Monday, April 26, 2010

How Your Facebook Gets Phished and Your Twitter Gets Taken

Last summer I felt like a rockstar on twitter. I had finally got into the groove, comfortable with "tweeting" and I was gaining followers like never before. Over ten a day follower emails were coming into my inbox, announcements like "Benjamin White is now following you on twitter" ... I was getting pretty good at this social media thing! By the end of one week, when I should have had a few hundred followers, I still only had 70. Something wasn't adding up but I was too busy to figure out why, so I assumed people were just rapidly following, then un-following me as some kind of retarded marketing tactic. Then it started getting out of control... 30, 40, 50 new followers a day. It was becoming a nuisance, cluttering up my Gmail, so I logged into twitter to turn off those annoying email alerts. When the alerts kept coming, that's when I knew. Nobody was following me. Twitter wasn't sending me those emails. It was phishing.

Phishing is simple. You get a phony email that's designed to look like it's from a legitimate website. People click on those emails, thinking they need to accept a new friend, or respond to something, and the hook is set.  Once they "log in" to that faux website, it's over, they are caught. Phishing goes on not just for twitter or facebook, but for eBay, Yahoo! and You Tube. It's all over the net. It's especially bad for those people who have the same login and password to more than one online account. Criminals know everybody keeps this simple, once they have your login to facebook it's highly likely they can get into your webmail and then into other accounts.

I never clicked on the announcement emails directly, I learned years ago working (at eBay actually) that this is a no-no.  Instead I'd went directly to to see who my so called new followers were. Even then it took a couple of weeks for me to figure out that I was being bombarded by phishing emails and I knew better. Still, I have different logins for everything, and gmail is excellent at figuring out what is spam and what is real.

There are other ways you can get phished, for example right within Facebook. Phishing does not have to come through your email. Any website where you can chat, or receive messages from other people you can get phished. The only rule anybody should try to remember is, don't click on links from a message that takes you to an outside site where you have to go log in. Just go to the outside site, type in that address yourself if you want to see that video, friend request, or special prize. Also, encourage your friends not to send you information that's not relevant to you.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Day In The Life Conference - Next Weekend! April 24th, 2010

Hey Designers - Have you ever thought to yourself, if only I knew the right people then I could do "x"? Or if only I could find the right research about this problem I'm trying to solve? Or maybe you realize you need a fresh perspective on life in order to come up with some really creative solutions? Well, if you're in the DC/Baltimore area then here's your chance to get all that and more!

Check out A Day In The Life Conference

Some great speakers will be presenting some interesting sessions:
  • The Business of Design
  • 140 Characters or Less
  • Branding You
  • The Designer & The Community
  • The Green Movement & The Creative Industry
  • Making the Transition from Print to Web
  • Networking 101: Make It Work For You
  • The Client Is Always Right
  • Typography: More Than Words
  • Will It Print?
  • And more!
Studioroom will be there, I hope to make some new friends and get lots of inspiration with you.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Friends Don't Let Friends Get Screwed by the Real Estate Market

Dear Friends,

I'm trying to buy a house here in the Baltimore City. I've been shopping here for over a year and since I'm new to Baltimore, and new to the house buying process, I'm really confused... I need advice and it occurs to me that many of my facebook friends have some good advice for me about Baltimore real estate, Maryland real estate, and home buying in general.

Most of what I'm looking at are small, older houses (or row houses). All of them need a bit of work, nothing is great. All homes I'm looking at are at least 60 years old. My budget is about $200k (would prefer to pay less) and so many places need so much work that when I tour a house I see tens of thousands of dollars, if not a hundred or more, in remodeling & repair work needed. It's a bit insane.

The only homes that have been selling over the past year have been either "very nice" homes or "bargain priced" fixer-upper homes. But 98% of the homes listed are neither that nice, or that much of a bargain.

What's Confusing?
From all the research I've done about the Baltimore market, I think prices here are still too high. I think that house prices should be at or below 2004 levels. (note: I don't think this is necessarily true for other markets). But *everything* I'm seeing is not priced below 2004 levels... Unless you're some kind of insider... I keep hearing about "private transactions" which are about 25% less than comparable listed houses. And then there are the auction houses which are selling for %40-%60 below current comparables.

