$300 Million Button: making customers create logins to buy cost etailer $300M/year

"The $300 Million Button," Jared Spool's 2009 article on usability and ecommerce design, is remarkable in that it a) articulates something that anyone who shops widely online already knows; b) is advice that would make a lot of money for sites if they adopted it; c) has been part of the literature for at least two and a half years; d) is roundly ignored.

Spool is recounting the story of an unnamed large ecommerce retailer who had one of those forms that made you register before you could buy anything, and to remember your login and password before you could shop there again. Removing this form, and allowing the option of saving your details with a login and password at the end of the transaction, increased the retailer's sales by $300,000,000 in the first year.

From a commerce perspective, the Internet's glory is reduced search costs for customers. When I was making my office coffee table, I decided I wanted to source some brightly colored anodized aluminum bolts, nuts and washers. I'd never bought these before, but I assumed they existed, and I was right -- a couple searches showed me that they existed and were sold to motorcycle modders. I found a site that supplied them, and ordered sixteen of each, plus some spares. It was the first time in 39-some years I'd needed brightly colored bolts, and it may very well be that long again before I need any more.

So while this specialist bolt retailer is visible to motorcyle hobbyists and can compete for their repeat business with other specialists, they're also tapping into a market to whom they were entirely invisible until the net came along. Read the rest

Alan Turing's hand-drawn Monopoly Board

Update: William Newman has the true history of this artifact: "May I confess to being the perpetrator of said 'board', which I drew on a sheet of paper back in the 1950s when I was in my early teens and lacked the money to buy a proper set. My brother and I played on it, and when Alan asked if he could join us in a game we played a threesome (Alan lost). Later the board fell into disuse and I lost track of it about 50 years ago, but it recently turned up (together with the rules), see http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/news/docview.rhtm/644565. The Roman numerals indicated property prices. I forget why I added the diagonal. "

Yesterday, I had the delightful experience of attending a fundraiser for Bletchley Park, the birthplace of modern computing and cryptography, where the Allied WWII cipher-breaking effort was headquartered. Cold War paranoia caused Churchill to order Bletchley broken up, its work kept secret, its machines destroyed, and, very slowly, it is being rebuilt.

Earlier this year, the Bletchley Trust acquired Alan Turing's papers for the collection with a grant from Google.org, and I got this shot of Turing's awesome hand-drawn Monopoly board -- the cryptographers of Bletchley were sequestered from the rest of the world and desperate for distraction, hence this great bit of historical ephemera.

I also learned that Turing didn't believe the UK economy would survive WWII even if the Allies won the war, and so he drew as much of his pay as he could in silver half-crowns, melted them down, created two enormous ingots, and buried them somewhere in the region. Read the rest

AntiSec leaks 10GB of law enforcement data

AntiSec dropped a 10GB dump of information this evening, hacked from dozens of law enforcement agencies. Promised in the cache are hundreds of compromising email spools, personal information about officers, police training videos, and the contents of insecure anonymous tip systems. [Pastee via @ioerror] Read the rest

The most beautiful female goat in the world

Photo: Ali Jarekji / Reuters

Wasieef, a Maaz Al Shami (Damascene goat), won the first prize for the "Most Beautiful Goat" title in the female category at a recent event in Amman, Jordan. The Mazayen al-Maaz competition was the first such event held in the desert kingdom. If you would like to see Wasieef looking right at you, a portrait is after the jump. Read the rest

Who is the man living in Fukushima evacuation zone?

Max Hodges of White Rabbit Express says:

About two months after 3/11 I started working on this long-term documentary photography story. I took my bicycle up to Fukushima and entered the 20 kilometer evacuation zone in order to document the fate of the many abandoned livestock and pet dogs and cats.

While working, alone in the exclusion zone, I came across a man, Shoji Kobayashi, who had been living alone in a town just 15 kilometers from the Daiichi reactor where everyone had evacuated. Kobayshi became the central subject of my story.

