Thursday, August 27, 2015

Reason #17 Why I Hate Salesforce: Dreamforce

Yet Another Frustrated 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 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: 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 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 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.