Archive for November, 2006

Check Your Camera Phone’s Quality For Free!

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

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scanR is a nice service that lets you do more with your camera phone or digital camera. For example, you can capture whiteboard content without copying them down by hand, you can upload business cards to contact management applications without keying them in manually — and you can do all this by using your camera phone or digital camera, without requiring a scanner. You can read my previous how-to articles on this subject here and here.

How well scanR does these jobs would obviously depend upon the quality of the camera used. Since scanR states that most digital cameras deliver good enough quality, the quality question is only relevant for camera phones. So, from now on, whenever I talk of quality, it will pertain to a camera phone’s quality.

As most of us know, camera phones come with a wide range of resolutions and quality. While resolution of a camera phone is a basic specification that can be obtained from its brochure, quality is a more elusive concept. One camera phone with lower resolution as per its specifications might actually deliver better quality as compared to another having higher resolution. Often, the only way to figure out a camera phone’s quality is to actually try it out.

Since scanR’s output quality ultimately depends upon the camera phone’s quality (rather than resolution), I was wondering if scanR offers any advice to its users on how to find out the quality. When I recently checked scanR, I was happy to find not just advice, but an end-to-end process to check your camera phone’s quality. This is available on a website called  CheckMyCameraPhone.com. This website carries a logo of scanR and is linked from scanR’s website, so it is presumably a scanR affiliate. Here are the steps to test a phone’s quality:

Not finding my Nokia model (6230) listed on the results page, I used the website to check out its quality as a test case. 

You can see the test resolution chart here.

 

This was the image I got back from scanR.

In the original of this image, I could read text on line number 18 but nothing lower than that was legible, so I entered 18 on the CheckMyCameraPhone.com website.


This finished the process — quite smooth, I must say — of checking my camera phone’s quality at CheckMyCameraPhone.com.

I encourage readers to try this out, it’s quite easy and good fun!

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Upload Business Cards Without A Scanner

Monday, November 27th, 2006

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If you receive many business cards and get pained by the time and effort it takes to manually enter them into your contact manager software, then you should check out scanR.

In an earlier article that you can read here, I’d described how you could use scanR to capture whiteboard contents without copying them down by hand. In that article, I had spoken about a feature in scanR which permitted uploading of contacts from scanned images of business cards into contact management software packages.

I checked out this feature recently.

First, you need to add the application to which you want your scanR-generated contacts to be linked. Three applications are supported, namely, Salesforce,com, Jigsaw and Plaxo. (Read about Jigsaw here). Note that you need to have / create  accounts separately with these applications — they don’t share their login with scanR.

Then, you click a business card using a camera phone (min. 1 megapixel resolution required) and send the JPG image to bc@scanR.com. (Learn how to ‘send’ here). In the email you’ll get back from scanR after a couple of minutes, you’ll see not only an image of the business card but the VCF file generated from it and a link to add the contact to your selected application(s).

I chose to link scanR to Jigsaw. During this process, I noticed that scanR asked me for my Jigsaw username and password, which I entered. The process was successful and I was greeted with the following message.

I then clicked a business card using my camera phone and emailed the JPG file to bc@scanR.com. In the email I got back from scanR, I clicked the link to add this contact to my Jigsaw account. I was taken to Jigsaw’s website, and after a couple of steps, the process was complete and I saw the following confirmation.

Sure, this feature works!

Now, I have a couple of observations about how this feature works:

  • As you’d have noticed, sharing my Jigsaw login details with scanR is a critical step in this process. Since I was interested in testing this feature, I went ahead. However, in general, why should someone trust scanR with their Jigsaw login details? I wouldn’t be surprised if many users abandon the process at this point — a sort of ‘stopping point’ if I may call it that.
  • I still had to do a lot of manual data entry into Jigsaw — some being omissions where the business card information did not carry forward into Jigsaw, some being corrections where the information was carried forward but incorrectly, and the balance being new data required by Jigsaw but not found in a typical business card). In my opinion, this sort of defeats the basic purpose of using this feature, namely, to avoid manually keying in business cards into your contact management software. But, I wouldn’t blame scanR for this — this seems to be how Jigsaw works. In an earlier article you can read here, I’ve written about how I found it somewhat cumbersome to enter contacts into Jigsaw.
  • Since I don’t have accounts in Salesforce or Plaxo, I couldn’t check out this feature with them. But, one interesting thing I found in this process was that scanR validates your application login details in real-time. I tried to add Salesforce — where I don’t have an account — by providing some fictitious details. As you can see from the picture below, scanR refused to proceed.

