Learning by Shipping

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Sharing some learning – a few observations from “D11”

with 10 comments

d11-20130528-144203-01167-MThis past week the 11th All Things D Conference, D11, was held.  It is such a great opportunity to attend and to learn from a great combination of interviews, speakers, demonstrations, questions, and attendees.  Attending this conference has been a very valuable learning experience for me over the years and I’ve always made it a point to reflect and share some observations or learnings that stuck with me.  This year is no different.

As with all events these days, so much of what happens at the event is tweeted, live blogged, re-blogged, etc.  That makes it challenging to offer more by way of learning. If you’re interested in the details of the sessions, by all means watch the videos or see the official coverage on the All Things D, D11 Conference site.  All the interviews are done by one or both of Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher.  There you’ll also find some behind the scenes “KatieCam” videos shot by WSJ writer Katherine Boehret in a more relaxed setting as speakers left the stage and other behind the scenes videos and articles by teh ATD writing team. Definitely check out the amazing photos from Asa Mathat (and team) that really capture the unique qualities of the conference.

“The Dialog”

For me what separates D from other events, if you had to pick one thing, is the dialog that takes place.  While the format is an interview, I see it as more of a dialog.  There are no slides, no setup, and after the interview the dialog continues with audience questions and then even more in the hallways during breaks (not to mention the electronic dialog).  I feel sometimes in an effort to report the event as news, the back and forth or the dialog itself can get a bit de-prioritized.

The dialog is important because the timing of the conference is the same every year.  That means not every speaker has something to announce or launch.  In fact some speakers have announcements already scheduled for the future and even with a lot of pushing they still aren’t going to preempt their organization’s efforts.  This means that speakers sign up to attend knowing there are definitely questions they will get that must go unanswered.  I think that speaks volumes to the appreciation for the dialog and participation that speakers share.

Still, that can be a tiny bit frustrating for folks reading about the accounts—you are hoping for news but don’t get any.  There is a slightly different tone “in the room” which I am hoping to convey through these notes.  The tone is very much about the nuance and subtlety of the topics being raised.  So even if there is not news, the conversation is interesting.  It is an important part of innovation and convergence of industries (the original and ongoing theme of the conference was how media, entertainment, and digital technologies are coming together).  There are gems in most every session if you watch the video—not necessarily news gems, but articulation of challenges and tradeoffs that everyone is facing as they do their work.  Making products is never a stark either/or set of choices and capturing these tradeoffs on stage, in the “hot seat” as it is called, is something I appreciate very much.

Big picture

There were 25 speakers along with demo sessions.  The breadth of topics discussed delivers on the promise of the conference.  Through the lens of product development there were a number of “themes” that surfaced for me:

  • Mobile “era” – No one doubts the era we are in as an industry and across industries.  The tech folks were “mobile first” from apps to advertising, not as a place to port to or also support.  The entertainment folks see mobile as a place to enjoy entertainment or as the screen that accompanies entertainment, not as a competitor to television.  Even attendees were mostly seen on their mobile devices most of the time.  While this might not seem newsworthy, observing the changing perspectives over the years of the conference provides a neat context for this change.
  • Disruption – Most tech conferences are about disruption in some form or another.  This conference came about during a time when disruption was really happening (and to be fair, the WSJ and ATD are/were both part of disruptive dialogs over the years—and the topic of conversation at the show).  The interviews always do a good job of confronting speakers who are viewed as participants in a potential disruption.
  • Sensors – The role of sensors as part of the baseline experience for computing is front and center.  There was a lot of discussion around form factors, wearables, and scenarios but all of this is rooted in devices that know about surroundings, which means products can be designed knowing the computers will have these capabilities.
  • Consumerization – Walt Mossberg has always taken the non-techie, consumer approach to looking at technology which, as he said during the show, was somewhat heretical when he first started his column.  These days the notion of consumers driving the experience and setting the bar does not seem so far-fetched.   You know that is the case when the CEO of Cisco says “bring your own device trumps security”.
  • Embrace of digital – In past years the “content” attendees appeared more on the defense than the offense.  While the business challenges remain in some parts of the content space, I think there is far more of a sense of embrace and partnering going on between the tech and content parties.  In general it felt to me like much more of a healthy dialog rooted in respect than in past years, which is a positive evolution.


