May 31, 2011
I'm taking my internets and going home
When will governments (and businesses for that matter) learn, it's too late. The cat's already out of the bag with regards to online. The more you tell people 'no', the harder they'll try to get around you. The more security you put in place to stop them, the more innovative they'll become to circumvent it.
There have already been many reported protests across the world with regards to tampering with online access (see France and their 3 strikes law). In Egypt, cutting off internet access, was apparently the last item in a long list of grievances that caused them to rise up against their government. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before there's a full scale rebellion somewhere in the world based entirely on a government's attempt at online censorship.
May 30, 2011
Tablet advertising rant
I seem to recall a Motorola Xoom commercial doing the same a few months back. Sadly, this seems to be a trend in advertising for devices such as these, showing media that you simply cannot obtain legally at the time of the devices' launch. The other alternative is that they're giving me a glimpse into a possible future where I MIGHT be able to one day watch Thor on my Playbook. Unfortunately, I don't buy products based on what they might offer me months down the line. Judging by the sales of the Xoom, which has been out for a while now, neither do a lot of other people. It still remains to be seen whether the same will be said of the Playbook.
May 27, 2011
As for the practice as a whole, I understand cost of goods sold and the finances involved, yet what I don't understand is why stores are willing to alienate their customers' future purchases by doing this. For starters it adds confusion. Persons not as well versed in the retail environment will probably not understand why your website has the item listed as cheaper. Double this confusion if your website offers 1) free shipping and/or 2) in-store pickup. More importantly, you've just scored yourself a customer with a negative experience. We've already established the customer is already versed with the web (having figured out the price differences already), thus it's probably fair to assume this negative experience will be shared via facebook or twitter. As this customer is presumably at least partially web-savvy, he / she also knows how easy it is to just go elsewhere. Sure you might make a few extra dollars on that in-store sale, if I really need the item today. However, you can be sure that I'll think twice before coming back to you in either online or offline format.
While one negative experience and potential lost future customer might not mean a lot, think of that multiplied. Once mighty chains such as Blockbuster and Borders have either disappeared or are on the brink of doing so, because customers went elsewhere for whatever reason. As a business owner or manager, there are definitely lines in the sand you want to draw when it comes to customer concessions. This, however, I don't think is one of them. An unruly customer who asks for an unreasonable discount is one thing, a customer who simply asks you to match the price another division of the SAME company is already offering is a completely different thing.
In a perfect world online and offline prices would match. Please be sure to let me know when you find that perfect world so I can move there too. However, in the case where store price doesn't match the online price, a policy of just "no" makes little sense. If a customer checks out and pays your offline price, that's great. No harm, no foul. However, if they specifically ask to speak to a manager regarding the discrepancy, consider the positives and the negatives of the situation. You could be setting in motion a chain of events that will effect your future. Whether those events are positive or negative is largely up to you.
May 26, 2011
The Yin and Yang of mobile payments
I won't lie, I'm also leery of any pay-by-phone service (not including shopping via the web), whether it be a tap or a swipe or an NFC transaction. I very much like my phone (an iphone 4, BTW) and use it for almost everything digital I do. However, I will admit to a bit of paranoia about putting my credit cards on it. That being said, I realize that it might be irrational paranoia and nothing more. As someone who has worked in e-commerce for well over a decade, I am well aware that the actual security behind the credit cards in my wallets is more illusion than real in a lot of ways. If my wallet and my phone both get stolen, I at least know there's a password on my phone and I may be able to wipe it remotely. My wallet provides no such protection (obviously, in either case I'd call and cancel those cards). However, on the other hand, I never let my kids play with my wallet either. I can't say the same with my phone. How much fun would it be to be sitting at a restaurant, credit cards blissfully left behind at home, letting one of my kids play with my phone while waiting for dinner, and then go to pay and find out they had inadvertently wiped out my payment app? There are plenty of other scenarios, I can imagine where I'm not sure I'd want my phone and payment device to be one and the same. Needless to say, it'll be interesting to see how quickly this type of solution is adopted by the masses.
On the opposite side of that coin, I am very much in favor of solutions such as Square's mobile credit card reader. I love the concept of calling someone over for a service call (or a pizza delivery), and never having to worry about having cash or check on hand. This is a technology that I hope to see a lot of going forward, especially amongst small businesses.
