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My Top Ten Internet Gripes

My Top Ten Internet Gripes

Ok, girls and boys, time for some venting about the state of the internet today. Let’s look at some problems that we all face on a regular basis–dare I say first world problems?–and maybe some ways they can be fixed.


1. Facebook Grammar

This has been a problem from the beginning. Nothing gets my goat more than seeing a generalized plural pronoun used out of laziness, especially when Facebook has the gender information that would make the proper pronoun instantly accessible. If the user has identified herself/himself as female/male, why not say “X has updated her/his profile picture”?


2. Country Drop-down Menus

They are on every website, and it’s getting to be enough, people. Why should I have to wade through 150 sovereign nations to find my own country, especially if that country is the biggest market for the website I’m on? Why can’t websites at least auto-select my country so I don’t have to click and scroll, or click and roll, or type “U-U-U” like some MS-DOS hacker to find the United States? There is a good solution to this problem here, but I’m interested in even better solutions. Or, not having them at all.


3. Google’s Two-Tier Drive/Docs

Since Google’s transition to Google Drive, it would make all the sense in the world to have one drive. One drive for one group of folders. However, Google doesn’t see it this way. Instead, Google splits their drive into “My Drive” and “Shared with Me.” It may seem like a natural split, except that I can never remember whether docs I am collaborating on were docs I created or docs which were shared with me. And why should it matter? What’s worse, when you search for docs, it only searches inside the active folder. Which means often I am searching twice in the same search box for the same document.


4. Forgot Password Scripts

We get it already! If you forgot your password, you click Forgot Password, then you get an email with your password information and maybe a reset link, then you click reset, then you go to the site, then it asks you to create a new password, then half the time it asks you to log in again with the password you just created (why?), then it sends you a NEW email telling you your password has been successfully reset, and if it wasn’t you that you should call them and tell them. Why all this trouble? What’s so hard about resetting a password? If someone hasn’t already, someone should build a better plug-and-play solution. Or I should 🙂


5. Loading Gifs that Don’t Load

I know it’s because the gif is loaded with the site assets and only replaced after the AJAX call to the server returns data, and sometimes the backend is broken or you lose the network at a crucial moment, but for users, this is the internet equivalent of Apple’s spinning rainbow of death. The fact is, users don’t know or care why it isn’t working, they just see that there’s content that should be there, and isn’t. It’s frustrating, and it would be simple to fix–don’t have a loading gif onload, but instead only show it while data is actually loading. Or not have a loading gif at all.


6. Pinterest Rip-Offs

You’ve seen them all over the place. Pinterest had a cool liquid multi-column layout, so now every site on the internet needs to adapt that style. The reason it works for Pinterest is because it’s precisely what the Pinterest community needs. It doesn’t work for your blog, or some random photography site, or Plus, it’s unoriginal and it stinks. Make your own shitty layout, and leave original design to…not you. See here for a list of Pinterest ripoffs.


7. “Share this Purchase” Requests

We know you want to make your ecommerce site “social,” but no one, ever, is going to be enthusiastic about posting their purchases on Facebook. Not only is it in bad taste to brag about your new $200 three-slot toaster to an unwieldy group of fake friends whose preferences and tastes are unknowable, it’s also not realistic to think that these posts will result in any conversions. It’s best not to insult the intelligence of your buyers and leave these requests out entirely.


8. Facebook Open Graph

The proliferation of auto-shared Open Graph actions is out of control. My Facebook feed no longer provides any useful information and instead shows me a litany of useless, and sometimes embarrassing, information about my friends. For certain things, like music and offers, it’s kinda cool, but for everything else it stinks of desperation for Facebook and the advertiser in question. On this note, Facebook tricking people into sharing all their content by replacing “Authorize App” with “Okay, Watch Video” isn’t cool. Full disclosure: I am partially responsible for this, having brought Ustream to Open Graph in April.


