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Sony's "PlayStation Portable" Premieres!

Sony's "PlayStation Portable" Premieres! Mark Friedler

Throw away your iPods! Forget TiVo! That stuff is old hat -- the Youth Entertainment Revolution began last night at midnight. The media world as you know it will never be the same again, especially if your company, clients or brands depend on 18- to 34-year-olds. If you don’t know what is happening today then wake up, walk into a Best Buy, surf a game site or ask a hipster. You'll discover that today was the U.S. launch of the biggest innovation in personal entertainment since the Walkman, Sony’s PlayStation Portable or PSP. (At the end of the article I'll give you some practical tips on how to take advantage of this changing landscape.)

The PSP is a sleek black WiFi ready handheld 6.7 x 2.9 inch unit. It is less than one inch thick, retails for $249, plays video games, movies, music, and its super crisp screen can also be used as a portable photo album. (For more info, visit this Sony site.) The first million units have a package of goodies including the "Spiderman 2" movie on a new, plastic encased, proprietary 1.8 gigabyte mini DVD format called the Universal Media Disk (UMD), a remote control, a case and a 32 MB memory stick. The PSP is an iPod-style machine with a free game machine and movie player. (Okay, it's not there yet with music features to match the iPod, but it will be.) You can see a complete online guide here.

The youth of today want to bring their entertainment with them, and they are used to a lot more than just music. Remember your first Walkman? I do. My high school history teacher thought “it was silly” to use one of those new fangled music players in the hallway; it looked so odd back in 1981. The concept of bringing entertainment with you was born with the Walkman. At least my history teacher understood the concept of listening to music. Many adults soon enjoyed music portability, and today everyone is plugged in on the street, train and at the gym.

Today, it’s a bigger leap as many of us in the 30-plus crowd have no idea why kids play videogames, what they do or how to operate one. Basically, many of us old farts don’t get it.

On March 17, the decidedly unhip Wall Street Journal featured a full-color front page article on its Marketplace section about the PSP under the headline “Games for Grown Ups.” In the article, Sony EVP Andrew House said the device is aimed at 18- to 34-year-olds who want a digital “object of desire.”

Sony has sponsored fashion shows in LA with designers such as Marc Jacobs, Diane Von Furstenberg and Coach, all to introduce PSP accessories. House went on in the Wall Street Journal article to declare that “we recognize we're moving into the fashion business” with the PSP. (J.Lo designed a fur muff for it.)

In a deeper product review, the Journal’s gadget-loving Walter Mossberg points out several shortcomings of the PSP, including that it has no onboard hard disk like the iPod or other music players, but relies instead on removable proprietary memory sticks; it lacks standard music play button menus, and there are a lot of buttons mainly used for game playing.

Forbes magazine jumped into the fray in a March 23 review where they complain that the onboard speakers aren’t great and that the mini-DVD, the UMD, is non-recordable. Both the Journal and Forbes lament the size and sleekness of the PSP doesn’t stack up to the iPod.

The stodgy business guys at the Journal and Forbes don’t get it! They may be right about little features, but in my opinion they are missing the big news that should be clear for all -- especially digital marketers.

The age of rich portable entertainment is here

The PSP ushers in a new era of digital media. It is the tipping point. It leads with games, but blurs the lines separating games from the two big entertainment trends that are already important to digital marketers: movies and music, both of which are proven as popular and profitable.

We’ve all taken music on the road for over 20 years. MP3s revolutionized music portability. The iPod kicked down that door with a hip, easy-to-use consumer music device. Many road warriors enjoy a DVD movie on the plane in their laptop or small DVD players; mom turns on the minivan entertainment system to keep the kids happy (and quiet), and a few folks have shelled out big bucks for mini digital video players.

Portable gaming is nothing new. Nintendo has basically owned the market for the past 16 years with its GameBoy products that have sold over 28 million units. Its new Dual Screen DS product was the product of desire this past holiday season.

Recent entrants include phone giant Nokia’s NGage, which is a combined digital communications device and game machine, as well as the soon-to-be released Gizmondo. (For more about handheld gaming see my January column.)

The point is none of these consumer behaviors are new. There has been a strong, profitable market for each of them. Sony is first to the market with a combined entertainment solution that is elegant, easy to use, affordable and stylish.

