The Age/SMH columns 1998-2006
These columns on the business of technology, now very old, were written for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald newspapers between 1998 and 2004.
Simplicity and ubiquity matter (or, How reality mugged Joel Spolsky)
Joel Spolsky, eloquent proponent of Microsoft's 'rich client' vision of computing, has reluctantly changed his mind.
Two seconds to deletion: the new reality of email newsletters
If your organisation is sending out email, accept the reality that your recipients are reading it with one finger over the delete key, and 50 other messages in their inbox.
What Google tells us about the 2004 Internet
Google's biggest challenge: will they run out of new places to put ads?
What the Web looks like now
More than a decade after its creation, the Web is still changing rapidly. Here's an early-2004 snapshot.
Tell Ziggy he's dreamin'
Telstra CEO Ziggy Switkowski wants to get into the content business. That's crazy: all the money's in the business that Telstra is already in.
Of Google, Amazon and Weblogs: reputation management evolves
Reputation management has emerged as a core competency at many of the best-known Web sites. Every few months, another tool emerges to separate the good from the indifferent and the bad.
Amazon Secret Weapon No. 1376: the race for recognition
Amazon.com drives high-quality reviews by rewarding reviewers - not with cash but with recognition, respect and goodwill. Yet again, the online book powerhouse leads the industry.
Repackaging to survive in a low-margin millenium
Make your content work harder and you'll stand a better chance of earning a living from it.
Personalisation goes one-on-one with reality
The results are in from the Web's great experiment with one-to-one marketing. Verdict: personalisation suits only a small minority of sites.
The unexploited craft of Web writing
The true craft of Web writing must constantly address the scale of the Web's information pool. Most Web writing still fails to do so.
Swimming against the stream
Web video-on-demand? The screen's tiny, the projector's broken and you have to queue to watch. So why do investors and analysts still shiver in excitement at the mention of streaming video?
Big media stuck whimpering in e-land
Bricks-and-mortar was supposed to triumph in e-business. But if the bricks and mortar belong to a large media organisation, the result is more likely to be disaster. Niche content sites are doing better.
Online economics 2001: Davids win, Goliaths lose
Media insider Daniel Rutter's 2001 view of the peculiar new economics that rules new media, letting gigantic conglomerates haemorrhage while one-man outfits make money. (Rutter originally submitted this article to News Limited, whose editors rejected it.) The article is still here, not in the archive, because it nails exactly what's been going on in the world of online publishing over the past 15 years.
What price feedback email?
Sites face a choice between financing extensive email support and adjusting customer expectations down. Most are still trapped in the middle, afraid to admit their dilemma.
All The Views That's Fit To Print
Confront the ugly truth about whether your site visitors are really reading it all on-screen. Yes, some are sneaking off to the printer.
Web content management systems: find the appropriate solution
Web content management's dirtiest secret is that most organisations not only don't need most CMS bells and whistles, but should actively avoid them.
Interview with a content management heretic
Ovum's Alan Pelz-Sharpe wonders: just how fancy does your Web content management system really need to be?
"We didn't try and complicate it": the unsecret formula of a winning intranet
A Government department pulled hundreds of people together by understanding their needs and helping them get to know each other. What mattered: photos of people's faces. What didn't matter: the technology.
Apache: The feather floats to the top
The Apache Web server has not only resisted the onslaught of a Microsoft alternative, but appears to be gaining ground.
Mambo: stuck in the middle with ... 2731 other CMSs
Mambo manages Web site content with style, but its creators are still battling to turn their brainchild into a strong business.
One way to Web Content Management (as long as you're big)
Russell Nakano's Web Content Management: A Collaborative Approach provides authoritative guidance for Interwoven-style sites, and insights for everyone else.
Fog Creek CityDesk: Content management for the masses
Countless managers of small to medium sites have wondered how to cross the chasm from hand-built pages to a true content management system. Now a product called CityDesk provides the best answer yet.
