Don't use Project Wonderful unless you want to be offended

Project Wonderful is full of crap

A few days ago, I applied for inclusion as a publisher with Project Wonderful. I’ve been looking for a sponsor for my site, and I thought a boutique ad service might be just what I need.

Boy, was I wrong about them! First, they rejected my application. A nice, respectful rejection I can take. I can even handle a short, tersely written rejection. But when they basically called me a hack and a content thief, and expected to get away with it, I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help it if my blood boiled over. Have a look at what they wrote to me:

“When examining your site, we found that it appears to have one or more (not necessarily all!) of the following issues: sponsored “review” posts, posts with content taken from third parties such as other web sites or Wikipedia, posts with little original material, and so on.”

Excuse me?! I steal content from other websites and Wikipedia?! I write posts with little original material?! What?! Here I am, having typed my fingers off and eaten up my evenings and weekends for the past couple of years with my website, creating original content, writing every post myself, with my own words, and you dare call me a hack?! Now you can forget about doing business with me. And no, I also don’t write sponsored “review” posts.

It looks like — from my subjective point of view anyway — Project Wonderful isn’t so wonderful after all. I’d say a bunch more things about them right here, except my wife edited my post and cut out all the juicy stuff. Apparently I need to cool down and step away from the laptop…

Just to be clear, I did NOT steal this post from Wikipedia.

About these ads

Mozy advertising versus user experience

A few months ago, I was interested in offsite backup, and thought I’d give Mozy a try. Their Home Backup plan intrigued me. It was only $4.95, and was billed as unlimited. Could it actually work as advertised?

Short answer is no, not by a long shot. Sure, it only costs $4.95/month. That much is accurate. The unlimited part is where Mozy starts to stretch the truth. The problem lies with bandwidth, and I’ll give them this much: uplink speeds on US broadband connections, particularly on DSL lines, are horribly inadequate in order to perform any sort of decent backups.

But Mozy also does something I dislike, something that isn’t readily advertised on their site when users sign up: they cap the bandwidth for Home users at 1 Mbps. Even if you should be blessed with faster uplink speeds (like a fiber connection), you won’t be able to take advantage of it with Mozy. You’ll still only upload to the Mozy servers at 1 Mbps or less (usually around 600-800 kbps from my experience).

I had around 150GB of data I wanted to back up on my laptop at the time. It would have taken me several weeks (I think up to 13 weeks) to back up that data from my home DSL connection (860 kbps uplink). I had to reduce that amount to about 96GB, took my laptop into work, where the uplink pipe was much fatter, and still, it would have taken over 12 days to get that data backed up, because they were capping the uplink speed.

I then reduced my backup set even more, down to 59 GB (see below), hoping this would speed things up. It would have still taken a ridiculous amount of time to back up my data, and I only ended up getting frustrated with Mozy’s software in general, because of its poor design. Every time I wanted to configure the backup set, I needed to wait for the software to finish calculating the aggregate size for all file types, and that could take half an hour or more every time I opened that panel. Couldn’t they have cached this data when the operation was performed the first time?

Isn’t it ironic how they say the “Account storage limit” is “None”, yet you can never really quite test that None unless you leave your computer on and connected to the Internet for a month or more, which is clearly not feasible in the case of a laptop? Let’s not even consider the possibility that your Internet connection might go down, in which case the backup job would fail, and you’d need to start over…

In the end, in order to get any sort of progress with the Mozy backups, I reduced my backup set to 1GB. That’s right, 1GB, which allowed me to back up my Address Book, iCal, and Application Preferences, plus some documents. Then, and only then, did Mozy manage to complete the backup jobs in time.

I’m sorry, but I’m not going to pay $5/month so I can back up my contacts, calendar, and a few docs. That’s not acceptable to me. I canceled the service.

I did write to them to complain about this, and that’s how I found out about the 1 Mbps cap on uplink bandwidth. They also offered to give me a free month, but what good would that have been? I’d have only ended up more frustrated.

Some might say I should have tried the Mozy Business plan, which doesn’t cap uplink speeds and offers more options. For one thing, I don’t care for those extra options. For another, it would have cost me roughly $80/month ($3.95 for the license and $75 for the storage at $0.50 per 150GB). That’s not counting what it’d have cost me to back up my photos offline, which is what I really wanted to do. I have roughly 500 GB of photos, and according to Mozy’s pricing, that would be $250/month in addition to the $80/month I’d already be paying to back up my laptop.

