- 1:32 pm - Fri, May 17, 2013
Blog Post: What Do You Do When You Are The Exception?
One of my favorite traditions is to blog about the musings of fellow thinkers in the mobile space. Granted, it’s usually to point out where I think they are wrong or misguided. The hope, however, is that by showing respect for the work being done and pose provoking questions we can get to a better place in the industry.
Such is the case with Nick Statt’s post on ReadWrite about Google I/O and what it means for the mobile web.
There is nothing particularly disagreeable with his article. As an avid Chrome desktop and iOS user, I am very encouraged by the innovation achieved in the browser. The gaming aspects in particular seem to be teeming with areas of growth. The only area I would like to question is at the end:
It will take time and effort to re-architect websites for this reality. And there will always be those holdouts- particularly within large, slow-moving businesses - who insist on designing for older versions of Web browsers or mobile devices. Legacy technologies which haven’t made the cross-platform leap, like Adobe’s fading Flash, need to be winnowed out. But those problem areas will increasingly be the exception, not rule.
For sites like ReadWrite, and other sites where consumption is the main purpose, this seems like a reasonable proposition. I do not have the same luxury. I work in the automotive industry, otherwise known as one of the “large, slow-moving businesses.”
So what happens when you are part of the exception?
Our customer sites for sure need to be a single platform. The idea of selling people desktop and mobile sites separately may seem way out-dated, but is still done in many market segments. The main question our customers are asking is how we can pack all the current features they need into a single, responsive platform.
The answer we give is an ongoing solution. Instead of doing a straight migration to a new architecture, we are having to use data and interviews to weigh the need of every button and link. Granular inspection of our product line and deliver the same value with a more streamlined base of code.
I took this job because I knew the industry was ripe for disruption by the right technological innovation. Any retail industry should be rethinking it’s digital strategy to turn mobile browsers into purchasers, and buying cars is no different. One last quote from the piece:
Let’s just have one Web. That seems easier.
Mr. Statt should be commended for trying to push for one Web. I stand in agreement with him in that declaration. How we all get there will be different sized boulders going up various mountains. I hope I can be a part of the conversation that includes the solution.
- 2:30 pm - Thu, May 16, 2013
Blog Post: Google I/O Points To Further Mobile Emphasis
We shouldn’t be surprised by any of the news that was announced in yesterday’s marathon keynote address at Google I/O. The future of technological innovation rests in the lovely little devices we hold in our hands, so why wouldn’t Google want to announce more platform enhancements for this market segment?
I’m a little surprised by the push for Hangouts to be it’s own separate application. When weighed against Blackberry’s decision to make Blackberry Messenger available for all mobile platforms, however, it makes sense. There is so much to be gained from mobile messaging and the ability to use your service across platforms.
The big boys are tired of little start up apps taking up their real estate on home screens, so this is their counter punch. Time will tell if it is a smart move.
It is interesting to see, as an avid iPhone user, Google apps slowly taking over my home screen. That doesn’t mean I’m thinking of making a switch. There’s a big difference in using the services (mail, calendar, drive, etc.) and going all in with the platform. I think users can get used to most interfaces given the proper context and design. It boils down to content, app store preference and what you are used to.
It is challenging to view the updates to Google Talk and Google+ as having a huge impact on the mobile landscape. Google+ in particular seem to provide validity to cards and how apps will further incorporate them into the UI. It provides build in pagination to improve performance, as well as simple delineation between items to view.
Any other enhancements to the social platform seem null and void until I can get all of my friends to start using it. Being able to automatically upload and enhance photos on the site are no good unless my mother is going to take the time to see them. I will now punch myself for indirectly supporting Facebook.
Same goes for Google Maps, and it’s enhanced design. Unless they update the mobile app with any major improvements (which could be comings), there is no news to report. I don’t understand how the desktop version of any site should be receiving major enhancements separate from mobile. Traffic is leaving big monitors more and more every day.
Every year, I/O shows why more innovation comes out of this company than most of the rest combined. There is a lot to learn about the future of internet applications from this presentation. Not all of the news is good, but overall points to a positive direction for the industry.
- 9:02 am - Tue, May 14, 2013
- 1 note
Blog Post: How Can We Call Something ‘Dead’?
