Copyright Morality: The Kids Don’t Care

David Pogue, NYTimes Technology-writer extraordinare, writes a common-sense, but thought-provoking and foreboding (if you’re Old Media) account of the coming shift in perception about what is and isn’t regarded as moral and ethical (perhaps eventually legal) regarding copyright infringement and piracy.

It’s one of those, “Well, duh” articles that seems like anything but to the record and movie and TV industries, who are (a “scant” 10 years after Napster shook everything up) finally (barely) beginning to realize that things might be different than they used to be.

But while I (and you, most likely) certainly have a pretty strong grasp of the moral grey areas of copyright and know that things are changing fast, many folks (espec apparently don’t, and Pogue’s article does more to illustrate the coming shift than anything else I’ve read.

Pogue describes a presentation he often gives, in which he asks the audience for a show of hands regarding whether or not the copyright-related behavior he describes is OK.
‘I borrow a CD from the library. Who thinks that's wrong?’ (No hands go up.)

‘I own a certain CD, but it got scratched. So I borrow the same CD from the library and rip it to my computer.’ (A couple of hands.)

‘I have 2,000 vinyl records. So I borrow some of the same albums on CD from the library and rip those.’

‘I buy a DVD. But I'm worried about its longevity; I have a three-year-old. So I make a safety copy.’
He goes on, and with each successive question, more and more hands go up, indicating a perception that the behavior described is not cool, not right, not allowed.
The exercise is intended, of course, to illustrate how many shades of wrongness there are, and how many different opinions. Almost always, there's a lot of murmuring, raised eyebrows and chuckling.
But then, something remarkable happened. Pogue gave this exact presentation at a college - the first time he’s spoken to a crowd consisting only of “young people” - and it totally “bombed,” as he puts it.

Of the 500 people present, Pogue could get no more than 2 hands to raise for any of his questions.
Finally, with mock exasperation, I said, ‘O.K., let's try one that's a little less complicated: You want a movie or an album. You don't want to pay for it. So you download it.’

There it was: the bald-faced, worst-case example, without any nuance or mitigating factors whatsoever.

‘Who thinks that might be wrong?’

Two hands out of 500.
College kids. The very same 18-24 demographic so prized by the content industries. I shudder (can one shudder with joy?) to think what the high school kids would have to say about this. The next several years will be interesting.

Read Pogue’s article here.

Online Shopping And Painful Shipping

It’s definitely crunch time for holiday shopping, and if you haven’t finished yet, well, get to it!

What I’m interested in knowing, though, is how much of your Christmas/Hanukkah/etc. shopping is done online, and how much is done by getting in a car (or by subway or bike or foot) and walking inside a store. What about for the rest of the year?

Marion Jensen, writing for TechConsumer, has a nice story about the convenience offered by shopping online.
Access to research. Access to a community. No lines. No paper coupons. No parking. No driving...What’s not to like?
I agree, and in fact, this Christmas - with the exception of an awesome winter coat for my girlfriend that she picked out - every single gift I’m giving was purchased online. Most through Amazon, of course, but I found a couple other great shops. Heck, even my Christmas cards were ordered online (yes, I actually bought stamps to mail these - all the while feeling like a freakin’ caveman, to be honest).

As I mentioned in a comment on the TechConsumer post, my biggest issue with ordering online has very little to do with the e-tailers themselves, and almost everything to do with deficiencies in the various delivery services (USPS, UPS, FedEx - they all have their issues). Ordering stuff is a snap. Click - done. But actually getting what you ordered is frequently almost impossible - especially if you live in a apartment building.

UPS doesn’t deliver on Saturday, for example, and after three attempts, they’ll return your package - even if you call them to reschedule. They also rarely read or listen to any instructions you try to give them. A couple months ago I ordered a nice dresser set from Target, and by some stroke of complete idiocy, they decided to ship this piece of furniture using a service that only delivers during business hours. As a result, the dresser was returned to Target, my order automatically cancelled, and I refused to place it again. Both Target and UPS lost money because of this lack of judgment.

