Archive for May 2006

The Scrutinizer

Checks various aspects of any URL. Possibly handy.

Picking On Yahoo, Part Two

I rarely fill out surveys online, but given the ridiculous new password-prompting policy on Yahoo, I jumped at the chance to help them out when I saw their prominent “Help Us Improve Yahoo” ad on my Yahoo Finance page. Sweet fennel! A way for me to quickly and constructively voice my displeasure about Yahoo without having to interrupt Dustin from his Tetris experiment.

Clicking on the survey link, however, led to one of the worst designed surveys I’ve ever tried to participate in. Here’s the screenshot:

So what’s wrong here? In order of importance:

  1. This is not even a survey about Yahoo Finance. It’s about Yahoo Mail.
  2. I count 9 questions on the screen and I’m only “10% complete”. I extrapolate from this that in order to complete the survey, I will need to answer ALMOST 100 QUESTIONS. This was the point that they lost me… and I *wanted* to fill out a survey.
  3. Each question has 10 choices. Is that *really* necessary? How about just “poor, neutral, excellent”? The amount of brainpower required to make such granular judgements is prohibitive in surveys like this.
  4. Once I decided that I didn’t want to fill out every single item on this survey and maybe just check if there was anything related to Yahoo Finance or the password-prompting thing, I clicked “Continue” to quickly skip to other screens. Sorry, no go. It’s all or nothing. Unless I’m willing to fill out every single radio button in this survey (in order!) I cannot even participate. I want to give Yahoo *some* data and they won’t take it unless I give them *all* data.

This is really bad practice, Yahoo. You have presented a survey that will not only receive much less participation than it should, but the data you *do* get will not even be representative of your user base. The only people who will fill this out are people who are extremely patient, extremely concerned about you, and in possession of a lot of free time. Is that really representative of your user base? Cut this thing down to one page and you’ll learn a lot more.

* On a humorous note, I just noticed two links in the upper right side of the screen: “Yahoo Privacy Policy” and “Decipher Privacy Policy”. I thought it was an attempt by Yahoo to be funny about how long and indecipherable their privacy policy is. Nope. Turns out the company who provides the survey goes by the name of “Decipher”. Ha!

Old Habits Die Easy

I’ve been using Yahoo Finance to keep tabs on my stocks for as long as I can remember. Ten years maybe? It’s a simple, fast-loading page which lists all of your stocks and any news associated with them. It’s perfect for my simple needs. But after Yahoo’s redesign a week or so ago, Yahoo Finance has been pissing me off. I know this may seem like a minor thing, but Yahoo is now forcing users to log in every 24 hours. For someone who uses two or three computers (or even one computer, really), this is a major pain.

I went to my Account Settings page on Yahoo to see if perhaps a preference got flipped, and to my delight I saw a panel which let me set the frequency of login prompts. Great! Upon visiting the panel, however, this is what I saw:

What a useless set of options! Every 15 minutes? Who the hell would choose that? Who would want any of those options? Why not have one for “every click” as well? You could call it the MySpace Setting.

Anyway, this is becoming a real nuisance so I’m going to kill my Yahoo Finance habit and find another site to track stocks on ASAP. Does anyone have any suggestions? Google Finance maybe? What do you use?

Back from Syndicate and IMC 2006

Two conferences, two vastly different crowds of people, and only two people I knew at both events combined. That’s the one sentence summary of my five days in New York and Las Vegas last week. It was a fun week, and definitely a personal highlight sitting next to Roger Black on stage, but I couldn’t help but notice how dissimilar the situations of the attendees at both conferences were.

On the one hand, there was the Syndicate crowd — a group of people pretty well ahead of the curve on the technology side, but well behind on the business side. The types of people who preach giving up all control of your content and basically letting any business issues just work themselves out. “RSS” was mentioned hundreds of times. “Web 2.0″ almost as often. The focus here seemed to be — not surprisingly — on syndication, but there was very little talk about business models, products, creativity, or really anything outside the scope of “delivering information”. There were a few interesting exceptions which rounded the event out a bit, but that was the gist of things.

On the other hand, there was the Interactive Media Conference crowd — a group of people squarely on the other side of the equation. People working at traditionally profitable businesses (mainly newspapers) whose companies are quite obviously threatened by many of the concepts discussed at the Syndicate conference as well as plenty of other emerging forces. There were a number of visionaries there doing great things at their respective organizations, but this conference was all about established media.

So what was the more fun conference? For me it was the second, by quite a bit. For all the time I spend researching, using, and sometimes creating technology, I just don’t like talking or hearing about it when it’s not coupled with interesting, tangible products. I don’t want to hear about RSS. I want to hear about a product that is 1000 times better because of RSS. I don’t want to hear about Web 2.0. I want to hear about a service that, via its Web 2.0 approach to things, improves the lives of thousands of people.

