Google+ and a Failure to Communicate

UPDATE: Well, I remembered a Google account I created a few years ago, and no longer user. With this, I was able to create a public profile and join Google+. But what is the point? That account is separate from the one I now use for all of my other activities. So I will have yet another disconnected social network. Yay.

I thought I would try out Google+ this week, since the press is marketing it so well and everyone else seems to be jumping on the bandwagon of the “game-changing” technology (how I hate that term!). After all, a significant part of my work is around web-based collaboration and I have been an early adopter of most social networking technologies (trying to remember my 5 digit ICQ number).

One of my Twitter connections was happy enough to send me an invite, to my Google hosted email address on the same domain as this blog.

I immediately see the following message:

image

(BTW, Google, lose the “Oops”. We are not in Grade 1.)

I proceed to spend the next hour trying to figure out how to create a Google Profile. I am pretty sure that I am at least as smart as the average Internet user, and probably smarter than some. It should not be this hard to register for a service.

I eventually came to the conclusion that I cannot do it for my fyeomans.com email address.

It appears that if I want to use Google+, I will have to create yet another account email address (to go with the 5 or 6 I already use) and get someone to invite me at THAT address.

Not something I am going to be bothered doing.

While I realize that supposedly 10 million people have already signed up for Google+, remember that that is a drop in the bucket of internet users.

And if you create barriers to people using the technology, it fail at badly as Buzz did.

Just my 2 cents. I would love to comment on the service itself, but well, I can’t.

Microsoft is evil, lame, and sucks, right?

WRONG!

Give me a freaking break!

I was just reading a post over on TechCrunch. I do not know why I allow myself to get drawn into reading this drivel, but I always seem to.

When are the anti-Microsoft crowd going to grow up and realize that this is a business, and we are all in it to make money and increase the value of that business.

(including, of course, Google and Apple – but it is somehow ok for them)

For those who do not want to waste time and bandwidth reading the actual post, I will summarize a bit:

  • Microsoft participated in the consortium which purchased the “Nortel Patents”, even though MS apparently did not need to
  • Microsoft is pursuing licensing agreements with Android phone vendors based on other IP which MS already had
  • Microsoft stands to make a lot of money from these agreements
  • Microsoft is obviously “lame” for doing this (seriously, who actually uses the term “lame” anymore?)
  • Microsoft is doing this (obviously) because they cannot compete with Android by being innovative.
  • It would be OK if Apple were doing this, since Apple can do no wrong

So lets take a look at this from a more realistic point of view.

  • Microsoft is a business. It is in business to make money, and increase shareholder value. Period.
  • Microsoft owns certain patents. A lot of them. It owned this IP before participating in the Nortel deal.
  • Microsoft felt that participating in the consortium to buy the Nortel patents was valuable in terms of protecting its IP position.

So far so good. Lets look at the Android situation.

  • Android (apparently) infringes upon a number of patents which Microsoft owns. I am not in a position to assess this, but I would suspect there is some validity to the claim or Android phone vendors would not be signing agreements with MS without fighting.
  • If this is the case, Google is making money selling something for which they do not have clear intellectual property rights. And this is somehow Microsoft’s fault?

The statement is made that Android is winning because Google “out-innovates” Microsoft. Lets compare the two:

  • Google has a mobile phone OS named Android, based on an existing open-source OS, using a programming model which some believe they do not have valid IP rights to, and using a UI paradigm which clearly borrows heavily from another famous mobile phone (though I do think Android improves on it).
  • Microsoft, after lagging for a long time, has introduced a new mobile phone OS, written from the ground up, using a unique UI model which is clearly theirs, and with a development environment to which they own the IP, and which is also highly innovative.

Whether WP7 succeeds or fails, and whether you happen to like it or not, from an innovation perspective it is clearly well beyond Android.

So what is Microsoft’s strategy? Well, it appears to be two-pronged.

Having invested heavily in innovation, they are clearly focused on the future of WP7. They intend it to be a success. Whether or not they are successful is more a question of their timing and marketing ability than their level of innovation.

At the same time, Microsoft has quite rightly taken action to preserve the value of its intellectual property. They have also leveraged their ownership of this IP to make money and increase shareholder value.

It seems to me like Microsoft is doing exactly what a business is supposed to do, and doing it well in this case.

