Saturday, November 27, 2004

Reputation Management in Froogle's New Shopping Lists and Ratings

Google has added the ability to make and share a Froogle shopping list, and to rate sites found through Froogle.

It sounds a little like the ability to comment upon, and rate books, at But the scope appears much larger - the commercial web as a whole. Or at least the commercial web as seen through Froogle.

It's an interesting approach for Google, which is branching out from its roots as a way to search the web.

Though, looking closely at those roots may show something else.

At a Presentation by Google's Larry Page last February, he had this to say about the intentions behind building Google:

"It wasn't that we intended to build a search engine. We built a ranking system to deal with annotations. We wanted to annotate the web--build a system so that after you'd viewed a page you could click and see what smart comments other people had about it. But how do you decide who gets to annotate Yahoo? We needed to figure out how to choose which annotations people should look at, which meant that we needed to figure out which other sites contained comments we should classify as authoritative. Hence PageRank.

"Only later did we realize that PageRank was much more useful for search than for annotation..."

Annotating the web. It's something that people blogging do. When Google purchased Blogger, a lot of people with blogs started pointing at how the acquisition would help Google to track and follow what bloggers felt was important on the web.

Maybe Google is using that information, and maybe they aren't. But the Froogle effort appears a lot more transparent, and seems like an approach to not only see what people think of a site, but also make it easy for others to share those comments. Is this reputation managment?

It's kind of interesting to slip back 6 years, and look at an old Jakob Nielsen article on Reputation Management. I don't know if we will ever arrive at the type of reputation management that he writes about, but I sort of feel that we might be a little closer if the Froogle rating system catches on:

The simplest reputation manager would compute the average rating for each information source, but more advanced services would use ideas from collaborative filtering and compute different ratings for different users. Basically, the reputation manager would find other users whose tastes are very similar to your own and give added weight to these users' ratings. Since the Web will have half a billion users in five years, it will always be possible to find other users who match your interests, no matter how obscure they are. Thus, the reputation manager can deal differently with people who love the Spice Girls and people who don't.

How popular will Froogle's rating system become? It's difficult to tell at this point, but if the popularity of Amazon's system is any sign, it might catch on in a big way.

If you have a commercial web site that sells products, you might want to spend a little time on Froogle's page for Froogle Merchants - Frequently Asked Questions, and spend the time to put together a Froogle Feed.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Academic Business Literature Search

As a fan of academic research, the Google Scholar program was great news.

There are lots of other search engines online for educational resources. For instance, SMEALSearch, which yielded some excellent results for a couple of searches I performed.

(Via searchenginewatch)

Friday, November 19, 2004

Google for Scholars

Information junkie that I am, the new Google Scholar is a dangerous thing.

Cite Seer has been keeping me up to my eyebrows in whitepapers. Adding the Google service on top of it will likely bury me in information.

Though, the first interesting looking paper that I located through Google Scholar was on Cite Seer. :)

Slogging Through Process Management

I've spent quite a lot of time over the past month looking through an extensive system of process managment and software certification developed by the Software Engineering Institute (SEI), a program hosted By Carnegie Mellon University, and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Their Capability Maturity Model® Integration (CMMI) came up at a presentation I attended, and I wanted to find out more. I didn't suspect that there was so much, that I would fall into it, and almost completely disappear.

After trying to read a few thousand pages on the subject carefully, I'm to the point where I'm asking myself if I've learned anything. I probably have, but I think that it's going to take a while to digest. As least as long as I've taken so far. One aspect that I found pretty interesting was their application of their methodology to Commercial Off the Shelf software systems.

I'm also trying to understand how this type of process management could be useful to small and medium sized businesses, and businesses that aren't necessarily involved in the development of software. Many of the basic concepts are, such as reviewing processes, building upon them, and getting feedback from people not directly involved in projects.

A brief introduction (pdf) to the CMMI system gives a good overview, and this statement:
Studies have shown that companies that invest 5% to 10% of their operating costs into process improvement typically experience a return on investment of 100% the first year and upwards of 400% after 3 to 5 years. These returns on investments are based on reductions in the number of defects, faster time to market, improvements in estimation capabilities and better project control resulting in fewer schedule and cost overruns.

An article about the adoption of CMMI in India also provides some insight into its perceived value.

A presentation from the SEI back in March on the application of the CMMI system to small businesses gives some of the arguments for the adoption of the system by small to medium sized businesses, which they roughly define to be between 25 and 250 employees. It appears that they are looking into the feasibility of defining more of their processes in a manner in which these smaller businesses can take advantage of this type of process management.

I don't know if CMMI can be of benefit to organizations smaller than that. But some of the underlying ideas can be.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Fun with Logos

Enjoyed this quite a lot: The Man Behind the FedEx Logo

I like the look of the Kmart and Sears logos, which are prominently displayed at the top of a Wharton article on a merger between the two companies. I'm not sure I can see them combining together into a strong brand - a little like the difficulty of pulling the companies together. (Yes, logos aren't brands. But it makes a nice metaphor in this instance.)

The Tivo Logo is fun. Tivo users may see lots of logos, as a new way of getting viewers to watch ads is revealed.

An article on Pantone, the color people, reveals how important color may be to a brand.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

A Wiki in the Office

A comment from Wilson Ng of Reflections of a Business-Driven Life, about using a PDA to save ideas for blog posts, had me considering how other tools could be used around the office.

The word "Wiki" came up in a discussion today, and the thought of using a Wiki to share ideas across the office got some positive responses. If you aren't familiar with the word, and with the tool, then you've missed an interesting looking application.

The online Wikipedia has been in the news recently, citing as a useful tool for research. It's also been receiving some criticism as a questionable source of information.

It's not the tool itself that is at the heart of the controversy, but rather the open nature of its use in that wiki-based encyclopedia. Anyone can come along and edit an entry - and even bad information can make its way into the site.

An article from this past summer highlights some of the potential uses of the application. See: Enter the World of the "Wiki"

A wiki is fairly easy to use, and could allow people in a small or medium sized office to share information in a meaningful manner. I think it could effectively provide an opportunity to reduce interoffice emails, memos, and meetings to share knowledge.

I visited a site that allows folks to try out demo versions of different open source software (, and tried out a wiki. The one I tested tonight was Media Wiki. There are a few others there, and I'm going to try those out, too.

Once I find a wiki that I like, I think that an inter-office blog might be the next step.

Thank you, Wilson. Your suggestion provided a catalyst, pulling together some other ideas in my mind for how to better manage some office communications.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Inspirational Writing about Writing

It's not always easy for me to write something here everyday. I had a nice post for last night most of the way written - in my head. Getting it on a page is another matter.

I should try harder. Sometimes life interrupts.

Regular updates are one of the things that Mark Bernstein points to in the excellent 10 Tips on Writing the Living Web. He notes that even fifteen minutes a day can add up to quite a few words over the course of a year.

His article has been around for a couple of years now, and I've seen it fuel more than one argument. Some of the points made seem to rub some people the wrong way.

But, I find it inspirational. The same is true of Rebecca Blood's essay weblogs: a history and perspective. Rebecca's words were one of the forces that started me blogging.

So I'm going to try to add some shorter posts on a daily basis, to go with some of the longer ones that I seem to be fond of lately.

And I'm going to try to write something everyday, even if I only have 15 minutes to do it.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

The Misunderstood Lure of Page Rank

Google PageRank is one of the very classic credibility and authority indicators on the Web and also one of the most trusted and reliable ones.

Robin Good, from PACmeter - Popularity, Authority, Credibility Online: How To Measure Them

There are some very nice links in Robin Good's article, but he makes a mistake when he starts attributing credibility to page rank. I understand how people would possibly misunderstand, but I want to seriously caution anyone who thinks that they should use the measure of page rank on a Google toolbar as a measure of expertise or trustworthiness.

Page Rank, named after its inventor, Larry Page, is a method of calculating a value based upon the number of links to a URL, and the "popularity" of the pages linked from. It's a mathematical formula, and a patented method used to help the search engine determine which pages to return when someone performs a search for a site.

Here's how Google describes Page Rank:

PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page's value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves "important" weigh more heavily and help to make other pages "important."

