Snapfish support isn't very supportive after all...
I know, this is a tempest in a teapot, but I can't help but be amused by the interchange from Snapfish support. I'm a fan of the site and often use it for prints, but this time I uploaded about thirty photos from a recent trip to Hawaii and encountered what seemed like a bug.
I sent in a bug report (which wasn't easy to figure out: they don't really want to hear from customers as far as I can tell):
"03/30/2008 01:41 PM: Got a problem: My photo album AlbumID=21902554 has a picture set as the cover image but it's a picture I subsequently deleted. Now I can't change it. A bug?"Their response was speedy - less than 12 hours - but apparently from the other side of the looking glass or something:
"Hi Dave,Is it just me, or are they completely disconnected from my query and bug report?
This sort of pleasant, but completely pointless interchange reminds me why people hate tech support and are constantly frustrated with their gadgets, gizmos and software systems. And sometimes I am too. Go figure. :-)
Cool new startup for bloggers: Scratchback tip jar
Disclaimer up front: Jim Kukral, the founder of Scratchback, is a good friend of mine. Nonetheless, I've always been interested in creative and unusual ways for bloggers to make a buck while still keeping their focus on creating compelling content, so when Jim told me about his new startup, I was quite interested in learning more. The result of my questions to him are the interview, published here.
Q: Scratchback is a "tip jar". Tell me what the purpose of a tip jar is for a Web site?
ScratchBack is an online "tipping" system. It allows you, the publisher, to accept tips and "give back" links or images in return (all links are nofollow). You name your price on your tips, and you earn money from every interaction through our easy-to-use automated system. It's free to sign-up, and you can have a TopSpot widget on your website or blog in minutes.
Q: There have been many tip jar systems, from the "donate" link through Paypal that have been around for years to the "buy Dave a chai" link on my own web site. Why something new, and why now?
Actually, the Buy Dave a Chai is one of the inspirations for Scratchback, thanks. We just took it a step further. You're still tipping someone, but now you get something in return for your tip. Why now? Well, as you know Google came down hard on webmasters selling text links. Scratchback fills a need in many ways:
Q: Do you have Scratchback implemented on your own site, Jim? How's it going?
Yes, I have the widget in use on many of my blogs, and of course on the Scratchback site itself. It works great! Visitors enjoy using it and participating with brands.
Q: Who should use ScratchBack?
It's built for everyone, from small blogger, to HUGE publisher, regardless of traffic. Smaller sites or blogs will find that their TopSpots can generate some extra income that they might not be getting from other sources. Big publishers can use their TopSpots to allow everyone to participate on their sites beyond just reading or leaving a comment. If you like to have fun, and you think your readers like the information you have to offer, than this is something for you.
Q: How do you make money as a service? A percentage of the transactions?
Scratchback takes a commission from each tip to pay for bandwidth, hosting and administrative fees. The current commission structure is set for 90% for the publisher and 10% to ScratchBack, after paypal fees of course!
Q: You have a long and rich background with online sales and marketing. Do you see, down the road, a way to tie Scratchback into the affiliate world?
Yes, as a matter of fact, we're having discussions with affiliate networks and merchants right now about integrating some type of affiliate offer either built into the widget design, or some other way.
Learn more about this service and even consider adding it to your blog, all at Scratchback.com.
Is Linux ready for "the masses"? Nope.
There's an interesting, albeit very (very) long article written by Rip Linton entitled Linux Not Ready for the Masses? Bull that, rather inadvertently, does a great job of demonstrating one of the main reasons that Linux is not, in fact, ready for the masses: Rip makes an impassioned intellectual argument for the positive value of change but in this instance completely misses that perception is more important than reality.
His arguments are based primarily on his own experience in the computer industry, years of learning how to wrestle with and overcome the challenges of new and different technology. Interesting reading, particularly since I too have been involved with the Unix community for decades.
There are a few key points he makes that I want to address:
"Most users love to learn new things and really like it if they are one of the first in their group to learn something"
In my experience that's not true. In fact, most people - particularly in a corporate environment - are interested in getting their job done and getting out of there, not learning new tools and techniques. That's why there's still such an installed base of Windows 95 and Windows 98, along with MacOS 9 (yes, I hear from users of all these systems).