Inside the Fukushima Evacuation Zone, Part I: Shoji Kobayashi Read the rest

Blizzard "surprised" at fan rage over Diablo III online requirement

Earlier this week, Blizzard announced that the forthcoming Diablo III would be online-only, despite not being an MMO. Fan reaction has been brutal. MTV's Russ Frushtick writes:

"I'm actually kind of surprised in terms of there even being a question in today's age around online play and the requirement around that," said Bridenbecker. "We've been doing online gameplay for 15 years now…and with 'World of WarCraft' and our roots in Battle.net and now with 'Diablo 3,' it really is just the nature of how things are going, the nature of the industry. When you look at everything you get by having that persistent connection on the servers, you cannot ignore the power and the draw of that."

He also points out that you can play solo online, and that it's about where saves are saved, not DRM, which sucks as far as they are concerned, hurrah.

But here's the thing. Even if Blizzard did it for the good reasons Bridenbecker describes, news of the cash-for-items marketplace and a ban on user modifications emerged at the same time. Because there are no coincidences on the Internet, this makes it look like a scheme to get everyone online where they may pay to upgrade characters, share their doings on social networks, and all that nonsense--even if that's not really the deal at all. It's created fear, uncertainty, and doubt about a game series that's been a gold standard in zero-bullshit single-payment solo 'n' multi PC gaming for a decade. Read the rest

Piers listened to voicemails; Guardian editor also used voicemail 'hack'

More from the Murdochery of recent weeks: it looks like Piers Morgan, the CNN host who was a tabloid editor at the time but denied any involvement, really does have some explaining to do. He gave an interview in 2006 in which he described listening to celebrity voicemails:

In an article published by the Daily Mail, Morgan said that he had been played a tape of a message [Paul] McCartney had left on [Heather] Mills' cell phone in the wake of one of their fights.

"It was heartbreaking," Morgan wrote. "He sounded lonely, miserable and desperate, and even sang 'We Can Work It Out' into the answerphone."

A Guardian editor also admitted hacking voicemails in a 2006 story. Though it was to investigate a corrupt arms trader, the fact that people are now concerned about what happened to Heather Mills suggests that this line of reasoning may not get him off the hook. Read the rest

Outside Lands 2011 limerick contest: The Winnahs!

I am pleased to announce that the winners of Boing Boing's Outside Lands 2011 Limerick Contest are MANDELBEN and CJHOWAREYA! Competition was fierce. MANDELBEN and CKHOWAREYA each score a pair of 3-Day Tickets to the Outside Lands festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Part, August 12 through 14! A very limited number of 3-Day and Single Day Tickets are still available for purchase. And now, the winning wordplay:


I just earned me a bachelor's degree, and then moved to the Bay by the sea. Now I find that I'm broke - and my learning's a joke - so I'll take anything I can free.

And a chance just to see those folks play? That would make any poor mutant's day. So I'm letting you know that I do want to go (more than Cory hates DMCA). There are Phish and Stone Foxes and Mi5e; "Are they furries?" I ask, thinking twice. But dear Xeni's cat gifs have awakened my yiffs, so I shrug, nonchalant, "could be nice."

Oh can't I attend Outside Lands? I've already made costume plans: Wearing only pop tarts I'll spew rainbow farts, and spend all three days singing Nyans!

(If nothing else, pity my plight: I lost my left arm in a fight. If my buddy and I could catch tunes 'neath the sky, why, I'm sure I'd soon feel *all right.*)


OutsideLands, you wonderful beast! Each year, a musical feast! A balding Mick Jones Would delight my old bones, As would beats by Zigaboo Modaliste.

Read the rest

Sponsor shout out: Watchismo

Our thanks to Watchismo for sponsoring Boing Boing Blast, our daily delivery of blog headlines to your inbox.

