More on Not Being the Customer

I wrote a while ago about not using services with no business model, but I’m even more wary of sites and services where I am not the customer. That’s any ad based site like say, Facebook.

Yes I am a begrudging user of Facebook, but I’m not their customer. I give them no money to use the service. The people that give them money are those that place ads in the sides of the site, they are the customers. Especially with Facebook this is worrisome since they have a bunch of data on me and they need to find a way to break out of display ads.

What might Facebook’s big idea look like? Well, it does have all this data. The company knows so much about so many people that its executives are sure that the knowledge must have value (see “You Are the Ad,” by Robert D. Hof, May/June 2011).

So this company that has a bunch of data about how I interact with people is out there and I’m not their customer, that should not make you happy.

I suppose that Google fits the same hold, but for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on it just doesn’t bother me. While I do think that Google has strayed from it’s don’t be evil mission, I think that Facebook never had that as a mission. They’re starting way further away from any place that puts me first.

Can We Get by with Web Apps?

google docs shot

google docs shot
Are web apps enough?

Web apps have been heralded as the solution to our online and offline lives. We do not have to install software on our machines. Things are backed up online and, in theory, we can edit offline with Google Gears (or other solution).

So looking at this promised land I decided to move my blog writing from Open Office with storage in Dropbox to Google Docs with offline enabled. I have now been writing exclusively in Google Docs for about a month and here is my experience.

The Good

I love the organization of Google Docs. There is just something about the simplicity of the interface that appeals to me. Drag and drop folder sorting is beautiful. Auto saving is great. Being able to check the content of a folder with by winding and unwinding the arrow for a folder is great. It just seems easier than drilling down a file structure and backing out of folders. I love that I am not really flipping back and forth between a file browser and an application for writing. I love that I just have Firefox open and can browse for links and write out of the same interface without having multiple applications running. Since I do much of my writing on a netbook having a single application open instead of a few is a great feature.

I find that the spell check works well and the standard keyboard shortcuts for boldand italic text work great. I really do not notice that I am in a web interface instead of a desktop application.

The Bad

While Google docs seems to promise document syncing and offline editing my experience leaves me wanting much more from Google docs. I typically operate over two main machines, a Vista desktop and an Ubuntu netbook. I take the netbook with me lots of places that do not have WIFI of any sort so I need to be able to edit my documents while offline.

The first fail came for Google docs when I was trying to start a new article over lunch one day. Low and behold the new document button is ‘ghosted’ out. So I scratched my head fired up Open Office and jotted down the notes I had in my head for an article. After a bit of research I found out that you can not create a document while in offline mode. You can ‘hack’ around this by creating a number of new documents while online and then editing them at a later point when you have a new document to write. Not a perfect solution but not too bad either so I could live with that.

The second fail or series of fails dealt with syncing my documents when transferring offline and online. For some reason a month after editing I still have documents that are marked at ‘edited offline.’ Despite the fact that I am currently giving Google Docs every opportunity to sync these items while I sit here online finishing this article in Google docs. Since it appears that the documents are just marked as ‘edited offline’ while still having the content syncedSo while this is annoying again I can live with that.

The final fail item was just today. I had planned to work on a document and finish it off for a blog post. Unfortunately for some reason Google docs decided not to sync that particular document today. So there I am ready to write an article and I get totally stumped. I suppose the great thing about that is I got to finish off this post about the ways in which Google docs has failed me. Maybe it has something to do with the Linux implementation of Firefox but to be honest I really do not care. I just want my apps to work.

The Conclusion

I love the thought of web apps and offline access but at this point I do not think that Google docs is there. Sure if you always have a WIFI connection Google Docs is a great resource but if you are editing offline and online you are out of luck (at least in my experience). I actually love writing in Google Docs but the syncing problems just kill the option for me. I really do not want to switch back to Open Office and Dropbox but I feel I have no choice. So I think I’ll be going back to using Open Office and storing documents in my Dropbox for syncing. The only downside to that is the poor functionality of Open Office for Mac. Fortunately my main machines are Linux and Windows with Mac as an occasional platform (at least for writing).

My next attempt at online document writing will be with Microsoft’s Office Live. Hopefully that is not a bucket of fail. Added after I scheduled the post Unfortunately it seems that Office Live is also a buckect of fail. While many browsers across many platforms are supported there is no Linux support in the Office Live site so my primary writing machine won’t work. I guess that means I’m stuck with Open Office and Dropbox for syncing.

Yahoo’s New Homepage and Some Problems

yahoo homepage
yahoo homepage

The big story today seems to be the roll out of Yahoo’s new homepage. While this is very cool for Yahoo to do I still think that there are some problems with the idea.

