Monday, December 31, 2007

Best of Webslinger 2007

With 2007 soon to be finished, I figured it would be a good time to revisit my blog postings from the past year.

These blog postings still offer some useful insight into Internet trends and best practices.

I tried to keep it to one post per month, but Webslinger is just too jammed-packed with goodness to follow that arbitrary limit.

Coming Soon: The Death of the Web Page

The Missing Quick Link

Can a million penguins typing away create the great novel?

Site index - to do or not to do?

Facebook is cyber-crack

Breadcrumbs help hold a website together

Website Accessibility Full of Barriers

Relaunch Post-Mortem

Keep your homepages clean

Caught Up In the Semantic Web

Quality Ingredients Make Bookmarks

Second Dot Bomb To Hit Any Time Now

Biggest Canadian Internet Success Stories

On the Royal Roads (critique of e-Learning)

Browsers Wars Wage On – 1 Dead (Netscape), Opera Fights On

I'll be working on term papers (including a semiotic analysis of social bookmarking) over the next few days, but if you have some time before the holidays are over then please check these out.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Browsers Wars Wage On – 1 Dead (Netscape), Opera Fights On

Huge news regarding web browsers

Netscape is officially dead as of today. (See Netscape’s blog or CNET for details)

Netscape was practically dead once AOL purchased it, and then buried when AOL decided to use Internet Explorer as its default browser. Now the tombstone can be engraved.

The browser wars have waged for years. A couple years ago it seemed like Microsoft’s Internet Explorer had won. But spunky Netscape went open source, becoming Mozilla and thus Netscape’s scion Firefox was born to continue the familial battle.

Netscape continued on, but the battle was essentially fought by Firefox, who made some significant ground in the last couple years.

Yes there Apple’s Safari, but it hasn’t been a serious player – rather more a Switzerland figure in holding their own cloistered territory but not penetrating beyond their rather neutral ground.

As a web developer, I loved the simplicity of programming for one browser. Sure made testing a lot easier and you knew what you were going to get. So I didn’t mind the IE monopoly, until years went by without any improvements in the IE browser.

During the years between Netscape’s demise and Firefox’s glorious rise, Opera kept up the good fight. Their browser introduced improvements and proved that we all didn’t have to settle for a static IE.

Opera continues to fight valiantly

This month Norway-based Opera filed an antitrust compliant with the European Union. As Opera states their grounds for this complaint:
The complaint describes how Microsoft is abusing its dominant position by tying its browser, Internet Explorer, to the Windows operating system and by hindering interoperability by not following accepted Web standards.

While I can see a case for bundling IE with Windows, I’m not sure how not following web standards is antitrust?

I’m all for web standards. In fact, during my efforts earlier in the year to make my company’s website accessibility, I decided to drop some good techniques because IE doesn’t support them. Almost all our visitors use IE, so there was little point.

It is instances like this that give cause to the fight. I look forward to seeing the outcome of Opera’s recent attack.

I mourn the loss of Netscape, but thanks to Opera and Firefox the war is not lost!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Cult of the Amateur Web 2.0 Critic

I got an early Christmas gift of "The Cult of the Amateur" by Andrew Keen and I have already finished it.

The book is short and offers little original or insightful web 2.0 or even web 1.0 criticism. There is some good, topical commentary on the downside of user-generated content, blogs, citizen journalism, and online copyright chaos. But a lot of the book rehashes tired, old Internet (and granted legitimate) criticisms about Internet porn and gambling, with some saccharine lamentations for the death of newspaper classifieds and others. Then much of the book simplistically blames the Internet for the death of record stores and identity theft as if the Internet was the only factor in their demise. The book also glazes over things with vehement tunnel vision.

Still, I don't regret having read it.

There has been so much hyperbole about the web lately and particularly web 2.o (I have not been alone in predicting this bubble 2.0 to burst soon.) I firmly believe that boosterism doesn't ultimately help - it pushes both the good and bad aspects forward. Acknowledging the shortcomings as you go and addressing them builds something much stronger and much greater.

When Keen's book came out in caused a stir in the blogosphere. By and large, I heard critics denouncing the book with the one-sided fervour of Keen. There was no insightful dialogue going on either way.

I understand that Keen wants to sell books and he does this by being sensational. You don't make a buzz with a treatise showing both sides of an issue. So, Keen takes a stand and single-mindedly argues it.

Keen does raise some very good points that need to be discussed and acted upon.

For instance, why do so many people believe - or at least want to believe - so much rubbish news that comes out of the blogs? Why do people need to have news fresh by the minute instead of waiting for the facts to come in. Why would I want my news or commentary from someone more opinionated than knowledgeable (I don't want any comments on this point - it's a rhetorical question!). These are the main reasons I so rarely read blogs. But then again, many people blog about things that no other sources would cover.

Keen is also critical of the low quality of most YouTube content. And again, why so many people watch it (mystery) and believe it all to be true (stupidity). Again, I almost never watch YouTube except that it has allowed some small-scale companies to distribute content otherwise not feasible, such as CommonCraft's educational & entertaining videos. And yes, I have been known to watch a few irresistible memes/fad stuff on YouTube. It's not like everything on TV or in magazines is all enlightening fare either - why should Mark Burnett and Rupert Murdoch have the monopoly on manufacturing crap?

Like Keen, I also find the flagrant copyright violations that the Internet enables to be troubling. Not all Web 2.0 fans are digital communists. Obviously, people should be compensated for their work, although more reasonable pricing would help everyone.

There is a lot of things wrong with what's happening on the Net, but I believe that even greater, more positive things are happening on it. I think it's important to address the problems. Although I wish it were a better book, I applaud Keen for proclaiming that the emperor has no clothes.

I Don't Get Google's Holiday Logo!!!

I love Google's changing logos, particularly around the holidays. Some of them are really cool, funky, or clever.

The current one is too clever for me though.

I don't understand it at all! Mousing over it reveals "Happy Holidays" so it definitely was intended to represent Christmas. There's some sort of Santa-like figure made out of ribbon, this I can discern, but why is Santa being whipped around by a crane? And why is the crane hanging some poor construction worker? How does this all wish me a merry holiday googling?

I feel like Elaine on Seinfeld just not getting the cartoon in The New Yorker. If you can figure it out, please let me know below!!!!

BTW, Yahoo copied Google awhile ago and started changing their logos every now and then. As a victory for Canada (as if the higher Canadian dollar lately wasn't enough) Yahoo Canada's logo is much nicer than the main Yahoo logo! (Ah who am I kidding, it's not like anything Yahoo Canada does anything in Canada. Their tiny office on Toronto's Front Street I've heard doesn't do anything except sell ads.)

Dec. 23 Update: Google changed their logo to another weird construction holiday logo and I'm more mystified! It appears they may be working towards something, click on the logo to see the others in the series. But I still don't get it and it's not making my yuletide festive, rather frustrating!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Cyberchondriac or healthy surfing?

The CBC, my favourite online news source, ran a story three days ago on how people obsessively look up their medical ailments on the Web. The article, while pointing out some legitimate concerns, tended to depict these people as crackpots and hypochondriacs. Indeed, the article was even called Cyberchondriacs.

The article, I believe, missed some critical points:
  1. People are forced to turn to the Internet as our current medical system is so inadequate.
    For one, doctors spend scant minutes with a patient. Even our current doctor, who is less hurried than most, does not spend more than 15-20 minutes per visit at the most. There is little time for doctors to even get all the symptoms, let alone spend time educating their patients on the issue, full treatment options, and alternatives. Actually, alternatives are rarely mentioned - it is just pop a pill and call me in a few days if things don't get better. Information on the Web, and there are some great health websites that present reliable information, gives the details doctors do not provide so that patients can make informed decisions about their health. Maybe I have a trust issue, but just getting a pill and going on my merry way doesn't work for me - I need to know the issue in more depth, like should I avoid certain foods, not travel, try this natural remedy as well, etc.
  2. The article points on those who constantly think they are sick, but there are those who don't seek medical attention either at all or in timely fashion. Getting a sense of the severity of an issue from online sources can help encourage someone to seek medical attention.
  3. Second opinions - why our society think doctors are gods is beyond me. They are human and apt to make mistakes, not have time to fully look into something, or not know about all the details or latest research of certain issues. While one is often encouraged to "get a second opinion," it's not so easy to get another doctor and not practical for more minor issues. The Web can help be that second opinion. My wife has many times successfully diagnosed health ailments online that were later confirmed by the doctor. This made me trust the doctor all the more.
I'm not alone in looking up health info online, as CBC points out:
Well over half of online Canadians — 58 per cent — search the Internet for health information from home, up from 46 per cent five years ago, according to Statistics Canada.

