123People Scares the Innovation Out of Me

March 25, 2010

As a proponent of new technologies that make it simple and convenient to find information online, I am struggling with this one.  And as I question the people around me, it seems that they are struggling with it as well.  Most people are a bit put off by the service, yet others think it’s an innovative step forward in connecting people.

I am talking of course about 123People.com.  The two year old “person search service” has people questioning the now age old principle of identity and privacy in the digital age.

123people is basically an aggregator of sorts, which locates and collects information on people.  Anything online appears to be fair game in their algorithm.  It looks at everything from Google images to LinkedIn profiles, blog posts and articles to social networks, and everything that falls in between.

A simple search of my name brings up images, blog posts, an old address, and my old company and work number.  And I have to say that when I first found it, I was stuck in between feelings of disgust that all that information was out there, and feelings of amazement at how easy they made the process.  For those people with little to no online presence of their own, 123people has found a way to scrape together anything that exists, and land one of the top results in a Google search for their names.

Of course we all know that in this day and age, privacy is a hot button issue, and will be for some time.  Our lives on the internet are public, whether we want them to be or not.  But whereas without 123people, someone looking up information on me would have to put in a little extra effort, perform several search queries, look at a couple of different sites, and put it all together; 123people has put it all in one place for you.  It’s more than a little scary.

If you take a look at the 123people blog, they’ll have you believe that people search is incredible, and can only mean good things for the world.  I have to think that more of us believe this type of service is more trouble than they’ve let on.  I’d like to hear your thoughts on the matter.  If you haven’t done a search for yourself, check it out and then post your comments below.

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Speed or Accuracy? The BETA Debate

June 5, 2009

STS100-LAUNCH1Nowadays, when an internet company wants to release something to the public before it is finished, they call it a “beta” version.  This means that the product is working and ready for use, but its not finished yet.  Maybe there is some functionality still to come, maybe there are bugs, known and unknown, that still have to be fixed.

It’s become quite popular to release entire websites in beta because it allows you to get a product to market, let the real consumers use it and learn about it, all while you continue to add features and make it perfect.  Some services and websites, including a number of Google Products, seem to stay in beta forever.

This is a relatively modern phenomenon, brought to us by the internet, mostly because a beta version of a real life product is not sensible.  But the more these products are hooked up to networks, the easier it becomes to update products after a customer purchases them.  For example, Apple can update your iPhone whenever they want.  Comcast can update your cable services whenever they want.  So the question becomes, for those products and services (online and off) that can be updated after their initial release, is perfection as important as speed to market?

There are definately two defined sides to this argument, both with their merits.  The accuracy people will tell you that if a product is “too” flawed, it will get bad reviews and hurt performance down the line.  They’ll tell you that a product should be double and tripled tested to make sure those first consumers are completely satisfied, and so impressed that they share it with friends.

The speed people worry about competition.  First to market is a huge advantage in any industry.  It gets people’s attentions, builds your brand awareness, and stifles competition.  These people say get a working model, give it to people, and then wow them with updates.  And for online products and services, what better way to test something than to release it to the public and let them tell you what needs to be improved.

So let’s hear it. If you were the CEO of a company that was about to release a brand new website to help people do this thing or that thing, what method would you be pushing?  Would you be pushing your team to get a working version of the website up as quickly as possible or would you wait until the whole thing was built and tested to perfection before getting the public involved?  Answer below, and use the comments to tell me why.


Just Compete Already

February 4, 2009

Why are there so many companies that sell an energy drink? Why are there so many deli’s in New York City?  How is possible for a Quiznos to succeed across the street from a Subway?

Competition. There are enough customers out there looking for something different.  They are willing to try something just because it is different.  They are looking for something that gives them a different feeling, something to tell their friends about, something that sets them apart.

A company does not have to be markedly better to succeed in a competitive market.  They just have to be different.  Different is good.  Different is important.

Don’t be afraid of being different.  Apple is different than Microsoft.  Starbucks is different than Dunkin Donuts.  FedEx is different than UPS.  They all compete for your business.

As a hopeful entrepreneur, it is easy to be talked out of entering a market because there is too much competition.  They’ll say that there is no chance for an online bookstore called Amazon to take on the retail giants.  You’ll say, but we’re different.

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Small Businesses Licking their Chops

October 4, 2008

Too many people spend too much time worrying about the financial crisis.  That is not to say that this is not a major problem that deserves our attention and our respect, but there is only so muc we can do about it right now.  The key is to empower those who can help solve the problem and let them go to work.

But for some, the crisis will create opportunities.  I am talking to the small business owners, or potential entrepreneurs out there.

In any downturn or crisis situation, when the rules of the game are changing in a powerful way, new winners and losers will sort themselves out.  New champions of our economy will rise to the top.  And as the dust settles, we will be looking at industries very differently than we have before.

Small businesses and startups have an incredible opportunity now to define themselves as real players in the future of our economy.  Since these companies are small enough and secure enough not to take any major hits from the crisis on wall street, it is a time to explore new opportunities.  While the major players in every industry build walls around themselves to protect from being hurt, the small players should take some risks to level the playing field.

