Web Design in Two Minutes

Now for some Friday fun.

Guess how quickly you can design a website? Two minutes! No kidding! Watch:

No, just kidding. This video was created by the design firm Wevio as what I’m guessing is a clever piece of social media marketing. On the video’s YouTube page Wevio says that:

This is a time-lapse video of what was originally about 2 hours.

This video doesn’t portray how a website is really made. It takes hours upon hours of researching, designing, developing and testing in different browsers as well as platforms.

Too true. And too bad, ‘cuz having a professionally made web design in two minutes would be awesome.

Real Life Adobe Photoshop

Now for some Friday fun.

This is cool. Very cool. Especially if you’re a user of Adobe (ADBE) Photoshop.

Trend Hunter features a cool slideshow displaying how the Indonesia office of the design agency Bates141 built this amazing replication of the Adobe Photoshop UI using boxes, paint brushes, and other stuff. Another set of work-in-progress photos are on Flickr too. Check it out – it’s a huge replication.

This was done as a print poster for the Indonesian software distributor Software Asli. I had no idea software distributors went to such great lengths to create ads. According to the info on another Flickr photo, the team who built this was creative director Hendra Lesmono, art directors Andreas Junus & Irawandhani Kamarga, copywriter Darrick Subrata, and photographer Anton Ismael. I’ve never heard of any of you, but great job guys!

There’s even a hi-res version of this photo that you can use for desktop wallpaper. Nice!

How People Really Use The iPhone

You think you know, but do you really know? Do you? Know how people really use the Apple (AAPL) iPhone?

The Santa Clara-based strategic research and design firm Create with Context recently presented “Taking a Peek: How People Really Use the iPhone” at the 2008 iPhone Developer Summit in San Jose, CA. In case you missed the presentation, here it is:

How people really use the iPhone
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: iphone design)

You can also download this presentation as a handy ebook.

Great info, especially if you’re an iPhone application developer or are building an iPhone app!

iPhone’s Stanza Validates E-books and the Kindle

I love it when I hear news like this. Andy Greenberg and James Erik Abels over at Forbes just reported that the “IPhone Steals Lead Over Kindle“.

They’re talking about the Stanza iPhone app. It’s been available free on Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone App Store since July 2008 and has been downloaded more than 395,000 times at an average installation rate of 5,000 copies a day, according its developer, Lexcycle.

So how is it beating out Amazon’s (AMZN) Kindle?

By comparison, Citigroup estimates Amazon will sell around 380,000 Kindles in 2008… In other words, Apple may have inadvertently sold more e-readers than any other company in the nascent digital book market.

That’s fine though. I’m still exceited. To me, this is yet another data point on the validation of the e-book market.

I know, it’s a stretch to claim that Stanza has validated e-books to the mass market. But it does show to me that there is a growing early adopter audience who’s learning a new behavior – reading books on electronic devices. As this audience grows, they’ll provide a good reference base for the early majority.

Validating a New Market

Every time a disruptive technology enters the market, people either:

  1. Learn how to use it because it solves a problem satisfactorily and is worth the learning curve
  2. Or ignore it because it doesn’t solve squat and/or the barrier for adoption is just too high

In many cases, one company inadvertently helps another by teaching the market the benefits of its solution, thus paving the way for stronger competitors. Take VisiCalc, Lotus 1-2-3, and Microsoft (MSFT) Excel, for instance. Before there was any spreadsheet software, there were pencils and paper. Not all finance professionals saw the need for doing their work on a computer.

But then they saw VisiCalc in action and were hooked. VisiCalc, in effect, had validated the spreadsheet software market.

Soon thereafter, Lotus 1-2-3 stepped in and one-upped VisiCalc. It had more desirable features, such as automatic graph creation and macros. Then Microsoft Excel entered the market and changed everything. Some argue that Excel wasn’t a better product, but Microsoft was a stronger company. Using the distribution power of its operating system, it swallowed up the spreadsheet market.

Being a Strong Competitor

Just because you validate a market doesn’t mean you’re doomed to failure. It’s a case of the first-mover advantage. In some markets, strong companies can validate the market and own it through exploiting a network effect (where the value of your offering increases exponentially with the size of your customer base). Amazon and eBay (EBAY) are popular examples of this.

