Why the web isn't taken seriously

05.09.2010 | Author: Eric Reiss
The Danish appliance retailer, Punkt 1, has just released an ad that sums up the problems of the online industry in 31 seconds and two boobs (or four, depending on how you define "boob").

Summary: Are you confused by the offers for cheap appliances? Look here. Pris = Price (i.e. low price). Prut = Haggle (name your own price). WWW = WWW.

"Confused? I know what you're feeling. Come down to Punkt 1, we make sure you go home with the right product at the right price."

Curiously, after having characterized competing media/techniques as something from a cheap sideshow, Punkt 1 immediately offers vacuum cleaners at a 20% discount (Spar = Save). Uh...and you claim you don't belong to ANY of these groups? Hypocrites! 

But there are three more serious problems. All of them relate to the portrayal of the web as an air-headed bimbo.

First, the clear suggestion is that the web is merely a sexually driven con game, which it certainly is not. Searches on Google for business-to-business and business-to-consumer information now outnumber searches for porn. 

Second, the advertising agency that produced this crap apparently believes this (and the Punkt 1 marketing team bought into this goofy concept). In general, ad agencies steadfastly refuse to accept the dynamics of online communication and do their best to twist electronic media until it looks like print. Sorry, things don't work that way.

Third, the Danish business community continues to ignore the fact that the WWW is now the number one source of business intelligence. Stick that in your marketing mix and smoke it.

Two days ago, I heard from a well-rounded business executive that "we see our website as our subsidiary in cyberspace." Yikes. I wrote this 11 years ago in Practical Information Architecture. This notion has been out of date for at least six years. Today, your website needs to be an integral part of your business plan. Think, are your telephones your subsidiary in the communications infrastructure? Hardly!

Punkt 1, you should be ashamed of yourselves for promoting these various myths. You are harming your business (when I bought my expensive dishwasher a few months ago, I didn't even visit Punkt 1 because your site was so lousy).  By espousing this uninformed attitude, you are actually harming Denmark's GNP (Gross National Product). And I won't even go into the matter of sexism.

Friends of the user-experience community: we will never grow and mature until our potential clients understand that crap like this particular advertisement are ultimately not in anyone's interest.

Punkt 1, for what it cost you to produce this abomination, you could have put together a website that actually built your brand and contributed actively to your bottom line. Rethink your strategy. There is money to be made.

The user experience of hot dog buns

06.08.2010 | Author: Eric Reiss
We're gearing up for our annual FatDUX barbeque. Naturally, hot dogs will be on the menu along with lots of other goodies. The problem is, Danish hot-dog buns don't let you load up with chili, cheese, relish, onions, sauerkraut, and all the other stuff you get on your dog at Nathan's Famous on Coney Island and other hot-dog stands of reknown.

So, as the good user-experience designers we are, we decided to do some user research.

Upon investigation, it turns out that Wikipedia actually has an article about hot-dog buns. Let us share some of the more interesting facts:

"A hot dog bun is a type of soft bun shaped specifically to contain a hot dog. There are two basic types: top-loading, which is popular in New England, and side-loading, preferred in the South and Midwest United States.

The advantages to a top loader are that it holds the hot dog securely and fits nicely into little three-sided paper boxes. Top loaders are generally baked side by side and torn apart as needed, leaving a flat side surface for grilling.

Side loaders tend to be doughier, so are more likely to successfully sop up all the juices from chili or sauerkraut without falling apart."

Now here in Denmark, I've never seen anything except side-loaders (Gosh, who knew there was a technical term for this). That is until yesterday when I discovered the "Grab Dog" form-fitting hot-dog holder from the Danish bakery, Paaskebrød. An innovative solution? Absolutely. But a good solution?

We'll let the photos speak for themselves:

Typical Danish hot dog bun cracks at the hinge when opened.


Grab dog attempts to solve the broken hinge problem


Grab dog attempts to solve the broken hinge problem

The Grab Dog bun. Not easy to toast and fairly dry to begin with.


Grab Dog works OK with standard hot dogs (er, where did these standards come from?