Finally, I just have to comment on this little snippet form the post:

“When Apple takes these agressive (sic) approaches on patents, it’s no more right, but at least they can argue that they have a winning product (the iPhone) that they’re trying to protect. Their goal isn’t to get other companies licensing their patents, it’s to run those guys out of the market”

At least he acknowledges that Apple is “no more right” than anyone else in this process. It is the final statement that gets me. So, it is more admirable to crush your competitors and drive them out of business than to license technology to them, allowing both parties to survive and make money?

Of course it is, since we all know it is better to only have one choice in the market, as long as that choice is Apple!

(in case that was too subtle for any of you, that was sarcasm )

The EMail Charter?

Proof that just because people from TED are involved, does not mean it makes sense!

I have had this link come to my attention several times now, and each time I see it, I am struck by how naïve it is (though I am sure there are those who will argue that its naïvety is its beauty). While I agree with some of the points, I think others are out of line. Lets look at each of the points:

1) “Respect Recipients’ Time” While this is obviously a good idea, it is hardly unique to email. And I would argue that in many cases, email is more respectful than a phone call, or dropping by in person. First of all, phone calls and face-to-face interactions frequently involve significantly more extraneous communications of little to no value. In addition, calling or dropping-in interrupts what a person is doing. Unless the issue is urgent enough to require immediate resolution, an email (which can be handled asynchronously when it is convenient) is far more respectful of my time than other modes of communication.

2) “Short or Slow is not Rude” Short is not rude. The response should be long enough to address the issue, and no longer. Slow may not be rude, and may be unavoidable, but it is better to set expectations as to when you will respond to emails. If people know what to expect, then they are less likely to take issue. Not responding at all is a whole other problem.

3) “Celebrate Clarity” I wholeheartedly agree – but not just for email.

4) “Quash Open-Ended Questions” BS. Within the proper context, this is an appropriate way to collect information from a number of people on the way to building consensus, without calling an unnecessary meeting (or interrupting the work of several different people using a “more personal” approach).

5) “Slash Surplus cc’s” Absolutely! This seems to be a trend from larger companies with a CYA mentality.

6) “Tighten the Thread” more BS, with an arbitrary number thrown in for good measure. The thread should be as long as required, and no longer. When in doubt, do what makes sense.

7) “Attack Attachments” Absolutely. I would do away with all attachments, especially internally.
8) “Give these Gifts: EOM NNTR” Good idea in principle. Most of the times I have used them, they have generated a bunch more email explaining them.

9) “Cut Contentless Responses” Agreed.

10) “Disconnect!” This is just good time management. Manage your email in whatever way fits in to your overall time management process. Some people only process email during certain small time periods during the day. I know some that only process email on Monday mornings, or Friday afternoons. Whatever works for you.

The biggest point of contention I have with the whole “email is evil” trend is this idea that synchronous modes of communication such as phone, f2f, or IM are more respectful of another person’s time than email. If the response does not have to be synchronous, then async is more respectful of my time.

If a phone is launched in the forest, does anyone hear it?

This is a bit of a rant (I do that a lot, don’t I?) Partly it is a rant about Microsoft and its Windows Phone 7 launch. It is also partly a rant about our local Bell Mobility retailer, and their complete lack of customer service or sales skills.

I am in the market for a new smart phone. My current phone is a 3 year old HTC touch, which I like, but it beginning to show its age. Over the past few weeks, I have been looking at both the iPhone 4 and the Samsung Galaxy S. I like the iPhone, but am pretty much anti-Apple because I do not really approve of either the undeserved hype around their products, or their obsessively controlling attitude towards developers and users alike. The Galaxy S looks like an interesting option, however.

For the sake of completeness, however, I wanted to wait and have a look at a Windows Phone 7 device. I am tied to Bell, so unfortunately my only choice would be the LG Optimus Quantum. I am not a fan of slide out keyboards, but I thought I would give it a chance.

I have been faithfully watching the Bell Mobility site for news of the launch. That was a waste of time. Even now, on launch day, there is no information, just a form to fill out to “get more information when it is available”. Last night (November 7) I did get an email from Bell saying the device would be available in their stores today.

image

So today I go to my local Bell partner retailer (Sounds Fantastic in Moncton). Actually, I tried calling Sounds first to save myself a wasted trip, but three calls over the course of a couple hours all went unanswered. I figured they must be really busy. So, I decided to visit the store on my lunch break. Not busy at all – in fact, no one there. So I was able to very quickly get the attention of a helpful sales parson. After a brief sequence of questions and one-word, grunting responses, I learned the following.

