A solution in search of a problem.

Philippe Meert, a product designer from Belgium, apparently has trouble pouring cereal from the box into a bowl. So he created the Cerealtop, a plastic cover that goes on top of a cereal box and channels the cereal through a spout. It sells for over $6 in Belgium, and will sell for about $4 in the U.S.

Mr. Meert is certainly inventive, but just because you can do something doesn’t mean you always should. I’ve been pouring cereal for quite some time and I have yet to experience the kind of catastrophe that would drive me to purchase a plastic lid for my disposable cereal box. I am far more likely to put my cereal into Tupperware to keep it fresh longer, which also provides a spout.

The New York Times doesn’t make that observation, but they do bring up a concern about the five second rule:

AMERICANS certainly love their cold cereal, having spent $6.2 billion on it last year. One challenge for Mr. Meert and his distributor, however, will be to persuade consumers to forget about the so-called five-second rule, the shaky premise that spilled food remains edible if it is retrieved within five seconds of being dropped on table or floor. Serving early-morning cereal may be prone to error, but that does not necessarily mean that much of it goes to waste.

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Failing to understand the value of the team.

The Holiday Inn I stay at on Historic Route 66 when I visit Monrovia, CA has has a very friendly and helpful staff. When you’re there for two weeks at a time you come to depend on them. They are among the best staff of any hotel I’ve stayed at, and they treat me like one of the family. They even have a free sushi buffet on Tuesday nights which is much nicer that going to a restaurant alone.

This particular hotel is closing at the end of July for three months of renovations, to open under another banner.In the lobby there are beautiful artist’s renderings of what the new building will look like. But they haven’t told the staff what will be happening to them yet.

It seems to me that the company has decided that a pretty building is more important than an excellent staff. The building is certainly nice, but it is just a place to spend a few hours, mostly asleep. It is the staff that make it the kind of place that you want to stay at – to provide you an excellent experience.

I sincerely hope that the company figures this out before they let an excellent staff slip away, especially when we all know that good people are hard to find. Because I won’t be a returning guest just because they have a new building.I’ll only be returning because the staff makes me feel comfortable, and my stay most pleasant.

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Corporate Bloggers: An endangered species.

I’m glad somebody – Jeremy Wagstaff in this case – finally said this:

Here’s an interesting statistic, in the light of Scoble’s departure from Microsoft (no direct connection, I promise, but it does raise issues about whether corporates really like blogging): 7.1% of companies have fired an employee for violating blog or message board policies.

If Robert Scoble wasn’t already well known I doubt that Microsoft would have tolerated him. Bloggers are anathema to companies than want to control their message rigidly. I expect that they weren’t too happy about someone saying exactly what they thought, ever if it "put a more human face" on Microsoft.

Personally I’ve never worked with a company that would pay for me to travel wherever I wanted to. They have travel budgets after all. Rick Segal had a great post on how companies can encourage bloggers, but as I commented on his post, the VC in him would likely still want costs controlled unless it was generating revenue. Did Scoble generate an increase in revenue at Microsoft? Perhaps enough to pay for his costs, but not likely a substantial increase.

Certainly people would comment on the huge increase in positive marketing bloggers bring. Yet I would argue that he increased his personal brand a lot more than that of Microsoft’s, at Microsoft’s expense. Tara Hunt is another example, having increased her personal brand much more that the Riya brand, with some suggesting that this ended with her being fired.

So is they aren’t really having much revenue or marketing impact for a company, why would a company be interested in the risk of having employees blog? Certainly there seem to be very few corporate bloggers left. Jonathan Schwartz doesn’t count; he’s the CEO/President and can pretty much do what he wants, but will also be corporately cautious about the message he sends. Niall Kennedy was well known before he went to Microsoft, so he can’t really be considered a corporate blogger, but instead just happens to be a blogger who works at Microsoft.

I’m certainly happy to be proven wrong, but I believe that companies really don’t want employees to blog, no matter what they claim about their desire for openness. The desire for control is just too great. And in their eyes the perceived benefits probably don’t seem to justify the risks.

Robert may have opened up a window into Microsoft for a lot of people, providing information that they otherwise couldn’t get. And Microsoft let him. But the sad thing is that it shouldn’t have taken a blogger to provide information the company should have already been making freely available, but chose not to.

In Robert’s case blogging merely corrected a problem of poor information flow. Will that flow of information now stop?

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Left hand meet right hand.

If you don’t write software this probably won’t matter to you, but this single line encapsulates the problem of Microsoft being a big company with lots of things going on, where the left hand doesn’t necessarily know what the right hand is doing:

C1189: #error: WINDOWS.h already included. MFC apps must not #include windows.h

Now this wouldn’t be a big deal except for the fact that I am not using MFC. I am trying to use a Windows common control, which needs afxcmn.h, which yields that error. If I remove the control definition then I get duplicate libraries, which persist even if I specifically ignore them.

