High definition DVD confusion

I got into a quick discussion with a co-worker today about HD-DVD versus Blu-ray.  I’m not sure either format will gain too much popularity in the upcoming year, with the staggering price of the Blu-ray players and the mediocre upgrade of the HD-DVD player.  I noticed that Best Buy had a Blu-ray player for $999 and an HD-DVD player for $499.  The real problem is that most consumers don’t understand all of the technobabble and won’t understand the difference.  I think they will just buy the cheaper of the two, thinking that they’re both “high definition”.  The computer industry has added even more confusion when Dell announced that they are committed to Blu-ray and HP is supposedly going to support both standards.  However, Microsoft is adding HD-DVD support in Vista, so I’ll probably get an HD-DVD drive when I upgrade my Media Center to Vista.  Here are some good articles about the two different formats.

CNET HD-DVD / Blu-Ray guide

10 Reasons Why High Definition DVD Formats Have Already Failed

The Making of a Motherboard

I always wondered where those damaged motherboards at Fry’s came from. Of course, I’m sure they are in good condition when they arrived, but some morons try to build their computers while moonwalking in their carpeted living room. Carl Nelson with HardCOREware.net took a trip to China to show us the ECS factory in Shen Zen. Contrary to the comments on Slashdot, I was impressed with the facitilities. It looks like they have clean working conditions and they are proud of their work. I agree that the workers are underpaid, but it sounds like it’s relatively a decent job.

Small Is Beautiful

As a follow-up to my post about interruptions, Scoble posted a link to a video of Jason's lecture from the Collaborative Technologies Conference.  Anyone managing a team should watch this video, it's a great summary of the 37Signals philosophy.

http://www.collaborationloop.com/blogs/ctc-2006-jason-fried-2.htm

Some of Jason's great ideas discussed in the lecture…

  1. Keep your team small
  2. Keep your team apart or create "alone time"
  3. Have less meetings
  4. Make smaller decisions

Looking to switch

I stumbled across a good article explaining the "Rising Tide of Customer Defection." For a small company, it's especially important to think about this all the time and strive to keep every customer happy. For our company, this sometimes means giving daily status reports BY PHONE for the status of a bug or spending an hour on the phone training the same user every week on the same concept.

However, you always have to set expectations properly. Most small businesses try to give the impression that they're a much larger company with infinite resources. That's important to get the product out into the market and get leads, but you can't continue with that illusion after they've become a customer.  In the article, Bill Zollar (CEO of Yellow) explains how they dug through boxes of customer invoices looking to see if they picked up and delivered everything on time and in-tact and did they send the customer an accurate invoice.

“…if you fail to follow through on what customers expect they can’t possibly like you.” And (as nobody should need to tell any businessperson) customers who don’t like you are more likely to defect.

I think it's always better to under-promise and over-deliver and that's something that's very hard to do in the software business. Adding a new feature for that hot prospect sounds so tempting, but as Kathy Sierra says, "Don't give in to feature demands!"

Out-of-context Surprises

One of our customers was in our office this week and told us about an really interesting thing they do for their customers. He said that they give their employees small index cards with their company logo, address and the employee's contact information. They will hand-write a quick note or thank you and write out the customer's address by hand and mail it to them. Evidently, they send these little notes all the time and some of their customers will leave them prominently displayed in their offices. We were talking about this at lunch yesterday and it reminding me of a recent entry on Creating Passionate Users, one of my favorite blogs. There were some really great ideas about what she calls "out-of-context surprises".

Any company with way over the top customer service (for that domain) is giving its users an unexpected, delightful surprise. Something to remember. Something to talk about. But even the subtle out-of-context surprise can trigger some neurons and brain chemistry. A reference to one movie slipped into the dialogue of…another movie. An easter egg hidden in a… logo (like the FedEx one). A bud vase in a…car. It's not about the thing–it's about the context in which that thing is expressed.

We give a lot of on-line demos to prospects and on-line training sessions to existing customers and they're very impersonal. We're planning to add the presenter's picture to the introduction slide in Live Meeting, but I think we can do better than that. Maybe we could actually ship a treat to their office, like some candy or cookies, etc. and make sure it arrives on the day of the demo. Surprises like that will leave a lasting impression.

We're also planning to change our remote support software, so you'll be able to see a picture of the support rep before you begin the session. This is completely above and beyond any phone or even "live chat" support I've used. It's much more difficult to be upset with a support rep if you're looking at their picture.

Quick fix

I was really impressed with the following passage from a paper by Danah Boyd asking Is MySpace just a fad?

Bugs make technologies seem alive, particularly if they're acknowledged and fixed. They give texture to the environment and people are impressively patient with it if they feel like the architects are on it. It makes the architects look vulnerable which brings them back down to earth, making them real and fallible, but giving them the opportunity to do good. They let the benevolent dictator really serve the people.

Of course, that's no excuse for developers to write sloppy code, but it's good for tech support to keep this in mind. I've had situations where a user was very upset (sometimes yelling at me) for some obscure bug and they were shocked when I actually got the bug fixed, tested and delivered the fix quickly I think most of our users have become accustomed to dealing with the lousy tech support for QuickBooks and other products and they don't expect a response like that. For example, we found a problem in the QuickBooks SDK that is causing us real grief with our application and I don't expect QuickBooks to get this resolved anytime soon. My point is that sites like MySpace are changing the way users expect bugs to be fixed. The larger, more traditional software companies need to adjust their tech support and development to support this new group of users.

Interruptions

There was a great post on SVN today about collaboration software and interruptions.

Passive interruption such as an IM or an email can be ignored until you’re ready to deal with it. But active interruption such as when someone physically comes over and taps you on the shoulder, or calls you into a physical meeting, well, that kind of interruption kills the “productivity buzz.” 

Lately, I've been trying to move IM conversations to email, so I can respond to them on my schedule.  As usual, Jason explains that the problem pretty well.  The real problem is the "active interruption", not the IMs and email.  I'm currently in a mix of development, support, management and sometimes IT.  So, I'm constantly switching tasks with different people from different departments.  The funny thing is that I actually enjoy it and it makes me feel good to help everyone out.  But, I really need to spend more of my time planning the future of ACCTivate! and less time fighting the daily fires.  It's going to be a difficult transition.