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Archive for September, 2008

Why I’m mad at Guy Kawasaki

September 30th, 2008 51 comments

I just found out that Project Rethink is now listed on http://innovation.alltop.com. To celebrate, I thought I would explain my recent frustrations with Guy Kawasaki, one of the co-founders of Alltop.

10-15 years ago I would find a newspaper, maybe grab a magazine or two, and I would read about the news.  I had one email address (it was a Juno account)–which was checked maybe 3-4 times a week.  But that was enough, only a handful of people were even aware of its existence.

8 years ago I downloaded music for the first time.  I remember my first MP3 data disk CD player. Crafting the perfect playlist that fit on a single CD took skill. It was a great waste of time.

The iPod was released about 6 years ago (though I wasn’t able to afford one until early 2004). Suddenly all of my music followed me everywhere I went.

Gmail Beta launched June 21st, 2004 as invite only; I received my invitation some time late 2004. By this point I had 4-5 email address–two for work, one for school, and a couple more for friends.

By mid 2005 I had about 8 email accounts, 2 blogs, and a music library that followed me everywhere.  Add this to the time I spent checking my favorite websites everyday and it becomes clear why I needed some “GTD” guidance.

Then I had a little help in the form of RSS Feeds.  I was able to cut down my surfing time by checking RSS feeds.  I was disappointed in a way.  Once I got into the habit of checking feeds, my need for “surfing” the Internet was eliminated.  I could sit down an in only a few short minutes be caught up on all of the news in the world that mattered to me.  I didn’t have to find the news, it came to me.

As time passed I accumulated a few more websites, and a few more email addresses, which resulted in some new anti-GTD techniques.  The time I wasn’t spending on surfing my favorite sites was now spent on trying to stay on top of my email.

Well Apple took care of that with the iPhone.  Honestly, having my email with me 24/7 has been both a curse and blessing.  Between the cell phone, email, IM, facebook, or twitter–there is always a way to get a hold of me. 

So now I sit down at my computer and listen to my favorite songs (or songs suggested to me by either Pandora or a Genius Playlist).  I have no reason to surf the Internet because of RSS feeds.  I have no reason to check my email because it is has been with me throughout the day. Between Adium and Skype, I have more than 50 contacts scattered across the globe, only a click away.

Discovering new websites was my only hope for a little anti-GTD.  Browsing wikipedia, following the blogrolls of my peers.  Trying to find the next nugget of information that would interest me.

Thanks to Guy Kawasaki and the fine folks at Alltop, I have no more excuses

I love browsing through mac.alltop.com, innovation.alltop.com, ui.alltop.com, photography.alltop.com, even coffee.alltop.com.  I don’t need to hunt, browse, or worry about feeds. Everything important to me is easily accessible with the addition of some new and interesting hand-picked resources.

So thanks Guy.  Thank you for doing (and continuing to do) all of the hard work for me and giving me a reason to get back to work. I really appreciate it.

 Featured in Alltop

Categories: Project Rethink Tags: , ,

My Favorite Product Redesigns

September 19th, 2008 66 comments

It’s that time of year when people decide to spruce up their products for Q4. This always happens with hardware manufacturers like Apple and Sony; but lately I’ve noticed our favorite web apps getting a makeover. Here is a list of my favorite changes from websites I use every day.

 

Alltop, www.alltop.com
A great website created by Guy Kawasaki, inspired by popurls. If you have never used Alltop, you’re missing out. Dan Roam illustrates Alltop perfectly, here.

The new UI is simple and clean with AJAX in all the right places. 

I find that not enough people know about Alltop, here is the description from their website:

You can think of an Alltop site as a “digital magazine rack” of the Internet. To be clear, Alltop sites are starting points—they are not destinations per se. The bottom line is that we are trying to enhance your online reading by both displaying stories from the sites that you’re already visiting and helping you discover sites that you didn’t know existed. In other words, our goal is the “cessation of Internet stagnation” by providing “aggregation without aggravation.”

 

Twitter, www.twitter.com
I love the new twitter design. There are so many benefits, but in the end it comes down to usability. The new design settings are great and the right hand navigation works really well. One of my favorite design tweaks is actually how links within a tweet change color on the div:hover. It’s just a little pop that makes this site feel solid.

But no hover on star or reply? Come on twitter.

At least they didn’t change fail whale.

 

Facebook, www.facebook.com
This change was long coming. For a while Facebook ran simultaneous versions, allowing users to opt into the new version. My first reaction to the change was negative, and I actually resisted for as long as I could.

But change is good, and earlier this month Facebook made the switch. A few people didn’t like the change. There are more than 500 active groups in Facebook petitioning for the old UI.

All that aside, I have grown to like the new interface. It is much easier to comment on what people are doing, the profile picture is larger, and the layout (though different) works.

I think people just have an adverse reaction to “different”. The more I use New Facebook, the more I like it.

 

MySpace, www.myspace.com
MySpace 2.0 was released back on June 18th, but I felt I had to mention it simply because it needed it the most. I don’t use MySpace as often as the other products on this list.  The old UI was so cluttered and full of ads, it was too hard to use. Granted, the new version still has more advertising than I know what to do with, but at least the UI controls stand out.

They made the important controls stand out, grouped commonly used items, and gave the entire site a makeover. MySpace added graphic treatments and AJAX to give the UI a consistent feel.

This UI update made me feel like MySpace was making an effort to catch back up to Facebook, and I think it helped.

 

iPod Nano, www.apple.com/ipodnano
Of course you can’t talk about a product redesign without mentioning the latest eye-candy from Cupertino, CA.


