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User Acquisition, Virality & Mobile Distribution: Notes

On Friday, Brendan Baker put up his notes from my Greylock Discovery Fund talk on user acquisition, virality & mobile distribution.  It’s a great resource to see a combination of third party notes about the talk, as well as some of the Q&A from that session.

Greylock Blog: User Acquisition, Virality & Mobile – Notes from Our Session with Adam Nash

Last week, I also had the opportunity to give a similar talk at 500 Startups.  As promised for those who couldn’t attend, here is a short list of relevant blog posts from the past two years that provide more depth to the topic:

Product Leadership

Design Led Product

User Acquisition & Virality

Product Prioritization

Andrew He & LinkedIn for iPhone v1.5

It would be cool enough to see a new version of LinkedIn for iPhone go live in the App Store, but the fact that the credit goes to our two-time intern Andrew He makes it truly exceptional.


Full story here on the LinkedIn blog.  You can download LinkedIn for iPhone v1.5 here.

The Real Apple / Microsoft Conversation about the Laptop Ads

This is what some bloggers would call a “throw away” post.  I will likely regret it in the morning.

There was some coverage today that Microsoft COO Kevin Turner actually stated that Apple had called Microsoft two weeks ago agitating to pull the “Laptop Hunter” ads.  If you haven’t seen these ads, they are somewhat poorly put together sequences where someone gets a thousand dollars to buy a laptop, and they of course decide that the $3299 17″ MacBook Pro is too expensive, so they buy a $699 PC with completely non-comparable specs.  But the ads do work, and have gotten attention.

Anyway, here’s the quote:

And you know why I know [the commercials are] working? Because two weeks ago we got a call from the Apple legal department saying, hey — this is a true story — saying, “Hey, you need to stop running those ads, we lowered our prices.” They took like $100 off or something. It was the greatest single phone call in the history that I’ve ever taken in business. (Applause.)

Here’s my version of how that phone call really went:

Apple: Hi, this is Apple, calling for Microsoft.

Microsoft: This is Microsoft speaking.

Apple:  Hi Microsoft.  Listen, these commercials you are running don’t make any sense.  I know Bill is pretty agitated about the Get A Mac ads, but this really isn’t helping.   Just some advice, but you should stop running them.  It’s embarrassing.

Microsoft: Ha, Ha!  Really getting to you, huh?  Prices too high, can’t compete!  Ha Ha.  If you can’t take the heat, stay out the kitchen!

Apple:  Seriously, we just lowered the price of the iPhone by $100.  We’re selling 20M of them.  You can get a 3G for $99.  Who cares about the price of a laptop anymore?

Microsoft: OMG!  I cannot believe you just said that!  I’m going to tell everyone!  You LOWERED your prices by $100 just because of these commercials?!?  Awesome!  Boo-yah!  He shoots, he scores!

Apple:  Forget it.  This is going nowhere.

Microsoft:  Smell you later.  Ha Ha.   Let me know when you can run a real operating system on your crappy computers!

OK, I’m no Fake Steve Jobs.  But it was worth a shot.

Forget the iPhone Nano, I want a MegaPhone.

Caught this news today – rumors of Apple ordering a large number of ten-inch touchscreens from the same provider of iPhone screens:

Apple Orders Touch Screens for Q3

I hope its true.  I’ve realized that my iPhone has really become my preferred portable computing device.  I’ve gotten very used to the swipes, the pokes, the pinches.  I’ve grown to appreciate and need the fluid animation, the transparency, the flow of the interface.  I believe I now prefer the iPhone interface to Mac OS X, and that’s saying a lot.

My iPhone is about Twitter (Tweetie is my client of choice), LinkedIn, Mail (Exchange integration gets me work email so much better than Outlook Web Access), and of course, the web.  The endless supply of applications doesn’t hurt either.

I realized a few months ago that, while I still have a large Mac Pro tower at home for heavy lifting, more often than not when I’m hope I just want a bigger iPhone.  On the go, I’m happy to have something that fits in my pocket.  At home, I’d like to have something bigger when I’m sitting at the table, on the couch, etc.  My wife has a MacBook today, and I tend to use it around the house for a lightweight machine.  But more and more, I find myself preferring my iPhone to the MacBook.  I just wish it was bigger.

All the rumors last year were about the “iPhone Nano”.  The analogy was simple, even if misnamed.  Apple initially launched the iPod with a larger device and a hard drive.  But they hit scale with a cheaper iPod Mini, and then, of course, the iPod Nano, which hit $99 and unprecedented unit sales.

