August 2, 2003

  • Internet Best Practice — 001

    Google is currently the de facto standard in search and you’ll benefit by thinking about Google as you build your site.

    Google recently released the beta of Google Toolbar 2.0. One of the neat features included in the new toolbar is AutoFill of web forms.

    Here’s how Google describes this feature:

    “The AutoFill tab in Toolbar Options enables you to automatically complete forms on the web. Enter your information and it’s stored securely on your own computer. When you see yellow-colored form fields on web pages, you can choose to have Google complete the form for you with the information you’ve entered.

    AutoFill stores personal data where only you can access it — your own computer. And your credit card data is encrypted and protected by a password you set. None of this information is ever sent to Google. In the Toolbar, the AutoFill button is enabled when you visit a page with fields that AutoFill can fill. Otherwise, the button in the Toolbar appears gray”

    As users download and become comfortable with the Google Toolbar, they will demand that sites build forms that work with the AutoFill feature. Luckily, Google likes standards:

    “You can ensure that AutoFill will work on your pages by using field names defined in the ECML (Electronic Commerce Modeling Language) standard, found at http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc3106.txt.”

    Now for some sites, it may be onerous to change data field names on all forms. But if you have the option, you should use any existing standards. While the ECML field names may not have been important when you built your forms, now that Google has brought the standard to consumers, it will be.

    Originally posted to the Internet Best Practice Newsletter. To receive your free copy.

August 1, 2003

  • Thought

    News.com: End of the road for SMTP?:

    “Some of those tackling the problem are looking at amending protocols other than SMTP. Microsoft, for example, advocates a change to the domain name system (DNS) that would make it harder for spammers to disguise their identity.

    The DNS is a distributed database, maintained by a number of different companies that provide domain names for Web site and e-mail addresses. The problem with the system, spam-fighters say, is that like SMTP, it provides no system for authentication.

    ‘One of the things we want to do is attack this issue of spoofing,’ said Harry Katz, program manager of Microsoft’s Exchange server group. ‘That’s job one, in terms of putting a curb on spam, and we think we can do that (by) making a minor enhancement to the DNS.’

    The ‘minor enhancement’ Microsoft is preparing to release would let individuals, companies and other organizations publish the identification numbers of their mail servers in the DNS database.”

July 31, 2003

  • Thought

    Wired News: Antispam Bills: Worse Than Spam?:

    “While no one has sympathy for the devils that fill inboxes with promises of lower mortgages and larger members, not everyone is supporting the new movement to banish spammers from the Internet.

    Some online advocates worry that heavy-handed antispam measures, such as centralized blacklists and charging for delivery, will destroy e-mail.”

  • Thought

    Fascinating post on GlennLog called “Hating”.

    While the post is really about a war Dave Winer is having with a user, I wanted to note Glenn’s central theme regarding the imminent end of privacy (my words not his):

    “This kind of permanence has set in on the Web in a way that only a small percentage of people understand. Post to Usenet — ever? It’s there, forever. Post a Web page for a few months? Google has an archive, and if it’s up long enough, so does The Internet Archive, which, with a few keystrokes, brings up the history of every page they’ve archived at a given URL.”

  • Thought

    Inc.com “Caught in the Crossfire”:

    “Now, after finally figuring out how to make e-mail work for them, marketers have found that the rules have changed. Their legitimate messages are being blocked by a new breed of super-aggressive spam filters; their good names are turning up on anti-spam blacklists; and they’re being forced to devote time, energy, and in many cases, a good outlay of cash to keep their e-mail marketing efforts out of hot water. ‘The landscape has changed,’ says Al DiGuido, CEO of Bigfoot Interactive, a New York-based e-mail marketing services provider. ‘This is not the same business it was a year ago.’”

July 30, 2003

  • Thought

    News.com “Air France wins ‘typosquatting’ case”:

    “French carrier Air France won on Wednesday the right to take over a Web site that uses a garbled version of its name apparently to steer business toward other travel companies and some finance firms.

    The ruling, the latest in a growing number of ‘typosquatting’ cases, was handed down by the United Nations’ World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which runs an arbitration service for Internet name disputes.”

    I’ve long recommended that companies register typos and common variations of their site, corporate, and brand names and point them to their official site. You should do this to a) help users who want to visit your site but don’t type well and b) to avoid typosquatting. Note that a lot of people won’t realize they made a typo and will assume that YOU have a problem.

  • Thought

    Wired News: Publishing for the Little Folks:

    “‘(The RedPaper) is a combination of eBay and The New York Times,’ said founder and editor Mike Gaynor. ‘You don’t have to have something valuable in your garage. You just have to have something valuable in your head.’

