What’s on your mobile device?

Your mobile life and what you can do in the rest of your life

I’ve had an iPhone for almost a year, and am astonished at the changes that it’s made in my productivity.  The main difference is that where on my BlackBerry or Windows Mobile phone I mainly read email while on the go or between meetings, I can now access web applications, read email and phone at the same time, and generally live all of the brand promise of the iPhone.  Yes, it sounds like a fanboy shill, but it’s true.

To try and avoid the eye candy that Apple would like to place in front of me in order to make me buy more stuff, I focus on my iPhone home screen and try to make that the center of my mobile productivity.

I do this by splitting up the screen into four general regions:

  • Messages, Notes, Calendar = Upper Left
    Here’s where I go when I need to note something quickly, find out when I’m meeting someone, or to send a quick text.  I don’t spend much time here but I do need to look at it frequently, so I keep these apps on the most easily accessed real estate of the iPhone home screen.  If I need to remember something, I place it into Evernote, my “cloud brain.”
  • Photos = Upper Right
    I love to take pictures, so I keep a few camera apps handy (ShakeitPhoto gives a cool “Polaroid-like” effect, while Hipstamatic has a whole series of effects) to snap and upload pictures.
  • Social + Location + Aggregators = Lower Left
    To keep up with the news by and about the most important people in my network, I use Gist.  I also use the Facebook and LinkedIn mobile apps.
  • Misc = Lower Right
    A few more of my favorite apps live here, including Zendesk which allows me to reach customers at a moment’s notice.

Finally, I’ve added the Mobile Twitter app to my home deck, as I spend a lot of time in Twitter managing multiple accounts and keeping up with a variety of hashtag conversations online.  This is the third in a series of iPhone home page organizations, and I’ve noticed a theme emerging — how can I do more seamlessly in a mobile way while limiting distractions — and the home screen is getting better.  (It’s not without distraction, but better ;).

I’d love to hear how you arrange your mobile device to improve your work.

An Eye from Above

It’s astounded me lately how the information we gain from internet tools changes our perception of the things around us, the relationships we forge, and the ways that we interact with the world. GeoEye is a service that has changed my view again. This satellite photo service — showing pictures of everyday things down to half-meter accuracy — renders familiar landmarks like the Washington Mall or unfamiliar landmarks like the skyline of Abu Dhabi in the comfort of your computer screen. It doesn’t seem that odd to be floating at 28,000 feet over the Mall, “seeing” the Inauguration of President Obama.

But satellite imagery is an apt metaphor for the increasingly granular and interconnected nature of the Internet. It’s no longer enough to see point to point (can I view a distant galaxy), but now important to be able to peer into someone’s life with half-meter accuracy simply by dialing an address on a browser. Google Street View already provides the ability to look at many places in the U.S.

So what does it mean to be able to imagine a place and go there and view it too? I think that there are a few things to be thankful for — among them the ability to have better real time directions, to see old places you once visited, and to be able to see places you’ve never seen — and a few darker ones too. It’s no longer accurate to assume that public life is private.

On the other hand, the very act of being on the internet, maintaining a status on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter presupposes that someone cares what you’re doing, or might be looking, or might be enlightened by your observations. So let’s hope that Geoeye and other services like it recognize that with great power comes great responsibility. In the meanwhile, smile! You’re on Satellite Candid Camera …

What should your business model be: Free, “Freemium”, or Paid Content?

How can you make money off of a free product?
Chris Anderson writes in “Giving it All Away” in today’s WSJ that the classic example is the two-sided model, where a small number of paying customers (AdSense buyers or TV ad buyers, for example) subsidize the vast majority of users (Google or TV) and that is a self-fulfilling feedback loop. More eyeballs == more potential buyers == the highest CPM (if, of course, some of these customers buy the product). Anderson posits that new business models, such as “Freemium” (most users free, some users pay for increased functionality), have exploded in popularity as the marginal cost of giving you more digital bits heads to zero. This is very similar to the Microsoft model of providing you with different models of the same OS, unlocked by different serial numbers. The basic cost to write and build the software is the same no matter who buys it. It’s the revenue end that’s tricky.

John Gourville’s classic article on the resistance sellers face from buyers gives us a few directional ideas on what to expect. The realistic possibilities (absent a very complicated model like Airline pricing where practically everyone pays a different price) for many new and current businesses are free (most likely ad-supported); “freemium”, where the few paying customers support the many non-paying customers; and paid content, where the information is not available unless you pay. Which model should you choose?

