Flickr sucks (kinda)

6 04 2007

Don’t get me wrong – Flickr is a great service. They have done some really cool and innovative things. Their pro account is the best deal out there if you want to put up your photos on-line, either for sharing or as a backup/storage option. Recently however, there have been some kinks in my user experience.

It all started out as partly my fault. One day, I cancelled my pro account only to learn later that Flickr does not refund you the balance of your fees. Nowhere is this stated during the cancellation flow. Only the user boards talk about this and I see that others have also been bitten by this in the past. This apart, why can’t they refund the balance fees? Its fairly standard practice on the part of all service providers. The good thing was that after contacting their service folks (via email of course, which sane company these days wastes money on providing a phone number to its paying customers?), they offered to restore the pro-ness of my account. My photos were gone of course, but I knew that up front and so can live with it. This was followed by a series of me filing more of their service tickets, since they simply don’t reply to your emails on the original tickets. File a ticket, expect a single response and that’s it. I had to include the previous emails in my tickets to get a response from them.

On the positive side, they are offering to give me back the pro account. On the (significantly) negative side, this customer service experience has left a sour taste in my mouth, and I’m not sure if I want it anyways.

And while I’m on the topic and ranting, in Flickr why is it so difficult to delete photos quickly or to sort uploaded photos in the “Date Taken” order? In some ways, its a very cool service but in other ways it frustrates the heck out of me. I don’t expect anything out a free service, but if I pay then dammit, I have a right to expect good customer service.

Lessons?

  • Give users the information they need
  • Users will judge you through your customer service. Give it as much importance as a revenue generating product.
  • User goodwill is an intangible revenue

UPDATE: After more than a month, Flickr did reinstate my pro account. My criticisms of their service and features still stands though.





What is my innovation strategy?

4 04 2007

I attended an excellent strategy session today by John Metcalfe on Innovation (how do I innovate and market in an increasingly commoditizing marketplace) and Management (how do I manage innovation?). This was particularly interesting since I’ve been recently involved in some efforts and initiatives to innovate on our product offerings.

Here are my notes from his talk:

  • Darwin (survival of the fittest) is at work in the industry. Hence, differentiate or get marginalized.
  • Over time, factors that differentiate your product become commoditized, either due to your success or the collective success of your industry.
  • Innovation is key to differentiation and a competitive advantage.
  • “Best in class” is over-hyped

Return on Innovation

  • Innovate to achieve competitive separation and distinction
  • Identify your
    • core – products, processes that enable your factors of differentiation. Re-engineer everything to enhance your core
    • context – everything else
  • Know why you’re innovating – classify each initiative to aim to meet one of the following innovation goals: Differentiation, Neutralization, Productivity, Failed attempts, Waste

Innovation Strategy

  • The strategy to adopt depends on the product maturity life-cycle. New products need product innovation. Mature products may need process innovation (operational excellence and/or customer intimacy). Products close to end-of-life need renewal innovation.
  • Examples of innovation types include – eBay (disruptive), Apple (design), Nike (marketing), SAP (integration), IBM (renewal).
  • This was really eye opening to see that innovation is not limited to product/engineering; it can and should happen in all areas of a company.
  • Over-invest and over-perform on core factors

Funding Innovation

  • Core becomes context over time. Resources and priorities within the organization tend to get focused on context
  • Need to identify and extract resources from context to re-purpose them for core

Perpetuating Innovation

  •  As a manager learn to identify the innovators, deployers and optimizers in your people. Put them in the appropriate tasks.
  • Focus on role expertise (long term benefits) vs. task expertise (short term benefits).
  • Use the innovation matrix to determine priorities and resource allocation

    innovationmatrix.gif

All in all, a lot of food for thought.





Will someone please think of the user?

12 12 2006

Recently I was in the market for a DVD burner since my laptop has just a regular DVD ROM. For flexibility, I was looking at buying an external USB 2.0 burner. This would nicely complement the external 250G hard drive that I had also just purchased for backup purposes. After hunting around in the usual places – Amazon, Fatwallet, eBay, TigerDirect etc. – I found a good deal with free shipping on NewEgg. That’s where all the troubles started…

Firstly, the site won’t work with Firefox. After adding the item to the cart I could not create an account nor enter my details for checkout. The worst thing is that there is no error message as well. In this day and age, how hard is it to make a website that works with at least the #2 browser? So I switched to the IETab extension, which allows you to open any page in IE within Firefox. This refused to work as well.

So I had to open up IE and go through the whole rigmarole from scratch. The (newegg) gods must have been in a good mood at that time since I managed to proceed, create an account and actually get to the Payment options page.

