FB_News_Feed_Web_RGB_LG-w1200Facebook and Twitter have changed our lives. We communicate differently than we did before.

I can get in touch with someone on Facebook instantaneously, without having to know their email or phone number.

I can publicly engage with people I’ve never met on Twitter, just because I’m interested in what they’re talking about.

One network is chock full of family and friends from the last 10 years or so. The other is chock full of people I respect, often based purely on what they have to say in 140-character snippets.

They’re both highly important parts of my online experience. And they’ve both lost the plot completely, thanks to massive ambitions and lazy revenue strategies to help them get there.

Facebook’s Use Case: Keep in Touch

On a trip for a family wedding, my wife and I were able to have breakfast with some family members we don’t get to see very often. It was a truly joyful experience, where everyone wanted to hear what was going on with everyone else. We were happy to be the youngest people at the table by a generation, because it meant there was plenty to talk about.

And you know what happened when someone else started sharing a story? They broke out Facebook. Tablets and phones went flying as everyone pulled up the pictures and statuses from their story so everyone could see what they were talking about. It was like everyone had a real photo album that they kept on hand just in case they got to tell the story. They zipped around on the interface, obviously learned from repetition.

And someone asked us, “Can you please post on Facebook more? That’s how we keep up with you.”

Facebook has become my online identity. Nominal privacy issues aside, I couldn’t be more happy about that. Honestly. They did it. They’ve become the nearly ubiquitous online identity. Not just ubiquitous in tech circles, either.

And that’s not important because of some analytics metric. It’s important because it means my family can see what we’re up to and talk to each other. Because I can share links with a group of friends and discuss it. Because my condo community can have a truly useful Group where I learn my neighbors. Because I can connect so easily with people I want to be in touch with.

I don’t think that’s an uncommon “use case”. I think connection and community are at the core of any positive sentiment towards Facebook (beyond games—let’s not go there).

Facebook’s Ambition: Global Dial Tone

Yet, Mark Zuckerberg wants Facebook to be the dial tone of the internet.

Don’t get me wrong—that’s actually pretty admirable, in my opinion. I want to see this level of connection and community be brought to other countries who haven’t experienced this renaissance of connectivity. I want them to be able to share with their relatives and distant friends as well.

So, what needs to happen to get Facebook there? They need a constant stream of revenue. They need to keep shareholders happy. They need to sell ads.

So, our News Feed is completely jacked. Pages’ organic reach is plummeting. Ads are often awkward or irrelevant.

And you can say it’s not about selling ads, but when your own presented solutions in the same article are literally all about buying ads, I stay a little skeptical. Forgive me.

Just. Charge. Money.

All the while, users ages 65 and over grew by a whopping 35% last year. That’s their fastest growing demographic. And the interface is still cluttered, bombarded with banner ads and sponsored News Feed items, in tiny fonts and tiny buttons. A beautiful design, even if it focused entirely on Baby Boomers and seniors, would benefit everyone—a redesigned experience of Facebook that focuses on community and connection.

Not everyone would pay for Facebook, but I posture that many, many people would. I would. I would pay $10-20/month just to keep the same level of access. And you don’t think the older generations would, when they’ve been joining in droves? You wouldn’t pay a little for something that was truly useful (again)?

This is really less a criticism of Facebook, and more a lament that things could be so much better with a shift in focus. Monthly payments for a certain level of access, combined with more expensive, less intrusive business advertisements, would seem to move things in the right direction.

I wish Facebook the best as a business. I hope everyone at the company becomes or continues to be super wealthy and fulfilled. But the social network that’s managed to connect so much of the world in a way older generations now rely on, that really drove social logins, that bought Oculus Rift—that company has the chance to continue to do so much more meaningful innovation.

Human beings will be able connect with one another with ease from anywhere in the world on any device using Facebook.

I’m just worried that it will be completely unusable by the time we get there.

June 27, 2014 — Leave a comment — In Blog, Business, Facebook, Opinion, Social Media

I’d be willing to bet you’ve heard Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven more than once. It’s, maybe, the most popular rock ‘n’ roll song of all time by one of the most successful rock bands of all time.

And a band that you’ve probably never heard of, called Spirit, says Led Zeppelin stole the concept of the song from them.

Listen to Taurus below. About 44 seconds in, you hear the similarities.

It’s there. There’s definite inspiration. And Led Zeppelin lifted many elements from many different artists over the years, so it’s no far-fetched accusation. They’ve settled a handful of lawsuits in which they’ve had to pay royalties or give credit to others.

There’s nothing wrong with pursuing some form of legal compensation. But, money and credit after the fact can never change the fact that someone else took the best part(s) of one idea, put it in the right context, in front of the right people at the right time, and nailed it.

Idea Execution

Taurus was released before Stairway to Heaven—we could say it was first to market. And, at that time, Spirit was a bigger band than Led Zeppelin was. They had a platform.

