Archive for the ‘Rant’ Category
I’m a big fan of the internationally-renowned Gordon Ramsay. I’m not a huge foodie per se, but any time I see his various reality shows (the UK “Kitchen Nightmares” are my favorite), I gain a little more respect for the man. I appreciate his honesty and communication style, and the way he uses explicatives is second to none. One reoccurring theme i see in his shows is his insistence on simplicity. Most of the restaurants he tries to save suffer from a major case of trying to impress their guests with over complicated dishes — ones that pair odd combinations together in hopes of being unique, others that are just too complex to satisfy most people’s palettes. By the end of most of his shows, the restaurant has revived itself by creating simple dishes that are easy to make and delight the customer.
As a web guy developing ecommerce solutions for a major retailer, I see a correlation between our company and the restaurants Gordon Ramsay is trying to save. Over time, we have taken once simple web solutions and products and heaped layer after layer of complexity on them in an effort to sell more things. This is like a chef adding ten different spice combinations and an unusual sauce to a dish that could be served with just salt and pepper — it doesn’t work, and usually has the opposite intended effect. Instead of delighting our customers with the basics, like accessible product details and an easy way to perform various tasks on the site, we complicate the recipe by adding code hacks and fancy interactive “features” that usually end up confusing the customer and driving them elsewhere in search of a no-nonsense way to fulfill their needs.
There is an inherent elegance in simple solutions. They are typically easier to create, and satisfy the needs of the customer, without a lot of hassle. They offer a good base to introduce more complex interactions over time, if warranted. We need to get back to good clean code and UI, and not disguise our intent to sell products with unnecessary complexity.
February 24th, 2009 | Permalink | No Comments
I have been fortunate enough to work with some great people out there working for open web and semantic standards. However, I am reluctant to use identify myself with my current employer in this work, as it can sometimes foster negative connotations. On multiple occasions I have been either directly or indirectly warned of “forcing” standards, or creating them for profit or company gain.
While there are inherent benefits to adopting these data standards for ecommerce sites, and thus my company and industry, I am constantly reminded of a simple fact: I am a consumer too, and I deserve a better experience when searching for products. This is why I advocate for better semantic data practices on the web. To illustrate my point, I need only look back to this past weekend. My wife and I are needing new kitchen appliances, but have a non-standard (measuring from today’s modern standards) area to fit a refrigerator and free-standing range. While we’ve solved for the range, I spent a great deal of time tracking down specs for a handful of refrigerators to see if they fit in within our limited height constraints. To my surprise, I found different height measurements for every commerce site I visited, for the same refrigerators. This prompted a visit to the store, where the dimensions on the retailer’s site didn’t match what was physically on the floor. Frustrated, we were sent spiraling toward square one in our quest for new appliances.
With more participation of retailers, manufacturers, and service providers in the semantic web, these gaps surely would close. I envision a time where publishing good semantic data in an hproduct microformat or product RDFa enables applications to capture data and organize it — providing clarification to inconsistent data, offering a larger view of product reviews, and giving consumers better pricing and service options from a wider variety of stores.
Until that day comes, I am still looking for a black 25+ cubic foot side-by-side refrigerator with bottom-mount freezer that is Energy Star qualified and will fit into a 67 1/2 inch high space. Or a good contractor to remodel our kitchen.
November 21st, 2008 | Permalink | 1 Comment
A couple of nights ago I was concepting an ecommerce solution for a friend-of-the-family small jewelry business using the shopify platform. For $24 a month and very little time on my part, I could have a fully functioning ecommerce solution I could confidently hand over to a non tech-savvy small business client with the assurance that they could easily update their catalog, blog, and secondary content pages without much hand holding from me. Plus, the front-end was almost completely customizable, template-driven, and already contained many of the SEO and ecom techniques we covet in the world of corporate ecommerce (SEO, Google Sitemaps, etc., etc.).
I was incredibly excited at the prospect of introduing it to this business. As with most businesses recently, the downturn in the economy has hit him hard. This well-built, cheap, and easy to learn tool could be the key to opening up avenues of business he may have never dreamed of — and an opportunity to level the playing field against the giants of his industry.
It’s just this leveling of the playing field that should be an ever-growing concern of large ecommerce sites across the web. My bread and butter comes from working at a large corporation selling consumer electronics. One thing you should (or maybe do) know about many corporate web shops is they are slow, lumbering giants when it comes to current trends, standards, and change. Often times their web operations are controlled by outside consulting firms, which in my experience are mired in the same red tape that prohibits progress in their clients. Or better yet, the big consulting firms actually inhibit progress with their lack of knowledge (or is it denial?) of the way things work. Regardless of the situation, just keeping up is incredibly expensive, difficult, and time consuming. And once a corporate project is approved, funded, fought over, and finally implemented, the new concept or fix has already fallen woefully behind the technology curve.
Meanwhile, smart new startups continue to emerge to wage a battle against the big guns for marketshare — hence the title of this piece, “Guerrilla Webfare”. These nimble, agile, savvy, forward-thinking groups have the ability to take big chunks of market share away from big corporate sites. Outside of the sheer number of products, what advantages do larger corporate web operations hold over their smaller counterparts?
If the corporate ecom sites of the world truly want to deliver the best to their customers and continue to survive and thrive, a different mentality has to be put into place. Adopting iterative, agile practices on flexible core systems is key. Embracing and implementing standards makes the internet a better place for all. And for God’s sake, stop paying through the nose for overly-expensive consulting that has little ROI and cripples innovation when you could be passing those savings on to a grateful and deserving consumer.