One thing I like about this text is its tone. There’s an honesty, an ingenuity that I find rare in this type of writing.
- startup ideas
- The background is important, in terms of the type of ideas about which we’re constructing something.
- what do you wish someone would make for you?
- My own itch has to do with Diigo, actually. There’s a lot I wish Diigo would make for me. I may be perceived as an annoyance, but I think my wishlist may lead to something bigger and possibly quite successful.
- The difference between this question and the “scratch your own itch” principle seems significant, and this distinction may have some implications in terms of success: we’re already talking about others, not just running ideas in our own head.
- what do you wish someone would make for you?
- It’s somewhat different from the well-known “scratch your own itch” principle. In this difference might be located something significant. In a way, part of the potential for this version to lead to success comes from the fact that it’s already connected with others, instead of being about running ideas in your own mind.
- grow organically
- The core topic of the piece, put in a comparative context. The comparison isn’t the one people tend to make and one may argue about the examples used. But the concept of organic ideas is fascinating and inspiring.
- you decide, from afar,
- What we call, in anthropology, the “armchair” approach. Also known as “backbenching.” For this to work, you need to have a deep knowledge of the situation, which is part of the point in this piece. Nice that it’s not demonizing this position but putting it in context.
was the first type
- One might argue that it was a hybrid case. Although, it does sound like the very beginnings of Apple weren’t about “thinking from afar.”
- class of users other than you
- Since developers are part of a very specific “class” of people, this isn’t insignificant a way to phrase this.
- They still rely on this principle today, incidentally.
The iPhone is the phone Steve Jobs wants.
- Apple tends to be perceived in a different light. According to many people, it’s the “textbook example” of a company where decisions are made without concerns for what people need. “Steve Jobs uses a top-down approach,” “They don’t even use focus groups,” “They don’t let me use their tools the way I want to use them.” But we’re not talking about the same distinction between top-down and bottom-up. Though “organic ideas” seem to imply that it’s a grassroots/bottom-up phenomenon, the core distinction isn’t about the origin of the ideas (from the “top,” in both cases) but on the reasoning behind these ideas.
- We didn’t need this software ourselves.
- Sounds partly like a disclaimer but this approach is quite common and “there’s nothing wrong with it.”
- comparatively old
- Age and life experience make for an interesting angle. It’s not that this strategy needs people of a specific age to work. It’s that there’s a connection between one’s experience and the way things may pan out.
- There is no sharp line between the two types of ideas,
- Those in the “engineering worldview” might go nuts, at this point. I can hear the claims of “hand waving.” But we’re talking about something complex, here, not a merely complicated problem.
- Apple type
- One thing to note in the three examples here: they’re all made by pairs of guys. Jobs and Woz, Gates and Allen, Page and Brin. In many cases, the formula might be that one guy (or gal, one wishes) comes up with ideas knowing that the other can implement them. Again, it’s about getting somebody else to build it for you, not about scratching your own itch.
- Bill Gates was writing something he would use
- Again, Gates may not be the most obvious example, since he’s mostly known for another approach. It’s not inaccurate to say he was solving his own problem, at the time, but it may not be that convincing as an example.
- Larry and Sergey when they wrote the first versions of Google.
- Although, the inception of the original ideas was academic in context. They weren’t solving a search problem or thinking about monetization. They were discovering the power of CitationRank.
- generally preferable
- Nicely relativistic.
- It takes experience
to predict what other people will want.
- And possibly a lot more. Interesting that he doesn’t mention empirical data.
- young founders
- They sound like a fascinating group to observe. They do wonders when they open up to others, but they seem to have a tendency to impose their worldviews.
- I’d encourage you to focus initially on organic ideas
- Now, this advice sounds more like the “scratch your own itch” advocation. But there’s a key difference in that it’s stated as part of a broader process. It’s more of a “walk before you run” or “do your homework” piece of advice, not a “you can’t come up with good ideas if you just think about how people will use your tool.”
- missing or broken
- It can cover a lot, but it’s couched in terms of the typical “problem-solving” approach at the centre of the engineering worldview. Since we’re talking about developing tools, it makes sense. But there could be a broader version, admitting for dreams, inspiration, aspiration. Not necessarily of the “what would make you happy?” kind, although there’s a lot to be said about happiness and imagination. You’re brainstorming, here.
- immediate answers
- Which might imply that there’s a second step. If you keep asking yourself the same question, you may be able to get a very large number of ideas. The second step could be to prioritize them but I prefer “outlining” as a process: you shuffle things together and you group some ideas to get one which covers several. What’s common between your need for a simpler way to code on the Altair and your values? Why do you care so much about algorithms instead of human encoding?
