“Love It Or Leave It” Is Not a Good Marketing Strategy
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Yesterday, out of sheer frustration, I posted this on my Facebook status:

Dear Facebook, please stop trying to tell me which stories are important to me. You will never know, because there is no way to create an accurate algorithm for it and there never will be. So take your “highlighted stories” and put them in your fail file. That is all.

This created a surprising amount of interaction with my FB friends.  I figured that I wasn’t alone in my distaste for Facebook’s recently implemented “highlighted stories” function, which is an updated (?) version of the old “top stories” function.  But I was taken aback by the amount of “dittos” I got.

I know, I know.  Facebook is free, and still quite useful, so why complain about it?  For one thing, it’s just my nature to want things to work well, and to comment on what i see.  Especially when they seem misguided, like this one.  It’s great that algorithms can steer music fans to new artists that display similarities to their favorites, or match web searches with relevant websites.  Not that either of those things is anywhere close to perfect.

It’s another thing altogether to create an algorithm that tries to anticipate which Facebook Friends I want to interact with the most, even if it’s based on what I’ve done previously.  A good example as to why this may not work–I might comment on someone’s post even if I don’t know them well, because that particular post was intriguing.  That doesn’t mean that person’s status updates should be highlighted forevermore.  Another one–I might comment on a post because another friend commented on it, and I may be responding more to the commenter than the original post.  I don’t see how the algorithm can detect the difference, and based on what shows up in my highlighted stream, it certainly does not appear to be a good predictor of anything.  I could even live with this more easily if users could set their preferences to hide the highlighted stories stream on an ongoing basis.  You can flip it to “recent stories” temporarily but it always seems to change back the next day.

Not to belabor this whole point.  Facebook does what they do, and we can either like it, make peace with it, or leave.  However, it brings up a larger point.  Is this the kind of attitude we take with our customers, without realizing it?  Do you put your prospects in a “love it or leave it” quandary?  Do we dictate the terms of our relationships without considering whether they benefit our customers?

In writing the title of this post, I felt like Bart Simpson, getting ready to write this on the blackboard over and over, until it fully sinks in.

I’ll be pondering this over the holidays.  But we’ll do more than ponder.  We’ll try to get our customers to tell us how we can avoid this mistake.  As should we all.

Disadvantages of an Access database (Part 1)

I’ve been asked, “Do you do Access Database programming?”  I simply answer, “No”, I would rather be stand on the street corner with a sign saying, “Will work for food”.

Will Work For Food

It’s not that Access is the evil of all evils.  I would rather use a database that has a built security model that protects sensitive data, promotes concurrent users, etc.  Access is one of the most popular “mom and pop” databases and since it’s bundled with the Office product line, it has a very simple security interface that can be easily hacked.

Some of the disadvantages of using Access are:

Internet Limitations

Access Jet database is used by Microsoft Access and is a file based system and does not contain server features that are available in SQL Server, Oracle or other ODBC compliant databases.  Access databases are more suited for web based solutions when the number of users is small.  Response times within systems designed using Access start to slow as more users access the system or when the databases start to grow (see size limitations below).

Sensitive Data

If you have sensitive data needs like SSN, health/medical, or financial information, for example, you will require more extensive database security that Access can offer.  This is where SQL Server or Oracle comes into play.  These databases run as a service and can be protected by firewalls and other protocols that Access can not provide.

Size Limitations

Depending on the version of Access, there is a physical limit to how “big” the database can be.  Along with the physical limit, as Access databases grow, the response of the database slows.

In Part 2, I will continue discussing the disadvantages of using Access database.

Contactwerx Released: CRM and Email Manager

Shoebox full of business cards

Is this your database?

Our biggest news of 2011 is the “soft” release of our proprietary Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) and Email Manager, Contactwerx.

In development for more than two years, Contactwerx has been built with state of the art software tools and techniques. It’s a great answer to the question “what the heck do I do with all these business cards?”  If you’re like many of us, you’ve got a shoe box or drawer full of business cards and you do not have a system to segment your contacts and communicate with them on a regular basis.  Heck, you might not follow up with past contacts at all.

With Contactwerx, you have a great tool to solve this problem.  Research has shown that you have to have five, six, sometimes eight or ten touches with a prospect before they become a customer.  Contactwerx gives you everything you need to make this kind of prospecting second nature.

