Let there be light

A simple idea – cover a 55,000 sports stadium with solar panels, and use them to power (75% of) the lights. This is in Taiwan, ready for the World Games, and, more importantly, Rugby sevens.

When there is no match then the power is fed into the grid – to the tune of 1.14 Gigiwatt hours per year. New Zealand uses about 42,000 GWh per year, so it isn’t a huge amount of electricity – but it is wonderfully sustainable. (I guess in wellington we could use windmills instead)

They built this with no recordable accidents – which is also a stunning achievement.

Plenty more photo goodness, and even a video, at deputy-dog and at the Worldgames09 site.

Posted in Business | Tagged , ,

Make it easy for me to leave you – unsubscribing

Like Rowan, I’ve been unsubscribing from a lot of list emails recently. Let’s see what we can learn from the process.

The Good

The best email subscriptions are easy to unsubscribe from – requiring a simple click from inside the email, which bounces to a web page with a confirmation message.

This is exemplary – at the bottom of each WSJ news alerts message is a one click “stop this now” link. (There is also another link where you can go to the website and manage all of your emails)

Next best is a return email to unsubscribe – something like this from the OECD.

Less good but still ok-ish are email lists that give you a unsubscribe link, direct you to a page and make you hit a confirm button on that page, sometimes answering a question while you are there. This is painful, but I guess you can spend a few more seconds to help them understand why you are leaving, and you don’t have to remember a login or password.

I had to laugh at this “why did you unsubscribe” pick-list from a sporadic email list that I signed up for some client research.
This drop down list actually made me feel a lot better about the particular organisation, even though I never read their spam. I’m guessing that the information they gather isn’t really  that valuable, but it is clear that the list owners understand the state of mind of people that have resorted to unsubscribing.

This is an important lesson – by the time you want to unsubscribe you are annoyed with the cumulative impact of all the messages, and therefore you don’t really like the senders. You are not happy, and want out.

It also means that email senders don’t want the customers anymore either. The recipients  are not reading, and if they are reading then they are not enjoying – so advertisers will get negative vibes.

Therefore it is important to do three things as an email sender:

  1. Make it really easy to unsubscribe, so messages will never annoy customers again
  2. Try, even, to make customers enjoy the process – so the last taste is a good one, and they will consider signing up again later or for something else now.
  3. Ask for feedback – so you learn and customers feel they have their say. Do make it optional though.

The Bad

The bad unsubscribe links aren’t what they advertise – they send you to the website, make you do something and then send a (one or more) “are you sure?” email, which is doubly annoying as you’ve just told them never to send me messages again.

The worst offenders are links that direct you back to the originating go to their site, require you login and then ‘manage your email options’.

This is simply unacceptable today. I’ll often be on a computer (e.g. the iPhone) where I don’t have my password for that site stored, or maybe I’m simply too lazy to go through the process so I won’t unsubscribe.

While some ’email marketers’ may want to keep expanding their email lists, I say “NO – you do not want me on your list”, and here’s why:

  1. The cumulative annoyance directed at your company will continue to build up until I am mad when ever I see your contemptable unstoppable spam
  2. I will desperately try to consign your crap to oblivion in my junk mailbox, and thereby never see any of your messages again. Your email list is vapour.
  3. I’ll get really mad and tell people about it, and maybe even blog about it…

So let’s name and shame, and I’ll direct this to a company that actually does know better: Trade Me, and specifically OldFriends.

The Old Friends emails have been getting spammier* and spammier, and I am getting really annoyed*, angry even at the spambot* that keeps sending them* – so I want to remove them.

*refer to above three points for linguistic context

However to remove myself from the OldFriends spambot requires a login:

OldFriends is not a site made for constant hanging out – so chances are that the login screen will draw a blank when it comes time to remember your details:

Of course we know the email address – it was just spammed – and so we can ask for yet another email to send you your password. Umm – no thanks – that is going to take too long.  (and I won’t mention the giant page-long “do you know these people” brick wall after you log in)

It’s the same with FindSomeone**

so I’ll keep getting spam from Findsomeone as well.

**(are you single, cute, smart, ridiculously weathly and have low standards? – get in touch :)

Trade Me can do it right though, as you’d expect.

Here’s how easy it is to unsubscribe from Mod’s Motors. First – click on the unsubscribe link in the email:

and that’s it – done.

Trade Me also make it trivial to sign up again for the email – which I quickly did.***

***I hope I never have to do this for real – Mod is leaving Trade Me but I trust that the appeal of 250,000 righteous readers will keep his classic quotes coming:

The thrill of fettling a neglected beast and turning it into a minter is special. Some people try to do this with the opposite sex and get disappointed when they fail.


So what have we learned?

  1. Make it easy to unsubscribe
  2. Make it easy to subscribe
  3. Make it fun

To me the best unsubscribe approach is:

  • a link that unsubscribes me instantly
  • lands me on a professional, branded and fun page
  • that thanks me, tells me I’m now unsubscribed and offers me an optional one to three question survey to fill out.

Which is just common sense.