Rage Rank is one of around 100 or so different attributes that Google uses when it determines the order of listings that it returns when someone tries to find information using the search engines.

It is based upon the number of links to a site, but the intentions behind the links aren't considered. Those links could be purchased text advertisements. They could be from comment spam in blogs, and guest books, and wikis. They could be criticism, and their popularity is actually infamy.

Unfortunately, one of the failings of page rank is that the best page on a specific subject may exist on the web with few or no links to it, and because of that, the page won't come up on Google's search results for that subject.

A recent and excellent paper that looks at this problem with page rank is worth reading: Filthy Linking Rich And Getting Richer!, by Mike Grehan. The problem with page rank, according to Mike Grehan:

But this is also the creator of a very worrisome problem which affects new web pages with low linkage data, regardless of the quality of those pages. Quality and relevance are sometimes at odds with each other. And the ecology of the web may be suffering because of the way search engines are biased towards a page's popularity more than its quality. In short, "currently popular" pages are repeatedly being returned at the top of the results at the major search engines.

Page rank is a measure of popularity, and the amount of page rank that shows on the Google toolbar is an indication of that popularity. But it's not a measure of credibility, and never has been. And sites with lower page ranks may be of better quality, and of higher credibility than pages with higher page ranks.

To use page rank as a substitute for much better ways of determining credibility is a mistake. It's alluring to think that such a shortcut exists, but it doesn't.

Robin Good also points towards the Alexa toolbar as another measure of credibility. Again, it's a questionable assumption. The Alexa results are like an unscientific poll where the people being polled select themselves. The numbers Alexa uses are supposed to indicate the amount of traffic to web sites based upon the travels of people with Alexa toolbars installed on their browsers. I understand that a number of web sites in South Korea are pretty popular according to Alexa. I also understand that a lot of people in South Korea use the Alexa toolbar.

I think that my analogy of Alexa being like an internet poll where the participants aren't selected by the polling body is accurate. There's a nice set of questions, from the National Council on Public Polls, that you should ask and that a journalist should be aware of before trusting the credibility of a poll. These are 20 Questions A Journalist Should Ask About Poll Results. Here's a snippet from the analysis under the question that asks, "How were these people chosen":

The key reason that some polls reflect public opinion accurately and other polls are unscientific junk is how people were chosen to be interviewed. In scientific polls, the pollster uses a specific statistical method for picking respondents. In unscientific polls, the person picks himself to participate.

It's tempting to try to find a shortcut to determine the credibility of a web site. A toolbar is no substitute for an intelligent and informed decision.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Attitude in the Making

When I was in Boston a few weeks back, I couldn't resist the temptation to stop in at least one used books store.

I entered into Commonwealth Books on Boylston Street, which overlooks Boston Commons. They had a tremendous selection of dusty old volumes. If you're a book lover, it's a great place to stop.

I ended up getting a rather new book - Abstracting Craft; The Practiced Digital Hand - about the transformation of computers from tools to help create artwork to a medium for art itself. What I found fascinating about it was the concepts it describes on how people interact with computers.

My reading list is shrinking, and it's moving its way towards the top. So, I can't provide any type of review of the book right now. But, I wanted to share the introductory quote from the book, which I thought was a good one:

The true workman must put his individualized intelligence and enthusiasm into the goods which he fashions. He must have a natural attitude for his work so strong that no education can force him away from his special bent. He must be allowed to think of what he is doing, and to vary his work as the circumstances of it vary, and his own moods. He must forever be stirring to make the piece at which he is at work better than the last. He must refuse at anybody's bidding to turn out -- I won't say a bad -- but even an indifferent piece of work, whatever the public wants, or thinks it wants.

-- William Morris

A friend, on writing advice to another, on the difficulties of starting out in business noted that attitude was one of the most important elements of success. The type of attitude that Morris writes about above. A confidence, a faith in yourself that no matter what obstacles, or what shortcomings may face you, that you continue to move forward.

When I wrote about the value of mistakes a couple of days ago, one of the things I took for granted in the writing was that most people get up from a fall, brush themselves off, and begin again. But a lot of people don't.

The attitude to fashion something better than you've made before is related to the attitude to rise above problems, and your own mistakes.

How do you develop that attitude? Like most things. One step at a time.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

The Value of Making Mistakes

Chances are, as a business owner, you're going to make a mistake or two.

It happens, and you may not even know that you've committed some type of blunder. But, upon reflection, you may realize that you could have done something differently.

It pays to review upon your business activities on a regular basis - to set aside some time to refine processes, or consider how you interact with clients. Learning from your mistakes, and learning how to not make the same mistake again is part of a successful business strategy.

I was looking through some old books at a neighborhood antique shop and found an old volume on Benjamin Franklin. I've been working on putting together some pages on my personal site about Dr. Franklin, so I purchased it. As I was leafing through the book, I came across a story by the good doctor that I thought might be worth sharing here. It's a story that he wrote for his nephew, titled The Whistle

When I was a child of seven years old, my friends, on a holiday, filled my pocket with coppers. I went directly to a shop where they sold toys for children; and being charmed with the sound of a whistle, that I met by the way in the hands of another boy, I voluntarily offered and gave all my money for one.

I then came home, and went whistling all over the house, much pleased with my whistle, but disturbing all the family. My brothers, and sisters, and cousins, understanding the bargain I had made, told me I had given four times as much for it as it was worth; put me in mind what good things I might have bought with the rest of the money; and laughed at me so much for my folly, that I cried with vexation; and the reflection gave me more chagrin than the whistle gave me pleasure.

This, however, was afterwards of use to me, the impression continuing on my mind; so that often, when I was tempted to buy some unnecessary thing, I said to myself, Don't give too much for the whistle; and I saved my money.

As I grew up, came into the world, and observed the actions of men, I thought I met with many, very many, who gave too much for the whistle.

When I saw any one too ambitious of court favor, sacrificing his time in attendance on levees, his repose, his liberty, his virtue, and perhaps his friends, to attain it, I have said to myself, This man gives too much for his whistle.

When I saw another fond of popularity, constantly employing himself in political bustles, neglecting his own affairs, and ruining them by that neglect, He pays, indeed, said I, too much for his whistle.

If I knew a miser, who gave up every kind of comfortable living, all the pleasure of doing good to others, all the esteem of his fellow-citizens, and the joys of benevolent friendship, for the sake of accumulating wealth, Poor man, said I, you do indeed pay too much for your whistle.

When I met with a man of pleasure, sacrificing every laudable improvement of the mind, or of his fortune, to mere corporeal sensations, and ruining his health in their pursuit, Mistaken man, said I, you are providing pain for yourself, instead of pleasure; you give too much for your whistle.

If I see one fond of of fine clothes, fine furniture, fine equipages, all above his fortune, for which he contracts debts, and ends his career in a prison, Alas! says I, he has paid dear, very dear, for his whistle.

When I see a beautiful sweet-tempered girl married to an illnatured brute of a husband, What a pity it is, say I, that she should pay so much for a whistle!

In short, I conceive that great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by the false estimates they have made of the value of things, and by their giving too much for their whistles.

The cost of that whistle was much higher than it should have been, but the value in understanding the mistake made was priceless.

I'm also a believer that it's possible to learn from the mistakes of others, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the words of Benjamin Franklin. His words to his nephew provide a lesson to all of us if we want to take it.

There is value in understanding when you make a mistake, or in considering the mistakes of others, when you learn from them, and can take steps to avoid them.

How do you do that?

  • Understand that the potential exists for making a mistake, and consider setting up processes in your undertakings that help you avoid mistakes.

  • Take notes when you make business decisions, explaining the reasons for those decisions, and review them on a regular basis.

  • Write those notes in a manner that is easy for you to do, and in a way that is easy to review.

  • Make sure that your communications with your customers includes noting whatever criticisms they might have, and solicit their feedback to see what they liked and disliked about your services or products.

  • When you finish a project, make a list of lessons learned - understand the reasons for your successes and your failures, and figure out how to build upon the successes, and how to avoid the failures.

  • If you work as part of a team, work together to come up with that list of reasons for success or failure, and enable each other to build a future of more effective cooperation.

