Categories
Asides

Diverse Teams + Desire To Disrupt Status Quo = Breakthrough Ideas

Earlier today I sat in on a webcast that Joi Ito from MIT Media Lab hosted with David and Tom Kelley from IDEO where they discussed how to foster a culture of innovation and maximize the creative potential of said innovative organization. Then this evening I attended an intimate discussion hosted by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce at WeWork between Kevin Winston of Digital LA and Eric Garland of Live Nation Labs. I’ve excerpted some of both discussions below, but more interestingly I’d like to analyze some commonalities. The brothers Kelley came at the discussion from an agency, teaching, and author/public speaker background while Eric had an entrepreneur turned corporate research & development background, but both ended up hitting on some similar topics. Namely: hiring the best people, fostering their communication, and then getting the hell out of the way.

A common thread has emerged lately in articles I’ve read, videos I’ve watched, and events I’ve attended where managers response to the general question of “what was most important to your success?” is almost always along the lines of “I had a great team”. Clearly some people long for a shortcut to success, but the common answer tends to be “hire great people”, “set your team up for success”, “rinse & repeat”. So then how do you go about hiring great people and setting them up for success? The Kelley brothers seemed to say that having a diverse background was valuable for their team members (I seem to recall one of the brothers noting an opera singer on staff) and that diverse employee base allowed for a wide-ranging set of experiences from which to draw upon during creative sessions. That approach may work well for an agency in that they often work on varying projects and clients and need to have a different approach on a regular basis. However, I wonder how that applies to someone like an entrepreneur or someone  locked into a specific marketplace (e.g., Eric Garland’s focus on the music industry and advancing Live Nation’s business via his Labs team).  Can those teams afford the luxury of a diverse employee base or must they stick to the “engineers and designers with pre-existing experience in the music industry” bit that seems to permeate job postings? The answer, in reality, seems to be against a diverse employee base (see Live Nation Labs job postings for an answer to that). But this is a small sample size, so if you’re aware of teams who hire specifically for diverse candidates I’d love to hear about them to compare their success and failures against organizations who hire for job-specific talents with marketplace experience. My second question of “how to set up your team for success” was hit on by Eric during his discussion; he seemed to say that allowing the team to work when, where and on what they wanted while keeping them physically and mentally separated from upper management was a key to success. Any additional thoughts you have on this topic would be warmly welcomed in the comments section below; let’s chat!

Categories
Link

News Roundup: Google Glass and Healthcare

A roundup of articles covering the intersection of Google Glass and Healthcare topics…

Five Potential Healthcare Applications for Google Glass — http://thehealthcareblog.com/blog/2013/07/17/five-potential-healthcare-applications-for-google-glass/

Inside The Operating Room With Google Glass — http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnnosta/2013/06/21/google-glass-in-the-operating-room/

“OK GLASS:..TEACH ME MEDICINE!” — http://rgrosssz.wordpress.com/2013/06/26/ok-glass-teach-me-medicine/

TEDxDirigo – Rafael Grossmann – iPod Teletrauma: the $229 130 million sq. ft. Trauma Room — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9QW5jhuPKI&feature=youtube_gdata_player#mHealth

Categories
Asides

Reblog – Highlights of CES 2011

I’m reblogging my post from an internal NBCU site here on our website for posterity sake.

Syfy at CES 2011
Syfy at CES 2011

The 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) just wrapped in chilly Las Vegas and two topics are worth noting: 3D & tablets. On top of those two major highlights you’ll see different form factors, different operating systems, different user interfaces and different application marketplaces which equates to a myriad of options for consumers and a headache for content creators.