They do not have any Windows Phone 7 devices.

He does not know when/if they are getting any.

No, he does not know if anyone else in the area is getting any.

No, the guy who might know if they are getting any is not in today.

Not very helpful. He could have maybe taken my name, or tried to find out the information I needed. But he was too busy (even with no other customers in the store).

So that is my rant about Sounds Fantastic. I was very disappointed by the service, but not surprised. It sort of matches all my other experiences there (on the mobility side, anyway – they seem to be completely different business).

Now to talk about Microsoft, and the Windows Phone 7 launch in general.

How can a major tech corporation manage to launch a major new product, and yet generate no hype whatsoever. I have commented on this before. It seems to me that Microsoft’s biggest weakness right now (and for most of the last decade) is its marketing department. Microsoft makes some very cool technology. In my opinion, they are at least as innovative as Apple, and probably more so (at least they are innovative across a much broader spectrum of technologies and solutions).

But lets looks at Microsoft’s marketing track record (especially marketing to the consumer market – their marketing to the enterprise seems pretty good).

  • Tablet PC: Microsoft launched the Tablet PC back in 2002. Since about 2005 it has been a viable platform. I have been using productively that entire time. And yet, even up to about a year ago, I would have people see me in airports, on airplanes, and many other places, ask me what they device was I was using, and be surprised that anything like that existed. Microsoft completely and utterly failed to communicate the existence of this technology outside of the hard-core techie community. And even within that community, they failed to communicate the power of the platform, or to entice developers to develop for it.
  • Windows Vista: Where to begin on Windows Vista? To be clear here, Windows Vista was far more of a marketing failure than a technology failure.  Yes, Vista had its problems. The vast majority of them (in my opinion) were due to third party driver and application updates or lack thereof – this is of course a marketing/product management issue as well. Vista’s biggest problem was public opinion, and failed marketing. For how long did Microsoft sit back and watch while a certain competitor raked them over the coals with very popular and effective TV commercials? When Microsoft marketing did respond, what was the best they could do? Seinfeld and Gates in obscure, bizarre skits? Please.
  • Microsoft Surface: Ok, this is not a consumer-oriented device (yet), but it is an example of Microsoft coming up with really cool technology and then actively hiding it from the world. Until a year ago, it was very difficult to get any information about it at all. Buying one was damn near impossible. Even now, people look at it and say “hey, that’s copying the iPad” – not knowing it has been around for 3 years.
  • Windows Phone 7: Major new launch, and no hype or energy at all, outside of hard core Microsoft circles. A few articles here and there. Even mobile service providers carrying the devices have almost nothing on their web sites about the devices, and then it is buried. And then I go to a store to look at one, and there are none.  Not “we had some but they are sold out”, just “we have none”. I realize I live in a backwater of the world, but it is amazing to me to see how little attention Microsoft has generated for this launch.

This to me is indicative of what truly ails Microsoft right now. In the enterprise market, they are very healthy. But in the consumer market, they cannot generate any hype. As everyone in this business (or any business) knows, you can have the best products and technology on the planet, but if you cannot get the word out, get people excited, and manage consumer perceptions of your products, you will fail!

Update: After my experience trying to look at a Windows Phone 7 device at Sounds Fantastic, I decided to reply to the above Bell email, asking why there were none at my local Bell dealer. Yes, I know it would bounce because that message was obviously form an auto-mailer. I did get an automated response, though:

image

Good enough. I happily click through the l;ink to voice my concerns – only to see the following page:

image

Just not my day for talking to Bell Sad smile

Bill Buxton: “NUI – What’s in a name?”

Recently (early October) Bill Buxton gave another talk nominally about Natural User Interfaces. For those who don’t know, Bill is Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and has a 30 year involvement in research, design and commentary around human aspects of technology, and digital tools for creative endeavour, including music, film and industrial design (and a lot of other things, but I am not going to copy and paste his whole bio!).

