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Saturday, May 31, 2008

It's time for geeks to learn about design thinking

One thing about Web20 is that it has clearly brought us to a commoditization of services.
With open source tools and with the decreasing price of computers, it has become very easy and very cheap to build a service in a few weeks. Along with that is the fact that if you have an idea, chances are that someone else somewhere else has had or will have soon the same idea. It is very common to see similar ideas appear within a six months window in various places around the world.
Ideas are all over the place, technology is cheap: online services are just another consumer product.

So how will you make your idea/service stand in front of similar others? My take is it's all in the design of it.
Not design as in cute logo or a weird name that you hope people will remember, but design as in thorough analysis of what users expect and how to best present your service to them. We are talking user interface, thinking about design in anything that will be presented to the consumer, and thinking about how they will use the service to make it as easy as possible for them, including intuitive, pleasant, and efficient. The kind of things Apple did for smartphones with the iPhone, a beautiful demonstration of the power of design to other manufacturers who were focusing on functionality without wondering why very little of it was really usable when they were sticking to the computer metaphor and its ridiculously complex navigation on small screens.

If you are thinking, or in the process, of creating yet another web20 service (and we are just seeing the beginning of the services that web20/30 will bring about), you should consider very seriously investing in design before you do anything. Design thinking will help you confirm who your audience is, how and what you should communicate with them and them with you, making it a complete and coherent experience. And therefore it will help you fine tune the product/service you will create. Or in the worse case it may save you a lot of time and money by allowing you to discover sooner rather than later that your idea was not that great after all. Doing anything else is keeping closer to playing the lottery, and hoping blindly that users will like what you came up with. Some are lucky and win, most don't.

Think design!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Non-profit as another step into participative democracy

I attended last week a very interesting seminar at the Stanford Center for Social Innovation by the Stanford Social Innovation Review and FSG on Evaluation for Foundations: how Foundations should measure the results of what they do so that they can learn from the process.
I had always been thinking of non-profits and foundations as charity organizations picking up issues where the government would not or could not go: environment, social matters, etc...
What I had not realized is how this process can be used in a very proactive way to get things done and act where politicians seem to be unable to do anything. What foundations do, when it is proven to work, can and should be publicized and shared widely so that their impact goes beyond the point fixes to benefit the population at large.

A striking example of this was how Tom Siebel worked on the Meth issue in Montana with his Meth Project Foundation:
- The government approach was a typical law enforcement one, resulting in the filling up of jails (50% of adult population in Montana jails is related to the meth issue) and no real progress on the ground: despite this effort, meth consumption was on the rise and kids were not really aware of the dangers of using it, some even though it had beneficial effect on memory, the whole thing costing the State about $100M every year.
- Tom approach of the problem was a marketing one: Meth is a product, and consumers are consumers, therefore the best thing is to reach them as you would reach consumers, and give them the relevant information that will allow them to make an educated choice when it comes to buying and consuming. The results of the ad campaigns (TV, radio, press) and after $15M between 2005 and 2006 was a decline in Meth use in the work place by 70 percent, meth related crime has decreased 53%.
Beyond fixing the meth issue in Montana, what Tom did is that he made a very interesing point: he picked an issue, devided a plan to resolve it, worked out the kinks and documented the process and results, and he is now licensing the "platform" to other States so that they can resolve the issue themselves in other places.

This is very close to what Muhammad Yunus is pushing in his book "Creating a Worlds Without Poverty" in the concept: real things come from people who live in the real world, and so the best way up is to have non-profit collaborate with for profit while governments just provide the infrastructure within which all this can happen.

While business with Web20 is starting to include consumers into the value chain (wikipedia, delicious, digg, google maps edits, etc...) there is no questions in my mind that the same can happen with government processes, where citizens can have a lot more impact than they used to: it is all a question of the data you can access, and how you can document what is being done.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The answer is in the network

Just ran into something very interesting that is proving one year after it was written to be as predicted where social networking is going:
Rich Gordon is right: with the proliferation of social networks of all kinds what will make the difference for me is not which destination site you can attract me to, but rather which data you are able to send to me wherever I hangout. So forget Facebook (or not if this is where I am most of the time), just find where the right place/network is for me and talk to me there. The future belongs to those who have the right social engineering tools to do this.
And if you want to get into this, eCairn is a good place to start: