Friday, November 20, 2015

One Salesforce.com Feature I Could Use

You know what would be a great Salesforce.com feature? If you could test and evaluate different licenses. Sure, you can get a free 30-day trial if you're not a customer. But what happens if you want to evaluate a "Chatter Plus" seat, or an "Unlimited Edition Seat"? How can you tell if the seat will meet your requirements and work within your existing environment?

Me, I want to be able to implement a test -- to see what seat would look like -- before I commit to changing my contract. Is it too much to ask?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Wired Looks at iTunes Alienation of Music Lovers

I've written about it a number of times before, Apple has taken a design and product strategy that is alienating and abandoning many of their most passionate users. In Apple’s iTunes Is Alienating Its Most Music-Obsessed Users, Jesse Jarnow explores how iTunes has evolved into a platform that sucks for people with giant music libraries. Earlier this year, I'd come across an article with related complaints held by classical music fans.

Essentially, all of the crap that they've added into iTunes, plus this overwhelming requirement for iTunes to phone home to Apple, really sucks if you've built a music library. In that way, the core functionality of iTunes has been superseded by stuff that doesn't really relate to music library at all.

If you think about that on an abstract level, this product that used to cater to a very specific set of requirements -- typically the most demanding, passionate users of an application -- has evolved into a giant business engine shaped around promoting selling you crap that they want to sell you. This is less aligned with Steve Jobs, the guy that took days and weeks to decide on the right washing machine, and more aligned with the fluff and seasonality of the fashion industry.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A nice post on the lack of Age Diversity in Silicon Valley

Here's a nice post on age diversity that I came across this morning. One thing that struck me as funny though. For all of the lack of age diversity in Silicon Valley, if you look at the companies that actually make silicon and the semiconductor manufacturing industry, you'll see a different landscape.

How Can We Achieve Age Diversity in Silicon Valley?

Apple's iPhone 6s Plus is Not the best phone I've ever owned

One of the phrases that always makes me laugh -- particularly after a new iPhone launch -- is when they get somebody and quote them as saying, "this is the best phone ever." With iPhone generations past, that was sometimes true for me, I was sometimes that guy. You think about some of those phones and how amazing that they were at the time, and they really were some of the best phones ever.

Unfortunately, I can't say the same about the iPhone 6s Plus. It is not the best. It is not the worst. For me, the overall phone enclosure is an inferior design wrapper around a pretty basic set of predictable feature enhancements. The iPhone 5 style of enclosure was better. Sure aspects like the bigger display wouldn't fit into the iPhone 5/5s enclosure, but for everything that this device gained in terms of enhancements, it has given up a lot.

Hardware Design Elements that Suck on the iPhone 6s Plus
First of all, let me start by saying that the iPhone 6s Plus is way too damned big. Yes, the large size is nice for watching Netflix videos and the "Zoom" feature actually transforms the proportions in the on-screen display to be something much more like the far more readable pre-iOS 7 operating system. Zoom is almost enough to overcome some of the crappy aspects of the iOS7/8 UI. But I'm not going to focus on the "too damned big" aspect. Let's assume for a minute that that is a choice. In this case, what I'm going to reference is how that oversized design impacts other usage aspects.

Which brings me to the worst aspect of the iPhone 6s and the Plus, the decision to move the power button to the right side of the device. This is, for me, one of the biggest functional blunders that Apple has made in the history of the hardware. While the button the top has it's limitations and issues, moving it to the side opposite the volume up button means that when you squeeze the power button, your natural leverage point is opposite that point. It's why you see things with two little grippy handles on opposite sides of a grab point. Squeezing both probably happens more often on the 6s Plus because it's so large, too damned big. But seriously, who puts two buttons on the opposite poles of a gripping point unless they are meant to be squeezed together?

Next, and I think I've written about this before, the protruding lens on the back also screams mistake. The protruding lens is kind of like saying you must use a case. Otherwise, when you lay the phone down on it's back, one of the resting points is always going to be the lens. It may be made of super scratch resistant material, but it doesn't remove the dumb from this design issue.

This phone. This feels like one of those times when somebody brings you a design and says, "Isn't it great?" and then all of the designer's friends all say, "I love it" and everyone tries to tell you that it's great. But it's not. For me, the worst part is, if there's a trend line, I don't like the way that Apple is going. They seem to have lost their way. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

New Salesforce.com Winter'16 Data/Lead Import Engine FAIL!

I just got done hacking my way through the new data import wizard in Salesforce.com's recently released Winter16 update. It's mind-boggling. What a piece of crap this thing is. They have attempted to make it more "Lightning" like, but in doing so, they've managed to add a tremendous overhead to the process. So let's talk about the stupid stuff that they've done:
  • Added a "gamefied" progress bar at the top of the screen to let you know where you are in the process. 
  • Field mapping is graphically enhanced, but if you happened to leave an empty column in your spreadsheet, forget about ignoring it. The idiotic tool stands like a moronic Gandalf -- "no mapping for Department? You shall not pass!"
  • So you update the file and then you discover that, "Lead Status" is a required field. Sure every lead you've ever imported assigns "Open" to new leads, but not Salesforce's brilliant new lead import engine. Instead, you need to add a field or you get the moronic Gandalf again. 
It took me nearly four passes just to import one lead. So far, my observations -- Winter16, you suck! New data import engine, EPIC FAIL!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Confirmed at Apple Store: iPhone 6s Reservation System Sucks

With all of the frustration that I've been having with Apple's terrible online reservation system, I was a little worried that I might be complaining a lot while being stupid -- that if I just went over to the store, I could wait in a line that would give me access to a separate lot of inventory that was different that the online reservation system inventory.

However, any optimism on my part was quickly squashed with a visit to the Apple Store. What I learned / confirmed:
  • The only inventory available in the store each day is through the online reservation system.
  • There is no line at the store. The reservation system is supposed to help save you a trip to the store
  • There is no way to do the leasing / upgrade program without purchasing in the store.
  • There was virtually no surprise at my frustration with the online reservation system from the clerk at the store working the door.
But probably the number one thing that I confirmed with a trip to the Apple Store is that the online reservation system SUCKS.

It really is kind of astonishing to me how a brand that I used to value so highly could become one that generates such anger in me now.

AT&T Wireless Customer Service FAIL

A funny thing happened on the way to pay my AT&T Wireless bill. It turned into a great example of a customer service FAIL.

It all started back in July when my cell phone bill was due and, for whatever reason, my credit union's ability to process credit cards went down for the morning. I tried to pay my AT&T bill using the iPhone app and the payment kept not going through.

Because I was in the middle of set-up for a tradeshow, it was important to me that my cell service not be interrupted, I added a payment option to do a direct pay from my credit union checking account. And, thinking I was tired of the hassle of going through the steps to pay each month, I decided to set up auto-pay.

About a month later, I started receiving notices that my bill was past due. So I called AT&T. After working with their customer support, they confirmed that auto-pay was set up, and suggested that it would probably be a couple of days and the payment would go through. Just an issue between "billing day" and "payment day" that should resolve after the weekend. And the customer service rep told me he added a note to my file about the issue.

A couple of weeks later, AT&T started calling me again, letting me know that my bill was now very past due. And so I called again. This customer service rep told me that it usually takes one or two billing cycles before auto-pay kicks in. According to this one, the last guy didn't tell me about the delay. My options at this point were to pay this one and by next month or so, auto-pay should have kicked in.

So you're probably not surprised to learn that AT&T was calling me again last week. Nor will it surprise you that my bill was past due AGAIN. So this morning, I stayed on the line to talk to another customer service rep. She started the call ready to take my payment. When I explained some of the back story, she looked it up. Note, I find it surprising that they don't make this case history information more visible in their call screens. Anyway, after going back through it, she explained that it looked like their system had tried to process the payment, then gone to sleep. It would still need another two billing cycles before it would kick-in. Her suggestion was that I could pay October and November and that, by that time, auto-pay should work.

Now, it's important to keep in mind that I used their system as it's set up and, at no time had it successfully work. However, I find it laughable that I should keep dancing around, trying to make their crappy system work. Somehow, this is my problem? This is a customer service FAIL. It was all I could do to refrain from yelling at the customer service rep. At the same time, I felt bad for her. AT&T's shitty system put her on the front lines of a complete flounder.

And worse than that -- after going through all of this AND paying my bills, what compensation does AT&T offer me for their system not working? Nothing.

AT&T, your customer customer service SUCKS. Nice people on the front lines to not overcome a shitty infrastructure or shitty practices.

One Week Later, iPhone 6s Reservation System Still Sucks

I've been out of town for a week, so I didn't bother playing the iPhone 6s reservation system game all week. This morning, I dove in for a new round only to see that Apple's system still sucks. This morning I actually thought I reserved a device at Stanford only to be denied then returned to Stanford as an option for a second chance at reserving it -- which likewise failed.

My best guess is that Apple has some sort of widget or cross-site authentication working that my browser blocks (as I run a fairly locked down browser).

