Tag Archives: technology

calendars for international travel

From my point of view, doing international business is one of the most enjoyable things you can do in a business career. And if you are going to spend around 90,000 hours of your life working, why not have fun.

I said this to someone during the week as I am planning a trip in November to London and Abu Dhabi. Which reminded me that planning the trip isn’t anywhere near as much fun. When I went to put the flights in my diary I realised they started in one time zone and finished in another. Bugger – I hadn’t been using my current setup last time I flew internationally for business. Traditionally I have had an excel spreadsheet showing meeting is each different time zone, and most of my travel was to Asia so it wasn’t a big deal.

But now I keep all my data in the cloud using Google Calendar synced to each of my devices, so I wanted a new solution that would be seamless, minimalist, ubiquitous and most of all, elegant. Frankly, I want my calendaring solution to “just work” no matter where I step off the plane.

Luckily for me though Google & Apple had had a think about this in the free products that I use.

1.  Under the General Settings for my Google Calendar, you can choose an additional time zone to display on the Calendar. This means I have an instant visual comparison of Melbourne and say Abu Dhabi. When I am talking to someone teeing up meetings, I can see their local time.

Timezones

 

2.  When creating a new event entry in you Google Calendar, you can set a separate time zone for the beginning of an event and the end of event. This means that correct elapsed time will show for a flight, and I don’t have to deal with timezone weirdness in my calendar. Especially if I arrive yesterday.

Event Time Zone

3.  Under the Google Calendar settings, you can then swap the displayed time zones for your calendar. Which means my meeting which is currently displayed as happening at 1:30am Melbourne time, jumps up to 2:30pm in the afternoon London time.

Swap

4.  My Google Calendar syncs with my iPhone and every other device I have. Fortunately Apple’s iPhone supports multiple time zone attributes for events and therefore everything sycs and works the way it should. Under “Settings | Mail, Contact & Calendars | Time Zone Support” I can change my phone to make it think its operating in a different time zone. Any meetings I create whilst the phone is set to that time zone, will also be reflected in the correct time zone back in my Google Calendar. This means that when I step off the plane in London & Abu Dhabi, I change my time zone in the phone, and everything looks normal. Lunch is happening at lunch time.

Iphone Timesone

Be the way my friend who travels internationally far me frequently than me says the whole time zone issue does her head in, so when planning a trip, she adds plenty of slack because she assumes she will make mistakes. So I thought I’d share my solution with her, and write up my notes in-case anyone else feels that way.

The reality of online retail in Australia

Not good enough!

I read today that Myer intends to do away with shipping and handling costs for its online store, to stop the leak to internet shopping.   Apparently “Commonwealth Bank estimates that Australian consumers spent $9.5 billion online last year, with $4.2 billion going to overseas online retailers and the remaining $5.3 billion paid to domestic retailers.”

MyerCompeting on price isn’t going to work,  as the competition is always going to roll you.  Here’s a real example.

This week I had my quarterly breakfast meeting with Scott Kilmartin of haul.  haul is a highly successful  multi channel retailer that upcycles advertising billboards into laptop bags, ipad cases and promotional products for companies from their materials.   Scott and I get together regularly to dissect each others business and offer impartial advice.  I value Scott’s insight into retail trends  as he is a keen watcher of players in the market, a keen reader of analysis of retail trends and has bags of experience (excuse the pun).

Scott conducted a couple of experiments this week that have got him worried.  He purchased two items off eBay that were direct shipped out of  China.  The first was a black sweater, XXL size, and in his words  “well made, no loose threads or rough sewing/joins. It could be from Country Road”.  The total cost AUD$9.90 including shipping – But retailing in Australia for around $89.95.  The second item was a fake leather iPad case, for AUD$10.45 – Retailing in Australia for around $49.95.  Both were delivered in 10 days in an Australia Post eParcel box.   Note Scott’s rate to send an empty eParcel box from Carlton to Fitzroy is a whopping $7.65 at the 1,000-5000 pieces a year contract rate.

