Wednesday, July 30, 2008

7 How-to-be-happy Lessons That Kids Can Teach Us

You do not have to look very far to learn how to be happy. In fact, there are no expensive workshops or courses to take, or books that you need to read. You do not even need to sit in meditation to gain great insights. Well, if you are seeking for happiness, then notice who around you seems to be happy all day? That’s right – kids!

Laughter is a natural thing with kids. If you spend some time playing with them, it is easy to get infected with their happy smiles. While there are moments that kids get upset, you find that you can learn a thing or two from them about forgetting their anger just as quickly. It is also possible that you start to remember a time when you used to be a kid and how life seemed so easy and without worries.

If anything, here are 7 ways that you can learn from kids on how to happy:

  1. Living in the present
    Kids have a wonderful way of living one moment at a time. Their feelings are often based on events as they happen. They are mostly joyful. At times, they may feel negative and this usually happens in a fight over toys or games. However, as soon as they get distracted with something new, they no longer hold on to their negative emotions. Instead, they are happy once again.

    As adults, we tend to remain angry or upset even way after the event. We are experts in accumulating anger in an internal storehouse. Our minds get stuck a lot in the past. We do not live in the present moment as it is now. It is hard to be happy when we have no present moment awareness.
  2. Single Focus While Doing Things
    When a child is playing a tag, he is playing tag. He is not playing tag and thinking about the picture he will draw later and the block castle he will build tomorrow morning. He is single focused.

    As adults, we get stressed because we pile on many things into a single moment. We overwhelm ourselves with our “to do” list. Unfortunately, in trying to multi-task, our mind gets detracted from being present in each task. We end up rushing through time. There is no space for slowing down, let alone breathe. At the very worst, with so many things to do, we end up not accomplishing much.

    So, if you find it hard to cope, slow down a little. Be single focused in the things that needs to be done first. After you finish, then move on to the next down your list. You find life more of a breeze, when you can reduce the number of things you need to do at any one point in time.
  3. Use of Imagination
    Kids are always using their imagination, whether they are playing a game or drawing a picture. They love pretend play and are intrigued by stories about magic, dreams and what seems humanly impossible. If you think about it, imagination is the seed of the feeling of joy. When you indulge in your dreams, endorphins are released, giving you a nice warm sensation.

    It is funny that how as adults we have forgotten about using our imagination. School has trained us to be more left-brained and analytical. We also become more rigid in the way we do things and our expectations. Then, when events do not happen according to plan, we become very unhappy. We are less open to new possibilities, because we have lost our sense of imagination.

  4. The future is limitless
    To many kids, everything in life is possible. The sky is the limit and they have their whole lives ahead of them. There is no reason for them to feel as if time is working against them.

    Well, you can adopt the very same attitude and not be held hostage by time considerations. It is never too late. If there is something you have been waiting to do with your life, then go for it. The last you want would be a life of regret. Joy escapes you when you allow life to become stale.
  5. Always Joyful
    Children are always happy because they find joy in little things. They get excited when they see a butterfly, jump over a puddle or get to go to McDonalds. They do not over analyze situations and do not assume the worst in people or situations. They keep things simple.

    To remind yourself about being joyful, keep a gratitude journal. List down the many blessings that you currently enjoy in your life. Additionally, on a regular basis, do something small that makes you happy like reading one chapter of a book you like or taking a walk in the park.

  6. Inherent Goodness and Trust in Others
    Children have an inherent goodness about them. They do not intend to hurt anyone and they do not naturally think that anyone would want to hurt them. With no such ill intent or worries, it is easy to be just happy all day!

    Imagine what the world would be like if everyone could play and work nicely together. Adults should learn from kids to put aside their differences and care for each other. Love creates happiness.
  7. Absolute Faith In Getting Their Wishes Fulfilled
    It is amazing how kids can have so much faith that their wishes will be granted. Ever get badgered by your kids until you "cave" in to give them what they want? Believe me; it is not easy to stay firm when you are up against their cheeky smiles.

    Another example I can think of is about the wishes of my kids to see the world. They talk about their travel plans all the time. There was never a shred of doubt that their wishes will be granted one day.

    Do we hold as much faith in our own dreams? Probably not. We are too encumbered by unnecessary worries. We limit ourselves by our beliefs. If things are not working in our favor, we may even choose to give up half way and ditch our dreams.
In conclusion, to be happy, reconnect with the inner child in you. Be around kids if it helps. If you do not have any, check out your local playground. Better yet, volunteer some time at a Children’s Orphanage. Bring out the imaginative, joyful, and trusting qualities in you. By becoming more child-like, you are well on your way to becoming less of a stress bag.


15 Awesome Tutorial Websites You Probably Don’t Know About

If I were forced to choose an aspect of the internet that made it simply indispensable, it would definitely be its availability as a huge learning resource. 20 years ago, who would have thought that one would have easy access to already completed business documents, research papers of world class universities, free encyclopedias and some great books, no matter where he or she is located in the world.

The internet also boasts of accommodating tutorials to absolutely anything. Here are 15 such super-useful sites which aim to provide you with all the tutorials you'd ever need.
  1. How Stuff Works
    How Stuff Works is probably the best known How-to tutorials site. It has has a vast and diverse collection with topics ranging from food, health, computers, etc. One of the best things about this site is that it explains even the toughest tutorial in a very simple and easy to understand language.

