Wednesday, January 25, 2006, worse than previously thought

I attempted to purchase and download the "Kobe vs. Raptors" video on Google last night. It was a frustratingly bad experience and, in the end, resulted in three failed downloads of the video. It gets worse...

Let's start at the beginning. Upon trying to purchase a Google video, you must create an account and submit credit card information. There is no visible information about whether Google will store the credit card data or not for future purchases; in addition, there is no checkbox to control whether my credit card data persists on Google's servers. This is of particular concern because my Google Video Store account is the same account that I use for GMail and "personalized Google."

Once you enter this information, Google prompts you to "login and complete your purchase." The login requirement here might seem a bit redundant here but is typical of online stores attempting to protect their customers. However, what's not typical is after you submit your login/password, the next screen asks you to "login and complete your purchase." Um, OK, so I thought I just did that. I try again. Same result. And again.... argh! OK, well, luckily I had actually expected this as a friend had IM'd me earlier in the day and said he had the same problem. I asked "Are you using FireFox?" He replies, "Yes." I say, "Switch to IE." Unfortunately, I was already using IE -- so, what to do? I decide to close all of my IE windows, restart IE, and reopen the video store - which, of course, requires that I go through Google Video's horrible interface once again to find the video.

Finally, I get through the "login and complete your purchase" screen and then Google notifies me that I must download their "Google Video Player." I'm also informed that once the video player downloads, my video will begin downloading automatically. Sadly, Google uses a pop-up window to download the video player and Google Toolbar blocks such things. Now, the "download" screen has dissapeared and I'm left with no video player or video (though I just received my e-mail receipt so I know the transaction has gone through). Hmm, I must go back up through the interface to get to a screen with a download button.

Eventually, I get to a "manual download" area and am able to download the video player. I install it and click on "download video." This link opens the video player which begins to presumably download the video. Of course, this doesn't work either. The first attempt fails after like 13 retries. The second attempt downloads 45 megs of the video in 2 hours (note that I've downloaded every episode of the Office via the iTunes Music Store -- each episode is about 250 megs, which takes 5 minutes or so to download). The third attempt, which I start before going to bed, downloads 63 megs but then prompts me for my login information again -- however, I am now sound asleep and unaware that the download stopped. I wake up and note that the video is only up to 63 megs (around 12:33AM -- ironically went to bed at 12:15) and that a modal dialog in the Google video player is waiting for my login information. After filling out the dialog, the download does not restart.

I started my fourth attempt before I left for work -- let's hope that it will be completed by the time I return home.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006 Worst Interface Ever has some of the absolute worst interfaces I've ever used -- which is quite startling given that it's google and their product/interface design follows Apple: less is more and minimalism is beautiful. However, they are clearly working on it as last night I spent like an hour exploring the interface and looking for the Kobe Bryant 81 point game vs. the Toronto Raptors. This afternoon I checked again and noted that, first, the interface was much different from last night (though still very lacking) and, second, the Kobe Bryant game is now online. At the very least, the NBA games are somewhat organized -- there exists a bit of a hierarchical structure rather than straight search.

Link to Kobe vs. Toronto.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Where does XML Data Belong?

"This raises the question of when and whether one should use child elements or attributes to hold information. This is a subject of heated debate. Some informaticians maintain that attributes are for metadata about the element while elements are for the information itself. Others point out that it's not always so obvious of what's data and what's metadata. Indeed the answer may depend on where the information is put to use.

What's undisputed is that each element may have no more than one attribute with a given name. That's unlikely to be a problem for a birth date or death date; it would be an issue for profession, name, address, or anything else of which an element might plausibly have more than one. Furthermore, attributes are quite limited in structure. The value of the attribute is simply undifferentiated text. An element-based structure is a lot more flexible and extensible. Nonetheless, attributes are certainly more convenient in some applicaitons. Ultimately, if you're designing your own XML-vocabulary, it's up to you to decide which to use."

from O'Reilly's XML in a Nutshell

Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Capella Pop Songs

Mr. Brightside, A Capella performed by the MIT a capella troupe, "resonance."

Monday, January 09, 2006

Target > Walmart, Some Differentiation

Lately, I've been thinking about the importance of branding and consumer perception to a business's success -- from the company name and logo to the quality of the service rendered. Robyn Waters, former vice-president of trend, design and product development at Target was interviewed by businessweek here back in Oct. 2005. A few snippets,

You worked at Target during its crucial transformation into a design powerhouse. How was the decision made to adopt design?
Our ads were always hip. When I came in to Target, 12 years ago, the merchandise was half as cool as the ads. We needed to differentiate ourselves from Wal-Mart, which was becoming very big. We didn't want to compete on price -- it wouldn't work. Target was at a crossroads, deciding whether it would be a regional discounter or if it would go national.
Top management decided on a strategy of growth based on a three-legged stool -- to be trend-right, to be completely customer-focused, and finally to be design-driven. Everybody was on board -- the chairman, the president.
We soon developed a healthy respect for what design could do for the bottom line. We had started to see what the iMac computer did to Apple's stock or the [impact of] Volkswagen's redesign of the Beetle. Everyone at Target heartily and unanimously accepted that design can drive business growth.

What other brands have captured the concept of design for business?
P&G, Apple. Coach is one of my favorite examples of a great brand. The name always stood for quality. But now it's a design powerhouse, leveraging design in a forward-thinking and innovative way that's reflected by its phenomenal sales every quarter.

Any businesses that haven't figured it out?
Sony has stumbled and struggled.

What are the trends today?
Finding luxury in everyday basic goods is a big trend. To do that, companies are leveraging design to turn everyday products into unique and special experiences. Whirlpool's latest washers and dryers are a good example. Combining beauty and functionality, they sold at three times the price of the ones in the market.

So, what are tomorrow trends?
Mass customization is the next big wave. The Coldstone Creamery ice cream chain is a great example. You can make your own flavor of ice cream by choosing candy or other topping that the server will mix in right there on a cold marble slab. Or the Mini Cooper, which offers customization online.