On a side note, while watching some television show or another, I happened to notice one of the characters using an iPhone and, probably because of the timing of when it was filmed, the older iOS interface was displayed on the device. It's an annoying reminder that, once upon a time, the iPhone used to be the best phone ever. And yet now, simply because of the user interface, I often find myself wanting to throw my iPhone across the room -- particularly after a number of repeated attempts to active some control that requires an extremely precise interaction with the touchscreen. That's the way that they've designed the new UI. Terrible.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Apple's UI Design Sucks: More Examples of How Apple has Lost it's Way

I happened to catch a clip of an old interview with Steve Jobs on NPR's Fresh Air yesterday. It was early 1990s Steve Jobs, but one of the things that he said about the Macintosh was this notion of bringing "a liberal arts mindset to the computer". If there is anything that embodies a classic Apple value, it is -- or was -- this notion of good design.

Good design isn't simply interesting colors and appearances that make you go wow, it's functional, meaningful, and with purpose. And this aspect is where Apple has totally gone off the rails. A perfect reminder of it, one that I find myself interacting with nearly every day, is the iTunes interface on the phone. I've collected some screenshots for you.
This shot is taken of a view inside a playlist. Each time I launch iTunes on the phone, Apple defaults to taking me to "My Library". It doesn't matter whether I use playlists or whether I was last using playlists. While this is an improvement from the previous generation that always took me to Apple Radio, it's annoyingly dumb.

But there are multiple aspects that suck. Here you'll see the tiny control for playing the playlist. Alternatively, you can click on the specific tune to get it to play.

Another aspect that sucks is Transparency. I've already written about how frustratingly in the way transparency is on the desktop. Here, it's grabbing color from the album image to shade the background, making the UI more difficult to navigate. Even more useless is if you build a playlist using multiple artists. It uses the background from the first album in the playlist.

The team at Apple is probably patting themselves on the back for how they extract color from the album image to define the color palette, selecting the background and then the contrasting colors. But being clever doesn't make it good design. Here's an example of a playlist that is quite difficult to read.


Controls that don't work well suck, regardless of how cool they look
The primary function of iTunes is to make it easy to organize and play the electronic music files that you have stored on your device. If it's difficult to operate the controls, then the UI sucks. If your using iTunes and you're listening to a track, the track progress indicator is a thin little line around the play button on the track and a thin line running through the middle of the controller at the bottom. If you want to fast forward or rewind, you need to interact with line -- or attempt to find another screen to control the software.

You might expect the three dots on the right side of the screen to open a set of options including the option for a larger set of controls, but it doesn't. Instead, it opens the option to add or remove from the playlist.

The main function of this software is to play music and yet it makes the controls for doing this nearly impossible to access.

This is why any love that I may have had for Apple products is being trampled and crushed. New Apple is high fructose corn syrup sweetened and tastes nothing like the product we've grown to love over the years.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

iPhone 6s Reservations: Better than Silicon Valley Traffic

It's hard to get out on the road in Silicon Valley these days without getting a bit road ragey. First there's the traffic. Add to that the frustration multipliers when you have people pull unbelievably dangerous traffic moves. Some classics are the "I'm in the far right lane on the right and my GPS (Waze seems to like doing this) says I need to turn left here, so I'm going to just make my way across four lanes to get into the turn lane" move. These people move as though there is nobody else in their world. Anyway, as I rant, I can feel the blood pressure rise. The joys of Silicon Valley.

But before you get out in traffic, what you really need is something to kick the blood pressure up, get you amped before you have to sit in your car and celebrate the traffic stress. My new favorite game is trying to reserve an iPhone at the Apple Store. It's become like a frustrating boss sequence, but with no resolution, no victory over the boss. Instead, I get nothing... except for my traffic frustration warm-up.

And as I click through the process, the million stupid clicks to try and reserve a model of the iPhone that I already know Apple won't have, I'm reminded of what a stupid process it is. Click. Click. Click. Through the entire sequence. Oops, you tried to click through to quickly and it defaulted to "see if your eligible for an upgrade from AT&T and what your payment terms may be". Back. Back. Now, you finally reach the store game -- the real boss fight.

You select your first store and you already know that they won't have inventory. It's one of those wasted attacks, something just to engage the boss. Then you start going through all of the stores in your area. The click. Location. Model. Carrier. Poop. Again. Then, just for fun, you start looking around the state, clicking on stores that you know you'd never drive to. Bakersfield. Carlsbad. Hey, they have a rose gold 16GB model Carlsbad.

Now you're ready for traffic.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Apple's iPhone 6s Reservation System FAIL: Round 2

A new morning and another attempt to use the Apple iPhone 6s reservation system. This time, I tried to be extra prepared. I logged into the Apple site before I selected my phone in an effort to bypass the post selection login. At 8:00am I was ready with a phone selection, but the site doesn't actually show California as an option until about 8:01. I'll blame Comcast's caching for that. Once again, the first store has no inventory, so I wound up trying various South Bay locations. Stanford had a 128GB, so I decided to try that.

Oh, you found one? Time to login. That's right, Apple's Online Store registration doesn't interact with the iPhone registration reservation. Same ID, same credentials, but you have to reenter them. And by that time, as you can imagine, the phone was gone. Again.

This morning made my decision for me, however. I will not be upgrading my iPhone. As I have done with other stores and products that deliver a poor experience like this, I'm walking out. This customer experience is not good enough to get my money.

I remember purchasing my iPhone 5. At the time, I was extremely happy with it. It was the best phone I'd ever owned. The hardware, the design, it was beautiful and elegant. To this day, I still don't put it in a case. The only reason that I might even need to upgrade it is because of the software. That's right, what's wrong with my existing iPhone is that Apple broke it. Everything that I hate about my current phone revolves around how the updates that they've made to iOS have made my phone function poorly. Increasingly poorly. Like software bloat.

Sure I might like a faster processor and more memory, maybe even a better camera. But all of those things, they won't fix the OS. They won't fix the software.

Apple, if you're reading this, you'll find some unopened iPhone accessories sitting in the basket there, the electronic shopping cart in whichever store might happen to have iPhone inventory. I left it there and I'm not coming back for it.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Apple's iPhone 6s Reservation Web Site FAIL

One of the reasons why I'm hesitant to upgrade my iPhone is that I often find so much of Apple's modern software design to be... lacking really understates it. Sometimes it seems like the design choices made are so bad that they actually damaging to the user experience (e.g. transparency). I've written about some of these terrible design elements in the past. With that being said, I had recently been convinced that I should go ahead and upgrade my phone. And that's what lead me to the "excitement" of the line and really highlighted the failure of the iPhone 6s reservation feature on Apple's site.

Here's the story. You can purchase an iPhone online using the web site reservation system. First, you need to select all of the aspects of the iPhone that you want: choose either 6s or 6s plus, choose your color, choose your storage, then choose your carrier. Then you're presented with a list of additional options like Apple Care and a case and a dock. These don't actually add to the displayed total and, selecting something like Apple Care actually pops open a wind with a 2-click agreement process, but it's all presented as though it's essential to choose it at that time.

Anyway, then you get to choose how you want to buy your phone: continue through the online store or reserve an iPhone for pick-up in a store. Cool, I want to reserve one for purchase at the store. This takes you to a page where you need to select your state, then select your store. If it just so happens that there's no inventory available for reservation at that store, the site kicks you out of the process and dumps you into this stupid loop. You must now choose another store in your state, reselect the model that you would like, then reselect your carrier choice. One you've done this, your presented with an array of available models by capacity and color.

But here's the part that fails. Instead of presenting only options with inventory, you're presented with the complete list. The system isn't intelligent enough to know if you're wasting your time. And so, if inventory is running out fast, if you don't land a good shot on your first shot, you're hosed. All they had to do was limit the options presented to sites with available inventory and... well, you get the idea.

But it's worse than that.

Every morning, the inventory refreshes at 8:00 am. I started this process several days ago and discovered aspects of the inventory / reservation site challenge. So I decided to attempt a start as soon as the inventory refreshed. The first day's attempt looked a lot like the previous evening's attempt. No inventory at any of the stores in the south bay. Yesterday, I actually got to a phone and selected it, only to be informed that I needed to log into Apple with my AppleID in order to complete the registration process. By the time me and OnePassword got through with unlocking my AppleID, the phone that I reserved was gone and the nearest phone was in Palo Alto at Stanford. Unfortunately, by the time that I selected an appointment time, that option was gone too.

As a consumer, I hate it when a store doesn't have the product that I'm looking for. I've left baskets of items that I collected at Safeway and walked out of the store when I discovered that they were out of a product that I was looking for. Part of that is, why should I put up with your crappy check-out line process if you don't have the product that I want.

In this case, Apple's online reservation system is so frustratingly bad that I'm considering skipping the iPhone 6s and not upgrading. When your purchase experience is so bad that it may outweigh the "awesome" new features of your product, that my friends is a FAIL.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Worth a Read: The Social-Network Illusion

I came across this link this morning. It's a short read, but very worthwhile. The article dives into this study at USC regarding the social networks and how they can create an illusion where the rare seems common and popular. Some must read marketing insights for the morning.

