two that they liked and they were happy.
They turned into vocal ambassadors for AOL. Loudly proclaiming that it was THE place to be. I was even belittled by an AOL member because I couldn't read the same board that she did. When I replied that I didn't want to pay the monthly fee, she told me that I could never be anybody unless I joined AOL.

But over time the AOL members got used to ocean that is the Internet. They explored. They found the rules and limitations of AOL were too limiting and that there were other people that they wanted to interact with that weren't on AOL and so they moved out of the fish bowl.
It's now about 10 years since their heyday and AOL has all but disappeared. They don't have members any more, anybody can see their boards. They are still a reasonable conglomerate of content, but nothing that you can't get elsewhere with more value.

MySpace is a fish bowl. It's a beachhead where teens can own their first Internet property and not have to think about the vastness of the Internet ocean. It has the functionality they need to feel cozy, just like AOL had the easiest user interface. (Although I must say that the MySpace user interface sucks.) But time, functionality and the Internet march on. And every generation gets more comfortable with the Internet out of the womb.

2. Cliques

Teenagers do not exist in the same space without somebody getting hurt. Although I doubt I'm talking Columbine hurt, I do think that the virtual equivalent will probably happen if it hasn't already. Security on MySpace isn't great and once you log in as the person you are angry at, a host of evil possibilities are easily in your reach.

Although this will hurt MySpace, it's not really the thing that's going to kill them.
If you look in the cafeteria of any high school or junior high, you will notice that the kids sit in cliques. Freaks hate the Jocks. Computer Geek's hate the Student Government types, etc., etc., etc. The Cheerleaders are not going to co-exist in close approximation to the Stoners any longer than is necessary. They would like to exist in an exalted and exclusive board with lots of pink and other Cheerleaders. This way they can plot how to be extra mean to all the people around them. (Can you tell I wasn't a cheerleader?)

This is a small twist on the LongTail "don't be a Big Fish" thing and "Small is the new big."

3. That is *so* 2006!

If the right teen idol declares that MySpace isn't cool they could lose 50% of their traffic overnight.

When the next mini-generation notices that all the un-cool older people are on MySpace, they will find a new place (or many new places) to swarm to.

4. Time

As the number of social networks that people belong to grows, the time it takes to service each network becomes more irksome. The number of blog hits is contracting right now rather than growing because they all just became too much for people to keep up with.

As MySpace becomes less valuable to their users the cost of time to maintain my profile/email/blog, etc become a drag.

(This point could also have been made in the AOL section)

5. When I became I man I put away childhood things

People grow up, move on and leave childhood behind them. None of my high school friends (4-Eva) kept in touch, even though we all were home for the holidays. We had moved on.
None of my college friends keep in touch, same reason. Same with single friends, same with friends before we moved across country, etc.

My brother keeps in touch with his high school friends and even gets together with them once a year, but they organize it through email. They wouldn't put up with the advertisements, spam and other crap that is MySpace.

So MySpace is doomed and there is nothing they can do about it. Changing their interface isn't going to stop the march of time. Creating Clique Groups isn't going to change the fickle fashion sense of teenagers and teenage idols. Streamlining everything to reduce their drag is going to kill their bottom line and not broker peace between the freaks and the jocks.

The bottom line is that in the long run, you can not successfully create a fish bowl for humans.

Which Google Bubble is bursting?

Some sites are running lotteries for when the Google bubble will burst, but I don’t think it’s that simple.

I think that people mean very different things when they refer to the bubble.

1) That Google's value is not in relation to their stock price.
2) That Google will be replaced
3) That Google will reach the limit of the advertising revenue
4) That Google will blow it.

And now in detail:

1. Dot Com is back, baby!

The tone that many investors and analysts take about Google is very similar to what I used to hear back in the dot com days. Back then there were so many idiots with stars in their eyes that any kind of common sense was in very short supply.

People would run up your stock no matter what the P/E ratio was. Financial reason took a far back seat to dreams of striking it rich. Rich, I say! The value of Google’s stock price is no longer hitched up to the value of Google the company.

