Archive for July, 2016

How To Remove Someone From A Twitter List

Friday, July 29th, 2016

I’ve a list of all people who Reply, Like, Retweet my posts on Twitter. It’s called skr-engagers. The list happens to include a few people who I follow e.g. Scott Wessman (@scottew).

scottew

The way Twitter works, I see tweets by these people on this list and on my timeline.

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Reading the same tweet twice could be tedious, not to mention time-consuming. Let me call this the “duplicate tweet problem”.

To solve it, I first tried to display the list net of people whom I follow. I couldn’t find a way to do this. I then tried to create another list that netted out people whom I follow and display that list. I couldn’t find a way to do this either.

Therefore, I had to settle for the brute force approach of deleting all people I follow from skr-engagers so that I’ll see their tweets only on my timeline.

What I thought would be a simple task turned out to be quite painful and a nod to the widely held belief that Twitter’s list feature sucks.

Anyway, after some clicking around here and there, I found a hack to solve the duplicate tweet problem. Here are the steps:

1. Log in to your Twitter account.

2. Click Profile & Settings on the top RHS of the screen.

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3. Click Lists on the drop down box.

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4. On the next screen, you’ll see all the Lists you’ve Subscribed to and you’re a Member of. Click your skr-engagers equivalent list.

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5. Click List members to view all members of the list.

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6. An “infinite scroll” page displaying all members of this list will follow.

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7. Members don’t seem to be listed alphabetically, chronologically or in any or any other obvious order. So locating the member to delete is itself an onerous task, especially if your list has hundreds of members, as mine does.

8. There’s a Follow or Following button to the right of each entry on this screen.

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9. Follow means you’re not following these people. Leave these members alone.

10. Following means you’re following these people. These are the members you want to delete from your list. Let me continue with the example of the aforementioned Scott Wessman @scottew and explain how to do this.

11. After locating Scott Wessman @scottew, click the More user actions button to drop down a menu with several options. If you’re like me, you might be wary of having to use a single command for doing two diametrically opposite things e.g. “Install / Uninstall”, “Add / Remove”, etc. But, since there’s no choice, click Add or remove from lists.

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12.  On the next screen, the checkbox to the left of skr-engagers will be checked, signifying that @scottew is currently included in this list. Which you already knew.

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13. You came to this screen to remove this member from the list but, unfortunately, this screen won’t give you any explicit way of doing that.

14. The trick is to to uncheck this box and exit the screen by clicking the X mark on the top RHS of this screen (do not click the Create a list button).

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15. Refresh the page. @scottew should no longer be listed on the infinite scroll page.

16. Repeat steps 10 to 15 for all members you wish to delete from the list.

You’re done.

But only for now.

If you’ve come this far, you’re familiar with Twitter Lists, which means you’re an active user of Twitter. Therefore, people will engage with you almost everyday. As a result, your list of engagers will keep growing continuously. Which is a nice thing except that you’ll face the duplicate tweet problem on an ongoing basis. AFAIK, there’s no way to solve it other than to repeat the above hack on a periodic basis. Groan!

I wish I was wrong. If anyone knows a better way out, please share in the comments.

Hardline Stance Works Against Ad-Blockers

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

With the rising use of ad-blockers by online readers, the blogosphere is full of advice on how online publishers should move away from advertising and find other ways to monetize their content. Some of the alternatives proposed by the digerati include:

  1. Micropayments
  2. Subscription
  3. Native Ads
  4. Harvest PII
  5. Remove Obtrusive Ads

Let me take these options and see how each one of them has fared in the real world.

#1. MICROPAYMENTS

gq-ad-block

GQ tries 50 cent micropayment

Micropayment was tried out in the late ‘oughties. As I’d written in my blog post “Micropayments – Saviors or Enablers?” at the time, media honchos had pinned their hope on micropayments to save the digital publishing industry. Unfortunately, they didn’t and a raft of micropayment solution providers like TipJoy and TwoNate shut down. Apparently, very few people who claim they’d pay for content actually put their money where their mouth is. I wonder if this human behavior trait has changed in the ensuing decade. So, for the same reason that micropayments didn’t work then, it might not work now – although I’d love to be proven wrong by GQ and others who are trying it out now.

#2. SUBSCRIPTION

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Subscriptions drive revenues for The Guardian

Subscription has generated revenues for some publishers like New York Times and The Guardian. However, “subscription models are very difficult”, according to Forbes Media CRO Mark Howard. In his interview with Digiday, he doubts if it can compensate for loss of ad revenues for any but the top publishers.

