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.

Great ads

I liked the Volkswagen “Unpimp your ride” commercials instantly when they came out. I’ve always liked clean lines and elegant cars. I think “pimped” cars are in truly bad taste. The mods are almost always done for the wrong reasons, and usually only to show off in garish fashion. The poor cars end up looking worse than before and make me cringe when I see them. Imagine my delight when Volkswagen decided to poke fun at the people who pimp their rides!

Meet Hal, the IT system admin depressed because Steve, one of his faithful servers, died… I don’t particularly like Hal or the ad itself, but it is effective and sticks in your mind. This was done in the style of the Apple ads, and was for Symantec’s Backup Exec software. Back when I used Backup Exec, it only did file-level restores, and was kind of difficult to use. Let’s hope the new version advertised here works better.

I don’t drink Coke and I don’t play GTA, but I thought this ad was pretty cool. It’s always nice to see the bad guys turn good. Two words also come to mind: synchronized serendipity. This ad is very watchable.

Here’s another Volkswagen ad, this time for the Phaeton. The Phaeton is probably a pretty amazing car, and the Phaeton plant is a pretty amazing place full of innovative engineering, but unfortunately, the price is too high for the VW brand. It would have been much better to build Audis like this. After all, they’re the same company. But the ad is amazing. I’ve never seen shadow play this good.

Another Bud Light ad, this one about the best men who hired an auctioneer for their friend’s wedding. The beer ads are always pretty good, and not surprisingly so. Given the amount of money that Budweiser throws at their advertising, the ad agencies have to make sure they come up with the good stuff.

Great ads

I like to save great ads. I guess I’ve always been interested in cool advertising — the kind that gets the message across in a catchy, entertaining sort of way. Here are a few of my favorites. I’ll probably post more like these in the future.

This one’s for Ameriquest Mortgage. The title on YouTube is “I’m Her Daddy”.

This is a Women’s Health ad filmed in Australia and shown in Germany. A phone rings in a woman’s purse, and she… answers it.

This next ad is for the classic VW Beetle, and it’s from South Africa. Although very touching, the concept isn’t new, and is likely inspired by an old Disney cartoon. I have it at home, and I’ll try to look for the title.

A funny ad for L’Equipe, a French sports newspaper, actually asks parents to spend more time with their kids.

This next ad’s been making the rounds since last summer. It features a dancing midget. I can’t figure out what it’s advertising, but that dancing midget makes the ad really sticky. Just try and turn away while it’s playing… Overall, high on the weird factor.

This is an unfinished ad featuring 3D animated rabbits. It’s not in any language I know or understand, but I think it’s one of the Nordic languages. Great atmosphere, good warmth and the animation works very well.

Yes, I know, alcohol ads push alcohol, and that’s not cool, but this Bud Light ad is pretty funny. You’ll think the ending is predictable, but there’s a nice twist.

Condensed knowledge for 2007-05-14

Today’s calorie-free serving:

  • Clive Thompson from the NYT has a detailed write-up of what’s involved if small bands want to get their name out there these days. The almost-requisite MySpace page is a given… But while the web makes it easy for them to get their names out there, keeping up with the fans becomes a full-time computer job — just what they were trying to avoid when they became musicians. And at some point, the relationship reaches a plateau. A single human being can only keep up with a limited number of fans before they are overwhelmed. But the fans don’t care, they each want personal interaction. Sounds like a very non-fun experience for the musician.
  • Mandy Sellars in England suffers from a very rare condition called Proteus Syndrome. She will likely lose her legs. The article talks about her desire to experience life, and daily struggles.
  • This is good reading for us IT geeks: Top 7 things system administrators forget to do.
  • The NYT has a great profile of Walt Mossberg. The article not only talks about his career, but also about where things are going in terms of journalism when you factor in this “new media” we keep hearing about…
  • Mental_floss talks about the world’s most wanted (and expensive) poo. It’s ambergris. Yuck.
  • Look At This has posted a full-length movie called “When the Wind Blows“. It’s about an elderly couple who build a bomb shelter. When nuclear war breaks out, they survive, but unfortunately succumb to the fallout radiation while waiting for the government to help them. Here’s a direct link to the video.
  • According to this article, Bill O’Reilly uses old propaganda techniques to bias his listeners toward those he doesn’t agree with. Interesting stuff.
  • A pair of falcons has made their nest in the building of the San Jose City Hall, and they’ve installed a falcon cam for us web visitors. Neat!
  • Some charlatan who claims he’s Jesus Christ incarnate is fooling plenty of people down in Orlando. Don’t these people bother to read the Bible?
  • A brave little terrier saved 5 New Zealand kids from being torn up by violent pit bulls. Unfortunately it ended up so injured they needed to put him to sleep, but the children weren’t hurt.
  • Apparently ceiling height can affect how people think and act. A taller ceiling can make you more creative and artistic. Very interesting stuff!
  • Weirdomatic has a post with examples of old, creepy ads. I don’t know, Max Factor’s beauty micrometer seems reasonable enough, given the need to look fairly perfect on screen. Have a look and decide for yourselves.

50 ways to promote your website

Just stumbled onto this. Merle from WebsiteTrafficPlan wrote a nice guide that lists 50 Ways to Promote Your Website. It’s in PDF format and you’re welcome to download it by clicking on its link. Among the methods she recommends:

  • URL plates/stickers for your cars
  • Business cards
  • How to guides that list your URL
  • Classified ads
  • Press Releases
  • Ezines
  • PPC Advertising
  • and more

Although I know from personal experience that some of these methods don’t really deliver the results you’d expect, as a whole, it’s a good idea to diversity your advertising methods, in order to ensure the widest coverage. Besides, if you manage to get your name everywhere, it can’t hurt your business either. Just be aware of the cost of the methods, and track the conversions if at all possible, so you know if the money’s well spent.

Started writing for BlogCritics

I’ve started writing for BlogCritics as well, and my first entry, the MacBook review, was just published on their site. I’m pretty happy, and I hope it will get me some extra exposure.

See the first ComeAcross press release

I submitted a press release a couple of days ago through PRWEB, and it’s been up all day today. Here’s a link to it. I’m pretty excited about it, and I hope the story will get picked up by the media. Any attention should help increase people’s awareness of my site and my content, and that would be a great thing!

The latest Mac ads from Apple

I love the latest ads from Apple. They feature two guys posing as a PC and a Mac. Of course, the PC guy is staid-looking, with a dated hairdo and a business suit, and the Mac guy is casual, somewhat cool. They star in a series of ads highlighting the various benefits of a Mac, with titles such as Viruses, Restarting, Better, iLife, Network, and of course, Walt Mossberg’s flattering iMac review in the WSJ.

I like the one called Network. The two are holding hands and calling it a Network. 🙂 The tension of that wary network is pretty thick until the latest Japanese camera joins it. Then things get more relaxed… for the Mac.

Great stuff!

Attack of the viral campaign ads

From Wired News: “It’s the hottest new trend in political advertising: Lampoon your opponent in an online cartoon, and hope it goes viral. By Steve Friess.”

Problem is, we tend to be less critical of critical cartoon ads… When an opponent muckrakes another in a real ad, we think he’s a schmuck. But when he does it in a cartoon, we think it’s cute, yet the same message is gotten across. Yes, cartoon ads are more powerful, and in that sense, more dangerous than real ads. This is a problem! Here is the link.

The Lambretta Twist

Here is the link to a wonderful video from the 60s, advertising THE moped of the hour, called the Lambretta.