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10 examples of fabulously flawed product-first thinking

In talking about jobs-to-be-done here, I sometimes think that all I’m doing is stating the obvious. I mean, isn’t it obvious that you’d create something that helped fulfill a need or desire? What else would you do?

But I’ve seen in my own work experience, and across a multitude of initiatives in other industries, cases where that’s not necessarily the case. Invention was the thing. I mean that in this sense:

Invention creates. Innovation changes.

Exercising creative chops was the focus, with a thought that customers would have to take up this amazing thing invented. But unfortunately, that’s not generally the case. The invention is not adopted, and thus nothing changes for the target market. Innovation does not occur. The invention either does not address a job-to-be-done or the proposed solution was nowhere near satisfying the specific outcomes of an applicable job-to-be-done.

To illuminate how this “product-first” dynamic is a pervasive dynamic, I’ve collected ten examples of it. While the plural of anecdote is not data, see if you recognize similar examples in your own experience.

1. Because Apple, Microsoft, Google did it!

Context

Kareem Mayan wrote a great post Why only fools write code first. In it, he stated, “I have a confession to make: I’m 35, and until last year, I started building companies by creating a product.” The post describes on his evolution in thinking, focusing first on customer needs before building anything.

Product-first thinking

In the comments, someone wrote:

“Almost all of the successful startups I know of built a product first, simply because the founder wanted. Apple, Microsoft, Google, Dropbox — some of these are famous even today for never doing user surveys.”

This argument expressed skepticism about Kareem’s point.

Analysis

A good example of the ongoing pervasiveness of product-first thinking. It really is everywhere. Here, the commenter displays a classic example of the survivor bias. A focus on only those companies that made it, and what they do. Ignoring that perhaps dozens of competitors also charged ahead with their own product-first approaches. And were nowhere near as successful.

It’s like looking at the ways lottery winners live, and saying that’s the way you should live too. They’re not connected.

Of course, it’s also possible the commenter actually has no idea what those companies do in terms of understanding customer needs…

2. The “what you can do for us” attitude

Yahoo home page 2002, via All Things D

Context

Way before Marissa Mayer joined Yahoo, the company was a case study in mediocrity. From its glory days in the 90s, it had managed to become a bloated collection of media properties, without a coherent strategy due to a succession of changing executives and business models.

Product-first thinking

As reported by Kara Swisher on All Things D, Yahoo’s home page became increasingly overrun with links. To cram more stuff above-the-fold, font sizes shrunk. It became a nasty hodge podge of links that no longer related to what users wanted.

As Yahoo’s Tapan Bhat, SVP of Integrated Consumer Experiences noted,  “It had nothing to do with the user, but what Yahoo wanted the user to do.”

Analysis

What Yahoo wanted the user to. What a wonderful expression of the approach. It’s such a pernicious mode, where the needs of the company eclipse those of the customers. Call it inside-out thinking. When the company’s, not the customers’, needs drive product and service decisions, it’s a good bet customers will turn elsewhere. It’s a great opportunity for competitors.

3. Dazzled by the invention

Source: NBC Bay Area

Context

Anyone remember the hype over Dean Kamen’s project code named Ginger back in 2001? Turned out to be the Segway, that amazing triumph of technology that allowed people to travel on a motorized two-wheel scooter. It really is amazing, with its self-balancing mechanism, easy navigation and smooth ride.

Product-first thinking

It was hailed as the next coming of great technology. No really, it was. Here are quotes by both Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos prior to its launch:

Jobs: “If enough people see this machine, you won’t have to convince them to architect cities around it; it’ll just happen.” (#)

Bezos: “You have a product so revolutionary, you’ll have no problem selling it.” (#)

Wow! So what happened? Well, have you taken your Segway out for a spin today? It  missed the mark in terms of how frequent the job-to-be-done was. For me, Segways are what tourists rent to travel around Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

Analysis

My own perspective is that Segway is an optimum mode of transport for journeys where walking would take more than 10 minutes and less than 30. And where you don’t need to carry anything heavy or bulky. And where weather would be OK for the journey. Steve Jobs, who did heap praise on it, was prescient about what needs it didn’t fill.

“Jobs said he lived seven minutes from a grocery and wasn’t sure he would use Ginger to get there. Bezos agreed.” (#)

So Jobs and Bezos were full of praise, but in a hard analysis couldn’t quite say what mass job-to-be-done the Segway fulfilled. And it turns out most of the market couldn’t either. Sometimes the invention is so dazzling, we’re blinded to understanding what need it actually fulfills. Invention first thinking.

4. Same template, different market

Via Bloomberg Business Week

Context

Ron Johnson did a fantastic job of creating the Apple stores. They’re enjoyable to visit, full of all the latest in cool technology Apple has to offer. The clean vibe, the on-the-spot purchasing, the Genius Bar. Clearly he brought some of the experience from his Target (aka “Tar-jay“) days to the job.

Based on this, the Board of JC Penney installed him as CEO to restore a retailer that had lost its luster.

Product-first thinking

Johnson put in place a number of changes to reinvigorate the retailer. He stopped the discounting, going for a low price everyday approach (like Target). He developed brands that would be exclusive to JC Penney (like Target). Trained employees to help people shopping (like Apple).

Ultimately, however, his changes didn’t take. Perhaps the most telling insight came from another executive:

Ron’s response at the time was, just like at Apple, customers don’t always know what they want,” said an executive who advocated testing. “We’re not going to test it — we’re going to roll it out.”

