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5 Years Ago, the iPhone Changed Everything June 29, 2012

Posted by justincaldbeck in communication, culture, discovery, iphone.
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While it almost seems hard to believe, it was just five years ago today that the first iPhones were sold.  I remember the enormous amount of people lined up outside of Apple Stores eagerly waiting for their new device.  It was easy to understand the hype of the device, but what many did not predict would be the way it would shape our behaviors and give birth to an entire industry.

The iPhone itself is a game changer, few could deny that, but much like iTunes was the real power behind the iPod, the App Store has been the big game changer for our industry.

We didn’t all immediate realize the power of the App Store, in fact my partners wrote an interesting post in 2009 about how little revenue Apple was making from apps.  But today, we have seen companies emerge as App providers and other that have started as popular Apps and then expand to other platforms.  Rovio, makers of Angry Birds, Pulse*, Instagram, Uber and Foursquare are just a few examples of companies that have seen incredible success as mobile apps.

In addition, the iPhone has played a big role in reducing the friction for consumers to use products from businesses that were previously web-centric such as TaskRabbit*, LivingSocial* and GrubHub* as well as retailers like Gilt.  These companies not only built better customer engagement through the iPhone but also attracted new users who discovered the brand for the first time on a mobile device.

Despite all of these early successes, the market is still in its infancy in many ways.  While it may seem that everyone we know has an iPhone or Android device, Nielson recently reported that only about 50 percent of US consumers have a smartphone today.  As that number grows, the audience and demand for new applications and types of mobile solutions will grow too.

For my part, I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to watch the market emerge and evolve and help companies take advantage of this amazing platform.

*Lightspeed portfolio companies

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Startup CEO New Years Resolutions January 6, 2011

Posted by jeremyliew in 2011, culture, growth, HR, new years resolutions, product management.
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I asked the CEO’s of the companies that I work with,  “What are your company related new years resolutions?”. Each had a different spin, but they mostly fell into a few themes of:

  • Great people
  • Improve the product
  • Stay Lean
  • Grow fast
  • Internalize culture and values

Lisa Marino of RockYou,  a leading developer of social games and advertising solutions for social media, is focused on building a great team with more gaming DNA to improve the quality of the games it publishes:

Make RockYou the place talent wants to be.

Many of the companies had resolutions focused on their product management and development. From the social gaming companies, Will Harbin of Casual Collective, which publishers the popular game Backyard Monsters, said simply:

Mo’ money, mo’ fun

As games like CityVille have shown,  mo’ fun usually leads to mo’ money! [And congrats to Alex Le, cofounder of a prior investment, Serious Business, whose first game since the Zynga acquisition is CityVille.]

Scott Albro of Focus, a knowledge sharing community for business people, has fully embraced the idea of constant iteration for 2011, taking the best practices of social media to the business media world.

Plan big, increment small. Meaning: set big, audacious goals for the year, but understand how the little things you do every day link together so you can achieve those big goals.

Ed Baker of Friend.ly, a fun way to meet new people, is focused on driving innovation:
Encourage more product suggestions from our engineering team. Our engineers often come up with great ideas, and they are the most productive when they work on these ideas. in 2011, I’d like to encourage a culture where this happens as much as possible.

Shawn Gupta of OhLife, a personal journaling tool over email, has similar sentiments in using metrics to drive product innovation:

Make metrics a core part of our product development. It will be a lot easier for us to make improvements to our product when we have data-driven discussions and decisions.

Although the industry is in much better shape than the dark days of 2008 and 2009, many CEOs have fully embraced the continue to internalize the lean startup principles that came out of those years. Joe Greenstein of Flixster, the leading movies app on all social and mobile platforms, wants to take big risks with small dollars.

Stay hungry, stay foolish.
Steve Semprevivo of RetireEasy, a  company helping baby boomers manage their retirement, is also focused on staying lean:
Pursue our passion, build lasting strategic relationships and most importantly use our cash wisely.
Other companies are fully focused on growth. Tim O’Shaughnessy of Living Social, a local deals site, says simply:

Put the pedal through the floor.

Glenn Rogers of CarDomain, a community of auto enthusiasts, concurs:
Traffic,traffic,traffic! For media sites like ours you are either growing traffic or or you are dying. Our whole focus this year will be on finding new users, improving the user experience and increasing their engagement with our sites.

