Rethinking target markets

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Mike Speiser, Managing Director at Sutter Hill Ventures, has an interesting post on GigaOm today.  An excerpt:

Self-Service Nation: Why Targeting Small Business Is Good Business

While the 80-20 rule can be very powerful, the reality is that many of the costs associated with building, supporting, distributing and selling technology products have dropped dramatically in the past decade. Yet many enterprise technology executives are operating as though the cost of distribution hasn’t changed since the early 1990s. In the coming years, I expect startups to increasingly target the massively underserved small- and medium-sized business (SMB) segment by taking advantage of the arbitrage between actual and assumed costs of sales. Self-service sales models will be a key element of these startups that will forever change the face of the enterprise technology business.

As he further explains in his post, there is a significant nascent market at the small business level that has, up until now, been left for Microsoft to dominate. Smart SaaS players, as well as others that do not have legacy enterprise software DNA, are best positioned to successfully target this market in coming years. I think companies like 37Signals are already flourishing here, and serve as a great source of ideas and experience for anyone looking to tap into a greatly underserved market.

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Amazon is slowly starting to open up the Kindle

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A few months back I wrote about the need for Amazon to begin ‘socializing’ the Kindle.  Another item of frustration that I forgot to mention in that post was the inability to pull my notes and highlights from the kindle via the web.  I As of this morning, however, Amazon has enabled web access to notes and highlights.  Techcrunch notes:

Kindle Notes And Highlights Now Accessible On the Web

While this opens up all sorts of possibilities, Amazon is taking a very conservative approach. You can’t share your notes with others. You can’t even edit them in your browser. All you can do is read them.

I just logged in to check on my Kindle books, and can only find highlights and notes for two books. Hopefully all the notes will be online soon so I can, at minimum, cut and paste them into Evernote or another application.

This is progress, but Amazon still needs to socialize the entire book reading experience!

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Gmail Contacts finally becomes useful

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If you’re a Gmail user like me, 2008 seemed like a lost year.  Google did give us the Google Labs features, many of which were nice tweaks, but there wasn’t a significant improvement to the core application.  2009, as you know has been quite different.  We’ve seen the addition of many significant features, with offline sync being the most important.  Google added another ‘missing link’ in the communications hub with a task manager, which in its current state is a bit underpowered – but we can always hope for improvements.

One of the most frustrating parts of Gmail’s communications hub has been Contacts.  When first introduced (I believe last year), Contacts seemed to add all sorts of random contacts from inbound emails that I received.  When I dug around to find where they were coming from, many of these new ‘contacts’ were plucked out of emails that had large lists of people attached to them.  Most of these folks weren’t really my contacts, but Google thought they were.  This was just one of many frustrations I had with Google Contacts.  Just as with the core Gmail application, however, Google has begun to remedy shortcomings in Contacts in 2009.  A few days ago, Google announced true Contact (and Calendar) syncing with many smartphones.  Along with that announcement has come a steady set of changes to Google Contacts.  Today, Google has added four more, very significant, improvements to the Contacts function.  Here are two of my favorites:

Official Gmail Blog: Four changes to Gmail contacts

3. Remove people from My Contacts
You can finally move contacts out of the My Contacts group — especially useful if you’re planning to sync your contact list to your phone. Prune the contacts you don’t want synced to your phone from My Contacts (click “Groups” and then “Remove from My Contacts”), and they won’t get synced.

4. Search across all contact fields
We’ve heard you loud and clear, and contact search now works much better: instead of just searching contact names and email addresses, it now includes phone numbers, notes fields, and mailing addresses as well. So, if you’re visiting the Bay Area and looking for friends to catch up with, you could try typing “650” or “415” in the contact manager search box.

Contacts, it seems, are finally becoming useful. Along with the Activesync feature that went live a few days ago, I can finally consolidate my contact information to a single source and not have to maintain a separate list for my iPhone and Gmail. This is great news!

Now, make Google Contacts (and Gmail) an interaction hub
Contacts would become substantially more powerful if I could see my entire relationship with a contact in that view.  Google lets you query recent emails interactions with a selected contact, but we know that entire relationships aren’t captured in emails.  I’d like the ability to add date stamped notes to each contact – so I can record other interactions with people.  I’d also like the ability to connect Google Calendar events to contacts.  And, while you’re at it, connect tasks associated with contacts as well.

So far, 2009 has been a busy year for the Gmail team, and it looks like we’ll see a steady pace of improvements for Gmail.  Hopefully, they see the value of extending Contacts beyond a simple electronic Rolodex and into a powerful contact interaction hub where users can truly capture many aspects of their relationships with their friends and contacts.

