Pinned-tab startups

One way of thinking about consumer startups (Twitter, FB, Google, …) is that you want to create a product that people use all the time. Daily. If you’re not using it daily, you can easily forget about a site, and then it’s an uphill battle to get real engagement and user growth.

So I think of this as my pinned-tab startups. The tabs in Chrome that I have pinned. Right now, of the newer startups, Yammer and the brand new engagio are in there.

My pinned tabs look something like this right now:

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I wonder if there’s a way to find out with javascript if your page was pinned?

Many UI standards, one app? Local UI conventions be damned?

We had it so easy on the web. You make your app once, and it ran everywhere. Sure, we had to contend with some nasty browser wars, but we learned how to work around those, and it all worked out in the end.

Now we’re back in trouble.

Developing for mobile means developing for iOS and Android, at least. Not only are they different OS’s (analogous to different browsers), but worse, they have different UI standards and expectations by their users.

So you can’t just create 1 UI for your app anymore, in an ideal world, you create mutliple UI’s.

Except, I am not convinced it works that way. I haven’t seen apps that successfully create many different experiences, each tailored to a different OS and set of UI expectations. The WinPho Twitter app, for example, kind of follows WinPho conventions, but it seems cobbled together and lacking, compared to their iOS app. It’s the same with most apps.

On the other side, the more successful apps seem to be creating 1 experience and porting it to multiple platforms, local UI expectations be damned. (Facebook, Path, etc. have essentially the same app, with very small concessions to local UI conventions, on different platforms).

It’s a conundrum. I’m not sure what the answer will turn out to be. Will we make different UI’s for different OS’s? Will some kind of “generic”, cross-OS UI conventions evolve (despite the OS owner’s best efforts to avoid this)? That’s where my money is right now, but I could change my mind tomorrow. Or perhaps we’ll all end up in HTML5 app land (although that is starting to seem unlikely; if it was going to happen, wouldn’t it have happened already by now?)

Thoughts?

What (some of) the industry is thinking for 2012

GigaOm has a good series of quotable thoughts by some industry leaders.

Scott Mcnealy:

  • “Somebody has to step in front of the open source parade any really lead it”
  • “What Steve Jobs understood was that he was more like Calvin Klein than he was like Andy Bechtolsheim.”
  • “I’m chairman, not CEO, which is sort of like being a grandfather instead of a father, which is way better in dirty-diaper mode.”
  • “I stepped down from Sun eight years ago because my boys were 2, 4, 6 and 8 years old, and I wanted to be with them. Now, they’re 10, 12, 14 and 16. Wayne Gretzky’s kids never really got to see him play hockey. My boys are getting to see me do what I do.”

Matt Mullenweg: (wordpress)

  • “I worry about the independent web. – I hope this is the most closed it will ever be in my lifetime.” –> Amen to this, by the way.
  • “There are 20,000 or 30,000 people that make their living from WordPress.”
  • “I think we’re going to enter a golden age of design, just by virtue of thousands and thousands of founders and designers asking themselves, “What would Steve do?””

Philip Rosendale: (secondlife)

  • “Mostly, of course, you want to make money. But try to make money in a way that is epic and awesome.”
  • “Investors ask, “Who’s the customer, and what existing market are you servicing?” We said, “We don’t know, and there isn’t one.””

Mary Lou Jepsen:

  • “The LCD industry is in meltdown. The losses are huge and have been for the last five years or so.”
  • “For the tier one companies, it’s not about the hardware anymore. It’s about hardware, software, content. And content suppliers are king right now. – They all make the same products and compete on price.”
  • “One challenge for next year is whether the industry, our customers, find an interesting tablet that isn’t just like the iPad but cheaper. Certainly Amazon is making a go of it.”

Padmasree Warrior: (cisco)

  • “I truly believe that leadership is something that you have to be involved with in terms of the details as well as the strategy.”

Dennis Crowley: (foursquare)

  • “We have a lot of ex-Googlers here and we’ve taken a lot of the Google culture that we really like and applied it to Foursquare. For example, people do weekly snippets and we have a pretty strong review process and pretty strong interview process.”
  • “People know us for check-ins but with the data, we want to push people more toward the recommendation engine and the way to do that is make that prominent and a big part of the app.”
  • “We’re at 15 million users now and the next stop is 20, 25, 50 million users.”

Caterina Fake: (flickr, hunch)

  • “We are sensitive to certain stimuli, so that when we were Neanderthals dragging our knuckles on the ground we’d say, “Ooh! A berry!” and pluck it. That feeling is reproduced in our brains with Twitter, Facebook updates, and especially games.”
  • “my goal is to sleep later”

Dave Morin: (Path)

  • “2012 will truly be the year of mobile Internet.”
  • “Find the users who see your vision and talk to them. Find out why they love the product and what they’re trying to do with it. Often, they’re trying to do something that you haven’t designed it for. You need to unlock that potential.”

Elon Musk: (paypal)

  • “The way I see it is that all transportation will go electric except for rockets, ironically.”

Speed as a competitive advantage, and set-based design for startups

I’ve watched this video again and again over the years.

It takes about execution, and speed as a competitive advantage. Some ideas in there are not yet widely accepted, even in lean startups or agile programming. I need to learn more about these Poppendiecks.

“Optimizing a part of a system will always, over time,
sub-optimize the overall system.”

Set based design.

Says: don’t just do 1 thing, do a set of thing. Toyota, in 15 months from concept to a live car, develops a whole set of engines for the first 4 months. 10 active engines under development! In detail!

