A blemish on the Verizon

So the other day I was on Verizon‘s site to renew my ringback tones. If you are not familiar with these, instead of the usual ring tone when waiting for a person to answer their phone, you hear a snippet of a song, or a recording from a specific artist or movie. I love these, and I always get compliments when someone calls and hears Monty Python’s “Knights who no longer say Ni” skit before I pick up.

The Problem

Unfortunately, one of them is no longer available:

Verizon error closeup

Verizon, you really missed the boat on this one. Simple error messages do not help anyone. Yes, I now know what to do to fix it, but nothing has been done for me, and that message can be so much more.

The Solution

First off, let’s not send the user through another hoop by making them delete the song from their cart.
Do it for them!

Second, link them to other tones they may like. Something like this:

Verizon error fixed

Now you have a call to action to generate interest and conversion.

Third, what the fuck is {Item Name} Code: 247? It reminds me of those esoteric Mac OS error codes. It might be helpful for your database guys, but in this case, the user does not need to know an error code.

Conclusion

Do as many things for your users you can. Try to avoid sending them through unnecessary hoops and give them a call to action when something goes awry. You may just increase conversion.

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Training in the Amazon

Oh Amazon…

Amazon.com, once the leader in web usability, has changed their interface. All in all, it is still clean and effective, but I (after searching for a few moments) noticed a button I was looking for, to change my order. So what? I’m posting about finding a button on a site? Essentially, yes, because it took me longer than it should have. That is, it wasn’t immediate.

How long does it take you to find the change order button in the above screenshot?

Training your users

Now, it’s great that I found said button, but why is it where it is and why is it a muted color? It certainly does not draw attention to it’s use, and is ultimately defeating. Why? Because I am trained, like so many others who visit a site often enough, while on Amazon, to click on those pretty orange buttons – not unlike the continue button at the bottom of the screen shot. So, as I said, it took me a few moments to find the change order button. And do you notice the kerning in the text on the button? Very poor choice. So I propose a solution: Amazon, you can have this one free of charge. Place the change order button, complete with pretty orange button style at the bottom of the order summary next to the ‘continue’ button. Not only does this group your buttons, but creates a familiar ‘back’ button.

NOW How long does it take you to find the change order button?

Your Action plan

I know it seems I am making a mountain out of a molehill, but think about this on a broad scale, across your entire site. How are you training your users? Do you have consistent styles that lead the users to action? Are your buttons different styles when they should be similar? Is your navigation, along with your call to actions organized sensibly? If you take the time to audit your site’s buttons and navigation, and then modify them to create this cohesion, your users will be happy with a quick and easy experience to get things done.

Product buy-in

What is product buy-in?

You need to sell, and for that you need product buy-in. Essentially, product buy-in comes down to this: what is it, what does it do, and why do I care? These are basic questions that must be easily answered with your site advertising your product, and they must be answered fast. Even today I see so many sites advertising products or services that five pages in, I still have no clue as to this basic information.

Physical product buy-in

Where can I get my hands on it? How long will it take to get? What tasks will it accomplish? Is it easy to install and use?

Think about what you are selling, even if it is a service. Is your site easy to get to? How are your SEO rankings? Do people even know it exists? Are you leveraging social media? Can I order the product easily? Does your site explain everything concisely? I recently bought a USB microphone. Believe it it not, I had to hit three stores before I found one that wasn’t a headset. There could have easily been another store that had a mic for sale that I didn’t know about. At this third store, it was the only model available, though if there were two to choose from, what would set this product apart from the others? And if it didn’t work, what were my options? These are important points you need to carry into your web presence. Do you end up sending your user through a lot of hoops to get satisfaction? Luckily, said microphone works great – more about this purchase in a few minutes.

Mental product buy in

Is it easy to use (logically)? Does it look ‘cool’? What are the features?

Again, think about this with your site. Is it easy to navigate? Do links go were expected? What emotions are you conveying? Are you selling happiness? How do people feel with the color choices you have made? There is a lot of psychology behind colors and how people react to them. think about Facebook and notice that blue color. It was also on Twitter for the longest time and similar shades are on so many other sites (Foursquare for example). Oddly enough that blue color was in the microphone packaging as well (picture below).

A note about cost

It is a common misconception that cost alone will drive product buy-in, superseding physical and mental buy in. While this is true to some degree, many times comparable (or worse, inferior) products are sold at a premium. Why?

1. People often believe an expensive item is better

We are taught there is a direct relationship between money and value. Take cars for instance. Every person reading this knows of someone who sank a ton of money into a really posh ride only to have it break down on them, while your other friend’s beater is going strong. Hell, Lexus is owned by Toyota, Acura is owned by Honda, and Infiniti is owned by Nissan. Given, the more expensive divisions have some more luxury attached, but most of the time if not all, you are buying the same car.

