Apps are Better aka Why Windows 8 Might Just Work. -
Take almost anything – news, weather, stocks, social services like Facebook – you name it. PC users have to interact with these things via the web, reducing their super-powerful PC to a dumb terminal. But mobile device users get rich, smooth apps that are a lot more fun to use.
Why is using Flipboard or the SMH App on an iPad better than the experience on my laptop?
Hint: it’s not because of touch.
As a PC user I am increasingly left out. Left to suffer with browser-based experiences while my wife uses her iPad to interact with the same services in a more enjoyable manner.
Apps can remember who you are - they can integrate tightly with other services and most importantly they just work.
An amazing example is the SMH App. Favouriting and sharing is much easier on an iPad than on a laptop because apps can remember who you are effectively without you having to create an account.
Also, at least on Android devices, sharing is consistent across every app: to share a news article on my laptop I have to open up Gmail, select the correspondent, paste a link in and then send it.
Compare that to click a button select a contact, and click send.
There are many reasons I’m motivated to see Windows 8 be successful … Perhaps the biggest though, is apps. For touch, keyboard, and mouse, I want apps.
Windows 8 will enable an app ecosystem. The most compelling reason that it hasn’t existed to date is the lack of a secure sandbox and app store.
The App Store is all about licence management: I don’t have to deal with 100 different vendors and there licencing issues and remember who I bought what from. It’s all in one place. I don’t have to create a new account with each vendor.
The sandbox means I don’t have to worry that some small utility app is going to mess up my entire PC.
I think the lack of apps on the PC is because there’s no store, so no easy way to find and install such apps. Microsoft could have created an app store for Windows 7, but Win7 doesn’t offer a fully sandboxed runtime environment where such apps can be virus and harm-free to the end user.
Mac users benefited from apps before the official App Store because of a psuedo-sandbox: I typically trust that Mac Apps won’t screw up my computer; and they feel easier to remove (ie. just drag it to the trash can).
Another factor is that Mac users seem to be more willing to pay for software.
The web has been so innovative because it freed data from silos: you could link between content in different apps (ie. link from my Tumblr to a Blogger post).
Apps offer a better experience - but maybe at the cost of a healthy software ecosystem.
Never Negotiate Piecemeal. -
“Mark, you need to stop negotiating point-by-point.
Our goal here isn’t to have a negotiation line-by-line. We want to know what all of their issues are first. You’re compromising on each point and that makes no sense.
Let’s get all of their issues on the table. Let’s then convene privately and rank the issues we care about and which we don’t.
Let’s be very flexible on the issues that are at the bottom of our rank and they might really care about. Let’s dig in our heels on the issues we care most about. We can trade compromises on issues that aren’t as important to us in exchange for not budging at all on our most important points.
If you negotiate piecemeal you end up compromising on everything. That’s not very smart.”
By negotiating each point up front (without knowing what all the issues are) its harder to strategise which issues you should concede on and which you should holdfast on. There will always be things that are important to you - but things which are only nice-to-haves in any negotiation.
It’s also harder to make a case for the things you really care about - you can’t really point to issues you’ve already conceded on because they were negotiated separately.
How to be Relentlessly Resourceful [A Practical Guide] -
Step 1: Learn enough to get clue
Step 2: Actually take action
Step 3: Repeat until you succeed
Give it five minutes. -
it’s fine to disagree, it’s fine to push back, it’s great to have strong opinions and beliefs, but give my ideas some time to set in before you’re sure you want to argue against them. “Five minutes” represented “think”, not react. He was totally right. I came into the discussion looking to prove something, not learn something.
Being first doesn’t mean being right. Take time with your responses - no one will think worse of you for it.
Slow down, think it through and then respond in an argument. Conciseness and brevity are better than waffling on and if we don’t stop and think we waffle.
There’s also a difference between asking questions and pushing back. Pushing back means you already think you know. Asking questions means you want to know. Ask more questions.
Relax - and don’t try to win arguments. If you view it as a confrontation you’ll only reaffirm your beliefs and you’ll shut out all other possibilities. You’re not always going to be right.
There are two things in this world that take no skill: 1. Spending other people’s money and 2. Dismissing an idea.
So next time you hear something, or someone, talk about an idea, pitch an idea, or suggest an idea, give it five minutes. Think about it a little bit before pushing back, before saying it’s too hard or it’s too much work. Those things may be true, but there may be another truth in there too: It may be worth it.
Make the decisions you take the ones that actually count -
To nearly every question, I would answer with “sounds good, let’s do it”.
We are bombarded with hundreds of decisions each day: most of which will have little effect on lives - even if they do - the effects were probably not predictable at the time the decision was made.
The fact is, I didn’t decide at all. I just happen to default to “sure, that sounds good” for those questions.
Leo’s advocates having a set of default responses for decisions that don’t really matter to prevent decision fatigue.
you only have so much brain capacity to make decisions every day
It’s easy to come up with defaults if you understand what you value:
Value in my life as an entrepreneur means wealth and relationships. Anything else is a distraction and huge waste of my time.” - Dan Martell
By stopping to take some decisions and only taking those that matter the most and that you are passionate about, I believe another crucial factor comes into play:
You will be able to make those decisions you take, much better ones than you used to.
Earbits: Marketing done right. -
Sent an email out (with a fun title) asking customers to install Earbits for Chrome. Interesting that weren’t trying to sell to the customer (by proffering the benefits of the extension) but instead asked because tehy wanted to get to the top of the Chrome Web Apps Store.
Apparently it worked. I have a feeling it had something to do with the playful tone in the email.
We need a favor. Seriously.
We’re already in the Chrome Store’s Most Popular Apps section. But we really want to move our way to the top. You can help.
Please install Earbits for Chrome (it takes 4.2 seconds).
This is just an excerpt.
I’m the IT Officer for the Sydney University Law Society (SULS) and I’ve spent the last couple of weeks updating our website from a Drupal based system to a statically generated Nanoc based system.
I built the old website by heavily customizing Drupal. The main shortcomings of this approach were:
difficult to develop and test new features: most new development had to occur on the live site itself since duplicating the site for configuration changes was non-trivial.
difficult to update: I ended up having to update everything due to the complexity of the administration interface - something that wasn’t easy to customize or make significantly simpler.
content was not opaque: all the content was trapped in a database with a strange schema which meant any introspection of batch processing was basically not possible.
constant maintenance required: Drupal requires regular patching to prevent security issues.
The main goals for the new website are:
The new website is statically generated with Nanoc. The main reasons for switching to static generation are:
The content on the SULS website doesn’t actually change frequently - there are no user comments and there are only a couple of new posts made per week. This means that the cost of regenerating the entire website (about 8s of compilation) is trivial.
The entire website can be versioned using Git - this means that if something breaks (i.e. someone updating it incorrectly) it is trivial to revert to a working verison.
Simple tools can now be used to update the website: Most of the content is now markdown (which can be edited using tools like Macchiato) and all of the supporting assets can simply be dragged and dropped. The most difficult part of the update process is obviously invoking the compilation via the command line or doing a git commit/push - this I intend to automate with Apple Scripts (we’re a Mac-only society).
There are no security vulnerabilities and no maintenance! The website has no running code and is statically served by nginx. Therefore - the only way to break it would be to use an nginx exploit (automatically updated by VPS provider) or to break in using SSH (good luck - we use public key only authentication). Furthermore, this means that I don’t have to apply any weekly security patches.
I can now experiment with the website on my local computer - changing the layout or adding new features without worrying about affecting users.
The website should also be faster since it can be cached entirely and there are no DB accesses or content generation running on each request.
Additional benefit: the entire website is backed up on multiple computers by cloning and regularly pulling the Git repository.
Over the next couple of weeks, hopefully I’ll get a change to write a couple of blog posts outlining why I chose Nanoc, the structure of the website and how it is generated using Nanoc. I’m also looking at open sourcing the code as an example of a relatively complex site built using Nanoc.
2 hour side-project to 2 million visitors -
Gramfeed is a side-project turned startup that grew quite successfully with the rise of Instagram.
At launch it was just a website to view popular photos, search photos, view user photos and view user feed.
Most of the features and UI changes were implemented based on user feedback … Obviously watch for any product mentions on twitter and engage with users.
The key is to select a few bloggers and tell them your personal story that led you to developing the website rather than describing how great your product is.
Ultimately if your product is simple, easy to use and solves a problem then people will notice it, they will tweet about it, recommend it to their friends, influencers will take notice and you will get covered eventually, no special marketing is necessary, focus on making things simple and listen to your customers.
Having a blog also drives traffic back to the site.
On Tuesday I attended the University of New South Wales Startup Pitch Event. There were some great ideas - but they just weren’t expressed right. Here are a couple of things I took away from the pitching.
Mathspace is using the internet to make learning math easier. They listed a few problems (ie. manual marking is time consuming for teachers) at the start of their presentation - but I never connected with the problem. They never really made me understand why maths had to transition to the internet because they talked in the abstract - devoid of any real story or experience. I doubt many in the room were teachers - but everyone has done high-school maths - we’ve all faced homework where you struggle through each problem kind of hoping its right only to find out the next day in class you were completely wrong and the time was wasted.
The biggest problem startups face is ensuring people understand what problems they are solving. For example, Shop2 are doing a social commerce app - but why I would want to have a profile of everything I’ve bought? I can only assume the problem they are solving is there isn’t a good way to share clothes/fashion you’ve bought with friends. Throughout their pitch I was just trying to work out why I would use it - or who their target market was and why people would be compelled to use it.
Tell me a story - make me feel the problem - invoke a memory or an experience. If you can’t do it directly then at least give me someone to emphasise with, even if he/she is fictional - Sally the fresh out of uni teacher is much easier to relate to than ‘teachers’.
Mijura told an excellent story - even though I couldn’t relate to the problem directl - the pitcher introduced Kim the bank manager. Although they weren’t solving a problem I have, by introducing this character with a backstory I could understand the problem - I could see how annoying it would be. They had my attention.
More importantly, they used the story to introduce the problem and to discuss their solution. At the end, they brought Kim when asking for funding so they could ‘reach out to people like Kim’. This was a great conclusion, it made the pitch feel cohesive and whole.
The best pitch of the night came from Locongo - the speaker was charismatic and immediately made me feel the problem and gave me a solution. Locongo is a travel experience business focused on letting you do the things the locals do. I was hanging on to every word after the story he told - I had felt the pain of finding things to do while travelling and I wanted a solution.
The speaker didn’t present slides and this is helped as he had to sell the entire idea through speech. What’s more powerful - writing on a powerpoint slide or being able to speak to a crowd and developing a rapport? Too many of the presenters relied on uninteresting, text-heavy slides. Slides where used as a crutch for communicating their ideas.
A lot of the startups had major problems which they failed to acknowledge. Everyone talked about their solutions or the problem they were solving but many failed to tackle the elephant in the room.
One group (whose name escapes me - Spoilz?) were developing a check-in app that allowed bricks-and-mortar stores to give discounts to get more people into their shops. While they attempted to tackle competitors by naming apps like FourSquare - they missed their specific competitive advantage (what would stop FourSquare from doing exactly the same thing?). Similarly, they missed the biggest issue - getting users to download their app (how are they going to gain traction in Australia when FourSquare hasn’t?).
Mathspace is pretty much a direct clone of the Khan Academy. Throughout the pitch I had this unsettled feeling because they ignored this - they didn’t tackle what they were going to do differently, or how they were going to compete. It is perfectly fine to bring an existing business/idea to a new market - but you need to justify why the original player can’t enter the geographic market. In this case, Mathspace may have a legitimate advantage because educational curriculums are in different markets - but that doesn’t tackle why someone wouldn’t use the Khan Academy (especially because it is a not-for-profit) where the materials are appropriate.
Locongo also failed to tackle the major scaling issue in their one minute pitch. While this may have been due to time constraints - the biggest issue with their business will be expanding in to new geographic locales while keeping customer (ie. experience offerors) acquisition costs down. Another related issue is how they would deal with complaints. I spoke with the pitcher afterwards and he informed me it would be an escrow style service. While this is maintainable on a small-scale, it could potentially be labour intensive and lead to big branding issues (see the AirBnb disaster earlier this year). Aim to give your entire pitch without slides - then use slides to increase clarity where needed.
During some of the pitches I was still trying to work out exactly what they were making. Tell me in plain terms - don’t dress it up in buzzwords or marketing speak - let me know how as a potential consumer I would use your app/service - or what the end result of using it is.
For example, PretaWeb were pitching a product called PretaCloud but they didn’t explain what it was. I had no idea whether it would be something I could use or if it was a CMS.
Similarly, Alex North from Posse (a great idea with a great team) only spoke in abstract terms. While this was acceptable because it was clearly a recruiting style pitch rather than an investment pitch, at the end of the presentation I still didn’t know how Posse worked or what exactly it did, or why I would visit the website.
You need to have a single sentence describing how I will experience your product as a consumer - otherwise you’ll have people not really knowing what you do and not really caring either.
While the above criticism may be unwelcome for some of the presenters, overall they all did really well, and most importantly they are out there testing their ideas and doing what they love. Everyone who pitched put themselves out there - and it can be incredibly tough to pitch for the first time - so congratulations if you’re reading.
A few notable mentions of the night: Handshake (B2B sales/transaction app for iPhone and iPad - think Square for B2B, PhotoMerchant (online ecommerce sites for photographers), and Sneaking Duck (online fashion stores with a bunch of verticals - ie. Sneaking Duck is for eyewear).
iPhone applications cannot talk to each other. As lonely as they get, it’s worse for usability. After reading The App Wall, I’ve realized that the current siloed approach, where no application can communicate with another, to iOS applications is flawed. I have to go to a different application to access data that is semantically the same but provided by a different vendor.
iOS limits the number of ways applications on a device can interact. They are completely unaware that any other application exists - if I click on a restaurant in the Maps application, there is no way it can open up the Restaurant Review application I’ve bought. This means that if an app developer wants to integrate with another service, they either have to provide a link to a web app (if it exists) or reimplement it themselves. If I want Twitter functionality - I have to redevelop it myself rather than simply reusing the Twitter app. My apps can’t work together - my phone can never be more than the sum of its parts. A new application cannot add new functionality to any others.
Applications can integrate ‘in the cloud’ where I could give it the login details - but this still doesn’t let me open up the native app, only the poorer HTML5 web application. This also causes another issue: fragmented identity. Every time a new app is installed, I have to enter my login details for any service it wants to use. It can’t pick these details up from a central repository - for example, it can’t automatically connect to my twitter account. Sometimes I won’t want an app to get access to my Facebook or Twitter, but often I’ll just want to allow it to access it.
Windows Phone 7 has the idea of hubs. All semantically similar content is available in one place. For example, the Messaging hub could contain all my twitter messages, facebook messages, emails and SMS’s. If I installed a new app, I wouldn’t have to open up the new app, its messages would simply arrive in the new hub. Unfortunately I don’t believe the API’s are exposed to allow this to happen yet. This doesn’t solve cross-app communication however, I can’t click on an address in a tweet and have it open in the Maps Application.
Intents allow an application to specify a desired action and then to let the system decided which application should open it. This would allow a Maps application to call an intent DISPLAY_REVIEW, which the Restaurant Review app could capture and open. This isn’t perfect because the developer of the Maps application needs to know during development which intents are available and likely to be used, but it is better than not letting applications interact at all.
Intents may fragment the marketplace however - there are a few standard intents, but for most uses a new intent will have to be made. As you can imagine, not every developer will choose the same name, and until a name is standardized through use, you’ll have apps which will work with only a few others. It is understandable why Apple hasn’t gone down this route - fragmentation is not something they ‘do’.
Every application offers a small feature - but the lack of integration means that my phone can never be more than the sum of its applications. Conceivably in the future, when I add a Restaurant Review application, I could access its contents from a wide variety of apps (Foursquare, Twitter, Maps, etc). The Hubs approach is neat but only aggregates application content, however if combined with the Intention based approach this could provide a workable way so that I’m not limited to a few applications as M G Siegler was in The App Wall.