Sunday, September 30, 2012

Water was flowing on Mars

Thanks to Curiosity, we now know that water was flowing on Mars by observing little rocks on the ground.  It's a very exciting discovery.  It means Mars may once had an environment habitable to life forms.  There may still be waters near the Martian surface, and it could provide one important building block of sending human to Mars.

Even before the Curiosity's discovery, many have been talking about manned mission to Mars.  In fact there is a Wikipedia page outlining big challenges to be solved to get human on Mars.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Future of textbook

California Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Bills SB1052 and SB1053 into laws this week.  Thanks to the laws, California will have $10M to fund the Open-Source Textbook Library starting with 50 of the most popular lower-division college courses.  Once books are chosen and digitized, they will be available online for free and printed format with nominal fee (for $20 or less).

This is a good start.  It means more and more students with tablet computers will be able to access the 50 most popular textbooks for free.  It will help ease the financial burdens of rising college tuition placed to students and their parents, and also allow instructors mix and match content from several sources to create a custom-tailored material.  It has been estimated by 20 Million Minds Foundation that about $162M dollars can be saved by California undergraduate students by creating publicly available digital textbooks.


But even with this effort, California is just keeping up with countries like South Korea.  South Korea has been working on a plan to digitize the entire school curriculum by 2015.  That is starting from elementary school, South Korea will offer all course works through computers and allow students to interact with each other via digital communication.  That's just 3 years away.

Once American education system was the international gold standard.  It is hardly the case these days.  There are way too many high school students without basic reading, writing and mathematical skills.  Ultimately it's due to lack of investments by public sector and commitment from parents to ensure that our children are learning.

Digitizing textbook is just an example.  We must invest more on our future generation by providing the best possible tools to learn and solve tomorrow's problem.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Tent is open subscription protocol

Let's say you are a Facebook user.  You have a bunch of friends that you hang out with on Facebook.  When you wanted to reach someone, you make a post.  All your friends could see and comment on the post.  Everything was cool.

Then you discovered Twitter.  It was all about posting short updates.  It let you follow anyone and be followed by anyone.  You came to appreciate that Twitter is all about putting on public persona on display.  Twitter was useful on its own.

But when the time came to send a message to everyone that you connected on Facebook and Twitter, you realized that it's not like webmail.  You couldn't send a message from Facebook and expect Twitter followers to receive and respond.  Well, there are ways now, but no easy way available right on the Facebook website.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Marketers are still unsure of Facebook

One quote caught my eyes the most when I scanned through my Twitter Timeline.

Selling things on Facebook is like selling things in a bar.

It was a statement by Gilt Chairman Susan Lyne.  Gilt was one of the early adopters to set up Facebook store, but the store was a flop.  It turned out that there were other marketers sharing similar sentiments about Facebook as advertisement platform.  Check out more damning quotes from this BusinessInsider article.

Facebook users are logging on to connect with friends, family and people around them.  But when it comes to discovering a new product or finding a good deal on products, Facebook users are not responding to them the same way as Google ads.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

BlackBerry 10 demo

BlackBerry is struggling to reclaim its past glory.  Just look around you.  How many BlackBerry devices do you see?  Probably not too many.  When people look for their next smartphone, they usually look at iPhone or Android.  There are a few Windows phones popping up, but not too many BlackBerry phones.

But when you look at big regulated enterprises, there are still many BlackBerries out there.  Although RIM may be on its last leg, it has not lost the battle yet.  That's because RIM understands enterprise needs and caters to their requirement.  In fact, that's how BlackBerry gained its popularity: By providing a mobile email device to corporate users.

BlackBerry 10 is their latest attempt to win back the fan base.  During BlackBerry 10 Jam, CEO Thorsten Heins and Vivek Bhardwaj highlighted features that are squarely targeted towards enterprise users.  Work and personal dual mode, UX build around one-handed operation, easy multi-lingual keyboard switch support, and tight integration with social media updates are all catered to business users and their IT department.  While IT department demands tight control of device and information security, users have been demanding capability for personal use.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Font: Where form meets function

I am no designer by training but I heard of phrase "form follows function."  Everything around us is designed by someone with a goal of making it easier to use, making it more appealing to users.  Nowhere this form and function interplay is more evident than font design.