Here's the link:
The Social-Network Illusion That Tricks Your Mind

Friday, September 25, 2015

Ad Blocking, Customer Tracking and Dark Side of Modern Marketing

In the days following Dreamforce, I came across this post from the Lefsetz Letter on ad blocking. As you've probably seen, ad blocking has become a larger issue as Apple has announced that they would include Ad Blocker software in Safari. This has some advertising driven content sites up in arms, expressing concerns over lost revenue and the "what will pay for their content" argument.

The article that I've linked to here plays counter to the "websites will suffer" in a broad rant that touches on many problematic aspects of the greater issues surrounding much of online advertising.
It’s like there are two internets. One of skeptical consumers doing their best to navigate their lives and the other of scumbag providers doing their best to win through subterfuge.
Fundamentally, that sums it all up. While some web sites want to talk about advertising as being essential life blood, the reality is that online advertising is a primary vector for bad things happening to your computer. Malware, spyware, or your computer just being forced to behave in ways that you don't want it to are all ripples left in the wake of online advertising.

As you reflect back over some of the messages at Dreamforce, the idea of "knowing your customer" and providing a personalized customer experience, this is essentially doublespeak for spying and tracking your customer. If it was a person following you around everywhere, knowing your secret hang-outs and suddenly appearing in the places you go -- creepy stalker. But when businesses do that online, it's just business. Modern business. Because the excuse is that they "deliver better quality content to you."

I recently had to send an unpleasant "don't call us" email to a sales guy who responded with an explanation of using the "waterfall method" of cold calling. Essentially, this strategy suggests starting at the top and cold contacting every senior contact that you can because those senior guys may not be responsible for the specific thing, but they'll delegate it to someone who will feel required to respond. And so, congratulations, you just got a "no" response for your shitty consulting service that we didn't need anyway. We can't all handle products that people actually want, that they pursue.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Salesforce.com Email Gets a New Sync

As you know, many of us out in the Salesforce landscape have been struggling with the roadmap on Outlook and email Sync. I've written about it multiple times in the past. I've had a number of discussions with people about this issue, but nothing from Salesforce suggesting any real resolution.

In case you don't want to click the links, let me summarize the issue:
In recent versions of Salesforce for Outlook (the Salesforce-characterized path for adding email from Outlook into Salesforce), Salesforce changed the software so that it validates an Exchange back end. If you're using POP/IMAP on Outlook, Salesforce for Outlook doesn't work any longer (Salesforce will claim that non-Exchange was never "officially" supported). Outlook Connector (aka Original Outlook sync) also used to support POP/IMAP, but it's being EOL'ed with Winter '16.

In the lead up to Dreamforce, Salesforce sent out email about a new mobile app and Chrome plug-in that would be made available starting at Dreamforce. The app and plug-in would allow users to add email from Gmail to Salesforce. This product was revealed to be SalesforceIQ.

During Dreamforce I made multiple attempts to learn more about SalesforceIQ. Unfortunately, it seemed like the primary focus of the SalesforceIQ guys was to sell their SalesforceIQ for Small Business, a product that sort of falls similar to the Desk.com / Salesforce Service Cloud relationship. Since Salesforce.com recently acquired RelateIQ around this product, it's understandable that the team would be focused on promoting their original product, but it became a bit painful trying to get info about anything else.

On the fourth day, I finally found an open guy in the SalesforceIQ section, but when I asked him some questions, he didn't really know the answers and referred me to another guy with more expertise. I then got to watch another demo of SalesforceIQ for Small Business while I waited another 20 minutes.

But rather than go through all of what I went through, let me tell you about the product.

In Chrome with the plug-in installed, if you're using Gmail, it will pop a window on the side of your Gmail interface similar to the Salesforce for Outlook window. You can use this to add email to Salesforce and much more. However, if you add email to Salesforce with attachments, it does not handle those (according to the expert guy there).

There is another feature labeled "Feed" that will go through your inbox and recommend activities for you to follow up on. This is supposed to be the real strength of SalesforceIQ. Theoretically, if you're a sales guy, this will help remind you to contact the people you might have forgotten about. If you're somebody like me, it seems to work more as an added reminder to follow up with those sales people who've sent you random email trying to sell you things (e.g. conference sponsorship) -- a modern inbox version of "green elf has been eating all of the food lately".

One upside of this solution is that the Chrome extension works on both Mac and PC. The downside is that, if you've gotten used to using "Email to Salesforce", the BCC method of adding emails, you may find this provides less functionality.

Meanwhile back on the Ideas Portal...
You may recall the ideas portal thread RE POP/IMAP sync in Outlook. There are still no new updates to that thread. Further, if you have sales people that are used to using Outlook, this still doesn't address their issue.

SalesforceIQ is sort of a fix, but not really complete -- like a chair with three legs; you can use it, but you need to be careful. and it may not really be any help.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Salesforce.com Lightning Interface: Hipster Design for the Enterprise

I don't like the "flat" interface used by Apple since iOS 7. Don't like actually understates it. I hate it. It's even more frustrating that it's becoming ubiquitous, the pervasive language of the design world.

Add to that the frustrating trend (going back to Windows 8) of making the desktop more "mobile experience" like, and you now have, in a nutshell, the Salesforce.com Lightning experience.

In short, Salesforce.com has taken their perfectly workable desktop user interface and transformed it into something that resembles software you might use on your iPad, but it's the desktop interface. And, just as the iPad is sort of a lesser-than-desktop computer, the UI is a lesser than desktop experience as well.

Before we devolve into endless rant, let's touch on a few salient points:
  • The Lighting Interface is only being rolled out on the Sales Cloud in the Winter'16 release. That means a selected number of objects, Home, Accounts, Contacts, Opportunities and Dashboards will be available initially. 
  • If you use custom objects or you need to escape the Sales Cloud objects, you will be returned to the "Classic" interface. However, escaping isn't as easy as it used to be. The default switcher will no longer bring up access to Tabs, now the App Switcher is needed to get to those other objects. Got custom objects you normally access in the Sales Cloud. Bummer. You won't see them.
  • Lot's of stuff that you've gotten used to -- inline editing of records, drilling down into reports -- it's not available.
  • It's probably a helpful interface if you're business and sales model fits a select category and process, but if you're using Salesforce in a different way, it's sort of like "who moved my cheese" but worse.
But hey, "cool graphics" and dashboards that can go more than three columns.

In short, despite the hype, I don't see deploying this for quite some time. Perhaps you see it differently.

Dreamforce and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch

Note: I actually wrote this on the train leaving San Francisco on Tuesday night. Sometimes I sit on drafts for a bit, deciding whether I agree with what I wrote a couple of days later. This still seems amusing in the post-Dreamforce light.

Day one of Dreamforce 2015, come and gone. We came. We faced the crowds. We did some sessions. Ate some food. Drank some beverages. And we're done. No after-parties for us, we're on the commute circuit, tucked in with the workday masses and the Giants' game refugees that needed to leave early.

This Dreamforce is... like a post-apocalyptic Dreamforce. It's like some time in the past, that which was Dreamforce died and what we're dealing with now is the echo of Dreamforce. Maybe it's Benioff. A lack of involvement. A lack of interest. A Jumped the Shark sort of thing. This Dreamforce is many things, but it doesn't seem like one thing -- like the culmination of a Salesforce moment. This Dreamforce seems like there is no... community, no us, together. Instead, it is the Salesforce masses, drawn to the same location at the same time, with a similar clock, but nothing tying us together.
Today's Salesforce is not an echo of one more thing. Today's Salesforce is here's a bunch of stuff that I've kind of told you about. Perhaps the most (potentially) revolutionary change is a new interface -- something that, in reality, is six to nine months away for most users.

I've been to a bunch of these, so it's interesting to see the difference -- the change -- from the way that it's been. First, a few notes:
First of all, worst sound guys this year. I went to several sessions today where the speaker could barely be heard. The funniest one was at the Palace Hotel, where even though they had speakers to fill the back audience, it sounded like the presenters were using a bull horn from the front. About midway through the session, the sound guy woke up, turned up the volume and the mike started to feed back, only to see the speaker wander around the stage looking for a way to manage it like he was Jimi Hendrix. And it still wasn't very loud.
I sat through one session at a movie theater location where the sound was so miserable, it was like the speakers had no amplification. It was kind of funny because between the sound and the comfortable chairs, it was probably the best session for napping.

At the tradeshow/vendor/partner event, I was surprised to see how uncrowded it was. Relative to years past (and in tradeshow terms), it was dead. No crowds. Perhaps there were more outside parties. Perhaps it suffered from a lack of a coordinated introduction. Say what you will about Benioff's dog-and-pony presentations, it did serve to focus the crowd. Tonight's event seemed like an afterthought. The largest crowd that I saw was for Informatica, where they were giving away $10,000.
But more importantly, what's the take-away from all of this? Crowds? Fragmentation?

Honestly, I think that this is the story of... something.... that has lost itself. It doesn't really know what it's supposed to be -- except that it's annual and that there's a band. But other than that, it's lost. It doesn't know it's mission. It's many things, but it doesn't really know where it's going.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Dreamforce 2015 Post Mordem

So this year's Dreamforce has come and gone. It has been survived. For me, there were interesting aspects, a few added bits of knowledge and some learning. There were also the frustrating parts, many of which I wrote about on Twitter. The crowds, the lines, and sometimes the quality of the information resources.

