Archive for June, 2010

Dear Morgan,

I’ve recently become involved in lobbying for more captioning on New Zealand Television.  At present, we get captions on TV channels, 1,2, and a few programmes on channel 3.  This is funded by New Zealand on Air and TVNZ are committed to carry on with this service, despite the Teletext service being dropped, as long as NZ on Air carry on funding it.  The Teletext service will be pared back to what it was originally set up for, for the Deaf.

This is great, but I, as a deaf person, would like to have more choice of programmes.  I’d like to be able to choose to watch Prime, or even subscribe to Sky Television, but no captions are available on any other channels than the ones above.

In New Zealand, we have approximately 430,000 Deaf or Hearing Impaired people.  Approximately 10% of the population.  Of those, probably half of those people have hearing loss that depend on the captioning service for their relaxation, and their access to current affairs.

In America, they have a law called the American Disabilities Act, which makes it compulsory for all television to be captioned.  In the UK, Australia and Ireland, they also have a law that makes it compulsory to caption all prime-time viewing.  In New Zealand, we have no such law.

We have gone to the Human Rights Commission to see if we had a case, but unfortunately they do not cover language, and captioning is a form of language.

It seems ludicrous that Sky TV/Prime is fully captioned in Australia, yet they do not make those captions available here for us in New Zealand.  The reason?  Because they don’t have to as they are not required by law outside Australia.

Personally I think Sky Television have their head in the sand about this.  If cost is the factor, they only have to look at their possible new customer base of Deaf People subscribing to Sky for the captions.  Even if only quarter of the deaf population subscribed, that’s 100,000 x $50 a month.   Not bad money.  Heck, if I had a potential to gain that many new customers, I’d go out of my way to give those customers access to what I had to offer.

But right now, Sky Television effectively cuts off Deaf and Hearing Impaired people’s access to their services.

Which brings me to an interesting question.  Should businesses have moral obligations to their customer base, in this case the Deaf and hearing impaired population of New Zealand.  Or should they only have to operate to the letter of the law, and no more?

I’ve used the Deaf or deaf as an example here, but I believe the question should be asked for every business in New Zealand.  In my opinion it’s going the extra mile.  Inclusion.

I’d be very interested to see all opinions voiced.

Cheers

Robyn

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Bog Roll Holder

Posted: June 25, 2010 in Humour

Dear Morgan,

You cracked me up with your descriptive piece about shopping for toothbrushes and bog roll holders.  I was wondering if your vibrating christmas decoration was really used as a toothbrush, or whether it’s something else disguised in the toothbrush section of the supermarket.  I think you need to go back and research this further, perhaps even going as far as experimentation.  Please don’t do this in the supermarket though.  Otherwise you may have some explaining to do to, the men in  blue, or ones in white coats!

However, I have come across the very thing for your ” latest breathable, micro-weave, quilted bog roll paper”.  It’s this…

The new bog roll ‘bottom feeder’ holder.  This very ‘cheeky’ holder is a must in every bathroom.  It is bound to be the talking point  at every boardroom meeting or dinner party.  One would have to be ‘anal’ not to install it.  I wonder if it comes with sound effects?  (I’m so glad I’m deaf!)

Though the question I have to ask is……  If the silky soft, breathable, microweave, quilted bog roll paper broke off… would YOU insert your finger inside to get it out again?

I’d be very keen to know!

Cheers

Robyn


Dear Robyn,

God, I knew it wouldn’t take long for this blog to deteriorate to the point where your FILTHY sense of humour got revealed. How you kept your dreadful sense of humour from me for two years when we first met I’ll never know (why you thought I was so innocent I would be offended to discover it is a little disconcerting. Do I really look that … pure? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?) I can see it was a good thing I made this blog R13!

The slightly disturbing thing about that photo is that I reckon it’s actually a real ad in a public toilet! Mens’ toilet I am guessing. Sorry boys but you guys do tend to have filthier toilets than the girls (I know this because once when the local pool was renovating the ladies had to borrow the men’s toilets for a week – and hell what an education I got reading the walls!) So would I retrieve the lost paper? Well, no because you’d never see that sort of thing in the ladies!!!!

