I don’t say this blog is best…

There was a time when promoting your business meant saying out loud “We make the best stuff”. But who would trust you when your competitor also said the same thing?

Then there was “We are the best makers of stuff”. But who would trust you when your competitor also said the same thing? And isn’t vanity a sin?

Then you hired someone famous to say “These blokes make the best stuff”. But then people figured out that these famous chaps were paid to say this, and were lying.

Then you hired someone not so famous to say “These blokes make the best stuff”, so that they do not look like highly paid famous people, but genuine users of stuff. But then people figured out that no matter who is saying this, they are paid. And were lying.

Now you say “We don’t say we are the best makers of stuff. You (or ‘Our Users’) say.” Aaah the smugness! The subdued, almost veiled, confidence! The assumption that the receiver of the message is such an ass that he would not get that the message is just twisted around – and the money that would have been spent on getting someone to say it is also saved. And I see it everywhere… not the big makers of stuff, just the small shops who sell stuff.

How long do you think it will last?

MetLotus – are they getting it right?

I came across this Facebook ad today, and clicked on it. It was an Indian site, which is… I don’t know what. On reaching the site (www.metlotus.com), I see the following:

metlotus.com screenshot, click to enlarge

What’s wrong with this? A good design, nice layout, soothing colours, slick animations. But where is the information about the site or the company that it represents? There are the generic social networking promises flashing in neat animation clips, but apart from that? What is its USP, positioning, the hook that would make me want to click any of the links on this page?

When I clicked on ‘Take a Tour’ (which I did purely for the reason for writing this blog), I am presented with another slick flash site in a pop-up window, which has description on how to use this site. Apparently it is a social networking venture. But didn’t the Facebook ad mention something about widgets? I clicked on that link thinking this might be a site specializing in making widgets that we can use on other social networking sites.

Now if it is trying to be a popular social networking site, why is the interface so unusable (for lack of a better word), and not intuitive? How many of us had to go through a tutorial when we first started using Orkut, Facebook or MySpace? Why does a new site, which no one knows about, insist that users log in on the front page without showing any tangible benefit to signing up?

And because I’m a designer of sorts, I also have a problem with the way the consistency with the sans-serifs in the entire design system is not maintained – they’ve used Arial in Flash animations, where they don’t have to worry about embedding fonts! That’s sacrilege in graphic designer-speak 🙂

Leaving this last bit about font puritanism apart, how many times did my mind go “negative” while going through that site – can you count?

Please provide a what???

A Calcuttan missing his hometown opens up the website belonging to the most read newspaper in that town. Pleased with what he saw, he clicked on one of the sections of the e-paper. The site tells him that he needs to be registered in order to go deeper into the contents. No problem. He is ready to register. So he clicks on register and fills up a form. Presses Submit. And see what he gets:

Email ID? The form does not mention email ID anywhere, let alone ask for it. Oh, the error page tells him that the “Username” field should have been populated with his email ID.

Who would have thought? 🙂

If you were that person, would you fill up that form again and continue to use the website? I didn’t. Who knows what other ‘mistake’ I would be chided for next? Is the phone number field actually supposed to contain my height?

Is it so difficult for web designers and companies that hire them to make websites that are free of inconsistencies and are helpful instead of carrying the old ’80-90s attitude of “I made this thing and it works at my end. You need to learn how to make it work for you if you want to use it.”?

It is all adding up to the user experience and thus the brand in the end.

Want to Play?

This is a post that I had written over two years ago for my earlier blog. Though the formats of the SMS games has changed a bit in this time (and 4-digit numbers have given way to 5 and sometimes 6 or 7-digit numbers), I see that what I wrote back then is still relevant today.

What do you think?

Want to Play?

SMS QUIZ to 9999 to play
Quiz. Chargeable at Rs. 9
per SMS. Download exciting
tones at 9999 for Rs...

Looks familiar? Well most cellphone users in India have come across such a message some time or other in their stint with their service provider, most of the times piqued by such messages on count of invasion of privacy, but every once in a while paying notice to an odd one, hoping against hope to maybe get some stimulation for the brain, or worse still, a prize.

I’ve also fallen for these a couple of times. And here’s my take on such contests the companies run. The first message asking you to participate asks you to SMS a keyword to the 4-digit number (not 5-digit) to play. You send the keyword. And after losing the money for one SMS (anywhere between 3 to 10 for any 4-digit number in India) you are told the first question. That’s right – money worth one contest SMS just for showing interest in playing the game!

