The neat thing about blogging design…

…is that if you don’t like the theme you picked yesterday you can change it with a click of the mouse today. This is NOT my new design. It’s yet another way I can mess with the “brand” I’ve built. I want to destroy it, to allow me to play around and find something fresh. How’s this one? Anyway, today I’m on a plane to Phoenix to hang out with some cool geeks. More later as we continue building this out.

This theme is one of the pre-built ones in If you don’t like it, we can pick another and keep trying them as Rackspace’s designers work on my new design, which will come up as part of the launch of Building43, the community for people fanatical about the Internet comes alive.

The things I'm learning from having an ugly design

A couple of weeks ago I went into, clicked on “Themes” and selected the one that looked the most plain that I could find. Why did I do that? Because I wanted to get everyone back down to the most basic theme I could. I wanted to get rid of the branding. The friendfeed widget. The advertising. The cool looking fonts. And get it back down to just the fundamentals.

I did that for a few reasons.

1. I wanted to see if it would have a major impact on traffic. It did not.

2. I wanted to see who would complain and who would praise it. Some complained that it was too unprofessional. Others complained it’s hard to read on high resolution monitors (the text goes all the way across the browser). Still others missed my “brand.” But something else happened. Other people said they really liked this new theme. In pressing in more I think they liked that it was different than, say, TechCrunch or Mashable and that it had an anti-advertising stance on it. Also, some people said it was more readable because I got rid of the advertising and the friendfeed widget.

So, what I’m wondering is why have a nice design at all? Why not just go with a plain theme? Especially if it helps you focus on my content more?

Just some ideas as I continue working to rebuild my blog. Regarding that, we’re moving my blog over this week to a Rackspace hosted server (hopefully, we had some problems figuring out some problems due to some custom stuff that Automattic did for my blog that you’re reading here). I’ll stay on WordPress, but will be on a standard install which will let me use all sorts of plugins and try some fun things out. As soon as that gets moved over we’ll start iterating on the design and “pave the paths” here.

Thanks for putting up with the dust and dirt as we rebuild the blog.

72 Nice Things about Demo's Startups' Websites

OK, OK, I’ve had my weekend fun when I said, on Saturday, that most of the sites for the companies being shown at the Demo Conference suck. That conference starts later today. I got half the industry to hate me. I have people wondering if I’m a paid shill for Arrington or TC50. Hate mail continues flowing in. Etc. Etc.

That’s what happens when you only look for the bad.

So, what’s the good? Well, let’s go through these and pull out something nice about each one. Keep in mind I’m only talking about the Websites, not the company or the product/service (I should have been far clearer about that on Saturday). Many still don’t have their service or product up, so we’ll have to judge those later in the week. This was a LOT harder than finding what was bad. I’m sorry, but these sites are really hard to praise. Compare this list to the “Gold Standard” list we posted yesterday. The difference is very telling.

Accordia Group, LLC; New Rochelle, NY;
NICE? The contact us page has a real phone number.

Adapx, Inc.; Seattle, WA;
NICE? Cool pull-down menus., Inc.; Bellvue, WA;
NICE? The site talks about you and what the service does for you. Nice color scheme.

Arsenal Interactive, Inc.; Mountain View, CA;
NICE? Clean uncluttered design. Makes me want to learn more.

Asyncast Corp; Campbell, CA;
NICE? Clear call to action “Sign me up!”

Awind Inc.; Junghe, Taiwan;
NICE? It was hard to find something nice about this one, but supports multiple languages is about it.

beeTV; Milano, Italy;
NICE? Good use of stock photos. By graying them out and animating logos in, gives it a cool feel.

Best Buy; Minneapolis, MN;
NICE? Very clear progression of what you’ll get if you try this. Nice use of demos too.

BizEquity Corp.; Spring House, PA;
NICE? Sorry, nothing nice to say. Still has a page up that says to check back on Monday, September 8th. Well, it IS Monday.

Cerego; Tokyo, Japan;
NICE? Uses OpenID.

Cinergix, Pty Ltd.; Melbourne, Australia;
NICE? Good way to get people to sign up for a beta.

