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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Becoming A Trusted Source

says “someone like me” and regular employees are losing authority to experts.

“Trust in credentialed experts (70%) and company technical specialists (64%) is soaring”

I think that is certainly true and a maybe pinhole look at what is going on. Allow me to extend.

Readers want credibility and authority.

Authorities are constantly being discredited under the glare of always on social media. Journalists deride bloggers and then use them as uncredited (discredited?) sources of stories and research.

Talking heads or newsreaders used to matter. Now I want to find someone who is passionate about one area, who goes deep into it...over time...and provides a frame of reference I can rely on.

Years ago I read Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point and learned about Dunbar's Number, that our mind is set for a village of about 150 acquaintances with maybe 30 close relationships. At the time I was struggling with the uselessness of morning television news. I wanted the weather and they were focusing on people getting shot, because that was what they knew how to report in an exciting manner.

So I took a lesson from Dunbar and built my own news organization using Google Reader. My information sources are posted in the right hand column on my blogs, and I add and delete sources to get better information within the time I want to spend learning, less than an hour a day.

My favorite sources of education are John Battelle, Gina Trapani, Dana Blankenhorn, Phil Baker, and Will Boehlke.

John Battelle wrote the first book I read about Google. He wanted to join the social media industry but wasn't technical, so he started a new type of social media derived company, Federated Media. He explains companies and strategies as a veteran company builder and a strategist.

Gina Trapani started Lifehacker, and “makes stuff on the internet.”. She has written books about new technology and every post is about how to do something. She is credible because she knows how to do things and shares that knowledge so I can use it.

When I was building an open source company, I had an awful lot to learn. Dana Blankenhorn was my most valuable open source blogger, my instructor. He was feeding me what I needed to know for a year before I ever commented on a post. He writes that alternative energy is now where computing was in the late '60's, and he is teaching me about the players, the companies and the technologies in play right now.

30 years ago, Phil Baker was a contract inventor and I was a sales turnaround guy. I was sent in by his venture providers after they were told Phil had invented the wrong box. Turned out he had invented the right box, they were selling the wrong the box, and after we figured out how to sell the box Phil had created, all was happiness and goodness.

Best thing he showed me was that inventing was carefully gathering requirements and then building to specification.

Best thing I taught him was sales works the same way. Just before he invented the Apple Newton, he invented an early PDA. After they had made a couple thousand units, they discovered a fatal flaw. Phil thought about that, figured out which international company would use the flaw as a benefit, and sold the whole lot.

Phil's blog, From Concept to Consumer is an abundant source of user information, and he had just been asked to do a guest blogger spot for The Atlantic. Go Phil! Good guys win!

My wife says I wear, “white shirt, blue suit, red tie.” Actually there is a lot more to it than that and Will Boehlke's A Suitable Wardrobe is a daily dose of new ideas about dress and blogging. He posts daily, is a headfirst Blogger user and new technology aficionado, and he has attracted a stable of exceptional commenters.

Readers like me want information they can use to make their lives better. There has never been a time when it has been so easy to become a trusted source. We may not be Oprah, but in a short period we can develop a voice and attract an audience.

Care to share what you have learned?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Rethinking Business

Paul Ford has a great post The Web Is A Customer Service Medium. His point is that the web can do fabulous customer service and that is what browsers want. It's a more satisfying way of explaining what is often called information wants to be free.

Customer service, or customer care as it was defined at McCaw, often starts as some hero satisfying a customer. Heroes get crushed by big systems.

What the post suggests us is that successful offerings must be designed to take advantage of web-based customer service.

Did you ever call the Google Help Desk? 1-800-GOOGLE? Nobody answers.

Google and their peers have designed products so they can be used by people who have to use search to learn to use their tools, for instance, Google Sites, Blogger, YouTube, and Google Profiles.

Microsoft, which earlier brought computing to the masses, created a culture of guru assisted computing. If you are a corporate user, you probably have (or are looking for) a human resource to pray over your sick computer and make it better, or at least give a plausible explanation of why it won't work.

An electrical engineer, a chemical engineer, a materials engineer, and a computer engineer all get off the plane at the little airport and realize they are going to see the same customer. They decide to rent one car and ride together. On the road out of the airport the rental car dies.

The electrical engineer says, "We should pull the spark plug wires to make sure we have a good connection!"

The chemical engineer says, "It sounded to me like bad fuel. We should drain the gas tank!" 

The materials engineer says, "It sounded like the bearings. We should pull the crankshaft!" 

They turn to look at the computer engineer. He thinks for a minute, then says, "How about we roll down the windows and roll them back up?"

I've worked with some of the best, and I've noticed no two computer gurus solve the problems the same way.

Back to rethinking business. Have you designed your offering so your customers can easily use your products by themselves, or do they need to call someone to read to them from a manual or database?

Putting a human interface between the customer and their solution creates a rich cost structure and a barrier to growth that makes your offering a prime target for being displaced...soon.

Are you building toward a web-supported offering?