A Business Technology Place

Software open feedback loops

What is the secret sauce?

What really drives new software features? Do we live in a world where the marketing department rules the day with ROI driven and profit making capabilities from within the software? To an extent, I believe the answer is yes. Businesses exist to make money. Business software is written to facilitate the flow of money either through sales or automation of processes. If a piece of software doesn’t help the organization to make money it won’t last long.Simple_Feedback_02

But software that is not used, doesn’t make money. No matter how good the idea, if the software is not used, the business justification fails. This is why an open feedback loop with users is critical to the success of the software and could be tagged as the secret sauce for software development. User input drives usage. Usage accomplishes the goal for sales or productivity.

Creating the WOW.

Service organizations like to create the wow factor with customers to drive brand loyalty. Good software has that effect also. I see people that are passionate about Evernote, OneNote, and Photoshop as examples. Evernote survives with paid subscriptions. With a free-version available, and many options for recording/capturing notes, they have to “wow” customers to keep the software in the market place. The Evernote blog is a good place to see user input and feedback. Users provide feedback in the comments section and are often cited in case-study like blog posts. New features sometimes don’t have a direct link to increased sales. But they do have a direct link to usage which has a direct link to sales.

I was pleased this week when I heard a product manager tell a steering committee that we have a good feedback loop in place with the user-base that is driving feature enhancements in a software tool. Some of the feature-adds were completely cosmetic. But they were added to drive additional usage on the site. For the site referenced by the comment, additional usage means increased cost reduction through productivity gains in the back-office. If we execute properly, we should position ourselves to deliver the wow factor for the users. That was exactly the point of the comment.

So I submit that the open feedback loop with customers is the secret sauce that helps software achieve it’s stated goals. Product managers and marketers have to find the balance between user input and needed features for ROI. Without usage, the software is just a heap of 1s and 0s.

The Weakest Lock

What entry point to your electronic data is the least secure?
The Evernote announcement of forced password resets last week started an email discussion between a colleague and I about password security. I was impressed with the precautionary measures of Evernote and their transparency to admit they detected suspicious network activity. Although they found no evidence that password files were compromised they chose to communicate their findings and force the password resets of all their users. In a blog post and email Evernote states “As a precaution to protect your data, we have decided to implement a password reset.” That’s a small price to pay for a little insurance and peace of mind about my the information in my account. I gladly reset my password and then moved on with my other daily activities.

My email conversation was about password security and authentication measures to access data. Some time ago I started using one of the online password services called PassPack to help me manage passwords for all my accounts. I setup a randomly generated password for most sites, which means I can’t get access to these sites without first signing in to my password manager. Extra security does comes with extra overhead.

Are gestures a good idea for authentication?

Are gestures a good idea for authentication

The email conversation on the topic captured a thought about the weakest entry point.

“Follow up on Bob’s random password use. I use LastPass and have considered having it randomly generate passwords for everything. That would create a complete dependency on LastPass, and I’d want to export / backup the list at times. But then what password guards LastPass? That one password would become the weakest lock.”

For me, PassPack requires both a username / password combination as well as an additional encryption key which is a full phrase/sentence. But conceptually the thought in the email is correct. A single authentication to get access to a group of credentials is the weakest lock or the most impactful lock. If someone were to gain access to my master list of authentication credentials then it really doesn’t matter that each of the sites I use have a different password.

The balance between security and usability.
Yancey Vickers from Red Clay Interactive wrote about the convenience of password manager programs and OpenID in her post One Password to Rule them All. She discusses some of the tradeoffs between added password security and usability. People have a different tolerance for how much security they use in their authentication process. I suspect that the level of overhead I take to sign-in to to a password manager to retrieve a password is not acceptable to most people.

What about mobile devices?
The email goes on to read:

“Then I think about our smart phones. That may be the weakest lock because if you get into my smart phone you can get into a lot of stuff to either gain access or socially engineer others to gain access. For the longest time that was just a 4 digit pin. Now it is a gesture.”

I hadn’t thought about this before the email. But my friend is right. The security requirements for my company issued phone are not the same as those on the company issued laptop. There is no multi-character password requirement, expiration date, or VPN program on the phone. A single pin, or gesture, allows access to corporate email. That does sound like the weakest lock.

Do mobile devices warrant tighter security? Would people use a mobile device if they had to key a password composed of capital, non-capital, numeric, and a special character? What if they had to authenticate with a VPN service after unlocking the phone? The standards seem to vary by device.

The Weakest Lock.
One password to rule them all, One password to find them,
One password to bring them all and in the mobile device bind them.

Using Evernote for your idea bank

I’m a list maker. By keyboard or by pen, I’m usually making or adding to lists throughout each day. I need lists to keep me organized, to remember things, and to prioritize my work and actions. We all make lists in some-way I think.

A simple search for my tag “to-do” shows some of the different lists I keep.

But how we keep those notes, pictures, thoughts, etc. is a matter of preference and habits.

I’m ok using paper for a temporary list. The paper allows me to doodle a bit if necessary and to think. But If the list on paper is something that will live to the next day I usually add it to an electronic location. That means Microsoft OneNote at work and Evernote for personal lists.

I use the web interface for Evernote for personal lists because it gives me a cloud based repository that is accessible from multiple devices. I can get to it on my Android based phone, my home Linux machine, my home Windows machine, or even my Windows machine at work.

While I can use the web interface to edit and compile data, I like the EverSearch browser plug-in because it’s a quick hit to find one of the to-do lists and then reference, read, and possibly edit.

Having the ability to quickly search my lists and find data is one of the main reasons I use Evernote. I don’t want to spend time thumbing through a paper notebook looking for something. I don’t want to have to login-in to some site each time I want to search either. It needs to be quick and the browser extension provides that quick glimpse for me.

It also helps me to segment my lists and ideas by topic. I have lists for movies I want to see, music to buy, books to read, blog posts to write, etc. With Evernote, I can pull the list by topic or by general search.

 

My Evernote wish list

Evernote LogoI have become a big fan of notebook applications such as Microsoft OneNote, Google Notebook, and Evernote. I used OneNote at work to manage all of my daily activities and I’ve been using Google Notebook at home to record lists of data and other topical notes. Recently I switched from Google Notebook to Evernote because I had read few good reviews on the product and it contained a few more customization options.

Now that I’ve used Evernote for a few months, I created a note to record my Evernote wish list for new features enhancements. I know, it’s free software, so I should be happy with what I get or use something else. But if the creators are looking for ways to enhance the value of the product (and I know they are) then it’s lists like this that give them input.

Bob’s Evernote wish list

  1. Twitter integration to unique default notebook – The new twitter integration with Evernote is nice. I can send a tween to @MyEN and it will be logged as a note for me. Right now it will place the note in the designated default folder. A simple enhancement would be to designate the folder for the note in the twitter setup for the account settings. This would enable a folder dedicated for tweets.
  2. Sections within notebooks – Right now each notebook within Evernote provides a single grouping or folder for notes. It would be useful to have sections or sub-notebooks to further subdivide the information.
  3. Note templates – All notes are currently created on a white background. I’d like to see the ability to add some colored backgrounds and predetermined line work layout to enhance the look and feel. Essentially, it’s a theme option for each notebook.
  4. Tables – I’d like to be able to add tables inside a note to allow for enhanced lists or comparisons within a list. I often create a note to list things that have multiple attributes or to compare a few features. Tables make this type of data listing easier to show.
  5. Linux Version – As of today, I only use the web based site and tool and not a local client. I run Linux on my home machine and there is not a Linux client. There is some traffic about this list on the message forum. Linux please!