Furthermore, Baltimore City has a tremendous OVERSUPPLY of houses. There are potentially over a thousand homes I could be considering. So why do they seem so expensive? Additionally, the city will announce plans to deal with the 30,000 (yes thirty thousand) abandoned homes homes here.


- Is the Baltimore market at it's bottom? Can it even go any lower?
- Maybe I should rule out Baltimore City altogether? Maybe Baltimore will slip backwards?
- Do any of my Baltimore friends have any advice on neighborhoods I should consider? Which ones I should be avoiding?
- Why can't I just make a lowball offer on something? (see below)
(My agent is not giving me clear advice on any of the above questions, especially the lowball question. She always says, "it depends on each seller's situation"  when what I really want to hear is "I think you can get away with THIS offer for this particular house". And she keeps mentioning how she is "really busy", I think she's sick of me.) 

I just want a decent, affordable home with a manageable mortgage, where I can be happy. I can not afford to overpay or fix problems. I need your advice.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Struever Bros. - Belvadere Square Does Not Need a Subway Sandwiches

I just learned that a Subway Sandwiches franchise will be the newest tenant at the Belvadere Square marketplace... a marketplace in my community filled with local gourmet food vendors. How a national fast food chain fits in to a unique and upscale place like the Belvadere Square is mystifying.

Hey Struever Bros., We all know commercial leases are down, but it's not fair to existing tenants or patrons to dump a Subway on us just because you want to get more rent. The Dunkin Donuts kinda sucks too. 

The landlord is Struever Bros. Eccles and Rouse.  As a real estate developer who has been "creating communities in Baltimore for 30 years" - you would think they understand a thing or two about... um... creating communities. This is not fair to the neighboring residents, the patrons of Belvadere, who have been trying to improve the community. We are the ones who ultimately pay for the marketplace. Nobody is happy about this. There are other Subways close by, up York Road in much more appropriate locations, and Subway is in direct competition with the other vendors.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hey - Please Fix Your User Experience

So I'm looking to buy a house finally. It's tricky. There are A LOT of places for sale but most of them are pretty dumpy. Now I understand why new construction is so appealing despite its boring style. Anyway, I'm using to help me find a home to buy because it's like the ebay of realestate websites. Sorting through hundreds of potential homes (yes hundreds) is really difficult. We all know that sellers like to exaggerate the appeal of their houses as much as possible. We all know that the whole house buying process seems rigged in favor of sellers and agents. The marketplace of real estate is really vague and I feel like this is intentional. I wish was more like Google Finance - but it's not and I'm stuck with it for now.

So... there are a few things Zip should be doing from a User Experience perspective which would help me, and every other buyer, but they are not.... 


#1 What is the deal with Review This Home? It just doesn't work. This could be the most useful feature on the whole site, it could help SO many users filter through the crap. It could save people so much time and effort and it just does not work. Anybody, neighbors, not necessarily home buyers ought to be able to leave a comment about a home listed on zip.  I can comment on almost anything on the internet except for the most important purchase of my life. WTF!!!? Hello! Product manager at Zip Realty - go talk to the folks at Disqus.

#2 I should be able to converse with agents, all agents, without leaving the site. Or without leaving the house detail page. It seems stupid to go back and forth over email so excessively. Why can't Zip BE a turbo charged email client for the purpose of selling homes?

#3 Filtering and organizing needs a lot of interaction design improvement. So many small interactions should automatically save. For example, if I'm trying to rank my interest level on a house this UI should automatically save my rank without me having to hit the little "save" button every single time I adjust this menu. You just don't need all those save buttons. It's called AJAX and here Zip needs to take some cues from Google.

#4 The sidebar is useless. No I do not need to see the photo, name and phone number of my agent on every sidebar in every single page view - I ALREADY HAVE THAT INFORMATION thanks. Instead I'd like to see ACTIONABLE interfaces, useful features, meaningful context, bubbled up above the fold of the page.  Users should be able to customize the sidebar on a home detail view. All social and communication tools are buried down on the page and it's too difficult to share a listing with my friends & family. Right now If I want to post a home to facebook, or email a listing to my dad, I have to scratch my head for 2 minutes figure out how to do that - every time.  It's not easy to find.

Overall Zip is pretty good, I consider it to be better than no real estate website. But the site could be greatly improved by a thorough user centered REDESIGN. My biggest complaint is that they haven't done this already, it's long overdue.