September 28, 2001

  • Thought

    VeriSign may also be a player in authentication services according to this article on

  • The Tragedy of the Commons

    Forbes’ article The Tragedy Of The Commons by Nobel Laureate Daniel McFadden starts out with the simple but articulate explanation of “the tragedy of the commons” that I’ve long looked for, then moves to a sold analysis of how this situation plays out with online content and services, but cops out in the end by not offering a long-term solution.

    For those of you not familiar with the Tragedy of the Commons, I take the liberty of copying McFadden’s explanation:

    Immigrants to New England in the 17th century formed villages in which they had privately owned homesteads and gardens, but they also set aside community-owned pastures, called commons, where all of the villagers’ livestock could graze. Settlers had an incentive to avoid overuse of their private lands, so they would remain productive in the future. However, this self-interested stewardship of private lands did not extend to the commons. As a result, the commons were overgrazed and degenerated to the point that they were no longer able to support the villagers’ cattle. This failure of private incentives to provide adequate maintenance of public resources is known to economists as “the tragedy of the commons.”

    McFadden goes on to discuss various options for how content and service providers are going to get paid enough to induce them to put quality content online. The arguments against the four alternatives he lays out (ads, paid via ISP, paid via monopoly, paid via PBS style organization) are solid. But just when you expect an “aha moment” he copes out with this:

    The solutions that resolve the problem of the digital commons are likely to be ingenious ways to collect money from consumers with little noticeable pain, and these should facilitate the operation of the Internet as a market for goods and services. Just don’t expect it to be free.

    So, is this a fifth model — user pays via micropayments — that he has not fully analyzed, or is it a hope that someone will come up with a way of making the first four models work? An insightful analysis of the value of micropayment models is much needed to round this out.

    And of course, it goes without saying that my access to his article was made possible by the fine people at IBM who had banners all over the pages I read.

  • Thought

    The Sun Microsystem’s backed “Liberty Alliance Project” appears to be an open-source counter proposal to Microsoft’s Passport. I say “appears” because at this point not that much is know about the details of either system from a practical perspective.

    This InfoWorld article gives a good overview of the announcement of Liberty by Sun and its partners. It also makes the obvious conclusion that this is still largely vaporware.

    While it is still too early to tell what will come of these “universal log-on” services, it is important for us to watch this area develop. The proliferation of log-on schemes and user ID/password combinations is one hindrance to web usability that would be nice to do away with. Authenticated surfing may not please privacy advocates, but it should make content sites happy if they can start offering the bulk of currently free content as “free when authenticated” in the future. A lot of the “1–1 Marketing” hyperbole comes closer to reality when you can recognize people and their associated profiles on each visit. If Passport and/or Liberty succeed, I predict that we won’t see ANY content sites that offer more than headlines without authentication.

September 26, 2001

  • Thought

    It’s always good to get straight forward tips on keeping the user front and centre in all business thinking.

    IBM’s developerWorks has a good article on how to respond to usability complaints called

    The cranky user: What’s with the attitude? If you have to deal with feedback on your site, this is worth a review. (I’m tempted to see how Peter “Cranky User” Seebach would respond to some harsh words about this article, but I couldn’t think of much to complain about!)

  • Thought

    It is understandable that people will grab at any solution to a complex problem, but sometimes we create unintended results in our race for quick fixes.

    Case in point is the current move to limit personal freedoms, particularly on the Internet. Talk of Carnivore and Echelon — once considered urban legends — is now common and often positive. New legislation looks at enhancing the amount of information officials can collect without warrants and talk of national “identity” cards is being raised in the US and Great Britain.

    Add to this biometric surveillance and you have the makings of a very dangerous loss of freedom of movement — online and off.

September 25, 2001

  • After September 11, 2001

    It’s time to resume regular programming.

    My last post was made on September 11th at 9:14 am. It’s been hard to find a context that makes my usual commentary relevant since then. But I’m ready now. Hopefully, you are as well.

    While I chose to respond to the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US with silence, others in the weblog community turned weblogging into a vital source of voices outside the mainstream media.

    This CNET article provides some insights into the use of Weblogs since September 11 as did Wired News.

    In the days that followed the attacks, I used the following quote to sign off on my e-mail correspondence.

