Wednesday, November 26

The Art of Honda - "Viet Nam Style"

Totally off-topic. This morning, whilst riding my little boy to his nursery school, we turned a busy intersection (CMT8/Vo Van Tan). Next to us, on his Wave-S, was a guy majestically wavering the bike slowly to oneside, then the next.

As we went past him, I noticed he was drifting into a deep sleep! Riding motorbikes in Vietnam is a skill at the best of times, but managing to catch some ZZzzz's at 30kmph is genius.

"I don't think he was in full control of his vehicle officer".
We got past him pretty fast!

Tuesday, November 25

The familiar versus the cutting-edge

People...Vietnam, UK, France, US, Brazil... We're becoming so similar in our habits, our likes, our technologies, our media and yet we're still so, so different. As a marketing guy I spend a lot of time getting into the mindset of the target audience, with groups as different as low-income frequent online gamblers, to Aston Martin driving readers of Clarkson.

Vietnam is, by far, the hardest challenge yet. I speak the Vietnamese. I've travelled here countless times, I now live in Saigon. But still the nuances of what makes people tick is illusive. I can almost see it, but I'm not yet sure. With a web application, this nuance is vital to understand.

In Europe, in 2008, we can assume a lot about our visitors abilities online. They'll comprehend a social network very quickly, they'll identify the benefit to themselves (or not) within a few clicks. In Vietnam you can't assume anything. You can build a service for the masses, but it will need to be toned right down, look familiar, have familiar features and functions. Familiar is mass market, but a crowded competitive space. Or you can build it for the tech-aware, and hope it 'tips' from there into a bigger audience.

Taking advice on this nuance from some of the very talented locals that really do 'get it' is very difficult too. Because an opinion is an opinion, and it's based on that own persons tech awareness and abilities. So it probably does not represent the wider, mass of users who are some years behind.

The hardest part of this is striking something in the middle. Something new, something unique, something useful...but that is strangely familiar and easy to adopt.

My tendency is to want to bring something fresh and new. But that's also a lonely place to be. So I am listening to views of lots of people from all backgrounds to get an instinct on what they like, how far to push design, functionality... This is something that, as an onlooker, I think VinaGame have got. That's one reason they've taken Zing up against Yahoo so strongly.

The best analogy I can make is with the coffee shops of Saigon. There are hundreds of standard coffee shops. They play famous Vietnamese love songs, have good cheap lunches and are generally popular. (I struggle to name one because they are all so similar). Then there are a few funky, fashionable new guy's, like NokBox, SOHO. They have pushed the boundaries in design, style and atmosphere. Prices are a little higher. And they're doing pretty well at it, and you remember them. Even talk about them.

Friday, November 14

When is a site ready for open Beta?

Hmmmm. So we tested everything. We fixed everything.
Features.. check.
Functions..check. Graphics...check. Speed...check.

We turn the site on, and discover 101 things that we need to optimise, fix, shore-up. So when is a site ready to unleash. There's nothing like a strict deadline to force the site to be ready. And we did that. But in reality, putting live sooner rather than later is/was an even better thing to do.

Traffic from search spiders, random global users, members, always turns up some 404/403 errors you never knew existed. And the fact the site is live, means the urgency to fix is much greater.

But we have the luxury of being a new site that know one knows of, and in Vietnam where users can be a little more forgiving. I've worked on some huge 'relaunches' which have hundreds or millions of unique users already. And in UK/USA the user "expects"... it's a huge business risk. Get it wrong, and it doesn't take more than a few clicks for loyal users to find a substitute.

However big or small the site. There are always 404/403's. There are always unexpected problems. So when is a site ready for public Beta?... Probably, when it fulfills all the basic needs of it's users, but definitely well before it's is perfect. (don't tinker, launch!).

Bored, bored, bored!!

Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, Google...Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, Google.... arrrgh.

I've been in this business 10 years now and the blog inches (including my own) given over to these leaders is becoming quite boring. We used to get excited about new innovations, risky new business models, funky new technologies. Where has all that gone?!

I'm heading to tomorrow, and hopefully will get excited about some of the ideas and businesses I meet there. I met some of the guy's organising it earlier this week, and they're a fun, smart crew, so it should be a good day. There's some good stuff (web business, that is) in Vietnam. Here are some of my current favourites: - it's cafe, bar, entertainment listings and user reviews with nicely integrated maps. Very nicely executed indeed. It doesn't blow you away with features, which is great, and exactly right for the audience. I hope this one pulls through over the next few years. - we're creating our own travel site, so I am flagging the competition here. But hey, the guy's have done a great job. It's all based around Gmaps, with plenty of resources for the reader. Good work guy's!

Further afield, I'm liking: - a long-time favourite of mine. Any site that has over 50million user created artworks, and is still independent of the big boy's, deserves respect. If you like art or photography, you'll lose your life to this site! - it's just a shop, right. Actually, it's a very fast, simple guide to environmentally friendly products. Apart from an iPhone app, there's nothing technological to get excited about. It's just a very relevant, good start-up for the future. - it's twitter, facebook, IM, actually it's everything might want and need for a collaborative, communications tool for work, friends, social. I'd love to see something like Pibb integrated into big, mass media like, the freeflow of discussions and topics would be fascinating, perhaps a little too fascinating!

What I do love about the big-web guy's is the platform wars, Open Social, widgets, apps...long may it continue. It has allowed companies like to appear from nothing to be the innovators and money-makers of a new widgety world. Interesting stuff.