Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Laser flakes

No, I didn't find this in MSNBC's weird news. I found this via B.L. Ochman's blog. I encourage you to read Ochman's thoughts on large corporate marketing strategies, but I'm just going to focus on one small part of the post.

Kellogg's...has become so worried about losing their identity to similarly packaged supermarket cereals that they developed a way to laser their name onto each tiny corn flake. The concentrated beam of light, they say, creates a toasted appearance, helping them fight fake flakes, without changing the taste.

Yep...laser flakes.

One of Ochman's commenters, Greg, noticed one tiny little problem with Kellogg's strategy.

I'm never going to see those laser-branded cornflakes unless I've bought the cereal already. Are they concerned that when I get my continental breakfast at the motor inn that I'm assuming the soggy cereal I'm given is Kelloggs?

But not everyone shares Greg's disdain for the change. Landor:

So although it is meant to prevent "fake flakes" fraud, it also looks very cool, and one might get curious about whether this is really about protecting intellectual—or better yet, eatable—brand equity, or if the whole change is just a smart marketing move. Branding a formerly unbranded product in your bowl.

Now certainly there is room for trendiness in the breakfast food industry, but if you're going to do something trendy...don't do it on corn flakes, probably the least trendy food imaginable. True story - a couple of decades ago, I was in a small town grocery store and wandered down the cereal aisle, and I happened to notice that this aisle was wall-to-wall Kellogg's Corn Flakes. So if you have a product that is valued by traditionalists, perhaps laser logos on the food isn't the way to go.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Yogurtime in Upland California - this blog post is THE information source

I was accepting a friend request in FourSquare (my FourSquare name is empoprises, natch), and I was looking over my list of places where I am still mayor. Because FourSquare has not reached critical mass, and because I am in a less traveled area, I am currently the mayor of fourteen locations. Since one of those places was Yogurtime in Upland, I figured I'd look for the frozen yogurt shop's official website.

Guess what? It doesn't have one.

Kind of odd, in a way, since their store features a sticker saying that they are listed on Yelp. You'd think that Yogurtime would realize the value of an online presence.

Well, in a way, they do - they just let someone else control the online view of Yogurtime. You see, when you search for Yogurtime in Google, the first result that displays is Yelp's page. After the Yelp entries, the next thing that displays is the FourSquare page - a page that is dominated by me, to put it quite frankly.

Luckily for Yogurtime, I LIKE the place. That is not true, however, of some of the people on Yelp.

Not impressed - with the yogurt, or the prices, or the employees. These "pay by the ounce" yogurt places are popping up all over the place and it's really annoying. You do everything yourself. The employees don't do anything except weigh the bowl and ring the register - and it's MORE expensive...

Not impressed. The yogurt was very similar to the kind they served at undergrad. Watery, not creamy, cheap-O frozen yogurt. The brownie-bites I put on it were moist, and not stale like some other places...so I'll throw in a star. Psh...

There's always something great about buying yogurt per ounce. If you only want a small amount of yogurt, you can just pay like $1.50 for exactly how much you want. Unfortunately, this pricing system is the only positive thing I can say about Yogurtime. The yogurt is a LOT better at Fruizen in Claremont or even Pinkberry in Rancho Cucamonga. The yogurt at Yogurtime just tastes very cheap and it's too milky. The mochi rice balls are too sticky and mushy. The kiwi definitely doesn't taste fresh...

Now since Yogurtime hasn't established its own web presence, the Yelp reviews are the first thing that people see about Yogurtime. And while they aren't uniformly negative - the mean rating is 4 out of 5 stars, after all - Yogurtime is sacrificing its communication capability to others.

Perhaps it will be sacrificed to this blog post. Granted that Empoprise-BI doesn't have the pull of Yelp, but what if this post were the first thing that people found when people searched for information about Yogurtime? That would be disastrous.

However, Yogurtime can easily rectify this. You don't need to create your own website to get Google juice. In fact, Yogurtime's Twitter account ranks very highly in Google search results. Only problem is that this @yogurtime Twitter account is for a Yogurtime in Hong Kong. However, it's significant to note that the Twitter account ranks above the http://www.yogurtimehk.com/ website. (Yogurtime Hong Kong also has a Facebook page, by the way.)

So all the folks in Upland need to do is to establish a @yogurtimeupland Twitter account, and hopefully all the third-party content on Yogurtime will be pushed down the search queue.

For an example of what to do, Yogurtime only needs to visit http://www.pizzapirates.net/, which also has a Twitter and Facebook account. Or for a Twitter-only example, see @My_Delight, a new cupcake shop in Ontario, California. If I recall correctly, My Delight contacted me to let me know about the Twitter account (since I'm listed as an Ontario, California Twitter user, it's easy enough for My Delight to find local people).

I'd email Yogurtime with these suggestions...but their email is not listed. Perhaps they'll find this post and at least set up a Twitter account to communicate with their customers online.

And maybe they'll implement privileges for FourSquare mayors. :) One can only hope...

Murdoch fights the delivery-content war in another arena - cable television

Poor Time Warner. Everyone's beating up on them these days. The latest salvo at Time Warner comes from uncredited commercials which warn you, in dire terms, that Time Warner may pull Fox off its systems on January 1, which means that you'll miss FOOTBALL! So go to our special website now, and tell Time Warner that you want your Fox!

