Who is the customer?

Among the millions (quite literally it seems) of comments on Google’s purchase of YouTube, Mark Evans’ comment about focusing on the customer caught my attention. He also commented about YouTube’s lack of paying customers.

But who is YouTube’s customer? It seems to me that would either be the creators of the video – and there were plenty of non-infringing videos – or the consumers of those videos.

While the consuming customers didn’t pay (though advertising would soon change that) the content creators paid by providing content that in turn attracted consumers. This isn’t unique to the web. The television show America’s Funniest Videos has generated revenue for years using free video sent in by just plain folks. AFV just monetized that free content in the same way that YouTube would have.

The social aspect is important as well. Shows like Survivor don’t do well because they are classic television. They excel by involving the viewer, just as YouTube does.

Google started out providing a service for which there were no paying customers; I still don’t pay to use Google’s services but they seem to do ok anyway.

It’s perhaps no longer correct to assume that the only paying customer is the one who pays to consume your service. Other customers may choose to pay in other ways, and content may be even more valuable than cash. In fact, in view of the theory of the Long Tail, niche content may be even more valuable to the targetted consumer.

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Don’t rock the boat.

The usual brilliant observation from Kathy Sierra:

So yes, I’m thinking Mr. CEO of Very Large Company would say that their company should take the upstart whatever-it-takes person over the ever-compromising team player. "If that person shakes us up, gets us to rethink, creates a little tension, well that’s a Good Thing", the CEO says. riiiiiiiiiight. While I believe most CEOs do think this way, wow, that attitude reverses itself quite dramatically the futher you reach down the org chart. There’s a canyon-sized gap between what company heads say they want (brave, bold, innovative) and what their own middle management seems to prefer (yes-men, worker bees, team players). "

I worked for a short while for a company that shall remain nameless in Waterloo, Canada, that produced software for healthcare. This company couldn’t seem to make a decision about anything. I on the other hand made numerous decisions, not always correct, but always justifiable and supportable. And my division shipped product and had happy customers.

So obviously I had to go. Which is fine. Business is business. But the most telling moment came when someone who also worked at the company was talking to my wife and heard that I had left. Her proud response?

They get rid of people that rock the boat.

I was shipping product, delighting customers, and increasing revenue. But I had to go because I was rocking the boat.

Every company claims that they want people that will do what it takes to take them to the next level. People with a fire in their belly. Insert your favorite metaphor here. But in my experience less that 1 in 10 companies want anybody that might attempt to change the way they do things now.

I was recently speaking to a recruiter about a senior management position. They stressed the need to someone that could motivate people, explaining that the staff were long term employees, overworked, and somewhat burned out. The current management wanted to improve the culture and to motivate the employees.

So a posed a couple of questions for the management. And one response came back that they expected to improve the situation by adding more process. Let’s think about that for a second:

We’re going to make our employees happy by adding more process.

These are signs of failing companies, possibly on a permanent decline.If you are a CEO, you should make it a mandatory part of your day to meet with some of the folks your staff are about to hire, and see just what type of person is being chosen to take your company to the next level.

And to make sure that the next level is a higher one.

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Forklift upgrade.

And if stealing almonds wasn’t odd enough, criminals are now using forklifts to "smash and dash", removing the automatic teller machines, according to the New York Times:

Around the country, thieves have been hot-wiring forklifts at construction sites, driving up to banks and scooping up automated teller machines.

Even though the machines are often embedded in bank walls, it seems that the banks foresaw their movement and equipped them with GPS locators:

Many banks use A.T.M.’s equipped with global-positioning technology that keeps track of where the machines are. Some have an alarm that goes off if someone tampers with the machine. Even if thieves get away with an A.T.M., they have to pound away pretty hard to get it open.

They’ll steal anything.

You wouldn’t think thieves would bother stealing a few nuts but when you’re talking about almonds, one of the top 5 California crops with sales over $2 billion dollars last year, it’s a whole different story.

And the crooks know enough to steal them when they are already loaded on the trucks: For Scott Phippen, a third-generation almond man, the hole in his fence was the first sign of trouble. And sure enough, a quick once-over confirmed the worst: two of Mr. Phippen’s trucks were missing.

But the thieves were not after vehicles. They were after almonds. And at Mr. Phippen’s farm here in the Central Valley, they had hit the mother lode: 88,000 pounds of the nuts, with a street value of some $260,000.

Farmers estimate that they have lost $1.5 million so far this year.

To each their own.

The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony is facing bankruptcy:

The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony will be out of business by the end of the month unless it raises $2.5-million in emergency funds, says the orchestra’s board chair.

Now to me it suggests stunning fiscal mismanagement if we only hear of this problem now, less than 30 days before the crisis hits.This sounds much more like political grandstanding, and I have no doubt that the local governments will cough up the cash, even though this crisis is the Symphony’s own fault.

So we’ll blow $2.5 million of local taxpayers money to save an organization that a relatively elite few (and fewer and fewer apparently) go to see.

Yet I’ve seen my son’s friends try to put on concerts with hundreds, even thousands of students attending, where the city won’t even cover a couple thousand dollars of insurance coverage. There is a thriving arts and local theater scene that the local cities barely acknowledge, let alone provide any funding for.

I live in Waterloo, a city with two universities that speaks often of how much it wants to ensure that graduates stay here after they finish school. But new graduates don’t generally attend the symphony, but they do look for a vibrant local cultural scene.

Perhaps we must keep the Symphony running because it would be a shame to lose it. But it would be a far greater shame to lose a vibrant art community that is growing organically by myopically viewing culture as that which appeals to only a certain segment of the community.

There is a place for the Symphony, but if you want your town to grow, and keep people in it, then there is also a place for many other things as well. And there should be some support for those other communities as well.

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Democracy in action.

I’m a member of a small group of folks in my town called the Voter Support Committee. There’s about ten of us, and our mission is to find good quality candidates for local public office to ensure that there are no accaimations, and to increase voter turnout. We also run town hall meetings where local citizens get a chance to meet the candidates, hear what they have to say, and ask them questions about the things that matter to them.

This is the second election for which we’ve done this, and we’ve had a good turnout, but it still amazes me that most people don’t seem to give much consideration to who runs their town. Local government is the most accessible to the public of all governments, yet most people elect a councillor based on the position of their name on the ballot, or whether or not they recognize the name. And only 20%-30% of the people even bother to vote.

I like being a party to helping improve voter knowledge of the candidates. I just wish I knew how to make people care about this.

After all, you get the government you deserve.

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They shouldn’t have to suffer.

My youngest son is a first year student at Wilfrid Laurier University. Tonight I watched him do an online Economics quiz using WebCT software. I watched him work for over an hour and save every answer successfully. He had one question left, but he had to go to a night class.

When he came home he went back to the quiz only to find that it had saved none of his answers.

It’s great that students can do their work online. However, at the very least the university might consider ensuring that their software works as expected. Software the students are forced to use and depend on demands a much higher level of quality than I witnessed from that WebCT product.Students shouldn’t have to suffer through poor software.

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