April 19, 2005

  • Why I’ve Been So Quiet

    I haven’t been posting much over the last few months and most likely it will continue that way.

    Three reasons for this:

    1. Business is great! I’ve got more clients already this year than this time last year, and last year was our biggest to date. It’s great to be busy but it does cut into much needed blogging time. This seems to be a trend.

    2. I’m cheating on myself! I’ve set up a side project called One Degree (where Canadian online professionals gather) and most of my time and attention have gone to the care and feeding of that site. If you are looking for regular posts from me, go there.

    3. I’m spoiled! One Degree is built using Movable Type and it is so nice having a full-fledged blogging system in place. This site uses Blogger and has since launch, but the service is so limited that I have outgrown it. At some point this site will be redone using Movable Type, but that will have to wait for a while as I attend to these other burning issues.

February 20, 2005

  • My Mother The Poet Goes Online

    Over the holidays we got my mother online with an old desktop PC we had kicking around and broadband. She’s taken to it like a duck to water.

    Ever since I was very young (and maybe before) my mother has always written poems about things that happen in her life. She just e-mailed me this:

    Ready for a challenge? You bet!
    I am going on the INTERNET,
    flying into Cyberspace,
    joining the computer race.

    My kids, very generously,
    provided the opportunity.
    Installed by Ken, the computer pro,
    here I am, ready to go.

    So many questions I had to ask!
    Am I really up to the task?

    But Ken, with his expertise,
    quickly put my doubts at ease.

    Compose Email, click to “Send”
    converse with family and friend.
    For info, the website is a treasure,
    finding answers a real pleasure.

    Here I am now with my biggest toy,
    having fun, so much joy.
    I wonder, should it be told,
    that I am 84 years old?

    Ilse Schaefer

    February 19, 2005

January 25, 2005

  • Canada Post Launches Fetch

    Canada Post is about to launch Fetch. The site is now live at www.fetch4.info.

    There was a brief Globetechnology article about the fact that Fetch is being piloted in Calgary (which is somewhat unusual).

    This quote from the article does a good job of explaining the service at a very high level.

    “The Fetch service allows a user to set up an account with Canada Post, and input personal contact information in confidence. When users see an advertisement from a company participating in Fetch, they request that information be sent to that on-line account, either by entering a text message on a cellphone, or through an interactive voice system.

    Advertisers would pay only when a consumer requests one of their offers, and individuals would pay nothing for the service.”

    Congrats to Warren and Tim for getting this off the ground after a huge amount of internal work.

    It will be very interesting to see how this turns out. My guess is it will be a fundamentally new way of protecting consumer privacy while letting marketing through the veil, or it will be a flop. I doubt there is a half-way for this type of model. I’m hoping for the former as I like the idea of bringing greater interactivity to the offline environment.

January 21, 2005

  • Thought

    Kevin Lee has a very nice overview of the difference between SEO and SEM in his ClickZ article Compare and Contrast: SEM and SEO. I particularly like his analysis that SEO is largely a technical issue of site visibility (a fixed task) followed by ongoing PR and reputation management (an ongoing, evolving effort).

January 4, 2005

January 3, 2005

  • What Will Interest Me In 2005?

    Happy New Year!

    Here are a few of the top trends I’ll be watching closely in 2005:

    1. “Web First” Marketing Strategies — Forget integrating online into the marketing mix, I’m seeing more smart companies starting with the web and working out from there. For some of my clients this will be the first year where they have moved almost all their efforts (and dollars) to the web. Look for offline media to play a supporting role for many more savvy marketers in 2005. And look for web AORs to take the lead as other agencies fall in line with the online strategies set by the web shop.

    2. Rich Internet Applications — With Gmail, Flickr, Basecamp, Bloglines, and the brand new 43 Things I think we are really seeing the dawning of a whole new class of online experience. By bringing far greater functionality to their sites, these services are showing that online applications can rival desktop apps. I think 2005 will see a blurring and stretching of our concept of what the terms site and software mean. Look for ways to turn content sites into tools that users can use instead of read.

