Monthly Archives: January 2009

The Principle of Functional Utility

As more businesses and brands move into mobile, they have got to be cognizant of the very different environment mobile represents to the mobile audience, and how critical functional engagement on a mobile device really is.

The Principle of Functional Utility (an expression I’ve coined), dictates that at first blush, it all makes sense. Navigation in any environment, is simple and intuitive. Functional Navigation, in a mobile environment, means that each element of the mobile, whether the device itself, the mobile site, applications, SMS based functions, possess functional utility and aid overall utilization.

Functional utility became important when I realized that I really like gadgets, not for the gadgets themselves, but for the utility they generally added to my life. Walkie talkies, handheld tvs, mp3 players, laptops, cell phones, all held special appeal to me because they offered portable utility. I could take my entertainment and communication on the go.

But what I end up liking most, about the gadgets I liked, was usually how well the device fulfilled it’s promise to make my life easier. This was what I defined as their overall functional utility.

Early on, Handspring/Palm made my favorite device, the Treo. I was attracted to the Treo precisely because it seamlessly combined function and utility. Treos were sleek devices alright. But what they really were, were dynamic little workhorse of functionality in my palm.

Treo 680

With its large and touch responsive screen, you could navigate the web, read and respond to emails, edit documents, listen to mp3s and watch mobile TV. It was the Treo that created my need for truly functional mobile devices.

Notwithstanding Palm’s current issues, when the Treos were originally introduced, they clearly understood what mobile users wanted when they picked up a ‘smart’ phone: utility.

My Treo introduction to smart phones (it really began with my infatuation with the Palm PDAs), really ruined iPhones for me. Not ruined really, but I was not as agog with iPhone love, as I might have been, had I not had Treo devices previously.

When it comes to mobile sites, they need to provide a base level of functionality in order to engage the user. I’ve outlined a few of these basic levels:

1. Browser auto detect (and redirect). Your site should be set up to automatically detect whether the visitor is using a mobile browser.

2. Simple menu. Once a person arrives at your site, there should be a few, easily identifiable tabs and/or options to help you move through the pages of the site. It’s not a website, it’s a mobile site, so no one will begrudge you if all the bells and whistles (of your 2.0 website) are absent from your mobile site.

3. Directional navigation buttons. There is nothing more frustrating that not being able to go back to a previous screen, advance to the next screen or scroll (up or down) without having a PhD in engineering. Mobile sites should be built so simply that a monkey could navigate through the pages with ease.

4. Mobile optimized images. Screens are little picture windows to our digital souls, so don’t crowd that space with large distracting images. Make sure that the artwork, illustration and graphics you use for your mobile site are designed specifically for the small screen.

Without getting to the underlying utility of your mobile site (Can I search your inventory? Compare prices? Place an order?) if you follow these simple points, you’ll score points with the visitors to your site, and will invariably create repeat visitors, because there is nothing more satisfying than navigating on a mobile site designed by someone who understands the space.

Mobile applications need to follow similar principles. Less is more, and everything should work as if it were designed for a small child. When my dauhter picked up my iPhone, slid her little finger along the arrow and unlocked the phone, I realized how simply Apple’s designs were. Now obviously, we can’t have everything be so easily accessible (such that our children destroy our precious toys), but you get the point.

Or do you?


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The Real Empress

Last night, I was out with my friend Syed at Buddha Bar on Little West 12th Street. While we shot the breeze drinking our drinks, we noticed this Amazon of a fine Black woman looking like she was trying to find someone.

Never the shy type, I asked if she required assistance, and she told me that she was looking for ‘James’ (or something like that), who had just texted her (supposedly from within Buddha Bar).

I told her that (1) ‘James’ would be right back, (2) to unburden herself and (3) join us while she waited for him to find her (because no gentlemen forces a woman to seek him out).

Of course, she joined us, and I set about getting her story. She introduced herself as Empress, then Charise, before finally settling on ‘The Real Empress.’

