LiNCing Revelations

I bolted from LiNC  (the Lithium Network Conference 2011 in San Francisco).  I’m sure like many others, I didn’t want to leave the LiNC fun, but it was time to get home and daylight was burning.  So, I walked up to Market St. and headed southwest from downtown San Francisco at BART speed.   And, I was overcome by the thoughts of meeting so many great people who are making great strides for their brands and pushing their careers forward.

I had planned a camping weekend with my son. It was with the Cub Scouts, a parent-child weekend at Camp Cutter Scout Reservation in the Santa Cruz Mountains.   I had already packed before I left for LiNC, so now all I had to do was get home and change from business casual to camp clothes.   Swapped out my slacks and dress shoes for blue jeans and hiking boots.  And, off we went on a short 75 miles journey up into the hills between Saratoga and Santa Cruz.

By 6pm Friday night, just 3 hours removed of the modern luxuries of the Intercon, I had traded in my city by the bay view to an immersion of tall pines, redwood trees, twigs, and dirt.   My mobile phone had no service.    My warm comfy bedroom was now a tent with sleeping bags and an air mattress (I did remember that).   And, quickly I found bug repellent for the early eve mosquitos and the eau de Cutters was in full stench.   I went to the restroom, affectionately called a “Latrine”, which was indescribably primitive.   I can tell you that it had a huge trench sink with one temperature control – cold water. Very cold water (more on that later).

boy scout emblem.jpg

After a few campsite games and introductions to other parents and young scouts in our campsite, we marched off to the lodge for dinner.

There was a huge kitchen and mess hall to feed the 100+ scouts under the age of 11 and 100 or so parents.  More adjustments for me…  Gone were the cloth napkins and silverware.  It was replaced with napkins that could barely dry a wet pinky, paper plates, and plastic utensils.   And, from premium bar to completely dry (scout camp rules).   Heck, 2 “dry” days was probably what the doctor ordered anyway.

And, by the time the whole dining hall broke out into a group song, my re-initiation to scouting was complete.  I had left behind the Lithium Nation, and now contentedly succumbed to the Scouting Nation.

Back at the tent after dinner and a small campfire, I played Texas Hold ‘Em with my son in the tent with my iPad (did you really think I’d leave that at home?).   It’s a heck of lot easier to play card games on an iPad, then trying to find a flat area in a tent to stack poker chips.
At promptly 7:45am Saturday morning, I was awoken by reveille.   It was foggy.  The tent was slightly damp and about 46° F outside.   We put a few layers of clothes and set out for a day of activities including BB Guns, archery, canoeing, and crafts. I drank coffee.  I hiked.   I even found a few minutes for a nap.

Each parent had to sign-up for one of the shifts in the kitchen.  I arrived at 11:45am and was handed a mop and bucket. I mopped about 500 sq. foot of the dining hall, washed huge pans, served pudding, and ate watermelon.  I felt good about my contribution and gladly complied with every request.    (I’m sure my boss is wondering what it’s like when I act like a good subordinate).

After dinner Saturday night, the whole camp came out for the ceremonial campfire.  It had been sunny most of the day, but it was really foggy now and becoming more windy and misty.   We were doing everything we could to stay warm.  I was able to convince my son and 3 other kids from our Den to lead one of the campfire songs.  It’s called the “Little Green Frog” song.  With 4 kids at my side, we had 200 people jumping up and down.  I was warm and could feel my toes for about 5 minutes.  I’ll show the song if you want, but you’ll have to do it with me.

After we lay down for the night, it clouded up.  It then started to rain.  Really rain.  Followed by a deep mountain fog.  I awoke around 6am Sunday to find my son and I’s sleeping bags soaked at the foot of the tent.  I had to move our shoes to keep them out of a puddle.   By 8am it was 42° F outside, we had packed most of our stuff and headed to the dining hall for some warm coffee and eggs.  As I was leaving the lodge to go back to our campsite to pack, I found something amazing.

IMG_0040.pngMany, many years ago, as a young scout, I participated in a Western Region conference. This was 10 scouting councils competing for the prestigious “Conclave Award”.   It was my first time at the event and we won, and I remember distinctly how much fun I had be part of a winning team and doing whatever I could.  Simply nailed to the wall near the main door, there it lay.

The winning plaque from 1981.

This was just the reminder I needed about what I had experienced at LiNC – how accomplishment can exceed the elements.  I’m talking about both the accomplishments by Lithium customers and all of the contributions by Lithium employees to make this a great annual event in San Francisco this year.  Along, with the inspirational push from Coach VanDerveer.