So can Myer & big retail compete on:
Price? Not a chance.
Quality? Nope, goods are coming from the same factories.
Delivery Speed? Perhaps if they lift their game.  7 days deliver from local stocks is slow when you can get something from China in 10 days.
Risk of Fraud? Absolutely.  The is much lower risk  buying from an Australian retailer – so a fear campaign could work well.
Impact of Fraud? Nope.   Almost everyone I know is happy to trial an order or two and write off the $10 if it doesn’t work.
Range?
Nope.  Australian retailers can’t afford to stock all shapes and sizes  – as most men in their 40s find out when they go to buy jeans.

The conundrum retailers face is old though, just not in retail.  On a number of occasions, businesses I have worked for have had an agency for wholesaling electrical products that we practically built the market for.  And when our sales were strong enough, the manufacturer decided to directly step into the market and we just couldn’t compete.  This always happens.

The solution though is not to compete on price, but to endlessly innovate and provide superior customer service.

Cutting costs and competing on price only is a death spiral.  Always has been, always will be.

saving your job with data visualisation

Most Churchill Club events start with an idea, something I have noticed that then sits in the back of my head weeks, months or years until I understand how it “fits” as a good event.

An example of this is data visualisation, or the way that complexity is being represented as an accessible visual medium. Occasionally I get flicked funny bits and pieces such as a pie chart which represents how much of a pie chart looks like a Pac Man (possibly the funniest pie chart joke ever) however there is a lot more serious use going on. For example:

Information Maps – Such as the roadmap of trends and technology from NowAndNext

Displaying Data – Such as this wonderful display of scientific evidence for popular health supplements from Information is Beautiful.

Displaying Concepts – Such as this representation of Capitalism from Speldwright.

Interpreting Data – Such as this image on understanding how the sexes perceive colours by GraphJam

Displaying Connections – such as this representation of word usage and flow in poetry.

And this is just the start. Word clouds are now common place and most blogging software has components that can automatically generate them for you. There is also some great merging of domains such as this execution of psychology, cartooning and animation by RSA Animate and Dan Pink on Youtube.

In this new world of data visualisation there are no rules – just a marrying of analytical insight and creativity.

Technological advances have allowed this to happen, with some fabulous tools online for data visualisation as well as in packages. One of my favourite tools is VUE from Tufts University. I regularly use it for mapping out my thoughts.

But what is the driver? I think its an impact of globalisation & technology. If you are a white collar worker doing routine work, you know you are pretty much going to be losing your job at some stage to either a low labour cost country, or your job will be automated. However what is now happening is that the automation trend is creeping up higher the ladder and in many places expert systems and automation are unexpectedly replacing “professional” jobs. Machines such as the Autorefractor will replace your average Optometrist, 3D printing will replace some engineering jobs and tools for automatically building websites are now legion.

The only defence against losing your job is to start innovating, start being creative. I think this is the major driver in the interest of data visualisation as well as interest in topics such as design thinking as a business tool. Perhaps the Churchill Club event isn’t on data visualisation, perhaps its actually about the rape & pillage of ideas and methodologies from the design world.

Event Report – The 3D Printing Opportunity 17 Mar 11

My Event Report from the 3D Printing Opportunity 17-Mar-11

with

Andy Gelme – President, Connected Community Hackerspace
Travis Hardy – Market Development Manager, Formero
Milan Brandt – Professor of Advanced Manufacturing at RMIT University
Anthony Lele – Leaderof the Structured Ideation Process, Invetech

What is it all about?

At its simplest 3D printing could be described as using a printer to squirt plastic or metal in layers, building up an object in 3D. In reality though, Its one of a variety of accretive (adding stuff, rather than grinding it away etc) manufacturing techniques that first started to appear in the 70’s, but has gained recent attention due to reductions in cost and improvements in performance.

3D Printing means → You don’t need to spend $20-$30K on manufacturing a tool if you only want to do a short run or prototype. If you wanted 1 Million plastic cases, it is much cheaper and quicker to use an injection molding machine with appropriate tools. If you only wanted 200 though, 3D printing is the better option.

3D Printing is one of the rapid manufacturing technologies (which means no tooling is required in the manufacturing path). Rapid Manufacturing is generally suited to low quantity, high value manufacturing. There are competitors to 3D printing such as Selective Laser molding that meld powder layers to create complex, high quality objects that would be impossible to build any other way, such as a sphere within a void, within a sphere.

