Tuesday, March 31, 2009

End users are not stupid....

I read a great post today thanks to Larissa Reynolds, a good friend down in the great state of Texas. The post was written on http://cuhype.com and entitled "Hello, Our members are Morons". The author identified only as "Tony" was discussing how when he would pitch a Credit Union (his marketing specialty area) on a new marketing idea they'd frequently shoot it down saying that their members "wouldn't get it". He went on to explain why this was really a fallacy, and that with the right message and the right delivery you can hook a lot of people you wouldn't just assume would get it. Management's assumption seemed to be that it was ok for THEM but that their MEMBERS wouldn't get it, understand it, or be able to do it. This sort of belies the fact that most of THEM are members of their own credit union :)

I was reminded of a particular phrase that I usually use with my entrepreneurs when they come to me with their ideas. Take Knowledge Athletes for instance. They come to me with a great educational idea and I have said more times than once "you guys are the education experts - I'm just the software developer". If they think it's a great idea - it's worth a try.

Which is not to say I don't push back sometimes for a simpler interface. It's my job to advise people on the best way to implement their idea so that it can be enjoyed by the widest audience. But we must always be careful not to dumb something down to the point of no returns. It's ok for our users to have a brain - and to need it to accomplish a task.

We were pleasantly suprised for instance how quickly kids were able to pick up the Kajour application and run with it - sometimes despite bugs and growing pains caused by it only being a demo system. We found we could make the interface much more complicated than we originally anticipated and it would still work great for the kids. They were USED to figuring out complex interfaces. They'd grown up in the world of Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and other tools and didn't mind poking around in menus or selecting icons until they could figure out what they needed.

So the all around summary - don't assume your users can't use a sophisticated interface. Don't underestimate their ability to "get it".

Monday, March 23, 2009

Internet Explorer 8 review

OK, being the brave intrepid Microsoft Fanboy that I am I put Internet Explorer 8 on both my home and laptop machines. The great thing - I haven't been disappointed. Oh yes - you will read in the news all the "bad things" about Microsoft, but let me tell you some good things about IE8:

  • The new browser is faster - it takes less time to load, less time to load pages, and less time to render. All in all it operates much more quickly than IE7
  • It is one of the first browsers ever, and Firefox and Chrome are included here, that provides a "compatibility mode" so that you can essentially fool a website, and the browser, into operating like an older version so that you can view sites that might have been specially coded to work with IE 6 or 7. It also allows you to link into a central database of known sites that are not compatible, and automatically switch modes so that your sites don't break. This is INCREDIBLY user friendly and a hop skip and jump above all the rest of the browsers out there. User's number one complaint on browser upgrades is that they break some sites. This utility essentially fixes that complaint. Site doesn't render well? Just switch compatibility mode.
  • It's suggestion mode is better than Google Chrome, IE or Firefox in that it suggests both items from your browsing history (first) and items from search (second) as possible URL completion targets. It's like the SEARCH bar in Vista for web, and it's quite powerful. You'll find yourself typing full urls much less frequently.
  • It seems to be compatible with all the toolbars I've previously downloaded (Google, etc.), with no messing around or tweaking required on my part. Similarly external programs that rely on browser libraries (Autotask and others) appear to work just fine with the new versino.
  • The "Suggested Sites" feature is pretty cool if you're just browsing around and looking at stuff. Very handy for finding other sites with similar material.
  • The new equivalent of "View Source" allows you to show all sorts of developer information, a DOM Tree, validation mode in both IE 7 and 8, as well as a "quirks mode". The validation mode will overlay to show you issues right within your pages, making fixes easier and providing for CSS/HTML debugging. Sure you could get all that stuff with an add-in before, but isn't it way better to have it built in? There are some cool options to show (right on the screen overlaying the content) image sizes, dimensions, etc.
  • You can now easily use the add-on's to (for instance) post web content to a gmail message (or hotmail) so you don't need an email client loaded to forward things.
  • The product provides an "incognito mode" similar to Chrome, but unlike chrome this can be managed using GPO's at the policy level to be disabled in corporate environments.
  • Speaking of manageability - the new browser can be managed right down to the feature mode using GPOs. Turn on and off view source browser, incognito mode and other features easily.
  • I'm not sure why they had to rename feed readers as web slices but oh well. The powerful capabilities of an RSS feed reader are built into the product and continue to integrate well with Outlook.

