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 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 / Salesforce Service Cloud relationship. Since 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 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 Lightning experience.

In short, 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...

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.