3D printing works with Metals and Polymers. Build time for small objects can be as little as two hours in a commercial environment, 25 minutes in a hobbyist envirnment.

There are a number of steps in turning a product idea into a 3d model, most of which are about digital manipulation:

  1. Create a 3D Model (Using proprietary software – or cheap/free software such as Blender Google Sketchup or Solidworks, or even use a 3D scanner to create a model).
  2. Convert your digital model into an STL file (built up from little triangles, without other attributes).
  3. Convert the STL file into 2D layers for printing (using a proprietary programme or software like Skeinforge).
  4. Your design is then passed as instructions to the firmware in the printer.
  5. The printer builds your object.
  6. The object is finished off.

What’s happening at the commercial end of the market

3D printing is no longer just a niche business in the manufacturing world, although it can drop the cost of a prototype from $30,0000 to a couple of $1,000
It is sensational for market testing. For instance Microsoft can create 20 different designs for its next Xbox and market test them before tooling up for a large scale production run.

  • Architects are using 3D Printing to create visual aids.
  • Dentists are creating bespoke dentures quickly
  • The medical implants community are now heavy users – there was around 12,000 different parts being manufactured in 2005, by 2009 there was 25,000 different parts being produced due to 3D printing.
  • Mechanics can use 3D printers to make rare spare parts.

Resolutions are improving all the time. Formero sells a machine that will do 16 microns, and in the Lab they are creating 4 micron machines. Current prices in the commercial world are:

  • A Selective Laser Melting Machine is currently worth around $1M
  • A Connex Digital Printer is around $300K
  • A Digital Scanner is around $500K

What’s happening at the consumer end of market?

Organisations such as Hackerspace are complimentary to the commercial end of the market. Its not full of hobbyists so much, but technologists running their own businesses who are exploring, learning and sharing in a non-competitive and normally open source environment. They tend to be first on the block to build machines such as the:

  • Reprap – the concept is an opensource printer that can build itself and costing around $1,000. RepRap was founded in 2005 by Dr Adrian Bowyer, a Senior Lecturer in mechanical engineering at the University of Bath.
  • fab@Home is another example of home 3d printers – it is currently being used to print food by one groups of experimenter.
  • Makerbot – a $1,000 3D printer that with sales of 3,500 is estimated to represent 10% of all 3D printers in existence.

These consumer level printers are allowing artists and inventors to explore what they can be used for.

Pairing a Makerbot with a $200 Microsoft Kinect (3D scanner) means that artists can experiment and do things such as creating ice cube trays of friends faces.

To create a working whistle on a Makerbot takes roughly 26mins with a printing resolution of 0.3mm

So what about the Medical industry?

We are getting older and more expensive to maintain. The demand for replacement organs has doubled, but supply hasn’t increased. We can’t regrow broken bits yet (note a first trimester fetus can regrow a finger, and infants can regrow a finger tip) So the concept of creating replacement body parts came into being (first talked about it 1937).

3D printers were originally though of as being useful to build structures to grow tissue on such as a bespoke cage to grow breast tissue on. However it was soon realised that they were an enabling technology for actually printing organic material. Printing arteries can happen right now (Invetech created this) and printing kidneys has been demo’d in the USA.

Issues

  • Growing cells outside the body and putting them back inside is hard.
  • Some cells are a lot harder to grow than others, eg liver and brains.
  • Tissue needs to grow with you – especially if implanted into a child.

A big question is – can we print in situ – ie directly into the area where bio materials are missing?

  • We need to do this very quickly then.
  • We need multidisciplinary teams to make this happen – eg mechatronics, cellular biology

Business Models

The rapid prototyping or manufacturing business model has been around for some time and is simply getting better, cheaper and quicker – but new models are appearing and being forecasted.

  • Individual World of Warcraft figures being transformed from digital creations to 3D creations, when purchased by the owner – 3D printing then mounted inside a glass jar.
  • Customising prosthesis and implants is accelerating the medical take-up.
  • Shapeways – An online 3D printing service (subsidised by Philips Electronics Incubator) is doing great business, if albeit unprofitable at this stage.
  • There is a need to create hybrid connectors – connecting common objects to rare objects such as mounting a common phone onto an old dashboard.
  • For businesses such as Zazzle that do bespoke printing on items such as T-Shirts, iPhone holders and Mugs, its the natural next step.
  • The SNAP printing model will appear with 3D printing and other “maker” solutions.
  • Businesses such as Fab@Home and Makerbot are profitable selling 3D printers and kits.
  • Glasses frames being printed, but not the actual lenses as yet.

