Sunday, April 29, 2007

Where in the World is the User Experience?

I stumbled across this microsite promoting the annual “Where is the World is Matt Lauer” Today show stunt. It really struck a chord with me in two ways. First, how pretty and elegant the graphics and Flash elements were. Second, who did they design this for? This was a pretty bad example of modern user experience that seemed to have a pretty hefty budget. How did this happen? Here is an excerpt discussing the microsite from the NY Times:
There are neat touches, too. Click on a memo pad bearing the NBC peacock logo and the network’s familiar three-note chimes are heard.

The promotion, which Hyundai is paying an estimated $2.5 million to sponsor, is indicative of efforts by the television networks to more closely interweave traditional programming — and advertising — with the online media.

…“The challenge is taking established franchises like ‘Where in the World Is Matt Lauer?’ and reinventing them for the Internet, where the growth is,” [Jim Bell, the executive producer of “Today,” said in a telephone interview]. “We’re trying to be everywhere, and we should be.”

Is this microsite reinventing the established franchise of ‘Where in the World is Matt Lauer?”? This is also sponsored by Hyundai so there are secondary objectives to meet. Now throw in the objectives of the customer you are targeting here, the Matt-fan. To see if the objectives by all three of these folks are met, I’m going to try and dissect the design from top left to bottom right of screen:

1. Banner for Hyundai product: Takes me to a Hyundai website, which I immediately closed as a Matt-fan wanting more info on where the hell he is. Matt-fan disappointed, Hyundai executive happy, Today Show not helping to reinvent franchise online.

2. Redundant, text-based main navigation: I guess this is needed if you aren’t able to figure out that the interface below is interactive? P.S. – When clicked, 3 of 5 of these buttons were blocked because they were pop-ups. So let me understand this better…users that couldn’t figure out how to interact with the design were supposed to figure out how to disable pop-ups? Further yet, this content was probably the best of the entire experience here. Why didn’t they just appear in context? Flash gives you the ability to manage multiple windows and the secondary content here is 100% Flash. Technology decision trumps user experience? Matt-fan, Hyundai executive and Today show disappointed.

3. Hyundai keys: Goes to the same Hyundai website as the banner above. Ok, I get it…This was important. But did I go to this website to learn about Hyundai? Idea: Why didn’t they tie Matt and the Hyundai Veracruz together for some content here so I’m not totally disappointed when I click on this? Matt-fan disappointed, Hyundai executive happy, Today Show not helping to reinvent franchise online.

4. Compass: This is weird. It says I get trivia games if I click on this, but when I do it takes me to a completely different website and experience, which is also not sponsored by Hyundai. Probably didn’t meet Hyundai’s business objectives here. By the way, the website it takes you to has a bunch of search results here about Matt, the second being about seducing a 14-old boy. Not sure if wanting to find where Matt is in the world is tied to this. Matt-fan and Hyundai executive disappointed, while the Today show may be happy by possibly getting Matt-fans to more Matt info?

5. Digital Camera: Pop-up blocked to a contest sitelet where I could win a vacation. Is this content I wanted when I came here? Actually, this could have been really cool if they thought more about how people that submit videos already do so online. Is the Today show working with the Pringles vendor? The experience of uploading a video here is pretty bad. Where are the social tools I get on YouTube and now expect from others? Matt-fan, Hyundai executive and Today show lukewarm?

6. Paper clips, NBC logo and man-chasing-dog animation: The cursor changed to a hand on all of these so I clicked and…nothing happened. Since this is an interface where you have to mouse-over things looking for visual cues, when nothing happens it leaves you with a feeling as if I’ve done something wrong. Maybe another pop-up blocked? After reading the Times article, I went back here and found that if I had my audio turned on I would have heard the NBC ringtones. It also turns out that if you click AND DRAG you can move the paper clips around. They do nothing else, as far as I can tell. Matt-fan, Hyundai executive and Today show disappointed.

7. Cell phone: This says I can get alerts by texting from my cell phone and that I can get a Where in the World ringtone. I am online now and don’t have my cell handy, so how would I remember the number to text when I have a cell phone? Maybe they could have included a way to send me a text message right here? Nope. When I click, I’m yet again taken to a different website where if I was a Matt-fan, I could BUY an NBC ringtone for $1.99. I think I liked the Meet the Press ringtone. Hyundai paid how much for this? Matt-fan probably disappointed, Hyundai executive wants free ringtones from NBC for paying $2.5 Million and Today show sick of hearing the Where in the World theme.

