Out of touch?

by Volker Weber

Techcrunch ran a story on Christmas Eve with the unlikely title of

Two free tickets to Lotusphere - is IBM's Lotus Notes Out of Touch With Web 2.0 World?

So it is two things: an interview with Kevin Cavanaugh and Ed Brill, as well as an offer to suck up to two free 'sphere tickets:

IBM is giving two free tickets to TC readers - leave a comment saying why you'd like to go to Lotusphere, and we'll pick the winners by Monday morning. (Note: Passes cover conference registration only, not travel/hotel.)

Now the story has made it to the Digg frontpage. Both have interesting comments, to which Ed has to say:

and what an enlightened bunch the DIGG commenters are.

It begs one question: how do you change the perception of a large user base that thinks Notes is a huge PoS, now that you added enough parts to transform a quaint steam engine into an even more complex Saturn V launch vehicle, while many of your users started using public transportation in their private life?


I saw that on Ed's blog, decided not to respond. (I had a session selected for Lotusphere09, so I already have a free ticket...).

My first reaction to the question was that it was the wrong question. It's not Notes that needs to be Web 2.0 compliant, it's Domino, the server, the place where people host (or try to host) applications that want to be Web 2.0 compliant (whatever that means, but that's another rant).

I actually wrote a presentation on whether Domino is "Web 2.0 compliant" (and offered my own definition of what that means) a while back, and delivered it at The View's Developer event (April 2008) and somewhere else too (but I forget where). My conclusion: yes, sorta compliant, could be a lot better, probably will be, eventually.

I was a little surprised that Lotus would put out this particular promotion, as Domino has been severely lacking in recent years on the Web App Dev side (especially with respect to developer tools). From what I've seen (and this is, of course, just IMHO), v8.5 is only a marginal improvement.

But I suppose you can make something like this work if you control the definition and the premise well enough.

Bob Balaban, 2008-12-27

The question you begged has too many parts (like Notes :-) to really answer briefly, so I'll only tackle one aspect putting on my former marketing hat: How do you make your strongest skeptics into believers? That is, for those who so boldly pontificate behind the keyboard without a current understanding of the product they are bashing, how do you enlighten them to at least to the possibility that Notes Domino has enough business benefit that it could be even considered strategically advantageous?

Answer: You need to get out there, onto the highways and byways where people travel, and and repeat the strengths of Notes again and again and again. The fact is, even mistruths, repeated often enough, are believed (MS are experts here). Even better, when you can show true and tangible benefits, AND repeat them often enough, you're on your way to transforming perceptions. Its simply a matter of volume. If a former Notes user, who had a problem with some old weakness of Notes, like say HTML formatting, doesn't hear anything about Notes for several years, and then suddenly there's some out-of-the-blue article on Notes, he'll of course not be too impressed, and may even dump a negative comment. However, if he sees dozens of articles, in different blogs, ezines, and other media he uses, some of those messages begin to get through and over time he may even think, "Hey, maybe Notes its worth another look."

I'm afraid we, as a community, and IBM as a company, make too few attempts to make plays in media where Notes is not necessarily dominant and when we make an attempt and get the old "Notes sucks" responses, we are outraged and retreat, grumbling about those Nimrod trolls. We have an insular community where we preach to the choir, and have few missionaries, so to speak. We don't seem to get it that a long, sustained, repeating, enduring effort to communicate to the non-converts is required for any noticeable change over time. Quick hits don't really do much, in fact in a way they can hurt. For example, maybe a young IT decision-maker doesn't know anything about Notes and they read a dozen negative comments. Of course they could become inclined to believe them, especially if there is some common slogans repeated. But when one reads mindless, often emotional troll comments, and then intelligent, clear testimonies in a comment thread, the neutral reader knows which ones have legitimacy.

So to summarize:

Strategy A. There needs to be more articles put out like the one cited above that clearly and succinctly brings out the feature/benefits of Notes Domino. Use graphics, interviews, case study examples, and other convincing arguments. Emphasize that, as the world has evolved, so has Notes, especially of late. The frequency of these releases needs to be high enough so that the average IT professional will run across 5-6 Notes articles a year minimum, which itself goes a long ways to demonstrate the legitimacy of the product.

Strategy B. The Lotus community needs to comment on these articles in a genuine, non-defensive manner. Point out the true benefits you and your org, and your customers have experienced with Notes Domino and let those speak for themselves. Engage the trolls only on the concrete points they offer. Ignore the crude, nonspecific comments which any intelligent reader will bypass anyway.

And this should all begin with the 8.5 release. If a sustained effort is made, the needle should begin to move one year from now.

Roland Reddekop, 2008-12-27

Roland, you cut to the point of my question. Thank you.

I frequently write about Notes and Domino, and each time we get dozens of comments from disgruntled (sometimes former) Notes users. They have not chosen Notes themselves, but they found themselves in a work environment where they had to use it.

I am not really debating the merits of Notes here. There seem to be little middle ground. There are people who like it, and don't want to work without it. And then there are people who don't like it, and who wish every single day they could get rid of it. As I said, the choice often isn't theirs. Notes lovers get to work in shops without Notes, and Notes haters get to work in a Notes shop. And I think those are the ones spreading the most vitriol.

The landscape is changing fast. And with change comes opportunity. Not only for Lotus, but also for their competitors. Many see Microsoft as the main threat, but I don't.

Volker Weber, 2008-12-27

Bob, Web 2.0 is indeed a fuzzy buzzword and can be made anything it wants to be. While I understand your Domino point, I am not sure the question is irrelevant with "Notes" in it. Notes is what the user sees, and it is the stronger brand than Domino. Most users have no idea what Domino is, but some know what Notes is.

As Roland has rightfully pointed out, I was more concerned with the reactions to the article and not the question whether Notes itself is out of touch with Web 2.0.

Volker Weber, 2008-12-27

I don't get why users always have to "understand" Notes. Users fight the daily little problems and glitches. They aren't interested into organizational benefits. They want to work with a fast, stable and - most important - reliable client. These requirements seem not to be fulfilled for those commenters. So you have to wonder why this is the case after 20 years of development.

Perhaps some product designers should stop thinking of composite applications and instead develop appointments with more than 24 hours and reliable unread marks.

Oliver Regelmann, 2008-12-28

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