As someone who has spent much of his life in comic books, the idea of anything being “dead” is just humorous. Characters are brought back from the grave all the time. Television shows from the ’70s are re-imagined as movies, songs get warmed over with a twist, and technologies don’t quite have the right product to push them forward.
I was reminded of this notion reading this article passed on by a friend on Twitter about NFC payments possibly being dead. Now, I don’t want to postulate on whether that idea is true or not. With plenty of security concerns and lack of real-world adoption, it could be. That’s not the point.
We don’t have the patience to let technology naturally evolve and grow.
The same can be said for QR Codes, mobile apps, and many more. Sometimes, the pundits get one right (I’m looking right at you Flash). More often, however, certain technological breakthroughs just don’t have the right product to showcase it.
Before we call something “dead”, let us remember that disruptive ideas are all around us waiting to be discovered. Not all of them can turn into Facebook, the iPhone, or Angry Birds. In fact, you can make just as big of a mark if you look at the industry you are in and look for the holes. If the right technology or innovation can fill the gap, you’re all set.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to use my NFC-enabled phone to scan a QR code using a mobile app.
- 10:19 am - Fri, May 10, 2013
Today’s link really got my blood boiling this morning, mainly because I have had Scrum training from Mike Cohn. I also hate it when people feel the need to go after the top people or businesses in an industry as a means of getting some notoriety. That may or may not be the case, nevertheless I watched the video from Tom Gilb seething.
After some Googling, I found out Gilb is a engineer and has made quite a career out of the inspection and metrics behind great software. I didn’t need to search to find this out, though, because that world view is clear from his approach to user stories.
That’s when it dawned on me that this video is a great teaching tool for product personnel. As I always say to my colleagues: user stories are the beginning of the conversation with development, not the end. The mistake I think Gilb makes is seeing stories by themselves as the sole piece of information an engineer needs to do complex work.
Having used this method of communicating requirements at several different companies, trying to lump all user stories in the same boat is hard. We all write them differently, and compile acceptance criteria differently. Within the same release, I am capable of providing a great amount of information that gives developers everything they need as well as the opposite. That’s where the conversation takes place.
Every engineer and architect I have spoken to have had their fair share of poorly written requirements. My favorite joke is to tell my team, “show me on the doll where the product owner touched you.” The challenge to my job is finding a way to meet them in the middle of the conversation and craft stories towards a method of delivering the best features possible.
So, instead of bashing Mr. Gilb for not reading and understanding Cohn’s methods, I would like to thank him for reminding me the purpose of my job. It’s not to stand in the way of great software, but making it easier and well thought out.
We involve stakeholders, help with design, converse with our teams, and document everything along the way. We are product managers, Tom, and our user stories can be your friends.
- 9:15 am - Thu, May 9, 2013
Blog Post: How Exactly Are You Empowered?
Like many of my fellow IT brethren, I was introduced into this industry running with red tape draped all over me. Large companies keep their teams focused by process. Not that this is a bad thing. Process helps preserve culture and a focus on what made them successful in the first place. As someone that shot from the hip early and often in his professional career, I appreciated process.
I also wasn’t really empowered.
At a local Scrum meetup recently (shout out DFW Scrum!), I was fortunate enough to listen to the words of Esther Derby as she spoke of what it means to be truly empowered to do your work. There were brief moments in my career where I had felt this way, but for the most part I don’t know that I truly knew what that meant.
Which begs the question, do I now know what it means?
This graphic I found on Esther’s website I believe is a great definition of the concept. Being empowered means that I am allowed to focus, effect change, and truly do anything. Depending on the organization, that last part is very relative. What we can all agree on, however, is that change truly begins at the team level.
I am now empowered.
At Dealertrack Interactive, each product manager lays out their road map depending on shifting priorities. Sometimes our superiors try to steer us in a different manner, but because we spend so much time hearing from our customers as well as the company on goals it is easy to tailor our teams’ work to what is needed.
Often, I have had occasion to need to defend my position. Not only does this help me make sure my priorities are aligned with other product people, but refines my requirements with great accuracy. Our VP of IT set forth a culture of empowerment that many of my colleagues had never experienced.
What do you do with that power? Relax and be the most effective contributor on your team.
