Archive for September, 2010

Dealing with Abundance

September 30th, 2010

Dealing with scarcity is easy by nature. The only problem is that scarcity is hard to find and even harder to create these days because it’s ever easier to find substitutes. And yet when dealing with abundance most marketers ask “How can we pretend this abundance to be a scarcity (as it was 20 years ago, so we don’t need to rebuild our systems)?” or “How can we (artificifially) make it scarce?”, ignoring the fact the today’s abundance is a sunk cost. The question to ask is “What do we do with the even bigger abundance we’re facing tomorrow?”

Now and Then

September 29th, 2010

Currently learning a lot of stuff about digital 3D modeling and compositing, I found it very inspiring to discover this video in which Visual Effects master Douglas Trumbull explains how they did the Hades landscape for Blade Runner, 30 years ago. Awesome.

The Problem with No Problems

September 17th, 2010

Most people complain about the amount of problems they have. At work, with their spouse, their kids, their neighbours, at their club. So the natural reaction seems to avoid problems by circumventing them. And some people have mastered this to a point where they can say “I don’t have any problems.” At the same time they wonder why they feel a lack of purpose, the dullness that somehow has creeped into their lives.

Not having any problems is the worst that can happen to you, because you’re not finding solutions, hence you’re not creating value. The people who create the most value, be it for business or personal, are those who seek out problems. No problems, no opportunities.

First, make a Point

September 16th, 2010

If you’re into music, you might already have heard of Kirby Ferguson’s Everything is a Remix, a documentary in which he argues by the example of Led Zeppelin that a lot of music we believe to be original is indeed remixed. In his case remix is rather a euphemism for stolen or copied.

Feel free to watch the video, it’s quite educative. The problem I’m having with it: There is no point. Which, if you think about it, is a deficiency of a lot of documentaries, because the information you’re presented with has already been filtered, so the author might as well make his point himself.

The hard part for Kirby is to raise money for the 3 other parts of the series that are yet to come, but how likely is it for someone not making a point to find support? Besides, how likely is it that with today’s consumptive attitude towards music people care enough?

Well, with about 900 “likes” (by the time of writing) he might pull it off, if he had a dollar for every one. Somehow I just don’t feel like buying an affiliate-linked Led Zeppelin DVD from someone who just tried to sell me on the opposite.

Where applicable

September 15th, 2010

Over the last few years it seems free has gained a lot of traction as a pricing model. Free software, free online services, free e-books — and of course the free samples of physical products you’re presented with at every turn. Free has turned the default strategy to gain market share. But is it?

In his (appropriately named) book “Free! The Power of a Radical Price” Chris Anderson points out that all economies gravitate towards abundance. We will always produce as much as we can and try to sell it at maximum profit. To maximise profit, we find cheaper components and manufacturing, giving a decrease of marginal cost, i.e. the cost difference to make one more piece, which ultimately drops to zero (if rounded down). To gain market share, products and services also become ever cheaper until they also are free at some point. This is obvious in the digital domain (a digital copy doesn’t produce any marginal cost), but it also happens in the physical world — you don’t pay extra for long-distance calls, for example.

But in the physical world, most free is calculated into the price of products that must be paid. This (cross-)subsidization can also be found in the digital area, when you have free software with limited functionality, and you have to pay for the full version. Or free personal editions, but enterprise versions must be paid. Anderson calls this versioning “Freemium”. Basic versions are free, premium editions must be paid.

To be concise, I will also add the third model of how free is being financed, which is by a third party. In practice this is sponsoring or advertising: Advertisers pay a TV station to get air time, and the viewer gets both the programme and the ads without paying extra. (By the way, charging viewers for HD delivery is no business model for the future. Handling files on hard drives is cheaper than handling video tapes.)

