creation or consumption

Here’s an observation.

A lot of people see FaceBook as a waste of time.  I think this is primarily because they log in, browse some random postings from ‘friends’ and then log out, feeling like time’s been wasted.

I try to change that by creating content or sharing content that I think makes for more interesting reading/browsing.  Sometimes it’s stupid comedy, sometimes it’s political commentary, and sometimes it’s just something that interested me and I feel like sharing.

So one would think that the advice would be to have people create more so that the experience represents more of what they’d like.  And while I believe this is true, FaceBook doesn’t always make it easy.  Here’s an example:

This is a capture of a comment that someone left on the site:

and here is a capture of an article that someone linked to:

Note that when someone creates their own post, there’s no way to Share it – I can only Like or Comment but when someone posts something from elsewhere, I have the ability to Share.

In this way, FaceBook is emphasizing pasted content over original content.  Why?  It’s one thing to acknowledge that most people just want to consume, it’s another to make it difficult or burdensome to allow someone to create.

Check your style guidelines..

I know that blogging is all about time to market and speed and all of that (usurped only by twitter et. al) and that clear writing and good editing are the antithesis to this speed.  And I admit that I don’t always put the time into editing my own posts that I should.

But there are still certain warts that get to me.

Twice in recent memory I’ve seen notations like this:

…gross ticket sales in 2010 were exactly $206,899,900 million…

(courtesy Techcrunch)

Of course, the company didn’t sell over 206 trillion dollars of tickets.  They sold 206 million.  Or 206,000,000.  Just not 206,000,000 million.

Sometimes it’s the small things.

How do we reward good politics?

Over the past three years, between 75 and 85 percent of deficit solutions never came to fruition, according to the Department of Finance. Brown’s budget might break that trend.

This is from the San Francisco Chronicle’s article about Jerry Brown’s new budget proposals that are making the rounds.

Ultimately, I think the biggest frustration with politicians is all of the gimmicking that goes on.

(Just before taking office, the California courts managed to suspend the selling off of state property as an incredibly short-term way of closing budget gaps – which would have benefitted only the year in which the properties were sold and saddled future years with rent checks to lease that exact same space back.  Totally backwards.)

So how do we show appreciation when we think politicians are doing the right thing?  We need to make sure we are vocal about what we like as much as we are vocal about what we don’t.

(and how do we keep one-time building sales out of the budget?!  While Brown seems to be making good steps, he still sadly relies on some old tricks..)

Is Google sliding downhill?

There’s been a lot of discussion lately on the tech blogs about Google:

Their forays into social have been criticized, The quality of Android over iOS is questioned, the future of the Chrome OS is uncertain, their Google TV platform seems crippled by old-world media.. Perhaps most disturbing, they’re being called the new Microsoft <gasp>.

I am a stockholder, a fan of many of their services like Google Voice, Gmail, and an owner of an Android phone so in many ways I think Google is a great company.

But where I am concerned personally, and the criticism that I’ve seen that I think is most alarming is in their search results.

Search is still the core of Google’s business (well, to be fair, advertising is the core of their business.. search is the most used interface that exposes customers to their ads) and I’ve seen some alarming changes to the quality of the search results that Google provides.

Some of the criticism is around Google surfacing their own content and services higher on search results pages.  This does not bother me as often that content is valuable.  Other criticism, that does resonate with me, is about the useless content-farm sites that fill the Google results.

I experienced this heavily just recently while working on my car stereo install.  Throughout the process: of selecting a stereo, determining the compatibility with my phone and researching installation issues I was plagued with horrible, useless search results.  What appeared at first to be a highly relevant result would end up being (upon clicking through to the site) a useless page with scraped content that was buried somewhere on the page with no relevance.

This has happened to me on several occasions lately and seems relatively new to Google.

After a while, bad results become easy to spot: many of them come from overly generic domains and many times the same preview content is displayed for multiple results.

These highest-ranked search results render the entire search useless.  Navigating through page after page of these useless content sites make it impossible to find the quality, relevant results.

Whether Google will be able to break into social, whether they are able to compete with Apple, whether they are able to fend off Microsoft are all good questions.  If they can’t maintain their search product it’s hard to imagine them succeeding.

Lessons learned from a car radio install

A few months ago I decided to upgrade the radio in my car, to make my now 10 year old vehicle a little more interesting to drive. Since I hope to have this car for another 10 years, the ~$500 investment made sense to me.

I started out on Crutchfield, where I last bought a car radio back in 1989 (from their printed catalog, natch). The experience was very similar – pick out a radio, check the compatibility and then place the order. The web made the experience a little easier, but only just.

Since I’ve got the space in my dash, I opted for a double-height, touchscreen unit.  The first learning: Car radios have standardized sizes, either single- or double-height.  This was not the case back in 1989 when there were still slight variations in sizes.

So the car radio industry has learned in the value of standardization.  Or so it appears at first blush.  When you go to plug that radio in, you’ll soon enough learn the harsh reality that the wiring harnesses are different from vehicle to vehicle.  This is just unacceptable these days.  All radios have the same connections – speakers, antenna, power, possibly some steering wheel controls – and the interface for all of these should be universal.  But this is where Cruthfield shines.  They offer (free of charge) connector units with clear instructions that make it easy to connect the right wires to the right places.

The second learning: Customer service pays.  I knew enough about wiring up a car radio to know that I couldn’t just buy the radio from Amazon and save ~$50.  I knew that by paying that extra amount I would have access to Crutchfield’s customer service.  Throughout the install I had to contact customer service 3 times: once because I ordered the wrong part (replacement shipped free of charge); once because of difficulty with the steering wheel controls (replacement part shipped free of charge); and another call to the steering wheel interface company to validate my thinking and wiring (thinking was spot on, wiring unfortunately, not).  There is still an absolute value to these services – there are times when I know what I’m doing and I only want to pay the cheapest price and there are times when I don’t when I am willing to pay for some additional services.

Companies today need to understand who they want to be: The low-cost, no service provider or the full-service, higher-price provider.  Falling somewhere in between is following a path to failure.  Pricing information is too readily available to consumers and if you charge more without providing additional service, you will be ratted out.

With the unit fully installed and working, the third lesson is bad user interface makes for a bad experience.  While I like the features that the new radio provides (bluetooth, navigation, ipod integration, etc.,) the interface is really clunky.  The screen is not pleasant to look at, the buttons are not in consistent places, and key functions are not readily available in the default screens.  Too many gadgets today are plagued by horrible interfaces.  With a consolidation in capabilities, the best way to make your product stand out is through an excellent interface (hello.. Heard of  Apple?)

The Fourth lesson?  Allow configuration and customization.  With such a bad interface, I wish there were more option settings where I could set up the screens the way I want.  This is something Apple doesn’t really do, as they believe (often correctly) that their implementation is best for most users and therefore has no need for customization.  Even in Apple’s case, with their great designs, individuals will always appreciate being able to put on their own personal touch.  Non Apple products?  Don’t even consider that your interface is the best with no need for customization/modification.

Finally, the fifth lesson: Apps!  In the iPhone/Android world, apps rule: Your devices (and it doesn’t matter what it is: fridge, car stereo, television) needs app integration.  All devices benefit when you open up the capabilities to inventive developers.  I’d love to be able to install apps (the obvious ones like Pandora, etc.,) to my car stereo but there are other possibilities as well: points of interest are another obvious choice but what other capabilities could be thought of?