Monday, October 31, 2005

Micro Persuasion: Travelocity Syndicates Fare Alerts with RSS

Micro Persuasion: Travelocity Syndicates Fare Alerts with RSS

Kind of interesting the way they did this. You setup the flight you want, and then if the "cost of the flight drops by at least 20%" you get a message. So it's basically an alert service.

The first thing that comes to my mind is how long the price is good for. If you only have one block of time per day when you watch your RSS feeds, and you've got a few dozen or hundred new messages, you may not get to the Travelocity alert for a little while. But maybe you segregate off these "hot deals" feeds into a different list so that you can spot them more quickly? That would make sense.

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Screw the Outliers

I had an idea today. It doesn't matter what it was, for the moment. It was something where I thought, "Hey, that would be useful to me. Therefore it's likely that it might be useful to someone else, too."

And here's what I thought next: "But I can imagine people for whom it would be useful, but the way I'm thinking about implementing it, it wouldn't work."

Such thoughts can just kill your motivation. You immediately shift gears and now you're thinking about why something won't work, instead of why it will. Even if there are customers for the product that you're thinking about, you're focused on the people who aren't your customer. Sometimes it's good to think this way. If you're trying to engineer the solution to a particular problem in software or hardware, for instance, it's good to stop and think about whether your solution will indeed solve the problem in all cases. It's almost natural for engineers to do that.

Screw that. Those are the outliers. This isn't designing in a vacuum where you can come up with a perfect solution for the universal audience. If you've found any audience at all for your idea, then worry about them. Don't distract yourself by saying "Gee, it won't work for people who do it this way instead of that way." Fine, you're right, it won't. But it will work for people who do it your way, and there probably are people like that. Make your product and get it to them, and then maybe if you're lucky you'll find yourself with the resources to expand what your product does.

You'll often see this illustrated when a technical person with an idea talks to a business person. The techie explains the idea in the most modest way possible, "It only does this, it will only work in the following cases, it doesn't do this that and the other thing." The business person doesn't even hear the second half, because they know that's not where the money is. They say, "It will help people? They'll buy it." I've had that conversation with business people, and it took awhile for me to get it into my brain. I'd say, "But it won't work for everybody," and the business guy would say, "So what?"

Once you grasp that concept and can relax and let it go, you've made a giant step toward being able to make something real out of your ideas instead of keeping them in your head and wishing that they'd get to see the light of day.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Your Own Personal Queue Podcast

The blogging revolution didn't start because of what was being said or who was saying it. The most important thing to come out of blogging was that it lowered the publishing bar so that anybody who had an opinion could voice it. No longer did you have to create your own web site just to say something. Now with just the click of a mouse you could get a text box, type some words, and instant publish. Often you could go one better and simply leave an audio file or a picture from your mobile phone.

Likewise, the revolution behind podcasting is not in the content, nor in the "lowering the production bar". Because let's face it, actually recording a tolerable audio file, producing and hosting it all take more work than they should.

No, the genius of podcasting lies in the delivery mechanism. Podcasting is what it is because the files just automatically show up on your ipod. And by extension, if we assume that you take your ipod with you when you walk away from the computer, that the files go with you to wherever you want them. That's the brilliant bit. "Audio blogging" has been around forever. But you either had to go to each individual site and get the file, or, even if you were using an RSS aggregator, you'd have to either listen at your computer or manually move files down. Podcasting makes that all invisible. Subscribe, and content is magically just there.

What I find most intriguing right now is that everybody only talks about podcasting one way -- you produce some content, and then you make it available, and people subscribe. In the messaging terms this is known as the "publish/subscribe" (or pub/sub) model. One publisher, many subscribers - usually anonymous. The goal seems to be to publish a feed and then build up a huge audience so that you can preach gospel or sell ads or do whatever you want to do with those eyeballs.

But there is another model known as the "message queue" (or sometimes "private or personal" message queue) which is very different. In the queue model, a message is intended for one recipient, to be received once, and read once. Email is a good example. You don't subscribe to email - email is sent to your address. If a message goes to many people it is because it was addressed that way.