I do see the problems cited by the CBC. Among the problems of researching health issues online are people relying on inaccurate websites and also those who decide to treat themselves and don't go to a doctor.

Another problem, which I experienced two months ago, is that it's easy on the Web to find worst case scenarios and horror stories. When my daughter had to be put under anesthesia for dental work, we found stories of children dying as a result of similar work. It did make me REALLY worried. But we were able to contextualize the rarity of these situations and to ask the dentist about precautions. The dentist, unlike some others, had taken extra steps (eg. hiring two extra specialists) that reassured us that he was better option than other dentists who did the procedure alone. I'd rather have known the risks and accounted for them than to not have known at all.

Without the Web, we would have been in the dark on this issue and many other vital health concerns.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Put Facebook to Work

Here is one of my mini-assignments. As it pertains to the Web and as I got a reasonably good mark on it, I'll share it...

The Ontario government in May, 2007, banned civil servants from accessing Facebook at work. Premier Dalton McGuinty described his reasons for blocking it: “I just don't really see how it adds value to the work you do in the workplace” (Flavelle, 2007). Many bandwagon-riding companies apparently shared McGuinty’s assessment, and Facebook was quickly banned at many workplaces. If McGuinty and other employers do not value workplace morale, workflow efficiency, or workforce communication, then they might have a point. With guidance, however, Facebook can be an effective corporate tool. It fosters co-worker cohesion, opens up communication, and remedies bureaucracy.

Michael Geist, an Internet scholar at the University of Ottawa, agrees that companies have misunderstood Facebook:

The attempts to block Facebook or punish users for stating their opinions fails to appreciate that social network sites are simply the Internet generation’s equivalent of the town hall, the school cafeteria, or the workplace water cooler... The answer does not lie in banning Facebook or the other emerging social media sites, but rather in facing up to Facebook fears and learning to use these new tools to engage and educate. (Geist, 2007)

Facebook was banned in many workplaces due to perceptions that staff was spending too much time on it. Some employees will always find ways to abuse company time, but this does not render any technology useless; instead, it means that these employees should be disciplined. Critiques that Facebook would become a gossip mill could be countered by establishing clear guidelines for its use and content. A perceived lack of control inclines some companies to try to build their own social network or to suggest that their intranet suffices. However, aside from the substantial cost to build and maintain these types of platforms, compared to Facebook’s zero cost, these efforts are prone to wither, due to a notorious lack of support and no organic capacity for growth that Facebook has. New recruits, particularly younger ones, are already using this tool and expect prospective employers to allow it. These workers have experience creating and sustaining thriving Facebook communities and want to bring Facebook to work with them. With planning and supervision, Facebook can be put to work for most companies.

It is recognized by companies that co-workers’ social relationships are invaluable for business operations, but corporate events are often too poorly attended or too infrequent to be very effective. Some companies have already set up their own Facebook networks and groups, based on social, project, and team lines. Co-workers can then share personal and career details, get to know each other better, develop rapport, and build trust online. This social networking can also be extended to include clients, partners, and other work contacts. Facebook is available around the clock to help employees connect when, and where, they want.

Communicating at most offices is problematic. There is distrust of officially-sanctioned news and complaints that communications are only top down and one way. Communicating on Facebook is easy, as it enables personal and group blogs, sharing of links and information, group and individual messages, and discussions. Geographic barriers are also a communication barrier, as more companies have global, multi-site, or virtual offices. Facebook bridges both distance and hierarchy. It allows multi-channel and targeted communications in which any employee can participate. Established guidelines will inspire employees to be constructive, and if employees feel that they are connected and heard, they will remain positive contributors.

Bureaucracy or silo-mentality at many workplaces makes the daily process of getting work done difficult. Often co-workers do not know one another, and with a lack of trust, work does not move as smoothly as it could. In other cases, employees are not even aware that co-workers possess the experience or skills needed for specific projects. With a nourished workplace Facebook community, employees have the online opportunity to build knowledge and rapport that can than be taken offline to help operations hum.

Banning Facebook is counterproductive. By improving communication, developing relationships, and increasing cooperation, Facebook provides an existing, organic environment for companies to help achieve a more efficient and engaged workforce. Facebook could turn out to be the hardest-working employee of all.

Flavelle, D. (2007, May 04). Worries follow rise of Facebook. Retrieved November 29, 2007, from

Geist, M. (2007, May 07). Facing up to Facebook fears. Retrieved November 29, 2007, from

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Royal Road Warrior

I'm now two weeks into my residency at Royal Roads University. So what can I say that I have learned? A lot. So much, that nothing comes to mind. Ummm...

Okay, I'm really burned out. They are working us like dogs here. Well it could be that now that I'm an old student (I don't like the term "mature student" as anyone who knows me will attest that mature is certainly not a word to describe me) I'm taking my studies extremely more seriously than I ever did during my undergrad. Here's a description of how far I have fallen:
  • Lame: all my readings are pretty much done ahead of class
  • Sad: my essays are largely completed at least a day ahead of class, so that I have time for proofing & revising
  • Odd: I get up earlier than I need to so I can polish up assignments, get ready, etc.
  • Pathetic: I pass up opportunities to go drinking, so I can stay on top of my work
  • Frightening: I'm starting work on assignments due a month from now
  • Unbelievable: I opt for fruits & vegetables instead of eating my supply of Kraft Dinner

Aside from the rather brutal workload and my overly-serious attitude - and of course, missing my family incredibly much, the residency has been pretty great!

The instructors are amazing, the campus is probably the most beautiful in Canada, and my classmates are very friendly and interesting. Living in res these last two weeks felt like stepping back in time to my undergrad res years: the gossip, the drama, the late nights, the procrastination!

So what have I learned that I can share with you dear Webslinger readers? Ummm...

Semiotics isn't that bad. Don't climb the ladder of inference. Some academics are obsessed with grammar, while others can't write worth shit. APA style is fussy, but fine. Peacocks crap all over the place. The Participatory paradigm seems to fit. Halle Berry isn't very nice (X-Men was filmed here, staff have stories about her; Hugh Jackman, though, is very nice). Semicolons combine two independent clauses. We're stuck in a hermeneutic circle of life. I can use big words almost-correctly now. Everything somehow fits into Communications.

How this all relates to the Internet? Not sure.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Royal Roads - Hatley Castle

Royal Roads - Hatley Castle
Originally uploaded by glenfarrelly
This is the original site for Royal Roads, Hatley Castle. It is a coal-baron's estate from the turn of the last century.

It was later turned into a military college then becoming a set for X-Men and a univeristy.

It is supposedly haunted by the wife of owner, Lady Dunsmuir as her son died on the Lusitiana and she never got over it. Apparently, she searches the night for young male students hoping they are her lost son.

Photo Blogging from Stunning Royal Roads Campus

I've never photoblogged before, but I'm inspired by the incredible scenery here at Royal Roads University. It was a rare non-rainy day here so I used the sunlight and the soon-to-be-gone free time I had to explore the campus and take some pix.

I am going to upload the pix to Royal Road and blog them individually. Sorry if this is a barrage but I've never done photoblogging before so I thought this would be a cool experiment and the subject matter is stunning as promised.

BTW, I was thinking of calling this blog posting "How Do You Say Cheese In Cyberspace" in honour of my long, long ago job at Black's Photography and one of my first hands-on Internet experiences was encouraging people to put their pix online. How far online photos - and me - have come!

Stay tuned, pix to come...

Friday, November 16, 2007

On the Royal Roads

I'm off in a few hours for three weeks on-campus at Royal Roads University in Victoria, BC for the Master's of Communication program.

The last few weeks have been the pre-residency phase, which was a period of reading and some online learning to prepare us for the intensive in-class work during the residency period.

So far, my experience with working fulltime and studying fulltime has been dreadful!

During the day, I've been working my ass off to prepare for my three weeks away. At night and weekends, I've juggled spending time with my family with keeping up with my studies. It probably would have went fairly well - had I not got sick about a month ago. I never got better.

Finally, I went to a doctor and found out that I have an ear & sinus infection. The doctor told me it probably started with a cold and as I didn't rest enough (one sick day and one weekend day was all I "rested")that caused the infection. Should've went to the doctor sooner as the last few weeks of being sick and juggling work and study have been hell.

