Slimy green onion

March 25, 2012

When cooking tofu in the Vietnamese way, we eat it with a sauce made of fish sauce & spring onions. We never refer to it as that, just as ‘fish sauce’, but since we eat it one or two times a week and we never it with anything else, we never question it.

You use the green part of the spring onion. It’s really important that when you cut the onion you slice green part thinly. the green stalk of the spring onion contains a gooey, slimy gunk that is brought out both by the salt in the fish sauce and the degree to which it is exposed to this. Slice the onion thickly and there is less goo exposed to the fish sauce. Slice it thinly and there is more. It’s crucial to get it as thin as possible. You can approximately the effect by chopping up the result. similarly, don’t overdo the fish sauce. put in a 3rd of a small bowl and then add the onion and mix. Mix up the onion until it is all wet. You should start to see a similar effect to honey and mustard.

Here’s how it looks when done well:

To be eaten with freshly fried tofu and sticky rice

Fish sauce with spring onion


Eat with fresh cooked sticky white rice and boiled vegetables. Perfect!


More haste, less speed.

March 25, 2012

Maccman says:

We should treat server-side software the same as client side software, and do incremental updates of our frameworks and languages – never more than one version behind. We should dedicate 20% of our time to upgrading and refactoring. Sure, they’ll be pain involved, but innovation stagnation due to old and tired software is far more detrimental than the short-term pain of upgrading.

Too true. We always stay close to the latest versions of underlying software (Ruby, Rails and a host of other plug-ins on our front-ends; Python, and a bunch of maths and language tools on our back-ends). Never more than one version behind

Getting back into the saddle with voice recognition

March 27, 2011

It’s been nearly a year since I blogged and despite many good intentions I simply haven’t gotten round to writing a post. It seems like it’s part of the nature of blogging or at least my blogging to stop for (long times) and then start again. Today, I’m trying out a new way of blogging by using Dragon Dictate, a simple piece of software for the Mac, which transcribes what I say. It seems funny that 18 years ago I was studying speech recognition in Edinburgh, never expecting that the technology would get so good the general speech recognition would work on a home computer. Yet Dragon Dictate is just about flawless and I can now get text into the computer as fast as I can speak (although clear thinking seems to be a little slower).

11 years ago I ran a project looking at user perception of multimodal interfaces. Despite the lack of deep research, it was prescient in recognising that this would soon become an important part of how we all related to computers. I had no idea at the time that I would be using multi modal interfaces quite so quickly on my iPhone. Nor would I have believed at that time that a few years ahead I would be talking to a computer and seeing my thoughts written word for word on the screen.

Actually using voice as an interface makes the huge investment clearer. I have blogged about Spinvox (not Springboks as Dragon thought) in the past and I’m sure there are other cloud and local voice recognition systems such as the technology that Nuance has built into Dragon Dictate that work just as well. It seems inevitable that Apple must acquire one such technology and that this will become a core part of either iOS and Mac OS, as much or more than touch has become.

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Tweeting about places not X/Y coordinates

March 3, 2010

In a recent conversation with a fellow tweeter I was asked why I on earth I was spamming the world with 4square tweets rather than just geo-enabling my tweets. I think this completely misses the boat. People don’t care about your X/Y coordinates, unless it’s a way of you telling them what’s near to them. Machine’s care about X/Ys and rightly so. People about places and that’s exactly what makes 4square of whatever mobile social local app du jour you favour work so well.

It’s nice then to read of the recent announcement that twitter is going to start allowing people to structure conversations around places, rather than geo-coordinates.

It also means that Twitter is noticing what’s going on on top of their API. Some of the most popular clients are leveraging the latest location-aware devices, be they Androids, iPhones or soon always-on sat nav devices to let people tell their friends (and noticably, their enemies and everyone in between) where they are at. Or to cut a long story short: Twitter is going local. Just like everybody else.

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Your site has more than one conversion

October 9, 2009

One of the first innerballoons does when we start with a client a short audit of the site conversion moments. We lay this out in a 1-page business model that we have stolen from Dave McClure’s Pirate Model (AAARR!) which you can find plenty of examples of by Googling Startonomics. I encourage all online business owners and managers to take a fresh look at your sites in this way. The steps are simple:
1) work out which types of users and partners your business works with (eg consumers, affiliates, business owners, …)
2) decide which conversion moments are important to measure for each user type. As a rule of thumb, look for acquisition, retention and conversion of each type.
3) estimate how conversions relate to each other and their value and cost to the business.
That last step is a way of linking everything into how a vertical makes money. Where it can get tricky (and where InnerBalloons can add a lot of value) is where
– you currently have no revenue generation approach
– you don’t measure any of these conversions yet
– you are absolutely convinced that one ‘golden conversion’ is the only thing to focus on
Often businesses, once they find a revenue generating user action, single handedly focus on this. And often, other conversions form a much simpler stepladder to get there. For instance, retained users can buy so much more frequently and so much more cost effectively than first time users that it is worth investing in user retention then converting these users. Similarly many users who have converted once will do so again many times so it’s more important to focus on this than on retention.