3D TV
TV manufacturers are making heavy investments in 3D across several areas: displays, Blu-ray players, & cameras. The conversation between Active & Passive 3D heated up even further with TV manufactures staking their preference on each side of the fence with LG & VIZIO on the Passive side and Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, and Sharp on the Active side. The issues with viewing angles, refresh rates & flicker seen in the 3D TVs in 2010 have improved and the resulting 2D quality is astounding. While the various TV application marketplaces used different standards, there were some similar apps across the ecosystems: Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, YouTube, Pandora. Sony demoed their consumer-grade 3D camera (3D Bloggie HD) that allows consumers to shoot their own 3D footage that can then be watched; it should be noted that the quality is very much entry-level and nowhere near the quality that broadcast networks or film studios are capable of with their 3D cameras, but an interesting option for taping your child’s upcoming birthday party.

Bravo at CES 2011
Bravo at CES 2011

Tablets
In 2010, netbooks were all the rage; in 2011, you couldn’t avoid the proliferation of tablets and their corresponding peripheral devices. The main positioning that tablet manufacturers are using to market their devices are that they’ll be used in conjunction with watching TV. Some, like the Panasonic VIERA tablet only have a function when viewing TV (and in that case, only with a VIERA Connect-compatible TV). The crowd favorite seems to be a toss-up between the Motorola Xoom and the Blackberry Playbook with a slight edge to the Xoom for being a more open ecosystem. The Xoom features Android version 3.0 (aka Honeycomb) that was specifically designed for tablets, has a well-integrated experience, and appears ready to take advantage of Motorola’s Media To Go home broadcasting feature to display content from your DVR or live TV on the Xoom tablet. The Playbook, built on Blackberry’s own OS, has the ability to authenticate with a Blackberry device that’s in-range and display email & other data related to the synced users account; otherwise it has all the same functionalities as the Xoom minus the home broadcasting options. None of the tablets on display are expected to upstage the iPad, but there will be some competition as the fight to be #2 begins.

Comcast-Samsung Partnership
Brian Roberts showed up at the Samsung keynote to show that Comcast will be partnering with them on the video portion of Samsung’s cloud-based platform to store, share & play content. Brian also displayed the Xfinity TV app for the Galaxy Tab, how it turns the tablet into a guide, video player, and remote, & noted that they’ll be adding the feature to watch live TV on the tablet and social media features soon. Samsung Smart TVs will have access to Comcast’s VOD library and you can switch between the tablet & TV and it’ll pick up where you left off. Samsung’s TVs will support Flash and Adobe AIR will be the technology behind the cross-platform, multiscreen applications

Oxygen at CES 2011
Oxygen at CES 2011

The NBCU Booth
The NBCU booth focused on Syfy, Bravo & Oxygen on successive days as well as hosting a five-seat hub for bloggers, a live set for CNBC & MSNBC, a staged control room for consumers to see “how the sausage is made”, a group of six hanging wicker chairs with iPad’s displaying many NBCU apps, and a simple information booth. Oh, and a giant sphere who’s various panels could move independently to open & close to display the various networks showcase concept of the day. Thursday was Syfy’s day to shine and they used the space to display the first playable demo of the RIFT game. The makers of RIFT gave a short talk on the gameplay in the center of the Syfy sphere, were accompanied by an appropriately dressed Asha from the Telara saga, and consumers could sample the gameplay on the kiosks circling the sphere. Friday was Bravo’s day to take control and Top Chef’s Richard Blais turned popcorn, liquid nitrogen, and a blowtorch into a tasty spherical treat. They also had some of their famous Housewives on-hand for interviews and photo ops. The weekend saw Oxygen putting their Live Out Loud label on the line with video-taped karaoke that consumers could later download from the Oxygen website as well as a live interview with the host of The Aubrey O’Day Project. More from the NBCU booth can be found on the NBCU at CES website.

Other Highlights
Some other highlights include autostereo (glasses-free) 3D technology from several manufacturers, a convertible laptop-tablet from Samsung featuring Windows 7, a dual touchscreen laptop from Acer featuring Windows 7, Avatar Kinect from Microsoft that allows for chatting via Kinect online personas, as well as Microsoft and several partners displaying functioning System on a Chip (SoC) hardware designs.

Many thanks to NBCU for the opportunity to be here in Vegas as I’ve enjoyed my entire CES experience. I hope to come back next year and provide updates to my blog readers as well as co-workers at NBCU!

