Friday, March 30, 2007

David and Me

I and the other four eyeballs on this blog were surprised to learn that someone famous who was the subject of a previous entry here not only visited, but responded to me. David Pogue was hurt by my critique of the style of humor he injects into his New York Times video blogs, so he made me the subject of his latest video blog and swore he’d never ever use such humor again.

I have always been a fan of David and his work. I feel terrible about his pain! His strong reaction by posting a video blog about me on the front page of the NYTimes.com has given me cause to reflect upon my dislike of his silly skits. I need to clarify something first. It’s more about the ratio of yuck-yucks to insightful content being skewed towards the yuck-yucks. I love technology and want more of David’s fine commentary! David, if you are reading this, email me and let's have dinner. Why can't we all just get along, as Rodney said?

I am here to say today that I’ve seen the light. I think I have found the funny.


Here is a direct link for those of you blocked from embedded video.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Useful Innovation: Rediripe & QR Codes Make Your Food Smart


University of Arizona professor Mark Riley took 5 years to develop the RediRipe sticker. It detects ethylene gas as it emits from the produce and changes the label from white to dark blue. White means it's not ripe yet, blue means it's just right and dark blue means it's beginning to spoil. Not only will this make us all instant experts on when produce is ready to eat, it will save millions of dollars of wasted food because of picking it too early or spoiling. Actually one bad apple does spoil the rest by making others ripen faster. Your produce purchasing experience is about to change. Those guys on early morning TV trying to teach you the art of knowing how to tell if fruit is ripe will have to find a new gig.


QR Codes are not much known here in the States but they are used frequently in Asia. They are used on a variety of things, but I thought it was interesting how it's being used with food. It makes food traceability instantaneous to everyone. Wondering where that bok choy has been? Scan it with your cell and read all about harvesting and packing history on your phone. Check out in the image above how people have taken this to the next level to have food become the QR code.

Net Neutrality: Rock the Net

I still can't get this song out of my head:


Les Claypool and Kronos are trying to ensure that all users can access the content of their choice. Join the fight for Net Neutrality:

http://www.futureofmusic.org/rockthenet/

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Recent Annoying Experiences (RAE): ESPN.com & Blogger


These are a couple of things that have bugged me recently. First off, ESPN does really interesting stuff with upgrading their website. Usually it is cool stuff. Not cool is the help text layer that appears over headlines you are trying to scan through. Help text in general is a good thing. Here it interferes with winnowing through the top headlines trying to decide what you want to read (see image above). I don't think in this case help text is even needed as the text provides enough to make a decision to go further. I found myself constantly moving my mouse out of the way.

The next RAE is with Blogger. Did you know they are out of Beta? That's great, except they haven't let everyone else know. When you go to other sites that allow you to post content to your blog or interesting widgets they ask you, "Are you on Blogger or Blogger BETA?" I was excited to say I wasn't on BETA anymore, but unfortunately this means something very different and causes an error. Evidently, Blogger without the BETA label means the OLD blogger which evidently has a different authentication scheme.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Portrait Professional Gives Us Online Drive-Thru Botox







This is probably the creepiest software I've ever seen. Portrait Professional is software that allows you to the following:

  • Face sculpting Skin tone controls
  • Eyes and teeth whitening
  • Open / closed mouth
  • Hair, glasses, jewelery, adornments

I don't want to live in a zitless world without facial imperfections. We are born with freckles and our eyes may be too close together. Do we really need software to misrepresent ourselves? How can you use these "professional" portraits on anything but crappy, impersonal stock photography? With the way the web is evolving we are getting more personal, not more disconnected. If you use this on images of yourself they aren't pictures of you. They are distortions of who you are. Will there be a plug-in in the future that will add lost eyes, arms or legs? Do you want to be remembered on your wedding day with a different facial structure? Where are we headed with super cheap tools like this?

See more for yourself with their online circus freak show.

Microsoft Photosynth Preview: The Future Interface for Browsing?

