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All Things Internet™ since 1999


So long and thanks for all the hugs

My Gramma, Joyce Rader

When I think of my Gramma Rader, the first thing that comes to mind are her open arms, kind smile and that mischievous twinkle she so often had in her eye. She always had a huge hug for her grandkids and a way with words that always made you feel like you were the thing she loved most in the world.

In all the years we had together, I don’t remember any cross words, furrowed brows or I-told-you-so’s. It’s possible that she was the nicest woman I’ve known. I count myself lucky that she was my Gramma. Growing up, we never lived that far away from Gramma and Grampa. That meant lunches at their place instead of going home or eating at school, Gramma teaching me how to play solitaire and other card games and countless family outings in and around Cranbrook.

There are so many little stories I could share, and yet what I cherish most about each of them aren’t the details of what happened or who was there, but how Gramma always made me feel warm and special and loved in only the way that she could. And not only as a kid, even in our recent visits, a hug from Gramma somehow always felt just a bit more special than all the other hugs – like she put more into her hugs than the rest of us do.

I miss them already.


Don’t be cute with your demo

I run a good sized team for a good size company and we solve good size problems for our customers. One of the problems I’m current trying to solve relates to how we help our customers help themselves. Our customer service is world class (that’s not hyperbole, our NPS scores are regularly 70+) and built on the backs of real people talking to customers and walking them through whatever issue our customer has. I’ve been thinking lately that we can do better with how we organize and present product documentation to our customers. You know, how-to’s, FAQs – basic knowledge base stuff.

First off, I think there’s a real opportunity for an earnest startup to solve some big problems in this corner of the market. There are two types of solutions that I’ve found – really big, stupid and expensive enterprise packages that do everything poorly with a price tag to match and really crappy low-end solutions that don’t do much of anything well. Its really hard finding something in the middle – there is no real contender for the crown of “Knowledgebase 2.0” it seems.

Once a week or so, I set aside an hour or two to investigate solutions and explore the problem further. The issue is important enough to me so I continue to put time into my calendar to devote to it. During my most recent research session yesterday, I was quite excited when I discovered a really nice package that seemed to solve a lot of the issues I wanted to address. The website had lots of customer case studies and all sorts of good sales information that really helped me think that it might be “The One”. I was a bit annoyed that they didn’t publish a price list and I was willing to overlook that at first. The more I poked around their website, the more interested I got. 

One problem though – they don’t offer a free trial and in order to get a demo or pricing, I needed to fill out a form. I resisted as long as I could and ultimately filled in the form, hoping that they were just collecting demographic data and that I’d be automatically enrolled with a demo account.

No such luck.

Immediately I received an email from them indicating that a sales person would be in touch to set up an appointment for a teleconference & demo. I replied simply, “I prefer email.” 15 minutes later, I received another email from a different salesperson with a few options for times for a phone call. I skimmed the message, realizing that if they couldn’t acknowledge that I preferred a different means of interaction, that I probably wouldn’t have a great relationship with them in the long term. I deleted the note and went back to Google to resume my search for the perfect knowledge base management tool.

I don’t think I’m unique in this respect. The amount of time that I can devote to finding new tools and evaluating whether or not they fit our business is limited. When I come to your website, I’m coming to use your application and looking for a glimmer of hope that it can solve my problem. If it looks like there’s a fit, that’s when I want to talk more with you – that’s when I want to make the appointment for the phone call – not before. Give me your pricing up front, give me a demo up front, and if you can’t or won’t, don’t expect that I’ll be using your software anytime soon.


Dropbox buying Mailbox for IOS is a *smart* move

dropbox_2Semi-startup Dropbox acquired pre-launch startup Mailbox today.

This shows that some seriously wicked strategy smarts are in high-gear over at Dropbox HQ.

I’ve long thought that Dropbox’s biggest competitor isn’t the other players in the cloud storage racket. Dropbox isn’t a storage company, it’s a sharing company. Dropbox is in it to win against every other company that tries to make a buck off of people sharing content over the Internet.

That means companies like Facebook/Instagram, Microsoft, Google, Apple. The really big guys.

It also means that Dropbox competes with other *tools* that make it easy for people to share stuff over the Internet.

