Sunday, October 30, 2005

What's your Marketing IQ?

An interesting Marketing IQ Test, worth taking a look at.

Somehow, I got twenty out of twenty correct. According to the results, that makes me a "marketing genius." :)

So, what's your marketing IQ?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Are accessibility guidelines enough when designing web sites?

The IBM Systems Journal takes a look at the problems with usability and accessibility guidelines, and the limitations of those guidelines when it comes to designing web sites.

It's a long, and thoughtful discussion on the topic, and worth reading by anyone who designs sites.

See: IBM SJ 44-3 | Are guidelines enough? An introduction to designing Web sites accessible to older people.

Analyze This Business

A nice look at business analytics in an editorial from CIO magazine, Analyze This, doesn't tell you how to perform analytics for your company. Instead it describes when and where an analytic approach might be helpful. Something to think about.

Findability and design

There's an excert to Peter Morville's book Ambient Findability: Findability Hacks over at A List Apart that's worth a visit. It's nice to see someone with a prominent place in the usability and information architecture field taking a look at how web sites are found by people on the web.

As a bonus, there's a link at the bottom of the article to the first chapter in the book. Looks like a good one.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

What can a good copywriter do for your online business?

Sometimes you see something on the web that infuriates you.

I did when I saw a blog post from Bob Bly, who has written a number of books about copywriting, titled Why I Don't Believe in SEO Copywriting. In that post, he recommends that if you are going to write copy for a web site page, that you write it first as if it were a stand-alone document, and then you stuff the keywords in the appropriate places, if it really must be ruined by a need to be found by search engines.

I wrote a response there, which I'm going to reproduce here:

I think that your definition of SEO copywriting shows that you don?t really understand SEO. The primary focus is the audience. Search engines are just the way that they arrive on a site, at least if you are good enough at SEO copywriting.

There are a lot of writers on the web who fail to see the framework within which they work. Good writing doesn?t exist in a vacuum. It anticipates not only who the audience is, but how they will get to your site, which path they will follow to the page, whether or not they have other browser windows open, and if they will arrive at a site through the home page, or be delivered, as most people are, to an interior page by a search engine.

When you fail to consider which words an anticipated audience expects to see upon a site, and when you ignore conducting research that can help you use search engines to pull people to a site?s pages, you're sabotaging your own efforts, and potentially harming your clients.

I understand that Bob Bly has a reputation as a fine copywriter, and has written a number of very well received books on the subject. So it surprised me a little to see his words. Then I recalled looking around the shelves of my local Borders at books on copywriting, and picking up his book on "Online Copywriting" and being very disappointed that he didn't seem to have any knowledge of things such as the way people look at web pages, scan text, juggle multiple windows, and often enter sites somewhere in the middle of the site rather than at the front page.

I believe that book has been out a couple of years now, and I suspect that more than a couple of people have read through it hoping to get an idea of how to write for web sites. So, it comes as no surprise to read about the experience the Jeremy Zawodny, from Yahoo! had recently when speaking about search engines to a group from the Direct Marketers Association, in his post, Future On-Line Advertising Growth, based on DMA Conference experience:

In talking to some of the Search Engine Marketing folks that were in sessions on Saturday, I discovered that the vast majority of DMA folks are very, very, very new to Search Marketing. I'd go so far as to say many of them are incredibly clueless about the process, benefits, costs, etc.

I suspect that Rand is spot on in his assessment of how folks outside of SEO might view how search engine marketing works in a post of his today on Mainstream Press and SEO.

Back to Bob Bly's view on the differences between writing copy, and writing SEO copy. He claims that you can only focus upon one audience, and it should be the people reading the pages. If you try to also write for search engines, then your copy loses focus. I can't even begin to agree.

Search engines do not read web pages, they index them. They are not an audience, but rather part of the framework in which you write.

Search engines can help deliver people to those pages that you want your audience to read, and if you can't consider them when you write, then you should stay away from writing for the web. There's a nice recent grokdotcom article that can help you find someone who can write that copy for you: A Persuasive Online Copywriter is Worth More

A look at the man behind Teoma

I remember a few years back hearing about a search engine startup in New Jersey, of all places, created by a professor of mathematics at Rutgers University.

The search engine had the odd name Teoma, and didn't jump out at capture public attention in quite the manner that Google had a few years earlier. But, it was good enough to capture the attention of the folks at Ask Jeeves, who ended up purchasing it, and using it to power their search results.

There's an nice article about the man behind Teoma at David vs. Google. If you are interested in the personalities behind some of the best technology on the web, this is a good place to look.

(via SEO Book)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

IM Merger between Yahoo! and MSN a Great Idea

It doesn't sound like the IM programs that Yahoo! and MSN provide will look any different in the near future. But they will change.

An announcement from both companies tells us that Microsoft and Yahoo will link IM networks.

I use IM everyday at work. It's a useful way to communicate some ideas quickly, and a great way to share URLs with others. It's not the perfect communication tool, but it has its moments.

This "merger" will mean that people on the IM clients from Yahoo! and from MSN will be able to see and interact with each other.

I use the Yahoo! IM program at work, and communicate with some folks on the MSN network at home. The linking of the two networks makes life a little easier.

Measuring Blog Traffic Made Easier

I've signed up to get an invite to tryout a new program from the people at Adaptive Path.

It's a program that helps you discover more about the traffic to your blog. It's described in a blog post by Jeffrey Veen: Welcome to Measure Map.

The screenshot looks like a lot of fun. If I get a chance to try it out, I'll provide more details.

Objectives and Strategies in Web Design

A couple of questions that may not get asked enough when a site is designed, or when it is looked at to make it friendlier to visitors or search engines:

What are the objectives behind your web site?

What strategy will you use to meet those objectives.

Greg Storey, from Airbag Industries, describes a situation that I've seen a few times before, in Never Get Involved in a Land War in Asia (or Build a Website for No Reason).

If you have a web site, can you describe your site's objectives in a sentence or two? Your strategy in a paragraph? If not, you might want to try harder. It can help.

Web Design Mistakes for 2005

There aren't a lot of surprises in Jakob Nielsen's Top Ten Web Design Mistakes of 2005.

I don't agree completely with everything written in the article, but following most of the ideas listed can help a site become more usable to visitors. A set of ten guidelines isn't the answer to every usability problem. But, if you haven't seen these before, they are worth thinking about.

Using Flash

Sometimes, just sometimes, Flash is the best way to show off the subject of a web site. Case in point, the Corpse Bride.

Fun stuff.

Which States are the Best and Worst for Small Business?

The Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council issued their rankings on State's policies toward entrepreneurship.

Ranging from Nice to Nasty - How States Treat Entrepreneurship

The nicest States?

South Dakota

The Nastiest?

District of Columbia

The column provides a number of insightful thoughts on why some States rank so poorly.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Bling Bling and blogs for Businesses

A nice article at DMNews (Direct marketer news) on how blogs can help ecommerce stores draw more traffic, and make more conversions:

Blogs and Bling Bling: Companies See More Sales, Improve Search Position

I am tempted to suggest that it isn't the blog format as much as it is the communication that blogs offer that make a difference to sites. But, a blog can make it easier to have that conversation with shoppers.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

More search and technology related patent applications

Some technology and search related patent applications from this week and last week:

Lateral search

John Thrall, head of multi-media search engineering at Yahoo, is one of the inventors of this patent application, which melds together general searches with personalized information to enable vertical searches in limited areas, rather than on the whole world wide web.

Method and system for generating recommendations

Another Yahoo! assigned patent application, this one points to the use of collaborative filtering to enable recommendations to be made on products and services from multiple domains, instead of just one site.

Graphical user interface for browsing, searching and presenting media items

This Apple assigned invention describes a graphical user interface for reviewing, browsing, previewing and/or purchasing media items. It describes some digital rights constraints involving encryption and limited usage rights that could be placed upon the music or video purchased and downloaded.