Well, I don’t want an iPhone Nano.  I want a big iPhone, 4x the size, same operating system, applications, etc.  Just bigger.  Maybe boost the storage too, so I can fit larger resolution video on it as well.  I want a MegaPhone.

In fact, calling it a phone is a misnomer.  While I wouldn’t mind the ability to make a call from the device, I think what I’m really saying is I want a jumbo-sized iPod Touch.  The MegaPod Touch?


How Amazon Could Turbo-Charge Kindle Sales

It’s been about a year since my last post on the Kindle, and sadly, nothing has really changed.  I still see the device as popular among my more venture-savvy friends and colleagues, particularly if they travel frequently.  Overall, however, I find the prospect fairly uncompelling.

To restate my comments from a year ago:

I think the problem is that I’m emotionally attached to my library. I surround myself with my books. They remind me of what I’ve read, and even in some cases, who I was when I read them.

Unfortunately, while I’d love to flip through some of them more frequently, the physical form gets in the way. I know I would love to have all my books in electronic form, the same way that I have my CD library now on my iPod, or my DVD library on my AppleTV/Mac Mini.

I still feel like Amazon is not really pushing to convert book readers to digital.  However, there is a program I could get behind:

Let me send you my books. Yes, my physical books. When I send you them, give me download access to the e-book form, for my Kindle. Let me trade you my paper for electrons, in high quality form.

This is the same strategy that retailers like EB Games has been able to use to bring life back into video game retailing.  Set up a volume program to receive used books, and either resell them or donate them to recoup fractional costs.  Effectively subsidize the transition from paper to digital for readers who have large collections.  In fact, they could likely turn it into a phenomenal charity program, providing millions of books to needy libraries and schools around the country.

Once they have a majority of their works in digital form, the advantage of the Kindle takes over.  Incremental sales will be purely digital, and you’ll lock those readers into your format.

Sure, Amazon would need to negotiate some sort of “bulk rate” with publishers to effectively re-license the books to readers.  But if publishers are smart, they’ll realize that the likelihood of selling someone a digital copy of something they already own in print is close to zero.  In fact, the net dollars from such a program could actually even help justify better economics on the cost of the Kindle itself.

One of the things that has always impressed me about Amazon is their willingness to look past short-term financials toward long term strategic advantage and user needs.  I think that’s why I still believe that Amazon could be the type of company to make this type of program a reality.   If they don’t do it, however, I wonder if Google just might.

Let’s see if I have to write this post again in 2010.

Have We Crossed the Uncanny Valley?

Just for reference, the “Uncanny Valley” is not some cute comment on life in Silicon Valley – it’s a popular concept in computer animation that refers to the challenges inherent in trying to produce “realistic” computer animation of human characters.  I wrote a blog post on the concept back in 2006:

Playstation 3, Uncanny Valley & Product Design

Uncanny Valley is a theory borrowed from robotics that says that when you have something relatively non-human like a puppy or a teddy bear, people will anthropomorphize it and like the “human-like” qualities of it.  However, if you make something too close to human, like a robot, people start to dislike it strongly as they focus on some key, missing detail.  Think about the uneasy feeling around corpses, zombies, or prosthetics.

Well, much to potential delight of 30 Rock fans, we may be closer to crossing that valley than we thought.

Meet Emily.

uncannyemily.jpg

Emily is not real.  She is computer animated, leveraging new techniques for incorporating involuntary eye movement and other incredibly subtle cues from a real actress to generate a realistic effect.  She still comes across as a bit stiff, but not in an unnatural way.

Here is an explanation from the original article in the Times UK:

Researchers at a Californian company which makes computer-generated imagery for Hollywood films started with a video of an employee talking. They then broke down down the facial movements down into dozens of smaller movements, each of which was given a ‘control system’.

The team at Image Metrics – which produced the animation for the Grand Theft Auto computer game – then recreated the gestures, movement by movement, in a model. The aim was to overcome the traditional difficulties of animating a human face, for instance that the skin looks too shiny, or that the movements are too symmetrical.

“Ninety per cent of the work is convincing people that the eyes are real,” Mike Starkenburg, chief operating officer of Image Metrics, said.

If the historical pace of innovation in this area is any indication, we are likely less than three years away from seeing this type of technique utilized in a mass market short medium (commercial, animated short, small film segment) and within five years of seeing this used in a long medium (video game, television show, full length feature).

Amazing.

