Archives for 2008

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Happy Holidays

Taking some time off to be with family and friends. Whatever your tradition at this holiday time, hope you’re already having a great time.
 
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DirecTV Will Get Their $280

Though I haven’t changed my position that Cancellation Fees Must Die, it was interesting to discover that DirecTV was/is monitoring social media for brand mentions, since someone from the DirecTV Office of the President left me a voicemail this morning due to yesterday’s post (and my Twitter mention).  I called “Veronica” back when I got back to my office 45 minutes ago.

It’s clear to me that I didn’t “follow their rules” and shame on me. Perhaps you think that I’m not justified in raining-on-DirecTV’s-parade with my rants — and I could probably get in to the inferior quality of their supplied DVR as another justification for my buying a DVR replacement at Best Buy — but suffice to say that due to a broken DirecTV DVR I had a choice: go to Best Buy and have DirecTV service back up-n-running within two hours, or what I now know “their rules” required. Those rules dictated that I contact them for a replacement DVR (and $5.99 per month in a service contract to “protect” their inferior product) while waiting what….3 days for the replacement to arrive by courier and thus be without service?

Since you and I “agree” to allow our conversations to be recorded (you’ll hear that boilerplate mention by DirecTV’s voice response system at the beginning of the recording below), so legally I can record it too and have done so in order to post it so you can hear the reason for their call (I edited out my phone/account number, the music, and got right to the interaction with Veronica).

The punchline? They’ve got me and one could argue that I don’t have a leg to stand on and — having run strategic alliances with a major software company where contracts are at the core and I read and understand every nuance — I should know better. You’d be right, but I’ll wager you don’t read Terms & Conditions of your satellite, cable, Google apps, Twitter and the hundreds of other Web apps you’ve signed up for, have you?

I’ll give them their $280 cancellation fee. But if the more than 40,000 views and pages of comments on this Target Trutech post (or searching on “Trutech” showing it as the #2 link in Google) is any indication of the attention this and yesterday’s post will surely receive, I’m going to guess DirecTV will find that being just a touch more reasonable with someone who’d been a customer for nine years might’ve been a wiser investment than a phone call of no value to either side, and the nickels-n-dimes they’ll get with their cancellation fee.

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Cancellation Fees Must Die

After more than nine years and nearly $6,000 spent with DirecTV, I cancelled the service today since I’ve chosen another route for obtaining HD programming.

The problem is that more and more companies are making it very difficult to cancel (AOL and now Vonage are the best examples of creating barriers to cancellation by not answering the phone, putting you on hold forever, and other such goofy practices), and DirecTV has proven to be no exception.

One barrier to switching to a competitor is a practice, which I view as unethical and bordering on criminal, of putting in onerous terms and conditions that make it very difficult to cancel or make a switch by taking any change made during a contract, extending the term automatically, and applying cancellation fees if you choose to cancel. Most people make a change at some point during their time with a company and thus the unethical company can keep stringing people along indefinitely.

In addition to that, you and I have almost no recourse if we want to alter the contract before signing, negotiate or simply not pay these draconian fees. If we choose to tell them to go pound sand and withhold payment, they systemically say “F” you and turn you in for collection, eroding your credit rating.

Today’s DirecTV example is illustrative of this practice. Back in February, my DirecTV DVR went on the fritz and I went to Best Buy to replace it. Activating it at home later that evening, I was told that I’d wasted my money since they would’ve shipped out a replacement unit at no cost! We went ahead with setup, I returned the defective unit anyway and continued with service until today.

Turns out that the Best Buy receipt for that DVR had an agreement on it that said I was ‘leasing’ the DVR and was therefore signing up for a new two year agreement! Yeah I know, I should’ve just returned the one I bought after discovering they would’ve sent a free one or found another way, but I’ve got better things to do with my time than dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ with all of the crappy terms and conditions we’re all supposed to adhere to with services like this one (and T’s and C’s that say right in them that the company can change them without necessarily even notifying us! How’s THAT for a blank check?).

The DirecTV cancellation fee? $280. Think I’ll fight it? You bet your ass I will, and if things don’t work out with my other option, DirecTV will never, ever be considered as an option again and I would strongly caution you to take great care if you opt to use them.

UPDATE 12/17/08: Received call from DirecTV Office of the President. Post here.

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Puzzling ‘PR’: At least tell me a story, willya?

Just now I received a “press release” of sorts from the author of an ebook. Ironically he’s getting the buzz he wanted (me to post about him), but it’s worth it so you can learn something like I just did.

Upon receiving this email, I instantly trashed it. Opening up a second email from someone in the PR game, and I thought she might appreciate knowing why I took that instant trashing action. As I wrote her an email, it made me think a bit more deeply about what was wrong about what he did and his approach.