8. Passport: Blocked pop-up, again. Did this go through any usability testing to see the pop-up problems here? IF you get to this content, it is again 100% Flash and could have been right there on the page in context. This is probably the best content so far for all 3 folks trying to meet objectives. All 3 kinda happy?

9. Send this to a friend: Voila! Content that is in context and doesn’t take me to some other website sponsored by someone else. Matt-fan, Hyundai executive and Today show definitely happy!

10. Magnifying Glass: Yet another pop-up blocking really good content that could have been on the same page. All 3 should losing patience instead of being really happy.

11. Video iPod: This is finally a good example of great Matt content in context without bouncing me to some other website. It’s too bad the design gets in the way and that it’s located all the way at the bottom right. They chose to use an iPod as a housing for videos of Matt, but they flipped the iPod image backwards (didn’t want to infringe on anything legally maybe?). You can tell it is flipped by the bottom play/pause icons being backwards. More importantly though, they use an iPod metaphor but don’t leverage the iPod interactivity. I want to interact with the click-wheel! No, they make me click on a bolted-on ‘play’ button and two extremely tiny arrow buttons. These don’t exist on the iPod, and I hope the Matt-fans out there are very precise with their mouse to get to those 8x8 pixel buttons. I didn’t know Matt-fan personas were so highly skilled on computers. Matt-fan still looking for bifocals, Hyundai exec could care less at this point and Today show producer looking for the phone number of the design firm.

12. Find out where Matt Lauer is starting Monday: This takes me to yet another website, but at least it is sponsored by Hyundai and it gives me juicy Matt details. This is by far the best of all content so far to make all 3 people happy. Why then is it shoved all the way at the bottom right giving the weight of an afterthought?

Moving from traditional marketing venues to an online experience requires you to modify your design process and create new business objectives to meet. You are engaging users, one-on-one directly. Typically, marketers care about how a print ad or TV spot looks and conveys the client’s brand. What does brand mean online? Repeated, good experience. People with marketing budgets know that you have to be everywhere including online, they just don’t know how to define it and judge the experience. I’m sure when this design was demo-ed on a laptop somewhere that everyone was happy watching the ad executive click everywhere and get to everything easily. Next time, wouldn’t it be interesting to show them video of Matt-fans actually using the website and being interviewed afterward about their experience?

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Nintendo Changed Who They Were Building For, And Won. Wii!

Business 2.0 Magazine just published an article about how Nintendo has risen from the ashes and beaten Sony and Microsoft. How did they do this? They dropped out of the technology race to be the fastest chip on the block and focused on a different definition of their customer. They made a commitment to become better connected with delivering products customers wanted to experience.

In the article, there are some interesting points about making risky changes to the entire direction of the company. The way it is described in the article it leads you to believe that they had this vision from the start. However, if you read interviews given by the CEO himself on the Wii website, it shows that they did not make a radical shift in design process until a year into development.

This may sound paradoxical, but if we had followed the existing Roadmaps we would have aimed to make it “faster and flashier.” In other words, we would have tried to improve the speed at which it displays stunning graphics. But we could not help but ask ourselves, “How big an impact would that direction really have on our customers?” During development, we came to realise the sheer inefficiency of this path when we compared the hardships and costs of development against any new experiences that might be had by our customers.

When did you start feeling that way?

It must have been about a year after we started developing Wii. After speaking with Nintendo's development partners, I became keenly aware of the fact that there is no end to the desire of those who just want more. Give them one, they ask for two. Give them two, and next time they will ask for five instead of three. Then they want ten, thirty, a hundred, their desire growing exponentially. Giving in to this will lead us nowhere in the end. I started to feel unsure about following that path about a year into development.

Also on the Wii website they discuss how they made other changes to the development process that would eventually lead to this success. They created cross-functional teams that communicated better than they ever had in the past.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find where they involved customers. I wonder if this would have sped up the ‘light-bulbing’ where they stumbled upon conclusions of who to build this for. Instead of fortunately realizing the insanity for building for customers who only want better-faster chips 12 months into it, they could have discovered the importance of these other customer personas by conducting ethnographic research intentionally. It is apparent that Nintendo cares very much about how their customers view, although it is not direct customer data:

As development progresses, game developers steadily lose the ability to judge how someone coming fresh to the game, with absolutely no previous knowledge, will feel when they play. That's why I think that Miyamoto-san joining the project towards the end is, in a sense, a very rational way of doing things. If Miyamoto-san was involved from the start, I think he would find it more difficult to see clearly how people will respond to a game the first time they play it.