What’s more important is being a strong competitor. In the spreadsheet software market, Microsoft was that strong competitor. They were able to exploit a second-mover advantage:

A second-mover firm… does not face the marketing task of having to educate the public about the new project because the first mover has already done so. As a result, the second-mover can use its resources to focus on making a superior product or out-marketing the first mover.

In Stanza’s case, I doubt they’re doing any marketing to educate the market. This hasn’t stopped them from creeping onto Amazon’s turf, however. Although they only offer public domain books right now, they’ve been working on some deals with major publishers. I smell a battle.

This is where being a strong competitor will win out. Amazon has the muscle of vast resources, brand name, and most importantly, publisher partnerships.

Is There an E-book Market?

Which brings me back to why I’m so excited about this news. I believe Amazon’s got the right approach, though there’s been some debate about whether or not this market exists. Do readers really want e-books? Or are they already satisfied with regular books?

In my opinion, yes, there is a market. Yes, some do want e-books (I sure do!). And Stanza helps to validate that. While I know it’s not representative of the mass market, its quick adoption shows that it’s not e-books themselves that are holding consumers back, it’s the lack of easy-to-use e-book devices.

Fortunately, I believe Amazon has the strength to pull this off. I have high hopes for them in creating a usable and enjoyable (and hopefully, delightful) e-book reader. They just have to keep on listening to their customers and improving their device. They’ve got the Amazon Store in place, e-books in the inventory, and some early adopters already using it. Now it’s a matter of putting out a cheaper and better device.

Almost Half of Google is Beta

Oops, looks like someone forgot to finish Google (GOOG). According to Pingdom, website monitoring service, almost half of Google’s products are still in beta.

Out of the 49 Google products we could find, 22 are in beta. That’s 45%!

This list includes well-known products such as Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Finance. Pingdom didn’t include Google Labs products because they’re considered a “playground” for future products – though if they did, the percentage would be 57%.

What’s especially notable is that Gmail and Google Docs are products with premium editions – for $50 USD/year, you get more storage space, better security, integration capabilities, and deeper technical support.

The question on everyone’s (well, everyone who’s read Pingdom’s article, at least) mind is: why? Why are so many of Google’s products still in beta?

Why Are 45% of Google’s Products in Beta?

My take is that this is the result of a lack of oversight, coordination, and product release process within the product management organization at Google.

Google is full of smart people. It’s not like they want nearly half their company to remain in beta. However, Google is a company mostly run by engineers, not product people. Engineers typically want to build cool, innovative, and new products, as opposed to working with existing code. Ask an engineer to build you a new feature and the engineer is likely to rebuild your entire architecture in the process. Building something new is way more fun than working on something old.

So perhaps most of the top engineers who built Gmail and Google Docs have moved on to new projects, leaving junior engineers to continue their work. And the product managers don’t have a lot of resources or authority to take these products out of beta.

Other Opinions

Some have guessed that Google is trying to limit their liability by using the “beta” label. I seriously doubt that. Though I’m no lawyer, I would guess that since they accrue revenue from these products, the beta label doesn’t given them any extra protection. I’m not sure that a beta label would give anyone any serious protection anyways.

Others have surmised that Google is just making a statement that they’re constantly building & improving their products. That, of course, begs the question: why are some products in beta and others not? Are only some still being improved while others are not? And you don’t need a beta label to do that.

Google is Struggling Through Puberty

I see this beta label as an example of how Google is a young company that grew up very fast. They went from childhood to adolescence before they was totally ready for it. To be fair, many of the best companies do that. Now Google is struggling with puberty, that awkward age where they’re trying to stay true to their childhood ideals while becoming more responsible. Their voice is squeaky and there’s hair in funny places. But they’re trying.

What Beta Officially Means

Within the software world, a beta release is:

The first version released outside the organization or community that develops the software, for the purpose of evaluation or real-world black/grey-box testing. … Beta version software is likely to be useful for internal demonstrations and previews to select customers, but unstable and not yet ready for release.

Since Google is using this term, I have to imagine that they know what it means. But they clearly aren’t using it properly, since a product that is “unstable and not yet ready for release” is definitely not something for which you would want to charge your customers. Yet they are.

The argument that beta is Google’s way of telling the world they still have huge product plans is unfounded. Web software, by its very nature, allows for uninterrupted and relatively seamless updates. They don’t need a beta label to state the obvious, especially if they don’t use the label consistently.

