Friday, November 30, 2007

Windows to the future

Adobe and Yahoo have just announced the ability to embed advertising into PDF files.

All Publishers have to do is to upload the PDF files to an Adobe/Yahoo portal where it is "ad-enabled" allowing dynamically generated contextual ads to be displayed whenever the PDF is viewed. The service is currently in beta and it's free! It is limited now to text, pay-per-click ads, but I am sure it will be expanded to include graphics and rich media.

This is a huge breakthrough for publishers. The advertising opportunities are clear and important. We are all searching for viable alternatives to the subscription model.

It could be so much more than that. I think of this more as a window to the future. Whenever a PDF is opened in the future any content can be piped in at that moment. Content that is relevant to that moment in time and space when the document is being read. It could be an advert, but it could also be a note to say that the article has been updated or it could contain an erratum. It could alert the reader to recent publications that are relevant. The possibilities are endless.

The other huge benefit is the possibility to track usage. Today we measure PDF downloads and correlate this to the act of reading an article. In future we can track every time a file is opened, at least in theory. It will be truly fascinating to see what the lifetime of a downloaded article is.

Of course, there will be those that see the DRM demon all over this. The truth is that the technology to embed DRM into a PDF and have it "call home" has been around for a while. It has remained largely unused by scientific publshers. I suspect the reason is the delicate balance between revenue and visibility. It would seem to make sense to protect copyright with DRM, yet the huge barrier to use that this causes is detrimental to visibility. And all Publishers know that zero visibility leads to zero revenues. The other reason is that Librarians are dedicated and effective protectors of misuse; they respect licenses and respond quickly to abuse. There is no need for DRM when there is a trusted relationship between Publisher and Librarian.

So what would you use your window to the future for?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

5th Elsevier Scandinavian Librarian Forum

My company arranges occasional workshops and forums across the world. These Library Connect events "bring together Elsevier colleagues and customers to discuss issues of concern for information professionals."

I was invited to speak at an event today on Web 2.0 and what it means for Publishers. I was hoping that the audience of Library Directors would also be inspired to think about and discuss what it means for Libraries.

It seemed to go well at least from my perspective. It was good to step back and review Web 2.0 and think about what it means for a Publisher and what it could mean for a Library. In both cases I believe the key is that Web 2.0 helps us all connect with our users and customers. Hopefully some of the participants will give me feedback by commenting on this post.

Here are some of the resources I called upon for the presentation
Library 2.0: An Academic Perspective
What I Learned Today
Library Toolbar
Stephen's Lighthouse
Michael Wesch's Videos

If you are interested, you can find the powerpoint slides here

Finally, big thanks to colleagues Rafael Sidi and Chris Shillum, I borrowed heavily from their presentations on similar topics.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Must have gadget

USB digital microscope enlarges up to 200 times with 1.3 megapixels. Supports pictures and videos.

The best bit is that it also does time lapse movies so you can record a video with only one or two images per minute. Place a sprouting bean under the microscope and film it as it grows. School projects will never be the same.

As the website says "Ever wondered what lint looks like or the mold growing on your week-old bagels? Now you can find out."


Thursday, November 1, 2007

Google copying Microsoft copying Google

I have been trying out Live Search and it's associated services. During the installation of Virtual Earth (Microsoft's copy of Google Earth), I was asked whether I wanted to make Live Search my default search. I chose yes and up popped this screen.

We're all used to Microsoft pulling this trick, it's the first time I've seen Google copying them. Note the use of the word "disable" for the "wrong" option.

Then I thought I'd have fun and went searching for our house. Here's the fantastic image from Microsoft Virtual Earth - our house is the one at the end of the row with the white conservatory out back. The detail is spectacular I think; the angle of view really gives depth and perspective.

And here's Google Earth's image which is way inferior (I promise there's no tricks here - just cropped screen shots)

Both images are relatively recent, we only built the conservatory 4 years ago

Link Blog November 2nd

Here are some posts that caught my eye in the last couple of days:

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Link Blog October 31, 2007

Here are some posts that caught my eye today:

Monday, October 29, 2007

Zagat Guide to Doctors

A colleague alerted me to the recent Zagat/Wellpoint Press Release that announced the imminent launch of a Zagat Guide to Physicians. I'm a big fan of Zagat to Go, their handheld version that gives me access to 75 guides on my BlackBerry for just $29.95 a year.  