Needless to say, this is yet another cash move in the war between content providers, such as Fox, and delivery channels, such as Time Warner.

BusinessWeek covers the story:

The News Corporation is threatening to remove its Fox stations from Time Warner Cable systems at the end of this week if the cable company does not agree to pay sizable subscriber fees, the same way it does for cable channels. In negotiations, the News Corporation is pushing for about $1 for each subscriber, potentially setting a precedent for broadcasters that are seeking a new revenue stream to offset advertising declines.

Time Warner Cable is playing hardball, running an advertising campaign to prepare viewers for the prospect of a January without college bowl games or “American Idol.” The company’s so-called retransmission agreements covering Fox’s stations in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Orlando and other cities expire on Dec. 31.

It turns out that News Corporation isn't the only company demanding these fees - CBS has demanded these fees also, although apparently not at the dollar a subscriber rate.

The timing could not be more perfect, since News Corporation is also trying to wring money out of people who provide access to their internet content.

And possibly the same arguments apply.

The next time that Fox bellies up to its advertisers and asks for an increase in fees, the advertisers could very well answer, "Why should we give you more fees when you're effectively reducing the size of our audience by threatening to pull your content off of Time Warner Cable?"

If you try to extract money from EVERY pocket of the consumer, you may end up getting nothing at all.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Reindeer, eating

Hey, they had a busy week!

At Disneyland, which still has holiday-themed entertainment.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Is this accurate?

Each of us have some specific knowledge of a particular area. Even if you're the cashier at a convenience store, you know certain things about cash registers, credit card acceptance, and the like that I don't know. I might read a cash register description without blinking, while you may be howling at the gross inaccuracy in the account.

Just to illustrate the idea, I'll take an example that parallels my small sphere of knowledge. This relates to a report of a crime in the Stonehaven community, in the Charlotte, North Carolina area.

(FTC DISCLOSURE: My employer provides biometric software, equipment, and services in many areas of the state of North Carolina.)

Be sure to read the account, which describes how someone caught some vandals in the act, and how he ended up getting in a scuffle with three of the vandals.

We'll pick up the story after the vandals fled the scene:

Two Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officers arrived at the school within about 10 minutes to take Lutes’s report of the incident, survey the graffiti and collect the discarded spray paint cans which were processed for fingerprint evidence. The recovered fingerprints will be processed through the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) run by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for possible matches. If any of the vandals has been fingerprinted in relation to criminal activity in the past their identity will be discovered.

My howling over this one actually relates to a fairly common misunderstanding, even among professional journalists. Often when you read accounts of AFIS, they imply that there is only a single AFIS, and that the FBI runs it. Yes, the FBI does run an AFIS - the FBI's is called IAFIS - but each state has its own AFIS, and many localities have their own AFIS. And even if they don't have their own AFIS, localities often have an AFIS workstation that captures prints and submits them to some other AFIS system.

(Perhaps it's relevant to mention another misconception. Whenever you see a report stating that a locality bought "an AFIS" for $20,000, there is a chance that they may not have bought a full AFIS, but merely an AFIS workstation.)

Why is the distinction between IAFIS and other AFIS important? Because AFIS systems at different levels of government are used for different purposes. After September 11, 2001, the FBI's mission has been modified so that its primary concern is now prevention of terrorist acts. The FBI isn't going to go out of its way to capture the fingerprints of every graffiti vandal in the country.

But perhaps the state of North Carolina may do this. Here's an excerpt from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Latent Fingerprint Section web page:

The latent examiner can capture digital images of fingerprints that can be searched against those in a statewide system utilizing a database known as the AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System). They also have the ability to utilize the International Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS).

(Another howler: the "I" in "IAFIS" actually stands for "Integrated." But let's move on.)

Now I don't know off the top of my head whether the state of North Carolina retains fingerprints of graffiti vandals, or the level of access that is available for juvenile records. However, there is always the possibility that the people that vandalized Rama Rd. Elementary and attacked Brian Lutes may have been guilty of more serious crimes - perhaps even crimes that may, um, warrant inclusion in the national IAFIS database.

Enough about fingerprints already. That's my little bit of in-depth knowledge, and you have yours. But most media broadcasts (blogging, print media, television, radio, other) are designed for a general audience, and are sometimes reported by people who may not have an in depth knowledge of the subject at hand. Think about it - whatever bit of in-depth knowledge you have, there's probably someone who knows more about the topic than you do.

So how accurate is the information that we read, and how can we protect ourselves against inaccuracies?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

(empo-tymshft) (empo-tuulwey) Why haven't you acted on this post yet?

When I initially joined the workforce, I worked as a clerk-typist. This meant that I would go to a primitive device called a typewriter, and I would type something called a memorandum (or, using the tech-speak of the day, a "memo"). This memo would then be placed in an envelope and would reach its recipient in a matter of days. Once the recipient got the memo, it would go into a prioritization system known as an "in box," and would be sorted according to then-common prioritization criteria (acronym lovers may recognize the acronyms "FIFO" and "LIFO," two very advanced prioritization systems that were used at the time).