    3. Desktop Apps — The flip-side of the web-based applications trend is the rise of net-centric desktop apps. Think of iTunes and RealRhapsody, FeedDemon, or Google’s Desktop Search. 2005 will also see more sites creating custom Firefox extensions and IE toolbars to keep top-of-mind with consumers. Don’t expect all your marketing to happen in a browser or e-mail client anymore.

    4. Firefox — With over 15 million downloads since November 9th, the best web browser on the planet will stir things up as it rapidly gains marketshare on the old, buggy, unsecure Internet Explorer. One of my clients (with a non-tech audience) had over 8% of December traffic arriving via this open source app. This makes the move to standards-compliant sites even more essential as “IE Only” sites will alienate too many visitors to be worth the risk. As a side-note, let’s see if heads roll over the dreadful non-standards redesign of Indigo’s site.

    5. RSS Hits Mainstream — Feeds were the hot tech topic in 2004 and 2005 will find this incredibly powerful tool gaining broader awareness. If you’re not using a feed reader to stay on top of the industry already, you are definitely missing the boat, and if you are not thinking about a corporate strategy to benefit from feeds in 2005, then shame on you.

    Of course search will be the online marketing success story for 2005 as it was for 2004, and blogs will continue to grow in importance.

    What do you see for 2005?

December 27, 2004

December 17, 2004

  • Looking Back At 2004

    Last year I published some predictions for 2004 on my blog on on the AIMS discussion list.

    Here’s a summary:

    1. SEM rises to dominate online marketing.

    2. Blogs become the best way to find out about most stuff.

    3. Increased focus on meeting user needs instead of corporate goals.

    4. A more pragmatic approach to e-mail.

    5. RSS prepares to take centre stage in 2005.

    6. Social Networks will have a make or break year in 2004.

    I’m feeling pretty good about these predictions a year later. Most of this rings true to me, but I was assuming a “make” year for social networks when in hindsight I think it was more of a “break”.

    What do you think the trends of 2005 will be? More of the same, or are we ready for some breakthroughs?

    (I think the big trend I missed was that business was going to boom! At the end of 2003 things still seemed kind of gloomy, but 2004 turned out to be a stellar year for my business and hopefully for yours.)

    In a few days I’ll provide my predictions for trends in 2005.

December 10, 2004

  • Thought

    Jakob Nielsen’s most recent Alertbox entitled Most Hated Advertising Techniquesprovides some hard data on what many of us have known for a while now — aggressive online ads alienate site visitors out of proportion with the potential upside of clickthroughs.

    Here’s a particularly relevant part of the article:

    “Users have started to defend themselves against pop-ups. The percentage of users who report using pop-up or ad-blocking software increased from 26% in April 2003 to 69% in September 2004, which is an astonishing growth rate.

    Users not only dislike pop-ups, they transfer their dislike to the advertisers behind the ad and to the website that exposed them to it. In a survey of 18,808 users, more than 50% reported that a pop-up ad affected their opinion of the advertiser very negatively and nearly 40% reported that it affected their opinion of the website very negatively.”

December 8, 2004

  • Roads Gone Wild

    Okay, Wired’s Roads Gone Wild article is now available online.

    I quite enjoyed this article although the thought of curbless, signless intersections with fountains in the middle is a bit disturbing.

    I loved this quote, which I think also represents wise words for web teams: “‘The trouble with traffic engineers is that when there’s a problem with a road, they always try to add something,’ Monderman says. ‘To my mind, it’s much better to remove things.’”

    However, I wouldn’t try to overanalyze this article from a web user experience perspective as the basic concept of the article (that you should make people stop and think so they don’t mindlessly kill themselves) doesn’t apply to the web. Online you want to remove stuff from your site so there is less thinking thinking to do, not more. Since no one gets hurt if a user is going racing through your site, design to help avoid thinking as much as possible.

