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Use Your Company Blog to Catch Search Term Typos

If your company or product name can be misspelled, this is for you.

At Spigit, a prospective customer related this to us recently. A few months ago, they had heard of Spigit in one of the usual ways – reading, word of mouth, etc. At some point, they decided to learn more. It probably went something like this…

“What was that innovation software company again? Oh yeah, SPIGOT.”

Notice the typo there. Or maybe Spigit is better termed the typo.

Anyway, first they tried http://www.spigot.com. But that leads to someone sitting on that domain for quite a while. Confused, they did the next logical thing. They searched on variations of SPIGOT:

  • spigot software
  • spigot idea management
  • spigot innovation management
  • spigot gumbo

Unable to find Spigit, they moved on with their life. Until last week, when the prospect was talking with one of our customers, who mentioned SPIGIT. Ding! The prospect remembered their interest, got the right spelling and we are talking, several months later.

Obviously, this presents something of a problem. How to catch those people actually searching for SPIGIT, but typing SPIGOT? We do maintain Google AdWords covering this. But what about in the search results themselves?

At first blush, two options are apparent. One, use the word SPIGOT on our website. But that would be confusing to visitors. It would look like we don’t know how to spell our own company name, or maintain a typo-infested website. Two, take advantage of those meta tag keywords, adding SPIGOT to them. But Google recently confirmed that those meta tag keywords have no effect on search results. None.

But there was one other way to do it. Why not take advantage of our search engine-indexed blog? Publish a blog post specifically designed to include the misspelled company name, along with additional relevant search terms. That way, there will at least be something in the search results for people honestly trying to find your company.

So I wrote this post, Spigot Innovation and Idea Management Software Platform

The post is intended to let searchers know why it exists, and redirect them to the website home page:

Spigot blog post

I’m no SEO expert – honest, check my Twitter bio! But I figure this may help get the attention of those using SPIGOT to find SPIGIT.

Another use for the company blog.

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Crowdsourced or Elite Unit Innovation?

A classic dilemma for companies is determining the best way to foster innovation. There are many good books with different approaches. Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma has influenced a generation’s thinking about innovation. He focuses management and entrepreneurs’ attention on the Big I: disruptive innovation.

One outcome of the popularity of Christensen’s book is the awareness people have that entrenched business practices can inhibit companies’ ability to recognize and address discontinuous innovations from new market entrants. Motorola, for example, is often held up as an example of this. The company continued to develop only analog cell phones even as the digital phones were getting traction. In clinging to analog, which it dominated, it fell far behind in the mobile phone market.

A key practice espoused by Christensen is for companies to tackle discontinuous innovations by creating separate divisions. These divisions have an R&D profile, meaning they are funded without requiring a financial return. They do not have to prove themselves to sales or other parts of the organization. This gives them the room they need to figure out how to approach the impending market shift.

The issue with the popularization of this framework is that it sets up a binary approach to innovation. You’re either addressing disruptive or discontinuous innovations, or you’re executing on yesterday’s business. It’s this dichotomy that obscures the value of innovations that move organizations forward, competing to increase market share and profits.

To that end, let’s examine two ways companies create work structures for innovation.

Integrated or Separate Innovation

The graphic below highlight two very different ways to approach innovation. And that’s a good thing.

Innovation Work Structures

Separate Division: As advised by Clayton Christensen, this approach is best for companies that need to address disruptive innovations. And all companies need to address disruptive innovations.These days, it’s not a matter of if, but when. For fundamental market shifts, too much is invested in the current operations for companies to address changes. Freeing a group of people from these constraints is critical, if the corporate culture is not open to big-bet innovations.

A couple examples of interest here. First, let’s go back to Motorola. Yes, the company muffed it badly on the transition from analog to digital. But there was something that it did right years before. Motorola researcher Jim Mikulski could see in the 1960s that existing cellular technology was insufficient for the emerging uses of the mobile technology. He had a new technology to replace it, and asked the head of Motorola’s communications division, John Mitchell to fund its development. Mitchell said “no”,

Arguing that 400MHz technology offered sufficient capacity and met consumer needs. The Communications Division current product line was the market leader, and a new product, which would likely cannibalize the current system, was deemed to be both unnecessary and potentially harmful to this business line.

So Mikulski found refuge in Motorola’s Corporate Research Laboratory. He worked on the new technology there, receiving funding for its development. When his view of the coming changes proved to be true, Motorola was ready with its new technology.

In other words, he addressed innovation that affected the communications division in a completely separate division.

Microsoft, on the other hand, has programmatically set up a separate division for innovation. The Microsoft Research group works on ideas that may never have commercial appeal. But some of their work has resulted in product features and direction for its new Natal gaming system, its Bing search engine, and an upcoming release of Outlook email.

They have a separate division, but the innovations arguably are of the sustaining variety, not disruptive.

Integrated into Daily Work: In this work structure, everyone is involved in innovation. The company sets expectations, and encourages employees’ to share ideas. Done right, this is in-the-flow stuff. Employees are encountering issues to be addressed daily, and they’re hearing new customer feedback all the time. They are well-positioned to come up with innovative solutions and products, if senior management makes that a priority.

Whirlpool is a good example of this. In 1999, then-CEO David R. Whitwam made the determination that Whirlpool needed to stop competing on price, and make innovation its central strategy. Fast forward to today, and the results have been stellar. Whirlpool has escaped competing as a commodity vendor, with $4 billion in revenue (21% of total sales) generated from its innovation efforts. Are they satisfied? No. CEO Jeff Fettig stated that while participation in innovation from 5,000 employees is good, he’s looking to increase it to 15,000.