Clearly, at those prices, Mozy is no longer the cheap, easy to use $4.95/month service that they advertise so widely, and instead of paying $330/month to them, I’d rather pay it to buy hard drives, copy my data, and ship them to my parents once every few months. It’d cost me a lot less.

I suppose they’re not entirely to blame. For some reason, $4.95 has become the price point for online home backup plans. Carbonite offers a similar plan for the same amount and other competitors are crowding around the same amount, although with different offerings. The thing is, you can’t really give people unlimited backup for $4.95 a month. Your costs as a business are higher. So what do you do? You fudge. You get truthy. Well, I don’t like it. I’d much rather see them offer a $15/month Home plan where they don’t cap the bandwidth but cap the amount I can back up — say, up to 75GB or something like that. I’ll let them work out the numbers, but the point is, I appreciate honesty a lot more than some cheesy pricing gimmick.

Updated 7/2/09: A reader (M.J. from Denmark) wrote to say the upload bandwidth cap at Mozy has been raised from 1 Mbps to 5 Mbps. It’s an interesting move on Mozy’s part, but I still have questions about their customer service and the ability to properly restore customers’ data, as other people have indicated in the comments below.

Condensed knowledge for 2008-03-05

USPS, how slow can you go?

I’ve written about the USPS before, and how slow and unreliable it can be. I want to give you an idea of how terrible their service can be with hard, indisputable evidence (see screen shots enclosed below).

A package was mailed to us from a vendor on 11/14/2007. It came from Capitol Heights, Maryland, and shipped to my city, which is North Bethesda, Maryland. [For those unaware of this, North Bethesda is not officially a city (yet); it's a borough between Bethesda and Rockville. The Post Office treats it as Rockville but anything addressed to North Bethesda will get there just fine.] It arrived on 11/27/2007, approximately 13 days after it left Capitol Heights.

Here’s the kicker: not only are Capitol Heights and North Bethesda in the SAME state, but they’re only 25 miles apart. According to Google Maps, and taking the long way around DC by going on the Beltway (I-495), it’s approximately 25 miles from Capitol Heights to my place.

How in the world could it have taken them 13 days to deliver it? I don’t know how, but there it is. If you want to talk about incompetent service, I think this would be a good example. If they’d have walked the package to my place, it would have been faster. But no, they have fleets of cars, and automated systems, and all sorts of things to speed things up, and somehow they not only manage to miss deadlines for Priority Mail and lose packages on top of that, but they bungle up a 25-mile delivery so badly that it takes them 13 days to get the package to me.

Here’s the proof. The package was supposedly processed on 11/20/07 at their Capitol Heights facility.

 

It arrived at my place on 11/27/07.

 

USPS Track & Confirm (screen 2)

But they received the electronic shipping notice sometime on the 14th, according to the Additional Details page. That means they received the package itself either on that same date, or shortly afterwards. Whether the vendor took their time to get the package to the post office, or whether it sat at the post office between 11/14/07 and 11/20/07 is irrelevant to me. Even if I give the USPS the benefit of the doubt and say they started working on the package on 11/20/07, that’s still 7 days to transport it 25 miles. It’s still unacceptable.

 

USPS Track & Confirm (screen 3)

Any way you look at it, the USPS is a mess. If it takes them this long to process and transport what’s essentially a local package, I suppose I should be happy it “only” takes them 7 days to get a letter from me to my parents down in Florida. That could be called an improvement on their local delivery service.

To top it all off, they want to keep increasing the price of first-class postage and other services. I’d like to know what we’re getting in return, other than copious amounts of junk mail.

A few suggestions for FeedBurner

FeedBurnerI’m a very happy user of FeedBurner, the wonderful feed management service from Google. I’ve been using it since early 2006, and I log on multiple times every day to keep track of my feeds. I’d like to talk about some features and options that I’d love to see on the site.

Ability to splice multiple feeds without having to add them to a network or put them in FAN. I’d love to be able to have a single feed that combines all of my content, without having to go through what I’m going now, which is to create a feed network, add my own feeds to it, and burn that feed to a feed… I know there are other services on the web that do this, but I’d rather be able to do it through FeedBurner.