As mentioned, the sessions are all available on the D11 site along with live blogs done by WSJ/ATD reporters.  Check those out for sure.  I just wanted to offer some additional observations from a small set of sessions that hit close to home from a product development perspective.  Inclusion / omission or number of points below are not indications of quality or importance!

Apple / Tim Cook

  • Measuring what counts – There was a strong focus on measuring usage as a way of looking at success.  This contrasted with the recent debate about market share (units or revenue).  The depth usage of iOS devices is significantly more than competing devices.  It is super interesting to think about how to inform product development when balancing existing depth usage, new users, and growth – very interesting.
  • Relative to Android – The dialog turned to defining “winning” along the lines of usage, customer satisfaction, and even the amount of commerce done on iOS devices.
  • Magic – There was a good discussion about how working across the team needs to focus on the intersection of hardware/software/services as being where the “magic happens”.  Everyone in the product space knows that wherever seams exist there is an opportunity to innovate or for there to be challenges–seams can be found all over the place, especially as a product gets larger or an ecosystem around the product develops.
  • Tradeoffs – As an example of the nuance/subtlety that is hard to capture, Cook tried to walk through some of the tradeoffs that go into making different sized devices for different “segments” (Walt’s description).  He talked about color correctness, white balance, battery life, brightness, and more.  A favorite expression from Cook was “customers expect Apple to weigh all these factors and decide things” along with the humble notion that deciding means shipping and learning.  I personally love when the dialog turns to these types of issues at this “level” in an organization and also externally—real engineering stuff that is worth talking about in an open way.
  • Openness and control – In talking about the difference between iOS and Android (using keyboards as an example), Cook was asked about opening up more.  He talked about the challenges and tradeoffs involved in “putting the customer at risk” with some times of APIs and openness but committed to more openness at the upcoming WWDC.  Again there was a very interesting and subtle discussion about the tradeoffs involved.

Facebook / Sheryl Sandberg

  • Mobile is good for Facebook – There were a lot of numbers and support for how much engagement there is from both users and advertisers on mobile.
  • Increasing engagement – Sandberg shared some numbers that were counter-intuitive for many (as evidenced by the reaction in the section I was sitting) when she talked about the increase in engagement.  Five years ago 50% of people visited every day.  Now 58% visit every day and the number of users is much higher.
  • Priorities – I loved when she talked about how they have 5000 people to build and operate a service for a billion people.  That puts the product development challenge in perspective.
  • Mobile first – There is a strong “pivot” in the development team around mobile first.  Whereas the browser used to be the primary target and the mobile teams would be playing catch-up, now nothing gets done without it being mobile first.
  • Facebook Home – The challenges of doing an offering that is polarizing for sure.  She cited that customer reviews are either 1 star or 5 stars.  Home is a V1 and expect to deliver on the commitment to frequent changes/updates.

Disney Parks and Resorts / Tom Staggs

  • My Magic Plus – This session was about a new way to enjoy a WDW (Walt Disney World) theme park visit—essentially you wear a “magic band” around your wrist (like a Jawbone Up or Fitbit).  As someone who grew up in Orlando watching WDW go from the Magic Kingdom surrounded by orange groves to what it is today, I think the revolution that is going on with this innovation is amazing and far-reaching.
  • Features – Wearing the band provides an experience with reduced anxiety, less waiting, more fun, and far more personal.  And it is just starting.  An amazing example I loved was how you could order the food you want and when you get to the restaurant you sit down and what you ordered just shows up.  Neat.  But what is really neat is that the employees can focus on being “hosts” and not the transactional elements of ordering and getting things right.  Super cool.  It certainly makes that summer job at Disney a lot more fun!
  • Senses and sensors – Of course this is all about location aware, cloud experienced.  But the way Staggs described it was “360-5” as a 360 degree experience for all 5 senses—you’re immersed in the experience beyond the rides.  In general, this was a demonstration that unfolded super well—as I thought of questions they got answered moments later.  So much opportunity on this platform.

