Internet Companies

Design. Usability. Experience.

I've been harping on design, usability and experience for longer than I care to admit. Here's some info from a CNN story on the divide between users of social networks extends through income;

A recent study found that people in more affluent demographics are 25 percent more likely to be found friending on Facebook, while the less affluent are 37 percent more likely to connect on MySpace. The wealthiest users, however, are on LinkedIn

Users with household income above $75,000
Facebook -- 41.74 percent
MySpace -- 32.38 percent
LinkedIn -- 58.35 percent
Twitter -- 43.34 percent

MySpace, on the other hand, had a "come one, come all" policy and made a mad dash towards monetization, Ostrow said. "They used a lot of banner ads without regard to the quality, and it really diminished the value [of the site] for the more tech-savvy demographic."

So which social networks provide the most value and have the highest potential for revenue? It's never going to be MySpace, that boat has sailed.

LinkedIn and Twitter are delivering on their promise to the greatest extent... largely because they're both constrained in what they are designed to do. Twitter as a 'what's happening right now' and LinkedIn as a business network.

Facebook has a harder time of it. Fbook's huge user base is such a conglomeration that it's difficult to find a real niche that Facebook can attack other than 'everyone's connected to everyone else'.

Here's my ratings for Design, Usability, and User Experience for the big four:


Facebook -- B- Decent, but the addition of so many applications on user pages makes for a cluttered experience.
MySpace -- D Terrible UI and even worse design. The only reason I can't actually fail MySpace is that they acually have millions of users.
LinkedIn -- B Again, like Facebook, a decent UI. It's always difficult to keep large data-sets distinct while maintaining usability.
Twitter -- A- Simple and clean.


Facebook -- C The default page is clean but that falls apart on individual pages.
MySpace -- C Myspace gets a C since it's proven that even MySpace users can eventually navigate the site.
LinkedIn -- B Better get in before they really start with the monitization.
Twitter -- B+ Leading the pack since there are so few options. Simple = usibility.

User Experience: 

Facebook -- B This is where there's a split. Facebook's need for content generation starts to saturate it's usefullness as any real communication tool.
MySpace -- C Last place again. Seems like a state fair game.
LinkedIn -- B+ Tied for first. LinkedIn doesn't get heavy until you're an experienced user.
Twitter -- B+ Tied for first. Simple means that Twitter is easy. (Unless you're following a crowd.)

Google Design (or lack thereof)

"When a company is filled with engineers, it turns to engineering to solve problems."

Google's lead designer is leaving. When I first heard this I thought... "Google has a designer?"

Indeed they do, or did. (I"m sure they still have pleanty of designers.) But, their lead diesigner is leaving and has posted something I didn't expect from anyone associated with Google and design, a thoughful post on how anyaytics and performance based testing can strip away both the aesthetics and the humany from an interface.

Reduce each decision to a simple logic problem. Remove all subjectivity and just look at the data. Data in your favor? Ok, launch it. Data shows negative effects? Back to the drawing board. And that data eventually becomes a crutch for every decision, paralyzing the company and preventing it from making any daring design decisions.

Yes, it’s true that a team at Google couldn’t decide between two blues, so they’re testing 41 shades between each blue to see which one performs better. I had a recent debate over whether a border should be 3, 4 or 5 pixels wide, and was asked to prove my case. I can’t operate in an environment like that. I’ve grown tired of debating such minuscule design decisions. There are more exciting design problems in this world to tackle.

I can’t fault Google for this reliance on data. And I can’t exactly point to financial failure or a shrinking number of users to prove it has done anything wrong. Billions of shareholder dollars are at stake. The company has millions of users around the world to please. That’s no easy task. Google has momentum, and its leadership found a path that works very well. When I joined, I thought there was potential to help the company change course in its design direction. But I learned that Google had set its course long before I arrived. Google was a massive aircraft carrier, and I was just a small dinghy trying to push it a few degrees North.

So true it makes me wonder how the guy survived as long as he did. The amazing success that Google has shown has been without any aesthetic that's recognizable at all. Two things are for sure; Google is not Apple, and when a company is ruled by engineers, it turns to engineering to solve problems.

Is Google pimping your blog... or just pimping you?

cig36.jpgSInce Google's been on the tear, there's been a discernable backlash that I think will continue to grow. Google's the next Microsoft that will be the business that people love to hate.