Yet, the song just isn’t that interesting. There’s 43 long seconds of synth at the beginning. The guitar is washed out. The riff doesn’t evolve the same way, and the main melodies of the songs are significantly different.

It’s not the riff; it’s the song.
It’s not the idea; it’s the execution.

Ideas are a dime a dozen. People who implement them are priceless.

Mary Kay Ash

This Side of Jealousy

Think about this: would we even have Stairway to Heaven if Taurus had never been played? The fact that Spirit wrote that song and played it means that we have eight minutes of glorious, epic rock music from Led Zeppelin to enjoy.

The world benefitted from Taurus. That ought to be celebrated and appreciated. Instead, inspiration has been made into thievery, and nothing can be celebrated because there’s a victim.

Listen, if you put your idea out there, and don’t execute perfectly, someone will take it and make it better. And when they do, they might make a lot of money. They might get famous. They might not ever mention that it was your idea.

But, if you believe your idea is worth pursuing, then you have to believe the world is better off because you pursued it—even if someone takes it and makes it better. In fact, if someone can take your idea and make it better, isn’t that, well, better?

The only reason it wouldn’t be is because you’re jealous. You’re jealous that someone took some arrangement of thoughts you had in your head and combined them with thoughts they had and made a better version of your idea into reality. Jealous because you pursued something and got burned, but they didn’t.

If you can get past jealousy, you can see that you’ve made an impact in the world. If you can get in front of jealousy so that it never occurs, you might be able to be a part of it, instead.

Being Open

You can get in front of that jealousy by openly sharing ideas. You can try to find those other people who might have the input to make it better. You can take on the risk of someone potentially “taking your idea” because the reward is better execution.

Share openly and seek collaboration. If your idea is as good as you think it is, and you’re the one to execute, you’ll nail it better than anyone else. Jealousy (or setting the stage for it) can keep you from that. Help put an end to entrepreneurial paranoia.

May 23, 2014 — Leave a comment — In Blog, Entrepreneurship, Opinion

Each layer of knowledge may be a business opportunity, but that isn’t the only layer to consider.

When an idea lacks connectivity to its ideal context, the decision to trade money for time (or vice-versa) is null. You not only lack discoverability, but you’ve made it difficult to use the idea when it can show its true value.

Instead, by understanding the experience from initial pain point to pleasure, ideas can plug the unsightly gaps in-between.

Two startup examples can help us understand what this looks like.

Uber

barcelona-traffic Yes, Uber is a middleman, operating between customer and driver—but that’s missing the why in its success. They aren’t “disrupting” the connection to individual, professional drivers. Instead, they’re changing the way people hail cabs—not by being a better taxi service, but by designing the experience from need to happiness.

The issue with cabs is exacerbated in Atlanta, where I live, because there are less of them and the city is interesting to navigate. So, some common issues are:

“Which cab company do I call?”
“How long will it actually take for them to get here?”
“Will the language barrier be manageable enough to even explain where to pick me up?”
“Will they take my card?”

Uber answers these questions for people, and immediately becomes a more desirable solution. I don’t need to pick a cab company, find their number, or try to download their joke-of-an-app. I open Uber, select my pickup point, see how long it’ll take for the driver to arrive, see driver reviews (which speaks to issues like a language barrier), and wait. I know that they’ll “take my card”, because my card is already in the app and charges automatically after arrival. Seamless.

And you’d better believe they’re upsetting the status quo with this: my state (along with others) is scrambling to regulate them at the—ahem—suggestion of taxi and limo lobbyists.

Spritz

alejandroescamilla-bookAnother way to design the experience and encourage adoption of an idea is to patch the integration holes. Spritz is doing this well.

They, essentially, take what is already freely available with Spreeder, and add some minor interface improvements to make speed reading a reality for more people. Spreeder already allows me to paste text in a box online, or use a bookmarklet after I select some text on a page. That’s really useful, but it requires effort to remember to use it at all. It’s not integrated into what I’m already doing: reading.

Instead, Spritz has created toolkits for integration into existing products and services.

With these tools in hand, developers can implement their own powerful Spritz interfaces for their software and track user interaction with their content.

As a user, I don’t really care who came up with the technology, but I would be very interested in a setting in iBooks, for instance, that would let me switch to “Speed Reading Mode”. I might even be willing to use a third-party app that offers this attractively, instead.

Yes, Spreeder offers a desktop app that has about 600 eBooks and some other neat features, but nothing in the form of integration into the way I’m already reading. I’m much more likely to pay for an in-app upgrade or a new app entirely that offers Spritz integration, instead of limiting my reading options (device, selection, etc.) just to adopt the Spreeder interface.

A designed experience that connects people to their goals seamlessly is impactful.

March 28, 2014 — 1 Comment — In Blog, Business, Opinion, UX

Each Layer of Knowledge is a Potential Business OpportunityAs we accumulate knowledge on a subject, we tend to forget how much we had to learn to get there.

