Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Nerdlings, What is Uncharted's Job?

Dan and Chip Heath, two young nerdlings writing a piece at Slate.com on the demise of Second Life, say things.

They say things like this:
But what “job” did Second Life perform? It was like a job candidate with a fascinating résumé—fluent in Finnish, with stints in spelunking and trapeze—but no actual labor skills. The same was true with the Segway. No one was interested in employing a $5,000 walk-accelerator. (Though, to be fair, Segway eventually got a part-time job saving tourists from exercise.)

What about the Apple Newton, the first widely hyped PDA back in the 1990s? It was clearly applying for the right job—to give us mobile access to our calendars and to-do lists and such. But it was a lousy employee, with notoriously poor handwriting recognition and a limited attention span (from low battery life). PalmPilot got the job a few years later.
So, as a former Second Life devotee (I took a semester-long masters degree course that was pretty much held in Second Life; my conclusion: There are more efficient ways in both time spent preparing and bandwidth hogged to hold meetings) and as vice president of Uncharted.com, I have to ask:

What is Uncharted’s job?

I’m afraid my conclusion is thus: Doesn’t matter. Right now, that job is being taken by the likes of Facebook, Flickr, and even my own humble blog, thank you very much.

And, just as importantly, what first impressions are we making? Given a faulty photo-uploading module and a consistently flaky story-upload module, that first impression can’t be good. And that’s bad, according to Farhad Manjoo, Slate.com’s in-house nerdling. Here, he speaks of the decline and fall of Google+, another, much bigger social network that is looking for a job but really hasn’t found one yet (it’s comforting to see the big boys stumbling at this just as we are, by the way).
Why am I so sure that Google+ can’t be saved? Because there’s no way to correct Google’s central failure. Back when companies were clamoring to create brand pages on the network—or users were looking to create profiles with pseudonyms, another phenomenon that Google shut down—the company ought to have acceded to its users’ wishes and accommodated them. If Google wasn’t ready for brand pages in the summer, it shouldn’t have launched Google+ until it was. And this advice goes more generally—by failing to offer people a reason to keep coming back to the site every day, Google+ made a bad first impression. And in the social-networking business, a bad first impression spells death.
And yet another Slate.com nerdling – Erik Sofge – reminds us all that while one thing may do a job – and do it well – when that thing is moved to another job, often it fails.

I’ve long whined that my iPod Touch is a less handy music-listening device than an ordinary iPod, because with the iPod, I don’t even have to take the thing out of my pocket or bag to make musical adjustments (OK, some I do, such as changing albums, but for the simple task of skipping a song or shutting the thing down altogether, I can do it by feel.) Not so the iPod Touch – it’s a series of three or four steps to shut that thing down, and it requires all my attention. Enter Sofge:
An outstanding interface separates the products you love from the ones you simply use. In the Nano’s case, the touchscreen works. There’s nothing broken about it. But it’s clumsy and ill-conceived, given the uses for which it's supposedly designed. To put a touchscreen on a Nano presumes that a touchscreen can be a universal interface, and that all devices aspire to do all things. But people don’t buy a Nano because they want a mini-iPhone or a micro-iPad. They want something they can shove in their pocket or clip to their shorts when they take a walk or go for a run, a device for playing music on the move. In those scenarios, a touchscreen doesn't help at all.
So back to Uncharted. Does all of this mean Uncharted is dead in the water? Not necessarily. We just have to figure out what job Uncharted should apply for, and in what way it can fit the users’ needs in a way that nothing else fits. Social networking, I’m afraid, is not open to entry-level groups like Uncharted. Unless we find a job that’s vacant somewhere, waiting to be filled.

One thing I thought of: Uncharted could become a haven for writers looking for a space to share their unpublished stuff privately in a community where people would give them good feedback. Probably services like that out there somewhere, but it’s worth a thought.

Another thought: Stellar writing and photography on travel. But you know what, there are others doing that just as well on Facebook and Flickr. Not a good thought at all.

Other ideas: I don’t know. This is why I’m not an entrepreneur.

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