Brave New World

Brave New World

The news from Borders is another harbinger that retail life as many know it is continuing to evolve, and not necessarily for the better.

Mass retailers of music already have learned this the hard way – music is no longer bought in dedicated “record” stores anymore.  They have gone the way of the Dodo.

Book stores are threatened by Amazon and devices like the Kindle.

Newspapers and magazines are dying because of the internet and syndicated news feeds being everywhere at once.

Movies, at least as they are enjoyed at dedicated movie theaters, are staving off the tide – for now – with digital technologies, reviving 3-D, and re-purposing their venues for online meetings and broadcast events.  Whether they will succeed long term is hard to say.

Communal experiences like going to a record store, browsing through a favorite book shop, having an ** affordable ** evening at the movies – all of these things are going away.

Is it a good thing?  Who’s to say.  It just ** is **.

The nearer term impact is that these industries represent local jobs, and affect areas such as real estate (leases on these businesses) and restaurants (where these people eat on their breaks).

We are becoming a land of abandoned malls and dead town centers.  We are fast becoming stranded in exurbs too remote to be economically practical for commuting and further removed from the common shared experiences of transacting business with our neighbors.

I miss browsing for my music on a Saturday afternoon.  Pretty soon, it looks like I’ll miss going to the book store, too.

Am I a Luddite?  Hardly.

But I do wonder if we’ll all be better off, socially and economically, at least on a local scale.  I don’t think we will.

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Sometimes Intellectual Curiosity is a Commercial Waste of Time

Sometimes Intellectual Curiosity is a Commercial Waste of Time

I had an exchange this morning with one of my twitter buds and fellow Orlando tech person, @kurtisnelson.

I had been doing a little digging into what it would take to add printing to one of my iPhone apps, Cheap Gas!.  Namely, I wanted to have the ability to look up the cheapest stations nearby from my iPhone, and then print out a copy of the listing.

As a means of seeing what the interest level would be for such a feature, I asked my twitter stream what they thought of the idea.  Kurt was one of the first to respond with the following:

“I don’t see any point in it, but go for it if your purpose is to learn how to do it.”

First let me say, the feedback was very valuable for gauging interest.  Kurtis wasn’t interested.  If everyone feels that way, then obviously it makes little sense to devote time, toil, sweat, and tears to adding that particular feature.

The second part of his response, where he said “go for it if your purpose is to learn how to do it”, brings up an interesting question.  When should intellectual curiosity lead development of new features, and when should it be shelved to working on things that actually add new value?

In fairness, I’ve biased my response in the title of this post.

There are times when you take a risk, and do spec development, because you believe in an idea or dream.  Maybe you think you have an angle on a feature that user’s will love – and they just don’t know it yet.

And sometimes, your users are just straight up right.  Don’t fix something that ain’t broke.

About twenty years ago, I had a friend and fellow co-worker open a CD store in Nashville.  It was in a hip, high traffic area.

And he only sold music that he, personally, liked.

The store failed.  Twice (he moved the store to an even more high traffic location with an even hipper potential clientele).

Sometimes our personal likes and intellectual curiosities lead us down paths that sap limited resources (time, money, talent – you name it).

Am I saying not to be intellectually curious?  Not at all.

I’m saying that, when you have a commercial venture and you have limited time, money, and talent to create goods and services, idle intellectual curiosity is a huge – and sometimes, lethal – distraction to supplying your customers with features that they want, will use, and will crow to the heavens about.

More on Moving

More on Moving

Dave Delaney had a post this morning titled Moving Can Be Incredible.  And he is absolutely right.  Moving can be incredible.

Threading it’s way throughout Dave’s post was the notion that each decision we make determines who we become.

My family and I have moved six times in the last ten years.  And each move has resulted in something good that has happened to us that otherwise would not have happened, had we stayed close to home.

There is definitely something to be said about “burning the ships” and taking a chance on a major move – a new town, state, country.

If you have the inclination, and are willing to open yourself to new possibilities, I highly recommend going somewhere where no one knows your name and living for an extended period, at least once in your life.

Who knows?  You may find your soul-mate, your passion, your purpose in life.

Value Propositions

Value Propositions

In addition to the beginning of a new school year, the Fall also brings other new beginnings for many small businesses – renewals on professional and civic memberships, which (at least for me) always seem to “fall” due in September and October.

Which leads to my annual questions for each organization: does the group measurably help my business?  Does it make me smarter?  Is it growing my network?  Is it wasting my time… and my money?

I’ve had several conversations in the last few weeks with fellow business people around Orlando.  And what keeps coming up is that many organizations simply aren’t serving the needs of small business people.  People like me.

For many of these groups, the business model of recruiting new businesses to the organization, hosting paid events, and having ancillary groups with additional fees has become more important than actually serving the needs of the people that they purport to serve.

Let me give you a specific example, though I’m not really trying to pick on them (much): the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce.

I joined the ORCC in the aftermath of the hurricanes of 2004, because business in Central Florida was clobbered following the storms, and I was looking for like-business people to network and participate in a recovery.

I really liked what I saw in the Chamber, and went to as many events as I could, before I returned by to Nashville for a few years.  Even while in Nashville I maintained my Chamber membership because it kept me tethered to the Orlando area and I knew that one day we’d be returning.

