Month: January 2008

2 hints that the future has indeed arrived

Web 2.0 or, as I prefer, the “Participatory Web” is basically about increasing participation, and not all of it is revolutionary. Some is, at best, a new way to socialize or self-aggrandize. At worst-  a big waste of time.

But there are some wildly interesting things out there too. Here are two things that struck me as glimpses into the (not yet evenly distributed) future.

What would you add to this list to expand this little spy-hole onto what’s next.

1. The library of congress has posted its photos on Flickr (the most popular photo sharing site) – in order to get the public to help tag/narrate them.

2. Lessig’s read/write vision. If you haven’t yet, just watch it. I promise you won’t find it a waste of time. (if you do, you can slam me in the comments)

What else?

Glassbooth: Perfect – but why keep it a secret??

I was “facebooked” a link to Glassbooth. It is a very well done, non-partisan tool to help you explore the candidate’s positions and how well they match yours. Its fun, quick, and thought provoking. And it doesn’t make me feel as though I need to be radically one thing or another. And it doesn’t make me feel under or misinformed.

In other words – its unusually good.

But here’s how I’d like to see them expand their value and influence:

1. Hey guys – an “email this to a friend” link?

2. Even better – make it a facebook widget that sticks around. (Here are my 5 product requirements for social media widgets)

3. Begin a dialog on facebook and on their native site. Create an “add your question or comment here” spot. see and respond to the questions and comments of others. These are topical, important issues that people want to engage on – if they can do it without being shrill or having people be shrill back, or make them feel stupid.

Fill out the survey. Ask people their opinions. Ask people what they do and don’t feel they understand and know about. Make adding the widget part of a super group where there’s real stuff on the notice and comment board. You know – things like – how many of you feel like you know the difference between x and y. Or – this is how the No Child Left Behind act works and doesn’t.

4. Provide links to clear, non-partisan or at least bi-partisan info on key issues. Not all of us feel knowledgeable enough to have strong opinions on economic or health issues.

5. Create an opportunity for the community to engage with the ideas here.

(isn’t it funny how the most divisive issues in our country seem the simpest – civil rights, abortion, etc – people know, or think they know deeply, and the most complex issues, people are mushy about. Human issues versus administrative issues. Human issues are issues everyone understands and therefor have strong opinions about. Hm. Note to self – make all issues simple issues.)

New media makes talk a lot closer to action

At first it was just email – as soon as you thought about someone, you could jot off a note, without searching for paper, stamps, your address book, getting it written, putting it in the mail etc.

Then it was IM – even more immediate.

Then it was these blogs – think a thought, type a thought, and boom, its published to the world (or the very small subsection of it that reads my blog). (Pro – more thoughts out there, lower barriers. Cons – not everything is as high quality as you might like.)

Now – I have an ear out to truly remarkable people that I might have never known about or met. Through Twitter, and Facebook, I have a very up close view of what they are thinking about and doing. Through Wikis, email, twitter, this blog, facebook and dozens of other websites, I can act almost as quickly as I find out about things. New conferences that are likely to collect wildly interesting groups of people – not only can I register, I can get involved. Contacting people about projects and expertise that I never would have tracked down, without this new social networking thing. Donating money to help women in Africa start businesses to support their families and communities. Keeping my imagination charged with the ideas and activities of others…. its pretty darn cool.

And another thing is going on. When I’m away from the internet – it seems so quiet. And I haven’t even begun to really get into things like digg yet.

So – what’s the next step in eliminating boundaries? If we look at Web 2.0 as the participatory web – a slightly different slant than the “social web” – then what are the possibilities? How can we make it easier to expand and achieve our goals, our dreams through technology?

Web 2.0 and Digital Asset Management

Yesterday, I gave a talk to people developing high end DAM solutions about how Web 2.0 is affecting DAM. In short, Web 2.0 is creating a proliferation of media, changing the process of creation, collaboration and use, and driving the need for DAM solutions to integrate with more tools and think about metadata a bit differently. Moreover, Web 2.0 is changing how major media producers think about new ways to use their assets.

Here are the slides. Web 2.0 and DAM

Politweet – brilliant web 2.0 app

Twitter is a phenomenon, in certain crowds. Its a micro-blogging tool. Or, sort of like IMing to an open audience. Some people become massively addicted, and a few are key personalities that everyone follows.

I use it to keep an ear out for interesting stuff. Because I “follow” people in my industry I get some useful insight, but the signal to noise ratio is pretty high, if you know what I mean. It may be satisfying to share with the world that you’re in a good mood today, but it doesn’t make for a really compelling read.

But Politweet turns that around. I now can follow something very interesting to me – by subject. In theory, anyone who chimes in on the US presidential campaigns will turn up on Politweets.

This kind of thinking could go a thousand different ways. What I like about it is that it takes something vaguely interesting and useful (Twitter) and adds a new dimension to it that makes it much more interesting.  Yeah- originality.

trouble in the middle of the room

I have this big color laser printer. You know the kind – its about the size of a large old fashioned tv set, and about as heavy. Its sitting in the middle of my office. On the floor. Its been there for over a month. Its in a spot where I actually have to walk around it to answer the phone, or to get on my elliptical trainer, and I makes it difficult to pace the way I prefer when on conference calls.

