Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Saddest Thing I've Ever Seen

Those of us who work in the Web field like to think we are working on the hippest thing going. The Web is cool, smart, evolutionary. Unfortunately the reality may be a little sadder than we'd prefer to admit. I base this on the 2006 Yahoo! Top Searches List that was recently published. Here's the list:

Yahoo! Top 10 Overall Searches

1 Britney Spears
3 Shakira

4 Jessica Simpson

5 Paris Hilton

6 American Idol
7 Beyonce Knowles
8 Chris Brown
9 Pamela Anderson
10 Lindsay Lohan

This would lead me to believe that the average Web user is under 14, is very horny, and has rotten taste in entertainment. I think I'm going to recommend my company changes the home page to include scantily clad teeny-bopper artists and a way for visitors to vote on which one is they like best. I guarantee 17,000,000 page views in our first week.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Web Workers and Email

Just discovered a new blog and a good article about e-mail. The blog is "Web Worker Daily" and the article is "How to screw up an email negotiation." Very cheeky, but very true.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Web Team Chasm

I work at a professional association. We're a nonprofit, legally, but we're hardly a charitable organization. Dues are quite expensive and because of it we've little incentive to work hard at finding other sources of income. For instance, we have an online catalog, but it's definitely Worst of Breed. It's in Siebel, pound for pound, the worst enterprise software I've ever seen. I'm not even sure if Siebel still makes a catalog product anymore. They really shouldn't have. We have a team of full-time consultants and in-house staff dedicated completely to it which is amazing given that A) We don't do much business with it, and B) We don't have that many products. Yet the catalog sucks away most of our IT budget and labor. And at this point IT believes it has invested too much in this steaming pile to stop using it, so we're stuck with it.

Anyway, the catalog is difficult to navigate, unintuitive, ugly, and products are horribly categorized. One category is actually called "Catalog Products." Obviously, that one's not Siebel's fault, but my point is this catalog is not built to make money, it's built to meet someone's internal goal of being able to say we have an online catalog. And it's managed completely by IT.

I am not part of the team that chose Siebel for the catalog, or implemented it, or maintains it. I am, in fact, not in IT at all. I am part of the non-IT Web team that manages the rest of our Web site. In our organization the online catalog is not considered part of our Web site. To our association members it certainly is, but not to our internal staff. This means that my team is not allowed input into the online catalog. In fact, the online catalog requires a separate login from the rest of our site (also, sidenote, it doesn't work in Firefox. This didn't seem to bother our IT department so we built a redirect page that checks your browser and offers our 1-800 number if you happen to be one of the millions of people who use Firefox. IT thought we were crazy.)

The problem here is largely the structure of our "Web Team." I say "team," but I really mean, "Web Chasm." We have an IT Division and a Communications Division and I am in Communications. Our team in Communications uses a lot of the same skills as our IT counterparts, but, as they often tell us, we're not IT. We design ASP pages and forms, perform Web Analytics, conduct usability testing, develop functional and business requirements for the site, etc. but IT does not consider those things to be "IT." Also they don't believe in things like "usability" or "analytics." These are silly marketing things that have nothing to do with building Web applications and they simply don't have time because they've got Web applications to build.

Frankly I don't think any of us in Communications want to be in IT. They are largely reviled throughout our organization. People find them rude, arrogant, unhelpful, slow, and they make you fill out a Project Request if you ask them to hold the elevator for you. No, we don't want into that club. However, this puts us at their mercy when we need things like database applications built. We're not skilled at building database applications, but even if we learned how, we wouldn't be allowed to build them. That's an IT thing. Hence, we get in line with every other department that wants something from IT. And it's a long line that rarely moves.

But how, you may ask, do you react quickly to the fast-moving, always-changing Web? The answer "rarely." I estimate we stay at a steady 4-5 years behind the curve when it comes to the Web. My team follows current trends and offers up ideas to make us more competitive in the market and more relevant to our young, growing member base, but IT doesn't want to hear it. They don't have the time, the inclination, or the latest skills to help us move forward. Besides, they've got an online catalog to run.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Myth of Mac

In a recent article about Mac quality issues, Veteran technology industry analyst Rob Enderle is quoted as saying "I think they (Apple) are feeling invulnerable right now. Because they've been so successful as of late, it looks like they can do no wrong and that customers will take whatever they give them."

I think this is probably true. Apple and its users seem to me a pretty smug lot. I'm a Windows PC user, but God knows I'm not a smug one. Windows PCs have all sorts of issues like crashes, odd behavior, susceptibility to viruses and hacks, etc. We all know this of course. We install firewalls, anti-virus programs, add memory, apply patches and do everything we can to keep our PCs running.