The United States Postal Service is even worse. They won’t ever leave a package at my door - and of course they only deliver during the day - which means I have to go to the post office to pick it up. Fine, I can deal with that, I have a branch that’s a 10-minute walk away. But wait - it is only open until 5 p.m. during the week, and for only three hours in the morning on Saturdays. How often do I get home before 5, and how frequently am I around on Saturday? Never, and not so frequently. USPS also has a terribly antiquated tracking system that hardly qualifies to be called such, and their phone service is unbearable.

Of course, there are those who recommend having packages shipped to your workplace, and sure, this is usually a better option. But sometimes this is impossible - furniture, large boxes full of Christmas presents: this stuff can’t be carried on the subway.

Is this an argument for buying a car and moving into the suburbs? Some might try to turn it into that, but I’m convinced it is less a deficiency of my lifestyle choice (which I share with millions), than a case of delivery services failing to keep up with the times, and focused far too much on their corporate customers than little people like you and me. Come on guys, surely there’s a better way. Maybe making the shipment tracking better would help? Some communication, even?

I don’t think I’m asking too much. All I want is a fast, reliable way to get my Christmas presents.

What has your online shopping experience been like?

ReadWriteWeb Redesign Analysis And Critique

ReadWriteWeb, a popular technology blog started by Richard MacManus launched a redesign yesterday (by San Francisco-based Ideacodes). The new look was greeted with a reaction ranging from “it’s awesome” to “Worst. Look. Ever.” with a lot of stuff in-between.

Before I get into my opinion on the design, let me just say that ReadWriteWeb is one of my top-read blogs. MacManus is a smart guy, and his team of writers are pretty high-quality, too. It’s good stuff. I wouldn’t be so picky if I didn’t care.

And this is precisely why the new design is so unfortunate. I won’t pretend to remember what the old design looked like (and the WayBack Machine is down at the moment, so I can’t check), but what was always important to me about ReadWriteWeb was its content. Well-written, well-researched articles offering an interesting and original point of view. The site made sense. And now it’s all over the place. Navigation is redundant, inconsistent, and lacks hierarchy. I don’t want to click anything at all. There are all sorts of little issues with the redesign, and I’ll touch on some of them below, but the biggest issue is this lack of hierarchy - fueled, at least in part, by the tendency of successful blogs to become “content networks.” GigaOM recently relaunched version 2.0 with a similar focus (and a redesign by the same company - coincidence?) and TechCrunch has long been a poster child for this type of “community” of related sites linking to one another. But it just convolutes things and it’s impossible to know what content you should actually care about. What’s important here, and how are these elements connected?

Another huge issue for me (and a quite unexpected one, to be honest) is Richard MacManus’ response to the criticism in the comments. He posted two very long and detailed comments of his own addressing the negative reactions, which, on the surface, might sound like the right thing to do. Isn’t that part of the Web 2.0 ethos, after all?

Yeah, it is, but not the way MacManus handled it on this occasion. I won’t spend too much time talking about this, because you should just read his responses for yourself, but among other things, he even goes so far as to state that he doesn’t respect certain commenters - not their comments - but as people. His justification for this is that they didn’t show respect for himself or the designers, and I don’t see this at all. Two of the three commenters he singled out actually had positive things to say about the design, and I fail to recall a rule somewhere that specifies that all opinions on the subject of design have to be justified by technical know-how.

Not everyone is a designer. Not everyone knows how to explain what they don’t like about a design. You can’t ask readers for feedback and then say that only qualified, properly-educated professionals are allowed to have an opinion.

Here’s another thing that really got to me. In his response, MacManus writes:

Winston said: "Guessing that this may be the result of attempting to appease conflicting opinions through out the design process. Save opinions till the comp is fully fleshed out, then select one.. no mixing and matching."

RM: This is an extraordinary assumption to make. "Conflicting opinions"? There were none. Winston, up to this point your critique was valid. I didn't agree with a lot of it, but at least it didn't jump to conclusions like this.

He claims Winston made an absurd jump to the idea of conflicting opinions leading to issues in the design process (all too typical, gotta say). But in the article announcing the design, MacManus actually says pretty much exactly that.
Personally I love the new logo and header, but I am certain they will provoke different opinions. Why? Because that was the case with the ReadWriteWeb authors during the design process!
I’m not saying that MacManus was wrong to respond, nor that he is wrong about everything he defends. Some of the commenters were indeed disrespectful - it’s the internet, after all - but when MacManus says, “Anyway, enough of me on my high horse,” that’s a clue that he took the wrong approach in his response, and failed to attempt to understand why the reaction was so negative and why “much of the critique here did not mention how clean, modern and fresh the design is.” Could it be because it’s not? Is that even a possibility?