In the overall analysis, I’d conclude that scanR’s business card upload feature works, but its usefulness is limited by the sub-optimal quality of its OCR engine and by the way contact manager applications function.

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Creating a Business from a Project — More Recognition!

Saturday, November 18th, 2006

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A couple of months ago, TEC had published an article of mine on how to create a business from a project. Click here to read my blog post at the time. Thanks to all readers who have written in to me with compliments about this article. By now, I have replied to each of them.

Recognition for this article continues!

An abridged version of my article has been recently published in the November 2006 issue of ICFAI’s "Projects & Profits" magazine. Click here to download this article. (PDF – 560KB).

(ICFAI is the "Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India", www.icfai.org)

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I’ll any day prefer a user who’s a moron with 100$ in his pocket than a Nobel Laureate who is broke

Friday, November 17th, 2006

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"I’ll any day prefer a user who’s a moron with 100$ in his pocket than a Nobel Laureate who is broke" – Anonymous e-tailer.

Usabilty consultants must understand who are the desired users of a software or website, especially if it’s a shopping site where buying and selling happens and money changes hands. Only when they target their usability improvement measures at such users will they be able to convince their customers of the real value of their services.

At the recently held World Usability Day Seminar in Pune, India, several usability gurus shared the insights they’ve gathered from various real-life usability studies and improvement programs they’ve conducted around software products and websites. I was very impressed with the breadth and depth of these insights. For example, I learned that many un-lettered people tend to associate features in a mobile phone with the shape of the words. As a result, they only understand ‘Contacts’ but not ‘Phonebook’. Also, when the Hindi (the most widely spoken Indian language and the native language of the studied people) equivalent of ‘Contact’ was displayed, they couldn’t understand the feature because their association has always been with the shape the word ‘Contacts’ make.

On the other hand, I was somewhat shocked to hear some speakers talking about profiling users by IQ. How does it matter to an e-tailer what is the IQ of a user with 100$ to spend? Usability practitioners should design shopping websites in such a manner that even a low IQ user finds it easy to search, find and order things from the e-tailer’s website. Usability consultants are being self-serving when they take an exclusionist approach of suggesting that they will only design softwares and websites that cater to users of a certain minimum IQ level. With this approach, they’re not going to win much favor with e-tailers who are forking out the money for such usability services. Nor with the user community.

Software and websites designed with this exclusionist mindset tend to put off more users than they attract. e-tailers grappling with low conversion rates on their websites might find it revealing to study problems encountered by users who give up their shopping midway. Click here for my earlier article in which I’d shared some of my experiences and insights on why online shoppers abandon their shopping carts. Just fixing such problems can lead to perceptible improvement in online shopping conversion rates and revenues.

I am not denying that it might be far more difficult to design websites which even low IQ users should find easy to use. But, in my opinion, that is the fundamental challenge of usability. After all, you don’t require usability consultants to design websites for intelligent users who will somehow find a way to navigate through the website and manage to order things they want.

How well usabilty practitioners meet this fundamental challenge and get out of their exclusionist mindset will determine their own reason for existence.

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How to Buy Movie Tickets Using a Mobile Phone?

Monday, November 13th, 2006

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A couple of weeks ago, I wanted to book a ticket for the Hollywood movie "The Departed" playing at the INOX multiplex theater (in Pune, India, which is where I currently live). Out of the various ticket booking options, I selected the Internet online option that was advertised prominently in the newspaper. When I visited the advertised URL www.inoxmovies.com, I was surprised to note that online booking was not available!

Having decided earlier that I didn’t want to visit the theater once to book tickets and once again later in the same day to see the movie, I checked if any other remote booking options were available.  Fortunately, the website listed SMS ticket booking via mobile phone as another option. I decided to try this out.

The first thing I noticed on the website was that this process demanded very rigid syntax in which the SMS messages should be composed. Anyway, once I got past that stage, and after a couple of SMS messages went back-and-forth between INOX and me, I got the following message stating that there were only 3 tickets available for the 17:55 show that I was interested in.

I hurriedly replied to this message to ensure that I got one of these three available tickets.

In return, I received the following confirmation message for my ticket booking.