Yet though this is clearly a common error as a Google search would indicate, Microsoft provides no solution to the problem, other than some MSDN posts which recommend rearranging the order of the include files, which does not seem to work for me.

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Quote of the day.

"We’re seeing an extremely active level of activity."

Bart Braverman of Microsoft had that comment regarding a high infection rate in Windows PCs scanned by Microsoft.The original USA Today article was headlined "Microsoft finds 60% infection rate in PCs", but the online version corrects the math, lowing the numbers substantially, but they do not indicate a new percentage and it is unclear how they arrived at the original figure or what the new one would be.

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It’s the little things.

I picked up the new Carl Hiaasen book – Hoot – today at Borders in Pasadena for $8.95. Glancing at the price I happened to notice that the price in Canada was $13.95. Now that doesn’t really seem to be that odd, until you consider that fact that right now there is a difference of about 10% between the dollar in the U.S. and Canada.

$13.95 is a difference of over 50% versus the U.S. cover price of $8.95. A tidy little unearned profit, no effort required.

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Nine-and-a-half minutes.

Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, speaking at the University of Pittsburgh:

"On the subway in New York, there is a train that runs the full length of Manhattan and out to Brooklyn, called the A Train. … On that train, there’s a stretch between 59th and 125th streets without any stops. … Nine-and-a-half minutes of uninterrupted time. … We hired actors to pose as a passenger in trouble on the train. One of them would enter the carriage, start to wobble, grab onto the hand rail, and then keel over. … We watched while the majority of people hesitated, looked around, then looked away. … Make no mistake: Doing nothing is a choice in itself. And surprisingly, that choice gets more likely as the size of the group grows. That’s the lesson of nine-and-a-half minutes — not much time, but enough not to act, or enough to do something that matters, to extend a human touch, change another person’s life. … You can choose to act right in your own backyard, in small, meaningful ways. This was my nine-and-a-half minutes with you. I hope I’ve used it well. Congratulations."

From USA Today.

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Quote of the day.

Salman Rushdie, speaking at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale:

"Right and wrong, good and evil, are not determined by power, or by adherence to this or that interest group. The struggle to know how to act for the best is a struggle that never ceases. Don’t follow leaders: look out, instead, for the oddballs who insist on marching out of step."

From USA Today.

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You think Google has no focus?

I’ve seen a number of comments today about Google’s lack of focus. But I’ve only seen one that notes that Microsoft seems to have a lack of focus too.

Don Dodge points out that people have mentioned a lack of focus problem at Microsoft:

Microsoft is not immune to the complaints of lack of focus. David Morgenstern at eWeek says "Watch Microsoft’s Shift". The editorial basically claims that Microsoft is moving away from enterprise software and into SaaS, Software as a Service, consumer content, and Internet advertising.

Is Microsoft bringing out a new operating system? A new Office suite? Software as a service? Web search? Advertising services?

Microsoft has two revenue streams – Windows and Office – and they are cannibalizing both as people are likely holding off on purchasing decisions until the new products are available. And there are no new revenue streams from all of the other things they are working on yet.

So what is Microsoft doing? Chasing Google, who people seem to think has no plan.

Google generates constant buzz, and there is no such thing as bad press. And no matter what Microsoft seems to do, they just can’t get a break. Taken as a marketing strategy alone, Google wins hands down.

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Building for the majority.

Rick Segal points to a commentary by Nicole Simon about the fact that software developers focus on the American market rather that providing country-specific solution:

Normal people for example don’t care what one website says about a product, they still want the clue on paper or in their television ad. They will buy (and therefor before be exposed to) what their friends talk about. And if you go out of the Valley and even the US, you will probably find that people in other countries do care about so different things, you don’t even think about. One reason they do? Because they don’t get to know at all about ‘your product’.

[...]

Oh and in case you cared: Germany has about 82 million inhibitants, as well as other countries around it speaking German. We do have money too.

It’s easy to say that software developers focus on the American market, or that the valley is an echo chamber, but when you have limited resources you tend to develop in a language that you know (a la Flick), or for the majority language of users. According to statistics, that majority language is currently English with over 30% of internet users. The next most popular is Chinese, with only 13%. German is fifth with under 6%. So they best potential audience for sales is those who speak English.

Generally most companies do not localize their software or provide language-specific versions until they have already achieved some sales success because it takes time and money to do so, if only for correct translation. They also need to account for the overhead of support in various countries, both in terms of language and hours of coverage.

A company with home-court advantage in a company like Germany will always be more successful in their own country, but they will have a hard time beating a French company in France, or an American company in the U.S. So in many cases that may limit them to being a niche player globally.

Even those in the U.S. suffer as a result of this. I would love to have the newest Japanese phones with their incredible features, but I am stuck with the basic phones sold here. Though I do drive an Audi, a fine German automobile. Fortunately driving, unlike software, is not highly language-dependent.

Building custom language versions of some software products means that they might not even be around to talk about in the first place. It’s better to get something out to the market as soon as possible so that you can start to improve on it.

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