Why Google+ Could Succeed

Google has begun rolling out its latest iteration of a social network, Google+. It’s getting plenty of press in the blogosphere, with a wide variety of opinions (great start; Facebook me-too late in the game; meh-be; etc.)

Here’s my take on why it could be a winner – our current social networks are dumb.

You heard me. Dumb. Google+ is showing some potential smarts.

Not to say that Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn and the like are poorly designed, or that there aren’t really smart people behind them. And certainly not to say that those of us using these networks are dumb for doing so. Not at all. These platforms are a good start, and it’s very smart to be involved with digital networked communications.

But these initial tools are baby rattles, compared to the sophistication we really need.

I’m going to point you back three years, to the series I wrote on the ideal social media/web interface (One Interface to Rule Them All <– the link is to the first of 7 posts). There, I outlined how we need smart platforms that would do things like layering (Google+ Circles),  automated finding via Intell-Agents (Google+ Sparks); and, last year, I had a hankering for real-time private rooms (Google+ Hangouts).

The need is for far better ability to classify, stratify, find (not just search), and control. Google+ is heading in that direction, and that is why it could take on platforms that do a more “brute-force” job of connecting and publishing. And make no mistake – current social platforms are still quite “dumb” on the brute-force level. They give us a bigger and bigger fire hose with only the most rudimentary ways to manage it all.

If  Google+ evolves with simple elegance and solid integration, our brilliant friends at Google have a great shot at a next-gen platform.

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Why Should I…?

My car needed an oil change. And instead of suffering through the rigamarole that often occurs when going to the dealership (even with a coupon for a freebie), I decided to use the Valvoline “Instant Oil Change” joint not far away. You don’t even get out of your car – they have a remarkably efficient system for knocking out quick stuff like this.

And knock it out they did. Very friendly and crisp service. Zoom-zoom and it was done (yes, I have a Mazda). I was very happy with Vince and the gang up in Kinnelon until the very end – when he pointed out a section on the receipt and asked if I would make a phone call (“only about 4 1/2 minutes!”) to tell Valvoline about how they did.

Just plug in that 17-digit number and go through a series of questions. Ummm…yeah. I just saved a bunch of time by using their service, then I want to take more minutes of my time to get immersed in an automated phone survey…with no incentive to do so? Why should I?

Oh – I had a chance to win $500.00. Right.

As I drove home, I mused on this – what would motivate me to actually make that call? What would make me WANT to do something so optional and non-rewarding, even if (as a marketing guy) I know why they’re doing it and I benefited from the good service?

Well, when totaling up the bill, Vince asked if I had any coupons. Ummm…no. There is a seemingly random appearance at times of such coupons for Valvoline but I can never keep track. Well – what if the incentive to make the phone call was to receive a coupon for $7.00 off the next oil change? And furthermore – what if I could do the survey on-line, and specify whether I wanted to print it out immediately, OR have them e-mail it to me at an interval I choose – say, in 3 months as a reminder, just when I’m due for the next oil change?

That, I would do. And really – isn’t it better to provide coupons to already-existing customers, in a way that actually helps ensure their return? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

So, Valvoline or other-purveyors-of-similar-services – Tell you about my visit? Sure – it was fine, but can be better for both you and me. So here’s an idea for you, from a customer/marketer who won’t make that phone call for no reason, but will spend 15 minutes blogging about how to improve the experience. Hope to see you again in 3 months or so (if I remember…!)

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Ask the Ten Questions

TenIt really all boils down to about 10 questions. Sit down with a client, go through these questions, and you’ll pretty much have the raw material to brainstorm and blueprint a project.

Just about any kind of project. After many years of consulting with clients about projects large and small, in areas ranging from training to technology to marketing to social media, I’ve found that the key questions are pretty much the same. Here are my Top 10 Questions for Defining a Project:

    1. What’s the point? (at the highest level, what exactly are you trying to achieve?)
    2. Why? (what are the strategic and business goals that provide the context?)
    3. What is the current state? (where are you now?)
    4. What is the desired state (where should this initiative take you?)
    5. How would success be measured? (what metrics and results will be used to gauge effectiveness?)
    6. Who is/are the key stakeholder(s), and the target audience(s)?
    7. What are the available resources? (budget, time, internal personnel, etc.?)
    8. What are the potential phases? (short-term, long-term, ongoing development?)
    9. What are the anticipated deliverables?
    10. What are the potential variables that may impact the project?

With some variations on each theme, some sub-questions, and maybe some additional major questions depending on the nature of the initiative, those questions should give a pretty thorough overview for both client and service provider.

If you are on the vendor side, you know that most clients haven’t thought their projects through this thoroughly. That’s where you can take the Ten Questions and do everyone a favor by framing out the project well ahead of time.

That’s my take – what would you add? What questions do you use to tease out the details of a project?

(Image credit)

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Tivo Records – and Listens

As part of a major household digital upgrade late last year, we finally entered the 21st century and acquired a TiVo box. I love it – the user experience crosses the threshold of Easy, and we record a whole variety of programs that we can pull up when it’s convenient for us.

One thing bothered me, however, on the TiVo.com site – there was no immediate option on the home page for TiVo users to login (you can select programs you want to record right from the website, which is a great feature). An immediately visible home page login link, to me, was a no-brainer  – users of the service should not need to go one level deep before being presented with that option. Netflix, Amazon – all the cool kids do it that way. Yes, it’s a “mixed” destination (for users and for potential customers who are investigating the service), but it seemed like a design flaw to me, because users who are scheduling recordings should be the biggest source of traffic.

