Month: November 2007

I’m very thankful

Tis the season.

I’m thankful for my children’s health, and my husband’s compassion. I’m grateful for my sisters who have loved me my whole life. I’m grateful for my old friends who’s affection never fades no matter how much time passes between visits, letters and calls.

I’m grateful for our brand new home in Virginia and our old one back in California. I’m grateful that I got to see the Grand Canyon again, and for Harry Potter on CD.

I’m grateful for the community of adventurous professionals I’ve met in Virginia, who have allowed me to tag along and become part of the scene. I’m grateful to be living in interesting times. I’m grateful for my clients, my computer that rarely fails me, and my eliptical trainer. I’m grateful for yoga, surfing, jogging and central heat. And central air. And indoor plumbing.

I’m grateful for starbucks. And the incredibly golden-leafed tree outside my office window. I’m grateful for Janet Evanovich novels. I’m grateful for the fantastic recipe for maple-glazed turkey that I’ve been making every year since college. I’m grateful for Milan Kundera, JD Salinger, Mark Twain, Tom Robbins, Gunter Grass, JK Rowling, Motzart, and The Clash.

I’m grateful that my sister’s a good cook. I’m grateful for chocolate in every form. I’m grateful that my children have good teachers. For that matter, I’m grateful for my education, public education, civil rights, religious freedom and the mature democracy that we live in. I’m very greatful for ibuprofen. And antibiotics. I’m grateful to Enoch Choi who donates his time to great causes.

I’m grateful for the wave of technology democratization that we are living through. I am grateful for spell-check. I am grateful for macaroni and cheese, my daughter’s sense of humor, and my husbands energy. I am grateful for all the people who remember my birthday. I am grateful for takeout.

I am grateful to you for reading this blog, and wish, with the deepest sincerity, that you also have a good home, a fulfilling occupation, people who you love that you, bad habits, good habits, simple luxuries and the other various sundries that make our short, fragile lives lush with pleasure and opportunity.

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the most powerful marketing feature on facebook

Its brilliant. viral marketing is now passive. its voyeur marketing. its marketing nirvana.

The News Feed on Facebook. I “friend” people I like and/or admire (or who like and/or admire me). I visit my home page, and I get snippets of what they are doing. Joe joined a new group or made a new friend or became a “fan” of a new brand or product. “Gee”, I say to myself, “Joe’s a pretty savvy guy, I wonder what that group is, who that person is, what that brand is”.

And there it is. I’m checking it out because Joe checked it out, and Joe didn’t have to take the active role of advocate. I am interested in what he does, so I can follow it passively.

I’m not sure if this was the original intent of the News Feed, but I think its the very most powerful form of viral marketing I’ve seen. Why? Because Joe doesn’t need to take the step of endorsing something. It’s his interest in something that is conveyed. And since I’m interested in what he’s interested in… it works. And I don’t need to become some smarmy “brand ambassador”. And as a marketing person, I don’t need to go find some way to incent or create some a “viral feature” that doesn’t really match my audience. Its gorgeous.

Even better! The Facebook Beacon application. Its a fantastic opportunity. I’m integrating this into my client’s project TODAY. The Facebook Beacon lets you make actions on your site feed into the News Feed on Facebook. Yes. If someone buys something, watches a video (I hope this works, I’m going to try it later and let you know), posts a comment or what have you, it will post to the News Feed. Yes, they’ve made it opt-out and privacy respecting. But the facebook audience is really into sharing. They don’t opt-out in droves.

So – what you get is a tool. If you create engagement on your site, you’ll be spreading the news of that engagement among your users’ friends. Without that user needing to do anything.

It’s perfect. For companies that have been trying to reach a younger demographic through social networking, and have had some trouble knowing where to start, it provides a great, low effort, low risk opportunity. I am going to be working with this quite a bit over the next few weeks, and I’ll report the results.

collaboration: tangibles and intangibles

Product teams are usually made up of geographically dispersed, differently skilled and talented people working toward the common goal of shipping something exciting and profitable.

This creates huge challenges, but can, under the right circumstances be an inspirational experience that produces great results. Wrong circumstances, bad experience, disappointing results. Real collaboration involves dividing responsibility and sharing ideas, insight and expertise. This is often a mix of structured and unstructured, formal and informal free style interaction that needs both tangible and intangible support and assets to succeed.