  • This page presents a plethora of options (Credit card, PayPal, Money Order, NewEgg credit etc.) all assembled together in the most confusing way possible.
  • You can use PayPal, but the email addresses in your NewEgg and PayPal accounts must match; they don’t inform you of this requirement when you register for an account. There’s no way of specifying an existing PayPal account.
  • They accept credit cards (hallelujah), but need the 1-800 customer service for “card verification”.
  • There are tons of other minor annoyances with the entire checkout flow and presentation.

I understand most people who visit and purchase from NewEgg and its ilk are looking for a deal and don’t mind jumping through a few extra hoops to do so. My first experience has left a sour taste though, and I won’t be buying from them again, unless there’s a really good deal of course 🙂

This really seems like Product and UED 101 (I wonder, is there such a course that’s taught anywhere? If not it should be, but I digress…), especially for checkout, which is very much a solved problem in the e-commerce world.

In an ideal world, potential customers should be treated equal to existing customers. Most (there are always notable exceptions) companies offer preferential treatment to potential customers via snazzy brochures, aggressive marketing, sales talks, while doing the minimum to keep the existing customer base satisfied and loyal. NewEgg seems to subscribe to the opposite philosophy – treat potential customers as badly as possible; if they still get through, then they are going to be loyal anyways and we don’t have to work any harder.

Remember:

First impressions leave lasting impressions

Make the user experience as seamless and as simple as possible

Every user interaction with your product is an opportunity to acquire a customer, or increase loyalty





Marketing consistency

13 11 2006

When you’re out promoting your product, think about the message you want to convey to your customers.  Ensure that every part of your campaign is consistent around that central message. Sounds obvious, but it doesn’t happen every time. Case in point:

While watching the Giants-Bears Sunday Night Football game, the latest Nissan Maxima commercials were being broadcast. If you haven’t seen them yet, there are two flavors:

  • The first touts a smooth ride highlighting “zero gear-shift shock”. That’s just a fancy term for minimal jerks when the automatic transmission moves through the gears.
  • The second touts the car as an exhilarating ride, and to prove their point they show the driver changing the gears on an automatic transmission. Lets leave aside the point that in automatic transmissions you hardly have to change gears while in motion. Most car commercials do that.

If you look at both these ads together, what is the message that Nissan wants us to take away after viewing them? Is the Maxima a smooth, semi-luxury car or a sports car? You tell me…





Top 10 lists for Web 2.0

11 11 2006

Geek business myths
Things That Will Make Or Break Your Website





20 rules for delivering software products

5 11 2006

During my time as a software developer, I’ve observed that many of the problems affecting product development in the software world can be resolved if you follow the following rules. Product and project managers: please take note.

  • Make sure you know what you are building. Many project delays are because the “customer”- the manager, corporate head, (you?) doesn’t actually know what they want.

[Update] Recognize that what you need to build will change all the time. Make sure your process supports this and that you reconcile the change with the point above.

  • Make sure you only work on things that you need to ship with version 1.0.
  • Make sure you always keep the prototype running.
  • Show demos every few days to make sure no one is confused about what is going on.
  • Don’t make any project your time to show how clever, cute, or interesting you can be.
  • Small is good. Keep Teams/Egos/Methods/Files/Modules/Projects/build times small.
  • If someone is not clicking with the rest of the team:
    1. talk to them privately,
    2. reassign them,
    3. if this person is you, read #9, and consider if you want to build this project, or do something else. Follow your heart.
  • Do the riskiest part of the project first.
  • Make sure you’re in total control of your toolset and improve it systematically
  • Do not take the clients’ deadlines literally – first accept the project, then renegotiate the deadline.

[Update] I do not mean to imply that the clients’ constraints are not important. I’ve seen too many examples of team heroics to meet deadlines, when it would have been OK from the client’s perspective to slip by a reasonable amount of time. Keep the lines of communication open and balance the needs of both parties.

  • Design your software around interfaces so you can make massive changes cheaply.
  • Document the interfaces perfectly, but don’t document code (see next point).
  • Be fanatical about the readability of code.
  • Remember that the enemy of the better is the best.
  • Push all QC, packaging, and issue management through a single team.
  • Build regression testing into the build process.
  • When debugging a problem, never ask, “how come it works on my box?”
  • If some code is too complex to understand on a Monday morning before coffee, redesign it.
  • Never add new code while there are still major bugs in the existing code.
  • Don’t worry about it. If you are working hard, and follow 1-19, you are doing your part.




    eBay maps

    5 11 2006

    eBay has just launched a small test – the eBay Map It Prototype. This expands their search – when you use MapIt to search for listings within a specific radius, you’ll see a map indicating exactly where these items are located, and can drill down to get the items closest to you. They get the maps and geographical data from MapQuest. This is also in direct competition with existing services like AuctionMapper, and seems more user-friendly at first glance.