There it is, product-first — or maybe vision-first — thinking.

Analysis

It’s tempting to look at this as the hubris of being smarter than customers. But I don’t think that’s the lesson to draw. Rather, this is a case of previous success with a format in other markets (Target, Apple), and applying it to a new market. Without understanding the customers in the new market. The fact that Johnson didn’t feel the need to run the new strategies by JC Penney’s customer base was due to his success with the template previously. Why test? You know what customers want.

But in this case, it led to overlooking existing customers and what they outcomes were being fulfilled by JC Penney. This alienates the core customer base, while potential new customers ponder why they’d switch from Target to JC Penney. Unsurprisingly, the stock dropped 55% during his tenure, with a horrendous 32% drop in same-store sales in the critical holiday 4th quarter of 2012.

5. Blaze a new trail

Context

Tired of people saying you should listen to the marketplace, Dan Waldschmidt advocates something different. He argues that most of the time, people don’t know what they want. In making his argument, he references both American slavery and Martin Luther’s religious reformation.

Product-first thinking

Here is how Dan puts it:

One of the things business experts tell you when you are considering changes to your sales strategy is the idea that you need to “listen to your marketplace”. That you need to take your idea and run it by the people around you to get some feedback. Instead, blaze a new trail. Think about where you want to lead your market.

Analysis

Perhaps the key phrase is lead your market. That, in and of itself, is fine. Lead your market in sales. In profits. In innovations that resonate. But in the context of (i) ignoring the marketplace; and (ii) blazing a new trail, it comes across as advice to tell the market where it needs to go. Which actually is nice if you can accomplish it. Alas, the business landscape is littered with folks who tried to tell the market where to go. The market can be fickle that way.

To be fair, it is important to separate the jobs-to-be-done from the potential solutions. That’s a better way to think about Dan’s advice.

6. What Steve Jobs said

Via Inc. Magazine, 1989

Context

Perhaps you have seen this quote by Steve Jobs:

“You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them.”

Run a search on that exact phrase, and 687,000 results are returned. It’s a sentiment from one of the all-time greats that clearly has caught on.

Product-first thinking

Interpretation is important here. When you read a number of articles that reference the quote, the context is one of divining products that no one in the market would come up with. Use your inner genius to do this. As written about Jobs  in Fast Company:

He is a focus group of one, the ideal Apple customer, two years out.

And he was quite good.

Analysis

But for most of us, we’re not an ideal focus group of one. That’d be the dangerous lesson to draw from his quote. If every corporate product person, or innovator, or strategist decided to channel his inner focus group of one, there’d be a lot of  wasted resources. Actually, there are a lot of wasted resources

The other thing to note is the quote in its fuller context. Here’s more from Jobs in the 1989 interview with Steve Jobs where he first said that quote:

“You can get into just as much trouble by going into the technology lab and asking your engineers, “OK, what can you do for me today?” That rarely leads to a product that customers want or to one that you’re very proud of building when you get done. You have to merge these points of view, and you have to do it in an interactive way over a period of time—which doesn’t mean a week. It takes a long time to pull out of customers what they really want, and it takes a long time to pull out of technology what it can really give.”

Sound like he’s advocating to ignore your customers?

7. My business model demands your attention

Facebook Home user ratings

Facebook Home user ratings

Context

A few months ago, Facebook introduced Facebook Home. This app for Android became the user interface of the phone. In so doing, it dominates the experience on the device:

Designed to be a drop-in replacement for the existing home screen (“launcher”) on an Android device, the software provides a replacement home screen that allows users to easily view and post content on Facebook along with launching apps, a replacement lock screen that displays notifications from Facebook and other apps, and an overlay which allows users to chat via Facebook messages or SMS from any app.

Note that the existing Facebook app was still available, allowing you to get your Facebook updates via the phone.

Product-first thinking

What Facebook Home does is elevate Facebook above all others on the phone. It was a play to get Facebook front and center in your daily experience. There would be access to all your other apps, but the path to them would go through Facebook each and every time.

Globally, the average smartphone user has 26 apps on their phone. For Facebook Home to be popular, the typical user would rank Facebook above all other apps. The games. Email. Twitter. Instagram. And on…

Analysis

Ultimately, Facebook Home withered in the market. I can understand why. In 2012, mobile time spent on Facebook surpassed time on the Facebook website. From a user experience perspective, Facebook wanted to make mobile even easier. From an advertising perspective, Facebook needed to establish a way to present more mobile ads. Imagine serving up an ad every time someone turned on their Android phone.

But the problem is that Facebook was solving a job that most users were already satisfied with. The Facebook App works well for its purpose. It also imposed new friction on using one’s mobile device. The burden of navigating through Facebook to get to your other 25 apps. As Joseph Farrell, EVP Operations at BiTE interactive, said:

“Facebook Home solves Facebook’s needs for more user data, but what does it solve for its users?”

8. Solution in search of a problem

Context

In a post, entrepreneur Ramli John talked about lessons he’s learned from failed startup efforts. Specifically, the experience gained with Lesson Sensei. Lesson Sensei didn’t make it.