9. Late-Loading Site Content

You’ve been there. The page starts loading, and you see a link you want to click, so before the page is finished loading, you attempt to click it. But just at that moment, some banner slides in from the top of the page and pushes everything down. So instead of clicking “Benghazi militia captured outside Tripoli,” you click “Doris Day impersonator dies from bike pump beating.” The worst perpetrator of this practice is CNN, which insists on telling you you’re using the US edition and asks if you want to make it the default (what else would I want?).


10. Unwanted Noise

This is a common frustration. My computer should not make any noise I don’t want it to make, and therefore, any website that is creating unwanted sound is a complete nuisance. Sometimes I’ll have my speakers on and one of those annoying talking heads greeting me will start babbling, or a preroll ad for a car will start zooming, and before you know it, everyone at the office is pissed. The only time I need my speakers is for a video or music that I voluntarily turn on. Everything else is a distraction. There are some workarounds to this but nothing that is that satisfying. I would put auto-playing video in this category as well.

October 26, 2012Comments are DisabledRead More
Lessons in Entrepreneurship…from Poker

Lessons in Entrepreneurship…from Poker

Recently, I was putting together a project proposal for a client when I stumbled across a fairly common problem. Embarking on a new venture, for any startup, is risky, but for tech startups, perhaps, the risk is hedged by relatively little overhead and a short timeline to development. After all, a new website can be built in a year whereas a new farm…you get the point. In any event, the problem I stumbled across was the tendency for tech entrepreneurs in general to be impulsive–aware of the risks yet addicted to the high of winning to the point where they lose their sense in the process. This psychological tipping point is what is known in poker as “tilt”–an emotional state that impairs rational thinking and turns an otherwise good player into a gambler.

I’ve been playing poker a lot more in the last two years, both as a form of entertainment and as a serious academic study. Poker, in its most common variant, Texas Hold’em, is not a game of blind luck: it is a game of skill, intelligence, strategy, risk and reward. If played correctly–as one in ten players do–money can be made consistently in the long run. Like in any other field, only a few master it enough to be a professional. There is no such thing as a perfect player: the best players in the world play each other frequently and trade losses.

In entrepreneurship, a lot of lessons can be derived from poker, in what to do and what not to do. How is poker like entrepreneurship? First of all there is the nature of the hole cards themselves, and how absolute certainty in any poker hand is impossible. Instead, a player must rely on his experience, instinct, and a degree of measured, calculated risk to win money (ROI) on his buy-in (investment). There are different types of poker players, just like there are different types of entrepreneurs. They are loose (risky) and tight (cautious), short stacked (poor) and deep stacked (rich). An investment in a poker game means a chance of failure and loss, but also promises its own much greater rewards.

Many poker players I have encountered at the tables are commodities traders or entrepreneurs–this is not a coincidence. Indeed, the same type of thinking applies to both types of people: people who are risk takers, gamblers, but also thrill seekers and optimistic–maybe even a bit greedy. These traits make successful people, but they can also cause ruin. That’s why professionals and poker players alike recommend that you don’t depend on entrepreneurship or poker as a primary source of income unless it is already a consistent source of income for a year or more. That way, you are not risking ruin if you fail.

midVentures does not endorse gambling (our lawyer told me to put that in). However, I believe that if played correctly, poker is not gambling, but a game of skill. After all, there would be no such thing as a professional poker player if it weren’t possible to master the game! (Meanwhile, there is no such thing as a professional roulette or slots player.) At the same time, most people who play do not do it correctly, and lose money. They play like gamblers and lose like gamblers.

The number one lesson for entrepreneurship from poker is this: Don’t lose your head. The best poker players can be undone by a loss of psychological control. Likewise, don’t let small failures in entrepreneurship drive you off the deep end. Keep your head in the game and don’t be undone by a streak of bad luck. If you are committed to your venture, let your sense and ambition steer you, not your emotions.

