Blog Posts

5 Ways Social Networks Can Save Email

A look at how some of the social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter are leaving email in the dust and what can be done to save it.
5 Ways Social Networks Can Save Email

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No Longer King

Email enjoyed a long life at the top of the charts in terms of internet usage, which at one point was over 250 billion emails a day. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter however, have taken over the scene with people leaving email as a result. The problems with email are clear as the virtual ink used to send it. Email suffers from junk mail, marketing blasts, searchability, trust and an inability to catch up with the features being offered on other platforms. Email standards have not progressed and the clients on the desktop have shown no innovation in years.

While companies like Google tried to re-invite email with Google Wave it never took hold for a variety of reasons including adoption and confusion. What Google Wave did show what could be done with a whole new take on email if we threw out the preconcieved ideas.

5 Ideas to Save Email

  1. New Protocol: IMAP/POP/MAPI are all old and outdated relying on standards set forth in the early days of the internet. Time for someone to step up and write the next email protocol that is based on an open standard, a great API and realtime collaboaration. This new standard should include ways to extend it with add-ons or plugins both from the client and server sides. Support things like hash tags and indented replies to make emails feel more like conversations but be more structured as a result.
  2. Get Social: The social web isn't going away anytime soon, it is where people work, play and communicate, so build it into email. Replace the address book with something that pulls in all your contacts from Facebook, Twitter and Linked In. Rethink the "Subject" of an email which has been replaced with a status. Build in the realtime nature of the social web and tag people instead of sending "to" them.
  3. Embrace Trust: SPAM is killing email because any spammer that can guess your email address can send you an email. Learn from the trusted social networks and only allow people who are in your social address book (see above) to send you a message. Accept users into your emails like "liking" or "linking in" with all other senders getting quarantined.
  4. Integrate: Everything about the social web starts with integration into other services. A post from twitter can show up on your Facebook status and Foursquare checkins can tweet your location to Twitter. Bring those integrations into email including geolocation, status and the ability to expose the social network of contacts. Get an email from someone and be able to see their tweets, Linked In profile or last location.
  5. Hybrid Approach: The next wave for email should take a highly hybrid approach, focusing on collaboration, standards and consistency. It will probably start with the web versions like Gmail and Yahoo since they are not bound by executables on the client side.

The Big Question

While all of this sounds good and would do a lot to save email from becoming the Instant Message of our times, in the end it comes down to a big question of "Can anyone make money on innovating email?" With the onlsaught of interactive ads and networks, I think the answer is yes.

Now, who is up to the challenge?

I Want My Cloud TV!

How the cloud is transforming the entertainment experience.
I Want My Cloud TV!

Cloud Television

Whether we know it or not, we have all been enjoying some type of entertainment in the cloud. From the early days of Napster to today's iTunes, we have all trended to the cloud to get a favorite song or movie. It's a great thing, however because there are so many media outlets and services it is very hard to get that one stop shop for all your entertainment needs. Not to mention, the cable companies own the marketplace for live television. Due to some recent events, here is why I believe we are closer to an ultimate, cost effective, cloud entertainment experience then ever before. 

 

More Streaming Content

 

The first bit of news is Blockbuster announcing it was going into bankruptcy. The key point here is not the Blockbuster downfall but that Netflix, its #1 competitor, is going in the opposite direction by moving from brick and morter operations to a more agile low overhead model. Why are people loving Netflix? Aside from the fact that people don't want to get in their cars to go to the movie rental store if they don't have to as well as the no late fees - it's the streaming service, of course. Currently Netflix has about 20,000 titles available for viewing online immediately and it's only growing. With televisions, gaming consoles and media players already having the ability to interface with Netflix it is easy for people to snuggle up on a couch and watch hours and hours of content for under $10 a month. Add to that mobile devices like iPhones and iPads which people can use to watch The Simpsons while on go. 

 

Companies Play Nice Together

 

The next and most important bit of news was the release of the new Apple TV and Google TV. The Apple TV has been around for years as an Apple "Hobby" but the new revision is very impactful for the world of cloud entertainment. For $99 not only can I watch and listen to all my iTunes content on my television and home entertainment system but I can access my Netflix account as well! The Google TV intends to reinvent the entire TV experience with Applications, Search, and the Web all in one. Apps like Netflix and Pandora delivered to our TV sets means a totally new paradigm for what the large HD panel in the living room can do. Without companies like Apple, Google and Netflix willing to play together, there would be no chance in conquering the traditional old guard television and media market. This is a huge indicator that the time is coming.

 

Who Needs Live TV?

