May 22

I love Google Voice. We use it as our main office line at JumpBox and it gives us a lot of flexibility in handling the phones. We can setup call windows for business hours where it rings my cell during the day and goes direct to voicemail in the evenings and on weekends. We get transcribed emails for each voicemail so we can quickly skim the content before listening to a long message. And we can very easily re-route calls to a different phone if I’m out for some reason.

But there is one feature that is so conspicuously absent that either I’m fundamentally misunderstanding the service or it’s a major oversight in how it works. The quickest way to explain the issue is to show what I want added to the voicemail interface (circled in red):

The current problem is this: if Google Voice rings my cell phone and I miss a call during the day it goes to my AT&T voicemail. That’s problematic for a couple reasons, namely: 1) I’m the only one with access to it 2) the caller gets a personal greeting from me instead of the expected company message 3) it fragments where our messages are stored into two places 4) we lose the nicety of call transcription.

The ideal solution here would be to have a threshold setting I can configure so it recognizes when I don’t pick up by the 3rd ring, takes the call back and re-routes it to the GV voicemail.

Is there some obvious setting I’m missing to make it behave this way? If not, Google peeps: this would be a hugely valuable / simple feature to add. I have to imagine others face this situation and could benefit from it.

May 10

I’m back from a week in Boulder, CO for their Startup Week palooza and holy shnikes was it a neat series of events. I wanted to do a braindump of my thoughts on the weekend while they’re fresh.

First, kudos to Andrew Hyde for pulling this thing together- what an amazing community they have up there. Paul Graham had written a post a few years ago that distilled the traits necessary to produce the next Silicon Valley. While Boulder is no SV (nor should it necessarily want to clone that) there is definitely something other than beer brewing in that town. And I’m not the only one this weekend that felt it – Chris from RWW (another AZ person) sensed the same thing.

What worked well

Plancast – this is an app that allows people to express their intentions of what events they’ll attend. This worked extremely well for coordinating things. It integrates w/ Twitter and FB and allows you to parachute into a situation and conveniently track what’s going on and schedule where you want to be. But it’s more because it allows you to connect w/ attendees after the fact so you don’t have to obsess over collecting people’s contact info while you’re enjoying the moment. I was skeptical of this app when I first heard about it because it has the same downside of LBS only amplified because you’re publicly projecting your intended location for the future. Well, I stand corrected: this is a kickass tool and I hope all conferences adopt it (or something like it).

Startup Crawl – I co-founded a company called back in the day. We ran crawls in Phoenix and made a site which enabled 100+ other cities to run crawls of their own. We knew the magic interaction & serendipity that occurs when you get a group of people to travel together amongst interesting locations. This worked really well and I want to do something similar with the meetup group I run for techies in AZ. You meet the people in your group, learn about the companies that you visit and the whole thing is super-fun. The TempeNerd lunches have been somewhat anemic lately but I believe this tweak to the format will revive it and take it in a new and more social direction. Unfortunately Phoenix is so geographically disbursed it will be a challenge to find pockets of startups within walking distance but I have some ideas. I’ve put a picture set at the bottom of this post to give you a flavor for what the crawl was like.

Ignite Boulder – solid to very-solid. They rocked this event and nailed the major things you need to do:

  • venue with character
  • quality speakers
  • flawless A/V execution
  • likeable moderator
  • live-streaming for remote folks
  • intermission w/ beverages
  • legit live music
  • ice-breaker nametags
  • a pre and post party for people to socialize

You get these core things right and you’ll naturally draw interesting people. Jeff Moriarity is kicking butt w/ our Ignite event here but we can definitely learn some lessons from Boulder’s.

The bigger picture

I told Andrew the bigger picture of what’s happening here is a “unification of the tribes.” Economy 2.0 is going to operate very differently from what we know today. The facts we do know at this point:

  1. it’s unquestionably f#$%’d now and not going to fix itself.
  2. entrepreneurship will play a prominent role in the recovery.
  3. collaborative technical infrastructure has evolved to the point where people no longer need to be on-premise to participate effectively on a team.
  4. while in-person presence is not essential to render work, there is no substitute for intermittent convergence of people who can then remain in contact afterwards via digital means.

