What I learned today: 2/16/2010

Kick users off Terminal Services (Windows server management)

Agile Manifesto (Software development principles)

NPR Story: Why Does Time Fly By As You Get Older – We perceive time by how much we have to write into our brain. The older we get, the less new experiences we have, the less we need to learn/remember. When reflecting on our lives, our youth is more packed with memories, and therefore seems like time went slower.

Five Things MindBites learned from building their mobile site

Google’s Nexus One: Getting the Fleet in Line with a Flagship

Google’s Nexus One was announced last week and got a lot of press, but I think much of the press coverage was missing the larger point. Google’s goal isn’t to sell tens of millions of Nexus Ones. It’s goal is to get the carriers and manufacturers in line so they can sell hundreds of millions of Android handsets that consumers can trust will be continuously upgraded. At the same time it tells developers the device that Google will be developing their latest releases of Android against.

iPhone as the Benchmark

Android’s main competition is the iPhone/iPod Touch. It is the clear market leader in micro-computing (the major step up from mere smart-phones). They have become the market leader with hardware and software and an ecosystem that  they control fanatically. Apple has created a unified and smooth experience that is consistant from its launch in June 2007 until now (January 2010). Apple also offers  predictable, reliable and valuable upgrades that keeps their user base happy, engaged and excited. They also have the incentive to upgrade legacy devices through revenue from the App Store carrier revenue sharing.

Apple’s iPhone/Touch community is as loyal/rabid a fan base as I have ever seen a brand have. There is little market research on the loyalties of pot heads and crack addicts, but if there were, many members of the iPhone crowd would be in the same ballpark of fanaticism.

Blackberry has it to an extent, and Google wants it, but has not had enough of a consistent offering to give the critical mass something to rally around.

Google’s Android Introduction

That is the space that Google is entered when they came out with their first Android phone, the branded G1/HTC Dream. They were heavily involved with the hardware on that product, and  had not released the SDK for Android at that point.

Thirteen months later, something happened that was both common in the mobile phone space and had to have bothered Android Product Managers.  Motorola introduced the Cliq with Motoblur. More on that in a bit.

Background on a Common Carrier/Handset Manufacturer Practice

HTC, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, LG, Sayno, Blackberry and others make handsets that they sell to the major wireless carriers who then resell to their subscribers. The reason there are so many different flavors of Blackberry is because each carrier wants their device to be a little different and distinguished from the Blackberries on another carrier. If the exact same phone is sold by Sprint, Verizon, At&t and T-Mobile, then they can only differentiate on price, network performance and customer service. Keeping “better phones” as a differentiator is extremely valuable, and they wouldn’t know what to do without it.

T-Mobile got Blackberries with WiFi and WiFi calling. At&t got GPS and 3G first. Verizon was just happy not to be stuck with phones that were actually current when they released them. The carriers get to highlight their competitive advantages, regardless of how slight, but now Blackberry cannot get any traction behind their App World because developers can’t imagine developing for 1,500 flavors of 10 models.

Look as the value that At&t has gotten as the exclusive carrier of the iPhone in the US. It drives tremendous interest in At&t’s brand, even for people who don’t buy the iPhone. Apple hasn’t had to create different flavors for different carriers because At&t paid a huge premium for that exclusivity.

Google’s model for Android aspires to have the consistency of  the iPhone model, but when driven by 25 different companies expert in maximizing tiny little differences, Android risks being fragmented into oblivion, much like Blackberry risks now (but with millions addicted to the keyboards and contracted to the service).

Google’s Challenge with Carrier/Manufacturer Distinction aka the Motoblur conundrum

With Android, now manufacturers have the need desire to differentiate themselves.  Motorola doesn’t want to compete with HTC on just hardware. They enhanced/changed their Android offering to offer a distinct value to their device that was not available on other Android devices.

Motoblur is widget system that aggregates feeds from MySpace, Facebook and Twitter that puts them into the home screen user interface and prevents the need of logging into distinct apps, or an app at all.

Good idea? At launch, maybe. There are new cool things that made people talk about Motorola getting their act together with Android. But not long-term when considering the ramifications of being old, inflexible and obsolete (like Windows Mobile).

