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December 23, 2004

The blowjob that ate India

...or at least eBay's Indian subsidiary.

Tech execs here ought to think hard about the right's new push for tougher indecency laws in the states. A new law in India landed the CEO of the company in an infamous Indian jail, despite the company's rapid removal of the offending content. It's a strange story that is illustrative of the undertow created when technology, business, and sex intertwine. The UK Guardian hasthe whole story.

To the Indian schoolboy, it must have seemed like an ingenious if indelicate use of new technology.

But when the 17-year-old used his mobile phone camera to record his girlfriend giving him oral sex he could have had little idea of the far-reaching global consequences.

By yesterday, his ungentlemanly act had provoked a scandal that was dominating every Indian newspaper, the chief executive of a major company had been jailed, and a major diplomatic row was brewing between India and America, with Condoleezza Rice reported to be at the fore.

November 04, 2004

A fun NYT article about SS+K

The NYT's Stuart Elliott has a great article about our recent win of the Boots cosmetics account. In a week of terrible news, it's heartening to see my company in a nice story. The world still turns--so women, homos, and metrosexuals still need beauty products! So read and buy!

April 30, 2004

Geeks do it smarter

Larry and Sergey are about to be billionaires, and I think that's great. Google is a great company with a service that has changed the way people think about and interact with information and knowledge. The founders also want to change the way investors think of IPOs and corporate management. They won't give quarterly guidance, so as not to be tempted to make short-term decisions or cook the books like so many executives have. Their stock will be strcutured to maintain voting control with a core group (much like Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway, which has delivered amazing returns over the years). "A management team distracted by a series of short-term targets is as pointless as a dieter stepping on a scale every half-hour," wrote co-founder Larry Page in a letter that accompanied the offer statement.

Most notably, the IPO is designed to prevent the excesses of the 1990s bubble including "flipping," by relying on a kind of reverse auction that will likely prevent a dramatic first-day rise.

Too many tech startups have foundered as the people who were so smart about the tech failed to understand business. It is Page and Brin's wisdom about business that makes me optimistic about the company's long-term success. As Google gets a stock-inflated wallet to match its big brains, Microsoft will have a real fight on its hands. And that will be good for everyone, including our friends in Redmond.

April 05, 2004

Bill Gates no longer richest man

Looks like Bill Gates is no longer the richest man in the world. According to Swedish media, that title now belongs to Ingvar Kamprad, founder and owner of IKEA. While operating systems come and go, I guess people will always need somewhere cheap to store their useless crap.

February 10, 2004

Urban renewal via photoshop

Here's an easy way to make your city more appealing to a SuperBowl host city selection committee without all that expensive rebuilding and stuff: just use PhotoShop. You can see a comparison of the real Detroit downtown and the photoshopped version here.

January 30, 2004

Regulation Sucks

An interesting item on NPR's All Things Considered today about the regulation of the florist industry in Louisiana. As it turns out, in Louisiana (and no other state) you need a permit to sell flowers. In order to obtain that permit, you need to pass an exam. The exam involves practical tests of techniques that are no longer relevant in the modern florist industry and is therefore extremely difficult to pass. What's more, the test is judged by existing licensed florists who have no reason to welcome more competition in the industry. A legal activist group is now seeking to overturn this regulatory requirement. Only in Louisiana could it happen that you need to pass a test to sell a flower, but not to buy a gun.

I offer this tidbit as a counterpoint to my article from a while back: Deregulation Sucks. Perhaps in the interest of not seeming totally self-contradictory I should modify that statement a bit. The purpose of government, and therefore the purpose of governmental regulation, is to serve the public good. In the flower-arranging case, what possible public good is served by requiring licenses of florists? No-one is going to be damaged by getting a dud bunch of dahlias and even if they were, market forces are going to fix that problem pretty quick. Floristry isn't a wide-scale public need, like electricity or transport. So maybe I ought to say that regulation, or the lack of it as the case may be, sucks whenever the public good isn't being served.

