"Count what is countable. Measure what is measureable. What is not measureable, make measureable." -- Galileo

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Bird Song, Cell Phones, and CMS

I read an interesting bit over on LiveScience.com about bird song and its commonality with cell phones. In short, if male birds all sang the same song, it would be easy for females to judge the best ones. Ditto for cell phone plans--if all companies had similar plans, it would be trivial to do cost comparisons and pick the best deal.

Instead, male songbirds who know they aren't the best singers should try to fool females by singing something different so there's no easy comparison. Cell phone companies do the same thing by offering different plans: free calls to friends, unlimited evening minutes, no-charge long distance.

The point is that the weaker "product," whether bird or cell phone, is betting that the "customer," whether prospective mate or handy phone user will make a mistake and select the lower quality item.

"It may be that new signals evolve because they benefit low quality males," Forstmeier [one of the study's authors] said. As long as there is the tendency for female songbirds or cell phone customers to treat bigger or faster or whatever as better, "you kind of can try to sell almost anything as an indicator of quality to the other sex or your customer."

So... next time you are browsing the feature comparison lists on CMS Matrix or reading some obscure statistical pervulsion in one of my posts here at PloneMetrics, remember that we're talking apples and oranges all the time. Strong singers, best-value cell phone plans, and top-flight CMS will simply want to sing their best song, advertise their best plan, and market their best functionality. But weaker singers will vary their song, less competitive mobile companies will offer convoluted pricing, and weaker CMS will have more exotic combinations of feature sets.

I suggest that the Plone community, the Foundation, and its Board look carefully at their motivations for adding features to the Plone suite. Having a best-of-breed core product with a killer mechanism for customization (UML --> ArchGenXML --> product) may be the best means to assure prospective mates, I mean, users, that Plone is right for them.

Its to our advantage to make sure that potential customers choose the right framework, even if its not Plone. One pissed off fellow disappointed with Plone can cause quite a bit of havoc with a blog.

At the same time we should be striving to make comparisons as straight-forward as possible by marketing our strengths. As a corollary, devising a robust rating system for 3rd-party products will make it possible for prospective users to more accurately understand where weaknesses may be manifest.

I'll not be making it to NOLA Plone week after next, but my colleague Deborah Haycraft will be. If you want to get a message delivered directly to me, track her down.

Have a great symposium and see you in DC next fall.

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