That’s integrating innovation into employees’ daily work for sustaining innovation. In this case, sustaining innovation has been the source of growth and profits.

Another company where innovation is part of everyday work is 3M. The company is legendary for its innovation. And clearly, the encouragement of all employees to be part of innovation has taken hold. For instance, there was this story recently in Fast Company:

3M told a great innovation story at the ARF annual conference about a new product that started with a complaint call into customer care. The representative did his own research online, came up with a solution, filmed a video that he put on YouTube and re-contacted the customer to see if that is what he was looking for.

The sheer volume of ideas that employees have to improve companies’ existing businesses puts a premium on crowdsourcing ideas. And inevitably, some of that culture and the ideas emerging from sustaining innovation will relate to discontinuous or disruptive innovations.

Why Not Do Both?

Google is a good example of a company that does both. It’s 20% time for employees to devote to innovation is the stuff of business legend. And according to the company, half of its new products result from this employee time.

But then look at Google Wave. This project was done beyond 20% time. It was actually a completely separate project developed by a 5-person “startup” team in Australia, far from the company’s Mountain View, CA headquarters. Google Wave is transformative, and will likely usher new design principles into a host of software applications.

Google is a good example of an innovation-led company. They mix the elite unit approach to innovation with the everyday encouragement for employees to innovate.

There’s not this dichotomy of “all disruptive/discontinuous innovation, or you’re just falling behind”. Rather, it’s a smart blend of the strategies.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter, and I’m a Senior Consultant with HYPE Innovation.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 073109

From the home office in Honolulu, Hawaii…

#1: Gartner Social Software Hype Cycle is out. See where 45 technologies are in the cycle (via Spigit blog) http://bit.ly/19Uw6k #e20

#2: Does Silicon Valley noise detract from long-term value creation? http://bit.ly/188Trx by @andrew_chen #innovation

#3: CNET: A Google Wave reality check http://bit.ly/34fv21 I, for one, love seeing the painful process of development, even at Google.

#4: I think we need a recount: EvanCarmichael.com ranks the Top 50 Geek Entrepreneur blogs http://bit.ly/YT1nn I come in #7 behind @louisgray

#5: The Atlantic: The Truth About IQ http://bit.ly/1l0qfR “Being branded with a low IQ at a young age, in other words, is like being born poor”

#6: The science of hunches? http://bit.ly/CDTJi by @berkun Like his take about the importance of emotions in the decision process

#7: Creating psychological distance f/ a problem is key to increasing your creativity. Make it abstract http://bit.ly/f7XUy #innovation

#8: BofA to Shut 600 Branches Due to Surge in Online & Mobile Banking http://bit.ly/14S4mg I never go in branches. Purely web + ATM.

#9: Ever wonder why we swing our arms when we walk? Research finds it’s more efficient than keeping our arms still http://bit.ly/O0Pwj

#10: Our friends’ 3 y.o. son cut the ribbon on remodeled SF playground today. He has spinal muscular atrophy, & can now play http://bit.ly/Z3DZR

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 072409

From the home office in Sacramento, CA…

#1: AMZN CTO: RT @werner Was asked for definition of real-time web: to go f/ innovator to homophobic censor or book-burning nazi in 60 seconds.

#2: Reading: A First Look at SharePoint 2010 http://bit.ly/15y1tT Includes a great visual mapping of SharePoint 2007 to 2010

#3: Innovating innovation: An Interview with Scott Anthony of Innosight http://bit.ly/5pXbb Disruptive #innovation needs senior mgt support

#4: RT @VMaryAbraham Host a Failure Party http://tinyurl.com/oh99zc #innovation #KM Celebrate the journey, not just the destination

#5: Gary Hamel to keynote Spigit’s Customer Summit Aug 13-14, 2009 http://bit.ly/4wRljR #innovation

#6: The Potato as Disruptive Innovation http://bit.ly/4gqzQa “the potato explains 22% of the observed post-1700 increase in population growth”

#7: I generally avoid following the celebrities. But I’m so impressed with @KevinSpacey that I had to follow. His films and acting rock.

#8: RT @mattcutts A Google easter egg for people who know what recursion is: http://bit.ly/URa8U :)

#9: Rick Astley is playing on the radio here. We’re all being rick rolled.

#10: Working with my son on his Snap Circuits Jr electronics kit http://bit.ly/bRsJQ He wants to build his own nightlight.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 071709

From the home office in the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C.

#1: Reading: Your Idea Sucks, Now Go Do It Anyway http://bit.ly/10Dwi0 Most important thing is to get started, not be right #innovation

#2: Love this quote: “Disruptive innovation has been held up as the Olympics of innovation sport.” http://bit.ly/15ypw6

#3: Google and Apple “are accidental competitors. They just don’t seem to know it yet.” http://bit.ly/4xjXCJ

#4: Reading: Adoption stories http://bit.ly/6hNJr by @panklam on The AppGap #e20 #e2adoption

#5: Social Computing Journal picks up my post – Enterprise 2.0: Culture Is as Culture Does http://bit.ly/eTA43 #e20

#6: P&G’s @JoeSchueller has a nice comment on Google Wave’s potential in the enterprise on Socialtext’s blog: http://bit.ly/xRkGj

#7: I like @fredwilson‘s take on customers. Active transactors vs. active users. http://bit.ly/WrHQ2

#8: RT @markivey Why BusinessWeek Matters (from a former BW writer) http://bit.ly/fe9GC Really GREAT post, why we *need* our news institutions

#9: An entrepreneur who has built companies in both Silicon Valley and NYC describes the issues w/NYC for startups: http://bit.ly/G2Hss

#10: I ♥ wikis

Google and Microsoft now driving SaaS’s disruptive innovation

Google Chrome OS and Microsoft Office 2010As incumbent companies go through their own versions of Clayton Christensen’s disruptive innovation, I imagine early observations about the changes-to-come are similar to these seen last week with Google’s Chrome OS announcement

Item #1:

But while I’m sure Chrome OS will pick up some fans, I have a hard time seeing this as the way of the future for computing.