December 17, 2003

Not wanting to let Amazon have all the fun...

About Google Print (BETA)

"What exactly is Google Print (BETA)?

"Google's mission is to provide access to all the world's information and make it universally useful and accessible. It turns out that not all the world's information is already on the Internet, so Google has been experimenting with a number of publishers to test their content online. During this trial, publishers' content is hosted by Google and is ranked in our search results according to the same technology we use to evaluate websites.

"On Google Print pages, we provide links to some popular book sellers that may offer the full versions of these publications for sale. Book seller links are not paid for by those sites, nor does Google benefit if you make a purchase from one of these retailers. In addition, these pages show contextually-targeted AdWords ads that are served through the Google AdSense program. During the initial phase of this beta test, advertisers will not be charged for clicks they receive on these pages, and neither Google nor the publishers with whom we work profit from these ads."

November 21, 2003

Thanks, no doubt, to The Judy

Williams-Sonoma's business is growing like crazy, up 27.5% in Q3 '03 over Q3 '02. But their ecommerce sales are up a whopping 71.4%.

Anyone who knows The Judy knows all this is her doing. It's about the customer service, people. Well, that, and having a really good website. But I find it deeply odd that the back-end technologies, navigation, and other aspects of the WS, Pottery Barn, and Chambers sites are so different. I find that it really discourages selling across the "concepts." I expect the experience to be similar, if not identical.

October 13, 2003

Deregulation sucks

Deregulation: brought to popularity by two decades ago Reagan, Thatcher and converted into a religion by their successors, has failed. Sure, in a free and efficient market, deregulation should bring better results at lower costs to the consumer. But has this ever happened? Deregulation revolutionized the airline industry and brought cheap flights to all, but are we better off flying today than we were ten years ago? Will the airline industry survive ten years from now? The only other "success" story I can think of is the telephone industry.

The problem, of course, is rooted in the mythical efficient market. It seems that the biggest proponents of deregulation are the least likely to set the conditions necessary for it to succeed: true competition, liquid markets, and available information. The UK railroads was the first large-scale example of this I saw. How can you have competition when only one company is allowed to run trains in a specific region? Predictably, deregulation of the UK rail industry was a total failure, and led to wide-scale deterioration of the infrastructure and several deadly accidents.

On a smaller scale, I was astounded to learn that here in Seattle, only one cable company serves any one house. At our new place, we can only get Millennium; at my last place it was Comcast or nothing. Where is the competition? No wonder cable costs so much.

Check out this article on the effects of deregulation on the energy industry. Not only did the legislators that oversight and maintenance of large-scale public infrastructure, with so few players, could ever represent an efficient market, they ignored the basic physical design of the network and designed rules guaranteed to overstress the hardware. Despite the warnings of engineers and physicists, deregulation of the electricity market in the US was practically guaranteed to result in poorer service from widespread blackouts.

The fundamental problem is that deregulation requires all the generators to be linked together so that they can trade electricity, basically linking the entire grid into one big machine. So when a problem occurs in one area, it spreads widely. You'd think the solution would be to return to the old ways, where energy was generated regionally, without these interdependencies, right? Wrong. The FERC advocates increasing cross-country transmission, and is willing to spend billions and undermine environmental legislation to allow utilities to continue to trade electricity in support of this mythical free market. And who's going to pay for all of this? From the article:

To pay the extensive costs, the utilities and the DOE advocate increases in utility rates. “The people who benefit from the system have to be part of the solution here,” Energy Secretary Spencer Abrams said during a television interview. “That means the ratepayers are going to have to contribute.” The costs involved would certainly be in the tens of billions of dollars. Thus, deregulation would result in large cost increases to consumers, not the savings once promised.

So let me get this straight. Deregulation was supposed to make electricity cheaper and more reliable for the consumer. It didn't work. So now, we're going to make the consumer pay to get the benefits promised in the first place?

Deregulation sucks.

