Sunday, February 11, 2018

Fast food color logo science: fake news, or real?

On Saturday morning, I found myself at the Sonic on Placentia Avenue in east Fullerton, California.

This file is copyrighted. It will be used in a way that qualifies as fair use under US copyright law.

I only mention the location because people familiar with the site know that this Sonic is near an El Pollo Loco, an In-N-Out, and a McDonald's.

The person who was with me pointed out that there was a lot of red and yellow in many fast food logos, and we were able to think of many other examples of fast food logos that used one or both of these colors. Supposedly there was a well-supported reason for use of those colors.

After returning home from Fullerton, I began consulting the research on the use of red and yellow in fast food logos - and was able to find a lot of statements, but no real research. Here is an example.

Looking at the positive psychology qualities of red & yellow in relation to the fast food industry, red triggers stimulation, appetite, hunger, it attracts attention. Yellow triggers the feelings of happiness and friendliness.

When you combine red and yellow it’s about speed, quickness. In, eat and out again.

Yellow is also the most visible colour in daylight, which is why the McDonald’s M can be seen from a far distance.

Evidence for these assertions came from studies that were conducted in...oh, none was cited.

OK, the text above was written by a marketer, and I know all about marketers. :)

But this post on the psychology of color should cite some evidence, right?

Red – Creates a sense of urgency, which is good for clearance sales. Encourages appetite, thus is frequently used by fast-food chains. Physically stimulates the body, raising blood pressure and heart rate, associated with movement, excitement, and passion....

Orange & Yellow – Cheerful colors that promote optimism. Yellow can make babies cry, while orange can trigger a sense of caution. Used to create a sense of anxiety that can draw in impulsive buyers and window shoppers.

Again, rather than saying that "red means this because these n studies have proven this association," this article seemed like a restatement of conventional wisdom. "I know this is true, because a friend of a friend told me this."

Right, and Craig Shergold still needs cards.

Color me unimpressed with the "authoritative" sources on fast food color branding that I had read to this point.

Then I encountered a paper by Andrew J. Elliot entitled Color and psychological functioning: a review of theoretical and empirical work. I skipped to the empirical section, and encountered this statement by Elliot:

Empirical work on color and psychological functioning dates back to the late 19th century (Féré, 1887; see Pressey, 1921, for a review). A consistent feature of this work, from its inception to the past decade, is that it has been fraught with major methodological problems that have precluded rigorous testing and clear interpretation (O’Connor, 2011). One problem has been a failure to attend to rudimentary scientific procedures such as experimenter blindness to condition, identifying, and excluding color deficient participants, and standardizing the duration of color presentation or exposure. Another problem has been a failure to specify and control for color at the spectral level in manipulations. Without such specification, it is impossible to know what precise combination of color properties was investigated, and without such control, the confounding of focal and non-focal color properties is inevitable (Whitfield and Wiltshire, 1990; Valdez and Mehrabian, 1994).

Elliot did note, however, that the situation is improving, and cited a Lauren Labrecque / George Milne paper as an example. The authors conducted four empirical tests, the first of which specifically controlled for hue:

To examine the relationship between hue, which refers to the wavelength of a color and what a person typically notes when describing a color (e.g., red, blue, yellow), and brand personality in the context of logo design, we hold the value and saturation levels constant across colors. Although some logos use multiple colors, we rely on single colors to isolate the color effects.

Since you obviously can't use a real multi-colored logo for such a test, the authors created their own logo. They then conducted a study with a precisely-measured group of undergraduate students, and came up with these results.

So what does the study say about red and yellow? It turns out that these colors, as well as orange, display a positive association with excitement. (Yellow is also associated with sincerity in this study.) This seems to fit our assumptions, since one can claim that seeing the "golden arches" makes us excited.

But what of ruggedness? Some of these fast food places have offerings that appeal to a rugged personality, someone who would growl for a Double Double with Animal Fries. But look at the numbers - red has practically no correlation with ruggedness, and orange and yellow are negatively correlated with ruggedness.

So what color exhibits a high positive correlation with ruggedness?


Yeah, when I go to Starbucks and order my chai latte, I'm more rugged than the Marlboro Man.

Sophie G., via the Yelp entry for the Mansfield, Texas Starbucks

Going back to Elliot, he has performed a lot of research on color, but his most famous bit of research has nothing to do with Animal Fries. The work that merited mention in Wikipedia was a study co-authored by Elliot, Women's use of red clothing as a sexual signal in intersexual interaction.

Well, Dr. Elliot, I still think that the Hot Dog on a Stick uniform is ugly.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Revisiting the Shotwell's / Google Glass controversy, several years and one ocean later


Actually, I was employed in the biometric/security industry back in 2013, but video didn't mean that much to me in those days. (It does now.) So it was primarily due to curiosity that I wrote the post Sometimes it's OK to be a Luddite (Shotwell's vs. Scoble). Here are a few relevant points regarding that 2013 post:

First, at the time, Google Glass was a big thing.

Second, there was (and is) a bar called Shotwell's Bar in San Francisco, just up the road from Google headquarters. Therefore, there was a pretty good chance that a Google Glass-wearing person might wander into Shotwell's Bar.

Third, it turns out that this did happen, prompting a Facebook post from Shotwell's that wasn't that complimentary of Google Glass.

This resulted in an Atlantic article and some angry comments from Robert Scoble - whom, you may recall, was photographed in a shower wearing Google Glass, referencing his previous book Naked Conversations. Here is a line drawing representation of that moment, taken from a patent application.

Excerpt from Robert Scoble's angry comments:

[S]oon I'll be directed to the best bars by the Google Glass and if the bartender doesn't like me wearing them I'll change the review so that people get guided to go somewhere else!

So, if you are a bartender, you better watch out. Those of us who will be wearing Google Glass are often influencers, rich, and willing to change OUR behavior when it comes to spending our money, time, attention. Hint: I tip well and drink a lot of expensive Scotch (although I'm trying to cut down, which the Glass will help me with too).

So what happened after 2013? Well, Google Glass didn't become the next great consumer item. Robert Scoble stopped drinking, but didn't use Google Glass to do it.

Oh, and one more thing happened. China happened.

Chinese police have begun using glasses equipped with facial recognition-enabled cameras to spot fugitives traveling through train stations. Though Chinese police have said the glasses will spot people using fake IDs or traveling to avoid a warrant, many are concerned about China using the tech to target political advocates and minorities. China has been accused of using face recognition tech to “fence in” the Muslim Uighur minority in northwestern Xinjiang.

I won't get into my personal views about this whole thing, because I have a story to tell. It's a story that you won't hear anywhere else. (Blatant hint.)

Because you see, Tom Madonna, owner of Shotwell's Bar in San Francisco, reportedly has a sister - Lady Madonna. Using some San Francisco connections, Lady Madonna traveled to Shanghai to open up an East Coast (Chinese East Coast) version of Shotwell's Bar. She's managed to make ends meet so far, but she ran into trouble one day when two undercover police officers walked into the bar.

Lady Madonna offered this comment on Chinese social media.

Two people just walked into the bar. Looked me square in the eye, and acting as if everything was normal they ordered beers.. Oh did I mention they wear wearing AR glasses! In public! In A BAR!

