- The previous generation of computing consolidated around a single device: the PC. Because of that, people expect a sort of winner-take-all computer in this post-PC environment. It looked, to some, like the iPad could be that—a successor to the Mac. The reality is that the next era of computing is multi-device. Computers will come in all shapes and sizes, for different use cases, with different types of interaction, from many companies. This is the result of a number of trends, but it’s predominantly a product of the commoditization of computing hardware and the advent of the cloud. The iPad is just one device in a network of computers.
- With that said, the “predominant” computer is your phone. This is mostly because it’s the lowest common denominator—everyone will have one. Therefore, if you care about building software that will touch all types of people, the mobile platform is the largest target. It also happens to be that designs scale up from the mobile platform to the tablet/PC platform beautifully, while the opposite is not at all true. Designing powerful software for a 4-inch screen is hard, but it’s necessary. The greatest new platforms will challenge what you think a phone could do.
- Apple’s main innovation with iOS is an interaction model for computers that’s much more like real life. It’s intuitive. No file system, no menu bar, no mouse. The first real personal computer, designed first for life, not work. This innovation has scaled up the stack (iPad, Mac) and to other companies (Android, Windows Phone). iOS brought computing to the people. But we’re still in the early days.
The best part of the internet is that no one owns it. It’s not regulated by governments or controlled by large corporations. You don’t need a permit to publish a website or permission to start a business. It remains a frontier.
Imagine, though, if big media companies in the 70s had a say in the design of copy-and-paste. They’d have freaked out. It’s a tool designed for stealing.
We take copy and paste for granted. It lives in the same bucket as right-clicking. But it’s such a foundational part of how we use computers. It’s what makes the internet work. Beyond that, it’s shaped our mindset as technologists: we take inspiration, learn from the best, and do it better. We hack.
It was hackers, mostly anonymous, who invented copy and paste. They forge frontiers.
This, sadly, may change in the future, as governments get nervous and proprietary platforms like iOS become more dominant. But for now it’s still the Wild West, and that’s why I spend my time on it.
Really nice note by Meetup CEO Scott Heiferman:
I don’t write to our whole community often, but this week is special because it’s the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and many people don’t know that Meetup is a 9/11 baby.
Let me tell you the Meetup story. I was living a couple miles from the Twin Towers, and I was the kind of person who thought local community doesn’t matter much if we’ve got the internet and tv. The only time I thought about my neighbors was when I hoped they wouldn’t bother me.
When the towers fell, I found myself talking to more neighbors in the days after 9/11 than ever before. People said hello to neighbors (next-door and across the city) who they’d normally ignore. People were looking after each other, helping each other, and meeting up with each other. You know, being neighborly.
A lot of people were thinking that maybe 9/11 could bring people together in a lasting way. So the idea for Meetup was born: Could we use the internet to get off the internet — and grow local communities?
We didn’t know if it would work. Most people thought it was a crazy idea — especially because terrorism is designed to make people distrust one another.
A small team came together, and we launched Meetup 9 months after 9/11.
Today, almost 10 years and 10 million Meetuppers later, it’s working. Every day, thousands of Meetups happen. Moms Meetups, Small Business Meetups, Fitness Meetups… a wild variety of 100,000 Meetup Groups with not much in common — except one thing.
Every Meetup starts with people simply saying hello to neighbors. And what often happens next is still amazing to me. They grow businesses and bands together, they teach and motivate each other, they babysit each other’s kids and find other ways to work together. They have fun and find solace together. They make friends and form powerful community. It’s powerful stuff.
It’s a wonderful revolution in local community, and it’s thanks to everyone who shows up.
Meetups aren’t about 9/11, but they may not be happening if it weren’t for 9/11.
9/11 didn’t make us too scared to go outside or talk to strangers. 9/11 didn’t rip us apart. No, we’re building new community together!!!!
The towers fell, but we rise up. And we’re just getting started with these Meetups.
Scott Heiferman (on behalf of 80 people at Meetup HQ)
Apple royally teased the Internet on Monday. Its homepage read “Tomorrow is just another day. That you’ll never forget.” The company said to “check back here tomorrow for an exciting announcement from iTunes.” The “you’ll never forget” + “exciting” got me, and what seemed like the rest of the web, dreaming.
Were they going to announce a new streaming-based iTunes, where you wouldn’t buy each song, but rather you’d subscribe to an all-you-can-eat listening service? Was it a new file format? New iPods? Is Apple buying Pandora (which they should)?
But then some Beatles news started to circulate. The rumors resurfaced: “sources” claimed that the Beatles, the greatest and bestselling act of all time, would finally be available on iTunes, the world’s largest music store.
And it was true. Apple announced their arrival with a bang on Tuesday. Apple.com had an awesome black and white of John, Paul, George, and Ringo on the homesite. They put up five TV Ads. Every publication was on it.