I was happy to book the ticket without leaving the comfort of my home. But, because the ticketing process did not call for any payment, it was quite obvious that my ticket was not guaranteed. Since I was eager to see the movie and had managed to get one of the last few tickets, I didn’t want to miss out by reaching late. Therefore, as per the warning given in the confirmation message, I reached the theater one hour before the show time to pay for and collect the ticket, lest my booking got cancelled.

When I reached the box office and showed my mobile phone to the booking agent, he was least interested in seeing the confirmation number given in the confirmation message. Instead, he asked me the same questions he’d have normally asked any other walk-in customer: which movie? which show? how many tickets?. When I gave him these answers and the money, he gave me my ticket.

I was curious: with only three seats remaining when I’d made my SMS booking a few hours earlier, how come the box office agent was so nonchalant about issuing me a ticket without verifying that I was the holder of a legitimate booking?

I got my answer a few minutes later, when I found that the hall was half-empty!

I didn’t understand the whole point behind the SMS ticket booking process. To me, it seemed as though it was completely disconnected from the regular box office ticketing process. Either that, or their box office staff is un-trained about SMS ticketing and doesn’t know what to do when they come across a customer who has used it for booking a ticket.

Was I just plain lucky that the show wasn’t sold out? Was that how I could manage to get a seat? What would’ve happened if the show had been sold out? Would the box office have honored my SMS booking? These are questions that came to my mind immediately after this experience.

Lately, I’ve heard that there are more advanced mobile phone based ticketing technologies — e.g.Tagit (www.tagit.tv) — that allow you to select not just the theater and the movie but also the show time and your seat number, then make the payment and receive a confirmed ticket, all on your mobile phone. I just hope that multiplexes implementing such technologies make sure

  1. that they are tightly integrated with their existing box office ticketing systems, and
  2. that their staff are adequately trained on such new technologies

so that they honor such tickets in the same manner they would honor conventional tickets bought from their box offices.

  

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Cheque Deposit Systems — Are They Really Worth It?

Sunday, November 5th, 2006

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Every month, I pay off my credit card bill by way of a cheque, which I simply drop into a drop-box placed at the bank’s premises. [Note: In India, we spell check as ‘cheque’.] Today, when I visited the bank,  I saw the drop-box sealed off. Instead, there was a sign asking people to deposit their cheques in a new “Cheque Deposit System”, which looks similar to the picture on the right. For those who are interested, send me an email on s_ketharaman@sketharaman.com, I’ll tell you the name of this bank.

This machine has a display and a keypad just like an ATM (Automated Teller Machine). I was asked to enter my 16-digit credit card number. When I did that, it retrieved and displayed my name as the holder of the credit card. It then asked me to insert the cheque into a slit on the right-hand-side of the machine. Shortly thereafter, I could see an image of my cheque on the display. I was then asked to enter the cheque amount, which I did. The transaction then got completed and I received a printed ‘customer advice’, which is a receipt for deposting the cheque. Since the receipt included the name of the bank and branch of my cheque — information that I never entered — I am sure this machine also has an in-built MICR reader. [Note: Most cheques in India carry a so-called ‘Magnetic Ink Character Reader’ or MICR at the bottom, which is a unique identifier of their issuing bank and branch. A MICR reader reads the bank + branch information and feeds it to cheque processing systems].

The advantage of this system to a bank are obvious: it saves the labor costs of having to do the data entry for the cheques it receives from customers.

However, for the customer, I see more disadvantages than advantages.

Advantages

  1. Facility of getting a printed receipt. In the drop-box system, the customer doesn’t receive such a receipt. A receipt can be quite valuable, especially in the context of recent cases where customers who actually deposited their utility payment cheques into drop-boxes were still declared as defaulters by their utility companies which somehow did not receive the cheques. With a printed receipt, the customer is on more solid footing when it comes to disputes.

Disadvantages

  1. With the drop-box system, you could avoid making the trip to the bank and instead have someone else drop the cheque for you. For example, I know of firms like ‘Madat Online’ who collect cheques from different employees from their offices and drop them into various drop-boxes. Now, with the system asking for the credit card number, cheque amount, and such things, this task is no longer so mundane, and might therefore demand that you make the trip yourself.
  2. It hardly takes a second or two to drop off a cheque into a drop-box. As against that, it took almost a minute to complete the transaction on the Cheque Deposit System. I fear that this could lead to queues forming in front of the system and resultant delays for the customer.