The 1-page business model is an innovative and agile way to look at the user experience lifecycle and the business value lifecycle side-by-side and to quicky iterate to profitable conclusions.

We see this in business after business – focusing on one conversion and ignoring the other user actions that are close by can be a big drain on precious resources. Your site has more conversion moments. Look at them all quickly then decide which has the greatest priority.

Google’s IYP killer

October 6, 2009

In Google creates a new simplified ad unit for local business, Greg Sterling takes a new advert for small to medium enterprise, i.e. the Internet Yellow Pages market, through its paces. Google has been trying to enter the SME market for a while, but from everything we’ve seen their churn has been horrific. This means despite the numerous incentives that Google throws at SMEs to get them to sign up to start Adwords — normally anything from €25-€200 free ads — most SMEs quit within their first year. Google has hinted for a while that it will start a simplified approach that will appeal to small business owners, but has not done much in the market apart from some opening moves in the Local Business Centre.

The classical trifecta are all there: a great landing page, transparent reporting and the ability to buy additional visitors and leads. What makes this particularly interesting (and confrontational to IYPs) is that SMEs can buy traffic and leads based on a ‘cat-locale’ i.e. a combination of location (business or search) and search categories. In addition, typical IYP product add-ons such as a click-to-call are included, except now of course the call ‘whisper’ (the brief introduction at the start of each call before it’s connected) says “This call is brought to you by Google” and the delivered lead is reported in your overview. As you’d expect, reporting also means you see where your clicks and leads are coming from. Pricing is flat rate and contracts can be cancelled quickly.

Google continues to test whether (as IYP wisdom says) you require a real sales force to get SME market penetration. It is interesting that Google’s basic problem is less in sales and more in retention — i.e. customer acquisition seems adequate but their churn is painful. IYPs have started investing, and in a number of cases, succeeding with fully automated solutions to deliver guaranteed click and lead products (common in Europe, but for how long, we shall see) and budget-based packages. If they can do it without customer care, why can’t Google? It seems more likely that Google’s go-to-market and product approach was wrong. Whether they can achieve the penetration they want only with online sign-up, or whether they’ll need to take on a larger cross-media advertising approach, perhaps combined with T-sales, remains to be seen. One positive side effect of Google’s approach up until now (at least for Google) is that although SMEs may not have stuck with Google they are unlikely to have gone back to traditional IYP products since the perception is radically altered once you’ve bought a few clicks at €0.50 each, i.e. Google SME products accelerate the market fragmentation, even if they are not themselves successful. In this way, they become part of the baying pack of dogs trying to bring IYPs down, even if they don’t become the new top dog.

Although this is only a test in a couple of US metros, I can’t believe that IYPs will take this lying down. Google is still pretty dependent on IYP and telco feeds in the US, so I’d expect US IYPs to kick them back where it hurts: this means war.


October 2, 2009

I just ate a chocoladebol. This is an oliebol (Dutch: ‘ball of oil’ but a bit like a doughnut) covered with melted chocolate and also pumped full of melted chocolate. Hard to go wrong. Less like a chocolate doughnut and more like a melted chocolate bar freshly deep fried in batter.

Connecting the dots of conversion

August 10, 2009

I heard a familiar story at a client. They had started up using pay per click campaigns to buy traffic on Google. The campaigns were apparently running well in that they had been able to far exceed their targets for unique visitors per day. They had two concerns with the PPC agency: that the cost of their clicks seemed way too high and that the ongoing management fee seemed similarly unreasonable now that the campaigns had been running for a few months. Apart from this they had started an RFQ to find a new agency to convert the traffic better on their product pages. They do not do any user testing and also found that A/B testing or multivariate testing seemed too complex. They were considering starting a new RFQ  process to find the best / cheapest agency to do this. Lastly, they had some concerns that they were missing out on organic traffic opportunies and felt sure that they needed the right experts to do this for them too.

Having two separate agencies for pay per click campaigns and for conversion rate optimisation seems a sure fire way of getting stuck as ‘piggy in the middle’. Both agencies will point to what the other does as the root cause of the clients high cost of conversion. The basis of improving conversions comes from finding the right traffic to send to correctly built pages. A page is correctly built when user say so by producing a higher conversion. The right traffic means finding the highest volume keywords that convert well. Similarly, optimising a site for organic conversions still comes down to finding the keywords that convert well.

