Author Archive

What if people didn’t use their iPads?

November 26th, 2012 No comments

What’s the difference between Apple’s iPad and Google’s Nexus? Sure there are differences in prices and features, but what really sets them apart is in how these products make money for their manufacturers. Apple has always been a hardware company, and one that has managed to demand high margins on the hardware they sell. From Apple’s point of view, software is simply an absolutely critical part of the Product (with a capital ‘P’). Apple views software as something that combines with the device ships to you in a package and together they are the product you buy. For this reason, well integrated software is critical to your purchasing choice.

Of course, Google knows about software too. What makes Google so innovative is that they use software to sell something quite unexpected. What Google is selling, above all, is ad revenue. Even the Google Nexus device is subsidized by the business model which says, it’s not about the device, but rather owning the platform through which potential consumers gather information about purchases and then selling this information to advertisers. It’s an old idea made very new again, and Google is the absolute master of it.

Google, and Amazon for that matter, want to make revenue off the channel to market. More Nexus tables into user’s hands is a very good thing. The critical element here, though, is not just selling customers razor blades, but making sure that they are using them to shave. Of course, Google is aware of this and that’s why so much ongoing effort is focused on creating and improving the Android mobile operating system. Apple, meanwhile must ensure that its operating systems are engaging only if they hope to sell you another iPad someday in the future; or to your mom, or brother. Google’s model scales better (how can you still make money when everyone’s already bought an iPad?) but has its risks.

Given the disparity in how Apple and Google try to make money, this info graphic from IBM is an eye-opener. One read is that even as Andriod catches up to and even surpasses Apple’s iOS in number of users, iPad and iPhone users spent more time actually using their devices for, at very least, shopping.

If Apple devices engage their users longer and better than Android users, that is some pretty disturbing news for Google. Apple needs to make better software so that customers will recommend their products, but beyond that, once they’ve sold a device, they have relatively few channels to make money from them. Google, meanwhile, is depending on the use model, for that is a critical piece in what they sell to their customers (advertisers).

The lesson for consumers might be to understand just who the customer is for a given product and be sure you’re it. If not, you have little leverage to be sure you’ll get the best experience going forward. For manufacturers, (and Google) it’s a sobering example of how important it is to understand the ecosystem of your product. Specs are so 90s, use-case is third millennium, and now we have to add engagement, if we want to make sure our products succeed.

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Fine young cannibal

October 19th, 2012 No comments

Analysts are worried that a new iPad mini would cannibalize Apple’s iPad sales. They’re right, of course, but that doesn’t mean there is anything to worry about. Apple is practicing a time honored strategy for successful businesses, both large and small. I call it “Be Your Own Competition.”

For the past two years starting with the Blackberry Playbook, which went nowhere because of its high price to the Kindle Fire which sold like hotcakes as Amazon is more interested in selling content than devices and were comfortably able to subsidize the cost of their products; the market has seen a range of smaller, cheaper, tablets. Apple, meanwhile, has stood on the sidelines, insisting that a smaller interface doesn’t really bring about the advantages of a tablet at all.

I’ve finally spent some time on an iPad and, I have to begrudgingly admit that I agree. The size of the screen is part of the interface. Games and applications take on a different level of interactivity simply by offering more room than on a smartphone. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make me want to own an iPad. It’s too expensive and still can’t do what a notebook can do for me, and worse, the size makes it just too ungainly to use in a truly portable fashion like, say, I used to use my Newton (stop laughing).

I travelled recently with an iPad, attempting to replace a guidebook with this single device that could also help to book hotels. I needn’t have worried so much about looking ostentatious as many people seem to think that iPad actually makes a good camera; holding up this giant slab in front of monuments and looking utterly ridiculous. It worked well enough that I doubt I’ll be bringing paper guide books along in the future, but the iPad was still too big to tote around or to whip out during a walking tour.