Seven minutes later, someone whom Lady didn't know added a comment:

Please delete the comment above.

Well, Lady's like her brother Tom, and can be a little feisty at times.

When you buy a new phone, it's in your pocket, but this, you're wearing something on your face. Anyone that cares what they look like is not gonna wear AR glasses. That's my opinion. If you are super nerdy and you like to show off that you're in tech and smart and all those things, I can see you probably wearing AR glasses, but you are probably in a bubble.

Seven minutes after that, the mysterious commenter showed up again.

Please delete the comment above. The two persons who visited your establishment are charged with maintaining public order. You would not want a criminal element patronizing your establishment.

Lady continued the conversation.

Hey, it wasn't just me. Everyone thought the two people looked ridiculous!

Seven minutes later, health inspectors were knocking on the door of Lady's bar.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

When did individual coworking become corporate outsourcing?

I remember parts of this from a decade ago.

[Tara Hunt and Chris Messina] started putting together meetups at Ritual Roasters in the Mission in San Francisco because we thought it would be even better to get a space full-time for independents....

We put the call out for people to come together and were super excited because lots of people showed up. Within a few months, we co-rented a live/work space in Portrero Hill with a group of others (we called it Teh Hat Factory — not a typo).

A few months later, Chris and I both left our startups and decided to start our own company, which led us to looking for and renting a bigger, more professional space in SOMA. We called this Citizen Space. It opened in October 2006.

Citizen Space is no longer open, but its indie feel can still be found in some other coworking sites, such as Pro Desk Space in Fullerton, California. This space caters to individual entrepreneurs, and its pricing supports people who need a desk for one day, or for one day a month, or more frequently.

And closer to home, it appears that there's a coworking space near downtown Ontario.

But Hunt and Messina didn't invent the office sublet - Regus (now IWG) was around long before 2006, and informal office sublet relationships have existed since the first office was established.

However, I wonder if we're seeing a new trend of coworking.

In march 2017, the New York City–based editors and writers of The Atlantic moved to a WeWork office in Brooklyn. I remember our first morning vividly: It was like entering the Millennial id. Craft beer and cucumber water poured from kitchen taps. Laptoppers in jeans and toques clacked along to MGMT in the wood-paneled common area. A WeWork “community manager” showed us to a glass-walled office so small that my colleagues and I could clasp hands while seated. We sat. Had we arrived in the future of work?

The Atlantic told us this arrangement would be temporary while our real office was renovated. As of this writing, we’re still here. If WeWork had its way, we’d stay forever, along with much of the 21st-century workforce.

This is fundamentally different from Factory Joe Startup renting a desk. And you can see it in WeWork's pricing. While Pro Desk Space's pricing page starts by asking how many days you want to work, WeWork has a different question: how many employees need seats?

Not all companies are supporting the concept of remote coworkers away from headquarters, but the WeWorks of the world are positioning themselves to cater to companies that are spread in multiple locations. If the companies outsource the whole "remote worker" thingie to a WeWork, then they don't have to worry about leasing facilities themselves, or supporting an employee's home office. And in the same way that companies expand and contract cloud storage, they can expand and contract square footage.

I'm not sure if I'd thrive in such a situation, but perhaps I'd learn how to do it. At present, my boss is over 2,000 miles away from me, so I'm already starting to adjust to this kind of life. (One of my coworkers has worked from home for over a decade now.) Why not work from a place in which I can just plug in (and put on the headphones)?

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Strava - SHARE! SHARE! SHARE! What, you shared? It's your fault!

Whenever you sign up for a free service, it's important to the service provider to have access to your data so that it can be sold. For that reason, service providers usually default accounts so that the account information is public.

What could go wrong?

An interactive map posted on the internet that shows the whereabouts of people who use Fitbit and similar devices also reveals highly sensitive information about the location and activities of soldiers at U.S. military bases, in what appears to be a major security oversight.

The GPS tracking company Strava published the Global Heat Map, using satellite information to map the movements of subscribers to the company's fitness service over a two-year period by illuminating areas of activity.

Normally that isn't much of an issue - if you're in the Los Angeles area, for example, there are a ton of people with wearables.

But what if you're in another part of the world? Such as...Afghanistan?

Now since the Taliban don't seem to be the type to run out and buy Fitbit, those few data points in the area can become VERY significant.

Zooming in on those brings into focus the locations and outlines of known U.S. military bases, as well as of other unknown and potentially sensitive sites - presumably because U.S. soldiers and other personnel are using fitness trackers there.

So people are now reacting reactively, and asking why Strava would threaten to end civilization as we know it.

Strava's reply? It's not our fault:

“We are committed to helping people better understand our settings to give them control over what they share,” the company said, sharing a blogpost from 2017 which detailed eight things users can do to lock down their privacy on the service, including specifically opting out of the global heatmap by unchecking a box in the settings page.

Perhaps this whole thing can be chalked up to unintended consequences. The military wanted to battle obesity, so it encouraged personnel to wear the fitness trackers. Strava probably didn't think through the consequences of posting this information.

But if Strava is truly committed to the safety of its community...then why is the default privacy setting set to this?

The basic level is to choose to not use any privacy controls and make your info available publicly, like it would be on Twitter, for example.

And if you don't know the answer to the question of why privacy defaults to no privacy at it is.

You own the information, data, text, software, sound, photographs, graphics, video, messages, posts, tags, or other materials you make available in connection with the Services (“Content”), whether publicly posted, privately transmitted, or submitted through a third party API (e.g. a photograph submitted via Instagram). You grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any Content that you post on or in connection with the Services.

Basically, when there is no privacy, Strava has a LOT of data that it can use for...things.

Oh, and by the way...

You understand that you, and not Strava, are entirely responsible for all Content that you upload, post, email, transmit or otherwise make available via the Services.

Again - it's YOUR fault, stupid user, for not correcting the privacy gap that we put into the software.

THOSE are the legal parameters that Strava - and many, many other companies - consider as binding. Not the non-binding "Nothing is more important than the safety of our community" feel-good statements.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Benebit - Bene who?

So I was doing industry research on LinkedIn and ran across a post that began as follows:

Dear Cryptocurrency Community,

Another scam has been discovered👇🏼

Benebit, one of the ICOs that was quite hyped, has pulled an exit scam taking somewhat $2.7 million of investor funds. Other estimates claim it could be even $4 million 💸

The red light was switch on when it was discovered that the executive team photos had been stolen from a school website🚨

All of these people: John Leverty, Howard Sharp, Ian Livingstone & Victoria Ellison are scammers. Their profiles are fake, just as their project ‼️

The post itself didn't offer proof that Benebit was a scam, and it ended with this:

So please tag anyone that should read this. Share this with others. These people need to be banned, caught and imprisoned.

The "please share this with everyone" plea gave me an uneasy feeling about this post. Was it being posted by an enemy of Benebit, as an attempt to dampen the company's aspects?

Obviously this needed further research. I started at Benebit's LinkedIn page:

Benebit is a disruptive network for the cashback and loyalty market based on blockchain technology. The unbeatable social component of Benebit’s model is professionally designed to meet the highest standards of business/consumer interaction for securely storing and exchanging all kinds of user and brand data for the promotion of discounts, special deals, cashback and loyalty programs.

