Archive for July, 2005


Posted: July 27, 2005 in Uncategorized
ABD, of course, stands for "A Big Day."
Like any organization, Microsoft is particularly fond of TLA’s (Three Letter Acronyms).
Like any new person in an organization, you pretty much feel like a foreigner while you’re getting acquainted with the new language.
I mean, I know English.  But I don’t know this English.
Today was ABD.  After months of meetings, phone conversations, etc., I threw out a TLA and someone else finally said to me:  "Huh?"
Ah, I’m feeling more at home now.
Google succeeded because it figured out what the Yellow Pages has known for an awfully long time: 
     Advertising works when timely and helpful and not distracting.
The Yellow Pages don’t have ads on residential pages.  That would be distracting.
The Yellow Pages do have ads on business pages.  That’s helpful.  What I call, "Advertising at the Point of Interest"… at the appropriate time, we consumers actually want to be distracted by the largest or prettiest ad, it helps us find and pick a business. 
"Oh, they have the largest ad on the page, they must be the best plumbers," kinda thing.
The Yellow Pages can separate these two things because they only allow searching on two main things, residential and business phone numbers.
With inspired simplicity, they simply separated the "UX" (user experience) for each.
Google had a bigger challenge.
You can search for everything in Google.  Not just residential or business phone numbers, but essentially all the information in the world!
So how do you create an advertising mechanism that will inevitably show up with every search but isn’t distracting at the inappropriate time?
The answer:  By toning ads down.  By separating them geographically on a page.  By giving them secondary (or inferior) position on the page.  By making all ads uniform and strictly standardized.
Pretty much exactly opposite of what the entire ad industry — your paying customers — would want.
I’d love to say that Google did this with great forethought.  That, after considering the needs of its search and advertising customers, it painstakingly crafted a creative, intelligent compromise between form & functionality.
But the myth says the Google twins simply told advertising customers, "go pound sand."
Remember — particularly at the time Google was invented (1998) — the entire ad industry was obsessed with graphical HTML.  Big, pretty pictures.  Blinking, ALL CAP headlines.  And so on.  The electronic equivalent of NY’s Times Square.  Distraction as a form of attention getting.
The ad industry — of course — had data to back up how much more effective big, pretty, distracting, blinking ads were.
Enter Eric Schmidt, the new Google CEO, who basically sat the twins down and said, "can we p-l-e-a-s-e try to make some money here?"
The twins were furious.  Not only that someone would tell them what to do, but especially something that would impugn the purity of their search results.
So, the twins fought back in the way only way they could:  "Sure, we’ll do advertising… but totally on our terms.  It will be so bland and out-of-the-way that in no way will it ever be distracting."
And, whether you chalk this up to design intelligence — or simply ego — it worked. 
Absolutely freakin’ brilliantly.
And the point of this story?
Google was the first online company to capture the magic of the Yellow Pages:  Create a mass advertising experience that is timely and helpful and never distracting.
P.S.  Why am I really writing about this?  Because — while alerting is inherently a different mechanism ("push" vs. "pull") — we’re trying to create the same UX magic with alerts.
Plus, it’s a bitchin’ story. <smile>

It’s All About the UX

Posted: July 20, 2005 in Uncategorized
Facing a big UX — "user experience" — hurdle this week.
This is classic battleground stuff:  Sometimes, debates go down to the pixel level.  (No foolin’!)
You see, software doesn’t just get thrown together… it is lovingly , passionately crafted… like artwork… at least the good stuff.
In the end, differences really do end up within shades of gray.
But at this stage — at least in small companies — it’s pure black & white, b-a-b-y… no question ’bout it… sharpen those arguments!
Will be fascinating to see how it’s done in Redmond.
Was in Hawaii for a beautiful beach wedding two weeks ago.
Just got back from Chicago from an over-the-top fun wedding last weekend.
Baby shower this weekend, then a Napa wedding at the end of the month.
This kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen at my age, is it? 
Gotta love statistical improbabilities!

The Janitor Factor

Posted: July 12, 2005 in Uncategorized
Want to know if people are working hard at a company?
Ask them if they know the janitorial staff.
(While telecommuting has also put a damper on this undocumented performance metric, it’s impossible to completely escape late night meetings when you’re really cranking away.)
It’s a holiday weekend (Happy 4th!) and I’ve spent a good portion of it finishing up some groundwork for a big release we’re working on.  Very cool stuff.
I called someone from my old team that I know is available nights, weekends, and holidays… I needed to verify some things.
Sure enough, I got a hold of him.
But, what I really need is everyone on my new team to be available so we can kick this out before the "after holiday" crush hits everyone.
"Yeah, but it’s a holiday," said my co-worker.  "Not sure you’ll find anyone available."
I said, "Betcha everyone at Google is cranking away."
He said, "We should drive by their parking lot and see."
Which brings me to the purpose of this post:  The best, most unscientific measure of how "on fire" a company was used to be how full their parking lot was at night and on the weekends.
I know, I know.  This is Gordon Gekko, "Greed is Good" stuff. 
I know, I know, "get a life."
Whether anyone really wants to admit it or not, there is a strong correlation between kick-ass, take-no-prisoner work ethic and success in software.
We even heard rumors about Microsoft back in the day… that team pressure was so intense that it was considered terrible form to ever leave the parking lot "with a car to your left" — meaning, you leave the office before the person that was there before you left.
(The other good one was Microsoft is a great place to work with very flexible hours… you have to work 80 hours a week, but you can work any 80 hours during the week you want!)
Since broadband means employees can be productive — sometimes more productive — at home than in the office, looks like the online world has killed yet another classic metric.  Analysts will have to find a new unofficial predictor of software success… unfortunately the old "parking lot" factor is virtually unreliable these days.
P.S.  Only time before someone puts this concept together with "buddy list" presence. <smile>
Anyone that knows me knows I’m torn.
I wholeheartedly believe that "freedom isn’t free."
But I also wholeheartedly believe in acting responsibly.
In 50 years, I wonder how history will portray this war?  As a WWII or a Viet Nam?
However it’s portrayed, it is encouraging — even inspiring — that everyone stands united on wanting the very best for our brave soldiers in harm’s way. 
Now that’s a fourth of July statement to be proud of.