Product-first thinking

Ramli states plainly the trap he fell into:

“Don’t lose focus of the problem. That was one of the biggest mistake I made in my previous failed startup, Lesson Sensei. About a few weeks in, we realized that we really don’t have a problem to solve. But, we had this awesome solution. So we started pivoting on possible problems we can solve with our solution. Each week, we tried a new problem to solve. Each time, we found a flaw with our assumption. Then, we started losing steam. Always start with validating a problem before you validate the solution. The other way around just takes up too much time and energy.”

Analysis

This is a classic issue. There’s a hazy sense of what an idea could address. It’s not nailed down yet, but there’s the rush of starting on the solution anyway. To be fair, there is some merit in this. You could be 50% there in terms of product-market fit, and the initial product can help elicit the right iterations. But as Ramli notes, that can be an expensive approach. It burns time, energy and money. And depending on how hazy that view is of the actual job-to-be-done and its attendant outcomes, you may be entirely off track.

9. We’ll get to those customers at some point

Context

Robin Chase is the founder and former CEO of Zipcar (acquired by Avis in 2013). After Zipcar, she founded GoLoco, a carpooling app. Unlike Zipcar, GoLoco didn’t make it. She is now leading Buzzcar, a peer-to-peer car sharing service.

Product-first thinking

Robin is open about the failure of GoLoco:

“With my second company, GoLoco – social online ridesharing – we spent too much money on the website and software before engaging with our first customers.”

Analysis

In some ways, this is a similar situation to Ron Johnson at JC Penney. Having been successful in getting Zipcar going, Robin had a confident attitude about her new endeavor. That confidence led her to develop first, worry about customers later. As she notes, this was backwards. The spade work of understanding customers’ needs is a critical first step.

10. Dazzled by the innovator and the hot trends

Color website is deadContext

Remember Color? This app would let you take pictures. These pictures were then visible to anyone with the Color app within 100 feet of you. It was a way for friends or strangers to participate together in some close proximity.

Color is no more. It didn’t fare well.

Product-first thinking

It was a can’t-miss app. It was started by an energetic, persuasive entrepreneur whose previous company was bought by Apple. It was SOcial. It was LOcation-based. It was MObile. It was SoLoMo!

With that combination, Sequoia Capital and Bain Capital felt confident investing $41 million. Product-first thinking.

Analysis

Presumably, the entrepreneur’s previous success was a good-enough proxy for understanding the target market’s jobs-to-be-done and attendant outcomes. However, as seen with GoLoco above, previous success doesn’t automatically grant the ability to divine customer needs. There’s still the work of understanding the market you intend to tackle.

GigaOm’s Darrell Etherington gets props for identifying the flaws of Color right at its launch:

“But I think it’s more likely this is a prime example of how, when it comes to apps, 1+1+1 does not always equal 3. An app can’t just hope to profit by being at the intersection of a number of promising mobile trends. Developers still have to think intelligently about how those trends integrate, and remember that user experience, especially the one following first launch, is still the key to wide app adoption.”

Remember this next time you see another startup in an overhyped space, say Big Data. What job-to-be-done does it fulfill?

Wrap-up

Perhaps not surprisingly given my work experience and interests, these examples have a heavy technology orientation.  One can imagine similar cases in financial services, apparel, consumer product goods, etc. Hopefully the examples here will be useful as you look at your own world. And in your own work. I’ll admit to being guilty of product-first thinking. The creative muse is a strong human characteristic. But recognize when that muse is taking you down a path you shouldn’t go.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

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Is Google+ More Facebook or More Twitter? Yes

Quick, what existing social network is Google+ most likely to displace in terms of people’s time?

Another Try by Google to Take On Facebook

Claire Cain Miller, New York Times

This isn’t a Facebook-killer, it’s a Twitter-killer.

Yishan Wong, Google+ post

A hearty congrats to Google for creating an offering that manages to be compared to both Facebook and Twitter. The initial press focused on Google+ as a Facebook competitor. But as people have gotten to play with it, more and more they are realizing that it’s just as much a Twitter competitor.

I wanted to understand how that’s possible. How is it Google+ competes with both of those services? To do so, I plotted Google+’s features against comparable features in both Facebook and Twitter. The objective was to understand:

  • Why are people thinking of Google+ as competitor to both existing social networks?
  • How did the Google team make use of the best of both services?

The chart below is shows where Google+ is more like Facebook or Twitter. The red check marks () and gray shading highlight which service a Google+ feature is more like.

A few notes about the chart.

Circles for tracking: Twitter has a very comparable feature with its Lists. Facebook also lets you put connections into lists; I know because I’ve put connections into lists (e.g. Family, High School, etc.). But I had a hard time figuring out where those lists are. in the Facebook UI. Seriously, where are they for accessing? They may be available somewhere, but it’s not readily accessible. So I didn’t consider Facebook as offering this as a core experience.

+1 voting on posts: Both Google+ and Facebook allow up votes on people’s posts.Twitter has the ‘favorite’ feature. Which is sort of like up voting. But not really. It’s not visible to others, and it’s more a bookmarking feature.

Posts in web search results: Google+ posts, the public ones, show up in Google search results. Not surprising there. Tweets do as well. Facebook posts for the most part do not. I understand some posts on public pages can. But the vast majority of Wall posts never show up in web search results.

Google+ One-Way Following Defines Its Experience

When you look at the chart above, on a strict feature count, Google+ is more like Facebook. It’s got comment threading, video chat,  inline media, and limited sharing.

