Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A second life for Second Life stats

In spite of the fact that Second Life won't run on my laptop, I've been watching the space - expecting that one day I'll stop rushing around this First Life just long enough to find a Second Life to rush around in ;) ...

I'm generally interested in how products grow up around other products ("parasitical products" does that sound negative?) and how ad budgets follow (with Adidas and Toyota making news as reported on the GigaOM blog)... so this space is not just ripe for that activity - it's fallen off the tree and begun to (no, not rot) take root.

Anyway - I found this statistical post about the growth of SecondLife on their blog which seemed like a great candidate for using Google Spreadsheets - especially given all the comments on on how people wanted the data in mutliple forms and wanted to view the data on machines without MS-Office. ( It would be great to see the Second Life crew follow the lead of Meta Linden in his (or her?) post which publishes the stats using a google spreadsheet - That spreadsheet link as is looks like:
- which allows anyone to see the data with a quick web link.... But, one of the lesser known features provides immediate access to alternative formats - You can just add &output=xls to the end of the published spreadsheet link to get that spreadsheet in .xls form... or &output=ods to get openOffice format!
The xls link looks like this:
Whaddya say Linden clan?

Monday, March 26, 2007

An early-life use for spreadsheets

So, I help my son use a Google spreadsheet to create Word Search puzzles.. very cool for me - not just because we found this fun use case for spreadsheets, but because my 6 year old is involved. He's creating his own new ones now, with themes - it's great.
But it didn't take more than a few minutes after his first printed word search flew out of the printer that he became another demanding user with his own high priority feature requests...

He literally got teary-eyed when I informed him that the grid lines on the printed versions could not be turned off... oh my... raise the priority on that feature, quickly! My son is crying!! quickly!!! Give him the option to turn off the gridlines!!
Do you think Dan Bricklin hit this issue with visi-calc?

Update: in the cells which aren't part of the hidden words, I use a formula to automatically generate a random letter...
The simple form of it is: =CHAR(RANDbetween(65,90)
But, to force a regeneration of the random letters used, i change the formula to include dependency on another cell (which is multiplied by zero to have no impact on the actual result)... then, any change to that 'other cell' will force the formula to recalculate and give me a new random letter.
So, the updated formula looks like this: =CHAR(RANDbetween(65,90) + (code($C$100)*0))
(that reference to C100 is 'absolute' so you can copy it to other cells and still have all dependent on a single cell)

Then - any change to cell C100 forces all the random letters to change... This is handy when your first set of random letters by chance form an offensive 4-letter word or two... ;)

To get a copy of my original puzzle, use this link:
and then use the "File" "copy spreadsheet..." command...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Usability not always required

Products...products...products.... so many products... Thousands intersect our lives each day, but this past Friday I was introduced to about 2 dozen new web-based products and actually judged eight of 'em at the Under the Radar conference... So many times, while considering the potential success of these products I considered the usability factors - how easy are they to use? Are they so usable that they offset the pain of switching from existing competitive (and possibly un-usable) products?... So after a long day of pondering products, I board my red-eye flight from San Francisco to NY on a Friday night, with the goal, of course, being to avoid killing a weekend.
What an eye-opener (ironcially).
With the most important factor of an overnight flight being comfort enough to sleep, the overnight flight fails in every respect! This has got to be the worst product ever used by so many people on such a regular basis (second only to the hospital bed pan, of course)
Now, I'm in coach - so those of you in business class might actually have a 23% better experience, but still... overall failure in usability. Being in an exit row helped, but was largely offset by the fact that my new found friends in the exit row also seem to need the space... So, I try to sleep between two men in size XL whose faces are about 18 inches from mine (pleasant) and whose feet are now semi-exposed in the well worn socks, which, no doubt, have seen shorter and less sweaty days and whose head colds now seem to be blooming rather nicely with the onset of spring...

The plane was completely packed... they can't make enough of this product! It's so in-demand, that they could probably tell us to strip naked and sit on our luggage in a fully gutted freight plane and they would still over-sell the flights (not to mention turning me into an image-posting blogger ;)

So - First of all... Why are airlines going bankrupt so regularly? If they can continue to gain customers with a crap product, what's the issue with making money?

Second - what are the lessons for product managers and entrepreneurs looking for hints to find the best products to introduce to the market?
1 - Screw Usability? Just get a product to people who need it ;)
2 - Even if competition is high, a crappy product will sell if demand is higher?... there are seemingly plenty of overnight flights, but the combination of airports and times actually reduces real competition to a very beatable level. Each of these airport pairs actually becomes a sub-market, most of which has a rather low level of competition given the demand.

There's more of course - but i'm tired (did i mention that i got no sleep Friday night?) and this post is way too long...
All I can say is, to beat the competition in a product with this standard, as Richard Branson will tell you, all you have to do is give each passenger a private bed.

Please... doesn't anyone want to enter my SanFran-NY submarket with this improved product?