- 7:30 am - Tue, May 7, 2013
This article from GigaOm certainly poses interesting ideas for the future of the iOS platform, but I am still skeptical. If Johnny Ive is truly delivering this new design at WWDC next month, I have a few friends that are going to be very busy real fast.
How I see this shaking out is more than just the native application space. If the flat, Windows Phone-like design is the future of mobile, it will affect all web design as well.
As responsive design takes over, it certainly stands to reason that a tiled, flat design is the way to go. There are a few devs at my office that aren’t convinced of it’s superiority yet. They think that we are changing our platform to accomodate something deemed a “fad”.
I can’t say I’m convinced either, but until a product design choice is universally adopted the same could be said for many ideas. if we want to be leaders, we have to step out there and try something bold.
Have fun designers.
- 12:44 pm - Mon, May 6, 2013
Blog Post: How Can You Integrate SMS Into Your Strategy?
Hopefully I am not the only one applauding the demise text slang. It was necessary at a time when we were pushing the number “1” three times to get the letter “C”. For many feature phone users it is still the case, so I may be a little premature. However, with smartphones now outselling feature phones on a monthly basis in the US, users are entering an age of more normalized conversation over SMS.
This highlights an extreme opportunity for businesses to reach out to potential and existing customers. Regardless of the use of mobile in your current strategy, there needs to be a place for SMS in it. This post from Business2Community highlights a few of the areas:
- Offering of exclusive deals
- Freebie giveaways at retail locations
- Special event marketing
- Personalized coupons
One area the article doesn’t mention is the ability for sales and service representatives to interact with multiple customers at once. Call it an enhancement on managed chat.
Customer engagement is epitomized with this platform. Users willing to share over this frequency are not only your greatest purchaser, but your advocate as well. This same segment of your base will be willing to share on Facebook, forward offers to friends, and leave five-star reviews.
Find a way to utilize this technology, and marketing your product suddenly becomes a whole lot easier.
- 7:30 am - Sat, May 4, 2013
For some, this Smashing Magazine article is sacrilege. How could you possibly take a complex existing website and retrofit it to a responsive design? For others, it can seem darn near impossible. What if you have too many features and customization build in to your platform?
Many companies (including my own) are asking themselves similar questions in weighing how to move their products ahead of the curve and onto a single platform. Part of that push and pull will be taking a hard look at their Google data to see what scared cow of a feature isn’t really that necessary.
Several of the new, responsive designs I have been testing lately are taking a minimal approach. It’s easier to have objects wrap to the size of the screen if there are less of them. We all know that many industries don’t have that option.
In most situations, it is possible to make this transition without rebuilding the framework and platform from scratch. As my boss told me, it’s not about showing off the entire package at once. Making the responsive transition is more about a plan that delivers incremental progress.
- 12:46 pm - Fri, May 3, 2013
Blog Post: Ensuring The Right Quality
Rather than extol everyone on the greatness of A/B Testing, I would like to discuss some important lessons we are learning in the process of implementing the process. It’s always important to remember some simple lessons that can shape the direction your product grows in.
With the technology of real-time analytic data, you can tell your website the desired goal of a specific feature and according to user feedback it can make it so. This is not to be glossed over. You can do some cool stuff if you know what your customers want and be able to deliver it in the wild. While many product segments may see this is trivial, in the tech community this has not always been the case.
This recent breakthrough does carry with it a responsibility to ensure the right kind of quality regarding A/B Testing. This article from Quicksprout highlights some incorrect assumptions that can cause members of the product team to make poor decisions.
One of the easiest mistakes to make is not setting the right goals and expectations around your test. That is easy to set when you are deciding which cola tastes better, but if your lead conversions need to be improved it may not be as simple as testing two different designs.
We talk all the time about managing the customer’s expectations for a product release, but we rarely apply the same logic to our own. If we expect great things, we need to plan for great things in testing of ideas. Only then can we really say that we are ensuring the right kind of quality in our offering.
- 11:32 am - Wed, May 1, 2013
I am always encouraged when writers can dig nuggets of truth out of other articles and interviews. What separates thought leaders from the rest is the ability to see what is just under the surface and apply it to their area of expertise. Such is the case with writer Kevin Ashton, and his Medium post on what made Steve Jobs great.
