Disruptions: Balancing Nerdy and The Suit

In your quest to take over the world or disrupt a little part of it, there is a possibility you (or your team) will be made up of a kind of Pinky and the Brain combination: the Nerd (techie, geek) and the Suit (administrator, manager, money man). Here are a few tips to make things move a little bit more smoothly.

1. Understanding Mummy economics. (Darbur toothpaste isn’t better than CloseUp just because it is bitter).

What has this got to do with disruption? Bear with me. Recall those who think their app, site or feature is the bomb because they wrote it in scala, haskell, erlang, brainfuck (yes, it does exist) or some other exotic ink? They are usually people suffering from the hello world disease.

Forget all that herbal hype. Who told you Dabur was better? Your mummy? Now that you are grown, have you ever wondered why mummy said that? Have you ever stopped to think that it was because you were using too much of the sweet minty CloseUp (even sucking it from the tube), so much so that a tube which had formerly lasted 3 weeks had to be replaced in 2? That a bitter Dabur lasted a month because you finally heeded the instruction and put a pea-sized amount on your brush?

I guess all that shrewd mummy economics was beyond you. Do not make the mistake again and think that because Nairaland was written in python and looks circa 1990, you can implement the same thing but with all the bells, whistles, ruby and rails without finding out what the 1 million plus people really want more out of Nairaland.

You will end up in the same boat as that Google engineer crying right now in front of a comparison of G+ and Facebook user stats.
'But, but, but… I used go! Which is way, way better than php!’.

Examples: Diaspora*, the Facebook killer.

Lesson: Learn the real reason why your users switched toothpastes.

2. Understanding the Average user. (Wake up and smell the Lipton! It’s got milk and sugar!)
Do you drink coffee? Black? Maybe. Do you take Lipton tea? Know anyone who doesn’t add milk or sugar to it? Ever thought for a second such a person was NORMAL? I think not. But does Lipton see that too?

Have you seen their ads? A NORMAL person puts a tea bag into a cup, pours hot water and, sips it, just like that. Why would I do that? Why would a normal person do that? They do not even make an argument about it being good for your health like those aloe products. Hell, even Bournvita writes on their cans to add sugar and milk if required. Of course no one expects them to pay big bucks for advertising and then give a free referral to Peak milk, Cowbell or Dangote sugar so we forgive them. On the other hand, you the disruptor will have no such luxury.

Are you a Nigerian in the UK? No? Ok, so you live in Lagos or Abuja? Ok, Lagos then. Do you use the CCHub? Very good internet, yes? Tested your app there? Nice. Final question. How many Nigerians have that kind of connection? Will your Udacity clone help out students frustrated by ASUU with all those videos they can’t stream? Don’t even bother with implementing that cool javascript, that blur effect that gives your site pizzazz is going to take 5mb out of someone’s hard earned 10mb plan!

I will concede that the internet experience has become better but take your head out of the clouds (and perhaps cloud computing too). Except you want to target a demographic the same percentage as those who take their Lipton tea black. Then that won’t be disruption but catering to a niche market.

Examples: TiketmobileHotels.ng and Facebook.

Lesson: You don’t know what average is until you ask.

One thing about disruptions is that they do the unexpected. Perhaps your Dabur toothpaste is really better than CloseUp just because it is bitter. Or your Lipton tea sells without milk or sugar. Until proven though, be ready to admit there’s a chance your target audience really wants a faster horse and not a motor car. But what do I know? Keep doing the same thing we do every night, try to take over the world!

Metadata could kill you

Not really. But it could put a serious cramp in your plans at evading Big Brother or bring down your credibility.

Recently, the Wendell Smith episode dominated the Nigerian internet scene. What had happened? A a Microsoft Word document’s author metadata contained some incriminating information. Dwelling on the technology behind the episode and skipping the politics, what is metadata?