The value of making a mistake is in what you do after you realize you've made one, and in learning to take proactive steps to avoid making more.

Of Search Engines and Usability

Friend, mentor, co-conspirator Kim Krause has a new article out on web site usability that describes the impact of designing a site with your visitors in mind.

It's called Do Not Drop Your Web Site Off the Search Engine Cliff. If you own a commercial web site, it's a good introduction on how to look through a usability perspective to help your efforts to get your site noticed.

Friday, October 08, 2004

How Much Information Should You Provide to Your Web Site's Customers?

When someone arrives at your web site, how much information do they see about your business, your industry, and your services?

If you provide marketing or consulting services, how much do you share of the "why to do something" instead of just the "how?"

One of the topics covered in the interview I recently participated in involved the topics of expertise and trustworthiness.

I'm of the opinion that sharing information can not only help customers make reasonable decisions based upon being fully informed, but also allows enables them to gauge how trustworthy you are, and how much expertise you possess.

My friend and Co-moderator at Cre8asite Forums, Barry Welford, has a post in response to the interview, and to the notion of sharing information on a services based web site.

I especially agree with him on this point:

If an Internet marketing consultant is good, he or she will tell you the tough stuff that your own employees may not have the guts to comment on.

Of course, when they are faced with a similar situation in the future, they aren't going to need your services to help them solve it. They now understand how and why they should on their own. But when something new comes along, there's a good chance that your phone number or email address is the first one they will pick out when deciding that they need help.

If you enable your clients to make informed decisions, they will come back to you when they need to make more.


I also want to add a shoutout and thanks to the folks at Cre8site Forums who gave me such a positive response to the interview. Thank you all.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Questions and Answers with Lip-Sticking's Yvonne Divita

I recently had the honor and pleasure of being interviewed by Yvonne Divita as part of her Smart Man Online series. The exchange was published today.

She asked some pretty insightful questions, and made me work hard to come up with some answers that would live up to the standards of her daily posts. The topics included online credibility, usability, blogging tools, online shopping, taglines, and privacy policies.

I really enjoy the perspective she brings to topics, and spending some time at her Lip Sticking makes me think about business, and marketing, in ways that I otherwise might not have.

As Yvonne often says at the end of her posts, "What's not to like about that?"

The Blog in the China Shop?

Somehow I missed the long, four part paper Blogging the Market, published last January on Internet Changes Everything.

I've only had a chance to skim through the four pages of the article, but it seemed filled with some interesting ideas, and worth sharing. And so I have.

Here's a small peek at the abstract that kicks the whole thing off:
Within the boundaries of the firm though, the implementation of weblogs takes a whole new dimension to realising that weblogs are more than the sum of its parts: more than vibrant public forums and frequently updated streams-of-consciousness, alternative forms of publishing and online outbursts of gonzo journalism, and personal diaries. They are the embodiment of online self-organising social systems, are essentially characterised by management decentralisation and ultimately threaten to destabilise current organisational structures and re-invent the scope of management.

It's long. I saw pieces of prose that I think I agree with, and parts of arguments that I wasn't so sure about. But it looks like it might be worth scribbing some notes on as I work through. Maybe more on this one when I have a couple of hours to spend on it.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Establishing Credibility on the Web

How do you know which sources to trust online?

How confident do you feel about purchasing from a web site?

When people tell me that they get a lot of visitors to their web sites, but not many purchasers of their goods or services, there are often at least four potential sets of issues that I raise:

  • Are the people finding your site the audience that you intended to target?

  • Are the products being presented in a way that entices people to purchase?

  • How comfortable are people in conducting business with your site?

  • How easy or difficult is it for people to complete a transaction? Are there roadblocks to sales based upon the way the purchasing transaction is presented?

I want to discuss the third item on that list a little in this post.

One place I often point people towards, when this is a problem are the pages from Stanford University on The Web Credibility Project. They have a pretty good set of guidelines linked to from that page on how to make a site appear more credible.

It includes such items as verifiable testimonials, contact information on every page, listed membership in industry and consumer organizations, and many others.

There's also a number of great reports on the site that describe how the visual design of a site can help establish credibility. How credible a site can appear does depend upon correct spelling, well-written text, professional looking graphics, the presence of links to privacy policies, copyright notices, and many more things that we often take for granted when they are done right, but notice immediately when done wrong.

Lately, I've been getting a number of emails from scam artists on what have become known as phishing expeditions.

Here's an example of one I received recently:

Dear Customer,

This email was sent by the Citibank server to verify your E-mail
address. You must complete this process by clicking on the link
below and entering in the small window your Citibank Debit
Card number and PIN that you use on ATM.

This is done for your protection - because some of our members
no longer have access to their email addresses and we must
verify it.

To verify your E-mail address and access your bank account,
click on the link below:

[url removed]


Thank you for being our customer


The URL that appeared in the email seemed to go to a citibank address online, but really didn't. I have a citibank account, but I've never given them an email address, and haven't set up online access with them. If I had, this might seem somewhat reasonable. But, even citibank wouldn't ask for my PIN number.

I've received similar emails that appeared to come from Suntrust Bank and from Paypal. They didn't. But they seemed realistic.

Scams like these make credibility and trust things that are even more difficult for a web site owner to earn from potential customers.

While I've been suggesting that people look over the Stanford Reports, I decided that it wasn't a bad idea to look at see what some others are doing to earn confidence and credibility online.

Well, one is the use of real names. As Simon Willison noted a couple of months back in a post titled Improving online credibility, the use of a real name by a member in a forum or online message board can boost the credibility of that person. He notes that is encouraging people to use their real names in product reviews, and posting badges next to the names of people who do, so that they might be perceived as more credible by people who read those reviews.

One of the best ways to build confidence as a web site owner providing goods or services is to encourage people to contact you. I like putting contact information on every page of a business site. A good place for it is at the bottom of pages.

That's not only an email address, but also a phone number and a mailing address. On the front page of a site, it oftn makes sense to put that contact information above the fold - in a place where people will see it as they scan the page for the first time. Some other good suggestions are in this Site Point article - The Lost Art of Conversation - Encouraging Contact Online

I mentioned in the last paragraph that a quick scan of a homepage is an important time for someone to see information like an address. Well, it helps for people to see even more there:

  • A link to a privacy policy is essential. It tells people what you will do with their contact information if they do contact you.

  • Information about the business needs to be front and center. It doesn't need to be as detailed as an "About us" page would be, but it needs to be enough so that people might be interested in reading that "About us" page.

  • People need to know other information about your goods or services, such as shipping policies, or return policies. If you don't include information about those, it's probably much more reasonable for people to shop for the same products or services offline. At least that way they can get in the face of people who sold them something that didn't work as advertised.

  • I like to know that there's a human being behind a web site. A statement that appears to be written by that person, and a photograph can increase my confidence in a site. An email address for that person, presented in a way that makes me feel comfortable in contacting them boosts my confidence even more.

  • If the business is a member of a consumer organization, like the Better Business Bureau, or a member of an industry association, and I can check with those organizations, it's another means of improving my trust in the honesty of their site's promises to me.

  • Promises? Yes, a company online makes promises to its customers. And it keeps those promises. When Dell tells me that they will ship a computer I've ordered within ten days, it better arrive within ten days. The last few we ordered from them arrived in three or four days. They made a reasonable promise, and they overdelivered. It's a practice that had us going back for more.

  • More promises? When you make a statement involving the price, quality, uniqueness, or other aspect of your goods or services, I'll probably check around to see if there have been any complaints. Usenet, through Google Groups, is a great place to find information about a business - especially if there are complaints. The point though, is not to avoid making promises. The point is to keep the promises that you do make.

There are other ways to display your credibility online. I'll explore some of those later this week. If anyone has any other suggestions about credibility, I'd love to hear them.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

There's Always Room for Good News (Blog)

I'm adding the Good News Blog to the links at the right.

Not because I know the author, though I do.

Not because he's bright, articulate, and cheerful; even though he is all of those things.

But rather because we come across so much news everyday filled with sadness, strife, and loss. It's good to know that there's at least one place to get good news.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

When Do You Teach Your Childen About Money?