Where is it going?

At the top end of the market – the price half life is now two years. Eg Eg $200K machine two years ago is now $100K.

At the bottom end of the market – innovations are doubling every two years. Eg Printer resolution goes from 1mm to 0.5mm.

There are organisations that are now effectively printing concrete and a group in britain that is working on printing houses.

Will there be a 3d printer in every house? Maybe not but certainly in poor communities in third world countries there will be enormous value in having a “maker” with a printer that can print out spare parts to conduct repairs.

Ceramics are on the path, although not being printed effectively as yet.

Plastic for printers is cheap = roughly $30 for 10kg.

Is it important to Australia?

HP obviously thinks so, as they have just invested in a number of 3D printing companies. The atom might not be the new bit yet, but its exciting.

In Australia there are 1M people employed in manufacturing, a sector that accounts for $37B in exports a year. Melbourne was historically the advanced manufacturing centre of Australia – Fishermens Bend was the place, and it even had its own airfield.

Thrre is a future in manufacturing but its about knowledge rich practice – creating textiles and products out of composites that exhibit new attributes. Not simply doing the 3D printing as the machine now contains the smarts so it can be located anywhere, even China.

RMIT has created an Advanced Manufacturing Precinct, focusing on Medical, Dental, Aerospace and Automotive.

From 7th June to 11June – The Pacific Additive Manufacturing Forum is on in Melbourne www.pamf.org.au

– end –

3 low tech solutions to managing IT

When my wife first became pregnant, a much older colleague from Fuel Marketing said to me with a wry smile on his face“I suggest you invest in yellow and red plastic”. I thought he was demented, but he wasn’t of course. It turns out he was talking about the way small plastic toys seem to breed in your house once you have kids.

So over the holidays, we had our annual tidy up in the kids rooms, throwing our vast number of unrecognisable pieces of yellow and red plastic. Unfortunately. my wife also directed that my study had to been cleaned up :( She didn’t feel that some of my filing solutions, specifically the towers of paper, were much chop and were in fact devaluing our property. My 101 gadgets were good though.

Being a technologist most of my life, I’ve had to develop a number of low tech solutions for managing all my stuff because I don’t have infinite amounts of storage space and I don’t like to chuck things out. So here are my three top low tech solutions for managing your technology at home, or in the office..

Zip Lock Plastic Bags

Many mums purchase zip lock plastic bags for putting sandwiches in. However what you probably haven’t noticed is that these bags come in sizes up to around A4 at the supermarket. They are fantastic items for storing things in. They are clear, so its easy to find things. They collapse, so you can pack more of them into a cupboard or shelf. They are waterproof, which is handy when things go bad with your coffee cup. I have tonnes of them. Note you will never have to untangle a knotted ball of cables again if you have each cable in its own bag!

Generally when I get some new gadget, I rip off a flat panel from the box with relevant codes and stuff and then stick any bits I am not using in a ziplock plastic bag.

Labeller

I have one of those little Dymo strip labellers at home that I regularly use. The most common use is to name the plugs of the powercords of each device. Under my desk I have powercords for the computer, monitor, printer, fax, modem, ipad charger, ipod charger and some speakers. When your under the desk in the dark, it is somewhat reassuring to know you are pulling out the right plug.

I used to put the label down on the plug, but now I put the label wrapped around the cord a bit higher up as it makes it easier to see when there are lots of plugs jammed into a powerboard together.

Cable Ties

Many computer shops sell fancy cladding to wrap aound the cables coming out of the back of the computer and make them look neat. The problem with this is that its a hideously expensive solution for what it is, its a pain to get your cables inside , and you are for ever having to change things. I much prefer cable ties. They are cheap as chips, I have a pack of 100 I bought at a fete somewhere, and can be easily cut off and discarded when you want to make a change, Tehran than unravelling things.

