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Archive for January, 2008


January 31st, 2008

How to pass time while waiting for the pizza guy

How to pass time while waiting for the pizza guy

In what will likely be touted as the greatest technological advancement of the year (at least in the “Food Delivery” category), Domino’s Pizza announced its new “Pizza Tracker”, a service which allows you to follow the status of your order through an online portal.

Customers will no longer be required to sit in angst pondering the current state of their meal- by logging in to the Pizza Tracker they will see which step your pizza is in. The system informs you of the following stages: preparation, baking, boxing, and delivery.

The Pizza Tracker will be provided in conjunction with Domino’s current promotion “You Got 30 Minutes”, which pledges to get the pie to your door in half an hour. Of course the fine-print for the promotion states “Because safety is a priority ‘You Got 30 Minutes’ is not a guarantee but an estimate. You may get more.”

However the creation of the Pizza Tracker would indicate that 30 minutes is apparently too long for people to go without updated information on their food. The CTO of Domino’s is quoted in USA Today as saying: “It’s an emotional roller coaster when you order. Customers wonder: Did they get my order? Are they taking care of me? Will it show up?”

Well I don’t think Domino’s is going far enough with this: I mean, if 30 minutes is too long to wait patiently and for pizza, to the extent where you need to log on to your computer to check its status, Domino’s may as well just deliver a bottle of Xanax with your large pepperoni. They can throw in a large diet Coke and call it the “Anxiety Combo Meal”.

The system, which is being tested in 3,400 franchises around the US, will be active in all Domino’s outlets by this summer, and be tested by me this weekend.

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January 29th, 2008

To Free or Not to Free: The WSJ Saga Continues

To Free or Not to Free: The WSJ Saga Continues

If you follow news about the media at all, the ongoing saga of the Wall Street Journal has featured heavily in industry headlines for the past few months. In the latest plot twist, Rupert Murdoch revealed at the World Economic Forum that WSJ.com will not, in fact, become free.

We’ll give you a minute to deal with your disappointment (and to send that subscription cheque in after all).

The announcement has come as a shock after months of hinting by Murdoch that WSJ.com would be made free, a risky move that many thought was intended to boost traffic and ad revenue. With the threat of financial apocalypse splashed across newspapers on a daily basis (and its potential impact on advertising budgets), however, it is hardly surprising that Murdoch would think twice about dismantling one of the most successful paid content sites around.

Some estimates put WSJ.com subscription revenues at roughly $60 million a year (from about 989,000 subscribers). Add to that the premium rates paid by advertisers for access to WSJ subscribers, and the site could potentially lose $100 million a year if content was made free. As it stands, the subscription site is a handy safety net in uncertain times.

It seems that Murdoch now hopes to stick with the less risky option of increasing subscription revenues (during his World Economic Forum presentation Murdoch suggested that subscription fees would be raised). At the same time, he is navigating WSJ.com into the shallow end of the unpaid content pool by increasing the amount of free material on the site, such as editorial page content, in the hopes of boosting traffic and ad revenue.

Of course, Murdoch is known for being a little unpredictable and could change his mind in the future. Here at Prompt, we’ll be glued to our screens for the next episode of the Rich and the (not so) Risky.

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January 28th, 2008

Kerviel: Rogue Trader, Lonely Facebooker

Kerviel: Rogue Trader, Lonely Facebooker

I imagine by now everyone has heard of the Jerome Kerviel financial scandal, regarding the French trader who defrauded $7.2 billion through a stock scam. If you haven’t heard of this yet, you can read about it on one of the thousands of news sites running the story right now.

The strange twist in all this is the angle that The Guardian Online has taken, by running multiple stories regarding Kerviel’s Facebook account. The online publication recounts the activity of the day-trader’s social networking profile, noting that all but one of his friends have abandoned him since he was originally accused of swindling billions. One of The Guardian Online pieces specifically states that Kerviel had only 11 friends to begin with, meaning that 10 had left him to avoid being connected to the scandal.

Wait a second- 10 online friends are no longer linked to his Facebook profile… how is this news!? This article even begins with the line “Jerome Kerviel must rue the day he joined Facebook”. Maybe it’s just me, but shouldn’t he be more concerned with the day he decided to cheat the economic system instead of the day he signed up to be able to give virtual pokes?

