Do we finally have the ability to have true “international” products?

May 24, 2010

Did you see the recent article about Google making its real-time translation tool available for the Android phone?  If not, you can read it here.

While this implementation will undoubtedly be fun for a number of cell phone users, imagine the impact if a number of enterprise software companies incorporate this technology into their products.

We have long talked about “localized” software products that are available in a number of single languages.  In other words, users in France interact with the software in their native language — French.   We also talk about “internationalized” software products that display numbers and other elements using the format that is appropriate for each user — which is important when users from different locales are sharing the same application.

However, we have not yet seen applications where free-form text entered by one user in one language can be read and understood by another user in a different language.  Google’s tool offers the promise of this capability.

Granted, any “automatic translation” tool will have problems in accurately conveying the content, context, and subtleties of a language.  And I suspect this problem will be especially difficult when translating between languages that have different origins (for example, English and Japanese).   However, as more applications incorporate this type of technology, more investment (and resulting technology improvements) will follow.

Consider the following situations where this technology would literally “change the rules”:

  • PDM, PLM, ERP Systems — Product descriptions, instructions to suppliers, questions on design intent from part manufacturers, etc.  In today’s global environment where a supply chain may include companies in multiple locales, the ability for each member of your supply chain to communicate in their language could significantly improve your ability to design and produce quality parts.  It also makes it easier for you to find additional suppliers because they no longer have to communicate in your language.
  • Twitter, Blogs, and Other Social Media Tools — You could interact with customers and potential customers in their language.  This would allow you to review a product idea with potential customers in a wide variety of locales and thus avoid problems like giving your new product a name that means “toilet” in another language.  And wouldn’t you like to know whether a product is interesting to a particular locale before you pay to translate the product’s screens, documentation, marketing, and sales materials into that language?  I know I would.
  • CRM and Other Customer Feedback Tools — As with the social media tools, imagine how much your customer service might improve if you could actually exchange information with your current customers in their language.  Today, companies rely on small teams of customer support specialists with multiple language skills.  However, this approach can introduce another layer of “interpretation” between the customer who is describing the problem and the Development engineer who has to fix it — which increases the difficulty (and cost) of providing timely bug fixes.  How much could you improve your service and reduce your costs if reliable and accurate real-time language conversion was available?

There are many other categories of commercial (and even military) applications that could benefit from this technology.  What is your favorite?  Or perhaps this problem is too complicated to be solved by any technology, even one from the guru’s at Google.   What do you think?


12 Social Media Secrets – Part 2

April 8, 2010

The good thing about going to the dentist is that you have time to think.   You can’t talk much — not with someone’s hand in your mouth.  And they usually don’t know you all that well — so they don’t have much to say to you either.  So you are left to your own thoughts.

In my case, that meant a return to my earlier post about the 12 Social Media Secrets, because I realized that I hadn’t talked enough about the types of tools and information that I would like to see.

12 Social Media Secrets – Part 1

I believe that the usage of social media in the next 5-10 years will explode to a level that few of us anticipate.  Thus,  it will be common for a company to get thousands upon thousands of inputs (tweets, emails, blog comments, etc.) about its products on a daily basis in the not too distant future.  If you doubt this, consider how many text messages people around you are sending and receiving each day.  Five years ago, text messaging within the US was not all that common.  Now, we have legislation pending or in place that forbids texting while driving because too many people simply “must” text at every minute of their day and unlimited text messaging plans are considered commonplace.   The data flood is coming, and sooner than we think.  (Some would argue that it is here already…)

Therefore, we are going to need tools to process all of the inputs we receive from customers (and prospects) about our product and I, for one, want to be sure that I’m getting good information from all of the market segments that I care about.  I can’t afford to be misled by a few, vocal participants or to ignore a particular market segment that might be critical to the success of my product.

First, I’d like to know as much as I can about the people behind the inputs.  This includes:

  • Gender (male or female)
  • Age Bracket (e.g., less that 21, 21-30, 31-40, etc.)
  • Marital status
  • Employment status (Full-time, Part-Time, Retired, Unemployed)
  • Country where  they live
  • Closest city
  • Number of people within 10 miles of their house

Other information like race, primary language, household income, number of children, etc. would also be useful — but is more controversial and therefore much less likely to be available.    The goal is to ask for information that is anonymous enough that people will feel comfortable providing it while also gathering enough information so that you can make intelligent decisions.