I remember the look on my father's face the first time I pulled out a credit card.

I guess it was a rite of passage for him. He asked me if he had "signed for it." I was probably about twenty or so, and he shouldn't have been that surprised. In many ways, he had prepared me for the world of credit, taxes, financing agreements, loans, and so on.

But I could tell that it surprised him.

My brother and sister and I had savings accounts as long as I can remember. I think my parents put some seed money in our accounts to make us feel good about collecting, but we were expected to deposit some of our allowance into our bank accounts on a regular basis. It was a way of investing in ourselves and giving us something to plan ahead for.

There's a memory of my father sitting down with me, and having me carefully read the instructions for my first income tax payment. He showed me where to enter what, and how to look up how much I owed, or how much I would get back. After that first time, I was on my own. I've done my taxes for myself ever since.

I believe that in there somewhere we even worked out a budget. I don't recall how old I was, but it made a lot of sense when we did it, and the exercise has helped me ever since.

But I don't remember really talking about finances in school, except maybe when it came to counting out lunch money.

A Wharton article, Teaching Kids about Money: Why It's Not Just Fun and Games takes a look at making financial literacy something taught in classes. It opens with this quote:

"Improving basic financial education at the elementary and secondary school level is essential to providing a foundation for financial literacy that can prevent younger people from making poor financial decisions that can take years to overcome." Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, 2001

But that type of practical application seems to be something schools often leave to parents. A couple of pages I found on teaching children about money are these two:

Teaching children about money

A snippet:

Tips for teaching children about money. Younger children may believe that parents have an unlimited supply of money, unaware that checks and credit cards are not the same as cash and that bills must be paid.

Another one that does a nice job of explaining the advantages and disadvantages of the dole system and the allowance system: Teaching Your Children About Money

A good time to consider giving your child money is when he or she is between the ages of five and eight. Most parents use the Dole System or the Allowance System, and both have advantages and disadvantages. Research shows that in some instances an allowance may cost less than simply giving or doling money out for specific needs and wants.

A Good Reason for Headlines

A study from the Poynter Institute had some interesting observations when they studied what people look on web pages while wearing eyetracking equipment.

The project, Eyetrack III, may or may not have implications for your web site.

One quote I thought was very interesting:

Smaller type encourages focused viewing behavior (that is, reading the words), while larger type promotes lighter scanning. In general, our testing found that people spent more time focused on small type than large type. Larger type resulted in more scanning of the page -- fewer words overall were fixated on -- as people looked around for words or phrases that captured their attention

My favorite page in the study was one that compared the styles of five different web sites.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

So you Want to Volunteer With a NonProfit

There are a lot of reasons to get involved with a nonprofit organization.

One reason may be because you have some free time, and want to find a way to spend it in a productive manner. There are many organizations that could use a hand, and many opportunities looking for people to fill them. A group like Volunteer Match can help you find an internship, or post as an educator, mentor, or other position.

The range of choices may surprise you. A search in my area revealed a need for a person to help with Special Olympics, a music/choral group leader, a court appointed special advocate, a database application developer for a museum, a museum guide, a humane cat trapper, a dog walker, a literacy volunteer teaching adults, a park ranger intern, a member of a historic sewing group, and many more.

Another reason may be because you have nothing else to do. I remember when a friend had left his job, and was wandering directionless. I saw a sign for a group that was rescuing and rehabilitating wild birds nearby, and convinced him that it might be something fun to do, and that I would join with him. He got involved with them, and spent some serious time helping to do construction jobs around their facilities, care for sick and injured birds, and travel to places near and far to help rescue birds from oil spills. He met his future wife while volunteering there. It seemed in some ways that the opportunity helped rescue him.

A different reason might be that you have no choice. Well, you do have a choice, but helping others may just be the thing that helps you. An ex-neighbor knocked on my door a couple of months back. He asked me for some advice with the legal system. He had been caught driving without a license -- for the third time. His court date was in about a month. It's a charge that often carries with it some prison time. He asked me what he should do. I told him that the best thing he could do was to go to some place like the Boys club, or somewhere else, and volunteer. Find something that a judge could look at and say to him or herself that "here is someone who is trying to do something for someone else. Someone who just might have seen the errors of his ways." I didn't want to get all preachy, and I could tell by the incredulous look on his face that it wasn't the advice that he expected.

I don't know if he took my advice. I hope that he did.

If you do consider volunteering, there are some things that you should keep in mind. I came across an excellent online resource that's worth a good look if you're inclined to get involved. The Volunteer Legal Handbook - 7th Edition looks at some of the possible problems and risks you might take as a volunteer. Here are a couple of examples that they describe :

  • The auto accident. You volunteer to drive a group of little league baseball players to a baseball game. You are involved in an auto accident and some of your little league passengers are hurt. Are you liable for their injuries? If so, will your insurance cover the claim?

  • The fired volunteer. You are an unpaid supervisor of a group of volunteers. One of the volunteers has failed to perform adequately, and you have terminated his volunteer status with the organization. Now the former volunteer has sued you and the organization for slander, libel and wrongful dismissal. Are you liable?
I'm going to take another look at that Volunteer Match site. There are a couple of really nice museums nearby that looked like they needed guides. It could be fun.

short bits

Some links that I read on the web recently which I found interesting:

Monday, September 06, 2004

blogging businesses

Why should your business have a blog?

I was hard pressed to come up with any better reasons than the ones listed in Lip-Sticking: 5 Reasons Jane Thinks Every Small Business Should Blog. If you have a business, and you don't have a blog, I'd recommend that you pay her site a visit.

As Yvonne Divita states, it's about improving communication with your customers. A blog can be very easy to set up, and if you like writing, can be a great way to get online quickly and easily.

I'll add to her other points that it can be fairly inexpensive to set up a blog.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Learn While You Surf

I'm often amazed at how much I learn while I'm online.

An article in today's local paper noted that the City of Philadelphia is considering taking on the costs of setting up the whole City for wireless connections to the web, at low or no cost for residents and visitors to the city.

One of the justifications for the move is that it would be much cheaper to do that than it would be to build a small library, and many more people would benefit from the access.

I think it's a great idea.

But how beneficial is web access? How much of a difference will it make to peoples' lives if they can just surf the web where ever they will? When ever they want?

A post over at DonnaM's blog looks at going online and 'Wasting' time looking for information. I've come to the same conclusion as Donna.

When I go online looking for the answer to a specific question, I don't always find the answer. But most of the time, I do learn something useful.

Apologies to Google and Blogger

I owe Google and Blogger an apology.

Last week, I applied to participate in Google's AdSense, after reading an article on the Blogger webpage titled There's an AdSense in my Blog.

To my surprise, I was turned down. I didn't expect that after reading Biz Stone's AdSense article. I sent Biz Stone an email, and I sent another to the AdSense team expressing my confusion and my dissatisfaction. I even made a blog post here: Google Hate Me

A DNS propagation problem kept me from getting emails at the beginning of this week, and I went through 72 hours or so without any emails. (Serious withdrawal there!) As I was sorting through my accumulated mails yesterday afternoon, there were a couple from the AdSense team.

One of them was a note informing me that I had submitted the wrong URL (".net" instead of ".com") and that they visited my blog, and figured out what had happened. The other was an email accepting me into the AdSense program.

It's my fault. I wish they had included the URL I submitted when they sent me the rejection. But regardless, I should have given them the right address.

It does appear that someone other that Google and Blogger own, and it's for sale. It does have a redirect going on to another site. I can understand why they would have sent a rejection notice.

Thanks AdSense team, for following up.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Inline Ads at Forbes

Since I've been paying a fair amount of attention lately to advertisements on web sites, a Whitespace article discussing Forbes' use of Ad Links In Content sort of stood out for me.

A good question, too. Should this type of ad be linked to differently than other ads in an online article.

I hope that this practice is abandoned. And quickly.

