Shredding The Cord

Ah, my once-beloved Dish Network account – the thing I once thought I could never do without; the budget monster that consumed $100 per month, month after month, year after year. I agonized for months over the idea of simply killing it before finally pulling the plug.

It’s been the better part of a year since I put the budget-busting beast to rest and cancelled the account. Dish Network itself seemed to want to throw up as many roadblocks as possible to get me to change my mind. They wanted the LNB module off of my roof, in addition to the two receivers. I had 30 days to send the units back in the packing boxes they sent or they would make me pay full price for them.

I was able to talk the guy out of forcing me to climb up on my roof to retrieve the LNB, and I was able to get the two receivers sent back to them within the 30 days of cancellation. However, somehow they had in their billing system I had three receivers, not two. They sent return packaging for three units. I spent time on the phone with them to make sure this discrepancy was resolved, and they assured me it was.

Ooops, not so fast! A month or two later I got a letter from them stating I still owed them for a receiver and they intended to hit my bank account for the amount. A phone call to them resolved the issue and I haven’t heard a peep from them since.

How has life been without all of those channels? $ome part of me hate$ to admit it, but I haven’t missed it at all. I’ve got an Intel Mac Mini set up as a DVR for local over-the-air HD broadcasts, as well as a Netflix account and several other Internet-connected set top box viewing solutions.

Observations

A very large percentage of TV programming is marketing presented as content. Much of what passes for entertainment depicts multitudes of dysfunctional drama queens assaulting and insulting the people around them. The more dysfunctional they are, the more likely it is the marketing messages will seep into the mesmerized minds of the audience. Even if one isn’t watching commercials, product placement and even behavior placement abounds. Viewers are being programmed to buy certain products, as well as behave in certain ways.

Think you can’t do without cable or satellite TV? Think again. I was paying $1,200 dollars a year for Dish Network. Multiply that by just 5 years and that’s a whopping $6,000 dollars for the privilege of being shaped and influenced by marketing messages so I would spend even more money.

Let’s go one step further. For many people TV is an addiction. These people are crack dealers in disguise. How else could it be that they can continue to raise their prices and people continue to pay ever more?

Let’s be honest. The vast majority of cable TV programming is less than worthless. Could that $6,000 dollars been better spent on higher-quality programming? Of course it could.

What Makes A Tech Success?

It seems in the world of computers and the Internet there is always a steady stream of new things on the horizon, as well as a steady stream of new products and services. It’s been this way for many years at this point.

There are always winners and losers. Winners can win big, and losers at worst fail to make any marketplace splash or even a ripple and end up in the tech dustbin of obscurity with few people ever knowing that the product or service ever existed.

What is it that makes for a successful product? Why is it that some products and services that seem very similar to other products and services end up becoming household names, while others end up being cancelled domain name landing pages?

It’s obvious there are a variety of factors that come into play. If it were easy to predict these things, we would have a lot fewer losers. Why did Twitter become a household name, whereas similar services such as Plurk and Jaiku languish in the shadows? What enabled Facebook to steal most of the MySpace thunder?

New products and services that end up being successful frequently incorporate elements and principles of previously-existing successes, but package them in more compact and useful forms.

Initially when Twitter came along a couple of years ago, I heard people talking about it, but I was a bit resistant to sign up. I felt like I had plenty of ways to communicate with people, so why did I need to add yet another account to a service that would steal away time I already had filled, only to ultimately let yet another account go dormant? I finally signed up for Twitter, and after I began using it I began to understand the value of it. With a service like Twitter, the more people that are using it, the more valuable it becomes.

About the same time I signed up for a Twitter account, I also signed up for a Plurk account. After a few visits to the Plurk website over a period of a month or two, I haven’t been back to the site since.