Early critique of e-Learning
Despite it all, I have managed to learn quite a bit from my Communication Theory class. I'm taking two others classes at the same time, but I'm not sure if these professors were charged with doing any e-Learning.

My Communication Theory professor did a few things to really make the most of e-Learning.

Podcasts worked great
First the professor had the standard readings, but these were supplemented by podcasts with PowerPoint presentations. I found the readings combined with podcasts really helped me get the key concepts. The podcasts were also fun and much better than just reading a transcribed lecture, as was the format of my distance ed. courses at University of Guelph years ago.

Mixed experience with forums
All the classes have forums for students and faculty to discuss lessons and other topics. (There's also a chat feature that I think is never used.)

Another professor made posting one intelligent comment a week a requirement and weekly seeded topics. Discussions flourished. I shouldn't really say discussions though. Due to the requirement of an insightful posting everyone, myself included, worked to achieve this. I've never seen a forum with so little genuine back-and-forth discussion or where each post is an epistle. This was a shame, not to mention sometimes a chore to read, as in trying to meet the requirements some posts went to 400-500+ words.

However, overall this class has had the best discussion of any class I have ever taken. In all my university and job training courses, I have never seen such generally insightful commentary. And even more rare, every student participated. Maybe my class doesn't have the standard shy and unmotivated students (dullards) but every class I have taken generally gets less than a quarter of the students participating, no matter how hard the instructor tries to get all to chime in. It really was great to hear from every classmate!

This professor also started an informal discussion area which has helped connecting online to fellow students a real success so far. Much gratitude for that! I posted a request for classmates to join a class group that I started on Facebook and to "friend" one another and this has further helped me get to know my classmates.

So between the podcasts and the forums, and despite my sickness, my e-Learning experience has started off really well.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Online Tutorial - Saving Your Brain

Many of you share my concerns over a zombie attack. The good folks at CommonCraft, who produce short online videos on important topics (such as a social bookmarking one that I keep intending to post here) are also concerned.

Together, we hope to help you save your brain this Halloween. Watch this video and learn, before it's too late.

My brain for the record is safe from prying zombies, as it has already been fried on too much communication theory reading recently.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Royal Roads Scholar

As my classes at Royal Roads have "opened" today, I was thinking back to the process of what lead me to choose Royal Roads. This process shows not only the value of social networks, but also the power of Internet as an invaluable research tool.

As a prospective grad student, my determining criteria was: a) opportunity to learn - I wanted courses I cared about and an effective way to learn b) reputation of university - I benefit from the perception of the university's value c) opportunity to meet interesting, influential faculty & students d) had to be offered either by distance or in proximity to Toronto.

I scoured the websites of universities around the world. I found many possibilities, but was able to eliminate some by looking at their course calendar and being unimpressed with their offerings. I found some distance programs, but didn't feel their methods were good, ie. not fully using e-Learning. Several universities had outdated or incomplete information, which I was able to rectify from e-mails and then discount (eg. inappropriate faculty, program was shut down, or just a research centre not degree granting, etc.)

Here's how communication vehicles helped me cull the list:

1) ordered, from the websites, print brochures- this was a waste of trees as without exception all the material in print - and then some - was on their websites
2) emailed most of my Address Book - this had the most success, more later
3) posted to various web forums, specifically Yahoo Answers, LinkedIn, and Lonely Planet. Yahoo Answers was little help, but did scare me about e-Learning. LinkedIn got no response except two replies by Royal Roads staff, which showed they are tuned in. LonelyPlanet, who has a very active forum site, was the most success as I got a lot of positive and negative feedback.
4) telephoned - this was a determining factor for a Toronto university were staff and a program head were so uniformly rude and unhelpful, it made me very reluctant to go there.

In emailing my Address Book, I got some insider help and tips for new directions. When I came to specifically deciding whether or not Royal Roads was suitable emails to my contacts netted people I knew who knew: a current RR student, one of their e-Learning software developers, the chancellor of the university (probably the real reason I got in).

My friends put me in touch with their friends and the insider information I got on the quality of the program and the e-Learning platform was instrumental in my decision. This was the second time I can remember where I asked my online contacts to help me out and I never imagined it would be so successful - definitely a case study for the power of social networks.

I was favouring Royal Roads early on, but was discounting it due to my concerns that e-Learning would not be an effective way to learn, I wouldn't get to know students & faculty, and the reputation of a mostly online university and an online degree.

Largely through the Internet, via e-mailing various people and reading online articles & posts, I was able to dispell these concerns. I got to know a lot about the program, the technology, and their reputation.

As a result of my Internet research and my online social network, I was much better consumer. I was way more informed of my options and had a much better idea of what I was buying.

Argument for e-Learning

Today, my Master’s of Professional Communications classes at Royal Roads University officially begin.

I'm excited by the subject matter and by the method of learning. My program is predominantly delivered through e-Learning, with a readings offline and online. There are also two periods of three weeks of intensive classes on campus in Victoria, British Columbia.

There are a lot of criticisms of e-Learning. As a web professional, I'm committed to living as much of my life online as I can, so I'm excited to be so immersed in this aspect of the Internet. Also, I think some of the concerns of e-Learning aren't always legitimate.

Some criticism undoubtedly arises, because e-Learning is new. But it's not that new - even before the Internet was popular, there was e-Learning. Back in 1993, I took a distance course from the University of Guelph that used computer programs (everything was done by exchanging diskettes). The course applications explained concepts, had users interact with the subject matter, answer questions and get feedback, and complete tests. In my case, I found this style of learning worked really well, allowing me more opportunity to work through the particular lesson and put the learning into practice – this just couldn't have happened without individual instruction, something not cost-effective to provide.
While change is no doubt intimidating to many people, I do think some instructors are worried they'll lose their jobs. If universities offer effective e-Learning, there should still be need for a lot of professors and it could grow with the opening of access to education that e-Learning enables (both by removing geographical and time barriers – sadly, as I can attest, not cost barriers though).
Another concern is that e-Learning prevents the Socratic method of learning so beloved by academics, but so lacking in modern factory universities nowadays. I didn’t get the Socratic method in my huge university classes. Even when there were opportunities to ask questions and have discussions, they were usually in sessions led by grad students who were sometimes only a year or two ahead of me. But I do believe that discussions with professors and students is essential (and something campuses really need to improve). Effective e-Learning can counters this concern, through online discussions, wikis, and forums. I have heard of courses using these but unable to get students to participate. I think is due to three reasons: 1) participation needs to be required – as are university "tutorial" type classes 2) language skills – people need to know the language and be able to articulate their thoughts through writing, obviously this will work better in some faculties than others 3) familiarity – it really helps if people feel comfortable with one another, this is hard in online only courses, but I think Royal Roads in-person time will foster a community that will then be able to be transported online.

Cheating is also concern with e-Learning. A colleague is taking an online course and must complete multiple-choice exams online. I did find it troubling that there was no means to prevent her from having help completing her tests or even that she herself did them. But I have had take-home exams before and certainly essay purchasing is not unheard of – so this may be a reality of academic life.

I suspect most people would, if it were feasible, prefer in-class rather than online or other distance learning. Distance learning has been around for ages, but traditional forms (print &/or video/televised) don't seem to be as popular as e-Learning. I suspect e-Learning's advantage is the opportunity to participate and interact. I took distance courses that did make good use of computer programs and videos to supplement what would otherwise be all reading, but there was no interactions with the professors or students. e-Learning greatly enhances distance education, but I still don't think many people prefer e-Learning (with the exception of web geeks, social phobes, mobility challenged, and naturists). e-Learning allows the opportunity to get an education when and where you want it. This allows people flexibility to study at their own time to not have to move or commute and to maintain their otherwise hectic life.

As my courses progress, I'll update this blog on my experiences with e-Learning – good and, hopefully not, bad.

Update: Thanks to Madison Murphy for her help with this post.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Living and Dying Online

Earlier today, I found out via an e-mail that a friend from highschool had died from breast cancer.

While I found the news most upsetting, I didn't find the method of delivery unusual. When my mother-in-law died, we were so physically and emotionally exhausted that the only way I could handle passing on the news to our friends and family was to e-mail people.

Some people still find death the last taboo of online communications. I have no such qualms. The e-mail I received also had a link to a posting on the funeral home's website of the obituary notice. I've also heard of people posting retrospective videos online or having message boards for people to post and share message about the deceased.

