Double Rainbow (or Kevin Fox to join Mozilla Labs)

It is with great joy that I can announce Mozilla Labs’ latest hire - today Kevin Fox announced that he will join our team of mad scientists as our Principal UX Designer. Kevin, after having worked at some of Silicon Valley’s powerhouses such as Yahoo!, Google, FriendFeed and Facebook and bringing the world such beautifully crafted experiences such as Gmail and Gcal, originally planned on working on his own for a bit.  Thankfully we managed to convince Kevin that Mozilla Labs is just the right place for him to… well… change the world!  And do so in a completely open and participatory way. Kevin will officially join us in early November - in the meantime make sure you follow him on Twitter and read his blog (you will find his thoughts and musings both thoughtful and highly entertaining). Double rainbows and unicorns indeed. :)


Mozilla's Open Web App Platform is not a Store

Yesterday we published a tech preview of Mozilla’s Open Web App Platform - both from a developer as well as an end-user perspective.

We received a lot of great feedback from the wider community, the developer community as well as the press (e.g. TechCrunch, WIRED or GigaOM among many others). The interpretation of our platform is mostly spot on - but sometimes way off when Mozilla’s proposed platform is compared directly to app stores such as Apple’s iTunes store or the Android store.

It is important to note that what we are proposing and building is significantly different from single, vertically integrated app stores. The platform at its core allows for web apps to be installed, managed and launched in any modern browser - and is agnostic to where these apps come from.

The manifest, which basically describes the app and is one of the central elements in our architecture, provides information about the source (the place from where you got the app - which can be the website from the developer herself, a directory or a store) as well as authorization and identity tokens. With this simple architecture in place, the platform allows for any number of self-published apps, directories and stores to co-exist. There is not a single, central repository of all apps - but a whole array of them.

What this means is - the Mozilla Open Web App Platform allows for an ecosystem which is similar to any other retail/ecommerce experience you know and essentially just like the Web: Anyone can publish any app without an obscure approval process on her own website. You can list these apps in directories or sell them through stores. Or you set up your own store if you wish. Apps become a good just like any other digital good - freed from a vertically controlled ecosystem.

If you want to learn more about our platform, watch this video from my colleague Lloyd Hilaiel, who together with Mike Hanson is the main developer and thinker behind this.


Mozilla presents Prototype of an Open Web App Ecosystem

Today, we (meaning the Mozilla Labs team) are releasing technical documentation of the proposed system and a developer preview prototype that allows you to install, manage and launch Web apps in any modern desktop or mobile browser (Firefox 3.6 and later, Firefox for mobile, Internet Explorer 8, Chrome 6, Safari 5, Opera 10 and WebKit mobile). This prototype provides a simple mechanism to support paid apps and authentication features to allow apps to log users in upon launch. Head over to the Mozilla Blog for all the details and check out the technical documentation and developer previews. I will post more on this soon - so stay tuned. :)


Review - "In Search of the Obvious" by Jack Trout

imageJack Trout, one of the most influential marketeers of modern times, rants about the broken marketing world and calls for more common sense and less BS. The book: “In Search of the Obvious: The Antidote for Today’s Marketing Mess” by Jack Trout; Wiley; October 2008 The big idea: Marketing is easy (which makes it hard). Find the obvious, distill the essence and use marketing to sell not entertain. Today’s marketing initiatives are too often misguided in their approach and execution, with marketeers selling snake oil instead of working solutions. The backstory: Jack Trout, co-author of some of the most important marketing books in modern times, is back - and back with a vengeance. He takes aim at the current state of the marketing industry, their BS and the misguided approaches which have turned marketing into a fluffy, aimless pseudo-science. Five tests: Trout cites a 90 year old book from Updegraff, which lays out five tests of Obviousness: 1. The problem when solved will be simple. 2. Does it check with human nature? 3. Put it on paper. 4. Does it EXPLODE in people’s minds? 5. Is the time ripe? Perceptions rule: As much as we wish it wouldn’t be true, people are guided by their perception, not facts. Perception becomes fact - superior products don’t necessarily rule. And you can only do what your customers allow you to do. If you read nothing else: Chapter 1 and 2 lay out the basic framework in less than 25 pages. Treat yourself to these nuggets of wisdom, reread them frequently and put them to work everyday. Rating: 9 (1=Rubbish; 10=Awesome). Trout’s experience, solid theoretical knowledge, body of work (both academically as well as a practitioner) and his tendency to call things by their true name make this book a must read for everyone in marketing (and everyone who is marginally interested in marketing).