Tangibles

The tangibles in collaboration have to do with making the collaboration itself logistically easier. There are 3 core activities that current technology has begun to make great stride in:

1. Communication – Email, phone, IM, teleconferences, video conferences, etc. The tools of group communication are good and getting better.

2. Sharing – this is where some of the web 2.0 technology has made a real contribution. Wiki‘s and wiki based tools make sharing a lot of data in an unstructured way easy and fast.
3. Reuse. As professionals, we’re often asked to do things analogous to what we and other people we work with have done before. There’s frequently a lot of research and documentation of results. Most of the time, however, all that remains of this process is the documentation, and the memories preserved in the minds of the people involved. Wouldn’t it be handy if the research and collection phase were self-documenting? This is an area yet to be addressed by technology, and as such should perhaps be in the “intangibles” section – but I have hope for a solution here, and soon.

Intangibles

1. Respect. You all know you are all good at your jobs. Each person’s opinion is worth something.

2. Trust – you’re there to help each other, not climb over each other.

3. A shared sense of goals. Working toward a common objective and vision, not competing with one another.

With these three intangibles in place, nearly any group can have productive debate that sparks real innovation, problem solving and the excitement that gets the hard work done. Without them, debate becomes bickering, the team lacks the ability to refer to one another to solve problems, and the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

Getting started with wikis

One of the first things I like to do when I begin any engagement  or project is to set up a Wiki. Wikis are a great collaboration tool, and getting better. I like them because they are so simple to use its easy to get people to cooperate.

A wiki is basically a website that is meant to be designed and edited by a group of people. If you have a wiki, it means that you and your team, friends, whomever you designate as authorized can come, type, edit, and upload docs and meda. Don’t be alarmed by the idea of editing a web page. If you can use email and Microsoft Word, then you can easily use a wiki.

Early wikis had little formatting capability (unless you wanted to use html tags, and I don’t), and were really designed by and for engineers. But they’ve improved. In just the last six months, wiki tools have become more flexible, easier to use, and a lot nicer to look at.

Wikis can solve 2 very common problems:

1. The “What’s the Latest” problem: You’ve probably done this – email a doc out to a group, edit, resend. Things get out of date and out of synch. Nobody knows what the “latest” is. Post it to a wiki and bam – every one knows what the latest is. Every one is literally on the same page. Not only that, but whatever format you’ve got it in, and whatever email products everyone is using, the file won’t get munched in the transfer.

Having a wiki is like like having a shared notebook. You and your team can each post anything from minor comments to fully formalized docs. Everyone has equal access to them. I’ve managed large and simple software projects this way, along with the design and permitting process of a house.

2. The “Where is that thing” problem: Because its so easy to put stuff up there, people actually put stuff up there.. Feature ideas, minor issues that need attention, meeting notes, Aha! moments. The number of the pizza place. The team roster. Whatever it is you’re looking for now, you can stick up there, and then you’ll know where to look. Where is it? On the wiki.

Getting started.

Getting started is pretty much as easy as going to the wiki website of your choice, signing up, and dithering around with the buttons. Your second wiki will take you less than 30 seconds to set up. Your first may take all of 10 minutes, if you aren’t really used to the software. There are wikis that you can run on your own computer or on your own servers, but fortunately, there are plenty you can just go to, create an account, and you’re in.

Once you’re in, you can edit pages, add pages, upload stuff and link stuff together. Invite your teammates to join. They get an account, then they can edit the pages too.

Cautions:

1. The biggest problem I come across in a wiki is that while everything is up there, it can sometimes be hard to find. You may want to come to some kind of agreement with your group as to where you’ll put various categories of stuff.

2. Wysiwyg formatting is still not as good as it could be. We’re used to word and power point, and we’d like that level of sophistication in our tools. Google? Got a minute? I expect this to improve significantly and soon.

Free wiki’s to try:

These are just a few in a relatively crowded field.

http://www.wikispaces.com – this is my tried and true, but its not the most beautiful, nor does it have the nicest wysiwyg editor anymore. Has ad supported free, and paid, private offerings.

http://www.wikidot.com – love this. nicer editor, nicer looking. Free. Embedable widgets. Great formatting for academia: footnote, bibliography and formulae are all nicely handled.

http://www.pbwiki.com – also very nice. embedable widgets

or, if you have more elaborate collaboration needs, you can try: http://www.basecamphq.com, which includes, to do lists, time tracking, milestones, and more complete project management features.