Of course, many have written about the former head of Cupertino and his genius. We didn’t need to be informed of that. Articles, books, and soon movies will be telling aspiring creators for years how awesome Jobs was. What I liked in particular about the post from Ashton was how a simple question can turn a good idea into great:
“Why doesn’t it work?”
Jobs was famous for asking this question about all products, including his. There is always something that can be refined to make something better. Often, this contradicts the stance companies have regarding their offerings that are “good enough.”
Not that they would ever admit that. They just don’t work on improving. My company was an industry leader several years ago, but that can only last for so long before competitors catch up and start to put pressure on you. While we still provide our customers an amazing suite of products, I am not talking out of school too much to admit we did not maintain our lead in some areas.
Catching up takes up a lot of energy. Regardless of the industry, most companies know what that feels like. Many who don’t have a mobile strategy in place should be feeling this strain right now.
When looking at your product line, don’t think of the things you like about it right now. That’s for the marketing department to discuss. Product people need to look at what’s wrong. Ashton’s equation of sales plus customers equaling nothing broken is really dangerous. You may have customers now, but your competitors are selling currently as well. Nothing being broken can turn into broke really fast.
Instead of waiting for that to happen, look for something to break on your own. Perhaps your platform needs to be re-written, but to do that means breaking it down and slowly building that up. Instead of being upset, your customers will applaud your desire to improve their experience or more easily add features.
When you let someone else help you realize your product is broken, it takes more energy to catch up than if you do it on your own. Go find something and break it.
- 8:33 am - Tue, Apr 30, 2013
Blog Post: Are iOS Ad Revenues Set To Explode?
Interesting reading today on GigaOm regarding the line in the sand Apple has drawn over apps that track UDIDs. The mobile device leader will now start rejecting apps that utilize the unique identifier, which could mean great things for the platform and third-party developers.
While it may seem incongruous to most, allowing apps to track specific devices has actually held back grown of iAd. Apple’s platform for delivering advertising revenue took a hit back in 2011 when two high priority apps (Pandora and Weather Channel) were named in a suit that did not allow users to opt out of targeted ad tracking. Many, as the article stipulates, have pointed to this as the reason why more big name brands aren’t utilizing the popular platform more.
Once the gray area regarding the legality and use of this information will be cleared up May 1, iOS will be the most compliant digital advertising platform in existence (including PC Web). I can only imagine the positive implications in the next few months.
- 7:30 am - Mon, Apr 29, 2013
Blog Post: Utilizing #Mobile In Lead Generation
My work is in the automotive industry. There is a lot of fluff in helping market cars to the masses. We can get caught up in conversation about heat map analysis on websites, social platform integration and custom lot views, but in the end we have to be focused on the one thing that can help sell cars better than the rest: lead generation.
When you click a button or fill out a form on a website for more information, that is called a conversion. As a potential purchaser, you were converted from a browser into a possible sale. Leads come in all shapes and sizes, but if a site can deliver a retailer a conversion it is doing it’s job.
The beauty of the emerging mobile platform is the ability to convert users in an even more effective way. Leads can be generated with relation to proximity, device and device data.
Of course, there is added difficulty to the platform as well. Mobile users aren’t as patient about filling in multiple fields as desktop users. Real estate is tight, and with that user experience can turn away a possible lead that might not have been the case in other versions of a website.
It is important to keep both aspects of mobile in mind as your are generating your strategy for implementing it. Keep in mind:
- There is a wealth of data in your phone that your desktop device may not have.
- Mobile users are more interested in purchasing than desktop users, so they are willing to provide data to do so.
- Be careful how users experience the opportunity to provide lead data. They are dedicated, and also more fickle.
If you can incorporate these concepts, you will not only see an improvement in lead generation. Leads will be more qualified, more detailed and more ready for purchase.
- 9:25 am - Sun, Apr 28, 2013
Blog Post: What Granddaddy Taught Me
The past few days haven’t been my favorite, mainly because I found out my maternal grandfather doesn’t have much time left. He’s lived a long, full life, but he’s tired and deserves to rest. Sometimes, we just get a bug and never get better.
As a result, I’ve been talking a lot with family and thinking about the man. He worked most of his adult life for the electric company as an engineer, back when your company would throw you a party on the day you retired. He retired to the mountains of New Mexico, where I got to help him build his retirement home. He skied as long as his body would let him, and woke me up by sticking his cold hands on my back telling me to get up.