As I wrote on Twitter, my number one take-away from Dreamforce this year is that it is oversubscribed. While Apple's World Wide Developer Conference sells out in minutes, they cap the number of attendees. With WWDC, they recognize that there's a limit on the number of people that they can support. In contrast, Dreamforce just keeps selling tickets. And giving away keynote and tradeshow conference badges. The inevitable result is that whatever extra buffer they try to build in to accommodate the crowds, there are always more. Every Dreamforce that I've been to has felt overcrowded and strained as a result.

This year is the first year that I attended the final Q&A with Marc Benioff and Parker Harris. I was curious whether there would be any discussion of the overwhelming crowds or features or anything meaningful. Instead, it felt like a semi-scripted feel good meeting that had lots of people saying the same message, "that they thought that this Dreamforce was the best ever". Kind of like an excited child working through a candy bowl and told, "you're going to have to stop when you get to one you don't like."

In sum, I would say -- not the best one ever by my measure, but I suppose it depends on how you measure best. It was certainly better than the pouring rain year, weather-wise. 

I'll follow up with posts on some specific Dreamforce topics:
  • The New Lightning Interface
  • Salesforce email sync gets a slight update
  • Maybe more...
Enjoy.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Nightmare Before Dreamforce 2016

And it begins. Today is the first day of badge pickup at Dreamforce, and the best day to pick up the conference bag and miscellaneous crap that they want to send you home with. It's probably a good day if you're staying in a hotel. Checking in, getting settled. Maybe have some dinner before a few parties. It's the warm up before the chaos.

But it's a different world if you don't have a hotel or if your accommodations aren't close. If that's your story, you face a different fate. First, there's the trip into the city. Mine was punctuated by the impact of Monday Night Football with the 49ers at Levi Stadium. An Event at Levi Stadium means that parking is restricted in downtown Mountain View, and I needed to drive around for 30 minutes to find someplace that I could park. I took the train from Mountain View because I thought that would be my best chance to avoid the traffic around Levi Stadium -- I got caught in that after work once before and it was a nightmare.

Next, there's the badge pick-up. Dreamforce does pretty well with this, sending out an email this morning with your QR code. I always hate trying to find some email that I got months ago with my conference reg info. But after they identify you, then they want to ask about what hotel you're staying at. My only option was "local/don't need a hotel". Which isn't true, but the woman assisting with registration and handing out badges doesn't want to hear any of that. Regardless of what you might want to do for hotel, there's no room at the inn. Sure it's semantics and it's not worth arguing over. And yet, as I mentioned in previous posts about Dreamforce, when you over-subscribe the event, you transform the experience into one where tensions run high. It's like the way that more traffic increases stress on the road, increases road rage, and correspondingly increases stupid driving.

Asking whether I have a hotel when I don't have one is meaningless if you aren't going to do anything to change the availability of housing. You have my demographic information from registration. If I'm outside of a select area, you've got to expect that I don't want to commute.

Walking to pick up my badge today, this thought occurred to me, so I've already sent it out on Twitter. What's the difference between Dreamforce and Apple's World Wide Developer Conference? Apples WWDC sells out in a period of hours. Sells out. They don't take any more more attendees. There is only so much infrastructure, so much capacity. In contrast, they keep selling seats to Dreamforce. They keep giving away free keynote and party passes. Come one come all, if we can squeeze another buck out of this thing, it's all good. More people equals bigger than Oracle -- take that Larry! Dreamforce is oversubscribed. Salesforce approaches capacity like it's a cloud service -- more is good, we can always expand capacity. But San Francisco is oversold, overcrowded and taxed beyond it's capacity to handle this event. If this was a restaurant, you'd have to say -- I love having all of you, but I can't serve all of you.

And this is why I hate Dreamforce. And why I hate Salesforce for even charging me for this experience and taking my conference money. And for making me commute.

Caltrans Offers $25K to Solve California's Transportation Problems

The other day I learned about Caltrans innovation contest, "$25K to find a new way". As it happens, it came up in a discussion about how the size of the price seemed unmatched to the scope of the problem -- sort of like sitting in New Orleans with 60 MPH hurricane winds swirling around, and offering $25K for innovative ideas on hurricane preparedness infrastructure. You know it's going to get worse, but it also seems a bit late to make a real impact.

Here in the Bay Area we're being inundated with more and more people, more and more cars, more and more traffic. Population growth and the corresponding increased load (i.e. traffic) is drowning our ecosystem. For every one story office building or business that is torn down to build three-story high-density town-home condos, you need to multiply each residence by 1.5 cars and probably about one child or so. And yet, there are no new schools being built, and the best answer for traffic seems to be adding the occasional lane here or there.

Finding Solutions
With the influx of so many new people into the Bay Area, the Republican solution would probably be to classify this as an immigration issue. Too many people coming here, destroying the existing way of life. And so, taking everything they learned from Sid Meier's Civilization 2, they would probably demand to "build city walls". Sadly, building a wall is an all-to-common solution presented, not only in modern American politics, but in the various dystopian, post apocalyptic stories -- walls and the ugly evil that lies outside the walls.

Forget the physical wall. Imagine a legal wall, something like California citizenship or a California preferred status -- something along the lines of status on an airline. First, imagine how it might work: I've been a California resident for over 20 years, this entitles me to use the "CA Preferred" lane in traffic, to park in the "CA Preferred" spaces. Maybe it even gives employers incentives to hire "CA Preferred". But if you think for one minute that something like a "CA Preferred" status might incentivize a company like Google to hire a local resident, I think you're crazy. Walls will not solve that which ails us.

Another grand solution is High Speed Rail. Oh, hey, we're working on that. But for those of you high-speed rail fans, here's an interesting story from the Atlantic about, "how come our trains can't run like the trains in Germany". While I found it kind of funny that the folks on the east coast look to Europe as the benchmark for train service (I think Japan makes a better benchmark), it still provides some very interesting assessments from the guys that run the train system in Germany.
Specifically, the report warns against putting stops in sparsely populated areas because that slows trains down. Put them only in the center of major cities, recommends report author Eric Eidlin, as Germany has done. The ICE train, for example, makes no stops during the two-hour journey between Berlin and Hamburg. France, on the other hand, has often dispersed train stations around the urban periphery and the result, Eidlin notes, has been not just slower trips but less-efficient connections to other modes of transport. “California should carefully consider the economic development and access challenges that French cities such as Aix-en-Provence and Avignon have experienced with exurban and peripheral stations,” Eidlin writes. “Thankfully, California has made the wise decision of siting most HSR stations in central cities. However, one notable exception to this is the proposed Kings/Tulare station east of Hanford, which would be located in an exurban location.” Also, the Milbrae and Burbank station locations will be in less accessible areas.
It's kind of funny that the consider Milbrae(sic) a less accessible station since that's your connection to SFO. Then again, there's a broader bit of humor in that, even the "convenient" Bart train between SFO and San Francisco takes nearly 40 minutes as the route takes you out to Daily City before bringing you into the city. The reality is that none of our transportation systems are built with any sort of hub and spoke approach nor any sense of express.

Perhaps the funniest "serious" solution that I heard was a recent KQED broadcast talking about the ferries on the bay. There's talk of dredging and adding ferry service into Alviso. Tired of the Google bus? You may be able to take a boat ride to the South Bay.

Root Cause
Part of the reason we're all suffering from these transportation problems is that the Bay Area operates as a bunch of independent cities that just happen to be near one another. There is no grand plan nor is there the ability to come together and deliver a strategic regional solution. Independent cities means that, if Mountain View decides to let Google or Linked In expand their campus and add 10,000 new workers -- and if that, in turn, creates monster traffic on 85 and 101 -- Mountain View can sit back and say, "bummer for you surrounding communities, we're getting our tax revenue. Highway capacity is the state's problem." (Levi Stadium vs Mt. View parking is an example of this.) And because there is only a small part of it that seems like a city problem, each city feels a limited concern about zoning and the impact of replacing old one-story buildings and lots with 3-story high density homes. They are just a few more buckets of people -- they aren't the flood that's drowning the area.

Meanwhile, transportation infrastructure like an efficient rail, light rail, subway and bus infrastructure -- it might be nice, but not in our backyard.

My Solution
The ideal world would see us with a train system like Tokyo. Train stations would be like mini-malls, centers of commerce. There would be a mix of express routes and slower lines with more frequent stops. An ideal would be rail lines that ran down the middle of every freeway and express way across the bay area, visible from the freeway so that those stuck in traffic can see how much faster the train gets there. If every major road in the Bay Area had rail / subway interconnections, I think we'd be in much better shape to handle the relentless influx of people.

Unfortunately, this probably doesn't fit within the scope of Caltran's contest. So here's another thought. Legislate that all CA businesses over a certain size must offer "work from Anywhere" ala Automatic (Wordpress). If nobody has to go to an office, you've got to figure a certain percentage reduction in traffic.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Reason #17 Why I Hate Salesforce: Dreamforce

Yet Another Frustrated Salesforce.com post. Once upon a time, I used to think that Dreamforce was an incredibly valuable experience where people could learn about the incredible capabilities of the Salesforce.com platform and understand the future of software. Now, Dreamforce has become another grand FU to its customers. I say Reason #17, but I just made that up because I've lost count.