Decision-theoretic web-crawling and predicting web-page change

Microsoft's Chris Meek and Carl Kadie take a detailed look at the way a search engine spiders sites, to send information back to a search engine index. This patent adds the concept of using historical data and predictive assessments of when a page might change in order to decide which pages should be viewed and spidered by the search engine's crawler, and how frequently.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Little bits of information

Light Sockets and Modems - part seven of nine in a series of Questions and Answers with Jeff Bezos, who started the company in his garage a few years ago. All the parts are worth reading.

PocketMod: The Free Disposable Personal Organizer - if you prefer paper to PDA, you might like this application, which helps you build your own customized paper organizer.

Dreaming A New New Orleans, Version 1 - a thoughtful, positive post about rebuilding.

The Customer Is Always Wrong: A User's Guide to DRM in Online Music - I think I'll pass on downloading music from one of the major services for now. Make sure you read all the fine print before you buy.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Planning for the success of your business.

How do you achieve success with a business?

Often, the key is to be at the right place at the right time, meeting the needs of people who are willing to pay to have those needs met. But what goes into the planning of that moment in time?

There is a lot to be said for having a business plan, and a marketing plan in place, before you jump in, and try to sell goods, or provide services, or meet some other need that needs to be met. These are steps along the way to having a sense of where you are going, understanding where you've been, and knowing how to interact with others.

Preparation for anything can be a time consuming task. Imagine spending an hour preparing for every minute of a presentation in front of a large audience. That's probably not unreasonable. Now consider spending an hour for every second of a one-on-one presentation. That probably seems like a lot of time. But it might not be unreasonable if you can take what you've learned from the preparation and its presentation, and use if for the next meeting. The metaphor that I've seen many use is, if you were on an elevator, riding with someone who might be interested in your business and you had at the most thirty seconds to describe your business in a persuasive manner, could you?

If you own a business, how much time a week do you spend thinking about the direction of your business, and the goals that you want to achieve? What steps can you take to meet those goals? If you had thirty seconds to describe the mission of your business, could you? What about your vision for the business a year down the road, or two years, or five years? If a customer asked you what your business stood for, would you be able to come out quickly and say something like "Do no evil" like the folks at Google? And then explain how your actions show that you are committed to those values?

I remember the out-of-ring antics of Mohammad Ali, the boxer, as well or better than his in-ring moments. The "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" soundbites that he gave us which foreshadowed his pugislistic efforts. He was able to float like a butterfly in the ring, as well as sting like a bee. If you make a promise like that, can you live up to it?

Boxing matches are won by hard work and training, and by understanding your opponent. In Mohammad Ali's case, memorable matches where created by not only taking those steps, but also by understanding the audience and knowing how to reach out to them. Those seemingly spontaneous moments when his words danced in front of a crowd during a press conference were part of a plan to entertain and delight, to engage an audience and to make them feel some emotional investment in the outcome.

How do you engage and delight your audience? Do you even know who that audience is? Just as you should be able to come out quickly and describe who you are, what you believe in, and where you are going, you should have a sense of who you are talking to. Who is the right person to give that 30 second speech to, and when is the best time. Realistically, you won't be riding up and down in elevators all day looking for the right person to talk to, or standing in front of an ocean of cameras and reporters in anticipation of a boxing match.

If someone were to call you on the phone, and start asking you questions about your business, can you anticipate the questions that they would ask? Do you know what questions to ask them? What are they going to be interested in finding out? What can you do to prepare for that call, and to even get that phone call?

Who are your customers? That's a good question to ask yourself. And to ask yourself again after you've been in business for a while. You should try to ask, and answer that question on a regular basis. And as you are, you should follow it up with some thoughts about how well you are able to reach out to that audience, and the obstacles that might hinder that type of communication. You should reflect upon the qualities that you and your business possess that help you reach them, too.

One aid in helping you is to make notes for your future self, to give you an idea of how you've learned from your mistakes and your successes. Plan on making a few mistakes, and you may be able to find more success comes to you. Thinking about what you are doing right, and what you are doing wrong is important. Paying attention to the feedback of customers, both positive and negative can help. That record that you maintain of past losses and victories is part of your intellectual capital. It can help you when you find yourself in similar situations in the future.

Part of planning involves understanding your own strengths and weaknesses. Part of it involves knowing the environment where you will be operating, and the obstacles and opponents that you will need to overcome. As Ali recognized, his audience wasn't just limited to the people surrounding the ring on a fight night. Who is your audience? Why should they care about a boxing match when they have so many other things pulling at their attention? Why should your audience care about your business when they have so many other things keeping them busy in their lives?

Who are your competitors, and how are they planning to target that audience? What are their strengths and weaknesses? While you're doing all that floating and stinging, they aren't just sitting there taking it all in. Or are they? Another of Ali's infamous phrases and in-ring tactics was the rope-a-dope in which he let his adversary flail away at him while absorbing the worst of the blows waiting for the right moment to strike. It can hurt being the dope, especially when you are being counted out after being knocked out when you think that you are ahead on points.

Which leads to some other thoughts. Are there different strategies that you should engage in for different aspects of your business? When approaching one market, what is the best way to proceed? What are some alternatives that might make sense. In a boxing ring, you can get a sense of whether the person you are fighting is stronger than you, faster, has a longer reach, or a greater tolerance for pain. If you don't have a plan at that point, you may not have time to make one at all.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Some search related patent applications

9/8/2005 - looks like these were published a week ahead of time. The links are back online, and working correctly now, and patent applications from last week are also available.

Added on the morning of 9/2/2005 - it appears that the US Patent Office realized that they had the wrong date on the thousands and thousands of patent applications that were published yesterday, or that they had next weeks patents online instead of this week's applications.

The fallout from that discovery is that the links to the patent applications listed below no longer work. The link to the white paper on The Bloomba Personal Content Database still works, though.

I will attempt to repair these links as soon as the Patent Office gets the documents back online.

Published today (though showing a September 8th publication date), the following patent applications looked interesting:

Network traffic monitoring for search popularity analysis

Assessing the popularity of web pages by actually monitoring traffic to those pages with enhanced packet sniffers, and relaying that information to a system that uses a pagerank like system to rank pages.

Keyword recommendation for internet search engines

Using past queries to a search engine to identify and recommend alternative keywords to a person who has entered a query for a search.

Principles and methods for personalizing newsfeeds via an analysis of information novelty and dynamics

A Microsoft approach to personalizing news feeds.

Techniques for parental control of internet access including a guest mode

Yahoo! filters the web, so you don't have to.

Systems and methods for indexing content for fast and scalable retrieval

Raymie Stata's Bloomba Personal Content Database brings Yahoo! a search capability that goes much further than the desktop.

Word collection method and system for use in word-breaking

Microsoft breaks words, so you don't have to.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Surfing with a Hand Held

I bought a PDA that enables me to surf the web this spring. I like it a lot, but it's shown me that the owners of a lot of sites haven't recognized that people viewing their pages on a small screen is more and more something that will happen.

Cameron Moll looks at some of the ways that sites can prepare themselves for people like me, who want a good experience when visiting their sites with a series of articles on Mobile Web Design.

So far, it has covered the state of mobile computing, and some of the approaches to designing a site with mobile users in mind. I look forward to the last two parts on "Tips and Techniques" for design, and "Application in the Real World."

One article that the first in the series points to this page: 10 Reasons to Publish to Mobile. Some excellent points in there. It's well worth considering how mobile publishing can benefit your business. This is especially true if you are a smaller, leaner, faster business, that can benefit from the agility to change and adapt to future business patterns and changes in technology. One of the points made in the article is that there are 3 times as many mobile devices out in the world today as there are PCs.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Importance of Being Found

The web has made location less of an issue for a lot of sites that sell directly online.

I know a few local companies that were able to give up expensive leases, and move to much more affordable warehouses because their internet-based business brought them much more business that walk-in customers.

