Nothing Comes for Free

Social networks are powered by you, paid for by advertisers.

I just don’t understand why the idea of web properties sponsored by advertising continues to be news. In fact, this quote from Alicia Eler from RWW sums it up pretty well:

If you pay for a product, you’re a customer. If you don’t, you’re the product. On Facebook, you are the product.

It’s applicable to just about any product or service you do not pay for. From a product management standpoint, every feature introduced is intended to maximize the value of the product. If the relationship is such that you’re paying, then the product is attempting to improve its value to you.

Conversely, if you are the product, then value is being squeezed from you. Incidentally, the advertisers are the consumer in this model. If you think that’s nefarious or shady, try an alternative. And if you find that hard to swallow, remember that the juice presser that’s squeezing you is deliberately very hard to leave.

A Few Lessons I Learned From Thanksgiving

Roast turkey by Roland Bello.

Over the past 4 years, I’ve been taking on more responsibility for the family’s Thanksgiving meal. I really enjoy the process and think of it as a showcase for recipes and techniques that I hone throughout the year. That said, there’s about 30 minutes or so right before the guests arrive, where I become highly stressed. After all, there’s plenty to worry about in terms of the food presentation, how guests will actually be served, whether there’s enough wine and refreshments, and of course the inevitable stain on your shirt that you need to clean ASAP!

So this year, I thought I’d take a little time to rethink what I do during Thanksgiving and incorporate those lessons into my preparation next year. Who knows, you might be able to take something away too!

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Discipline and the minimum viable product

With all due respect to Seth Godin, while he may be a marketing guru, his post about minimum viable product makes me think that he hasn’t participated in the product development process in a very long time, considering that his definition of minimum viable product is pretty coarse (and likely why it doesn’t work!).

As a product guy, minimum viable product is one important method with which to organize product development efforts, and to maximize the amount of benefit derived from scarce engineering, development, and management resources. In agile development circles, Product Owners work with the team to consciously choose to release “MVPs” frequently, or release a bunch of them together in an integrated package or manner. My take is that “minimum viable product” is the set of features that satisfy the core needs of your target champion audience and provides the team with the greatest return in both actionable feedback and revenue/revenue potential. More than one can go live at a time!

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Pride and Work

As a product guy in a software company, my day-to-day is abstract, communication-focused, and fast-paced. Yet when I’m at home, cooking a meal for my wife, for my friends, for my family, I feel a wellspring of pride that infuses everything I do.

There’s nothing like making something come to life, whether it’s a recipe, or a fine spirit, or a knife. As Made by Hand illustrates with these beautiful videos, there’s a value to one’s handmade work that isn’t just linked to a salary and health benefits. There is something more that’s been lost for nearly a generation of Americans, a sense of pride in their work. When someone else holds your results in their hands, savors the sensation and utility and beauty that only you could give it, that becomes another kind of benefit that we’ve lost in this age of knowledge work.

Go out and make something for someone, particularly this holiday season. I guarantee that you’ll find yourself fretting over the details, sweating the steps, and experiencing a smile on the other person’s face that’s uniquely, beautifully, and pridefully connected to your work.

A Legacy for 2011

This year has been a sad one for technology. First, it was Ken Olsen in February, the founder of DEC. Then just today, it was Steve Jobs. Both men played their role in pioneering advances in technology, but the thing I take away from these two is that they sought to make things both simpler and better. Thank you both, Ken and Steve, for having made this world a better place through your vision.

Feeding Omnivores Faster with Fire

The newest offering from Amazon, the Amazon Kindle Fire, is a genius stroke to expand its core business of being the world’s marketplace! The key is in the fact that the device’s sole purpose is to minimize the friction of acquiring and consuming electronic media of many stripes (i.e. ebooks, video, music). And by doing so via its impressive computing infrastructure, Amazon is able to also tap into its customers’ browsing and consumption behavior to feed its omnivores even faster.

It is particularly telling that Jeff Bezos is honest enough to state:

We don’t think of the Kindle Fire as a tablet. We think of it as a service.

At this point, Amazon’s not competing with Apple; Kindle Fire to iPad comparisons are oranges and apples (pun intended!). Amazon is instead pursuing its original intention all along, by taking on the entire digital media industry and making Amazon an indispensible, frictionless, and fast service provider to consumers everywhere.

ProductCampNYC 2011!

I’ve gone to ProductCampNYC for the past few years, and it’s always a great experience! This year was the first year that I submitted some ideas for speaking, and I was fortunate that folks were interested in HTML5 (or at least, as much as I am!). But my bigger takeaway this year was from the keynote speaker, Brian Fitzgerald of Knewton, and his very keen comments on a “Product Culture.” In short, I think of the culture as the thing that gets everyone pointed in the right direction, while his point about focus gets everyone moving quickly in that direction. I’ve seen situations where Product folks resist investing the time to contribute to the culture, and that’s a real shame. If anything, I believe that Product folks are responsible for motivating customers to engage with the product, as well as motivating the team to build, iterate, and innovate.

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HTML5 versus native: which way should you go?

Over the last few months, there’s been so much turmoil in the touchscreen tablet space! Consider:

  1. HP’s newest foray into tablet computing, not with a Windows OS but instead with WebOS, subsequently gets beheaded in under 2 months after the TouchPad’s launch.
  2. Android’s Honeycomb and Gingerbread tablets are growing in number, but not so much in market share.
  3. RIM’s launch of the Playbook is widely acknowledged as a flop.
  4. Apple’s iPad 2 launch in March is one of the most successful product launches in recent history.
  5. And last but not least (by a slim margin), Microsoft continues to plug away with its Windows 7 stopgap strategy while working on Windows 8.

As a product person who’s been working on a HTML5-based offline web application, it’s been an exciting ride! So far, the recent events underscore several key ideas that product folks should take into account: platform flexibility, platform longevity, and control over the platform. Continue reading