You look at the first question. It is something like: “Who was the first PM of India? (A) Benazir Bhutto (B) Sachin Tendulkar (C) Jawaharlal Nehru. SMS A, B or C to 9999 (now 59999) to play the quiz”. Now if you’re not a braindead guy or an alien on a tourist visit to India, you’d definitely know the answer to this one. And you will also know that every other person who got this SMS also knows the answer. Sounds like child’s play? What happens to the odds of you winning this ‘game’ then? Your response is one in a million correct ones. And you’re expected to pay the same amount (which lies between 3 to 10) again for answering this question – with no expected returns except the chance of having a shot at the next question. Now you know that the next question may be a bit tougher than this one, but will very well be another no-brainer. In any case you will be spending a lot on these SMSes before any good, mind-teasing question which has a chance of being a decisive question, because very few people would have the correct answer to it, is fired at you. And when the tough one comes you would be hooked, not by instinct but by a phenomenon called ‘escalation of commitment’ – since you’d have spent so much money on answering the preceding questions already, you’d nevertheless take a shot at answering this tough one – even when you may not know the answer.

This structure may have been modelled very similar to other quizzes that are played in levels, like your normal school/college/university/office quiz or even BQC or KBC, where the initial levels are very easy and the toughness keeps on increasing with increasing level. That means that as the player gets more and more involved, the questions keep getting tougher. This helps generate interest in the initial rounds, because every player finds the initial questions easy enough to send in the answers and keep playing. To a certain extent this also relates to what is generally called “beginner’s luck” – a phenomenon which draws the first-timer in the game by showing the initial lures of easy victories, though in this case it is more by design than by chance.

Now on to the inherent flaw in the model. You might have already guessed what I’m getting at: it’s the cost per answer. In every level the system aims to eliminate some users – the ones who give the wrong answer (in the first few levels it’s stupid to think that’ll happen – look at the question I quoted earlier :-)). And in each subsequent level that the player crosses, his/her chance of being the winner if a lottery was conducted then and there in place of further rounds improves, because the number of players still in the game keeps on reducing. I’m still under the assumption that the game’s difficulty level indeed rises as players keep on playing (if that assumption is untrue, I doubt if anyone interested in such games would patronize this model). Think about it: the initial questions are absolute sitters, you know the answers by default, and so does everyone else. The only reason you’d want to send in the answer is because you’d be curious what the next question might be, and having a shot at it… maybe if it’s good enough, some people would be eliminated with that question and your odds at winning the final prize would improve. The cost of playing the level seems quite huge at this point, especially because you don’t know the level of questions to come next, you’re not aware of the total number of questions in the game – which means you don’t know your total possible outward cash flows in playing, and there’s little or no possibility of your odds improving due to answering this question. Will you be interested in playing this game? I doubt it.

What could be a possible alternative to this structure is differential pricing for answering each level. Maybe the first few levels could be answered for free – just to create the initial pull. Subsequent levels would get expensive as they would get tougher – that is as the chances of winning increase your bet on yourself increases. A person who’s answered 10 questions and is on the 11th one would definitely want to pay more for answering the 11th question than the guy at the 2nd question attempting the 3rd one, because he’s perceptibly closer to the final stage and the prize. In this model the guy who knows he’s one answer away to glory (the finalist) may even want to pay up to say a hundred bucks if he knows the prize is worth more than that (again go back to ‘escalation of commitment’ to support this claim).

Benefits: More players. Players won’t take the game as just a money-making exercise on the part of the service provider. More revenues, since more players would filter out to the tougher and more ‘expensive’ questions.

Another model could involve charging the players upfront for playing. As of now you have to send in a keyword (PLAY, QUIZ etc) to receive the first question. You pay for this as well. Why not charge the player the whole money (in the name of entry fee) here itself? And this does not have to be equal to the number of levels times each message as priced currently, since as of now very rarely does anyone play the whole game. Charge the user a little more than the average spent by any player on the game right now, and you have a model which earns more than the current scenario.

Benefits: One time money – whether the player continues to play the game or drops the game in the middle due to whatever reason – the income is fixed. Players will take the game seriously – more like a contest – rather than as a timepass. More players will try answering as many questions as possible because answering each question is free – which leads to better visibility and recall of the game and the service provider – might even lead to better word of mouth if the game is good enough.

Want to play now?

PS: The title of this blogpost has been borrowed from P. J. Tracy’s suspense thriller novel.
The inline image is courtesy stock.xchng – one of the most wonderful stock image sites out there.

Naukri.com and my post

Naukri.com sent out a mailer advertising its resume services today with the following content:

Studies reveal that 42% people look for a new job because of their boss. Besides a new boss, a new job brings new opportunities, challenges and scope for proving your capabilities.

With Resume Services from naukri we help jobs find you.

Almost serendipitous, is it given this last post on Naukri.com and the solution to the “bad boss” issue positioning?

Good to see that they are focussed on that one idea that has worked to gain mind share for them. But my rhetoric still remains. What are your views?