UI Design – Pet Peeve

It’s funny to think about all the ways you can hate interactive voice response systems, here is one specific issue:

"Please enter your 16 digit account number followed by the pound sign"

Well if they know the expected response is a 16 digit number then why make me press the 17th digit, the # sign?


I met Lunarr’s founders Toru Takasuka and Hideshi Hamaguchi a few weeks ago and said I would write something about their new service when it launched last week. As is often the case I was sidetracked on some other business so I didn’t get a chance to write, but I did want to follow up because I think what they are doing is really compelling.

First a disclosure, I don’t often collaborate with other people around documents, I usually work alone so when it comes to collaboration systems I am ill-equipped to provide much more than what I think is a good approach.

Lunarr’s concept is deceptively simple, embed messaging with document editing to achieve a fully integrated approach. It’s actually pretty clever, every document has an arrow that you can click to flip it over to the back page where threaded messaging around that document takes place.



There are a couple of other things that I found interesting, the first being the minimalist approach to the layout and the second is that the editing toolbar is located at the bottom of the browser as opposed to the top. Quite honestly, this takes a little getting used to but it’s a great idea because when you scroll the page down the top bar scrolls off the page giving you better utilization of the screen real estate while retaining the all important editing toolbar at the bottom. Neat.


Lunarr also features a solid versioning system that you can use to rollback edits to a previous version. This is an essential feature for any group collaboration system.

I can actually see myself using this on a regular basis but there are a couple of things on my wish list. First and foremost, integration with my existing messaging systems (either gmail or the Exchange server I also use) is a must if for no other reason than I don’t need another email system to think about. Secondly, this is begging for a @your.domain premium service along with branding options for companies.

As is always going to be the case for companies breaking into the office productivity market, richer editing tools are on the wish list as well, but I will say that I found the included tools in this release to be more than adequate for most of my needs. I think a spreadsheet capability would be most welcome as well.

Lastly, I want to draw your attention to one other feature that I think could be the sleeper feature in this app, the ability to import a fully intact web page and treat it like another document.


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To Blog or Not To Blog…

"There’s a bifurcation happening in the Boston venture capital world: Some firms blog, and some don’t. And the divide isn’t just about being hip to the latest trend. It signifies an important shift in the way VC firms interact with entrepreneurs."

The premise of this article is kind of silly, it’s a "you are with us or against us" tone and it’s comical. Not every VC can blog, quite frankly not every VC has something to say… just like the rest of the population. It doesn’t mean they aren’t smart or articulate, but capturing attention in the blogosphere is a lot different than doing it in partner meetings or at conferences.

Blogging takes commitment. If you are Mike Moritz or John Doerr you will have a built in audience, but those guys have personal brands that the great majority of investors do not. You aren’t going to fire up your new wordpress.com account and 2 days later have tens of thousands of page views. Sorry, just doesn’t happen for most of us, what does happen is that you blog for a long time with a small core audience that you cultivate and then it grows with spikes along the way as you get Dugg, Stumbled’upon  and other unnatural acts happen.

Blogging takes time for most people (I’m fortunate because I just write like I talk and don’t edit anything, so my blogging consumes no more than 30 minutes a day on average, but I read a lot as well) and this time commitment is a problem for investors because they just don’t have it. Investors are also secretive, sometimes for good reason while most of the time no so. There is a perception that blogging will reveal some long lost secret to VC riches, or that potential limited partners will cringe at the thought of the manager of the fund they are invested in writing about what deals they are looking at, imagine that.

Does blogging lead to deals? Maybe, Fred and Brad certainly think so… but in the end I think it leads to knowledge and relationships that are the precursor to deals.

I’m hesitant to write this last sentence because it is going to sound like an insult to some, but it’s really just an observation gained from 5 years of watching this topic. Ultimately, whether to blog or not is generational with the old timers typically not seeing any value in it while the younger men and women see blogging as something that they can use to gain relevance in the broader technology, entrepreneur, and investor community.

Apple’s Turn For Double Standards

A few months ago Steve Jobs told the music industry that they should give up DRM. Today Apple is defending it’s right to lock content, in this case the software on the iPhone:

Users who make unauthorized modifications to the software on their iPhone violate their iPhone software license agreement and void their warranty. The permanent inability to use an iPhone due to installing unlocking software is not covered under the iPhone’s warranty.

Here’s the basic problem with locked handsets: you bought it so you own it, not the carrier. A carrier, in this case AT&T, subsidizes the purchase of the handset, which in this case they do not, in exchange for a term contract guaranteeing a financial return that offsets the subsidy. Because you and I pay for those handsets we should be free to use them on any network of our choosing. You would object if you car only accepted gas pump nozzles from Chevron, right?

What happpens if I don’t want to use my $500 handset with AT&T anymore, and I’ve met the obligations of my contract? Well according to Apple, I’m SOL despite the fact that there are no technical obstacles to using any GSM handset on any GSM network providing they are frequency matched, which most modern handsets are because the manufacturers surely don’t want their handsets limited to a single network.

Apple is wrong on this issue and given the long precedent of carriers providing unlock codes on request I think Apple may be setting itself up for a consumer class action lawsuit in the future. Furthermore, when Apple goes to Europe they will offer unlocked handsets because it is illegal to do otherwise. This puts Apple in the position of restricting usage for American consumers only and doing it in collusion with AT&T, who I am sure is ecstatic that the handset YOU OWN won’t work on competitor’s networks.

Jobs astutely recognized the futility of continuing to provide mechanisms to lock it down music content yet he clings to the notion that he alone can lock down their newest favorite son the iPhone. Wrong wrong wrong, Steve Jobs is wrong.