Friday, July 25, 2008

Randy Pausch

Today, Randy Pausch passed away. I blogged about his "Last Lecture" a couple months ago. In the final months of his life, he touched more people than most of us will ever touch in our entire lifetimes. He taught us how to live and how to look at life differently. Thank you, Randy.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Google Opens Up Knol

It's been a couple months since I have done a blog post (too busy starting a company) but today's announcement by Google on the general availability of Knol is one that I can't let slip by. Back in December when Google originally announced Knol, I did a blog post because I think it could be an enabler 0f what I have been calling "knowledge networking". It will be interesting to monitor how Knol is used and whether the author-centric nature of it leads to behavior that is different than how other services like Wikipedia are used.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Mainstreaming of Micro-Blogging

A few weeks ago, there was a lot of talk in the tech blogosphere about when, if ever, Twitter will become mainstream. I added my two-cents worth to the conversation by saying there needs to be more purpose around the service before it goes mainstream (assuming they will fix their stability problems). As I think about this more, I believe the significant trend has less to do about Twitter and more to do about micro-blogging emerging as a mainstream concept.

The reasons I believe micro-blogging will become mainstream are similar to the reasons Twitter has become popular:
  • It is easy for people to think and type/text in bite-sized (or in the case of Twitter, 140-character sized) chunks.
  • The adoption of smartphones -- and the iPhone in particular -- has brought text-messaging to a new group of users (beyond the Gen Y'ers who grew up with text-messaging as a primary means of communications).
Twitter is not the only service out there that supports micro-blogging; most notably, Facebook and MySpace also do so with their status updates. I think we are just at the tip of the iceberg and I expect we will see many more services ride the micro-blogging trend in the future.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Last Lecture

I just read a WSJ article about Randy Pausch's "last lecture" and I was reminded how wonderful it was. I thought I blogged about it previously but realized I didn't (I had sent an email about it to a bunch of my friends). It continues to be one of those things that rise "above the noise" in my mind so I would be remiss if I didn't write a post about it. The email I originally sent to my friends is below. If you haven't seen the lecture, it is time well spent.

Many of you may have heard about the “last lecture” given by Randy Pausch. For those of you who haven’t…

Randy is a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Recently he was told that he has pancreatic cancer and only has months to live. He is 46 years old. He was asked by Carnegie Mellon to give his “last lecture”. The lecture is being viewed by many people over the Internet and the Wall Street Journal had a recent article on people’s reaction to his lecture.

If you want to view his lecture, it can be seen here.

The entire video is quite long – about 1 hour and 45 minutes. I recommend viewing at least some of the video. Randy shares some life lessons that we all can use, especially those of us who are parents. It is also impressive to see how he is dealing with “the cards he has been dealt”.

To help you “fast forward” through portions of the video, here’s a quick overview…

After an introduction given by a colleague and friend at Electronic Arts, Randy’s lecture is divided into three sections:

  • His childhood dreams – He lists his childhood dreams and how he has “checked off” most of them.
  • How he has enabled others to accomplish their dreams – This section is primarily the work he has done as a professor. Randy’s specialty is virtual reality. If you aren't interested in this stuff, this is one section you could skip.
  • Lessons learned – In this section, he talks about the important people in his life and some of the lessons he has learned along the way. At the beginning of this section, he talks about his parents and the freedom they gave him to do the things he wanted to do. This section starts at about 1 hour and 3 minutes.

After the lecture, a few people pay tributes to Randy. Compared to a funeral, where people say wonderful things about a person after they have died, this is what I have always thought should happen instead – have people say wonderful things about a person while a person is still around and can feel the appreciation.



Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Purposeful - and Fun - Application of Twitter

Yesterday, I did a post where I argued that in order for Twitter to become mainstream, it needs to have a more clearly defined purpose. Well today, TechCrunch did a post on Project Vino, an Australian wine site focused on community recommendations, and their Twitter Wine Tasting.
Twelve prominent Australian Twitter users will take part in an evolutionary new twist on the the traditional wine tasting format. What separates this wine tasting is that the participants could be anywhere in the world. They could be in front of their computer at home or on their mobile phone in middle of the Sturt Desert. All will be connected in real-time however by the latest and greatest online communication tool - Twitter.
This is a step in the "purposeful" direction I discussed in my post yesterday. As I find other "purposeful" applications of Twitter, I will make posts about them.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

To Go Mainstream, Twitter Must Have More Purpose

Yesterday, Kara Swisher did a post that concluded Twitter is not yet mainstream. She came to this conclusion based on an informal survey of people she conducted at a wedding in Washington, D.C. this past weekend (nobody in the group of thirty people surveyed knew what Twitter was). The fact that Twitter is not yet mainstream is not a surprise to anybody. To substantiate this point further, data just released by Hitwise shows that Twitter accounts for a very small percentage of Internet traffic in the U.S.

Kara's post, however, did spawn a lot of discussion in the tech blogosphere about when/if Twitter will become mainstream. It even prompted Jeff Clavier of SoftTech VC to do his first blog post in months (he has been just Twittering). I agree with many of the points made by Jeff: that Twitter -- and micro-blogging, in general -- will become mainstream; that micro-blogging is less time consuming than blogging and, therefore, less intimidating to many people; and, that the adoption of smartphones, like the iPhone, will make micro-blogging easier for people.

There is one point, however, I have not seen mentioned by anybody, which I believe is the critical success factor in making Twitter mainstream -- and that is purpose. I feel that for more people to adopt micro-blogging, there needs to be a more clearly defined purpose. I think there are large numbers of people who are not comfortable putting out "what they are doing" for the whole world to see. It's not because they are sensitive to making their posts public but it's because they don't understand "why" they should do it.

I believe the adoption of Twitter will accelerate tremendously once it is applied in a more purposeful manner. Take the concept of micro-communities as an example. I think it would be powerful if users had the ability to go into a "Twitter room" and interact with others about a particular common interest -- whether it is a sports team, or a hobby, or whatever.

It is this type of purpose, I believe, which will make Twitter mainstream.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Guiding Principle of Web 2.0

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon at the Web 2.0 Expo. The opening keynote address was made by Tim O'Reilly where he gave his perspective on the current state -- and future of -- of Web 2.0. For me, the takeaway from the speech was Tim's guiding principle on what makes an offering "Web 2.0". This is me paraphrasing...
A service that derives insight from user-generated data and then delivers to users capabilities based on that insight.
As a prime example of this principle, he talked about Wesabe (O'Reilly is an investor in the company). Wesabe, like Mint, is a next generation version of Quicken. It looks at your spending transactions to provide you insight into how you spend your money. By leveraging the spending data of their users, Wesabe recently introduced a new capability where it can compare different vendors (auto mechanics, for example) to see how much, on average, people spend at each of the vendors. That is incredibly valuable information for anybody that is at all price sensitive.

I've heard O'Reilly talk about this principle before but it's always a great reminder for me.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Can Marketers Have Conversations?

Today, Sam Lawrence, the CMO of Jive Software, did a post entitled, "Stop guarding your precious brand". The basic message is that marketing and PR people are too controlling, they need to let go, and they need to have "conversations" with the market...
Marketing needs to be released from being solely responsible for changing perceptions or driving leads. They should be enabling the organization to make meaningful, positive customer experiences and connections. This may seem like a subtle shift but when Marketing can feel comfortable becoming listeners instead of blasting sales messages, dramatic change ensues. Suddenly, employees start to really learn about what interests the market without a commercial agenda. Real conversations begin and Marketers begin to enlist the assets of the organization. This results in much more positive customer experiences. I think of this as ROB (”Return on Behavior”) others may think of it as some form of Net Promotor Score (NPS).
I agree with Sam but I do think it is a difficult mindset for marketers to become comfortable with. I have been in the enterprise software space for much of my career and historically, organizations have spent a tremendous amount of time crafting the perfect messages they want to push out to the marketplace in preparation for marketing events (i.e., a product launch). In an earlier post, I questioned whether the time spent in developing the perfect marketing messages was worth it and proposed a different mindset...
A launch is the beginning of a continuous conversation, not a proclamation that needs to be "set in stone" for a period of time. Sure, you don't want to confuse the marketplace and change your messaging often. At the same time, however, it is now very easy (thanks to the Web, pdf, and PowerPoint) to evolve your messages as you learn more from the marketplace.
With the Internet, there are so many tools available to listen to the "voice of the customer" that it is a shame for marketers not to take advantage of them to have a conversation with their marketplace.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Price That is Really Paid When a Start-up is Sold