While the much ballyhooed 'do no evil' is touted, Google's detractors are also getting more coherent.

Here's part of a post from Online Advertising about how Google's pimping out your blog. (And not in a good way.) 

  • They bully you into thinking that you cannot stand up to them and say anything bad about them or your SEO results might drop, or you Google PR might suddenly dip.   Just like real world pimps do to their hookers, they bully them into feeling like they have no choice but to stay with the pimp.

  • Google threatens you if you decide to make some of your own money off selling your own text links on your own site.  Google does not want you to make any side cash that cuts them out of the deal.  If Google finds out that you are cheating on them they will probably also cut your PR ranking down to size.  Almost like real world pimps except they probably beat their hookers if they earn money somewhere else.

  • They will take anything they can get.  Yes, just like hookers who really don’t have any standard as to who they do business with, Google again has absolutely no standards.  They will let any site run Google AdSense, it doesn’t matter if the content is stolen, ripped off, questionable, nonsensical, full of profanity, racist, complete garbage, duplicated, never updated and just plan crap, Google will bang it.

  • Just like real world pimps who already have low ethical standards and don’t usually have any problems promoting and/or making money off other illegal activity, Google too, does not care if companies who are advertising on their network are committing federal offenses.  Selling counterfeits of registered trademarked material is illegal and is actually a federal offense in many countries including the good old US of A, where Google is headquartered.  Does Google care if thousands of companies are selling counterfeits through its advertising service?  Hell no.  Do a quick search on Google for “Louis Vuitton” Probably one of the most ripped off brands in the world.  This search you will not only finds tonnes of companies selling illegal products, try to actually find a legit one.  (Vuitton sued Google successfully in Feb 2005 for this very reason and they still turn a blind eye.)  Does Google refuse this money?  Why would they?
As for myself, I use Yahoo.


ImageKind Sales: Web 2.0 pays off.

So I finally made some money from a web 2.0 site.

2519ad47-7f03-458d-b8e8-5a89670d8afc.jpgA few weeks ago I uploaded some of my images to ImageKind, a 'print on demand' site for artists to show their work.

(I'd found them when someone had been hawking my unlicensed images. ImageKind responded immediately when I notified them and were much easier to deal with than I'd expected.)

Anyway, an image was sold, printed, and delivered. I got a check that didn't bounce. Great.

ImageKinds business model is like Cafe Press except that they're making their money from the framing. The artists have total control over pricing and whatever else they want. So someone bought a largish poster for $245 of a painting that's actually 5 by 6 feet and cost $45k. Not a bad deal for anyone.

I did speak with them about limited editions which are not currently possible. Trying to think of a way around that. 

eBay vs. Amazon: The business models.


Way back in 1999, Business week published an article that pitted A&E against each other. It's an interesting read and surprisingly accurate of the situation as it still exists.

eBay vs. Amazon: Fixed prices or dynamic pricing? 

That's one thing Amazon and eBay agree on. There isn't much evidence that consumers want to ''one-stop shop for every single thing in their life at one company,'' says eBay CEO Margaret C. Whitman. And Bezos rejects the widely held notion that a handful of megastores will dominate. ''There's going to be tens of thousands of winners,'' he says...
...eBay has zoomed to prominence with an even more innovative E-commerce model--one that, in a rare feat, is actually profitable. Because eBay doesn't take possession of the goods--it acts as a broker for buyers and sellers and takes 6% off the top--it incurs none of Amazon's hefty distribution costs. It has only 198 employees to Amazon's 3,000. As a result, its gross profit margins are a Microsoft-like 85%--on gross merchandise that ballooned from $95 million in 1997 to $746 million in 1998. ''Dollar for dollar, eBay has a better revenue and bottom-line model,'' says analyst Mitchell Bartlett of Minneapolis investment bank Dain Rauscher Wessels.

And then there's this sentence that turned my head since this is exactly what we're aiming to do.

Moreover, eBay could even turn the nation's 18 million small businesses into a virtual selling force that could rival that of conventional retail. ''It could be the destination for all these businesses to sell online,'' says Steven R. Mitgang, a senior vice-president for Sitematic Corp., a San Diego software company that has helped several dozen small businesses list their inventory on eBay. Beyond auctions, says Mitgang, ''it has a huge opportunity to become the destination for consumers to buy stuff, period.''