So my study is all squeaky clean again, ready to be turned into a bomb site over the course of 2011. Thinking about it, I should have probably invested in black and dark grey plastic before choosing a career in technology.

eBook Reader V’s Tablet

On the weekend I was having a chat by the pool with a friend of mine who is an executive producer at Channel 9. We see each other every week as the kids have swimming lessons at the same time. Last week she was thinking about Christmas presents for the kids as well as specifically thinking about what she wanted.

She had decided to give almost all the books away that she owns at the school fete, and instead get herself something to read electronic books as she spends a bit of time on planes. The question was”does she go for a tablet computer like an iPad, or an eBook reader like a Kindle?” She wanted my advice, not on brands, but on which format would suit her best. Since others are likely to be making a similar decision this Christmas, I thought I’d share some thoughts.

The eBook Reader

The upside

  • They are cheap (AUD$100-$300).
  • They are lightweight (300gm-600gm).
  • They use very little power (will run 10-14 days between charges).
  • You don’t care what the operating system is, only what eBook formats they can read.
  • The electronic ink format is still comfortable to read in bright sunlight.

The downside:

  • They are pretty much only useful for reading books and listening to music.

The Tablet Computer

The upside

  • You can read books, listen to music, watch movies, surf the internet, send email, update facebook, make phone calls and run hundreds of thousands of applications.

The downside:

  • They are more expensive (AUD$200-$1,000).
  • They are heavier (iPad with 3G weighs 750gm).
  • They need to be recharged everyday if you are using them heavily.
  • The operating system you choose (Apple iPad, Google Android, Windows, others). determines which applications you can use.
  • They are a waste of time in bright sunlight, especially when covered with finger prints.

Her decision was that an eBook reader was probably best. She based this on the fact that they are cheap, so if its a mistake its not a big deal if she has made a mistake. When she decides she wants more, she will then upgrade to a tablet. Within the next 6 months there will be apparently 80 new tablet launches so there will a lot more value around features available and a lot of price competition downstream.

Since I don’t use the iPad for reading books (I like paperbacks) the tablet makes sense for me. It gets mostly used for surfing the net, email and the kids watching movies on long car trips. However I have got my eye on the Notion Ink’s Adam tablet which is due out in the US by Christmas. Its a highly spec’d Android based tablet which will utilise Pixel Qi’s screen technology which can be run in full colour mode or a low power electronic ink mode. Effectively the best of both worlds!

My very own hotspot

During the school holidays I went down to the Morning Peninsula and spent time entertaining the children.  I managed to get a kite up in the air for around 20 minutes, so I felt completely validated as a parent.

While I was away I still managed to get a bit done courtesy of a small device I purchased, which I must say I thought was fabulous.  Its a Netcomm 3G Wireless Router.  About the size of a small stack of business cards card its a wireless access point and 3G router in a portable device.  What it meant to me was that I had my own wireless hotspot that I could use at home or at a cafe.  I could also access the internet using my notebook and my iPad at the same time.

I purchased a plan from Optus giving me 2Gb of data for $20 a month.  So far I haven’t blown this despite the fact I have spent a spare bit of time web surfing and pulling down emails with attachments, but not watching videos though.  The speed was of course slower than what I was used to, but seemed to depend on where I placed the device in the house.  I Also liked the fact that I could put these charges on my Optus mobile phone bill, and not generate extra paper.  However in hindsight if I keep going to the country, I should probably switch over to a Telstra account as they appear to have better coverage in regional areas I like such as Warrnambool and Lakes Entrance.

It also come in a bit handy when I overnight in Sydney.  It galls me to pay $26 for 24hours internet access in my hotel room, when I I want is to quickly check my email.

Setting up was really easy, other than having to know the name of the network I was trying to attach myself to.  Unfortunately Optus had more than one option and because it was slow to change itself, I became quickly confused when everything I tried, and I’ll admit a little impatiently, didn’t work.

At $299 it was a little pricey, but I would expect that to come down a bit as soon as it has competitors in the market place.

The kids loved it to as a lot of the games they pay on the iPad require internet connections and stand alone games just don’t seem to cut it for them.  All in all I’d give it an 8 out of 10 as a handy gadget.