Categories
Asides

Reblog – Microsoft Keynote: Quick Impressions

Microsoft Pre-CES Keynote
Microsoft Pre-CES Keynote

I’m reblogging my post over on the NBCU at CES site here on our website for posterity sake.

After sitting through the Microsoft keynote, I can say for certain that they have some great things ahead in 2011 including a tablet & laptop device that I might mediately order tonight.

Steve Ballmer focused the crowd on their coverage of TVs (via the Xbox), phones, and PCs. 2010 saw a lot of progress with the Xbox 360, Xbox Live and Kinect. With the addition of the Zune marketplace and Kinect you now have hand and voice controls of music and movies to go along with the obvious Xbox gaming platform.

With the addition of Netflix, Hulu Plus and ESPN3.com you now have access to movies, TV shows and sports all through the Xbox. One thing not mentioned was that each of those services require paid subscriptions, so buyer beware.

The Windows 7 phone has been launched with 9 different phones, by 60 mobile operators, in 30 countries. They demoed some cut scenes from Xbox Live games on the phone, all of which looked fun but several appear to be “me too” apps compared to Apple’s app store options. Competition in the mobile marketplace is a good thing and proof of that comes in some things not seen on an iPhone. Live tiles on the lock and home screens give you quick access to the most important info (# of emails, texts, voicemails, etc) so you van glance and go. A physical camera button that works even when the phone is locked allows you to go from pocket to picture to post in seconds.

Their last segment on PCs showed some hot gadetry in the form of an Asus dual touchscreen laptop and a Samsung Sliding 7 Series PC that is a laptop the converts into a tablet. So, if you want to get some large format Nintendo DS action, the Asus machine is for you. If you’re like me then the Samsung device will let you have the office power of a laptop plus the kick-up-your-heels comfort of a tablet. I’ll be getting my hands on that later today and possibly putting through an order on Amazon.com!

Now I’m off to the rest of CES, but stay tuned to the NBCU coverage via Twitter (@NBCUCES), Facebook (NBCUCES), and here at http://NBCUatCES.com.

(Blogged from my iPhone.)

Categories
Asides

CES 2011: NBC Digital Model

NBC circa 1956
NBC circa 1956

As part of the Media Money Makers program track, I sat in on a quick presentation from some familiar faces: the NBC.com executive team. The “From Broadband to Big Time: The NBC Digital Model” presentation from Vivi Zigler (President, NBCU Digital Entertainment), Steve Andrade (GM and SVP, Digital Development, NBC.com), and Nick Johnson (VP, Digital Media Sales, NBCU) touched on several popular campaigns with shows & sponsors in 2010.

The Microsoft sponsorship of the School Pride webisodes let people nominate local schools to win a computer lab makeover with Windows 7. The HP sponsorship of The Office social challenge had fans display a show-themed posted in their office to earn Fan It points (which can then be redeemed for physical & virtual goods). The Bud Light sponsorship of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon centered on the world premiere telecast of “Stones in Exile” documentary and exclusive Rolling Stones content on the Fallon website. The Turbo Tax sponsorship was a cross-platform social media play that has occurred for three straight years and included on-air vignettes, custom expert guides, sweepstakes and a live treasure hunt. The Dove sponsorship of the Good2Go mobile campaign reached across several NBCUniversal sites, generates awareness of the Dove “go fresh” brand message and creates engagement with busy moms on the go with continually updated content.

They keep content and sponsorships relevant and meaningful to their users by reading show scripts in advance to identify potential integrations, they work with digital agencies outside of the Upfront to see what they’d like to see included. NBC.com owns the content created for advertisers (eg. webisodes), all NBCU brands have significant digital teams, and some brands come to them while others they search out highlighting the solutions NBC.com offers. All in all, a quick and interesting insight into how they interact with major advertisers and how that affects their planning and strategies for their year. Let’s see what they come back with at CES 2012 in terms of success in 2011!

Many thanks to NBCU for the opportunity to be here in Vegas, I hope to post again this weekend with some additional company & product reviews.