But for me, the core defining design of Google+ is the one-way following. I can follow anyone on Google+. They may not follow back (er…put me in a circle), but I can see their public posts. This one-way following is what makes the experience more like Twitter for me. Knowing your public posts are out there for anyone to find and read is both boon and caution. For instance, I’ll post pics of my kids on Facebook, because I know who can see those pics – the people I’ve connected with. I don’t tend to post their pics on Twitter. Call me an old fashioned protective parent.

That’s my initial impression. Now as Google+ circles gain ground in terms of usage, they will become the Facebook equivalent of two-way following. Things like sharing and +mentions are issues that are hazy to me right now. Can someone reshare my “circle-only” post to others outside my circle? Do I have to turn off reshare every time? Does +mentioning someone outside my circle make them aware of the post?

Google has created quite a powerful platform here. While most features are not new innovations per se, Google+ benefits from the experience of both Twitter and Facebook. They’re off to a good start.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

Phone Cameras + Social Are Expanding the Historical Record

"There's a plane in the Hudson. I'm on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy."

In a critique of the rise of Instagram (current photo sharing app du jour), Laurie Voss argues that the rise of cheap, low fidelity cameras on phones is undermining the data contained in them. And it’s not just that these pictures are lower quality now, it’s affecting their value for future generations:

With these rubbish phone cameras we take terrible photos of some of our most important moments and cherished memories. I am not complaining about composition and lighting here; I’m not a photographer. I am talking about the quantity of meaningful visual data contained in these files. Future historians will decry forever the appalling lack of visual fidelity in the historical record of the last decade.

I read that, and at first though, “Yeah, that could be an issue.” But then I realized that, well no, it’s actually the opposite. The rise of cheap phone cameras is actually increasing the historical record. This even has disruptive innovation undertones to it.

Why?

Picture = Moment + Equipment

When thinking about recording data for history pictorially, I consider two elements:

  • Moment
  • Equipment

"The line at 9 am at the Pleasanton @sfbart stretches for blocks. Huge crowd downtown today for #sfgiants parade."

Now moments are always going to arise. They may be significant moments, such as Janis Krums’ iconic picture above after a US Airways plan crash landed on the Hudson. Recently, the San Francisco Giants were celebrated for their 2010 World Series title with a ticker tape parade in downtown San Francisco. When I arrived at the Dublin/Pleasanton BART the morning of the victory parade, I was shocked by the number of people waiting in line for get to SF.

Just as important as the moment is the equipment. I’m not talking about the quality of the photographic equipment. I’m saying, “do you have something to take the picture?”

Before I got a phone with a camera on it, I had no way of photographing any moments. I could tweet about them, email a description of them and tell people about them. But there was no visual record at all.

I wasn’t carrying a camera around with me. Just not something I wanted to deal with as I also carried my ‘dumb’ phone.  And wallet. And keys. Just too much to deal with.

But a camera included with my mobile phone? Oh yeah, that works. I’ll have that with me at all times.

Which is a much better fit with the notion of capturing moments. They are unpredictable, and do not schedule themselves to when you’re carrying a separate camera.

As for the “quantity of meaningful visual data” being reduced, I think of it mathematically:

The X/Y variable represents the decrease in data per picture. If Y is the “full” data from a high resolution photo, then X is the reduced data set. The loss of scene details, the inability to discern people’s expressions, etc. Yeah, that is a loss due to low quality cameras.

The B/A variable represents the increased number of pictures enabled by the proliferation of convenient low quality cameras. If A is the quantity of photos with high resolution cameras, B is the overall number of photos inclusive of the low quality cameras.

Multiply the ratios, and I believe the overall historical record has been improved by the advent of phone cameras. In other words, “> 1″.

Sharing Is Caring

Something the higher quality, standalone cameras have lacked is connectivity. They miss that aspect we have to share something in the moment. The fact that I can share a picture just as soon as a I take it is extra incentive to take the picture in the first place.

I share my kids’ pics with family via email, and other pics end up in my Twitter and Facebook streams. You know how painful it is to upload photos from the camera and share them? Very.

Standalone cameras are like computer hard drives, locking data off in some siloed storage device somewhere. Good luck to historians in extracting that photographic data.

Convenience Wins Out

This is the disruptive innovation of convenience. People are swapping the separate cameras for the all-in-one mobile devices. And like any good low-end innovation, the quality will increase. Meaning more pictures with better detail and fidelity.

I mean, imagine if there were a bunch of phone cameras at Gettysburg?

Only known photo of Abraham Lincoln (center, without hat) at Gettysburg

We’d have thousands of pics, and it’d be a Twitter Trending Topic. As for the lower data per picture, damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead. Phone cameras will enrich the historical record for future generations.

Foursquare Check-in Etiquette

Anyone remember the early complaints about Twitter? That people were posting updates about what they’re eating for lunch? Robert Scoble noted this phenomenon in a blog post from last September about Twitter’s rise:

It tells me that Twitter isn’t lame anymore. Remember those days when Twitter was for telling all your friends you were having a tuna sandwich at Subway in Half Moon Bay?

I do.

Yes, Twitter has grown up and become much more than the report of what you’re eating for lunch. Which brings us to Foursquare and Gowalla.

These services are in their early stages, with Foursquare outnumbering Gowalla four-to-one in members. Some of us are experimenting with these location-based services. For me personally, it feels like those early days of Twitter (“What should I tweet?”).

