Monthly Archives: July 2007

Traveling notice

I am now traveling a little bit and thus have less time to blog.  I hope to get back to track soon.

In the meantime i got a “convenience fee” for ordering tickets online and printing them myself.  I think this is annoying.

Sense of humor

Recently i had a rather unique chance of being exposed to some of the remains of the Soviet era. I saw a box of detergent from the 1970′s. It wasn’t just any detergent, but an imported one, which was a rarity at that time. People would put an effort to get as much as possible of imported detergent, stock it, and use it for generations – go figure when would be the next time you could get it. This is how today, over 30 years older, we can get a chance of traveling back in time.

This particular detergent was imported nowhere else, but from Iran, and the box has a very nice, typical 1970′s design. But the best feature of that detergent is its name. It’s called “Barf”. Take a look yourself…




Now, the questions is, does it have any meaning in Persian, or there was just someone with a very sarcastic sense of humor in Iran who decided to sell Russians detergent with such an interesting name? Maybe it is similar to the sense of humor of a person who sold Israeli paper cups to Saudi Arabia?

Update (July 26)

The story turned out to be less sophisticated than i thought. Barf in Persian means snow and my sense is that this brand exists up to date.

Harrypotteria

Harry Potter Countdown

I took this picture on Friday night on Times Square. It was just before i bumped into a number a various types (and ages) of Harry Potters and other witch-looking crowd (not counting a rather fat spiderman). At the moment it seemed cute and amusing. Until the next morning, when it became claustrophobic.

Walking around the New York City on Saturday, July 21st, you could not escape the thick, orange books. People carried them around, they read them in the subway, on benches of the Central Park, took them in when they went to visit Metropolitan, etc. You could see kids with the book and you could see adults. You could see people sitting, walking, laying, and still reading the book. Literally every second book you saw in public spaces was the new Harry Potter. Today the Harrypotteria continued when there was a girl on the bus to DC reading HarryPotter, and on the way to the metro another copy of the book was spotted.

And i keep asking myself why and how the book became so popular? What is the genius of this creation that is not presents in (much less appreciated today) classics? Or is it pure marketing? Very good marketing…?

2.0-ing the wireless

I hate to acknowledge that, but it seems like the marketing efforts of web 2.0 promoters have effects.  At least on me, as I start thinking in their terms.  For example, today i saw this article about AT&T supporting some open access to cellular airwaves that has been so far exclusively allocated to bidders. Reading it I wondered, if the mobile carriers are not trying now to join the whole 2.0 celebration by opening up their infrastructures for user generated content and applications. If they do so, what is it based on? A clever market research? Or the hype effect of extreme 2.0-ing of everything? Or maybe it is a very visionary thinking regarding the nature of cellular infrastructure? For example a couple of years ago I heard lecture by an MIT professor (really trying to remember his name right now, but can’t) claiming that the spectrum is basically an unlimited resource and as such current policy strategy is in fact based on wrong assumptions. If that’s the case, industry driven opening up of the infrastructure is a very smart move both politically and from the marketing point of view.

What do you think? Any other ideas?

Digital divide in US election

Recently i came across the following interview by Andy Carvin with some of the democratic candidates, asking them about the the potential role of government in bridging the digital divide. Interestingly enough all the candidates mentioned access to broadband as the main issue constituting the divide in US with access to computers as the second one (Chris Dodd talked about bridging educational gaps through access???). Education came in occasionally, only if explicitly prompted by the interviewer. Gravel was the only one to mention net neutrality, but still in a very weird and local context. Richardson talked about the need of corporate involvement.

Of course the “digital divide” is not a major point on anyones agenda, but it is still interesting to see how it is framed in good old terms of access – give them computers and broadband and everything will be OK. But how? Why?

What is your primary email?

Finally an interesting poll on Facebook. As opposed to usual “what is your favorite lollipop flavor” this time they asked what is people primary email. According to the info on the website they closed the survey at 1000 respondents sampled from all their users. 51.6% of the respondents were female and 46.5% of ages 18-24. Although we don’t really know what is the age/gender distribution of Facebook users is, the results are still amusing.

First of all, Hotmail appears as the leading email provider for most Facebookers. Almost 40% prefer it over Yahoo (21%) and Gmail (16%). You can click the image to see it in a readable size.

2007-07-17-email1.jpg

I am a bit surprised with Gmail underperformance, but gender specific results are even more curious. According to this poll, males prefer Gmail over Yahoo, and even in the leading Hotmail, female preference is the dominant one. I think this is really interesting, especially given that the difference is so big, but i cannot think of potential explanation. Any ideas?

2007-07-17-email21.jpg

The age split is also interesting. For example it seems like Google has a relatively stronger presence among ages 18-34, while younger people prefer Yahoo.

2007-07-17-email3.jpg

Of course nothing too definite can be derived from these polls, but i still find these results interesting. Don’t you think?