The presentation, given at Microsoft Development Center Copenhagen, covers a lot more than just current ideas around NUIs. It looks back at the history of efforts to develop natural and touch user interfaces going back to the early 70s, as well as looking at what exactly we are trying to accomplish with these UI paradigms, what natural really means in a UI, and what makes good design in general.

While I highly recommend taking the time to watch the entire video, here are a few points I found really interesting:

  • The “Long Nose”: the concept of the “Long Tail” turned around, indicating that technologies (even successful ones) have a very long lifetime before they get on anyone’s radar, and in fact are usually in existence for about 20 years before they become major industries. This interesting implication of this, is that if you are looking for technologies that will be game-changers (can’t believe I used that term – I hate it) 10 years from now, you need to be looking that technologies that have been around for 10 years already.
  • Ask what your idea is worst at: Every idea is best at something and worst at something. It is just as important to be able to identify what your idea is least suited for as what it is best at.
  • You do not succeed in spite of your failures; you succeed because of your failures.
  • There is nothing all that new or revolutionary in the iPhone, iPad, Surface, or any other tablet-like devices. Most of the technology they rely upon has existed for 20-30 years or more).
  • Many people are stunned by how far technology has come (smart phones, touch interfaces, etc.), when really it is surprising how little progress has been made, given where things were in the 70s and 80s.
  • Most of us still carry around paper notebooks of some sort in order to scribble notes, sketch ideas, etc. We were getting to the point of replacing them with Tablet PCs. Unfortunately that is going away now with the current  generation of smartphones and slates, since they have done away with the stylus because marketing people have told us (so it must be true) that we do not want to take notes or make sketches.
  • The next generation of natural user interfaces need to be context aware. Not software context aware, but real context – where am I, what is the environment, what are the constraints.
  • Why the buttons on women’s clothes are all wrong!

Those are just the things I found interesting. The video is about 90 minutes long (60 minutes of presentation, 30 of Q & A), but it is well worth the time it takes to watch.

 http://channel9.msdn.com/posts/TechTalk-NUI-Whats-in-a-Name

The end of physical books? I hope not!

I was just reading this article on CNN.com, in which author Nicholas Negroponte, founder of One Laptop per Child, foretells the demise of physical books.

I recognize the trend, and can see some reality in what he says. I am a big fan of digital books, and have been for far longer than those who have jumped on the bandwagon with the introduction of the Kindle, iPad, and other such devices. I have been using my slate tablets as ebook readers for 8 years now. The fact that I can carry several thousand books with me when I travel is really convenient (especially for an infomaniac like myself).

However, I absolutely do not advocate the end of physical books, for a number of reasons.

First of all, there is no standard distribution technology for ebooks. I do not want to have to drink Apple’s or Amazon’s koolaid just so I can read the books that I want. And when I have purchased material, I do not want that material tied to a specific device (especially if it is tied to iTunes or Apple in any way). Until there is some level of standardization (beyond PDF), then ebooks should not be the principal format for books.

Secondly, an ebook-only world introduces a 2-tier society – those who can afford ebook-readers, and those who cannot. While I applaud Mr. Negroponte’s efforts in the One Laptop per Child campaign, we are not there yet. Even if we were, laptops are not the optimal platform for reading books. There is no way I would want to read any book of any length on a laptop (tablet maybe, but not a laptop). Right now, people (in much of the world) need nothing more than a library card to have access to a wide variety of books. A switch to an entirely digital world takes that away. I recognize that in the third-world,this is not the case, but I am not convinced that a switch to digital media fixes that problem.

My biggest concern is actually more of a “doomsday” or “conspiracy theory” kind of thing. The strength of physical books is that they are just that – physical. I do not need any device to read them. I do not need electricity. I do not need DRM. I pick up a book, and I read it. What happens in situations of natural disaster, decline of society (for example in war – we are not that far removed from the threat of world war), or even zombie attacks ;-). I personally would prefer that most books continue to exist in a tangible form in addition to a digital one. Then again, I still have a slide rule, just in case all of the computers and calculators fail and I really  need to figure something out!

I am also concerned with the greater possibility of distortion and censorship of the written word once it is only digital. We already see some organizations which distribute digital content exerting inappropriate, heavy-handed control over content and “apps” that they will “allow” to be published on their devices. The potential for corporate or political censorship is great in the digital world, though as has been demonstrated in the past, it is extremely hard to completely suppress information on the Internet.