Tell me if I’m wrong, but NOBODY in the startup world does anything like this. Makes you think.

From their site:

Waste is anything that does not add customer value.

The three biggest wastes in software development are:

Building the Wrong Thing
"There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all." –Peter Drucker

Failure to Learn
Many of our policies – for example: governance by variance from plan, frequent handovers, and separating decision-making from work – interfere with the learning that is the essence of development.

Thrashing
Practices that interfere with the smooth flow of value –task switching, long lists of requests, big piles of partly done work – deliver half the value for twice the effort.

I don’t know. This is good stuff.

As usual, the insights are simple but deep. I’m specifically thinking about how to use set based design in a startup.

It’s funny, btw, that you get speed by delaying decisions. By making less decisions, not more.

More blogging

One of my 2012 (my god!) plans: more blogging. Longer form blogging too. I’m still thinking about how to tie this in with tweets, check-ins, and such. But my blog should be the center of my online life, that I’ve always felt/known.

Moving on from photos to mobile wallets

During 2011, I was founder-in-residence of a photo startup called Gush. It was a great vision, and one I hope still happens (there are a few good contenders in the space). And the team was the best I ever had the honor of working with. But it’s time for me to move on.

2012 (and onwards) will be dedicated to a future of mobile wallets. The vision is, in short, that I can take my phone and leave my wallet at home. It’ll likely take us a few years.

DotCloud versus PHPFog

Spoiler: assuming you want to deploy some simple PHP apps, PHPFog looks better for PHP than DotCloud.

DotCloud and PHPFog are two “Heroku for X” cloud hosting providers.

Basically, they make it easier to run your code in the cloud than using your own Amazon Web Services account. Which isn’t too hard either, and there’s a free level, but it does involve some sysadmin-like tasks, and you have to get your head around all the Amazon settings etc. In other words, sysadmin stuff, which is exactly what you’re trying to avoid. DotCloud and PHPFog both promise to take care of those headaches for you, in return for a slightly higher price than AWS. PHPFog is (as the name suggests) focused on PHP. Dotcloud does a lot of languages, but supports PHP too. The whole idea is to make your life easier. Sounds like a deal!

Let’s compare them. Remembering that anything that gives me more sysadmin-like work is bad. I’m paying you to take that away.

The first problem with DotCloud is that they use Nginx, not Apache, and therefore you can’t use mod_rewrite. Not only is mod_rewrite superstandard, but now I also have to install Nginx locally. Nothing against Nginx (it’s awesome), but more work for me, not less. Not good.

Second, DotCloud doesn’t support Windows, officially. I develop on Windows. “Not supported” doesn’t make me feel good.

Next, PHPFog has a bunch of PHP-related niceties. They give you a PHPMyAdmin setup out of the box to manage your database. A bit 90s, but nice. They even give you the code to connect to your database right there. Nice. Making my life easier is good.

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All in all, DotCloud seems the more “professional” outfit, they support a lot more languages etc. But PHPFog is focused on actual PHP developers, not treating PHP as an add-on, something to check off the list.

Now I haven’t actually used both extensively, so this is a fairly superficial comparison. Thoughts?

Cute categories

Cute categories in Gmail and other Google products:

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Fairly understandable. When used like this, I think cutesy category labels are fine. They give products character.

The measuring mindset.

I’m working on Gush, a startup around photos.

One thing that I’m doing different this time, is that we measure *everything*. Literally everything. And I noticed that that creates a mindset.

Whenever I am working on a new feature now, I think, while sketching, how am I going to measure this. What is success going to look like in numbers?

And from seeing some numbers already, I also know that small decisions make big differences. If I am working on a feature and I know only 5% of users are ever going to use it, is it worth even working on? If I am putting a feature behind a click, and I know nobody will ever click it, is it even working on.

I don’t think the measuring mindset, by itself, leads to success. You risk optimizing into a local maximum. But it does lead to better product decisions.

Lean startups and UX

Giff Constable writes down almost exactly my own thoughts on the lean startup movement.

In particular, it’s almost funny how a lot of the research techniques are old hat to us in the UX world. On the other hand, UX has never been strong at doing the type of “but do they even want this?” type of early phase research lean is focusing on, and I think that, plus a strong theory around “everything is a hypothesis, and your product is there to test that” is what I think Ries & Co are adding. A great, great contribution for sure. Much better than what the UX folks with their “let’s do some ethnography early on” talk.

UX never figured out a great way to do early hypothesis testing. They didn’t create a language around it. Lean startups did.

I think the underlying reason for this, and for much of UX’s frustrations and limitations, is that the UX role in a company usually isn’t the decision making role. Whereas, by focusing on startups, lean startups speaks directly to the people making the final decisions. UX people have gotten them stuck in consulting roles. Too bad.

Enough unprocessed thoughts on this. More later.

The Ruby of legalese?

If contracts are code (they pretty much are), then someone should invent the Ruby/Scala (pick your readable language) of legalese. Have a programmer/language designer and a laywer pair up. Write a human readable, well-defined language for contracts, and open source it. You’d make millions.

Twitter buzzing about earthquake in NYC

We just had an earthquake on the eastcoast (NYC), literally a minute ago, and Twitter is buzzing. Twitter was the first place I checked, to make sure I wasn’t just imagining things or having a particularly bad hangover.

Goes to show the power of Twitter and realtime. I wonder if they’ll go down.

Google says (it didn’t take them long either) it was in Virginia, 5.9.