Archive for the 'Community Management' Category

Thoughts on Call of Duty Elite

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

For those of you that may not know Activision recently announced an online service called "Call of Duty Elite". This is directly related to their Call of Duty game series and works on kind of a freemium model. Ultimately I think it'll be a cool idea. However, the way they announced it to their customers lead to a pretty big negative reaction. Recently I recorded my thoughts (over a Call of Duty: Black Ops game play) on how they could have handled the announcement better, not abused their community managers in the process, and even whether or not they should build some of this stuff themselves (in particular in the social networking area of things).

If you're interested you can see the video on my YouTube channel or via the embedded player below:

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MP3s and Ratings

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Don't you hate when you put ratings on most of the songs in your massive music library only to find that you need to do it again when you switch players? On Ubuntu I use Banshee which allows you to save ratings to the ID3 tag right in the MP3 file. That means those ratings are available from any Banshee player. Nice.

The problem is that I'm working a contract gig that sort of requires Windows (well, they think they do at least) and I don't fully trust the port in progress of Banshee to Windows. So, I'm using iTunes (which I hate). I think it'd be nice if other players could use that same custom ID3 tag to use the ratings but I realize that many people have an issue with subjective information (the ratings) being stored in a repository meant to store common supposedly objective information about the song itself. Then there's the whole issue of standardizing on the custom tag. In a perfect world more stuff would use a plugin based design and you could simply write an extension to get the ratings from wherever you wanted.

A simple import / export to an agreed upon format could also sort of solve the problem but you can't get people to agree on things and you would then have some annoying synchronization issues. I think it'd be swell if something like last.fm acted as that song and ratings repository since they're a bit of a de facto standard supported by most MP3 players. It seems simple to stick the rating in there when you scrobble whatever you're listening to. Then it's just a hop, skip, and a jump to an import / export to get up and running. It also feels like it'd add some value to their existing service. Somebody get on that…

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The Tech That Should Not Be

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

I just read this post about a thing called the Espresso Book Machine that allows a bookstore to print a fully bound book in minutes. The idea is that they could print an out of stock book for you rather than ordering it.

I have mixed emotions about this. Nothing pisses me off more than going to an old fashioned bookstore in search of some instant gratification only to find that they don't have the book I'm looking for. "We can order it for you," they say. Well, I can order it for me too. Only, when I order it for me it comes to my house and not to your stupid little store (and I don't pay sales tax (or shipping fees usually (nested parens FTW))). This print on demand idea seems pretty boner inducing on the surface.

Unfortunately the kinds of technology that make this dream possible also instantly make it unnecessary. In a world where this machine can acquire and store the number of books required to make it useful it has already been replaced by the ability to instantly purchase, download, and read the book on an e-reader without leaving my precious home or touching any dirty, sweaty money. Sure it will probably still be successful but only because of the Luddite fetishists that insist on consuming their information the old fashioned way.

This whole thing reminds me of those stupid redbox DVD dispensaries. In any sane world they would have never existed. I have a relatively high speed Internet connection and an abundance of digital cash. Can't I just instantly stream those movies directly to my viewer of choice for a the same reasonable price? Ah, the devil's in the (bold) details. I have a variety of ways to pseudo instantly watch movies but the only reasonably priced option is Netflix. Unfortunately their instant queue selection needs a little work. Knock down that barrier and the only benefit of redbox is to satisfy weirdos that reached for the technological dream and missed, coming up with a beer in one hand and their disk in the other.

I digress. To sum up, in a perfect world everything would be peer reviewed, indexed, searchable, remixable, and digitally available from the comfort of my own home. I could watch new movies on my own television without someone kicking the back of my seat or mistaking the theater for open mic night at the Laughatorium. "And I wanna be rich. You know, someone important … like an actor."

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Job Postmortem #2

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

About the Company

Now that I'm done with my current job it's again time to reflect on what I learned and what went wrong. I've changed the names to protect the innocent. I spent about 2 years at "Company V." They make a retirement planning tool. It allows you to do some nice "what if" scenarios to determine whether or not you're on track to do all those things you dream of someday doing after you retire. It's much more sophisticated than the crappy one or two question forms on the website of most financial planning companies.

It's a great idea in my opinion. It has a lot of potential. For the record, I like the people at Company V and I love the product idea. I just think things could be better.

Now for the lessons. I won't bother talking about the many issues I had about software development methodology at Company V. Instead I'll just talk about the product side of things.

Analytics, Stupid

The first is a simple one: collect some fucking analytics. Any discussion about how important a feature is, why people aren't signing up, which type of sign up button is more attractive are all bullshit if you don't have some way of collecting data about your visitors. We collected almost zero data about our visitors. What was our conversion rate? Fuck if I know. How many people abandoned the sign up process once they saw all of the data we required? Fuck if I know. That's the answer to every one of those questions because there's no goddamn data.

I can't talk about analytics as well as these two videos: Startup Metrics for Pirates and Web App Marketing Metrics. They're pretty short and definitely worth a few minutes of your time.

Multiple Masters

Company V has two very different target customers. Home users and financial advisors. If you are serving two very disparate customer types you will wind up with some very serious conflicts. Each customer type is a reason not to do something for the other customer or a great way to more than double your effort in the rare case you actually get to work on a feature.

