Tips for Mr Steve Ballmer at Microsoft

Mr. Steve Ballmer,

For the last 12 and something years I worked for one your ISV partners. I recently quit to explore some other opportunities, but for now I'm sharing some of my knowledge and experience with anyone who is willing to listen. It's a pity we never had the opportunity to meet, because I would have loved to challenge you a bit. However I understand you are a busy person and of course have to make choices. Instead I will just write down some advise for you to take into consideration.

The years working with Microsoft have been very interesting, educational and mostly fun. An highlight was probably the creation of a Windows 7 recommendation movie. However I've also, at times, been very skeptical towards Microsoft, but in 2010 I've seen change in Microsoft and you do deserve a compliment for this. Let me explain:
  1. In the beginning of the year you introduced Windows Phone 7 and just before the introduction I was impressed by the under NDA presentation by Charlie Kindle. It was for the very first time I heard Microsoft speaking about a central role of the actual user and not about technology. Wow, it seemed that Microsoft is really going to embed and change toward user centric design methods. It was also the moment I gave you a very fair chance to fight back in the Mobile war. However by now you have delivered the first generation of a fine operating system, but that is not enough. Nobody buys a phone based on the operating system, but based on the sexy hardware. Here comes one of my tips: Go and talk to your hardware vendors and tell them to stop talking about the technical specifications and get creative. Tell them to hire some Italian designers and experiment with new materials such as stainless steal, titanium, magnesium, carbon, leather, Swarovski crystals... anything that makes a sexy and desirable phone, because right now all we are getting are ugly, thirteen in a dozen, black plastic boxes. 
  2. You finally embraced the web and the HTML 5 standard. The work you are doing with Internet Explorer 9 is a good start. I notice enthusiasm in the developer scene and it will help you win back some market share. However it's not all about the browser, it's about sexy and innovative web applications. You could get a lot more out of your web properties as if you open up and adopt open interoperability standards. 
  3. Office 365, the most exciting announcement of 2010. For years I was already asking myself when Microsoft was going to put productivity in the cloud, and I mean really in the cloud, zero install, zero hassles and always up to date. BPOS was an understandable first step, but still very dependent on the Office client install, pretty complex and not yet hassle free. With Office 365 I believe you finally understand it's all about maximum convenience. However I also have concerns when you talk about the needs of a small business. The 10+ years I worked with Microsoft I learned you are predominantly enterprise focused and do not really understand small businesses. You continue to talk about increased productivity, depth of services, enterprise class software. Well a small business doesn't want enterprise class software because it's a synonym for complex and expensive, instead they want convenience over sophistication. Just a few tips:
    1. A small business prefers collaboration between companies over collaboration between people. Single sign-on is key for convenience and thus federated identity with business partners is crucial for success.
    2. People want to share a document, not store a document in a place where others have access.
    3. Coauthoring, nice in the enterprise, not relevant in a small business, except when you can author with people from another company. 
    4. My many years experience with small businesses have taught me that a 'one size fits all' doesn't really work. I suggest to really differentiate, including the messaging.
Of course you did a lot more in 2010, but that was just more of the same and business as usual. I complement you again with the fresh and changed Microsoft I've seen in 2010. However I also think you can still do a lot better. You just need to bring in some fresh new master minds into Microsoft.

Best regards

New Opportunity: Location Based Business Apps

Community-designed geotag iconIn the past 2 years, as a result of an abundance of GPS equipped mobile devices, there has been an enormous development of location based social applications. Foursquare, Gowalla, Facebook Places, etc all exist because location has become the new context for our social behavior. This additional location context has create new social, search and commercial opportunities.

I'm wondering why I haven't seen business and productivity applications embrace of the new location context. In applications like of instance note taking, CRM systems, hour registration, etc. there are huge opportunities to provide additional convenience to the user by using the additional information. Some examples I've recently been thinking about:
  1. Notes. Imagine you are at a customers site and take notes. It's very likely the customer is in your address book, so why not use your current location to preselect or filter the most likely account and link it to the note. This rich context is cumbersome to enter manually, but now it becomes super easy and convenient. 
  2. CRM. Take an automatically geo tagged photo of a business card and email/upload to a CRM system that based on the geo tag automatically links the image to the nearest account. It's convenient, you don't loose it and the real information can be processed later, even by someone else.
  3. Hour entry. You are a consultant that travels between customers and jobs. While moving around you check-in/out at every location. The combination of the start/end time and the location give you insight of the hours spend at an off-side location and the distances traveled. It's even a solid basis for an invoice proposal without having to enter any real data.
Share your ideas on location opportunities in business and/or productivity applications or let me know about applications that already embraced location.

