The Blogroll: Week 3

(If you’re looking at this wondering what the heck is going on, here’s a primer — What is The Blogroll and who is it for? Hope that helps. Enjoy!)


Adrian Colyer - Three years of the Right To Be Forgotten

This particular right to be forgotten enables individuals to request that search engines delist URLs containing “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive” information surfaced by queries containing the name of the requestor.

“Critically, the ruling requires that search engine operators make the determination for whether an individual’s right to privacy outweighs the public’s right to access lawful information when delisting URLs.”

That’s a lot of responsibility to place with private groups within search engine companies! Google formed an advisory council drawn from academic scholars, media producers, data protection authorities, civil society, and technologists to establish decision criteria for “particularly challenging delisting requests.”*

I’m generally not a fan of over-regulation, and I somewhat sympathize with private companies who are now forced to be arbiters of morality — but these are the times we’re in. Unfortunately, I don’t think governments will ever be able to keep up with the pace of technology, and eventually we’ll land on AI as our savior. Which is terrifying. Or maybe it’s fine.


Mark Zuckerberg - A weak apology (headline is of my creation)

I started Facebook, and at the end of the day I’m responsible for what happens on our platform. I’m serious about doing what it takes to protect our community. While this specific issue involving Cambridge Analytica should no longer happen with new apps today, that doesn’t change what happened in the past. We will learn from this experience to secure our platform further and make our community safer for everyone going forward.”*

To my knowledge, nothing illegal happened here. Cambridge Analytica, while morally very questionable, didn’t do anything Facebook prohibited. It’s literally Facebook’s business model to turn your data into cash. They’re an advertising platform, as is Twitter, Google, and every other free thing you’re using.

I can’t say this clearly enough — when Facebook says they’re going to make their community safer, that just the box you check to allow things to access your data (all the third-party apps and plugins) will include a little blurb saying something like “this app will have access to all the data attached to your account… you’re ok with that, right?” The only way they make money is by selling your data, and that with never ever ever ever change.

Honestly, if I were Zuckerberg, I would’ve said nothing at all. Because the vast majority of Facebook’s users simply don’t care (but you care, right?). This news cycle will pass. And so it goes.


Andy Yen - Correcting misconceptions about the White House’s use of encryption and ProtonMail

Like many of you, we have seen the story this weekend where it was revealed that ProtonMail was being used by White House staff.

As a matter of policy, we never comment on individual accounts, so we will not confirm nor deny the authenticity of this account. And while we were hoping to not have to comment at all, after two days of silence, there are some misconceptions that we now feel are necessary to correct.

First of all, just to get it out of the way, don’t be a password idiot. Do not write your password down on a piece of paper and then lose that piece of paper. Also, enable two factor authentication. Without good password practices, no amount of encryption will keep your data secure. We highly recommend reading our email security guide. In other words, don’t be this guy.


Matt Baer - Moving from free to freemium

Could we charge more and be profitable today? Perhaps. Would this product be useful to as many people then? No — which is the main point. I want to see everyone participate on the web without it costing them their email address, attention span, or dignity — and if it can cost only a buck or two to sustain it, it shouldn’t cost any more than that.

If the web must live with the reality of “free” services like Google and Facebook, we have to counter it with truly free services that leave out the predation and sale of its users. There are infinite ways to make a sustainable product, and at this final hour of an ad-driven, surveillance-funded web, we should all consider these more ethical business models.

If only we had as many thoughtful thinkers offline as on. Maybe then we’d create physical public spaces and sustainable institutions that “everyone [could] participate [in] without it costing them their… dignity.”


Rand Fishkin - How to Choose a Startup Name that Reduces Marketing Friction

Too literal is a problem many domain names on the web face, and because over the past 20 years, consumers have come to associate these keyword-driven names with sketchy, spammy operators (often due to the first decade of SEO practices), behavior biases against them. They’re also really, really hard to build resonant offline brands around. Just compare a name like Wirecutter or C|Net vs. ElectronicsReviews or LCD-TV-Comparisons. In those cases, the name is a literal brand killer. There are perhaps a few dozen of these keyword-rich, generic names that have ever achieved brand status (CheapFlights and are the only two that come to mind).

That Rand is a smart guy. So smart, in fact, that nearly every one of his posts has a ta-da moment that brings to surface something I’d always thought, but never articulated.

Perhaps smart isn’t the word I’m looking for here. What Rand Fishkin does with blogging is something that can be replicated — blogging is almost like a muscle that nearly anyone can grow. It’s all about gaining the empathy to know what other people don’t.