Lack of a Product Release Process

That’s why I fault Google’s product management organization for this. They know this. At least, I hope they do. They just may not have the power and muscle to do this. And chances are, someone is emailing Pingdom’s entry around the Googleplex like crazy with the note, “Hey guys, did you see this? We gotta get on this!”

I hope someone listens and fixes this. Perhaps by doing an internal audit of all their products for official release viability. Or at least by implementing a proper product release process. This process doesn’t even have to be a convoluted and bureaucratic process; just a simple checklist will do. Otherwise, they’re diluting the beta label.

Though, honestly, I don’t think this is going to have a dramatic impact on how people use its products. Only software programmers and web geeks know what beta means, so they (we) are the only ones who are really bothered by it.

It certainly does irk me though.

Wish List for the Amazon Kindle

Guess what’s been on my mind? Yup, the Amazon Kindle. How’d you guess?

While it’s enlightening to praise and debate, I know it has quite a few improvements to make before it rocks the market. Sure, it has more promise than it’s competitors, but if it doesn’t maintain its lead, than I’ll be a sad panda.

Here’s my wish list of what Amazon needs to do to improve the Kindle for v2 and beyond:

  • Improve it’s ergonomics (hardware) and usability (software). This is probably its most well-known criticism. Hopefully they’ll follow the principles of KISS.

  • Continue getting more content. That means getting more publishers to release their books in e-book format. Probably not an easy task, but if anyone has the clout to do it, it’s Amazon.

  • Allow more formats to be readable. They don’t necessarily have to be writable for now, just readable. Like PDF, PPT, and XLS file formats. (To their credit, they already support TXT, HTML, and DOC.)

  • Allow readers a way to somehow “transfer” their existing books into the Kindle. I’m not sure how this could be done, as it leaves many openings for abuse. But I’d love to digitize my current library into the Kindle without having to buy all of those books again. Ugh.

  • Add a touch screen interface. Touch screen UIs are nice and generally easy-to-use (if done right). They could add significantly to the usability of the Kindle—again, if done right.

  • Offer a color screen. At least, as an option for some people. I’m sure this is on their internal wish list already.

  • Offer a backlit screen. This could also be an option, as some people may feel its current state is better on the eyes.

  • Offer multiple versions. They could differ in size, storage space, and maybe even color and outer material (imagine a leather-bound Kindle! Hmm!). If/when the Kindle catches on with younger consumers, the market for personalization accessories could be sizable too.

  • Strengthen its body. Books have to survive quite a rough rumble and tumble. It would be cool if the Kindle could survive that kind of physical stress too. Perhaps this could merely be another version.

Go go Kindle go!

Debating the Amazon Kindle

I’m having a fun ole’ debate over the Amazon (AMZN) Kindle right now. It’s taking place in the comments of a previous post between myself and Nicholas Zakas, a published author, seasoned programmer, and all-around intelligent guy.

I like debates. They give me a chance to hone my opinions and positions on various topics. I’ll do my best to defend my position, but more often than not, I’ll learn a new viewpoint that adds to my knowledge of that topic.

My post was about how great the Amazon Kindle was going to be. I likened the Kindle to Apple’s (AAPL) iPod. Nicholas commented that:

The iPod was successful largely because people wanted to replace their large portable CD players with something that could play more…it wasn’t techies that make the iPod the sensation that it was, it was the non-techies.

This implies it was the iPod’s ease-of-use that made it such a commercial success. While I totally agree, I think it was more than just the iPod’s simple & friendly form factor that made it great. It was also:

  1. iPod’s branding and Apple’s great overall brand
  2. The “complete package” that iTunes integration offers to the iPod

He argued that while this is true for iPods, it’s different for books:

There’s something about the tactile relationship between readers and their material that makes it hard to give up. I remember when people predicted that newspapers would go out of circulation when people could get their news online…

True, but the same was once said about records when first CDs came out. There was a time when people predicted the TV would replace the radio. And later, that interactive TV would replace regular TV. I’ve never believed that newspapers would go out of circulation, but I do believe their role will change—and has already changed. It’s no longer the single source of up-to-date news. People primarily go to the TV for that now. (Those that go to the web for up-to-date news are still in the minority, though it’s growing rapidly.)