Review - "Inside Intuit" by Suzanne Taylor, Kathy Schroeder & John Doerr

image The authors recount the fascinating story of Intuit’s rise to become one of the most successful software companies in the world. The book: “Inside Intuit: How the Makers of Quicken Beat Microsoft and Revolutionized an Entire Industry” by Suzanne Taylor, Kathy Schroeder and John Doerr; Harvard Business Press; September 2003 The big idea: Intuit’s founder Scott Cook is obsessed with user experience and finding solutions for the real needs of his customers. Intuit institutionalized “Follow me Home” studies where Intuit staff observes customers in their day-to-day operations to create specific solutions for problems they discover. The backstory: Intuit is one of the somewhat unsung heroes of modern day software though most people know their mainstay products Quicken, Quickbooks and TurboTax (and lately their acquisition of Mint.com). The authors, through countless interviews with the founding team and early employees, tell the fascinating story of Intuits struggle in the early days and their rise to become a giant in their field. Endurance pays off: Intuit wasn’t a clear winner from the get-go. The authors recount the early days of struggle and problems which would have nearly wiped Intuit out. Persistence and sometimes sheer brute-force kept Intuit going and turned them into the powerhouse they are today. Mistakes are painful: With their direct access to the founders and key employees, the authors manage to give the reader the insight on big mistakes Intuit made throughout its existence. If you read nothing else: The first half of the book covers the early days at Intuit and is a fascinating, fast paced read. The appendix contains Intuit’s mission statement - very well worth the read as it contains the essence of what Intuit is and aims to be. Rating: 9 (1=Rubbish; 10=Awesome). Entertaining and informative - just the right kind of literature for everyone with an entrepreneurial bone in her body.


My Running - now on its own blog...

Just a quick note - I’ve split my blogs:  This blog will solely focus on my work, business and related topics.  I started blogging about running on a new blog (linked on the left - http://neverwalk.tumblr.com) - follow me there if you’re interested in my thoughts on running! :)


An Open Web App Marketplace

During the Mozilla Summit 2010 just a few days ago I led a session (and later in the week a lightning talk) on app stores; why both consumers and developers love apps (and the stores which make them available on platforms such as the iPhone/Android/Facebook/etc) and why the Open Web is in need of a marketplace for its continued success as a premier platform (both for users and developers). In a lot of ways this is a continuation of our thoughts about the characteristics of an Open Web App Marketplace, published by Jay Sullivan on the Mozilla blog. In my session we used an Etherpad to capture feedback from the more than 150 attendees - you can read the transcript here. Main areas of discussion centered around the question which role Mozilla could and/or should play in such a construct, how this would change the web at large, how to handle the fact that the Open Web allows the user to do view source on code and which role the browser could play. As this is a continued discussion with lots of variables, opportunities and risks, we would love to hear your thoughts, ideas and comments. Head over to the Mozilla Labs discussion group, leave a comment here, send me an email, blog about your thoughts (and let me know about it, so I can link to your post) and find me on IRC (http://irc.mozilla.org/ - #labs) and in real life. The slides from my talk are here:




