consumer posts

ChittahChattah Quickies September 6th, 2009
  • Seen Reading – a "literary voyeruism blog" set mostly (I believe) in Toronto – What is Seen Reading?

    1. I see you reading.
    2. I remember what page you’re on in the book.
    3. I head to the bookstore, and make a note of the text.
    4. I let my imagination rip.
    5. Readers become celebrities.
    6. People get giddy and buy more books.

    Why do you do this?
    Readers are cool. Authors work hard. Publishers take chances. And you all deserve to be seen!

    (Thanks Suzanne Long!)

  • Choose What You Read NY – Choose What You Read NY is a non profit organization that offers free books to New Yorkers, encouraging its residents to read more, giving them an alternative to the free papers that get tossed out and even the digi-trash that crowds our time. In doing so, we help to recycle used books that would have unfortunately been thrown away.

    You will find us near major subway stations on the first Tuesday of each month.The idea is that once someone is finished with a book, they either drop it off in one of our conveniently located drop boxes or back to us at a station. Unlike a library, there will be no due dates, penalties, fees or registrations. We only ask that you return it once you are done so that the same book can be enjoyed by another commuter.

  • What was the last book, magazine and newspaper you read on the subway? – 6000 people respond and the New York Times posts the results
  • How and what people read on the New York City subways – Plenty of detailed examples of people, their books, and their travels: "Reading on the subway is a New York ritual, for the masters of the intricately folded newspaper, as well as for teenage girls thumbing through magazines, aspiring actors memorizing lines, office workers devouring self-help inspiration, immigrants newly minted — or not — taking comfort in paragraphs in a familiar tongue. These days, among the tattered covers may be the occasional Kindle, but since most trains are still devoid of Internet access and cellphone reception, the subway ride remains a rare low-tech interlude in a city of inveterate multitasking workaholics. And so, we read.

    There are those whose commutes are carefully timed to the length of a Talk of the Town section of The New Yorker, those who methodically page their way through the classics, and those who always carry a second trash novel in case they unexpectedly make it to the end of the first on a glacial F train."

    (thanks Avi and Anne)

  • Lego grabs ahold of customers with both hands – From 2006, great Wired piece about Lego's approach to involving ardent fans/customers in developing future products.
  • Noting:books – the simple yet dynamic way to track your reading, from the dates you start and finish a book, to your thoughts along the way.
  • CourseSmart brings textbooks to the iPhone in PDF; major readability challenges ensue – “It’s not the first place to go to read your textbook,” Mr. Lyman said of the iPhone app. But he said that it could be helpful if “you’re standing outside of the classroom, the quiz is in 10 minutes, and you want to go back to that end-of-chapter summary that helped you understand the material.”
  • Nice profile of Lego’s business culture and the tension between growth and losing track of their legacy – But the story of Lego’s renaissance — and its current expansion into new segments like virtual reality and video games — isn’t just a toy story. It’s also a reminder of how even the best brands can lose their luster but bounce back with a change in strategy and occasionally painful adaptation.
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ChittahChattah Quickies September 3rd, 2009
  • Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood says MP3s sound good enough – [In ReadingAheda we explored the "Gold Standard" of previous generations of technology]
    SASHA FRERE-JONES: Is the MP3 a satisfactory medium for your music?

    JONNY GREENWOOD: They sound fine to me. They can even put a helpful crunchiness onto some recordings. We listened to a lot of nineties hip-hop during our last album, all as MP3s, all via AirTunes. They sounded great, even with all that technology in the way. MP3s might not compare that well to a CD recording of, say, string quartets, but then, that’s not really their point.

    SFJ: Do you ever hear from your fans about audio fidelity?