Don't mind me... I'm just jet-lagged from a sleepless flight back east ;)

Friday, March 23, 2007

another customer for the noise-cancellation headphones

Not an hour after my prior post, David Allen is talking at the Under The Radar conference - all about how we, as humns, can't get anything done - because we're distracted... in much funnier language and much deeper..
The notable bullet on his slide - which just begs for the Noise-Cancellation-Headphones I mentioned- said:
"Your ability to concentrate is directly proportional to your ability to eliminate distraction"


Reducing the noise

I was on my way to the Under the Radar Conference in Mountain View, CA earlier this week... and an interesting (to me) analogy struck me... Me and this guy next to me both took out our bulky noise-cancellation headphones at the same time... His, the nice Bose set in the fancy zippered hardcase... very cool. Mine, the cheap clone in a pleather bag. Bose or clone, these things really do improve the listening experience - reducing the high level of white noise in the airplane.

It immediately struck me that I need a derivative of these headphones at work! We all do...
The "noise" level is different - it's not sound.. it's every distraction that takes me off my 'must do' list... it's email, meetings, phone calls, simple requests, new ideas, old issues.... Noise all day... If I had a way to remove the noise all day - even for a few hours a day - I might just finish more things and see my to do list (and m inbox) actually shrink rather than grow.

"just block time on your calender"
"lock yourself in a room alone"
"ignore email for a few hours"
yes, yes, yes... i know... but the headphones idea is much more magical... I would even buy Bose version....

Saturday, March 17, 2007

New Rule: management by spreadsheet

Actually, this is an old rule. Managing everything using a spreadsheet is very 80's (I would have said 70's, but I don't think Visi-calc was being used for number-less and formula-less lists much). The simple list of tasks across a team of people was more challenging to manage than it should have been - not to mention the reporting of the status to a broader audience, before the acceptance of a simple spreadsheet... Even then - sharing? ugh... the email chain of attachments begins... anyway... I swear I didn't want this to be a podium... just a simple sample of a cool Project Status report I saw today... From the Zend development team (the PHP company). This spreadsheet they use shows the status of each framework component in their product - and since it seems to be a broad community of developers, the Google spreadsheet platform is a great fit for both the collaboration and the publishing of status to their whole user community... use this one as a guide if you're trying to organize a team of remote developers (or those sitting close enough to smell your coffee or hear your ear buds...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Another example (to bury the prior example quickly ;)

Another long tail example of how people are using spreadsheets on the web... planning their housework... One spreadsheet describes "how to have a clean house (and dinner on the table) in 2 hours a day" - and is linked to from Miss Practical's Blog Post.

Scary part is, this isn't actually a long-tail example.. I've seen it too often... there's a whole community of OCD sufferers who organize their chores this way... Miss Practical actually seems to just be trying to improve her productivity, but the people at "Fly Lady" seem to be the OCD crowd... and one of them suggests using this spreadsheet to organize the housecleaning parts of her life... (yikes).

A Use Case I'll Never Cite Again...

... but I have to point to this just once....
I love seeing how people use new tools for their own special purposes... People always ask me "How do people use Docs & Spreadsheets on the web? What do they collaborate on?" and I always have some long-tail examples beyond the common (big head of the histogram) examples like "event planning" and "project management"....
Well... today I saw a part of the long tail that really is a one-of-a-kind "I can't believe this" moment ...

The only quote you need is this: "Remember, you're betting on who the blogger will sleep with next. "

That is the description of the spreadsheet - which is a betting line... It is linked from Tote Board Brad's blog post... see Paragraph 5... an interesting read....just once.

I promise to gather some less dramatic examples as soon as I stop laughing...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

How is coffee relevant to this blog?

I immediately got the "why'd you write about coffee on your 'products' blog?" comment... C'mon - isn't it obvious? Coffee products have one of the best characteristics one could ever hope for in their product - that is: Addiction!
What better endorsement can a product hope for than someone saying "I'm totally addicted to that" (with the exception, of course, of harmful products - like drugs, gambling.... and, uh...caffeine? Doh!).
Whatever... go get addicted to something useful: Google Docs & Spreadsheets ;)

Proof that caffiene is a bit too big in my life

My 6 year-old son has obviously been exposed to my love for coffee ('love' can't be the right word... maybe 'desire' or 'need' is better). At Christmas (or is it Hanukkah?) time this past year, I received a new espresso maker ... When we first set this thing up, I made all kinds of "Oooo" and "Ahhh" sounds as the machine ground the beans and pressed a perfect espresso out... the aroma (I never used that word before, I swear) was perfect. So, after a few test cups and lots of kudos for this unnecessary but amazing caffiene-spewing robot, my son says "What's the big deal? You guys are like going crazy - it's just a coffee maker!" and then he starts immitating the "Oooo"s and "Ahhh"s... It was hysterical.