If we went back and listed all the prerequisites to become knowledgeable on something, we’d mostly be listing all the things it took us to go from Point A to Point B. So, if we handed that list to someone even slightly different than us, it might not be a feasible path at all.

Without some context, we can gloss right over places where people would be willing to pay good money for help.

Dropbox is “Trivial”

Back in 2007, one of the founders of Dropbox posted a screencast on Hacker News. It showed some of the elements of what would become the now nearly ubiquitous cloud storage platform. One guy—who had plenty of truly intelligent and nice things to say—responded with this:

For a Linux user, you can already build such a system yourself quite trivially by getting an FTP account, mounting it locally with curlftpfs, and then using SVN or CVS on the mounted filesystem. From Windows or Mac, this FTP account could be accessed through built-in software.

Let’s be clear: what he said was 100% true, and it wasn’t even the only way to go about it.

To him, something like Dropbox wouldn’t be worth any time or money, because he could build the whole thing “trivially”.

To nearly 200 million people, it’s worth the time or money or both. Why?

Money vs. Time

We all have different thresholds for exchanging money for time. For instance, most people buy a bottle opener instead of spending the time to learn how to open a bottle with various common objects. As our time becomes more valuable, we are more willing to exchange money for time.

I know that’s a big “duh” moment, but understanding how to detect others’ thresholds often eludes us.

This is why “niche” and “automation” are becoming common words associated with startups: to identify a place where a collection of people are willing to trade money for time sustainably is to find a business opportunity. Whether those potential customers don’t have the time or interest in learning something new doesn’t matter—they’re willing to trade money to get on with the parts of their lives that will bring them income or happiness or both.

Consider keeping a spreadsheet of what customers/clients ask for that seems “trivial” to you. If you notice one or two that start to repeat, it might be worth your while to validate it as an opportunity for a product or service. When that idea becomes validated, you won’t have to sugarcoat its trivial nature to anyone—the people who will pay won’t care, and the people who care wouldn’t pay anyway. Focus like that is priceless.

February 21, 2014 — 1 Comment — In Blog, Business, Opinion

What you doThe “value proposition” is a concept that’s crucial to a company’s marketing success. For the most part, people get it: explain your value succinctly. The hard part is always whittling down all your features into what solution your product represents; it’s cutting the “marketese” so everyone else can get to the point.

The core of the concept is shedding the subjectivity of your opinion to let the more objective truth shine through. It helps others understand what you’re saying more clearly.

Beyond being a marketing tactic, this simplicity of message does the world a favor: everyone spends less time sifting through your presentation of an idea, and, instead, engages with that idea more directly. Further, the shared understanding of this solution-oriented message helps inform the growth and changes of the product itself.

The pursuit of and focus on simple, core truths doesn’t cease being useful outside copywriting and product roadmapping. What if I asked you—designer, developer, entrepreneur, salesperson, or barista—what’s the good in what you do for a living?

Honestly, I think we balk at this question far too often. I think we often say we’re working towards being able to do good for a living, so we’re doing the hard work for money now.

I think, in many cases, our outlook on our work is a travesty in this regard. The same technique we use to find the value proposition of a product can help us find our own good—right here and now.

What’s “good” and where is it?

I said earlier that the core idea of a value proposition is shedding subjectivity in favor of a more objective truth. So, for now, leave behind even what you believe about the meaning of life (and what happens afterwards), and meet everyone at a place most folks can agree on: doing good is leaving the world better than you found it.

So, how is the company you work for leaving the world better than it was? And, how are you, specifically, helping them accomplish that?

Personally Speaking

(I’ll leave out company names just so you know I’m not selling you something.)

When I interviewed for my current job, I remember my, now, boss asking me if I felt comfortable moving from the non-profit sector into the definitely-for-profit sector. I’d already thought about this quite a bit, as I was moving from a position in which I was able to participate in and even organize community service efforts directly as part of my actual job; that certainly wouldn’t be a part of my new position, so far as I knew.

I remember telling him that I was absolutely comfortable because I believed what the new company was doing benefitted mankind in its own way.

Truly, I work for a company whose product enables marketers and salespeople to get the right solution to the right people at the right time. This increases efficiency, reduces waste, and mitigates the frustration in solving problems. Further, I, specifically, catalyze the utility and usability of that product through my skill set and collaboration with others.

Even in my consulting and contracting, I strive to empower my clients, and I strive to work with integrity.

“Do all the good you can.”

As I mention in a couple of the talks I give, if you can’t honestly say the way you make money makes the world better in some sense, do your soul a favor and find something else to put your effort into. For the majority of us, though, I think our good is simply buried in a mountain of the day-to-day worries of life. I refuse to accept that most of us are simply waiting until some time in the future when we can be of service to the world.

If you died tomorrow, would you be proud of the work you’ve done? Make it so. Your focus on it will not only make you better, it will make the world, objectively, better.

December 27, 2013 — 2 Comments — In Blog, Opinion