Open-source Android 1.5 was released to the world in April 2009. Android’s second public release was 1.6 in September.

In late October, Adroid 2.0 was released.

Motoblur was released on the Cliq in early November, 2009 running on Android 1.6. It was likely in development for 2-3 months with Android 1.5, then ported to 1.6 in weeks of frantic coding.

On launch day Cliq was now running Android 1.6 with some major customizations but running on a full version back of Android. Personally, I found the Cliq intriguing, but on the release day it was already on an obsolete operating system, and I wanted the latest operating system more than I wanted a pre-installed twitter/facebook/myspace aggregator.

Did Motorola hurry up and port Motoblur to their just released device? Nope. They were busy focusing on development efforts of the Droid and Eris. Also, they don’t have any motivation to upgrade old devices. After the sale, they don’t get ongoing revenue like the carriers or Apple or Blackberry.

Motorola’s Cliq is not the only example of a customized Android leaving a handset stuck on an outdated release, just one that I found particularly vivid in the Android/carrier/manufacturer challenge.

Nexus One as the Android Flagship

As the operating system owner, with no control over hardware, Google was left hoping that handset manufacturers wouldn’t continue to commit themselves to old, upgrade-resistant flavors of Android. The fact that Android is open source didn’t leave Google with much leverage in the matter.

So, they created their own branded phone that could be the flagship of Android. It would have Google’s behind it creating more legitimacy of Android. This was no longer a hobby for Google. They were visibly heavily invested.

The Nexus One got market leading specs for the hardware and every bell and whistle on it. It’s also safe to assume that Google will make sure that the Nexus One will get all the latest Android updates. This is Google’s reference handset to develop against. For app developers, it should be their reference handset too. The fact that it is available to consumers with the full force of the Google brand behind it legitimizes the scale of that investment.

The flagship flavor of Android doesn’t have any root level modifications, and is the most appealing phone out there. For carriers and manufactures, having a flagship model that runs the OS native makes any tweaks they could make to it hurt them more than it helps them.

So has Google gotten the troops in line behind Android unfettered? I think so. The Droid, with it’s $80M ad budget behind it is Android 2.0 unadorned.

Having all Android handsets support stock Android and easy upgrades is a differentiator that traditional phones cannot compare too. Does it level the playing field in a way that may diminish the beauty marks of carrier manufacturers and handset manufacturers? Yes. But it also shows what used to be perceived as market differentiators (beauty marks) are actually malignant moles that now grow hair, and without updates that trim that hair, they become less and less attractive over time (sorry Cliq with all your hairy moles).

With a unified front of carriers, manufacturers, open source developers and Google, there will be a competitive force that can compete with Apple. Without that unified force, Android is doomed to be something more akin to Symbian or Linux, where it is a viable product but there is no marketing muscle or unifying force behind it and it is reduced to niche markets that never hits the mainstream.

With the Nexus One, Google is shaping a model for an open-source commercially viable ecosystem.They are putting huge marketing muscle behind making the most attractive flavor vanilla, because it will always be kept fresh, and with their App world, can easily be flavored to taste by the end user.

If this works, the Nexus One doesn’t need to move many units, as long as it is the handset benchmark for the manufactures, carriers, developers and consumers. They just merged more of their ecosystem from Route 66 to the interstate. The only people pining for the good old days will be the marketing departments from the carriers and the manufacturers. The rest of the world will be much happier to move faster, smoother, less expensively and more efficiently.

How to Improve America’s Legislature

The American government has some things that are worth considering fixing. (two suggestions at the end)

There are two items that are the cause of the issue, and neither are bad in their own right, but when put together cause problems.
1. Representation based on geographical districts
2. Bills get edited and end up much larger than when they start out.

The legislative branch is the strongest wing of our government. It is fractured by design to make sure that everyone is represented. The problem with this is that it leaves the executive branch to look out for everyone, as a whole.

Case in point: the current health care bill (12/2009). From what I can tell, it started out being relatively clean with the goal of reigning in the insurance industry, trying to cut down overall health care costs, and keep people from going bankrupt to pay for health care, with the expansion of government coverage.