Apple iOS 4.2 - Nobody Cares

Yesterday Apple released iOS 4.2 to unify the software versions on the iPhone, iPod and iPad. It gave the tech scene something to write about and numerous articles with exaggerating the importance, lots of new stuff, how to guides, etc. have been written. My RSS reader was in overload.

Nice for the tech scene, gives them something to do, but no average user cares about this at all. I will give you some reasons why:

  1. After the update you have no idea you got something new. There is just no difference with anything you had before!
  2. Multitasking, most people don't even know what it is. They just got used to the powerful simplicity of iOS. Press the 'home' button, select an application, do some work and go back 'Home' and repeat the process. Really who do you think will ever figure out you can now double click 'Home' and do some swiping to get to a previously used application.
  3. AirPrint, First nobody has a suitable printer and second 99% of the people use their iPhones and iPads to surf a bit on the web and do some gaming. It's for consumption and entertainment not for output. 
  4. AirPlay, Who has an Apple TV, it's not even available in most parts of the world! Even if you have one, just consider the following: When are you in you living room using your iPhone/iPad to watch some movies, Yes.. when the rest of the family is watching a boring sitcom. They will really appreciate if you interrupt their favorite sitcom with the latest lol cats you found on YouTube
  5. Folders, again something too complex. There is for the average user (not the tech geek that reads all the How to guides) no visual clue that you can create a folder with dragging (how to get into dragging mode anyway) can create a folder. 
  6. Game Center, probably the best feature of them all. However again only for a selected target audience.
  7. Unified Inbox, go and explain to your mom that she can now have multiple email accounts and still get them into one list. For most average people this is just too confusing. The reason for multiple email accounts is to have the separate.
Anyway, for most Apple fanboys, including me, iOS 4.2 brings welcome new functionality. However the iPhone and iPad go beyond the traditional Apple fanboys and are appealing to a larger audience that really doesn't care about iOS 4.2

How I can help you.

Most of the regular readers have learned that I've quite my job to explore other opportunities. Right now, besides some chilling, I'm working on a bit of exposure and do some networking. More often than not a request for a CV comes forward. A CV, to me, feels too much as 'back to the 80's' and you asking for one doesn't really excite me. I've reasonable online exposure, I'm accessible and usually answer direct questions.

However I'm also a realist and understand that old habits don't die very quickly so I came with a compromise. I've made a little presentation to tell 'how I can help you'. If the Prezi doesn't show below you can also find it here.

And for those that favor linear PowerPoint presentation. If it doesn't appear below, you can find it here.

Which one do you prefer, Prezi or PowerPoint?

Open Letter to Mr Stephen Elop at Nokia

Mr. Stephen Elop,

In 1996 I bought my first mobile phone, a Nokia. It was selected because of the sturdy build, the excellent battery life, great call quality and ease of use. For the next 11 years I regularly bought a new phone. They were all, except for a mistake with a Motorola, Nokia phones, because they were great, easy to use and fashionable phones. This unfortunately all changed with the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. A newcomer, years ahead of the competition had arrived and the existing players had to play catch-up.

Nokia until today has not been able to catch-up. I've tried to stay loyal, but the gap is too large. I regret this and hope Nokia manages to survive and hopefully even better excels. You are new at Nokia, have an excellent track record and already showed initiative and commitment to Symbian. I like that and I've confidence you will listen to customer like me.