We also do some pretty amazing things with our PCs, just like people do with Macs. The difference seems to be that Mac users tend to look down on PC users and I really can't figure out why. Are Macs really better at most things than PCs these days? Are they really so much simpler to use? Or are they just "cooler?"
Besides, there are programs for PCs that do the same things you can do on a Mac. I use most Adobe products on my PC and they're not all that different on Macs as far as I can tell. But is it more cool to say you own a Mac than a PC? Sure it is. The Mac guy on the commercial exudes laidback, trendy coolness, whereas the PC guy exudes uptight, loser dorkiness. But is a PC supposed to be cool? Is that important? If the PC I use is cool does that make me cool by extension?

When I've pressed Mac users for hard reasons why they love their Macs or what's so much better or simpler about them I usually get a response like. I don't know, they're just easier. When I press them further they end up saying PCs are just too complicated and they don't have time to mess with all of that crap. It makes me wonder why my company has a support person for our Mac users. What does he do all day, play Solitaire?

Same thing goes for iPods, which are heralded by owners and most of the press for their amazing simplicity and quality. Here's a simple fact:
The majority of comments I hear from iPod users are negative. Maybe you hear differently, but all I ever hear from iPod owners is how they can't get their CDs ripped to them, and the battery runs out too fast, and for some strange reason the alarm goes off at midnight and drains the power before they wake up, and it scratches really easily and on and on. I also hear about how horrible the customer service is and how you end up paying hand over fist to get them repaired or replaced. And I truly do not get what is so stylish about them. When they first came out they looked like kitchen appliances and everyone raved about how cutting edge and trendy they were. Now pretty much all music and media players look stylish and I don't think iPods really look any more stylish than the rest.

I have a SanDisk Sansa and I really like it. It's small, stable, works with Rhapsody, holds plenty of music, and sounds great. The interface is pretty good too. Not great, but pretty good. Anyway, I don't pretend owning a Sansa makes me cool or part of some generation. It's a tool I use to listen to music and it works well. I haven't joined a Sansa discussion group or told all my friends that it's the "only mp3 player to get." And if I owned an iPod I would feel the same way. Like a Mac, it's just a tool to get things done or entertain yourself. It's not a cult, it's a piece of hardware. Get over it.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Oldie But Goodie about Spammers

This is old, but still hilarious. Rob Corddry from the Daily Show skewers spammers. I think the most amazing thing about this is that a spammer (sorry, a "high-volume email deployer") let himself be interviewed on the air.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

KISS Your Zune Please

I was talking to a friend at work yesterday who I was surprised to find out was "really getting into podcasts." She isn't a technically savvy person (I've had to help her with PowerPoint) so I was shocked to hear her regale me with a list of her favorites podcasts, including the excellent National Geographic collection. She explained that she found them all on iTunes and then began to tell me how much she loved her iPod. I showed her my new Sandisk Sansa player, which is easily the best Media player I've used to date, which she thought was cool, but she thought for "non-techies" like her, the iPod was the way to go. I asked what she meant and she said "The iPod is just so easy to use." I showed her how I plug my Sansa into the PC, Rhapsody pops up, and I start dragging and dropping music onto it. "How is the iPod easier than that?" She stuck by her story that non-techies should get iPods. "But isn't that exactly what you do with your iPod?" She just shook her head and said "iPods are just easier."

So I thought about it and realized that the truth really doesn't matter in fashion. iPods have the perception of being simple so they're simple. Never mind the fact that these days there are many media players just as simple and with less gotchas and hardware issues than iPods. It doesn't matter. iPods are simple.

As Microsoft prepares to roll out its new Zune Media player I hope they realize this. Brand the Zune as the "simple choice." Downlplay the features, and focus on its simplicity. Keep the Zune music store and the transfer process simple. Simple, simple, simple. Run it through the "Mom" process. Can my Mom use it? Does my Mom get it? If not, start over.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Leaving Outlook's Tasks Behind?

I'm taking the plunge off the Outlook cliff and trying out a standalone task management program featured on LifeHacker. It's called TaskCoach and it's a free, open source program available for download from SourceForge.

So far I'm liking it. It's relatively straightforward, but, unlike Outlook, let's you easily create sub-tasks. It also offers an uncluttered view of your daily tasks with easily configured views via a "Filter Side Bar." This ease-of-view is a revelation compared to Outlook. Basically it's a one-click process to see tasks by category or status. Brilliant!

TaskCoach handily minimizes to the taskbar when closed or minimized for easy access as you work. In addition it has built-in effort timers (which I hope I never feel compelled to use, but it would probably be for the best).

The author actively solicits ideas for improvements, which gives me hope that one day it will become even better. I already have a few suggestions to make including templates, drag and drop functions, and the ability to set a default attachment folder.

