eBooks: Losing the forest from the trees

I love being able to take around hundreds of books on my Kindle Paperwhite and it is the best iteration of the product yet (have owned two previous generations). There are many advantages to e-readers – sync across devices, minimizing clutter, etc.

One thing I still find problematic in reading large non-fiction / technical books with an e-reader is losing context or a sense of where you are. Flipping page after page, arbitrary “location” numbers, percentage completion and/or page numbers don’t really do the trick for giving a visceral sense of status. I know X-Ray is supposed to be a solution to this end, and you can quickly look at the table of contents to see relative position.

But with a physical book you can get immediate visual / physical feedback on where you are, how big a chapter is, how much is left to go. See the higher level structure / organization across multiple pages or within a chapter. You can skim or skip to sections at varying rates by the number of pages you physically move. Jump back and forth between specific sections very easily. All methods to zoom out to a higher level for strategy and then back into the weeds for details.

Right now I’m not sure there is a good solution yet for this with ebooks / e-readers, and hopefully we’ll see better use of technology for this end in subsequent iterations. One of those things that underscores the need to accommodate varying levels of information processing / architecture in the interaction design / user interface of solutions.


Product-Market Fit, Competitive Strategy: You’ll wish you had listened

Soapbox / preaching to the choir / note to self:

When both the supply and demand side of your business model tells you they’re dissatisfied, it opens the door to getting your lunch eaten like this:

…Comedian Will Arnett praised the freedom that the streaming provider is giving creatives building its new slate of original programming. Netflix is “allowing the creative community to do what they do best,” Arnett said. That freedom is helping to draw creatives who wish to build shows that they wouldn’t be able to develop for network or even cable TV…“We are absolutely making the show we would have made if we were still at Fox,” Hurwitz said.

…the company’s political thriller House of Cards has been the most-watched piece of content on the site a few weeks after its release. Not only is that true in the company’s home market of the U.S., but it’s true across all regions that the company operates in…Sarandos said that by releasing the show all at once, the company is “crafting long-form storytelling to be told any way you want to watch it.” That differs from the traditional storytelling model on networks, where shows are released on a weekly basis. “No one has ever watched anything on Netflix that they couldn’t watch all at once,” Sarandos said. There was no interest in changing that model for a new group of originals.

As a business you’re hired to do a job for specific groups with specific needs. They pay you to serve that need.

If someone does that job better than you, you’re out of a job.

All that needs to be remembered about product-market fit and competitive strategy: If you’re not thinking like this and instead how to hold people and their money hostage with choices that serve you and not them, you’re already on the way out.

Battery technology and the future of energy

The future of energy: Batteries included? | The Economist.

Interesting for three things:

Batteries are a hugely important technology. Modern life would be impossible without them. But many engineers find them disappointing and feel that they could be better still. Produce the right battery at the right price, these engineers think, and you could make the internal-combustion engine redundant and usher in a world in which free fuel, in the form of wind and solar energy, was the norm. That really would be a revolution.

In more than a few places batteries seem the enabler or bottleneck on what is possible. Have thought since the beginning of the electric car and upward rise in oil prices that whoever can figure this one out will have created a keystone for the next century.

To discover more of them, Argonne will make use of a rapidly growing encyclopedia of substances created by Gerbrand Ceder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr Ceder runs the Materials Project, which aims to be the “Google of material properties”. It allows researchers to speed up the way they search for things with specific properties. Argonne will use the Materials Project as a reference library in its search for better electrodes, and also hopes to add to it.

I like this for enabling innovation through access to information and letting it remix freely. The likelihood of any one organization to capitalize on such a database and create a power source beyond all others is far less than the entire world getting a crack at that same information / problem. Am reminded again of Steven Johnson’s analysis that public sector research is what enables private sector innovation.

The leader is probably the lithium-air battery, in which metallic lithium is oxidised at the anode and reduced at the cathode. In essence, it uses atmospheric oxygen as the electrolyte. This reduces its weight and means its energy density is theoretically enormous. That is important. One objection to electric cars is that petrol packs six times more joules of energy into a kilogram than a battery can manage. Bringing that ratio down would make electric vehicles more attractive.

Very cool if still distant at this point. Somewhere I hope someone has both the engineering expertise and interest in creating a power source that can sustainably draw from the world yet produce more than current means.

Competitive strategy and unique value: Monoprice

How Monoprice Is Eating The Tech World From The Inside Out.

Monoprice picks new electronics products not based on how they complement the site’s lineup, but according to a simple rule: They have to be able to beat the mainstream price by a lot.

“Before we enter a product category, we make sure we have a product manager internally who’s an expert in that area,” says Kumar. “What we also do is try to make sure that we’re about 50% below what a retailer would be selling that product for.” A 10% discount, he says, isn’t enough to convince people to take a risk on an unfamiliar brand. This means no TVs, laptops, or smartphones.

Dig this as both a consumer and strategist. Makes me think of Clayton Christensen and Cory Doctorow‘s observations that market competition ultimately drives prices and margins to zero. If you want to prevent that, you need to be doing something that others can’t easily buy, copy or undercut.