Benebit simplifies and introduces a new way for businesses and consumers to interact, which drives traffic, increases loyalty and trust, and enhances convenience and security.

Disruptive! Blockchain! "Unbeatable social component!" Coincidentally, I had recently read a Mitch Wagner post that was intentionally buzzword-loaded. So this Benebit description sounded smarmy enough, but didn't necessarily indicate that it was a scam.

Until I found this article on that corroborated the LinkedIn statement.

Benebit, one of this year’s most hyped ICOs, has pulled an exit scam, making off with a reported $2.7 million of investor funds. Other estimates put the figure as high as $4 million. The fraud only came to light after someone noticed that the team photos had been stolen from a school website. Once this happened, the Benebit team scampered, taking their ill-gotten gains with them. The case is believed to be the largest ICO exit scam to date.

More disturbingly, before the discovery of the school photo "appropriation," everyone thought Benebit was just fine.

The ICO platform had wide support, with over 9,000 Telegram followers and a positive rating on ICO review sites. As soon as the scam surfaced, those sites wasted no time in scrubbing their reviews or updating them to reflect the change of circumstances, despite having previously green-lighted the project.

As late as January 5, publications such as this one were writing about Benebit's plans. And while this particular site noted that its aspirations were "obviously a difficult feat," the article writer assumed that Benebit would still be a going concern a few weeks later.

Could someone have gotten through the hype before the Benebitters ran off with millions? Hard to say. While there are a number of "news outlets" that do nothing more than regurgitate press releases (or now-deleted LinkedIn profiles), even those outlets with questioning journalists might have been stymied by Benebit's act. Startups are justifiably protective of the technology they are developing, so it would be expected that the executives would not be forthcoming about all of the details.

But it would have been nice to meet the executives in person - something that obviously didn't happen.

The fallacy of "minimum qualifications"

Even though I left my proposals job (for the second time) in early 2015, I still receive emails from the Association of Proposal Management Professionals - and I actually LIKE to receive these emails.

One of these recent emails advertised an available proposals position with a particular company.

While reading the position description, I realized that I would not have qualified for this position when I started my first proposals job in 1994. In fact, I wouldn't qualify for this position today, despite over ten years of proposals experience.

Why not?

Because the position has "minimum qualifications" - and since it was written for (and possibly by) proposal professionals, I am forced to assume that the minimum qualifications are truly MANDATORY. If you know anything about proposals and RFPs, you know that in a well-run organization, requirements are requirements are requirements.

So why would I not meet this company's criteria? Take a look at the first minimum qualification.

Must have Bachelor's Degree in Journalism, Communications, English or another relevant field

I have a Bachelor's ecomomics.

Never mind the fact that to obtain this degree, I had to write an undergraduate thesis.

Never mind the fact that between my graduation and 1994, I had written a variety of technical manuals, and had even co-authored a paper that was published in a journal in 1991.

Never mind the fact that between 1994 and 2015, I had amassed a ton of proposal experience.

Of course, that in itself was a problem, because it meant that I failed to meet another minimum qualification.

Two years of experience in a technical writing position

"But John," you may be asking, "didn't you actually EXCEED this requirement?"

Um, re-read the requirement again. It does not specify "Two years OR MORE" of experience; it explicitly specifies "Two years" of experience. And since it was written for (and possibly by) proposal professionals, I am forced to assume that the writer meant what he/she said.

"John, you're being silly," you may be saying. "They would obviously look at your resume and determine that you are qualified for the position."

But remember the essential truths of HR resume review:

Your resume will most likely never be read in its entirety, and the real thought process when reading it is...

“Is there anything in here that knocks this person out from further consideration?”...

Because of the volume, [reviewers] must make a judgment on each [resume] in a very few seconds

In practice, the resume review process would probably work like this.

Boy, the traffic was terrible this morning. Ah, here's a pile of papers from my boss, with a note. "Please go through these resumes for the proposal position and get me the ones that meet the minimum criteria."

OK, let's start with the education requirement. Wow, there are a lot of resumes to go through here!

Jones, bachelor's degree in English - looks good.

Smith, high school graduate - discard.

Johnson, bachelor's degree in physics, master's degree in journalism - better ask the boss.

Bredehoft, bachelor's degree in economics - discard.

Just as well. I'm not sure that I'd want to rejoin proposals for a third time.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

My response to Dorothy Jake from The Facebook Inc

One of my posts in the "Silicon Valley is Devoid of Reason" series partially touched upon the 2013 Federal Government shutdown. Since there's a chance that we'll reprise this in 2018, I dragged out the old post and shared part of it on Google Plus.

And, wonders of wonders, that post received a comment.

Hello Mr John Bredehoft how are you doing overthere and your families , we hope this text meets you in a good state of mind??
I'm Agent Dorothy Jake from the Facebook Inc and i was authourized to get in touch with you on here by the Facebook Officails
I'm here to pass a good news about your Facebook Account and i will love to chat on Hangout for more explanation

Thanks as we wait for your swift reply

1 Hacker Way, Menlo Park, CA 94025

Now I could have simply responded to the esteemed Ms. Jake on the original Google Plus post, but her outreach is so impressive that I wanted to share it here, so that everyone knows how great The Facebook Inc is.

So, without further ado:


Thank you for your outreach to me, and thank you for the wonderful work that The Facebook Inc is doing. In these times of impenetrable silos, I am amazed that The Facebook Inc would not only maintain an outreach portal on Google Plus, but that you would also actively encourage the use of The Facebook Inc Messenger competitors such as Google Hangouts. You are a living example of the outreach work of the late Dr. Rodney King, and have helped to prove that we CAN just all get along.

And I am impressed by your other examples of outreach. Perhaps similar changes will happen at The Facebook Inc, which currently seems to put a damper on sexy talk?

I was so impressed by your outreach that I checked The Facebook Inc yourself for, but strangely enough I wasn't able to find you.

Then it hit me.

You had clearly communicated that you were on "The Facebook Inc," not "Facebook Inc," which is a different company (and happens to host a very popular social networking platform).

Since I don't have an account on The Facebook Inc, you obviously must have me confused with someone else.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Sears. Titanic.

So this happened (PDF):

Sears Holdings continues its strategic assessment of the productivity of our Kmart and Sears store base and will continue to right size our store footprint in number and size. In the process, as previously announced we will continue to close some unprofitable stores as we transform our business model so that our physical store footprint and our digital capabilities match the needs and preferences of our members. The company on Thursday, January 4 informed associates at 64 Kmart stores and 39 Sears stores that we will be closing these stores between early March and early April 2018.

Eligible associates impacted by these store closures will receive severance and will have the opportunity to apply for open positions at area Kmart or Sears stores. Customers can use the store locator function on our web sites to find the location of their nearest Kmart and Sears stores. Liquidation sales will begin as early as January 12 at these closing stores.

Ah, where to begin.

How about the fact that in 2018, companies are still using the euphemism "right size"?