Don’t think the others are just standing still. The revolution moves ahead with High Definition TV and video. In fact Microsoft is betting heavily on this trend in its upcoming Xbox 2 video game system. At the recent Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, Microsoft gaming executive J Allard gave a keynote address explaining about how the software and entertainment giant sees a “HD revolution” impacting entertainment and advertising. To underline his point, he gave away 1,000 Samsung 23” HD TVs to about one-third of the stunned audience. (You can read an interview with Allard here.)

Microsoft has pushed the digital entertainment envelope with its Xbox live service, which has been a catalyst for many games on the platform, by providing a global interactive community that has been a core competitive advantage for many Xbox titles.

Nintendo, the reigning champ of portable entertainment, has announced its next generation game platform appropriately named “Revolution.” Nintendo’s president Satoru Iwata also gave a keynote to the GDC stating that Nintendo will do bold new innovation with a new interface that is “easy to use for everyone.” All new products will be WiFi enabled. Iwata emphasized that Nintendo will not only continue to cater to core gamers by improving traditional video games, but they also will create new experiences that will appeal to both gamers and non-gamers, thereby attracting a new audience to video games and expanding the market. (You can read a more detailed account of Iwata's speech here.)

Add to all this the recent exuberance in mobile communications. The convergence of high speed mobile networks and upstart publishers -- such as Digital Chocolate, Jamdat, Kayak, MForma and Sorrent -- all coming out of nowhere to stake major positions with innovative mobile games and entertainment, all battling against the slower moving traditional entertainment powerhouses.

How to take advantage of the revolution

All this activity and change is great news for interactive marketers and the brands they represent. You have a very receptive audience for your message. These people are entertainment enthusiasts. They are moving seamlessly between digital entertainment formats. The big news is that today’s sub-21-year-old audience is totally fluent with all this convergence stuff.

We’ve all heard of or experienced the multitasking teen doing four things at once on their broadband connected computer and moving between text messaging cell phones, iPods, game machines and video players. The next group up, the 21- to 34-year-olds (I'll call them “Generation B” for the Broadband Generation) have lived with the internet for the past 10 years, had broadband wired dorms with PlayStations and Xboxes, found their dates, jobs and housing online, and now consume most of their news online.

TV cannot offer the flexibility of messaging that reaches these people as most of them don’t watch much TV. Print is static, though useful in presenting a cool page layout. Taking advantage of this motion and music play is where online can really shine.

The other big news is this stuff is real. The PSP can be bought today. The rest of these Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony innovations will be announced at the E3 Expo in May.

Here is how to take advantage of this new category:

  1. Think video. Can your product or service be explained and marketed with video instead of text and flash banners? You have a receptive audience out there.

  2. Watch the video game and film markets. They are already heavily using video trailers, ads and integrated broadband messages that resonate well with Generation B.

  3. Think speed. Check out a game at EB Games or Best Buy. Notice the speed of the action, the tight integration of music, action and imagination. Slowness will bore Generation B. Think fast, witty and entertaining -- especially if yours is a consumer product not usually associated with these traits.

  4. Games = Movies = Entertainment.

  5. Trust your agency or fire them. Your youth users want to be entertained. Advertising can be fun and entertaining if it’s a streamed trailer, bold corner peel, full-screen take over or rich floating unit. Ask your agency to steer you in the right direction. If they drag their feet, buy them a PSP, then fire them. (And if the agency you interview doesn’t understand this column, don’t hire them either!)

  6. Lead. All this is happening very fast. If just a year ago you had told a core gamer they would have a full DVD playing game/movie/music machine in their pocket for $250 today, you would have been met with disbelief. So stake out your position, lead your client, lead your brand, innovate and make it fun. You will be rewarded!

Mark Friedler is CEO and co-founder of Gigex, Inc./GameDAILY, a leading provider of video game news, reviews, and free downloads that launched in 1995. He is a frequent speaker and panelist at industry trade gatherings including CES, E3, Digital Hollywood and events sponsored by Microsoft, IQPC, Jupiter Communications, Digital Media Wire, IEMA, SIIA and iHollywood Forum. He was chairperson for IQPC's conference "Best Practices for Marketing, Selling and Distributing Software over the Internet." Previously, Friedler was Director of Marketing at Reach Networks, Inc from 1994 to 1995; there, he managed marketing and sales of integrated services to Fortune 500 clients.
GameDAILY is a leading video game media company that reaches over 23 million gamers each month through its
destination site, and a network of over 130 affiliated sites and portals. Its free business-to-business newsletter, GameDAILY BIZ is the leading video game trade publication.

