Blogging is going the way of the Dodo, or is it?

You should give a read to the Community Guy‘s post in response to a recent article in WIRED. Jake contends that the state of the blog is not dead and that Paul Boutin misses the mark. Blogs are not what they once were. But that doesn’t mean they are dead. Twitter may sound great in tech circles but most people I talk with don’t get it and don’t want to get it. Facebook isn’t much better, but they make connecting to other easy which does provide the intimacy Boutin says is lacking in blogs today.

Blogs are morphing and it is time to think of them in a new light. This mentality that everyone would subscribe to family or personal blogs via RSS readers was never going to be a reality. Blogs can be used for a number of different things than they were originally intended serve. Boutin is looking at blogs they way they were initally intended to be used. Nothing on the web ever stays they way it was originally planned. We are doing things on the web today that were though virtually impossible ten years ago. For example the idea that we could use spreadsheets in an online application like Zimbro was just a pipe dream ten years ago and even then it was thought that clientside Java would be the platform independent vehicle to make it a reality. Things change.

Blog stats continue to show that they have a limited shelf life in most cases. This would suggest that users give up on the concept as it isn’t easy to write something compelling for others to read regularly or they serve a specific purpose for a limited time. I suspect it is a combination of the two. Events where groups of people congregate for a short period of time can share and collaborate in a central location during the relevant time period makes sense to me and you don’t have to mess with Facebook or MySpace it is just open. This is where Ning is playing.

Finally, Boutin contends that video is the wave of the future. Sure it is easy to do video, but having graded many student video projects over the years I am not looking for amatuer video. If you think it is hard to write something, try composing a compelling shot with a camera! Then you still have to write and collect your thoughts, worry about how you look, deal with external distractions, editing and the list goes on. Talking head webcam video is dismal and bland. It may be exciting to Boutin now, but over time this will continue to dimish as professionals provide better and more polished content.

Blogging is going the way of the Dodo, or is it?

You should give a read to the Community Guy‘s post in response to a recent article in WIRED. Jake contends that the state of the blog is not dead and that Paul Boutin misses the mark. Blogs are not what they once were. But that doesn’t mean they are dead. Twitter may sound great in tech circles but most people I talk with don’t get it and don’t want to get it. Facebook isn’t much better, but they make connecting to other easy which does provide the intimacy Boutin says is lacking in blogs today.

Blogs are morphing and it is time to think of them in a new light. This mentality that everyone would subscribe to family or personal blogs via RSS readers was never going to be a reality. Blogs can be used for a number of different things than they were originally intended serve. Boutin is looking at blogs they way they were initally intended to be used. Nothing on the web ever stays they way it was originally planned. We are doing things on the web today that were though virtually impossible ten years ago. For example the idea that we could use spreadsheets in an online application like Zimbro was just a pipe dream ten years ago and even then it was thought that clientside Java would be the platform independent vehicle to make it a reality. Things change.

Blog stats continue to show that they have a limited shelf life in most cases. This would suggest that users give up on the concept as it isn’t easy to write something compelling for others to read regularly or they serve a specific purpose for a limited time. I suspect it is a combination of the two. Events where groups of people congregate for a short period of time can share and collaborate in a central location during the relevant time period makes sense to me and you don’t have to mess with Facebook or MySpace it is just open. This is where Ning is playing.

Finally, Boutin contends that video is the wave of the future. Sure it is easy to do video, but having graded many student video projects over the years I am not looking for amatuer video. If you think it is hard to write something, try composing a compelling shot with a camera! Then you still have to write and collect your thoughts, worry about how you look, deal with external distractions, editing and the list goes on. Talking head webcam video is dismal and bland. It may be exciting to Boutin now, but over time this will continue to dimish as professionals provide better and more polished content.

What if Cars were websites? Part 2: Approach

I debated breaking down this series of posts by car company then by brand and vehicle offerings. But this blog is about websites, right? Besides all of the really relevant data I would use to breakdown individual offerings is not always publicly available. Instead, I’ll provide an initial approach to how I would remedy the situation.

Assumptions are that external factors will improve in 2009. The credit market is in order so people can buy cars. The industry really doesn’t have much control over this and despite the best efforts of Washington the changes have not really taken affect for autos. Added to this is the assumption that the economy will improve limiting the impact of job losses and potential layoffs.

Ford: They are best positioned at the moment. Looking at the models and market research may provide some insight into how to adjust the offerings. Keep focus on the core and don’t get lost in new products.

GM: These guys are in a tough spot. Serious attention to duplication of models across the brands needs to be examined. Selling the same model with three different badges isn’t going to work. In the web world you would lose search position either by duplicate content or by diluting the market. So consolidate and shuffle the offerings of the brands to be appropriate. For example, Chevy shouldn’t offer vehicles from under $10k-over $70k.

Chrysler: You need a draw to get customers to view your products. A 2009 version of the K car or Minivan. Perhaps it is time to scale back to a niche car company. Models like the Viper and Prowler were great for those that can afford it. For the rest Minivans and Jeeps are solid. Get back to basics.

