Scrabble Misses the Boat…Again

Hasbro, the makers of Scrabble, one of the most beloved board games of the last century has missed the boat twice on social gaming online.

First, they sued and killed Scrabulous, which let you play Scrabble with your Facebook friends. Now, Words with Friends lets you (and John Mayer) play a Scrabble-like game with friends and relatives across the world on your iPhone.

Board games help bring people together. With the Internet, you no longer have to be in the same room as your friends and relatives to play. What are the folks at Hasbro doing? How many other classic games can be brought onto new platforms like Facebook and iPhone?

Google’s Data-driven Redesign

Old and New: Google tested the shade of its logo and whether to use a drop-shadow.

Earlier this month, Google made a dramatic change to the design of their search results pages.

Design is always an iterative process with multiple prototypes and revisions. Usually, selecting which prototypes to use is done by an expert designer. But at Google, the users decided.

In a blog post detailing the re-design, Google explained that Google designers came up with different options, and then they tried each out to see which was the best. In the past, Google has tested small things like what shade of blue to use for link color. (If you’d like to run similar experiments on your site, you can use Google’s free Website Optimizer tool.)

In this case, the “best” meant which design produced the fastest click-throughs. Faster click-throughs mean (1) people are finding what they’re looking for faster and (2) Google can display more search results and AdWords to a person in a day.

This is the design model for the future. Human creativity creates prototypes, which are then rigorously tested in an iterative process using randomized experiments to arrive at the optimal solution.

Two things that make Google’s process successful: randomized experiments over statistically-significant numbers of users and a clear definition of “success” that is the same for the business and the users.

Your Office Chair is Killing You (Business Week)

Business Week has an article about the latest research that shows that sitting in a chair (any chair) for hours each day is harmful to your health.

Excerpts from Business Week’s "Your Office Chair is Killing You":

Hamilton, like many sitting researchers, doesn’t own an office chair… The data back him up. Older people who move around have half the mortality rate of their peers… The best sitting alternative is perching—a half-standing position at barstool height that keeps weight on the legs and leaves the S-curve intact. Chair alternatives include the Swopper, a hybrid stool seat and the funky, high HAG Capisco chair. Standing desks and chaise lounges are good options. Ball chairs, which bounce your spine into a C-shape, are not.

Get a Professional Website for Under $25

Creating a professional presence online has never been easier or more affordable. For naterosenberg.com, I first tried custom-building my site and leasing a webserver, but I’ve learned that in this case, simple is better.

With my own domain name and WordPress, I have a professionally-designed site that is search-engine optimized, can handle as much traffic as I can get, comes with comment spam filters, and many more powerful features without any of the hassle of server or code maintenance. Plus, with Google Apps, I have a professional naterosenberg.com email address that has great spam filtering and works on any device.

You can spend a lot of money on a website designer, servers, and email systems, but for most people, the following steps are sufficient.

Create a professional website and email address for under $25 per year.

  1. $10.69/yr. Buy your company domain (mybusiness.com) at GoDaddy.com.
  2. $0 Create a free website on WordPress and choose from one of their many professionally-designed themes. Create some pages (About, Contact) and write a few blog posts.
  3. $10/yr Move your WordPress site to your domain.
  4. $0 Sign-up for Google Apps Standard Edition to have professional @mybusiness.com email addresses. An advanced email system with great spam filters, Google works with any web browser, Outlook, iPhone, Android, and Blackberry.

Dear iTunes: Please Add Album Gift Cards

Dear iTunes: Please let me mail cards like these as presents.

Last week, I bought a physical CD for the first time since high school. Now, high school wasn’t as long ago for me as it is for others, but it’s still been a long time.

I was an early convert to iTunes, ripping all my CDs and selling them at a garage sale when Hansen was still on the radio. I was ecstatic when the iTunes Music Store made it easier to buy music and amazed when the iTunes Store on iPhone debuted.

But last week, I wanted to buy the new Jack Johnson En Concert album for my step-mom’s birthday, and I’ve always had a problem with iTunes when it came to gift-giving.

Some of the best presents I ever received were a Winton Marsalis, Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Connick Jr., and Benny Goodman CDs from my parents, aunts, and uncles when I started listening to Jazz or the mix CD my sister made specifically for me. Though not that expensive, those presents had a lot of thought put into them and were very personal.

iTunes offers the convenience of emailing gift certificates, but I’ve never been a big fan for holidays. I e-mailed my cousins iTunes cards for Christmas, but the fun of opening presents disappears when there’s no box or envelope to open. So, I buy physical iTunes cards at the grocery store or Target instead, but they are very impersonal, only a step away from cash. Sometimes I’ve included a note to say the card is for a specific album, but that’s awkward.

Last year, iTunes added a Gift This feature to send specific albums, videos, or audiobooks, but you have to e-mail them or print them out. I want iTunes to mail them in a nice envelope for me like they do with gift cards.

What I’d like to see is something like the iTunes Album cards that Starbucks sells. I use Gift This to select an album. iTunes sends a nice envelope for me as a gift and inside is a heavy stock or plastic card with the album’s cover art and the code to redeem the gift. Even better would be if I could create a custom mix with cover art of my choosing.

Want Better Schools? Hire Better Teachers

Ed Glaeser, my college economics professor:

 
ed_glaeserMindless increases in school spending will be an expensive fiasco that will generate more disillusionment than human capital….

The clearest result from decades of education research is the importance of teacher quality… Improving teacher quality has about twice the impact on student outcomes as radically reducing class size….

The first step toward improving teacher quality is to attract more talented teachers. The second step is to improve teacher selection on the job, promoting the best and encouraging the worst to help society in some other way.
 

From the Boston Globe.