Whiteboard Animations – Great Method to Explain Concepts

May 28th, 2010

I’m a huge fan of whiteboards and an even bigger fan of using whiteboards to make concepts accessible and clear.  I saw today on both Robert Scoble’s and Brad Feld’s blogs a video explaining incentives using whiteboard animations.  RSA Animate is a series of videos that you can find on YouTube that take various subjects and show a video of someone drawing out the concepts on a whiteboard while the author narrates.  In the video below, you’ll hear Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, talk about why money isn’t a great motivator for cognitive tasks.  While you hear him explain the science and studies behind the argument for 11.5 minutes, an artist is whiteboarding everything he says in a clear manner.  He even mentions how valuable Hackathons are.  I encourage you to check out the video:

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Nook vs Kindle AKA Open Vs Closed

May 19th, 2010

The Barnes and Nobles Nook and the Amazon.com Kindle are similarly capable e-readers.  They use the same e-ink screen and both have wifi and free 3g cellular service for quickly downloading books from their stores.  The Nook has a small color touchscreen under the e-ink display while the Kindle has a physical keyboard, but that isn’t the big advantage that the Nook has over the Kindle.

Nook vs Kindle

The main difference is that the Nook is an open system while the Kindle is not.  The Nook is powered by the Android OS, so theoretically you can program whatever you want that works ok within the device UI, and devs have added programs like Pandora to the e-reader successfully.  The Kindle is running a closed OS so the only way to add new programs is if Amazon adds them to the device.  Both devices have a web browser and the Nook also has Sudoku and Chess, which actually work surprisingly well utilizing the color touchscreen.

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Bananagrams – Innovation through Easing Scrabble’s Pain Points

May 6th, 2010

Scrabble is one of the most popular games of all time, far ahead of the many competing word games out on retail shelves.  However, it is not without its pain points, which lessen the enjoyment of the game for many.  Some of the pain points are: time spent waiting for other players to take their turns, luck factor in drawing high value letters, time to play a full game, and the need for paper, pencil and board along with keeping score.  A new game called Bananagrams solves those pain points while still keeping much of the fun of Scrabble.

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Incentivize Users to Drive Traffic to Your Site

May 4th, 2010

If you want to get a lot of cheap traffic to your site and quickly build up a user base, then incentivize users to spread the word and market your site for you.  Pyramid schemes work because users have strong incentive to attract more users.  While illegal and non-sustainable, they are still a good example of the how powerful it is to have your users work for you.  SEO traffic takes time to build and can rise and fall with competitor efforts and algorithm changes.  SEM traffic costs money for each user and grows linearly.  Word of mouth traffic grows exponentially.  Below are some examples of sites that have thrived from giving users incentive to spread the word and get their friends involved.

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HP May Understand Tablets After All

May 3rd, 2010

I wrote a few weeks ago that tablet manufacturers are missing the point when they use a desktop OS like Windows 7 in order to be compatible with desktop software.  That post was written after reading about HP’s slate, which was a Windows 7 device, so basically a netbook without a keyboard.  I argued that a touchscreen-specific OS and software should be used on tablets; using desktop on tablets has been tried for the past decade and hasn’t worked.  There are two valid OSes right now: iPhone OS and Android.  Unfortunately for tablet makers, only Apple can use iPhone OS, leaving Android as the only current choice.

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Follow Fridays – Chris Dixon and Hunch

April 30th, 2010

A popular Twitter activity is Follow Fridays, where users recommend some Twitter users for others to follow.  I’m going to do something somewhat similar on here.  Every Friday, I’m going to write a post about other people, blogs or companies.  I’ll either recommend a blog to read, post a few blog posts that I enjoyed in the past week, discuss a company that I think is being innovative and/or building a sweet spot product, or something similar.  I read a lot of blogs daily via RSS Reader on my iPhone and enjoy reading about innovative startups or larger companies that are doing something to gain a competitive advantage.   When I discuss a blog on Friday, I’ll also add it to my blogroll on the right rail so you can easily go to any of the blogs I recommend from there.

For the first week, I’m going to do a double-header, although both are from the mind of the same guy: Chris Dixon.  The first is his website, hunch.com, which is a true decision engine, not a search engine with extra data like bing.  It relies on users adding structured data to provide recommendations on topics that are not factual or black and white.

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Is Innovation in Short Supply at Your Company? Hold a Hackathon

April 29th, 2010

Often corporate directives and long-term roadmaps get in the way of creating and building innovative products that have the potential to give you a competitive advantage.  It can be difficult to justify bumping something proven, but ‘me-too,’ in the roadmap for a risky, unproven innovative feature.  So departments continue to execute on the roadmap, with low-priority differentiating features continually bumped down so that they never end up getting done.  A potential cure for this disease is to hold a Hackathon.

A Hackathon brings together employees from various departments to collaborate on building a demonstrable prototype on an idea discussed and fleshed out in the group.  Many times the entire event occurs in one day, so in the span of 9 hours teams are formed, ideas are brainstormed, and prototypes are built and demonstrated.  The idea is to get out of the box of the products you are currently working on and spark creativity by being forced to go very fast, utilizing the more intuitive part of your brain.  You also get to collaborate with employees that you may not normally work with, which may show you different perspectives or give you a glimpse of how some other departments see the products or the market space.  The end result is a demonstrable prototype of the idea, which may have a better chance of getting that product onto the roadmap than a powerpoint on the idea.  Or the product can be launched on its own as a minimum viable product to get customer feedback and iterate on it as necessary.  As a bonus, Hackathons are fun!

Psychology of Choice Guiding Product Design

April 28th, 2010

How we make decisions is a very interesting topic, and one with much research and literature written about it.  Many findings may seem counter-intuitive but make sense once you think about them more carefully.  Below are a few things to be aware of about how users deal with choices when designing products.

Choice Overload – It may be unintuitive to many, but people have a hard time choosing when there are more options rather than fewer choices.  Many designers, marketers, and manufacturers try to give consumers as many choices as possible, hoping to provide the perfect product for every user.  However, studies have shown that users will consistently choose to make no choice rather than try to choose one from many options.  This is called choice overload.  In general, people would rather have a handful of choices, even if none match exactly what they’d want, rather than dozens of choices that may include a few favorites.  When designing products, it is important to keep this in mind.  For example, if you provide a list of categories to browse, show the user roughly 7 choices, not 20.

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Users are Like Salmon: Help them Swim Upstream

April 27th, 2010

The majority of consumers are not power users.  If your solution to a pain point is complicated, or different from the normal methods, then most of your users may have trouble seeing, understanding or using the product properly.  Users scan websites instead of reading them, and expect your website to work like the other ones that they use.  So if yours differs then you may hit a block with users using your product incorrectly or not at all.  That does not mean that your solution has to be relegated to a niche product.   What it does mean is that you need to ensure that you offer a compelling basic service to meet the needs of the average user.  Then you can move them upstream to more complicated and powerful tools over time as they use the product by surfacing the advanced functionality to them.

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April 23rd, 2010

No posts the past few days because I’ve been sick with the flu.  I should start back up in the next few days and will extend the post every day challenge by the appropriate number of days.