#3. NATIVE ADS

For the uninitiated, native ads are sponsored content packaged to have the same look-and-feel of editorial content. Most print publishers label a native ad with the term “Advertorial”. Some, like India’s leading media conglomerate Times Group, obfuscate it with misleading terms like “Times Response Feature”. Even if publishers make as much money from native ads as regular ads, native ads have high production costs, so advertisers are not very enthusiastic about them beyond a point. Besides, as readers start realizing that they’ve been mistaking native ads for editorial content, they’ll start ranting against native ads. As Digiday observes in its article titled The soft approach won’t work, and other things we learned about ad blocking, “While native advertising has been touted as part of the antidote to ad blocking, it’s unlikely to scale to the extent needed to make up the revenues lost to ad blocking. Native ads often are just as likely to be blocked as display ads.”

#4. HARVEST PII

epicurious-ad-block-messageOnline publishers are finding a new way to extract value from freeloading readers: getting their email address, mobile number or some other Personally Identifiable Information (PII). In a test, Condé Nast’s Epicurious asked users of ad blockers to register on its site to read the article. Forbes asks ad blockers to log in using Facebook or Google after they try to access the site multiple times. While it’s too early to say if this approach would work, this article and comments below it are not too gung-ho about its prospects. Which is not surprising because readers know that by giving away their emails or social logons, they’re just one step away from being bombarded by ads on even more intrusive channels like email and social feeds.

Besides, it’s technically hard to do this right and easy to appear silly when it’s done wrong: When I clicked a hyperlink inside an Digiday email newsletter addressed to me recently, I was taken to its website, which detected that my ad-blocker was on and asked me to enter my email address to access the article!

#5. REMOVE OBTRUSIVE ADS

LINKEDIN-COMMENT-AD

The popups on LinkedIn must be one of the most obtrusive online ads ever.

There’s a lot of talk of pruning down obtrusive ad formats like preroll and interstitial videos so that UX improves and publishers earn viewers’ trust. The FORBES CRO quoted in the aforementioned Digiday article rules out this approach because it’s exactly these obtrusive ad formats that fetch top dollar from advertisers! How many publishers can afford to decline their most lucrative source of revenues?

*****

adb-fiBased on the above stock-taking of alternatives and my years of observing the online media industry, I’m led to believe that advertising is still the most viable business model for publishers to monetize content. As a corollary, publishers have to take the tough step of asking their readers to disable their ad-blockers on their sites or deny content. As Axel Springer, Forbes, Times of India and a few other publishers are doing.

While unpleasant, the hardline stance seems to be working well:

  • Axel Springer has grown its digital revenues significantly.

  • Forbes has managed to have 8 million readers turn off their ad-blocker or whitelist its site.

Mission accomplished!

Until someone comes up with some other alternative to monetize content that scales as well as advertising, I guess publishers and readers are stuck with ads – and ad-blockers.

Don’t Throw The Baby Out With The Bathwater

Friday, July 15th, 2016

nuanced-fiMany people have reacted vehemently against the government’s move to regulate the creation, distribution and usage of Indian maps under the proposed Geospatial Information Regulation bill. Some have even insinuated that the move is a veiled threat to police Google Maps and amounts to “throwing out the baby with the bathwater”.

Whether they’re right or wrong in the specific context of mapping, throwing the baby out with the bathwater is a fairly common practice in many contexts in India. Let me take two recent examples of it:

  • 2% of online credit card transactions are reported to be fraudulent. When the regulator discovers this, it responds with its mandate for two factor authentication for all online payments, ostensibly to secure online payments and encourage more people to pay online. But something else happens: 2FA introduces a lot of friction in the online payment journey and results in a high percentage of failed payments, which puts off 100% of consumers who were previously paying online. Many of them – including me – turn to cash. Cash becomes king – even in ecommerce.

  • A call center rep of a telecom company answers a caller’s question about his native place. Soon enough the company spots this transgression of company policy – the “calls are recorded for audit and training purposes” is not idle warning! But it doesn’t reprimand the said CSR. Instead, the shift manager makes a public announcement over the P.A system reiterating company policy forbidding CSRs from sharing personal information with customers. All 500 CSRs in the floor hear it. The offending CSR is not sure whether the company was referring to him at all or merely reiterating company policy. The other 499 CSRs waste the next two hours speculating which one of their colleagues did what to trigger the announcement.

So throwing the baby out with the bathwater is almost the practice du jour in policy-making and happens often even in the corporate world.

It’s not good for business. And world-class companies don’t do it.

