“Galt’s Gulch Chile is (was) meant to be a modern and real-world replica of Ayn Rand’s objectivist hide-out in Atlas Shrugged. Wealthy investors (or at least folks with a lot of bitcoin) envisioned a protected libertarian community where they could ride out the impending social and financial downfall of American society. Unfortunately for those taken in by the project, it appears now that the whole enterprise was a greed-driven scam.”—MetaFilter
It is the strange fate of America, in its waning days, that even wrestling — carnival redoubt of grifters, heels, and freaks of every stripe — would wind its way into the colorless confines of a ratty corporate park. Today, World Wrestling Entertainment — now renamed, per a legal settlement with that more genteel WWF, the World Wildlife Fund — trades on the New York Stock Exchange with a market capitalization of over $856 million.
Jim Barnett, one of the most powerful godfathers in the mid-twentieth century “Territorial Era” of wrestling promotion, boasted that he dealt with only three coteries: kings, prime ministers, and dictators. Barnett more typically dealt with sweaty jobbers and Georgia babyfaces, with names like “The Continental Lover” or “Geeto Mongol,” but the claim is perhaps not as ridiculous as it appears. Historically, professional wrestling, with its screaming neon lunatics, potbellied big daddies, and tasseled “ring rats,” has been considered too absurd to be taken seriously — deprecated by sportswriters and ignored by politicians, its fans derided as low-class marks.
This — the notion that pro wrestling is a fixed, low-rent travesty, undeserving of serious mainstream scrutiny — is the single greatest angle ever sold by the wrestling industry.
How did you study Anthropology and get into making apps for a living? Do you do a big part in anthropology and app making is just a side hobby?
Well, I don’t make apps for a living. Just for hobby, really.
But I do work in tech, specifically location data and analytics. Previously I worked in advertising, developing brand strategies.
Anthropology can be incredibly useful as a base knowledge if it was taught not as a trade (“Here, memorize these kinship diagrams…”) but as a method of thinking and investigating. Understanding how people interact with their culture, and how cultures bleed into one another and negotiate, allows you to think about how your efforts situate themselves and are encountered.
“Just the book I made of all my conversations—this 400-page book, almost like a bible, that encapsulates the year—just looking at that, not even reading it, but just looking at it, and realizing that I could go to any day of the year and basically relive it through my conversations, it’s really powerful.”—
I haven’t seen the book, but I have seen the database. Having so much qualitative data organized so precisely is fascinating. He was able to pull up every conversation we had in 2013, from the mundane to the significant.
On "Prime Pantry" & Amazon's Terrible Product Design
Put aside the Kindle and Prime for a moment. Now name one thing Amazon has launched which is in common usage besides simple shopping.
I’d argue you can’t. Amazon comes up with problem solving tech but is absolutely terrible at packaging it.
Consider the Amazon Fire Phone. To what audience would a $200+ phone (with a two year contract) which doesn’t run a major OS appeal? It’s main features help you shop at Amazon more easily (though the image recognition services), a problem most people don’t have in the first place.
Or Amazon Wish Lists. A great product buried behind a horrible UI. Within Wish Lists are all the features of Pinterest (and were in place years before Pinterest) and no one cared beyond a select few.
Or Amazon’s Kindle hub, which has been recommending I follow Tim Ferris and his goofy highlight from a Ben Franklin biography for nearly 5 years now.
Adding your first Prime Pantry item to Cart starts a Prime Pantry box. As you shop, you see that each Pantry item tells you what percentage of a Pantry box it fills based on its size and weight. Pantry boxes are large and can hold up to 45 pounds or four cubic feet of household products. As you check items off your list, we continuously track and show you how full your box is.
You can buy as much or as little as you want for a flat $5.99 delivery fee per Prime Pantry box.
Think about this from an average shopper’s point of view (and stay with me here. It gets booooring):
An item which would normally be Prime or a Prime Add-On now goes to a sub-category within your cart.
Click on your cart to check out and you see this sub-category marked by a infographic of a shipping-box filled up to the percent it contains. In my cart, this was 0.9% when I first noticed it. Zero point nine!
