Friday, April 16, 2010

Only at the Apple Online Store: Terrible Grammar

One of my biggest pet peeves (as far as grammar) is when people put modifiers on the word unique. It happens all the time in casual conversation, and I've been guilty of it myself when speaking, but whenever I see it in a written document or in advertising I cringe.

The guilty party this time is Apple, a company that frankly should have enough money and talent to know better.

This was greeting me when I logged into a friend's computer today, the "most unique gift ever" - perhaps Apple should give itself the gift of the ALA or Chicago Manual of Style instead of worrying about what I'm going to give my mother.

Below, the larger page screen capture.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Olympics: Low Tech Vs. Hi Tech

I was writing for my company blog this afternoon about how social sites such as Twitter and Facebook have changed the Olympic games for the athletes and for the spectators. We can now get first hand commentary and pictures from those participating, which is really cool if you are a television spectator, but not as cool if you are a coach trying to get your team to focus, or someone on the international olympic committee trying to figure out where to draw the boundaries between information that is fine for publication, and that that you want kept to those at the games (the verdict there seems to be that anything during an event or the opening or closing ceremonies is off limits, but that behind the scenes stuff is fine).

Also, I noticed that during the snowboarding events the other night some of the boarders were listening to ipods during competition (or at least were listening to their ipods during the waiting time before competition, but it really seemed like they still had the ear buds in when they started to compete), and I remember that Phelps did a bit of ipod listening to get himself geared up for a swim. I think that being able to sort of zone out and listen to your music before or during competition would give you and edge over olympians from days of ol' because getting psyched out by the crowd, by the other competitors, by the sheer pressure of the games is all part of the competition.

And I read somewhere (wish I could remember where) that some olympians were playing video games during the olympics, which seems like an extremely weird and sedentary thing for a bunch of world class athletes to do, but seems par for the course for anyone from this video-game-crazed generation.

Anyone who saw any or part of the opening ceremonies (or at least who saw the awesome whale part) would have been at least a bit impressed by all of the projected motion graphics they are using these days. And anyone who's ever watched swimming in the last few years and noticed those crazy full-body swimsuits that supposedly make you faster, or read about the speed given to some athletes by their prosthetic legs would no doubt be amazed by those feats of technology and engineering. And you sort of begin to wonder when will it stop? When will we reach the peak of technological innovation for improved performance, or the fastest mode of communication, or the social tool that will give the most direct and constant level of access to the athletes even after competition, and will we want all of that?

So there I was, thinking about how much technology has pretty much taken over the sports of the Games and hard it would be to be a super tech savvy athlete and how the pressure must be greater these days because now you not only have to be amazing during competition because you've been given all this specially formulated gear and training, but you have to find witty 140-limit things to say to your fans, and I was about to decide that I didn't want to be an Olympian at all with all that pressure ... but then I watched the curling competition between Denmark and Canada.

Now at first glance this sport is just as overrun with technology as any other, a few of team USA's Olympic curlers have twitter accounts from which you can hear all about the sport (and maybe even ask them what the exact rules are). But the Danish team also had something incredible low-tech, a 3-D model of the curling rink. It was more like a clipboard of the curling rink, something like what a football coach might draw out a play on, with little moveable curling rocks so that the coach could show the curlers exactly where she wanted them to direct their next rock. Watching the Danish team take a time out and use that model, then go back and execute a near perfect curl made me realize that even with all the twitter, all the fancy uniforms or equipment, that sometimes the old ways of doing things (like the drawn out game plan - they'd never tweet that to each other) are really the best ways of doing things.

I doubt we'll get to a point where competitors can telecommute to the olympics (I really hope we don't get to that point), and I have a feeling that we'll reach a point where we've gotten as much direct access to the every thought of the athletes, and I know that we'll always be working on some uniform, some method of training, or some something else to help break records, but when all athletes have access to all of that the basic principals will remain the same - and the best competitor on that day will win.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Viral Marketing and The Fourth Kind: A Hoax Gone Too Far?

I'm always interested to see marketing campaigns go viral (or viral content turned into marketing), and so when I saw a sneak preview of "The Fourth Kind" last night I went straight home and started looking at what info the movie folk had put out there.

