Unbuntu on Dell

Dell hit a rough spot for a while. In fact, my reconditioned laptop gives me frequent insights into Dell’s quality issues. But of late Dell has looked much better. It invited customers to join the conversation. It listened.

And Dell has acted on what it heard. I’m with Justin, saluting the $599 laptop running Ubuntu. Now, if only my current laptop would finally release its precarious hold on life, I could justify ordering one of these Ubuntu boxes…

BlueOrganizer

BlueOrganizer is smart-browsing technology for Firefox. Its new version is described enthusiastically at TechCrunch and at Read/Write Web.

I used (or at least installed) a previous version a while ago. The post that persuaded me to give it another try was Fred Wilson’s on the SmartLink feature. The best way to explain this feature is to use it in a blog post, so go on over to Fred for a demo.

Why can’t I demo it on this blog? Because SmartLinks involve JavaScript, which can’t be used on WordPress.com blogs. If I get to like BlueOrganizer enough, I’ll request that it be made available via a widget.

Yahoo, Now That It’s Tomorrow

This is a follow-up to the previous post, which focused on the jarring contrast between Yahoo’s new mission statement and a particular action taken by its Flickr service. The main news since then is that Stewart Butterfield has added his apology to the conversation.

[I’m one of the co-founders of Flickr, and am the general manager with overall responsibility for all things Flickr.]

… we screwed up — and for that I take full responsibility (actually, several team members are fighting to take responsibility).

There are several policies which will be changing as a direct result of this incident and the goal is that nothing like this ever happens again. Any errors from now on should be on the side of caution…

The photo was deleted — again, mistakenly — because of the direction the comments had gone…

The person who made the call is not, as has been suggested, stupid, incompetent, underpaid, under qualified, inexperienced or mean. They just made a big mistake (and feel inconsolably awful about it, by the way). We also did not have the right policies in place to prevent it from happening or rectifying it afterward. And that’s entirely the responsibility of the Flickr leadership team, and myself in particular.

I think that has just tipped the balance toward my renewing my Flickr Pro account. I particularly like the way that Stewart is careful to establish that the individual employee does not deserve the harsh things that have been said. He puts the blame on the policies, and hence on those responsible for the policies, including himself. I hope that he will let the Flickr community know about specific policy changes.

By the way, I added a comment to the mission post at the Yahoo blog. I did so last night. In it, I quoted from the post the statement that “any strategy… is only as valuable as its ability to be executed” and pointed out the relevance to the Flickr fiasco. The comment was queued for moderation.

Now it’s time for Yahoo to execute. And perhaps to let my comment show up, critical though it is. Update: my comment did survive moderation, and has helped this to become one of my most-visited posts.

Yahoo Yesterday: Mission and Mistake

yahoomission.jpgYahoo has a new mission statement. I first saw it on Read/Write web.

Last night, Yahoo! announced their new mission, “to connect people to their passions, communities, and the world’s knowledge.” While Google emphasizes the data, Yahoo! will emphasize the people.

Yesterday’s post at Yodel Anecdotal, Yahoo’s rather wonderfully named blog, provided more detail. The post is by Jeff Weiner, the Executive VP who heads the Network Division. The network division includes Flickr, a site long notable for, among other things, passion and community.

Yesterday, some of the passion in the Flickr community was directed against Flickr itself, and against Yahoo. This was due to the Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir incident.

I can state the following as facts of the case.

  • Prints of some of Rebekkah’s photos were sold, without her permission, by a gallery.
  • When she discovered this, Rebekkah demanded payment from the gallery; she didn’t get it.
  • She posted about the ripoff on Flickr; the post drew 450+ comments.
  • The post and the comments were deleted by Flickr.

You can read more about this appalling incident at Rebekkah’s WordPress blog. I first read about it at Reddit.

Heather Champ, Flickr community manager, contributed to the Flickr forum discussion of the Rebekkah incident as follows. This has nothing to do with censorship — we made a mistake. I’m inclined to believe this and Heather’s subsequent contributions.

But, to sum up, at much the same time that Yahoo was redefining its mission in terms of people, passion, and communities, it removed from one of its leading sites the work of a talented person, along with some passionate discussion within a community. This casts doubt on the mission statement, or, at least, on the firm’s ability consistently to act in a manner consistent with the statement.

It also makes me wonder if I will renew my Flickr Pro account, which expires soon, and whether I will continue to use Flickr as my main means of photo sharing…

37signals, 6 Products, 1 Blog

I’m glad to say that 37signals has decided to consolidate its many product-specific blogs into one product blog.

The posts are categorized by product, so that if I want to see posts on Backpack, I can do so. Posts spanning multiple products are assigned to multiple categories; an example of such a post is the one on Basecode, the Firefox extension that allows formatting of text inside 37s applications.

I don’t think that there is a separate RSS feed for each product. So I have to subscribe to the whole product blog, rather than being able to subscribe to the posts on Basecamp. Had 37s gone with WordPress, it would have been easy to provide a feed for each product.

The product blog seems to be running on TypePad. 37s’ Signal vs. Noise blog is, as far as I know, still running on Blog Cabin, which 37s developed but does not sell. I’ll ask about the choice of tool for the product blog in what I think is the appropriate place.

Update: in that appropriate place, and in a comment to this post, 37s points out that TypePad  would allow a feed for each product, but that the product blog doesn’t currently use that feature of TypePad.

Moleskine and Goose Eggs

A couple of posts ago, I singled out Moleskine as an excellent case study in branding, in product line extension, and in the power of the conversation on the web. My post was prompted by a Business Week article, and in turn prompted a comment that there was more on the story at moleskinerie, the widely-read Moleskine-focused blog.

Looking at the BW article (again), at comments at BW, and at comments at Moleskinerie, there is some suspicion that Moleskine City is a heavy-handed attempt by Moleskine to drown out the ongoing on-the-web conversation. There’s a rather cool reference to the fable of The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs, with the implication that Molekine is killing its goose.

I think that the suspicion arose from the BW statement that “this points to an attempt by the company to take back control of its brand, or at least focus its consumers on a forum of its own creation.” The word “control” does not appear in any of the quotes from the Moleskine VP interviewed for the story. That person used more appropriate terms, such as “connect.”

Some of the comments reflect the view that Moleskinerie is authentic, and Moleskine City is not. But, as Armand, Mr Moleskinerie himself, pointed out, Moleskinerie is now owned by the US distributor of Moleskine.

The web which we weave, and from which golden eggs emerge, is indeed a tangled one.

Moleskine dot Blog

With all the talk of Web 2.0, digital culture, and so on, what hope is there for ultra-analog products? Helen Walters, in Business Week, poses that question, and follows it up with: what could be more defiantly analog than notepaper?

Contrary to what these questions imply, Moleskine notebooks are selling very well, especially among the young and trendy. Moleskine (I’ll call the firm that, although it’s officially Modo & Modo SpA) now has a product line going well beyond basic notebooks.

It recently launched a line of city notebooks. I bought my wife the one for Paris, but have yet to buy the plane tickets to go with it. I’ll get the one for Boston. In fact, I’ll probably get one for us and one for my parents. Moleskine also has a line of city blogs to go with the notebooks.

Its aim is for these blogs to be more than merely a branded Web presence of the Moleskine notebooks… while readers can currently only comment on the posts, the idea is that soon they will spin out into wiki-style pages of user-generated content, with travelers, visitors, and locals all contributing tips and information. Tapping into the notebooks’ target market of those with an interest in contemporary culture, the blogs talk up art, design, technology, and city life.

Now that I see the Molekinecity.com blog site, it seems like a logical move. Many bloggers have posted about Moleskines, as a look via tags at Technorati and at WordPress.com shows. Talking of WordPress, it provides the foundation for MoleskineCity.

Moleskine is an excellent case study in branding, in product line extension, and in the power of the conversation on the web. An interesting contrast is provided by another recent BW article on Hyundai. It provides another extreme case of branding, although not in a good way.

Third Place Thoughts

3 days a week, I leave my office in time to pick up my 3-year-old daughter at 3, go home to hand her over to the nanny she shares with her little brother, and then go to a third place for a couple of hours.

I’m currently at Emack & Bolios in Roslindale Square. I’ve just updated its Yelp entry to reflect the fact that wireless is once again free, but that air conditioning would have made my visit here today even more pleasant.

Apart from that, it can check the following boxes: ice cream; coffee; couches; friendly; always room to sit (at least during my third place hours); local, in both location and ownership.