Not sure?  Try us for free–no credit card required.  Then decide if you want to use Contactwerx to help build your sales and get more business from your current customers.

 

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Epsilon Data Breach – What Does It Mean?

Scanned image of author's US Social Security card.

Image via Wikipedia

As I continue to get emails from companies stating my information may have been compromised, I think to myself, “Are people really comprehending the magnitude of the data breaches in today’s world?” Sure, it was “just emails” (they think), but the point is that my information–and maybe yours–was released without permission.

What’s the risk?  Well, more SPAM of course.  Being the technology field, I am very cautious about what I open and don’t, but there are a lot of people out there that do fall for these scams (Nigeria…., make $5,000 just to…, etc.).  My mother-in-law was one of those people.  She lost $3,000 to a scam.  A life lesson, I hope, she learned the hard way.  If she would have only asked me, I would have saved her a lot of heartburn.

As a software architect, it’s my job to ensure that every possible measure is in place to prevent data from being compromised.  Sure, there’s not a 100% hacker proof system (and if someone tells you that, they are lying), but you can put up many doors and locks to frustrate them, making them move on.

The Epsilon attack appears to be done from an outsider and those attacks are the ones most IT professionals (developers and network engineers) seem to focus on.  The other side to this is an attack from within the company (someone who works for you).  The rules for known or internal users seem to be less stringent.  I consult development and network teams to understand that internal and external threats have the same magnitude.

So, what should you do about it?

  • Don’t open email from someone you don’t know.
  • Don’t open attachments you were not expecting, this includes from people you do know
  • Companies will never ask you to give sensitive information, such as usernames, password, social security number, date of birth, etc.) over the phone or email.  If you do get a request and are not sure, just call the company directly using the contact information from the company’s website.
  • Don’t click on any links within an email.  Tip: You can also hover over the link and a tool-tip will appear with the details of the link.  If you don’t recognize the URL or in doubt, don’t click it.Email Link Tooltip
  • Don’t download the pictures within the email until you verify it is from a trusted source
  • Look at the email address the email was sent from (this isn’t 100% accurate, but something to check)

Be careful out there!

 

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Cybersquatting: Still a Problem?

Plaque on the ICANN (Internet Corporation for ...
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Last week, as we were working on setting up the framework for a new client’s website, we discovered something kind of unexpected in 2011:  a local cybersquatter.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s defined by www.cybersquatting.com, a legal resource on the subject, as “the bad faith registration of a domain name containing another person’s brand or trademark in a domain name.”  Often, the domain is made available for sale to the brand owner at an inflated price, or the squatter puts up a bare bones site full of advertising which attempts to profit off of misdirected traffic.

Back in the “day”, the domain registration game was a a wild west land grab.  Smart people made a lot of money buying and selling domains, even sometimes inadvertently.  A close friend of mine profited handsomely when his personal last-name domain that he purchased in the mid 1990′s was highly coveted by a Canadian company that shared his name.

This was all before search gained the foothold it has today.  While a domain name is still important–even critical, sometimes–to a businesses success, there are usually alternatives.  More significant is that a vital and relevant website be placed at the domain of choice.  From there, the search engines usually do a pretty good job.

So what happened here?  Our client has been in business for a year or so and his business features a branded truck that is seen all over town.  As is often the case with new businesses, he has waited a bit to launch a website.  Now that he’s ready, the most logical domain name was registered back in November 2010 by a local entity which currently owns 938 other domains.  A visit to the site of the domain name in question finds the domain name ‘available for sale’.  Nice.

Is this legal?  Like so many questions of law, it depends.  If a brand is not trademarked, a cybersquatter has a lot more running room than if a trademark exists.  However, most start-ups do not make the effort to trademark their names, and many times such initiatives are unsuccessful anyway, due to existing conflicts.

The injured party can appeal to ICANN, the not-for-profit entity that manages the domain registration process.  They can also send cease and desist letters.  But those are after-the-fact remedies and may or may not work.

What surprised us was that someone here in Indianapolis was picking off relatively long domain names with very specific utility.  In other words, if our client ain’t buying, probably no one would.

Our client did select a different domain name and he’s fine with that for now.  We’ll see if we can shake the other one loose.

Meantime, advice for business owners:  look up your desired domain name as soon as you name your business.  In fact we recommend using domain availibility as part of  determining your company name.  Then, once the business name has been finalized, purchase the one or two domains that you want, even if you don’t plan to put up a website for awhile.  Most domains run less than $10 per year, and  you’ll be ready with the right name when the time comes.

