Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Use Sizzle and Snazzy Graphics to Keep 'Em Coming Back

Carnegie Mellon University announced an unusual and most welcome contribution to their project devoted to teaching people to write computer programs. Electronic Arts (EA), one of the leaders in computer entertainment, has committed to underwrite the development of the next generation of the programming environment and it will license the use of its graphical figures library from the widely successful SIMS role playing game to be used in Alice 3.0.

Why is this so significant?

Here are three reasons:

  1. It will be an easier sell. Teenagers already familiar with the SIMS game will be more likely to give Alice a try because of the characters and association with EA.
  2. It will be easier to attract more attention to their mission. According to a 2005 UCLA study, the number of computer science majors at US institutions of higher education have dropped by 50% since 2001. That's alarming. While many more students and post-grads learn computer languages on their own today than 5 years ago, it's still a troubling trend for US competitiveness. Without the conceptual understanding and formal education provided by a college degree, fewer companies will hire US computer scientists in the decades to come. The Alice project creates an environment that shows computer programming to be relevant and interesting.
  3. It will be easier to produce higher quality results for the students. The EA library provides better tools with which to work. Look at the difference in characters below.

But don't take my word for it. Show this project to a high school student and ask him or her their opinion.

Visit www.alice.org for more details.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Managing Change

An internal consultant can be one of the most difficult positions to be in says Beverly Scott. The author of “Consulting on the Inside”. She offers pieces of advice to help other consultants cope.

• Understand the business strategy and how you can contribute to the business results.

• Make a point of knowing the business intimately but function on the margins. Build strong relationships but don’t let them prevent you from uncovering the truth.

• Develop broad support by working with multiple levels of the business.

• Channel the company employees’ interest in change to make tangible suggestions that are within the company’s abilities as well as articulating their interests in the future.

• Build confidence with managers by figuring out ways to meet small but important needs.

• Encourage clients to communicate effectively with each other.

• Encourage two way feedback with clients.

• Be accountable for your results and keep your agreements and don’t be disingenuous and you’ll be able o develop credibility in the company.

• Know the limits of your competence; don’t pretend to know what you’re talking about when you don’t.

• Think in systems; recognize and foster interconnections between departments and people

• Stay grounded.

The undercurrent of Scott’s approach is that performance management is based on fostering strong relationships. If you can develop a strong sense of trust and work effectively with an internal consultant, you’ll build a stronger business.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

New Sourcing is Closer than You Think

The next time you unwittingly contact a call center don’t be surprised if there’s a Brazilian accent on the other side of the line. As companies respond to market forces, they are finding that South American countries can offer better rates and closer proximity.

In Latin America there will be 730,000 call center work stations in 2008, more than double the 336,000 in 2004, according to Datamonitor. ProNicaragua, a Nicaraguan promotional business, expects the county to get 3,000 jobs. Dell already employs 2,000 in Panama.

A mere five hour flight from the US coast, the Latin American region is in two American time zones. Costa Rica has a strong, well-educated workforce. A social security system ensures background checks can be done easily. The country sells itself as “green and smart”.

Brazil is suspending its export tax on IT hardware and software until 2010, to the benefit of companies such as Citibank and IBM.

If you outsource your business to places where you’re liable to see the greatest return on your investment, you’ll build a stronger business.

Anonymous vs. Open Source

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, predicts that the process used in Wikipedia, in which entries are open to innumerous inputs and edits, will overshadow the process used in Britannica, in which editors review a piece and then an article is published. In his New York Times article "Anonymous Source Is Not the Same as Open Source", Randall Stross also notes that Mr. Wales is concerned about entrusting the "Wikipedian culture" to new individuals. Wikipedia currently offers 923 "feature" articles which have been double checked and edited. However, only about one new article gains feature status per day. Mr. Wales would like to improve this by looking at open source software models. This would perhaps allow both the inclusion of many contributions and a second level of more restrictive policy to prepare for release. According to Mr. Wales, Wikipedia has "'half the model.'"

