Saturday, 19 December 2009

People to follow on Twitter in 2010 #follow2010

UPDATED May 21, 2010 with a link to @matushiq's Who to follow on Twitter article (in Slovak)

Technological progress can make your life better. I watched closely the growth of Twitter in 2009 and it has allowed me to listen to (and even communicate with) some amazing people.

They can be found in my follow stream but here is an incomplete annotated list sorted by topics:

Online marketing
@DoshDosh are some of the cleverest and coolest internet marketers out there. @Halfdeck is a SEO with a capital S. @JustinBoland (as @brainsturbator) can run circles around most people. @melanienathan is a very personable Canadian linkbuilder. I am not smart enough to always understand @memeticbrand but when I get it it's amazing content. @rishil rarely posts an uniteresting tweet. @rustybrick, the smart voice in SEO and author of the iPhone Siddur. @WesUnruh is another gem, a clever guy if there ever was one.

Online travel
@alexbainbridge and @hotelblogs are two people in the online travel industry I greatly respect. @travolution is another account worth following for online travel news.

Other English content
I find @mindhackblog tweets always succint and interesting.

@notcot posts lots of fun stuff. I am happy to have met @trendycrew in person thanks to Twitter. @HarvardBiz posts links to great stuff in the Harvard Business Review. @tmbchr is in a class of his own.

The honour roll
These are people who are legends on and off Twitter and justifiedly so:
@andybeal @dannysullivan @dcurtis @fredwilson @johnon @leeodden

Slovak (and CZ) tweets
This list includes a number of people I know in person but know even better thanks to Twitter:
@dusoft who has a well deserved cult following on Twitter, @baoding who converses intelligently in English, Slovak and Hungarian, @braque, the most genuine Slovak marketer on Twitter, @kamelka, a funny Slovak studying abroad, @jurajjavorsky who seems a great guy on and off Twitter and @kvasinka whose several social media streams are well worth following. @madciapka has lots of followers for a good reason. @MarekP is worth following for online marketing stuff. @dmagician is also genuine and smart. @MarkoKolar is a smart and ambitious graphic designer who is a pleasure to work with online. @matushiq is a budding scientist and funny. @seocentrum is good at both domaining and SEO and would make a top class domain broker. @PxPxE are friends who are going to do well on Twitter. @radobato is a massively experienced journalist and a good guy, @TiborHoloda is the best tweeter among Slovak DJs and a genuine, great guy. @tobiasr sometimes has interesting stuff to say (in English).

A few more people/brands good at internet marketing @sifra @ataxocz @cuketka

@brendenwhalley is a long lost close personal friend I am happy to be around again on Twitter. @nanotweets is a friend I hope to never lose touch with.
@georgin is a profile that won't be updated any time soon but luckily the last tweet is recursive. A colleague and friend who we tragically lost (in Slovak) this year and really miss.

People I've left out
I've left out many great people who are not such great Twitterers (but have accounts and should use them more often in 2010). I've also left out some great Twitterers who I don't know personally or whose signal to noise ratio is inconsistent or unfavourable. I am sensitive to anyone who posts stuff that I find sexist, racist, rude or aggressive in a stupid way.

Who do I tag to share their people to #Follow2010:
Anyone I have mentioned is welcome to share a list on Twitter or elsewhere - let me know if you post one so that I can link to it. I want to see @dusoft's list (true to form, came through first here), @alexbainbridge's, @matushiq's (better late than never - Matushiq posts his list in Slovak on May 21) and @ataxocz's.

I will also update this post if I come across any omissions or errors. Happy holidays!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Don't Waste Your 'Potential', American Express

I saw an intriguing (to a search markering professional) ad in the underground in London and @dusoft was kind enough to snap this shaky photo of it for me.

American Express urges you to "realise the potential" by using the membership rewards programme. The ad contains a URL ( but also another interesting bit: it says you can just search for 'potential'.

We had a small discussion with @dusoft what that meant. I thought maybe they had optimised for the probably not terribly competitive KW 'potential' on google and ranked. He said the top spots would definitely be taken by dictionary definitions.

I followed up, first trying to search for potential on but nothing related to the campaign came up. When I tried, here is what I saw:

American Express uses Adwords to serve an ad for searches for potential. Surprisingly, the URL displayed with the ad, fails to resolve. The UK version ( does work, but redirects to the hideous

So here is my free advice for UK's American Express:
1. Do not waste your potential!
2. Optimise organically for 'potential', maybe the top position isn't achievable but a top 5 should be for someone with your resources
3. Make sure the display URLs you use for Adwords ads actually resolve
4. Users appreciate clean URLs

Danny Sullivan mentions two examples of entities using a call for search for navigation - Matt Mullenweg says to search for 'Matt' on Google on his business card (see here) and Sony said to search for '2012' to find the film. Unlike American Express, these two seem to work.