The bill as it stands has been diluted from two directions in order to get enough legislative support to pass it. First, things like the public option and single payer have been removed. That must have earned more votes than it lost. The remaining votes had to be bought with earmarks, or giveaways to their districts.

So, anyone who is going to support the bill now, because of earmarks for them, is no longer voting for the bill, but instead voting for the earmarks in the bill.

So, how to fix this.

1. A per-capita tax of 50% for benefits within a bill based on district. Does the federal government give your town $50m to build a dike? Great. The 300,000 voters in your district now pay $83.33 as their share of the dike. But now, rather than it being paid for at a rate of 0.0005%, it’s now 50%. Pork projects by representatives would be received differently if the represented people actually had to pay for some of the pork.

2. Each bill only does one thing. Sure, you’ll have gridlock without people voting for their earmarks. But there’s gridlock now, and the price for unlocking the gridlock is tons of unnecessary spending. So, if you want earmarks write it so people will vote for it on its own. Your district will be paying 50% of the cost, so sure. This also removes the need for a line-item veto.

Unused Apps. The orphans of the App Store.

Over the last two years, I have been a heavy user of the Apple App store. Based on data, my usage is in line with average usage, but at about 4x the volume of average.

Part of this heavy usage is due to being product manager for an app, and the rest can be chalked up to curiosity and an addictive personality.

In discussions with businesses about a mobility strategy and how they can use mobility to communicate with their customers, their first impulse is to listen and discuss.

The second impulse is to think “Branded App!”

Why a branded app is almost always a bad idea

Just a little bit of research will show two points:

  • Most apps that get downloaded are never used within 3 days of being downloaded
  • Most apps are barely ever downloaded

Stats to back it up:

  • It is hard to get downloaded at all: AndroLib (fantastic live Android stats) as of 12/16/2009: of 20,164 apps, 30.5% have fewer than 50 downloads. Only 14% of all apps have more than 10,000 downloads, and less than 1% has more than 250,000 downloads.
  • Once downloaded, few applications are kept: Pinch Media has an excellent report. See slide 12/33. The day after a free app download, usage drops to 20% and continues a logarithmic decrease, hitting 5% after a month. If you’ve made it that far, congrats, you are only going to lose 50% of your users over the next month. “Long-term audiences are generally 1% of total downloads.” “Branded applications care deeply about engagement.”

So, some quick analysis of this. Say PicoPaint makes car paint, and they want to drive you to car painting places that use their paint, and sell you on why to use their paint. They start talking mobility and think “Let’s get an app!”

An app can cost as little as $5,000. That’s not much more than an ad in an industry magazine. Sold! Right? No.

To integrate location based recommendations for where to get your car painted once launched, that means a database of all vendors with your paint. It also means web services to populate that recommendation. You’re now at least $15,000 invested, and that’s just the outsourced time. PicoPaint’s marketing department has now been distracted from core marketing on this side project.

So PicoPaint goes ahead and spends $15,000 on the app, and four weeks of marketing time in planning (another $8,000).

What do they get:

  • An industry press release, and buzz at being cutting edge.
  • Employees take pride in being associated with something as cool as the App store.
  • 40 people who aren’t employees or competitors download the app.
  • After 24 hours, 4 people still have it on their phone.
  • Maybe one person is influenced to use PicoPaint rather than an alternative.

That looks like a horrible return on investment to me.

What would be better

Get listed in apps that are established and have dynamic content. Options:

  • Mobile ads. Pay to be part of a local newspaper app’s add content. $23,000 would go a long way at $0.10 per click.
  • Content in a location based content server.

InView Mobile Solves This Problem

Disclaimer: I product manage InView Mobile

This problem is solved using InView Mobile. InView Mobile is a directory of content that is nearby, and a player for mobile content, just like an app, but with many sets of content within the app.

The content in the directory may be an ad, or a coupon, or just information about a location. It has value for being dynamic content, which is more appealing to consumers. As they move around, the top content changes. That adds to the appeal of keeping it longer than one day. The PicoPaint app would always be the same.

