Ken’s Kindle Review – Did it light my fire?

I am a proud owner of an Amazon Kindle.  I really wanted one the day in November when Amazon announced it – and about a month ago I finally got mine as an early birthday present from my wonderful wife who is still waiting to borrow it.  I have finished my first book, read the Wall Street Journal on it daily, and played around with many other features.  I’m a gadget freak, so of course I wanted one – but the question was whether I’d actually like it.

I’ll go into details below, but let me start with the punch line.

The summary

I love my Kindle, but I can’t wait for version 2.

I love the novelty, the vision of the future, and that beautiful screen.  I will exclusively buy books on it whenever available.  But, if you’re not a gadget-obsessed person, I wouldn’t recommend it for you yet.  The expense and the quirks will bug you too much.  I have total faith that Jeff Bezos and his Amazon team will iterate on this and in ten years we will start thinking of printed books as loved relics of the past – as we do today typewriters, vinyl records and even CD’s.

Likes

  • Screen clarity – especially in sunlight
  • Seamless browse and buy experience
  • Eco-friendliness
  • Weight, size and battery life

Dislikes

  • Awkward cover
  • Usability problems
  • Tables/graphics display

The gritty details

The packaging and first-run experience were as beautiful as a freshly purchased iPod.  It’s amazing how much the details of that first experience impact my feeling of being lucky to own this new gadget.  Within minutes I had purchased and downloaded my first book.  I chose to read Ken Follett’s World Without End as my first book – which is no short order, weighing in at 3 pounds and 1024 pages.  I was pleasantly surprised when the book downloaded in what seemed like seconds.

The form factor of the Kindle seemed perfect to me right out of the gate.  Instead of lugging a 3 pound monster to the beach and Starbucks – I was packing a sleek, leather-bound 10 ounce Kindle.  Nice!

But, it wasn’t all rosy — a usability problem hit me right from the start and it took me a while to retrain myself.  Somebody tried to be way too tricky when designing the next/prev/back buttons and blew it.  I was silly enough to think that after pressing the “next page” button, I could just press the “back” button located right under it to return to the previous page.  Sorry, wrong answer!  Despite the fact that everyone is trained that pressing “back” in a web browser takes you back to the previous page – on the Kindle it takes you back to the previous “object” you were looking at.  So in this case it would pop me out of my book entirely and take me to my list of books on my Kindle.  I need to use my left hand and press “prev page” for that – not “back”.  Huh?

The leads me to another gripe I have.  The book I was reading had 1024 pages, and the Kindle totally hid from me what page was on.  The Kindle has a foreign concept called “locations” that won’t be intuitive to anybody who is used to reading books.  The fact that I was on location 7,698 out of 20,762 in the book just didn’t cut it for me.  I wanted a mapping back to page numbers so I could know what page I was on.  I often felt disoriented in an endless stream of words and locations.  I realize there are user-settable font sizes and different print editions of book, but just mapping back to a standard hard-cover or paperback edition would have worked great for me.  Please bring back page numbers!

The screen on the Kindle is nothing short of beautiful for text.  I was pleasantly surprised when I took it outside in the bright Arizona sun and discovered that the screen looked even better than it did inside a building.  I’ve never seen a screen that didn’t look anemic outside – but this electronic paper does the trick.  Sure, I wish it was bigger, had a built-in light, didn’t flash annoyingly on a page turn, and had the ability to display color, but the clarity of text more than makes up for it.

Amazon’s “Whispernet” is huge.  I have yet to hook my Kindle up to a computer, and I may never get around to it.  Browsing the Amazon store is seamless and downloading books is surprisingly quick.  Based on my ten years of purchase history with Amazon.com, my Kindle came out of the box knowing what books to recommend to me!  I was literally sitting on an airplane getting ready for a flight and quickly downloaded two newspapers to read on the flight.  All in about one minute.

The leather case the Kindle comes with is a must-use accessory to keep the Kindle protected, but it has a couple of annoying flaws.  The worst flaw is that my Kindle constantly falls out of the case.  The little plastic tab that is supposed to keep the Kindle from falling out just does not work.  Worse, it sometimes pries the battery cover off of the Kindle and my Kindle falls out of the cover in two pieces.  The other annoying flaw I’ve noticed is that if you’re not careful, the Kindle cover can push the scroll wheel when you close it and drain your battery.  I learned to always push “Alt”-“Font Size” to power down my screen before closing the case, but that just should never happen.  The case isn’t all bad – the little strap that closes it is a nice nostalgic tie back to a fancy bookmark.

