Tag - simplicity

In which I follow Steve Jobs' advice and follow my heart …

A couple of days ago I posted this video on Facebook. It’s about fear, and not letting fear drive your decisions:

Four months ago, Yellow Pages Group shut down Canpages, where I had been working to reinvent local search in Canada. That work got flushed down the toilet, and our entire team was shown the door, which started months of searching for the next thing.

Initially, it seemed to be going super-well, but leads dried up, and it got more challenging. Then a particularly juicy opportunity with a major corporation opened up, and I went through four rounds of interviews, only to get dumped at the last round because I didn’t “have enough big-company experience.” That was a bad moment.

My wife Teresa and I have never had any real financial worries; we’ve been frugal and done well, thank God. But emotionally it was taking a toll. So I refocused on my own consulting business, which I had let lapse for a few years. And that took off.

For the past month and a half, I’ve been working insane hours. I was giving 20 hours a week to Click4Time, a startup focused on the online appointment-booking industry, I was increasingly writing for VentureBeat (one of the top tech/biz/startup blogs on the internet), I was working to get a coworking space, SwitchCube, off the ground, and I was working on a variety of contracts with partners like CGA-Canada and the Trust Tour. From the stresses of the job search I moved to the stresses of too many demands on my time, and the stresses of not really being sure where I should be and what I should be doing. And the stresses of still looking for the real actual job that I dreamed was out there.

It was easily 60-80 hours a week, and it was too much. Something had to give. And that something was almost me.

However, after a lot of soul-searching, that something turned out to be Click4Time. The startup is in a hot space and there’s a lot of potential, but there’s a ton of work to be done on the product itself. As acting director of online marketing, I was spending most of my time actually working on the basics of the company website and core product. Last Sunday I pretty much made up my mind to “fire the client.” But I didn’t act on it until Tuesday, when I told Lance, the CEO (who was great about it).

And it was a very tough decision. It was guaranteed money – not tons, but some, and 5000 shares a month, which are currently being sold for $1 apiece. In addition, it was the guarantee of a 6-figure salary if and when the company closed a significant investment – which seems to be getting closer, by the way.

That was the fear part: the fear of losing out … the fear of not having income … the fear of a certain lack of status. That’s why the video above spoke to me so deeply.

I’m a Christian. I believe in God. And I finally agreed, kicking and screaming, to take a leap of faith. Because my passion was VentureBeat.

It’s a funny thing. I always wanted to be a journalist when I was a kid. And I thought I would be one while I was going through university too. Then work came as a staff writer, then marketer, then technologist, then minor-league executive and management. And the dream faded, I guess. But never really died.

The work I was doing for VentureBeat was the best part of my day. At night I was writing, and it wasn’t work, in a sense. It was fun. It was enjoyable. So I decided to follow Steve Jobs’s advice: to follow my heart. To stay hungry. To stay foolish. To have faith that everything would work out if I just did the thing that felt right, even if it was financially stupid, even insane.

So I did it. I quit Click4Time. And I mentally committed to VentureBeat. And everything changed.

This week has been just unbelievably amazing, with good news packed on top of good news:

  • I got great news – my stories had done better than I thought they had and I had a bigger traffic bonus ($$$) than I expected.
  • I got great feedback – super encouraging words from Heather Kelly, senior editor, and Dylan Tweney, executive editor, and others at VentureBeat – that I was doing well. As Heather put it: “kicking ass and taking names!”
  • I very serendipitously did a couple stories that hit excellent traffic numbers
  • I was – even as a freelancer – the top writer on the site on Wednesday. (Of course, a bunch of our all-stars were on vacation or not posting that day. Still!)
  • I picked up an amazing story based on a Shark Tank episode that Teresa, my wife, had PVRed. It was a great feature story about a guy who created a startup based on drawing cats and scored an investment from Mark Cuban.
  • I got an email from Mark Cuban (!) adding comments to that story.
  • I got more great feedback from VentureBeat staffers, and I had two stories featured at the same time on the home page. And I had the main feature story yesterday morning. And all three of my latest posts have been selected as Editors Picks!!!
  • Then Dylan, who brought me on at VentureBeat as a freelancer in the first place, added me to the writers’ email list and the shared doc which is all the stories that VentureBeat staffers are working on … bringing me more into the fold.
  • And there was some more good news as well, which I can’t share yet.

In other words, a complete avalanche of good news. Unexpected, undeserved, unexplained. And a lot of clarity and faith and evidence that this is the right direction, that this is where I should be going, that this is what I should be doing. I haven’t had that in a long time, it feels like.

I’m super-thankful, and super-humbled.

And I remember Steve Jobs’ words at the Stanford Commencement speech in 2005. In somewhat random order, here are a few bits that especially impacted me:

You’ve got to find what you love
The only way to be truly satisfied is to do great work
And the only way to do great work is to do what you love

Remembering you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid thinking you have something to lose.

You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

I’m following! And I’m selling out for what I know I should be doing.

How to cancel recurring Paypal payments and subscriptions

Noticed a drain on your Paypal account lately? Wondering why there’s always money missing?

