2010 through the lens of Google

It’s nearly 2011, which means that it is once again time for the the biggest consumer web companies to review the past year through the lens of their products.

Yahoo has done this for years, and you can see it once again right here. In an upset for the ages, the BP oil spill supposedly beat out Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian for the top web search, but those of us in-the-know know better. Attractive women always beat out depressing disasters. Does Yahoo think that we forget about Britney Spears’ dynasty in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008?

Facebook and Twitter are newer entrants to this annual tradition, and that inexperience shows in each of their low-budget efforts, Facebook’s 2010 Memology and Twitter’s top trends. In a clear sign that I’m no longer cool (or probably never was), a 3-letter acronym that I’ve never heard of in my life – HMU (“hit me up”) – was the top trend on Facebook. Am I really the last one to catch on to this trend? And why do people keep claiming that teens don’t use Twitter? Who else over the age of 18 would tweet about Justin Beiber?

But the best review of the year goes to Google. Lists are boring. They are so 2009. This year Googled upped the ante. They wrapped all of the year’s trends up into a cool video, layered in some inspiring music, and captured screencasts of the world surfing the web. The thing I really like about it is that they didn’t limit themselves to just web search. Sure, we still use web search all of the time, but what about all of the other web applications we use to make our lives easier – products like news, images, maps, profiles, gmail, gtalk, and YouTube? In 2010, web technologies influence us more than ever before. They inform us. They make us more productive. They entertain us. Very simply, they make our lives better. Google embraces this and puts it on display here. Take a look for yourself below.

On a related side note, where is Apple in all of this? I want to see a 2010 year in review video through the lens of my iPhone, dammit! Can someone please make this?

2010 through the lens of Google

Securing your data in an increasingly mobile world

Luckily I haven’t lost my iPhone or iPad yet, but rather than wait for the inevitable I recently decided to do something about this big security hole. In addition to using these devices for personal purposes, I also use them for business reasons which means it could be a real problem if someone else were to get unauthorized access. Thanks to Apple’s Mobile Me product, protecting yourself from this potential disaster is free and painless to set up. By following these simple instructions (iPhone and iPad) I was up and running in less than 5 minutes.

Once you get the system going, you’ll be safe if you ever leave the device behind in a coffee shop, airport or anywhere else you hang out. You can look at a map to see exactly where it’s located. You can send the phone an alert message to try and recover it. And if you’re worried about sensitive data, you can remote wipe and/or lock the device. If you have an iPhone or iPad don’t procrastinate – set this up now!

Of course it’s not only consumers that need mobile device management. Businesses require even greater protections. Historically, enterprises forced specific devices on their employees (see the Palm Treo), but now employees are demanding the freedom to choose their own device. This naturally makes IT and compliance departments very nervous. Thanks to products like Zenprise (full disclosure: this is a Shasta portfolio company), both the employee and the IT departments can now be content. With its mobile device management platform, employees get to choose their preferred device, and the IT department sleeps easy at night knowing the company’s data is secure.

In our increasingly mobile world, this is something that every consumer and business should be thinking about.

Securing your data in an increasingly mobile world

Holiday shopping in 2010

comScore is reporting that consumers spent nearly $22Bn online during the first 40 days of the 2010 holiday shopping period. This represents a 12% increase from the same period in 2009.

Since Ingrid and I have already shifted our holiday shopping online this trend is hardly surprising to me. Rather than fighting the crowds in the shopping mall, we logged onto Amazon from the comfort of our couch and got nearly everything on our gift list in a matter of minutes. Rather than lugging a suitcase full of toys, clothing, and other assorted gifts to our annual family gathering in New York, we used Amazon Prime’s free two day shipping to make sure that it all will be there waiting for us when we arrive. Even when we needed a gift from a nearby specialty retailer, Heath Ceramics‘s slick and easy-to-use site saved us at least an hour and a half trip to their Sausalito store.

Of course there will still be some occasions when you’ll find that you have to go to the retailer for one reason or another. Over the weekend we went into a Best Buy to get some firsthand advice from one of their knowledgable blue shirts, but after he had provided all the advice we needed I took out my handy Amazon barcode scanner to compare the Best Buy price with Amazon’s to see if I could save money by buying online. Many of the times you do this you’ll find big savings just a single click away on their mobile app. Last week in a similar situation at Bloomingdales we saved over $100 on a piece of luggage.

