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  • Michael Krakovskiy 3:12 am on May 30, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Aeron chair, , , , , comfortable chair, Good Chair, , , , ,   

    The Importance of a Good Chair 

    When the name Jason Calacanis comes up in conversation and he’s not within earshot, something unflattering is always said about him. Ah, that Calacanis. He’s blah and blah and blah. Not one thing he does is without controversy.

    The reason his name comes up so frequently in conversations is because he’s absolutely brilliant. Take the post about how to save money running a startup for which he caught a metric ton of shit from the rest of the bloggerati. It is one of the best articles on the subject.

    One piece of advice, “buy cheap tables and expensive chairs” ring especially true. Most IT professionals spend an average of 10 hours a day sitting down in a chair. Meanwhile, spending money on Aeron chairs is considered decadent. Decadent my ass.

    At one of my previous employers good chairs were very hard to come by. The usual new-looking $100 chairs were extremely painful to sit on. I developed all kinds of weird leg and back pains for which forced me to see a doctor several times.

    This is the most comfortable chair that I could find (and also the worst looking one). My boss had an Aeron for himself.

    Bobby Fisher refused to play chess without a Herman Miller Time Life chair. By the way, the Time Life building for which lobby the chairs were supposedly designed does not have a single one in it, just a 100 dollar ass-wreckers for the security personnel and a Barcelona chairs in waiting lounges.

    Not buying good chairs for programmers is pretty stupid. The place where I work now has outstanding chairs, and I am very grateful for that.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 11:08 pm on August 31, 2006 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Aeron chair, Alessi, , Boris Spassky, , , , Design Within Reach, , EUR, expensive chair, favorite steam pitcher, , Industrial design, Juicer, More, , Product design, , steam pitcher, Team America World Police, , , , , Whinston Churchill   

    Design Out of Reach 

    One of my favorite coffee shops, Joe The Art of Coffee, recently opened a new branch in an Alessi showroom at 130 Greene Street in Manhattan.

    Alessi is one of those funny companies that sell expensive “design”. There are really three approaches to selling “design”. You can go the Ikea way: hire really good designers, mass-produce their designs, use cheap materials and sell them cheaply. On the other end of the spectrum is stuff like the concept pieces, like the magnetically floating bed that recently got all the gadget blogs very excited. The scale model will set you back over 100K euros, and the real one is so fricking impractical that it’s not even built. You can’t deny the coolness aspect though.

    There’s the middle way that is tread by companies like Design Within Reach and Alessi. While a more proper description would be “Design Just Outside Most People’s Reach”, they do have a few items that are a relatively good value even for not particularly rich people like myself.

    For instance, I really want an Alessi steam pitcher. But while a perfectly well made knockoff costs 35 bucks, a genuine item costs 114. Ouch. I have the knockoff, and it’s my favorite steam pitcher right now.

    But when it comes to something that I use constantly, there’s really no alternative to getting the real thing. A Herman Miller Aeron chair is significantly better than most knockoffs that I’ve seen and usually sells only for 1/2 as much.

    There’s another chair that I really want, the Eames “Time-Life Chair”. Manufactured and sold by Herman Miller, it was created for the lobby of the Time-Life building in Manhattan (where I used to frequently have lunch in the company cafeteria before they stopped letting in people from other Rockefeller Center buildings). The chair was made famous by Bobby Fisher who required it as one of his numerous conditions when he played in the world chess championship against Boris Spassky. These days it cost about $2,500 new (about $1000 for a vintage one on eBay). Back then it used to cost about 700 bucks, and made all the newspapers whine about Fisher’s expensive tastes. I really don’t see a reason why someone who earns his living while sitting down does not deserve an expensive chair. Dot com companies got a lot of flack for purchasing Aeron chairs – but those were probably the most prudent investments they’ve made. Putting computer programmers in cheap chairs will literally cripple them, while the chair’s resale value is still pretty good.

    Eames Executive Chair made famous by Bobby Fisher / Time-Life Building

    Another “high design” item that I really salivate over is the Bestlite lamp. Bestlite was made famous by Whinston Churchill who had one on his desk. While the price finally went down on the floor model from $748 to $349.95 at Levenger, it’s still out of reach for me.