It’s like when companies do customer profiles to better target certain demos — people in mid/high-level marketing positions can do this in their sleep because they flex that muscle every day, but having the empathy to know that other people aren’t in that headspace is what separates the good from the average.

I just gave myself a headache.


Meghan McCarron - The Myth of Authenticity Is Killing Tex-Mex

The future of Tex-Mex is, in many ways, as regional as the cuisine has always been, with approaches and ingredients and ideas traveling all over the state. All of it, however, is cradled in a tortilla. In 2017, Rayo pushed for another replacement for chili as Texas’s state food: the taco. The proposal made its way to state representative Gina Hinojosa, who authored a resolution celebrating the diversity of taco styles and fillings, the state’s love of both corn and flour tortillas, as well as the robust war over who invented the breakfast taco, as evidence the taco united all good things in Texas — even brisket.

Just as the chili resolution defined the Texas bowl of red as definitive, the taco resolution employs the requisite Texan swagger so rarely applied to the state’s infinite variety of Mexican food, stating: “One thing Texans can agree on is that, despite the availability of tacos in the other 49 states, the tastiest tacos can be found in the great State of Texas.” A state legislature dominated by a Republican party at war with itself, fixated on barring trans people from using public bathrooms and cracking down on cities seeking to protect immigrants, is not likely to enshrine the taco as the state’s official food. But doing so would both capture the 21st century zeitgest of the state, and fulfill one of Texas’s most cherished obsessions: pissing off California.

As an ex-pat Texan and lover of the Tex-Mex I grew up with (it’s very different than the Tex-Mex that has spread all over the globe… including a few spots I didn’t expect to find in Wellington), I enjoyed every word of this article. You should read it.

Just as an aside, I have such a hard time explaining to people within the US that Texas is a huge state that’s so much more diverse and interesting than anyone realizes. I suppose it’s similar to the conversation I have with people overseas about the US. I know it’s hard to imagine when the first two things that come to mind are gun racks on big trucks and Donald Trump, but the US is so much more than that.


Jessica Greene - Scrum for One: How to Apply the Scrum Framework to Personal Projects

When working on a project, it’s easy to fall into the trap of powering through until you’re finished. But it’s not a sustainable way to work. Powering through work is fine for short, one-off projects. But if you’re working on something long-term—something like my never-ending quest toward total home renovation—Scrum helps for three main reasons:

  • It helps you work at a sustainable pace.
  • It provides a framework for planning work over time, giving you a better sense of when you’ll finish specific tasks and projects.
  • It provides time for reflection, which enables continuous improvement.

At first, it may seem like Sprint Planning and Sprint Retrospective ceremonies simply eat into the time you could spend completing tasks. But you’ll find that the time you spend planning actually improves your productivity by helping you find better ways to work and identify unnecessary tasks you’re focusing on that eat away at your productive time.

I don’t know if this post will be super successful at getting people to use Scrum for personal projects (especially ones many people use to cleverly get them out of doing less-fun domestic tasks), but it did frame Agile and Scrum in an easily digestible way for non-devs.


Dylan Walsh - ”The Workplace Is Killing People and Nobody Cares”

I think the connection as just described has always been there, because the physiology and etiology of disease have not really changed. But I would say that with all the evidence I’ve encountered — and it’s not perfect evidence — I’ve seen nothing inconsistent with the statement that the workplace has generally gotten worse.

Job engagement, according to Gallup, is low. Distrust in management, according to the Edelman trust index, is high. Job satisfaction, according to the Conference Board, is low and has been in continual decline. The gig economy is growing, economic insecurity is growing, and wage growth overall has stagnated. Fewer people are covered by employer-sponsored health insurance than in the past, according to Kaiser Foundation surveys. And a strikingly high percentage of people, even those covered by insurance, say they forgo treatment and medications because of cost issues.

I look out at the workplace and I see stress, layoffs, longer hours, work-family conflict, enormous amounts of economic insecurity. I see a workplace that has become shockingly inhumane.

Something about society has to change. It’s not just business culture — family units are shrinking in size which makes it harder to spread domestic tasks around, cities are growing out instead of up which naturally reduces forced interaction, and media is moving from theaters to the home which incentivizes being a shut-in. None of it seems like a good direction.

The actual blogroll

(Blogs are ranked in order of appearances in these Blogroll posts.)

Hopefully the singularity will be pleased with our .ai offering


All hail the AI overlords. Or something like that.

We’ve been registering .ai domains for a while now, but haven’t announced it yet because it’s been a bit of a bumpy ride. But the road is smooth now, so here we are.