Nick Mediati, PC World, Is Chrome OS The Future Of Computing? I Hope Not.

Item #2:

It’s certainly interesting and ambitious to state that the entire application platform will consist of web apps. If anyone was going to build such an OS, it’d be Google. Much of the initial commentary regarding Chrome OS has been wholly positive, but one common note of skepticism has been with regard to the “web apps are the only apps” aspect, with the frequent point of comparison being to the 1.0 release of the iPhone OS.

John Gruber, Daring Fireball, Putting What Little We Actually Know About Chrome OS Into Context

Item #3:

Netbooks may be important, but they remain a tiny part of the world’s PC sales. Google’s bet is predicated on strong demand for weak computers.

Google is counting on users of small computers not being tied to specific applications and being willing to accept low cost and, perhaps, ease of use over a more familiar and more powerful environment.

Nick Coursey, PC World, Five Reasons Google Chrome OS Will Fail

The quotes above reflect a rationale perspective on the fate of netbooks and an-all SaaS computing experience. After all, no one does that today. Most people haven’t even looked at the web-only alternatives out there. Microsoft Office is a client app. Adobe is a client app. File directories are client apps for files on your hard drive.

Why does anyone need a web-app only experience? Well, note Microsoft’s announcement of its web-based Office 2010. Something is afoot. Both Google and Microsoft are pushing forward significant initiatives that will increase the percentage of computing done via SaaS. What does Clayton Christensen’s theory say about this?

Disruptive Innovation

A disruptive innovation is one that upends the existing structure of an industry, often sending incumbents into niche positions, and niche players into incumbent positions. Three qualities define it:

  • New technologies start out less functional than existing technology
  • New technologies find their niche markets
  • At the outset, it’s really hard to believe the new technology will ever displace the incumbents

Pretty much sums up the idea of all web-based computing.

Check out the chart below, which diagrams sustaining and innovation over time and performance:

Disruptive Innovation Graph

Probably the single most important thing to note about this graph is that the incumbent companies (blue line)  continually add features to their products. This effort expands their addressable markets, as more and more niche segments are covered. It’s a rationale, smart way to grow.

But at some point, the incumbents’ innovations overshoot what mainstream users need. As Christensen notes, performance exceeds what customers can utilize. This is what happens as companies expand into niche markets.

Which brings us to the PCs of today. They are marvels, providing a slick experience for users and able to accommodate a host of new applications. But if I were a betting man, I’d say the most common activities people do with their computers are:

  • Surf the web, engage in social media
  • Email
  • Write documents
  • Build spreadsheets
  • Create presentations
  • Consume and work with media (video, music, graphics)
  • Use web-based business apps

Among those activities, what’s the magic of client-based computing? The media-related activities perhaps require the horsepower of a client app. But even those are getting better with web apps.

Web-based apps fulfill the first bullet of early disruptive innovation above – they’re not as full-featured.

Second bullet is the initial niche that wants to use the less powerful alternative to incumbents. For web-based computing, I can see two markets:

  1. Small businesses – lower cost, less hassle than installed apps
  2. Students – more comfortable with third parties holding data, low cost, activities are mostly writing and web access

Those are the initial toeholds into the operating system market. Getting significant share in a couple segments is critical to getting the attention of application developers.

The Web Apps Are Coming Along

Let’s start with the apps most commonly used in work contexts: documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Zoho has been at it for a while now, and provides a very functional set of apps. Google Docs continue to evolve toward better functionality. And of course Microsoft has joined the SaaS movement. The TechCrunch article about Microsoft Office 2010 notes:

Most certainly a direct challenge to Google Apps, Microsoft is rolling out lightweight, FREE, Web browser versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote. All based in the cloud, the web-based versions of these products have less features than their desktop cousins but still let users that users basic tools to edit and change documents.

Already inside the enterprise, wikis are quite functional. As alternatives to writing up documents and emailing them around, they are quite powerful. Atlassian Confluence, Socialtext, JSPwiki and others are highly functional. They offer a formatting experience similar to the most commonly used functions of document applications.

And for graphics, a new company Aviary got a great review in NetworkWorld:

It’s true that there are a number of graphics editors online, but most fail to come anywhere close to the functionality of Adobe’s iconic software. Until now.

The ecosystem to provide online apps with functionality comparable to client apps is growing.

My Personal Evolution to SaaS

I’m a former banker, then I did product management at eFinance and Pay By Touch. In those jobs, I never bothered with hosted apps. I certainly never thought about wikis. I did my writing in Microsoft Word. At Pay By Touch, I was introduced to the Confluence wiki. I used it because engineering wanted me to, but only as a centralized document repository. I’d rather have emailed the documents around.

It was at Connectbeam that I started to really *get* wikis. The ease of writing on them. The value of a common place to find and share documents. I found the core rich text editing functions of a wiki to be quite sufficient for what I need.

Now you can’t get me off the wiki.