Let’s take a look at the design itself, now, starting with the new logo.

ReadWriteWeb Redesign Screenshot
(ReadWriteWeb logo: Before and after)

Comments on the original logo:
  • The slash is a little awkward and has too light of a stroke.
  • The color is a little unbalanced - too much red on the left.
  • The flat yin/yang is just fine.
  • Interesting typeface.
  • Clear separation between the Read/Write part of the name and the Web.
  • Perhaps too thin to be reproduced at small sizes.
The new logo, however, takes these problems and expands on them.
  • Univers is a poor choice as the typeface. The condensed version here, with multiple point sizes being mixed together in CamelCapsStyle and with a hierarchy of blackness makes it pretty unreadable, even if the focus should be on the initials. (sidenote: are they trying to purchase the rww.com domain?)
  • Why the subtle gradient on the Yin/Yang? The rest of the site and the logo use flat colors.
  • I actually like the deep red color, why is the logo just black and grey?
  • Why did they flip the Yin/Yang over?
  • I know MacManus likes the Yin/Yang but it doesn’t work with the new slash-less branding. It’s also an extremely overused graphic symbol, and can’t stand on its own.
  • The logo is really horizontal and has to be reproduced at a relatively large size to be readable.
  • It really does just look awkward and unprofessional.
  • Why the rounded rectangle enclosure for the YinYang? It it supposed to be the same as the GigaOm branding?
  • Kerning (space between letters) is bad. Looks like the default, and makes it seem like there is an actual space between Read and Write, while Write and Web are more snug. Look closely at the dWr and eWe groupings to see this imbalance.
Moving on. My least favorite part of the redesign is the header. Here’s the first piece.

ReadWriteWeb Redesign Screenshot

Logo aside, what are the issues? Well, as I mentioned earlier in the post, there is no clear hierarchy to the navigation. Some links on top of the (admittedly odd) rounded rectangle, and some underneath, separated by little shims. Everything gets a decent white rectangle on hover, but the sharp angles don’t quite fit with the rounded corners of the larger box. I actually tried to click the “RWW Network” text several times before realizing it is not a link. The light grey doesn’t do nearly enough to communicate “I am not a link, even though I’m in a really prominent position on the page.”

What is Last100? AltSearchEngine? How are these related? Is the CamelCaps supposed to be enough of a clue that these are sites in the RWW Network?

EverybodyUsesCamelCapsNowadays.

ReadWriteWeb Redesign Screenshot
The right half of the header actually irks me more than anything else on the site. First, more links. How many links can you fit in one header with absolutely no hierarchy? RWW has 16. Seventeen if you count the logo, which takes you back to the homepage (sigh, even when you’re on the homepage!). Seventeen links and not a single one is remotely more important than the others.

But that’s not the bad part. The bad - awful - painful part is this collection of subscription forms and Feedburner chiclets. So many boxes, offering so little functionality to a regular reader. It clutters things up and isn’t even clear that the Feedburner chiclets are linked to entirely different feeds than the forms beside them. RWW looks too much like RSS. The custom “Go” buttons looks odd, and what does that mean anyway? Where are you going to go when you click it?!

Why not a single text area with a check box or radio buttons that let potential subscribers select daily or weekly email feeds? Make daily the default and only require someone to do something if they want a non-default setting, rather than forcing every potential subscriber to look at all these boxes and buttons and image links (and don’t forget the “Subscribe” text link, which points to the XML file) and decide between them.

And then there’s another text box underneath, making the header a veritable forest of forms. Can I submit my CV there, too?

I hope you’re not browsing with a font size larger than the default. If you are, you’ll notice that the header navigation is completely broken from an accessibility standpoint. Links disappear, everything overlaps (including forms, which I had no idea was even possible!).

ReadWriteWeb Redesign Screenshot


OK, that’s the big stuff. Now to some littler comments on other aspects of the redesign:

This I don’t understand. Why does the footer look like this on the home page:

ReadWriteWeb Redesign Screenshot

And like this on another page?