So how do you use this to gain market share? It depends on your market. Not all markets are the same. What you need is attention. But neither is all attention the same. Getting noticed is not enough. The crucial question is: How pressing is the problem that you service or product can solve? If it’s not, a free offer is of no use because it’s not relevant. The point is that free itself is not necessarily a conversion mechanism, no matter how valuable the product or service is. This is a common mistake among marketers who rely on free only, believing that once people see how good it is, they will buy it. In fact, it’s the other way round: The more people need something regardless of actual value, the more likely they buy it regardless of cost.

That said, free does not spare you the effort of promotion. It is merely step 2. Step 1 is to find people who need it. Then you can promote the free offer. And if you get no response, you should put it back and focus on something else. Don’t cancel it entirely, just put it at the bottom of your priority list — it might well be that you’re just too much ahead of your time. The wrong thing to do is to put more and more value and effort into something nobody wants (yet).

The Power of Storytelling

September 10th, 2010

Jay O’Callahan gave an impressive speech at the 99% conference. Here’s the video.

Jay O’Callahan: The Power of Storytelling from 99% on Vimeo.

What’s missing

September 7th, 2010

When Apple released the lastest version of ITunes last week, they also announced that they had redesigned the icon of the application. They got rid of the CD, because they claim to have outsold CDs (go figure, in one third of the lifetime of the silver disc), and lots of (self-appointed) designers have started mocking the new icon for looking cheap and they’d expect better and so forth.

Have a look yourself. Some are neat reflections of technique. What’s missing in every single one is art.

To the Fairest

September 3rd, 2010

When Eris, the goddess of strife in Greek mythology, was not invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, she took revenge by inscribing the words “to the Fairest” on a golden apple and rolling it into the proceedings, which lead to an argument between the gods, resulting in the Troyan War — hence the name apple of discord (read the long version here).

So you might have guessed it, this post is about Ping, or rather about the posts about Ping. The usual suspects have been writing about this already (as they should), but what struck me quite surprisingly was that all of them were disappointed by the social networking capabilities of the new iTunes feature. After all, that’s what it is. The misunderstanding I’m sensing here is that people were expecting a Facebook or Twitter Killer App. Guess what, it’s not. It’s not even intended to be. It’s a well-thought idea to sell more stuff by having people promote what they like. It’s the opportunity of having a conversation or building a tribe right in the marketplace — you can’t go any closer. VentureBeat says this feature might well extend to books, movies and apps too. I wonder why Apple didn’t make it so straight away, because the adoption curve doesn’t change.

But what if it doesn’t work? So what? To all who forgot, Apple doesn’t depend on Ping’s success. FastCompany compared this to Google Buzz, which started out with a similar user base (160 million) and still wasn’t a huge success.

Sidebar: FastCompany also writes
“But, once again, Apple is living just a little bit in the future. If it didn’t deliver a signature element of risk in its new product launches, well, it’d be Sony.”
That’s what it looks like. Yet Sony, at its core, is still a lot like Apple. When founded about 65 years ago, they only succeeded because of their persistent belief in transistor technology (and engineering genius, of course), just the way Apple do with their products.

The people who really depend on it (some more than others) are the musicians. Independent artists on CD Baby are worried if Apple will give them access to their album pages so they can use this new opportunity. I’m curious to see how much time Apple will give to its new idea before its declared success or failure.

Resizing Volumes & Changing Partitions in Mac OS X with Disk Utility and Terminal

September 1st, 2010

This post is the result of two days messing around with my Mac to set things up the way that I want them.

Initial situation: MacBookPro, 500GB hard drive. One Partion (200GB) running Leopard, another partition (150GB) with Snow Leopard (installed for testing purposes), and the last 150GB were on partition 3 with my music samples library.

Goal: Have Snow Leopard on the first partition with not-much-more space than it needs, the User data on the second one with 250GB, and the last partition stay the same.

Now one might think working on a Mac is straightforward (it is), but when it comes to HD issues, it’s almost as bad as a Windows PC. So just in case anybody out there needs some help with a similar issue, here’s what I did.