When I was noodling on a business idea 18 months ago, I wrote everything up on Google Docs. It was an easy way to share the documents while updating them as often as I needed to.

More recently, the client applications TweetDeck and Seesmic have been getting a lot of attention. I’ve resisted them, because I just can’t see downloading and running these apps. They take their toll on your PC, as Louis Gray wrote:

For those Web-addicted souls who spend a good deal of their day buried in Twitter, seeing their friends updates and exchanging conversations, most software options have required the installation of Adobe AIR software, which to date has whirred your CPU to life, turning on laptop fans, and chewing through memory. The work to throttle down load on RAM and CPU is a constant battle, which both Loic’s team and Iain Dodsworth of TweetDeck have been working on since their products debuted.

In contrast, logging into the new Web version of Seesmic doesn’t feel like you’ve sacrificed your computer power to get your Twitter fix, and you don’t give up features either.

In short, whenever I can make a move to web-based apps, I’m doing it. I’ve come a long way from my Bank of America days.

Google Chrome OS and Microsoft Office 2010 – Forever Changing the Game

Certainly the idea of PCs as basic on-ramps for doing work via the web has been around for a long time. In 1996, Larry Ellison believed that network computers would outsell conventional PCs by 2000. Well, we see how that turned out.

In 2009, things have changed remarkably. First, usage of SaaS for applications has grown significantly, although it’s still small as a percentage overall. Second, people’s comfort with web-based computing has grown tremendously. Most enterprise software is now delivered as a web application. Salesforce has been a tremendous trailblazer here. And Facebook is fostering a greater comfort with sensitive data held by a third party.

Finally, Google is a titan. Oracle was (and still is), but in 1996 it was the database company. No one knew what to make of its network computers. Google is an entirely different animal. It has established credibility with its Google Apps. And presumably, any web app will work well on the Google Chrome OS. Including Microsoft’s new cloud Office offering.

This doesn’t stop Microsoft from coming out with its own web-based OS. Expect that if the Chrome OS seriously threatens. A lower cost OS for low-cost PCs to use low-cost web apps.

Microsoft’s announcement is huge because the Office suite is a brand used and trusted by millions of people. With their marketing heft, this is a significant boost in the credibility of SaaS computing. Microsoft also is a student of history, and clearly doesn’t want to risk the marginalization seen in Clayton Christensen’s studies of disruptive innovation.

The past two weeks have seen two significant milestones on the SaaS front.

This brings me to my final point. Market transitions don’t happen that quickly. The Google and Microsoft offerings won’t be ready for a while. And existing hardware, software and habits are going to change overnight. We will still have client-based applications for quite a while.

But let’s see how the small business and student markets take to these efforts.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 071009

From the no-hitter home office at AT&T Park in San Francisco…

#1: If you tweet about a baseball no-hitter in progress, is that risking a jinx?

#2: It’s from 2008, but still a great read: Shirky’s Law and why (most) social software fails http://bit.ly/HslAq by @michael_nielsen

#3: Email: The First –and Largest– Social Network http://bit.ly/4dmIiw by @jowyang Hmmm….where does postal mail rank then?

#4: Reading: 15 ways to spark a fight in the E2.0 community http://bit.ly/QvOj9 by @gyehuda #7 is my favorite.

#5: Anyone remember Larry Ellison’s dream of the Net Computer back in 1996? http://bit.ly/hirKr Fast forward to 2009’s Google Chrome OS

#6: @SameerPatel @defrag Oh yes, happy to provide the State of California with Spigit. Better filtering, to avoid this: http://bit.ly/2WyL2t

#7: “What are the five things you value most in life?” asks @fhinnovation http://bit.ly/xkc4L Me? Kids, wife, health, living in U.S., job

#8: My wife and I are now sharing our Google Calendars. Only way to stay on top of the kids’ schedules now that they’re both starting school.

#9: Are you following @badbanana ? Practically every tweet of his is a treasure of humor. Found out about him a few months ago thru @chrisbrogan

#1o: My 5 y.o. son yesterday: “Daddy, would you still love me if my name was different?” Me: “Depends on the name.”

Google Gets Serious about Innovation

Yeah, that’s funny to say, isn’t it? Google is getting serious about innovating. “Serious” as in determined not to miss out out good opportunities. From the Wall Street Journal last week:

Google has recently started internal “innovation reviews,” formal meetings where executives present product ideas bubbling up through their divisions to Eric Schmidt, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and other top executives.

“We were concerned that some of the biggest ideas were getting squashed,” said Schmidt.

Google Searches for Ways to Keep Big Ideas at Home, Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2009

BW 2009 Top 3 innovative companiesGoogle is renowned for its innovation chops. The company consistently ranks among the Top 2 most innovative companies in Business Week’s annual survey. It’s not surprising. The ability of engineers to devote 20% of their work time to any side project of their choosing is one of the strongest statements about the importance of innovation in the world (the new United States CTO recently praised it). Google has instilled innovation into its corporate DNA.

So when the company says it’s missing out on good ideas, this is both surprising, and perhaps somewhat expected. Surprising, because how does a company consistently ranked at the top of innovation surveys miss good ideas? Expected, because Google now employs 20,000. With that many people, how does a company stay on top of all those ideas?

What I’m seeing is a company that is is progressively systematizing its innovation practice. Google is following the path of its large enterprise brethren, adapting its internal processes to account for its size and its need to grow across multiple fronts. It really has to. It’s no longer the small company where ideas get tossed around on a white board, and everyone knows what’s going on. I mean, there are 20,000 people employed there.

