Time Value of Ideas

Ideas on tapAssets depreciate over time. So do ideas.

A good product manager learns to listen to the needs of the market and faithfully records them (actually a lot of them don’t. I am sure you are not one of them) to feed the roadmap. Sadly, engineering resources typically are fewer than what is needed to satiate all the needs. Backlog builds. And here is where the trap-door opens up.

Product Managers often carry forward their backlog inventory of ideas into a subsequent development cycle. FIFO or LIFO? Personally, I am dead against the deadwood FIFO and lukewarm towards LIFO. FIFO is a straight reject because more an idea asset stays in the backlog the more likely that it has depreciated in utility value. What was a strategic differentiator when first recorded as a need might just be either a me-too thing or worse – something akin to picking nickels in front of a steam roller today. LIFO stands – a priori – a better chance because they haven’t yet wimped out by the sands of time (hopefully).

Creating a product roadmap is a much involved process than just collating a backlog. Relevance of each idea must be evaluated with the market and competition before engineering resources are committed to build them out. Yes, it does place an additional overhead on Product Managers but would you rather find out those irrelevant product ideas or leave it to the market?

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The Business-Technology stalemate

Business: The product behaves in the way it does because we were told that technology demands it to be architected in a certain way

Technology: The architecture of the system was driven by the demands of the business

Stalemate. This happens because often – specially true of large companies – business and technology are on their own trips. And they are faceless (read the two sentences replacing business and technology with “Stephen” and “Anna” respectively and the situation would look very different).

Sometimes technology gets a bad name because they seem to produce a lot of the architecture astonauts. I’ve also seen Product Managers come up with their SUV type designs for a simple bi-cycle. The way – perhaps the only way – to solve this is to break away from the temptation of setting up Architecture and Product Management councils. Pinpoint responsibility and then empower. You will see the difference.

The Facebook ID

Facebook announced today that it will allow its members to choose an user name. This may sound terribly trivial because that is the first thing that one does while opening up any account – like say an e-mail id. However social networks that base themselves on mutual trust necessarily has to accept members on a disclosed full name basis. That is the cornerstone of social relationships – we shake hands and pronounce our names to each other. There is a downside to this transparency model in network implementation. This model has to allow for duplicate names – there are four people on Facebook with the same name as I. In this scenario comes the Facebook ID.

Facebook ID essentially introduces a smart version of what database designers call “perm id”s – an unique identifier for each member. The current identifier (note the profile.php.id indicator on your address bar as a profile loads up in Facebook) is numeric and non-intuitive. Allowing members to choose their IDs will allow members to treat their Facebook presence as good as a web profile. So you can just let your friends know that they can find you at http://facebook.com/first.last, first.last being your Facebook ID.

It is also interesting to see how the lines between social networking and professional networking are disappearing – albeit slowly. Professional networking site LinkedIn has been allowing people to choose what they call a “public profile”. LinkedIn displays an URL where you can modify the last component – essentially creating your ID. Some months back LinkedIn started the “What are you working on” status updates that look pretty much like the Facebook “What’s in your mind”. Anyone who has used both Facebook and LinkedIn will know how similar they have started to look in terms of widgets, applications, social clustering etc. Interestingly, even as they converge, they fundamentally remain walled gardens.

Anthropologists intrigued about the difference of human interactions in a social context and workplace (or professional) context would do well to study the differences that remain between Facebook and LinkedIn at different points in time. That will be a nice time-study in the metamorphosis – and possible convergence – of social interactions in worlds that were earlier considered rather kosher.

R.I.P. Peter L Bernstein

His book “Against The Gods” allured me into the exciting world of financial risk management. I have never invested in gold – and have advised, unsuccessfully, to all my women acquaintances – after the compelling arguments in his book “The Power of Gold: The History of Obsession”. In fact every book of his evoked thought and helped me understand the capital markets better. Peter L Bernstein – money manager, author, publisher and also a WW II spy – died on Friday at the age of 90.

