The Stupidity – then Brilliance – of Twitter

People talking by a Water Cooler

I often find Twitter frustrating. I get regular emails from them coercing me to follow all sorts of people who happen to hook into the feeds of people I already follow. For some time, I diligently added these in, thinking I would see some extra value that Twitter felt I would derive from doing so. Instead, I get all manner of folks promoting their skills to help businesses engage “Social Media” and general daily tittle tattle that pollutes my feed with rubbish content.

You get to start to comprehend the awful statistic that after getting over 1 Billion people to register, only 1/8 of that total still use the service regularly. Something of a clue stick that many people don’t feel they are getting sufficient value to stay engaged.

Beep! Notification on my Nexus 5 from Twitter: @MyHandyInfos, @GiraffeSM, and 4 more just followed @NevillMedia. None of whom i’ve ever heard about nor follow. WTF! I’m certainly not going to start now.

Over the weekend I put a post up about Facebook acquiring Virtual Reality headset maker Oculus VR (see it here), a move that completely threw me. At which point I started wondering if Mark Zuckerberg had a moment of sheer brilliance, or had spent $2 Billion rather unwisely. I couldn’t map it onto what I perceived to be a long term future for Facebook, but largely reserved judgement for another day.

When I got up this morning, I noticed a couple of the folks I follow – and respect – having one or two tweets flying between them on this very subject. Click as close as I could get to what seemed to be the early stages of the conversation, and got this (from the Twitter app on my iPad Mini):

Conversation Stream in Twitter

Absolute Gold! I was able to sidle up to the water cooler when all these folks I respect (plus some I didn’t know before) were having a to-and-fro conversation about this Facebook acquisition and what it meant. By the look of it, some time after they’d been active, but all there. Then a brief trip around some of the links cited, which included a good discussion on Reddit on Games, and mention of a very impressive “Immersive” demo in LA (I guess Los Angeles); there is a video of this on the Oculus VR web site, though it was down for maintenance when I tried first thing UK time today.

The gateway to that slither of gold is on a feed that would have flowed past me an hour later and gone completely out of sight. My first thought was how, if I was Twitter, I could bottle this sort of exchange, and how i’d be able to correctly delineate both the start and the end of that water cooler session – and make this available to me next time I had some reading time. That, I think, would increase engagement on Twitter no end. That’s the sort of journalism you can’t get from any other single source.

With that, my head started spinning around working out the data structures needed to hold each authors component parts of the conversation, and how to program in the links to join them all together. And indeed how to assign sufficient identifiers or tags on the resulting lump of dialogue, and to rank the resulting entities into some sort of personalised, prioritised news feed. Probably a mix of who was in the conversation stream (out of folks I mark as usually interesting to listen to) and the subject being discussed.

Ian’s brain starts wondering

From that, my brain started meandering into extended use cases (within the context of a single Organisation or Interest Group) of this. In some companies, the water cooler conversation may need to be limited to the folks participating, or within their departments, or within the company, at their option. Or to drag selected people from outside to participate in that discussion. Or indeed to allow someone outside to initiate a conversation, and other people (inside only, or everyone worldwide) able to join in. And to mark the resulting slither as done, issued resolved, or to bin it.

A worked example of what could be replaced

My wife received a mothers day gift yesterday – a Scented Fragrance Kit that needed 2/3 the bottle of Fragrance supplied poured into the main burner unit. Try as much as we could, we couldn’t remove the top from the bottle, and could find no instructions that told us how to do this (no amount of pressing, squeezing, turning or pulling did anything else but click over a ratchet). Fortunately, the company had a web site and discussion forum.

In order to use that, I had to register a name and password into their namespace, confirm by email, and then request assistance on the forum. Another person said the tops were often difficult, a moderator posted a link to online illustrated instructions on how to remove the top, and Customer Services offered to send us another. On finding the top still wouldn’t come off, I removed the outer top cover with a hacksaw, reported back the two root causes (teeth in cap very shallow, inside screwed on far too tight, necessitating removal using pliers), thanked everyone and left. I think unlikely that i’ll return there – but a slither of conversation that may be useful to them and maybe fellow customers.

A sort of Twitter type water cooler, where i’ve already established an identity (and reputation), would have achieved the same effect, without me having to build, and never return to, another online persona.

Ian’s brain goes off on another tangent

With that, my mind started wondering again, thinking sales transaction flows through an ERP system, and the selection of “who’s allowed to see or do what”, could be replicated in this sort of superset of record types in this virtual Twitter Water Cooler. At long last, something that could look modern and totally disrupt SAP. And I probably need to go lie down to think some more.

Back to the Oculus VR discussion – and demos it cited

With that in mind (or now forgotten), the missing Immersive demos of the Oculus VR can be found in the blog post here. One example of a future of storytelling journalism there is a scene around a Food Bank queue in Los Angeles, which plays back the real soundtrack but lets you walk around – and see – events as they unfold:

Now, can you imagine a future for Facebook and your News Feed like that? Or would it look more like this:

Liberating Kids from Stifling Parents – did someone say “Bang”?

Nuclear Explosion Mushroom Cloud

One of the joys of parenthood is seeing the delight in your kids pulling things together using tools available to them – releasing their creativity, and fostering inquisitive nature. It’s natural and is a wide departure from rote learning (where the ethos is to please don’t make mistakes – mistakes are bad!). A real joy comes from them doing something spectacular, having a crazy idea, applying tools/techniques they’ve learnt, mashing up ideas from various sources, testing and iterating until they have – or do – something memorable.

I saw a comment from a teacher this morning where a parent had approached, and asked that his kiddie not be given access to Minecraft on a Raspberry Pi, because he could be destructive in it. I mean, Jesus.

I remember when I was at school, the comedy was watching someone in a Chemistry lesson grab a waste paper bin, turn it upside down, pierce a small hole in the base, place it over the gas tap (that usually supplied gas to bunsen burners), filling it with gas, light the small hole and walk away. After a minute or two, the flame will have burnt enough of the gas and drawn air from underneath to form an explosive mixture, and BANG! A loud noise, an upside down blue mushroom of flame, and a teacher in overalls standing immediately next to the result with his back to it as it exploded. After an initial gruff “Who did that?” and a classmates immediate confession (from the other side of the room), his punishment was to present to the class what he’d done and how it worked. Then a lunchtime picking up litter.