Now, the movie does a pretty good job of convincing the audience that it is based on "real" events, providing haunting audio and video clips supposedly taken by a doctor studying sleep disorders, even going so far as to pass out a sheet of info at the screening about the "backstory" of the movie, and creating fake online medical publications that "prove" that Dr. Abigail Tyler is a real person. Even the director of the movie and the main actress Milla Jovovich break the fourth wall before the movie and warn the audience that the movie is extra disturbing.

But is this just a good old fashioned attempt to create confusion and buzz about the movie that will lead to a marketing campaign gone viral, or is it misleading advertising? Is there something ethically wrong with trying to trick the audience into believing that this is more documentary than fiction?

Director Olatunde Osunsanmi leaves it up to the audience to decide if the mysterious dissappearences in Nome, Alaska are the work of alien abductions, but he does everything he can to make it seem that the movie "archive" footage and the story the movie is supposed based on are the real deal. I heard a number of people discussing the movie as a documentary as we were leaving.

After the movie, my movie-going friend and I began to dissect the style of the film and the marketing surrounding it, and here are some of the weak spots (and potentially questionable tactics) that appear in both.

Is Dr. Abigail Tyler real?

In addition to the portrayal of Dr. Abigail Tyler by Jovovich, the movie runs some "archive" footage side by side of the "reenactments" that are supposedly the "real" Dr. Abigail Tyler. Now the actress who plays the "real" Dr. Tyler is probably one of the best-cast parts I've seen in a while, her face is seriously haunting, but as for her background story, it doesn't add up. Tyler's only presence on the Web seems to be on a site called (incredibly vaguely) "Medical Journal Archive" and Dr. Abigail Tyler's bio leaves a lot to be desired (like where exactly the "Dr." got her degree). The supposed paper that she wrote about sleep disorders that is republished on the site is ridiculously short for a medical paper. I also find it odd that a site claiming to be a medical journal archive contains only a few "studies" and a couple bios, as well as no "about us" page. The url doesn't match the site name ( versus Medical Journal Archive), and the homepage leaves a lot to be desired.

I'm going to continue my search to find the real name of the actress who portrays Dr. Tyler, but I have no doubt she is an actress and not a real doctor.

The Interview at Chapman University

Another piece of "archive" footage is the "real" interview with the director of the movie and Dr. Tyler that supposedly takes place at Chapman University. I was surprised that the director decided to use the Chapman University name and logo in the movie along with that "archive" footage (my fellow movie goer and I thought that it was a weird choice, seeing as how he could have chosen any random university name). Later research brought out that Osunsanmi is actually an alum of Chapman, and a post on the Chapman blog points the movie out as a work of complete fiction, responses to the post chastise the university for allowing the misleading use of its good name, the blog's author responds by saying, "I wouldn't take it too seriously - I think everyone will realize that this is a "Hollywood-ized" fictional film based on supposed "actual events."

Dr. William Tyler's Death

So, even though at this point further disproving the story seems unnecessary, Dr. William Tyler of Nome does not seem to have existed either. The mysterious death of Abigail's husband is a key element in the movie. However, the only bit you can find on Will Tyler online is on a site called the Alaska News Archive, it is a short and oddly vague obituary. The site Alaska News Archive (oddly similar to the Medical Journal Archive), is not a real news site. Again, no "about us" page. And, if you, like me, are an internet nerd, you might have looked up the registration information for the site and found that it was only registered in August of 2009 which seems odd for a site claiming to be from 1998 on.

Anyhow, I'm wondering what people think about marketing tactics such as fabricating medical research papers and inventing "real" doctors. Also, for a movie to say "based on true events" how far from the "true" events should the story line be before it can't claim that? Do you think many people will believe that the movie is actually real? If so, is there harm in that?

I'd also be curious to know what the people of Nome think of the movie.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Twitter Feed Hijacked by "Undefined" (also - why I removed my twitter feed)

So today I was looking at the old blog to show a coworker and example of something, when I realized that my twitter feed looked strange. Upon closer inspection I realized that I seemed to have been tweeting a lot (and about a lot of very un-PC things). I checked all my settings, fine. I checked my actual twitter account, fine.

What seems to have happened is that some user created a twitter account named "undefined" and then it messed up the twitter feeds (or at least mine). Well, that may be unfair to say. Often when a site encounters an error of some kind it may default those rss settings to "undefined," which in this case was an actual user. Weird, but true.

Anyone else experience a similar problem?

For now, twitter feed removed until further notice. But you can still follow me.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Facebook: When Good Ad Space Goes to Bad Advertisers

Ah if only the internet could talk. The stories of bad ads it could tell. Lose 20 lbs of belly fat, reduce your mortgage, get free prescription meds, hit the monkey.

