Archive for the ‘internet’ Category

How to delight an engineer

July 29th, 2014

If you happen to work with engineers and they’re mostly unhappy with the way they’re being asked about potential projects, or if you’re an engineer in this very situation and your colleagues don’t seem to get it, here’s a simple how-to:

Step 1: Describe what the product or service is like when it’s finished, as precisely as you can, from A to Z. Put in the effort to sketch out the interface (if there is one), who does what in which particular order, who needs to know when something has happened, etc. Imagine how people will use it and what their expectations might be. Try to put yourself in every party’s shoes and walk through the whole thing. Think of legal constraints. Write everything down. (Use flowcharts whenever possible. Engineers love flowcharts.) Yep, that’s a lot, but believe me, it’s worth it.
Step 2: Define process boundaries. What is supposed to happen, what must not happen under any circumstance?
Step 3: Define development constraints. What is the budget? How much time is there to get this done?
Step 4: Have a meeting with the engineer(s) and give them all of what you have worked out so far, and they should be able to tell you what you need to know (can we do this in the quality proposed, considering all boundaries and constraints?) on the spot.

Bonus: How to delight engineers and non-engineers alike
Say Thank You, even if the answer you get is not what you were expecting.

Being Joe Average

July 6th, 2013

Facebook suggests the biggest advantage they offer for advertisers is higher relevancy of ads because they’re able to match them to the individual member’s preferences.

But what happens when members don’t want to expose themselves in the way they reveal all the movies they’ve seen, books they’ve read, music and activities and causes and religion and other worldviews they like, is spam. Because the ads they’re being presented are just as irrelevant as the one on the Altavista page in 1996.

Because if this info is not around, the ads you’re being presented are being calculated, it seems, on the popularity with Joe and Jane Average, or rather the negation of matches. The ads for the rest of us. Which should lead marketers, if they were smart and honest to themselves (which in many cases they don’t seem to be), to either demand better filtering criteria or think about their strategy and tactics.

Way to go for FB and marketers to keep their promises. Sometimes I doubt if they intend to. Otherwise, if they don’t care enough, it’s just a question of time till the whole thing starts slipping. It already does.

Opposing Forces

March 11th, 2013

Have you ever felt the pain of unfulfilled potential? I’m referring to the (at first) external one, a circumstance that causes you a regular dissatisfaction with the status quo. This can range from a design you believe needing to be done better or changed, to issues of society and politics. And what did you do, assuming you’re not in charge of this particular thing? In those cases when you have some relationship (preferably a good one) with the person in charge, you might tell them what you’re thinking. And their answer might be “Well thanks for the input (, we’ll consider it / , but that’s just your opinion).” And if this becomes a routine, chances are the external pain becomes an internal one. You come to believe this is wrong and really needs to be changed. You believe changing this is your mission. But there’s a problem.

You’re afraid. The severity may vary, but what’s stopping you from dedicating yourself to this mission is your need for safety (i.e., fear of failure). Once you stick out your head, someone might whack it. You might be shunned by your tribe at the workplace for making trouble. Or, if you’re considering taking it one step further and doing this as full-time business on your own, you’re not going to have enough clients. So now that you’re between a rock and a hard place, what do you do?

There is really just one question you really need to answer (and if you can’t, you’re not going anywhere). This crucial question is: What’s your vision? Unless you can abstract this one issue that caused your dissatisfation (“this is broken”) to a positive vision (“this is ideal”) that you absolutely believe in, that you need to pursue no matter what, what’s in your mind is not a vision, it’s just a single self-assigned task. And that is not a foundation for a business, simply because you can’t sell it (more often than this one time). The only thing you can sell then is your time, and that’s freelance work. That way you’re not Turning Pro in this particular area, you’re still an amateur that does this kind of stuff for a living. Or as a hobby. Because you’re not defining the standard. Either does your client, or you’re avoiding the risk of really putting yourself out there.

Take this blog for instance. Four years ago, I was dissatisfied with a lot of things I had experienced during my career in the media business, and not only did I want to get it off my chest, but propose alternatives. I saw no use in putting blame on anyone, but also I had little leverage to change the things bothering me. Worse, I did not spend the time developing a clear vision of what I wanted, hence I did not fully commit to this cause. I was so petrified by the thought of being kicked out for making preposterous suggestions, I didn’t even try. The result is obvious. But I’m not unhappy (though I was for a while). Now this is a place where I can say things I think to be worth saying, still giving everyone the opportunity to benefit from my (smart ass) thoughts.

And at this early point in my life, I regard this question as either-or:
If you’re unhappy with the status quo and have a complete vision of how your knowledge, abilities and personality can make the world better, and you profoundly believe in it, get started. Don’t rush. It’s better (and harder) to work continuously at a constant pace. Without the unshakable belief in your vision you will most likely fail within less than a year. Not because of “them”, but because your fear wins by constantly sabotaging you in every way possible. My favourite example of someone having accomplished this is (no surprise here) Steve Jobs.
The alternative is letting go off the pain and focusing on issues you have a realistic chance of changing for the better. But it’s not unlikely that your mind will in magnetic fashion be drawn to the notorious “What would my life be if….?”. You have an answer for that now.