I believe what is valuable about Twitter is that 140 character limit per Tweet, forcing people to be succinct with their wording. Twitter and Tweet are cute names. The site design is simple, the blue bird logo pleasing to the eye, and the developers kept the API and name open to other developers, allowing an entire ecosystem of ancillary products and services to develop around it at the same time it was rapidly increasing in popularity. Twitter is very much like chat, which was already well established, but it had the added value that it either could be in real time, or not, able to be accessed from a vast array of devices beyond the Twitter website. Twitter also allows you to subscribe to just the people you want, and ignore or even completely block the rest. Twitter also allows you to reach out and touch people, and it allows you to monitor what others are up to whose lives are at once very similar to your own, yet often radically different. You can spend as much or as little time as you wish interacting with the service. Another thing that turned out to be incredibly useful with twitter is the vast 24/7 real-time data stream that it generates. Real-time Twitter data mining has proved to be quite valuable to many people.

To be honest I have always thought that many MySpace pages were often monstrous, unbelievably cluttered messes that often took a long time to load. Nonetheless, MySpace became popular because it obviously served a need with a younger demographic.

I’ve always thought Facebook’s interface is somewhat confusing, though allowing for far less cluttered and confusing-looking profile pages. I still don’t quite understand what got Facebook to the level of critical popularity – perhaps the less-cluttered, faster-loading profile pages gave it the critical edge over MySpace.

It should also be noted that Facebook allowed for an open API, allowing a myriad of interesting and often useful applications to be plugged in to its interface.

However it did it, Facebook managed to get to a critical mass of users where it became THE thing to sign up for and THE place to be to stay connected with family, friends and business associates. Something interesting has happened with Facebook that has never happened before – everyday, non-geek people who had never built website profiles in all the years they had been doing email and web browsing were suddenly signing up for Facebook in unbelievable numbers. Mothers, dads, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, etc. were suddenly showing up on the same service with their kids, nieces, nephews and grandkids. Once the ball rolled, Facebook became an incredible success.

I started noticing a while back that many people were starting to use Twitter and Facebook to communicate with each other in lieu of email. At this point I find myself getting pulled into that trend myself. These services don’t offer the relative privacy of direct email, but they allow for easy, frequent public conversations and easy sharing of personal media such as photos between friends and family on a global scale.

What I take away from the success stories versus the less-successful competitors is that oftentimes the differences in design and implementation can be slight, but those slight differences can offer real, tangible advantages to the end user. If those often-slight advantages can somehow help get the product or service to a critical mass threshold, they can find themselves catapulted to the point of planetary awareness.

Why Did The Initial Joost Experiment Fail?

A few years ago remember seeing all those “Joost” commercials pushing their Internet TV application? “Proper TV – Joost” the sophisticated-sounding British spokesman endlessly blurted out towards the end of the ad.

Of course, the initial Joost experiment ended badly. The Joost application stopped working December 19, 2008. Literally millions of dollars went down the drain.

I remember downloading and playing with the application and watching a few minutes of the various included streaming videos. I wasn’t impressed, and never opened the application again.

What went wrong? Why have Hulu and Netflix ascended to near household name status, and Joost flopped with the thud of a drunk elephant tripping over it’s own trunk?

There’s something the Joost folks, savvy as they were, failed to take into account. It’s a little something called choice. Joost failed for the same reason that broadcast, cable and satellite providers are losing viewers and subscribers. The “choice” offered by channel surfing revolves around searching for the least-boring junk content that is currently playing. It is choice, but not a very good one. People sitting in front of their Internet-connected computers watching the Joost application trying it’s best to replicate the conventional channel surfing TV experience lost out to the Internet itself. Joost – b-o-r-i-n-g, close it and move on to another website and find something more useful and/or exciting.

The lesson is choice. Enlightened, sophisticated content consumers will choose that content based on three primary criteria – Entertainment, Information, or Character – either any single one or a mixture. By the way, these are the same three filters you apply to your choice in selecting friends.

The failure of the initial Joost experiment was inevitable, and should serve as a warning for all content creators and marketers. Sitting in front of an Internet-connected screen and the conventional channel surfing model don’t mix well. The Internet will easily win the battle.

Will You Survive The Coming Changes?

Get ready for a world where everything is on demand and à la carte. Traditional broadcasting is going to change whether it wants to or not. Marketing will be forced to change in profound ways. As a result, content-making will also go through a major metamorphosis.