Clintworld; Boenningstedt, Germany;
NICE? Clean, professional design.

CoreTrace Corp.; Austin, TX;
NICE? Good video demo. Shows the presenter as well as what’s on screen.

crowdSPRING, LLC; Chicago, IL;
NICE? The visual aesthetic here is the best I’ve seen in this group.

DesignIn, Inc.; Marblehead, MA;
NICE? First site so far that looks like it will show you something different if you’re logged in. This could be a cool product (3D designer for your home) and is one of those I’m looking forward to playing with this week.

Dial Directions, Inc.; Alameda, CA;
NICE? I missed the video on this site because I saw the comic and thought that was goofy. But, oh well, the video is nice and I have added this to my phone’s speed dial already.

NICE? I love the “Subscribe RSS” link. That tells me this site will be updated and if I care about the offerings here I can have that stuff shoved to my RSS Reader. I said three years ago that you should be fired if you are a marketer and you don’t have an RSS feed on your site and I still believe that.

Enterprise Informatics, Inc.; San Diego, CA;
NICE? Google ads will fit right in here. Seriously, that’s about all I can say that’s nice about this one, sorry.

Familybuilder; New York, NY;
NICE? This genealogy app gets you back to your favorite social network fast., Inc.; San Francisco, CA;
NICE? Home page said “site is down” when I visited at 1:10 a.m. but it has a very cool color scheme and nice logo design.

Fortressware, Inc.; Mountain View, CA;
NICE? Good value statement. A new way to protect my data.

Fusion-io; Salt Lake City, UT;
NICE? Aesthetically awesome.; Ramallah & Modin, Palestine and Israel;
NICE? Love the benefit statement, the slight animation, and the product. I should have been nicer to this site on Saturday, it deserved to be pulled out and complimented.

Green Sherpa; Santa Barbara, CA;
NICE? Communicates a TON in one screen.

Infovell, Inc.; Menlo Park, CA;
NICE? Nice stock photo. This is one that I really had to dig down deep to find something nice to say.

Intelius, Inc.; Bellevue, WA;
NICE? Ahh, a search box for people. On the other hand it found something that said I was a founder of Six Apart. Um, you might want to look into THAT. Heheh.

Invision TV, LLC; Bethesda, MD;
NICE? This is a demo I’m looking forward to seeing. Nice Flash-based site. Lots of animation and good aesthetic and all that.

iWidgets, Inc.; San Francisco, CA;
NICE? Good demo and nice layout.

Kadoo Inc.; Washington, DC;
NICE? Nice animation.

Koollage, Inc.; San Jose, CA;
NICE? They are revving up their “Kool Factor.” Sigh.

Mapflow, Ltd.; Cork, Ireland;
NICE? FAIL. Says I need a username and password just to visit their site.

Maverick Mobile Solutions, Pvt. Ltd.; Maharashtra, India;
NICE? Sorry, I’ll wait until later in the week.

MeDeploy; Hamden, CT;
NICE? I get the point of what this company does fast.

Message Sling; Worcester, MA;
NICE? Nice signup button. Actually, this is one of the companies I’m looking forward to getting a demo of.

MeWorks, Inc.; Taipei, Taiwan;
NICE? Good “keep me posted” submission box.

Microstaq, Inc.; Austin, TX;
NICE? Nice slogan “innovations that flow.” Why? It matches their product line.

MixMatchMusic, Ltd.; Burlingame, CA;
NICE? Nice way to let beta users in, while informing others and collecting email addresses. This looks like it could be an interesting music service, so we’ll revisit later in the week.

Momindum; Paris, France;
NICE? They integrate with my old company’s products (Winnov) so that’s gotta be nice.; Dallas, TX;
NICE? The CEO blogs. I like the human element. Of course this is a social network/collaborative tool, so you’d expect them to get the value of putting humans on your corporate site.

Paidinterviews, LLC; McLean, VA;
NICE? Very clear, 1,2,3,4 about how this site will help you. Videos don’t work, but I assume they’ll get turned on later today.

Paragent, LLC; Muncie, IN;
NICE? Love a site that has a call to action right in your face. “Watch Demo Now.”