ReadWriteWeb Redesign Screenshot
The “Earlier This Week” section is just fine.

ReadWriteWeb Redesign Screenshot

And I like these post boxes on the home page, with the related images and preview of the post.

ReadWriteWeb Redesign Screenshot

Featured Posts is also nice, but too far down the page to actually be “featured.”

ReadWriteWeb Redesign Screenshot

Decent main content on the home page. Latest post and popular posts are featured. My beefs with the design are a lot less with the way the content is presented than with how it is structured and the navigation.

ReadWriteWeb Redesign Screenshot

Look, more links! Lots more links in the footer. All the links in the header are down there, too. Why not put a : after RWW Network to separate it more, rather than a | which again makes it look like a visited link

ReadWriteWeb Redesign Screenshot

OK, what’s going on here with the formatting for the comment form? Look at that (lack of) alignment! I don’t love it, and it takes away from the cleanliness of the design and the occasionally nice light grey horizontal rules.

ReadWriteWeb Redesign Screenshot

And finally, we get two sections in the sidebar with tag clouds. One labeled “Popular Tags” that contains at least 50, and then a totally gratuitous Swicki widget, of which there are two in the sidebar (one with tags, and one that is just a Search form). Tags are cool, but this is overkill and totally non-functional.

ReadWriteWeb Redesign Screenshot
ReadWriteWeb Redesign Screenshot

What do you think?

The Case Against Undo

Paul Buchheit (via Google Blogoscoped) is calling for more use of “Undo” in software - particularly for GMail to add it to the “Send” command. He says, “this will require adding a short delivery delay, like 10 sec, but it's worth it.” Philip Lessen of GB basically supports this assertion, though he adds:
...there’s still the problem that we’re not used to an Undo option suddenly disappearing, which would be what happens after the 10 seconds... maybe there needs to be a countdown ticker as well, or is all this just shifting the same problem around?
I get where they’re coming from. We have, in many ways, been trained that you can always take back your actions on computers - at least when it comes to word processing, browsing websites (though not Flash-based ones!) and using other applications like Photoshop (though only a specified number of steps - so take snapshots!). But one action that there has never (to my knowledge) been an undo associated with is email, and adding it now overcomplicates a commonly understood action.

If implemented in the manner Paul advocates, an “Undo” action adds time to a medium already slower than other forms of messaging that are becoming widely used (IM, SMS, etc.). 10 seconds is a long time on the web. I, for one, do not want to have my email queued for any amount of time to compensate for others acting without thinking and sending messages unintentionally.

And why 10 seconds, anyway? Why not 5 minutes, while we’re at it? You know, just in case you click send, go make a cup of coffee, and while waiting for the water to boil realize that you actually just sent that angry email about your boss as “Reply All” instead of just “Reply to your secret girlfriend in Accounting.”

Just because it’s possible to take something back on the web doesn’t mean that it is a good interaction model, and online communication is one place where I’d argue that it would actually be a negative presence - reinforcing problematic behaviors like carelessness and lack-of-attention. You can’t take back what you say on the phone or in person. Why should we expect to be able to do so online?

That said, I think a feature checking for an attachment whenever you write “attached” or similar (like this Greasemonkey script does) could be a welcome addition.

Ultimately, technology can’t make up for human error - nor should it be expected to. If you screw up and mis-send a message, or forget the attachment, there is always a solution:

Apologize, re-send, and, if necessary, deal with the consequences of your recklessness and haste.

You know, just like in the “Real World.”