He also made a comment about the Amazon Kindle falsely gaining a first-mover advantage, though the Kindle isn’t the first e-book reader on the market; there are quite a few already. While he’s probably just not as familiar with the e-book market, we both agree that first-mover advantage isn’t a panacea for success.

To that, he followed up with a simple mathematical point:

Considering you can get great books for under $10 nearly anywhere, what would you do? Buy a $400 machine to output text, or buy 40 books? I love tech as much as the next computer geek, but even I would go for the latter.

Good point. If you’re someone who will only buy forty $10 books, you’ll hardly see any cost-savings benefit in the Amazon Kindle. But if you’re someone like me, who’s been known to spend upwards of $800 on books a year, the Amazon Kindle may be worth it.

But then this goes into the question of target demographics, which Nicholas also pointed out:

Tell me who [the target consumers] are for Kindle? People who read books like books, not just the text. The divergence between book readers and technology couldn’t possibly be greater. People often read books to escape computers and technology.

I can’t disagree with that. As a bookworm myself, I also love the tactile feel of a book. However, I used to love the tactile feel of a CD booklet too. Every time I’d listen to a CD, I’d read the booklet for the lyrics or linear notes. Or maybe just stare at the album cover art. I loved doing that. When MP3s first hit the market, I didn’t see the appeal because they felt so ethereal and amorphous. There wasn’t anything I could hold in my hands.

Then I hit a tipping point and realized that the portability and physical space savings of MP3s offset the benefits of having CD booklets for me. The same went for digital movies and DVDs. Now, I love digitizing all of my media.

What may tip the balance of books to e-books are the younger generations of consumers. They’re already growing up with the Internet, mobile phones, and MMORPGs (with their virtual goods) as everyday items in their lives. It’s foreign for them to imagine a world without technology like that. They also don’t place as much value on CD booklets, DVD boxes, or books in the same way the older generations do—younger generations seem all-to-eager to accept digital media.

Just like newspapers, there will always be a role for books. When you’re chilling in a log cabin or on a beach somewhere, you’ll probably want a good solid book in your hands. But if you’re on a train commuting to work, it may be more desirable to hold a device that will allow you to read any book, newspaper, or blog you want.

Potential Initial Niche Targets

One last thought. If Amazon were to approach the e-book market with Geoffrey Moore’s advice in mind (as he writes in Crossing the Chasm), they could target graduate students as an initial niche. With graduate textbooks costing hundreds of dollars, they may find it more cost-effective and easier to lug around a Kindle rather than seven 5lb textbooks. The price point of the Kindle would have to drop from its current $359.00, however. But that is inevitable as they streamline their production costs.

Undergraduate students could be a viable initial niche as well, though more research would need to be done since many undergraduates just purchase used textbooks to save money. If a cheaper Kindle could tap into this market, the purchasers may actually be the students’ parents.

Another initial niche could be any profession that requires access to large volumes of books at any given time, such as lawyers. Imagine the mountains of books a lawyer has to go through. Now imagine being able to search through all of that easily through a single handheld device. Not bad, huh?

This is easier said than done, of course. There are lots of tricky book publisher contracts to negotiate. Without the necessary content, these niches are impossible to reach. But still, it’s not hard to imagine these users wanting a device like the Amazon Kindle, yea?

High Hopes for the Amazon Kindle

Remember your first iPod? Remember the first song you purchased from Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes Store? Remember the 100th song?

I got a chance to check out Amazon’s (AMZN) Kindle this past weekend. It was almost like seeing an iPod for the first time. I couldn’t stop drooling and fawning over all the buttons and controls.

Much has been written about the Kindle already. Some extol its features, like being able to carry lots of books cheaply, having good battery life, and having audiobook integration. Others slam it for it’s poor design and lack of social network (Um, really? You want a social network on an e-book reader? If anything, that’s a P3 feature and shouldn’t be part of a v1 product). It’s interesting to note that many of the Kindle’s original critics have changed their minds after using it for a while.

Rob Tillotson of The Gadgeteer has a deep & thorough review, Daniel Turner of Technology Review offers a good overview of its technical guts, and Mike Elgan of Macworld lists some great tips & tricks of the Kindle. These include how you can surf the web using its basic web browser (called, appropriately, “Basic Web”), download free e-books, get answers from a free human-powered search engine called Kindle NowNow, make the battery last even longer, read RSS feeds for free, etc.