Two essential questions

December 30th, 2012

A few days ago, a colleague of mine launched her portfolio website. Of course I couldn’t help picking the holes, which brought me back to two questions that apply to any marketing effort someone is about to make:

  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • What is the next step you want a prospect to take?

These two questions will trigger a process during which more detailed questions will occur, and all of them better be answered. Write it down. Measure. Learn. Try alternatives. And so forth.

But only do it if you really want it to have an actual effect. If you’re only trying to build an excuse it might be counterproductive.

One last tip (if it’s a website): Make it work and look good on a mobile device.


…in my underwear

June 15th, 2012

Going through Hugh MacLeod’s latest book last night, I felt reassurance that writing the last post the way I did was the right thing to do (at least for now). After all, what’s the point in trying to be insightful and witty fot its own sake? What’s the point if it’s not personal? It’s not about whinging or bragging or ranting, it’s about making use of this medium as a means to discover oneself, or one’s self.

Now I’m smiling because I was really wondering why I had such a writer’s block over the last months. It’s not that there were no ideas (after all, ideas are here), but I felt some strange obligation to express them in a reasonable, insightful, generalized, pragmatic way. Bullshit. Self-imposed limitations like these prevent most people from releasing what’s inside them. What a waste.

So here I am, actually not in my underwear, trying a slightly different approach of writing, and I’ll see shere it gets me. For now, I’m happy.

Angry nerds

January 2nd, 2012

Today the German version of Jonathan Zittrain‘s essay “The PC is dead” has been published (which he closes by saying we need more angry nerds), tempting me to comment on it in a lengthy post. Instead I recommend you to read it yourself.

My two cents: For platform owners such as Apple, Amazon, Google or Microsoft, the ‘art’ is to close the door only so much that the input-providing participants don’t feel uncomfortable squeezing through it, and keep providing stuff (apps and content), because the consuming participants will only start switching once they realize the restrictions applied lead to a perceived lack thereof. Angry nerds won’t fix it. Unless they invent a different thing that restarts the cycle.

“One day, the Web will be friggin’ empty”

October 23rd, 2011

That’s what the CEO of the German VPRT, the lobby of commercial broadcasters and tele-media, said on his keynote during the Munich Media Days last week. No, wait for the punchline! It’s also his organisation who’s commissioning the study which concludes that the web is full of illegal content (in this study, everything that was availbale for free was counted as illegal — yes, they were and still are on a mission).

What he meant to say with the headline quote was of course that the world needs his peers to enjoy the richness of online media, and he argued that the government needs to push for stricter copyright laws. Like what? Sanctioning free content because it’s harming his peers’ business? I’m sure he’d love that. It’s just that way of 19th century thinking that once you’ve set up your factory, it’s going to run forever and all the boss has to do is maximize profits. In addition, new industries would pop up and the one with more money would buy the other and so forth. And it all keeps growing and growing.

But as the post-industrial age has kicked in long ago, it should have become obvious that it doesn’t work like that any more. And it won’t help that your industry is not producing material goods but collecting and repacking information (or rather data, I can’t help but come back to my axiom again), because it’s still run like the old-fashioned factory. We don’t need factories any more, we’ve had them long enough.

What’s not working anymore is people who used to buy an issue of a magazine with at least 50% advertising in the real world, won’t do this online. They have the choice of getting their desired information one article at a time from the source they like best. With ads or without. Paid or for free. Yet publishers had a hard time adapting their question “How can I get as many people as possible to buy / subscribe to my magazine?” to “How can I offer the best content for an acceptable price?” (of course there’s also the industrial “How can I lower the quality without losing too much of the readership?”), but the new question is a different one.

This new question is “How does my stuff fit into the big picture?”. There are millions of outlets on the Web offering articles on the same topics as pay-for magazines, but for free. Not as consistent in terms of output volume and regularity, but often in terms of quality. This leads to my idea where commercial publishers seek the cooperation with authors who publish for free. The commercial publishers will then support the free authors by publishing their (commercial) articles on their (free authors’) website or blog, like guest articles (of course these article have to be paid for when someone wants to read them, and the free author whose site the thing is published on gets a small share), thus improving the experience for the audience.

Instead of trying to persuade the world to come to their place, publishers of every kind of media must start serving all the outlets out there (this is what Seth Godin refers to as curatorship). What publishers understood is they need to be on the shelf in as many stores as possible. Now, moving beyond physicality, the number and variety of stores is infinite. And infinity has always been a good prerequisite to make money for a long time to come. If you embrace it.