Tools like…oh say… Email.

I would wager that more stuff gets shared everyday via email attachments than gets shared on Facebook, Twitter and Dropbox combined.

By bringing email into the corporate fold via this acquisition, Dropbox is going to get a front-row seat to a massive education on what it will take to steal the marketing for sharing stuff away from Google, Microsoft and Facebook.

And its gonna be so much fun to watch it happen.


The 2012 Top 15 Search Terms on Byte.org

This blog gets a lot of traffic referred from Google Searches. Google is cool enough to share those searches and WordPress is cool enough to report on them. Here is a list of the top 15 most common terms that people search on before clicking through on a link that brings them to byte.org from Google.

I offer them with no explanation, because frankly, some of them don’t make a lot of sense :)

  1. layne staley
  2. byte
  3. ross rader
  4. filez and warez
  5. this is bullshit
  6. 10 point timeline
  7. twitter 4
  8. i don’t like twitter
  9. i really like twitter
  10. jim grey cira
  11. sopa greed
  12. customer service face to face
  13. microsoft clippy
  14. did pornhub get shutdown?
  15. gates vs jobs


Men are not blocks. People are not FTE.

If you take a flat map
And move wooden blocks upon it strategically,
The thing looks well, the blocks behave as they should.
The science of war is moving live men like blocks.
And getting the blocks into place at a fixed moment.

But it takes time to mold your men into blocks
And flat maps turn into country where creeks and gullies
Hamper your wooden squares. They stick in the brush,
They are tired and rest, they straggle after ripe blackberries,
And you cannot lift them up in your hand and move them.

–A string of blocks curling smoothly around the left
Of another string of blocks and crunching it up–

It is all so clear in the maps, so clear in the mind,
But the orders are slow, the men in the blocks are slow
To move, when they start they take too long on the way–
The General loses his stars and the block-men die

John Brown’s Body” – Stephen Vincent Benet, most recently via the Manager-Tools newsletter.


Things I don’t like about Twitter 4 for IOS

I want to preface this post by saying that I realize that a lot of people put a lot of heart and soul into producing Twitter 4 for IOS. As someone who dabbles in product management, I really appreciate the work that must have gone into releasing this app. I also think you got it wrong and I feel bad for writing a post that essentially trashes your work. Hopefully if you read this, you can absorb these comments in a positive way and agitate for some serious change at the right level in your application.

Twitter has long been criticized for the usability of its web and mobile apps, and version 4 of the official Twitter client for IOS 5 is no different. Instead of improving the user experience, this release makes their service more difficult to use. I’ve long argued that in order for Twitter to create long-term relevance as a company, it needs to provide a simple and useful user experience across all of its interfaces. This means getting away from the geeky user-contributed hacks that sprung up in response to shortcomings in the early versions of Twitter.

In the early days, these little hacks were endearing to the user community. Then Twitter started trying to help its users by integrating some of these functions into their website and mobile applications.

Bad move.

Much of what made Twitter useful in the first place – Hashtags, @user and many other little Twitter specific conventions are hacks that were first adopted by users because Twitter didn’t support several key functions like groups or addressing a note to a specific user. Twitter has made the mistake of trying to integrate these workarounds into the base DNA of their service.

Why is this a mistake? These are hacks, which are by definition “useful but inelegant solutions to a problem“. Not scalable, well-thought-out, simple and commercially sustainable solutions. Useful & inelegant solutions.

Unfortunately recent releases of both the web and mobile clients have strayed away from useful hack and we’re left with something that’s not near enough useful.

Twitter appears to have fallen into the trap of blindly listening to its users and failing to understand what its users are trying to accomplish. Don’t pay attention to what your users ask you for, pay attention to what they are trying to achieve.

I digress. This post isn’t meant to be a dissection of everything that Twitter is messing up in their product architecture – they get a lot of things right and importantly, they have over 500 millions users. All I really want to do is point out a few things that I really, really don’t like about Twitter 4 for IOS 5. I thought it was helpful to provide some context about things I think they are messing up more generally to make it more obvious why I think what I think about what they are messing up with their IOS version.

I believe that much of the confusion swirls around their efforts to simplify features that were poorly conceived to begin with. Moving stuff around on these various screens and giving them different names isn’t going to solve any real problems for Twitter or its users.