Oh, and this little statement "we will continue to close some unprofitable stores as we transform our business model so that our physical store footprint and our digital capabilities match the needs and preferences of our members"? As I noted in an Empoprise-IE post on the local impact in Ontario, California:

I'm beginning to suspect that the members' preferences for Sears' physical store footprint is around zero.

Back in 2016, I visited one of the stores whose closure was just announced. While taking care to note that my observations were clearly anecdotal and not necessarily reflective of the entire Kmart chain, I did share some observations (and some pictures).

I approached the Kmart on East Fourth Street in Ontario a little after noon. The employees were nice enough, and the problems that one employee was having with a store computer may not necessarily mean anything. But after a few minutes of walking around this particular store, something struck me.

If I were to walk into a Costco or a Walmart on Sunday at noon, I would usually be fighting mobs of people. And while there were people in some sections of the Kmart, other sections were oddly empty and quiet. I was told later that traffic usually picked up in the afternoon, but it still seemed strange to be in a major store on a weekend afternoon and to see empty aisles in some places.

More here.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Hey, I never saw any job ads from that company! Oh...

When I was last laid off from a job over 25 years ago, one of the ways in which I looked for jobs was to use something called "classified ads." These were short pieces of text, printed on paper, that you could use to learn about available jobs.

Of course, now the technology is a little bit different. I don't even know if printed newspapers even run help wanted ads any more - the last time I saw a newspaper, the classified section was very short. Today, of course, you access job information via the web. Perhaps you go to a company's own website. Perhaps you go to a website that aggregates jobs from different companies.

Or perhaps the jobs come to you.

Maybe you're on a social media service, and you see an add pop up for a job. And because the social media service probably already knows a lot about you - where you live, what your current job is - the service can tailor the ads that it presents to you so that you only see ads that are relevant to you.

Or ads that the employer THINKS are relevant to you.

And therein lies the problem, according to ProPublica:

A few weeks ago, Verizon placed an ad on Facebook to recruit applicants for a unit focused on financial planning and analysis. The ad showed a smiling, millennial-aged woman seated at a computer and promised that new hires could look forward to a rewarding career in which they would be “more than just a number.”

Some relevant numbers were not immediately evident. The promotion was set to run on the Facebook feeds of users 25 to 36 years old who lived in the nation’s capital, or had recently visited there, and had demonstrated an interest in finance.

Cool. What's the problem?

For a vast majority of the hundreds of millions of people who check Facebook every day, the ad did not exist.

Well, so what? If it's a finance job in Washington DC, you're not going to want to show it to bricklayers in Oklahoma. ProPublica is obviously getting silly.

And then they start showing other examples:

In a search for “part-time package handlers,” United Parcel Service ran an ad aimed at people 18 to 24. State Farm pitched its hiring promotion to those 19 to 35.

Ah, perhaps you see the issue now. Age targeting can, in some cases, be illegal.

Now in certain instances age targeting is perfectly legal. The U.S. Army can legally exclude 70 year olds from job recruiting ads.

But it's much more problematic in other cases. Could a 37 year old - or a 57 year old, or a 24 year old - work at Verizon? Could a 25 year old be a part-time package handler for UPS?

Several experts questioned whether the practice is in keeping with the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which prohibits bias against people 40 or older in hiring or employment. Many jurisdictions make it a crime to “aid” or “abet” age discrimination, a provision that could apply to companies like Facebook that distribute job ads.

“It’s blatantly unlawful,” said Debra Katz, a Washington employment lawyer who represents victims of discrimination.

And some companies have changed their practices to ensure that they comply with anti-discrimination laws.

After being contacted by ProPublica, LinkedIn changed its system to prevent such targeting in employment ads....

After being contacted by ProPublica and the Times, other employers, including Amazon, Northwestern Mutual and the New York City Department of Education, said they had changed or were changing their recruiting strategies.

“We recently audited our recruiting ads on Facebook and discovered some had targeting that was inconsistent with our approach of searching for any candidate over the age of 18,” said Nina Lindsey, a spokeswoman for Amazon, which targeted some ads for workers at its distribution centers between the ages of 18 and 50. “We have corrected those ads.”

Of course, there are dissenting views on the value of a diverse workforce, including people over the age of 40. The following was written by someone at Brazen in 2009.

We now have youngsters who can’t find jobs not only because this recession sucks, but also because old people are choosing not to retire. They are not retiring because this new generation of “old people” think they will never die due to modern advances in medicine. They are ambitious workaholics who are also too selfish and egocentric to step aside and believe that a younger person could do just a good of a job, if not a better one. They are the first generation who have received so much: peace, prosperity and technology.

And now, they don’t want to give it all up after squandering away our environment and screwing up our market. So next time when you can’t find a job, don’t blame the minority for filling some quota (that is extremely rarely the reason why you don’t get hired); just go ahead and blame the people at the top.

Now that eight years have passed...and another ten years will pass quickly - I wonder if the Brazen writer feels the same way.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Revisiting my nine year old rant on sites that support limited browsers

Back in 2008, when I was working for Motorola, the company needed to ensure that all of its software worked with all of its internal systems. It can take time to test internal systems with new browsers, and as a result, Motorola's "approved" browser at the time was Internet Explorer 6.

This offended certain developers, who adopted an attitude that Ramblings of an Offbeat Mammal expressed in a phrase that I quoted at the time:

If all those folks using a version of any browser older than IE7 could just upgrade, get with the program and do their bit (it’s only a few moments to download and install and it doesn’t even insist on a legal copy of Windows these days!) then developers could concentrate on making great web applications using all the cool Ajax, Silverlight and Javascript features without having to worry about testing a load of different quirky behaviors.

Despite my rather strident opposition to this attitude, I did grant, and still do, that there are costs to supporting multiple platforms, and at the time, the need to support IE6 and IE7 and other browsers could certainly add up. Developers could support a lot of browsers and browser versions and run up those costs, or they could support a limited number of browsers and browser versions and limit their reach.

I could have lived with that, if the developers hadn't adopted the snotty "Why are you using IE6, you imbecile?" attitude. An especially ironic stance, since many of these same people were loudly clamoring that there was no need to upgrade to Windows Vista, and that people should be permitted to stay on Windows XP.

Well, that ridiculousness ended, or so I thought until I visited the new MySpace in 2012 and found that it didn't support any version of Internet Explorer.

You know, I've rarely visited MySpace since. (It didn't help that they deleted my original profile page. But I digress.)

Well, that ridiculousness ended, or so I thought until I read this piece.

Someone tweeted [Airbnb] about an issue with the website. Apparently, it’s impossible to make a reservation in Safari 9.1 The astute members of [The Next Web] know what the issue is here. That particular version of Safari came out in March, 2016. At the time of writing, the most current version of Safari is 11.0.1.

Instead of telling the user to update his browser (which is reasonable), Airbnb told him to install Chrome instead, as the site was “optimized” for it.

(Note: the Airbnb tweet was written in 2016, but as you'll see, Airbnb's current policy isn't much better.)

The story continues.

Another company that’s openly telling users to use Chrome rather than any modern competing browser — like Firefox, Safari, and Opera — is Groupon.

These two companies attracted the Twitter ire of one Jeffrey Yasskin. In a couple of tweets, he implored the two companies to not optimize for a single browser.