Someone with their resources should really be able to do better than this, right?

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Professional deformation makes me leave deformed rants on a great website

Artist Peter Kalmus in shot by Oto Hudec for Janeil Engelstadt's Voices from the Center, hotlinked from the Grafixpol blog without kind permission but in good faith
I was leaving a rant on a Polish graphic designer's blog about the poor usability of a flash-based site they have produced.

The website Voices from the Center covers an amazing project by Janeil Engelstadt, an American artist who spent time at the Bratislava Academy of Fine Arts and Design as a Fulbright Scholar. She interviewed people around Central Europe on the end of Communist Rule - very topical since we are doing a lot of soul searching for the 20th anniversary of the "Tender Revolution" (that's what we call the Velvet Revolution here in Slovakia).

My mother sent me a link to the site and I first couldn't understand why. Later she showed me the site, since both she and my father are interviewed there. I enjoyed browsing around but I shared her frustration with the user experience - a Flash site by obviously talented graphic designers but with little regard to conventional usability principles (this is not my first Flash rant, of course).

I was frustrated enough to leave the rant and the authors were nice enough to reply, saying they disagree, since the site isn't strictly informative and aims to encourage exploration.

Of course, my professional bias made me respond again: drawing on Nielsen I argued that a more usable website would better encourage exploration (and sharing of this great content).

By the same token I admitted that they would find many of the sites I am involved with ugly. I tried to explain that harping on usability was for me what we call a "professional deformation" in Slovak. I realised though that this expression did not have the right meaning in English. I googled for the right English equivalent, since I 've had a need for this phrase repeatedly. I came across this great discussion on wordreference - shows that there really is no functional English equivalent. The best they come up with is saying you're biased by your profession, which I guess is a reasonable substitute but does not quite cover the connotational meaning of the "deformed" or "distorted" professional. You can lose a bias but once something is malformed it is harder to put right.

So apologies to the talented Poles for party crashing their blog and kudos (and some link love) to Janeil for Voices from the Center.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Ameritania Hotel NYC Paying Indian "SEO's" to Post Comment Spam?

The comments on this blog are moderated. I was surprised yesterday when this comment on my post about my 2008 stay in New York landed in my box:
Amsterdam CourtHotel,belvedere hotel new york,boutique hotels new york,manhattan hotel rooms,boutique hotel manhattan,ameritania hotel new york-
from a user without a public profile.

My post does mention the Ameritania, a hotel in the Theater District where we spent a few nights. But I would not expect a company of such stature to resort to such obsolete tactics as blog post spam.

When I checked my blos stats today, this is what I saw:
Indian SEO spammer building links for Ameritania Hotel in New York

In other words, Ameritania in New York hired an Indian "link builder" to help improve its search engine rankings. He or she searched google for blogs on blogspot containing the words ameritania hotel new york and posted comment spam containing a link to the hotel.

As an experiment a little while ago I paid for a few links to an Indian link building company. I was apalled with what they came up with. The quality of these links on a variety of fake blog sites was beyond poor and they could easily hurt rather than help.

The same applies to comment spam in 2009. It's not going to help Ameritania and it's quite embarassing. If I did actually want to leave comments with URL I would make a comment that speaks to the content of the blog post. Or at least one of those usual spammy coments, that sometimes look genuine (along the lines of "Wow, what a great site. Enjoyed reading your stuff. Why not check out").

With that kind of assignment, at Pizza SEO we would have contacted the blogger and tried to convince him to turn the mention of Ameritania into a link. Often this is doable and results in great links. But then agan we cannot afford to offer something like 20 links for $100 the way many of our Indian competitors do.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

You need cool things to put on Facebook?

Facebook, Inc.Image via Wikipedia

You sign up for an account on Facebook and you try to excel - you see that the people who post lots of fun stuff are popular. Since it's 2009, you Google it: Cool things to put on Facebook is aparently a searched term and gets this blog post on Facebook ads a steady trickle of traffic.

Unfortunately that post is no help in answering. So before Demand Media get the "Cool Things on Facebook" video out, I decided to dig a little, have some fun and think of and research sustainable ways of generating fun things to put on Facebook.

1. Start following funny video sites, joke sites, etc.
There are tonnes of these, search for them, follow them, repost the really funny stuff. A good twist on this is to track sites few other people know. Maybe look for niche humour sites or foreign sites.

2. Befriend various people who post cool stuff and repost their stuff to friends who do not know them

3. Know that you are not alone in this quest. Check the replies in the following Yahoo Answers threads: What funny things can I post on Facebook?
BTW, the user was looking for things as clever and funny as "I have just woke up, i would of woke up earlier but i was asleep." or "right i think it is time to check the inside of my eyelids, ill be back in 8 hours."
What are some cool things to post as your status on facebook?
What are some cool things i can add to my facebook page?