But, this doesn’t mean the Google isn’t a good investment. Individual stock buyers may run up the price to twice the current level. Or one day it may crash back to the levels supported by their current business value. This is what some people refer to as the bursting of the Google bubble.

But when this bubble bursts Google’s value will not have really changed at all. Their business and web properties will be the same. Unless they have been very smart, their war chest will be a lot smaller. And they will have a much harder time getting as much good PR and recruiting great employees and rewarding their current ones.

2. Two Slovakian teenagers.

At the very heart of Google's success is the algorithm they use for indexing sites to search. So it just takes one guy to figure out a better way to do 2 + 2 = 4 and things could start to change. And the question here is not really IF such a thing could happen, it’s WHEN it will happen.

Google came out of nowhere. When they showed up they did nothing that was shockingly new. Google's huge key to success was that the results that it returned were a lot better than anybody else’s. The other search engines have caught up a little, but they do not offer enough value over Google for users to leave the tribe. (I guess that would be “The ‘the Google’” tribe)

Google has lots of other properties that are valuable, but none of them are lacking competition. And none of them are that much better. If Google were a luxury brand like Porsche or Apple, there would be more breathing room, but they have marketed themselves as a utility.

Still, Google is a very smart company. They could buy off the teenagers. They could change their brand identity. They could do a lot of things to hold off the wolves for a while, but it’s very, very rare that a utility product holds on to this much market share for long if consumers can easily attain greater value by switching.

Google could be replaced and this would sound more like a bubble deflating rather than bursting.

3. They hit the limit of their advertising revenue. As if!

Lots of people think that there is a limit to the amount of advertising dollars that Google can reach. They say things like “The whole market is 50 billion and Google gets 40% of that now, so they can only get 60% more and not every advertising dollar is going to go to Google.” or something like that. No Way. They are not seeing the big picture. Nobody knows the limits to this brave new world of advertising!

If you bring up Google Maps and type in “New York, NY” or “Seattle, WA” and then zoom in you can now see the brave new world of one kind of Google advertising site. This is the one place on the planet where you should list your business (Well, this and, which is actually better.) This is the Yellow Pages marketing model on steroids. Imagine their revenue if they got a dime for every business on the planet every year?

And that’s just their maps business. Nope, there is no real limit. No bubble bursting from this point.

4, The one in which Google the company blows it.

I saw this happen at Microsoft. (Not that Microsoft has blown it in every single market niche they compete in. And I would certainly NEVER count them out. And I still have a certain amount of fondess for the old blibbet.) The company's stocks go up beyond all expectations, their technology is the best in the world and the money really starts flowing in and around. Then the early people get rich and leave (30% of them are already gone from Google). The next wave of people do not get it as much. The Competition gets close and even passes the company’s current offering. The next hot software slips a little so income that was forecasted shows up late. And everything starts changing very slowly.

I see in Google the thing that IMHO really burst Microsoft's bubble. The core business of a software company has to be about producing killer software. Instead it slowly becomes about making business deals, partnerships and acquisitions. The best software comes from a compromise between the two (but that's a different post). Microsoft keeps telling its self that it's about software development, but the product teams are not the people they listen to. Microsoft's VP's and the guys who report to the VP's are so inbred that they no longer have eyes to see.

Once a company starts really rewarding and trusting the average deal maker over the t-shirts their bubble is going to burst. Notice the Google hasn’t done very much with Google Earth since they purchased them. Google Earth was the most exciting map product but now Microsoft’s has leapfrogged them. Google tried to purchase all the advantages and hasn’t been able to do a darn thing with them.

I don’t think that too many people think of this when the say they Google bubble will burst, but to me this is the real one. This is the one that will make the world a little worse than it used to be.