    “History is merely a list of surprises.
    It can only prepare us to be surprised yet again.”

    – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

September 11, 2001

  • Sometimes Marketers Get Carried Away

    Sometimes marketers get carried away and forget why they are doing what they are doing.

    Take for example the E-mail Sign Up Page you get at after clicking on the “Recipes by E-Mail” link.

    My guess is that someone at Kraft thought that e-mailing recipes full of Kraft products would be a good way to increase use in the kind of consumers that care enough about Kraft to visit there web site. Then someone else suggested make the page “interactive” by collecting information on my particular interests and the kind of Kraft products I use.

    Probably the next person to look at the page said something like “why don’t we make this the core of our integrated offline/online CRM initiative.” At that point they added a lot of demographic and geographic questions.

    So now when a consumer clicks to get recipes by e-mail, they have to answer over 30 questions on their household and shopping habits. To make matters worse, the form requires that you tell them if you have kids at home, what your age is, whether you are female or male, and (sin of sins) what your street address is!

    So, instead of making consumers value them and their products for the many new ideas they email each week, Kraft probably alienates 90% of the people who attempt to sign up. A wasted opportunity.

    Compare this to the P&G run S Mag sign-up (you need to click on the “subscribe” link near the top).

  • Thought

    It’s time to look at the big picture for e-commerce, not just the profitability of e-business divisions.

    This editorial called “The Bottom Line on E-Commerce” in Interactive Week makes two good points about Bricks and Clicks e-commerce.

    1. E-Commerce is starting to become profitable for those doing it right. Examples include 1–, Ameritrade, eBay, Expedia,,, Northwest Airlines, Office Depot,,, and United Parcel Service.

    2. Profits from online ventures may not be the best way of looking at online success for Brick and Click retailers since e-commerce also has positive and in many cases measurable impact on offline sales and service costs.

September 7, 2001

  • Thought

    Andy Fould’s “Leader Of The Free World” page is an indicator of the power of the Internet as a voice for political satire and protest.

    Given the ability for any Tom, Dick or Andy to put up a web site sure to irritate those currently in power, it can only be assumed that political dissent in one form or another will be around for awhile.

    The extra great thing about political satire on the web is all the exposure one’s opinions get once the “viral aspect kicks in” (I keep hearing people saying that.)

September 6, 2001

  • Thought

    Move over Viral Marketing, “False Memory Marketing” is the next trend.

    This extremely disturbing article in the Guardian points out that marketing can actually create false memories in consumers. Consumers “remember” using products that didn’t previously exist or having other childhood experiences because of advertising or product branding. For example, consumers report drinking bottles of Stewart’s root beer in childhood when it’s only been bottled for the last ten years. The bottles are marketed as “original”, “old-fashioned” and “Since 1927.”

    Scary quote:

    “This brings forth ethical considerations. Is it OK for marketers to knowingly manipulate consumers’ past?

    “On one hand, the alteration will occur whether or not that was the intent of the marketer given the reconstructive nature of recall.

    On the other hand, there are ways in which the marketer can enhance the likelihood consumer memories will be consistent with their advertising messages. At the very least, consumers ought to be aware of that power.”

    Then again, maybe this isn’t news. I vaguely remember reading this same article when I was young. Someone, please reassure me that “Joe Louis” existed before 1975!

September 4, 2001

  • Ads in Context

    Jakob Nielsen always has good advice in his Alertbox newsletter and this week’s article called Designing Web Ads Using Click-Through Data is no exception.

    Jakob offers some interesting real world experiences on running a text ad on Google. I think the analysis is spot on, suggesting that aligning the ads goal with the user’s goal in visiting the page make the ad more effective. I’ve been talking about building context into online marketing for a while now and this is a great example.

    One exception I take is that Nielsen feels this is only effective on search engine results pages. I think context will improve an ad on any page on any site, and it will be of particular value on pages that people go to for help. If I’m looking for information on getting stains out of clothes and see a link to download the Tide Stain Detective on my PDA so I’ll always have this information on my finger tips, that ad is in context and should out-perform generic “run of site” ads.

    I’d also suggest that the Tide Stain Detective download would also do well to advertise on Palm app download pages. The last place I would go would be a cooking page based on the assumption that whoever is cooking is also doing the laundry and will therefore be interested. This is weak context.