May 30, 2006

Google site searching

You may (or may not) have noticed that recently I changed my site search to use google blog search. I did this because the search results from google itself were not complete.

Basically the google site search only searches the blog front page, so searching for something like "travel blogs" on my site would return no results, even though there is a post by that name in the archives. However using the google blog search returns the results as expected.

I can only assume that google is doing this because their main index is getting just too damn large with all the blogosphere activity, and specialised search is the way to go.

I wonder though, what this means for searching in the long term. The idea that people have to now do a normal google search and then maybe blog searches to find what they're looking for might bring back some popularity to meta-search sites again.

May 29, 2006

Musings On Share Your OPML

Techcrunch has a nice post about ShareYourOPML at Musings On Share Your OPML. I like the ideas presented, and hope that Share is listening.

May 27, 2006

Presentation techniques

In the last week I've given a few presentations on different topics for different purposes.

I've given two as part of pre-sales activities and one for internal purposes. For the external presentations both were in conjunction with a business partner and were done using their presentation templates and styles.

Needless to say this was the standard bullet points, lots of text per slide, information transmittal style of template. Whilst it was well received the presentations were successful more due to the presenters and interest levels of the audience than in the content of the slides. Even I found them pretty tedious.

The other presentation I did was an internal one relating to some development process changes I am introducing to tighten up some sloppy work being done by the team. I used a different style, clean and simple, based on ideas from presentation zen with a single line of large-font text or a single word per slide, and lots of slides. It was much more conversational and much more engaging (as well as more fun to present). The presentation lasted for all of 5 minutes, but during that time the team was engaged and the message was clear to them.

I know which style is more effective, and also I know which is harder to present.

The external presentations took only a little longer to put together than they took to present, while the internal one, took much longer to prepare than it did to present. I also had to know my material a lot better for the internal presentation as I couldn't always rely on the text on the slides to prompt me as to what to say next.

I'll keep working on it, but the internal style is definitely one I want to keep improving. Once I'm more comfortable with it internally, I'll try taking it "on the road" and seeing how it goes.

May 25, 2006

Some handy tools

ReSharper 2.0 has just been released.

If you've not heard of it before, it's a very cool Visual Studio 2005 add-in with heaps of productivity enhancers and refactoring tools. Well worth the price.

Also, Red-Gate has recently put out SQLPrompt - a free tool for doing intellisense in SQL query Analyser and SQL 2005 Management Studio. It's also a great productivity enhancer

May 10, 2006

Software that sells

You may sometimes find yourself asking what differentiates products that sell from products that don't. And more importantly, if your product is one of the hordes of poor-sellers then what needs to do be done to get it selling better. The answer is pretty simple, nothing new or revolutionary. In fact you probably know the answer and don't even need to be told.

When considering the question you might initially think about things such as usability, functionality, speed, stability, flexibility, the look and feel, the "user experience" (whatever that is), how easy it is to configure or personalise, it's ease of use or a range of other things. In a technical sense you could be correct because these are all product differentiators, but in reality you've missed the essence of the problem. These qualities are the things that make one product different from another, but they don't explain why one product sells better or worse than another. The truth is, that if you look at things this way then you're looking at the question from the wrong perspective. You're looking at it from a sellers perspective. You need to think like you're customers.

Marketers think like this all the time. It comes naturally to them and if you ask them what the difference is between products that sell and products that don't they'll tell you (if you find them at an honest moment) that it's not how well a product performs, how technically superior it may be over it's competitors or how flash something looks. What they'll tell you is that it's the products that ...

Give the customers what they want

Products that do this don't automatically sell well, but products that don't will never sell well, no matter how great they are marketed or promoted. If you want a case in point, look at Hollywood. The movie studios regularly make flops - massive, gigantic, worldwide phenomenal flops. Movies like Gigli, Torque, Battlefield Earth and more. Why do these movies flop? Well, it's not because of poor marketing.

It's because the paying public didn't get what they want. Most people (apart from the "artistic" set) watch movies for entertainment - they want to escape, to be able to live an adventure for the next 2 hours, to identify and care about the characters they are watching, to be awed at the special effects, to feel and emotional rush as the heroes get out of yet another jam, etc (your reasons may vary).