The larger interface is nice, the size is right, for many things, but I am still not going to buy one. But an iPad mini? That could truly be the crossover between feature-poor, does one thing super well, e-book readers, and feature-rich, does loads of stuff super well but cost more and are too big tablets.

Of course, these products exist already such as the aforementioned Fire and the Google Nexus. Which brings us to Apple’s problem. Releasing an iPad mini will, indeed, likely cannibalize sales of their iPads (and iPod touches) and worse, competing with the existing market will do damage to Apple’s enviably high margins, but who better to steal your sales away than yourself?

When you’re thinking of your next product and wondering if it will cannibalize your market, ask yourself if someone isn’t already trying to do that already. It’s much better to be your own competition than to let someone else do it.

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Just below the Surface

June 20th, 2012 No comments

Everyone already hates Microsoft’s Surface which shouldn’t really be surprising, because, when I say “everyone,” of course, I mean internet pundits who hated the iPod, iPhone, iPad and most everything else they now love to death (and provide as evidence for why they hate the Surface). Look at those headlines in the links: “Surface table guaranteed to fail”, “Will Microsoft Surface Sink?”, “Microsoft’s table could be a major loser.” Hopefully Microsoft subscribes to the ‘say whatever you wish, just spell my name right‘ school of marketing.

I don’t want a Surface. Of course, I don’t really want an iPad either. These are great devices for consuming content, which, of course, is most of what we do, but I haven’t seen how I would even successfully edit a blog post on an iPad. (I have to switch back and forth between many, many pages to find links, for example.) Ultimately, I like tablets, but they’re just too expensive for my current usage to justify one. And I don’t want a Surface because I am a Mac user. I doubt that there would be much added value for me using a Windows-based tablet with my Mac based laptop. But then, I am not the target market and none of this is to say I don’t think Microsoft is doing something right here.

Apple took its desktop operating system and scaled it back so that it could work on a mobile device. It’s the same programming language and borrows much from the existing infrastructure. Microsoft is doing the same thing. It remains to be seen just what they’re leaving out in order to make it effective for mobile devices, and what you leave out is often critical to success, but it enables existing developers to make minor modifications to existing applications quickly.

Apple built a “there’s an app for that” eco-system which competitors are finding it hard to break through. Microsoft has a huge leg up if their tablet runs PC software—for real—not just new software with the same name, like the used to do for WindowsMobile. Microsoft can pretty much claim they have more apps that even Apple’s juggernaut of an app store. They are a few steps behind; typically Windows apps aren’t selling for $0.99, but if you can ensure a bigger pirate-free market for applications as Apple has done with its AppStore, you can convince developers to accept less on a per unit sale. Apple’s own software, for example its office-like suite iWorks, sold for $49 – $79 but dropped to $19.99 the day the AppStore for MacOS went live. Other developers followed suit. Microsoft needs a functioning online store, and a market that will use it (Surface owners) but clearly, they have been putting these pieces in place.

Apple owns the whole widget; which really means they can be a bit more secretive about what they’re going to sell, they can integrate features more carefully and thoughtfully, and they can optimize performance. Microsoft could always do this, and while it’s only been really nice mice, a very successful Xbox and a not so impressive Zune so far, there is no reason Microsoft can’t make stuff they make software for. Much of the gnashing of teeth has transpired since Microsoft decided to compete with their partners, but really, where are ASUS (who complained) or Dell (who didn’t) really going to go for their operating system? Let’s face it, Windows is still around 92% of the desktop OS market and not in a great deal of danger if their partners get a little miffed. What integrating does mean is that instead of begging their partners to please make a cool device around their new operating system, they can take control of the buzz and the marketing and actually get the thing into people’s hands without depending on partners. In today’s post-PC market (there will still be PCs, but clearly, there is more going on than just desktop computers when iOS holds a 62% of search) making your own mobile device, software and hardware, is proving to be a powerful solution.