This is a key point, because just about every Unix / Linux / GNU person I've bumped into during the 25 years (jeez!) I've been associated with that community has a high level of intellectual curiosity about the tools they use for their work. They like getting incremental updates, they like playing with new tools, they're curious. That's great, but it's not the way most people work and it's a mistake to assume that it is.
"Training and perception are the keys to successful change"
Agreed, but this assumes that people want to be trained and that the benefit to the business - and the individuals - after the training is sufficiently high that they'll accept being trained in the first place. Worse, most corporate trainers are terrible teachers, boring and fairly unforgiving of those who aren't immediately grasping the new concepts or tools.
Nonetheless, my main point is that, yes, perception is key to successful change. And since the perception of Linux is that it's far more geeky and difficult to work with than Windows, this needs to be addressed directly in the marketplace too.
And, to be honest, it is harder to work with Linux than Windows or Mac OS X because you can't go to Kinko's and buy an app for your Linux box, you can't just plug in a printer and get it to work, and you can't get your friend to pop over and help you fix things. No perception involved, this is just the reality of working with an unpopular system in the marketplace.
"The person installing and training on new systems and software must know it so well that they make it look easy"
That's a good point, but it's extraordinarily difficult to pull off. If nothing else, there's the whole "demo syndrome" where things inevitably fail when you try to show others how to use them. You see that again and again at trade shows, for example.
"If there are problems, they should be resolved without making it look like it is difficult to overcome issues."
This is good in the sense that it recognizes that perceptions are critically important, but on the other hand, so many things associated with Windows are mind-numbingly complicated (and some times well nigh impossible to fix) and yet... somehow that doesn't seem to slow down the adoption of Windows in the corporate environment or at home, for that matter.
Finally, my main disagreement with Rip is that people don't embrace change, they run away from it screaming. There's a cliché that addresses this too: "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".
Windows, particularly Windows Vista, is basically broken, but it's not so broken that people are eager to fix it by going into a completely different world, an alien world of geeks and hourly system patches called Linux.
Is Linux ready for prime time? No, it still isn't. After decades of development and effort by the folks that enjoy new tools, gizmos, and poking around with things on a daily basis.
But maybe you disagree? Share your thoughts, let's talk about it!
The nightly popularity contest of social networks
As I am currently many time zones away from just about everyone who reads this blog (I'm on Hawaiian time) when I wake up and first check my email, it's already mid-day on the continental United States and I am noting an interesting phenomenon: with all the social network notifications that I receive, every morning is like a mini-popularity contest now.
Well, maybe a popularity contest of just me, because I can't see what level of invites other people are getting, of course!
Whether it's someone who is now following my Twitter feed or FriendFeed, or friended me on Facebook, LinkedIn or even become my pal on Digg, it's a fascinating experience. (I don't get notifications from MySpace because I receive 20-40 friend requests each day, usually from spambots)
This morning, for example, I wake up to see that Steve Rubel has subscribed to my FriendFeed, Kealeboga Segola has added me as a friend on Facebook, Dave Henderson and condredege are now following me on Twitter and Marvin Turner, JD MBA has forwarded me an introduction on LinkedIn.
I wonder whether the growing popularity of social networks is simply because of this daily affirmation that we're popular and have even more friends than we did yesterday...
How do you interview people for your blog?
One question that I encounter occasionally from neophyte bloggers is about one of the most powerful methods of building content and also (shhhh) one of the best ways to build up some very high quality inbound links for your weblog: interviews.
Now I'm not talking about bringing your camera crew and lining up some local production team to help the "location shoot" look great (though if you're at that level you doubtless already know what I'm talking about) but more the humble interviews built around either email or phone-based question and answer sessions.
Standard approach is to identify a half-dozen or so celebrities or highly visible people in your market and ask them directly if you can interview them. Generally, this is a good place to slip in an ego stroke or two, like "I've been talking about your new book for a year now, it's so great" or "really appreciate your insight on the current bond market" or "I'm really interested on how you gained your sharp perspective on politics". Think of it as grease on the wheels, perhaps.