Google is getting serious about innovation.

A Google’s Innovation Management Scorecard

The scorecard below is a simple one, which I’ll freely confess is based on what I’ve read about Google’s innovation. I don’t work there, but the assessment feels about right. See if you agree:

Google innovation scorecard

These are five elements of an innovation program, highly focused on the front end of innovation.

Strategic innovation focus areas: I rated the “strategic innovation focus areas” as average, because it’s not clear exactly what Google’s focus areas are. Google employees might dispute that assertion. But it’s also true that Googlers treasure the ability to work on off-topic, seemingly stupid ideas.

Employee ideas encouraged: Well, yeah! 20% time.

Visibility into ideas generated: I also rated “visibility into ideas generated” as average. Really, this rating is based on the Wall Street Journal article. It sounds like executives weren’t able to see all the good ideas they wanted to. I will note, that this Googler said:

In order for 20% time to work, anyone must be able to see what is out there

I’ll characterize “must be able to see it” as a wiki-like philosophy of easy accessibility. It also may have a local orientation, where you tell your colleagues to go look at your code. Making it easy to see the ideas and let the best one surface is a different issue. This becomes harder as companies get bigger. Eric Schmidt and Hal Varian wrote about the challenges growth brings:

A final issue is making sure that as Google grows, communication procedures keep pace with our increasing scale. The Friday meetings are great for the Mountain View team, but Google is now a global organization.

Select the best ideas: Go back to Eric Schmidt’s statement in the WSJ article. The biggest ideas were getting “squashed”. It may also be hard to define what exactly “the best” means. With a broad mandate to organize the world’s information, presumingly any idea could be considered among the best.

Google’s challenge of coming up with big ideas is something Om Malik wrote about a few months ago. Personally, I’m not insistent that innovation is only for game-changing ideas. But perhaps Om’s post can be an angle on the ability to identify the best ideas.

Operationalize ideas: Google is quite good at operationalizing its ideas. Search, AdWords, Gmail, Google Reader, Android, etc. It’s got the resources, market presence and experience to turn an idea into an innovation.

Prediction: Google Starts to Focus Employees’ Innovation Efforts

Google’s innovation strength draws from its employees’  willingness to spend 20% of time of new ideas. It is distinct among global companies with this regard. 20% time as a method of producing an immense number of ideas.

Which means these innovation reviews by top executives will be interesting. Already, Google Wave is the result of these. And a nice answer to whether Google can come up with big ideas.

It wouldn’t surprise me if these innovation reviews, and the projects that are selected, become a signaling effect to the troops. When they see what the top brass green-light and give resource priority to, it will likely have an impact on what they put their 20% time toward. Sure, some entrepreneurial types will do their own thing. And if they don’t get priority treatment, they’ll start their own companies. But I’d wager the majority would likely orient their research and creativity in the preferred areas.

Google’s growth is slowing, although much of that is due to the general economic climate. Still, expect for Eric Schmidt and team to look at areas where they want to see growth. And to let the troops know what those areas are.

Imagine that. All those 3.9 GPA-toting, know-why-a-manhole-cover-is-round brains putting their focus on specific growth areas. As Scott Anthony wrote about Google’s new discipline around innovation:

It doesn’t seem like Google is walking away from its ideals. Rather, it’s trying to couple its world-class approach to the “front end” of the innovation process with the world-class discipline exhibited by companies like Procter & Gamble. It might yet struggle to bring these two approaches together. But success could allow the company to create an innovation capability that actually lives up to the hype.

And hopefully the “stupid ideas” still get attention.

Google Wave and the Enterprise: Beautiful Potential, Faraway Dream

google_wave_logoGoogle Wave…Google Wave…

Google Wave.

I’ve spent some time the past few days reading up on Google Wave. The Google I/O 2009 presentation by the Wave team was a smashing success. Quickly summarizing what it is, borrowing from Google’s own categorizations:

Product: Free-form page onto which multiple people can contribute and interact. Every wave in which you are a participant shows up in an inbox. The modes of communication are both email and IM. Email, because you can write something anywhere in a wave, and all wave participants see that the wave is updated in their inbox. Like Gmail.  IM, because updates post instantly, and anyone on the wave at the same time can see them. There’s more there, watch the I/O presentation demo to see it all.

Platform: Wave is to be an API playland. APIs to leverage the functionality of Wave, and embedding functions in Waves. The I/O demo includes functions for maps embedded easily into a Wave, and the ability to create a simple event tracker where Wave participants simply click whether they are attending or not (Evite for dummies). Very cool stuff. Another use of APIs…Wave as your Twitter client. With real-time search results served up into your Wave inbox.

Protocol: Waves are to follow an open federation, which means they all can interact with one another. Wave servers can be set up behind the firewall.

As they said in the demo, they though in terms of “what would email look like if we invented it today?” How long before Gmail converts over to Google Wave? Maybe in a year or two.

It’s quite early, and we have limited information so far on Wave. But I thought it’d be interesting to consider Wave from the perspective of an enterprise software company. It’s a starting point for me to get a handle on Wave and where it might have an impact. A few notes:

  • I’ll make educated assumptions about what Google Wave can do
  • I may be re-hashing old concepts here, such as portals
  • Google Wave would need significant penetration of the enterprise market, potentially displacing Outlook email

Enterprise software is a broad area, too broad to analyze well in a post. Rather, I’m going to focus on the enterprise software I know well (my company’s), and make some points that will apply to all enterprise applications.