Need help with this?  Just let us know.

Content Management Systems: Just Say Yes

WordPress
Image via Wikipedia

In 2010, it should not be happening, but it is.  Over and over.

Everywhere we go, we talk to small business owners who have purchased websites for their small business but have  no access to update them.  And they are frustrated, understandably so.  They feel trapped  after having paid significant $ for a site that isn’t as nimble or dynamic as their business.  They don’t want to pay the developer $100 to make a small change, or a lot more $ to make major updates.

In our view, this is marketing malpractice unless all parties are clear on the consequences from the outset.  Ten years ago, or even five, web development was a much more difficult process, as developers had to build sites from scratch or license expensive platforms.  Either way, it was expensive for everyone.

Today, much of the heavy lifting is already done.  There is WordPressJoomlaDrupal. Dot Net Nuke. Each is free, or nearly so, freeing the developer from the time consuming platform building process and thereby allowing the focus to be on design, functionality and search engine friendliness.  Each of these platforms also offer an administrative back end so that the site owner can do their own thing–add or change text, photos, even add and delete pages.  In industry parlance, it’s known as a Content Management System, or “CMS”.

There are also proprietary or  licensed platforms that–while they typically are more expensive and often require pricey hosting plans–at least provide the site owner to update some text and other content.  The downside, in addition to the budgetary impact, is that they are not usually portable–the site owner is pretty much tied to the developer for major updates, redesign, and reworking.  Plus the sites can’t easily be moved from one hosting company to another, should the client decide to part company with the developer.

At Keywerx, we develop in WordPress and to a lesser extent, Dot Net Nuke (DNN).  They aren’t the only solutions, but they are the ones we know and like.  It depends on your needs as to which we recommend.  We also provide training on how to work the administrative area so that you don’t waste a lot of time trying to figure out what to do.

If you are a small business owner planning to hire a web developer, and you are offered a site without a CMS–even if you have no plans to regularly update your site right now–run the other way.  Fast.

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The Chevy Kerfuffle: When Branding 101 is Wrong

Logo of General Motors Corporation. Source: 20...
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Wonder what was going through General Motors execs’ brains when they issued the memo directing employees to stop using “Chevy” as a nickname for Chevrolet?

Perhaps their branding advisors were trying to focus attention on the intended moniker, Chevrolet.  Good so far.  It’s difficult to manage two brands that mean essentially the same thing, so any company should attempt to use just one.  Branding 101 tells us this.

Problem is when the two terms are deeply embedded in the American psyche, there’s not much a company can do even when they want to.  You’d have to be coming up on your 100th birthday to say you were born before the introduction of the Chevrolet automobile in 1911.  Wikipedia states in its entry on Chevrolet that “”Chevrolet” or “Chevy” are at times synonymous with GM”.

Synonymous.  As in “synonym”.  Again according to Wikipedia:

“Some lexicographers claim that no synonyms have exactly the same meaning (in all contexts or social levels of language) because etymology, orthography, phonic qualities, ambiguous meanings, usage, etc. make them unique. Different words that are similar in meaning usually differ for a reason: feline is more formal than cat; long and extended are only synonyms in one usage and not in others (for example, a long arm is not the same as an extended arm). “

In this case, “Chevy” is seen as the working class nickname for Chevrolet. This is essentially an extension of Chevrolet equity into a second name.  Not a bad thing.  A good thing, and not something to “fix”, because the working class is a significant part of GM’s customer base.

GM has already backtracked on this memo, issuing a press release that attempted to explain the memo as “a rough draft” or something intended for the non-US market.  They have re-embraced the term “Chevy” by saying “We love it when people call us Chevy”.

And they’d better.  As the world watches to see if the reconstituted GM can lift out of bankruptcy and become a major automotive force again, the last thing they should want is for their user base to be told they can’t use the nickname everyone knows and seems to love.

Straighten out the pointy-headed strategist behind this memo. Branding 101 sometimes needs to be thrown out the window, and this is one of those cases.

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Digital Broadcast TV: Fraud!

Digital TV Converter Box
Image by RichieC via Flickr

After moving to a new house this past week, we decided to forgo the hassles and expense of cable television (see ya Comcast). Instead, we plan to begin streaming online video, combined with Netflix.

Meantime, we’re still unpacking, buried in the multitude of things to do accompanying a move.  So we’re reliant on the newfangled digital broadcasting world that was rolled in 2009.  Argh.

Reception is awful, and we’re close to most of the signals, living on the near east side of Indianapolis.  Admittedly, we don’t have a fancy multi-directional antenna or a rooftop antenna.  But we do have two setups, one with the digital converter box and one digital television, and both with antennas.

Naturally I assumed that digital TV would be NO WORSE than the old fashioned analog signals that have been around since the 1950′s.  I could not have been more wrong.  Very few stations are received consistently.  Most signals break up and are so unstable as to be unwatchable.  Some don’t come in at all, unless the antenna is repositioned.  There is no antenna position in either setup that brings in all of the major local stations in an acceptable manner.

I wonder if our experience is common to others, but I don’t doubt that it is.  In the old days, people bought fancy antennas if they were in fringe areas (50+ miles from the station transmitters) but we are probably only ten miles from most of the transmitters.  Currently about 10% of US residents do not subscribe to cable or satellite TV.  I’m not sure how they stand it, though.

Right now, I’m thinking that federally mandated digital television is a fraud.

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Is Comcast Messing With Your Outgoing eMail?

This has been a lousy week for me as far as computers go.

On Tuesday, I encountered a very potent Browser Hijack virus and I’ve spent the rest of the week trying to rescue my desktop from oblivion.  At this writing it’s running a long string of diagnostics in hopes of getting straightened out.  But that’s not the purpose of this post.

During this time my outgoing email (via Outlook) suddenly wouldn’t send.  Naturally I attributed this to the virus, but it was also happening with the laptop, which may or may not (still don’t yet) have been affected by the virus via the wireless network.

Upon doing a bit of Googling I learned that Comcast–which is my ISP–has been gradually changing its email protocol, and one of the changes is that it blocks Port 25 on your computer because apparently that port is associated with spam.  Checking, I found that indeed Port 25 was the default email port.  Switching it to Port 587 per some geek advisors fixed this problem in a heartbeat.

Wouldn’t it be nice if, when Comcast decides to make changes like this, that it provide notification to its users?

It’s Twestival Time

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

It’s Twestival Time.  Like Thanksgiving, it comes just once a year, so it’s pretty special.  We’ve joined with a number of other marketing and social media folks to help Indianapolis celebrate.

From the Global Twestival site:

What is Twestival™?

On Thursday 25 March 2010, people in hundreds of cities around the world will come together offline to rally around the important cause of Education by hosting local events to have fun and create awareness.  Twestival™ (or Twitter Festival) uses social media for social good.  All of the local events are organized 100% by volunteers and 100% of all ticket sales and donations go direct to projects.  Follow @twestival for updates.

The Impact of Twestival

On 12 February 2009, the first Twestival Global was held in 202 international cities to support @charitywater, who we saw doing incredible work to help the almost 1 billion or 1 in 6 people in the world that don’t have access to clean and safe drinking water.  Over 1,000 volunteers and 10,000 donors fundraised $250k+, which resulted in more than 55 wells in Uganda, Ethiopia and India having a direct impact for over 17,000 people. Watch the videos of the first Twestival well drilled in the village of Mai Nabri, Ethiopia.

This year, there will be rolling Tweetups across the city and in Bloomington, as follows.  Feel free to join any of these gatherings, they’re informal and fun! Meet Pam, Chris and Rick–the Keywerx crew–at Mo’Joe’s between 930 and 11 am.

Time Location Host Hosted By Where?
9:30 AM Mo’Joe Coffee Rick Wilkerson @keywerx Downtown
1:00 PM Papa Roux Dick Davis @davisr66 TBD
Lunch Tie Dye Restaurant Jan Dye @MyTyDye East Side
Lunch Saigon Restaurant Dr Thomas Ho @drthomasho West Side
3:00 PM Hubbard&Cravens Robby Slaughter @robbyslaughter Broad Ripple
4:30 PM Stonecutters Coffee Colin Clark @colinaclark Bloomington
5:00 PM L’evento Boutique Heather @HeatherSong Rangeline and Main (Carmel)
5:30 PM MoonDogTavern Kristie Bradford @KristieKreation 96th and Gray
6:00 PM Fountain Square Ryan Cox @IndytweetUp Fountain Square
Dinner Yats Duncan Alney @firebelly Broad Ripple
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