You realize that no matter what you do, clicking “check out” will ship a large separate box with small bottle of hand soap, for an extra $5.99. You want the hand soap, so you might browse the “Prime Pantry” store for more things to stick in your box.
The”Prime Pantry” store is pretty incomplete. I found three additional things in there that we use on a regular basis. Box filled to 10.4%.
At this point, you aren’t going to pay $5.99 for a mostly empty box, so you look for a way to check out without your “Pantry” items. There isn’t a way. Only way is to save all “Pantry” items for later.
Voila: Amazon has convinced you to buy the hand soap at the store across the street.
At several points in the process I felt like the team from AWS was given the reigns to design this process. Measuring boxes by percentage – even without the decimal point precision – is more akin to mangling server loads than shopping for groceries.
And this is the current state of Amazon: every new product or program they launch is almost certainly going to be hidden behind a terrible experience. Their new card reader is undercutting Square on price? I’d bet money it won’t catch on because a) Amazon won’t market it to retailers and b) they’d never figure out how to use it anyway.
To make matters worse, this seems to be a cultural problem rather than just a lack of resources. Read The Everything Store and it’s hard to think of Amazon as a company which tries to create good experiences. And this blind spot could likely bring them down.
Eric Kohn reviews Godard’s new film, “Goodbye to Language.”
Here’s one sample paragraph out of the total eleven, emphasis mine:
To some degree, the overwhelming montage taps into the over-saturation of today’s media climate, a point that Godard makes explicit several times: the recurring shot of a flat-screen television broadcasting static speaks for itself, as does a more comical bit in which two strangers continually tap away on their iPhones and exchange them, repeating the action. At one point, as the narration samples highlights from philosopher Jacques Ellul’s essay “The Victory of Hitler,” someone holds up a smartphone screen showing off the essay’s contents. It doesn’t take a lot of analysis to determine Godard’s intentions: He portrays the information age as the dying breath of consciousness before intellectual thought becomes homogenized by digital advancements.
“If you see an interesting story or photo on reddit, message the redditor who shared the piece to ask for their permission prior to using it in an article or list, ask how they would like it to be attributed, and provide them a deadline before you move on to another story.”—Reddit’s press guidelines are bonkers.
“There were a few abandoned buildings—one was a barbershop, and one was an abandoned McDonald’s,” Mr. Cowing said. “Someone hit the barbershop with a truck, so we took the McDonald’s.”
Their new control center, dubbed “McMoon’s,” fit all of the criteria they needed: the doors locked, and it was free. For their console, they pulled a broken flatscreen TV from a government dumpster and fixed the power supply. The other pieces are from eBay, including a Mac laptop and some radio parts.
With just those bare-bones pieces, they were able to MacGyver a computer-radio hybrid that made contact with the ISEE-3.
The fuzzy focus culminated in Square Wallet, which was initially called Card Case. Though Dorsey won’t acknowledge it publicly, the aim internally, says one source, was to “own both sides of the counter”—vendor and customer—so the company could one day “cut out the credit-card companies altogether.” (At weekly all-hands meetings, former COO Keith Rabois, only half-jokingly, used to announce the projected date on which Square’s payments-processing volume would overtake Visa’s.) Instead of helping consumers pay with their phones, like many other digital-wallet products, Square’s Wallet app enabled consumers to open a virtual tab with a nearby shop and then pay for items merely by saying their name when they arrived. Despite its popularity with the tech vanguard, Wallet saw barely any adoption. Few merchants accepted it, partly because few consumers paid with it, and vice versa. Even where Square Wallet was accepted, cashiers often didn’t know how it worked. “It wasn’t necessarily faster, or more convenient,” Dorsey says, looking back. “It felt more futuristic, but that doesn’t make it better.”
Wallet failed because it had a horrible go-to-market plan and it may have been too early.
I taught at least 10 different businesses who used Square how to check me out with it. They had no idea how it worked. Once they were set up, Square Wallet was an amazing way to do business. Transactions weren’t a forced interaction with a keypad, they were a morning greeting and quick chat. My face popped up on their register and they tapped it as they told me the total. I bought more at these venues because I it was a pleasant transaction and the barriers to purchasing were so low.
