A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

What does a Sci-Fi site do when it is taken out by Frankenstorm?

io9 is a Gawker-owned site that covers science fiction and related culture, science, and other geekiness.  In an interesting turn of events, the Hurricane/Super Storm Sandy wiped out the power to the site’s data center.  Thus, the site went down.

It seems kind of fitting that a sci-fi site was blasted off the planet by some freak weather event nicknamed “Frankenstorm.”  That seems much cooler than them saying: “Sandy didn’t like what we said about hurricanes.  Then she knocked out the power to our data center.  She could’ve just left a comment on our site or tweeted her rage…”

In all seriousness, io9 (and its Gawker site siblings) found a decent solution.  Granted, the Gawker people likely freaked out when their data centers went down and their sites were displaying 503 error pages.  However, it is clear that they calmed down and thought of a way to continue despite the situation. The error pages now state what happened and now point people to their back up sites using Tumblr that the staffers set up to continue publishing content while the data center situation is straightened out.


For instance, the io9 503 error page now automatically redirects to the io9 Updates site; its introductory post io9 Has Survived Frankenstorm! states:

Welcome to io9’s emergency space station data center. When storms took out our New York City data center, we had to start broadcasting from low Earth orbit. We’ll be here for as long as it takes for the engineers working planetside to get io9.com back up! Welcome.

This was some smart thinking with a splash of the site’s personality.  I’m sure that Gawker will explore options in geographically distributing their hosting and data center solutions more after this mess all ends to hedge against another Sandy.

As I think about it more… io9 claims to come from the future.  I’m sure that the staffers from the future chose Tumblr to remain compatible with our “vintage” or “retro” (let’s give ourselves credit and not rely upon unhip terms like “obsolete”) technology.  However, if they truly come from the future, why didn’t they see Frankenstorm coming and prepare in advance by using data centers out its path?

Regardless if you and your organization can or cannot anticipate future events that seem straight out of sci-fi, following Gawker’s example won’t hurt if you’re caught in a similar situation.  Hat tip to the peeps at Hubspot for their recent Internet Outage Crash Your Website? The Marketer’s Response Plan post, too.

Obama vs. Romney: Mobile Donation Page Showdown

With the rise of the mobile web making your website work on smartphones and tablets has gone from a “nice to have” to a “must have”.   While it is universal understood at this point to be important, best practices haven’t completely emerged yet as to how best to build for the mobile web.  Speaking generally, there are two common approaches to optimizing a website for mobile:

  1. Implement a responsive design that automatically adjusts the dimensions of the site based on the size of the display window. 
  2. Design and implement a dedicated mobile site.

In an election season defined by a lack of civility, it is unsurprising that the Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have taken opposite approaches to building for mobile.  The Romney campaign has created a mobile-specific website while the Obama team has implemented an ambitious responsive design

When I noticed this a few weeks ago I got really excited and began writing a blog post using the Romney and Obama websites as a jumping off point for a discussion of the merits of the two approaches.  As I was doing research I came across this incredible post by Brad Frost on the topic.  His post is far more thorough than the one I was planning to write, so, humbled, I scrapped my piece. 

However, his post didn’t cover one thing near and dear to my heart: donation pages.  So as a supplement to Brad’s post (which you should go read), I’m going to take a quick look at the mobile donation pages on the two candidate sites.  Here are the candidate’s pages, side-by-side.

To start off, I think both campaigns have done well here.  These are well designed pages that I suspect enjoy good conversion rates.  Some specific observations:

  • In the header area I like that the Obama team has removed all site navigation elements other than the account information.  All distractions have been removed.  All the user has to focus on is filling out the form.  If I were the Romney campaign I would remove the social sharing options. You want users to donate, not update Twitter.  Encourage people to share after they make the donation.
  • Team Obama has included some intro text and a photo on the donation page, while the Romney campaign focuses on getting users into the form process as quickly as possible.  I’m torn here.  I know from desktop testing that pages with good photography and messaging enjoy higher conversion rates than pages without.  But on a smartphone my instinct would be to minimize scrolling and get users to the form as quickly as possible. 
  • I like that both campaigns have touch friendly interfaces for choosing donation amounts.  Interestingly, the Obama campaign’s max pre-selected donation option is $1,000 while the Romney campaign goes all the way up to $5,000. 
  • I think the layout of the form itself is superior on the Obama site. The Obama form uses large fonts and form fields, making everything really easy to see on a mobile phone.  The fonts on the Romney form are a little too small and the spacing of the elements are a little too tight.  From a usability perspective the Obama form is better.
  • On the plus side for Romney, his form is more compact and requires less scrolling from beginning to end.
  • Like the rest of the site, the Obama donation page is responsive and looks completely different on desktops than mobile phones.  Indeed, the desktop version of the form is a four stop process while the mobile version is simplified down to a one step form.  As a developer I really appreciate the degree of difficulty here.  I’m positive that getting the page to work this well was a time consuming and challenging endeavor. 
  • According to Mobitest, both pages load in around 10 seconds on an iPhone 4.  However, the Romney page is 446 kb versus 266 kb for the Obama page. 

Overall, I would give the slight edge to the Obama form simply because it is easier to read.  Post election, it will be interesting to see if campaigns release mobile donation data.  I’m interested to find out how much was raised on the various devices and to see if Republican or Democratic voters are more likely to give via mobile device.

Four Reasons App Developers Build for Apple Before Android

Over the last few years Android and Apple have come to dominate the smartphone market.  A recent comScore report found that 85% of mobile devices run on either Android (52.5%) or Apple’s iOS (34.3%).  Blackberry and Windows have seen their market share evaporate over the last few years, and at this point Android and iOS are the only mobile platforms that matter.