 

Other then live sporting events which some people are actually recording btw, who cares about live tv anymore? Even the cable companies provide most network shows on their "On Demand" service. There are devices such as the Slingbox that stream my TV signal over the web, there are applications on mobile devices that allow me to watch live sporting events like the MLB App or the NFL package from DirectTV. With recording devices like TIVO and our fast pace lifestyles, no one is running home to catch the new episode of The League (though it's a great show and should be watched by all via iTunes). If its not important then why am I paying such a premium for the content when really all I need is the high speed connection to the web?

 

Ala Carte Entertainment

 

With a $99 Apple TV and an $8.99 a month subscription to Netflix, I get as close to a one stop shop entertainment experience as possible today. After looking at my $100 a month cable bill for 300+ channels I rarely watch and almost never watch live for that matter, I dream of the day I can have all of this available through 1 service. Times are changing and we will get there with more services sprouting up to stream live content to us wherever we are with whatever device we happen to have handy at that particular moment.  

 

 

Chatter 2 Ready for Primetime

Cloud Computing delivers features, functionality, and innovation at a pace that on-premise software cannot match. We take a look at how Salesforce.com's Chatter has evolved into Chatter 2 in only 6 months since its initial beta release.
Chatter 2 Ready for Primetime

All of the features coming in the Winter '11 release of Chatter 2

Chatter 2 has already hit the primetime in Winter '11 Salesforce.com orgs and it's a major upgrade to a product that was only officially launched out of beta 3 months ago. The power of Cloud Computing is that upgrades and new features are seamless and are pushed out by the service provider, in this case Salesforce.com. Salesforce.com has spent a considerable amount of time and resources upgrading and enhancing Chatter to the point that it is already deemed Chatter 2.

Things I like:


Having used the new features for a few days now I can already see what I am going to like about Chatter 2. The Chatter Central tab is a great new enhancement that makes Chatter really feel like it's not just tacked on to every page in the system, rather it now has a "home". The Chatter tab feels like the homepage of Facebook - a familiar experience for most users and is certainly where Salesforce is looking to go.

Suggestions are a fantastic enhancement. Our org is not so large that I don't know everyone in it but a case where this works wonderfully is within the Dreamforce Portal where there are literally thousands of people that I don't know - suggestions make it easy for me to make connections to random people and groups that I otherwise wouldn't have found. Being able to find these disparate people leads to a greater awareness of what is going on within the organization.

Chatter Search and Chatter Topics make it really simple to tag or #Hashtag specific key topics and can in essence link together data that would otherwise remain in silos.

Things I'm not so sure about:


Analytics on Chatter have been released but are pretty bare bones for now - the only things you can report on are users and their followers OR users and their posts. It would be nice to be able to report on records with Chatter and see the people who are following a record and the Chatter that is on the record.

Chatter on Activities, Dashboards, and Reports feel a little bit like add-ons that are unecessary. Dashboards and Reports are constantly changing so the Chatter is likely to get very stale in a hurry on those records. Activities is promising BUT it's missing a feature that would make it killer - an Event should Chatter every time an attendee accepts or declines the Event - vote for this on the IdeaExchage.

Chatter Files is a nice idea but really it just confuses things - there are so many places now to go and look for documents within the system. You have Files, Workgroups, Content, Documents, and Notes & Attachments. The good thing is that any File attached to a Chatter feed gets centralized in the Files tab and gets attached to the Notes & Attachments of that particular record, the bad thing is that Content is all over the place and is not intuitive for end-users.

Innovation not Infrastructure:


Chatter 2 has evolved from about 6 months of end-user testing and usage of the Chatter Collaboration Cloud. Such innovation and speed could only be delivered by a Cloud Computing platform. An entire product lifecycle in less then a year is incredible, especially one that is being adopted and used as widely as Chatter. The kicker - as a customer all you have to do is turn it on - no additional hardware or software and unlike some recent Salesforce.com products, no additional licensing costs.

There are still some things that I wish Chatter did but seeing that Salesforce.com is able to innovate at such a rapid pace I am sure they are coming - the thing I am most looking forward to is making Chatter truly real-time. Currently you still have to refresh the page in order to see new Chatter - soon enough that should be more like Twitter where it's a real-time flow of information.  

There are far more enhancements coming down the pike and if you want to discuss them with me feel free to tweet me at twitter.com/justedelstein.