Ability to splice external feeds (ones not burned at FeedBurner), into a single FeedBurner feed. This would work sort of the way that Jaiku or TwitterFeed work, in the sense that I’d take my feeds with very few subscribers, like my Twitter feed or my Vimeo feed, and add them to my single feed without needing to “burn” them as separate feeds at FeedBurner, and having them show up under My Feeds. I’m not really interested in managing those feeds at this point — I just want to add them to my single feed.

Better revenue reporting from FAN (FeedBurner Ad Network). I never know how much I’m getting, because the figures are just approximations, and the pay is somehow always less than what’s indicated in the control panel. AdSense always reports my revenues correctly, Amazon does it too, but FeedBurner always leaves me wondering how much money I’m going to get. Maybe I just don’t know where to look, but believe me, I’ve looked all over the place. There’s only one place where revenues are reported centrally, and then there are ad revenues for each individual feed in FAN, and still I don’t know how much money I’m making with my feed ads.

Ability to “refresh” feed flares. Old feed flares display with old preferences, so I have a ton of flares showing up for older posts. I understand that they’re cached, and they have to stay cached, because it would be murder on a database if the flares would be constructed dynamically for every feed item, including the older ones… But I’d like to have a manual “refresh” function for the flares, that would let all of the old posts and old feed flares inherit the most recent settings for my feed flares.

Ability to separate feed flares from the ads. I’d like to display the feed flares at the top of my posts, for example, and the ads at the bottom. Right now they’re together and there’s no way to display them but right next to each other.

The SmartCast feature is a bit confusing. Either I’m the one that doesn’t get it, or it doesn’t quite work as advertised. Here’s what it says on the site:

“Makes podcasting easy in feeds that normally cannot support it. Link to MP3s, videos, images, and other digital media in your site content and SmartCast creates enclosures for them automatically. Optionally adds elements required for a richer, more detailed listing in iTunes Podcast Directory and sites using Yahoo Media RSS.”

When I took my podcast feed, which is a simple category feed from my blog, and turned on the SmartCast option, enclosures for the media files linked from each post weren’t turned into enclosures. The iTunes elements were added to the feed, but it still didn’t become a feed that I could subscribe to from iTunes, so I gave up on it.

Now, a little more than a month since my last podcast, I see that I can subscribe to that feed in iTunes, and the podcast downloads just fine. But only the last item shows up instead of every single episode, or at least the last 10 feed items, which is the standard. Why? And why didn’t it work when I first turned on SmartCast for this feed? I can’t help but be confused by this. SmartCast can be a very elegant and easy way to turn a normal feed into a podcast feed, but it looks like it still needs some work.

Photo Splicer only works with the Flickr ID. The Photo Splicer option says I can put in either my Flickr user ID or my screen name, but it really only works with the User ID, which is annoyingly hard to find on Flickr. It would be nice if the User ID would be automatically looked up if I entered my screen name.

I know the FeedBurner folks will read this. They’re very conscientious and follow up on these things. I don’t want special treatment, but it would be very nice if they could consider my feature requests and see what can be done. FeedBurner has my thanks for a wonderful service!

It’s about expectations

Many of us have heard this before, but it bears repeating. Customer or user satisfaction depends, in large part, upon the expectations you set, as a service or product provider. Promise something you can’t or don’t deliver, and satisfaction goes right down the drain, no matter what you did right.

A great friend of mine put this another way: under-promise, and over-deliver. It’s plain, simple, and it should be the golden rule that companies use when they think about their products and services. I don’t mean you should set your sights on mediocrity, or that you should settle for the lowest common denominator. But you should ALWAYS make sure you promise only what you can absolutely deliver, and if you do anything above and beyond the call of duty, it’s icing on the cake, and it makes the customer ecstatic in a viral sort of way.

Have you heard of Micro Center? Neither did I, till a couple of weeks ago. Their website is certainly underwhelming — at least it is at this point in time, but I have a feeling that’ll change. I got a flyer in the mail from them, inviting me to the store for a free gift. I went in and was blown away. Their store has the coolest and best floor layout I’ve ever seen! It’s clean, well-lit, beautiful, stocked to the gills with cool technology, and everyone is friendly! Did they promise any of that in their flyer? No, they just promised the free gift and mentioned the new store. They delivered on the free gift just fine, and their store atmosphere was the icing on the cake that left me ecstatic.

