July 2, 2003

  • Thought

    Great Q&A with Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO in Technology Review:

    Well, one big problem is feature creep. Companies feel pressured to add features because they want to put a checkmark in every checkbox in the product review magazines. Home stereos are a perfect example. How many people use one-tenth of the features on their stereo? And, in fact, the most expensive home stereos actually have the fewest features, because those users understand that they actually get in the way of the experience. And so I think what we try and do as designers is use real hard evidence of people in the world to show our clients what things are appropriate and what things aren’t appropriate, and help them have the bravery that they need to be able to resist the temptation. If we didn’t have those checkboxes, a lot of features wouldn’t exist. The other classic example is digital watches, where the cost of adding extra features is so low, that you end up with all these features through this incredibly low bandwidth interface that nobody can ever remember. I love my watch, but if it weren’t for the fact that half the instructions are engraved on the back, I would never remember how to change anything on it. And that’s rather sad, really, considering how long we’ve had digital watches.

June 26, 2003

  • Thought

    This Business 2.0 article gives details on Autobytel’s new contextual ads for competitive products strategy.

    “Here’s how it works. Say you’re interested in a Honda (HMC) Accord. You surf to Autobytel.com and click through to the Accord research page. Splashed across the top, above all that detailed Accord data, is a box labeled “Sponsored by Ford.” It jeers: “The Ford Taurus has a larger engine than the Honda Accord DX.” An adjacent link takes you to the Ford web site for more details on the Taurus where, the theory goes, you’ll soon forget all about the Accord.”

    The biggest issue I see with this approach is Autobytel’s credibility in consumers’ eyes. If someone goes to the site to research Honda’s and sees the page is sponsored by Ford, my guess is many users will be skeptical not only of the sponsored link copy but of the entire page — maybe the entire site.

    Autobytel ends up looking like it is pimping for Ford rather than providing unbiased research on cars.

  • Thought

    Deloitte Consulting’s “Bullfighter” is getting a lot of media and blog coverage:

    “So, we call it our online conscience. Bullfighter is software that runs in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, within Microsoft Windows 2000 or XP. It works a lot like the spelling and grammar checker in those applications, but focuses on jargon and readability. Download it for free, or order a CD-ROM/book package. Then install it.

    This is a brilliant piece of viral marketing (and also a useful tool for the jargon-prone).

  • Thought

    Clay Shirky is a bright guy. In The Music Business and the Big Flip he writes:

    “The curious thing about this state of affairs is that in other domains, we now use amateur input for finding and publicizing. The last 5 years have seen the launch of Google, Blogdex, Kuro5in, Slashdot, and many other collaborative filtering sites that transform the simple judgments of a few participants into aggregate recommendations of remarkably high quality.

    This is all part of the Big Flip in publishing generally, where the old notion of ‘filter, then publish’ is giving way to ‘publish, then filter.’ There is no need for Slashdot’s or Kuro5hin’s owners to sort the good posts from the bad in advance, no need for Blogdex or Daypop to pressure people not to post drivel, because lightweight filters applied after the fact work better at large scale than paying editors to enforce minimum quality in advance. A side-effect of the Big Flip is that the division between amateur and professional turns into a spectrum, giving us a world where unpaid writers are discussed side-by-side with New York Times columnists.”

June 25, 2003

  • Thought

    Interesting article on the beautiful International Herald Tribune (IHT) site called Google ferrets out a better way to get advertisers.

    Here’s a quote from a happy AdWords user:

    “Before Vavra advertised with Google, she was selling about 10 suits a month over eBay, the online auction site. Then she bought 50 Google keyword ads using her Visa card. The next morning, she said, sales took off. The business has continued to grow; she now sells almost 120 suits a month. She expects to spend $60,000 this year on Google search ads.

    ‘Our business exploded from Google, and Google alone,’ she said.”

  • Thought

    The Reputations Research Network is collecting research on reputation systems (hence the name).

    Reputation and managing it across time and context will be a key role for someone or something on the Net. It will be interesting to see if it is possible to develop a portable reputation (vs. the local reputation users have within systems like eBay or amazon.com).

    Here’s the Reputation Research Networks mission:

    This site is for researchers who are studying how reputation systems should work in theory, how they actually work in practice, and how they could work better. You can find out about people, papers, and practical systems. And you can contribute pointers to useful information.

    Note that the NYT wrote an article about this project called More Companies Pay Heed to Their ‘Word of Mouse’ Reputation.

