March 6, 2006

  • Scoble Brightlines Memeorandum

    Recent One Degree interviewee, Robert Scoble is often seen as an edge case (although he “hates being called that). I think Robert sees himself more as “canary in a coalmine” — out ahead of us but doing what will one day become common practice. The term edge case implies a way of using things that will never be seen as normal. In any case, whether Robert is an edge case or not, I’m starting to think that he is a “bright-liner”. You might not know that word, so let me digress for a moment to explain what it is before saying why Scoble might be one and why it might impact your brand.

    The term bright-line rule is gaining common use but still doesn’t show up in most dictionaries. I fell in love with the concept after reading Virginia Postrel’s New York Time’s article on resolutions. In it she deconstructs Professor Thomas C. Schelling saying in part:

    Another approach is to use bright-line rules, which make it harder to cheat through clever reinterpretation. That may explain why many people find it easier to eliminate whole categories of food, like carbohydrates, rather than simply to cut back on calories. “Just as it may be easier to ban nuclear weapons from the battlefield in toto than through carefully graduated specifications on their use, zero is a more enforceable limit on cigarettes or chewing gum than some flexible quantitative ration,” Professor Schelling wrote. He once resolved to smoke “only after the evening meal.” That rule “led to tortured reasoning Thanksgiving afternoon, or flying west across the Atlantic with perpetual afternoon, and it stimulated lots of token sandwiches on leaving the ski slopes to drive home.”

    Yesterday Scoble decided to stop reading Memeorandum. No “I’ll only check it at the end of the day” or “just when I have a few minutes between meetings” kind of stuff. This is a clear brightline. Scoble’s approach to Memeorandum is similar to his stance on full vs. partial feeds — Scoble won’t subscribe to partial feeds. Full stop. Why does this matter? Besides showing us a bit more about Scoble as a person, it also points to the increasing stress we all have in keeping up with an overly complex world. My guess is we’ll see more arbitrary brightlining (like “I don’t watch anything with Ryan Seacrest in it”) in the future. What happens when your brand becomes “dead to me?

    How will you ever get me back?

    Originally published at on March 6, 2006.

February 9, 2006

  • New Gmail Features About To Launch?

    Garrett Rogers at ZD Net was nice enough to link to our almost one-year-old What is Google Caribou? article in his very interesting speculation that Google is testing added Gmail functionality. Rogers speculates that Google may be following Yahoo in offering a domain-based version of Gmail for site owners and corporations.

    Google’s GMail has been firing on all cylinders, but it could be on the verge of getting even more horsepower. Based on information found buried deep within the javascript source, we can start to see the bigger picture for GMail — what else could they possibly add to this mail client? Their next big move will likely be GMail for domains — a powerful way for anybody who owns a domain to utilize GMail as a mail server, not just a client. Yahoo has their own small business mail product which does precisely this, and now evidence suggests Google is planning the same.

    While he notes that this is speculation it is a logical step forward for Gmail (one I’ve been waiting for) and the case he makes by poking around in Gmail JavaScript is compelling. Would you move your corporate e-mail to Gmail if you had the option?

    Update: This story is getting real traction and right now (very early Feb 9th) it is number 4 on Memeorandum. Ironically I wrote Gabe Rivera earlier last night suggesting he take a look at One Degree and consider adding it to the Memeorandum feed pool.

    Originally published at on February 9, 2006.

January 12, 2006

  • Zip Is Amazing, But How Would You Know?

    While I would never want to invalidate Tessa’s critique of I did want to rise to their defense and say that after you are a subscriber the service is just fantastic. I’ve been a customer for over a year now and just love them. The site is a bit quirky but once you’ve used it a few times you get the hang of it and everything works just as it is supposed to. They’ve been amazing at delivering and collecting information about my DVDs and their shipping status and responsive to customer service requests. And they use e-mail really, well-personalized information about my account when sending regular shipping notifications that my whole family has come to depend on. Still, Tessa’s points are valid.

