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A Decade in Software

December 28, 2009 Leave a comment

When 2010 rolls in it will mark the end of a decade that truly welcomed internet technology.  Think back to the turn of the millennium  and the software tools that you primarily utilized online:   things sure have changed.  Whether it be the advent of ‘the cloud,’ the rise of mobile devices, or a change in philosophy to ‘simpler is better,’ this decade has truly changed the way that people interact with the internet.

I’d like to take a walk down memory lane and look at internet software at the start of the millennium, and then survey where we are now in three distinct yet intertwined arenas.

Email

Email was one of the original hallmarks of the internet – a simple yet efficient way to demonstrate the power of the web by digitizing the long-standing concept of mail service.

During the last decade, free email services like gmail and yahoo mail have perpetually dominated the arena – providing large amounts of data storage for free to the masses and proving that ‘online only’ applications can be a viable alternative to local email software like MS outlook.

As we head into a new decade, email seems yet again ready to morph, as inboxes are perpetually fill with spam and people clamor for new modes of communication.  Google Wave claims to have an answer, but can it really replace email?

Online Media

The last decade has been a Topsy-Turvy roller coaster for online media – from the tiny startups that became media moguls to the media conglomerates that desperately sought out new models of business.  The year 2000 marked the height of Napster- a new breed of P2P network that allowed people to download pirated MP3 music files.  Since then, illegal networks like Napster have both flourished and fallen, eventually paving the way for legitimate music hubs like itunes.

Online video also has gone on quite a ride, highlighted by the creation of YouTube in 2005.  The viral video boom has not only changed the way that people consume and publish video, but also has disoriented the TV and film industries.

As the decade comes to a close, we are still seeing  industry experimenting with new models of business that can adapt to online video culture. Although some methods of providing free, high quality, syndicated content online (ala Hulu) have garnered popular approval, a stable revenue source still remains elusive.

Business Software

The way that businesses, both small and large, interact with one another and an online consumer base has drastically changed due to various facets of evolving business software technology.

Sales departments can now more efficiently give online presentations through Webinar technology like Dim Dim.   Salesforce has pushed the boundaries of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, allowing companies to improve their communication with customers and sales prospects.  Hiring managers and recruiters can now efficiently track and manage job applicants online through solutions like Newton Software. Paypal has revolutionized online payments, allowing web stores and companies with Software as a Service (SaaS) business models to easily install a revenue stream.

All in all, this past decade of software has enabled tech savvy businesses to perform their functions more efficiently, honing in on niche models that add value for both consumers and other businesses.


Top 5 Best Looking Online Applications

September 1, 2009 Leave a comment

As the summer winds down many people will start to slack on their workout regiments and dieting fads in preparation for the winter. Beach-toned bikini bods will give way to blubber concealing puffy knit-sweaters, and soon enough only the summer memories will be keeping us going through the dark winter days.   Lucky for us, the most beautiful online software applications will continue to show skin throughout the winter, keeping their interfaces trim and efficient as ever.

‘Best-Looking’ is a category more often found in high school yearbooks than software design reviews; application critics are fonder of specific terminologies like ‘navigational elements’ and ‘interaction design.’ I’d like to throw the specifics out the window and concentrate on the straight-out best looking, curvaceous, saliva-inducing app. designs on the web.

1. Pandora:

The online radio service, Pandora, has long been the hallmark of a slick online application. From its refreshing, cool blue color scheme to its curvy card-like song icons, Pandora is a looker.   Pandora also has an integrated advertising platform that completely swaps the entire application background when a new advertiser appears. Although many would say this large design migration is disturbing, it actually sits better than tiny ad swaps or ole’ the inescapable hovering banner trick.

2. Tumblr

This Twitter competitor lets users ‘tumble’ various stories, links, images and videos out to the web. Although twitter wins as far as it’s ability to efficiently reach a group of followers with a message, Tumblr gets the award for prettiest ‘real-time news platform.’ Tumblr’s beauty may be the result of the site’s user base, who are fond of posting dazzling landscapes, closeups of delicious foods and quirky pictures of star wars figurines in real-life situations.   Beyond the appealing content, Tumblr possesses a simple yet attractive interface that keeps the people coming back to it.