And besides, if I know that you live outside of Boston (like I do) and that there are only about 35,000 people within 10 miles of your house — I can guess that you live in a medium-sized town in one of the Boston suburbs.   And from that I can approximate the medium income for people like you.  It won’t be exact, because some Boston suburbs have much higher medium incomes that others, but it might be close enough.

However, for this information to be useful, it needs to be consistent across all of the social media tools that my customers are likely to use and kept in a single location so that users don’t have to run around updating multiple sites.  A Gravatar is a good start, but it needs more information.

Second, I’d like to be able to analyze the quantity of the inputs I receive.  For example:

  • Number of inputs ( Tweets, emails, blog comments, etc.) received from the same user in a given period.
  • Number of inputs from the same market segment (gender, age bracket, marital status, employment status, geographical area, etc) in a given period.
  • Average number of inputs for each market segment during a given period.
  • Market segments that didn’t provide an “average” number of inputs during a given period.

Third, I’d like to have an application that can automatically organize the inputs I receive.  For example, I’d like to be able to distinguish between an input from a dissatisfied customer and one from a potential new customer.  Of course, I can establish numerous different input channels — but there will always be an input that is in the wrong channel.

I’d also like the ability to aggregate all of the inputs that I receive — so that I don’t have to manually organize my Tweets and then cross-reference them with emails received from similar people in similar geographies.

Lastly, I need tools to allow me to quickly organize and manage all of the inputs that I receive.  For example, that dissatisfied customer who complains each day that their cell phone is difficult to use because the screen is impossible to read in bright sunlight has a very valid point.  However, I don’t want to read the same complaint over and over again for weeks on end — I won’t have the time.  I need to be able to manage all of my inputs effectively and efficiently — so that I can gather the key messages very quickly and then spend the rest of my day improving existing products or creating new ones.

I see lots of opportunities for this approach within social media — but not a lot of tools that provide anything close to what I’m looking for — at least not yet.

12 Social Media Secrets – Part 1

April 8, 2010

I read with interest the blog entry “12 Social Media Secrets From Worlds’ Top Superstars” from the Social Media Examiner (link below).

Some of their suggestions make really good sense.  For example, it’s always a good idea to engage your audience and then listen to what they have to say.  And given the diverse nature of our global economies, social media may be the only method by which you have any hope of getting reasonable feedback from your target market in any reasonable time frame.

However, I’m still bothered by some aspects of Social Media.

For example, does it make sense to repeat something over and over again?  (See #11 “Repeat Your Tweets”)   The idea is to repeat your Tweets so that people who didn’t see them the first time will see them the second or third time.    However, what about those people who saw them the first time?   Are you going to turn them off because they don’t see anything fresh and new from you? Or are the people who saw your original Tweet “better” customers (or potential customers) because they were following you close enough to see your post the first time?

Looks like we also need better filtering and prioritization capabilities in Twitter so that we can more easily process the hundreds (or more) Tweets that we get each day.  I don’t know about you, but I would really like the ability to organize my incoming Tweets into subject “folders” and then quickly see a summary of how many Tweets each folder contained so I could prioritize my reading.  Imagine being able to distinguish media reports on your company (or products) from those provided by current customers and from inquiries from prospective customers.   That would be powerful.  I hope someone at Twitter is listening…

I also wonder about the quality of the feedback that you get from Social Media because it is almost too anonymous.  If your product is targeted at “married, middle-age men in the United States”, how can you determine whether the feedback you are getting is from your target market or not? You could analyze the Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles of everyone who responds, but no company has sufficient staff to do this unless you only received a few responses.   And if you only got a few responses, you probably want to re-think what you are saying and how you are sharing it — because you’re not getting enough mind share.

Another concerning aspect of Social Media is that the feedback you receive can be dominated by a small, highly vocal segment of your target market.  I’ve written about this before (link below).

How can you use social media to interact with ALL of your target market members?

However, with all of the buzz about social media it was easy to think that I was worrying too much or jousting at shadows.  Thus, I found the last “social media secret” to be perhaps the most important, where Jason Falls says:

“Social media success depends upon your type of audience, product, company, network and environment.  You need to know your brand, your audience, how to communicate within each specific social network or online community and the right tools to use.  Only the last of those is fairly predictable knowledge.”