Why not just have customers involved in the process instead of trying to think about how they would respond to your games? It is always wonderful to have a chicken-sexer to be part of any team that just ‘gets it’ as they do with Miyamoto-san, but that can never replace making customers part of the product lifecycle. Accidental-touristing can only get you so far.

Either way, Nintendo chose a risky path here and have been successful by shifting their focus to different customer personas.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Part 2, The Bad and The Ugly: Jingles for Pringles

After my horrifying experience of discovering Pringles Prints, I found something else while looking around the Pringles website. Jingles for Pringles is a campaign that tries to get customers to post videos of themselves singing made-up Pringles jingles. They even teamed up with a vendor named Sharkle to implement their own Pringles-branded knock-off of YouTube on their very own website. How much did that cost? This started off wrong right from the start. They have a “Skip Intro” intro Flash animation with a custom song for the campaign. Does YouTube do that? If you are going to rip them off, at least do the things that they do well.

One of the things Pringles may have seen as a positive for having the videos posted on their own website is that they can control what is posted instead of being at the mercy of a YouTube. Unfortunately I see this as yet another negative. The result is that when people that take the time to record a custom jingle and get rejected, they get pissed off. They then go to what they are familiar with (YouTube) to retaliate and post their video with a rant on being rejected. For example:

This is B.S. Our video was rejected for reasons unknown. Help us send a big F U over to Pringles by sending this to all your friends!

Oops. Viral backfire. People are now promoting others to get viral against you. Another problem they have by creating PringleTube is that you have now severely limited your audience and their ability to use the social sharing tools they use all the time.

All of this feels so forced and phony. A lot of the videos have the same background which made me wonder. If you read the website, Pringles sent out “Street Teams” to go out and get people to create videos. It feels like they gave people free stuff at these events along with props in order to get them to participate. For example, these two submissions have different guys using the same guitar with the same droopy Pringles background:

If you think about this further, that means that they also uploaded the videos for the “members” as well. Is that the experience you get on YouTube? When things on YouTube don’t smell genuine like lonelygirl15, people begin to rail against them.

Overall, this is just bad and ugly and doesn’t seem to meet the goals they set out with. There is so much they could have done with this same budget they invested in this to meet those goals. Learn from Pepto Max, Pringlesfolk!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Part 1, The Good: Pepto Max


Over the weekend I was watching TV when I saw this 15 second commercial. It had a campy song and giant monsters moving to the same synchronized interpreted dance moves. I had to replay it over and over and show it to everyone in the house because it made me giggle. I think I played it too many times because my daughter began singing “diarrhea!” the rest of the day. Thanks, Pepto Max!

I went to YouTube to see if someone posted it. Of course it was there, but what was also there were dozens of other people like me. They recorded themselves doing the monster dance while singing, “Nausea-Heartburn-Indigestion…Upset stomach, Diarrhea.” They were giggling too. There are videos in Spanish. There are kids in school having dance-offs. There are videos of people practicing the dance. Here’s a blurb from one:

My friends and I practicing for our Pepto Bismol dance. Sorry about it being kinda dark (which is why we moved later) and when we finally got it all sorted out, the camera cut off =P

Was it their intention to get people to make their own videos and post them on YouTube? The bottom line is that it makes me remember the product, causes me to blog about it and makes countless others do silly dance moves while singing about diarrhea. If I gave you those as business objectives, could you meet them?

Evidently this commercial came out during the super bowl, but I had never seen it before. Shows it still has legs to be played months later and that they haven’t moved on to the next campaign.

Unfortunately, the official Pepto Max website doesn’t capitalize on the viral nature they spawned with the commercial for the same product. Why aren’t the monsters on there? Just like the GoDaddy.com commercials for the super bowl showing a woman that wasn’t even on their website, Pepto dropped the ball here as well. Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg would not approve! (Buy their book, “Waiting for your Cat To Bark” for more on persuasive momentum). Instead of learning and adapting from their success, they have meaningless things like a max-o-meter or stories about customer’s backdoor trots. I want to see the making of the video or something related. Why not display the best Pepto Max customer videos from YouTube on their site? There are countless things they could have done here.

Some may hate this commercial, but even with a disappointing website it’s still a good example of marketing and creating a genuine viral experience.

Marketing In Your Mouth

I was shopping for my family a few days ago when I spotted something sinister near the snack aisle. I immediately grabbed the container with the familiar bow-tied-handlebar-mustached mascot on it. Pringles is now offering something called, “Pringles Prints” which puts silly questions and answers right on each chip. Yes, the actual chip that you eat.