I don’t know that Boulder represents the “next Silicon Valley” but I also don’t know that we need another Silicon Valley. Whatever it is it’s stacking up to be a hub of startup activity. The quality of their community is testament that they’re doing something right up there in the mountains. I’ll definitely be searching for an excuse to get back there next snowboarding season and looking forward to staying in contact w/ some of the people I met up there in the meantime.

Props to peeps

Random shout outs in no particular order to some of the interesting people and companies I hung out with up there: Chris Hough, Suzan Bond, the Tweety Got Back girls Heather and Rachel, Lane Becker of Get Satisfaction, Micah Baldwin of, Joe Stump of Simple Geo, Ari Newman of Jive (formerly Filtrbox), Ben Brikerhoff (formerly of Devver), Brandon Harper and of course Jeremy & Andrew.

If we met and I haven’t connected with you on Twitter yet hit me up.

Thanks Boulder people for welcoming us travelers into your community this past week. You guys have at least one guaranteed couch here in Phx to crash on when you need it.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

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May 09

This is half rant / half proposal for a free business idea. I’ve gotten four emails in the past week from various entities (2 banks, 1 health insurance provider and 1 telephony carrier) that notify me of changes to their TOS (apparently I need to accept them if I want to continue being a customer). One of the documents was a 35pg PDF which presumably had a few sentences change since I first accepted it. Given how much we have going on in our company the effort involved in combing through that document vs. the likelihood of that task returning value all but condemns it to reside indefinitely at the bottom of my todo list.

A better way & an open letter to service providers

These verbiage haystacks are bad news. Your customers are busy people and while it may be in your best interest to cloak the tweaks to your policies that may stir up unrest amongst your customers, this practice is asinine. Publish the damn “patch” to the TOS so we can skim it, see the crux of what changed and rapidly make a decision about whether we agree the tradeoff is worth it to remain your customer.

Yes, your attrition rate will go up as a result (and it should) But the thinking that “we’ll just bury the new stuff in the huge doc and people will accept it out of frustration/lack of time” is hugely short-sighted. We already know 88% of the people don’t read the TOS the first time, you think that % is going to be any better when you ask them to re-read a slightly-modified version a few months from now? While you may get a short term attrition benefit w/ the current method you’ll eventually end up with angry rants from pissed off customers higher support costs from fielding inquiries caused by inaccurate expectations. By doing it the way you are now you set the stage for an inevitable exodus of angry customers to your closest competitor that respects the value of their customers’ time. And the loyalty they earn by making it easier to stay informed and make faster decisions is priceless – you will not see the people that defect specifically for this reason again. And they will be vocal about their exit.

Abstracting this to a business idea

So the meta from this is that there’s an opportunity for someone to deliver “Policy as a service” to companies. Us geeks can figure out how to put docs in source control or publish pages that automatically highlight the diff from the last version. But for the rest of the world the path of least resistance to writing/reading is creating a new PDF and expecting readers to comb through the whole doc.

Someone should develop a simple service that allows companies to publish policy docs (TOS, privacy, employee handbooks, EULA’s and such) and give their end users a way to easily see what’s changed before accepting it and track the history of acceptance. The stage is primed for a service like this to work and it’s something that would allow it’s creator to “do well by doing good.” It would drive better transparency in business practices, support consumer rights and promote better corporate responsibility.

If you build this and make a million, buy me a donut and follow me on Twitter.