Yasskin, by the way, is on the Google Chrome Web Platform team. Perhaps in some weird alternative universe Yasskin would be fired, but Google, Apple, Mozilla, and other web browser developers realize that the secret to browser success isn't to go silo.

And even Airbnb's story has changed over time. Its "get with the program" page says to use the latest versions of Chrome OR FIREFOX. You can use IE9 or higher, but Microsoft Edge, Safari, Opera, and other browsers aren't mentioned at all. The 2016 tweet to which Yasskin responded didn't mention Mozilla, which apparently has now joined Airbnb's "blessed" list. Maybe they'll get around to support Microsoft Edge in a few years.


As I was working on this post over the weekend and tweeting about it, Jordan Harband responded with two tweets:

We definitely support Safari and Edge. Opera is just Blink now, so Opera always === Chrome anyways.

In general, we support ES5+.

Regardless, our internal support policy for engineers is distinct from our general support advice, which *obviously* is “use the latest version of your browser” at a minimum.

Compare this with Behance, which displays "creative work." In order to get more creatives to sign up, Behance has a broader browser support policy:

Behance supports:

Evergreen browsers (supporting the two most recent versions):
Google Chrome
Mozilla Firefox
Microsoft Edge

Other browsers:
Microsoft Internet Explorer 11
Apple Safari, version 8 and above
Opera, limited support for all versions

As for MySpace, it still doesn't support any Microsoft browser or Opera. Of course, this could be considered a security feature, since it limits the ways in which someone can hack into a MySpace account.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

When brands are king

Before yesterday, you could have forgiven me for not knowing about a relationship between the roast beef fast food chain Arby's and the sports restaurant Buffalo Wild Wings - namely because there was no such relationship until yesterday.

But I didn't know that there was a relationship between Wendy's and Arby's. Turns out Wendy's owns 18.5% of Arby's (and thus will benefit from any price increase resulting from the BWW acquisition).

I work in a different environment - one in which you know when brands are associated with each other. This was most apparent during my years working for (pre-split) Motorola, in which Motorola WAS the brand. Whether talking about a RAZR or a police radio, you knew that the product came from Motorola.

But this appears to be the exception rather than the rule. I'm sure that there are LinkedIn users who don't realize that LinkedIn is part of Microsoft. And I wouldn't be surprised to find YouTube users who don't realize that YouTube is part of Google.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Did I not show enough goodwill to Henry-Alex Rubin?

So in my post last Saturday, I was somewhat negative about Burger King's Bullying Jr. ad. Excerpts:

The ad has received deserved praise from various people, but it appears that the key constituency was not consulted.

Burger King customers....

Now there may be times when a corporation DOES choose to make a strong social or political statement. A store that sells guns, for example, has a customer base that is interested in the Second Amendment, and therefore would make statements consistent with their customers' beliefs.

But how does Burger King's anti-bullying statement resonate with its audience?

Will Burger King have a net GAIN of customers as a result of this ad? How many people will say, "I don't eat junk food, but Burger King hates bullies so I'll go there"?

Joel Garry responded on Twitter.

Net gain of customers is the wrong metric. Buzz and goodwill are the right metrics, but difficult to measure in sales lift.

And difficult to measure in the short-term, quarterly world in which U.S. (and Canadian, and Brazilian) business operates. Burger King's commitment to do good things isn't a one-off:

The better job we do at being responsible today, the better our business will be in the future. We know that from a pure business sense, it can help us manage risk, enhance employee morale and retention, strengthen brand loyalty, build goodwill in and strengthen the communities in which we operate and can directly affect the bottom line in terms of energy savings and waste reduction. We also know that it must be a way of thinking and fully embedded within our brand.

And perhaps the strategy is working, despite concerns about Burger King's tax status. The American Customer Satisfaction Index released its 2017 report on full-service and limited-service restaurants, and Burger King did well in the survey.

Hamburger chains all score below the industry average. After lagging Wendy’s for more than two decades, Burger King grabs the crown among burger chains with a 1% uptick to 77. Wendy’s (unchanged at 76) and Jack in the Box (+1% to 75) follow closely behind. McDonald’s continues its run at the bottom of the industry, flat at 69.

So what restaurant sits atop the fast food industry?

Chick-fil-A remains the leader, unchanged at an ACSI score of 87.

This despite the fact that some believe that Chick-fil-A's corporate responsibility stand

Maybe Burger King should close on Sunday.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Did Henry-Alex Rubin unintentionally bully Burger King's customers?

When a company creates an advertisement, it has to decide who the audience is.

One would think that the audience would be potential customers.

But sometimes the audience is someone else - employees at other ad agencies, influential press, or other people who are clearly not customers.

Take the example that I cited in 2013, in which a frozen yogurt company launched a Snapchat-based campaign which got loads of coverage on Ad Age and Mashable. As far as I could tell, however, they ended their Snapchat focus fairly quickly, meaning that the yogurt chain's own customers couldn't benefit. (Yes, they returned to Snapchat a couple of years later, but kinda sorta forgot to link to their Snapchat account on their website. Marketing is hard.)

So now there's another ad that is being talked about and is probably going to get a lot of industry awards and things. Yes, I'm talking about the Burger King ad.

In case you haven't seen the video yet, here's how Burger King describes it.

Scrawny. Short. Ugly. Fat. Weird. 30% of school kids worldwide are bullied each year and bullying is the #1 act of violence against young people in America today (Source: The BURGER KING® brand is known for putting the crown on everyone’s head and allowing people to have it their way. Bullying is the exact opposite of that. So the BURGER KING® brand is speaking up against bullying during National Bullying Prevention Month.

In the BURGER KING® brand Bullying Jr. experiment, more people stood up for a bullied WHOPPER JR.® than a bullied high school Jr. Visit to learn how you can take a stand against bullying.

Basically what they did is to stage a situation. Teenage actors portrayed a kid being bullied, and the other kids who were bullying him. Most of the customers didn't notice.

Meanwhile, the Burger King workers were smashing Whopper Jrs. with their fists and giving them to customers. Most of the customers DID notice.

The ad has received deserved praise from various people, but it appears that the key constituency was not consulted.

Burger King customers.

Now the YouTube video is getting positive comments - here's a portion of one.

I don't eat at BK I don't like the food but at the same time in a world that is full of public stunts that are designed to humiliate others this one stands out as different and shows people how selfish people are by being only willing to speak out when it effects themselves but no one has the guts to stand up for someone else. Burger King is showing they have the guts and the hate people are showing shows that this world is ruled by bullies. If you do nothing your a secondhand bully so stand up for people that are being bullied.

Re-read that. The person doesn't eat at Burger King, loves the commercial...but still won't eat at Burger King.

And the video is also getting negative comments. Here's one (profanity excluded):

Nice way to bully your customers, BK.

Like, no really. I may not have time to put up with your BS.

[EXPLETIVE DELETED] bullying, but that's a stupid publicity stunt.

And that's tame compared to some of the comments at LiveLeak.

Bullying is bad. So is leftist propaganda.

Or this.

Since Merkel let in millions of refugees and Muslims people get killed or beaten down or raped when they try to help the bullied human being!

