It’s its own thing

“… people in the newspaper industry saw the web as a newspaper. People in TV saw the web as TV, and people in book publishing saw it as a weird kind of potential book. But the web is not just some kind of magic all-absorbing meta-medium. It’s its own thing.” {Paul Ford}

Via: simplebits.com

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Modes of writing

“Meaning, blogging encourages exploration and experimentation. In this way, blogging is the kind of writing authors have done for centuries but which usually remained hidden away.” {Mandy Brown}

Further Reading: Modes of writing / from a working library.

Transparency pays off

When I first started using Google’s browser, Chrome, I noticed how the ads served up were much more targeted than I what I was used to.  I also noticed that I have a much harder time ignoring targeted ads.  I hardly ever notice the  regular ads that clutter the web pages I visit.  Subconsciously I must have trained my brain to ignore this kind of advertising.  Since these targeted ads feature content directly related to my recent web searches, they stand out more and they cause my privacy paranoia to flare up.

Despite Chrome being the fastest browser I had ever used, the ads were annoying enough for me to stop using it as my main browser.  I even avoided buying from the business that was serving most of these ads to me.  Then other browsers became better (or worse?) at serving up targeted ads so I resorted to clearing my cookies and history more often.  I started using Chrome again but still keep Firefox as my main browser.

Zappos Criteo Screenshot
Zappos Criteo Screenshot, click to view larger

Then something interesting happened.  After browsing Zappos last week, I was presented with targeted Zappos ads for shoes similar to the ones I was looking for.  This time however, there was a “Why am I seeing this ad?” link included.  Clicking this link, redirected me to a Zappos branded page on ‘Criteo.com’.  The page explains how targeted ads work, why I received the ad and even what happens in the background to make this work.  Apparently, my status with Criteo is that I have an active cookie, I have not opted out and I have a cookie from Criteo.  What’s nice is that this page gives me the option to ‘opt-out’,  not just once, in a small print footer, but several times and in clearly visible large print.  Actually, the original link on the ad, the one that led me to this information, was also big, clear and prominent.  Criteo even gave me instructions on how to turn off third party cookies altogether, which would implicitely opt-me-out of most other targeted ad services as well.

I did not opt out, neither did I go and delete all my cookies.  I figure if Zappos and Criteo are honest about the information they have on me, give me a fair chance to opt-out and even teach me how to turn off third party cookies altogether, there is little harm in returning the favor with some limited and anonymous information about my browsing behaviour.

I ended up buying shoes online, not from Zappos, but I’ll, voluntary, continue to see their hard-to-ignore-ads.

Transparency pays off.

Further Reading:
Criteo Privacy Policy

Yahoo planning to shut down Delicious

Unfortunately it looks like the rumor of the day is true:  Yahoo is planning to shut down the Delicious bookmarking service.  After Apple’s shutdown of Lala, this is another one of my favorite web services that gets closed after being acquired by a bigger company. I guess Mark Zuckerberg knew what he was doing when he turned down Yahoo’s offer to buy Facebook.  Nothing is free, especially not when it’s free of ads(1). I’m just glad I own all of the content that I publish here.  Somewhere in my old fashioned paper notebook I keep a list of web services I use. I should have a look at that list and make sure that the services I care about can be exported and backed up easily.

“Part of our organizational streamlining involves cutting our investment in under performing or off-strategy products to put better focus on our core strengths and fund new innovation in the next year and beyond,[…]”
{Statement provided by Yahoo, via CNET }

(1)Except of course true open source initiatives like WordPress.org

Le Pain Quotidien on Facebook

Because I like to know what the soup of the day is without walking over to Le Pain Quotidien, I follow them (@lepainquotidien) on Twitter.  While I originally started following them for this very mundane and practical reason, I’ve been surprised at how well they use this channel to communicate with their customers.

One of the things I like is that they don’t send out a million tweets everyday. Some companies and individuals I follow, tweet so much that I’m tempted to stop following them altogether.  And if I continue to follow them, I hardly ever read their tweets anymore. I’m looking at you @mashable and @nytimes! A twitter feed is not an RSS feed! Sometimes less is more.  On Twitter, less is almost always more!
Another admirable characteristic is that they occasionally reply to people that have mentioned them, but only if they have something worthwhile to say, not systematically and definitely not through some automated process. This way they really show their customers that there are real people behind the brand. However much we all hate the term social media, there is a reason why these media are supposed to be social.