  • Thought

    AlwaysOn Picks Top 100 Companies for 2003

    The premise of the competition is that consumers and businesses are demanding greater access to the Web for more convenience and productivity, and these demands are beginning to drive the next boom in high technology.

June 20, 2003

  • Thought

    Great analysis on coping With price transparency by Jupiter’s Jared Blank.

    Travel sites should reveal competitors’ rates because consumers don’t believe they are getting a good deal if they don’t shop around. Even better, it will keep consumers on your site. Best-rate guarantees encourage people to shop around. Revealing competitors’ prices discourages the behavior.

  • Thought

    Dave Winer is documenting “what makes a weblog a weblog?”

    “Rather than saying ‘I know it when I see it’ I wanted to list all the known features of weblog software, but more important, get to the heart of what a weblog is, and how a weblog is different from a Wiki, or a news site managed with software like Vignette or Interwoven.”

  • Thought

    I’ve seen some people questioning the wisdom of Google’s AdSense, but overall I think the concept is spot on.

    Contextual advertising is the only kind that will work online in the long run. Of course, AdSense text ads on content pages (as opposed to on Google’s search results pages) will have to have lower clickthroughs, but this misses the point. Since the ads are targeted based on Google’s crawl of the page, the ads should be relatively targeted (read useful) and therefore should give good results when people do click.

    The lower average clickthrough doesn’t matter since the advertiser only pays for results.

    One thing I’d like to see is a way to see (before signing up) what kind of ads they would be serving. My guess is many sites will be nervous about trying this because they don’t want to see competitors or “cheesy” sites advertising on their pages.

  • Thought

    There’s a new site that’s just been launched by Mark Hurst at Good Experience. This Is Broken is looking for visual examples of online and real-world experiences that have clearly gone off the rails.

    That shouldn’t be too hard.

June 19, 2003

  • Thought

    In the June 2003 issue of Business 2.0, John Battelle, wrote a great article called “Putting Online Ads in Context”:

    Let that soak in: This is a new revenue source for the entire Web, one that not only is unobtrusive but, because it’s based on relevance, might even be useful to readers. Contextual advertising “could be much larger than the paid search market,” claims Bill Demas, senior vice president at Overture. Google’s Wojcicki seconds his assertion. For the sake of independent, high-quality content on the Web, we can only hope they are right.

  • Thought

    I’ve been a very silent blogger for the last six weeks or so. I’ve been working on major changes to the company’s service offerings and the changes prompted a much-needed rethinking of this entire site.

    The new site went live today. Hope you like it. Feedback is welcome.

April 29, 2003

  • Thinking About Apple’s iTunes Music Store

    I’ve been reading about Apple’s iTunes Music Store and think they got it half-way correct — or maybe more accurately, 1/3 correct.

    Buying songs you know and love for $0.99 is perfect if you want to burn discs of current favourites. And Apple seems to have “fixed” most of what was wrong with earlier online download sites. I think this will be a hit — especially when they get the Windows version live — which they realistically need to do to make this work.

    But what happens if you’ve heard that Miles Davis is really cool but you don’t know anything about him? Well, for about $10 a month, a subscription to listen.com let’s you listen to most every album miles ever recorded. You can then make your decision about what songs you’d like to own forever (if any) and decide to download those for 99 cents (via Apple for example).

    And sometimes you just want music on in the background — music in a specific genre or to match a particular mode. You might want classical in the background for a brunch, 70s pop songs while you clean the house, or ambient “chill” for late night surfing sessions. In these cases you’re less interested in the actual performers than the feeling the music induces in you or your guests.

    So people have at least three goals with music: to own it, to explore it, and to use it to augment other tasks. The iTunes Music Store appears to do an admirable job of the first goal, but leaves the other two out in the cold.

    The “home run” in online music will be a service that combines cheap downloads (I think the magic number will be 10 cents a track, not a buck), music on demand from a vast library of diverse music styles, and high-quality commercial free “radio” that offers songs to match hundreds of genres, moods and situational settings.

April 28, 2003

  • Thought

    Jakob Nielsen’s intelligent take on text-based (and contextual) advertising is called “Will Plain-Text Ads Continue to Rule?”

    Jakob has always had (justifiably) unkind things to say about “traditional online advertising”, but he likes text ads, provided they are put in context by search results. I think that Jakob overly limits the effectiveness of contextual text ads because if the ads are truly placed in context, they also become a content point, just like other pages on the site the user is visiting. His argument regarding online classified ads being viewed as content not ads by online users is spot on — but it also applies to truly contextual text ads as well.

