your business in munich podcast

a few days ago i was invited to be a guest on the your business in munich podcast. it was a rather freewheeling but very enjoyable conversation on topics like my consultancy, interaction with humans & computers, open source and ux. i was especially impressed with the detailed preparation and unerring questions by my host, ryan l. sink.

feel free to listen to our conversation below, on the your business in munich website or read the transcript below.


Welcome to Your Business In Munich. The podcast where entrepreneurs throughout the Munich area share their stories. And now your host, an experienced coach and entrepreneur from the United States, Ryan L. Sink.

Ryan L. Sink: Welcome to Your Business In Munich. Today I'm here with Daniel Siegel, he is a digital product architect in Munich, Germany, but originally from Merano, Italy, which I have learned is a small town in northern Italy. Could you tell us a little more about where you're from? Give us a picture of what it's like to be in Merano, Italy.

Daniel G. Siegel: Merano's actually a really small city close to the northern border of Italy, to Austria and Switzerland. It's located in between the Alps, so in winter we have a lot of snow, in summer we have a lot of sunshine. It has kind of a Mediterranean feeling to it. We have some palm trees in there as well. It's quite funny, especially maybe in April, May where you can see the palm trees there and you still have the mountain with some snow on top.

Ryan: Palm trees in the Alps.

Daniel: Yeah, probably one of the only places you where you can find that setting.

Ryan: I can't even picture that.

Daniel: It's kind of a melange between Italian, a bit Swiss, Austrian and German stuff. If you go back into the history, you can see these people meeting there. It was kind of always a border region, shall we say.

Ryan: Did you grow up with these other cultures as well or languages?

Daniel: Yeah. You normally grow up speaking Italian and German. German is more like a dialect so it's not the proper high German but you learn that as well in school. You normally learn the three languages German, Italian and English of course. There are a few smaller valleys where you have some additional languages, kind of like mixtures between Italian, Latin and German or something like that.

Ryan: Is this the Romance?

Daniel: Exactly.

Ryan: Okay. Do you speak this as well?

Daniel: No, not at all. I'm from a different valley. [laughs]

Ryan: So it depends on which valley you're from.

Daniel: Exactly.

Ryan: Which valley you're in between.

Daniel: It's actually quite hard to understand people because every valley has a different dialect. Of course if you go up there, you can tell who's from where but if you're an outsider you probably have a hard time to learn each individual dialect.

Ryan: I bet. You can tell by the type of palm trees they have growing. [laughs]

Daniel: No, those are only in Merano. [laughs]

Ryan: Growing up in Merano, how did you first get interested in digital products?

Daniel: Well I think I was always fascinated by the computer. I can't remember exactly but we had computers back home quite early. My father was building up his own business with computers. He did some consulting, bookkeeping with computers back in the 70s, 80s, which were the first real computers you could bring home and work on them. Well, sometimes he brought his computers back home and we could actually play the early games. I remember friends coming over and we were playing a game together in front of the computer, and that kind of thing. I think there's where my fascination comes from.

Ryan: Even as a kid do you think you were already looking at the usability of it and then thinking of these things?

Daniel: I think I always broke stuff. [laughs] That's where I'm coming from because I was kind of fascinated to see what's behind the scene and how is it working. I tried to get a glimpse behind the scenes. Of course, breaking all the stuff when I was young.

Ryan: I'm sure your dad was happy with...

Daniel: Yeah he was happy all the time. [laughs] But I think that lead me to programming at some point. Actually tried to get into deep stuff and into open source as well. I started to create my first own programs and it slowly moved with that, actually.

Ryan: What kinds of programs have you created yourself?

Daniel: Actually a few. I think the first open source program I put out there was a small driver for a modem which was working with USB I think and there was no driver for Linux but actually I had to get on the internet. It was a small thing and we had a really slow connection. Nevertheless I was working on that thing and actually created the first driver for that one.

Ryan: Cool.

Daniel: I put it out there and lots of people were sending me emails and so on. That was actually the first thing I did. Then later on I think a more prominent project was a program for the GNOME Desktop which is one of the most used desktop interfaces for Linux. If you ever heard of Ubuntu for example, they actually used GNOME and a lot of GNOME infrastructure. There I created a small webcam tool similar to PhotoBooth on Mac where you have some filters and you can apply them to your face, and that kind of thing. That was actually a lot of fun.

Ryan: It sounds like it. Obviously there's not a lot of money in open source if you're giving it all away.

Daniel: Actually I was paid by Google at some point for that.

Ryan: Yeah? Great.

Daniel: That was part of the Summer of Code program back in the days. I think I got a whopping $5000 dollars for like three months working in the summer, which of course, being a student, was just like, I've got my whole year settled just by that.

