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Communicating Service Outages to Your Team

Posted on July 22, 2010 by josh

If you're in charge of keeping critical systems going for your organization, it will be necessary, from time to time, to explain to your management team (or your customers, if you operate a service) why a service outage occurred. Whether it's your network, your phone system, your payment/checkout system, your website, or your {fill in one of the dozens of services you manage}, it's critical that you communicate what happened, who caused it, when it happened, where it occurred in your infrastructure, and how it affected your operation.

Below, I've created a simple sample of one of these communications (for demonstration purposes only):

Hello Team,

This communication is intended to provide you with a formal explanation for the service interruptions that we experienced on Thursday, July 21, 2010, which resulted in a downtime on our website.

We experienced a downtime on our website from 9:48pm to 9:59pm. No pages could be reached during this period.

Escalation Taken
Alert messages of the downtime were sent to the alert team at 9:48pm that there was a potential downtime. The tech team mobilized and immediately began testing systems to determine a cause.

Root Cause
Upon investigation, it was found that a family of pygmy mouse lemurs had taken refuge in our data center. One of the adorable animals had pressed the power button on our web server, as it was shiny. This turned off our web server.

Corrective Actions
We turned the web server back on by pressing the power button and the web site resumed normal activity within a minute or so. Sadly, we also had to evict the cute but culpable creatures.

Next Steps
In the coming week, we will be installing a mesh screen on the server's rack to deter any new intruders. We've also begun plans to scale our infrastructure to support load balancing and redundancy across multiple web servers in multiple locations to help to mitigate future issues like this.

Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to email or call us. Sorry for any inconvenience!

Best regards,

Your IT Guy

Issues are going to happen, and they're not always in your control. The key here is to communicate quickly and accurately. As soon as you've got the situation under control, and you have the facts, communicate it out. You want to address concerns quickly, because your team may be wondering why sales dropped between 9:48pm and 9:59pm. You want to be as accurate as possible because you may not realize that your marketing team had scheduled a report to be uploaded to FTP (which lies on another server that may have also been affected) at 9:45pm. Don't worry. Chances are, your team (or your customer) doesn't care as much about being down as they do about how you respond and how well similar future issues are addressed. Try not to use uber-technical language, as you may be communicating with non-technical personnel. Be ready to answer lots of questions and make yourself available to them. You may have satisfactorily resolved the issue, but others may still be left without closure on an issue. Do a great job of communicating what was, what is, and what will be. Your team will appreciate it immensely.


Vanessa’s Variety for the Week of July 18, 2010

Posted on July 19, 2010 by Vanessa
  • Looking to become a daily destination deal website?  Tech Crunch provides A Primer On Groupon-Like Startups for those that are new to the space.  This isn’t easy to do and if you are looking to set up a deal website check out, a new Gordian Project venture.

  • CBS’ Money Watch didn’t have good news to report to retailers this week.  The article starts out with the following quote: "The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that retail sales fell 0.5 percent in the month of June, after falling a smaller than initially reported 1.1 percent the previous month. Are U.S. consumers throwing in the towel?"
    –Nelson Wang

  • Business Insider doesn’t have a more optimistic report than that of the above mentioned Money Watch as they detail “Rosenberg: Still Not Convinced? Here's 13 MORE Signs The Recovery Has Hit The Skids”

  • Google acquires Metaweb to help enhance search, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

  • Mashable reports on and shows the trailer for the upcoming Facebook inspired movie, “The Social Network”.  Check out the trailer below:



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Internet Retail and MAP (Minimum Advertised Pricing)

Posted on July 15, 2010 by Jeff

It seems more and more of my day is spent responding to manufacturer “Minimum Advertised Pricing” policies. Spend any time in retail and you’ve likely had one impact your day whether you were aware of it or not. A clear definition is a bit difficult to come by but I did find buried in Wikipedia’s Suggested Retail Price article a good synopsis:

Minimum advertised price or MAP (also known as resale price maintenance, or RPM) is the practice of restricting pricing at the consumer level. Price fixing agreements are illegal in many countries when members and terms in the agreement match predefined legal criteria.