Yet despite Android’s  52.5% to 34.3% market share lead over Apple, nearly all app developers you talk to recommend building for iOS if you have to choose between the two platforms.  Why?

(1) Developing for Android is more complicated, and thus more expensive than building for Apple.

Since iOS only runs on Apple products, there are a relatively small number of devices you have to account for (iPhones, iPads and iPods). In contrast, there are an estimated 3,997 distinct Android devices produced by 600 brands. Screen sizes vary widely among these Android devices. This diversity makes it difficult to build something that will provide a good experience on all phones.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that Android users are much less likely to keep the operating system on their phone up to date than iPhone users. If you develop an app in the latest version of iOS, you can be confident that the vast majority of iPhone users will update and run the app. The same cannot necessarily be said for Android users.

(2) When you build for the iPhone, you are also building for the iPad.

iPhone apps can be run on the iPad.  So by building for iOS you are able to reach both smartphone and tablet users.

(3) Web statistics reinforce the dominance of iOS.

According to recent research, iOS devices are responsible for 65% of all mobile web traffic.  The statistics for the websites we manage show a similar trend.  Over 65% of our mobile traffic comes from Apple devices while only around 26% comes from Android.

While the app market is clearly a different animal, when you see one operating system dominating another to that degree it will impact your app strategy.

(4) Apps built for the iPhone make more money than those built for Android. 

This tidbit from a recent Forbes column sums up the disparity pretty well:

“Distimo, a mobile consulting firm, estimates that the Apple App store generates $5.4M/day for the 200 top-grossing apps while Google generates just $679K for their top-200 grossing apps.  That is almost a 8:1 revenue ratio.”

Further, it is estimated that  92% of mobile purchases are made from iOS devices and 84% of online gaming revenue is generated by iOS devices.

If you are a developer who wants to charge for your app, iOS is the only choice.


The most recent numbers I have seen show Apple with significant leads over Android in total apps (500K to 440K) and total app downloads (25 billion to 10 billion).   Until Android becomes easier to work with and closes the revenue gap significantly, I would expect developers to continue building for Apple first.

Our Media Monitoring and Measurement Process

One of our practice areas here at the Brick Factory is media monitoring and measurement through our product ImpactWatch, so we want to tell you a little bit about how we do things. All of our ImpactWatch work consists of two components. A service offering, comprised of the Media Analysis Team, In-House Developers, and Project Managers, and the ImpactWatch platform itself, the web-based software tool that we use to do the work. The ImpactWatch platform is powerful, and thus, complex. Having the Media Analysis Team to manage all of the articles, the developers to make customizations, and our Project Managers to ring lead it all enables us to offer a complete measurement solution.

Human Media Analysts

Our Media Analysis team is really the core of the service we provide. You just can’t get the same quality of article tagging, de-duplication, and sentiment analysis with purely automated systems, and the qualitative value of your media suffers if you try. Nuances in language used across different industries and media types vary quite a bit, and it’s difficult for automated systems to pick up on those subtleties.

Don’t get me wrong, the ImpactWatch Analysis Team utilizes tools to create all kinds of automation when media pieces come in to the system. But, ultimately, our team of analysts reviews every client article to ensure the accuracy of automation, and to pick up anything the software missed. No search string is perfect, so irrelevant articles will always be coming in. These are all removed from the system by the Analysis Team. Identical articles that come in from multiple sources are all associated with a single primary source so you don’t have to wade through all of the pickups. Finally, each article is analyzed for sentiment toward our client and its competitors.

We know every measurement project and client is different. Our media analysts become subject matter experts in the topics associated with your business, based on a specific protocol that we collaboratively work with you to define.


I told you it was powerful… ImpactWatch has been in development for over a decade, and has been designed from the ground-up to be as responsive to client needs as possible. For instance, most of our clients have distinct business units with unique key messages, initiatives, products, and competitors. These tags are easily modified within each business unit without affecting tracking for the other units. Articles in the database are filtered according to each business unit so that only applicable tags are displayed. This saves time for our Analysis Team which in turn lowers costs.

This customizable system adds flexibility and allows us to add, change or remove tags at any time. In addition to personalizing article tracking, ImpactWatch also allows for virtually unlimited interface modification. The organization and display of news items, trend tracking, graphing and reporting tools reflect the preferences of each client. As a software firm, we also have the resources to add custom modules to the system, ensuring that ImpactWatch adapts to our clients’ workflow.

Qualitative Metrics

If your measurement program is only using quantitative metrics to score your media mentions, that’s fine. Lots of people do it. Straight article volume, circulation, and even Advertising Value Equivalency provide a consistent baseline from which you can measure your media over time. However, we don’t feel that paints an accurate picture of your media posture.

In addition to those metrics we also factor in some fairly easy to gather values that are qualitative.

  • Where was the mention in the article? Headline? First paragraph? Last paragraph?
  • Was the article a full length feature or just a short brief?
  • Were there any quotes from company executives or third-party analysts?
  • Last but not least, was the mention in the article Positive, Negative, or Neutral?

That’s right; if it’s a negative article we actually give it a negative score. Quantitative metrics are all positive additions to your overall score, casting a blind eye on whether or not the mentions about you were actually good ones.

That’s a bit about how we approach media measurement here at the Brick Factory. Let us know what your thoughts are.

Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs

I love a good quote.  When I was in college I kept a list of them in a giant word processing document.  I would drop them pretentiously into my papers, hoping some of the wisdom of others would rub off on my own mediocre writing.

Given that it is no surprise that our Brick Factory website and biographies pages include liberal servings of quotes that we hope help explain our philosophy.

Freddy Trejo from our design team has created accompanying illustrations for some of our favorites quotes for posting to our Facebook page.  I think they are great, so wanted to share a few of them here.  Click on either of the quotes below for a full version of the illustration.

Albert Einstein Steve Jobs