The biggest difference since my early Twitter days is that I’ve got more experience with this sharing behavior, and I’m comfortable trying different approaches.

With that in mind, I wanted to describe some early thoughts on Foursquare and Gowalla etiquette.

The Check-in Sharing Hierarchy

Louis Gray wrote a post recently asking whether people are censoring their check-ins to maintain hipster cred. It’s a good, if somewhat painful, examination of the fact that we do have some serious hum-drum in our lives. People’s comments on the post are illuminating, as some admit this behavior, but also note that they don’t want to bore everyone.

There are three levels of sharing check-ins that Foursquare provides (Gowalla only has the latter two):

The three levels each have their own unique use cases, and their own check-in etiquette.

Share It with No One

I’ve done this before. I check in, but I don’t share it with anyone. Why? Two reasons:

  1. Just maintaining a record of my days’ activities
  2. Like to stay on top of the mayorships, badges and points

See, a valuable use case of checking in with Foursquare and Gowalla is the maintenance of a personal activity history. The combination of GPS location, pre-existing locations and one-click check-in makes it quite easy to create your personal record. Now, some of those check-ins are less-than-interesting. Like…

Checking in at a gas station

Now it may be boring, but I’ll bet there’s a badge out there for multiple gas station check-ins. Maybe someone will earn a Gas Guzzler badge (as opposed to the Douchebag badge). It’s all part of the fun. A festooned Foursquare profile.

But there is a role for curating your check-ins. I really don’t need to know about your gas station check-ins. That applies to my interests, and it applies to what I assume to be the interests of my connections on the location-based services. Sure, share your whereabouts, but please have some mercy on those who follow you. We successfully graduated past the “What are you eating for lunch?” stage of Twitter.

And good luck with that Gas Guzzler badge.

Share Only with Foursquare, Gowalla Connections

People that follow you on Foursquare and Gowalla are participating in another aspect of location-based social networks. The “keeping tabs” aspect. You see what others are doing in the course of their day. For instance, I was able to see that Techcrunch’s MG Siegler was in Japan a few weeks back, via his various Gowalla updates.

One commenter on Louis Gray’s blog post noted this use case:

I’ve also found a use case in ethically “stalking” various tech pundits (I hate that word) and found a couple of high value events I would otherwise have missed.

Personally, I look at things like work check-ins as de rigeur for this level of sharing. Whereas gas station check-ins may bore your connections, the work stuff is of greater interest. I’ll often see CEO Eugene Lee’s check-ins at Socialtext headquarters. As head of a major software company, I’m sure he has to travel a fair amount. So the check-ins to HQ tell me he’s working away in the office.

I check in to Spigit every day. Proud to say I’m the Foursquare “mayor” of Spigit, oh yes. But I’m competing with several colleagues for that title. I share these check-ins with my Foursquare and Gowalla connections.

But not with my Twitter/Facebook connections. Those folks didn’t decide to follow me based on my daily work check-ins.

Share with Twitter, Facebook Friends

However, I do share check-ins, even mundane ones, on Twitter at times. I’ll explain in a second.

First, interesting ones are a no-brainer. Should you find yourself with Anne Hathaway at a post-Oscars party, by all means, share that check-in! Or maybe you’re in a working session at the White House. Definitely passes the interestingness test.

There’s also a good use case for alerting your wider social networks as to your location for meet-ups. It’s a commonly cited use case for Foursquare/Gowalla.

However, I’ll admit as a father with a full-time job and a mortgage, my “interesting” check-ins are few and far between, and I rarely am trying to connect with others at Trader Joe’s. And I’m not alone. The majority of people will have mundane check-ins as they go about daily life.

It’s making the mundane interesting where the Foursquare/Gowalla art is.

Create “tweetable” check-ins. What’s going on around you that would be worth sharing? What will some people on Twitter and Facebook find interesting?

It’s something I do, and I admit it’s a bit of a game for me. “What can I tweet with this check-in?” I find it forces me to observe what’s around me, or step back from where I am consider the larger moment.

A couple examples below:

I’ll never do a straight  tweet of my check-in at a BART station. At least, I won’t unless I fat finger my iPhone, that is. But if I can report out the unusually cold weather we’re experiencing, yeah, tweet that!

As I said above, we’re early in this location-based check-in thing. Consider the observations above a start.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 050710

From the home office at the New York Stock Exchange, where I said “Sell Google shares, not a googol shares!”

#1: Li: CEOs have five things they focus on every day. Your “open leadership” and social strategies need to relate to one of them. #socialc20

#2: Surowiecki: The presence of a single dissenter makes a group smarter. Key? Can’t be same person dissenting every time. #feiboston

#3: Surowiecki: Having crowd diversity – cognitive & heuristics diversity – is critical to crowd assessment of ideas. #feiboston

#4: Channeling @cshirky here: “It’s Not Idea Overload. It’s Filter Failure.” (via Spigit blog) http://bit.ly/bJkyf8 #innovation #crowdsourcing

#5: RT @timkastelle Innovation through Exaptation http://bit.ly/d6G1vt > The shifting of a trait’s function over time

#6: Thoughts on Innovation Management From FEI 2010 | Forrester Blogs http://bit.ly/ah0psG #feiboston

#7: RT @jdpuva Innovate on Purpose: Innovation Failure Points: Idea Generation http://bit.ly/bBGAl2

#8: Discussions about Facebook’s privacy settings have the feel of arguing over religion.