Why most sites are second-rate

The key causes of the aforementioned problem are that HTML is fairly simple and web browsers are extremely forgiving.

HTML is a very easy coding system to learn. All you need to do is memorize a few dozen tags, and you can create pleasing and effective websites. This enables many people to teach themselves HTML and become web designers. Unfortunately, most of them don't learn it properly or have any real understanding of what they're trying to achieve. Most of them think building websites is about creating stuff that looks good, but it's more subtle than that. Web design is really about building stuff that looks good on someone else's device, not your own, and that are useful. There are literally hundreds of ways you can code HTML to create the same visual effect, but many of these will create a slow, unresponsive site that will drive people crazy or that will render the site impenetrable to search engines.

Furthermore, even if you make mistakes in the coding, browsers will bend over backwards to handle your error. This means you can learn HTML incompletely and make mistakes in your coding without ever knowing because the browser is constantly compensating for your errors.

Gross neglect of speed

The most common failing of the second-rate coder is bloatware -- vast quantities of overly long and complex code where a few efficient lines would do the same task. It's as if Charles Dickens was their model: "Why use two lines of code where 20 will accomplish the same task?" Sometimes it looks like these coders are being paid by the line, and sometimes it looks like they're just trying to make work for themselves to avoid doing anything more useful.

However, I suspect what is really happening is they're just grabbing the first solution that springs to mind and never raising themselves to the level of asking, "Can I do this better? Is there a more efficient way of coding this?" It's far easier to simply trot out code like a donkey with your brain in neutral.

Bloatware has a number of negative consequences. First, it makes the pages slower to download and harder for the browser to process. Both download and processing time are important factors in search engines' assessments of a site because they want to send people to faster sites. As mobile computing grows, this will become a bigger and bigger issue.

Speed seems to have been forgotten by the web design industry around the time broadband arose. Prior to that, in the 1990s, everyone was very aware that web pages took time to download and bore that in mind when designing websites. Speed was so central to design that major development tools like Dreamweaver kept a running total of download time in the status bar as you coded so that you could see the impact of your changes on the site's speed. Designers didn't like casting aside their lovely creations because they were too slow, but they accepted the commercial realities of the world they inhabited and learned to compromise between appearance and performance.

With the rise of broadband, the web design industry simply forgot about speed to the point of ridiculousness. These days, designers throw in multiple calls from browser to server during page rendering. They call down web fonts, third-party components in iframes, and so on. The consequence is that many websites are slower now, over high-speed broadband, than they were when we were all running 256K dial-up connections.

While designers might have forgotten about speed, users haven't. There's a direct connection between website speed and the site's appeal. Sites that render in under five seconds are four times more likely to get a conversion than sites that take longer. This situation is even worse in the mobile market. In mobile, the critical time span is only two seconds, and you will get 10 times more mobile conversions if you meet this limit. Since search engines want to send people to sites that people like, search engines reserve the higher rankings for faster sites.

Most sites can be dramatically sped up with no visual changes, simply by re-coding for speed. Many sites use multiple JavaScript functions, called from multiple JavaScript files. It doesn't take more than a few minutes to combine them all into a single file. That alone can double the speed of a website. The same is true of CSS files, which provide stylistic information. While web fonts can look great, they are slow because they have to be downloaded from the web. Even Google warns designers about this and recommends no more than one web font per website.

Most search engine optimizers know all this. This is why a good SEO company will want to "search optimize" your site's code. Its salespeople might tell you they're doing fancy stuff based on a detailed knowledge of Google's search algorithms, but what the SEO techie is really doing is nothing more than basic code optimization for speed. This is something every web designer used to do automatically. It remains something customers could reasonably expect from every web designer today as a basic part of the service. But they don't get it, so SEO companies charge for it.

The CSS problem

Bloatware is even more common in second-rate CSS coding. CSS is the system used to tell a browser what visual appearance page elements should have. Most page elements, such as paragraphs and headings, have a default appearance, but it's pretty horrible. CSS is used to add extra style commands to do things like change margins, create borders, specify fonts and colors, and so forth. Tricks like sliding menus or transparent backgrounds can also be accomplished with CSS.