The concept is powerful - use consumer surveys to create restaurant reviews - and it has survived the explosion of user-rating sites such as DiningCity or TopTable and so forth.  I think this is in part due to the rigorous survey methodology and the wonderfully pithy editing (now there's a word you don't see very often these days!). Somehow Zagat manage to distill down all the survey results and draw meaningful conclusions using appropriate quotes. Where the responses are contradictory they say so. Whatever their secret sauce is, I find Zagat to be more reliable and accurate than any other guide on the web.

All too often the free web guides have only one or two entries per establishment so you never know if there are to be trusted (maybe they are written by the owners of the place or a competitor across the street?). Either that or you have to wade through many user responses to extract a sort of average in your mind. Zagat do all this work behind the scenes and that's worth $29.95 to me.

In the past Zagat has extended their brand to hotels, to nightlife, and to golf courses and other attractions. The move into rating healthcare professionals is a very bold step; many have tried and failed here before. I have a feeling that it just might work as long as sufficient patients can be persuaded to respond per Doctor. The Zagat methodology can then work it's magic to provide a balanced opinion.

I am sure that no-one at Wellpoint expects patients to make a choice solely on Zagat ratings but wouldn't it be a good thing if physicians started being a little more customer-centric as a result?

Link Blog October 29, 2007

Here are some posts that have caught my eye recently:

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fearlessness: a new corporate value?

Anyone interested in change within corporate environments should read this great interview with Margaret Wheatley.

She paints a grim picture of modern corporate life: intense focus on short-term results at the expense of all else; no time left to think etc. Magaret quotes a Gallup survey on how people are feeling about their workplace: "Last year, more than 70 percent of the American workforce
felt disengaged, up from around 33 percent in 2000. That’s what happens if you squeeze fewer people to do more work, give them shorter deadlines, measure their work using meaningless metrics, and, to top it off, treat them with profound levels of disrespect."

So why is this happening, especially when most leaders and CEO's know only too well how damaging this can be?

Wheatley argues that CEO's are often powerless to act here, they themselves are too caught up in the vicious cycle, too busy delivering the results, too busy executing. Besides it's an impossible task for a single human anyway - to turn back the tide of market expectations.

To be fearless, she says, is to face the reality of your situation and to realize - without deluding yourself - that you can be more powerful than you are. Fearlessness is not the sole domain of the senior leaders, quite the reverse it can be found throughout the organization.

So give up on large-scale transformation, it just isn't going to work in the modern world. Chose instead to stimulate small scale change from within. Help a few people to realize their talent. Encourage some to innovate. Take time to engage with them.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Publishing is Pants

Life has been a trifle hectic recently what with the move back to the Netherlands from Philadelphia and working midweek in the UK. Not only am I behind with my blog posts I have a mountain of Guardian Weekly's to catch up on too. That's why an article from the July 20th edition has only just caught my eye.

The success of the printing press in 1476 was made possibly by the ready supply of cheap paper upon which to print. But where did the cheap paper come from? From underpants according to Dr Marco Mostert of Utrecht University.

Until the 13th century books were produced on expensive parchment. The breakthrough came when a way was found to manufacture cheap paper from the rags of old underwear. Marco's research has shown that the use of underwear increased dramatically in Europe after 1200, as more people moved into towns (rural folk apparently preferred to go without). More underwear in use meant an increased supply of rags, which in turn led to more paper being available to print on.

I find it fascinating that the development of the publishing industry and with it the spread of learning, depended on something so mundane. It is also interesting to note how these two breakthroughs came together. Caxton made it easy to publish, underpants made it cheap.

Small things matter

I've always thought that small details often say much, much more than their size would imply.

Here's an example. I'm sitting in the gate area after security waiting to board NorthWest flight 69 to Boston. As usual at Schiphol on a Sunday it is busy.

In front of me are two guys with fairly large bags. These are placed to the sides of their chairs partially blocking the way through to the 'plane. There's enough room for a person to walk through though. Besides who can blame them there's nowhere else to put their bags.

Along comes a NorthWest flight attendant in uniform with two wheeled bags one in each hand. He's a wide load and obviously cannot quite get through the gap.

So what does he do? Does he wheel one bag through at a time? Does he ask politely if one of the guys could move his bag?

Nope. He blasts through pushing the bags sideways partially running over the corner of one of them. He doesn't even turn around to look, let alone apologise.

Now what does that tell you about NorthWest's attitude to customers?

All of us sitting here will board the 'plane. We are all customers even if we are not yet on board.