    If new users are frustrated during the sign-up process they’ll never get to experience the service. Another issue Zip has is that it is not entirely intuitive to non-users how life-changing DVD subscription services are. I use it as an example of the Net fundamentally changing business models — Zip is so much better than the local video rental place they’re in an entirely different league. But when I’m discussing the concept most people have a ton of questions about how it works, why I signed-up, lots of misconceptions, and a fixation on price and process. I think the same thing holds for other technologies that I consider life-changing — broadband, Macs, PVRs, digital cameras, HDTV, iPods, podcasts, and feeds come immediately to mind. Have you found technologies or online services that “rocked your world” but you still left you unable to make others understand why you were going on about them so passionately?

    Originally published at on January 12, 2006.

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?

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.

August 4, 2004

  • Falling In Love With Software

    I was just asked by June Macdonald to contribute brief comments for an article she’s writing about “online services we love”. This was my response…

    Is it possible to fall in love with a piece of software? Yes it is. FeedDemon entered my life several months ago and has radically changed the way I think about the web, how I communicate, and my very conception of what it means to be connected.

    FeedDemon looks a lot like Microsoft Outlook or other desktop e-mail applications, but rather than checking every ten minutes for new messages on one mail server, FeedDemon goes out every hour and checks literally hundreds of web sites, news sources, and blogs that I told it to monitor. If it finds an update, it sucks down the information and has it waiting for me when I check FeedDemon. I now keep track of over 275 websites in almost real-time. There is no other way to be so wired.

    And best of all, the underlying technology (XML feeds in RSS or Atom formats) is essentially spam free and one hundred percent permission-based.

    William Gibson famously stated that “the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” Well, if you want to live in the future now, download FeedDemon. In two weeks e-mail and the web will feel very old fashioned indeed.

    (And no, creator Nick Bradbury didn’t pay me to say any of this.)

July 31, 2004

  • Thought

    I read Tim O’Reilly’s fantastic essay The Open Source Paradigm Shift weeks ago, but failed to post a link to it.

    O’Reilly makes some critical insights that must analysis of the open source and online movements make. He saees open source as an expression of three deep, long-term trends: the commoditization of software, network-enabled collaboration, and software customizability (i.e. software as a service).

    The lengthy article is worth a read and I highly recommend it to anyone trying to look a few years out to see where current online trends are leading us.

July 21, 2004

  • Thought

    You need to look at the GMail Utilities page over at Aimless Words, even if you don’t have a Gmail Account yet (let me know if you know me and would like one, I’ve got a few still).

    Gmail is still only a few months old and the online gift/DIY community has already made a ton of improvements to the service via bookmarklets, scripts, web service hacks and the like. While Google may not like all of these “enhancements”, the power of many bright bulbs working on small improvements like this is wonderful to see. (via urlgreyhot)

April 18, 2004

  • The Third Screen?

    Third Screen: n. A video screen, particularly the screen on a cell phone, that a person uses almost as often as their television and computer screens.

    I hadn’t heard this meme until I read an eweek article earlier today, but I consider it a powerful one. Just like people tend to have a “third place” (work, home, away from home), it makes sense that we’ll have a third screen.

    I find it unlikely that my TV and Computer screen will converge into one screen any time soon. The experience (sitting back, passive, shared vs. leaning in, active, and solo) means that they really aren’t served well by unifying. And while I use a laptop all the time, I don’t want to use one to access quick information on the move. My guess is that the “Third Screen” will be a natural convergence of phone, PDA, and wireless messaging because that is what I need on the road.

    So Third Screen it is.

February 17, 2004

December 10, 2003

  • Thought

    Dave Winer does a good job of explaining how the BBC handles their RSS Feeds. I like that they made the “RSS” link on the page go to an explanatory page and they then provide a link to the RSS from this page where the non-HTML link has a bit more context for newbies.

October 18, 2003

  • Sympatico’s E-mail Woes

    The Globe and Mail reports that “Spam is slowing down e-mail all over the world, but subscribers to Canada’s Sympatico Internet service seem to have been particularly hard hit.”

    That’s an understatement. We use Sympatico Ultra for Internet access and love it. Our connection is fast and rock solid.