Ryan: Just the opportunity alone, doing it for free or paying them to do it.

Daniel: I also was invited to lots of conferences and so on, it was a win-win experience for me because I learned a lot of stuff, like how to work remotely with people. I learned a lot working with designers. I learned a lot how to create open source programs and how to lead them and how to do marketing for your open source projects as well. I think that was one of my biggest experiences I could actually use when doing actual work later on.

Ryan: When did you start working for yourself?

Daniel: That was actually two years ago. I always did some smaller projects next to what I was doing at that time or point. But for two years I have a small boutique consultancy here in Munich, where I help my clients create effective websites that are able to tell their story perfectly and convert visitors to customers. It's actually a bit more than websites because I always describe myself as bringing sales strategies and sales processes to the digital world. That's also where the term digital product architect comes from because a website is a product as well, as a newsletter, as well as your actual product or service you‘re selling. Especially in these days, you have to bridge the gap between the online-offline world and you have to think about how these things work together and how you can actually reach out to your customers and talk to them and stay in contact and so on.

Ryan: What were you doing before you started doing this with the boutique consultancy?

Daniel: I think my first real job, you can say, ignoring all the stuff I did as a student was creating my own startup back in 2007, which is now the world's biggest platform for young fashion designers.

Ryan: Cool.

Daniel: It's called Not Just A Label and I co-founded it with my brother and two friends of ours back in 2007. I was working there as a CTO and building that from the ground up.

Ryan: What's going on with that platform at the moment?

Daniel: It's still the biggest one of the world. [laughs] I did a small exit in 2012-2013. Since then I'm consulting them, we have semi-regular calls and I help them with some issues they're struggling with and so on.

Ryan: Nice, and still with the website as well?

Daniel: Yeah, sometimes. Of course they need a lot of strategy help as well, especially because I built it from the ground up, I know a lot of things which went wrong which the current people don't have an idea about so I can usually help them out with some things. They actually expanded to L.A. last year.

Ryan: It's still based in Italy?

Daniel: No, actually it was based in London, we founded it in London.

Ryan: In London. Okay.

Daniel: Lots of traveling back and forth at that time. Now they have an office in London and L.A. as well.

Ryan: What made you decide to exit because growing and..?

Daniel: Well, there were a few things in there. I'm really interested in the interaction between humans and computers. That's my main vision and my main goal. The Fashion world was just something I saw and I could help the people, but it was not my main interest. I was kind of bored at some point because we scaled up the platform quite big – we had like, 20,000 designers and a lot more daily and weekly visitors. It was a struggle to scale it up but we had a really well laid out structure and strategy. So basically by doing that, I unemployed myself. [laughs] I didn't have much stuff to do anymore at that point.

Ryan: So, it's your fault. [laughs]

Daniel: Yeah, probably. Then actually the same time a friend of mine came up to me and told me – he was working for Accenture at that time – that they are building up a small team in Germany. They already had a team world-wide, called Emerging Technology Innovation and they wanted to build up the same team in Germany as well. The team focused on bringing emerging technologies to their clients. Basically each member of that team had to have a few technologies and they were playing around with them, doing small prototypes, light-house projects and so on for the clients. And then we could actually see if something is going to get big or not, and if it would get big, then we integrate it into Accenture and build it up inside there. There I did a lot of HTML5 stuff, JavaScript stuff, and of course also that interaction between humans and websites, humans and web applications, basically a lot of user experience and so on.

Ryan: So, this job is what brought you to Munich?

Daniel: No, actually I was – the first time I came to Munich was in 2006 for studying. I studied computer science and psychology. You see, the same things are repeating themselves in my life. [laughs] Of course you can‘t see it at that point, but looking back, you can always see that computers and humans – that these are two topics which are repeating themselves in my life. And then of course I scaled my studies down while working on my startup, and then I did some exams, and back to the startup. So it was a hassle back and fourth until at some point I was able to finish my studies as well.

Ryan: And with connecting these two worlds, you know the psychology, the human side, and the computer technology side, what do you do to connect these two worlds?

Daniel: I often tell people I do websites, but that's not the entire truth, because of course the end result is most often a website and a let's say marketing funnel, be it a newsletter, email course, or something like that. But in the end, that's not what my clients actually need. My clients need a way to be able to talk to new clients, to new leads, to be in contact with them, and to actually help them to solve their own problems. And that's what I'm enabling them to do. I see my skills as a tool set, and I pick an individual tool to solve exactly that problem. You know, there's a saying that, "You don't need a drilling machine, you need like a picture on the wall." And that's what I actually do with my clients.