Photrade, LLC; Cincinnati, OH;
NICE? Nice, clear representation of value “get paid for your photos.” I love sites with clear, no BS, language.

PlanDone, Inc.; Petaluma, CA;
NICE? I love testimonials. By the way, are these stock photos? Or, did they spend real money to shoot unique photos?

Plastic Logic, Ltd.; Mountain View, CA;
NICE? Ummmm. Nice super-huge graphics. Oh, wait, I’m supposed to say something nice. Um, gee, er, ahh, well, um, can’t, sorry.

Qtask, Inc.; Burbank, CA;
NICE? They have the best video demo/tour I’ve seen so far.

Quantivo Corp.; San Mateo, CA;
NICE? This was the one site that caught my eye on Saturday and it, again, is my favorite so far.

Radiant Logic, Inc.; Novato, CA;
NICE? Big customers! Tells me this costs a lot of money and probably isn’t sold by visits to the site.

RealNetworks, Inc.; Seattle, WA;
NICE? I’ll skip this one, cause it’s not of something that’ll be shown at Demo so I’ll have to come back.

Rebus Technology, Inc.; Cupertino, CA;
NICE? It’s blue. The autoplaying music woke me up at 2:24 a.m.

RemoTV, Inc.; New Haven, CT;
NICE? Red! Need I say more?

Rudder, Inc.; Houston, TX;
NICE? This site, instead of using a stock photo that looks lame, used its product right in your face. Makes me want to try it.

Semanti Corp.; Alberta, Canada;
NICE? Tight writing.

Sim Ops Studios, Inc.; San Francisco, CA;
NICE? I love sneak peaks.

SitScape, Inc.; Vienna, VA;
NICE? Nice arrows.

SkyData Systems, Inc.; San Mateo, CA;
NICE? Actually this is a site I could probably have been nicer to on Saturday. Glad to finally see a site talking about price. I hate it when companies don’t tell you what things cost and use that as a lead generation device.

SpinSpotter; Seattle, WA;
NICE? I wonder if they’d spot this spin? Hmmm.

Telnic, Ltd.; London, England;
NICE? Clean and gets to the point fast.

TetraBase, LLC; Boothwyn, PA;
NICE? A non-rectangular design.

The Echo Nest Corp.; Somerville, MA;
NICE? Like the design. Looking forward to trying this music recommending service this week.

tikitag, an Alcatel-Lucent Venture; Antwerp, Belgium;
NICE? I think this might be most improved site in two days. Nice video that explains what this does.

Toolgether; San Mateo, CA;
NICE? Sorry, can’t say anything nice yet.

TravelMuse, Inc.; Los Altos, CA;
NICE? I want to go to Hawaii after visiting this site.

Trinity Convergence, Inc.; Durham, NC;
NICE? I wanna hear more about their picture frames and what makes them different.

TurnTo Networks, Inc.; New York, NY;
NICE? Video demo is good.

UbiEst S.p.A.; Treviso, Italy;
NICE? I bet the demo is nice. I want to see if it’ll make my mobile phone more useful.

UGA Digital, Inc.; Taipei, Taiwan;
NICE? Nice 3D logo. I wish I had a sense of what their photo frame does, though.

Unity Solutions, LLC; Clearwater, FL;
NICE? I’m getting sleepy.

Usable Security Systems, Inc.; San Francisco, CA;
NICE? Free beer.

WebDiet, Inc.; Henderson, NV;
NICE? This site has my name all over it. I’m fat and it’s a service to help me diet.

Xumii, Inc.; San Mateo, CA;
NICE? Hey, how did they get a Nokia N96?

Zazengo, Inc.; Santa Cruz, CA;
NICE? Now I’m feeling charitable because I get to go to sleep.

The best comment on Twitter and architecture I've seen

It’s the comment left by Michael Kowalchik, aka “MikePK” in response to Matthew Ingram’s post about Twitter’s architecture (or the lack thereof). He’s the CTO of Grazr and makes an important point that every entrepreneur should read. So should every pundit who is giving Twitter crap about being down right now. It is the most important comment I’ve seen in weeks in another blog.

