Entries in the 'Uncategorized' Category

Let’s Stop Imitating Amazon and Make E-Commerce Fun Again

Has online shopping become boring? Every website shows you grids of categories and products, with cross-sells and up-sells. Scroll down and you might see a few reviews. Somewhere are the same add coupons, sign up for our emails, and free shipping offers you’ve probably seen a hundred times already.

The sad truth is that there has been very little innovation in e-commerce. Online retailers seem content being electronic catalogs of products, competing with each other on pricing and fulfillment. (Save an additional 5% and get free next day shipping!) In other words, we’re all stuck imitating Amazon.com.

Does it have to be like this? May be not: there are actually other reasons why retailers exist in the first place. Imagine you just invented The Cool Gadget ™. Here are some good reasons for signing up resellers:

1. Distribution. Retailers get your product to the end consumer by putting it online or in a store, warehousing, fulfilling the orders, and collecting payments. It’s a lot of mundane yet important steps.

2. Support. The retailer helps answer your customers’ questions, so they could understand and use your product properly. Often this means answering the same questions over and over again.

3. Integration. Your product is great, but how does it help me look better, get connected, and stay cool? The retailer could show the consumer how to meet these important life with your product, often by combining it with other products.

But today, most online retailers function solely as distributors and just list products and fulfill orders. Customer support is limited to basic order fulfillment information, and few online retailers even think of themselves as helping to meet their customers’ life needs. Hence the sad trend of “Showrooming”, where customers go research at local stores then try to find deals online.

Which is where we are today: After nearly 20 years, ecommerce is settling into middle age as a junior partner on the retail scene.

But it would be dangerous to get complacent: There is a new generation of online shoppers. They were born after the Internet, and to them, online is the first and best way to learn about…everything. They will want to use the web (and their phone) not just to buy products they’ve already seen in a retail store, but also help satisfy their deepest needs.

Would you be doing that for them?

Looking for Node.JS/Javascript/MongoDB Developers

We’re looking for developers who’d like to work with on server-side Node.JS, client-side Javascript/CSS/HTML5, and MongoDB database back end applications.

If this sounds like as much fun to you as it does to us, please contact us right away!  We’re really flexible and can accommodate part-time or full-time, remote or on-site.

Big Data, Manufacturing, and an Invisible Future for Software

There’s an interesting article in The Wall Street Journal about Big Data in Manufacturing.  Manufacturers are now leveraging sensors and scanners throughout the factory floor to collect data about everything from screw turns to temperature and humidity in an effort to improve quality.  My favorite part is actually this line:

In the past, some of that data had to be typed in, creating the risk of errors.

This is the future of software: invisibility.  The days of us sitting in front of a computer typing in data are numbered.  With the cost of data collection, storage, and analysis all plummeting, the software of the future will gather data seamlessly from your activities.  You will no longer have to tell your software what to do — it knows.  You will no longer have to put in strict relationships between data (this email is for this order) — it can figure it out.

One day, a six-year-old will ask you “Grandpa, did you really have to sit at a computer to order things online?”  What can you say?  Maybe “Yeah, but my grandpa had to shovel coal in the snow, so it wasn’t so bad.”

Beware of the Noise in our Age of Big Data

Think that Big Data will solve the world’s problems?  Read The Signal and The Noise first.  This interesting books talks in detail about forecasting, including the good (baseball and weather), the bad (econonmics, politics, and earthquakes), and the very difficult (long-term climate change, terrorism.)  In the end there is a warning to all of us: with the explosion of data has come an explosion of noise, of spurious correlations which are not grounded in sound theories.  Think twice before you believe something because of “The Data.”

Windows 8 Creates a New and Better UI Paradigm

Windows 8 not only feels clean and refreshing but also illustrates a new user interface paradigm which makes a lot of sense.

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The Trouble with Mobile

Here’s a quote from today’s Wall St. Journal article, “Zynga’s Rocky Shift to Mobile“:

Making money from mobile games is particularly tricky. For one, there is a smaller screen on mobile phones and less room for advertisements. Another problem is that people using their phones or other mobile devices often are what Zynga calls “casual players” who tend to spend less money for, say, ways to advance quickly in a game, than do the more dedicated players on PCs. 

We’ve noticed the same with mobile commerce:

  • The smaller screen really restricts what you can do
  • Visitors using smartphones are more likely to be browsers rather than shoppers.

Android vs iPhone: Have the Laws of Software been Overturned?

A recent GigaOM post about iPhone’s momentum vs Android was interesting, because it suggests that the Laws of Software may have been overturned.

Since the early days of the PC, the software industry has operated according to a pattern described in Michael Cusumano’s classic The Business of Software: The successful software companies are the ones which gathered the largest number of users.  The best practitioners were Microsoft and, later, Google.  Both followed similar strategies: lower costs, add distribution partners, add users, and branch into related products.

Apple was the oddball.  Its dogged attempt to make hardware and software together made it look like a throwback to the age of the minicomputer.  Its quaint insistence on user experience and quality made one want to grab Steve Jobs, shake him, and yell — “Can’t you see the user base is all that matters?”

So… what happened?  Could it be that

  1. Low switching costs (suggested in the GigaOM) article made it important for software companies to keep the users happy?
  2. Computing has become so inexpensive that users can and will pay for a product that made them happy?
  3. The emergence of consumer computing over corporate computing made the user’s happiness important?

Are software companies finally in the user-happiness business?

My Favorite Quotes from the Platform Rant

A product is useless without a platform, or more precisely and accurately, a platform-less product will always be replaced by an equivalent platform-ized product.

But making something a platform is not going to make you an instant success. A platform needs a killer app.

Accessibility [is] the most important thing in the computing world.

The. Most. Important. Thing.

- From Stevey’s Google Platforms Rant


IBM Performance 2011: Social Media and the Future of Enterprise Software

The tagline for this year’s IBM Performance 2011, “From Insight to Foresight,” tells us a lot about where IBM sees enterprise software headed.

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Opportunities in a Changing World

Over the holidays, I read Worldchanging, a book about the “big picture” technological, environmental, social, economic, and political trends of the next 20 years. [Read more →]