Just a bit of backstory first. As a domain extension, .ai has obvious appeal in the tech world. But it doesn’t actually stand for “artificial intelligence” — it’s the ccTLD for Anguilla, a small country in the Caribbean. And by small, I mean it’s total land area is 91 km2, its population is roughly 15,000, and the ccTLD was previously run as a small, local operation vulnerable to things like natural disasters. Now .ai has a backend run by CoCCA (look it up), giving it the stability it needs to be reliably used in any sort of professional setting.

The question now is, how should you use .ai? I asked Siri, and she kept sending me to I said, “no, the .ai TLD… how should I use it?” She responded with “Ok, I found this on the web for ‘No TLD’:”


So the singularity isn’t here yet, but people are working on it, writing about it, and doing all sorts of things on the AI periphery. And those people will inevitably need domains. Good domains that end in .ai — not silly, meaningless extensions like .com and your local ccTLD.

Get yours today before the AI overlords claim .ai as their own and ban all the humans.

Alignment of company and customer


  • I’m fun and I like to get shit done. I use MailChimp. (Sorry about the cursing, mom.)
  • I like intentional design and things that work. I buy Apple.

I know these exercises miss a lot of nuance, but at their core, they can help any brand focus on what’s most important.

  • I’m done with gasoline and I want the coolest shit. I drive Tesla. (Again, sorry.)
  • I like good sound and think cords are ugly. I buy Sonos.

You can look at this two ways. First, you should always keep in mind that customers tend to choose brands that align with their values. (You are where you shop. You vote with your dollars. I could go on and on.) And this is often a “show me, don’t tell me” situation. You can’t say you’re playful — you have to be playful. You can’t say you have the best security — you have to consistently keep data safe. You can’t say you support “Community X” — you have to consistently be a community champion.

  • I like supporting artists and I like having everything available, always. I use Spotify.
  • I like good beer and I like it local. I buy from my local brewery.
  • I like comfort and want to support the podcasting community. I sleep on a Casper.

The other way to look at this is from a target-audience point of view. You may be targeting a certain kind of customer today, but what if that’s not the customer you need moving forward?

  • I don’t care about anything but price. I shop at Wal-Mart.

Low-cost shopping has made Wal-Mart infinite money, but it’s not clear what happens in an online-dominant shopping future (judging by their last quarter, Amazon is eating their lunch). Perhaps their burn-it-all-down-for-value demo isn’t so loyal when they have other just-as-large low-cost options. You can see the Wal-Mart transformation already happening with acquisitions like Bonobos and Moosejaw.

As you can see, these sorts of exercises also highlight similarities with competitors. If you’re going to be the same, you have to be bigger and better… somehow. But that’s a tough ask — instead, you should be looking for your unique slot to fill.

  • I like sugar and I’m severely addicted to caffeine. I drink Coke.
  • I like sugar and I’m also severely addicted to caffeine. I drink Pepsi.
  • I also like sugar and I’m also severely addicted to caffeine. I drink RC Cola.
  • I also like sugar and I’m also severely addicted to caffeine. I drink Dr. Pepper.

This list could go on and on, but the point is that all these brands identified that the competition was redundant, and that to succeed, they had to do something different. It happens in every industry — success isn’t a zero-sum game until it is. If you’re the sixth best coffee shop on a street and revenues are flatlining, you need to be honest with yourself. Do you have what it takes to compete with your product, or should you pivot to something you can compete in?

As a complete aside, what’s telling to me as I was writing this was how obvious the difference is between brands like MailChimp and Apple that connote emotion and taste and companies where the only difference is the product, like Sonos. Does Sonos have a future now that bigger players are entering the game? Should any brand in any industry without a clear, emotional connection to their customers feel safe from being dominated by bigger players?

I’d say no.

What a fridge has taught me about customer support


There comes a time when you realize your old fridge has to go. Praise be to the online merchants! When I decided I needed a new fridge, all the options in the world were a click away. Big freezers, tiny table fridges, no-frost, great energy ratings — you name it.

After a lot of comparing, I found the one. It was just the right size, fell within my budget, had all the features I wanted, and even came with free delivery, including removal and recycling of the shipping materials. So I placed my order — by the way, not at the time through that merchant. As a giant device like a new fridge is delivered by a shipper and not our regular parcel service, they asked me to choose a four hour window for delivery on a specific day.

When that day came, I made sure the old fridge was empty and defrosted in time. That required me to put all the food in a big box on the balcony, but it was cold enough outside for the food not to spoil right away. Then I waited.

And waited. And waited.

