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Jason is running a long comment-thread at his blog about what a seamless user experience might be. What’s seamless, he asks… The answers are pretty predictable, and mostly correct.

The thing is, seams are important.

Try throwing a baseball or a football without seams.

Wear clothes without seams and you look like you’re on Star Trek.

Seams make it possible to get a grip.

The goal, it seems to me, is not to create things that are seamless. It’s to put the seams in places where they are actually useful.

Audio books

There are only three kinds of people in the world:

  • Those that like audio books
  • Those that don’t
  • (and by far the largest) those that have never tried one

The reason for the market failure is historic. Audio books
traditionally generate very little revenue to the author. She gets a
royalty on a royalty on a small sales base. Not worth the time to
promote. Add to that the huge hassle of keeping a large number of
titles in stock at a retailer and throw in the high price required by
producing many CDs or cassette tapes per title, and you see the problem.

Here’s the thing, though: In my experience, audio book listeners are
ten times more likely to drop me email or talk about what they heard
than book readers. Part of it is the entertaining nature of the
presentation, I think (I probably talk better than I write) and part of
it is the nature of the experience–it’s going into a different part of
your brain.

Anyway, digital media, as in so many other areas, changes
everything. First, authors are getting smarter about what rights they
preserve. Second, digital media has no inventory problem. The Long Tail rules.
If you’ve got an MP3 player, you probably have an iPod, which probably
means you have access to the iTunes store. There’s a ton of audiobooks
there. And audible.com (among others) which pioneered the field, has a
huge catalog.

You can even set your iPod to speed up the spaces between the words so you can hear the whole thing faster.

The biggest problem that I see is that the prices are still way too
high (because of the legacy of the 6 CD set). An audiobook should cost
$3 or $4, imho.

Nine of my books are now available as audio books. You can find them all here.

How to make a PowerPoint chart

More data does not equal more information.

Sooner or later, you’re going to be tempted to use actual data in a presentation. Powerpoint makes it easy, and it also tempts you to do it completely wrong. Here are some ideas to help.

The first question: What’s the point?

Yes, there needs to be a point. The only reason to include statistics in a slide is to advance an argument. Unless you work for the National Institute of Health, the chances that you’ll be asked to review raw data on a slide and try to figure out causation is slim indeed. (Though this is a really useful way to do research and analysis, most readers of this blog don’t get invited to meetings like that very often).

In this slide from Garr, we see too much data, poorly presented. Does the relationship of internet connectivity via cell phone in the UK vs. France have anything to do with why we’re here? I don’t think it does. My guess is that the purpose of this slide is to persuade the viewer that an enormous percentage of those in South Korean have access. The rest of the stats are certainly nice, and they add credibility, but the details are not just irrelevant to the audience, they are actually distracting.

My version looks like this:

I’ve made an assumption–my audience is in the US. I’m trying to teach them that in South Korea, a vastly larger percentage of the market has access to the internet via their cell phone (perhaps I’m pitching a VC on a South Korean internet venture). While China and the UK offer me juicy relative stats, the audience is in the US and they are ethnocentric… they understand the state of their own market.

There are several other things going on here are that are a bit more subtle. The first is that left to right bar charts are silly. The audience takes a lot longer to ‘get’ the idea that something that extends further to the right is better. UP, on the other hand, is always better.

Second, when dealing with percentages, you need to communicate that getting closer to 100% is incrementally more difficult. In other words, 40% is not twice as good as 20%. It’s actually ten times as good if you’re talking about some sort of networked device like a fax machine. In this case, I do that by drawing a picture of a cell phone. As you can see, the closer you get to 100%, the happier your psyche is. The US phone is clearly broken, the other two are pretty close to great.

Next question: How do I make it a verb?

PowerPoint isn’t a printout. It’s a presentation. As a result, you get to create action. Instead of just showing the slide I just showed you, I’d show this slide instead. Why? Because I want to set the baseline. I’d say, "As you probably know, about a third of all the cell phones in the US have access to the Internet. As a result, there are relatively few useful services available, and most cell phone users rarely if ever go online. It’s too slow, too clumsy and there’s not enough to do."

Two things have happened. First, I’ve made a simple statement of fact that is easy to gut check and probably believe. It becomes your fact at that point, not mine.

The second thing I’ve done, by leaving the left side of the slide blank, is create a little itch. You’re wondering what’s on the left. You’re waiting for the punchline. THEN I show you the slide with all three countries on it, and I can say, "When you have almost complete penetration, the entire game changes…"

And then we’re in. We’re on the same page, and you’re ready to hear my story. Remember, you don’t pay by the slide. I did a presentation yesterday… 154 slides in 54 minutes. And I didn’t even break a sweat.

