Foot in mouth disease
Following up on my previous post, here's a list I stumbled upon of ill-advised predictions for the technological future.
Following up on my previous post, here's a list I stumbled upon of ill-advised predictions for the technological future.
The advancement of technology always finds a way to surprise us. When I was young, we figured by the year 2000 we'd all be flying around in jet cars with our robot buddies at our side. But no one predicted the Internet and the ways it's being used today. Or the iPhone or GPS Navigation.
It's the nature of technological advancements that we don't often see the most important ones coming. In the 1800s people were trying to design better horse-drawn wagons and trains. Very few saw the automobile coming. In 1977, Ken Olson the Founder of Digital Equipment Company said "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." Oops.
It's difficult to look forward and predict where tomorrow's technology will take us. Do we need more than 40,000 songs on iPod? Where can TV go from here considering the human eye can't discern more than 1080 DPI? How many radio stations can we listen to? What will Web 3.0 look like? And perhaps more importantly, what current technology that we take for granted will soon become the next horse-drawn wagon?
I recently bought a new Flip video camera like the one pictured here. It's great for capturing videos of my kids. And while I like it a lot, when it comes to the quality of the videos it captures, it's certainly not the best camera on the market. But it fits in my pocket, is super easy to use and cost half of what a "real" video camera would cost. It's a perfect camera for a generation of Youtubers who want a simple way to capture and share videos - not make "movies."
What amazed me about the product was how simple it is to use. I never even opened the manual and yet in less than 5 minutes I figured out how to do everything I needed to do. It has a simple, minimalist interface, with just a few buttons. Point and shoot. Its iPod-ish looks and ease-of-use makes me think it's the video camera that Apple would build. (iCamera anyone?)
Okay, so why do I bring this up... It turns out the Flip has captured 13% of the market for video cameras. Just as everyone was moving high tech and high definition, and getting super-sophisticated, along comes simple. A product with good usability can win out over a superior product that is a negative experience to use.
Something magical happens when products make out lives simpler and easy. When you can make my music portable you get the Walkman. When you can make watching and recording taped shows easy, you get TiVo. Make it easy for me to load and unload the film from my camera, you get the Kodak Instamatic.
Many of the web's most successful sites are successful because they make our lives easier in some way. They help save us money or make it easy to order books. They help us find things or help us all stay in touch with our friends. Again, many of these sites are not the most beautifully-designed nor are they the most technologically advanced. (Think Craigslist and eBay.)
It just goes to show that when it comes to humans interacting with technology, you can often be more successful by focusing on the humans more than the technology.
Did you know...In the Arnold Swarzenegger "Terminator" films, director James Cameron's original vision for the Terminator was the "liquid metal" (T-1000) version we see in the Terminator 2 sequel. But in 1984 when Cameron made the first film, special effects and computer-generated imagery weren't advanced enough to render his vision the way he wanted.
Along the same movie-making lines, I saw a great documentary the other night on Pixar, the ingenious animation studio responsible for Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc. and others. The documentary did a nice job of showing the history of the company, how they built an incredibly creative culture, and how, against heavy odds, they championed their vision for how good computer animation could be. I highly recommend it.
Oprah did an entire show last month dedicated to Youtube. News programs are often showing web videos. CBS Sports recently made video of the entire NCAA basketball tournament available for free on their website. Political pundit shows quote bloggers and vice versa.
For years people have been predicting a "technological convergence" - the Web and television becoming one. Convergence is actually upon us, but not in the way we thought. It's not the devices that are converging, but the content.
Many of us have a shoe box somewhere full of old photos, yellowing newspaper clippings, and postcards. Maybe letters from back when people used to write letters. Maybe a concert ticket stub or a diary.
These items serve as a bookmark in the passing of our lives. They mark a time and a place that we can revisit later. They help us remember how things were at the time, how everyone looked back then, what we thinking and how big our hair was.
You have to wonder how nostalgia will be affected by the digital age. Our "shoe box" is now vast, but that can mean disorganized. Our old e-mails might be saved as text files on a hard drive or archived in a folder. Our vast quantities of digital photos no longer yellow with age, but they are on Flickr and Webshots and on our hard drives or our cell phones. Great conversations in email or instant messenger, that may have been saved years ago had they been in written letters, are often lost forever.
It's worth thinking about... What you should save these days to mark the time? And how and where should you save it?
Here's a blog post with some tips to get started organizing your digital memories.
Many of our grandfathers built their own houses. And from the foundation to the roof, they knew everything about them. They knew which fuse to pull and replace, how to adjust that squeaky door and how to troubleshoot the plumbing problem.