And yes, I am well aware of the irony of playing paranoid with one payment solution on my phone, while at the same time jumping on the bandwagon of another. I never claimed to be entirely rational about this stuff. :)
May 25, 2011
360 degree design
This is something I have seen happen far too many times over the course of my career. A company spends a lot of money to replatform their website and bring it up to modern standards, while at the same time losing focus on the people who actually have to do the work. This is especially important when considering platforms such as IBM Websphere Commerce, which are very powerful but also have a reputation of being difficult to maintain. When designing any new website or site refresh, project managers, developers, and designers need to focus on the entire 360° of the project. That means, design something that is easy, powerful, and full of value adds for the customer but at the same time increases the efficiency of those who will be maintaining it, on both the developer and content owner side of things.
When speccing out your new website and considering whether or not to make user testing a part of the plan, also look towards internal user testing. Conduct a thorough investigation into what processes and workflows your business owners would find most important. They'll most likely be heavily involved anyway in the customer facing portion of this project, thus also make them a part of the process to help drive the backend of the website. While you'll be putting more work into this upfront, I guarantee your efforts will be appreciated in the end.
Likewise be conscious of this during the RFQ portion. Make sure you only move forward with vendors who show a healthy respect to this 360° approach. Don't be fooled by any who brush this off as something to look at as you get close to launch. By that time it'll be too late. I've had angry meetings with more then one vendor who suddenly started claiming "out of scope" when CMS efficiency changes were requested because what was being presented didn't meet expectations.
In short, as either a business or technology owner, whichever you might be, if you are put in charge of such a project be mindful that there are two sides to this coin. You can have your cake and eat it too if you plan things out carefully from the start. To have a growing website that is a major source of revenue and/or branding for the company is a goal of any good web department. But to have that, while also standing forth as a paragon of efficient design and processes for the rest of the business, well that is where your true aims should lie.
May 24, 2011
Experts need not apply
This article brings up several points I try to hammer home in a few of the classes I teach at DeVry, i.e.: just because there's new technologies at play or a new face to your audience, the basic rules of business never change! Good marketing (of which social media is just a part), good products, and good service are the key to any business. A good marketing director (and team) with an eye on the big picture should always (notice I say *should*...there are always exceptions to the rule) prove to be more valuable to your bottom line (and worthy of his paycheck) than someone with a narrow focus in one area which may or may not be relevant tomorrow.
I'm not saying people shouldn't have a specialty, but think about it. You don't (often) see brain surgeons who can rewire your cerebral cortex, but can't stitch closed a cut on your knee. They may focus on one area, but their education to get to where they are was broad. Similarly, why would you hire someone who lives, breathes, and eats *only* SEO, but gives you a blank stare when you ask them to check on your affiliate statistics because someone else called in sick that day? It may sound like a silly example, but I've seen it happen. Business leaders should remember to value breadth every bit as well as depth. I'd rather surround myself with a team of talented generalists, able to tackle whatever the day throws at them, than a bunch of 'superstars' whose worth is questionable the second they're a few degrees outside of their comfort zone.
May 23, 2011
Apple to patent troll: back to the mines of moria with you!
While I'm not sure how this will ultimately play out for Apple, at the moment it sounds like a win for them, at least from a PR perspective. Standing behind the developers that have extended Apples IOS architecture far beyond what it was originally is the right thing to do. Hopefully the positive press they'll no doubt receive for this as well as the good will of the developer community going forward will turn out to be a net positive for Apple compared to any legal or financial fallout from this whole scenario.
May 20, 2011
Checking off google checkout
What a pain in the ass! There, now that I've gotten that off my chest I feel a wee bit better. Setting up google checkout is easy enough, it's all the rest that pisses me off. First I tried to obtain my domain directly through blogger which sends the purchase through google apps using google checkout. Initially all seemed to go ok. I got all the way to checkout and there, apparently, I made the mistake of indicating that the receipt should go to an alternate email than my gmail address. Two conflicting things occurred at this point. 1) google checkout informed me in the browser window that my order was cancelled and 2) I immediately received an email telling me that my order went through fine. Ok which was it?
My dashboard was telling me I was set up, but nothing was resolving. Not a fatal issue as DNS isn't always instantaneous. So I waited. Still nothing. Waited some more. Nope not resolving. Ok so I went to my google checkout login....no order there. Ok, so maybe it failed after all. I then went to try to purchase the domain again. Survey says...XXX. The system is telling me an order already exists and to contact support. Mind you, no link to support is given during this so I guess I'm the moron for expecting there to be one. However, a quick googling took me where I wanted to go. Google offers no way to call them so I was forced to use one of their canned email forms. I put in my order # from the email and my gmail address.
