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Toronto International Film Festival

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Tonight is the start of the Toronto International Film Festival. As always getting tickets to the shows is a bit of a disaster. From what I can see there are several options each with its advantages:

1/ Purchase Gala Tickets

You get to see all the big movies but you don’t get to pick you movies and you may end but with bad seats if alot of corporate sponsors show up. Most of the Gala movies end up getting mainstream releases so you’re really just seeing them sooner.

2/ Visa Screening Tickets

Similar to the Gala tickets except you pick a time slot for the week. For example you can purchase 6pm or 9pm all week but you do not get to pick you movies. The Visa screening tickets seem to be a little less main stream from the Gala movies so you should see some interesting movies that would not be release otherwise.

3/Ticket Books

You can purchase a book of tickets and submit your movie tickets. It would seem that this whole selection process must be done manually ( sheet of paper ) and submitted to the TIFF office. Not a very easy process and you are not guaranteed to see the movies you want. In my opinion this whole process should be handled online. This seems to be the best process if you have some particular movies you want to see and a lot of spare time to run around the to TIFF office. You could try sell tickets that you get but don’t want…

4/Tickets Online

After all the ticket book and other tickets have been allocated the TIFF releases tickets online. You can purchase tickets that have not been sold out and get only the tickets you want. This is a great approach but the TIFF ticket purchase system is quite unreliable and make of the more popular movies sell out well before the online release.

6/ Rush Tickets

Basically you just show up for the movie and hope that people with tickets won’t. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. If you have a Bell Mobility mobile ( which I don’t ) you can also sign up for text messages on when the rush tickets will be available. Overall not the best option but useful if you really really must see a movie 😉

Overall the process is quite confusing and TIFF website provides some guidance but not al ot on the process. There are also web blast that you sign-up for on tickets that are still available. Another source for last minute tickets is Craigslist but the cost may be a lot more than the original ticket. Goodluck and enjoy the festival.

LiveSearch

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Unspace has a great article on what they’re calling LiveSearch. There are few great examples of this display, then filter approach at work. One of my favorites sites is the Trulia.com site in the US that provides a Real Estate search. They’re continually improving the interface but the basis premise is get the user listings as quickly as possible and then let them filter to find what they want. When combined with an AJAX interface, it can be a really powerful user experience.

Mark Graham

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Mark Graham from Hamilton, Ontario was killed over the weekend in Afghanistan. He was killed by friendly-fire from US Warplanes. I haven’t seen Mark in years but we grew up together in Hamilton. I think the first time I met him was at the YMCA Camp Kidaca, a summer day camp on the Hamilton mountain. Mark was the kid who could run the fastest and jump the furthest. We also played on the MacNab Recreation Center’s basketball team and Mark was the star forward. And when I arrived at Sir Allen MacNab Highschool, Mark was there again as the track star. We never saw much of each other through Highschool but I can still remember his laugh and great sense of humour. He was a genuinely good person and I’m very sad that our paths will never cross again.

Private Mark Anthony Graham

Update: Mark’s family has setup a great tribute site here:

Private Mark Anthony Graham

A wikipedia page on has also been setup here:

Mark Anthony Graham

Yellowpages.ca Reboot

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Yellowpages.ca has just finished a reboot of their web site. The new site is alot clean than the old one and has much more of a Google/search engine feel to it. The proximity search is still not what I would expect and is not as easy to use as I think it should be. I was very impressed with the transitional tool they’ve provided to users to associate the old functionality and design with the new. This seems like a nice method for getting users adopting the new design.

The results pages are also a lot cleaner and have a lot more white space. Overall I think its a fairly big improvement and should be alot more usable.

I should mention that the Yellow Pages Group now owns my employer ( Trader Corporation ) but I don’t at all work on the YPG product lines.

University of Toronto – A course in bad ecommerce

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As many of you know I’ve been taking courses in the University of Toronto’s Continuing Ed program. I’ve found a lot of the courses have helped a lot with my day job. This fall I’d like to take a Marketing course on Competitive Intelligence. Unfortunately the University of Toronto has “improved” its e-commerce process. Basically they’ve added the following:

1/ Additional 3 Digit Code

To ‘improve security’ the university has added a requirement to provide an additional 3 digit code found on the back of your credit card. This is called the CVV code and absolute genius. If someone stole my credit card, I’m absolutely certain they would never learn to look on the back too.

In any case on my CIBC Visa Aerogold the CVV code has been completely scratched away. So I’m unable to complete the e-commerce transaction.

