Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Fire your customers

Check out my latest post on the BIG blog about growing your business by focusing on customers you can satisfy and firing the rest.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A short tail is better in the physical world

Seth Godin has an interesting post about Borders (the book store):

It turns out that cutting inventory by 10% and facing books out (instead of just showing spines) increased their sales by 9%. This is counter to Long Tail thinking, which says that more choices and more inventory tend to increase sales.

This highlights a real point that online and off-line thinking and merchandising are inherently very different. While the online world is currently focused on search as the primary navigation method, the off-line world is still all about browsing and discovery. It makes perfect sense that when there is less information to consume in a book store, where browsing is the primary mode of discovery, sales will go up. Make it easier to discover new books by facing covers out to the consumer and obviously sales will go up.

On the web, however, the long tail is still king. I doubt that Borders has decreased its online inventory in any way. In fact, I'm sure they try and increase it so that any possible search gives them a sales opportunity.

What the internet does need is a hybrid approach. Sometimes you just want to browse and discover. Search provides a poor interface to this type of discovery. Companies like SearchMe are working on this. I'd like to see more sites embrace this type of interface. I want it for NetFlix's "new releases" (something akin to browsing BlockBuster's new release wall) and it would be also great for clothing sites. Searching is great, but sometimes an experience similar to flipping through a catalog is the right approach.

Monday, March 10, 2008

There's still room for human-built search tools

Way back in internet history, the primary way to discover new sites on the web was through human-built directory sites. In the current Google, keyword search-dominated world, it's easy to forget this. While geeks like us know that a few people out there are trying to give human-powered search a second chance, it has been essentially forgotten in favor of machine-driven bots that crawl the web and produce results based on complex and ever-changing algorithms.

Honestly, I love machine-driven search. Way back in my Yahoo! days (I was there when the above logo existed) it was clear that hand built web directories could never scale - and this was when the internet was "small." But those directories DO have a place and I hope that some of these newer incarnations of the old Yahoo! idea succeed where Google fails.

How is Google failing, you ask? With billions in revenue, massive search share, and endless innovation, how could Google fail? Well, it starts with simple searches. I'm currently evaluating shopping cart technology and also looking for NetSuite consultants. Searching in Google for these vendors works to a degree, but never turns up an exhaustive and thorough list of vendors. I've found that after searching for shopping cart vendors for over a week, I'm still finding strong candidates who failed to make it into Google's top 30 results (and who looks at more than the top 10 anyway?)

What the world needs is a good set of lists. Lists that Google can find and present when users are doing these kinds of searches. The world can not be limited to the top 10 results for any particular query, but unfortunately that's how it works right now. For most businesses, if you don't crack the top 10 for your key terms, you might as well not exist.

I hope that Mahalo and Squidoo succeed for this reason. Google's style of search has a place, but it can't be the be-all end-all for finding information. Google needs to find a way to direct users to lists of things that are compiled by humans because, at the end of the day, it is human intelligence and filtering that provides the most value to the end-user.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Google, please borrow from 37Signals

I love Google Apps. I really do. I find that I hardly ever open Microsoft Office products anymore.

But, because I've been using Apps from the beginning, all of my documents are under my personal Google login. This is also true for most of my co-workers who also adopted Apps early on. This wasn't much of a problem, but now Google has released a "team edition" and wants me to migrate everything over to a new Google account associated with my work email.

But wait... there are no tools to migrate between accounts! There's no easy navigation to switch between my Google Docs for my personal account and my work account. Please, Google, take a quick look at 37Signals who has solved this problem very well with their Open Bar. Do that and provide me with a tool to move docs between accounts and I'll be happy.

Why am I complaining about this? It feels to me that Google is treating their loyal users just like Microsoft did with Office 2007. When Microsoft launched the new Office, the re-design seemed to be geared towards people who had never used Office before, not geared towards the millions who had learned for over a decade how to use the old user interface. Google is doing a similar thing. They're launching new functionality that is geared almost exclusively towards new users, not towards the users that have been around since the early days.

So, come on Google. Throw your loyal users a bone and help us use your new features. Provide a migration path. Something. Please.