Apr 27

Matt Asay wrote a post about a month ago and I’ve been meaning to respond. He argues that the comments section on blog posts tend to devolve into ghettos of expletives and personal attacks instead of productive discussion (I agree with this part of his post). He then proposes that Twitter is the medium we should be using to hold conversations around blog posts (this is the part I take issue with). Rather than describe at length why, here’s a graphic that summarizes the argument:

Examining what’s worked empirically

I believe commenting channels can be examined on the above seven dimensions. Admittedly there is zero science behind the above chart – this is purely subjective analysis via thinking about aspects of each medium and how they contribute to effective or ineffective discussion. In thinking about groups I’ve been involved with and which ones worked well the most interesting realization is that there’s a factor outside of the qualities of the channels themselves that trumps everything here: it’s the glue of interaction beyond the channel. The most meaningful discussions I’ve been a part of were in groups where we had in-person or real-time interaction punctuated by periods of asynchronous online exchanges. AZCFUG, CFUG manager list, Cambrian House, Refresh Phoenix, AZIPA – these are all groups that produced valuable insight and relationships, every one of them anchored by a good level of accountability through real-time interaction outside of the online channels.

When you strip everything away it’s not even the real-time aspect that’s critical though- it’s the accountability / reputation factor that ultimately drives quality discussion. When you know your words stick with you wherever you go, you behave differently. You show respect, humility, ensure what you’re typing actually adds unique value, etc. Remove this factor and you get the faceless, ghetto problem of Digg comments and the troll activity on our city’s newspaper site. You lose pride in ownership, start getting a few broken windows and the whole neighborhood adopts a license to behave badly. BUT… Twitter is not the antidote folks- starting a personal blog and supplementing it with Twitter is. Twitter alone is too short-form of a medium to communicate real substance and the “one-way follow” aspect makes it impossible to see the whole conversation as an outsider (unless people happen to be using explicit #hashtags). Yes, it addresses the accountability concern but it does so at the expense of introducing new issues of an “ADHD/Sound-byte-speak” and fragmented dialogue for the people involved. It’s like having UN delegates hold a debate where everyone can talk into their mic but nobody knows who’s hearing who because each set of headphones is tuned pickup a select fraction of the participants involved.

So what do you suggest?

The question becomes, “short of being able to have face-to-face interaction serve as an anchor of civility in discussion between online exchanges, what do you propose as the most effective means of holding productive debate online?” If you look at the above graphic you’ll understand why I believe the answer is to return to using the personal blog w/ a combination of verified comments for short responses and trackbacks for more substantive responses. Twitter has IMHO shoplifted people’s mojo and derailed this practice that used to be commonplace. I believe we’ll see Twitter fatigue and a resurgence of the way it used to be with volleys of blog posts that mutually link amongst one another. Facebook link shares and Tweets are pointers to content – like a fluid, more social RSS feed. But the real substance of discussion has always and will continue to reside in blogs.

Mar 23

Is this feasible to build? Bonus points if you can figure how to cancel out external music while letting me listen to my own.

You have a UI prototype and a pre-order for at least one at $300- someone please build it.
If nothing more consider doing it as a public service.

Mar 09

It can’t be assumed it will reach its intended recipient.

It’s not actually a new phenomenon but it seems the deliverability of application-generated email has fallen to a point where a letter sent via the US Postal Service is more likely to reach its intended recipient. Let me explain.

Many services (including our own) use email as an integral part of the service itself. Account activation, critical system notifications, trial key issuance, software update alerts, billing-related communications: email is the transport mechanism we rely upon because it’s realtime and it’s the lowest common denominator for reaching a user. The recent preponderance of SPAM however and (consequent aggressiveness of spam filters) has rendered email unreliable for this purpose.

Person-generated emails still seem to make it 99% of the time but I’d guess the deliverability of our automated emails is maybe 85%. In scenarios of account activation it’s merely an annoyance but in scenarios of proactive notifications of important events this is a real issue. Failing to receive those communications can have real material impact to the customer.

How are folks dealing with the unreliability of email in their apps? Are you staying within the realm of email and seeking better ways to ensure delivery? Exploring alternate communication mediums like SMS or IM’s? Offering personalized, protected RSS feeds of account activity? Or has someone developed a web service that can launch carrier pigeons?

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