Chatter Changes Conference Collaboration

As a past customer and now partner of Salesforce.com, Dreamforce has become an annual "must go" event and mecca for all things cloud computing. Each year the conference grows in size, complexity and sheer magnitude. This year Salesforce.com is bringing a whole new dynamic to the conference by creating a conference portal with Chatter.
Chatter Changes Conference Collaboration

Dreamforce Chatter Portal

Chatting It Up

For those new to Chatter it is Salesforce.com's internal, enterprise version of a social network. Like Twitter or Facebook you can follow people, post statuses and form public and private groups. The killer feature of Chatter is that it enables any data type the ability to post its own message about status or data changes. In a normal CRM installation Chatter enables opportunities to chat when they are updated, accounts to chat when they are changed and for custom data like projects to chat when a new goal has been reached. All of this, including the people you follow show up in a feed and on your profile, which also contains personal information like a photo, contact and followers.

Conference Community Goes Social

The new Dreamforce portal brings all of those Chatter features and throws in all of the conference sessions, speakers, groups and attendees. While Dreamforce isn't until the beginning of December, attendees are already connecting up, following each other and posting statuses about what they are excited about. There are user groups forming from locations and interests like the NJ Salesforce Usergroup and our own Football Fanatics @ Dreamforce for those looking to find the best spots to watch our teams while in San Francisco.

Save Your Business Cards

Bringing this social networking to Dreamforce is changing the face of the conference, creating buzz months before the actual conference and allowing attendees to get to know each other before getting on the plane. It will be even more interesting to see how Chatter and the portal are used during and after the conference. I can see people foregoing the exchange of business cards, by just saying "Follow me on Chatter" and others using mobile devices like the iPad to find someone during the conference to meet up by posting on their wall.

More to come on this topic as we will be attending, podcasting and blogging about Dreamforce and letting you know how it all works out.

For those attending Dreamforce this year, follow me in the portal and let the conversation begin.

Streamline your proposal process with Salesforce.com and Conga Composer

This is how we at Arkus streamlined our proposal process using Salesforce.com and Conga Composer.
Streamline your proposal process with Salesforce.com and Conga Composer

Proposal creation in less then a 2 hour movie!

Let me start off by saying that until I became the consultant, I had never realized how much of a pain it is to create a services proposal.  As an employee in financial services, it was very common to see consultants take two to three weeks if not longer to turn around a proposal regardless of the complexity of the project.  It was mindboggling to me and now being the consultant, I see why.

Problem Proposal Paradox

For starters, consulting services require an explanation which becomes very manual when writing a proposal. You cannot give a client a proposal without detailing what it is you plan to do.  Listing line items like project management, configuration and integration mean nothing unless you can break them down and relate them to the requirements given during discovery.

Second, to estimate the amount of effort it takes to deliver a services project requires expertise and experience. Without it, you will either lose business or lose money and both are a shame. We use the discovery calls and meetings as a way to pull out enough information to estimate correctly.

Lastly, we need to put something together that is professional looking, detailed but not overbearing and on the mark. It needs give enough detail to satisfy the client.

At Arkus, we struggled with all of the work and complexity at the start but knew there had to be a better way!  

Salesforce.com and "The Conga Guys" to the rescue!

After going through our own process, we knew we needed two things to make this process better.

The first was a tool that could store all this information and relate it all to our sales process. We need to capture data which we could then report on and begin to use when we created more proposals in the future. The second was something that could easily pull this data together in a format that was professional and met the clients needs. 

The first one was easy, Salesforce.com.  By using the Opportunites and the Products objects, we where able to create a proposal process that was simple to use and with all the data we wanted to capture. We standardized our services into categories which became products using price books to break out different pricing models. All of those products relate back to the opportunity and rollup to the account showing true transparency.  This reduced manual entry and now set us up for the metrics we were looking to report on.

Configuring Salesforce.com was the easy part but to get all that data into the proposal document was a bigger challenge until we met The Conga Guys.  With some configuration we were able to take what we built in Salesforce.com and create a proposal document that was not only professional looking and detailed but was generated with a click of button.  To make delivery easier, we use Salesforce.com's email templates which generates the proposal in a personalized email ready to go out the door.

Conga-lusion

Thanks to Salesforce.com and Conga Composer our proposal process is a well-oiled machine. There is nothing worse then work that is going unpaid and we save ourselves a ton of time getting those proposals, written, approved and sent off.

If any of this hit home and you would like to know more about it, please reach out to us.  We would love to give you a proposal!

We can be reached at info@arkusinc.com or twitter.com/salvatoriello.

To read more about Salesforce.com and Conga Composer:

Salesforce

www.salesforce.com

AppExtremes

http://home.appextremes.com/conga/