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Positioning, Analogies, and assimilation for immigrants

22 Nov

RIM positioned the Blackberry as an “interactive pager,” because pagers were something people could understand. While the device was actually was doing email, people understood it as “the pager that you could respond with.” While phrases like “mobile email and packet switching” didn’t mean a thing to RIM’s first customers, the “interactive pager” positioning proved important in attracting early adopters.

via Hubris vs. Humility: The positioning challenge | VentureBeat.

Yesterday, I was at my favorite All-American chain restaurant–the Olive Garden.  Our group was talking about how two of us were particularly adept at arguing by analogy.  The two being picked on, me and one of my good friends, are both immigrants.  We began chatting about why it was that we liked and learned so much through analogy.  Ultimately, we concluded that for immigrants analogies are everything.  Indeed, only through analogies can an immigrant get a good frame of reference for learning a new culture and for assimilating in that new culture.  For an immigrant the cultures which are more prone to analogy are simply friendlier, easier to understand, and ultimately most convenient to adopt as their own.

Which brings us to Research in Motion and the thinking behind their decision to brand the blackberry as an “interactive pager:”

RIM, the Blackberry and its network had more inventions per square inch than most startups. The founders could have easily described the product as “the first packet-switched interactive messaging network.” Or they could have said, “corporate email now seamlessly forwarded from your company’s network to your pocket.” They did none of that.  The founders swallowed their pride and simply introduced the Blackberry as an “interactive pager.” Their board, with no need to prove how smart and creative they were, agreed.

Maybe what makes certain parts of the country so good for immigrants is that the “positioning” of American culture is so heavily reliant on analogy.  We’re at our best when we shelve our pride.  I think Blackberry and their market positioning decisions are a simple example of not only successful business but also an example of how learning and integration by immigrants works.


Publishing companies of the future

11 Nov

What Zynga understood is that you need to go where the consumers are, capture those audiences, build a direct relationship and then diversify channel partners. This is happening in spades now on YouTube as a new generation of viewers is being served up by a new generation of TV production houses that are currently under the radar screen of many people. This will change in the next 2 years.

via The Future of Television & The Digital Living Room | Both Sides of the Table.

Maybe more appropriate is to call these small production houses the media companies of the future.  Think about why media companies have traditionally been bundled–its because being a media company required a lot more than just the ability to create, it also required the ability to distribute.  But not today and not in the future.

Why Charlie Rangel should defend himself

11 Aug

In an unprecedented 31-minute speech on the House floor done against the advice of lawyers and friends, Rep. Charlie Rangel, attacked head on the allegations against him and the process under which he said he’s suffered unfairly.

via Rangel’s Rant – Swampland –

I won’t comment on Charlie Rangel’s guilt or innocence but I will say that his trial will be an incredibly positive event for the country.  Trials are instructive and cathartic events.  While a plea deal only tells us that an individual did wrong, trials teach us about the systems and processes that created the person’s conduct.   Trials are sunlight on a wound whereas “apologize and resign” is a band-aid.

If Charlie Rangel defends himself, we, the American people, will learn about what goes on in our government and what favors are considered normal.  Through tales of other representatives, we’ll get to judge the normality or abnormality of Rangel’s actions.  Rangel or his witnesses will surely tell us what his colleagues do and we’ll get some insight into what’s tolerated.

There is no question that a trial could be very bad for Democrats, and maybe even Republicans, but that’s probably because the truth will be uncomfortable and maybe even a little shameful.   The lives of powerful politicians come with special privileges and unimagineable burdens.   It is a world that 99% of us know nothing about.  A vigorous Rangel defense is a good way for us to find out.

I ask Charlie Rangel to defend himself as (maybe) his last act of public service.  He may end up teaching all of us a powerful civics lesson that it seems only trials or powerful investigative journalism can bring out.  With the latter largely dead in the popular press, we’ll have to hope that Congressman Rangel chooses to fight.

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Do people want all-purpose?

11 Aug

That said, if Facebook introduces its own check-in service, the companies and investors that have been dominating geolocation to date may be in trouble.

via Facebook tiptoes closer to launching geolocation | VentureBeat.

I’ve often thought about whether consumers want an all-purpose anything.  Do we want one search engine for every type of search?  Google’s dominance suggests the answer is yes.  Do we want one auction site for anything we wish to buy or sell?  Ebay appears to be the dominant player with just a couple of specialty competitors.  How about price quotes, do we want one site where we can get a quote for anything?  The answer on this seems to be pretty clearly no because we have LendingTree for mortgages, uShip for shipping, for cars, and many many more.