    Bestlite lamp

    I see a lot of companies putting famous Barselona® chairs in their lobbies. These are pretty expensive at $3,499 a pop (a friend of mine slept on two of these during the big blackout of 03. Anyway, these chairs are classy, but are becoming a cliche. Wouldn’t a Frank Gheary living room set look much cooler? It’s also much cheaper – the sofa is “only” $1200.

    But the item that really made me scratch my head is the Philippe Starck-designed fruit juicer sold by Alessi. It costs about 80 bucks. I really don’t know what to think here.

    The juicer is definitely cool-looking and original (well, unless you count T4 Bacteriophage Virus, lunar lander and Spaceship Moya, etc) which resulted it being featured as a prop in several movies.

    Interestingly enough, it usually ends up in the bedroom somehow. Here it is, masquarading as a lamp in the infamous puppet sex scene from Team America World Police:

    Team America World Police Juicy Salif Lamp

    I really don’t have 80 bucks to trow away on a Philippe Starck design, the question that bothers me is this: are all of those who say that the juicer is impractical right? From the looks of it, the juicer should work just fine and even be ergonomic. Also, is “Salif” even a word? And if so, what does it mean?

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 2:57 am on January 16, 2006 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , AdSense algorithm, , advertising programs, advertising revenue, advertising scheme, advertising space, AdWords, Aeron chair, , , Babe, , , chupaqueso.com, , , , , , , , Fog Creek's party, Godzilla, good salesman, , heaviest online ad campaigns, , , , Kevin Kelly, , , , , , Pagekiller, particular audience product, pharmaceutical reps, planetofthegeeks.com, pretty typical web developer, regular web sites, Roebuck and Co., , search engine referrals, , Sergey, Shure E2c Headphone/Headset, similar products, software patents, typical web user, , , , , , , , web cartoonist,   

    New Billboard Day Effect : How to Advertise More Effectively on Your Blog 

    Advertising. “The Engine of Commerce”. Ideally, it should work like it does in the Simpsons episode 2F12 “Homer the Clown”:

    “In the middle of driving down the highway, Homer skids to a halt in front of a billboard.

    Homer: [gasps] It must be the first of the month: new billboard day!

    Homer: [reading] “This year, give her English muffins.” Whatever you say, Mr. Billboard! [skids off]
    [stops suddenly at another billboard for barbeque sauce]
    [cars collide behind him and explode]

    Homer: [reading] “Best in the West.” Heh heh heh, that rhymes!
    [looking at the next one] “Clown college”? You can’t eat that.

    At the power plant, Homer piles his purchases (including MSG, “Best in the West”, and English muffins) at his work station. “Well, I got everything I was supposed to get. I’m not going to enroll in that clown college, though…that advertisement had absolutely no effect on me whatsoever. In his daydream, he imagines himself sleeping and dreaming of himself eating a sandwich. The billboard for the clown college batters its way into his thoughts. The Krustys on the billboard start dancing to circus music.”

    Of course, Homer enrolls in the clown college. Having never enrolled in a clown college because an ad told us to, we all go on thinking: “advertisement had absolutely no effect on me whatsoever.” It can’t possibly be true: bajillion dollar industries, such as advertising don’t simply exist if they are not effective.

    During the dot com bubble even large companies mostly failed to earn much from banner ads. Even the heaviest online ad campaigns did not seem very effective and suffered horrible clickthrogh rates. Online ad companies escalated the war for clickthroughs by inventing obnoxious popunder, popover and floater ads. The more the ad was like a flash-bang grenade mistakenly used by NYPD on an elderly woman, the better. For instance, many sites started using larger sizes of vertical banners known as “Skyscraper.” That was not enough though – extreme, flash-driven skyscraper ads with movies and sound, capable of crashing browsers and known as “Godzilla” and “Pagekiller” started to appear.

    The founders of Google decided to address this issue, and as a result, made bazillions of dollars. As a former googler remembered:

    ” Besides, Larry and Sergey hated these kinds of advertising. In fact they hated most kinds of advertising as inefficient, dishonest and a total waste of people’s (meaning their) precious time.”