So I did what many of us increasingly do – just threw it out there on Twitter.

And I was surprised to get a rapid response from a TiVo customer service person (that would be you, Shanan) on Twitter who agreed with the input, and passed it along to the development team.

And there it sat, for months. Now I know a bit about web development, and while it may seem like a simple thing to move a link, when you’re dealing with a highly visible and functional site, you don’t make interface changes quickly. A month or two back, I was assured that the input wasn’t forgotten.

It wasn’t. Today, I saw this:

tivosmIt’s a subtle change, and many might not even notice it. But I, for one, appreciate it. And more than that, I appreciate the fact that TiVo was monitoring Twitter, responded promptly and enthusiastically, and eventually came through with a small but important fix.

Customer service lesson: Listen, respond, act. Bread-and-butter basics, I know. But even though it took a while to see this change, I have nothing but praise for the TiVo team for making it happen. Which I don’t mind sharing publicly here!

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Creating a Welcoming Climate

Over my 23+ years of business travel, I’ve seen a lot of airports. Most of them are quite forgettable (at best).

CLTAirportBut yesterday I was once again passing through the Charlotte, NC hub. And once again, I was struck by what a mood difference a nice “climate” can make.

Somebody paid serious attention to the user experience when that terminal was designed. From the wide hallways, to the airy ceilings, to the coordinated color schemes, and even down to the strategically placed rocking chairs, the place exudes – if not homeiness – then at least pleasantness.

The (numerous!) restaurants and shops are well-placed, in a central area as well as in the various terminal “arms.” There are plenty of moving walkways, but lots of space for traditional walking, with good use of plants and other visual diversions. The color blue is tied in everywhere, from lighting to signage, in a nicely-coordinated design.

When I fly through O’Hare, I just want to get through and get out. When I go to my home airport of Newark, my stomach roils in anticipation of the hassle. But in Charlotte, I don’t mind just sitting down for a spell and watching the world go by. It’s peaceful instead of janglingly claustrophobic.

I’m always glad to get home. But if I have to wander around the Charlotte Airport for an extra hour some day, I really won’t mind all that much. I feel…at ease there. They even have a decent BBQ place!

Most of us don’t have entire airports to design. But in ways large and small, we do create a climate, through our words, our tone of voice, our cheer, maybe even our physical surroundings. Do people want to come back after interacting with you or your business?

Where are places, and who are people, that create that kind of welcoming climate for you?? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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(Image credit)

The Morning After – First Impressions of iPhone 3GS

RestoreinProgress2Yesterday, the long-awaited iPhone 3GS arrived at the front door. I loved my first-generation iPhone, and after accidentally causing its early demise a month or so ago, I couldn’t wait for the newest version. But would the upgrade experience be a pleasure or a nightmare? I was a bit apprehensive.

So let’s start with the “get it in the front door and up-and-running” user experience. Ordering the new phone on-line was zero-hassle. Delivery was on-time and as promised. Syncing the new iPhone with my existing account and iTunes setup was…FLAWLESS! It. just. worked.

I realize that other users have had issues, but kudos from this address to Apple and AT&T for making a plug-and-play process that required very little intervention.

Now, for the device itself:

1. Speed – yes, indeed, thank you VERY much. Bear in mind that I was used to the 1st gen, and skipped over the 3G. This puppy rocks, from bootup to e-mail delivery to everything else. 5 out of 5 smiles.

2. Camera – awesome. Great resolution, very crisp video, and amazing simple and intuitive on-screen controls. These Apple people know user interface. I wish it could zoom, but hey. 4.5 out 5 smiles.

3. Audio – very cool. The new Voice Memo rocks – great graphic/on-screen interface, dirt simple, crisp audio, one-click forward to e-mail if you want. I’m going to use this a lot for thought capture. 4.5 out of 5 smiles.

4. Form factor/feel – sweet. Very compact, rounded edges, no problems here. It’s like a t-shirt from a brand you love – you just want to show it off. 5 out of 5 smiles.

Social Media app interfaces continue to impress. I get TweetDeck up and running-and-sync’ed with my desktop (with a little help from my Twitter friends – thanks, Amber (@ambercadabra)!

I have not yet had a chance to dig into a lot of the capabilities and subtleties, but for this user’s first impression-level experience – just plain awesome! I’m not easily impressed. As for now…I’m both impressed and delighted!

And THAT is how you create word-of-mouth evangelists…

The Dread of Anticipation

BrokeniPhoneAfter losing my 1st generation iPhone in a tragic training accident several weeks back, I have been eagerly anticipating the release of the new, 3rd generation iPhone 3GS. I decided to forego buying the soon-to-be outclassed 3G model, and, limping by with a jerry-rigged GOphone, waited for the latest and greatest.

And now I find myself in that familiar state: the Dread of Anticipation.

When it arrives tomorrow (having plugged in my current identity and phone info, I ordered it on-line), will it just plug-and-play? Will it really, actually, pick up my current account, seamlessly sync with iTunes on my computer, and just WORK? Will there be no unexpected charges, glitches, and dreaded phone calls to customer support to clear up problems?

Will this upgrade cross the Threshold of Easy?

Have you found yourself, with new or updated systems, fervently hoping for the best, while pulling back the reins of excitement dreading the worst?

Either way, I’ll let you know. Good, bad, or indifferent, I’ll update the user experience on this blog. But if you hear loud whoops of happy relief echoing out of northern NJ tomorrow afternoon, you’ll know that Apple/AT&T got it right…

Update, 4:30 pm on Friday June 19th – the transfer/update/sync was FLAWLESS! Yippee!

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