But larger hot dogs cause bun to crack.
User testing at FatDUX. Our Business Development Director, Stine Ringvig, was not pleased with the dried out Grab Dog that quickly fell apart during her lunch.


On-site ethnographic research at our local ecological hot-dog stand.


Dennis shows us how Danish hot dogs are traditionally served.


Danish hot dogs come with the bun on the side, not as a single culinary unit.


Ecological bun from Korvbröds Bagarn in Sweden is delicious and doesn't crack!


Seven ways to waste a TV advertising budget

12.01.2010 | Author: Eric Reiss
Denmark is a small market for advertisers - about 2.2 million households. And with the general cutbacks in advertising budgets due to the financial crisis, the TV channels are hurting. The result is that we're seeing a lot more badly produced ads from companies that have never used television as an advertising medium.

But let's not excuse crappy ads strictly because of low budgets. The fascinating thing is, organizations that can afford decent advertising are spending their money unwisely (i.e. the return is less than the cost). I sometimes think that many advertisers are economizing by bypassing the expensive creative department at their ad agency and going directly to the film producer.

Result? Nice films, lousy messaging. Don't think that "all advertising is good advertising", the Schlitz Brewery, once America's second-largest, actually reported a downturn in sales among people who could remember their advertising.

Here are seven methods guaranteed to deliver unacceptable results.

1. Irritate viewers
For some reason, this is an incredibly popular technique in Denmark right now. It seems advertisers think that if you yell, scream, and do stupid things, people will love your brand/product. Sorry. Most of you are actually suggesting that your brand or product is as stupid and/or irritating as your spokespersons.

My current "favorite" in this category is the jerk who advertises for the food-chain, Spar. I can't find the more absurd ads on YouTube, but this is the one in which his character is introduced. The basic premise is, that this guy loves his supermarket so much that he decides to "help" the store owner by creating absurdly stupid advertising gimmicks. In this case, it's a new version of the Danish birthday song. Even if you don't understand Danish, you can't help but wish this idiot would disappear:

Message: Don't assume that "dumb" is necessarily entertaining. You cannot irritate people into buying anything. And you may get people to actually boycott your brand! (Ariel, I've still not forgiven you for your awful Helle Virkner ads).

2. Overestimate your brand recognition
When you've built a brand, it's easy to convince yourself that the whole world knows what you do. This is dangerous. The following ad is a classic example of this. The production values are high, the story piques ones curiosity (is she Princess Diana?). But unless you know the brand, the advertising is actually useless.

I have much more to say about this, but I would like you to visit their website first and view the ad they're currently showing on CNN and other international channels. This will open in a new window, so when you're done looking at the ad, come back and read on. Do not explore their site (yet):


Go back and click on the link above.


Blank line. Don't read ahead until you've seen the ad.


Another blank line.


Gosh, how many blank lines can we afford? Seems like such a waste...


Right. Now that you've seen the ad, tell me what does this company do? Can you remember the name of the brand? I couldn't. And since the ad airs so infrequently, I didn't get a chance to have the name hammered into my conscious mind. (in the ad biz, we talk about OTS - Opportunities To See).

Because I know Paris, I recognized the Place Vendôme (with Napoleon's copy of Trajan's Column in the middle). In the film, this monument seems to be right next to this shop. But no joy. I even used Google's street view and could not find the red awning. All I could remember from the ad was that the brand name started with an "H" and the bags were red.

Searching for luxury brands didn't help either. I was stuck. (and yes, this had become a slightly obsessive quest at this point)

This was my experience. But perhaps you know this brand. What would your reaction be?

Anyway, if you now return to the Hediard site, you'll find that they sell fine foods. And they're on Place Madeleine, just next to another of Paris' fine food shops, Fauchon. No wonder they mislead with the Place Vendôme reference.

Basically, this ad could have been made much more effective simply by adding some shots of luscious displays within the shop and writing a better narration. It appears, though, that this ad may be an offshoot of an artistic installation produced by Comité Colbert (http://www.ccolbert.fr/), which aims to promote 70 French luxury brands, but doesn't seem to know much about advertising. It also looks like they ripped off a concept developed for the Texas-based photographer, Matthew Mahon, whose site is well known in Flash communities (http://www.matthewmahon.com/).

