Holiday Gripe: Family Picture Digital Camera Paparazzi

Since it’s just a few days before New Years, I thought I’d share my absolute, number one pet peeve from this year (and every year’s) big family party: the family picture digital camera paparazzi.

No, my family isn’t so famous that actual Paparazzi stake out my grandmother’s house and hound the streets and yard for photos.  In my family, we are our own paparazzi.

You see, every year, we have a huge family party, and there is a distinct moment in the party where everyone gathers to take photos.  This family.  That family.  The cousins.  The aunts & uncles.  The kids.  The grandkids.  Etc.  It’s a complex form of set theory.

In any case, instead of there being just one camera (a good one) with a photographer, everyone has to have the shot taken “with their camera”.  Sometimes, you get 10 cameras taking the picture at once, with everyone in the shot looking in a different direction, like some sort of carnival funhouse picture.  Other times, one person has several cameras dangling, saying, “OK, now with this one!”

Ridiculous.  At first, it was just annoying.  Then it became upseting.  Now, I just get pissed off.

You see, digital cameras should have solved this problem.  But they didn’t.

One camera.  Many shots.  Files can be shared for free.  Everyone can get their pictures.  There is absolutely no reason for multiple cameras to be used (especially when you have iPhone cameras without auto-focus competing with full digital SLRs).

Yet there they are, every year.  In fact, every year, it seems to get worse.

One theory is that most people don’t know how to download or get digital photos developed.   So they use their camera because they know how to get those pictures.  Problem is, in my family, I know for a fact that many of the people with cameras have never, ever successfully downloaded or developed their own pictures either.  But maybe it’s a safety net… they know that someday, they’ll figure it out.  And then they’ll have those pictures on their camera.

Historically, the only way to really get a picture was to have the negative.  You couldn’t count on someone else getting the role developed and sending you the shots you were in.  So that could explain why baby boomers express this behavior – it’s an anachronism.

But what explains my Gen Y cousins and siblings doing the same thing?  (Besides the obvious upside of irritating me, of course.)  My guess is that the current social assumption is that everyone has a camera, all the shots are terrible, but all are uploaded and shared.  In this worldview, not having “your photos” to share almost means you don’t have an opinion, a voice, something to contribute.   So, once again, everyone has their camera, even in situations like group still photos, where one camera is a much, much better solution.

I’m probably more irritated than most because, in general, as long as Eric isn’t around, I typically am the one that everyone depends on for “high quality” pictures from these events. And it’s sad to find out later that, because everyone was looking a different direction, there is no good picture of one of the families this year.

When I am not irritated, however, I do think about how, despite all these integrated photo editing and uploading services, we’ve still failed as an industry to really solve the photo sharing problem for families.  They are all too techie, all too hard to really use.  And that’s a piece of why, to this day, everyone insists on getting “one more with my camera!”

I’m thinking of banning any other cameras in 2009.  Too heavy handed?  How do other people solve this problem?

Battlestar Galactica: Catch the Frak Up!

It’s late on Christmas Eve, but what better present to unwrap than 13 glorious minutes of Battlestar Galactica that summarizes the entire series in one fail swoop?

Sci Fi: Catch the Frak Up!

This type of snarky, quick-fix summary became big a few years ago as studios struggled with ways to get audiences to pick up serial dramas after the first season.  Unlike sit-coms, it really does matter if you’ve seen the earlier seasons, and they really don’t want you to opt-out of the whole series.

Whatever the reason, hat’s off to the BSG team.  I’ve seen every episode and I found this 13-minute video incredibly useful.  It reminded me of so many sub-plots and facts that I had forgotten.

Battlestar Galactica resumes on January 16th.  Be prepared and catch the frak up.

Refinancing? Try Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PFCU)

With rates plummeting these days, many people are choosing to refinance.  My family falls into that bucket, as we refinanced our home almost five years ago (2004) at the low, low rate of 4.5% for a 5/1 mortgage.  (In case you are curious, we ended up getting a 5/1 because while 30-year rates were also low, we felt it unlikely that we’d be staying in our current house more than 7 years.)  At the time, I remember looking at historical rates and saying:

When will we ever be able to refinance at 40-year lows again?

Silly me, the answer turned out to be about five years later, in late 2008.  Since our rates were about to float, and not trusting the bank to keep the rate reasonable, we decided to lock in rates for at least another five years.  In the process, we evaluated almost every web-based pricing agent, several internet deals, and one professional mortgage broker.