She was a performer, actor, producer, and self-professed diva. She said she had just finished working on a song with a track produced by Kanye-to-the, and recently completed a film (the name of which, I unfortunately can’t recall)..

I asked her why, if she was making such power moves, she was fooling around with people without the common decency to wait patiently on the arrival of a lady. Her response was, and I quote, “I have no idea.”

For the next 20 minutes, we talked personal power and the importance of the brand. She was astonished when I commented on her Juliard pedigree (she thought I was psychic, I told her I visited her MySpace page).

When we parted (I to Mansion, she to the lusty interest of a swarthy accented male) I told her that everything happens for a reason, and that the lesson for the evening was to chose one’s associations wisely.

Today, we can no longer afford to be on other people’s schedules. People that will be instrumental to your success will vibrate at your frequency.

Following your gut, as the barometer for ‘BS,’ is key. But always be prepared to reassess people, with whom you interact frequently, to ensure that your perceptions of people are accurate.

The Real Empress seemed like a driven person. I’m going to check in on her progress. I’ll let you know what I find.

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Day 2 2009

‘$1.1M?’ That was the question posed by my business partner, Ben, late last night. Earlier in the day, I had Twittered that I had made that amount in the first few hours of the day, and he was (rightly) seeking clarification.

While I won’t breach the confidentiality of these deals for the sake of blogging, I will say that I’ve got about $10M more in deals to close this month. (I can’t wait until my partner reads that line!)

But the point of today’s musing isn’t about the deals that I’m doing, but rather, the fact that Twitter (and other online status update tools) is a bonafide way of sharing information with folks and a sign of the times.

I haven’t been Twittering long (and I actually prefer Facebook’s status update anyway) but there is definitely a community heavily invested in the application (and others like it). While I’ve got a small ‘cult of Stephen’ on Twitter, there are folks following (and being followed by) thousands of other Twitter-ers.

In fact, there are LOTS of cats invested in all of these online social engines and communities, and they are becoming inextricable extensions of many peoples’ daily lives.

I wrote a post a few months back about how I threw an event utilizing viral tools solely to promote it. Since then, my friends and colleagues have held over 30 events where the sole means of notifying potential attendees was Facebook. No calls. No flyers. No website. Just Facebook. And the joints were packed.

The deals I alluded to earlier, are with folks who get that the old rules of engagement no longer apply, and if you’re going to connect with your targets, you can no longer wait for them to come to you (like sheep). You’ve got to meet them where they are.

That means in their online communities, on their mobile devices and offline destinations where they gather (the social watering holes). Brands who can reinvent themselves or learn to speak the new language of engagement, are the ones that will be around tomorrow.

The New World Order is comprised of IM, text, mobile. You’re either opted in, or you’re not. A brand’s failure to adapt to this NWO will mean it’s obsolescence and extinction (like the dinosaurs and their inability to adapt to cold).

$1.1M represents two brands that aren’t trying to go the way of the dinosaur, and they’ve engaged me to help them find their way.

My goal is to impart them (and you) with the skills to stay relevant and an understanding of the paradigm shift that’s forcing brands to do better.

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January 1st Musings

So this year has started off well (and 08 ended like a dream). I’ve got lots of projects in the pipeline and a great team implementing some truly innovative (but tested) things.

I brought 2009 in with dinner at Aozora in Montclair with the wife. We were home in time to exchange our first kiss of the year at home, with the kids nestled in their beds.

We had loft party invitations and could have parties like rock stars, but we kept it nice and simple. I’m going to be traveling all around the world this year, so getting in some time with the family is priority number one.

My first texts and calls came in at midnight, with folks extending their well wishes. I was steady hitting people with well wishes of my own. I’m going to focus on positive energy for this year – giving and getting. Haters, you are on notice to stay the hell out of my way or get steamrolled. You have been warned.

I got 10 emails out, a few Basecamp posts, four or five texts, updated my Facebook status, and Twittered, all before noon. I’d say 2009 is starting off fairly productive.

Now that I’ve got the WordPress application rocking on my iPhone, I feel über-productivity welling within me. I just hope folks can keep up!

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