Marketing and traditional broadcasting have long had an interesting relationship that has had a potentially detrimental effect on the quality and quantity of available content. Television in particular has long been known as “a vast wasteland.” If one thinks about how this lowest-common-denominator programming can exist, the realization emerges that anxious, aggressive television advertisers have often been willing to sponsor junk programming content to capture passive viewers. In the pre-Internet world of broadcast TV, people would surf channels in order to find what was often the least-boring programming. Also because of the hypnotic potential of this type of TV watching, many viewers were willing to sit in front of virtually any programming without really caring about what they were watching, using TV viewing itself as a sort of nightly drug. Marketing messages get programmed into viewer’s brains, but more importantly using this type of passive TV viewing as a drug has definite detrimental side effects to both the individual, the family unit, and society at large.

After a few months of agonizing, I recently cancelled my Dish Network account. I was already a Netflix customer and was watching more stuff from Netflix than I was from Dish Network, so it has been a remarkably easy transition.

There are differences. One of the differences is that I’m now forced to choose what I want to watch when I want to watch TV. Being forced to choose necessarily forces me to choose something I find personally interesting. The net effect is I’m making a conscious choice of my television influences. Of course, another difference is that streamed Netflix content has no ads.

Hulu.Com offers streaming content with ads, and recently started offering an inexpensive monthly premium streaming content option, which also has the added benefit of vastly expanding the list of devices they will stream to beyond the desktop/laptop computer to include media extenders and cell phones. Like Craig’s List cannibalized the local newspaper ad business, Hulu.Com and similar emerging streaming services are going to further cannibalize the now-breaking and broken broadcast TV model. I say this not to blame Hulu and other services as I believe this push for choice has been well underway for a long time and these emerging streaming services are simply accelerating it.

The ad-supported content will be forced to change because the programming must be appealing-enough to consumers to get them to choose the particular content. Non-ad supported content will continue to have a market but will be forced to appeal just the same to induce consumers to choose that content.

How sleep helps kids learn

A constant joy in my life is watching how my kids develop and learn. They are 3y and 18 months and seem to grow in understanding and vocabulary in the time it takes me to blink. There is a great article on Cognitive Daily about new research into the part sleep plays in helping kids learn.

The current thoughts on why younger kids need more sleep is because of the shear volume of information they ingest. When they nap their brains take all this information they have gathered and put it into order, adding to and reinforcing the information stored from previous days.

Next time I feel tired at work I will take a nap and tell my boss I am just processing the extreme amounts of information I ingested earlier.

ROOT/ VAULTS is the first bank for your attention data

I was aware that this site had launched and till today had not given it much of a look just because I have been pretty busy. But reading essentially the vision statement behind the site made me look a little deeper. I will report back in a couple of weeks after using the service but I think their are real possibilities here. Attention is important I am trying to determine if this site meets my approval but it is well worth the look.

I also think you should read the vision statement of the creator before you visit the website. [Root.net]

Jeff Jarvis wants his Attention Data

I have talked about “Attention” for a while now, and think it’s a important for everyone to understand how valuable their attention is. Jeff Jarvis is calling Yahoo, Apple, Google Reader, NewsGator and other RSS newsreaders to task in wanting to know specifics about how his feeds are being used.

I know for example if I visit bloglines.com how many people are subscribed to the Geek News Central RSS feed but they among others cache that data. Since most companies are caching information the raw hit info is not being reported back to the source where this information can be registered within the servers log files.

Personally I don’t care who is reading the info from this site and where they are coming from literally, but I would like a better way to measure article impact. Honestly though I don’t dwell on it to much but as I have said in some recent articles the tools that are out their now to measure RSS are pretty bad.

Jeff gets called to the carpet by several of the readers, but I think many miss the point and do not understand the value and the importance of Attention. A recent comment by a reader of GNC and listener of the podcast made me do some thinking about Attention, in understanding that not only is Attention data a two way street with you the reader and I, but it also should be a two way street between me and those that make a lot of money by providing my content along with a large number of others content to a centralized audience.

So in principle I agree with Jeff but to be honest I think it will be a long time before most of these companies every get on board and realize that if they provided us some semblance of good statistics it would ultimately help those of us that keep track of this stuff.

Some of you that are very vocal will drop me a comment of e-mail on articles that peak your interest most will not. For more info on Attention please visit the AttentionTrust.org which this site is a member of. [Jeff Jarvis]