Of course I think that Amazon, eBay, Google, and Yahoo are built bass ackwards for accomplishing this as top down search and retail. But what do I know... Shmula has all the charts.

Googles new hiring algorithms & the Wisdom of Crowds

The inevitable decision making problems of a lack of diversity.

wisdomofcrowds.jpgFrom the NY Times: Google's Answer to Filling Jobs: New Algorithm

Google has always wanted to hire people with straight-A report cards and double 800s on their SATs. Now, like an Ivy League school, it is starting to look for more well-rounded candidates, like those who have published books or started their own clubs.

Google is rightly known for hiring smart people. But there's a strong argument that the lack of diversity in decision making will lead to less 'smart' decisions than a more diverse group.

From The Wisdom of Crowds

If four basic conditions are met, a crowd's "collective intelligence" will produce better outcomes than a small group of experts, Surowiecki says, even if members of the crowd don't know all the facts or choose, individually, to act irrationally. "Wise crowds" need

  1. diversity of opinion
  2. independence of members from one another
  3. decentralization; and
  4. a good method for aggregating opinions.

The diversity brings in different information; independence keeps people from being swayed by a single opinion leader; people's errors balance each other out; and including all opinions guarantees that the results are "smarter" than if a single expert had been in charge.

It seems that adding a few dunces to your group can actually impove the quality of decisions that come out of it. That means that there's still hope for most of us.

Google might understand this in the future too. We'll have to wait and see if there's a sea change and they take the chance to hire outside of Stanford and a few token Harvard grads.

Looks like Tag Jungle has powered up.

logo.gifIt looks like somebody in that Utah Valley Basement has kept the lights on since it appears that Tag Jungle is now live.

I'd been less that optimistic since the entire crew had been mum post Silicon Valley Launch. My guess was that it had not gone well. I hope that wasn't the case or at least it wasn't a killer cause.

I've been trying to figure out how to work the site. I guess the 'how to' pages are for a later iteration. 

Googles Big Idea Challenge:


Google nips startups.

It seems that Google thinks that good ideas might be germinating in the halls of higher education. I can understand Googles motivations, they want to have the smartest people working for them rather than competing with great ideas.

Via Google Blogscoped: Sam Davyson says, “This morning in my university pigeon hole I got a flyer about the Google Big Idea challenge. They're targeting grads.” The flyer reads:

The Google Big Idea Challenge
What is Google’s next revolutionary product and why?*
Graduate Jobs at Google

We are looking for final year students and recent graduates who are creative and think differently. By answering the question posed above in the The Big Idea Challenge, you have the opportunity to impress us and get a job at Google. Your answer can be in any format you choose; this might be a business plan, schematic diagram, presentation, or just some text. The top entrants will be invited to the Googleplex in London to meet the the team and talk through their Big Idea.

How to Apply

• Visit to find out more
Send us your application by January 5th 2007

*This must not be an existing Google product.

I am curious about what kinds of reaction they'll get. I would think that they might get some great ideas and scoop up a few crack troops, but it might be that the best startup ideas won't be attracted to working for the man. The allure of becoming a G-man may begin to wear thin. I'd think that working for Google is beginning to resemble many large tech companies (free food notwithstanding).

Dapper: API data mapper for the masses


These types of services are becoming both commonplace and increasingly easy to use. I spent five minutes and built a tiny app. for my medical spa MD blog. This pages takes the medicalspaMD titles and comments and displays them.

Those who are more technical adept than I can undoubtedly do more but if it's easy enough for me to use, it's approaching mainstream.

I can see that these types of services could pose a potential problem for businesses like I'd be interested to hear from Todd on where he thinks these types of services will end up. Perhaps he'll come to Fight Club this month.

From the Dapper FAQ: Dapper is a service that allows you to extract and use information from any website on the Internet. For those familiar with web services, you can think of Dapper as an API maker. For the rest of you, Dapper allows you to build web applications and mashups using data from any website without any programming.