I really wasn't going to go to Dreamforce this year. Between the crowds and the lack of available hotel space, Dreamforce is kind of like getting enrolled in classes at Stanford, but being forced to commute every day from Fresno. Or Truckee. I've written about this in the past, both with my past experiences attending the conference and the frustrations trying to get back and forth to the event.

As bad as my previous experiences were, I knew that this year would be worse. When I lived in Mountain View, Caltrain was ten minutes from my apartment, so it wasn't impossible to grab the train to the city every day. When I moved to Campbell a year and a half ago though, all of that changed. Traffic makes just getting to Caltrain a pain in the ass. It's 30 minutes to get to the Caltrain plus the long Caltrain ride to the city.

Planning and the Corporate Sloth
As corporate decisions go, we always debate about sending people to Dreamforce. The corporate sloth moves slowly. The first unwritten rule of business is never commit to anything, and that is particularly true when it comes to things that involve spending company money or pulling company resources away from doing things like answering phones and stuff where you can see people in the office. Investment in things like training -- particularly on software that we still struggle with adoption on -- it's just crazy. It doesn't really matter that anyone that has attended has come back as an evangelist. We remain skeptical.

Inevitably, by the time our company makes a decision on Dreamforce, the nearest available hotel is in Fresno. Or Truckee.

Why Am I Going?
Last week, our account rep sent me a teaser sneak preview from Salesforce. At Dreamforce, they're talking about announcing an overhaul of the UI. Pages will be built differently. Lot's of stuff. It's one of those things -- if you work with Salesforce, this will probably be important to learn about. A necessary trip into the barrel. Because Salesforce hasn't found enough ways to make us, their customers, feel uncomfortable while they rifle through our wallets. Because help and training costs money, like luggage on an airline. Dreamforce, aspiring to be an airline-like experience. Without really going anywhere.

My last really positive experience at Dreamforce was when I went with two of my colleagues who were experiencing Dreamforce for the first time and we stayed in a hotel close to Moscone. But that was all the way back when Stevie Wonder was the band. Since then, I've been to several others, but long commutes and over-sized crowds to not equate to positive experiences.

Perhaps the funniest thing is, San Francisco is expanding Moscone to make it better for larger conferences like Dreamforce. It doesn't matter that the real problem with Dreamforce isn't conference space, it's hotel space. While I used to think it would be crazy to move Dreamforce to a different city, I think that the crowd has overrun the local. Perhaps Las Vegas would be better. At least then, when some of us don't go, it will be less crowded here.

I suspect that my hate for Salesforce will only grow during my upcoming, exciting week of frustration at Dreamforce. I can't wait.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Why We Tune Out

The phrase "Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out" famously championed by Timothy Leary revolved around the idea of opening up to cultural changes and a new world. For the conventional elements of society, this was a call for openness, for a willingness to consider the possibilities of a counterculture. In our modern Silicon Valley, we're often faced with similar calls. "Imagine a world with a new kind of taxi... Imagine a world where you no longer use maps to plan a trip... Imagine a world where everyone shares the details of their private lives, their thoughts, and their locations... Imagine a world where anyone can get published and the whole world can read what they wrote, but that each thought was limited to 144 characters..." Every day our evolving technology asks us to tune in, turn on, and hop on for the ride.

But then there is what Hunter Thompson wrote about Leary in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
No more of the speed that fueled that 60's. That was the fatal flaw in Tim Leary's trip. He crashed around America selling "consciousness expansion" without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that were lying in wait for all the people who took him seriously... All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit. But their loss and failure is ours too. What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped create... a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody... or at least some force - is tending the light at the end of the tunnel.
This is the other end of the the lollipop, the rest of the candy that we are forced to eat. Take Facebook as an example. We're told that Facebook brings us this all encompassing electronic world. We can keep up with our friends, keep up with the news and learn about our world. It's like a blend of television, the newspaper, your family photo album and more. And yet, it's not really any of those things.

I recently found myself logging into Facebook after a long time away from the service. After a number of visits to see what I discovered, my take-away was far different. These days my feed tends to look more like a ping pong game of political topics. First, some friend or family of a "conservative" ideology will serve up some political crap talking about how terrible the president is or how the gays are destroying, I don't know, values or something. Next up some "liberal" friends posting stuff about the people that think the federal government is taking over Texas. Then there's more of the political back and forth. Then a picture of someone in a bathing suit -- the friend of someone I used to know, but I really have no idea who they are. Then more politics. Then something about a puppy. Then more politics. Then a friend of somebody I used to know with a puppy. It's like they've built a "news" feed out of Two and a Half Men reruns. In short, it's unwatchable. Half an hour on Facebook and I haven't learned anything about anyone or anything. Oh, and I forgot to mention the ads. They're in there to keep some separation between the political ping pong, sort of like a net. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. The algorithm that is "tending" the light faces the same problem that network TV programmers face -- garbage in, garbage out. It's hard to curate when you're curating crap.

Linked In has followed a similar trajectory. Where once there was a tool for job prospecting, now there is this platform for brain teasers and Successories inspirations. If you look carefully on LinkedIn, you might notice some jobs posted or linked to by people in your feed, but it's easy to miss as they tend to look a whole lot like the sponsored posts and the somebody liked somebody else's link to a published press release.

Theoretically, these are the two great social media platforms. And they've evolved into being virtually unwatchable. Why? In part, it's because the things that feed engagement metrics are also consuming the other end. It's like the giant serpent eating it's tail. The things that often get republished, liked and linked are the spark plugs, pushing the ideology buttons with emotional click bait. And the algorithm feeds on it. You don't get long form journalism on Facebook. It's more like Headline News and Headline News hasn't been watchable for a decade and a half.

In the broadcast world, as network TV became unwatchable we moved to watching cable networks. Now many of us have exiting TV entirely. The great benefit of OTT programming is that you only have to watch content. There's no need to put up with the social engineering of "breaking news" clickbait.

Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn -- I still have accounts on all of these platforms. And yet, not one of these platforms provides me with content that I consume on a daily basis any longer. Blame it on the ads, the video, the layout, the algorithm -- social media jumped the shark for me some time ago. What's more, I don't think that this content is even worthy of a binge-watching, Netflix-does-Facebook experience. And when you consider some of the crap that you can sit through, binge watching on the iPad as you wander around the house, it's a sad commentary on our content.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Adobe: Now With Even More Features You Don't Need

Perhaps its a symptom of a disease, but when you've got "designer" running through your blood, you can't help but look at it, see it, in everything around you. You always find yourself evaluating design. Does this work? Why did they do that? Or the ever popular, I see what's wrong here. It's a blessing and a curse.

Several years ago, software publishers began adding these "home screen" elements to their software. When you're in Word or Powerpoint and you get ready to create a new document, a screen will pop open with a host of graphic options for you to choose from. More recently, that evolved into this idea that, you know what might be faster? If you didn't have a document open, they could pre-load this home screen with those document creation options so that you didn't have to click "New" before the screen popped up.

Adobe took this concept in their Creative Cloud series and began popping windows with promotional tiles of 'Tool Tips' and 'New Feature Guides'. Essentially, when running in idle with no documents open, Adobe applications started to look like an XBox One interface. Of course, the problem with this kind of interface is that, if you use Photoshop all the time, you probably aren't particularly interested in Tool Tips or New Feature Guides. "Ah software, I grow tired of you trying to teach me basics when I've been using this software for 20 years".

Fortunately, somebody with some insight at Adobe included a preference setting that allowed you to disable the Home Screen interface. But that didn't last for very long. Somewhere (probably in the department where they are focused on making each version of Adobe software worse than the previous one - a tradition since Photoshop 5), they decided to eliminate the opt-out box. Don't like that Home Screen interface? Bummer. You can't turn it off, otherwise you might miss how you could load all of your images into their cloud sharing interface. Or something. Maybe they hope to expand into renting movies and a streaming music service too. Because if all the other software companies jump off a bridge should you jump off it too?

Marketing Cliches and Meaningless Words: Rock Star

Here's a link an amusing piece I came across from the New York Times Magazine. How 'Rock Star' Became a Business Buzzword by Carina Chocano is an amusing look at that iconic modern recruiting phrase. These days, it's become so common, it probably vanishes when you read it, but it's also one of those phrases that no recruiter can do without.

For me, one of the funny things about marketing writing is that on some level, you almost need phrases like this. These little phrases are the things that, while they don't really communicate anything meaningful, communicate to your unsophisticated audience that this is a promotional piece, that this is marketing writing. Your recommended daily requirement of puffery has been achieved.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Endless Frustration: Salesforce.com and Email Sync

With support for the Outlook Connector coming to an end with the roll-out of the Winter '16 release, Salesforce admins everywhere are researching email integration solutions. That is, of course, unless you're someone who had already previously found Salesforce's default level of email integration to be way too crappy.

