Concrete Thinking
How Social Media Makes Us More Polite
Tuesday, August 6th, 2013 by Brett Levine

Spam. Viruses. Flame wars. Trolls. Hackers. The internet sure seems like a rough and tumble place. But is it possible that using social media makes us more respectful of each other and more polite? Being polite whether online or off, is strongly influenced by your relationship with person on the other side of the conversation. If there’s no chance of seeing that person in real life, doing business with them in the future, or understanding much about them—there’s a much higher incidence of an impolite interaction: anonymity breeds rudeness.

And the more anonymous, the more rude. So, online forums that allow anonymous posting or little user validation are breeding grounds for bile and the vile (see 4chan… if you dare). Even Reddit, which requires that its users reveal zero personal information, still has a reputation system that

On the contrary social networks that promote authenticity and personal identification. Be yourself, and you have to stand by your rep. LinkedIn, AirBnB, even EBay are great examples, though more private invite-only social networks like A Small World demonstrate the concept as well.

Is it possible that the era when the pushiest jerk gets ahead is coming to a close? Maybe not, but the revenge of the nerds has certainly proven its might, and those who participate in the global conversation with impeccable ethics may just see rewards beyond those knowing smiles.

Why Mobile Apps Fail
Thursday, August 1st, 2013 by Brett Levine

Adopt an App

When beginning a mobile, web or other app software project, keep in mind it’s more like adopting a pet than building a product. Software needs continual care, maintenance and feature development. Users expect updates — whether to take advantage of the latest mobile Operating System release, to fix a bug that somehow slipped through Quality Assurance, or simply to add features. Building an app is not a “one-time and you’re done” operation.

Product / Market Fit

Consult the experts, whether  Marc Andressen (co-creator of the first web browser), Steve Blank of Stanford, Paul Graham of Y-Combinator or Sean Ellis of LogMeIn, they all agree: it’s about getting the right product, to the right people. That said, your app’s features should depend heavily on who that app is marketed to. To achieve this takes a lot of  ”get out of the building” type thinking promoted by Eric Ries in his book The Lean Startup.  Interacting with your market as soon as possible is paramount.

Agile software development process, user-centric design, and Lean thinking can all help you discover what features to build, but all the theory in the world won’t help unless you learn from your market, measure feedback, and build the features that users desire: you must go through this “build, measure, learn” cycle a few times to get it right.

Build, Measure, Learn: How to achieve product market fit by iteratively achieving small milestones

The Build, Measure, Learn Cycle

Accrue Technical Debt Wisely

You may be initially wowed by a software team that can deliver features fast and furiously — especially when you they look cool, and progress comes swiftly — but in just a few short months, a mobile app project can grind to a halt. Why? At the beginning of a project software developers often build features without building the surrounding infrastructure to support them. It’s like building a glorious bathroom complete with steam shower in a house with no plumbing.

The industry term for this is “technical debt.”  While this form of indebtedness can get you a quick jolt of progress, it can also come back to bite you. For quick experiments, technical debt may be the right option, but for meaningful, high-quality app development, building it right means a robust software architecture, infrastructure to support scaling to a massive audience, and putting in place the security necessary to protect both your users and your investment.

Beware Schedule

There is a reason that, on average, large IT projects run 45 percent over budget and 7 percent over time, while delivering 56 percent less value than predicted. In a survey of 600 people closely related to a software project, 78% of respondents reported that the “Business is usually or always out of sync with project requirements.” It is extremely difficult to correctly estimate large software projects. So, smart teams have stopped trying.

But, without an estimate, how will your app hit deadlines and a budget? The secret is once again, in the agile process: you can correctly estimate software deliverables over the short term. The agile software development process promotes short “sprints” and we suggest a one-week time period.  This way, your team releases a fully-functional and complete product every week! And since you are learning from your users, what you will do over the next few months, will be in direct response to their usage and feedback. Think of a product initiative as an experiment, where the goal is to learn what a market wants, and deliver it.

Beware Users

Asking your users directly what they want (or don’t want) is a pitfall to avoid.  You are the innovator, and you understand the possibilities for future directions of your product better than anyone, including your users, so asking them is asking for trouble. Instead, simply observe them. Focus groups are notorious not only for their expense, but also their “false sense of science.” Studying users behind a one-way mirror may have worked well in that Mad Men episode, but for software, the “Starbucks Method” is about a million times cheaper, and much more insightful. Get into the cafe, hand out some 20′s, 0r buy people lunch in exchange for watching them use your product.

There is no harm in providing a few in-app survey questions.  Take a look at Qualaroo for how to do this well. For building community, GetSatisfaction is a good bet. Bottom line: Target your questions to the specific user experience, not the overall product.

