Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Peak production, peak waste, social media and Must Ignore

I enjoyed Tim O'Reilly's post today, Waking up from the 'Nightmare on Tech Street', itself a response to Om Malik's recent piece. Finally, I felt, someone was touching on the upside of oil demands finally declining, or celebrating the slowdown in our culture of excessive consumerism.

As he notes, peak production usually equals peak waste:

In a recent conversation with my daughter Arwen and son-in-law Saul Griffith, Matt Webb remarked that he'd like 2008 to be remembered as the year of "peak consumption." Saul pointed out, though, that the term "peak waste" is perhaps more accurate. In an analogy to peak oil, he suggested that maybe we've reached the pinnacle of waste in our consumer culture. I do wonder if we will look back at the past few decades as a kind of sick aberration rather than a golden age, with good times we want to get back to. Like Saul, I'm hopeful that we can get rid of the waste, and get back to creating things of lasting value.

I've heard the term waste applied in another way lately, in regard to people spending time in social sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. These pundits usually follow such comments with an aside like, "I don't need to be talking to people about what I just ate for lunch." And then, of course, people laugh, thinking, Oh, those silly, wasteful twitterers.

Those of us that actually use Twitter may have another perspective: perhaps this is a lean, efficient mode of communication. Perhaps a glance at it a few times a day can lead to unexpected insights and help build better relationships. And maybe even be a little bit fun.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Whoever killed the Dinosaurs, please stand up.

So it turns out that, perhaps, Dinosaurs were felled not by a gigantic asteroid, but by tons of sulfur polluting the atmosphere. Think of the smell!

Whichever theory will prove true remains to be seen, but we see this again and again: sufficient evidence over sufficient time leads us to a worldview which feels more and more like fact. Facts that we make decisions on. Facts that that lend concreteness to our lives.

How many arguments have been made for asteroid research and defense techniques that cite the extinction of dinasaurs?  Many. If Volcanoes turn out to be the true culprit, do we know which policies or government programs should be revisited to see if they are still valid?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Decision Velocity ~ IT Velocity

I enjoyed Jim Stogdill's recent post My Web Doesn't Like Your Enterprise, at Least While it's More Fun, about the various perceptions around the speed of Enterprise IT versus Web IT.  He writes
"Artur replied with this quote from one of his friends employed at a large enterprise: "What took us a weekend to do, has taken 18 months here." That concise statement seems to sum up the view of the enterprise, and I'm not surprised. For nearly six years I've been swimming in the spirit-sapping molasses that is the Department of Defense IT Enterprise so I'm quite familiar with the sentiment.I often express it myself."

Jim goes on to say that Enterprise IT is like this for good reason, a natural outgrowth of what is important to their business, their customers, and their shareholders, and that eventually the web too will be this boring, this predictable, and this unexciting.  Perhaps, but it there is another side to this discussion.

IT is the whipping boy because they are in an unfair position: the world is moving faster, business is moving faster, compliance is getting harder, budgets are shrinking, yet the kids in the Cloud can afford to make mistakes (think: Twitter downtime) with no one caring, and so IT consumers (employees) have unrealistic expectations (think: be as good as my stuff at home, dammit).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

OpenSocial is making progress; the world spins faster

Jason Kincaid wrote a nice piece on TechCrunch about the progress of OpenSocial (a standard interface for plugging your social application into a social network), with a rather attractive and impressive chart:

Open Social just turned 1

So what does this have to do with decision making? Not much, but it is such a pretty chart, so I thought I'd post it.

Actually, it is a bit relevant. We've talked about how the workplace is being transformed, and this is part of the reason... the increasing social aspects of applications. While OpenSocial is usually talked about in context of the popular consumer Social Networks (which gives them the ridiculous and oft-misleading numbers above), a growing number of enterprise applications are starting to utilize it, for a simple reason: it is not that hard, and it gives you wide reach.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cars on Demand, College Laziness and Modern Efficiency

I'm a big fan of Zipcar, as those around me know.  I just reserved one for tomorrow, and since I waited so long, I had to choose a pickup waiting at a local McDonalds, instead of my usual Prius down the street.  But I didn't mind since it took me only about 25 seconds to find it, book it, and have a car ready for me tomorrow at 5:30 AM.