Message: don't assume everyone knows and loves your brand. Telling a story is good. But telling a story that communicates your brand essence is much, much better.

3. Use ineffective sales arguments
Some arguments work, some don't. Some arguments that used to work no longer do. Car safety, for example, is no longer a brand advantage or product position (e.g. Volvo), it's now a prerequisite for all car manufacturers.

These days, there are a variety of anti-smoking campaigns running. Horror and disgust are often the creative keys. Alas, Jerry Bruckheimer's CSI and Navy CIS feature so many gory, computer-generated journeys through bullet holes and other bodily damage that it's tough to scare or disgust folks these days. Particularly hard-core smokers. We've seen it all before.

The University of Missouri claims that these scare campaigns work (see http://psychcentral.com/news/2008/11/17/scare-or-disgust-work-best-in-anti-smoking-ads/3360.html). But this is not entirely true. Although Napoleon rightly said that fear and self-interest are the two levers with which one can set a man in motion, the scare campaigns are only effective when people have already decided to change their behavior; in fact, the "Smoking Kills" message on cigarette packages has actually created a boomerang effect in some markets and increased the number of smokers - the forbidden-fruit-is-attractive syndrome.

The Danish National Board of Health published an excellent review of the problem back in 2004 (see http://www.sst.dk/publ/div/metodekataloget/skraek_som_virkemiddel.pdf) Alas, it's only in Danish. But Google Translator will help you get the gist.

In short, if you want people to stop smoking, there are more effective ways than scare campaigns. And I speak as a 27-year veteran of the non-filter brigade (Camels, Senior Service). Why do most hard-core smokers finally quit? Because it pegs you as a social loser - the habit is no longer glamorous. It prevents you from getting promotions, it hampers your social life, it makes you stand outside your office building 20 times a day instead of staying inside, exchanging gossip at the water cooler. Most importantly, it signals "stinky and boorish" rather than "suave and sophisticated. Yes. Times change. Check out Allan Carr's Easy Way to stop smoking for a far more effective method.

Message: If you want to effect behavioural change, don't preach to the choir. Moreover, threats only produce short-term results. True long-term behavioral change comes about by providing a positive alternative to the current situation.

4. Practice pseudocreativity
Sometimes lack of brand promise or genuine product/service advantages encourages advertisers to disguise the lack of message (or lack of a creative idea) behind an artsy-fartsy facade. The folks promoting Abu Dhabi are doing this right now.

We see a fellow in native Arab garb piloting a Mercedes through a Middle-Eastern city. The voice-over was written by a wannabe-poet-turned-copywriter: "As night crackles electric, a million promises are held." The effect is hypnotic, but the commercial message is unclear. In fact, there is no brand promise whatsoever.

In the final frame, we see the name, "Abu Dhabi". Alas, this only appears for a second and almost immediately whites out as the "Abu" in the text blends into the desert background.

What does the UAE want me to do? Should I visit this city? Invest? Shoot a feature film? Complain about their crap advertising on a blog?

Here's the clip. Judge for yourself:

Message: Art is fine, but are you out to entertain or communicate? As advertising guru Rosser Reeves once said, "Do you want art, or do you want the goddam sales curve to go up?"

5. Switch media in mid stream
We all know this scenario: we're watching TV and an ad tells us to visit a web address. No other explanation, only a URL. Or we're reading a magazine and a full page ad displays nothing more than a URL.

Big mistake.

Yes, online/offline convergence is critical in any modern media plan. But when I'm sitting comfortably in front of the TV, don't expect me to boot up my laptop - or even write down the web address. Granted, it's reasonable to let me know where I can go for supplemental information (e.g. the web) . But don't make your address your primary message. Make your message your message!

Message: Make every medium self-sufficient when it comes to stating your case and selling your product or service.

6. Upstage your message
If you've got something to say, say it. Make sure it comes across in clear, unmistakable terms. Unfortunately, a lot of advertisers get so wrapped up in the story they're trying to tell that they forget to give us viewers a concrete call to action. They create scenaria that are so fascinating that the message is pushed to the background.