Seems to me that social media is the best tool set available for getting feedback from your target market, but like any tool it has its strengths and weaknesses.   Thus, in typical product management fashion, I keep asking:  What could (or should) we do to improve these tools?

Is it possible to detect trade secrets disemminated through social media?

April 1, 2010

I read with interest the announcement of the coming Boston Events on social media and how to protect your products, brand and reputation.  (It is scheduled for April 7 at 8am.)

Protecting Your Brand, Reputation, and Secrets in the Age of Social Media

One of the key topics in this session involves preventing your trade secrets from being disclosed through social media.

This got me thinking — How could you identify one of your trade secrets that was distributed through social media?

In today’s global economy where products are often manufactured by a company’s supply chain partners, your ability to protect your trade secrets is absolutely critical to ensuring the continued success, and even existence, of your company.  Otherwise, the highly innovative product that you finally got to market after years of research and development could be cloned and mass-produced by a foreign competitor without the same R&D costs in 90 days (or less), effectively destroying your ability to generate the revenue you were expecting.

Obviously, you could manufacture the most proprietary elements yourself and provide all of your employees with phones, laptop computers, etc. so that you can legally search all of their outgoing emails, chats, text messages, etc. for relevant trade secret content.  But no company can afford this level of investment or can dedicate the staff necessary to perform all of this “policing”.  And few employees would tolerate the continual monitoring of their professional and personal communications that this approach implies.  After all, they are not working for the CIA or someplace similar where they expect this sort of monitoring as a condition of employment.

Or you could carefully restrict access to any trade secrets to only a select few employees.  However, this approach limits the ability of “average employees” to identify product or process improvements that have saved other companies millions of dollars in product development and manufacturing costs during recent years.

Thus, if you are going to actively detect a trade secret violation, you need to be able to deploy “detection” technology that can identify trade secrets being compromised and alert you accordingly.

But is this really possible?

Granted, searching text-based content for trade secret information on Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, etc. is fairly easy using Google and similar tools.   However, none of these tools are good enough to capture violations that don’t include relevant key words.

For example, you decide that the phrase “glass half full” is a trade secret and set up automatic filtering on all out-bound text content to detect any violations.  However, a message that talks about a “drinking container which has an equal amount of liquid and air” is, by definition “half full” but is unlikely to be identified by your automatic filtering tools.

The problem is even worse for videos.   Google, Brightcove, Wistia, and others have tools for identifying and tracking the usage of videos.  But all of the “searching” algorithms I have seen depend on the title or the meta tags applied to the video. I haven’t seen anything yet that could parse a video for a given text string or word — even though a number of companies have done research in this area.  Presumably the NSA has huge banks of super computers somewhere that can do some of this — but this is only a guess — and even if they have this capability, it doesn’t help the average company.

And since a potential violator is unlikely to post a new YouTube video with a name or tag that says “trade secrets of company xyz”, this seems like an unreliable approach to me also.

So the question is — Is it truly possible to detect trade secrets being disseminated through social media?   Or are we forced to rely solely on the trust worthiness of our employees,  colleagues, and business partners?

And how can we trust our supply chain members, when we often do not even know which companies are providing key elements to our key supply chain members?

How can you use social media to interact with ALL of your target market members?

March 24, 2010

We all know people who have strong opinions and are not shy about sharing them.   We also know people who are much more comfortable with various technologies than others.

So, if you are using social media tools to engage members of your target market, how do you ensure that the results you see are not dominated by those who are technologically savvy AND strongly opinionated?

Consider a product targeted at older people, would they be likely to provide you feedback via Twitter, Facebook, or the like?   I doubt it.  As my mother says, “If I can’t talk to you on the phone or in-person, I’m not going to talk to you at all.”

What about a product targeted at young adults with young children??  Would they have the spare time to provide you with the quality feedback that you need?  Perhaps, but only if you make it very easy and simple for them to contribute — because “spare time” is something that young parents never have enough of.

And let’s not forget those people who aggressively post comments, suggestions, complaints, etc. on a semi-continual basis.  How can you know whether they represent a small, potentially negligible, segment of your target market or whether they are really the voice of your “silent majority”?

Bottom line — I think that social media is a good tool for collecting immediate feedback from your target market, but it is only one of many “feedback collection tools” that you should use.  You need to carefully select the right “tools” so that they match the characteristics of your market and cross-reference all of your inputs — so that you are not misdirected by strongly worded responses from a few, avid target market members.

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