Repost: Apollo 13 & Space Colonization

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Mike and I watched Apollo 13 on TV last night. The main plot is gripping and they didn't even go into 1/10th of the crises that had to be solved to keep these guys alive. For example, the computer in the landing module didn't know about stellar navigation. It only knew about landing on the moon. So it wasn't the easy transfer that they showed in the movie. They had to do the equivalent of programming one of today's digital cameras to get them home.

What really hit me watching it through this time is just how badly NASA blew it. In the 16th century, explorers who came to the new world journeyed longer, had a higher percentage of deaths and had a more unpredictable environment (i.e. native people, bears, ...) than will ever be on the moon. Oh, and a trip to the moon costs less.

There are plenty of people that would colonize the moon given a chance. If we could get a craft to the moon and back seven years after being asked what we could do for our country, then we can certainly get a thriving moon colony is less time.

I guess nobody could really articulate WHY we should do this. For the new world, it was really furs that made it economically feasible. For space we have minerals and perfect ball bearings. Actually, these are better than furs.

So if there is a profit motive, why did it take business so long to reach for the stars? I think some of that is because NASA so "owned" going to space. That space belonged to the US after we won the space race. It wasn't until lots of other countries got there that it began to dawn on people that anybody could go! If one of NASA's missions had been to empower business then we would live in a very different world, and I'm not just talking about Tang.

Repost: How to be Remarkable -- What Crap!!!

Monday, January 08, 2007

This is such crap, and the tragedy is that some people take it to heart: This is one of the top 20 (or so) blogs in the world.

Seth's Blog: How to be remarkable

some quotes:

"Am I going to make a remark about it? If not, then you're average, and average is for losers"

"So what? Most people are ostriches, heads in the sand, unable to help you anyway...."

"But who loses their jobs at the mass layoffs? Who has trouble finding a new gig? Not the remarkable minority, that's for sure."

I can not express what bullshit this is.

I think he should re-title the article "How to be an Ass." I don't know anybody who ever did even 3 out of the 10 items that was not called an ass behind their back.

So I should measure my life / worth on the quality of the gossip that surrounds me? That anybody who thinks that the people around them are ostriches/losers is ever going to be remarkable in a positive way? That talented / remarkable people don't lose their jobs, get bad bosses, get screwed by the luck of the draw? That the millions of people that prefer the more quiet path are all losers?

If you look at the comments there are lots of bloggers tracking back and quoting with positive glee and taking these lessons to heart.

Well, here is my list:

How to be Remarkable.

1) You are. Just try to get people to shut up about anything.

If you want to be remarkable in a positive way, then try live up to your potential.

If you are not sure what that is, then it's probably wise to go to to take the VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire, something that can always make a person feel good about themself.

Repost: Internet TV is Now

Fundamentally it's the wrong question.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Streaming Online Content to TV Has Some Worried

New products from Sony, Microsoft, and Slingbox that allow consumers to
stream content from their PCs - such as YouTube videos - onto their televisions
were among the myriad devices shown off at CES this year. And they might
yet challenge traditional media distribution channels and strategies, such as
cable TV's video on demand services, writes Reuters.

However, consumers are currently unwilling to pay more for a device
that lets them view PC content on TV screens, according to a poll of 5,000 U.S.
homes by Forrester Research. Moreover, the bandwidth constraints of current
broadband services essentially rule out downloading or streaming of
high-definition programs.

Moreover, DirecTV, a rival to cable, is already in talks with YouTube
and MySpace to let viewers watch content directly on TV - without needing to use
the new devices.

It's not a question about WHO or HOW content gets delivered, it's all about being entertained versus being bored.

It's the networks that have created the universally understood whine "There's nothing on TV!" All DirecTV did was change the wording to "There are 1000 channels and there still isn't anything on TV!" This tells me that these two entities are not meeting the needs of their consumers and are going to be knocked out of the market the second something changes unless they are very, very smart or very, very lucky.

Right now there are only a few people that would pay extra for the content that's available on the Internet; not because they want it coming from one the current TV services, but because the quality of the content stinks. And I seriously doubt that even 2% of the videos on MySpace will ever be compelling. And I believe the jury is still out on YouTube's being the "go to" place in the future. (But that's another post.)