As I sit in my car listening to the current crop of podcasts I wonder how this model could work to my advantage. There's no rule that says all my content has to be of the pub/sub variety. What if there was a way that I could take all of my voice mail, turn that into mp3, and drop that into my own personal queue podcast? On the way to work I could catch up on my messages. What about my appointments for the day? There's plenty of podcasts out there now that take a generic text news feed and pipe it through a text to speech converter. So why not do the same thing with my daily appointments and todo's? What better way to make use of the time driving to the office than to take care of all these tasks before you ever get there?
True, you could use the cell phone and call in to your voice mail, and I'm sure lots of people do. I also know what happens when everybody on their morning commute is too busy talking on the phone to pay attention to the road.

What else works in audio format ... actors and singers could use the time to rehearse. Go to rehearsal, record what you sound like, then listen back to it at your leisure. You could practice for business presentations. Plenty of people do that into tape recorders now. Why not into a personal podcast for yourself so that you can take advantage of the "invisibly delivered wherever you want to go" model?

As a programmer myself I wish I had the resources to get something like this working so that I could point to a prototype instead of a blogpost. But in lieu of that, better to throw the idea out there and see if maybe somebody else can run with it and I can be a beta tester.

I was thinking of this this morning as Adam Curry went through his audio comments for the Daily Source Code. Why doesn't he just pipe those as a personal podcast to himself? Does he really sit at a computer with gmail open and double click on the little attachments? Does he see the irony in that, I wonder? :)


The Path to Podcasting

Podcasting is not just the next buzzword, it's the logical evolution of what people listen to, and how they listen to it. I've been a raging zealot for podcasting ever since I heard about it last year sometime. Now that podcasts are right there in iTunes, anybody with an ipod is potential audience.

Here's the sales pitch I've been using:

Ok, here's how it happens. You tell me where you're at. You get a new ipod. The first thing you do is rip all your cds. Check. Now you create some funky playlists, because you can. Workout music, mellow music, whatever you want. Next you burn some cds with those remixes. Maybe give some to friends who haven't gotten the religion yet.

That was fun. What else can it do? Aha, you find the Music Store. Now you can buy songs one at a time. That's pretty cool. Feels a bit more legal than just finding them on the P2P networks. So you buy some songs. Eventually you start looking for ideas for new things you might like, instead of always searching for songs you already knew.

Eventually, especially if you're listening to your ipod for any long stretch of time (like the morning commute), you get bored with the music and want something more...productive? Audio books, you say! Great idea. Pick up Harry Potter, or the Da Vinci Code. On CD. Realize that a new book on CD runs a good $35-$50. Put it back down. It's a great idea, I've done it, and it gives you lots of content to listen to for a long time. But it's not the sort of thing you want to make a hobby. You going to buy a few audio books every month at that price? And the worst part is the price basically never goes down. Hardcovers turn paperback, and before you know it you can get the original $25 book for $5. But that audio book is always $35 or more. Annoying.

So you're bored with music and starved for some "content".

Welcome to podcasting.

Pick your topic. You like sports? How about ESPN on your ipod? Maybe you prefer news. Take your pick of sources -- CNN, ABC, NPR, Newsweek... which spin is your favorite? There's also plenty of talk shows that are not bound by the FCC (in other words not safe for little ears, although many are also family friendly). How about full fledged audio books? A number of projects out there are podcasting full length novels. So much for that $35 Harry Potter!

The greatest thing about podcasting that you probably don't yet realize is that you're subscribing to a feed of new content. It's not just going to the ABC site and downloading the MP3 of today's news. It's linking in and saying "Whenever new stuff is available, just go ahead and put it on my ipod." You can do this with as many sources as you want. Your choice. iTunes and your ipod are smart enough to get all the new content and put it on the player for you when you sync. It doesn't matter if new content comes out every day, every couple of days, or every couple of weeks. It's not up to you to go and get it. The computer's going to do all that for you.

So go into the Music Store and hit that Podcast button. Sign up for some stuff. Then sync your ipod and take it with you to your workout or your drive to work or wherever. Instant content. As much as you want. On any topic you want. All free, all the time.

Not bad, huh?