I recently checked my Paypal account and noticed a subscription and recurring payment for a service that I no longer needed. But cancelling is not terribly simple in the Paypal interface. In fact, you’d almost assume they’ve built the user interface to discourage discovery and awareness of all your recurring payments. Or, at least, made it hard to find and stop subscriptions.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to finding and cancelling Paypal subscriptions:

  1. Log into Paypal
    Then click on the History link in your account overview:
    Find all your recent transactions
    Select the first radio button and pick Last Three Months, which will show you enough history to know for sure which payments are recurring.

  2. Select Subscriptions
    Select the Subscriptions link above the activity listings. Now you should see all your subscriptions and recurring charges in Paypal.

  3. Click the Active button
    While you might reasonably be expecting and looking for a cancel button (!!!) click the Active button:

  4. Scroll down and click Cancel Subscription
    Yes, it’s right at the very bottom of the page …

  5. One more step … confirm the click
    No, you’re not quite finished, now confirm that you want to cancel the Paypal subscription and stop all recurring charges by clicking the Cancel Subscription button on the confirmation page …

Now you’re finished – cancelling your Paypal recurring charges in six easy steps 🙂

Theoretically this should be a lot simpler: Paypal should simply provide a link right on your account for all recurring charges so you don’t have to search for them. And … providing a clear “Cancel” link instead of a somewhat cryptic “Active” button.

How to get a genuine Moleskine notebook

Sometimes I can’t believe the lengths people will go to in order to save money. Michael Shannon has about 2500 words and perhaps 25 illustrations on 5 pages teaching you how to create your own Moleskine-like notebook.I think I can do it simpler and cheaper.Here’s his steps:

Page 1.

  • Materials Needed
  • Tools Needed
  • Step 1. Cut paper
  • Step 2. Fold paper
  • Step 3. Collate folios
  • Step 4. Mark spine
  • Step 5. Punch holes

Page 2.

  • Step 6. Sew signatures

Page 3.

  • Step 7. Glue signatures

Page 4.

  • Step 8. Glue endpapers & cover

Page 5.

  • Enhancements

Here’s my steps:

  1. Go to Amazon
  2. Buy Moleskine notebook
  3. Wait a couple of days

My way: $9 plus a couple of bucks shipping. His way: hours of effort, some money for materials, massive PITA factor.I rest my case.

Iceberg on Demand

Note: this is a paid review – ReviewMe is paying me $50 for posting this. However, all thoughts are my own, and I’m saying only what I decide to say. The payment part is so that I say *something* about Iceberg on Demand.

Iceberg on Demand is one of a new class of development tools designed for the web. They kinda make me think of GUI RAD environments, but they’re for the web, and they’re typically much, much easier to use. Similar tools include Sidewalk (which I’ve mentioned before), The Form Assembly, and WyaCracker.

The difference
The difference appears to be that Iceberg on Demand is orders of magnitude more powerful than these other solutions, that pretty much focus on simple web forms to gather data. It’s billed as allowing non-technical users to create “enterprise applications,” which is a major, major claim.

I wanted to personally try it before reviewing the application, so I signed up at their home page for a beta account. However, they appear to be in limited beta, as I haven’t received any access privileges in the 48 hours since I signed up.

The promise
The basic premise – giving non-programmers the tools to create full-functionality business applications – is incredibly compelling: use the business process mapping tool to map a process, create your business forms via drag-and-drop, integrate simply into already-built apps such as HR, CRM, project management, and bug tracking … and voila … you have a working enterprise system to run your business on. It reminds me somewhat of Sigurd Rinde‘s thingamy.

I’m sure the reality is a little different: I don’t yet see accounting apps that you need to run a business and I’m sure there’s a number of other missing pieces, but wow … if this takes off and they increase the number of built-in apps over time, this could be very, very exciting.

The reality is, most of what businesses need to function is to get, store, retrieve, and modify data. It’s not rocket science. It’s data that follows business process rules.

If Iceberg on Demand can essentially automate creation of enterprise systems, look out IBM, Oracle, Infosys, and all the other “business services” tech shops out there: the billions you’re hoovering out of clients’ pockets is in danger.

OK, back to reality for a moment.

Right now, this looks like a great tool for start-ups, young companies, anyone with not much budget but need for real business systems.

In the future? Who knows.

Now will they get the zen of Apple?

Sometimes it’s hard to convince PC users of the benefits of Apple computers and Mac OS X.

Since their computers are hardly personal, and just tools, and essentially lacking style and personality, they don’t understand, can’t grasp, cannot fit in their brains the concept of an interface that has been obsessively designed to fit, to function, to form an environment that accepts and welcomes people.