Morgan 😛

Dear Robyn,

Unless you are like me and have the memory of a goldfish (ooh! never been here before, ooh! never been here before…) you’ll remember a short tad ago I wrote a post on The #1 Purpose of a Website in which I bleated on about Narnia and mothballs and inspiration. Afterwards Blair Stevenson (who has his own cool blog on leadership) pasted up this comment:

“While inspiration is good, as is creating something people truly believe in, I’m not sure that they are necessary to make a sale. I’m not sure that manufacturers of toilet tissue or socks, or providers of legal services or petrol ever truly inspired anyone but they seem to make a reasonable living. It seems better to actually fulfill/address a need your target audience actually has.”

This reminded me of something funny that happened to me recently. I needed to go to the supermarket to buy *bog rolls and a toothbrush. Uninspiring items. Now, this is a bit of a mission for me because I am one of those people who is a disappointment to Market Researchers:

“Are you the main household shopper?”

Nope! Not a chance. I hate supermarket shopping with a vengence. It bores me rigid. The faster I can go into a Foodtown and come out the other side with only the things I planned to buy (ahem!) the better. Preferably at midnight also when there are no mass queues of people or trolley jams to negotiate. There’s something strangely megalomaniacal about having a whole supermarket to yourself too, as if they especially cleared out the whole place just for you.

Anyway, I don’t really like supermarkets and don’t spend much time in them so I also unsurprisingly have no idea what is in them either. The other day I decided I wanted to get a new toothbrush. So I went to what I thought was the appropriate isle and wandered up and down looking for them.

Razors… soap… shampoo… face wash… Christmas decorations (wtf? it’s a bit early for Xmas isn’t it?)… cotton wool…

That’s weird. No toothbrushes. Bit strange in the bathroom isle. So I looked again.

Razors… soap… shampoo… face wash… Christmas decorations… cotton wool…

Definitely not there. Hmmm. So I asked someone to point them out. OK so those aren’t decorations! Clearly I had been looking for the wrong thing. A toothbrush by my definition is a plastic stick with some bristles bunged unceremoniously in one end. It does a pretty good job of keeping your teeth clean despite it’s uninspired mundanity and once it’s retired from duty it does a not bad job of cleaning soap scum off the basin taps.

Well, how uneducated I am! That’s not what a toothbrush is anymore. No. A toothbrush, apparently is a vehicle into the 11th dimension, and it has the flashing spaceship lights to prove it.  No wonder I thought Christmas had come early. Toothbrushes are sparkling things designed by aliens. You get an infinite array to pick from –  ones with 390 degree revolving heads that have handles that bend like a slinky,  battery powered vibrating ones with bristles pointing everywhere at mathematically impossible angles, every possible combination of psychodelic fluorescent colours combined in swirly patterns and embedded with more glitter and bling than Lady Gaga has costume changes. Some come with alarm clocks. Others with backing lights. You can even get toothbrushes for toddlers that come with training wheels or scary talking monster heads. And they don’t appear to be made from plastic anymore but some sort of space age coagulated extraterrestrial ectoplasm. The best thing of all – they come with a write up on the packaging that promises that if you buy one it will solve all your life problems for you. Don’t believe me? Well go stand in front of the toothbrush stand and see for yourself – just don’t forget your sunglasses.

And that is not all. After being blinded by the toothbrushes I had to go get some bog rolls. Now surely these would truly be boring and uninspired. Wrong again. All I wanted was a classic roll of toilet tissue. How hard can that be? But they don’t seem to exist anymore.

First off you have to identify the packaging. You know, on nappy packets they put a picture of a cutesy baby. On bogs rolls they put pictures of cutesy puppies. Eh? You could be well forgiven for thinking they are a product designed especially for dealing with puppy poop! Once you figure out it is actually toilet paper and not a pet product you have the same mind bending variety to decide on. What do you want to do today?  Visit a perfumery in France? Take a trip to the beach with the blue starfishies and dolphins? Teach your kid to count out bits of bog roll with doggy footprints? Play Sudoku? Read your starsign? Admire the new softness of the latest breathable, micro-weave, quilted paper? Your bog roll will deliver. What will come out next? Bog rolls for the old and senile with instructions for use on every single sheet or the days of the week? (“Today is Monday, perforation, Today is Tuesday, perforation, Today is Wed… oh for Pete’s sake just pick one, they’re all the same these days anyway!”)

