Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Robert Goulet Has Exceeded His Bandwidth Limit

Robert Goulet had an error 509 last night. I hope that when I pass away that I exceed my bandwidth on my website. Beyond the irony, is this something that we should prepare for as owners of a website? Should there be a death clause in our hosting plan that extends our bandwidth for a brief grace period? Website Life Insurance? Especially if your death triggers lots of traffic on the web. Could that be the automatic trigger? death + [your name] traffic = extend bandwidth. At the very least, they should have something more appealing to display than "Bandwidth Limit Exceeded" in 55 point Times Bold. RIP Robert Goulet and

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Footer Map: Adding Value To Least Frequented Part of Your Webpages

This morning I found myself clicking on a part of a page I had never really paid much attention to in the past. It was in the deep, dark recesses of the footer where in the past you only found the necessary evils of website content. Things like legal policies and privacy policies usually were cast away here to be ignored. But today, I actually saw content there and clicked on it. It then clicked in my head that I had seen this before, but hadn't really noticed the impact of it until I had clicked today.

It is a "footer map" or a mini site map that is right above the footer. These little creatures are popping up all over the place. I took a trip around the web to see who & how others were using this and who were still kickin' it old skool.

First, I went to news organizations. A number of them had recently been redesigned, so I wanted to see if this was part of their objectives., and have completely overhauled their websites this past year. Not one of them had a footer map, in fact seems to go out of its way to plead that you ignore their footer with this message:

External links are provided for reference purposes. ABC News is not responsible for the content of external internet sites. Copyright © 2007 ABCNews Internet Ventures

I went to local newspapers and was surprised to find that the only one utilizing a footer map is Their website is riddled with bad design components and overly aggressive banner ads that surround and even sometimes jump on to your content. Yet they are the only ones to implement this cool widget. Not even the had one.

As I hunted down other Footer Map examples, I found that Amazon, eBay and Microsoft were telling me about their investor relations and copyrights as footers have done for a decade. Apple, LinkedIn and Webshots had implemented really nice Footer Maps on the other hand.

What makes a good Footer Map? Footer Maps let you bubble value closer to the surface of every page. It's not about the categories...It's about scent. In fact, on all three of these websites, you can't even click on the categories. They are easy to scan and find content quickly. Apple only puts a subset if its official sitemap which has 225 links on it. Their Footer Map only has 49 links.
Another value, and quite possibly the reason they were designed in the first place, is getting more content sniffed by search engine robots. I guess there is some peril here as well if you put too many links here they may see you as someone trying to be devious. Whether it is search engine robots or getting users to more info, there is a lot of good here to be utilized.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

NY Times/Comedy Central Op-Ed Mashup

Mashups are happening everywhere. Typically these involve Google Maps and aggregated data. This week it's a little less technological. It's happening between the New York Times and Comedy Central. Maureen Dowd saw Stephen Colbert poking fun at writing for the NY Times, so she dared him to give it try. Here's a quote from Colbert that made me giggle:

"Dick Cheney's fondest pipe dream is driving a bulldozer into The New York Times while drinking crude oil out of Keith Olbermann's skull."
Read the Op-Ed Colbert Report here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Parmigiani Fleurier Creates Great Experiences That Are Timeless

Do me a favor...Create a great user experience that lasts at least a lifetime. And whatever you do, don't make it fashionable. And take your time. This is the mission of watchmaker, Parmigiani Fleurier SA. The company was founded by Michel Parmigiani, a master horologist. In 1996, The Sandoz Family Foundation acquired his company but not to make money. They wanted him to create excellence. They didn't want him to waste time on fashion or trends, but to create timeless watches that merit the cost of these sublime creations. The company has a pledge of independence and perpetuity. They design and manufacture everything under one roof so they don't have to rely on anyone else to deliver their product.

Just imagine if the company you worked for gave you this direction. In the world of Technology products we can't design for a lifetime because of the rapid changes that take place. Parmigiani Fleurier builds 4,000 watches a year. As of last month, Apple sold its 1,000,000th iPhone. We look at the iPhone as beautiful now, but we all know that in 5 years it will be in a closet somewhere looking very old and crusty. Could you design an iPod that delivered a great experience for twenty years? My RIO 600 MP3 player has stood the test of time as much as a pair of jeans with built-in-thong will. Well, almost.