I will give you some tips and if you continue reading I even have a proposal for help.
  1. You former boss will probably try to convince you to adopt Windows Phone 7. It's tempting, but don't do it, you will loose the Nokia identity.
  2. Many others will tell you to adopt Android, but the same applies here. 
  3. It's not about Symbian, Maemo, MeeGo, it's about excellent user experiences.
  4. Excellent user experiences are defined by the details and not the technology. It requires focus on the user, something many engineering teams are lacking.
  5. Nokia builds the best and most detailed engineered hardware, with only half of the focus on hardware details would go into the software platform it would rock.  
I'm pretty sure you all thought about this and ask yourself the question: How? 

I happen to have some spare time and I'm available to help you. I've experience in refocussing engineering teams towards deliverables, details and an end user focus. Here are some options for you:
  1. You dare to take a risk: Send me a decent offer including some accommodation and a car and I'm your man!
  2. You are skeptical but interested: Give me three months accommodation, a car and a flight ticket and I come for Free!
  3. You are curious: contact me to have a discussion brainstorm on the topic
  4. You are polite: give me an personal answer and some pointers for trying
  5. You know it all better: Just ignore anything I said
... and as a bonus, I do speak some finnish too...

Best regards

User Experience - Bonus Material

I hope you enjoyed the series of User Experience documents. Just for additional inspiration a few presentations on the subject for you to watch.


My Different (Social) Networks

Circle of friends
Image: Roger Price
Like so many people I participate in various (social) networks, publish, share and republish information. I've been doing this in a very liberal way, I connected to many people, I republished everywhere and now as a result it has all become too confusing. In the various social networks I'm connected to roughly the same group of people, everybody is republishing everything everywhere and all I'm doing is reading the same information many times.

I'm putting an end to this and I've defined a clear set of guidelines for my 'circles of friends' in the various networks. The circles start from larger, more public to smaller and more private.
  1. My public life stream, a clear list of all my public activities available for everyone, but without any interaction. Feel free to visit when you feel like it.
  2. This blog with mainly professionally focused articles. Comments are unmoderated and open for everyone. You can easily subscribe to the feed!
  3. My Twitter, I publish a mix of private and professional content. At times you might find it too much. Nothing stops you to follow me and if you have something to say and not sell I might follow you back.
  4. Digg, I'm one of the rare people that actually likes Digg and feel free to connect to me and 'Digg' some of my submissions.
  5. LinkedIn for my professional connections. If we have worked together in any form or shape, or if we just vaguely know each other and I remember you we can connect. The true value are recommendations I will make them for my special business contacts, but never when we are currently doing business. Feel free to connect and it's highly appreciated if you make a recommendation for me. No Twitter content will be republished in my LinkedIn stream (and I recommend everybody to do so), but my blog entries (limited number) will be imported.
  6. Facebook for my personal connections. A personal connection is more than someone I just happen to know, this means having worked in the same organization of just have attended the same conference or never really personally met is not going to make you a personal connection. I must really feel a connection with you and is something that changes over time. Status update will not fed from external services (e.g. Twitter), except for my blog entries will be imported as notes, because my personal connections have shown their interest in my posts.
  7. Foursquare, Gowalla and other location social interaction focused networks for real close personal connections. It's a subset of the Facebook connection and we must at least have participated in some real social activities. If I've never had a beer with you, you are probably not part of this circle.

On all other platforms don't expect any participation, activity or reactions. I'm probably going to abandon them anyway. This new set of guidelines will also have an impact on the connections I'm having in the more personally focused networks. Don't feel offended when I 'de-friend' you, It's not you, it's just reality I need to make choices. After the weekend everything will be different!

Please let me know if you have better suggestions on dealing with the confusion and duplication of information. React in the comments below.

User Experience - The Series

bibliografia user experience design
Image: Stefano Bussolon
During the last few months I've shared my experiences on implementing User Experience design into a product development process. It was an interesting, educational and very rewarding experience.

I planned to write a complete series of articles toward final success, but things turned out to be a bit different. I quit my job and thus I wasn't able to complete to process towards successful strategic implementation. However I'm very confident that the team will succeed, but just without me.

Here I present you the published articles in the most convenient order for you to read

1. It all started with letting go and realization that I'm NOT the typical user
2. Followed by the activities to get started
3. ... and the battles you have to fight to get support on your efforts
4. Manage the expectations, because it's not the silver bullet
5. Your first feelings of achievement
6. Followed by deception and depression, the feeling as I was leaving the company. It's normal to have some set backs before the final taste of success
7. To final success and victory, something I'm sure the team will taste pretty soon.