Twitter / Dick Costolo

  • “Social soundtrack” – Twitter was described as the second screen for television.  It is viewed as a complement to broadcast.  This was a statement that gets broadened to mean that Twitter is not itself thinking about making content or distributing it.
  • Global town square – The way they think of Twitter is to think about both planned/unplanned events and to provide an unfiltered/inside out platform for the people “the event is happening to”.  This town square is public, real-time, conversational, and distributed.  From a product point of view, the clarity of this framework is incredibly valuable.
  • Advertising – Costolo discussed how advertisers are coming to understand that being part of the conversation is important and how the idea of having a conversation as the canvas versus the ad itself as the canvas is important.
  • Design – Another subtle part of the dialog was around where the openness of the Twitter platform will be.  The idea is that Twitter does want to own the timeline experience for customers but still be open to thousands (100s of thousands) of developers with fairly lightweight rules.  Simplicity is a major focus on the design of the timeline experience.

Glow / Max Levchin

  • Demonstration – this was a demonstration of a new product that brings data and mobility to the challenges of procreation and fertility.
  • App – The app is focused on being a beautiful source of telemetry and information for both the man and woman planning together to conceive a child.
  • Data – Turns out that there is tons of data which is hard for people to get hold of and include in their planning and efforts.  Glow is a way to bring this data to the solution space for people.
  • Funding – The data shows that with the right use of data “infertility” can drop way down and thus the overall cost to the healthcare system is much lower.  To support this the way the product will work is essentially to create a pool for people who are still unable to conceive after using the tool, which is a much smaller number than would be using less data-informed tools.
  • Innovation – This is truly innovative when it comes to the problem space–hearing Levchin describe a typical way physicians handle this sounds almost like “country medicine” compared to using the data, telemetry, and an app.  Combining data, mobility, and more into this app shows how empowering all the technology can be.  We’re all able to start experience this notion of being in so much more control of our lives with these technology tools.

Box / Aaron Levie and Cisco / John Chambers

  • What fun – This was such a fun pairing as the contrast between the people and companies was so interesting.  Yet at the same time, both organizations are developing products for a new world where individuals are far more empowered.  While no one is going to go out and buy their own router, the IT pros that do want to have the capability for you to use the router when you bring in your own device.  A fun part of D in general is when you can see widely different perspectives in a dialog about a problem space each is approaching.
  • IT control – Chambers asserted that the ability for IT to “say no” really changed 4 or 5 years ago and now enterprises need to catch up to consumer technologies and support them.  Chambers even said “BYOD trumps security”.
  • Disruption – Levie offered a wonderful example of how companies are handling disruption.  He said that the three biggest Box customers are companies formed in the 1800’s.  This speaks to how much change is going on among IT pros.

Disney Media / Anne Sweeney  and Producer / I. Marlene King

  • Twitter integration – It was fascinating to hear the content developer view of creating content knowing that Twitter is part of the viewing equation.  There’s a clear perspective that Twitter is contributing to the experience and enjoyment of the show.
  • OMG moments – I loved hearing about the way they essentially create the show to support “OMG” or “jump off the couch” moments, and how that plays into Twitter.
  • Time zones – Turns out that the audience is pretty self-governing when it comes to spoilers and time zones, which was interesting to think about.