As I did this I was thinking about speed.  Satisfying the speed of business is not about perfection  -- it is about things being good enough, provided they are fast enough.

Friday, November 7, 2008

People People People People People

I work at a large company.  My nature is to move quickly, which often feels impossible.  In the past few weeks, a lot of the impossibility has involved not knowing the right people.

A lot of smart people think about this, for example the labcoats behind Organization Network Analysis.  Looking at how people work together in a network can often yield surprising insights into whether the organization can move fast or slowly.

A lot of the rest of us do this everyday without thinking about it, with LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Yammer and the rest, leveraging each other to speed ourselves up (I didn't list MySpace, since that slows people down).

But it comes down to one thing... the degree to which you can communicate effectively, quickly, and trustfully with the people you need to get things done.  If you couldn't conceivably get agreement with someone over IM then you don't have the right relationship with them to decide things in business time.  The last guy I hired I negotiated purely over SMS while I was on the tarmac, otherwise I would have lost him.

Fast Fast Fast Fast requires People People People People.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A new adventure is well underway...

A friend pointed out that I hadn't posted in a while, and I thought to myself, True, but I've started a lot of posts.  Most of them were brilliant.  But I've been busy -- with my new gig.

At the beginning of August I joined the Business Objects, an SAP company.  An unlikely move, perhaps, for those who know me.  But as I get a chance to talk more about what we're up to it will seem very likely, in fact exciting, a continuation of the stuff I've been working on for a while now.

I'm going to start blogging under the SAP Community Network machine, and cross-blogging here.   Careful... it doesn't work in Chrome yet.  So stay tuned.  Before long I'll have some software to sell you.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Books are a lot cheaper than Bombs

Or so said Rabih Alameddine on KQED this morning, when discussing his latest novel "The Hakawati," and his effort to help the Friends of the Lebanese Public Libraries by driving donations of books. This seemed to me an apt metaphor for effective SaaS marketing strategy.

Books foment ideas that are spread virally. The ideas spread in cafes and coffee houses, more people read the book, and in time a culture will evolve from the ideas in the books. That is, if the books are good.

Last week, Mike Maples offered sound investing advice: don't invest in a SaaS company who's mission is viral but who sells traditionally (top-down) in an enterprise. Top-down doesn't work for a viral-pitch product -- users won't use. Top down sales approaches are bombs -- they can pave a way into a company, but they can't win the hearts and minds.

I'm talking to a lot of prospective employers now, and one of the key things I try to ascertain is whether the products are built to serve the user, and how. And if not, how quickly I'd be able to change that. For the enterprise workplace to be transformed, the user will have to win, and that is the real mission for the next half decade.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

This Me, not *that* Me!

If what you are is what you eat, this day it seems who you are depends on who you meet. Or which identity you point them to.

Yesterday, I was grabbing some coffee and an eggel at Hugo Cafe, and started talking to a woman who worked at a large SaaS company in San Francisco. Since it was a company I was interested in we talked a bit about their business model, and then I asked her if I could shoot her a note on LinkedIn. To which she replied, "How about Facebook? I prefer that, since it is the most up-to-date."


Friends of mine on Facebook get to see updated pictures of my kids, with no relevance to my business life. Colleagues on LinkedIn get mapped to my "professional" self, with links to my blog, etc. On Facebook she would get the wrong Me.

Last week at the Consumerization of Software event a colleague was lamenting how he toned down his Facebook self, since you never knew who from his business life would stumble across it. Drunk pictures: gone. Fun stuff: 1/2 gone. Oh well.

Another colleague has slowed his Twitter use, since he really wants multiple channels. One for work, one for play. One channel simply doesn't work for him, and it is too bothersome to create multiple users (requiring, among other things, multiple email addresses).