Categories
Asides

CES 2011: Social TV

CES 2011
CES 2011

Friday’s day-long panel discussion track continued with the Social Television – The Merger of Content, Social Interaction and the Video Platforms panel. The panel was moderated by Richard Sussman (VP of Digital Entertainment, The Nielsen Company) and included
Michael Kernan (Chief Executive Officer, NuMedia Studios), Greg March (Director of Digital Media, Weiden + Kennedy), Raviv Moore (VP Business Development, Eyecon Technologies), Marty Roberts (Vice President of Sales and Marketing, ThePlatform), Christy Tanner (General Manager, TVGuide.com), Matt Wasserlauf (CEO, BBE), and Gayle Weiswasser (VP, Social Media Communications, Discovery Communications) as panelists.

We’re seeing the formation of telecommunities with viewers chatting while watching and even seeing some networks work it into their broadcast with Fox’s Fringe as a prime example. One in ten watched the 2010 Oscars while on the internet, but there are issues if you have to pause to take care of the kids and then jump to live to get caught up with the group instead of watching linearly.

Discovery saw 14,000 users for a live chat during an east coast airing and 5,000 during a west coast airing of Captain Phil’s farewell from Deadliest Catch. Along with the viewer participation, they saw 135,000 page views and 15,000 comments during the live chats while the live broadcast of the episode on July 13th, 2010 garnered 8.5 million viewers and was the #1 show on cable that night for men & women aged 25-54. In terms of the differential between east & west Coast, they felt that many west coasters tuned in to the east coast broadcast.

In October 2010 Discovery added GetGlue stickers and saw 1,400 get the MythBusters premiere sticker with a potential social media reach of 1 million users. If viewers continued to view the live episodes on Wednesday, they were able to unlock additional stickers. In under three months of check-ins, there were 38,000 for MythBusters 12,000 for Sarah Palin and 10,000 for Storm Chasers. Discovery Super Fans get a discount code to use at the Discovery Store online by checking into a show five or more times. They’ve also added the check-in widget to select fan sites to help spread the word about the program.

Eyecon provides software to allow consumers to discover media more efficiently. thePlatform is a video management system that allows publishers to take their content to different destinations. They can work with content providers and video sites to build in ads to roll on embeded clips as well as ensure specific hashtags appear when something is retweeted.

NuMedia Studios partners with advertisers and talent to create content for web and TV. Recently they launched AssCastles.com with FunnyOrDie.com and sold the show to VH1 as a smart comedy tv show. It had 57,000 views and 2,000 comments in four days after launch.

Specific Media acquired BBE to bring together display and video. Their video is targetable and more than 10 billion US impressions and 1.9 billion video streams monthly. Mom Life was a 2010 Webby winner with 52 million unique users for season one & two, 100 million web streams with the twenty five episodes integrating 40+ brands.

TV Guide focuses on original content, linear TV listings grid, and full episodes from networks, cablers and web outfits. They have 23 million unique users, iPad/iPhone/Android apps, 300,000 fans of their pages (tv shows, movies, celebs), syndicate to mobile/YahooTV/OMG, and launched check-ins for tv shows on their site in October under the moniker of “I’ll Watch”. They’ve noticed that their top twenty checkin shows don’t match the top shows according to Nielsen or fan page counts. The Glee Christmas episode was #1, but #7 was It’s A Wonderful Life and Sons of Anarchy was in the top twenty.

In general in social TV and online video the advertisers set the KPIs while on TV its GRP. Any way to record fans is beneficial (eg., unlocking special content). Vindico provides an ad serving system that can help with this. Measurement online as a whole is a disaster, meanwhile TV has a digestible metric in GRP. Online doesn’t have a common vocabulary for metrics. Across both platforms (TV & online) we need to measure live, DVR, on demand & online to get a true idea of ratings. Comcast wants to allow subscribers to watch their on demand library online and then take the ability to watch to mobile devices as well.

Many thanks to NBCU for the opportunity to be here in Vegas, I hope to keep posting this weekend with additional company & product reviews as well as panel session updates.