Do you have any other ideas of cool things to put on Facebook to share with the readers here?

Friday, 23 October 2009

Can Apple afford to be this unresponsive?

Welcome, MobileMeImage by ensign_at_e233net via Flickr
This was supposed to be a tweet but it's too twisted of a story for 140 characters.

I visited, a friend's site. A weird pop up appeared (and I've seen it somewhere before):
User name and password are being requested by The site says:

When I clicked on Cancel, the site continued loading but the error popped up several more times and I had to click it away.

I coppied the error message and searched for it in Google. I was amazed to find a discussion of the problem on the official Apple site forum going back a month, to September 23. Another users asked in mid-October: Why is my site requiring a password to view?

Aparently, for users browsing with Firefox, the bug affects sites using Apple's Mobile Me service ( The service synchronises info between iPhone, mac computers and other Apple devices. I have come across reports going back to 2008 on the problem.

Something seems amiss at Apple if user after user of their pricey software and hardware complain about a massive bug that hurts their websites for weeks, without anyone from the company responding. And I had for a moment considered getting a Mac (kidding, not really).

Some people obviously use the Mobile Me platform for ecommerce publishing. If I was one of them, this would definitely make me reconsider.

Oh and a bonus: when I was composing the tweet that never materialised I wanted to "ping" Apple's Twitter account but they actually don't seem to have one (other than @itunestrailers).

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Is the conference discount on hotel room sometimes a surcharge?

Perth - Sheraton Hotel - ballroom set for conf...Image by leozaza via Flickr

You stay in a hotel room. The man in the identical room next to yours is paying 40% less.

You are attending a conference. The organisers gave you a code to use when booking accommodation in the official conference hotel to receive a discount.

You make the reservation at the alleged discount and maybe never find out that the same room reserved through the hotel's public website costs far less and comes with better terms (I stumbled upon a Prague hotel offering a conference rate of EUR 88 during a recent editors' conference, the hotel website showed a rate of EUR 58 for the same date).

There are a few possible economic rationales:
- the hotel is simply using the pricing power gained from being the 'official venue'
- an intermediary marks up the rates (although sometimes the hotel itself does)
- the rates for accomodation subsidise lower charges to organisers for other services

I found a nice clarification called Why stay at the conference hotel on the website of a US computer association. They say:
On occasion, one of the many internet providers or sometimes the hotel itself will offer a few rooms in their inventory at a lower price than the conference is offering. There are often restrictions and penalties associated with these rates.

So next time you are attending a conference make sure to crosscheck the rates with the hotel website and third party sites.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Dell in Bratislava's Largest Illegal Building (Legalised Ex-Post)

Aupark Tower and NovĂ˝ most, BratislavaImage via Wikipedia
I thinks these stories need to be told. We went through a period of massive illegal construction here in Bratislava. Toothless construction authorities had no way of making builders remove illegal buildings, if they were able to prove they were not against the public interest. At most, they were able to fine the builder a few million crowns, which in the context of a construction budget is a small price to pay not to have to wait to get all the required permits.

So around the city aggressive developers erected buildings without permits and without regard to their effects on the area. Local residents occasionally protested but generally there was no recourse.

The buildings would get legalised and then occupied, often by big name tenants. At one point I realised that this may be a way of putting pressure on the developers - if tenants will be reluctant to occupy these questionable buildings, developers will care a little more about building things by the letter.

The Bratislava seat of Dell is a great example. Dell, a publicly traded US-based company, which undoubtedly has a CSR department, moved into a building constructed without a valid permit. This building, an unseemly modern edifice in Fazulova street, a fairly central address, started out as the largest illegal construction site in Bratislava (this article by the highly respected Slovak economic weekly Trend confirms both that the building was illegal and that it was long before legalisation known to be the future seat of Dell). The investor of the building actually paid the highest ever fine for illegal construction in Slovak history.

Later on the company had a permit for a three-story building, meanwhile building the 12-story Dell Bratislava seat.

There is little doubt Dell knew about all this. Of course it has no direct legal responsibility but it should have never moved into a building like this, if it really means the whole CSR spiel seriously. Implicitly supporting illegal actions goes against several of Dell's Seven Key Tenets:
"Integrity: We do the right thing without compromise. We avoid even the appearance of impropriety." - looks improper to me to have someone build a building for me violating laws even if it gets legalised later
"Honesty: What we say is true and forthcoming, not just technically correct. We are open and transparent in our communications with each other and about business performance." - this implies Dell should admit they knew what was going on was illegal.
"Courage: We speak up for what is right. We report wrongdoing when we see it." - in this case, Dell supported wrongdoing by buying into the Fazulova building.