  2. YouTube
    Surprised? Well, it shouldn't be if you use YouTube a lot. Yesterday my younger brother bought a new guitar and the very first thing he needed to do was to tune it. So he just logged on, went to and searched for "How to tune a guitar". And there you go! He had a nice video explaining the process step-by-step.
  3. eHow
    eHow is another comprehensive tutorials website with detailed instructions on how to do just about anything. Like How Stuff Works, this site also covers a wide range of topics.
  4.'s Video Tutorials's video tutorial site has a collection of very informative how-to videos and screencasts on topics which include Parenting, Style, Electronics and Gadgets, etc. I found the collection to be very comprehensive and probably better than You Tube's collection of similar videos.
  5. wikiHow
    wikiHow, as it says, is an editable How-to site with 40,100 articles contributed by volunteers from different parts of the world. You're sure to find some nice tutorials here too.
  6. Instructables
    Instructables is a cool Do-It-Yourself site that has an extensive collection of user submitted how-to articles and easy instructions complete with videos and photographs. It's a community driven website where you can submit content, vote and comment on existing content.
  7. Wired's How-To Wiki
    Wired magazine's how-to wiki has some very elaborate and detailed tutorials focussed primarily on topics like Gadgets, Technology and Computers. You can also subscribe to its RSS feed to get them the new how-to articles directly in your feed reader.
  8. PC World's How-to Site
    PC World, one of the best tech journals available, also has a how to site that publishes technology focused tutorials related to various electronic gadgets, hardware and software applications.
  9. VideoJug
    When it comes to how-to video tutorial sites, VideoJug is probably the largest and most comprehensive. It has videos on varied subjects like choosing a new hairstyle, playing golf, installing windows or how to kiss someone passionately.
  10. W3Schools
    W3Schools is a first class web development tutorials website which provides easy reference guides on languages like HTML, XHTML, CSS, PHP and JavaScript. All the tutorials are free and nicely explained through various examples.
    NETTUTS and PSDTUTS are sister sites, in fact blogs, and definitely one of the best online resources on web development and Photoshop skills. NETTUTS explores web development and designing in detail while PSDTUTS provides some world-class Adobe Photoshop tutorials.
  12. 5min
    5min is a video tutorial site with a difference- the videos are short and no more than 5 mins. Like other video sites, this too covers a wide range of topics, however it's yet to take on sites like VideoJug in the online video tutorial space.
  13. SuTree
    Sutree aggregates the best video tutorials from other video sites and covers a variety of topics like softwares, games, pets & animals etc. Like instructables, SuTree is also a community driven website and lets you find videos through tags and subscribe to the RSS feed of the site.
  14. VTC
    Although VTC is not entirely free to use, it does provide some nice tutorials on software and business applications. Out of around 66,000 tutorials, it provides 12,500 for free.
  15. Good Tutorials
    Good Tutorials has a nice collection of graphic design tutorials which it aggregates through various web design sites and blogs. And yes, it's free to use !
So overall, with the exception of VTC, all the other sites are completely free and can certainly fetch you any tutorial you can ever imagine. Hope you enjoy using them. :)



Sunday, July 27, 2008

google docs templates

Top 10 Social-Networking Websites & Forums - June 2008

The Hitwise data featured is based on US market share of visits as defined by the IAB, which is the percentage of online traffic to the domain or category, from the Hitwise sample of 10 million US internet users. Hitwise measures more than 1 million unique websites on a daily basis, including sub-domains of larger websites. Hitwise categorizes websites into industries on the basis of subject matter and content, as well as market orientation and competitive context. The market share of visits percentage does not include traffic for all sub-domains of certain websites that could be reported on separately.

Bill Gates...

video list

“We've really achieved the ideal of what I wanted Microsoft to become.”

-Bill Gates, June 2008

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Biases and Restrictions for Google Search

Google uses many signals to rank search results and, in some cases, it filters some of them based on your location, device or preferences. Here are some ways to disable these filters or to create custom filters.

1. Google automatically expands some queries and also includes results that contain different morphological forms or related words. If you search for [av], Google will highlight antivirus and anti-virus. To prevent this, add + in front of the word: [+av]. This is also useful if a certain keyword is very important and must be included in each search result.

2. Google filters duplicate search results, so if you want to find a better estimation for the number of search results add &filter=0 at the end of Google's URL. This parameter disables the following two filters:
* Duplicate Content — If multiple documents contain the same information, then only the most relevant document of that set is included in your search results.

* Host Crowding — If there are many search results from the same site, Google may not show all the results from that site or may show the results lower in the ranking than they otherwise would have been.

3. Here are two useful URLs for Google's homepage:

* - if Google redirects you to the mobile version, but you want the standard homepage, this URL bypasses the detection

* - if Google redirects you to a localized version, based on your IP address or your browser's settings, you can go to the global version using this URL (or by clicking on " in English").

4. To introduce a local bias, add the gl parameter to Google's search results URL. For example, shows the results for [Roma], but gives better rankings to pages related to Italy.

5. If you don't like Google's personalized results you can log out from your Google account, disable the Web History service or turn off the personalization bias by adding &pws=0 to Google's URL. Note that the parameter is not persistent and it only works for the current search.

6. To restrict your search to the high-quality (?) web sites included in the Open Directory Project, you can append &cat=gwd/Top to Google's URL or perform your search at Google Directory.

7. Find the right custom search engine for your query and enter your query there. A good custom search engine restricts the search space to a number of authoritative sites from a domain.

8. Use the site: operator to restrict your search to a TLD (like .edu), domain, subdomain or even a pattern. For example, to restrict your search to YouTube pages that contain videos, try: [].

9. Search only the web pages and sites linked from a page using Google Co-op's on-the-fly feature. Use the "try it out" option.

10. A version of Google which identifies and prioritizes "search results that are more easily usable by blind and visually impaired users" is Accessible Web Search.

Other filters are available in the advanced search page: restrict the search results to pages written in a language, from a certain country, to non-adult sites, or to pages licensed using a flavor of Creative Commons.

List of Google products

This page is a summary of services and tools provided by Google Inc. For other uses, see Google (disambiguation).

This list of Google products includes all major desktop, mobile and online products released or acquired by Google Inc.. They are either a gold release, in beta development, or part of the Google Labs initiative. This list also includes previous products, that have either been merged, discarded or renamed. Features of products, such as Web Search features, are not listed

How to Cultivate Humor

Humor doesn't typically come to mind in the same breath as depression. But humor can be an important ally in getting beyond the rigidity of thinking that accompanies depression and keeps people locked into a depressed state of mind.