I can only echo Justin Fox – I want to be like Bernstein when I grow up.

Rest in peace, Sir.

Squaring up Google Squared

Another extension of the search metaphor. They have been coming thick and fast in the past few weeks. Wolfram Alpha, Bing and now Google Squared. G-squared is the latest entrant and given its pedigree, deserves to get a closer look.

G-squared is essentially a search aggregator, presenting results in a spreadsheet like format. It is like business intelligence reports graduating from being row based to cross-tab. The format lends itself very elegantly to comparisons, and the suggestions put out by Google lead you down that path. The grid is expandable by adding rows and columns, each coming with Google’s own suggestions. Considering each cell in the spreadsheet as a single search, the aggregation definitely boosts search productivity. The quality of the output of the cells is very questionable though. And for once – and I thought I will not live long enough to say this – Big G gets the context of the rows members wrong very often. For instance when I tried “Indian films”, this is what it returned

Squared

All results in the rows are not films. Satyajit Ray is a film director, while Juhi Chawla and Raveena Tandon (neither merit a place in the same grid as Satyajit Ray, who was a legend) are actresses. Agreed that G-squared is yet in the Labs but hasn’t Google set our expectations right up there?

Google squared allows one to build a grid from scratch. This is particularly useful if you know what you want in the grid and do not need a search to tell you that. I tried building a grid to check out the competition of Thomson Reuters, my employers. I was disappointed at what turned up but was ecstatic when under FactSet’s financials is said “Not healthy enough to buy yet” and was bemused when the same against Bloomberg said “Forecast? More Bull? More Bear?” (I wish it dropped the last question and terminated the second last one with just one full-stop). Is this Google’s way of countering the easter-eggs of Wolfram|Alpha?

Squared_comps

The question is bound to pop up. Is Google Squared the answer to Wolfram|Alpha. I think not. There is a difference between search (and its aggregation) and a artificial intelligence driven computational engine. Perhaps Google will encroach upon the Walpha territory, but time shall tell how that pans out.

Bing: Walks, (almost) looks and quacks like Live.com

I cannot vouch for the accuracy that Bing, Microsoft’s much vaunted Google-killer (?) stands for But it’s not Google though Seth Godin thinks it is. Even if that were true then MS has a lot of explaining to do – especially about the differentiation. Actually Bing is Live.com – try typing live.com in your browser and see where you end up. Only that someone laid out nice pictures on the background. The top nav of Bing goes as “Web|Images|Videos|News|Maps|More|MSN” and that of Google reads “Web|Images|Maps|News|Orkut|Groups|Gmail|More”. Excitingly different, no? I ran some sample searches and found little difference between what each engine fetched (by the way, I hardly ever go beyond the first page of a web-search because I demand my search engines to dish out what I am looking for in that. So if Bing was doing some mind boggling stuff differently from Google on the 2nd page then it was lost on me). Yes, Bing had this search preview thing which was something I never saw on search outputs. It is also a touch weird that Bing works differently depending on your locale. For example when I used an US route and used Bing, it showed me actual shopping options and prices for the search “used canon lenses” but none when I switched back to my original location.

Modern day web search has transcended the realms of hunting for static information on the internet. Search has integrated geo-spatial information, local businesses, media that is different from html text, people and thanks to Google has also taken the form of Wikis. Microsoft has to be clear in what it wants to acheive with Bing. Get market share away from Google or make the user experience of its own die-hard fans better. To me it looks like the latter and hence I fail to understand this But it’s not Google thing. Take a look at outputs from both Bing and Google when I try “vietnamese cuisine at Bangalore”

Bing_vitenamese

Google_vitenamese

Besides the obvious embellishment that maps and local search adds to the result in Google, it is also interesting that the third result of Google is the first in Bing.

No amount of marketing perfume can kill the smell of a pig. Bing from MS is just Live.com in a different name. It looks like Live.com, walks like Live.com and moreover, even quacks like Live.com.