Pinterest / Ben Silbermann

  • First appearance – Ben doesn’t often appear or do presentations. It is great to see him.
  • Framing – Another great example of framing the goals of the product: Pinterest aims to help people “discover things they really love and inspire them to experience them in real life.”
  • Early users – From a product development perspective, he spoke about how early users ended up setting the tone of the product when it comes to passion.
  • Last web app? – Kara asked if Silbermann thought that Pinterest might be the “last web first app” or not.  The answer focused on starting off where people were but now today of course the goal is to be able to use the service wherever you are and of course a ton of that is mobile which overtook the PC along the lines of industry trends.

Tesla, SpaceX, Hyper Tube / Elon Musk

  • Along with everyone at D11 and online, this was an incredible treat.
  • “Mars is a fixer upper” – as far as planets go, Musk said Mars is our best bet for life on another planet since it can be fixed up relatively easily.
  • Every tech takes 3 or 4 generations to get it to mass market.  He walked through the original Tesla plan (high price/low volume, mid-price/mid volume, low price/high volume).  He framed this as competing with a hundred years and trillion dollar investment in gas combustion.  This is a great example of how disruption gets talked about in early stages – all the focus on whether electric cars can displace gas cars using the criteria gas cars developed over all this time.  From a product point of view, this perspective is super interesting.

— Steven Sinofsky

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Written by Steven Sinofsky

June 2, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Posted in posts

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10 Responses

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  1. A-ONE OF P T H C


    January 13, 2015 at 5:13 am

  2. This settlement is not about the rule of law. It is about a pocaitlil agenda. The government is more at fault on this issue than the banks. However, at the other end of the spectrum, in my personal experience, and without going into details, when a foreclosed property is listed on the MLS for sale, it has already been sold to an insider. So there is corruption on the front end (the loan) and there is corruption on the back end (the foreclosure sale). So, thank you for your efforts to bring ethics into business.


    October 25, 2013 at 3:04 pm

  3. 1) Damn! And they call ME ugly!2) This is the dress she wore, I’ve never washed it, want to smell her?3) Extra srctah, bloodstains, 4:30.4)My GOD man! I don’t have a nose and that stinks!5) Superman wears red cape on blue suit, it doesn’t work the other way around!


    August 31, 2013 at 1:25 am

  4. As a certified massage therapist (and state certified massage instructor) I can assure you that this is a legitimate career.I’ve worked in this field, happily, full time since 1999. Part of that time I carried my household financially (until I married a great guy in 2004). Living in Southern California, owning my own home, I can assure you, the money is there WITHOUT crossing any lines of professional behavior.If you have good training this career is easy on your body despite what someone else indicated. Body mechanics are the key to avoiding problems with your own body.Some of the benefits of this career include the ability to work for yourself if you prefer, set your own hours, and work only a few hours a day for excellent money.One of my recent students is 21 and has a 14 month old son. She completed her basic studies (including anatomy and physiology which are not really that hard) and she is just finishing up her intern hours now. She has a few elective courses to complete and then she’ll be certified.She’s already been offered more than one job whens he certifies including one starting at $55 an hour. Believe it or not, for private clients that’s a little low.Yes, day spas, chiropractors, physical therapists and gyms give you the smallest cut of the pie (so to speak) but if you find good ones, they’ll allow you to build a private clientele also which is where the real money and flexibility comes in.I work part time for 2 chiropractors one of them I come in 2 afternoons a week for only about 2 hours at a time. The other I’m only there one afternoon every other week because this is what has worked for me. We’ll be trying something new in 2007 and I’ll be there one morning a week for 4 hours.Those jobs are low paying’ in the field I only make $30 an hour. I’ve worked at day spas for that price also, but currently don’t have the time.My private appointments take up many evenings. I choose to take off Friday afternoon until Sunday morning as my weekend and I take Tuesday off usually. My private clientele pays anywhere from $70 $120 an hour depending on the location (my location or commuting to them) and depending on modality Swedish, Deep Tissue, Shiatsu, Aromatherapy etc.You work your hours around your child and child care situation. You are paid by private clients at the time of each session so there’s a lot of cash flow in the business. Admittedly spas and the like usually pay twice a month.Many clients give tips even at spas and medical offices so again, it helps with the cash flow if money is tight. My 21 year old student uses her tips to pay for the gas to get where she’s got to be (currently at the school clinic), so she’s not usually out anything even tho each school requires their students to participate in a clinic for practical experience.I hope this information is helpful to you. Don’t hesitate to contact me.