Also, with InView Mobile, there is far less cost to update the app with new content. InView Mobile content can be created within hours, by anyone, and updated within minutes. App store approval lead time is 2-4 weeks. With 50,000+ apps needing updates, and apps every day, there is no telling what lead time would be required.

The big value here is that with many venues pushing InView Mobile as a source to see their content, it creates an ecosystem within one app to drive usage. The more venues that have InView Mobile content, the more nearby venues will also have their content viewed.

So, if PicoPaint went with InView Mobile, someone at TacoTaco who launched InView Mobile for a 2-for-1 special may see the PicoPaint listing and check that out. Almost nobody will search for, find and download a PicoPaint standalone app. And nobody would keep the PicoPaint app after a few days.

Search the Apple App store for InView Mobile for samples. Hit up @benguthrie @inviewmobile for feedback.

HTML5 Sample Repository

These are some things to show HTML5 Functionality

Simple Samples:

Show-Off Sites:

  • http://mugtug.com/sketchpad/

    Webkit Sample Repository

    These are a list of mobile sites with good examples of webkit code that is easy to replicate, or used to show potential:

    Easy to replicate

    • GroupAware – Site that replicates native apple mobile os navigation, lists, orientation hooks and external docs
    • JQTouch – JQuery extensions for webkit
    • Fixed Positioning / Context (Referred by Sherif Tariq)
    • GirlieMac – Blog filtered by “webkit”. Many good code examples.
      • Snow – Falling snow animation. Fading in and out, with fluttering.
      • Matrix – Text at different speeds, oriented 90 degrees
      • Glossy Button – No images used.

    Show offs

    Feel free to email me or add a comment with more examples that you’d like to have on this list, and I’ll include it, and give you credit for the recommendation.

    Influences

    A few months ago, my manager asked his team what podcasts/RSS feeds we read. It was a nice exercise, and led me to re-organize Google Reader. and one that I’d love to have access to from everyone.

    If you want to share/suggest, I’d love to get your feedback either on Facebook or at http://ben.bemily.com

    Here is my list of media that I read/listen/watch all of:

    Podcasts:

    • Radiolab
    • This American Life
    • Stuff You Should Know
    • NPR: Planet Money
    • Geekbrief.tv
    • The Onion (audio and video)
    • 60-Second Science
    • The Current Song of the Day
    • NPR: Story of the Day
    • NPR: Technology
    • 1310 The Ticket
    • KEXP Song of the Day
    • President Obama’s Weekly Radio Address
    • Today In The Past (Jonathan Hodgman)

    RSS: Work related

    • The Design Blog
    • AppleInsider
    • Engadget

    RSS: Entertainment

    • The Gourds live concerts from archive.org
    • The Big Storm Picture
    • Probably Bad News
    • There, I Fixed It
    • GordonKeith.com
    • Ackward Family Photos
    • The FAIL Blog
    • garfield minus garfield
    • xkdc.com
    • Boston.com’s The Big Picture

    RSS: Personal Improvement

    • Lifehacker
    • Metaefficient

    Keeping Social Media in its Place

    Over the last five years or so, there has been an explosion of social media offerings, and many have unique value. There is enough content and enough potential connections for most people to easily spend 40 hours a week maintaining/monitoring all of them.

    The way I use these networks takes about 10-15 minutes a day and is more benefit than cost. On Facebook, I read my friend feed about three times a day, until I’ve read to where I left off. Anything that makes me laugh or that I particularly enjoy, I “like” or comment on. I should post more than I do, as often as 1-2 times per day. However, like everyone else, I lurk, reading far more than I write.

    In order to have networks improve my life and not detract from them, I have developed some policies to keep them in their place and keep them optimized.

    First, some general guidelines for how I manage my online presence:

    • No whining. If you must whine, do it to someone who cares about your venting and helps you feel better after getting it off your chest. If your social network is your support group, you’re in trouble.
    • Curate your posts as a log with a purpose.
    • Don’t clutter your network with off-purpose posts or irrelevant contacts.
    • Delete contacts who add clutter.

    Twitter

    Twitter is the most misunderstood social media channel.