When you open the canister you get to read the tagline, “Read’em and Eat’em” which is of course trademarked. Then you pull out your first imprinted chip to reveal Q&A in a blue, handwritten font. I guess a serif wouldn’t work well here. Who wants to eat serif?

Even if I wanted to play along with this concept, the question and answer are so close to each other that you can’t help but read both at the same time. Also, you can’t help but grab one the ‘wrong’ way up and read the answer first a lot of the time. Clearly this isn’t really a game. What is this then? Who did they design this for? I’m afraid of what things may evolve from this new food-writing technique. Are we far from seeing marketing messages appear on our belly like on Linda Blair in the Exorcist after we eat something?

When you go to the Pringles website it gets worse. They have a sitelet just for Pringles Prints that is co-branded with the game Scene It?. How much money did they pour into this idea?

I wanted to contact them about how strange I thought this whole concept was, but found myself lost on the contact us page. Take a look at the screen grab. What are you supposed to do here?

The top 7 categories found have the label “multiple”? What does that mean? It’s as if someone wrote the business requirements, designed it, and then developed and deployed it themselves in a biodome. Everything about this feels so very disconnected from real customers.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

How To Avoid Giving Your Customers "Email Fear"

This is a great clip illustrating how people really use software. We've all had sender's remorse at some point in time but never to this degree. The person that did this interview should charge the bulk email company referred to in the story. There are some obvious software safeguards for this, but you can't design for something that you haven't uncovered yet. Meeting with customers at various points in the product lifecycle will always uncover important things that everyone with a crystal ball can miss. Plan for this.

Here's a direct link to the video if it doesn't appear on this page.

Monday, April 23, 2007

You Got Vitamins in My Diet Coke!


“Some people love Diet Coke…Some people love vitamins…But the taste they make when you put them together is a delicious taste all its own!”

When I received an email from my Wegman’s Food Store promoting Diet Coke Plus, all I could think of was the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups commercials from the eighties. Coke promotes this as “everything you love about Diet Coke, plus several essential nutrients your body needs.” This will make drinking Diet Coke healthy? I’m so creeped out by this mashup. There are people out there addicted to Diet Coke. What happens if you drink 20 cans of this a day?

I found the “Diet Coke Story” on their website:

  • 1982 Diet Coke is introduced
  • 1983 Caffeine-Free Diet Coke is introduced
  • 1986 Diet Cherry Coke is introduced
  • 1987 "Just for the Taste of It" campaign
  • 1989 "The Move is On to Diet Coke" campaign
  • 1990 Paula Abdul and Elton John in Diet Coke commercials
  • 1991 "There's Just One" TV campaign
  • 1994 Diet Coke's TV spot creates a star
  • 2001 Diet Coke with Lemon introduced
  • 2002 Diet Vanilla Coke introduced
  • 2004 Diet Coke with Lime introduced
  • 2005 Diet Coke Sweetened with SPLENDA™ Brand Sweetener introduced
  • 2006 Diet Black Cherry Vanilla Coke introduced
What is the real story here?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Flood Postlude: Disaster Congregating

I’ve lived in this town for almost 3 years. Seeing people walk down my street is a rarity. Stopping and having a conversation with anyone is even rarer. As the waters recede back to their normal dwellings, I can’t help but reflect on how strange it was to have spoken with dozens of strangers in front of my home during a single day.

There must have been hundreds of people who pulled up and parked in front of my house to witness the Raritan River spill over and completely cover a major road that cuts through the heart of New Brunswick, Easton Avenue. They approached with dogs, children, cell phone cameras, digital camcorders and even a Polaroid camera. This was an event to be remembered and shared.

Where normally these people would try to avoid eye contact, on this day every single person looked to catch your gaze and discuss what was unfolding. One person even stopped their car while driving away and opened his window to talk to me. “Can you believe this? I have been driving around for 3 hours trying to get to work. I live way up in Budd Lake and don’t work too far from here. I’ll never forget this.” They all had a story to share. Where they lived. Where they worked. How they felt about how the township was dealing with this.

There was a theme that unfolded as well. 9 years prior Hurricane Floyd did the same thing at this very same spot. People talked about the water levels of Floyd, how they dealt with it, what things changed as a result, etc. It was almost as if it was to calm everyone to know that we have been through this before and survived. It also felt like they were looking to see if anyone else remembered going through the experience of Floyd and wanting to be connected.