And guess what? They have an in-store pickup option as well. I ordered a few CF cards from their site today, and went to pick them up in the evening. But do you know what they did? They didn’t promise a 20-minute turnaround. They actually put some thought into it. Their staff is new, their store is new, their systems are probably new or re-designed, and they knew they couldn’t deliver on something like that. They said the order would be ready for pickup in a couple of days. Was I disappointed? No. I got the price I wanted on the products I wanted, and as long as they were going to make good on their promise, I didn’t care. But I thought I’d test the waters anyway, and Ligia and I got in our car and drove to the store tonight.

When we got there, the same cheery atmosphere awaited us. The people were courteous and smiled, just like the last time we visited. We went to the customer service counter, where the representative looked up our order and explained that it wasn’t ready yet. No problem, I’d expected that. I asked if I could pick up the items from the store shelves and come back to the counter. She said yes. I browsed through the store, found what I needed, brought the stuff back to the customer service counter, and the representative fulfilled the order. She fiddled a bit with the computer system since it was new, but she was courteous and helpful, and I didn’t mind waiting an extra couple of minutes. In the end, I walked out with my order fulfilled, and the kicker was this: the price was the same as on their website.

It’s about setting the right expectations, plain and simple. Do what works for you, and more importantly, do what you know you can do! Under-promise, over-deliver, and you’ll have happy customers. Even if you go just a bit beyond what you promised, it makes a huge difference!

A look at culture and technology through sound effects

I was listening to the radio one morning, and realized the sound effects they were using to advertise a website were the clicks of a keyboard likely made in the 80′s — you know, long key travel, spring-loaded action, hard clicks. But it worked.

More importantly, it is the only sound that can approximate a keyboard well, and transmit that action to an audience. Think about where keyboards are going today though. Apple is putting out keyboards that barely make any sounds — for example, see the new slim iMac keyboard, or the MacBook or MacBook Pro keyboards. Other hardware manufacturers are following suit, each advertising softer keys, more muffled sounds, etc. How do you record that? It can’t translate well over radio as a sound effect.

Remember how they used to advertise accessing the internet just a few short years ago? Through the sounds of modems. Tell me, could anyone afford to advertise internet access like that any more? No, they’d get laughed out of business, because most everyone is using high-speed access now. But is there a sound that can represent an Internet connection now? How do you represent it or record it?

What about the sound effects for phone calls? They were the simple, old-fashioned ring, right? Everyone knew what it was, and there was no confusion. Not any more. Although people still recognize the old phone ring, children growing up nowadays have so many choices when it comes to ringtones, that soon enough, the old phone ring will no longer be a recognizable sound effect for phone calls.

In some of the older movies or radio commercials, beeps, flashing lights and loud sounds were used as sound effects for computers. The starts and stops of tape reels were well known as well. What about the sounds of the punch cards, rolling through the machines and getting processed? Those are all things of the past. The only sounds computer hardware makes nowadays is the drone-like noise of the hard drives and cooling fans. It may be the representation of an efficient computing machine, but it’s pretty boring as a sound effect. Desktops or laptops (the newer ones anyway) make no sounds at all. We prize them based on how little sound they make, and rightly so, but we’ve lost the sound effects.

Remember the sound of switching TV channels? There was the manual, hard click of the round knob on the TV set (not many of you know about those anymore). If you were using a remote on older televisions, there was a sound pop, followed by a short period of static and the sound of the new channel that accompanied each channel switch. On newer televisions, that’s no longer the case. There’s no pop, click or jarring sound transition during channel switches. It’s all handled smoothly, and on some, the sound is gradually brought up to listening volume so as not to disturb you. But how do you represent a channel switch in a radio ad? You can’t, not anymore, not unless you use a decades-old sound effect.

The point of all these examples is to illustrate how technology is outpacing culture. I wanted to look at this through sound effects, but there are many ways in which it can be done. Just think of social networking sites, their invasion of privacy, and the new expectations of online behavior if you want to look at another aspect of this same issue.

One thing’s for sure — our culture has some catching up to do. While I love technology and embrace it (for the most part), we have to recognize that we’re in uncharted territory nowadays, in many, many areas of technology, particularly at its intersection with people and general culture. The rules aren’t even getting written, because no one is sure just how to grasp the situation. We each understand but a little portion of what’s going on — and that’s both scary and exciting, depending on your point of view.