But, there are many sites online where letting people know the location of their business is one of the main objectives of their site, or at least it should be.

I recently conducted a search for local restaurants in my area on Google, and was really saddened by the results of my search. I was looking at the top 100 results for a query which consisted of the name of the town, the name of the state, and the word "restaurant."

I only saw one result that was an actual local restaurant. All of the other results were directories that may or may not have listed restaurants in the area. I know that a number of local restaurants have web sites. So, why were those failing to show up in the search engine? I took a look at the pages of the restaurants I know are online to find the reasons why.

I came up with a number of things that these places could do that would increase the likelihood that they would be found. These suggestions apply to more places than just restaurants. They could include many different types of small businesses and nonprofit organizations,

You may ask, why would someone take these steps with the growth of local searches on search engines like Google, Yahoo! and MSN? Well, one of the places that these local searches get their geographic information tend to be from regional and topical directories and portals that often charge a fee for a site to be included. Sometimes that fee can be very significant. And people often perform their searches in search engines without bothering to use the tab on those search engines that are for local searches.

Here are some things that can help your site get found in geographically related searches:

1. Include address information on each of the pages of your site, and make sure that it is in text upon those page. There were more than a couple of local restaurants that did have their addresses on each page of their site. But, it was in image text. Search engines can't read images of words.

2. Include a contact page on your site, and provide a number of ways for people to contact you, including phone, mailing address, email addresses, and more. Let people know which time zone you are in if there is a chance of people from other time zones visiting your site. Let them know what your normal businesses hours are, too. Give them an idea of how quickly you will likely response to any questions or comments they might have. Give a brief overview of what you offer on those pages.

3. Have a directions page on your site, and use maps and include photos of the building or buildings that you are in. Make sure you tell them a little about the area, and some of the landmarks or other navigational elements that might make it easier for them to find you. If roads are closed due to construction, let potential visitors know, and tell them about detours that might help them get to you. Again, tell your visitors a little about your business on that page, and tell them why they should come visit you in person.

4. Link to those contact and directions pages from each page of your site. Again, use plain text instead of image text or java script for those links.

5. Consider including a page on your site about the business and its history. In addition to telling visitors about the business, let them know where you are on that page, and what else is nearby. Tell them how far away you are from other towns and cities.

6. If you are involved in the local community, write about it. Tell your visitors about memberships in the local chamber of commerce, main street association, little league sponsorship, and so on.

7. If there are some places nearby that might be of interest to your visitors, tell them about those, and where they are located. If there are a lot of antique shops in your immediate vicinity, let people know that. If you have a world class golf course a couple of miles away, you might be able to attract a couple of golfers for a nice meal after 18 holes. If there are some nearby museums, people might make a trip to see them, and may stop by your restaurant on the way there, or on the way home.

Location is more than just your mailing address. Make sure that address is on your pages, but also let people about the community that you are in, and your part within it. Your web site can help you be found, if you will let it.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Patently Brilliant examines some great designs from the US Patent and Trademark Office by looking at illustrations from patent applications from the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. Truly great stuff.

One of my favorites is this hood ornament, which I believe I've seen as a spaceship in at least one movie.

Friday, August 05, 2005

USPTO aims at piracy of small business

An excellent new resource from the United States Patent and Trademark Office is the subsection of their site

They offer some nice descriptions of patents, trade and service marks, and copyright, and about how to protect your intellectual property.

Piracy, counterfeiting and the theft of intellectual property pose a serious threat to all U.S. businesses. Industry estimates of the cost of such theft range from $250 billion to 750,000 jobs per year. Small businesses often find themselves at a particular disadvantage because they often lack the resources and expertise available to larger corporations.

While you can find more detailed materials as the US Copyright Office, and the rest of the USPTO, this site is intended as part of an actual educational campaign with free seminars offered to small business owners to help them learn more about protecting their works.

(via a comment from Alan at Small Business Reading Room)

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Why is RSS so hard for so many to use? Because we like it that way.

Is it hard for people to use RSS?

Difficult for people to set it up on their sites, or to subscribe to feeds, or to explain?

Cutting Through, in Fixing a 2% problem, acknowledges the possibility that many of us who "get" RSS, and know how to use it might like it that way.

By the way, what percentage of the web understands and uses IRC? Bet it's less than 2%

Spots are hard earned. Don't hide them.

They say they want recruits with "spotless records."
I say "the spots are what matter most."

Spend some time with Tom Peter's Tomato TomA[h]to.

As business manifestos go, it's a pretty good one.

MySpace and the Fox

Do social networks and Big Media mix?

It's a question that the many members of MySpace are asking after its purchase by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

The web and the people who run it

Definitely worth the read, Kevin Kelly's essay on the growth of the internet: We Are the Web. My favorite passage was this one:

This dismissive attitude pervaded a meeting I had with the top leaders of ABC in 1989. I was there to make a presentation to the corner office crowd about this "Internet stuff." To their credit, they realized something was happening. Still, nothing I could tell them would convince them that the Internet was not marginal, not just typing, and, most emphatically, not just teenage boys. Stephen Weiswasser, a senior VP, delivered the ultimate putdown: "The Internet will be the CB radio of the '90s," he told me, a charge he later repeated to the press. Weiswasser summed up ABC's argument for ignoring the new medium: "You aren't going to turn passive consumers into active trollers on the Internet."

I was shown the door. But I offered one tip before I left. "Look," I said. "I happen to know that the address has not been registered. Go down to your basement, find your most technical computer guy, and have him register immediately. Don't even think about it. It will be a good thing to do." They thanked me vacantly. I checked a week later. The domain was still unregistered.

Though they are becoming more rare, there are still companies out there that dismiss the web way too quickly. Good thing. It leaves more room for us folks who run the internet. Millions and millions of us.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Microsoft Patents the World

I would have loved listening in on the discussions surrounding the creations of some recent Microsoft patents. I wonder if the inventors were laughing as they wrote these.

At the pace that the Redmond Washington Software company is moving, they might be able to patent everything in the world, within a few years. The New York Times covers the story in: Why Bill Gates Wants 3,000 New Patents.

My favorite is the patent for Custom Emoticons. Just lovely.

Why do we have patents, again?

Google to Lose its Tabs?

That's sort of what is hinted at in a new patent application from the Mountain View Monster of Search: Interface for a universal search

Wasn't too long ago that Amazon lost most of its tabs. (Great article on the History of Amazon's Tabs from Luke Wroblewski .)

Friday, June 24, 2005

Blogger Adds Pictures.

ducks walking around, waiting for a meal There have been other ways to publish photos to blogger, but now the ability is built directly into the Blogger interface. It's a nice addition.

This is good.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Happy Belated 10th Birthday, Alertbox

I've criticised him, and I've praised him. But, I've also learned a great deal from him.

Dr. Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox turned ten-years-old on June 1st.

If you have a web site, and you haven't looked much at usability, definitely spend some time reading through some of the articles at Alertbox.

It's lasted ten years for a good reason. Its author knows a lot about usability, he shares a lot of it, and he's a great marketer of his services. Happy Birthday, Alertbox.

Make Friday Stress Free

I'm enjoying some of the healthy work related tips at Health-Hack.

Today's timely post is on the subject of Avoiding Stress on Friday Afternoons. Great idea. Many more of them over there.

Google's Pay Per Click Patent Application?

This patent application doesn't have the name Google written on it, but some of the names of the inventors might be familar to people who joined in on Google's Orkut when it first started out:

Using concepts for ad targeting

I'd write more about it, but Lisa at Web Marketing News did an excellent job of cutting to the heart of the patent without any doubletalk:

A New Google PPC's Patent?

My favorite lines from the application are these, which Lisa also points out:

Some Web site hosts have chosen to place advertising revenues over the interests of users. One such Web site is "", which hosts a so-called "search engine" service returning advertisements masquerading as "search results" in response to user queries.