    top insurance life

    August 30, 2013 at 2:10 am

  5. Modern society and morality, for all it’s emphasis on “being a good person,” all its professed selflessness, is really inherently quite inherently selfish.The easiest way I can think to illustrate what I mean is by how shocking our immediate, conditioned reaction would be to someone telling us, “I don’t give a fuck about your feelings.” We’re conditioned to think our feelings and experience are just SO fucking important.But really, aside from the rudeness and lack of empathy implied, I generally don’t. I mean, I do, because a part of me wants to make people feel good. But also, I don’t, because you are one of several billion and really not all that special. Likewise, I don’t care about your art because you made it. I care about it insofar as it expresses something deep or unique about you and your experience, because in studying that we can learn and appreciate our own life and experiences more and better.Not because you made it. You are really not all that important in the equation.But that’s ok. Neither am I. Not sure what I think about what I just wrote actually. But was my initial reaction, and there’s definitely something here. Interesting thought, Aaron.

    franklin life insuarce

    August 30, 2013 at 2:10 am

  6. 1. But Daddy, all the other girls will be wearing red! I can’t wear PURPLE!!!!2. What do you mean it’s not Gucci?!3. I can’t bilveee you used this as an oil rag! It’s ruined now, RUINED!!!4. So I bought her this dress and wait a minute, is that candy I smell?5. *sniff sniff* I don’t get it! What does Tom Welling have that I don’t?!


    August 28, 2013 at 9:54 pm

  7. Pacing is an issue for sure. With text we’re free to read at our own pace. Not so, with video. But if you’re going to err, I say err on the side of speed. It’s easier to pause and rewnid than it is to fast forward and end up in a good spot.The vast majority of blogs are still mostly text, including this one. More people are doing video because it’s possible and it has its appeal. We can’t allow ourselves to feel pressured if we know it’s not right for us. Just do what we’re good at.


    August 5, 2013 at 11:07 pm

  8. I never thought about it that way. I’m ulusaly the first one between Harry and I to embrace new ideas, try things out and enjoy shiny new toys, but I’ve had a really hard time accepting what I see as yet another way to suck us into a zone where all that matters is faster entertainment. Old values are lost and replaced with technology. Lately, I’m seeing a lot of friends burn out because of the frantic pace of the eLife, and I’m becoming a little rebellious of the effect that has on our society.Sometimes, what worked for hundreds of years like books are the best things to offer the rest, the entertainment and the information that people need. Of course, I’m biased because I write for a living but I’d rather be happy than rich any day. I really believe in a life where values matter and I see video as a cheap replacement for many things.Or maybe I’m just being stubborn.Another issue that bothers me is how video cuts off people. Alright, reading does too not everyone likes text. But I wish that there would be a blend of the two, a video with the written transcript or a text turned into a video so that both groups of people are pleased.The deaf can’t hear video. The blink can’t see it. It excludes those people too. But of course, there are people who can’t read and braille isn’t easy to learn (is it?).I’m not opposed to debating the benefits and cons to get an objective opinion, as you can see.As for hats, can I wear my AE baseball cap and consider that my trademark look?


    August 2, 2013 at 5:33 pm

  9. Its great to have your sum up of technology event from learning perspective. Its easier to relate to than any paid journalist’s coverage which focuses on details based on marketing related biases.

    Vipul S. Chawathe

    June 3, 2013 at 11:32 pm

  10. I always enjoy reading your conference summaries, was one of your early summer jobs working at WDW?

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