Web 2.0

Compel me to continue

Web site registration is usually more stick than carrot. The worst sites are those that require you to register before providing any indication of the benefits that will be accrued from entering yet another username and another password. (Bring on OpenID and single sign-on).

Geni.com breaks that rule of not placing a registration barrier before customers can interact with your site, but they get away with it. How? Registration is hardly a barrier – it is only a request for an email. The first page you view visually articulates the proposition, compelling you to continue. To add an email is hardly an onerous task. There’s no request for password, no T’s and C’s. The password is covered by the email they send you, and do we really need the small print that no-one reads anyway… Besides, logging in is only relevant the next time you visit the site, by which time you will probably already be committed. Not only is proposition itself is really compelling, the execution is excellent. The guys behind this have obviously spent some time thinking about the design and the usability. They could easily have jumped on the community site bandwagon and built something to obtain VC investment. But they’ve gone one step further and built something that engages not only on content, but also on interaction.

How quick can you jump on the trend?

Here’s a bunch of marketing trends for 2007, predicted in In December 2006.  A year is a short time period, we are already more than a quarter of the way through the year – how many of these trends are making inroads beyond the pure play eCommerce offerings.  How many are filtering through into FTSE 100?

Not many is my hunch.  How familiar is it for the marketing department to come up with an idea, only to have it disapear into the IT quagmire of architecturual incompatibility, budget constraints, change requests and innovation inertia?   And of the list of 7 trends, the one that will probably get most traction in the corporatesphere is contentcasting.  Trouble with that is, it is one thing to syndicate your content as RSS feeds, but who will consume it?

Just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should

Following a recent Economist article, JP Rangaswami blogged about “can versus should“. His theme was around DRM and identity; just because the government can monitor your digital behaviour does not mean that they should. I like this, but think it can be extended to much of the IT domain.

Web 2.0 introduces many new styles of interaction, drag and drop, take over the right-hand mouse button… just because we can do these things doesn’t necessarily mean that we should. What will the impact be? Hide calls to action behind the mouse button on your site and your site alone, how does the user know to find them there? When building a “deluxe web” site at the forefront of mind should be how will people actually interact with the proposition. Just because we can do some technically cool stuff that would give us a buzz and gain nods of appreciation from our technical colleagues, doesn’t mean that we should. A customer who has come to the proposition probably requires clarity and an ability to accomplish their goals. They care very little for the stuff we can do.

Multiple select on a list - check boxes or web deluxe take over the mouse?
And then there is mobile. Just because we can deliver the ability to enable customers to watch TV on their phones, doesn’t mean that we should. Too often new propositions are driven by IT ability rather than consumer demand. WAP was a great example of this; IT consultants getting excited about delivering content on mobile phones using WAP, completely overlooking what a shocking experience it was and simultaneously missing what consumers actually wanted to do – text message.

Do you want to be famous?

I’m in Hong Kong and my wife and Children are out here with me. When we walk on the streets with my daughter sitting on my shoulders many people stare and point. Over the weekend we went to a beach and people were pointing their camera and taking photos of her. None more so than the mainland Chinese in their coach parties. It’s not every day they see a blond three year old with a riot of curly blond hair. And it bothers me. Who are they to take pictures of my children. Some peope ask and I generally refuse. I begin to get a feel for what I might me like to be a celebrity. There is however, a lack of consistency in my approach. Why will I not let the Chinese tourists take photos, yet I post my own on Flickr for all the world to see? My rationale for Flickr is to let family members to see our pictures, but they are in the public domain.

We live in (the UK) a world where 1 in 7 teenagers wants to “be famous” when they grow up. Not “be rich” as is used to be – there was an implication of effort and graft in that statement, no-one got rich by doing nothing at all. But now it is possible to get rich by being talentless and doing nothing but being on a reality TV show. A sad state of affairs I feel. And anyway, who would want to be famous, to have random people pointing at you and sticking their camera phones in your face? I certainly didn’t like my brief experience of that.
But then I must wonder. With social networking is there an element of all of us wanting to become famous? I’m broadcasting to the world who I am via flickr, through my blog (and I watch how many subscribers I have and strive for a higher ranking within technorati). I look at google analytics to see who is visiting my site (Hello Hanoi, Singapore, Kuopio and Buffalo). I increase my professional network on Linkedin. Maybe I put my videos of myself on Youtube or MySpace. It is all about creating a personal cult of fame. Maybe I don’t like the TV version of it, but I think that on the web I’m hooked. I do want to be famous. Grrrrrrr.

When I was 16 I worked in a bank. Customers would ring up and ask for their account balance and I type on the green screen 809 for a simple balance. I can’t remember the code for a breakdown of transactions. I couldn’t use that system now. One of the benefits of command line prompts is that they are efficient. As a “power user” it would be difficult for a GUI to beat <809 account number>. Because the GUI can be cumbersome and requires mouse movement when only a few keystrokes would suffice. Power users love commands line prompts. But in the hands of a novice the command line is useless.