Microsoft made at least one clear misstep, as far as I can see. You can’t actually buy one. The website has too little information for folks to decide they want one. Some are suggesting Microsoft will sell this only through their own stores (of which there aren’t very many) and we don’t really know what the price will be. Even though it actually looks like a bolted together laptop with ridges and screws and panels, and not what people have come to expect from mobile phones, it does weigh about the same as an iPad; it’s about as thin as one, and it has a heck of a lot of ports! Except, without an availability date or a price, it isn’t really a product.

Will the Surface be a hit? We can’t even know if it isn’t vapor-ware at this point and I can see little value in Microsoft pre-announcing it. Frankly, though, aside from the launch, this may be the best product and strategy out of Redmond in years. When people say they’ve finally stopped copying Apple, they’re wrong; this time they’ve finally started copying just the strategy that may pay off.

Addendum: 21 June, 2012, I just want to add a few more points.
Apple reinvented the tablet market by suggesting that trying to be all things to all people isn’t the right way to go about it. When the iPad first came out, many thought it targeted netbooks but only had a terrible on screen keyboard. Well, why has it dominated netbooks so successfully? Perhaps because netbooks were just too underpowered to manage full PC software, and too flimsy and poorly put together for people to really feel they could take them everywhere and anywhere.

In fact, Microsoft’s surface might well be the perfect netbook. It’s good looking and rugged and easy to take with you everywhere, but still runs PC software Netbook’s attraction was also in their price. Apple was arguably able to charge much more for less, but the attraction PC users have to bring their applications with them may outweigh their cost expectations.

Finally, IT/IS departments everywhere can return to their (evil) original ways back before the “bring your own device (BYOD)” days and tell their executives: ‘you want a tablet? Fine! Here’s a surface! Now stop asking me to somehow manage your iPad in our company security.

Yup, I still don’t want a Surface tablet, but I think, contrary to just about everyone else on the net, it seems, Microsoft may have a hit on its hands.

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Yahoo! mismanaged Flickr to death

May 17th, 2012 No comments

I’ve had a Flickr Pro account for years after a very kind, and prescient, friend gifted one to me. He was prescient because he’d already been on this early social networking site for years and was trying to help a budding hobby photographer get with the third millennium. I really enjoyed Flickr too, in fact, it’s the only internet property I’ve actually shelled out money to use, but Flickr, frankly, hasn’t been going anywhere. I haven’t been uploading many pictures lately and a few months back I let my Flickr Pro status lapse.

Gizmodo’s detailed description of the hows and whys of Yahoo!’s mismanagement of Flickr is an amazing, and perhaps disturbing read. It’s also a must read for flickr users, social media creators, and maybe anyone who’s working for a company that’s been acquired by another.

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Make customers feel good, not just savvy

May 14th, 2012 No comments

I saw this post about whether shoppers who showroom your business are unethical or just savvy. There are some excellent tips on that post that go beyond solving this problem through “differentiation” alone, but while I was practically screaming at the screen that it doesn’t matter, I realized that the question isn’t about how we feel about shoppers using our resources without paying for them, it’s how they feel.

Part of the issue is that your customer has no penalty for show-rooming but plenty of reward (in terms of price). It isn’t easy to punish customers, but we needn’t disregard their emotions either. Good salesmen know about this; they call it building a relationship. Customers are getting something from you before they make a purchase, but you may not have let them know they have. Perhaps it ought to feel bad if they don’t reward you for their efforts. Reputation, mutual trust, commitment, all these things are important to our social species, and we must take advantage of these positive aspirations if we’re going to keep customers from simply buying from the lowest bidder. Differentiation alone may not be enough.

While you’re giving away all that free information to your customers, make sure you let them know that you’re investing in the relationship. In retail this might be as simple as signage and discussion about buying-locally, or buying from a trusted source. For a technical businesses, it could be informing your customers that all the information you’re providing is part of the final product. Maybe it’s just a few words on your quotation or proposal, perhaps it’s frequent acknowledgment during discussions.

