Two of the three commercials run by Samsung during this year’s Academy Awards were basically showing us why their phones will not explode, the final spot of the evening featured mega-YouTube star Casey Neistat and dared anyone with imagination to become the next star.
It’s an inspirational advertisement that only peripherally features Samsung but is notable because this YouTube star made the jump to broadcast television in a big way when CNN acquired his production company.
The Hollywood Reporter has an interview with Casey in which he talks a bit about how he wants to change the way news is delivered. Keep a close eye on him as he is looking to shake up the way people get their news in much the same way bloggers did to mainstream media 10 years ago.
What’s interesting is how he answer’s the question below. Clearly he wants to pop the filter bubble, protected by the “thick, strong, solid-steel bullshit shield that this generation cautiously holds up in between them and everything being thrown at them.” – Rather than shy away from bias, he embraces and leans into it to seek balance.
I watch television, although not that much. I have my favorite news outlets, but what I try to do in consuming online is to find the same story in two different places. I’ve been trying to find a biased perspective on either side. It’s the same with podcasts. I’m a huge fan of political podcasts, but I listen to as many conservative commentators as I do liberal ones. When I consume media, I want to know what’s going on but I also really want to understand how and why it’s being shared the way it is, especially in the shadow of what we’re trying to build.
UPDATE: And here’s his latest call to arms to all the creators out there.
Wanna see stuff getting crushed by hydraulic press? This is the right channel for you.
That’s is the description for the Hydraulic Press Channel, a YouTube channel where they, uh, crush things. Tyler found this stuff. The channel has been around for a few years already and they even made a video for Obama’s White House. It’s nostalgic for us to watch because of the host’s Finnish accent and attitude.
It’s winter there now so a perfect time to take their experiments outside. For instance, what happens when you put 20kg of red hot steel onto ice? Watch below for some “frozen lake stupidity.”
How do you get your props back again? As the host Lauri Vuohensilta says, “If you want something to be done, you just have to fucking do it.”
Surprisingly, the YouTube recommendation algorithm doesn’t draw inputs from far beyond the confines of YouTube itself. You might think that mining our Google search histories for clues about what videos we’d like would pay off. Nope, Goodrow says.
“The challenge is that web search history is very very broad.” Just because you Googled for help with your taxes does’t mean you want to watch YouTube videos about the ins and outs of U.S. tax law.
Not surprising at all actually. Just because everything on the internet can be connected doesn’t mean it has to be connected. When the internet is your world, zooming in on contexts and measuring behaviors in those contexts becomes paramount.
Last week I attended the 2014 edition of Building Better Products, an invitation only conference hosted by Ty Ahmad-Taylor of Samsung Electronics and Josh Elman of Greylock Partners. As with last year’s conference, it was an agenda packed with interesting speakers that came to share their perspective on the role of a Product Manager at a tech company, sharing lessons learned and what it takes to succeed. The format was updated to include a mix of pechakucha-style lightning talks interspersed with longer presentations and panel discussions.
Because of a morning SFO drop-off run, I missed the “palette-cleanser” talk that kicked things off for the day (a history of Treasure Island) and Julie Zhuo‘s talk on how to work with designers. I’m sorry to have missed Julie’s talk but you can read her many excellent talks about the design process on her Medium page.
I took notes on some of the presentations and here were my favorites.
Mina Radhakrishnan shared her experiences as one of the first Product Managers at Uber during their first international expansion and the growing pains the company went through to develop a process which now lets them spin up multiple locations each week. We learned of design challenges as the nomenclature for hired cars vary from city to city. An SUV in London is a “big car” while a private car is a “black car” but tabs for “Big” and “Black” don’t really work so other solutions were needed.
A template that might work in one country falls apart in another so you need to, “design for flexibility” and use templates that can be adopted to fit local needs. Because of the need for speed and scale, these templates need to be designed in a way that local operations teams can unleash their “operational creativity” without having to check in with headquarters.
What struck me most was the intense drive and ambition of Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick, enabled the team to roll over technical and legal challenges that would have sidetracked most companies. In the drive to launch Uber in Paris in time for Le Web, they slammed a product together that had to be re-built from the ground up post-launch. It is rare to find a start-up that would knowingly build something they know they are going to tear apart and build again and support for that way of working has to come from the top.
While talking about Uber’s various publicity stunts (ubercade, uber ice cream, uberkittens) Mina reminded us that Uber is not strictly a transportation company and that their mission, “to get you where you want to go” should be interpreted broadly.
Vince Maniago from Mint gave an abbreviated version of the talk embedded below to explain specific actions he took to improve sign-ups. As a financial service, his challenge was to get people to connect their banking accounts with the mint.com aggregation service. By putting his name on follow-up emails to anyone who didn’t complete this action, he was able to significantly improve completion rates and get people over the trust factor.