I'd like to believe that in most cases the advertisers behind these ads have no way of knowing who is seeing them (no cookies, no user profiling, etc) and that they are just using a wide network of anonymous ad space, so I may extend a special pardon for those instances (a pardon for being irrelevant to me, but not for promoting horrible products).

Facebook is another beast. Having used facebook as an advertiser I know how the ad setup works, and let me tell you, I can target some pretty specific users. Almost anything you put in your facebook profile has the potential to be used by advertisers, school attended, major, age, location, marital status, even things you write down as interests. Advertisers can create specific combos of those factors as well (ex. only 19 year old men who graduated from yale and are listed as married).

Social networks have the potential to be an advertisers dream. It is an amazing way for advertisers to target very specific (and potentially very likely) customers. Any girl listed on facebook as "in a relationship" can attest that they get wedding ring ads on a semi-daily basis. And while not all of us are looking for wedding rings, there are probably a good number who are (or at least who aren't opposed to browsing every once in a while).

For this targeted ad system you do pay a premium, I've noticed that my ads on facebook cost me quite a bit more than the ads I've placed on search or content based ad servers. But I've also found that the right ads put in front of the right users can bring me much better results, so I'm willing to pay more.

So when I see those generic ads show up on facebook I have to wonder, what idiot is wasting his/her money on this? Are the acai berry diet people rolling in so much dough that they just want to throw it at facebook ads that probably wont deliver? Or are these advertisers just flooding the web space with ads in hopes that someone will accidentally click on them and get sucked into buying whatever useless product they are selling? (free laptop ad that means you) Or, the worst possible reason, are the ads actually working?

I've been trying to vote against these ads with my wallet - er - mouse, and not click on anything with a disco-dancing, poorly-illustrated, sort-of-3D person or any mention of a miracle diet, way to work at home and earn millions, or offer of a free this or that. But since the ads keep appearing, I have to feel like perhaps I'm the only one "voting" this way - is everyone else is refinancing their mortgage and getting free viagra like there's no tomorrow.

Anywho, in case you were wondering, It was actually Richard Branson who inspired this post tonight

Don't wait by the phone richie, I'm keeping my million dollar idea to myself, you can take your billions and advertise to someone who cares.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Did Apple Take Over Facebook This Morning?

when I went to check on my usual facebook stats and post an interesting new article this morning, I was greeted with the apple snow leopard (see below) - thinking I'd done something wrong I clicked again on, and the leopard came again.

Just so you know I'm not crazy - here is a screenshot of another page after I clicked around on my "facebook" page this morning - check out the URL - that was the same situation for "mac," "iphone," "downloads," and "support."
Weird indeed, very weird.

Is this a very expensive marketing ploy by apple for the release of snow leopard? A wacky computer glitch on my end? A major slip up on renewing a domain by Zuckerberg? I've scoured the web and seem to be the only one experiencing this at the time - so who knows - maybe it is just me.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Error Pages, The Fail Whale, and why even when things go wrong you can make right

I use the web. A lot. So, in my surfing I often come across error pages, page not found, server not found, etc. messages. Often I find these to be very annoying. First, something has gone wrong, and since I am not going to blame myself I am going to blame your website.

Now although you, as a website owner, have little control over certain error messages that will reach your audience, such as can't reach the server (if the browser can't reach your server, there is no way your server can send a cute error message), there are pages that you can control, and by all means, control them.

This is important so I'm going to give it its own line:

Any message your users get from your site should let them know how important they are to you.

Any message, even those on your error pages, especially your error pages. Something went wrong and the user is going to assume it was your fault (I know, sometimes it really wasn't your fault, sometimes the user typed something in wrong, but they are going to assume it is your fault so just let them, remember the customer is always right).

So in the midst of telling them "oops" give them something else fun to look at (think of the fail whale or this cat)- suggest another page for them to try or simply give them another page to look at. Whatever you do, make sure it just overflows with your voice, your brand, your mission. Are you a news site? Say whoops and then include a feed of the latest or most popular news of the day. Are you a recipe site? give them a picture of a delicious chocolate cake with a link to that recipe instead. Selling something? Show them your best sellers. Make them forget that what you are giving them isn't what they thought they wanted.

Divert their attention from the fact that your site isn't quite working the way they want, and put your best foot forward.