Why approach more than one? Because some folk will just ignore your request or reject it, sometimes because they want to be paid and other times because they're either buffeted by these sort of queries or just uninterested in you and your project. No worries, lots of other people say 'yes' so you should have success!
As part of your invitation to be interviewed, I encourage you to highlight that you'll do the production work (formatting the final document, editing the audio, whatever) and that you're then happy to make that available for their own promotional purposes. This gives them a further incentive and since there's no cost other than time, if you flub it up horribly, they can always skip referencing it on their own site / newsletter.
Making participation easy and efficient is a definite win and will increase the chance of you succeeding in your fledgling interview efforts.
I prefer email interviews, personally, because I'm a text guy so I'll tell you that my secret here is to ask if I can interview them, then send them a list of 10-12 questions and highlight "if you don't like these questions, edit them, skip ones that aren't interesting and add new ones if you'd like". This lets them help move the interview towards areas they want to highlight and I can always mail back "one more question" if they are skipping an area that I think is of particular importance. More importantly, since I'm not seeking a Pulitzer for investigative reporting, it lets them retain some control of the interview too.
For a phone-based audio interview you can use the same general approach by emailing questions in advance of the call. This also lets you ensure that your interview goes well because your subject has had a chance to prep and perhaps pull together some notes. You can do the same: have your homework in front of you so instead of saying "you have a big company" you can say "Your company sold $35.3 million worth of widgets last year..." or similar and sound smart. And that's undoubtedly a good thing.
Finally, when you are done, spend the time and effort to clean things up, edit for coherence, spelling and grammar (as appropriate), clean up audio passages to chop out the ums and ahs, the interruption from the cellphone call at minute 13, etc. Then send a copy of it to the interview subject simultaneous to publishing it, with your gracious thanks for their participation.
For bonus points, you can also ask them if they have any colleagues who would enjoy being interviewed, and if so, whether they could perhaps send out a quick introduction for you. That can open doors that you might otherwise never even know are there.
Finally finally, a quick example: my interview with Spain Dad, which came out of us connecting and me being surprised at the level of personal information he published on his blog. I think it's an interesting interview. Do you?
Google Maps smacked down by the Pentagon
I read this headline in the Wall Street Journal and said "well, duh, yeah."
The article explains that "A message sent to all Defense Department bases and installations around the country late last week told officials to not allow the popular mapping Web site from taking panoramic views inside the facilities."
Michael Kucharek, spokesman for U.S. Northern Command, said: "the decision was made after crews were allowed access to at least one base. He said military officials were concerned that allowing the 360-degree, street-level video could provide sensitive information to potential adversaries and endanger base personnel."
I can only be aghast at the poor judgment of military police who let any Google Map (or MSN Earth, etc etc) teams drive onto a military base and take detailed panoramic photographs of the facility and its exact layout.
In my opinion, it's worrying enough that you can pick any random military base and find a nice aerial photograph of it. For example, here's Andrews Air Force Base, quite close up:
Now this image unto itself isn't necessarily going to help a terrorist plan an attack, but the level of detail is rather extraordinary and if you look for a larger military establishment like Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base it's certainly foreseeable how good on-ground intel could aid a foreign national far more than a Marine who seeks to figure out where "building 1101" is actually located on base.
I think that the challenge of finding a balance between vigilance and openness is a tricky one, and the ever-wider availability of geo-data makes it a particularly tricky issue. But it's not just limited to Google Maps and military establishments either: services like Yahoo's new Fire Eagle make it easier for someone to track your location (assuming you sign up for the geolocation service, still in early beta). Is that a good thing?
How do we balance privacy, security, pragmatic vigilance, optimism and openness in the twenty-first century?
Vote for Startup Story Radio on the Clear Channel network!
If you've been paying attention, you'll know that I'm the informal co-host of Startup Story Radio, with my pal Rob McNealy. We have a great time and every Saturday at noon you can even listen to the live audio stream on the KKZN AM760 site.
We broadcast through the Clear Channel network and they just announced that they're doing a listener survey to find out which programs are popular. Rob and I would most appreciate if you would spend 90 seconds and vote for our program!
Remember, we're broadcast out of Denver on AM 760 and if you're not a resident of Colorado then please indicate that you listen to our live audio stream.
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