As an Salesforce Admin, I'm not too engaged in day-to-day customer activity, so my own need for email integration has been rather limited. Additionally, since I live on a Mac and most of our users are on PC (and like using Outlook), the ugly dark pit of Outlook integration was something that I tried to hand off to the IT organization -- my best efforts were usually applied to a strategy of "I didn't get any on me, did I?" In that context, one of the reasons we actually chose Salesforce.com as a CRM platform was that it was actually better at email integration than some of the other options that we looked at way back when. Funny, right?

The great "shift" to Salesforce for Outlook by Salesforce was the first big "Fuck You Customer", at least in the domain of email integration. At the time it was introduced, new 64-bit Windows systems were being rolled out, but the Outlook Connector didn't work with them. Instead, Salesforce decided to go down this path of Salesforce for Outlook. Sure it doesn't work with a lot of older systems. Sure it only syncs emails to leads, contacts and opportunities (like email to Salesforce). Sure we've put in specs that say that it requires Exchange. But you can administer this one from the cloud -- sort of. The bottom line was that it sucked. Hard. And when I spoke to the product managers at Dreamforce, they told me, "It should work with POP/IMAP -- we haven't really seen any issues -- you should just move forward using it." And they also said, "basically, you just need to use it, because this is the future -- there will be no more development on Outlook Connector." It sucks. Just eat it.

Now, here we are several years later, and instead of making it better for all of their users, they've alienated whatever percentage it is that does not use Exchange. You could look at it as a mistake, but four years of IdeaExchange complaining about email integration and an overall lack of any sort of rapid response is a pretty good indication that this is no accident. There's no one over in charge of email sync saying, "oops, this looks like it was a roadmap mistake, our bad." No, instead this has the aroma of a plan.

What I think that we're missing here is the "hidden" price increase. Now, you will pay for email integration to Salesforce.com. It is an ala carte option, available only through their partner network -- unless you are Microsoft email customer. For Microsoft email customers, Microsoft will subsidize the cost of your email and calendar integration.

It's moves like these that push you to consider competitive solutions. In the bigger picture, what that means is that Salesforce is increasingly moving the company into a place where they are ripe for disruption. As someone who has gone from the strong like end of the spectrum to the really dissatisfied end, I'm sure that I'm not alone. Given the right circumstances and the right solution, I could see a mass erosion of the Salesforce customer base -- sort of like the death of Syquest.

I still haven't determined the best path for email integration. Right now, I'm looking at Match My Email, which seems to be the best balance of Gmail and Outlook support. But, as I look through the details, I can't help but wonder -- why doesn't Salesforce do this themselves? Oh, because Fuck You Customers.

Monday, July 27, 2015

That Sucks: Salesforce.com and POP/IMAP Email Sync - Another Update

So we're ticking down the days to the Winter '16 release and the end of life for Salesforce's Outlook Connector. As you'll note from my previous posts here and the update here, the roadmap looks like this: if you want to sync your emails to Salesforce, your email needs to live on an Exchange server, or you'll need to pay for a third party AppExchange app (most likely at a per user seat license charge).

The roadmap to SUCKS was probably backed when Microsoft signed an agreement with Salesforce. After all, if you're using Gmail, how can Microsoft force your hand to switch to Microsoft's hosted Outlook365?

But I like to check for updates on these things so you don't have to. And the latest update is... No Update. For fun, I like to periodically check the Idea Exchange post and see if community specialist Kristie Garafola has posted any updates, but it's been three months and nothing new.

You'll still see the "Considered For Future Roadmap" label on the idea, but who are we kidding -- that's been there for quite some time. They might as well label it, "The Check is In The Mail". Please let the excitement around this issue dissipate enough that people forget about it by the time we EOL the Outlook Connector. But if it will make you feel better, you can click the Thumbs Up button!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Customer Support Tips - Words Matter

It's been a while sine my last post, but I've been buried in other activities with little time to write. I came across this blog post this morning, and it's a great read. Considering the number of times I find myself ranting about terrible customer service, it seems only fair to provide continued guidance as to what good customer service looks like.

The Beginner's Guide to Customer Support Language: How to Always Say the Right Thing isn't really a beginner's guide, it's more of a list of suggested approaches and tactical strategies supported with some really interesting data. It's definitely worth a read.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Apple iOS 8.4: Better, But Still No Love for Apple

Another day, another Apple update that doesn't fix some of the core interface design problems on the platform. It's the sad reality for those of us that use Apple products -- each day is a reminder of Apple's commitment to this crappy interface design. Transparency is not gone. It still fills my screen with useless data -- data that I consider far more offensive and invasive than some of the skeuomorphic elements. With the recent update to iTunes on my phone, I see that they've finally recovered from the stupidity that is, "let's open in Apple Radio as the default." It didn't matter how many times I switched to playlists. It didn't matter how many times I was reminded that I didn't like Apple Radio and that I didn't want to use it -- Apple always wanted me to land there. It was another example of the underlying message of the OS these days, FU Apple user.

With the new iTunes, I see that they've brought transparency to the background of playlist screens. Why? Because, color!

Meanwhile, as I feel increasingly alienated and disconnected from my Apple devices, I find that less and less interest in updating the apps or backing up the device. Oh, my phone fell on the ground. Bummer. The battery doesn't seem to want to hold a charge, should I update? Why bother.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Mourning Media: Welcome to the New Pando Paywall

Earlier this week I clicked over to the Pando site to discover that the graphics that I'd become familiar with were gone. The site had gone through a redesign. Whenever a site that you visit frequently goes through a redesign, you have to step back and take some time to digest it. It's easy to get caught up in the changes and respond negatively, but the designer in me knows that it's better to understand the framework before you lash out about disrupting the familiar. But when I popped into my first read, I quickly came across this message below the opening paragraph or so.
Want to read the whole article?
Pando members get full access to every article published on Pando, including our full archive. You’ll also get free access to Pando Monthly events, each event’s live video stream and our full video archive. 
A quick search through the front page brought me to Welcome to a new Pando, a post from Sarah and Paul regarding the changes to the site and the business model. Going forward, they will operate Pando on a subscription basis. You can read their post to see their breakdown of the strategy and the business decision.

When it comes to operating a modern media business, the landscape is harsh and lined with the remains of the many who have fallen over time. In that kind of environment, it's a little difficult to criticize business decisions made in an effort to adapt to the times -- it's not like there is an obvious winning strategy. That being said, for me, this marks the end of my regular visits to the site.

I understand the argument behind the subscription and paywall model, but the reality is that I'm not a subscriber. Ten bucks a month isn't a huge expense, but the mere element of transaction crosses a threshold that a deeper part of me can't buy into. It's like Gandalf standing at the bridge of my wallet, "you shall not pass."

I like the content on the Pando site. They do good work. I've bought tickets and been to several Pando Monthly events -- even gone through the effort to travel to the city on a weeknight for them. But for all of the ones that I've been to, there have probably been two or three times that many that I haven't been to. Events that didn't connect with me or where the effort to get to the city seemed greater than the value of attending the event. Buried in that equation is probably a greater multiplier on the site content. I like some, but they majority doesn't cross that pay/cost threshold. It's not an uncommon problem. Fundamentally, it's the problem facing media and content in this era. 

Personally, I like the model that Talking Points Memo uses. They have a subscription basis for certain premium content along with discussion and comments. At the same time, they publish a certain amount of basic content that tends to cover news and other issues. There is value in visiting the Talking Points Memo site, even if you are not a subscriber. And, although I am not a subscriber, there is something in my brain that connects with the framework of the relationship -- being a subscriber gets you to a deeper, more connected relationship.

As I say, I can't fault the team at Pando, but I will mourn their passing from my regularly visited sites. In this case, I don't find myself moving away with the same sense of frustration that I had when Techcrunch began it's collapse. In that case, the changing AOL-inspired editorial voice, the erosion of talent, and ultimately the terrible 8-bit site redesign made the site virtually unreadable for me. In that same way, call me old school, but I also liked the old PandoDaily. This was the site design that featured the Pando Ticker on the side, providing curated links and news that seemed interesting but not worthy of repackaging, and a central section of original, significant content.

Perhaps it's just me, but I think news has a different voice than magazine. Part of that may reside in that subscription and price barrier. Consider, it's one thing to say, "dude, there's some crazy stuff happening and here's my interpretation of it." It's entirely something else when you're saying, "dude, give me a dollar and I'll tell you about some crazy stuff and what I think about it." With the Talking Points Memo subscription, it feels more like an additional layer, frosting, or investing into a deeper research arm of their business. With Pando, I'm sure that their magazine style content will be great, but I will miss their voice in news coverage.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Salesforce.com: This is Enterprise Software Support?

I'm currently "on hold" waiting for Salesforce.com customer support to get back to me. You'll note that on hold is in quotes because I'm not actually waiting on a telephone line. Rather, I'm waiting for a call back following the customer support agent's attempt to telephone me from a number that I don't recognize to a desk phone that I almost never answer. So here I am, sitting in limbo with a problem that I would characterize as urgent. Like waiting for the cable guy to show up. And thinking to myself, so this is "Enterprise Software Support".

