We Are the Product

Once upon a time, the customer was the foundation for an economic system. More and more, however, we are not. Instead, we are the product that drives market value in an entirely different direction.

Consider these two quotes published today. First, from Daring Fireball (‘Clopen’ Sounds Like Something You Treat With Antibiotics):

It isn’t just that Google doesn’t sell the Android operating system to consumers. It is that the consumer is Google’s product. Android is a delivery system to serve the consumer to Google’s target market — the advertisers.

Then this one, from a story on CBC.ca today (Richest CEOs will earn your 2012 salary by noon):

… many companies use stock options for a large part of their executives’ bonuses, a practice that not only drives up pay packages but also ties compensation to share price rather than company performance …

Google’s business plan is to resell its customers to advertisers. Corporations are motivated neither by customer satisfaction nor interest, but by shareholder return, which is measured not in our satisfaction, but numerical abstraction based in part on how many of us horses are locked in the stable.

It’s a world turned upside down when the customer becomes ancillary to a marketplace. Instead of being the driving purpose, we are now the product that drives value to other interests, like shareholders and advertisers.

No wonder the world’s economic climate is so screwy. We, the customer, are no longer the focus of a game that has become so grossly abstract as to be fantasy.

A Mac User Considers His Zune Options

So, if it isn’t obvious yet, I’m quite smitten with Microsoft’s Zune subscription service. Mostly because it’s cheap.

I’m a heavy music consumer and spend anywhere from $50 to $200 every month at iTunes. And that’s with an extreme degree of musical abstinence!  I generally don’t listen to what I purchase more than two or three times, though, so it’s a very, very costly habit. Spending $10 at Zune every month for the same thing is an extremely attractive proposition, and it would grant me more options in terms of listening to what I want, rather than what I can afford.

The problem is, I don’t have a Windows-based PC. I don’t have a Windows Phone 7. I have an XBox, but I’m not always listening to music in my living room.

So how do I make Zune work for me? Continue reading

Sober Thoughts on Online Identity

Marco Arment published a blog post yesterday, Own your identity, that’s particularly prescient as Google claws after more of our online identities with its new Plus social platform. The full piece is worth a read, but here are a few choice morsels:

If you care about your online presence, you must own it. I do, and that’s why my email address has always been at my own domain, not the domain of any employer or webmail service.

Sadly, most people don’t care about giving control of their online identity to current or future advertising companies.

He links to another article he wrote earlier this year, Let us pay for this service so it won’t go down, which is also highly topical. Again, a couple of relevant passages:

For something as important as email, I’ve never trusted everything to a proprietary provider. My email address has never ended in someone else’s domain name…

You must own any data that’s irreplaceable to you.

I agree wholeheartedly with Marco. You can’t trust advertising companies disguised as social networks (i.e. Facebook, Google) with your most important assets, like your photos, email, and documents. They’re reselling it all behind your back. You signed a legal agreement to let them do this when you opened an account with them.

Buy your own domain name (I use webnames.ca for this). Set up and pay for your own email account with an independent provider (I use 01.com for this). Set up your own blog with an independent host (admittedly, I don’t do this, this blog is hosted with wordpress.com; but I recently read their terms of service and have started the process to move to a new host where I don’t give away any rights for the content I post).

It is often argued that First Nations people gave away North America to European explorers for mere baubles and beads. Similarly, internet users are giving themselves away these days in exchange for access to social networks. We need to wise up.

Netflix Responds to Consumer Need

Netflix is the best thing to come along in the world of media consumption since iTunes. If you’re not subscribed you’re crazy. That said, I can understand why many people stay away from Netflix in Canada and in the Yukon particularly: the significant cost of internet access and a fear of overuse penalties.

If that’s the case with you, then Netflix has just introduced a significant new feature to help you avoid those problems. “Manage Video Quality” lets the Netflix subscriber control how much data they use to watch television and movies online. The company claims this can reduce data use by up to two-thirds:

For example, watching 30 hours of Netflix movies & TV shows will only use 9 GB of data, well below most Canadian ISP data caps. Previously, 30 hours from Netflix typically used 31 GB.

The options you’re offered are pleasantly simple:

  • Good quality (up to 0.3 GB per hour)
  • Better quality (up to 0.7 GB per hour)
  • Best quality (up to 1 GB per hour, or up to 2.3 GB per hour for HD)

Netflix’s library of content in Canada is constantly growing. New deals with major studios like Universal and upcoming exclusive content like a North American adaptation of House of Cards make the $7.99 monthly price tag the best deal for movies and TV shows around.

The new “Manage Video Quality” feature only adds to that value by enabling subscribers to mitigate the financial risks of accessing the internet in Canada.

Off We Go, Haltingly, Into the Post-PC Era

We’re firmly into what’s commonly called the “Post-PC” era.