    Twitter is for hype. Share what you want people to know about you, and if they care, it is available to them. There is not an easier way to allow people to opt in to learning about you.

    Essentially, it allows you to subscribe to a stream of communications from many different sources that do not need to be read. I can get up to 200 emails a day. Most are not just to me. Many are marketing communications. Twitter allows me to subscribe to the marketing messages I care about (buy.com/mwave/politicians) all in one feed, without worrying if I am reading all the messages, and now communications are no longer hitting my inbox.

    Sure, people could tweet every time they go poop. They aren’t doing it in a way that I’d be interested in following. Unless it’s the co-worker prank where they tweet his toots.

    A great aspect of Twitter is that it is so casual. Following/unfollowing people generally doesn’t require any reciprocation or permission.

    Who/What I Follow:

    • Friends/Neighbors who I’m interested in following
    • Thought leaders – People who research and stay up on topics, and share highlights from their research and also their thoughts about topics
    • Funny things: the onion, shitmydadsays
    • Hot deals: MWave has hourly Specials. Buy.com highlights “What’s Shakin” items.
    • My elected leaders. Sheffie Kadane is merely squatting. Angela Hunt does it right, highlighting her actions and what is driving her policy decisions.

     Facebook

    Facebook is probably over 50% of all social media traffic. When used correctly, it enhances real, offline relationships. It’s much easier to meet up with your friends and not have to go through the “so how have you been”, and cut straight to the “So how did your costume end up? Did that wig really stay on?” 

    Facebook defaults to private and relationships are required to be reciprocated.

    It extends your network by showing you content about your friends when friends that are not in common posts something about them. Because of this, you have to think of your least presentable state that you may ever be photographed in, like drunk at a costume party when you are in drag and hugging strangers. If you get tagged in someone’s picture, all your contacts will be pointed to that picture. Now, what contacts do you want to see you in that state?

    That said, here are my Facebook policies:

    • I do not “friend” co-workers or clients. That’s what Linked-In is for. 
    • Drive traffic to my other networks: this blog, Flickr, anything else I want to promote
    • Think about my contacts and post things that I think they would be interested in.
    • Only friend people that I would want to sit with and have a conversation. Personal threshold: If I see them out, I would want to go talk to them, and if it was at a restaraunt, invite them to sit with me.

    Linked-In

    Linked-In is a professional networking site. It’s a good way to find people to hire, and find connections to jobs. It’s one of those places that are not that useful until you need it, and then it is indispensable.

    There is almost no deterrant to growing a giant network.

    Myspace

    Myspace let their users ruin the presentation of Myspace. However, they did get the band presentation right, and still have a value there. Any band will have a Myspace page with concert dates, songs, news and pictures. The Polyphonic Spree has a hard to navigate official site and I get what I want from their Myspace, so will rarely go to their official site.

    Others

    For me, other social networks are

    • niche (goodreads)
    • an aggregator (tumblr, maybe)?
    • redundant: orkut, tribe.net…

    The above categories are optional, and useful to some people, but will never have the universal applicability of Facebook/Twitter/Linked-In.

    Ancedotes:

    • In early 2009, a web design company made huge buzz by giving away some computers for mentioning them in tweets. They took all tweets that mentioned them, and drew from that. They were one of the top trending topics for days and days, above Iran, which was having a huge feed due to their goofy election. Two of my contacts started cluttering up my Twitter feed with posts just to enter. Thankfully, I was able to unfollow them easily for a couple weeks until the marketing campaign ended. I told them that I was un-following them due to them spamming. After following them since, they have not done this again.
    • A colleague of mine who I am fond of sent me a Facebook friend request. I let him know that I don’t let work onto Facebook and wrote him a LinkedIn recommendation instead. He did not reciporcate the recommendation, but did write a nice note about understanding the different use cases.
    • I tweeted how a good use of Adobe Flash is one that doesn’t look like Flash, and referenced samsung.com. Within 30 minutes, SamsungUSA was following me on Twitter. That was cool.
    • Facebook allowed me to go see Mates of State with a friend who had a late cancellation.