The winner: Pentagon Federal Credit Union

To get a mortgage, you must join the credit union.   You can do this for free if you or a family member served in the armed forces and has proof.  Otherwise, you can sign up to join the National Military Family Association for $20.  Yes, that’s right.  $20.

I’ve been extremely happy with the service.  In fact, when we originally engaged with them, the rates on a jumbo 5/5 mortgage (a unique mortgage they offer that resets every 5 years based on US Treasury rates) were at 5.375%.  They have dropped twice since then, and they allowed us to reset at their current price of 4.625%.

Yes, I know there is probably a better deal out there.  But I also know that most are worse.

In any case, they are worth checking out.  Their rates are updated daily.  Low closing costs.  They depend on Fannie Mae for securitization, so it’s really a good deal if you have a good credit score and fit within guidelines.  No points for loans under 70% LTV.  0.50 points for loans between 0.70% and 0.80% LTV.

If you find a better deal out there… don’t tell me.  I’m happy enough as is.  I may ask for you help again in 2014.

Or, at the rate we’re going, if rates plummet to 100 year lows in 2009, we might refinance again.

3% mortgages?  That’s the magic of deflation

Understanding Deflation: Bonds Paying 0%

There wsa a good article in today’s WSJ (requires subscription) describing the unique point we hit today in the bond market.  Some durations of US Treasury bonds are now actually paying negative interest, -0.01% in some cases.

Investors around the world are stuffing their money into a mattress — otherwise known as the U.S. Treasury-bond market.

Fund managers, corporate treasurers, hedge funds, banks and central banks want to show their constituents, or bosses, their portfolios are bulletproof as year end approaches. Even with all the government’s steps to shore up the credit markets, investors aren’t taking any risks. Instead, they are willing to pay a premium, rather than collect one, to ensure they have in 2009 what they have now.

That means that someone is paying $100.00 for the priviledge of  getting back $99.99 at the end of the term.

This may sound ridiculous, unless you think of it in plain English:

“I’m willing to pay the US Government one penny to keep my $100.00 safe and sound for this duration.”

In a world of fear and deflation, this statement starts to make sense.  Hell, you might even pay more than $0.01 for that security in some cases.

Deflation is a very weird financial state.  For most people, it’s completely counter-intuitive. It’s a world where cash today is worth less than cash tomorrow.  It’s a world where commodities (like gold, silver, oil, food) get cheaper over time nominally, not more expensive.  It’s a world where you don’t buy today, because tomorrow the same product will be cheaper.

In fact, the only large segment of the population at this point who likely have an instinctive feel for deflation are people tied to high technology, primarily hardware like hard drives and semiconductors.  They’ve spent 30 years dealing with the fact that their products will be cheaper tomorrow than today.  They’ve even created high return businesses in effectively a deflationary environment.

I’m not going to go into detail about all aspects of deflation in this post.  But I did think it was worth explaining why 0% bonds might make sense.

Think about the dangers for keeping cash:

  • Someone could steal it.  So you have to secure it.
  • It can get physically destroyed (fire, pets, small children)
  • You can invest it, but those investments may lose money (stocks, bonds, commodities, you-name-it)
  • You can put it in a bank, but they may go bankrupt.  (you are protected up to $250K, but you may not get it immediately)

When people are afraid, and liquidity is rushing out of the system, 0% guaranteed by the ultimate “too big to fail” institution in the world can sound pretty good.

Now, I doubt this makes sense for individuals with dollars measured in thousands.  With those numbers, you can get 3+% on a CD, guaranteed by the FDIC.  But for institutions with millions or billions, how do you protect your cash?  Seriously.  It’s not a trivial problem when you think about it.

And no, you can’t just “go to gold”.  Even gold drops in nominal value during deflation.

Mathematically, if a country is undergoing 5% deflation per year, that means that $1000 of gold will only cost $950 in a year.   From that point of view, 0% percent interest + 5% deflation = a 5% real return on your capital, adjusted for inflation.

Yes, it seems like a monetary phenomenon from Bizzaro’s home planet, a square world where people say “goodbye” when they come and “hello” when they go.

But that’s what we’re flirting with right now, as it seems like literally $20 Trillion in nominal value may have disappeared off the planet.

The silver lining, however, is that you can make money in a deflationary market, if you re-orient your thinking.  Sell your products quickly, for cash.  Money now is worth more than money later.  Prioritize products that buyers cannot postpone.  Inventory turnover is key.