Finally, there is a distinct sensory pleasure to reading a book. It is one of the few escapes I have left from the digital, technological world. When I am reading digital books, I am unfortunately also subject to all of the distractions of the digital world (email, IM, Twitter, etc.) Physical books are an escape from that noise, and i need that.

Just because I can read everything digitally, does not mean that I should read everything that way.

Gartner Says Android to Become No. 2 Worldwide Mobile Operating System in 2010 and Challenge Symbian for No. 1 Position by 2014

Gartner Says Android to Become No. 2 Worldwide Mobile Operating System in 2010 and Challenge Symbian for No. 1 Position by 2014

 

So Gartner weighs in on mobile phone market evolution over the next few years. Points which I found interesting:

  1. Apple does not control the universe, and in fact its market share will remain pretty much steady over the next few years.
  2. The only projected significant market growth comes for Android, and it is really significant.
  3. The imminent release of Windows Mobile 7 will have no positive effect on Microsoft’s market share, and in fact Gartner projects Windows Mobile to drop to only 3.9% market share by 2014 – even though is number of units will almost triple. It will be interesting to see if Windows Mobile 7 is as meaningless as they project.

Why are you still not focused on the business when implementing SharePoint?

Over the past week I have been reading a couple of recent SharePoint-related papers, and thought I would share some of my thoughts.

The first paper is entitled SharePoint – strategies and experiences from AIIM. This document presents the results of a survey of 624 AIIM members last spring regarding experiences and plans with SharePoint. I strongly recommend downloading and reading the entire report, as I do not intend to cover all of it in this post, only those items that seemed interesting to me (which is actually difficult, because there is a fair amount of interesting stuff in there!).

The findings I found most interesting were:

  • Lack of business-case justification for implementations
  • Governance challenges
  • Perceived ROI
  • Implementation challenges
  • The number of organizations planning to upgrade to SharePoint 2010
  • The ranking of most popular uses of SharePoint

For me, the most startling result in the report is

Half of SharePoint implementations went ahead with no business case being made to justify the
investment. Only 23% were required to make a financial justification. Where a business case was
made, improved collaboration and better knowledge sharing were the main benefits assessed.

Is it just me, or is this insane? As I said last year in my column Danger! Do not implement SharePoint in your Organization!, the focus of your SharePoint implementation should be solutions to real business problems, bringing real business value. A business case is not just something you do in order to get funding. It is something you do so you understand what functionality you are implementing and why. Not doing a business plan is setting the project up for failure, but for a failure you may never know about. After all, if you have nothing against which to measure success, how can you even know if you have failed, or at least failed to live up to potential? I guess I am optimistic, but I thought everyone understood this by now.

The second point is equally astonishing to me. While the first links I saw to the AIIM document had headlines implying some weakness in SharePoint governance was found (here for example), the real finding is that many of the organizations implementing SharePoint simply do not put appropriate governance in place. A great many organizations have a lack of definition of governance of features, sites or content.

Surprisingly, despite the lack of business case and governance, most of the organizations surveyed were happy with the ROI achieved (which is amazing if they had no definition of what they were trying to accomplish!). Only 9% said that the ROI was worse than expected. Then again, maybe this is just a reflection of having no real idea of what you expected the ROI to be.

The results also identified some of the challenges faced when implementing SharePoint. Among the key issues identified were:

  • Managing process change
  • Took longer than expected
  • User resistance to new UI
  • Technically more difficult than expected
  • Cost more than expected
  • Poor performance/infrastructure capability

All of these, in my opinion, are reflections of lack of planning and lack of business case. While many of these challenges are common even in the best of circumstances, a lack of a clear, business-focused vision and plan will invariably make them worse.

There were also a couple of positive results from the report (more than a couple, but 2 I will mention here).

The results indicated that 13% of the respondents are planning to upgrade to SharePoint 2010 almost immediately, while half are planning to within a year. I see this as positive, anyway.

It was also interesting to look at what SharePoint features are most popular in these organizations. While I always tend to think of SharePoint primarily as a portal platform, and a solution development platform (hey, I am a developer), the most popular usages found in the survey were:

  1. Collaboration
  2. Document management and file-share replacement
  3. Portals
  4. Intranets

These are just some of the points I found interesting in the report. Again, I strongly urge anyone looking at SharePoint to real the whole report.