Generation Content (and the geeks that mostly stay on the edge) don't give a damn about the issues raised in the above article . They care about being entertained and they have all the tools in the world to find what they want. And I mean "they" the individual, not "they" the generation. This is a huge new concept that is not familiar to the today's TV services.

This blog (along with every other blog on the planet) is the equivalent of a TV Channel. I organize videos I like and people who trust my tastes may watch them. It's not a question of how these videos get delivered. I could easily say "Watch House on TV tonight", but ultimately it's much more convenient if I post an link with the channel and schedule information.

Some people get paid to do this (TV networks and Big Name Bloggers). I don't and I don't even mind. It's not why I do it. So, the question really is, do consumers need formal channels (blog or TV)? Not really. They know how to use Google. But maybe if the channel brings enough individual value to the relationship there's still a place for it. This is something TV networks have been struggling with since cable.

When I knew that Bill Gates was giving his keynote at CES I was a bit surprised that I couldn't tune in and watch it on my TV. I could get it on my computer. Same with Steve Jobs and the Apple iPhone announcement. And if Gene Roddenberry was alive, do you really think that he would put up with all the stuff the network put him through when he knew he could easily release his videos directly on the Internet? This would give him a great revenue stream, with no censorship, full creative control and no middle man. There are millions and millions of content streams and no TV network or distribution medium is going to be nimble and smart and fast enough to catch all but a very small percentage of them.

Another point that is missed is that most homes already have dedicated Media Center PC's. "Whaa??" You say. In the next year or just about everybody will be buying a new PC to run Vista. What are they do with their old boxes? This may not happen next year because the content on the Internet still stinks, but once it crosses a threshold, it's going to go fast.

And I don't buy for one second the argument that connection speeds are not fast enough. Hello!! We used to sit through 12 minutes of commercials for every 30 minutes of TV shows. I guess people without digital recorders still do. I almost never watch "live" TV any longer. What makes anybody think that I suddenly would if the content was coming into my house from a different plug? There is an hour long delay when recording an hour long show and it doesn't stop anybody from loving their digital recorder. Still, I think watching live TV is the corner case.

The most common case is that people will RSS (subscribe) to content conglomerates (Web Pages / Blogs, Celebrities, Producers, etc) that they like and as new shows become available consumers will have the content automatically downloaded to their digital recorder (computer). They will watch what sounds good to them and delete the rest. Every Media Center PC will have it's own TV schedule. To compete in the future, TV cannot be a question of watching what is on, or worrying about who it comes from, but purely the individual quest to be entertained with as few hassles / hurdles/ interruptions as possible.

Update: One last note. The creation of information has always moved from the hands of the very few (i.e. Monks writing books for Kings) to the masses. It's an unstoppable force that shows up with every new form of ordering information. Along with this are the people who say it will never happen! It kind of makes one feel all warm and fuzzy that things are so predictable!

Repost: A gold toothed howling wolf or why conglomeration sites are not all bad.

Monday, January 15, 2007
I wanted to clarify something that was mistakenly implied in my TV post.

Conglomeration and Aggregation sites are not bad. They can really help you find something that you wouldn't have found on your own. They will be around for ever. And sometimes society will be very "into" them (like we are right now with mySpace and YouTube). And sometimes society won't be very interested (like the fact that we are not embracing newspapers/news sites right now, or how about the fact that even AOL isn't exclusive any longer.) Some times they will be done very badly (iTunes, but that's a different post) and sometimes, sometimes they will be spectacular:

Yes, that is a wolf's head with a gold tooth. And the wolf is howling. And from what I can tell (especially going by the price) it is very well done.

There would be a very small number of people on my gift lists for which I would consider a gold toothed wolf's head. But I'm sure for some people that list would be very long indeed. Finding the stores that services these people by searching on Google is almost impossible. How can you search for something you can't really name? Right now, try to think of a way to find something like this without using the words "gold toothed wolf's head."