Parmigiani Fleurier Links:

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Online Travel Products Suffering From Bad User Experience: A Case Study

User experience design is a place where you can innovate and exceed customer expectations, sometimes where they didn't even know they needed it. There are times where just meeting expectations is a huge design success. It seems that travel websites can't even do that. Forrester Research just released a study that shows that people are turning to the web 9% less in the last two years for research and purchase for travel.

Recently, a friend of mine travelled to Italy to enjoy a stay at a villa for a multi-family vacation. She purchased her family's airline tickets on months in advance. Like most people, she leads a robust life with work and family. By taking out her credit card and purchasing the tickets online, that meant she had checked off one thing off her long list of things-to-do before the trip. She printed out the online receipt and tucked it away for when she had to travel. She has travelled many times and purchasing tickets via web or traditional methods means something to her in her airline-ticket-purchasing mental model.

On the day she was to leave, it was a typical travel-day scenario. She was in a hurry to make sure everyone was all packed and ready to go and that work was in good shape for her to leave for a couple weeks. One thing she didn't have to deal with in her head was her airline tickets. She had taken care of that so long ago, right? Unfortunately, as she arrived at the airport she was dismayed to find out that the pages she printed out from the website were worthless. She had thought this would be her "eTicket" to get her on board. She bought the tickets from, so the airline could do nothing to help her. Things got uglier from there. The support from was awful. She was lucky to not miss her flight because the airline let her purchase replacements tickets for the flight. More money and pain, but at least got her family where they needed to go to begin their vacation.

The real ugliness happened as she tried to fly out of Italy. Throughout her trip she tried to work with to resolve this. They took no ownership and consistently ran her around with no answers. When the day came to leave Italia, she ultimately had to re-purchase all the tickets again. I'm leaving out a lot of the painful details, but it ultimately this cost her a lot of time, pain and tears. Not something you want to associate with a vacation, which is why people usually purchase airline tickets.

This story resonates with everyone involved and those who learn of this story when it is shared. It was not like getting scammed on an item on eBay. It impacted the entire family and possibly could have ruined the vacation itself.

How can online travel companies not realize this? They are not just supplying a means for people to make a simple purchase such as you do on Amazon. The touchpoints here go well beyond the item being purchased. They impact things when people are away from their computer, home and even their country. I agree with what Henry H. Harteveldt says about his report from Forrester:

"They must proactively destroy — and then rebuild — their products to be more practical to sell online and humanize the digital experience that they offer on
their Web sites."

Here's a link to the study (Be prepared to shell out $279)

MYSPACE by The Fresh

I heard "The Fresh" being interviewed on Sirius about how they spent a lot of time on the Friendster and MySpace which inspired the song. I'd like to show this to a few friends that don't know about these social networks and see what they think. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Forrester Should Pull The Trigger On Trigger Words

I just read about this report from Forrester and wanted to read more about it. Unfortunately, their signup process was not so good of an experience. After I filled out the pages registration info, I submitted the data. At that point I went to email to see what the next step was. It said:

Welcome To Forrester Research

You may want to save this email so you can log in at a later date.

Please log in by clicking the link below:
Click here to log in

After logging in, you can start taking advantage of the free research and other guest benefits…blah blah blah…

I already had a browser window still open from where I signed up, so I went to log in from there. That gave me this error:

We're sorry, your account has not been activated yet. Please check your email and click on the activation link to begin using your account.

I can figure out what they want me to do, but the problem is there is nothing that says, "activation" on the email from them. I'd connect to that word. I probably would have clicked on that link if they told me in the email I had to use that specific link in order to confirm that it was coming from my email. Trigger words and better language would have saved the day here.

I hope the content there is better than their registration design.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Online Video Experience: The New Yorker Let’s You Download Their Ginormous Video Clips, And Then Let’s You Down

I enjoyed a video clip on of a story about Steve Martin. I find that I am watching more and more lengthy videos online. The thought of doing this didn't connect with me until recently. It just sort of happened, and it was because of the content not the technology.

I remember 15 years ago digitizing video on a Mac, and being so excited to watch any video clips on the computer. It was thrilling, but it was because of the technology. I would digitize small clips from movies that I loved. It would take hours to compress, but seeing two minutes of movies like Birdy or Wings of Desire was well worth it.

