May 30, 2002 +
Q. How can you turn $55 into $80 without trying?
A. Buy tickets through Ticketmaster.com.
I'll pass on the expected rant, but just FYI: A pair of $27.50 concert tickets are going to cost me $40 apiece—before shipping costs—when I buy them later today. Who'da thought I'd long for the days of the $3.50 convenience charge?
May 29, 2002 +
At the dinner reception for the Orthodox Jewish wedding, Amy leaned over as we were being served the main course.
"I dare you to ask for the kosher meal."
Just what he would have wanted
May 29, 2002 +
In New York City, the Belt Parkway, a clogged interborough artery, bears the honorarium Leif Ericson Drive.
Quoted (and true)
May 28, 2002 +
"Yeah, it must suck designing for 300 monitor configurations."
When you make me pay, I'll pay
May 23, 2002 +
Today's New York Times article on the commercial implications of digital video recorders has me thinking about consumers' sense of entitlement, and the methods with which content producers try and create revenues.
In the article, Jamie Kellner of Turner Broadcasting, worried about happy TiVo users skipping ads, says, "If you don't watch the commercials, someone's going to have to pay for television and it's going to be you." And on a fundamental level, I'm okay with that.
Why shouldn't I pay money to access the individual channels on my cable system? If the YES Network wants two bucks per subscriber, and I want YES, should it cost me two dollars, and not someone else? Of course it should.
The danger comes in creating a barrier to entry. If I had to pay for the Game Show Network, I probably would not have bothered, and I never would have fallen in love with 1970s "Newlywed Game" reruns. But try-and-buy systems can and should exist, and through these models, we could someday adapt to a new way of viewing television. I know I'd be willing to pay for a season of "Ed" and "The Sopranos" rather than getting everything or nothing.
This leads into free content-based Web sites and the donation schemes many of them now tout. The "donate" links raise questions for me: Is this site free or not? Why is it being published, for the owner or the reader? And most importantly, who would donate to these causes, and why?
Apologies if this sounds callous, but I will not voluntarily give money to a self-published, noncommercial Web site. The presenter is creating a work and sharing it free of charge—therefore it is not a for-profit situation. And as such, it is not an arena in which I would provide financial reward.
Why should I "donate" my own money to a nonexistent "cause?"
Web site donation systems—high-profile server funds as well as "If you like this site, give me a buck" PayPal links on personal sites—are, in a word, silly. Try placing them in proper analogical context:
I have a much easier time philosophically with links to Amazon wish lists and the like. Would you buy your friend a thank-you gift after all those hours playing Playstation games? You sure might; I probably would. But I wouldn't hand my pal ten bucks.
- Example: The Village Voice is free in New York each week. Say the Voice puts a note on their front page asking you to mail in five bucks out of loyalty. Would you? No: One does not pay for something that is deliberately available without pay.
- Example: Your friend has a Sony Playstation 2. You play Grand Theft Auto 3 twice a week, once in a while when your friend isn't even playing. Do you take a $10 bill out of your pocket one Sunday and leave it on the TV, saying, "Hey, man, thanks for all the comp time?" No: One does not pay to partake in pleasures provided free of charge.
- Example: You give money to museums who charge "suggested donation" prices as admission. In this case, the appeal is obvious: You can come in for nothing, but you'll likely feel guilty about it, and you're also paying for a much greater privilege than reading something that most folks are reading for free. Is this an accurate example? No. The difference here is that a non-profit organization is identified as such, unlike, say, The Morning News, which is, so far as I can tell, a labor of love (and an excellent one) and an opportunity to publish to a wide audience.
An important aspect of this is the obligation and access. If sites I loved had pay schemes, I would, more often than not, pay for them. Metafilter, for example, would be worth an annual membership fee to me. But I have not donated to Metafilter's donation system on the side (sorry, Matt), nor will I, because its intent is simply to lessen bandwidth costs and make Matt less aggravated about the site he runs for free (and now supports with advertising). As a casual reader, the site's costs are not my problem, the same way the cost of newsprint isn't my problem until the New York Times decides to charge me more for my morning paper.
Sites that request donations expect their readerships to view their sites the way computer users regard shareware: If you like it, pay us a few bucks, which will encourage us to keep up the good work. But content isn't the same as software; it is usually a diversion, not a utility, which alters its worth. Additionally, one assumes a site receiving $0 in donations would continue to run, much the way shareware without a set expiration continues to work for free. This discourages the incentive and value in donating.
To bring in revenue, there are lots of other questions that can be asked, schemes that can be tried that have not yet taken root. Why isn't there a pay weblog? Why isn't there a weblog network that charges one value for multiple sites? Why don't systems like Blogger provide a pay interface for its webloggers that enables content creators to charge money for their sites?
I am not on the winning side of this argument just yet; so long as users expect their Internet—and their television—to be free of incremental costs, they will not be inclined to spend money. But should Americans come to accept a sales model other than buffet-style pricing, content producers everywhere would truly benefit. In the meantime, the beggar's cup we politely call "donation links" is not enticing me to fish for my change.