So when my boss asked me to type a memo, he or she did not expect the recipient to respond within minutes.

Boy, has that changed. Chris Murphy at InformationWeek describes modern expectations:

Enterprise social networking is gaining interest among CIOs, for a lot of good reasons. People are working in far-flung organizations, trying to keep track of ever-more inputs to their businesses, and worrying about losing opportunities that might come from connecting the right people inside their companies. And there's a dash of consumer-tech envy. Expressing his admiration for Facebook and Twitter at last month's Dreamforce conference, Benioff said that, "Once again we've been eclipsed by the consumer."

The fear, though, comes from a very real risk of employees being overloaded, in a way that's different than the generic information overload with which we've long wrestled. The new risk is something more targeted--something like "data feed overload," though you can probably offer a better term for it. People get automated feeds from the human resource app to approve vacations, the purchasing app, the travel app, each of them calling for a specific action. They get updates every time a collaboration wiki to which they've subscribed is updated, and they have a dashboard of key performance indicators.

Cool, isn't it? There's only one problem:

All that information comes with an expectation that if it can be delivered, you must be aware of it and monitoring it for problems.

Um, no.

Just because we have new tools (and older tools, such as electronic mail, telexes, and faxes) that can get information to you RIGHT NOW, that doesn't necessarily mean that the human brain has become better equipped to multi-task or operate in a real-time mode.

I may not have an in box in my cubicle, but I have virtual in boxes everywhere. In my corporate electronic mail application, I use folders and tags to differentiate items that I need to work on immediately, vs. items that I can save for later. Google Reader has its "star" feature, which I often use to put something in the "deal with later" section of my virtual in box.

So what will you do with this post? Basically, you have the same options that I had in 1980, albeit in a virtual form.
  • You can take immediate action on this post, perhaps going to the Disqus-powered comments section to add your own observation, or perhaps sharing it via Google Reader or FriendFeed or Digg or some other service. Or maybe you'll write your own post that references this post or the InformationWeek item.

  • You can "file" the post for later action, perhaps starring it in Google Reader, perhaps bookmarking it, or perhaps doing some of the same items I listed above (sharing in Google Reader, sharing in FriendFeed, Digging it) to allow you to return to it at a future time.

  • Or, you can place this post in the virtual equivalent of the "round file" (i.e. the trash can) and move on to the latest Intel or Tiger Woods news (hopefully not in the same article).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A lapse of commitment (or, climbing on the personally branded bandwagon)

Hello. This is the Empoprise-BI blog, which hasn't had any new posts in a week. You see, my wife's grandmother died, which necessitated an out-of-state trip and numerous other details related to that out-of-state trip plus some in-state stuff. So for a few days, Empoprise-BI was a pretty low priority for me.

Which means that I savaged my brand, I guess.

So it is probably timely to note that Steven Hodson linked to a Tara Hunt post which included the following:

When learning about branding in the 90’s while I was at University, it was taught to me that going ‘off brand’ was a big no-no. Going ‘off-brand’ would confuse your customers, alienate the people who identified with your company and cause some major implosion to your company....

But after Hunt left University, the term "personal brand" came into vogue, and Hunt feels queasy about the whole thing.

I may be consistent in my passion and what I believe in, but I’m terribly inconsistent in my actions. I talk of empowering customers, yet I’m the biggest sucker for a sales pitch you have ever met, spending most of my time impulse buying, then regretting. I may go on and on about women getting in front of parades and dispelling myths, but I’m incredibly anti-social most of the time, embarrassed to take credit or do any pro-active self-promotion (I’ve been lucky enough to have amazing friends and supporters who do this for me). I go on and on about how important relationships are, yet I am terrible at keeping in touch with friends, spending enough time with my family and getting out from behind my computer to meet new people. Yet, I really display the opposite. Nobody who “knows” me online would agree with how I’ve characterized myself here. Funny that. It’s me. 100%. The teensy group of people I let in know this.

We talk about authenticity, but people rarely want to see the negative side of a person. When I’ve been truly honest – angry, sad, scared, belligerent, grumpy, negative, depressed or anxious (and I keep it under control, but I have terrible anxiety) – people get nervous. I lose followers. I get long emails from people asking me to stop being self-indulgent. I get messages from concerned friends saying, “Don’t you worry about damaging your brand?”

And that’s it. Do we want authenticity? Or do we want branding?

Over the last couple of years, I've worked on focusing the messages that I provide via my blogs, which is why I now have a blog for business, a blog for music, a blog for the Inland Empire, and a blog for NTN Buzztime. But even a focused business blog that concentrates on a few key themes isn't much good if there's no content going into it. And I won't even bring up the other three...

Now I certainly could have forced myself to continue to create content. The business of funerals is a big business, and I could have ignored relatives and posted photoblogs of the business of funerals.

And there is certainly funeral music (does everybody know "Amazing Grace"?).

And the funeral home that I visited on Sunday is part of the same chain that operates a funeral home here in Ontario, so that provides the local angle.

And no, I haven't found a connection between the past week and NTN Buzztime trivia, although my wife's grandmother did love bingo, which is a game that you can play at a restaurant or bar establishment.

But I'm glad that I neglected my personal brand for the last few days and did some more important things.