Steve Martin replayed his famous comedy bits from his own perspective and in an historical context. It was funny to hear them again through this new window. People giggled in the audience as I did watching it on my PC, hearing the story of how he discovered his comedic path and innovated. What a gem to be able to hear how he set his own comedy guidelines in a genre he was creating.

This type of content really establishes The New Yorker's brand with me. Unfortunately, they drop the ball from a user experience standpoint just as they are succeeding on the content front. On the website around the video, they let you download the actual video to your desktop, but they fail to tell you that the file is over half a gig in size (551MB!). How long does this take? Is that why I am on The New Yorker website? The other core thing they provide under the video is a link for you to subscribe to "Festival Video" via iTunes. What is Festival Video? I clicked on a Steve Martin link. I don't know what Festival Video is. Why would I subscribe?

The New York Times website has great content as well, but also provides the surrounding online video experience I've come to expect today:

  • Copy-to-clipboard the permanent link to share
  • Email it directly from the website
  • Subscribe to their RSS feed on iTunes
  • Scan through related links, in context
  • Scan thumbnails to a number of other videos easily to keep the experience moving on their website
  • Scan through a tree structure to other videos groups organized by content type
  • P.S. – They also have a YouTube Director's account where they post their own website content for free

The New Yorker has really great content. I read stuff there all the time. It's a little disappointing that Chris Crocker of "Leave Britney Alone, You Bastards!" fame has better online video tools at his disposal, for free. It's sad that this sublime Steve Martin interview would never come close to Crocker's 5,253,942 channel views.

Here's the Steve Martin Video Interview from the New Yorker

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Mercenary Anthropology When All Else Fails?

Recently, the US sent cultural anthropologists to Afghanistan to operate with a combat team. The result was a 60% decrease in combat operations for that army unit. They learned things like if you want to win hearts and minds you don’t kick in doors, you knock on them (I’m not sure if they needed to send anyone over there for that knowledge nugget). The success of this 'test' has paved the way for 26 American combat brigades in Afghanistan and Iraq to each get their own team of cultural anthropologists.

I’m not sure how I feel about the use of cultural anthropologists in war, or as they are nicknamed, "mercenary anthropologists." What is very interesting to me is the timing of their use and their place in the decision-making hierarchy.

It seems very obvious that we would need to know more about a country’s culture during a time of war, regardless of the use of this data. Why has it taken 6 years for the US Military to deploy something that is so overtly useful in this type of war? It's sad that this wasn’t part of the original plan, but then again we see this in product design all the time. Companies not understanding the value of knowing their customer archetypes and also not knowing what to call 'it' is eerily similar. I can’t tell you how many times I have been introduced improperly to others just because most don’t easily grasp the concept of user experience design. It’s hard for me to make the jump to corporate America because it has an air of trivializing the seriousness of what is going on over there, but there are so many similarities. Here is a quote from Colonel Woods:
"Call it what you want, it works. It works in helping you define the problems, not just the symptoms."

He doesn't know what this is, but he nails what it is about. I guess it doesn't matter what you call it if you just get it. The army is spending $40 million on this project, although people can't define it easily and it is late in the game. I'd love to see more of corporate America investing in this as well with the same excuses.

Here are some interesting links for more on this:

Official document on counterinsurgency

NY Times article

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Radiohead Swimming With the Current of Digital Music Culture

Radiohead has always been an innovator with their music. They have explored new sound textures and styles with each album since Pablo Honey in 1993. Now they are doing the same with their upcoming release, “In Rainbows,” but this time they are taking on music distribution channels. There are 4 multinational music corporations that control most of today’s music. Instead of bending to corporate bidding, they are moving directly towards how people are consuming music today. I’d say they are even moving beyond that and innovating in this thorny space. Their plan is to publish their music online and let people pay whatever they’d like for it. That’s right. Download it and share it as you like without any DRM in your way of enjoying their art. Next year, they will release a traditional plastic CD and an $80 2-vinyl record set with extra songs and photos via their website. On top of this, they aren’t going to send out advance copies of the new album to traditional media.

They upload, you download and share without any middlemen. They are embracing small-is-the-new-big and long-tail philosophies, but they are doing so on the opposite side of the food chain. Imagine the author getting his book in PDF form directly to you instead of through Amazon. How will this change things? We shall see, but we know retiring to Muzakish irrelevance isn’t where they are headed just yet.