Maybe the iPhone will solve this problem. Check out what this Time reviewer says:

The user interface is crammed with smart little touches — every moment of user interaction has been quietly stage-managed and orchestrated, with such overwhelming attention to detail that when the history of digital interface design is written, whoever managed this project at Apple will be hailed as a Michelangelo, and the iPhone his or her Sistine Chapel (Steve Jobs can be Pope in this scenario). If you’re not a reviewer, chances are you won’t even bother to look at the manual. Translucent, jewel-like, artfully phrased dialogue boxes come and go on cue. Window borders bounce and flex just slightly to cue the user where and how you’re supposed to drop and drag and scroll them. When you switch the phone to “airplane mode” (no electronic transmissions, for use on planes) a tasteful little orange airplane slides into the menu bar, then zooms away when you switch out again. (This was so pleasurable that I repeatedly entered airplane mode while using the iPhone, even though I wasn’t actually on an airplane.) As soon as my phone realized it belonged to someone with a nonsense-name like Lev, it started correcting typos like “Leb” and “Lec” to match.

That’s the zen of Apple taken to a whole new level.

First rule of marketing

OK, my blog is my memory, which means that you, dear reader, get treated to gems like this:

[First Rule of Marketing:] If you want to be interesting, don’t talk about yourself. Amen.

That’s from Hugh at GapingVoid, and when I re-read it today, I wanted to remember it. So I posted it.

Very simple rule, and very simple reason: who likes to be with the person at the party who’s alrways replaying personal movies: did this, did that, went here, went there, my kid this, my kid that, blah blah blah?

No-one.

Here’s how Kathy Sierra puts it:

[tags] marketing, rule, hugh macleod, gapingvoid, john koetsier [/tags]

In-your-face web nasties

Saw these over the past few days and had to post them in order to cool my blood:

Click or die advertising:
You will see our ad. You will click our ad. And we will monetize your eyeballs whether you like it or not.
click-or-die.jpg

Get lost loser subscription policy:
We don’t know you. We don’t like you. We don’t care about you unless you subscribe. Loser!
get-lost.jpg

Great campaigns, Silicon Valley Sleuth and Pocket-lint. Wish you guys lots of success with that.

RDF tutorial: how to present like Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs is famous for his reality distortion field … the way that his presentations or presence seems to exert an almost uncanny degree of influence of people.

Here’s an overview of how to do that in presentation form. A brief overview:

  1. Rehearse often
  2. Be yourself
  3. Use visuals effectively
  4. Focus on the problem you’re solving in detail
  5. Say everything three times
  6. Tell stories
  7. Use comparisons to demonstrate features

There’s much more meat at the actual post – go check it out.

[tags] steve jobs, rdf, reality distortion field, john koetsier, presentation, presenting [/tags]

Some web 2.0 is very 1.0

This is the (cough, ahem) Web 2.0 Journal story on the “habits of highly effective web 2.0 sites.” One habit, of course, is ease of use.

Note the part with actual content, which I’ve highlighted in yellow:

web10.jpg

Not very simple, or clean, or user-focused. Apparently, web 2.0 is 90% advertising and interface.

(Of course, Dion Hinchcliffe probably has very little say in the actual look here, as it’s a Wall Street Journal production.)

[tags] web 2.0, journal, dion hinchcliffe, john koetsier, simplicity, webdesign [/tags]

Koetsier’s Law of Technophobia

I love tech, and I love gadgets, so don’t get me wrong. However, there’s a law very definitely at work here:

The simplicity of a product is inversely proportional to the number of times the word “simple” is used in its marketing.

Yes, I am trying to figure out a HD digital custom non-bank-breaking satellite TV package and oh, how I hate big companies with big solutions and big plans for product segmentation and big $$$ signs in their eyes.

(Just a hint of the disgust I feel at Bell ExpressVu may be imagined by understanding that in Bell’s “Family 2” channel pack, MTV and BPMtv – along with a few other UNfamily channels – are sandwiched in with perhaps one or two legitimately “family” channels.)

[tags] simplicity, usability, john koetsier [/tags]

Usability: the cost of getting it wrong

I would bet a lot more money than is in my pocket right now that 50-75% of electronics returned are not, in fact, defective by damage or second law of thermodynamics.

Rather, I suspect they are defective by design.

Today my wife and I fought with our cordless phone system (tip: if it’s a system, it automatically sucks). It’s been phantom-ringing, not connecting, connecting only if you waited three rings, connecting if it felt like it, connecting if the moon was in the right phase and you had thrown a skunk over your left shoulder the previous night.

In other words, haunted.

Does anything suck more than phone usability? I’m talking about cell phones, about home cordless phones … anything but the old-fashioned rotary brick that never died.

We have three phones hooked up on one network, which we futzed with for about half an hour. In the end, we de-registered all the phones (i.e., told the main base station to forget about their existence) and then re-registered all the phones (i.e., told the main base station that they existed).

And now there is domestic bliss in the Koetsier household again, our fifth-grade daughter can phone her friends with impunity, and my wife’s sister can tie up the phone all night. (I, of course, regard phones as instruments of the devil and never use them unless poked with almost-molten cattle prods. After all, mothers might be calling. Or people who – ugh – might want me to do something. Cell phones, on the other hand, I will relunctantly answer, if no other alternatives exist. But that’s business, and I get usually paid for it, so I have no choice.)