    JG: We had a few complaints that the MP3s of our last record wasn’t encoded at a high enough rate. Some even suggested we should have used FLACs, but if you even know what one of those is, and have strong opinions on them, you’re already lost to the world of high fidelity and have probably spent far too much money on your speaker-stands.
    (via kottke)

  • Yoostar lets anyone act opposite Hepburn, Brando – It's a consumer-level greenscreen system, so you can record video of yourself composited into classic movie footage. While it's amazing that this is being productized at a consumer level, the reviews make it clear that it's riddled with difficulties and limitations.
  • Microsoft tries Tupperware-party-esque promotion for Windows 7 – If you can find 9 friends and provide a decent pitch, you could be chosen to host a Windows 7 House Party and win a free signature copy of Windows 7. There are four pre-defined categories for the party: PhotoPalooza, Media Mania, Setting up with Ease, and Family Friendly Fun.
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ChittahChattah Quickies July 18th, 2009
  • How commercial software products are developed (or "get some empathy for clients, right here") – I worked on the "Windows Mobile PC User Experience" team. This team was part of Longhorn from a feature standpoint but was organizationally part of the Tablet PC group. To find a common manager to other people I needed to work with required walking 6 or 7 steps up the org chart from me. My team's raison d'etre was: improve the experience for users on laptops, notebooks and ultra-mobile PCs. Noble enough. Of course the Windows Shell team, whose code I needed to muck about in to accomplish my tiny piece of this, had a charter of their own which may or may not have intersected ours.

    My team had a very talented UI designer and my particular feature had a good, headstrong program manager with strong ideas about user experience. We had a Mac [owned personally by a team member] that we looked to as a paragon of clean UI. Of course the Shell team also had some great UI designers and numerous good, headstrong PMs who valued (I can only assume) simplicity and so on.

  • Not quite-credible story about Best Buy differentiating on making technology usable/understandable – Mr. Dunn said he wanted to create an atmosphere where consumers were attracted not just to products but also to services that help them master fast-changing technology and configure and connect devices.

    One of Best Buy’s main competitive strategies has been services, something it has done better in the past than any national electronics retailer. That translates into selling product warranties, or help with installing a home theater or configuring a computer.
    Mr. Dunn said a chief example of the kind of thing Best Buy wants to be known for is a service it calls Walk Out Working that it began introducing in May 2007. The service, which is free, helps consumers configure new mobile phones so that when they leave the store they are able to use features like music playback and Web surfing.

    …He argues that [other retailers] cannot compete with Best Buy when it comes to offering individual service, explaining technology to customers and charging to help them adapt to it.

  • Jobless Benefits Web Site Adds Insult to Injury – Jobless people seeking information about their benefits on the Brazilian Labor Ministry's Web were forced to type in passwords such as "bum" and "shameless." A private company that created the site's security system is blamed; its contract with the ministry wasn't being renewed, which may have prompted the pranks.
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ChittahChattah Quickies June 13th, 2009
  • New Yorker profile of Fred Franzia, the rather unpleasant character behind Charles Shaw wine (akaTwo Buck Chuck) – "You tell me why someone's bottle is worth eight dollars and mine's worth two dollars," he says. "Do you get forty times the pleasure from it?" With Two Buck Chuck, Franzia invented a category known as “super-value” wine. Cheap wine – so-called skid-row wine – is noting new; Franzia's idea was to make cheap wine that yuppies would feel comfortable drinking. He put Charles Shaw in a seven-hundred-and-fifty millilitre glass bottle, with a real cork, and used varietal grapes.
  • Offline, accurate quantitative usage data can be tough to capture – Advertisers rely on M.R.I.’s research. It measures how many readers a magazine has, including people who did not buy it but read a friend’s copy or flipped through it at the doctor’s office. It also profiles the readers of all the magazines, including their income levels, attitudes and toothpaste-buying habits.

    M.R.I. divides the country into representative neighborhoods and sends researchers to the zones to conduct a 45-minute interview, with 26,000 people a year, asking them to remember which magazines they have read in the last six months.

    The researchers leave behind a 104-page survey about what sort of television shows people watch, what kind of products they use, and what social or behavioral traits describe them. M.R.I. then tries to adjust its results so they represent the country.