Beta get it right or else…

I’m a fan of “The Cranky Product Manager“.  In one of her recent posts she talks about beta testing and boy did it ever hit close to home. As I step into my way back machine I’m reminded of many early products that could have used a little beta TLC before launch. Back in the days of Netscape and Mosaic the idea of beta testing wasn’t really discussed. In fact there are many things we did back then that would not be wise to repeat.

In fact, gazing into the distant past I recall my first job building websites. I was working on a website for a Major League Baseball team. I had been with the company all of about a two weeks so they had the new guy checking the support email. We had bunches of mail from fans looking for the team schedule on the newly designed site for the 1997 season. The number emails that came in asking this very simple but straight forward question should have prompted a quick response. But we sat on it for a little while thinking people were just clueless. No kidding this was one of the links from the global nav, c’mon people!

Ultimately a change was made to the homepage that included a more prominent link in the body of the page. I can’t help but think we could have avoided a hefty infux of confused and desperate fans with a beta test. Our internal testing was really around whether the links worked and if the pages displayed properly on PC’s. Usability was really just our best guess at how we would use the site. We were all experts back then!

What if Cars were websites? Part 1: Overview

Multiple Brands/Models are diluting the market

I have long struggled with the notion that the big three really need to make the same basic vehicle under different brands. I recently noticed that GM is selling 93 different automobiles. Once you start to look at the breakdown you see duplication not just in the same brand but the same basic model between brands. There maybe valid reasons for this, but I can’t come to one from a web perspective.

Imagine a conversation in our world like this:
Brand Manager(BM): I want a website just like the one I have now.
PM: Great, so we are going to move your existing site to a new one?
BM: No, I want two! Keep the one I have but I need another site that will have the same content. Maybe a couple of changes, you know, logo and a photo or two. Ooh, and flash we have to have that.
PM: Uh, okay, so you want to duplicate the site you have now with another one. Who is this other site for? An older demographic? Impulse buyer?
BM: Oh, no nothing like that. We are going to target the same customers.

I could go on, but for web products this would seem silly. Imagine if Twitter said the same thing as above. We would laugh them out of the building!

What is your brand identity? Who is your customer?
This would seem simple enough, but I wonder if the US auto makers haven’t lost site of who their core customer is for each of their brands. Look at the vehicle offerings for Pontiac and see if you can figure out who they are trying to sell to. Compare that with Scion and you see there is a significant difference in the marketing approach to the brand and the cars.

Innovation is more than a fancy new model.
Sorry to pick on GM, but innovation is more than coming up with a fancy electric car. This might generate interest, but if the business doesn’t change then it is all for naught. The Volt really looked kind of fun early on, but has fallen prey to blasé styling. Not that I was ready to buy one anyway, but I wonder if Chevy was the right brand for this vehicle. Doesn’t GMC and Cadillac bill themselves as the engineering brands? The innovation needs to be in the structure of the organization.

Imagine another conversation with web products:
BM1: I want to have a new shopping cart with Flex technology to display everything.
BM2: No way, you customers barely know how to click on a link. They won’t get it. Let me go live with it.
BM1: You’re jealous because my customers spend more money with me.
BM2: Whatever, you’re a jerk. Give it to me.
PM: I have to agree with BM2 here. We can launch the product there and work out the kinks. Then migrate it to the other brands.
BM1: Absolutely not, I’m running this show. If you don’t like it I’ll find a vendor that will do it for a six pack and discount.

This will not end well. The product would launch on the wrong site. You know what happens next. The product launches to the wrong demographic, conversion are down, finger pointing begins and the old site is back up.

Next time a closer look at GM.

What if Cars were websites?

I have a deep love for cars. From the time I was a little kid I used to quiz my dad on every “cool” car I saw. My dream car is a 49 Mercury chopped and dropped with flat black paint. If I can’t do that I’ll take a Porsche 911 GT3 RS…but I digress.

I don’t claim that I can cure the ills of the auto industry. Certainly GM and Chrysler are in dire straits and Ford is not far behind. But I wonder what life would be like if we looked at the insdustry from yhe approach we take when it comes to working on web products. So in the interest of science or just my fascination with cars, I’ll take a look at the big three and see what, if anything, we can conclude from this approach.

Generally speaking this is just a fun excercise and should be viewed with all due skepticism. Expect quite a few assumptions in the next few posts. You have been warned.

Adobe Zoetrope

I would do a disservice to the Adobe and University of Washington team that worked on the Zoetrope Project if I attempted to explain how this works. The video will do a much better job than I could hope to do.

The amazing thing that this tries to do is pull time sensitive data that could be unrelated into a more relational context. You will see an example in the video of a user that sees a spike in gas prices. By researching the date further the user notices a drop in price of oil on another website and yet third website highlights a story where Congress voted on a spending bill for Iraq.

For those that know what they are doing I think this will be a great tool. The danger is in making inferences where a relationship does not exist. Imagine if someone suggested that the price of gas spiked in the example above because of a solar flare. Tracking this information would be difficult as you could falsely conclude just about any cause/effect relationship you want.

This leads me to think about a site like Farecast and how they might leverage something like this to build an even more accurate system to advise users on airfare cost. How will something like this affect sales of market driven products and services? While this is still a pretty far out concept the day is coming where the relationship between price and other data are brought together. I am not certain the average user will use this, but rather the gatekeepers who will disseminate to the social networks.