One goal of cognitive therapy is to change your perspective, your point of view. Humor is one way to change your view viscerally—and enjoyably.

Cultivating a humorous mindset helps you see yourself and any situation with a more supple mind so that you are not locked into a negative view. Depression is both caused by and causes the inability to see options and choices we otherwise would.

Take a common situation: someone feels very depressed in the wake of having failed at something. They cancel plans and withdraw from social opportunities. They don't feel "up to it." Under the surface, perhaps out of view of the conscious mind, the person might feel that the failure disqualifies him from the human race. However, turning around and asking out loud, "Does that disqualify me from the human race?" is humorous. It highlights the absurdity of the extreme conclusion.

We're not talking stand-up comedy, but insight-oriented commentary, achieved via anecdote and metaphor. You might feel down from a cutting remark your spouse made. But you could ask yourself: Does that "cutting" remark draw blood? Noting the metaphor puts it in its place—an obnoxious comment, but not a searing one.

Humor fosters acceptance of our humanness and our foibles. It is not sarcasm or put-downs. What we are looking for is gentle, playful perspective that embraces humanness but never at the expense of others—or of ourselves. The goal is not to take life too seriously.

So how to foster good humor?

  • Choose to allow yourself to laugh at your own behaviors and beliefs—but not at yourself. Make that distinction clearly.

    See your life not as a distraught drama but as a romantic comedy. Recognize the inherent farce-like quality in situations including sex and relationships.

    Cultivating humor not only makes life more bearable, it makes you more attractive to others. Study upon study shows that a sense of humor is high up on the list of traits that most people seek in a partner.

  • Insert silliness. Fill your life with one goofy thing a day. Make an unusual observation about someone. Or do something you normally wouldn't do. Wear something silly. You will learn that nothing terrible happens—and you may also discover that something good often happens.
  • Puncture a rigid mindset with a mental exercise called "paradoxical intention."

    Suppose you have to give a speech and you are unduly anxious about looking uncomfortable. You can overcome the fear of failure by deliberately focusing on it and humorously exaggerating the very effects you fear.

    Say you are worried about having to speak publicly and sweating profusely. Deliberately imagine a humorous situation where you are—literally—sweating like a fountain and spewing enough to drown the first row of the audience. Accept that you sweat like a fountain; imagine it and then think, what is the worst that could happen?

  • Exaggeration is funny because it skewers the falsehood. If you fail at a test or perform poorly at an audition, you could erroneously call yourself a failure. That, however, is an overgeneralization. Alternatively, you could see yourself as someone who failed at this particular thing, but in no way does that stamp you forever in this way.

    Find the humor by saying, this makes me an utter wretch, a failure now and forever, a doomed and worthless subhuman, because I didn't get the part that I wanted or my partner isn't giving me the attention I want. Get into the exaggeration until you see the absurdity of seeing yourself as a "total failure."

  • Walk down the street remembering that people are nude under their clothes. It reduces fear of others. Such thoughts can take people of high status from deity to human. It helps to remember that everyone yells at their kids, spills ketchup, goes to the bathroom.
  • Play to an audience. Think of stories and items that would make others laugh.
  • Be sensitive to the words you use. They can rigidify or help loosen up your thinking.
  • Create cute, funny neologisms with your partner. Call it goofifying. Creating your own funny expressions for your experiences makes you more flexible and allows you to interpret and assess reality better.
  • Smile. Here's a favorite silly joke I can't resist passing along: What does an agnostic, dyslexic insomniac do? Stays up all night and wonders if there is a dog.

Monday, July 21, 2008

14 Cool Business Card Designs

These cards are also out-of-the-box ideas that most clients would love to have, but would never have the balls to actually use

bussines card

Freedom and privacy in the cloud: a call for action

This is a post about freedom. The freedom to keep your data for yourself and the freedom to run free software. You should be able to reclaim and enjoy these freedoms also when using web applications.

If you are a supporter of the free software movement, you can easily opt for Gimp instead of Photoshop, or Firefox instead of Internet Explorer. You can also protect the privacy of your data by using the many encryption tools that are available (GPG, TrueCrypt, …). But when it comes to web applications things get complicated.

The benefits of web apps (ubiquitous access, seamless upgrades, reliable storage, …) are many, but quite often users lose their freedom to study, modify and discuss the source code that powers those web apps.

Furthermore, we are forced to trust web applications provider with our data (bookmarks, text documents, chat transcripts, financial info, … and now health records) that no longer resides on our hard disks, but are stored somewhere “in the cloud”.

It’s not a nice situation when you have to chose between convenience and freedom.

Let me be clear: web apps are great and I’m in love with them. But I think it’s time to ask for more freedom and more privacy. Here is a three step plan to achieve both these results.

1. Choose AGPL

Why is AGPL important? Because it means that, if you are an application service provider and your services are based on software with an AGPL license, you have to make the source code available to anyone that uses the service! FSF guidelines suggest to add a “Source” link that leads users to an archive of the code right into the web application interface.

(Don’t ask me why it took so long to tackle this problem within the free software community!)

Action points

  • Help Clipperz to assemble an “AGPL Suite”: a collection of web applications that provides tools for the most common needs.

    The suite should include: word processor, web chat, password manager, wiki, address book, to do list, calendar, bookmark manager, … Each web app must be released under an AGPL license! Therefore forget Google,, Plaxo, Meebo, … at least unless they switch to AGPL.

    There are already a couple of candidates for inclusion (Ajax Chat for the web chat and, of course, Clipperz for the password manager), but most of the spots in the suite are still vacant!

  • Join Clipperz in its effort to evangelize the benefits of AGPL to the maintainers of open source web projects. Ask them to convert to AGPL.

2. Add zero-knowledge sauce

Web developers and web users are still largely ignoring the opportunity offered by browser-based cryptography to bring the privacy and security of traditional software programs to web applications.