3. Newton Analytics

Newton Software is a recruiting software solution that is fully accessible online, offering features that allow businesses to announce jobs, review resumes and track applicants.  The company recently launched a new reporting suite, Newton Analytics, that is simply beautiful to behold. Clearly the reporting functionality is quite advanced, allowing users to analyze dynamic data and target bottlenecks before they happen.  Newton Software is  equally advanced in its stand-out design: providing slick graphing modules, handy drop down menus and a relaxing blend of colors.

4. Google Adwords

Google recently upgraded the look of its money-making advertising platform, going from about a 4 to a 10.  The new adwords interface very closely mirrors the Google Analytics platform (which could also be considered a contender for best-looking.) Fancy graphs, soothing gradients, and enticing new tabs are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the updated Adwords.  Although many nay-sayers complain about Google changing up a tried-and-true design, the newer version proves that it doesn’t hurt to be good looking.

5. Hulu

Although Hulu.com was launched with a public bias it was able to eventually gain footing as a very popular video portal.  Hulu certainly posses advantages over YouTube in its exclusive access to network television content, but it also has the edge when it comes to looking good.  Watching online video content on Hulu is akin to watching a football game from the owner’s box:  it’s not as nitty-gritty as many other ‘bleacher’ video sites, but it feels exclusive and has a multitude of perks.   From the background dimming options to the slick control panel to the wide-screen view, Hulu is clearly the centerfold of online video.


The Art of the Free Trial

August 4, 2009 Leave a comment

free trialAh, the free trial.  We see those enticing words, ‘free trial,’ plastered across various mediums in our everyday lives, from medication commercials to pop-up ads to highway billboards.   The concept of the free trial is simple.  A customer gains free access to a company’s product or service for a specific amount of time, and during this time they are exposed to the possibility of paying for continued use.   In theory, the free trial makes perfect sense for both buyer and seller.  The buyer has a chance to try out a product without making a monetary commitment.   The seller is given the opportunity to ‘showcase’ their product and demonstrate why the customer could simply not live without it.

Unfortunately, there are a mixture of good free trials and bad free trials out there.   Some trials are simply there to ‘net as many fish in the sea’ as possible and depend on a small percentage of people who forget to click ‘unsubscribe.’   Some  trials are built on the placebo effect, leaving customers unsure of whether the product actually is working or not.

There are good ones out there too though.  Some trials efficiently and effectively allow a customer to try out a product and provide the tools to evaluate performance.  These are the businesses that have confidence in their product winning over users.   The following is  a list of both bad and good, with a concentration on (but not limited to) software technology trials.  Feel free to add your own free trial experience to the list, as I’m sure everyone has attempted the art of the free trial.

The Bad

Jeff Paul’s Shortcut to Internet Millions:

I’m sure we’ve all seen Jeff Paul’s stupefyingly horrendous infomercial, narrated by two bikini clad women and wrought with accounts of how users instantly became millionaires .    It’s almost mesmerizing to watch the stuff, although after a few minutes it becomes difficult to stifle your gag reflex.  The product claims to generate huge profits for its users in a matter of weeks.  In reality, you simply will be given the ability creates several link-farm websites and then be placed on a call list so the company can attempt to scam you out of more money.

Worlds of Warcraft:

The current king of massive multi-player online role playing games, Worlds of Warcraft (WoW), offers a 10 day free trial to experience an immersive online fantasy world.  This is certainly a great opportunity to play WoW for free and have a incredible amount of fun.  The problem with this one is WoW’s level of addictiveness – once you try it out for ten days straight, you may experience depression, fatigue, and mild nausea upon quitting.  I recommend this one only for the strong willed (or those willing to give up their girlfriend/job).

Enzyte:

The ‘once a day tablet for natural male enhancement’ is by no means a piece of software, but I thought I’d place it on the list anyways as a prime example of a bad free trial.  Enzyte gives men the free chance to ‘enhance’ themselves with a thirty day trial.  The clear goal of this is to take advantage of the placebo effect among men with low self esteem.

The founder of Enzyte, Steve Warshak, got what was coming to him in 2008, convicted to 25 years in prison for conspiracy, fraud and money laundering.  Unfortunately, the product still exists and seems to be advertising more than ever.

The Good

GoToMeeting.com

Go to Meeting is an online web conferencing tools that allows a business to easily organize and attend online meetings.  The 30 day free trial provides real exposure to the product, with most the of the main features available for use right away.  Using this trial will let you know whether GoToMeeting is something your business could viably use as an ongoing conference tool.