I took Microsoft's Photosynth for a test drive. It is looking to take social photo taking beyond the 2D realm by reconstructing images from different users in a 3D space. I was pretty amazed at how well it worked (On a Windows XP machine running in IE7). I'm not sure if this is interface of the future however. This will probably need some other input device like multi-touch if it is to become more of a standard way of navigating for the future. Here is a link if you want to try it for yourself: Microsoft Live Labs: Photosynth.

For those of you who can't get it to run, I recorded a 20-second video of me clicking and moving around that came out pretty good:

Here's a direct link to the video on YouTube.

Size Matters for Conversion

I wanted to share this article on designing a "submit" button to get better conversion rates by Eric Graham. He doesn't mention Fitt's Law though, which clearly plays a role here:

Fitts' Law: The time to acquire a target is a function of the distance to and size of the target.
This solution for better conversion is clearly used all the time by domain name provider Godaddy. After you've decided on the domain name you want, they attempt to upsell you all this stuff you really don't want and make it difficult to continue without adding them to your order. In the image below, the alt text actually covers up the "No Thanks" link which is smaller and right below the large, graphic button. Imagine how upset you'd be if you were charged for stuff you didn't want. Why does Godaddy risk this bad experience?


Eric Graham's Blog Entry: Submit Button Usability Split Test Results: Size DOES Matter!

The $38 Billion Checkbox

How many people does it take to lose billions of dollars worth of data? 2, actually. Someone working at the Alaska Department of Revenue accidentally reformatted a hard drive that contained $38 Billion worth of oil fund account information held in 800,000 PDF files. To make things worse, the backup tape data was also unusable. They weren't alone in this. A Dell storage specialist was party to this, watching the entire thing unfold on a remote session and providing (bad) guidance. Why? It turns out that someone didn't select the checkbox (tick box for you Europeans) next to the .MDF file to "backup this database." $38 Billion of data and they had an interface that had a backup mechanism with a checkbox to invoke backup? Is there no product lifecycle in the Alaska DOR that would have caught this?

It ended up taking 10 weeks to rescan 200 boxes of paperwork and costing $220,700. Next time hire a good user experience designer [I'm making the 'call me' signal next to head here].

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Adidas "mi Innovation Center"

I was reminded of the Knowledge Navigator video by Apple when I first watched the following clip, but that was a phony video about what the future may be. Although this is an example of Adidas trying to foresee the future of retail and to innovate, this is an actual store you can go visit today in Paris. The other thing I learned from this is that I've been pronouncing Adidas wrong my entire life:

Part 2 of Seinfeldesque Questions: Why Can't Google Get Its Assets Working Together?

Google is often referred to when examples of good user experience and innovation are needed these days. I like their offerings and their acquisitions, but I'm having repeated bad experiences getting them to work together.

Google Video gives you a component to post videos to your Blogger account, but it doesn't work no matter how many times I've tried (see my post on 7 Kinds of Broken by Seth Godin).

Blogger gets all excited when I sign in with my Gmail account and asks me if I want to be remembered but it never does. I still click on it every time hoping it will be fixed one day.

YouTube has a Post Video component that is supposed to let you post directly to your blog, but it doesn't work. It even gives you a nice message when you try that says "Your post is successful and will be published very soon." I wonder if I will have a flood of posts from them tomorrow from me trying over and over to get it to work.

Aren't these core components of Web 2.0? Integrating these things is probably not trivial, but it is clearly what makes them valuable in the years to come. Your search and maps are great Google, but please get your assets in sync so I can enjoy using them instead of being frustrated.

Part I of Seinfeldesque Questions: What is the Deal with David Pogue?

***UPDATE: View my response to the NY Times video blog David did about me. Here is some more commentary on it on Core77:

I was interested to see how Apple TV was in reality vs. the hype, so I watched this video from David Pogue of NY Times fame:


Why is he creating and publishing in this America's-Funniest-Home-Video style of humor? Is this his attempt at becoming famous by throwing in funny while sharing technology insight? It's borderline disturbing once you get beyond the piles of corniness. Remember when you were young and you'd watch your parents laughing at older movies and you just didn't get it?

Even more disturbing is his take on digitizing home movies:


I need to have that memory of him in a crib wiped immediately. Such a cliche "geek" take on things.

