The Role of Generosity in Customer Experience

Generosity originally held the meaning “to belong to nobility.” Over time the definition morphed into something one does instead of something one is. But the giving aspect of generosity, which resonates more universally, dropped a key element as its meaning evolved – it forgot about what is good for the recipient.

When we hear the word generosity, we think of abundance, cornucopias and having extra. Hey look, I have a basket of apples, which is more than I need so I’m going to give half to my neighbor. That makes sense. But if I have an abundance of swimsuits and it is 28 degrees, then that act of generosity is not particularly useful. In fact it’s not generous at all but rather some mashup of cupidity, consequentialism and fear.

We often take this same mentality with strategy, content, design and code when we are creating a customer experience.

Abundance can take many forms, ranging from literal to the abstract.

Literal
Inventory — you purchased something in bulk because you got a great deal and want to sell it.
Services — you do many things and you want to tell us all about it.

Abstract
Strategy — deciding to rebrand your company.
Copy — dedicating hundreds of words to tell customers the story of your company.
Design — deciding to redesign your website.
Code — moving from .net infrastructure to LAMP.

Remember: your abundance is not always your customer’s need. The items above may result in benefits to your customers, but more often than not they are more beneficial to you. Remember to ask Cui bono? (Who benefits?) at every stage of your customer’s experience. If the benefit is not explicitly clear, strike it or reshape it to benefit your customers. Generosity is about giving the right thing, to the right person at the right time. If you have more, you give more. If you have less, you give less in proportion. Your role in generosity is not so much the giving as it is the determination of what and when to give.

—Ian

Code our Site. Dig Blindly for Gold.

Clean my house, wash my car and code my site – one of these things is not like the other. Rarely, if ever, do you need someone to “just code your site” — it should never be approached as a rote task. Tasks assume that all the thinking has been completed or the problem is relatively simple. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: most sites are not that difficult to code — the actual markup is not the heavy lifting. The real value of great coding comes when the markup builds on—and challenges—the thinking that preceded LINE 1. It’s not a task; it’s a creative, strategic event that happens to be executed near the end of a process. Work that doesn’t mindfully refine your strategy is like digging for treasure without a map – you’re likely to end up with a bucket of shiny items that aren’t worth much.

—Ian

Introducing Tunedon.es — Music for web professionals to _____to

Tuned Ones

Tunedon.es is a music discovery site focused on linking music to web design activities. Why web design and not every kind of activity you ask – we’re not sure, it just feels right – for now.

The last few years we’ve seen an explosion in music discovery sites. Pandora, Last.fm, Ex.fm, Grooveshark, Spotify, Rdio, thesixtyone and many others. Most of those services operate on the premise of channels and you selecting a band which leads you to some other bands like those bands and genres like those genres and comments tacked on for good measure. I’ve found some great music on these sites but none explore the relationship between what you are doing and what you are listening to. Recommendations and thumbs-up lack the excitement of finding something new. New like when your best friend says, “Why weren’t you at the Gallery East last night. This band Minor Threat played with SSD Control. It was life changing.”– And then you hear the band and it does change your life. The stories behind music discover sometimes changes lives and leads people towards a more independent and creative life – it did for us.

The Science of Music
There is solid science linking music types to music activities and cognitive development. For instance low-information load music (repetitive, major key – like dub) significantly improved test scores when compared to both silence and high-information load music (jazz or baroque.)[Kiger] — This makes it a great music type for wireframing. If you are a copywriter and fancy listening to Jay-Z, keep this in mind: People listening to music with lyrics tend to make significantly more mistakes than instrumental music. [Saleme and Baddeley] Science aside, we like what we like and whether we work at home or at an agency, there’s probably some music being played.

The Web Crowd
We creatives seek continuous inspiration. We admire, worship, borrow and steal from one another in order to create. We rearrange our offices and rent new lofts because the energy needs refreshing. We are affected by our surroundings and seek to shape our workplaces to optimize for inspiration. Tunedon.es seeks to mix a little science, a little community and influential stories to create a unique music discovery service. (So, yes it’s a bit more than a few dropdowns.)

When you explore inspiration in the context of community, you get not only to see what influences the creative decisions of others but also explore the mechanics of how others bring their inspiration to life. This can be valuable in helping you fine new methods of approaching your own work,” Todd Henry, The Accidental Creative.