The fact is customers may want to the best bargain and will eventually pay for only what they value, but how they feel about themselves is part of that equation. Your goal is to make sure that buying from you makes them feel better and using your storefront or product knowledge as a show-room for a cheap online retailer, or a low quality solution feels about as nasty as it sounds.

Categories: Business Tags:

$1 Billion for 30 million leads?

April 9th, 2012 No comments

The era may never be over. Mark Zuckerberg’s just spent $1,000,000,000 (that’s a billion…) on Instagram. Have you heard of Instagram? Of course you have (well, maybe not)! It’s become popular as the hipster photo-sharing program with clever lo-fi filters for your mobile phone. It’s a nifty little social network in the crowded space of social networks and using grainy retro film-like effects to take otherwise stinky mobile phone snaps and turn them into “art” (scare quotes intentional, but not sarcastic) is a darn clever idea.

30,000,000 people (that’s thirty million) use the site and they look to be pretty engaged users. They upload their pictures not only to Instagram’s website, but also to a range of other social network and blogging tools like Tumblr and Foursquare (and sometimes, even Facebook).

So, what did Facebook buy? Certainly not the clever photo filters. Not the social networking model. Not the software. All of those things are either in place or easy to replicate. The only thing I can think of is that they bought 30 million active users. Some (let’s assume many) were too hip to even use Facebook. They got the user activity, where else their logging in, and even what they’re taking pictures of. Of course, much of this information is available about the 845 other active Facebook users, and I am surprised that growing its user base is a big concern for Facebook. If their business model is advertising which, one way or another much of it is, than selling 845 or 875 million users seems hardly enough to make a case. Of course, improving the knowledge of of these users actions increases their value, but at the end of the day, advertisers only have so much of their budgets to pay to acquire new customers.

E-mail direct marketing lists are expensive, but they rarely cost $30 per lead. On the other hand, they rarely contain this much active information about the users. And maybe the money isn’t real, since much of it will be Facebook stock and that means that upcoming suckers who support the Facebook IPO will be buying a 30 million strong customer list. Remember, Instagram makes $0.

Or perhaps Facebook just bought out a competitor. Some pundits are proposing just such an argument. Silly, of course. OK, sure, Instragram is growing at an incredible pace, but just how do you get from a really nice photo-sharing site to an all encompassing social network company? And does anyone really think that growing from 0 – 30 million is, while amazing and impressive, somewhat easier than growing from 30 to 845 million? And what if Google bought them? It’d be a better match for Google, and I can imagine some legitimate concern, but now we’re back to the question of amount. Is it worth one billion dollars just to weaken your competitor? I think Google’s social networking competitor just spent a load of cash—doesn’t that weak their position?

Maybe you’ve seen ABC’s reality program Shark Tank. In this television show, venture capitalists decide if they’ll invest in ideas pitched to them right before the camera. Of course, being the vultures they are, they only want to invest in businesses that actually do, well, business…you know, the kind that make money? I wonder how well Instagram would have done on TV.

Many of today’s start-ups talk about being flipped, that is, sold for millions, as part of their business plan. Andy Grove, former CEO and founder of Intel recently told NPR that his two least favorite words were “exit strategy.” I’ve always felt that the best exit strategy a company could have, is just go and be a successful company. Build a business, sell something, repeat. During the era, that idea went out of fashion. Well, if Facebook has its way, it’s not coming back into fashion any time soon.

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The best online shopping experience. Hint: it’s not Amazon

April 4th, 2012 No comments

Brick and mortar stores are in trouble, but so are we. Brick and mortar stores like Best Buy will surely be missed once their gone, even if we’re the one digging their graves. Every shopper with a smartphone has probably already engaged in some form of “showrooming.” Showrooming is the act of going to the camera store to get a feel for how well a new model feels in the hand only to purchase it much more cheaply online. Today Amazon even offers an app that allows shoppers not only to scan barcodes and compare with the online price, but to buy the product right there for less money-guaranteed.

