Sunday, April 18, 2010

Design Renaissance conference

I spent much of today at a conference in Santa Cruz, CA, on an incredibly beautiful day. I was inside much more than a sane person would have been. Santa Cruz is a special place: people care more about more things, per square centimeter, than almost anywhere else except maybe Berkeley.

This was a good conference, though it had less to do with Design or Sustainability than I would have expected. There was some of that, of course. But it was Politics in equal measure.

The best part of the entire day was Eric Corey Freed, Organic Architect. I'm sure he actually is an architect, but that was decidedly beside the point. The man gives an amazing presentation, right up there with Steve Jobs, except the subject matter is far more compelling than merely the next shiny computing device. If nothing else, Freed is a walking example of why PowerPoint should just be deleted. I'm not sure what presentation software he was using, but it was alive!

Here are some of the things I learned today:
  • There were more wind turbines in 1920 than today.
  • You are 8 times more likely to be killed by a cop than by a terrorist.
  • The average price of a home in Detroit right now is about $5,700.
  • There are 103,000 empty lots in Detroit (where once stood buildings)
  • The 1908 Model T got better gas mileage than the average 2008 figures.
  • The Environment: "too big to fail!"
  • Exxon alone spent more money lobbying Congress last year ($14.9M) than all CleanTech concerns put together.
  • Four times as many people (580M) voted in the American Idol contest than voted in the 2008 presidential election (129M).
  • The U.S. is indeed #1 in some important areas: obesity, crime, military spending, oil consumption, energy use...
I want to try to book Eric Corey Freed at a local peninsula event, if possible. He's quite thought-provoking.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Customer Service in the "facebook era"

I have some feedback for facebook that I think would be valuable to their product managers and software people. I have no way to get it to them. Their "customer service" is almost impenetrable. It is clearly designed for idiot prevention, and I can sort of understand that, with 100's of millions of customers who use the site for free.

However, I think that this doesn't serve them well. Because there are people like me out there, who know how software like this works, who might want to report a bug, or a design flaw, and help them out a little bit. There is absolutely no way to get through their Customer Feedback Prevention mechanism. Other companies are like this, too.

What I think would fix it is a way to say, in effect, "I promise that you will be okay with what I have to say." For example, I could check a box that said, "I authorize you to delete my facebook account and add me to a Russian spam list if you think I'm abusing this privilege". In return, my message should go to a *real* person, in a reasonably high-placed position, who might actually want to hear what I have to say. I know those people exist, because I've worked at places like facebook and the product managers and engineers and marketing people want to know as much as possible about their products and how they are received. It's just that there's no way for someone like me to reach them.

Why iPad will kill Kindle

I have a new iPad. I'm not usually an early adopter, partly because I've worked in the technology industry a long time and I wait a revision or two with most things. But I bought an iPad, partly because they're [relatively] cheap.

But this blog post is about reading. I have not done much reading in the past 20 years. I'm not sure why. I read sometimes on airplanes and on vacations, when I don't have my usual infrastructure around me. I buy books, and I love books, but I don't really read that much. I think it's because I'm so interested in so many things that I do things, instead of reading. I have a huge stack of books I'm going to read really soon. Except, of course, I don't.

So I bought an iPad but didn't think I would read books on it. But I've done a lot of work in electronic publishing and I was curious to see how the experience was. I bought a copy of The Tipping Point, partly so Malcolm Gladwell would get a little more money—he's awesome. It's worth pointing out that I have a paperback copy of The Tipping Point sitting on my desk, as I intend to re-read it, since I only got about halfway through the last time I tried, many years ago.

So here's why the Kindle will lose, and the iPad will win....

I have the iPad with me because of all the things it does. I can read my email, do my online banking, or whatever I think needs doing. But I found myself clicking over to read a few pages of The Tipping Point now and then, when facebook was boring and I had no new email. And I've read about 100 pages of The Tipping Point now, to my surprise.

The crux of it is this: if you have to bring something extra with you in case you want to read, you just won't. Maybe you will for a while, but have you ever brought a book on an airplane, in your carry-on, and gotten back home having not even cracked it open, and wondered why you lugged all that weight around the whole trip? You tend not to do it the next time—you leave the book at home.

And that's precisely the point: the book is always with you, because it's not an extra thing to bring, it's just built right into something you'll probably have with you anyway—and it's just a click or two away, if you already have that device in your hand. Or 100 books, for that matter.

This is a game changer for reading, in my opinion. It is working on me, and I'm a tough audience.