Google once found that many website owners hosting its online ads via its AdSense program were clicking on many ads by themselves. At peak, 12-15% of all ad clicks were fraudulent. Such a high percentage of click fraud severely undermined the credibility of Google’s AdWords platform. Did Google discontinue AdSense? No. For a company that earns nearly 90% of its revenues from ads, that’d be harakiri.

Uber has a popular referral program where you can earn a free ride every time the person referred by you takes a ride. In the early days, many people used to game the system by creating multiple accounts so that they could claim the reward multiple times. Surely this went against the spirit of the referral program. Did Uber withdraw the program? No. That would’ve stymied its growth in the  early stages.

Google and Uber took a nuanced approach to combat their existential threats.

Google used sophisticated fraud detection technology to ferret out heavy perpetrators of click fraud. Without any warning, Google blacklisted their AdSense accounts. While the affected website owners accused Google of behaving autocratically, the company did contain click fraud and manage to restore advertisers’ confidence in AdWords.

uber-disable-accountsOnce it achieved a critical mass of adoption, Uber turned its attention to the miscreants who were gaming its system. Using technology to detect multiple accounts originating from the same handset, the company canceled the account of hundreds of people. Like Google, Uber didn’t issue any warning. But people got the message and learned not to fool around with Uber. Uber grew from strength to strength.

Thus Google and Uber devised sophisticated ways to safeguard their business without killing them off prematurely.

Hope Indian regulators and corporates learn a lesson from these two global powerhouses on how to take a nuanced approach and nurture fledgling businesses.

I also see a parallel between this topic and my favorite subject of spam versus targeted offers. With a little imagination, product owners should be able to use the learnings from the above examples to spec their product features in such a way that their customers get a better CX instead of becoming the baby that gets thrown out with the bathwater!

Enhanced Remittance Data Could Multiply Electronic Fund Transfer Volumes

Friday, July 8th, 2016

hdfc02My property management company in UK wanted me to link the following information to my monthly rent payment:

MCS MERIDIAN CLIENT ACCOUNT HOUSE RENT 98 MERIDIAN PLACE JUN 2008

There was no way I could do this electronically since the maximum info I could squeeze through in the reference field of my Online Banking’s fund transfer screen was only MCS MERIDIAN CLT

As a payments professional, I knew that inadequate remittance info would make it tricky to reconcile a payment and risk the payment falling into a cyberabyss. Therefore, I refrained from paying my rents electronically. Click here for more details.

I’ve encountered similar situations many times through the following years in India. Ergo, I’ve shied away from electronic fund transfer (EFT) methods like NEFT.

I recently came across a few examples of individuals and businesses who have developed cold feet towards EFTs.

#1. TELECOM BILL PAYMENT

I know a company that always paid its ISP’s bills on time but found its Internet connection getting disconnected for non payment of bills. Because I know a bit about the inner workings of payment networks, they sought my help to figure out what was happening. This is what I found out:

The ISP needed some basic info like Customer Number and Bill Number along with the payment so that it could match its collections against the specific invoice. The company couldn’t fit this info in the reference field of its NEFT transfer. Thinking “What can go wrong?”, the company went ahead anyway and made the payment electronically. Big mistake. Lacking adequate info to link the payment to the company, the receipt fell headlong into the ISP’s cyberabyss. As per the ISP’s accounts receivable system, the bill is outstanding. Ergo it disconnected the company’s Internet connection. It took a lot of back-and-forth interactions between the company and the ISP to resolve the mess.

These days, this company pays its bills strictly by cheque. It can write as much “remittance info” as the ISP wants on the reverse of the cheque. Ever since it switched to cheques, it has never suffered disconnection of its line.

#2. IIT BOMBAY EVENT FEES

My alma mater’s alumni association recently conducted a short event for which it charged a token fees of INR 200 (~US$2.5). It accepted payment via cheque and NEFT. In the past, the limited amount of info accompanying NEFT payments had caused it huge amount of reconciliation problems. Therefore, this time, it went out of the way to devise a comprehensive procedure to ensure that all NEFT receipts could be traced back to the appropriate source and given due credit. While you can find the full details of the procedure in the following diagram, suffice to say that it involved jumping through several hoops across website, email and telephone.

IITB-NEFT-HOOPS

While we were all uniformly appreciative of the efforts of the alumni association for trying to rectify what was essentially a lacuna in the EFT rails, an overwhelming majority of attendees simply wrote cheques.