On the other hand, though Wikipedia is far from Britannica, Jess Bates, a vice president of the Open Source Technology Group who oversees SourceForge.net, the host of more than 80,000 active open-source projects, suggests that Wikipedia is still not an open source, since one individual takes responsibility for the information, though many contribute.

Build a stronger business by listening to industry and customer feedback and evolving your products.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Beware the Backlash

Word of mouth spreads fast, and on the Internet it can spread at lightening speed. While that
can be very helpful if you’re launching an interactive Internet advertising campaign, the pitfalls can be costly.

Reid Goldsborough’s article in The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Internet Rewrote Rules of Advertising,” highlights the interactive nature of some Internet advertising.

The article cites a marketing initiative by Sony Ericsson as an example of an Internet marketing strategy that backfired spectacularly and that continues to haunt the company years later.

Dave Evans, co-founder of Austin-based marketing technology company Digital Voodoo, , advises companies to go out of their way to be open about the products they are pushing, why consumers should buy into them and what they stand to gain.

The Internet may offer sophisticated, cutting edge possibilities, but conventional business tenets still apply. By being open with your customers and selling real benefits you can build a stronger business.

When Navigating the Internet, Find the Right Search Engine

The Internet is a highly useful instrument for tracking down all sorts of helpful information. But there’s so much information that’s been generated you are equally at risk for getting blown off course from your intended target.

When doing a multiple search, there are effective search engines for the job. One is Dogpile.com ; it provides an efficient system for delivering the goods by conducting a “meta search” which provides results from multiple search engines including Google, MSN, Ask.com, About.com, MIVA, and LookSmart among others.

Other meta search engines include Search.com , Mamma.com, webmetasearch.com, and kartoo.com .

By using the right search engine for the purpose you can find what you’re looking for, save time and build a stronger a business.

Deep Web, Anyone?

As I work with businesses to help them become more visible on the web using eMarketing and search engine optimization techniques, I'm often asked about the "invisible web" or "deep web" whenever it's highlighted by the media.

It's a loosely term that refers to web content often requiring password authorization to access. It's not available without registration and/or payment, so it's "hidden" from the big search engines like Google, Yahoo , and AOL .

Reid Goldsborough wrote in the Philly Inquirer about several web sites that help plumb the depths of the deep web. Here are several of his cited sites:
  • www.brightplanet.com - informative resource; be sure to check out their faq's.
  • www.ga.gov.au/oracle/nukexp_form.jsp - an example of specialized knowledge found in a research database
  • infomine.ucr.edu - search scholarly journals
  • search.yahoo.com/subscriptions - get a peek at what's in a dozen subscription-only services, such as Factiva, Consumer Reports, and the Wall Street Journal online
  • turbo10.com - aggregates search results across a configurable group of search engines; works best with Firefox.

    In my experience, the deep web is interesting and useful when you are looking for detailed (or classified) information on a particular subject written by an expert. Examples would be industry or company reports for publically traded companies written by stock analysts, tracking down an individual's contact information, gathering scientific data that's privately published.

    Metropolitan and national newspaper sites (ones that have the resources to create and maintain archives), often make all stories available for 30 days, and require special access for content that's older.

    Yahoo is creating an aggregate site of subscriber-only content from the Wall Street Journal, Consumer Reports, and Lexis/Nexus. You'll be able to get search summaries of the results, but to read the full article, you'll need to subscribe to the source site and pay for the content.

    Google has several projects under way that are exposing deep web content to the surface searches because it fits their business model. Google was also a pioneer in searching and indexing non-html content, such as Word docs and PDF files.

    When you're building astronger business, you want to be aware of options and resources available to help you.
  • Sunday, March 12, 2006

    Philadelphia Internet Companies - Where's Our Current Map?

    An front page article in the Sunday Styles section of the Times displayed this map of up and coming Internet companies as a Google map based in Manhattan.