Categories
Asides

Agile Journal Seminar: Agile Comes to LA

The following are my notes from the Agile Comes to LA seminar on Thursday, December 17th 2009. The event was sponsored by AccuRev, Coverity, Electric Cloud, Rally Software, and BigVisible. The event saw leaders from each sponsor talk about how Agile software development techniques and the tools that support them can help you reduce risk, boost the productivity of your existing organization, and cut development costs.

George Schlitz (BigVisible): Agile Hits Ground in the Organization
+ Required, if humorous, reading: You Might Be a CrAgilist If…
+ Educate PMO on new ways to report progress (e.g., Burndown Charts)
+ Educate Compliance/Audit on difference/changes w/Agile
+ Ensure measurements reward the behavior that you want (How do we reward the new behavior?)
+ What does career development now look like?
+ Combine benefits of diverse methods: theory of constraints, lean & agile
+ Don’t measure individuals, measure teams and their success
+ You can’t really create an Agile standard for all teams to follow, just get started w/the basics and let the team determine for themselves what will work for them

Cliff Utstein (AccuRev): Automating Agile Software Development Processes
+ AccuRev – process driven SCM software
+ Product quality is fixed, business requirements persist (increase?), resources may be cut, little/no schedule relief
+ increase throughput by improving software development processes: automating & optimizing

Behrooz Zahiri (Coverity): Managing Software Quality in Agile Environments
+ The earlier you find a defect, the cheaper it is to fix
+ Cheapest to fix: in development; more expensive to fix: during integration; even more expensive to fix: during test; most expensive to fix: during production
+ Static Analysis – like a spell checker that finds your most difficult bugs
+ Coverity helps identify bugs for open source projects at scan.coverity.com, 11,303 defects have been fixed since March 2003
+ Coverity supports C, C#, C++ and Java

Martin Van Ryswyk (Electric Cloud): Making Agile Work
+ Continuous Integration = Agile; checkin & get instant feedback on integration problems
+ Fast builds (“espresso” builds), automated builds & test on-demand
+ Access for developers/QA/etc. to schedule builds, on-demand builds or stimulus builds
+ Auto build after code checkin to get fast feedback on build integrity/code quality
+ Include pre-flight tests to help reduce build failures

Alex Pukinskis (Rally): Case Study: Customizing Agile Tools for Project Success
+ Current fave book: The Principles of Product Development Flow: Second Generation Lean Product Development by Donald Reinertsen
+ Three meetings: daily scrum, scrum of scrums & regular retrospectives
+ New Rally build due out 12/19 will allow for setup of different types of dashboards built on roles (developer, manager & executive)
+ Remove obstacles for team members ASAP to limit overall delays
+ 100 day delay starts with multiple 8 hour delays

Additional notes from discussions:
+ Look into Bamboo to help with Continuous Integration/automated builds

UPDATE (7 Jan 2010 @ 12:32pm PST): I’ve added links to the presentation files.

Categories
Asides

Transitioning to Agile Product Development

Last week I attended a PDMA LA roundtable discussion on “Transitioning to Agile Product Development“. The discussion was moderated by a PDMA LA board member and featured the following panelists:

I was hoping to come away with some lessons learned and best practices on transitioning an organization to an Agile one, but the discussion ended up being more of an overview of Agile as many in attendance were unfamiliar with some of the basic concepts. I did manage to meet some interesting people and continue building my local Agile network, but not quite specifically what I was hoping to achieve, silver lining I suppose.

