NYT posts

ChittahChattah Quickies July 19th, 2010
  • [from Dan_Soltzberg] The Media Equation – The Antenna Uproar – No Hair Shirt for Jobs [NYTimes.com] – [In the case of the missing iPhone signal, traditional publication Consumer Reports had more impact than younger, leading-edge media sources] How did Consumer Reports make Apple blink? In large measure, the article in Consumer Reports was devastating precisely because the magazine (and its Web site) are not part of the hotheaded digital press. Although Gizmodo and other techie blogs had reached the same conclusions earlier, Consumer Reports made a noise that was heard beyond the Valley because it has a widely respected protocol of testing and old-world credibility.
  • [from Dan_Soltzberg] Pop-Up Magazine [website] – [The return of the variety show? Media channel-bending experiment marries a magazine-esque approach to content with the ephemeral nature of live performance.]
  • [from steve_portigal] Concern for Those Who Screen the Web for Barbarity [NYTimes.com] – [Mind you, these consequences serve to reinforce the value of the service] With the rise of Web sites built around material submitted by users, the surge in Internet screening services has brought a growing awareness that the jobs can have mental health consequences for the reviewers. One major outsourcing firm hired a local psychologist to assess how it was affecting its 500 content moderators. The psychologist developed a screening test so the company could evaluate potential employees, and helped its supervisors identify signals that the work was taking a toll on employees. Ms. Laperal also reached some unsettling conclusions in her interviews with content moderators. She said they were likely to become depressed or angry, have trouble forming relationships and suffer from decreased sexual appetites. Small percentages said they had reacted to unpleasant images by vomiting or crying. “The images interfere with their thinking processes. It messes up the way you react to your partner.
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ChittahChattah Quickies May 24th, 2009
  • What Does Your Credit-Card Company Know About You? – "In 2002 J. P. Martin, a math-loving executive at Canadian Tire, decided to analyze almost every piece of information his company had collected from credit-card transactions the previous year. His data indicated, for instance, that people who bought cheap, generic automotive oil were much more likely to miss a credit-card payment than someone who got the expensive, name-brand stuff. People who bought carbon-monoxide monitors for their homes or those little felt pads that stop chair legs from scratching the floor almost never missed payments. Anyone who purchased a chrome-skull car accessory or a “Mega Thruster Exhaust System” was pretty likely to miss paying his bill eventually. Why were felt-pad buyers so "upstanding? Because they wanted to protect their belongings, be they hardwood floors or credit scores."

    The article goes on to describe how debt collectors build relationships with (rather than harass) debtors, who pay off more to the brands they have a relationship with.

  • We Are Now In The Age Of Nice – another Sunday NYT unsubstantiated trend-attempt – That amiable guys and uncomplicated sweethearts could be today’s pop heroes is one sign of an outbreak of niceness across the cultural landscape — an attitude bubbling up in commercials, movies and even, to a degree, the normally not-nice blogosphere.
  • Can supposedly-predictive quantitative market research techniques help Hollywood? – Still, is it smart to bring on pricey consultants when corporate overlords are demanding cost cuts? And what of the parade of failed attempts by consumer research firms to break into Hollywood? Few people in the industry can forget Tremor, the research firm that was owned by Procter & Gamble. It came to Hollywood in 2002, signed up with Creative Artists Agency and roped clients like DreamWorks — though its ideas often proved prohibitively expensive.
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ChittahChattah Quickies February 14th, 2009
  • LinkedIn has a mascot? – From 2007, here's the LinkedIn Wizard.
  • Rob Walker on the origins of Twitter's Fail Whale (the indicator that the service is down). – "As with many Web-popularity stories, there’s a lot of flukiness to Fail Whale’s rise." Groan! Can anyone explain LinkedIn's completely off-brand Wizard?
  • How Google Decides to Pull the Plug (with a perspective on product development and innovation) – For many ideas, Google’s first and most important audience is its employees, and it typically tries products internally before releasing them. Google and other technology companies refer to this as “eating your own dog food.” Through such “dog-fooding,” Google learned that the early version of its calendar program was fine for parents tracking children’s soccer games, but not robust enough to meet a corporate user’s need to book rooms, reserve equipment and delegate scheduling.

    Equally important is listening to users. Most products have an official blog to explain changes, and customers are encouraged to share their thoughts.

    Google’s willingness to take risks offers a lesson to other companies about the nature of innovation, said Jeff Jarvis, author of “What Would Google Do?” “Perfection closes off the process,” Mr. Jarvis said. “It makes you deaf. Google purposefully puts out imperfect and unfinished products and says: ‘Help us finish them. What do you think of them?’ ”

  • 15 Companies That Might Not Survive 2009 – Including Rite-Aid, Chrysler, Dollar-Thrifty, Sbarro, Six Flags, Krispy Kreme and Blockbuster
  • Blackwater Changes Its Name to Xe, chooses to spend more time with its family – Blackwater Worldwide is abandoning the brand name that has been tarnished by its work in Iraq, settling on Xe (pronounced zee) as the new name for its family of two dozen businesses. Blackwater Lodge and Training Center, the subsidiary that conducts much of the company’s overseas operations and domestic training, has been renamed U.S. Training Center Inc., Blackwater’s president, Gary Jackson, said in a memo to employees that the new name reflected the company’s shift away from providing private security. He has said the company is going to focus on training.
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Worst NYT Mag cover. Evah. March 19th, 2006


Worst NYT Mag cover. Evah.

