Of interest: FastCompany’s Top 10 Web Sites You’ve Never Heard Of

Guarded nearly as well as the passcode to the Microsoft home of the future, and the details of the Inquisition were released this week (not to be confused with The Spanish Inquisition of Monty Python fame)… here are The Top 10 Web Sites You’ve Never Heard Of courtesy of Chris Dannen and April Joyner at

“ has culled the most useful and entertaining sites from the far reaches of the Web so that when these sites go mainstream, you’ll be one step ahead of the crowd.

They are (with details excerpted from the site)…

CrazyBlindDate offers blind dates at public places in your neighborhood in New York; Austin, Texas; Boston; and San Francisco (with more cities coming soon). The authors said that this site is better than “pining over profile pictures on Facebook.”

DailyLit – The site offers both classic and contemporary titles, all provided in quick-reading installments that can be sent to you either via e-mail or RSS.

IWantSandy  Not good at remembering to print out your flight confirmation code? Send a message to Sandy, and she’ll remind you in a daily digest, in a text message or as an event on your calendar.

Cocktail Party Physics is Jennifer Ouelette’s blog about science and technology come to life as effortlessly as everyday chatter about politics, celebrities and vacations.

Newsmap is an amazing graphical representation of the constantly changing headlines on Google News. is a user-generated database of running routes all over the world, uses Google Maps mashups, allowing runners to look up routes in their area and choose them by length, difficulty, scenery and other user-rated criteria.

MakeUseOf – MakeUseOf is a tech blog that even laymen can understand…. in considerably de-geeked language.

5min — it’s a site featuring short videos that provide solutions or instructions for common and practical issues, like how to insulate your house or how to teach your dog to sit.

TryPhone – a fully functioning interactive phone-testing site where you walk through all the common features of the phone you’re considering buying in glorious, high-resolution interactivity.

Damn Interesting – a blog that writes long-form historical summaries of just about anything that’s, well … damn interesting.

Tags: Friday Link, humour, humor, websites.


Bringo, GetHuman offer ways to avoid phone tree hell

“Thank you for reading our blog today. Your visit is VERY important to us. Please select from the following options. Please make sure you read through to the entire menu because our options have recently changed.”

OK, not really.  All options are still available in the left-hand nav. And happy December – we have snow on the ground today.

I read about an interesting new company featured in the Seattle Times today (courtesy of Craig Crossman, McClatchy-Tribune News Service): Bringo, serving customers calling a company with automated phone trees:

“(In the automated phone tree) you finally hear the option you want and press it. You are then presented with a sub-menu of choices. “Please select one of the following seven items.” You listen and then make another selection. You then hear “Please select from the following six options,” and so it continues.

“It is somewhere around the third sub-menu that your mounting frustration makes you either give up or start pressing random phone keys in hopes that you might be connected to a live person who can actually help you.

When you finally navigate all the appropriate menu options, you discover that you now have to wait 17 minutes. When you do finally speak to a live person, you have to swallow your tongue, least you make a comment you may regret later. There must be a better way to quickly get to a live person on the phone, and now thanks to Bringo, there is.”

Bringo was featured with in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year, “two Web sites designed to help callers connect to an employee and bypass automated systems.”

And I like Bringo. 

Start by visiting the Bringo Web site and search through the list of companies on their web site that you’re interested in speaking to a live person. Noted as a Chicago health-care technology, Bringo provides nearly a thousand listings.  You type in your phone number and hit a button that says “fetch.” The site rings your phone within seconds to verify that the request is legitimate.

According to Bringo’s site, here’s how it works:

  1. Find the company you’d like to call by category (credit cards, mortgages, loans, health care)
  2. Enter your phone # (we will never disclose your phone number to anyone, not even your mother!).
  3. Wait a few seconds while we navigate the phone tree.
  4. When we call you back, pick up your phone and you’re done. No more phone trees.

Ready to get started?

  • Click here to list all categories of companies
  • Click here for an alphabetical list of all companies

But where are the tech companies and broadband service providers in the list of popular services?  It makes sense that these companies don’t make the top ten list of companies called (but all companies I tried to reach in the last couple of weeks.) 

Interestingly enough, I found that of the company categories listed, I recently called only one type: Credit Cards.  For most of the others, most of my inquiries are over the web or email, even live chat.

Oddly, AT&T Wireless isn’t listed (it’s reached via the listing for Cingular), and Comcast isn’t listed in the ISP list.  And on the computer hardware page, Dell numbers occupy more than a third of the listings.  But that stuff is easily fixed.

Back to what works. 