    We don’t use Sympatico e-mail accounts. Our mail goes through our own POP3 server so we were unaffected by the problems with incoming e-mail, but because Sympatico blocks port 25 (used by SMTP servers) we have not been able to connect to the outbound servers since moving to Sympatico. So we have been forced to use Sympatico’s outbound servers.

    This wasn’t a problem until last week when we started having trouble sending mail. First messages appeared not to send at all. When they did send, we got messages back from recipients wondering why we were sending five or six copies of all our messages. It turns out that Sympatico’s overloaded outbound e-mail servers couldn’t keep up with confirmations from recipient servers and therefore they would keep resending until they got the hint that the messages had indeed gone.

    After a few days of this, I threw my hands in the air and said: “there’s got to be a better way”.

    After some serious Googling, I discovered “Alternate SMTP Servers”. and (and probably many others) offer simple services where you can send your outbound mail via their servers after connecting on a port other than port 25 (which many ISPs, like Sympatico, now block).

    This simple solution seems to have done the trick and after a few days of using DynDNS we seem to be communicating with the world again.

    Between this and the increased use of overly-aggressive spam filters, I find myself questioning whether e-mail is getting to people or not. Soon we’ll be back to where we were ten years ago before people started checking e-mail regularly. We’ll have to phone people to say “did you get my e-mail?” Ugh.

October 1, 2003

  • Thought

    Lockergnome’s RSS Resource: How do you track your feeds?:

    “The question remains in my mind as to what is truly the easiest method to track RSS feeds. I have tried a few ideas with mixed results. I am interested in hearing how you folks track your feed readership.”

September 29, 2003

  • Thought

    Technology Review offers us Bruce Sterling’s “Ten Technologies That Deserve to Die”:

    “Technologies die rather routinely — seen a Conestoga covered wagon lately? — but it’s rare for them to be singled out and righteously put to death. Some technologies, however, are so blatantly obnoxious that the human race would rejoice if they were obliterated. A wise society would honor its young technical innovators for services rendered in annihilating obsolete technologies that are the dangerous hangovers of previous, less advanced generations. Let me offer some candidates.”

September 19, 2003

  • Cloudmark Rating System

    I’ve used Cloudmark’s SpamNet since it was in early beta. I think it is one of the best anti-spam products out there. In a typical day, I get about 150 spam messages and SpamNet removes all but 3 or 4 of these. I don’t have a spam problem anymore.

    Well, as a consumer I don’t have a spam problem. But as someone who sends e-mail newsletters to people who have subscribed at my site, it is a very big problem.

    Overaggressive spam filters continually block legitimate e-mail communications, primarily newsletters and other corporate communications which can look “spammy” even if they are not.

    In fact, the only problem I’ve had with Cloudmark is that it traps a fair number of legitimate newsletters I’ve signed up for as spam. This happens because Cloudmark users “vote” on whether messages are spam or not and Cloudmark then uses Bayesian filters to block similar messages from other users’ inboxes. This works well until a bunch of people decide that’s newsletters aren’t worth reading and they “block” them.

    Cloudmark got one step closer to the perfect solution this week when it introduced the Cloudmark Rating System which is effectively a global whitelisting process to avoid the blocking of mailings from people who are willing to identify themselves.

    Here’s the press release.:

    “The breakthrough email reputation system solves the industry-wide problem of false positives, or good email getting caught in spam filters. In the race to stop spam, false positives are crippling email as a viable way to do business. Ferris Research estimates the cost of false positives to businesses could be as high as $3.5 billion. Consumers, legitimate e-mailers and ISPs are all becoming collateral damage in the war against spam.”

    This is good news. Now if only we could get everyone to switch to Cloudmark we’d have this problem licked!

September 14, 2003

  • Don’t Call It RSS

    In reading Sam Ruby’s RSS presentation to Seybold I was once again struck by the variety of standards, non-standards, and standards-in-waiting that get generically lumped together as “RSS” in a non-technical setting.

    My concern is that “RSS” is too cryptic, unintuitive, and inaccurate to encompass all we mean by “RSS”. And I’m also looking for an over-arching metaphor that can be used to describe aspects and things related to “RSS”.

    Let’s look at e-mail as a starting point in developing a “grand metaphor” for “RSS”.

