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This is a 5 star blog post

21 Sep

This is a 5 star blog post… or is it a 1 star blog post? Well you’re reading it, you decide. The star rating is the grandfather of social validation and review mechanisms. Migrating from the hospitality industry it moved to the entertainment industry before slipping effortlessly onto websites where it makes perfect sense for our attention deficit, fragmented, time-poor online world.

Copeland image: The problem with star ratings.With a single click you can sum up your entire experience of a product, service, or entity and be off to your next online destination. Conversely, no time to investigate a product? Just check the star rating. Everyone wins? Well no, and for the typical implementation of star rating systems here’s why:

It’s too democratic
The leveling power of the Internet has done some wonderful things. Bypassing the media, it has given a voice to people where previously their frustrations and delight would be confined to a small circle of friends and peers.

Mainstream social media hasn’t addressed this yet, but its problem is that in many ways influence and positioning vastly overshadow experience & knowledge. That’s for another post, but in the context of star ratings it means that everyone has the same level of authority when they rate something. So what’s wrong with that?

Well, should you really be allowed to rate something if you’ve never actually bought the product or experienced the service yourself? Why should you have the power to influence others based on hear-say, or worse, in the pursuit of an ill-informed agenda? Especially considering your star rating is elevated to the same level of influence as someone who actually paid for the product or service.

A star rating for a meal or movie accounts for a passive activity with a very short timeline. Should it be applied to a complex product or service with which you interact for a period of months or years? The blanket democracy takes no account of whether you read the instructions, ignored the warnings, let alone whether you paid for the product.

It’s open to abuse
Running a campaign or launching a product? Why not just buy 5 star reviews. Or go the extra step and buy 1 star reviews to be applied to your competitors.

Electronic Arts suffered the wrath of agenda driven star rating abuse when they released Spore, a PC game with what was seen by consumers as having  draconian anti-piracy measures. An organised backlash resulted in 837 1 star reviews being posted on Amazon within days, many by people who had never bought the game. Maybe this was a fair rating of the anti-piracy features, but it tarred every aspect of the product with the same brush.

It amplifies inherent bias.
If you pass my imaginary gate for people who have actually paid for the product then we run into the next huge failing. Inherent bias.
If you’ve committed to the point where you shell out money for a product or service then you’re pre-disposed to like it. There’s also the documented need to validate our decision. If you’ve ever looked for a review of a movie after you’ve watched it, or searched for a product review for the gadget sitting next to you on your sofa, as I have, then you’re probably looking for approval via social validation. You’ll be inclined to leave a higher rating as a result.

At the other end of the scale are those looking to assuage their anger with a 1 star review. What star ratings don’t show is the vast majority of people who find the product satisfactory. Have you ever taken the time to rate, or review  something that you were mildly pleased with, or was satisfactory? This evangelism amplifies both end of the scale, leaving the middle ground in a vacuum. It’s the reason youtube is looking for alternatives to star ratings. And if they are I’d wager the big e-commerce sites are as well.


Essential tips for choosing domain names

19 Jul

In a previous post on choosing a name for your business Doug provided 6 great tips for naming your business. As a companion piece I wanted to provide some tips on securing a domain name, aka URL or web address.

Business domain names come under a multitude of categories. Real words like Amazon, compounds like Facebook, mispellings such as Flickr (there’s a great rundown on naming categories at the nameinspector). Choosing a domain name to represent your business online  takes time and insight, but it’s worth the investment to avoid settling on a domain name that that no-one can spell or remember.

chosing a domain nameChoose the right keywords.
If you’re looking to find a descriptive name based on a familiar B2C service offering e.g. mortgage advisor / tool rental, then the chances of obtaining a single common term as a domain name are good as finding a capable husband in a TV ad so you’re going to have to mix and match terms.

List the common keywords for your category of business. Listing the terms your customers use, rather than more appropriate industry terms will make your domain easier to find. If still you’re itching to explain the difference between concrete and cement then you can educate customers once they arrive at your website.