"Responsibility: We accept the consequences of our actions. We admit our mistakes and quickly correct them. We do not retaliate against those who report violations of law or policy."

Based on this Dell should apologise to the people of Bratislava and consider donating money to make Bratislava a nicer place, don't you think?

(To be fair Dell is not the only company who supported illegally constructed properties by renting in them. HB Reavis built the Aupark Tower (in the photo above, since I could not locate a decent photo of the Dell building on Fazulova), which ruins views of the Old Town and dominates views of the architecturally valuable New Bridge. The Chief Architect of the City of Bratislava Stefan Slachta called the 22-floor Aupark Tower "an exclamation mark of arrogance". The city part of Petrzalka then led by a Mr. Bajan, permitted this tower despite disagreement of the City of Bratislava and in violation of existing regulations. Which respectable tenants reside in the controversial building (and undoubtedly agreed to rent way before the building was legalised): Telefonica O2, Eset, GTS Nextra and IBM, to name but a few. Great corporate citizenship, guys.)

Friday, 25 September 2009

How many Twitter followers do you need to qualify?

Anti-tank cubesImage via Wikipedia
250+ to become the Senior Manager of Emerging Media Marketing (via Conversation Starter). BTW, Brett Tilford proposed the number of Twitter followers as a hiring signal in a comment on Dan Schawbel's blog.
Oh yeah, this is old news. I missed it.

Oh, and I would not qualify.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Warning: may not deliver what they promise

UPDATE September 1, 2010 - just a heads up to potential victims - I am investigating what I suspect is another alias for Izumi von Hardenberg. Similar apartments with similar descriptions (seven) are now being offered on a site called NYC No Fee Apartments Rentals ( and via Tripadvisor (and the related FlipKey service but also, in keeping with Izumi's old MO, on Craigslist) with the owner name given as "Mariko Okada", contact phone 1-347-856-8817 and creative email addresses such as "", "" Those familiar with the Japanese film industry (or Google users) will know that Mariko Okada is a well known Japanese actress. On request, Mariko will share a list of bogus-sounding references from people (see it reproduced on Positively Michael forum and if you need further proof, Google the phone number listed as a reference). If you've had positive or negative experience dealing with the Mariko Okada or, do share in the comments!

Screenshot of taken on September 15, 2009 showing as part of page title
In October 2008 Izumi von Hardenberg nearly ruined our New York vacation. Since then, literally hundreds of people have found my blog post on the experience. I have no doubt this has hurt Izumi's business that has reportedly caused trouble for many unsuspecting New York visitors.

I was therefore amused but not too surprised to find out Izumi and her pals have abandoned the ApartmentsNYCity domain name, one of the websites they used to operate from (the site was not working as of today and the domain registration has lapsed in July 2009). Instead they are now trying to attract customers on a new site

How do I know it is the same people? Well, for the start they have simply taken the template from and forgot to change the page title (see screenshot). In addition, the email adresses are the same ( and the voice on the voicemail of the contact number listed at apartments nyc 911 website is the same as the Izumi I communicated with last year.

This post, dated to literally a few days before my 2008 trip, actually describes the modus operandi I had experienced:
She baits you by telling you the apartment is available then switches the apartment and wants more money and wants to put you in a different location.
The author also says she's already changed company names three times. I wouldn't be a least bit surprised if she even stopped using her personal name in business correspondence since anyone who Google's her comes across many negative reviews and warnings. The possible reincarnations include (with the new contact number (917) 575-0623),, TheCheapApartmentsNYC and the seemingly legit HHRDEVELOPMENT Corporation (on

View of Woolworth Building and surrounding bui...
Here is my advice: DO NOT USE APARTMENTSNYC911.COM unless you are aware of the risks. Based on my experience a service associated with Izumi von Hardenberg could be very unreliable.

(I have updated this article to be more neutral in tone and present a more balanced view).

Saturday, 5 September 2009

The shortest, 3-letter URL shorteners - The Definitive List

Welcome, a new 3-letter shortener "powered by" and the 8th addition to this list, as well as (promising near real-time tracking of comments in social sites regarding the shortened URL) and now also the russian


See my earlier post on URL shorteners for criteria on choosing the one to use.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Hotel Therma Dunajska Streda - the Good and the Bad (There is No Ugly)

Hotel Therma Dunajska Streda Front, from We spent a long weekend at the Hotel Therma in Dunajska Streda, a small wellness hotel. I've been working with hotels for six years now and I have become a very picky critic so after visiting the Therma, I really felt like doing a short write up to benefit other picky potential guests.