September 26, 2003

Coke tracks rugby promo winners by satellite

In one of the weirder promos of the year, Coke is apparently using satellite tracking technology to identify the winners in its Thrill Seeker promotion for the Rugby World Cup to be held in Australia next month. Opening a winning bottle will trigger a device in the lid that is trackable by satellite, and a Coca Cola representative will travel to the winner immediately to deliver prizes ranging from finals tickets to a Peugeot.

The story is a little sketchy on the tech details, but obviously Coke is confident the system will work. It seems that Australia is a good test-bed for marketing technologies, but this one raises the question... what if the winner is in some godforsaken patch of the Outback? It could take quite a while to reach them. On the other hand, if the winner is in a Sydney apartment block, that 10-meter radius could include several apartments. I'll keep tracking this one.

September 11, 2003

What makes America great

OK, at the risk of sounding jingoistic, I want to share a story that really does make me proud. Sure, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well elsewhere, but come on: where else could a baggage handler come up with an industry-leading in-flight entertainment system in his spare time? I love it.

This guy is a college dropout, working like three jobs, and managed to create a great solution for something that has vexed airlines and travelers alike. This guy who has spent 16 years slinging bags in Seattle for Alaska Airlines has invented and perfected a light and inexpensive system that stores and plays movies, music, and more. To top it all off, he convinced major content owners like 20th Century Fox that the box was secure enough to protect their IP--no mean feat.

No bitching about high taxes or barriers to small business from this guy-- he just busted his ass and did it. What an inspiration.

Oh, and at the same conference in Seattle this week where he launched the "digEplayer" (OK, he needs some branding help) he also announced a system that lets passengers buy drinks from the cart with their credit cards. As someone who has more than once boarded a flight in desperate need of a drink with no cash in wallet, this may be the best news of all.

July 08, 2003

Surowiecki on Patent Insanity

Jamie Surowiecki, who writes "The Financial Page" column for The New Yorker, is absolutely my favorite business writer. This week's installment is no exception, as he writes about a topic that really gets the legal geek in me going: the ever-expanding scope of patent law that threatens innovation in almost every field of endeavor. To wit:

American corporations have thrived on innovative ideas and new business methods, without owning them, for two centuries. In the past decade, the balance has been upset. The scope of patents has been expanded, copyrights have been extended, trademarks have been subjected to bizarre interpretations.

Specifically, he's writing about "business-process patents" that cover the very idea of, say "one-click purchasing" on a web site. Not the code that makes this happen, just the idea of doing it. Read the article to see where this is getting us, and to see how persuasive Surowiecki is in cutting through to the absurdity of the issue.

June 11, 2003

I hate Reebok

I always have-- this is not just a side effect of Nike being a client of mine.

This new Reebok ad reminds me why. Basically, it takes the trend of signing ever-younger sports prodigies to (one hopes, lest there are fetuses out there with hoop dreams) its limit. If it were a parody of Nike's recent signings of young stars, it would almost be acceptible (though it would taste of sour grapes, as Lebron James chose Nike even though Reebok offered more money.)

Rob Walker's analysis of the ad for Slate is, as usual, dead-on:

A 3-year-old saying "I am Reebok" strikes me as just about the creepiest and most disheartening image that a company could possibly offer to society. But I suspect that many viewers will have a different reaction-- more along the lines of, "I want in on that. My boy can be Reebok, too."


June 10, 2003

Amazing Honda ad

Everyone has seen this, right? It's a simply amazing Honda ad produced by the London office of Wieden & Kennedy. Without any computer animation. Requiring 606 takes and costing as much a $6 million to shoot.

Money. Well. Spent.

June 06, 2003

"I like to put all my Ameraucana chicken eggs in this lovely birch basket I wove myself..."

Well, at least we beat Slate to the punch: Martha the Oracle - Four years ago, Martha Stewart warned her shareholders what could happen to her. They didn't listen. By Daniel Gross

I'm going to post the link to that photo to The Fray.