OK, with that out of the way, and Dion Hinchcliffe’s post about the enterprise and Google Wave as inspiration, let’s dive in. I’m going to lay out some initial thoughts of how enterprise software could integrate Google Wave. And then I’ll explain why I think it’s going to be a long time coming before it impacts the enterprise.

What Job Does Your Software Do?

Clayton Christensen talked about the “job” your product does. In other words, think less about your product’s features, and more on what needs your product fills for customers. From that perspective, innovations are more likely to emerge.

This notion struck me as a good way for enterprise software companies to think about how Wave might relate to their products. In other words, less focus on features, more focus on specific use cases.

Spigit provides enterprise idea management software. Its “job” is as follows:

  • Easy place to enter your ideas
  • Interact with people over your idea or ideas of others
  • Help identify the best ideas
  • Make it easy to track ideas during their progression into full-blown initiatives

I’m going to use these four tasks as the basis for thinking about Google Wave. Where will Google Wave have an impact?

Easy place to enter your ideas

With Spigit, we have a simple basis for entering your idea – a basic web form. And Google Wave supports forms, as shown below:

Example of a web form in Google Wave

Example of a web form in Google Wave

The ability to use forms makes me think there’s an even better way for employees to enter ideas. A principle that I really like is that information and activities need to be in-the-flow of daily work. The more you can put things at the finger tips of where someone is engaged, the better it is for awareness.

In the demo, different types of waves were available via the New Wave dropdown menu to allow access to separate apps. Here’s what I can see happening:

  • A menu option for New Idea is displayed inside an employee’s work Google Wave UI
  • Selecting it launches a new Wave, with the idea template displayed
  • Enter the info, click submit
  • It’s now on the employee’s personal Wave page, as well as becoming a new Idea in the Spigit platform

The Idea is now part of the Wave inbox. It’s also accessible on the Spigit platform, for others to see. That would be great. It’s a level of interconnectedness that is difficult to put in place today. It wouldn’t just apply to ideas either. Why not do this for expense forms? Wiki pages?

Key here is leveraging the open federation protocol. A person’s individual Wave becomes a new object in another Wave-based application. The Idea would be considered a Wavelet in Spigit. From the demo, here’s an example of two separate Wave servers (i.e. two separate apps), where a Wave is shared between them:

Wave created on one server displays on a second server

Wave created on one server displays on a second server

Interact with people over your idea or ideas of others

The parallels between Google Wave and Gmail make Google Wave great for knowing when there are changes to a Wave. In Gmail, when a reply to a message hits your inbox, the original message becomes bold, and moves to the top. It’s a clear, easy way to see when someone has responded, while keeping the entire thread intact.

Google Wave applies this characteristic even more broadly. If someone replies to your wave, it returns to the top of your inbox, bolded. If someone edits your wave, same thing happens. Basically, any updated to a Wave will display as a changed item in the Wave inbox. The screen shot below shows this functionality:

Google Wave inbox - changed items at top, bolded

Google Wave inbox - changed items at top, bolded

On the Spigit platform, a number of actions can be performed with regard to an idea: vote it up or down, comments on it, review it, post/edit a wiki page for it, become a team member. Now all of these actions are supported with email notifications currently.

Any of these actions will cause your Idea to return to the top of your inbox, bolded. Where an email notification is good, a Wave notification would be great. Everything can be seen in context, and you can respond right from your Wave inbox. Comment, IM or just see the latest changes to your idea.

Another great innovation is the ability to easily add others to a Wave. With this functionality, you can let others know about your idea, and they can see changes as they occur as well. If the idea isn’t interesting to someone, they just remove themselves from the Wave.

Really, really powerful feature.

These easy interaction hooks for objects and activities are something that many enterprise applications would benefit from.

Help identify the best ideas

The Spigit platform tracks many activities and included unique features to help surface the best ideas. And this where Google Wave doesn’t change things really. A lot of that is the secret sauce of the Spigit platform.

Which brings me to an important point: Google Wave won’t replace enterprise software applications. The logic and features of the individual apps – ERP, CRM, wikis, HR, etc. – continue to be the primary reason companies buy them.

Assuming Google successfully brings Wave into the enterprise, either replacing Outlook or standing beside it, I’m sure there will be companies that create Wave-based apps to compete with the big enterprise systems. But such competition happens today anyway.

Make it easy to track ideas during their progression into full-blown initiatives

In Spigit, ideas that make it go through a series of stages. Each stage has different criteria for evaluating whther it’s ready to be prototyped and operationalized. Along the way, aspects of the idea will be addressed in other enterprise applications:

  • Company wiki
  • Product development software
  • Engineering issue tracker
  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP)
  • Accounting
  • Project management
  • Blogs
  • etc.

This is where a couple of features might make sense. Google Wave includes robots. Robots are “automated elements” that perform tasks as part of a Google Wave. Let’s assume the original Idea wave is copied to other enterprise apps. Now, there is a connection from the original idea to these objects in other systems.

The robot can look for updates on those other Waves which tie back to my Idea. When there’s a change in status, My Idea wave gets the update. I’m now on top of what’s happening with my initiative, from anywhere in the company.

Yes, that would cool.

The Impossible Dream?

You may have heard the phrase “working the wiki way“. Well I’d like to work the “wave way”. The possibilities with Google Wave are tantalizing. A much more seamless experience for using software. A common protocol around which applications communicate.

Not likely to happen for a while, if ever.

For companies like Spigit, with a web 2.0 orientation and SaaS delivery, Google Wave is something we can do, and as an enterprise social software company, it makes sense. But to fully realize the benefit of Google Wave inside the enterprise, a lot of applications will need to leverage the Google Wave platform. It’s hard to imagine SAP, Microsoft, Oracle and the like doing much with Google Wave.

