SmoothSpan Blog

For Executives, Entrepreneurs, and other Digerati who need to know about SaaS and Web 2.0.

Archive for November, 2008

Free Social Media eBook

Posted by Bob Warfield on November 25, 2008

John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing has written a little eBook called, “Let’s Talk: Social Media for Small Business.”  You can go to that link and find out how to download it instantly and without registration.

I loved the book from several aspects, and had a few criticisms.  Let’s start with the love.

I think the vehicle is great when you have a lot to say  to your audience and want to do so in a way that delivers value to them in exchange for their giving you their attention to read your work.  It’s short at 23 pages and has a fun approachable tone that makes the reading even more fun, which is a good thing.  Anyone can read through it quickly.  And, it’s super easy to get your hands on a copy. 

The only trick he missed to making it truly viral is you do have to go to a Microsoft site to download it.  The folks at Rally Development use a content-rich marketing approach and place all of their similar materials under a Creative Commons license so, “we share it, and we let others use it for their own businesses so long as they don’t compete with us.”

What about the contents of the book itself?  Lots of good stuff there.  The book proceeds through a sort of “Social Maslow Needs Hierarchy” that purports to show how to go about engaging with the Socialsphere.  At the bottom is the most-used foundation, blogging.  This proceeds up through RSS feeds, Social Serach, Social Bookmarking, Social Networks, and finally into Micro, where things like Twitter and FriendFeed dwell.

I guess all things (at least in the Western World) benefit from an organizational framework to put it all into perspective, and this book is no exception.  My complaint about this particular framework is it focuses to much on an approach to Social Media that is skewed towards old-fashioned marketing.  In other words, it focuses almost entirely on outbound messaging rather than conversation.  I am fond of the notion (brought to me by Seth Godin), that old style marketing is about shouting your message at the customer, while Social Marketing is about having a conversation with the customer.  Certainly you can have a conversation with a blog, but it’s not a level playing field and as Social Media goes, it is therefore closer to that old style shouting idiom.

Lots of other good tidbits along the way though.  I particularly liked the idea that marketing with Social Media is about the 4 C’s:

Tons of relevant education-based, and perhaps user generated Content that is filtered, aggregated, and delivered in a Context that makes it useful for people who are starving to make Connections with people, products, and brands they can build a Community around.

Now that’s a solid foundation, and I prefer it to the Maslow Pyramid.  There is reason to believe, BTW, that Jantsch’s pyramid is as much a function of giving small business a road map of what they can succeed at more easily than in showing them the ideal of where they need to wind up.  Maslow’s hierarchy is, after all, about stages of need in accordance with ability to need based on what has been achieved.

The blogging section is good, though there are a couple of missing pieces I intend to write about over time.  I’ve been giving a talk around Silicon Valley to various companies that want to get started blogging and I’ll likely present that talk as a series of blog posts here.  By the time you finish with blogging, you’re halfway through the book.

RSS is next, and then Jantsch launches into Social Search.  These are sites that rate small businesses.  This is followed by bookmarking and the two together take little space.  Last up is Social Networking with an emphasis on Facebook and Linked in.

But what about owning your own community of customers?  What about giving customers a place to communicate with each other?  What about trying to be a Best Practices Destination Community for your industry, local geography, or whatever Tribe (in Seth Godin’s terms) you are choosing to create?  I see those as the places where you really start to leverage Social Media, quit shouting your message, and quit just trying to draft on other communities.

Perhaps there is a volume 2 in Jantsch’s series coming.

Posted in Marketing, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment »

When Different Worlds Collide: Social Media vs Knowledge Management

Posted by Bob Warfield on November 25, 2008

I just posted an article on the “war” between Knowledge Management and Social Media in the Enterprise over on the Helpstream blog.  It was prompted by an Andrew McAffee post that I found fascinating.   Give it a read and before sure to click through to McAfee’s, Venkatesh Rao’s, and Jeff Kelly’s posts for some good background.  The articles give a good overview of how different approaches to the same problem can lead to conflicts and friction in the adoption of either approach in the Enterprise.  The winning strategy is to take the best of both worlds and combine them, which is what we’ve done at Helpstream.

Posted in Web 2.0 | Leave a Comment »

Salesforce Bucks the Trends. Again.

Posted by Bob Warfield on November 20, 2008

Salesforce just reported they beat analysts estimates, had a good quarter, and grew another 43% versus the quarter a year ago.  Same growth the reported last quarter. 