The “self-PR’ed” author of the ebook just blasted out this ‘press release’ with zero personalization — which I usually receive so it at least appears the PR person has some awareness of my blog and its thrust. Not even a paragraph of introduction on why a blogger like me would have ANY interest in what he’s offering which would’ve been trivial to do.

Here’s the kicker:  If he had started off telling me a story about why he wrote this, maybe that he had a full-time job so couldn’t afford to take the time to personalize the email (and say “sorry about that” or something to that effect), nor that he was in no position to retain a PR agency adept in social media to help him get the word out, I might’ve looked at this email and thought, “Hmmm….I’d like to help this guy out” and did a mention on my blog. He made a fundamental error in not finding some way to connect with me, and telling me his backstory on why he wrote it, what drove him to offer it, and so forth. (Note: and it goes without saying that the story better be true).

So it got trashed instead, until I decided to send her an email and then realized it would make a good post. The so-called press release is after the jump for your consideration.

 

From: Jesse Torres <_________@gmail.com>
Date: Mon, Dec 15, 2008 at 10:11 AM
Subject: Community Banker’s Guide to Social Network Marketing
To: steve@iconnectdots.com

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:

December 5, 2008     

Jesse Torres

(310) XXX.XXXX

BANKER RELEASES SOCIAL NETWORK MARKETING EBOOK 

Redondo Beach, CA — The Center for Financial Executive Education (CFEE) and CFEE Board member Jesse Torres today announced the release of Mr. Torres’ latest ebook, “Community Banker’s Guide to Social Network Marketing.”  Mr. Torres, author of the highly praised “Community Banker’s Guide to Hispanic Marketing,” addresses in his latest ebook, the developing discipline of social network marketing and its impact on community bankers.

In the Community Banker’s Guide to Social Network Marketing, Mr. Torres addresses social networks, user demographics and the role of social networks within the greater sphere of social media.  Also addressed at length is the development of viral marketing programs, consumer advocacy, conversational marketing, metrics and common pitfalls.  A free copy of the Guide is available at www.JesseTorres.com/cbgsnm/cbgsnm.pdf.

“This ebook is intended to provide community bankers with a roadmap to establishing a loyal and trustworthy reputation within the Web 2.0 world.  As the influence of traditional marketing continues to fade and as peer-to-peer networks increasingly determine buying preferences, community bankers must understand the importance of incorporating social networks into the overall marketing plan of their organizations in order maximize their inherent advantage over larger regional and national competitors,” said Mr. Torres.  “Social network marketing is about creating and nurturing conversations with consumers in order to determine how to best serve their needs while developing trust and respect.  Community bankers’ competitive advantage is based upon their ability to understand and meet the needs of their local communities.  As such, community bankers are better positioned to take advantage of social networks than their larger peers.”

According to the Guide, the number of social network users grew 25% between June 2007 and June 2008.  Further, as of June 2008, social network users represented 67% of all Internet users, as more than one-fifth of adults around the world visit social networking Web sites.

Jesse has launched an official Facebook page for the Community Banker’s Guide to Social Network Marketing.  Jesse invites readers to visit him on Facebook to provide comments and to continue the conversation that was started with the release of the Guide.


Jesse Torres is President and Chief Operating Officer of Security Savings Bank in Henderson, Nevada.  He is a regular speaker at banking industry conferences and seminars, he serves on the West Coast Anti-Money Laundering Forum, Center for Financial Executive Education and is a former Chairman of the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce.  Previously Mr. Torres was a regulator with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a Senior Consultant with KPMG Peat Marwick and a senior officer at several banks in the Los Angeles area.  He is a graduate of UCLA and the Pacific Coast Banking School at the University of Washington.  Jesse can be reached by e-mail at __________@gmail.com.  He can also be found on LinkedIn at _____________.

The Center for Financial Executive Education, a non-profit organization, provides educational and networking opportunities to America’s financial executives.

 # # #

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Twitter GMail Gadget Useful Elsewhere

The Twittersphere is all atwitter about a new Twitter gadget that can be added to Gmail. I put it in to my Gmail, but it was so squished I found it unusable.

Then I thought, “Hey! Wonder if I could use this link they offered on that page above to use the gadget, but instead insert it into a NetVibes widget on my startpage?”

So that’s what I did and you can see a screenshot to your right. I then added it to NetVibes using the blank any webpage widget (you just put in a miscellaneous URL into the widget in order to have a webpage then appear inside this widget). Worked great, is the perfect size, and quite useful.

Since I’d been trying to find a widget or gadget that I could use that still gave me ALL of the Twitter functionality within one, small space, I hadn’t found anything until today. This is perfect and is helping me on my quest to create a workflow of social media access for a client team who needs everything at their fingertips, and this way works well.