To give an element a specific appearance with CSS, you have three choices. The most basic method is to create a new default appearance, which will apply to that type of element everywhere. I can, for example, specify that all headings will be 20 point and red. The downside is that this will apply everywhere, without exception. It is therefore more usual to create a "class" for that element. So I could create a red/20pt class for headings, and then apply it only to the exceptional headings that I wanted to give that appearance, leaving the rest unchanged. Thirdly, I could also create an "id," which has pretty much the same effect as a class.

The standard says you use classes when you want to use the same formatting over and over, and ids when you only want to use that formatting once. Browsers are programmed to hold these objects in memory differently as a result, tuning handling of divs for multiple calls and treating ids as one-time disposable objects. However, many second-rate coders will use multiple ids with identical formatting. They should be using just one class.

While this might seem like a pedantic distinction, it has a huge impact on performance. Each CSS definition has to be downloaded by the browser and individually processed, so the more of them you have, the bigger your files, the slower the download time, and the longer it will take the browser to process the page before it can display it. It is therefore obvious you don't want any more CSS definitions than necessary. Yet website after website is bloated with multiple identical CSS definitions. Many pages contain a unique id for every element, yet all those different ids do exactly the same thing. I have seen web pages with literally hundreds of different ids, all designed to create exactly the same appearance. Each of them had to be individually processed, taking time, when one class could have done the same job in less than 1 percent of the time.

What sort of idiot would code multiple copies of exactly the same thing? Didn't they realize the stupidity of what they were doing while they copy-pasted the same commands over and over? No -- they were simply second-rate coders doing a second-rate job. They weren't thinking about what they were doing at all; they were just doing it. If there were enough coders to meet the demand, we could do the world a favor and throw these people out into the street where they belong. But there's a shortage of coders, so SEO agencies pick up easy cash cleaning up the mess second-rate coders leave behind.

Lazy structure

CSS misuse gets worse when it comes to creating a proper "meta structure." The meta structure of a document is its major functional components. Web pages have headings and paragraphs, and often lists and tables. Search engines need to know which is which. A heading tells the search engine something about the paragraph underneath it and is clearly a different type of content from that paragraph. Search engines need to know whether copy is a heading or a paragraph so it can understand the structure of the page and how the different bits of copy relate to each other.

However, many web designers don't use paragraphs or headings at all. Instead of using the correct

and tags designed 25 years ago for just this purpose, they use

is just code for a block of space on screen. It could be a paragraph, a call out box, a block of images, the entire page, or almost anything else. Designers use it because it has no default appearance, so it can be used to easily create whatever style they want.

There's nothing wrong with using divs -- unless they are being used instead of paragraph and heading tags. With CSS, it is possible to make a set of divs that create the visual appearance of headings and paragraphs so the design works fine for humans. However, if your page has no headings or paragraphs, search engines won't be able to tell what's what in your page. If you have competitor websites that are doing HTML properly -- using heading and paragraph tags to guide the search engines -- they will outrank you simply because search engines will be more certain of their understanding of the content. As a result, much SEO work is simply replacing divs with

and tags. Easy money, courtesy of second-rate coders.

Not all divs are bad. Divs are essential for creating visual appearance around a block of paragraphs, or for things like rounded corners in borders. However, even here we see bloatware. Lazy designers are those who don't think, but instead simply write vast amounts of inefficient code.

A common bloatware technique is to use one div for one aspect of the appearance, such as a border style, then another inside it for the font formatting, then another inside that for the line spacing, then another inside that for a background color, and so forth. Some pages end up with 10 or 15 divs nested inside each other when one or two could have done exactly the same job. They might even repeat this overloaded structure on every single paragraph. Multiple divs like this are very complicated for the browser to process because CSS commands can override other CSS commands. This means multiple divs have to be cross-referenced with each other to determine the final appearance. This makes a noticeable impact on speed and can even overload some browsers completely so that they can't display properly at all. Good coders try to minimize the number of nested divs they deploy. Second-rate coders simply never think it through to this level.

Ignorance on the server level

Second-rate work at the server level also provides SEO agencies with some easy money. There is a (small) set of "status codes" that web servers use to indicate the status of web pages to browsers and search engines when they ask for them. The most common code is 200, which means "everything is OK." After sending out a 200 status code, the server will follow up with the requested file.

