October 18, 2001

  • Bert Is Evil

    The Internet continues to intersect with the “real” world in strange ways.

    This article on Wired News explains the strange story of a small group of people with too much time on their hands creating a cult around the idea that Bert from Sesame Street is evil. They built parody sites, photoshopped images of Bert at the JFK assassination, standing behind Hitler, corrupting his poor pal Ernie at a strip club — you get the idea.

    Someone decided to put Bert and Osama bin Laden together in a photo. Which is where the story turns bizarre. It turns out that bin Laden sympathizers have downloaded pictures of bin Laden from the Net to create posters to use at protests.

    So when the media showed up to take photos of the protests, they captured the “Osama and Bert” images on the real world posters of bin Laden supporters.

    What is truly strange is that the “Bert Is Evil” creator has decided that this was too much and he’s closed his site. Of course now others are taking the previously removed content and reposting it. And heated discussion has broken out in this subculture about what should be done.

  • Thought

    The battle to use mass advertising metrics online continues.

    Tom Hespos’ ClickZ article about the New York Times offering “session” ad buys rather than impressions is very interesting.

    Basically I’m against mapping frequency, reach, GRPs and other mass ad concepts onto the Internet because they were initially created as crude approximations to overcome the lack of exactness that the Internet should provide marketers with. I’d rather see us use DM pricing models for most online advertising.

    Still, I do understand that some marketers want to use the Internet as a branding tool and studies have found online ads are in fact an effective way to brand. So the NYT new model of allowing one brand to “own” a session (one unique user travelling through five pages of the NYT site) offers a unique way of measuring the “brand exposure” provided by the site. Since ALL ads the user sees on ALL the pages of a given session belong to one brand, it is hard to see how the user could miss the message.

    It’s also good to see that publishers have not given up on innovations that aren’t anti-reader (see previous anti-pop-up ad rants).

  • Thought

    Word of mouth is a powerful tool.

    Last week I posted my “Big Red Fez homework” comments on the AIMS Discussion List (see below for BRF details). I included an Amazon.com associate link so that I could track the effectiveness of my recommendation.

    Here is how we did in the three days after the posting was published:

    1. ADL sent to 3200 AIMS members includes link to Godin book.

    2. 49 people clicked on the link (5 people clicked more than once).

    3. 21 people bought the book and downloaded it.

    4. To date no one has sent me their homework.

    That means I had a 1.7% clickthrough, and a 43% buy/browse ratio. Not bad I’d say. I made US$2.02 in referral fees by the way.

  • Thought

    The IAB has published a useful guide to some of the more common industry terms.

    You can find it here.

October 14, 2001

  • “Big Red Fez” Homework

    The e-Book version of Seth Godin’s new book “The Big Red Fez” inclines me to give all imho* readers some homework:

    1. Buy the Big Red Fez e-Book through Amazon.

    You should do this for three reasons: a) to experience online shopping via Amazon.com — some of you STILL haven’t done this, b) to experience an e-Book (yes you can print it out, but use Adobe eReader to understand the e-Book concept), and c) it only costs US$2 (no shipping or customs to worry about).

    2. Read the book:

    The book provides a screen capture of something that either impressed or irritated Seth on one page, and his analysis on the opposite page. These real world examples are very powerful and many will leave you shaking your head at how any company could be so bone-headed.

    3. Think about YOUR site:

    Now turn this new found knowledge on your own site. I’m sure if you can look at YOUR site with the same critical and customer focussed eye that Seth would, you’ll find MANY things you could easily improve on your site.

    4. Report back:

    Tell me what you found wrong on your site, what you did to fix it, and what the results were.

September 28, 2001

  • Thought

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

  • 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 KraftCanada.com 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 1–800-Flowers.com, Ameritrade, eBay, Expedia, Homestore.com, Monster.com, Northwest Airlines, Office Depot, Priceline.com, Register.com, Travelocity.com 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.

August 30, 2001

  • Search Engine Superiority

    Search Engine superiority is a big stakes game of one-upmanship that we won’t see the end of soon.

    I think that when many of us discovered Google we figured that the search wars were over and we’d found our home. Of course we said this forgetting that we’d said the same thing years before when we met Yahoo! for the first time. And then we said it again when someone sent us a link to AltaVista. And then again when we clicked the Hotbot link from Wired.

    I doubt that Google will be the final champion in the search game (at least not if they stick to current technology while others advance — hopefully they won’t).

    For a review of the current state of Internet search, check out this CNET article called “Start-ups Seek Google’s Throne”. One site they don’t mention that is probably worth monitoring (although it is pre-launch as I’m typing this) is Quigo, a “deep web” search tool.

    And of course, Search Engine Watch is a great place for general information on search and how it effects you and your site.

  • Thought

    People like the Internet even if venture capitalists don’t.

    This CNET article discusses a recent Gartner Dataquest survey that found that 65% of American homes now use the Internet on a regular basis and almost 25% of those households are on broadband connections (primarily cable).

    Further, 91% said that they intend to stay connected which Gartner took as a sign that the Internet is now an essential part of the American home.

    It’s clear that consumers love the Net and businesses need to understand that despite the anti-hype, this channel is not going away.