But the point – and yes, there is a point – is that a couple times throughout the whole process we felt like chucking it all in, boxing up all the phones, and returning them. Obviously, they were broken. Obviously, they were not working. Obviously, we should be given a full refund.

I wonder how often that happens. How often does perfectly fine gadgetry (read: functioning with specs as designed) get returned simply because people can’t figure out how to make it work?

I would not be shocked if the answer is more than half.

And that’s got to cost somebody a whole lot of money. In comparison to which designing in usability starts to look cheap.

Agree?

If it needs instructions …

I saw this yesterday at Garrett Dimon’s site err blog err portal. I don’t know exactly where.


If it needs instructions, it doesn’t work.

I’m not quite sure what to do with that, but it’s stuck in my brain. So I’m playing it off against some great tools/toys I use:

  • iPod: didn’t look at the instruction manual.
  • WordPress: have rarely if ever looked at the instruction manual
  • My MX-6: only when I needed to change a tire for the first time
  • My Harmon/Kardon stereo/home theatre system: holy mother, yes. Please, I never want to set it up again.
  • My Sony DSC-W1: the first few times, yes.
  • Joe’s Goals (review, site): no instructions needed.
  • My cell phone: I never want a new cell phone. I want a new cell phone. I never want a new cell phone. (Lather, rinse, repeat.)

OK. I think I agree.

Now I need to apply that to my little project.

If it needs instructions, it doesn’t work.
If it needs instructions, it doesn’t work.
If it needs instructions, it doesn’t work.

What else is like that?

[tags] usability, HCI, gadgets, user friendly, john koetsier [/tags]

worst. clickpath. ever.

The site: Mini.ca. The task: schedule a test drive of a Mini Cooper. The clickpath: long, convoluted, and wrong.

Step one: Homepage

Step two: events

Step three: some event blah blah

Step four: more event blah blah (in a pop-up)

Step five: pick a time

Step six: enter life history

[tags] mini, cooper, mini.ca, design, ia, usability, clickpath, john koetsier [/tags]

Short & fat or long & skinny: 37 Signals’ Job Board

I’ll take long and skinny, please. To go. But hold the fries.

37 Signals recently created a job board. For $250, companies posted jobs for RoR programmers, usability experts, web designers, and technical marketers.

There was only one problem: the board was oversubscribed. 37 Signals’ founder Jason Fried had intentionally wanted to limit listings there to about a hundred:

We felt about 100 listings at a time would be the sweet spot. Enough to provide choice to those looking for a job. Not too many to dilute the listings like so many huge job boards do. When your post is 1 of 100 you feel pretty good about having it seen by the target. When your post is 1 of 500 or 1 of 1000 you start to feel like you’re wasting your money. We don’t want anyone to feel like that.

However, lately there’s been – horror of horrors – too many postings. In fact, the job board is now bumping up against 150 simultaneous jobs. So today Jason Fried announced that the price was going up, to $300, in an attempt to regulate the number of postings down to about 100 through natural economics.

Now, a $50 price hike is no big deal … particularly when postings at Monster.com are $500 each – and a lot less targeted for the kind of employer/employee that would be at 37 Signals. But it’s an interesting response to increased demand.

And if that’s what 37 Signals wants to do, more power to them. But I think there’s better ways to increase usability for both job posters and job seekers.

As one commenter posted:

From my point of view, trying to limit the listings to approximately 100 simply makes the job board less useful. As a job seeker, a job in SF isn’t equal to a job in NY. While 100 may sounds like a lot of jobs, many cities have only one or two listings at most. Not a lot of choice for those seeking jobs. If too many listings is that much of an issue, wouldn’t it be better to provide some mechanism to limit by city, field, etc. and allow users to hone in on what’s relevant to their search?

Excellent point – and one that completely relates to the Long Tail theory of economics. In reply, I posted:

Very, very good point. As the tail gets long, we need filters to manage the data. I’d rather have a long skinny tail with good filters than a short fat tail with no filter at all.

Short and fat is great for a small number of people, but for the majority it just doesn’t have anything to offer.

Exclusivity is great. And simplicity is easier when options and numbers are limited. But actual usability as a job board suffers when 95% of the jobs are not in regions where any specific job seeker is located.

Usability – or, more precisely, usefullness – would be increased by a concurrent increase in the number of postings as long as you also have better sifting, sorting, and filtering mechanisms.

Long and skinny wins every time.

[tags] 37 signals, signal vs noise, long tail, job board, simplicity, usability, filters, john koetsier [/tags]

The browser hijackers: how aggregators don’t share the love

Whose browser window is it, anyways?

Link aggregators like Digg, Newsvine, Shoutwire, Fark, Delicious, Reddit, and Spurl are increasingly popular ways to find and track news … but there are some differences between them. Especially regarding how they treat your browser window.

Digg: mine, mine, mine
Digg likes your browser window – a lot. Just like the seagulls in Finding Nemo. So much so that clicking on links in digg opens up a brand new window. After all, why share when you can just have your own?

NowPublic: it’s … my … p-r-e-c-i-o-u-s!
Sharing does suck. But NowPublic would rather share the pie – even the bottom slice- rather than let everyone have their own pie. All is fair in love and war (and aggregating) and memories are short. Maybe you’d forget where that un-freaking-believably great link came from, if you weren’t constantly reminded.