Fixed pricing established between a distributor and seller or between two or more sellers may violate antitrust laws in the United States.

In Leegin Creative Leather Prods., Inc. v. PSKS, Inc., 127 S. Ct. 2705 (2007), the Supreme Court considered whether federal antitrust law established per se ban on minimum resale price agreements and, instead, allow resale price maintenance agreements to be judged by the rule of reason, the usual standard applied to determine if there is a violation of section 1 of the Sherman Act. In holding that vertical price restraints should be judged by the rule of reason, the Court overruled Dr. Miles Medical Co. v. John D. Park & Sons Co., 220 U.S. 373 (1911).
Because the rule of reason applies, minimum RPM agreements may still be unlawful. In fact, in Leegin, the Court identified at least two ways in which a purely vertical minimum RPM agreement might be illegal. First, “[a] dominant retailer ... might request resale price maintenance to forestall innovation in distribution that decreases costs. A manufacturer might consider it has little choice but to accommodate the retailer's demands for vertical price restraints if the manufacturer believes it needs access to the retailer's distribution network." Second, “[a] manufacturer with market power ... might use resale price maintenance to give retailers an incentive not to sell the products of smaller rivals or new entrants.”

In both of these examples, an economically powerful firm uses minimum the RPM agreement to exclude or raise entry barriers for its competition.

In addition, federal law is not the only source of antitrust claims as almost all of the states have their own antitrust laws. Leegin dealt only with a claim arising under Section 1 of the Sherman Act.

You might be saying to yourself, good synopsis? Trust me that’s exactly the same thing I’ve been saying to myself and no matter how much I read, I’ve gained little clarity. In short what I’ve got from “vertical price restraints should be judged by the rule of reason” is that every one of these policies mailed to me unexpectedly, from manufacturers I may or may not have any direct relationship with, must be deciphered and navigated uniquely. Some kind of string like this generally follows in exasperation. The very little guys the manufacturers are “intending” to protect from the big box by creating a level playing field are suffering under the weight.

At first glance I’d hoped I’d found an advocate in Monica Steinisch’s article, Savvy Shoppers Know “Minimum Advertised Price” Isn’t Always the Bottom Line. The key to my frustration can be found in her second opening paragraph, “A manufacturer-imposed policy called "minimum advertised pricing" (MAP) can tie retailers' hands when it comes to promoting lower prices on some products.” However, Steinisch goes on to champion the benefits of MAP for the manufacturers and retailers, “By imposing a minimum advertised price, manufacturers help the little guys compete.” Her primary example is that of the local shop’s ability to make the margin necessary to provide that one-on-one customer experience while maintaining their ability to cover the higher overhead of a store front. Wait, the little guys buy with higher multipliers than the big box and both have the overhead of a store front, so how did the little guy come out ahead? The comparison I believe she was attempting to make is that of the little guy (Brick-and-Mortar) vs. internet sellers (No Brick-and-Mortar) which she moves on to talk about (an incredible oversimplification of internet sellers).  I wonder if she’s ever paid a Google AdWords campaign.

I find the experience to be more that MAP enforces the status quo.  The manufacturer lazily retains an inflated price (more traditionally managed by manufacturer production levels), the big box continues to be the big box (following MAP if the manufacturer successfully implements the policy, not if they don’t). What manufacturer isn’t going to feed the big box? And the little guy continues to work on smaller margins, all at the customer’s expense.

Steinisch does go on to provide some excellent consumer recommendations for finding that bargain despite MAP. So why am I commenting on an article published in 2005, because nothing has changed! If anything the aggressiveness of MAP policies has heightened.



eCommerce Acronyms?