I hope that it doesn’t take another flood to talk to these people again. I'm pretty shy when it comes to talking with people. Now I know that all I have to do to strike up a conversation with anyone around town is to talk about the flood. We experienced it together.

Litigating Experience: “I’m Sorry” Laws

Last week I had an experience where I spent 6 hours on the phone over 3 days because of a mistake made by someone else. An unauthorized charge showed up on my credit card and I wanted it removed. Most of the people I spoke with were awful. I was even called ‘stupid’ by one for giving out my credit card info to the credit card company. The last person I spoke with was very nice and not only credited back the charge, but he apologized. As soon as he did, the situation was diffused and I was ready to move on.

Expressing sympathy and remorse for a situation greatly changes how we define an episode. It feels as if it is a necessary part to the ending of a bad experience. You can see this with the “I’m Sorry” laws being passed. Doctors had been found guilty of malpractice because courts recognized a doctor’s apology as an admission of wrongdoing. Following suit, doctors were encouraged to manage risk by using a “deny and defend” approach to problems with patients. What was found was that this technique actually led to a rise in malpractice suits. People become angry when something bad happens and there is no sympathy or remorse.

29 states have passed the “I’m sorry” laws allowing doctors to do just that. In these states doctors can now express sympathy without worrying about it being used as proof of liability. Unfortunately, New Jersey isn’t one of them. I'm sorry.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Happy Nor’easter


I will not be getting to work today. The Raritan River is overflowing. It’s pretty amazing to witness how helpless humans are when Nature wants to take over. These pictures and video were taken 50 feet from my home. I’m glad we live uphill.

Here is a direct link to the video.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Paradox of Cell Phone Choice

My black RAZR is almost 2 years old and holds maybe 5 minutes of battery life right off the charger. With the contract almost up and needing a replacement for this ephemeral energy-keeping beast, I travel to cingular.com to begin my search. So far so good…At the homepage I clicked SHOP…Then I clicked Phones & Devices…And…Uh-oh. I’m frozen dead in my tracks. Yet another wonderful example for Barry Schwartz’s book The Paradox of Choice. I saw Barry’s speech at UI11 where he discussed the impetus for the book. He needed to buy a pair of jeans and hadn't done so in years. The salesperson at the clothes store put him in choice-shock when he was offered the myriad of jean selections. We can all relate.

So here I am staring at the cingular website which has 6 main categories that house 211 different phone choices. I just want a phone that is a good phone with long battery life. I have a Blackberry for work email, iPod for music and Canon SD630 for pictures. I just want a phone as Barry just wanted a pair of jeans or a jar of jelly.

I’m not sure what I am going to do. So far I’ve been in this frozen state for 2 months with my crappy old phone not knowing what to choose, knowing I will probably immediately have choosers-remorse. To make it worse the iPhone is coming out so very soon. Sigh.

Yo-Yo Ma-shup: “Nothing Great Was Ever Produced in Isolation.”

Yo-Yo Ma became famous from his virtuoso performances of baroque and classical music favorites. Since then he has experimented and evolved his musical style to include influences from many cultures. His recordings went from legendary renditions of music by Bach, Haydn and Beethoven in the eighties to pieces by Stephen Foster, Ástor Piazzolla and Mongolian composers in the last decade. It’s inspiring.

I was reading an interview with Yo-Yo Ma and this one section stuck with me:

"I have this theory that I share with (Art Institute of Chicago president) Jim Cuno," Ma told The Associated Press. "It's that nothing great was ever produced in isolation." Ma says his study of history at Harvard University led him to realize that Eastern and Western cultures are not self-contained, but have mixed since at least the time of Alexander the Great.

"Even something as basic as our Western major and minor keys may have originally come from the amazingly complex modes of classical Persian music," Ma said. "And there's a continual tradition in the West of incorporating music from other parts of the world."

This is going on now with experience of "You" with Web 2.0. Everything is getting mashed up and cross-influenced. Here is a video I saw on YouTube that mashes up TV Clips from the seventies shows The Bionic Man & The Bionic Woman set to an Avril Lavigne song with Italian subtitles (direct link here for those of you blocked from seeing the embedded video below):

There are mashups that promote social and cultural awareness so much better than traditional reporting could. Check out this video mixing cultural messages (direct link here):

Even large corporations are dipping their toes in this space. Duet is a business mashup between Microsoft Office and SAP enterprise data.

It’s exciting to observe what this cross-pollination will lead to in the upcoming decade when more and more people have Web 2.0 tools at their disposal.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Core77 Podcasts Available on iTunes!