Many items like groceries, where freshness is hard match, or clothing wear fit is difficult to ensure, resist showrooming. Electronics, the heart of of Best Buy’s business, are a different story. Once I’ve convinced myself that my new gadget will fit in my stereo cabinet or on my kitchen counter, there is little incentive for me to purchase it locally. Shoppers go to Best Buy to confirm the few things that online retailers haven’t been able to convince them of, and then place an order online where it’s often significantly cheaper, because, well, Best Buy has to pay all those clerks, and keep the lights on in their attractive showrooms in convenient locations.

We’re using Best Buy and others like them as a place to touch and feel products and make our final decisions, but we’re only rarely paying for that privilege. Even though we have an interest in the status quo, it’ll be hard to convince Best Buy’s stock holders if they can’t make any money. The real beneficiaries are online-only stores like Amazon.

It isn’t easy to be an online only retailer, but Amazon addressed many of the needs of their customers’ unique situation. Price and selection are very big drivers, but not the only ones. In addition, consumers need to decide which items to buy and determine if a product really does fit needs and expectations. Amazon offers an array of tools from suggestions to user reviews that do wonders to remove the obstacles to online purchasing. The rise of efficient logistics from FedEx and UPS has sealed the deal, turning the FedEx man into Santa for adults. Of course, avoiding sales tax isn’t bad either, even though most states insist that you’re not really legally doing this. Perhaps this inadvertent discount was necessary to jumpstart online retailing, but, today, even if we lost the 5 – 10% advantage, many purchases would still stay online. We may love Amazon and other online retailers, but they’re getting a free-ride, paid for by brick and mortar show rooms for their goods.

It’s not impossible to be both. Perhaps the best online retailer today is Recreational Equipment Incorporated. REI has managed to sync their online and real-life shopping experience to the point that it’s almost invisible. Buy online, ship to the store. Not available in store, we’ll get it for you from our catalog. Same price, same products, same service.

I bought a compact video camera recently. I was able to choose the product completely online thanks to copious reviews and comparisons with a variety of similar products. I didn’t even visit a brick and mortar store. Still, after I’d played with it for a day, I realized it wasn’t going to meet my needs and wound up having to return, at my own shipping expense, to the online store where I bought it.

I’m replacing that camera with a different one available at REI. Still buying it online, but this time, if there is any problem with that camera or it doesn’t meet my expectations, it can go back, at no extra expense to me, to my local store. I can both showroom and return the product from the brick and mortar store, but buy it conveniently online and have delivered to my door. It truly is the best of both worlds.

The REI model could work elsewhere. Imagine if a new electronics superstore charged a membership fee, just to enter their stores. I imagine it like this. You pay $100 per year to be a ElectroShop member, and you get $120 a year credit towards your purchase. You can buy from our online catalog and pick up your item in our store, or have a look at a sample in the store and place your order online. You’re motivated to purchase from us because you’ve already paid ahead of time for the privilege, (hey, we’ve got to keep these lights on somehow) and because we offer the easiest return service out there. Electronics can be heavy or expensive to return to an online store, but here at ElectroShop, you can just bring it back, no questions asked.

Best Buy might find it hard to implement this model, but something has to be done to cover their costs, because right now, we’re getting this showroom service for free and the going out of business sales are proof that the current model is not sustainable.

Where does feature creep come from?

March 30th, 2012 No comments

Bloatware is everywhere. You know it. More and more features creep into a piece of software until only a tiny percent is ever found, much less used, by consumers. In the early days, computer resources, from working memory and storage, to processor cycles, were scarce and programmers were forced to work within narrow constrains. Today, the opposite is true and features are crammed in to fill up the space of all these idle resources and when they’re full, bigger hard drives are an inexpensive upgrade. All this may enable bloatware, but it isn’t the cause. Bloatware is everywhere. Economics is the cause.