The same guy, by seemingly intelligent questioning of the teacher over a number of lessons, worked out a way of synthesising Nitrogen Tri-Iodide from the chemical bottles close at hand during lessons. This substance is a touch sensitive explosive; the traditional trick was to leave an innocuous slither of it on door handles, resulting in a “bang” and sparks when someone went to open the door. He duly made some, and carried it out of class to the next lesson (Music), that day taught by a student teacher. He left it drying on the radiator, giving it an occasional nudge with a ruler to see if it was setting. About 15 minutes in listening to some classical music – BANG! Student holding ruler, very red in the face with embarrassment. The student teacher just said (with apparent zeal in his interest): “How did you do that?”. Following a brief explanation, the teacher just waxed lyrical about how some of his colleagues at school had sneaked some Chloroform out of Science class at his school, and spread some over the piano before they were to be victim of their teachers piano recital. It just got slower, and slower…

We also had a spate of people screwing two bolt heads into a common nut, filling the gap in the middle with matchstick heads. Thrown into the air, it typically let off a bang on landing. The innovation then was to attach string around the two bolts, so you didn’t have to spend too much time finding both halves afterwards. Main kudos to Nathan Berry, who found a two 1″ bolts in his Dad’s garage and elected to tighten the work with a spanner, bolts held tight with his Dad’s workshop vice. I suspect the hole resulting from it triggering early while he was still pulling on the spanner is still very much there in that garage roof.

So, few detentions. You only got that for suggesting loudly that “titration” was two words, or for mounting the front of Chemistry teachers Mini on bricks, causing it’s engine to scream as he tried to reverse out to go home. If indeed said teacher could pin it on anyone.

Kids find impressive bangs they’ve engineered are very memorable – for all the right reasons. It fires their imagination. Certainly much more so than the most enthusiastic of “beaten-into-ultimate-safety” teacher mixing two chemicals in a test tube and showing delight when they change to another colour. Snore!

These days, parents are scared into thinking their kids are about to be abducted and must be kept off the street (in wide contrast to the distances I covered with friends on my bike – with no mobile comms – when I was young). A result of the tabloid press stoking up fear in parents in their pursuit of selling printed newspapers (statistically invalid – the once in a decade occurrences are normally by a person known to the victim – but that doesn’t sell ink and paper). Or of trying to protect young males from their pursuit of pornographic images; the end result is a generation of kids who are driven to know enough to engineer VPN connections and to use TOR in that pursuit. I’d be first in line to take the law into my own hands if I found anyone preying on vulnerable kids. However, I feel good teaching of children, the setting of acceptable behaviour boundaries, and being there if they feel in any way uncomfortable about anything, is normally enough without smothering their natural inquisitive nature.

I’m a big fan of getting technology into kids hands early. One of my female relatives in the USA is a child minder, and I noticed a post on Facebook logging what her 7 year old customer was doing. Her first post said “This guy has been playing Minecraft for 2 hours. It looks very retro on the screen. Is this sort of behaviour normal?”. A bit later on she posted again to say “He’s now watching Minecraft Videos on YouTube!”. Appears to me a mirror of kids i’ve seen playing Minecraft this side of the Atlantic. It is a tremendous Educational asset that kids enjoy using.

I love the work of the Raspberry Pi foundation, and would help anyone get their kids hacking on that platform using Open Source software. Of Minecraft, which kids everyone seem to have embraced. Similarly impressed with the early work of Seymour Papert teaching kids to program with Logo. Likewise for Sugar Labs, taking their Linux based Software (originally part of the MIT based “One Laptop per Child” project) to millions of kids in developing countries around the world. Tablet versions coming!

Kids around me these days are very touch-based Phone and Tablet native. My 2 year old granddaughter routinely plays YouTube videos, views the Photo Library and plays games on her parents iPhones – and on my iPad Mini. She’s even bemused that “Skip Ad” doesn’t work on the TV when its playing Terrestrial TV Channels. Using my iPad Mini to such an extent that she now has one of her own at our house.

That said, it’s a small part of her world. She thoroughly enjoys nothing more than wandering in the great outdoors and where many other things feed her curiosity. But she has the resources to look things up as she grows – alongside her current diet of YouTube “Peppa Pig” and “Ben and Holly” videos.

This week, i’ve seen some work on a Kickstarter Project on a cut down version of the “Scratch” language called “ScratchJr“, which is being used to teach programming to 5-7 year olds. See this:

Isn’t it brilliant to seeing young kids like this talk with such authority on the work their doing with this platform? With that, i’m contributing money to help them ship that on iOS and Android tablets this year. If you’d like to join me, you can do so at They are the future and worth every penny.


Trying to decode Facebooks future vision – and failing so far

Sergey Orlovsky wearing an Oculus Rift

This threw me. Facebook last week paid $2 Billion (mainly in Facebook stock) to buy Oculus VR, the designers of the Virtual Reality “Oculus Rift” headset.

A few weeks ago, Facebook paid $19 Billion for mobile SMS app producer “WhatsApp“, produced by a 50 head company of the same name and who have accumulated 400 million users worldwide, 70% of whom use their service daily. Traditionally, Facebook have derived their income from posting advertising in and around your personalised news feed. WhatsApp instead ask for an annual $1 subscription to use their service – which friends (or I guess brands) can afford to contribute to in the future. They also have a future aim to facilitate mobile payments using this messaging platform – a big asset to Facebook if they pull it off.

The big departure for Facebook is that the CEO of WhatsApp – Jan Koum – is legendary for being anti-advertising. I have sympathy with his view given mobile phone use experiences when you’re trying to do a specific simple task, and smack in the middle of the process flow, up jumps an advert. Complete pain in the butt, much like a kiddy at home jumping up and down in front of the telly when you’re trying to watch something.

For me, the impressive thing was that Mark Zuckerberg (CEO of Facebook) put Jan Koum straight onto his Board of Directors. Someone willing to disrupt the very business model on which the company has so far been based, and to avoid the malaise of many other organisations who otherwise cling onto a way of working doggedly, long after a decline of fortunes sets in. I thought it was such an impressive thing to do, I went and bought a stack of Facebook shares at $69 each for my “long term buy and hold” self invested pension fund, joining the likes of Google, Amazon, Apple and Tableau Software there. At least alongside the other 70% of the fund sitting in index tracker funds.

Then, the $2Bn bolt out of the blue. Suddenly, the “person to person” comms path (which I thought they had mapped toward their future self) headed straight into heavy fog. The current chief demographic of users of these headsets is to gamers, in my mind teen to 25 year olds who spend many hours every week in play; it is not the sort of hardware I can imagine someone older playing Candy Crush Saga or conventional board games on. Maybe Minecraft – but oops, Notch (the original author of Minecraft and an earlier contributor to the Kickstarter fund that bought Oculus to life) downed tools the second he heard Facebook had bought the company. With that, I started looking to what Mark Zuckerberg’s articulated thought process was, and to what the various industry commentators (who I respect) thought.

