Saturday, October 16, 2004

Netflix,TiVo and Six degrees of separation

It was interesting to see NetFlix lower their fees in response to Amazon's entry into the market - no wait... on rumors of entry into the market. The stock market reacted immediately to the news and dropped the price by 40% in one day. Why in the world would you want to do that ?

As I dug deeper into this mystery some things became clearer: Leslie Kilgore - the CMO of NetFlix previously served as the director of marketing in - none other than -! Wonder what her buddies warned her. Something so strong that NetFlix decides to cancel their UK launch and focus on the core US market. Hmmm...

On the other hand, TiVo and Netflix announced that they would jointly develop a product to download movies over the internet. And the driver of this deal: TiVo Chief Executive Mike Ramsay who also happens to sit on the board of directors for Netflix. To Mr. Ramsay's credit however he resigned from the board as soon as a"commercial" deal was made. Does this make the situation ethical ? hmmm...

Let's see another director : Richard Barton who sits on several board including the IAC. What - never heard of it ? Here's a summary from stockhouse:

IAC/InterActiveCorp is the world's leading multi-brand interactive commerce company. IAC consists of IAC Travel, which includes Expedia, Inc.,, Hotwire, Interval International, and TV Travel Shop; HSN; Ticketmaster, which oversees ReserveAmerica;; LendingTree; Precision Response Corporation; IAC Local and Media Services, which includes Citysearch, Evite, Entertainment Publications, Inc. and TripAdvisor, Inc.; and IAC Interactive Development which includes ZeroDegrees.

Here's my prediction then: Prepare to see more of Netflix in not only consumer households, but in hotels as well. Imagine a world where your rating,preferences and queues travel with you around the world. All hotels that you stay in are linked to NetFlix's servers to beam you the next movie you are interested in. TiVo already knows your habits, Netflix wil help propagate it.

And all because of six degrees of separation.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Collaboration Tools for Product Management

For those of you in product management, collaboration is key to identifying trends, gathering requirements, peer validation and basically having a single repository for information.

The issue with today's PLM (product life cycle management) tools is that they rely heavily on workflow processes, and expect documents attached at every step of the workflow to some how assist in collaboration. The fundamental problem with this approach is that even though process is very important when the requirements become clear, the chaos during the collection phase needs to be better facilitated- so that the important information floats to the top, and the rest can be at the bottom as a lower priority.

So when a tool like JotSpot came to my attention - I grabbed it for a trial run. So far - it addresses some real cool areas and is based on the wildly popular WiKi methodology, except that the founders talk about building enterprise applications on top of this.

There are several tools that offer the "workspace" centric approach - for e.g. Groove, Lotus Notes, Discussion groups etc that allow threaded conversations and searching across them. What is needed is a channel agnostic way to aggregate content (which Jot allows by integrating with email, RSS, web pages etc), and web service based external integration.

The founders in their conversation with Jon Udell seem to have missed the point about the key applicability in the enterprise space, but focus on a enabling Wikis as a quick development tools for specific business apps. This will point them against standard development tools vendors like IBM, BEA etc with far greater resources that they have, however innovative this product currently is.

What Jot needs is to clearly define what business market they want to go after, with tools to simplify adoption and more user interfaces. Editing a page and adding code may be a piece of cake for a developer but try showing the demo to a sales rep and sees if s/he'll dig it !

However, it is a great concept and I look forward to the founders repositioning this from something that is universally useful to nobody, to mission critical for somebody.

Call me if you need my help!

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Tough to be in IT

Look at the landscape if you are in IT today - vendors like PeopleSoft want to make it easier to use their applications, product managers are supposed to know their target users, goals and behaviors - so much so that the need for IT should be minimal. Your management is looking at the cost and feels that outsourcing of "non-strategic" tasks is the best strategy - except that 80% of the people in your company IT fall into that bucket. Look at your user community - they are never happy with the performance, usability, scalabilty of any thing you implement, especially a new application.

Painted this way, it really looks like the perfect storm. So is it the end of IT (as Nick Carr so infamously put it) ?

My answer - absolutely not! There is a LONG way to go as a hi-tech culture before we can even write IT off. My experiences with IT folks in companies show some revealing characteristics:

a. Vendors are light years behind providing the "perfect" solution

Yes - all the plans talk about making IT obsolete, putting the power in the hands of the business users ( like allowing end users to execute DML statements on the fly in production - ya you heard me right!) still leaves a lot to be desired. And why is that ? The key reason I see is due to the multiple points of failure in any complex application - there are just too many variables that the vendors cant design/test/foresee in a controlled lab environment. For eg. the exact mix of the platform, database, hardware, software version, skillset of IT, skillset of user will always yeild different permutations on how the software eventually ends up behaving. And who can help fix this - IT.

