How can we make it seamless?

Chatting with an associate product manager just now, I asked him to think of three things while he is working though a process that is currently manual and a bit hard for customers. They’re worth sharing.

1) Is this easy? Is it hard? What parts?

2) Where might customers/others have trouble with it?

3) How can we make it seamless?

Answering those questions is often the difference between success and failure in this business. Good solutions increase customer satisfaction and shift your cost curve lower.

Shopping Locally and Succeeding

Almost three months later, it’s the right time to give an update on my resolution to shop locally and stop relying on Amazon.

To recap, I decided in 2014 that I want my money to stay within my community. I’d like mom-and-pop businesses to be able to survive and thrive. They’re the ones who care most about the places and people around them, and money they earn doesn’t enrich financiers and the 1%. They’re also much more likely to pay their employees fairly and treat them with the respect all people deserve, which is an issue I continue to become more and more passionate about.

Three months later I’m happy to report I’ve been mostly successful. That is, I haven’t ordered any physical goods from Amazon, and I’ve much more often made the decision to patronize local shops. Some examples:

  • Haven’t ordered any books from Amazon, either digital or physical.
  • In fact, I haven’t ordered anything physical from Amazon.
  • Got plumbing supplies at the local hardware store, spending a good bit more than I would have otherwise.
  • Joined the Brooklyn Public Library. While I’ve only visited once because I have a backlog of books to read, I know I’ll be back more often later this year.
  • Ordered flowers by walking around the corner and into a florist! Crazy, I know.
  • Visited the Brooklyn Flea to check out furniture options for our new apartment.

And now for the bad, or maybe bad. I can’t decide, so they’re certainly up for discussion:

  • Ordered a pair of boots from Zappos (and yes I realize Amazon owns them). In my defense, I needed snow boots for this wretched winter and there aren’t any stores near me in Brooklyn who sell them. I probably could have worked harder to find something local – but it was snowing and gross!
  • I still frequently order digital video from Amazon. Digital video wasn’t part of my original resolution, but it was a questionable area. I stand by these purchases. It’s just not a thing to buy physical copies of video anymore, and I personally don’t see the difference between vendors.
  • Bought a sweater from J. Crew’s website. I could have gone to the store, but I didn’t.
  • I haven’t bought any Kindle books, but mostly out of consciously trying to work through my current backlog and spend less on books.

What does the future look like for this resolution? I can’t see myself becoming an Amazon Prime member again and I’m going to continue to endeavor not to order goods online that I can get locally. That said, next week I’m moving to a neighborhood with a lot less local options, which presents an interesting challenge. In Fort Greene, the lack of chain stores means it’s easy to shop local. In my new neighborhood, it will be much harder.

Spend Locally and Abandon Amazon – My New Year’s Resolution

I care a great deal about neighborhoods and local community. As someone who started participating in local politics around the time I turned 18, building strong neighborhoods is one of my deepest core beliefs.

But like many things, over time the actions one takes to support a belief can erode. People’s church attendance slackens, they miss PTA meetings, etc. In my case, over the past few years I stopped participating in the community. In particular, I did more and more of my spending on Amazon.

To make matters worse, I live in a neighborhood that has staunchly and successfully avoided being overrun by national chain stores. It’s a 10 minute walk to any chain store from my house (which is really long in NYC time!), and on the way you’ll pass lots of local alternatives. So why was I ordering mouthwash and basic essentials from Amazon? Why wasn’t I going into the local bookstore just a block from my house? Why was I ordering my groceries from FreshDirect and Amazon?

Over the past few months, I’ve started to be more concerned about this habit. In the back of my mind, I knew it wasn’t the right thing to be doing. You can Google for yourself some of the reasons why Amazon is bad for the economy, but I don’t want to dwell on it. The bottom line is that a company which pays its workers very little and is intent on dominating many realms of commerce might not be good for you and your neighbors. (And Amazon isn’t the only guilty company of course.)

As someone who cares about my neighborhood (and the importance of neighborhoods and local economies), I wasn’t doing enough to support mine. So this year, I’m working to keep more of my money local. Specifically, I’m reducing the amount of spending I do on Amazon. Unless I can’t find something locally, I’m not going to buy anything other than digital videos (and maybe a few Kindle books) from them.

That’s going mean more money for my local bookstore, pharmacy, grocery store, hardware store, and more. Unlike spending on Amazon, money I spend in locally helps the neighborhood by supporting entrepreneurs and allowing them to pay employees, many of whom are often also neighborhood residents.

I’m not trying to be perfect – the point isn’t to never order from Amazon, it’s to put my neighbors first and Amazon last. So far, I’ve been to the hardware store twice more than I otherwise would have been (I’d have ordered plumbing supplies from Amazon for sure), and the local grocer once more than usual. The toughest thing to figure out is books – I really love my Kindle and don’t have room for many books in my little NYC apartment. But I am going to try to move some of my book purchases to paper from local book stores.

I’ll be exploring new ways to spend locally throughout the year, and I’d love to hear from you. How do you support your local economy? What are ways I can increase my participation?

The Dictionary Has Offensive Entries, and It Should

The latest uproar in LGBT-land is an offensive definition of “gay” in Apple’s dictionary. In a move right out of 1984, my fellow gays and allies are demanding that Apple remove the offensive definition from their dictionaries. They’re wrong, and an attempt to change a canonical source of language over an offensive definition is far more offensive than the definition itself.