As a caveat, if you are interested in taking up poker, do it correctly. Don’t gamble! Take it seriously and don’t spend too much money on learning. Don’t start playing at a casino or a game where a buy-in at a table could be $200 or more. This is money you will inevitably lose at first and you will be more discouraged from learning how to play correctly. Get together a home game where the blinds are $0.05/$0.10 and a buy-in of $5 or $10. This way, you can learn how to play without a great risk of loss. Also, read a poker book or two. Although the best way to learn is by doing, reading and watching poker on TV are two other ways you can get better.

For those who are interested, I am announcing the creation of #ChicagoTechPoker, a weekly poker game for techies only. Only 8 players can play at a time, so if you’re interested, please shoot me an email at brian [at] midventures [dot] com.

Learning how to play poker is a great way to fine-tune an analytical mind, to master a skill set of problem solving and hedging risk, and ultimately a path to success. I hope to see aspiring entrepreneurs at the tables!

May 25, 2010Comments are DisabledRead More
Using great Web 2.0 apps

Using great Web 2.0 apps

I have had the pleasure in the last week of becoming intimately familiar with Mailchimp, the Web 2.0 version of Constant Contact. My overall impression of Mailchimp is that it is not only fun, but satisfying to use. That’s what a Web 2.0 product should be about.

To summarize, Mailchimp is an email program which we just started using to send out HTML emails. Our list has grown to over 700 members of the Chicago technology community, and we wanted to communicate with that list in a professional, clean way, and not through our tacky, 1990’s-style listserv that so many of you have expressed dissatisfaction about! Mailchimp allowed us to seamlessly import our contacts and design a professional campaign, as well as use many other features like inbox inspection (see what your email will look like in 30 email clients) and delivery doctor (get past those pesky spam filters!). In addition, Mailchimp provides an interface that is easy, fun, clean, aesthetically pleasing and at some points, humorous.

Point being, I was having so much fun using Mailchimp to design our most recent email campaign that I actually enjoyed paying them money. That’s right. I actually enjoyed sending them more money, for several reasons:

  1. They presented a product interface that was quick, easy-to-use, and very very pretty
  2. The roundness of the application and its confidence made me confident that the services I was paying for are worth every penny
  3. I believe that they deserve the money, because I believe that a good business should be rewarded!

I bring this up because very often we see in the Web 2.0 space a focus on design and functionality, but not necessarily a focus on customers or satisfaction. Mailchimp is an example of a Web 2.0 app that not only looks cool and works well, but also does what I need. I don’t mind paying extra for some features because the whole package works better with them.

I look forward to seeing what the next Web 2.0 apps are that challenge our notion of how business is done. Look at what Mailchimp has done with a combination of good design, seamless functionality and a little bit of humor.

What’s your favorite Web 2.0 app and why?

April 27, 2010Comments are DisabledRead More
The World Market

The World Market

It occurred to me recently that web companies, more so than non-tech companies, need to keep in mind that the scalability of their application can go beyond its intended locale. Facebook, for instance, was rather shortsighted when it came to scaling its product internationally. It took several years for them to develop an international, translated version, and even then it was available only in four languages. As a result of Facebook’s delay, millions of users in China ended up signing up for a blatantly copied Facebook clone, and who knows how many other customers were lost worldwide.

The point is, the world internet market, especially in the developing world, is growing at a slower rate than that in the United States. For a lot of businesspeople, this means that it is a less important target market. But look at the numbers. There are over a billion people in China and India; sub-Saharan Africa will have 1.5 billion people by the end of 2050. These numbers, combined with spreading internet technology and a wealth of new entrepreneurial and technical talent from these countries, mean that the future market in “Web 2.0” is not in Palo Alto, but in Nairobi or Bangalore or Hainan.

I read a recent article that, due to the fact that cell phones are the primary communication tool for Kenyans, cell phone programming is a fast growing skill in Nairobi, Kenya, and more importantly, the Kenyans who use cell phones are a fast growing market. Meanwhile, thousands of companies in India’s Silicon Valley compete for prominence in the Western world, trying to sell their products to American and European buyers. But pretty soon, the Indian population will be demanding these services, too, and it is only a matter of time before the “Developing” world market explodes–and explodes big.