I think I've written about this topic before, but as it's timely, it deserves repeating. Several years ago, Salesforce.com restructured their customer support offering. If you wanted to pay several thousand dollars a year, you could get premier support. Premier support is pretty nice. If you have 50 seats or more, you get a dedicated person who, supposedly, acts almost like another system admin for your company. But the main thing you got from Salesforce was a phone number -- you could call them if you had a problem. 

For the rest of us, the rule is pretty much, "don't call us unless your business can't connect." Got a problem? You should start by asking somebody else. Ask a friend, ask a neighbor, ask someone in our community. That doesn't help? Well, you can always submit a form on the help and training site. In which case, our typical response time is 2 business days.

Keep in mind that, for my seat alone, our business pays close to $1500 per year. And we have a number of seats. Also keep in mind that we've been customers since the mid-2000s. I mention that because I think it's important to contrast the support that I've received from Salesforce.com with the support that I received from the team at AgileBits (Heroes of Customer Service) last year. This is the company that makes 1Password. Keep in mind that the entire amount of money that I spent on 1Password probably doesn't amount to 10% of the cost of on year's seat license for Salesforce.com.

Monetizable Tiers or Table Stakes?
As a consumer, you're often sold on two tiers of service -- a business level and an everybody else level. Businesses have expectations and needs. If a business has problems with certain types of services, it starts a chain reaction. As a consumer, we know that we can't really call Google for help with Gmail, but the amount that we pay for customer support feels reasonable when measured against what we pay.

But for a business selling software services to other businesses -- and a service that many price at the upper end of software in it's category -- you expect a better baseline level up customer support. Whereas once I considered it a Salesforce.com strength, I now consider is a rather significant question mark on the platform. Consider, in nearly ten years as a Salesforce customer, I've probably needed Salesforce customer support a total of four times. I'm at about once every three years or so. Does that justify a premier support charge?

EOL: Oakley Killed My Sunglasses

When a product is something that you wear or you use daily, it can be a bit distressing to suddenly discover that it's no longer viable. Imagine finding out your car was on it's last legs because they didn't make tires for it any longer. This is kind of what happened to me recently when I wandered into the Oakley store expecting to replace the scratched up lenses in my Half-Jacket sunglasses only to learn that the product that I had was no longer supported. The store didn't have any lenses left for them, nor did they have any at the outlet store in Milpitas. In a moment, I felt that deep sense of loyalty to Oakley eroding and yet another frustrated product blog post coming to the surface.

I have been a loyal Oakley customer since 1985. My first pair of Oakley glasses were Factory Pilots. You may not remember them and if you saw them today, you would probably never consider wearing anything like them -- they were closer to ski goggles than sunglasses. The reality is that Oakley made the first true cycling sunglasses. Anyone who remembers Bernard Hinault's crash wearing Vuarnet sunglasses in the 1985 tour knows, glass lenses were bad if you were a cyclist. Here's a nice related blog post highlighting how Greg Lemond changed the face of cycling wearing Oakley sunglasses. Oakley became synonymous not just with cycling, but with sports-active fashion.

Over the years, their product line-up has bounced around a bit. Factory Pilots were made obsolete by Blades which became M-frames. For about 20 years the basic M-frame design has been pretty much the same. The lenses connect in the same way. If I were to get out on the bike today, my M-Frames are my windshield.

But their fashion-focused glasses, they've been all over the place. Weird goggle-glasses and bug-eyed futuristic looking designs -- take the Sub Zero glasses -- every couple of years Oakley did something new. Or at least it seemed that way. Reality may be a bit more conservative.

Brand Predictability
As a consumer, on a certain level you could count on a couple of aspects of the brand. If you selected a product that was more classically activity focused, you could expect to count on a certain level of consistency in the product line. Over the years, I've replaced lenses, nose bridges, and the little rubber pieces that go on the ends of the ear pieces. To a certain extent, this is what you expect from performance products. While it's possible that I may not find the same food products at Trader Joe's next week or that Target will stop carrying the flavor of Softsoap that we like to use, I fully expect that I could take my bicycle to the "right" shop and get replacement parts for my Campagnolo components. Sure they are nearly 15 years old, but Campy designs their components to be serviceable. The same is true with my Silca pump.

This is why there is a little part of you that just falls through the floor when your at the Oakley Store and they tell you that replacement lenses for your glasses are no longer available. Sure, there are the promotional elements of the brand, but your common sense brain is telling you -- they're just plastic lenses. And what's more, moving to Half Jacket 2.0 as an upgrade seems like it's all about forcing you to buy a new plastic frame even though the frame you have is perfectly fine and would have worked perfectly well except that Oakley decided that it wouldn't. Because, hey... Fashion.

You know, once upon a time, I think that they actually had a lifetime warranty on their frames.

It's at this moment when the equation changes. In your mind, your asking the question, "are you telling me that you can't provide a channel to make and purchase old replacement lenses? It's just a piece of plastic." At this moment, there is so much marketing that's been undone. You're not thinking about Plutonite, Iridium, HD Optics or any other branded aspect -- the magically elevated relationship has just been undercut. Your brand girlfriend has just told you, "I love you but, when are you going to stop hanging out with all of those losers you call your friends." But Baby, we've been together since 1985!

Cycle of Life
As marketing pros seeing this from a product life cycle standpoint, we all understand certain aspects of the cycle of life. Not all products can run indefinitely. As tome point, sometimes you try to make changes to "energize" your customer base. From an Oakley product manager's perspective, when was the last time that I actually purchased lenses? Perhaps with a change like this might spark a new wave of transactions. Or it may change my behavior in a different way -- opening me to consider competitive products. As it was, that is exactly what happened -- my replacement lenses are not from Oakley; rather, they are from Maui Jim. Ah well. As for Oakley product management, I completely understand, cycle of life and all.

You brought me "new" options for sunglasses and all you got was this blog post.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Linked In's Crappy Streamlined Interface

Is it just me, or do you also think that Linked In's interface kind of sucks. I know that it's been a year or more since they made this revision, streamlining most of the content into more of a Facebook-like interface. And there's the thing that used to appear either in the mainstream or on the right sidebar -- some interesting things about people you may know or something. Now they've buried it in sort of a click-down list near the top right. Starting at number five, somebody you know has a work anniversary. Curious about more, you're gonna have to click. With the faded teaser of more to come, it almost looks like an element you could easily mouse-over/scroll through. I've not clicked chunk of info since the redesign. Never.

No, these days, the "feed" seems like an endless series of ads and sponsored posts. Where I once found myself checking the site at least once a day, now I'd be surprised if I go there twice in a month. After all, how many times to you need to see other work people posting word or math puzzles.

Congratulations LinkedIn, you've just about streamlined me out of your user base.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Southwest Airlines: Monetizing Imaginary Money

Southwest Airlines is a great example of one of those love-hate relationships that just make you crazy. On the one hand, with their unique approach to service, Southwest Airlines revolutionized our expectations of low cost airfare. So often, when you see some of the financial results come out for the various airlines and Southwest is profitable while other airlines struggle, you can't help but cheer. In part it's like, "see, you can be a nice, fun environment with low cost airfares and still be profitable." But regardless of however many quarters Southwest outperforms them financially, they never seem to learn the good lessons and the airline industry as a whole seems to strive for the gold-standard in sucktastic customer experience, the cable company.

But yes, in the midst of all of that, there are aspects of Southwest Airline's service that you want to love. Price is one. Once upon a time, you could hop on a plane to LA and return for under $100. These days, that number looks closer to $200, but it increasingly comes with caveats.

Over the years I've spent many hours in airplanes on many carriers. There have been a few years where my percentage of travel was close to 50% -- not as great as some, but not insignificant. It used to be that there was a certain amount of credit given to seasoned travelers. For most of us that traveled on business, your main goal was a streamlined trip through the airport travel experience. That meant a carry-on because you didn't have time to waste with checked baggage. It also meant your were flexible with your routes; changing flights was no big deal. But when most of the airlines started charging for carry-on baggage, suddenly the overhead space became crowded with Aunt Susie and Uncle Pete's luggage. They didn't care about efficiency, they just wanted to save money -- or they were afraid of losing their luggage.

For business travelers and premier flyers, "perks" like boarding early weren't about anything but getting in front of the chaos that comes with boarding. Aunt Susie and Uncle Pete, meandering down the aisle, trying to find their seat. Putting their bag in sideways because the "carry-on" didn't seem like it would fit. Filling the overhead bin space with bags of snacks and souvenirs that they didn't have room for in their big checked luggage.

Southwest gets lots of these travelers who don't travel frequently. Families. People on vacation. People who may rarely fly. Their system is great if you're one of these travelers, but the chaos sucks for experienced business travelers that benefit from efficiency. No assigned seats means if you arrive for boarding at the last minute, you'll be lucky to find a middle seat in the back of the plane and your bag is probably getting checked -- no waiting around sending those last minute emails before you board. Probably the worst part of that is that you could have probably squeezed your bag in somewhere, but those people filled the bin with sideways bags have taken that space and often the Southwest flight attendants just let the chaos happen.

These are just a few of the reasons why, for business travel, Southwest kind of sucks. If you add in that, in the old days, their was no in-flight entertainment system (admittedly now an extinct feature), as a business traveler I never chose Southwest for long duration business flights. It's one thing to put up with the chaos for a 1 hour flight, it's another thing entirely to deal with that for four hours or more.