August 29, 2001

August 24, 2001

  • Thought

    The print version of the newly minted Business 2.0 gets two big thumbs up.

    The magazine has taken the best of eCompany Now (which was getting pretty darn good on its own over the last few issues) and the best of Business 2.0 (always a favourite) and put them together into a really nice package. My understanding is that we’ll see a bit of a redesign happening this fall, but for now it looks pretty much like eCompany with Xplanations inserted.

    One article that really jumped out and made me think a bit was this one called “Why So Many People (Not You, Of Course) Made So Many Brain-Dead Investments (And How Not to Make Them Again)”. While the article is really about the markets, I think it is also important reading for those of us working on strategic partnerships, business development and strategy building. It is very easy for these same flaws in logic to infect our thinking about business decisions as well as stock picking. Consider it a must read for Internet strategists.

August 22, 2001

  • Thought

    Autodemo has a cool technology for online site demonstrations.

    I was checking out the DVD of “The Straight Story” when I noticed an option to get an automated demo of Amazon’s 1-click ordering system. Since this was new and I always find Amazon to be on the cutting edge of customer experience (note that I didn’t say cutting edge of technology), I clicked the link.

    The demo worked as advertised and didn’t require any downloads (it’s all Flash-based).

    I think we’ll see more of this type of technology evolving as companies focus on improving usability as a way of increasing sales. Now we have to hope that people won’t take to creating hopelessly complicated technologies and then using demos to cover-up their poor design.

    (The Straight Story is an outstanding film by David Lynch, although you would never know it was a Lynch film).

  • Thought

    While the expression “the Internet changes everything” might be out of fashion, I keep running into things that I can’t imagine existing in a non-Net world.

    Today’s proof that The Internet Changes Everything is a site from the UK called “What should I put on the Fence?” which is at (what else) whatshouldiputonthefence.com.

    Here we have what some would consider a stereotypical British eccentric who has become a bit obsessed with the fence where he used to lock up his bike.

    The site is a one man effort providing statistics on how long various items stay on the fence after he chains them on. The people who own the building are going crazy trying to keep up with “the fencemaster.”

    What is really fascinating is that many people are following his “adventures” on the Net and making requests for various items they’d like to see on the fence. People are now starting to visit the fence in question as a tourist spot. Some are adding their own items.

    I can’t imagine how the world could get involved in one man’s fight to chain things to a fence without the Net. Seriously, find an hour or so and dive into the mind of another person. Fascinating and scary.

August 21, 2001

  • Thought

    We should all take a moment to mourn the passing of the Industry Standard magazine this week.

    Of all the dotcom casualties, I find this one hitting hard. The Standard was always one of the better sources of information on the Internet industry and I’ll miss its no-nonsense style.

    The San Francisco Chronicle can fill you in on all the sad details…

    Industry Standard Joins The Dot-gones

August 16, 2001

  • Thought

    E-mail marketers need to consider how the fight against spam may in fact be hurting their ethical e-mail campaigns.

    Editor And Publisher has a really good article called Spam Fighters Block Legit E-mail that gives real world examples of what can happen to a perfectly legitimate e-mail as it winds its way through increasingly strict filtering systems on the web. Definitely worth a read for anyone managing an opt-in list.

  • Thought

    Maybe I should pick up a Pepsi with those Lifesavers…

    The new issue of the revamped Business 2.0 (merged and melded with eCompany Now) has a great article on Pepsi’s use of the Web (and Yahoo) in their PepsiStuff promotion.

    I think we’ll see more of this online/offline promotion blending as it lets the web do what it’s good at — instant access, database building, cheap content distribution — and let’s offline promotion do what it is good at — build brand, increase trial and impulse purchases, and create word of mouth.

    I also thought it refreshing (pardon the pun) that Pepsi didn’t start sending the 3.5 million people who registered the Pepsi corporate newsletter, but rather built another great promotion around voting on the all-time best Pepsi ad. 320,000 people watching your ads online is not bad!

August 15, 2001

  • Examples of Beyond The Banner Ads

    I have to go buy some Lifesavers.

    As you can see from this MediaPost article Lifesavers has come up with a GOOD way to go “beyond the banner.”

    Essentially what they’ve done is pay About.com to change their logo so that the “o” in About is replaced by a Lifesaver, like this:

    Clicking the logo launches a large graphic pop-up for a Lifesavers contest.

    This to me is inventive and consumer friendly as it adds a little serenpidity to surfing but doesn’t really interfere with the task at hand the way pop-ups/unders do.

    Of course the idea is not a new one. We’ve seen Yahoo and Excite do this type of stuff back in 1996 with “101 Dalmatians” spots on the background of the home page. More recently MarketWatch has been selling “wallpaper” as an ad space (the jury is out on that).

August 14, 2001

  • Thought

    Not enough people think of web design as software design.

    This article on adobe.com called “Style vs. Design” is a rather personal rant on the need for a better understanding of what “style” is for, and what “design” is.

    Here’s a quote:

    “Most of all, I worry about Web users. Because, after six years of commercial Web development, they still have a tough time finding what they’re looking for, and they still wonder why it’s so damned unpleasant to read text on the Web — which is what most of them do when they’re online.”