Two ecommerce companies that have seen tremendous growth are paying attention to their core values and culture to keep their organizations coherent as they dramatically increase in size. Andy Dunn of Bonobos, a vertical web retailer, will be driving attention to one of their core values in 2011:

Focus on self-awareness, the core trait of leaders, both people and firms.

We will measure our traction in three ways:

1. Knowing we are becoming self-aware as a team. Measure of success: 360 degree reviews done smartly (meaning efficiently and not dreaded by all involved).

2. Marketing who we are, not who we may want to be one day. Measure of success: more than doubling our customer base without doubling our cost per acquisition.

3. Developing products based on knowledge of our strengths and curating products based on knowledge of our weaknesses. Measure of success: sales growth and gross margin return on investment.

Brian Lee of Shoedazzle, a personalized fashion etailer for women, is also focused on one of their core values, great customer service:

Treat every client like they are part of your family.

Scott Brady of Project Slice, a stealth company helping to simplify online shopping, also has cultural values core to his new years resolutions:
Simplify – Challenge ourselves to simplify, we can strive for perfection in the next version.
Celebrate – Take the time to celebrate small wins in all areas of the company, and do it every day as they happen.
Feedback – Continue to foster an environment where everybody on the team communicates feedback, good and bad, in an open and honest way.

What are your new years resolutions?

Using a virtual world newspaper to enhance in-world community September 1, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in culture, mmorpg, newspapers, virtual worlds.
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The LA Times notes the popularity of the Club Penguin Times:

The Club Penguin Times … is more widely read than New York’s Daily News, the Chicago Tribune or the Dallas Morning News. And it’s not even 3 years old.

But this weekly “newspaper” isn’t tossed onto driveways or sold at newsstands.

Rather, it’s an online publication distributed to the estimated 6.7 million monthly users of Club Penguin, a snow-covered virtual world visited by more than 12 million kids, who adopt a colorful penguin persona and waddle around, playing games and meeting new friends.

Though no one would suggest that the Club Penguin Times provides Pulitzer Prize-worthy coverage, it nonetheless attracts 30,000 daily submissions from children, who pose questions to Dear Abby-inspired “Aunt Arctic,” compose verse for the poetry corner, tell a joke or review a party or event…

As the main source of information about events within Disney’s icy, penguin-populated virtual world, it boasts the kind of reader penetration that mainstream newspapers would envy. At least two-thirds of the players turn to the Times each week to find out what’s happening, Merrifield estimates.

Club Penguin’s CEO., Lane Merrifield, notes:

…he was looking for ways to incorporate learning — what he called educational “fiber” — in the game. Publishing a “newspaper” seemed an obvious way to encourage reading by offering information that users care about, such as the latest igloo upgrades.

In addition, the Club Penguin Times helps create social norms and shared experiences for players – an important facet to creating and shaping a culture in the world. Most online worlds develop discussion boards where the world’s creators have limited ability to shape the discussion. By creating a user generated (but company edited) newspaper for the world, the world’s creators give themselves a powerful tool for controlling and shaping the conversation. People building MMOGs and virtual worlds should read the whole thing.

(Found via via Paid Content.)

Getting player culture right is important to MMOGs and social media sites May 20, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in culture, game design, game mechanics, games, games 2.0, mmorpg, social media, social networks.
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Massively has a summary of the panel discussion from ION last week that gave a five year forecast for MMOs. Lots of interesting predictions from the panel, but the quote that really struck me was:

The number one reason people leave games are basically f*ckwads. While this comment generated laughter from the audience, it also made them all nod in agreement. Erik Bethke points out that if players were given the right social structure and tools, then they might be able to clean up the f*ckwads themselves. Scott Jennings offers the epiphany that, “We really are in the feudal ages with MMOs.” Which is very much true. I’m of the opinion that both methodologies are going to see use and that they both have their place.

Crass, but this is very true. Too many of Bartle’s “Killer” player type can really destroy a game’s community.

Player behavior is undoubtedly influenced by game mechanics. But it can also be heavily influenced by the dominant culture that new players encounter when they first enter the game. New players take their cues from the environment that they first see, and from the reactions that their behavior elicits from the rest of the community.

