Thursday, January 11, 2007

On usability, adoption rates and deadpool for Web 2.0 services

There's been a number of posts on the net about the fate of RawSugar since we announced that RawSugar stopped its R&D operations. See for example these blog entries:

Besides the journalistic headlines (I felt like David Beckham for a day or two), and the number of good words for the RawSugar team from users; what mostly interested me was the reasons mentioned either in the blog posts or in the comments for RawSugar's failure. Here are the leading causes of failures that are cited:

  1. Poor marketing (weak focus on blogs, no differentiation with delicious, poor communication, poor positioning, etc.) - 5 mentions
  2. Poor UI design (colors, homepage, coolness, overall usability) - 5 mentions.
  3. Simply a victim of the bubble - 4 mentions
  4. No business plan (nor revenue plan) - 2 mentions
  5. Poor innovation - 1 mention.
  6. Ofer Ben-Shachar (Founder/CEO) stubbornness :) - 1 mention.

As RawSugar's former VP Engineering, I find this very interesting to see what people really think about this. The first conclusion I draw is that the technology was not to blame, indeed, as I write this blog, RawSugar's investors are negotiating with several potential buyers of the technology. So I believe that the RawSugar tag-search technology will find a new home and that's a good thing.

However, what stroke me most on the comments of people above is that I don't believe any of these is responsible for RawSugar poor adoption levels. When I look around at other services I see all these points in successful services. See for example:

  • Did Youtube have a business plan?
  • Did Delicious havea good UI design (starting from the hard to remember domain name)?
  • Is gmail a model of usability? Maybe yes, but only after you get it.
  • Was Craig's list done with a great marketing strategy in mind?
  • Where is the innovation in myspace?

No, I don't think these are the real reasons for RawSugar underperformance. I don't think you need a business plan, a great UI design, a solid marketing plan and a huge innovation to make a winning Web 2.0 service. I am not saying it hurts but I don't think these are necessary nor sufficient criteria.

I have my own explanation but I won't share it on my blog right now, maybe in a later post. What do you think? Leave me a comment.


Why I love spam and gmail

Here's the story. I used to read email from several Yahoo! managed accounts using Outlook and over time I realized that even though Yahoo! was catching a large majority of the spam mail I was getting, and Outlook was also catching a big chunk of what was left (all the false negative); I ended up spending more time cleaning up my Inbox than actually reading my email.

So it was time for a shakeup !!

Here's what I did:

  • I set up my gmail account to be able to send email from multiple accounts. So that gmail could now be used to send email on behalf of any of my other email accounts.
  • I set up all my Yahoo! email to forward all my incoming messages to my gmail account.
  • I created filters on gmail so that email coming from my Yahoo! email account Account1 was labeled "account1" and email coming from my Yahoo! email account Account2 was labeled "account2".
And voila!!! The result is amazing, I only have a couple of spam mail that gmail misses out of about 200 a day. That's pretty good I must say. In fact it is so good, that I sometimes go into the spam mail in gmail just to watch all these spam getting caught. And I smile at all this time wasted sifting through these. I also smile when I see the "spicy spam kabobs" ad they put up.

Sometimes software can really solve problems. Congratulations to the gmail team.

Related: Check out Jonathan Boutelle discussion on the comparison of several spam filters here.