You Can’t Sell Pure Technology

Last year at this time, I was wrapping up a Masters program over at good ole Case Western Reserve University in “Engineering and Management”…a program that was really geared around Technology Entrepreneurship.  In the program, they spent quite a bit of time talking about how to make new products successful.  The underlying principle in every class I took was the same:  no matter how “cool” your technology is, it won’t sell unless it solves a real problem that somebody has better than what they already use to solve that problem.

I think many tech companies often lose site of this principle—we often create “cool” things and hope that customers will agree, run out, buy the “cool” thing, and figure out how they are going to use it.  Those cool things often are very, very cool, and they usually flop.  The most successful inventions solve real problems or improve on the current solutions to those problems.  I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but the overwhelming reaction to the Origami devices that have recently hit the market is:  “Wow!  Those look really cool…I wish I knew why I need to buy one.”

To tie this back in with something I work with everyday, it’s important to me to remember exactly what we are trying to accomplish with the MSDN Forums project.  Sometimes I get pretty hyped up about “cool” features.  Reputation systems, avatars, pretty interfaces, AJAXed-up web pages, fancy RSS feeds, glossy offline clients, and slick search are the technologies I’d like to see for the forums.  I get excited about them.  “Wouldn’t it be cool?” is an impossible thing for a program manager not to say.  But, what problem do all of those glossy features, those pieces of technology, solve?

I’ve written it down before, not on this blog, but I think it’s good to type over and over again.  Developers using Visual Studio and .NET need fast and accurate answers to their questions.  If the feature doesn’t help solve that problem, it’s not worth the time implementing it.  Now, going back to my technology list, I really do believe that those pieces of technology will help solve the problem above.  It’s always important to keep in mind.  My reputation system solves the problem that people will be incentivized to answer more questions to gain status in the forums—in the end, getting more of our customers answers to their questions.

As for Origami…maybe somebody will let me know what the problem was that it solves—outside of the fact that this Tablet PC I’m typing on is way too big to use on this Seattle Metro Bus… 🙂

Comments (4)

  1. Jeff Parker says:

    Well, they way I look at it, the Origami is really cool and cant be used and replace a ton of thing I currently have, however it has some growing up to do yet. Apps need to be built to target it and the audience. Ok for anyone that uses a planner, like a Franklin Covey planner. This is the perfect replacement. Roughly the same size same weight yet more functionality, having email and everythign right in your planner. Hence this could be targeted to the older generations that still use planners.

    Honestly I think this replaces the CE devices as well. I actually really like my CE device but find it limited many times I wish it would just would like XP. I think this breaks the limits my CE Phone has. Well once they put in some phone connectivity. Another thing I see is CE devices used in inventory systems, some form of bar code reader need to be created to be used from this. This would also help many of the CE device limitation by allow more robust inventory apps to run.

    Some other things this needs with all the connectivity and mobile options. Simple games between the devices. Imagine your bus ride you take everyday, or subway you take every day, now imagine playing a game against someone on the bus, a simple game yet challenging. Chess maybe, or Battleship, heck even Microsoft hearts like the hearts network. Heck even Texas holdem games on a long flight with other passengers. Building mini sub blue tooth networks for gaming on flights. But like I say this all has to be developed and mature. But how cool would some of that be.

  2. MSDN Archive says:

    I definitely see the point, but isn’t most of this the promise of what my SmartPhone or PocketPC is supposed to do?  I remember trying to replace a paper planner with a PocketPC.  The frustrating thing about it was that paper was simply easier, cheaper, and a hell of a lot more durable.

    The other applications are where the thing will catch on if it ever does.  The best thing I’ve thought of is that the Origami device of the future IS your computer, and that the little touch screen is just the "portable" way of interacting with it.  When you are back at your desk, you plug the Origami in, and it becomes your desktop PC, or you are able to slide a keyboard out from the bottom of it and it becomes a laptop.

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