Netscape: mommy, mommy, look at me!
Sharing doesn’t suck if you get the best piece. Why take the bottom of the totem pole? The side – especially the left side – is much more imposing, prominent, and lickable. Err … clickable.

Shoutwire: what do you mean, “your” window?
The bottom of the totem pole? The side of the totem pole? Are you joking? Shoutwire has nothing against sharing … as long as it gets top billing. Right across the top, baby, and yes, that’s our Flash ad making your CPU race. Click on it. Now.

Newsvine: other sites? What other sites?
Aggregator? What’s an aggregator? The news is here – we have the news. We are the news in fact, and there’s no reason to go anywhere else. Just vote already. OK? Or, if you really must, post a comment.

Some context for this post
I wrote this post because I’m tired of going to an aggregator, clicking on a link, and getting my browser window spammed, or new windows generated.

Aggregators, their value, their revenue
Aggregators are supposed to collect news or cool links. Social aggregators apply some mob logic to the equation, but it’s still news or cool links.

The value that aggregators bring is filtering.

There’s a lot out there on the long, long tail of the world wide web. Too much for any one of us to find everything. Too much for any one of us to find everything we’re interested in. And too much for any one of us to find the best of what’s interesting.

Filters let the cream rise to the top. (At least, that’s the theory.)

Since aggregators add value by filtering, they’re entitled to rewards. Money, not to put too fine a point on it. As our eyeballs dangle on strings, fixated on the flickering lights of our favorite filters, they paste ads on our brains. Occasionally, we click on one of them. The aggregator aggregates a few pennies.

That’s OK. That’s cool. That’s good. They’re happy, we’re happy. But. (Isn’t there always a but?)

But.

The map is not the territory
Aggregators are the map. They show us how to get from Bush bashing to techno-hippy news. And we appreciate it. But aggregators are NOT the territory. They’re not the Bush bashing or the techno-hippy news.

The pipe is not the water.
The lense is not the view.
The artery is not the blood.
The reporter is not the story.

When aggregators forget this, they try too hard. They want to be too much. Then they do things like Netscape and Shoutwire and NowPublic: trying to control your browser window.

More than they deserve
When they do this, they are trying to extract more value than they ought.

These aggregators are behaving like old media. They are acting like About, where links always circle the wagon and lead visitors on a merry-go-round inside the walled garden. They are framing other sites’ content … something that I thought we had shunned into nonexistence almost a decade ago.

They are trying to package and profit from others’ work. This is taking more than they deserve. This is hijacking. This is an ownership mentality, not a partnership mentality.

Bottom line: it’s not right.

. . .
. . .

The good guys
Reddit, Spurl, Simpy, and Delicious all open links in the existing open browser window. This is what they should be doing, and they are to be commended for it.

A final note:

I can’t get too worked up about aggregators that open links in a new window. It’s annoying, but those of us who are not newbies know how to open links in new tabs, or already have our browsers set up to do that. It’s the aggregators who try to control our browsing experiences that annoy me.

It’s worth noticing that popurls, the aggregator of the aggregators, also opens links in the same existing window in which the link was clicked. Way to go.

I welcome feedback, on your blog or in the comments below.

This is broken

Seth Godin on user experience at GEL 2006 … very, very good:

[tags] seth godin, usability, user experience, john koetsier [/tags]

Let your clients speak for you

Sometimes people who buy from you can communicate what you do far better than you can yourself.

Case in point:

Notice how it’s fairly hard, if not impossible, to understand what the company does if you just read the letters in black? And how easy it is when you just read the letters in white?

(And that’s probably a fake customer quote – so even starting to think like a client will help you communicate better.)

Somehow, we just get too close to the companies we work for, the products we build. And then when we try to talk about them, we say too much. We talk down. We use too many adjectives. Our verbs are hifalutin, like integrate and facilitate. And our in our fear to leave anything out, we make it way too complicated.

Let your clients speak for you!

(This post inspired by Kathy Sierra.)

[tags] voice of the customer, verbosity, PR, advertising, kathy sierra, john koetsier [/tags]

Innovative, elegant, anthropomorphic

What do you look for in a design?

A design of anything: website, hair dryer, car … you name it.

Yesterday I had to think of Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos attending an early unveiling of the Segway as I read that Jeff Bezos was investing in 37signals.

I posted a comment about it, and today, oddly enough, they posted an excerpt from the notes of that meeting.

But back to the design principles: what do they mean?

Innovative
Innovative is unlike anything else. Different. New. The function of an innovative design is to make you sit up and take notice in an overcrowded world of unremarkable designs.

Elegant
Many things could be innovative but not, unfortunately, elegant. You could design a pen in the shape of a cup and it would be innovative, but hardly elegant. Elegance has to do with grace, “fittingness,” and usability. It’s form and function.