I think it would be fair to say that they are as confused as I am. The more outlandish claims related to his thirst to be the destination of eyeballs everywhere, and hence the ultimate future media mogul; helping deliver immersive experiences that finally send the already dismembering newspaper industry into it’s ultimate oblivion. Since the dawn of the Internet, the readership of newspapers has been heading towards OAP land relentlessly, and ads/classified revenue depleting, for many years now.

Journalistic endeavour is also already showing signs of radical all-or-nothing network effects. My own media consumption is a based on a collection of famous subject experts or specific writers, aided and abetted by a weekly diet of specific newsletters, podcasts and feeds from five social media streams. And the latter are getting progressively worse at communicating “signal” effectively, while throwing up increasing volumes of useless “noise”.

Of the five social feeds I get, it no longer surprises me that Twitter only has 1/8 of the number of registrants once recruited still using it’s service. Or that I miss updates from people I know who change employers on LinkedIn, lost in a deluge of an amateur attempt to become a business persons Huffington Post. Facebook selects it’s own subset of what it thinks I want to hear, and Google Plus has no way to restrict viewing to what i’ve not seen before. Even VAX Notes got that right with it’s SINCE key (you could skip between forum posts – onto replies on the next post you hadn’t seen yet – with a single button press). Likewise on Reddit.

So, while the Newspaper industry meanders, promoting the interests in the UK of six owners above all else – and doing little else than keeping printing presses employed with high volumes of useless twaddle, Political Party PR ruses and manufactured scare propaganda, plus visual “click bait” – I don’t see Oculus Virtual Reality headsets as the thing that will finally put them out of their own misery.

It’s a different contrast to Google with Google Now. If I move around in the real world, I can walk past a bus stop and it will flash up the matching bus timetable, plus next due bus eta. If it knows I need to get to a meeting elsewhere and the traffic conditions worsen, it’ll advise me to leave earlier, or to plan to take me via a different route. It tells me if a package is on it’s way to my work or home. The experiences are to supplement my travel and locations as I move around in the real world.

With this acquisition, Facebook, in contrast, send me in this case into a closed, virtual world. While the screen hardware is very impressive and a gaming experience very immersive, i’ve still not worked out how it translates to an effective new use case of Facebook – or a component of it – for a future me. More a return to the world of Linden Labs, and that of Second Life.

All that said, Mark Zuckerberg has so far pulled rabbits out of the hat to keep proving doubters wrong. This latest move is quite a challenge to join the dots on, and to convince everyone that it’s instead a prescient and visionary move. Or have I missed something fundamental? Comments most welcome.

Treating Employees right – or how to freak your Manager out!

Joker Playing Card

I’ve always been impressed with the output of Scott Adams and his Dilbert books. He did a sterling job in two of his books after reviewing the stupidity that happens in offices around the world, but then asked the intelligent questions. Like, if what it says in your Job Plan or your Personal Objectives is so bad, what would one that did things properly look like?

One of the gold nuggets in the appendix of one of his books was what he termed the “Out at 5” or “OA5” plan. At one fairly young company down my career, I employed two recently minted Marketing Graduates. In the absence of any template used by the company at that stage, I stole the theme completely – and the result is below.

When I moved to be a Director of the Software Business Unit at Computacenter, I asked my boss if she was okay with me using the same form of OA5 plan for all my employees there. She read one and sort of freaked out. I understood her concern after she explained her nervousness: that people would take advantage of the words literally, albeit my experience was that people followed the spirit of it instead – and worked hard regardless. So, in that instance, I filed it away and used the Corporate standard process in place instead.

I nevertheless executed using its sentiments – and ensured that if there was a vendor conference in the USA, it was my newly minted Product Managers that went on behalf of the team (they after all needed the context to explain how developments fitted in with future product roadmaps – better they know and impress people with their authoritative knowledge, rather than having to defer to me all the time). They always grew in stature very fast by being thrown in at the deep end (albeit with a safety rope to tug on if ever needed), and were a joy to see blossom into key employees of the future.

Pity I couldn’t put things in writing though. I found some of the same sentiments in the excellent ROWE (Results Orientated Work Environment) Books, though explicitly offering clock off time to go to the cinema mid afternoon, or to work remotely for an extended period of time, would have been a tougher management sell at the time. That said, I always found everyone enjoyed their work more with the below in place. This is a real plan, bar names and dates removed to protect the innocent!

OA5 Plan: (Employee Name)

You will sometimes find yourself surrounded by people who have different goals to you, who will unknowingly do things that undermine your projects, or that generally behave outside the best interests of (Company Name). Your task is to rise above this, and despite all obstacles, deliver:

  • 180,000 subscribers by the end of (date)
  • Complete the National Advertising for (4 month date span), including the test of a radio campaign
  • Complete the Corporate Brochure, Welcome Packs and other tasks that we mutually agree that you should execute
  • Full participation as a member of the Marketing Services Team
  • Help your Manager put together a spend plan for the new financial year starting (date)
  • Tests of everything you do. It’s a much safer world if we get to know what works, what doesn’t, and that we’ve learnt. Within the bounds of experimental exercises, we should strive for continuous improvement

Functions of your Manager

In support of the above goals, your Manager will assist in the following ways:

  1. Eliminating Assholes. If anyone or anything is standing in the way of you meeting your objectives, please seek assistance to get the obstacle cleared. It is his role to absorb uncertainty and to provide an environment where you can deliver your projects unhindered. We want you to enjoy your work and be proud of your achievements.
  2. Your manager will do his best to provide an environment where you are learning (and helping the company learn) every day. Requests for training are welcome. Sharing of ideas and distribution of your learnings to your Manager and your colleagues, ideally in small digestible chunks, is encouraged. And you are expected to make mistakes; that’s the way we all learn.
  3. Seek forgiveness, not permission. In the same way you can escalate issues to your Manager, there will be times when the data, or key staff, aren’t available for us to hit a key decision deadline. Time to market is key; having weighed up the pros and cons, make the decision that you believe is right for the company, our customers, and preferably both.
  4. Building your Personal Network. It’s often a case of who you know; contact with suppliers, customers and other departments in (Company) is actively encouraged. Please keep details of everyone you talk to, and don’t be afraid to seek advice from anyone with pertinent experience that you deem appropriate. The strength of your Personal Network – particularly outside the company – should build to be a significant personal asset.
  5. Timekeeping and Attendance. We wish to provide an environment where you can discharge your commitments between 9:00am and 5:30pm. If there are times when you prefer to work from home, or from another location, please let us know your whereabouts so we can find you if needed. Should you work extended hours (attending press announcements or any work related activity outside hours), you may take this time off in lieu; again, please let us know so we can correctly set expectations of anyone that asks for you.
  6. No Retribution. Your Manager is available to help in any way, at any time, day or night. However, if anything concerns you in any way, you are free to talk to (Manager’s Manager name), any other Director, or the Personnel Department directly.

