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!