I can’t tell you how many arguments I’ve been involved in where there was someone trying to say that SaaS is a very limited phenomenon, that it hasn’t impacted any large players yet, that it won’t ever go into very many markets (“just a few are suited to SaaS”), that it isn’t a megatrend in the same sense client-server or thin clients were, SAP grows as much as the whole SaaS industry’s total size every year, and on and on.  The last time I was in one of these I was told that I just sounded too “boring and desperate” to make SaaS seem like a winning strategy.

But here comes Salesforce wtih good numbers again.  Here came Concur again with good numbers.  Even NetSuite, which has to sell a whole ERP suite (one of the areas these anti-SaaS pundits seem to argue can’t be penetrated by SaaS) seems to be doing reasonably well against the backdrop of this economy.

Like so many paradigm shifts, SaaS seems to be analagous to a war time piece of advice:

Despite how loud artillery seems to be, you never hear the shell that lands in your own foxhole.

Posted in saas | 2 Comments »

Why Are iPhone Users So Much More Likely to Embrace Apps?

Posted by Bob Warfield on November 20, 2008

Compete recently ran a story in their blog that I thought was fascinating.  They’ve measured a dramatically higher uptake of applications among iPhone users versus other Smartphone users.  Here’s the graph they presented:

The bars represent number of apps on the phone.  As you can see, only 7% have no apps at all on the iPhone versus 34% on other Smartphones.

I have a theory about all this that’s resonated as I read various folks comparing various phones to the iPhone.  It seems to me that other smartphones trade principally on their keyboards as the advantage.  They appeal to people who are really tied in to email, or perhaps text messaging of various forms. 

The iPhone, by contrast, trades on its web browser.  That’s not to say the other capabilities aren’t excellent, but the web browser is what really makes the iPhone rock.  This was distinctly the flavor I got, for example, from Fred Wilson’s comparison of the G1 versus the iPhone.

That means that if you love the iPhone, you are somewhat predisposed to the notion of a mobile platform.  It’s pretty hard to view a keyboard for email or text messaging as a platform.  They’re just more of the same only you type instead of speaking.  But a web browser truly is a platform.

The other piece is just how easy Apple has made it to download the apps and run with them.  The user experience is completely seamless and straightforward enough that anyone can do it almost automatically. 

Lastly, application developers want to build for the iPhone.  They love it.  I know several different folks who are fighting through what I view as an extremely primitive development platform (Objective C?  Come on Apple, you and Adobe need to bury the hatchet and get a real interpreted language onto the iPhone!) to have a chance to do that.

BTW, the Compete blog is excellent.  I love the insights they pull out of the web using data mining.  Check it out.

Related Articles

No sooner did I post this than Om Malik came out with a post confirming he thinks of the iPhone vs others in essentially the same way.

Posted in platforms, strategy | Leave a Comment »

End of an Era: PC Magazine Goes Out of Print

Posted by Bob Warfield on November 19, 2008

The last print edition of PC Magazine goes out this January.  It’s the end of an era.

As much as I like the online world, I also love magazines, and PC Magazine was at one time my absolute favorite.  But I haven’t read the magazine in years, so I suppose I’m as guilty as the next guy for its demise.

You could as easily bemoan the passing of the Camaros and Firebirds that were the hot cars in my high school days.  Perhaps this is where GM lost the plot.  Ford was able to keep the mustang revved up.  It wasn’t just a commodity, it was an interesting car. 

Did something similar befall PC Magazine?  Hard to say with certainty, but for me, so many things it used to report on became commoditized that it was no longer interesting.  PC’s were highly commoditized to the point I didn’t care about their reviews of desktop or laptop PC’s.  Instead I turned to building my own PC’s with custom cases and overclocked cpu’s to keep it interesting: shades of the car hot rodding culture. 

At the same time I was pursuing the most bleeding edge performance enhancements to be made to PC’s, I discovered the online PC counterculture.  There were hundreds of PC modding boards that had everything from articles that were just as interesting as the magazine articles, but also communities, which were something I couldn’t even get from the magazines.

PC Magazine may have simply fallen out of touch with that Early Adopter/Influencer crowd that I enjoy being a part of.  Ironically, Bill Machrone, the founding editor of PC Mag, is still around and doing the kind of hands-on work with computers and electronics that I craved from PC Mag and that vanished from its pages.

