Being Different

When I was a kid, I just wanted to be normal—like everybody else. But I wasn't normal, as kids around me constantly pointed out. My hair was curly when everyone else's was straight. I was "husky" (the nice word for it) when all the other kids were skinny. I liked Broadway musicals when other kids listened to heavy metal. I didn't play baseball, I played Legos.

Before second grade started, I insisted on a Beatles haircut. My mom obliged, and when I walked into school (I can still remember it clearly) I looked around and realized to my horror that no one else had a haircut like mine. The rest of the boys mostly had crew cuts (which I called "toothbrush hair"). They all looked like "Dick" in the "Dick and Jane books," and there I was—a mop-top fab four, age seven.

I was, in short, different. And I didn't like it. I spent many years trying to fit in. Trying to be like everybody else. No one was fooled, not even me. And then, since I was a lemon, I finally started to make lemonade. I stopped trying to be "normal" and started to enjoy being an individual.

I wore different clothes a (interesting things from the thrift shop, and anything else that I liked). I worked unusual jobs. As a teenager, I was the Nurseryland Bee. I stood on the sidewalk dressed in a big bee costume and tried to attract customers driving by in cars. What I mostly did was cause traffic accidents, scare adults (kids weren't scared) and almost pass out from the heat.

I bought an unusual car, an AMC Pacer (which is still on my driveway, only now as a kind of non-kinetic sculpture). I thought (and still think) it's beautiful. I put eccentric and fun things in my house. Next to my computer monitor is a stuffed toy elephant hanging like King Kong onto the top of an aluminum model of the Chrysler building (and I don't care who knows it!). I didn't do any of this just to be different, but because this is what I liked, and I wasn't afraid to show it.

When I started to write computer books, I decided they shouldn't be like other computer books—high-tech and boring. Mine were funny and looked elegant. They were different and they sold well.

What I learned from all of this was that being different makes your work stand out. While that's terrifying as a kid, as an adult, it can be a big advantage.

A study by the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency concluded, "We see that the most popular products are those which seem unique in terms of style or functionality." Look at the hottest selling car today, the Chrysler PT Cruiser. It couldn't be more different than most cars on the road, and it's precisely that difference that makes it sell so well there's a two-year waiting list for one.

While being different may mean that some people may not like you, being boring means no one will. If you're different, chances are more will.

The same is true for web sites. Most sites tend to look so similar it's as hard to tell them apart as it is to tell a Camry from a Sentra (and where do they get those names?).

Lately I've worked for some people who, despite being adults, are still afraid to be different. These people range from late 20's to late 40's, and they're still acting like they're 14--as if being different is the worst thing in the world. They point to other sites and want to look just like them.

I say, "If you're just a copy of them, why should anyone choose you instead of them?" I think, "Grow up!"

So when you work on your site, don't try to look and sound like everybody else. Don't be afraid to be different. Make your differences into advantages. It can and will work for you.

If you've been paying more attention to numbers than I apparently have, you might have noticed that I accidentally skipped FuseLetter 41 and went from 40 to 42. To get back on track, I decided to number the last two as 47. Since only one person seemed to noticed, I'd guess you're more like me than you may care to admit. See the end of this letter for a genetic explanation.

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Psst! Wanna buy your way into a search engine?

Alexa Research (the company that created the Alexa system which you probably have in your browser but never use—to see it in IE, choose Tools/Show Related Links, in Netscape, click on the "what's related" button) says that people rarely type a URL into a browser address field. Their study finds that instead, people tend to use the site's name as a search term. (Once again, I must not be normal, because I type URLs all the time—do you?)

Other studies have said that search engines and links were the two most important ways people find your site.

Of all the search engines, from looking at my own logs, Yahoo is #1. More people come from there than any other source. My logs say that 62% of people who visited my site came from Yahoo, 23% from AltaVista, then Lycos and Excite.

So this means that getting into Yahoo is clearly important. Unfortunately, it's also clearly more difficult than the others. Other search engines simply send what's called a "robot" or "spider" to read and index your site. Yahoo has real people who adds sites that people ask them to add. So you submit your site, and wait, and wait, and sometimes wait so long you think it will never get there (and sometimes it doesn't).

