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June 2008 Marketing Archives

Friday, June 06, 2008

Bad Design is Death Online

There's a saying in my field: function over form.

Whenever we're developing a website I'm adamant that we make every function work properly -- pages, links, images -- and we make sure that every page uses simple language and as few layers as possible.

The reason: Users shouldn't have to guess what you do.

The best sites pass the mom test, which for me is literal. Whenever I'm working on a project, I make sure that I send versions to my mother and father for their feedback. If they can't figure it out, we scrap it.

Yet companies continue to pile on layers of design in the hopes they can separate themselves through brand and image, assuming that readers will 1) take the time to understand what they do and 2) if they can't figure it out, they must be stupid.

That mentality is astounding. I was sitting in a packed panel at South by Southwest Interactive last March listening to a designer from Apple describe his process. It went like this: do what you want, ignore your managers and don't worry about the users because good designers are artists.

I'll be honest. I dislike Apple a great deal for reasons that aren't important here, but in just that moment I understood why Apple had lost its way. Die hard Apple users may believe Microsoft and the PC are inferior, but the masses disagree. I'd argue that's because the design of the PC -- with its well-known typewriter language, for instance -- is far superior.

Bad design is anything that makes a user work. And if you do, it's not the user who is stupid.

Bad Design is Death Online By Brad at 12:53 PM
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Cell Phones: Not Just for Calling Anymore

In America, the best technology rarely wins the consumer heart. Our homes and offices are filled with inferior technology that does one thing really well: it works. 

That's not necessarily the case in Japan, where manufactures and retailers are struggling with a population that increasingly wants the latest -- and most complex -- cell phone for the very same reason that Americans have flocked to the iPhone: personal brand identity.

Neat-looking gadgets are also a core aspect of one's identity. Daiji Hirata, chief financial officer of News2u Corporation and creator of Japan's first wireless LAN, admits to changing handsets more often than is probably necessary. 

The prevailing thought is that Americans are looking for easy-to-use handsets, but Nokia is betting that we're more like Japanese consumers. The Swedish company is developing a series of all-in-one handsets that will be all-purpose devices that are, according to the San Jose Mercury News, more Swiss army knife than cell phone.

The complexities of cell phones, though, could also lead to as-yet-determined applications. Scientists secretly used GPS chips in phones to track 100,000 people, building a comprehensive map about their activities.

Clearly we'd rather not be tracked -- particularly anonymously -- but the idea that emerging handsets could offer location-based services is intriguing (for instance, I get my Borders coupons sent to my phone; however to use them I have to save the text messages. I'd rather get them when I'm within a 1/4 mile from a Borders' store.)

Cell Phones: Not Just for Calling Anymore By Brad at 12:24 PM
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Thursday, June 05, 2008

E-Trade, Google Keeping it Real with Stocks

Rule number one about making money online: Sell something.

Banner advertising is for suckers. Now it's true that I've made my living by working online since 1999, new technologies such as AdBlock have convinced me the days of the banner are coming to a close.

But I can't see capitalism taking a fall any time soon. Ebay, Amazon, MovieFone and Fandango are successful because they sell goods. Physical products. That's hard to beat.

Services, though, are the digital equivalent of the physical product. And what better way to make money than to sell services to people who are looking to make more money.

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced today that it was rethinking its rules on real-time stock quotes, allowing non-financial type companies to publish real-time stock quotes. Previously, websites such as Yahoo Finance could only publish quotes 15-20 minutes after they'd appeared.

Not exactly the real time most traders are looking for.

By 7:30 this morning, Google Finance had a blog announcement about a new service -- real-time stock quotes. Why? It's another formidable revenue model to bolster its online ad service.

But stocks are going mobile as well. E-Trade, one of the nation's leading digital stock trading services, went Google one better. It announced a suite of products for the Blackberry, the most popular smart phone in the country. Soon, stock-o-files will have access to real-time data and online trading services.

With new Mobile Internet Devices expected to hit the market soon, it's likely there will be a plethora of ways to access and trade your stocks.

Because selling goods and services is still the best way to do business.

E-Trade, Google Keeping it Real with Stocks By Brad at 05:08 PM
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Chris Brogan: The Value of Your Social Network

The proliferation of social media technologies -- those networks that allow you to post your thoughts instantly to scores of "friends" and contacts -- has raised an interesting debate throughout the last few months: what's the value of your network?

Every day, new social technologies pop up to compete with LinkedIn (a business contact network), Facebook and Myspace (social networks) and Twitter (a mobile text messaging network). It's easy to run from one to the other, joining every new system and importing your contacts from here to there.