I've written in the past about what I perceive as a disconnect between the liquidity events currently available to start-ups and the VC funding model. In a blog post today, Fred Wilson suggests that there is a need for a new path to liquidity. His argument is sure, people make money when big companies buy start-ups but that comes with a different type of price...
Except I am also a user of these services. I see what happens when a company gets purchased. The service languishes. The team leaves. It stops getting better. And often gets worse. And so even though I am happy to take the money, I am left wondering, frankly wishing, if there is a better way.
That is a very good point that I hadn't thought about.

Another Potential Knowledge Networking Solution

I have written a lot about a concept I call "knowledge networking" and have written in the past about Twine from Radar Networks as a potential solution. Today, ReadWriteWeb wrote an article about a new solution called Qitera. Qitera, like Twine, is using semantic technologies to help people leverage information among each other. The solution is currently in alpha and there aren't a lot of details on their website but one of the messages in their slide show that is included in the ReadWriteWeb article is...
How to instantly search your peer's knowledge to get smarter?
To me, this is what knowledge networking is all about. I will be keeping an eye on Qitera.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Twitter as a Marketing Vehicle

Josh Catone of ReadWriteWeb just did an interesting article on a new Twitter marketing experiment called Twittermethis. Besides explaining the concept behind Twittermethis, the article talks about how Twitter is a great vehicle for push marketing...
With that in mind, it is easy to see why the most successful marketing done via Twitter is of the "push" variety. Bloggers do this a lot when we tweet about posts we've just published. The hope is that the link will spread virally through the hubs and reach as many listeners as possible.

The key to successful push marketing on Twitter is to attract the right followers (people who have a lot of followers of their own and will retweet your message), and to make sure you don't do it too often. Unless, like the most popular person Twitter, your account is set up specifically for push marketing.

As a marketer, I love the process of figuring out how to use services like Twitter and Facebook as marketing vehicles (dare I call it "Marketing 2.0"?). It's a heck of a lot more fun than "old" vehicles like search engine marketing.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Age of Personal Brand Marketing

Sarah Perez of ReadWriteWeb posted an article today about a recent study at the University of Texas that shows you may not know your online friends as well as you think you do...
The study, which utilized a Facebook getting-to-know-you type application, "You Just Get Me," showed that the typical information posted on social networking sites, like favorite books, movies, and music, favorite quotes, majors, hometown, and other similar personal information, does not always give others an accurate impression of you.

...Surprisingly, answers to most of the basic type of questions, like those found on social networking sites, did not help users figure out what each other were "really" like. Instead, the researchers found that when a user posted things on their profile like their most embarrassing moment, proudest moment, or spirituality, their personalities were much better understood.
These results do not surprise me. My belief is that to a large extent, online profiles reflect how people want others to perceive them, kind of like a resume, and don't necessarily reflect the true person.

Sarah's article went on to say...
Gosling was drawn to this research because he believed that how one is perceived online is more important than ever these days since social networks are often where other people get their first impression of you. He also mentioned that your social networking profile could also impact your employment opportunities as savvy employers have learned to search out the online profiles of potential new hires.
I also agree with this. Whereas before, when a resume was one of the only tangible profiles of a person, a person now has many online profiles (MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.). I think it is important for a person to keep in mind how these different profiles reflect themselves. Often, before I talk to somebody for the first time, typically for business reasons, I am now in the habit of checking their LinkedIn and Facebook profiles to get a basic understanding of who they are.