Two-Year Anniversary of Cre8asite Forums

It gives me a lot of pleasure to announce that we are celebrating the second anniversary of Cre8asite Forums. See: Cre8asiteForums Breaks Out the Champagne for its Two-Year Anniversary

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Seeing Cliches

Fun site, well worth a visit, A Primer of Visual Cliche shows images that we see in many places, and how they are used over and over. And they are accompanied by some pretty insightful language:
Advertisers seemed to think we gape with astonishment, collapse with hysterical laughter when faced with twins - be it shampoo or spark plugs.

Harvesting Solar Hydrogen

Good news on the scientific front from the land down under.

Research at The University of New South Wales is underway to bring us a breakthrough in energy that is amazing. Will we see Solar hydrogen being the way people start supplying their energy needs within the next seven years?
Using special titanium oxide ceramics that harvest sunlight and split water to produce hydrogen fuel, the researchers say it will then be a simple engineering exercise to make an energy-harvesting device with no moving parts and emitting no greenhouse gases or pollutants.

This is a technology to keep an eye upon. What does it mean to the giant energy producing companies, to the Middle East with their reserves of fuel? What political and economic forces will be ignited if this energy system starts being implemented?

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Sell Side Advertising, Part II

Seems like this is an idea that's going quickly around the web. Joi Ito wants to b e in the middle of the creation of a Sell side advertising system.

The thought of a pool of ads, that bloggers could choose and use, is the next step beyond an ad sense system.

What would it take to set a system like this up? I suspect that some affiliate tracking software could be tweaked to do quite nicely.

Trackback in Your Blogger Blog?

There was a great suggestion by a member of the Cre8asite Forums that I'd like to share.

One of the things I've wished for in my Blogger-based blog was a track-back like the folks at Movable Type blogs have.

I never noticed the wish/suggestions part of the feedback form that Blogger titles Blogger: Talk To Us.

If you use blogger, and you're wishing you had trackback, it's more likely to happen if you ask for it from the people who can give it to you - Blogger.

Pick Your Own Ads

Imagine that you decided to try to make some money on your web site by running some ads.

So, you go to a page where ads are available to be chosen, and used, and you pick out three or four that are appropriate to your site.

You check to make sure that your site is appropriate for the uses envisioned by the advertiser, and if it is, you cut and paste the code for those ads into a text editing program, and then into the template for your blog, or the html for your static web site.

The ad runs until the owner's cash reserve is emptied - then the ad disappears.

This is more work than something offered by some text-ad programs, but owners of sites get to choose the ads that run on their sites. There's a lot of value to that.

Will we ever see this model of advertising? I hope so. It's described in more detail on John Battelle's Searchblog: Sell Side Advertising: A New Model?

There's a lot of value to being able to choose your business partners. It's always possible to find them on your own, but not really easy. Unfortunately, most systems for showing ads are accompanied by adhesion contracts where the large company supplying the ads have all the power, and all of the say, and the people displaying the ads have no ability to negotiate.

I've had troubles with automated, contextual ads from one of the large online booksellers showing products from competitors. (Fortunately, you could choose which books to display from them rather than just use the contextual system.) I'd once signed up with a large reseller of hosting and domain services to act as an affiliate, only to get so disgusted by their practices that I yanked all links to them, and never contacted them ever again.

It would be great if someone set up an advertising clearinghouse where people could select the ads they wanted to show quickly and easily.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Google Hate Me

[There's an update to this post titled: Apologies to Google and Blogger It was an error on my part that caused this misunderstanding between the Google AdSense team and me.]

Excited is what I was, by the Biz Stone article There's AdSense in My Blog.

Actually, there was Adsense in my blog since the day Google bought Blogger, and put it in the header at the top of my blog. I have been AdSense free ever since last week, when those ads were replaced with a Blogger Nav Bar.

And then there was this Biz Stone article.

I've sent an email to Biz asking him to remove his article on ad sense from the Blogger Knowledge base. Biz does work for the company that claimed in its IPO filing with the SEC that they follow the credo "Do No Evil." Still I don't know if they would be happy if he removed the article. I wouldn't want him to take the food off the table of his children for doing the right thing. But I suspect that I'm not the only one being treated badly by Google.

I guess that Google hates this site. Or they do now. I don't blame them. It's typical of a lot of blogs. I suspect it doesn't get as many visits as Biz Stone, Genius which displays AdSense ads, even though he says at the bottom of the blog, "The thoughts and ideas expressed here are mine and mine alone. Not those of my employer."

And frankly, Biz has a lot more "my cat's breath smells like catfood" posts than I do.

Mark Pilgrim's wonderful blog, Dive into Mark explains the difference between a corporate blog and a personal blog, telling us:

So, I have a corporate blog now, in addition to "dive into mark," which will remain a personal blog. A corporate blog is like a personal blog, except you don't get to use the word "motherfucker."

I never use those types of words here. It's not because this is a personal blog, or a corporate blog, but rather because I think that type of language is a tired cliche.

As excited as I was to read Biz Stone's article, I was even more excited when I received the response from Google fairly quickly after I followed the link in Mr. Stone's article to Google's sign-on for adsense. After reading what I now take for fiction in the Biz Stone article, I figured that my adsense ads would return, but this time I would get paid for click-throughs on them.

I imagine that I haven't made much money for Google over the last year or so. But, I had these visions of writing long, beautiful essays here to attract large audiences, and massive amounts of clickthroughs - you know, like the daydreams you have when you pretend you've won the $100 million jackpot in the lottery.

While that seems like a silly pipe dream, I suspect that between blog posts and forum posts, I've probably written around 500,000 words on the web over the past couple of years.

But my site is a personal site. And I use blogger software to publish it - blogger. Oddly, that seems to be one of the reasons why my site was denied. I'm not sure. I don't quite understand this reason:

Client-side software use: A site or third party cannot display our ads as a result of the actions of any software application such as a toolbar. We may not accept sites that are associated with some types of client-side software or offer these types of client-side software.

The other reason was insulting, and infuriating:

Page type: Your website is a type of website that we do not currently accept into our program. Such websites include, but are not limited to, chat sites, personal pages, search engines, sites that contain predominately copyrighted material, and sites that drive traffic through cybersquatting.

I'm not sure if I'm being accused of having a personal site, but it's less personal that that of Biz Stone, Genius. It's not a chat site, or a search engine.

I'm not a cybersquatter. At least not intentionally. For one thing, the domain is "blogspot" which belongs to Google, so if anyone is cybersquatting here, under the ICANN definition, it would be the holder of the domain name.

But, I'll look at the subdomain, too. There were some trademarks with the word "nasty" in them at the US Patent and Trademark Office, such as these:


Actually, there were 131 trademarks listed which included the word "nasty." I can only imagine what services or goods some of them protected. Not a single one of those is "nastybit" or "a Nasty bit of business". Now I know that I would likely have to look at state trademark databases and common law trademarks and first use in commerce, if anyone is even using those phrases in commerce. But, to the best of my knowledge, I have a good faith belief that there is no one I am depriving of their livelihood nor harming anyone's good will by using this domain name.

So, it's either that I have a "personal" site, or the site contains "predominately copyrighted material." I confess. This site contains predominately copyrighted material.

As soon as I write it, and publish it, it is copyrighted. All of it.

If I use a quote here, I try to limit my use of other's materials to fair use. I suspect that Google means someone else's copyrighted material. So, I'm either being accused of being a thief or writing a personal site.

I'm ready to use the types of words Mark Pilgrim mentioned above after being told that.

Funny that there was no problem last week displaying Ad Sense ads on these pages.

I asked for an apology after being told this. It's never a good customer service approach to accuse your customers of theft or cybersquatting or writing personal web pages.

I was told that I would be violating the terms of use of the Google Ad Sense program if I repeated any of the correspondence between Google and myself in public.

What I remember of my first year of law school contracts class is that there needs to be offer and acceptance to have a valid contract. There is no acceptance, so there is no contract.

I also picked through the boilerplate on the adsense contract page they pointed to, and tried to find out where it said that I couldn't talk about a conversation that I was a party to. I did not agree to that contract.

I never agreed to the Adsense ads on the blog when Google took over.

Granted, Google has a right to choose whichever sites they want to when they want to advertise. Honestly, I would have been happy with a "your site doesn't do enough traffic" or something similar. But, to call me a content thief, or a cybersquatter, and to make legal threats in my direction doesn't fit the method of operation of a company that swears to "do no evil."

