Microsoft Yahoo

My Steve Ballmer near miss at Yahoo!

225px-Steve_ballmer_2007_outdoors2.jpgSo, here’s a little story I’ve told a few times privately, but only once publicly before. It happened so long ago at this point, and given today’s news, it doesn’t really matter to the parties involved.

After a late Friday night down on the Santa Clara campus, I decided to sleep under my desk rather than drive home to San Francisco. I woke up the next morning to a loud booming voice that I thought I recognized. “Developers, developers, developers!” Ok, he didn’t actually say that, but I shuffled to my feet only to see Steve Ballmer standing outside my cube.

I didn’t actually scream, but I might have let out a small yelp. Now, I’m too old to hate now, but then, oh man, did I hate Microsoft. If you’ve ever heard me swear before (sailor’s blushing, etc), imagine the cacophony of swear words that was going off in my head at that particular moment.

Worse than just seeing Ballmer, I saw Jerry and TK as well. The only thing I could think was, “Holy crap, we’re being acquired.”

I mean, a clandestine Saturday morning meeting between the Evil Empire and the heads of Yahoo!? What else could it be?

I said to myself, “I’m so outta here if Microsoft ever buys us.”

As this happened 8-9 years ago, nothing ever came of it (as far as I know). Jerry later told me that meeting face to face was something that they did periodically and that they did it on the weekend so folks wouldn’t freak out or speculate. I don’t know if I bought it, but it was Jerry, so I let it go.

Yahoo! Today

I worked at Yahoo! from 1996 to 2001. It was the best of times. When I started there were less than 40 people there and when I left there were 3000 people. I think that especially back then, Microsoft acquiring Yahoo! would have destroyed the company.

I don’t work at Yahoo! anymore, but just given their shear size and the maturing of the company and the industry as a whole, would it be such a bad fit now? I really can’t say for sure.

Good luck

Yahoo! has been hurting for a while in the press and their stock has been fairly depressed. A lot of the down attitude toward Yahoo! isn’t so much a reflection of the company but a constant comparison to Google and their quarter after quarter barn burners.

Google is a tough competitor. Can a combined Microsoft and Yahoo! compete effectively? I hope so.

To all my friends and the rest of the folks down in Sunnyvale – I wish you the best.

Ich bin ein Yahooer!

[Steve Ballmer photo from Wikimedia]
Apple Consumer Electronics Features iTunes Microsoft Portable Entertainment Rumors

Twas the Night Before Macworld


Twas the night before Macworld when all through the town
No MacBook was mooing nor turning brown

At Moscone, nerds were queuing with care
in hopes that Saint Steve would soon be there.

Games Microsoft Social Media Xbox

Xbox Achievements are wildly successful


So says an article today on GameDaily
It’s kind of funny how people can succumb to something as simple as points and collecting. I feel pressure to beat my friend Charlie on Xbox Live despite the fact that he is a more avid gamer than I am. While I haven’t gone as far as getting the Japanese version of games like the article described (hmmmmm…..), I have rented games like John Madden Football due to their extremely easy to get achievement points, even though I don’t like sports related games.

The point is that the meta-game of Xbox Achievement Points in some ways is more interesting than the real game.

Why do people do this?

Gears of War developer describes the fanaticism:

“It’s nerd cred, man!” says Cliff Bleszinski, lead designer at Raleigh, North Carolina-based Epic Games, whose tactical third-person shooter Gears Of War is one of the hottest Xbox 360 titles around. He was skeptical when Microsoft first informed developers that they would need to participate in the program, but no longer.

“It’s so clever,” he says. “I mean, it’s just a score. You may say it can’t be used for anything, but gamers use them for pride. They’re pride points! You can compare it to the feeling you get when you pull up to a restaurant in a Lamborghini. People go, ‘Oooo, he must be somebody.’ In the virtual world of gaming, points create that same sense of rank and envy, and that’s why gamers have latched onto them. I read that people are picking up the Burger King Xbox games just so they can score additional points. If that doesn’t prove how well this program is working, nothing does.”