    Backed by software giant Adobe Systems, the RedPaper is an experimental market for information, allowing anyone to publish and sell their writing, be it recipes for muffins or hard-to-get court documents.”

July 29, 2003

  • Thought

    ClickZ: Do Not Call (But Feel Free to Click):

    “Ten million users registered in four days. A few days later, it was 20 million. This past Wednesday, less than a month after registration opened for the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) National Do Not Call Registry, Americans had volunteered 28 million phone numbers, representing over a third of all U.S. households.

    What’s equally stunning is 89 percent of these numbers were registered online, making the FTC’s National Do Not Call initiative most probably the most successful site launch. Ever. For two weeks after it went live on June 25, the registry was the most searched-for site on the major search engines, spiking the Nielsen//NetRatings charts.”

    That’s correct. In one month 1/3 of US households voted “no” to telemarketing. How hated does an industry have to be before it gets the message that people just don’t want to be sold this way?

July 25, 2003

  • Thought

    Wired News: Web Cliques Too Cool for School:

    “A clique has several mandatory structural elements, which include About, Rules, Members and Codes sections. In general, a clique will clearly define its topic. Its rules section lays out the governing principles of the page, and its membership section lists links to many on-topic sites. In the codes section, small graphical or text-based buttons that link back to the original clique are presented for all member sites to post on their pages.”

July 23, 2003

  • Thought

    The rhetoric around spam and “finding a solution” to the spam problem is reaching fever pitch. One of the best discussions of the issue I’ve seen is being conducted by the Technology Review.

    They started their coverage with an excellent overview of the issue called “Spam Wars”

    This was followed by a Dialog between Vipul Ved Prakash (Cloudmark founder), David Crocker and Barry Shein.

    I was going to quote from Vipul and David, but they make so many solid points and argue the case for restraint in dealing with spam so eloquently that I will just urge you to follow the links.

July 22, 2003

  • Thought

    Good Experience — Top Sites’ User Experience Teams and Their Challenge:

    “In the long run, companies must ‘bake it into their DNA.’ Customer experience work, if taken to the logical conclusion, eventually reforms the company’s entire organization around the customer’s needs — not around business units and sales channels.

    If this seems daunting, remember the good news: even the best websites in the world are dealing with this issue. Now is a good time to engage this issue within your company.”

July 21, 2003

  • Thought

    Looks like the DMA is up to it’s old (embarrassing) tricks again:

    DMNews.com: “Ahhh, so that’s what spam is”:

    “Spam is essentially e-mail that misrepresents an offer or misrepresents the originator, or in some way attempts to confuse or defraud people,” DMA president/CEO H. Robert Wientzen said in an appearance on a July 13 spam segment on “CBS Sunday Morning.” “The reality is that, in spite of all the trouble that e-mail is causing, Americans and people all over the world … do respond to e-mail offers, and they often respond to offers for things they didn’t even know existed, from people they didn’t know existed.”

July 18, 2003

July 17, 2003

  • Thought

    Wired News: Making Friendsters in High Places:

    “Friendster, the popular social-networking service that cleverly assimilates real-life social groups into a large virtual network, just keeps getting bigger.

    The service, which opened to the public in March and is still in beta, will hit 1 million users this week, and is expanding at a rate of 20 percent a week, according to the company.”

  • Thought

    Loudeye is providing the backend for buy.com’s new music download service reports internet.com: “All The iMusic You Can Buy.com”:

    “For Seattle-based Loudeye, the move by e-tailers into the music subscription business provides a ready-made market for its new Loudeye Media Framework, which is styled as a single source for developing and integrating digital music purchases, music subscriptions, audio and video players, music and video channels, and music samples including metadata and cover art.

    Like the online personals space, where companies like Spring Street Networks have found a gold mine in powering matchmaking services for third-party sites, Loudeye wants to be the engine that hums behind every paid music download on the Internet.

    In addition to Buy.com, components of the Loudeye Media Framework are being used by Amazon.com, AOL, Apple iTunes, Barnes and Noble, MSN and Windows Media, MusicNet, PressPlay, and Yahoo.”

July 16, 2003

  • Thought

    By the way, once you know all the rules of communicating online, there is nothing wrong with breaking the rules if you have a reason to do so. Of course, the risk of failure when you deliberately go against people’s expectations is far greater, so proceed with caution.

    I call these sites that successfully walk this line “the rule breakers” (original, yes?).

    Here’s today’s Rule Breaker:

    web zen

    Art, humor, and personal sites tend to fair better than corporate sites when it comes to rule breaking. For web zen, minimalism is taken to an extreme and many of the things we expect on a corporate site have been stripped away for Zen-like simplicity.