SNEAK PEEK: Watchismo is the first to unveil the pre-release spy shots and offer the new Nixon Rubber 51-30 and Nixon Rubber Murf watches. They're available for pre-order at only at Watchismo.com. So many cool watches, so few limbs to put them on... Read the rest

Friday Freak-Out: Booker T and the MGs' "Green Onions" (1967)

[video link]

Friday Freak-Out: Booker T and the MGs perform "Green Onions" on the Stax Volt Tour of Norway, 1967. Following this are more smoking numbers by Arthur Conley, Sam and Dave, Eddie Floyd, the Mark-Keys, and, yes, Otis Redding. The video is in six parts. All of these artists can be heard on the essential box set "Stax Volt: The Complete Singles 1959-1968." (via Greg Dulli/@twilitekid)


Friday Freak-Out: Electric Lucifer – Boing Boing Friday Freak-Out: The Rolling Stones' “2000 Light Years From Home ... Friday Freak-Out: The 5th Dimension's “Up, Up and Away” (1967 ... Friday Freak-Out: Ready, Steady, Go psych/mod parody from ... Friday Freak-Out: The Hi-5′s “Did you have to rub it in?” (1965 ... Friday Freak-Out: The Electric Prunes' “I Had Too Much To Dream ... Friday Freak-Out: Arthur Brown's “Nightmare” – Boing Boing Friday Freak-Out: Brothers Johnson play “Strawberry Letter #23 ... Friday Freak-Out: It's A Beautiful Day's “White Bird” (1971 ... Friday Freak-Out: Donovan's “Hurdy Gurdy Man” (1970) – Boing Boing Read the rest

HTTPS Everywhere goes 1.0: make your browser support to secure connections when they're available

HTTPS Everywhere, the Electronic Frontier Foundation's browser add-on that forces encrypted connections to sites that have the option, has just hit 1.0, 13 months after its first public beta. By using HTTPS Everywhere, you can protect your browsing habits from being peeked at by people on your network and by your ISP, as well as protecting potentially valuable login credentials. I use it.

"HTTPS secures web browsing by encrypting both requests from your browser to websites and the resulting pages that are displayed," said EFF Senior Staff Technologist Peter Eckersley. "Without HTTPS, your online reading habits and activities are vulnerable to eavesdropping, and your accounts are vulnerable to hijacking. Today's Paxfire revelations are a grand example of how things can go wrong. EFF created HTTPS Everywhere to make it easier for people to keep their user names, passwords, and browsing histories secure and private. With the revelation that companies like Paxfire are out there, intercepting millions of people's searches without their permission, this kind of protection is indispensable."

HTTPS Everywhere 1.0 encrypts connections to Google Image Search, Flickr, Netflix, Apple, and news sites like NPR and the Economist, as well as dozens of banks. HTTPS Everywhere also includes support for Google Search, Facebook, Twitter, Hotmail, Wikipedia, the New York Times, and hundreds of other popular websites.

It's true -- and regrettable -- that BB doesn't have HTTPS options for its readers yet. It's something that we've talked about a lot, but the costs associated with it are substantial, as it's much more processor-intensive than serving pages without encrypting them, and we often seem to be at the limits of our existing hardware. Read the rest

3 things you need to know about biofuels

Why care about liquid fuel?

There’s a reason we use different forms of energy to do different jobs, and it’s not because we’re all just that fickle. Instead, we’ve made these decisions based on some combination of what has (historically, anyway) given us the best results, what is safest, what is most efficient, and what costs us the least money.

In a nutshell, that’s why liquid fuel is so valuable. So far, it’s the clear winner when we need energy for transportation—especially air transportation and heavy, long-distance shipping—because it allows you to stuff a lot of energy into relatively small amount of storage space, and easily refill on the go. There are other options, of course, like electricity. And that can work quite well, depending on what you’re trying to do. Eventually, we may find ourselves in a world where liquid fuel is no longer the best option. But we aren’t there yet. And for those forms of transport that take us into the air or move our belongings very long distances, we aren't likely to get there for a good long time.

That's why I care about liquid fuel, and why I'm interested in the future of biofuels. Yes, biofuels do have a future. But what that future will be depends on whether we can control for some very messy variables. Here, in three points, are the big things you need to know about biofuel.

