Friday, December 21, 2007

Too many blogs? Let your friends do the work.

If you read your blogs using Google Reader, they have a great feature that can help you A) get more out of the blogosphere, and B) filter your reading to only the best posts out there as selected by your friends.

Reading your friends or co-workers shared feeds is like having a big filter on the blogosphere. Assuming your friends "share" only interesting or useful posts that they find, your aggregated "shared items" feed will be a best-of all the blogs that your friends read. This is a great way to keep up on blogs that you might not read very often or subject areas where you don't need to keep up with day-to-day postings.

Here at Palo Alto Software we have been doing this for quite some time but through the more cumbersome method of aggregating our shared feeds through a 3rd party service called xFruits. While this works, it's difficult to add new shared feeds.

Adding your friends' shared item feeds to Google Reader is unfortunately not easy. You have to go to Gmail or Google Talk to invite people. There is not mechanism in Google Reader to invite friends directly. Hopefully Google will add this feature soon.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Amazon Search Sucks (or how to make millions with a simple change)

Why is it that the search function at is so bad? I can't count the number of times I have mistyped or misspelled when searching at Amazon and had them deliver ZERO results. That's right. None. Nothing. This is a huge revenue opportunity just sitting there and to be honest I'm shocked that Amazon hasn't taken care of this issue long ago.

The kicker is that Amazon actually owns a search engine! All they would have to do is point failed searches at their own search engine and actually give users some results. I guarantee that this will increase Amazon revenue.

Current failed search with links to products that are not relevant at all to my search: search results for the same search:

The second option gives me relevant products that I can actually buy (from, no less)

Are you leaving money on the table with your own site search?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Focus on yourself, not your competition

Techcrunch has an interesting profile of some new services that can help you track your competition (assuming you and your competition operate mostly online.)

What strikes me about these services is that while they might seem very tempting to use, they will actually just distract you from making your business better. I find that it is very difficult to innovate on your products and services if you spend all your time focusing on your competitors. If you focus on your competition, it blinds you from innovating in your own business. Focusing on your competition will push you quickly into second, third or fourth place since all you will end up doing is copying what they do - all you will be doing is chasing the true innovators.

At Palo Alto Software, whenever anyone asks us how we compare to our competition, we have a simple answer: We don't know. What we do tell our potential customers is what we know - why we think our products are great, what features and benefits our products have, and how our products will help our customers succeed in business.

Joel Spolsky of Joel on Software fame has a similar response when people ask him to compare his FogBugz product to the open source alternative Bugzilla: "I don't know. I don't use Bugzilla but I can tell you what's great about FogBugz." (I'm paraphrasing since I can't remember exactly where Joel published this.)

The point is that truly great products, services and companies are built by focusing on how to better serve customers and how to innovate. Good companies are not built by chasing the competition.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Good UI: Amazon logo

I noticed a really nice touch today in Amazon's recently released UI: when you mouse over the logo on any page but the home page, the logo changes to a button and adds the text "homepage."

This is smart.

While having your logo link to your home page is a web standard (although it's surprising how many sites forget to add this basic functionality), I've never seen anyone call it out to the user specifically. It always feels like a gamble when I go to click on a logo, hoping that it's a link to "home." Amazon tells me exactly what is going on.

More sites should do this.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The best thing we've done: Internal blogs and wikis

Seth Godin reminded me today that one of the best things we've done here at Palo Alto Software to increase internal communication was to set up an internal wiki and blog platform. Over time, the wiki has certainly proved useful, but the blogs have by far the most activity and are the most useful. Let me give you some examples:

  1. Log of site changes. Before our adoption of internal blogs, we tried (unsuccessfully) to track web site changes through excel lists, shared documents and a few other methods. Every few months we'd be looking at historical site stats and wonder why things suddenly changed. We'd then try and dig up the change log to figure out what happened. We'd almost never find the correct version of the change log. With our internal blog, the change log is centralized. Not only that, but everyone can keep track of site changes via the blog's RSS feed.
  2. Tracking marketing and advertising. Similar to our tracking of site changes, we use a blog to create a journal of all marketing initiatives and advertising. Again, we can look back and figure out which initiatives effected our sales and which didn't.
  3. Internal communication and transparency. These words might seem trite, but now everyone in the company has the opportunity to keep tabs on what is going on with our sales and marketing initiatives. No longer is tech support or customer service caught off guard with a site change or advertising message they didn't know about. Developers don't have to remember who to email when they change things. All anyone ever has to do is create a new internal blog entry and everyone knows.
  4. More communication. OK, I'm expanding on #3. Because blogs have comments, not only do the site change logs and advertising journals make sure everyone is going on, they enable people to comment on the initiatives. Comments create a great open forum to discuss advertising, marketing, site changes and more. And comments are much better than email because the discussion is archived for all to see and easily referenced in the future.
So, before you decide to implement yet another system to increase communication in your company, consider starting an internal blog or two.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Ok. I've sortof tried blogging here and there and just haven't stuck with it. I'm going to give it another shot. We'll see if it works out for me this time.