Research is great, but Twitter is shipping…

Shipping is a feature. I keep getting reminded of that. Scientific American has a long article on the MyLifeBits research that Microsoft (er, Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell) is doing. You can see these two guys in a video series I did while back at Microsoft.

I wish I could play with their stuff — the research they are doing is interesting. But, I find it interesting that we’re using Twitter, YouTube, Blogs, MySpace, Flickr, and other things to record our lives and share them with either friends/family or the world.

This is the problem with the “boil the ocean” approach. Gordon and Jim might end up shipping something brilliant, but will we care when it finally comes out?

This is why I’m scared by what Ray Ozzie is doing. Clearly Ray has bought into the Steve Jobs’ school of “keep it secret, don’t talk, and ship something cool.”

I just don’t think that approach wins many friends in the Internet space. Why? Well, it’s the iteration of things that gets us involved.

I think back to how I got into Twitter. It wasn’t because Steven Levy or Walt Mossberg told me about it.

Yeah, I can hear you saying “Twitter is lame, it doesn’t do much.”

That’s the point. It started small, with a very constrained feature set (frustratingly small, at times when you want to tell your friends something more than a few hundred characters worth) but it works, it started in the grass roots, and it’s getting more interesting with every new user that joins it.

It’s a little puddle growing bigger. Meantime we’re waiting for Ray Ozzie to tell us something.

Comments

  1. Oftentimes I think you correlate winning an Internet popularity contest with building a business.

    In some cases, popularity can help (as in the case of one-time-unknowns Twitter or Flickr, etc.) but do you really think that if Ray and Microsoft announced something of obvious and great value that got people talking that people would still be concerned that Ray’s been quiet lately?

    I don’t know. But I doubt it. Once we do release something though, as a company we’re constantly involving our customers in its evolution. There are literally hundreds of examples of this.

  2. Oftentimes I think you correlate winning an Internet popularity contest with building a business.

    In some cases, popularity can help (as in the case of one-time-unknowns Twitter or Flickr, etc.) but do you really think that if Ray and Microsoft announced something of obvious and great value that got people talking that people would still be concerned that Ray’s been quiet lately?

    I don’t know. But I doubt it. Once we do release something though, as a company we’re constantly involving our customers in its evolution. There are literally hundreds of examples of this.

  3. I get flickr. I don’t get twitter. At my company we use AIM status messages to indicate what we are doing. In a meeting, on the phone, out call, etc… Isn’t twitter just another step to go through. I mean I can see going through the trouble if you are going to be gone for a while and not connected but isn’t it just a pain to keep updated?

  4. I get flickr. I don’t get twitter. At my company we use AIM status messages to indicate what we are doing. In a meeting, on the phone, out call, etc… Isn’t twitter just another step to go through. I mean I can see going through the trouble if you are going to be gone for a while and not connected but isn’t it just a pain to keep updated?

  5. Hey Robert – Just wanted to show you something along the lines of what you are talking about. We just released Slife last week. Slife is an app (Mac only right now) that observes everything that you do when you use your computer and tries to keep a record of that, displayed through visualizations. Kind of a MyLifeBits for your computer. The content is for your personal use only. But if you want to share what you do with the world (web sites you visit, music you listen to, etc), you can do that with Slifeshare. Check them out if you want – they are both shipping!

  6. Hey Robert – Just wanted to show you something along the lines of what you are talking about. We just released Slife last week. Slife is an app (Mac only right now) that observes everything that you do when you use your computer and tries to keep a record of that, displayed through visualizations. Kind of a MyLifeBits for your computer. The content is for your personal use only. But if you want to share what you do with the world (web sites you visit, music you listen to, etc), you can do that with Slifeshare. Check them out if you want – they are both shipping!

  7. Having invented the original ideas, Microsoft holds the patents, and can claim ownership of such companies whenever it feels the time is right. Don’t underestimate the power of inventions…

  8. Having invented the original ideas, Microsoft holds the patents, and can claim ownership of such companies whenever it feels the time is right. Don’t underestimate the power of inventions…

  9. *laugh* we get it, you love twitter… you’re twitter-pated, it’s like pure mother’s milk to you. Your blog, your voice, I say write twitter hauikus via SMS all day.