    [But there are accuracy issues] While M.R.I. said Tennis magazine’s readership dropped almost by a third, its subscriptions and newsstand sales rose slightly.

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ChittahChattah Quickies June 4th, 2009
  • Reasonable Consumer Would Know "Crunchberries" Are Not Real, Judge Rules – Judge England also noted another federal court had "previously rejected substantially similar claims directed against the packaging of Fruit Loops [sic] cereal, and brought by these same Plaintiff attorneys." He found that their attack on "Crunchberries" should fare no better than their prior claims that "Froot Loops" did not contain real froot.

    (via BoingBoing)

  • A Manhattan Writing Of Six Therapists – “Everybody comes in with their own stories, and they can be so staggeringly original,” said Bonnie Zindel, the psychoanalyst who started the writing group seven years ago. “We all need stories to make sense of our lives, we’re all wired to tell stories, and nature gave us that. For us, we wonder, ‘What is the story that our patients are telling?’ There are mother stories, father stories, ghost stories and the eternal universal story of a child trying to separate from its mother.”
  • 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive – Read this post now, it won't last long! Most of our readers – including people like you – are already choosing to look at this post.

    (Lone Gunman, I'm giving you folks credit for this and look forward to you reciprocating, thanks!)

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ChittahChattah Quickies May 24th, 2009
  • What Does Your Credit-Card Company Know About You? – "In 2002 J. P. Martin, a math-loving executive at Canadian Tire, decided to analyze almost every piece of information his company had collected from credit-card transactions the previous year. His data indicated, for instance, that people who bought cheap, generic automotive oil were much more likely to miss a credit-card payment than someone who got the expensive, name-brand stuff. People who bought carbon-monoxide monitors for their homes or those little felt pads that stop chair legs from scratching the floor almost never missed payments. Anyone who purchased a chrome-skull car accessory or a “Mega Thruster Exhaust System” was pretty likely to miss paying his bill eventually. Why were felt-pad buyers so "upstanding? Because they wanted to protect their belongings, be they hardwood floors or credit scores."

    The article goes on to describe how debt collectors build relationships with (rather than harass) debtors, who pay off more to the brands they have a relationship with.

  • We Are Now In The Age Of Nice – another Sunday NYT unsubstantiated trend-attempt – That amiable guys and uncomplicated sweethearts could be today’s pop heroes is one sign of an outbreak of niceness across the cultural landscape — an attitude bubbling up in commercials, movies and even, to a degree, the normally not-nice blogosphere.
  • Can supposedly-predictive quantitative market research techniques help Hollywood? – Still, is it smart to bring on pricey consultants when corporate overlords are demanding cost cuts? And what of the parade of failed attempts by consumer research firms to break into Hollywood? Few people in the industry can forget Tremor, the research firm that was owned by Procter & Gamble. It came to Hollywood in 2002, signed up with Creative Artists Agency and roped clients like DreamWorks — though its ideas often proved prohibitively expensive.
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Power To The People December 2nd, 2008

The trailer mashup may have hit its peak a couple of years ago (hey, there’s at least one blog devoted solely to examples of the genre) with my favorites Shining and Toy Story Requiem.

I’ve written before about how technology increasingly makes producer work available to consumers and so I was struck by the latest trailer mashup, combining The Ring with the hated Saved By Zero commercial.

The ability to put video inside video might have been out of reach to mere consumers (and I don’t know the details of who made the above mashup), but it looks like these tools are becoming available to anyone now.

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Buying and Using Cars in India June 8th, 2007

A couple of little cultural tidbits about cars and car users in India. Param writes

the cup holder, that’s now there almost by default in the newer Indian cars, is hardly used for keeping coffee or any other drink for that matter. This is one of those classic examples of how you blindly re-use a concept from the West and include it in your design it in a different country. And what people actually end up using it for in India is, keeping some currency/change or keeping your mobile phone.

and USATODAY tells us that

the head of BMW Asia says the defining characteristic of Indian consumers is their desire to buy every available feature.