Goto's statements considered helpful
A handsome new book usefully combines Web usability and project management disciplines, while pretending to be about 'redesign'. (And yes, the title is a blatant pun in honor of Edsger W. Dijkstra's classic 1968 essay on program structure.)
Hard numbers on the working environment
It's easy to assert a development organisation should grant its people good conditions. Here's why it makes business sense.
Why Mr Web Design changed direction
David Siegel led, championed, inspired the Web design industry. Then he found out that users didn't like pretty pages. So he changed his ways.
A flying menu attack can wound your navigation
Hidden menus are like hidden road signs: they force you to stop when you'd rather keep going. We examine the weaknesses of pop-up, pull-down and cascading menus.
Text-based chat is very small talk
Text-based chat looks an ideal way for firms to help customers do business over the Web. But the results don't measure up to the hype.
Back to the basics of site searching
Many site managers pay lip service to their site searching facilities, but few actually do what it takes to let users find stuff. Here's how to do it right.
The amateur sysadmin
Notes on being an amateur sysadmin - one of the unpaid army of crazed enthusiasts who spend a small piece of their lives keeping the world's small networks of PCs and their users in shape.
Small office info-tech comes by car
If you're running a business without dedicated IT staffers, your IT systems support will come via another small business person who drives out to you.
The Wired Home
The current challenge in home automation: play all our PC-based songs and pictures for less than $10,000, and don't drive us crazy in the process.
A short essay on bad software reviews
Why spend a week delving into the nooks and crannies of Internet Thingamajig 4.1, when a couple of hours will do?
Community-building as a social craft
Amy Jo Kim's Community Building on the Web treats the idea of "community" seriously. All power to her.
Needing Science, receiving Art
The era of visual innovation is ending at mainstream Web sites. A few designers will need to re-skill..
Application Service Providers: next step, survival
ASPs were an Internet-boom hit. Now they must struggle to stay alive. Right now, many potential customers find them just too risky.
Behind the gloom, continuing audience growth
While the newspapers and news sites fill their space with dot-com layoffs and closures, the Web audience continues to quietly grow.
Internet business models: copying the US isn't enough
Australian markets often behave differently to their US counterparts. Most of Australia's shrewdest business analysts understand this. Local would-be Web entrepreneurs will profit from understanding it too.
Online advertising can click
Online advertising can deliver users at the lowest price around. But like all marketing, its cost-effectiveness depends on management.
How to rebuff stupidity: "Remember Boo.com"
A small tribute to the mother and father of all dot-com disaster stories.
Broadband's fortunes aren't flowing yet
One day the economics of broadband may make its Australian providers rich; right now, it's making them frustrated. One broadband supplier says it's not worth a home user's $A70.
The broadband non-crisis
Everyone's worried about Australia's low broadband penetration. Are Australia's consumers deluded? Does the country's regulatory regime allow broadband to be overpriced? Or is this just a solution looking for a problem?
After the disasters, a more ordinary broadband
Just in case you haven't been reading the business pages: the broadband dream is dead. Now for the new broadband, as exciting as your electricity supply.
Pass me that brochureware, please
A Web site full of useful information seems so twentieth-century - but the users seem to want it.
Jessica Burdman defines Web development's central challenge
The challenge is not "Internet time", but the sheer breadth of the Web development task. So suggests Jessica Burdman's recent book Collaborative Web Development.
Failings catch up with Web content management's consultingware
A custom-built Web content management system can produce far better returns than today's costly, inflexible commercial package. That dawning realisation should produce changes in CMS pricing and management behaviour.
Content management systems: short-lived satisfaction
A Forrester Research report suggests the content management community is right to complain about today's off-the-shelf software. Forrester's blunt view: current content management systems are "immature".
I'm glad this site doesn't rely on advertising because ...
... the "magazine model" for content is in trouble - as are two others. But two more thrive, largely unrecognised.
Crikey! Could that make money?