The next most common one is 404, which means "can't find the file, server's running fine, no idea what's wrong." A 404 is not an appropriate code for a server to send out when a webpage has been removed from the site, moved, or renamed. A 410 is the correct code to say "permanently deleted," and there are codes in the 300 range for different types of file relocation or renaming. Yet most websites intentionally serve a 404 for pages that have been deleted, renamed or moved. This drives search engines nuts. Getting a 404 is like your website saying, "Gee dude, I'm working perfectly, I think, but duh, don't know, like wow, I can't find the file, this is like, you know, check it out, something's not right, but -- hey -- don't ask me what's wrong 'cause I'm OK. Bye." In other words, 404 is a good way of saying, "My website's a moron."

The 404 code is not a strategy -- it's the absence of thought by server admins, usually under the "guidance" of thoughtless web designers (who were the people who removed, renamed, or moved the page in the first place). If Google asks for a page and gets a 404, it has to come back and ask for the page again. If the page has been intentionally removed, it could waste six months repeatedly asking for the page. Multiply this over billions of websites, and it adds up to a significant cost for Google, a cost that could have been avoided if people merely ran their websites according to the standard they're getting paid to use. As a result, Google promotes websites that use status codes as they were designed and downgrades the listings of sites that just moronically 404 everything. So a good SEO design agency can take more of your money for simply setting up a proper HTTP status code regime -- a task your web designers should have done as part of normal operations.

The problem with SEO agencies

You won't hear any of this from most SEO agencies. Most SEO agencies survive via their working relationship with design agencies. Customers usually seek out design agencies, relying on the designers to provide the SEO services. Sometimes these are delivered from in-house staff, sometimes via an outside SEO specialist.

If an SEO agency gets called in by the design agency, they're not going to damage that relationship by telling the client much of the fee is simply because the agency did a second-rate coding job. The SEO agency keeps its opinions to itself. Even if the design agency's management could handle being told, the SEO agency won't do it. Firstly, the SEO staff have to liaise directly with the coders. It makes for difficult working relationships if your liaison knows you've told his boss that you think his work is sub-standard. Secondly, it rarely does any good. Most design agencies lack suitable technical management structures to address this issue. Furthermore, most web design team leaders are just as second-rate as their staff. Coding quality is usually cultural to a business. In a good design agency, all staff at all levels will code well (after all it's not hard), while all the work coming out of a second-rate agency will be badly coded, no matter who codes it.

It's worse if the SEO staff are inside the design agency. There's no way they can tell the client much of the fee is simply for covering over second-rate coding by their co-workers. In most cases the SEO people won't even warn their own management because, for the reasons just listed, it won't make any difference, it won't increase the company's bottom line, nor will it be welcomed by managers who (usually) can't do anything about it.

How to fix this massive problem

If you can cut HTML code, you'll know whether you are guilty of these second-rate practices yourself. If you are, have a little respect for your craft and learn to code HTML properly.

If you're a customer, not a coder, firstly you have my sympathy. If you're unsure whether your sites are the work of second-rate coding, open the code up (a simple "view source" in most browsers). Do you see every paragraph starting with

and every heading starting with tags (


, etc.)? Or do you see line after line of div tags? This is not rocket science. If you can't find

or tags in your pages, you've got a second-rate website.

Remember: You can't tell a second-rate coding job from the visual appearance of the site. A site can look great and still be second-rate. It's just like a house. I could create a building with fancy windows and ornate architectural features -- something that looked great. But if it was made of rotten timbers, bad wiring, and leaky plumbing, it would still be a second-rate house -- albeit a good-looking second-rate house. A website can be just like that: a second-rate mess that looks great.

If you have a second-rate website, you're not ready for SEO. Your initial SEO expenditures will just get consumed bringing your site's code up to scratch. Don't join in the SEO conspiracy of "let's take money for doing what those second-rate web designers were supposed to do in the first place." Get rid of your second-rate code before you take your site to the search engines. The search engines will punish you if you don't.

Brandt Dainow is the CEO of ThinkMetrics.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Discretion" image via Shutterstock.

Mark is a marketing, business development and management exec and serial Internet entrepreneur. He is senior director at Oracle Marketing Cloud responsible for B2C industry vertical marketing. Previously, he founded GameDaily and grew it to be...

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