But again, I had to teach each vendor how Wallet worked. I showed my friends the glimpse of the future Square was offering. They had no idea such technology existed. For years I used Wallet as an example of how location technology was being applied in as a subtle interface.
It’s too bad Square never marketed Wallet, taught their vendors, and showed small businesses how Wallet led to more loyal customers. Wallet could have led to a better type of store.
“Relax into the couch as you chill out in Deckard’s apartment helping him track down replicants. Share some hard space liqour out of his bottle bag. This is 12 hours of the ambient droning sound heard in Blade Runner while in Deckard’s domicile.”—crysknife007 (Via Gizmodo)
“Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was caught on a security camera dragging his unconscious wife-to-be Janay Palmer by the hair, after knocking her unconscious, and the National Football League has chosen to suspend him for two games. Rice in fact will return to the field just in time to wear the NFL’s pink-festooned uniforms to celebrate their deep commitment to breast cancer awareness.”—Dave Zirin
“One page of the catalogue is devoted to Restoration Hardware’s environmental impact. First, the company claims that sending out the catalogues all at once is more responsible than spreading them throughout the year. (It does not acknowledge that, in 2003, when it mailed six catalogues annually, it used half as many total pages.) Second, the company says that it purchases paper certified by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. (However, as Business Week explained, other retailers, such as Pottery Barn, buy paper from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which has stricter environmental standards.) Third, Restoration Hardware points out that it purchases carbon offsets through UPS to fund conservation projects. (Those offsets, while helpful, cover only the shipping, not the paper production, themost harmful part of the process, because of the energy used to break down wood into pulp.) The company responded to my questions about its environmental practices by emailing a press release containing information identical to what’s in the catalogue.”—
“In China drinking with clients and colleagues is now seen as vital to career advancement; some job adverts even call for “good drinking capacity”. One study found that civil servants had a far higher incidence of alcohol-related liver diseases than the population at large (the higher the rank, the worse their health prospects).”—The Economist
“To Foursquare’s credit, the default recommendations you see upon opening the app are more personalized, as they’re largely based on the “tastes” you’ve picked prior. Which is a nice feature, certainly. But in all the times I’ve used Foursquare over the past few years, the one discovery feature I favored over all others was the ability to only search places where friends had previously checked in. Now that that filter is gone, the best you can do is impotently scroll through places the people you follow have “recommended.” It may sound like a technicality, but the lack of control makes the entire process feel more distant.”—
Time for more Yo thought pieces (and you thought they were done!) as the one-touch design model spreads. Today Push for Pizza, an app that does exactly that. Watch the usually well-made Sandwich video:
The current wave of convenience-tech products (Uber, Push for Pizza, all 1-day delivery applications…) suggest that our technical capabilities outstrip our ability to package them.
It feels like 1999 all over again. Suddenly anything can have a webpage, so it can. Suddenly anything can have an app, so it can. Suddenly anything can be on-demand, so it will be.
This phase of the tech industry is what I’d like to call the Malcolm Phase, named after a wise man who once commented that people become “so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” And we all know what happened next.
But unlike cloned dinosaurs, all of these applications are inevitable. The question is are they inevitable right now.
Think about 1999. Pets.com died a fiery death, but now we have Wag. WebVan failed but FreshDirect thrives. Kozmo’s business model dusted off the ashes and was reborn as Seamless, Grubhub, and more.
Why the failure then and success now?
As I see it, while technology may advance quickly, human behaviors are sluggish. We are advancing slowly on a road towards complete faith in digital transactions. Using pizza as an example, here are the phases of trust we’re advancing along:
Trust in Digital Purchases: “If I pay for pizza on a website, will they receive my money and actually delivery a pizza to me?” (this wasn’t present in 1999)
Trust in Digital Recommendations: “Does this service know of a better place to get pizza than I do?” (we’re barely at this point now)
Trust in Digital Completion: “Does this app know a great place to get pizza from and how to get it to my house?” (Push for Pizza is aiming here)
Trust in Digital Instigation: “Does this app know when I’m going to want pizza?” (Some are already planning for this)
Another good way to think about this is the various job we’re hiring the app or service to be:
Cashier: Take my money, give me goods.
