Sunday, February 25, 2007

Online Office Suite - It's Heating Up...

My blog post a couple weeks ago on online office suites was quite timely. Last week, Google announced the re-branding and extended reach of its Google Apps for your Domain. As I pointed out in my previous post, Google's announcement validate in many way the disruptive nature of such offerings. Google's improved offering includes:
  • Google Apps Standard Edition: a free service that includes Gmail accounts (since enhanced for mobile access on BlackBerrys), a shared calendar, Google Talk instant messaging, access to Google Docs & Spreadsheets, and a Web page creator.
  • Google Apps Premier Edition: a service designed for businesses of all sizes (read: targeted at the enterprise) which costs $50 a year per user and includes a 99.9% uptime guarantee for e-mail, additional e-mail storage (10GB per account instead of the 2GB limit of the Standard Edition), and new administration and business integration features.
In the enterprise edition, a control panel allows domain administrators to control which features they want to activate and to customize those services for their organization.
Control Panel
Administrators can:
  • Add, change, or remove user accounts
  • Create the Start page layout for their user base where users can quickly preview their inbox, calendar, document list and other essential information related to their organization.
  • Run a chat session
  • Design a Web site
  • Set up e-mail accounts
  • Define mailing lists (you can include recipients outside your domain)
  • Configure calendars
User Admin
Not surprisingly, Google Apps also comes with a broad set of APIs that use HTTP requests for a publishing and editing protocol in the spirit of the REST approach to web service interfaces. Most of these APIs allows client applications to view and update Google Apps constructs (e.g. spreadsheets) in the form of Google data API ("GData") feeds. GData leverages either of two standard XML-based syndication formats: Atom or RSS. Such APIs will strongly empower Google's partners and could overtime provide Google with strong competitive differentiation.

From the end user standpoint, Google Apps Premier Edition is all about collaboration, with 2 main positioning statements:
  • Communicate and connect: This includes GMail, Google Talk and Google Calendar
  • Collaborate and Publish: This includes Google Docs and Spreadsheet, the Start Page and Google Page Creator
Evaluating Google Docs and Spreadsheet is beyond the scope of this post, but in many ways compares to the Microsoft Office Suite, it falls in the category of the good enough.
Google Spreadsheet
This may explain some of the early broad adoption Google is claiming. Kevin Gough, product manager for Google Enterprise observes that:
CIOs are increasingly looking at what can they safely outsource to a trusted partner and what is a core function that is going to give them a competitive differentiator. They’re realizing that email and productivity tools and the staff that have to maintain that is not a competitive differentiator for them and they can redeploy that staff on things that are more core to their business.

Early in its release of Google Apps Premier Edition, Google claims that a number of large enterprises have commenced deployment and pilots of the online system that is looming as a threat to Microsoft's desktop-based office productivity dominance.
We have hundreds of thousands of small to medium businesses that have already done that," said Gough. "They’ve already switched their entire infrastructure over to Google Apps. We have just released the Premier Edition of Google Apps today and today we already have GE, Procter & Gamble, Prudential and Loreal. If on the first day of the launch we have two of the top 25 companies in the world. Imagine what’s going to happen in a month or a year from now.

The coming year will be interesting to watch and should create plenty of opportunities for those who can seize them.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Digg Like User Interface as a Product Management Tool

Yahoo!'s Yodel Anecdotal blog provides an interesting take on gathering user's feedback. Yahoo! has built a brand new Yahoo! Suggestion Board to collect users' feedback for its various web properties.

Yahoo! Suggestion BoardFrom a product management stand point, this is a great use of the Digg concept. Instead of providing the traditional disconnected feedback form where users provide feedbacks one at a time without any understanding or context of previously submitted feedback, the Yahoo! Suggestion Board concept provides an avenue to directly involve users in the prioritization of features/enhancements by letting them vote, comment, and make suggestions on what really matters to them. This is a great use of community building and the architecture of participation to better listen to the voice of your customers and make your users the drivers for how a company's products should evolve.

Yahoo! is getting quite an earful for reaping off the Digg user interface, but this is a creative a powerful use of such concept to put users' at the center of future products enhancements.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Online Office Suites - Part 1

There has been a lot of talk lately about online office suites, or Office 2.0, with the mandatory 2.0 moniker. The acquisition of Writely by Google in early March 2006 rekindled speculations that online office suites where back for good and provided a real threat to the dominant Microsoft Office position.