Manager: Ian Waring
Office: (office direct dial phone number)
Mobile: (work mobile phone number)
Home: (Home phone number)
Email: (Work email address) or (Home email address)

Office for the iPad; has the train already left the station?

Meeting notes by @Jargonautical

One asset I greatly admire (and crave!) is the ability to communicate simply, but with panache, speed and reasoned authority. That’s one characteristic of compelling journalism, of good writing and indeed a characteristic of some of the excellent software products i’ve used. Not to throw in the kitchen sink, but to be succinct and to widen focus only to give useful context supporting the central brass tacks.

I’ve now gone 15 months without using a single Microsoft product. I spend circa £3.30/month for my Google Apps for Business account, and have generally been very impressed with Google Spreadsheet and with Google Docs in there. The only temporary irritant along the way was the inability for Google Docs to put page numbers in the Table of Contents of one 30 page document I wrote, offering only html links to jump to the content – which while okay for a web document, was as much use as a cow on stilts for the printed version. But it keeps improving by leaps and bounds every month. That issue solved, and now a wide array of free add-ons to do online review sign-offs, adding bibliographies and more.

This week, i’ve completed all the lessons on a neat piece of Analytics software called Google Fusion Tables, produced by Google Research and available as a free Google Drive add-on. To date, it appears to do almost everything most people would use Tableau Desktop for, including map-based displays, but with a much simpler User Interface. I’m throwing some more heavy weight lifting at it during the next couple of days, including a peek at it’s Python-accessible API – that nominally allows you to daisy chain it in as part of an end-to-end a business process. The sort of thing Microsoft had Enterprises doing with VBA customisations way back when.

My reading is also getting more focussed. I’ve not read a newspaper regularly for years, dip into the Economist only once or twice every three months, but instead go to other sources online. The behaviour is to sample less than 10 podcasts every week, some online newsletters from authoritative sources, read some stuff that appears in Medium, but otherwise venture further afield only when something swims past in my Twitter stream.

This morning, this caught my eye, as posted by @MMaryMcKenna. Lucy Knight (@Jargonautical) had posted her notes made during a presentation Mary had made very recently. Looking at Lucy’s Twitter feed, there were some other samples of her meeting note taking:

Meeting Notes: Minimal Viable Product

Meeting Notes Cashflow Modelling in Excel

Meeting Notes: Customer Service

Aren’t they beautiful?

Lucy mentions in her recent tweets that she does these on an iPad Mini using an application called GoodNotes, which is available for the princely sum of £3.99 here (she also notes that she uses a Wacom Bamboo stylus – though a friend of hers manages with a finger alone). Short demo here. I suspect my attempts using the same tool, especially in the middle of a running commentary, would pale in comparison to her examples here.

With that, there are reports circulating today that the new Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, will announce Microsoft Office for iOS this very afternoon. I doubt that any of the Office components will put out work of the quality of Lucy’s iPad Meeting Notes anytime soon, but am open to being surprised.

Given we’ve had over three years of getting used to having no useful Microsoft product (outside of Skype) on the volume phone or tablet devices here, I wonder if that’s a route back to making money on selling software again, or supporting Office 365 subscriptions, or a damp squib waiting to happen.

My bet’s on the middle of those three by virtue of Microsofts base in Large Enterprise accounts, but like many, I otherwise feel it’s largely academic now. The Desktop software market is now fairly well bombed (by Apple and Google) into being a low cost conduit to a Services equivalent instead. The Server software market will, I suspect, aim the same way within 2 years.

Cutting Software Spend: a Checklist

Arrow going down

No real rocket science, but if you’ve been put in a position to try to make savings on your software spend, this is the sort of checklist i’d run down. It is straight off the top of my head, so if there are nuggets you know that i’ve missed, please throw a comment at the end, and i’ll improve it. The list applies whether you are looking at a single organisations spend, or are trying to reconcile the combined assets from any company merger or acquisition.

General rules:

  1. Don’t buy new when you have redundant assets already
  2. Be mindful that committing to buy in volume is lower unit cost than buying individually
  3. Beware of committing to spend over several years where the vendor prices any agreement assuming straight line deployment toward your total user base at the end of the term. Assume most of the deployment will happen much faster – and that your projected spend will front-load with large true-up costs at annual contract anniversaries.
  4. Don’t pay extra for software updates where no updates are planned in the license term
  5. Don’t pay for software you’re not using!

So, the checklist:

  1. If there is a recommended software list to be deployed for a new employee, be sure to engage HR with a weekly list of leavers, and ensure their license assets are returned to a central pool. Licenses in that central pool should be reallocated out of that pool before electing to go forward with any new purchase. I’ve seen one company save 23% of their total desktop software spend just by implementing this one process.
  2. Draw up a master list of all boxed software (termed “Fully Packaged Product” or “FPP”) that appears to have been historically purchased by the organisation. The associated licenses are normally invisible to the software vendor from a purchase history point of view. Two main uses: (a) it forms a list of what should or could be purchased at more favourable terms in the future using an appropriate volume licensing agreement and (b) it’s a useful defence if your CFO receives a spurious “demand for unpaid licenses” from a vendor. I’ve seen one case of a subsequent reconciliation of previous purchases result in an unsolicited £6m invoice being settled for £1.8m instead.
  3. Likewise, compile a list of the various software licenses purchased, per vendor. This is often complicated because a single vendors products can be purchased from multiple sources, and there are several licensing programs in every vendor. You will often find purchases made for a specific project, where an organisation wide reconciliation can take overall licensing and support prices down – but only if centralising the negotiation supports each projects goals. I have seen one such reconciliation of a vendors licenses in one large multinational company run to 80 pages (and a huge discount to bring in an end-of-financial year renewal), though most result in a 1-2 page reconciliation. You then have the data to explore available change options with a vendor or reseller of your choice.
  4. Ensure that the support levels purchased are appropriate for the use of the products. There is no point paying “Software Assurance” for the remainder of a 3 year term if no new version is scheduled to be released in that timeframe (most effective resellers will have visibility of these release pipelines if you can’t get them directly from the vendor). Likewise, you probably don’t need 24/7/365 support on an asset that is used casually.
  5. Finally, don’t buy support on products that you’re no longer using. While this sounds like a flash of the obvious, knowing what is and isn’t being used is often a lengthy consolidation exercise. There are a variety of companies that sell software that can reconcile server based software use, and likewise others (like Camwood) that do an excellent job in reconciling what is present, and used/unused, across a population of Windows PCs. Doing this step is usually a major undertaking and will involve some consultancy spend.