I started to use Twitter to set my status in one place, and broadcast it to various networks. That was great for a few weeks until I understood Twitter's power as a messaging platform. Now I realize that I want to have conversations in Twitter, some that make no sense to my Facebook Friends. Options: de-link Twitter from my Facebook status, or limit my tweets?

With the explosion of social sites, we are stuck in a quandary: how to manage our several (or many) online selves? We struggle with this, lacking the grace that our children will inevitably have, born in an age of transparency. Here is what we clearly need:
  • A way to define our various selves
  • A way to manage content and information for each self
  • A way to push the relevant information to the appropriate networks, sometimes to multiple accounts on a network
  • No duplication of data (no one has time for this)
Oh, I have an elegant solution, by the way. I haven't decided whether to talk about it or just build it. Can anyone point me to a solution that exists out there already?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Consumerization of Software

I spent a very pleasant afternoon at The Consumerization of Software conference held by SDForum and Accel Partners, exploring the thesis that enterprise software is becoming like consumer software. Can't disagree there.

Kevin Efrusy led us off on the Consumerization Thesis, which had some memorable points, including:
  • A customer needs to understand the value in less than 1 minute, and get the benefit in less than 1 hour, or you are toast
  • Ruthlessly limit scope, # of account touch points required, configuration options
  • Businesses should focus on metrics that reflect customer success
I particularly like the first one, since it is testable and it rings true.

There were some nice takeaways, particularly in a panel titled "A View on Software from Wall Street." Mike Maples (from Maples Investments), speculated that in a few years in addition to traditional financial metrics, SaaS companies will be judged on their viral coefficient. Mike defined this simply as "How much indirect sales does one traditional sale beget?" That is, if I sell $100 of software, how many additional dollars in future sales will come in with no action from me? This could be in the form of additional user licenses, add-on modules, or simply referrals to new customers with the initial customer as the sales person. If the coefficient > 1, sales will multiply naturally, if it is less than 1, the difference will need to be made up in Marketing $$.
  • "don't respond to RFPs, don't respond to large banks." (in response to when to customize to get into enterprise accounts)
  • "we had a voting system on the web for features. we never had a product manager."
  • OK, a bit strident, and I don't entirely agree with the second point. But I completely agree with the overarching theme of simplicity and focus, and that rang true throughout the afternoon.

    All in all, the consensus was clear: the enterprise is being consumerized. Thank goodness, I'm all for it. But maybe we should come up with a better term than consumerization. Anyone for C13N?

    Monday, June 2, 2008

    Human Easter Eggs (or Last Blast from the Past)

    I found one more gem on my last day with BEA that I can't help but share. Dial back the clock to October 2005, when Plumtree was being acquired by BEA. BEA was figuring out what to call the products, which at the time were the "Plumtree Foundation," which was the base portal, and the "Plumtree Enterprise Web Suite," which included Collaboration, Analytics, and a bunch of other stuff.

    The Naming Police at BEA arrived at new names that some felt were counterintuitive and difficult to say:
    • AquaLogic Interaction (Plumtree Foundation) (aka ALI)
    • AquaLogic User Interaction (Plumtree Enterprise Web Suite) (aka ALUI)
    Since people kept asking what these new names meant, we elected to hold a contest to see who could write the best poem explaining the names. A writer on staff named Nate Loux, who I think of as Donald Barthelme in a cube, came up with my favorite submission, which I can only describe as brilliant. It is posted here.

    We've all put Easter Eggs in software -- what delights me is the easter eggs we stumble across in the workplace. I think that is why a lot of us are in software -- yeah, we're geeks, but it is really about learning the expect the unexpected in your everyday work environment. While it may not be obvious that the poem was an easter egg, it should be obvious that creating an environment that rewards creativity produces the unexpected, and the unexpected is what makes work fun. Which brings me back to the beginning, or the end I should say, of what was Plumtree and then BEA.

    Thursday, May 29, 2008

    A long long time ago...