I don’t think anyone will argue that Apple doesn’t make beautiful products. But the addition of an accelerometer for enhanced user experience just makes this even better.

 

Lessons and Takeaways

It’s fun to talk about the latest and greatest technologies, but there is something we can learn from these release cycles. In business, you often hear the phrase Cash Cow. Basically, a Cash Cow is a product that produces the majority of your profits. Traditional approaches to these products are to milk them for all they worth and dump the money into something else new and exciting with hopes that your new product will become your next Cash Cow.

The iPod has been Apple’s Cash Cow for almost 4-5 years now.

Modern technology is changing at such a rapid rate, milking a cash cow for all it’s worth is no longer the standard practice.

In order to stay on top, sometimes you have to put yourself out of business.

In other words, you have to come out with the next, great version of your product before your competition does. This is why we see a new iPod every year, and why the competition has yet to penetrate the market.

So I applaud all of these redesigns. It takes effort to stay on top.

Categories: Project Rethink Tags:

A Technological Generation

September 18th, 2008 87 comments

When I’m 80, will I google, digg, and twitter?  Will I stay up to date on technological trends?

I had an interesting conversation with friend earlier this week.  We were discussing the effects of technology on culture; namely, how different generations react to technology.  I mentioned how difficult it was for previous generations to understand new technology, and wondered if the same would be true for us.

I asked the question, “50 years from now, do you think we will be as confused by the latest technological trends? Do you think our children will be explaining things to us?”

Generations learn at an exponential rate.  Did you know that the Boy Scouts of America have a merit badge in Composite Materials?  This really makes you rethink the phrase, “It’s not rocket science.”  If rocket science is simple enough for a merit badge, perhaps it’s time we rethink this analogy…

I decided to ask around.  I found that there are actually two or three schools of thought on the subject.  

The first is simple (and boring).  Yes.  Children will always be explaining new technology. That’s just how the world works. 

The second is that our generation is different than previous generations in that we grew up around rapid changing technology.  The need to embrace and learn new technologies is engraved in our culture.  According to this line of thought, we are always learning, and will always be able to stay up on technology trends.  That is just how we were “programmed”.

The third, and more interesting line of thought in my opinion, takes a different spin.  I found that a few of my friends believe that future generations will be explaining things to the elderly, but it won’t necessarily be new technology.  They believe that while technology might become common knowledge, other skill sets such as language and the arts will become more refined in future generations.  For example, I have many friends that believe our children will grow up speaking 2 or 3 languages.

So instead of my kids saying, “Dad, it’s just an MP3 player”, they will be saying, “Dad, it’s just German.”

What are your thoughts?

*I am sorry to say that I do not speak German. I am conversational in Spanish and was close to fluent in Japanese once upon a time (JLPT Level 2).  If anyone would like to help me learn a new language or refine the skills I have, please twitter @shawnwelch or email info@projectrethink.org.

Ads Go Vertical

September 17th, 2008 50 comments

Beet.tv talks about a new phenomena in web-based advertising networks, “they are going vertical”.

Advertising networks are fragmenting into specialized verticals like travel ad networks, women’s ad networks and gay ad networks, according to Frank Addante, serial entrepreneur and CEO of advertising technology company The Rubicon Project. The fragmentation is mimicking the way television stations split off into cable channels…

 

Permission Marketing

In 1999, renowned author and marketing “guru” Seth Godin writes about this concept in his book, “Permission Marketing”. Godin describes a change in marketing where consumers give marketers permission to read their advertisements.  We see it every day in targeted ads like Google Ad-words and ad-banners (some ad- banners).  And now, as Beet.tv mentioned, the industry itself is changing.

Innovate and be creative

Since the first radio programs of the early 1920′s, small commercial advertisements were placed in the middle of broadcasts to help pay for the program; a program that was, by all practical measures, distributed to the public for free.  Consumers understood that these commercials paid for their program, and learned to accept the occasional interruption.  Fast-forward 80-90 years and we have television programs and streaming multimedia.  Almost 100 years later and broadcasted programs still use an interrupt-based model.

Are we doing all we can?  Maybe it’s time we rethought a few things.

 

Make a Change

September 15th, 2008 106 comments

I recently moved.  As a result my daily routine changed.

I have to take a new train to work, I have to shop at a new grocery store, I had to find a new place to get a cup of coffee.

I hate moving, it is always a hassle. There was nothing wrong with the place I lived before; it had everything I needed, and it was convenient. 

I knew that if I wanted to make things better than satisfactory it would require a lot of hard work. Nothing was broken, but I still moved.  

We have a tendency to fall into routines and learn to accept little problems.  

Now that everything is moved, my daily routine has a few new additions.  Before I was about 2 miles from my gym, now I am about 2 blocks.  The result?  I have gone to the gym more times in the last 3 weeks than in the last 3 months.

We need to shake things up a bit.  It’s harder in the business world, especially corporate.  These kinds of change typically only come with a change in management, a reorg, or a merger.  

Like moving, it’s hard work; but in the end sometimes you just have to get up and do it. Talking about it isn’t enough.

Before I moved I could have told myself, “I am going to go to the gym 5 times a week”–in fact, I often did.  But it wasn’t until I was proactive about the change, it wasn’t until I moved, that I was able to actually reach my goal.

Don’t expect change, don’t expect innovation, unless you are willing to shake things up and do things a little different.  Maybe a new vendor? Maybe an unproven business model or technology?

Change is risky, but without change we cannot innovate. Innovation is by definition something different; it requires a change. If you want to redefine your market, you have to make a change; you have to take a risk.