Unbearable rebranding: Snuggle gets hip

Just when you thought consumer product companies couldn't get any weirder than the animated grannies who quilt every square of Quilted Northern toilet tissue, now we discover that Snuggle fabric softener's mascot teddy bear Snuggle is getting a makeover

I can't make shit like this up. Stuart Elliott manages to report on it with an (almost) straight face. "With a blissful demeanor, squeaky voice and high-pitch giggle, Snuggle, the longtime spokescreature for the Snuggle brand of fabric softener, used to behave like a Care Bear. Now cuddly Snuggle is getting an image update, becoming a devil-may-care bear, complete with sunglasses à la Tom Cruise, dates with models and knowing winks to the audience. What next? Mr. Peanut pitching Viagra?"

OK. So not so much of a straight face.

"We're making the bear a little more smooth, a little more suave, a little more smart, a little more hip," says the agency guy I hope I never sound like.

Lest you think this is too sudden a shift for the little bear:

"We call it `Snuggle envy,' " said Michael Baer, executive vice president and managing director at Lowe. "Everyone wants the Snuggle touch, but Snuggle knows nobody can compare to him."

Snuggle envy. For the record, the idea of a grown man talking about the "Snuggle touch" makes me never want to have children, or at least give my children any teddy bears. Eww.

June 05, 2003

Speaking of Chickens...

Paulette, I mostly agree with you. But how stupid to risk all her neatly arranged piles of money on a stupid $200,000 stock deal. That's almost as dumb as putting all your eggs in one basket, right on the Investor Relations page. Gads-- what worse message could they send the investors?!

June 04, 2003

OK, I love these Madpony chicks

Check how they chastize W for ruining their Eurovacay!

Selling shoes to whom?!

This Adrants post features an actual ad for Patrick Cox shoes that ran in swanky Brit design mag iD--be carefully opening this at work as it shows two buff men in jockstraps engaged in a fair facsimile of intercourse. Behind a woman on tiptoe in a pair of Patrick Cox shoes. Clearly, it's a reference to the Puma ads of disputed provenance I wrote about a while back. Beyond creating a ruckus (which it has by getting censored), does this sort of thing really move shoes?

April 11, 2003

Apple to buy Universal Music?

OK, so this is a weird story made more weird by the Google translation of this story from Der Spiegel: Purchase mood: Apple obviously offers for universal Music - economics - MIRROR ON-line ONE. I suppose I could have read the LA Times story that Slashdot linked to, but I didn't want to register.

I have followed Apple for a long time, and I can honestly say that if this is true it is the most surprising development in their business plans for a long time, maybe ever. In Jobs I trust, but not without scratching my head.

March 24, 2003

Bizarre Schwab spot

Just to vindicate a comment I made last night during the Academy Awards, I'm not the only person who found the new Charles Schwab add freakish. Slate's Rob Walker (always astute) had this to say in this wrap-up of how advertisers are dealing with the war:

Be vaguely inspirational: By far the strangest ad of the night was a spot for Charles Schwab, the discount broker. Shot in black and white, it showed people filing out of Wall Street buildings, forming a huge crowd, and marching away from lower Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge as the announcer talked about Schwab having sparked a "revolution." Last time we saw people streaming out of downtown on foot was, of course, Sept. 11. To echo that image, at any time, is bizarre in the extreme.

But I totally disagree with this estimate:

And Washington Mutual hit all the wrong notes with a couple of Jackass-esque ads. In one, a dirt-biker flies off a cliff and smashes into the rocks below. In another, a guy endures a bad drill job by his dentist, then gets hit in the crotch with a bowling ball. What does this have to do with Washington Mutual's services? Actually, what are Washington Mutual's services? These spots were pointless in a way that transcended current events.

We were all howling at the WaMu ads-- maybe they're just a hometown favorite, but I love all their recent ads.

February 28, 2003

Inside the WEF

Interesting insider's view from the last World Economic Forum, courtest of a widely (and somewhat embarassingly) circulated email from Laurie Garrett, science journalist and Pulitzer prize-winner. Slashdot also has an article on this "accidental privacy spill" concerning the likes of George Soros, Bill Gates, and Vicente Fox.