Conversion needs to be the master of all internet marketing activities. It is ultimately an expression of a great user experience, showing that the company’s web presence has been listening and watching what users do online, knowing how they search and what experience they need when they find what they are looking for. Conversion is the measure of quality of organic and paid traffic. To buy traffic without knowing how it converts is to run the risk of buying junk for a high prices. To optimise a site for organic traffic without understanding for which keywords your optimising could mean again that you are setting your site up for a lots and lots of visitors who bounce on their first visit, or stay but never convert.  Similarly, user testing cannot be left aside. Whether it’s done formally in rooms with one-way mirrors, or down and dirty interviewing users in a coffeeshop, or fast and furious seeing which version of layout, imagery and content users prefer the best in an online multivariate test, there are so many low-threshold ways to get started hearing and seeing what users do and like.

There is a natural flow from a user searching for something in an engine to arriving at a landing page, possibly hitting a number of pages in between before ultimately converting and then continuing their business online. Companies must see this flow end-to-end and coherently because that’s how their customers see this flow. If companies don’t connect the dots, users won’t be able to either.

Converting the right thing

July 15, 2009

I was recently at Conversion for Design in Amsterdam. Alongside three good keynote speakers we had plenty of time to work on test cases. The group of 70 or so participants were split into 15 teams each of whom received a case study. These are real life examples of business trying to improve their conversions. They came with a good deal of background, business sponsors to answer our questions and some clear goals. I don’t want to go to into the specifics of the case we had but sketch the important points. For each case study two or three teams studied, brainstormed, developed and then presented their suggestions from which the business sponsor selected one. Each of these winners then went head to head again battle of the bands style to hoose the winner of the event. Our team was lucky enough to win. We did two or three things differently from the other teams and I believe these were the differences that made the difference.

Our goal was given as selling a certain number of products online. These products were easily broken and fundamentally kinaesthetic: it was all about feel and fit. You could think of tailor made suit or driving a car. Currently most products were sold offline in a bricks and mortar store where people got expert advice and could try things on. Once people had bought once buying again was pretty easy and much more common. In fact, after their first purchase, complete brand loyalty was common.

The online channel was having a hard time breaking in. They had done everything they has been told to. They had set up a webshop with all the products in, they had charts to help the consumer decide what version they should have. They had plenty of factual details to help the methodical rational buyer decide. Admittedly returns were tricky and costly but since this was a key drain on order profitability, it was hoped that the user knew what he was doing when he bought. The business had 700 new approaches to SEO and conversion they wanted to try but was looking for our team to find out what they had missed.

Although our team looked at some tactical ways of increasing the conversion rate for the shopping cart we focussed more on the big ticket items. We did this by taking a step back. By asking for more orders the client really wanted more profit. From our brief analysis of the customer behaviour we identified that very few customers buy for the first time online but many repeat purchases are made.

We suggested that the business focus instead on offline purchasers who then bought online. A purchaser who buys his second product online is highly profitable from that point on. Their threshold to buying is reduced because they have the largely kinaesthetic reference for a good brand experience already.

This approach can be accelerated by eliminating channel conflict altogether for instance by letting offline local stores share in the online revenue generated. This means that the offline and online channels are no longer fighting but are helping each other using what each of them does best: the bricks and mortar store focuses on getting a first purchase and bulding a relationship whilst the online store focuses on getting the profitable repeat purchases at a lower cost.

This was one thing our team did differently: we focused on the entire business from the consumer’s point of view rather than on just the web store or the web page. Seeing the big picture is important. Counterintuitively once the online store focusses on a deep relationship rather than just a quick sale it can start to generate more sales.

More on different focuses for greater conversion successes in later posts.

No fear for WordPress for iPhone 3.0

July 9, 2009

The post I just uploaded has been sitting on my iPhone for the last six months. I spent an hour writing it on a plane thinking that it would be breaking news. Instead a ‘communications error’ meant that that (pretty long) post was lost in limbo for a few months. I could read and edit it locally but just not publish it. Along comes the latest update and suddenly it all works.

Let me say: I love the app. It was until that fatal post one of my most used apps. But from that moment to this the fear of losing a post meant that I never used it once.

I had a similar experience recently with the Dutch national railways site booking a trip to Antwerp. Firstly the site would not allow me to find a trip because it was partly Dutch railways and partly international. Then when I tried to book the international part only, it let me enter my payment information but did not complete the transaction. Is there anything scarier for a user than realising that they have given up all their secrets but that you have not delivered on your side of the bargain?

Fear is one of the top reasons for conversion failure. Going out of your way to remove that fear is a great leap towards increasing conversions.

I still have to go a way before I trust wordpress on the iPhone again but without the fear, I am using it again and it can start again to build my trust.