- You may need to stand outside yourself a bit to see brokenness
- Ah, yes! “Taking a step back,” “distancing yourself,” “seeing the forest for the trees”… A core dimension of the ethnographic approach and the need for a back-and-forth between “inside” and “outside.” There’s a reflexive component in this “being an outsider to yourself.” It’s not only psychological, it’s a way to get into the social, which can lead to broader success if it’s indeed not just about scratching your own itch.
- get used to it and take it for granted
- That’s enculturation, to you. When you do things a certain way simply because “we’ve always done them that way,” you may not create these organic ideas. But it’s a fine way to do your work. Asking yourself important questions about what’s wrong with your situation works well in terms of getting new ideas. But, sometimes, you need to get some work done.
- a Facebook
- Yet another recontextualized example. Zuckerberg wasn’t trying to solve that specific brokenness, as far as we know. But Facebook became part of what it is when Zuck began scratching that itch.
- organic startup ideas usually don’t
seem like startup ideas at first
- Which gets us to the pivotal importance of working with others. Per this article, VCs and “angel investors,” probably. But, in the case of some of cases cited, those we tend to forget, like Paul Allen, Narendra, and the Winklevosses.
- end up making
something of value to a lot of people
- Trial and error, it’s an iterative process. So you must recognize errors quickly and not invest too much effort in a specific brokenness. Part of this requires maturity.
other people dismiss as a toy
- The passage on which Gruber focused and an interesting tidbit. Not that central, come to think of it. But it’s important to note that people’s dismissive attitude may be misled, that “toys” may hide tools, that it’s probably a good idea not to take all feedback to heart…
- At this point, when someone comes to us with
something that users like but that we could envision forum trolls
dismissing as a toy, it makes us especially likely to invest.
- the best source of organic ones
- Especially to investors. Potentially self-serving… in a useful way.
- they’re at the forefront of technology
- That part I would dispute, actually. Unless we talk about a specific subgroup of young founders and a specific set of tools. Young founders tend to be oblivious to a large field in technology, including social tools.
- they’re in a position to discover
valuable types of fixable brokenness first
- The focus on fixable brokenness makes sense if we’re thinking exclusively through the engineering worldview, but it’s at the centre of some failures like the Google Buzz launch.
- you still have to work hard
- Of the “inspiration shouldn’t make use forget perspiration” kind. Makes for a more thoughtful approach than the frequent “all you need to do…” claims.
- I’d encourage anyone
starting a startup to become one of its users, however unnatural it
- Not merely an argument for dogfooding. It’s deeper than that. Googloids probably use Google tools but they didn’t actually become users. They’re beta testers with a strong background in troubleshooting. Not the best way to figure out what users really want or how the tool will ultimately fail.
- It’s hard to compete directly with open source software
- Open Source as competition isn’t new as a concept, but it takes time to seep in.
- there has to be some part
you can charge for
- The breach through which old-school “business models” enter with little attention paid to everything else. To the extent that much of the whole piece might crumble from pressure built up by the “beancounter” worldview. Good thing he acknowledges it.
Category Archives: software
To summarize the situation:
- Most of the software for which I paid a fee, I don’t really use.
- Most of the software I really use, I haven’t paid a dime for.
- I really like no-cost software.
- You might want to call me “cheap” but, if you’re developing “consumer software,” you may need to pay attention to the way people like me think about software.
No, I’m not talking about piracy. Piracy is wrong on a very practical level (not to mention legal and moral issues). Piracy and anti-piracy protection are in a dynamic that I don’t particularly enjoy. In some ways, forms of piracy are “ruining it for everyone.” So this isn’t about pirated software.
I’m not talking about “Free/Libre/Open Source Software” (FLOSS) either. I tend to relate to some of the views held by advocates of “Free as in Speech” or “Open” developments but I’ve had issues with FLOSS projects, in the past. I will gladly support FLOSS in my own ways but, to be honest, I ended up losing interest in some of the most promising projects out there. Not saying they’re not worth it. After all, I do rely on many of those projects But in talking about “no-cost software,” I’m not talking about Free, Libre, or Open Source development. At least, not directly.
Basically, I was thinking about the complex equation which, for any computer user, determines the cash value of a software application. Most of the time, this equation is somehow skewed. And I end up frustrated when I pay for software and almost giddy when I find good no-cost software.
An old but representative example of my cost-software frustration: QuickTime Pro. I paid for it a number of years ago, in preparation for a fieldwork trip. It seemed like a reasonable thing to do, especially given the fact that I was going to manipulate media files. When QuickTime was updated, my license stopped working. I was basically never able to use the QuickTime Pro features. And while it’s not a huge amount of money, the frustration of having paid for something I really didn’t need left me surprisingly bitter. It was a bad decision at that time so I’m now less likely to buy software unless I really need it and I really know how I will use it.