    As I was cleaning out my office this week, I came across the initial Plumtree master CDs, and bequeathed them to Joseph Stanko, who has been around for nearly as long and I knew would appreciate them. Not surprisingly, Joseph stuck it in his Windows box and tried to install it, which brought us some priceless old images:

    The Installer Splash Screen

    The Installer Options

    And finally the home page of the product:

    So, yes, the installer ran on a system ten years later, and came right up (with a few errors that aren't visible on this screen). Wow.

    Quick story about the installer: I was the QA engineer in 1997, and tasked with creating the installer one week by my boss and CEO, Kirill Sheynkman. Being new to the world of the startup, I thought that was a soft goal. But that Saturday, at about 10 AM, Kirill called me at home to ask me where the installer was. I told him I wasn't finished. He told me to come to the office, and not leave until I was.

    After realizing that he wasn't kidding, I came in, and ended up leaving at about 10 PM on Sunday, but learned a valuable lesson: don't kid around with commitments, especially with Kirill.

    Monday morning he reviewed it with me in his office, and determined it was almost there, but needed two important changes: I needed to add a random large file to make it appear bigger on disk, and I needed to slow it down somehow -- it ran in about 15 seconds. As Kirill said after running it, "that didn't feel worth $30K, now did it?"

    Lesson #2 learned, not bad for a weekend's work.

    Wednesday, May 28, 2008

    The next great land grab

    Anyone remember the early days, when most domains were available? Then there were the squatters, then a marketplace, then the parkers, and still, to this days, friends of mine buy domains for amounts up to $5000.

    And now there are the networks. I grabbed dmeyer on gmail early on, but with each new account (Twitter, friendfeed, etc.) there are new names to grab, better names, simpler names that imply you were an early mover to the technology.

    But I'm seeing for the first time people madly registering names for things they are interested in, especially on Twitter. And it seems that these handles within a domain are becoming quite valuable. Will we be seeing a marketplace for them emerge? Already people are selling real estate on their twitter profiles. And others are suggesting that right after registering your domain name, you need to secure the same name on Twitter.

    Fascinating, especially for a site that seems to be up about 50% of the time. Of course, I spent the morning searching for handles that were still available...

    Monday, May 26, 2008

    Preparing to leave the womb...

    As I think about my last week of corporate employment for a while, and begin to figure out the best combination of web tools to manage my life, I've been making some observations:
    • Google has become a bigger and bigger part of my life. I've been using their search for over 10 years, they grabbed my email about 4 years ago, I started blogging with them about a year ago. When enterprise customers asked me 3 years ago "What are you doing about Google?" I thought they were a bit confused, but now more and more of my friends starting companies use Google to run their offices. Recently I discovered Page Creator, a nice place to make a web landing page. And of course Google Analytics gives me the visibility I need into anything I do on the web. So how does this make me feel? Great. I want more, much more. But integrate the stuff, please. How long will I need to use an HTML widget to get analytics on my Google properties?
    • Twitter is fun and useful. The main question I'm left with is how public to be. And when the site will be up.
    • The critical question for the modern web presence... What is your information architecture? Yes, it is no different from creating a useful application. If you tweet your Facebook status, you know what I mean. If you struggle to decide what to include in your friendfeed, you know what I mean. I'm still putting one together, I'll let you all know what I come up with. But with the explosion of tools out there, it is hard to know which to use, but even harder to know the master data model behind them.
    Next quest: who should I pay so I can talk on my mobile phone? Survey says: AT&T, get prepped for iPhone 3G. Gotta figure that out by Friday, last day in the womb.

    Tuesday, May 20, 2008

    Google Health, give me Crowd Health

    So Google Health was just announced with great fanfare, and it seems everyone is racing into this business. Which is exciting. And daunting.

    After entering the site, I half expected my life story to already be there. It wasn't, thankfully. But I can choose to import my records and choose who to share them with. And, theoretically, regain some control back from the medical establishment which seems so powerful these days.

    A more liquid exchange of information between patient and establishment, governed by the patient, is a very enticing idea. But it's not what I ultimately want. I want to leverage the experiences of patients across the globe. I want Crowd Health.

    Imagine if I could decide not only what to share with my health care providers, but what to share anonymously with the population at large? Imagine that such an opt-in tool was used by many people every day. Discoveries of people like you across the nation would be available immediately, when they might takes years to reach, or never reach you through your doctor.

    Or perhaps that is too radical, since privacy is such a core concern for medical records. But how about integration with a tool like Geni, where I could share aspects of my medical records with my extended family. When a doctor asks me, "do you have cancer in the family?" I never know how accurate my answer is, since my family tends to keep these things private. Let alone more common things, like high blood pressure or cholesterol.

    Ultimately web health records could provide consumers with more complete, more up-to-date, more trustworthy data to make decisions. Instead of pharmaceutical companies telling me what medications work best, my peers could, and I could analyze their data that proves it. Instead of genealogical guesswork I could make my personal health decisions based on facts. Now, that starts to get interesting. Google, please do no Evil, I see real potential here...

    Sunday, April 6, 2008

    Sundays kill more men than bombs...

    ...or so Bukowski said. While he may have been referring to a deeper despair than having YouTube blocked at work, I think Charles (on a level even he wouldn't admit) felt something similar to today's office workers, feeling powerless within the confines of the corporate environment to really accomplish anything significant, at least compared to the creative abandon they feel outside of work, in the plush surroundings of the consumer web. Saturday, you make a movie from beginning to end in an hour. Sunday night you lay awake dreading the ERP system you need to confront on Monday to somehow enter a Purchase Order into that finance will approve.

    Well, it just got a little easier for humankind, with some new releases from BEA Systems, Inc., by bringing some of that consumer magic one step closer to your office keyboard.

    It sounds like a stretch, but it's not. I just looked at our internal deployment of AquaLogic Interaction 6.5, and I see this on my profile page:


    Now how did that information get in there? From our CRM system. Would it be easy for me to query the CRM system everyday to monitor the deals? No. But one glance at my home page and I know that Brian closed the deal and its time to take him out for a beer.

    That feels pretty modern.

    But the most exciting thing about bringing social computing to the enterprise is watching where people take it. There will be a lot to talk about in the coming weeks and months, so stay tuned...

    Thursday, January 31, 2008

    OpenSocial inching closer... but to what?

    On January 25, Google released the 0.7 version of OpenSocial, detailed in the Release Notes published on their site. It is interesting what they prioritized enhancing in this version.

    There is a drastically enhanced Person object. Excellent (I love people). This is described in the Release Notes as Standardized profile information fields, which makes sense, so multiple applications can leverage the same data. Or at least that's what I thought until I saw the fields available, which include:

  • Body Type
  • Fashion
  • Heroes
  • Scared Of
  • Turn Ons
  • You get the idea. Each of these has a specific structure, such as a comma-delimited string, or in the case of Smoker an ENUM including the VALUES "socially" and "regularly." I wonder if anyone would want to target ads to smokers. Oh wait... they actually only added 3 specific ENUMs (which I would have added when I really care about accuracy of the data), which are DRINKER, SMOKER, and GENDER. From an ad-centric perspective, each of those ENUMs smell like money.

    Now if I were adding applications into this fabric, I'd want to attach my own data structures that other applications could leverage off of the profile. For example, I think that iLike has a much better idea of the appropriate structure for music preferences than OpenSocial. How about letting applications defined sections within the user profile? Ever hear of metadata? Maybe custom properties?

    Ironically, in the Enterprise, the social fabric has to be more open. Yes, it has to be more secure, since data can be sacrosanct, but the Sales Regions I Care About in a CRM system will have a structure that the CRM system needs to articulate, not some master system deciding it needs to be in a comma-delimited-format, or as an ENUM including Idaho.

    We are excited about OpenSocial, but ask the same thing of it that others are: please be Open. Let applications define their own data shapes on the social graph. Allow more interesting sets of people emerge than "Friends." This is important for it to be relevant in our increasingly social, increasingly modern workplaces.

    As we map these concepts to the enterprise, we will be doing just that. And we are very excited about the possibilities, as are our customers...