At Clipperz we envisioned a new architecture paradigm called “zero-knowledge web apps” (here a more detailed description) that combines the idea of host-proof hosting with a set of rules focused on the “learn nothing” mantra.

The name was both an homage to cryptography (a “zero-knowledge proof” is a standard cryptographic protocol) and a promise of a specific relation between the application provider and the users. The server hosting the web app could know nothing of its users, not even their usernames! Clipperz applied this paradigm to implement its online password manager.

Action points

  • Apply zero-knowledge techniques to each component of the “AGPL Suite”. Converting an existing web applications to the zero-knowledge architecture is not easy, but at Clipperz we have a considerable experience on the subject and we will be happy to share our knowledge and code base.

    We could eventually enjoy a web based word processor that can’t read our documents, a truly off-the-record web chat, a wiki where we could lightheartedly store valuable information, and so on.

  • Build and maintain a list of ASPs that host the whole “AGPL Suite”. It will be a useful reference for those who value free software and privacy, but don’t possess the necessary skills and resources to run web apps from their own server.

3. Build a smarter browser

We are almost there, but we still need to provide users of web apps with an even more flexible and secure environment. In fact, given the architecture of a zero-knowledge web app, the server typically performs the following tasks:

  • loads the Javascript code to the user’s browser (the actual program);
  • optionally authenticates the user (using a zero-knowledge protocol);
  • retrieves and stores encrypted data as requested by the user’s browser.

Free software implies full control over anything that runs in my computer. Therefore two questions arise:

  • How can I run a modified version of the Javascript code instead of the one loaded by the server?
  • How can I be alerted of changes in the Javascript code that the server loads to my browser?

I recently had the tremendous honor to exchange thoughts with the very Richard Stallman about the above issues and he proposed a smart solution to both problems.

Stallman suggests to add a feature to the browser allowing a user to say: “When you get URL X, use the Javascript from URL Y as if it came from URL X.” If the user does invoke this feature, he can run his copy of the Javascript and still being able to exchange data with the server hosting the web application.

A browser with such capabilities could also easily verify if the Javascript from URL X is different from the alternative Javascript stored at URL Y. If the user trusts the present release of the Javascript code from URL X, he could make a copy of it at URL Y and be alerted if any change occurs.

This solution protects the user from malicious code that could be unknowingly executed by his browser, stealing his data and destroying the whole zero-knowledge architecture.

Action points

  • Write add-ons for the major free browsers (Mozilla, Webkit, …) that implement the Stallman’s solution.

  • Advocate for including the “AGPL Suite” along with the above enhanced browsers into GNU/Linux distributions.

How to contribute

  • Keep reading this blog where I will post regular updates.
  • Send in your comments and suggestion.
  • Spread the word writing in your blog, posting in forums, …
  • Make a donation.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


We spoke about innovation overload two years ago. If anything has changed since then, it’s that the overload has become an avalanche.

So here’s a special edition of our Trend Briefing, listing plenty of new and updated trends, including 41 related new business ideas, illustrating just how much is going on right now. Aimed squarely at encouraging our entrepreneurial subscribers to execute even more of their ideas, small and big. Time to get even busier ;-)


I. Why, what, who, and how


While most of the global business world is desperately trying to embed innovation processes into their organizations, we still prefer to focus on the brands and entrepreneurs who 'just do it’. And by the beard of Zeus, aren't they plentiful these days! In fact, we’re witnessing an absolute INNOVATION AVALANCHE:

INNOVATION AVALANCHE: There’s more innovation happening than ever before. New brands, new niches, new concepts, new products, new services and new experiences are flooding an equally fast expanding number of markets. Just as important, there are more freely available sources to track these innovations than ever before. And all of this is coming to (if not at) you from every corner of the world. The GLOBAL BRAIN has been unleashed, and there’s nowhere to hide for those who aren't part of it.

The link between INNOVATION AVALANCHE and trends? As focused as we are on emerging consumer trends, we never tire of pointing out that trends are only good for one thing: helping you get inspired to innovate, to come up with new goods, services and experiences for (or even better, with) your customers.

Now, one easy way to get started is by taking a look at innovative companies around the world that are already capitalizing on trends, and learn from them. But before you dive into the many trends and examples we've selected for you, a few quick pointers:

There’s more than lab-based innovation


Innovation is not necessarily about serious people in white coats puttering about in R&D labs. In an experience economy (which we’re still in, like it or not), marketing innovation is equally important, and often trumps technical innovation.

Stop being so god-awful earnest when it comes to innovation


To run with the above: sometimes consumer wants can be frilly, so sometimes innovation can also be less weighty. Really, innovation doesn’t have to be so damn serious all the time! Have some fun with it, too.

You have no excuse for not knowing what others are up to


Wherever you live, you have absolutely no excuse to be unaware of innovation avalanches originating in Sweden, in the Netherlands, in Brazil, in the US, in Canada, in Australia, in Japan, in South Africa ... It’s all out there, reported on 24/7 by sources dedicated to trends and new business ideas. Free of charge. For a list of sites to track, scan and add to your feeds, check out part III of this briefing.

