a wise friend of mine once told me when there is a problem you can ask WHO or WHY? WHO is about blame. “Who messed up? Who is at fault? Who should we fire?” but WHY is about learning “Why did this happen? Why didn’t we notice? Why don’t we check for that?” … WHY is much better
One thing about working real hard is that a lot of things I’d love to post about never seem to make it to the top of the queue, and then the blog turns into “here are my slides, here is a video of my talk, here is a weird song by the band, here is another conference I attended,” etc.
A lot of the best stuff stays in draft form or as brain crack, or gets hinted at in tweets and not much more.
And then I miss even the important stuff, like where’s my book-ending “hey, I left AOL, or should I say AOL left me” post? Maybe I’ll still post it, or maybe this is going in my book, as I like to threaten people from time to time.
So I’m way past overdue mentioning to my surviving blog audience that I have taken a new job, director of product at CloudOn. I started this month and am neck deep in it already, hence the lack of extended “enjoying my severance” essays and photo journals.
Our product right now is a free app for iPad and Android tablets that enables you to edit and work with Microsoft Office files “in the cloud.” That’s the logline. There’s more to it (Dropbox and Google Drive and Box support! Acrobat Reader and image files! etc.), and there’s lots more to come, but that’s the gist of it today. Personal productivity across platforms, helping people get things done with the most convenient device available, seamless experiences across context.
This is the kind of user experience and product management work I love to do. Hard problems with vast theoretical underpinnings and thousands of difficult decisions required to actually ship something real, early and often.
I’m recruiting a UX team, currently looking for a visual design maven to anchor our in-house design practice, and ultimately building a more well rounded product and UX operation as we grow.
We hit 1,000,000 iPad downloads yesterday, I think, so there’s not a minute to lose!
One of the goals my Consumer Experience team shared at AOL was that of publishing, writing, and speaking in public about our accomplishments and lessons learned. Senior designer Gabi Moore ran the awesome Broken Experiences program at AOL and proposed a talk about what we learned from it called “Fixing UX One Pixel at a Time.” (It’s not about pixels, at least not most of the time.)
Gabi asked me to present with her and I was happy to do so, though I tried to limit my involvement to telling the pre-history of the team and the early “sneakernet” days of the Broken Experiences blog, and then I turned over the mic to Gabi to talk about her very effective leadership of the program, operationalizing the experience-reporting and fixing flow, developing a bookmarklet, and promoting the program internally with Ben Hudnut’s amazing video.
The talk was recorded and I’ll post when the podcast is available (and I may try to convince Gabi to synchronize the audio with the slides). Meanwhile, here is the presentation deck Gabi developed, with a little help from me.
By now most of my friends and colleagues and readers know that I resigned from my job at Yahoo! nearly a month ago. The meantime has flown by like a dream. B and I went to New Orleans and I was able to enjoy Jazzfest with no “homework” on my mind for the first time in years. I spoke in Minneapolis on the Web App Masters Tour, returned home, and last week I spoke at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco.
I’ve started joking with my friends that I must have joined a company called “AOL!? Really?!?” because that’s the first thing out of most people’s mouths. (The ones who can speak, that is – some just boggle their eyes at me.) To be honest, when my friend and mentor, Matte Scheinker, first told me he had come out of retirement to take a new role at AOL as VP for consumer experience I reacted in almost exactly the same way.
For anyone who’s fought the good fight at Yahoo! against a headwind of Bay Area techie-insider scorn, it might seem like moving to AOL would be a matter of taking on more of the same.
But I listened to what Matte had to tell me about his new gig, and the more I heard about it the more intrigued I got. First of all, I like the idea of a company embracing a turnaround effort head on. At Yahoo! we were winning in enough categories that I did not always feel a sense of urgency in the culture about fixing and improving the areas that needed it.
At AOL I feel a bracing awareness: “now or never, do or die!” The new management team has wasted no time remaking AOL, taking it public again, refreshing the brand, repositioning the strategy, and challenging its employees to excel and win.
At some point while we were talking I realized that Matte was recruiting me to join his team, to help him place design thinking and a laserlike focus on customer experience at the heart of the (digital/software) product development process. In some ways, this is a designer or UX guy’s “put your money where you mouth is” moment, where the leadership of a major corporation says, “OK, you’ve been arguing that the customer is key and that design is a tool that is relevant to a company’s strategy and business processes, so now prove it.”
While I enjoyed my role curating the Yahoo! pattern library immensely, and it provided me with plenty of ego-boosting attention in the user experience design community, I did not always feel like I was able to exert my influence within the company in a concrete, effective way. I was there to offer advice and set an example, but I did not always have the ability to put into action ideas about how to make better products and how to employ better processes.
Further, AOL is aggressively interested in reshaping the world of media, publishing, content, attention, and advertising. This has been my wheelhouse since before the web. I came from book publishing, where I was astonished at the 19th century business practices I saw. The upheaval ripping through the worlds of publishing and journalism are messy and frightening for those being tossed about by the rapid changes, but I’m convinced that new models will emerge to connect people with the information and ideas and art and entertainment they want, and people will be compensated for their talents, yes and empires will grow up around these new models of weaving it all together.
- Rethinking the “content” business and the infrastructure (is “supply chain” too industrial a term for creative work?) for cultivating high quality writing.
- Exploring the capabilities the web offers and the types of flows the web favors.
- Sourcing small pieces of content.
- Targeting hyperlocal geographies.
I honestly believe AOL has a shot at turning around its fortunes and rejuvenating its illustrious brand and I’m excited to have the opportunity to help the product teams at AOL perform to their highest abilities and succeed at delivering content and experiences that are better than the best of what the Internet has to offer (we call this goal “beating the Internet”).
Are the odds long? Yes, of course they are. That’s what makes the challenge so ambitious and so exciting.
So, yes, AOL. Really!
This post has turned out to be a lot more difficult to write than I expected. Last Tuesday was my final day at Yahoo! I wrote a valedictory post for the YDN blog as my official signoff.
It wasn’t easy resigning from Yahoo! I started working there more than three years ago and had a splendid time throughout. I met a slew of incredibly talented, brilliant people. I learned a lot about the pros and cons of large companies (and what can happen after a startup experiences hypergrowth). I expanded my network and became a much more visible member of the global user experience (aka “UX,” although I’m leaning toward describing it as “digital design” these days) community.
I’m leaving a lot of friend behind there and I expect to keep in touch with all of them. These days with the twitters and such, that shouldn’t be too difficult.
Beyond my work on the Yahoo! Design Pattern Library, and the social design patterns project, I’m most proud of my involvement with Yahoo!’s Open Strategy, from the earliest days of formulating and fleshing out the strategy, to the difficult, slow, but fruitful efforts to rewire Yahoo! and expose more and more of the underpinnings and utility features to the large web developer community. If you haven’t checked out YQL, for example, you really should.
Right now, I’m on a very brief hiatus between jobs. I just got back from a long overdue return to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, today I’m speaking in Minneapolis on the UIE Web App Masters Tour, and on Friday I start my new job. More about that in my next post.