But ask "why" before they run.

Chris Brogan, a social media consultant, added a twist on that: will companies pay you for your contacts? (The short answer is: smart companies will.)

The reality is a well-maintained social network is intangibly important because you have access to people you wouldn't normally have access to. That makes problem solving much easier. It's human-search.

You post a question. Somebody is bound to know. It's Ask the Audience in Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

That's the conclusion eponymous blogger Robert Scoble gave when asked why he followed thousands of people on the messaging service.

Yet even Scoble eventually had to re-think his position after he became overwhelmed with -- as he said -- one message per second. No matter how much you want to keep up, there's no way that adds value to your information stream.

The real value comes not from the sheer volume of contacts as Scoble says, but instead from the informational relationships you form. This idea is explained in some ways by Microsoft Sharepoint specialist Sharon Richardson, who said a good social network creates a feedback loop, one that is constantly in motion and responding to real-time requests.

Chris Brogan: The Value of Your Social Network By Brad at 09:47 AM
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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Polling in the Electronic Age

Ever since the 2000 election, news agencies and other groups have been reticent to conduct polls. The reason: it's getting increasingly difficult to reach people now that they are using so many disparate form of communication.

A new study by the National Center for Health Statistics found that 14.5 percent of the population lives in a household with no landline, a number I frankly found shocking low. The folks at the Pew Internet and American Life point out that those numbers are even higher for people less than 30 (30.6 percent) and Hispanics (19.3 percent).

If those numbers don't strike fear into the hearts of marketing departments everywhere, I'm not sure what will. Companies increasingly need to find their ways into new communication networks to make sure they are reaching not just one demographic, but all demographics.

And that gulf is only going to get wider thanks to Voice over Internet Protocol, Mobile Internet Devices and gadget-filled mobile phones, 830 million shipped globally by 2012, according to market research firm Parks & Associates.

As the gap widens, it's going to be paramount for companies to make sure they have a presence in various networks simply to make sure they are reaching a truly representative group.

Polling in the Electronic Age By Brad at 06:19 PM
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Google Customizes Search

A few years ago, my project team installed the Google Mini -- an enterprise hardware solution to what was our search problem. We never really got the dang thing to work how it should, and while the search was better, it sure didn't feel like money well spent.

I made the decision because I like having hardware in front of me so we can fix it when there's a problem. Call me old fashioned.

These days, it's simply easier to access software tools online. Google's new enterprise search solution lets companies customize their search results, instead of offering a simple Google search, so that users can more easily navigate through a site.

If you've ever tried to find anything on a government or corporate site, you'll understand why this is a big deal.

This expansion helps Google in two ways: it expands it enterprise business and it moves the company one step closer to have an Office-like suite of products with search functionalities delivered online, unlike Microsoft.

Which has to concern the Redmond software giant. Microsoft, fresh on the heels of Yahoo's rejection, announced Search Live would be the default product in Hewlett-Packard computers.

Google Customizes Search By Brad at 09:06 AM
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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Games Ahoy: CBS Openly Courts Fantasy Sports Market

It's probably just a coincidence that the day after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to listen to arguments in a case brought by Major League Baseball that the announced its decision to create a fantasy-only sports network.

The decision -- or lack of a decision -- by the Supreme Court essentially allows companies to use statistical information, including players' names, to create fantasy leagues without obtaining a licensing agreement from the major sport.

That means its open season for media companies. CBS said its new site will follow 8 sports, giving users the opportunity to follow news on specific players, general columns and updates from reporters and editors and sift through data to prepare for mock drafts and the like.

While fake nerd fantasy leagues may not seem all that important to, you know, almost everyone (not me, I get it), the reality of modern business demands that companies look for ways to not only disseminate information, but also engage readers in the brand.

That's how interactivity works.

It's also why national networks like ESPN are launching regional high school sports information services. It's not so strange to believe that in the near future, there will be localized versions of What If Sports, a fantasy simulation that allows users to make trades between teams and play out seasons to see…What If?

It may sound hokey to some, but -- and I'm about to be stereotypical -- ask the sports loving man in your life how much time he'd spend if he could track local high school players, create fantasy teams for them and then draft them into a league stocked with professionals.

And if he says he doesn't know, he's lying. I know this because I know how many units that Madden Football and NCAA Football sell each year for the Wii, Playstation3 and Xbox 2, games that allow you to do what I just described.