2/ E-commerce failure

Once the e-commerce process fails, there is no phone number to call or other resolution path to solve the problem. As far as the University of Toronto is concerned I should close my browser and head on over to York University. Not a good customer experience…

3/ Inability to Try Again

So I went and got another credit card but instead of letting me try again the site has sent me a cookie and won’t let me register for the course again. When I try I get the following error message:

“Validation error.You must correct the following error(s) before proceeding: If you have already selected this course for registration (or to be placed on the waiting list),please click the “Course Basket” tab to continue.


Otherwise, you are already registered in this course(or on the waiting list) and may not do so again.

This sounds pretty easy to resolve, just click on the course basket option… Unfortunately its no where on the screen. And again there is no phone number to resolve the problem.

Overall not too good an experience for an organization with goals to educate people on E-Business…

Freshnews.ca v2

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We launched the Freshnews.ca v2 interface today ( hard launch if anyone is following… ) , with a goal to be Canada’s Freshest Source for Canadian New. Roy Pereira has been heavily involved with the new design and will part of the management team going forward. The design provides the following:

  1. Cleaner look and easier to use interface
  2. Prioritizing of important news stories
  3. Clustering of similar news stories
  4. Tags to allow faster topic retrieval
  5. AJAX based architecture for faster navigation
  6. Canadian-only news feeds

We’d love to hear your feedback on the design. Besure to check the Freshnews.ca Blog for updates too.

Lack of Focus

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Over the weekend I was in Montreal and staying downtown at the W Hotel. If you’re familar with the W Montreal you know its very well positioned for walking around the city. Its also right around the corner from Royal Bank’s form there head office during the 1920s. I’ve been using Royal Bank for about 10 years so I was kind of excited to see the office as its been featured in several movies. I walked over on a Saturday and the office was still accessible and even featured a bank machine on the main flour. To my surprise when I tried to use the bank machine it was out of order. I asked the security guard and he seemed unable or unwilling to do anything about fixing it. I could find no phone number of the machine for help so I left to use another machine, and in fact had to pay the additional $1.50 to use a Scotia Bank machine a few blocks away. No big deal but annoying…

On Sunday I returned to the same bank office as I now needed cash for the taxi to the airport ( after a night of drinking in Montreal… ). The fancy office was again accessible but the bank machine was still out of order. I find this very indicative of the overall banking experience over the last few years in Canada. They’ve really lost track of their customers. The reality is that I could just as easily sign-up with Scotia Bank, CIBC or TD and have a very similar experience. In most successful businesses the head office would be fully functionality, any employee would enabled to fix the situation or a phone number would have been available to correct situation. There are very fes businesses in the world that could exist like this though and continue to survive..

The Highland Yard

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I’m in Minden, ON with my sister and her friend Megan for the Highland Yard.  They’ve decided run in the 5K race even though its currnetly 30C today. My sister has run in the race a few times but its normally 7.5K and this year they switched to the more popular 5K and 10K distances. I’m really impressed with the number of people registered. I would estimate that about 250 ran today in either race. Congrats to all involved.

VoIP’s dirty secret? No Pizza for you!

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I’ve been using Vonage as my home phone the past year and generally found the quality of connections to be acceptable. There are times when I can’t use it very effectively while downloading and it seems to have hard time making reliable connections to northern ontario.

What has really surprised me recently is the number of numbers that don’t see to work. For awhile now I’ve been unable to dial 310 vanity numbers, for example Pizza Hut uses 310-1010 in Canada for all its Ontario stores. These 310 numbers break and the Vonage system tries to call numbers in the 310 area code ( someone in LA must hate Pizza Hut ). I’ve also had problems with some 1-800, 1-866, 1-888 numbers, specifically some government ones like the Revenue Canada and the Census Board. It would seem that my VoIP phone registers theses as unable, as if I was in the US. I had thought that this was a Vonage specific problem, being an American company but Vbuzzer and Skype have the same problem with issue. I can kinda accept that the service quality might suffer when there is no bandwidth but its pretty disappoint when you can’t get a hot steaming pizza delivered…

Is this a local problem to Canada or to other VoIP services in America experience the same? I did some Googling and it would appear that Vonage at least has had a history of problems with newer area codes. There’s even some posts in their forums about problems with the new 647 area code in Toronto.

I can kinda accept that the service quality might suffer when there is no bandwidth but its pretty disappoint when you can’t get a hot steaming pizza delivered..