I think e-mail and Web can be a great way to help people talk, share and deal with the death than they might be able to in person.

Many of us live so much of our lives online nowadays. I have found out about births, marriages, divorces, coming outs, hirings and firings online.

I think Facebook is great for enabling this by helping us share the details of our lives with a wider circle of friends than we might otherwise be able to. For instance, there's this perception that people don't want to see other people's kid or trip pix. I love seeing them, even more so when I can do it on my own time.

Without the Internet, I never would be this in touch with people's lives. It's definitely a good thing.

Monday, October 15, 2007

More Biggest Canadian Internet Success Stories

Canadians aren't good at trumpeting their own success. Granted, we're a small market so our stories aren't always that big and glitzy (though some are).

I noticed that Canada's Internet history and successes are not well documented and I'm hoping to help improve this situation.

While my list of Canadian Internet Successes is by no means scientific, it is a start.

While some companies are obvious successes (eg. Flickr, StumbleUpon, RIM) there are some I'm not sure about (eg. is Nygard truly a leader in e-Business that one source claims it to be?).

Also, the list is biased towards front-end and B2C companies - this is not intentional, but reflects my limited knowledge base.

Please help me out with any omissions, corrections or details about companies already listed.

Criteria for inclusion:
* doesn't have to be an Internet company, but must use an Internet component (ie. Web, e-mail, FTP, etc.) successfully
* scope or influence extends beyond Canada
* founded or based in Canada
* commercially successful or influential for online offerings, technology, design, research, etc.

Top Canadian Internet Successes

1) Club Penguin (Kelowna, British Columbia)
Disney’s purchase this summer of Club Penguin for $350M US (read Globe & Mail article) must make Club Penguin the biggest monetary success story of any Canadian Internet company. Club Penguin is a gaming and social networking site for pre-teens. I believe they were so desirable not only for their site's stickiness with a choice demographic, but also because they had a viable, profitable model in place that doesn't rely on advertising.

2) Flickr (founded Vancouver, British Columbia)
While Flickr sold out to Yahoo for a paltry, rumoured, 20-30 million, this photo-sharing website is one of the most popular and most used websites in the world. Flickr was a pioneer in the tagging of photographs.

3) Reseach In Motion (Waterloo, Ontario)
While RIM's BlackBerry device is capable of web browsing, its claim to fame is being the first to allow users to retrieve non-wireless email accounts from a wireless device.

4) Kevin Ham (Vancouver, British Columbia)
One of the first and, by some accounts, the best domainer, Ham owns a portfolio of websites worth at least $300M and with revenues of $70M a year. (Read Business 2.0 profile)

5) Archie (Montreal, Quebec)
Considered the first Internet search engine. Archie was created in 1990 at McGill University to search and index FTP sites.

6) CryptoLogic (Toronto, Ontario)
One of the top four online gambling software companies. While tighter online gambling regulations in the States have hurt, they are still doing well and recently done a high-profile partnership with Playboy.

7) StumbleUpon (founded Calgary, Alberta)
Started in Canada, this social bookmarking and recommendation site gets more popular every day. StumbleUpon relocated to San Francisco for financing and was subsequently bought by eBay in May 2007 for $75M US.

8) Open Text (Waterloo, Ontario)
One of the first search engines and an early leader in web-based content management.

9) Lavalife (founded Toronto, Ontario)
While Lavalife didn't invent online dating, they revolutionized it by making it much more fun and thus became North America's most popular dating site. They sold out to an American company for $152.5M CDN.

10) iStockPhoto (Calgary, Alberta)
iStockPhoto is one of the leading royalty-free stock photography websites, and, by their own admission, the "world’s busiest image market", pioneering the use of micropayments. They sold in Feb. 2006 to Getty Images for $50M.

11) NowPublic (Vancouver, British Columbia)
Billed as the world's largest citizen journalism network with thousands of citizen reporters in 140 countries. The company recently received (see CBC article) one of the largest investments ($10.6M) in citizen journalism.

12) William Gibson (Vancouver, British Columbia)
This science fiction novelist didn't work on the Net, but his work predicted the Net - and he coined the term "cyberspace". Gibson has also been a contributor to Wired Magazine and writes his own blog.

13) AbeBooks (Victoria, British Columbia)
The world’s largest used book online marketplace, AbeBooks continues to grow. They have recently bought other book websites and remain a favourite with bibliophiles.

14) (Toronto, Ontario)
This company, selling men’s clothing (not just white shirts), was an early e-commerce success. Somehow they managed to lose their head start and went out of business last year.

15) WebKinz (Woodbridge, Ontario)
Owned by toy and gift company, Ganz, this company makes plush toy animals that come with a secret code that let's the owner participate in the WebKinz virtual world. With at least a million registered users and stickiness and loyalty in line with Club Penguin, WebKinz is undoubtedly a goldmine.

16) Naked News (Toronto, Ontario)
Originally a free online website with daily news coverage by stripping anchors. Naked News launched in 2000, before the heyday of high-speed connections but were nonetheless phenomenally popular for awhile, due, no doubt, as they say in Avenue Q - "Grab your xxxx and double-click, the Internet is for porn!"

17) eHarlequin (Toronto, Ontario)
The leading romance story online destination, eHarlequin is a branch of Harlequin Enterprises, the world's top romance book publisher. The popular website was also an early pioneer in web 2.0 techniques.

18) Cambrian House (Calgary, Alberta)
A leader in crowdsourcing via its online community and software to enable peer production.

19) TakingITGlobal (Toronto, Ontario)
TakingITGlobal is a website with an active, international community that enables developers to create IT projects to aid developing nations.

20) 20-20 Technologies (Laval, Quebec)
The leader in software for the interior design industry (according to their own site) 2o-20 Technologies offers a suite of products many using or enabled by the Web.

21) Tucows (Toronto, Ontario - originally Michigan)
I knew this company when it was owned by my first ISP, i-Direct. Tucows was the ultimate site for freeware and shareware downloads.

22) (Montreal, Quebec) is one of the largest jewelery e-tailers and certainly one of the nicest looking.

23) Têtes à Claques (Montreal, Quebec)
This French-language humour website, Têtes à Claques started with a series of bizarre animated online shorts. It's the most popular French-language website in Quebec and its popularity is spreading into France.

24) Nygard (Winnipeg, Manitoba)
According to an Industry Canada report , Nygard was a pioneer in the fashion industry in using technology, saving at least $10M a year back in 2002 for its innovative use of e-Business. Apparently, Nygard was one of the first designers to actively display their catalogue online.

25) Weblo (Montreal, Quebec)
I’m reluctant to put this virtual reality site on the list, as it seems to be much ado about nothing. Lots of money was spent here with the hope that audiences will come, but there’s little to draw them in.

26) Simply Audio Books (Oakville, Ontario)
The largest company in the rental and sale of audio books via their website. Simply Audio Books earned revenues of more than $6M last year.

Honourable mentions
  • Iceberg Radio - one of the largest and first Internet radio portals
  • b5media - global blog syndicate
  • Chilly Beach - web-based Flash cartoons that transitioned to a TV series
  • MegaDox - legal documents
  • Long Pen - Devised by Margaret Atwood, now on the board, LongPen enables remote celebrity signing events via online conferencing and robotic signing of books/goods
  • Don Tapscott - co-author of Wikinomics and digital evangelist
  • Digital Cement - marketing services firm with a specialty in e-mail marketing, acquired by Pitney Bowles in May 2007 for $40M
Close, but no cigar
Founded, totally or in part, by Canadians living abroad:
  • SitePoint, publishers of web development books, videos, websites and forums, but although co-founded by a Canadian, they are based out of Australia
  • Jeffrey Skoll – first president of eBay and he wrote their business plan
  • Thompson Corporation – started in Canada, now headquartered in Connecticut, though largely owned by the Canadian Thompson family (that is, pre Reuters merger). Thomspon, a specialty and trade publisher, was one of the first companies to go into digital publishing in a big way.
  •, founded by Ottawa-native Graham Hill, but based out of New York, this environmental blog was bought this summer for $10M by Discovery Channel.
  • Bob Young - from Ancaster, Ontario, Young co-founded Linux distributor Red Hat and he is now CEO of, one of the first websites enabling digital and print micro-publishing.
Canadian pioneers
These were certainly Internet leaders in Canada:
  • Chatelaine - one of the first Canadian magazines to really do something with their "companion" website, then were leaders in integrating & cross-promoting print & web
  • Sears Canada - made a success out of e-commerce in Canada, while others were giving up on it or just not able to figure it out
  • Chapters - before Amazon came to Canada, Chapters' website was doing just fine here
  • Grocery Gateway - for a long time they were the only grocery website and it seems still one of the best
What did I miss? Please help out with some additional information or with some additions to the list.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Blah Blah Text - Mea Culpa

I was reading of Jakob Nielsen's most recent Alertbox article, Blah-Blah Text: Keep, Cut, or Kill?, and within seconds I knew I was in trouble.