Now is the time to bring your services to the forefront.  Land the big clients that are looking to save some cash.  Market the products that have the potential to save people from distress.  Bring your brand to the public in a big way so that when the economy starts to bounce back, as it most definitely will, you will already have the attention you need to bounce with it.

No one is asking for this crisis, and no one wants a recession.  But entrepreneurs should be chomping at the bit right now to make something out of this situation.  If you do one thing very well, and offer it fairly cheap, don’t you think you can make a splash with companies who need to cut costs.

And even in the banking industry, there is room for new players to at least start to have an impact.  The key is to establish your differences, and build off of them.

Here is one example of a company playing that card.  Think of ways you can do it too.


Can You Innovate Yourself Out of the Game?

September 11, 2008

By now, you all know that I like to write about Apple from time to time. And why not? They are by far one of the most innovative companies of our time. But today, they bring up a different kind of question.

Can you innovate yourself out of the game?

Well this question should actually be worded slightly differently. They are not necessarily innovating themselves out of the game. But they are cutting sales of one of their core products to sell another. The story here is this, the introduction of the new generation iPhones, and their popularity, have significantly impacted sales for new versions of the iPod.

Why? Well it’s quite simple. Apple fans are buying the iPhone and using it for music. These same people who would be the first to buy the new iPod nano don’t necessarily need it anymore. Sales projections for the new line are way down from the numbers they had achieved last year with the nano model.

Obviously Apple is pushing the phones, and that is a business model that they see carrying them forward as a company. There are a lot of things that still need to be worked out as far as the iPhone goes and it seems that more of the company’s resources are being pushed in that direction. So what about the iPod? Apple’s revolutionary semi-core product for so many years is seemingly fading. And as iPhones get better and handle more, the iPod may be a part of the past.

Should companies be careful about innovating if there is a chance they will hurt themselves in the long run? Well, the answer isn’t quite as simple as yes or no. Apple is under the impression that in the long term, concentrating on the iPhone is the best option, even if it kills the iPod. In a similar position, other companies might hold off for awhile. But overall, if innovating can bring you to the next level and expand business models, it should lead to more growth opportunities than clinging to old products.


The Big Bad “R” Word

August 1, 2008

Risk is a huge factor when it comes to innovation. How you view risk will define how likely you are to be innovative.

There is a certain mindset that the most innovative people in the business world take on. That mindset involves taking risks, making mistakes, and not being afraid to be different and stand out. It is not a popular mindset, but then again, the life of an innovator is an uncommon one.

The mass media and other “noise” has distorted our view of the world by overplaying the idea that mistakes are bad. Most people in business will tell you that the company that they work for demands risk minimization to avoid making mistakes at all costs. This is because a company that makes a mistake is “trashed” in the news, and further scrutinized for other decisions they have made or will make. And most times, the scrutiny will be directed to the top of the organization, no matter what level the mistakes are made at.

Therefore, CEO’s and department heads are less likely to allow any mistakes to be made, even ones that move the company forward. To be innovative, you must be willing to risk your neck a little. You must be willing to do things that no one else is doing, which can sometimes lead to mistakes and slip ups. But without the desire and ability to try these things, how will you ever be able to move forward. I found an interesting blog on “Mistake Policies” that is a good read.

Instead of viewing risk as a bad thing, view it as a necessary part of success. Approach it with the thought that taking risks will lead to further development of the company at all levels. Much more on this to come…


The Age of the Startup

June 21, 2008

It is easier now than ever before to start your own company.  The playing field is wide open and waiting for your idea.  The barriers to entry are lower than you think, and the startup costs are less than they used to be.  In fact, in most industries, new ways of doings things make the initial startup easier and more convenient than even 5 years ago.

So what does this mean?  It means that differentiating yourself is more important than ever.  The fact that it is easier to start a company means that more and more people are doing it.  To be successful, you need to be doing something that stands out from the crowd.  If you are not different, you are going to get lost in the shuffle and miss out on all of the fun.

Most people are afraid to stand out because it means taking a chance.  It means that if you fail, you fail in the public eye and you will be embarrassed forever.  We have this underlying fear that we will be outcast from society and seen as a fool for the rest of our lives.  Wake up!  It’s time that you realize that if you fail, you are in the majority.  We all fail.  People and businesses fail in this country every day.  Does that mean we all crowd around them and pelt them with cabbage and tomatoes?  There is no public shunning that takes place, and most often these same people or companies come back with a successful venture later.

Get over your fear of standing out, and you will free yourself up to rise to the top.  Get people talking about you because your product is so new, or your marketing is so fresh, or your brand is so simple.  The more people talk, the more opportunities you have to convert them into customers.  Innovation does not have to mean a brand new product that no one ever thought of before.  It can be the way you handle your operations, the way you help your customers, the promotions you offer, etc.  So if you decide to take advantage of the “open” market and start a business, make it worth your while, stand out.