The blogs are ramping back up to speed again. Keep following.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Revisiting Facefeed, and the engagement issue

Louis Gray used Google Reader to share a post by Jorge Escobar entitled FriendFeed’s Lifecycle: A Story of the Modern Startup. While discussing FriendFeed's declining user numbers, Escobar made the following observation:

The question we, as FriendFeed fanatics ask ourselves is why? Why is a product that is so unique been left for dead all of a sudden.

One camp would point to the Facebook announcement. Who wants to spend time and energy on a satellite service, knowing that the resources are aligned with the parent company. This is interesting because it would tell a lot about user’s behavior in this Real Time Web: they want a product that evolves, even though the product is perfectly fine....

But why?

If the product or site or service does what it advertises, why does it have to keep development on a frantic race to over-development?

Long-time readers of this blog will remember that I previously cited another potential reason for FriendFeed's declining numbers - not because of a cessation of innovation, but because of the feelings of jilted betrayal that some users felt when cute little FriendFeed sold itself to big giant (and therefore evil) Facebook.

Short-time readers of this blog will remember that I just wrote something about engagement, noting that there are sites that have truly engaged their users.

I was thinking of both of these posts when I replied at Escobar's post:

Jorge, I found this post via a Louis Gray share. Back on August 12, a few days after the announcement of the Facebook acquisition, I postulated that the relationship of some users to FriendFeed was like the first love of a high-schooler, and that when Facebook acquired FriendFeed, many of the FriendFeed users felt “betrayed” and “jilted.” Perhaps my analysis was incorrect (although I personally still believe it’s true), but there’s no denying that people want to be engaged (and I don’t mean this in the marital sense) with the software services that they are using. For whatever reason, fewer and fewer people are finding the FriendFeed experience to be engaging.

Those are my initial thoughts. What are yours? Perhaps this is a topic for...the Ffundercats.

The Pitfalls of Using the Same Device as Friends and Family

Computer and OS wars have been raging for ages. You have your Windows partisans, and your Mac partisans, and your Linux partisans, and there are probably people out there who still worship Dick Pick as the supreme genius. But if someone were to ask me what computer I recommend, I'd first ask the person, "What computer do your friends and family use?" You see, when someone buys a computer, they're going to turn to friends and family to figure out how to work the thing. So it's best to get the kind of computer that your friends and family already have, so that they can help you.

This principle doesn't only apply to computers, but to other devices. On our cross-country trip last summer, we used my father-in-law's Garmin GPS device (one of the devices in the nuvi 2xx family), and liked it so much that we bought one for ourselves.

But we had a bit of a navigation problem Tuesday evening.

My wife and I had to make a trip out to a place out in Rialto, and I asked her if we had the Garmin device so that I could find the place we were going, and check out traffic. She had the Garmin in her purse, so I hooked it up and entered the address of the place that we were going. When we were done, and ready to head back to Ontario, I pressed the "Home" button, and headed out west on Interstate 10.

The Garmin told me to turn at Mountain Avenue, but I ignored it and turned on Euclid, heading toward my house. But as I headed south toward Ontario, the Garmin told me to turn right - toward Mountain.

I thought that was rather odd, but ignored it.

I got to the next cross street, and the Garmin again told me to turn right, toward Mountain.

This happened several times, but by the time I got home, I figured out what had happened.

You see, my father in law called me a few days ago to ask if we had seen his Garmin device, which he had lost.

Sure enough, when I checked the "Home" address on the Garmin, the address was my father-in-law's address. Our own Garmin device was sitting in our house.

So if you decide to get the same computer, or other device, as your friends and family, be sure that you have a way to tell them apart. Otherwise, you'll get a very unpleasant surprise when you want to listen to some tunes on your iPod.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

(empo-plaaybizz) FarmVille, Foursquare, and "Snoop Dog" (InformationWeek on engagement)

Normally social media doesn't turn up in my line of work - criminals aren't always kind enough to tweet when they commit crimes, although they sometimes do - but I just ran across one of the most bizarre social media mentions in my work arena.

I subscribe to the print edition of InformationWeek, and I happened to notice the editorial headline A Web Presence Needs Sizzle, For Shizzle. And yes, the word "For" is in the title. We'll return to the title a bit later.

The premise of the article is that there are a lot of "buzz" items floating around in the social media space - some frivolous, some downright embarrassing, but some that are engaging. Fritz Nelson, author of the article, starts off by talking about FarmVille and Foursquare. I haven't really talked about FarmVille in this blog (I prefer Farm Town), but FarmVille is an obvious example of something that seems extremely silly - until you realize that Zynga enjoys $150 million in revenue, and FarmVille has 60 million farmers per month. Foursquare doesn't enjoy that level of usership or revenue, but it's certainly talked about in some circles.

Nelson then states:

Despite the inanity, there are interesting ideas here. Who knows why farming worked rather than, say, assembling your own race car or quilt. There are, however, interesting lessons, lessons that assume a business already believes in using the Web to listen to, follow, and engage customers -- and most important, get them to act.

However, Nelson notes that some ideas aren't all that engaging:

Much was made of Microsoft's Windows 7 parties, an idea the company thought could generate a viral buzz around the launch of Windows 7. Microsoft created a YouTube video showing party-throwers how to prepare for the throngs who would descend upon their homes to get glimpses of (and then purchase copies of) Windows 7.

