Archives for May 2008


Before the Web arrived, CD-ROM was hot!

Early on a weekend morning, I enjoy trolling the Internet Archive and other sites often slow during other parts of the day and during the week. Today I came across the one below and I was struck by the shifts that occurred in the 90’s, and any look back is always clearer to us than when we’re living in that time.

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, “multimedia” was the buzzword on the tips of everyone’s tongue mainly due to the advent of the CD-ROM and increasingly cheaper CD drives that could burn CD-Recordable discs. It still was a create assemble publish replicate model that — similar to magazine, book, newspaper and most traditional media at the time — required long lead times before a replicated CD ended up in the hands of the consumer.

Computer Chronicles Collection:   Creative Commons license: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs

Then the Internet hit when Netscape hit everyone’s consciousness, the lead time for delivering new content shrunk dramatically as everyone saw the benefits of delivery via the ‘net, and Netscape went public less than two years (August, 1995) after this episode of Computer Chronicles aired!

As you watch this video, you’ll undoubtedly chuckle at the cheesy and rudimentary games, educational software, and hardware shown. But then realize how quickly things shifted and put this into context as you contemplate today’s development of social networks, video, messaging systems like Twitter, and what we’re doing with mobile devices and networks.

Some day we’ll look back at this time and chuckle.


Building a Social Network Strategically

Just completed round one of some due diligence I’m doing for a client who will require a white label social networking platform. The options are numerous, but many of them are not strategic, since it’s not yet clear if they can be extended or modified in the future which most of them appear not to be.

One key issue in social networks is that everyone seems to be building one (yes, I’m being facetious but it sure seems like it) and profile fatigue is growing as people express their frustration, “you mean I have to fill out yet another profile? Why can’t I just move the one I already have over at Face-Bebo-Hi5-Space?

Data portability and, especially, profile exchange between all of these networks will be absolutely critical for future success of any social network, affinity or plain-old-vanilla group online. Build a tactical destination now and you’ll end up an island like that blue sphere above.

[Read more…]


Smart….Not So Smart

Want to know how to turn off a potential customer, so much so that your product is no longer under consideration? Just be dumb…like Smart.

Mercedes Benz is actively selling the Smart in the U.S. and — since I drive a 2007 E320 CDi and love it — I was enamored with the Smart car and stopped by a local dealership this morning after dropping someone at the airport to check it out.

Often I hesitate to drive into car dealerships in my MB since salespeople make assumptions and swoop down hoping for a sale. The young woman who greeted me was pleasant, we looked at the Smart and she answered questions, and I knew a car with such a narrow wheelbase needed a test drive in order to determine if it was too bouncy to be in consideration as a commuter car for my bride (she leaves up to me the initial due diligence on cars and technology).

We’re six months or so out from making a new purchase and our first choice is a plugin hybrid and the 2009 Toyota Prius is the likely candidate, but this Smart car certainly seemed like quite a viable option and worthy of consideration.

Until my experience this morning at Smart Center Bloomington.

[Read more…]


TapeDeck: Easy Audio Recording on Mac OS X Leopard

Nearly every day, I come across something someone has created that I find delightful and useful. Today was no exception as I read DaringFireball, a blog I follow, and was led astray by a link that simply said this:

The Road to TapeDeck 1.0

Chris Liscio on the development of TapeDeck.

Intrigued, I followed that link, read the post, downloaded the application, and was instantly aware that they’d done what so many developers struggle with: cut to the core essence of what an application needs to do and deliver just that.

As we all know too well, Apple has mastered this and famously leaves out many, many features usually packed into applications, operating systems or — in the best example to date — from a smartphone. Rather than try to boil-the-ocean, Apple takes a thimble full of seawater, puts a candle under it, and it’s boiling in no time since the mass market demands ease-of-use with those “ahh…that’s just right” set of features and functions that don’t overwhelm the user.

I’ve added the video below to whet your appetite for TapeDeck and encourage you to go download (and maybe buy) this fun application:



Broadband and the Railroad

(top) Home & Store in Forestville, MN
(bottom) Thomas and Mary Meighen

In 1868, the railroad bypassed Forestville, MN and the town died. Not right away, but in time my distant relatives, Thomas and Mary Meighen, saw the town dwindle, people move away (and they did too), and they were left with the farm and the store attached to their home. Farm workers, paid in ‘chits’, kept the store going until 1910, when Thomas abruptly closed the store — the last business in Forestville — with all the merchandise inside.

Eventually, the Minnesota Historical Society purchased the property (and what was left of the town property) and turned it into a State Park.

My Dad and his cousins tell stories of being little kids on weekend holiday at the farm, rubbing the windows so they could peek inside at all the old clothing, canned goods and sundries inside. Nearby Preston, where many other relatives lived, thrived since the railroad passed through it instead of smaller Forestville to the south.