Metadata is data about data. It describes the content, context and other qualities of original data thus increasing the quality and enhancing its understanding. For example, a webpage may include metadata specifying what language it is written in, what tools were used to create it, and where to go for more on the subject, allowing browsers to automatically improve the experience of users.

You may think you are more tech savvy than Wendell Smith and have scrubbed that erring author metadata from that document you want to put out there. But is that all of it? Here are some ways metadata leak out more than you think.

Applications
Not only Microsoft Word tags its files with descriptive data. People creating PDF files tend to forget they also have author and subject metadata fields. Several papers, publications and other media in this form show improperly scrubbed identifying metadata. It is a pity the real Satoshi Nakamoto didn’t slip up when publishing the bitcoin paper. Or did he?
Not only desktop applications tag the files they produce, mobiles app do too. Remember Oprah’s famous tweet about her love for Microsoft’s Surface from an iPad? Mobile apps such as Twitter, and Facebook tag your tweets and posts with metadata such as your phone type and location.
Websites
During the TechCabal Battlefield, before details about the contestants were posted, there was speculation that Callbase was eerily similar to Fonenode. How did we confirm that? A whois lookup on bothdomains. You may have worked around this by using different data when buying domains and forget that they are tools which can tell if two sites gather user stats via the same Google Analytics account.
Pictures
Remember John McAfee? He was on the run from a police investigation and allowed his picture to be taken by a journalist during an interview. What he didn’t know was that the camera embedded location data in the picture. Big oops.
Music
A recent article on Torrentfreak was about a music group which made available for its fans, copies of their own music. Small problem though, the tracks seemed to have been downloaded from a pirate site. How was that information gleaned? Metadata in the mp3 files.
There are many more examples which show metadata behaving like Freudian slips. Technology really wants to tell the truth (after all, progressbars don’t lie). But before you think you are far beyond these slips and think every identifying information has been scrubbed, remember that the path to that source code you are compiling right now might be embedded somewhere in your compiler’s output.

Have you annoyed your developers this year?

Have you annoyed your developers this year? It’s not too late! Here are a few tips.

Set up a meeting!

You’ve been preparing that Power Point slide for a while so why shouldn’t it be compulsory? The best ones are the meetings you call to decide when to call the next meeting. Very exciting stuff. Or better yet, call a meeting to decide coding standards or to suggest features for the new app planned for next year. Yeah, forget about using tools like Git for stuff like that. At least, until someone raises it at the next meeting.



Fail to ‘get’ their jokes.

Don’t even do it in the cute laughable way of a Dilbertan manager. Fumble even the easiest so as to deny them any chance of a boss who at least tries. When next you see one of them inspired and in the zone, interrupt and ask what the following means: There are only 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don’t.

 

Treat them as regular users.

Why not? Save a little money by having them design your GUIs. Resist all evidence that shows that it is too late to save developers. Forget that any one who has written a ‘hello world’ in any language is not a regular user. Ask them to design something a regular user would use. And when they fail, set up a meeting to tell them it’s their fault.

 

Always use ‘just’ and ‘only’.

In need of some context? Tell them, the documentation needs ‘just’ one more page. The web team need add ‘only’ multilingual support. Hell, why do they always drag their feet? Damn lazy developers!


Ran out of ideas?

Fiddle with the the internet connection. The server OS too. Or license a new IDE as the year closes. You could ban their toys (especially the duck).

There isn’t really much use giving you the full list. We wouldn’t want them to develop a tolerance, would we?

Call 911! My country’s never heard of it!

I suppose you’ve heard about the dumb blonde. She could not call 911 because she could not find the ‘11’ button. Nigerian’s are not blonde

Or dumb. We can’t call 911 though.

The government has spent a lot of money on security. Telecoms too. You would have thought some of of it would trickle into establishing emergency numbers. Try calling 911 in Nigeria. Your not-made-in-Nigeria phone recognizes it as an emergency number or SOS but what does your Nigerian network do?

Nothing.