If the level of your buying activity is large enough to be likely to attract the attention of a vendor or reseller salesperson visiting you in person, a few extra considerations:

  1. Be conscious of their business model; it is different for PC software vendors, Enterprise Software Vendors and Vendors predominantly selling “Software as a Service” or Open Source Software based subscriptions. Likewise for the channels of distribution they employ between themselves and your organisation – including the elements of the sales processes a reseller is financially incented to follow. Probably the subject for another day, but let me know if that’s of any interest.
  2. Know a resellers and vendors fiscal quarter year, and particularly their end of financial year, date boundaries. The extent to which prices will flex in your favour will blossom at no other time like these. The quid pro quo is that you need to return the favour to commit your approved order to be placed before their order cut off schedule.
  3. Beware getting locked into products with data formats exclusive to or controlled by one supplier; an escape route with your data assets (and associated processes) intact ensures you don’t get held to future ransom
  4. Consider “Software as a Service” subscriptions wherever possible, aka pay in line with the user population or data sizes actually employed, and flex with any changes up or down. You normally absolve your IT dept from having to update software releases and doing backups for you in the price, and you should get scale advantages to keep that price low. That said, (3) still applies – being able to retrieve your data assets is key to keep pricing honest.
  5. Always be conscious of substitutable products. Nothing oils the wheels of a larger than expected discount from a vendor than that of the presence of a hated competitor. If it’s Microsoft, that’s Google!
  6. Benchmark. If you’re trading with a reseller with many customers, they have an unparalleled view of previous deals of similar dimensions to your own – including past discounts offered, special deal allowances and all the components needed to lower a price. At the very least, an assurance that you’re “getting a good deal”. I have seen one example of a project deferred when it became apparent that the vendor was giving a hitherto good customer a comparatively poor deal that time around.
  7. For multinational companies, explore the cost differences in different territories you buy through and use the software in. I did one exercise for a well known bank that resulted in a 30% drop in their unit costs with one specific vendor – two years running.

So, what nuggets have I missed? Comments most welcome.

Pricing: How low can you go?

Limbo Dancer under very low poleWhile I was at Demon Internet, and a good year before Amazon appeared in the UK, we used to promote a small local company called Bookpages, who were selling Books online. At one point, I heard that US-based Amazon had a meeting with the Directors of the company in London, so guessed they’d enter the UK soon – but kept absolutely quiet. In the event, they jumped into the UK market by buying Bookpages, inheriting all their management team – all a complete surprise to me. Just very glad that I had kept shtum throughout.

Around a year later, I called in to see the Business Development Director in Amazon Slough for a chat about advertising to our customers. I was offered a tour after our meeting; I ended up confronted with a football pitch size warehouse that looked exactly like this:

Amazon Book Warehouse
Having been used to walking around warehouses from my time in IT Distribution, I asked the Business Development Director how many days inventory was in the building. He said: 2 days. Like, wow – they’d fill and empty that warehouse 180 times a year; the scale was absolutely intimidating.
We finished the tour passing the packing/shipping area, where a flood of books were being served on conveyor belts to four or so teams; all items relentlessly being sealed into cardboard packing to the incessant bass of loud beat music, and sent over the loading bay into one of the waiting 40 ton Royal Mail lorries.
I’ve been a customer of Amazon ever since, and these days hold shares in the company. At some point i’ll get the bandwidth to read the The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, one book waiting for me on my iPad. There are several strokes of genius in their business model, one of which is their focus to live on the bottom rung of the value chain ladder. To suck all the oxygen out from potential competitors trying to attack them from underneath – which is the way most large companies get disrupted.
I found this great article that explains Amazon’s pricing strategy very eloquently. It’s also the first time I’ve heard that Apple rotate their stock faster than Amazon do, which is an amazing feat for a manufacturing company.

Amazon Web Services

The one surprise to me these days is the public perception of Amazon Web Services being the 100 pound industry gorilla selling Cloud Computing Capacity at lowest prices, that keep ratcheting down as their scale advantages allow them to do so. The largely unknown secret is that they are being completely murdered at the low end and with software developers by relative newcomer Digital Ocean, who have recently got VC funding from Andreessen Horowitz (A16Z).

Future Trouble at t’Mill?

The WordPress network from which this site is served is hosted on Digital Ocean in Amsterdam – cost $12/month for a Linux virtual server, 30GB of flash storage and 3TB of Network capacity per month, which includes the cost of backups and snapshots. When I talk to AWS and indeed to Google, it doesn’t take long to be given special offers paying the first $2000 of my hosting cost – which suggests their pricing is way higher than what i’m able to develop on already. Probably more sophisticated than I need right now, but I guess it’ll be some time before I need to scale to a size that will become interesting to them.

Amazon are far from alone. While folks like Rackspace are a leading proponent of OpenStack to commoditise Hosting Centre Infrastructure, Digital Ocean are walsing way with thousands of their previous customers; it is almost like they are paying no attention to Netcraft Hosting Provider Switching Stats – and at the same time, issuing profit warnings of their own.

I wonder if Amazon similarly start feeling the same heat in the months ahead – and if they are likely to address it before Digital Ocean go flying past.

Jean-Louis Gassee, Priorities, Targets and Aims

Bowling Ball and PinsEvery Sunday I get a “Monday Note” email from Jean-Louis Gassee, who earlier in his career had the esteemed position of Chief Technology Officer at Apple. Besides the common sense, some of it is laugh out loud funny. Like the time he was invited to a US Meeting of Senior Nokia employees in New York, asked to present on what he’d do to revitalise their fortunes, nominally based on his experience at Apple (see the unvarnished comment in the “ps:” at the end of this blog post). He listed two priorities; One was to fire the CEO (this was the one with a finance background, ahead of when Stephen Elop was appointed). The second was to co-opt Android. I can only imagine the look on the then CEO’s face when he read that out to all the Nokia employees in the audience.