  1. Is This What People Really Want?
  2. I’ve recently read Getting Real and while I do not agree with all of the book it presents a very good point to this issue. Yahoo’s homepage is now a cacophony of options. Compare that with Google and see that at you only have one option. It’s simple you search. At you have millions of things to do all distracting from the search function, which I feel is of primary importance.

  3. US only? (to start)
  4. So this new amazing service is only available to US people to start. Really? With such an interconnected world we have you are only offering the new features to US accounts. It’s not like we are talking about phone numbers (Google Voice) that might really mean restricted access imposed by government organizations. We are talking about an intentional choice to limit the access to the ‘preferred’ customers.

    While they don’t say it by only offering this service to US people they are setting them up as special thus alienating the rest of the world for the time being. I realize that they are doing a staged roll out of the service but I say offer it to the beta testers around the world then let it go for all users not a select few in a particular geographical region.

The Proposed Plan

I say don’t add more features to, take some out. Have a separate page to aggregate your ‘lifestream’ fine but do not make me see all the options when I simply want to search something. Being better than the competition is not doing it bigger and better it’s just doing it better. Kill the cruft.

Second do not setup a preferred client based on purely arbitrary reasons like a border. We are not talking about services regulated by governments (for most of the world) so just open it up to everyone. Alienating potential clients just is not good business.

Google Conversion Optimizer

I attended a webinar on Google Conversion Optimizerrecently and had to write a summary for work that I thought I would share with everyone. I don’t profess to be an expert (that’s why I went) so if there are things I am missing let me know.

What is the Conversion Optimizer?

At it’s core the conversion optimizer helps you bid more effectively on adwords. It takes all of the info that gets generated by an adwords campaign and analyzes it all to adjust your bids on keywords for situations that bring better conversions for you.

Where Conversion Optimizer Shines

Regular adword campaigns allow you limit your campaigns by country, city, state or neighbourhood (though this IP detection is not always effective). Google Conversion Optimizer adds more to just that general segmentation. Over time conversion optimizer learns what regions, search strings… yeild better conversions for your site. As it learns what terms…have a higher conversion percentage on your site it adjust your average bids higher so that you come up more often for those things (note: you still set your maximum and it doesn’t go over that figure).

The example given int he presentation dealt with a surf shop that advertised for ‘surf board’ and for ‘ocean sports.’ As one would think they saw lots of good ROI on the term surfboard and some ROI on the term ocean sports. When they turned conversion optimizer on they saw a big increase in ‘ocean sports’ as the tool learned what types of sites to display the add on and what exact queries meant people were really looking for a surf shop. This fairly broad search term ended up having a very high ROI as conversion optimizer learned more and more when to feed their add out (with little increase in average payment for adds).

Some Caveats

As with anything that uses historical data to tailor results the bigger your data set the better the campaign is tailored. So over time you campaign could yeild more conversions for the same or lower pricing. Tieing in with this it was suggested that you just start a normal adwords campaign and after a number of weeks (no firm number mentioned) turn on the conversion optimizer.

You also can’t make large changes to your campaign and have the conversion optimizer maintain its effectiveness. You can add a few keywords and maybe take one or two out but when using conversion optimizer it is best to make changes slowly over time so that it stays effective. If you have to make large changes for a campaign it is best to turn off conversion optimizer make the changes let it run for a few weeks and then turn it back on.

Finally conversion optimizer requires that in the last 30 days you have had 30 conversions and that you have conversion tracking turned on. Now if your campaign regularly has 30 conversions in 30 days but for a period or two it drops to 24 (the number mentioned in the presentation) you should still be using conversion optimizer. It will still have a large data set from the other recent 30 day periods to act on.

Other resources I used when writing this post:

The Daily News: Google custom search and getting more clients

How many of us have used the built in search for a site and found it to be horrid? I know that a site I am currently working on has what I feel is an unusable search function. In fact the results are so bad I think it’s better if they aren’t even there. So I’ve been thinking about using a google custom search but really wanted to have an auto complete feature. Well today I woke up to a tutorial fron NETTUTS that details just that, how to add auto complete to Google custom search.

The next two articles look at making your site/online presence better. First is 15 elements of a good site design. Looks at having a good about page to being able to track your site stats. The second article is is the second part in a series of articles about making your portfolio better to get more clients. This article doesn’t focus as much on your online presence as your overall marketing of yourself. Check out the list and start getting more clients in your door.

Today we’ll finish with a very cool wordpress link. I make lots of themes for clients and am starting to make some for sale. I have looked at custom options pages but never actually done one but that will change. I found an article dealing exactly how to build a custom options page for a wordpress themes. You can add a bunch of nice funcationality for people who use your themes.