Nice to see some not-so-understated drama in legal documents which can often be pretty dry. I'm going to have to look through the last post I made here to see if there were any digs at Google in retaliation.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Is this Patent Application behind Yahoo's Video Search?

Hard to tell at this point, but this may be part of the method used to help rank results in Yahoo!'s video search. Or maybe an enhancement of Yahoo!'s Image Search.

The inventor of the method described in the patent is John Thrall. The head of media search engineering at Yahoo Search is John Thrall.

Click-through re-ranking of images and other data.

Here's a snippet from the patent application:

The present invention overcomes the deficiencies and limitations of conventional search engines by using feedback obtained by user clicks and the position of the clicked images to determine user preferences for the search results that best satisfy particular queries. While the embodiments described relate to image data, the present invention can also be used for other types of data such as shopping, video, music, and text searches. For example, the present invention can be used with any type of search where a summary of search results provides detailed and representative information on the content that the user will receive when clicking on the result. User click information is tracked to determine which images users click on for particular queries. This information is used to update and improve future query results.

It's difficult to tell, but if I were Yahoo!, the person I would want as the head of media search engineering would write patent applications like this one.

A Cheap Sales Trick; Or Tommorrow's AI Wonder

You go into a store to purchase something. A salesperson comes over and asks you if you need help.

This person seems fairly agreeable. There's something, you're not quite sure what, about them that you like.

Unknown to you, they are imitating your head movements, your gestures, and some of the other body language you display. It's a studied phenomena, often referred to as the Chameleon effect.

Can it help three dimensional and computer generated beings become more successful salesmen? That's what they've been trying to find out at Stanford.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Learning from the Past: Fillmore Posters as Promotion

I wonder if there are any clubs out there doing the type of posters that Bill Graham did for San Francisco's Fillmore back in the sixties.

I'm in awe of the great galleries of Fillmore Posters from 1966 through 1969 that were given out to people to remind them to come to shows at the theatre.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Credibility and the Words You Use

I remember losing a debate because of a head shake.

It was an oral argument in law school, and I had just finished giving a presentation when my opponent started speaking. I found myself pleased that I had anticipated a number of the arguments that my opponent was making, and without even thinking about it, was smiling and shaking my head when she made the points she did. Not because I thought she was right, but rather because I believed that I had addressed those issues.

I thought I had made the stronger argument. Surprisingly, the judge of the event told me that I had lost points and credibility when he saw me shaking my head at the statements my opposition was making, as if I was agreeing with her.

Credibilty can be defined as a mixture of expertise and trustworthiness. The words you use, whether in conversation or in writing, can send a message that you aren't aware of. So can your nonverbal language.

I enjoyed this quick list of words that could also influence whether or not people believe you, and trusted what you are saying during a presentation, or negotiation, or confrontation, or even an interview: 52 Words and Phrases That Weaken Your Credibility

If you find yourself in that type of situation, where you have an audience tryng to determine what message you are sending, keep in mind that your expression, your motions, and your words are all the clues they have about what you are presenting. Even when you aren't the one talking. Credibility doesn't just rely upon what you say, and how you say it, but also how people perceive your message, your demeanor, your appearance, and even the way your head shakes.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Serious Batteries Keep Going and Going

Batteries should last for decades.

They may soon. See: New 'BetaBatteries' May Provide Power for Decades

Yahoo Looks At Trends in New Patent Application

After logging into your "my Yahoo" portal, you decide to look for sites about music.

You perform a search for "popular music" in the Yahoo! search engine. If you're under 21, the search engine might return results about Avril Lavgne. If you're over 35, you might see results about Celine Dion instead.

That's one of the potential applications that may come to Yahoo! as a result of the technology described in Systems and methods for search query processing using trend analysis.

A few other recent Yahoo! patent application included the use of concepts gleaned from user queries to help build responses to future queries. This patent application adds an additional element, looking at trends involving

Time - including the times of day that things may be searched for, the changes in searches on weekdays as opposed to weekends, seasonal searches, and more.

Geography - Will people searching for the same terms in different locations expect different results? It's quite possible.

User demographics - Information about users of such services as "My Yahoo" may tell the search engine something about what users of different demographic groups might look for, and what they expect to see.

User history or context (referred to here as a "vertical" dimension) - Information from past searches might influence future results,

And yes, the Avril Lavgne and Celine Dion examples are part of the patent application.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Overcoming the Typing Paradigm

Once upon a time, a friend of mine was telling me what he was looking for in a secretary he had decided to hire for his office. The secretary would be his first employee. One of the requirements he wanted to fill was that this secretary could type as quickly as him. Since he was up to 80 words a minute, that might rule some good candidates out. I told him that he might be making a mistake, and that he might be falling for the Typing Paradigm.

Why I have no love for the typewriter

I remember the good old days, before email was common place in the office, and when you were lucky if you were the one in the office with a computer that had a word processor (fortunately, I was).

I recall having to help replace typewriter ribbons, because they were such a pain to thread into typewriters.

I recollect the temptation to use correction tape on an official document because making a mistake at the end of a typewritten page meant having to type the whole thing over again.

Memories, painful memories of the days of typewriters.

I first learned how to use a wordprocessing program when I had a long paper due in school, and needed to get it done. I installed myself in the school computer lab on a Friday morning, and, except for a few short sleep breaks, spent most of the next few days sitting in front of a terminal, learning how to handle the templates of Word Perfect 5.1. After I had finished 80 pages, and 118 footnotes, my paper was done. And I was just beginning to overcome the typing paradigm.

With a copy of the paper printed out, I also had a copy of the paper on a floppy, so that I could easily add, amend, update, and delete as I saw fit, without having to start over again.

Unknown to me, and even better, my use of Word Perfect's "reveal codes" function was getting me ready for my early days of learning html, where I could separate the content of a page from the look of that page.

The more I learned about how to use different programs, the more I learned that a computer was capable of so much more. And, it made me capable of so much more.

The typewriter took away my potential, and my productivity.

Overcoming the Typewriter Paradigm

After computers became a little more common in my office, and everyone had one that could use Excel, and Word, and Access, I was asked to help format some labels in an old Dbase III program. The labels were going to be attached to a memo asking around 500 contractors if they wanted to use their social security number, or their firm's EIN number on the the 1099 form they would be getting for performing services as a contractor. The form would be printed, photocopied 500 or so times, and the labels would be stuck on to personalize them.

The letters would then be placed in envelopes, with addresses typed on them, and mailed out to those folks. My coworkers were having a hard time getting the old Dbase III program to format the labels correctly. So, they asked for my help. After calculating that their method might take someone a week or so to prepare some ugly looking documents, I asked them if I could take over and do it my way. Unsurprisingly, I received no opposition.

I took the Dbase III database of names, addresses, firm names, social security numbers and EIN numbers, and imported it into Excel (about four minutes). I typed out a template of the original memo in word (about ten minutes). I checked to make sure that we had enough window envelopes (another four minutes). And then I used a mail merge, and printed out 500 or so sharp and stylish looking and professionally drafted, individually personalized letters (a very leisurely hour-and-a-half in which the printer did most of the work).

I noticed a few jaws drop when I came back in about two hours with a stack of documents ready to be folded, put in envelopes, and mailed out.

As you may guess, once a year, it was my job for the next five years to prepare those documents. I tried to teach some of the others during their spare time to use mail merge. They never had any spare time. Somehow, I often did. When I handed in a two week notice, there were some people lined up for crash courses in how to do a mail merge.

A post from Jim Horton, of Online Public Relations, takes a humorous look at Bitter Lessons learned in the ways a mail merge can go wrong. I've been there, Jim. But, I'd rather face those problems that have to type out all of those letters.

Sometimes the World View Changes Easy

I began this post, more than a couple words ago, with a story about a friend who was hiring a secretary. When I started to explain to him that he was making a mistake when he told me he wanted a secretary who was a fast typist, he wanted to know why.

