Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Google Reader In Action

In response to my "10 Tips for Listening and Sharing on the Web" article, I received many requests from people who wanted more details on how to get started with Google Reader. Some people were having problems subscribing to certain RSS feeds. They asked me to create a video that shows how to get started with Google Reader in 5 minutes or less.

So, by popular request, click on the image below to go to my Google Reader In Action video:

Google Reader In Action
The video above was recorded using Jing, "the always-ready [FREE] program that instantly captures and shares images and video…from your computer to anywhere." It's made by TechSmith, the same people who created SnagIt, Camtasia Studio, and Screencast.com.

NOTE: This was my first official recording using Jing, so let me know what you think.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Genie In The Bottle

Interesting Harvard Business Publishing article entitled "What Apple Knows That Facebook Doesn't". Umair Haque wrote the article and contends that markets, networks, and communities "are strategic weapons of shock and awe". And his thinking on platforms is that "the most useful way to think about platforms today is simply as markets."

The article contends that Apple's iPhone 3G platform is not about a platform to be manipulated, but rather a market to be made. The iPhone's App Store is at the heart of that statement; it's the genie in the bottle with potential for great magic. Apple and its partners are able to bring products to market in a way that provides value to consumers.

On the other hand, Umair thinks Facebook has effectively let its genie OUT of the bottle by focusing on making Facebook a platform instead of a market. "If advertisers are subsidizing apps for people, Facebook's market will always be distorted - because advertisers need consumers more than consumers need advertisers today."

This implies that Facebook partners (ex. app developers) are limited in how they can participate in a way that truly provides value to consumers. Moreover Facebook appears to be trying to put the genie BACK IN the bottle by identifying and highlighting great applications; this move could cause a negative backlash by app developers and Facebook users if not handled properly.

If Facebook spent some significant time thinking about how they can extend the reach of their platform so that it provides value to lots of websites (not just Facebook.com) and visitors to those websites (not just Facebook users), then that could be a powerful genie. Facebook Connect is a step in that direction, but it still feels too much "platform" and not enough "market".

I do not want to imply that platforms are unimportant; you just need to structure them properly so the market potential is optimal. Google, for instance, has built a platform (i.e. Indexing and Search) upon which an Adwords ecosystem flourishes.

On a related note, this platform vs. market thinking got me thinking about open source business models. In Matt Asay's "Sifting open-source wheat from the chaff", he rightly points out that paid-for support of open source technologies "is not a compelling enough argument for most would-be buyers".

While open source technology and support can provide the basis for a core platform and business, it is the commercial, differentiated offerings built on top of and around that core that drives the enduring market opportunity for customers, vendors, partners, etc. Easy to say, but in may cases hard to do, since it requires a delicate balance.

As Jim Whitehurst of Red Hat states: "If the open-source movement, now in its second decade, is to realize its promise for vendors and investors, more of its purveyors will need to get the message soon."

Bottom-line: Thinking in terms of platforms and markets helps ensure business plans are designed to keep the proverbial genie in the bottle...the results of which can be quite magical. A bottle without a genie...is just a bottle.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Professor ROBLOX: Class In Session

KidsLike.info has been reviewing various systems designed to teach kids programming, such as Scratch, Alice, Greenfoot, Python, and Java. As I've mentioned previously, Randy Pausch helped launch the Alice project as a way to "pay it forward and shape the lives of lots of future programmers.

ROBLOX offers the same potential as Alice and KidsLike.info agrees. Further, they left a comment on one of my ROBLOX-related posts asking if I could post some of my son's code in order to help other young people understand what ROBLOX code actually looks like. Great idea! I brainstormed with my son and he offered up the following short snippet of code that shows how he makes it easy to explode things within the ROBLOX world:

-- Scripts for creating, placing, and exploding bombs.

bin = script.Parent
local player = bin.Parent.Parent

-- Create a bomb where you clicked. Keep a reference to it so you can explode it later.
function onButton1Down(mouse)
mouse.Icon = "rbxasset://textures\\GunWaitCursor.png"
if (player.Character.Head.Position - mouse.Hit.p).magnitude < 50 then
local P = Instance.new("Part")
P.Name = "Bomb"
P.Size = Vector3.new(1,1,1)
P.Anchored = true
P.Position = mouse.Hit.p
P.BrickColor = BrickColor.new(26)
P.Parent = player.Character

mouse.Icon = "rbxasset://textures\\GunCursor.png"