Bringo’s site navigates the company’s phone tree for you, and then calls you back when it finally finds a live person (or in the queue).

So, let’s take a look at Bringo’s main entry for Microsoft:

Microsoft: Avoid the phone tree and talk directly to a human at Microsoft. Microsoft is leading software company. Its main products are: Windows XP, MS Office, Internet Explorer. Company owns also website and manufacturers XBOX 360 game console.

This company’s operators may answer very quickly after we navigate the phone tree. This may cause them to hang up before you are connected. In the event that this happens, you may try Bringo again, or dial them directly and press “0” at each prompt when connection is established.

Sweet. 😉

So, before using the service, try dialing the number that Bringo has listed on their site and see if you get a live person quickly. 

BTW, for Microsoft Tech Support, call (in the US) 1-800‑642‑7676, and press 0 at each prompt, ignoring messages.  (Thanks, GetHuman.)

As with, take a look at the telephone number listings on the sites and paths for getting a hold of a live person.  But when you are faced with the dreaded automated warning, “your call will be handled in twenty minutes,” head over to Bringo and see if that works for you.

Tags: Microsoft, Customer Service, Customer Support.


Yes, there is $10 DSL… but “the user experience is not… really state of the art”

An interesting article at on Web Pro News and how nobody wants AT&T’ $10 DSL. (The low-priced DSL offer was required by the FCC Federal Communications Commission when Cingular.) Nearly the same price as a high-speed dial-up (an oxymoron these days), AT&T offers a low priced package that many find hard to find, says the author Jason Lee Miller.

“When the Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked Randall Stephenson about criticism that the company’s $10 DSL offering, the one required under government conditions to approve AT&T’s merger with BellSouth, was difficult to find and not promoted, Stephenson responded like you might expect a CEO to:

“Deny, Downplay, Redirect.

“He answered:

We haven’t made it difficult to find. To be honest with you, that’s not a product that our customers have clamored for. We still have $15 offers out there in the marketplace, even $20 offers, for 1.5 megabit speeds. Those are really kind of the minimum speeds that give a good user experience. So I don’t want to necessarily offer up a product where the user experience is not what I would consider really state of the art. That $10 product is kind of in that mode.” 

So, I tried to see if it’s even available in the area, as we have DSL and cable modems). I found that AT&T Yahoo! High Speed Internet Request for [my home phone #] was in vain…

We’re sorry. AT&T Yahoo! High Speed Internet is not available in your area. However, SBC is now joined with AT&T and we invite you to check availability for other services. Learn More.

If you believe you received this message in error, please verify the number and try again.

If you continue to receive this message in error, please contact our customer service center at 1-877-722-3755 Monday through Friday, 7 am to 9 pm and on Saturday, 8 am to 5 pm, closed on Sunday.

Thank you for your interest in AT&T Yahoo! High Speed Internet.

If you are unable to find AT&T’s $10 DSL, and to see if you are in a covered service area, go to 

As I said in a prior post, Bill Gates said that it would broadband adoption should grow faster than it has. So would I, and I’d like to see the base upload/download speed go up esp as I regularly use my home connection to sync my mail and files in the evenings. It’s frustrating when customers abroad enjoy (comparable) 200Mbps for around $40

So, for the same price as 1Gbit access in HK, you can have up to 30Mbps in New Jersey and other major markets. In Japan, you can find Ethernet and FTTH up to 30Mbps of bandwidth: last year, analysts estimated that these high-speed lines are used by 22% of subscribers.”

Tags: AT&T, DSL, , .


Thoughts on supporting the new online generation: “they’re just different”

Kids are up for some reason and so I wait for the next request for a glass of water…

In the mean time, something has been nagging at me.

Customers are changing, and I’ve seen a real change in how the younger generation is forcing companies to change their thinking on how they listen and respond to their needs. See this interesting article in BusinessWeek on the future of tech and global youth.

“… consider Brazilian Fabricio Zuardi, 27. He grew up 180 miles from São Paulo and found a job via the Web with Silicon Valley tech startup Ning Inc. Zuardi now lives in Palo Alto, Calif., in an apartment he located on He has no traditional phone, preferring Skype Internet-based service. He doesn’t own a TV. In his spare time he posts items on his blog or writes software that he contributes to open-source development projects. His taste in music is eclectic: Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, The Pogues. His friends are from all over, including Australia, Britain, Germany, and Slovenia. He has never met some of them face to face. “This is a generational shift,” says Ning co-founder and Web browser pioneer Marc Andreessen. “A whole new generation grows up used to new technologies, and they’re just different.”