So getting back to Blair’s original comment, it is true that many manufacturers never inspire anyone and still make a profit. But it’s kind of cool when they do otherwise life would be pretty bland and it’s far to short not to have fun. Inspiration isn’t necessary to make a sale – but someone sure as hell forgot to tell the toothbrush and bog roll people that!

Morgan 🙂

PS: Oh, and am I inspired by my new toothbrush? Well, yes I am actually. It’s pretty superduper and  I like it so much I’m considering buying a whole box of them now before they go out of fashion in a week’s time to make room for the next model – a multi-dimensional space wonder with warp speed hyperdrive, 16GB hard drive and beam me up Scotty functionality.

*bog rolls = rolls of toilet paper

Image by Andrej Troha

Dear Morgan,

I read your last letter with interest about the purpose of the websites, and I agree with you that a website’s sole purpose shouldn’t be just to collect emails. I also think it’s the experience of the website that is the most important thing.

So, as a market researcher in another life, I decided to troll the internet to further give examples as why email addresses would not be the most important thing for a website, and this is what I found…

1). Rune’s Barf Bag Experience.

So let’s ask the most basic question here. What would be the point in collecting email addresses for this website? It’s a barfbag collection! Why anyone would want to collect these things I don’t know. I only hope that he manages to collect clean unused ones, and they haven’t been ‘recycled’ in any way. Gawd – there’s a shop so you can buy them, AND there’s even a swap page. I can see it now – hey – I have 3 barf bags from United Airlines – I’m willing to swap them for one from Singapore Airlines! Honestly, it’s enough to make you.. well Barf!

In my opinion then. Importance of collecting emails? zero
Overall website experience? Stumped and confused.

2). The oo
Lets go to the question here again. What would be the point in collecting emails for this website. Actually, the question for this website should be.. What is the POINT of this website? It’s all about oo, whatever that may be. People are even invited to go in and write their own ‘oo’ What’s even more scary is that people actually do. Should these people even be allowed to procreate? I further googled ‘oo’ in Wikipaedia and I got a list of things that oo actually meant. Sadly, just as I thought, the oo website had nothing to do with any of them.

Importance of collecting emails? Zero
Overall website experience? Ummmmmmmm

3). Elevator Rules
Well what can I say? Rules for Elevators? I’ve used lots of elevators in my life, but never knew there were ‘rules’. It gives rules such as.. ‘Never, under any circumstances urinate or defecate in an elevator. It is not, and never will be considered funny by anyone.’
Do people actually do this? Defecate I mean? In an Elevator? Did they mistake it for a toilet? Do we even need to know about this? Do we need to collect email addresses for it? Gawd – you can even buy this book of rules. And stickers too. To place on the jacket of the people that defecate so they too learn the rules. But what’s scary about this is there’s a whole website for this. So now you know!

Importance of collecting emails? Zero
Overall website Experience? ‘0.0’ Unbelievable. What about ‘Common Sense’?

4). Urinals – The best urinals in the world, gathered here in one website
Okaaaaaaaaay. Do people actually go into that website and decide to travel based on the urinals? Does the website owner have errrrrrm, a fixation with mens toilets? Do we need to collect email addresses for this? What would be the purpose, to email everyone when he finds another ‘urinal’? Imagine… ‘Dear everyone, I was in Mexico City, in the main street, and found a really neat urinal in Joey’s Bar – you should all go and piss in this one for the best experience ever’. Hmmmmmm I don’t think so!

Importance of collecting emails? Zero
Overall Website Experience? Didn’t do anything for me – but would love a man’s take on this – anyone up for the job?