When I read the last few words of his opening, I had the uneasy feeling that I had broken a basic web usability principle. Nielsen stated:
The introductory paragraph(s) found at the top of many Web pages is what I call blah-blah text: a block of words that users typically skip when they arrive at a page. Instead, their eyes go directly to more actionable content, such as product features, bulleted lists, or hypertext links. The worst kind of blah-blah has no function; it's pure filler — platitudes, such as "Welcome to our site, we hope you will find our new and improved design helpful."

I didn't even finish reading the article before checking my homepage. Sure enough, I had a dreadful blah blah text intro. It should have been obvious to me it was bad copy - anything that starts with "Welcome" is a dead give-away - but it took Nielsen's words to snap me out of it.

My excuse for writing blah blah text is that I wrote it on the night of the website relaunch and I been working days and nights and I was genuinely excited and wanted our visitors to be excited by our redesigned website.

No excuse. I quickly rewrote the copy and purged it from 103 words to 65, without sacrificing any meat, only filler. And - this is my redemption - I was able to chop the words down by almost half and yet add another teaser about a new topic!!!

Still I was feeling guilty and ashamed. I felt as atonement I would to do a "Mea Culpa" blog posting here.

Then I went back to reading the remainder of Nielsen's article, when my shame was assuaged by Nielsen's assertion of his own "Mea Culpa". I did feel a bit better that even the divine Nielsen has his moments of weakness.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Something To Blog Home About...

History has been on my mind today.

History of personal, local and international proportions. Today is the one year anniversary of this blog. I also bought a book today at Word on the Street about a favourite subject of mine, Toronto history. Later in the day, I read a chapters of a book by Tim Berners-Lee on the history of the World Wide Web.

I thought these three events provide an intriguing perspective on where my life stands right now and a look at my future.

I started blogging a year ago as the momentum of recent developments in the Internet had got me excited about the field again. Since starting in this field I have loved it tremendously - no regrets ever. But the dot bomb was hard to live through, having a kid brought a whole new level of responsibility, and frankly circumstances had not handed me exciting online opportunities.

To fill the void over those intervening years, I spent a lot of time reading about Toronto history (I have about a hundred books on local history most of which I've read). I joined Heritage Toronto and maintained their website. I'd even thought about starting my own Toronto walking tours company and started planning some tours. I also started working on a possible print book on famous Torontonians.

Glen 2.0

But last year my life started to change course, back to my love of the Internet. I started really getting excited about some "new" (for me) Internet developments. First del.ici.ous, then blogging, RSS, accessibility, social media, the Semantic Web and microformats, etc. I also had my company's website relaunch that I lead that solidified my views on good web design and allowed me to put some theory and my thoughts into practice. And this blog was a great way for me to share all this.

I wanted to take this knowledge and newfound passion to the next level and as such decided to do my Master's and hopefully PhD focusing on Internet as much as possible.

I was excited to meet others who shared my passion and who I could learn from. And so I made a real effort for the first time ever to go to industry events and try some social networking. This has had some ups (I have met some cool people and got to know some industry friends much better) and some downs (like pretty much all the real world Internet groups in Toronto and I tried out a lot of them. CaseCamp is the only good one for the record. I've been working on a blog about how crappy they are but have been reluctant to as it seems awful to be so negative to people that are trying not matter how shitty of a job they are doing). I attended Mesh last Spring, the first Web conference I had been to - it was amazing! I also spent an insane amount of time on Facebook, reconnecting with old friends and friended some people that I really wasn't friends with (not like I'm the only one guilty of that).

Corny as it sounds I feel like I had a flash of light where one's future is revealed to them. I am certain now that I want to spend the rest of my life working in the Internet - learning about it, talking about it, sharing info, building in it.

I really felt that doing this meant that I had to focus completely on the Net and give up all my old "time-wasters". My Toronto book in progress was transferred to a wiki (one subsequently neglected). Haven't watched much TV in ages - even the box sets of BattleStar Gallatica, Dukes of Hazard or Scrubs. I felt like I had kicked my travel addiction and swore off travel. I stopped all reading other than about Net topics - hence my reading of "Weaving the Web" by Tim Berners-Lee (a great read and now I'm dying to make a pilgrimage to CERN, the birthplace of the Web).

This weekend I'd planned to get a head start on some online modules for my program and to spend a long time on this blog anniversary (as it is, I'm working on it in the wee hours - so the date will appear as a day off the actual anniversary). But the weather was so damn nice and my daughter was dying to spend time with me, so we decided to got to some cultural events that my wife and I used to go to a lot of before having a toddler made it too difficult. We went to Nuit Blanche and Word on the Street. It was great to participate in something creative and cultural and in complete different spheres again.

The article I wrote for work on Toronto's outdoor art (and posted here last week) got me thinking that I do love Toronto and its art scene and its history. I love spending time with my family too.

So I'm getting the sense that following my passion for the Net doesn't mean I have to wear hard-wired blinders.

I guess I'm feeling lucky that I know what I want to do with my life. I know what things are worthwhile to spend my very finite time on. I also feel happy that I have so many cool things in my life and the opportunity to partake, to various degrees, in them all.

The title of my first blog entry ever was "Nothing to blog home about" but ironically this blog lead to changes in my home, so it was indeed something to blog home about.

Man, this blog was so sappy. Thank God no one reads it!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Online Pix Sites Are Something to See

Even before I had a digital camera I posted my photos online. This was back in 1999 and I had to scan each picture (and each scan took at least 3 minutes), optimizing them and then uploading through a dial-up connection (painful) to Excite's photo service. Excite went under and I moved my pictures to Yahoo Photos.

Yahoo Photos allowed good album organization, privacy controls, and simple photo editting. But there wasn't a good way to share pictures. Yes, I could make my photos public and, more recently, you could add friends to your photo network, but there were, and still are it seems, few people that were using Yahoo as a social network. I could email my photos, but over the last three years most of my pix have been of my baby and while I think every little thing she does is photo-worthy (at one point I worried all the flash photography I was doing of her would give her cataracts) I didn't want to inflict endless (and I mean A LOT) pix of her on everyone I knew.

So when Facebook came along, I thought it was a great way to post photos, because if my friends wanted to look at kid pix they could but they weren't forced too. I could also send photos out for people not on Facebook to view - great for grandparents. And commenting is cool too. But otherwise Facebook's photo service is pretty vanilla.

Last month, I got a notice that Yahoo Photos was finally shutting down. They encouraged me to move instead to Flickr, which Yahoo has owned for awhile but ran in parallel to their own service. I was dubious, even though Flickr is one of the biggest Canadian online success stories. So I moved my pix over but didn't bother to check out Flickr at all.

Recently, I had to write an article on Toronto's outdoor art and I needed a way to easily transfer my photos from home to work, so I uploaded them to Flickr. This was the beginning of me falling in love with Flickr.

I love Flickr's organization methods, specifically their albums and tagging (they also have collections which I don't know what they are yet). I love how you can download alternative sizes of the image and reference the photo's URL (as I've done below). I love how it shows all my camera details that I've never seen before.

Flickr also has a way-cool interactive map feature. You can "geotag" your photos to an exact location in the city and view it on a map, satellite image or hybrid. The one problem is that you can't identify the locations as the numbers refer to the number of pix at that spot. Also, it appears there is only one map per account and they can't be divided into sets.

I wish there was a way to automatically post my Flickr pix to Facebook! (If there is let me know.)

Since I spent so long on the outdoor art article and it was this article that started my Flickr affair, I have included it below. All thumbnails are hosted on Flickr and they link to the larger version on Flickr.

Exercise and edification
Downtown Toronto has many works of outdoor art (by outdoor art, I don’t mean that guy outside the Eaton Centre posing as a golden Elvis statue). Here are some sculptures & murals that are fun, famous or freaky.

For locations see the numbers below and view this map Or, I also have a Flickr map of these and other works of outdoor art.