Using Etherpad for AWESOME Collaboration in a Public Talk

In my session on an Open Web App Marketplace during this year’s Mozilla Summit 2010 I wanted to split my time into 15 minutes of me talking & presenting and use the remaining 30 minutes for a discussion with the attendees. My main observation with open forum-style discussions is that you usually only get a fraction of people to speak (people are shy, the discussion moves on and your original point might not be appropriate anymore, people sometimes get into a bit of bikeshedding, etc). To overcome this problem, we originally planned to break the group into smaller sub-groups of 5-8 people and let them run through a structured brain storming exercise. As we expected to have more than 100 people in the session, this became somewhat complex. On a hunch I decided to try an experiment: What if we would allow the audience to discuss in person (one person speaking at a time with me moderating) and use an Etherpad as a back-channel for the participants to jot down their thoughts and notes. At the same time one of my colleagues kindly offered to take notes from the live discussion and add them to the Etherpad. image It turned out to not only work - but blow my expectations out of the water. The group not only had a very fruitful live discussion but people were hacking away on the Etherpad. The interesting thing which happened, was that people started to have conversations on the Etherpad itself - people agreed, disagreed, argued and sharpened their arguments. We ended up with about 10 pages full of extremely valuable comments, thoughts and ideas. The Etherpad software itself handled the onslaught of more than 50 people hacking on the same document at the same time with grace and created a fascinating visual artifact as participants could see how thoughts were developed in real time (which we also projected on the main screen). I highly recommend giving Etherpad as a backchannel a try for your next public talk. You can download the Open Source software here.


Social Currency...

Recently the whole world seems to go nuts over “Facebook fans”, “Twitter followers” and all the other signs of wondrous consumer love. The common notion is that consumers aren’t merely users of your product or service anymore but that they have to become fans, lovers and/or evangelists of your brand (which is not your brand anymore anyway - but that’s another story). Which makes me wonder: What does it actually mean when you have a “fan” on Facebook? How does this fan translate into real business (or whatever other meaningful metric your business has)? I bet - little. Fast Company (not my favorite business magazine as they seem to rather mindlessly jump on all the latest trends) recently published an interesting article: “Five Steps for Consumer Brands to Earn Social Currency” – arguing that the sole notion of buzz, fans and followers is rather meaningless on it’s own.  They go on and state “Not every brand should be social” and “Social tools are a means, not an end”. So far so good.  But - in the same magazine they run a story about Mekanism, a buzz marketing/social media agency, hailing their business and how they help brands build followers and fans.  The article goes on to point out achievements such as “[…] hired Mekanism to double Del Taco’s 20,000 Facebook fans” - 20,000 Facebook fans to what end??? Especially disturbing is the example of Toyota’s Matrix campaign, which basically encouraged people to unleash a stalker attack on their friends. The campaign resulted in “[…] a woman had filed a lawsuit against Toyota and Saatchi stating she’d feared for her life and had resorted to sleeping with a machete under her pillow.”  The article goes on to hail the fact that the campaign drew 4 million visits (again: to what end?). 4 Million visits and at least one person suffering severe mental trouble (I guess that’s what you call collateral damage). Maybe I just don’t get it… Update: Patricia Clausnitzer translated my blog post into Belorussian - read it here.


Lessons from Mozilla - Open Innovation & Crowd Sourcing

We recently were invited to present Mozilla Labs at a workshop on open innovation and crowdsourcing organized by Eric von Hippel (MIT) and Karim Lakhani (HBS). The workshop brought academics and practitioners from organizations such as General Mills (food), Ford (automobile), Pitney Bowes (services) and the World Bank (finance) together, and had each present the specific implementation of crowdsourcing at their respective organization. Below you’ll find my deck on Mozilla Labs’ approach, experiments, results and challenges in the wider area of crowdsourcing - aptly named “Lessons from Mozilla - How we are learning to foster and grow participation”.


Flipping through this deck, I realize that this also acts as a good update on what Mozilla Labs worked on in the last 12 months in relation to the Concept Series and Design Challenge.