The Nigerian Police Force gives a long string of numbers for people to call in tips about robberies and the like. Some Police Inspector, in a bid to make us think he is more dedicated, says one of those numbers is his - to reach him day or night. I wonder if he forgets that he could retire someday. What do we do then?

The Federal Road Safety Commission is the same. Have you been involved in an accident? As your vision grows blurry by the minute with pain, take your pick from any one of our five 11 digit phone numbers. Remember to load your phone enough with credit first, we are still working on the toll-free situation.

Is it the fire service? Call our number too. While you’re at it, we will be filling the tank with water.

Not even religion, which unites Nigerians best after football, is any different. Want to report the sighting of the new moon? Call our non-toll-free 11 digit number, your reward is in paradise.

My country has never heard of toll free emergency numbers. What number do I call for this emergency?

If it ain’t broke, don’t hurry.

"If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it" may have worked for Elop’s Nokia. Or heeded by Mayer’s Yahoo. But is it true in every case?

No, it isn’t. If it isn’t broke, don’t hurry, take your time, but DO fix it! We might not call it crap because it works. As soon as there’s an option though, it’s hasta la vista, baby. And it’s going to cost you too.

When was the last time you used the IM client, 2go? It was the SMS killer of Java based phones. All it needed was a phone that could run java apps and an internet connection. It was a simple concept: get the app, import your phonebook and chat with your contacts. It spread like wild fire. Everyone was on 2go all the time. More so to boost their 2go stars from Novice through Enthusiast to Master, a nice streak of gamification.

How does 2go fare presently? Not too good. They are being eclipsed by Whatsapp. Especially on smartphones. Why? The old 2go was not broke so it wasn’t fixed! Now, if their aim is to be the SMS killer, they had better step up or step down for Saya.

What was ‘not broke’ with the app?

First of all, there were too many boundaries to using the app. Each step presented to a prospective user, is the last straw for another. One, you had to know your phone’s model. There was a time when this information was common knowledge. Not anymore. Either make a one-size-fits-all app or determine the user phone model behind the scenes like Whatsapp does. Two, new accounts could not be created on the app, one had to go to their website first. While there, you had to specify a unique username too (effectively ignoring the phonenumber). Three, shortcodes were used if you had to retrieve a forgotten password. It was not free. Finally, users could not get into the app to view old chat conversations when the phone was offline. And so on.

These quirks did not break the app per se. So, they were not fixed. But as they say, it is the little things that give you away.

Secondly, 2go did not press their advantage. How? For a lot of people moving to smartphones, 2go had a lot of potential. Before such people moved on to newer platforms such as Twitter, Whatsapp or BBM, it stands to reason that they would first of all get their old favourite app. 2go did not make this easy. There was no deal with Nokia or Tecno to bundle the 2go app with new handsets. The apps that existed for the new platforms (Android at least) were horrible ports of the same old java app which was definitely no contender with other IM apps. The user was torn between sticking with the old familiar app he knew which now performs abominably on the shiny new device or go for the other smooth, already bundled app which everyone says is the next big thing. Other arrangements such as with a telco to provide the service at a fixed monthly cost like Airtel does with Whatsapp were absent.

All these were little things that could be ignored by 2go Interactive. Why not? The house was not on fire.

If 2go was built on something open (like Whatsapp is on XMPP), perhaps the Open Source community would have helped. They are a brilliant, tireless bunch which help along projects dragging their feet because their products are not broke. They would have polished 2go’s dull gems. Such as the fact that it is more social than Whatsapp, encouraging more user interactions (notice how it informs you of new contacts, people who have changed their status from the last time you checked and those who are currently online, a lot of which Whatsapp does not).

I made an effort at an API once. A hacker friend of mine did port the new 2go for Android to the BB10 OS (you may ask how). All these are only hints at what the makers of the app should do.

2go ain’t broke, but they are fixing it. The site is looking better and there is a new app in the playstore. There is more to ‘fixing it’ than attending to technology though. They had better hurry up and do something about the thousands getting new Tecno smartphones by the day.