#3. DIRECT CREDIT

Inadequate remittance info can pose problems even when you receive payments. When I used to get dividends, income tax refunds, insurance payouts and other payments by cheques in the past, they’d be accompanied by a statement providing details of the company, scrip, product, period, contact info in the event of discrepancies, etc. Now, they hit my bank account directly and I can barely make out the identity of the payor from the cryptic narration that accompanies them e.g. “ACH C- IOC REF NO3000089966-509038878490”. Now, if you’re like a lot of people I know, you might not care where money has come from as long as you’ve got it. There are a few problems with this approach:

  1. You can be implicated in a crime if the source of the money is not kosher, even if the money entered your account without your knowledge or approval
  2. How’ll you report these receipts in your tax returns?
  3. If the money does not belong to you, it’s a crime not to report it to your bank, even if somebody else deposited it into your account.

*****

As the above examples show, inadequate remittance info has stunted the growth of EFT for sending and receiving retail payments.

Hopefully, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

According to this report, UK is seriously considering mandating longer remittance fields for electronic payments. Hope other countries follow suit. It’s a no-brainer that enriched remittance info will go a long way towards driving up EFT volumes.

Introducing “Multiply UI” To Solve The Software Industry’s 95% Problem

Friday, July 1st, 2016

In The IT Industry’s 95% Problem, Gartner Research VP Brian Prentice notes that an average user of a software uses only 5% of the product’s features. In other words, 95% of the features in a software create no value for the overall customer audience. While you could quibble about the exact percentages, no one will deny that a bulk of functionality of most software goes unused.

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The 95% Problem Is There For A Good Reason

Unfortunately, this five percent varies from user to user and from one industry to another, so it’s impossible to find the 95% and just remove it.

Besides, the 95% is there for a good reason.

As veteran product and marketing managers know, software is an aspirational purchase. Customers buy a new software only if it supports enough “best practices” to take their companies to the “next level”. Features that are appealing before the sale are not always implemented after the sale. Customers rarely buy new software for slight improvements over their status quo.

Therefore, a certain degree of “bloat” – or excessive features – is inevitable in software.

In SaaS Will Change The Outcome Of The Bloatware Versus Light Apps Debate, we’d predicted that this would change in the emerging era of cloud computing. Four years after I wrote this post, alas, not much has changed.

If someone did a survey of B2B cloud software today, I’m quite sure that my aforementioned declaration about a bulk of functionality of most software going unused would still be valid.

I agree with Prentice that we have a serious product management problem if “a piece of software doesn’t have a majority of its capabilities being used by most of its users”.

How do we solve this problem?

Prentice recommends creating multiple products for different target markets. He takes the example of Mariner Software to elaborate the approach: “Mariner Software makes, amongst other things, word processors. Notice the use of the plural. They have a word processor specific for the needs of screenwriters (Montage). They have a word processor for novelists (StoryMill). They have a word processor for journalist/bloggers (MacJournal). And they have a bare bones word processor that gets the main typed stuff done that most people at home, or school, contend with (Write).”

While this strategy solves the basic problem, it introduces the following challenges:

  • High cost of developing and maintaining multiple codebases, one for each target segment of the market
  • Manifold increase in marketing costs due to multiplicity of products and their associated paraphernalia such as microsites, datasheets, brochures, canned demos, marketing campaigns, and so on.

These challenges can be surmounted if the multiplicity of products arising from this approach collectively expand the market. But they’re unlikely to do that. If you look at Mariner Software’s approach carefully, the firm is breaking up the market for word processor into multiple segments instead of expanding it. Therefore, it’s debatable whether its approach to product management would be sustainable. Since Mariner Software is a privately-held company, we don’t have enough data about its financials to make a calculated guess.

We propose an alternative approach to solving the 95% problem: Leave the core software software unchanged. Recast its frontend in the following manner:

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  1. Change screen literals to match the lingo of the respective target segment e.g. Invoice screen for manufacturing target segment should use the label “item number” whereas the same screen for retail target segment should say “SKU”
  2. Draw 25% of the menu items from the top 5 most used features of the software across all target segments
  3. Draw 50% of the menu items from the top 5 most used features of the software within the specific target segment
  4. Draw the remaining 25% of the menu items from the top 5 most used features by the individual user
  5. Have a separate button that users can click to invoke the remaining features as and when they need them. This is like the double arrow appearing on the bottom of some Microsoft Office menus, as shown in the diagram on the right.

This approach will lead to multiple frontend versions, each providing better UI to its target segment compared to the bloated monolithic UI of the core product. For that reason, we’ll call this approach Multiply UI. By its very design, Multiply UI camouflages bloat and delivers lighter frontends. By exposing users only to the functionality regularly accessed by them, Multiply UI persuades them that most of the software’s capabilities are useful to them. Multiply UI accomplishes all this with a single codebase for the entire market.

95% problem solved! That too, without breaking the bank!! Thanks to Multiply UI!!!