b. IT outsourcing

This is a hotly debated topic. While it is true that IT infrastructure has elements that can be outsourced, the competitive edge that a company derives by keeping resources onsite, well paid and motivated cannot be easily duplicated. Business Agility. What wins in the market is the ability to experiment, react quickly to feedback and experiment again. Outsource your IT and you are stuck with "standards" - the standards that once gave you a competitive edge are now becoming strait jackets - driven by vendors that serve only one agenda - theirs.

c. Business community - IT's customers

I was recently in a conversation where the business users were completely livid due to a migration to a newer system, touting the strengths of the older one, even though the newer system addressed 80% of the key pain points. Why is that ? Because change is hard. IT folks need to spend a lot of time with the end user community in recuriting leaders, educating them about the change well in advance and getting buy-in. Lets face - NO software will solve problems, people do. Its important not to ignore this fact and put in change management in your project plan.

So is IT needed. As far as I can see - absolutely! Will it be needed in 10 years ? perhaps. But that is another article all by itself...

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Innovation and Microsoft

Robert Scoble's website has an interesting discussion of what Microsoft's contribution to innovation is. Ok most of them are MS bashers who are critical about their "embrace, extend, extinguish" strategy, and argue that almost all innovations are NIH - "Not invented here".

While I agree with most products that the MS bashers talked about, the one attribute that MS has contributed IMHO is the user experience. It is an enviable competitive advantage that MS has to define the next generation of user interfaces in any application that continue to influence consumer and business applications.

Ok - I hear the Mac team screaming already - Notice I did not say that this honor belongs to MS alone.

Perhaps its the touch with the largest number of human beings on the planet that ever use a computer - the first learning with the MS UI suddenly raises the bar with all other applications that compete or that attemt to interact with a user. I have seen this many too often that the question posed is "Why can't you make it work like MS xxx" where xxx can be their favorite product.

In this new world of services-oriented architecture, the user interface title is again up for grabs. Can MS continue to dominate the interface standard with A2A (app-to-app) just as they did with usability for an end-user application? Hmmmm...

PeopleSoft Alumni Website

Steve Tennant, an ex-PeopleSoftie has created a new PeopleSoft Alumni website. This is absolutely great news and here's the blog to cast a vote in its favor!
The Wonderful World of Digital Photography and their Providers

Being a photography enthusiast, I'm really curious to see how the digitial photography market is shaping up. There are the manufacturers - the Kodaks of the world - fim makers and camera makers - the Canon's of the world. There are the consumers - like you and me. And then there is the Internet for the new virtual showcase.

Lets briefly list the players here who want to be our virtual showcase : Ofoto, Snapfish, Yahoo! Photos.

And then there are ones who want to help "organize" our virtual shoebox - Google, TypePad(from MoveableType), Microsoft and of course the 800 lbs gorilla - Adobe.

And then starts the great convergence war. Kodak - the maker of traditional films wants to be the leader in the new digital medium to avoid obsolescence. They acquire Ofoto.

Google looks and this and says - hey! We are the leaders in search, so we should go acquire someone so that when people want to search for photos, they will absolutely use Google. And oh - let's make it available free of charge so that there the ultimate form of vendor lock-in - free funtional product with high emotional investment value.

So what is Microsoft doing - why researching to make this experience easier of course. In this article entitled "Life of a digital Photo" MS reasearchers are hard at work in crafting a next gen software called "Media Browser" - which BTW will be completely renamed when the product marketing guys get their hands on it - whic allows quick identification and classification of photos - time cluster views, subject/topic views etc.

Since classification is a primary nut to crack for all these management software, here's another vendor that claims to do this, ableit for web search. Now the prospects of lasting against Google or MS - you can guess.

The latest vendor to jump into this is Flickr. Offering tons of new services, this is a service I have my eyes on at the moment.

And there always are the niche vendors - PaintShop Pro, Adode and others who really want to stay on the tools side of the business in making the experience of editing photos much better rather than get on the search side of the business.

The real question is - is digital search the future of photos ? Perhaps. I'm not convinced yet that we have seen the end of the competition in this space. Im still expecting the digital version of Creative Memories, and the makers of shoeboxes to wake up one day and go "Hey - we need to go digital!".

What are the pre-reqs of this business - One is disk space, the other is computational capacity, third is management. So I would predict storage companies like EMC, Processors like Intel in the first two categories to do very well. The third layer of management is very muddy right now with all the vendors mentioned above.

Add to the vertical integration confusion strategy with all major vendors wanting a piece of this digital phot0 pie (including HP, and the ability for the iPod to store photos) will be very interesting to watch.

And not to forget - what about the cell phone manufacturers with embedded photo phones ? It is only a matter of time when Motorola and Samsung and others embed 3.1 Megapixel camera phones and then they demand management and organization tools as well.

So as consumers - the best is yet to come. Who would I bet on ? A vertically integrated cradle-to-grave company or pure photo management company ? Right now it would be the latter.