My Social Profiles

I signup and experiment with many different emerging services and startups. During these experiments I've collected quite some social profiles. Below you find some of those that solely focus on creating a user profile with a purpose to aggregate it all in one list.
It's interesting to notice the different approaches, some focus on making the profiles very shiny and flashy, while others just try to collect as much information as possible.

However the coolest of them all, and not even mentioned in the list, is the one you need to see in action. It comes from the MIT Media lab and is called personas. Give it a try, enter your name and it attempt to characterize you as a person. It tells me that 'online' dominates my life!

The 'Blogs of Note' effect

I write this blog for fun and it's just a way for me to share some of my thoughts with those interested. I attract between 800 and 1000 monthly visitors, what I already consider a reasonable achievement.

Last Thursday the number of visitors suddenly changed, because Blogger gave this blog a 'Blogs of Note' listing. I noticed this due to a significant increase in comments and it got me pretty excited. A few hours after the listing I already hit the 400 visitors and that was already a big record. The next day I monitored the statistics and couldn't believe the first 1000 and soon the second 1000 and ending the day over 4000 visitors. The next day it already slowed down and it will be interesting to see how long before it's back to normal again.

Next to the blog visitors also the blog followers and RSS subscriptions increased significantly. This is really exciting because it shows that there are people who like what I write.

Since it was the first day that I got a significant number of visitors I also has a look a the browser statistics and is was quite interesting to see that only half of the visitors was with Internet Explorer and about one third with FireFox.

I'm now curious how this will develop over time. Do any of the sudden visitors stick around and become regular visitors. In a few months we will see what happened. I will keep you updated.

The Solution counts, Not the Product

Today I got referred to a Microsoft SharePoint article with a rather bashing title: Danger! Do not implement SharePoint in your Organization! I'm absolutely no SharePoint expert, but I do know it is pretty successful in the market place. It just can't be that bad!

I did  read the article and it is a whole lot better than the title suggests. I absolutely underwrite it's not about the technology but about the business challenge you are solving. No business is interested in 'implementing products' but in solving their challenges.

It's important to always identify the business needs with as much detail as possible. Scope these down into a feasible project, because it's a lot easier to build more on early successes instead of repairing last minute failures. Select the product/technology that has the potential to solve the challenges and, very important, select the right partner for helping you with the implementation. Does the partner have the domain expertise and a credible track record in solving similar challenges.

It's like a puzzle, focus on the solution, not the problem!

Image credit: lumaxart

My 2 Cents on User Experiences

Regularly I attend product meetings dealing with planning, priorities and projects to be included in the next releases. It's always an interesting and challenging balancing act between deliverables and available capacity. Customer value, market opportunity, return on investment and costs are usually recurring topics. Today I was also involved in one of these meetings and we quite extensively spoke about User Experience as customer value. After the meeting I had an interesting meeting with one of the team member on the topic. He challenged me to briefly write down my vision on user experience.

First let me tell you that I'm NOT an expert on the topic. I'm an engineer by trade and according to Alan Cooper this immediately disqualifies me from having a vision on user experience. Further my views are related to business software, because that is my field of expertise.

In conversations the terms User Experience and Usability are often used interchanged, however for me they have 2 completely different meanings
1. Usability is for me the technical capabilities that the product can be used in an easy way. Does the product behave the way I expect, is there a logical flow of events etc. It's for me very related to the functionality of the product. Usability improvement are there for often related to reduction of mouse clicks, handy wizards, etc.. that just make it for me easier to do my job.
2. User Experience is for me more of an emotional state. It's about the feeling I get when I use the product, does is make me excited, relaxed, frustrated. What is the overall impression, and that includes unwrapping, first time use, etc. It actually does not have so much to do with the functionality, because I just assume it's there.

Some examples
1. Why do I prefer the user experience of my Mac over a PC? The sensual touch of the aluminum casing and the soft strokes on the large touch pad when using 2 fingers to gently scroll this document just makes me feel good. The Mac triggers my senses...
2. In rare cases technical usability improvements create real better user experiences. One example is the Google chrome omnibar. Up until a year ago most browsers had 2 input boxes in their header. One was for typing an internet address and the other one for searching. This was not only confusing, but the search box was quite often too small. Merging the two reduced confusion, created a larger search box and just make complete sense. I feel good when I'm using it.