July 15, 2003

  • Thought

    More interesting analysis of the ramifications of Yahoo’s purchase of Overture:

    CNET News.com: “Yahoo finds itself in search spotlight”

    “Yahoo for now will face off most directly with Google, but analysts said the wild card will likely be Microsoft. MSN is Overture’s biggest partner, delivering as much as one-third of Overture’s revenue this year, or an estimated $350 million. As a result, many industry watchers say that it is only a matter of time before MSN takes stock of its alternatives, including replacing Overture with Google on its Web sites and hastening efforts to build its own Web search technology.”

    It will be interesting to watch a three-way fight over the next year or two. But don’t be fooled, new contenders can still rise up from nowhere. Three years ago we wouldn’t have been imagined that Yahoo would be fighting an upstart called Google in a few years.

  • Thought

    CNET’s “E-commerce: What works” gives a nice overview of a few core online retailing capabilities:

    “Truly useful e-commerce tools address one of three areas: displaying, buying or sending the product. As a result, iPix’s 360-degree images, Amazon.com’s “one-click” option and Federal Express’ online order tracking are examples of popular technologies shoppers use online.”

July 14, 2003

  • Thought

    My pals at Moontaxi were featured in this Globe article on the music industry:

    “When Apple broadens its serv­ice to the Windows environment — expected some time later this year — the potential audience will expand dramatically. Canada will be added to the Apple system when the CRIA completes its ne­gotiations in the fall.

    At that time, Canadian competi­tors will also enter the field. One that is ready to go is PureTracks, a pay-for-play service developed by Toronto firm Moontaxi Media Inc.

    “All the signals are looking very positive,” said Moontaxi founder Alistair Mitchell. “We’re still plan­ning our launch for the fall.”

    The PureTracks content will in­clude material from all the major Canadian record companies and the bigger independent labels, Mr. Mitchell said. The “indies” are cru­cial, because “a big reason why people go on-line to look for music is to find stuff that is new, emerging, niche repertoire,” he said.

    While the company had origi­nally considered charging a monthly subscription for down­loads, market research clearly showed consumers much pre­ferred a per-download pricing structure.

    Apple’s success with its 99-cent-a-tune system underlined that “à la carte” was the way to go, Mr. Mitchell said. It also showed there was clearly a business case for a high-quality pay system in competition with free downloads. Apple’s experience “told us it was worth our while to be making this happen,” he said.”

July 11, 2003

  • Thought

    And I’ll also point you to Google Dance which was referred to somewhat vaguely at the event:

    Google Dance Tool

  • Thought

    Since I’ve been poking around in search since the AIMS event earlier this week, I thought I’d point you to this CNET article called “Microsoft brains take on Google”

    “Speaking here at the Fifth International Congress on Industrial and Applied Mathematics (ICIAM), professor Jennifer Tour Chayes said Microsoft is patenting new search algorithms with the goal of replacing the Inktomi technology currently powering MSN’s search with Microsoft’s own.

    “Since Yahoo acquired Inktomi, Bill (Gates) has decided we need our own capacity,” she said, adding that the company is already patenting new algorithms it believes have the potential to power a new search engine.”

July 10, 2003

  • AdSense Sensor

    I just launched something I call the “AdSense Sensor”.

    Google recently launched AdSense, their contextual ad serving service for small sites.

    Using AdSense you (as a site owner) get to place ads served by Google on your site and share revenue with Google. This is exciting because the ads they serve are contextually related to the content on your site. They do this by using their crawl of your pages to determine which ads are relevant.

    The first question I asked when looking at the service was ‘what kind of ads will be served on my pages?’ I couldn’t find a way to determine this directly from the Google site (which seems like an oversight to me). So to help us all figure whether AdSense makes sense for us, I created this ‘AdSense Sensor’.

    Hope you find it useful!

July 9, 2003

  • “Mobile Snaps”

    The Economist’s “Mobile Snaps” article says:

    Sales of camera-phones are expected to grow from around 19m in 2002 to over 34m this year, according to IDC, a market-research firm. By 2005 they are likely to outsell film and digital cameras put together.

    The one issue I have with the comparison of film, digital and phone cams is that most people who buy phone-cams are really buying phones that happen to have cameras in them, not cameras with phones in them.

    Without real customer need and usable interface cameras in cell phones will have the same impact on digital photography that web browsers in phones had on Internet browsing — minimal.

    My guess is that the value of having a camera with you at all times will cause a real revolution in what people think is “camera worthy”.

    We’re seeing a long-term trend where we went from going somewhere to have your portrait taken, to film cameras there were when going on vacation and to birthday parties. Disposables get used as “fun”, and now digital cameras allow high volume snapping and post-picture editing (vs limiting what you snap in the first place to save on film). My guess is that phone-cameras will create a snap-crazy culture that doesn’t look at photos as precious, but rather as a simple way to capture anything visual that needs capturing.