Free — where nobody pays, or do they?
Free* is the title of the newest Jim’s Big Ego album. This Boston based group is following in the tradition of the tip jar by providing a version of the new album that you can download for nothing. If you like it, buy the physical album, or simply contribute to the band. Radiohead tried this gimmick last year, and eventually ended it because, presumably, there was no reason to download something from Radiohead that you could get anywhere. Gourville’s premise — based on the research showing that buyers want something three times better than what they have, and that sellers overvalue what they are selling by up to a factor of three — is that something new has to be nine times better than what went before to get. What’s nine times better than free? If you are a world-famous band like Radiohead, it’s probably good enough publicity to give away an album when you are handling the distribution yourself instead of using a record label. But maybe not for your business.

“Freemium” — where the needs of the few trump the needs of the many
Freemium“, or the practice of giving away a version of your product or service for free, is a digital version of the “loss leader” practiced by many brick and mortar stores. Get enough people talking about your product, the theory goes, and eventually enough of them will buy and make up the difference. Your overall average price may be lower, but you have a larger potential pool of customers. LinkedIn and Flickr are excellent examples of this business model, and by segmenting the customer base, savvy marketers can find highly profitable niches (for LinkedIn, it’s turned out to be recruiters; for Flickr, some professional photographers looking for additional exposure — no pun intended). This model, however, hasn’t worked out so well for Twitter, which is wildly popular yet seeking a business model; and Facebook, which should be an ad machine but curiously produces low CPM rates. I’m cautiously optimistic on this model, because the really active, paying users will create the equivalent of the classic two-sided model. The iTunes store shows that if you can price your app correctly, you can be very very successful because the volume of users is so large.

Paid Content — the Holy Grail, but no one really wants it
The Wall Street Journal was the poster child for paid content on the web. The Journal trumpted its paid subscriber base and boasted that it was one of the only sites on the web actually making money through paying customers. Yet a funny thing happen last year: the Journal opened up its pages. Why give the milk away when you can get the cow for free? Obviously the beancounters at the Journal decide that they could make more than the estimated $75m/yearly revenue through ads. So why didn’t the WSJ continue its walled garden?

Tight Niches equal Profit Potential
The Journal opened its walls because there were free substitutes available. From Google News to the Daily Huffington Post to your local newspaper, you can read the news in lots of places. One example of a highly targeted niche is PayBefore, an online resource for the prepaid card industry. This site offers news, opinion, and information to “the prepaid and stored value card industry”, which is essentially a trade magazine online. But no one else is covering this particular trade — hence the profit potential.

So, what now? Which model makes the most sense for my business?
Ask yourself a few easy questions:

  • What am I doing to create, communicate, and deliver unique value?
  • Is my offering 9x (or 10x) better than the substitute people might otherwise choose?
  • Why would users come back over and over again, and tell their friends?.

If the answer to all three of these questions is yes, then you’ve probably got a niche that could be served well by a Paid Content offering. Yet you should ask yourself — how could I increase my reach by broadening the potential appeal — and create a free offering that will seed future customers and provide a feedback loop for growth.

What Does LinkedIn have to do with Facebook?

Recently I joined the ranks of those who Twitter. It was a gradual decision, spurred by the increasingly relevant bits of information I got from friends via Facebook. Facebook was the same sort of “well, I ought to try it” decision last summer. The key here is that the meme, or at least the techmeme for those who microblog, has moved away from LinkedIn. Or has it?

I use LinkedIn, as many of my friends do, to maintain a casual resume and link point for “weak ties”. Yet there was little reason to join Linkedin several years and months ago besides the goal of racking up “connections”. After reaching 500+, people would say “boy, you’re well connected” but I wasn’t really sure if I could use that platform to answer questions I had or to gather new information in interesting and powerful ways.

LinkedIn attempted to address this gap last summer when it added Groups, a way to spontaneously link up your RL buddies and your Social/Work friends, yet it doesn’t have the same spontaneity and “it” factor as does Facebook or Twitter. LinkedIn is not easy enough to use today because it’s difficult to know how to use it when you’re not explicitly looking for a job.

Network with friends? I can do that through a million other services. Find someone in another company who knows a specific skill? Now we’re getting closer, but it’s hard to tell who is an expert and who just put “Six Sigma Black Belt” on their profile to show up in a keyword search.

So what’s a work-focused social network to do? I have a few ideas:

  1. embrace the other services. Instead of offering “plug-in” apps, use the data feeds from the other services as part of a multi-layered view into a candidate
  2. Competency maps. Everybody hates doing this, so if you can combine the automatic (or semi automatic through tagging) building of competencies along with the “crowd-sourced” ratings that make Digg etc. popular, you can find out who’s the Six Sigma Black Belt that everyone seems to hire around here.
  3. make it easier for members of the service to advertise these services, while striking a balance between those would would spam each other and those who have verifiable services

Solve this problem, and you have not only a social network that blends the way that people communicate with the way that they work, but also a blender that creates new opportunities to find talent and create opportunities simultaneously. Add to that some services that allow these incubators to access business services and monetize their ideas and LinkedIn might have a model that signs people up for a nominal fee, and then pays them back as they create value.

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