I see this trend where people just throw technology at the wall and see what sticks, you know you need like a website, and you need to do SEO, then you need to Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads, and social media ads, and then you need to buy traffic from there, and then you have to be active on Twitter, and then you have to have a newsletter, and then you have to talk, and then you have to have a YouTube Channel, and then you have to... and so on, and so on. But by doing everything you're actually doing nothing. They struggle, and then they come to me and tell me, "Uh it's so hard to find clients online." And I'm always telling them, "Yeah okay, if you’re doing everything, how do you wanna reach your clients? How do you want to have a meaningful conversation with a person?" You're not able to.

So, niche down, focus on one or two ways to communicate with your clients, and do it really, really well. People are really grateful for that, like if you actually take the time to talk with them, that's a really good thing. I mean we were talking before about calling people on their birthday, and how surprised some people act just by showing them that you take time yourself to talk to them. And that's something you can actually integrate in your business, you know. For me automation for example is a really important thing. I see the website and everything you do online as a digital version of yourself, which works while you are sleeping. So, for example, you're in a meeting with clients, you go back home, go to bed, the client might still think about the meeting, goes on your website, looks at stuff you do, stuff you did, and then makes a decision on whether to go ahead or not.

In that sense, the website has to really talk to your client as if it would be you, right? And that's something which is actually missing. And as far as automation I don't see it as a thing which makes you obsolete, it's more the other way round. It should should enable yourself to scale up more efficiently, but still have a meaningful conversation with each of your contacts. By using all the range of tools today for example – let's talk about a newsletter. You can actually get really, really specific about who you are talking to.

For example if you go to a conference, and you come back with lets say 10 business cards, just take the time to write some notes on them about what you did talk about, what was she interested in, and so on. Put it in there, and then with that data, you can actually craft meaningful conversations. And even if you send it out to all 10 people, but just by adding like one or two lines on like, "Hey it was great to meet you. I especially liked the discussion about online marketing“, or whatever you were talking about – that alone is enough to get some gratefulness out of a person.

Ryan: To show that you were listening there right?

Daniel: Yeah, exactly. And that's something which is missing.

Ryan: Yeah, this human touch, this personal touch on everything you do. Not just the standard, automated emails. I mean, even if they're clever, I've seen good examples. You've probably seen the story of like Derek Sivers first company with the customer's story that he told when they were getting everything ready, sending them their CVs. Even that, it's clever, but it's not personal, right. So you just need these little things that connect you to that other person. Could you tell us about the business card example as well? I thought that was great what you were saying about personalized – you don't have to share if you don't want to.

Daniel: No, I gladfully will, because my old business card had a really cool design on the back side. I had my email address on there, and actually in my email address, you can find my website, and my Twitter handle. And so I made a graphic layout to actually show which part is which part, and so on. It was really looking great, and people were telling me like, "It looks awesome, and so on." But if I look at results, like nobody was following me on Twitter, just because of my card. Nobody was visiting my website, just because of my card. No one was writing me an email, just because of my card. Then again I was thinking like, that's a thing I do with my clients, like bridging the gap between offline and online, so what could I do to create that interaction from a meeting to maybe talk to them about their problems or something like that.

What I added to my business cards was a custom URL for each business card, and if I give you one, you can visit that URL. I obviously will tell you that I prepared a small gift for you, and you can have a look there. And that's a custom crafted landing page, which actually greets you, and tells you like, "Hey it was nice to meet you", tells you some other stuff, what I'm doing, where you can find my stuff and so on. But it also gives you like a small gift, which is individualized to you, to that person.

Ryan: So do you also have to tell them at the same time, "Hey please wait three days, so that I can get the page ready before you use this URL?" [laughs]

Daniel: Well, you can start with the easiest example. So, for example, just take your URL/hello. You don't have to publicize that page, but just craft it to like, "Hey it was nice to meet you." And maybe say something like, "Not many people take action, but you are like one of the few, so this is why I want to give you something in return." And then announce it while talking to that person. That's already enough. Of course you can get much more fancy with that, but just in doing like that little thing. Just that 1% more than other people do, which will propel you in front of let's say 100% of other people, because nobody's doing it. If you go to an event, people just like throw out their business cards, and kind of like playing "I have to throw away 100 business cards today, let's see who's faster" or something like that. [laughs]

Ryan: Really? Yeah, it would almost be the same for some people to just put them all in the trash can away in the door that day.