I asked him how many words a minute I was typing when I exported 100 records from Quickbooks into an Excel spreadsheet, merged them with a mail merge into 100 invoices, and printed them out in about twenty minutes. His answer:

"Ok, I want a secretary smart enough not to have to type 80 words a minute."

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

What are the Top Ten Things People Need to Get Out of Your Web Site?

An interesting question in a page from the University of Texas at Austin on Developing Usability Test Documents:

What are the top ten things that visitors need to get from your web site?

That's a good question. I'm going to ramble about what I think those are. I've come up with four general areas where those top ten could come from, after reading that question. I think they are a good start, but I'm going to have to think about this more.

1. Contact Information

I would have to place contact information on that list. I'm not sure I would call it number one, but if the site is an ecommerce site, I like having at least four different types of contact information on a page: email, phone, fax, and mailing address.

Even if people don't use them, just having them there makes people feel confident that there is a real organization behind the pages.

2. A Unique Identity

Chances are that your site isn't the only one that occupies the niche it is in. What makes it different from the others? What do you tell people about yourself, and your business? Why are you different from all of the others?

Seems to me that some of the things that make up a unique identity could fill up a "top ten" list.

3. Promises

There are a lot of promises you make when your run a web site.

You may not even be aware that you are making them, but you are. If someone orders something, you promise to ship them what they've ordered in a reasonable amount of time. If they trust you with personally identifiable information, you may be making a promise in a privacy policy that you will be responsible with that information.

Many of the promises a merchant makes are about things that both the merchant and the purchaser take for granted. For instance, your butcher doesn't have to tell you that the meat he or she is selling to you is fresh. The news reporter promises to follow some set of ethical and editorial guidelines. Those promises are taken for granted, that is, until they are broken.

How would you articulate the promises you make to your customers, and how important are they?

4. The Ability to Make an Informed Decision

Most people are going to be making comparisons between sites, and looking at what they can get offline. If you are going to offer services online, or offer products, give people the information that they need to know that they are making a good choice. Your best customers can often be your present customers.

Let people know they are making an informed decision. Make them feel comfortable and confident, and welcome. And when they come back, welcome them back.

What is the most important information a potential customer should know about what goods or services you have to offer, and how are you telling them about it?

How would you describe the top ten things people need to get from your web site?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

When you Need an Extra Hand: Consider Internships

There are a lot of positive things to be said for finding ways to automate processes around your office, and streamlining some of the more mundane tasks that you face. But, those can take time and energy to set up. And there are tasks that just need to be done by hand. Jobs that aren't necessarily complex, and don't need a considerable amount of experience or knowledge to do.

Sometimes, taking the time to make sure that these tasks are done, and are done right can take you away from the work that you enjoy doing, and that helps bring the money in.

Where would you find someone who might be able to lend a hand for a few hours a week, and tackle some of these tasks with energy and vigor?

Living, and working in a college town, it's difficult to miss all of the college students around. It was for us. If you are fortunate to have a University, or a business school near where you work, you may have an answer to the problem of needing an extra hand for a few hours a week. It was a solution that we found not only helpful, but filled with some benefits that surprised us a little.

Interns come in many shapes and sizes, and with different levels of experience and expertise. And students who would be willing to take a position as an intern are usually thankful for the opportunity. It's a chance for them to get some experience, put something on their resume, and earn a few dollars in a position that may just be flexible enough to fit around their class schedule.

What would you do to find some of these potential interns? Many schools and universities have placement offices for their students. Some of these are even online. Make a list of the Schools near you, and open up your phonebook, or even your browser, and see if you can locate the placement offices for those schools. Chances are, you should be able to.

If you are really fortunate, one or more of those schools will have a database that you can use to post about an internship opportunity online. Treat finding an intern like you would hiring any employee. Ask for a resume, schedule interviews, ask questions, and be selective. Chances are that you will get a number of responses to an ad if you offer flexible hours, decent pay, and a pleasant working environment, filled with tasks that might make a student's resume look better to potential employers when they graduate.

Some of the benefits that you might get from hiring an intern include the chance to work with people with skills that may surprise you a little. A computer science student might just be able to help you automate some tasks around the office that you don't have the time to do yourself. An english major may be able to skillfully proofread important documents, and even help write some manuals and process documents that make your office more productive. A business or marketing student may bring some ideas to your business that you hadn't considered before.

Another possibility is that today's intern may be the best full time employee your office has after they graduate. And, if you have a very small office, the chance to work with an intern may give you some experience managing and supervising people that you didn't have before.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

A Lot of Beef about a Lot of Beef

A fifteen pound hamburger.

Has to be a publicity stunt. I saw this on TV not too long ago. They showed one of these whoppers (am I allowed to refer to it with that word?) being cooked. It's a lot of beef.

MSNBC couldn't resist the bait: Burger war grows with new 15 pounder.

For some reason, the thought of a fifteen pound hamburger has me considering a diet.

Jeeves Disconnects Advertising Partner: Will Overture Follow Suit?

Bambi Francisco has filed an update on Adware and Spyware, and the potential fallout of a suit filed by New York State's Attorney General.

She received some interesting comments, and some interesting news, and writes about it in Net Sense: Intermix is just the start

I wrote about the lawsuit and Ben Edelman's Research on Spyware, and his second in a series which showed an application from an Ask Jeeves property installing software on a computer without the computer owner's knowledge or consent. It seems like the Ask Jeeve's folks hadn't seen it, at least until Bambi Francisco showed it to them.

After she played one of Ben Edelman's video clips for a spokesperson from Ask Jeeves, action appears to have been taken quickly:

Staples came back and said that Ask Jeeves did in fact find fault with this particular distribution partner. "We just turned off that partner," she said, adding, "I don't think this is a widespread issue because of the preventive steps we've taken." That said, "this is an imperfect industry... We need to rely on consumer feedback to identify these outlying issues."

There may be some other issues that Jeeves wants to take a closer look at, according to Bambi Francisco's article. She also quotes a New York Deputy Attorney who mentions that Overture was involved in some of the advertising that defendant Intermix is under attack for.

"We're not ruling out in the future going after advertisers, or Overture," said Brookman. Yahoo's Overture accounted for some 10% of Intermix's revenue, said Brookman.

There is quite a lot of money involved in these types of ads, and quite a few folks involved in using this type of advertising. But, if it were to go away tomorrow, there would still be a need to advertise, and there would still be people seeking to advertise. Fine and good. If they can stop having software installed on people's computers without their knowledge and consent, it's a step in the right direction.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Abandoned Products Pages

Why do people abandon ecommerce sites?

That's one of the questions posed in a thread a Cre8asite Forums in the "Measuring Your Success" forum, where I'm an administrator.

The thread, Scary Exit Rates! starts to address those issues. Here's part of a post I made over there:

When someone walks into a grocery store, chances are good that most of the times they will walk out after having purchased something. The same is true with a convenience store.

Conversion rates for online stores tend to be lower, because of a number of factors:

  • It's much easier to go somewhere else.

  • You can bookmark the page, and look elsewhere to make comparisons.

  • You can gather information about a product and buy offline.

  • You need more information before you purchase.

  • The site doesn't show a privacy policy, shipping policy, or feel secure.

  • The design of the site puts you off.

  • You have a hard time comparing similar products on the site.

  • The ordering process is confusing.

  • The site just isn't persuasive or engaging.

  • The pictures displayed aren't showing the product off well, or from enough angles.

  • The right information isn't on the right part of the page.

  • It's difficult to find the products you want because the site search doesn't work well.

  • It's difficult to find what you want because the site navigation doesn't instill confidence in you that you will find exactly what you want.

  • You may prefer to call and place an order.

  • You could be making comparisons between different options for your money, considering different possible ways to spend it, and are just window shopping.

  • Many other reasons.

Why would you leave an online store before finishing a purchase? For more of the discussion, or to participate, visit the forums.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Spyware: Lawsuits, Falling Stock Prices, and a Taxonomy of Spyware Installation Methods

I've been asked by a lot of people to help them fix their computers.