[EXPLETIVE DELETED] off with your politically correct propaganda and start to ban the extremely violent system that Islam is!

Now there may be times when a corporation DOES choose to make a strong social or political statement. A store that sells guns, for example, has a customer base that is interested in the Second Amendment, and therefore would make statements consistent with their customers' beliefs.

But how does Burger King's anti-bullying statement resonate with its audience?

Will Burger King have a net GAIN of customers as a result of this ad? How many people will say, "I don't eat junk food, but Burger King hates bullies so I'll go there"?

Or will Burger King (or Henry-Alex Rubin) just win some advertising awards and be done with it?

At least the creative Louise Delage campaign was designed to increase "business" for Addict Aide.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Food and Drug Administration does not want Nashoba Brook Bakery's love

We are a nation of laws. Justice is blind. The law should be applied equally to all. Bla bla bla.

In the course of an inspection of Nashoba Brook Bakery, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discovered some violations, and wrote a letter to Nashoba detailing those violations. One of the violations is documented as follows:

Your Nashoba Granola label lists ingredient "Love". Ingredients required to be declared on the label or labeling of food must be listed by their common or usual name [21 CFR 101.4(a)(1). "Love" is not a common or usual name of an ingredient, and is considered to be intervening material because it is not part of the common or usual name of the ingredient.

Unfortunately, I could not find a copy of the completely fraudulent and misleading label on Nashoba Breads' website, but I don't doubt the FDA. And the FDA's letter has gotten the attention of everyone (I heard about the story via a Bloomberg article.)

One comforting thing - since Nashoba is known as the "slow rise" company, presumably the owners weren't immediately boiled over with anger when they received the FDA's letter.

I'd take the time to warn these people, but they're in Montreal which is outside of the FDA's jurisdiction.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Flat iPhone revenue does not mean that Apple is dying

Via a Google Plus share, I ran across a ZDNet article that is guaranteed to anger the Apple fanbois. Author Adrian Kingsley-Hughes notes the following:

There's a problem facing Apple that the fanboys want to ignore and that the executives in Cupertino won't acknowledge: Stalled revenue growth.

Not stalled revenue, but stalled revenue growth. Kingsley-Hughes refers to a report from Guggenheim Securities that looks at five sectors of Apple - iPhone, iPad, Mac, services, and other products. Of those five sectors, only services revenue is growing consistently.

Fair enough. But then Kingsley-Hughes spends the rest of the article talking about the anticipated iPhone 8.

But does the iPhone 8 have enough to restore revenue growth? Is AR, face unlocking, wireless charging, and an OLED display really going to get people to part with more than $1,000 for an iPhone?

In my view, Kingsley-Hughes made a mistake here by concentrating on an older product. And yes, the iPhone is an old, mainstream product - one step above the iPod.

Now the article does state that Apple has "nothing new on the horizon that is going to pick up the slack." And perhaps this is correct.

But perhaps it isn't.

In a longish post on Google Plus (that I'll reproduce below in case Google Plus bites the dust before Blogger does), I noted that it's not necessarily correct to analyze the future of a company based upon its current offerings. After all, what would be the result of an analysis of Apple Computer circa 1983, before the Macintosh was released and changed computing forever? (Admittedly with a few bumps along the way.)

One thing that I didn't state in my Google Plus post is that all companies that exist for a long time go through changes. Nokia no longer depends upon wood pulp. IBM no longer makes meat slicers. Microsoft no longer depends upon BASIC - or MS-DOS - for its revenue. And "Apple Computer" hasn't manufactured an Apple II in over twenty years.

And someday, Apple will no longer offer an iPhone. Yet there's still a chance that the company will survive. It's certainly survived many downturns in the past.

OK, here's the text from my Google Plus post:

Yes, the fanbois are being overly optimistic - and yes, the naysayers MAY be overly pessimistic.

The Cliffs Notes version of the +ZDNet article reads as follows:

1. The only growing sector in Apple is services.
2. The iPhone isn't growing.
3. The iPhone 8 isn't earth shaking.
4. This is bad.

This is accompanied by a chart that shows revenue growth (and lack thereof) since 2010.

However, I counter that a seven-year time horizon may or may not predict future growth of a company.

Let me give you an example of another seven-year timeframe - the time between Apple's founding (April 1, 1976) and 1983. And how did Apple look in 1983?

1. The Apple II was doing great, but it had been around for a while.
2. Its new product, the Apple III, was running into problems.
3. Apple was facing competition from the increasingly popular IBM PC.
4. Its new-new product, the Lisa, was incredibly high priced.

So at that juncture in 1983, an argument could clearly be made that Apple's time has passed. Sure, the two Steves had a bit of success, but now that experienced companies like IBM were moving in, there was absolutely no way that Apple could turn the Apple II into a long-term success.

"You stupid idiot," you're saying to me. "Good companies always innovate, and Apple was at that time readying the Macintosh for delivery. The Mac had its ups and downs, but it eventually became a viable product. And a couple of decades later, Apple revolutionized the world again, morphing from its "Apple Computer" past to offer the iPod and iPhone. Anyone who would judge Apple's success based upon its 1983 product line is completely clueless."


So why are people judging Apple's post-2017 success on the anticipated feature set of the iPhone 8?

Yes, it's quite possible that the iPhone will go the way of the iPod. And if Apple makes the mistake of putting all its eggs in the iPhone basket, Apple will go away also.

But if Apple has its smarts, it's doing all sorts of development activities inside its spaceship - development that has nothing to do with iPhones.

Now some of those development efforts will probably fail. But perhaps some of them will be insanely great successes.

So much so that ten years from now, when everyone is busily using Apple's latest gizmo, one teenager will turn to another and say:

"Did you know that Apple used to make phones? You know, those things for voice calls? My mom used to have one."

And the teenager's friend will reply:

"You think that's wild? My grandpa said they used to make something called a computer."

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Revisiting the Retail Equation - why customers should love them

I've previously written about The Retail Equation four times. April 2012. October 2013. January 2014. February 2014.

I've always covered them from the store side of the, um, equation - basically, the algorithmic efforts to reduce fraudulent returns. I've also covered the customers who are caught up in the algorithm and haven't been allowed to return things that they think they should be able to return.

With the negative press that The Retail Equation has received, I began wondering - has the company tried to make the case that its service is actually GOOD for customers?

It has:

The Retail Equation’s Verify Return Authorization solution offers you a tremendous alternative to strict, across-the-board return policies used by some retailers.

It also covers "Retail Rewards," which appears to be a new name for the Return Rewards I previously discussed.

TRE's Retail Rewards targeted incentives ... help accommodate you for the inconvenience of the returned item and persuade you to keep shopping in their store.

Finally, The Retail Equation states that its service lowers retailer costs "and helps lower prices." While the "consumer benefits" statement doesn't provide justification, this release does make one interesting claim:

The Retail Equation/Sysrepublic has conducted studies to substantiate the fact that return rate and return fraud are closely tied to shrink. These studies indicate that if a retailer takes actions to prevent return fraud and abuse, shrink can be reduced by a significant amount. This suggests that paying close attention to returns is a powerful weapon to combat shrink. As companies look to improve their loss prevention metrics in the coming months, they should consider implementing strategies to reduce return rate and fraud and, ultimately, shrink.