Daniel: I mean of course everybody's busy today, so if you go home, you have like 10 business cards, what should I do with them? Like okay, I'll probably add them to LinkedIn, or XING, or whatever, and that's it. Then two days later you forget about them, and so on. But what if you could have a process starting there. Let's say, we meet at a meetup, and you tell me, "Yeah I have problems with my website. I don't get enough customers." And I tell you, "Look, I wrote an email course for that, or an ebook, or something like that, exactly about your problem. If you want, just give me your business card, I'll add you to it, and I will send it to you automatically." You probably would say "Yes", right?

Ryan: Yeah, sure. [laughs]

Daniel: Exactly. So, it's easy as that right. Just give your people something. Something that can help them.

Ryan: Yeah, doing something extra, or even creative. Like I have to say again, I love your contact page. [laughs] I think it's the only contact page on any website ever, where I actually laughed out loud while I was reading it, because you have all these great email addresses, if you want to buy you a beer, if you want to I think donate money, or give you April Fools tips, or know your shoe size, all these great things. But another question to that, have people actually used these? Besides just maybe your close friends screwing around with you, have people actually used these, and written you April Fools jokes ideas, or asked for your shoe size?

Daniel: Actually, a few people did.

Ryan: Yeah? [laughs]

Daniel: Yeah, so I think I had a movie request email address at some point. Some people were writing there, beer and coffee is used often, especially by people who – you know those people where you set up a date, and it fails because of some reason and they reconnect a few months later on? Those are the people who will use the beer or coffee email address. [laughs]

Ryan: As a way to say, "Sorry for the first meeting. Not working out, they get you a beer."

Daniel: Actually I had a few clients who contacted me with the "Give me money" address. I thought this was really funny. [laughs]

Ryan: That's really great. Yeah, you should hook up your invoicing systems...

Daniel: Oh yeah definitely.

Ryan: Money@... [laughs]

Daniel: Well you see, it's these small things you can add, to make interactions more... everything's so boring, kind of strict in some way, and I enjoy these little things. Just like having an Easter egg somewhere. I don't know if you're familiar with that?

Ryan: Yeah.

Daniel: It's basically some small, I don't know, how would you explain Easter egg?

Ryan: Yeah, something hidden, you know, like you're playing a game. It's something that only you could know, or the only way to get it, is really either tripping over it, or actually maybe hearing from someone that it's there. Like the invisible blocks from the old Mario game. I remember a friend told me, I knew where the block was, I jump at the right place, there was my Easter egg, sort of.

Daniel: So, actually when I was working on that webcam tool, it was called Cheese, we had several Easter eggs in there, just to make it fun. Actually, it was so funny because we didn't tell anybody, but then someone probably got an email about people who discovered it. And I remember one Easter egg was, if you made a photo, it was making a photo sound, like a click, or something like that. And if you pressed a certain combination, it would change that sound to – we actually recorded a few voices, making some comments about the people. Like there was somebody laughing at the person, or "Oh you look so sweet." Stuff like that. People were freaking out over that.

Ryan: And they just happened upon these combinations?

Daniel: Yeah, it was not too hard to figure it out, but you actually had to find it. We had several things like these in there. Coming back to your other question about the human side in computers, I think we lost a lot of that, because if you go back to 60s and 70s, when the computer was a really new tool, and people were still discovering what you could actually do with a computer. A lot of people were coming from biology, or literature, or physics, or mathematics and so on. They always thought, "Okay, this is like a machine, and I want to use it for... to make my life easier." We had a lot of progress in that time.

And there were actually, in that time, there were two camps, the one was the AI camp and the other was the IA camp. The Artificial Intelligence camp was thinking about, "Okay lets make computers really intelligent, and we don't have to do anything." And the other camp was Intelligence Augmentation, which was coming from the other way, "No let's make humans smarter, let's evolve computers into tools humans can use. Make humans smarter, and then when humans are smarter, we can actually make even better tools for us." And so have like a continual co-evolution. I actually gave a talk last year in September in Belgrade about that topic called the Lost Medium.

Ryan: Nice.

Daniel: Where I was talking about how we lost that thing, and that we actually have to see the computer as a tool to make our lives better. We can see some small examples nowadays, like for example, you're in a foreign city, and you have Google Maps with you. You're safe. You just like look at your phone, and it will guide you to where we need to go.

Ryan: As long as you have a data plan.

Daniel: Do you remember when you were like going on holidays with your mom and pap, like I don't know, 20 years ago, and they were fighting over where you have to go, and like, "You have to tell me earlier...," like it was really stressful. And now look, we have a GPS there, and it‘s like, "Oh okay, we‘re arriving in 20 minutes, and everything's fine and so on."

Ryan: There's no question, just who's app is maybe more correct than the other one.

