Archive for the 'Product' Category

Genius is Genius

I’m not talking about the Genius Bar at retail Apple stores (although I love that, too)… I’m referring to the new features in iTunes 8. My purchase rate has definitely shot up since the addition of the Genius Sidebar that appears alongside my song list – yet another testament to the value of good recommendation technology.

My favorite iTunes feature, however, is Genius’s dynamic playlist technology which uses a single song seed to create a playlist of my own music. I’m amazed by its ability to group together songs that are diverse across basic characteristics like artist, genre, and album but similar in “essence.” It seems like they’re basing this solely off of other users’ song/playlist data instead of “music genome” data like Pandora. Works great for me and, theoretically, this should improve over time. In the following playlist (seed = Our Swords) there are probably 2-3 songs max that seemed like audible outliers:

Our Swords – Band of Horses
Haiti – Arcade Fire
Fast As You Can – Fiona Apple
Kiss Them For Me – Siouxsie & The Banshees
Only You – Joshua Radin
Sunshowers – M.I.A.
Til Kingdom Come – Coldplay
No Myth – Michael Penn
Marry Song – Band of Horses
Keep the Car Running – Arcade Fire
Hold Me Now – Thompson Twins
Joey – Concrete Blonde
The Last Time – Gnarles Barkley
Babylon – David Gray
Maps – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
I Know – Fiona Apple
All I Want Is You – U2
Warning Sign – Coldplay
Lullaby – The Cure
Wicked Gil – Band of Horses
Amie – Damien Rice
WRAPPED AROUND YOUR FINGER – THE POLICE
Rebellion (Lies) – Arcade Fire
Run – Snow Patrol
Head On – The Jesus and Mary Chain

Aptly named feature. :-)

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Coming soon…

My blogging rate has been abysmal of late, but not completely out of laziness. Most of my time and energy over the last few months have been devoted to a new venture… I spend my week stressed, exhausted, and at times my brain physically hurts. But most often I experience an immense sense of pride… especially as our hard work and vision start to take form. Here’s a teaser for what’s to come…

30 Simple Questions

While exploring the blogosphere this evening, I came across a useful post on Sramana Mitra’s blog titled “Clarify Your Story: Internet Businesses.” It’s a good list of about 30 high-level questions you should be asking yourself when starting a new internet business.

What struck me most about this list is that it’s completely transferrable to product management… these are the same questions product managers ask (or should ask) themselves when building new products or lines of business. (I like to think that product managers at established companies are essentially micro-entrepreneurs backed by company cash flow… While the dynamics and risk/reward profiles can be vastly different, PMs, like many entrepreneurs, are responsible for generating positive business results through product innovation.)

In fact, thinking through some products of underwhelming success (some that I’ve worked on), I can clearly tie the lack of success to an overlooked question on this list. For example, “How do you build traffic?” That’s a gem… Even the most brilliant products are difficult to sustain without a flowing source of traffic, yet traffic generation is often an afterthought. “What is your differentiated value proposition?” We may be in another bubble because this one is not scrutinized enough.

Anyhow, I’m sure there are a dozen similar, potentially better, checklists out there. But this one seems like a great starting point for the entrepreneur in us all.

Yelp gone frat boy!

I love Yelp. They’ve done a great job to date of executing on a very logical idea and the product continues to be relevant and useful on a regular basis. I read reviews, write reviews, find great information and often comic relief on Yelp. But when I get an email encouraging me to ‘show my Yelps!’ (it’s Mardi Gras… get the reference?), my inner Yelper dies a little. Here is a snapshot of the email I found in my inbox this morning:

yelp1.jpg

Normally I would think “eh, sex sells” and move on, but I thought this was an interesting topic for a post… not the use of sex to promote a business or an event, but the use of that precious user data to appropriately segment and target your customers. Given the requirements for opening an account, Yelp must at least know my age, gender, and location… (30, female, San Francisco). Were I 30 and male, or 22, female, living in Miami, this campaign could be rationalized. But at 30 and female, “thoughts of girls (and guys) going wild” (a.k.a. public orgies and vomit) aren’t enticing. Neither is the thought of being surrounded by skinny, hot, half-naked girls.