May 18, 2002 +
The books arrived yesterday, hot off the presses from Donnelly and Sons, delivered to my home—almost—by Federal Express.
I came home from a midday viewing of "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones" (better than expected; fun and exciting; Anakin and Amidala were terrible, but I still had fun) to find a "sorry we missed you" FedEx delivery tag on the front door of my apartment. I hadn't been expecting anything, especially the books, which weren't due to arrive until the first week of June.
In my apartment I logged onto fedex.com and tracked the package. The contents were listed as "books (5)," and my eyes grew wide.
The excitement was almost too much to bear. "My books!" I kept yelling as I bounced around the apartment. "My books!"
I called FedEx. Their Manhattan processing center—way over on 42nd and 11th, which is inconvenient but not nearly as bad as UPS, which is up in the Bronx—was open until 9. Well! Over we go.
Two buses and one subway ride later, I found myself sitting in the FedEx waiting area, tearing open my cardboard box as I waited for the bus to take me back east. Beneath some bubble wrap lay five clean copies of "The Site Speaks for Itself," as promised, with my name on the cover and my photo inside (twice, no less). Everything looked as promised, handsome and clean.
I flipped through the rest of the book, taking in everyone's images and pull-quotes, reading Matt's bio and Molly's introduction on the subway ride to my girlfriend's apartment. The moment had climaxed rather quickly; I had, after all, seen my chapter and the book cover dozens of times, and I knew what to expect. But the thrill of holding the book, of officially being a published author, still tingles through me a day later.
Amy arrived home from the airport half an hour after I got to her place. She grinned as she pointed at my name on the cover, grinned some more when she found her name in my acknowledgements.
The real fun of publishing is in sharing and showing the finished work. I can't wait to give my parents and my brother their copies.
I'm a busy man the next few weeks, but I loved contributing to this project, and I can't wait to write again. Bruce Lawson, expect a follow-up call in July. I've got another book to pitch.
Your new (wireless) plan, Stan
May 16, 2002 +
After four years as a satisfied AT&T Wireless customer, I have learned to keep an eye on new calling plans to ensure I get the most value for my money.
For a while, AT&T Wireless wanted to upgrade me to a lesser plan than my outdated one; they wanted to yank my unlimited evenings and weekends (this in the days of 500-minute off-peak plans) or charge me more for additional services I didn't need. Then they started increasing their minutes and decreasing the cost. I had:
1. 60 peak minutes and unlimited off-peak for $29.99 a month
2. 200 peak and unlimited off-peak for the same price, because my unlimited off-peak minutes were grandfathered into the original plan (which drove the customer service reps crazy)
3. 250 peak, 1000 off-peak with SMS and an extended roaming area for $39.99/mo (I gave in)
4. 250 peak, 1000 off-peak reduced to $34.99/mo with free national long distance, awarded to me after the customer service rep said, "I can't give you that plan, but if you lead me to believe you may cancel your account because of this, I'm allowed to see what I can do for you. Is that what you'd like me to believe?"
Today's New York Times carried an ad for a new mlife "National Network monthly calling plan." The same $34.99 upgrades me to 300 peak minutes and unlimited night and weekend minutes again. Good deal, eh?
"Unlimited-night-and-weekend minutes are only available for new customers signing up for two-year agreements," the customer service representative informed me. "But what we can do is give you 3,000 'anytime minutes' instead."
In my four years as a satisfied AT&T Wireless customer, I have yet to use more than 1100 minutes in a month. Sold.
Frankly, I'm not even sure how AT&T Wireless is making money off me anymore. But I remain a satisfied customer.
May 6, 2002 +
At Fred's at Barney's, a restaurant in a department store at 61st and Madison in New York City, on Saturday afternoon, over lunch, gawking along with the rest of the tables in the northern half of the restaurant: Renee Zellweger, seated with friends at a table for eight, looking cute and scarily thin; soon joined by Matthew Perry and Matt LeBlanc, tan and goateed, respectively, and both handsome and friendly; and, shortly following LeBlanc's departure, Courteney Cox Arquette, followed by Jennifer Aniston, which finally made me crane my neck with the rest of the crowd, because they are indeed as beautiful in person as most Americans imagine they would be, Jennifer in particular, as befits her status as one of the country's cherished faces, even when she's a little puffy-eyed and casual, like she was at that moment.
We left without seeing whether Brad Pitt showed up.
Bad IA, bad vibes
May 2, 2002 +
Just installed BBEdit 6.5.2 on my Macintosh at work. On first run, I received a warning message that I needed CarbonLib 1.4 or later to run the latest BBEdit. (Why this is so, and what CarbonLib is, are issues I am unable to answer, but I digress.)
So I went to Google. Not Apple's Web site, but Google. And it was a cinch.