“What the Indian consumer wants is the latest technology, and in the premium car segment, they’re looking for a fully loaded car,” Linus Schmeckel says. “They don’t like to be seen as second-class consumers.”

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Bank of America “One” gets covered November 20th, 2006

Comedian David Cross blows my mind with post-modernity when he covers (with Johnny Marr on guitar) the widely-seen Bank of America corporate meeting new-lyrics-cover of U2’s One.

To recap, in 1991, U2 release song “One” on Achtung Baby. And very very recently, some goofy corporate dudes earnestly adapt the lyrics to motivate the Bank of America troops. And within 2 weeks David Cross covers that version (also at a comedy festival).

Meanwhile, Universal Music is sending Cease-and-Desist notices out to stop sites from hosting a song (One) to which they own the rights.

We truly live in wonderful times.

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You talkin’ to me? September 18th, 2006


“To our valued customers:
In cooperation with the
recent FDA warning we
have pulled all fresh
spinach.”

This is a terrible sign. The grocer in this AP photo has simply attempted to cover their ass for not stocking the produce we might be searching for. There’s no helpful information about the FDA warning – we’re supposed to know about it. There’s an opportunity here to help people and remind them not to each spinach for the duration of this situation.

And what the hell does it mean to “have pulled” spinach? This is not how people communicate, this is how merchandisers talk.

I realize this is a reactive sign and not a lot of time was spent in composing it (although it’s not hand-written, it’s somewhat professional looking, so there was some measure of care), but the jargon and self-referential tone is disappointing.

I experienced something similar in a recent email

Mr. Portigal,

Sorry, you are having problems with your Salter Electronic Scale Model 929. The people of Taylor Precision Products take great pride in producing quality products. Salter Model 929 has a ten years warranty. Please return the scale to Taylor. Taylor does not require a receipt or the original box. Please enclose a brief note with your name, return address, explanation of problem. Kindly put the note inside a box with
the scale, return to the following:

[blah]

Once your scale is received it will be replaced with a new Salter Model 929. Taylor than will mail the new scale back to the consumer. Turn around time of two to three weeks. I do hope this information proves to
be helpful to you.

How, in the course of a couple of short paragraphs, did “Mr. Portigal” morph into “the consumer”? Suddenly they are talking about me, not to me. What?

Not to grossly oversimply, but could it be that organizations spend too much time thinking about themselves, and not the people that they serve? The colloquial term is “drinking the Kool-Aid” and many companies, small and large, turn that into an asset that attracts and retains employees (“a strong culture”) but also presumably excites customers. But there’s a heavy black line on an org chart somewhere that splits the internal dialogs from the external ones, and the strong culture builds in shorthands and buzzwords that alienate and exclude the people on the outside – the ones that those companies are in business to serve.

The business press (and even worse, the blogosphere) is filled with enthusiastic writing about infectious passionate customer/marketing/blah but things are far far messier than any of those authors would want you to believe.

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Living in a hidden-fee economy July 17th, 2006

The SF Chron writes about those little extras costs on various services that add up pretty dramatically, with some economics research on how we perceive and make decisions around fees.

“In the end, you don’t fool the customers with the hidden price,” he says. “They know they’ve paid it even if they didn’t know they were going to pay it.” And if they feel ripped off, they won’t come back. In the cell phone industry, he says, carriers lose 40 percent of their customers each year, a tremendous “churn” rate that industry players are starting to take note of. Sprint, Nalebuff points out, recently began pushing what it calls its “Fair and Flexible” plan, which adjusts customers’ calling plans to minimize overage charges. Sprint is betting, in other words, that customer loyalty is worth more, in the long run, than sneaky fees.

