The explosion of e-commerce apps of late - Fab, Shoedazzle, Myhabit, etsy - and especially the long tail of niche online stores powered by Shopify are just fighting too hard with fundamental human nature. Just appealing to people's desire for novelty and acquiring new possessions isn't going to be enough.
What apps and the Web have never particularly done well is change us. Everyone designing an e-commerce app will cite how massive the industry is in the offline world. But if you look at retail shopping, it's largely designed to make money despite people's lack of real need for their goods.
Brick-n-mortar jewelry stores notoriously employ aggressive salespeople to make you buy things you don't want; fashion stores tie into that aspirational aspect of self-betterment too. They don't make money once the dress is worn, just off the nice idea that someday someone might compliment them on the overpriced piece of fabric and maybe think they're a little more attractive.
If human beings - particularly Americas - were different, we'd buy more stuff. It's not rocket science: keeping up pretenses and max out your credit card. We know how to do it. We just don't. The ability to buy something with one click or have virtual flash sales targeted to your interests doesn't change that.
Three weeks ago, I started using Vine, the 6-second video app that Twitter released in late January. I've made 21 Vines myself, liked 43 Vines made by others. I'm following 65 people and have 74 followers.
It's early, but I think Vine is on the trajectory to be a widespread and popular app.
The 6 second format is great — it's short enough to not get boring and long enough to express some very interesting ideas (if you are creative about it). The mechanics of recording pressing and releasing the screen are intuitive but you still need some time to get the hang of it as you've got to time things pretty carefully.
There is some spamming of popular hashtags like #loop and #magic but I'm sure discovery will improve over time. Meanwhile, my feed updates frequently enough with interesting content that I find myself checking it several times a day.
What kind of content will appear on Vine?
One question that critics asked of Twitter was “What will people tweet about and why will anyone care?” That question has been answered: people share links, news, photos, location, jokes, ideas, questions, answers, rage, love and a host of other things that have of course shown significant engagement.
A similar question might be asked of Vine: what kinds of things can be shot in a mere 6 seconds? My thesis is that Vine will be dominated by three types of videos: artistic, funny and personal ones.
Hunter Harrison calls himself an “Actor, Artist, Athlete, Astronaut, Ant Farmer”. His vines include amazingly choreographed Lego stop-motion movies. He only has 241 followers on Twitter, but 2388 on Vine. Here's a Batman themed Vine:
Adam Goldberg was featured as an editor's pick for his strange dream-like series #merrittxanadu44 about the mysterious disappearance of his friend/girlfriend Merritt. Some people have criticized his “overproduced” look, but the fact that he's creating a little mini-series in 6 second clips is fascinating.
From a more crude perspective, Colin Young is the lead vocalist in a band called Twitching Tongues and all his Vines are of him pulling awful-but-kinda-funny pranks on his poor girlfriend. Here's a recent one that got 565 likes in under 24 hours.
Finally, there will be many personal Vines that people shoot just to share what's going on in their life. They might not get tons of likes or views, but if your friends are on Vine, you will enjoy sharing what you're up to with them (and vice versa).
Here's one of mine from a board game night I had recently with some friends. In the video we're playing a card game called “Bang!” that's kind of like Mafia/Night Watchman.
Keith Weaver who's a designer in Atlanta hanging out with his nephew and niece. I don't know him personally and this video is still somewhat interesting to me — I'm sure it's far more interesting to his family.
The way people use Vine will no doubt change as the platform evolves. With direct-to-user videos it could become the video equivalent of SMS. I've seen musicians show off the tracks they're working on in a Dribble-esque style. It also lends itself to consuming without needing to create (a lot of my followers have zero Vines of their own). And yes, I've already seen one “sponsored Vine” that was actually quite tastefully done.
Art, humor and personal stories are a deep part of our culture and I expect to see them to drive much of the usage of Vine going forward. If you're on Vine, you should follow me at @jasonshen.
I upgraded to the iPhone 5 in the fall of 2012, after having the iPhone 4 for two years. Along with the bigger screen, I got Siri and a better camera. But so far the most exciting thing for me about the iPhone 5 is the voice recognition software, and specifically using it for dictation.