On a related note, this concept of more intense real-life movement capture to drive computer animation seems to be taking hold aggressively in commercial entertainment as well.  My son’s new favorite show is Sid the Science Kid, which is a new innovation from the wizards at The Jim Henson Company.  It uses a real-time motion capture from a live actor to generate a computer animated special that can be produced in real-time.  A fascinating blend of puppetry techniques and computer animation makes it possible, and the result is a computer animated character who presents realistic faults and behavior on screen.  Here is the Muppet Wikia entry on the show.

It stands to reason that as more performances are captured, and computational storage and processing power increase, it will be relatively trivial to assemble a library of realistic behaviors and actions that will generate truly realistic, but completely artificial, performances.

Olympic Physique: Bodies at Work

There is a great two-page spread in today’s New York Times Magazine:

New York Time: Bodies of Work

I’m reproducing the slideshow here, linearly, so you can see all 6 of them together.  Very interesting, particularly the different stats for each.  Amazing.

I feel like I’m looking at a Chihuahua, a Great Dane, and a Greyhound and trying to remember that they are all dogs… amazing variety in our species.

CHRISTIAN CANTWELL, SHOT-PUT
Age: 27
Height: 6’5″
Weight: 335 lbs.
Waist: 38″
Thighs: 29″
Biceps: 20″
Bench Press: 635 lbs.
Squat: 650 lbs.
Vertical Leap: 32″
Body Fat: 15 percent
Daily Calorie Consumption: 5,000

“I’m good at improving my upper body — my triceps and back and chest. I used to do it for the chicks, but now I do it to be good at my sport. It’s kind of cool how that’s worked out.”

DEENA KASTOR, MARATHON

Age: 35
Height: 5’5″
Weight: 103 lbs.
Maximum Oxygen Consumption(VO2 Max): 82.0 ml/kg/min.(One of the highest ever recorded for women; 40 is considered high for an average woman her age.)
Resting Heart Rate: 28 beats per minute
Waist: 26.5″
Thighs: 16.5″
Biceps: 8″
Bench Press: 65 lbs.
Squat: 105 lbs.
Body Fat: 8 percent
Daily Calorie Consumption: 4,000

“The most difficult thing for me to develop is explosive power. I was born with a lot of lean, slow muscle. With a lot of protein and a lot of strength training, I can manipulate my ‘nature.’”

SHAWN CRAWFORD, TRACK, 200 METERS

Age: 30
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 186 lbs.
VO2 MAX: 43.2 ml/kg/min.
Resting Heart Rate: 67 beats per minute
Waist: 34″
Thighs: 21″
Biceps: 11″
Bench Press: 405 lbs.
Squat: 450 lbs.
Body Fat: 4 percent

“When I lift, my chest and arms develop quickly and are easy to get stronger and bigger. I have really small lower legs — and no matter what I do, they get stronger, but not bigger.”

CHERYL HAWORTH, WEIGHT LIFTING, 75+KG CLASS

Age: 25
Height: 5’9″
Weight: 300 lbs.
Resting Heart Rate: 75 beats per minute
Waist: 50″
Thighs: 32″
Biceps: 17″
Bench Press: 160 lbs.
Squat: 495 lbs.
Vertical Leap: 30″
Body Fat: 28-30 percent
Daily Calorie Consumption: 3,000-4,000
Flexibility: Can do splits both ways

“I started training when I was 13, so almost everything about my body is completely different now. I’m taller and a lot heavier than I was. When I say that my thighs are 32 inches, they’re really hard all of the way around, and my butt is huge from squatting all the time.”

BRETT NEWLIN, ROWING, MEN’S FOUR

Age: 26
Height: 6’9″
Weight: 225 lbs.
VO2 Max: 67.4 ml/kg/min.
Resting Heart Rate: 56 beats per minute
Waist: 36″
Thighs: 23″
Biceps: 15″
Bench Press: 215 lbs.
Squat: 245 lbs.
Body Fat: 7.6 percent
Daily Calorie Consumption: 6,000

“In high school, I was kind of a beanpole. Then in college I started rowing, and muscles started popping out from all over the place.”

SARAH HAMMER, TRACK CYCLING

Age: 24
Height: 5’7″
Weight: 135 lbs.
VO2 Max: 65.0 ml/kg/min.
Resting Heart Rate: 40 beats per minute
Waist: 26″
Thighs: 20″
Biceps: 10.5″
Bench Press: 135 lbs.
Squat: 225 lbs.
Vertical Leap: 35″
Body Fat: 12 percent
Daily Calorie Consumption: 4,500

“My punch comes from my thighs and my glutes. I always say that it’s my butt that gets me there.”

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