Archive for April, 2010

Follow Fridays – Chris Dixon and Hunch

Friday, 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,, 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.


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

Thursday, 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

Wednesday, 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.


Users are Like Salmon: Help them Swim Upstream

Tuesday, 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.



Friday, 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.

Today’s Weak Products are Tomorrow’s Disruptors

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

Many great products are very underpowered to start.  Laptops were much weaker than desktops when they were first made, but the gap shrunk considerably over the years and the benefit of portability made it worth the slower speed and functionality for many consumers.  Wikipedia wasn’t nearly as useful when it first launched, but got more useful every day as people added and edited articles until it turned into a resource that millions of users trust as much as a ‘professional’ encyclopedia.  If the functionality and method of attacking a problem is valid, then it doesn’t matter if the product is weak when it first launches.  Some of the most powerful products are those that constantly get stronger the more people use them or the more data they collect.


The Future of News is Curators Not Reporters

Friday, April 16th, 2010

It’s no secret that the Newspaper Industry is hurting badly since it has failed to adapt to the internet fast enough and has found its market share and revenues erode greatly.  Their current strategy is the plan to erect pay walls for their content, which users won’t pay for.  The problem is that users don’t go to one source to get their news online; they browse multiple sites to get the whole story, from multiple angles.  That behavior not only hurts the pay wall plan, but leads to less time on site for the newspapers, so less advertising dollars.

The problem is that the Newspapers are overvaluing their reporters.  Yes, there is a difference in quality in newspaper reporters and many homegrown sites, but there are also many ex-journalists who have been laid off due to the industry’s decline and are now working for other sites, so there are still plenty of free news sites with quality journalists.  Additionally, even if a paper’s reporter is the most knowledgeable about a story and has the most interesting facts and take on a major story, it is too easy for other journalists to learn those facts from reading the story and then write their own story leveraging that info.  So the newspaper pays more for the story than competing sites, which puts it at a disadvantage.


Improving Online Dating Sites Step 1 – Move Beyond the Static Profile

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Dating sites seem stuck in the past and follow basically the same blueprint: User creates a profile talking about themselves and their interests and can then search for other people based on what those users wrote about themselves.  There are niche sites that act as a preliminary filter (senior citizens, trekkies, farmers, dog lovers, etc) and there are sites that try to collect different data and do matchmaking based on a variety of factors, but they all work the same at the fundamental level.  Online Dating is one of the verticals that doesn’t act anything like the offline version.  There are many things that the sites can do to improve the experience and make it more natural, engaging and effective, which I’ll discuss over multiple posts.  For this one, I’ll focus on the centerpiece of the experience: the user profile.  Dating site profiles have the following problems:

  1. Users have to write about themselves – Not everybody likes to write.  Even fewer people like to write about themselves.  It is awkward and hard for many to figure out what to say that will portray who they are.  So many profiles end up looking very similar.
  2. (more…)

Tablet Manufacturers are Missing the Point

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

The iPad is a shining example of how a tablet computer should be designed.  Trying to build a tablet that runs desktop apps is missing the point.  Desktop apps were designed for the Windows paradigm, one that includes keyboard and mouse inputs as essential.  You cannot translate those properly to a tablet by simply trying to map touch input to keyboard/mouse input.  It is kludgy and overly complicated for mass consumers.  Tablets need to be built with a touchscreen-specific operating system, such as iPhone OS or Android, and all apps should also be designed specifically for a touchscreen input, not a keyboard/mouse input.


Why iPad Being Called a Giant iPod Touch is a Good Thing

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Many people are criticizing the iPad as being a giant iPhone/iPod Touch.  They were hoping for something more like a macbook tablet and are disappointed.  However, I argue that it is actually a good thing that the detractors are calling the iPad a giant iPod.  The reason for this is that it makes it easy for consumers to understand the iPad very quickly.  While it may be over-simplistic and meant as an insult, it only helps Apple to sell more iPads to consumers.

iPad Giant iPhone

Consumers reading opinions on the iPad get 1 of 2 stories: Giant iPod or Immersive Content Consuming Experience.  So if they like the idea of a larger iPod or the idea of a great interactive tablet then they will be interested in the iPad.