Web Technology

The Playbook is being Marketed to Fail

I don’t think this iteration of the BlackBerry Playbook will do very well, and I blame RIM’s marketing team.

If you’re not sure what the Playbook is, let me explain — and thank you for proving my point. The BlackBerry Playbook is a tablet computer released last week by Research In Motion, the company behind BlackBerry phones. It’s chief competitor in the tablet space is the iPad, followed by the handful of Android tablets that are currently available.

It’s a great device. The hardware is plenty powerful, and the software is certainly good enough for a 1.0 release. It supports native apps written in several languages, and web apps that can take advantage of HTML5 and Adobe Flash.

The Playbook has a lot going for it, but the one thing it’s sorely lacking is a marketing strategy. Without this, it will fail.

People need to know you have a product before they can buy it.

I spend a lot of time on this Internet thing. I read too many blogs, I stalk people on Twitter, I waste time on Facebook. As a tech-savvy 20-something year old, you’d think I would be the target market for a sexy new tablet. But alas! Everything I know about the Playbook, I learned from friends that work at RIM. Is that how the marketing team was expecting to reach me?

What’s their plan for everyone else? Let potential customers hear about it through word of mouth — weeks or months after launch — if at all?

That doesn’t work anymore. If you’re going to compete with someone like Apple, you have to be loud about what you’re doing.

And that brings us to an even bigger problem with RIM’s silent strategy:

When you don’t make your product sound great, your customers don’t either.

iPad users don’t need to think to explain why they love their iPads. They need only recite whatever Steve Jobs and the rest of the Apple Marketing Messiahs have told them about it.

What are potential Playbook users going to say when they talk to their iOS brethren?

“It has Flash”?


Specs don’t sell products. Potential users want to know which tablet will improve their day-to-day life, not which one has more RAM. And that’s marketing’s job.

We’ve seen this before.

If RIM isn’t convinced that a lack of marketing will kill their product, maybe Google can sway them.

Remember when Google Wave launched? It was going to replace email, and add awesome features, and be everything to everyone!

Not a single person I knew could explain what it was in one sentence. What followed was confusion, lacklustre adoption, and ultimately, termination.

I loved Google Wave. It was a fantastic product that was constantly misunderstood because there was no marketing message to support it.

And as I read article after article, I can’t shake the feeling that I know where the Playbook is headed…

This post also appears on the Macadamian blog.

Web Technology

An Excellent Use-Case for Google Wave

Yes, another post about being engaged (it’s kind of this week’s theme). I promise this will be the last one, at least for a while; there are just a lot of interesting thoughts coming out of planning a wedding. We’ll resume our regular totally-non-marital posts at one per week on Monday.

I’ve been meaning to write up a good post regarding my take on Google Wave pretty much since I launched this blog in October ’09. The trouble was, I could never find a really good use-case that demonstrated how powerful and useful Wave is — until now. So without further ado:

I don’t understand how people planned weddings before there was Google Wave.

My fiancée and I are both the type to do a lot of research and planning before a big financial decision. So when it came to booking a venue, with so many different options and associated costs, we both dove right in. The only problem was that we had a really hard time staying in sync; we would both research the same venue or lose track of contact information for a place we really liked — it was a disaster. We tried ad-hoc discussions in person (this didn’t work; human memory is far too fallible) and a mess of emails (I had to scrub my inbox with a sponge after that one) but we found we were still stepping on each others’ toes. Then it dawned on me:

What we really needed was a wiki.

We needed someplace where we could both see and add and edit information, highlight important dates or phone numbers, and easily compare venues to one another. Nothing huge (a CRM would have been way overkill), just a light-weight wiki that would be approachable for my not-very-geeky soulmate.

So I fired up Google Wave and spent a couple of minutes explaining it to her. Now we have a wave for wedding venues, where each wavelet (that’s what the posts in a wave are called) is about one venue. When either of us comes across a cool-looking venue, we can quickly scan the wave to see if it’s already there, and if it isn’t we can add it and fill in some quick details. If we want to contact them, we highlight the contact info, and if we make an appointment to visit a venue, we highlight the date as well; this way even at a quick glance we can quickly see when our appointments are and if there are any left to make. If either of us have comments about a venue, we can reply to its wavelet; this takes care of the usual meta-discussion in an informal but persisted way (the indent makes it easy to ignore when skimming).