OK, enough preaching, let’s look at practising:

Firefox 3 features you may not know

While the awesome bar, download pause and resume, malware protection, the new themes, and serious performance improvements are perhaps the most representative features introduced with Firefox 3, here are some other useful ones you may not be aware:

  1. Duplicate tabs. Press Ctrl while dragging a tab to create a duplicate of the dragged tab including its history. Note that this feature doesn’t work on Mac.
  2. Move tabs to another window. Just drag a tab and drop it on another window to move it. If the dragged tab is the last one in its window, it will be closed.
  3. Resize the search bar. When the search bar is placed next to the location bar, you can drag the handler between them (invisible on Windows and Linux) to resize it.
  4. Add keyword search. Select Manage Search Engines… in the search engines menu to open the Search Engines Manager, select a search engine, press Edit Keyword… and enter a few characters to define one. Now you can enter the keyword followed by your search terms in the location bar to search with that plugin.
  5. Discontinuous selections. Make a selection with the mouse as you usually do. Then press and hold the Ctrl (Cmd on Mac) key to make additional selections and create a larger discontinuous one so you can copy or print just what you need.
  6. Integrated add-ons. No need to visit Mozilla Add-ons because Firefox 3 brings it to you directly from the Add-ons Manager new Get Add-ons page: search, find and install with a single click.
  7. Disable plugins. Crashing? It may be a plugin. To be sure, disable the suspect through the new Plugins page in the Add-ons Manager.
  8. Check your crashes. Enter about:crashes in the location bar to get a list of crashes submitted by Breakpad (Mozilla’s crash reporter). Click on a crash report to get details provided by Socorro, Mozilla’s crash reports server.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Google Docs Templates Directory

Google released a layout templates directory for Google Docs*, the application suite consisting of Google Documents, Spreadsheets and Presentations (Google’s kind of web-based light-weight Word, Excel and PowerPoint). You can sort templates by target application, like Spreadsheets, or by category, like “Resumes” or “Personal Finance”. Then you can look at a preview and if you like a style, hit the “Use this template” button to fill it with your own content.

Google Presentations since some time had a limited amount of basic designs available, and Google Documents also offers stylesheet editing, but this new directory presents a broader scope of layouts. There’s currently 309 different ones to pick from, and looking at the creator information you can see not all have been done by Google, but also by partnering third parties like TemplateZone or

[Thanks Pixelisation and Russell O.!]

*You can also reach the directory via by clicking New -> “From template”.

New Microsoft Offer, Quickly Rejected

Yahoo rejected a new Microsoft offer to acquire Yahoo’s search business earlier this evening. The offer, which apparently was made on Friday in cooperation with Yahoo investor Carl Icahn, was a variation on Microsoft’s previous offer to acquire Yahoo’s search business in exchange for cash, a partial stock buyout and revenue guarantees, required the complete replacement of the Yahoo board and executive management team, had a 24 hour expiration period and stated that there was no room for negotiation.

Yahoo rejected it, saying that the Google search deal they’ve signed is a better deal and adding that the requirement to replace the board and executive team is “absurd and irresponsible given the complexity of the deal.” We, by the way, agree with both points.

Yahoo formally offered to sell itself whole to Microsoft in the release as well, saying “the Board believes a whole company transaction could be negotiated and executed prior to August 1st,” and suggesting Microsoft’s original $33 offer will work just fine for them right now.

Full text of release:

Yahoo! Rejects Microsoft/Icahn Search and Restructuring Proposal
Yahoo! Suggests Microsoft Make A Proposal To Acquire Whole Company

SUNNYVALE, Calif., Jul 12, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) — Yahoo! Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO), a leading global Internet company, confirmed today that it has rejected a joint proposal from Microsoft Corporation and Carl Icahn for a complex restructuring of Yahoo! that would include the acquisition of Yahoo!’s search business by Microsoft.

The proposal was made on Friday evening and Yahoo! was given less than 24 hours to accept the proposal, the fundamental terms of which Microsoft and Mr. Icahn made clear they were unwilling to negotiate. After reviewing the proposal with its legal and financial advisers, Yahoo!’s Board of Directors determined that accepting the proposal is not in the best interests of its stockholders.

The Board’s rejection of the proposal was based on a number of factors, including the following:

1. Yahoo!’s existing business plus its recently signed commercial agreement with Google has superior financial value and less complexity and risk than the Microsoft/Icahn proposal.

2. The Microsoft/Icahn proposal would preclude a potential sale of all of Yahoo! for a full and fair price, including a control premium.

3. The major component of the overall value per share asserted by Microsoft/Icahn would be in Yahoo!’s remaining non-search businesses which would be overseen by Mr. Icahn’s slate of directors, which has virtually no working knowledge of Yahoo!’s businesses.

4. The Microsoft/Icahn proposal would require the immediate replacement of the current Board and removal of the top management team at Yahoo!. The Yahoo! Board believes these moves would destabilize Yahoo! for the up to the one year it would take to gain regulatory approval for this deal.

Roy Bostock, Chairman of Yahoo! said, “This odd and opportunistic alliance of Microsoft and Carl Icahn has anything but the interests of Yahoo!’s stockholders in mind. Clearly, Microsoft, having failed to advance in search, is aligning with the short-term objectives of Mr. Icahn to coerce Yahoo! into selling its core strategic search assets on terms that are highly advantageous to Microsoft, but disadvantageous to Yahoo! stockholders. Yahoo’s Board of Directors will not allow that to happen. Yahoo!’s Board remains open to any transaction that delivers full value to our stockholders - we just do not believe such a transaction should be dictated by Microsoft and a single short-term investor.”

Mr. Bostock continued, “After negotiating among themselves without the involvement of Yahoo!, Carl Icahn and Microsoft presented us with a ‘take it or leave it’ proposal under which we would be required to restructure the Company, hand over to Microsoft Yahoo!’s valuable search business and to Carl Icahn the rest of the Company, giving us less than 24 hours to respond. It is ludicrous to think that our Board could accept such a proposal. While this type of erratic and unpredictable behavior is consistent with what we have come to expect from Microsoft, we will not be bludgeoned into a transaction that is not in the best interests of our stockholders.”

Mr. Bostock also noted that Microsoft’s position that it would not deal with, or otherwise engage with, Yahoo!’s management to reach agreement on this proposal or to implement it, is completely absurd and irresponsible given the complexity of the deal - one that requires the removal of half of Yahoo!’s business from Yahoo! and then the integration of it into Microsoft.

Yahoo!’s Board points out that a transaction to acquire the whole company would be much more straightforward and involve far less risk than the new proposal or any similar alternative. The Board believes a whole company transaction could be negotiated and executed prior to August 1st. In rejecting the Microsoft/Icahn proposal, Yahoo! not only repeated its offer to sell the entire Company to Microsoft for at least $33 per share, but also offered to negotiate an improved search only transaction. Microsoft rejected both offers.