The New New Internet

Last week I was at the TNNI conference. It’s a medium sized conference – about 700 people, but there were some very powerful things going on. People were there to discuss how the internet gives companies the opportunity and the challenge of relinquishing control of information. Information can be shared more easily, companies can collaborate internally more easily, and can engage in far more meaningful dialog with their customers. Seems all good – but there were some pretty interesting issues – legal, technical and bureaucratic – raised as well.

Most folks at the conference were trying to figure out how to make “web 2.0” help them collaborate more easily within the organization, hopefully freeing them from the IT police, and/or trying to figure out how and why a blog or user forum could help them improve their relationships with their users.

There are some great collaboration (or just sharing, really) tools available now that can get you up and running in a trice. (I’ll write about my favorite of the moment, wikispaces, another time) A wiki – and I quote from a conference speaker – gets everyone on the same page – literally. No more wondering if you have the latest version of whatever. Regardless if you prefer inline editing or formal docs, this is an easy and effective way to distribute them and maintain consistency over any size of team.

Collaboration is more than just sharing, of course. Its sharing, communicating, keeping a high level of information awareness (do you know if the team across the hall is solving your problem? or causing it?!?), and my favorite rant – reuse. (Once you’ve done the thinking, capture it, and reuse it. This is harder, and I think there’s some interesting thinking, and even more opportunity here.).

People brought up some really interesting issues on the marketing side. On the one hand, people are afraid of being left behind by not having blogs and user forums. On the other hand, people are not comfortable with loosing control of information. There are some darn good reasons for this.

Companies are concerned that people will say unflattering things. But negative comments can be a great opportunity. Any company can present a pretty face, but the real quality of a company comes out when it deals with bad news – mistakes or misperceptions – that are reported by the customer or the press. In the past, negative comments were passed person to person, and were distanced from the company. But now you can give people the opportunity to say it to you, and to respond. Admitting and fixing mistakes and misperceptions – and most importantly, demonstrating that you care about what people say, can make you a hero.

I got a much deeper look at some of the deeper challenges some companies face from the new participatory web. A woman from a pharmaceutical company told the room how people come to them looking for information, and that she very much wants to give it to them. But, it is illegal to discuss the details of medical cases and for non-doctors to dispense medical advice in such a forum. She’s concerned that her very knowledgeable and active user base will cross the line on the forums – divulging to much and offering too much information.

This is a real challenge. She can moderate the forum, and gently remind people of why those laws exist and point them toward places where their questions and knowledge are more appropriate. However, she can’t do it 24/7. There’s a lack of clarity about how liable her company is for this information, and some of those laws may need updating.

This is a huge challenge for the government as well. Security, privacy and liability are tough questions, and the issues and boundaries haven’t been tested. People don’t want to break the law. Or get fired.

What’s clear is that we’ve moved from an age of control to an age of emergence. Where companies need to be more in touch with their users and more responsive to what they hear than ever before. The new participatory tools of the internet are not just about social networking and blogging, but are changing the way people think about business and government. The new challenges they present are equally interesting.

There were some cool companies showing their wares, too. KickApps gives any company the tools to create their own social networks and forums. Jeremy Epstein was there from Microsoft. To say he’s excited about getting Microsoft into the game here would be an understatement. I wouldn’t be surprised if his enthusiasm and the people he attracts with it didn’t make a real difference in Redmond.

In short, the conference made it really clear that we’ve only just begun.

Work as play, Business as Art

So – I already wrote about Startup Weekend, but I need to say a little more. Building a product and a business is a creative and artful thing. No two are the same, and there are no rules for doing it. The goals may be different from art – but not entirely. And the process may be different, but not entirely. But for we lucky people, when things are as they should be, work is our creative playground, and bringing the right ideas and then the right actions together to build something that is useful gives us something special. Work isn’t like that every day, but Startup Weekend is like that every weekend.

People coming together, sharing ideas and practicing their craft – be it engineering design or business models, all essentially for the joy of doing something well. Its really a pleasure.