    The list included some company names you're probably familiar with:
  • fotolog
  • del.icio.us
  • double agent
  • Homethinking
  • meetup
  • flavorpill
  • gawker
  • treehugger
  • CollegeHumor
  • PubSub
  • NYSIA incubator
  • gothamist
  • nerve
  • The Huffington Post
  • Thrillist
  • Daily Candy
  • eyeblaster
  • cool hunting

    The story and the photo reminded me of the Philicon Alley posters that were created in the late 1990s to identify "who was on the map." Half.com, CD-Now, and VerticalNet were all born in Greater Philadelphia.

    Lots of enterprising innovative start-ups are establishing successful business models, gaining customers, and generating revenue in our region today. Our media outlets aren't paying enough attention, however.

    It wouldn't be difficult to find out more about some of the new and exciting firms -- in addition to the numerous business plan competitions, the Science Center, the business incubators, a reporter could visit one of the local MeetUp groups for Internet companies.
  • Saturday, March 11, 2006

    More on Risk Management

    "In many of the accidents, the consequences of being in the wrong place at the wrong time are worsened by poor practices, notably the presence of more than one person on the slope at the same time. Most of those who died knew better. They had either been explicitly warned of the hazards or had enough knowledge to recognize the clues," an op-ed piece in today's NY Times by Jill Fredston, co-director of the Alaska Mountain Safety Center noted.

    Doesn't that observation ring true in so many corners of our world?

    • We want a new product launch to work out so badly that we ignore apparent flaws and/or market feedback (New Coke)
    • We minimize reports of imminent danger rather than take precautionary actions (the Katrina debacle)
    • We think we won't get caught or that the rules don't apply to us (Martha Stewart)
    • We ignore the emotional comfort level of people we need to persuade to support our cause (East coast port management)
    • We assume that other people are thinking the way we do (NASA engineers in CA using the English measurement system and NASA engnieers in TX using the metric measurement system on parts that should have lined up perfectly, but didn't)

    In building a stronger business, we have to make sure our goals are clear, our strategy validated by market research, and we keep our eyes and ears open during execution to ensure we take into account appropriate course corrections.

    It takes discipline focus to avoid the trap of only paying attention to data and feedback that tell us what we want to hear.

    Ignoring these signposts in the business world often is not fatal (as it is for skiers and snowboarders testing their mettle), but can result in an avalance of criticism, ill will, and a precipitious drop in profit.

    Wednesday, March 08, 2006

    User Contributed Content - What's New

    Instead of rehashing the outline of what I've already covered in my classes at myBusinessGym on blogs, wikis, podcasts, and tags and how they can be used to promote small businesses on the Internet, I'll use this posting to talk about what I learned talking to Kevin Kearney, the User Experience Lead at Avenue A/Razorfish in NYC.

    Here are my top 10 take-aways from today's meeting of the Knowledge Management Group of Greater Philadelphia.

    1. Blogs are being used on intranets to develop connections between people who ordinarily would never meet in a large corporation. Apparently, the tools are straightforward enough and the payoff is great enough to make the time to share perspectives, questions, and progress reports.
    2. Live blogging (releasing posts via wireless laptops at a trade show keynote, for instance) follows the creed to use the tool to share content that's unique and timely.
    3. A "soup can" is an annotated list of links that are of intest to a particular group within a company. "Hey, did you see list of 'most embarrassing situations' that Pete posted? Check out the sales team soup can."
    4. The Wikipedia site gets 50x's the Internet traffic that the Encyclopedia Britannica site got at its peak in late 2004. A dramatic sign of the power of relevance!
    5. Corporate wikis are especially useful in democraticizing information sharing within large organizations, with slow approval cycles. The more people are able to contribute, the more complete the information respository is created.
    6. Social networks like LinkedIn are popular in corporate circles for several reasons, including having control over a personal "place" on the web (easier to create than a web site and that looks nicer than a geociites template!).
    7. Topic sites like MeetUp and 43 Things attract participants across all geographic boundaries to gather around a common interest.
    8. Topic tags offers a great deal of promise because of the collaborative way that colleagues can enrich a posting through their own contributions about a contribution. "Oh, I didn't realize that the photo of the Titan prototype also captured the fuel cell research center in perfect light. I'm glad that Don added that tag!"
    9. Business objective first, then spiffy technology as a means to get there.
    10. The whole idea of adding user-contributed tools is to offer a "back channel" for people to offer content, connections, and richness to a company that the established resources could not cajole or inspire.