Daniel: Yeah, and that's a perfect example of like augmenting humans. There are lots of other examples, but we fail in many areas. Like for example, if I want to share an article, and add a comment to why it's important for you, because we were talking about the thing, it's really hard to do. I mean your probably write an email but then it's not really searchable, and you forget about it, and these are not really difficult things. Or the other thing, like before we met I wanted to call you, my phone didn't know your number. Why not? I mean we had a conversation over email before, and over LinkedIn–

Ryan: So it would make sense that we could–

Daniel: It would make sense that my computer's smart enough to figure out we‘re connected, and I mean you don't have to know my bank account number, but you can know my, I don't know, street address maybe, and my phone number for example. And then, let's say we have a drink afterwards, and you don't have any money there, it would be easier to just like give you access to my bank account, you just like transfer money there, and that's it. You could easily create an app for that, or a tool or something like that, and there were many examples of startups doing exactly that. But I think that's not the entire solution, because we have to think...

We have to go a step back, and think about what's the actual problem here. The actual problem is not that I don't have your contact information, it's more about how can I stay in contact with you? That's the main thing. Like for example, if you change your number, email address and so on. And by looking at that you see – you start to notice these small issues all the time. Like for example a few days ago I wanted to send an email to my brother-in-law, and I wrote an email, and just before sending it, I remembered myself that he actually changed his company, so his email address was not the correct one anymore. And I mean it's my brother-in-law, so of course we connected, but why don't I have his new work email?

Ryan: Yeah, and that could have been your only way to get in touch with him, and then there would have broken an entire–

Daniel: Now I have to actually send him a text asking him like, "Hey, what's your email address?" And then he was just like, "Yeah, you can call me as well and we'll talk." It‘s just struggle all the time, like with these small things.

Ryan: Not smooth.

Daniel: Exactly.

Ryan: So, what are you doing at the moment to fix that problem? Are you creating more apps, or tools like that?

Daniel: The thing that we were talking about is the vision behind my business, which is fueling it, and of course, I'm doing websites, web processes, so that's what I help my clients with. On the side, in my spare time I prepare some talks, some prototypes, the Lost Medium is an example of that one. Just to figure out what's going on, like are there different solutions to that? Then I have a more or less monthly series on my blog and my newsletter called summing up where I try to collect puzzle pieces in that area, and try to put them together, and see what's missing there. Because I don't think that there's a single solution to the problem.

I think the main thing is we kind of lost the idea that – let me put it in another way: We think the computer is on the top of it's game. And if you look back, each year, the computer gets better. A phone gets better, it gets faster, it gets bigger, or smaller, depending on what you want to do, we have more devices and so on. People have the impression that the computer's state of the art, which of course it's not. And I think it's... It's about like sharing that idea that we're not at the end yet.

Ryan: Yeah, maybe just at the beginning actually.

Daniel: Oh definitely at the beginning. I mean the computer is a completely new medium, and if you look at what happened to of course TV and radio, but also the printing press, or cars, they completely changed the whole world. And there is a great saying by Marshall McLuhan, he said, "We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us." And if you look at cars, it's the perfect example. You see like we have streets everywhere. A city is made up of streets right, 50% is streets, if not more. And this wasn't the case before.

Ryan: Yeah well, it definitely seems like you're on the right path.

Daniel: I hope so. [laughs]

Ryan: Yeah, I mean I've seen a lot of things recently for example showing you know, that the best solution is not a human working alone, or a machine working alone, it's them working together. Especially like in chess, some of these things that they've done, so it seems like in the future hopefully that'll continue to be the best solution. And as you said before, keep making ourselves better, so we can create even better tools and then we'll see how they shape us though. At the moment you got, the entire world with their heads down, 15°, looking into their phones. That definitely has helped out chiropractors for sure. [laughs]

We'll see what other effects it has. So, for someone interested in contacting you, getting to know more about your business, where should they go? What's the best place to check your business out.

Daniel: Definitely my website, it's dgsiegel.net. We probably put it in the show notes.

Ryan: Yeah, it'll definitely be in the show notes.

Daniel: You can find out what I'm doing there. I also got a blog and a newsletter, but for your listeners, I prepared a small cheat sheet, where you can learn how to create the perfect landing page which actually converts visitors to customers, and you can find it at dgsiegel.net/ybim.

Ryan: Thank you.

Daniel: Of course.

Ryan: Yeah, I'll definitely be downloading that myself. [laughs] At least you'll get one from that.

Daniel: There's everything there.

Ryan: Perfect, along with any email address you want.

Daniel: Exactly, choose any. [laughs]

Ryan: Very cool. Well thanks again for taking the time to share your experience, and your business with us.

Daniel: Sure, thank you for your time.