It's a small, tiny detail - insignificant to some I am sure - but I suspect it is telling sign.

Working in the service sector is tough. Customers are often rude and ungrateful. However I would maintain that every single interaction with a customer - whether minor or major, whether on duty or off duty, whether in the 'plane or outside it - is an opportunity to shine or stink.

Think about the companies you respect for fabulous customer service. Think about the sort of people they employ. And think about what they would have done in this situation. They would have had respect for us poor passengers and not because there was a corporate communication saying be nice to customers. They would have respect because that's the kind of person they are.

The NorthWest guy pushed through because that's the knd of person he is.

That's what small details are - they are indicators of the kind of people we really are.

UPDATE turns out the guy was the senior flight attendant on the flight

Saturday, August 18, 2007

More from Agile 2007

Heather's wrap-up from the Agile 20007 conference. Congratulations to her for what I hear was a terrific presentation. I really like Heather's concluding words. Sometimes we are so focused on our own internal issues that we forget to benchmark ourselves against the real world out there. What we might find routine the rest of the world considers innovation in action. Thanks Heather for reminding me how important it is to get out more.

"Day 2 was pretty uneventful, but I've had a lot of opportunity to talk with developers, IT managers and product owners about UCD. Its pretty cool that they're so interested. I am discovering that many of these people are seeking to establish UCD groups in their company.

One of the interesting things I learned about was from a Google session. He was suppose to be talking about how they were doing agile (which he eventually got to), but what caught my attention was their "fix it" days. Once or twice a quarter they will seize 5000 engineers (*pfft*) onto a problem or bug and fix it. This stuck me as an awesome idea. It takes some work to organize a "fix it" day, but i can imagine me & my own teammates organizing our efforts for one day and knocking out a lot of 'good intentions' small projects. I'm sure most teams could do something like this.

Day 3, my last day at Agile 2007 and our presentation day didn't turn out quiet like I imagined it. Andrew (my UCD mate presenting with me) wasn't able to make it, so I had to go solo. When it was time for our 30 minutes of "UCD is awesome" glory, I probably talked a little bit too fast at in the beginning, but I chilled out. Everyone stayed awake, people stopped emailing and doodling. AND I didn't even have to read a single slide. I think I connected to my audience. And people asked questions too! It kicked ass completely.

It dawns on me, when I get opportunities like this to speak with others in our industry I learn more where my strengths and weaknesses lie. These events are excellent to pick up new techniques to keep doing one's craft better. Even more cool though, where other teams are challenged to find a sweet spot to integrate real users into Agile development, our UCD team at Elsevier is trailblazing methods for integrating our practices into Agile development."

Heather Williams :: Elsevier UCD Philadelphia ::

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Guest blog from a single at Agile 2007

My friend and colleague, Heather Williams is attending this event in Washington DC. In fact together with Andrew Ferguson she is presenting an Experience Report there on Wednesday at 4 p.m. If you are there, please do stop by say hello and cheer loudly at appropriate moments.

Anyway, here is the first of Heather's guest contributions:

"Going to a conference as a single, especially when its not a conference in your own "domain" can be a bit intimidating. At least it was for me, as a UCDer (, when I checked in at Agile 2007. 

When I arrived late afternoon today I registered, strolled around and starting staking out the place, the people, the atmosphere. I crashed the last hour of my Shepherd's tutorial on prototyping & usability testing. That was neat. I got a chance to study the program in a more readable manner (the online program is seriously lacking in ease of readability). While I'm at Agile 2007 I'm doing my second ever conference presentation on Wednesday with colleague Andrew Ferguson ("The UCD Perspective: Before and After Agile" So I was able to scope out our room and get a feel for the crowd we're going to be talking with.

With the first day of a conference comes, of course, the grand opening social event. Tonight was a lovely candle light buffet service with soft TV sitcom music playing in the background. Being a single at a conference can be a little lonely also, especially when so many others arrive with their own network of classmates or colleagues. My network does not arrive for another day. So when the balloon artist asked me if I would like something I said, "Oh yeah, especially if it's big and I can wear it!" He made me a wonderful hat (! What a conversation piece that turned out to be! It's a sure way to help any fish out of water to make friends. I met scads of people and was even able to evangelize UCD mythology in an Agile environment.

Day one was not so bad, even as a single. Hum, I wonder what tomorrow will bring..."