As Dion Hinchcliffe notes:

New protocols, servers, data formats, and client applications are required to use wave. Unfortunately, Google Wave brings a lot of baggage with it, though it’s mostly straightforward. You will require new software, though not on the client since that all runs in a zero-footprint browser client. This means more integration code, management, and monitoring.

You look at that, and contemplate all the installed software already in place. And I don’t imagine MISO thinks of Google Wave as being in their interests. Google Wave directly overlaps Microsoft Exchange and Outlook, for instance.

So it will be up to the young bucks to push for the new way to deliver end-user simplicity and in-the-flow accessibility to employees. It will take time.

I’ll be watching developments around Google Wave. How about you?

Three Reasons You Need to Be on FriendFeed *Now*

FriendFeed Triple PlayFriendFeed has got to be one of the most innovative companies around these days. It seems every week, it’s hatched something new with its service. That alone makes it worth being there.

Then there’s the interactions. When those are rocking and rolling, it’s a lot of fun. Even a few Likes and comments are worth the experience. Of course, not everyone is engaged enough on the service to fully benefit from that. Which is something I completely understand, by the way.

I’ve got three reasons you should be on FriendFeed now. Not for the conversations. Not for the real-time experience. But three reasons that will be valuable to you personally.

The FriendFeed triple play.

#1: Google Juice

You likely know the background of much of the FriendFeed team – Google. Yeah, these guys know search. Even more importantly, they know something about how Google manages search.

So it comes as no surprise that FriendFeed can rank pretty highly in Google search results. Here’s a favorite example of mine.

Alex Scoble (yes, Robert’s brother) is planning his wedding reception. One candidate location for the reception was the Hillsboro Cultural Arts Center. But the managers of that location were not very flexible in working Alex and his fiance. On FriendFeed, Alex posted about the Hillsboro Cultural Arts Center, with some comments explaining why he was not going to use them. It’s not a flattering portrayal of the Center.

Well, check out what a search on the Center’s name returns: Alex’s FriendFeed entry is the #6 result.

Not something that Center wants in their search results, but a great way for Alex to let others know about his experience with the Center.

FriendFeed’s Google prowess shows most strongly in name search results.

On this FriendFeed discussion, Mark Trapp noted that his FriendFeed account always ranks higher than his personal site. Well, if you run a search on mark trapp, you’ll also see that his FriendFeed account is ranked #1, ahead of some attorney named Mark Trapp. Without FriendFeed, that attorney would own the #1 search result.

And FriendFeed member Brian Chang noted this back in January: “I just discovered that my FriendFeed comes up on the first page of Google search results for my name. I think that’s the first time something of mine has actually done that.” A quick search on brian chang reveals he’s not on the first page, but he’s still there, among a lot of brian chang sites.

FriendFeed shows up #3 on a search of my own name.

#2: Personal Content Database

Let’s assume you participate in more than one social media site. Maybe Twitter, Del.icio.us, blog and Flickr. FriendFeed, of course, lets you pipe all of that into its site. If nothing else, having one place where you can search for all your content easily is reason enough.

Returning to the search pedigree of the FriendFeed team, there’s a really good reason to have your Twitter account piped in. It makes it easy to find your tweets. As Louis Gray noted last week, it’s much easier to find tweets in FriendFeed than it is with Twitter’s search. On FriendFeed, you’ve got an archive of all your tweets. On Twitter, you don’t.

Here’s an example. I’ve tweeted a few times about “friendfeed” and “search”. On Twitter, I get one result when searching my tweets for those words. On FriendFeed, I get many, as I’ve actually written those two words in a number of tweets. See the screen shots below, which show only a portion of the FriendFeed search results:

FriendFeed vs Twitter search

Remember when the bookmarking service Ma.gnolia lost all its users’ data? If you had saved your bookmarks there, you were out of luck. There was no recourse to getting that data out. In a post here, I noted that bookmark service Diigo lets you save to De.licio.us simultaneously. The idea being that you needn’t rely on just one service, in the wake of Ma.gnolia’s data loss.

Well, that same notion of mitigating your risk carries over to FriendFeed as well. I pipe all my Diigo bookmarks into FriendFeed. So now I have my bookmarks in three places: Diigo, Del.icio.us and FriendFeed. And when I need to look up one of my bookmarks, where do I usually search? FriendFeed.

#3: Tracking Web Content about What Interests You

Probably my biggest use case for FriendFeed is as a tracking platform for various topics I care about. I’ve got a room to track Enterprise 2.0, which I augment with following 70+ individuals from that world. I’ve got a room for tracking my company Spigit, its competitors and the innovation management field.

The importance and value of tracking the Web this way is something I’ve discussed here many times. You can visit those prior posts for greater detail on how and why.

But I’ll say this. Whenever I need to get up to speed quickly on something, setting up these FriendFeed Rooms and Lists is one of the first things I do. You’d be amazed at how effective they are. And unlike a lot of social media monitoring programs, FriendFeed doesn’t cost you a thing (although some would pay for these features).

Wrap-Up

Those are three powerful reasons you should be on FriendFeed. Right now. They don’t require you to get in there and apply Likes and comments to entries if that’s not your thing (that’s powerful in its own right, but more the province of social networks). But you will immediately start benefiting from what the service offers.

Know anyone holding out or just unaware of FriendFeed? Send ‘em this post.

