Is it time to reimagine your product / service?

In his on stage interview with Michael Arrington (at the Crunchies), Mark Zuckerberg made the most insightful observation of the evening. On being asked about privacy, Mark said that Facebook default settings from private to public since that is what it would have been like if it started today. Things were very different when they started 6 years ago in his dorm at Harvard. People were questioning the basic concept – why should I share my info on the web. Things have changed a lot since then. People share a lot of their life online on different places on the web.

If Facebook started today, they would take where the web is today into account. The default would be public rather than private. And this is why they changed defaults from private to public since they want service to remain relevant. Mark added that it was not an easy move – from a technical or a user perspective – to change a service with 300 million users on such a core dimension.

I have been very critical of Facebook’s change from private to public, but as a owner of a web service, I completely understand where Mark is coming from. How many of us are stuck at the point where we started – not been able to imagine what our service would be like if we started today. Our services are vintage the year which they started. Flickr is vintage 2004 when it started. Basecamp is vintage 2004. Delicious is vintage 2005. While they remain great services, there has been no re-imagining of the service so that it fits into the web of 2009-2010.

The problem with being the vintage of your launch year is that the domain gets reimagined. You get left behind even if you are doing everything right. This is the classic problem that so many companies face – they are innovative when they launch. They continue on the path they launch with, which they get traction with initially. At a certain point, they are executing so well, that they get left behind. Their success contains the seeds of their becoming obselete.

Facebook is avoiding that problem by constantly imagining what it would be like if it launched today. It might face criticisms and even loose some users with such moves, but it fits better into the web today. And ultimately this is why Facebook will survive and prosper.

Ask yourself – what would my service be like if it launched today? Is it substantially different than what you are now? It might be time to reimagine it.

Basecamp – great for communication, bad for finding information

I love Basecamp. Have been using it for pretty much from the beginning. I would love to keep on using it. But it just is not keeping up with us.

Basecamp is great for short term consulting projects. Sometimes, it was hard to get clients to post to Basecamp instead of emailing. But overall, it worked well for communication. After the end of the project as well, it serves as an archive, letting me go back and get an overview of project, look at associated files etc., whenever I want to.

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Marc Andreessen explains why we need user experience folks

ning signHave you ever looked for a succint, catchy way to explain why we need user experience. Why folks who know like talking to users need to be part of the software development process? Do you need video evidence? Well, Marc Andreessen is glad to help you out. While talking with Jonathan Schwartz about Ning, his new startup he says: (~ 6.56 min):

“Ideally we’ll never meet any of our customers. We actually had to take the sign down from our front door because one of our customers actually stopped in, uninvited, and said, ‘Hi, I love your service.’ And we’re like, ‘why are you here?’ And so down came the sign.

“Drop-bys like that should only happen in sitcoms as far as I’m concerned… The consumer internet businesses in a sense are ideal businesses from the standpoint of never meeting your customers… If you do it right, you will never meet any of your customers!”

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How the used book market creates value

Hal Varian is one of the few economists whose articles I read regularly. He was the Dean at SIMS, while I was teaching there, and writes a regular column for the New York Times. Today’s column is about used book sales, and how that impacts Amazon. When Jeff Bezos launched used book sales at Amazon, there were dire warnings that this would cut into sales of new books. Hal’s analysis shows that any losses to publishers are more than offset by gains to consumers, and to Amazon’s bottomline. Go here to read the whole article.

How to build a software product on the cheap: Open Source + Usability

Joe Krause recently wrote that “Its a great time to be an entrepreneur“. Yes, it is. Joe talks about cheap hardware, free infrastructure software, cheap global labor markets, and search engine marketing. There is another reason that its a great time to be an entrepreneur – an excellent example of which is Joel Spolsky’s latest project: CoPilot.

Take a good open source software. Something really useful. Something well built, that solves a real problem. Something like VNC. You can take your pick from the many flavors of VNC – Tight VNC, Real VNC, Ultra VNC …- . There is no better way to share your screen with someone – if you are willing to deal with the usability problems that come with it.

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