The first hit is free

As I’ve mentioned in the past, the gaming mechanism of collecting is very powerful. If given a choice between playing a game on the Wii and playing on the 360, I’d always choose the 360. Sure, the graphics are better on the 360, but it’s the points, man, the points. Gotta… beat… CharlieI’m never gonna beat Darren, though, he’s more obsessed than I am.

I’m an addict and apparently, I’m not alone.


Links Microsoft

Zune! Zune! Zune!


Ok, I’m not that excited, but it does seem to be shaping up to be a decent player.

Zune Interface Walkthrough Video
Our pals over at Engadget have been getting down with their new video software. Gotta say the interface looks pretty nice. They’ve definitely taken a page out of some of the best 10 ft interface world.

First Full Zune Review
Gizmodo’s got their take on the Zune.

Zune Insider Blog
Want a behind the scenes look at the Zune from the development team? Zune Insider give some insight into their process.


Apple Microsoft

Scoble on the Zune

zune.jpgAfter watching Scoble’s Zune video yesterday, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the Zune, but I did know one thing for sure, the Zune pm lacked something… I know. It was enthusiasm. Man… I know Scoble isn’t MTV, but Microsoft, try sending the guy that makes me wanna buy this thing. Oy.

Bizhack thinks the Zune pm is a buzzword generator.

In any case, Scoble’s take on the “device” is here and it is pretty scathing.

As a big fan of the iPod and a long time Apple fan, I want the Zune to not suck. Competition is good and having someone nip at your heels keeps you on your toes.

Building Community Features Games Microsoft Social Media Xbox

How to bring people back to your site in droves

So, you’ve built your totally kick ass web 2.0, long tail, peer to peer, social networking, beta meme review wiki that has all the paradigm shifting, AJAX created reflections you can shake a stick at.

You’ve been on TechCrunch, Engadget, Boing Boing and you’ve been properly Dugg. You’ve gotten great press and lots of people have tried your site. Trouble is, people come to your site once and return only periodically, but they never add anything to your site. The trouble is, your site isn’t fun.

Make your site fun

I heard a talk that Amy Jo Kim gave back at Etech that really stuck with me. fun.gifShe talked about using gaming mechanics to make your site more fun. Gaming mechanics are essentially elements of games that make them addictive by employing elements of behavioral psychology. A great book on this is Theory of Fun by Raph Koster. According to Raph, “fun is about our brain feeling good.”

I thought about the sites I’ve liked, used and help design and the best, most successful ones all use gaming mechanics to bring people in and keep them there. Community based sites tend to use this best.
I’ll give you the basic outline of some gaming mechanics and then draw a few examples from a number of sites.

Gaming Mechanics

Amy Jo outlines 4 very powerful techniques to bring people back in droves. Most of these items aren’t intended for blogs, but for community based web sites.

  1. Collecting
  2. Earning points
  3. Levels
  4. Scheduled Reward

Each one is a powerful mechanism, but used in combination, they add up to a pretty addictive experience for some. For today, I’ll talk about collecting.


Collecting is essentially amassing stuff and showing it off. You know people that are very susceptible to this. Your crazy aunt’s beanie baby collection or your friend who bought all those Magic cards back in college are great “real world” examples of this behavior. Collecting is directly related to the primal instinct to hunt and gather. Primitive men and women who were good at hunting and gathering got better mates. Web sites use this mechanism very successfully (although this is often counter to attracting better mates).

Xbox Live
Ok, I realize that Xbox Live isn’t just a website but it serves as a great example.

When Microsoft launched Xbox Live, they did it to reinforce certain activities they wanted gamers to engage in. The folks at Microsoft want you to a. buy an Xbox and b. buy games. One way to get users to do this is to make the games fun (naturally), but building in some extra elements of fun can’t hurt reinforcing this.

On the Xbox Live site, you can show off your gamer card that shows all the games you’ve played and the “achievements” you’ve collected in a given game. You can then compare how well you’ve done against your friends.

Comparing accomplishments and competing against friends is pretty powerful and it makes you want to do better than your friends to show off. Finishing a game, having a higher score, accomplishing something difficult both increases your score (which gets into Points) and the number of accomplishments

Naturally, adding lots of friends to your Xbox profile is powerful as well, but it’s even more powerful on LinkedIn.


Must. Complete. Profile.