Last thought and then I’ll let you go. You can also aggregate data. In fact, you’re expected to. Pie charts are a great example of how people go wrong.

Here’s a typical pie chart, showing traffic sources to a website:

It’s accurate. It shows more than a half a dozen places that traffic come from. It’s also useless. It’s ungrokable. It doesn’t have a point.

Here’s the same data, grouped to make a point. "We get our traffic from three sources, one dominates the other two, but only one of them is under our control in terms of our ability to scale it directly. So let’s talk about how we grow that slice."

By all means, give me the data. All of it. Just do it in a printout, and share it with us at the end of the presentation.

Are you a who?

Years ago, I got a piece of junk mail inviting me to be in Who’s Who.

Apparently, this used to be very exciting news. Pre-web, Who’s Who was the best way to tell if someone was connected. You went to the library and looked someone up. You could see (most important) if they were in the book, and then you could see where they went to school, who they married, what they did, what clubs they belonged to…

Wikipedia, of course, changed all that. Wikipedia knows all and tells all, and it doesn’t even try to sell you something. Wikipedia is my favorite web destination of all.

Lately, though, the folks at Wikipedia are drawing a line about who’s important enough to be inside. A good friend attempted to post her bio and was rejected, "not notable enough."


Are you notable enough? I think so.

It occurs to me that the web is redefining what notable means, and so are we. Famous used to mean Gene Kelly and Mae West, or Sandy Weil and Bill Gates. But with the long tail, notable means: you’re the #1 player on your tennis team; you’re the top of your marketing department; you’re a blogger lots of people read and talk about — you’re the best and most" notable" in your niche, however small.  That’s the kind of famous that SquidWho is about…

This being the web and not the real world, we decided to take matters into our own hands and launch SquidWho. The people-powered open who’s who online. If you think someone is notable enough to warrant a bio, then they are. Your call, not ours, not some invisible editor’s.

If you don’t like the bio you see on someone, build a better one. It’s free. Royalties go to charity. Best one wins. (Here’s a good one).

The obvious ones (Bono, Mother Theresa and Jaco) are already taken, but that’s okay. Build a better one. Not to mention the room for six billion more.

The one thing

If you didn’t want anything in return, nothing at all, what’s the most generous thing you could do for your best customer, your best friend, your most important prospect?

Give it a try.

Getting a good night’s sleep

Apropos of absolutely nothing, here’s an MP3 file that you can load into your iPod. Listen to it every night for three weeks and maybe you’ll sleep better.


This has been posted to death, but a recent flurry in my inbox made it worth a comment.

Jim sent a message in reply to a thread.

To read the rest of the thread and reply, follow the link below:

Bacn is a new epidemic. It’s spam without the anger at the sender. The Linkedin, Facebook onslaught of noise won’t last long, because we’re all being trained to ignore it.

A good friend sent a Facebook alert of some sort to twenty of her friends. I replied to her with good wishes. Guess what? It triggered twenty more pings and twenty more emails… and on it goes.

Yet another nail in the "email used to be useful" coffin.

Elephant Math

Darwin pointed out that if you take one pair of breeding elephants and make some conservative estimates about their fertility, you would have more than 15 million elephants in less than 500 years (if none of them died an early death.)*

It’s pretty clear it doesn’t work that way. Perfect viral growth, even slow viral growth, rarely happens. If it did, we’d have an elephant problem.

The same thing happens with your idea. If one person told four and the cycle repeated itself for a few generations, everyone would know about it. But they don’t. It tails off. One person often tells zero. Or people hear about it but forget.

Real viral growth comes from one of a few likely paths:

  • Someone sneezes your idea with amplification. They show up on Oprah, or you have $100 million to spend on ads. Great work if you can get it…
  • The idea spreads with fidelity. One person really does tell four, and there’s not a lot of leakage. Starbucks worked this way, largely because the chain grew at just the right rate and kept its character as it did.
  • The idea is particularly ‘viral’ (using a popular understanding of the word.) One typical person doesn’t tell four, she tells 400. This is the blogger effect–lots of small amplifiers, working in unison.
  • The idea lives a very long time and spreads slowly. In our rapid-fire world, this one is pretty rare.

It’s possible to combine some of these tactics. When a political candidate starts out, for example, it’s almost certainly with a grassroots approach, but then, perhaps, once enthusiasm picks up, he or she shows up on TV. You can organize around this and plan for it, but you certainly can’t guarantee it.

Here’s the big news: it doesn’t matter much how many elephants you start with. In other words, big launches don’t necessarily scale. What matters is how fertile your elephants are (number of babies per generation) and how long they live. If Darwin’s elephants managed to squeeze in just one more generation, they end up with 30 million.

