March 31, 2008

Owning the customers

When would-be-entrepreneurs ask me for advice, I always tell them the same thing: make sure you own some customers.

Amazon owns me; I make every purchase I can from them. I read their reviews and I’m addicted to one-click ordering and the Amazon Prime shipping program. I rarely look for an item from another online vendor if Amazon has it, and to get me to create a new account and order from your site instead of Amazon, you need to offer me at least a $10 discount.

Publishers and the traditional book distributors have let Amazon become the best place to research and purchase a book. And now that Amazon owns the customers, the other shoe is dropping. Amazon’s Kindle is winning (primarily because it offers 90,000 books), choking off hope for other e-book readers and distribution channels, and now Amazon’s squeezing out anyone but their own print-on-demand publisher.

Authors can already self-publish at Amazon in a way that makes their book nearly indistinguishable from a traditionally published title. With the Kindle, print-on-demand, an active user-review community, and a massive customer base with one-click ordering turned on… the publishers are in danger of becoming back-office operations for just one customer: Amazon.

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March 26, 2008

Room2Think lives on…

Two years ago Logos turned an unused office into a creative meeting space. We kept growing, though, and eventually needed the space to house our customer service and technical support departments.

Two Room2Think clients decided the concept was too good to let go, so they bought the name and re-invented Room2Think a few blocks a way.

I just stopped by their grand opening and was blown away — it’s a great space, and they’ve taken every idea we had for Room2Think and made it better. Congratulations, Kristi and Wendy, and best wishes for a huge success!

March 19, 2008

One-click purchasing will be the death of me

I’m really interested in visual navigation tools, so people send me links to things like Musicovery. It took about 30 seconds for me to find something I liked, and seconds later a copy of The Golden Gate Quartet Collection was on its way to me.

I think that is the fastest "browse to discovery to purchase" trail I’ve ever completed, and it’s a testimony not only to how Amazon’s one-click feeds my addiction to instant gratification, but the power of going "straight to the meat."

I used to design user interface that was too respectful of the user. I didn’t want to make assumptions, so my tools waited till you told them what you wanted. But I’m finding that interfaces that "serve the meat" immediately are more useful and effective. Musicovery is cool, and I browsed it for a few minutes before the novelty wore off. But I don’t know if I’d have purchased (or realized how much I like the Golden Gate Quartet) if it hadn’t started playing the samples immediately, without asking, and put the purchase link right there. (And of course, I wouldn’t have ordered if Amazon didn’t reduce that to just a "Yes!" button.)

March 19, 2008

Evil / genius

Wired Magazine gets their arms around the love/hate admiration/disgust many of us feel about Apple’s business processes. I was a 128k Mac owner and went to one of the first "everybody buys a Mac" universities. But I got fed up with the Mac ecosystem and the frustrations of developing for it, and went all PC, even working on the Windows development team at Microsoft. And now I spend every-single-day being annoyed by my Windows Mobile phone, longing for an iPhone, but resisting it because it’s locked to one carrier, doesn’t (yet) support Exchange, doesn’t have 3G, is a locked-down OS, etc.

And still knowing that it’s all that command-and-control lock-down that makes it so elegant, as opposed to the messy UI and eclectic app collection found in each Windows Mobile device.

Love / hate, open / closed, command / empower, evil / genius… it’s a messy world.

March 17, 2008

Pragmatic versus idealistic product evolution

Once again, Joel explains it all.

I wrote some MS-DOS utility programs back in the 80′s. They run just fine on Vista, and I even use one of them once in a while. 25+ years of backwards compatibility.

I can’t even load up my old Apple IIe or original Mac software.

Microsoft has gone to great pains to make sure that "things just work" with each new product release. They’ve been rewarded with massive market share, but at the price of never being able to jump very far ahead.

Apple has repeatedly reinvented itself and abandoned massive installed bases. They’ve been rewarded with the ability to jump further ahead, and they get to be super-cool, but (till now) they’ve only been able to serve the smaller market that valued cool / easy / new / beautiful over compatibility.

The world’s changed. I don’t run as many applications as I did; most of it’s on the Internet. The apps I do want to run are big, fresh, and important. They’ll always be updated to work with the latest and greatest.

In a fast-moving world of increasing complexity, I need "obvious" and "just works" (and even "beautiful") more than I need any old technology.

It’s time to push the reset button on lots of technologies. I think consumers are ready for "insanely great" solutions in every category. Many of the technologies we use every day have been too backwards-focused for too long. The built-up layers of inconvenience that each "compatible" generation accumulates have gotten too thick. Today, more than ever, we’re willing to give up the old if the new is great.

In the operating system world, virtualization is the silver bullet that allows this. Microsoft took a bold step in creating .NET and WPF, setting aside the Win16/Win32/GDI programming model, but they hacked it onto an ancient OS stack. It’s too thick. Give me a ".NET Operating System" and Windows XP in a well-integrated sandbox.

Kind of like Mac OS with a copy of XP and Parallels

(Fun thought: What if the Mac had always come with an Apple IIe emulator inside? Not a hacked OS that could run IIe apps as first-class citizens, but a literal "sandbox", like the emulators available now, that let you use the old apps in a way that didn’t cut you off, but still encouraged you to move to newer Mac apps as they became available? Could Apple have used that IIe momentum to get further with the early Mac?)

March 12, 2008

I love it when people agree with me…

Playwright David Mamet has experienced a change of mind. Rebuffing Anne Frank and his own liberal dogma, Mamet notes that

"the Constitution, rather than suggesting that all behave in a godlike manner, recognizes that, to the contrary, people are swine and will take any opportunity to subvert any agreement in order to pursue what they consider to be their proper interests."

(Or, more poetically, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" Jeremiah 17:9) He goes on to acknowledge the local, temporal blessing those of us in the USA enjoy: a form of government well adapted to this observable truth.

"The Constitution, written by men with some experience of actual government, assumes that the chief executive will work to be king, the Parliament will scheme to sell off the silverware, and the judiciary will consider itself Olympian and do everything it can to much improve (destroy) the work of the other two branches. So the Constitution pits them against each other, in the attempt not to achieve stasis, but rather to allow for the constant corrections necessary to prevent one branch from getting too much power for too long."

For more on how we fumbled our way into this constitution, I heartily recommend Joseph Ellis’s American Creation.

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