Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pontiac's 'Awful' Year Gets Worse With Its Website Experience


I am almost done paying off my current car, and have been looking around for a new one. Today I saw a story on cnn.com where they mentioned that GM was offering 6-year, no-interest loans. GM is having an awful year, and they are doing whatever they can to sell their 2008 backlog of vehicles.

Included in these new incentives is the Pontiac Solstice. I have been curious about this car ever since I saw a story on the design of it. I'm now an ideal prospect for GM. I am on Google searching for info on the Solstice, and up pops Pontiac's website #1. Is that Pontiac's hard work or Google smart algo? I'll go with Google, especially after what unfolded.

I get to the Solstice sitelet and poke around for information. I really wish these car companies would cut it out with these over-produced Flash designs. They are not very usable and they all do it. All of them throw tons of money at these monstrosities. One of the largest components on the Solstice's home page is a "media controller," which is playing The Bravery way too loud for my early morning surfing. Where is the customer data that pushed that design element to the forefront? So I move past all of the hurdles in my way of learning about this vehicle, and find out they have 2 styles. I click on the most expensive style to customize what I'd like on it (which now makes me Pontiac's best case scenario, I think). Up pops up an error message, "Server Error, The page you requested produced an error. Please try again later." Will I ever really "try again" on this website? Not a chance.

So where is this data, that Pontiac served up an error and lost an ideal lead? Do they have something tracking this, or did that budget get eaten up by the Media Controller that forced me to scramble for the mute button?

The car business is a very mature business domain, which once again provides an example of why they don't innovate where they need to. They are stuck in a defensive mode of just doing what everyone else is doing. Sure, MySpace has media controllers, but has GM heard of Facebook?

Learn more about GM and their awful year (no mention of loss of online prospects).

Sunday, June 22, 2008

John McCain Wants To Sponsor The American Idol of Fuel Innovation


NASA has done it for a better space glove. The Department of Defense has done it for a lighter backpack. Netflix is doing it for a better movie-prediction algorithm. Now John McCain is taking their lead and proposes that we dangle the carrot in front the entire country to solve our energy problems. The first person to develop a car battery that delivers power at 30 percent of current costs gets $300 million. The title of the contest is the "Clean Car Challenge".

There is an odd feeling I get from this patriotic sequestering of innovation. There are very smart folks throughout the auto industry and within the government that could have been charged with accomplishing this task decades ago. As companies migrate from an innovation strategy to a defensive one, they seem to become anathema to changing their domain unless forced to. Kodak, Merrill Lynch and Firestone have experienced this. Is this the natural course of mature business spaces? Will Apple ever become like this in the MP3 player market three decades from now?

Americans are connected to the story of the amateur winning against the odds. It's sad, but if running a contest of this magnitude provides a solution that the car industry has not, then I hope it works.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Web 2.0 Could Cost Madison Square Garden The New York Rangers


I remember Web 1.0. Heck, I remember Web 0.1 when the computer world revolved around CD-ROMs, with slow dial-up modems taking a backseat. AOL sure did send out a lot of free CDs back then. That was a time when a lot of effort was spent trying to convince people of the value of a website. A lot of people didn't get it. I wish I had a crystal ball back then, and could show those same doubting people what is going on with the New York Rangers.

The NHL is taking the owners of the Rangers to court over "new media" issues. These people are basically suing each other over the control of the Rangers' website. I once had the title of "New Media Specialist" and remember how difficult it was for people to ‘get' what I did. I wonder if I could give expert testimony in this case with that title today?

There is much more going on between these warring factions, but to see that website control is a core sticking point makes me giggle like a little girl inside. I don't think anyone would have believed me in 1997 if I told them that one day Madison Square Garden could lose the Rangers franchise over...their website! I know it's not nice to say this, but...www.itoldyouso.com.

Monday, June 16, 2008

OXO Gets Innovation Right By Design


I saw Alex Lee, CEO of OXO, speak at GEL 2008. He provided great insight into their innovation funnel. I thought it very interesting that the byproduct of a company known for its user-centric design is a built-in idea channel. He said that they constantly get ideas from consumers. Most of these are of course either obvious or unrealistic, but they have a great way of filtering these ideas. They have 4 criteria that each idea must meet. If an idea is great, but only meets 3 of 4 of the criteria, it doesn't get commercialized. Here are their 4 criteria:

  • You must be able to understand what it does just by looking at it
  • Knowing how to use it has to be obvious (no instructions!)
  • It must be thought provoking
  • It should warrant consistent use (not a use-once-and-put-away product)

Having a very clear map of how to vet ideas seems like an invaluable tool, especially when you are swamped with ideas.

Another thing that jumped out at me from his talk was that verbatim feedback from customers is not useful. They have found that their customers can't articulate their problems well. This is true in most domains, not just in kitchen gadgetry. Being able to filter customer feedback is essential to innovation.

Recently I received an email from Christopher Kimball's America's Test Kitchen. They are like Consumer Reports for cooking. In it, they reviewed OXO's Mango Splitter. At the end of the review is validation that OXO's idea filter is working as intended:

Oxo Mango Splitter is one of those rare kitchen gadgets that works.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Photoshop "Frauding": Oscar De La Hoya Really Doesn’t Wear Fishnets


I've used Photoshop since version 1.0 was released in 1990. I used it then for developing interfaces for hotel kiosks and use it today for images in web applications. From then until now, outside of using this pixel-bending tool for work, I'd also used it for fun. Warping and distorting images of friends into funny scenarios was always something done on the side. To this day, there are many giggles to be had when you “liquefy” someone's face.

Unfortunately, we are living in a time where you can use Photoshop for more than giggles. Just ask Oscar De La Hoya. Months ago, images were released to the public of the famous boxer wearing fishnets and high heels in embarrassing poses. He, of course, denied they were of him. Did anyone believe his denial? The model/stripper that released them, Milana Dravnel, was suing him for slander and was seeking $25 million. As of this week, the case was dismissed because an expert deemed the images as Photoshop hoaxes.

It's easy to create fake images of people with how powerful Photoshop has become since 1990. It probably cost Mr. De La Hoya a tidy sum of cash defending himself in this case. Photoshop has only been around about 20 years. How will the courts deal with phony images created in Photoshop CS19 ten years from now?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Journey Thanks Web 2.0 For Their New Lead Singer


After years of trying to cope without Steve Perry as their frontman, guitarist Neil Schon turned to YouTube. Journey has had several stand-ins over the years, but none has stuck. Meanwhile, Arnel Pineda had struggled through a difficult life in the Phillipines, losing his mother as a teenager and being homeless for a time. He posted videos of his band performing Journey covers on YouTube, setting the digital stage for Schon. Arnel's singing voice is so eerily similar to Steve Perry, it was easy for Journey to make the decision for him to be the new lead singer to go on their latest worldwide tour.

Here is one of the videos the band saw to make their decision:

Here is a clip of Arnel singing with the Journey from CBS' Sunday Morning, along with the full story of his discovery:


The flipside of this new audition tool is that they now can use YouTube to promote their new singer. Journey has recorded a new CD with Arnel and is touring with him. Nice story.