As pointed out earlier, there are thousands of news sites already running with this story; The Guardian Online (who is not the only one running the Facebook story) simply tried to find a new point of view on it all. The problem I see with all of this is that the media has adapted a strangely skewed view on the function of social networks: reporters are using online profiles to gather personal information to pad out stories, find relevant images, or create new angles to entice the public in an already well documented moment. It seems that recently, anytime someone gains a public eye the first thing the media does is jump online to find private information, embarrassing pictures, or contact information for an exclusive interview. The same way that reporters will stakeout the homes of celebrities, they are now stalking virtual lives as well.

Unfortunately for online communities, I only see this becoming more of a problem in the future; eventually forcing stricter security and less shared information in profiles- taking away the true social-ness of social networks. I guess I’m just nostalgic for the good old days, back before Facebook was used for impersonation, blackmail, and spyware.

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January 22nd, 2008

Racists, Bigots and Horny Teenagers – Welcome to 21st Century Gaming

Racists, Bigots and Horny Teenagers – Welcome to 21st Century Gaming

Last night I tried my hand at online gaming through Xbox Live for the first time. I’ve had limited online gaming experience – a bit of Poker here, a little Scrabble there, but it’s only recently that I’ve had an opportunity to experience graphically intensive action games, driving games etc online. Microsoft is selling its notoriously unreliable console on the strength of its online gaming service, but my experiences were largely negative.

But first some positives. Xbox Live works. With the right set-up it’s fast, easy to use, and seemingly hassle-free. I understand the service suffered over the Christmas period, but it seemed fine last night. I also appreciate the head set that allows you to speak to fellow players, but this was responsible for almost all the problems I experienced.

I started Halo 3 and connected and was playing a game within minutes. A simple and competitive free for all shoot ’em up, the game was quick, friendly and fun. And although I came last, I enjoyed myself and was ready to have another go. I joined another game, inevitably started losing, and was suddenly subjected to verbal abuse of a level I have never experienced before.

I admit I wasn’t very good, and I don’t mind a bit of gentle mocking, but the racist, puerile drivel I was subjected to genuinely shook me a little. I simply wasn’t expecting it. Obviously, I can’t repeat it on this blog, but rest assured, whatever religion / race /nationality / appearance / haircut you are, this chap was on a mission to abuse and offend.

I quit the game, annoyed at the prat who had ruined it for me and joined another. And so it went on for two hours – some games were fun and friendly, and some were populated by confrontational idiots (largely pre-pubescent teenagers, though there were a few notable exceptions). I wasn’t alone feeling like this. Many of my fellow gamers who I spoke to also had similar problems.

I understand that none of this is Microsoft’s fault – they can’t control people (at least not until their brain reading device become reality), but it did sully the experience for me considerably. Perhaps it’s just Halo 3, due to its incredible popularity, but these people prevented me from having fun – surely the point of the service.

I was really looking forward to experiencing modern online action gaming, but my experienced has been soured somewhat. Maybe I’ll just go back to Scrabble – the most offensive that gets is when someone gets IDIOT on a triple word score.

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January 14th, 2008

Blue Hat for a Blu-ray

Blue Hat for a Blu-ray

Which was the first major Format War to impact your life? For most thirty-somethings out there it was probably the VHS / Betamax video battle, but depending on whether you are more or less youthful than myself, you may have been forced to choose sides in the reel-to-reel versus compact cassette skirmish, the Nintendo v Sega console cataclysm or most recently the Blu-Ray/DVD fiasco.

I say fiasco because the two sides of the conflict seem to be have radically different plans of attack, with on one hand DVD continuing world domination with countless billions of media and hardware sales penetrating every corner of civilisation and on the other Blu-Ray bungling any chance it ever had to win hearts or minds with a stumbling marketing offensive of pitiable proportions.

The reason I mention any of this at all is because of this story on the BBC technology site today that got me shouting at my screen like the geeky curmudgeon I have become. Essentially it revealed that many of the few players the Blu-ray camp has managed to get out into the market, primarily as multi-compatible loss-leading products, have already been exposed as impossible to upgrade to future iterations of the tardy Blu-ray standard. Early adopters had expected some firmware or software upgrades somewhere along the line, but surely none expected their machines to be obsolete before they were in anyway practical alternatives to DVD in the first place.