Here are direct links to the Pogue on Apple TV video and to Pogue on Taking Old Memories Digital if they are blocked on this page.

***UPDATE: View my response to the NY Times video blog David did about me. Here is some more commentary on it on Core77:

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Microsoft Security Update That Sells? Windows Genuine Advantage is Spam


This morning I was prompted to download the latest security patch from Microsoft. I had just lost my hard drive 2 months ago so I, of course, complied. It was called "Windows Genuine Advantage" and if I had the time to look it up before installing it I don't know why I would ever want this. Instead, I kneeled before the Great Microsoft and let them do their thing. I don't have time to agonize over patches, as they are so frequent. At the end of the download up pops a browser telling me that the "Validation was successful. Thank you for using genuine Windows." Then it proceeds to show me a big huge ad that is selling Windows Vista and a bunch of other crap I don't want. Congratulations! Now pay me!

What is wrong with them? Why would they waste their Good Experience Capital with me with this awful hunk of spam? Just when you think Microsoft may be getting it they just can't help themselves. Could you ever see Apple installing an operating system patch that sold the new Apple OS? Oh no...I've just stepped into the age-old Mac/PC debate.

Of course I understand why they are doing this (verifying genuine copies of Windows) but they could have absolutely done this in a manner that would have made me a happy customer. I could have been rewarded for having a genuine copy. They could have warned me up front that this wasn't one of their typical security patches. Instead of giving me links to their free stuff I don't want, they could have explained that without this I wouldn't get future security patches that I do want. The result is next time I go to install a patch I have to take time to read through it, research it and that is time I could be doing other things. Thanks Microsoft.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Google Buys In-Game Ad Company and Promises That the UX Will Come First

Google bought the in-game ad firm Adscape Media for an estimated $23 million. I admit that I don't have the time I used to have to play video games having 2 young children, but I have to disagree with Google's assessment that in-game ads add to the realism of a game. Whenever I see product placement in movies I'm immediately taken out of the movie experience. It's almost jarring. I'm very interested in seeing how they go about making the UX outweigh the Ads. I'm creeped out a little too. Here's more on this:

http://www.eurogamer.net/article.php?article_id=74352

Terry Bradshaw and Kevin Nealon are...Innovators?


I stumbled across this press release about a conference called Momentum 2007 – Value Through Innovation. It is promoted as a conference on Innovation and Best Practices of Global Supply Chains with insights from Terry Bradshaw and Kevin Nealon. Cool. Wait…What?

Lawrence Taylor and Bill Walsh are known as innovators in the NFL. Ricky Gervais and Bill Hicks are known as comedic innovators. I have nothing against Terry Bradshaw or Kevin Nealon (although I’m strangely bothered by Kevin having a full head of 80s-hair now and being pretty bald in the movie Roxanne). Clearly these are famous people, but not innovators. They may have philosophies on how they went about being successful, but not being innovative.

The press release even reads strangely:

Selected for the innovations they have introduced to the sports and entertainment industries respectively, Football Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw and Saturday Night Live comedian Kevin Nealon will keynote Momentum 2007 and share their personal stories of using new ways of thinking to address familiar challenges.

“The issues companies face with respect to forecasting demand, planning to satisfy that demand and balancing cost and customer service are not new; they have existed since commerce has existed,” said Pete Sinisgalli, Manhattan Associates president and CEO.
Do those 2 paragraphs go together to you? I wish they would just be honest and say that if you go to the conference you’ll get to hear Terry’s and Kevin’s shtick, end of story. Get a football signed and have a few yucks with the Subliminal Man Not funny then, not funny now. It would be funny to see this listed on someone’s resume as a conference on innovation with these two.

Here's a link to the official press release: http://home.businesswire.com/portal/site/google/index.jsp?ndmViewId=news_view&newsId=20070320005278&newsLang=en

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Shure: Turning a Bad Experience into a Good Experience Capital

I recently traveled to London on Virgin Atlantic. To make the trip more enjoyable I brought my favorite headphones, Shure E2C’s. They aren’t anywhere near as expensive as their top of the line models, but $100 for me is a lot for headphones. While on the flight, the wire on the headphones was accidentally severed. I was so disappointed. I ended up wearing the crappy Virgin headphones.