Event Report – Smart Clothing

From the Churchill Club event on the 14th May 2009

Australian swimmers were the first to use the ultra low friction swimsuits that are now common attire.  Sensors woven into clothing can communicate the heart rate of the elderly.  Remote sensors such as accelerometers and environmental monitors can be picked up for as little as $20 and integrated into Twitter with two lines of code. All this and much more has been promised for a number of years, so when will our suits have bio monitors and respond to how we feel?

Two questions were put to two experts in the area of smart clothing.  What’s happening, and where are the opportunities?

Our panel was:
Andy Gelme – Director of Geekscape
Dr Richard Helmer – Theme Leader: Advancing Human Performance,  CSIRO

Moderator
Brendan Lewis – The Churchill Club Ltd

Where are we at?
Electricity can now be run through textiles using conductive thread either sewn in, or as part of the the fabric.  This means that power sources and devices can now be directly incorporated into clothing.

Smart Clothing can sense the shape of the body at any particular time through flexible resistor strips, and where it is in space through incorporation of a GPS chip.  It can also monitor your immediate environment using remote sensors such as:

Event Report – The Future of Search

From the Churchill Club Event on the 16th April 2009

A great evening on trends in search online, asking questions around “are search engines still effective” and “where is the money being made tomorrow”?

Our panel was:
Angela Beesley Starling – Chair of the Wikipedia foundation, Co-founder and vice-president of Wikia
Alan Long – Research Director, Asia Pacific for Hitwise
Tim Giles – Director, Sagital Media

The evening was moderated by Brendan Lewis, Chair of the Churchill Club.

The Mega trends around Search Engines
Search is becoming more complex as users are entering in longer and longer search terms to find more specific information (think “cheap flights Melbourne Brisbane”, rather than just “Cheap Flights”).

This tends to indicate users are embracing the long tail, ie less prepared to accept generic results.  Which creates a problem for Search Engines as their current algorythms tend to promote sites with lots of links, which is not necessarily what users are looking for.

Human intervention is desired to make sense of the overwhelming masses of information, however crowd sourced search doesn’t seemed to have worked though.  Wikia had to close down its Wiki Search and Google’s Search Wiki, hasn’t had mass appeal.

But Websites with human filtering are on the increase.  Filtered video websites such as Wonder How To? for instructional videos or Political IQ for politics are becoming more popular than simply searching Youtube.  Wiki Answers after 3 months was getting 10 x more visitors than Wiki Search after 2 years.

So what do Companies need to think about?

32.4% of visits to Australian websites are from search engines ( of which 95% are from organic search results, not paid links in search results).  This means that Search Engine Optimisation should be a much higher priority than just buying the right adwords.

Social Networks (Facebook, MySpace and the like) generate another 11.6 % of traffic to Australian websites so they shouldn’t be forgotten as the next highest source of traffic.

It should also be remembered that Search Engines are driven by the best way of monetising their search results, which is slightly different from actually giving the best results.   Therefore its possible that anything improves profitability by skewing results could be implemented (remember its all black box stuff).

Because of this “increasing long tail” of search, organisations should be looking much more closely at their cost of acquisition and be careful of their adword and SOE spends. Budget could well be put to better use optimising content for being picked up in a small number of Organic Searches.

Companies should also remember that just because the world wide search for “widgets” may be 1 million users, they may only obtain sales from Australian searches which could be a fraction of the former.  I.e. The internet may be global but your customers are still local.  Don’t get suckered into big spends.

Well what are Users up to?
Search engine’s are still the number one tool on the internet.  Last year Australian’s went to search engines 12.5 times for every 100 pages visited.  In NZ this rate is 12.2% and in the US this is 9.4%.

Traditional search engine use is becoming a more complex landscape.  Search terms are becoming longer, but the chance of having a successful search(clicking on a link rather than re-searching) is reducing.  Last week Australians entered 3.6 M phrases into search engines.

The length of the search term is increasing as users become more sophisticated.  Last year, use of search terms of:

  • 5 words increased by 7.5%
  • 6 words  increased by  10.5%
  • 7 words  increased by  14%


The top ten words searched for by Australian’s last year were all brands (Facebook was no 1 in Australia) and Whitepages was the only traditional brand in the top ten.  In fact you had to go down 23 places before you got a non-brand search term.