An hour later I received an email telling me so sorry, but they can't help me because I put in a different address then I emailed the receipt to. Ok so I tried again and waited again. Silly me for assuming this would work. I get another email telling me so sorry, but they can't help me because the email I entered is not the same as my google checkout login (my gmail address). Idiot: see stupid. Stupid: see idiot.
I went back to google. Once again no luck finding a phone #. But I did find an email form that allowed me to actually type out the issue, which I did and sent it off. Waited again and then google emails me to say so sorry you're having problems, but we're so busy we couldn't possibly get back to you in person. Moron: see idiot or stupid.
I finally gave up and tried the whole process again with a .net domain instead. I got about halfway through the process when the phone rang. In getting up to answer it, I guess I instinctively just closed my browser. Another mistake as rather then seeing this as an incomplete order (never reached checkout), when I went back in to resume the process google was once again telling me so sorry, there's already an order in progress please contact support....and NO you can't have a freaking link to find them!
I finally really gave up and just grabbed the domain from another vendor and modified the cname records to point to here. Long story short, until such time as google decides to grow up and treat their payment gateway like a real business and not some beta project, I shall be abstaining from using that particular service. I can't say that the processes they have in place for this service violate their famous 'Do No Evil' motto. However if they had a 'Do No Incompetence' motto it surely would.
Prescreening: an open letter to recruiters part 2
Having gotten that out of the way, please don't be insulted if I balk at the prospect of coming in for one. It has nothing to do with having anything to hide. While there are a bunch of minor things that bug me, the major reasons I have are the following:
- To date I have never ever had a pre-screen do anything other then take up my time. Every single job I have ever had can be traced to either a referral by a colleague, a recruiter who I never met face to face (or maybe met after the fact), or a direct contact by a company itself. Obviously that's a little like saying 'I haven't won the lottery yet, so it'll never happen' but still over the past 16 years I have come to be skeptical of the benefits of doing so.
- If you aren't local to me, than I'm not only giving up my time but you're costing me $$ that I would prefer not to spend on a non-interview. If you're in NYC this could potentially amount to half a day and over $20 in tolls / train tickets etc. These are acceptable costs for an interview. They're not for something that may or may not lead to an interview.
- I am often not comfortable giving out certain bits of my information that are requested of me during the pre-screen. For starters, you aren't getting my SSN. Don't even bother asking. You don't need it. Secondly, I do not like my references being called unless there is a potential job offer on the table. I have professional relationships with these people and thus I don't give out their names lightly. As I said, I have nothing to hide. I will gladly share this information when the time is right. However, I find it inconsiderate for them to be contacted just because it's your policy, especially since I know from experience that you will most likely pitch your services to them at the end of the call.
Speaking of face to face, if that's the whole point of this than why not just offer to meet with me digitally. I'd be more than happy to FaceTime, Qik, or Skype video chat with you. In fact my schedule would probably be open to doing so whenever is convenience for you. Want to FaceTime at 8 am, no problem? 9 pm? Sure. Sunday afternoon? If you're game, then I am.
in short, I'm not trying to deny you the ability to make sure I'm not too incompetent, psychotic, or just too darn ugly to send to your clients. I just want you to be aware of my side of things. If I'm searching for a job, I need to concentrate my time and finances towards that face to face with the company itself. However, if you're willing to work with me a bit, I'll definitely work with you...and that's a good start to turning me from a one-off call to someone you can network with for years down the line.
May 19, 2011
Pay the writer
Don't get me wrong, I'm not planning to stop helping friends and family with technical problems, or doing the occasional 5 minute freebie for a client (sometimes it take more time for me to write the bill then fix the problem :). However, perhaps I will be a little more mindful in the future when an entity pleads poverty to me for whatever reason ("Yay, it's a record year, but sorry we had to cut the budget for raises"). I think there are some scenarios where the line between being a good guy and being an idiot might be finer then we usually think.
E-books reign surpreme at Amazon
I bought my wife a first generation kindle when they first came out and we've been hooked ever since. Initially we used to fight over the single kindle in the house, but then when Amazon released kindle as an app for IOS, a brilliant move IMHO, that really caused it to take off in our house. The convenience of being able to purchase a new book at any given time, being able to read it across multiple devices, and Amazon's aggressive conversion of books to e-format has meant a LOT more books are being read in my house while at the same time a lot LESS trips to the local Borders are being made (I'm kinda sorry to admit I'm one of the people helping to kill the once proud book and music chain).
