Tech Diversity, Yes Let’s Look at the Real Issue

Mitch Kapor says we should looks beyond the kerfuffle between Arrington and CNN, and yes let’s do that.

I wrote this 2 years ago and nothing has changed:

Why does this matter, especially coming from someone like me who has a gag reflex about the words “affirmative action” and repulsion at the idea that we, as a society, condone hiring or admittance, and promotion based on anything other than merit? It matters because we are not an economy that searches out natural resources like iron ore, timber, coal or natural ports and waterways to determine where we expand; we are an economy that depends upon businesses identifying clusters of talented human resources to solve problems that have economic value. If our solution is that a bunch of white men, young and middle aged predominately, are going to solve the bulk of problems from here on out, then we will neither be very good at it on a global scale nor efficient as a society in lifting earning power and real economic growth across the board.

Silicon Valley is good at a lot of things but one thing we are terrible at is being self-critical about the culture we have created. Zuckerberg was getting to this with his much quoted comments about Silicon Valley being too short term focused (I wrote about that in 2009 as well, ironically the post also centered on TechCrunch).

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Customer Service Hell: Web Conferencing

I have gone through some really bad customer experiences with online and offline services but few have rivaled that of my recent trials and tribulations with web conferencing service providers.

This all started when I suffered from dropped Gotomeeting web conferences and encountering people who requested I use a different service provider. When the web conference service you are using becomes the focus of attention it is never a good thing so I looked at alternative offerings.

I signed up for Infinite Conference, which had a really slick website and a feature list that was attractive. My trouble started when I attempted to login to “my account” to, you know, manage my account. My email/password combo was not accepted so I clicked on recover password and after a dozen or so repeated attempts to get past their captcha system I sent them an email to their customer service link. I dislike captchas in general but when they serve to frustrate legitimate users who want to get something done, they are a major problem.

That was last night, this morning there was an email in my inbox explaining that because I was on a trial I didn’t have access to the “my account” feature area.

  1. It’s not clear that there is a limitation in the trial experience… this is a UX problem.
  2. The “my account” link should take me to my account whether or not I have all the features or not. It’s still the place I would logically go to manage “my account”.
  3. The password recovery flow should clearly state the error message rather than continuously cycling the captcha, which suggests the captcha wasn’t being accepted.

All of the above are representative of a poorly designed system flow and confusing messaging on their application and website and here’s the WTF moment… I noticed that the email I received from Infinite Conference (an unfortunate product name by the way) included a thread that was clearly a result of internal communication and in reading through it the agent referred to me as a “rude customer”.

Rude? Really? I reviewed the original email I sent and this customer service agent probably has too thin skin for the role, here’s what I wrote:

Here’s the deal, I can’t login because my password isn’t being recognized and when I try to recover my password the captcha system you are using is dialed up to near impossible. You need to fix this… captchas are lame to begin with but when they primarily serve to frustrate people who are legitimate users you have to ask yourself is the scheme worth it. I can’t use my account and I haven’t even got through the trial period.

This is a fail that is all too common in “old world” customer service organizations that are measured by case benchmarks rather than their contribution to brand and product metrics. I provided very specific feedback about the product; actionable product issues that are solved by UX tweaks and everything I offered will be discarded because the customer service agent thought I was rude. And when the next customer has the same problem it will be groundhog day all over again.

So then I tried Intercall and that product experience was so bad that I wanted to immediately cancel but had to call customer support where the helpful customer service agent told me I needed to send an email to a different team in order to cancel. Why not just put that information on the customer service site and save the hassle of going through an IVR system only to find out I needed to back online? But this is a story for another post… why the hell are web conferencing services so bad?

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More on this topic (What's this?)
Zeroing in on zero rating
TierPoint Acquires Xand, Doubles Footprint
Where’s the Economic Growth?
Read more on Lingui Development, Sun at Wikinvest

Online Video and News Cycle Latency

“Similarly, our hapless mountain biker really reveals the ability of online video to hit the new scycle like an enraged antelope. Instead of clipping an article out of The New York Times or sending around a link to the big story, executive producers and assignment editors can now click on a video and say, “Here, go do that.””
- The Beast that Ate the News Cycle

 

The problem is that when I see local and national news broadcasts featuring an online video I find myself, with few exceptions, saying “yeah I saw that 3 days ago”.

What is killing television news is the fact that we have incredible access to events in near realtime so just rehashing something that has become popular online pretty much misses the plot… the salvation for the news business is not going to be found in curating social content. I already have people in the form of apps to do that for me…

More on this topic (What's this?)
Hulu Drops Plan to Sell: Company Owners
US Equities: Market Bottom? (Ryan Lewenza Interview)
Question for you on digital media length
Read more on Online Video at Wikinvest

Authors as Subscriptions

I received an email from Amazon today that began with:

We are happy to announce that an updated version of your past Kindle purchase of Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy is now available. The version you received had typos that have been corrected.

This is interesting on a couple of levels but particularly interesting in light of the coverage yesterday about Amazon’s quiet efforts around “book industry in a box” which essentially cuts publishers out of the book supply chain.

What Amazon is demonstrating is the capacity to deliver books as a form of digital subscription, which taken to an extreme would allow me to subscribe to an author’s works in incremental form, meaning delivered as they are developed.

Critics would say that the editing and promotional process that authors engage in with publishers results in better and more successful product however if you talk with people who have actually gone through it you find the results less than persuasive. The ability for authors (and musicians and artists and so on) to self-publish and self-promote at large scale using social technologies and digital distribution is beyond debate, the result of which will not be felt for many years but if history is a guide the far away future may not be that far out.