If this site disappears, I may have to find some new blogging software, and a new place to blog.

I liked google, and I liked blogger.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

What does it take to be a team?

An article on Darwin magazine brushes the surface of how to build a team, and how to help a team that has experienced problems. Help for Team Efforts is a good first look at teamwork, and telltale signs of when things are going right, and when they are going wrong.

One thing I've noticed about building a team is that it's something you have to work upon regularly. If you give your team tasks to perform on a regular basis, they start to develop a sense of how to work together. And a good team can accomplish a lot more than the combination of the efforts of individuals.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

New Navbar

Courtesy of Douglas Bowman, it seems that us Blogspot hosted bloggers have a new navigation bar instead of ads at the top of our pages.

I like the last few changes made by Google's bloggger - the navbar, the profile, the newest templates, the newer writing interface.

I've been thinking about consolidating some of my blogging efforts because I've spread myself pretty thin. I don't know if I will.

But the tools that blogger has been adding make it harder to let this one go. Maybe I'll try to breathe some life into it again, and see if I can get it going.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Sliding in on an IceRocket

I don't know if there's really anything that new to the Mark Cuban backed search engine IceRocket, but it's kind of interesting hearing his take on it and reading through the many comments that it generated.

It's good to see people trying to wrest Google's crown from its brow, regardless of how much I like Google.

I Don't Recall the Words...

A great argument for learning by rote: In Defense of Memorization

I'll confess that it's been a while since I tried to learn all the lyrics to a song, or to memorize a poem, or the lines of a play, or much of anything.

I'm going to try to memorize a couple of poems, and see if there's anything of worth to it other than the ability to spout the lines out whenever I want. I suspect that there is.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Brand (new) Experiences

Inspired by Dirk Knemeyer's article at Digital Web Magazine - Brand Experience and the Web, I started a thread on the topic of how one could use interactivity online to help build a brand.

I titled the thread How Much Would You Pay for a Cup of Coffee. I got some great answers, including one dealing with the difference between building a branding, and postioning oneself within a niche. There were also some nice links to online applications that help to provide interesting and useful ways to experience different products online in a way that is helpful to a potential customer.

I've been thinking about some responses to the thread. I'm torn between discussing the topic here, and posting responses there. If I write some words over at the forum, I stand a better chance of getting some great responses. If I post over here, I add some volume and mass and content to this often neglected blog.

It's a tough choice, and the blog often loses out to the forum. I really need to dedicate a little more effort in building a brand over here.

In case this post does spawn some discussion, I'll throw out the following question: What are some of the ways that you've seen people attempt to build brand through online activities?

Did You See Seashells at the Seashore?

My friend and usabilty consultant extraordinaire, Kim Krause, spent a week at the beach disconnected from the world (wide web, that is).

She writes about it in There Were No Search Engines At The Seashore. I think I have to give that a shot, and see how it goes.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Managing Brands

I've been running across interesting pages lately, and great reading. Some nice articles on

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Do What You Love

It's funny sometimes when people ask you what they should do with their lives, and they act surprised when the answer to that question is "what do you love to do"?

You can't always create a vocation out of your favorite pursuit, but it really doesn't hurt to look at the possibility seriously.

Yes, there are people who make a living play-testing video games. And folks who earn a paycheck while training dolphins and killer whales. Drawing or painting, or designing a web page can be a for-profit project. Making movies, writing books, racing cars, playing sports all are someone's job.

If you could do what you love and get paid for it, what would you be doing? And if you aren't doing it, why not?

Small Business Ideas Forum

I've been enjoying making some posts over at the fairly new Small Business Ideas Forum.

Stop on by and share some of your thoughts. The folks who started the forum are friendly, smart, helpful and could use a few more faces to help make the forum a nice place for people with questions about business.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

What's Up, Chief?

Sometimes people do things that they don't even realize.

I remember a time not too far after high school when I was working in a factory. It was a fairly small shop, and we were building industrial plastics machinery. Fun times.

Some days I would come in and drill and thread holes for most of the day. Others would see me laying out pipe, threading it, and piecing together cooling systems. Arc welding was a lot of fun, even on very hot days wearing protective leather gear and heavy helmet and goggles. Sweat and sparks flying - life couldn't get much better. Some of the most fun was working the pneumatic painting equipment, making large machines a uniform shade of blue, with some orange accessories (the shop trademark colors).

We worked ten to twelve hour days on a regular basis. Listened to the same radio station every day. I could guess the next song with a remarkable accuracy rate, having heard their repeated call letters often enough to understand their format, and know which songs where normally plugged into each of the 19 spots they were using. It was something I picked up on, without really giving much thought to it.

I also found it important to know where most people were on the shop floor. With a small staff like we had, many people performed multiple functions on the factory floor rather than one specialized job such as lathe operator, or welder II, or fork lift operator. They didn't work at specific stations, but moved around our large industrial area (we had ten people and probably could have fit another twenty-five people in there comfortably). I'd make an effort as I was working, of noticing who was where every ten minutes or so. After a while, I was doing this without really thinking about it. There was an almost zen-like quality to my awareness of our shop activities.

Those were some habits I was aware of. I'm sure that there were others I wasn't. And I wasn't the only one.

Our shop foreman had a habit of calling everyone "Chief". "What's up, Chief," he would say, or "Can I give you a hand, Chief"? One day, we decided that we would all call him Chief. About two-thirds of the way through that day, he asked one of us, "what's all this "Chief" business"? We stopped, but he didn't.

It's funny the habits that you can pick up as you acclimate to an environment. It's been a few years since I was a card-carrying union member, and I haven't welded anything in probably too long a period. I forget what it's like to build something from metal and sparks and sweat. I wonder about the habits I've picked up in my present working environment that I'm possibly not even aware of.

Friday, July 02, 2004


Powerpoint is a tool, not the presentation.

I gave a presentation to a group of 14 this morning, and I wish I had take the advice of DonnaM in her post on A neat powerpoint trick.

Handouts are useful, and handouts that provide extra value are even more useful. Great idea.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Never Too Young to Get into Business

In case you have any young ones of your own considering this stage of growing where they learn to care for others, or want to explore the world of business, there are some pages online trying to help out.

For instance, the University of Illinois has a great guide to The Business of Babysitting.

It's pretty well done.

Babysitting isn't for every teen, and there's another site that recently launched that might interest teens in other pursuits. The Small Business Administration started up the The Young Entrepreneur Online Guide to Business.

It includes thoughts on finding a mentor, and links to help. It also discusses money and saving and investing, legal issues, and how to develop a business plan.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Torn Between Standards

I'm not interested in getting in the middle of a battle between standards.

Especially when it comes to syndication feeds like RSS or Atom, which would enable people to read titles, and portions of posts from here in feed aggregators, or to show them on their sites.

When Google updated blogger, it appears that they chose one of those standards over the other. I'm not sure that they thought too much about the choice. It sounds like their thinking more on the subject.

I'm tempted to feed this page through a third party site which would provide a third party feed for me, in addition to the one generated in the Atom format.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Watching the Office

I've heard good things about the BBC series The Office, which is a comedy disquised as a documentary.

It's set in an industrial area somewhat outside of London.

The characters are believable, and the "reality television" approach to the show gives it a unique appeal. A number of the laughs from the show come when a character stares into the camera, at a loss for words to explain to the audience what just happened. Some video clips here.

The series consists of two seasons of six episodes each. They were good enough that I had some difficulty not watching all of these in a row.

I haven't worked in an office quite like the one depicted, but I recognize some of the situations. I suspect I'll be watching these over a few times.

One of my favorite scenerios is when a trainer comes in, and tries to hold a class, while the office manager atttempts to share the wisdom of his experiences at the same time. Their ideas of teamwork clash.

Best television show I've seen in years.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Drivers, Drivers, My Kingdom for Some Drivers

I've been plagued by computer woes the last couple of days.

With some intermittent use of my computer, I've been updating critical patches, defragging my hard drive, doing a full virus scan of the hard drive.

It's been no fun.