I was blessed to know him.
In the process of this pondering, I remembered some great lessons he got to be a part of teaching me. My father led these lessons, but sometimes grandparents hammer a point home in an effective way as well. Here’s a few:
Squeeze every bit out of every day. There is something to be said for living life with no regrets. If it means tackling a ski slope you have never done before, you might never get the opportunity again. When my mom was young, he was building a new home for them to live in. That meant he would work a full day, then come home to kiss his daughters then work until the sun went down. He traveled the world, smiling the whole way.
Many times, as he got older, it meant ensuring that every member of his family heard how much he loved and appreciated them. That is a my definition of no regrets.
Money is meant to be spent, not hoarded. The negative connotation could mean that he never had much because he spent everything. The opposite was true. He worked very hard to build his nest egg, then had some smart people help him invest it to make it larger. As a result, he spent as much as he could on his family. For their 50th anniversary, he took all of us on a cruise. Halfway through the trip, he walked up to the grandkids and said, “You’re not spending enough, pick up the pace!”
There is something to be said for enjoying what we in this country are blessed with. It’s important to work and play hard. We can help out those less fortunate than us and enjoy life if we are intentional.
Words have power. I was one of those kids that felt he needed to make his own mistakes, so I made my fair share. Many of those times, I would call my grandparents for consolation. Granddaddy was very plain in his speaking to me: some of what happened I brought on myself, and I should not beat myself up for it. Just like my parents, he showed me grace and encouragement to get up and do better.
So often, it’s easy to focus on the mistake. As a young parent, I often am troubled by the mistake instead of focusing on the opportunity ahead.
I have a million stories of this happening over three-plus decades. Lessons get harder to endure as you get older, but that never took away from the opportunity my family had to encourage, admonish and guide me with words. Something to keep in mind with everyone in our lives.
The lessons could go on, much like with my mother and father. I am a person blessed to have a head start in life because my family had the same. As a result, I got to know what lavish vacations and presents were. I know I’m a rarity in this world, and I am going to do my best to live humbly as a result. He’s not gone yet, but soon I am going to miss my granddaddy very much.
David Railsback lived in a way to aspire to, and I’m glad I have the opportunity every day.
- 12:57 pm - Thu, Apr 25, 2013
- 1 note
As more and more web traffic (including email) trends towards mobile, it is important to take into consideration how your messages will be received by each OS. This infographic is a great representation.
Keep in mind your intended audience, and the way that demographic accesses your transmission of information. Is it optimized? Is the resolution a roadblock? Can you display it a different way?
All these questions need to be answered and more if you want to deliver a clear and attractive message to your audience.
- 1:31 pm - Wed, Apr 24, 2013
Blog Post: Yahoo Has Dropped The Mike
While certain parts of the tech community will laugh at my headline, the mobile space is definitely listening in terms of the last week. Yahoo has for sure thrown the gauntlet down in terms of grabbing users’ attention.
For those that haven’t downloaded them yet, the Internet dinosaur released a new iOS weather app last week that is something I am using on a daily basis. It incorporates Flickr photos and allows the user to customize each city view with the data they want to see first.
Yahoo followed this stellar launch with a fresh news app in the App Store that utilizes the technology recently purchased from Summly to deliver information better than ever. The challenge for this app is iOS stalwart Flipboard and the devotion to that app. While we will have to see how adoption moves, Yahoo came up with a beautiful interface that kept me engaged for much longer than I originally anticipated.
It is surprising, not because they don’t have creative people at Yahoo, but this move came out of nowhere. Google apps have a huge place in my home screen, but only because I need to access all my stuff connected to their desktop apps (mail, drive, calendar, bookmarks, etc.). With the exception of the iOS Chrome app, I don’t have a single Google app I really enjoy using on a daily basis. Yahoo did something very Apple-like, they wanted to make using their apps fun for me.
That argument probably isn’t the same with Android devices, because from what I have seen Google apps are much more exciting in their own native OS. The concept is still the same, however. If you want a high level of engagement, make your service fun to use on a device. Anyone who has used an app from BET understands that improving someone’s experience generates loyalty.
I would take some more loyal users any day.