How We Chose
We decided more or less on a whim to spend a long weekend outside of Bratislava. We did not want to travel far and wanted a nice hotel, reasonably priced, with a swimming pool.

I've had my eyes on the Therma ever since they were reviewed in Horeca, a trade magazine we subscribe to. I don't remember the details of the review but what stuck with me was the management response. I remember distinctly the manager was very welcoming of all criticism and saw it as an opportunity for improvement. That's not always the attitude, of course. More often than not managers get defensive when they are criticised and look for excuses.

The Therma webpage is beyong complicated - at one point I almost gave up on making the reservation because I couldn't load portions of the page in Firefox. I called their info line, where the (Hungarian-accented) lady was very friendly but ended up reserving online anyway since I could tell from her voice she dreaded the idea of taking all my personal details over the phone.

I liked the extra night free deal - in effect we spent three nights with breakfast for two adults and a baby for EUR 238, including some treatments (a Thai wrap, solarium, which we never used). All in all I think this is a good deal.

Dunajska Streda is a mainly ethnic Hungarian town little less than an hour from Bratislava (unless there is rush hour traffic). The Hotel is very well signposted around Dunajska Streda, although there was a bit of confusion and signs lacking at a few points near the main road. But we found the hotel easily enough.

Hotel Therma Dunajska Streda ViewThe first surprise was the hotel was located in an industrial zone surrounded by warehouses and assembly halls. This meant that the neighbourhood was not very well suited for walks - a big minus for us. The view from our window (pictured here) was of trucks followed by a green horizon.

The hotel itself is a compound consisting of the residential building, which looks like a rebuilt worker hostel, a new lobby and restaurant, wellness and the garden.

There was ample parking right in front of the hotel with a few out of town cars (Bratislava and Czech) and several cars of locals, apparently visiting the wellness.

Look and Feel
Upon entry, there was an odd, but not unpleasant faux-Asian ambience with a little wooden bridge, fountain, large fish tank.

The hotel itself was done up in colourful pastels with a lot of orange, yellow, blue. The furniture oscillates between traditional, tacky asian, colonial. It looked a little cheap but inoffensively so. All in all I see why the photo gallery in the hotel website does not really show very much (there are lots of photos but many of them show details of food and such).

The hotel's true highlight were the staff. Every encounter we had from the first receptionist who welcomed us, through restaurant and bar staff was pleasant. We genuinely felt welcome throughout our stay and there was never bitter taste of feeling that someone was trying to cheat or short-change us. When we came for breakfast or dinner buffet a waiter ushered us in and showed us around the buffet. On several occasions we were offered service that went beyond what we could reasonably expect (e.g. a head waiter offered to bring our unfinished bottle of sect to our room, at self-service dinner a waitress said I shouldn't wait for the grilled fish and brought it when it was done).

Every breakfast there was a fresh issue of the "Morning Post", the hotel newsletter. I loved the little touch (I haven't seen this done anywhere else before). The alliteratively named Hotel Therma General Manager Tihamer Tamas Toth welcomed arriving guests by name in the newsletter (I though some people may object on privacy grounds), there was weather info, info on temperature of water in the pools, special offers, lunch and dinner menu, a joke (not sure about copyright on these but they were genuinely funny: A frog with a paper bag on her head comes to a pharmacy. "Oh, my god. What's wrong?" the pharmacist asks. "Damn. Can't you tell this is a robbery?" the frog replies), local tips, wine suggestions...

In the lobby there is a large table with sofas and lots of newspapers and magazines, as well as a free computer with internet access.

The Room
The room we were assigned was a large corner room - nothing the designer should brag about but definitely solid and with quality furnishings. American-style high beds with box spring the hotel brags about had quality bed linens including an oversized pillow and another nice small pillow. There was a large desk, large closet, a few chairs.

The room was not air-conditioned (unlike a family-suite, which we asked to see and declined at EUR 20 extra per night, which had an air conditioned bed-room section but too small to fit the baby cot). Instead there was a very effective ceiling fan. The room was extremely warm most of our stay so the fan was a necessity and it was sufficient to make the room livable (we had to move the baby cot under the fan as well though, since away from the fan the room really was too warm).

The bathroom was also generous with a huge bath tub, two sinks, toilet, nice clean tiling. The fixtures were of good quality, which is definitely not the standard in other Slovak hotels, including other four-star hotels.

The minibar was very well stocked and extremely reasonably priced - soft drinks were less than EUR 1.50, which actually surprised me as cheap.

I never saw the housekeeping staff but I though they did a good job (though I did notice they left the drinking glasses unwashed).

As an avid reader of everyhting I liked there were ample little instruction materials on things like how to use the bathroom fixtures, minibar, safety, etc.

You know food is very high on my list of priorities. Generally, in the south of Slovakia the food is better than in the rest of the country. The Therma met my expectations in this respect.

