How (and how not) to handle a customer service snafu

I had two separate technical issues this week with web hosts. The first was with Dreamhost, who hosts this blog. They accidentally billed their customers for almost $10 million in extra hosting fees this week. The people who weren't successfully charged had their accounts and websites disabled. It was a pretty big deal. How did they notify people that they totally screwed up? With this joking blog post. That is their normal tone, and it's ok when they do something simple like erase your server accidentally (which has happened to me with them) or oversell their hosting capacity, causing awful performance (constantly happens). But when they try and charge their entire customer base for a whole year's worth of hosting at once? Not really the time for jokes.

Compare that to technical issue number two this week: Intermittent down time this weekend for Tumblr, the awesome blogging service I'm totally in love with. They had trouble because their big hosting provider went down. Even though it wasn't Tumblr's fault at all, they (and by they I mean he, it's basically a one man show) issued this straightforward, sincere apology and even released a new feature as compensation.

I guess it isn't too hard to tell who I am happier with right now.

A prettier NYTimesRiver


Dave Winer created NYTimesRiver, a site that pulls all of the latest headlines from The New York Times and formats them for mobile devices. I think it is a pretty great service, but one thing that has always bugged me is that it has absolutely no styling whatsoever on the page. Early this morning I spent about 15 minutes and made it look like this. I haven't checked it out on other mobile devices, but on my iPhone it looks much nicer, and is easier to read.

I suck at this blogging thing. Also, I have a new blog!

For the past year or so I have been having relatively serious pangs of guilt for not blogging nearly as much as I think I should. It is totally ridiculous, but if you have a blog I'm sure you know exactly what I'm talking about. I think this lack of blog action is due to some sort of combination of the following:

  • Twitter
  • Video games
  • A year-long personal crisis
  • The alignment of the stars
  • Actually enjoying my job (I never realized how much I blogged at work until I switched jobs and didn't need to find a way to fill the day)
  • YouTube
  • Other people writing my thoughts much faster and better than I could
  • George W. Bush

"Laziness" was on there, but I replaced it with George W. Bush. It seems fair. So anyway, back to the guilt about not blogging. I still am totally hot for the internet and really like how blogging kind of documents all the awesome stuff I come across. Over the past year my online activity has been much more centered around documenting stuff, whether it be through my bookmarks, my playlist, or even my screenshots at my super-new project (which you should run and join right now) UXrepublic. This content has been slowly replacing the essay-style traditional blog posts here, and I think it is time to make that switch completely. I am still keeping this blog around for longer-form writing, but I think there will be much more activity at my fancy new "tumblelog", which can be found at

This new blog is powered by Tumblr, which is an amazing new-ish service that you really should check out. It is like blogging without the overhead. I am excited about the possibilities these types of lifestreaming services offer, and have wanted to try one out for a while now. Before I found Tumblr everything I looked at felt either too ugly or too closed. Tumblr seems like the perfect combination of ease-of-use and style. We'll see how it goes.

The music industry: If you aren't completely outraged, you aren't paying attention

I've been thinking a lot about the early 21st century music industry lately. About how an entire industry can fight so hard to resist innovation when historically the very things they fight make them richer than they could imagine. About how an industry that relies so heavily on people using their product to create their own identities can turn around and sue those same customers. About how they can think of suing their customers as an innovative growth market. And especially about how no one in a position to correct these problems seems to care enough to do so. I may have some rather lengthy blog posts about this in the near future, but for now you really should listen to or read this three part report from American Public Media's Marketplace:

  • No pause in music industry's tough play

    "The recording industry has gotten serious about illegal file sharing. In the last four years it has filed thousands of lawsuits. But, as Bob Moon reports in a special series, even those targeted by mistake, like Tanya Andersen, get no reprieve."

  • Free? Illegal? ... What's the difference?

    "Free doesn't always mean legal when you're downloading music. And critics say the recording industry's muddying the waters its spent years in court trying to clear up. Bob Moon reports."

  • Music biz's future rests on key changes

    When it comes to file sharing and illegal downloads, it's the big music labels that complain the loudest about being ripped off. Bob Moon reports on some ideas that might help the recording industry face the musical future.

As a bonus feature, you should also read this fascinating article from the New York Times about Rick Rubin, the legendary producer/label exec who is trying to do something different at Columbia Records.

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Come to the PatternParty

So for the past few months you may have noticed that posting here has pretty much stopped. A fairly large reason for this is because I have been working on a little project that is finally near a point where it is ready to be shared.

If you are involved with designing or building websites, you spend a fair amount of time looking at what other people are doing. And if you are like me you have a bulging folder on your computer stuffed full of screenshots from all these great sources of inspiration. Unorganized and undocumented, this folder is like a black hole where you keep filing screenshots away, hoping you will remember where and why you saved it in six months when you need it again. This seemed like a pretty inefficient way to run things, so I started looking for a better way. Flickr is pretty good, but I don't want to be mixing UI screenshots (that aren't normally of my work) in with my photographs, and it is hard to browse through other people's screenshots. Same for iPhoto and Picassa. Design galleries are nice for browsing through innovative new sites, but they focus mainly on the visual design and most screenshots I take are of a button or a small chunk of page from a boring old site like Yahoo or CNN - not exactly the territory of CSS galleries.