Battery life is excellent for just reading, but I recommend turning off your “Whispernet” connection or it will drain your battery quickly.

If you’re a gadget-geek, you really should go and buy a Kindle today.  If you’re a normal person – you should wait for the next version.

My top wish list for improvements in V2:

  • A bigger screen at the expense of the keyboard
  • An integrated cover that works
  • More fit and finish (like page numbers and tables that are legible)
  • Cheaper initial purchase price.

But, don’t get me wrong.  I love my Kindle – and I’m sorry to say that my wife is going to have to wait a long time if she wants to borrow it, which means I’ll probably be buying one for her shortly…

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Darcy Burner for Congress

Seems like calls from political campaigns are getting more and more frequent these days.

So, when my caller-ID just lit up earlier today and said “Darcy Burner for Congress” — I sighed before picking it up, preparing to deflect a mindless call.

I was surprised and delighted to hear the caller say “Hello, this is Darcy Burner.”  Rather than the expected cold call or recorded message — it was Darcy herself!  I was very impressed to see Darcy Burner working the phones personally in her district — and enjoyed my brief conversation with her.  Darcy just barely lost to Dave Reichert in 2006, and has been dedicating herself to another run at him this year.

I look forward to supporting her again in this fall election.

So… What now Ken?

For those of you wondering — I’m in the late stages of figuring out what I’ll be working on next.

Was Mary Jo Foley’s speculation right upon my leaving?  Stay tuned 🙂

“Moss has held the lead core-search manager’s job for more than five years. Moss is taking a sabbatical, from which, according to Microsoft, Moss will return. (A substantial number of other Microsoft managers who’ve taken sabbaticals have not returned to the company.)”

A challenge for Mini-Microsoft

Originally Posted on:Wednesday, 05 Oct 2005 20:33

I’ve been reading the mini-Microsoft blog for a few weeks now.  Although it was brought to my attention through the tremendously negative Business Week article, I’ve really been enjoying the thinking on the mini blog and others comments (Dare and Scoble) and wanted to share a few thoughts – and issue a challenge to mini.

“Indeed, there are areas of excitement within Microsoft.  One is MSN, the internet operation, where the search group is the underdog competing against Google.”  I’m glad that our fun, customer focused, entrepreneurial environment got mentioned.  It’s still amazing to me how far our reputation has changed since two years ago – and so much is still yet to come J

No Birds

2 ½ years ago, I was asked to be the technical leader for a new team that would build from scratch a world-class search engine.  Google already had a huge lead in quality and market share – and many people within Microsoft said “no way” or “Ken, you’re taking a no-win job” or “MSN doesn’t have the technical skills” or even “you’re going to have to use Linux…”  I call these people the “no-birds”.

Now, it’s important to distinguish the no-birds from people who are constructively criticizing.  No-birds are usually very creative and intelligent people, but their efforts are misguided.  All they care about is shooting down ideas.  They take pride in talking loudly, getting listened to, and are content measuring their impact based on any change in a plan – even if it’s just making things so confusing that nothing gets done.  They secretly are happy when things are screwed up.  They are worthless.

Constructive criticizers are people who point out weaknesses so that things can get better.  They feel bad pointing out a problem without proposing a specific solution.  Their ego’s are on the line with the team’s success.  They are vital.

Is mini a “no bird” or a constructive criticizer?  2 ½ years ago, would mini have said it’s great that Microsoft is trying as hard as it possibly can to build the world’s best search engine?  Or griped that there’s too much work to do, screamed about how we missed the boat on search, and pointed out 498 ways Microsoft’s culture will get in the way?  (and believe me – we are constantly changing our culture…)

Given my reading of mini’s blog, I’m giving mini credit for being a constructive force.  He basically comes out and says as much in his writings like: “Let’s slim down Microsoft into a lean, mean, efficient customer pleasing profit making machine!”  He’s quoted as saying: “Microsoft has been wonderful to me, I really want to improve it.  I really want to make a difference.” 

I have strong opinions on many of the points discussed on Mini’s blog and in the comments.   But I’ll save those for another discussion.  Now, on to the challenge…

(For the record, Business Week quotes Mini talking about his wife, so I’m assuming Mini’s a he — everything stands equally well if it’s Ms or Mrs. Mini :-))

A Challenge to Mini

I have no idea who Mini is, but I would like to officially issue a challenge to him to come and do a totally anonymous informational interview with me.   If he passes our hiring bar, I am confident that we can provide him with a way to feel inspired by Microsoft and the work we’re doing.  We have many awesome features he can come and work on – and he’ll be able to ship them as soon as they’re ready since we update our service constantly. 