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Canada is fantastic

My family and I have just returned from a vacation in western Canada. We flew to Vancouver, rented an RV (motorhome) and drove to Calgary, then flew back to Philly.

I can say without hesitation that this was one of our best vacations ever. Canada is simply spectacular. The people are wonderfully friendly and welcoming. There is so much to do and so much to see there. It really is a terrific vacation destination.

Our rough itinerary is below. If you'd like some insider tips on any of these places then please leave me a comment.

Philadelphia to Vancouver, day trip to Victoria, Vancouver, Harrison Hot Springs, Manning Park, Oliver (Okanagan Valley), Fintry (Okanagan Lake), McLure, Wells Grey Park, Jaspar, Lake Louise, Banff, Bow Valley Park, Cochrane,Calgary.

We stayed at the following campsites:

Bigfoot (Harrison Hot Springs), Mule Deer (Manning Park), KOA Oliver (Okanagen Valley), Fintry Park (Okanagan Lake), Clearwater Lake Wells Grey), Whistlers (Jaspar), Lake Louise RV, Bow Valley Campground, Bow Rivers Edge (Cochrane)

Photo's here

Friday, July 20, 2007

More on airport usability

I am sitting on the floor opposite Gate A4 at Philadelphia Airport waiting for our flight to Amsterdam. It took me a while to find a power outlet that wasn't being used by someone else.

From where I sit I can see at least 10 people plugged into various power outlets. Some have laptops, others DVD players; some are charging their mobile 'phones. Some of us are sitting on the floor, the lucky ones have cables stretched to a seat.

Before I plugged in I took a walk up the terminal. It's the same story around all the gates.

It would seem to me that there is a great opportunity her for the Philadelphia Airport Authority to provide chairs with built-in power outlets. Wouldn't that be an improvement for customers?

Since this same scene is to be found at airports all over the country, perhaps the greatest opportunity is for airport furniture designers to build useful chairs for airports.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Last post from Blog|Philadelphia

Heather's final post:

Blog|Philadelphia, the unconference, is over. I had a very interesting experience over the last two days. I'm glad I went. I'm also thankful for the wireless access so I would multitask.

Though there was mention of vlogs <outbind://11/> , or video blogs, I was wondering why there was not more discussion of other forms of social media. Also, what about outside the world of Philadelphia?! I have a friend in Belgium writing his Ph.D. around interactive TV <> . The BBC <> is doing a lot with this viewer experience. And what about new technologies? Yes, there's the glorious iPhone, but what did the unconference SME's know about other technologies on the horizon? Gee golly, what about the Microsoft Surface <> ? That's definitely the coolest thing I've seen since ... hum, maybe one of the coolest things I've ever seen.

It's great that an interested, local community came together. I learned there is a very active [professional] blogging community in Philadelphia. And my Twitter <> friends expanded from my new connections. I've learned not to be intimidated by blogging and perhaps to even check out group blogging in the future. Sounds like it could be fun.

As a first time blogger, I did get interviewed for Ziddio <> netTv for my first time blog experience. That was neat. Thanks to you Jonathan. Who know's how long I would have waited for my this first blog opportunity otherwise!

Heather Williams::Elsevier UCD Philadelphia

Friday, July 13, 2007

Day 2 of Blog|Philadelphia, an Unconference

Heather's 3rd contribution:

Where the heck is everyone?

Yesterday ended on a low note – very subdued. I suspected that the previous evening's entertainments was wearing heavy among the key personalities driving this event. Though everyone perked up for the happy hour at the end of the day, hosted by the Radisson (since this is there the unconference is held), I did not continue on with the planned after party. If I had, perhaps I would understand why no one is here yet *Doh*

So I took this time to wiki the term, "unconference". I confess, I've never been to one. In fact, I had not heard of these before now. Turns out it's a "conference" where content is driven &/or created by the participants, on a day-by-day basis (thx wiki <> ). This could explain why the moderators seemed so unprepared yesterday … maybe the attendees were unprepared!?

Day 2 promises to be good though. There's a bit on Mobile Social Networking, which I think has yet to even boom. New devices like the iPhone will keep other mobile creators coming out with new and better technologies and driving the next evolution of user experiences.

In the late morning I may check out some open-source marketing (what's that anyway?) and then hop into the '2.0 world without a textbook'. Then looks like I may wrap up with 'Group blogging' … I think that sounds like fun!