My reaction? I just went out and purchased some AMZN stock. It’s currently floating around the same price it had when the Kindle debuted on Nov. 19, 2007. It closed at 79.18 that day; today, it’s been bouncing between 77.43 and 78.85, down from a high of 84.39 last Monday. But I don’t care about that. I’m long AMZN. I’m betting that the Kindle will be to Amazon what the iPod was to Apple—and we all know how good the iPod was to Apple!

Here’s why I’m long on Amazon:

UPDATED 5/24/2008: I added #9 to this list.

  1. I am exactly the kind of early adopter customer Amazon wants. Although I didn’t rush out to buy a Kindle (and am not going to anytime soon), as soon as the second or third version is released, I will. They’re working on their second version right now, a source in Amazon tells me (and it sounds pretty good!), so it shouldn’t be long before v3 is ready and relatively bug-free. And when I purchase a Kindle, I’m going buy lots of e-books. I’m a voracious reader and am always buying new books. Since Amazon’s strategy is to profit from e-book sales and not Kindle sales (the Kindle is a loss leader), attracting book-hungry customers like me is going to be so money.

  2. I travel often and always carry a book or three with me. That often adds extra weight that, well, just sucks. Since I usually try to travel light, carrying one Kindle versus three books sounds totally awesome. I can see other travelers wanting the same benefits. The business traveler niche could have great potential for Amazon, especially if business users are able to load their business documents onto the Kindle and peruse them during their flights.

  3. I’m a bit of a digital pack-rat. Or just a big a geek, I dunno. I once had over 600 CDs. Then, to live more efficiently and have less material belongings, I burned them all into MP3s. I did the same with my DVDs. All that extra shelf space allowed my book collection to grow like crazy. Now imagine if I could digitize all of my books. How cool would that be. All of the media I’d own would be digital, portable, and easily searchable (told you I’m a big geek). That would be cool.

  4. This is only a v1 product and already it’s gotten a huge positive reaction. Most v1 products suck. The first generation of iPods sucked. But with Apple’s branding & slick design and iTunes’ ease of use & practical prices, it took over the market and surged as each new version was released. Kindle 1.0 was cool, 2.0 and higher can only get better.

  5. A medical student I know took a look at the Kindle and said that if all of his medical textbooks were offered on the Kindle, he’d buy it in a heartbeat. First of all, medical textbooks are huge. HUGE. And medical students have to carry two to four of these heavy things at once. Second, medical textbooks are expensive, especially for starving students. With e-books being cheaper than regular books, a student could easily make up the cost of the Kindle over the course of his/her education. This could be a huge market for them, and the smart folks at Amazon know this.

  6. Amazon has to maintain physical warehouses to store all the books they sell. E-books don’t require expensive warehouses; they just require a database on a server farm somewhere, which is infinitely cheaper. This means Amazon could potentially sell more products (e-books) while not incurring any additional costs. I like them mathematics.

  7. If Amazon can execute its Kindle & e-book strategy well, it certainly could go the way Apple’s iPod & iTunes strategy went. According to a Nov. 19, 2007 article from Aaron Pressman of Business Week, “Apple shares (AAPL) stood at $9.51 (adjusted for a split) the day before the launch. I don’t need to tell you where they are today. Ok, I will: $166.” Not a bad return, I’d say.

  8. I’m not the only one who expects great things from Kindle. Citigroup Analyst Mark Mahaney “expects Amazon to generate between $400 million and $750 million in revenue from the Kindle by 2010, or 1% – 3% of Amazon’s total revenue,” writes Michael Arrington of TechCrunch. “If Amazon executes right with its Kindle product and marketing strategy, the iPod analogy for the Kindle won’t be too far stretched,” Mahaney is quoted as saying. Cool!

  9. Part of iPod’s success came from the ease of use of getting more MP3s. Just as the iTunes Store made it very easy to download MP3s, the Kindle Store makes it very easy to download e-books for the Kindle. And even better, the Kindle Store is easier than iTunes because you can directly access it via the Kindle (no need for a computer at all).

I can’t wait for the day I can look back and remember my first Kindle, my first e-book, and my 100th e-book. And also, a great big ROI on AMZN!