Nokia have now done both, though not before Elop had thrown the company under the Microsoft Bus and where the first million orders for their low end Android phone is set to appear after Microsoft finally take control of the company.

More Priorities

Another instance is when he was still at Apple, and a fellow (new) executive was asked to present their priorities to the Board. Jean Louis describes it thus (the full article, relating to priorities for the incoming CEO at Microsoft, is here):

Once upon a distant time, the new CFO of a colorful personal computer company walks into his first executive staff meeting and proudly shares his thoughts:

“I’ve taken the past few weeks to study the business, and I’d now like to present my top thirty-five priorities…”

This isn’t a fairy tale, I was in the room. I didn’t speak Californian as fluently as I do now, so rather than encourage the fellow with mellifluous platitudes — ‘Interesting’ or, even better, ‘Fascinating, great vision!’ — I spoke my mind, possibly much too clearly:

“This is terrible, disorganized thinking. Claiming to have thirty-five priorities is, in fact, a damning admission: You have none, you don’t even know where to start. Give us your ONE priority and show us how everything else serves that goal…”

The CFO, a sharp, competent businessman, didn’t lose his cool and, after an awkward silence, stepped through his list. Afterwards, with calm poise, he graciously accepted my apologies for having been so abrupt…

Still, you can’t have a litany of priorities.

Growing a Software Business

That reminds me of the first time I was given a software business to run. At Digital, we had two Distributors selling systems to resellers. Newly transferred into that team after DEC had switched the lights out on its first foray into the world of Personal Computers, I was asked to come up with a few ideas on how to grow the amount of software sold via that channel. At the time, the previous year it had transacted around £770,000 worth of software, and was the smallest Software selling “Sales District” in Digital UK.

I duly went and sat on the sales desk at the two Distributors – Rapid Recall (who were Intel’s first UK Components Distributor) and Hawke Systems (who started in the same area, but primarily with Motorola). I talked to sales people. I listened to their phone conversations. I talked to some of their customers. I talked to their product managers. After a few intense weeks of note taking, I produced a 35 page document on ways to increase the software business via the Distributors.

My then boss, Keith Smith, read it and just said “Go do it”. Shit. Where do I start? By a stroke of luck, I got as far as the end of the first three ideas – in two years – and the business was up to over £6 million/year, and now the largest Software Sales “District” in the company. From that base, I got given my next gig, which was to start the DECdirect Software Business; selling VAX Enterprise Software, armed only with a catalogue, 8 telesellers, 2 tech support, 25,000 potential customers and direct delivery from Software Manufacturing in Galway – which had an even bigger impact. It went 0 to over $100 Million in 18 months, at 89% gross margins.

Growing a Systems Business

A few years later, I got given a flatlining Distribution IT systems business to improve. That started off with a brainstorm on all the potential ways to grow the business, which ended up with 36 specific ideas on the board. What we then did was to list all 36 ideas down the left hand side of a table, and put 4 additional columns across the top:

  1. Ease of Implementation (1-5): on the scale, 5 was easy, 1 was hard
  2. Chances of Success (1-5): 5 for a Sure Thing, through to 1 if unlikely to prevail
  3. Revenue Potential if successful: we made an educated guess on likely business levels if all went well
  4. Total of (1) x (2) x (3)

We then went down the whole table, taking the teams view of scores for each of the 36 business ideas. Once done, filled in column (4), we picked 3 strategies with the highest total scores, and binned the rest. Those were our three priorities. That business went from £12 million per year to £52 million per year within 2 years, while our primary other Distributor competitor went from £10 million per year to… £10 million per year.

Likewise, much later on, applying the same disciplines to the VMware business I ran at Computacenter for 2 years (alongside looking after 1,071 other vendors as well in our team of 4), we got from 7% market share to 21% in two years, and won their prestigious “Global Solution Partner of the Year, 2012” award. The whole underlying strategy had 2 key aims, and 3 subsidiary development goals. Worked a treat:

VMware Global Solution Provider of the Year 2012 Trophy

The top 3-5 priorities are the only ones to focus on

Ever since, every business i’ve run has boiled down to 3-5 priorities, in order of impact – which is very much like organising a set of bowling pins and knowing, at all times, what you’re aiming at.

If you get down to brass tacks – and this is something I learnt from Microsoft when selling their wares – there are four key levers in any business. To improve profits, you sell:

  • More Product(s)
  • to More People
  • More Often
  • At More Margin (which is higher price and/or lowest cost)

Graphing the number of *different* products you sell per year, how many different customers you sell to per year, the average purchase frequency per customer per year and the overall margin percentages per year, all on separate graphs, will normally isolate pretty quickly where a business is succeeding, failing or (at the very least) which way it is trending. Towards future success, or alternatively, towards oblivion. Once you understand the dynamics you’re faced with, you can start addressing how you’re going to push things forward.

And i’m far from alone:

Equally applicable, I noticed on my weekly Quora Digest this morning that someone had asked how to prioritise feature requests submitted to a Product Manager. I thought the answer from Ian McAllister of Amazon was extremely good – see it in the flesh here – not least because if follows the same sort of process i’ve found has worked well down all the years in my sordid past.


The Fallacy of One Company, One Egg, One Basket

Single Egg in BasketI got to listen to 20 minutes of Google CEO Larry Page on stage at a 2014 TED conference today. One of the questions he was asked twisted along the way into some views as to why large companies fail. He said the common characteristic – which he’s doing everything to avoid at Google – is that of “missing the future”.

To that end, like a lot of people in the IT industry, I often hear of Microsoft being a case example of this. They generate tons of cash and are still hold stupendously large market shares in their core Windows and Office markets on PCs. They have also grown into a significant share of Enterprise IT based on what started as Windows NT and it’s associated layered products, and are cash generative with X-Box these days.

Bill Gates

That said, while I hold Bill Gates in high esteem (having met him twice and been singularly impressed both times – both in Microsoft’s early years), i’ve never been a Steve Ballmer fan. For me, he epitomised everything that got unseemly with the company. Gates knew his products well, could relate strengths and weaknesses against every main competitive product, and sold his own products based on their strengths. He had a darker, relentless and ruthless side, but that largely sat behind his main product focus.