2. The product is marketed as a lifestyle

This is mental buy in taken to the next level. Take Apple for instance. They have a sleek, streamlined marketing campaign that sells a lifestyle. Now, before I start getting flamed about the Apple versus PC debate, please note I am not taking sides that one is better. But the fact there are users so vehemently for and against Apple proves my point. And often times a user can buy a PC from Dell and do the same things they do with their Apple for less money.

3. Money doesn’t matter

Hard to believe, but true. Sometimes someone is being reimbursed for the sale or buying a product with someone else’s money. Take a product someone needs for work – the boss tells them to make it happen and they just want to get the job done so they can get back to Facebook.

4. Convenience

I went to a club a few weeks back and was hassled for arriving in a car service. I am not sure if the tormentor drove there, got a ride, walked, or what, but the fact of the matter is in a lot of places in San Francisco, you cannot get a cab to save your life. They just aren’t around, and if you call a cab company, you very well may end up waiting upwards to thirty minutes for a ride that possibly will never come. So I dial up Uber on my iPhone and have a car within eight minutes, usually less. It is slightly more expensive but worth it. Not to mention there’s bottled water in the car and I arrive in style.

5. Time

Both examples above can be considered in a time focus as well. Often times I am impatient or I don’t realize I need something until the last minute. When I needed that microphone, I could have got one online, but didn’t have the time to wait for the shipment.

6. Personal buy-in

This one is tricky because you can’t always predict it from the consumer’s end. Sometimes our personal experiences influence how we see a product. Maybe someone got a defective product once and it soured their view of company X forever. Maybe a customer service agent someone spoke to was having a bad day and the consumer got the short end of the stick. This is why customer service is king. You have to stand behind your product, reward loyalty and fix issues that come up fast and without further inconvenience. I will share my one quirk from said microphone experience:

These hard bubble plastic containers.

I imagine these are necessary to prevent theft, but can they be a little nicer on the hands? You have to dance around the edges with a sharp pair of scissors or an X-acto knife just to get the damn product out. The next time I am out shopping for an item and I see two products contending for my dollar, I will glad pay upwards of 20 dollars not to get one that will rip my hands apart while opening it. The feelings of sharp plastic digging into my skin is not soon forgotten, especially when I pick up that plastic bubble again.

plastic offender

the plastic offender - note blue color

Conclusion

Think of your site and what you are selling as though it were a commodity item that anyone can pickup on any corner for less than $25. Differentiate your site and your product will bask in the afterglow.

SF Musictech

SF Musictech is an annual convention where all sorts of people ranging from music industry executives and entrepreneurs to the artists themselves get together to present and learn about the music business how it relates to technology. There were several startups presenting what they can do for artists as well as established companies that continue their mark of excellence in services and reputation. I had the pleasure of attending this convention for the first time this year, courtesy of my employer Spinlet. It was a great day where I learned new things and met some great people. Here is my summary of the day:

Keynote

The perfunctory welcome and opening marks can make or break an event like this. Most people are excited, so all you have to do as a moderator is say a few words and get off the stage so it can begin. I normally wouldn’t spend too much time talking about the opening remarks, but a great quote caught my ear from one Brian Zisk: “[San Francisco is the] best place for music technology business“. I pondered this for a second and started thinking about all the great venues we have here in the city, from the small venues like The Independent and Slim’s, to the midsize places like DNA Lounge – up to the historic places such as The Warfield, The Fillmore, and Bill Graham. And let’s not forget the really big venues like Cow Palace and just across the bay, Overstock Coliseum. I also thought of all the great live acts I have seen, both big and small since moving here years ago, I can’t even begin to name them all. And when job searching last, just how many companies I courted that are involved in music themselves (the now all but defunct Myspace, Soundcloud, and other companies the industry relies on such as Twitter). Indirectly or directly, I would have to agree that San Francisco does have a certain allure to the music scene, rich in history and promising in future.

Web Audio

After the greeting, I hightailed it to the Web Audio API session. The first remarks assured me I was in the right place – ‘this is going to be a technical conversation, so I trust everyone in here has programming knowledge‘. Lucas Gonze, CTO of Official.fm and Boris Smus, engineer from the Google Chrome team talked about four emerging audio standards:

  • Web VTT (closed captioning)
  • Web RTC (Real time conferencing with JavaScript)
  • Media fragments API (Indexing media fragments across the web)
  • Audio API’s with HTML5 and new abilities there.

Closed captioning on the web is a very important concept for accessibility. Whether for music, online talks, or conferences,  imagine a simple JavaScript ability to caption content. There are some solutions out there now such as speakertext, but at the moment cost money.

Real time conferencing has huge potential. The main problem here revolves around latency issues, and how to monitor them. It was brought up that cell phones often have a higher latency than online options even by today’s standards, which is very interesting, although we just notice it more online because video lag is a lot more distracting than audio chop.

With media fragment indexing, you can have one application traverse several links, along with starting and stopping points in the middle of select audio or video. So think about a great mashup between ten Youtube videos, all starting where you specify, and jumping to the next at a random point you choose. This indexing can access all sorts of content on the web.

With new abilities coming online with HTML5, we can now write codecs in JavaScript. Other things are possible as well, as Boris spoke about gaining control of a PC’s microphone for added capabilities. We have only scratched the surface of what can be done.

The most important thought behind the audio API session is making your JavaScript faster and more elegant. One way was by employing worker threads to help with garbage cleanup and other tasks. Flash is still an ultimate resource when it comes to streaming, though with the current anti-flash trend, you may have difficulties with compatibility.

Nic Adler, The Roxie

Next up I listened to Nic Adler talk about how social media resurrected The Roxie theater. He made several great points, such as make sure you are on EVERY social network, and the benefits of creating a community with your competitors. For example, he followed competition on twitter, and on days the Roxie was dark, he would tweet what was going on at the the place down the strip. They ended up doing the same in turn, both benefiting from joining forces, which at first would seem to most as a bad move. he also told a story about how someone at the theater tweeted about their watered down drink, finding said customer with her ‘face down in a blackberry and empty glass on the table with a lime’ – it was a gin and tonic she was complaining about – and brought her a new, heavy pour drink. He called this a ‘money moment’, as the girl then went on to tweet about what just happened, immediately creating an online advertisement about how the guy in charge at the Roxie cares about it’s clientele. That alone is worth more than any advertising you buy on a billboard or in a magazine.

Digital Strategy

This session had several speakers: Rachel Masters from Red Magnet Media, Glenn Miller from Creative Artists Agency, Ted Cohen from Tag Strategic, Ethan Kaplan from Live Nation Labs, J Sider from RootMusic, and Ken Wagner from Smartley-Dunn Solutions. I don’t know if this session was compromised from the after lunch digestion taking place in my stomach (miso soup, vegetable tempura, and croquettes usually don’t slow me down that much), or the fact that the room was literally packed, but it seemed like the speakers were just throwing around buzzwords without much content. I just kept hearing ‘we provide strategy to our clients’ and ‘implementation of ideas’. All except for Ted cohen; who proved intelligent with two great quotes: “Know your competition and know why you’re better”  along with “Under promise and over deliver“. After about twenty minutes, I decided I wouldn’t last if I heard the words “facebook” and “Pinterest” again in such a short time and decided to catch the tail end of demos in the main room.

Demos

I caught only a few of these, but they seemed to center around apps creating a ‘music discovery game’ with an element of ‘I found this band first’-ness. Ultimately I wasn’t impressed by demos from Tastemakerx – ‘buy stock in the bands you like’ and Cred.fm – whose UI needs A LOT of work… so much so I’d rather not take a look at their product.

Being Social

This session was a roundtable of sorts about the social community and the web in general. It was a diverse group with a lot of opinions, but many good points, mainly revolving around establishing trust via online and offline methods and how is crucial to your branding. Without this trust and extra mile, you are only an online entity with little weight. Stefan Aronsen from SF Intercom made this great drawing of me saying “People will always get paid for stupid shit” meaning that, seemingly trivial things such as talking about your day on a Youtube channel, always have monetization potential if you know how to harness it. Sometimes all it takes is a clever idea. Pic courtesy of Stefan Aronsen:

Meet the New Boss, Worse than the Old Boss

David Lowery of Cracker fame hosted this quickie session relating to how the music industry has changed in regards of making money. He argues all the horror stories you hear about that evil behemoth ‘the music industry‘ aren’t really worth their weight – first of all, you only hear the bad stories, and secondly, with do-it-yourself online sales such as itunes, you may get a greater percentage of the proceeds (~60% versus ~30% from the big guys), but your publicity, sponsorship, and touring costs are all your own, therefore putting you at a disadvantage. I think he has a point, but I can’t help but think about all the ifs here. If the company puts faith in you, if they get your song on the radio (and other channels like Spotify and Pandora), and ultimately, if they promote you. Something about me just resists his premise that the artist is better off with a big conglomerate, but what do I know? Also, Mr. Lowery could have supported his assertions if he explained (or even mentioned) the ‘recoup-able’ parts of all those contracts big artists complain about.