A. Make a Backup. If you’re using Time Machine that’s fine, if not you might consider Carbon Copy Cloner.

B. Make sure your backup works, the system should be bootable and all your data should be there.

[B2 Update Leopard to Snow Leopard. Fortunately it takes less space on the disk.]

C. Changing volumes and partitions: It’s no problem to make a volume smaller (in Disk Utility you just drag the grey-striped triangle in the lower right corner of a volume), but unfortunately the space that becomes available can not be assigned to another volume straight away. You need to do this in two steps.

  1. Merge both volumes. This has to be done in the Terminal. Go to “Utilities” in your “Applications” folder (or press Cmd-Shift-U in the Finder) and launch the Terminal app. It’s just a plain text command line tool.
    First, enter diskutil list. This will display a list similar to this:

    In my case, I wanted to merge #2 and #3. Here’s the command (one line):
    diskutil mergePartitions "Journaled HFS+" new disk0s2 disk0s3
    Brief explanation: The first volume needs to have a Journaled HFS+ file system (standard in Mac OS X), otherwise all data will be wiped. We need to tell the computer that the merged partition will have the same file system. “new” is the dummy name for the merged partition, because oddly enough Mac OS keeps the name of the first partition of the merged group. Then comes the list of volume identifiers you want to merge. I only did this for two, but I’m sure you can also merge more volumes in one go. Maybe you can even write JHFS+ instead of “Journaled HFS+”, but I didn’t test it.

  2. Next, resize the big volume in the Disk Utility and create a new one in the freed-up space, or use the Terminal which is quicker but doesn’t look so fancy. The command is (sizes just my example, yours may differ)
    diskutil resizeVolume disk0s2 90G JHFS+ Users 250G
    Or use Disk Utility, drag your volume handle until the desired size is displayed (or enter it manually), then click the “+” button beneath the disk list to create a new volume.
    Note: No matter if you use the Terminal or Disk Utility, don’t panic when you get an error message during resizing. Mac OS sometime can’t allocate the disk space properly if you “over-shrink” a volume (say, from 200 to 50 GB). In this case, you may try going about half the way down, and then repeat the procedure until your volume has the desired size.

D. Phew. Now let’s move your home folder to the Users Volume, using Terminal again. Here goes (one line again):
sudo ditto -rsrc /Users/[YourUserNameHere] /Volumes/[Volume-Name]/[Folder-Name]/[Your-User-Name-Here]
The sudo ditto -rsrc command makes sure all the metadata of your files  are preserved when copied.

E. When finished, go to your System Preferences, select “User Accounts”, unlock and right-click (or Ctrl-click) on your username, select “Advanced Options” and set the Home directory to your freshly copied folder. Then you’ll have to reboot and everything should be working fine. At least it did with me. If you’re using the NoScript-AddOn for Firefox, you’ll have to uninstall and re-install it because it doesn’t “get” the new folder. The main upside of this procedure is that now you can take your user data to any other Mac by just cloning it to an external drive. Or easily back up all your Users’ data.

Please do not forget to make a backup before you do anything on (or to) your system. Backups are your friend.
Hat tip to Jon at Ransom Note Typography for the Home folder moving tip, and all the people at the Mac forums all over the Web. What I’ve written here is just a brief summary of their work. And if you liked using the Terminal, here’s a list of other things you can do with it.

[Update: The whole process does mess things up. For instance, if you have virtual machines like VMware Fusion running, you’ll need to re-assign the machine files — no big deal here. Other applications, like Native Instruments’ Kontakt sampler, may need to be reinstalled because the can’t locate certain files either. But it’s not too big a deal overall. The major downside (at least in my case) is that TimeMachine understands the new configuration as an entirely new system and re-does the whole backup.]

Different View on Gmail

September 1st, 2010

Personally, I like using Gmail, and most of the people I know do so too (otherwise they’d switch their service). This article won’t change my mind right now, still it’s an interesting view. The good news is, Google can improve on it.