Wednesday, July 30, 2008

i-legions Commits Brand Suicide?

I stumbled across an article by Jennifer Leggio of ZDNet that illustrates the art of brand suicide in this day and age of the social web:

‘Branded community’ leads to trademark morass

Basically, Jennifer received a cease and desist letter from i-legions claiming that her use of the phrase "branded community" constitutes trademark infringement. Denise Howell of ZDNet commented on this issue and provided a good link regarding Trademarks.

Legalese aside, what makes this situation precious is the irony involved.

i-legions is "The only company whose Branded Communities® generate real revenue as they enhance user interaction with your brand".

The letter from i-legions was specifically in response to an article entitled "Enterprise communities: build or join?" which highlights Mzinga, a provider of online communities and social networks for businesses. One could say they help companies build "branded communities".

That competitor. Aha, now I get it!

So rather than compete on the value of their solution, i-legions' recipe for social web success is to legally govern what people can and can't say. Do I have that right? Well, that makes perfect sense since i-legions, after all, is "The only company whose Branded Communities® generate real revenue...".

So, while i-legions positions themselves as social web leaders and brand experts, I hope their advice to their prospective customers regarding this issue is to "do as I say and not as I do".

Trademark infringement is an important issue to understand, and I am on record regarding the importance of protecting trademarks. See my What Do You Stand For? post regarding the Hibernate trademark.

This i-legions situation, however, is not about infringing on an established product name, company logo, etc. Instead it appears focused on someone's ill-informed desire to govern the "descriptive fair use of words in the English language" (i.e. not trademark infringement)...especially by [or in reference to] their competitors.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Goodbye Randy Pausch

Last August 2007, Randy Pausch was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. His doctors estimated that he had 3 to 6 months to live.

After almost a year, the sad day has finally come. WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh reported this morning that:

CMU Professor Randy Pausch Has Died

Carnegie Mellon posted "An Enduring Legacy: Randy Pausch Inspired Millions" that summarizes Randy's life and legacy.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article entitled "Randy Pausch: Find and Follow Your Passion" that described the key lessons that resonated with me after reading Randy's book (The Last Lecture) and viewing the various YouTube videos of his speeches and interviews; read my article for links to his book and YouTube videos.

I am among millions of people who have been inspired by Randy's story over the past year or so.

In his 6 minute commencement speech at Carnegie Mellon this past May, he described the importance of Finding and Following Your Passion:

In reference to his terminal condition, he stated:
"We don't beat the grim reaper by living longer. You beat the reaper by living well and living fully. For the reaper will come for all of us. The question is what do we do between the time we're born and the time he shows up. Because when he shows up, it's too late to do all the things you always wanted to get around to..."

To make his point more urgently and succinctly, he uses a cliche (he likes cliches):
"It is not the things we do in life that we regret on our deathbed, it is the things we do not."

Goodbye Randy Pausch and Thank You for sharing and preserving your life lessons for all to continue to enjoy long into the future.

You will be missed.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Wrapping My Head Around Microsoft Live Mesh

In late April, I started seeing interesting articles regarding Microsoft's Live Mesh that were stating that Microsoft "is bringing its developers onto the Internet in an interesting new way" with Live Mesh. My gut was telling me that this was important stuff, but I did not have the time to dig in.

In May, my gut started rumbling again after Matt Asay (whom I'm a big fan of) posted "Where did Microsoft's ambition go?". The key parts of his post that stuck with me were:
"Microsoft does need ambition on the web....makes me think the company has too much cash to be able to see a future where it's largely irrelevant, awash in tablets but a nonentity on the web that stitches them together."

No offense Matt, but based on my experience over the past two decades, one should never, ever count Microsoft out. Ever. Remember OS/2, remember Netware, remember Netscape?

Since I've been spending the better part of this year focused on the Social Web, I left myself a todo to spend some time figuring out Live Mesh, especially after reading the "Full text of Ray Ozzie Mesh Memo". The quote that stuck with me was:
"Community on the web once meant “group communications”, largely through rudimentary tools such as email, IM and IRC, message boards and newsgroups. Today, the action has shifted toward using composite communications tools and platforms that mash together content, applications and commerce, all within the context of group interaction. These social platforms are altering the way we connect and coordinate, establish identity and affinities, and build reputation."