Enter: . They are a virtual mall. They sell the gold toothed wolf's head. They also sell high end clothes/shoes/etc. for the sort of people that would like the gold toothed wolf's head.

You click around a "real" looking mall to visit the different retailers who have joined into this conglomeration. Oh, they have done a few improvements over the information board found in any mall, but not a lot. The success of their site is based upon their knowledge of the people that would like a gold toothed wolf's head and servicing them with the right products (other than more wolf's heads, because realistically, how many of those does any girl need?? Price would normally play a role in this equation also, but I'm not sure that the gold toothed wolf's head crowd is too big on price pressure.)

In 5 years, can you imagine Refinery 29 adding a theater? They could bring together the right kind of content for their wolf's head clients. Maybe it's just a video that plays around the clock that will turn wall TV's into art. I'm sure they could generate 20 ideas on what kind of video content their clients would pay for.

So in 5 years some of the big guys will probably be almost gone. Most content business do not understand how they really bring value to the end users. Many of them have never actually had to bring value because their business was about distribution, so producers and customers have had little choice (TV Channels). Something that happened with the PC industry was that "men in suits" didn't believe the "kids in t-shirts" could pull it off. This is exactly where we are with content. The "men in suits" are standing around buying into the "bigger is better" motto, while the artists and viewers are dreaming about real entertainment.

Yes, there are worlds to change, profits to reap and exciting new business opportunities on both sides of this conundrum, but the press releases where I see the largest mistakes being made are the ones that read something like "Conglomerations rock 4-eva".

repost - Note to NBCU - How to use Social Networks

January 17, 2007

After I shreaded NBCU's press release, I've been asked what NBCU should do about social networking.

First I would spend a lot more than an hour or two thinking about it and I would make decisions based on research and not my gut. Also, I'm not assuming that NBCU should do anything about social networks. I think an overall NBC site would be almost worthless (but that's another post).

One "given" is that there will always be numerous communities that exist for every TV show. The least popular shows probably have a few thousand. There is no way to create a community that is so good that these other communities won’t exist.

And even trying is a mistake. Each of these communities represent approximately a few hundred people that love the show (or tens of thousands). These are your evangelists not your competition. It's never a good idea to squash your fans. The fact that there is a vibrant community on MySpace is awesome news. All the Network needs to do is augment these communities.

They should find every The Office community and figure out ways to make those communities better. They should give awards to the best The Office community. They should budget some of their stars' time to do chats on these sites. The more they make these sites successful, the harder these armies of evangelists are going to work to make The Office a success. Holding contests is great, but communities win, not individuals. You can still be the host of content (as opposed to YouTube), but you are not the "go to" place. Create the content so that 24 sites can do things like have scavenger hunts around the net for some mocked up terrorist pages. Touched by an Angel communities could have charity drives and good works goals.

I would have a team of people whose job would be making these communities a little better every day. Their jobs would range from programming a custom widget for a particular community to helping another community tune their Google search information. The average team should breakdown something like this:

• 1 Manager
• 1 Marketer (not a publicist, that’s done elsewhere)
• 1 PR person
• 3 Program Managers (technical project managers and marketers)
• 3 Code Programmers
• 1 Flash Developer
• 4 Testers
• 3 Editors/writers
• 3 Graphic Artists
• ----- 20 people (and some times larger depending upon the

That sounds like a lot of people. And I don't think every social site on the web needs 20 people. Sometimes a half of one person is enough. But the overall number of viewers to be serviced here is huge. One of the biggest mistakes I see companies do is to make a push into this wacky world of social networking and then leave after they have "something" built. It’s like inviting a bunch of people to a party, decorating and leaving 10 minutes after the guests arrive. The guests are all going leave after a little while because they are just too uncomfortable. They will also be a little angry for having been lied to.

Every community you build (or even a community of communities) needs nurturing. To keep people coming back it needs to be updated often with very compelling content. Somebody’s got to create that content. It’s either going to be the network or a few overworked and harried community managers that are doing this “for fun”. It takes a lot of technical people and infrastructure to create excellent online communities.