After about a month of mourning and trying to figure out what I wanted to do for a new pair of headphones, I ended up contacting Shure. I told them my story. The man on the phone told me it would probably be around $50 to replace them, maybe $70. I bit the bullet and sent them the severed headphones and credit card info.

Yesterday I received a brand new set of E2C headphones from Shure, with an invoice stating “**REPLACED AT NO CHARGE**”. I can't tell you how much good experience capital Shure has gotten with me. I have my nice headphones back!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Walking Through a Branded City by them5.net

This is an amazing animation which removes everything from a trip through a city except the branding.



If the above is blocked or you have a problem, here is the direct link on the YouTubes.

Here is a link to the them5.net website.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Marissa Mayer's Notions of Innovation


After seeing Marissa Mayer listed on the Top 50 VIPs of the Web that I blogged about previously, I was reminded about wanting to blog about her.

First off is her 9 Notions of Innovation:
  1. Ideas come from everywhere. Google expects everyone to innovate, even the finance team
  2. Share everything you can. Every idea, every project, every deadline — it’s all accessible to everyone on the intranet
  3. You’re brilliant, we’re hiring. Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin approve hires. They favor intelligence over experience
  4. A license to pursue dreams. Employees get a “free” day a week. Half of new launches come from this “20% time”
  5. Innovation, not instant perfection. Google launches early and often in small beta tests, before releasing new features widely
  6. Don’t politic, use data. Mayer discourages the use of “I like” in meetings, pushing staffers to use metrics
  7. Creativity loves restraint. Give people a vision, rules about how to get there, and deadlines
  8. Worry about usage and users, not money. Provide something simple to use and easy to love. The money will follow.
  9. Don’t kill projects — morph them. There’s always a kernel of something good that can be salvaged

Here is a great video of her talking through these notions at Stanform University (where she received her undergrad and grad degrees from).

Next is her thoughts on How to Run a Meeting Like Google:

  1. Set a firm agenda
  2. Assign a note-taker
  3. Carve out micro-meetings
  4. Hold office hours
  5. Discourage politics, use data
  6. Stick to the clock
I like that these are not the typical Google Stories. These delve into the how Google innovates vs. The Google 15 or their use of AJAX. OK, I want to work there too because of the chefRead more about this in the BusinessWeek article.

PC World Ranks the 50 Most Important People on the Web


People love these made-up lists. I like them because I get to learn about people I may not have known about. PC World attempts to list the people shaping our online experiences and our culture. There are the usual suspects here that we have come to rely on such as Apple, Google, Amazon, Wiki, Craigslist, YouTube, Digg, Skype, Blogger, WordPress and Adaptive Path. Here are some of the others that caught my eye:

9. Marissa Meyer
They perpetuate more of these “stories” about Google in the mention regarding Marissa’s Employee Movie Nights rather than focus on her great views on innovation.

13. Henry Chon, CEO, Cyworld
90% of people in their teens & twenties in South Korea have a Cyworld account. That amazes me that I’ve never heard of this and it’s so pervasive there.

33. David Farber, Founder, Interesting-People.org
I didn’t know about David so I went to see his online offering. As I tried to perform a search on any topic though, it didn’t work. Wah wah. Bad experience…Seems interesting, but will I return?

37. Drew Curtis, Founder, Fark.com
In-between the shits & giggles there are always great news finds on Fark.com. The smart-ass fark captions that precede the story links make this site better than most news aggregators.

45. Nick Denton, Founder, Gawker Media
I find really great stories on these blogs, especially Gizmodo.

50. Tila Tequila, MySpace Personality Are they serious? There are so many contenders for these spots. I understand their point, but come on. My vote is for Steve Portigal's blog All This ChittahChattah to replace Tila. Steve was already listed last year in Communication Arts as one of the 50 Essential Bookmarks, so maybe they felt he had too much exposure.