E-commerce was all of the rage in the late 90’s. Then the bubble burst and the hype largely disappeared. But all along more and more consumers have increased their online spending. Digital natives finally have significant money in their pocketbooks, and not surprisingly, they start all of their shopping online. Given shifting demographics, this trend will accelerate.

If you’re starting a company in the e-commerce space there is a massive opportunity in front of you. Just putting up a store online and selling products isn’t the best way to attract customers, but if you make the shopping experience more fun and social, if you make it more personalized, if you develop new business models that better meet your customer’s needs, then you’ve got the opportunity to build an amazing company.

Holiday shopping in 2010

Vote for Pablo Sandoval, aka, the Kung Fu Panda!

Lincecum and Cain are already in the All-Star game, but let’s make sure we all do our part to get Pablo in there as well! The dude is having a great year.

If you need some convincing, here’s a quick rundown on the accomplishments:

  • 4th in NL batting average (.333); .394 for the month of June!
  • tied for 5th in NL doubles (23)
  • tied for 3rd in NL multi-hit games (30)
  • 7th in NL slugging percentage (.566)
  • 8th in NL extra-base hits (38)
  • 8th in NL hits (93)
  • 9th in NL OPS (.954)
Vote for Pablo Sandoval, aka, the Kung Fu Panda!

When free is not really free

Hmmm, what is wrong with this picture? The call-to-action on this screenshot below clearly says FREE. The app is also listed in the navigation section of the App Store under the FREE app sub-section. But then the app description says you will be charged $9.99 per month for the application. WTF? Can they be any more confusing?

As it turns out, the app (or better put, the shell of the app minus the functionality that actually does anything uesful) is free. You can download it and you won’t be charged a dime. Just don’t expect it to provide any utility. To get any real value out of the application you’ll have to register for the service and opt-in to the monthly subscription fee.

Maybe I’m overly obsessing on the details here, but it feels like they could have described that whole process much better in the app description. Looking at the comments from users in the app store, it appears that I’m not the only one that was confused.


When free is not really free

Why is Joost dead? It’s all about the customer experience

Joost is now officially dead. Yes, it may live on as a newly incarnated white-label video platform, but that is not the Joost we know.

In response to this latest turn of events, Om Malik has written a very thorough analysis of what happened and why the company never took off. If you are a tech geek like me, I’d definitely recommend you read his post in its entirety. As usual, it is a thoughtful piece, and one with which I generally agree.

That being said, I tend to think that Joost failed for far simpler reasons than he outlines. Yes, they got big too fast. Yes, they had organizational issues. And yes, they were spread out across many geographic locations. But the bottom line? They failed because they did not deliver a compelling customer experience.

Amongst all of the reasons for Joost’s failure that Om outlines, the most important are the two he refers to as “client vs. browser” and “big media dis-connect”. In other words, they had a crappy product filled with really crappy content. Not a good recipe for success.

Yes, they eventually added some better content, and yes, they eventually launched a web-based experience, but that was long after the early adopters had tested out the product only to find a big, heavy download filled with craptastic video programming. Not a good strategy to get evangelists singing your praises to the world!

For me this story hammers home two very important tenets that every consumer-facing technology company should hold dear:

  1. Always have a relentless focus on delivering simple, kick-ass product experiences that will wow your customers
  2. Celebrity founders, industry buzz, and big, famous partners are overrated, and they will not compensate for a poor user experience
Why is Joost dead? It’s all about the customer experience

Old school media finally getting it

A rough and dirty* timeline of TV shows online:

  • 1998 – 2003: good luck finding any TV shows online
  • 2004: you can now find some TV shows online, but you better be prepared to open up the wallet, and don’t expect to have a chance to see it until well after the show first airs on regular TV
  • 2005: thanks to YouTube, you can now views TV shows online for free, but the video quality is poor and grainy, and you have to watch the shows broken down into 10 minute segments
  • 2006 – 2007: TV shows finally available in high quality video directly from the networks (with advertising of course), but only if you have the patience to wait days (and sometimes weeks) after the original airing on TV
  • 2008: NBC airs the premiere of 30 Rock on Hulu a full week in advance of the airing on regular TV!!!

* For you historians out there, I might be a bit off on my dates but you get my drift.

Bottom line, this is awesome. NBC finally understands that airing TV shows online first drives awareness (and ultimately ratings). Sure, 30 Rock’s ratings will be up this week since Tina Fey has been the hardest working woman in Hollywood doing her Sarah Palin impressions, but getting the show out there online first will also add fuel to the fire.