Yahoo gets tens of thousands of listing requests per day, and this is why it's taking them longer and longer to add sites. But this can mean a real disadvantage for your new site or event. What's more, ideally you want more than one listing in Yahoo—and you can suggest multiple pages or sections. But getting them listed is another story.

So, if you can pay, Yahoo will play, with two ways to expedite the process. Yahoo's Business Express, http://help.yahoo.com/help/bizex/ , ensures that Yahoo "will consider and respond to your suggestion within seven business days." It does not guarantee they'll include your site. This valuable service costs US$199.00 for each web site submitted, and, get this, "Payment does not guarantee inclusion in the directory, site placement, or site commentary. It only guarantees that Yahoo! will respond to your submission." So basically, you're paying your way to the front of the line.

AltaVista has a similar service called Express submit, for the same $199: http://doc.altavista.com/addurl/ It opens doors to the AltaVista Directory, Excite, MSN, Time Warner, CNN and more than 370 ISPs.

Yahoo's next useful and commercial service is http://sponsoredsites.yahoo.com/ where you can pay your way to the top of Yahoo's listings. They're not exactly ads, but they do put you at the top, in a box, so people see you first. Yahoo's paid listings don't appear on the keyword search result pages. Pricing and availability varies by category which are priced in the $25-$300 per month range.

Consider it another business expense—it's important, and may pay for itself if it brings focused people to your site.

The other famous "pay for play" site is http://www.goto.com - you pay them a certain price every time someone clicks on your link. If someone else pays more than you do, their link is higher in the ranking. People who've done the search see exactly how much you paid for their attention.

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Adding Html, Redux

In the previous issue, I gave instructions for "simply" adding HTML (so you can easily drop in form, search boxes, PayPal web accept forms, etc.) to any page  in NetObjects Fusion. Unfortunately, I made it less than simple by not being clear about the first step.

It annoys me when other people don't write clear instructions, so I'm especially annoyed with myself for doing that. Here are the instructions again, with the first step more clearly written!

It's a really good tip—so please read it now (even if you missed it in the last issue :) Before you start, Choose View/Object icons. This will show a small blue icon wherever you insert HTML. Then:

  1. CREATE A TEXT BOX, OR DOUBLE CLICK INSIDE of an existing text box.
  2. Click your mouse where you want the HTML code.
  3. Press SHIFT-ENTER (or just plain ENTER) so that your code will be on its own line—this helps prevent formatting problems.
  4. Press the space bar once or twice. (This is optional, but it helps make the HTML icon easier to see, select and edit later).
  5. Click on the property palette's "HTML" button.
  6. Cut the HTML code from PayPal (or any other source).
  7. Paste the code into this box and click on OK.

If you want to edit the code later, just double click on the blue icon and the HTML edit window will appear. More details.

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Movie Time

Personally, the Oscar I find most interesting is Oscar Levant, but be that as it may, it's "Oscar" time. While I believe these awards are really just a great publicity stunt for Hollywood, they are an entertaining evening of fashion and production numbers that are so bad they're good.

If you want to visit the best site about movies, I highly recommend The Internet Movie Database, at http://www.imdb.com . You can search for any movie, any actor, actress, director, producer, whatever. All the credits are there as well as many pictures and posters. To see the official Academy Awards® site, see www.oscars.com .

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Do Good For Free With Just A Click

NOW is the time to visit these sites, and click to donate for free. Visit their advertisers, too, so they'll keep supporting these good causes.

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One more thing...

The Washington Post reports: The latest genetic discoveries reveal all people are about 99.9 percent genetically identical. So no matter how different way may look or act—we're really far more similar than different, and under the skin (and even in the skin) we're all almost identical. So don't be afraid of people who are different. Remember they're 99.9% just like you—and you can learn from the .1% that's different.




Like the stories? Buy the book!

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The SchoomozeLetter is ©1998-2005, Daniel Will-Harris, all rights reserved. If you'd like to use any article on the web or in print, please ask for permission. If you're an agent or publisher looking to publish these pieces, just drop me a note.