All this and it has not crashed once - not on my 32 bit Vista Laptop or my 64 bit Vista desktop. All in all I think this is a great improvement over IE 7. It's not quite Chrome for speed, it's not quite Firefox for flexibility, but it's got enough of both products to be a serious contender and is a welcome replacement for the aging IE 7. All in all I give this product a big "thumbs up".

  • Wednesday, March 18, 2009

    We won't feed you a line...

    I was somewhat appalled at reading this post, by a blog author I respect Chris Coyier of http://www.css-tricks.com/. He solicited comments and twitter comments on the concept of the question "What if a client came to you with an idea for a project you knew was going to fail, and would pay for it. Would you do the job anyway?".
    I must say that the overwhelming number of "web designer" and "web engineering" firms out there who responded to this post basically said "Yes I'd do the job". Wow. Please go read the post. Please read the comments by other "professionals" in our field. Then ask yourself - would you rather that someone gave you the straight honest truth and always acted in your best interest? Or would you rather pay someone to just do it your way? Would you rather rely on their experience and expertise when they LIVE in that world? Wouldn't you want to work with someone whom you know will give you their honest evaluation of an ideas success or failure, act like a partner in your success, suggest better ways of achieving the same goals, or guide you to a more successful conclusion. I would rather turn away a job where I know that the client just hasn't done their homework, than take their money and build them a fail-boat.
    Short term I may not make more money this way. But long term I develop 3 key features for business success:
    • Loyal customers - I would rather have my customers say "This guy saved me from making a big mistake" than "this guy built my idea, took my money and then it failed". News travels fast, especially in a small city like Rochester.
    • Personal integrity - Hey, maybe I'm old fashioned - but I like to be able to sleep at night knowing that I did good in the world - even if I made a bit less money than the guy who did not. If I have to let a customer go because we don't see eye-to-eye I'll do so with honesty, integrity and cooperation. You never know - sometimes they even come back.
    • Loyal and honest employees - the way YOU act in the workplace defines how your employees act. If you develop a culture that creates an environment of dishonesty and money-above-everything, you will reap what you sow. Ask Bernie Madoff.

    I vow in this post that I will always give a client the advice and product that is in their best interest. If you've got an idea I think is bad I'll tell you. If you can convince me I'm wrong I'll change my mind willingly. I will then help you to develop the best version of your idea that has a chance of success - or tell you that I might not be the right company for your requirements. I invite you all to take the vow and ensure your own personal integrity.

    Monday, March 16, 2009

    Small business gets some respect from the White House

    In today's address by President Obama, we finally got to hear about incentives and help for small business. For weeks we've been hearing of the wasteful spending of the big banks that are being helped, the auto makers, other big businesses and the scandalous behavior of some of these investment banks and brokers, including fraudulent stock schemes that finally failed when the markets went Bear. Finaly we get to hear from the administration what they are going to do for those of us struggling to build entrepreneurial and start-up companies using bank loans, our own sweat equity, and sometimes venture or angel investments.

    It turns out that his heart is in the right place, and though he many not be completely on the side of small business, many of his latest pronouncements are a boon and a ray of hope for those of us who employ 70% of Americans.

    The basic tenets that he laid out were:

    • Guarantee by the government of SBA loans up to 90%, and purchasing using some of the TARP money already allocated some of the toxic SBA loans. This will loosen credit which has recently been tightened by banks across America for small businesses looking to expand, grow, or just finance their survival.
    • Elimination of costly fees for both borrowers and lenders in SBA loan arrangements.
    • An immediate reduction in capital gains taxes on investments in small business by 75% if they hold their investment for 5 years. A proposal to permanently reduce to zero the capital gains tax on investments in small or startup businesses. This will greatly encourage investment in the Angel and Venture world since gains would be essentially tax-free. Making angel and venture dollars a tax free investment greatly increases the value of this vehicle over the traditional stock market investment. While still quite risky you don't also have to account for capital gains when you do cash out your investment. Small companies would be encouraged to go independent sooner as this capital gains bonus would be limited to companies with under $15M in revenue - truly rewarding the SMALL company and not the big one.
    • By eliminating capital gains on small business investments, he would also (I believe) solve the problem of having to pay capital gains when a business transfers ownership either inside or outside a family. One of the great tragedies of current tax law is the number of companies that never get passed on to a family member because they can't raise the cash to pay off the capital gains on the transfer.
    • Small businesses can write off addtional capital investments this year in an attempt to re-stimulate buying in this important B2B environment.
    • Small businesses can write off losses from this year against taxes paid up to 5 years ago. This effectively will give companies that paid taxes in past years a rebate of those taxes if they lost money this year.
    • Small businesses can pay 90% of the last year's taxes, rather than 110% when they pay estimated taxes. This increases available cash and it is realistic considering the current economy for many businesses.