If we narrow our focus to social networks or how we manage our social relationships, I wonder if we really want to do everything at Facebook, our Wal-Mart of social networks, or if we prefer to go boutique at Gowalla or Foursquare for our check-ins.

The key here is in determining how most people actually use facebook as it is and social check ins as they are.  Facebook’s central bet with starting their own check-in service may be that when you share your location you want to do this for all 1,100 of your friends.  But I’m willing to bet that lots of people will be turned off by this and that they will prefer to circulate to a much smaller group of friends.

At the end of the day, all-purpose solutions in social networks may just come down to whether we prefer intimacy or efficiency.  So far Facebook has made a bundle on efficiently keeping up with your friends.  But close friendships don’t thrive on this type of behavior and I do think that one of the points of check-ins is to enjoy quality time with friends, not just share your location.  Social networking with intimacy as its goal may be the very reason why Facebook shouldn’t create its own services but rather opt to allow–as it has thus far–its users to broadcast their Foursquare location through facebook.

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Reform and tools for online advocacy

21 Jul

Let’s keep up the pressure on our elected representative to do the right thing and give us comprehensive immigration reform as soon as possible.

via A VC: Immigration Reform.

In this context, Fred Wilson was writing generally about the need for immigration reform and specifically about how reform should include more H1B visas, a startup visa, and visas for science, technology, engineering and medicine graduates.

Here’s what I find fascinating about the entire discussion: I bet thousands of people “tweet” this link or share it through some form of social media.  But how many people actually follow this call to action and keep up the pressure on their elected representatives? How many people write to their Congresswoman or Senator?

Why is sharing your views or the fact that you agree with something so easy to share with your friends but so much more cumbersome to share with your elected official?  What if we had tools that would allow a blogger like Fred Wilson to easily push advocacy on a specific issue?

I imagine a solution that would work for any blogger or any journalist.  How many times have you read a story that just made you care and want to do something but you never knew how to do something about it?  Truth is that most writers are not as specific as Fred Wilson and they don’t ask you to advocate for a specific issue.  But if you’re reading about the oil spill and the writer wants you to “put pressure on Congress”, shouldn’t a tool automatically allow you to do so?

Just like his webpage says “Tweet this,” what if it said “Lobby Congress on this Issue” and it led to another page or a quick form that allowed you to enter your information, sign a petition, or do some other action.  I think thousands of people would love a quick way to share Fred Wilson’s words with Congress, not just with their friends on Twitter.

Will someone please build such a solution?

Summing up the multitasking debate

11 Jun

There have been a series of New York Times articles on the semi-permanent brain changes caused by multi-tasking as well as whether those changes are good for us.   The science is hotly disputed and I have no comment on who is right and wrong.  However, from a personal productivity point of view, I think Tyler Cowen said it absolutely right.

Of course top CEOs don’t multitask all the time, they multitask selectively, combined with periods of extreme focus.

I think the operative question is how to selectively multitask.  The default wiring of our brains–attack whatever problem comes up–just is not ideal.

Be silent; or what the iPad debate says about us

7 Apr

 The entire debate over the iPad is thoroughly fascinating.  Reactions to the device range from effusive praise to bitter disappointment.  Some think its the most important tablet to be introduced since a certain figure came down from the mountaintop.   Others think it’s merely a large iPod touch that misses functionality present in every computer made since 1993.   Apple’s own PR machine promises a “magical and revolutionary device,” that allows a user to “have the internet at their fingertips.”  A friend of mine remarked that he’s never before heard people express such strong views toward a device.  Indeed, the last time I heard such heated opinions was over the healthcare bill.  Wait, that was last week.

Ironically, the most insightful commentary on the iPad is about how it makes reading feel “serene” and that how it allows one to  “absorb,” to “listen, really listen, to what someone else has to say.”  Could the iPad, with its inability to multitask (which one reviewer  hails as a virtue), actually retrain us away from the constant comment and heated debate society we have become?  After all, if we begin using a device that makes it easy to absorb but hard to create, might that make us comment less? Or at least allow time for our passions to cool as we slowly tap away at the iPad’s built in keyboard?  If the iPad fails, will it be because few people really want to listen; that we prefer a society of comment over one of consumption?

Maybe the iPad’s actual features aren’t a commentary on us and maybe they won’t change how we behave, but doesn’t our love or hatred of a device speak volumes about the things we value?  Remember these are opinions are sparked about a machine, a machine that perhaps no more than 5% of the world’s population will ever use.  For some reason, the entire debate reminds me of what  Bobby Kennedy  famously said about GDP:

“Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product … if we should judge America by that – counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.  Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

Read that quote a few times.  You’ll probably realize that there’s an app closely related to every one of the good (and bad) things that Kennedy references.  Fascinating indeed.

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