Concierge: Give me a few ideas, let me make the choice.
Admin: Go research and complete a transaction for me.
Proxy: Anticipate my purchase needs and execute them.
Obviously these trust levels are related to disposable income. If you have a ton of money you won’t mind if an Admin or Proxy screws up every now and then. But for most people, we’re only at trust level 1 and 2. Yelp and other’s recommendations have a high enough hit rate that we’re willing to spend money on an untested restaurant regularly.
But Push for Pizza jumps to trust level 3. And I’m not sure we’re ready for the commitment.
To their credit, they’re taking a smart approach: the risk costs are low for the user (pizza is cheap and relatively commodified), the audience is focused and impulsive (did you catch the brief shot of one of the kids exhaling smoke in the video above?), and the trust precedent is set (Uber has paved the way, which was handled cleverly in the video without being tired). We’ll have to wait to see if these tactics will be enough. Best of luck to them1.
The biggest reason I think they won’t succeed, beyond slow user adoption, is that these three strategies (commodified product, focused audience, early adopter customers familiar with the business model) are rarely all aligned. Pizza is not a commodity in affluent, tech-savvy markets like New York, San Francisco, and LA. The core audience will never try again if they hit the button and Dominos arrives. ↩
“Researchers at MIT, Microsoft, and Adobe have developed an algorithm that can reconstruct an audio signal by analyzing minute vibrations of objects depicted in video. In one set of experiments, they were able to recover intelligible speech from the vibrations of a potato-chip bag photographed from 15 feet away through soundproof glass.”—
“But I do think it’s important to keep perspective. Russia doesn’t make anything. Immigrants aren’t rushing to Moscow in search of opportunity. The life expectancy of the Russian male is around 60 years old. The population is shrinking. And so we have to respond with resolve in what are effectively regional challenges that Russia presents. We have to make sure that they don’t escalate where suddenly nuclear weapons are back in the discussion of foreign policy. And as long as we do that, then I think history is on our side.”—
“For about $12, Sprint will soon let subscribers buy a wireless plan that only connects to Facebook . For that same price, they could choose instead to connect only with Twitter , Instagram or Pinterest—or for $10 more, enjoy unlimited use of all four. Another $5 gets them unlimited streaming of a music app of their choice. The plan, offered under the company’s Virgin Mobile brand of prepaid service, comes as wireless carriers are experimenting with ways to make wireless Internet access more affordable for the poorest consumers by offering special deals on slices of the Web.”—
This weekend I thought a lot about the trouble app developers have breaking through the noise. It’s clear we’ve hit an inflection point in app development. As production became easier and distribution became democratized, a new problem emerged: yes, we can all build global apps in our garage, but so can everyone else.
The balance between supply and demand is difficult in every medium (film, music, TV, podcasts…) because demand is capped by a variable we cannot control: the time can spend people discovering and consuming. We can try to make each discovery and consumption easier or lower our costs of production, but the customer’s time itself is fixed. At some point, we always hit this wall.
Our problem now is not how we build apps, but how we breakthrough. Great development isn’t enough. Only when development, design, and marketing are planned together can we succeed. Because an app isn’t good if nobody knows it exists.
Given this, I’ve assembled a quick and dirty checklist for marketing-phobic app developers inspired by both my experience as an app developer and my experiences crafting brand strategies for major companies.
What is the single, simple mission of your app? If you had to reduce your app down to a single sound bite, what would it be? Is that sound bite compelling? Is it unique to you? It’s important for your app to have a simple purpose because almost every person you want to use your app won’t have more than a few moments to evaluate it. If your app doesn’t fit into a sound bite, you’re probably spinning your wheels on features that people won’t care about or, worse, will make your app more confusing.