Cue Google.

google calendar

A pretty cool feature in Google calendar- the ability to “quick add” an event. Rather than the cumbersome use of date pickers and fields and boxes, the quick add function allows me to create a calendar entry using natural language. I type “meet Fred in the office at 9 tomorrow” (the language I use when describing my intention) and the meeting is set up. No need for fields and boxes and date pickers. So maybe it is time to rethink command line prompts using natural language with forgiving rules. Imagine being able to type “move £50 from my current account to my savings account” rather than the more usual current:

Page 1 – Step 1. Select from account. (Wait)
Page 2 – Step 2. Select to account. (Wait)
Page 3 – Step 3. Enter amount. (Wait)
Page 4 – Step 4. Confirm transaction. (Wait)


WWW. Why. Why. Why.

The www prefix is redundant. Technically, and now, given the ubiquitous nature of the web, in marketing as well. So why do companies insist on retaining it. Worse, why do some companies have URLs that only work with the www.? This is sloppy, a couple of lines of code would direct either company.com or www.company.com to the correct IP address. There are some big names who suffer from this sloppiness. Will ’07 be the year that WWW, an acronym that takes longer to say than to write, drifts into history?

Going pre-technical

Developers who no longer code refer to themselves as going “post-technical”.  I’m never sure if this is a badge of honour or not.  For someone who is pretty non-technical, I am delighted to announce that I’ve gone “pre-technical”.  I’ve got an apache web server running on my local machine with a mySQL server all courtesy of the delightfully simple Apache Friends XAMPP.  In only a few minutes I had it up and running (and after an internet basics 101 with Dan North) and a couple of clicks I’d installed WordPress on my laptop.   I can now play around with different designs and start making this website exhibit the sort of production values that I strive for with clients. 

What’s the value in changing colour?

As a registered user, I want to change the colour scheme on the web site so that…

Where’s the value in this story? Agile focuses upon business value, and in doing so it commoditise features. The sponsors of the development are invited to prioritise features based on their “business value”. This means that seemingly pointless gimmicks will slip out. And this may impact the overall experience that the sponsors strive for. Yet by commoditising features the sponsor sees how the costs break down. To have functionality that changes the colour of the site will require effort. It’s not going to come for free. And that means that either scope will increase resulting in either increased cost or increased time. The challenge is when you have a sponsor who knows just a little: “changing colour? Pah! That’s a bit of JavaScript and changes to the stylesheet. I could get the code on hotscripts and knock it up in front of the telly tonight…

And of the requirement to change colour on a site, in fact that whole customisation thing? Until recently I’ve never seen the value of it. After all, how many people have you seen with a personalised theme on their windows desktop, or even just changing the desktop background? One reason people don’t do this is because they are lazy. The call to action to change it is hidden behind a right click, and it’s not exactly straight forward to do. But there’s a bunch of new sites that challenge the user’s laziness. These seemingly pointless customisation features are part of the overall experience. And they work. And by doing that, they add value to the site.

Customers are not your enemy

Paired programming can be daunting to developers who have not done it before. The thought of some someone else looking over your shoulder whilst you work can be met with resistance. And yet the benefits of the transparency that paired programming brings are well documented.

B2B organisations display similar traits to the developer who is resistant to paired programming. They don’t want anyone looking over their shoulders until they are comfortable with what they are doing. And that includes customers. In my experience, the bigger the “B” and the smaller the “2B” the harder it is to gain access to the people we are developing the product for.

It’s not like this in the B2C world, where organisations understand the need to talk to their customers, to do market research, to test propositions. In the B2B world, organisations become far more protective. There is a fear that if we talk to our customers we will be making promises that we cannot keep. We will be building expectations that will inevitably be broken. In the B2C world you can show what you like to customers, if the final product bears no resemblance to the ideas we’ve tested in focus groups it doesn’t matter. The conversation with the customer is part of the process. We do not assume any “customer memory,” indeed the fact that we have explored different ideas and propositions with customers is seen as a positive; it can feature in the PR associated with the product release. If you release a product to market that looks nothing like what you’d explored in early focus groups it really doesn’t matter. You are selling to a segment that is bigger than a focus group of 12. But what if you customer base is small. What if there is a customer memory, that the people you test propositions with are the people we depend on selling to. The people who will keep us in business. In such a scenario it is understandable why you become protective of your ideas and fear saying anything to your customers until you are confident that you can deliver it. Trouble is, by that stage it may be too late. You are committed to a path of action that can be costly to change. What is required is some transparency and honesty; creating a dialogue as early as possible.

So here is the challenge for B2B organisations with a small, high value customer base. Open yourselves up. Be honest, open and transparent. Web 2.0 is all about collaboration and social networking. That shouldn’t just be about me sharing my photos on flickr, my videos on YouTube, my bookmarks on delicious. Product managers should be blogging about what is happening on the product they are developing for their customers. Customers should be commenting on the progress that is being made; they should have a direct channel to the development team, not via layers of corporate Chinese whispers. Here’s a challenge to the business in B2B organisations; get blogging. Stop fearing your customers and worrying about failing to meet what you perceive them to expect. Once you are transparent to your customers and proactively manage their expectations you can venture on a more successful and profitable journey as partners, not as adversaries.

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