Font gives a site an identity.  Take a look at the New York Times newspaper front page:


There are multiple fonts clearly marking headline title, article titles, sections, dates, labels and article text.  Fonts are used as voices to differentiate what is written.  Not only that, they give the newspaper unique identity and they all add up to make the newspaper the New York Times.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Only way to stay in business is to adapt constantly

There is an on-going battle between Craigslist and PadMapper.  PadMapper had been scrapping user posting from Craigslist, and earlier Craigslist responded by issuing cease-and-decease notice to them.  PadMapper responded by partnering with 3taps to provide Craigslist posts to its users.  Subsequently Craigslist sued 3taps citing copyright laws.  3taps responded with its counter-suit against Craigslist today.

3taps is taking the legal battle against Craigslist to another level.
You can read the press release from

Watching all the legal tit for tat, we can easily lose sight of what is really important.  That is customers.  At the end of the day, it does not matter who wins the legal argument because that is not going to help you retain the customers.  Customers are interested in solving their problem.  Customer will always choose what works.  Whether it is Craigslist, 3tap, PadMapper or all three working in conjunction, it does not matter to customers.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Facebook is moving away from "passive sharing"

I'm sure you've seen it around on Facebook.  So-called passive sharing (also known as frictionless sharing) is when a Facebook application shares your activity, specially reading an article or watching a video, with all your friends automatically.  It was announced at F8 2011, and has been touted as a new way to share your activities.

At 2012 Online News Association, Liz Heron tweeted that Andy Mitchell from Facebook said passive sharing is something that Facebook is moving away from.  A good riddance.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Learning is not just about English and Math score

This American Life had an episode 474: Back to School.  It talked about how non-cognitive skills are crucial to achieving life-long success.  English, Math and Science scores don't measure a child's capability to learn and succeed.  It also has just as much to do with resilience, soft skills, and self-control.  A student with repeated traumatic childhood experience is more likely to have trouble building these non-cognitive skills, and also shows stunted brain development.

One interesting point made in the Act Two of the show was that there are ways to counteract the harmful effects of childhood abuses.  Parents and adults around the student can work with him to instill a belief that cognitive capability can be improved and there is indeed a hope.  Parents can also provide extra support by connecting with him in a meaningful relationship.  Listening to him and encouraging him can make all the differences in his capability to learn and develop invaluable non-cognitive skills.

Friday, September 21, 2012

How does friends reporting friends make a better Facebook?

Facebook started to prompt users to report fake accounts used by their friends.  By now most people know that Facebook wants to become a social network where real name is used.  The reason is simple one.  Facebook generates its revenue by serving ads to users, and wants real users who connect with their real friends so that more information can be collected regarding each user.

Real identity makes sense for Facebook.  But what is in it for user?  How does Facebook become a better social network by turning in a friend who uses Facebook with pseudonyms?

@chapeaudefee reported the screenshot.
I wonder how many users actually respond with 'yes'.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

iOS 6 Maps: Good enough is not good enough sometimes

In case you haven't noticed, Apple and Google have become archrival.  Apple has iOS, Google has Android.  Apple has iPhone, Google has Samsung Galaxy series, Motorola, LG and HTC making phones and tablets running Android.  Apple has created ecosystem of applications on closed iOS platform, Google has created open mobile OS platform for multiple hardware vendors to create mobile phones.

Yet Apple has been running a few key Google applications right out of iOS.  One of them was Google Maps.  Now Apple wants to have an answer for Google Maps.  Meet the new guide, iOS 6 Maps.

3D image of Winninger Brücke in Germany.
I've heard of wonders of German engineering, but
road looks too stretched to be believable.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Salesforce's big bet: Marketing will be social

Salesforce has acquired Radian 6 last year.  Earlier this year, Salesforce added Buddy Media.  Salesforce has been making investments on social media for a while.  They are now combining these with Chatter and making a big bet on marketing.  Led by social media explosion, Salesforce is betting that CMOs will look for  SaaS marketing tool.

