Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Zi and a new feature

Several years ago a man named Zi entered our professional lives. As owner of a small website development company he worked with us to completely rebuild our website so that, among other things, it could accept credit card payments securely. We admired Zi for his creativity, knowledge, and interpersonal skills. He fits the description of “one of the good guys.”

Since that time Zi sold his company to his friend and co-worker, Daniel, who has worked with us on several upgrades to the website. Zi then went on to “bigger and better things.”

About three weeks ago Zi phoned me. We had not talked for perhaps five years, although we have worked with his sister Kira and her Search Engine Optimization company and through Kira had kept informed about him. Zi has been working in an Internet business that, among other things, adds a specific feature to the websites of multinational corporations.  That feature may be described as “Customers who bought this item also bought…” and variations on that idea. The computer application tracks your visit to a website and then offers you feedback on other shoppers who have also visited that website and viewed what you have viewed. To be able to track and report to you the movements of other shoppers requires some sophisticated programming and manipulating of large amounts of data. Our website is not at all that sophisticated.

Zi’s company has created this feature for the million-dollar websites (and the tens-of-million-dollars websites). He described to me that huge corporations that can afford this feature are primarily in this large, somewhat homogenous, and shopper oriented country of ours. By contrast Europe, being about the size of Texas and populated by several cultures and languages, has not been a fertile place for large English speaking corporate websites.

The idea for Zi’s company has been to develop a very capable smaller website application that can offer much of the same functions as found on the huge corporate websites but designed for the smaller but successful websites in Europe.

In a few weeks Zi’s company will be displaying their new website feature at a trade show in Europe. Before they display it they need to have it functioning on some smaller websites that they can use as examples. Zi phoned me to ask if he could have this feature installed on our website, immediately, so that he could use it as an example at the trade show in Europe in a few weeks.

Due to our previous work together we know each other and trust each other. Zi made the offer so appealing to us that we could not turn him down. As a result the last couple of weeks have been somewhat of a whirlwind of activity for me and our website. The feature was installed a couple of weeks ago. It gathered data from visitors to our site for until it had accumulated enough data to display it accurately. Two days ago it “went Live” on our site. The computer algorithms are smart. They are watching and learning from our website visitors. Within a few weeks it will have refined and narrowed the information that it displays to visitors.

We get the use of this new feature for one year at no charge, as part payment to us for agreeing to their demonstration of it for their customers in Europe. At the end of one year we will need to pay the going rate for it if we are to keep it. The “going rate” is breathtakingly large. We can’t imagine that we could afford to pay for it. But at least for a while it is fun to be able to display a quality feature for our website visitors. Another part of this-ministry-which-is-the-store is our willingness to help others. We are helping Zi and having an interesting time with the new feature.

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