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Worth a click

A terrific post on how to write stuff worth reading.

A nicely laid out (always use landscape for ebooks) ebook about ideas that spread.

A different way to do pricing online, starting to realize the vision that the Internet is not just an expensive cash register.

A different way to think about your site’s help page.

And finally, a clever idea about interacting with customers, particularly for b2b sellers.

Bar graphs vs. Pie charts


The bar graph is read left to right and seems to imply something about the declining relevance of Billygoats (even though close inspection shows that we expect high growth in billygoats next year). There’s data here, but no information.

The pie chart contains far less data, but the point is obvious: Trolls are where we should focus our energy.

That’s why you use it. It makes an obvious point and leaves no real room for discussion. I think discussions are great, but that’s not why you are doing a presentation.

I stepped on the toes of many data presentation purists yesterday, so let me reiterate my point to make it crystal clear: In a presentation to non-scientists (or to bored scientists), the purpose of a chart or graph is to make one point, vividly. Tell a story and move on. If you can’t be both vivid and truthful, it doesn’t belong in your presentation. (I can think of dozens of good uses of bar graphs… they’re not forbidden, they’re just overused and misused).



The three laws of great graphs

If you use graphs in your Powerpoint presentations, I hope you’ll follow these three simple principles.

1. One Story
2. No Bar Charts
3. Motion

The only reason (did I mention only) to use a chart in a presentation is to make a point. If you want to prove some deep insight or give people textured data to draw their own conclusions, DON’T put it in a presentation. Put it in a handout. Give them a URL with a spreadsheet at the other end.

No, the reason you put a chart in a presentation is to tell a story. A single story, one story per chart. "Oh," the attendee says, "our costs are going through the roof!" Or, in the case of the picture here, "Oh boy LA and Florida are in big big trouble."

There is no room for nuance here. You don’t have nuance in the other parts of your presentation, and it doesn’t belong here.

If the facts demand nuance, don’t use a graph, because you won’t get nuance, you’ll get confusion.

Bar charts are dramatically overrated, primarily because they’re the first choice in many graphing programs.

The problem with bar charts is that they should either be line/area charts (when graphing a change over time, like unemployment rates) or they should be a simple pie chart (when comparing two or three items at the same scale).

[I know full well that pie charts are not rigorous and often misused. My point is that if you need to show slight differences or many bits of data, you probably don’t want a chart at all.]

The correct use of a bar chart is to show how several items change over a period of time. This, of course, demands nuance.

Here’s the surprising one: You should animate your charts.

It’s simple: create two slides. The first one shows where the data used to be, the second one, on the same axes, shows where it is or where it’s going. Motion.

Establish the first slide. Make your point about your source and its validity. Then press the advance button. Boom.

There are 314 principles for good graphs and charts. But these three laws will take you far.

The limits of meta

Blogging about blogging, writing about writing, documentaries about documentaries, songs about songwriting…

It’s tempting to use a medium to write about the medium.

It works for a while, but there’s a limit. Pretty quickly, you hit a natural ceiling and you won’t be able to go any further. The most obvious trap online: websites that make money by teaching you about making money by using the web.

How to make everyone happy

Greg sent me an article about a bridge in Folsom. $117 million spent, it needs a name.

How about "Johnny Cash"? He’s famous, he made Folsom famous, he’s dead, his daughter said yes, he has fans, they need tourists… you get the idea.

City Council votes 4 to 1 against.

The two key money quotes:

“Why would we promote a prison? We are known for a lot more things than the prison.”

and my favorite:

In regards to the Folsom Lake Crossing name, King said “just about everybody I’ve talked to is happy.”

Here’s the takeaway: If you are willing to satisfy people with good enough, you can make just about everybody happy. If you delight people and create change that lasts, you’re going to offend those that hate change in all its forms. Your choice.

Let me see

Mark Brooks had a Kindle idea which got me thinking:

  1. Let me see the percentage of people who have bought a book and actually finished reading it. (The Kindle knows, right?) Even better, let me see Kindle books that are finished by people who finish books that I finish!
  2. Let me see a map of my town with the location of pedestrian accidents highlighted by color.
  3. Give me a listing of all the houses in my city sorted by (value of house/taxes paid). That would go a long way to bringing equity to the assessment system.
  4. Sort restaurants on Open Table by the percentage of reservations booked by returning diners.
  5. Sort Facebook invitations in order of how many times someone has been unfriended.
  6. Sort credit card offers based on data from Mint or Wesabe… show me the credit cards with the fewest bankruptcies/financial troubles among recipients first.
  7. Sort corporate email by how many people in my company have indicated that a sender is important.
  8. Let me see stocks ranked in order of recent purchases by successful investors.
  9. Let me review bids from builders ranked in order of complaints filed or the length of time between first application for a building permit and finished building.
  10. Let me see potential online dates sorted by how frequently (or infrequently) the person goes on first dates.
  11. Sort car models by crash and repair data.
  12. Let me see my salesforce ranked by closing rate or cold call rate or customer satisfaction.
  13. Let me see my inbound call data by hour, sorted by number of rings before answer, or by percentage of calls unanswered.
  14. Let me sort my customer service requests by customer value. (Including loyalty, purchases and referrals).
  15. Let me choose a doctor by malpractice suit rate.
  16. When I watch TV online, recognize the pundit and flash historical accuracy rates on the screen while she talks.
  17. Blank out comments on posts that agree with my point of view.
  18. Highlight the floor of the trade show and let me see which paths are walked the most. Or give me glasses that let me follow in the footsteps of people I admire. Or let me walk on paths no one else is walking on.