Let me repeat that: “…they’re just different.”

What’s interesting here is that the net has (duh) changed the way a new generation socializes, plans, stays in touch, shops… and get support. There is a generational shift in expectations of how products are supported and the number of options to get support: it’s more immediate, accurate and when and how you choose.

So, if you’re going to be successful in providing ‘wow!’ level customer service, you have to be where your customers expect you and responding in the ways that are most comfortable to them.

I thought about this after the last couple of interactions I had with customer support at different companies. With Dell, HP, Microsoft and my local phone company, all of my first interactions recently were on the web, and in the case of Dell and HP, real-time chat support. I had the option to call a toll-free number, but I hung up on one vendor after the wait time exceeded 10 minutes. (I have no patience when the family is scrambling to make the morning school bus, and I have zero time to do this at the office.) So off late in the evening after the kids go to bed, click on the real-time chat option, and within less tine that I sat on hold, I had my answer.

Another instance this week, whilst looking for support from an online Internet service company, I found there was only an email support option available… and it turned out that the service was better than I’d expected. In just two brief exchanges via mail, I had answers in clear, easy-to-understand email assistance with lots of helpful links.

I’ve heard several times from people in the industry and at MS that they had made great connections with customers via email, relationships that started with a comment on their public blogs. “These connections help us understand what customers want, what they don’t like and what we need to change in current and next versions of our products.”

And last, a friend of mine in DevDiv, said (following a quick status review) that she was heading off to give a project presentation in Second Life, as that was where her customers would be. (That would certainly be more interesting than some of the LiveMeetings I’ve hosted…) As I heard Carol say as she headed off to log in and present, “my avatar looks like me from the neck up… I’m not so sure about the rest.”

OK, there’s the 2AM call for ‘room service’… gotta go.


Your questions: “What is going on? aQuantive… sounds like a Silicon Valley deal.”

I was asked this morning by a friend from down south at a not-so-small Internet services company: “What is going on up there [in Redmond]? Six billion for aQuantive? That is a bunch of money. It sounds like a Silicon Valley deal.”

A new record-setting, massive Microsoft acquisition, the largest the company has done. And yes, it sounds more of the type of acquisition you’d see being made in 94025, 94306 or 94043 rather than 98052.

The Seatte Times has a couple of articles today that take a look at the aQuantive acquisition announced yesterday, including this one on “What Microsoft saw in aQuantive: tools, tech and top-tier ties” from reporter Kim Peterson.

“Still, the acquisition news left some wondering why, exactly, Microsoft would pay so much for an advertising company. What is aQuantive all about, anyway?

“The 10-year-old company has grown mainly by offering top-to-bottom services for advertisers. It helps them create advertising and branding campaigns. It serves, or electronically places, those ads on popular Web sites for maximum exposure. And it offers sophisticated tools for tracking when people clicked on those ads and what they did on the Web site that followed.

“If you went to a banking site, for example, aQuantive’s system would note that and could show you ads for that bank when you visited other Web pages. And it wouldn’t be the same ad each time, either. The system could show you a sequence of ads targeted to your interests.

“AQuantive also creates Web sites for companies. It built the gaming site for Kraft, for example, and a site about youth travel programs for Disney. It created a “Fanta-island” Web site to help the Fanta beverage company reach out to teenagers.”

From my friend: “I’m surprised that you [referring to Microsoft corporate, not me personally] didn’t buy 24/7 [Real Media] for their technology [ad management systems and analytics]…” which was WPP’s announced purchase this week, for roughly a tenth of the aQuantive deal.

Good question.

Given the number of online properties Microsoft has, across (plus popular subsites like Office Online), Live, MSN, MDSN, TechNet and Xbox, there is an opportunity to leverage AQuantive’s experience in the complete cycle os ad services, from develpment to placement and ultimately the analytics to see how the ads fare in the marketplace.

Given Google’s $3.1 billion purchase of DoubleClick to augment their display advertising business, as well as Yahoo’s controlling purchase of Right Media, I wonder about the future of other online advertising technology company firms, including as ValueClick and Viewpoint.

See also Times’ reporter Benjamin Romano’s article “For $6 billion, Microsoft buys huge slice of online-ad pie” which includes this excerpt:

“Asked whether the acquisition is in part to prevent a competitor from getting aQuantive — one the last large independent digital-advertising houses — Johnson talked only of the opportunity.

“We looked at how rapidly this industry is consolidating and unfolding, and we felt like now was the time to put a stake in the ground that says we are going to take our advertising platform to the next level and we are committed to this industry for the future growth of our company,” Johnson said.”