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A Connected World Growing Closer

If you spend any time online participating, you undoubtedly use the same username on most services you sign up for on the Web (mine is “sborsch”). Because I do participate heavily, I’ve often had people reach out for a dizzying array of reasons.

One young man in the Ukraine touched base as we share the surname Borsch, and we’ve interacted on several occasions through a variety of ways (he comments here; we email; we’ve talked on Skype) and he recently sent me the video below.

Turns out he asked me if I knew that one form of Russian hip-hop was called “Borsch” (which, of course, is also the name of a Russian beet soup which I hate). I hadn’t so he sent me a link to one group, TEMNIY_PEREULOK, rapping on YouTube. Besides being really funny to hear these guys rapping in Russian, it has raised my curiosity on why this form is called Borsch and what the hell they’re saying!  😉

The point about this post isn’t the video or that they’re humorously rapping in another language, but rather how simple it is to connect with people anywhere there’s also an internet connection and both people are participants online in a meaningful way. Yes, language is a barrier and my hope is translators will continue to get better, but in the meantime I’ll just continue to connect like this in a serendipitous way.

How can you, for instance, use this to your advantage in your business? By participating, being in-the-game and building relationships online, it’s amazing how easy it is to have someone connect you with someone else (I get incredible access to thought leaders and experts this way) and how people connect with you in ways you won’t expect, perhaps taking you down a path you hadn’t intended (which has also happened to me, though I control myself on path-taking).

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Memories in Your Browser: Southdale Center, Edina MN

Southdale Center, 1956. Edina, Minnesota. “Interior Garden Court with stairway to upper
level in Southdale Regional Shopping Center, the first enclosed shopping mall.

Color transparency by Grey Villet, Life magazine photo archive (click for larger view)

One of the fun sites I follow in my RSS reader is Shorpy’s Historical Photographs. Several images come through each day, and I often click “full size” to view ones that intrigue me. When I saw this one above, a flood of memories came back and this is one reason why I’m increasingly loving how more and more of our books, videos, and other content is being digitized, indexed and available to us at-our-fingertips.

These memories are bitter-sweet right now as we find ourselves in a time of economic meltdown. The optimism of the 1950’s, and the emergence of more efficient capitalism (e.g., advertising mediums, rating systems like Nielsen, national retail chains), helped create a time when building an enclosed, climate controlled shopping mall made it much more pleasant in harsh climates like those here in Minnesota, and obviously created a more efficient and often used place to buy goods.

Though this photo was taken before I was a year old, Southdale shopping mall has played an integral part in my life. Dozens of trips each year were made to shop and buy (though often we had to shop in less expensive stores elsewhere) and I have so many recollections both good and bad that I had to do this post.

[Read more…]

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Amazingly Well Done Site: The Vintage Aviator

Poking around and viewing hot examples of Drupal sites usually doesn’t turn up great design. But I just came across a Drupal site that is so well done, so gorgeous and such a delight to poke around in that I had to pass it along.

The Vintage Aviator is a New Zealand site that has very high production values and a retro design that is evocative of days gone by. From the backgrounds, to typefaces used, to the great photographs, I was impressed, but when I got to the Playing Sopwith and Spitfire video it made me sit straight up and say, “How did they shoot that video!

Who are these guys? On their site they state, “Our customers are generally private collectors and museums. We are currently building aircraft and overhauling engines for customers in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the USA.” From the quality of all aspects of the imagery, video, representation of the planes and parts, I’ll bet they do a lot of business.

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It’s a Wonderful Internet

As a fan of the movie It’s A Wonderful Life, this fun takeoff on it, It’s A Wonderful Internet (link dead as of July 2012) is worth the five minutes of going through it (and make sure you use the sliders — like the arrow above — to see the photo change to align to the story elements.

The Internet: one of the things I gave thanks for yesterday!  😉

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We Need Better Mashup and Dashboard ‘Aggregators’

One thing is absolutely crystal clear to even a casual observer of today’s Web application space: there are an unprecedented number of phenomenal tools available (many of them free), but unless you want to have 25 tabs open in a browser window, it’s pretty challenging to bring them all together in a useful way and coordinate and orchestrate their use.

In the enterprise space, there’s been a long running category called composite applications. These were apps that I.T. could create that would bring together disparate business data and application functionality into a new application. Making this easier for enterprise I.T. was a key objective in the portal space, but it never gained the sort of traction everyone expected.

In the Web 2.0 area, composite applications are known as mashups and are the closest thing to a composite application (and some argue these are composite apps) and are at the core of why the internet is a platform and more and more hosted application providers are delivering API’s which enable smart developers to pull together chunks of functionality and deliver a different and completely new application (browse over 3,500 mashups here).

But what about startups, small to midsize businesses, agencies and non-profit organizations, who’d like to simply and easily aggregate all of this disparate functionality together in one spot and cannot afford a composite app/mashup development effort?

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