Games Ahoy: CBS Openly Courts Fantasy Sports Market By Brad at 12:39 PM
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Time Warner Tests Metered Internet

There's long been talk about treating the Internet as a public utility, a necessary function of daily life that should be run as a natural monopoly and regulated by the government.

The reason: the Web and its information services are quickly becoming necessary inclusions for daily life. Government agencies, schools, law enforcement and businesses are well into the migration of service to the Web, giving people the ability to quickly handle tasks that once required a great deal of time.

As these services continue to expand, it's increasingly important for Americans to have access to the networks.

The question, though, is how fees would be assessed in a public utility world of the Internet. In the early days, customers paid per minute to access the Internet, but that gave way to monthly flat fees. The rapid expansion of audio and video -- which can choke traffic -- has led Time Warner to rethink the way it charges.

The company is currently conducting a test in Texas that would bill people in the same way electricity is. The metered-approach would force people for spening more time browsing and downloading (or even emailing attachments) more.

America Online, which popularized the pay-per-minute approach, shifted its metered plan in the early nineties and saw unprecedented growth. If Time Warner and other cable operators push ahead with this plan, expect to see DSL companies and satellite operators trump their blanket, monthly fee structure as a way to poach angry consumers.

Time Warner Tests Metered Internet By Brad at 10:08 AM
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Monday, June 02, 2008

Google, CBS Tackle RSS and Video Advertising


Sure but you don't make any money. Okay, some people make money but Google has the lion's share of online advertising.

I skipped the first part of the conversation because no matter how it starts, when it comes to discussing how to make money online there just aren't enough people who know how it's done.

Which means the end of that conversation oftentimes ends with those two statements.

And let's be honest, there's some truth to those statements. For every advertising network that targets the smaller blog networks, there's a Google counter-part. The group already has search advertising cornered with its AdSense and AdWords products, but now the search giant is looking to deliver advertising to both its Feedburner RSS service and the eponymous YouTube video service.

The reality is for most small time bloggers, there's not going to be a lot -- if any -- money in this; however, if Google and other companies can create a network that allows people to make money on professionally-created video and written content, then those same practices can be applied by amateurs (or wanna-bes as I like to call myself) who can gather a mid-sized audience.

Now this won't change the face of entertainment or destroy books or end television as we know it. It is catching the eyes of the major entertainment companies. CBS announced it would syndicate its content online, allowing people to embed its player on your site.

Here's the end game, if you haven't put it together. You can use the professionally created content to attract more viewers to your site (probably not a ton, but some newbies) by creating channels of content augment what you do.

Just like an RSS feed does with text.

It's another tool to help aggregate and capture people on your site.

Google, CBS Tackle RSS and Video Advertising By Brad at 02:28 AM
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New Chips, Apple Take the Mobile Web to the Brink

The mobile Web is getting a power boost.

NVidia, which makes high-end graphics chips for computers, released a high-end processor set for mobile devices that will make it easier -- and faster -- to surf online.

That means all kinds of super-cool play for nerds like me, but practically speaking it means mobile phones and other Internet-ready mobile devices will become a lot more people-friendly.

Intel has already targeted these hardware gadgets slickly marketed as Mobile Internet Devices (MID), which is just a fancy new name for anything that's not a computer and connects to the Net.

More than likely, though, the most noticeable changes will be in the smart phone market, which got a boost in popularity thanks to Apple's entrance into the field despite Blackberry and Treo product lines that have served U.S users for years.

Still, Apple has probably done more to make the smart phone cool than other mobile vendors want to admit. While the company's share of the smart phone market dropped from 26 percent to 19 percent in the last two quarters, the iPhone has replaced the Treo and Blackberry in the lexicon.

We know this because its latest iteration -- the 3G iPhone -- hasn't even been announced yet and already the world is aflutter with speculation about the awesomeness of it (video). Heck, the technology press has already started speculating on how an iPhone user will likely be on the ground chronicling the next world changing event.

Regardless of Apple's future announcements, the days of lugging that hefty laptop from meeting to meeting may come to an end because mobile devices have increased storage, longer battery lives and soon an improved connectivity.

New Chips, Apple Take the Mobile Web to the Brink By Brad at 02:07 AM
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June 2008 Week 2 »

  • Week 1 (10 entries) June 1-7
  • Week 2 (10 entries) June 8-14
  • Week 3 (10 entries) June 15-21
  • Week 4 (12 entries) June 22-28
  • Week 5 (0 entries) June 29-30

E-Trade, Google Keeping it Real with Stocks
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Time Warner Tests Metered Internet
the internet should be a public thing and not some...

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