December 6, 2004

  • Thought

    Kathleen Straub has written a nice overview of the difference between an Expert Review and User Testing called “Cleaning Up For The Housekeeper”.

    The whole article is good, but here’s a key point she makes:

    “Expert Review examines details of human computer interaction guided by basic research about how humans interpret, understand and interact with objects in the world. As such, Heuristic Review exploits our generic understanding of human cognition to identify design/presentation details that may facilitate or impede a user’s progress within a task. These include issues such as affordances (How obvious the right next-thing-to-do is.), consistency and the effectiveness of layout and color to guide the user experience.

    Usability testing identifies gaps between the site model and representative user conceptual use model in the specific context of use. Meaningful usability testing means observing representative users doing things on the site. Users bring unique domain knowledge and experience to their user experience. Designers — even experts — don’t have the same perspective.”

    The title comes from the distinction between “straightening” and “cleaning”. You don’t hire a “straightening lady” so you need to straighten first so she can do her job. In the same way, it makes sense to do an expert review first (to “straighten”) and then do usability testing (to “clean”).

December 5, 2004

  • Thought

    Hi really like what the folks at 37 Signals are doing.

    I found out about them via someone’s feed and subscribed to their Signal vs Noise feed. It was through their feed that I learned about Basecamp, which I am an early and happy subscriber to.

    So I found it interesting that they’ve begun experimenting with ads within their feeds. Here’s what they look like:

    In general, I have no problem with ads in feeds if the publisher is sending the entire post to me. Personally I think sending summaries to drive people to ad-supported pages will be more effective.

    But I think that 37 Signals is making a mistake that goes back to the purpose of the feed. 37 Signals is a design shop (and now online application provider). The feed is a way for them to keep their expertise and news about current initiatives in front of potential customers. So in one sense, every post to their feed is already an ad. And ads inserted in posts are ads within ads.

    And since they (wisely) decided that contextual ads will make more sense from a user’s perspective, they are now in the awkward situation where they are including advertising for other web developers in their feeds.

    So, my general advice is, if you are using blogs and feeds to promote services you sell, avoid the temptation to make a few bucks by inserting ads on your blog or feed. Keep the message pure and simple, and about you.

  • Thought

    So I was reading the current (December 2004) issue of Wired Magazine and I came across an interesting article called “Roads Gone Wild”. I planned on taking a bit of my Sunday morning to link to the article and comment on it.

    But here is what I get when I go to the Wired site today:

    <image missing>

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with the magazine holding back the online version of an article for a few days, weeks, or even until the next issue is on the stands. They make money off the current newsstand edition so not posting online immediately makes sense.

    But it would be nice if they put a dummy page up for each article they will post. In that way, I would already have a permalink to post now even if the article won’t be live for a while.

    “Pointing To” things online and in the real world is becoming essential and I think we’ll see a trend over time to all media (and physical objects) becoming “pointable”.

December 4, 2004

November 29, 2004

  • Thought

    Donald Norman posted an article called Ad-Hoc Personas & Empathetic Focus that includes some great examples of personas in action. Norman suggests that made up personas that ring true are better than none, even though Forrester Research disagrees with this approach.

    I particularly liked this explanation of “Empathetic Focus” in site design:

    “The purpose of the Persona, I believe, is to add empathetic focus to the design. Empathetic focus. By focus I mean that the design must be clean and coherent. It is not a collection of features added willy-nilly through the life-span of the product, even if each feature by itself makes sense. Rather it is having a clear image of what the product is meant to be — and what it is not meant to be — and rejecting features that do not fit, only accepting ones that do. By empathy, I mean an understanding of and identification with the user population, the better to ensure that they will be able to take advantage of the product, to use it readily and easily — not with frustration but with pleasure.”

November 17, 2004

November 11, 2004

November 10, 2004

  • Thought

    If you haven’t already, go get Firefox and make it your default browser. This browser is an absolute joy to use and converting from IE is pretty much painless.