1) Deconstruction Workers
"Monument to Construction Workers" by Margaret Priest and the Building Trade Unions
Each panel in this work represents a facet of buildings. It is located in Cloud Garden Park along with a large waterfall, a conservatory and rowdy skateboarders.

11) Upwardly Mobile
"City People" by Catherine Widgery
A series of mobiles and murals of average people lead up to a raised parkette over part of the Royal York hotel, where one will probably not encounter average people.

2) He Will Rock You
A golden idol of rock god Freddie Mercury to promote the Queen musical "We Will Rock You" at the Pantages theatre.

12) Splitting Headache
"Pi" by Evan Penny
The title could refer to the mind-bending effects of solving Pi. I like to use this as a funky bench.

3) Toronto’s Most Controversial Artwork
"The Archer" by Henry Moore
One of Toronto’s first public artworks and the public wasn't happy to fork for it, ultimately losing an election for the then-mayor. But after this tumultuous beginning arose a beautiful relationship with the City and Moore, resulting in the AGO having the best Moore collection.

13) Moove Over
"The Pasture" by Joe Fafard
This beloved herd of cattle, a reminder of our agrarian roots, is a humourous counterpoint to TD Centre's bleak minimalism.

4) Gumby Goes to Heaven
"Per Ardua Ad Astra" by Oscar Nemon
Toronto’s most criticized outdoor artwork. Meant as an air force memorial (the actual title is the motto of the RCAF), it looks like Gumby in one of his trademark elastic stretches.

14) (Dis)Honouring Capitalism
Toronto Stock Exchange frieze by Charles Comfort
Built during the Depression to praise capitalism, it subtly critiques it, however, with such images as a stockbroker with his hand in a worker's pocket.

5) You Support Justice
"Pillars of Justice" by Edwina Sandys
Built by Winston Churchill's granddaughter, it symbolizes citizens' role in the justice system with a missing pillar for you to assume your role in helping uphold justice.

15)Rampaging Elephant
"Tembo, Mother of Elephants" by Derrick Hudson
Lifelike elephant with two babies in tow. I have no idea what this is meant to represent.

6) Shadow of Himself
"Lineal Order" by George Boileau
This pathetic man and his spindly shadow serve to scare one to attendance at the church next door.

16) Market Crash
"Encounter" by William McElcheran
Two fat cat businessman so absorbed in their affairs they only connect when they crash into one another.

7) Fountain of Useless Information
"The Poet, The Fever Hospital" by Bernie Miller

Neat fountain, cool location and intriguing name though as one art historian puts it "interpretation is open to all" or in my words "it defies explanation".

17) Shrine to Hockey
"Our Game" by Edie Parker
Two sculptures by the Hockey Hall of Fame commemorate hockey's hallowed status, including the legendary 1972 Canada-Russia series.

8) Killer Freaky Bunnies
"Remembered Sustenance" by Cynthia Hurley
These strange creatures are for the site's daycare and a reminder of childhood imagination - however nightmarish and traumatizing that may be.

18) Happy Face Icon Is Now Art
"Immigrant Family" by Tom Otterness
The happy face icon has a body, a wife and child, though his current circumstance are nothing to smile about.

9) Another Crazy Glenn
"Glenn" by Ruth Abernethy
Famous pianist Glenn Gould's infamous eccentricities are reflected in this statue in front of the CBC.

19) Whaling Wall
"Heavenly Waters" by Wyland
This huge mural located on a Redpath Sugar building on the shores of Lake Ontario, show whales swimming about, which I've yet to see in said lake.

10) Simcoe Monument
"Campsite Founding" by Brad Golden & Lynne Eichenberg
One of the only monuments to our history, it documents our City and Province’s founder John Graves Simcoe and his wife, Elizabeth Posthuma.

20) Beer O'Clock
The wall of P.J. O'Briens displays a frothy beer and a clock with the wrong time, as if to say time doesn’t matter, it's always beer o'clock.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Second Dot Bomb To Hit Any Time Now

I’m reading a good book, dot.con by John Cassidy - see below to give it a read, on the heyday of dot coms and the Internet bubble of the late 1990s. The events described in the book seem to be happening again, with surreal valuations of Internet companies and hair brain online schemes coming out of the woodwork.

But the book has made me nostalgic for those glory days – the obligatory Fussball table, open and flowing bars, business meetings at Playdium, extravagant launch parties, expensive marketing campaigns, new technologies to learn every month, long hours and fat expense accounts.

While I’d like to think I was more level-headed than the others that got swept into the Internet insanity avalanche, I suppose my decision to go into the Internet field was influenced by rampant hyperbole in the media and business world.

At least I had good reason to go into the Net field. A friend at the time, however, quit her accountant career and took an Internet course to get into the then red-hot field (like many others she was back to her old career soon thereafter). For me though, I was working in dead-end jobs and had little luck putting my Film & Video degree to use. Still going into the Internet was rather crazy, as I didn’t have a computer, no email address, and had only been on the Net about 2 or 3 times before I decided to pursue a career in the field (I did work briefly for an Internet company earlier, by temping for Macromedia in their big launch of Dreamweaver). I almost went into eco-tourism instead as I loved travel so much. But I thought my media education and interest would be more suitable to the Internet. I also thought that television would be on the Net soon and my Film & Video degree would finally pay off!

After the dot bomb things kept chugging along and I thought there was much more sanity in the field. But the excitement over web 2.0 seemed to have history repeating itself again which is bad enough except that it’s happening again so soon!

Yes lately there’s been great reason for excitement (eg. social networking, participatory media, RSS, tagging, the semantic web, etc.).

But a news item today sums up the return to insanity. (As if the purchase price of Club Penguin wasn’t loopy enough, see my prior post on this.)

In MediaPost’s Just an Online Minute Wendy Davis describes the situation of Internet startup Eons. I hadn’t heard of it before, probably as it’s geared to baby boomers, but it was yet another social networking website. There are a gazillion already and really Facebook (& possibly MySpace) and LinkedIn, plus a handful of others are all that will ever be useful.

Eons, as recently as last March, received $22 million dollars plus another $10 million last year. Unsurprisingly, they have not delivered and the company is laying off one third of its staff.

Perhaps dot.con should be mandatory reading for anyone working or investing in the Net.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Crisis Communications Online

I’m sure everyone has heard of the mammoth recalls of Mattel products.

I was curious how they were responding to this situation on their website, so I checked it out.

Overall, I think they have responded fairly well online.

Their homepage isn’t doing enough though. There is one small graphic on this topic, on the bottom right corner that says “Voluntary Recall Information”. Ironically, the teaser graphic is next to another one extolling their “Global Citizenship” (or perhaps Mattel thinks we’re so impressed with their corporate “citizenship”, we’ll stop thinking about the harm they have subjected children to worldwide). It would have been better if they were a bit more upfront, delivering a key message or two right on their homepage.

Clicking on the teaser, leads to a Mattel microsite dealing exclusively with the issue. The microsite is quite effective and has me reconsidering my previous criticisms of microsites.

While the microsite is small and simple, it has all the crucial info or clearly directs to it. The messages are clear and honest.

There are some missteps. There was a bit of spin with their headline “because your children are our children, too” (were our children not their children before when they weren’t being careful enough?). Also, there’s a big graphic on the bottom with happy kids playing in the field that’s inappropriate – kids aren’t so happy if they are sick from their toys or even if they have had to have a favourite toy taken away from them. This issue is informational, so there’s no need for stock photography here. Also, they place a media information section a bit too high and prominently.

I do like that Mattel’s has made finding out what products are recalled quite easy. Also, they posted fairly prominently FAQs that answer questions parents really would be asking and they answer these questions with a minimum of corporate-speak.

The most effective technique is a video message by the CEO that plays automatically in the top-left corner. It is fairly honest (which is the only thing they can do now to save their reputation) and clearly and concisely outlines their plan to prevent this from happening again. They must be worried sick about lawsuits galore, so I can appreciate that this is a difficult situation and appreciate, what seems to me, to be a sincere apology.

Though at one point, the CEO makes a comment that is an incredible understatement - he says “Mattel has recalled some products…” Try about 19 million!!

They also didn’t mention if any other of their partners in China would be facing death over this.

Update: Harvard Business School's "Working Knowledge" newsletter published an account on this topic, called Mattel: Getting a Toy Recall Right. The article touches on various online efforts Mattel used effectively.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Quality Ingredients Make Bookmarks

It has been one year today since I started using Despite extolling its virtues ever since to everyone I know, I've stirred up little interest (foolish mortals not grasping the potential of social bookmarking & folksonomies!).