-- When you press q, explode all the bombs you created and watch all the stuff explode!
function onKeyDown(key)
key = string.lower(key)

if key == "q" then
local g = player.Character:children()
for i = 1,#g do
if g[i].Name == "Bomb" then
local a = Instance.new("Explosion")
a.Parent = game.Workspace
a.Position = g[i].Position

-- Bomb tool selected. Hook in my own function for ButtonDown and KeyDown.
function onSelected(mouse)
print("Action Tool Selected")
mouse.Icon = "rbxasset://textures\\GunCursor.png"
mouse.Button1Down:connect(function() onButton1Down(mouse) end)



ROBLOX is an event-based system that leverages Lua as the programming language. In the code snippet above, my son overrides the default events (i.e. onButtonDown, onKeyDown, etc.) and plugs in his own EXPLOSIVE extensions.

The code above essentially enables you to click anywhere to plant bombs wherever you want them, and then press the 'q' key to invoke your mayhem.

Good fun...good fun. :-)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Who's the BOSS? JBoss ESB and Drools, of course!

InfoWorld recently awarded the Best of Open Source Software Awards 2008 (aka the 2008 InfoWorld Bossies).

Last year, JBoss garnered awards for JBoss Seam and JBoss Rules (aka Drools).

This year, JBoss continues its winning tradition.

JBoss Drools wins for the second year in a row, achieving top honors as the Best Business Rule Management System:
" is a worthy rival to leading enterprise competitors Blaze Advisor and JRules, but is available free under the Apache open source license. It combines a very fast runtime engine, a full-featured rule repository, excellent Eclipse-based developer tools, and support for Excel-based decision tables, allowing rules to be written and maintained by business analysts. The developer group is large, and the project moves fast. Drools even has one feature the market leaders lack: the capability to import rules from almost any other BRMS."

JBoss ESB garners an impressive victory as the Best Enterprise Service Bus:
"Part of the JBoss Enterprise SOA Platform that combines process orchestration supporting BPEL and jBPM, security and registry services, and the Drools rules engine, bolsters integration and service mediation with transformation and content-based routing, business rules and policy management, and both service- and human-based workflow. There's room for improvement in areas like adapters and change management, and some of the SOA suite's functionality currently requires third-party add-ons. But JBoss is already busy on improvements."

Kudos to the JBoss ESB and JBoss Drools communities for showing who's the BOSS!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Do Blog Post Titles Matter?

I am conducting an [arguably unscientific] experiment to see how subtle title changes can greatly affect how much attention a blog post receives. While my experiment is still in process, I've actually seen enough to share my results.

On Tuesday July 22, I posted an article entitled:
"Product Management Tips for Listening and Sharing"

On Saturday August 1, I posted the same article using the title:
"10 Tips for Listening and Sharing on the Web"

The content of the posts were identical except for how I formatted the 10 bullets. In the first, I used regular bullets and in the second I used numbered bullets.

While the "10 Tips..." post has only been out for a couple of days, it has already generated 5 times the number of readers as the original post. This is impressive since I really tried to stack the deck against it. For example, I posted it on Saturday morning (weekends get the lowest number of readers), whereas the original post went out on a Tuesday (which typically generates the highest readership).

So, why the big difference?

Read 7 Reasons Why Numbered Blog Post Titles Work for some of the rationale.

I agree that numbered titles are more appealing. I also think the original title appealed to a more specific audience (i.e. product managers) whereas the "10 Tips..." title appeals to anyone interested in listening and sharing on the web.

Bottom-line: Titles do matter! So, if you're going to spend time creating a blog post or writing an article, devote a few extra cycles on creating a title that will grab the attention your effort deserves.

Interested In More Blogging Tips?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

My Friend Jon: The Flip-Flopper

My buddy Jon Maron posted his first article on his new blog. He's declared to the world that he's a flip-flopper and proud of it!

I encourage you to read Jon's "I am a flip-flopper". It's timely (due to the current presidential race) and timeless (people change their minds every day).