We've already seen how Hediard and Abu Dhabi blew their budget on ineffectual advertising. In both cases, the message was clearly upstaged by high production values and an artsy-fartsy story. But here's another example that takes things in a decidedly lowbrow direction.

The leading Danish telephone service, Teledanmark - TDC - has introduced two characters in their television ads. They are named Klaus and Britta and are nudists (does TDC thinks nudists represent a core market?). The ads are fascinating, primarily because Britta is played by a well-known male Danish comedian. And Klaus is played by a well-known female comedian. Cross-dressing nudists? Hell of a campaign concept. But the rubber suits are fantastic. See for yourself:

Message: Make sure people remember what you're trying to tell them from a branding/product/service point of view. If they remember your commercials, but not your message, you've lost the battle.

7. Rely on spin and lies
No product or service can rely on one-time sales. You can con folks into buying almost anything once, but you won't get them to buy your stuff a second time. Moreover, the service-industry gurus estimate that every time you have a good experience with a company, you tell three people. But if your experience is bad, you'll end up telling 17.

Right now, L'Oreal is being sued by the Swedish Consumer Protection Agency for their smooth presentation of an anti-wrinkle cream. Dan-Sun, a Danish producer of solariums, is being chastised in the press for making health claims that can't really stand the light of day. And almost all of the Danish banks are working hard to tell prospective customers that they are solid, honest, and are willing to extend credit. Incredible...

Message: Don't lie. Good advertisers don't. Only the amateurs really believe "all advertisers lie".

Got a good war story? Share it with us!

Cutback? Or just a knife in the back?

09.12.2009 | Author: Eric Reiss
Hi Eric –
Bad news. I’ve been laid off due to cutbacks. That said, the company just hired two new people in my division and our profits are the highest ever recorded. In fact, my division now has sales of EUR 35 million. So let’s assume there are other reasons for letting me go.

I still need another year and a half of salary to make ends meet, so I’m desperately looking for a new job. Now most folks think it’s impossible for a 67-year-old to get a new job, but as you know I’m used to dealing with impossible challenges. I’m looking for something either in Denmark or abroad that lets me use my marketing talents, and maybe even do a little Flash programming if need be. Even jobs that only last a week or two are welcome.

If you hear of something, I hope you’ll keep me in mind.


Damned right we’ll keep him in mind!
Here’s some background on this fellow:

The incredibly narrow-minded management of this company has never really liked my pal’s out-of-the-box thinking. So each time he’s built up a profitable new business area (he’s created several), they take away his department and send him out to do something else. Recently, to get him away from headquarters, they packed him off to China. He taught himself Chinese and built up a multi-million Euro business selling his company's products in a completely new market segment! When he needed interactive marketing materials and was denied a budget, he taught himself to program Flash (and he’s pretty good at it).

I’ve worked with this man for almost 20 years on a variety of marketing projects. He’s a real gentleman, his professionalism is exceptional, and he’s a seasoned innovator who produces measurable results. Not surprisingly, we’re going to try and work him into the FatDUX family. But in the meantime, if you hear anything, let me know and I’ll pass the word along.

Why Rio is going to be the Olympic Committee choice for 2016

01.10.2009 | Author: Eric Reiss
I’ve been involved in choosing venues for conferences for a couple of years now. I’m curious as to whether the international Olympic Committee uses the same methodology I do – and examines similar user-experience issues. If so, they’re going to choose Rio de Janeiro tomorrow for the 2016 Olympics. Here’s why:

The case against Tokyo, Madrid, and Chicago
Everyone is busy making the case for their city. But being best is not how decisions of this kind are usually made. The slimy truth is, decision-makers always start with the case against a given venue. Here, are four considerations:

- has the city already hosted an Olympics recently?
- is their geographic area interesting in terms of promoting the Olympic concept?
- is a particular choice going to get the Committee into political hot water?
- is a particular choice going to rob the Committee of a PR opportunity?

Evaluating the venues
– not likely. This was the venue back in 1964. And they got it primarily because the start of WWII cancelled the 1940 Tokyo Olympics (in fact, my mom was to have been a U.S. high-jumper at that event). The Committee is probably going to look at other options before returning to Japan.