Ironically, Carl Icahn, who jointly with Microsoft developed and presented this proposal, had previously urged Yahoo! not to sell its search business to Microsoft. Specifically, in an interview on CNBC’s Fast Money program, on June 4, 2008, Mr. Icahn said, “… it’s crazy for this company now to do this alternative deal and give the store away, because obviously, an alternative deal is a poison pill because once you’ve done an alternative deal and given the search to Microsoft, you don’t need Microsoft to buy you anymore. So, that would be a poison pill….”

Significantly, the Board believes Microsoft and Mr. Icahn are overstating the value their search and restructuring proposal would deliver to Yahoo! stockholders and are substantially understating the risks. Yahoo! noted that a transaction that would separate the Company’s search and display businesses is an undertaking of great complexity. While the Board acknowledges that the current proposal contains a number of improvements over Microsoft’s earlier proposal, the Yahoo! Board’s conclusion that the current proposal is not in the best interests of stockholders is based on a number of factors, including:

– The revenue guarantees suggested, which are conditional and subject to reduction, are well below the search revenue that the Company is expected to generate on its own and in association with its announced commercial agreement with Google. That agreement alone is estimated to generate $250 to $450 million of incremental cash flow for the first twelve months following implementation, while allowing Yahoo! to remain a principal in paid search;

– The success of the remaining Company is critically dependent on Microsoft’s ability to effectively monetize search;

– Microsoft/Icahn’s proposed Traffic Acquisition Costs rates are below market;

– The proposal calls for Yahoo! to sell its industry-leading algorithmic search business and its related strategic and valuable intellectual property portfolio for no incremental consideration; and

– Many of the components of the headline value that Mr. Icahn and Microsoft put forward, such as the spin-off of the Yahoo!’s Asian assets and the return of cash to stockholders, are steps that could be taken by Yahoo! on its own and the Board continues to evaluate these options.

Mr. Bostock concluded, “Microsoft and Mr. Icahn are trying to dismantle the Company and deliver our search business to Microsoft on terms that would be disadvantageous to Yahoo! stockholders. We are prepared to let our stockholders, not Microsoft and Carl Icahn, decide what is in their best interests and we look forward to the upcoming vote.”

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Four Bad Designs

Bad content, bad links, bad navigation, bad category pages... which is worst for business? In these examples, bad content takes the prize for costing the company the most money.

Every year, I see thousands of design mistakes in both user studies and everyday life. The curse of working with Don Norman is that half the elevator buttons I see make me angry: Why can't these guys do what Don told them to do 20 years ago?

Then again, Web designers don't do what I told them to do 13 years ago, so why am I surprised? Following is a modest harvest of design stupidities I've recently encountered.

Bad Content: Jazz at Lincoln Center

While in New York for my usability conference, I wanted to take the speakers out for an evening of jazz. Here's the information I found about a Jazz at Lincoln Center performance:

Screenshot of the product page for a performance at Jazz at Lincoln Center

What information? The site provides the musicians' names and a photo of the lead trombonist. That's it. No player biographies, no description of the type of jazz they play, no quotations from reviews, no links to independent reviews, no audio clips so you could actually hear the band.

In fairness, does offer music clips for some of its performances. Sample music clips are an obvious way for a music-related site to use multimedia; it's much easier to explain music through audio clips than words. Listen to clips on the Metropolitan Opera site and you'll understand the difference between a questionable Tan Dun opera and a delightful Mozart classic in less than a minute.

On the page above, however, there's simply a hopeful request (in big letters) that you'll "make a reservation" without knowing anything about the concert. Not likely, unless you're already well acquainted with the band.

The page does offer nice features, such as the ability to email friends and view a plain-text version for handhelds. Offering some content would have been nicer.

Links without Information Scent: New York Times

The site offers a link at the bottom of each article:

Screenshot of the bottom of an article on The New York Times website.

Who'd want to click on "Next Article in Business"? Maybe a few more people than the eager audience for "article 19," but not many.

I thought I'd seen the end of offering links to articles with no information beyond their number — a design I panned in my review of 12 years ago. Links need information scent to help people determine what they'll get if they click. People don't have time to click on everything.

The Times could defend its design using statistics: this obscure link might actually get some clicks despite my condemnation. After all, when you have millions of users, even the stupidest design idea will get some use. This is the design philosophy that leads to overstuffed websites that resemble Times Square in their relentless attack on the senses.

The problem is that every extra design element detracts from all the other design elements on the page. When you push irrelevant links at people, you teach them to ignore the ones that matter.

(Update: The Times has redesigned its site. Now, the link at the bottom of an article reads something like More Articles in Business ». Better, but still not great. I am keeping my critique, because the site did feature the bad design for more than a year — and in any case you can still learn from their mistake, even after they [partly] fixed it.)

Interior Splash Pages: Christopher Norman Chocolates

Biting into a Christopher Norman chocolate is a delectable experience. Chewing through his site is far less tasty. When you select a category from the main navigation menu, you don't get a page listing the corresponding products. Instead, you get a splash screen, like this one for "Geometrics & Fruits":

Screenshot of a category page (or rather, the splash screen before the detailed category page) on Christopher Norman Chocolates.

Normal users would assume that this category contains only the two depicted products, and would leave if they didn't want the pears or the domino box. In reality, users have to click through this screen to get to the actual category page with a full product listing.

Splash screens are bad enough when they sit in front of a site's real homepage, but at least users encounter those screens only once. With a splash screen for every category, users have to click through many extra pages to see all the products.

Metaphor Run Amok: Specialized Bicycles

The bicycle vendor uses a museum metaphor as its category page for suspension systems:

Screenshot of category page on Specialized's website (a bicycle vendor).

I must say that I like the "whale skeleton" made from bike parts. Still, moving around this simulated 3D environment to get a closer look at the various suspension mechanisms is a pain.