Regardless, the following are my notes from the event. Note that I’ve tried to note the panelists initials where I can attribute my note to them:

  • S.D. – continuous feedback from customers on demos; requirements flexible, time & resources/costs are fixed
  • Basic tenets outlined in Agile Manifesto
  • S.D. – 8hr workday creates a certain # of defects, 10hr workday creates 11x more defects than an 8hr one
  • Comment that Scrum helped elect recent governors of VA & NJ
  • The Standish Group found that 7% of features affect a customers buy/build decision, 13% will affect you vs. competitor decision, 64% no one cares about
  • S.G. – Contracts can be written w/Agile adjustments instead of hardcoding features/cost/date, Mary Poppendieck has some resources on this
    [Jeff Paul – here are some references I found: Agile Contracts by Mary & Tom Poppendieck, Agile Contracts pitch by Mary in 2005, Lean Contracts essay by Mary in 2002]
  • Should be constantly improving processes
  • Understand # hrs/resource & # hrs/sprint and estimate user stories better
  • Check out Reed Hasting’s presentation on Slideshare
  • Check out the Business Agility whitepaper on the Enthiosys.com site
  • Assume a single project team to get to Agile process & show benefits to help transition larger org
  • Get good coaching & training

I hope to attend more events in 2010 and will do my best to summarize them here… cheers!

Categories
Asides

Rally’s Agile Success Tour 2009: Los Angeles

agile development - active user involvement is imperative!
agile development – active user involvement is imperative!

I sat through Rally Software’s Agile Success Tour 2009 in LA on March 26th at The Belamar and am pleased to provide my summary below along with some additional and relevant content from Rally. Please do enjoy!

  • A recommended Agile blog to read: The Agile Executive
  • A recommended book to read: Code Complete by Steve McConnell
  • 40-50% of VPs/Directors/Managers and 10-20% of engineers/architects can be expected to leave the organization after implementation of the Agile process
  • Measure what you want to improve, what’s important to you
  • Overall reduction in lines of code by removing duplicative code & unnecessary features/code
  • Know what the goal is, what problem is being solved?
  • Metrics to track: # defects & user stories per Sprint, $ spent, customer satisfaction, time to market
  • Continuous integration will expose defaults/inefficiencies (i.e., source control, change control)
  • Limit work-in-progress, multi-tasking… single task & focus on one thing (a story, project, task)
  • Continue breaking down User Stories until they can be delivered within a Sprint
  • Involve customer in Release Planning & Demos
  • Don’t load Sprint to 100%, sicknesses/vacations/delays/incorrect estimation will account for 20%
  • Servant Leadership: lead by serving, serve by leading
  • Own Vision, continually ask for insights: What’s not working well? What’s working well?
  • Another recommended book to read: Good to Great by Jim Collins
  • Estimating will be rough initially, but they will improve; Give Estimate, Commit to estimate with no repercussions of missing, adjust understanding if estimate missed so that future estimations are more accurate
  • Always leave buffer in Sprints, don’t commit to full list of detailed features, talk about high level themes of releases
  • If you’re getting closer to the end of a Sprint & are over allocated, work with customers to weed out features or scope down features into smaller portions
  • 5 Levels of Planning: Vision set by leadership team, Product Roadmap set by product council, Release Plan set by every affected individual in org, Iteration Plan, Daily Plan (see whitepaper link below)
  • Get something small, but get it done
  • Meetup Group: LA Agile & Scrum User Group
  • If you deliver crap, it doesn’t matter – Christophe Louvion
  • Stay “Releasable” with nightly builds/test, 2 week iteration demos, frequent & rigorous peer reviews

Here are some additional liveblog posts from Rally on the day of the event:

And as a final note, here’s a great white paper that covers the different levels of planning involved in the Agile methodology and provides a great entry point into Agile:
Five Levels of Agile Planning: From Enterprise Product Vision to Team Stand-up

Categories
Asides

Twiistup Event Recap

Twiistup Los Angeles Tech Events | Twiistup 5 Santa Monica 2.12.09

I recently attended Twiistup 5 in Santa Monica on February 12th and was hoping to meet other digital media folks in SoCal as well as check out some cool, new companies who were demo’ing their sites/products. It was held in an empty airplane hangar at the Santa Monica Airport, which added to the coolness factor of walking into a giant hangar filled with people & booze as though it were a club. There were also free drinks, food, and cigars so who was I to argue?