The things just don't run like they used to when they were new. Popup advertisements just appear out of nowhere. Sometimes so many popups that people can't even use their computers. The hours that I've wasted clearing away some of this garbage I'll never see a dollar for. I don't mind helping friend's who can't get rid of this stuff themselves. They didn't ask for this stuff to appear on their computers, and were tricked into installing it in most cases.

But there are other people who did know that my friends wouldn't want those advertisements, and that software. And when it comes to those CEOs and Presidents and Vice Presidents of companies, and marketing directors and other decision makers, I'm not upset about the potential hit that their companies might take on their stock prices if there is successful lawsuit against them for the placement of unwanted software on people's computers in less than transparent ways.

Searchviews has an article on the State of New York suit against Intermix Media, SearchViews: The Ripple Effect of the Eliot Spitzer Suit, and some of the potential collaterial impact upon a successful legal action. In addition to their thoughtful post, they point out a post on The Internet Stock Blog which considers how that case may impact other internet stocks - The Internet Danger List: stocks at risk from Spitzer's attack on Adware.

The attack on the illegal disemination of spyware and adware may not end with Eliot Spitzer's suit against Intermix Media (ticker: MIX). This report outlines why and provides a tentative list of other Internet stocks at risk.

According to that report, companies that could be impacted include Ask Jeeves, Findwhat, Yahoo!, Valueclick, Expedia, Netflix, Travelocity, and more.

Though I do want to clarify something. The risk isn't from Eliot Spitzer's lawsuit. The risk is from engaging in a means of advertising that is questionable to begin with, is unwanted by most of its recipients, and is potentially the target of litigation from anyone. When the business decision was made to manufacture or distribute software that people probably wouldn't install on their computers if they knew what it did, that's where the risk attached. A company that uses this type of advertising has to already know that they are also potentially a target.

Ben Edelman, who has been involved as an expert witness on the subject of spyware in a few legal cases, has started a series on his site about Spyware Installation Methods. Typical of his research on a number of other subjects, so far what he has produced is extremely thorough and thought provoking. His taxonomy of installation methods brings back some memories of the frustration I've faced at trying to clean up people's computers.

It's great to see someone with his knowledge and ability bringing some sunlight to the shady practices that these companies are employing.

Kudos to him, and to Eliot Spitzer.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Justice Doing Research on the Intarweb: An Impeachable Offense?

I'm trying to figure out if Tom Delay thinks that he is right, and the hero of his own little universe, or just terribly misguided: DeLay Slams Supreme Court Justice

Absolutely. We've got Justice Kennedy writing decisions based upon international law, not the Constitution of the United States? That's just outrageous," DeLay told Fox News Radio. "And not only that, but he said in session that he does his own research on the Internet? That is just incredibly outrageous.

Yep. Outrageous. I'll skip the international law versus constitutional law debate right now, but it's worth getting into. I really only have time for the other statement at this moment.

There are quite a few tools on the web that enable one to do research there fast and easily, including Lexis/Nexis. Frankly, I would be dismayed to find that a Supreme Court Justice didn't do research online.

And a little more upset over a Senator who appears to not understand the value that the web brings us.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The USA are Online Losers

An eye-opening article from Thomas Bleha at Foreign Affairs, Down to the Wire, tells of the steps that countries like Japan and South Korea have taken to bring high speed internet access to the citizens of their countries, and the missteps that the USA has taken.

Thanks to the government's competitive framework, the speed of the DSL service offered also rose dramatically, from 8 megabits per second in 2001 to 12, 26, and 40 megabits today. (The typical U.S. broadband connection, whether DSL or cable, is still only 1.5 megabits per second or slower.) Meanwhile, the price of monthly subscriptions remained stable, even for 26-megabit access speeds, at about $22 per month -- by far the lowest price in the world.

You might want to send a link for this article to your congressman. I want to send one to mine.

News Online is News Developing a Business Model?

I used to watch the news on TV when I was little.

I used to read two newspapers a day when I was in high school, and even into college.

I tried to make time for at least one newspaper a day after college, and mostly succeeeded.

I get a lot more of my news on the web these days, and I read papers from around the world. I'm better informed, and I read local papers that aren't local to me, instead of papers that are written for national or international consumption.

The Associated Press announced a couple of days ago that they are going to start charging news sources for their online content starting January 1st of next year.

Most of the 15,000 news outlets that buy AP's news, sports, business and entertainment coverage have been allowed to "re-purpose" the same material online at no extra cost since 1995. At that time, graphical Web browsers were just beginning to transform the Internet from an esoteric computer network to a mass medium.

It's difficult to tell what impact that may have on the cost of news online. Will news sites change the way they operate based upon this development? One thing I do know is that I don't see a lot of advertising directed at me when I visit Cincinnati papers to follow Reds stories.

As a long time fan, and East Coast dweller, I feel the chance to read those is wonderful. If they tried to sell me Reds hats or jerseys, I'd probably buy some. Yet I suspect that type of targeted advertising probably won't be the solution they attempt to adopt.

Will more and more newspapers shift to subscription based models? I hope not. If that's the answer they come up with, they may be missing out on some great opportunities.

A rocket in your garage

There's always some wise guy, who in a conversation about the future, refuses to admit that it will live up to expectations until we all have flying cars.

That will be the day.

Imagine the mess trying to keep track of all the traffic. Where would you take off from? Where would you land? Whose house would you damage if you made a mistake with all of those complicated navigational devices?

Picture flying along, and all of a sudden, you have a mechanical failure. You can't just pull over to the side. Chances are you are going to fall like a comet.

Or will you? Maybe the future isn't so far away. Maybe that wise guy was right.

CBS is reporting on a new technology that would make it much safer for people to navigate the airways in their own personal flying machines. Called Highways in the Sky, it would simplify cockpits tremendously, and make the navigational decisions for flyers. Possibly millions of flyers. Imagine being able to go 400 miles an hour, straight as the, er, car, flies.

Monday, April 18, 2005

A Case Against Standards: Take a Pill

Standard Ways of Design?

At work the other day, someone I work with complained about a web site where every external link created a new browser window. She wanted to know why.

My answer was that the site owner lacked confidence, and was afraid that once people clicked on a link to go to a new site, they wouldn't come back.

Someone else in the office stated that doing that was a design standard, and a lot of sites did it.

Am I wrong? Is that just the way things are done? Are am I right, and that's just the way things are done?

I remember putting together a couple of sites where I had all of the links on the site leading outside of the site launching new browser windows. My concern was that people would indeed leave and not be able to find their way back.

The more I thought about it, and the more I added content to the sites, to make them the types of places that people might come back to, the more it bothered me that those links might mean someone wouldn't return if I changed them so that they didn't open in new windows.

Taking a Risk

But I decided to go for it anyway. I also didn't like doing something that might get people upset - taking control of their browser.

There were a couple of links that opened to new pages where a refresh effectively broke the back button, so that people couldn't return. I wrote next to those links "opens in new window" and had those continue to open new browser windows.

The others, I changed. And then I started watching stats. I tried to get an idea of how many people stayed, and how many people left.

Seems I was worried over nothing. People did return to those pages. There was no drop off in visits, and people seemed to stick around.

Standards outside the Web

I do see a lot of discussions on standards around the web. Mostly those are aimed at getting web browsers and html editing programs using valid html and Cascading Style Sheets.

I mostly agree with the discussions I see there, though I do wonder that if browser manufacturers and the makers of those editing programs also don't try some new things out, that we might be stuck with some limited functionality in web design.

After all, the horse and buggy was once the standard for transportation. Automobiles have increased the distance people can travel, and have opened up opportunities that would never have come along if we were limited to only going so far as to not exhaust our horses. (Ok, I'm stretching things a little with that example.)