You can investigate the problematic ‘profile’ rollout problems further for yourself by reading the BBC story or hitting Blu-ray forums, but as Frank Simonis of Philips (and the European chairman of the Blu-ray Disc Association) insightfully told the BBC, this division of Blu-ray players into potentially three camps is “not an ideal situation”.

Personally I just think Blu-ray device manufacturers got plain greedy. The existing home video disc market looked verdant, the land grab opportunity arose and they all rushed to build on unstable territory as quickly as possible rather than taking the time to establish decent foundations in fertile regions while encouraging co-operative communities.

“We needed to create momentum and get the players on the market,” admits Simonis. “If we had postponed launch to add in the hardware for the latest features, we would not be in the situation we have today.” Yup, that’s about the size of it, they didn’t call him Frank for nothing, did they?

So, do you have a Blu-ray player? Did you buy it primarily because of the Blu-ray ‘functionality’ or was it just a happy side-effect of selecting a really nice DVD player? Do you feel cheated? Or will it all turn out nice in the end? Please let us know.

*And finally, if the weak pop culture reference in the headline made any sense to you at all, you might want to check out this little nugget of video nostalgia in a spare moment. Not a patch on Favourite Shirts mind…

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January 10th, 2008

Still profoundly in love with Pandora

Still profoundly in love with Pandora

This week, Tim Westergren, founder of the hugely influential internet streaming radio service Pandora, sent me and other UK devotees a very sad email.

Despite huge support over the past few years from listeners and artists in this country, the service will finally be blocked to this last territory outside the USA from January 15th.

Tim explained that two key bodies, the PPL (which represents record labels) and the MCPS/PRS Alliance (which represents music publishers) had demanded per track performance minima rates which were too high to be covered by advertising supported internet radio and so the UK had to be barred in much the same way as the rest of the world had been back in the summer of 2007.

Professionally and personally I have to admit to being more than a little gutted – I listen to Pandora most working days in return for a few ads here and there and have been constantly impressed by the artificial intelligence of the track selection for the various personal radio stations I’ve set up along the way. Tim promises to let the UK know if he can open Pandora up to us again one day soon.

Here’s hoping, but until then, I guess there’s always the miniscule Apple iTunes price cuts to get excited about.

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January 9th, 2008

Bill Gates: Philanthropist, Pioneer… Rock Star?

Bill Gates: Philanthropist, Pioneer… Rock Star?

What do you get when you cross Bill Gates with a whole host of famous faces?

The answer, apparently, is a cringe-fest, albeit one that still manages to raise a smile. A video is shooting around the internet that features the Microsoft founder interacting with rock stars, actors and politicians.

The video was part of Bill Gates final keynote speech at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. It has been widely reported that Gates is leaving his position at Microsoft later this year, and it seems this show marks the beginning of what is, essentially, his farewell tour.

The video details Bill’s last full day at Microsoft, and features ‘wacky’ interviews with Steve Ballmer and other Microsoft employees. The video also follows Bill as he tries to find a new career. The highlights include Gates trying to persuade Bono of U2 to let him into the band by showing off his Guitar Hero skills, dressing up as Wolverine from the X-Men films to impress Steven Spielberg and angling for a co-anchor position on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. Even politicians get in on the joke, with both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama making an appearance.

The video is available on YouTube and it’s worth a look. Despite the whole thing being mildly embarrassing, it’s nice to see a corporate video with some personality, and as a send off for Bill Gates, it’s appropriately geeky.

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January 8th, 2008

Virgin Atlantic: A virgin in email marketing too, by the look of it

Virgin Atlantic: A virgin in email marketing too, by the look of it

Just got an email from Virgin Atlantic telling me that they’ve managed to resolve their dispute with their cabin staff and the strike has been called off. Great! Only, I haven’t flown with Virgin for over a year and haven’t got any future flights booked with them. I wasn’t previously aware of any staffing problems either, so the regular strike updates have only alerted me to problems at the airline which I would otherwise never have noticed.

Companies need to be much smarter: Virgin know when I’m flying with them, and whether any flights I’ve booked will be affected by strike action. They don’t need to spam everyone who’s ever stepped on one of their planes to tell them this kind of thing.

I don’t have unlimited time to keep up with all the activities of all the companies I’ve ever engaged with. I just need to know what I need to know. Businesses would do well to remember that they can only contact their customers with their consent, and if they want to keep the channel open, they must ensure all their messages are relevant.

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