There’s an interesting exception to my frustration with cost-software: OmniOutliner (OO). I paid for it and have used it extensively for years. When I was “forced” to switch to Windows XP, OO was possibly the piece of software I missed the most from Mac OS X. And as soon as I was able to come back to the Mac, it’s one of the first applications I installed. But, and this is probably an important indicator, I don’t really use it anymore. Not because it lacks features I found elsewhere. But because I’ve had to adapt my workflow to OO-less conditions. I still wish there were an excellent cross-platform outliner for my needs. And, no, Microsoft OneNote isn’t it.
Now, I may not be a typical user. If the term weren’t so self-aggrandizing, I’d probably call myself a “Power User.” And, as I keep saying, I am not a coder. Therefore, I’m neither the prototypical “end user” nor the stereotypical “code monkey.” I’m just someone spending inordinate amounts of time in front of computers.
One dimension of my computer behavior which probably does put me in a special niche is that I tend to like trying out new things. Even more specifically, I tend to get overly enthusiastic about computer technology to then become disillusioned by said technology. Call me a “dreamer,” if you will. Call me “naïve.” Actually, “you can call me anything you want.” Just don’t call me to sell me things. 😉
Speaking of pressure sales. In a way, if I had truckloads of money, I might be a good target for software sales. But I’d be the most demanding user ever. I’d require things to work exactly like I expect them to work. I’d be exactly what I never am in real life: a dictator.
So I’m better off as a user of no-cost software.
I still end up making feature requests, on occasion. Especially with Open Source and other open development projects. Some developers might think I’m just complaining as I’m not contributing to the code base or offering solutions to a specific usage problem. Eh.
Going back to no-cost software. The advantage isn’t really that we, users, spend less money on the software distribution itself. It’s that we don’t really need to select the perfect software solution. We can just make do with what we have. Which is a huge “value-add proposition” in terms of computer technology, as counter-intuitive as this may sound to some people.
To break down a few no-cost options.
- Software that came with your computer. With an Eee PC, iPhone, XO, or Mac, it’s actually an important part of the complete computing experience. Sure, there are always ways to expand the software offering. But the included software may become a big part of the deal. After all, the possibilities are already endless. Especially if you have ubiquitous Internet access.
- Software which comes through a volume license agreement. This often works for Microsoft software, at least at large educational institutions. Even if you don’t like it so much, you end up using Microsoft Office because you have it on your computer for free and it does most of the things you want to do.
- Software coming with a plan or paid service. Including software given by ISPs. These tend not to be “worth it.” Yet the principle (or “business model,” depending on which end of the deal you’re on) isn’t so silly. You already pay for a plan of some kind, you might as well get everything you need from that plan. Nobody (not even AT&T) has done it yet in such a way that it would be to everyone’s advantage. But it’s worth a thought.
- “Webware” and other online applications. Call it “cloud computing” if you will (it was a buzzphrase, a few days ago). And it changes a lot of things. Not only does it simplify things like backup and migration, but it often makes for a seamless computer experience. When it works really well, the browser effectively disappears and you just work in a comfortable environment where everything you need (content, tools) is “just there.” This category is growing rather rapidly at this point but many tech enthusiasts were predicting its success a number of years ago. Typical forecasting, I guess.
- Light/demo versions. These are actually less common than they once were, especially in terms of feature differentiation. Sure, you may still play the first few levels of a game in demo version and some “express” or “lite” versions of software are still distributed for free as teaser versions of more complete software. But, like the shareware model, demo and light software may seem to have become much less prominent a part of the typical computer user’s life than just a few years ago.
- Software coming from online services. I’m mostly thinking about Skype but it’s a software category which would include any program with a desktop component (a “download”) and an online component, typically involving some kind of individual account (free or paid). Part subscription model, part “Webware companion.” Most of Google’s software would qualify (Sketchup, Google Earth…). If the associated “retail software” were free, I wouldn’t hesitate to put WoW in this category.
- Actual “freeware.” Much freeware could be included in other categories but there’s still an idea of a “freebie,” in software terms. Sometimes, said freeware is distributed in view of getting people’s attention. Sometimes the freeware is just the result of a developer “scratching her/his own itch.” Sometimes it comes from lapsed shareware or even lapsed commercial software. Sometimes it’s “donationware” disguised as freeware. But, if only because there’s a “freeware” category in most software catalogs, this type of no-cost software needs to be mentioned.