First off, if simplifying mobile Twitter was a goal for Twitter 4, then some effort should have gone into making it readily obvious what the @, #, include a picture and geotagging icons in the composition window mean.

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Each of these icons sit at the bottom of the composition window and there isn’t much of an invitation to use them. Even when they are tapped, the function is completely opaque as to what the user should do next. Power users take these meanings for granted and most regular users attribute other meanings to these icons. The @ symbol is most obviously related to an email function, the # symbol could refer to a calculator or a telephone function. Include a pic is probably the best of the four – not much to confuse a user there but right beside it is the geotag icon. It carries no obvious meaning, and even for the most ardent power-users, is so vastly under-utilized that Twitter could probably consider dropping this function entirely.

Twitter 4 uses four top-level navigation cues to help users find their way around the software – Home, Connect, Discover and Me.

Others have gone deep on why that might not be the best method, definitely worth a read. My complaint lies within the Connect tab – I don’t get it.

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As a long-time user, I’ve been able to muddle through the functions on this screen and map them back to old functions, but for a beginning user, the similarities between Connect, Interactions and Mentions is going to be nothing but confusing. These labels will need some substantial rethinking before they are immediately obvious to a user.

And to make it more confusing, Twitter includes a search function in the Connect tab that doesn’t tell the user its a search function. The form field asks you to enter an “@name” (what’s that?) or a full name. For what purpose? A small UI cue would go a long way here.

Further, the Connect tab doesn’t make it obvious at all that most of the tweets and things that are displayed under this tab are interactions that people are having with me, or how they have interacted with my tweets. Sure retweeting is an obvious function for experienced users, but to the neophyte, telling someone that they’ve been retweeted five times is meaningless.

Tapping the Discover tab unveils an even more confusing mess of functionality.

IMG 0385

It shows Stories and Trends and gives the user no idea what these relate to. Can I write a story, is this just for reading? Where are my friends? Are these my trends? Usage stats? What? Ugh. A confusing mess.

IMG 0386

Find Friends and Browse Categories is a lot more obvious, but these are buried down at the bottom of the screen – probably because Twitter doesn’t have much a revenue model around these functions yet. But why is Find Friends and Browse Categories under Discover? Why aren’t they under Connect? Wouldn’t it make more sense to help me connect to people by Finding Friends?

Most of my Twitter use is split between a few accounts. Prior versions of Twitter for IOS made it obvious and easy to switch between accounts. Twitter 4 does not. Guess where its been hidden? As a sub label under “Me”.

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Worse still, click on “Settings” under “Me” (why are settings and multi-user switching buried here at all?) and you’ll see a weird mix of global application settings  (under Advanced) and account specific settings (under notifications).

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This is in addition to the IOS Twitter settings under System Preferences.


Why aren’t all of these settings nicely tucked into the IOS System Preferences settings for Twitter? As is, it will be really confusing for users to figure out where they should be going to tweak which settings and provides a user with two different means of adding new accounts to the application.

This is supposed to be “a faster, simpler way to stay close to everything you care about“. I think Twitter has missed that mark by a mile.

It will be extremely interesting to see how the company reacts to user feedback about these changes. At the same time, they’ve announced some pretty sweeping changes to how their website works as well. Their documentation draws some exceptionally clear parallels between the mobile app and the web app. I can only hope that their web app gets it a lot more right than the mobile app did.

My overall feeling is that they are re-arranging the UI deck chairs while skirting the more central issue of how to absorb the early user-hacks into real and scalable features within their user experience.

I suppose I could just uninstall it.



Adwords Phish

This one almost got me.

I received a note from Google letting me know that they’d suspended some of my ad campaigns and that I should login to rectify. Clicking through, my suspicion was raised when I wasn’t automatically logged in like I normally am. Google *always* logs me in automatically, and usually into the wrong account.

It drives me crazy.

This gave me a cause to pause and I did a deeper inspection of the page and the email I’d received.