Above image licensed under the free Creative Commons Attribution License.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

10 Tips for Listening and Sharing on the Web

In my recent article Product Managers: Chief ***holes or Value Creators?, I stated: For both proprietary and commercial open source software, the Product Manager needs to focus on creating a product that people will actually buy! And to do that, the Product Manager needs to listen to the market in order to understand their Buyers and Users.

So how can a Product Manager (or any business owner for that matter) be as efficient and effective as possible listening to the market? And how can they easily share the information they gather with other stakeholders interested in learning and understanding?

Below is a list of FREE tools/websites/tips I currently use for Listening and Sharing as part of my daily routine. Please note that RSS Feeds are at the heart of my system. If you are new to RSS, please read: Google Reader Help Center: What is a feed? What does it mean to subscribe? Also note that these tools do not replace but add information (in an automated, scalable manner) that complements my usual face to face/phone/email conversations with customers, prospects, partners, coworkers, etc.

1. Key Websites: Start off by creating a list of the best sources of online information (news, articles, opinions, blogs, online communities, industry analyst sites) for your product's industry, buyers, users, key influencers, etc. If you are drawing a complete blank, start with Alltop, which attempts to collect "all the top" stories across the web. Be sure to ask others (including some of your customers) what sites they read. Try to make a NICE BIG LIST and always keep your eyes and ears open for new sites to add to your list. You can always trim the noise and useless sources of information later. Be sure to include any public forums or online communities (ex. Facebook Groups) that are engaging in discussions related to your areas of interest.

2. Google Reader: Subscribe to as many of your Key Websites as possible using an RSS Feed Reader. I use Google Reader which is free and easy. Any good reader will do. If you don't already use an RSS Reader (ex. you subscribe to email alerts instead), then I strongly suggest you move this task out of Email and use RSS Feeds instead! Why? Because email is an inflexible closed system that is already likely overloaded; whereas RSS Feeds are designed to enable you to more easily GATHER, ORGANIZE and SHARE articles that you find useful with others. More details below on how I use Google Reader.

3. Google News and Blog Search: Your list of Key Websites is not enough. You need to identify the key terms for your area of focus and setup RSS Feeds from Google News and Google Blog Search (and any other useful search sites; such as Technorati) for the various search criteria that you want to track. You will likely setup multiple feeds across your search criteria (ex. your product, your competitors products, key industry terms, etc.). This is not an exact science, so it's OK to tweak your terms and recreate your feeds until you get a good flow of information going!

4. Delicious Social Bookmarking: While you can use the organization and favoriting features built into Google Reader, I prefer to use Delicious to store and organize my bookmarks. Click here to learn about Delicious and Social Bookmarking. The Delicious Toolbar Buttons (Bookmarklets) make the process of creating bookmarks easy. I use tags to help me organize my bookmarks. For example, look at my Ringside Networks Delicious page to see my favorite articles, and click on the "Recommended" tag to see how it displays only those articles tagged as "Recommended". If you don't like Delicious, Magnolia is another social bookmarking site worth considering. More details below on how I use Delicious.

5. Small and Shareable Links: Sometimes you want to share a link to an article that has a really long URL. I use TinyURL for turning long URLs into teeny-tiny URLs. So, http://www.pragmaticmarketing.com/blogs/productmarketing becomes http://tinyurl.com/2vzwqp. Be sure to setup the TinyURL Toolbar Button which makes creating a TinyURL just one click away. NOTE: I use TinyURL when I need a short URL and don't mind obfuscating (hiding) the original URL. I tend NOT to use TinyURL when I want/need to use the real links (ex. when referring to pages on my company website, I want to keep track of other sites that link to pages on my website).

6. Social Media Firehose: The Social Media Firehose leverages Yahoo Pipes to tap into what people are saying and sharing across the realm of Social Media (ex. Flickr, Twitter, Friendfeed, Digg, etc.). It's as simple as plugging in your search terms, any sites you want excluded from the search, and clicking Run Pipe. After the search runs, simply add it as a feed to your reader in order to track the conversations happening on the Social Web. For those interested in just searching Twitter conversations, Summize (now Twitter Search) is a good tool for doing just that.

