Just my thoughts

Amazon Kindle software now available for the iPhone

March 5, 2009
After releasing the second version of Kindle hardware, Amazon had also release a software version of the Kindle reader for Apple's iPhone. As cool as the Kindle is—and I have had the opportunity to use one, they are very cool—the $349 price has kept me from getting one. Now, Amazon is making it clear that they are interested in selling books not hardware. Kindle for iPhone is a free download from the iTunes music store and is capable of reading any of the books available to the Kindle. The app works well, and the reading experience is comparable to other eBook readers available for the phone. When reading a book or article, the user has control over choosing the font size (from 5 different sizes), bookmarking a page, and jumping to marked sections of the book. You navigate from page to page by swiping right-to-left (or left-to-right if you are going backwards) which I must admit felt like a natural gesture at first, but quickly grew tiresome as even a slow reader like me is constantly flipping pages due to the small screen size. Books are added very easily via a Web browser. You simply navigate to Amazon, purchase the books you wish, and the next time you start Kindle for iPhone, your recent purchases are downloaded. My first book was Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. It downloaded in less than 5 seconds on WiFi. I also tried syncing over edge and that worked as well--with Treasure Island downloading in less than 20 seconds. In addition, Kindle for iPhone has Whispersync, which means, anywhere you leave off in you reading is automatically bookmarked and synced to any Kindle device. So, the claim is that moving between your iPhone and Kindle 2 will be seamless. You can download books by ordering them on your iPhone, but the process is not a smooth experience. You click a Get Books link which takes you to a page describing how to get new books, but then links you off to Safari for you to purchase the books. You must then go back into Kindle for iPhone to download and read the new books. Currently, my favorite eBook reader for the iPhone is Stanza. It is very similar to Kindle for iPhone, but I feel it does a couple things better. First, it allows you to move page to page by simply pressing once on the right or left side of the screen. Second, it allows you to download tens of thousands of free books directly from Project Gutenberg very quickly and easily. Third, and this is mostly superfluous, Stanza adjusts it's screen when you turn the phone sideways. In reader mode it will give you a wider column. In title browsing mode, you see your library using Cover Flow. But, the really great thing about the Kindle for iPhone software is that all these books I purchase will just work if I do buy a Kindle. All these books will automatically be available on my newly purchased Kindle. Also, the selection of books is very competitive in price and fairly substantial. If you are interested in trying out the software, here is a list of free and low cost books I found that sounded interesting. Free: Less than $1.00: What are your thoughts? Leave me a comment....
Amazon Kindle software now available for the iPhone

Does make sense?

March 2, 2009

Skittles unveiled their new corporate site to much applause and some disdain by the Twitter community. Taking a cue perhaps, from, they have reduced their site to be nothing but a navigational overlay box on top of content provided by social network sites.

screen grab: homepage on March 2, 2009

This works by making their:

  • home page a Twitter search feed
  • product pages, Wikipedia pages
  • media pages both Flickr and YouTube feeds
  • friends page a FaceBook page
Simple is best right? Maybe not.

So what is the upside for Sktittles? Well today, at least, they have generated plenty of free publicity. Going forward, they will have a lot of fresh content and perhaps some ongoing publicity.

But how about the downside? There are plenty of thoughts that pop into my head.


How will they be perceived by the social networking community or the social network sites themselves? Within several hours of launching their Flickr page was account "missing" and a "neutrality" warning was posted at the top of their Wikipedia article.

screen grab: the article notice that appears at the top of Wikipedia's Skittles page.

Skittles is "borrowing" a lot of bandwidth from these sites, for free, and what are they providing in return? Users of social network sites provide content, sometimes very interesting content, and that, along with increasing per-page impressions is the fee they pay for using a free service. What is Skittles giving back to the community?


The biggest part of being a part of "the social", and the part that companies often don't get, is that it's about 2-way communication. Kudos (excuse the pun), to Skittles for allowing their customers to have an unfiltered voice, but where are they in the conversation? We want to hear Skittles interact with their customers, not just hear ourselves talk about them.


What is the experience for many of Skittle's potential customers? For instance, you now have to be 13 years old to view the site. And even if excluding kids from a candy store makes sense, what about the folks that are Web savvy, but not social network savvy. Perhaps this site will be a little weird to them. Which leads me to the biggest issue, usability.


Is the site usable? We all know that when considering usability, we must first consider our audience. Some would even go as far as saying that we can limit to a specific target audience, not just any possible site visitor. If we suppose what a target audience for Skittles might be, and even if that audience is entirely composed of social network aware individuals, would they find the site useable?