Heather Williams :: Elsevier UCD Philadelphia

Thursday, July 12, 2007

More from BlogPhilly Unconference

The second installment from guest blogger Heather:

We've passed the lunchtime milestone. It was a lovely buffet of Philly cheese steaks (with cheesewiz – what was up with that?), onion rings and cheesecake. Yum. And during friendly lunchtime banter I learn there's a neat collection of people here that probably would not come together under normal circumstances.

But now it's time for the afternoon sessions and it's very …. unstructured, maybe that's part of an unconference (it is a free conference).

I'm sitting in a session on Social Life <> . I am curious to learn more because a work colleague asked me asked me recently, "Why aren't we doing more with our products in second life?" WHAT?! This question made me a little uneasy and I wondered if I should question the credibility of a colleague I respected. I had previously checked out Second Life before and thought it was mainly for gaming and living in an alternate virtual persona. But I seem to be a little misguided.

Don Bain <> is talking about how socially engaged communities are creating environments in Second Life for a wide variety of things.

Medical educators can set up a learning environment for medical residents wanting to specialize in surgery – in the safe virtual environment they can practice their procedures on a virtual avatar before on a real patient.

If this is all true, I wonder what other opportunities there are there? Can I do user understanding in Second Life? Usability testing?...

BTW, the youngest person here is in 4th grade!

Heather Williams
Elsevier UCD Philadelphia

Guest Blog from BlogPhilly unconference

This is a contribution from my friend and colleague Heather Williams:

Today is Blog|Philadelphia's unconference on social media, held in Philadelphia. Its my first unconference. And this is my first 'blog' … if I can call it that.

I got off to a great start by missing the first hour b/c I was on a conference call chatting with colleagues about the glories & benefits of UCD integration with Agile development cycles. Now, 4 hours later, I'm getting into the unconference groove after a somewhat bumpy start.

I've hopped between the three morning sessions. I thought I was really going to get into the "work-private live balancing" session and I accidentally ended up in the "creating and leveraging digital video session" (which seemed more like a sales pitch for a v-blogging site), but now I'm listening in on the marketing of blogs for business … lots of underlying "understanding your users needs". Know who your readership is and you'll know more about what they want to read and how to get the message to them. Who knew!?

Stay turned, more surely to come…

Heather Williams :: Elsevier UCD Philadelphia

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Customer Long Walk

We are en route to Vancouver via Toronto airport. As we deplane we are guided towards passport control and customs. My daughter really needs the bathroom. We walk and walk. There is no bathroom. There is one tantalisingly close behind the glass but we are not allowed that way. So we walk fast, my daughter and I, then we run. She is desperate. Finally we see the sign as we reach the passport control area. A relief for all concerned.

Whoever designed this airport obviously did not have small children of their own. Not that I hold this against him or her, but some user experience testing should have shown that little girls often need to go to the bathroom upon deplaning.

And that's why we test our websites - for every eventuality.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Would you like a goldfish in your room sir?

I stay in a lot of hotels. I'm also fairly easily pleased - a clean room and a comfortable bed is really all I need. Nowadays most hotels seem to be able to provide this and so for me there's not too much difference between the hotel chains.

Except for Kimpton Hotels.

It's a chain but you'd hardly know it. Each hotel has its own character and its own specialities. Take the Pacific Pallisades Hotel in Vancouver. My family and I are booked to go there next week. Today I received an email from the Guest Loyalty Champion.

She asks if we have a favorite beverage or snack that she can have placed in our room for arrival. Or a favorite magazine or perhaps some recommendations or interests that she can provide more information about.

Great stuff.

And then the unforgettable question: "Would you like a goldfish in your room to keep you company during your stay?" OK be honest with me, when was the last time you were asked whether you'd like a goldfish in your room?

The kids think it's a fantastic idea. They are excited already and so are we. We are really looking forward to staying there. It's memorable (and blogable) already. Sure it could all end up being a disappointment but right now I'm a happy proto-customer - looking forward to being a customer.

It seems to me that Kimpton have joined a very select group of companies. Companies we look forward to being customers of. Who else would you say this about? Apple of course. Ferrari presumably. Trader Joes, Virgin Atlantic....

Not Starbucks - I like them, but they're almost but not quite too expensive. Definitely not Amtrak and I absolutely dread being a customer of US Airways.

So here's the question to ask: do people look forward to being customers of your company?

There was no goldfish waiting in our room. We are very disappointed. Funny how a broken promise does that. The room is great, the view spectacular but no goldfish. Were it not for the email we would of course never have expected one in the first place.