Seemingly modeled after some sort of Food Network show, with an attempt to appeal to Dockers-wearing tools (just a guess), this was the epitome of marketing gone wrong -- a disastrously straight-laced idea dressed up in trappings of hip, for the ultimate in banality. Like the school nerd with bling, or a Tupperware party with Crystal Meth favors and Akon playing in the backyard. Luckily for Microsoft, most observers laughed, thought it was cute, and chalked it up to Microsoft being Microsoft. Kind of like your grandmother spewing a few Snoop Dog lines.

And yes, Nelson spelled "Dog" with one g, just like he included an r in his rendering of "For Shizzle." Which is why I quote Nelson in my business blog, not my music blog.

But Nelson's premise remains - use the data to engage the customer. In his hypothetical airline example (which can be extrapolated to other companies), Nelson notes that a firm can use the data that is collected, "listen" to the data, and use that data for the mutual benefit of the company and the customer. Foursquare provides an example of this (although none of my Foursquare sites offer me benefits for being mayor - hint hint), and Nelson brainstorms some other examples. Here's one:

Flyers could become "mayors" of certain routes, offering tips to other flyers on everything from best travel gear to books to adapters.

Hey, why not? Some people crave recognition - needless to say, it's an innate craving in bloggers - and if someone can be recognized as an expert on the Ontario to Dallas route, more power to them. And, most essentially, it lets customers be "engaged." Perhaps "engaged" is in danger of becoming an overused word, but it's certainly true that a customer is more likely to patronize a business if some sense of engagement is there.

And that's enough to make the company's sacred cows moo with delight, even when things are done the wrong way.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The good and the bad of GM's new board

Disciples of Adam Smith believe that in a perfect economy, wages and prices freely rise and fall to appropriate levels. Therefore, if a golfer makes $100 million a year, or if a corporate CEO makes $100 million a year, the price is entirely justified in economic terms, and you would not be able to get someone to do those jobs for a mere $99 million.

But others counter that our economy is not perfect, and that one of the imperfections of the economy is when you have corporate boards of directors dominated by insiders. In the extreme example, the chairman of the company also serves as the CEO, handpicks board members from the inside of the firm, and ensures that outside board members don't cause too much trouble. Not that I have anything against Sidney Poitier, but is he the person to help run a multi-billion dollar firm? (As I previously noted, Sidney Poitier sat on Disney's Board of Directors during the Michael Eisner era.)

Well, when General Motors got a new owner - namely, the Federal Government - it shook up the GM board, and a Board of Directors actually got rid of a CEO. But by the same token, it may be hard to get a new one:

“The biggest impediment to hiring someone from the outside as C.E.O. will be the compensation issue,” said Jerome York, a former G.M. director who had pressed for new leadership at the company. “Most executives of that caliber expect a boatload of money to join a new company.”

That quote comes from the New York Times, that speculates that the new CEO of GM may be...the chairman of its Board of Directors.

In a small meeting at G.M. headquarters in September, Mr. Whitacre made a casual remark that proved prescient.

“I don’t know how not to be the C.E.O.,” Mr. Whitacre said, according to two people present who asked not to be identified because it was a private conversation. “I’ve never been anything but C.E.O.”

But look at one of the people who was urging back in the spring that corporations separate the chairman and CEO roles:

Businesses with separate chairmen "would perform better overall -- and not just in shareholder returns," contends Harry Pearce, a retired General Motors Corp. vice chairman who is chairman of MDU Resources Group Inc. and Nortel Networks Corp. Mr. Pearce heads the Chairmen's Forum, a group of independent board chairmen that helped organize the new campaign.

(Aside: I found the Wall Street Journal article quoted above via a Google search. Sorry, Ruppy.)

We'll have to see how this one emerges over the coming months.

What's the other other side of the FusionGarage - TechCrunch dustup?

You'll recall that LAST Monday, I wrote a post entitled What's the other side of the FusionGarage - TechCrunch dustup?. I quoted from the November 30 TechCrunch post on the topic, which said, in part:

We chose to work with Fusion Garage on Prototype C and the launch prototype after we finished Prototype B internally.

We jointly own the CrunchPad product intellectual property, and we solely own the CrunchPad trademark.

So it’s legally impossible for them to simply build and sell the device without our agreement.

At the time, however, I found a January 2009 post from Fusion Garage that had a different interpretation of Prototype B.

There is an air of excitement permeating through Fusion Garage at the moment. Michael Arrington of Techcrunch just wrote an update on the Techcrunch Tablet Prototype B.

It’s our software that is running on the tablet as demonstrated in the videos embedded in the article.

So I was wondering what the other side of the story was, from Fusion Garage's perspective. And a week later (Monday, December 7), the Inquisitr posted the following:

Rathakrishnan explained that Fusion Garage had solely developed the products OS without a single line of code being provided by TechCrunch, while also hiring their own employees to develop the products hardware and ultimately finish the complete product. As he put it “Fusion Garage is the actual only doer in this story.”

Read the rest here. Inquisitr writer James Allen Johnson concluded by saying:

Given this recent round of information it should be interesting to see how TechCrunch and more specifically Michael Arrington decide to fire back, from my point of view Fusion Garage should have an Epic Win on their hands.

