As an Internet marketer, I see jobs fly by. Here's an interesting one. Interesting to me because -- well, what a cool job. But also interesting to see the listing and the requirements. This is more sophisticated than I'd vave expected in the world of politics.
They're looking for "Internet experts" in search engine marketing, search engine optimization, online media planning, Internet display ad buying, ad optimization analytics, DART ad server, brand advertising, etc.
I wonder if all the candidates are up to speed on how to use the Internet.
In writing the article on HealthVault, I tried to log in. Won't let me.
I tried "Forgot Password" and it tells me the e-mail address I am using is not a valid login. So I try to register anew using that login. It tells me that it's already in use.
Click for help and I get a non-helpful FAQ that resizes the browser window to a tall, 1-inch wide window. Huh?
Anyway. It doesn't recognize my login except when I try to use it to register and then it recognizes that it's taken (yes, I know!!). Stuck. How much you want to bet their customer support doesn't respond?
Postscript. I went back to request support. There is a Feedback link. Guess what it gave me:
OK, that's funny.
P.P.S. Microsoft, to their credit, responded to my tech support request within the promised 24 hours. They suggested going to the Windows Live ID site and managing the login there, where I was able to reset the password. But that password is not strong enough for HealthVault and a stronger form (which I use on financial sites) also was not strong enough. In fact, a random strings of letters and numbers, like frt67h8j98I is not strong enough!
I clicked their tips for making a strong password and it goes to a Help page (after resizing the browser window to that ridiculously narrow window again) that did not talk about making a strong password.
A friend was having trouble getting a site design started. My two cents:
Don't try to make something perfect, or even excellent. It will keep you from starting at all. Understand that it will evolve.
Put a stake in the ground. Start at one corner and do something - even if it feels mediocre.
Limit the flexibility. When you have a truly blank slate, the infinite possibilities can be paralyzing, so make up a theme, a concept. It doesn't have to be spot-on, or even relevant. Just something to give a direction. In product design, they sometimes refer to a "design language." Pick something -- colors, feeling, theme song, an imagined environment, a theme, a message.
Take inspiration from other works but use that only as a seed, to grow your crystal in your own way.
Just design. Let the content, the design process steer you. Stephen King, in his excellent book On Writing, talks about letting the characters tell the story. Imagine them and their situation and just write, letting them live in your mind. You become a spectator and just tell the story as they work it out. Likewise for a web site, your copy, or anything else. Build the theme in your mind and let it guide you rather than you trying to guide it.
Seek feedback from others but not too soon and don't listen too much.
I saw a comment in one of my favorite comics about Obama's logo:
"I like Barack Obama pretty well, but I’m in love with his logo. What a brilliant, versatile asset. The attention to detail and sheer number of variations are amazing and the typographic choices very distinct. The only thing I like as much as comics is a solid design identity system. (Can you guess what I went to school for?)" — R. Stevens, author of Diesel Sweeties
I love logos. Embodying a brand in 100 milliseconds of attention span is an achievement. And if you have ever designed one, you know it's hell. Capturing a feeling in a memorable swatch is hard, hard work. Many logos are tacky and amateurish but when done well, they approach high art.
I am especially fascinated by presidential campaign logos which have terrifying design limitations. First of all, you get three colors. Red. White. Blue. And second, they mostly are trying to say the same things: Solid, competent, forward-thinking, hope for a new day, that kind of thing. And most succeed pretty well.
Do check out this piece on the Obama logo and don't miss the many variations, official and not, further down the page. Very nicely done. His website, by the way, is also really nicely designed.
It makes me sad to see how badly they operate because I know several Yahoo employees and I really like them — and the company. And heaven knows that Google, as good as they are, needs decent competition. But Yahoo needs good management and heaven knows they won't get it from the clumsy apes in Seattle.
I have many examples but today, it's their support. I have had two problems with their mail servers in the last couple of months. Their server sends an error that helpfully, includes a URL to a Yahoo help page. Good idea, except that the help page, in both cases, didn't solve the problem. The topic was barely related and the instructions were all but indecipherable, even for a technically adept person. Today, it told me to click on the "Options" link at the ul=pper right. There is no such link.
But good news: They include a link right there to e-mail their support.
But the support system, in both cases, sent a message back that said:
1. Please describe all the actions you took leading up to the problem, and include what functions you had wished to accomplish.
2. If you're seeing an error message, please include the exact text of the error messaging. It's important that you include the entire error message for our analysis.
3. Describe how often the issue occurs and provide any other relevant information.
Fine — but in both cases, I had already provided all these things. It was clear, both times, that no one had read the message. The message was "signed" with a person's name ("Paddy") to give the impression it was a personal reply. Maybe it was — but if so, Paddy is lazy, rushed, or an idiot. So, without reading the messages, they immediately fire back a message telling me to do what I have already done.
The last time, we began a dialog, with a string of idiotic responses. Ultimately, it required a phone call. So in addition to irritating a customer, this maximized Yahoo's costs.
Fortunately, the problem went away on its own.
We will see how it goes this time. I am taking bets. Anyone think it will go well? Anyone think Microsoft will make things better? Time to buy more Google stock.
Remember the story, perhaps apocryphal, that Chevy was having trouble selling the Nova in Mexico until someone pointed out that it means "doesn't go" in Spanish?
There is a new free product for people who do web marketing. It's an awesome product -- does what seriously expensive products too but it's free. Measures customer satisfaction and what people want on your site. From iPerceptions, a company I know well, in partnership with one of the great minds in web analytics, Avinash Kaushik.
The product is built around four questions they ask, so they call it 4Q. Which is fine, until you say it. When you watch the product demo, you hear it over and over. 4Q. 4Q. 4Q.