- “Free/Libre/Open Source Software.” Sure, I said earlier this was not what I was really talking about. But that was then and this is now. 😉 Besides, some of the most useful pieces of software I use do come from Free Software or Open Source. Mozilla Firefox is probably the best example. But there are many other worthy programs out there, including BibDesk, TeXShop, and FreeCiv. Though, to be honest, Firefox and Flock are probably the ones I use the most.
- Pirated software (aka “warez”). While software piracy can technically let some users avoid the cost of purchasing a piece of software, the concept is directly tied with commercial software licenses. (It’s probably not piracy if the software distribution is meant to be open.) Sure, pirates “subvert” the licensing system for commercial software. But the software category isn’t “no-cost.” To me, there’s even a kind of “transaction cost” involved in the piracy. So even if the legal and ethical issues weren’t enough to exclude pirated software from my list of no-cost software options, the very practicalities of piracy put pirated software in the costly column, not in the “no-cost” one.
With all but the last category, I end up with most (but not all) of the software solutions I need. In fact, there are ways in which I’m better served now with no-cost software than I have ever been with paid software. I should probably make a list of these, at some point, but I don’t feel like it.
I mostly felt like assessing my needs, as a computer user. And though there always are many things I wish I could do but currently can’t, I must admit that I don’t really see the need to pay for much software.
Still… What I feel I need, here, is the “ultimate device.” It could be handheld. But I’m mostly thinking about a way to get ideas into a computer-friendly format. A broad set of issues about a very basic thing.
The spark for this blog entry was a reflection about dictation software. Not only have I been interested in speech technology for quite a while but I still bet that speech (recognition/dictation and “text-to-speech”) can become the killer app. I just think that speech hasn’t “come true.” It’s there, some people use it, the societal acceptance for it is likely (given cellphone penetration most anywhere). But its moment hasn’t yet come.
No-cost “text-to-speech” (TTS) software solutions do exist but are rather impractical. In the mid-1990s, I spent fifteen months doing speech analysis for a TTS research project in Switzerland. One of the best periods in my life. Yet, my enthusiasm for current TTS systems has been dampened. I wish I could be passionate about TTS and other speech technology again. Maybe the reason I’m notis that we don’t have a “voice desktop,” yet. But, for this voice desktop (voicetop?) to happen, we need high quality, continuous speech recognition. IOW, we need a “personal dictation device.” So, my latest 2008 prediction: we will get a voice device (smartphone?) which adapts to our voices and does very efficient and very accurate transcription of our speech. (A correlated prediction: people will complain about speech technology for a while before getting used to the continuous stream of public soliloquy.)
Dictation software is typically quite costly and complicated. Most users don’t see a need for dictation software so they don’t see a need for speech technology in computing. Though I keep thinking that speech could improve my computing life, I’ve never purchased a speech processing package. Like OCR (which is also dominated by Nuance, these days) it seems to be the kind of thing which could be useful to everyone but ends up being limited to “vertical markets.” (As it so happens, I did end up being an OCR program at some point and kept hoping my life would improve as the result of being able to transform hardcopies into searchable files. But I almost never used OCR (so my frustration with cost-software continues).)
Two sections of the current episode of Télé-Québec’s Méchant Contraste! social issues television show are on information technology in classrooms:
- Technologie et éducation : le Québec en retard? (Gilles Jobin)
- La guerre des mondes selon Lucien Francoeur
Instead of a debate on whether or not technology literacy is important for young Quebeckers, the show presents articulate comments on the apparent lack of training in computer and information technologies in the Quebec educational system. Perhaps most interesting, the ideas revolve mostly around what should be done to help teachers adapt to new situations. Instead of “throwing money at the problem,” the idea here is to adopt a clear vision of what technology may do to help both students and teachers enhance learning and teaching strategies.
Of course, as a technology enthusiast, I’m specifically biased. But I do notice a disconnect between the “school administration” side of the equation (whether working in a high school or a university) and the learning/teaching community on the other side. IMHO, adopting technologies in the classroom isn’t a matter of dazzling students with technical proficiency. It’s about finding the most appropriate tools for the tasks that we set out to accomplish.
Perhaps a detail but one worth mentioning: schools still seem to give courses on specific software packages, as they did a number of years ago. Such a strategy is, IMHO, ill-advised because (as explained in this show) students are probably more adept than teachers with most of these tools. But, more importantly, what students should get is a way to connect tools with aspects of learning. Yup, the good ol’ “learning how to learn” idea, applied to a domain where the characteristics of the learning tools are less important than the principles of learning. In other words, training high school students to use Microsoft Office Powerpoint 2007 is much less efficient than helping students at any age understand the principles behind information processing and software-mediated presentations. Having fun with the software is a good way to go, with many students, but concepts and methods shouldn’t be tied to a specific piece of software.