Other third places I’ve used include the Rozzie library, which has a lamentable lack of ice cream and coffee (and couches for that matter), and the place that’s actually two places and, at the time I blogged about it, had monkeys.

Stocks: Supply and Demand

Fear and greed are not the only forces acting on stock prices. Since stocks are traded on markets, supply and demand also act.

A cynic might argue that supply is caused by fear, as people sell stocks now expecting them to go down later, and that demand is caused by greed, as people buy stocks expecting them to go up later. As usual, a cynic would have part of the story.

Here’s a warning about supply that has been issued many times in the last few years: as baby boomer reach or approach retirement, they will sell their stocks, thus flooding and crashing the market. And here’s a debate about this warning from the WSJ a couple of years ago.

On the other hand, there are forces acting to reduce the supply of stocks. The San Francisco Chronicle recently remarked on the incredible shrinking supply of tradable U.S. stocks. There’s been $300 billion shrinkage already this year, due to cash takeovers by private equity firms and to share buybacks by corporations. Honey, I Shrunk the Equity Supply, as Paul Kedrosky puts it.

Bibliolescence: Made to Break

It is a fact that goods are thrown away, often while they still work, in quantities and in a manner harmful to the environment. Such goods have ceased to be of use or interest to their owners. They are in some sense obsolete.

Does this mean that we can declare that such goods are, to use the title of Giles Slade’s book, Made to Break? To declare this is to link the excessive disposal of goods to planned obsolescence.

Slade has argued, in an interview, that obsolescence makes economic sense for firms: it enables them to sell more stuff. I’ve posted my suspicions about this argument before. They arise mainly from the observation that, if a particular firm’s goods rapidly become obsolete, many consumers will be reluctant to buy from that firm. Of course, this observation holds with varying force, depending on the nature of the product, of consumer preferences, and of competition.

Given this complexity, there is certainly an opportunity for a thoughtful book on the nature and history of product obsolescence. I don’t think that Slade has written that book.

Made to Break starts with some current numbers (e.g., 100 million cell phones discarded in the US in 2005). It identifies stages in the history of product obsolescence. It then goes back to the first of these stages, to the 1800s, and to episodes such as King Gillette’s invention of the disposable razor blade.

There are nine chapters, each dealing with a different time period, set of products, and cast of characters. One of my problems with the book is that the chapters don’t hang well together. They read more like magazine articles in a series than like chapters of a coherent book. They exhibit more concern for telling the stories of the individuals involved than for developing an interesting argument.

A convincing argument would, I think, have to turn on types and causes of obsolescence. Slade does quote Vance Packard, from The Waste Makers, “distinguishing three different ways that products can be made obsolescent.”

First, products can become obsolete in terms of function, when a better product is introduced. This form of obsolescence, I think, deserves more careful attention than Slade gives it. Are we to criticize the new car for being faster, or more environmentally friendly, or better in some other way, thus making older cars obsolete? Or should we criticize the older cars and those who made them? If so, are they to refrain from making cars unless and until they are convinced that the cars cannot be made obsolete?

Second, there is obsolescence of quality: the product breaks down. Third, there is obsolescence of desirability: the older product become less desirable in contrast with the newer.

Slade, like Packard, wrote about planned obsolescence. But obsolescence can occur in any one of these three ways without being planned.

One way of making a careful argument would be to look at each case of obsolescence with systematic regard for which of Packard’s three types it represents, and to what extent it can be described as “planned.” Slade doesn’t seem to me to do that, or anything that systematic.

In reading Made to Break, I read nine stories (chapters); some, but not all, of them were very interesting. I also read some disturbing accounts of current levels of waste. But the book is rather less than the sum of its parts. I’d rather have had less about the personal life of some of the characters in the stories, and more analysis.

Does Made To Break render obsolete The Waste Makers and other previous books on the same subject? Since MtB is more recent, it could be viewed as rendering TWM obsolete in terms of both function and desirability.

TWM‘s obsolescence is partial, in that it is limited to some, but not all consumers, and it was probably not planned. The previous sentence, of course, illustrates the view that obsolescence isn’t a binary variable, and isn’t always planned. That’s my view. MtB seems to me a book that often implies the opposite view, but doesn’t get round to stating or supporting it.

This post is part of a series on bibliolescence, a term I apologetically introduced in the first post of the series, and use as a delicious tag for all posts in the series.