A few weeks ago a coworker insisted that I install Skype for chatting at work. I’m currently employed by a startup with no offices yet, so I work out of my house. For this application Skype has worked extremely well. I can setup conference calls in a matter of seconds and get everyone onboard to discuss development issues. One of the top selling points for a startup is that the calls are free and easy. As long as you have bandwith you can call anyone else on Skype. One minor issue is that the person hosting the conf call has to have a decent amount of bandwith as bandwith seems to increase linearly with number of attendees.
While this is all great, what has been even better is getting friends and family onboard. I’ve moved away from my family in Michigan and married a California girl and live in the Bay Area. This means that keeping in touch with everyone has always been a bit of a pain. With Skype though you just press the call button and are instantly connected. With no monetary cost and little time cost required to communicate I’ve found that I actually chat a lot more with my family.
Another strange thing that has occurred is that people will just randomly call other people throughout the world and chat. I was contacted by a woman in columbia yesterday that just wanted to chat. I was a bit rude at first because my first instinct was that it was a scam and I was waiting for the viagra pitch. However, she was nice and just wanted to say hello. Didn’t have anything to really talk about so that was about it, but it was just a different experience.
Another positive experience involved keeping in touch with friends that have moved all over the world. A couple of friends from college moved to Korea. One was home visiting her family in Arizona while the other was still in Korea when I found out that they were on Skype. I set up a conference call and it just worked beautifully. It was like they were right next to me. This is surprising since I have called them in the past on normal phones and the delay was so bad that simply talking was almost impossible. Now that I know that I can chat with them almost instantly it’ll make keeping in touch that much easier.
I really think that as more people discover the power that this has that the telecoms are in trouble, my family skpes me instead of calling 100% of the time now. The telecoms are going to have to find a way to make money off of maintaining their networks as phone revenues dry up.
Just picked up the book “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug and I definitely recommend it for anyone interested in Web Design.
Steve makes a lot of points that of course feel obvious once I read them, but yet hadn’t considered. This is really the core of web design, attention to detail. Making sure all of the little things are lined up so that the user doesn’t have to question what they’re doing. It’s a quick read, took me one afternoon. However, implementing and following his recommendations will take a bit longer. Steve is a big fan of usability testing and a lot of the book deals with how to do this right. One of those things that everyone knows they need to do, but no one does. He goes over several barriers to starting usability testing and moves them out of the way.
Two thumbs up.
Looks like the media is starting to pick up on these stories of businesses getting slammed after being featured on a community site. Not anything new, the slashdot effect has been around for some time now. MediaPost Publications posted a high level follow up to the PriceRitePhoto story. What seems fairly obvious is that the owner of PriceRitePhoto still doesn’t get it. He appears to believe that just because his company has been able to get away with mistreating customers in the past that he should be able to continue to get away with it. A smart company would have realized the media storm they had just walked into and attempt to put out the fire. One more reason why smart companies survive and PriceRitePhoto needs to be put out of business.
The relationship between customers and businesses is changing at a very rapid clip. There are articles all over about how Google is changing markets and disrupting established businesses. I truly believe that what Google and others are simply doing is giving the consumer more power to make informed decisions. The businesses that are suffering are ones based on having uninformed customers and ineffecient markets. These are going to slowly fade and die out and the businesses relying on them as well.
Now there is some evidence that there were some individuals acting out innapropriately against PriceRitePhoto. That shouldn’t have happened, but as the article mentions this topic has definitely struck a cord with a lot of people and there was a backlash of frustrated consumers. I’m sure SCO felt the same way after it made the mistake of suing IBM over linux.
After picking up my first laptop a couple of years ago, I’ve moved into the camp of belief that there is no reason to own a desktop anymore. You can’t beat the flexiblity of being able to just get up and go work somewhere else, laydown and work in bed if you feel like it. The prices on laptops have come down enough now to be reasonable for general usage. If you want something to do web/email/IM, you can’t beat an Apple iBook, it’s rock solid and just works. For real development work, I’m a huge fan of the Lenovo/IBM Thinkpad t42. It’s got great linux support and just flies.
We’ve got quite a storm going here right now in Redwood City, CA. Wind is really blowing and the rain is coming down. Saw a few downed powerlines in the street when I went to lunch earlier and there’s even some lightning and thunder booming around. With all of this going on another benefit of owning laptops was made apparent. When the lights go out, you can keep working. For all intents and purposes they’ve got a built in UPS. Of course all of the servers in the house went down and routing to the internet was lost, but other than network the laptops kept chugging along.