October 26, 2004

  • Thought

    Another great issue of Good Experience, this time dealing with the rise of the Customer-Centric Worldview. Mark Hurst makes a great case for a long-term strategic (not just tactical) shift that puts the customer at the centre of the universe, not the company. As Mark says: “Phil Terry [Mark’s partner], likens it to the pre-Copernican view of the world. Like the misguided early notion that the universe revolves around the earth, many business executives today still think that business revolves around companies”.

October 22, 2004

  • Thought

    Seth Godin spoke at yesterday’s Digital Marketing conference here in Toronto. I missed the event (deadlines, deadlines), but did want to share this snippet of his speech as reported by Marketing Magazine:

    “Average people are professionals at ignoring you. They don’t want to change what they have… That’s why they’re average. The geeks and the nerds, they’re the ones who are listening… Those are the people who are able to spread your idea.”

    I would note that “geeks and nerds” come in all shapes and sizes. There are karaoke nerds, cheese nerds, theatre geeks, sneaker geeks, supply chain management nerds, and nerd nerds.

    Our goal is to find the “geeks and nerds” who’ll care passionately about our stuff — some, like William Gibson, call them “otaku”.

October 13, 2004

  • Thought

    It’s nice to see that we now have a version of Creative Commons licensing that works within the Canadian legal system. It’s also nice to see that they have foregone a separate process and have integrated the Canadian version into the overall CC License process. (via the Creative Commons Weblog)

October 10, 2004

  • Thought

    Jason Fried (Basecamp and 37 signals) makes a great point in his Web 2.0 Review: “Build a product that doesn’t require organizational scaling.” Ramping up staff and infrastructure killed a lot of great little businesses in Web 1.0 (that meme seems to have hit and stuck quickly).

    It’s nice seeing companies intentionally staying small, foregoing venture funding, and keeping resource requirements lean. This approach lets you innovate faster, shift with the market, and earn a profit in markets that might otherwise not be financially attractive.

    My guess is we are on the brink of a massive explosion of “nano-companies” — groups of 1 to 10 people working on filling very specific needs in the market that larger businesses can’t service profitably because they have already scaled too big to fit the size of these “nano-markets”.

October 8, 2004

September 11, 2004

  • It’s Not Just the ‘internet’ Now

    I just discovered, (via Zeldman) that Wired News has changed its style guide so that Web and Internet are now web and internet.

    I always thought that you were supposed to capitalize proper nouns. And to me “Internet” is the name of a unique thing (as is Web). There is only one Internet and one Web so they deserve the caps. With all due respect to Wired and Zeldman, until we have more than one Internet or Web, I think the capitals remain.

    Referring to a “Web designer” or an “Internet consultant” doesn’t allow you do drop the under the argument that there are many of those. The Web and Internet in those terms are adjectives modifying the nouns and as such (I believe) retain their caps. Just like “Pope watcher” or “Madonna fan” aren’t “pope watcher” and “madonna fan”.

    BTW, I use e-mail, not E-mail, intranet, not Intranet (there are lots of intranets, not just one), and Net (short for Internet) not ‘Net or net.

September 9, 2004

  • Thought

    Brand Autopsy makes a great argument that what the (marketing) world needs now is “telling the story” instead of “making up the story”. Too many advertisers seek to conjure up a story to support their brand when telling the story of what the product has or can do for a particular or an idealized consumer is much more effective.

September 8, 2004

  • Hard Disk Drive Emergencies And Customer Evangelism

    I had the unfortunate luck to have my hard drive fail a few weeks ago. My back-up was about 8 days old but clients and Basecamp filled in most of the gaps.

    I thought I was in good shape until I realized that the back-up of “My Pictures” had only five digital photos in it instead of the over 2,000 we’ve managed to take in the last two years. It seems that the last back-up had been too large for the drive and it gave up without copying the pictures.