Madrid – forget it. Barcelona got the Olympics in 1992. Two Spanish cities within a 25-year period? I just can’t see this happening.

Chicago – slim chance. With Los Angeles in 1984 and Atlanta in 1996, there’s been too much U.S. exposure. And honestly, pulling in Barack and Oprah to plead the case is simply overkill; this may ultimately work against the Chicagoans (no one wants to be perceived as buckling under to pressure from American superstars). Moreover, with the U.S. spearheading military “conflicts” in two theaters of operation, I think the Committee will go for more neutral ground.

The case for Rio
South America has never held an Olympics (Mexico City doesn’t count). In this age of sustainability, holding the Olympics in the country that governs the greatest part of the Amazon rain forest can focus the world’s eyes on the country – and hopefully bring about positive change. Rio is only an hour ahead of New York in terms of time-zones, which means events can be scheduled for TV transmission at optimal times for U.S. viewers. Finally, the Brazilians could use the money – South American economies are not the strongest around.

A final note
Mr. President, Ms. Winfrey, please don’t doubt my loyalty to the cause. As an ex-Chicagoan, I would love for our “toddlin’ town” to play host. But I just don’t think it’s going to happen.

Sex in centre court: user experience at Wimbledon

27.06.2009 | Author: Eric Reiss
Let me make this clear: I have no intention of making this post politically correct. If you’re easily offended, click off now.
CNN Sports just aired a weird report about the women tennis players, currently slogging it out on the three courts at Wimbledon. The “centre court” is the most prestigious place to play. And yet some major tournament winners (Svetlana Kuznetsova, for example), have been relegated to side courts while lesser players are being showcased in centre court, such as Denmark’s Caroline Wozniaki (Danish born of Polish parents, if you were wondering).
Now Caroline ranks number nine on the WTF’s list for women’s singles, so she’s clearly no slouch (Svetlana is ranked number five). But it was fascinating to see CNN work so hard to avoid mentioning the obvious: the good-looking women are getting centre court exposure. Caroline ranks number three on cutiepietennis.com. Svetlana didn’t make the cut.
“I don’t understand this scheduling,” asked Svetlana with innocence in her voice and daggers in her eyes. Great CNN interview where a picture was truly worth a thousand words.



Caroline (left), Svetlana (right). Images borrowed from cutiepietennis.com and svetlana-kuznetsova.com]

Wimbledon is about user experience
Although no one will ever have proof, it would seem the organizers of this tournament have considered that sex appeal will create a better user experience and raise more cash. And centre court is the pricy ticket (and where the TV cameras are). Now this theory is just guesswork on my part (wink, wink), but the strategy certainly makes sense. The fact that this story made it to CNN suggests that there is something to it.
Political correctness doesn’t always mean good business
Here in Denmark, many people still believe it is bad manners to discuss money. This is also an example of political correctness – at least in terms of our local culture. For decades, “profit” was a dirty word, never spoken in polite society. This started to change in the late 80s and early 90s. But the problem still lurks just under the surface.
Problem, you ask? Yes, that’s exactly what it is. You cannot run a business without thinking about profit. And you cannot make wise decisions if you avoid discussing profit with your colleagues and advisors. Or avoid talking about the use of sex as a commercial draw at Wimbledon.
And this relates to the web…how?
When FatDUX pitches new Danish clients, you can almost hear the gasp when we suggest that a website should become a profit center. There are three things at play here. First, older business leaders still think that a website is just an electronic brochure, so using the web in a more proactive manner is a very hard concept for them to grasp. Second, how can a site become a profit center? (“We’re not an e-commerce company. We don’t sell online.) Third, it’s still rude to talk about money.
The first issue is tough. But as the economic situation becomes more and more dire for those companies that have dropped their advertising and fired their sales force, some business leaders are starting to see that a good website is a must-have asset.
The second issue is even tougher. If people are not willing to talk about profitability, it’s difficult to formulate an effective internet strategy. This has very little to do with online sales. Rather, it’s about building trust, creating the shared reference that helps potential customers make the decision to contact your company. And ultimately, it’s about improving the bottom line, no matter which revenue streams are in play.
It’s not particularly difficult to create a useful website that supports business goals. But if this is what you need to build, then take my advice: get past the internal politics and forget political correctness.
And as to the third issue? To paraphrase the American advertising guru Rosser Reeves: “Do you want to be politically correct or do you want the damned sales curve to go up?”
Wimbledon seems to be getting it right. Are you?