5). Pets in Uniforms

Okay – this is just plain nuts. I know that women sometimes have a fetish for men in uniform. I mean – that’s just plain sexy. Especially Policemen. And Fireman. And Air Pilots. Okay okay – Too much information – if you value your life don’t turn up at my door dressed like a policeman! Or Fireman. Or pilot!! But PETS? PETS? That’s taking the fetish a bit far. I could image it if it were a sheep and you invited farmers far and wide in Australia. But cats? Sigh. Why would it be important to collect emails for this site? By the way – right now there is a holiday special on and you can get your pet made up in full regalia for only $19.99. I think Morgan should send in a photo of her budgie and see what they do to it! They should dress it up like Tiger Woods as it’s a very amorous one! Just think, she could then watch Tiger Woods in action 10 times a day. I’m not talking about his golf!

Importance of collecting emails: Five , but only because they’ll send something back to you, and you might want to know of the specials so you can dress up your cats, dogs, horses, sheep, goats, and maybe your husband.
Overall Website Experience? Chortle!

Okay – I think you get the gist now – I could go on – there’s so many weird sites out there. I hope I’ve made my point.

Cheers
Robyn

The #1 Purpose of a Website

Posted: June 15, 2010 in Opinion
Tags: , ,

Dear Robyn,

I read an interesting statement the other day by a guy called Tom Poland that got me thinking about what is really important on the internet. His statement was this:

The #1 purpose of a website is to gather email addresses.”

I’m keen to challenge that statement because I don’t believe it is entirely true (and anyone is welcome to disagree with me and tell me why in the comments).

Ever since I started web developing I’ve followed lots of blogs like his from various “experts” putting forward their take on what the #1 purpose of a website is or what the most important thing to do on the internet is to be successful. Generally these all go along the lines of “the most important thing is”:

  • gathering email addresses
  • getting ranked #1 on search engines
  • building 50’000 satellite sites
  • getting large numbers of visitors past the site
  • setting links up correctly
  • having big red flashy buttons and shiny whirly things
  • having the perfect combination of Social Media tools set up
  • magic formulas for converting people to buyers
  • buying this or that super duper SEO tool that morphs your keywords and urls effortlessly with the flick of a switch with Einstein’s e=mc2 equation so you can maximise your ability to know what domain names you should give your satellite sites and what colour your whirly flashy things should be so you can get ranked #1 in search engines to get email addresses to convert people…

Often they are valid and useful points but there is one essential ingredient missing (to me at least) from all of those statements that NO ONE ever seems to talk about and it’s something I learned about when I was much younger from a couple of people – one of them being our senior engineer at the recording studio I used to work at and the other, strangely, being C S Lewis.

When I first got interested in sound engineering I used to worry incessantly about whether or not I was doing exactly the perfect technical thing and whether I was up with the play with all the big super duper experienced engineers out there or if I was just a junior twit with no clue and bad ears. So I used to obsess 24/7 about stuff like:

“If I push that red button and route the signal to channel 23 on post-FX via this flange effect with the compressor set to x threshold and y release and the EQ set to z frequency – will I have the perfect setting?…. Make a god awful mess?… Get laughed at….. Blow up the mixing desk?….. Blow up the universe?….. Cause the drummer to spontaneously combust like they do in Spinal Tap? …”

I used to spend many hours chewing off my fingernails and wondering whether I should do A or B or C or A+B-C and what other engineers thought was the right thing to make the perfect recording people would rush out and buy. I figured more experienced engineers knew there was a correct “formula” for achieving this. Then one afternoon the dilemma of how to know when you’ve got the magic formula got solved for me when an almighty argument erupted in Studio A between two of our younger engineers over which exact mathematical formula should be used to calculate the amount of reverb to be added into the mix of some song. After half an hour of yelling complicated mathematical equations at each other and threatening murder, our senior engineer got fed up, marched into the studio, smacked their heads together and killed their argument with this:

“When this song gets released not a single person is going to care one iota how many milliseconds of this that or the other thing you’ve used in there. The only thing they will ever care about is:

“Does this make me feel good?”