I highly recommend you go to iTunes and subscribe to the Core77 free podcasts (I wish they had a link directly to iTunes that I could share!). There is tremendous insight here. There are interviews with important names from the Design, UX and innovation world such as Nathan Shedroff, Debbie Millman and Microsoft’s User Experience Evangelists Will Tschumy and Chris Bernard.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Just What I Wanted To Read Abou-err…Sponsored Stories?


A while back I blogged about how abcnews was doing interesting stuff on their homepage (no, not the arm in the crocodile!). They were creating ‘trigger categories’ when there was a story that had a lot of content around it. Msnbc.com still has the typical generic categories such as “In The News” and “Politics,” but has recently added a new category… (drumroll) … “Sponsored Stories”? The strange thing about this is the term “Sponsored” is usually wrapped around the crap section where websites are selling you something. Right at the bottom of msnbc.com is a "Sponsored Links" section full of junk you ignore. To make it worse, this is not what this section is about. It actually has some good content here. That explains why they make the background color different for this section than all others. I still wanted to ignore it just because of the label.

Msnbc.com has 3,750 pixels of vertical real estate on their homepage. Making the labels of these link buckets as explicit and engaging is what we want, not Sponsored-anything.

Why Don't I Calculate How Much Time You Just Wasted?


After giggling at the new Apple ad, I thought it was a good follow up to the last blog entry on Microsoft's Send Error Report. When you go to the Apple website the language is starkly different. They are not selling technology there. There isn't anything written in Geekese about Megahertz or RAM. The Apple messaging begins with "It just works" and ends with "Awesome out of the box." The user experience differences between the two OS's spawn these interesting ads and stories. Apple could never run these ads if the customer experience didn't back it up repeatedly or if Microsoft didn't prove it repeatedly.

Here are Apple's 15 reasons to get a Mac:
  1. It just works
  2. You can make amazing stuff
  3. Everything-ready
  4. 114,000 viruses? Not on a Mac
  5. Still the most advanced OS
  6. The latest Intel chips
  7. No hunting for drivers
  8. Design that turns heads
  9. Instant video chats
  10. More fun with photos
  11. Hollywood-style movies
  12. One-click websites
  13. Amazing podcasts
  14. Rock star tunemaking
  15. Awesome out of the box

Send Error Report...Where?

The other day a friend of mine asked me, “When Outlook crashes I get that silly message that asks me if I want to send something to Microsoft. Where do those go? Do they ever do anything?” It was funny to me that I always did what most people do, hit the ENTER key which triggers the Don’t Send button. I’ve sent error reports in the past, but there wasn’t a feedback loop that came back to me with any information. Ever. Why waste my time with this dialog box if you aren’t ever going to give me something helpful?

I went online to learn more and found the Microsoft Online Crash Analysis (MOCA) website. Here you can upload your error report for analysis. Unfortunately you will only get feedback IF there are a lot of other people with the same error. Here’s the official message:

Microsoft actively analyzes all error reports and prioritizes them based on the number of customers affected by the Stop error covered in the error report. We will try to determine the cause of the Stop error you submit, categorize it according to the type of issue encountered, and send you relevant information when such information is identified. You can check the status of your error report for 180 days after the date it was originally reported. However, because error reports do not always contain enough information to positively identify the source of the issue, we might need to collect a number of similar error reports from other customers before a pattern is discovered, or follow up with you further to gather additional information.

Huh? Who are they writing this for? I can't imagine many people understanding this. Who knows about this website? Who would know how to perform this process? Why is this so disconnected from the actual error message? Instead of highlighting the Don’t Send button and pushing me to ignore these crashes, it would be nice if Microsoft explained the process, easily sent the report to MOCA and got back to me regardless of what they found.

Dogma Chomped?

Since I got on the internet many a moon ago, I have seen and learned about wonderful things. I have unfortunately seen pretty awful things as well. I didn't expect to see something horrible yesterday when I went to Abcnews.com. My experience there has been pretty typical of a news presence online. But there it was. An arm hanging out of a crocodile's mouth. When was this ok to display on the front page of a reputable news website? I would have expected this from rotten.com. Way to go ABC.

Unfortunately, I also know that a good friend of mine probably got hungry when he saw this. Freak. Spero che ti piaci la cena, Giuli!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Poducation Shmoducation: The Expanding Role of Technology in Schools and its Detractors

Duke’s Digital Initiative caused quite a stir when it was unveiled because on the surface you were just giving out iPods to students. People's experience with iPods are mostly about being fashionable, having fun and listening to music. “What a waste of money on these spoiled, rich kids! It’s a marketing gimmick!”