DemoCampToronto8 Review

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DemoCampToronto8 took place last night at No Regrets. The usual crowd was all there with the addition of Amber Mac and Leo Leoporte from the Inside the Net podcast and their TV show Call for Help. The venue was improved by the rental of an audio system help everyone hear the presentations. One big advantage of the No Regrets venue is that beer is served during the demos. The demos this time were:

1/ WildApricot
WildApricot recently launched their product to public and I have been setting it up for a small golf tournament I’m organizing. Its a great tool for organizing informal groups and has a capability to track memberships and special event costs. Its a very slick product and Dmitry did a good job showing off the product. I was surprised that the product is written in .NET as there are a lot of features that it could quickly inherit from open-source projects, like forums and web chat. It would be interesting to see if it can evolve at the same pace using the .NET platform.

2/ Jobloft.com

Jobloft is an employment site focused primarily on the retail employment sector with its high transient employment base and location specific needs. Jobloft has integrated an a job list with the Google maps API to provide location specific listings from a variety of retail employers. By targeting retail they hope to avoid Workopolis and some of the bigger employment sites. They have also built the ability for partners and schools to include jobs within a proximity to their location. This makes it easy to partner with schools looking to help their students.

3/FileMobile.com
Filemobile.com provides the ability to upload and host media files from a variety of sources, including your picture/video phone. The service seems to be heavily dependent on flash and has a very good visual interface. The system provides the ability to schedule large files transfers in the background. I thought one of the most impressive parts was the ability to automagically publish to a variety of blog services. Its not really clear what this business model is and how they will be able to scale to the massive amounts of bandwidth required.

4/ Languify
Languify provided a demo on a tool to manage multiple language files. With many languages and sometimes different maintainers it can be difficult to administer all the different language files. Languify provides a defined tool set to provide a web interface for managing these files. The tool has some potential and could be extended to use automated machine translation services or pool from existing translations for the same english phrase. I’m not sure the commercial potential for this sort of application but its interesting.

5/ How to Measure the Success of Your Web Service

Mike McDerment
cheated and did a presentation, using a web page instead of power point, on web metrics. He focused on explain a conversion funnel which was kinda painful for anyone in marketing but I think was well suited for the developer heavy crowd. It would have been good to see the Google Analytics funnel, even with fake date, though instead of the static web page.

Overall it was great to see Toronto based start-ups succeeding and the quality of the demos shown was extremely high.

Hard or Soft, how do you like to launch?

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There’s seems to be a new approach to launching a website redesign. If you’ve been following the Yahoo home page design since February you’ve probably seen their new site and had the option to swap between the new and old designs for several weeks. Yahoo has only recently started forcing moving users to use the new interface but they’re still allows users in Canada to chose. They’ve been maintaining the 2 designs for a while and their home page isn’t the only example, there’re doing the same in the Yahoo Mail interface. Users can choose the flashy new AJAX interface and the old mail user interface.

Yahoo is not the only company following this soft-launch approach for site designs, Microsoft is doing the same with their MSN/Hotmail Mail and the new Live Mail Beta interface. Both mail products bring forward all of the users email, contacts and other personal data but just introduce a new user interface.

On the other end of the spectrum is the new Digg v3 site redesign which took the hard launch approach. For weeks many of the top stories on the site related to the new design and how users want to maintain the previous look and feel. In some cases Grease Monkey scripts were developed to help re-create the older site design look and feel.

All of this points to a rather interesting question about site redesigns and how they should be launched. The hard launch approach, where in a new design is launched and old design is forgotten, may not be the best approach for design launches. I haven’t seen any research that indicates a redesign is disruptive for the user but my own experiences have been limited to much less complex sites. Some key questions need to be answered:

  • Is the soft-launch approach better to accommodate users transition?
  • Are users becoming so attached to existing interfaces that they can’t handle a hard launch?
  • How does this effect the sites maintenance going forward?
  • How long should the old interface be maintained?

Overall I think all of the newer versions of the sites mentioned above are vast improvements but as dependency on the user interface increases it may be harder and harder abandon old designs.

Update:  This post was also picked up by Onedegree.ca.

CBC + Open Source

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Its recently been revealed how the CBC powers its websites using Open Source software. This software is essentially free to use and its continually improved by a variety of developers around world that contribute their improvements for free.

Its great to see a pseudo government organization and especially a media company using the advantages of open-source. It would be great to get more incite into why they chose open source and whats worked well and what hasn’t.

CBC has run some very popular marketing campaigns and without any concerns about scalability, security or any of the other FUD ( Fear, Uncertainty, Denial ) thats spread by more proprietary software vendors. While the total cost for licensing of all the open source components has been zero dollars it would be interesting to get total costs of maintenance, development etc.. compared to other systems. I expect the open source solution would still come out cheaper and provide companies like the CBC with greater flexibility.

More information on the CBC use of open source software is available here.