They consider the cost of ink in owning a printer, and hotel costs. The quote takes a customer-centric view of what will most effective, but consider the switching costs (in terms of time, aggravation, and sometimes money) for banks, credit card companies, telephone service providers, and internet service providers. Not to mention that some hidden-fee situations such as utilities or cable TV may be monopoly situations. Frankly, we get shafted by these firms because they can. Because it’s too hard to make the switch or there is no one to switch to. It’s not loyalty on our part, or tolerance for this sort of crap, indeed there may not be any place to go. Do you see CitiBank or Wells Fargo or Bank of America as having dramatically different fee policies (we could investigate and see, for our specific needs, what the advantage is, of course, but my point is that these companies are all playing these games, and if you start factoring in the research required, it’s just silly)? Of course not.

We live in a society of choice, but not ubiquitous simple cross-category choice. If Coke on the shelf is going to charge a hidden fee, and Pepsi on the same shelf isn’t, then after the first time, we might consider Pepsi differently (for those who aren’t powerfully loyal to a beverage). If one gas station has a hidden, and the one across the street doesn’t, sure. On a purchase-by-purchase basis, there can be lots of choice.

But for an ongoing relationship, who the hell can deal with making changes. Would you change your car insurance? Your house insurance? Your health insurance? Your calling plan? Your broadband provider? Not if you could help it, not unless driven to it.

I wish it was easier, and I appreciate the pro-consumer attitude the Chron quotes, but I just don’t think it’s realistic.

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Big, disgusting and delicious June 25th, 2006

PimpThatSnack is an insane website, documenting in reasonable detail some ambitious projects to look at a familiar snack and cook up really really large versions.

I wrote recently about rediscovering the vanilla slice on a trip to Toronto. Here they produce a very very large vanilla slice, shown here next to a regular-sized treat.
Pimp That Snack 6 24 2006 11 33 14 PM.jpg
That is the money shot in all their projects – the original dwarfed by their pimped-out creation. Here’s a Nutrageous, complete with insanely-supersized-wrapper.
nutrageoues-14.jpg
Another great example of consumer participation in a previously-limited-to-producer behavior, a theme I wrote about a while back.

And of course, we’ve got some ironic Google ads inserted into their pages.
pimp-that-snack-6-24-2006-1.jpg
Low-Carb? Sugar Free? These are death-inducing creations; not sure where Google’s algorithm gets those ads from!

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Lego grabs ahold of customers with both hands February 24th, 2006

Great Wired piece about involving ardent fans/customers in developing future products. Clearly, having the right attitude about your customers, and a whole lot of letting go is essential to innovation (okay almost a bad pun there, sorry).

The one key difference between the four panelists and actual Lego staffers: a paycheck. For their participation, Hassenplug and his cohorts received a few Lego crane sets and Mindstorms NXT prototypes. They even paid their own airfares to Denmark. That was fine by Hassenplug. “Pretty much the comment from all four of us was ‘They’re going to talk to us about Legos, and they’re going to pay us with Legos?'” Hassenplug says. “‘They actually want our opinion?’ It doesn’t get much better than that.”

and

Some Lego executives worried that the hackers might cannibalize the market for future Mindstorms accessories or confuse potential customers looking for authorized Lego products.

After a few months of wait-and-see, Lego concluded that limiting creativity was contrary to its mission of encouraging exploration and ingenuity. Besides, the hackers were providing a valuable service. “We came to understand that this is a great way to make the product more exciting,” Nipper says. “It’s a totally different business paradigm – although they don’t get paid for it, they enhance the experience you can have with the basic Mindstorms set.” Rather than send out cease and desist letters, Lego decided to let the modders flourish; it even wrote a “right to hack” into the Mindstorms software license, giving hobbyists explicit permission to let their imaginations run wild.

Soon, dozens of Web sites were hosting third-party programs that helped Mindstorms users build robots that Lego had never dreamed of: soda machines, blackjack dealers, even toilet scrubbers. Hardware mavens designed sensors that were far more sophisticated than the touch and light sensors included in the factory kit. More than 40 Mindstorms guidebooks provided step-by-step strategies for tweaking performance out of the kit’s 727 parts.