3D navigation is almost always bad. It's harder to manipulate, it doesn't show the choices as well as a 2D interface, and it tends to be slower to use.

Metaphors sometimes make a user interface easier to learn because they let users transfer their existing knowledge from the reference domain. In this case, however, knowing how to navigate a Natural History Museum won't help you identify better bike parts. Websites that use metaphors almost always go way overboard and end up reducing usability. It's as if the metaphor becomes an evil attraction that diverts the design team's attention from the actual content it's supposed to communicate.

The Business Cost of Bad Design

How much do these bad design ideas cost the site owners?

The New York Times is probably losing the least money; most users will simply skip the no-scent link. At the same time, of course, the generic link has an opportunity cost: in its place, the newspaper could offer a link to content that's closely related to the current article. People who actually read to the end of the page would be quite likely to click the link. The site could thus gain maybe 2–5% more pageviews through better use of that space.

My bet for biggest business loss is the content-poor jazz page. Our user testing of product pages shows that people are much more likely to buy when a page answers their questions about its offerings. With virtually no information, it's pretty much guaranteed that this Jazz at Lincoln Center page only closes the sale for strongly committed fans who would attend any performance with Wycliffe Gordon.

My guess is that, by adding more information, the site could sell at least 5 times as many tickets to non-fans. In studying the ROI of usability improvements, we sometimes find a sales increase of 1,000% or more. So, adding meaningful content might even make this page a tenbagger for non-fanatical customers. How much the overall sales would increase depends on the ratio between the rabid adherents of this artist and the people who simply like some jazz from time to time. My guess is that the second group is so much larger that better content would make sales explode.

The last two sites are an intermediate case. For large sites, offering awkward navigation is a prescription for doom: users wouldn't stand for interstitial splash pages or bloated metaphors if they had to find their way through 10,000 products or more. But when dealing with just a handful of products — like those offered by Christopher Norman and Specialized — motivated users can overcome bad navigation. When a site has relatively few pages, users are unlikely to get hopelessly lost.

Of course, less motivated users will leave the first time they get even a bit lost. Bad design costs a company money, no matter how small the site.

Learn More

Full-day course on the design issues that will win or lose your site the most money: Fundamental Guidelines for Web Usability at the Usability Week 2008 conference in San Francisco, London, and Melbourne.

World's Oldest Blogger Logs Off for Good

A 108-year-old (yes, you read that correctly) Australian woman, reportedly the world's oldest blogger, has passed away in Woy Woy (which is about 50 miles north of Sydney).

Olive Riley began blogging in February of 2007. Her blog, The Life of Riley, drew an international audience, but a temporary blog, The World's Oldest Blogger, was created earlier this year as Riley's health began to fail.

Her last post was on 6/26, a week after she moved into a nursing home. It said, in part:
Hello, dear friends everywhere.

I can't believe I've been here in this nursing home for more than a week. How the days have flown, even though I've been in bed most of the time. I still feel weak, and can't shake off that bad cough.

I've never been treated so well in all my life. The nurses can't do enough for me. Ask them for anything, and they are only too happy to provide it.
Besides her blog, Riley became a hit with the songs she sang, posted to YouTube.

Riley passed away Saturday, at her nursing home.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Global 500 @2008

1 Wal-Mart Stores 378,799 12,731
2 Exxon Mobil 372,824 40,610
3 Royal Dutch Shell 355,782 31,331
4 BP 291,438 20,845
5 Toyota Motor 230,201 15,042
6 Chevron 210,783 18,688
7 ING Group 201,516 12,649
8 Total 187,280 18,042
9 General Motors 182,347 -38,732
10 ConocoPhillips 178,558 11,891
11 Daimler 177,167 5,446
12 General Electric 176,656 22,208
13 Ford Motor 172,468 -2,723
14 Fortis 164,877 5,467
15 AXA 162,762 7,755
16 Sinopec 159,260 4,166
17 Citigroup 159,229 3,617
18 Volkswagen 149,054 5,639
19 Dexia Group 147,648 3,467
20 HSBC Holdings 146,500 19,133
21 BNP Paribas 140,726 10,706
22 Allianz 140,618 10,904
23 Cr閐it Agricole 138,155 8,172
24 State Grid 132,885 4,423
25 China National Petroleum 129,798 14,925
26 Deutsche Bank 122,644 8,861
27 ENI 120,565 13,703
28 Bank of America Corp. 119,190 14,982
29 AT&T 118,928 11,951
30 Berkshire Hathaway 118,245 13,213
31 UBS 117,206 -3,654
32 J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. 116,353 15,365
33 Carrefour 115,585 3,147
34 Assicurazioni Generali 113,813 3,991
35 American International Group 110,064 6,200
36 Royal Bank of Scotland 108,392 15,103
37 Siemens 106,444 5,063
38 Samsung Electronics 106,006 7,986
39 ArcelorMittal 105,216 10,368
40 Honda Motor 105,102 5,254
41 Hewlett-Packard 104,286 7,264
42 Pemex 103,960 -1,675
43 Soci閠� G閚閞ale 103,443 1,296
44 McKesson 101,703 990
45 HBOS 100,267 8,093
46 International Business Machines 98,786 10,418
47 Gazprom 98,642 19,269
48 Hitachi 98,306 -509
49 Valero Energy 96,758 5,234
50 Nissan Motor 94,782 4,223
51 Tesco 94,703 4,253
52 E.ON 94,356 9,861
53 Verizon Communications 93,775 5,521
54 Nippon Telegraph & Telephone 93,527 5,562
55 Deutsche Post 90,472 1,901
56 Metro 90,267 1,129
57 Nestl� 89,630 8,874
58 Santander Central Hispano Group 89,295 12,401
59 Statoil Hydro 89,224 7,526
60 Cardinal Health 88,364 1,931
61 Goldman Sachs Group 87,968 11,599
62 Morgan Stanley 87,879 3,209
63 Petrobras 87,735 13,138
64 Deutsche Telekom 85,570 779
65 Home Depot 84,740 4,395
66 Peugeot 82,965 1,211
67 LG 82,096 2,916
68 蒷ectricit� de France 81,629 7,690
69 Aviva 81,317 2,655
70 Barclays 80,347 8,837
71 Fiat 80,112 2,673
72 Matsushita Electric Industrial 79,412 2,468
73 BASF 79,322 5,565
74 Credit Suisse 78,206 6,467
75 Sony 77,682 3,235
76 Telef髇ica 77,254 12,190
77 UniCredit Group 77,030 8,159
78 BMW 76,675 4,279
79 Procter & Gamble 76,476 10,340
80 CVS Caremark 76,330 2,637
81 UnitedHealth Group 75,431 4,654
82 Hyundai Motor 74,900 1,722
83 U.S. Postal Service 74,778 -5,142
84 France T閘閏om 72,488 8,623
85 Vodafone 71,202 13,366
86 SK Holdings 70,717 1,505
87 Kroger 70,235 1,180
88 Nokia 69,886 9,862
89 ThyssenKrupp 68,799 2,796
90 Lukoil 67,205 9,511
91 Toshiba 67,145 1,116
92 Repsol YPF 67,006 4,364
93 Boeing 66,387 4,074
94 Prudential 66,358 2,045
95 Petronas 66,218 18,118
96 AmerisourceBergen 66,074 469
97 Suez 64,982 5,370
98 Munich Re Group 64,774 5,275
99 Costco Wholesale 64,400 1,083
100 Merrill Lynch 64,217 -7,777