Nobody ever rang the doorbell, and no fridge ever arrived. Life went on. Unfortunately, the sun came out and forced me to move that big food box to the shadows, but it was still ok. Then the delivery time frame ended, and I started worrying. Was my doorbell broken? No, I checked it. Did they put the fridge on the street? No, I went down those three floors and checked that as well. Finally, 15 minutes after the specified delivery period had ended, I went online to contact the merchant. As I don‘t like phone calls, I chose their chat.

When the chat window popped up, I wrote that I was waiting for my fridge which should already have been delivered. A customer service agent answered right away, asking me for further details about my order and verifying my phone number. Once he had that information, he told me that he would forward my information to the shipper so the fridge could be delivered.

I stopped short — those details already should have been provided once I had placed my order. Otherwise, how was the fridge supposed to find me? The agent apologized and told me that there had been an error. That the shipper would call me. I wanted to know when that was supposed to happen while glancing out of the window where the food box was already in bright sunlight again… so much for south side balconies. When the agent told me that the shipper would “soon” call me, I wasn‘t satisfied. So he then told me that I would receive the call today. Which also didn‘t satisfy me.

Finally, I was informed that they would call in an hour. From the tone of the replies, it felt like that agent was under a lot of stress, so to speed things up, I asked for the phone number of the shipper so I could call them directly.

“Sorry,” the reply in the chat box popped up, “I don‘t have a phone number of the shipper. But I have forwarded yours. If you don‘t have any further questions, please close this chat by using the link in the right upper corner.”

Despite further attempts to get any reliable information, the agent just kept on apologizing and giving me various statements on when to expect a call. I gave up. But not completely.

Enter mortal enemy: the phone. After making some decisions by pressing “1” or “2” or “#,” then surviving some music on hold, I was asked for some details about my order. The agent went through my details mechanically, then told me that my fridge was supposed to arrive today.

“Yes, but that was almost two hours ago,” I replied. He sighed, then paused. “Oh, right, I see that now.” I sighed. “So, when WILL it arrive?” He asked me to hold the line so that he could check. I survived another three loops of the music I already heard earlier. When he picked up the line, he apologized for the delay and told me that there has been an error and that he would forward my phone number to the shipper so they could call me.

“Your colleague already did that when I used your support chat. I just need to know when they will call me and if the fridge will still arrive today.” He apologized once more and told me that he could not access those details. When I asked for the phone number of the shipper, he said that there was none and that he could not do anything else for me besides forwarding my complaint. I gave up. But not completely.

On to Facebook! I already knew my story, so that was written down quickly. Unfortunately, it was still too late. The Social Media Team let me know that they could not access any order details and that, even if they could, they would not be able to reach anybody that late in the day. But they let me know they would keep their fingers crossed for a delivery on the next day. I gave up. For real this time. I plugged in the old fridge to save the food from spoiling, then resigned myself to waiting.

The next day I got a call. It was the dispatch center of the merchant. They told me that I bought a fridge and that they wanted to deliver it. “Right, the fridge that should have been delivered yesterday,” I said. The agent apologized and let me know that he could not access that information, but that I should now choose a delivery time for my new fridge.

Once I had done that, I asked him for the phone number of the shipper, just in case. “I don‘t have that number” was his reply. “But what if the fridge isn‘t delivered AGAIN?” “Well, then you can call the customer support.” I felt a bit dead inside. This time, I did not unplug the old fridge because I was riding on a steep learning curve. Instead, I waited and cleaned some drawers.

Finally, the doorbell rang and a guy snarled “Have your fridge.” Praise be to the elevator, those fridges are heavy! When it opened on my floor, two gentlemen and a fridge tumbled out. “Do you want to have it in the apartment?” they asked. A pretty good idea, yes, please. Once they had arrived in the kitchen, they wanted my signature. In turn, I wanted to know what should happen to the packaging and the old fridge. “We don‘t know” was their reply, so a lively discussion ensued.

After a bit of back and forth, they agreed to take the old fridge because it was smaller than the new one but refused to take the wrapping. Obviously, both parties weren‘t happy with that deal, but neither of us had time to keep on arguing.

This could be the end of my story. The fridge was there, and it‘s awesome. But the journey of my fridge has been as bumpy as my customer experience. There are a lot of lessons we can learn from this episode, and they can easily be adapted for anything from buying goods online to making use of online services.

1. Only make promises you can keep!

It‘s great to give a delivery time frame, but it‘s incredibly annoying if you don‘t make it on time. So don‘t sell guessing as a fact. If you don‘t know when something is going to happen, don‘t promise it‘s going to happen. If you know that it will be happening within the next day, tell your customer exactly that, even if they aren‘t happy with that answer. You cannot speed things up by making false promises.