Thank you to everyone who came, participated, spoke, questioned, blogged, tweeted, ate, drank…even if it was just for one or two sessions.  This was a highly memorably event and I really enjoyed meeting everyone.   Can’t wait til next year.

For now, back to reality.

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Is It Too Late to Post an iPad Review?

I figured since Apple announced there’s 2 Million iPads sold, perhaps it’s time to write a review.  Odd to admit…I now own my first Apple product ever – a 32 Gb iPad (non 3G version).

Yes, I’ve been affected by my iPad ownership.   (1) I’m no longer greeted with the usual “Hi Dad, how was your day”, when I get home from work.  It’s now “Hi Dad, where’s your iPad?”.  (2) I can leave my 6 lb laptop at my desk as I run off to back-to-back meetings.  I have quick access and ability to answer email, see my calendar, VPN, and jump on the internet – way better than having my 3G/WiFi mobile phone.  (3)  I temporarily look hip on BART – no very easy for me to do!  I say temporarily because they will become the norm for BART riders, particularly when the WiFi on BART improves.  (4) I’m no longer envious of Kindle owners as there’s an app for that.

Would the 3G option be nice to have?   Yea perhaps, but I have a 3G BlackBerry that’s of course way more portable and I don’t necessarily want to tow my iPad everywhere.  WiFi is becoming available pretty much everywhere you go, thus it’s totally sufficient.  Even better if you own (or able to obtain) one of the Verizon Broadband/WiFi Hubs.

WHAT I LIKE

Form factor.  It’s way better for after dinner, weekend breakfast table reading and in work meetings.  It’s simply a less intrusive internet appliance.  I predict v2.0 will have carve-outs on the sides for easier hand grip.

Educational programs for all aged kids.  The (free and purchasable) library of reading, spelling, math, science, music, and many other important learning aids makes the iPad an excellent home schooling center, particularly here as the kids start summer.  Set them up with 15 minutes of studying for every 15 minutes of game playing.   And, all aged kids including toddlers will be able to pickup games quickly with minimal instructions even if they are unable to read.  It’s amazing to watch kids figure out the games so easily.  I can’t even keep up with my son on the Snowboard game.

Power – battery consumption.  Very good.   It lasts all day.  Only downside is that based on the family usage, I do need to charge it daily.

200+ Free Applications.  Not all of them have annoying ads, but many do, which I subsequently delete after testing them out.

Newspaper and Media.   I have the free NY Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Mashable iPad applications and use SFGate.com from the Safari web browser.   This is plenty for me to read everyday.    While it’s excellent that so many magazines have made convenient iPad apps, it’s not necessary to buy them unless you already subscribe and you want another mode to read.  Go ahead and kill the home delivery service if you go that route.   Save the environment – the paper and the gas for the paper delivery to get to your house.   I don’t see this as a savior for the magazine and newspaper industry, although I would really like to know when ESPN The Magazine will be available on the iPad.

THE BAD AND UGLY

No Flash.  Come on…this is just silly.  Makes web browsing unbelievably painful.   No hulu.com – which would be an awesome app on the iPad.  Apple is unbelievably lucky that YouTube doesn’t use Flash.  It’s just the running failure of Apple to be so closed-minded about this, and also means it will never be as pervasive and accepted as Microsoft, Google and Linux are.

Price.  If only the iPad came with a quality case – currently a 3-4 week backorder on the Apple and BestBuy web sites and at $40.  I’ve tried the other covers and their strangely insufficient as compared to the Apple one.   If Apple include a quality cover and a $100 iStore gift card, there would probably be 4 million iPads in circulation — just sayin…

Internet Poker.  All of the top properties need a client app and use flash.  No way that iStore can have a gaming app for these offshore enterprises.   US Government is way too stupid to figure out how to manage and tax the online card gaming industry, so they are offshore rolling in un-taxed cash.   And, the iStore can’t facilitate an “illegal” operation.

Apps Store.  I certainly appreciate the fact that someone is building an app and they want to sell/license it.   But, what happens when you buy a $5 game and then stop playing it after a month.  It’s like burning money, and I don’t enjoy that.  Be great if there was a trade-in/trade-up policy.  Unlikely.

Keyboard.  Great for quick notes and entering your password.  Way too incomplete to use for constant typing.   The iPad docking station solves this problem – a mere $69.  Note that I’m wrote this blog from a laptop.

Screen.  You’ll see that after 30 minutes of activity, your fingerprints will be all over it.  After the kids use it, it take a good wipe to clean off.  Of course, screen covers and glare reduction films are now available, but it seems the only ones people like are $30.  I have to clean the screen about 5 or 6 times/day.

