Blue Packets Revisited

Update: Davi found a humorous cartoon that nicely complements this piece. It all depends on what you consider to be a mobile service...

Got quite a bit of work done today (both planned for and unplanned). Misled by Russell's usual gushing enthusiasm, I wandered over to Paul Golding's site. Although he phrases his ideas very nicely, it's strange how things myself and my colleagues have been discussing (and, quite often, doing) for years now keep getting re-hashed and taken for novel concepts.

But then again, that's probably the telecommunication industry's fault as a whole - some things just keep coming back, no matter how impractical (or unprofitable) they are at any given technological stage. Remember Ricochet? That's only one example, and of course technology isn't always the real issue - quite often, usability and cultural habits are where things fail.

My Disclaimer prevents me from discussing any actual mobile services at this point (and that is one of the reasons I don't usually write about product concepts), but there's nothing to prevent me from discussing how they are generally addressed - it is, after all, a mere matter of common sense, and one that is actually taught in universities.

(Common sense, alas, is not actually taught in a campus and seems to be absent from rather a large number of them, but that is another matter altogether. Suffice it to say that empirical evidence and life experience will beat theory and idealism every time.)

As I parodied in my Blue Packet post a few months back, product concepts are literally a dime a dozen. I was bombarded by utterly ludicrous ideas when I was in Marketing (yes, yes, I confess, I was once a product manager, and will likely yet become one again), and over ninety per cent of them fell by the roadside due to real-life issues their original proponents never thought about.

And, like I also parodied, there is an entire analysis process devoted to ensuring product concepts are valid (i.e., that they are not merely some hare-brained scheme), doable (that the technology exists and actually works as advertised) and (obviously) profitable.

(Pundits wanting ammunition to chastise telcos based on profit-driven arguments can pack up and go away right now - telcos are businesses with tremendous operational costs, and, like any business, are driven by business goals. Last time I checked, profits were a part of those.)

Non-pundits will not only find it interesting that the process is actually a lot more complex and refined than what I parodied, but also that quite often many products and services that are not immediately profitable turn out to be deployed anyway, for a number of reasons:

  • To test acceptance for later, similar services
  • To take advantage of strategic opportunities (like a competitor's weakness)
  • To push the envelope (to distance your company from your competitors)
  • To boost brand awareness (which is a very important portion of any company's assets)

And do bear in mind that the success of some of these services isn't normally measured at the end of the first fiscal year - some of them (in fact, most of them) are evaluated by looking at business cases that (in some cases) span at least half a decade.

Yes, half a decade. That's a lot of Internet-dog-years.

Of course, some come out at the end of the pipeline and turn out to be duds, and others still don't even go through the pipeline and become runaway successes.

And that's where "insiders" and pundits have completely different mindsets. Whereas telecommunications folk tend to learn from their mistakes (just about as much as any other industry, of course), as far as the pundits are concerned the duds are quickly forgotten, and the unlikely successes (or at least those that are perceived by "outsiders" as unlikely) become the poster children for the perennial haze of idealists that call up product managers five minutes before lunchtime to tell them they are working on a mobile service that is the first thing since sliced bread.

Since I'm now in Engineering, they now call me during lunch, right after Marketing politely brushed them off.

Anyway, there are hundreds of ideas out there. Thousands, even. And you can rest assured that most of them (in fact the vast majority of them) are not that new, and that of those that truly are innovative, only a select few will ever come to pass. And through no lack of trying.

Patent offices have been around for centuries, and they are full of strange, unrealistic (often Utopian) concepts - we simply aren't aware of most of them.

I see no reason for the wireless world to be any different.

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