I finally hit upon the likely culprit this morning. The video drivers for my video card. I'm downloading new drivers right now. We'll see if they work.

I've seen the complaint before that having the hardware manufacturers make drivers for their hardware is often a hit or miss proposition. Well, the drivers for my video card came with the operating system. Chances are they should work well.

The homepage of the card manufacturer linked to a download page which listed driver software that is only a couple of months old. Hopefully whatever went wrong is fixed in this incarnation of the software.

Thinking of this makes me consider how much some businesses rely upon others. Windows benefits greatly by having so many third party hardware manufacturers build parts that will work with the operating system. They mostly have no choice since there is such a large market filled with users of the software.

What annoys me is that the drivers I was using were loaded from the Windows XP CD. I noticed an updated driver on the windows update page at the beginning of the year, and updated to that. You would figure that they would have the bugs out of it by now.

I was happy to see that the manufacture had a newer date on the version I'll be trying out this morning. Fingers crossed, hopefully I can write about something a little more interesting. At least now, since I dumped the video drivers and am working with a generic driver, I can at least start up the computer and work with it. Previously, I was getting the video signal cutting out on me.

Well, I needed those critical updates anyway.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Ringing in Changes

I was getting a kick looking at a page from the Smithsonian Institute on how information technology has changed over the past 150 years.

To be honest, when I think of information technology, I really don't think of the telegraph or the telephone.

But maybe I should. The means of communicating over long distances, aided by electricity and wires, are the roots of information technology.

When you look at the pictures, it's easy to forget that these devices cause profound changes in society as they were introduced. But some of it didn't happen overnight.

I found a much more detailed view of telecommunications, which goes from the 1820s to today's mobile phones.

It's become pretty common to see people walking down the main street of my town with a mobile phone pressed to their ears. It wasn't as common in 1879, when David Hughes received the first radio/telephone call.

Yes. The mobile phone is now 125 years old. Not what you'd call an overnight success. Wonder what David Hughes would think of ringtones.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Improving News Sites

When I was in high school, we used to get two different newspapers.

They carried all of the same stories. I'm not sure that my parents knew what they were doing when they insisted on getting more than one newspaper delivered to the house every morning. But I suspect that they might have known.

I took advantage of it, and usually read both papers every morning. What I found interesting was how stories were often presented differently from one paper to another.

It turned me into a bit of a skeptic when it comes to the media. It also had me wishing that newspapers would take active steps to improve.

I usually look at a dozen or so papers everyday now. With so many papers are on the web, I recongize that most of them that aren't taking as much of an advantage of online opportunities as they could. has a great list titled: 101 ways to improve your news site. These are excellent suggestions. If a news site adopted even half of these, they would find themselves amongst the best sites on the web.

Funny, but the best benefits may come from getting more involved with the community that surrounds them.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

What Would Google Buy?

Google's Initial Public Offering seems fueled by the necessity to have made an SEC filing anyway, and the desire to sell some shares to reward employees - all of who own some stock in the company.

There's one topic that I haven't seen much focus upon. And that is, what will Google do with all of the money raised from the IPO?

But it's one of the topics that has me concerned. The Motley Fools joins me in speculating just exactly what is on Google's Billion-Dollar Shopping List?

Just to add a little more to the mix then those companies the Fool discusses, I like to add a company that I brought up a few posts below - Craigslist. Pure speculation on my part, without the faintest amount of inside knowledge, or anything beyond a feeling. It has the same feel to it that made Blogger's Pyra Labs such an attractive acquisition to Google.

What companies would you buy if you had a million to spend?

Sites that Use Spyware Are Some of It's Biggest Targets

Some inconsistencies are difficult to wrap your head around.

I remember sitting down a few years ago after cooking breakfast for the staff of the restaurant I worked at, and listening to the bartending groaning. The place opened at 11:00 am, and the staff all joined together for a pre-work meal. It didn't sound like our drink-mixer had his head on straight that morning.

It was a normally a nice time, where morale was boosted, and comraderie was fostered. But not every morning.

I was working my way through college, and this was a pretty good job, especially considering their "all you can eat" policy for kitchen crew. On good days, when everyone was happy, the work went really quickly.

But, it was easy to see that our man behind the mixed drinks wasn't happy. Considering that he was one of the first persons that people would see as they walked through the door, that wasn't a great way to start the day.

I asked what was wrong. He looked at me, and confessed that he had been up most of the night talking to one of the people he sponsored from AA. The person had relapsed, and needed someone to talk with. He was the one.

While I was filled with sympathy, the oddity of the statement filled me with some surprise. I tried, but couldn't stop myself. I asked, "doesn't it strike you as unusual that you're a member of AA, you're complaining about someone who is having trouble because they couldn't resist alcohol, and you're a bartender?"

To further fuel the fire, these words followed from my mouth, "Doesn't that seem a little ironic to you?"

Funny, but he quit the restaurant a few weeks later. I'm not sure why, but I hope that he found something other to do than feed drinks to people.

A post by Ben Edelman uncovers what appears to be a bit of a business enigma along the same lines - Dell's Spyware Puzzle not only looks at Dell's unusual relationship with a spyware company, but also Yahoo's.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Just What are Nerd Values, and How Did They Help Craig?

Ask me yesterday what I thought of Craig's List, and I would have told you that, "it's phenomenal," and that, "Craig deserves any success that he gets."

I don't know Craig.

I don't even read along on his personal blog. But, I know that his site started out small. That it contains many ads that are free, that allow people to help each other.

I pointed my father at the site a couple of months back, and told him about how great the classifieds from Craigslist were doing, and that it's an interesting model to base a web business upon.

It appears that I'm not the only one talking about it like that. A few newspapers have capitulated to Craig. They've been claiming that they can't compete with Craigslist's Classifieds.

I can see that.

Ask me today, and I'll probably tell you the same thing. But the timing is kind of funny. I got my first piece of spam this afternoon from a request for more information that I made a few months back. A local magazine was asking for writers to produce articles. In true Craigslist style, the advertisement didn't disclose very much about the people posting the job.

In the newspaper world of classified ads, I've always hesitated when seeing an ad that promised fame and fortune, and riches greater than what most entry level positions paid, but wouldn't get around to revealing much about the work to earn those. Selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door? Designer rip-off frangrances on city street corners? There are some lousy ways to make a buck. Not as bad as fishing for shrimp on the Gulf of Mexico on a boat too rickety to leave site of land. But bad.

Somehow, with Craigslist it was OK. The people placing ads were as much a nerd as I was.

Then I got an offer to join an online dating service, and offered money to sign up, and the person making the offer used my inquiry letter for the writing gig a few months back as an excuse for contacting me. It was a "pre-exisiting relationship" that must have made it OK to send out emails to me, and others like me.

I guess that as less nerds use Craigslist, and more marketers with ridiculous justifications start, it may lose some of its glitter. I hope I'm mistaken.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

The Only Constant is Change

I've seen the impacts of changes both large and small, from the introduction of a new computer system to a migration to a new office building.

When you bring in new means of conducting business, new methods of interacting, and new approaches to old problems, you run into some resistence. I can't count all the times I've been told by someone that "that isn't the way we've done it in the past" or "that isn't part of my job."

Change can be good. Change can bring catastrophe. It doesn't hurt to be forewarned, and to read through something like this article on 10 Principles of Change Management

Change does happen all the time. The better you're prepared to deal with it, the less it will harm you.

How Did You Get This Number?

A nice look at the implementation of the Do Not Call Registry from the FTC in CIO magazine, called How the FTC Rescued the Dinner Hour.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Letting the Numbers Go

The rant over at Seth Godin's Blog on The Curse of Great Expectations is a lot of fun.

There are times when you have to put the yardstick aside, stop counting, refuse to measure, and just let go. I did some of that this weekend, and I anticipate doing even more of it this summer.

It's great to be able to measure success by numbers, and to capture positive and negative trends, but it's also easy to get obsessive over those figures.

I have a couple of friends who have been in business together for twenty five years. Their business makes enough for them to survive week after week with a little extra to put away for a rainy day. They have no expectations of wild growth, and no desire for it.

