A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

It's Hard to Sell Something That's Free

A post on ValleyWag recently announced that file-sharing uber-giant BitTorrent would be laying off 12 of its 55 employees.  This accounts for the entire sales and marketing department.  This decision has been made in light of the recent failure of BitTorrent's staff to sell Best Buy its Torrent Entertainment Network for a rumored $15 million.

Since it's only been a year since CEO Doug Walker replaced founder Bram Cohen, it's likely that the entire company may soon be considering a revamp.  After all, Walker commented on making some changes to the store idea last March.

There is speculation that the deal fell through mostly due to the FCC and MPAA's recent crackdown on file sharing.  Outspoken Chairman of HDNet Mark Cuban freshly criticized the MPAA for combating the ‘problem' with prevention instead of promotion (we've all seen those commercials with the hip teens extolling the virtues of not stealing songs).

He claims that movie theaters need to invest in a positive message about the fun of going to the actual theater to watch movies, especially with the ever-growing price of admission.  Author of The Pirates Dilemma Matt Mason agrees with Cuban, saying that theaters should offer a movie-going experience and quality that will never be surpassed by file sharing.

Can you really ever defeat file sharing programs though?  No matter how great the quality and ‘experience', the fact remains that file sharing is free.  And "free" almost always wins.  Unfortunately for them, BitTorrent also recently learned that it's hard to sell something that's free.

Top 5 Best Senate Campaign Website Designs

In putting together the report we released last week, The Use of the Internet by 2008 Senate Campaigns, my co-workers took the time to identify the websites of everyone running for the Senate this year.  Since my co-workers already did the hard part in finding the sites, I figured I’d cruise through the list and pick out my most and least favorites from a design perspective.    Presented below are the best designed homepages of the group, in my opinion.   I’ll write up the worst later in the week. 

(5) Mark Warner (D-VA)

There is no shame in coming in 5th place. My father said that to me after a disappointing 11th place finish in the Pinewood Derby.

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Although there is a hint of Obama-borrowing here, I liked this site for its generous use of white space and logical placement of content/actions. The splash page sign-up is of course a real slap in the face but at least the skip through link is not hidden. My eye goes directly from the (only mildly annoying) logo to the contribute option to the actions. Everything on this homepage is easy to instantly recognize and quick to find (and then dismiss in my case).

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Facebook Gets a Facelift

Announced yesterday on the Facebook blog, the redesign of Facebook has finally arrived. After several delays to the new aesthetic, the developers have finally released the new platform to the masses. More AJAX, tab-centric, and a more versatile API… Here's a quick listing of some personal pros and cons with the new design.

Pros

  1. Tabs! I am a sucker for tabs. They are easy to organize and keep content from becoming cluttered. My biggest complaint when the Facebook team released the API was that too many people's profiles were becoming littered with third-party applications. These apps were visually detracting, and had nothing to do with what I found Facebook to be most useful for (keeping in touch with acquaintences). With the new redesign, one can stick all their scrabble-playing-super-wall-poking ugliness on its own tab and I'll never have to go near it.
  2. More intuitive photo platform. I didn't post a screenshot of my photos tab, but it is a far more intuitive way to access other users' photographs. It borrows heavily from the minimalistic UI of picasa, and now I don't have to go searching through a user's profile for a link to find their albums.
  3. Better use of horizontal space. Facebook finally spread its wings a bit. The redesign makes a much better use of horizontal space, and avoids feeling clausterphobic by combining this new feature with the tabs, mentioned above. The wider limit also allows third-party developers much more freedom when it comes to mapping the UI of their applications, so I expect to see better things than graffiti and super wall.
  4. Improved 'friends' module. With the redesign, the friends module was improved. Now you have a choice as to how many thumbnail pictures to display, as well as designating which ones (there were some third-party applications to have "favorite friends" displayed on the previous facebook design, does anybody know what they were called?) if you would rather permanently display your best friends.
  5. Smart use of AJAX. The AJAX on the new design is both aesthetically pleasing and purpose-driven. The way I like it to be.

Cons

  1. Advertisements in my face. I remember when Facebook had no ads. Then it had text-based ads. Later, they adopted vertical banners. Now, they've put those vertical banners front and center. With the decreased clutter on the pages (which is a good thing!), it leaves the advertisements to stick out like a sore thumb. With the previous design, I found I could largely ignore advertisements if I just pretended they were another annoying application.
  2. More clicks. My preference for tabs aside, the prosecution points out that there is something to be said about having all "crucial" profile information contained on one page. When I need to know if the young lady in my rhetoric and composition class has awful taste in music or not, I have an additional click to consider. Multiply this by lots of young ladies and you're talking about a serious time investment.

Overall, I'm pleased with the new Facebook design. I think it's a step in the right direction, which is a personal first. This new implementation puts the criticisms of previous redesigns into perspective. I'm sure the previous flaws helped shape the success of this release. Anything to add?

Catch some pictures of the redesign after the break.

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WordPress 2.6 Looks Like a Significant Improvement

We just recently finished updating most of the WordPress sites we maintain to WordPress 2.5, so our normal process would be to monitor for security issues and wait a bit before upgrading again.  However, in reviewing the features of WordPress 2.6 we may have to make an exception and upgrade sooner rather than later.  Seriously, it is like they read my mind and added the new features I wanted most.  Specifically:

caption1 (1) WordPress now tracks your revision history, so you can now revert to old versions of your posts should you desire.  This will come in handy.

(2) You can now add captions easily to your images in WordPress.  This feature is already present on the WordPress-driven CNN Political Ticker (see image on right for sample).  (more…)

Footbo.com: Social Networking With a Goal

In light of the ongoing UEFA Euro 2008 football (yes, I mean soccer) tournament – which I must say has been pretty average apart from the Turkey/Czech Republic thriller last weekend – yet another social networking site was launched. The niche? You guessed it, soccer. Or football, or futbol, or footy, whichever you’d like (we aim to please).  So what better time to launch than now? Perhaps the World Cup would be ideal, but I doubt that’s worth pushing the launch back two years. (more…)