Posted in Internet Business, Trade Me | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Stuff – remove the TVNZ video on Bridget Saunders

I’d heard about the Close Up interview with Fairfax’s recently departed Sunday Star Times About Town gossip columnist Bridget Saunders. It looked like it was a bit of a hit-job.

The last place I would have thought to see it was on Fairfax owned Stuff. I found the link to the video from the homepage – just beneath the banner.

The video itself has a one line article attached – leading me to infer that this is just one of many pulled over from TVNZ:

I understand that Bridget has made a few people uncomfortable over the years, and I guess TVNZ relished the chance to do a bit of an ambush on her. Close Up asked her bluntly about plastic surgery (yes botox), whether she had slept with a married politician (no married man ever) and whether she was fired or chose to leave (she called the meeting). To her credit she answered all the questions, though it was clearly a difficult interview for her, and the editing room did her no favours at all.

I think it was a bit over the top by TVNZ, but I guess I can understand that they wanted ratings. However the interview was amateurish – confronting Bridget with unsubstantiated gossip instead of substantiated facts, and thatapproach backfired for me as it looked like TVNZ was trying to smear Bridget, and she came across as very human and open.

It wasn’t journalism though – it was a fishing expedition, and they came home with an empty bucket. For Bridget, well I guess that’s part of the game of being a gossip columnist – you get to take some licks as well as give them. Shame on you TVNZ though – you could have done a lot better.

But I feel strongly that Fairfax, through Stuff, overstepped the mark tonight by placing this online, and by linking to it from the front page.

Bridget is not only a former Fairfax writer, but Stuff itself publishes Bridget’s work in her About Town blog. You can still read the blog – with the last post  on 6 May – yet sadly there was no goodbye from Bridget.

I’m guessing (hoping) that the night editors at Stuff just grabbed the TVNZ videos and placed them on the site.The ‘article’ is just the video description. I’m hoping they didn’t realise that Bridget was in their shoes a week earlier.

The video even ends with a victory salutation to the new Queen of gossip – who works for rival APN’s NZHerald.

I have absolutely no idea about the circumstances surrounding Bridget’s departure and I’m not too clear on how you balance the news-worthiness of an item versus loyalty to your own contributors. I believe that publishing this was unintentional, but this is unacceptable to Bridget, and must raise questions amongst other Fairfax staff and contributors.

Whatever the cause, the effect of seeing this on Stuff must be pretty rough on Bridget, who could feel that Fairfax is disowning her with prejudice. That’s not a nice way to end a seven year relationship.

I feel for her. I did meet Bridget once or twice during my tenure at Fairfax and she was delightful. I wish her luck in her new venture – writing a book on bad sex.

Oh – and I think it would be wise for those with sharp knives to remember that being included in a gossip column is a minor inconvenience compared to a starring role in a book on bad sex.

Posted in fairfax | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Negative political tactics make you look dull

I admire democracy – after all the alternatives are much worse. I also believe that a robust ‘loyal’ opposition is a necessary part of a healthy democracy.

But it all falls apart when an opposition chooses vindictiveness and obstruction over constructive opposition and collaboration.

Two recent examples:

The US Republican party apparently plans to add 450 amendments to a climate change bill, in order to slow it’s progress down to a crawl. This is a climate change bill – a rather relevant piece of legislation for the entire world. So why not engage in a constructive debate and work out the best solution – rather than simply opposing it?

The second case is closer to home. NZ’s Labour party just used the same tactics to obstruct and delay the passage of the Local Government (Auckland Reorganisation) bill. If you happened to tune into parliament in the last few days it was a sad indictment of the system, and morever an appalling way to use the Maori language as Labour and colleagues used the language and resulting required translation to slow things down even more.

Sure Labour wants to get the bill to committee, but their petulant behaviour in this instance makes them lose face, and though they may crow about parliamentary victories, to this listener they just sounded like ignorant obstructionists.

And yes National didn’t do the ‘right thing’ by operating under urgency, and they could have accepted an offer for a fast committee pricess.

The parties have argued themselves into a corner on this one.

It’s particularly galling as clearly both sides clearly want a single Auckland council. They differ on the details, but the situation is exacerbated by the Mt Albert by-election and the adversarial tactics used by both sides.

So please – both sides – grow up and govern.

Posted in NZ Business | Tagged ,

eBay UK stacks it high and watches it fly

eBay have taken a leaf out of 1-day‘s playbook and have launched a Daily Deal on their UK website. The idea is simple – offer a compelling deal from the homepage, drive traffic to the site each day and sell the bargains by the thousands.

Meanwhile once you arrive at eBay.co.uk each day, why not check out the rest of the site – this should increase overall sales.

For once this is something that Trade Me could actually copy from eBay.

There are 3 key questions that remain to be resolved though.