Raise a toast to the old PC Magazine (and its many cousins–InfoWorld, Computerworld, PC World, etc.), say a fond farewell, and ask whether your product or company is staying fresh with the people that matter, or whether you’re headed down the commodity path.

Related Article

Fred Wilson writes about how important it is for him to blog and about how his article on Boxee led to 100 requests for invitations to their private beta.  His sentiment about why this may be important is related to what I’m trying to say about avoiding the commodity world as your only interested audience:

I know that one person out of the 100 I invited this morning will be incredibly impactful for boxee. It could be five people, it could be ten. Who knows?

But in the world of social media, word of mouth and word of link marketing, it is connectors and influencers like all of you that make the difference.

And that’s one of the main reasons I keep writing, commenting, discussing, and participating in blogs, tumblr, twitter, disqus, and the social media world at large.

Its about the “realest” work I do.

It is the loss of those connectors and influencers that leaves you with an audience that won’t sustain you.  Fred is right: sustaining that sort of audience is the “realest” work you can do too.

Posted in saas | Leave a Comment »

Even Yahoo Understands Why Government Bailouts Are Questionable

Posted by Bob Warfield on November 19, 2008

Interesting Forbes article making the rounds about what Yahoo’s 5 biggest mistakes were.  I’ll let you read it if you like as I’ve largely moved on from Yahoo.  I did love the quote from one Yahoo engineer when asked whether Yahoo should seek a government bailout:

“If you do, you’re admitting you’ve got nothing left, no future.”

I agree wholeheartedly with the Forbes writer’s response to that engineer:

God bless Silicon Valley.

Posted in strategy | Leave a Comment »

Putting Flash on iPhone is Easy. Here’s How:

Posted by Bob Warfield on November 18, 2008

Another flurry of “OMG, there’s still no Flash on the iPhone!” articles have appearedWired Magazine talks at length about how it can’t be done without violating Apple’s terms of service:

Allowing Flash — which is a development platform of its own — would just be too dangerous for Apple, a company that enjoys exerting total dominance over its hardware and the software that runs on it. Flash has evolved from being a mere animation player into a multimedia platform capable of running applications of its own. That means Flash would open a new door for application developers to get their software onto the iPhone: Just code them in Flash and put them on a web page. In so doing, Flash would divert business from the App Store, as well as enable publishers to distribute music, videos and movies that could compete with the iTunes Store.

Lots more blah, blah, blah.  Like this is news?  I explained all this months ago.  Why aren’t people talking about the obvious solution?

Of course Apple doesn’t want a Trojan Horse like Flash or anything similar to provide a back door so that you can get any app onto the iPhone just by clicking a web link.  DUH!

If that’s the problem, isn’t the answer easy?  Adobe needs to approach Apple with an offer that the Flash player will only accept signed Flash programs. This would be a useful capability for Flash anyway.  It can be made optional to the general population, but mandatory on the iPhone.  That way, Flash programs must have a certificate before iPhone will play them back.  All that certificate stuff can happen in the background very quickly and quietly.  We already use the technology all over the web anyway.  And why shouldn’t Apple be able to control what plays on the iPhone if they want to?

So now, as we’re blaming Apple for the lack of Flash, we need to ask ourselves where is Adobe in offering this kind of capability and compromise?  Why can’t that work and be done quickly and easily?

Posted in saas | 7 Comments »

Mobile is Today’s Lean Forward/Sit Back Debate

Posted by Bob Warfield on November 17, 2008

Remember Lean Forward versus Sit Back?  A friend of mine was active in two different home entertainment startups and taught me the concept.  When you’re at a PC, you’re “leaning forward”.  When you’re watching the TV, you’re “sitting back”.  So the Interactive TV world of the day (don’t hear much from them lately) wanted everyone to “sit back”. 

Nothing wrong with either one, but you have to be careful predicting one is the universal truth and not the other, because they represent completely different modes of interaction rather than competing modes.  Yes, there is overlap, but it’s not that large.

This morning I was reading Tim O’Reilly on Mobile devices and was struck by the same feeling.  He tells a fine anecdote about what mobile can do, but then concludes with the following:

I think about the web as experienced on a PC, and then about mobile as an add on. The tipping point has come; that notion has to flip: if we’re trying to get ahead of the curve, we need to think first about the phone, and then think about the PC browser experience as the add-on.