2. Inform your customers!

Shit happens. Deliveries get delayed, trucks break down, employees get sick. Inform your customers if anything is happening that screws up their order. Don‘t wait for them to get in touch with you once things already have gone pear-shaped. It‘s your business. You need to stay on top of communication. You may even come up with an alternative solution before your customer knows something has gone wrong.

3. Have your partners in the same boat!

Your customers place their order with you, not with your shipper or the postal service. Again, stay on top of communication. You need to offer all the relevant information to your partners so they can do the best job possible. If they screw up, you need to have ways for them to tell your customer directly or at least to report back to you so you can deliver the news. Even if it‘s not your fault: for the customer, you‘re the party that’s in charge. You can choose to be pro-active, rather than just responsible.

The Blogroll: Week 2

Welcome to week two of the blogroll — my little list of articles and blogs I think you should be reading. If you read that last sentence and still find yourself thoroughly confused, I wrote a blog post a few days ago titled, “What is The Blogroll and who is it for?.” Hope that helps. Enjoy!


Rand Fishkin - Why Elon Musk’s “People as Vectors” Analogy Resonates

”Let’s get something out of the way — 100% alignment doesn’t exist. Not even for one person. Not even for Musk himself (though I’ll admit his single-minded dedication probably comes close). We are people, not automatons, and our wonderfully human imperfections, emotions, and biases drag us off course. The most single-minded, dogged pursuit in the history of humanity is still not a straight line. Thus, it’s impossible that any group of people could keep their own efforts flawlessly parallel on a project with any modicum of complexity.”

Thankfully, this reveals a beautiful truth: we can all benefit from greater alignment.”

My business 101 book would start with a chapter titled ‘Alignment and Trust’. Everyone needs to be on the same page, and all the parts have to trust that the other parts can spin their wheels in the right direction.


Giles Turnbull - Collecting things

”Future-you is someone who has a better sense of change-over-time than you have. Future-you is removed from the pressure to deliver things soon, and has the luxury of hindsight plus time to think. Future-you is incredibly lucky.

At the same time, future-you is going to need evidence to back up or illustrate the stories they can tell. (Different stories from the ones you’re telling now, because of all that hindsight and thinking time.) Rather than simply re-using the material that now-you is already using to tell your stories and show the thing, future-you might want different material.

Future-you might, after all, want to tell slightly different stories, and show slightly different things.

It’s in your interest now to collect things now that might/will be useful for future-you one day.”

I love this so much. As someone who has a million ideas — some good, some bad — simply collecting them and their origins would be hugely useful, if only to show how thoroughly you’ve thought through an idea before coming to a solution.


Jason Kottke - Twenty.

”I had a personal realization recently: isn’t so much a thing I’m making but a process I’m going through. A journey. A journey towards knowledge, discovery, empathy, connection, and a better way of seeing the world. Along the way, I’ve found myself and all of you. I feel so so so lucky to have had this opportunity. When turned 10, my post marking the anniversary ended with “I’ll see you in 2018”. In my recollection, that line was somewhat serious but also partially somewhere between a joke and a dare. Like, “how has this thing lasted 10 years, why not go for 20?” So…why not go for 30? 40? I’ll see you for sure in 2028 and perhaps even in 2038. Thank you so very much for being here with me, I surely don’t deserve such fine company.”

One of the more interesting things about following someone — anyone — over a significant period of time is their evolution. And your evolution in relation to their evolution. I don’t really have a lot to add, other than that I admire more than anything the ability to churn. To just keep going, even if it means pivoting until your ankles hurt.

As an aside, my wife watches Days of Our Lives somewhat religiously (it’s a soap opera in the US), and it’s been running for so long that some of the flashbacks they use are of the same actors, playing the same characters, in the 1980’s. Say what you will about soap operas, but the amount of character development you can do in ~40 years makes for some interesting writing possibilities. (I have this side pipe dream of writing for a soap opera one day… it’s like a hobby of mine to see how writers write themselves out of the silly plot holes they get themselves into.)


Matthew Schuler - Why Creative People Sometimes Make No Sense

”Sometimes what appears to be a contradiction on the surface is actually a harmony in disguise. My problem has been primarily one of communication. I am learning to let people know what I am thinking and why, and explaining myself in a way that helps them understand why I am discussing multiple perspectives instead of just cleanly stating my own. At first it might not make sense, but give me/us long enough, and it will.”

I find that discussion is kind of useless until I can get some thoughts on paper. Turns out, highlighting 20 left turns in a conversation makes you sound whishy-washy. On paper, 20 left turns is called longform.