I asked the front desk for a goldfish and they sent one up. Lucky is his name. He's quite small but seems friendly.

UPDATE 3 - added a picture of Lucky

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Nature does it again

Those innovative folks over at Nature Publishing Group have just launched Nature Precedings a free online service that enables researchers to share, discuss and cite their early findings prior to publication.

It's that last part that interests me the most. Nature say that "most items published in Nature Precedings are assigned a DOI name (Digital Object Identifier)". The DOI name is a persistent, unique identifier that allows any object to be located online. In practice this means that links can be embedded in published documents without fear that someday they may lead nowhere.

This is how it works. A DOI name is assigned to an object (for example a document on Nature Precedings) and registered. The metadata associated with that object (for example the location) is registered along with the DOI name. Thereafter that object may be located on the web by using a URL of the form[DOI name]. If (say) the location changes for any reason the metadata is updated but the identifier and the URL remain unchanged. DOI names use an implementation of the CNRI Handle System.

The syntax for the DOI name is prefix/suffix. All DOI names start with "10." (This distinguishes a DOI name from any other implementation of the Handle System). The suffix can be any unique identifier. Thus the DOI name provides interoperability between different systems of unique document identifiers. Here's an example of a DOI name doi:10.1000/186. Whatever identifier is used in the suffix the DOI name will resolve to the document (assuming the metadata has been properly registered. There are a number of Registration Agencies that provide this service to those wishing to register DOI names.

To date around 28 million DOI names have been registered, most of which refer to objects in the STM publishing world. Nature's choice to assign DOI names means that the more informal Precedings documents will immediately become part of the formal body of interlinked scientific technical and medical literature.


The DOI System is managed by the International DOI Foundation (IDF). This is an open membership consortium that was formed in 1998. It is a registered not-for-profit organization. I am the current Chair of the IDF. Feel free to contact me with any questions you might have.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Customer Service Long Tail

I'm writing this from the US Airways ticket counter at Philadelphia airport. I am trying to change flights for my family and I. We are flying back to Amsterdam.

For some bizarre reason three of us have paper tickets and one of us an e-ticket. That's why I have to be here in person: online and 'phone doesn't work for paper tickets. There is a change fee to be calculated. The ticket was booked with US Air in Amsterdam and this is the return leg of the journey

This is obviously an unusual situation but clearly not impossible since it's actually happened.

This is how it is going:

First of all there are no ticket offices anymore. You have to go to a full service check-in desk along with passengers for today's flights. And wait.

The agent cannot do what's needed at her terminal. She calls 5 different helpdesk numbers for assistance until someone is found who can.

The manual process is tortuous. In the end the Rate Desk has to completely recreate the tickets with new fares. It takes ages to complete even after the right expert was found.

It strikes me that I have landed in the customer service long tail. In this automated world, no-one thought of this use case. Moreover the knowledge needed to solve the problem is scarce. It took so much time because they had to locate someone with enough expertise on the booking system and rate knowledge. The system is so complex that it took even longer to solve the problem.

This may be worth thinking about when redesigning or outsourcing customer service. If this is truly a long tail then there is huge customer value in retaining those experts.

Mind you I couldn't help thinking what happens when Starbucks screw up an order. They give you your coffee for free. The irony of this situation was that it took ages for US Airways to calculate how much I had to pay them. As the gate agent said "this ain't Starbucks".

UPDATE it took more than two and a half hours to sort this out and cost me $1100

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Making it easy to pay

I heard about Voice Pay a while back on NPR's All Things Considered. It took a recent note by David Worlock of Outsell to remind me that these things are highly relevant to Publishers like us.

There are ever more inventive ways to make it easy for us to part with our money. My experience is that making things easy leads to more usage. It seems reasonable to expect that making it easy for customers to pay might lead to higher revenues.

Here are some other examples.

I have an EZPass so I can whizz ticketless through the turnpike toll booths. It automatically debits my credit card in $35 increments when my balance falls below a threshold. I have a Starbucks card that does same thing for my coffee. It's so automatic I forget what each transaction costs. I just get used to the occasional debit from my account.

My use of txt messaging has increased over time (Twittter!) and as it has I have changed my cell phone bill plan from a purely transactional plan (pay per txt) to buying a block of txts (drawdown) to unlimited txting (a subscription). A seamless transition from my point of view, low cost/high return for the cell phone operator since it was all done online with no human2human interaction and I’m using and spending more.