I am reminded of one of Lightspeed‘s portfolio companies, Stylehive. Stylehive is a social shopping website where users use a social bookmarking tool to contribute interesting clothing, jewelry, shoes or furniture into the site. Think of it as a user generated Lucky Magazine. They could contribute anything that they want into the Hive – news stories, pictures of exotic travel destinations, even porn. But they don’t. The reason is culture. New users of Stylehive quickly learn the norms – what behavior is applauded and what behavior is ignored.

MMO Game designers and social media sites should think about how to expose new users/players to the sort of model behavior that they want users to emulate, and how to build feedback loops into the system so that users can self police undesirable behavior.

Social Media: Culture = f(UI) December 19, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in culture, facebook, game mechanics, interaction, Internet, myspace, social media, social networks, UI, web 2.0.
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Lightspeed hosted a summit for portfolio companies and friends of the firm in the fall, focused on consumer internet user acquisition. One of the panels was about building community on a social media site, and on that panel Angelo Sotira (CEO and founder of deviantART) noted that for social media sites, culture is a function of UI. (deviantART is the leading community for artists and their fans on the web, and is an Alexa top 100 site. [Disclosure: my wife did some consulting for deviantArt.])

I was reminded strongly of this when reading Judith Donath‘s paper on Signals in Social Supernets that was published in the special theme issue of JCMC on social network sites guest edited by dana boyd and Nicole Ellison:

Variation in the design of SNSs promotes the development of different cultures (Donath & boyd, 2004; Lampe, Ellison, & Steinfield, 2007; Lenhart & Madden, 2007b). On a site where creating a link involves little cost, users may amass thousands of “friends,” but an observer has no way of knowing which, if any, of these links represent a relationship between people who care about or even know each other (boyd, 2006; Fono & Raynes-Goldie, 2007). On Orkut, for instance, one simply clicks on a profile to request a connection, and being connected provides no special access or information.

On sites with higher costs for creating a link, the observer has reason to believe that the links represent genuine relationships. Members of aSmallWorld are careful to request connections only with others whom they are sure wish to be linked to them, since they can be banished for having a few link requests declined (Price, 2006). On LiveJournal, making the link is easy: It is one of the few sites in which this can be done unilaterally. However, linking is generally done to give someone access to part of one’s journal, and linked members’ posts appear on one’s own space. This makes “friend” a relatively significant signal, as friending someone both reduces one’s privacy and publicly connects one with that person’s writing (Fono & Raynes-Goldie, 2007).

The meaning of these links is also personally subjective. For some people, listing someone as a “friend” on a social network site is an indication of personal and positive acquaintance. Others are far more casual, willing to add friends indiscriminately (boyd, 2006). This has ramifications for the reliability of the profile itself. Viewers may trust the self-created content of a profile if they believe that its links are to people who know that user well, while links that they believe have only minimal connection add little credence.

SNSs are designed for different audiences. LinkedIn is for professionals. It has no photographs, the profiles are resumés of education and work, and the comments are in the form of testimonials from co-workers. Identity is firmly tied to one’s professional self, and there is limited ability to explore other people’s networks. MySpace, popular with young people, has a very different atmosphere. Its profiles feature photographs, music, and embedded programs, and users can explore the network far beyond their own acquaintances (although they can choose to make their profile visible only to direct connections). This open interface makes it a rich environment for the jokes, links, and software that function as information fashions (discussed below).

Identity in MySpace is fluid. Some profiles are real people, presenting themselves much as they would offline. Some are commercial entities, such as bands, charitable organizations, or celebrities; still others are fictional personas, made for creative experimentation or as fronts for spam. No single design is ideal for all sites. What is important is that designers be fluent in not only the fonts and colors that make up the graphical design of the site, but in the social costs and benefits that shape its emerging culture.

Once a culture takes hold on a site, it is very hard to change. People building social media sites should be careful to think through the implications of their UI (including such mechanics as keeping score and exposing popularity) as their choices will likely have long term implications that can’t be easily reversed by a subsequent tweak to UI.

I’d love to hear other examples of sites where the dominant culture is a function of UI.

UPDATE: Bokardo has a good related post on how changes to Digg’s UI changed its culture