But people were dissapointed. They were expecting something more newsworthy. Big deal, an artist’s music is now for sale digitally. Who doesn’t already have the Beatles on their computer?
Yet Apple’s making a really big deal about the whole thing. Why?
I think it’s a signature move. Apple is all about the brand. This is an opportunity to associate with a music brand that represents the ultimate dream, timeless, brilliant music, great memories, cultural identity.
Apple is all about being part of culture. And this is how it does it. It puts together ads that look like mini Beatles documentaries. Its site is dedicated to the band for a few days. We now associate the brands together. It’s like a free endorsement.
When we think Apple, we now think Beatles. Apple isn’t a computer company. It’s a cultural landmark, a company that merges technology and the arts. It enables creatives.
In other words, if John Lennon were around, he’d probably use a Mac.
If there ever were a bathroom throne, this would be it. Toto’s Neorest 600 toilet is one of those things that goes from extravagant luxury to must-have. To start, its lid opens when you approach it. The seat is warm — set to your liking. There’s a bidet-like cleanser, and totally key, a dryer. To close, it flushes when you finish up. It’s a great experience.
Smart toilets are all the rage in Japan. They’re not very common in the States. I used it first in Tokyo on a trip with my grandfather. He too fell in love and put a few in his new home. It has this interesting but awkward viral effect. Guests who use it can’t help but mention it, toilet conversation ensues, and sometimes sales result.
It looks pretty cool when closed. When open, it’s a bit too hospital-like for my taste. The remote control design could be a bit better. For some reason, Flush isn’t one of the 5 big buttons on it. Also, I wish there was a way to change the default seat-raise from just lid to both seat covers. You know, for guys.
And yes, price is a caveat. It costs many times more than a standard toilet. But, people, priorities.
I’m sure you’ve seen Google’s new search feature, Instant. As you type, results show up. It’s pretty amazing, and to me, the coolest thing to come out of the Googleplex in a long while. It’s exciting to use genuinely new technology in this age of repackaging and reapplying.
It was bold of the company to switch the feature on instantly (this was the case for me in Chrome, but might’ve been different in other browsers). We’ve instinctively gone through the same search procedure for 10 years now, and not hitting Enter is a significant behavioral shift. Will 70+ year olds know what’s going on? I’m not sure. But it is admirable to see Big G roll the dice and essentially overhaul its main product. And if they were going aim high with Instant, this was the only way to do it.
One thing’s for sure: Google search is now a fundamentally different product than Bing’s.
This is where Google shines, not in social. They’re the only company in the world who could pull instant search off. But they’re far from the only guys trying to get into social media.
I like using it. It works pretty well, for the most part – though slow connections definitely hamper the experience a bit. It will be interesting to see how consumers, advertisers, and the industry react over time.
Also interesting: Google’s running ads for the service. You’d think that fundamentally changing the number one viewed site in the world is enough of an advertisement, right? Maybe it’s a public service announcement — so people aren’t terrified when they first see Instant. Or maybe it’s an old-fashioned brand marketing campaign made to reinforce Google’s image as a leading technology powerhouse.
Last week, I was lucky enough to sit down with Dave Ambrose, co-founder of local deal site Scoop St. We kicked off a new interview series I’m calling Spoken Genius. I’ll be interviewing people who have extensive expertise in a given area. Dave started working on his group-buying platform before Groupon existed. He’s done a lot since then and has a lot of insight to share. Following are his thoughts on the exploding e-commerce model, starting a business, and the art of selling.
Scoop St. is pretty similar to Groupon. Local “experiences” are sold for about 50-75% off retail price — restaurants, wine tastings, bars, etc. The space is rapidly crowding. Groupon is right now the biggest player in the market, but smaller guys are springing up everyday.
I asked Dave how he competes, and he made it clear that there’s one main thing that differentiates these businesses: their deals. Securing those deals from small businesses requires a strong sell. And that’s what David consider’s himself an expert on. From selling customers, small businesses, employees, and friends, he’s learned how to win people over. Selling in this context is a lot more than trading product for money. It’s the idea of getting someone to act or think how you want them to.
“Think about willingness on 0-100% scale,” he says (paraphrased). “If someone’s even 1% willing to do something, I can win him over. If there at 0%, there’s no shot I could convince them. We’re wolverines.”
While it’s pretty clear why consumers shop on daily deal sites — high quality experiences, heavily discounted — I asked David to break down the sell for small businesses.
Why join the navy if you can be a pirate?
- Steve Jobs
The classic Jobs quote. This site Startup Quote is pretty cool: clever one-liners with awesome graphics.
A group called SoBi is trying to bring bike sharing to New York. They’re putting special locks on their bikes and letting users unlock them with an iPhone app. It’s cheaper than most bike sharing programs, because they’re going to NY’s use existing bike racks to store the bikes.