    We all know that AdWords and AdSense, Google’s advertising programs managed to earn so much money through unobtrusive, mostly text ads. The winning strategy was “relevancy”. Google’s server would read in the page where the ad were to appear, and serve up a relevant ad.

    For instance, after parsing pages on chupaqueso.com, a site dedicated to a cheese snack invented by web cartoonist Howard Tayler, in theory shows ads about cheese. And after reading about chupaqueso’s cheesy goodness, I might indeed be in the mood to buy some cheese online.

    On the other hand, the AdSense algorithm is not too efficient. On some pages in the abovementioned site it serves ads like this:

    Yes, indeed, amongst Howard Tayler’s readers there are a lot of computer geeks. I know I am not a typical web user, but I am a pretty typical web developer. And I have zero desire to “Boost XML app performance.” I also have all the “ODBC drivers” that I need.

    Many of you, my readers, are bloggers or have regular web sites with AdSense ads. Look at them. How many you’d say are “inefficient, dishonest and a total waste of people’s … precious time”?

    I say – about 99.5%. And clickthrough ratios are pretty horrible. People try to tweak them by playing around with ad types, look and feel, positioning and excluding advertisers, but it’s all rather ineffective.

    Google’s ads only pay if people click on them. In the TV, billboard, magazine and the type of advertising that people tattoo on their bodies there’s no such things as clicks. You get paid depending on how many people see the ad. It works really well if you need to make people remember your company’s name or logo.

    Side Note:
    When I was little, in Odessa ( Ukraine, Not Texas) somebody scribbled in almost every public phone booth “[Some girl’s full name] is a whore.” In a city of about a million people this worked like a charm. The mindshare that that advertisement delivered must have been off the charts.

    These 99.5% of unclickable ads can be divided into two categories: a) ad campaigns that build brand’s awareness almost for free and b) those that indeed waste everyone’s time and money.

    I don’t think I ever clicked on any Vonage ads, even though I’ve seen thousands of them. They worked without any clicks — if I did not also know that their customer service sucks and reliability is horrible, I’d have their VOIP service now.

    The ads that nobody ever cares about still do get some clicks. When people come by a useful and interesting site, they tend to click on random ads so that the site owner would get some revenue. This is the untraceable portion of a much scarier phenomenon called click fraud. I am not even going to address this here.

    In short, I feel that even though Google’s ads are a step in the right direction, AdSense sucks, especially for a blog with a smallish audience, such as mine. The useless, stupid ads that clog AdSense are a waste, even though they might generate a few “pity clicks.” Only half of my ad revenue for the site came from AdSense last year. The rest came from my experiment that I think will be of great interest to everyone.

    My thinking went like this: I want to serve ads that are extremely relevant to my blog posts and interesting to my audience. Even more importantly, they must be selling something that I would be interested in. Ads I’d click on.

    When you have limited advertising space, the problem with AdSense is that it often tries to sell things that your readers don’t want. What you want to do is advertise things that people aready want. As an example of such salesmanship, let me direct you to a post on the very popular waiterrant.net, where The Waiter describes selling dessert to calorie-conscious women:

    “”Ladies,” I say sweetly, “We have some excellent desserts tonight.”

    “Oh, nothing for me,” Bubbly Blonde replies.
    “No dessert,” Severe Brunette says, holding up her hand.
    “Me neither,” Lawyer Babe says firmly.

    The fourth woman, a Soccer Mom type, looks at her companions and sighs. She wants dessert.

    I see the longing for chocolate in Soccer Mom’s eyes. She’s my weak link. My in.

    “Would anyone like some coffee?” I ask. Suggesting coffee is the first stage in selling dessert to calorie resistant ladies.”

    “The ladies pay the bill, tip well, and leave. As I watch them go I think about how I got them to order dessert. To be a good salesman you have to have a seductive quality about you. Don’t believe me? Look at pharmaceutical reps.”

    That’s what I want to do! This means that I need to find something that will be the equivalent of selling chocolate dessert to Soccer Mom types.

    I believe that my 1000 readers are a lot like myself. And what do I spend a huge amount of money on every year? Books, movies, cds and gadgets. Also I purchase some rather esoteric items on eBay too, but the majority of my spending happens squarely at Amazon.com. My wishlist there is humongous, and in fact, I spent my advertising revenue there.