The irreverant Crikey.com.au may be closer to profitability than any other Australian online publishing venture.
"Design is not a therapy session"
Web designers need to grow up, leave their inner artist behind and embrace the challenge of usable design, says guest writer Kent Dahlgren.
Tracking the Internet industry's resurgence
As in the British Railway industry of the 1850s, so in the Internet industry of the early 2000s the builders and visionaries are ceding ground to the managers. The parallels are useful.
Automation woes widen the email expectations gap
Automating your email responses turns out to be far harder and more costly than the technologists tell you. Might you be better off just using the phone?
"See the Destruction of Email Messaging from the Comfort of Your Home!!!"
Spam and other commercial messages are throttling email's simple appeal. And no-one is offering a credible remedy.
Empowering content: an introduction
Many content sites need to empower their users to achieve goals. Such empowering content looks more suited to the Web medium than information provision or attempts to provoke emotional response.
An eye-tracking study delivers eye-grabbing conclusions
Web design assumptions based on print media experience can lead you to exactly the wrong conclusions about text. On the Web, users want words before pictures.
Avoiding your own "Florida ballot debacle"
The 2000 US presidential election ballot teaches what not to do in creating a usable Web site. Here are 12 specific rules for avoiding your own version of the Florida ballot debacle.
Attack of the killer conventions
Web site design began with a burst of wild innovation. Now experimentation is ceding ground to convention - agreement among users about where they expect page functions to appear. And where the users go, the designers will have to follow.
Seven steps to lower-cost content
The Web is a low-margin medium which requires low-cost content. Here's how to get it.
Dissecting the hyperchunk
The true "hypertext" is dwindling; in its place is rising the Web-sized piece of information best dubbed the hyperchunk.
Signs of life for Web writing
Writing for the Web is no masterpiece, but any intelligent book on Web writing is better than nothing. And this slim volume does contain a few lessons.
Sizing up the Australian Internet
A slew of reports shows that the Internet has ensnared half the Australian population - and that it's still growing strongly.
Photoshop 6.0: broadening the user base
Until recently a pricey half-solution, Adobe's Photoshop is now morphing into a complete Web graphics toolkit. Version 6.0 looks attractive despite its continuing shortcomings.
Weak privacy laws are better than none
Australia's December 2001 privacy law changes lack teeth, but will succeed if they improve corporate culture. Here's hoping they can.
A redesign recipe for tough times
You want to redesign that Web site, but the cash river of 1999 is a distant memory. Here's how to manage a redesign on the cheap.
Relaunching can sink you
Relaunch that site, and visitors may find comfort somewhere else. Here's when to relaunch, and when to think again.
How to rebuff stupidity
The next time someone suggests a big new cutting-edge Web interface project,the only line you'll need is: "Remember Boo.com". (But you could add that they lost $US120 million.)
Does online shopping need better client-side technology?
A new Jupiter report argues Flash, Java and 3D technology is needed to save online shopping. But the evidence is weak.
Brief encore from the subscription model
The dream of making money from Web site subscriptions has returned. It probably won't stay long.
The Web is what it will be
Anyone expecting endless new changes to the operation of the Web is in for a disappointment. The medium is maturing fast.
Sorting the wounded from the dead
Some Web businesses will survive; many will not. A slightly jocular guide to divining the future of a Web business.
The Web is a utility medium
Hard data contradicts the common belief that entertainment is the future of the Web. Real users use the medium to get things done.
Content without it? The doubts about Vignette
Vignette's software has emerged as the leader in the software space. But is it worth the price? Possibly not.
Internet-based software: think beyond the browser
The Web browser dominates thinking about interfaces for Internet-based applications. Remember the benefits of a native Windows app.
XHTML bridges the gulf between HTML and XML
Bringing XML to today's HTML-based Web, XHTML justifies the "breakthrough" label. It will rise slowly but surely.
Here are some arbitrary rules that I aim to keep to. Most of the time, getting the convention exactly right matters less than simply having a convention.