First there was the breakfast buffet. Without exaggeration this was the best breakfast I've seen at a Slovak hotel (some four-star or five-star breakfasts abroad have been better). The selection was incredible. Just off the top of my head I will try to list what was on offer:
- a Hubert sect or Vilmos as aperitif (poured by the waiter)
- warm selection (sausages, grilled vegetables)
- goulash soup
- cold meats, cheese
- fake caviar, fake salmon
- treska
- fresh fruit
- selection of cereal
- warm and cold milk
- bryndza (surprisingly, given the region, some of the best I've had in a while)
- 4 or 5 kinds of bread
- fornetti pastries
- pancakes
- egg bar with eggs made to order
- different salads

Other than the stale bread one day the breakfast was perfect.

The dinner buffet was served at EUR 9.90 per person. At first we thought this was too much but the food was tasty and again there was great selection every day including two soups, several salads, cold cuts, three main dishes + grill. The dinner buffet moved venues every day, which was a nice change as well.

The wait staff were excellent. Genuinely welcoming and friendly, just the way waiters should be.

Hotel Therma Dunajska Streda TerraceThe hotel claimed several dining venues but I thought they all served the same menu. Also, everything closed by 10 pm so you were left with the minibar afterward. The nice bit, if you had effective enough mosquito spray on hand, was that you could take all your meals on the outdoor terrace (pictured here at breakfast with the egg bar).

One of the nights we ate fried fish and chips at a place round the corner from the hotel, this was also delicious and great value.

The wellness at the Hotel Therma was fairly small. A warm pool with a small jacuzzi section, three other even warmer sit down pools, a Kneipp foot bath (a warm and cold elongated pools you are meant to walk through, alternating), a small power shower back massage room. There was also a nice but small outdoor thermal pool.

The nice part was that the wellness was clean and there were very few people at most times. I did miss a kiddy pool (but liked the funnily named Deckoland with toys on the ground floor).

In addition there were saunas but I never discovered these since there were no signs (there was also a bowling alley at the hotel I never discovered).

Outdoors there was also a tennis court and the Japanese gardens. I didn't quite understand these, they seemed a little unhygienic and pretty small and there were tons of mosquitoes so I never spent much time wondering around.

The highlight for me though was the "Asia Spa" - with Thai massage therapists. With a 60-minute Thai massage for EUR 25 (cheaper than the EUR 40 Bratislava standard or the budget EUR 28 massage at Michalska, with an additional 25% discount available if you register at the hotel webpage). I had a Thai wrap (peeling followed by warm oil and being wrapped in plastic, which is not quite my kind of treatment) and a traditional Thai massage, which was painful but superb. This alone makes the Therma worth going to, in my view.

At the end of our stay we felt that while there was little remarkable about the Therma, we actually enjoyed the stay. I appreciated the scale - the fact that the place wasn't packed, the good food and decent enough wellness facilities (with special mention for the Thai massage). What carried the experience for us, though, were the remarkable Hotel Therma staff - for once, I felt welcome and appreciated as a guest at a hotel in Slovakia.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

A few cool things to try with Facebook ads

I've been playing around quite a bit with Facebook ads over the last few weeks and have some interesting theories to test. I have to say I like the system a lot for its simplicity, targetting possibilities and the ad format with picture included (one negative to mention is having to wait for manual review of your ad text after any, even very minor change, such as capitalisation).

I first played around with Slovak and English ads for The Slovak ads featuring a toilet bowl (from a guest photo taken at a hotel in Bratislava) did generate some interest, but I have no way of gauging their actual effectiveness (their objective was to let Slovaks know is a good place to get help finding accommodation for their guests). The English language ads performed poorly - the two campaign had a total of 42 clicks, since there was no reasonable way of targetting them to a qualified crowd.

A few months ago I ran a campaign to sell my car. I was trying to sell my Alfa Romeo 147 in the middle of the Slovak car-scrapping craze in May. I advertised on Autovia, a leading Slovak car classifieds site, but was not receiving too many calls.

I then put and ad on Facebook with a photo of the car and managed to get almost 1,200 people in Slovakia over the age of 18 to visit my Autovia ad for $125. I did end up finding a buyer, as well.

For the past 10 days or so, I've been running a (massively successful) campaign for designDOT, a new Slovak school of interior design for hobby designers (the 'client', due to personal ties, gave me almost unlimited freedom in experimenting with the campaign and let me have input into landing page design as well).

I've had a chance to play around with targetting (separate ads for women and men, breaking down ads by age groups), budgetting, landing pages, etc.