I, and the rest of the management team, will do our very best to provide cover for any bureaucracy that may stand in his way.  Mini will be free to innovate and ship software as fast as he is able to.  He will be able to challenge himself to see how good he can be.  He will be inspired and have a blast.  I can almost guarantee that success won’t be easy — but I can guarantee the opportunity to challenge himself.  If he does great work, he will get great rewards.

I offer a personal guarantee that I will keep Mini’s identity secret unless he releases me from that promise.  We hire many people into our team each month – so nobody would have to know about this except for Mini and me – even if he gets hired here.

What do you say Mini?  Are you serious about changing the world – or are you just talking?

Ken Moss

General Manager MSN Web Search

20 Billion — is that the magic number?

Originally posted on: Monday, 22 Aug 2005 20:00
Is the best search engine the one with the most documents in its index?  Is 20 Billion a magic number?  Is 20 Billion a real number?
 
One of the first things we realized when we embarked upon our quest at MSN to build the world’s best search engine is that figuring out how to meaure search engine quality was vital to our hopes of success.  We knew that our goal was only as good as our ability to measure.
 
Recently I was at the Search Engine Strategies conference in San Jose, and I participated on the Executive Roundtable panel on Wednesday morning.  Danny Sullivan asked myself and representatives of the other major search engines about Yahoo’s recent claims on index size and our reactions to developing a standard way to measure relevance.
 
I’ll leave the detailed guessing on “true” index size of Yahoo, MSN and Google to others who I see doing a good job starting to dig in on various places around the web (Danny Sullivan, John Batelle, NCSA).
 
Having the biggest index of the documents people care about is job #1 of a search engine.  What’s the magic number that we want in MSN?  I’ll put it this way:  We won’t be happy until every one of our customers finds every answer they are looking for.  So — we are constantly looking to improve the quality and size of our index.
 
Over the past months, due to some changes in our internal MSNRank calculations, we have added a huge number of good docs to our index without actually growing the size — and without removing any docs that users care about.  The total number of docs didn’t grow — but the effective size grew dramatically.  Our customers noticed it quickly.  (If you know of a document we don’t have — please report it to our “help us improve” link on our search results page.)
 
Everyone seems to be focused on number of docs which is good — but, I wanted to point out a few topics that I think are of equal importance that are being overlooked in this recent conversation:
 
  • Paid Inclusion – At MSN, we believe that the web results we return should be 100% ranked based on relevancy.  There is no way a site can get a boost to their ranking by paying us.  We turned off paid inclusion over a year ago, and we got a big “thank you” from our customers through their feedback, and their increased usage of our system.  We are happy with that decision.
  • Freshness – Anytime a page is published on the web, we want to have it in our index as quickly as possible.  Our crawler is designed very carefully to discover changes on the web as quickly as possible.  Today a page on an important site will likely get discovered in less than 24 hours.  Ditto for a page that existed, but has had it’s contents updated.  We have recently started exploring a real-time extension to our crawl that will drastically shrink that time delta in the future.  We don’t want site owners to pay us to crawl them more frequently – we think it’s our job to crawl all important content as quickly as possible — our customers expect it
  • Spam – Spam attempts to trick our customers to click on links that are misleading.  Search is a big business; therefore spam is a big business.  We aggressively fight spam in many ways.  If we doubled our reported index size, but filled it all with spam — that wouldn’t be right.
This discussion should turn to overall search engine quality which includes the above and more.  It needs to be a measure of how often our customers get their answers.  We need to develop meausre that are apples to apples to help people understand how the various engines are progressing.
 
Until we reach that point, please give MSN Search a try and tell us what you think.  We’ve heard some really good comments in recent months about our improving quality.  We are very excited about our progress — and more excited about the work in our labs.
 
Ken Moss
General Manager, MSN Web Search

Back in the Blog World

I am sad to say that my last blog seems to have mysteriously disappeared from the Spaces service 😦

I’m annoyed and disappointed — But, I’m going to give it a try again…

I’ve found some copies of some past posts around the Web — and I’m going to repost them here for posterity’s sake.  Then, I’ll move on to new posts!

Thanks for visiting…