Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Pepsi, Thomas Claburn, and John Bredehoft on Pepsi's "Social Vending System"

Soda machines have been connected to the Internet for years. The first known occurrence of a soda machine-to-computer connection took place in the 1970s, when Carengie-Mellon's Computer Science Department hooked their Coke machine up to a DEC PDP-10 computer. CMU then used the UNIX "finger" command to allow people to discover the status of the Coke machine.

But this setup only allowed the users to know whether there was cold Coke in the machine. Things have progressed a lot since then, and Coca-Cola's competitor Pepsi has rolled out a new "social" machine:

Using digital technology, PepsiCo’s Social Vending System enables any user to gift a friend by selecting a beverage and entering the recipient’s name, mobile number and a personalized text message. There’s also the option to further personalize the gift with a short video recorded right at the machine. The gift is delivered with a system code and instructions to redeem it at any PepsiCo Social Vending system. When the recipient redeems his or her gift, they’re given the option of either thanking the original sender with a gift of their own or paying it forward and gifting a beverage to someone else.

So for all of you who are giving people virtual goods in Farmville and other programs, here's a way to give REAL goods to people.

What could go wrong?

InformationWeek's Thomas Claburn has some concerns:

[E]xpect this feature to be curtailed after activists figure out how to co-opt social gifting for political ends, like messages of incitement offering the local dictator a cool drink to recover from the taxing job of torturing his people. Social marketing is all fun and profit until someone starts sending "Random Acts of Insurrection."

With all due respect to Mr. Claburn, that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Imagine sending Pepsi gifts to your local Coca-Cola distributor.

Imagine sending Pepsi gifts to Thomas S. Monson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. (At least some LDS members abstain from caffeinated cola drinks for religious reasons.)

Speaking of religion, imagine sending Pepsi gifts to Apple Chairman Steve Jobs, whose quote about sugar water is legendary.

Of course, Pepsi doesn't care, because (just like stamps) income from products that are never used is still income.
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