What’s a dictionary? To trot out a tired phrase, the dictionary defines dictionary as:

a book or electronic resource that lists the words of a language (typically in alphabetical order) and gives their meaning, or gives the equivalent words in a different language, often also providing information about pronunciation, origin, and usage:

What a dictionary *isn’t* is a normative look at what we desire words to mean. There are a LOT of offensive entries in the dictionary, and Apple isn’t the culprit. Not sure of their source, but I found the same definition of “gay” in the Oxford English Dictionary. But here’s one that’s worse. Check out some of the definitions for “woman“:

  • a female worker or employee.
  • a wife, girlfriend, or lover:he wondered whether Billy had his woman with him
  • a female paid to clean someone’s house and carry out general domestic duties.
  • a peremptory form of address to a woman: don’t be daft, woman

So according to the dictionary, women are employees, girlfriends, possessions, maids, and often daft. I’m more offended by that than I am by the definition of “gay.” But let’s not shove those usages into the memory hole and pretend they don’t exist. Knowing they exist is an important part of our language. Pretending they don’t is a travesty.

Love in the Age of Technology

Photograpy__Love_contest_by_the_riot_machineI love technology. It drives my career, my social life, my consumer habits, my desire to be an engaged citizen, and my need to create and write. Since technology positively influences so many other parts of my life, it should be a boon for finding a mate, right?

Not many people would call me an introvert, but when I like a guy, I can be shy to the point of actually seeming disinterested. So for a while, online dating was great. The stakes are low, the potential seems high, and embarrassment of rejection is lowered to almost zero, making it a nice self-esteem boost. By most metrics, I was successful with it. I was meeting new guys, going out on plenty of dates, having nice conversations, and over the past few years, dated a handful of guys each for a few months.

For a while, I thought taking the pressure off of dating was a good thing. If you lower the emotional consequences of rejection, you make dating easier. But eventually it started to feel hollow, like just a series of interviews, asking and answering the same questions over and over, like the million first dates Dan Slater writes about in The Atlantic. It got me thinking that perhaps that pressure is important. Sure, there was no risk. But was there any reward?

If I just look at a few more profiles, email with a few more guys, have a few more first dates, love is inevitable, right? If we meet enough potential mates, do we eventually end up in a relationship? Can we game the computers, like Amy suggests? And if we can, should we?

If my friends are any indication, one of the most embarrassing things to happen on OKCupid is to be matched with someone you already know. We already value these guys as friends and coworkers, and we often even know they are single, so why is it embarrassing? But over and over, I hear (and have said!) “Oh yeah, I saw him on OKCupid” in a whispered tone.

That should actually be an opportunity, but we’ve become so reliant on looking for someone we haven’t met that we ignore the guys who are already in our lives. Some services actually block your Facebook friends from results. This constant hunt for someone new has convinced me that dating sites are doing us a disservice, so I decided to take a break from using technology to facilitate dating and am taking it old school.

It’s been challenging. I’ve got to be less shy and had to put myself out there more. I’ve been rejected a few times, and that’s never fun. There’s definitely more pressure and the let-downs can be bigger, but it all feels more real. On the plus side, I haven’t had to endure any dates with guys with whom there’s clearly no chemistry. It feels like I’m off the treadmill, and that’s been worth it.

(Of course, the product guy in me thinks – What would a service be like that might solve this problem? Should technology play a role in matching us with people we already know? But that’s another post.) 

Photo by the-riot-machine.

Big Dongles, Public Shaming, and Recruiting Women in Tech

I was bummed to read this article about some public shaming at Pycon. Adria Richards overheard two men making crude jokes – one about forking repos that I haven’t been able to read as sexual, and another about big dongles which was clearly sexual. So she decided to publicly shame them and ask conference organizers to reprimand them.

Here’s where I’m having trouble supporting Adria. This seems like an extreme course of action if you haven’t even asked the guys to cut it out. They shouldn’t be telling sexual jokes in the first place, but there’s value in expressing your displeasure personally, rather than passive aggressively broadcasting it on Twitter.

That said, the temptation to do so is really, really strong, and social networks have made it easier than ever. I did the same thing at SXSWedu earlier this month, and as I did so, part of me thought, “why am I just not turning around and telling these guys to shut up?”

I don’t want to go too far down that path, because it’s a whole ‘nother set of questions (and another post) about the behaviors encouraged by social networks. The real problem in the Pycon controversy is the bigger gender equality problem we have in our industry. There are lots of people trying to fix that, but not enough. Even if you don’t have responsibility for it, it’s everyone’s responsibility to help build a diverse workforce. Here are some simple things I do

1) I ask our recruiting team about it. Recruiting talented women is not as simple as it sounds and does require some additional focus. I wish we did more on that front, but personally I can work to keep the issue front and center. I ask if we reached out to many women, if many showed interest, if any had feedback why they wouldn’t want to work with us, etc. I’m polite but persistent on this front.

2) When I visit one of our offices outside NY and notice a gender imbalance, I say so out loud. When I talk to a team and notice a lack of women, I say so out loud. I’ve learned a lot from this. In some places, the local talent pool is skewed toward men, and we don’t get many women applying for engineering positions. In others, there hasn’t been much turnover or opportunity to create more balance. But keep the issue in the front of your colleagues’ minds.

3) I casually ask hiring managers if there were any qualified women in the applicant pool. If so, why didn’t they make the cut? Did we interview them? Who did the interview? Again, I’m polite but persistent. I don’t want to offend my colleagues or imply they haven’t done their job, but want to make sure they are asking themselves these questions.

Could I do more? Probably. But from my role (which is pretty far from recruiting and hiring), I think it’s a good start. has been broken for months

If I ran an airline, one thing I’d make sure of is that customers could buy tickets. For the past two months, I’ve tried between 6-10 times to book travel on, only to be met with this screen when I try to confirm my payment.


How many millions have been lost because of this error? How much has Delta had to pay in commissions to Priceline, etc, because customers couldn’t complete their sale?