There’s a fascinating set of blog posts by Jennifer Laycock over at SearchEngineGuide about starting a small business with absolutely no capital. She’s posting every day with updates on what she’s doing and how sales are going. What’s interesting is that she introduced to me several ways to go about getting things done that I hadn’t considered before. As a Software Engineer I spend most of my day on computers and have no problems setting up and hosting websites. The issues I do have though are in the area of design and marketing. Jennifer had some very good points about ways to handle these problems.
She pointed out a site, TemplatesBox, that has some very nice free templates. These of course would need some work still to apply them to your site, but it’s a good way to get started. I’ve found that if I have something to start with, I can usually tweak it to get what I want. It’s just so hard to start from scratch though. Following up on this I also found a good site for free stock photography, Stock.XCHNG,.
Another area that Jennifer pointed out was the ins and out of marketing with things like Adwords. Like her I had some issues with logging in to Adwords with the same username as my Adsense and Analytics account. I got around it by trying every link I could find to adwords. eventually it just lets me in.
It’s fascinating to see how you can direct traffic to your site and start to pick up business. As she points out though this is just the beginning. Having traffic does not mean that you have customers. Converting that traffic into customers is the tricky part. One of the easy things that people miss when using Adwords is not having a specific landing page for each ad. First of all, this just helps with your own tracking. Secondly, if you’ve got a very targeted specific ad, why on earth would you just then direct them to your front page. The viewer will be confused and frustrated and move on. If you’re specific in your ad, you should have a very specific follow page as a landing that explains to the viewer exactly what your doing. You have one change to convert them and you’ve got to put your best foot forward. Especially since you know why they clicked to start off with.
TechCrunch has a review of Zipingo, a new local business review site, and also mentions some of the other sites in this space. Yelp, Judy’s Book, and Insider Pages.
Here is the link to Zipingo’s review of my troublesome HomeDepot. As an update on my dealings with Home Depot, they followed up the day after my posting with a call that the sliding door had been ordered. This was great, but I just got a second call that delivery has already been delayed till Dec 30th. We’ll just have to wait and see how they come through on this.
I’ve noticed over the last week a couple of stories about consumers having poor experiences with businesses and trying to do something about it.
Digg, one of the new web phenomenoms, had a posting of a situation that was much worse than what I experienced with Home Depot. You can read about the situation with PriceRitePhoto here. The blogger, Thomas Hawke, made the mistake of ordering a camera online after doing just a cursory background check of the Business. It appears that PriceRitePhoto was actively trying to boost its ratings by posting false positive reviews. After ordering Thomas was called and harassed by the business and PriceRitePhoto just took the call way beyond where you would think a legitimate business would go.
What’s interesing is that after it was picked up by the digg folks the business was harassed right back. Finally, the owner offered an apology to Thomas Hawke. This of course isn’t a usual case and the situation hasn’t exactly been fixed. PriceRitePhoto should be put out of business and should possibly face criminal charges, but Businesses are going to start having to look out for these vocal consumers.
The average small business probably has very little linking to them on the web and if a consumer does a search on the businesses’ name and the second link is to a blog posting about the poor purchasing experience something will need to be done. In PriceRitePhoto’s case they tried to threaten the blogger into removing posts. This is of course not legal and the charging of the consumers credit card with $100 fines for posting is definitely illegal. There just isn’t much a company can do about this except take the high road and make good by the consumer.
As I posted previously I think this trend is only going to grow. One of the problems that Thomas Hawke found was that an initial glance at customer reviews revealed a very positive view of the company. As he later found out though, this was not an accurate picture. We still have a long way to go in making these consumer reviews accurate and difficult to control by the business being reviewed. And the more accurate they are the better off and informed the consumer is.
A second case of a blog helping out a consumer was with Jeremy Zawodny’s post about Fedex. Here again the business had not performed as expected, but the outcome was much better. Someone from within Fedex reached out to Jeremy and helped him solve the problem. This little bit of good will goes a long way towards fixing the problem. The only problem here was that it was solved by an individual and it wasn’t the company itself speaking out. If I were in charge of marketing at Fedex I would definitely follow up on this situation.
As an interesting side note, it was Jeremy Zawodny’s blog that introduced me to blogs. I was looking for some articles on Mysql and got hooked on his discussions about fixing his water heater. At the time I was also repairing a water heater and dealing with home warranty issues. His blog brought a lot of the pitfalls of home warranties to my attention, so thanks Jeremy.