Until, coincidentally, yesterday when a friend, Glenna, (even the name is a coincidence) asked me about (little did she know what she was begetting). is my favourite web application and I keep finding more reasons to love it - and you will too if you read on and sample it. is a free web-based bookmarking service founded by Joshua Schachter in 2003, but was bought out by Yahoo.

Rotten old style bookmarks
While I have always loved bookmarking, it has a lot of limitations when done via one’s browser. I use the web a lot at home and at work and there was no practical way to share bookmarks, nor access them on the road. Another problem is that avid surfers and information hoarders, such as myself, quickly outgrew efforts at even the best attempts at classifications schemes via folders, subfolders and subsubfolders. Also, bookmarks could only appear in one folder (unless you bookmarked the same page twice) so you had to remember your filing convention.

The main difference with is that you tag a webpage with terms that you specify. Tags are keywords related to the webpage. Getting used to tags is not hard. You only need one tag per bookmark but can have as many as you want. Not sure how to tag a page - gives you suggestions on what others have tagged it. That's all you need to do.

Top things you can do with

Cool stuff for the bookmarker
1. Import your existing browser bookmarks
2. Buttons can be added to your browser, so it's quick to use
3. Add comments or summaries to each bookmark
4. View bookmarks in your browser via downloadable toolbar
5. Back-up or export your bookmarks
6. Bundle tags to organize bookmarks into meaningful groups
7. Hide your dirty little secrets via “do not share” option
8. Search your and/or others' bookmarks
9. Create separate accounts for different things (eg. work vs personal)
10. Share an account with your work team or association for easy info sharing
11. Each tag you use has a unique url, so you can link directly to it (say I want to share my findings about Internet culture, here's the link)

Cool stuff for the social networker
12. Share directly with friends using via one click
13. Build a network of friends and bookmarkers you admire and monitor what they're up to
14. See who else bookmarked the same obscure site, look them up, and bond
15. Add' Facebook application to share with your Facebook friends

Cool stuff for the website manager
16. Add a button or link to your page/blog to encourage people to bookmark you
17. Learn who’s bookmarking your site and what pages specifically – also see the tags your users find applicable to you, which can be a real eye opener

Cools stuff for the Internet publisher or blogger
18. Syndicate your bookmarks - your bookmarks & your tags have individual feeds built in (using RSS) so people can subscribe to the feed in their readers
19. Automate the publishing of your tag(s) using the feeds (as I'm doing with the Net News on the right)
20. Publish your work account's bookmarks on your intranet
21. Copyright your bookmarks (you own them, not Yahoo) using Creative Commons

Cool stuff for searchers & researchers
22. Find people interested in the same topic as you and check out their bookmarks
23. Add value to the web, as tags help indicate what a webpage is really about, eventually technologies will be able to use these tags to help improve search engines (ie. semantic web)
24. Create custom tags to help research and micro-organizing (in gearing up for my graduate research, I started tags for Internet_theory, Internet_history, Internet_politics, Internet_journalism, etc.)
25. Subscribe to tags of your choosing and see updates in one spot
26. Check out the homepage for what's hot and recent in the community

Other cool stuff
27. Create a tag for yourself and keep track of all the online stuff related to you (or me)
28. Get gifts you want by bookmarking your favourite stuff with the tag “wishlist” and when someone wants to know what to get you send them this link (this was' own tip, but its the best!)

Not so tasty
One of the biggest problems with is that tags have to be one word. A further limitation is that all spelling variations of the tag are counted as unique tags (so you’ll see social_bookmarking, socialbookmarking, social_bookmarks and they are all treated as separate). While it’s great to be able to use the same tags as the larger community, your tags need to be readable to you, so find a convention you find useful and stick to it (for instance, I like to capitalize proper nouns and I like multiple words separated with underscores rather than compounded). It also doesn’t handle synonyms well (eg. I want to bookmark sites to order cookies to eat and sites discussing website cookies).

There are also a lot of competitors, but none as popular. I've tried StumbleUpon but haven't got into it. Yahoo MyWeb (why they launched a competitor to their own company is beyond me) has a cool feature that let’s you store a copy of the webpage despite what seems like copyright violation.

Here’s a helpful page to begin:

Once you're on, be sure to add me to your network.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Internet Law Can Be Fun

I’m trying to convince a friend starting her legal career to specialize in Internet law. She believes that Internet law would be too much of not-so-much-fun intellectual property law.

I can see her point, as exemplified by a panel discussion I attended at Mesh last May on "The Future of Entertainment" that was hijacked, despite the moderator's best attempts, by discussions of digital rights management. And while I concede it is an important topic, it is rather dull.

An exciting bit of Internet law, however, arose last month out of a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada.

I was stunned that the Supreme Court actually seemed to understand how websites work and that the inherent differences of the medium mean that precedence based on offline media don’t necessarily apply.

The case was against Dell computers and is more complicated than I’ll pretend to fully understand, so forgive me if I oversimplify (see this CBC article for details). The point I find very important is regarding the defendant's claim that terms of an e-commerce sale were not apparent enough as they were only accessible via a hyperlink. The Quebec Court of Appeal upheld the notion that a link from a contract to further conditions essentially was not binding as it was separate from the main contract.

The Supreme Court of Canada, however, disagreed, as the Blakes Bulletin on Information Technology summarizes the Court's ruling on this point:
The difference between clicking in order to access a clause via a hyperlink and scrolling down an Internet web-page to do the same was deemed insufficient for a finding that a clause accessible by hyperlink was external to the contract while one accessible by scrolling through the contract was not.

Though if the further terms and/or conditions were referred to, but not linked to, then it would be considered separate.

Lessons learned:
  • Website managers – make sure all applicable terms & conditions are linked to
  • Consumers – read all those terms and conditions, even if you have to scroll & click
  • Supreme Court – congratulations on understanding the web medium
  • My legal friend – see Internet law is cool and fun!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Biggest Canadian Internet Success Ever

Disney’s recent purchase of Kelowna, British Columbia's Club Penguin for $350 million dollars US (for details read the Globe & Mail article) must now make Club Penguin the biggest monetary success story for any Canadian Internet company.

Club Penguin is a gaming and social networking site for pre-teens. I believe they were so desirable not only for the stickiness of their site with a very desirable demographic, but also because they had a viable, profitable revenue model already in place that didn’t rely on advertising.

To back up the claim that Club Penguin is Canada's biggest Internet success story ever, below are the other contenders, in order based on my unscientific opinion of their monetary worth and their influence.

Note: I’m not listing companies that supply behind-the-scenes technology or ISPs (thus ruling out Nortel). Companies needed to have started in Canada, and not as a child of an American corporate parent. Also they need to have a presence outside of Canada (thus ruling out ChaptersIndigo, CanWest, Rogers, and Corus - who while they have popular web properties in Canada, they have no, to little, influence outside of Canada).

Top Canadian Web Successes

1) Club Penguin

2) Flickr (originally Vancouver, British Columbia)
While Flickr sold out to Yahoo for a paltry, rumoured, 20-30 million, this photo-sharing website is one of the most popular and most used websites in the world. (Yahoo is making Flickr their only photo site and will soon shut down Yahoo Photos. I had to transfer all my photos today to Flickr, which I ashamedly admit, I'd never used before).

3) Kevin Ham (Vancouver, B.C.)
One of the first and best domainers, making and owning a portfolio of websites worth at least $300 million and with revenues of $70M a year. (Read Business 2.0 profile)

4) Open Text (Waterloo, Ontario)
One of the first search engines and an early leader in web-based content management.

5) CryptoLogic (Toronto, Ontario)
One of the top four online gambling software companies. While tighter online gambling regulations in the States have hurt, they are still doing well and have recently done such high-profile partnerships as a gambling site with Playboy.

6) (formerly Toronto, Ontario)
While they didn't invent online dating, they revolutionized it by making it much more fun and thus became North America's most popular dating site. They sold out to an American company for $152.5 million CDN.

7) NowPublic (Vancouver, British Columbia)
Billed as the world's largest citizen journalism network with thousands of citizen reporters in 140 countries. The company recently received (see CBC article) one of the largest investments ($10.6M) in citizen journalism.

8) (Victoria, British Columbia)
The world’s largest used book online marketplace still continues to grow. They have recently bought other book websites and remain a favourite with bibliophiles.