Why did Star Wars, Titanic, Indiana Jones, etc all become such massive hits? Because they gave the movie goer what they wanted and more - I can still watch Star Wars after seeing it umpteen times and enjoy myself as Luke blows the death star out of the sky. So do my kids. So does my wife. Having seen shockers like Torque where I felt completely overwhelmed at the absolute crap being shown on screen I can safely say that not getting that enjoyment gives you a string sense of feeling ripped off. Not really what I wanted.

So what is it that your customers want? Well that's a much harder question to answer. It's hard because I don't know who your customers are - but you do. When you talk to your customers, what is it that they say, what are they asking for, what attracts them to you in the first place? On the flip side (and this is harder to answer) if they are attracted to you and your products then what prevents them from purchasing your product? What is it about your product that sucks or what is it about your company that makes them nervous.

When I started with my current employer and first saw the product there were some things I noticed straight off the bat. The software we produce is business system and carries a great deal of functionality, but in places the interface was not really usable and in some places a bit kludgy. As a user I don't want the slickest interface imaginable, but if I'm going to being using a product and staring at a screen all day long I don't want it to be boxy & disorganised. I want something that looks and behaves in a contemporary manner and something that lets me do my job without getting in the way.

But that's my opinion, and I'm the seller so I could be incorrectly biased. What about the customer? What were they saying and how could I find out what they are thinking? It was actually pretty easy - I've got myself involved in presales activities, tender presentations, installations, etc. I listened to the people in the company who are facing the customers on a daily basis - the support people, the trainers, the implementation teams. They all talked about the visuals and the usability.

Based on this we put in a strong effort to improve the way the system behaved and looked. The end result was worth it - the responses from customers were very positive. The customers like the changes, they feel more comfortable using the system and as a result feel a lot better about the product.

Has this change help us sell the product, absolutely. Have we suddenly turned into a world beater - not yet, but we're making sure we don't get relegated to the sidelines.

May 9, 2006

Share your OPML

OPML in case you didn't know, is a list of the RSS feeds you subscribe to (ie the blogs you read).

A new site share.opml.org exists for sharing those feeds, much like del.icio.us does for bookmarks. The site shows a number of interesting things, amongst which is the ability to find others who have a similar subscription pattern to you, so you can hunt around for other interesting blogs to read.

Go have a look. P.S. My feeds can be seen here.

May 7, 2006

Reinventing my presentation technique

I mainly use powerpoint for pre-sales activities (tender responses, roadshows, etc) and for communicating ideas internally to staff.

Now that I've been reading up on different ways to present, I started to refine the technique. Simple statements (one line of 3 or 4 words at most) on each slide, more visual prompts and more communication verbally instead of using the slide to prompt me for what to say (or just reading the slide itself).

In fact I've only just started using the presentation notes feature. I don't think I ever used it before because I thought it was just for handouts, not realising that you can use it during the show as well. In playing around in the show options I saw the multi-monitor settings and "discovered" the presenters view where you see the presentation view, the next few slides coming up and your own notes about the current slide.

I'm sure this is well known to many people but I'd never used it before (mainly because my laptop wasn't set for multi-monitor) and the little light globe in my head went on and I finally could see how the techniques I'd been reading about can be done in a practical manner.

Anyway, I used it this week and the presentation flowed a lot better, the audience was more engaged and I was able to show that I actually knew what I was talking about instead of showing that I can read a slide out loud.

There's plenty more yet to do with the technique to keep things dynamic and moving, but it was a good start.

May 5, 2006

Scrum update

I'’ve been using scrum as part of our development process for about 4 months now. During this time things have progressed really well. The team has taken to the new process really well and with the number of staff increasing I now run 4 separate teams across different areas of the product.

About the only thing I had to correct is the occasional breaking of the rules by the team, and that's been due to good intentions rather than deliberate action.

We'’re now able to see real benefit from the process now and are showing clear improvements in the product every few weeks. As a way of saying thank you to the team and showing how much I appreciated their great effort I took them out for lunch today. It was lot’s of fun in a good environment, overlooking Darling Harbour and eating great good.