Anyway, I'm going to try it out for a week and see if I can handle losing the biggest plus of using Outlook for task management, which is the fact that I can drag and drop an e-mail to create a new task, complete with the body of the e-mail. A handy VB script I found even lets me include attachments. This really has been my only reason for sticking with Outlook. However, I can already tell that if TaskCoach offered the ability to drag and drop e-mails to create tasks I'd be sold already.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A Cloudy Feature

I think tag clouds are pretty cool, but try as I might, I haven't seen much use for them. The problem is that they're usually pretty much the same. The big words are obvious.

Tech tag clouds show "Microsoft," "Google," "Apple," etc.

News tag clouds show "Bush," "Iran," "Iraq," "US," etc.

I've never really felt compelled to click on tags in a tag cloud because the tags are either too general or too boring.

What would be cool, and perhaps someone's done this, is if when you clicked on a tag in a tag cloud, it brought you to a new, more specific tag cloud with related tags. Something LIKE that exists, called Google News Cloud. However, rather than successive mini-clouds, it simply highlights related tags.

I'd like to see something similar to the wonderful Visual Thesaurus tool.

Friday, May 26, 2006


I've been a fan of for a few months now. I originally found it very odd and unintuitive, but I've warmed up to it over time. Especially since I installed the Firefox plug-in that makes adding bookmarks a snap.

I still think it might be a bit obscure for the casual Web user though. I think the problem lies with what I assume is an attempt to over simplify the experience. I say this because I've sent people to the site and their first comment tends to be "So what are all these links?" (actually, their first comment is usually more like "Delicious? So is it What? I don't get it." Note to Yahoo, who recently purchased, consider a name/URL change. It was cute for a while there, but...)

One of the reasons I've become so enamored of it is what you can DO with your bookmarks once you start collecting them. You can put them in an RSS feed for instance. Or you can send someone all the bookmarks you have tagged with, say "recipes" just buy sending them a link to

Another example: I recently did a bunch of research on podcasting directories because we were in the process of launching podcasts for my company. Every time I found a directory we might want to post our podcast in, I clicked my button, described the site and tagged it with "podcast" and "directories." When it came time to share what I found with my boss, I just sent her a link to (feel free to click on that, it works).

I also like the fact that I can tag bookmarks with the names of people in my network and they'll get my bookmark in their inbox automatically. Great for team research as well as just fun.

Anyway, check it out at if you haven't already. Make sure to get the browser buttons here: It makes the whole process seamless and almost habitual.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Now That's a Start!

For years I've built my own start pages, which originally start out simply as an HTML page full of my favorite links but eventually becomes festooned with with whatever knick-knacks I find. I used the Accuweather widget, the Symantec Virus Alert widget, the song widget, customized Gigablast search forms, FeedDigest RSS widgets, and yes, even a tagcloud. I put a lot of time and effort into these creations and putter over them incessantly, moving things around, removing things that I don't use, adding new things I've found, changing colors, adding graphics. Truly a labor of love, or, more likely, the result of a horribly short attention span.

The other day I followed up on a note to myself to check out a site called Protopage is, basically, a startpage creator. You register on the site and then are presented with a screen full of components that you can add, remove, edit, move around, and, yes, putter over. For instance, you can add newsfeeds, widgets like weather forecasters, link favorites, or Inbox monitors and you have some control over how much of each component looks and acts. It saves your page layout on the fly and if you leave and come back it looks just like you left it. Thanks to AJAX, this stuff is all pretty slick and responsive. I created my own protopage and was very happy with it. I had about 12 newsfeeds, a bunch of link favorites, a weather widget and an Inbox monitor for one of my POP accounts. And it looked great.

So, in a small ceremony I officially dumped my previous, homemade html page for my slick new protopage (of course Microsoft Antispyware fought me tooth and nail for trying to change IE's startpage, but more on that another time). So everything, it seemed was hunky-dory. Then I noticed a blurb about something called "Pageflakes" in a posting. Apparently Pageflakes was similar to Protopage. So I checked it out. Turns out Pageflakes is pretty cool too. I built a startpage with Pageflakes and saw that it actually seems to have even more widgets than Protopage, including tagclouds from, TV Guides, an SMS sender, even something called a U.S. Debt clock. Well now, maybe I should take a hard look at this.

My next entry will be a review of the startpages out there, including Protopage, Pageflakes, Eskobo, Goowy, and NetVibes.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Taskbar Bullies

One thing that hasn't changed on our desktops in a decade is the fact that many programs we install demand to live in our taskbars. Even seemingly innocuous programs with no legitimate reason for remaining "always on." For instance, why does Quicktime feel the need to maintain constant activity in my taskbar without asking. Is there something I desperately need from Apple that requires this constant tether. If it might need to update itself periodically, why can't it wait until I launch it and then tell me there's a newer version? Anyway, here's a list of the biggest "Taskbar Bullies" that I've run into. All of them suddenly appeared in my taskbar and fought to stay there, despite my attempts to turn them off, edit my startup list, or change options in their program. By the way, get StartUp Cop or something similar if you don't already have it.