Amazon Web Services Helping Innovation Through Innovation

Jeff Bezos is exploring very interesting things with Amazon. While building the world's largest web retail operation, Amazon has amassed enormous computing systems. They have created Amazon Web Services to take advantage of this as a new business. There are 2 core offerings:

The business model is what is so attractive to tech folks out there because they are both "pay as you use." You don't have to invest millions of dollars to now grow your tech-based business ideas. This is greasing the wheels for others to innovate as he innovates.

Bezos is taking a big business gamble here. Wall Street would clearly prefer he focused on the retail operation. You would think a dot-bomb survivor would be more cautious. I'm glad he's not.

Friday, March 9, 2007

The $50,000 Bed and Other Stories


About 8 years ago I remember how bad the experience was of buying a bed. By far it was the worst sales experience I ever had. The salespeople at the 3 stores I went to were so pushy and slimy. One thing I remember most is how they got you to think that paying $5,000 for a bed was a bargain by showing you the $10,000 bed that was in the back. "Designed for astronauts using space age materials" was the reason for the cost. Nice story. The result was that the beds in the range of $2,500 to $5,000 actually started to seem affordable. I felt crazy! Did anyone ever buy the $10,000 bed? Its purpose was almost concept-car-ish.

I wanted to see how the bed buying experience was online in today's terms. Interesting to note that they won't show you anything on Mattress.com until you enter your zip code. Weird. Imagine Amazon not showing you books until you told them where you lived. This mega-priced bed concept is not part of the experience here. They sort the beds automatically from cheapest to most expensive.

Mattress Giant was one of the few who showed me something without asking me for a zip code, but they had this really silly "Z" mascot that they put all over the place, sometimes right in front of the content via a non-amusing cursor-trailing animation (image at top).

So today on CNN there is a story about a new $50,000 mattress right on the homepage. In the story they talk about the more expensive beds being about a peaceful night's sleep. Aloe vera "enhanced" fabric from Vera Wang? Who buys this stuff? This is all about storytelling. All Marketers are Liars by Seth Godin dives deeper into the workings of this. Does wine really taste better out of Riedel glasses? Will we sleep better on a $50,000 bed than a $700 bed (average price for a queen)? I think I'd rather buy a corvette and a $700 bed with the same money.

Monday, March 5, 2007

The 10 Commandments of Blogging According to Jakob


I just read through Jakob Nielsen's Top Ten design mistakes for Weblogs. Of course I had the same reaction that most had when he decreed that all web pages should load within 10 seconds 'for users to keep their attention on the task.' Everybody panic!

Here's his list with my grade:

  1. No Author Biographies - Fail!
  2. No Author Photo - Fail!
  3. Nondescript Posting Titles - ummm, sometimes fail!
  4. Links Don't Say Where They Go - Pass!
  5. Classic Hits are Buried - Fail with an excuse; My library isn't that deep yet!
  6. The Calendar is the Only Navigation - Fail!
  7. Irregular Publishing Frequency- Fail, but I already apologized.
  8. Mixing Topics - Fail, but variety counts for something.
  9. Forgetting That You Write for Your Future Boss - Fail. Screw them. ;)
  10. Having a Domain Name Owned by a Weblog Service - Fail, but only because Blogger doesn't allow you to post to a sub-directory.

Ok. I'll fix a few of them. I wonder if there is some sort of Neilsen Blog Compliance Tool like they have for HTML and XHTML. By the way, Blogger, there are 762 XHTML errors on this blog.


By the way, Here's a funny faux-article about Jakob declaring the Letter "C" unusable.

Idiocratic Online Ad Harassment


There are many definitions of harassment you can find online, probably due to the litigious connotation. I liked this one:

Any form of unwanted, deliberate or offensive behavior, violent or psychological, that has been requested to be stopped.
I looked it up because I felt I had been harassed while trying to read about my favorite basketball team, the lowly New York Knicks. I’m harassed enough just being a fan, but that’s another blog entry. They had just won an exciting game, so I’ll take good news when I can get it. Right in the middle of reading, Andrew Dice Clay appears in front of the text to tell me about his new TV show. I resize the browser, but he is glued to the bottom center of the page, where the story is. Granted, this is really cool technology having a video cast a shadow on a regular browser. I didn’t ask for this though. Get off my content! If I try to get rid of it and it stays there, this qualifies as harassment to me.