There’s that unfortunate and very Western desire that all things must compete with only one winner.  Why does this thinking constantly rear its ugly head?  Why must there be a tipping point that favors only one?  Tim doesn’t really say.  At best I can speculate it is a tipping point in terms of where we must turn for hype and buzz value, but I don’t see any tipping point from a user experience standpoint.

I love my iPhone for the web experience it can provide, but I also love the 30″ monitor and dual CPU four core PC that I’m composing this blog post on.  Would I rather write the post on the iPhone?  No, certainly not.  But that’s not really my point.  The real issue is I would never even stop to think about which one to choose.  For most activities, the choice is obvious. 

Getting back to the anecdote that prompted Tim’s remark, it involved dinner table conversation and the inability to answer a question.  No PC was available, but the fellow who had to say, “I don’t know”, had forgotten was his 4 year old daughter reminded him: he could get the answer from his phone.

Being able to answer a question at dinner is hardly a reason to think it is the time to flip.  Embrace both platforms.  It is definitely a reason to ask yourself how your users can benefit from your application while they are away from their PC’s.

At Helpstream, we face this issue in a couple of ways.  As a customer service application, someone could have one of those questions while away from the PC, and they’d want to be able to answer it.   Even more importantly, some of our customers are selling mobile device software and want their users to be able to get answers from their phones.  We’ve taken the approach of making sure both the web browser client and email can be used for these interactions.  Some phones are better at one versus another.

Posted in saas | 2 Comments »

Why Do Platforms Bludgeon Their Partners?

Posted by Bob Warfield on November 17, 2008

I’m reading another story about Facebook building in functionality to their platform that used to be in the hands of partners, and killing the partner’s opportunity on the Facebook platform in the process.

There is definitely revenue to be had doing this, Bebo started out exactly this way and at one time had 100 million users.  Even today, at least until now, they were making some $4 million a year off birthday cards and gifts.  Now Facebook wants that all for themselves.

Is it really worth $4M a year, or even $10-20M a year to destroy partner’s trust in you?  Why build for the Facebook platform if you know full well they plan to take the business away from you as soon as you prove it’s capable of growing to an interesting size?  And is this really the only way Facebook can grow their revenue?  Have they exhausted all the ideas to do something their partners aren’t?  It sure looks like it.

Here is another one I shake my head at.  Amid the flurry of very compromising emails (such as James Allchin saying the machines they were certifying wouldn’t work, it’s misleading, and retiring the day it shipped rather than deal with the fallout), we find HP deeply unhappy with Microsoft.  They had invested in creating a generation of PC’s that stepped up to the performance Vista requires and were shocked to see Microsoft’s decision to certify machines that basically would not run Vista.  Once again, a partner got bludgeoned, pehaps in the interest of placating other partners such as Intel.

With partnerships like these, who needs competitors?

Posted in platforms, strategy, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment »

Steve Jobs, the iCar, Barack Obama, and John Doerr

Posted by Bob Warfield on November 12, 2008

How do we fix companies like GM that have failed to innovate and are dying?  We can’t really afford to let them die, there are too many jobs at stake and it will take to long to replace them starting from scratch. 

Fred Wilson says the answer is to break them up in conjunction with the bailout, not to consolidate them into ever larger and more vulnerable entities that still don’t have a clue.  That’s a better answer, but it still doesn’t resonate.  Car companies need a fair amount of scale, and it isn’t clear there is much to break up in terms of the individual badges.  Buicks and Chevys share so much that there may not really be such a thing as a Buick.  It’s just a Chevy with some lipstick.  In fact, that may be one of the biggest problems right there.

I really got excited when I read Tom Steinert-Threlkeld’s article, “Steve Jobs for President of GM.”  He suggests it would take Jobs no more than a year to perfect his iCar, and that it would set the world on fire.  I don’t know if it would only take a year, and I doubt Jobs would want the job of President of GM, but it did get me to thinking.

There is a model for the kind of relationship Jobs, Apple, and GM need to have.  It’s the model that married Mercedes Benz and Swatch together to create the Smart.