    Conclusion

    Social networks require management and enforcement of policies to keep them from being valuable tools and keep you from turning into one.

    I say things like “Did you hear Bob went to Germany?” and not “Did you see that Bob posted on Facebook pictures from his trip to Germany?”  I’d rather talk about my impressions of it with them than have them visit Bob’s page to see it for themselves.

    Some people don’t seem to care when their virutal interactions actually get in the way of their real interactions. As for me, I aspire to make the most of real interactions, and therefore will wrap this up and go hang out with my in-laws.

    Parallels Between Children and Pets, or Have You Walked Your Kid Today?

    If that dog trainer guy and one of the special nannies were to swap programs, I bet the dog trainer guy would be better than the special nanny.

    On the airplane yesterday, a girl in her 20’s is on her starter child: a beagle she got as a puppy and is now about one year old. Developmentally, there are a lot of paralells between things she is going through with her dog, that we may be seeing in Joseph and Felix.

    Her vet said her dog needs 45-60 minutes of excersize per day or there will be behavior problems. It is easy to see how this could also be applied to children.

    Thinking about the excercise parallel also got me thinking about what other parallels there may be. Over the next couple weeks, I’ll read up on dog training to think about this.

    Live Blogging the Conan O’Brian Premiere

    1. Loved the running through the country. Generally impressed with his running prowess, and the commitment to many different actual venues across the country. Excellent.
    2. Nice old school peacock logo
    3. General negatives on keeping the same theme song
    4. Four thumbs down for keeping Max Weinberg
    5. Big ups to Andy Richter being back
    6. Questionable first use of video posing the VP as a racist
    7. Conan as studio tour guide: par. Would have been great as a regular bit, but this is premiere night, and could have had more of a bang. Bus going on the streets was a nice touch, but showing the police escort ruined some of the magic.
    8. First commercial break 25 min in. The tone has been set. Different from Leno, but generally appealing. Hopefully he’s grown out of the over-deprication and puppeteering with his pockets.
    9. I wonder how Letterman is going to react to being bumped as the quirky everyman of prime-late-night, and pushed into the “safer” position.
    10. Hollywoo: nice. Making effective progress toward establishing himself in LA/California.
    11. Taurus bit: no, he is not Leno. It was awesome when Brad Pitt drove it like he stole it about ten years ago. Good to know he still has it.
    12. Ashton Kutcher is a blight upon the image of Nikon. He’s a fantastic over the top pompous jerk on Punk’d. But as a pitchman, he gives me the creeps.
    13. Will Ferrell entrance: nice. Fun, silly, premiere appropriate, and ties in with his movie, kinda.
    14. Nice that the first Conan deprecating comment comes from Will Ferrell and not Conan himself.
    15. “Liza Minelli is a communist. Voting for her is like pissing the American flag.” – It’s nice that Conan didn’t try to squelch it too much. I can just hear Leno or Letterman trying to poo poo that kind of crazy talk.
    16. It’s funny that this is toned-down Will Ferrell on Conan. All his other appearances seemed to be him dressed in a green sequined bikini bottom and acting insane. It’s still quirky and funny, but not as crazy as it has been at times.
    17. It’s a nice touch how they’re using Conan’s hair as part of the show’s branding, but his real hair, not that cartooney dot-eyed charactacture from before. And only from the bridge of the nose up. Again, another subtle “not Leno and his trademark chin”.
    18. Pearl Jam: Stone Gossard? Where were you? Their music has gotten sloppier with time. In Vs. and Ten, there were hummable riffs. Recent albums don’t seem to have anything that showcases instruments and single riffs. But on the Conan angle, it’s a stark and welcomed contrast to Leno’s last musical guest James Taylor.
    19. It’ll be interesting to see how Andy will be integrated into the show in the future. It was nice that he came to talk to Will Ferrell at the end of the show to remind people that he was there. Tonight did, and should have highlighted Conan. Hopefully Andy will be a big player in all the skits. Jimmy Fallon’s integration of  his announcer Steve Higgens is nice, with him being on stage and available for obvious eye contact.

    Well, show’s over, so Live Blogging must now end. That to everyone (Ryan Burke!) for their participation.


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