#9: RT @ParkerLSmith The Meaning of Colors Around the World http://post.ly/ea14

#10: Learned something tonight. If you karaoke Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”, the entire bar will be there with you.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 022610

From the home office at a table in front a congressional hearing where I’m explaining why I didn’t actually put any brakes in my cars…

#1: All your authentication are belong to us http://bit.ly/d2S177 by Forrester’s @TomGrantForr > Facebook Connect is pulling away

#2: RT @defrag wow. twitter moving to Cassandra (#NoSQL) – http://bit.ly/9z8nvp – so, FB, Digg, Twitter all on NoSQL. oracle, are you listening?

#3: Interesting: Why the iPad can’t use flash http://bit.ly/bG6X9K > How do you “mouseover” with your finger?

#4: RT @BBHLabs Bored of reading that @foursquare is the ‘new Twitter’; it’s a different kind of utility altogether – http://j.mp/9s8GDD

#5: Study – Distributed Idea Generation Outperforms Team Brainstorming (Spigit blog) http://bit.ly/dffHzL #innovation #crowdsourcing

#6: Crowdsourcing Collaboration in Education http://bit.ly/aPmSj0 by @eduinnovation > Educators can tap large networks #innovation

#7: How to Fail at Innovation http://is.gd/98YUh by @timkastelle > “The way to fail at #innovation is to try to avoid failing”

#8: The Side Effects of Open Innovation http://bit.ly/9hIaQI by @lindegaard “it’s very much about managing change” #innovation #e20

#9: 10 tips for Successful Crowdsourcing http://post.ly/OxhU

#10: RT @exUnited Southwest Airlines selects Spigit for innovation mgmt http://bit.ly/blTGO3 Innovation is like LUV – deliberate, not accidental

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 102309

From the home office in Kabul, Afghanistan…

#1: Twitter’s Web Traffic Flatlines http://ow.ly/viH9 …while Facebook continues to grow.

#2: Initial take on MSFT’s Twitter integration (http://ow.ly/vLGF)…that is sweet! Now will they show tweets beyond the last 3 days?

#3: RT @danschawbel REPORT: 65.6% of CMO’s feel that social media should be done in-house http://tinyurl.com/ygdjtfb

#4: If the Enterprise 2.0 crowd wanted to share a link, my guess for the top 5 services: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Posterous, Yammer. Agree?

#5: Study – Collaborative Networks Produce Better Ideas (via Spigit blog) http://bit.ly/3xoPM5 #e20 #innovation

#6: Interesting point from #spc09 – SharePoint is a critical driver of MSFT’s future growth. #e20

#7: Two SharePoint 2010 articles – RWW http://bit.ly/1zjI49 | @olivermarks http://bit.ly/4f9en0 – paint a good picture of its #e20 initiatives

#8: Southwest Airlines is running a “test lab” of ecofriendly products on its new Green Plane http://ow.ly/w3fR

#9: RT @Cubba: @bhc3 I thought this was timely based on our conversation at Patsy’s; http://bit.ly/1WQGwH = “10 Tips for Retrosexing on FB”

#10: http://twitpic.com/m13gk – It’s pumpkin patch time! Kids have their own. #halloween

Greece’s Incumbent Party Leans on Social Media Ahead of Oct 4 Election

Greece holds national elections for its Prime Minister on Sunday October 4. This is a “snap election”, called by the incumbent Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis in what is regarded as either a savvy play to get a mandate, or a suicide electoral mission. This election was only called on September 2, giving the political parties only a month to get their candidates air time. ΝΕΑ ΔΗΜΟΚΡΑΤΙΑ (New Democracy) is the party of the incumbent, Karamanlis. Polls suggest his more conservative party will have a tough fight with the Socialists.

Walking through Athens, I was impressed by the display set up by the ΝΕΑ ΔΗΜΟΚΡΑΤΙΑ party. It was nighttime, and the ND party station was bright with blazing lights, blaring music and a modern look. Included in the station was this wall:

Greek New Democracy party social media

Check out those social media chops! Blog, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube. The URLs are well-done. They redirect to the actual social media site account for the ND party, while making it easy to remember them.

And these aren’t “ghost town” accounts. The party’s Facebook page has nearly 9,300 supporters, and each entry in its news stream receives dozens of Likes and Comments.

I don’t know if Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis will regret his decision to call a snap election this Sunday October 4. But I’m impressed with his party’s use of social media. Perhaps they’re taking a page from Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

Could FriendFeed have crossed the chasm?

FriendFeed folds it up

FriendFeed folds it up

FriendFeed is now part of Facebook. For many of us FriendFeed users, this was quite a shock. We didn’t know exactly what FriendFeed’s future was, or how it was going to make money. But Twitter has set the current mental model of not worrying about such things. And in some ways, Amazon.com did the same in the 1990s with its grow-don’t-make-money strategy. In both cases, the companies persevered and are now enjoying mainstream success.

Rather than follow this model, FriendFeed sold itself to Facebook. Perhaps this is a case where the founders saw something we didn’t. After all, for every Twitter and Amazon, there are thousands of startups that don’t make it.

But given the heavy attention and usage of FriendFeed by the technology Early Adopter crowd, it’s worth examining this:

Could FriendFeed have crossed the chasm?