Take a Pill

All my ranting in this post is leading somewhere. There are other things in our everyday lives that have remained the same for years and years. And, on the surface, they seem to fill the purpose they hold very well.

Yet this article, from the New York Metro takes a close look at a redesign of the prescription pill bottle: The Perfect Prescription
How the pill bottle was remade: sensibly and beautifully.
It includes a lot of good ideas. And the great part is that pills will be rolling out in these new bottles.

I am all for standards. That is, until something better comes along.

UK Catalog Sales Overtaken by Internet Orders

A study in the UK is reporting that more people are now ordering online than through mail order catalogs.

I sort of see that as good news, though it's not as optimistic for businesses as it might appear. While there has been growth on the web, there's been a larger dropoff of purchases from mail order.

Home shopping retailers must admit that the days of the big book are over and that the great hope of the home shopping industry is, or should be, the internet. The trouble with the mail order industry at the moment is that it tends to see the internet as a threat, where it should be seen as an opportunity.

There is something nice about having one of those big books of products in hand, and being able to leaf through the pages, and look at the different products. I used to love to do that with the old Edmonds Scientific catalogs, especially. The Whole Earth Review was a quirky, and interesting way to see offerings from a number of people.

Seems to me that there's room for both, and that using them together is a good approach for many businesses that are enjoying sales online.

Due Diligence for Small Business

Nice article from the Delaware Business Blog: Keep your Small Business Healthy by Improving Due Diligence.

Small businesses need to pay attention to all of the potential legal pitfalls that may face their businesses. The devil is in the details, and the details can be many. Especially make sure that you keep careful track of compliance with all of the small things that come up on a regular basis, such as quarterly estimated taxes, having a business license, etc.

If possible, define processes ahead of time to make these things easy to do. Talk to an accountant whom can help you plan ahead to make what could be chaotic into a matter of just following some simple steps and guidelines.

It's good to see the launch of the Delaware Business Blog. Welcome to the world of Business Blogging, Russell.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Microsoft Reinvents the Teddy Bear

Microsoft unveiled a new tool to aid in the parenting process - a Teddy bear that you can spy upon your toddler with.

Somewhere in a corporate boardroom, someone thought this was a good idea.

I'm going to assume that the people bringing this invention into the world, which allows for remote monitoring via a camera, and the sending and receiving of messages via microphones and speakers and a network connection, thought that this could help parents be in two places at the same time.

The bear was shown at a two day technology conference, as an attempt to show off the creativity of the corporate giant.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

What Would Your Home Page Say?

Kim Krause asks the question, "what would your home page say if it could talk," and she gets an answer -- User Experience Web Design and Search Engines

Dear web site visitor.

I can't tell you how glad I am that you found my website. You have no idea the great lengths we?ve gone to get you here, let alone what we're about to do to keep you here...

A word of warning to web site owners, you might see a little of your web page in the answer.

Who is Your Audience: Using Personas to Focus Your Writing

I spent last week in New York City at a convention for internet marketers. It was an interesting experience, and I brought a lot of ideas away from it.

One of them involved the use of personas in developing the concept of a site. I've looked at these hypothetical audience members and what they might mean to the development of a site before. But, during a discussion on "Converting Visitors to Buyers," it struck me that personas could be just as useful for people who write sites that are purely informational in nature.

And that they might be useful for people who contribute to blogs.

So I poked around the web a little earlier tonight, and came across an excellent article on using personas to help writers of sites that focus upon providing news and stories and data and opinions to people. This one, Personas: Setting the Stage for Building Usable Information Sites, from Alison J. Head (with Kim Goodwin) described something close to what I was looking for.

On the drive home tonight, through purely unscientific means, I decided that four personas would probably be a good match for this site.

One would be fresh out of high school, possibly male, filled with the uncertain future of trying to face fending for himself, and possibly trying to start his own business - someday.

A second would be in the last year of college, looking at internships, graduate school, or other possibilities available to her, while at the same time trying to figure out how to pay back student loans.

A third would be a stay-at-home mother, trying to start an internet based business, learning about all of the things that one needs to know along the way, while caring for children, and being somewhat limited in what she can or can't do.

The fourth would be someone who had a successful career, and for one reason or another, left it and is trying to make it as a contractor or consultant. He's been divorced a couple of times, and also has some interests outside of work competing for his time and ability to focus solely upon his new chosen profession.

I'm going to attempt to flesh out these personas over the next few days and weeks, and link to them from the sidebar.

Once I've completed that task, I will attempt to focus my writings here to those four, and see if those fictional characters can benefit from what I write.

It might help knowing who it is that I'm writing for, when I publish these posts. Will it make a difference not focusing upon a general audience, but rather specific people with their own personalities and interests? It's worth trying.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Start Playing and Start Learning

What role will game playing have in the future of our education?

Possibly a large one.

That's a conclusion raised in Games that make leaders: top researchers on the rise of play in business and education, from the Wisconsin Technology Network.

A friend was talking about how the Army had distributed a game, for free, that seemed to be catching on with a lot of young users. So, this quote from the article wasn't that much of a surprise:

One of the biggest users of games as training tools is the U.S. Army, which released the free tactical game America's Army to boost its recruitment and has worked with commercial game companies on a variety of other titles.

One of the words I've been seeing lately in education and usability is "engageability." It is easier to teach someone when they are interested and actively engaged.

Seems that classrooms may have something to learn from a gaming industry that earns ore in sales these days than box office sales from Hollywood.

Have Passion in What You Do

I've been enjoying the posts over at Creating Passionate Users

For instance, a story about Creating Passionate Fans was a great illustration of the power of treating every moment as unique and interesting, and every chance to interact with someone an opportunity to make a lasting impression.

The right attitude can make all the difference.

A World of Music

Could the record industry in the US learn something about electronic distribution of music from the success that it seems to be bringing to singers and songs from other countries?

Interesting article here: Downloading Opens Doors to World Music

Songs that might never had a chance to have been heard on radio years ago, are finding listeners in the United States. Audiences are finding performers who wouldn't mind expanding their fan base.

And I, for one, am happy to hear it.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

His Blog Cost Him His Job; His Blog Found Him a New One

Your blog can cost you your job.

OK, you've probably heard some stories about a blogger who was let go from a place of emploment, for things said or shown on their blogs.

Joe Gordon, the author of the The Woolamaloo Gazette experienced that first hand.

There has been more than one tale circulating across the internet of how someone has been fired, harassed, or reprimanded for blogging about work. boing boing came up with a list about a month ago of companies who "fired, threatened, disciplined, fined or not hired people because of their blog."

Here are some of the blogs that cost people their jobs, and posts that talk about the experience.:

Diary of a Flight Attendant: Queen of Sky Story Summary

eclecticism: Fifteen Minutes of Fame

Ninetininezeros: the official story, straight from the source

Dooce: Collecting Unemployment

The Sarcastic Journalist: Freedom of Speech

Troutgirl: Shitcanned

I just came across a list, which includes many of those bloggers above, and others who where fired for their blogs: Update 1: List of Fired Bloggers

In Joe Gordon's case, the experience seems to have had a Happy ending. Comic book chain Forbidden Planet has hired him. Because of his blog...

Friday, February 18, 2005

Yahoo! Talks Spelling

An amusing look at the troubles with building a spell check feature into a search engine: Yahoo! Search blog: How's Your Speling?

Better Banking Means More than Orange: It Means Better Relationships and Better Communities

Katherine Stone shares some excellent ideas about The Banking Experience at Decent Marketing.

Her thoughts concerning ING's approach to retail banking are also thoughtful and interesting.

A commentor pointed to a Fast Company article on ING, and I found myself smiling. Would You Like a Mortgage With Your Mocha? describes the corporate headquarters of ING pretty well.

Instead of building its own office tower, it has chosen to invest in reinvigorating the area around Wilmington's run-down train station. This summer, part of the company will move into a renovated Pennsylvania Railroad building wedged between the train station and the Christina River. ING Direct has been working with the city to connect its new building to the station by closing a street and erecting a glass atrium full of shops, restaurants, and an ING Direct Café. The company is also advocating a redo of the train station itself.