More on data vs. information

August 30th, 2011

I’ll just blast out some thoughts I had during the last few days…

  • There is no correlation between the amount or quality of data and the amount or quality of information. Example: “I don’t use a DSLR camera for filming because it’s not good enough.” This opinion (information, subjective) does not require anybody to know all the facts. Everybody has a different threshold when they feel having sufficient “information” (it’s data) to make a decision, change or define their worldview and tell themselves a story. The data which is not included in the story becomes irrelevant. Trying to persuade them differently is unlikely to yield success then.
  • On Air Promotion trailers: The less data you need make the viewer feel informed, the better. The worst thing you can do is give the audience too much data. The factual data should no more than name and time of the show. Everything else better be a story people can connect to (and for this to happen, any emotional reaction is what you want, not only positive ones). Don’t give them data, because then they’ll start putting all the input into context themselves and stop listening. You don’t want that, of course. This applies to advertising in general as well.
  • The previous part also applies to presentations. The purpose of a presentation is to give information by present data in a narrowed context. This means you (the presenter) need to boil down the data to a level as simple (yet still correct) as possible. Do not show complicated charts or graphs (and worse, reading them to the audience). What’s on the screen or whiteboard is only supplemental to your verbal argumentation. It is not the information.
  • Do we really need compilations of references? At least their compiler should have the decency not to label it a “Guide” or similar. Because it’s not. It’s a directory, index, compilation, collection. Yeah I know. People love Guides and How-To’s. People love “not getting scammed” even more.
  • We need to train and force ourselves to decide on the spot more often, because it is often that we do have enough data and information to decide on the spot, but we’ve so gotten into the habit of “digesting” and “sleeping over it” we’re just too slow.

The Information Myth

August 25th, 2011

Sometimes, when a term has been coined, it’s hard to get rid of it albeit it’s plain wrong. As it is the case with “Too much information!”. I don’t know where it came from (and don’t intend to research it now, feel free to post it in the comments), yet it is unimportant for the matter of the fact. So how did I come to this conclusion?

Last week, German newspaper Die Zeit published an article citing a study among managers and their biggest issues on the job, resulting in ten rules a good manager, according to the paper, should follow. Let’s just say the author would have better read some books on the topic, yet he seemed to prefer the blather. But that’s not why I’m writing this.

The study revealed that one of the most pressing problems of managers is the amount of decisions, which requires a lot of information for each of them. Obvious. To decide, you need information. Now, what is information?

I like Fredmund Malik’s definition that information is knowledge that leads to action. Now, if you think about it for a few seconds, how much of the things that enter you brain in the course of a day do lead to action? Indeed, very little. What’s the overwhelming majority then? It’s data. When you look up the definition of data and information at Wikipedia it’s all there, though I don’t agree that a book with all data about Mt. Everest automatically becomes information. Data only becomes information when it is put in a context that leads to an action on your behalf.

Looking at all the bits and pieces we’re dealing with daily that way, it’s plain to see why making decisions is such a massive time-consuming process. It’s not information we’re dealing with on the input side, it’s data that we must put in perspective, be it an analytics report, a movie clip, the latest news. It’s not that we (as humans) were producing ever more information, we’re just producing ever more data which in turn we must filter out to obtain information.

Now, is what I’ve been writing about in these few lines data or information to you? Since we will keep producing ever more data, the ability to distill data to information will become key to future success for anyone, because all success depends on the ability to make decisions. This necessity requires not only organizations of every kind to teach their employees how to get better at this, it also requires schools to switch from teaching young people to learn everything from a limited resource (i.e., a school book) to learning the process of filtering out the irrelevant data from an unlimited resource (i.e., the Internet). For the careful reader, the previous sentence has turned data into information. Thank you for reading.

Idea: Speed Composing on a Music Collaboration Platform

June 12th, 2011

Here’s a proposal for something I can’t turn into reality myself:

There are a number of music collaboration platforms on the web already, but most of them don’t seem to be very productive, because all projects are open-end, there’s no deadline, no need to ship. Hence engagement soon drops after the initial euphoria. I think making music is more fun when it happens quickly and spontaneously, as well as under a time constraint, something you can see in the many remix contests that only allow participants to work on their remix for a few days or even a few hours.

So here’s the beef:
A collaborative music platform where there’s just a limited amount of time to finish a song. Not measured in real-word time, but in project-time. Huh? Very simple. A song has to be finished in, say, 12 hours. For instance, a guitarist starts a new project by uploading a riff. Someone downloads the music file and adds a bass part. The timespan until the new file is uploaded again will be added to this project, so when the bass player needs 90 minutes to contribute her part, there’s 10 hours 30 minutes left to finish the song. To spice it up even further, the whole thing does not happen in linear fashion, there can be multiple forks or branches per project. Again, huh? Well, say there are two bass players and each has a different idea (likely to happen), there will be two branches on each of which the project can be continued, each with its own timeline. Combine that with 3 different lyrics, 5 vocalists, one drummer, you might end up with 30 results based on the original part.

I’d be extremely happy to see someone turn this into reality. Got questions? Just drop me a line.