People have been dreamed about voice dictation for a long time, but the iPhone's technology represents a turning point. I normally speak in fits and starts but with just a little practice, I found myself quickly dictating entire paragraphs, punctuation included, into my iPhone.
How I Use Dictation
I use dictation a lot when responding to casual emails and text messages. It's faster and less straining to knock out a bunch a dozen emails via dictation than with full on typing. I still type when I send more important messages because I usually rephrase and edit my writing a number of times before sending it out.
Dictation is also very useful for drafting out blog posts that have been poking around in my head. For instance, the post you're currently reading was dictated on my iPhone 5, with just a bit of touching up afterward.
Having this technology available means I don't have to wait to get back to my desk before writing something substantial. I've mashed out long pieces with my thumbs on my iPhone but it takes a lot of effort. Now I just turn on dictation and get a first pass (and often final product) no matter where I am.
Dictation makes me more productive. It allows me to convey information as fast as I can say it, which is almost as fast as I can think it. It's kind of like how people use macros or text expansion tools to accelerate or multiply their efforts. But the difference is, dictation is for everyone, not just for geeks.
Dictation is Being Used by “Real People”
My mom was born in China and moved to the United States when she was nearly 30 – she is definitely on the lagging end of the technology spectrum. She can use Google, send emails, and book flights online but she usually struggles a lot with new tech. I remember having to teach her 4 or 5 separate times how to transfer photos from her camera to the computer.
I went home for the holidays and saw my mom with the iPhone 4S she got last Christmas. She uses dictation all the time.
I see her send out text messages and emails on her phone primarily through dictation. She often struggles with the spelling of certain words, and she has much better luck using dictation to get them right. I have since seen this same use case with other people like my old gymnastics coach (who was born in Armenia and calls English his 3rd language)
To me, the fact that these non tech-savvy people, relies on dictation as part of her daily life means that voice recognition software and dictation truly starting to change everything.
I expect savvy founders to see the groundswell happening and start companies that leverage voice recognition and dictation. It's probably already happening.
In Silicon Valley, there is a great deal of worship around Steve Jobs and the altar of perfection, so allow me to explain my preference.
As a former gymnast, I know what it's like to pursue perfection.
Being perfect means practicing the same skills and routines over and over and over again, until you have it just right. Perfect means trying fighting to fix every tiny mistake, every last detail so that when you salute the judge in a competition, they can't find a single flaw.
Another thing to recognize is that in gymnastics, skills and routines are performed by individuals judged according to a internationally federated code of points, allowing the conception of perfection to exist and potentially be achieved.
In the business world, products and services are produced by many individuals and judged by consumers, who vary greatly in their tastes and preferences, making it impossible to cohere around any kind of perfection. Ask any developer, designer, or marketer and they'll tell you that that consumer behavior is surprising and rarely coherent.
The alternative to being perfect then, is being prolific.
That means optimizing for quantity - working faster, on more drafts/iterations of whatever it is that you seek to create or produce. You may choose to release your work to the public in the form of a blog post, or a beta release, (and I recommend you do) but you don't have to.
I am reminded of the father of modern photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson and his famous quote: “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”. You've got to take a lot of photos to get to photo number ten-thousand-and-one.
Focusing on being prolific frees you from the mindset of a critic – where all you think about is what's wrong with what you're doing, rather than with what's good and what can be built upon. Being prolific means thinking about “What could make this more awesome? and "What's the fastest way I could make that work?” These types of questions are valuable and stimulate the creative juices.
Ironically, striving to be prolific will probably make you better than striving to be perfect. In the book Art and Fear, the authors tell the story of a ceramics professor that decides to grade half the class on the quality of their final piece and the other half on sheer weight of a semester's worth of work.
Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
The pursuit of perfection can be exhilarating. Setting an extremely high bar for yourself sharpens your focus and puts you on the edge. Pursuing perfection makes you better and has its time and place.
But when it comes to making an impact and producing work that matters, the world is far too varied and changing far too fast to adhere to narrow vision of perfection.
And that's why, all things being equal, I'd rather be prolific than perfect.