Thank you for listening to Your Business in Munich. For more information, on maximizing your personal and professional potential, go to ryanlsink.com. Have a great rest of your day.

summing up 84

summing up is a recurring series on topics & insights on user experience and how we can make sense of computers that compose a large part of my thinking and work. drop your email in the box below to get it straight in your inbox or find previous editions here.

As We May Link, by Jeremy Keith

The web is just twenty years old and I’m not sure that we have yet come to terms with the power that this new medium grants us. When we create websites, it’s all too easy for us to fall into old patterns of behaviour and treat our creations as independent self-contained islands lacking in outbound links. But that’s not the way the web works. The sites we build should not be cul-de-sacs for the inquisitive visitors who have found their way to our work by whatever unique trails they have followed. We should recognise that when we design and publish information on the humblest homepage or the grandest web app, we are creating connections within a much larger machine of knowledge, a potential Turing machine greater than any memex or calculus racionator.

this is such a powerful idea i've been referring to a lot recently. the computer and the web are powerful tools which could fundamentally amplify our human capabilities. i am only afraid that we're not able to see and grasp the big picture yet.

Error Messages Are Evil, by Don Norman

Our technology is designed by technologists who know what is good for that technology, namely highly precise, accurate, detailed information. Well, that ay be good for machines, but what about what is good for people? People are bad at precision and accuracy. At monitoring dull stuff for long periods. Force us to do those things, to act like machines, and of course we will fail. You call it human error: I call it machine error, or if you prefer, bad design.

too often we punish our users for not being able to predict the system's design, be it a website, app or program. but make no mistake, this is not about eliminating feedback from the system. when needed, the feedback should change to a collaborative one, rather than a confrontational one – human computer interaction, not confrontation.

Wobbly Tables and the Problem with Futurism, by Philip Dhingra

I’m amazed by all the great advances that have been made in the past 15 years, but I’m even more amazed by areas that haven’t changed. But perhaps the silver lining in the Banality of Futurism is that the room for growth won’t be in fixing life’s inconveniences, but rather in the human condition.

a very interesting thought on how acclimated we are to quirks and nuisances in our user interfaces. the future will probably be as awkward as the times we live in today. i've referred to a similar issue in a previous episode.

summing up 83

summing up is a recurring series on topics & insights that compose a large part of my thinking and work. drop your email in the box below to get it straight in your inbox or find previous editions here.

The Web Is a Customer Service Medium, by Paul Ford

The web seemed to fill all niches at once. It was surprisingly good at emulating a TV, a newspaper, a book, or a radio. Which meant that people expected it to answer the questions of each medium, and with the promise of advertising revenue as incentive, web developers set out to provide those answers. As a result, people in the newspaper industry saw the web as a newspaper. People in TV saw the web as TV, and people in book publishing saw it as a weird kind of potential book. But the web is not just some kind of magic all-absorbing meta-medium. It's its own thing. And like other media it has a question that it answers better than any other. That question is:

Why wasn't I consulted?

Humans have a fundamental need to be consulted, engaged, to exercise their knowledge (and thus power), and no other medium that came before has been able to tap into that as effectively.

every form of media has a question that it's fundamentally answering. that is something i've been alluding a few episodes ago. you might think you already understand the web and what users want, but in fact the web is not a publishing medium nor a magic all-absorbing meta-medium. it's its own thing.

Superintelligence: The Idea That Eats Smart People, by Maciej Cegłowski

AI risk is string theory for computer programmers. It's fun to think about, interesting, and completely inaccessible to experiment given our current technology. You can build crystal palaces of thought, working from first principles, then climb up inside them and pull the ladder up behind you.

People who can reach preposterous conclusions from a long chain of abstract reasoning, and feel confident in their truth, are the wrong people to be running a culture.

The pressing ethical questions in machine learning are not about machines becoming self-aware and taking over the world, but about how people can exploit other people, or through carelessness introduce immoral behavior into automated systems.

there is this idea that with the nascent ai technology, computers are going to become superintelligent and subsequently end all live on earth - or variations of this theme. but the real threat here is a different one. these seductive, apocalyptic beliefs prevent people from really working to make a difference and ignoring the harm that is caused by the current machine learning algorithms.

Epistemic learned helplessness, by Scott Alexander

When I was young I used to read pseudohistory books; Immanuel Velikovsky's Ages in Chaos is a good example of the best this genre has to offer. I read it and it seemed so obviously correct, so perfect, that I could barely bring myself to bother to search out rebuttals.

And then I read the rebuttals, and they were so obviously correct, so devastating, that I couldn't believe I had ever been so dumb as to believe Velikovsky.

And then I read the rebuttals to the rebuttals, and they were so obviously correct that I felt silly for ever doubting.