    Luckily, Amazon has a pretty generous associate program. You can link to any of the products they sell and get a cut of the sale price, if the sale happens as a result of your clickthrough. In fact, you get a cut of the entire shopping cart amount (I am not sure, this could be only the items that were added after the click). In any case, it’s decent money, and most importantly, a great selection of new and even used items to sell.

    What to sell, of course depends on your audience. I found some success selling items that tempt me. In fact, many times it’s the items that I am planning to buy or already bought.

    In some cases, relevancy is important. My article with pictures from Fog Creek’s party sold 4 or 5 of Joel’s books. It was a combination of a very desirable in this particular audience product with a closely related article. Interestingly enough, I tried to sell the toy that you can see in the picture as well, but none sold. As I own both books and don’t own the toy, this seems logical.

    I might have tried selling flat panel monitors and Aeron chars (WOW, Amazon sells them too! ) ,that make Joel’s office so nice (in fact, at home I have the same exact dual monitor setup, an Aeron chair and a window with a view, and I had id before Joel wrote about his bionic office). These are big ticket items though, and the likelihood of someone buying them on a whim is lower. But then again, so are rewards.

    The relevancy does not matter as much as I thought, though. For instance, I advertised “Make” magazine subscriptions and Shure E2c headphones, and sold a few.

    In fact, I think that the approach to selecting products should be somewhat similar to the one that Kevin Kelly uses for selecting items on his website Cool Tools:

    “Cool tools really work. A cool tool can be any book, gadget, software, video, map, hardware, material, or website that is tried and true. I am chiefly interested in stuff that is extraordinary, better than similar products, little-known, and reliably useful for an individual or small group.”

    In short, advertising video iPods is good, advertising “The world’s greatest 3D IM” is not!

    Side Note:
    My former co-worker won a $300 gift certificate for a certain gadget catalog in a contest. Now, he’s a guy who spends a lot of money on gadgets, like the uber geek that he is. I mean, he owns planetofthegeeks.com domain. But despite that, he had a lot of trouble picking something to spend $300 of free money on in that catalog! Not only was everything overpriced, but there were very few things he’d be interested in owning!

    The great thing about selling items from Amazon is that you know that the prices there are very Wal-Mart-like, and most of your readers already shop there. Some people prefer not to patronize Amazon because of software patents or other issues, but there are “organic” alternatives, like for example Think Geek (in fact they sell through Amazon too).

    The one gripe that I have with Amazon is the difficulty in creating the links. The tools that they provide want you to use iFrames to create image wrapped links, which of course do not work well in RSS Readers. This brings me to my final point, the specifics of blog advertisement.

    A blog is a two-sided entity: it generates page views from people who don’t use RSS aggregators and those who come in from search engine referrals. And then there are the views from within RSS aggregators, in case you are serving up the entire text of the article in the feed. Some blogs don’t do this, serving up only the title or a title and a teaser. The thinking is, readers will click through to the page where they will see ads and thusly generate revenue. Some do this because they don’t serve ads and want to limit their traffic, and yet some do it because they use a default setting in their blogging software and don’t know better.

    The great thing about my advertising scheme is that you can serve ads in-feed. A New York blog Gothamist, for example serves atrociously uninteresting ads that repeat. At some point they had a long run of a flashing ad for something that made me unsubscribe from the feed. If they started selling interesting items, they could greatly increase their advertising revenue.

    Advertising my way does not detract from regular content and isn’t cheesy. It is clearly marked, unlike those fake editorials in magazines and newspapers. Advertisement can be entertaining in itself! Since the early years of Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog, people look through catalogs like Levenger, Victoria’s Secret Penzeys Spices and Think Geek for fun! My wife has a lot of gardening catalogs that she looks through now and then. After finishing an interesting post, readers would not mind learning about an interesting gadget or book they might want. In fact, they might already be in the mood to buy it! There is no reason to serve partial RSS feeds with this type or advertising.

    P.S. I turned off comments to this article because for some reason it attracts a ridiculous number of spam comments. If you would like to contact me, see about the author section. I also changed to a different way of displaying Amazon’s related items.

     
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