Anthropomorphic
Anthropomorphic designs are human designs. They’re extremely intentionally made for people, with people in mind, for people to use. They don’t make you do something that feels wrong; they encourage you to act and operate in ways that make sense, are simple, are natural … that are the holy grail of software applications: intuitive.

Put the three together, and it’s likely you’ll have a winner. It’s new, it’s beautiful, and it is easy to use.

I wonder what, if any, other design principles Steve Jobs follows. I’m guessing simplicity is one of them, although that might be embodied in elegance.

Any others?

[tags] design, segway, innovative, elegant, anthropomorphic, jeff bezos, steve jobs, 37signals, john koetsier [/tags]

Joe’s Goals: the secret of the slight edge

What’s the “slight edge?”

I recently came across a book – The Secret of the Slight Edge, by Dan Zadra – that said “The real key to great achievement is to give yourself the slight edge – that extra 5% – time after time after time.”

That came to mind when I was using Joe’s Goals this morning.

Joe’s Goals is about the simplest tool you could imagine for managing your goals. When building the service, he must have asked himself Ward Cunningham’s question: “what’s the simplest thing that could possibly work.”

You stick a goal in, click Save, and you’re done. You can choose if it’s a positive goal (get more exercise) or a negative goal (eat less), but the default is positive.

But here’s the real magic of the system:

Most goal-setting applications are set up for episodic goals:

  • you enter a goal
  • you enter steps to take on the way to reaching that goal
  • you choose when each step will be done
  • you track yourself on all the steps, checking them off when complete
  • when the steps are finished, so is your goal

Joe’s Goals is different. And actually, Joe’s Goals is much better aligned for the goals that most people set and try to reach.

Instead of episodic goals, Joe’s Goals is for setting and tracking ongoing goals. Goals like daily exercise. Like one of my goals: not to eat after 8:00 (because if I do, my middle mysteriously widens).

Goals like these are not set and accomplished and forgotten: they go on and on and on, like the mythical Energizer bunny. And so your accomplishment of them goes on and on, also like the mythical Energizer bunny.

The beauty is that there is exactly one page to Joe’s Goals. Come to Joe’s Goals while logged in, and there are your goals. Right on the home page.

And tracking them could not possibly be easier: for those goals you’ve accomplished for the day, click in the box for today. Done. Goal status tracked, on to the next thing.

It’s such a perfect user interface that there almost isn’t one.

[tags] joes goals, goals, time management, web 2.0, ajax, dan zadra, slight edge, john koetsier [/tags]

CoComment – easy blog conversation tracking

Just a few days ago I talked about CoComment and regretted that tracking your comments across all the blogs that you follow is so difficult.

Basically, what I was looking for was a way to track my comments without doing anything. Anything extra that is, besides posting the comment. I don’t want to book mark it, I don’t want to tag it (in most cases), I don’t want to RSS track it: I just want one place that keeps a complete record of all the comments that I post on sites all over the internet.

Fortunately Stephanie Booth, who works at CoComment, saw my post, investigated, and found a solution.

There’s a CoComment plugin for Flock … which will essentially track your comments and archive them at CoComment (here’s my conversations; yours will be somewhere else). Very simple, very easy, very quick, very effortless … as in no extra effort.

I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot. I feel so good, in fact that I’ve integrated CoComment into this blog as well. Here are the instructions. According to CoComment, this:

  • Ensures that titles and urls are correctly detected
  • Enables all comments to be tracked
  • Does not depend on your visitors using a bookmarklet or browser extension

Important
If you want to integrate CoComment on your blog – and it’s a good, neighborly, net-citizen-in-good-standing kind of thing to do – don’t get frightened by the wall of explanatory text on the instructions page.

Just scroll right down to the examples. Chances are good they have a ready-made example for your blogging platform of choice, and you can just copy and paste what you need.

I started with their generic code and was poking through my WordPress install to ensure I had all the right bits of PHP code and variables … and then saw the example, which had everything correctly configured right out of the box.

It’ll save you a couple of minutes.

[tags] cocomment, stephanie booth, blogs, blogging, comments, posts, conversations, tracking, john koetsier [/tags]

PeopleAggregator has trouth-mubble

Every since Tara Hunt wrote about PeopleAggregator a few days ago, I’ve been wondering what PeopleAggregator is, precisely.

Marc Canter gave some more details today on his blog, a note that they are launching, and also provided a link to Richard MacManus’ explanation of the service.

According to MacManus, PeopleAggregator is the following (and I’m really, really editing here to try to just come up with the bones of the system, while taking out all of the speculation as to what this could become):

  • a social network system
  • that is the first ever open network (meaning you can get your data out)
  • an identity management system (perhaps not first and foremost, but certainly a necessary part of the service)
  • a place to create and access all the data you create all over the web (photos at Flickr, blog posts at WordPress.com, song preferences at last.fm, profiles at MySpace, and so on …

While not an elegant and simple message, taken by itself this appears to make some sense, be fairly differentiated from what a lot of other people are doing, and provide some value to individuals. (What value it provides to Flickr or MySpace, I haven’t a clue.)

