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We live in the state of constant beta – Jeff Jarvis says

November 19, 2009

Below are my notes and comments on Jeff Jarvis‘s presentation on “What Happens Next – the ongoing beta world” given yesterday (11/18) at the Web 2.0 Conference in NYC.

Please forgive my typos, etc. in the process of cleaning it up :)

Jeff Jarvis left his footprint on this year’s Web 2.0 Expo even before his presentation started when his quote “Do what you do best and link to the rest” was used by Tim O’Railly in his keynote address. What was the quote’s interpretation? Companies (both small and large) need to concentrate on developing what they do best (their key solution set) and becoming consumers of products that others are good at developing rather than engaging in competitive wars that led to what we now refer to as “browser wars.” Nicely done!

Hierarchical vs. Linear presentations (aka take a look at PREZI)

Jeff used a cool presentation making tool called PREZI (prezi.com) with pretty dizzying yet cool visual effects. But Prezi is not useful because of its extensive animation. What Prezi does well (and Powerpoin doesn’t offer at all) is allowing you to look at the main concepts and hierarchy of thoughts in your presentation through the zoom in/out functionality. Very clever departure from linear hirerarchy-less way we are used to in MS Powerpoint. I sure intend to give Prezi a try!

Old book: done. New book: what about?

Jeff is an accomplished author of a successful book “What would Google do?

Now he is working on a new book and used his presentation as a live launching pad & a brainstorming session encouraging the audience to brainstorm along with him and offer suggestion. Pretty powerful stuff considering the fact that everybody wants to be the proud owner of bragging rights of helping Jeff Jarvis brainstorm his latest book!

What struck me about Jeff as well as many other accomplished writers, successful developers or business people who presented at this year’s conference was the fact that for the most part they do embody what Chris Brogan would refer to as being “one of us.” They are very approachable, really interested in learning and dialog rather than just pushing their agendas. Very impressive and despite of often large audience in the presentation room there is a feeling of collaboration rather than being lectured to.

Book Topic

Jeff explained that the topic of his next book will be around the idea of living in the state of constant beta. Jeff wants to explore this notion not only from the software development perspective but also as applied to entire enterprises, government, even entertainment.

Main themes in the book would be around:

  • Publicness (new level of transparency for all involved incl. your company)
  • Rebuilding (The best is the enemy of good.)
  • Process (aka what are the new rules of governing/controlling the constant beta process incl. doing more with less (BTW, the theme of this year’s Web 2.0 Conference), being agile aka the washing machine vs. the waterfall development concept).

A bit of History: from waterfall to washing machine

THE PAST: Think about the industrial age where companies were focused on mass production, distribution and end product that needed to be perfect, before introduced to the market.

THE PRESENT: We are witnessing the end of mass production, distribution & marketing (no longer one size fits all) and the emergence of the notion of process over product where openness leads to collaboration which leads to constantly improving the product, hence the constant beta.

Why is eternal beta approach valuable?

There is a great value in releasing a beta/unfinished product and asking product users to help improve it so that it best suits their needs.

Examples of failures in embracing this new reality:

  • Detroit car makers who were deaf to customer feedback and were not able to innovate in time to tailor to their interest. The process of car development is not flexible enough to enable car companies to stay agile and responsive to quickly changing user needs.
  • Journalism (the notion of perfection = objectivity)  Jeff added that he sees Google Wave becoming the future of (collaborative) new developing. Aka the notion of news in constant beta
  • Marketing (selling perfection) – marketers need to get over the notion of the finished product because the product now might never be fully finished and the value will come from you engaging your customers as passionate brand ambassadors willing to work with you on improving that product.
  • Hollywood (our way is the right way) – think the popularity of reality shows…
  • Fashion (from on high) vs. threadless (fashion democratized)
  • Government (no license to fail) vs. government 2.0 where it’s ok to stumble while you are transparent about it and learn from it.
  • Education (only one right answer) This approach is very harmful to our kids as future innovators.
  • Our bodies – constant work in progress :)

Million dollar question how done is done?

When can I go to market with this product? Will my users tolerate this unstable roduct? Will I damage my brand.

One would argue that Google Wave has been released too early, is still a mess. Was it released too soon?

If you trust the wisdom of the crowd great things happen.

Examples of platform for customer collaboration include “My starbucks idea” where the community suggests improvements rather than reporting on what does not work. People in turn discuss ideas and rate them making it easy for Starbucks to use crowdsourcing for product improvements. Brilliant.

What’s your tolerance for Failure?

Does your company celebrate failure and tries to learn from it or do you hide it and try to forget it as quickly as you can?

Blogger understand this very well. You don’t change your existing blog post but rather add to it. If there is an error, correct it by running a strike through over current words so that readers know what was changed. His is the type of transparency we are talking about which inherently increases your credibility among bloggers.

Agile means fast

Another advantage of the agile development process is the fact vastly abbreviated development process between releases only allows you to concentrate on critical features rather than developing all them before releasing the first version running the danger of featuratus (working on features that nobody really needs and which will only add to the complexity of the product)

How do you manage constant beta projects?

By treating them as processes and optimizing the agility with which they are approached.

We are becoming the beta nation. Whether we like it or not we are already becoming the nation of betas.

Greatest examples of beta

  • In technology: Google
  • In car development: small car factory in Arizona where the repair shop, showroom floor were all in one room and this immersive experience helped them make a better product.
  • In fashon: Zara (when customer proposes a new garment design Zara will make it for that store and if that design sells locally they will produce enough for all stores)
  • In entertainment: jazz, television without pith. The audience is in charge of the story.
  • In service: Zappos
  • In advertising: Zappos (customer service is new advertising)

What’s your strategy for ongoing beta in your company? Do you need one?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June permalink
    November 20, 2009 11:12 pm

    This is the most ignorant thing Jeff Jarvis has ever said. If he’s so smart, why is media failing? Because he has no idea about anything. He’s another web 2.0 hack who manipulates media to make other web 2.0 hacks buy his crap.

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