Whether you like it or not, we are now in the age of personal brand marketing.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Brilliance of Facebook

During my consulting gigs to start-ups (and as I consider starting one of my own), I’ve recently noticed how often I think about how Facebook (the company) addressed particular issues and how often I come to the conclusion that their approach was brilliant. Here are a few examples that I feel demonstrate the brilliance of Facebook…

  • Go-to-Market Strategy: For its initial go-to market strategy, I feel it was brilliant for Facebook to start with one very focused user segment – college students – even though their technology probably could have handled multiple user segments at the beginning. By starting with college students, Facebook was able to test out their technology with a pretty forgiving user base and build up demand as the buzz about their offering grew. Having this type of discipline is difficult for a lot of entrepreneurs, especially technologists. It is not uncommon to find technologists who like to expose all of the different capabilities of their technology platform to all types of users from the get-go. As well-documented by Geoffrey Moore in the high-tech marketing bible, “Crossing the Chasm”, this is usually not a very smart approach.
  • News Feed – I think the brilliance behind News Feed is best illustrated by the fact that it has spawned a whole new product segment, called lifestreaming. With the development of News Feed, Facebook insightfully tapped into the voyeur in all of us. I always use Facebook as an example of a solution that doesn’t necessarily address a pain point but one that fulfills a psychological need. I think many of us – especially those who come from the enterprise software space – get too obsessed with addressing a pain point. In this day and age where individuals use multiple Web services regularly, not all services need to address pain points; it is okay if some of them just fulfill psychological needs.
  • Beacon – Even though Facebook’s initial execution of Beacon was questionable and the jury is still out on its ultimate impact, I feel the concept behind the feature is brilliant. I do believe that certain recommendations made by friends carry more weight than those made by people you don’t know and Beacon attempts to make that real.

I hear from people who know him that Mark Zuckerberg is a person well beyond his years. The examples I described above demonstrate decision making that is creative and mature for a young company with such young people at its helm. I’m sure Mark has had a lot of help along the way but he needs to be given a tremendous amount of credit. Well done.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Defrag Session on Knowledge Networking and Ambient Intimacy

Eric Norlin, the founder and one of the organizers of Defrag, saw my recent blog post on "FriendFeed, Knowledge Networking, and Ambient Intimacy", and has asked me to do a session on the topic at the next Defrag (November 3-4, 2008 in Denver, CO). I attended the inaugural Defrag last November and it is one of the best conferences I have attended. I am honored to be a part of the next Defrag.

For those of you who haven't heard of Defrag, Eric describes the conference as...
the first conference focused soley on the internet-based tools that transform loads of information into layers of knowledge to accelerate the "aha" moment.
You can check out the Defrag website -- -- for more details.

If any of you have thoughts on my topic, let me know. I would appreciate people's input as I put together the content for the session.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

FriendFeed, Knowledge Networking, and Ambient Intimacy

Last night, FriendFeed announced support for search. Much of the talk in the blogosphere has highlighted the notion that now you can search Twitter tweets via FriendFeed. I feel that FriendFeed’s search capabilities has far broader implications.

I have done several posts on a concept I call “knowledge networking”. As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts…
I define knowledge networking as the ability for people to connect with the purpose of leveraging each other's knowledge. This is different than social networking where people connect with the purpose of communicating with each other.
Recently, I have started to use Twitter and have become a fan of the service. The reason I like it is best summed up by a post made early last year by Leisa Reichelt called, “Ambient Intimacy”. Leisa defines “ambient intimacy” as…
…being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible. Flickr lets me see what friends are eating for lunch, how they’ve redecorated their bedroom, their latest haircut. Twitter tells me when they’re hungry, what technology is currently frustrating them, who they’re having drinks with tonight.

Who cares? Who wants this level of detail? Isn’t this all just annoying noise? There are certainly many people who think this, but they tend to be not so noisy themselves. It seems to me that there are lots of people for who being social is very much a ‘real life’ activity and technology is about getting stuff done.

There are a lot of us, though, who find great value in this ongoing noise. It helps us get to know people who would otherwise be just acquaintances. It makes us feel closer to people we care for but in whose lives we’re not able to participate as closely as we’d like.

Knowing these details creates intimacy. (It also saves a lot of time when you finally do get to catchup with these people in real life!) It’s not so much about meaning, it’s just about being in touch.