In the case of Company V it was that they have a feature called "offline mode." This allowed financial advisors to take their laptop to locations where they don't have an Internet connection and sit down with a customer, going over their retirement plan. This was accomplished via a desktop application written in Java.

Getting Java working on someone's computer is an unnecessary hurdle and places without Internet connections only exists in movies. Offline mode is not useful to the home user. I would argue that it's not sufficiently useful to the financial advisor either. However, it was a feature that kept us from doing a lot of cool stuff because we had to have it. Yes, this feature could be accomplished in a better way but the need to keep the feature presented unnecessary overhead and complexity in my opinion.

Too Many Hurdles

There's just too much shit for someone to do before they can use the product. They have to sign up for an account, install the Java plug-in, download the application (or launch the applet) which is over 100 megabytes, and figure out how to use your product.

The more of those steps you can eliminate the better. Each one of those steps throws away half of your potential users. They just go bye-bye. The observant reader will realize that I just pulled that number out of my ass since Company V doesn't collect that kind of data. Prove me wrong.

The Things I'd Do

Short and sweet. Here's a list of things I would have done that I firmly believe would make for a better product for Company V.

Web App

Easy. Ditch the desktop application and make it a web application. Use something like GWT so you can get some good use out of your current Java development staff and have a relatively rich UI for your user. No installation on your computer, no downloading. Nice. You could even use Gears to get some workable solution for offline mode.

Use It Before You Register

If you have that nice web application, let people start making their retirement plan without even signing up. Just start using the product. Of course it would be nice if your product guided people through unfamiliar territory, but that's a given.

Once you've proven your value to them then you can try and get them to create an account if that's really your sort of thing.

Don't Even Register

Even better is to let them sign in with their Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, or OpenID login. Create an imperfect, incomplete profile off of whatever data you've got and bug them later to fill in the blanks. So what if you don't have their email address? Why the hell do you want to email them anyway?

Stop Emailing People

We collected email as part of the registration so we could bother our customers. Why? If you have a product announcement or a change in your training schedule why not just Tweet it? Or post an update on your product's Facebook page? Fine, let them put in their email if they want to be updated that way or need a password reminder (assuming they aren't using a 3rd partly authentication mechanism), but don't demand it.

Be the Tool

With retirement planning there are a lot of financial advisors that blog about how cool they are and how huge their planning penises are. We should have helped them do that. Our web app should have allowed embedding of whole or partial plans into web pages. If you want to show the benefits of a 529 savings plan create a couple of portfolios and embed the relevant portions into your blog. Company V would have a teeny tiny link in there so they get a little free press and the financial planner gets a tool that makes displaying unwieldy information a little easier. It's one of those win-win things I hear so much about.

Be the Tool Part 2

If you go to a financial planner they need to ask you roughly 3500 questions (I made that up) to determine the current state of your financial clusterfuck. Company V helped them do this by creating a PDF that was 10 megabytes and 40 pages long. The advisor would email it to the potential customer, pray it doesn't bounce because it's fucking huge, the customer would print it out, fill out the relevant portions, take it to the financial advisor who then hands it off to some data entry monkey to type into our desktop application. Simple, no?

Yeah, to hell with that. Use the no registration web application to allow the financial advisor to email, host, whatever a guided process to determine the relevant data and collect it directly from the user and dump it straight into the Company V application. The advisor has access to it immediately and the end user doesn't see most of those irrelevant questions. Throw in some tracking codes so the advisor can see the ROI for different ad campaigns. Let the advisor create a special URL that they can include in every email signature or even print right on their business card that takes the potential customer right to where they need to go. You get the idea.

Nice Ideas, But…

In fairness Company V thought some of my ideas were good. They just weren't good enough to actually do. There was no shortage of excuses. We have to keep offline mode, there are more important features to work on, who's going to pay for the development, etc. I still think each of these is potentially a great idea in general and for Company V especially. My next task is to find a place to work that agrees with me.

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I Wish They Made This

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Rhapsody is a music subscription service. For $10 a month you can stream music to your computer from their pretty massive catalog. It seems like a nice idea but I don't actually use it. I'm not sure why not. Anyway. I do love me some Guitar Hero (pretend I said Rock Band if your allegiances lie elsewhere). I would gladly pay a monthly fee to get access to a huge catalog of GH ready songs.

I know that Rock Band has opened up their tool set to allow independent bands to create RB tracks (and simultaneously get raped by an unfair split) but they're still selling the individual songs. I want to drink from the fire hose! Are there technical hurdles? Sure but that's not my problem. See, I'm an idea man, Chuck.

Yes, they can continue to release a new "game" every quarter or so and have a 50/50 chance of getting my $50, but wouldn't it be better to screw me out of $10 or $15 every month like clockwork? I think so.

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Vimeo bans video game clips

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

I heard on today's Buzz Out Loud that Vimeo will be banning gaming videos that aren't considered "creative expression." One of the reasons cited had to do with the fact that these videos are "significantly larger and longer than any other genre on Vimeo."

I don't really care one way or another. However, the idea of encouraging your users to behave in a way that you want them to behave is on my mind more and more these days. It sounds from the post as if the concern has to do with the "expense" of uploading / transcoding these videos with the implication that they aren't watched and therefore aren't valuable content. If you want to steer your users toward providing valuable content without needlessly draining your resources on crap, why not create and throttle an upload limit based on the views / ratings of their videos? It sounds easy to do and on the surface appears to reward quality participation.

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