Alan Burdick - Physicists Still Don’t Know What Puts the Curl in Curling

”In most other respects, Shegelski told me, curling defies traditional logic.

The bottom of a curling stone resembles the bottom of a beer bottle. It’s concave, not flat, so as it slides only a narrow ring of stone—the running band—actually interacts with the ice. Take a beer bottle or an upturned glass and send it spinning down a table: if it rotates to the right, clockwise, it will curl to the left; if it rotates to the left, it will curl to the right. That’s because the bottle, as it moves forward, also tips forward slightly, adding weight to the leading edge. More weight means more friction. As the leading edge turns to the right, it meets with greater resistance than the back edge, turning to the left, does. So the clockwise-spinning bottle follows the path of least resistance, curling to the left.

Weirdly, a curling stone on ice does exactly the opposite: if it rotates to the right, it curls right, and vice versa.”

I hope your mind just exploded. My favorite part is that this is an unsolved mystery.


Nicola Wood - Sustainable Me

”I can’t be the only person who watched that episode of Blue Planet and was mortified to realise how much unnecessary waste our family produces and the impact it’s having. While we’ve always tried to do our bit, I wasn’t really aware of how much we’ve trashed the planet we live on. Each bottle of water, each coffee cup, those plastic bags, that fibre lash mascara … While our household is unlikely to go zero waste any time soon, if we do a bit and others do a bit it all adds up.”

So yes. I basically agree with everything here, and I really do try to do my part. But it’s amazing how slow our systems are at solving this… systemically. For instance, why is the Target by my house even allowed to put everything in plastic bags (sometimes they even double-bag items!)? And why isn’t there some kind of extreme tax on bottled water? It’s not like bottled water is keeping our society running… I still remember when they started selling bottled water at my grocery store. We thought people were nuts.

Some things like eating less meat can be hard, but so many things shouldn’t even be an option. Plastic straws? Does society need plastic straws? Can someone in my town run for office on a platform of banning plastic straws? They’d have my vote.


Spencer Fry - Your competitors don’t matter

”But paying any mind to your competitors is not something any Founder or Product Manager should bother themselves with. Even with the occasional glance, you’ll be susceptible to their influence and any influence whatsoever is bad for your business.

Everyone who is in business with aspirations of building something great will never get there by looking at what anyone else does — especially their competitors. How do you build something exceptional, groundbreaking and market leading if you focus any of your mental energy looking at how others are doing it?”

I feel empowered by reading this, but I don’t know if it’s true. My problem is that most companies are created to fill a void — no one needs the 50th version of a thing unless you’re selling a commodity. But understanding that market void — that need for a thing to exist — you have to innately understand what others are and aren’t doing. Even if you’re a year in and actively not peeking at what your competition is doing, you know in your heart what your audience wants because it’s what other people aren’t (or weren’t) giving them.

I guess some people call that intuition. Pretending your intuition isn’t influenced by others doesn’t seem quite right though. Even the quote at the end of the post, “Sorry to throw Samsung under the bus, but what you get is a Samsung phone rather than the iPhone by spending any time at all looking at your competitors.” makes me scrunch my face a little. Sure, Apple mostly innovates in the phone space while Samsung mostly follows, but Samsung’s mobile division made $2.23 billion USD in Q4 2017. I know we all want to be the next Steve Jobs of our industry, and I know the point is that good stuff comes from visionary thinking (and you can’t be a visionary if you’re consistently following the herd), but making Samsung’s phones the example of failure is a little crazy.

Seriously. I’m not advocating copying anyone or doing anything unethical (which Samsung is often accused of… and rightly so), but if you can put your kids to college and live a good life making what you think is a slightly better version of an existing thing, don’t feel bad about it. And don’t let visionary startup advice stop you. You do you.

The actual blogroll

(Blogs are ranked in order of appearances in these Blogroll posts.)

Make better product pages (a journey through jeans shopping)


I need some new jeans, and I’m determined to buy them on the internet. Like any consumer looking to buy almost anything, my needs are predetermined but can be nudged in all sorts of directions. It’s all up to the lofty product page.

My needs here are clear. The jeans need to:

  1. fit my frame
  2. be comfortable
  3. look good
  4. be durable
  5. be reasonably priced (I’m mentally prepared for the $50-125 range, which may sound outrageous to some, but I’m one of those nuts who doesn’t wash their jeans and literally runs them into the ground. I’m talking hundreds upon hundreds of wears from a single garment)

My journey begins. At this point, I’m just absorbing information.