It's not just Salesforce jumping in to provide marketing solution.  Oracle, Adobe, and Google are all putting their own pieces together to enhance their marketing tools to become social.  All of these companies have made investments on social media recently, and they are seeing the same trend.  More and more marketing teams are looking to invest on social media marketing, and driving product selection decisions.

Social Media Spend as a Percent of Marketing Budget

Combining the emergence of social marketing tool with explosion of data from ubiquitous mobile devices, it's easy to see how big data analytics will be the next important piece to cloud marketing tool offering.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Business Model Canvas

Any one who struggled with building a business would know the importance of understanding business model.  In order to put together a successful business, first all assumptions have to be spelled out.  These assumptions have to be refined and tested by talking to target customers constantly.  When all assumptions are validated, then creating a successful business becomes an execution task.

One useful tool to use when refining business model is Business Model Canvas.  I first saw this model from Steve Blank's Udacity class, How to Build a Startup.  Idea is to lay out 9 building blocks of business model into grids and constantly refine the assumptions as they are validated by talking to customers.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Product Management: Extensibility

These days I'm thinking a lot about how to make a product extensible.  One example of extensibility is building a set of API.  But it takes lot of work to create a set of API that encapsulates the abstraction at the right level.  Careless API can create frequent API changes which will result in loss of confidence by third party developers.

Yet making the product extensible is something that cannot wait.  Often times there is executive pressure to prove that there are third party developers who are ready to build a new value on top of the product.  It has more to do with validating business models than making sure technology works.

One quick way to think of API is a way to access data.  Although not all APIs fall in this category, but a subset of APIs such as accessing stored data or reporting can be thought of as exposing the data in a meaningful way so that API developers (in this case data scientists) can create interesting reports.

By allowing customers to access their own data, it creates opportunities for customers to study the data generated by the product.  At the same time, it also allows product manager like me to find out about how customers are using their data and decide whether similar API or reports will be useful for other customers as well.  Allowing customers to see their data is a mutually beneficial thing to do for customers as well as for me.

Any product manager looking to test whether there is a value in providing API should first figure out whether users will be interested in seeing the data.  Once there is enough interest and seeing how customers are using the data will give you many ideas of how to leverage the data to create new product features.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Three questions to consider when building cross network utility

After reading Fred Wilson's post Cross Network Utility and Networks, I spent a few minutes thinking about what makes a social network not a cross network utility.  This post resonated with me because I have been working on cross network utility.  When we started, it seemed clear to me that we were not in business of building a new social network.  But as I started drilling in deeper into how to make our service more compelling, I found it difficult to just focus on building cross network utility and say no to creating a new social network.

I think the reason is a simple one.  If a cross network utility is serving a niche user segment, users want to share ideas and data with each other in a way that benefits everyone.  In other words, users see the win-win situation from collaborating with others.

One way to solve this problem is not
to create social profile on all social networks
(Image from
When users are logging in to a site and the site is closely integrated with social networks (such as cross network utility), they expect to share information, send messages and leave comments for their group members to see within the site, not in other social networks that it integrates with.

This makes perfect sense when you break down the reasons of why anyone might use a new site.  When user signs up for a new site, there are three main reasons why users decide to become a fan of the site.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Schumpeterian gales

There are multiple creative destruction happening now.  Also known as Schumpeter's gales, it is common to see new entrant in the market to disrupt the existing leading players and change the game entirely.  When the disruption gains the momentum and crosses the chasm, this disruptive process moves much faster than anyone anticipates.

I saw two examples of this creative destruction discussed in recent articles.

Product Management: Shelfware

There are lot of shades of gray between the product that sells and the product that is actually used and recommended.  I see this often with enterprise software.  Although a company buys a software product, it does not necessarily mean that the product is being used.  It happens often in enterprise software because buyers are often not the users.  If you are buying for someone else to use the product, it is more prone to buy something that may not be useful to the end users.

But this also exists in consumer space.  And it happens all the time.

I am not talking about something that you grew out of.  I'm talking about something that you thought you'd use, but never found it as useful for one reason or another and decided that it's just easier not to use it than trying to make it work.