7. Forums and Online Communities: If your company offers a User Forum or if you are aware of any independent forums focused on your area of interest, then you may want to subscribe to a feed focused on the the topic areas you are interested in. For example, the Ringside Networks forums are at http://forums.ringsidenetworks.org/ and I tune into the User Forums rather than the Developer Forums. When I was at JBoss, I also subscribed to the User Forums.

8. Social Following and Aggregation: If you have a handful of key people whose commentary you like to follow closely AND who use Friendfeed to aggregate their blogs, twitters, and other social activities, then you should create an account on Friendfeed and follow them. You can also subscribe to your Friendfeed feed within your reader, if you want.

9. Website and Content Analytics: Inbound Marketing (where you help yourself "get found" by people learning about and shopping in your industry) is an important process for small to midsize companies to understand. Since CONTENT is the fuel for the Inbound Marketing machine, it is critical for Product Managers and Product Marketers to understand who's viewing the content on their website, how they are finding the content, how often they are viewing, etc. Why? Because if you're going to spend time creating content, you should use tools to measure how successful / useful that content actually is. At JBoss, we used Eloqua and SalesForce.com as key components of our "marketing machine". We're a much smaller company at Ringside Networks, so I use Google Analytics to analyze website traffic, and I've been considering HubSpot to help me get fancier with improved search engine optimization, etc. HubSpot also offers two FREE tools worth mentioning: Website Grader and Press Release Grader. Both provide a nice summary of what's working and what can be improved. Finally, SEO Pro's Link Checker is a useful free tool that analyzes who is linking to your pages. Just plug in your link and after a little while it will list all of the places that link is referenced.

10. Private Wiki / Intranet: For the files and information that can not be stored publicly, leverage your corporate intranet or create a protected section off of your wiki. My main point here is for you to MOVE THE FILES AND INFORMATION THAT EXIST ONLY ON YOUR LAPTOP INTO AN ACCESSIBLE PLACE! Why? Because people get hit by busses. People leave companies. Other people could benefit from information you have...if it wasn't locked up on your laptop. Yes, you will need to keep some information private and on your laptop. For all of the other useful information, give it wings and make it free! At JBoss and Red Hat, I stored most of my useful yet private information on our Private Wiki (behind our firewall). NOTE: You can still leverage Social Bookmarking for links to files that are on your Intranet. Just remember that only fellow employees who have access will be able to view the documents; all others will get an error accessing the link.

So that's my list of tools and websites use for listening and sharing. Since Google Reader and Delicious are tools that I use day in and day out, let me go into a little more detail on how I use these important tools.

How do I use Google Reader?
Let's start with a screenshot of my Google Reader at this very moment:

On the left, you will see that I have my Feeds organized into Folders (ex. Analysts, Product Management, Marketing, Ringside Networks, etc., etc.). This helps me organize the flow of information and enables me to keep on top of the more important folders (ex. keep their unread counts near zero).

So while I'm drinking my morning coffee, I read through they key areas and do a quick triage on the other folders to see if anything else is worth spending time on. If I want to flag an article for followup, I click on the Star in Google Reader, which adds it into the Starred Items list. I use this list as a lightweight way to keep track of links that I'd like to chew on for a while (ex. articles I may refer to in one of my future blog posts).

UPDATED: In response to requests for a "how-to" video, I posted "Google Reader In Action" which shows how to get started with Google Reader in less than 5 minutes. The video walks you through subscribing to search results on Google News, Google Blogs, and the Social Media Firehose.

How do I use Delicious?
Whenever I come across a web page or article worth bookmarking and sharing, I use the Delicious Toolbar Buttons to save a link to the article. I usually specify a one or two sentence description as well as one or or more tags.

More interestingly, I use Delicious to automagically populate the Recommended Reading section of the Ringside Networks Social Business web page.

How does this work? I leverage the Delicious Linkrolls feature to show just the articles with the the Delicious "Recommended" tag within a specially formatted list. I also use this feature to keep track of notable mentions of Ringside Networks by the media. See the Ringside Networks Media Coverage section of the Ringside News page as well as the Delicious "RingsideBuzz" tag to see how this works.