Beware Apple

As the recent “Downpocalypse” of the Apple Developer Center demonstrated (no new iPhone apps could be created for over a week!) hitching your app to a single horse is a dangerous move. Though an initial iOS app release makes sense in many cases, building with cross-platform mobile technologies like HTML5Adobe PhonegapLudei or Unity, allows your app to diversify its bets; placing expensive native features only where they’re needed.  This way you can release on iOS, Android, the Web, even PC, Mac and gaming consoles.

Choose the Right Team

Select a development team that will maximize your budget and give the best value.  Sometimes the cheapest guy on Craig’s List, ODesk, eLance, or RentACoder is the right way to go — such as with one-off experiments or when a quick and dirty initial draft of an app on a shoestring budget is expected to be tossed and re-written from scratch — but for most projects, it makes sense to proceed with a team that can provide end-to-end services, engage with your users, and help guide you strategically to that nirvana of mass adoption.

The Internet of Things: The Connected World Is Here and Now
Thursday, July 18th, 2013 by Sean Narvasa

Look around you and you will see thousands of “things” all within your immediate vicinity. Your keychain. Your desk chair. Your favorite coffee mug filled with Italian Roast coffee. Your dying ficus plant. With today’s technology, there is no reason why these things cannot communicate with you, in-real time.

  • Your plant should tell you, not only that it needs water, but how much and what position to place it during the day
  • Your coffee mug should know what kind of roast you want to drink today
  • You should be able to find your keys at a moment’s notice because you have a bad habit of misplacing them the moment you are about to go somewhere
  • Your desk chair should automatically adjust itself when it detects you are sitting with poor posture (reminder: stop slouching)

As luck would have it, there are technologies for each one of these things, being built. Right. Now. (See for yourself: Plant | Coffee | Keys | Chair).

The Hardware (R)evolution.

While  cliche, the world we are living in is becoming increasingly more connected, more now than ever before. While in research in development only a few years ago, technologies like RFID, NFC, and Zigbee are enabling the next generation of connected devices in a cost and energy efficient way. In fact, consumer goods that weren’t previously connected 18 months ago are now online. Recent examples, include:

As enabling technologies become cheaper and smaller, companies will be forced to innovate and think about how their offline products can get online.

Personalization.

Getting offline products into the 21st century is only the tip of the iceberg. Enhancing these products with connected technologies has to transform the product experience, be personal, and have utility. The bar for product experiences is so high, not executing against these objectives will result in a gimmicky, failure of an experience.

For example: A shoe company may want to create a running shoe with a GPS Dot. These “online shoes” should not only track where (and how long) the user was running, but it should provide actionable insights based on what the shoe company already knows about you: recommend running trails based on your running style and preferences, alert you when your friends are close by, give you a discount if you walk by a their store, and let you know how hard to run based on your body fat and weight goals.

Utility vs. Privacy

Privacy generally is a topic of concern when more devices become online and “all knowing.” As we’ve seen from the internet and media today, and in light of recent NSA privacy concerns, users are willing to give up certain liberties to connect with friends (Facebook), share their thoughts (Twitter), utilize free email (Google), or make free international calls over the internet (Microsoft/Skype). We believe its important for companies who are contemplating an online product strategy understand these implications and balance the utility an online product with the user’s privacy and the company’s ethics/values.

Questions to ask when developing a retail mobile strategy
Tuesday, July 16th, 2013 by Sean Narvasa

Lately, retailers (both large and small) have seemed to focus on their omni-channel strategy: leveraging social channels to drive traffic, traditional mediums to promote cross-channel awareness, and e-commerce to streamline the transaction process.

But what about the mobile touch point of the customer experience? These days, many retailers have a mobile app: but is this the right mobile app for you and your customer? In an age where nearly 58% of customers conduct online/social research prior to purchasing an item at a brick-and-mortar retail store, retailers should be thinking about how their app can (a) enhance the customer experience and (b) streamline the path to purchase. Sometimes these objectives are one in the same. Here are some questions to ask yourself when developing a mobile strategy for your retail environment.

What are your customer’s pain points? Every retailer is different: Different store layouts, different SKUs, different check-out process. As a retailer, you should ask your customers what their biggest pain points are when shopping in your brick-and-mortar retail store. By the same token, you should also ask yourself how you can solve this pain point with the customer’s mobile device. Some scenarios to think about:

  • Are your checkout lines too long?
  • Do they want to know what is on sale?
  • Do your customers need help with an item?
  • Do your customers need help navigating your store to find a category or SKU?
  • Would your customers prefer a ship-to-home option rather than hauling the item in their car?
  • Do your customers want to know what the price is of an item?

