08 Oct

Why Media Companies Should Pay Attention to Software Development/Operations Integration

Many if not most media companies invest relatively little in software development. But those that do have been grabbing the attention of an increasing number of readers, subscribers, advertisers, and investors. What to do if software is not in your DNA, and why do you want to do something about it in the first place?

Adopting new tools and workflows is work, no matter how you slice it, so I will highlight that this is not just about operational quality control or developer productivity – though these are important in their own right – but more importantly about maintaining competitiveness in light of shifting readership expectations and behaviors. Here is the business case for paying attention, and carefully adopting, some of the latest methodologies popular in web development circles. For many organizations this may require a significant cultural shift. Read More

26 Dec

Amazon.com Kills Tabs

Remember when every web site had to have tabs because that’s what Amazon.com did, so it had to be good? Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it? Well Amazon finally retired them, realizing that they didn’t scale when you have 40+ departments in your site. They’re now using scroll-down menus which I have mixed feelings about. Yes you can cram a lot into them, but then the user has to be more careful about the path they follow with their cursor, for fear of opening another (unwanted) submenu along the way. Amazon’s implementation is addressing that issue by forcing you to open the menu through its top right. Smart, though you have to kind-of learn to hover over the down arrow. Funny to see the Kindle featured in three different areas.

06 May

If You Thought Yahoo SEM Was Bad, Try MSN adCenter for a Laugh

So Renamed Microsoft adCenter Officially Launches (drumroll). Well, let’s give it a ride then. “Microsoft adCenter does not currently support the web browser you are using. Please sign in using Internet Explorer 6+.”
Yeah right, Firefox on WinXP, talk about obscure. I kid you not, to be able to use their web application, a distant third in its market, you have to use a proprietary piece of software that hasn’t been updated in five years. IE-only development in 2006? Well that certainly helps explain the outstanding MSFT stock performance these days (thanks for sapping my savings, guys). I’m starting to think Mini Microsoft is actually right in the money. The people who thought it was ok to develop this adCenter site this way should be fired on the spot. As a Microsoft shareholder I just find it inexcusable to not only lock out potential customers in non-trivial numbers but also to use ancient proprietary web development practices.
At least it was the occasion for me to learn the word “nincompoops,” which preceded by the f word was how my Mac-using business partner chose to describe them. I think that fits perfectly.
Update: I sent this to Scoble, then I realized someone else had already bitched about it.
August update: they’re fixing this.

03 May

If You Thought Adwords Was Just OK, Try Yahoo for a Ride

I’m trying to extend our ad reach for TaxPrinter now that we’ve found some profitable keywords, so we’ve just opened a Yahoo Search Marketing account. Well, I’ll tell you what, you’ve got to be seriously motivated to spend money there. First, Yahoo is in denial that they’re the follower to the market leader. Take a hint from Microsoft back in the 90’s when it was still a growth company: acknowledge reality, embrace, and extend. Meaning, put a big box that says “Adsense advertiser? Import your campaigns right there in three clicks”. Microsoft had all sorts of Lotus Notes or Oracle or Novell import and interface tools, and that worked well to penetrate accounts. It’s not like I won’t hear about Adwords if Yahoo remains shy about it.
Second, Yahoo’s search marketing user interface is a pile of crap. You can’t sort columns by clicking on them, terminology is confusing (“editorial status”? I’m not writing a magazine here, I’m selling stuff), sessions expire and wipe off unfinished work if you dare doing something else for a while, help sucks, many tasks involve darn popups, and it’s hard or impossible to do the simplest things such as deleting keywords. I’m not in love with the Adwords interface, but it’s an order of magnitude less bad than YSM. I’ll stick to it to see how it performs because I want to make money even if it sometimes means unfun work, but this house needs to be put in order and the interface should be overhauled to ’00s web usability and convenience standards. Again, the mediocrity of oligopolies in times of growth is right there in your face.
I’ve just added DFH Superior and Steinberg V-Stack to my Roland TD8-based electronic drumkit, and there’s a bit of a learning curve to set the whole thing up with my new ESI ESP1010 sound card. The end result is low-latency (around 4ms) live triggering of 1+GB of drum samples with pretty good velocity and humanization support, something that was impractical and limited only three years ago (not to speak of mic bleeding which I don’t think even existed). 3GB of RAM and low-latency soundcards used to cost a lot more while drum sampling software was cruder (there’s a gap between Battery and DFH or BFD). My long-winded point is, I’m fine with having to learn software when it’s somewhat on the edge but I’m not happy to have to frown just to figure out an ad management web app.

25 Jul

Is a Broken Contact Form Acceptable?