Two things really intrigue me about the Facebook ads system:
1. Due to the wealth of info Facebook has on its users, you can play around with crazy targetting. You can target ads by very narrow age bands (e.g. you can advertise specifically to 26-year olds, 30-year olds, etc.), by employer, sexual orientation. This lends itself to creating ads that mention the user's age or exploit the other detailed info.
2. This is a hypothesis, which have to test a lot more, but it sounds reasonable. Since advertisers set maximum daily budgets and (at least based on my experience) sometimes use them up in full before the end of the day, a given demographic should be cheaper to reach towards the end of the day in its timezone. There is no "day parting" at the moment, so this can only be done manually. But for some advertisers this could be worthwhile - turn on your ads in the evening and let them end at the end of the day.

I am going to try to entice my colleagues at Pizza SEO to take part in (and bankroll) some more experimentation because I think there is a lot of value in Facebook Ads at the moment.

Were you looking for information on cool things to put on Facebook?

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Five more three-letter URL shorteners

Last week I posted about the three shortest URL shorteners I found.

I browsed a little more and discovered several more three-letter (plus dot) URL shorteners with a single letter domain name and a two-letter TLD.

Two of these short URL services seem to share the same interface: and They both offer a few extra features: own url, tracking, expiration date for links, password protection.

You think, therefore, says the shortener site. No extra options but a Twitter account to follow, which publishes every URL added, it's short version and information on what percentage of characters was saved in the process.

Then there is, currently in beta. I like their tag line: Because every character counts! The options are limited at the moment.

Finally, I discover (via Techcrunch). Their twist is you can add any text after a slash (basically to comment on the URL) and it still resolves:,_Peeps (Techcrunch notes this sort of defeats the purpose, of course).

So my full list of three-letter URL shorteners currently stands at eight and I have a feeling there are more to be found.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

The three shortest URL shorteners in the world

I have been interested in URL shorteners for a while - a good URL shortener helps a tiny bit in squeezing as much thought as possible into 140 character tweets on Twitter.

I have taken a liking to a Swedish shortener (not only because it spells sex). Sadly, the Swedes are making a huge mistake - their canonical urls require a www, adding four unnecessary characters to the URL.

Recently, I spotted a URL in my Twitter stream with a single-character domain name and two-character TLD. I went ahead and searched around for other shorteners of the same length. Surprisingly, several of the most prominent lists of URL shorteners (hongkiat's "ultimate" list, 6uold's long list or the list of 90+ services at mashable) missed the three I am about to present, although these are probably the most effective shorteners around.

So here is Andrej's list of the world's shortest URL shortening services:
3.LY, the three-letter URL service says it is the SHORTEST in the world. It generated a URL with ONLY TWO LETTERS after the / - a total length of seven characters. Obviously, they can't keep up the URL length for long but three letters come next and that's still pretty awesome. The creator can be found on Twitter (@threely) and the service apparently only launched on May 24, 2009.

Z.PE bills itself as the shortest URL shortener, seems like they are wrong, though. They generated a URL for me with three characters after the /, making the complete URL a total of eight characters. Still pretty neat!

U.NU is the third and final URL shortener with a three-character (or four if you count the dot) URL. "the shortest urls. period." is what says. The URL it generated for me had four characters after the /, so it is longer than the previous two (quite possibly simply because it is more popular). Of the three, I like the sound of best. I find it neat as the URL reads like words with meaning (you knew), sort of like, another neat-sounding URL shortener.

Of course, I haven't explored the shorteners' tracking capabilities and other advanced features. promises tracking is coming soon, there are limited capabilities at (you can find out the number of times the link has been used by appending a ? at the end of URL) and none at

What do you think? Know of any other three-character shorteners? Or would you like to be the first to start the URL shortening metaservice?

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Tatra Banka: Beating a Dead Horse

Tatrabanka Card Reader Minicitacka borrowed from
The creative folks at Tatrabanka are back, this time with a new card reader device. They have listened to the multitude of user complaints (so far even heeded my warning about single-sided moves). So they have introduced a key-ring card reader (called a minicitacka) as an alternative to the calculator-size reader (without calculator functionality).

Well, guess what, Tatrabanka: people hated your heavy handed tactics in introducing increased security with massively increased hassle and judging by the discussion with the eTrend article (in Slovak) announcing the new device, adding a key ring isn't enough to make things OK.

The images published by Tatrabanka are limited, but from the instructions it appears this little wonder is controlled by the combination of a dialing wheel and a button. Must be fun to dial and button in a 12-digit account number followed by say four digits for the amount to transfer...

If your sentimentometer tells you I am too harsh on Tatra Banka, check out what this poor American thinks about using the calculator.

My pledge holds: if you make me sign in using this ugly little device (or its dysfunctional larger twin), I will close my accounts with you (all six).