Unsatisfied with the current offerings, I did what anyone would do and started building my own. It's not remotely close to finished yet, but if you have had problems similar to what I've described above I'd love for you to check it out and let me know what you think. And if you are just looking for some interaction design inspiration, have you ever considered using severed monkey arms?

you are invited to the PatternParty

A note about the name and URL: One thing I've learned throughout this process is that I am awful at naming things. PatternParty started as joke, but we haven't found anything better so it seems like that is sticking for the time being. If you have any ideas (really, any at all!), we are all ears The site will also be moving over to this weekend, but the links in this post should redirect just fine when it is time.

The future

This is a fairly technical video about advances in image resizing, but if you work with digital photos at all you will be amazed by this (presumably) mad scientist and his black magic . It's especially crazy at the end when he starts cropping people out of pictures.

The best 7 minutes of television that MTV has ever broadcast

When I saw this in 1993, it changed my life. Seriously.

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A small advantage to the iPhone's Safari-only applications

iPhoneI am as sick of hearing about the iPhone as everyone else not lucky/rich/crazy enough to be getting one today, but as I was trying to wade through the gajillion iPhone related stories in my RSS feeds it occurred to me that finding applications on the iPhone is worlds easier than it is on my Windows Mobile phone. Here's why: When you see an interesting Windows Mobile app (like Google Maps), you can see a screenshot of it in action but you can't really play with it until you download it and install it to your phone. Because it is such a hassle I am a lot less exploratory with mobile stuff than I am with web apps or even desktop software. With Safari based iPhone apps however, you can try out applications right in your browser and get the same experience. I first noticed this when I saw this Flickr photo browser. It's a pretty compelling way to demo software. No downloads, no synching to devices, no hassles. What would it be like if all software was that easy to try?

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Safari for Windows - Why?

SafariEveryone is all abuzz today about the announcement of Apple's web browser Safari moving to Windows. This seems to be an odd move to me. Why would Apple spend all the time and money bringing a product to a market that has all but been tied up by Microsoft for nearly a decade? Ignore the Steve Jobs hyperbole of "we're bringing all of Safari's innovations over to Windows because it is the best browser in the world" (I am a Mac user and can't stand it) and his claims that it is "twice as fast as IE, 1.6 times faster than Firefox 2" (from what those brave enough to try it out are saying, it isn't even close to IE or Firefox speeds), and you are left wondering; what exactly are the reasons for Apple to do this?

The only real credible claim from Steve Jobs' keynote was "We would love for Safari's market share to grow substantially." While Apple really has nothing directly to gain from Safari increasing it's market share from 5%, Mac users sure do. Currently most web developers make sure their sites work in Internet Explorer, then probably Firefox, and then maybe if they have some extra time Safari. The underlying engine that renders pages in Safari is just different enough from IE and Firefox that when you start building rich, AJAX-y web applications it is easy for developers to quickly abandon support for the browser altogether. More often that not the investment required to build for Safari's 5% is just not worth it. So Apple spends all this money acquiring a new customer, then the customer gets home and wonders why the internet doesn't work on their computer. By doing anything they can to increase Safari's market share, Apple hopes that maybe they can get Safari up high enough where web developers will have to think a little harder before dropping support for the default Mac browser.

Now that is a pretty weak reason to release a product, and I don't think Steve Jobs is stupid enough to launch something that offers absolutely no clear advantage over a firmly-entrenched competitor in IE that has 80% market share. Here is my blue-sky plan for Safari on Windows. During the keynote, Jobs mentioned that Safari is the development API for the iPhone. Developers, through Safari, will be able to tie into the core iPhone services like the Address Book, GPS, the camera and iTunes. What if this is a new feature for Safari on Windows and the Mac too? What if a developer builds a really great app for the iPhone that takes advantage of all the hardware and software hooks, and all they have to do to make it web-enabled is to open it in Safari? It's like Adobe AIR or Google Gears on steroids. If a user's (yet to be invented) location-sensitive, video sharing, social networking iPhone app also worked seamlessly with their desktop computer, they would have a very compelling reason to use Safari on Windows.

This is all just speculation of course. In reality, Safari for Windows will probably just be the same boring browser it is on the Mac today. People will unwittingly install it with iTunes and then wonder why the internet looks different after it covertly makes itself the default web browser on their computer.

UPDATE: So it turns out the iPhone will not have GPS, which is more than kind of lame. And after really listening to the keynote it is not so clear to me that iPhone developers can dig into the iPhone's hardware and software at all, which completely negates my sole reason to think the Safari for Windows move has any actual benefits for users.

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Seperated at birth: Barack Obama and

There is a striking similarity between the logos for Barack Obama's campaign and


Given the probable affinity between the two organizations, I wonder if this was an intentional decision by a designer trying to piggyback off the good feelings for another brand, or if there is some unwritten rule that liberal, environmentally conscience people react positively to round logos with a sun, field and sky. Because I definitely fall into that camp, and love the logos. Perhaps this is the left wing version of eagles and crawling terror alert tickers?

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