    Needless to say this is a disaster. Two years of my kids’ lives, once well documented, were now (literally) a memory. Recalling how I had inadvertently destroyed most of my own childhood pictures in Grade Three, I knew that these pictures were far more valuable than anything else on the disk. I knew that data recovery could be costly, but I also knew that in 20 years when the kids were grown we’d pay any price to have those memories back.

    I therefore began the quest for a reputable data recovery service in Toronto and after some Googling found my new favourite company — ActionFront.

    From the very first visit to their website to picking-up 2 DVD-ROMs with all our photos archived for safe-keeping, this has been an absolutely great experience.

    ActionFront realizes that:

    1. Their customers are almost guaranteed to be panicked and stressed when they first contact them.

    2. The only people willing to use their service are those who know they have something valuable that is close to being lost.

    3. At the same time, customers are feeling vulnerable. It would be really easy for someone to take advantage of you when you find yourself saying “I’d pay anything to have my data back”.

    4. For most customers this will be the first time they’ve gone through this nasty experience and they’ll need hand-holding.

    ActionFront worked incredibly well to address all these issues. Here are a few of the things I noticed that made me a customer evangelist for ActionFront.

    1. ActionFront’s home page puts “Call 1–800–563–1167 for immediate assistance” front and centre. If you have a disaster you want to speak to a real person, not wade through a huge site.

    2. The site does have lots of details if you want to understand your situation better. They offer lots of background on why they are the best, testimonials, etc. And they also offer specific information on types of drives, common points of failure and the complexity of the process.

    3. They have an amazing pricing model. If they can’t get you the data you want, you don’t pay anything. They charge a higher price because of this but it makes the decision an easy one. They give you the quote and if the data is worth that much to you, you say “go for it”. If it isn’t, you get the disk back.

    4. They responded immediately via e-mail and phone. Follow-up was incredibly professional and with a reassuring “doctorly” tone. Here’s part of an e-mail: “Here is the evaluation results and quote for this recovery case. Please take as long as you need to decide how you’d like to proceed. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to give me a call. Keep in mind that this quote is based on a successful recovery of your critical data. If the recovery is not complete, the partial recovery results must be to your satisfaction or there is no charge.” and then a few e-mail messages later: “Here’s the list of recovered files. It is important to realize that this good list is what will be returned if this recovery is approved so please look through the list carefully to ensure that all of your critical files are present. If you feel this is a successful recovery, respond to this email and we’ll get started preparing this data for return.”

    5. Their offices were clean, their staff professional. The clean-room was visible as you entered. In all, it seemed like this was the right place for my dead drive to be revived.

    6. When I picked up the drive and recovered data it was packed in a custom shipping box with lots of foam and anti-static sleeves. And to seal my affection, it came with a booklet on how to prevent future disasters — essentially saying “we don’t ever want to see you again”.

    Well done!

September 6, 2004

  • Thought

    Jakob Nielsen’s “Preparing a Website for the Holiday Shopping Season” makes a great point that site architects often forget — with the rise of search as the dominant traffic generator on many sites, it is now possible for most of your traffic will not be coming through your home page and other key landing pages. That means that every page has to do double duty. First they must cover the topic under discussion so that you add enough value to get the search listing in the first pace and deliver the value the user was seeking. And secondly, pages must convey why your site is a trustworthy source and ask for the sale (whatever that may be).

    As Jakob states: “A website is like a house with a thousand front doors: visitors can enter anywhere.”

September 4, 2004

  • You Have Bad Taste in Music

    You Have Bad Taste in Music. I don’t know that for a fact, but Eman Laerton is out to convince Hoobastank, Nickelback, Train, Ruben Studdard and Linkin Park fans that they do.

    Even if you don’t have bad taste in music you should visit the site. It is a fine example of the power of low-cost technology to create new forms of communication and entertainment. Eman has used a clever domain name, website, video camera, megaphone, and army helmet (seriously) to make something that is both entertainment and social commentary.