The lesson here is how important transportation was for physical goods in the late 1800’s and that the location of a railroad line dictated the fate of a town (though post-Civil War economic doldrums didn’t help). You may remember (or have heard stories) about how imperative it was for businesses to be “located on a siding” so railroad cars could load and unload easily, but what’s less obvious is the economic explosion that accompanied the laying of track and the development occurring alongside it.

Then the Interstate Highway system rolled out in the early 1950’s and location became less important as did the railroad itself. In April of 2006 I wrote, “Where is the Internet equivalent of the Interstate Highway System?” and talked about the absolute need for broadband and the lip service paid by politicians though the US was 12th in the world in broadband penetration.

We’ve slipped to 15th today.

Reading GigaOM yesterday, I noticed that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released their report on global broadband (PDF) and found the United States ranks 15th worldwide with a broadband density of 23.3 subscribers per 100 inhabitants. Dismal situation growing more dreadful by the year.

Today, I’d argue, transportation for digital bits is as (if not more) important than the movement of physical goods were back then. In a digital age, not only is location less important, it’s pretty much irrelevant…unless you don’t have access and fast access at that.

If Thomas Meighen, active in Minnesota politics, were alive today he’d be sounding the alarm to ensure that the equivalent of being bypassed by the railroad was a fate avoided by towns all across America.


How’d you like to have a 150mpg car?


Like most of us aware of global warming and an oil supply that’s not unlimited — and paying more for gasoline than ever before — I’m thinking about my next vehicle. My goal is a plugin hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), but my lease runs out in November and mainstream vendors (e.g., Toyota, GM) have said it’s likely they’ll ship PHEV’s in any sort of volume “around 2010-2012.”

Though rolled out at the recent Detroit Auto Show, I began paying serious attention a month ago as I started to look for options. AFS Trinity boasts 150mpg with their innovative technology in their “Extreme Hybrid” (which is actually a gutted and outfitted Saturn VUE to prove that the tech works):

AFS Trinity Power has developed patent-pending technology that makes it possible for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles to achieve 150 MPG, go 40 miles in all-electric mode, and use gasoline for additional unlimited miles in hybrid mode.

They key to why their approach is “extreme” is the use of ultracapacitors, allowing fast charging of the Lithium Ion batteries and, most importantly, fast discharge (so you can smoke those tires from a dead stop!). Explanation of the tech here.

The bad news? This is a concept that is being pitched to automakers and they’re also disclosing that they are also 2010-ish before shipping. The good news? Maybe two more car cycles (for me, 4.5 years away) and there will be a multitude of PHEV choices.

I may have to buy a Prius in the interim.


Target: Are you paying attention to social media?

Last time I checked, a search for Target‘s house brand, Trutech, resulted in a post I wrote from May of 2007 (Why you should NOT buy Target’s Trutech brand) being the #1 search result. Today, I noticed that it had fallen to #2 and that a “ Official Site” sponsored link now appears. Perhaps that’s related, but maybe not.

My friend and Minnov8 cohort, Graeme Thickins, recap of last nights Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association social media panel (which I couldn’t attend) was fabulous. Best Buy, Fingerhut, Gage Marketing, General Mills and Target were all represented and had insightful things to say about what they were all respectively up to when it came to social media.

At last evening’s event, Thickins reported that a metric was presented that Target’s Facebook page has 33,000 members. While that’s interesting, that post I wrote has had ~75,000 pageviews (almost all unique visitors) and dozens of mostly negative comments.

I’ve reached out on several occasions to the woman that handles PR for Target’s Trutech brand; tried to connect with the video buyer; and in general reach out. Not to make a fuss, but to see if there is any awareness that they’re selling electronics that — God forbid you break the remote — can’t be operated with any of the dozens of universal remotes Target sells. Seems like something the video buyer might want to know and maybe fix while calming  the Target “guests” down, heh? (just read some of those comments and you’ll see people are quite agitated).

The Minneapolis StarTribune had an article about people posting negative feedback on their Facebook area which Target took to heart and jumped on, but is Target completely clueless and unaware of the tools to scan other social media and to address obvious shortcomings?


The Day There Was No News

Though this “The Day There Was No News” video was on the popular site BoingBoing and thus many of you have seen it, I wanted it available on my blog and to add a comment about it here as I found it a bit haunting to watch the scrolling news ticker at the bottom as the montage of BBC news anchors, right before signoff, sit and wait to go off camera as though there was nothing to say!

What if there was no news but only positive visions of the future?

A friend of mine is building a new, change-the-world offering focused on kids (initially 5th and 6th graders) and is all about enabling them to build a positive, vision video about their life. While there are many benefits: kids learning to communicate in a video age; learning and using hosted applications to create it; storyboarding out their vision and assembling it into a finished video; it’s the essence of creating a vision video that is so powerful.