But PeopleAggregator’s message on their home page is entirely different again. Right on the first page, PA is three things to three distinctly different types of people. The type of people I’m most interested in are people like myself, so here’s what the message to the hoi polloi is:

The PeopleAggregator is a feature rich, personal publishing oriented system.

Hrmm … sounds different. A lot simpler, but not very much like an open hub for all your digital detritus.

So in an attempt to learn more and get the definitive answer, you delve into the multi-slide presentation – a very PowerPoint(less) type of presentation.

Here there’s a ton of jargon (“social network web service,” “identity hub,” “open APIs, “normalized namespace,” before you actually get into the features. Several pages of features, which appear fairly standard for a social network, and then back into the jargon with “Identity Hub Architecture.”

I’m a fairly technical person – I’ve led a web development team, built a simple content management system from scratch, know all the TLAs (three-letter-acronyms), and can be pretty sure I know what they’re doing, but I’m not totally certain. Everywhere I look, the message is a little different.

For instance, the Broadband Mechanics home page (Marc Canter’s company, the creator of People Aggregator) has an entirely new piece of jargon, Digital Lifestyle Aggregators, and a significantly different message.

At that, I give up. What precisely does PeopleAggregator do? I suspect they don’t precisely know themselves. That may be because the company and the concept are in the very early stages, and I think that’s exactly what Tara Hunt said in her first post.

OK. I can understand that. I’ve been there.

My only advice: figure it out fast. Right now, there are too many words, too many messages.

PeopleAggregator: stop talking, I’m trying to understand you!

Marketing genius: 50 site (re)designs

Web Designs from Scratch, a small British web design/consultancy firm, has hit on an amazingly bright idea to promote their firm, build their brand, bring in business, and just simply do something really cool: 50 Redesigns from Scratch.

It reminds me of One Thousand Paintings: the painter who is painting a thousand paintings (naturally), of the numbers 1 to 1000.

50 Redesigns from Scratch is genius. They’ll take 50 sites, redesign them, blog about them, write about them in a PDF book which will be available for download, and also write about them in an actual book which can be purchased. They’ve already got a mention on Digg with more than 1100 Diggs (including one from me), and other links are sure to follow.

The real genius is that this project, which is from a “company” which is so non-corporate as to have a Paypal donate button on their home page, is also going to be a money-maker. That’s right: this is not just a publicity stunt or a goodwill gesture:

We can only include a limited number of sites in the book. If you would like your site to be included, we’d love to hear from you.

– A one-off fee of just £725 (US$1,250) gets you:

– A professional redesign of your site’s home page by Ben Hunt

– Your site included in the book, and featured on this site, where it will be seen by like half a million people – guaranteeing great exposure

– All graphics files of the new design you need to help you implement your new design

At one and the same time, they’ve:

  • made this an artificially limited opportunity – hence making it more attractive in some intangibly human way
  • made this an event – which makes it much more interesting for companies or bloggers to buy in
  • promised clients something Joe’s Graphics down the corner (or even a top-flight $150/hour downtown agency) can’t offer: publicity
  • plus, as you can see by their first design, a simply great re-design for their website

What a concept – great marketing/branding/business development coup, all in one. Not to mention how much fun this should be!

[tags] marketing, buzz, viral, web2.0, webdesign, scratchmedia, web design from scratch, john koetsier [/tags]

.Net Passport is .Annoying

I wanted to comment on a MSN Spaces blog posting today. Unfortunately, it requires a .Net Passport.

Like many other Mac and Linux types, I’ve always resisted getting one … Microsoft and security and all that. But the thought struck me: I have an account at just about every other web service on the planet. Get over your prejudices and go get that Passport account.

Well. Somebody pinch me and wake me up. Identity management shouldn’t be this hard. .Net Passport is a Microsoft trademarked name that bears significant resemblance to Plug & Play: both are oxymorons.

The first stage (and yes, there are many) starts with way too much information (I don’t want to give Microsoft my email address, or create one with Microsoft) and ends with way too little: the now-ubiquitous prove-you’re-human guess what the squiggly lines mean step:

This is my second chance; I failed the first one. Wonder if I’d pass the Turing test.

That’s minor, though, compared to the next step. It’s titled personal information, and contrary to the name of this whole identity management service, it means what it says. Emphasis on the personal.

Birth date. Gender (they mean sex; there are 3 genders and 2 sexes … well, mostly). OK, I can kind of swallow those.

But occupation? Industry? Job title? Marital status? Children in home?

It seems to me that these questions have a lot more to do with Microsoft’s (or someone’s) ability to classify me as a consumer – a particular level of consumer – and market specifically to me. Sorry, not interested.

I had to cancel – and all I wanted was to post a single comment on an MSN Spaces blog.

I think this is what happens when you have MBAs designing web services. Please, please take a lesson from 37 Signals: only ask for the information you need, when you need it. You can always get more later: if it makes sense. If it’s tied to something your client wants to do.

But if you ask too much, you may not get anything at all.

[tags] microsoft, .Net, Passport, identity, Sxip, MSN, Spaces, john koetsier [/tags]

Tracking blog conversations easily?