API’s

This session had industry greats talking about their API’s for the net. Rahim Sonawalla from Rovi Corporation,  Ty Roberts from Gracenote, Andrew Mager from Spotify, Neil Mansilla from Mashery, Chad Taylor from Thrillcall, and Neil Tinegate from Open EMI all spoke about what things can be done through simple API implementation. I have to make a sidenote that Ty Roberts is a smart cookie, answering questions that I thought were beyond Gracenote alone. Several great thoughts came out of the session, such as monetizing mobile services with API’s is a very challenging model, basically because of network and visual space restrictions. Also, all the data that is being collected, by API implementation and by companies you’d never think of, is big money. Spotify along with BMW and Ford can all track your listening habits and equate them with factors such as time of day, speed, location, etc. The information collected is quickly mind boggling when linked up to create patterns. Ultimately this session had more of a commercial angle than a techie one. While I understand the ‘why’ here, the developer in me is more interested on how things are wired up versus ‘what we can do for you’ talks. One thing is clear: big databases equal big money.

Welcome to the Music Industry, You’re Fucked!

The great Martin Atkins! This was his presentation about his book of the same name. I owe an apology to my co worker Melissa Adair for missing her session to see Mr. Atkins, but this guy is spot on. Not only a legend in his own right, skating on the peripheral of the music industry as a pioneer in the industrial scene, but a hilarious, no- nonsense, intelligent person who has ‘been there, done that’. Most of his points were about how you fuck yourself over, with such truisms as not believing in yourself, placing blame, thinking that others care about what you do, not having a strategy, not doing ‘cool shit’, etc. He has a lot of advice for anyone in the music industry as well as artists in general. I haven’t heard one person make so much sense in an hour’s time since I last saw Henry Rollins speak. It was truly the highlight of the day.

Conclusion

The day was so packed with information that I am still downloading it days later. This convention is not one to miss if you are in either industry, especially if your company has any overlap. The host, the Kabuki hotel, does a great job accommodating so many people although the event may be outgrowing the space. I also met a bunch of people at the after party, all who were very interesting in different facets of the music and tech industries. I look forward to SF musictech ’13!

I’ll make it easy for you

Klout: Your navigation bar is still fucked up. Here’s the solution, free of charge:
#header #menu #dropdown-summary .username {
max-width: 133px;
to
max-width: 121px;
You may want to go with an even smaller value for a bit more ‘wiggle room’.

Dear K____: I expected more.

Today I pulled up klout.com on Firefox – PC – (yes, to check my score!) and I was dismayed at what I saw:

klout.com

klout.com screenshot

Did you even test this quick n’ dirty implementation for a feel good Valentine’s Day wish? Is it worth compromising your navigation?

IOS 5 – NO MEANS NO! (Er, OFF MEANS OFF)

Catching Up

As I have said before, the concept of usability extends to all technology. And not a far leap from websites is the ubiquitous smartphone, and in particular, the iphone. In the grand scheme of things, I am relatively new to the game. I never felt the need to pull up a site while at dinner with my buddies or while riding MUNI, so I resisted. Now, I know what you are thinking: “Wait, You are a web professional?!?” well, therein lies the reason. I live, breathe, and eat ‘web’, and while I can code a site for a smartphone, I relegated any surfing to my laptop. After all, there are times when we need to escape and ‘turn off‘.

But it seems the concept of ‘off’ doesn’t jump the human-to-iphone synapse. What am I talking about? Applications, or for short, apps. I guess the following has been improved on with IOS5 – I came to this game after IOS4 woes – but here goes:

What is Going On?

I’ve noticed when I close an app on my iphone, it isn’t exactly ‘off’. If I have push notifications set, it will continue to chime (or vibrate) into the night. Okay, so I turned them off and finally the app is… wait, WTF? STILL CHIMING away! (Even after I double click the home button, hold my  finger on the icon, and click the minus sign.)

I’m probably missing something here, but why can’t a simple off mean off? Isn’t Apple applauded for their usability?

I guess the problem comes when there are processies that need to run while the phone is on. Messaging is an app. The ‘phone’ part of the phone is an app, and you (albeit rarer and rarer these days) wouldn’t want a person not be able to call you. So herein lies the problem, there is no distinct separation from the different kinds of apps that need to be ‘on’ all the time.

Connection Kills

Not only do all these notifications kill battery life (some tips to hopefully lessen the effect are at http://osxdaily.com/2011/10/16/ios-5-battery-life-fix-tips/), but are just plain annoying. When I am doing my thing, I don’t want my concentration to be broken by my phone chiming every second.

But maybe this is what they are going for? The advantage of being so ‘connected’. I admit, at times, I really like this concept. There should be another option though. We should be able to ‘turn off’ when we need to.