50 Critical Questions About Your Website:

  1. Can you tell someone how to get to your site without having to spell anything?
  2. Are the URLs human-readable or are they full of special characters and dynamically-generated gobbledygook?
  3. Do you have an About page?
  4. Can visitors tell what your site is about without visiting your About page?
  5. Is your contact information readily available on every page - or at least from every page?
  6. If not, what are you hiding from? Your customers?
  7. Is your home page doing you any favors or is it merely an “Enter Site” gateway?
  8. Do you have an RSS Feed?
  9. Did you decorate for the holidays?
  10. When is the last time you added new content?
  11. Why has it been so long?
  12. Is your site ranking highly in search engines for relevant keywords?
  13. What about for your name? Or your business name?
  14. What are your relevant keywords, anyway?
  15. Is anyone linking to you these days?
  16. If not, what can you do to make this happen?
  17. Who are you linking to these days?
  18. How long does it take your site to load at your mother’s house?
  19. Do you need to download anything on her computer to even see your site?
  20. What is the single most important thing you want a visitor to do?
  21. Is that clear from looking at your site?
  22. Does your site look professional, or does it look like a teenager’s MySpace page?
  23. Do you link out to your other web presences (social network profiles, Twitter account, YouTube page, Flickr photostream)?
  24. Is it clear what content is protected by Copyright and what is free to take and re-use?
  25. What one thing can you do to your site today to increase visitors?
  26. Are you commenting on blogs and building relationships with other site-owners in your industry or niche?
  27. How does your site look on a mobile device?
  28. An iPhone?
  29. Blackberry?
  30. Cheapo-plastic-freebie phone?
  31. Amazon Kindle?
  32. Is your site usable with images turned off?
  33. On a computer with no Flash or Javascript?
  34. In every web browser?
  35. How many clicks does it take for a visitor to give you money?
  36. Is your site “fine for the moment” or is it flexible enough to be fine for the next 5 years?
  37. Are your ads annoying?
  38. How easy is it for a visitor to leave a comment or write a review?
  39. Can your site run without you?
  40. Is the entire site backed up?
  41. Is the important stuff backed up multiple times in multiple formats in multiple physical locations?
  42. How long would it take to turn your entire site navy blue with white text?
  43. Is this time measured in seconds (awesome), minutes (good), or hours (you’re doing things wrong)?
  44. Is your branding consistent between your site, your printed material, your storefront, and you as a person?
  45. Do your product descriptions sound like they were written by a person or by a mentally-ill robot programmed with the vocabulary of an out-of-work Madison Avenue ad guy whose last account was for one of those food processors they sell on TV at 2am?
  46. Do you care about your website?
  47. Is it important to you?
  48. Are your readers and customers important to you as people, not just as eyeballs with wallets?
  49. Would you be sad - actually sad - if your site disappeared tomorrow?
  50. What would you do if it did?

Letterpress And The Death Of Print Design

I’ve lately been really into letterpress prints, and just received a set of Christmas cards in the mail that I ordered from Etsy.

Generic Holiday Cards from Etsy.com
The cards I bought don’t seem to be in stock any longer, but they’re absolutely fantastic, and I can’t wait to address and send them to some of my relatives. There’s something really awesome about the human touch evident in letterpress work, and these cards are no exception. Each one is individual, and deserves one of those stickers they put on t-shirts at Target that lets you know that any inconsistencies in the coloring are totally intentional and critical to the design.

What’s odd to me about this latest obsession of mine, though, is that it comes at the same time I’m contemplating phasing out designing for print as a primary service that I offer through Frivmo Design. With the web there is just so much more than can be done - and for considerably less money. The best part, though, is that by designing sites using modern and standards-compliant markup, you are creating something future-proof, something sustainable, and something that is flexible in a way that print could never be. I find this openness and adaptability to be a thing of beauty, and I marvel at the possibilities offered by the medium. Every day brings the announcement of a new technology, a new approach, a new way of creating something incredible that allows people to connect in new and different ways.

This is not to say that I find print uninteresting. Far from it, in fact. I have always - always will, I imagine - been deeply moved by printed materials. From baseball cards, to comic books, to novels and books of philosophy and art - I have taken great joy in collecting and owning work on paper. I share a love for the tactility of the printed page with all true-blue book aficionados, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

But what bugs me about print, I guess, is that it is becoming less and less like the handmade letterpress Christmas cards I just bought, or the books and cards and papers I’ve collected over the years. Technology has made designing for print so much more efficient, so much more predictable, and by and large, it has lost the very uniqueness that makes it so special. It has become, in many ways, little more than a printed version of the Web, with less functionality - in a reversal of the “websites as digital versions of newspapers and magazines” trend evident early in the Web’s life, and still somewhat widespread. Just look at Wired Magazine for a glaring example of this reversal.

Print has lost its soul.

Yes, there are exceptions. Thank goodness for them. But I find myself less interested in the industry as a whole because new, exciting, and soulful work is so rare and so expensive. Mass production may have made print a viable and important art form, but the ultra-mass-production of today’s world is commoditizing it towards obsolescence.