That quote showed me that Microsoft (or at least Ray Ozzie) gets it! So, if Microsoft is able to execute on this vision, they will resurrect themselves once again.

Anyhow, over the weekend I finally spent time on my todo. I came across a very informative video by Ori Amiga from Microsoft that really helped me understand Microsoft's Live Mesh strategy and MOE (the Mesh Operating Environment). In the hour-long "Programming the Mesh" video, Ori shows a number of demos covering the native Mesh feeds, applications using Mesh, a Silverlight client that supports working on and offline, a custom Facebook application that syncs Facebook photos with Live Mesh, a Mac client that sends photos to Live Mesh, and LINQ queries over Mesh objects.

I also read an article by Steve Gillmor on TechCrunchIT , where he stated that Microsoft Live Mesh is "essentially a rewrite of Notes replication over open protocols with FeedSync combined with an atomization of social media primitives into a new platform on which to build applications that are identity rather than hardware or native OS-centric. Today, we see Live Mesh as about virtualizing files from the containing device over a Web hub, but at a deeper level, the Mesh is as much an information router as a bit traffic cop. How to act on the data becomes more strategic than the underlying job of moving things around to follow the user."

It is great to see that Microsoft realizes the importance of weaving basic social primitives into the experience of the users of their platforms. You can be sure that I will be following the progress of Live Mesh as it continues its rollout over the coming quarters.

Bottom-line: I just knew when I joined Ringside Networks that we were at the center of something pretty big. Folks like Google and Facebook get it...and what I've seen of Live Mesh, I believe Microsoft gets it as well.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Product Managers: Chief Assholes or Value Creators?

I was interviewed recently regarding the similarities and differences of the role of Product Management within proprietary software, commercial open source software, and community open source software settings. We actually used the Pragmatic Marketing Framework - which I know and love - to guide the discussion.

While there are indeed some differences between proprietary and open source models (which I'll cover in a future post), the Product Management fundamentals are pretty much the same. Moreover, the main point that I made was:

For both proprietary and commercial open source software, the Product Manager needs to focus on creating a product that people will actually buy! Plain and simple.

I actually have a quote I use as an internal mantra that helps ensure I stay focused on creating valuable products that solve real customer problems:

"Opinions are like assholes, everybody has one..."

My point here is that a Product Manager needs to check their OPINIONS at the door. Any Product Manager that starts off a feature discussion with "in my humble opinion" runs the risk of guessed it...the Chief Asshole.

While some may strive [and deserve] that lofty title, I'd rather be known as a Value Creator who focuses on solving problems and driving real value for my customers, partners, community, company, coworkers, and investors.

Moreover, since the Product Manager communicates with a wide range of people - both internally and externally - it is important his/her decisions are based on well founded information.
Above is an ugly diagram that I've used over the past decade to illustrate the various conversations a Product Manager has to handle over the course of a product's lifecycle. So, the Product Manager has the opportunity to make a BIG [positive or negative] impact on the success of a company.

Another one of my favorite internal dialog quotes comes from Jerry Seinfeld:

"Who are these people??!!"

For any new product offering, one of the first places I focus is on understanding and documenting the Buyer Personas. After all, how the heck are you going to create real value for customers if you don't know who's buying? User personas, while not the same, are also useful to understand. UPDATED: Here's a good article covering the difference between the two: "Buyer Personas And User Personas"

Understanding who these people are provides a solid foundation for the Product Manager to more effectively gain insight into market and customer needs so s/he can integrate, translate, and communicate this information - in a variety of different forms - to the various stakeholders involved in the product lifecycle.

While Product Managers must maintain positive working relationships with all stakeholders, I feel the relationship between the Development Manager and the Product Manager is most important since this is where the critical translation of the "what and why" into the "how and when" occurs.

While a bit scary, the closer a Product Manager and Development Manager can come to a Vulcan Mind Meld, the better.

So in closing, don't be a Chief Asshole. Be a Value Creator instead. Why? Because it's much more fun when you actually create products that 1) solve real problems, and 2) people are willing to pay for!

Want to learn more about the role of Product Management?
I suggest you read the following FREE e-book from Pragmatic Marketing:
The Strategic Role of Product Management: How a market-driven focus leads companies to build products people want to buy.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Consumerization of Software: Social Web Maturing Before Our Very Eyes

Fueled by our use of Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google, iTunes, Twitter, YouTube, etc., the consumerization of software has been a growing movement over the past few years. The benefit of this wave is software that is more engaging and intuitive. No expensive training required.