And a side note, just to get this off my chest: in mid-February I came to a Tatra Banka branch to deposit a cheque from the USA. We receive checks from our US partner at every month and Tatra Banka has happily charged us 400 crowns (approx. EUR 13.30) for depositing each for five years.

Suddenly, the teller announced that as of February 1 they no longer allow depositing checks in accounts. What should I do with the check, I asked. "Mmmm, do you have an account at another bank?" No, I don't (but soon I likely will). Well, then I don't know.

A brief lesson in customer service, dear Tatrabanka: if you want to discontinue a service that some of your long-term clients use (even if the service itself is loss-making, since I imagine that is the reason to discontinue it), notify them in advance. Someone at Tatrabanka should have pulled up a list of customers who deposited a check in the last say 24 months. Someone should have taken the time to contact them (phone, email, internet banking) and give them an advance warning of say a month or two, so that they can talk to their correspondents and arrange for alternative means of payment. It's not so hard to do and all it takes is a bit of customer-centric thinking. Sadly, the one-time leader in banking innovation in Slovakia has little capacity for that.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Things I noticed giving up the Crown for the Euro

This infographic seems nicked from and I am hotlinking to village Opoj website
On January 1, 2009 the Euro became the official currency here in Slovakia replacing the Slovak crown.

1. Before the switch
There was nervousness long before the D date about price increases. The government and media kept telling people how worried they are about businesses "abusing" the switch to enact "unwarranted" price increases.

One of the key economic news topics in December was what was not going to work after the switch. The banks had arrangements in place to shut down some services (internet banking for a few days) and ATM machines for a few hours.

Oh, and Google screwed Slovak Adwords advertisers (while Moneybookers didn't (in Slovak).

2. The giddy Day One
I shopped at my local Tesco on January 2 (January 1 is a holiday). I paid in crowns but received my change in euros. In this way within two days all the crowns in my wallet were gone and I was 'switched'.

The cashiers asked everyone whether they would be paying crowns or euros. Some people said Euros with a proud smirk. It was a funny feeling, yet another important marker on our way to become 'first class' Europeans.

ATM machines here supposedly usually have slots for four notes. The banks reportedly fed the euros in two slots a few days before the New Year, minimising the downtime required to switch. For a few days you were only able to get EUR 50s and 10s in some machines or 20s and 10s.

3. Nominal schnominal?
I am trained as an economist and I know there is no money illusion and nominal does not matter to a rational person. Nominal of course does matter (and there are loads of evidence in behavioural economics literature).

We tipped by rounding up in crowns before. E.g. you'd leave 100 on an 82-95 crown bill. Traditionally people would simply round up to the nearest 10 and in recent years in classier establishments to nearest 20, 50 or even 100.

With euros, even rounding up to the nearest euro sounds cheap to our ear yet a euro is 30.126 crowns. So people first did not tip at all, I believe out of fear of under or overtipping. I tipped a taxi driver who delivered sushi a little over a euro towards the end of the first euro-week. He told me this was his first tip in the New Year and other taxi drivers confirmed people had ceased up tipping.

With the government sponsored price abuse hysteria, many businesses are keeping weird an uneven euro prices to avoid any semblance of the derided 'machinations during switch from crown to euro'. This is inefficient and annoying but sooner or later I am sure this will stop.

There are some data probably interesting for economists on what portion of currency in circulation was withdrawn within the first fifteen days through retail shops. There is other data on people bringing in cash to the bank days before the switch to have it converted seamlessly and legends of dodgy cash buyers of expensive apartments helping fuel our real estate bubble.

Flipside Wallet will ship to Slovakia but won't fit our euro billsWe have made the switch now complaint of the day seems to be that we have to now carry too many coins and they don't fit in a normal wallet (I would add the bills don't fit in the beautiful and RFID-fraud safe Flipside Wallet (TM)).

Crown to Euro Brings Along Fines for Abusers

The Slovak Commerce Inspection will issue the first fine to a company that abused the currency switch from Slovak Crown to the Euro to unjustifiedly increase prices. The Inspection "proved" there was a 50% increase by a children's game machines operator in the Trnava region.

Euro became Slovakia's official currency on January 1, 2009 when the country became the 16th member of the Eurozone. For 15 days the currencies circulated in parallel but now crowns can only be exchanged in banks.

The Inspection reportedly (in Slovak) received 460 complaints from citizens, 260 concerning price increases (the rest probably on issues such as not posting prices in both currencies as required).

There is a Price Board/Council in place, led by an older guy from old-school employer association, to monitor prices. The Council identifies sensitive areas. They have now promised to take a close look at changes in taxi prices, hairdressers, restaurants and school dorms.

I did tell you they were crazy!

P.S. I am required by law to disclose to you here that the official conversion rate is 30,1260 crowns to the Euro.