I would staff these teams with creative people that are fans of the show from around the world. They should be little islands separate from the other little islands and the network mothership. They must feel uncensored ownership and creative freedom and have the charter to do what is best for their show. Then I would sit back and watch the scores of evangelists recruit new evangelists and a groundswell of new viewers watch the show.

Now, this assumes that all of this is about getting new viewers. If NBCU is trying to build a site to drive new ad revenue that's a different story. Maybe that's possible, but it's still not the best idea and a very, very different approach is needed (but that's a different post).

repost - Trend Watching 2007

Link to January 2007 trend briefing TOP 5 CONSUMER TRENDS FOR 2007

In my cynical mind, any site called is probably going to suck. But it *doesn't*.

The above post makes my brain melt to read it, but I think they get it.

1. Status Lifestyles
But conspicuous consumption for conspicuous consumption's sake is going
out. Now it's about experiences and diversity of life. Grabbing the
gusto in new areas kind of stuff.
2. Transparency Tyranny

Every wart in society is exposed via blogs, pictures, cell phone videos,
etc. Not only should you get used to it, but you must let this guide your
every business decision.

3. Web N+1

Nobody can agree on what the next thing will be and there won't be ONE next

4. Trysumers
A little redundant with the experience seekers in #1. With so much of the
world reviewed and sanitized, why not try new things?

5. The Global Brain
Kind of like the next incarnation of Wikipedia, but on everything and harnessed
by businesses.

There is kind of a gusto attitude that sums it all up. It's like the whole '911 pull deep into our dens' is over and we are looking for light hearted adventures both on line and off.

repost - NBCU misadventures with social networks.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

I keep saying that I'm going to get away from the TV networks and post about something else. I don't even *care* that much about them, they are just fumbling things so badly that I can't keep my mouth shut.

Today MediaPost has this article "Just An Online Minute ... If you build it: NBCU and Social Sites"

“NBCU is building a core social networking platform that will provide various
tools and functionality on all our major properties to enable users to
self-express and find, interact and share with other like-minded users,”
Kanaujia wrote on his blog. “There is no reason why users should go to/create
‘The Office’ community on MySpace when NBCU has the competitive advantage and the ability to provide a differentiated experience on”

OMG!! The advantage of a differentiated experience can be leveled by one blogger linking to that content.

I posted the following comment to Media Post:

Social networking is about is people having fun hanging around with their friends and other people just like them. People go to these sites because they are entertaining and because they tie into their identity.

Yes, the networks can do some killer sites around their shows, but these sites will not be the end-all be-all last word or even necessarily the “go to” place. The reason is because there are many different types of communities, and many of their properties are mutually exclusive.
For example, there are people who insist on communities where every piece of user generated content has been guaranteed “safe” by the community manager. Other people insist on the opposite and don't want to go anywhere near what they call censorship. Think of the red state/blue state divide and then add more passion to the arguments.

Good content is not the top deliverable of a community, the actual community is. This means the people and the tone are as important as content and the networks can’t guarantee that the right people show up at the right time. Yes, they have an advantage, but not a huge one.


This doesn't even get into the feelings of identity people have with different communities and also the drive, by some communities, to actually create content. (The Starwars Wiki). Some of those fans will want to stick with the canon and others use it as a jumping off base. There is every reason in the world why there is a vibrant MySpace community around The Office and it will continue to exist no matter what NBCU does.

Why don't the suits at NBCU hire some t-shirts and listen to them?

2007 -- Out with the old and in with the new

Over the years I have created many different blogs with many different types of content all mixed together in many different blogging sites.

Many of my friends don't really care about my brilliant insights into technology, while my business associates don't really care about the orphaned deer I rescued and raised.

So this year I'm going to fix it. This blog is my business related musing.

I'm going to move some of my posts from my old blog as time permits.

Thanks for visiting!