Once you’ve got your terms, play with combinations. The results will get you off to a great start, and these names can be great supporting domains for your brand, but are unlikely to provide a the distinctiveness that comes with a great business and domain name. For that you need to…

Stand Out
To stand out you should look at options that convey the personality or USP your business. This step will be informed by the previous one, but often requires an external perspective and customer insight. An agency or branding consultant can provide this, and suggest business and domain names that are more distinctive and compelling than just a combination of words. It’s the reason isn’t, and isn’t

Make it easy to remember
When you’ve got a draft list from the previous steps, read them out loud, ideally to someone who hasn’t been part of your initial selection. Can they repeat each one without correction or asking you to repeat it? If a potential customer mentions your company in a conversation or sees the name on the side of a truck they’re not going to have the luxury of a clickable link or hard-copy reference. Recall is vital for word-of-mouth referral.

Keeping it short will help here with the added bonus of being easier to implement in marketing materials.

Check company registers
Does a similar name exist, or has the same name been registered in another countries top level domain? Even if you consider your chosen domain to be noticeably different to an existing one, if it’s likely to cause confusion in the mind of the consumer, you could be on shaky legal ground. Check company and business registration listings in your country and get legal advice if you’re still not sure.

Make it easy to spell
If someone can’t spell your business name, they may not find you online. Relying on spellcheckers or Google’s Did you mean… suggestions are a lot more risky than simply choosing an easier keyword combination.

If you have to choose a domain name with potential spelling difficulties then…

Predict spelling mistakes
In Doug’s post on choosing a name for your business he profiled two sole-proprieter businesses named after their strongest assets… the people themselves. Both have names that can be easily misspelled.

In this instance list the obvious misspellings. You’ll probably know some of these already from years of receiving mail. One of my tricks to find misspellings is to type a proposed domain names as quickly as possible ten times. You’ll find common miss-keys this way. If you can touch-type then ask someone with less advanced typing skills to do this for you.

If your business name incorporates numbers, then add versions with the numbers spelled out to your list.

Decide on your market
If you’re market is local or national then it’s a no-brainer to register your country specific top level domain such as .ca .us .uk, but you should also register the .com if available, especially if you ship a product abroad or offer an international service. A .com domain name carries its own weight in brand value and awareness so add it to your stable of names.

From a usability stand-point many web users are unaware that country specific suffixes exist  and assume that all websites end in .com so why exclude them? Plus it’s worth noting that Firefox and IE have built in shortcuts that add www. and .com to a term entered into the address bar.

Once you have a chosen name, add the misspellings, miss-keyed and alternative domain names then register them all, yes all of them. Is the minimal cost of a years domain registration worth losing leads for?  You can easily re-direct them to a chosen central domain name that is the location for your website.

Register each domain name for more than a year. This demonstrates commitment to your customers that you’re serious about your venture. Admittedly, the majority of customers aren’t going to see how long you register the domain name for, but it is freely available information. A long registration suggests credibility, with the added bonus of giving you a little more search juice in the eyes of Google.

6 reasons why Google+ will Zuckerpunch Facebook

13 Jul

Simply put, Google = search, Facebook = social, but when Facebook’s 2006 deal with Microsoft expanded to include search, Google got nervous. If the world’s largest social network could offer full search then why would you go anywhere else?
Fast forward and we’d all have to name our children based on availability of profile names, likes would replace exam results, BBQ invites to friends would have to be approved by the Lords of Facebook… digital apocalypse!

Google+ squares up to FacebookStepping back to reality, Google needs a social product in order to protect its search empire. Initial offerings Google Wave & Buzz were overly complex and poorly received, but its latest offering, Google+, looks to have the cojones to square up to Facebook’s dominance of the social domain.

It’s early days, but a few of us here have been playing with Google+ for a week or so  and here are 6 reasons why I think it can step into the ring.

1. The +1 button
If you haven’t seen it already then you will shortly see the Google +1 button appear alongside other social media icons on a website near you. It functions much like the Facebook Like button as a way to quickly flag something to your social network.

The difference is that the +1 button also appears alongside Google search results and if like me and millions of others, you sign into gmail in the morning, you’re going to start seeing those +1s a lot more than Facebook’s Like button. As your social contacts click those +1s their preferences will appear in your search results bringing the incredible power of peer-review to Google search, a feature that was until now, missing.