I felt the Interactive Media Conference Crowd was much more interested how to use technology to improve their product, whereas the Syndicate crowd was looking for products with which to use their technology. Two honorable quests I suppose, but hey, how long can you really talk about RSS? For me, it’s about an hour until I eventually fall asleep.

Both talks went very well. Everyone on the Syndicate panel was mostly of like mind until we closed the session with a cursory discussion about full-text vs. excerpts in feeds. I’m an excerpt guy for now until certain rights, monetization, and content theft issues work themselves out, and someone else on the panel was for full-text. Judging from the reaction of the crowd afterwards, the world seems equally undecided. The full-text vs. excerpt debate is one that deserves its own blog entry — and will probably get one — but for now, my opinion is that people should do whatever makes the most business sense for them. At least one person at the conference mistakenly thought I meant that full-text feeds were evil and no one should use them. I can only attribute that to a bit of what I will now call The Jason Fried Effect (anybody want to do a Wikipedia entry on that?) — that is, when confident words are mistaken for unconditional advice.

The Interactive Media Conference panel was more interesting and touched on subjects ranging from typography on the web, to redesign strategies, to new distribution methods, to branding, to inverted pyramids. I was thrilled that Roger loved Newsvine and so did many others at the conference. That day I also learned that Forbes Magazine gave Newsvine their “Best of the Web” designation for user generated news sites. I don’t mention every time we get an award or recognition somewhere and I don’t spend any time entering us into competitions, but it’s always gratifying seeing the company get a step closer to the mainstream.

All in all, it was an interesting week, but I’m glad to be back in the office working on Newsvine. We’re launching some great new things in a couple of days.

Blackberry 8700g: The Dreaded Sidegrade

Yesterday, I went out and bought a brand-new Blackberry 8700g at my local T-Mobile store. I’ve been using a Treo 600 for more than two years now and I just couldn’t resist New Phone Fever for any longer.

I had skipped the Treo 650 because frankly, it didn’t seem much better than the 600, and I was planning on going straight to the Treo 700 until Palm pulled two unfortunate moves on me:

  1. They released the Treo 700W a few months ago and it runs on WindowsMobile, leaving me only with tantalizing reports of a “Treo 700P” which would come out some time in the future and run on Palm’s OS. Such a painful wait this would be.
  2. When the Treo 700P was finally announced a few weeks ago, it was revealed that it would only run on Sprint and Verizon for the time being, again with the excruciating announcement that a GSM (T-Mobile) version was “in the works”.

Given that I didn’t feel like waiting who-knows-how-long for a GSM Treo 700P, I had a few options:

  1. Switch to Sprint and get the Treo. I’ve used Sprint before and they were nice enough to send me free stuff through their Ambassador Program so I don’t have any problem with this, but I have a few months left on my T-Mobile contract and I’m not exactly dying to leave T-Mobile anyway since they are quite good.
  2. Wait an indeterminate amount of time for Nokia’s E70… and given my lack of love for their N70, have no guarantee I’ll actually like it.
  3. Extend my contract with T-Mobile and pick up a shiny new Blackberry 8700g — a phone which has gotten pretty good reviews.

I’d been wanting to try a Blackberry for awhile since just as many people swear by them as swear by Treos, so I chose option #3.

After playing with this thing for about a day, I am convinced it falls into the category of a dreaded “sidegrade”. That is, a device which is an upgrade in some regards and a downgrade in others. For this reason, I may not keep it past the 14 day trial period. For those of you thinking about getting a Blackberry 8700g, here are the positives and the negatives (at least compared to a Treo):
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Image Reflections with Javascript

A nice, compact little trick to create reflections underneath your images automatically.

Expiring domain names which seem to make sense.

A list of domain names which are about to expire, that also matches entries in Wikipedia. Some decent hits in here.

Coming To A Town Near You... Maybe.

I don’t post too often about upcoming speaking gigs because I assume most readers don’t care, but since I have a few coming up, here’s a quick combined rundown. If you’re in town for any of these and want to talk a little shop, let me know:

Syndicate Conference – New York City

May 16

Keynote Panel: Grokking the Big Picture: An interview about how syndication is altering the worlds of media, publishing, and marketing.

Speaking with Eric Elia of Brightcove, David Geller of WhatCounts, and Dave Sifry of Technorati.

Interactive Media Conference 2006 – Las Vegas

May 18

Panel: If You Could Build Your Website from Scratch… What Would You Do Differently?

Speaking with Roger Black of Roger Black Studio (OMFG!), Darin Brown of Avenue A/Razorfish, and Lincoln Millstein of Hearst.