There are many such examples.  Let me share one.  It's voice command control on my car.  I don't know of anyone who uses voice command to enter address, although technology has been available for several years.  Take a look at the steps involved in entering address using voice command.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

You are all powering YouTube: Filter your own content

Thanks to social media, we all are publishers.  Whether we have been trained to be media savvy or not, keyboards and free social media accounts have been popping up on our computer and mobile device screens.

Here's the problem that I see this with everyone getting access to global media:

We are just getting used to this new media.  

We have not been talking or teaching kids about how to use social media.  People don't distinguish whether something is a fact or opinion.  There is nothing that tells the subscribers whether something is a fact or opinion.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Zuckerberg shares his lesson from HTML5: Speed matters

Mark Zuckerberg appeared on the stage at the TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2012 the other day.  He talked briefly about Facebook's stock performance, but spent most of time talking about Facebook's mobile strategy.

One of the interesting things that Zuckerberg mentioned was how he failed by focusing on HTML 5 back in 2010.  He recounted that the performance was not there to create the best mobile user experience, and talked about how he had to redo the mobile development work on iOS to provide the best user experience possible.  His conversation with Michael Arrington on this topic starts 11 minutes into the interview:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

KQED Forum: The Cheapest Generation

Derek Thompson and Jordan Weissman from the Atlantic magazine appeared on KQED Forum this morning.  Topic was how the new Millennial generation is fundamentally changing our culture of consumption.  Products and services like Zipcars and smartphones propelled by more social sharing than ownership are making it easier to rent than own, especially when it comes to cars.

The most interesting comment was this idea of how cars are being replaced by smartphones.  Car was not just a means of transportation.  It had been a symbol of adulthood, social status and freedom.  Now smartphone is in some sense replacing car as social platform to share experiences for the Millennial generation.

It used to be unthinkable to think of going out on a date without a car.
Now going out anywhere without a smartphone is unthinkable.
Never mind the car, we'll hop on a Muni bus but we've got our iPhones.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Apple is quick to learn

Earlier I wrote about why Apple was the biggest loser from the patent war.  It seems that people are agreeing.  CNET ran a couple of articles talking about Apple image in decline while Samsung's remaining largely intact from the lawsuit.  Forbe cited social media listening data from Radian 6 how there were much more negative sentiments around Apple since the verdict has been announced.

Apple lost the PR war from its patent lawsuit against Samsung;
I bet that Apple is well aware of this and changing its course.

Data points to Apple's PR loss.  But Apple is learning quickly.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Livebolt: The 2012 Disrupt SF Hackathon winner

There was the 2012 Disrupt SF Hackathon over the weekend.  It had 147 teams participating.  Hackathon is a great platform to launch your startup when all you have is engineering skills and product ideas.  It provides a great potential to get lot of exposures to winners which is a good thing to have.  Getting people to pay attention to your project is not an easy thing to do.

This year's winner was Livebolt.  Livebolt lets user open a door remotely using iPhone app and $60 hardware when a visitor shows up at the door.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Product Management: Solve a big must-have problem first

I don't keep my desk neat.  From time to time I find something that I meant to put away for a short while on the corner of my desk.  I wanted to share one of those things that I found today on my desk.  It's a 6-inch USB extension cord.

"It is not necessary to use this UBS extension cord."
Someone must have asked for this feature, and
MagicJack was smart enough not to build extension cord in its product.

It came with one sticker around the cord, which says "it is not necessary to use this USB extension cord."  I believe the code came with MagicJack.  They must have received customer requests asking for extension cord.  After including the cord, I guess they wanted to make it clear that extension cord is not required piece of hardware for MagicJack to work.

Seeing this label and 6-inch USB extension cord gave me a pause.  I asked myself whether I am building anything that is not necessary to use.  If it is not necessary to functionality, I should have looked for a generic solution.  Just like MagicJack did not set out to build extensible USB cord, a great product should contain the absolute bare essential to solve the problem at hand.

That is the focus.  That is the only way to solve a big and must-have problem.  Let all the other small problems to be solved by someone else who can do it cheaper and off-the-shelf.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Explosion of mobile devices

I've been talking about how internet-connected mobile devices will become ubiquitous around us.  By 2016, number of connected devices will exceed the world population.  As mobile devices becomes mainstream, there is explosion of consumer options for mobile devices.