Most of these next-generation websites and applications sit at the heart of the Social Web, and whether corporate IT likes it or not, many employees are using these consumer technologies during work hours.

Having spent many years in the enterprise software space, I realize that corporate IT prefers MATURE technologies. So, let's take a look at two examples (Twitter and Facebook) of how things are maturing within the Social Web Landscape.

Just scour through Twitter to see how people/workers have been using it to communicate their whereabouts, thoughts, opinions, among other things. You also don't have to look very hard to read about Twitter's repeated issues with scalability and downtime. The issues have happened often enough that some have moved away from Twitter to Friendfeed; choice is good.

Believe it or not, I am happy to see the issues with Twitter's scalability and the resulting uproar from the consumers. Why? Because it is useful for people to be reminded that anything on the web that becomes popular so fast has to deal with scaling issues that can derail it. So plan for it and be ready to deal with it.

Moreover, I believe the public airing of the dirty laundry helps drive things more quickly towards improvement; which in turn helps the overall market mature more quickly. Finally, Twitter's move to acquire Summize is just another proof point of how quickly this market is maturing.

Another potential saga worth watching is Facebook's rollout of its latest round of [pretty extensive] changes to the Facebook Platform. Let me draw your eye to an interesting thread on the Facebook Platform Developer Forum.

The Facebook Platform team posted "We're Launching the New Profile Design to Users Very Soon":
"This is a quick heads up that we're going to start opening the new profile design to selected users. We're finalizing all the code, and the profile will be available to users you can see as soon as 24 hours from now, though it might take a few days before you see any of your users on the new site as they decide to opt in. So get your applications ready!"

Just look at some of the responses:
  • "We would appreciate it if you are able to make the new profile design at fully functional and let us test our apps for a few days before opening it up to users. You and all of us risk alienating users if you open up the current new design to users already, and they start seeing broken features, both from you and from our apps, right?"
  • "Facebook should consider itself as an operating system. We are the app designers. Right now, the operating system designers are doing a poor and unprofessional job at releasing new functionality. In the end, it is the users who will be hurt....Are you listening, Facebook?"
  • "I don't think Facebook could have handled this transition any worse. Every time I have looked into doing some work to move our apps to new API, I have run into issues/bugs and have just given up. Facebook needs to: 1. Get their stuff together and working. 2. Once they have the functionality working and more importantly documented properly, so all the Facebook API libraries can be upgraded (not just PHP), then they need to give the developers 1 month to upgrade and test their apps. The 1 month time should only start after they have a good beta in working condition.... 3. And only then they should start opening up the new system to the users, and that too in phases. Hopefully someone in Facebook is going to wakeup and realize this is a major mess as of now."
I point out the above not to hang Facebook out to dry, but to state the fact that I am happy to see this type of open dialog on such an important topic. It shows me that while Facebook can be handling its new rollout better, some of the developers targeting the Facebook Platform 1) care about their users, and 2) understand what is required from a mature platform.

While I've focused on examples of consumerized software within a less-than-mature light, Corporate IT skeptics also need to understand and appreciate the sheer number of members being served every minute of every day on platforms like Facebook. Frankly it is mind-numbingly impressive. Furthermore, I'd argue that Facebook is a great example of Web 2.0 and SOA in action; this is not tinker-toy software. But that's a blog for another day.

Bottom-line: The consumerization of software is well underway, and it is fascinating to watch as the Social Web matures before our very eyes.

Friday, July 11, 2008

OFF TOPIC: Roller Coasters and Billy Joel with Liza

My daughter Liza turned 17 this week and she got her driver's license on her birthday. I'm both very excited and a little freaked out. She can't be 17 already, can she?

In order to properly celebrate the momentous occasion, I flipped her the car keys yesterday morning and we headed out for a father/daughter day.

The weather was a perfect 85 and Sunny as Liza drove us to Hershey PA for a day of roller coasters at HersheyPark and a night of Billy Joel at HersheyPark Stadium. This marks my fourth Billy Joel concert over the years...but was Liza's first chance to see him in action.