    The term “e-mail” means “electronic mail” an easily understood metaphor devoid of acronyms. Once a user grasps the basic metaphor, all the accompanying metaphors are self-evident.

    So a new user quickly learns that:

    “It’s mail, but on your computer. Instead of typing a letter then printing and mailing it, you just send it from your computer outbox to the other person’s computer inbox over the Internet. The Internet acts as the printer, the envelope and postal service.”

    The mail metaphor is all-encompassing of the technology. Almost everything related to e-mail uses metaphorical equivalents from physical mail — “inbox”, “message”, “check your mailbox”, “you’ve got mail”, “cc”, “newsletter subscribers”, etc. We use a flying envelope as its symbol without a second thought. Acronyms are buried in administrative settings.

    Imagine if instead of using this grand metaphor e-mail had instead been commonly referred to by the underlying technical specifications (as RSS is):

    “It’s a POP2/SMTP reader. You use it to download POP3 or IMAP feeds from a remote server and compose SMTP replies that a recipient can read using their POP2/SMTP reader. Oh yeah, no one uses POP2 but that’s still what it’s called because that was the original standard people used.”

    What we need is an grand metaphor for everything related to all aspects of this:

    “The process by which a publisher provides recurring content that people can read via applications that automatically check for new content from all publishers the reader chooses to monitor.”

    Right now we talk about “RSS”, “Syndication”, “Feeds”, “Channels”, “Subscriptions”, “Publish and Subscribe”, “Readers”, “Aggregators”, “NewReaders”, etc. None of these terms provide the over-arching metaphor I think we need to really move RSS past the tipping point with average users.

    A global RSS metaphor would have to:

    1. Clearly capture the essence of the process defined above.

    2. Provide “sub-metaphors” for all processes, people and things related to the global metaphor, and do so consistently. (i.e. no mixed metaphors)

    3. Be easy for non-industry types to understand, explain, spell, and remember.

    4. Should not overlap with metaphors already used online. (I don’t think you can have multiple metaphors in the same medium, but that may be open for debate)

    5. Should not get over-extended and tacky.

    What might this grand metaphor be?


September 6, 2003

  • Thought

    The Seattle Times (Dan Gillmor): Latest wave of newsreader software beats e-mail:

    “Every morning I learn the latest from a variety of news organizations, Weblogs, newsletters and other online information sources. But I don’t use my e-mail program or go surfing from Web site to Web site.”

August 12, 2003

  • Thought

    BusinessWeek has a huge feature called “The Future Of Technology”.

    The online edition has extended Q&A’s and commentary from the usual suspects: Andy Grove, Nicholas Negroponte, Bob Metcalfe, Jim Clark, Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Carly Fiorina, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Sam Palmisano, John Chambers, Marc Andreessen, Joe Kraus, Paul Saffo, Masayoshi Son, Scott McNealy and Bill Joy, Tim Koogle, and Mark Cuban.

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 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 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 6, 2003

  • Thought

    A few weeks ago I was watching City-TV here in Toronto and an ad came on for the Ford Focus. Nothing unusual about that, but what was unusual was the now familiar “i” logo for accessing interactive TV options that appeared during the ad. The interactive screen that came up overtop of the Focus ad after I pressed select on my digital remote asked me if I was looking for “fun”, “convenience”, “economy” or some such list and after making a selection the next screen asked if I would like to get a brochure on the Ford Focus. I clicked “yes” and the screen said thanks. End of interaction.

    Yesterday I got a really nice package in the mail from Ford that included the promised brochure along with an offer of a free gift if I went to a dealer for a test drive. They referenced the generic site in the introductory letter and mentioned that I could “build my own Focus” and get pricing at the site.

    This to me was a great example of tying together iTV, Direct Mail, dealer-level walk-in generation, and the web into one well-executed campaign.

    If you know more about this particular campaign, especially how successful it has been for Ford, I’d love to hear from you.

September 22, 2002

  • Thought

    The world’s favorite statistic about phone use is no longer true. Clay Shirky debunks the myth that 50% of the people in the world have not made a phone call in this short Wired article.