As soon as he said that I realised that I (and they) had been focussing on completely the wrong thing – formulas, technology, other people’s expert opinions, advice in Engineering publications, what other engineers thought, maths, graphs, where to hide the bodies of all the drummers who combusted… But the only thing we really should have been worrying about was:

“What’s the listener going to experience when they hear this?”

That is the only thing that really matters. His comment has proven to be the most important thing I ever learned about how to make sound engineering decisions – or anything else for that matter (and that drummers are always expendible!) Ever since then, if I record something and get stuck for what the most important thing to do is I just ask myself that question and the answer becomes much easier to figure out.

Another thing I think about often comes weirdly from The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe. When I was at primary school one of our teachers read us that story and I loved the magical part where Lucy ventures into the wardrobe for the first time, finds frozen trees between the coats and Narnia out the other side. But of course, when she runs back excited to try to convince her other siblings, not only to visit this amazing place with her, but to help save Narnia, they don’t believe it really exists at first since all they see when they go into the wardrobe themselves is a bunch of musty coats, some stinky moth balls and the solid wooden back of the wardrobe. (Sometimes I think life is like this – there is the mundane side and the side that promises something better if you go looking for it and believe it’s possible).

About the same time I heard that story the ballet school I went to put on an end of year production in a larger venue than we ever had before. I had never gone out on stage in front of a proper ‘big’ audience before so I was nervous and not very impressed with the idea. I spied on the evil horde from the wings and decided anyone would have to have a death wish to go out there and get roasted with their laser sharp glares and be judged for every technical mishap. I was sure they even had clip boards and pens provided to them at the door so they could keep score of every bungle and botch up and that they would get a $5 refund every time I forgot to point my toes. But I went out there anyway. And when I did I discovered something truely remarkable that has made me love going on stage ever since.

First off the evil, glaring audience vanished behind the gigantic wall of black created by the lighting and when I turned around I saw something I wasn’t expecting to be there – a magical, awe-inspiring world just like Narnia (we had been practising without costumes up until that point). Then it occurred to me that going out on stage is exactly like things are in the book. The stage is Narnia, the wall of “black light” is the back of the wardrobe, on the other side of the wall the audience is Lucy’s siblings and you are Lucy. The whole point of going out there isn’t to execute some technically perfect performance you learned off some expert (in this case my ballet teacher). It’s to be Lucy, to truely believe the Narnia you are creating on the stage is real and to draw everyone in the audience into your world by showing them that there really is a magical world beyond the “back of the wardrobe”. Since then I’ve never been nervous because I know being on stage isn’t about people watching you – it’s about inviting them onto the stage with you to share your experience because you want them to feel what you are. (I believe that ultimately this is why music, art and films are so popular. People are happy to escape the mundane moth balls and oppressive fur coats of life from time to time and see that there is something more inspiring and meaningful out there.)

So why does that have anything to do with websites? Well if you look at that list at the beginning of my post again you’ll notice it is completely devoid of any reference whatsoever to the effect you have on your visitors. There is no human factor there at all. It’s as if websites are made for unfeeling robots. But I believe what the visitors experience is the most important consideration. So I would say:

The #1 purpose of a website is to inspire your audience and create something they truely believe in and want to be involved with.”

Everything else is of secondary importance – even if it’s that stuff all those experts are saying should be tops. My main point here is not that any of those things listed are unimportant, but that, in my mind, there is little point in attracting people to a site in the first place, or gathering their details if you don’t draw them into your world when they get there. If you don’t show them that there is something magical worth believing in behind the back of the wardrobe what’s the point? If websites are primarily about nuts and bolts and formulas or executing some parasitic marketing advice of experts that misses the most exciting reason to be there in the first place – the audience and their experience. The most powerful thing to put into a website has nothing to do with formulas, tools or SEO advice. The most powerful thing is the ability to inspire other people and share something with them that is bigger than “mothballs”. And that bigger than mothballs thing comes from truly believing in what you do and caring about what difference it makes to other people (but that’s a whole other topic). I think this is one way to set yourself apart from all other competitors out there. After all, your competitors can all make use of those same tools too but how many of them set their main priority as creating of the kind of “Narnia” people want to believe in and visit more than anywhere else?