And it's obvious that reducing shrink lowers retailer costs, although in the quarterly public company pressure to profit profit profit, it's uncertain whether that reduction in costs actually lowers prices that customers pay.

Friday, September 1, 2017

When cultural references are lost on potential customers

Businesses desperately want ways to connect with customers, and - provided that it's done tastefully - they can connect with customers by insightful references to current trends.

So someone tried to do this recently, with the following statement:

Federal CIOs are going down like Lannister banner men.

Many of you will read this sentence and either appreciate the reference, or comment that the reference is totally inappropriate.

The rest of us will sit here and go "Huh?"

For the benefit of those who, like me, are in the last category, this is from an article entitled "CIO Game of Thrones?" So once I Bing or Google the reference, I'll presumably figure out who Lannister banner men are.

"But John, you are an obvious outlier," many of you are saying. "You don't watch any TV other than sporting events, Whose Line, and Jeopardy. EVERYONE watches Game of Thrones."

And that technology machine Mashable agrees with this assessment about Game of Thrones' popularity.

As everyone learned this season on Game of Thrones, you don't need three fire-breathing dragons to dominate the competition, but it certainly helps.

That's right - EVERYONE learned this. Didn't they?

According to the network, Game of Thrones Season 7 has averaged 31 million viewers per episode – up 34% over Season 6 last year – once live, DVR, on-demand, and streaming views are all factored in.

Mind you, that's not even counting the numbers for the Season 7 finale. An all-time high of 16.5 million viewers caught the episode Sunday night.

So, follow the numbers. That season finale that everyone watched was seen by 16.5 million people. Generously assume that another 14 million or so pirated the show to get around HBO's fees. That means that around 290 million people in the United States did NOT see the Game of Thrones finale that everyone is supposedly talking about. That's 90 percent.

Well perhaps the numbers are different in specific demographics. What about IT people who love fire-breathing dragons, some chair in Croatia or wherever, and Bannister - I mean Lannister banner men? (Still haven't Binged that yet.) Maybe the percentage there will increase from 10 percent to, say, 25 percent.

Now I love obscure references more than everyone else, but I don't expect everyone to understand them when I use or misuse them. So if you want your Lannister banner men to fight fire-breathing dragons in multiples (the dragons), make sure you're not leaving your target audience behind.

Because the points DO matter.

Could business needs restore pre-9/11 airport gate access?

It was less than twenty years ago, but it seems like forever.

In the late 1990s, my then-young daughter and I - well, my daughter's still young, but not as young as she was then - anyway, my then-young daughter and I visited the grand opening of Terminals 2 and 4 at Ontario International Airport in Ontario, California. While I primarily remember walking around the runway area, the terminals themselves were very impressive. There were ticket counters on the first floor, and escalators leading to the second floor gates and shops, where passengers and their families could eat something near the gate -

Hold it. Did I just say "passengers and their families"?

Yes, I did. People who are younger than my young daughter cannot even remember a time when a family could accompany a passenger all the way to his or her gate. Because after 9/11, extensive security controls were introduced, and at my local airport in Ontario, non-ticketed people were restricted to the first floor. Only ticketed passengers could go up to the second floor, and because there were fewer people in the shops, there were fewer sales. And as passenger traffic declined at Ontario International Airport because of 9/11 (and other reasons), there were even fewer sales, and these days the shops are only open at limited hours.

Thus, the 9/11 security restrictions resulted in a reduction of revenue for airport shops, and therefore for the airports themselves.

(Oh, and by the way, if you have this nagging question about why Ontario opened Terminals 2 and 4, it's because they were planning to build a Terminal 3 in the future as air traffic increased. Because of 9/11, those traffic increases never materialized.)

But now things are changing in Pittsburgh:

For the first time in almost 16 years, a U.S. airport will let non-passengers head past security and mingle in gate areas. Starting next week at Pittsburgh International Airport, you'll be able to greet your long-distance girlfriend at the gate and grab one last (hopefully decent) meal with the in-laws, even if you don't have a ticket, through the TSA-approved "myPITpass."

It's still somewhat restricted - non-passengers can only enter during daytime hours on weekdays, and not at all on the weekends. But this is an eye-catching development. Hopefully the additional airport revenue will offset the increased security costs.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

When giving sharp objects to your employees is a good thing

I often get unsolicited emails that are completely ridiculous. While this particular email did not interest me personally, I was still intrigued by the idea.

There is a popular line of thinking that states that employees are not all that motivated by money, but are more motivated by other forms of motivation. In that vein, this email sender, PremStar Incentives, wants employers to give knives to their high performers.

But not just any knives.

Ginsu Knives.

I guess these are still popular in certain age brackets, and they certainly have the name recognition.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Another story about the real soon now end of Sears

This one is from a former Sears employee who left before the merger with K-mart. A brief excerpt:

More broadly--and most stupefyingly--Lampert continues to claim turnaround efforts are on track. This from a company that has had precisely one-quarter of positive sales growth in seven years, operating losses that continue to worsen, an acceleration in store closings and rampant departures of key executives. Moreover, the moves detailed in the most recent press release are all about financial restructuring and say nothing about actions to improve customer relevance. If Sears does not quickly and dramatically improve its performance with its customers nothing else matters. Period.

Read the rest.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Sonn Beverage Systems - or, I should have paid more attention in Neal Haygood's chemistry class

In the course of an online discussion about the pH balances of certain liquids, a friend of a friend entered the conversation. The friend of a friend, Glen Poss, encouraged me to look at the in-development product from his company.

Now my employer has used Flavia, my family has used Nespresso, and we have also used Keurig. So what does this forthcoming product from Sonn Beverage Systems offer that the others don't?

Well, the science is a bit beyond me, but perhaps it isn't beyond you.

Using the sonn when brewing allows the solvent (water is the universal solvent after all) to work more effectively and more quickly while using lower water temps to achieve the extraction. This lower temperature is very important because the prime reason that coffee or tea becomes bitter or astringent is the creation of acids that follows with high brewing temperatures. High temperatures are needed for a fast brew, and that is one reason why cold brew coffee is not acid. The other thing that is happening contribute to the silky mouth feel and bigger aroma and taste, the creation of nano sized and micron sized particles. These super tiny particles not only give the water a fresh surface to extract from but increase the total dissolved solids that contribute to the silky feel and big aroma, they are in effect little tiny flavor packets.

The technology can also be used with spirits.

A couple of other resources - here's a Consumer Electronics Show interview with Glen Poss' co-founder. Denis Londry.

And here's an independent review from 2015. Excerpt:

It's going to be interesting to see where it fits into the brewing/home beverage preparation world. It seems early on to have a lot of promise, and is fortunately, going to be quite affordable (estimates around $200). The inventor, Glen Poss, holds several patents on the device, as well as many that he's created for other coffee related gear, a small countertop coffee roaster/brewer....

I have no idea if the $200 target is still attainable, but if so, it will certainly be price competitive with other brewers in this space.

