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 This is Enterprise Software Support?

I'm currently "on hold" waiting for 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, 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 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

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 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.