As with any innovation, you need to pilot and learn from your customers, which is what Duke is doing. They began with giving out iPods to all students and are now phasing in support and course integration for innovative ways to use this technology. Here are some ways they are using the iPods now:

  • Recruiting podcasts
  • Downloadable Lectures
  • Digital Dictionaries and Encyclopedias
  • Digital Textbooks
  • Digitized Notetaking
  • “iTunes U” podcasting
Companies like VangoNotes are being spawned to service initiatives like this. VangoNotes promotes their product as “You’re busy. We get it.” It is designed for students who can now listen to notes and books anywhere. I can’t believe I had to use a listening library with actual records on turntables when I went to music school.

There are challenges to trying to innovate like this. Michigan is trying to distribute iPods statewide to students and it has become a political football. Democrats in the state view this as distributing new tools for learning while Republicans say there have been no comprehensive studies regarding effects on learning. I guess this goes with the "there is no such thing as global warming" argument. It is hard to push for budgets with innovative ideas when you have a $600 million deficit. iPods are an easy target to axe. Arguments like these though will look silly a decade from now when devices like iPods are ubiquitous in education.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Context is King: The Stradivarius and The Garbage Can


Joshua Bell is world renowned violinist that plays a $3.5 million Stradivarius made in 1713. The Washington Post performed a test with Joshua. They placed him next to a garbage can in the Washington D.C subway and had him play. Of course they secretly recorded it on video (check it out and scroll down to the video where he is recognized).

Outside of the candid camera theatrics of this stunt, I thought how this was a great example of how if you place something important out of context, people don’t get it. Even a world famous violinist. Take him off of the stage you pay hundreds of dollars for and everyone but 7 out of 1,097 people walk right by. That’s a pretty low click-through rate. Put anything next to something people don’t care about and you’ll get that same result too in your designs.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Great Free Content From The Stanford Technology Ventures Program


If you ever want to watch or listen to lectures given by some smart folks, or as they call them "thought leaders," go to Stanford's Educators Corner. All it takes to gain access is to register for free. Podcasts, videos and documentation are all yours after that. Here are a few I enjoyed:

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Who Are You Creating Web Content For? The Balance of Power Between People and Robots


I’m asked frequently about how do you get a website ranked higher on search engines. This art is constantly evolving. Some people pay a monthly king’s ransom for the silver bullet to getting a guaranteed high rank. The days of simplicity where you just put topical stuff in your META tags to attract search engines is long dead. The secret formulas to search engines are complex and ever-changing. Here are some of the current ingredients:

  • Explicit links to what is on your site
  • External links to your site
  • Title tags
  • META tags
  • Well-written page content
  • Age of domain

At the 2007 SXSW Interactive Festival they talked specifically about this topic in their “Making SEO and Usability Work Together” discussion panel. I’m personally very interested in venues where machines and people have to coexist, so I was excited to read about this. Their recommendation to tailor content to humans and let the robots sort it out was good to hear, but there are those who will always pay for the silver bullet. This breeds an environment where people will write content for search engine robots and not people. I’m hoping that just like the topical META tagging died, so will things like the weighting of keyword density for robots.

My recommendation to people is to use a large dose of common sense and write for your customer. Build a good website, get it noticed by others and they will come.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Episode 3 of Innovation in Sports: NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow (CoT)


This is my third blog entry regarding innovation in sports (I'll call it my Innovation in Sports Trilogy). I’ve written about the failure of NBA Basketball and the better faring for the new NHL uniform. I talked about the processes employed and their user involvement. These were redesigns of equipment used for generations that had become visceral. NASCAR has joined these other sports and has redesigned their race car, dubbed the “Car of Tomorrow” (“CoT” for short).

They have taken 5 years to develop the CoT by an internal R&D team. The key features are:
  • Safety improvement
  • Performance upgrades
  • Cost reduction
  • More efficient to tune and produce

In the other redesigns I questioned the impetus to make such dramatic changes. Here we know it was mostly due to the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001. They are debuting the car this year on short tracks and adding longer tracks in 2008. The plan is to have the entire 2009 schedule raced with Cars of Tomorrow. The effort is collaborative with manufacturers, teams and suppliers contributing to the process. Feedback from racers has been key. Even so there have been problems.

There is feedback from drivers who say the car is ugly, boxy and too slow. One fan, Todd Nesbit, is a professor of economics at Penn State Erie. He says that by making the car so much safer, drivers may be more reckless and take more risk. I wonder if this was anticipated by the design team.