  • QuickTime
  • RealPlayer
  • MSN Messenger
Just Annoying
  • AOL Instant Messenger
  • Yahoo! Instant Messenger
  • HP Printer Drivers
  • Picasa
I know there are more out there. Leave a comment if you know one I've missed.

Friday, February 03, 2006

What I Think of "What the Nation Thinks"

I ran across this site while doing some research and ended up hanging around for way too long. It's called "What the Nation Thinks" and it's a collection of opinion polls. You can submit polls or take them. Fortunately someone reviews them before publishing (at least they claim to) so there's not a lot of childish attempts to get attention (although there is one up there currently about bra-sizes, but it's actually not a bad question I suppose.)

From the homepage you can look at polls by how popular, "hot", or new they are. There are also categories (which you assign when submitting a poll) or you can search. The interface is really nice and straightforward, as well as easy on the eyes.

I don't know if this is a Web 2.0 kind of thing, but if is then I don't see why this wouldn't be. Even though it looks like it started a few years ago. In any event it's a nice way of checking out public opinion and killing a whole lot of time.

Friday, January 27, 2006

My Firefox Extensions

Since everyone else is doing it, why not me. Here are the Firefox extensions I'm using (thanks to the ListZilla extension, exporting the list was simple):

ColorZilla 0.8.2
Copy Links 0.1.3
CustomizeGoogle 0.41
DictionarySearch 1.5
Greasemonkey 0.6.4
Linkification 1.1.9
ListZilla 0.7
MeasureIt 0.3.5
OpenBook 1.3.4
PDF Download 0.6
Saferfox Xpanded 3.2.2
Tab X 0.9.2
Tabbrowser Preferences
Web Developer 1.0.1

I've pared down my extensions to the ones I really use regularly. It's always a bit addictive to go finding and adding new ones, but the more you have the slower Firefox will run. At one point I was up to about 25 extensions and FIrefox was crawling and behaving oddly.

I'd recommend using ListZilla to periodically export your list in case you have to do a new Firefox install. It can be a pain trying to remember which Firefox features are standard and which are extensions.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Yahoo News Search has Blogs

I just did a YahooNews search and noticed they are now including blogs in the search results. On the right side you can see the title of the relevant post. You can choose to add the blog to your MyYahoo page (nifty) or you can save it to the Yahoo MyWeb 2.0 dealie. From the main YahooNews page you can choose whether or not to include blogs in your search. This is all very cool and may actually sway me from using Google News all the time.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Give Us a Reason to Go to Movies

Less people are going to see movies in theaters. To anyone who's been to a movie theater in the last decade, this doesn't come as much of a shock. The movie theater experience stinks:
  • Commercials. It still boggles my mind that theaters have commercials now. I never minded the static local advertising that played innocuously before the start of the movie, but having to sit through ten minutes of loud, obnoxious Pepsi and Gap ads is ludicrous.
  • Concession prices. $3.50 for a watered-down diet Coke? Come on. The unpackaged foods (nachos, hot dogs, baked pretzels, etc.) are not only overpriced, but they're barely fit for consumption.
  • Ticket prices. $9 for a movie that I wouldn't even watch for free is criminal. Is there any limit to what theaters are willing to charge? Do they really think people will keep coming when tickets hit $12? Let's hope not.
  • Sound. As much as theaters may tout their sound as Dolby-enhanced multi-channel blah, blah, blah, theater sound is still bad. Within the same movie you sometimes can't hear the dialogue and other times you have your eardrums blown out.
  • Cleanliness. I realize that theaters are made messy by inconsiderate patrons, but theaters need to figure out a way to keep floors from getting sticky and bathrooms from getting disgusting.
  • The movies stink. Obviously this is not the fault of the theater, but perhaps there should be a quality scale for ticket prices. One star movies are $3, two stars are $4, etc. Of course they'd need to get Hollywood on board with the idea, which will never happen.
  • Uncomfortable seating. Who can possibly sit still for an entire movie in the crappy seats they provide? There's no back or neck support and nowhere to put your arms.
  • No value-added service. Apart from the big screen, what do you get at a movie theater? Give me one reason (except for the big screen) to spend $30-$40 for my movie experience instead of waiting for the DVD or cable.
I visited a "deluxe" theater a few years ago and was impressed with it. There were a limited amount of comfortable seats, the sound quality was good, and they actually had waitstaff bringing popcorn, drinks, and desserts around. It added up to a solid movie going experience. Why can't this just be the standard movie theater experience instead of being the "deluxe" version?