What existing community will your app appeal to? What group of people will care about and talk about your app? The biggest challenge here is (a) not picking a community that is already saturated with other apps and (b) picking a socially active community. If the community you want to target is being messaged about a new app almost daily, the odds are against you no matter how great your app. If the community doesn’t have an active online presence, they certainly aren’t going to talk about you. Find a community that’s underserved, vocal, and cares about your mission. Bonus question: how will you start a discussion with this community?
How will your app be naturally shared via social networks? In today’s market, building an app without Facebook and Twitter integration (at least) is like playing baseball without a glove. You could do it. But you’ll disappoint your team, audience, and probably hurt yourself. I’m not advocating forced sharing (“Tell your friends now to unlock a level!”), though that may have its place. I’m arguing that you invest time and development into building a social sharing feature that makes sense and helps communicate your selected mission to your selected community.
This may seem like basics, but based on my dealings with app developers and surveys of the app store, I don’t think these questions are being clearly answered early in the process.
As app developers, we often become attached to features that impress us. Worse, we over-simplify planning with platitudes and ‘principles’ people apply to apps which have succeeded in different contexts. “Build something that solves a problem you have,” works when there’s only a handful of developers like you. Today, that’s probably not the case.
Treat these questions as a 3-part venn diagram. The features that sit in the overlap are the ones which should be focused on.
But, in a nutshell, here is my advice to everyone developing apps in 2014:
Identify a social, underserved community which has a problem you can solve. Build a simple app for them and give them a reason to talk about your solution.
In a future post perhaps I’ll break down how we stepped through this plan for Reporter (and yes, we dropped the ball on #3).
Two different developers (Jared Sinclair and Tyler Hall) published relevant case studies today highlighting their income from two apps, one iOS and one Mac.
In addition to being interesting financial snapshots, these cases highlight the discovery and pace of app installs (lots of hockey sticks). For one, they both target themselves, the developer/app nerd audience. To underscore this, Sinclair talks about how his biggest days were when bloggers featured his app, but the bloggers he mentions are Federico Viticci and Shawn Blanc, two dyed in the wool Mac bloggers. Sinclair’s RSS app Unread is excellent, but he’s stuck inside his community, not one which might support him. (Selling an RSS app to Mac nerds is like selling ice to Eskimos).
Unread also raises a bonus question for question #1: is your mission unique to you? Compounding the problem of Unread being an RSS app in a sea of RSS apps, its minimalistic approach isn’t unique, especially among RSS apps geared towards this community. If your mission is already owned by an established player who’s selling to your community, why do you exist?
Nothing should scare the consumer app market more than Product Hunt. Supply has outstripped not only demand, but the time users need to evaluate if something meets their needs. Due to this constraint, good products are bottlenecked by dumb luck. The only reason cracks haven’t appeared yet is production is so cheap.
So what’s next? I imagine a greater focus on marketing and branding. Major capital isn’t needed for development, but it is needed for branding if you want adoption (or even awareness) to achieve any sort of critical mass. I expect app holding companies to emerge, or distributors. Like EA is to it’s many game studios or music labels were to bands. Marketing will be centralized in the next model.
“There were no rules for nicknames, to begin with, and a sportswriter—who might be the only one in town—could call a player whatever he wanted. Charlie Pabor was called “The Old Woman in the Red Cap,” probably the only seven-word nickname ever; a similarly outstanding handle was “Death to Flying Things,” assigned to the overbearing defensive wizard Bob Ferguson.”—Bill James on baseball nicknames of the 1870s.
“Eager to defend the civilian control of nuclear weapons from military encroachment, John F. Kennedy and Robert McNamara had fought hard to ensure that only the president could make the ultimate decision. But they hadn’t considered the possibility that the president might be clinically depressed, emotionally unstable, and drinking heavily—like Richard Nixon, during his final weeks in office. Amid the deepening Watergate scandal, Secretary of Defense Schlesinger told the head of the Joint Chiefs to seek his approval before acting on “any emergency order coming from the president.” Although Schlesinger’s order raised questions about who was actually in command, it seemed like a good idea at the time.”—Eric Schlosser, Command and Control