June 17, 2013 at 5:13pm
Jonathan Safran Foer writing for the NY Times:
We live in a world made up more of story than stuff. We are creatures of memory more than reminders, of love more than likes. Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be messy, and painful, and almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die.
I don’t agree with Safran Foer’s pessimistic view that technology is negatively impacting our ability to be compassionate, to care, and to love. As Christopher wrote on Twitter, “it’s an easy excuse to blame technology instead of owning your relationships and behavior.”
I highlighted Safran Foer’s conclusion not only because it’s beautiful but because technology helps us do exactly what he concludes it doesn’t: be attentive to the needs of others.
June 7, 2013 at 11:16am
The Theoretical User
When everyone ‘knows someone who knows someone’ who will use the feature, but nobody in the room will use the feature, it’s probably not the feature to build.
There’s an easy way to test the interest of these theoretical users: go and talk to them.
June 5, 2013 at 11:56am
Cap Watkins writes about the designer/engineer relationship but it’s applicable to an entire organization:
Tie your ego to the final product, not to the process of getting there. Consider nothing sacred… When there’s no fear of being wrong or throwing out work, you’re free to move more quickly and work together instead of in silos.
The other side of this: be relentless in weeding out people who make feedback personal.
Intel’s new CEO Brian Krzanich in an internal memo:
“As your CEO I am committed to making quick, informed decisions. I am committed to being bolder, moving faster, and accepting that this means changes will be made knowing that we will listen, learn and then make adjustments in order to keep pace with a rapidly changing industry. Our business faces significant challenges, and we simply must continue to execute while finalizing our future strategy,”
Given how quickly the world is changing, finalizing a strategic plan and then executing against it is a solid way to increase the likelihood of failure.
It’s important to think strategically but it’s more important to start moving forward. Momentum is the oxygen for any company, especially so at a startup.
As a constant reminder of this I have this great quote from Herb Kelleher framed in my office: ”We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.”
Intel finds itself in a difficult place, having missed the shift to mobile. I’m not sure that they can fully recover but the pace Krzanich has set in his first 30 days gives hope.
Design for Obviousness
“Complexity is the enemy of ubiquity.”
This great line from Chris Anderson brought to mind the following Einstein quote:
“Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
I love these as a way to frame product decisions.
Everyone knows the downsides of complexity. The problem is that few people have the discipline to say no and fewer will accept that their app is complex.
Less people will acknowledge that there’s downside to being overly simple. Often, this is a case where design-in-how-it-looks wins out over design-in-how-it-works and a feature is delivered in a way that is ‘too cute by half.’
Too complex overwhelms. Too simple baffles. The sweet spot? Obviousness. What can be done, and how to do it, should be clear to the user.
The Importance of Writing
Here are two posts about writing that are worth reading.
First, Farhad Manjoo on the importance of writing well:
Writing is really just a formalized way of thinking. Writing turns all those ideas that are flitting about your brain into a coherent picture of the world.
Second, Bryce Roberts on writing as a competitive advantage:
Writing can be intimidating, even challenging. But I believe it will be an increasingly important medium for getting work done and convincing others of our ideas
As with any skill, learning to write well takes effort but it is valuable and it does provide a competitive advantage.
Fred Wilson and his blog come to mind when thinking about this. Fred’s blog is clearly an asset to him and his firm. AVC is a daily read for so many of us in the industry for numerous reasons, one being that Fred is a wonderful writer. But this wasn’t always the case. When he started writing - what, 7 or 8 years ago now? - Fred’s writing was pretty mediocre. Today, after writing a post ever day for years, Fred’s writing is a joy to read.
Think of the VCs who started and abandoned blogs in recent years. Their arithmetic for quitting was likely straightforward: too much effort, too little reward. Had they had the discipline to stick with it and improve the quality and efficiency of their writing the equation may have computed differently.
More of us should practice writing with the discipline that we bring to other areas of our lives. It may be painful, frustrating, and inefficient in the short run, but it’s an investment that will pay off in time.
Tumblr and the Emotional Bonds of a Startup
There has been a lot of coverage of Tumblr’s exit to Yahoo. Here are my two favorite pieces:
This photo of the founder, David, and the early investor, Bijan.
This post from the first employee, Marco.
A startup is an emotional experience that’s shared between a small number of people. Amidst the news and analysis of the transaction, I love how touching and sweet the photo and post are.
The Disaggregation of Photo Management
Peter Nixey’s post, along with the comments and related Hacker News discussion, highlight the current frustrations with photo management.
Historically, photo management was solved by a single product, such as iPhoto, that did a reasonable job for most people. Photos were taken at events, synced manually over a cable, organized around events and albums, edited using the photo management software’s tools, saved locally, and shared directly.
The shift to mobile devices and the rise of cameras that are always connected has changed things. It has changed how we take photos, our sync and save expectations, our organization methods, and our sharing behavior.
Adding to the problem is that there isn’t a common way that we manage our photos. Individual needs and expectations differ across all aspects of photo management.
My guess on the solution? The disaggregation of photo management.
Companies such as Dropbox will provide the plumbing (sync and save).
Companies such as Aviary will power the editing functionality across a variety of services.
Organize and share will be increasingly coupled, delivered by a number of different services (startups in this space today: Tracks, Albumatic, Cluster, Days, etc.)
Even browse and discovery experiences are changing. Services will increasingly leverage context to deliver photos in intelligent ways (see Timehop’s Dropbox integration).
All of this raises the question: what does this mean for startups like Picturelife and Everpix that, from sync to save, are working on the entire photo management problem?
May 16, 2013 at 10:15am
Good products provide value. Great products delight.
Timehop provides value through nostalgia, showing you what you did today, in previous years.
A Twitter search reveals that users love and loathe Timehop. It all depends on what was happening in their lives in previous years on this day. Regardless of the feeling, Timehop provides value by helping you revisit the past. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion.
Far more interesting is the benefit that Timehop enjoys by delivering delight to their users. There’s a whimsicalness to Abe, Timehop’s cartoon dinosaur mascot, that breathes personality into the experience. Users love Abe and this love creates an affinity for the app.
This morning I noticed the hint of a shadow at the top of the settings page. I pulled down to see a dancing Abe and a trail disappearing up the screen. After walking my thumbs down I reached the end of the trail and was treated to a reward that made me smile.
It’s whimsical and playful. It shows an understanding of human behavior. Most importantly it’s an experience that was purposefully designed into the app and created delight in the most mundane of places: the settings screen.
May 15, 2013 at 10:22am
Kevin Ashton on the importance of saying no:
Time is the raw material of creation. Wipe away the magic and myth of creating and all that remains is work… Saying “no” has more creative power than ideas, insights and talent combined. No guards time, the thread from which we weave our creations. The math of time is simple: you have less than you think and need more than you know.
Too few people understand this.
Don’t take that coffee or call. Do not build that tangential feature. Say no to TV. Don’t attend that event. There’s no need for another meeting.