Adobe Software Trials

Adobe allows all of it’s cutting edge software to be trialed before purchase.  Whether you are looking to design, edit, cut or clip, Adobe’s various software has long stood as the industry standard.  Because the software can run pretty high in price, it’s a great policy to try it out before making the purchase.

NewtonSoftware.com

Newton provides smart online software for a business’s hiring, recruiting, applicant management and applicant tracking needs.   They provide a 30 day free trial for a company to immediately get started with announcing job openings, reviewing resumes as well as tracking and analyzing hiring programs.  This is a great opportunity for a business to test out a no-hassle recruiting software solution and gain an edge in talent acquisition.

Salesforce.com CRM

Saleforce’s customer relationship management software (CRM) is a reliable and proven technology that lets a business manage their customer information, activities and conversations. The company offers a 30 day free trial that offers full access to the software’s many features.  This free trial is a perfect way for a business to test drive the most popular CRM out there.

Small Business Hiring Gains Fire Power

June 12, 2009 Leave a comment

prometheusWe are witnessing the end of an era.   Since the end of World War 2, large companies have controlled the ebb and flow of the US economy: from the reign of the Detroit automakers to the rise of west coast tech moguls like Microsoft and Google.   Small businesses have been the tiny vessels tossed in the wake of gargantuan tankers, forcing their products on consumers through sheer bulk.

The tides are changing though-  the failing American economy has exposed the incapability of big business, spotlighting bullheaded corporate practices and broken supply chains. The changing times have given way to opportunities for smaller businesses to navigate the economic waters through nascent, cost-effective technologies.   Unlike the slow moving behemoths of old, start-ups have the ability to rapidly change direction and adapt to newly minted consumer demands.  Young companies now have access to a plethora of new tools that utilize the internet to minimize costs and maximize efficiency.

One sector that highlights this onset of change between big and small is in the hiring arena.  A recent New York Times article zoned in on the big corporations of Silicon Valley, and how a ‘code of honor’ existed between several companies towards acquiring each other’s talent.    This unwritten pact between several large companies essentially directs their recruiters to stay away from hiring one-another’s star players.

From the New York Times:

Some veteran human resources executives said that hiring was not so much the issue; employees are free to look for work pretty much anywhere. But they say major companies often have an unwritten agreement to not actively poach employees from their partners.

“Most companies have a hands-off list,” said Ken Perluss, who recently left Yahoo as director for talent acquisition after more than 11 years with the company. “It tells recruiters, ‘Don’t recruit from this company. They are our partner.’ ”

These questionable practices have been observed to such an extent that several companies are currently under the watchful eye of the Justice Department for ‘anti-competitive’ practices.  If such practices are actually occurring, where does this leave smaller businesses who could utilize such star talent to an even greater degree?   In the Silicon Valley tech scene,  one great mind could make the difference between a start-up succeeding or failing.  Top level engineers are more likely thrive in innovative start-up environments than in corporate organizational hierarchies that often stifle creativity.

Small tech companies are already threatening larger ones through the development of innovative, viral, and cost-effective online applications.   It was only a few years ago that Facebook and Twitter were still specks on the map.  It is probable that larger tech companies are attempting to keep the recruiting advantage on their court through ‘gentleman’s agreements’ that prevents the transfer of talent to the next generation of Facebooks.

Small businesses and start-ups alike posses the technology to counter-balance these big-business-pacts.  New, simple and cutting-edge hiring software solutions allow small businesses to find and manage the best talent in the business.  In the days of old, providing a recruiting solution that adeptly encompassed recruiter collaboration, seamless applicant management, and easy online access would cost an arm and a leg. Today’s business class tools walk the path of consumer Web 2.0 applications that are meant to promote simplicity and collaboration at a reasonable price point.    Newton Software is one such solution which can allow small businesses to compete with larger corporations in acquiring the best talent on the market.

There are a plethora of other online tools that smaller business have begun to utilize to maximize their efficiency- from collaboration tools like Basecamp to data storage applications like Dropbox.  Even within large corporations like Google and Microsoft- external applications have begun to take off to bolster intra-company collaboration networks.

It would be naive to say big business will simply disappear into the night, suddenly replaced by a multitude of hungry young successors.   The climate will be sure to shift though: economic and technological progress will freeze the mammoths of industry and provide sure-footing for the smaller  innovators.  Perhaps one such innovator will be our next Prometheus, armed with the fire of  technology to light the way for the future.