I think that this is part of the reason Southwest tried to create a "business class" boarding process and associated fare. Unfortunately, it doesn't really address the issues with late boarding and last minute, it just puts you at the front of the line when they open it up. For most Southwest flights that I've been on since they added it, it's not a time when people are actually getting seats, it's just one more thing that the gate attendant has to say before they begin letting everyone else on board.
Where Southwest Outperforms the Other Airlines
As noted, Southwest Airlines sucks for business travel on so many levels, but they actually do offer certain advantages when it comes to the number of flights. While the traditional carriers like United, American and Delta may offer only two or three flights per day to primary travel destinations, Southwest often runs six to eight flights. Don't want to catch the 6:00 am flight to LAX, take the 8:00am or the 10:00am. You can get Southwest flights throughout the day. When you're planning your departure from your home airport, it's usually easy to predict your schedule, so lots of flights may not seem like a big advantage. But where it is helpful is -- if you know you need to arrive in LA by 5:00pm, you select an early flight, say 12:00pm, and if something happens to delay that flight (incoming flight problems for example), you probably have two or three options for later flights that will still get you to LA in time.

Historically, this has also been true with return flights. If something happens and your on Southwest, there are probably several more flights that day that could get you there -- you probably won't be stuck overnight. As I mentioned in my Twitter posts related to this, in the past, I've also happened to show up at the airport early and been able to get on an earlier flight just because it wasn't crowded and they let me go as standby.

Unfortunately, twice in the last year, I've booked flights on Southwest specifically because of the multiple flight advantage, then managed to wrap up my business and get to the airport early, hoping that I might be able to get on an earlier flight. Both times, the Southwest customer service rep informed me that I couldn't change my flight without paying more than $100. When I wrote about this on Twitter, here's what Southwest Airlines customer service had to say:
and this was their comment on me noting the "no change fees" promotion in the jetway boarding my flight.


With nothing to do in the airport on Wednesday afternoon, I had lots of time for Twitter.

Technically speaking, Southwest is correct. If you're changing the ticket and there is a new corresponding fare and you're not charging something extra to make that change, it's not really a change fee. But while legally your statement may be accurate, as a customer, it feels a lot like a "fee" to change. Put a different way, if you have to argue the nuance of language with your customer as though you are a lawyer, you've already lost a marketing battle, particularly when the nuance involves just how much it's going to cost the customer.

Still, when you drill down into it, the tone underlying this debate is essentially something like this, "you're trying to get over on us." You selected one of our "loss leader" low cost fares, and now you expect to be entitled to all of the 'privileges' associated with our airline. By "switching" from one flight to another "not full" flight, you cost us. Parenthetically speaking, what does this change cost? It costs the potential to charge the increased far that you would have paid if you planned to make that change. In other words, it costs imaginary money.

On Wednesday, when Southwest didn't want to change my flight and put me on standby on one of two earlier flights, they saved themselves $200 of imaginary money. $200 that I didn't spend, $200 that they didn't make, and $200 that they didn't lose by just making the change for free.

But if that's not bad enough, here's why Southwest sucks for business travel. Here's an example snapshot from my corporate travel engine. I picked a Tuesday in June for an example "trip" to LAX. As you can see from the screenshot, I have a couple of options (I limited them to Southwest between 10:00am and 1:00pm for simplicity).
If you were booking through the Southwest Airlines web site, you'd see this fare as a Wanna Get Away fare -- the fare with no changes available. But, from the corporate travel engine, it's just another flight. You can dive into the terms, but there's another factor here -- the corporate travel engine just looks at the price, $148, and bases policy calculations on that number. Want flexibility? That fare isn't shown and, if it was, it would be out of policy because this fare has set the baseline.

Then again, we should be happy that Southwest fares are even displayed. For years, if you wanted to book Southwest, you had to go outside of this system and jump through corporate hoops just to select them.

So congratulations Southwest Airlines. You're watchful management of my airfare has saved you hundreds of imaginary dollars over the past year and all you really lost was the "happy" that used to be connected with the "customer" when you described me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

FedEx Flounder: A Tale/Fail of Two Shipments

So the latest company to seriously piss me off is FedEx. While to a certain extent, shippers are like airlines -- it's all good until the screw up, but they all screw up one time or another -- what distinguishes a shipper (or should) is how they handle their screw up. Fed Ex choked this one pretty hard, but UPS failed so bad the last time, that I still haven't intentionally shipped anything with them since. For me, this is probably the only thing driving any loyalty to Fed Ex.

On to the story...
On Friday, we ran by the Fed Ex office in Sunnyvale to drop off a couple of shipments. It was after lunch, but early enough to avoid the shipping cut-off rush. We had two shipments going out, one box of samples bound for Atlanta and being sent cheap shipping, and four boxes of items that needed to be delivered on Monday for a conference / tradeshow. This would be our booth, brochures, equipment, the usual stuff. Normally, for this type of thing, the event often starts on Tuesday, but this is one of those events with a reception on Monday night.

I arrived in the afternoon on Monday, planning to set things up before the 6:00pm start of the reception. My booth and such hadn't arrived. After checking with the hotel bell desk and trying to track things down, I eventually looked up the tracking info. It looked like it was scheduled to be delivered by 4:30. The status confirmed that it had already arrived at the airport. I went back to my room to deal with email and wait for 4:30.

As I got close to 4:30, I began checking the FedEx site to see if delivery had been confirmed, but nothing. I went to the bell desk to check again. Nothing. Finally, I called FedEx (it seems like it's become more difficult to find a phone number for them these days). When I finally got them on the phone, it became clear that it would be delivered by 4:30... on Wednesday. WTF?!?

I got through to a customer service person. I explained the problem. Her answer -- sorry, we can't do anything. It shipped on Express Saver and it's not scheduled to deliver until Wednesday. She said that they couldn't do anything to expedite it or deliver it sooner because it was already at the airport in a large container and that nobody knew where it was. I tried again to explain the urgency and request alternative solutions. No answers. I was hosed and she didn't want to offer me any alternatives.

It took me a couple of minutes to calm down. I won't share with you the words I used to describe FedEx at that time, but let's just say they had me channeling my driving in traffic with idiots vocabulary. Thinking quickly, I contacted my Fiance and my office. My fiance offered to help get stuff together and run it to FedEx if I thought it would help. I asked her to head over to my office, then contacted my office to let them know she was on the way. Then I spoke to one of my colleagues -- a sales guy for a different business unit than the one on display at the conference. Thanks to a Facetime video call, I was able to talk him through collecting up materials from old versions of the tradeshow booth so that I could build "Frankenbooth". He packed it up and then he and my Fiance raced it over to the local Santa Clara FedEx office to drop it off for First AM shipment before the cut-off.

Frankenbooth arrived early this morning. I still didn't have my brochures or product samples, but at least I was able to build a backdrop. I still had a problem though. FedEx wasn't planning to deliver my shipment until Wednesday by 4:30, but the show was over Wednesday morning and I was scheduled to leave before they ever delivered the booth. I decided to take one more shot at getting help from FedEx customer service.

With my second call, tracking informed me that my packages had been delivered to the local substation and were scheduled for deliver tomorrow by 4:30. I explained to the customer service agent that I wouldn't be here and needed them to send my packages elsewhere. He informed me that if they rejected the shipment, it would be sent to New Hampshire, the address listed on our account. Ultimately, we decided to reroute the shipment back to our offices in Santa Clara. He also mentioned that additional charges may apply.

Now here's the thing. I'm pretty sure that the reason why everything arrived late is that the clerk at the FedEx office entered the wrong class of service because she was confused by the first box she processed. And I understand that they are unwilling to do anything to "speed up" the shipment -- even though they clearly had enough info to move my packages closer today. But considering that I just paid a premium to ship a replacement here First Overnight, the idea that you want to charge me, the customer, for returning the original packages since you couldn't do anything about getting them to me when I told you that I needed them by.

At the end of the day, the reason why I use FedEx is because, when we had a similar situation with UPS, they had no idea where the package even was. It was somewhere between here and there, even though it went here and back to there while it's other buddy-packages were delivered. In this case, FedEx knew where the packages were and the packages were all together, but armed with that knowledge, they didn't want to do anything. Overall, I would rate this as their infrastructure working, but a customer service FAIL.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Big Star Documentary:Journey to a Place You Probably Won't Understand

Netflix streaming service is a funny place. There are a ton of things to watch, but at the same time, it's kind of like watching last year's cable TV -- lots of channels really equates to a ton of things that you don't want to watch; but they are playing all of the episodes of that WB show that you never considered watching when it was on.

Having just finished binge-watching whatever show it was, I was browsing through the Netflix muck looking for something to watch when I happened upon this documentary about the band Big Star.

For me, it was one of those awesome trips down memory lane. It's loaded with interviews with key figures in the Memphis music scene -- not the Sam Phillips / Sun Records / Elvis scene, more the It Came From Memphis scene. Without specifically saying it, this movie connects to the difference between what rock and roll was and what it has become. You can learn a lot about music in between the lines in this movie.