Canada as a Web Powerhouse

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Over the past few months I’ve been very impressed with the quality of startups in Toronto and Canada in general. The list of startups that I’ve interacted with include:

And recently Flickr took the web by storm for photo sharing. There seems to be more and more every few weeks, most of my initial exposure has come through DemoCamp or to a lesser degree CaseCamp. Its really interesting time to be in Toronto and there’s a real buzz building with all the different companies networking and pushing the envelop of what they can innovate.

MythTV Usability

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I’ve been using MythTV for about 2 years now and at times its been a challenge to keep it running. One of the reason I keep coming back to it is that I find it to be the easiest PVR to use. Recently a usability study of MythTV was done by Interactive Digital Television Laboratory on its v0.19 release. The results were really impressive and in retrospect I shouldn’t be surprised. MythTV has come along way since I’ve been using it and is now a very user friendly. I’m especially inspired since its all been community drive and a great example of power of open-source.

I think one of the reason it is so easy to use is that it doesn’t feature and DRM to get in the way. If you want to play MP3 it will, from almost any location and with minimal hassle. If you want to copy a DVD it will, without any legal disclosure or MPAA alarms going off. Recently its added the ability to download video podcasts which really makes me question why I still keep my cable service. Overall MythTV is really setting the bar for where PVRs need to be in terms of functionality and freedom.

You find the original article here and the complete usability report here.

DemoCampToronto7 Review

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DemoCampToronto7 was last night a quite crowed No Regrets. Its a fairly small venue so space was a premium and the demos were a little harder to understand without the lights, sounds and magic that its Mars. The presentations broke down as follows:

1/ Portal Prophet Platform by Kristan Uccello from Domainer

My initial expectation from this demo was to see a DNS management system. Instead they presented a fairly visual CMS type application to create web pages for multiple domains. The interface was pretty neat and involved creating blocks based on code snippets and connections to other services ( RSS feeds etc.. ). The blocks could then be visually position on the web page to create the final web page. The resulting web page could then be style with multiple CSS skins. Overall it was fairly simple but looked easy to use. I didn’t see any sort of staging or pre-production system so I’m not sure how well it scale for larger deployments.

2/ FeelingBullish.com by Josh Blinick

I was pretty impressed with the interface around Feelingbullish.com but I’m not clear on their model. From what I understand of their product its a system for analysts to recommend stocks and for anyone to review those recommendations. The definition of an analyst was a little unclear but they could recommend stocks, leave comments on stocks or other analysts and use many of the now standard Web 2.0 feature set. As a consumer you can then view all the analyst rankings and see how they compared to historical stock performance. All recommendations are tracked and analysts are not allowed to delete their historical recommendations. By having a fairly large group of analysts and more tracking on their recommendations the goal is to have an accurate algorithm to track analyst performance. I’m not analysts will be too excited about this level of tracking and may make it difficult for the site to reach a critical mass.

3/ Paruba.com by Teehan+Lax

Paruba.com evolved out of Teehan’s holiday card last year. They sent out cards to all their customers with links to their website of holiday gift ideas. The site has evolved a lot and now allows anyone to create a ‘wish list’ of items from a variety of ecommerce sites. The interface is very clean and easy to use. I was impressed with the process to tagging third-party ecommerce items which are often in variety of different formats. The site allows you to quickly sort through all images on a target URL and quickly select the items picture. Users can then create sub-lists for special occasions and even form a basic wedding registry ( without the ability to track duplicate purchases ). Overall a very neat and clear site.

4/ The Glove by Cameron Browning

Cameron has developed a system to represent visual a file structure and its associated relationship, oh and he also uses a glove to control the interface. In reality the glove was fairly basic, it consisted a re-purposed skate boarding glove with a large yellow square and a modified wireless keyboard inside. The yellow square allows a small camera to track the gloves position and control the visual interface. In my opinion the visual interface was most interesting part, I would have been happy controlling it with a mouse. I would be a little worried about the visual interface scaling as it would become very cluttered with a large number of objects to represent. Cameron also mention that he could tweak in real-time some of the display constants like spacing and object sizes. He felt this would allow the interface to scale to large number of objects.

5/ Perl 6Damian Conway

Wow, someone is still using Perl. In reality its still a great scripting language and Damian did a great job trying to demo a programming language. Anyone thats ever tried to demo a programming language knows the challenges here. Perl 6 has some interesting features but many of them have been eclipsed by new languages like PHP or Ruby. I thought the most interesting part was using the VIM interface to act as a presentation tool.

The after part at No Regrets was great and most of the presents stuck around to interact with the crowd. Its remarkable how far the reach of the event has grown. I ended up talking to a variety of people including a developer still working on Lotus Notes Domino, just when I thought Perl was old…