    Remember though, the internet isn’t a one size fits all environment. Twitter is a very focused, very trival, very non-critical niche application. It’s audience is the web’s hopeful hipsters, those that love seeing new features, that shrug off downtime, that thrive on the latest app, that are glued to every blog post. That really isn’t Microsoft’s audience.

    Microsoft needs to appeal to the IT guy that not only hates installing new releases but also hates when applications change. You know who get’s those phone calls when a new feature pops up or their web 2.0 app isn’t working? The IT guy. Microsoft needs to appeal to my mother who is concerned even when the icon changes to an app. Microsoft needs to appeal to my wife that just wants to get work done and could care less any time I try to show her some cool web 2.0 app.

    The great thing about having so many people plugged in though is that all sorts of models can co-exist.

  10. *laugh* we get it, you love twitter… you’re twitter-pated, it’s like pure mother’s milk to you. Your blog, your voice, I say write twitter hauikus via SMS all day.

    Remember though, the internet isn’t a one size fits all environment. Twitter is a very focused, very trival, very non-critical niche application. It’s audience is the web’s hopeful hipsters, those that love seeing new features, that shrug off downtime, that thrive on the latest app, that are glued to every blog post. That really isn’t Microsoft’s audience.

    Microsoft needs to appeal to the IT guy that not only hates installing new releases but also hates when applications change. You know who get’s those phone calls when a new feature pops up or their web 2.0 app isn’t working? The IT guy. Microsoft needs to appeal to my mother who is concerned even when the icon changes to an app. Microsoft needs to appeal to my wife that just wants to get work done and could care less any time I try to show her some cool web 2.0 app.

    The great thing about having so many people plugged in though is that all sorts of models can co-exist.

  11. The Ubuntu distribution simplifies Linux by providing a sensible collection of applications, an easy-to-use package manager, and lots of fine-tuning, which make it possibly the best Linux for desktops and laptops. Readers of both Linux Journal and TUX Magazine confirmed this by voting Ubuntu as the best Linux distribution in each publication’s 2005 Readers Choice Awards. None of that simplification, however, makes Ubuntu any less fun if you’re a hacker or a power user.

    http://extremedigital.wordpress.com/2007/02/20/ubuntu-hacks/

  12. The Ubuntu distribution simplifies Linux by providing a sensible collection of applications, an easy-to-use package manager, and lots of fine-tuning, which make it possibly the best Linux for desktops and laptops. Readers of both Linux Journal and TUX Magazine confirmed this by voting Ubuntu as the best Linux distribution in each publication’s 2005 Readers Choice Awards. None of that simplification, however, makes Ubuntu any less fun if you’re a hacker or a power user.

    http://extremedigital.wordpress.com/2007/02/20/ubuntu-hacks/

  13. “Keeping it a secret doesn’t make it good. That just makes it a surprise. Making it good makes it good, and Microsoft has not been good at making it good of late.”

    Amen John… At the end of the day, a great product should beat a greatly marketed product.

  14. “Keeping it a secret doesn’t make it good. That just makes it a surprise. Making it good makes it good, and Microsoft has not been good at making it good of late.”

    Amen John… At the end of the day, a great product should beat a greatly marketed product.

  15. Maybe MS learnt something with the Microsoft Origami project? Possibly the most talked-about subject on the sphere for years…only to end up being rubished because it was, well…rubbish (although the new Sony is apparently awesome!)

    Sometime discretion is the better part of valour!

  16. Maybe MS learnt something with the Microsoft Origami project? Possibly the most talked-about subject on the sphere for years…only to end up being rubished because it was, well…rubbish (although the new Sony is apparently awesome!)

    Sometime discretion is the better part of valour!

  17. Dare I say it. There are too many good ideas out there at the moment. Unless it’s lifechanging I’d advise people to back a great product rather than start a new product. There’s no hurry for your idea to be launched just yet. And if it can be duplicated, well it’s not so revolutionary than is it?

    Just my view. I can barely keep up with neat stuff.

    twitter.com/charlesfrith

  18. Dare I say it. There are too many good ideas out there at the moment. Unless it’s lifechanging I’d advise people to back a great product rather than start a new product. There’s no hurry for your idea to be launched just yet. And if it can be duplicated, well it’s not so revolutionary than is it?

    Just my view. I can barely keep up with neat stuff.

    twitter.com/charlesfrith

  19. Excuse me, but we’re ignoring the elephant in the room. Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell are describing a technology for remembering everything. Isn’t that a wonderful gift for a totalitarian government? Let’s hope they don’t get around to shipping. Time to join the luddites.