Not really, but kind of related. I tried to look for any information about the actual population that Facebook surveys, because apparently they are charging for those polls. Of course on the poll help page there is no information about it, except for a disclaimer that Facebook does not verify the statistic validity of their results. However, there is a curious passage regarding the appropriate ways to source data. Here it is:

“When sourcing the results of a poll, cite “Facebook Polling” and not “Facebook” generally. For example, “According to a survey conducted by XYZ on Facebook Polling, 80 percent of respondents…” and, “Facebook Polling users responded that they are more likely to…” are appropriate statements, whereas “According to a Facebook survey…” and, “According to a survey of Facebook users…” are incorrect statements.”

And my question is why saying “according to a survey of facebook users” is an incorrect way to interpret the results? Are they surveying anyone outsede the facebook users database? Am I missing something?

I love DC!

I just had a brief lunch in one of the small restaurants near the office i am currently working at and in less than half an hour i heard a conversation about global warming and the economic potential of green fuel on one hand (literally), and on the other a conversation about Israel as a socio-cultural entity.

If you take out all the ties, it feels like i never left the campus :)

Commodification of technical support

First, a short story…

Being a heavy Skype user, I got a mostly awesome present for my birthday – a Skype-phone. It is a piece of gadget that you connect to your computer and get a cordless phone that can make Skype calls. Nice, isn’t it? The only thing is that my computer is getting a bit crazy with the new toy. I set it up as prescribed, and everything seems to be OK, but every time a call connects (doesn’t matter if it’s incoming or outgoing call) all the settings change and instead of using the handset, Skype uses my computer’s speakers.

So, i contacted Skype and asked them what to do. I got an email saying more or less “check that you have Skype installed and the phone connected”. When i asked for more specific guidance the answer was that they do not support devices that are working with Skype, even though the one i got bears their logo. Further attempts to get an answer resulted in very polite emails basically saying that i am an idiot and probably still did not plug in the phone.

So, i contacted GE that produced the phone. A very polite lady spent about 10 minutes with me making sure that i did get the phone plugged in and that i push the right button to answer the call. When that turned out OK, she tried to read, what i imagine were possible scenarios from her manual. When my case didn’t fit the 4 scenarios she had, the ultimate suggestion was to boot the phone (wow!). The good thing is that i got a case number :)

Now to the questions rising from this story (in addition to how i make the phone work). We hear a lot about commoditization of various aspects of our life – from what we eat, wear, learn, watch, hear and eventually to how we treat people and whom we vote for. It seems to me that the story above is yet another example of this commoditization, but this time of technical support. In both cases, Skype and GE offer a technical support package. There are certain cases of technical difficulties that they are ready to resolve and for those there are prepacked answers. Basically, everything i was told in the costumer service in both places is available online in the FAQ sections. In other words, there is no need for human being on the other side to read the publicly available information for me or copy it into an email. Similarly to a grocery shop where i can cruse between the rows of products and pick up the package that seems to answer my needs, i can browse the websites of Skype and GE to find the FAQ package that seems to answer my question. So what is the value of having a person on the other side of an email or the phone line?

Probably this is a function of your level of familiarity with the technology. The support packages offered by both Skype and GE are aimed at answering pretty basic and standard questions. Probably a person who would have this kind of a question would appreciate another person pointing out these solutions for them. But then, what happens if your problem (like apparently mine) is falling out of the standard case or is more complex than what the basic package covers? Isn’t that the case where you would find a person answering your questions helpful? Probably yes, but apparently skilled human resources are too costly, so the support centers are relying on less skilled workers who can only follow the manual, but are not really familiar with technology they are providing support for.

All this is not new. People have written about it and discussed the changes our societies are going through. However i think it is interesting to see how commoditization is infiltrating service industry as well. We are fed with an illusion of personal service and with dreams of 2.0 fully customized web. At the end of the day it turns out that we are still facing prepacked services. There maybe more packages out there, but the customization goes as far as the standard packages allow. You can’t get neither a really personalized product, nor even a personalized service.

Google.news

Unfortunately, I have a meeting in a few minutes and don’t really have time to comment on this article, but thought to post it here for you to read and share your thoughts.  The article is about a law suit of an Australian Competion and Consumer Commission against Google’s management of advertisement and search results.

I’ve been thinking recently about ideas of content regulation in the internet, but more in the context of internet censorship attempts in Israel.  On a larger scale I think these two cases are part of the same discussion and i hope to post about it soon.

Feeds and comments

I tuned up some of my social networking websites to syndicate posts from this blog.  Then i realized that people actually comment in these spaces and these comments are falling off the discussion happening here.  So, if you are reading this post somewhere else but wordpress, please try leaving your comments on the original blog.  Usually it is just a click away, but at the same time allows having the entire debate at one place.

Thanks!

(I will post the comments from other places here later)