Today I signed up for a Cocomment account in the hope that it would help me keep track of all the comments that I leave on other people’s blogs.

That was, of course, before I knew that I would have to install a bookmarklet in my browser, which I would have to click every time I enter a comment. That seems like a little bit too much hassle. I already have bookmarks for favorites and

There is a plugin which will apparently do it automatically, if you use Firefox, but I am currently using Flock, and don’t really want to switch.

Is there any other service out there for tracking your comments that just does it automatically? Maybe co.mments will do the job (see the TechCrunch post), but it looks like co.mments still requires some sort of bookmarking process. Hrm. I’ll wait for something a little more seamless.

In other news, you know a service is built by and for geeks when it calls a bunch of letters a “string.”

[tags] co.mments, cocomment, techcrunch, blogs, comments, john koetsier [/tags]

New Netscape: Doomed

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the New Netscape is doomed.

It won’t be successful, people won’t do what Netscape wants them to do, and Netscape will revert back to something more like what it used to be within 6 months.

Netscape is not a Digg-ish site: people can “vote” for their favorite stories. OK, that’s not a horrible idea, even if they are copying Digg and others, and trying to cash in on the whole social web meme.

But any site that starts its first page like this is doomed (see below). Instructions on how to use a web site? What were they thinking!

That in itself is the kiss of death: if it’s so non-obvious they have to put step 1, step 2, all the way to step 5 on the page, they’re toast.

Richard McManus has covered this on Read/Write Web.

[tags] netscape, digg, social media, doomed, john koetsier [/tags]

Why I don’t have HDTV

I love gadgets and technology and cool new stuff, but I don’t have HDTV.

Why?

This is why.

But the biggest problem is now we have 17 different boxes to power on to watch TV, and they have to be powered on in a certain order and with a certain remote control. And running Windows as the core OS of a PVR is just lunacy: I don’t want to deal with the blue screen of death, or spyware, or not having enough RAM to run my TV – I want it to just work. One night, my wife watched for several uncomfortable minutes as I tried to play a DVD on the HP PVR – there was something wrong with the disc, and eventually we gave up and watched it on one of our laptops in bed. All the while, she is mumbling how life has gotten so complicated that she can’t even operate our TV anymore and what is she supposed to do when I am not around to provide the necessary tech support?

Because when I upgrade to HDTV, I want a nice clean simple system that integrates at least three key functionalities with a minimum of boxes. That’s one box, btw, besides the actual TV itself, to do the following:

  1. TV
  2. DVD
  3. PVR

Whether the TV is satellite, cable, terrestrial or something else, I don’t care. I don’t want 5 boxes with 5 million wires. I don’t want a rat’s nest. I don’t want a living room server room. I don’t want mess. I don’t want complexity.

When someone builds that, let me know.

[tags] HDTV, TV, PVR, home theater, david strom, john koetsier [/tags]

Making business beautiful

Is your business beautiful?

That sounds like a strange question – mostly because it is. But it’s a good question. It’s a question more people should ask of their business, processes, strategies, marketing, and products.

Why?

Well, think about it: what is beauty?

Beauty is the marriage of structure and function. It’s elements in careful but dynamic balance. It’s symmetry and simplicity. And above all, beauty is memorable.

Structure and function

Structure is only present where it is functional. All that is not functional is not structural. It has been abstracted out. All that is functional grows out of the structure. There are no missing pieces, and nothing is glued on as an afterthought.

Functions that are structural are solid; they are embedded in physical reality or organization. Structures that are functional are needed; they are not waste or empires or holdovers from a previous age. Are all the structures in your business functional? Are all the functions in your processes structural?

Balance

Is your business in balance? Example: your product portfolio. Do you have a mix of products at varying stages in their life cycles? Some that are new and still incurring product development costs. Some that are in young and still growing, finding their feet. Some that are in middle age: cash cows that will must be milked to the fullest before they dry up. Some that are tottering around on crutches that need to be put out to pasture.

Symmetry

Symmetry is an attribute of processes. If you mapped your workflow, would you find dangling loops? Winding paths? Dead ends?

The more symmetry, the better flow. The more loops, the more cost you’re building into your model.

Simplicity

Simplicity is as much as needed and no more than what is required. Simplicity is as simple as possible and complex as necessary. Are all your moving parts radically simple? If your company is more than two years old, and if you are not married to continuous process improvement, the answer is no: stuff happens.

Stuff accumulates. Over time, stuff overwhelms. Stuff is money, because stuff burns time. Which means that stuff is also lost opportunity. Getting rid of stuff is giving yourself the gift of focus.

Memorability

Is your business, marketing plan, product, division, whatever, memorable? Memorable things make an impression on people. Things that make an impression on people have a chance to matter. Things that do not make an impression on people do not, by definition, matter.

You want to matter. You want your business to matter. The only way to matter is to do something remarkable. What do you do that is remarkable?

. . .
. . .

Making your business beautiful is making your business lean. And focused. And proportioned.

Is your business beautiful?

If not, surgery is the only option.

[tags] business, process, improvement, beautiful, simplicity, john koetsier [/tags]