Power Laws Revisited

Yep, power laws.

Simply put, the theory is that if someone is popular — for whatever reason, be it real talent or just blind luck — he or she is likely to become even more popular, since people tend to gravitate towards things that are already perceived as being popular. In the study that is written up in the NYT magazine, a team set up a website where more than 14,000 participants signed up and were asked to listen to, rate and — if they chose — download songs by bands they had never heard of. Some of the participants saw only the names of the songs and bands, while others also saw how many times the songs had been downloaded by previous participants.

Mathew Ingram writes about a New York Times magazine study that looked, to paraphrase, how things become popular. Basically they somewhat state the obvious, the more you have of something the more likely you are to get even more, but also disproportinately so. The most popular songs were far more popular than their nearest rivals combined. The more market share you have, the more you will get and the bigger the gap between you and second place will become (think Google and Microsoft).

What is interesting about the phenomena is that we all make decisions about preference independently but at the same time we are impacted by countless social signals and interactions that shape our decisions.

I don’t know the meaning behind this, but imagine it’s rooted somewhere in human desire to be part of a group or tribe.

Tags: , ,

Built For vs. Used For

"Outlook wasn’t designed to be a file dump, it was meant to be a communications tool…There is that fine line, but we don’t necessarily want to optimize the software for people that store their e-mail in the same .PST file for ten years."

The quote is from the Outlook Program Manager following the recent release of a fix that promises to resolve the Outlook 2007 performance issues. She is wrong. Period.

Software applications may be designed to one use case scenario but users end up utilizing them in entirely different capacities. That Outlook is being used as file storage shouldn’t surprise anyone, from the moment I first laid my hands on that product that is exactly how I used it, and when I found Lookout’s very cool search plugin for Outlook back in 2004 my use of Outlook went into overdrive… I started emailing crap to myself because I could more easily find it, with an associated note in the form of an email, in my inbox than I could in my desktop file system.

I’m really quite amazed that any product manager for a mature and widely used product like Outlook would have the temerity to dismiss the manner in which people are using their software as "well we never designed it for that".

This is exactly what is wrong with Microsoft and alot of other big software companies, they spend too much time building enterprise products for what IT tells them the requirements are, which in the case of Outlook/Exhange has been better security, spam protection, and admin capabilities. Microsoft should have spent a few more cycles on understanding better the numerous ways that users are taking advantage of Outlook to make their lives better and don’t involve being a "communications tools". No wonder enterprise usres are increasingly going to Gmail.

Tags: , , ,