Fake Demand.  It’s amusing how Apple seems to act like they’re continually out of stock of everything.  With all the supply chain optimization techniques out there, there’s NO excuse for having a delay to purchase the iPad and a 3-4 week backorder on accessories.  Oh, sure it used to be a brilliant marketing scheme, but you ain’t foolin me.  It’s nothing but an old joke now.

Yes, this $600+ device has changed my outlook on internet appliances and convenience.  I really enjoy the iPad.   If you can spare the cash and keep your kids from fighting over it, you will enjoy it too.   And, you don’t mind dumping another $100 to $200 in accessories  and sought after apps.

Time to Pay the Twitter

That’s crazy to pay for free service.  Yes, I agree.  Call it what you will.  But, everyone *and* your mother is on Twitter.  O K, not everyone.   And, not everyone’s mother.  But, high probability the person in front of you at the supermarket is on Twitter.  Meanwhile, the conversation of Twitter’s “service up-time” or lack thereof, revenue model, and competition is on the rise.

I didn’t always think this way.  If you asked many of many friends and business acquaintances, they will tell you that I was once a strong Twitter opponent.  Yes, just months ago I could be caught saying “it’s just a passing fad”, “no one really cares except those deep inside the echo chamber”.   Now, it seems the whole world’s in *that* chamber.  I’ve gone from “twitter is a waste” to “twitter is somewhat useful” to “having a little fun on twitter” to today — “twitter would be better if I paid for it”.

I’m actually telling Twitter “go ahead and charge me”.  I’m not sure if the Twitter founders and advocates are pumping their fists screaming “yes” or “dear god — you’re missing the point”.

Let’s consider a few facts.

  • 90% of Twitters content is generated by 1-2% of the registrants.   The huge mass of folks that tweet less than 10 times (i.e. sign up and tune out) is staggering.  Just do a search on “Patricia Smith” reveals that after you get through the top 20 contributors, dozens of Patricia Smiths with less than 10 followers and haven’t tweeted in months.
  • Spam and follow-bots are increasingly annoying.  15% of Twitter traffic, according to security expert Alexandru Catalin Cosoi of BitDefender, as quoted in The Globe and Mail.  Seeing a new follower like @girliej6j6 who’s following 20 times more people than are following them.  Weak.
  • The number of times Twitter is inaccessible due to Twitter server overload is majorly frustrating.  Yes, you know.  You’ve even tweeted that Twitter is twimbelling.twitter-addicts1249598011
  • More than 40% of all tweets are “pointless babble.” That’s from a study released this past month by San Antonio-based marketing firm Pear Analytics.  The study, co-authored with research firm TNS, also shows that 30% of users are tweeting to interact with family, 30% connect with celebrities, and 24% interact with other bloggers.  Because there’s no fee “per tweet”, to follow a friend, colleague or industry specialist, the model succumbs to “you should try my awesome spaghetti and meatballs recipe”.
  • Anyone ever tried to contact Twitter support.  ‘Nough said.
  • Twittter search stinks.  A royal piece of crap.   Hence, why you’re using third-party tools.  Wouldn’t it be nice if these services were seamlessly integrated?  True plug-ins.  Not apps.   (Think: native salesforce.com Appxchange.)  It would be so much easier and better experience.
  • Instantaneouness.  Yes, a new word for real-time, and where else can you get speedy answers?  Confirm an earthquake or major emerging world or local event.  Get a referral or recommendation faster on the Twitterer network.  And, hence the value differentiator between Twitter feeds, and Google, which is best for searching archives (things more than 4 hours old).   Yes, an indirect plug for why some enjoy Facebook too.

What I find most strange is that Twitter has a value of $441 million to $589 million, according to a report by an independent research firm co-founded by financial world celebrity Michael Moe.  So, it has about a 10x of $55M invested to date.  And, no revenue model.

It’s certainly against the norm for social networks to charge a fee.   Social networks seem to enjoy leveraging the old radio and TV model.  An annoying, content-based ad network.  But, I like satellite and internet, commercial-free radio and I’m willing to pay for it.   Anyone who has SiriusXM knows what I’m talking about.

Twitter isn’t purely a social network.  Maybe it’s actually useful and worth a small fee to improve the service.  Like any other brand, product or service I believe in, I’d like an easy way to impact and improve it.  You know, really be a customer.  When you get something for free, you’re not really a customer.   You are servants to whatever policies are set.  Businesses with paying customers are fixed to higher standards.   Notice how Twitter and Facebook need to keep issuing “terms of use” statements.

So, you would benefit from this model:

  • Everyone would have a verified account.  Twitter would be accountable.
  • User experience would improve with a single interface that has all your favorite integrated tools and plug-ins.  Furthermore, users would have more control over the views, compatibility, and features.
  • Porn (and other stalking advertising-type followers) would be significantly reduced – as they would have to pay to play.   In fact, Twitter could remove those accounts/users entirely.  If they object, put them in their own “room” so to speak and then if you want to follow and be followed by those types of entities, it’s your choice.  Sure, you can add a block to your account, but you still have to review each request for legitimacy.
  • Search would work.  I know there’s excellent third party products, but I’d much rather a self-contained accessible system.
  • Improvements and application usage would be driven by how customers want to use it and ability to provide innovative feedback.
  • Better mobile apps.

Making the brands pay for Twitter won’t work.  There are far too many folks out there with larger footprints than a lot of brands.  And, what it I RT (re-tweet) what my company posted, are you gonna charge for that?   There’s no way to segment the payment model.   I do agree that brand (corporate accounts) should pay a larger fee than individuals, but still advocating payment from everyone.

Twitter has been far from consistent on this topic. Biz Stone recently reiterated that Twitter would not charge users for existing usage habits; but, the company plans to launch a set of premium services, such as more detailed analytics or deeper CRM services, for which companies using Twitter may be willing to pay. See article Twitter to Remain Ad-Free launch a revenue model.   But, CEO Evan Williams stated a year ago that the largest revenue upside will come with brands being charged for access.   Biz Stone now says “it might be hard to tease out who is using the service professionally and who is using it for personal reasons, and then charge them for it. So the idea is to build a set of features that people are willing to pay for.”   Aha.

So, if Twitter costs money, we will all start migrating to a new free system, and Twitter will die a slow, painful death.  Perhaps.  But, the new system will hit the same roadblocks after awhile, i.e. where’s the revenue model.   And, will they be able to raise $50Million to invest in the infrastructure to run it and build technology relationships?   Meanwhile, Twitter can be working on harnessing their true advocates that see value in the connections.  The conversations.  The news feeds.  The recommendations.   Etc.  Etc.

Competition is coming for Twitter.   I doubt Microsoft will sit on the sidelines forever with MSN Networks and watch someone else get market share.  It wasn’t that long ago that MySpace was dominant and seemed untouchable.  Now, we only seem to talk about Facebook.   It could just as easily happen to Twitter.

Yahoo has launched a microblogging service that emulates Twitter. It’s called Yahoo Meme, and it was launched in English in early September.  Similar versions have been available in Spanish and Portuguese for a few months.  Yahoo Meme allows users to post photos, videos, and other content with short descriptions. Users also follow each other in a fashion similar to Twitter. The company says the goal of Yahoo Meme is to allow people to share content without having to join a specific social networking site. However, users do have to be registered on Yahoo.

All I’m saying is that I’m ready to pay $25 or $30/year for a better experience, reduced threats of spam attacks, and protection of my online persona and connections.  Net net.  Something will have to happen. Charging an annual rate for member usage would create instant, recurring revenue, cut down on the “my meatballs are delicious” tweets, and improves the service immensely.  Note the word “service”.

Alternatively, what if Twitter returned their VC money and made it opensource shareware.  With volunteer donations.  We could develop a diverse, superuser community of top social media influencers, which would manage the direction, and put the passionate developers together on one platform.

OK.  Back to more productive online activities.  Like studying up on changes I need to make to my fantasy football teams.   BTW, fantasy sports is another social network I pay real $ to subscribe (and also littered with banner ads that my eyes have been taught to skim over).

How to Describe This Business

When you get to just about any web site, you get a description.  Many sites don’t need a description.  They’re the site you know like eBay, Microsoft, Craigslist, or Amazon.   You know what those folks do.  But, when you start looking at software technology — it can be just about anything.  Tons and tons of software companies.  Public companies, tech start-ups, sole proprietors, and everything in between.  There are so many tech companies across so many sectors across so many continents. It’s just impossible to keep up with all of them.

That’s why I was real suprised when I heard about Versata.  I had actually heard about them, but not in this context.  My good friend Phil had sent a note over to take a look at their company description on the home page.  Here’s what it says:

Versata provides enterprise software solutions that deliver business results,
performance and scalability while dramatically reducing IT spending.
Versata’s patented solutions decrease IT expenditures by reducing hardware
and associated maintenance, leveraging open source technology, and
accelerating value delivery to business customers.

Huh?  Go ahead, read it again. 

Is it possible that it reads worse the second time than the first?   I really can’t describe where exactly it goes South, or maybe more importantly, what were they thinking.   I have no idea what they do.  But, regardless is anything that hard to describe.  Did they think that SEO ranking would be affected by it?  Did a consultant write it?

I’ve met marketers from this company, and believed was that they were good people.  Not sure they were involved in this messaging though.  So, what the heck happened?   Well, the best I can really do, is offer a few replacement suggestions.  Yea, sure these don’t describe the company like the existing piece that describes the company, but I can pretty much guarantee, people will get it or they will enjoy it.  So here goes:

  • We make great IT stuff, call us so we can sell you some
  • Yes, we have competitors, but ours is better
  • Come buy our IT wares, they’re grrreeeaaaaattt!!!!
  • There’s IT software, then there’s IT software
  • We can’t explain it, but trust us people like it
  • Don’t spend another dime until you’ve seen what we can do

Any of which is better than what I’m seeing on this site.  And, no doubt my suggestions are improper too. Perhaps you know the folks or executives at Versata?   Perhaps you know how you’d also like to improve the Versata home page?   At this point, almost anything would be an improvement.  But, I would just start with 1 sentence that explains (i.e. a description) of what you do.  At least people would know instead of scaring them away.

Bill Gates Has Heart Attack While Watching His New TV Commercials

There sure was a lot of talk about the new ad campaign featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld.  It was supposed to be hilarious.  It wasn’t.  They are complete duds.  There’s not a chance anyone, and certainly not even Bill Gates, would have a heart rate issue watching these ads, ’cause they’re really boring.  Sleep inducing.  About the only thing you might be having trouble with is keeping your hand from scratching your head as you try to reconcile what Bill, Jerry, Microsoft and some ad agency were thinking.  The only good part of these ads for Microsoft is that everyone is talking about how crappy they are, so at least they can attribute the marketing spend to “share of voice”. 

It’s been rumored that Microsoft will spend $300Million on this campaign with a new ad firm Crispin Porter & Bugusky.  And, Seinfeld is getting a cool $10M for his spot.  Now, there’s some heart valve clogging material for you.

In case you’ve been a little out of touch with seeing any good TV ads, Microsoft is seriously losing a branding popularity battle with Apple – even though the Apple ads only refer to “PC”.  It could be Intel, HP, Dell, or Microsoft they’re actually talking about, but everyone knows it’s an on-going jab at Microsoft.  And, Microsoft thought, “let’s just take our top visionary and a ton of money, and we’ll beat those Applewholigans”.

So, enter Jerry Seinfeld.  The head comic, writer & producer of one the most successful TV sitcoms (at least in my generation).   You know we’ll be watching Seinfeld re-runs til eternity, about as long as M*A*S*H and the Brady Brunch.   We know Jerry for his comedy, his writing, his unbelievable wealth.  Why on earth risk your reputation with the fuddy-duddies of Redmond?  It couldn’t have been for the pay-day.  Did Jerry have some sick debt to Gates with no chance of retribution?  And, we’re subject to the aftermath?

It’s completely beyond comprehension why a man of Bill’s stature needs to be involved with such a terrible spot on TV.  Is this his last gasp to inject positive vibes into the Microsoft brand?  Did he really buy off on this?  Please don’t tell me it was actually his idea (read = you better do what Bill says).   You’re talking about a person that’s done hundreds, if not thousands, of appearances.  Mostly all very serious and thought provoking, and I’m sure he’s left a few scripted chuckles along the way.  But, other than having a great, geeky smile, he’s not someone we rely on to hit the funny bone.  Surely, if you were able to play a roaring practical joke on him, it would be outrageously funny, but unlikely anyone would sign up for that.   Love him or hate him, Bill certainly can never be replicated, duplicated, or in any way replaced, but doesn’t mean we need to see him do the robot or shake his booty on TV.

In a web2.0 world, where Ray-Ban, Nike, and Levis are kicking butt with viral videos and ads using a combination of YouTube, print ad, and TV, why is Microsoft simply left in the dust?   Because in the web2.0 world, it’s not about outspending.  It’s about outmaneuvering, creativity, and novelty.  With all the money in the world – literally – it’s truly amazing Microsoft could compile such a horrible attempt. 

Microsoft would have been better off paying a bunch of college grads $2Million to come up with whacked content and rough-cut video, and the result would be better viral branding and positive messaging than the waste they put on TV, and now subject to during national sporting events.