Movies that have foreshadowed this from Blade Runner to Idiocracy couldn’t have been more right. We may be doomed. Note to self: Buy canned goods and bottled water.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

The BETA Brand Pushing Things I Can't Have


I signed in to my Gmail account last week saw this new red link at the top of the page promoting New Features! When clicking on it it was about letting Gmail get mail from other accounts. Interesting, but I was very curious to read the bottom note that was in italics:

This feature is currently only enabled for a limited number of users. We're
working on making it more available soon. Look for it in the 'Accounts' tab in
Settings.
Google clearly likes to make you feel as if their offerings are for special people only. For example, you can't go to Google and just sign up for Gmail. They impose word-of-mouth distribution. When you get one it's you've gotten this special gem. Same thing here. I want this new feature even if I'm not going to use it. I think there's a smidgen of generating iPod envy going on here as well. Having the latest and coolest things regardless of need.

Keeping things in BETA forever adds to this experience as well. All web products are pretty much in this same mode of constantly updating things anyway, but Google and a lot of others brand it this way. The 'release early and often' model as a brand changes the customer experience.

ESPN.com has done this for a long time but it is not branded this way. They are constantly releasing new components on their homepage. Next time it would be interesting for ESPN to promote a new component with BETA branding. Already I want it! Their next step would then have to be that I can't have it unless another ESPN user gives it to me. I want it more and I don't even need it!

Saturday, March 3, 2007

The Definition of Free

I experienced a very nasty definition of free the other day. I got an email which told me there was a FREE upgrade to my Trend Micro PC-cillin software. So far this software has been the least evil in slowing down my computer so I like it, and thought I’d take them up on their free offer. Normally their upgrades take seconds, so my expectations here were set, which of course they proceeded to trounce to pieces. Here is the sequence of events I had to endure for my free upgrade:

I was asked to uninstall the software. I guess I was supposed to go along with whatever warnings came up, so I went right ahead. They had a bit of “good experience” capital to play with.

  • I ran the free updater and…nothing? I sat and watched. Nothing.
  • I rebooted, as I am told most frequently to do by most infrastructure departments.
  • I re-downloaded the FREE updater because now my old anti-virus was gone.
  • Nothing happened so I rebooted again (no rationale here, just frustrated and hoping for something good to happen).
  • Re-ran it, which gave me new options. This is bad because now I am rewarding bad behavior, but I needed my security back to survive in this Windows world.
  • I was asked to provide my serial number, which meant finding the original CD in an unkempt closet.
  • I was asked if I was sure I wanted to delete the files in the quarantine list because it can't install the free updated software with the files there. How should I know?
  • Looked like it was going fine until, it froze on installing the Personal Firewall.
  • For 25 minutes it hung with no feedback, until…
  • 45 minutes and 3 reboots later, I was done with my free update. Ouch.
Was this the experience they planned? Why would they chance losing my loyalty like this? Would I ever click on a free update from them again? I don't think this would have taken much of a feedback loop on their part to recognize the flaws here. Their good experience capital has been spent and brand tarnished with me.

So was this really free? Everyone had a cost here. To balance this out I point you to Freedomdefined.org which is a movement dedicated to producing free cultural works for others to take and basically mashup. Check out their portals, which has some truly free music.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Dying from Gaming. TV Was Never So Scary.


I remember the guy who died in the 1983 movie, "Brainstorm" by watching a loop of a sex scene through a new direct-to-brain playback machine (Check out all the great analog widgets in the screen grab from movie). Are we there yet? An obese 26 year old man from China played online games for 7 days straight and abruptly died. It is interesting how becoming a participant in the experience may lead to death versus just being an observer of TV. Although this is rare, I remember reading of others as well who have died from being gaming addicts. Are we at the tip of an iceberg here? As technology advances makes the gaming experience more real will there be more physical impact here? Will my healthcare cover this? Life insurance? Here's more about this.