Being more boxy eliminates “aero push,” which is something that makes it harder for one car to pass another. They say that this will make the races more entertaining. Was that in their business requirements or was that view added after the negative feedback?

Dow utilized a rapid prototyping process when designing the layer of foam protection inside the car that you cannot see. They iterated very fast and outdid what 200 other competitors couldn’t do. They created a low-cost, lightweight and energy absorbing material that made NASCAR happy. This wasn’t about profit but more about the prestige to Dow. This was all before they put it on the racetrack however. Since it has been tested by actual drivers in actual Cars of Tomorrow on actual racetracks, the foam seems to melt and release noxious fumes and sometimes even cause smoke and fire.

Clearly this underlines the importance of testing after a commercial product is launched. This also illustrates Google’s fifth notion of innovation in that it is not instant perfection. How you manage the discovery of imperfections through listening to customers and usability testing is what distinguishes them. As with the NHL uniform, the jury is still out here. I'm sure I'll circle back in the upcoming months on both of these as they are used more.

NOTE: I've had to rewrite this entry 3 times now because Blogger keeps deleting sections and merging the last 2 paragraphs. Blogger has done this to me on 4 blog entries now and it is really frustrating. Grrr!

Monday, April 2, 2007

ESPN’s 36 Notions of Interaction

ESPN.com has been constantly evolving their homepage for the last few years. Some of the widgets on their homepage use dynamic, cutting edge technologies. Cool stuff. I wonder how their design/development teams are set up and what lifecycle they use to deliver new homepage components. They seem to deliver new things at a rapid pace.

One of the aftereffects of this may be the large number of link/button designs on the page. I counted 36 different styles, 32 from ESPN and 4 by Advertisers. I didn't bother to address any of the mouseover states which are very different as well. The image at the left is a screen grab with the buttons circled.

I then cut them out and assembled the following montage which gives you a better idea of the range of designs. I tried to sort them by similarity:

I’m wondering if this hurts its usability. There certainly is a lot going on all over this page. It would be interesting to test what gets clicked on against a design that had only 5 styles of interaction. Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice comes to mind. He has an example of when giving people many more choices to sample, they make the decision to buy at a much lower percentage than if you give them fewer. I wish I had the time to mock up a stripped down design in Photoshop.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Change is The Biggest Obstacle with Innovation: Shannon Boase, The Unrequited Canadian


Shannon Boase turned a bad personal situation into an innovative product with a great story behind it. In 1997 she moved to Malaysia but found that her allergies went wild from the burning of the leftover palm husks from the palm fruit harvests. The smoke was so bad it sometimes closed airports and schools. She thought that there must be a better way. She ended up creating a compostable food packaging product from the waste that remained after the palm oil had been extracted. The product is naturally water resistant, microwaveable and biodegrades within 3 months.

Sounds like a slam-dunk in this "Consumer society on steroids" we live in. A sustainable packaging solution with an abundance of renewable resources. Unfortunately, most companies from her native Canada weren't very interested in the idea. No matter how amazing the innovation, if it includes requiring the pre-customer distribution line to change it can still struggle. In this case Canadian companies viewed change as too expensive from the cheap plastic solutions. Why change something that is simple and working just fine? Changing from what is comfortable and cost-effective trumped benefiting the planet itself. Products like the iPod and NetFlix didn't face this hurdle.

The happy ending to this story is that she persevered and has been much luckier dealing with American companies such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and even Walmart.

I'm always interested in the impetus for innovation. This is a great product with a great story behind it. Learn more about Shannon's company, Earthcycle.

Foxton's Storytelling


I received the above letter in the mail. Before I trashed it, I noted how they used an absolutely awful story to get me to call them. They talk about an anonymous woman who needed my help. She also happens to be a "mortgage qualified buyer" and is very anxious. "Can I possibly help her?"

I think this type of marketing would be better suited if they mashed-up Seth Godin's All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World and a well crafted persona. If you are going to a lie to me, please do a much better job of it.

If you are a real estate salesperson you can do much better than using these template letters they sell online such as this that offers things like:
  • Letter explaining why a prospective seller needs you
  • Letter designed to reach a FSBO (Apparently this acronym is common to this field for "For Sale By Owner")
  • Follow-up letter to a prospective buyer after a showing
  • Thank you for a prospective buyer that showed up at your open house
  • Encouragement and reasons why a client should relist with you
  • Follow-up letter for two weeks after a seller listed with you