Think about this for a second. When you visit some site that impresses the hell out of you do you go away excited because;

  • You got to leave your email address behind? or
  • The key words were really effective in getting you to the site? or
  • The links were set up to maximize Google rankings? or
  • The developer wrote really clever code?

No of course not. Hopefully you go away excited because you made a real connection with the people who created the site and their message and you want to be involved with them in future – because you saw their version of “Narnia” and believed in it too.

I guess as a practical example of this a couple of Decembers ago I randomly came across Time is Running Out by Muse online. (And I apologize for using a music example but songwriting would have to be my biggest passion in life and I can’t resist a great song). I didn’t know who they were when I started playing the song but half way through the second verse I became a Muse fan – and before the end of the song I logged in to www.muse.mu became a Muser (that’s a completely crazy Muse fan who lives on their website). I had a strong conviction about them as a band from the first finger click in that song. They also have a fantastic website (and I think a very talented group of people who run it) but lets be realistic – if I hadn’t have been inspired by the band it would have been a complete waste of time collecting my email address. What inspired me?

In the words of Matt Bellamy:

To feel liberated is something that I feel when I am playing music and I think if you can help other people feel liberated in that way, psychologically and spiritually liberated, then that is the best thing that music can do”.

This is the main reason to me why songwriting is important and has always been. So we share that vision of “Narnia” and that is what inspired me. Their music represents something a bit bigger than just chords, staves and mothballs and that is what really matters. And this is reflected in their website also which makes all the difference (I am sure their 77,000+  members on the website agree).

So when people visit a site should the #1 purpose be;

…to gather email addresses.”

or

…to inspire your audience and create something they truely believe in and want to be involved with.”

People can go leave Tom Poland their email address in droves if they want to but I know which purpose I would pick first.

Leaving your email address is something you can do AFTER you visit Narnia….

Morgan 🙂


Dear Morgan,

I left Auckland on Thursday morning, after dropping my daughter off at the Space Station where she flew back to her Planet for another few years.  I decided to travel by car to Wellington, rather than use my spaceship.  I wanted to see what it was like.

Travel was.  Well.  Slow.  One was continually on the lookout for cars that flashed red and blue lights.  There were also cameras – on power lines, and even in trees.  Apparently my photograph is highly sought after.  I’ve heard that these photographs are then sold back to the drivers for quite large sums of money.  Crazy stuff.

The strangest phenomenon though was on something called passing lanes.  These are apparently lanes where faster cars can overtake slower cars.  However, according to the road code, one must not exceed the speed limit of 100km while passing.

So here you are, meandering along behind someone going at 80km, and hoping for a chance to pass, when you come to a passing lane.  Without exception, EVERY single time, everyone speeds up to the speed limit of 100km for the whole length of the passing lane.  No one passes.  Then right at the end of the passing lane, the car in front slows down to 80km again.  Then you have to meander along behind, hope for a chance to pass again.

There must be some sort of accelerator booster on the side of the road at the start of these lanes.  I can only think of one other reason.  Stupidity.   Dumbass.   Idiot.  Fuckwit.   Arrogance.  Jerk.  Okay, that was more than one reason but I’m sure you get the drift.

Hours later I arrived at our destination.  Next time I’m taking the spaceship!

Cheers

Robyn

Dear god X11CP7, we’ve landed on a strange planet. How did the mothership end up here? Did you set the warp co-ordinates for worm hole ZP123 or ZP498? We don’t appear to even be in the right galaxy anymore.

Y98R2

(Incidentally, I mind read a passing alien and have concluded that we would be wise to go by the names of Robyn and Morgan while we are stuck here. These beings appear to have genders – strange concept. These names apparently are ambiguous so we should blend in nicely).

(Incidentally #2, the mind read alien had a memory stored in it’s database of some leader names. One of these was “hill in cluck”. There were other names also but I cannot determine which one is current as the indexing system on this model of brain is quite primitive and all the data is scrambled randomly. Some sort of  security encryption perhaps? We will have to figure out how to crack this later.)