Sunday, February 28, 2010

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

I've been contemplating drawing a comic for a while now.

There are a few problems. The two biggies are:

1) I am not at all artistically inclined, and;
2) I don't have any ideas for a comic plot.

But, by golly, not knowing what I'm doing hasn't stopped me before and it's not going to stop me now.

So without any further ado, behold, the first installment of the Weekend Comic:

So I've got a bit of learning to do...

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Signs Your Start-up is Dead

Focusing my career on Canadian Web and technology start-ups has been both boon and burden. Statistically any start-up junkie will likely see more companies fail than succeed. Fortunately, the process of failure is very educational. Here are some of the signs of the 'end' as I've experienced them:

The Beginning of the End - Death begins early in the company's lifespan, usually rooted in a bad staffing or technology decision. Signs of a problem executive team can surface as tension in meetings, backstabbing and second-guessing peers.

Cognitive dissonance amongst executives (the process by which people convince themselves a decision is correct to the extent of making all other options falsely unfavorable) is another sign. One startup used a technology for a complex Web site because it worked at a different company. A year passed before the executive team made changes to fix the costly problems it caused, but it was too late.

The Danger Zone - The original business plan isn't working, and it's time to adapt and turn failure into success. Most of the mistakes made creating the business have manifested and must be dealt with. Executives plan and reposition.

Staff must align to a single potentially successful goal, and thus the company-wide meeting to 'get everyone on the same page' is held. Attending staff are usually in two camps: Those who are ignorant and start to question why changes are necessary, and those who are aware and have their own opinion on strategy. These meetings tend to divide rather than unify.

Other signs include: Switching corporate health plans, removal of snack machines and other creature comforts, excessive scrutinizing of minor expenses, bizarre staffing prioritizations (such as hiring 'miracle workers'), hyper sensitivity to office hours (including smoke breaks and lunches), and a light first round of layoffs (usually of people who are extraneous) with decent packages.

Get Out, Get Out, Get Out - This is a desperate stage where big changes are made to buy time for product/sales to bear fruit. Signs include mass layoffs with minimal packages, closed door meetings with occasional heated arguments and weekend crunch time. Employee morale hits rock bottom, and people wonder whether they will be paid on time. The CEO desperately scrambles for funding. Bad product changes are viewed as coffin nails. Tier one staff take jobs elsewhere. Key staff are promoted with titles to keep them.

It's Over - At this stage the company is running with a skeleton staff. Assets are inventoried yet begin to go missing. Paychecks are no longer electronically deposited. Arriving at work and being able to access the office is seen as a positive. Each remaining staff member fulfills multiple roles. Each meeting is potentially 'the' meeting. Lunches are long, and nobody cares.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Birth of a Whale Meme?

If a company figures out the magic formula for consistently producing long-lasting memes, it will quickly become the most successful marketing company of our time. It takes more than great creative. In fact, what it takes is a rather complex set of factors that some have tried to scientifically dissect.

I would argue there are more factors:

Shock - At some level, the meme has to jar the audience. It has to be outside the status quo. A cat is not a great subject for a meme. A cat asking for a cheeseburger is.

Delight - The audience must delight in what they see. If the shock factor is based in horror or revulsion, the meme will not be as effective. A delightful response is more conducive to sharing. The exception to this rule is a meme aimed at a cultural sub-group, where it can become an 'inside joke'. For example, a meme that spreads amongst university students who are trying to gross each other out.

Technology - Memes that are conveniently packaged are potentially most viral and most successful. For example, private companies that create a meme but hide it behind a user log in, or memes that require a specific technology to be viewed are not going to be successful. The best memes are those that grandma can email to her friends.

Let's apply this meme framework to the recent tragic death of Dawn Brancheau, Seaworld whale trainer, at the hands (jaws) of Tilikum, one of the Shamu whales, to see if it will become a successful meme:

Shock - A killer whale eating its trainer is definitely outside the status quo, and will jar an audience.

Delight - Some people will be delighted by a whale kept in captivity lashing out at its 'Oppressive Human Overlord', however, this will not be the primary instinctive response by most. No delight here.

Technology - There is nothing to share. There are still images available of Dawn and Tilikum prior to the attack, but there is no video or images of the attack available at this time. If a meme evolves, it will be based on creative formed around the incident and not stem from it directly.

Evaluation based on these criteria shows the incident could spawn a meme that will be popular amongst some people, but it will not be wide-spread.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Farmville and Perpetuity

People die. We do our best to stave off the inevitable, but inevitably death happens. When I go one of my final thoughts will not be 'at least my Farmville farm will live on in perpetuity'. But it will. My friends will be able to feed my chickens and fertilize my crops until someone decides to flip the almighty switch.

This perpetual existence is a problem for today's social game designers but not because of the implicit database overhead of game accounts belonging to dead people. I can guess that when Farmville was originally designed, no one on the design team knew how popular it would become.

My game design experience led me down a practical path with Farmville. I made an Excel spreadsheet as I played and mapped out the ROI of every type of crop. I quickly converted my property into an industrial farm, picked the best crops, and logged in religiously to fast-track my progress. Soon I was ranked first amongst my few friends who played.

It was a simple Farmville time. There were seeds, trees, sheep, cows, ducks, fences and not much else. The game was easy to understand. I played, contentedly, for 39 levels. During that time the game became more complex. At level 37 I noticed the game design flaw that proved the Farmville designers did not expect its phenomenal growth.

At level 37 there was only one more gift to attain, leaving experience points as a weak motivation for continued play. The designers had to scramble to build in ways to keep people engaged at the 'end game'. Like all designers in a pinch trying to make a product do something it wasn't meant to, the Farmville team complicated things.

I recently visited my mostly retired farm to explore the horse barn and storage expansion concepts. I could not figure out the horse barn without asking someone how it worked. And apparently my friends are having difficulty coordinating enough people to expand their storage facilities.

Let this be a lesson to designers of future Facebook games: Facebook games must be built assuming a perpetual lifespan. Easier said than done, as we live finite lives and the concept of perpetuity is unnatural. But as time played equals emotional investment, and emotional investment equals trust, and as trust is a predetermining factor in making purchases online, designers need to create simple and engaging perpetual 'end games'.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Old and Slow

Being close to new technology makes me feel young. I think it is because of the learning required to understand it. The technology I'm referring to is daily use stuff; computers, phones, software, Web standards, and so forth.

Lately, however, I've begun to feel something else when I read about new discoveries regarding the 'big ideas' of science and technology. It's a kind of discomfort that is at once unsettling and disturbing, like being on an airplane that flies through an air pocket. For a moment, the world kind of drops away, and then just as quickly, everything is back to normal. Except now the memory of the air pocket is fresh in my mind.

I'm referring to such discoveries as 'Ardi', the recently discovered fossilized remains that usurped 'Lucy' as the oldest fossil record of a human predecessor. Or the recent discovery by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory that questions how we've been measuring distances between celestial bodies.

These discoveries do not change how I live out my day. But they push and nudge at the foundations on which I've grown and learned for almost forty years. I've never thought of myself as the type of person to cling to comfort zones, but apparently, I like my science to be 'absolute', especially on big issues.

Thinking about how children will grow up learning based on a different set of 'absolute' facts and how the advancement of technology will increase the rate of 'big' discoveries leaves me feeling perversely satisfied. If I'm unsettled today, I can only imagine how today's children will feel 50 years from now. My generation is leaving them a fantastically disturbing legacy of high-speed evolution.

I hope someone is teaching them to adapt.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Tendency Test

And so begins yet another thread in the blogosphere.
Let's see how long this one lasts...

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.