What Makes A Tech Success?

It seems in the world of computers and the Internet there is always a steady stream of new things on the horizon, as well as a steady stream of new products and services. It’s been this way for many years at this point.

There are always winners and losers. Winners can win big, and losers at worst fail to make any marketplace splash or even a ripple and end up in the tech dustbin of obscurity with few people ever knowing that the product or service ever existed.

What is it that makes for a successful product? Why is it that some products and services that seem very similar to other products and services end up becoming household names, while others end up being cancelled domain name landing pages?

It’s obvious there are a variety of factors that come into play. If it were easy to predict these things, we would have a lot fewer losers. Why did Twitter become a household name, whereas similar services such as Plurk and Jaiku languish in the shadows? What enabled Facebook to steal most of the MySpace thunder?

New products and services that end up being successful frequently incorporate elements and principles of previously-existing successes, but package them in more compact and useful forms.

Initially when Twitter came along a couple of years ago, I heard people talking about it, but I was a bit resistant to sign up. I felt like I had plenty of ways to communicate with people, so why did I need to add yet another account to a service that would steal away time I already had filled, only to ultimately let yet another account go dormant? I finally signed up for Twitter, and after I began using it I began to understand the value of it. With a service like Twitter, the more people that are using it, the more valuable it becomes.

About the same time I signed up for a Twitter account, I also signed up for a Plurk account. After a few visits to the Plurk website over a period of a month or two, I haven’t been back to the site since.

I believe what is valuable about Twitter is that 140 character limit per Tweet, forcing people to be succinct with their wording. Twitter and Tweet are cute names. The site design is simple, the blue bird logo pleasing to the eye, and the developers kept the API and name open to other developers, allowing an entire ecosystem of ancillary products and services to develop around it at the same time it was rapidly increasing in popularity. Twitter is very much like chat, which was already well established, but it had the added value that it either could be in real time, or not, able to be accessed from a vast array of devices beyond the Twitter website. Twitter also allows you to subscribe to just the people you want, and ignore or even completely block the rest. Twitter also allows you to reach out and touch people, and it allows you to monitor what others are up to whose lives are at once very similar to your own, yet often radically different. You can spend as much or as little time as you wish interacting with the service. Another thing that turned out to be incredibly useful with twitter is the vast 24/7 real-time data stream that it generates. Real-time Twitter data mining has proved to be quite valuable to many people.

To be honest I have always thought that many MySpace pages were often monstrous, unbelievably cluttered messes that often took a long time to load. Nonetheless, MySpace became popular because it obviously served a need with a younger demographic.

I’ve always thought Facebook’s interface is somewhat confusing, though allowing for far less cluttered and confusing-looking profile pages. I still don’t quite understand what got Facebook to the level of critical popularity – perhaps the less-cluttered, faster-loading profile pages gave it the critical edge over MySpace.

It should also be noted that Facebook allowed for an open API, allowing a myriad of interesting and often useful applications to be plugged in to its interface.

However it did it, Facebook managed to get to a critical mass of users where it became THE thing to sign up for and THE place to be to stay connected with family, friends and business associates. Something interesting has happened with Facebook that has never happened before – everyday, non-geek people who had never built website profiles in all the years they had been doing email and web browsing were suddenly signing up for Facebook in unbelievable numbers. Mothers, dads, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, etc. were suddenly showing up on the same service with their kids, nieces, nephews and grandkids. Once the ball rolled, Facebook became an incredible success.

I started noticing a while back that many people were starting to use Twitter and Facebook to communicate with each other in lieu of email. At this point I find myself getting pulled into that trend myself. These services don’t offer the relative privacy of direct email, but they allow for easy, frequent public conversations and easy sharing of personal media such as photos between friends and family on a global scale.

What I take away from the success stories versus the less-successful competitors is that oftentimes the differences in design and implementation can be slight, but those slight differences can offer real, tangible advantages to the end user. If those often-slight advantages can somehow help get the product or service to a critical mass threshold, they can find themselves catapulted to the point of planetary awareness.

Tech Will Save You

I see all this junk happening in the news from bank failures to foreclosures. And I admit it is disturbing & can be disheartening if you allow it to be. But what I hate to see is people making excuses for why their life sucks. We all do dumb things, maybe me more than most. But it is better to own up to stupidity & try to fix it and do better in the future. One thing that really bothers me is when people complain about not being able to get a good paying job. I know it is tough out there. I really do but that is no reason to give up & expect someone else to take care of you & you life. You are in charge of you. No one from Washington is coming to save you.

You may be thinking what does this have to do with tech. Well I believe this time we are living in is the best opportunity to succeed in life. The low cost of computers and the availability of the internet makes it possible to educate yourself as much as you want to. There is the equivalent of millions of tons of data right at your fingertips online. That is how you make it. You educate yourself and make yourself more valuable to a company or make it possible for your small business to become successful. I just found http://www.scribd.com/ , a website that has many free books to download in PDF format and of course Google has many books available in the public domain.

I know it is easy for me to say & hard for some to do. “Pull yourself up by the bootstraps” as they say. The single mom with 3 kids will have a harder time than a guy right out of school with no kids to provide for each day. It is harder to GET OUT of a hole than to STAY OUT so I do sympathize with people having a hard time. I just don’t want people to give up especially when economic times are truly tough right now. Did you know that more millionaires were made during the Great depression than during any other time in US history? Me either until I heard it on a podcast last week! That means it is possible to “make it” even when things around us are seemingly in bad shape. Another reason I am optimistic is that I read (online for free about) about people with great disadvantages who would not be denied a good life. Helen Keller was blind and deaf yet she is known everywhere as a great poet & writer. Type Helen into Google & the first choice they give is “Keller”. We should be ashamed when we complain about our little problems compared to Ms. Keller’s. What could she have accomplished with today’s technology? If you could bottle what made her tick & sell it you would get rich quick.

Time is our best friend & most valuable resource. If you are worried about the affairs of the country & your finances then how are you preparing? Are you spending 16 hours a week watching TV or reading about your passion that you can turn into a business? How are you using the vast library called the Web to make you more valuable to your boss? I’m not preaching to the audience anymore than to myself. I know I can do better & be more productive as well. One of my favorite books is The Fountainhead which shows what determination & self-reliance will do for you. Mark Cuban has said that book is what motivated him to succeed in business. I wish it was required reading in high school as it truly has motivated me to help me. Download it for free here if you need inspiration. http://www.scribd.com/doc/6315480/Ayn-Rand-The-Fountainhead

How You Know You Made It

Do you know how you can tell when your product has “made it” It is when other products that are similar are called your products name. For instance when most people ask for a tissue they are just as likely to say “Kleenex” as anything else. Of course when people are talking about an mp3 player they will call it an ipod even if it were made by Creative or Sansa. I am guilty of this as well and I even have a bias against ipods because I don’t like the way they lock you into just their services. I make an effort not to call my Zen an ipod but I do it about 60% of the time then have to correct myself. I think I do it because subconsciously I know the person to whom I am speaking will likely not understand what a Zen is but will know what an ipod is most of the time. It must really be a tremendous help to your marketing team when the product you want to sell is promoted every second of everyday by so many people using them and using the product name even when it does not apply.

The iphone has not reached this pinnacle yet and I doubt it will. There were many cell phones before it came out so it is just very, very popular. It did not start a tidal wave of cell phone use. Apple did not invent the first mp3 player but they certainly did invent the most popular one. Think about how big your company would be if your main product’s branded name replaced the generic name for a device or material. It does not happen often. Even some of the most popular brands in the world have not reached ipod status. John Deere is a beloved product but people still say “tractor” instead of I need a new “Deere”.