The article is from a couple of years ago, and the headquarters has been built.

I used to walk past their buildings at least once a week or so, to get to a riverfront produce market (and lunch area), before I left Wilmington a month ago. I'm not an ING customer, but I love this company for what they've done to make this small section of town a bright vibrant place.

Take an area that's run down, and needs a little tender-loving-care and personal attention. Build on the strengths of that area, and find the human side of the relationship and strive to make it better. Show the bright and optimistic side of things.

That's what they did to the section of Wilmington, Delaware, that they entered. And it sounds like that's what they are trying to do to banking, too.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

What Do You Do on An Elevator?

I really enjoyed Dirk Knemeyer's post on The Elevator Experience.

I recently left a job where I did have to ride on elevators everyday, where I had to sit in rush hour traffic, and where I paid for parking.

Now I work in a small town which is busier on weekends than it is during the working week. I'm not sure if there are any buildings in town that have an elevator. parking is free, and there seems to always be a spot to park in near work.

I've been hit with a bit of culture shock over the change. But I'm enjoying it. The little differences are magnified as I'm getting used to the change.

I suspect that I'm not alone. It's getting easier to work with others located around the globe without having to do it from a metropolis.

Don't miss those elevator rides, either.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Google May Appeal French Trademark Decision: Trademarks and Online Advertising

Where does trademark law fit in the age of the internet, and online advertising?

That's a question being asked in courts not only in the United States, but also in places like France and Germany.

While Google prevailed in a trademark case in Germany, they haven't been as successful in French courts.

A recent loss in France over the use of trademarks in Google advertising has the search company considering appealing the trademark decision.

I'm not sure how successful such an appeal would be, but it seems like something that the search engine giant needs to pursue.

The high court in central Paris awarded the damages in a decision late Friday and ordered Google to stop displaying advertisements for Vuitton's rivals whenever Internet users typed Vuitton's name or other trademarks into the search engine.

So, what is the status of the use of trademarks in targeted advertising through a program like Google's? I know that it's almost impossible to police the web for all trademarks registered on a mix of international, federal, and state levels. It has to be even more difficult to know which words might be trademarks by the exercise of common law, without registration anywhere.

Should it make a difference if a company possessing a trademark contacts a Search Engine that has been enabling someone to bid on that company's trademark, and asks them to stop?

Is the bidding on competitor's trademarks the type of thing that can cause consumer confusion, or dilute the trademark, or both?

Interestingly, the French ruling seems to have been followed on all of the Google sites, not just the French version. Searches on the main Google page no longer show advertisments for the trademark that had been targeted by advertisers of Google's ad program.

For other French cases that have been brought against Google's adwords program on trademark grounds, see:

Le Google France Blames the Americans

AXA Challenges Google's Business Model

Google loses trademark dispute in France

In American Courts, there are also at least a couple of pending cases against Google by trademark holders who don't want their trademarks used as targeted terms for advertising by the search engine. There was a recent ruling in a case brought by the insurance company Geico, which Google seems to have one.

But, that ruling was in one district court in the United States, and it's possible that a judge in another district could come up with a different ruling. I haven't heard much about the litigation between Google and American Blind, but that doesn't mean that the parties involved aren't watching the legal actions in France carefully.

One of the points raised in the latest French case, by the judge ruling over the matter was interesting. The court stressed that since Google's keyword suggestion tool was what offered the trademarked term to the advertisers, Google may have to revamp its suggestion tool.

Here's one of the items raised in another litigant's case, from the complaint in rescuecom's trademark suit against Google:

The so-called "Sponsored Links" do not always clearly identify themselves as advertisements, and Google's layout of the ads does not conspicuously identify them as such. This is particularly true of the Sponsored Links which appear at the top of the Search Results. These ads at the top of the Search Results are designed by Google to look like part of the "non-sponsored" Search Results, and by virtue of the fact that they appear at the top of the list of Search Results, Internet Users may infer that they are the most relevant websites on the Search Results page.

Is this the type of thing that makes a difference?

Maybe even more importantly, the rescuecom complaint also raises an issue involving Google's suggestion tool, and its suggestion that the trademarked name be used as a target of advertising:

Upon information and belief, defendant Google has used an online program called a "Keyword Suggestion Tool" to suggest to one or more of Rescuecom Corporation's competitors that they should use the Rescuecom trademark as a Keyword for their advertising. Google's suggestion is designed to make such competitors' advertising more successful, and therefore more profitable for Google, by intercepting and diverting customers and potential customers of Rescuecom Corporation to others.

I'm not sure that was an issue that was raised in the Google versus Geico matter. This seems to have made a difference to a French judge. Will it have the same impact upon an American one?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Now that the Butler has a Blog...

I'm going to have to make a list of all of the official search engine and directory blogs.

It's just too important in this age of Internet search and marketing to keep in touch with what the search engines are doing not to keep on eye on what they share in their blogs.

The newest is the Ask Jeeves Blog.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Jeeves.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Elusive Creativity

Dave Shea describes his methods for Getting Unstuck. The one about throwing a whole bunch of ideas upon a canvas is one I find works really well for me.

Speaking of creativity, there's a nice article on Asterisk titled Thinking Differently About Site Mapping and Navigation. As noted there, often a web site's home page isn't the first page that most visitors to a site experience. Usually, a search engine will deposit them in the middle of a site.

Having given more than a couple of powerpoint presentations, it's nice to learn that I've been missing out on one feature that can make using the program much more enjoyable. Michale Hyatt recently had a post on how he discovered the use of powerpoint's PowerPoint's Presenter's View. After reading it, I have an overwhelming desire to create a powerpoint presentation.

Cutting Through's Ten Ways to Use Blogs for Managing Projects pulls together some great ways to use a blog as a business tool. I'll agree that it is a pretty useful tool for teams. Blogger started as a project management tool for Pyra Lab's back in the early pre-Google days. Funny how their project management blogging tool ended up being their crowning achievement. I think there's a message regarding creativity in there somewhere.

Kathy Sierra is probably right. Sometimes being creative is only a matter of knowing when to articulate a difficult problem to a Rubber Duck. Being forced to explain a diffucult problem in simple words, outloud, can bring a solution with it. Seems a teddy bear might work just as well.

Someone at Metafilter recently pointed to a technical manual from NASA published in 1964, Clarity in Technical Writing (pdf), as a source of some good common sense writing about writing. There's some nice writing in those pages, and some very good ideas. I don't remember being so pleasantly surprised by a government document since I came across the SEC's A Plain English Handbook: How to Create Clear SEC Disclosure Documents. Like the NASA document, there are lots of common sense suggestions in those pages that have value beyond the writing of a disclosure statement.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Short Bits

Some good tips from the Christian Science Monitor: Seven steps to financial fitness. Common sense steps, yes, but a little common sense never hurt anyone.

An area that the web hasn't quite gotten to yet, but it's good to see someone thinking about it, is Web Design for All the Senses. Lots of other interesting ideas from Dirk Knemeyer here.

One thing I would like to see more of in 2005, is site owners getting a firmer grasp on how they can more tightly integrate User and Business Goals

I recently tested Microsoft's Beta Spyware program, and uninstalled it after a couple of days. A nice writeup of some of the reasons why can be found here: Free Microsoft Program To Battle Spyware Has Some Serious Flaws

I'm going to have to sit down over the next couple of days and try to figure out if I want to add Technorati Tags to this blog. They are another neat-looking feature that probably won't get incorporated into blogger. I'd be happy with trackback and categories. If anyone has the ear of someone at Google, please pass it along.

Speaking of Google, there's an article from Peter Norvig at Always On, titled Semantic Web Ontologies: What Works and What Doesn't. Peter Norvig is the Director of Search Quality at Google.