Posted on July 13, 2010 by Zach

A while back Get Elastic wrote a blog entitled 99 eCommerce Acronyms which I thought was interesting and informational especially for those new to the industry. For myself I often get in trouble with acronym speak by babbling multi-letter gibberish which I realize, after the fact, some may not understand. So I decided to add a few so that hopefully people know where I am coming from.

ERS - A commonly used acronym for Effective Revenue Share, a measure of the profitability and effectiveness of a given ad campaign or channel. ERS is equal to Marketing Cost divided by Revenue (Cost/Revenue) expressed as a percentage. ERS will indicate the total percentage of revenue that is absorbed by marketing cost.

TRS - Total Revenue Share is a measure of the profitability of an item, ad campaign or channel including the product cost and marketing cost. TRS is equal to (Marketing Cost + Product Cost) / Revenue, expressed as a percentage. TRS will indicate the total percentage of your revenue that is absorbed by product cost and marketing cost.

CPO - Cost Per Order, sometimes called cost per acquisition, is the dollar amount spent on advertising or marketing in order to end with a sale. CPO is calculated by (Marketing Cost / Number of Orders). CPO can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of certain types of marketing, as well as seeing what type of marketing is working well with the targeted consumer demographics.

ROAS - Return on Ad Spend, is a metric used to convey the amount of revenue that is generated for every dollar spent on marketing costs. Calculated as Revenue / Cost and expressed as a percentage. This value is the inverse of ERS.

EPC - Earnings Per Click, a revenue analysis for online advertising. EPC is a relative measure of the effectiveness of a site or section of a site in generating revenue for the site owner or publisher as it is often used in affiliate marketing for every 100 outbound clicks generated.

SERP - Search Engine Results Page, is the listing of web pages returned by a search engine in response to a keyword query. The results normally include a list of web pages with titles, a link to the page, and a short description showing where the keywords have matched content within the page. A SERP may refer to a single page or the page number of links returned, or to the set of all links returned for a search query.

COGS - Cost of Goods Sold, is a financial accounting term which describes the direct costs attributable to the production, assembly or redistribution of goods sold by a company. This can include material cost and direct labor cost and excludes indirect costs like advertising or R&D (Research and Development). This is also referred to as cost of sales.

SaaS - Software as a Service, a software application delivery model where a software vendor develops a web-native software application and hosts and operates (either independently or through a third-party) the application for use by its customers over the Internet. Customers do not pay for owning the software itself but rather for using it.

Special thanks to Channel Adviser and their Glossary.



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Vanessa’s Variety for the Week of July 11th, 2010

Posted on July 12, 2010 by Vanessa
  • As a female, I know that women struggle with many of the same issues in the workplace that men do, but there are also female related issues that we have to recognize as we move on, up, and out in our careers.  Bruce Clay’s Susan Esparza addresses women in the tech world in one of her blog posts this week.

  • Brian Clark wrote on the Power of Persuasion this week.

  • My favorite post of the week comes from one of my favorite bloggers, Linda Bustos.  Linda writes a compelling article, called 10 Reasons Not to Copy Amazon, and it’s worth the read.

  • shows you how to save your complete Facebook chat history with FireFox and Google Chrome add-ons and extensions.

  • Associating your brand with social media accounts can be risky, but worth it.  Lisa Barone of Outspoken Media looks at how traditional media has handled their employees who work in today’s social media scene, and it’s not pretty.



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My Favorite Interview Questions

Posted on July 8, 2010 by Ellen

Interviews are the short sliver of time we get with potential employees before adding them to the company family. For our interviews, we use a handful of “typical” interview questions to get to know the applicant, their motivations, their ethics and their personality. There are a few questions that we use that, to me, really show how well the employee will work out here. Adding these to your artillery might help you understand some important aspects of your applicants before you hire them. My favorite questions are:

    • Do you consider yourself competitive? If so, in what circumstances and in what ways? This question will let you know if you have a go getter on your hands. With an office full of go getters, I am always surprised when people give me a qualified “yes” explaining that they are competitive in their personal life, maybe in board games or something, but are not competitive and actually resist competition in their work life.  This is a great insight into their work ethic and how they might help our company evolve and grow.  We need competitive people and look for people who are always trying to get ahead.  I assume some people equate competitiveness with mean-spiritedness, but not understanding that you can be friendly and a go getter also means that they would probably not be a good fit here.