Gustin #2 The Japan Standard

Gustin’s product page is content heavy, but very informational. The page is organized into four primary sections:

  1. Image - The image is nice and large, and there are obvious thumbnails to dig through more. I probably can’t speak to the psychological effects of selling a mood through an image, but I like Gustin’s photography. Lots of detail shots, a shot of the “wear,” and a few of a standard looking guy wearing them (just his bottom half).
  2. Buy it - Size, price, buy button. No frills.
  3. Story - I’m not sure what I’m going to find elsewhere, but Gustin puts a good deal of effort into the story of their offerings. On this particular page, I’ve learned that this style is one of their favorite originals, that jeans like this cost ~$205 in boutiques, and a whole lot about the fabric and color.
  4. Details - If you know the specs of the jeans you’re after, this is the spot. Plus, it comes with a link to a fit guide… a handy touch for online shopping because every brand fits a little differently.


J.Crew 770 Straight-fit stretch jean in indigo

Unlike Gustin, J.Crew is mostly business, relying on mostly pure information and customer reviews to sell the product. The page is organized into six primary sections:

  1. Image - Just a couple of images here, but there are thumbnails added to “shop the look.” An interesting touch that could lead to more sales… although not this time. I don’t know how I feel about stiff leather shoes and bare heels. Sounds like a recipe for a major blister.
  2. Buy it - Standard stuff here, although I question the giant grid of possible sizes. I wonder if they’ve A/B tested a grid vs. a dropdown menu.
  3. Size and fit - While Gustin basically offloaded me onto a superpage for sizing, J.Crew seems to assume that I understand their sizing and definitions enough to make an informed decision. And I suppose that’s fair — for the most part, I’m the same size everywhere. But I’d caution against saying things like “narrower leg than our classic fit” because I have no idea how the classic fit fits. One thing I do like is the fit chart based on customer reviews. Leveraging customer data like that to help other customers make informed decisions is brilliant.
  4. Product details - This is just a miscellaneous content catch-all, but I did really like this bit of information: “Cut from fabric from Kurabo, the first Japanese selvedge denim producer and the supplier to that country’s first-ever denim brand.” There’s something satisfying about owning a classic fabric that has stood the test of time.
  5. Customer reviews - Mostly standard, but J.Crew had the chutzpah to include a “Lowest Rated” very visible sort category. I don’t know if that helps sales, but it is comforting as a customer to know the brand isn’t hiding unfavorable content.
  6. More stuff - Honestly, not having a “more stuff to buy” section on a product page seems like a total waste. All it takes is some categorization and pattern-matching.


Levi’s® 511™ Made in the USA Slim Fit Selvedge Jeans

Honestly, Levi’s page is just a reworked version of J.Crew’s page. The actual content displayed is nearly identical (it’s almost as if they know something…), so I’ll pass on the play-by-play. I did appreciate the wear suggestion at the end of the Details section though: “For a laid-back daytime look, try a slightly scrunched leg and sneakers. Once night rolls around, try a 2-inch cuff with a Chelsea boot.” Subtle nudges on how to use something properly are always appreciated (unless they’re too painfully obvious).

One last thing, Levi’s is pushing their urban/gritty-cool aesthetic pretty hard through their photography. It’s amazing how much of a feel you can get from just seeing the expressions on people’s faces. My fear as a marketer would be that people might struggle to see themselves in the image. Like, I can see myself in those Gustin jeans, but my jaw isn’t nearly that square, and I don’t think I can or want to give off that “I’m good at sports, but I’m not a genius” vibe. (No offense to the model… he could be brilliant.)


Everlane The Slim Fit Jean

Everlane’s aesthetic screams modern conformity. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but considering I’m a 30-something computer guy looking for fancy blue jeans, I guess I fit the target demo. Anyways, the page is in four sections (sort of) and shares a lot of elements with other pages — but Everlane has a touch that makes it different.

  1. Image - Unlike the other pages, Everlane puts their images in a long scroll. A really long scroll. Like, you’re scrolling so far past the content you kind of forget what you’re doing. Unfortunately, that long scroll makes everything below seem much too far away to access — including the More Stuff bit and a big infographic about how the brand is different than your traditional retailer. My feeling is that if you have content near the footer you want people to see, you shouldn’t make it a chore to get to it. Also, the photography only continues that modern conformity vibe — I’ve never seen a pair of arms from the elbows-down look so uncomfortable.
  2. Buy it - Just your standard fare here, although there is a little section about returns — a useful nugget considering my chances of finding a perfect fit on the first try are about 50/50.
  3. Details - Finally, a site that pairs the bullets of content with descriptions! I also find it neat that it lists Bien Hoa, Vietnam as where it’s made, then provides a link to see the factory. Given the negative coverage of the working conditions of “fast fashion,” this seems bold.
  4. Description - Mostly business here, but underneath they have a link that says, “Made at the world’s cleanest denim factory.” They’re really pushing the forward-vision of their production process, but since that seems to be their “thing,” I think it’s a great move. Those are the little nuggets that make brands stand out.