    In all, I believe this presents a balanced approach to the small business dilemma - freeing up loan money, reducing the tax impact of venture and angel investing and transfers of ownership, and providing immediate tax relief and cash flow to distressed small businesses are all excellent steps in the right direction. If he could go on to solve the health care dilemma, reduce business income taxation, and finalize the elimination of capital gains that would be a long way towards a small business success.

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009

    Rochester Business Plan Contest 2009


    Rochester, NY - High Tech Rochester announces that the 2009 Rochester Regional Business Plan Contest opens today and is now accepting applicants.

    The contest is a collaborative effort among community organizations including Digital Rochester, Greater Rochester Enterprise, Nazareth College School of Management, Rochester Institute of Technology, and the University of Rochester Simon Graduate School of Business.

    This year's event offers contestants a chance at winning over $50,000 in cash and business service prizes, including a 1st place cash prize of $25,000. All finalists will receive a customized prize package, as well as significant exposure to the business and investment communities.

    "The Rochester Regional Business Plan Contest is a marquee event that showcases the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit that permeates our region", said James Senall, president, High Tech Rochester. "The Rochester community was built on the successes of several pioneering entrepreneurs, and this contest can serve as a launching pad for our next generation of business leaders."

    The contest is open to for-profit companies headquartered in the Greater Rochester region (Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming, and Yates Counties). Companies should have a scalable business concept with high growth potential. Companies must be early-stage defined as: 1) Less than $250,000 of outside cash investment, and 2) Less than $500,000 cumulative revenue, excluding research grants.

    New for this year, the contest winners will be announced at the 1st annual "Celebration of Entrepreneurship" Luncheon on May 15th. At this gala event, several other entrepreneurial successes from the past year will also be recognized.

    The contest features a series of workshops beginning on March 18th to help prospective entrepreneurs create the best possible plan. Contest registration ends on April 3rd, and executive summary submissions will be due on April 6th. Winners will be selected by a panel of judges prior to the luncheon on May 15th. Applications and Contest Guidelines are available online at HTR's website.

    Monday, March 2, 2009

    Microsoft innovation dead?

    <a href="http://video.msn.com/?mkt=en-GB&playlist=videoByUuids:uuids:a517b260-bb6b-48b9-87ac-8e2743a28ec5&showPlaylist=true&from=shared" target="_new" title="Future Vision Montage">Video: Future Vision Montage</a>

    For those of you who suggest that Microsoft's innovation is dead and their future is limited, I'd suggest watching this video. This is their vision for the next 10 years laid out in detail. I'm still confident in my choice to make OS-Cubed a Microsoft Partner. You will be too after viewing this video. Put on your seatbelts because this IS the future.

    Here are some more detailed videos on specific sub-topics:

    <br/><a href="http://video.msn.com/video.aspx?vid=5bea2f16-b173-41ee-ba2e-5ab3484b4cbb" target="_new" title="Manufacturing Future Vision">Video: Manufacturing Future Vision</a>

    Microsoft in Manufacturing

    <br/><a href="http://video.msn.com/video.aspx?vid=8d7a2ef7-84cf-4daf-9a4d-2531c273f756" target="_new" title="Retail Future Vision">Video: Retail Future Vision</a>

    Microsoft in Retail

    <br/><a href="http://video.msn.com/video.aspx?vid=083e1117-9f61-40e1-aea4-b31e7baa8f13" target="_new" title="Health Future Vision">Video: Health Future Vision</a>

    Microsoft in Health Care

    <br/><a href="http://video.msn.com/video.aspx?vid=674141e5-4c50-4f37-bc62-f6674059f1c2" target="_new" title="Banking Future Vision">Video: Banking Future Vision</a>

    Microsoft in banking