Turns out, the email was a complete fake. A scam intended to con me into giving my Google credentials to a nefarious third party. In this case, the email sends me to google-ows.com, a name that was only registered this morning. The page includes a script that collects your adwords username and password, which can also be used to sign into my other Google services – like GMail, etc. From there, who knows what the scam is, but it sets up the bad guys some pretty good access to your life if you fall for it.

Sneaky bastards.

The contents of the email…

Screen Shot 2011-10-12 at 11.18.24 AM.png

The page I was sent to…

Screen Shot 2011-10-12 at 11.55.12 AM.png


(no title)

Thanks Steve.


Amazon coming into its own…

Reading the stories about the Kindle Fire this morning, I think Amazon might have a real shot at capturing some real market share in the tablet segment.

Not because of the hardware configuration – better options exist elsewhere. Not because of the software and features – again, both exist in better form elsewhere.

Distribution and Operations.

Apple has been successful with the iPad not because they invented the iPad, but because they have the right business model. Design + Technology + Manufacture + Distribution + Sales + Marketing. And they are great with each.

Amazon already very nearly does many of these things. They already have awesome Distribution + Sales and their Marketing is quickly coming up the curve. They are weak in the area of Design + Technology + Manufacture, but not nearly as bad as what we’ve seen from RIM, DELL and others. Amazon can definitely improve in these areas, and press reports lead me to believe that they are worried about the right things – learning the lessons they need to learn quickly to be competitive in the right time frame. Amazon’s track record with distribution and operations is nearly as outstanding as Apple’s.

Here’s a crazy thought. Amazon has a market cap double HP and nearly quadruple DELL. If Amazon can make a dent in the tablet market, I wonder what they could do in the mobile market with the assets of either of those two companies. Google buying Motorola might just well set the stage for a round of dizzying mega-consolidations.

Never underestimate the power of distribution.


Adventures with Customer Service, chapter 23 – Getting VISA to Pay Up

This afternoon I discovered that I was getting double-charged by my bank for my credit cards. $24.50 a month & $170 a year. The $24.50/month fee was supposed to include two credit cards, one for me and one for Amanda which would normally cost $170 per year in fees. Looking closely at my statements, I realized that they were charging both – and guessed that they had been for quite some time. A quick check of my 2010 statements showed that they nicked me last year too.

Guessing about how long I’d had the credit card and chequing account, I figured that they owed me at least $500 in extra charges.

I called the CIBC customer service line and after navigating their voicemail tree, pressing “1″ and “5″ and entering my account number in followed by the pound sign, as instructed, I finally got to talk to a real person. Who promptly informed me that he couldn’t help me and that I should visit my local branch.

And here I thought that my $24.50/month included telephone banking privileges.

Pressing him a little bit further, I managed to get him to transfer me to the CIBC Card Services group (which I later learned is really just a hotline to the VISA call centre).

When the next agent came on the line, I explained my issue to her for the second time. Her response was pretty surprising. In summary, she questioned why I hadn’t noticed sooner and indicated that at best, the most they would be able to refund me was $170 from the most recent statement, but only if I could get them proof in the next few days. And then she threw her colleagues at CIBC under the bus and said that they had neglected to file some important form way back when I first established the account. Somehow she intended that this would all make sense to me and that I would feel responsible for their lack of paperwork and accept the fact that VISA wasn’t going to refund me the fee’s they overcharged me.

My response, if I remember correctly, went something like…


Or maybe I just mumbled something about closing all my accounts…

Hanging up the phone, I realized that my only chance to fix this would be at the local branch. Face-to-face is always easier to get things fixed, and I have the added bonus of being out in the middle of nowhere which increases my chance that whomever I talk to will be small-town friendly.

Walking into the local CIBC branch, my fortune immediately changed. Within minutes, the teller whom I had explained the whole story to was ushering me into the branch manager’s office. I sat and waited while she made a few phone calls to VISA, shared a few puzzled glances with me while they put her on hold, and then politely explained to them why they would be immediately crediting my account $170 per year for each year I’d had the card dating back to 2004! When she finished with her phone call, she handed me her card and told me to call her if my account hadn’t been credited within 30 days, and if not, she would personally credit my account the extra fees!

I left very impressed that I had found someone who knew the difference between following policy and doing the right thing. And pretty impressed that my credit card would soon be the recipient of a nice $1400 credit!