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Hey Amazon, it’s time to socialize the Kindle

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Over the last few months, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, mostly on my Amazon Kindle.  I think it’s a great device in its current form, an will no doubt get better with the refresh that’s due out next week.  As an electronic book reader, the Kindle is definitely the leader of the pack.  All of the launch time reviews correctly stated that there is no eye strain, and I often forget that I’m using an electronic device (that’s a good thing).  Having multiple books in one compact device makes it possible to jumble my reading interests, without adding bulk to my backpack (I usually read 2-3 books at once, and often move between a business book, fiction, and/or current events stuff).  An added benefit for Amazon is that I’ve ended up buying books, literally, as they were mentioned in a meeting or on a TV show.  That’s another part of the puzzle that Amazon got right, a low friction transaction.  The first generation Kindle defined a market, in many ways, like the first generation iPod did.  And, based on the early, leaked photographs of the Gen.2 model, it looks like Amazon will address some of the awkward design elements of the initial offering.  While most of the coverage on Monday will be focused on the hardware, I’ll be really interested learning what Jeff Bezos and Co. have in store for the software part of the Kindle upgrade.

Reading has always been about community
I’ve found that I learn a whole lot more about a book’s meaning if I can share my thoughts and ideas with others.  I’m not really into book clubs, but Amazon does have a unique opportunity to extend the reading experience into a community experience with the Kindle.  The current generation software of the Kindle allows me to electronically annotate excerpts.  Sometimes I simply highlight interesting passages that I want to go back to, other times I’ll add a note that serves as a reminder to dig deeper into an area or ask another question.  Given the Kindle’s wispernet wireless connection, wouldn’t it make sense to connect those notes about books to a larger community?  I’m just wrapping up David Sanger’s The Inheritance, and I’ve got a ton of notes and comments that I’d love to share with other readers.  Shouldn’t each Kindle book have a ‘community’ wrapped around it?  In the case Sanger’s book, which is related to current events, the author could engage in that community and extend usefulness of his book.  For readers, instead of static reviews of a book on Amazon’s website, we’d have a dynamic community to share ideas with, argue or get deeper insight from the author.  I understand that Amazon doesn’t want the Kindle to become a ‘free’ way to connect to the internet, but wispernet could feed my notes and highlighted sections to a section of the book’s page online, and then I could continue the conversation via my computer connection.  This is one feature I’m really hoping Amazon announces on Monday…and they allow us first generation Kindle users to upgrade our software to enable this community.

Books are meant to be shared
The beauty of a physical book is that it can be shared, resold, or passed along to just about anybody without much difficulty.  As DRM slowly slips away in the music business, Amazon needs to define a reasonable model to- at minimum – resell books that I no longer want.  I believe there is a compelling reason for publishers to want a resale market to exist as well.  Unlike the aftermarket for traditional books, a market mechanism could be setup whereby publishers would get additional royalties for a resold book.  Amazon would benefit as a clearinghouse, and it would also drop another barrier for me (or anyone) to buy some ‘one-time use’ books.  For example, I’ve been hesitant to spend a lot on fiction on my Kindle.  Maybe it’s just me, but most fiction I’ll read once, and then pass it along to someone, or resell it (sometimes on Amazon’s website).  If I knew that there were a reliable aftermarket where I could resell these books, I’d be willing to buy them more often.

These are just two developments I’m hoping to see on Monday.  The Kindle is a revolutionary device.  It’s now time for Amazon to evolve the ecosystem around the device and extend the usefulness of their revolutionary product.  Amazon, it’s time to socialize the Kindle.

UPDATE: I just noticed that Amazon has hinted at the need to extend the kindle format to smartphones.  While this may be another market to chase, I can’t imagine doing extensive book reading on my iPhone.  Now, if Amazon modifies it’s DRM mechanism so I can use the same license on both my Kindle and my iPhone, I’d find it useful for those times when the Kindle isn’t in my bag.  My iPhone is always with me.

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MindMeister updates include Cross-Connections

Sample map created with MindMeister plus interface
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I’m a big fan of mind mapping.  For years I used MindJet’s MindManager application, but I’ve since migrated to the cloud based MindMeisterMindMeister is not as robust as MindManager, but it allows for collaborative brainstorming without client-side software.  Over the last year or so, MindMeister has grown in capabilities, including offline mind mapping (through Google Gears), but lacked one critical element of useful mind mapping, cross connections.  The latest release now incorporates that critical function, in addition to other features:

MindMeister News – Mind Mapping on Steroids

Graphical cross-connections

You can now add graphical cross-connection between your ideas in your mind maps, which will be displayed as green arrows. This feature is still beta, so please be kind. We’ll add more functionality here in future, such as control points and formatting.