  1. How do you select the products? They have to be real bargains from sellers that will deliver fast. It’s also an administrative burden to manually select those products, so it there some sort of auction each day for the space?
  2. How do you compensate Trade Me for the home page slot when  the margins are so tiny? The home page slot could be sold for cash, but Trade Me does clip the ticket on the increase sales of the bargain anyway. Do you offer lower fees to get the prices even lower?
  3. How do you manage the fallout from smaller sellers who compete (poorly) with the products on offer. This is especially bad if the front page sellers get a cut on fees, but bad even if their fees are standard and they pay a home page placement fee. This could even cannibalize entire categories as members wait for the deal rather than shopping.
Posted in auctions, Trade Me | Tagged

BMW’s new bike – the S1000RR

BMW has just released the street version of their Supersport bike. This is an important event in the decade long takeover of the marque by horsepower crazy hoons.

Those hoons still believe in ABS and traction control – this bike has 4 settings that adjust the engine, ABS and traction control for Rain, Sport, Race and (even) Slick. I like how there is no ‘cruise’ setting.

As with all Superbikes, relentless efforts go into reducing weight. Look at the tiny reservoir for the rear brake fluid:

The chain goes through the swingarm:

While the integrated rear lights both look elegant and don’t interrupt the airflow.

The bike joins its dirtier cousin – the G450X – in allowing BMW to compete at the very top in motorcycle sport. It will take a while for them to start winning regularly, and then to dominate, but this is a great start.

You can’t just design a series of great bikes and start producing, expecting them to sell and to be reliable. It is even tougher if you are starting from the position that BMW did back in the early 1990s.

The successful transformation of the Motorad group is one of the great stories of the motorcycle community – but sadly an untold story, one I would like to read. It seems that BMW decided that they want their bikes to be as good versus their peers as their cars are versus theirs. Full credit to them for this transformation.

Posted in Business, Motorcycling | 1 Comment

Uncovering the truth behind “50% of teens post senstive information”

Last week we saw a plethora of New Zealand headlines bemoaning the poor behaviour of ‘kids today’ – this time in how they handle their sensitive information online.

The punchline was that one in two students had posted sensitive information about themselves online in the past year.

TVNZ went with Half of NZ teens post sensitive info online while NZHerald went with Nearly half of Kiwi teens post sensitive info online – both remarkably similar to the original press release.

Some went further though – and the three best articles that I read were from:

  1. The venerable ODT – with Teens lax over online security a very well written article that included a local angle and even a call to a local academic.
  2. The Dominion Post with Internet’s effects may be taught – an interesting angle, and with only passing reference to the survey. Well done to the Dom Post and Greer McDonald.
  3. TV3, with some new news Policing unit to monitor internet for criminal activity which probably means bald 50 year old men masquerading as 15 year old girls are going to start flirting with me online.

The articles all stemmed from preliminary findings published by PhD student, and research manager at Netsafe – John Fenaughty.

Colour me skeptical. Indeed I am frighteningly skeptical about any headlines that say “the youth of today are….” as I remember all too well that the youth of my day were actually pretty on to it.

I suspect (and from what I see, know) that the youth of today are much better at figuring out what they can and cannot put online than their older peers. In particular I see that horribly inept early Bebo pages and youthful utterances are increasingly becoming the norm, and employers and voters of the future will accept it as such.

But I was also concerned that the survey itself was a bit of a half baked scaremongering exercise. So I decided to dig into it a little. The Netsafe website was useless – but I did find the press release after a fellow twitterer shared the link.

So I called (there was no email address) John Fenaughty and left a message. He got back to me very quickly on email, and I posed him 12 questions – cunningly displaying them as 10:

1: How was the final respondent group selected, including response rates etc? How did you avoid bias across the multiple dimensions?
2: What were the exact dates of data collection?
3: What were the actual survey questions used to derive these answers? especially the “wouldn’t want to find” part.
4: How were the questions asked? – e.g interviews, filled out by students etc.
5: What was the age (or school class) distribution of the responding students?
6: What percentage of students didn’t use the internet? were they included in the survey?
7: How was the “one out of two” figure derived? – can you provide a break down (crosstab) that shows the combination of sensitive information provided?
6: What is the breakdown of age (or school class) versus provision of the four sensitive informations identified in the press release?
7: What other questions were in the survey?
8: will you be making all of the coded source data available?
9: How do you define cyber bullying?
10: What convictions for cyber bullying have there been in NZ?

Quietly readying myself for a nice evisceration of the study, I noted that his reply wasn’t instant – and perhaps wasn’t ever going to come. I mulled on the state of research these days, but eventually I did get a reply almost a day later.*

It was rigorous. In fact it was an excellent reply, and I am posting it in full beneath the fold.

John sent me back complete answers to all of my questions, and satisfied my greater concerns about the study. Simply put – he is doing the best he can within the constraints he has been dealt.

I noted to myself that this is just the sort of evidence that you would want to see from a PhD student, especially as a PHD needs to be defended in front of a committee. Having sat on one of those committees before (we had to say no in the end) it is a grueling exercise for the student, but with the quality of this response John is demonstrating that he will be ready.

If you read the reply, ask yourself whether any research that you conduct or read about can be answered just as well. Are your questions tested? Are all ethical grounds covered off? Are the samples truly statistical and non-biased? and so on.

So well done John – Not only have I deleted most of the blog post I’d drafted, but you’ve even managed to turn it into a “how to respond to questioning bloggers” lesson.

Continue reading

Posted in Life, media | 9 Comments