I believe there are some strong arguments for this, this time. If we take the new entrants in that space through a classic Clayton Christensen analysis, new online office suites clearly have new market disruptions characteristics. Compared to Microsoft Office, they provide:
  • Lower performance in "traditional attributes" but improved performance in new attributes, simplicity and convenience
  • Target non-consumption: customers who historically lacked the money or skill to buy or use the product. The standard version of Office costs about $400 where most online office suites are typically free.
  • The business model of these new entrants make money at a much lower price per unit sold.
In addition, Microsoft's monopoly on the Office suite market has created strong regulatory pressures on the company and has forced it to transform its integrated, differentiated, proprietary file format into a more modularized and standardized file format (see OpenXML), that will drive towards the commoditization of the Office suite. If a user can produce and open any Office documents with about any Office suite application, including a free one, why would someone spend $400 for MS Office 2007? These technology factors combined with the "good enough" user experience factor will create significant competitive pressure over the coming year and Google has definitely recognized the opportunity as it gears up with its Docs and Spreadsheets applications from the Writely acquisition and soon to come, a Presently offering for presentations that will presumably support the OpenXML PresentationML format.

Over the next few weeks, I will take a look at a few of those online Office suites.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Mashup for the Enterprise? A look at QEDWiki

IBM announced early February the release of QEDWiki for the Enterprise. QED stands for "Quickly and Easily Done" and is intended to be a tool for mashups in the enterprise. As IBM puts it:

QEDWiki is a browser-based assembly canvas used to create simple mash-ups. A mash-up maker is an assembly environment in which the creator of a mash-up uses software components (or services) made available by content providers. QEDWiki is a unique Wiki framework in that it provides both Web users and developers with a single Web application framework for hosting and developing a broad range of Web 2.0 applications.

QEDWiki also provides Web application developers with a flexible and extensible framework to enable do-it-yourself (DIY) rapid prototyping. Business users can quickly prototype and build ad hoc applications without depending on software engineers. QEDWiki provides mash-up enablers (programmers) with a framework for building reusable, tag-based commands. These commands (or widgets) can then be used by business users who wish to create their own Web applications.

To see QEDWiki in action, check out an introduction and an insurance claims use case videos on YouTube.

With QEDWiki, Lotus Connection and Lotus Quickr, IBM has been riding the Enterprise 2.0 wave at full speed. Those products are definitely innovative and very interesting. It just bodes the question on how do you position one versus the other versus Websphere Portal, Quickplace and Workplace if you are an IBM sales rep...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Web 2.0... The Machine is Us/ing Us

I came across a video produced by Michael Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology from Kansas State University that I found to be very well done. Instead of looking at Web 2.0 through the usual lenses of collaboration, social networking, wikis and folksonomies, it takes a fresh time machine approach to describing how end users became the engine of the Internet and some of the societal questions that result from this transformation. This is very refreshing.

A transcript is available on Digital Ethnography's blog.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Internet Users and Tagging

The Pew Internet & American Life Project just published a report on tagging. Some very interesting findings from the report:
  • A December 2006 survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project has found that 28% of internet users have tagged or categorized content online such as photos, news stories or blog posts. On a typical day online, 7% of internet users say they tag or categorize online content.
  • Taggers look like classic early adopters of technology. They are more likely to be under age 40, and have higher levels of education and income.
  • Taggers are considerably more likely to have broadband connections at home, rather than dial-up connections. Men and women are equally likely to be taggers, while online minorities are a bit more likely than whites to be taggers.
  • The act of tagging is likely to be embraced by a more mainstream population in the future because many organizations are making it easier and easier to tag internet content.
More details on the demographics of taggers are provided below:

Taggers Demographics
In his upcoming book, Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder,
Weinberger describes how radical it is for people to move away from hierarchical classifications. His prediction:
We'll also undoubtedly figure out how to intersect tags with social networks, so that the tags created by people we know and respect have more “weight” when we search for tagged items. In fact, by analyzing how various social groups use tags, we can do better at understanding how seemingly different worldviews map to one another.