All that said, I would love to learn the art of letterpress. If anyone has information about how to get started (and how to find an inexpensive and small, but still functional, letterpress machine), I would really appreciate your input.

Free Desktop Wallpaper: Putin Is Hot


OK, so I made this desktop wallpaper last night to celebrate two of the best things in the world: Putin and Helvetica. Well, the Putin part is certainly debatable, but not Helvetica. And even if you, like many, have issues with the current Russian leadership, perhaps you’ll appreciate this wallpaper for its tongue-in-cheekness, or its judicious use of the best font ever, beautifully combining both Cyrillic and Latin letterforms. It says “Путин is hot,” which means Putin is hot.

The only version I have right now is 1024x768, but there will be larger sizes in the next day or so (up to 1920x1200). Edit: Added a gigantic 1920x1200 version. See below.

download 1024x768 PNG (151 KB)

download 1920x1200 PNG (308 KB)

5 Reasons Your Business Should Blog

You should blog. Yes, you should. Especially if you have a business. There really aren’t any reasons not to, but here are some less-common reasons why it’s an absolute must.
  1. Everybody else is doing it.
    Sometimes the common wisdom is, in fact, wise. What do you think will happen if your competitor has a strong, personable web presence and your company has only a static site that looks like it hasn’t been updated since the great Bubble-popping of 1999? Well, nothing. And that’s exactly what you should be afraid of. Businesses without a big footprint on the web aren’t likely to hang around much longer, in this world where phonebooks and Chambers of Commerce and even brick & mortar storefronts are but artifacts of an age long gone.

  2. Your product or service will improve.
    Blogging actively is a great way to get better at what you do because it forces you to think laterally about what your company has to offer. You’ll find yourself doing research on topics related to your field, reading the websites and blogs of your competitors and learning from their mistakes (as well as their successes), and approaching your offerings with new insight gained from communicating with your customers on a regular basis.

  3. You’ll like work more.
    Every single time you post on your blog you’ll renew your commitment to the company, strengthening your investment in the business by approaching it from a deeply personal level. Meeting and debating with others in the industry, and sustaining relationships with your company’s biggest fans and evangelists, makes doing work less about the nitty-gritty businessy stuff, and much more about people and fostering connections.

  4. Blogging is (practically) free.
    Blogging is a wonderfully cheap and easy way to “keep your website updated” without having to call up your web designer every time you want to announce a special holiday promotion. If you’ve ever hired someone to design your site, you probably know that asking the designer to make your site easy to update alone adds a lot of development time and cost to the project. For most small business and individuals, paying for a custom Content Management System is totally unnecessary. Even using a simple, “free,” alternative CMS like Drupal or Wordpress adds substantially to the initial cost, and offers more functionality than most first-time site owners are likely to use.

    If you’re at all like most small business folks, you have your plate full-to-overflowing without needing to learn the ins and outs of how to update your webpage, and certainly don’t have the time for it. Quite often, for folks with new businesses, all that’s necessary and practical is a set of static content pages outlining your product and your company and a frequently-updated blog where you can announce deals and new products, create some keyword-filled (but always relevant and helpful!) articles, and connect with your customers. And if you opt for just a blog, you don’t even have to pay monthly web hosting costs. Just be sure you hire a designer (Shameless plug: I’m available.) to get things looking professional. Few things will dampen your impact more than using a default template. Even better, if you get a good designer who cares about web standards, he or she will make it super easy to extend the scope of your website with little effort as your business grows and the money starts flowing in.

  5. Blogging will keep you honest.
    It’s all too easy to slip into the evil syntax of marketing-speak on your website and in your printed materials and this is precisely the wrong thing to do if you’re operating a small business. Nothing turns away customers faster than not-so-well-placed, and likely dishonest, “Number One In America Blue Ribbon Ultra Edition Highest ROI Billions Served Daily Bigger Than Amazon.” Having a blog helps you avoid these demons, because your customers and competitors and friends in the industry will no doubt call you out in the comments or on their own sites anytime you resort to such puffery. After a bit of time and effort and honesty, you’ll find the perfect blend of personality, approachability, and authority in your blogging voice.