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Monthly Archives: February 2012

The five ugliest (yet most successful) websites

Content is king. That’s the time-honored lesson you learn when you study web design and management. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that some of the most hideously designed sites are also the most successful.

For a business site, design does matter because a company’s brand is riding on the user experience. But for other types of sites, ugly just works. When design surpasses content and functionality, the user can feel left out, as if they are not getting the most from their visit. So some sites take advantage of this principle, and thrive on simplicity and lack of design.

So without further ado, here are my choices for the ugliest, yet most successful, websites.

5) Ebay. It’s a miracle that anyone can get anything done on this site. Navigation and content are all over the place, account settings are buried under mountains of navigation menus. Yet ebay remains the category killer for online classifieds.

4) Craigslist. Not to be outdone for simplicity,this classifieds site is the epitome of bare bones. Not a graphic to be found, 100% text, and no frills. But, for millions of users, it gets the job done.

3) Huffington Post. One of the best aggregators of content on the entire world wide web. Also one of the worst designed. It’s like someone threw up on the page. The Drudge Report follows a similar, design-despising structure, but the powerful content keeps users coming back. And the site has undergone some face-lifting lately that give users just enough structure and navigation to balance the eye sore a bit.

2) Amazon. Yes I know I’m an admitted Amazon addict. But the site — come on, big-time atrocious. The product description is found where? Oh, of course, down about 3/4 of the page below all the other items you might want to click on and lose track of your original purchase. And yet it works. How can something so bad be so good?

1) YouTube. This site was born during the dark ages of the Internet and essentially gave birth to video online. Despite an unbelievably bad design and user interface, it rakes in over 3 billion views per day, with 48 hours of video uploaded every minute. Simply staggering, especially considering how difficult it is to do. Again it goes to show how content rules.

So there you have it. For my money, the five best worst websites in the world. I’m sure there are others that are in the same league — so let’s hear it. What are your picks?

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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in Business, Random, Work

 

Why Amazon is becoming the real best buy

Like all red-blooded American consumers, I receive 5-7 packages a week from Amazon.

Wait, what? You don’t?

OK, I admit I have an Amazon addiction. But I can stop anytime, I swear. See, for $80 a year with Amazon’s Prime service, I get free 2-day shipping and pay no sales tax on most orders. Prime also gives you free access to Amazon’s video streaming content, but the selection is lame so that’s not really a consideration.

Best Buy

Amazon's Showroom: Best Buy.

Amazon warehouse

One of Amazon's warehouses: where the real magic happens.

What’s happening in retail is interesting, and it’s making the national big box stores sweat bullets. Physical stores, which spend millions in bricks and mortar, inventory, staff, and advertising, have essentially become Amazon’s showroom.

Best Buy’s impending death has been frequently documented. Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Kohl’s are also feeling the pinch. After all, who doesn’t like going to squeeze the Charmin in person, scanning the bar code with the Amazon iPhone app, and then buying it for an average of 11% less with one click?

So what can stores do to combat this momentum?

1) Beat Amazon on price. This one is difficult. Since most of these stores deal largely in commodities, profit margins are already razor-thin. Some retailers are experimenting with in-store discounts by using their special financing deals. Target, for example, gives you 5% off for using their Red card, which is simply a debit card tied to your bank account.

2) Provide other services that can’t be matched online. It’s still more convenient to get your computer serviced at a local store than shipping it to some unknown location. And stores that combine experiences such as eating and shopping (Ikea, Costco), or groceries and electronics (Super Target), for example, make it more tempting to shop locally. Moreover, immediacy is still an advantage. Two-day shipping is not same day delivery. When you gotta have it now, nothing online will do.

3) Create exclusive products. The box stores could develop strategic product lines that are unique to their stores. While this may work for some consumers who care most about features, many are more motivated by price and are likely to forgo the latest product features in lieu of a cheaper overall price tag.

That’s about the best advice I’ve got for the big box retailers. Not an easy proposition, obviously. But it is an interesting study in modern capitalism. What do you think? Are there other things retail stores can do to survive? Or are you already an Amazon addict like me?

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Business, Random, Thoughts

 

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A snowboarding primer for skiers

I’ve been skiing for about 20 years so I consider myself a pretty decent skier. I usually eat blue slopes for breakfast and occasionally shred some black diamonds with moguls. So when our 10-year-old son begged us to take him snowboarding this year, I figured it would be an easy transition.

Boy, was I wrong!

The first thing you need to know is that snowboarding and skiing are two totally different things. The muscles are different. The technique is different. About the only similarity is that you’re sliding down a snow-covered mountain. Where skiing is about coordination and rhythm, snowboarding is all balance and footwork. Snowboarding is to skiing what rugby is to touch football.

And here’s the proof, a quick video of our first snowboarding trip…

So if you’re an experienced skier interested in making the leap to a board, let me break it down for you…

Equipment
Boots: Ski boots are extremely rigid, hard plastic shoes that transfer every subtle movement to the ski. Snowboard boots are more flexible shoes that lace up like heavy duty mountain hiking boots. Ski boots are storm troopers to snowboard boots’ Michelin man. Advantage: Snowboarding.

Bindings: Skis are designed to have your boots snap into place, and release when you twist or fall. Snowboards require your feet to be strapped in without releasing upon wipeouts. It’s a somewhat awkward movement to have your lead foot strapped in while your back foot is loose. This is necessary when getting on and off the lifts and for moving along flat landings. In addition, on skis, you exit the chair lift and immediately start down the hill. Snowboarding requires you to literally sit on the snow to strap your other foot to the board after the lift. Every time. Advantage: Skiing.

Boards/Skis: Obviously skiing uses two skis and two poles, which makes carrying and walking in those boots really challenging. Skis are also heavier than snowboards. Carrying a snowboard is easily done by holding the flat side next to your body and grabbing the board right under the top binding. Advantage: Snowboarding.

Technique
Downhill: The act of skiing involves basically aiming your feet in parallel, and turning in in a big ‘S’ pattern. As you get more advanced you can point straight down and grab your edges into the snow to slow down. It’s closer to standing and leaning, while you traverse the mountain. Because both feet are on a single board in snowboarding, the same method doesn’t translate. Instead, balance is the whole thing. You either lift your toes to dig your heels into the snow, or lift your heels to slow and turn, depending on which way you’re facing. But dig too deeply either way and you’re going down hard. Advantage: Skiing.

Lifts: As I mentioned, snowboarding is tougher to get on chair lifts, because you have to unstrap your back foot and slide into place. At the top, you still have only one foot in, so you have to get off the lift and get yourself out of the way before finding a place to sit and strap the other foot. In skiing it can sometimes be difficult to move yourself into position for the lift, but not having to adjust or unstrap every time, makes it more efficient. Advantage: Skiing.

Overall
Most skiers I talked to said they had a rough time trying to snowboard, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will. Both sports are fun and have their pros and cons. Overall, it just depends what you want to do and what you enjoy. Just know that ability in one doesn’t automatically translate to the other. Advantage: You decide!

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2012 in Family, Thoughts, Travel

 

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