As it turns out Arrington fired back before Fusion Garage fired. See this December 4 post:

[T]hey have spoken to press, and say that their side of the story has two key elements. First, that none of this was a surprise and we knew they were likely to break ties with us. And second that TechCrunch hasn’t done anything to help build the CrunchPad and therefore has no rights to the device.

Both statements are completely untrue. Among other things, emails from Fusion Garage illustrate it.

And Arrington repeats the claim of joint ownership of intellectual property:

There is just no way to argue that TechCrunch is not the joint owner of all intellectual property of the CrunchPad, and outright owner of the CrunchPad trademark. The CEO of Fusion Garage has spent nearly six months this year working from Silicon Valley and our offices. Most of the Fusion Garage team has spent the last three months here working with our team on the project. And our key team members have spent time in Singapore working directly on the hardware and software that powers the device. Fusion Garage emails and their own blog, before it was deleted, acknowledge this. We have also spent considerable amounts of money creating the device, paying the vendor and other bills that Fusion Garage wasn’t able to.

So, as I noted in my post from last week, there are conflicting views regarding who owns what. Couple that with the claims by both sides that they had to pay for something because the other side wouldn't, and you have a big mess on your hands.

This is especially messy because both hardware and software are involved. When IBM engaged Microsoft to provide an operating system for its personal computer, Microsoft didn't try to claim ownership of the hardware IP. When Google looked for phone manufacturers to use its Android OS, Google didn't try to claim ownership of the phone IP. And as for Apple, they are well-known for producing both the hardware and the software under their own banner, so the issue of who owns what never applies.

In the ideal world, TechCrunch and FusionGarage would have completed a statement of work that clearly delineated who would do what, and who would own what. From the things that have been said over the past week, and the things that haven't been said, it's becoming clear that no single document exists.

So where are we left? TechCrunch's blog post title declares litigation imminent. Meanwhile, the sale of JooJoo devices is also imminent, and is supposed to go forward this Friday, December 11. Expect every lawyer in the Bay Area to be busy on this matter this week - unless, of course, Tiger Woods has a girlfriend in Sausalito.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Maximum networking, but for what?

This person subscribed to my Twitter account, but I chose not to subscribe back. If you look at the profile, perhaps you'll see why.

Now the self-described maximum network is doing some things right. Unlike those who claim that they can help you get many Twitter followers, but don't have any themselves, this person actually has almost as many followers as they are following. And the person has made it on to 15 lists.

But why? With 0 tweets (unless there's some type of Twitter bug), it appears that this is a case of maximum networking, but minimum content.

Insert your own joke about this blog here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

More musings on single-use devices, including phones and kitchen aids

Back on November 20, I wrote a post that stated, in part:

Of course, this depends upon whether you want to buy a dedicated device (such as the Scoble Shiny Kitchen Aid), or a multi-purpose device (such as a netbook). On the one hand, while one would think a multi-purpose device would be more valuable, you do have a lot of people buying single-purpose devices, such as game consoles and GPS navigation devices. On the other hand, these very devices are having to become multi-purpose devices in order to compete.

The context of the post was a question about whether Google Chrome made sense, and perhaps it does for single use devices.

I began thinking about this again after my December 1 post about the differences between today's phones and the phones that I used as a kid in the 1960s and 1970s. While I noted that today's phones are used in a variety of environments (try placing an old Ma Bell phone in your pocket, provided that you can detach it from the wall), I failed to explicitly note that today's phones are multi-use devices, while the phones of yesteryear were single-use devices. Let's return to Dave Winer's thoughts on the topic:

The first phone I used had a rotary dial and rang with a bell, you know a clapper hitting a piece of metal, controlled by an electro-magnet. The funny thing about those phones — they worked.

Yes, they worked. You could call people with them. But I challenge you to go into a store today and find a mobile phone that ONLY makes calls.

A few years ago, our local courthouse banned people from bringing camera phones onto the premises. If they were to try to enforce such a ban today, they'd have to install (or re-install) an entire bank of pay phones. It's nearly impossible to buy a phone without a camera today; granted that the camera (using a Winer technical term) sucks, but it still takes pictures.

And that isn't all that today's phones do. Even if you don't own a so-called smartphone, chances are that your phone takes pictures and sends/receives text messages and sends/receives picture messages and plays music. Try getting the old Ma Bell in the wall to do all of that.

Now if you consider that your computer is by definition a multi-use device, and your phone is a multi-use devices, and even your game console may be a multi-use device (if it can play Blu-Ray or regular DVDs), you may think that single-use devices have completely disappeared.

Well, they haven't.

My Saturday post was devoted to a single-use device, the control panel of our oven. Now maybe one could claim that even that is a multi-use device, since it includes a timer, has manual temperature controls, and is capable of receiving the infamous probe input. But if you take a tour through your average kitchen, you will find a number of single-use devices scattered throughout. The microwave is an obvious example, but perhaps you have one or two or three coffeemakers, a slow cooker, and a number of other "computers" in wildly varying form factors, each devoted to a single purpose.