He and his team have enabled one school to date and I attended the in-school screening of the kids vision videos (there was an evening event too which I couldn’t attend). You should’ve seen the faces of those kids who’ve done a vision video and shared it with their classmates, teachers, school and parents! I didn’t even know these kids but connected with them on an emotional level as I looked at their hope-filled visions of the life they intend to create. It’s mind-blowing that these positive feelings, beliefs, and joyful dreams live inside these little bodies and few of us ever have a chance to see how kids envision their future lives.

The evening event had parents all choked up as they watched these vision videos. My friend told me that one mom of a disabled boy came up to him afterwards, tears streaming down her face, and told him that she had no idea he had those sorts of dreams and intentions wrapped up inside his being. “I’ll never look at him in quite the same way again,” she said with a mix of wonder and pride in her voice. 

Nothing happens until a vision of an outcome, of the future, or of possibility appears, and it’s amazing when kids (or any of us) build a video that’s a vision for our lives. Our hopes and dreams, our vision of the world as it could be, shifts our thought patterns and slowly moves our thinking to then create what could be.

My friend’s vision is to have a “day” where kids all over the world show their videos of hope and possibility. Imagine that day, in a world where joy and hope is the focus and fueled by positive imagery, music, sound and visions of the future, being one where it’s “The Day There Was Only Hope.”


Minnov8: Showcasing Minnesota Innovation in Internet & Web Technology

If you’re out in the Bay area or on the other coast in New York or Boston, it’s pretty easy to be smug about your culture of risk-taking, pool of top talent, and strings of successful, world-changing innovations. But as the world continues its acceleration to one that’s increasingly connected and ways of collaborating make distance irrelevant, smart people will pop up everywhere and I’m convinced we’ll see a flattening of the geographic advantages these pockets of innovation represent.

Six of us were bugged that there was so much going on in Internet and Web technology innovation right here in Minnesota, that when I suggested we start our own blog to showcase that innovation, there were nods of agreement and a willingness to dive in and make it real.

The biggest reason we were all interested in this blog is that these showcases and interviews are what we wanted to read and there wasn’t anything like it out there.

The result is Minnov8: Minnesota Innovation in Internet & Web Technology. This past weekend was the biggest Barcamp yet, Minnebar, and over 400 people showed up to present, learn and participate. Rather than recreate everything on this blog, why not take a peek at Minnov8? This and this post are ones that will recap what took place.

Wherever you live and whatever space you care about (e.g., technology, education, greentech, etc.) and where there are a critical mass of people willing to leap in and work together as multiple authors, I’d encourage you to start one of these…it’s pretty simple to do and fun to boot.


Wells Fargo: Doing the right thing…and the smart one too

Debra Rossi

After my adventure with Wells Fargo the last couple of days, I was pleased to discover this morning that they’d fulfilled the account reinstatement from their mistake and we are back in business online. What I hadn’t expected was a call today from Wells Fargo Executive Vice President, Debra Rossi, who is the Head of Merchant Payment Solutions.

She apologized, made no excuses, told me about their recognition of the fundamental breakdown of their normal process (to call the customer before canceling them!), asked what she could do to make us whole, listened to me without interrupting and engaged conversationally while ending with her direct phone number in case I have any issues going forward. Tough to invest this kind of time when you’re running a major part of the Wells Fargo $573B business and undoubtedly have pressing matters piling up.

Ms. Rossi will also be supplying us with a letter of apology.

This call went a long way toward making up for the frustrating adventure and embarrassing shut down of our ecommerce, and now gives us the opportunity to communicate with our offended customers (those we know about anyway) so they don’t think we’re no longer reputable or somehow can’t handle Web commerce.

What was enlightening as well was this: my posting, her reaction and action, and a successful resolution (and, I’m certain, lots of awareness within the company so this doesn’t happen again to someone else) is a great example of social media and conversational marketing in action.

Though polite queries from Ms. Rossi and others yesterday about my original post were offered as being curious in nature, the implication was now that this matter was resolved would I take it down or what was my intention?  Today’s social and new media — and blogging basics — dictate that posts are not removed nor materially modified once published and I adhere to that philosophy and practice. It’s why I amended/updated yesterday’s post and am now writing a fresh one: to detail their action, call out and laud them for it, and to be transparent, but I’m compelled to leave the post up as-is.

Lastly, I always encourage my clients to do exactly what Ms. Rossi did: don’t let things fester as they’ll become infected like what happened to Dell Computer (remember “Dell Hell“?) and the PR disaster that rained down upon them…from which, one could argue, they’re still not fully healed.

Ms. Rossi did the right thing…and the smart one too.