After arriving at HersheyPark, we quickly headed over to check out the brand new roller coaster: Fahrenheit. While Fahrenheit is a good new coaster, our favorite of the day was easily Storm Runner which launches you from 0 to 72 mph in 2 seconds....what a rush!

We rode all the major rides during the day and grabbed a bite to eat...and some yummy funnel cake...before walking over to HersheyPark Stadium for the concert. We couldn't wait for the show to start...especially after hearing him warm up earlier in the afternoon.

I have to admit, it is pretty cool (and a little strange) having a daughter who likes Billy Joel as much as I do. I mean, the dude is 59 years old and hasn't made a new album in over 15 years. BUT his songs are CLASSICS, so that helps explain how he is able to bridge the generation gap.

Before the concert started, we debated what song he would open up with. I figured it had to be an upbeat maybe "We Didn't Start The Fire" or "Only The Good Die Young". Liza thought he'd start with "Miami 2017" (aka "Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway"), which is one of my favorites...but a bit obscure for the average maybe not.

Anyhow, Liza was dead on; Billy Joel kicked off the concert with Miami 2017, followed quickly by the amazing "Angry Young Man" do his fingers move so fast on the piano???

Liza almost passed out when Billy Joel started playing her favorite: "Don't Ask Me Why"

Ever the performer, Billy Joel rattled off a range of hits as well as a few of his obscure classics (for the true fans in the audience). His encore ended, as expected, with the classic "Piano Man". There is simply NOTHING like listening to a stadium full of people singing this just leaves you with goose bumps. Very cool!

Alas, all great days must come to an end. So at 11:30pm, we headed out on our 2 hour drive home. We reminisced about the great thrill rides we enjoyed during the day....but mostly we just turned up the volume on the car stereo and listened to more Billy Joel songs the whole way home.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Randy Pausch: Find and Follow Your Passion

I read a book entitled "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch. Randy is a Professor of Computer Science, Human Computer Interaction and Design at Carnegie Mellon University. And he is also battling pancreatic cancer; last August 2007 he was diagnosed with 3 - 6 months to live.

Randy covers a range of different accomplishments in his book, but he has found a way to "pay it forward" on a grand scale by pioneering the Alice project, which is free educational software that teaches students computer programming in a 3D environment. Alice looks really cool and reminds me of my "The Future of Open Source" post, where I described how Roblox (a 3D world not dissimilar to Alice) is grooming our next generation of developers.

Anyhow, this book struck a chord with me on a variety of fronts. Since my father-in-law died of pancreatic cancer and my own father died from brain cancer, I can relate to what Randy's family is going through.

Randy is only a few years older than me, so I just chuckle at how some of his childhood dreams and travels feel so familiar to me. For example, Randy's sport was football, mine was baseball. While neither of us made it to the big leagues, we both had coaches who taught us the importance of learning the fundamentals; a lesson that can be applied to almost every aspect of life.

The following "Last Lecture" presentation was given at Carnegie Mellon on September 18, 2007. The Last Lecture series asks professors to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them. Ironic given the fact that Randy is actually facing his own demise. Anyhow, this inspirational presentation by Randy Pausch offers a nice summary of what's covered in his book:

As if the above presentation was not enough, this past May 2008 (9 months after his diagnosis) Randy gave a 6 minute commencement speech at Carnegie Mellon that is absolutely worth watching. His key point of inspiration to the audience:

Find and Follow Your Passion

Passion does not come from things or money. It comes from things that fuel you from the inside. Passion is grounded in people and what they think of you. Achieving your goals is not easy, so use your passion and the help of people who respect you to break through the "brick walls" that you encounter along the way.

For your convenience, below are a series of links to Randy Pausch videos starting with his Last Lecture in September, his interview with Diane Sawyer in April, and his Carnegie Mellon commencement speech in May.

Randy Pausch - The Last Lecture Presentation on September 18, 2007

Randy Pausch - Part 1 of April 2008 Interview with Diane Sawyer

Randy Pausch - Part 2 of April 2008 Interview with Diane Sawyer

Randy Pausch - Part 3 of April 2008 Interview with Diane Sawyer

Randy Pausch - Part 4 of April 2008 Interview with Diane Sawyer

Randy Pausch - Part 5 of April 2008 Interview with Diane Sawyer

Randy Pausch - CMU Commencement Speech on May 18,2008