So far, this is working incredibly well. We’re both completely in sync all the time, and it’s easy to find key information by quickly looking in one place. We’re already starting to add new waves for other things we’ll both want input on, like the photographer, the DJ and the cake. I have no idea how else we could be doing this as efficiently as we are; Wave is suddenly crucial to our planning process.

What went right?

I’d like to touch briefly on why this has worked out so much better than my previous experiences with Wave. I think one of the big problems with Wave is that information tends to get scattered — it’s easy to lose something in a mountain of replies, and the inability to hide or mass-delete old content causes a lot of unnecessary and frustrating sifting. What I did differently this time was enforce some basic rules about how the wave should be structured: one venue per wavelet, replies are allowed for discussion if required. This way there’s no checking to see if that golf course with the gorgeous gazebo is nested somewhere in a chain of replies, or deciding what depth to add that maple farm that four different people have recommended. They’re both easy decisions, and sticking to these informal rules really pays off in terms of keeping the wave easy to read and update.

Have you found a good use for Wave?

I’m curious to know what other creative uses people have found for Wave. If you’ve got something good, please share!

Web Security

Are Google Wave invites to blame for recent Hotmail/Gmail phishing attacks?

I have no idea how the recent Hotmail/Gmail account compromises actually took place. What follows is a simple hypothesis based on a somewhat embarrassing anecdote.

Like many of you, I am currently waiting for an invite to Google Wave. Imagine my joy when this came across my inbox one Tuesday morning:

Subject: Google Wave invite

Congratulations! You’ve been invited to Google Wave by your friend {a close friend of mine with a Wave account}. Click the link below to register:

Still half asleep (and now bursting with joy!) I open the link, suddenly thinking it’s strange that Google would use a url-shortener to send me a Wave invite. As you may have guessed, what was waiting for me was not a desirable HTML5 product but was in fact a YouTube video of Rick Astley performing Never Gonna Give you Up — yeah, I got rick-rolled a year after rick-rolling people was cool.

Now I’m fortunate that my dear friend (it was davefp) has a sense of humour – the truth is I technically just fell for a phishing scam, and I’m lucky there was no malicious intent involved. This got Dave and I talking; phony Wave invites would be a very opportunistic way to steal account credentials from eager Gmail users, and could be what caused the recent account compromises.

Let’s look at the reasons why I was inclined to trust the link in the email I received:

  1. I was expecting an invite
  2. It looked like an invite
  3. I was half asleep
  4. I was overjoyed

I was expecting an invite. There are thousands upon thousands of Gmail users anxiously awaiting Wave invites. There are thousands upon thousands more that have no reason to expect an invite but would still take one if one were offered to them. This is an exciting product, after all.

It looked like an invite. Sure the shortened url was one possible give-away, but even that could have been improved by masking the url with text that looked like a safe url, such as Add a couple of Google images and maybe a formal signature and this could have been a lot closer to foolproof.

I was half asleep. Admit it, you’re not always paying attention when you check your mail either. We check our email late at night, early in the morning, on our mobile phones, while we’re eating or playing with a pet; there are all kinds of distractions that may contribute to not paying full attention to routine tasks like checking email.

I was overjoyed. Don’t discount this one &#8212 human emotion is what sells a social engineering attack such as phishing. I had a rush of feelings and thoughts flying through my head as I clicked a link I barely looked at: who do I know that already has wave? I hope it’s awesome! who will I invite? I should thank Dave for inviting me! where’s the link for that two-minute introduction video I saw the other day?

Of course it could just be a coincidence that Wave launched a few days before a high-profile phishing scam, and it could be that I’m the only one stupid enough to fall for a prank like this, but at the very least I think it’s conceivable that a phishing attack based on Google Wave invites could have snagged 30 000 users or so from a group of major email providers.

Am I out of my mind? Have you heard a better explanation? Share some thoughts and leave a comment.