Book Club

Our book club book this month was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.   I got to lead the discussion. It is a very simple read (I read it in a weekend) but it is highly entertaining, thought provoking, and memorable. The story is told from the perspective of Christopher, a 15 year old autistic boy. The author, Mark Haddon, does an amazing job of giving the reader Christopher’s perspective. 

Christopher  is very talented at Math and applies his own logic to his world.  But his  view of the world lacks any  empathy or understanding of human interaction. One reviewer said that Haddon does what authors are supposed to do, paint the picture and not try to tell you how to feel. As a result when you  read it you  tend to rush in and fill in the emotions yourself.  I highly recommend the book.

Jonny Lang

Last night we went to see Jonny Lang at Villa Montalvo   His singing and guitar playing were exceptional. The power  and energy came through to make it a great concert. He was billed as a "once in a generation blues talent" and I would have to agree. If you ever get the chance to see a concert of his I would highly recommend it. And he is only 24. His debut album came out when he was 16.  I felt like we got to experience something very special. And Villa Montalvo is wonderful outdoor setting.

Zipingo

It is bugging me that I can’t remember who first articulated the relationship between the number of participants in a community like ebay and its usefulness. The bottom line is that the bigger the community the more valuable the service. I know I have read this somewhere and it is one of the basic tenets of the Internet economics. As the number of people who use the  Internet increases so does the rate of attachment because the Internet becomes more and more useful. I can’t even figure  out how to Google this to find what I am looking for. If someone can point me to a link I’d appreciate it.
I remember that the principal was described much more clearly than I am describing it.

UPDATE: Thanks to  atthecrux for answering my question. The law I am looking for is Metcalfe’s Law , aka the "network effect".

But that is not exactly what I want to talk about here.  The purpose of this posting is to talk about Zipingo.com. It is a new service that Intuit has launched into beta test this week.  We are building a database of business ratings. The site describes itself as the "yellow pages with ratings."  Obviously a site like this isn’t useful unless what you are interested in has been rated. So for now we are trying to get a lot of ratings. By the way I am not working on this project at Intuit. When I say we I am saying we as in Intuit.  Anyway Zipingo is only going to be really useful when it has millions of ratings so Intuit has added a link to Zipingo from Quicken 2006 and a link from Quickbooks. This should make it really easy for people to rate their transactions. It is also really easy to rate a business or your optometrist or your chiropractor from the site itself. Give it at try! I am really enjoying watching the growth of the number of rankings on the site. I’ve done 27 so far and the number this week is up to  41,777. It will be fascinating to me to see how it grows.

 

Software for Independent Financial Planners

In a  recent blog entry Tom Peters addressed the  question, "Can a small financial services firm compete in a world of Citigroups and Bank of Americas?" Peters put together a list of 16 ‘Must Dos’, Two of the ‘Must Dos’  especially caught my eye:

  • " Sophisticated use of information technology.* (Small-"ish" is no excuse for "small aims"/execution in IS/IT!" 
  • "Web-power!* (The Web can make very small very big … if the product-service is super-cool and one purposefully masters buzz/viral marketing.)"

They caught my attention because the software for independent financial planners that we are piloting right now will help small financial planners compete with the big guys. If you are an independent financial planner who manages your customer’s assets and you are interested in helping us pilot test our software drop me an email marion_vermazen at intuit.com.

As I was writing this blog entry I discovered that  Tom Peters recently posted a blog entry about what he has learned in his first year of blogging. It resonated with me and it gave me a new perspective on a couple of things like the power of small posts and how blogging breaks can lead to better blogging. I really enjoy reading The Tom Peters blog. It is a group blog and the posts are almost always interesting and thought provoking.

Blogging Articles

There were two big articles about blogging in our local paper, The Argus, today. The first article titled Mainstreaming the blog, Corporate America leaps into the ‘blogosphere‘ is on the front page of the business section and features a half page picture of Paul Rosenfeld who is Mr Blogging at Intuit. He is general manager of the QuickBooks Online Edition group. I stopped by his office a couple of weeks ago and introduced myself. I was really impressed by his enthusiasm for blogging. I have pointed to the Online Edition Blog group blog several times.

The article quotes Technorati’s CEO Dave Sifry, "three-quarters of the  of the 9000 corporate blogs that Technorati has tracked are high tech companies and most of the rest are related to high-tech." There is no doubt that blogging has been slow to move beyond high tech. I can’t make up my mind whether I think blogging will catch on beyond high tech. On the one hand blogging is such a powerful medium and things that are big in high tech usually catch on elsewhere. But on the other hand you have to be a bit of a  techie at heart to blog and most people I know outside of my tech friends don’t really get it or even care about blogging. I’d really be interested in other people’s opinions on this subject.

The second article in The Argus is about employees who get in trouble blogging. Although it is not a new subject I did learn a few new things. I didn’t realize that to be dooced means to be fired because of your blog. Apparently the name comes from the first person to have that happen.

Blogging Easy?