Intel has made billions turning over products that drop in value 1% a week in some cases.  It can be done.

Google Superstar Joins LinkedIn

Can’t get much better press than that, right?  The title is copied verbatim from a blog post on the announcement.

From Finance Geek:

A Google (GOOG) rock star defects: Dipchand “Deep” Nishar, who helped kickstart Google’s mobile business, is moving to LinkedIn.

WSJ: Mr. Nishar, 40, in January will become vice president of product strategy for the social-network that is focused on professionals. He will lead LinkedIn’s efforts to develop new products and services on top of its social-networking site. LinkedIn chairman Reid Hoffman, who had previously filled the senior product role, will remain at the company and shift his focus on broader strategy issues…

Mr. Nishar held a range of jobs at Google, including building the back-end infrastructure for Google’s monetization systems, starting its mobile initiatives and, more recently, overseeing product development for the Asia-Pacific region. He worked closely with Jonathan Rosenberg, Google’s senior vice president of product management, and was the recipient of a rare and lucrative accolade given to employees who have made extraordinary contributions to the company, known as the Google Founders Award.

The original Wall Street Journal article is here.  My favorite quote from Deep:

His departure comes as the recession has made a move from a mature company to a start-up more risky. But LinkedIn, which has 32 million registered users, is better positioned than many… “I don’t view LinkedIn as risky by any means,” said Mr. Nishar.

Very excited to have Deep join the team in 2009.  His LinkedIn profile is here for more detail on his professional achievements.

The Right Way to Implement Change

One of the great joys in Product Management is the launch of great new features and platforms that touch millions of users.  Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of watching my team launch one of the biggest and most challenging efforts at LinkedIn to date with the launch of the new LinkedIn Search.

If you haven’t tried it, you should.  It’s fantastic.

Even more exciting to me, of course, is the fact that this new search engine, as great as the features are, is just scratching the surface of what we’ll be able to achieve in 2009 and beyond.  It’s no surprise to me that Search has driven a number of major innovations on the web in the past decade.  Over the years, the baton of technology leadership and innovation has been passed from natural search to paid search to product search, and I firmly believe that technology and customer demand points to people search as an area with the breadth and depth for incredible innovation in the next few years.

Search is a huge piece of the LinkedIn experience for millions of users for obvious reasons – so many of our professional tasks require us to “find the right person” based on expertise, based on geography, based on company, and most of all, based on relationship.  That’s the kicker.  People search, by its nature, must be socially relevant to the searcher.  Completely.  The same query can and should be ordered differently based on your unique profile and relationships, because that’s what matters in this context.

One of the hardest problems in Product Management, however, is how to upgrade and change a product that millions of people are using every day to get their jobs done.  It isn’t easy with consumer software, it isn’t easy with enterprise software, and it’s almost impossible in the 24×7 world of the consumer internet.  Even small incremental changes can be incredibly difficult, so where does that leave you when you have to make large, whole-scale change?

All the Web 1.0 companies have struggled with this, and I don’t think there is a single right answer to this question because every community and product is different to some extent.  But fundamentally, there are approaches that can help produce the best possible outcomes in these tough situations, and they all begin and end with how you communicate, interact and respond to your customers.

That’s why I had to share here this blog post I found tonight about the recent Search launch.

WebProNews: LinkedIn Looks to the Community For Improvement.  The Right Way to Implement Change.

While I am excited about the new search product features, and I am excited about the new technology and platform we’ve built, I’m even more excited in this case about how the team researched, built, tested, and launched this product.

I’m excited that Sarah, our Principal Designer on the new Search, wrote this blog post about the importance of the customer in our thinking and process.  I’m excited that Chris at WebProNews (among other blog posts I’ve seen) noticed that we cared.

It’s a truism on the consumer internet that if you’ve ironed out all the risks and uncertainty in product improvement, you are moving far too slow and with too little tangible feedback from your customers.  Usability testing, competitive research, site metrics, customer service, quality requirements, innovative engineering, and communication will not, by themselves, guarantee success every time.  They can’t because the inherent complexity and pace of change is too great (thankfully) on the consumer internet.

But I believe that, over time, these techniques properly utilized increase your odds of success, where success is defined by the utility and delight that you provide your customers.

I’ve had a number of proud moments at LinkedIn, but I just wanted to say here how proud I am of the user experience team at LinkedIn, and how proud I am of the teams that helped make the new search a reality.

I’m proud of what you’ve built, and more importantly, I’m proud of how you did it.

The Right Way to Implement Change.