Some other tips Vince shared included use of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service for user-testing and Mental Notes cards (note: sold out) as inspiration for the types of message variations you can test.
David Hahn, who was at LinkedIn during the early days, spoke about the freemium business model upon which that service is built and the evolution of their landing pages. The page has gone through many iterations but each time they have tried to add something new, they have found that the obsessive simplification of the erroneous was the best contribution to their conversion rates. “The best optimizations are getting rid of things.”
Wook Chung works with brand advertisers for Samsung and shared humorous anecdotes about working with Madison Avenue and the importance of continually checking in with your customer whose needs are like Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Advertising trends are continually in motion so freezing requirements and then going off to build them will, by definition, obsolete anything you launch. Better to involve your customer at each stage and get them invested in your solution and inform your development.
A series of short talks followed. Ken Norton (Google Ventures) on using Don Lowry’s True Colors rubric to build teams and modulate communication. Ian Spalter, UX Lead at YouTube, gave a rousing comparison of UX/Product archetypes as Game of Thrones characters and reminded all of us to, “respect the craft” when giving feedback.
During the panel discussion on Product Development in the Enterprise Sol Lipman, who was CPO at TomFoolery, shared lessons learned as a start-up trying to change enterprise software (“we made consumer-grade products for the enterprise”). One of their early lessons (and we’ve heard this before) is that you need to focus on utilization because, “just because someone is going to pay you doesn’t mean their people are going to use your product.”
One other tidbit was Sol’s singular vision that the all products for the enterprise should be built “sideways” to allow collaboration across traditional networks. Do not build your product around a company domain and allow for self-defined networks which will be how workgroups form in the future (think Dropbox). Email, which is usually dominated by company domains, is not a useful unique identifier as it locks each customer into their silo. On the other hand, a cell phone number, which everyone has and usually carries from job to job, allows for infinite connections which will persist and retain their viral effectiveness.
Ellen Chisa from Kickstarter shared the eight-month journey to a new start page. Reminding us all that Kickstarter is primarily a platform for artists so the founders were concerned less with a metrics-driven design process and more with the embodiment of a vision. If forgot the name of the poet she quoted but, to paraphrase, if Kickstarter was going to set out to build a ship, they would not instruct them the details of woodworking, they would, “teach men to yearn for the sea.”
In the end, there were 11 major designs for the front page with hundreds of iterations in between until they found a design they felt worked. But all was not lost, many of the ideas hashed out made their way into other areas of the product. Perhaps less efficient, the Kickstarter way was more holistic.
Shiva Rajaraman, from YouTube, gave a great talk, “Product Management: From Meh to Awesome” that was not about use cases or tips and tricks but about approach. A Product Manager is the one that has the spotlight. No product is the result of a single person’s output and the PM should take pains to shine attention to all those that work on the product. And with a community-driven product such as YouTube it is especially important to point out what’s awesome about your community.
Check out the Likes/Dislikes on the Futurama Neutral Response clip below. Finding out that there is a community of people that obsessively maintain this delicate balance, “made his week.”
Thinking of YouTube as a platform transformed the way they have approached music companies and brands. Music fingerprinting and content ID was originally developed to go after copyright violations but when flipped around from a negative to a positive, it helps musicians understand how and where their music is being played. Harem Shake got such tremendous exposure through the fan videos that when it debuted on the charts, it was #1.
Shiva tells the story of Molly Kate Kestner who recorded her self-composed song on a broken iPhone that, within weeks becomes a top single on the iTunes charts. An open platform allows these stories to write themselves and a good Product Manager will look for them and hold them up for others to celebrate.
Thank you Josh & Ty for organizing a great day of talks, picking a great venue, and, as always, keeping everyone on schedule.
YouTube is streaming live from Coachella this weekend. I don’t normally watch live concerts on my computer but I was working tonight and had this going on my second screen. As it got late, Radiohead came on and I ended up working less and watching more, captivated by the set which featured a series of LED panels that were playing back camera feeds of the band. These panels moved from song to song and changed colors to accent their light show, giving the effect of shards of a mirror descending on the band.
What was also amazing was the fidelity of the feed. Rarely a buffer dropout, almost no pixalation. The shots I’ve posted here were all screenshots taken off my computer.
Every now and then I snap out of my assumptions and recall what it used to be like trying to experience good music. The trips to the record store, trying to record something off a radio broadcast, mix tapes, concert scalpers, sneaking up into the hills behind Red Rocks or the Greek Theatre. . . now this stuff just finds you across the web at your desk!