Google, Yahoo, Microsoft Want to Legalize For-Money Prediction Markets

$500 on the U.S. economy turning positive in the first quarter of 2010!

Wouldn’t it be great if you could put money down on your predictions of future events? If Google, Yahoo and Microsoft get their way, you just might be able to do that.

Money $20sBack in September 2008, Google and Yahoo, united under an organization called Coalition for Internal Markets (CIM), wrote a 28-page letter articulating their support for the legalization of small stakes prediction markets. On April 9, 2009, Microsoft added its support to Google and Yahoo’s letter. Here’s an excerpt from the CIM letter:

CIM believes that small-stakes event markets of the kind first developed by the Iowa Electronic Markets have the potential to provide significant public benefits and recommends that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission propose regulations under which such markets may operate, both as internal markets or as public markets.

I learned of all this through Oddhead, Midas Oracle and Bo Cowgill’s blogs. This has the potential to be quite powerful as a forecasting tool, and a way for people to profit from their prediction acumen.

Just how did this come about?

Commodity Futures Trading Commission Wants Input

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) is the government body that regulates the sale of commodity and financial futures and options.

In May last year, the CFTC put out a public notice that it was soliciting comments on the regulatory treatment of financial agreements offered by prediction markets. So apparently the idea of legalization is on the Commission’s mind. The CFTC distinguishes prediction markets as not including financial agreements on market prices (stocks, cotton, etc.) or broad-based measures of economic or commercial activity. Rather, they define them as:

Event contracts may be based on eventualities and measures as varied as the world’s population in the year2050, the results of political elections, or the outcome of particular entertainment events.

“Entertainment events.” Think American Idol, and putting your money down on who you predict will win. That Adam Lambert?

The CFTC notes that its staff has received “a substantial number of requests for guidance” on the propriety of prediction markets’ use. Sounds like a pretty healthy interest in this sort of thing.

Getting Ahead of the Regulatory Curve

In the CIM letter, Google’s Hal Varian and Yahoo’s Preston McAfee develop three themes:

  • CFTC has the right to regulate these markets
  • Prediction markets provide substantial benefits
  • Propose a set of sensible rules for regulation

Google states that it started operating internal prediction markets in April 2005, and that now it runs 25-30 prediction markets per quarter. The purposes of the markets include forecasts of product demand, internal performance (e.g. product release dates), company news and external business environment factors. Google also uses the prediction markets to assess the strength of relationships between different teams.

Yahoo operates internal prediction markets. It also operates public events, such as the Yahoo!-O’Reilly Tech Buzz Game, in which participants predict which technologies will be popular, and which ones lack merit.

The two primary benefits discussed in the letter for predictions markets are: (i) Generation of useful information by aggregating the opinions of individual participants; and (ii) Hedging exposure by making predictions related to some position an individual holds.

The two companies then smartly propose some rules that would govern the small stakes prediction markets:

  • Total exposure per market of $2,000
  • Maximum loss at $2,000 over the course of a year
  • Non-intermediated, electronic markets
  • Trading could be matching bids and offers, or there could be an automated market maker
  • Program to monitor trading
  • Maintain trading histories for five years

Generally, the letter asks for a fairly flexible approach to the markets, with adherence to core operating principles to ensure fair, open trading.

An Inevitable Question: Gambling?

Perhaps as you’ve read this, the thought occurred to you…isn’t the same thing I can do in Las Vegas? Bet on sports teams? What distinguishes this from gambling? Indeed, in its solicitation for comments, the CFTC asks this:

What objective and readily identifiable factors, statutorily based or otherwise, could be used to distinguish event contracts that could appropriately be traded under Commission oversight from transactions that may be viewed as the functional equivalent of gambling?

The CIM letter notes that gambling is generally associated with sports events and games of chance. It recommends the CFTC develop a definition of permitted markets based on a set of examples, and expand the list on a case-by-case basis.

This question will likely receive the most attention from the public. What will be interesting is how Obama’s administration views this versus Bush’s.

Count Me In

Add my YES vote to this. I think it’d be great to buy and sell positions based on predicted event outcomes. The example I led this post off with, the economic rebound, is a great way to tap public sentiment about the economy. We’ll have to watch how this unfolds.

How about you? Do you favor small stakes prediction markets?

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 050109

From the home office in La Gloria, Mexico…

#1: Not sure if it’s good or bad that I just learned that David Souter is retiring from the Supreme Court via Twitter Trending Topics.

#2: Had to do it, subscribed to @whitehouse

#3: The #TCOT grass roots conservative movement on Twitter is riven by feuding at the top: http://bit.ly/nwr1m

#4: Interested in corporate innovation? Join Forrester’s @oliveryoung & me for a webinar to learn practical ways to improve  http://bit.ly/cGI4W

#5: Reading: How to Get the Most From Your Best Ideas http://bit.ly/kuWci by @Accenture

#6: Looking at BW’s 50 most innovative companies http://bit.ly/18nBe7 How much of what #1 Apple & #2 Google do really applies to most companies?

#7: Reading – Enterprise 2.0 marketing score card: solid ‘C’ http://bit.ly/T1yJi by @sameerpatel Great Google Trends charts

#8: Joined foursquare, which asks you to add/rate stuff for cities. Hard to be hip as a parent, here’s my playground entry http://bit.ly/MBsE4

#9: Really interesting study and hypothesis about how our brains forget/rewrite memories just by recalling them http://bit.ly/1941k8

#10: Today is apparently a big day 4 college acceptance letters. Here’s a post that describes harshest/nicest reject letters http://bit.ly/1anN7p

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