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Friday, 23 January, 2009

The "more is less" paradox in Product Design

Last Wednesday, as part of our "Design Discussions" session, my team and I watched the "Paradox of Choice" lecture by Barry Schwartz. We had watched Barry's talk before but we loved listening to the talk again.

While the whole talk is relevant, one area that is particularly relevant to Product Design of Software is "Capability vs. Usability". Barry opines that customers buy a product on its "potential" or "capability" and its only later, during usage, that they become aware of its "Usability". He goes on to make many more important points that include the point that customers know that the usability of the product is not the same as its capability, and yet many products are bought on their mere capability. Now this is very significant if we extend and evaluate the way we design and sell software products. I know that Product Managers face the dilemma of whether to build features at the risk of feature-overloading or spend effort in keeping the product simple and useful, while road-mapping for their product and I think the "Paradox of Choice" should provide them the starting point to apply to Software Product Development.

A simple way to think about it in the context of Product Development of software both for the enterprise and the individual consumer is as follows (these are just my initial thoughts and I am still trying to wrap my head around it - i am hoping comments from readers will provide more insights):

1. The Feature-Rush Approach : Product Management and Product Marketing almost always rush to build more and more features to stay ahead of competition. Now, this may seem bad, given the fact that this mad rush can hamper quality and usability of the product. However, the fact that most customers will judge and make a "purchase decision" on mere capability (the list of features), makes this "feature-rush" approach attractive. For many large enterprises, software purchase decision is made by the procurement organization or the CIO/CTOs who don't use the software themselves, but buy it for the organization. Such people are more likely to evaluate the software on its capability rather than usability. This is one of the reasons for success of Microsoft software in the enterprise space. Even large and credible brands are not immune to the "Capability-Buy" phenomenon. Enterprise 2.0 vendors, while trying to make the product usable, will still need to be feature-capable in comparison to existing products, if they want to make any impact on the enterprise space.

2. The Use-and-Buy Approach: If you are really concerned about building a kick-ass product, that users love to use or betters their life, you will need to let users use it before they buy it. This is the approach most Social Media and Direct-to-Consumer products take. The best example is Google's Search. To be able to really be successful in this approach, you will need the conviction and the staying power of an innovator and the ability to keep persisting, before users see the benefit of your product and move in. Initially, the field will be spread across multiple such vendors, but if you really have the "killer app" with the best user experience, you can be sure that users will stick by you.

Friday, 16 January, 2009

Will Google buy Twitter?

There is already a lot of buzz around the question if Google is planning to buy Twitter. Some people are already predicting that this is certainly true.

My friend Stowe, says in his post,

This suggests to me that Google is *very* interested in acquiring Twitter, and I bet discussions are happening already.


I know that this was on the offing, but it would be disastrous if Google buys Twitter. Twitter has the potential to create a new revolution in publishing and content assimilation, an idea that Google has no clue about.

Google's strength lies in its ability to create products that present information easily and with great relevance, be it text or images. Google is great at figuring out what people expect to see from the content present on the web. However, it has no idea of how people communicate with each other and how that content can be created.

Twitter hit upon something different, or maybe the users of Twitter have made it seem different (and I hope Evan Williams and team understand this) - Twitter has provided a new content generation mechanism to people, along with the ability to tag them and therefore index them in a way that people associate them. Ofcourse, this does mean that searching and finding that information (which is Google's expertise) does become easy and more relevant, but that is not the "big" idea. The big idea is on the other side - on using the Twitter model to generate content, which has till now been too tedious and cumbersome both to generate and to tag and associate in an easy way.

I suspect that if Google buys Twitter, it will be able to use the relatively small idea of the Twitter model of content access, which is of importance to Google. Google will also achieve its more important objective of capturing the Twitter user base, usage pattern and so on. But it will be a lost opportunity for the "big" idea of the Twitter model of content generation.

If the Twitter team have a vision of the future, they should stick on with Twitter by themselves, just as Google has done. In a few years they will be able to buy Google.

Wednesday, 7 January, 2009

The Social Media Circus

I follow a lot of people via their blog feeds and on Twitter. What amuses me is that all these guys seem to speak to each other and pat on each others back, creating some kind of a self-appreciation affinity group, and nothing more. I don't know if they make much sense to the rest of the world. It's kind of a circus where each clown is trying to outdo the other.

Some of these "bloggers" write 10 to 15 posts a day ( I don't know when they get time to think, eat, sleep or spend time at home, even if blogging itself is their paid job) and most of their posts tend to be either links to other posts or a small comment made on "quoted" text from someone else's blog. I mostly avoid these and go to the source blog at once. It's as if people are trying to cram as many words as possible in their blogs in some kind of a rat race for writing the most words on the web.

As for myself, I enjoy the circus, but have to sift through a lot of crap to actually end up getting any new information.

One blog feed I really love because of its sensible and good quality posts is the O'Reilly Radar

I like Twitter, but again, the crap bothers me. While some guys do post a few important piece of information or news, most of the others simply announce to the world everything from what they are having for breakfast to how they snore at night, as if the world is interested in that crap.

Again, the purpose on Twitter for these ego-maniacs seem to be just about gathering as many followers as possible and its not surprising that many of these guys end up following each other and forming the same self-appreciating affinity groups. They also end up self-announcing themselves as social media gurus.

I think in course of time, most serious bloggers and those on emerging stuff like twitter will have to rethink if this self-gratifying circus adds any meaning to their life or to the society at large. With the start of 2009, I recommend the following for such people:

1. See if you really enjoy reading what you write on your blog or whatever you tweet. This will give you a fair idea if people want to read them. Don't cram in words just to increase your web presence.

2. Get a life. One good post can make your day as well as the day for your audience. You don't need to write in 15 non-informative posts.

3. Assume that tweets are like cars on a "streaming" roadway. Keeping your insignificant tweets out of this road will help keeping this information roadway less crowded and valuable.

4. We have too many gurus anyway. It might be fun to not become another one. The self-appreciation might just be hollow.

5. The web is a serious medium and no one knows it better than those who use it. Let it remain less polluted.