This one comment made me look at Grazr yet again. In the comment Mike seemed disappointed about why the market didn’t show up to enjoy his great architecture. Got me thinking about why Grazr doesn’t have many users and, therefore, doesn’t have Twitter’s scaling problems. Either way, read the comment that Michael left over on Ingram’s blog. The rest of this is just a rant, with a bonus rant about why FriendFeed isn’t going to be Twitter either.


Here’s why Grazr is no Twitter:

1. Grazr’s name sucks. I HATE HATE HATE “Flickr” copy names. Er, Web 2.0 names. It’s so hard to tell other people about things when you introduce misspellings into them. Here, what’s easier to tell someone else about “FriendFeed” or “Grazr.”
2. Grazr solves a problem normal people don’t have. I think Dare Obasanjo is right, too many companies are trying to solve a problem only the weirdos in society (like me) are having. I explained this on the Gillmor Gang on Friday: I’m a noise junkie. Only one out of 100,000,000 people will be like me. If you think you can build a business just on those weirdos like me or Mike Arrington or Louis Gray will ever use, then go for it. But you don’t need an enterprise-level architecture to keep the two of us happy. Look at Grazr: how many people have too many feeds or want access to more? Only a very small percentage. Who wants to tell their friends what they are eating for lunch? A whole lot more people.
3. Grazr’s UI is too confusing. Look at all the hottest services lately. They are simple, simple, simple. Easy to get into and easy to use. Way too much use of color, too. Why? Put this sucker in front of an eye tracking research project and you’ll see why: you don’t know where to look so your eye gets confused and when it does that the next thing that happens is I look for the “back” button to get the hell out of there.
4. Grazr has a focus on A-list blogs. Who wants to read those things? I’d rather read the blogs from my friends. Those A-list assh***s? I already see too much of them in other places.
5. Grazr’s language is cold. No personality. At least Twitter has the “Fail Whale” with lots of little birds. It has a personality. Grazr? Look at the terms they use for their categories. Business. Celebrity. Gaming. Health. Music. Yahh, yahhh, yahhh, boring!
6. Nothing is moving on Grazr’s home page. I’ve been staring at this for five minutes and nothing has moved. Compare to Twitter Vision — which is more inviting? I even refreshed and nothing on the home page changed. Now go to Twitter or FriendFeed or Jaiku or Pownce. Click on the “everyone” feeds on FriendFeed. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. Do you see new stuff? I do. It makes me feel like something is happening on those services and that there’s tons of users. Oh, wait, there are.
7. Grazr has UI that looks like Microsoft’s Windows. Enough said. I know what they are trying to do, but look at FriendFeed’s widget on my blog. Does it look like Windows? No, it’s customized so it fits into my blog’s design.

But, go back to the comment that Michael left. That’s exactly true. I’d rather have Twitter with all of its scalability troubles than a perfect system without any users.


That’s why we’re all staying with Twitter. Now, if someone can figure out how to build a perfect system AND get the users to move, then we’ll talk again. FriendFeed is close, but isn’t going to be it. Why? Four reasons:

1. No realtime yet. When I can participate in FriendFeed by using an instant messaging client like Google Talk, then we’ll have realtime. Right now it’s pseudo real time and not wholly satisfying.
2. No SMS compatibility. Can I post to FriendFeed and get messages out of FriendFeed via a cell phone’s SMS feature? Not yet. How many cell phones are being sold everyday? In China alone they are selling six million new ones a month! Now THAT is a market Dare Obasanjo could get excited about!
3. No ability to see a river of noise. Everything on FriendFeed gets reordered based on participation. I want to see just a strict reverse-chronological view.
4. Poor querying abilities. I can’t tell the search to just show me every item that has “n” likes. For instance, I want to see only the popular items sometimes. I can’t do that. Same with comments. I want to see only those items that have lots of community engagement. I can’t. Steve Gillmor asks for this feature another way: he loved Twitter’s track feature. I can’t do that in FriendFeed either.

Oh, well, I’m off on a FriendFeed rant. Enough of that. Thanks Michael for making me think in a different way. What a great comment.