Why should your customer use your app? Once you’ve figured out your customer’s pain points, you should ask yourself why a customer should (a) download and (b) use your app. With thousands of apps on the market, and room for ~20 apps on the user’s Home screen, a better question may be: Why will the customer want to use your app more than once?

  • Do your app solve the problem (above) in a way that enhances the customer experience?
  • Do customers who use your app have a significant advantage over customers who don’t use it?
  • Does the customer receive value in the form of discounts or loyalty rewards?
  • Does the app enhance the offline and cross-channel customer experience?

Operationalizing the mobile experience to wow your customers

In some, or maybe all, of these scenarios the retailer may need to operationalize the experience around the mobile app. For example:

  • How do you handle loss prevention if you implement mobile check-out?
  • How do you greet loyal customers who enter your store?
  • How do you redeem loyalty rewards via the mobile app for a customer who is ready to check-out?
  • Do you offer flash-sales for customers who scan a SKU using their mobile phone, based on their purchasing history?

We believe the best mobile experiences are the ones that “start with the end” — and in the case of retail, we believe starting with the desired customer experience in the context of mobile, will help bring brick-and-mortar retailing to the 21st century.

5 Industries that Need More Mobile Apps
Monday, July 15th, 2013 by Brett Levine

Over 120 million Americans now have smartphones.  That’s over 40% of the US population.  And almost every one of them is aware that email, Facebook and Gumulon (and the other fun games of the moment) are what they can do.

But when you consider that today’s smartphones have more compute power than all of NASA used to send astronauts to the moon, and  capabilities that can sense: location, proximity, acceleration, compass heading, plus two high-resolution cameras, it’s time to start thinking of these devices in new ways that can benefit a wide range of industries.

Here are 5 industries we think stand to benefit from these amazing devices, and applications they might employ.

Home Furnishings

Augmented reality is a fancy way of saying that you display a computer generated image over live video from the camera.  When shopping for home furniture, whether at Ikea, Crate and Barrel or wondering how that Eames Lounger will look in your living room, a mobile app can show you what your furniture will look like in your home or office.

The amazing 3d graphics of Hollywood movies are now available in handheld form-just imagine seeing how new carpet, flooring, cabinets, appliances, or art will look in this spot—no over there a bit to the left.  Think this is just something of the future?  Check out these augmented reality apps and see for yourself.

Restaurants

You already use your mobile phone with OpenTable, Yelp, Urban Spoon, or maybe just Google Maps, but there’s more to come from the mobile world that will transform not just the restaurant discovery experience, but dining itself, not to mention restaurant ownership and operations.
Soon you will review nearby listings, and be greeted by a local restaurant’s maitre d’.  The special tonight is a fresh seared Ahi, and the chef has a table near the window, which we think you’d enjoy.  Come on down and we’ll send you a free glass of wine and an appetizer.  Oh and by the way, those peanut allergies will not be a problem with any of the items we recommend for you.
A restaurant owner will soon be able to take a snapshot of their menu, and OCR software will instantly update their mobile site, so users walking by can know exactly what’s hot (literally) at this spot.

Healthcare

From electronic health records (EHR) to checking for drug interactions, to refilling prescriptions, both doctors and patients already tote mobile apps in their arsenal, but prepare for future shock when remote diagnosis, doctor-patient video chat, social network support groups, and even health equipment monitoring connects to smart phones and tablets.

This is all made possible by recent software technology advances for HIPAA-compliance to protect patient privacy, and digital communication standards such as Health Level 7 (HL7) that allow a wide range of medical devices to talk with each other and external devices.

Industrial Control Systems

Industrial Process Control is a set of devices and software tools that allow factory managers to monitor and control the operation of manufacturin or industrial production equipment.  A new generation of wireless sensor technology, called Zigbee, allows industries to create mesh networks of sensors, so the next time that pressure gauge is reading a bit too high, or a silo level is a bit too low, you’re notified, instantly in your pocket or on your tablet.

Customer Support

Making that phone call to customer support is about as fun as making an appointment for a root canal.  Yet, what if the phone call wasn’t a call at all?  Mobile technologies are being deployed by businesses to make customer support communication fast, but the next step is all about eliminating customer support in favor of customer service.

Right now, just sending an @reply on Twitter and many top brands will respond very rapidly (with no hold music).  And when companies think of their customers more like the way they think of partners, your connection to the folks who make, manage and distribute consumer products changes your whole product usage experience.

 

Image credit: http://www.techspins.com/retina-vs-super-amoled