The term “user centric design” has been around for as long as there have been designers (of anything - I’m sure the first guy to rub two sticks together was talking about his target audience when he did it) but it is pretty amazing that even with all the evidence that making sure what you design is what your intended user base actually wants, there are still examples every day where this fundamental principle is missed.
I had a chance to talk yesterday to Melissa Fredrick, a reporter at the DC Examiner about a new web site recently announced by the Travel Industry Association in partnership with Travelocity and the Department of Commerce. My comment to her, which you can read in the resulting article, was that there isn’t any need for yet another white labeled travel site that would add nothing new to the conversation nor really promote travel to the US any better than hundreds of other sites out there including the one I spent most of my free time on - TravelGator.
What seems to be missing in this concept is what do the people out there who might consider traveling to the US on their vacation really need to make their decision. My premise is that they want relevant information, wide choice, good deals and access to the unique adventures that will present themselves across America. What I’d encourage the Commerce Department to look at is how they can provide unique content and access to the millions of smaller travel services providers that exist that are not able to get on the Travelocity platform. Now of course I like Travelocity - when I need a cheap airfare or a hotel I always check them out as they’ve got great deals. But we need more than just good hotel and airfare pricing if we are going to promote travel to the US.
Amazon announced that they have released to limited Beta a new web service called Simple DB. In a nutshell, Amazon is offering to host databases for other companies. Rather than setting up a large, clustered database environment yourself, you can simply grab some space on Amazon’s servers and point your application at them - viola, instance high performance database.
While in a nutshell this is simply a managed database service (available from any number of managed hosting services companies), I do expect Amazon will add some additional tools and services around it to make it compelling. TechCrunch seems to think that this will a rather attractive service for Web startups. As someone who has recently launched a web startup (TraveGator), I’m not so sure.
Amazon is offering to manage all the normal database complexity that usually you need a database administrator to handle, including indexes, backups, etc. While having someone else handle clustering and backups would sure be a nice (trust me…we have sunk many hours into tuning our MySQL configuration), I’m not convinced it will actually work. Startups who have a lot of data, i.e. those who would be attracted to this sort of thing, are also the ones who will need to get down into the guts of the data to actually get their site to perform.
Call me a skeptic, but I just don’t think that Amazon can host a cluster where they know nothing about the nature of the data and make queries actually perform properly. They are also limiting queries to a rather simple language (what if you need a ten table outer join?) and to a maximum of 5 seconds - which will work fine for real time web queries but is going to be lousy when you need to bolt an indexer like Lucene on the data to do anything more complex.
I love the idea, but my concern is that in making it simple, Amazon has also made it pretty useless. I guess time will tell the right way for the database to move to the cloud and whether this is it. My bet is it isn’t.
After much hype, we’re finally starting to see the first testing of location based ads in the “real world”. I remember talk of location-sensitive ads as far back as 1999.. it’s an industry cliche by now - you’ll be walking by a Starbucks and it’ll zap a coupon for 20% off a latte directly to your phone. I can hardly wait.
Until the industry comes up with more compelling user scenarios, nobody’s going to opt into any such program, and privacy fanatics will slow down any plans to make location-based marketing the default. Forget about push advertising, sending me text messages will drive me crazy. The key to making location-based mobile ads work will be in their integration with mobile users’ behavior.
One big question is what will be the relative importance of media consumption vs search. Right now I often use my iPhone to get directions, find restaurants, or even just google something to settle a debate. Getting media over the air is still too slow for anything but text (news, RSS feeds), so it’s hard to tell whether media will play as large a role on mobiles as it does in regular web use.If search-oriented usage ends up being dominant, we might end up with more of a Google-style model, though I’m not sure pay-per-click will work as well on mobile devices. If mobile TV takes off on the other hand, the current local-TV ad model would work nicely with GPS-enabled targeting, with interstitial ads selected based on the user’s location. The ideal is for the user to not even know (or at least not be reminded) they’re being targeted - because at the end of the day, they don’t really care.
Beneath the surface of Facebook’s $15 billion valuation and the slew of niche social networks cropping up in its shadow like mushrooms, is a big assumption - wherever audiences congregate, advertisers will follow. After all, the hardest part of marketing is finding the people you’re trying to reach and getting them engaged with your brand. If social networks are where they’re hanging out, why wouldn’t marketers pay to be there with them?
This was the thinking during the Internet bubble, when every business plan said “ad-supported” and it was a given that you’d monetize whatever users you attracted. Early adopters among advertisers were paying $50 CPMs for banner ads, and the future looked rosy. But users were ignoring static banners, the recession hit, and CPMs plunged. It wasn’t until several years later that ad spending finally took off, thanks to a combination of PPC text ads, rich media banners, targeting technologies and reporting analytics.