OK, so these are two examples of why Le Pain Quotidien has a healthy Twitter strategy. Surely, they are not the only company that does things right? Why single them out? I could say it’s because they are Belgian and so am I.  But if that was the reason, I could have also used @waffletruck as an example because they are Belgian too and they have a pretty good Twitter feed too. The real reason is this link that @lepainquotidien tweeted yesterday.  “Ever wondered why we serve our organic coffee in bowls?” Honestly? No, I haven’t.  But now that you mention it, I am curious to know.  If you are too, you’ll have to follow the link to read all about it.
You’ll find a cute, tongue-in-cheek explanation of something as trivial as the absence of handles on their cups.  They briefly touch upon a number of details that makes the company a little more unique and a lot more like-able.

I don’t know who was behind this, it might have been a marketing agency, or it might have been someone in their own marketing team.  It doesn’t matter.  I think it’s a great example of using the individual strengths of both Twitter and Facebook.  I love how they used Twitter to get my attention and, with a little teaser, pulled me over to their Facebook page. Furthermore, once they had my attention they didn’t ruin it by trying to sell me something.  Instead they gave me something that I’ll be able to remember and smile about the next time I have one of their hot drinks from a bowl.

The Five Levels of Communication in a Connected World

A while ago, The 99 Percent by Behive published an article about the Five Levels of Communication in a Connected World.
As someone who has been frustrated many times with people picking the wrong medium for their message, I really appreciate this breakdown. We all know how annoying it is when people haphazardly post personal messages on our Facebook wall, or when someone tries to avoid a difficult or sensitive conversation by sending email instead of picking up the phone.  I guess my more than average interest in communication and interaction, makes me extra sensitive to this.  But I really believe we could all work a lot more efficiently if we mastered our every day communication better.

According to The 99 Percent, the Five Levels of Communication in a Connected World are (in order of least to most personal):

1)Message into the Ether:  Email and regular mail.

2)Back-and-Forth Messaging:  Instant Messaging and Text Messaging.

3)A Verbal Dialog:  A phone call.

4)The In-Person Spontaneous Discussion:  This is the typical water cooler conversation or when a coworker walks over to your desk to discuss something.  For obvious reasons this one is very popular in office situations.

5)The In-Person Scheduled Discussion:  The classic meeting, a lunch date or even when you and a coworker carpool to a client meeting together.

For a more in depth explanation I invite you to follow the link to the original article.  But maybe not just yet!  After reading the article and giving this some considerate attention, I have to admit that I also communicate at the wrong level every now and then.  And despite agreeing with the gist of the article, I also have a few thoughts and remarks regarding the various levels.

Level one and two seem to have more and more overlap as technology evolves. I remember when text messaging was clearly a level one medium.  Mostly because it used to be a lot more tedious to type on a phone.  But also, and this is my un-researched personal opinion, because people used to pick up the phone more easily.  Whether this is a good or bad evolution is debatable.
This overlap also causes the line between the two levels to blur.  A new technology like Twitter is a good example of this.  In essence Twitter is a broadcasting tool and as such it would fall in the first category.  However, a lot of people are using Twitter as a second level direct messaging tool.  More and more we also stop making the distinction between level one and two altogether.  At my office, email is often used for instant messaging.  Both email and instant messaging have their strengths and we should consider those before we pick our medium.  Some of the strengths of email is that it allows you to explain a point more elaborately and that the recipient can take more time to formulate an answer.  On the other hand emails are sensitive to causing miscommunication, the strengths I just mentioned can backfire easily.

In general you could say that the levels go from less personal to more personal.  This also means that the higher the level the more serious the subject of a conversation the more we feel like it deserves a higher level means of communication.  I’m sure a lot of web professionals like the people at 37 Signals and Automattic would disagree with this.  Sometimes lower level communication is perfectly acceptable for more heavy weight subjects.  I believe in the end the goal and the content of the conversation should determine which level of communication is appropriate.  Ask yourself questions like: Do I need instant feedback or can I wait for a more thoughtful reply?  Can I explain my point in a few words through instant messaging or should I opt for a more lengthy email?  Will the conversation benefit from face to face interaction that allows for much more nuance than a phone call?

A few simple questions before firing up your instant messenger or picking up the phone can save a lot of time and frustration in the long run.

Further reading:
Five Levels of Communication in a Connected World [via The 99 Percent]
Getting in too-much touch
[via 37signals]
The interruption tax [via 37signals]