WHAT was Avinash THINKing???
Anyway. 4Q is a great product and in my opinion, a no-brainer if you have a website.
Of all the products one might buy online, tires did not seem likely. They need to be installed. They're big and heavy. I imagine them being shipped to stores by the truckload, not four at a time. People rely on the advice of the seller. Since you're stuck with the results of a tire purchase for a couple of years — and returning them is a problem — can an online retailer provide enough service?
I heard good things about the Tire Rack, the leading online seller of tires and a friend just reported an excellent experience. So I decided to give them a spin, so to speak.
I visited a local tire seller that is very near work. I have used them before. I read Consumer Reports. I checked Costco. I found a message board for Lexus owners and read the numerous threads on tires (including many messages about what tires people like on my exact model of car).
Ultimately, I bought at the Tire Rack. Here's why:
Information: Online wins, hands-down.
The Lexus drivers' bulletin board was an excellent start. It helped me narrow my choices to a few very well-liked models. Consumer Reports was helpful but did not include the Lexus users' preference, the Bridgestone Alenza. The Tire Rack's site was full of really good information. Their advisor pages let you describe your car, how you drive, your priorities (noise/comfort, performance, mileage). You can select by brand, size, and other characteristics.
Recommendations: Online wins, hands-down.
The Tire Rack's crown jewel is their customer ratings. They have accumulated comments from literally millions of customer miles. Many of their customers write detailed reviews. They detail the choices in comprehensive charts like this one:
(Click image for full size)
This showed me that the Alenza, which the Lexus board owners preferred, was very close to Consumer Reports' top choice, The Goodyear Fortera Triple Tred. I went with the Alenza for $30 less per tire.
The local dealer I talked to was not even close. He recommended a tire that scored fairly poorly elsewhere. Other dealers would probably have done better but how can I assess their advice? In this case, the community's recommendations were reliable and mostly in agreement.
Price: Tire Rack wins, hands-down.
Even Costco could not compete. They were close, for the Michelins they carry, but their selection is very, very limited.
My dealer? Distant loser. Charged me more than the Tire Rack for a lower grade tire. From reading online, dealers vary widely and I could have done better — but shopping for tires is only marginally more interesting to me than being run over by one.
There is no sales tax and with shipping, the Rack wins easily. Installation is $125. The only downside is I will have to pay for tire rotations over the life of the tires.
Service: Local retailers win, but not by much.
I expected local dealers to win this category since they have the tires in stock and can install them for you. Their advantage was narrower than I thought.
When you buy from the Tire Rack, they identify local shops that will install them. One of them happens to be the auto repair place I always use (Don and John's Automotive in Sunnyvale, CA). I trust them completely, so that was a big plus for the Tire Rack.
The Tire Rack ships the tires directly to the installer.
In one business day.
Local dealers, of course, will sell and install the day you buy and generally include free rotation and inspections but add it up and the Rack stills wins, for me.
Start testing. Start doing it right away. We've found there isn't any one experience more beneficial to design teams than running a usability test. I'm still amazed by how quickly development team members recognize the benefits of usability testing once they've actually seen it in action. ...
2. Debunk the Myth that Usability Testing Is a Big Production
... Usability testing isn't rocket science. The organizations that do the best job of incorporating usability tests into their existing process understand that testing is not a big deal.
... our recommendation is to start simple: Test on a computer in your office cubicle and start testing with someone, even a co-worker, to begin gathering data. A usability test doesn't need to be perfect. It just needs to happen.
3. Start Testing Early in the Process.
We will do this often.
A reasonable test is 3-4 test subjects (customers, random customer-like people within the company, etc.) in front of a PC and you, standing behind with a clipboard. Encourage the subject to tell what he is thinking and you have the essence of a usability test!
I was registering a Macy's charge card at their website and it refused to accept the card number. So I sent them an e-mail and they told me:
To add your account number to your profile, you need to add your account number as it appears on your statement minus any spaces or dashes.
Interesting, since the error message scolded, "Enter as it appears on your credit card" -- which is with spaces!! Or, one could try (as I did) to enter it as it appears on my bill -- which is with hyphens!!!!
Of course, it is a simple matter for the web software to match with or without spaces and hyphens, which would eliminate the problem in the first place.
I informed them of the problem. Anyone want to take bets about whether this ever gets fixed?
Update: On Monday, I received a courteous reply that said: "I will pass that information along to my Supervisor and I thank you for the suggestion." As much as one could expect. It will be interesting to see if it results in a change.
I often use Macy's as an example when I am talking about bad examples of sales, customer service, and web processes. (In fact I used it as an example yesterday, talking to my staff and letting them know I appreciate their attention to customer service and quality.)
One wonders how companies like this stay in business.
Wow. Impressive example of how to handle a corporate PR disaster. Would you fly JetBlue after last week's mess? I sure would!
They said the right things but more important, they coughed up cash. Not just for the people who were inconvenienced but for anyone affected in the future — check out their new Customer Bill of Rights (same link). Impressive.
You find out what a company is really made of in the aftermath of a problem. If that is true, then JetBlue is made of humility, focus on the customer, and quality. They understand that profit comes from quality and customer satisfaction.
The rest of the airline industry must be very nervous about all this.
Serious Eats Serious Eats is another blog which plants its stake, and its steak, in the fertile land where food meets science. There is lots of great material here, much of it by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, or Kenji. If you like FeedMe, you will like Serious Eats.
Cooking for Engineers What do you get when you apply the engineer's mind to the kitchen? Straightforward, practical recipes and tips and a passion for simplifying without sacrificing quality.