There are a number of activities on LinkedIn that are natural. First, adding your immediate friends and colleagues is probably the reason that you are there, so that’s a no brainer. But adding a recommendation isn’t necessarily a natural thing, but yet you feel compelled to do so in order to have a complete profile. It’s also something that strengthens LinkedIn’s network. That ties into the end point of collecting and that is completing a set.

When talking about collectible card games, beanie babies, Xbox live profiles, or whatever, completing a set is what you are striving for. No one wants an incomplete set and marketers are keen to exploit this angle.

What do your users collect? What sets do your users need to complete?

More later.

Links Microsoft

Links for Friday, September 15, 2006


Zune gets announced
Mostly stuff folks already knew, but it’s official – “WiFi, 30GB of HDD, built-in FM, a 3-inch screen and the basic music, pictures and video playback.” No word on price or street date. I’m digging the interface and the brown, but man-oh-man, why doesn’t anyone do 16×9?

How Odeo screwed up
Straight outta the “Future of Web Apps” conference, Om details Odeo’s CEO, Ev Williams, on how they have screwed up by not following their own rules. Words to live by if you are in the web startup game.

High on Vapor Fumes
Can I just mention how much I love John Gruber? His latest diatribe focuses on the Zune. (I still like the brown player)

CNET’s Alpha Blog
Normally, I link to new sites or news bits here, but I gotta tell you, CNET’s Alpha Blog is pretty cool and arguably one of the best unsung tech blogs out there.

My one beef – CNET, for god’s sake, give me a full feed. You can put ads in it, just don’t make me come to the site every day. I’d love to read you, but you’re only getting my attention weekly at best.

Links Macintosh Microsoft Video

Links for Thursday, September 13

Skype 2.0 beta available for the Mac
I can finally use video Skype with all my PC pals. I knew the MacBook camera would come in handy for more than making goofy faces via iChat.

Zune launching tomorrow
The battle for your pocket (and pocketbook) is on!

Web Geeks show off new tools
Future of Web Apps conference started today.

Features Microsoft

Some good Microsoft experiences

And they weren’t even Xbox 360 or Live related.

Maybe my move to Seattle has mellowed me. Maybe I’ve grown up a little and realized that “hating” takes too much energy. I dunno, maybe it’s just the little things that impress me.

This weekend I had two Microsoft experiences that were really nice. Every good story starts with something bad happening and that bad thing for me was trying to load Windows XP Media Center Edition onto my MacBook. I’d bought Parallels so that I could effectively have two laptops in one. The Windows laptop would function as a test bed for new software and website rendering and the Mac laptop would do everything else.

On top of that, I’ve really wanted to play with MCE because I love 10 ft interfaces (ok, it’s a laptop, but work with me here) and the HCI aspects of working with computers in different ways. Unfortunately, Parallels mentions nowhere in its docs that it supports MCE, but I figure, what the heck, it’s really just a 10ft interface tacked onto XP, right?

Downloads Geek Fun Links Microsoft PDAs Portable Entertainment

Monday Links

Microsoft Photosynth demo
Wow… I never say wow about Microsoft products (unless it’s wow, that’s lame or wow, have you heard of usability?). But this is a very cool 3d photo visualization tool. [via Addicted to Digital Media]

Jeff’s Quick Guide to TV on the Net
Get your fix here. Comprehensive guide to repurposed television shows on the net. [via PVRBlog]

Newton takes down Samsung UMPC
No love lost for the Newton, but a brand new piece of tech taken down by the old school handheld… gotta love it. [via Engadget]

Downloads Home Entertainment Microsoft Sony

The D: All Things Digital

d.jpgThe Wall Street Journal released their report from the Walt Mossberg’s CEO love-in from a few weeks back.

(FYI – “The D” is a small conference for executives from large companies and essentially is a series of discussions and interviews conducted by the Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher.)

Interviews include Bill Gates, “who showed off a dramatic new version of the dominant Office software, took shots at search rival Google, and declared the network-TV business dead,” Robert Iger (Walt Disney CEO), “who didn’t agree with him,” Sir Howard Stringer (Sony CEO), who was indicted by Martha Stewart for cluttering her life with wires, and Barry Sonnenfeld, (Movie Director) who thinks the movie to DVD release window is too short.