Model for the GM+Apple iCar?
The Smart: Model for the GM+Apple iCar?
What would an iCar be like?  There are a few assumptions we can draw from.  First, the User Experience from the design, to the materials, to the feel, to the operation would be both innovative and exquisite.  The Smart is certainly innovative, but it is playful in the Swatchy way that I don’t see Jobs doing.  He’s quite serious about his designs.  They are sublime, no doubt about it, but they are not really playful.
Second, the iCar would be transformative.  It would not be Just Another Car any more than the iPhone is Just Another Phone.  Jobs would look at some aspect of the Car Experience and redefine it in a newer better way.
Let’s try to drill down with more detail.  I won’t go to far on the design side other than to say the iCar would be minimalist and modern, and that it would make innovative use of materials.  Carbon Fiber, milled aluminum ala the Brick, unique combiinations of plastics and glass are all possible.  Partially because the design and materials will be innovative, the iCar will not be cheap.  Jobs’ creations never are.  But they will be must haves and they won’t be Ferrari-expensive.  Think more Lexus.  All those rich folks that bought Priuses so they could drive in the carpool lane will be buying iCars.
Speaking of which, it seems to me that the iCar will have to be a hybrid of some kind.  It’s possible it could license Mercedes Blue Diesel technology, but the propulsion will be something unique relative to what GM builds today.
Now what about transforming the Car Experience?  I don’t envision anything too crazy here.  It isn’t necessary that we have a drive-by-wire system that involves holding our iPhone and reading its accelerometers rather than turning our steering wheel.  However, the iPhone and many of its concepts should play into it.  I can see Jobs wanting to transform the electronics side of the car.  It’s entertainment systems, and it’s systems for communicating with the driver. 
In terms of communicating with the driver, we’ve got a dashboard.  I’d look for a big touch panel on the console that does most of the work and very few mechanical controls.  Vintage iPod and iPhone.  I’d look for beautiful readouts, and perhaps a new heads up display that integrates navigation (e.g. maps) with the instantaneous status of the car (e.g. speed).  Clever bits would abound like integrating the gas gauge with the maps so that when the low gas light goes on the cheapest gas nearby lights up on the map at the same time.
The entertainment system is where things really get interesting.  Of course the iPhone will have a drop in slot and the car will seamlessly mind meld so that you can do handsfree calling with voice activation very easily.  But it’ll go way beyond that.  For example, imagine a handsfree version of Google Reader, only tied up in the proprietary yet friendly way that Apple is so good at.  Subscribe to RSS feeds and have them read to you by your iCar as you commute.  Connect to online radio stations delivered by iTunes.  Access all of your mobile music off your iPhone for play, and at the same time, listen to stations where you can make an instant iTunes purchase of anything you like, while driving, and handsfree.
Video should be available for the non-drivers.  In fact, I could see each seat having an iPhone socket so everyone can drop in their iPhone, connect via Bluetooth headset just to their device, and even all listen to their own music, hear their own podcasts, and otherwise go about using the entertainments system independently and in a personalized way.  I would expect the iPhones to also be dockable via WiFi, so that you can use the car’s flip-down LCD screens to see a game and you iPhone as the handheld game controller.
Of course Jobs can bring the AT&T relationship along and deliver 3G and WiFi connectivity to the cars wherever they may be via the AT&T network.  Probably AT&T could be persuaded to deliver other bennies to the deal as well in exchange for the even greater market advantages an iCar could bring them.
Does anyone doubt such a car could be built, or that it would sell extremely well?
Heck, let’s give GM the bailout, but insist they take on the iCar with Steve Jobs.  Let’s consider a similar Executive Mashup for other ailing industries.  If you want bailout money, you have to take on the pet project of the innovator most likely to succeed in your space.  We won’t bet your whole company and recovery on it, but we will bet that it helps a lot.
Getting back to my title, I would think a meeting of Barack Obama, John Doerr (because hey, maybe it takes more than just Jobs and Doerr has the right connection for the Green parts of the iCar), Steve Jobs, and the CEO of GM ought to be able to get this done.
When can I buy my iCar?
Related Articles
Seth Godin says the answer is for the government to facilitate the structured bankruptcies of the big makers and then to invest in making it easy for small car companies to get started.  I like this idea.  There are a lot of industries where government has made it awfully hard to innovate.  Consider SOX, which radically raised the bar for tech companies to go public.  Is was supposed to prevent Enron-like financial disasters.  Does anyone really believe it has helped when you look around you at today’s finanical disasters?

Posted in strategy | 8 Comments »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 323 other followers

%d bloggers like this: