Category Archives: Web/Tech

Future Shock Top 10 Backwards Look

Telephone Circa 1970Ah yes, the good old days. How quickly time passes. And I can’t help occasionally browsing through technology looking back. My youngest daughter is in her late twenties now. She can barely remember life before cellphones, and can’t remember life before personal computers or VCRs, because both of those were born before she was. I was talking a grandkid the other day, and she couldn’t conceive of a world before amazon.com.

Every so often I get reminded how far we’ve come. When I graduated from college in 1970:

  1. The university had a computer in a basement that took up the space of an SUV and had way less power than an iPhone does now. Computer science students programmed it with perforated cards.
  2. The dorms had one phone per floor. Long distance calling costs were significant. I was in the Midwest, so I’d call my parents in California once every couple of months.
  3. We wrote letters. We read letters.
  4. We used typewriters for every college essay, paper, and assignment. We’d often retype an entire page to correct an error. Sometimes we’d reword things to make the pages end or begin with the correct word so we could insert an additional page.
  5. Four-function calculators existed, but nobody we knew had one. You could have bought a new low-end car for the price of two four-function calculators.
  6. I did my sophomore year abroad, and the university sent us from New York to Europe on an ocean liner. That was cheaper than flying.
  7. We wrote checks when we had to, used cash most of the time, and we got the cash from the bank teller window, not an ATM.
  8. Credit cards were rare. Our parents had them.
  9. Television was broadcast over the air. We watched in real time or not at all. We had 5 or 10 channels to choose from.
  10. When we were driving we listened to the hits on AM radio mostly, or cassette tapes when we could.

And that’s just technology, or a smattering of technology.  When I think of social evolution, and environmental deterioration, the end of the cold war, the rise of terrorism, polar ice caps … like we used to say: “far out, man.”

Tools, Productivity, And Bright Shiny Distractions

Is this you?  Over and over again, you fall off on regular consistent organizational practices like to-do lists, emails, planning, backing up your computer … then you run across some cool new productivity tool. You jump on the bandwagon enthusiastically, promising yourself that you’re finally going to get organized and stay organized. You spend happy hours reorganizing everything to fit the new tool. Then, over time, as the novelty wears off, you end up right back where you started, with the same problems. Cool productivity tools, no productivity.

And then you find a new cool tool and run the same cycle over again.

This is me and productivity tools

I will tell you that this is definitely me. I’ve done this all my life. I veer off to a new organization system like a dumb fish following a shiny new lure in the water. And I see other people doing it too, all the time, all around me. You don’t need a new spreadsheet, or to-do list software, or project planning system; you need to use what you have regularly.

I end up wasting the time it takes to reorganize to the mindset of the cool new tool, repeatedly, instead of managing to follow up on any one thing consistently over a long time.

And what works in the real world is not the tool, not any of the damn tools, but rather the following up. It’s the human behavior that matters, the good habits, consistently applying methods, not getting bored with it, not rationalizing out of it.

I apologize for mixing metaphors with this, but I can’t resist referring to the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, with “Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.” Given the world we live in, computers and the Web, it’s something like: “tools, tools everywhere, and not a drop of productivity.”

Or so it seems.

Now, the question: what are we going to do about it?

Disturbing Questions About Productivity and Technology

Have you heard the standard cliche: “Necessity is the Mother of Invention?” In business productivity and technology, in my experience at least,  the old standard is reversed: the new truth is that “Invention is the Mother of Necessity.”

Huge Changes in Productivity and Technology

For example:

  1. Spreadsheets and Budgeting: When I started in business analysis back in the middle 1970s we didn’t have spreadsheets, and a budget was rarely more than a list of numbers on a yellow pad processed with a calculator and a pen. Then came Visicalc, and shortly after that Lotus 1-2-3 and then Excel. Now, not at all by coincidence, everybody in business does a whole lot more budgeting and spreadsheets than we ever would have imagined back then.So what’s happened is that because spreadsheets made budgeting more accessible, the world started demanding more budgets. To me, this is a good thing. Budgeting is good for business. You could argue, however, that maybe the world of small and medium-sized business was better off when the world summarized budgets into a few key items.Ultimately, in this case, I think it’s obvious that we do more budgets because budgets are easier to do
  2. Desktop publishing and business documents: I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the same thing happen with desktop publishing. Before desktop publishing appeared with the Macintosh and the Apple Laserwriter in the middle 1980s, people put business correspondence onto simple pages printed onto letterhead paper. Nowadays we take desktop publishing techniques for granted. People routinely merge graphics and text onto simple memos and letters and standard business documents, without thinking twice about it.
  3. From paper to online: Speaking of documents, the idea of the paperless office was first popular in the 1980s but is still largely a dream. I checked for this post, and was surprised to discover that the use of printer and copy paper in the U.S. continues to grow. What? What about the cloud, accounting and bookkeeping online, electronic documents, and email, all of which is moving to mobile phones? It hasn’t cut into paper consumption. Yet. Well, to be fair, it has in my office … but not for the world, or the U.S., according to available statistics. Why is that?
  4. 24×7 connectivity and availability: How often do you get the delightful experience of somebody complaining that they had to wait an hour or two to hear from you, or get your answer, or your response to some question or business issue? It may seem odd now, but it wasn’t that long ago that people were disconnected for hours at a time because they were in a meeting, or driving, doing errands, or having a life. A two-hour drive was two hours alone, to collect ideas and review thoughts. There’s research indicating we’d all be better off with an hour or two a day of reflection, meaning silence, dealing with thoughts. But take a look at the line of people waiting for coffee. They are all connected.

Did This Improve Productivity?

That’s an interesting question. We can answer this for ourselves, anecdotally, and probably come up with a better answer than what the statistics give us. Is budgeting better now than in the days of yellow pads and calculators? Are we communicating better? Are we getting more done? There was a time when I would have been tempted to say no, that it hasn’t improved productivity.  More recently I’ve changed my mind.  Having built a business makes me sure that we benefit from the power of more detailed budgeting, and running through the daily process of management made me pretty sure that business documents are generally better communicators with desktop publishing than without.

Statistics are very hard to work with in this area. I’ve found that the average hours worked per week have declined significantly since the 1950s; but so has the work itself, right? We were an assembly line nation in 1955, and now we’re a keyboard and thumb nation. Who’s counting the constant availability by phone?

US Work Week

On the other hand, there’s this, from Why is Productivity so Weak, in the New York Times, just last month:

“Despite constant advances in software, equipment and management practices to try to make corporate America more efficient, actual economic output is merely moving in lock step with the number of hours people put in, rather than rising as it has throughout modern history.

“We could chalk that up to a statistical blip if it were a single year; productivity data are notoriously volatile. But this has been going on for some time. From 2011 through 2015, the government’s official labor productivity measure shows only 0.4 percent annual growth in output per hour of work. That’s the lowest for a five-year span since the 1977-to-1982 period, and far below the 2.3 percent average since the 1950s.”

US Productivity Trends

Here too, what is productivity? The labor department has a global measure of output per hour, but that’s not the way we work anymore.

I still worry that the increased productivity that technology offers us has just raised the bar of what’s acceptable. Now that we can do the numbers powerfully, we do more numbers, which drowns us in numbers. Now that we can do documents that look way better, without the hassle of publishing and layout, we demand better looking documents. And now that we can communicate from anywhere, at any time, we demand more communication.

What do you think? Are we better off?

Invention is the Mother of Necessity: Technology and Productivity

Productivity SoftwareHave you heard the standard cliche: “Necessity is the Mother of Invention?” In business technology and productivity, in my experience at least,  the old standard is reversed: the new truth is that Invention is the Mother of Necessity.”

For example:

  1. Spreadsheets and Budgeting: When I started in business analysis back in the middle 1970s we didn’t have spreadsheets, and a budget was rarely more than a list of numbers on a yellow pad processed with a calculator and a pen. Then came Visicalc, and shortly after that Lotus 1-2-3 and then Excel. Now, not at all by coincidence, everybody in business does a whole lot more budgeting and spreadsheets than we ever would have imagined back then.So what’s happened is that because spreadsheets made budgeting more accessible, the world started demanding more budgets. To me, this is a good thing. Budgeting is good for business. You could argue, however, that maybe the world of small and medium-sized business was better off when the world summarized budgets into a few key items.Ultimately, in this case, I think it’s obvious that we do more budgets because budgets are easier to do
  2. Desktop publishing and business documents: I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the same thing happen with desktop publishing. Before desktop publishing appeared with the Macintosh and the Apple Laserwriter in the middle 1980s, people put business correspondence onto simple pages printed onto letterhead paper. Nowadays we take desktop publishing tecniques for granted. People routinely merge graphics and text onto simple memos and letters and standard business documents, without thinking twice about it.

Did This Improve Productivity?

That’s an interesting question. Ten years ago I would have been tempted to say no, that it hasn’t improved productivity.  More recently I’ve changed my mind.  Running a company makes me sure that we benefit from the power of more detailed budgeting, and running through the daily process of management makes me pretty sure that business documents are generally better communicators with desktop publishing than without.

What do you think?

Startups: The High of Creation, the Wizard of Oz

(Note: this is a rare guest post, the third in the right-year history of this blog. It was originally published in Medium as Why We Startup: the High of Creation and the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by Megan Berry, head of product @RebelMouse, my daughter. I’m reposting because it captures the thrill, and the work, of developing software.) 

Startup Magic

I first did magic when I was eleven. I made a lemon dance across a screen. It looked effortless but it took me countless hours. I debated the lemon’s smile; I finagled the dancing animation; I almost quit, but I did it. I put it on my site and watched it dance.

The (not currently) dancing lemon
The (not currently) dancing lemon

Just like the Wizard of Oz I had discovered the truth: magic requires a lot of hard work and a curtain. And there is no high like successfully pulling off magic.
So why do we throw our lives into startups, working long hours, fighting through daily failures and (mostly) not being paid enough? I don’t think it’s for some future payoff. Instead, we’re addicts seeking that next high.

You might think this high comes from having an idea. Certainly, there is joy in an idea. It can energize, inspire and push you to do great things. But it is fragile and could fall apart with one wrong word or bad day. The true startup addict knows that ideas are too fleeting for the high you’re really chasing.
The high comes from creating something out of nothing. Because, after all, what is more magic than that?

Magic in Programming

So, together, we work hard behind our curtain. We nurture our ideas into a plan. We start building, brick by brick. We change our plan. We build more. Halfway through we look at what we’re building and are sure everything is going wrong. We panic and then push harder. The last 10% seems to take as long as the previous 90%. Finally, we release. Our idea is live. It is all worth it.

All too soon the high is gone and we must start again. Looking for our next tweak, our next idea. Searching for our next creation high. Won’t you join us? We might even let you look behind the curtain.

 

 

Does Digital Saving Threaten Real Memory?

camera blindness

I once saw a man walking around the inside the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, taking it all in only through the very narrow view of his amateur movie camera viewfinder. The irony swept over me: he was not seeing it while he was there. Instead, he was recording it to see later.  And I wondered: Would he really go back, later, and watches those vast hours of unedited videos? Hadn’t he exchanged his time in the cathedral for video footage nobody would ever watch?

Then last week I read the following: 

Recent tests have found that people who think a computer will save their information recall much less of it than those led to believe the machine will delete it.

Followed by:

Fairfield University psychologist Linda Henkel believes something similar may be happening with digital photography. The more easily people can take and access pictures, she says, the less inclined they may be to remember the moment itself. “You’re just kind of mentally discounting it–thinking, ‘Well, the camera’s got it,'” Henkel tells Co.Design.

That’s from Digital Cameras Are Messing With Your Memory on fastcodesign.com. Post author  Eric Jaffe opens that post with this wonderful lead:

Socrates once feared that technology would corrupt human memory. Quaint as it sounds today, he was worried about a form of communication called writing. The more easily people could access something in a document, he reasoned, the less inclined they’d be to remember it.

So that goes back to Socrates. He was thousands of years ahead of his time. He had no idea. But we do, now. What can we call it: “click-save blindness?” 

(image: my mashup.)

Make Your Website Real-time For Free (Putting Social First, of Course)

Today Rebelmouse dropped the $9.99 monthly fee on using Rebelmouse to power your own website at your own domain. Here’s the announcement post with the details. The key quote is:

Rebelmouse drops subscription fee

We’re now giving away many of the features that used to come with a $9.99 a month price tag for free, including the ability to make RebelMouse your own website on yourname.com!

I think it’s a great business move. Traffic on Rebelmouse.com has soared to more than 15 million unique visits monthly, and some major brands and media (Time, NBC, Burger King, ESPN) have caught on and are using it regularly. That success with enterprise makes it a good business move to open up more to individuals and small business. Which means even more traffic.

How can you use this in your business? Rebelmouse channels a social media stream to a website. In effect, it turns your social media engagement, or choices you make with hashtags or other blogs, into a perpectually-updating automatic website. This turns social media into a tangible web asset you can use.

Yesterday Dan Lyons posted Top Marketers Raving About Rebelmouse in Hubspot. And my favorite example is where I consolidate all my blog posts, automatically, at blog.timberry.com, which uses Rebelmouse to automatically catch all my blog posts using RSS feeds. And I also use it for our blog.eugene-social.com.

You can sign up for Rebelmouse for free at www.rebelmouse.com.

(Disclosure: I’m quite biased. Proud, actually, because the founder of Rebelmouse is my son Paul and its director of community is my daughter Megan. And I have a very small financial interest too.)

New Fremium Formula Pits Revenue Against User Satisfaction

What would you think of a restaurant that offered really good food, but the salad is free and the dressing is extra? The potatoes are free but the sour cream is extra. The soup is free but heating it costs extra. And table service is free if you wait two hours, but table service in 20 minutes costs extra.  

That’s sort of what’s happening with a free mobile app that’s generating a ton of money (It’s been called “a big public test of freemium.”) and a lot of user hostility at the same time. I’m fascinated by the trade-offs here. 

Real Racing 3 complaints

It’s an auto racing game: Real Racing 3, published by Electronic Arts. It’s a free download for both iOS and Android phones and tablets. It shows up very high in multiple mobile app revenue tracking reports, such as the App Annie Index — which means it makes lots of money. 

It’s a great game. It’s won several app awards. You drive fast racing cars over simulated tracks. Tilt your mobile device to steer. Use a finger on the right hand to accelerate, one from the left to brake. I’m not a typical gamer, but I do play this one and I like it. 

Playing it for free takes real patience. It works with inside-game money to buy, fix, and upgrade cars. In practice, you either repeat races a lot, wait a lot, or buy game money with real money. The rewards for winning races don’t cover the game money requirements to keep upgrading to better cars and better races. Fixing cars takes time but you can buy time with game money, and you can buy game money with real money. Buying cars is required to move up the degree of difficulty, but the reward for a win isn’t enough to sustain the normal flow of new cars needed, so you either repeat races of go to the store to get more game money. 

https://i0.wp.com/www.148apps.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/2013-02-23-at-17-14-49-1-600x338.png?w=560

In my case, because I’m not patient, I’ve spent more money on it than I care to admit. I’ve bought game money repeatedly to speed things up. And still, after an embarrassing amount already spent, I’d need about five million game dollars to buy and upgrade the cars I need to complete the levels I’m involved with. And while technically I can afford the $99.95 the game wants from me now, I’m starting to question my common sense and I don’t want to be an easy mark or a soft touch. So I’m repeating races and waiting. And cooking up rationalizations for later. 

And I’m absolutely fascinated by the trade-offs here. This is so different from normal price-value tradeoffs. This is not the elasticity we all grew up with. 

The publisher controls  the game-money reward for wins, the waiting times, game-money repair costs, game-money purchase price, and game-money upgrades price. Those factors determine the real-money cost to play the game at various levels of patience and waiting. So it’s very much as if they pit revenue against user satisfaction. It’s more money for more hostility, and less money for less hostility. 

Which do you want: Happy users, or more money? You can’t have both. 

Some Recent Blog Posts Elsewhere

Because you might be interested in these … 

I posted How to project expenses for a new business overnight on the SBA (small business administration) Industry Word blog. It’s a step-by-step how-to piece on exactly what it says in the title. 

Yesterday and today I posted two different posts on James Altucher’s Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Starting a Business, posted on TechCrunch over the weekend. The first was good advice, bad advice, land mines on the path to heaven, on gust.com, yesterday. The second was James Altucher On How and How Not to Look Professional Raising Investment Money on Up and Running. 

Obviously I liked his “cheat sheet” post.

 

 

Is It Stupid to Ask for a Better Email Address?

He asked me about my business plan review, something I like doing, and that I charge for. I should be happy, right? And forthcoming? 

bigstock paranoia boy in tin hat

But his email address is three letters having nothing to do with his name, plus three numbers, at yahoo.com (like nnn###@yahoo.com). So I asked him, before sending a work sample, to give me a better email address or identify himself better. 

Am I off base? Is that stupid? Like blowing off a potential client? 

On one hand, maybe this person just doesn’t want to use real email because he (or she) doesn’t want me to spam back. I get that. Nobody I know likes to give an email address to the wrong person.

On the other hand, from my side, it feels like I’m corresponding with, even sending information to, somebody who has a generic name and generic email address, a complete throwaway address. There’s no web footprint at all. 

What do you think? 

And too bad, too. Right? That it’s dumb to just trust? And who trusts first: Him (or her) or me?