Where are the emerging opportunities?
Interestingly, two new (complimentary not replacement ) search areas were discussed, both with different ways of monetising the results

  • Realtime Search – Many organisations are now  monitoring real time conversations on platforms such as Twitter and dropping in to offer recommendations when their search terms are matched.   They are also monitoring conversations to understand trends and context when their search terms are used.
  • Non Text Search – Shazam is a iPhone application that searches for details on songs it hears.  When the song is identified, the user is offered the option to purchase the song at the iStore, and it actually works really well.  Apple is leading the way when it comes to monetising non-text based search.

Got your name right

This morning when I was driving to work, minding my own business and listening to the radio, two things occurred to me. First, I have become old, because I find listening to talkback much more interesting than music. Second, there was something seriously wrong about the vehicle in front of me.

The van in front had some signwriting on the back about being a private investigator. But this wasn’t what was wrong; it was the email address.

Now, note I have changed the exact email address (to protect the owner) but not the thrust of it.

The email address was astraltravel@hotmail.com. There are two things wrong here.

Firstly the astraltravel bit. How can I take anyone seriously when they have an email address that indicates they are into astral travel? By the way, that also goes for “metaphysics”, “bionic” and “alienabduction”, all of which I have seen in a business context.

The second thing was the domain “hotmail.com”. That domain name tells me that the person isn’t overly computer literate and is so tight that they would prefer to use a free service, from Microsoft rather than develop their own brand online.

So what makes a good email address?

I would strongly suggest you get your own domain name, for four reasons:

  • They are very cheap, with a .com.au name available for as little as $27.95 for two years.
  • They allow you to extend your brand online.
  • They’re portable so you don’t have to change your email address every time you change ISPs.
  • They are flexible and there is a lot you can do with them. But I will get into that later.

I would also suggest that you think about what mailbox names you use (generally speaking, the part of the email address before the @ symbol).

Here it’s a bit of a tradeoff. Large companies tend to use full names, because they need so many different mail boxes; eg, brendan.lewis@

Smaller companies tend to use first letter and surname e.g. blewis or lewisb. Companies that haven’t thought about their online brand tend to use nicknames as the mailbox name, such as lewy, davo or macca. The tradeoff of, is transparency vs simplicity. “brendan.lewis” is a much more obvious mailbox name than just “bl”, however the more letters mean more chance of making a typo.

Choosing a consistent format for email addresses is a double-edged sword, though. Consistency allows me to guess your email address from knowing your name, and the email address of someone else inside your organisation. If I lose your email address, it is easy to guess. But if I haven’t got your email address and want to send you an offer, I can also guess.

In regards to the flexibility that comes with owning your own domain name, here are a couple of ideas.

I can block email that comes to my domain, but not to a specific email address, such as emails to kjhsgydfkjgf@l2i.com.au. This is useful for stopping spam.

I can forward all email that comes to my domain, but not to a correct email address, such as berndan.lweis@l2i.com.au, to one mail box – a kind of catchall for when people make spelling errors when typing in my email address.

I can setup a whole lot of email addresses that forward email to my mailbox, such as sales@l2i.com.au, accounts@l2i.com.au or feedback@l2i.com.au.

This can make my organisation look bigger. I can setup a whole lot of address that forward email to people who have mailboxes inside my organisation. For example, sales@l2i.com.au forwards email to john.smith@l2i.com.au. This way, I would not have to notify everyone and change all my literature and website if John Smith moves on.

I can setup sub-domains for mailboxes belonging to a different office – sales@melbourne.l2i.com.au, sales@sydney.l2i.com.au, sales@queensland.l2i.com.au. This allows me to have each office get their email from a local computer.

I have my email hosted by an organisation called Bluehost in the US. It costs me about $100 a year for the service (The service has actually a whole lot of other things going on for the $100, including up to five websites hosted).

Bluehost has a website-based control panel that I can use to implement any of the ideas above, at no extra charge. I can suck my emails down into Microsoft Outlook, or can check my email from an internet café, whilst overseas, just like Hotmail. I should add that I don’t necessarily recommend Blue Host, they were just the right service for me, with my skill level.

So, my advice to the private investigator is to get himself a serious domain name and set up some serious email addresses. I wonder how much more business he would get from enquiries@national-investigations.com.au, compared to astraltravel@hotmail.com.