October 10, 2004

  • Thought

    Jason Fried (Basecamp and 37 signals) makes a great point in his Web 2.0 Review: “Build a product that doesn’t require organizational scaling.” Ramping up staff and infrastructure killed a lot of great little businesses in Web 1.0 (that meme seems to have hit and stuck quickly).

    It’s nice seeing companies intentionally staying small, foregoing venture funding, and keeping resource requirements lean. This approach lets you innovate faster, shift with the market, and earn a profit in markets that might otherwise not be financially attractive.

    My guess is we are on the brink of a massive explosion of “nano-companies” — groups of 1 to 10 people working on filling very specific needs in the market that larger businesses can’t service profitably because they have already scaled too big to fit the size of these “nano-markets”.

October 8, 2004

August 1, 2004

  • Thought

    Peter Merholz has a great post about the cumulative impact of complexity:

    “Objects aren’t simple any more. They don’t just turn or push. They behave. And these behaviors are often played out over many steps, in particular orders. And each step is an opportunity for failure. Through the work that my colleagues conducted on business value and user experience, I learned the six sigma concept of ‘rolled throughput yield.’

    Basically, this means that the more steps you take, the likelier failure is. Even each step has a high probability of success, when you add them up, the likelihood someone can get through all of it becomes startlingly low.”

    Another way of thinking about this (from more of a marketing and sales mindset) is “the more people you lose at any given step in your sales funnel, the worse your overall results”.

May 22, 2004

  • Making Einstein Simple

    Jessie Scanlon has a great essay in the NYT on simplicity in design (“A Design Epiphany: Keep It Simple”) that includes this line that intrigued me:

    “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler,” Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying. His actual wording was a tad more convoluted, but in any case, few in Silicon Valley heeded his advice.

    A bit of Googling showed that indeed a lot of people like this quote and attribute it to Einstein. A bit more digging found more details on the attribution in a lengthy discussion of Occam’s Razor:

    The pithiness of this quote disguises the fact that no one knows whether Einstein said it or not (this version comes from the Reader’s Digest, 1977). It may well be a precis of the last few pages of his ‘The Meaning of Relativity’ (5th edition), where he wrote about his unified field theory, saying ‘In my opinion the theory here is the logically simplest relativistic field theory that is at all possible. But this does not mean that nature might not obey a more complex theory. More complex theories have frequently been proposed. . . In my view, such more complicated systems and their combinations should be considered only if there exist physical-empirical reasons to do so.’

    Funny that someone (probably Reader’s Digest) had to simplify the concept of not simplifying too much.

April 20, 2004

  • Return Of “The Company That Should Be A Feature”

    Great post by John Battelle about one of my current favourite web apps, Furl.

    I love the concept of “nano-businesses” like Furl. That my phrase for incredibly small companies (one or two people plus free agents added to the mix when needed) that meet a VERY particular need, and do so with little or no capital involved.

    These companies can either be continuing sources of decent income for their creators, or (as appears to be the case with Furl), a way to give birth to a feature that is missing from some larger application.

    Assume you find that a big, valuable product is missing some key functionality that you’ve dreamed up. If you can keep development costs incredibly low and launch it almost as a proof of concept online, it becomes very simple for BigCo product owner to do the math and decide to buy the technology off you for a modest (to them) but also huge (to you) amount.

    This makes sense in a way that wacky dotcoms during the bubble didn’t. Back then the same concept was tried, but invariably there was venture money behind the “company that should be a feature”. That fact alone seems to swell payroll and call for huge marketing budgets which end up making the feature too rich to be bought and everyone loses.

    Now you can use open standards and the blog/feed/technorati/google ecosystem to build and promote these things cheap, cheap, cheap. Expect more of these all the time.

    (Other examples? I say Technorati, Feedster, Blogrolling, del.icio.us, and any other company trying to make money off feeds. Oh and LinkedIn, Friendster, and all YASNS.)

July 30, 2003

  • Thought

    Wired News: Publishing for the Little Folks:

    “‘(The RedPaper) is a combination of eBay and The New York Times,’ said founder and editor Mike Gaynor. ‘You don’t have to have something valuable in your garage. You just have to have something valuable in your head.’

    Backed by software giant Adobe Systems, the RedPaper is an experimental market for information, allowing anyone to publish and sell their writing, be it recipes for muffins or hard-to-get court documents.”

July 2, 2003

  • Thought

    Great Q&A with Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO in Technology Review:

    Well, one big problem is feature creep. Companies feel pressured to add features because they want to put a checkmark in every checkbox in the product review magazines. Home stereos are a perfect example. How many people use one-tenth of the features on their stereo? And, in fact, the most expensive home stereos actually have the fewest features, because those users understand that they actually get in the way of the experience. And so I think what we try and do as designers is use real hard evidence of people in the world to show our clients what things are appropriate and what things aren’t appropriate, and help them have the bravery that they need to be able to resist the temptation. If we didn’t have those checkboxes, a lot of features wouldn’t exist. The other classic example is digital watches, where the cost of adding extra features is so low, that you end up with all these features through this incredibly low bandwidth interface that nobody can ever remember. I love my watch, but if it weren’t for the fact that half the instructions are engraved on the back, I would never remember how to change anything on it. And that’s rather sad, really, considering how long we’ve had digital watches.