From the Dapper Blog: Dapper’s mission is to allow you to use any web based content in any way you can imagine. And by use, we mean going beyond just reading or viewing a webpage. You may want to create an RSS feed or a Google Gadget for a site, take a site’s content and put it on a map, receive an email alert when your site’s Alexa’s ranking goes below 5000, or create a mashup of your favorite band’s tour dates and a camping locations reservation website to organize your musical camping vacation. Whatever you want to do, however you want to mold the web, Dapper can help you do it.

Perhaps Pete could use this to keep the Times and WSJ linking to his blog. That little timeline he built was a coup. 

Google Earth & the 4th Dimension

Google Earth adds time to the mix.

With the advent of Google Earth, the surface of the Earth became accessible. By adding the element of time, Google Earth has just expanded this popular app to include all of world history. I would guess that with the API opened, there will be any number of mashups from environmental groups showing the shrinking rainforests to the transfer of wealth throughout history. I can see that a real time imaging of the hole in the ozone layer could be effective.


It should make some of Paul Allens mashup history ideas even more viable. I can see that geneology sites might be able to show your families history of movement. 

In the future it might be possible to use your DNA fingerprint to map your gene pool to exact locations over time. Very cool. DropSend is selling itself on it's own blog.

dropsendlogo.gifDropSend posts it's own sell.

I've actually been using dropsend for most of a year not knowing they were just a tiny web app out of a basement. It'll be interesting to see who might buy them.

Dropsend is one of the apps that allow you to send huge (up to 1 gig) files through your email. It's worked for me.

Why Barenaked App?

Barenaked App is the online diary of the building of our second web app, Amigo.

Well, we’re not Porsche, or Microsoft but we figured that size shouldn’t matter when it comes to letting everyone in on the hows and whys of product creation. And so Barenaked App was born - a place to document the planning, design, coding and marketing of our second web app.

So how bare will we get? The answer is, down to the pants (or underpants if you’re not English). We will be revealing all of our costings, the reasons behind our decisions, why we chose to work with the people we did and of course the embarrassing mistakes we made along the way.

Here's a shot of their growing income:


The discussion in the comments is particularly interesting. If anyone needs a new company you'd better jump on the train.

Clickriver: Amazon lauches verticle PPC program.

beta.gifAmazon's own own PPC program, Clickriver.

Clickriver Ads is an advertising program (currently in beta) that allows businesses to place sponsored links on, next to search results and on product detail pages.

It's a closed beta at the moment. I've applied and if they let me in I'll post a review after I tinker with it.

Spock: Logical people search

spock.bmpFrom VentureBeat

Spock is getting ready to launch a new engine for search based on 'people' by scouring profiles on the web. As a LinkedIn user, I'm wondering if the added benefits of Spocks search will outweigh privacy needs. If ths becomes a tool for stalkers, watchout.

From the Venture Beat post:
When Spock launches, it will have 100 million profiles of people in its database, by far the largest open repository of profiles anywhere. Spock delivers a mixture of facts and research on a people, but also opens a profile to social input, giving it a touch of Wikipedia.

This move is a no-brainer, and it makes you wonder why no one has done this yet.

LinkedIn, ZoomInfo and other people-contact related sites were built in different eras, and have focused on specific subsets of people (LinkedIn and ZoomInfo on business execs, for example). Spock, however, exploits all the latest tagging technology and the exploding number of public profiles on the Web since social network sites like MySpace became popular last year.

Scrubbing millions of profiles from the Web wasn’t an obvious thing to do when Palo Alto’s LinkedIn launched several years ago. LinkedIn began as a contact site, allowing people to request meetings through their layers of relationships. It has since tried to move toward a more open model. Indeed, LinkedIn is aggressively building out its people profiles even as we write. (Last week, it also kicked off a major expansion into Europe and Asia as part of a land-grab, with a German version to go live soon.)

Spock starts from the other end. Spock dispenses with the “contact” element of LinkedIn. It is an open site, for people seeking information about other people.

G-Tube Gate: The nasty inside scoop of the Google / YouTube transaction.

Via Mark Cuban's blog:

A facinating read on Google's purchase of YouTube. Evidently the Google mantra of  'do no evil' has some flexibility built in.