Microblogging: the graffiti of cyberspace?

13.05.2009 | Author: Eric Reiss
The FatDUX site is overdue for an overhaul. Microblogging will be one of the new features. Our Duckmaster, Andrea Resmini, has asked that I work out some guidelines for the FatDUX family.

As practiced today, I think microblogging is being abused by self-promoters and debased by people who have absolutely nothing worthwhile to say. This is a shame - microblogging has great potential as a communicative concept.

What is microblogging?
For those of you who aren’t familiar with “microblogging,” it’s based on short (max. 140 character) text messages, sent to a group of predetermined subscribers, often via a mobile phone. Twitter is the application of choice (but Jaiku, Qaiku, and Plurk are also popular). Facebook and other social networking sites have similar functionality, generally termed “status updates.”

“Eric doesn’t get it”
I’ve been accused of not understanding the value of Twitter. And perhaps my critics are justified. On the other hand, let’s not confuse my personal dislike for the way Twitter is used and for the application itself, which I think is great.

Here’s my situation – I generally keep pretty busy and don't need microblogging to combat boredom. But most “tweets” add little value to my life. For example, travel is stressful enough without having to hear folks on Twitter announce “In a taxi on the way to the airport.”, “TSA folks can be such pricks” or “My flight is delayed”.

I’m not very interested in the doings of one’s brood either: “What’s suddenly wrong with Cheerios for breakfast?” “Just picked up the kids from school”, “Little Sarah won’t go to bed.”

On the other hand, I enjoy the backchat (backchannel chatter – and I don't necessarily mean negative remarks) at conferences. This is the kind of stuff that does provide me with vicarious value. The blow-by-blow reporting from presentations-in-progress is particularly useful. (Even so, I dislike the behind-your-back sniping, “This panel just crashed and burned. I’m outta here.”)

I realize these are my own views and that other folks probably love gossipy tweets. (Hmm…did Andy Warhol’s “fifteen minutes of fame” just get reduced to 15 seconds?) But please give me better mechanisms to filter out the chirpchaff and give me the warblewheat. Happily, Qaiku is doing this by encouraging thread-based conversations. Twitter lags sadly behind in this regard.

Signal to noise
Let’s face it, some folks take pride in posting 5,000 - 20,000 updates (tweets) a year. But do you really want to receive all of them? Some come from twitterholics who feel the urge to make noise. Others are incorrigible self-promoters who think noise somehow equates with thought leadership. Please, work to improve your signal-to-noise ratio. The medium is NOT the message - don’t confuse the two.

There are also the self-promoters who are merely people collectors, such as actor Ashton Kutcher (first to gain a million Twitter followers). But with fairly little to say, I can’t imagine his following will last; if there is any long-term impact, it will probably be because he was able to get new users to sign up for the Twitter service. Oprah Winfrey falls kind of in the same category - I guess followers get a lift from Oprah's deep philosophical missives like "Hey tweeters, hope you're loving your Sunday as much as I am."

Twitter as a debate forum?
The news media, CNN in particular, have been good about using microblogging as a debate forum. Since many full-scale blogs are also debate fora, this activity would seem to be part of a natural evolution. (CNN competed with Kutcher in the race to 1 million followers).

The problem is that like all politically heated environments, microbloggers are already subject to bullying, online threats – and offline violence. The debate rages as to whether user-based moderation of such discussions works.

In the recent South African election, the ANC used Twitter fairly effectively as a debate forum – a good gimmick in a country where text messaging has exploded in recent years. For an excellent account of the election activities and some good discussion of the pros and cons of political twittering, check out the superb Voice Of Africa blog.

One of the more interesting points related to the limits to message size:
“But, does [Twitter] add value in this case?  Most people in South Africa are probably familiar with the ANC’s policy positions already.  A 140 character recap of the standard positions (140 characters is about 1 sentence) can’t really tell you anything deeper.”