The bottom line: make it easy for me to part with my money and there's a good chance I will.

How to Design Library Websites

Chris Jasek of our User Centered Design group has written a second edition of his pamphlet “How to Design Library Websites to Maximize Usability”. It’s a set of guidelines to help librarians design usable library websites.

You can find it here

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sisyphus Rocks

I love people who are passionate about what they believe in. It’s why I loved Kathy Sierra’s blog. As I am sure she would agree it’s hard being an evangelist. It’s not enough to tell people; an evangelist is looking for action, for the audience to respond and to do something different. That’s why feedback is the life blood for evangelists – it’s how you know when the message gets through.

Sometimes though it feels like banging your head against a brick wall: when people aren’t listening or worse when they appear to agree and then do nothing. A colleague describes it as pushing a big rock up a steep hill. This was the fate of Sisyphus

Sisyphus was being punished, we do it voluntarily……..

I would love Hugh McLeod to do a Sisyphus cartoon

Does your product inspire Driveway Moments?

I remember during a WHYY membership drive someone (I think it was Ed Cunningham) defining an NPR "driveway moment": You're driving along, listening to a story on NPR. Suddenly, you find yourself at your destination, so riveted to a piece that you sit in your idling car to hear it all the way through. That's a Driveway Moment.

I have had quite a few Driveway Moments - usually it is Terry Gross in a riveting interview that I cannot bear to miss a second of. So I stay in the car in my driveway listening.

Something interesting happened when I heard Ed tell this story. I felt an immediate connection to WHYY. He was describing me, my own personal experience, my radio station. This is customer connection and it is hugely powerful.

But how did they know?

I've no idea how they came up with the idea, but there's a community area on called Driveway Moments where listeners are invited to share their Moments. I'd like to think it started with a listener's story.

So what would your customers write if you invited them to share their Driveway Moments?

Friday, June 8, 2007

My impressions of Rome

Wonderful fried zucchini blossoms at Piperno

Fantastic Italian sparkling wine: Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore. Available by the glass at Enoteca Al Parlamento in the Via Dei Prefetti

Hidden gem: The magnificent portrait of Pope Innocent X by Velasquez in Galleria Doria Pamphili

Mozzarella di Bufala to die for at Obika (try the softest one served in a bowl)

Great deal: National Museum of Rome. 9 Euro buys you entry for all 4 museum sites in the city and is valid for 3 days. Don't miss any of them even the hard to find Crypta Balbi

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Listening to customer concerns

The recent announcement by Sir Crispin Davis that Reed Elsevier will divest its defense show business is very interesting. I am sure this was a very tough decision and I applaud it.

What I find really fascinating is the trend for companies to be held morally accountable for their activities, even when these activities are entirely legal. In this case the major defense show that caused much of the concern (DSEi) is organized in association with the UK Government. Can it be that it is more effective to hold a corporate enterprise to account than a government? What does that say for our political system?

Remember Google and the censored search results in China? Their defense was that censorship was less evil than not to be in China at all (BTW see here for a great spoof on this). This goes beyond social responsibility; it is a tricky moral trade-off. I wonder how many corporate enterprises are well equipped to make moral judgments like this.

I grew up in a world where moral philosophy was the domain of governments or the church. Nowadays we set higher goals and expectations. We users have the web to make our voices heard and we have discovered the power of choice. Who would have thought it?!

Thursday, May 31, 2007

What could we do differently?

Here’s a quote I like from Peter Senge:

“Effective leaders know that it is tempting to say this is how we did it over there and it worked. So we should follow the same rules here. But ‘here’ and ‘there’ are never identical and even small changes can alter the outcome of so-called ‘tried and tested’ formulas. If you have ever worked for a manager who knows exactly how things should be done, you know what I mean. He or she is trapped in a futile struggle to make today’s reality fit yesterday’s answers, and everyone suffers as a consequence.”

So how to avoid being trapped into applying yesterday’s solutions to today’s problems?

One way that works for me is to sit down with myself every two months or so and reflect on what I’m doing and how I'm doing it. I always ask myself the question what could I do differently?

Mission statements

In a previous life I worked on a team tasked with defining a new mission statement for the company. Thankfully my work on this has long been consigned to the corporate shredder and is now hopefully enjoying a new life as several boxes of Starbucks cups.