And so on for several more iterations, until the labyrinth of doubt seemed inescapable. What finally broke me out wasn't so much the lucidity of the consensus view so much as starting to sample different crackpots. Some were almost as bright and rhetorically gifted as Velikovsky, all presented insurmountable evidence for their theories, and all had mutually exclusive ideas.

I guess you could consider this a form of epistemic learned helplessness, where I know any attempt to evaluate the arguments are just going to be a bad idea so I don't even try.

the smarter someone is, the easier it is for them to rationalize and convince you of ideas that sound true even when they're not. epistemic learned helplessness is one of those concepts that's so useful you'll wonder how you did without it.

humane websites

not sure how to tell you this: but just because your website is well-designed doesn’t mean that it’s effective.

and there’s one simple reason for this: most people fail to understand that websites are processes.

i've been talking about this a lot last year at conferences like sfscon 2016 in italy or 12min.me in munich. many people asked me about the slides and further information, so i gladly published an extended version of my slides along with speaker notes. a video recording is available here.

the gist of my talk is the following:

  • websites are processes and start way before people come to your website and end with clients sitting in your meeting room or buying your product
  • it's no longer about optimizing your websites for seo and hoping for the best. it's about optimizing your presence across the web. and in the real world as well
  • take time to carefully craft your value proposition. otherwise people don't get what you do, how you can help them and you'll lose them immediately
  • make sure that your landing page works. a value proposition, a deep dive into your client's big, expensive problem and a call to action are essential
  • if you do have an email list, don't send these spammy newsletters. personalize. give value. a lot

summing up 82

summing up is my recurring series on topics & insights that compose a large part of my thinking and work. please find previous editions here or subscribe below to get them straight in your inbox.

When We Invented the Personal Computer, by Steve Jobs

A few years ago I read a study – I believe it was in Scientific American – about the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the earth. The study determined which species was the most efficient, in terms of getting from point A to point B with the least amount of energy exerted. The condor won. Man made a rather unimpressive showing about 1/3 of the way down the list.

But someone there had the insight to test man riding a bicycle. Man was twice as efficient as the condor! This illustrated man's ability as a tool maker. When man created the bicycle, he created a tool that amplified an inherent ability. That's why I like to compare the personal computer to the bicycle. The personal computer is a 21st century bicycle if you will, because it's a tool that can amplify a certain part of our inherent intelligence.

i just love steve jobs’ idea of comparing computers to a bicycle for the mind. so much actually, that i used it in my talk the lost medium last year. we humans are tool builders and we can fundamentally amplify our human capabilities with tools. tools that take us far beyond our inherent abilities. nevertheless we're only at the early stages of this tool. we've already seen the enormous changes around us, but i think that will be nothing to what's coming in the next hundred years.

Teaching Children Thinking, by Seymour Papert

The phrase “technology and education” usually means inventing new gadgets to teach the same old stuff in a thinly disguised version of the same old way. Moreover, if the gadgets are computers, the same old teaching becomes incredibly more expensive and biased towards its dullest parts, namely the kind of rote learning in which measurable results can be obtained by treating the children like pigeons in a Skinner box.

there is this notion that our problems are easily being solved with more technology. doing that we're throwing technology against a wall to see what sticks rather than asking what the technology could offer and who that could help. papert is talking about education, and even if that is a vital part of our society, his thinking applies to so much more.

The Computer for the 21st Century, by Mark Weiser

The idea of integrating computers seamlessly into the world at large runs counter to a number of present-day trends. "Ubiquitous computing" in this context does not just mean computers that can be carried to the beach, jungle or airport. Even the most powerful notebook computer, with access to a worldwide information network, still focuses attention on a single box. By analogy to writing, carrying a super-laptop is like owning just one very important book. Customizing this book, even writing millions of other books, does not begin to capture the real power of literacy.

Furthermore, although ubiquitous computers may employ sound and video in addition to text and graphics, that does not make them "multimedia computers." Today's multimedia machine makes the computer screen into a demanding focus of attention rather than allowing it to fade into the background.

computers should fit the human environment, instead of forcing humans to enter theirs. especially mobile computing is a major paradigm shift, but right now we're becoming slaves of our own devices. weiser puts out some very interesting ideas on how computers could integrate in our environment and enhance our abilities there.

websites are processes

so yesterday i had a coffee with a friend. they run a small consulting shop and he proudly showed me their new website. they were working hard on it for months, and to be honest, it was looking good. it was responsive, had a great design and good copy.

however...

they were still failing to attract new clients and leads over their website. he asked me if there was anything glaringly wrong with their website. one thing jumped out: there wasn't a call to action. prospects would have to scroll down the whole page, find the contact form, fill out 10+ fields and hope somebody would get back to them.