Question: Why do I have such little faith in the average Web site that I need to rely on Google to find simple search results?
Google makes it so easy. In order:
1. On google.com, search for "carbonlib 1.4." The top search result was for Apple's CarbonLib 1.5 update.
2. Click through to Apple's site, download, and done.
I hadn't even tried Apple's site when I Googled my query, because I figured Google would do it right. Indeed, they did, and Apple made a mess of things. Here is how apple.com handled the same scenario:
1. "Carbonlib 1.4" search results page shows listings for Age of Empires II, DeBabelizer Pro 5, Black White, Championship Manager, CronniX, Liquid Ledger 1.0.1, Sockho Stock Watcher, Loan Calc X, QuickMovie 1.4, Photo to Web.
2. Fresh search for "carbonlib 1.4 update." Similar results.
3. Fresh search for "carbonlib 1.4 system," playing off the Mac's system folder requirements. (Remember, I don't know what CarbonLib is.) Nothing.
4. Click on Support tab.
5. Click on Downloads tab within Support. This was a lucky discovery; I was ready to search support for CarbonLib, which I suspect wouldn't have given me the right leads.
6. Search for "carbonlib 1.4" in Apple's "search for downloads" box. Results: No documents were found.
7. Change "search type" on the dead results page from "software downloads" to "smart search" and try again. First result is an AppleWorks troubleshooting document that mentions installing CarbonLib 1.4, so I click on its link.
8. On that page is a link to "install CarbonLib 1.4 or later." Clicked on that link.
9. Busted link. Search interrupted.
10. I give up.
Let's review. A third-party search engine outperforms the site offering the download to the extent that I would sooner go to the third party than the source, even though I know exactly what I need and from where I have to get it. Why is this so?
This is a terrible state of affairs for the user. Google is revered because it does such a good job, which is great. But how come Google can find me a Web page on Apple's site easier and more smoothly than Apple can? How often does this have to occur before Apple, and similar consumer sites, begin to suffer as a result?
NYCbloggers.com tracks who blogs in New York and where they reside. Look for me on the 4 line, but email before you stop by; I'm not home much.
David Gallagher has compiled "a handy guide to some of the less famous 'Spider-Man' locations around the city.
Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, you can buy my book in the UK. And Germany. And France (nudge nudge, Martin). And Japan! Dig it: "The Site Speaks For Itself" is ¥5753 on sale in Tokyo.
You say you're a liberal-minded centrist, but are you sure? Audit your assumptions at The Political Compass.
"What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself."—Abraham Lincoln
"Baseball continues to be the only entertainment industry where those that run the business continually tell their consumers how bad their product is."—Peter Gammons, nicely channeling Lincoln
Best design I've seen this month: this year's 5k Contest site. Ah, memories of Talking Moose in Howard Slatkin's basement are rushing back to me. Caterina is my new hero.
Honey, It's Safe To Watch Cinemax Again: SonicBlue has been granted a stay in its attempts to avoid using spyware to monitor its customers.
E&P: Content Publishing Systems Squash News Design. Indeed, media sites who focus only on the template are missing the point. I'll write more on this in the big space later in the week.
See, the Internet really does make your dreams come true: Now you can buy Jeff Nelson's bone chips. (Here's the back story.)
Somewhere along the line this page stopped containing the webloggers webring links, so here it is again:
Two truths and a lie. Can you guess which one of mine is the falsehood?
I had a nice pig-in-shit moment reading the recent Metafilter thread on ASCII text. Want a primer on ASCII text? Check out these links:
History of ASCII and the missing cent sign
Full list of ASCII symbols and engineers' terms for them
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention's Weasels Ripped My Flesh is one of rock's all-time great album covers. Zappa ripped off the idea from this Man's Life 1956 pulp-mag cover. Here is the story behind its conception (keep scrolling down) and an analysis of the cover. (Yes, dear, I was on FilePile again)
Baseball columnist Jim Caple: Contract Milwaukee!
How to watch a baseball game, by Hall of Fame player and top-notch broadcaster Joe Morgan. Great tips for passionate and passive fans alike.
Fun with Google over yonder on Metafilter. (Thanks, Ron)
Men's fashion basics, from the excellent The Morning News:
And via the Morning News, for future reference: classic tie knots.
BusinessWeek: The Battle of the Online Content Models. Good summary of the NYT and WSJ revenue models.
ReplayTV has been ordered to spy on its customers. This is a dangerous precedent. I'm all for maintaining copyright and allowing the entertainment industry to preserve its product, but using the courts to permit monitoring of consumers' habits could open the door to ever more imposing surveillance. Poor SonicBlue is seething. (via BoingBoing)
"Newspapers cannot be defined by the second word—paper. They've got to be defined by the first—news. All of us have to become agnostic as to the method of distribution. We've got to be as powerful online, as powerful in TV and broadcasting, as we are powerful in newsprint." —New York Times Co. chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. on the future of the newspaper
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