I guess I’m talking about passive contributions of public behavior information to traditionally-sorted data.

Wikipedia gets fictional

The biography of George Costanza is five times as long as that of Tim O’Reilly.

As Wikipedia matures, there are hard decisions to be made about depth and breadth. Shouldn’t Tim’s entry be many pages long? He’s one of the great thinkers of our time. If IBM and Jones Soda get entries, why not your brand (or my old summer camp, which was ruthlessly deleted)?

Most serious web users realize that Wikipedia can be edited by anyone. Above the echelon of casual editors are more serious volunteers who set standards, delete articles and argue with each other about what belongs and what doesn’t. There’s an entire cadre of deletionists who want fewer articles of higher quality, while there are others that would choose to embrace the long tail and create a freeer environment. The seeswaw arguments make for entertaining discussion but it can be hard to predict what will happen on any given day.

SEO rewards Wikipedia, and well it should. Most searchers who end up there are pretty happy with that result. But as we get further and further into Googleworld, who decides what’s worthy?

A consistent rule on Wikipedia has been to rely on edited print publications (the mainstream media) as well as physical or unchanging materials (like the DVD of a TV show). This made sense five years ago, but as the world abandons print reference (which Wikipedia largely relies on for verification), are we biasing the entries in favor of Abraham Lincoln (plenty of printed facts available) and TV series characters (we can prove that George worked for Vandalay Industries)?

Another rule has been a taboo on self-promotion (which is smart), but it runs headlong into the issue of completeness and relevance. If you know or like Tim (or me or your company), you’re more likely to invest the effort to write about him. And you’re certainly more likely to have access to the interesting and relevant facts. This rule gets bent all the time, but again, it’s rarely made crystal clear.

There’s no right answer, of course. But "no answer" isn’t an answer either. Not for a site with this much power and this much potential. [I re-edited this post for clarity].

Two seconds

Sometimes, busy people need to remind themselves (and us) how busy they are by shaving off the last two seconds of what would otherwise be a pleasant interaction.

At a restaurant yesterday, the maitre d, who is paid to be busy, looked up our name in the reservations book and then said, "over there against the wall," while he pointed. He repeated this approach with at least three other parties.

How much longer to say, "Welcome, we’ll be ready for you in just a second. Would you mind waiting over there please?" Amazingly, saying that while smiling takes precisely the same amount of time.

I know you’re busy, so I’ll keep this short… if you’re going to interact, spend a few extra beats to be calm and gracious. It’s hard to overstate how much better everyone will feel and how much more productive you’ll become as a result.

Joining the luck parade

Some businesses seem to be really lucky. Some careers, too.

They have good things happen, things that push them along, that change the game in a positive way.

If you think about parades, one thing that’s clear is that marching bands get invited to parades a lot more often than chiropractors do.

Bear with me for a second.

If your goal is to be invited to a parade, it sure helps to be in a marching band. Your chiropractic firm might, just might, be invited to be the grand marshal or something, but in general, it helps to be in a parade-friendly line of work.

Well, just like parades for July 4th or Flag Day, there’s a luck parade. And some organizations are just better suited for this opportunity than others. If your business plan includes the phrase, "and then we luck out," or "and then we become fashionable" or "and then the market embraces this idea," I sure hope you’re organized for that.

There used to be a luck parade in Hollywood, but then too many people showed up and the odds plummeted. A few years ago, there was a luck parade in Silicon Valley, because Sand Hill Road was so eager to hand out venture funding. Today, good fortune seems to be smiling on quirky visions and those willing to self-publish.

Luck isn’t predictable, but it tends to come in packs.

Two simple web businesses

The world needs fixed-price web podiatrists.

Podiatrists, not doctors.

Doctors do surgery and prescribe expensive drugs and stuff. Podiatrists can just make it easier to get around.

So, a pretty smart web-savvy person could have a checklist of fifty items and work her way through a corporate website. She could come back with a simple, easy to execute list of things worth changing:
–put USA above Afghanistan on your country pull down list
–make it so clicking on your logo takes me back to your home page
–the font is too small on this page and it’s hard to read

Low hanging fruit, stuff that doesn’t need approval from the CEO to fix. Maddening idiosyncracies, worth the few minutes it takes to fix them.

Second gig: Web analytics pro. Someone who can, for a generous hourly fee, set up analytics for a website and do weekly reports (by email) that are actually useful and actionable.

$200 an hour is totally reasonable for work like this. It’s worth ten times that when it’s done right. We’re talking about optimizing an AdWords campaign that returns millions of dollars in profit.

Of course there are people who already know how to do this. The question is: can it be marketed as an easy thing, a simple sale, a matter of course…

Neither will make you rich. Either might open doors for your next step in life.