Much of this year’s conference was devoted to the changing media landscape and the disruption that technology is creating for old business models.

If you have a WSJ subscription, the D conference report is essential reading. I’ll provide some highlights in subsequent postings.


Games Microsoft Xbox

Xbox Live outage on Tuesday


As in tomorrow. Xbox Live will be down for 13 hours tomorrow for what many presume to be a major update. Many are speculating that this update will include background downloading for Marketplace content.

For those of you that don’t have an Xbox 360, one of the cooler features is demo and content downloading on the unit. Demoing a new game before purchase is pretty wise on almost any gaming system, but before Xbox Live, demos were for PCs and game magazine subscribers only.

Microsoft has said recently that E3 will have lots downloadable coverage on Xbox 360 and this update makes sense before such an update occurs. What makes this interesting to me is that this new feature and a deluge of HD or SD content could really test a video download system. Oh, ya, and Xbox Live is free to non-subscribers next week.

If Microsoft wanted to start a video download service, the Xbox 360 could be a perfect Trojan horse to get them in a lot of living rooms. Apple might own the portable content, but no one owns the living room just yet.

Serious side bar aside, don’t plan on playing Burnout Revenge between 2am and 3pm tomorrow morning.

Xbox Live down for 13 hours

E3 on Xbox Live

Home Entertainment Microsoft Xbox

Xbox 360 is in the house!

xbox360logo.jpgSo, I’ve been secretly lusting for the Xbox 360 for some time. I told myself and others that I wasn’t going to hang out at Best Buy or Costco like the other nerds, but all the while I’ve made side trips into these dens of electronic goodness for the past several months.

The persistence finally paid off yesterday, when everyone and their brother could finally get the 360. Apparently, local Best Buy, Walmart and others received shipments of around 60-80 Xbox 360’s. Mind you, they still sold out, but a lot more people got their hands on Xboxes this weekend.

I’ll post a more detailed report later, but so far the experience has been fairly positive. While a minor detail, the most impressive thing so far is how well the wireless controllers work with the Xbox. If you’ve ever tried to pair Bluetooth devices, you’ll appreciate how you turn the Xbox on, hit the big X button on the controller and it just works. You’d think Apple made it :-)


Windows Vista Slipsta

vista.jpgNow, how is that for shocking? We’ve never known Microsoft to announce a product before it’s ready or slip on a very public schedule… oh wait, that’s Apple. Now, writing a new OS must be difficult, but after stripping out several big features (including WinFS, a next gen file system), you’d think that it would have been made easier.

Vista was supposed to ship right before the holiday season and it will now ship in January 2007. Vista’s most recent date slip won’t come without repercussion. MS has announced a new Windows chief and heads are expected to roll soon.

CNET has a nice roundup of stories regarding the date slippage.

Have to give credit for that title to my cousin Jason, tech geek extraordinaire. His puns and wordplay may only be slightly worse than mine.


Apple Home Entertainment HTPCs Microsoft

Windows MCE on a iMac

imacmce.jpgNot satisfied with just running regular XP on an Intel Mac, the folks over at the OSX86Project have gotten Windows MCE up and running on an Intel iMac. They don’t have the IR port working yet, but I imagine that it will only be a matter of time.


(Via Matt Goyer’s Media Center Blog.)

DirecTV HTPCs Microsoft PVRs

DirecTV and CableCard on Windows Vista Details


Thomas Hawk, digital media enthusiast, has a long write up of his recent blogger’s dinner with Microsoft exec, Jim Allchin. In a turn of events, it looks like DirecTV will have less draconian rules than cable as to how their services will work with PCs.

All CableCard enabled Windows Vista boxes will have to be certified by CableLabs, the organization that created the standard. So, not only will manufacturers have to get certified by CableLabs, but each shipping PC must be certified as well. Basically, it means that you can forget about building a CableCard enabled HTPC yourself. This will make it tougher for smaller manufacturers to build these machines, as well.

On the other hand, DirecTV will allow after market cards to be installed by individuals, rather than buying brand new boxes. This will certainly make DirecTV more attractive to tweakers than cable.

No word on pricing or timing, but there are many details of the hows and whys of satellite and cable and how they integrate with Vista.

(Via HDBeat.)