Saturday, July 29, 2006

Who owns - or will own - this license plate?

Back in 1994 when I was working on my book, The Internet for Everyone: A Guide for Users and Providers, my wife bought me a vanity license plate, INTRNET.

A few years later, I proposed to Andy King, co-founder of, that we create The Internet License Plate Gallery. Andy came up with clever graphics including a Fifties Cadillac and stripes going past you on the highway, and we launched the site. Andy's since left Webreference, and sadly, it appears the site is languishing with no updates (though still providing ad revenue for

Now Michigan is all aflutter over Google opening a new presence in the state for its Adsense product. That got me to wondering: Who owns (or will own) this license plate?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Fascinating article on how users interact with Web sites

Andy King gave me a heads-up about a fascinating article posted on his Web Site Optimization site. I especially love this "heatmap" showing where users' eyes tend to travel when looking at the Google hit list. Graphical and empirical proof that the top of the hit list is an extremely precious place to be.


Clickstream Study Reveals Dynamic Web

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Daddy! Daddy! They've got WeeFee!!!

We were heading into a restaurant in Traverse City, Michigan, the best breakfast joint in town, the Omelette Shoppe. A couple of families with young children was headed in right behind us.

One young lad, age 6 or so, was already excited but his eyes really lit up when he saw a banner above the entrance.

"Daddy! Daddy! They've got WeeFee!!!" he proclaimed.

And sure enough they did. I just didn't know the correct pronunciation.

American Express renames me: &$$htmBegin&$$

A payment notice from American Express appears to be addressed to me as &$$htmBegin&$$:

Click to see full-size image

Looking more closely, I see that it's some sort of a flag for a wrapper, a field for a content management wrapper that didn't get expanded properly at publication time.

We've all seen this sort of thing before, where a distributed database or mass mailing system makes a goofy substitution or fails to substitute the customer name for the generic field name. There's a funny folk song about material addressed to "Your State Name Here."

Over the years I've heard some hilarious examples:

  • My friend Mark Grebner, whose firm is the leading political mailing list service in Michigan, puzzled over why so many people have a surname of Usafret. What the heck ethnicity is that? He figured out that it's USAF (Ret.) -- a retired member of the Air Force.

  • My wife's friend Deb Biggs once got mail addressed to Ded Buggs.

  • And the all time winner of the trifecta, Mark Allen Knopper, at the time a network engineer for the Merit network, received mail addressed to Mirv Alien Knipper. Yup, all three of his names transformed. For years thereafter people called him Mirv.

I'd love to legally change my name to &$$htmBegin&$$ but like Spock I'm afraid you wouldn't know how to pronounce it.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Our book on search analytics - competing with itself thanks to O'Reilly

Lou Rosenfeld and I are writing a book on search analytics -- how to exploit the gold mine of information that exists in the logs your local search engine compiles. Lou, co-author with Peter Morville of the best-selling O'Reilly title, Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, has launched his new publishing house, Rosenfeld Media, and this will be one of the first of its books in the area of improving the user experience.

We're really excited about the book. We're learning great things by interviewing some very smart people who work for leading search technology companies, or leading companies exploiting search analytics. Thanks to Lou's reputation and his extensive network of friends in the information architecture field, we're able to connect with wise folks who can teach us a lot.

Please check out the Web site for the book where we're discussing our learning process as we go:

Now that's all great news... Here's a frustrating footnote. Last year Lou and I submitted a proposal to the noted computer publisher O'Reilly. We were still in discussions with them when they mailed me a contract! It took a little longer for Lou to receive his copy, but we hadn't agreed to write the book for them, and by then Lou had decided to proceed with his own imprint. We confirmed to O'Reilly that we wouldn't sign the contract and would publish elsewhere.

Imagine my surprise one day in April 2006 when, while merrily Googling away doing research for the book, I discovered you could already buy it! O'Reilly had assigned the book an ISBN -- 0596101910 -- and submitted it to the Amazons of the world as a soon-to-be-published book!

Click for full size image

Poking around a bit I found that, Powell's, and several other outlets listed the book. Some sites even accepter pre-orders! At first this was mildly amusing.

On May 1, Lou politely asked a contact at O'Reilly (aka ORA) to excise the book from the publishing world's pipeline. We eventually received word that they would.

Now it's July 16, and the book now appears on more publishing outlets than it did on May 1. You can buy "our book" in Canada, the UK, Germany, and Japan. Powell's, the legendary bookseller in Portland, Oregon, has it.

This is more than a little bit frustrating, and no longer a bit amusing. As our real book moves closer to publication, the phantom title could cause serious confusion in the marketplace. ORA tells us that once they ship an ISBN out on a book industry network called Onix, it's hard to retract it from booksellers.

Regardless of whatever technical hurdles ORA faces in undoing this mess, it seems to me they are obliged to un-do what they've done -- promptly.

Click below to see the Japanese, UK, and German -- and US -- versions of the problem.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006