  • Thought

    Great posting by Brad Templeton regarding the past, present and future of spam called “Reflections on the 25th Anniversary of Spam”. While the history lesson might not be to everyone’s interest, I strongly suggest you read his comments on the current state of spam and his overview of the various solutions that are being proposed. If you are involved in e-mail marketing in any way, you need to start thinking about this stuff.

    (FYI, while I didn’t really know him, Brad and I went to UofW together at the same time and I always saw him wondering around the Math And Computer building. How far we’ve all come.)

April 22, 2003

  • Thought

    The New York Times did a big write-up on E-mail Marketing and Spam — effectively ending the hopes that the two concepts can ever be separated in the public’s mind again. The article uses “marketing” and “junk”, “spammer” and “marketer” as synonyms and offers wonderful examples of spammers making the case against anti-spam advocates (thereby limiting the effectiveness of legitimate e-mailer’s concerns).

    What a mess.

April 16, 2003

  • The Seattle Windshield Pitting Epidemic

    A fascinating recounting of a classic example of mass delusion known as The Seattle Windshield Pitting Epidemic.

    While the story is important as an example of mass delusion, it is also interesting to note the lack of scientific awareness shown by the public and media.

    While SARS is real, I felt an eerie connection between what is happening in Toronto with SARS and what happened with windshield pits in 1954. Of course, I’m not saying that SARS is a mass delusion, only that the public reaction to an(as yet) minor threat is out of proportion and unscientific.

    Isn’t it hard not to have a moment of panic when someone coughs near you? Or when you shake hands with a stranger?

    [via the always wonderful Boing Boing]

April 10, 2003

  • Thought

    If you search on SARS Virus on Google today you will notice the a “Google Public Service Announcement” at the top of the page linking to the CDC SARS page. Another indication that Google gets that it isn’t like other companies and needs to consider the overall “ecology” of the Net in which it increasingly plays a central role.

    Of course all the sponsored links are to hucksters selling masks and sterilization kits. Ugh.

  • Thought

    Great article called “Permission To Spam?” on ClickZ. Increasingly the challenge with e-mail marketing is going to be getting past the perception that your message is spam — even if you did clearly get permission.

    In the long-run, smart marketers have to begin to temper expectations and realize that they have to make their lists cleaner and their messages more valuable to subscribers if they plan to succeed. For example, I know recommend double opt-in as standard for all lists. Even though it will decrease list size, it eliminates any chance of people not knowing what they signed up for. And you eliminate anyone with over aggressive filters because they never respond to the confirmation list, which means you’re less likely to be sending messages into spam filters.

April 2, 2003

April 1, 2003

  • Thought

    Macromedia put on an interesting Briefing with Forrester Research last week here in Toronto. Summary information is available on the Macromedia site.

    This was the first time I heard (or at least absorbed) the real concept behind Forrester’s “X Internet” concept. Their idea of downloadable applications replacing web pages still sounds silly to me. They are missing the fact that the Internet does many things and deseminating flat, factual data and opinion is one of those things and HTML does it very well. Still, many things we do on the Net are computer assisted tasks that HTML is NOT that good at. Macromedia presented some interesting applications such as a hotel room reservation system that reduced a many stepped HTML process with one dynamic Flash application. This was very compelling and is a good example of where Forrester thinks we’re headed.

    I’d also point out a great use of multimedia in online presentations which Macromedia provided as part of the post-briefing link package. Click on the “Pass along this summary video presentation to your colleagues” link to view.

March 31, 2003

  • Thought

    It’s interesting that online retailer Bluefly is taking their e-mail delivery in-house because of fears their messages will be caught by spam filters if they use an outside technology partner. Most people do this in the exact opposite order — outsourcing for fear of being labeled spammers. Thing is though, companies are in a bit of a bind as most large e-mail services providers are now (rightly or wrongly) on blacklists across the Net. At the same time, companies don’t want to appear on those lists themselves, so they are stuck.

March 25, 2003

March 21, 2003

  • Thought

    Given the war on Iraq, killer viruses, and “Orange Alerts”, many of you are probably looking to find reliable information fast. Certainly Newsworld and CNN can provide an instant visual fix, but there are times when you are not near a TV, or you’re looking for in-depth commentary, or alternate viewpoints from around the world.

    In all these cases, I suggest you temporarily set your browsers default homepage to Google News.

    If you haven’t discovered Google News yet, you’ll be surprised at the effectiveness of this service which automatically collects and sorts links from leading international news sites in near real-time.

    Of course there is no saying what will happen to your productivity if you do in fact check Google News every time your browser loads. Maybe a bookmark would be a better idea.