So I wonder… does Yelp even target by demographic, or is this the mass mail that was sent out to all of their users? And if it’s the latter, why not use imagery that’s more Mardi Gras themed (notice that only one girl in the photo is sporting beads… and they might not even be for Mardi Gras)? Beignets and Hurricanes, perhaps. Colorful masks, floats, jesters, Krewes, etc.

User opinions are helpful if a) they are likely to parallel your own or b) they span a diversity of opinions, allowing you to make a well-informed decision. Receiving marketing emails like the one above leads me to believe that frat boys are Yelp’s primary demographic; therefore, Yelp reviews don’t satisfy either of these conditions for me.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not quitting Yelp – I still love it!  I just feel that they should think more with their brains and less with their…

Altruism made easy…

It’s the last day of a beautiful three-day weekend and I’m sitting in my fancy new living room reflecting on the harmless self-indulgence of the past few days… comedy romp, bachelorette party, happy hours, “donuts,” movies… general-purpose yuppie fun. I often feel guilty for spending my free time (read: those few hours a week that are not occupied by work and subsistence) in a self-absorbed coma, but the following email I found in my inbox this morning reminded me that even when picking lint off of my socks, I’m “making a difference.”

Dear Seema Shah ,

The business you have loaned to, Taller de Bloques Maritza , has made a repayment of $75.00. The total amount repaid up to now is $450.00. The payment was collected and deposited by Kendall Mau. This repayment will be divided amongst all the lenders who helped to fund this business, depending upon the percentage each lender contributed. Note that you cannot actually withdraw or reloan these funds until after the loan term is complete.

To view your Kiva loan portfolio go to:
http://www.kiva.org/app.php?page=account

With altruism made so easy, there’s really no excuse these days for being a leech on the world.

Yuppies & brats of the world… If your lavish lifestyle leaves you feeling depraved or conflicted, the next time you drop a Benjamin for a few drinks at some chichi lounge, negate your uselessness by loaning the same amount to someone here so that they may earn in one month what you consumed in one hour.

Lazy people, busy people, and broke-ass people of the world… if you feel like you can’t “give” because you haven’t the time or the money to donate, find a new excuse. If you have internet access, a bank account, and liquid assets of at least $25, you can loan money to the world’s working poor to improve their livelihood.

Capitalists of the world… If you’re looking for a new investment opportunity, recognize that positive returns are not always financial. Invest in an entrepreneur for whom failure is really not an option.

Rediscovering music

One of my favorite pastimes in my early to mid 20’s was pirating music… When I first moved to San Francisco I had some friends who lived in a flat in Lower Haight, the heart of urban gentrification at the time. Every Sunday morning we would congregate in their living room for a lazy day of reading, recovering, talking, and file sharing. It wasn’t all about getting music for free… It was more about having access to a gold mine of music, sampling new sounds with virgin ears, and rediscovering ourselves through a newfound love. All without incurring a permanent cost.

Over the past few years I’ve dropped my piracy habit… mostly because it’s become increasingly difficult (I confess) and also because I do want to reward artists and producers for compositions I enjoy. Friends, TV/movie features, and radio (bleh) have become my primary sources of new music… until now. Thanks to advances in social music, I can once again safely explore uncharted ground.

Pandora is a site I’ve used in the past and while I think it’s incredibly promising, it needs a few key features. For one, they should just scour your music directory to save you the effort of typing in your favorite artists/songs (maybe this is in the works). Also, they’re still working on building out their catalog of music… for example, they have no matches for ‘A.R. Rahman‘ – one of the greatest and most prolific Indian composers of our time. They did, however, recently enable search for user generated stations and I immediately found a couple of stations I love. Unfortunately there seems to be no indication of what song is currently playing… or any way to stop it… obviously still a work in progress.

I tried iJigg.com today for the first time and was pleased to discover that the top (most popular) song listed is “Ya Rabba” from the new hindi film Salaam-E-Ishq. Beautiful song… Although I think this site is supposed to allow artists to upload their own, original music. In any case, this is probably a good site to track.

I’m definitely excited about the prospects of finding new incredible music… I even added a ‘Music’ category so I can share my discoveries with my blahg readers!

Oh Snap!

I love the Snap feature available on WordPress. Roll over any link and it shows you a mini preview of the referenced page. AJAX at its best. Everytime I see the preview I think, “…Ohhh SNAP!” :-P


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