Nevertheless, the medium does seem to lend itself nicely to discussions of current events – even on a very local level (a conference, for example).

Keep it short
Keeping messages to under 140 characters does have one key advantage: it forces people to get to the point. This assumes they actually have something to say.

The French philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal (of triangle fame) once remarked, “Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parceque je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.” (I made this letter longer than usual because I didn’t have time to make it shorter.)

If people want to be true thought leaders, my advice would be to tweet less and think more.

So, when the FatDUXlings start to microblog, our guidelines will be simple: say something relevant to our fields of interest, say it gracefully, say it in as few words as possible. And stop.

Don’t tweet when you’re mad or drunk or…
At a conference recently, someone Twittered “I think Eric Reiss just lied to me during his presentation.” Since I hadn’t lied, I was momentarily offended by this tweetshot until I realized it was juvenile self-promotion. But, I’m both thick-skinned and ethical, which helps me ignore the slings and arrows of outrageous Twitterers.

Rule Number One of Twittering: Don’t tweet when you’re mad, drunk, or under the influence of your own ego. Stupid comments live forever. And although microblogging can be fantastic, reducing this elegant concept to that of mere electronic graffiti is truly a waste.

Diamonds…and tweets…are forever
Here are some publicly available musings:

“On April 19th, I made bread.”

“XX got me pregnant.”

Today, almost identical comments can be found in two places: on Twitter and the walls of Pompeii. (the name of the purported father-to-be changed from Atimetus to Dave.)

Caveat Twitterati: you never know when or by whom your musings will be seen. So say something worthwhile.


Graffiti at Pompeii.

A visit to the Reichstag in Berlin
Sir Norman Foster, the British architect, reworked the Reichstag (parliament) in Berlin, which reopened in 1999. It had been abandoned since 1933 - the Nazis burned it as an excuse to arrest Communists and other political opponents.

After the Battle of Berlin in April/May 1945, Soviet soldiers “decorated” the surviving walls of the burned and bombed hulk. Sir Norman felt the graffiti was significant in terms of the building’s history and preserved it (after translators censored the obscene comments).

Twitteren erwachen: do you want to go down in history as a social commentator or as a vandal? Stealing my time is vandalism.


Graffiti at the Reichstag.

A visit to Charlottenlund Station outside Copenhagen
The train station in Charlottenlund, Denmark, just north of Copenhagen, features a lot of graffiti. Not gang-tags or spray-painted innertube script. Rather, these are names and dates written in pencil, which have surprisingly survived for many decades.

Charlottenlund Station in Denmark, built in 1895.


Graffiti at Charlottenlund Station


Ms. Nielsen's message has survived an entire century.

In the last photo, you’ll see a young lady’s tag from October 1909. It is slightly obscured by a modern billboard. In a few weeks, the advertisement will have changed. But Ms. Nielsen’s tag will live on. I wonder if she could have imagined that her spontaneous scrawl would survive an entire century? Or be blogbeamed around the world?

Twitter-folk: if you want your name to live forever, choose a resilient medium. Although pencil on brick sometimes works, ideas are truly immortal.

More ideas, please.


Danish post - 1 km per day

02.02.2009 | Author: Eric Reiss
Our friends, Thomas and Jane, sent us a Christmas card on December 19. It arrived today, February 2.

The address was absolutely correct. So was the postage. Why did this letter take six weeks to cover a fairly short distance? Who knows? - it just plunked into our mailbox unannounced.


Six weeks to make a journey of 30km!

The Danish postal authorities have been under press for years - first because of the fax, now because of e-mail. The short and the long of it: people send fewer letters. Not surprisingly, there's been talk that the Danish postal service will be bought up by a larger organization - the German postal authorities, for example.

In the meantime, here in Copenhagen, we now have TWO postal services: the official Danish government sanctioned service and CityMail, a private carrier.

So how are the Danes reacting to decreased traffic and increased competition? By reducing the number of folks manning the counters in post offices, by installing centralized automatic package dispensers so the carriers don't need to actually deliver stuff to individual addresses, by raising the postal rates - and, seemingly, by distributing second-class mail (Economique) at their leisure.

What a way to run a business...