For the one of you out there reading this right now I know what you are saying…a post on this blog won’t add fuel to any fire. To which I say you are right of course. But I have a feeling that Gawker and The New York Observer will more than pick up my slack!

On a related note, the premiere is brilliant. And anyone that still thinks long-form video doesn’t have a place online really needs to watch Hulu in full screen on a 15 inch MacBook Pro.

Anyways, check the premiere out for yourself below:

Old school media finally getting it

Technology’s role in the political process

So I got my first robocall today. Nope, it wasn’t a call for John McCain or Barack Obama. Considering I live in California, a state that is going uncontested in the presidential election, that should not be a surprise.

Rather, it was a robocall supporting Cindy Sheehan, the woman who made news back in 2005 by camping nearby GW’s ranch in Crawford for four weeks. Many may not know this, but Ms. Sheehan is challenging Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, for her seat in the House representing San Francisco.

So why am I bringing this up? It’s not to support either of these candidates. The reason I bring it up is rather to talk about the opportunity to use technology in the political process.

You see, I’m a sucker for both technology and politics. Luckily I get to think about technology all of the time for my job, and I spend lots of my spare time in between work following the political horse races. That being said, these robocalls are a real disappointment for me. I love seeing technology being used to organize people to participate in the political process (e.g., I recently heard Jared Cohen tell a story of a young kid in Colombia that started an anti-terrorist group on Facebook that ultimately led to a real-world protest of more than 10 million people!). I love seeing people use blogs, Twitter, and Facebook to share their ideas, express their opinions with the world, and then see people be able to challenge those ideas and beliefs in the public domain for all to see and learn from. I even like seeing the little dials go up and down after a debate to see how viewers reacted to the candidates messages (although I do agree with Nate Silver that they should only be used after the debate as not to influence people in real-time). But the robocalls accomplish none of these greater goals. They are highly intrusive. They are overly narrow. And they don’t enable or promote the public exchange and flow of ideas.

I think we can do much better.

Technology’s role in the political process

Doing targeting right

Targeting is something that people have talked about with web products for a long time, but it's disappointing to see so many products still get this wrong over and over again. This morning I was reminded of how when targeting is done right it is an incredibly effective engagement tool, and when done wrong just plain annoying.

Targeting & personalization done wrong:

Like many others, the economic situation has me thinking about my personal wealth (or rather the destruction of my personal wealth!) more than normal. So I go to my eTrade account a little more often these days than typical. In any event, here is a partial screenshot of the home page I landed on this morning after signing in:


Why on earth are they showing me a banner ad for a Complete Savings account when they know that I have a Complete Savings account already! In this case it's made even more ridiculous by the fact that the offer is literally pixels away from my account information. Considering there are a fair number of eTrade products that I don't have (e.g., a 401K roll-over) you'd think they'd be pitching me something else. I generally like eTrade, but this is really bad. Not only is it annoying, but they are also leaving money on the table.

Targeting & personalization done well:

Thankfully others out there are doing a much better job. And I'm not just referring to ad targeting. Check this out. This morning I get the following email from MyBlogLog:

Hi Sean Flynn!

Part of what makes MyBlogLog so special is our ability to automatically add you to communities in which you have shown a repeated interest.  We have just added you to the following communities:

1) tech|ticker

Bonus — The "Hot in My Communities" box on your My Home page will keep getting better and better with each community you join.

Note: If you decide one or more of these communities is not for you, simply visit that community's page on MyBlogLog and click the "Leave Community" button.

Rock on,

Edit or disable your "Join a Community after" settings here: http://www.mybloglog.com/buzz/e_profile.php

Absolutely brilliant. I read techticker quite a bit, but I had never taken the time to join the techticker MyBlogLog community. Rather than wait for me to do this on my own, MyBlogLog pushed me along and helped me do what they already knew I'd like to do, but am just to busy or lazy to do myself. And of course they also show me how to opt out if I really don't want to join the community for some reason.

Experiences like this one remind why I love the web so much. A newspaper has no idea which stories I read over and over again. A bank can't change their advertising banners hanging from the ceiling for every customer that walks in. But the web fixes all of this. The web can be built specifically for each one of us. If you are out there building a web product take advantage of this. Your users will love you for it.

Doing targeting right