2. SEO & Control
Google have suggested that people clicking on +1 for your content will boost your web-site’s placement in search results. Dutch company SEOeffect detailed an experiment in using the +1 to augment their search rankings and found a strong positive effect.

If placing a +1 button on your website can improve search ranking and ultimately traffic to your website, this is a going to be a huge draw for millions of website owners, brand managers and stakeholders uneasy about ceding control over their loaned content by placing it on Facebook.

3. Integration
If you use one of the legion of google apps, then you’ll notice that Google+ is built into the suite interface. You can monitor all Google+ events (updates, messages, etc.) as well as share content while reading gmail or composing a letter in Google docs. A visit to Facebook requires a new browser window and login. While hardly a back-breaking chore in itself, good user experience and usability is about streamlining tasks, removing small hurdles and making the actual interaction invisible.

4. Usability
When Facebook moved the messages notification, it took me months for me to find it again, and I’ve only recently figured out that control+return let’s you force a line break in the message/update panel and not submit a partially composed update or message.
With lessons learned from Wave and Buzz, Google+ seems to have the got the balance right and delivered a product with solid user experience and clarity, sprinkled with some charming touches. It makes the usability mess that are the peripheral functions in Facebook look old fashioned.

5. Filtering
Understanding that people have different relationships with one another and what offends one audience may delight another, Google has created a simple way for user to group people. Called Circles, they allow you to choose which group will see a particular update and provide a way to filter the stream of incoming updates. Filtering is the strength of apps such as Tweetdeck and it’s still surprising to me that it hasn’t been added to the core of Facebook with its ‘everybody sees everything’ approach.

6. Curation
Built into Google+ is a service called Sparks. Think of it as an RSS reader. Sparks will find content based on your interests, but its strength is its integration into the Google+ interface. It has the same sharing functionality as the streams for your Circles so sharing is effortless. Facebook doesn’t have any curation functionality other than what your friends have already found or what’s served to you via ads. Another + for Google (excuse the pun).

What is a browser? The importance of using simple language

19 Jul

Working in the digital realm I spend a good portion of my day swimming in acronyms and terminology. With digital technology evolving so quickly, this video demonstrates that one person’s day-to-day terminology is another person’s jargon.

Ask someone what application they use to check their email and you’re as likely to be told Gmail, or Yahoo as Outlook or Internet Explorer

A lot of businesses use language that they understand rather than considering whether their consumers will understand it.

Some go as far as to invent scientific sounding terms, Bifidus Digestivum in Danone yoghurt for example, to sell you the notion that they are making wondrous scientific discoveries for the benefit of all yoghurt-kind.

Whether this is down to misguided pride, or to differentiate their products in a crowded market, the result is that if people can’t understand you, how can they trust you, and by extension, your product.

Using simple language to explain a product is far more likely to increase a businesses’ reach, than insult the intelligence of an expert. Even if your product is aimed at a niche market, your audience may have gaps in their knowledge and be grateful for clarification.

I’ll leave you then, with my own little teaser:
What’s the difference between the internet and the world wide web?

The first correct response wins a bucket of Bifidus Digestivum.

My Back Still Hurts: Kindle Fails to Spark

25 Jun

Kindle DXAmazon’s Kindle DX was recently released after months of hype. One of its most anticipated features is its support for PDF documents (this means free books), and the ability for others to e-mail pictures and documents straight to your Kindle. Amazon has stated that it’s targeting on-the-go businesspeople and students who are looking to reduce their tomes of paper to a plastic tablet 1/3 of an inch thick.

As a business student, I’m thinking that this gadget would be perfect for me. E-books for the Kindle are typically half the price of their paper equivalents, and if that’s any indication of the savings I could see on my textbooks, I’m in. However, the Kindle’s lack of annotation support and a keyboard that has been described as typing on gummy Tic Tacs has me disappointed. At nearly $500 US, $100 more than a typical netbook, I expect better implementation.

Come on, Amazon. The Kindle has the potential to be revolutionary. Give me a $50 e-textbook and the functionality of a highlighter and a pen, and these things will be as ubiquitous on campus as bad decisions on a Saturday night.