Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Gold Medal Count

Posting has been light over the last few weeks as we are still gearing up for our move to the West Coast. It's amazing how many things you have to do to shift 2 people, an apartment and a cat (the cat being the most difficult!).

I just came across this cool widget from a new site called youcalc. It's an Olympic medal count you can sort by total, per capita or per some GDP figure.

(if it's not working for you, you can look at it here)

When you look at total medals won by population (per captia), the list changes drastically - New Zealand is in the top 10!.

It's tempting to say the per captia list reflects the real success as medal total 'normalized' by population puts both large and small countries on an equal footing. It's hard to compete on absolute basis when China has 1.5 billion people to pull from!

It's tempting, but also wrong. Population size is a factor only if you have the investment to make it one. India won almost nothing yet is the second most populous country in the world. They invest almost zero in Olympic sports, and it shows.

Many of the small countries on top of the list (Jamaica for instance) have also benefited from athletes attending American schools where investment in track and field is strong. Their success reflects this investment.

I'd love to see a list adjusted for both population and investment in Olympic sports. That would equalize countries a lot more. Although I have a hunch a fully 'normalized' medal table based on per capita Olympic spend in USDs adjusted for athletes that train outside of their country of origin probably won't catch on. Not much of a ring to it.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Don't click it!!

I came across a fun site today that demonstrates just how much we rely on the ubiquitousness of the click to navigate the online world.

It's actually a piece of art submitted as part of a Masters Degree in Communications by a German student, Alex Frank.

It is both an incredibly annoying yet interesting experience all at once.

It's like having no electricity in a black-out - you don't realize how much you depend on something until you lose it.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Shifting Marketing Sands

Thinking about the excessive amount of TV advertising I've consumed while watching the Olympics lately, I was beginning to wonder if new Marketing trends were just a bunch of hot-air.

So I pulled the following data from Google Trends.

This is a chart of the search and news volume for three phrases 'social media', 'traditional media' and 'TV advertising' - search volume is on the top, news volume is on the bottom.

Sometime around the middle of 2007 you can see 'social media' take off as a phrase.

Of course, this is old news to Social Media advocates who have been living and breathing this trend for the past year and a half. But what's interesting is the downward trend for the 'TV advertising' line.

Either Jo Public has stopped searching for generic 'TV Advertising', or Marketing practitioners have lost interest. I think it's probably a bit of both.

Watching the Olympics you wouldn't have guessed.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

If car advertising is so meaningless, why is there so much of it?

I remember working for the arm of a car financing company who wanted to understand the entire car-buying process from start to finish.

After weeks of research it become abundantly clear that initial impressions and interest generated by advertising were trumped by personal search, peer recommendations and plain old stubborn loyalty to the brand you already had.

Which makes it even more surprising that most car advertising is deal focused - treating the process as if it's an impulse buy. Sort of like picking up a six-pack of coke at the local supermarket in a 2-for-1 promo.

This deal-focused ad spam mentality has to be sustained by some type of industry insider myth - it just doesn't seem like it should work. And it wouldn't surprise me if it doesn't given the ridiculously inaccurate ways companies tend to measure the ROI of TV spend.

I am mentioning this now as the current oil-price woes have spurred a whole new round of deal spamming car ads that try to convince consumers something that gets 20mpg on the highway is somehow a good investment. As if being top 5 in class for 3-row SUV's with 4-cylinder engines and red bumpers is somehow a meaningful point of differentiation.

Maybe it's because I am watching the Olympics and hence more TV than normal that I am noticing this. Just like I am now noticing the spam ads from my own cable company that try and get me to buy their new Triple-Play package that somehow miraculously costs less per month than the Double-Play package I have. As I have no interest in the additional phone service, these ads are a constant reminder of how badly they are riping me off.

TV advertising is such a waste of time.

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Monday, August 4, 2008

Musings on UI Design

One of the things I have become increasingly interested in over the last year is UI (User Interface) design. As we develop our software product, how it looks and feels to the end user becomes an extremely important part of the process.

And as we are developing it using the latest Microsoft technology, it was interesting to read this interview with Jensen Harris - one of the lead designers for the new Office Ribbon UI in Office 2007. Here is a link to Jensen's blog post on the topic.

The actual presentation Jensen gave is a good watch. It's impressive to see all the data Microsoft collects go to use in the design process (what does it tell you about work habits in the 21st century when the most used function in Outlook is 'delete' - 14x greater than the next most used function, 'reply/send'?).

Having read and listened to the talk, here are my musings on the process:

1. There is no way - no trickery of layout, no fancy use of color palettes, no sophisticated code - that can really reduce the complexity of 250 separate functions in MS Word. The developers and designers are on a collision course with diminishing returns on simplicity. At some point, if a program becomes large enough, it becomes complicated.

2. The Ribbon UI - where all commands area accessed via a tab interface at the top of the page (see here) - is a useful innovation for the 'average' user. This seems to be partly the reason it was developed - to help more people use and utilize more functions. However, it's not necessarily an improvement for the 'power user'. It lets you master more functions, but doesn't allow significant depth of mastery - the kind of depth that allows you to completely customize your UI experience.

3. The most significant UI design conundrum is designing for both the 'average' and 'power' user.

4. Don't be afraid to give the user 2 or even 3 ways to access the same function. They will figure out the way that suits them the best. Everyone is different.

5. Don't give the user 2 or 3 ways to access EVERY function - they will come for your head. The art in UI design, like all good creative endeavors, is to know when to stop.

6. Get out of the way. Don't let the UI dominate the experience. Great UI's are like hazard lights on a car. You should never notice them until you need them. And they provide a useful function.

I don't think the Ribbon UI meets all of these challenges. It still seems bloated. But then, going back to point 1, you can't design away complexity. You can only design for it.

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