9) (Toronto, Ontario)
This company, selling men’s clothing (not just white shirts despite their name), was an early e-commerce success story. Somehow they managed to lose their head start and went out of business last year.

10) Cambrian House (Calgary, Alberta)
A leader in crowdsourcing via its online community peer producing software.

11) (Montreal, Quebec)
One of the largest jewelery e-tailers and certainly one of the nicest looking.

12) Weblo (Montreal, Quebec)
I’m reluctant to put this virtual reality site on here as it seems to be much ado about nothing. Lots of money being spent with the hope that audiences will come but there’s not much there to draw them in.

I was going to put SitePoint, publishers of web development books, videos and websites and forums, but although co-founded by a Canadian and with roots here, they are based out of Australia.

Honourable mentions:

  • Iceberg Radio - one of the largest and first Internet radio portals
  • b5media - blog syndicate
  • Chilly Beach - web-based Flash cartoons that transitioned to a TV series
  • MegaDox - legal documents
  • Simply Audio Books

Please feel free to disagree with my completely unscientific ranking. Add a company or suggest a re-order.

In preparing this blog posting, I realized that there really is pretty much no coverage on the history of Canada's role in the Internet. So if you know of some additions, please let me know!

Friday, July 27, 2007


In an earlier post, I discussed the potential of the Semantic Web. I wrote how the problem with current web content is it cannot be distinguished by machines and that the goal of the Semantic Web is for machines to be able to read web content and understand at least some of it and then be able to prioritize info and automate tasks for us as a result.

One of the comments to this posting, by Stephen Fetter, pointed out that adding this level of meaning would no doubt complicate web publishing for non-professionals and remove the egalitarian nature of web publishing.

Then to prove Stephen's point, I learned on Wednesday of a growing technique to add semantic meaning to web content, that even I, an OLD pro, found initially intimidating.

Prior to reading a SitePoint article called Microformats: More Meaning from Your Markup I hadn't heard of microformats, though the project is more than two years old.

Microformats are special attributes for various types of data, for instance for event info (date, place, etc.), for people info (name, address, etc.) and others. The attributes are added to standard HTML tags.

To assuage our concerns that we'll have to do web coding completely different, the microformat gurus at assure us microformats are:
Designed for humans first and machines second, microformats are a set of simple, open data formats built upon existing and widely adopted standards. Instead of throwing away what works today, microformats intend to solve simpler problems first by adapting to current behaviors and usage patterns

I was still a bit intimidated until I tried's code generator and 1) was impressed at their tool doing the work for me 2) noticed the code it wrote was not very complicated.

Here's my contact information written with microformats:
Glen Farrelly
Eglington Ave.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

This hCard was created with the hCard creator.

Now if web publishing software like Dreamweaver just came built in with this level of support, then non-programmers would be more able and more likely to use it.

Microformats have a long way to go both in terms of people coding with it and applications using it - but it offers a lot of potential to save time and greatly improve web content.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Web 2.0 Smites Business 2.0 ran a story earlier this week on the probable demise of print magazine Business 2.0 and the death throws of tech magazines.

Business 2.0 is one of my favourite magazines as it focuses on the business role of new technology, that is not just tech for tech's sake with all the gory, nerdy details but how technology can actually be used to make something happen, and make money.

In the article, Bye-Bye, Business 2.0, the author, Brian Caulfield, believes this is due in part to ad revenues moving away from traditional methods to targeted, online methods. Caulfield also claims blogs scooped up a large amount of remaining advertising dollars.

I was discussing this at lunch today with Brad Einarsen of Haven Knowledge Systems, and we noted that it appears Business 2.0 was done in by the rise of Web 2.0.

Isn't it ironic (in the incorrect, Alanis Morissette use of the term), don't you think?

As one who works in the Internet, I should be happy to see more ad revenue spent online. But having worked for a website that relied on advertising six years ago, I'm very familiar with what happens when the economy inevitably cycles downward - ad revenue dries up and the lay-offs begin (even if it is a few days before Christmas!).

Based on another article I read today, it appears that some facets of online advertising is even more problematic. Banner ad click-through rates are low - we all know that, but according to Dave Morgan in his blog posting Outing the Heavy Clickers, the few click-throughs they do get tend to be from one small, and not necessarily lucrative, segment.

Every day it seems, I see another Web 2.0 start-up, many are quite cool, but most seem to rely on ad revenue and I think many of these ones will tank (unlike others such as Web 2.0 darling, T-Shirt designer and retailer Threadless). Still, I'd be more nervous to be in the newspaper business now (particularly in the Classifieds department).

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Searching; Finding

Website search keeps coming up for me lately.

First, there was the discussion and blog posting on the Semantic Web, then a coworker asked me to look into ways to limit a search to only meta data (still looking), and then last week a coworker sent me a link to a exciting example of using a search tactic to help users and achieve marketing goals.

As so many web users are search dominant, one of the first things I did when I started managing my company’s website was to make sure we had a good search engine. That was five years ago and at the time many corporate websites’ search engines were abysmal to problematically useful.

We purchased a search engine from Verity (now owned by Autonomy) and I have been very happy with their product and service. In addition, I helped make the search engine more user-friendly by adding a custom thesaurus. As our business has so much jargon, the thesaurus redirects automatically from plain language or acronyms or official terminology.

Fine tuning a search engine

There is still work to be done with the search engine. It doesn’t allow natural language (eg. “Where are you located?”) nor does it allow fuzzy search for misspellings. And while Boolean (ie. searching with operators such as “and”, “or”, “not”) is supported, the default is to use only “and”. If one searches for Glen Farrelly, it looks for those two words together. If it gets no results, I would like it to try looking for the words Glen or Farrelly. Searchers should also be able to choose to limit their search to clearly-defined areas.

The above techniques help improve the results returned, but the problem remains that most search engine’s results pages are not that helpful.

Problems with corporate search engines

There are almost always too many results and they aren’t presented in a reader-friendly format. To make results read a bit better, I have been making sure all my title tags are short and indicative of the content. I could, possibly, have the text displayed under the title populated from the contents of the meta description tag – but this takes a lot of work to write and to code for an entire website. These techniques improve the results page, but don’t solve all the issues.

Sometimes people just have quick questions, such as address or opening hours, that can be answered in a sentence or two. Also search engines don’t generally have the ability to allow results for designated items to have custom replies.

These two items would allow a website manager to take the most common searched for items or items that are a priority for the company and display a short, well-worded reply and/or a link or two to more information.

I have seen sites do this, though not very often and then not particularly effectively. Until last week…

Finding the answer

Go to and introduce yourself to Julie.

Coast Capital Savings, based out of British Columbia, is Canada’s second largest credit union. I’d never heard of them, but now I’m in love with Julie.

Personal finance is boring, so very, very unbelievable boring (like boring enough that I’d watch reruns of Small Wonder instead of reading about it online). But Julie makes it so much fun.

Type in “GICs” and she finds a way to make talking about term deposits not boring! Auto insurance and RESP are also amusing - even contact info is funny. Julie also “sings” to you.

Here’s a list of topics Julie fields including her easter eggs (including my favourite, the robot dance).

Most importantly, Julie is helpful to users. This is crucial. If it doesn’t help the users, it is at best a passing lark or at worst it could backfire by frustrating users.

Julie is genius on so many levels…

For users:
  • Narrows search results on key topics and directs to the most applicable pages
  • Offers links to info that customers are looking for or company wants to push, or both
  • Humourous approach makes dreary financial topics more interesting
  • User-friendly to the ultimate - as not only is the feature easy to use, it engenders a friendly feeling (except when Julie sings)
  • Homepage real estate is premium (see my posting on the topic) and this delivers multiple tailored messages plus well-positioned calls to action in a relatively small space
From a marketing standpoint:
  • encourages viral marketing (after all a colleague passed it on to me and now I’m passing it on to you)
  • helps differentiate the brand as more fun and unique than the other stodgy, impersonal institutions
  • encourages website visitors to become more engaged with the site and to dig deeper into the offerings, if only to see how Julie responds
  • with new items added to Julie’s array, it encourages users to return to the site
  • hard for competitors to copy (yes the major banks can afford similar technology but they don’t have access to the same persona or gifted production team)
The only downside is that Julie probably doesn’t work well for low-bandwidth users and that the user’s query has to match pretty closely to her pre-defined repertoire. Also, Julie will become less compelling & viral as this technology becomes more common.

I have had this type of feature on my wish list for the last two years. Verity did offer a product to achieve some of this, however, Julie has raised the search bar.