    • How do you handle questions and problems that exceed your knowledge or experience? This question helps me figure out if the applicant has the ability to think outside of the box and use their skills to solve problems, or if their default is to just ask for help. Our company is always looking for better ways to get our work done and if our employees are always thinking of ideas of ways to get things accomplished we will be better off. We want to see a balance between asking questions and figuring those questions out on your own.


    • What disadvantages do you see working for a small, growing company like ourselves?  I don’t appreciate it when an applicant doesn’t have an answer to any question that we ask, but this one in particular almost makes me laugh when someone doesn’t have an answer.  Many times when I ask this question, people will say that they don’t think there are any disadvantages for working for a small, growing company.  It makes me think they have little knowledge about business in general.  I want to hear an honest opinion of what someone’s anticipated challenges will be with our company and through that explanation, an expectation of how they would look at those challenges. There are some really great aspects of working at a small, agile and growing company like this one, but we all know that there are some serious setbacks as well.


    • How do you handle making mistakes? Tell me a specific time where you made a mistake and how you handled it. This might make me sound like a curmudgeon, but I really think that people “these days” just don’t take responsibility! If you make a mistake, handle your business.  The last thing I want to be doing as a boss is trying to figure out whom messed-up and why, I just want to work on fixing it. Our company needs individuals that know when they make a mistake, and takes responsibility so we can all move on to the fix it phase. Taking responsibility and initiative is a great character quality that will show up in many great aspects of this employee and a sure sign of a mature and trustworthy person.


If these questions aren’t used during your interview process, I would suggest adding them in and seeing if you get the same satisfying and useful answers that I have found with their use.


New Merchant Rating on Search Ads

Posted on July 7, 2010 by Chad

Google has recently started integrating merchant ratings, aggregated for Google Product Search, into your Ads if you meet a couple requirements. Those requirements include at least a 4 star rating and a minimum of 30 reviews.

Google Merchant Rating on Ad

There are certainly advantages for having this Google feature in your PPC Ads. For one, the rating builds trust with the consumer which could lead to higher CTR (Click Through Rate) percentages. This feature also allows your Ads to stand out and become more visible, even against higher ranked Adcopy, because the Ad gains an increase in size when the star rating is present. But this is relative to the rating of the other advertising being shown.  One of the great features about this is how these ads are charged to your account, merchants are only charged if “someone clicks on the headline of your ad - clicks on the review link are free.”

Currently, ads will not see this distinction on all searches. I ran several of the same searches and it looks like Google is simply A/B testing this feature at this time or it may be something they intend to only show when certain special criterion are met. Google states, “These star ratings, aggregated from review sites all around the web, allow people to find merchants that are highly recommended by online shoppers like them.”  In any case, it is a welcomed addition to those merchants that have a good Google Product Search rating.



The Expanding World of Online Video June 2010

Posted on July 2, 2010 by Josh Mc

We have a lot of great articles this month so let’s jump right in.

    • First, as I reported earlier this month, Youtube now has a cloud video editor. This is huge because it opens up the world of video editing to anyone with an internet connection, not just those with nice computers and expensive software. ReelSeo even showcases 5 ways to use the Youtube video editor. I have personally tried it myself, and while it is not a terribly comprehensive editor it is still a really nice feature to have access to for free.


    • On the same front the iPhone 4 was released which records 720p HD video and has a movie editor that can be purchased for $4.99 called iMovie.  iMovie allows you to edit videos and pictures directly on your phone and upload them to YouTube when they are complete. This is really going to usher in a new world of video for many people who have never done much in it before, as well as add to Youtube’s unholy amount of videos (I think it is almost a billion now).