January 13, 2003

Free money from the big labels

The record labels screwed pretty much everybody, and they have to pay for it. So says the judge in a recent lawsuit filed by 41 attorneys general (including Washington's own Christine Gregoire)... but almost nobody has claimed their share-- up to $20 for everyone who has bought a CD (or LP or casette!) between 1995 and 2000. I filed my claim under the class action lawsuit on this handy site. It took all of 3 minutes.

Wired News has this article
on the whole deal. The sort of bad news is that if more than 8.8 million people sign up (which would seem likely if the results so far weren't so lame) the consumer remedy will be voided and the damages will go to groups promoting music across the states involved in the suit. (Would that include KEXP???)

December 06, 2002

Microsoft, Java, Nancy Kerrigan and my poor little knee

Sun's rather whiny antitrust case against Microsoft got a lot more fun yesterday as Federal Judge Frederick Motz compared Microsoft's business tactics to the kneecap-busting antics of Tonya Harding's posse. This NYT article includes a rather spirited quote from Motz:

The judge likened Java to Nancy Kerrigan, who was clubbed in the knee while practicing for the United States figure skating championships in 1994. Ms. Harding's supporters "kneecapped Nancy Kerrigan's knee," the judge said. "Nancy Kerrigan is deprived of the opportunity to compete on two good knees."

I must say that this line of analogy really brings the case home to me-- an athlete who has also recently been deprived of the opportunity to compete on two good knees. But while Kerrigan was attacked by only two assailants, I was mauled by no less than five players from the San Francisco Fog RFC. Where's my media circus? Where's my antitrust case?

I mean, fine, they didn't mean to hurt me that bad, and didn't use a tire iron, but still. I'm all bitter about it again because yesterday's appointment with my surgeon revealed that my knee is still too swollen to even consider surgery. I'm due back in six weeks for reevaluation-- by which point I hope the MS-Sun case is over.

December 04, 2002

Dastardly Disney Deeds

Apparently the dismal opening weekend box office of Disney's Treasure Planet has caused the company to restate its quarterly results, amidst news of an SEC probe. Poor Mickey.

But he's not as bad off as the dead white male responsible for the beloved original whence the dreadful derivative was drained. The Guardian, in its biting roundup of US Thanksgiving releases, compares the experience of watching the film to "watching Robert Louis Stevenson being sodomised by Michael Eisner in front of a class of 10-year-olds." Luckily, the Guardian liked Solaris-- I'd hate to hear what they might have said about George Clooney's ass otherwise.

A nod to the excellent Media Unspun newsletter for relaying this pithy quote. Unfortunately, it is dying a second death next Friday-- the first came last year when parent mag Industry Standard folded. Apparently too many appreciators (myself included) failed to shell out $50 to get the newsletter daily.

November 25, 2002

Slate slaps Bearing Point name

Slate's Rob Walker has again earned my admiration by pointing out the tragic flaws in the rebranding of KPMG Consulting as Bearning Point. Why is it that consulting firms always choose such bad names? (Remember Monday:, PWC Consulting's short-lived name before it was snapped up by IBM?) This article rightfully attacks the name as stupid and the brand behind it as utterly generic. To wit:

"What are we? Who are we? What do we stand for? We make things happen. … We integrate and collaborate. We deliver on our promises with an attitude of 'whatever it takes.' We measure our success by the success of our clients. … We have a presence, an intensity. … What we have not changed is our mind-set—the desire to get it done. … It's who we are. We're fast, nimble, smart, innovative, flexible, responsible, and honest. We know how to think on our feet. And make it happen. Now. … We don't walk. We run. But with a purpose. A mission. … "

Whoever did this work (and I'm checking on that) just wrote down whatever jargon the CEO had running through his mind that day, and charged them lots of money for regurgitating it. This is the kind of stuff that makes me embarrassed to do brand strategy.