For those of you who have stuck with me so far in this post and thinking “you only get out what you put in” – hang tight.  I’m getting there.

While in Nashville, I participated in Leadership Orlando, an eight month long programs where you commit 1 day per month with 70-80 of your fellow business leaders in the community to explore issues of social services, business development, health care, public safety, education, and regional planning around and about Central Florida.

Which meant, for me, I flew to Orlando for three days each month to participate.  For eight months.  At a cost of $3,000 (at the time) for the program plus travel, lodging, and meals.  Trust me – I was committed to the effort.

I must say, that of all of the investments in time and money I have made with the Chamber, Leadership Orlando was by far the most effective program.  I made several, now long time, friends there.  And got to do numerous cool things, not the least of which was watching a shuttle launch from the VIP stands at complex 39 at Kennedy Space Center (very cool).

With all of that being said, for the past few years I’ve had this aching feeling: I’ve put a ton of effort into networking with the group, but what am I getting back?

From the Chamber Group in general, not much.

There are events like Listening to Leaders – usually an additional cost.  Or Business at Breakfast – again, also usually at an additional cost.  From a networking perspective, these events are really opportunities to be “rushed” by your fellow Chamber members for selling you financial services or insurance or real estate or whatever it is that they’re hawking.

In truth, the Chamber’s direction has changed since I joined.  When I joined ORCC, it was THE business organization in Central Florida.

A couple of years back, an umbrella organization was formed called the Central Florida Partnership, which moved the ORCC under its auspices as simply one of four “Lines of Business” (Leadership Orlando also being – now – a separate “Line of Business”).

What does the Central Florida Partnership do? Well, their main focus is advocacy or regional issues.  Things like bringing light rail and high speed rail to Central Florida.

And not growing my business.

I’m trying not to get into the personality issues and motives behind all of these changes, because they really are not essential to the point I’m trying to make – albeit poorly and with too many words.

The point is this – for me, I’m thinking extra long and hard before I write a check to the Chamber this year, because they are not helping me.

They are not offering substantive networking opportunities.  They barely recognize the wave of social networking that is changing the way people connect and transact business.  They are not putting me in touch my fellow Orlando area business people, and they’re certainly not bringing people to my door.

They continue to bring back speakers like “The Telephone Lady” on how to answer the telephone.  Seriously.

Anyone that knows me, knows that I’m not one to sit back and let other people do the heavy lifting of building my network for me.  Some days, it feels like all I really get accomplished is networking and a degree of business development.

But going forward there has to be a value proposition for groups wanting my association dollars.  There has to be value derived commensurate with the money I’m spending and the time I’m investing.

Today for lunch I’m meeting a recruiter from a very nice club in Orlando.  I know lunch will be nice, I know the pitch will be practiced.

But top of mind for me will be this – I know what I can do for you.  What are you going to do for me.

As you write your renewal checks for your professional organizations, you should be asking these very same questions, too, if you haven’t already.

iPhone Application Sketch Book

iPhone Application Sketch Book

Palm Pre SDK Thoughts

Palm Pre SDK Thoughts

Initial thoughts on the Palm Pre SDK?

Compared to other platforms – like the Apple iPhone SDK – it is like doing brain surgery with a butter knife.

Simple apps are trivially easy to do, once you figure out how to clone a sample application.

Beyond that, you’re on your own.  The learning curve, really, is in familiarizing yourself with the capabilities of the widgets.

Some common widgets are amazingly easier to get up and going than their Objective-C counter parts; for example, creating a list – the most common on interfaces on mobile device – is a snap (provided that you know how many list items you’ll have before instantiating the list).

Dynamic lists, to be honest, are a muddled mess and suffer by a dearth of robust sample code in the SDK.  And honestly, there aren’t that many resources on the web, yet, to make up for the skimpiness in this area.

I took one of my iPhone Apps, Cheap Gas!, and attempted to create a port for the Palm Pre.

My initial concern was that I would run into issues generating a SOAP call to the backend GasBuddy.com web service to get my gas prices.  To my surprise, I was able to get this working in about 10 minutes.  I was able to stub out a static list to format a screen to look like the basic iPhone screen in about an hour.

The trouble started when I tried to get a dynamic list to be created on a successful Ajax call.  I still don’t have it right.  I’m sure there is some magic “something” that is known only to the Palm keepers o’ wisdom that I’m overlooking.

So, for about a day’s effort I have the underpinnings of the basic port up and on it’s feet.  I’ll include a video later this evening demonstrating progress to date.

However, I am very disappointed in the tools supplied with the SDK and the amount of manual yak-shaving that developers have to do.  For example, if you want to run your app from Eclipse, you have to manually start the Palm Pre emulator.  A small thing, but indicative of the rough edges that are all over the SDK.  For that matter, you have to go to about four different places to pick up pieces of the SDK before you can be productive in the first place.

So, if you’re already jamming in Eclipse, you’re used to always these low level things anyway.  If you’re looking for a seamless development environment that takes care of all the little things for you, the Palm Pre SDK ain’t there yet.  Not by a long shot.

Cheap Gas! Palm Pre Beginnings

Cheap Gas! Palm Pre Beginnings