I invite readers to comment on whether I have missed out any other advantages and disadvantages of this system. I also solicit readers’ opinions on whether the advantages are outweighed by the disadvantages or vice versa.

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Yahoo versus Qihoo — Giants Fight Over Toolbar in China!

Saturday, November 4th, 2006

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Web toolbars are getting hotter!

Yahoo China has spent millions to promote its toolbar. A rival portal, Qihoo, is now using its new anti-spyware program, 360 Safe, to prompt users to uninstall this toolbar. Surely, Yahoo China is not amused and has filed a lawsuit against Qihoo for unfair competition.

Qihoo is founded by Zhou Hongyi, an ex-honcho of Yahoo China, who was reportedly let go from Yahoo China on performance-related reasons. Is there private vendetta at play here? Click here to read the FORTUNE story on this clash of giants over web toolbars.

Click here to visit Free Web Toolbars to download many free toolbars, including the Yahoo Toolbar.

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Job Boards in Blogs

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

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Many people who are not actively looking out for a job may be induced to change if they come across something really interesting. But, how do potential employers reach out to them? Since such people are not actively looking out for jobs, they are not likely to be visiting standard job sites like Monster, Dice or Naukri.com.

JobCoin offers a nice solution.

Its technology enables bloggers to host job boards on their blogs to which potential employers can easily add job posts. With an un-obtrusive job post that can be configured to appear anywhere in the blog post, employers can show a glimpse of a  job opening to blog readers. Even if they are not actively looking out for a change of job, many of these readers might be induced to click on the job post link if it is catchy enough. When they do that, they are presented with the full job details. Sure, even after reaching this page, many readers may not apply for the job, but the recruiter has at least managed to present the job details to people who wouldn’t have otherwise noticed it.

The price for a job post can be decided by the blog owner, with the default figure being 100$ for 30 days. Once a potential employer posts a job, the blogger gets paid 70% of the price and JobCoin keeps 30%. Not a bad deal for the blogger considering he isn’t doing much more than giving away a small piece of real estate (roughly 400 pixels width x 50 pixels height) on his blog. In this manner, JobCoin offers an option to bloggers to monetize their blogs, apart from  the conventional contextual ad-based options like Google AdSense and AdGenta. 

Just to experience the process end-to-end, I signed up with JobCoin.com. After an easy signup process, I could configure a job board on my blog ("Talk of Many Things"). I especially liked the coupon feature using which the blogger can create discount coupons, which he or she can distribute to select recruiters in order to encourage them to try out this novel platform for their recruitment ads. An affiliate company Offshore-Writing.com posted a job on my blog’s job board and reported that the process was easy. They were especially happy to notice that their job post (shown below) went up immediately on the blog as soon as their credit card based payment was successful.

Once I completed the registration, I got a friendly email from JobCoin’s CEO Keith Schacht inquiring me about how easy its setup process was. I shared my candid feedback with him: While it is very easy to obtain the job board HTML code from JobCoin, novice bloggers might find the process of publishing the job board on their blogs quite daunting entirely due to the way blogs operate and due to no fault of JobCoin. From my personal experience with my WordPress-based blog, I can say that the process of finding all about template files and inserting new code into them is not at all straight-forward. Helping the blogger get this step right is critical to the success of JobCoin –  after all, until the blogger manages to insert JobCoin’s HTML code in into his blog template files and re-publish his blog, JobCoin’s job board will not appear on the blog.

I was happy to get an immediate reply back from Kevin acknowledging my feedback. I’m sure JobCoin will do something quickly to address this.

There are a couple more features I’d like to see in JobCoin to improve its functionality and the overall user experience.

First, I find that the job post page has a "washed-out" appearance — at least compared to most eye-catching Web 2.0 websites of today.

I hope JobCoin fixes this issue by providing a couple of attractive templates from which the blogger can choose one. Anyway, this is a cosmetic matter and doesn’t affect the functionality.

Second, I’d like JobCoin to introduce a facility by which the blogger gets to moderate the job posts that are bought on his blog. I know this will take away the immediacy with which job posts appear on the blog, but there is strong case for striking a trade-off between the immediacy factor and the blogger’s privilege to filter out some job ads that he doesn’t want on his blog for whatever reasons best known to him. I believe this feature could play a critical role in the acceptance of JobCoin by the blogging community.

In the overall analysis, I think JobCoin offers a unique value proposition catering to a niche market within the hot space of web-based recruitment advertising, and I see a bright future for it going forward.

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