My name is Spencer Lazar. I am a venture capitalist at General Catalyst. I grew up with the internet, spend my life thinking about how it can make our lives better, and work with world-class entrepreneurs to affect that chanage. NYC is my home. This is my blog.

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Kindle Post-Mortem

My name is Spencer Lazar, and I own a Kindle.  These days, it is hard to write those words without sounding apologetic.  I was not even an early adopter of the technology.  About six months ago, out of a desire to pack lean in my move to Europe, the Kindle was a nice (and at the time, other than iPhone books as apps, the only) way to comfortably carry the world's books with me wherever I would go.  But with my iPad now on the way and a wall mount now installed to showcase legacy technology, I thought that I would offer an epilogue highlighting the single worst and best UX features of the Kindle 2.0.

Negative: The Kindle has buttons.  This was not the device's fatal flaw, but it was the paradigm into which the form factor was born.  Unlike the touch-screen multi-purpose devices that would come to being, the Kindle was meant for reading.  As such, every design element must be evaluated against this backdrop.  Every button must exist to make this process easier.  The keyboard was useful for looking up words and making little notes every now and again.  Unlike the buttons on cell phones positioned incestuously close together, the Kindle had a more comfortably spaced nearly full keypad.  Sure the mini-joystick-like navigation interface had a lot to be desired.  But, Amazon's greatest blunder was leaving out the most important button: Store (a.k.a. BUY! BUY! BUY!).  

As the reader, I want to be able to access new books as quickly as possible.  I do not want to do any workflow guessing.  I do not want to toggle through menus.  Like the readily visible AppStore and iTunes store on the iPhone, I want an obvious and frictionless path the purchase.  

So too does Amazon! This is what is so surprising.  For a $55B company with likely scores of people focused on optimizing customer conversion in their ecommerce business, this was an unexpected oversight which revealed how far behind in their thinking Bezos and team really were.

Positive: Taking the aggregation and indexing of massive amounts of digital media as a given feature of any successful e-reader, the most unique feature of Amazon's Kindle product strategy was their embrace of digital media content as a data vs. as a native app.  In purchasing a Kindle version of a book, I am able to access content on any device onto which Amazon has a connection (iPhone, Laptop, Kindle, Blackberry, iPad...).  It gives users ownership of the reading experience, rather than a form factor.  To make content portability work, however, Amazon takes things one step farther.  They sync your place from medium to medium, allowing you to pick-up on your iPhone where you left off on your Kindle - automatically.  

There were a number of other positive & negative features of the device.  If you had overwhelmingly different impressions, I'd love to hear your thoughts.


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