taylor stitch

Taylor Stitch The Slim Jean in Cone Mills Standard

Mmm, sweet, sweet organization. The site (including the logo) looks like a stock Squarespace template, but I really do appreciate the organization. It’s a page in five parts:

  1. Image - Just a clean, automatic carrousel with genuinely good looking product shots. Not to comment too much on the model, but the guy they’re using here is like the everyman — fit but smart; cool but not posing in a power stance. It’s a stark contrast to the Levi’s guy, who looks like he’s about to challenge me to a very unfriendly beer chugging competition.
  2. Buy it - All pretty standard, but there are some really helpful buttons for making an informed decision here without any additional scrolling. For instance, if you click on the “Shipping” icon, a screen pops up with all the shipping info. Same for sizing, help, and reviews.
  3. Description, details, etc. - Most brands have all this content in one spot, but Taylor Stitch’s version seems more cohesive for some reason. To be fair, it’s almost identical to the Levi’s version, but with more bullets and aspirational copy like, “Woven in the oldest mill in the country, this fabric will produce classic fades and stand the test of time no matter what you put it through.”
  4. More images! - Want to see more? Here you go, but in a beautiful magazine layout that fills the space much nicer than Everyone’s endless vertical gallery.
  5. More stuff - Gotta have it.

The big takeaways

Product pages seem simple, but there’s a lot of nuance. Here are my ten takeaways for what goes into a successful page:

  1. Good photography (or images) people can see themselves in. Not some aspirational version of themselves, but their actual selves. And be sure to show actual use — it’s one thing to see something that’s brand new, but it’s another to see how something wears over time, like the first Gustin shot. (This works in software too — don’t be afraid to show your product as if someone has been using it for a year. I want to see all those nested files.)
  2. You need a clear buying path. If anything is hidden here, people will just be confused. Bonus points for very quick, very clear ways to introduce targeted information. Like, if you get a lot of questions about returns pre-purchase, don’t bury that content in the page — give it a clear icon under the purchase button.
  3. Your content needs to be useful. What most people want is some kind of copy that indicates what they’re buying is special, and how it’s going to fit into their lives. If you’re just writing bleep-bloops to fill an SEO requirement, you’re doing it wrong. Also, people like bulleted specifics, so if you have any, add them.
  4. There’s a difference between being verbose and being informative. J.Crew saying “Our 770 jeans are more narrow than our 1040 slim-straight but not as skinny as the 484 (our slimmest fit).” takes up a lot of space, but says nothing if you aren’t familiar with their 1040 or 484 sizing. Like, great, 770 is more than 484. Does that mean I’ll be able to sit comfortably?
  5. Always offer up the next purchase. If your product page is a dead end, you’re doing something wrong. Always serve up quality alternatives to the product page they’re on, as well as products that pair well. For example, on a jeans page, I want to see some alternative jean options, as well as a few shirts to complete the look.
  6. Do some usability testing. The further your list of a billion images gets from the buy button, the less likely someone is to go back. And honestly, why have a footer if it’s going to take a dozen page scrolls to get to it?
  7. Customer-facing reviews are useless unless you’re a reseller. Choosing between 200 widgets on Amazon is a real slog without reviews, but a site that’s only selling its own stuff doesn’t really need them. I mean, what’s the takeaway supposed to be? People don’t like these pants, but the company sells them anyway? That’s kind of a weird look.
  8. Customer insights are super helpful. Honestly, I don’t care if something thinks a pair of jeans deserves a 3-star review because they run small. But I do want to know that they tend to run small. Turn that useful data you’re getting into selling points.
  9. Get a real responsive site. Levi’s, for example, has a mobile site that works fine when I’m on a phone, but I often have my desktop browser window on a less-that-full-width size. And there’s nothing more off-putting (says the guy who’s basically had no real struggle in his life) than having to scroll horizontally to get to important content. A real responsive site is responsive to window sizes, not devices.
  10. Nix the social share buttons. I read a stat the other day that said those buttons are used like 0.1% of the time, and they slow down your page performance, which is a proven purchase killer. (On a related note, J.Crew’s website — the one with the social share buttons — has 91 trackers according to my DuckDuckGo privacy app. 91!!! That’s so bad it’s almost comical.)