Well, next we would need to know the tasks the audience might engage in. Let's also suppose it's the following:

  • find nutritional information - OK, it's available via Wikipedia, but can I be sure it hasn't been altered? I also need to do quite a bit of searching (e.g. reading and scrolling) to find it.
  • find contact information - perhaps the easiest thing to do on the site and bonus points for not hiding the phone number
  • search for information - not available at all. This is a complete failure for many web users who wish to visit a site and immediately search for the piece of information that they need.

So, in 3 tasks that I picked, the site only covers one well. But in addition, I see some other major usability hurdles:

  • Poor feedback as to where you are in the site. While this is important in any site, it is very important in a site such as this where the context of the page you navigate to may differ greatly from where you came. e.g. will the user know that WikiPedia is the product page?
  • Navigational overlay gets in the way. On many pages the navigation box seems to be on top of the content and it's not readily apparent how you shrink it.
  • Random pop-up explaining how to "drop the box in the corner". If you have to explain to your audience how to use your site, or worse, how to navigate away from it, you have failed at usability.

screen grab: pop-up explaining how to navigate away from their site.

Lastly, while not a usability issue, it is odd that a promotional site would ask you to accept their terms and conditions before they tell you about their product. Given the nature of the content that may appear, I certainly understand the reason, but it seems like a big hoop for someone to jump through just to view your site.

To sum it up, I would say the new makes a great meme and a is perhaps a bit of Internet history, but to me, the site doesn't make sense. While I think that companies should be involved in social networking, it's very important how they approach it.

I can't wait to see what my colleagues at BrandLogic think about the impact this site has on the Skittles brand. And I would love to hear what you think. Please leave me your comments.

Does make sense?

What's on your logout page?

February 25, 2009

Closed Loop Marketing posts a very well thought out article regarding the page a Web site presents when a user logs out.

Sandra Niehaus writes:

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a site visitor for a moment. … Now she’s done using the site, and logs out.

And sees, however briefly, the logout thank you page. Here is a transition state, a zone where the visitor’s attention is not yet focused on a new task. Here’s your opportunity. What will you say?

In addition to a critic of some excellent examples, Ms. Niehaus also creates a nice table of optimization guidelines. Definitely a good read. I am also interested in reading the book she references:

Book: Why We Buy

What's on your logout page?

Is Twitter bad for government and business?

February 17, 2009
In his post entitled: Yes, Twitter is still dangerous ( , viewed 2/17/2009), Michael Krigsman contends that Twitter poses a security risk to businesses and governments. The example Mr. Krigsman uses is of Congressman Hoekstra real-time twittering his travels within Iraq. This, of course, does much to undermine the secrecy of the convoy.  Is this an issue with Twitter? Could the same not be said about any other real-time/near real-time communications platform (e.g. e-mail, IM, cell phones, blogs, etc...)? Couldn't the Congressman just as inadvertently mentioned his travel plans to a television or print reporter? Or just plain sent a postcard? We can't ignore the speed and reach with which the Internet can spread a message, and also we can't ignore the intractability of that message. Mr. Krigsman writes: I’m personally aware of confidential meetings where participants innocently twittered sensitive information that thousands of recipients may have read.  Have you ever Reply-all'ed to an e-mail instead of just Reply? It's just so easy to do irreparable damage. Still, our communications paradigms continue to shift, and we with them. It is not over generalizing to say all forms of communication can create a security risk. So, yes Mr. Krigsman is correct in saying that Twitter is a security risk. But it has always been about whether the benefits outweigh the risks. Which brings me back to Twitter, government and business.  Yes, secrets can leave their protected environment and travel around the world, and yes, sometimes that is very, very bad. But, conversely, you can also engage in a meaningful dialog with your constituents/customers. If we focus just on government for a moment, the potential is very exciting. Government 2.0 promises to bring the two essential things that any democracy needs: transparency and two-way dialogue. For the record, transparency does not mean that we post our missile codes or troop movements on MySpace (that is soooo 2 years ago). It means we have more insight into the legislation that affect our future, and more importantly that we have a efficient way to discuss them with our elected officials. It is important that elected officials such as Representative Hoekstra continue to use communication platforms like Twitter, to keep in touch—and of course equally important, that they are properly trained on how to safely and efficiently use them. They should also take the time to see the other side of the conversation, and perhaps they find it equally valuable.  Businesses are slowly beginning to see the value in listenting to all the (free) feedback their customers are providing. Likewise, they are also starting to join in on the conversation. While everything may not always be as controllable as corporations would prefer, being a part of the conversation ensures your point of view is heard. I think platforms like Twitter are a great benefit for government and business, and I for one would like to say to both: "Welcome!  We created you and we know you will make mistakes, but that's OK, we are here to help".
Is Twitter bad for government and business?