They’re trying to win some Pepsi Refresh money, so if you like the idea, vote for it here.
Great idea. The lock is a little fugly, but it’ll definitely be a visual indicator that this is a SoBi bike.
Essay by Paul Graham, founder of the tech incubator Y Combinator:
I realized recently that what one thinks about in the shower in the morning is more important than I’d thought. I knew it was a good time to have ideas. Now I’d go further: now I’d say it’s hard to do a really good job on anything you don’t think about in the shower.
I have two types of productive modes: thinking and doing. Bits of Genius come from thinking mode. The shower is one of my thinking “offices”. The car is a pretty great one too.
How does a company show off a new feature that requires another remote user to be using the product? That’s what Apple retail marketers had to figure out with their new video calling iPhone.
In stores, they set up a table with six iPhones. In front of each phone is a sign with a number from one to six. To try Facetime, fire up the phone, go to Favorites, and there are the other phones on the table, 1 through 6.
I thought this was a pretty neat way of showing the feature off. Facetime is such a selling point for the new device, and using it in action for the first time is quite amazing. Customers were oohing and aahing. It’s also pretty funny to chat with the random guy 3 feet across from you on a 3.5 inch screen.
For some reason, I have a hard time believing that Nokia would do the same with their video calling phones.
Gilt mastered the flash sales model on the internet. But they also mastered selling clothing online. I think the second has as much to do with their success as the first.
No one in online clothing retail has a better user experience: Gorgeous, high resolution photos that show even a shirt’s weave. Descriptive, objective-sounding reviews. Awesome visual design with beautiful fonts, buttons, and interface imagery. Killer zooming. Fit advice — “This style fits true to size” — with the pictured model’s size and measurements. Free, fast shipping, free returns.
Items are actually more appealing than they are in stores. The company takes full advantage of the web’s powers, with convenience, scale, efficiency, information, and interactivity galore.
It’s a really fantastic experience overall, and it’s expanded into all of their properties - Gilt Man, Jetsetter, and now Gilt City. And taken further, the Gilt experience on the iPad is even better: drag to add to cart, zoom into photos with a pinch, etc. It’s the future of shopping.
I think it’s a competitive advantage. With online retailers, the focus hasn’t been on interface, as it is been with other web 2.0 startups. But Gilt realizes that a slick design can change consumer behavior. The combination of low prices and a really thought-out experience made shopping diehards buy exclusively online.
The shopping experience is a major focus at Gilt. Yesterday, I was at July’s NY Tech Meetup. It was a great show. Joshua Schwadron from the startup I worked at last summer, Betterfly, demoed, as did the founders of Jetsetter.
Jetsetter was “incubated” at Gilt. It looks and feels the same. But it’s not a flash sales site. The founders made it clear that the true value proposition that Jetsetter provides to customers is a way to browse travel destinations in a photo-centric, “seductive” way. It’s Gilt for travel, minus the timed-sale hoopla. Hotels and destinations are willing to cut prices because their product isn’t cheapened (in fact, it looks better than ever) and because they’re reaching new customers. Jetsetter’s not meant to be a Hotels.com replacement. It’s meant to be a place to get good travel ideas, to pick from an immersive, interactive catalog of sorts.
It makes so much sense. Web design is completely scalable. It’s totally a fixed cost, and a relatively small one. Gilt is able to simulate the upscale feel of Barney’s — the interior design, the product framing, shelving, and display — on the internet, for a fraction of the cost, while offering prices up to 30% less. Brilliant.
Key to this is a fundamental shift in shopping online. The current leaders of e-commerce are companies like Amazon and Staples (surprisingly the web’s second largest retailer by sales dollars). They focus on search-driven sales. People type in what they’re looking for and checkout. Customers are looking for convenience, free shipping, and low costs.
Slow to pickup, however, have been browse-driven sales. These are the items people don’t know they want. They’re the items that people go to Bloomingdales for. These customers leaf through items and make irrational decisions on a whim. Gilt has been able to replicate that experience. They solved the internet’s browse problem.
More fundamentally, they figured out how to sell non-attribute items online. An attribute item is one that’s easily characterized on paper; in other words, cameras, books, computers, office supplies. Non-attribute items are the physical things that people like to feel before they purchase: apparel, accessories, sunglasses. Gilt realized that to sell non-attribute things there needs to be an initial lure (the prices) combined with an awesome browsing experience.
The result is gold. Gilt’s exploding. It’s branching into new products everyday. They just went into local attractions with Gilt City, which I think is leagues ahead of Groupon’s site.
Gilt wants to be the place for all indulgence purchases. I could see them going into jewelry, handbags, cosmetics, furniture, watches, and other web-neglected verticals.
For some reason, no one’s knocking them off. Do they not see the secret sauce?