I see so many who look at return on investment (ROI) as the first measure of whether or not they should even get involved in a company. A recent article I came across actually even advocated that the first calculation be figuring the potential value of a company at its Initial Public Offering (IPO).

Most businesses never make it to an IPO, and often have no desire to get there. The owners recognize that once a business gets to a certain point, they are no longer doing the part of the business that attracted them to it in the first place, but are managing others who perform those tasks.

Full Contact Golf

I know golf doesn't need saving. I know that it's successful, and that as a sport it ranks amongst the most watched and is an entertaining diversion for many participants.

But I'll confess that it makes me sleepy. Watching it, or playing it, or even reading about it has the same effect that an extra large turkey dinner on a lazy Thanksgiving afternoon does on me. And just why are those announcers whispering? So they don't wake me up?

I've contemplated changes to the sport that would make it more fun to watch. A full contact version, with the winner of each green as first to get to each hole with the ball could be fun. Strokes don't matter - speed does. Armored padding optional. I could foresee motorized and unmotorized versions. I wonder if I could sell Fox on the idea. We could show it to the same folks who are currently enjoying slamball.

One idea I didn't consider was Urban Golf. I'd travel to London to play that.

Monday, May 31, 2004

Hack Your Car

Ever have the "check engine light" illuminate your dashboard? Not much you can do about it, huh?

Lifts engine cover. Yep, it's an engine. Check!

I remember having that light come up on me. Car seemed fine. I hadn't heard anything unusual. Gas mileage was great. I suspected something pretty serious, having never had that light come on after miles and miles and miles of trouble free driving.

Maintainance. No problems. Check the fluids. Replace parts when necessary. Standard maintainance.

I anticipated a big fee at the garage. Brought it to the mechanic. Found out that the light went on automatically when I reached a certain mileage point. Left angry at the car, its manufacturer, the mechanic, and myself.

Wired looks at the ever increasingly computerized automobile in an article titled Drivers Want Code to Their Cars. Some of the horror stories that are uncovered in the article show a considerable lack of usability and customer service.

As cars get more complex and computerized, are non-dealer mechanics at risk of losing the ability to work on those cars?

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Who said the Folks at the Patent Office Didn't Understand Parody?

There's a point you recognize when something is broken, and is impossible to fix.

Like when Altavista started spewing out junk sometime in 1998, and dropped from its position as the top search engine. Or when your favorite actor left that comedy Sitcom and they tried to go on without him or her.

The United State's Patent Office has issued some real garbage. But a Method and system for identifying people who are likely to have a successful relationship?

I wonder what George Washington, the first patent officer of the United States, would have thought of that one.

When a Corporate Giant Sees Profit in Litigation, Bring Popcorn

Corporate Counsel Magazine takes a look at a Dupont company Strategy that has the chemical giant at the plaintiff table:
Gauthier and Mariani told the 160 lawyers, outside counsel, and vendor representatives gathered in Wilmington that DuPont lawyers have let far too many litigation opportunities slip by. When suppliers overcharge, customers underpay, or rivals infringe on DuPont's patents, the company often looks the other way instead of seeking damages, either in court or out.
It will be fun seeing what happens when a Dupont feels that they've overpaid for all their copies of Windows. I want a ringside seat.

This is Not a Beta

An excellent point made a Signal vs. Noise on a mass proliferation of online Beta applications, titled For beta or for worse? appears to have resulted in it's very own Wired article - Mo' Beta Testing Blues.

I'll admit that I like it when journalism takes a lead from a blog. Especially when they add value to it like Wired does in interviewing a top interaction designer from Cooper.

This blog, however, is not a beta. It's never quite finished, and that's the nature of a blog. Expect change. Anticipate that I'll try to add more here, and every so often, even try out a new look.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

The Strange Logic Behind Band Names

You may have heard the name Vandelay Industries before. There's an emo band of that name cranking out some music. But they aren't the first Vandelay Industries. That distinction belongs to a fictional company from a Seinfeld skit.

So, why did the band choose the name, and what difference does it make?

I don't think the band is the first one to come up with a name based upon a fictional company. I believe the band Steely Dan mined that territory years ago.

The only problem I can see? As noted in the article, the first 100 or so results in Google are Seinfeld references. Maybe some day the band will hit it big, and overcome their fictional competition for the top of the search results. I wonder what Vandelay manufactured.

A Stained Favorite Tie, and a Brand New Look

I looked down this morning, along the length of my tie, and noticed a stain upon it. It's one of my favorites, or should I say it was. Sometimes I do have a semblance of taste and a sense of style. A dark suit, a gray shirt, and this pink tie. It makes a heck of an ensemble.

And the tie had a big mark upon it. I don't know if I'll get it to come out. I had already been at work a couple of hours when I noticed, with most of the day in front of me.

I tried to go through my paces ignoring the noose around my neck, err.. tie. But, I know if I noticed, it's likely that other people did too. Sometimes you just have days like that. I guess worse things can happen. As clothing malfunctions go, that wasn't all that terrible.

While thinking about my ruined accessory, I contemplated a change to the design of this site. I wasn't really all that enthralled with the basic blogger template I was using here. I have another standard template now, but I think that it's a vast improvement. I like the look. With the recent Google updates to blogger, the default template styles are wonderful.

The slight modifications I performed to add some customizations also taught me a little more about following good practices while using cascading style sheets (CSS). It's always a pleasure to look at the html from a good designer.

I don't think I'll miss the old look here. I will miss my tie. I'm going to have to go out and do some shopping. Now that I've updated the online style sense, I have to make sure that I keep the offline one looking good, too. If clothes were only as easy as blogger templates...

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Sunday, May 09, 2004

All New Blogger

We've got a new look, new feel software as Google Overhauls Blogger. Good days.

Ponzi Scheming on Wall Street

Is the Stock Marketa big Ponzi Scheme? An intelligently articulated post on How to Save the World says that it is. Is the shape of Wall Street a Pyramid?

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Securities Exchange Commission Filing Form S-1 Registration Statement

So far, it's turning out to the the most interesting registration with the SEC in quite a while.

If you've never read an SEC filing before, this might a good one to start with if you've ever googled around the web.

Selling off the web (portals)

The history of Lycos recounted is a history of the rise and fall of web stocks in the late 1990s. It's kind of intriguing, kind of sad, and something to keep in mind if you're considering buying stock in companies based on the web.

News that the American parts of the Lycos Network are for sale are interesting.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Talking Macs

It's great to hear that Apple computers will soon start shipping with speech technology integrated into their operating systems. See: Macs get their voices back

Disposible Cars

The Christian Science Monitor is reporting that new cars are getting too expensive to fix. As I look at prices and features, I'm wondering how well a retro car would do on the market.

You know, one that has windows you roll down, and steering that requires hand-over-hand turning, where the air conditioner is rolling down both windows and driving fast (known as twin-fifties in some neighborhoods).

I guess that there are quite a few retro cars on used car lots, and in junk yards across this nation. But I mean a new car, where simplicity of design is as important as value, where the cost of maintenance is considered by the engineers who design it.

Maybe we need that type of attitude to extend to more than just cars.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Sometimes you just have to let kids play

As I suspected, wasting away hours in front of a computer playing games wasn't the unproductive time I thought it was. That time may have done more to provide life skills to me than I ever imagined.

I also suspect that we can make school a whole lot more fun, too. If only we tried.

A prescription for subscription sites

I know there are some successful subscription sites out there. The Wall Street Journal seems to be doing OK. I have some friends who play online games on a subscription basis.

I recently tried out GuruNet. and their free trial subscription. Nice service. Would I subscribe? I'm not sure.

Marketing Sherpa takes a look a the business practices of subscription sites on the web. They have some suggestions that might help that type of site succeed.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

When did R&B first transform in R&R

Clearly before my time. I suspect that sometime in the late 1940 is when it happened for the first time. The Guardian investigates: Will the creator of modern music please stand up?

Instead of Ike Turner, writer of Rocket 88 in 1951, they should look at Big Joe Turner and Shake, Rattle and Roll.

Though, like any movement, music or otherwise, it's often impossible to pinpoint the exact date that a trend started or first began.