Steve Ballmer

On the other hand, Ballmer was far more obsessed by financial performance and ratcheting up market share, primarily by tripping up competitors by all means possible. With that came a myriad of third party shills and supposed industry groups, campaigning hard with government bodies to impose sanctions on competitors, and to abuse the processes of standards bodies. They have strong armed vendors using Android into “licensing” demands with menaces, alleging use of their patents in the Linux code that is part of Android (but cannot relate in public which ones they are – and in test cases, have been shown to be possessing very weak and questionable claims). Then advertising campaigns under the banner of “Get the Facts” and more recently “don’t get Scroogled”, both with a reputation for poor accuracy and bringing Microsofts own brand reputation into disrepute, with no meaningful positive effect. Gone were all the pushes based on the strengths of Microsofts own offerings; instead just trying to trip everyone else up.

In the end, Ballmer got ousted by the board, albeit only after deciding to buy Nokia, electing to pursue a “Devices and Services” strategy, and to restructure the whole operation into one whole – removing the previous Business Unit, devolved P&L structure previously in place.

Strategy – Whoops!

A “Devices and Services” strategy is a particularly goody. In the industry, Apple follows a Devices model, where they run the entire value chain vertically – from basic hardware all the way up to services layered on top. On the other hand, Google run services that run horizontally across everyones devices, making profit from monetising customer purchase intents. So, a devices company try to keep all the added value around their own device from which they derive their money, whereas a services company needs their touch points to go across all devices that have market share in the industry. The two strategies are incompatible; i’ve yet to see the first example of a vertically integrated, horizontally integrated company exist.

With that “strategy” put in place, and all the previous warring Business Units now running under a centrally planned and executed structure, Ballmer did an exit stage left.

There is a case in recent history of a large high tech company that did an identically structured pivot attempt, and demonstrates one end game of such a “one company, one egg, one basket” strategy. I fear that this latest restructure puts Microsoft in grave danger of following the same example.

The Death of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC)

I used to work for DEC, where 1957-1982 there were many customer industry focused product lines. Things like Engineering Systems Group, Graphic Arts (that’s Newspapers/Publishing), MDC (Manufacturing, Distribution & Control), Education, Commercial OEM, Technical OEM, Laboratory Data Products, etc. Some 130 of them, all pulling on the output of Central Engineering and Manufacturing, then applying their industry knowledge to ruthlessly deliver excellent value to customers in their target industries. Each product line paid for the sales presence they needed down to office level worldwide.

Sea Change

By 1982, there were some concerns in the Exec Committee that there was too much “who knows who” horse trading of capacity in manufacturing, so they elected to move to the same sort of model that Microsoft has just moved to. That of “one company, one strategy, one architecture” model, orientated around the strategic core asset – VAX (in the case of Microsoft this time around, it is Windows).

Aside from a financial bath in the very first quarter in 1983, where all the cracks in the processes that the Product line structure papered over got exposed, the company really mushroomed in sales performance. Unfortunately by 1987, some specific members of the Exec Committee started citing a date when they’d outgrow IBM in size (who were 7x DECs size at the time). DEC missed virtually every strategic product transition at the low end. Management hyped up attacking the high end with very expensive ECL chips, while the labs in Hudson had $300 CMOS VAX chips ready to go. The very impressive Prism/Mica chips (30x VAX 11/780) taped out. But an exec committee that kept on flip-flopping between 32 bit and 64 bit edicts into engineering, then losing patience with the delays they’d caused – and killing the very projects that were the foundation of the next generation CPU technology. Key staff left.

It took a further 5 years to get Prism/Mica out – adding a couple of instructions, fixing on a 64 bit address space, and calling it Alpha AXP. By then, the rot had set in. That Silicon was the fastest CPU in the industry by nearly 2x for getting on 10 years, but the company above it faltered. Ken Olsen (co-founder) got deposed, and Bob Palmer (new CEO) elected to move back to a different divisional model.

So, he had PC, Storage, Components & Peripherals to play in the now horizontally integrated markets, and a few vertical industry ones (Financial Services, Consumer Process Manufacturing, Discrete Manufacturing & Defence, Healthcare, Telco+Media+Transport). However, he also got the salesforce commissioned (something against the traditions of the company), and introduced a “two quarters missed financials and you’re out” ethos in the divisional heads.

These final moves were Digitals death knell. You either had a lottery on who didn’t get fired, handing extra responsibility to those leaders who happened to string together two quarters of good sales (largely by seasonal industry trends rather than own performance). Or the panic stricken ones would stuff their distribution channels with stock, hoping that would delay the inevitable for at least one more quarter.

Following a few Bob Palmer legal stunts with Intel and with Microsoft, the company was sold to Compaq, having accumulated losses in Bob Palmers 5 year reign equivalent to the total profits of the company in 35 years under Olsen. Given the above, I think Microsoft need to be extra vigilant not to go the same way.

Microsoft now have that same type of structure

The new organisation structure will give Microsoft every opportunity to follow in DECs footsteps if they are not extra careful. The key litmus test will come when the company needs to move from Windows to whatever platform needs to come next, and I currently see no seeds planted of what that will be.

To that end, there are some early green shoots, and some dark clouds. Mr Scroogled has been promoted to “Head of Strategy”, which I can only imagine is to leverage his Democratic political connections for the future; I can imagine no other background to suggest that any company wide core strategy is safe in his hands. On the good side, they have allowed Nokia to produce a low end Android based phone handset, and look to have decided to finally release Office on the iPad formally. Outside of that, no real news at all. Many commentators wax lyrical on the lack of strategy for the future they are aiming at, or where they have anything that’s meaningful in the now mobile and tablet growth markets, and indeed in public cloud servers where the economics (and share) sit resolutely with Linux.

Capitalism vs Communism – Corporate Editions

Meanwhile, the other side of my brain says that centrally planned monoliths have an over dependency on the cleverness at the centre, while the chaos that is capitalism distributes the risk. Microsoft is such a monolith, and i’m not sure how deep that central cleverness is.

Down history, a chaotic network will always defeat a hierarchy. Just ask Gorbachev.

Mobile Phone JFDI – and the forgotten art of Removing Buttons

Keep Calm and Just Do It PosterIn my relative youth, I was always bemused about how the Computing Industry had a habit of making things over complicated. I’d be listening close by as a phone call came in to one of my colleagues, where a salesman wanted to know how much a specific piece of software would cost his customer to buy. Out came a wide range of licensing and update options that made my brain hurt, and i’m sure sent the salesman into a state of gloom and despondency. Came in with one question and left with at least three.

There was an article in one of the early editions of “Practical Computing” magazine that really hit home, so much so that it’s one of a select seminal few bits of paper I still have copies of from my early programming career . A two page article – stored alongside a completely unrelated one page flow chart of how to draw a circle on a bit mapped screen using only increment and decrement instructions, with no trigonomic functions in sight. The two page article was entitled “Removing the Buttons” by Nick Laurie. It’s premise stands correct to this day, an observing it has resulted in some multi million pound profit spectaculars my teams have pulled off down by career.

The 0-$100m at 89% Gross Margin – in 18 months – example

One was being given a Software business to run that featured 48,000 different part numbers. Some of my American colleagues built this into a kind of telephone directory that was 2″ (50mm) thick, and duly sent this to all the sales folks in the USA in the belief that it was doing them all a favour. I took a different tack, listened in to quite a few customer phone calls, and managed to boil things down to 6 double page spreads, each spread dedicated to a specific type of product. The chief stated objective was to ensure that a salesperson could lookup the part number and price for any software product we sold within their normal attention span (which we thought was around 10 seconds!).

So, the split was Operating Systems and System Software, Development Tools, Networking/Comms, Database Management, Industrial Applications and Office software (aka “End User Computing). Product names down the left with most of the part number present, different computers in order of price/power across the top (with the code to insert into the part number for that tier), and the associated price at the intersection of product and machine. The media cost on tape cartridge or magtape on the right of each product.

Visit from Royalty

We had a Corporate senior management entourage over from the USA who were told about the DECdirect Software Business and it’s impressive growth. I found myself called out of the blue into a conference room, carrying one of the price books, to find at least 2 company Vice Presidents and a lot of their senior staff present talking to my bosses boss. One of them got the USA Software price book out, and asked what I thought of it.

I related the challenge it gave salespeople, and on request, passed a copy of our 12 page work to one of the entourage. His VP said to him, well, say I wanted to buy VAX ELN to run on my VAX-11/785 – what’s the part number and price? His direct report, who’d been in possession of the guide for 2 minutes and had flicked through it once, from cold, said “oh, here it is” and rolled off the correct part number and the local price. I think they understood pretty quickly why that software operation was growing like topsy, and why even customers would throw orders into us, correct part numbers and pricing on board, for over 90% of our order volume. Simplicity Sells.

Meanwhile, back to today

Sometimes termed “Opinionated” interfaces, the central theme is that rather than adding extra buttons to any hardware, or one-plussing the number of software User Interface options you confront a user with, or giving people a thick book containing every imaginable option available, that the antithesis is usually much better design. To boil things down to the core tasks the user wants to implement, and to do that one thing really well, without unnecessary distractions. And despite knowing this for a long time now, the Mobile Phone Software Industry is very much stuck in the “let’s give them the kitchen sink” mind set, or to let functionality of their app get one-plussed to death in a mission creep into adjacent “wouldn’t it be nice if” task types. Two recent personal real life scenarios:

Scenario 1

First is that i’m in a Coffee Shop while my wife is shopping. I get a text from her saying she’s in the last one, and will be ready to leave soon. Message comes up on my iPad, so I pull my Nexus 5 phone out of my pocket to tell her i’m on my way. Sequence goes something like this:

Google Hangouts Initial Screen

Google Hangouts Second Screen

Google Hangouts Tell Jane i'm on my way

Having selected the Google Hangout app (the default way of sending SMS’s in stock Android), I flick it’s startup screen to the left, select her picture (there as I talk to her regularly), tap in “on way” and hit the button to send it. Done.

I get to the last shop and she says “Did you get my text?”. I said yes, and that i’d replied to tell her that I was on her way. She said she’d not received it. So, I replay the sequence, look how I sent it, click on her name and see this:

Google Hangouts - Who did I send the message to?

WTF! The Hangout app decided that my default action was to have a face to face video call with her, and it appears to have sent a notification to the Hangout app on her iPhone inviting her to this meeting. One which she didn’t get a notification for. Note to self – remember to select her name, choose the SMS number, before sending a text next time.

Scenario 2

We’ve had a day out with my sons kids, whose school has had an inset (teacher training) day, walking (according to my Fitbit) around 5 miles around Legoland Windsor. Get in the car at the end of the day, get to the road outside, and think – hmmm – I think we turned left somewhere further up this road to aim home, but not sure where. Let’s play safe. Pick up my Nexus phone, and say “Ok Google”. Up pops the speech input on the launcher. “Navigate me home”. Beep – up comes a display showing that it plans to send me from my current location, and lists the ultimate destination as my home postcode. Then sits there like a lemon with a display that looks like this (i’ve just done this one from my home, asking it to navigate me to a local supermarket, but the screen layout is identical in structure):

Google Maps Navigation Screen


Given the phone is sitting there like a lemon and the car is moving in traffic, I hand the Nexus 5 to Jane, and ask if she can see what I need to press to make it start giving directions. The first thing she says is “it appears to be having difficulty loading from the Internet” – given in a browser, there is a blue line that gradually moves left to right as the page loads. The Maps UI appears to be stuck at around 25%. It’s only later I realise that Google have just underlined the mode of transport (by car) with a blue bar, and this isn’t a progress bar at all.

Next, she can select route options. Then we are given some alternative ways of getting to the destination, just like the two listed above (shortest and fastest route). Though I can swear that the words “Start Navigation” were not visible at all when we were in motion and the map around Windsor was displayed. So, Jane says she can’t see where to press, the phone is sitting there like a lemon and roads passing me by with the car in motion. So I make a guess. And get it wrong, and have no idea which way we’re headed. A couple of miles on, a plane outbound from Heathrow flies over us, and I suddenly have a clue that if that is going East to West, I need to turn right to approximately head north back to the M4. This I do, travel another mile and then we get signage to M4 junction 6. And the phone is still sitting there like a lemon.

When I tried it today at home, it did an automatic hop, skip and jump into telling me how to start my journey – something I wished it did yesterday when I needed it to. But didn’t.

I’m far from alone

I’ve heard similar rants from one friend about how Apple iTunes has now turned into an ungodly and complex mess. Also quite a nice rant by Marco Arment about unnecessary bundling of unwanted components to his Amazon Prime Membership supporting a price increase (to support their online video business, that he has no interest in subscribing to). Marco then goes further with the one-plussing of Facebook and Twitter apps to start treading into each others core business, and losing their value to him along the way by doing so. See his blog post entitled “Wrong“.

So, quite a widely used and unfortunate trend. I guess the good news is that where vendors start doing this, it opens up an opportunity for other vendors to more closely align to the basic brass tacks most customers value. If the network effects are strong enough to enact this sort of revolution, we’ll all be the better for it, so – out with the coding pencil!

Footnote: The Seminal “Removing the Buttons” is here: Page 1 and Page 2.