Monthly Archives: August 2006

Google’s functional expansion

Chris Anderson reports and Anil Dash analyzes Google’s gradual move towards providing more functionality on top of data elements.

This is a very significant move, and starts with the information. First Google lets you find information, in the process becoming the standard interface to the net and the first port for information in general. Then functionality is added to the information – not as advanced as what you can get on the desktop, but good enough for  a start.

The important issue here is that this is a potentially disruptive innovation because it allows people who formerly were not able to change/process/analyze information to do so – but with technology that will be deemed inferior by those that are the best customers of the existing software vendors. As Anil says, the 500 most important customers of Microsoft wants less change and other kinds of functionality than the infinitely larger market of individuals with smaller investment budgets.

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Why professors should blog

Dan Cohen has an excellent article on this topic – which, if nothing else, is a pretty good argument for blogging in general and RSS feeding in particular.

Go for it. Nothing is as eternal (and as findable) as something written in silicon. Thanks to RSS, Google, and good ol’ Gordon Moore’s law, which pretty soon will lead to a situation where we are all working off the same (virtual) machine.

The VC version of Tech adoption

Cover of Coburn's The Change FunctionCoburn, P. (2006). The Change Function: Why some technologies take off and others crash and burn. New York, NY, Penguin Portfolio.

Picked this one up on a lark from Amazon. Written by a venture capitalist, it breezily argues that the many technologies fail because the perceived pain of adoption is too high.

I found this one hard to get into – my suspicion is that it is (like Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars) one of those books where the title suffices for understanding the main idea. In this case, the title doesn’t, but Coburn helpfully provides this summary in the introduction: 

ISSUE 1: High-tech failure rates stink
The commercial failure rate of nominally great new technologies is troublingly high. That failure rate is consistent with the hatred and distrust most normal human beings – which I like to call Earthlings – tend to have of high technology. That hatred and distrust is a bummer since our little planet can use all the help technology might provide.

ISSUE 2: Suppliers think they are in charge but in reality users are in charge
The technology industry operates according to an implicit supplier-oriented assumption. That assumption is that if one builds great new disruptive technologies and lets cost reduction kick in, markets will naturally appear. This is known as "build it and they will come."

He then goes on to provide a semi-mathematical formula of the "change function" with, I think, the likelihood of success (or, at least, technology adoption) as the product of "perceived crisis" and "perceived pain of adoption".

OK. The perceived pain of reading the rest of the book from that point on became a little too much for me, especially since a quick glance awakened reminiscences of 140-page PowerPoint presentations and hastily grabbed examples. Plus, my perceived crisis is in too much adoption. So I disengaged.

Refuse to be terrorized

Bruce Schneier, one of the world’s foremost experts on computer security, has a great essay about how we need to get less panicky about possible terrorist threats – in order to twart terrorists.

Common sense, in other words. May the newspapers and politicians of the world hear him, but I suspect that the economics of attention and influence is against him.

Eddie Bauer customer service

My colleague Frank Capek at the Concours Group is running a project collecting outstanding customer experiences, with a view to analyzing them. He asked for examples – so here is my favorite:

Photographer's vestBack in the early nineties I lived outside Boston, as a doctoral student. The children were small and required a lot of small items whenever we were out and about, so I used to wear one of those photographer’s vests, with lots of pockets and good ventilation. Now they are hallmarks of the elderly suburban dork, but back then they were moderately fashionable.

One day I needed a some new shirts, so I called Eddie Bauer‘s order phone. I ordered the shirts, and then (since I am a certified nerd, known to do that kind of thing) struck up a conversation with the Eddie Bauer lady at the other end:

Espen: By the way, I bought one of those photographer’s vests about a year ago – that thing has been great, very practical, use it all the time.
Eddie Bauer Lady: Great – is it still OK?
E: Sure! Well, come to think of it, there was a small tear under one arm, but my wife mended it, so it’s fine.
EBL: I’ll send you a new one.
E: But .. I am not complaining, it is fine!
EBL: They aren’t supposed to tear like that.
E: Well, but I have been using it a lot…
EBL: Still, that’s not supposed to happen. Hang on a second [sound of furious typing in the background] .. hm… here it is, yeah, you bought it last summer, at $49. [more typing] Seems we don’t have that kind any more, we have a new one, costs $54, I’ll send you that.
E: Er..well, thanks!
EBL: No problem. Anything else, Sir?

A few days later the new vest arrived. Later, I was told that the customer service representatives at Eddie Bauer have a certain dollar amount, per customer, that they can use at their discretion. In this case, it cost Eddie Bauer a garment.

On the other hand, I have mentioned this incident in many presentations around the world, and now also in my blog, so I think Eddie Bauer got their money’s worth in customer satisfaction and free advertising. And I still shop there.

Anyone else with similar stories, or other outstanding customer experiences you want to share?