 > The media companies had their typical challenges. Specifically, how to
> get money from Youtube without being required to give any to the
> talent (musicians and actors)? If monies were received as part of a
> license to Youtube then they would contractually obligated to share a
> substantial portion of the proceeds with others. For example most
> record label contracts call for artists to get 50% of all license
> deals. It was decided the media companies would receive an equity
> position as an investor in Youtube which Google would buy from them.
> This shelters all the up front monies from any royalty demands by
> allowing them to classify it as gains from an investment position. A
> few savvy agents might complain about receiving nothing and get a
> token amount, but most will be unaware of what transpired.

I guess Google's got bigger fish to fry.

> The second request was to pile some lawsuits on competitors to slow
> them down and lock in Youtube's position. As Google looked at it they
> bought a 6 month exclusive on widespread video copyright infringement.
> Universal obliged and sued two capable Youtube clones Bolt and
> Grouper. This has several effects. First, it puts enormous pressure on
> all the other video sites to clamp down on the laissez-faire content
> posting that is prevalent. If Google is agreeing to remove
> unauthorized content they want the rest of the industry doing the same
> thing. Secondly it shuts off the flow of venture capital investments
> into video firms. Without capital these firms can't build the data
> centers and pay for the bandwidth required for these upside down
> businesses.

MySpace & FacePage Trouble: Those ungrateful teens.

70242957_0947b0332b_m.jpgIt seems that MySpace isn't cool anymore, but my daughter could have told you that.

MySpace is going to go the way of Cabbage Patch Dolls and Pet Rocks. The spam, negative press, worried parents looking over teen shoulders. The unbelievable rise of MySpace feeds right into the fad phenomenon. What they should have done is slow the growth and 'trend' their way upwards. Fads by nature are not sustainable.

Of course, they sold and cashed out to the tune of $580 million and left  News Corp. holding the bag.

Startups, venture, hiring, tech, geeks, & other smarts.


Paul Graham writes insightful essays on... 

Tag Jungle presents at Launch: Silicon Valley Venture Showcase

Tag Jungle has scored a big win in the visibility wars before it's even launched. The Tag Team has been pushing hard to go live with the site while Phil has been scrounging around trying to keep everyone fed.

The Tag Team announced tonight that Tag Jungle has been invited as one of only 30 tech startups to present at  Launch: Silicon Valley Venture Showcase. This is a big win for the wonderbread boys.

Tag Jungle will be showcasing their solution to make sense of the blogosphere. With a bazillion blogs up and running and Google and Technorati hitched to a linear search strategy of back links and keywords, there's room for a better solution. Tag Jungle thinks they're it.

I've seen it. They might be.

Tag Jungle uses some novel approaches to make sense of the millions of blog posts and sorts them using recognition patterns developed at BYU. (Help me out here if I get off base here Phil.) This new context recognition ability allows Tag Jungle to determine what the salient points of the post are and what the post is about without the keyword cha-cha. It also determines what other relevant tags might be of interest to the user and displays them as a tag cloud along the right.  I've seen this in action and it is mucho impressive. The user can use filters to target the information they're interested in including a cool 'sentiment' filter. (I'll let Phil describe that.) The relevance of the search results promises to be an order of magnitude over what's available.

If you're blogging and don't have any hardwill towards the Tag Jungle Tarzan Team (ie. If they don't owe you money.) throw them a bone and link to their site. You'll also want to jump on as a new user and try out the cool little gizmos they've built in.

Tag Jungle: It finds blogy things.

Phil Burns and the Tag Jungle crew gave me pizza today for lunch. That always makes me feel kindly.

Phil was trotting out Tag Jungle again before he tries to find money for more than pizza. That's always a good idea and especially for Phil. I'm generally geek-i-fied enough to follow discussions about blogging in general by I actually had to listen to follow some of the whatchamacallit goes in the gobblygook and comes out here stuff.

Jungle looks to be a real world solution for relevant search in the blogosphere and I'm anxious to see it in real world action.  I farted around with the alpha site for a little while and it looks promising. I was going to write a list of what TJ can do but I'll leave that to Phil. I will say that 'jungle juice' was first spoken by me. (I'll want some nachos at Fight Club.)

Phil et al are going on a roadshow to get more pizza money. Guy Kawasaki recommends watching this pitch by Majora. (Watch it online here.) Who am I to argue. 

I spoke briefly with Phil about building a pre-pitch dinner where Phil can pitch and receive feedback from investor types. I have a few people in mind. If I call you you'll get to see Phil gesture wildly and probably come away with a free T-shirt.