“…the best work we accomplish is frequently a result of being inspired by someone else,” Todd Henry, The Accidental Creative.

 

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Found: A Smart Way to Present Related Content

The “Related” content section is one of the many page design elements carried over from the print world to the web. It’s implemented in different shapes and forms, but the goal is the same: Increase reader engagement and keep them clicking.

Every serious content management system has some sort of module to generate relevant content, from simple tag cross-referencing to complex algorithms that weigh a mix of taxonomy, title, content, and user data. Services from third-party companies like Outbrain not only index your content but also offer a distribution channel for publishers. Think AdSense for content. Taboola even offers a similar service for video, or what it terms “personalized video recommendations.”

With all the technology being thrown at it, the related content section still feels like an afterthought. For example, here’s a round-up from publishing heavyweights (clockwise from top left) The Daily Beast, The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, and Bloomberg. Aside from Harvard Business Review’s sliding box in the footer (recently popularized by the New York Times), all are a blur of links, some with questionable relevance. How effective are these, really?

Related Content: Daily Beast, WSJ, HBR, Bloomberg

But wait, what have we here? Techcrunch has a deceptively simple but quite useful variation. It looks interesting at first glance:

Related Content: Techcrunch Timeline

First, we’re informed that articles listed are associated by the main subject, Amazon. Then, the links follow — clearly dated, listed by publish date, with the current article highlighted in its chronological position. Instant context. Suddenly, the lowly related content box is useful again.

Accessing Search Result Counts: Google vs Yahoo vs Bing

In a world where every self-respecting software product or service has an API, it’s surprising how convoluted it is to get simple result counts from the leading search engines.

While working on a recent coding project, I needed total results counts for a particular word or phrase. So I turned to the 800-pound gorilla, expecting that with its dozens of API projects, Google would be a walk in the park. Apparently not.

Jumping through hoops

First, you have to request an API key, then create a Custom Search engine. Considering the small data I wanted, pure overkill. And it doesn’t get any better. Next, you have to specify at least one site to search — although I don’t want to restrict the search, I want the entire web. Google says you can’t do that.

But wait, there’s actually an option to “Search the entire web but emphasize included sites.” Huh?

What you see is not what you get.

Well, let’s select that option and compare results with regular search:

  • Google search for ‘tintin’: 30,700,000 results
  • Google CSE search for ‘tintin’: 2,080,000 results

What?! That’s less than 7 percent — not even remotely close. Going by comments from users in the API forums, Google supposedly uses different indexes for its custom search engines. Not cool. Yahoo, here we come.

Brother, can you spare a key?

At first, Yahoo seems promising, providing good ol’ RSS feeds for any keyword searches without needing an API key, which Google does not have. Unfortunately, no result count is available in the data returned.

Turning to Yahoo! Search BOSS, the equivalent of Google’s Custom Search, we run into a paywall immediately. Fine for a larger project, unnecessary to programmatically get the occasional result count. At least Google gives you 100 queries per day free.

Oh well, on to Bing which, by the way, now powers Yahoo Search.

Salvation comes from Redmond

Microsoft surprises sometimes, in a good way. Then again, Bing itself got generally good reviews when it was released and its Cure for Search Overload Syndrome ad campaign did hit the spot. Like Yahoo, Bing provides no-API access to RSS versions of search results. (Good.) Like Yahoo, the feed is missing result counts. (Bad.) But unlike Yahoo, full API access is free (Very Good!) and unlike Google, the result count matches regular Bing Search. (Very Very Good!)

  • Bing search for ‘tintin’: 3,820,000 results
  • Bing API search for ‘tintin’: 3,820,000 results

Phew! Who knew getting a search count could be so complicated?

A better approach

To put this whole experience in perspective, let’s consider how two other services provide API functionality: Topsy (a Twitter search engine) and Tumblr (well, you know, Tumblr):

  1. Basic access is free and has reasonable limits: Topsy allows 3,000 free API calls per day, no questions asked, no API key needed.
  2. Graded access level: Tumblr has three options — No authentication for open information, and for higher level calls, an API key or OAuth authentication depending on the request.

Done. Seems the smaller companies are thinking this through better.