In the course of the various gigs and projects I’m involved in, I end up looking for and using contact information on literally hundreds of corporate web sites per year. It’s already bad enough when a company selling armament or semi-conductors has impossible to find or broken contact information (bouncing email addresses or failing contact forms), if not simply none listed at all. But when we’re talking about the Canadian subsidiary of one of the Big Threes not listing any online contact info, and adding the insult to the injury with a broken help link, you’ve got to wonder whether anyone cares about the basics of customer interactiosn. Yahoo Canada, I’m inquiring about local advertising opportunities for a client of mine, is it too much to ask from an internet company NOT to force me to make a phone call? I’ll try that form (not really adequate but whatever at this point), we’ll see how it goes. You’d think a company like you has automatic “garbage collection” on their sites by now. Here’s hoping Google Canada sucks less.

19 Jul

Who’s Going to Take Online Real Estate to the Next Level?

Combine Realtor‘s MLS-based national (i.e. US) search with HousingMaps UI (because who cares for Craigslist housing listings?), including smart ideas such as a history of past sales as featured by Redfin (who is not alone in overlaying local MLS data on maps). Mix with itinerary (by foot or car) and transportation applications

19 Apr

Between Fluid and Fixed: Elastic Design

Roger Johansson takes a step further the debate that wouldn’t die between proponents of fluid and fixed web designs. His in-between approach is demonstrated by his own recent "elastic" redesign. Resize the font on his site to see it in action. Look at the masthead and main column width — nice! Elastic is liquid done properly to make sure things don’t expand into silliness in higher resolutions, while acknowledging that the user is in control.
Nice to have for content sites, but even nicer for web apps. The severely constrained layout of Movable Type’s backend for instance makes me cringe and would no doubt benefit from this.
05/30/05 update: see what Stopdesign and Happy Cog have done for Capgemini.

10 Sep

Paypal Previews New Home Page

Here’s what Paypal is going to look like. The feature-based lead ("send money", "request money") is replaced by a focus on audiences that gives a prominent place to eBay sellers. Fraud is acknowledged as an issue, both from the seller and buyer perspectives, which makes sense considering all the email phishing going on. It’s good that Paypal chooses to address this upfront; some companies would display a smiling child holding blue and yellow balloons while trying to sweep the whole thing under the carpet.
I have to ask though, was the smiling guy with a double chin tested with actual people, or is this the result of a creative brief supposed to convey trust for "people just like you" but gone a little astray in its execution?
Anyway, this new home page is clear and readable and its visual structure helps do more than the current barebone page which doesn’t use white space very effectively. Notice the top navbar remains the same so that millions of people don’t have to relearn how to use the site. What’s surprising though is that, despite the preview, Paypal doesn’t really ask for feedback, so it doesn’t seem they intend to tweak it further before launch.

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21 Jul

A Critical Mass of Advertisers Makes Contextual Ads More Relevant

Andrew Goodman:

"I can attest to having been extremely frustrated doing web searches trying to find things like software, templates, standard documents, and legal agreements to help me grow my business.
But when advertisers of such services start to put their little classified ads up next to those keywords, the process gets a lot faster. I still use PDF Factory Pro, for example, because I saw their ad on Google next to a jumble of useless results for my web searches on PDF publishing."

Hear, hear! I find myself actively looking for the ads when I’m doing product/shopping-related queries, as sometimes all I want is to know where to buy the freaking stuff and how much it costs. Someone explaining why they offered the thing for their grandma for Christmas, or an obscure academic paper which happens to include my query’s keywords, is sometimes just noise. It’s all about context.
01/14/05 update: Google search within sponsored links.
05/30/05 update: indirectly related: Yahoo Mindset.

12 Jul

Allmusic’s redesign should be public soon with lots of goodies for music lovers

Allmusic

The Allmusic beta preview I’ve seen looks nice, though it felt a bit sluggish (the dll-based architecture and long-winded URLs are still there) and there are some bugs left, so I’m not sure the site is really ready for launch today as advertised (search gets me a javascript error, that alone is a showstopper). One thing the site supports better is discovery by browsing around. You can for instance explore it by instrument, and you’ll get a blurb about, say, the trumpet, as well as a list of top related artists and albums. This is still a bit crude though since you can’t combine that facet with others. What I’d be interested in is the intersection of instrument and mood, or instrument and genre, for instance what is significant in piano blues or aggressive electric bass?
There are still some datapoints you cannot use as pivots, for instance even though Chopin is filed under the Romantic era, that period is not a hotlink that would lead to its own area on the site (which is frustrating because contemporary works are supposed to be browsable by decade, though that feature doesn’t work too well).
The new sortable list/detail format is more efficient to let you browse a discography, and other features such as the picture browser let you access more content without reloading the whole page. Some features such as advanced search (which loads within the page too) will require free registration.
Overall, this feels like a nice update to an invaluable resource that makes better use of the huge underlying database (and now classical is merged with the rest), here’s hoping the rough edges will be ironed out soon.

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