    A favorite quote: “You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new.”
    -Steve Jobs, 2005

    Building a stronger business means devoting a portion of your time and resources in experimenting with new technologies and tools to see how you can use them to better serve your customers and run a more profitable business.

    What's been your experience? Share what you've learned.

    Bill Ringle is a business growth strategist and eBusiness Expert. Visit www.billringle.com for more info on Bill's companies and projects.

    Sunday, March 05, 2006

    Performance Evaluation by Stealth

    The Motley Fool decided to employ an unusual feature with its Intranet; anonymous peer reviews.

    Employees would type recommendations and criticism about specific work habits by the names of staff on the Intranet. While taking care to keep the individual sources of the criticism anonymous, the information was used by department managers in their frequent one-on-one interactions with the employees.

    Although the sources of the suggestions were not revealed, the small size of the company meant people could make educated guesses as to who wrote what, ensuring plenty of office chatter on the subject.

    The information was not used in reviewing who gets a promotion. Instead the review was moved into a suggestion box on the Intranet to help employees improve their performance by bonus time.

    Motley Fools’ approach is not for everyone. Peer reviews need to be handled properly to ensure that they are used responsibly and not abused by staff. If you are sensitive to people’s feelings and use criticism constructively, you can build a stronger business.

    Saturday, March 04, 2006

    Resource: Hard to Find 800 Numberhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifs

    Yes, this site is real.

    On the Top 5, it lists the toll-free numbers for:
    • Amazon (800-201-7575)
    • eBay (888-749-3229)
    • PayPal (888-215-5506)
    • Yahoo (866-562-7219)
    • Microsoft (800-426-9400)

    Thursday, March 02, 2006

    Things to Do: Reduce Stress

    Sometimes the most valuable tips are the most obvious ones.

    According to James T Machia, author of A Short Guide to Life, you can reduce your stress if you can remember what you have to do. Write down your responsibilities include schedules for projects, dates and meetings. Always keep a pen and notepad within reach. One you accomplish your tasks, scratch them off your list

    Don’t procrastinate! Sure you may be straightening out your desk or finally getting around to organizing that filing cabinet, but don’t you have something more important to do? Like your work?

    In his book Getting it Done, Andrew J DuBrin, professor of management at the Rochester Institute of Technology College of Business, advises readers how to avoid getting mired in the swamp of procrastination.

    Don’t occupy yourself with busywork if you’re simply avoiding doing a more stressful, time-sensitive project.

    Don’t let yourself get distracted. Sit down and outline specific goals.

    Don’t while away your time hoping a situation resolves itself. Have a plan of action to accomplish your goals and you will build a stronger business.

    PA Pitches International Affairs

    Congress wants to make cuts in the International Affairs Budget, a department with programs which stimulate international trade for a number Pennsylvania companies, according to Oliver Franklin and Kenneth Wong’s Philadelphia Business Journal article, “Meeting Global Challenges of the 21st Century”.

    Pennsylvania companies exported $22.27 billion in local goods to over 200 foreign markets in 2005. The Export-Import Bank, funded by the International Affairs Budget, provided $1.9billion in exports from the state over the past five years to the benefit of 202 companies. More than 17 percent of Pennsylvania manufacturing jobs are supported by the export of U.S. manufactured goods.

    In addition to supporting manufacturing, the International Affairs Budget provides support for non-profit initiatives such as HIV/AIDS programs, emergency assistance, agriculture and business development and cultural exchange programs.

    Cuts to the program have the potential to directly affect local workers and business.

    Exports are crucial to expanding companies, particularly manufacturers. If the US is to support its manufacturing base, it needs to continue to invest in export programs to stimulate trade with other countries which is essential to helping companies build a stronger business.