So why is it still there? Cause I don’t really know what to do with it. I don’t want this giant to take up the space where my current printer is. Its too nice to get rid of. I don’t feel like taking the 15 minutes to hook it up.

This is exactly the kind of thing that happens in most product development cycles. These problems. That everyone knows about, but doesn’t exactly know what to do about.

And there’s the opportunity right there to make the difference between good and great. Find those things littered around the floor. Sometimes they are UI issues. Sometimes its a feature that’s lacking. Or the fact that the customer research says everyone wants green and you have blue. Or the fact that the licensing isn’t (and won’t be) in place. Don’t ignore them. Make it an absolute virtue to say – hey look everyone – theres this stupid printer in the middle of the @*#&^@ floor.

You may catch some heat, at first. In some companies I’ve worked for, the pressure to ignore these things gets greater as you go up the hierarchy (I’ve never been able to understand this, and its one reason I find consulting to suit me). But ultimately, if you can be part of a team, that will never pass a printer in the middle of the floor without deciding what to do about it and then doing it, you will do great things.

5 Product Requirements for Social Media Widgets (at least)

Lately I’ve been asked to help design or add input to several widgets designed to create a sticky and viral presence in places like Facebook, Blogs and other “New Media” outlets.

Here are some rules of thumb that I’ve come up with. As I see it now, there are 5 basic requirements to make these successful. The importance of each will vary according to the goals (don’t neglect to examine yours) and context of the widget.

1. Compelling seed content.
Text, Video, Flash, Game-like interaction, or – heavens – Utility! Whatever, but you need a reason for people to look at it. Some kind of clever, meaningful, interesting or compelling hook. Humor is a good one. The chance to “do good” is another. Entertainment (puzzles, etc), a third. The Bob Dylan Facebook app does this in spades for me, even though its not very useful.

2. Sharing
Every good widget must have some easy way of sharing it or otherwise spreading the word. Otherwise you’re shortsheeting yourself. Super Groups on Yahoo have some great features for this. Check “John Stewart for Moderator“.

3. User contributions

Most new media widgets should have some way of allowing users to contribute – either through comments, or ratings, uploading pics, or something. The easier and more creative the better. But be careful about having people harshly rate people who are trying to do good.

4. Look and feel.

This is New Media. Design is IMPORTANT. It needs to be hot, fresh, and interesting. And it needs to be ergonomic. Think about what links and actions need to be visible and make them boldly so. No boring hotel room art, you know what I mean?

Also – you need to be sensitive to who’s using it and how. Do you really want consumer ratings of people’s earnest thoughts? Frame your language and your functionality so that people feel good about using it, not insulted (well I guess there are some rare funny things where insults work, but who looks at those every day?)

5. Tracking

No good product should go unmeasured. Continual Improvement (aka learning) relies on objective measures.

Number of interactions, number of referrals, and number of productive referrals should all be tracked. Return visits – people who come back to check on it should be counted.

Got more? Please share what you’ve learned in the comments.

Passion is a best practice.

Want to build something great? You have to want it. Bad.

Here are some somewhat random thoughts about passion, quality, genius and boredom and mediocrity.

Greatness is rarely achieved by accident. It is the result of a pure vision, refined over time and developed with care and purpose. I do not believe that it is possible to develop a truly great product without at least one very influential visionary on the team. Why?

Well – on the way to any goal, there are about a million little decisions and tradeoffs that need to be made. Without a vision, a North Star, as they liked to say at Adobe, those tradeoffs end up in a bland compromise.

But we have to compromise! Of course we do – we need to make decisions. But with a clarity of vision and purpose, those decisions make a product stronger, not weaker.

Without vision, its hard to care, to offer the attention to detail necessary to make it perfect. Pure discipline is a hard way to attend to the details. We need discipline in everything we do – of course, but discipline fueled by passion is incredibly powerful. Discipline supported by sheer force of will – well its just hard to maintain and sustain.

An interesting micro-cosmical example of this happened at Startup Weekend a couple of months ago. Various ideas were pitched and discarded, and the one startup idea that was voted in was a site that enabled micro-social networking for neighborhood communities. The problem? The guy with the idea split shortly after the vote. Leaving the rest of the people – even those who thought it had been a good idea – looking around for what was special about it, and what would make it more than yet another social networking site. We eventually came up with a couple of reasonable value propositions that we bickered about a bit, and ended up spending the weekend working on features that were neither here nor there.

Now – this was a situation where it really didn’t matter much. The point of the weekend was to see if we could launch something, learn, have some fun. All of which we did – and it was a FANTASTIC and wholy worthwhile experience that I hope I can repeat someday. But. It made a great little expose on why a little passion goes a long way.

On the flip side. When I worked at AOL, oh so many years ago, we launched an online calendar. In those days, an online calendar was still a new-ish thing, and AOL was still the leading provider of consumer internet access. But our little calendar was sweet. Every detail was lovingly designed, debated and improved. We had a crystal clear notion of what we were building and why, and what we wanted it to become someday. The team had a huge spark of creative endeavor. For a calendar. Its not the product – its the passion behind it.

What’s your passion? What’s fueling your creativity? What will make your next product great, not just there?