The iPad has sparked the gradual demise of both desktop and notebook computers. The mouse-click of yore has become the finger-tap of tomorrow, and the screen itself is now our primary means of inputting data into a computer.

Meanwhile, the “cloud” – aka the internet – has evolved into our primary information storage medium.

We have less and less need for local storage facilities like hard drives and DVDs. The more information we deposit into the cloud, the easier it is to access and manage.

There’s no doubt that the iPad as a device is truly revolutionary and has turned the technology industry upside down. Meanwhile, the cloud is redefining how and where we store our most valuable information.

Unfortunately, both new computing paradigms are weighed down heavily by the legacy of the PC.

And that’s extremely frustrating. Continue reading

A Visitors Guide to Driving in Whitehorse, Yukon

A couple of recent conversations with visitors to our cold town revealed to me that, despite having similar signage and traffic signalling to other North American jurisdictions, local driving practice is very different. To aid visiting motorists who venture out on the streets of Whitehorse, Yukon, I’ve prepared this guide to assist them in being better prepared for local driving conditions. Continue reading

Northwestel’s Low Blow

Northwestel is unhappy with this imageI’m not a big fan of Facebook, but I do recognize that it’s an efficient and effective place for valuable dialogue; it’s an important contemporary communications resource for an open exploration of issues, ideas, and arguments. The whole point of Facebook is engagement, sharing, discussion and, yes, protest.

In other words, it’s a social media platform.

Too often, though, it’s erroneously viewed less as a social platform and more as a marketing one. That’s the mistake that Northwestel makes with their approach to Facebook, obviously at the company’s peril.

Case in point, the Facebook group, “Northwestel abuses yukoners, and exploits its monopoly“. This page is an expression of dissatisfaction with Northwestel and its business model. When the company began its own Facebook page, it’s unlikely that it expected such a fervent protest movement to erupt one click away. Hence the growing problem that the company is now facing: the protest is flooding over onto its own page.

The whole point of Facebook, of course, is engagement. Time and again Northwestel fails to recognize this. Too often its customers have made efforts to begin a dialogue on Northwestel’s page, only to be stonewalled or invited to directly contact the company’s service reps and take the conversation offline.

People begin dialogues on Facebook, though, for the express purpose that they stay online in full public view where everyone can read them. Northwestel seems somehow surprised by this. The company doesn’t understand that open, public dialogue should have been its primary purpose in joining Facebook, and that the marketing aspect of social media happens as a result of this, not in spite of it. Pumping out mini press releases with a stiff upper lip doesn’t cut it.

It’s clear that Northwestel finds itself out of its element on Facebook and, as a result, is getting a supreme ass-whupping there. It’s sort of painful to watch, as though a circus clown wandered out into a rodeo stadium just after a cowboy fell off a bull. It’s gruesome. And it gets uglier every day. When I discuss Facebook with people I cite Northwestel’s page as a textbook example of how not to do it.

Presumably with its back against the wall (or, perhaps with a muzzle suffocating whoever is unfortunate enough to be in charge of managing Northwestel’s Facebook presence), the company has committed the lowest blow: it’s sicked Facebook on the telco’s own customers. George Lessard has posted a detailed description of Northwestel’s actions over on his blog, @Northwestel tries to quash criticism by intimidating protesters. To sum it up, the company has threatened to have the protest page shut down and its owners kicked off Facebook if they don’t remove the image I’ve included with this post.

The issue, of course, isn’t the image. Whether it’s damaging or defamatory or even distasteful is a moot point. What’s at issue now is Northwestel’s retaliatory action against one aspect of a broader situation it’s desperately failing to manage.

What Northwestel did is the rough equivalent of kicking a competing player between the legs when you don’t like how badly you’re losing the soccer match. It’s Bertuzzi’s infamous blow-from-behind. There are a million ways Northwestel could have handled the situation more proactively, even to the point of coming out on top, with just a little bit of creative thinking. Instead, not only are its actions injurious to the company’s own reputation, but they also highlight how poorly the company understands Facebook, and social media in general, as a communications medium.

If Northwestel really wants to use Facebook to its advantage, then it needs to open up a dialogue with its customers. The medium demands it. Hitting below the belt won’t help at all.

Otherwise, if the company can’t figure out Facebook, then there’s really only one piece of advice anyone can offer it: if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

The Homesteader and Mr. Troll: A Parable About UBB

User-Based Billing, or UBB, is the single-most important issue facing Canadian internet users right now. But most of us don’t have a clue what it’s all about.

UBB is actually quite a simple concept that’s been rendered complex by the never-ending marketing rhetoric of our internet providers. “Gigabyte,” “data cap,” “overage fee,” “bandwidth,” “broadband.” Yikes! It’s the sort of obfuscated lingo only a lawyer could love.

So here’s UBB in simpler terms, as a parable about the struggle of the common person to just stay connected against all odds — and expenses.

I humbly present to you, The Homesteader and Mr. Troll. Continue reading