This week has been a good example.  Amazon announced 3 new models of Kindle Fire along with Kindle reader with back-lit screen; Motorola announced Droid Razr HD, Droid Razr Maxx HD, and the Droid Razr M running Android; and Nokia also hurried up and announced Lumia 920 and 820 running Windows 8.  Oh yeah, and there will be iPhone 5 announcement happening next week along with mini iPad.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

HootSuite += Seesmic

HootSuite just announced that they are acquiring Seesmic.  This is not an acquisition for talents or technology, but primarily to absorb Seesmic's paying customer base and to eliminate a competitor.

HootSuite gets Seesmic users;
or one may say HootSuite owl gobbles up Seesmic raccoon.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Product Manager: Product must be fun to use

Fun is not the first thing that a product manager thinks about when designing a product.  Especially those of us in enterprise software market.  People think that making something fun would only apply to companies like Zynga, Electronic Arts, etc.  But I think we all want a fun product as consumers, and we are all underestimating the effect of having fun when we use the product.

A classic example of a fun product is computer games.  It is purposefully created to deliver 'fun' to users.  So if we analyse what games deliver to their players, we must be getting closer to definition of 'fun'.

There are many wonderful talks available on YouTube about introducing game mechanics to your product, so called gamification.  I recommend talks by Amy Jo Kim, Gabe Zichermann, and Jane McGonigal.

Let me put them in my own words.  A fun product does following things:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Product Management: Admit that you don't know all facts and start there

When I was working as an engineer, I did what I was told to build.  Specs were handed to me by my engineering manager spelling out exactly what he needed and how it should behave.  When I had a question on expected behavior I could always ask someone else.  More often than not I got answers to my questions.

Life was simple.  As I gained more confidence with art of coding, I started to form my opinions about how to write faster and more efficient implementation.  No matter how complex the problem was, I knew that I could apply Keep-It-Simple-Stupid principle and will come out on the other end with the least amount of code.
If you find yourself having this conversation, you need to adopt Lean Startup.
Pick up Eric Ries' The Lean Startup.
Short answer is release now!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Korea vs Finland: Stark differences in education system

I grew up in South Korea.  I spent my first 17 years in Seoul, completing up to my high school junior year in intense South Korean education system.  Students are expected to put in 16 hour day 5 days a week to study.  School curriculum work ends in late afternoon, but immediately following students head to after-school academies called 'hak-won' to continue studying.  All these studying is driven by parents' zeal to see their children advance to prestigious universities in and out of country.

It's a system motivated by intense competition and fear of falling behind.  Competition to get ahead gotten so bad that South Korea government had to institute a policy to outlaw hak-wons to close its door after 10 PM.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Samsung needs crisis culture with room for failure

It's nice to dream about a workplace that is stress-free and devoid of emotional boss.  But it's not going to happen.  Most workplaces will have plenty of stress and emotionally charged boss who will give you an assignment while you are already working on a critical assignment.  Welcome to private sector.

One of primary examples is creating sense of crisis.  Often company creates sense of crisis to get the most out of each employee.  "Because our competitors are beating us", "because market is not going to wait for us", etc. are reasons cited by management team to fear and uncertainty among employees.  When employees are called to put out a fire, they rally behind it to meet the immediate objective.  So employers tend to use this tactic to get the extra mileage from everyone.  It unites the team behind a singular goal, and that's been field-tested to increase productivity.

But what happens when employees are consistently called to handle crisis?  What if everyone is asked to embrace crisis culture?

Samsung is well known for its crisis-driven management by following the leader.
It's time to think about how to fail-fast with new ideas.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Promise of self-driving car

California has passed a legislature legalizing self-driving car to be on the road.  This is an exciting development.  Google has been road testing its self-driving car, and it may be lot sooner than we think that we see self-driving cars on the road.

Self-driving car will change many things around us;
I cannot wait to see it on the road.
I don't think anyone fully realizes what this means.  I don't think anyone does.