I have been thinking there is a connection between “knowledge networking” and “ambient intimacy”. One of the ways you can learn about the knowledge of your friends/contacts is through Twitter tweets made by them. FriendFeed’s search capability now makes this connection very real.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Business Software and the Freemium Business Model

As a previous post indicates, I am a fan of the freemium business model and I believe it is an customer acquisition strategy worth considering for start-ups, not just in the Web consumer services world but even for those developing business software. Yesterday, however, I had an epiphany in terms of what type of business software offerings it may -- or may not -- be suited for.

Until yesterday, I was of the mindset that the freemium business model could be applied to most business software offerings and it was a matter of coming up with the right packaging to determine which features should be offered for free and which should be offered as premium, for-pay features. I am now of a different mindset.

In the business software world, I think the freemium business model is ideal for the following use cases:
  • Offerings that are targeted at an individual and where no organizational decision making is required to decide whether to use the offering or not. LinkedIn is a good example of this.
  • Offerings that involve small workgroups and where its initial usage is not part of a business-critical workflow (i.e., its usage does not require high-level authorization within an organization). Wikis, I believe, are a good example of this type of offering. Within organizations, wikis can initially be used by small groups of people for purposes that are not business critical.
Perhaps more importantly, I think the freemium business model is NOT ideal for offerings that are a part of business-critical processes and require high-level authorization within an organization. Organizations are leery of using a "free" solution for an important function. For this type of use case, I believe the "try before you buy" approach used by companies like are more appropriate.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Psychology of Politics

UPDATE #2: Here are some data that support my argument below.

UPDATE: Here is a post that lays out a similar argument to the one I described below.

As my last couple posts indicate (here and here), I am currently obsessed with the 2008 Presidential election. One of the elements that particularly fascinates me is the "mind games" that are played among the participants.

Recently, I have been particularly intrigued by comments made by influential Republicans that basically say they want to go head-to-head with Hillary in the general election and they don't want to go up against Obama. For example, on NPR this morning, President Bush's chief political strategist Matthew Dowd said,
The other thing that I think John McCain has going for him is if Hillary Clinton wins the nomination I know there’s a lot of conservatives out there that said they wouldn’t vote or would vote for her but I think she’s the most unifying force for John McCain out there right now, not himself.
He went on to say later in the interview,
I think if you gave the strategists and people around John McCain some truth serum and asked them to say who they want to run against, in a minute they’d say Senator Hillary Clinton. They think that she’s polarizing; she’d motivate and unite the base of the Republican Party. She’s not a generational difference and a change of a figure, she’s a bit of throwback to the past, like to a degree he is. Against Senator Obama it’s a much more difficult task. It would be a generational campaign, the new versus the older. Somebody that had a distinct stand on Iraq versus his stand on Iraq. I think Senator Obama is a much more difficult race and there is not any vitriol from the conservative and the Republican base against Senator Obama. They don’t sort of dislike him to there core like they do Hillary Clinton. I think they would much prefer, the McCain folks, race against Hillary Clinton than Barack Obama because it’s hard to compose a strategy against a new guy like Barack.
Recent polls indicate that these statements are true and McCain has a better chance against Hillary than Obama, but I am not sure what the motivating factor is here.

Earlier this morning, the cynical side of me thought they are playing a game of "reverse psychology" and they actually want to compete against Obama; maybe they have something up their sleeve about him?

But I think I just came up with the answer, in my humble opinion. They do want to compete against Hillary. By making these statements, and since McCain will most certainly be the Republican nominee, they hope to get Republican-leaning Independents to vote in the Democratic primary and vote for Hillary.

It is well known that the Hillary campaign is putting a lot of their eggs in the Ohio and Texas primaries. Coincidentally, in both Ohio and Texas, a person does not have to declare a party affiliation until they show up to their polling place and request a particular ballot. Hmm.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Radio Silence

I've been "radio silent", from a blogging perspective, over the last month. This is because I've been consumed with two things. First, I have been working hard to help my consulting client, Pathworks Software, launch their service, Helpstream, at DEMO 08 earlier this week. Second, I've also been spending a lot of time working on behalf of one of the Democratic presidential candidates (I won't say who here but you can figure it out if you look at my Facebook profile or follow my Twitter tweets). Once we get past Super Tuesday on February 5th, I hope to get back to blogging on a regular basis.