In no particular order, here are my thoughts on the companies and people I met.

eHow was there demo’ing their site and soliciting for users to join their community (and likely, ideally provide new content) by offering up an iPod nano and cash. Their tag line is “How To Do Just About Everything” and appears to be somewhat in competition with sites like About.com, VideoJug, WonderHowTo, Expert Village and to a lesser extent Wikipedia. eHow offers users articles and videos on how to do just about anything, but also provide users the ability to add their own How-To content and receive cash payments via an ad revenue sharing system. Given the glut of others in this space, I’d give eHow a “meh” out of “awesome!”.

Cougar PoS provide the hardware and software needed for a restaurant to manage its point-of-sales operations. I’m not current on other PoS companies (go ahead and google if you’re interested), but these guys seemed to be headed in the right direction. They manage all their PoS software updates via the web and also handle most customer support via the web as well. They have modules for Menu Management (displayed online & in PoS system), Labor Management (planning staffs shifts), Online Orders and Reservations (apparently handled online, but would be cool if its integrated with sites like Delivery.com / SeamlessWeb and OpenTable), Remote Administration (updating any other module remotely via the web, would be cool to have a related iPhone app as well), and Robust Reporting & Analytics (Sales reports based on menu item, employee, bar item, etc). I will say that the free Molson beer helped peak my interest, but the company appeared to be somewhat sloppy/unprofessional in their approach and appearance. That said, I still think this model makes sense, its more of the SaaS architecture that Google is making famous with their Google Apps products. I’ll give them a score of “neat” out of “awesome!”.

Cuban Rollers had a setup outside the hangar and were handing out free cigars that were pre-rolled by their staff. If you had the patience, they would even roll a cigar for you in-person using one of their trained staff members. I grabbed a few cigars to try out and actually just tested one the other week for my birthday. It had a surprisingly even taste, not too harsh not too light, and even burned unbelievably well. I’ve got a few more that I’ll take with me on my next trip to Phoenix to celebrate the birth of my nephew, Jaxson Hunter Beal. Cigar Rollers have groups across the US who can come to your event and roll cigars for you; I’m thinking this would work great for anyone having a annual BBQ, graduation event, or other large ceremonial gathering. I give them a “sweet!” out of “awesome!”.

Yammer is one of those tech companies that’s hovering just below the horizon and has the capability to explode into the mainstream or shrivel to nothingness only to be bought by AOL. They amount to a private label, SaaS, Twitter/chat/project tracking system. They claim to have several companies using their service heavily (eg., Mahalo, Rubicon Project, Ad:Tech, Cisco, Xerox) and provide Desktop, iPhone and Blackberry clients. The site will be familiar to the Twitterati, but the big issue here is the chicken/egg scenario for companies. The tool is most useful when many people from a company/department/project team are using it, but until you reach that critical mass its almost useless and a drag on productivity. Regardless, there’s opportunity there but merging the product with something like Basecamp would provide for a great toolset. That said, I’d give Yammer a ranking of “cool idea” out of “awesome!”.

Next up is runtriz, an iPhone-based product that allows guests to quickly & easily order hotel services, amenities and more anytime/anywhere. It provides a basic menu of options (similar to the binder usually prevalent in hotel rooms) listing all services the hotel provides as well as recommended local purveyors. The product promises the ability to upsell in-room items and hotel services plus generate revenue from local attractions paying for special placement on your device. Hotel guests can add the software to their existing iPhones, but the hotel can easily loan one out and if lost charge for the device plus a slight markup to cover administration. The idea is rather interesting and adds a touch of the hip & cool factor to a hotel room, but unless they have a large supply of backup devices I’d be afraid that people would regularly steal and/or break the devices. Who knows, maybe they’ve worked up a special pricing deal with Apple for purchasing/support. Regardless the product is slickly designed and replicates the 20th century binder concept into a 21st century device. That in mind, I give runtriz a “badass!” out of “awesome!”.

Note, my ranking scale ranges from “retch” to “awesome!” with many stops in between. No concrete & defined spectrum of all rankings currently exists, but I think you’ll get my general point in the individual rankings mentioned for various companies.