Now back to business software, because there are many user experience related challenges. May be the most important one: who cares, I have to use it from my boss! The key challenge is to create business software that people want and love to use! This can not be done by just improving the usability. This will make the people more efficient, but it won't make them happier. The saved time will be used to surf their favorite websites, that will make them happy!

If I had the solution I would implement it tomorrow, but unfortunately I don't. However I do believe we need to show some more creativity and refocus on the emotional values for our users. I aim to continuously push forward to search for creative solutions that get to the heart of our users.

Image credit: Nicki Dugan

PaaS Rocks!

Recently I've been playing around a bit with the Google App Engine. Slowly I start to learn how all this Platform as a Service is going to influence the future of software development.

Today I was just checking some of the log files of the little application I'm working on and saw a lot of warning messages.

The logging, the messages and heaps of information all comes with the platform. I still remember the days that all this kind of plumbing had to be build by ourselves in order to get information on the performance of your applications. This is going to really gonna benefit our customers, we just get more capacity to create value for them.

Now another interesting part of the message is the fact that I soon will exceed some of my quotas. This literally means that it's gonna cost me money. This is a real good motivator for me to optimize the solution, because I just can't throw some extra cheap hardware against it. It will be recurring costs for the rest of the life cycle of the solutions... So I better get back to some coding and deal with the CPU usage problem.

Platform as a Service Rocks!

Google App Engine versus Microsoft Azure

This is going to be a bit of a dangerous post, because I'm no expert in both. It's going to be like comparing:

  • Google versus Microsoft
  • Consumer versus Corporate
  • Personal versus Professional
  • Mac OS-X versus Windows
  • Simple versus Advanced
  • Convenience versus Sophistication
The reason for this post is feedback I received on the Keeping up with Technology post where I discussed a little hobby project on the Google App Engine. Some of my professional relations asked why I didn't build it on Microsoft Azure.
Disclosure: I work as Technology Director for Exact Software and I manage the technology part of our partnership with Microsoft. Microsoft delivers great technology that enables us to create value for our customers. This is also shown in the Windows 7 endorsement I recorded a few months ago.

A couple of months ago I actually started to develop something on Azure. It started like this, visit the Azure website looking for a getting started. There is a lot of information, but not really a step by step guide to get started. I figured out that I needed to register and thus I filled a couple of forms. After completion I received a message that I would get an answer within 24 hours. End of the project so far.

Since I wasn't satisfied I tried decided to try the Google App Engine instead. Go to the Google App Engine site and immediately found the Getting Started Guide. Just 2 small downloads for the SDK and Python and a text editor and I was in business. An hour later my 'hello world' application was up and running. This without any previous experience on Python and many stupid mistakes on case sensitive code. I felt good and was proud on the result.

The next day I hoped to receive my developer key for Azure so I could start comparing. Unfortunately no key arrived and I twittered about it. Someone from the Azure team noticed this and helped me out, good service, but I had to wait again for a day for a key.

Finally I got the key and started to explore Azure. On the Azure site I couldn't find a simple tutorial for a 'hello world' application. There are many advanced examples, but all too complex for me. Again Twitter came to rescue and quickly I received a link to a simple 'hello world' tutorial. Finally I could start to set up a developer environment. I already had Visual Studio installed, lucky me, but the developer environment also requires a local SQL server. A large download, a service pack and quite some time later I could finally start writing a few lines of code. Package the solution and deploy.

I haven't explored any of the differences in capabilities between Microsoft Azure and Google App Engine, but it's a clear case between convenience and sophistication.

When I decided to explore some of the cloud computing, the above memory was still in my mind. This combined with my preference of Mac OS-X over Windows 7 made the choice for the Google App Engine a simple one. A hobby is to relax and have fun!

You Can't Eat Whuffie...

I mentioned earlier that I'm not much of a reader. Twitter made it even worse and I can't handle a lot more then 140 characters. However I also mentioned that I like 'The Whuffie Factor' a lot.

Yes we all need money, but is it really what we value the most. Tara Hunt nicely shows that in the  presentation embedded below or here on SlideShare is also excellent.

Tara actually was one of the people that inspired me to explore more and more in the Social Media space. It's fun and I really enjoy matching and mixing social and business functionality.