This version isn’t quite as craptastic because it doesn’t include the horrible headline splattered on the print version:
Looking for Mr. Good Sperm

Wow. My newspaper has turned into my spambox.

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Knock, Knock. It’s Indian Comfort Food. March 15th, 2006


From the New York Times, Indian workers in San Francisco and Redmond, WA can order Indian food delivered for lunch from some small businesses that echo, in some fashion, the tiffin delivery seen in cities like Mumbai.

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Poor interoperability is a major challenge to good user experience design. September 19th, 2005

This type of thing seems disturbingly common nowadays: I am preparing to book a hotel for an upcoming conference. The hotel is part of a chain I’ve never stayed at before, so I decide to see if they’ve got some sort of affiliate program or bonus/loyalty/mileage thing, before I book.

I sign up for the program and get my number about 12 hours later. I tried to book online but because I was looking for a conference rate (without a code) I gave up and ended up calling.

And they don’t show my loyalty number.

I’m looking at the auto-generated email, with the number in bold text. And we try several times. They try my name, everything. And give up. Even though I have the “receipt” on hand. No dice.

So the convenience factor – not having to read out every single piece of contact info I’ve already entered, not having to specify room preferences that I’ve already entered, all gone.

They pointed me to the service number for the loyalty program, and the person I speak with explains it may take 7 to 10 days for a newly issued number to be available to the rest of the hotel systems (such as reservations). He was able to quickly put the number into my reservation for credit, and both people I spoke to were incredibly helpful and genuine (besides being forced to read some clunky scripts), so this isn’t really a complaint about bad service, but really an eyebrow-raised in amazement over bad design.

Shouldn’t a requirement of the system they design to create and issue the loyalty numbers be rapid integration with the reservation system? Isn’t a likely use scenario going to be booking of a reservation very quickly after creating a new account? IT systems in silos is scary for what it prevents.

I guess the band-aid would have been to explain this limitation in their “welcome” email but that might have been too big a peek behind the curtain. They did inform me it would take 48 hours to issue the new account at the beginning of all this (although that also seems silly, what are they doing, checking my references?)…

In general, poor interoperability is a major challenge to creating a good user experience. And this example seems highly typical.

Recently nytimes.com rolled out an integration of their home delivery accounts and web-content accounts (I think to help sell their premium access service), but they did it in a terribly clumsy and confusing way, leading to service calls to agents who had no information (I was told, after a lot of vague language like “when you go out of the system you have to come back and and when it asks for your account you enter your number” to wait 24 hours and try again) and no interest in helping (“this is all the information we have. We can only read this out to you; that’s all we can do.”)…a disaster, as far as I am concerned. Maybe it’ll be better now, but the NYT hurt their brand pretty badly, at least in my case.

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Volunteer Workers of the World, Unite April 13th, 2005

full op-ed from NYT about the evolution of Do It Yourself (Instead of the Staff)

It began in the 1970′s. Or at least that’s when I became conscious of it. People began cleaning up after themselves in fast-food restaurants. I had been living abroad and didn’t know about such things, but my children, faster to pick up on American cultural expectations, made sure I took back my tray and put my trash in the appropriate bin.

Cleverly, the restaurants made this choice not only easy but gratifying. Customers were given the sense of being good citizens or helping out the teenage minimum-wage workers who wiped off the tables.

[snip]

Consumers were found to be more medically skilled than anyone had given them credit for. They could take their own blood pressure, give themselves injections and enemas, and starve themselves before surgery. Then they could find someone to drive them to the hospital at 6 a.m., wait, and then take their tottering bodies, still exhaling anesthesia, back to their beds at home where another friend could care for them. In short, they could do what nurses had once done, allowing hospitals to concentrate on investing more heavily in machines to do what doctors once did.

But the greatest labor transfer was yet to come. It began, as no one needs reminding, with the invention of the touch-tone phone and the subsequent, tauntingly named “voice mail” system, in which a voice is the thing precisely never heard. Consumers became the unpaid receptionists for business everywhere, traversing the unfamiliar and mysterious territory of multiple inappropriate choices as their time slipped away and their blood pressure mounted. Now we have robots that promise to listen closely, and to which we find ourselves speaking slowly and carefully in third-grade sentences only to hear: “I couldn’t understand you. Will you repeat the message?”

What on earth are we doing and who’s making us do it? I can’t be the only one who feels like a fool talking to a machine.

So where does this leave us economically? A good part of the increase in productivity during the past two decades can be credited to the Great Labor Transfer. We’ve taken on more than anyone thought possible. But it can’t last.

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e-tickets – whoah! March 24th, 2005

In the final edition of Circuits the New York Times publishes an astonishing article informing us that airline travellers prefer e-tickets over paper tickets which are becoming increasingly rare.

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