1. Corn ethanol really is flawed. But maybe not as much as you think.

Biofuel is a nice, round word encompassing a lot of tricky, little, oddly shaped dots. Read the rest

Many US ISPs in epidemic of covert search-hijacking of their customers

The Electronic Frontier Foundation worked with UC Berkeley's International Computer Science Institute to uncover a widespread program of search-hijacking by American ISPs. Many US ISPs run covert proxies that redirect certain lucrative search queries (made by customers who believe that they are searching Google or another search engine) to their preferred suppliers, pocketing an affiliate fee for delivering their customers. Participating ISPs, which include Cavalier, Cogent, Frontier, Fuse, DirecPC, RCN, and Wide Open West (Charter used to do this, but appear to have stopped), did not disclose the practice to their customers, who were meant to believe that they were getting the search results that their preferred search-engines had presented.

EFF and ICSI uncovered the vendor that supplied the hijacking software, a company called Paxfire.

Using EFF's HTTPS Everywhere Firefox extension and a search-engine that permits HTTPS logins (such as Google or DuckDuckGo) will prevent this sort of hijacking.

The published research papers did not identify the controller of the proxy servers that were receiving the traffic, but parallel investigations by the ICSI Networking Group and EFF have since revealed a company called Paxfire as the main actor behind this interception. Paxfire's privacy policy says that it may retain copies of users' "queries", a vague term that could be construed to mean either the domain names that they look up or the searches they conduct, or both. The redirections mostly occur transparently to the user and few if any of the affected ISP customers are likely to have ever heard of Paxfire, let alone consented to this collection of their communications with search engines.

Read the rest

What's it take to get off nuclear power?

To get off nuclear power, Germany plans to make its electricity system 80% renewable by 2050. That's not going to be easy. Just to reach the first milestone of that goal—35% renewable capacity by 2020—the country will have to build 2,800 miles of new, high-voltage transmission lines. Although, one significant thing missing from this story: How many miles of transmission lines Germany would have normally built during that time. Even so, watch this space for financing debates, NIMBY wars, and what promises to be some really fascinating problem solving. (Via Michael Noble and thanks to Chris Baker!) Read the rest

Atlas rockets could carry astronauts to space again

It looks like Boeing will be the main competitor for Space X in the race to see what U.S. company will provide the commercial space flight services that NASA eventually plans to rely on.

Space X has its Dragon capsule, and Boeing is developing a new capsule system, called the CST-100. That capsule would ride into space under the power of an Atlas V rocket, an engineering descendant of the Atlas rockets that carried the first four American astronauts to space half a century ago. Read the rest

Write an adventure novel in three days, the Michael Moorcock way

Michael Moorcock's tips for writing complete adventure novels in three days are the fruit of his early career, when he was writing novels (including his Elric classics) in three to ten days each. The advice comes from the opening chapter of the out-of-print Michael Moorcock: Death Is No Obstacle, which consists of interviews Moorcock conducted with Colin Greenwood. It's really good insight into how you can take mechanical plots and plot-devices and use them to make a book charge forward at a rate of knots, and still hang many different kinds of story, insight, and language off of them.

* "[The formula is] The Maltese Falcon. Or the Holy Grail. You use the quest theme, basically. In The Maltese Falcon it's a lot of people after the same thing, which is the Black Bird. In Mort D'Arthur it's also a lot of people after the same thing, which is the Holy Grail. That's the formula for Westerns too: everybody's after the gold of El Dorado or whatever." (Cf the MacGuffin.)

* "The formula depends on that sense of a human being up against superhuman forces, whether it's Big Business, or politics, or supernatural Evil, or whatever. The hero is fallible in their terms, and doesn't really want to be mixed up with them. He's always just about to walk out when something else comes along that involves him on a personal level." (An example of this is when Elric's wife gets kidnapped.)

* "There is an event every four pages, for example -- and notes.

Read the rest

Lucky Cosmonaut

Everybody say, "Hello," to Russian cosmonaut Yury Malenchenko. Hi, Yury!

I like this photo because he kind of reminds me of one of those Japanese lucky cats.

Image: REUTERS/Sergei Remezov

Read the rest

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