I’m referring, of course, to Geoffrey Moore’s classic and still-relevant book where he examines the challenges of moving from the Early Adopters to the Early Majority segments in the technology adoption cycle:

Crossing the Chasm

The biggest issue is that what appeals to Early Adopters doesn’t work for the Early Majority. If you’ve tracked public reaction to FriendFeed, doesn’t that sound familiar?

In Moore’s book, he counsels that companies need to establish a toehold in the Early Majority segment by focusing on a vertical niche. Let’s use that approach in examining FriendFeed’s options.

FriendFeed’s Early Majority Options

In the table below, I’ve come up with six possible use cases that might have been bases for breaking into the Early Majority. Each use case has a potential Early Majority niche noted. And each use case has one or more existing competitors listed:

FriendFeed Early Majority Options

Let’s analyze things by use case…

Company public groups: In this use case, companies set up shop on FriendFeed, with their own groups filled with content. PepsiCo set up one, called Pepsi Cooler. The idea is a stream of content produced by a team from Pepsi. If you look at the stream, it’s primarily tweets.

If FriendFeed had decided to pursue this option, it needed to create points of permanence on the page. Having just a stream of content makes it hard to establish objects that focus on your brand and let’s you run events. Creating an experience like this was something that would have given FriendFeed groups more value.

Alternatives? Companies run their websites, upgraded with social media streams of content. And Facebook has really pushed this with its pages effort. Facebook’s 200+ million members gives it a big leg up here.

This would have been a tough one to break into the Early Majority, as Facebook really owns this niche. The easy ability to stream content would have been FriendFeed’s advantage.

Collaboration spaces: Let employees work together on projects in their own private groups. Content can be streamed in certainly, but more important, people can post things directly into a collaboration space. Teams can comment on posted items to advance projects. Documents can be included in posts, letting the same version be accessed by everyone. Direct messages can be sent to one another.

In June of 2008, I wrote Using FriendFeed Rooms for Work: What’s Needed? In it, I argued that FriendFeed could be used for getting work done in teams. I saw some things I’d want there: better “stickiness” for current projects and documents. Can’t have everything fly by in a stream. Also, accept RSS feeds of document changes from Google Docs, Zoho and other cloud office productivity apps. Chris Brogan saw the potential too in a post from August 2008,  How to Use Friendfeed as a Collaborative Business Tool.

Collaborative business apps are an area of overall growth, but one that is filled with competition. Atlassian  has been delivering this for a while with its Confluence wiki, and Basecamp is a favorite small business collaboration tool. More recent entrants like SocialCast have added activity streams as part of their core functionality.

FriendFeed could have been a strong player here, but it needed a lot of focused feature development.

Social web monitoring: This is my use case. FriendFeed has a marvelous way of handling RSS feeds into separate groups, and managing people and groups into separate lists. I found these to be quite helpful for staying on top conversations and content that is getting attention. I actively monitor three groups formed specifically to be my “news tickers” on the social web. I don’t use them as communities for conversations, but as information management tools.

The real-time feature is great for this purpose. As soon as something is made available via RSS, or in Twitter’s case it’s posted, you’d see it show up in your groups. I find this to be highly valuable for jumping into conversations on Twitter, and to understand what’s buzzing now.

FriendFeed doesn’t have the powerful analytics and structure of the new premium Social CRM apps. I’d argue that for SMBs, that’s not needed. What’s needed is an ability to stay on top of topics and conversations relevant to your industry. ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick was seeing the same thing in How FriendFeed Could Become the Ultimate Social Media Tracking Service.

To my mind, this is the use case that was most promising relative to unmet need and dearth of competition. And FriendFeed had great technological advantages here in terms of its SUP work and real-time updating. Feels like an opportunity missed.

Real-time conversations: When FriendFeed made the switch to real-time updating by default, one thing users gained was the ability to see new comments on threads without constantly refreshing the page. Thaty meant you could engage others easily on the page as people posted back-and-forth.

For live events, this is pretty fun. It’s great to share a common moment this way. Be it sports, political events or technology conferences. And that’s what makes me think the real-time conversation platform would be great for online media sites. Imagine CNN.com outfitted with real-time conversations by FriendFeed. News events are constantly, and always will be, unfolding. Giving site visitors a way to converse quickly with one another would be great. Admittedly, this real-time conversation flow is something that is already present for webcasts.

The limitation for the value of real-time conversations is (i) the existence of alternatives; (ii) limited utility for most people. Twitter isn’t real-time, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a good-enough conversation platform with a large subscriber base. Forums will do the threading work for multiple participants. And the people that got the most use out of real-time were social media A-Listers who get a lot of comments on their threads. Most people don’t get that level of interaction. So the value of real-time conversations was lost on them.

Following friends’ activities: This was the original purpose of FriendFeed: “FriendFeed is a service that makes it easy to share with friends online. It offers a fun and interactive way to discover and discuss information among friends.” Makes sense…”friend”…”feed”.

The challenge is that it is quite RSS dependent on friends’ streams. Which means people need to have content available via RSS. That’s still a slowly growing dynamic. The other issue is similar to that described above for company public groups and collaboration spaces: lack of ability to create more permanent objects on your profile. If Friends don’t RSS, they need a good way to manage content they directly post.

This really is Facebook’s game. Once they added the ability to follow RSS feeds of friends, much of the rationale for FriendFeed was lost, at least in terms of following friends. There’s still a great use case in following people that may not qualify for the traditional definition of “friends”. But you can stay on top of the likes of Craig Newmark, Robert Scoble, and others.