but this was just a symptom, and not the main problem. the main problem was this: they failed to understand that websites are processes.

all websites "sell" something, whether you are selling an actual product, a service, you want to do outreach, get more attention or just simply share your ideas. but it takes time to get visitors interested and willing to buy your service or product. and this is a process. take any sales professional and you'll find an efficient, tested process they stick to. and we can do the same with our websites, fully automated and scalable.

let's have a look at the process in detail. it starts with strangers coming to your website. maybe they saw you at an event, got your business card, found you on google or some article you wrote a year ago. they have a look at your website and in case they are interested, they want to learn more.

next you start talking specifically about what you do and how you can help your clients. as you convince your audience that your product or service is the right solution for their problem you move them to the next stage via a call to action where they become leads. this can be done with a free email course, a cheat sheet or any other value exchange.

at the next stage, your audience is convinced that you're able to help them solving their problem, but trust and connection is still missing. as people only stay a short time (if you get more than 20 seconds you're really lucky) on your websites, this step is needed in order to extend the conversation in which you can nurture the connection and exchange value. drip campaigns or well crafted newsletters (no, not these awful spammy things, but something like a personal email) are good tools for this step.

lastly, by giving away valuable content and helpful tips you establish trust and set yourself up as an expert in your domain. only now you have all the ingredients to make a successful sale.

it is important to note, that the only goal of each step in this process is to help your visitors get to the next step. this is not about you, it is about how you can help your clients.

so think about your website for a moment. do you have a process similar to this in place? if not, you're losing money.

summing up 81

i am trying to build a jigsaw puzzle which has no lid and is missing half of the pieces. i am unable to show you what it will be, but i can show you some of the pieces and why they matter to me. if you are building a different puzzle, it is possible that these pieces won't mean much to you, maybe they won't fit or they won't fit yet. then again, these might just be the pieces you're looking for. this is summing up, please find previous editions here.

Computers for Cynics, by Ted Nelson

The computer world deals with imaginary, arbitrary, made up stuff that was all made up by somebody. Everything you see was designed and put there by someone. But so often we have to deal with junk and not knowing whom to blame, we blame technology.

Everyone takes the structure the computer world as god-given. In a field reputedly so innovative and new, the computer world is really a dumbed down imitation of the past, based on ancient traditions and modern oversimplification that people mistake for the computer itself.

it is quite easy to get the idea that the current state of the computer world is the climax of our great progress. and it's really not. ted nelson, one of the founding fathers of personal computing and the man who invented hypertext, presents his cynical, amusing and remarkably astute overview of the history of the personal computer - after all he's been there since the beginnings. it is especially interesting in contrast with our current view on computers, information and user experience.

Deep-Fried Data, by Maciej Cegłowski

A lot of the language around data is extractive. We talk about data processing, data mining, or crunching data. It’s kind of a rocky ore that we smash with heavy machinery to get the good stuff out.

In cultivating communities, I prefer gardening metaphors. You need the right conditions, a propitious climate, fertile soil, and a sprinkling of bullshit. But you also need patience, weeding, and tending. And while you're free to plant seeds, what you wind up with might not be what you expected.

This should make perfect sense. Human cultures are diverse. It's normal that there should be different kinds of food, music, dance, and we enjoy these differences. But online, our horizons narrow. We expect domain experts and programmers to be able to meet everyone's needs, sight unseen. We think it's normal to build a social network for seven billion people.

we hear a lot about artificial intelligence, big data or deep learning these days. they are all referring to the same generic approach of training a computer with lots of data and it learns to recognize structure. these techniques are effective, no doubt, but what we often overlook is that you only get out what you put into it.

Programming and Scaling, by Alan Kay

Leonardo could not invent a single engine for any of his vehicles. Maybe the smartest person of his time, but he was born in the wrong time. His IQ could not transcend his time. Henry Ford was nowhere near Leonardo, but he happened to be born in the right century, a century in which people had already done a lot of work in making mechanical things.

Knowledge, in many many cases, trumps IQ. Why? This is because there are certain special people who invent new ways of looking at things. Henry Ford was powerful because Issac Newton changed the way Europe thought about things. One of the wonderful things about the way knowledge works is if you can get a supreme genius to invent calculus, those of us with more normal IQs can learn it. So we're not shut out from what the genius does. We just can't invent calculus by ourselves, but once one of these guys turns things around, the knowledge of the era changes completely.

we often ignore the context we create a digital product in. however the context defines the space of possible solutions. and not only that, it also defines the borders of our world. what is so interesting about this thought is that you don't need a massive brain, but you need to be able to see and connect ideas in order to advance humanity.


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