  20. Excuse me, but we’re ignoring the elephant in the room. Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell are describing a technology for remembering everything. Isn’t that a wonderful gift for a totalitarian government? Let’s hope they don’t get around to shipping. Time to join the luddites.

  21. Calm down, judging by the number of times Google is criticized for messing up we are nowhere near to an omniscient brain. Truth is that everything has a very complex context. This comment makes no sense if it’s carved into tree. Take away the previous comment and it just looks random. Does that help?

  22. Calm down, judging by the number of times Google is criticized for messing up we are nowhere near to an omniscient brain. Truth is that everything has a very complex context. This comment makes no sense if it’s carved into tree. Take away the previous comment and it just looks random. Does that help?

  23. I think the folks over at 37signals have created a whole business around “shipping as a feature.” If you read their book ( http://gettingreal.37signals.com/toc.php ) or just use any of their products you can tell the whole idea is to write features as they are needed. In the case of web apps this is really easy, with OSes and most MS products this just isn’t feasible. The sad truth is I don’t really see MS figuring out that they can play by different rules on the internet.

  24. I think the folks over at 37signals have created a whole business around “shipping as a feature.” If you read their book ( http://gettingreal.37signals.com/toc.php ) or just use any of their products you can tell the whole idea is to write features as they are needed. In the case of web apps this is really easy, with OSes and most MS products this just isn’t feasible. The sad truth is I don’t really see MS figuring out that they can play by different rules on the internet.

  25. alphaWorks was an approach IBM research took toward this in the 90′s. Enterprise business leaned heavily toward fully-baked releases. alphaWorks re-branded alpha code projects and got them out there in a safehouse. aW’s tenth anniversary was last fall. Still one of the best things I’ve ever worked on. Companies need to learn openness before they get open source. aW was one way we learned how to be open.

  26. alphaWorks was an approach IBM research took toward this in the 90′s. Enterprise business leaned heavily toward fully-baked releases. alphaWorks re-branded alpha code projects and got them out there in a safehouse. aW’s tenth anniversary was last fall. Still one of the best things I’ve ever worked on. Companies need to learn openness before they get open source. aW was one way we learned how to be open.

  27. > Why? Well, it’s the iteration of
    > things that gets us involved.

    That’s what people in this space like to *say*, I guess, but there’s often a value judgment when it comes to the source. In other words… The degree to which the “release early, release often” ethic is championed by people who claim to value this publicly iterative approach depends *highly* on the product and who is producing it.

  28. > Why? Well, it’s the iteration of
    > things that gets us involved.

    That’s what people in this space like to *say*, I guess, but there’s often a value judgment when it comes to the source. In other words… The degree to which the “release early, release often” ethic is championed by people who claim to value this publicly iterative approach depends *highly* on the product and who is producing it.

  29. MyLife bits link says, “GORDON BELL, one of the authors, launched a research project aimed at creating a digital archive of all his interactions with the world.”

    HIS INTERACTIONS…

    I guess that’s great if your a member of the Gordon Bell fan club. I thought the web was pro sharing, anti “look at how great I am?”

    I love this quote from WikiP, “”Microsoft NT…is going to be very far-reaching. It’s going to grab the rug out from under Unix.”

    One word, LAMP!

  30. MyLife bits link says, “GORDON BELL, one of the authors, launched a research project aimed at creating a digital archive of all his interactions with the world.”

    HIS INTERACTIONS…

    I guess that’s great if your a member of the Gordon Bell fan club. I thought the web was pro sharing, anti “look at how great I am?”

    I love this quote from WikiP, “”Microsoft NT…is going to be very far-reaching. It’s going to grab the rug out from under Unix.”

    One word, LAMP!

  31. [...] Scoble is right.  All the research, value proposition positioning, and market playbooks can’t save you from looking like a copycat.  Waiting that extra year or even months to perfect something for the web certainly doesn’t win you any customer mindshare. [...]

  32. Well, it’s not like MyLifeBits has been an original project to begin with; there has been lots of prior research on recording one’s life and I don’t see any substantial new contributions by Bell.

  33. Well, it’s not like MyLifeBits has been an original project to begin with; there has been lots of prior research on recording one’s life and I don’t see any substantial new contributions by Bell.