July 8, 2003

  • Thought

    Pissin’ in the great outdoors for fun and profit.

    “If you’ve driven through Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Pennsylvania or South Carolina this summer, there’s a chance you’ve motored by a billboard or two that caused you to do a bit of a double take. If so, you’re not alone.

    The product? Outhouse Springs bottled water.”

    In fact, this is a promotion by the outdoor ad company, most likely to prove billboard effectiveness. Note that 10’s of thousands of people have visited the Outhouse Springs website showing that offline channels can easily deliver online traffic (and build buzz).

  • Thought

    Ex Libris Anonymous has a gift idea for the person with everything:

    “the book journals are all made from recycled book covers. they are filled with about 75 sheets of 24/60# paper, which is a nice journaling or sketching paper. in the front cover of every book we retain any beautiful cover pages, illustrations, library cards, maps, inscriptions, or what-have-you found in the book (we find all kinds of beautiful stuff in these old books). and it’s all held together with a black plastic spiral.”

    Recommended despite the lack of capital letters!

  • Thought

    Blogstop:

    “Form a sentence from the acronym of the last word found on the latest post. Quirky, funny, nasty, silly, serious, whatever your post may be, the words are yours. Every correct entry gives you 1 point.”

  • Thought

    “The Economist’s “The Fortune of the Commons” article gives an overview of the advantages of standards in layman’s terms:

    “Not every technology sector had such far-sighted leaders. But railways, electricity, cars and telecommunications all learned to love standards as they came of age. At a certain point in their history, it became clear that rather than just fighting to get the largest piece of the pie, the companies within a sector needed to work together to make the pie bigger.

    Without standards, a technology cannot become ubiquitous, particularly when it is part of a larger network. Track gauges, voltage levels, pedal functions, signaling systems — for all of these, technical conventions had to be agreed on before railways, electricity, cars, and telephones were ready for mass consumption. Standards also allow a technology to become automated, thus making it much more reliable and easier to use.”

July 5, 2003

  • Thought

    Wired News: E-Mail Mobs Materialize All Over

    “Flash mobs are performance art projects involving large groups of people. Mobilized by e-mail, a mob suddenly materializes in a public place, acts out according to some loose instructions, and then melts away as quickly as it formed.”

    Anyone know if this is happening in Toronto?

    Now what I’d like to see is a combination of this Japanese “Burly Brawl” with Flash Mobs. “Flash Burly Brawls”?

    discuss

  • Writing Social Software is Hard

    The always insightful Clay Shirky has posted a very long (almost 10,000 word) essay called “A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy”:

    “Writing social software is hard. And, as I said, the act of writing social software is more like the work of an economist or a political scientist. And the act of hosting social software, the relationship of someone who hosts it is more like a relationship of landlords to tenants than owners to boxes in a warehouse.

    The people using your software, even if you own it and pay for it, have rights and will behave as if they have rights. And if you abrogate those rights, you’ll hear about it very quickly.”

    Shirky gives a great overview of the issues that face all “online communities”, regardless of platform or technology used. After giving historical context by discussing the work of WR Brion, he provides “three things to accept” and “four things to design for”:

    Accept

    1. You cannot separate technical and social issues.

    2. Members are different from users.

    3. The core group has rights that trump individual users.

    Design

    1. Create “handles” (identities) that users can invest in.

    2. Create a way for there to be “members in good standing”.

    3. Create barriers to participation. (The group is the user, not the individual and creating barriers ensures that the group gets better signal-to-noise and this is better than maximizing individual ease of use.)

    4. Find a way to spare the group from scale.

    While the essay may be a bit long and theoretical for the casual reader, I recommend the article strongly for anyone interested in online group interaction. Learn from the mistakes of others! As Shirky points out:

    “Now, this story has been written many times. It’s actually frustrating to see how many times it’s been written. You’d hope that at some point that someone would write it down, and they often do, but what then doesn’t happen is other people don’t read it.

    The most charitable description of this repeated pattern is “learning from experience.” But learning from experience is the worst possible way to learn something. Learning from experience is one up from remembering. That’s not great. The best way to learn something is when someone else figures it out and tells you: “Don’t go in that swamp. There are alligators in there.”

    Learning from experience about the alligators is lousy, compared to learning from reading, say. There hasn’t been, unfortunately, in this arena, a lot of learning from reading. And so, lessons from Lucasfilms’ Habitat, written in 1990, reads a lot like Rose Stone’s description of Communitree from 1978.

    This pattern has happened over and over and over again.”