WebVisions – Portland

July 21

Session: Designing for Community Interaction.

WebVisions – Portland

July 21

Panel: Design panel.

Speaking with D. Keith Robinson of BlueFlavor, Dan Cederholm of SimpleBits, and Bryan Veloso of FaceBook/Avalonstar.

You Go, Norelco!

This is probably the funniest product introduction site I’ve ever seen. It’s very well done and whatever agency created it for Philips Norelco should take a bow. Philips Norelco should also take a bow for having the guts to actually run it.

Warning: If you work within earshot of easily offended people, you might want to put on headphones.

It’s the perfect type of campaign for a potentially awkward product like this, and it’s pretty much by definition not offensive to a single person in their target audience.

Anyway, I’m just doing my part to keep this viral. It’s pretty hilarious. Make sure to hit up all the options in the main menu when the intro is over.

Are there many other recent examples of well-done, agency-created viral Flash campaigns? I feel like the memorable ones don’t come around often enough.

UPDATE: Thanks to Gregory Bowers who informs us that this site was a joint effort between Struck Graphic Design and Tribal DDB. Bravo!

Welcome To BotSpace

Another day, another MySpace post. I don’t mean to keep picking on the wildly successful social networking site, but just now, I saw a banner ad which really made me wonder what’s going on over there.

Five minutes ago, at the top of my MySpace profile page, I noticed a large ad for a site called “MySpaceBot.com”. The impressive collection of testimonials fading in and out across the bottom of the ad piqued my interest. A screenshot is below:

Whoa! I know this century is only six years old so far, but “the most powerfull [sic] marketing tool this century”? I had to have a look. Interestingly, the banner led to a site called “Friendbot.com”. Friendbot sells a product that — get this — specifically evades MySpace’s security procedures and performs all sorts of automated actions around the site. Here’s a sample of what evil Friendbot can do:

  • Evades CAPTCHAS put in place by MySpace to curb spam
  • Imports entire friend lists from anyone inside of MySpace
  • Sends automated friend requests that appear to be human-generated
  • All sorts of other evil bottish things

Here’s an interesting line from their FAQ:

Will I be banned from MySpace.com for using this program?

No you will not. But if by some miracle you manage to get banned, do not come blame us.




This whole Friendbot thing was starting to seem weird to me, so I dug a little deeper.

→ Read the rest of this entry

Shared
Humanity's deep future:

A group of researchers at the Future of Humanity Institute talk about where our race may be going and how artificial intelligence could save or kill us all.

Steve Jobs speaks about the future at the International Design Conference in 1983:

31 years later, it’s safe to say this is one of the most prescient speeches about technology ever delivered. Jobs covers wireless networking, tablets, Google StreetView, Siri, and the App Store (among other things) many years before their proliferation. A fantastic listen.

How to travel around the world for a year:

Great advice for when you finally find the time.

LiveSurface:

A fantastic app for prototyping your design work onto real world objects like billboards, book covers, and coffee cups. This seems like just as great of a tool for people learning design as it does for experts.

50 problems in 50 days:

One man’s attempt to solve 50 problems in 50 days using only great design. Some good startup ideas in here…

How to Do Philosophy:

If you’ve ever suspected that most classical philosophy is a colossal waste of time, Paul Graham tells you why you’re probably right.

TIME: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us:

Stephen Brill follows the money to uncover the pinnacle of corruption that is the U.S. Health Care system. A must-read article if there ever was one.

DIY Dot Org:

A beautifully designed site full of fun and challenging DIY projects. I could spend months on here.

The Steve Jobs Video Archive:

A collection of over 250 Steve Jobs videos in biographical order

Self-portraits from an artist under the influence of 48 different psychoactive drug combos.

Water Wigs are pretty amazing.

David Pogue proposes to his girlfriend by creating a fake movie trailer about them and then getting a theater to play it before a real movie. Beautiful and totally awesome.

Jonah Peretti's letter to BuzzFeed’s employees:

If you’re wondering what a excellent blueprint for a modern media company looks like, look no further than Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti’s latest email to his employees. In it, Peretti explains a lot of his company’s virtues, the most important being a relentless focus on always providing what’s best for the user. Vox Media (operators of The Verge) is the only other company I can think of which approaches this level of reform and execution.

The Covers Project:

I love this so much: a cross-referenceable database of cover songs, searchable by song or artist. Slowed down, acoustic covers — no matter the song — are so enjoyable to me that I wish it was a requirement to play one at every show. If you like them as much as I do, make sure to check out M. Ward’s Let’s Dance or Sun Kil Moon’s entire album of Modest Mouse covers.

“More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.”
- Tim Kreider’s denunciation of the cult of busyness is excellent. (via jimray)