I totally agree with Chuq. I just want to blog. I don’t have much interest in understanding the difference between Atom and RSS. I also use TypePad and I really like how easy it makes blogging. But easy is relative. I noticed that Chuq has pictures on  the side panel of his blog so I thought I would try to do the same. I also use Flickr so I knew it could be done. The trick was figuring out how to do it. Luckily I love a puzzle and a challenge and I’m pretty good with technology. It took me about an hour but I finally figured it out. The bottom line is that TypePad does make blogging easy but there are lots of parts of it that aren’t very intuitive.

Customer Engagement Tools

I really believe in the importance of  encouraging conversations with our customers. Just the other day I posted the Cluetrain Manifesto on the wall of my cube. I used to be kind of a blog snob. I  assumed that the only real way to have a cluetrain like conversation was through a blog. Since coming to Intuit it has been interesting to see the many other ways this can happen.The Medical Expense Manager Forum is quite impressive. If anything the forum’s structure  fosters more conversation and feedback about a specific product (in this case Quicken Medical Expense Manager) than the blog format would. A key to the success of this forum over others I have seen is the very active participation and nurturing of Quicken Lisa in the forum. She has 136 total posts since January and she has a wonderful ability to be both authentic and caring in her writing..

Another mechanism that is interesting to watch is The Official QuickBooks Online Weblog. It is a group blog by the Quickbooks Online Edition Team. Group blogs have a different dynamic than individual blogs but  the QuickBooks Online blog seems to be building a following and engaging with customers. Just las for Medical Expense Manager the individuals in the group who do most of the posting are what make it effective.

As I’ve said in other postings I am trying to determine how to best engage our future customer base. At this point I am leaning towards a forum for product specific engagement. We may also have a product blog but I think that might be too much overlap.

The third method of engagement is my personal blog. In my personal blog Intit products are just one of many subjects. The blog may allow me to connect with customers on a personal level. In a forum or a group blog the product is the primary focus but in a personal blog the product is almost secondary.

It will be very interesting to watch how these different mechanisms evolve and  how effective they become, It will also be very interesting to see what tools companies are using 5 years from now to engage customers and build community.

I guess the one thing that I’ve realized in writing this posting is that what makes any tool work as a customer conversation tool is not so much the tool as it it the people who are using the tool. Whether it be forums, group blogs or individual blogs, active, real engagement by real people is what makes them work. To quote Cluetrain, "(Companies) will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf."

What other tools am I missing? Can anyone point me to good examples of other mechanisms companies are using to engage with their customers?

Randon links and thoughts

Having the time to do a bit of blog reading and comments  this morning was so nice. It is impossible to keep up with all the blogs I would like to read.  I have a short list of blogs I try to always read because they almost always have interesting thought provoking stuff.

The A list includes Jonathan Schwartz  who is as entertaining to read as he is to listen to. His latest posting about why he hasn’t blogged in a month had me laughing out loud and of course I like to keep up with what is going on at my alma matter.

I’ve added Andy Lark’s blog to the list. He talks about stuff I am interested in and he is also a very entertaining writer. His pointer to these kits to build your own cube seems quite timely for me since I’ve gone from having an office wherever I reserved one (Sun and iWork) to having my very own cube (Intuit). Andy also has a recent posting about a study which showed that people just don’t understand blogs. This is absolutely true. I’ve been talking to a lot of financial planners lately and when I mention my blog I either get a blank stare or a question about why would I write a blog. Usually though no matter who I mention it to I just get a lack of interest. This article that he pointed to from AdAge is also very worth reading. It talks about how  although things like Tivo and blogs make it less likely people will see conventional advertising this just means things are changing. It doesn’t mean the end of marketing and advertising.

Finally this interview with Sun CIO Bill Vass from ZDNet Australia is very good. I used to work for Bill Vass and I have an enormous amount of respect for him. What he says about blogging making lawyers very nervous is very very true. I’ve talked before about how the risk of  saying something in a blog that gets your company in trouble with the SEC making companies nervous about blogging. It explains why Bill doesn’t blog publicly. It is too bad because I know he would be fascinating. On the other hand as a Sun stock holder I can see how the visionary posts he would undoubtedly write would make lawyers very nervous.

Harry Potter Party

My daughter, Allison taught 4th grade last year. She promised the 5 students who had reached their reading goals at the end of the year that she would take them to the Harry Potter party at Hicklebees today and that they would get the new Harry Potter book as their prize for reaching their goals. Today 3 of the five were able to go. Julia, Duy and Tanya  went with Allison and me. It was lot of fun. We dressed up and there were games and prizes.  All three of them are avid readers. Duy is especially impressive. He came form Viet Nam and this was his first year of school in the United States. At the beginning of the year he could not read or write English at all. By the end of the year he  was almost at a fourth grade reading level and he reached his reading goal. All 5 kids and Allison and I are looking forward to reading the new book. I just talked to Allison. She said she is about half way through.

This was Allison’s last year teaching. She decided that although teaching has a lot of rewards it was not for her. She completed the two year Teach For America commitment and has accepted a new job that starts in August.  She will be working for Inside Track. She is hoping to be able to continue to volunteer at the school. I am very proud of what she achieved as a teacher.