The other side of the coin is the proliferation of self-published books in the Kindle (and NOOK) marketplaces. As a self published author myself, I can attest that Amazon makes it super convenient to get ones own work published on their marketplace. This further adds to Amazon's growing e-catalog as well as gives exposure to very good writers who might otherwise never be seen outside of their own word processors.
The two combined, along with a lot of smart marketing by Amazon, mean that I personally find the succession of e-books to the sales throne to not only be non-surprising, but to be something I wouldn't have thought to be anything other then a forgone conclusion.
May 16, 2011
Dropping the ball
If you, on the other hand, are the type who likes to store, say, backups of their taxes to services like this, all I can say is that you're a braver soul then I...not sure if I'd say smarter, but definitely braver.
Getting noticed: an open letter to recruiters
The thing is, even in the worst of times, a job search is still a two way street. This is something that can be difficult to remember. At my last full time position my employer was often quick to mention how lucky we were to all have jobs. Most of his audience would lap this up as fact and then go back to redouble their efforts. As for myself, I personally was always a little insulted by this attitude. Was this the corporate version of a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen, handing out paychecks out a sense of charity? Of course not. We all worked hard to add value to the bottom line. Anyone who has a good job should feel lucky to have it. Likewise, any company that has been able to find and retain good labor should likewise feel lucky for the same. This sense of mutual respect is often forgotten during times such as this.
Similarly, this mutual respect should extend to the job search itself. Obviously if my resume is sloppy, my phone skills are poor, or I'm unprofessional in person then I should expect to meet with failure. Conversely, though, if you as a recruiter have made it painfully obvious to me that you haven't given my information even a cursory scan, then do not expect me to jump through hoops for you. I understand that you're busy and that you probably have 1000 resumes to look at for every position. However, don't think I'm fooled for even a second when I get a form email proclaiming that after much intense scrutiny of my resume I would be perfect for your Java developer position, just because your keyword engine picked up the word Java somewhere in my information. Even a momentary scan of my resume by a pair of eyeballs would pick up on the fact that I am not even remotely close to what you (and I) are looking for. All you've done is secure yourself a place in my trash bin.
The recruiters I like dealing with, will keep on record, and will thus help network with are the ones that come across as...well...as human beings and likewise make me feel as if I am being treated as such. The ones who come across as slick salesmen are either ignored or quickly forgotten. Here's a hint, if you come across as someone I wouldn't let sell me a hard drive at Best Buy, then I am most certainly not going to be comfortable having you be my broker to help secure for me what will be a major piece of my life. The job search door swings both ways. If you can't hold open the door for me just a little, then don't expect me to do likewise.
May 14, 2011
Who'd a thunk it?
May 13, 2011
Watch Your Effing Mouth!
As for myself I tend to leans towards moderation. Sometimes it is just downright unprofessional to go off on four letter rant, especially in front of an audience that isn't paying you to do so. On the other hand I won't treat either my business associates or my students like glass. We're adults. If the word asshole makes you swoon, my feeling is that perhaps you should move back in with your parents for a few more years. Id like to think we should all use a little of that better judgment that graduating from our teen years supposedly gives us access to. When giving a presentation to prospective clients, maybe think of a better metaphor then explaining all the various positions your service is going to let them violate their competitors in. Conversely, though, when giving a talk on the various mishaps of the business world, sometimes there is just no better word to get your point across then by calling a clusterfuck what it is.
Netflix released on limited Android devices
From what I've seen the app appears similar in functionality / appearance to the iPhone app. I guess this a good thing. Truth be told I've gotten limited usage out of Netflix on my smartphone. Outside of perhaps streaming a little Invader Zim while I work out I don't find myself using it much. Albeit this stems not so much from problems with Netflix as much as it does from my having a pc, ps3, iPad, and Netflix DVDs themselves to choose from in my other rooms.
However, this brings to mind another annoyance. I have at least 4 different devices I can log into and view movies, my account, queue etc in and all 4 of those devices provide different user experiences. The problem being that these differences don't just seem to be related to size of the device. Navigation, categories, what movies are presented to me (outside of searching) and even what queue I can edit differ amongst them. I love Netflix, but these disparities in UI bug me. I'd really love for Netflix to design a scalable universal client that provides consistency. From any client I should be able to:
- stream movies (duh!)
- access my account
- see the same categories with the same movies
- modify BOTH my online and offline queues