Today, I have a nice house. I know how to change the furnace filter. But plumbing is not my strong suit and I'm still not sure how to work the gas fireplace. I manage by relying on experts - plumbers, electricians, cable repair guys - when I need to.
Websites have evolved in a similar fashion. There was a time, not that long ago really, when organizations would appoint a single person to "run the website." They were called a webmaster or a webmistress. They were generalists who were expected to be a jack of all trades, having skills ranging from coding and design to copywriting and marketing. It was the era of FrontPage, hit counters, and static web content.
But today's sophisticated websites demand more attention and expertise than one person can manage. Today a team of individuals, representing different business units and different organizational priorities, are often responsible for the website. And just like my call to the electrician or plumber, some functions such as site hosting, application development, or search engine optimization are outsourced to companies outside the organization who have more expertise or capabilities in those fields.
Yes, even for most small organizations, the days of one-person web shop are over. But, despite the title of this post, the webmasters didn't die off like the dinosaurs. They are still around although their titles and responsibilities may have changed. Today they are probably the Director of Web Operations or the Vice President of Digital Media. Just like my Grandfather, they probably catch themselves speaking of "how we did things in the olden days of the previous century" once in a while.
Those of us who work with technology often get caught up thinking that the latest is always the greatest. But that's not always the case. The history books are full of technologies that were hailed as the "next big thing" that turned out to be busts or didn't live up to the hype. Laserdisc, Betamax, DAT. By now weren't we supposed to riding Segways, reading E-books on our PDAs?
Great products that are first to market don't always win. See Netscape Navigator or CompuServe.
You hear a lot of commotion today about the DVD format battle - HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray. But I wonder if both may get replaced by something else. Will we even be using DVDs in 10 years?
Often we're so busy competing in the game, we don't notice something that comes along that changes the rules.
"You see, the wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."
- Albert Einstein
We can only imagine how he would have described the Internet.
OK, so maybe we're not zooming around in flying cars or being served by talking robots like The Jetsons promised us.
But I'm doing some work for a company that, in certain ways, resembles the futurist vision of Spacely Sprockets. Everyone at this company is given laptops and the whole place is awash with wireless internet access. There's a casual dress environment, a flexible workday, even an indoor basketball court. And yet I see people dressing appropriately and working longer and harder than they "have to."
Working there has served as a great reminder to me that technology is not the end goal. The Jetsons used technologies - not just because they were cool or trendy - but because they made their lives better. Technology can be a great tool, but for it to be effective, it needs to be used correctly. Spacely Sprockets, for all it's advanced technology, wasn't a great place to work.
Finding the right blend of technology, leadership, and culture is a challenge all companies should be addressing.
The year 1994 doesn't seem like that long ago. Until you watch this video. It was created in 1994 by the Digital Corporation to help spread the word about the business potential of the Internet, which, at that time, many people found hard to imagine. Could this much change over the next 13 years? Stay tuned...
In one evening, in ten minutes, I was shown two different examples of businesses taking care of their customers.
First I was in the grocery store, in the checkout line to be specific. I was behind a gentleman who was almost done. Just a couple more items to be scanned and then he would pay and leave. As the cashier tried to scan one of his items - a bottle of saline solution - the product woudn't scan. A sticker had been placed, either by the manufacturer or the store, over the UPC barcode. It was not going to be easy to get off. The cashier quickly flagged down his supervisor and held up the item and asked for help. The supervisor said "that's either $1.79 or $2.49. Let's charge him $1.79 and call it close enough." It was quick and simple. Neither the customer nor I (in line) was bothered by it at all. Yes, maybe the store lost an extra 70 cents they could have made if they told the customer to wait, irked me, got on the microphone, asked for a price check, and basically cost everyone 3 minutes of their lives. Instead, they looked friendly, responsive and flexible.
The second example came about ten minutes later when I walked into my neighborhood Chinese food restaurant. I'm in there about once a week so certain staff members had gotten to know me and they are always nice and polite. But when I walked in this time, I realized they had entered a new era. Instead of taking phone orders on paper receipt tablets as had been the case before, they were typing everything into a computer. They were talking to a customer on the phone and capturing his order, specific requests, his phone number, delivery address, etc. Going forward, they would have a better picture of their clientele, be better able to target their advertising, be able to track order history, etc.
Technology can help a business run more smoothly and efficiently, but ultimately it's how this technology is applied that will determine success. In both cases, the grocery store and the Chinese restaurant seemed to understand that the technology they employ is merely a tool. Taking care of the customer will always be more important.