Now it's a leap of fancy to assume that every one of those kitchen appliances could benefit from a Google Chrome operating system, or another user-friendly operating system. For one thing, as has been noted in Royal Pingdom, Google Chrome itself is really suited for Internet connections, and I for one do not necessarily want to broadcast my microwaving habits to the world. Bue perhaps there's room for a "disconnected" operating system with a user interface that doesn't suck.

But it's more likely that we'll have a multitude of operating systems, and Kitchen Aid will have its own OS, and Flavia will have its own OS, and your microwave will have its own OS.

We'll see what happens.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

(empo-tuulwey) Plancast, .@parislemon, .@socialjulio, and Upcoming

In one of those coincidental kind of convergence things, I happened to see two things at about the same time. The first was MG Siegler's TechCrunch post about Plancast, which I starred in Google Reader to save for future reading. The other item was something shared by Julio Fernandez (@socialjulio, formerly @oraclejulio) - namely, his Plancast entry for SXSW.

So I guess Plancast is trendy.

While I didn't have time to read all of Siegler's post when I first saw it, the title - "Plancast Is Foursquare… For The Future" - was certainly intriguing. But when I initially read the first paragraph, I began wondering - what's the difference between Plancast and, for example, Upcoming, which lets you announce your...um...upcoming plans?

I finally got around to reading the rest of Siegler's post, and found that he addressed that very point.

While services like Upcoming and Going allow you to broadcast future things you’ll be doing, they are very event-centric. If you’re just going to get a drink tomorrow night and want friends to join, it seems like overkill to create an Upcoming event for that, for example.

Well, this obviously attracted the attention of me, the "a tool is not a way of life" guy. So I asked myself, "Why NOT use Upcoming to announce non-event future plans?" So I figured I'd try it out. I mean, if you can floss with a screwdriver, then you can use Upcoming to announce a non-event.

My event of choice was "Drive to work," which I listed as occurring on Interstate 10 and State Route 57 between 7:00 and 8:00 tomorrow morning. I gamely forced Upcoming to do my bidding, stating how many people could be invited to the event, the webpage for the event (this blog, since this exercise was designed for this post), and so forth. But finally, even I was forced to give up when I ran across this message.

Now I probably could have had more success if I had documented a non-event in a specific location, but if you can't document your commute, then what good is a service?

Now I haven't tried Plancast myself, and at this point I'm not going to sign up for it. I'm still leading a James 4:13-14 (NIV) life that does not lend itself to future planning. But MG and Julio seem to be happy with the service.

How do I put Earl in a riss? (basic questions about subscribing to feeds)

I am in this weird bubble kind of thing in which things are very strange and not normal. And you are too.

In my daily reading, I view the conversations about the best ways to find things to read. Is RSS relevant? Can we get information from Twitter? Which protocols provide optimum information gathering capabilities?

But 99.9% of the people don't care about such things - a point that was brought home to me when I helped someone subscribe to a feed.

Now the person that I helped is no dummy, but this person had previously been exposed to email lists, and had never made the acquaintance of an RSS feed. The person had asked me how I obtained some of the information that I use in work, and I explained that I used RSS feeds to do the job. I then offered to help the person set up some work-related feeds to keep up with industry information.

Now I was not about to dump Google Reader on the person, because the person doesn't even have a Google account. And I'm not familiar with the desktop reader applications, so I wasn't going to suggest that. Basically, I had two options:
  • Set up RSS feeds in the person's Internet Explorer 8 browser
  • Set up RSS feeds that were associated with the person's personal account - iGoogle, My MSN, My Yahoo, or whatever.
I haven't really exercised either of those options much myself, so I figured that I'd do some self-testing before I went to the person's computer. I vaguely knew how the browser subscriptions worked, so I tried the other option by firing my Firefox, going to a feed, and clicking on it. Firefox nicely presented options that allowed you to choose where you wanted to set up the feed - Google, My Yahoo, whatever.

So I proceed to the person's computer, had her login to her personal service, then had her open up another tab to find the feed...and then realized that she was running Internet Explorer, not Firefox, and all those nice options that I saw in my Firefox weren't showing up in her Internet Explorer. Perhaps they could, but maybe it depends upon how her IE was configured, or how my Firefox was configured, or whatever.

After I had set her up with a feed and explained how to check on it, and after I gave an answer to her basic question ("What's the advantage of reading feeds vs. just visiting the website?"), I thought about how I could have done this better. And I discovered that my hands-on session, even with its false starts, is actually a LOT better than what passes for RSS education these days.

I'd like for you to perform an exercise. Pretend that you had never heard of online feeds or anything like that, and that you pretty much used your computer to get to what AOL provided for you. This is the way that many people use their computers today, incidentally. Now let's say that someone like me suggested that you read feeds, and provided you with these instructions. I'll take them slowly. Read the fcllowing sentence aloud to yourself.

In order to subscribe to an RSS feed or newsfeed you will need two things, an RSS reader (also known as a news aggregator) and url (web address) of the RSS feed that you wish to subscribe.

Quick question to you before we continue - how did you read "url"? Did you say "you arr ell"? Why did you say that? That's not what the word looks like. It looks like you should say "Earl." So now we're talking about an RSS (riss???) feed that has Earl's web address. Is Earl a spider? Does the web address have a zip code?