Lego’s decision to tap this culture of innovation was a natural extension of its efforts over the past few years to connect customers to the company.

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Haier today November 20th, 2005

Rob Walker’s latest Consumed piece looks at the strategic approach of Haier, one of the few Chinese brands making inroads in the US.

Instead of a “technology push” approach (a Bell Labs cranking out wonderful inventions that are then pushed into the marketplace), [Sull] says, they are adept at using a “consumer pull” strategy, studying and responding to their customers’ needs.

Sull, the business-school professor, says that U.S. companies operating in China already know that the fiercest competitors there are the domestic ones. “The thing that should really make them nervous,” he says of U.S. companies, is the ability of Chinese manufacturers to export “their ability for rapid consumer-pull innovation” to the United States. Which is exactly what Haier is trying to do.

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Stones Club Show August 11th, 2005

The Rolling Stones played their usual end-of-rehearsal club show in Toronto. Local station Q107 suggested they were going to be simulcasting the show. Indeed, as the show started, they played a concert and played it very close to the edge of the truth. They didn’t identify the show they were actually playing on the radio as coming from 2002, they simply referred regularly to the show going on right now and their excitement about it. I don’t have any exact quotes but the DJ patter was designed to mislead, not clarify.

I grew up with Q107; I was horrified to see them playing a game like that with listeners. There were indeed fans around the world who stayed up late or got up early to catch this (supposed) simulcast, and were fooled. I wouldn’t have known what it was except that someone familiar with concert recordings posted to my Rolling Stones online community the actual source of the show being played. No doubt that others simply took the station at face value.

I wrote the station and encouraged others on the list to do so.

Come on guys – how’s about respecting your listeners instead of playing stupid games with them? If you aren’t playing tonight’s stealth Stones show, then tell us what show you ARE playing, don’t play coy games where you don’t actually literally directly honestly SAY that it’s tonight’s show but yeah (heh heh heh) you pretend that well, maybe we’ll reach our own conclusions.

That’s no way to treat people. Unless you are a telemarketer or a phone company. Q was never about the fine-print when I grew up listening to you. What the hell happened?

I have not heard back from the station, although others have. The first few I saw looked like this

Our sincere apologies if you are upset by the Q107 live programming with the Rolling Stones last night. We never claimed to be broadcasting the Phoenix show. We did say we were going to air live Rolling Stones. Our intent was not to deceive, but merely give the listeners who could not attend last nights show at the Phoenix, a
healthy dose of live Stones.

Thank you for your email, we appreciate comments from our great listeners.

The intent was absolutely to deceive. By being deliberately vague, they allowed people to come to their own (obvious, but incorrect) conclusions. Isn’t that deception?

Now we get this:

Thank you for your email note. We have received an inordinate amount of negative email concerning the Rolling Stones live broadcast which we aired last night on Q. You may have received a note from Q107’s Assistant Program Director, Michelle Dyer, or Andrew from Club Q…but I got thinking…”why should Michelle or Andrew take the hit on this?” While we did not come right out and say we were doing a simulcast from the Phoenix, we were perhaps vague in the way we positioned the program. I take full accountability for how this show was presented on air. Here’s what I’ve learned. Q listeners are extremely passionate about their music, and at no time should I take this for granted. It’s not like we aired bootleg Wham concert. Music matters here.

Having said this, here’s how I plan to take responsibility. I have asked John Derringer if I could be named tomorrow’s Tool of The Day. He has kindly said yes. So, tomorrow tune in at 8:20 to hear me take my lumps on air and apologize to our audience.

Regards,

Blair Bartrem
Program Director
Q107

This is the most awesome response I’ve ever seen! And hey, they turned into a bit of a PR opportunity as well!

I’m so burned out on corporate misleading and evasion and being ignored and all that – and here we’ve got a company absolutely stepping up.

It’d be great if they got around to writing me back too, but I’ll take this as a victory for the consumer!

All right Q107!

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