So, it’s really important for “Web 2.0” companies in the States to think big as well. Developers should consider installing translation packs into their sites–even for English–so they can scale into other language in the future. Most importantly, they should follow the example of Google and Microsoft and recruit global talent. The untapped global market is a sleeping giant right now, but when it gets revved up billions of people will be looking for the same level of internet reliability and satisfaction that the “modern” world has come to expect. When that happens, make sure your company is on top of it.

This is why I like the idea of midVentures. As a global integrator of sorts, we are not only helping ourselves bridge into a 21st century, international internet community but we are bringing the international community into the fold as legitimate–and competitive–players in the American market.

August 18, 2008Comments are DisabledRead More
Staying Excited About Your Idea

Staying Excited About Your Idea

It is often said that ideas are a dime a dozen, and after many attempts to turn seemingly marketable ideas into fluid businesses, many entrepreneurs realize that their brilliant business idea was only good on paper, or maybe was never attractive in the first place.

However, even good ideas are a dime a dozen: if you, or someone you know, runs a successful venture, more likely than not the idea that started the venture was not the only one to come out of their entrepreneurial mind. Anybody can come up with a great idea, and most people come up with several good ideas in their lifetime. What makes a good business is more than an idea. It is working through the idea’s flaws, pursuing the idea’s strengths and seeing the concept through to the end.

If you are sure that your idea is good, then there is no reason not to pursue it. But if you are going to try to turn your business idea into an actual business, it is important that you stay excited about your idea. It is very easy, after working for a couple months, running up credit card debt and sinking to your knees under the weight of a budding enterprise that you can lose the big picture. When your dream job becomes a day-to-day grind, it is more important than ever to stay on top of your game, so your idea can come through to fruition. After all, working for a business that you start is the same as working for any other business. You need discipline, hard work and motivation. Hopefully, the fact that you are working for your own venture will provide some motivation. The rest should come from your confidence in your business plan and grander vision for your company.

Here are some suggestions for keeping yourself motivated and excited about your idea, when the hard work you are putting in doesn’t seem to be worth it:

1. Step back and look at the original notes, plan or picture in which you sketched out your concept. You have it somewhere, maybe on the back of a napkin or in a Word document. Looking at the document which your inspiration created should be an inspiration now, too. It will remind you of the excitement you felt when you first came up with the idea. You can compare the current reality of the company to the vision you first sketched out, and feel confident in your ability to make your idea come as far as it has.

2. Think about how successful your company will be in a couple years from now, rather than how it is doing right now. Sometimes it is hard to look past the next bill payment, but looking at the big picture is very important to keep confidence.

3. Make a chart of major benchmarks and achievements your company has made in the time it has existed. You can mark when you thought up the idea, when it was incorporated, when you posted your first profit, when you gained clients or customers, and when each member of your team joined in. Looking at your company’s growth will help you look forward to growth in the future.

4. Ask your friends if they think your idea is still a good one. This is something that you should be doing consistently throughout the process; if your idea wasn’t good in the beginning, you shouldn’t have started a business. But it’s good to check base with your friends, family, or other advisers as your company grows, to make sure that your goals are still realistic. Don’t look for yes-men on this one; you should be seeking constructive criticism and ways to make your business better.

5. Make a list of your company’s assets. List your computers, your printers, your desks, your kitchen cabinets and most of all your income. Sometimes, listing out the valuable components of your company will help you realize you how valuable your company is.

6. Have confidence! You are the hip manager of a hot new start-up! You have hard work to do but you know it will be worth it in the end.

Hopefully, with these tips in mind, you will feel a bit better about the long, tedious, boring months. We all want that corner office on the 30th floor, but no one gets there without those months. After all, if it was easy, everybody would do it.

August 2, 2008Comments are DisabledRead More