PS- Yes, I like Tom Clancy novels…

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My Steve Jobs Story

Like a lot of people I got self-reflective when I read that Steve Jobs had died. The public outpouring and memorial reflects his iconic status to so many people, and my friends know how I feel about it… which is to say it doesn’t really matter how I feel because I didn’t know the man or ever cross paths with him. I admire his achievement and recognize that he, like all of us, was a flawed man… but hey, there are certainly people less deserving (e.g. anyone in Hollywood) so if people want to make Jobs a heroic figure of epic proportions, go for it.

I never crossed paths with him but I did have a rather interesting encounter in the span of less than a minute with him. A little over 3 years ago my wife and I were eating lunch at La Strada in Palo Alto with our son and my wife was pregnant at the time, and pretty far along.

My son was asking to go to the Apple store and as I was helping my wife up a man sitting at the table (we were outside) next to us looked at my son and smiled, then my wife and me… I held his gaze for a few seconds and we walked away, only later did I realize it was Jobs. He really didn’t look like the Steve Jobs that was familiar to so many of us at the time, the physical transformation had really taken hold.

Two things about that encounter really struck a chord with me, the first being how ordinary Jobs lived what is in every respect an extraordinary life. You get used to the billionaires in this town pretending to be normal everyday kind of folks who just happen to have security details and live in gated compounds in the wealthiest zipcodes on the planet but Jobs really did it. He walked around Palo Alto, stopped in to the store on University Ave., sat at the sidewalk tables and benches at local restaurants, and people seemed to leave him alone.

The other part of my encounter, the one that really sticks with me, is how warm his smile was. It was eery but in a nice kind of way, which is a nice bookend for me to the Steve Jobs that is often recounted.

Quick Hits

In case you missed it….

Qwikster, DOA:

 

Netflix backtracked on plans to split the service into 2 parts, much to the dismay of the @qwikster dude. The 5 paragraph blog post from Hastings is terse and simmering with resentment that customers pushed back on the company, as well as defensive about the criticism that the company’s streaming selection is weak, really weak. You see this a lot with Silicon Valley super-entrepreneurs, they simply can’t stomach the notion that customers don’t agree with their plans.

The Zuck in Canuck(land):

C’mon, I had to try and make it work… Zuckerberg is in Vancouver and rumor has it he is scouting out Hootsuite. I’m pretty confident that Hootsuite is looking at opportunities to be acquired, this space is getting really tough and with the general commoditization of listening dashboards it will be increasingly challenging to build a valuable business. However, if Facebook was really looking to acquire the company I doubt Zuckerberg would by flying to meet them, or even involved at all so let’s just put a healthy amount of skepticism on this rumor.

PS- Dear Hootsuite… please, I am begging you… the way you force your shortened URLs as an overlay on my browser is incredibly annoying. It’s one of those things that not only doesn’t help me, it creates a obstacle.

How to Get Fired from HP:

Great infographic.

Interview with Lithium CEO Rob Tarkoff:

I love reading interviews like this, they are an incredibly valuable tool for gathering the competitive “pulse” of a company. We, Get Satisfaction, compete with Lithium, this is no secret and what I find interesting is that Lithium is a company that is 10 years old and has raised around $45 million in venture capital, yet both factors work against them as they get squeezed by Jive on one side and lighter, more nimble companies on the other.

What Tarkoff highlighted is a pretty standard run down Social Business Lane… customers are in control, engagement matters, better marketing through customer service, and social is disrupting internal organizational structures. Read the interview that Ray did with Wendy Lea and you will find the same threads, albeit with more specificity. For a more provocative perspective, read Wendy’s recent article titled “Social Business: You’re Doing it All Wrong”.

To be clear, I am not criticizing Rob and, for the record, I think very highly of him. My point is more abstract, social technologies are not just changing the way that companies engage their customers, it is also changing the dynamic in the technology industry as traditional enterprise software companies are also experiencing a seismic shift in how companies are developed and competitive advantages sustained.

Brightpearl:

Very interesting company, making the jump from the UK to Silicon Valley. It’s basically Netsuite at a lower price point and, from what I have seen, should be on the short list for any company evaluating a financial management, inventory, and e-commerce suite.

Un-blur:

Adobe demo’ed a new Photoshop capability that really deserves to be called out for the accomplishment that it is… image de-blurring. How many times have you taken a picture in-the-moment only to realize that you moved the camera and blurred the image? Adobe engineers have developed algorithms that calculate how the camera was moving, which is then used to un-blur the image. Amazing, let’s hope it makes it into apps other than Photoshop (e.g. Lightroom!)

Groupon… ugh:

Groupon is changing their deal counter to frustrate people who are using it to analyze how well the company is doing, or not. They posted a blog post to “be transparent about their lack of transparency” and used the analogy that “you wouldn’t like it if people tried to guess your weight all day” but that falls flat when you consider that I’m not using the increase/decrease in my weight as the basis for becoming a public company.

What Groupon doesn’t like is that because they are in a mandatory quiet period they cannot publicly react to these independent analyses but by removing the counter what they are asserting is that the only credible source for information on their performance is Groupon, which has a demonstrable track record of being less then credible… I called their IPO a 50/50 probability when they filed, right now I am leaning to 100% certain that they won’t get out at the valuation originally talked about.

Tech IPOs:

Might as well link to this article on tech IPO performance… in light of the last item. I’ll cut to the summary, tech IPOs have underperformed every other sector. Ugly.

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