MindManager is still more robust than MindMeister, but the later is quickly catching up. Mindjet has also begun to offer an online solution, but I haven’t had the time to review it. Quite frankly, MindMeister does the job for me.

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Boxee will soon be available to less priviledged

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Boxee, the awesome media center application that aggregates many online media sources onto one platform is opening up next month for anyone who is interested in a beta.  I’ve been on the alpha, and love it.  This integration has me seriously thinking dropping the dreaded cable bill.

boxee blog » opening up the alpha

we’ve been in closed alpha for a long time. after Jan 8th are going to open up the alpha, and work diligently on getting the beta out. the number of users who signed up for the alpha has overwhelmed us (over 150,000), and went well beyond our original expectations.

we get asked frequently about why we keep it closed, especially given the fact that it is open-source. the answer is that the product is still very much alpha, and we wanted to scale our servers gradually. but the demand is overwhelming and we don’t want to have users wait for months for their invites, so we decided to open the Jan 8th release of Mac and Ubuntu to everyone.

If you just can’t wait until then, I think I can grant alpha invites to a limited number of folks. Leave a comment, and I’ll see what I can do.

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Tibco’s Greg the Architect: ROI

Now this is one of the better offbeat advertising campaigns I’ve seen for enterprise software:

Tibco, a major player in the SOA space, came up with the Greg the Architect campaign.  It’s a pretty funny look into the world of the IT foot soldier in a big company.  I particularly liked the episode I embedded above, as I used to do a lot of ROI analysis work for software deployments.  The latest episode, which pokes fun at analysts, is also really funny.

[Found via: Jeremiah Owyang]

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Twitter and Values of n come together to make…?


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The founder of a small, but interesting, little company called Values of n recently announced that Twitter had purchased the web productivity company, and that he – Rael Dornfest – would be joining Twitter.  Most people I know haven’t heard of Values of n, but some may know  two of their products, I Want Sandy and Stikkit.  Both products will soon be shut down, with the IP inherited by Twitter.  Both products were pretty interesting, albeit incomplete, productivity offerings.  I used both for a while, but had a hard time integrating them into my workflow.  Under the Twitter umbrella, however, both have the potential to expand and improve, assuming that the acquisition of Values of n wasn’t merely a way to bring a gifted technologist on board.  There is some speculation that Twitter could be putting together a suite of productivity offerings to it’s product set:

Will Twitter Become Your Personal Assistant? – GigaOM

The fit between both of these services and Twitter seems fairly obvious. In the same way that Twitter “bots” can be set up to send specific messages at certain times or when users type certain keywords (try sending a message that contains the word “pony” in order to see the Wheee! Pony bot in action), it’s easy to see how a user might set up something like I Want Sandy and Stikkit combined —

As stated later in that post on GigaOm, with some help, Twitter, Sandy, and Stikkit, could be combined to make a nice personal assistant application that many power users would be eager to pay for. With all the activity in and around Twitter, and no clear revenue path to date, you can add this combination to the speculation of where Twitter will find it’s business model.

Update: Looks like there is a movement on to resurrect Sandy as an open source application.

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Amazon continues its cloud computing build out

Werner Vogels @ eTech 07

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With the release of CloudFront, Amazon continues to build out a full selection of cloud computing offerings.  With CloudFront even small developers can gain the power of a global content distribution network (much like Akamai).  Werner Vogels, Amazon CTO, explains the service in this post:

Expanding the Cloud: Amazon CloudFront – All Things Distributed

Today marks the launch of Amazon CloudFront, the new Amazon Web Service for content delivery. It integrates seamlessly with Amazon S3 to provide low-latency distribution of content with high data transfer speeds through a world-wide network of edge locations. It requires no upfront commitments and is a pay-as-you-go service in the same style as the other Amazon Web Services.

Amazon CloudFront has been designed to be fast; the service will cache copies of the content in edge locations close to the end-user’s location, significantly lowering the access latency to the content. High sustainable data transfer rates can be achieved with the service especially when distributing larger objects.

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Yang out as Yahoo! CEO

Jerry Yang and David Filo, the founders of Yahoo!

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There’s probably been too much blame piled on Jerry Yang since he returned as CEO of Yahoo!, but I wonder who would want to take his position now?  I guess the successor will have the job of chopping up the company and selling it off:

Yang To Step Down As Yahoo CEO, Search For Successor Begins

Yahoo! Conducting Search for New CEO
Co-Founder Jerry Yang to Step Down Following Appointment of New CEO
and Return to Former Role as Chief Yahoo! and Board Member

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