Since I do have some spare time I'm available to help you implementing something similar in your organization, or share experiences with you if that is more appropriate. Check out my About page for more details

Using my Google Apps Account as a Full Google Account

Earlier this year Google announced to bring parity between the Google Apps account and full Google accounts. This would make most Google services available for Google Apps users. This I performed the transition of my Google Apps account to a full Google account and started to migrate services. It's not all smooth sailing.

I've very simple situation with a Google Apps account for personal use. I like to have my email, calendar, documents etc. nicely organized in one place on the domain. Next I also have a Google account primarily used for Google reader, YouTube, Blogger, FeedBurner and a few minor services.

My goal after the migration was to have one single account for use with Google services so I don't have to think anymore when to use which account!

The migration when smoothly. I first read the documentation, run through the transition wizard, enabled multiple sign-in and started to migrate information. Since I was not going to remove the personal Google account I'm fine with the data sharing options. Some of the experiences and pain points:
1. FeedBurner, it was simple and easy to transfer the feeds, probably the best migration possible
2. Blogger, just add the Google Apps account as an author with administrator privileges. You do get a new blogger profile (with a new blogger since date) and images used as of now are stored in a Picasa album on the Google Apps account. Not all very nice, but very workable.
3. Analytics, about the same process as Blogger, just add the extra account with administrator priviledges.
4. YouTube, followed the instructions, but it never mentioned that you can't transfer to a Google Apps account. I learned this the hard way. YouTube is a not supported on the Google Apps accounts (even so some information tells differently)
5. Google Reader, Moving your feeds to the new Google Apps account is simple, but you will loose your trends, followers, starred and shared items. I consider this a real problem and to make it even worse you Google Apps account can NOT have a google profile. This means you can't even create a custom URL for your shared items. After extensive thinking I will take the pain and request my followers to follow me on the new Account.
6. Picasa, there is no transition possible! I do regret this, because now I've ended up with 2 Picasa albums creating a lot of confusion.

Google: Your call to action!
1. Enable Google Profiles for Google Apps accounts! This should be your top priority to get fixed.
2. Allow transfer of Google Reader history and statistics to the new Google Apps account.
3. Enable YouTube to link to a Google Apps account!
4. Allow the transfer of Picase albums to the new Google Apps account.

Productivity Redefined

Cyborg M4p1
Image: Javier Roche
Usually when we think about productivity we always define it as output per unit of time. We are constantly doing our best to improve efficiency to increase the output per unit of time. This has also been the sales pitch of many IT investments.

In 25 years of business automation we first automated the easy stuff, simple transactions got automated. We used robots, computers to take over the simple tasks from humans. Many of these task were tedious and nobody really objected when machines took over. People could now focus on the fun and challenging stuff.

Next business automation started to address the processes in an organization. The robots and computers already managed the individual transactions and with little adjustment (of the humans) they could also starting to optimize the processes between the transactions. People needed to become more like machines and needed to change their way of working to fit the machines. People got more controlled by the machines impacting the fun at work.

Today we see a huge emerge of social software, helping people to maintain social relationships aided by information technology. For many it provides valuable information, builds deeper relations and it's fun! The fun, usually related to entertainment, also has cause a fears debate on this social stuff being a productivity killer and should be banned. Banning social computing and removing the fun factor would fit in the trend of slowly transforming people into robots and controlling their lives, just look at the history of business automation.

Well I've a different viewpoint. First it's just not possible to continue to squeeze more productivity out of people, there is a limit on how far you can go. Second, the fun factor is the new productivity booster!

We all have this, you are busy with something and completely forget about the time. You feel as if you just started, but already you have been busy for hours. You did heaps of work, but why did the time go so quickly? Probably because you were just having fun! Why does a day off usually go quicker than a day at work? Again, when doing something fun you forget about the time, so much that you even forget coffee/smoke breaks. You really get a lot of work done!

Productivity should be redefined as: How much fun did I have when achieving my business goals?