MS Word screen shot

Three menus deep to type three characters

Once Microsoft Word is sold with a feature, say, a menu item for inserting “RE:”, popular or not, it may cost nearly nothing to leave it in for the tiny minority of users who depend upon it. New features are valued by a longer and longer tail of users, but they add value none the less. For the rest of us, it becomes visual noise, rapidly filtered out from non-use. Digging three menus deep to type “R” “E” “:” certainly seems a bit ridiculous, but, how many Microsoft Word users, even knew they could? Or cared? No skin off their mouse finger.

Do think this problem is reserved for software? My office received a new color photo-copier/networked laser printer/fax machine/scanner. Email addresses can be stored in the printer to send scanned files to the users. Faxes can be sent from the desktop, and jobs can be stored for printing later (why, exactly, would you want this?). It also has four paper feed trays, which seems pretty reasonable for letterhead, envelopes, plain paper and larger size printing, but, and I bet your medium size office is just like mine: no one here actually mails things very often and three of the four trays are filled with plain white paper (the fourth one has larger plain white paper). This amazing piece of machinery can print both sides of the paper, collate in multiple ways, organize print jobs by speed, or efficiency. It can hole punch with two or three holes, and staple your documents in any corner or along one side. It can surely do much more, but I got bored reading the 300 page manual. How many of us in the office will use them, um, stapling features (I’m guessing none). Why, then, did we buy (well, rent) this behemoth? Beacuse that bloat is essentially free to us. We needed a printer with a certain capacity for the number of people who work here and the company that rents them to us has this. I’m sure some customers are super excited to have the auto-fold feature (yup, it does that too, I think, I mean it was in the manual, but I haven’t tested it yet), and the manufacturer closed a sale by having it in there, but the rest of us get all a package of features whether we use them or not.

The 1968 Corolla! It's little.

Only happens in the office? Take a look at the Toyota Camry. In 1978 the Camry was a special model of the Toyota Celica and was a compact car. It’s grown in size and features from year to year, encouraging satisfied users who like the brand and model to make the upgrade, but eventually leaving a gap for compact cars (like the Corolla, which, itself, began life as a tiny, sub-compact ). You could suggest that cars have gotten larger over time, but this isn’t true. Totoya still makes smaller compacts and even sub-compacts today. Cars don’t get bigger, individual models do. Features are added and standardized across models and manufacturers until they are cheaper to include then to remove. Try buying a car without electronic windows or without an automatic shift. Marketers push to add features so that the cars can be differentiated from competitors even if those features are of interest to only a few users.

Why would car manufacturers add GPS to cars when integrated GPS is almost always inferior to stand alone devices you can buy later? Even with development costs, adding technology enables auto manufacturers to claim tighter integration (true or not) with their cars and the extra couple of hundred bucks is lost in the over-all price of the car. Pressure to differentiate from others in the marketplace, has an added benefit of increasing the average selling price and with it over all revenue for the products sold. More revenue generates just the necessary cash it takes to research and lard on an integrated GPS in a car and still only charge a few hundred for it by the time it winds up on the showroom floor.

920 Calories!

Economics offers a better explanation than a range of convoluted arguments for American’s fast-food super-size me dietary demands. Restaurants, from fast-food to fine dining, increase their portion sizes because food is cheap, but empty seats are not. A restaurant has to pay its employees whether every table is full or not. They have to buy ingredients just in case tonight is a big night, and this food won’t be fresh long, unless they get it out the door in your stomach. If your plate grows large enough to feed you for three days, and costs only a few dollars more, well, you can always take leftovers home. And that’s all the better for the restaurant. They’ve actually gotten two or three meals out of you even though you really didn’t plan on eating at the same place twice in a week. There is simply little incentive for restaurants to offer you a reasonable portion at a lower price. It will cost the exact same amount of time to prepare and serve, and probably the same amount of time for you to eat it; but you’ll leave only half as much money behind as you would have otherwise (and maybe even complain that the portions were a bit smaller than expected). Economics warns us that there is no value in leaving them wanting more.