    • On the more technical side Google has released a list of best practices for those that host video on their own website. These include different search engines techniques for indexing, thumbnails and countries the video can play in.


    • Mashable has a great post entitled "6 Tips for Experimenting with Web Video". They include a bunch of techniques to help you take your video the next step. They deal with breaking the rules, self promotion and video on a budget, among other things.


    • The Fire Horse Trail has a interesting article on promotion in the age of social sharing. In this article they talk about where to submit your videos RSS so the engines can know when there is a new one. They also talk about where to upload and syndicate those videos for viral promotion as well as traffic.


  • Lastly, this is not as much related to the evolution of video as it is to creation, but the Youtube user Karimrejeb has created one of the most innovative videos I have seen in a long time. Using legos and stop motion he has designed a surfing video that is amazing. Watch it here.



Vanessa’s Variety for the Week of July 2nd, 2010

Posted on July 2, 2010 by Vanessa
  • reminds us that companies are not democracies. It’s a harsh reality if you are employed by an owner that you don’t care for or don’t believe in, but if that isn’t the case than I think it’s important for us non-owners to remember this quote from the article:

    In today's warm, fuzzy, politically correct environment, where conventional wisdom is all about collaboration, fairness and listening to your employees, many small-business owners forget one important thing: They have to execute their battle plans with as few flaws as possible. A company is not a democracy. The only opinion that counts is that of ownership. Have a suggestion box in case someone comes up with a good idea, but don't make it a bible."


  • I liked Business Insider’s tip of the day today:

    "Having recently concluded four years of interviews for a book on the topic of making ideas happen, I can say one thing for sure: Hard work is the single greatest competitive advantage. Ideas don't happen because they are great. The genius is in the execution, aka the "99% perspiration" that has become this site's namesake.  Perspiration implies sweat, self-discipline, and (yes) occasional exhaustion. I think this is what Malcolm Gladwell teaches us in his book Outliers when he proposes that a true mastery of anything requires 10,000 hours of doing it. There are no shortcuts to lasting success."
    -- Scott Belsky, Founder and CEO, Behance


  • Get Elastic posted a great article with some basics for improving your website to increase sales volume.


  • Mashable highlights a study done by inside view about how the World Cup has affected our economy and productivity globally.  In fact there is evidence of this in a Business Insider story posted today:

    FT reported this morning on Brazilian traders who complained about having to work while Brazil played Netherlands:
    "'Nobody is very happy, but we have to work, don’t we?' Pedro Galdi, a trader at the SLW brokerage house, said only half seriously.
    'Our experience of the previous games tells us that it will be quiet. Clients aren’t making transactions when the matches are on,' said Luiz Roberto Monteiro, a trader with Souza Barros brokerage. 'But still, we have to be here.'
    Sure enough, Banco do Brasil (BBAS3.SA) shares have lost steam from yesterday, down nearly 1%.
    And Brazil is up 1-0."

Sales Productivity During World Cup

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Woot Acquired by Amazon? Who Else is Hoping for Better Deals?

Posted on July 1, 2010 by Zach

As reported yesterday by Internet Retailer, Amazon is buying Woot, one of the pioneers of the one deal at a time model (Interested in creating your own one deal at a time store? Check out Dealo - end shameless plug).

I'm sure that many Wooters (especially those who have used Woot for a while) are excited about this as I have heard many a deal hunter comment about the lack of good deals on Woot lately. It will be interesting to see what if anything Amazon does with Woot, we saw them acquire Zappos and continue to let them run the company almost independently. I could however see them replicate Woot, fold it into (Friday sale anyone?) or continue to let it run and expand as it has, hopefully with better deals. Needless to say it will be interesting to watch it unfold.

If you are interested in a little Woot humor check out their rapping monkey video about being acquired.

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