Oh, and one more thing (since I'm thinking proprietary) - does it make sense for Sonn to launch into a crowded market?

Yes, it does, as Agorapulse's founder has noted.

In 2001, my co-founder and I started our first startup. It was a revolutionary new concept that didn’t exist at the time: online social networking.

I know, we were visionaries ;-)

But there was no market for an online social network in 2001. It failed.

In 2004, we pivoted to a B2B play, trying to sell our technology to large businesses and organizations wanting to build their own private social network.

Here again, there was little existing interest. It barely survived.

But when you enter a market with hundreds of thousands, or even millions of potential customers, there’s a big difference! When we entered this space, we no longer had to:

educate our market
convince them they need a product like ours or
fight on prices because there is a market value for your “thing”

Good point.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

What @laurenweinstein and @kevinmarks are saying about the unreadable web

During my time as a Motorola product manager, I occasionally had to deal with Section 508.

What is Section 508?

In June 2001 Section 508 of the Workforce Rehabilitation Act went into effect specifying the requirements for accessible Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that each federal agency needed to follow.

And if I skip over a lot of gobbledygook from the GSA page quoted above, we get to this:

Ensuring that government acquisitions of information and communication technology meet federal accessibility requirements for use by people with disabilities;

I'd guess that the majority of my readers have working eyes and ears, but what if you didn't? Section 508 and its related regulations ensure that you can still continue to read important blog posts like this one, and that you can get something out of pictures and visual content - even if you can't see the content.

(Confession: I was stymied as a product manager to figure out how Section 508 could apply to one of my scenarios, that in which a latent fingerprint examiner compared the ridges and bifurcations of two fingerprint images. Motorola wasn't selling a lot of latent workstations to the federal government when I was a product manager, but I was still musing about how a latent fingerprint examiner would compare images in the Section 508 world. How was he or she supposed to do this if blind - by a 3D physical representation of the contents of the screen? Tooltips ain't gonna help here.)

OK, now I'm going to show you a picture. Before I tell you where the picture came from, I'd like you to look at it and form your impressions. Don't worry about the words - just the general feel of the two images. Go ahead - I'll wait.

Now that you've looked at the picture, I'll give proper credit. This is taken from a post by Lauren Weinstein, and compares two separate blogs authored by Google. One of them uses a new visual format, while the other uses an old format. Can you guess which is new, and which is old?

Here, let me let Lauren help you answer that question.

Let’s compare the readability of two Google blogs. On the right, a recent item from Google’s main blog, which has converted to Google’s new low readability design. On the left, a recent entry from the Google Security Blog, which is currently still using the traditional high-readability design.

The differences are obvious, and the low contrast on the right is especially bad for persons with aging vision (this degrading of vision typically begins around age 18, by the way).

I should note that the terms "low readability" and "high readability" are not (obviously) used by Google itself, but were probably coined by Weinstein (or by someone else who doesn't care for the change). Weinstein is quite passionate about his dislike of the new format. He has not only expressed this dislike in the post that contained this comparison, but also in two prior posts on the topic.

How did we get into this mess in the first place? A Kevin Marks article in WIRED provides, background.

So why are designers resorting to lighter and lighter text? When I asked designers why gray type has become so popular, many pointed me to the Typography Handbook, a reference guide to web design. The handbook warns against too much contrast. It recommends developers build using a very dark gray (#333) instead of pitch black (#000).

The theory espoused by designers is that black text on a white background can strain the eyes. Opting for a softer shade of black text, instead, makes a page more comfortable to read....Schwartz himself admits the conclusion is subjective.

Another common justification is that people with dyslexia may find contrast confusing, though studies recommend dimming the background color instead of lightening the type.

Several designers pointed me to Ian Storm Taylor’s article, “Design Tip: Never Use Black.” In it, Taylor argues that pure black is more concept than color....Taylor uses the variability of color to argue for subtlety in web design, not increasingly faint text.

Marks also makes the point that designers often design in optimal conditions - the best screens in optimally-lit offices. The designs that look great in such conditions may be look so good when you're standing outside on a sunny day, squinting at a mobile phone.

But all of that doesn't matter, because the trend is established and anyone who doesn't implement unreadable text will be ridiculed as not having a modern interface. After all, minimalistic designs are cool.

The design professional's description of this page says that is "uses just enough color to draw the eye to important content on the site." Of course, Weinstein, Marks, and others say that it accomplishes this by making the allegedly unimportant content completely unreadable. Which of course raises the question - if you don't want people to read that text, why did you put it there in the first place? Why not just use some "lorem ipsum" stuff instead? That text is quite popular; I guess a lot of SEO experts are recommending it.

But there's still hope, because the people that insist on unreadable interfaces are the same people who still insist on mandatory periodic password changes (see my #empoexpiire series of posts) - even though NIST no longer recommends mandatory password changes. Eventually the unreadable interface crowd will be locked out of their accounts, or (more likely) someone will guess their deceptively easy password and modify their code so that the fonts are readable.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Unintended consequences of the Starbucks app

In a 2015 post, I referred to Starbucks Mobile Order & Pay as a success. And frankly, it is - I remember back when I was a kid, we actually had to go INTO a business to order a drink and pay the money. Nowadays, you can order your drink AND pay for it in advance, and just pick the drink up when you get to the place. And, as Research & Markets has noted, proximity payment methods are not only becoming more popular, but also increase brand loyalty.

What could go wrong?

What if the ordering method becomes too popular?

While Starbucks has added a 15 percent increase in staff to its stores and is looking to add more down the road, 75 percent of polled workers said locations were not staffed to meet ... standards. Within the last three months, 62 percent of employees shared that the understaffing issue is impacting quality customer service.

Because while Mobile Order & Pay can reduce the workload at the cash register, it doesn't do anything for the workload at the food/drink production areas. And the baristas are apparently stressed.

So why did complete the survey? Because previously, someone launched a petition about Starbucks staffing. Excerpt:

The labor situation has gone from tight to infuriating. Labor has been cut so much in corporate stores, that one call-off (an employee calling in sick) impacts the entire day, as managers are directed to cut shifts to save on labor costs. Baristas trying to work more than 25 hours a week (myself included) find that a near impossible task. You end up taking it personally, when corporate directs your stores to understaff, and under schedule. You wonder if they realize how difficult it is to pay your bills when you work 25 hours a week?

And the survey mentions ANOTHER unintended consequence of Starbucks' loyalty innovations.

Before the implementation of a Starbucks Reward program (MSR), tips were higher. Now, with a growing percentage and majority of customers using the app, and their registered cards, tips are in major decline.

It's a common issue affecting numerous businesses - if someone gets food for free, why should they tip? (For the record, when my family uses the discounts provided by the Don Jose loyalty program, we calculate the tip based upon the pre-discount price. Oh, and I avoid Groupon deals.)

Naysayers would claim that perhaps Starbucks should just eliminate Mobile Order & Pay and the rewards program. That will reduce business to the old levels, and then employees won't be stressed until they lose their jobs.

The reality is that if customer service truly declines - and a survey such as this one can't really measure the level of customer service - then Starbucks will have to launch a NEW initiative to increase customer satisfaction.

(I'd say more, but I can't.)