Anyway - the little caffiene-extracting and serving friend (no, not my son, the coffee-maker!) is now a happy part of my life ... but the feeling that it is just too important to me must have stuck pretty well with my son - The other day at breakfast - he had his often-seen wide-eyed "I have a story for you" look and said:
"Daddy! I had the funniest dream last night... The coffee maker broke and, guess what" (he always says "guess what" before the punch line)....
So, of course, I said "What?"...
"You started to cry like a baby!"

Saturday, March 10, 2007

HOW TO: Note to embedding...

In the prior entries, of course you'll see the a great example of the types of things that can be challenging - for example - the truncation of the whole right side of the spreadsheets interface due to the design of this particular blog template...

Plenty of ways to get aroud this -including killing the "overflow: hidden;" item in the template... allowing instead for this wide-load (un-safe to pass on right ;) content to overwrite the right sidebar...

anyway... you get the idea... i think... Works great on wiki pages and intranet pages...

HOW TO: Embed a spreadsheet in your blog (part 2)

The second part of a two part post... (with a characteristically un-prolific few days of non-posting in between)... This time, we embed a spreadsheet in this post which anyone with edit rights can edit. Most new viewers will see the spreadsheet below and say "wait a sec.. i can't edit this!" - and you're right. We don't offer a public "anyone can edit" option... but if you comment here and ask, I'll give you edit rights (at least for a little while)...

... [crickets]...

So - to embed an editable spreadsheet in a blog entry (or on a web page)...
1 - create a spreadsheet at
2 - make it the "right size" - meaning, delete unnecessary rows, columns and sheets so that what shows in your blog entry is a nice viewable block of cells
3 - Turn on "anyone can view" so at least all the folks you didn't invite can at least view the spreadsheet.
4 - Capture the URL of the spreadsheet (not the published URL, but the one on the collaboration tab) and copy it so you can paste it in the following step...
5 - embed the following code in your spreadsheet:
<iframe width='800' height='400' frameborder='0' src=''&chrome=false'></iframe>

[note: that spreadsheet URL should look something like this: and then you really should put the &chrome=false on there to kill all the extraneous header stuff...]

6 - Post it! (assuming your blogging service lets you embed Blogger does)

Like i said - when you use this method - most of your viewers can't edit the spreadsheet, but you can invite those people who you know to be trustworthy collaborators...and tell others to requst an invitation if they're interested in what they see.

The only problem at the moment with dong this on a Blog Post is that some browsers put the focus on the spreadsheet object in the iFrame and jump down to that post... (which is why i don't have a sample sheet here anymore).
Try it... it may work well for your needs... I think it's pretty cool....

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

HOW TO: Embed a spreadsheet in your blog (part 1)

Yes, you can embed an inline spreadsheet in a blog post... You can collaborate with a bunch of people first, create the spreadsheet of your collective dreams (although only sickos and wackos like me dream of spreadsheets) and then you can make it a part of your history in your blog, for the 3 people that read your blog to see... Best Part: If you keep updating the spreadsheet, the blog post will update (assuming you re-publish or choose the "re-publish automatically" option)...
I assume you all realize (yes, i know, all 3 of you) that I'm using Google Docs & Spreadsheets here...

So - here's a spreadsheet, with Stock and Mutual Fund data which uses the GoogleFinance() function within Google Spreadsheets... Notice that during market hours, the stock data will update automatically every 5 minutes (an option on the Publish feature) - the Mutual Fund data, by definition, is only provided by the exchanges on an end-of-day basis...

No, in this instance you can't edit this here in my blog... even if you had permissions... but - check out Part 2 (coming soon) to see how that's done!

Slap the next guy who mentions Maps Mashup.

The next person who uses "Maps!" as their example of a mashup, gets slapped.
It seems that everytime someone mentions a new mashup tool, and someone else says "why would i use that? what can I build with that?" the first person quickly comes up with the UNnovative "like a Map... you can mash it up with a map!"... OMG. I remember the day Google launched Maps - it really was incredible to me as a user (and a non-googler). I could finally see the seams in the maps which haunted me on other mapping products.... Then I saw and tried the Maps API... wow... that was enough to get me back into coding for a few seconds (ok, weeks) to create a really cool (from my perspective only) map annotation product... and the Maps API proceeded to draw a crowd... and, YES, really cool mashups! It was early... it was ok to say that... and I remember my favorite was GMaps Pedometer (which was originally posted on this cutsie domain like ;).... So I just revisited it again - and it's still cool! In fact, I just marked off a walk I took while visiting Seattle - to see Pike Market, and the first Starbucks, and some sculpture park, or something... but, hey... looks like it wasn't there when these satellite images were taken...hmmm... anyway - I could easily mark off my route and find that it was 1.24 miles each way (not exactly a thousand miles... but still... it was cold...).
So - I'm thinking now, that mashup site is sooo much fun, that maybe there is room for a couple of more maps mashups. Hold that slap for one or two more mentions.