Why is this portion inflation, so prevalent in the United States and not everywhere else? First, it is popular elsewhere. Germans sit down to an entire pig’s shoulder for a classic meal and the Chinese regularly order many more dishes than they’re likely to eat. American restaurants suffer particularly from bloatware, thanks to a range of contributing factors. Food subsidies make the raw materials particularly cheap compared to labor which isn’t. In China, in contrast, ingredients and labor are much more closely priced and the benefit of restaurants pushing larger portions is mitigated. Culture has an influence too. In densely populated Europe, space is more limited, refrigerators are smaller and doggie bags are rarer. Customers don’t see as much value in giant portions if there’s no way to take away extra food, and no place to put it when they get home. Europeans have looked on with envy at our closet size fridges and they can be found in more and more houses today. Try asking for a doggie bag in Europe these days and there’s a good chance the waiter will not only return with a container, but he might even hold back the sneer.

Unfortunately, useless software features really do have a cost. Developing new versions of these tools with truly innovative features becomes impossible; flexibility in the face of a changing market is lost. It remains to be seen how well Microsoft’s new tablet-themed Metro operating system overhaul will manage when all the traditional Windows features consumers demand remain. As cars add feature after comfortable feature, older models fill up junkyards and newer ones barely improve more obvious features like fuel efficiency (and with it CO2 emissions). The healthcare costs of our bigger waistlines is already legendary, but blaming MacDonald’s for bigger portions is foolish. Restaurants are driven to this business model by forces well beyond how hungry their diners are.

Bloatware isn’t just for software and it isn’t free either. Steve Jobs famously said innovation “comes from saying no to a 1000 things.” It’s one of the hardest things we have to do in business or even sitting down to dinner. It’s just economics.

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Why Google+ is better than Facebook but will fail anyway

February 22nd, 2012 No comments

I wouldn’t exactly describe myself as a social media expert. I opt out of whole chunks of it and wonder what could possible motivate someone to share unutterably mundane comments and photos from life day after day, much less read about it from others. Then again, I do have my own blog, two of them, actually, but who’s counting, and I edit on a couple more. I have a photo stream on flickr, a Facebook page, a LinkedIn profile, a nearly unused twitter feed, a Google+ account, not to mention profiles on Quora, Memrise, Foursquare, Yelp! and even Apple’s Ping! to name a few, but you get the idea. Do I really think I’m any less mundane? (More importantly, do you?)

Here are just a few reasons why Google+ is way better than Facebook but will fail anyway.

Circles are the mullets of social media and that’s a good thing.

  • Business in the front, party in the back. Circles are intuitive and easy, and they reflect the real world in a way Facebook never thought of. Officially, you can wrangle Facebook’s groups into the same kind of functionality, but circles transparently enable you to share your drunken photos with your fellow partiers and your straight-laced business posts with your work colleagues. There are things your mom just doesn’t want to know about and Google+ understands this. The standard Facebook solution, meanwhile, is to create a another user account.

Google+ is better for businesses, which is better for users.

  • A business has several opportunities to promote itself with Google+ including shared circles and search. In Google+, learning about what my friends are interested in gives me a chance to follow their interests without signing up to a new app that will clutter my feed with all manner of unwanted, unexpected posts. You build your reputation on social sites (like you do in the real world) by following things that are interesting and others find interesting too. Facebook mangles this with apps and likes and continues the nearly failed strategy of banner ads that users ignore or a search function that essentially reformats the user’s friend list and news feed. This is better for businesses because their advertising efforts are rewarded and better for users because we’re less distracted by junk we don’t care about anyway.

+1 is sticky, while “likes” fade

  • “Likes” are more widespread to be sure, but unlike Google’s +1 likes fade away, buried underneath the weight of the social noise generated by Facebook’s users. +1 meanwhile is attached to search and appears anytime a user searches for similar things. Google knows search, and social search, creepy as it is, can be really powerful. Likes are about a user’s ego; +1 is about something more powerful, a user’s reputation.

