Archive for March, 2007
March 27th, 2007 - Matt Mullenweg: Building a Better Blogosphere
Aside from the title, the first draft of my profile of Matt Mullenweg went live with very few revisions. The print layout in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age looked much nicer and used some photography from Matt’s copious photo album (with permission of course).
My thanks to Matt, Maya Desai at Automattic and John Potter for their help.
March 26th, 2007 - The Long and Short of Open Source
I recently wrote a case study of Jetstar (a Quantas affiliate) and their implementation of the open source content management system Joomla!. Here’s a link to the article as it appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.
It’s a decent little read I think, but it’s not the bigger article I had in mind. In the course of the research I got quite interested in the dynamics of open source teams, and what corporations can learn from the way these distributed, volunteer teams work. There are some great lessons about documentation, virtual team collaboration, global communication styles, and motivation. That, in my mind, is the article that should be (and perhaps will be) written. I learned a great deal from some good discussions with Joomla team members past (Andrew Eddie) and present (Brad Baker). I also connected with The Cathedral and The Bazaar author Eric S. Raymond for a short but engaging conversation. My thanks to these gents for sharing ideas that have yet to find a place in print.
March 14th, 2007 - Customer Experience Gone to the … Foxes?
Shortly after reading Glen Drummond’s post on customer experience disconnects, I had the pleasure of setting up an old, second hand PC at home for the kids to use. Rather than buy an OS upgrade I took it with what it had – Microsoft’s ill-fated Millenium Edition. It was interesting to set up older versions of Microsoft products, complete with pre-anti-trust options like an instant messaging client that wants to make MSN my home page and IE my default browser. Give Microsoft credit – they foresaw the battle for the browser as one of the most important areas of software competition.
Isn’t it interesting how a group of anti-corporate volunteers – today’s mythical equivalent to the noble brigands of Sherwood forest — ended up subverting Microsoft’s browser dominance perhaps more effectively than any court action could? Today Firefox controls 13 percent of the browser market, and the trends all point in their favor. I talked with John Potter, Vice President at CNET Networks not long ago and he told me his kids use the computer regularly and have no idea what Internet Explorer even is.
Which brings me to the customer experience snafu. Having installed Firefox 2.0 successfully, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to have the latest IE version available (for compatibility testing of websites mainly). So I navigated over to the download page for IE. Oops, Windows ME is not supported by this product. For the courtesy of their customers, they could at least have provided a link over to Mozilla.org.
March 12th, 2007 - Personas Give the Customer a Seat at the Table
When it comes to product design and product development, arguments are inevitable. I have yet to see a better tool for effectively and efficiently resolving these disputes than personas.
It’s still a slightly odd scenario. As the designer, product manager and engineers hit the half-hour mark in their heated debate about a clever-but-infrequently-used component of the software product, someone wisely says, “well, what do you think David would want?” On that, we all turn our heads to look at a laminated poster of the wall containing a fictional sketch of a customer who doesn’t exist.
Suddenly the answer is clear – no point arguing really. David is so time-starved and results oriented, he wouldn’t want any extraneous features to interrupt his regular flow. Turns out the answer was written on the wall for us the whole time.
Personas take the ego out of the design process and allow the team to renew their focus on actual customer needs. It’s no longer a battle of wills, an “I want” vs. “you want” locking of horns, because the customer’s needs are clearly displayed and take precedence.
It takes occasional reminders to get the full value of personas. I’ve seen them used at various stages of the project. And whenever things get fuzzy I’ve found that dusting off the personas generally leads to good burst of productivity as objectives again emerge clearly.
For these reasons, and the clarity around customer motivations that personas provide, they are increasingly included in best practice recommendations from industry experts. In 2006 Forrester published a review of the public websites of Australia’s four largest banks (ANZ Bank, CBA, NAB, and Westpac). The findings include:
- All four sites contained major design flaws that force customers to use the more expensive call center and branch channels or switch to competitors out of frustration.
- Each of the major banks could save more than $7 million a year by making their sites easier to use.
- And, “this will only happen if they build a design-centric culture, using design personas, and learn from their international counterparts.”
We’ve been building personas for years at Quarry, subtly refining our methods with each new project. We’ve learned many valuable lessons about the right form of customer segmentation, geographic representation, ethnographic-style observation. We’ve found effective ways to layer quantitative analysis along with the qualitative observations, and honed our methods of grouping seemingly disparate observations into tangible clusters that help define key differences between one persona and another.
Done right, the payoff is worthwhile and quite satisfying for everyone – especially the end user.
March 1st, 2007 - Interview with Matt Mullenweg
I had a great chat with Wordpress co-founder Matt Mullenweg the other day. Matt’s a pretty amazing guy - he’s done more at 23 than many could hope to achieve in their entire career. I certainly owe him and the Wordpress team a note of thanks for this blogging software as well as the Akismet service I use to block comment spam.
I’ll share most of the good stuff in upcoming articles, but for the time being here’s a few highlights from our discussion.
- Matt’s keen on solving problems, and he finds many problems in today’s crop of software. He specifically mentioned multimedia, forums, project management and task management software as areas where huge improvements could be made. I was certainly nodding when he mentioned forum and multimedia software. I’ve been quite frustrated trying to create a good user experience while integrating forum software and multimedia content with a blog. It’s certainly do-able, but not nearly as easily as it should be.
- Matt believes that an internet company shouldn’t have product managers. The closer engineers can get to the end user (with less go-betweens), the better the product will be. A good part of the work I’ve done at Quarry has been in this area, helping connect engineers, marketers and product developers to the end user. And I’ve noticed that those who are most eager for this connection tend to create the most successful products.
Back to Matt’s point, I believe product managers can offer far more than just acting as a funnel for user feedback, particularly in areas like market analysis and competitive analysis, and I believe they could be of value to any company. But certainly you don’t want to see a situation where the product management function has the effect of inhibiting the development team’s contact with the customer.