Meanwhile, I reflect on why there are not more user-centred mission statements out there? For instance when did you last read one that started with users or customers?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Coffee Table to Change the World

I think that one of the major barriers to making significant progress in healthcare informatics is the human-computer interface. Healthcare professionals often do not have the time to even learn new interfaces let alone become comfortable enough to embed them in their workflow.

So when I saw Microsoft Surface I immediately began to think of healthcare applications....

Imagine a Doctor and a patient sitting at the table. The Doctor pulls a "book" down from the "shelf" on the display. She thumbs through it, finds the page she wants, turns it around for the patient to look at. The patient puts their PDA on the table and the information transfers to their device for offline reading.

Or suppose a team of radiologists is studying a case. They pull images
of a patient up, enlarge and reduce them, change the contrast. Then they drag in reference images from books to compare them against and to help the team make a diagnosis.

If that sounds far fetched take a look at this video from Popular Mechanics

E-Paper coming soon

John Blossom has a terrific blog that also includes selected content-related headlines. I spotted this nugget on paper thin E Ink displays a while back

I first saw this E Ink technology at the end of the last century and thought it had a “wow” factor even back then. If I recall correctly the first use was for electronic signage since the displays only required power to change the display. Once the E Ink pixels are set on the page, they stay readable without need for power.

I've been looking forward to electronic paper though. Just think: a single E Ink page attached to a “spine” that contains the book files. At the touch of a button on the spine the old page goes and is replaced by the new page. When you’re finished reading you simply roll up the display around the spine and put it in your pocket.

The first eBook readers using E Ink (from Sony and iRex) aren’t flexible at all. I gather that manufacturing the flexible polymer displays is tricky but the good news is that someone is working on it.

L.G. Philips LCD have just announced that they have developed the world’s first 14.1-inch flexible color E-paper display on metal foil. Samsung and Primeview International recently showed a plastic version.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

My favourite joke of all time

What does an occasional table do when it’s not being a table?

This was written by Barry Cryer who must surely be one of the most unsung heroes of comedy.

Don't ask me why I like this joke so much; maybe it's the same reason I find Steven Wright's daily Twittering amusing


I grew up in England in a house full of books. For as long as I can remember I have known the poems and stories of A.A. Milne. As a child my favourite poem was one called JonathanJo, who has a mouth like an ‘O’ and a Wheelbarrow Full Of Surprises. Well this is my wheelbarrow and my hope is that you’ll find something you’re looking for here.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Systemic Change

By nature I am a restless person, never really satisfied somehow. I'm sure I drive people crazy at work - when asking the question "how can we do it differently" there's an implicit criticism that somehow the way we do things now isn't good enough. And I have noticed that as a rule people don't like criticism.

That’s why I love this Hugh McLeod cartoon

I didn’t really have a name for my permanent state of dissatisfaction until I met Steve Harrison years ago. He calls it systemic change – change in the whole system, change that sticks. His simple but effective starting point is “why do we accept the concept of high performance teams in sport, yet in business we are all too often happy with good enough?”. So he reasons what can we learn from coaching in sport?

Coaching high-performance teams means recognising and celebrating how far a team has come, then moving on to help them do even better. It’s about being never-satisfied with current performance. The day you’re satisfied is the day you retire. Or as Hugh puts it in his own inimitable way "If you can't re-invent yourself, you might as well be dead".

BTW Steve has some fantastic exercises for showing how this works – but I’m afraid you’ll have to hire him to experience them!

Do you care who gets the credit?

At a recent company meeting our Chairman quoted Harry S. Truman: "It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit." It really stuck in my mind.

It is amazing that I've lived almost 45 years and never heard this quote before. Mind you I guess it's not so common in business. I mean it's the kind of thing people say and no doubt aspire to, they probably even buy inspirational posters of this quote and hang it in their offices; but I wonder how many corporate environments are really conducive to this kind of behaviour? And I wonder how one would go about creating a corporate culture that encourages selfless leadership?

Maybe a better question is what does a company with such leaders look like?

Happy Towel Day!

I think Towel Day is the right day for me to start this blog.
What on earth (sic) I am talking about?

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy teaches us that a towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. I was at school in England when the radio series that launched the whole thing was broadcast. I loved it. Of course I loved it, its creator Douglas Adams went to my school. Sadly Douglas died in 2001. Towel Day (May 25th) is a galaxy-wide tribute to the great man.

Still wondering what I'm on about? Go here:

Towel Day :: A tribute to Douglas Adams (1952-2001)