Google Lively’s Many Adult Rooms

The graphics in Google’s 3D chat world Lively shine, but behind the scenes the Lively team also seems busy squashing minor and major early-release bugs. And since some days, Lively got its first social phenomenon, too: the almost meme-like creation of cyber sex rooms. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, or is there? To see what Google thinks let’s ask Lively’s community guidelines, which state:

We don’t allow nudity, graphic sex acts, or sexually explicit material. This includes making sexual advances toward other users. We also don’t allow content that drives traffic to commercial pornography sites ...

However, a typical room overview listing at lately revealed many adult-oriented rooms, often ranking in high positions. Titles and descriptions may read “sexy meetings here” or “cyber sex,” and the rooms may contain display of semi-saucy YouTube videos.

Wikipedia explains “Cybersex ... is a virtual sex encounter in which two or more persons connected remotely via a computer network send one another sexually explicit messages describing a sexual experience. It is a form of role-playing in which the participants pretend they are having actual sexual relations.” Added to that, some of these rooms may partly also just be means to promote adult sites, I’m not too sure.

Right now, even when a public room listing is a useful way to explore, the sub-communities may also be much too fragmented in their needs for overlaps not to hurt... and it could also be a temptation for spammers to have their content listed so visibly on a Google service homepage. Whatever the case, Google seems to think of it as something worth addressing and posted the following in the Lively help group:

We’ve received complaints about recently created “sex rooms” in Lively, and we take these complaints seriously. When browsing or searching for rooms, some Livley citizens come upon these rooms as the top results, which can erode their Lively experience.

Lively is intended to be a place for Lively citizens to connect with each other and express themselves freely and in a safe environment. Our community standards prohibit sexually explicit images and rooms intended for sexual activity, even if virtual. When we become aware of “sex rooms” that violate or Terms of Service, we’ll work to remove them. We may also disable the violator’s Google Account and Lively access.

If you come across rooms with sexually explicit content or that are intended to engage in or solicit sexual activity, you can find out how to report a user or room at the Lively Help Center ...

Google’s help pages point out that objects, avatars and rooms can be abuse-reported by clicking a button – to do so, you need to log-in to the room first, though. But note Google’s language; whether intentionally or not, they say they remove sex rooms which violate their terms of services... perhaps implying there may be sex rooms which don’t violate their terms. Indeed, a room like “Sexy & Hot” was created on July 10th – with over 8,000 visitors so far – and remains unremoved. It might be possible these remaining rooms don’t fit Google’s “explicit” criteria from the ToS. Google in their help entry explains:

When you click Report Abuse, we automatically receive a notification. If based on the report we discover that the content violates real world laws or our policies, we may immediately remove it and report any necessary information to the appropriate authorities.

If you continue to see the content a few days after you flagged it, it’s likely that it was reviewed and did not violate our policies.

With this in mind, perhaps a mere safe search filter for the frontpage room listings may be more along what Google deems pragmatic. (Lively’s terms already require you to be 13 years or older to use the service, by the way.) Then if you want adult rooms and you disabled the safe search setting in your main Google search options, you’d get those but it wouldn’t be noise. Imagine the reverse: a Big Brother-ish world where two adults talking about adult topics would risk being banned – with potentially serious real-world implications, as this may include locking you out of your Google Account... which in turn includes Gmail emails, Google Docs documents and so on. A free virtual world seems more likable.

Consequently, when you do want to report a room for abuse, Google’s dialog first disclaims that “Lively is a place for many different people to express themselves, and you may read or see things you don’t agree with ... Remember, you can always ignore users you don’t like or leave rooms you don’t feel comfortable in.”

On another note, Google now disabled adding custom graphics into objects like photo frames... and they disabled this for everyone, not just creators of adult-oriented places. I don’t know if this is related to the current “saucy rooms” issue, but it may be. Instead of your favorite picture, your photo frame may now just show black... and you won’t be able to edit or access its photo URL anymore. Imagine the surprise of a happy home owner busy decorating their walls. Google in the help group posts:

We ran into a snag with the photo gadget, and have currently removed it for maintenance. Hopefully it’ll be back up soon.

Thanks for your patience while we work on a fix.

Then again, it’s also possible Google disabled this due to a bug with photo frames that didn’t make pics you loaded into it automatically adjust to the object’s size... rather, the pics mostly ended up distorted and misplaced.


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