Now - that's what I call great customer service

Recently I bought a new bicycle at Mike’s Bikes - and got this card a few days later… :)

Now - that's what I call great customer service: Recently I bought a new bicycle at <a href="http://mikesbikes.com/">Mike's Bikes</a> - and got this card a few days later... :)


Found this in our main meeting room today...

Found this in our main meeting room today...


Barefoot Running Shoes or "Selling Ice to Eskimos"

image I’ve been running barefoot for a little while now - and beside the fact that I injured my Achilles tendon pretty badly while running barefoot a few weeks ago (which to be fair was my own fault - the typical “too much, too soon” problem) – I enjoy it greatly! It’s simply a tremendously good feeling, it’s good for your feet and ankles (if you’re not doing “too much, too soon”) and it might help you find better running form. One thing which always bugged me is the idea of barefoot running shoes (which is pretty much an oxymoron) and more importantly - their price. It started with Vibram’s Five Fingers which are the tool of choice for a lot of barefoot runners - priced at $85 for a fancy piece of molded rubber. But hey - if it makes you run barefoot, I guess $85 are a fair price (I for one bought a pair a little while ago). And as Barefoot Ted points out - they are the perfect example of a trojan horse, getting people to run barefoot who would never dream of running truly shod-less. Lately TerraPlana get’s a lot of press for their Evo barefoot running shoe - which is again basically a thin piece of molded rubber with a minimalist upper.  The fun part about the Evos - they set you back $160! One-hundred-sixty dollars? Seriously? For an un-shoe, a shoe which only exists to protect me from some sharp objects which I might encounter on my barefoot runs? And probably more importantly - a shoe which pretty much resembles my old ASICS Onisuka Tigers, which I can still buy for about $50 a pair. So here’s the thing - if you want to run barefoot, by all means: try it out! It’s great. But do it, as nature intended you to run barefoot - barefoot! Don’t spend $160 (which can buy you some wonderful things in life) and don’t let anyone sell you ice if you’re an Eskimo.


Mozilla Labs - Open Innovation in the News

image Over the last few days two very well written articles about Mozilla Labs in general and the Concept Series in particular were published by BusinessWeek and ZDNet. BusinessWeek took a broad view of design and innovation in Open Source and published their article “Mozilla Labs Explores Open Source Design” as part of an online special. Dana Blankenhorn from ZDNet wrote a very passionate piece about Labs and our work together with the wider community: “Mozilla Labs where the future is being made today”. Both articles are testament of the amazing Mozilla Labs community, the creativity and passion of each and every participant in our Design Challenges and what we accomplished together. Currently we are working hard on building better tools, better programs, more outreach and create more opportunities to participate – I can’t wait to see what 2010 has in store for us! To end with, I couldn’t have said it any better myself – in Dana’s words: “Try things out. Play - Play is where great ideas come from.”


Stop talking about community as a way to make money

My dear friends at Fast Company recently ran an article about the restaurant chain Houlihan and their use of a private social network to connect to their die-hard fans & diners. They managed to build their network to 10,500 “Houlifans”, who provide feedback to the company (in return for coupons, exclusive information and so on). So far so good… What starts to tick me off is the fact that every time a business magazine such as Fast Company talks about communities, the very next line is about profits:

The community's feedback has allowed the company to revamp on the fly, and the small-plates menu now accounts for 26% of item sales in the 10 markets where it has debuted. Those dishes carry a higher-than-average profit margin on smaller-than-average portions. In the Kansas City area, site of the first test, overall profits are up 12% [...]

Seriously - if that’s the way you see your community (and I am sure Houlihan wouldn’t have more than 10,000 fans in their network if they would treat their community members purely like a way to increase revenue), you better don’t even start. It’s a recipe for disaster. So - please dear business writers: I know that it’s compelling to draw the comparison between organizations with strong communities and increased revenues. But that’s not the story - it’s the byproduct of an organization which produces something their customers want.