Facebook users share, Google+ users curate.

  • Facebook is designed around the concept that we want to share everything we do. It’s pretty clear that I’m wrong about this, based on its staggering popularity, but all this over-sharing destroys value. Perhaps because everyone who follows you isn’t necessarily your friend, Google+ users tend to curate what they post, using the simple circles functionality to ensure that the right content gets to the right people. You can see an example of this already in action. Compare Photobucket to flickr. Sure, some flickr users will upload a whole “roll” unedited, but where that’s practically the point of Photobucket, user curation results in amazing, captivating pictures on flickr. Browse the two sites even for a moment and see if you don’t agree.

Google+ is growing fast.

  • I won’t bore you with statistics, but Google+ has over 100 million users and has built them up much more quickly than Facebook did.

Somehow, none of this matters. Two facts will slowly kill Google+.

The first one is that people sign up, (just look at those growth numbers) and quickly realize that nobody they know is there sharing anything (even anything uninteresting). Sure, they could follow famous people, but if they care about that, they’re already doing so with Twitter (nearly all of the features of Twitter, except, perhaps for its name, are duplicated in Google+).

The second problem is fatigue. Fatigue from users, radio and tv announcers, web designers, content creators, even businesses, who have add and manage yet another way to contact and hear from them. You’ve probably heard the phrase “check us out on Facebook, or follow us on twitter at….” over 100 times already today. Adding “+1 us on Google+” is just too much. It’s a big hurdle to get over and it means knocking at least one of those two addresses from its dominant position (Twitter, Google is looking at you!), although, up till now, I’ve seen nothing to indicate that this is Google’s strategy.

If I’m right, it should be, but, what do the pluserati think? Feel free to let us know in the comments section; or over at Google+

Slowing the development cycle

February 20th, 2012 No comments

Apple’s a bit slow. The iPhone has been followed up, twice now, with incremental upgrades. The iPhone 3GS and the iPhone 4S were both relatively minor tweaks on the previous model. Bloggers complain, customers barely notice, but one group is absolutely thrilled: developers.

I work with an Apple developer and it turns out, that despite all the hoops and regulations they have to jump through to even sell something related to the Apple an Apple platform, it’s all worth it because Apple has made the big picture much easier. The write-once-deploy-anywhere notion is sort of true in Apple-land in a way that Andriod can’t even dream of. Once a piece of software or hardware is developed for an Apple product, it will plug into the same port, in the same location and have the same application hooks on iPods, a range of iPhones, and a couple of different iPads. That’s a pretty big deal when compared to developing an accessory for an Andriod-based phone or tablet. In that world, it’s develop once, and then try try again for nearly every phone or tablet on the market.

Apple will release an iPad “3” in March, but, like their other incremental upgrades, it isn’t the time to expect much. Rumors are starting to shake out that there won’t even be an all new A6 quad-core processor, for example. As if anyone but the technorati even cares. The iPad is firmly in the lead among tablets; there is little reason to rock this particular boat. I could, for example, imagine that the real feature of the new iPad will be its price: cheaper than the last ones. Such a move would be devastating to the competition who are making compelling products but struggling to make them as inexpensively as Apple has (with the obvious exception of Amazon).

A cheaper iPad could be decimating to the only real competitor: Amazon’s Fire. Seeing as the iPad already runs Amazon’s Kindle app, a cheap iPad would fill a visible niche. Not to mention how happy developers would be. They wouldn’t have to re-design accessories for this new product. Keeping developers happy is critical in these days when your product isn’t just a shrink-wrapped device, but rather that whole eco-system of market channels, accessories, and add-ons.

Still, I’ve taken up this prediction thing, lately, so, I’ll predict that, in spite of my hopes and dreams, Apple will not be lowering their iPad 3 price. They can always (and likely will) sell last year’s model for cheaper, but really, why would they want to cannibalize their own margins to sell a few extra units? The Kindle has proven no real threat and there is little point in being both the performance and low-cost leader.