Personal information management: If you participate in several different social sites, you can create a diverse amount of content: tweets, Flickr photos, blog posts, YouTube videos, SlideShare presentations, etc. As you create it, you want to be able to reference it. The most obvious way to do that is to go to each site individually and search for some part of your content.

FriendFeed is marvelous for managing all the different content in one place. This is something I talked about recently in Three Reasons You Need to Be on FriendFeed *Now*. One place for all your content, with amazing search capabilities. Much better than what Twitter offers. With FriendFeed, you can actually access old tweets via search.

This use case is great, but it’s ability to penetrate the Early Majority is questionable, at least for now. It takes people who have these diverse social sites where they’re posting content. As we know from the 1-9-90 rule of participation, the number of people actively posting new content is still relatively low. But as social sites proliferate, I believe you’ll see increased numbers of people posting original content. 1-9-90 may apply to any one site, but viewed from a portfolio perspective, the ratio will be higher for the general population.

Am I missing something?

Those are the use cases that come to my mind. What do you think? Did I miss some important ones? And how about the assessments I made for each of the use cases? On target?

My own thought is that FriendFeed had a great opportunity for social web monitoring. It’s an area of growing interest, and FriendFeed had the technology and raw feeds to be a big player there. More and more, the mainstream is interested in the workings of and information available on social media.

Let’s see if Facebook sees a similar opportunity.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 061209

From the home office in Palo Alto, CA…

#1: RT @palafo Facebook URL rush should have been hashtagged #nerdolympics. “Just sayin’. “

#2: Enjoyed the Building43 launch at TechCrunch’s offices tonight. Knock ‘em dead @scobleizer Looking forward to following and participating.

#3: Reading: Why SaaS Has Better Functionality than Enterprise Software http://bit.ly/ZPLlF

#4: Left comment on New York Times post, The Stalled Promise of Innovation http://bit.ly/BlgNT Really, it’s not bleak, we’re doing fine.

#5: New Spigit blog post: Medplus Built Its Innovation Program with 12 Moose-on-the-Table Questions http://bit.ly/11UOMZ #innovation

#6: RT @innovate Knowledge Management is more about “How do I?” while Innovation is more about “Why don’t we?” – #yam #innochat

#7: Participating in an ABC7 prediction mkt: Will Dianne Feinstein run for governor of California in 2010? http://bit.ly/1bJL1w I’m betting ‘no’

#8: RT @Hammarstrand Top 30 Failed Technology Predictions. http://is.gd/W7Uc #innovation #tech #future

#9: TV news story here in SF about the CA education budget cuts, shows a teacher out of a job as “layed off”. Guess the cuts are hurting already

#10: Kinda sad…took down the crib tonight. Our 2 1/2 y.o. is sleeping in her own big girl bed, our 5 y.o. long ago left the crib.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 041709

From the home office at Twitter headquarters in San Francisco…

#1: Our long national nightmare is over… @aplusk is the first to hit 1 million Twitter followers http://bit.ly/qMUDN

#2: Watching Larry King show about Twitter. Sean Puffy Combs stresses that if you want followers, you have to have something to say.

#3: My co-worker just noted that @oprah ‘s first tweet was all CAPS. No need to shout!

#4: One thought about the celebrity attention Twitter is now getting. Watch for increased spammers creating accounts to @reply us to death.

#5: Reading: Purpose-Driven Social Media is Key to Elusive ROI http://bit.ly/18voKY by @MiaD

#6: New Spigit blog post: Corporate Innovation Is Not a Popularity Contest http://bit.ly/27omc7

#7: http://twitpic.com/3c9y9 – Noting this for posterity…my blog hit top 10K in Technorati. Even got a little badge.

#8: My son Harrison turns 5 tomorrow. I’m making a card for him with PowerPoint, iPhone pix, Google images and my HP color printer.

#9: The marshmallow Easter peeps…I find myself not sure I’m really loving them as I eat one, but then I strangely crave another right after.

#10: When you hear Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”, do you think of The Sopranos, or the Facebook crew’s video in Cyprus?

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 041009

From the home office off the coast of Somalia…

#1: “Never call yourself an expert. Let others think and talk about you as an expert.” http://bit.ly/1yBftl by @centernetworks

#2: RT @dhinchcliffe: Top Five Innovation Killers http://bit.ly/2abnVG Also, #6 – Inability to tap into existing innovation sources

#3: A very interesting read, a useful perspective: Social Architecture http://bit.ly/qynjR #e2.0

#4: @kentnewsome Vista ribbons are almost like re-arranging the keyboard away from qwerty.

#5: Fallout from Twimailer failing to support its emails…I stopped getting both follow and DM notifications. Recommend quitting Twimailer now!

#6: My colleague confirms the social media “dead zone”. He said server traffic at Friendster used to plummet between 12 – 6 pm PT.

#7: Finding myself starting to use Google Tasks more. Biggest hurdle is making it part of my daily routine. It’s happening though.

#8: Marketers’ use of social media, in preferred order: Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook http://bit.ly/sH3P

#9: You know those 404 pages that display when a web page isn’t found? They should all be this good: http://bit.ly/2iytO2 (via @mattcutts)

#10: Want more followers? I imagine there are tweets guaranteed to get new followers. Try: “I need some help with social media.”

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