The important thing is that while the sentence above makes complete sense to me, it's a foreign language to most people. And the following steps don't help either.

1.) Download a News Aggregator / RSS Reader

2.) Locate the web address (url) of the RSS feed (XML file) that you wish to subscribe.

A news aggregator or RSS reader is a software application that collects and displays news headlines and summaries from sources that you have designated.

An RSS feed is an XML document that contains the news headlines and summaries.

3.) Install the feed reader or news aggregator on the computer

4.) Insert the url of the news feed (there is usually an "add feed" button)

5.) Many of the news readers will allow you to set the interval that the software will look for a feed update others simply update daily.

6.) The information in the feed will be updated when the feed contains new content.

OK, perhaps this is a really bad set of instructions for newbies. I found another set of instructions, which pretty much admits that this is a very hard thing to teach.

To subscribe to an RSS feed:

* Follow the instructions of your RSS feed reader. Each RSS feed reader is a little different.

Later, the tutorial states:

One of the weaknesses of RSS is that there is no easy method to subscribe to feeds. There is not a "one click" method to pick an RSS Feed and subscribe to it.

Subscribing to the RSS feeds is the only manual task involved in the process of using the RSS feed reader.

Unfortunately, this manual task is one of the first tasks that you have to perform, and if you can't complete that task, you're not going to get the goodies out of RSS feeds.

Now when you find instructions for a particular RSS reader, things get a bit easier. Here are Microsoft's instructions on how to subscribe to a feed in Internet Explorer:

How do I subscribe to a feed?

1. Open Internet Explorer by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then clicking Internet Explorer.

2. Go to the website that has the feed you want to subscribe to.

3. Click the Feeds button Picture of the Feeds button to discover feeds on the webpage.

4. Click a feed (if more than one is available). If only one feed is available, you will go directly to that page.

5. Click Subscribe to this Feed.

6. Type a name for the feed and select the folder to create the feed in.

7. Click Subscribe.

Now I didn't reproduce them above, but Microsoft's instructions also included a couple of helpful pictures of the Start button and the Feeds button.

But even if you have a fairly good set of instructions, it's a laborious task to set up a feed reader and subscribe to feeds for the first time. Now one can argue that you have to perform some level of learning to do a task like this - there's no way that feed reading can be completely intuitive - but we still have to recognize the fact that this learning must take place before you can have streams of information flowing at you hourly.

But you can always get Earl to help you.

(empo-tymshft) In defense of modern phones (but Dave Winer is still right)

(Disclosure: I was a Motorola employee for nearly a decade, but not in their mobile phone division.)

I've been musing about something that Dave Winer wrote in his Droidie blog on Monday. Here's an excerpt:

The first phone I used had a rotary dial and rang with a bell, you know a clapper hitting a piece of metal, controlled by an electro-magnet. The funny thing about those phones — they worked.

Today’s phones are marvels of technology. I love them. But they all suck. iPhones suck. Blackberries suck. The disposable phone you buy at the convenience store sucks and yes my dear friends, the Droid sucks too.

I'm about Dave's age, and I remember those phones also. When my parents and I moved into a house, the phone was already there, attached to the wall. And Dave's right - those phones were sturdier than the phones that we have today.

But in all fairness to modern phone manufacturers, today's phones are asked to do more than the phones of old.

As I mentioned, the phone of old was attached to a wall by a cord. And although wear and tear could certainly occur back then, it was nothing like the wear and tear phones are subjected to today. Back then I wouldn't have thrown the phone in my pocket, and I certainly wouldn't have thrown it into a computer bag, in part because back then any bag that would hold a computer would have been quite large. And even if I had an advanced phone that had push buttons instead of a rotary dial, the phone (or at least the one we had in our house) didn't have a headphone jack, and it didn't have QWERTY keys, and it certainly didn't have a screen that could display text...or pictures.

Now today's phone manufacturers could certainly build phones that are as sturdy as the phones of yesteryear, and in fact some of them do. But most people would never buy them because of another huge change that has happened since the 1960s and 1970s - namely, the breakup of AT&T.

Now the telephone business environment before 1982-1984 was not a perfect monopoly. Not everyone had service from Ma Bell; people in some areas got their service from companies like Continental Telephone, which later became part of GTE, which later became part of Verizon.

And the telephone business environment after 1982-1984 is not perfect competition; technically, the term "oligopoly" more accurately describes the situation, if you discount the fact that the major phone manufacturers and services themselves are running into competition from new players such as Skype. But there IS competition today, and that's a major difference from the days of yesteryear.

When our family moved into our house in 1973, we didn't shop the market and select the brand of phone that we wanted. We didn't have a lot of choice in the matter.

Today, of course, we have choice - and with choice comes downward price pressure. Our family just got a phone for less than $60 (plus tax, plus a two-year service commitment). I'm sure that we could have gotten a really sturdy phone that would have brought tears of happiness to Dave Winer's eyes - but we wouldn't have gotten it for $60. So we, and millions of other families, chose the cheap phone that sucks rather than getting the sturdy phone that didn't suck.

If such a beast even exists today. Other than the military and public safety markets, would anyone fork out the bucks for a sturdy phone?

(Picture source, license)