The Scarcity Shortage

From four years ago:

What’s worth more: a pile of gold or a pile of salt? Throughout history, many people have chosen the salt. Gold is pretty, but you can’t live without salt, and when it was more scarce than gold, it became valuable enough to use as a currency itself. (The word "salary" is even related to the Latin for "salt.")

Today, of course, salt is close to worthless. Given the choice between a pile of salt and a pile of gold, you’d go for the gold every time, because there’s less of it around.

Scarcity, it seems, has a lot to do with value.

…we’re running out of a lot of important things–clean water, free time, breathable air, the ozone layer, and honest leadership, just to name a few. At the same time, we have to worry about something that is about to affect just about every business I can think of. We’re running out of scarcity.

Scarcity, after all, is the cornerstone of our economy. The best way to make a profit is by trading in something that’s scarce. This is why the music and movie industries are so terrified by the millions of people who download entertainment from the Internet every day. Downloading threatens to make supply virtually unlimited, and that could make their offerings about as valuable as those of some kids down my street who recently tried to run a stand selling freshly made mud.

It seems as though once a category becomes successful, the headlong rush to knock it off is stronger (and quicker) than it ever was before. Last week, a woman who came to a seminar in my office was desperately searching for a way to improve her mortgage-brokerage business. I ruined her day when I suggested that she shut her company down and try something else. Twenty years ago, most mortgages were written by the local bank. Those banks planted the seeds of their obsolescence when they eliminated judgment from the writing of mortgages. Once they could automate a mortgage application, so could everyone else. So mortgage brokers used their low overhead and quick wits as an advantage and stole the business. Today, there are an infinite number of brokers to choose from, all offering essentially the same service. The result is that there is no scarcity, and no profit.

It’s not just about product knockoffs, of course. While there are almost half a million lawyers practicing in the United States today, there are (gasp!) more than 125,000 in school right now. No matter what you believe about lawyers creating ever more work for ever more lawyers, there’s no question that with so many of them, they’re hardly scarce.

The same thing is true for doctors, Web sites, T-shirt shops, sushi restaurants, thumbtack manufacturers, and brands of blank CD-ROM disks. There are 100 major brands of bottled water. Someone opened a fancy ice-cream parlor in Manhattan, and then there were six.

If it’s remotely digital (like music), then it’s easy to mimic. And if it’s easy to mimic, someone wins if they can knock off the original–the sooner the better. When someone starts to sell exactly what you sell but for half the price, how long does your good-service, first-mover, nice-person advantage last?

Zara, the fast-growing European clothing store, can knock off a new fashion before the original designer even gets it to the upscale department stores. Suddenly, the original appears to be the copy.

So how do you deal with the shortage of scarcity?

Well, the worst strategy is whining–about copyright laws and fair trade and how hard you’ve worked to get to where you are. Whining is rarely a successful response to anything. Instead, start by acknowledging that most of the profit from your business is going to disappear soon. Unless you have a significant cost advantage (like Amazon’s or Wal-Mart’s), someone with nothing to lose is going to be able to offer a similar product for less money.

So what’s scarce now? Respect. Honesty. Good judgment. Long-term relationships that lead to trust. None of these things guarantee loyalty in the face of cut-rate competition, though. So to that list I’ll add this: an insanely low-cost structure based on outsourcing everything except your company’s insight into what your customers really want to buy. If the work is boring, let someone else do it, faster and cheaper than you ever could. If your products are boring, kill them before your competition does.

Ultimately, what’s scarce is that kind of courage–which is exactly what you can bring to the market.

Marketing = mass psychology

All real estate brokers working today have thrived in an environment in which the price of a house increased on a regular basis for fifty years. Fifty years. Of course, it’s not just home sellers, it’s us, too. Consumers have built their financial lives around this shared belief.

I’ve spent the last few years fretting about what just happened: Your home as a piggy bank? Not anymore.

The shared belief about real estate might be in danger. The facts changed this month for the first time. The question that those that market real estate have to answer is this: will people treat a bounce in real estate the way that they think about a drop in the stock market (a chance to profit) or will it lead to a long-term reevaluation of what it means to own a house?

It’s interesting to note that insurance on a Ferrari isn’t as expensive as you think. That’s because fixing a million dollar Ferrari doesn’t cost nearly a million dollars. It’s the serial number that you’re buying–the right to sell that car later for a profit.

If the "serial number profit motive" disappears from residential real estate, what happens? I think it could be bigger (and worse) than most people imagine. If the marketers in the real estate world understand the challenge they face, they may very well be able to market their (our) way out of it. They’re out of practice, though.