What About Online Talking?
The list above is focused on online Listening and Sharing. I intentionally did not cover tools for online Talking (ex. Blogs, Wikis, Forums, IRC, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) since I believe people should get good at Listening and Sharing before making the leap to Talking. If you just can't wait to get started Talking, then I suggest you create a blog and post to it on at least a weekly basis. Also post comments in response to other people's blogs and articles, as well as answer questions on Forums.

UPDATED: For a good overview of why you should blog and how to go about it, read Gopal Shenoy's "Five reasons why I blog and my eight blogging recommendations".

How Are You Listening and Sharing?
Are you using any of the tools I mentioned above? If so, how are they working out for you? If not, what are you using? I'm always looking for tools that help me work smarter, so if you have any goodies, please share.

For your convenience, here is a list of the various tools and websites that I mentioned above:

Friday, August 1, 2008

Social Web Example: ROBLOX Virtual Playworld

In prior posts, I provided a definition of social web as well as how household-name businesses such as Jeep and Nike are embracing the social web in order to more closely engage their respective communities of passion.

In this post, I'd like to focus my attention on the intersection of the social web and online virtual worlds. While I find the recent news about 3D virtual worlds interesting, the highlighted examples such as Vivaty, Google’s Lively project, and the Electric Sheep Co.’s WebFlock feel a little empty and unremarkable from a "meaningful interactions" perspective.

I consider ROBLOX Virtual Playworld a much better example to explore. Why? Because it is an online destination that not only satisfies kids' social and entertainment needs but also addresses their hunger for creativity and learning.

To get a better feel for what ROBLOX is all about, just view the following video which illustrates ROBLOX in action:

Click here to view this video on YouTube.

ROBLOX enables 100's of thousands of kids to interact and play within virtual worlds while learning design, engineering, science and programming. I find the educational aspects so remarkable that I wrote a post earlier this year stating that ROBLOX was grooming our future open source developers.

Since that post, my son has spent countless hours designing, building, and scripting his own customized virtual worlds. For example, he created a very popular Baseball Stadium where you can almost smell the grass on the field while having fun throwing, fielding, and hitting the baseball. It is a modern stadium complete with hot dog stands and a giant blimp hovering over it.
He spends a lot of time using the ROBLOX Studio development environment PROGRAMMING the behavior of the elements/objects within his worlds. For example, he creates complex 3D behaviors within the world by calling mathematical functions that enable the bat, for example, to swing at a wide variety of angles rather than just back and forth. He also adjusts the impact on the ball so that it bounces off at varying speeds.

He leverages the "social" features of the site (beyond the Forum, Wiki, and Blog) including "friending" other people on the site, sending email-like messages to each other in order to ask and answer questions, chatting online while playing within a particular world, voting for "favorite places", etc.

Using my 7 Key Attributes of Social Web Applications, I think ROBLOX scores pretty well. Every user has an Identity; the information is not rich likely due to the fact that we are dealing with kids so onlineprovacy is important. Their Reputations are based on how they conduct themselves online as well as the quality of the places and/or scripts they create. They don't offer much in the way of Presence. People can strike up Relationships with eachother, but not nearly as robust as what you get on sites like Facebook. You can't really Group your friends as far as I can tell. Conversations happen via Forums, chat, and their built in email/messaging system. And Sharing happens all the time since people can share objects, scripts, places, etc.

ROBLOX Business Model
Standard membership in ROBLOX is free and provides the ability for kids to receive an avatar, play within the worlds, as well as design, build, and save a single place of their own. ROBLOX also offers Builders Club which is a premium service that gives kids the ability to create and manage multiple places. It also enables players to earn ROBLOX currency (called "ROBUX") which can be used to purchase premium items in the ROBLOX catalog that enable much greater customization of avatars and interactive creations. I like the fact that ROBLOX offers a free way for kids to get started and then charges extra for increased value.

Bottom-line: ROBLOX provides a great example of how combining the social web and online virtual worlds provides value beyond entertainment and social interactions. As they say on their website, ROBLOX believes "in the theory that kids learn best by making things - by engaging in the creative and complex process of imagining, designing, and constructing. Provide them with a safe and nurturing place to build, give them the requisite tools, and let them play."

NOTE: ROBLOX has a great web page for parents who want to learn more.