Thursday, March 16, 2006

Stay Hoaxy,

There were two strange stories this week about people using a free "newswire" service called to distribute bogus news. One was that Will Ferrell died. Which is both false and fortunate for me in providing a relevant reason to post a picture of my favorite fictional journalist on this blog.

In another hoax, a 16-year-old Google fan was able to get a fake press release announcing his hiring by the search engine onto Google News. was booted as a source for Google News on Wednesday. But, another free service for which anyone could theoretically enroll (around since 1997), still gets its releases into the Google News Search engine. Its website notes that editors review all releases prior to distribution. They might be able to catch obvious hoaxes and hate speech, but I somehow doubt they're calling every company to verify facts.

Supposedly, real PR firms use PRWeb. I noticed a few agencies I know on the list of "Platinum Members," but I don't know if they actually use it in lieu of BusinessWire/PR Newswire/MarketWire (the three largest pay services) or if their listings are mostly to advertise to an audience of likely PR-newbies. With other 'firms' like "Hippie Chick Twang - Author-Recording Artist-Songwriter-Media Services," it's not exactly a Who's Who list.

Interested in comments from anyone who has found real value in a free wire service.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Yuppiest Over-caffeinated Rant Ever

I have been resisting the urge to rant about Starbucks on this blog pretty much since I started writing here. It is mostly because my relationship with Starbucks makes me feel ashamed. It is like the bad girlfriend I cannot leave. (Apologies to my wife.)

First of all, the vision of my 30-something, light blue dress shirt-wearing, Blackberry-clutching, groggy ass standing in the same Starbucks at precisely the same time each day is such a cliche that sometimes I just close my eyes and pretend I'm not actually there. It makes me realize that I am now the target for adult contemporary music, which would at one point in my life, have prompted a self-inflicted tack hammer strike on my left temple. I was even fiddling with my friend's XM radio the other day and settled after awhile on what I thought seemed like the best station. It turned to be "Hear" Music - the station they play at Starbucks. Horrifying.

But it's not Starbucks' fault I'm a sell-out.

I will blame the coffee pushers, though, for my particular addiction to Venti Peppermint Mocha Frappuccinos. It is significantly embarrassing on its own to walk down the street sipping a giant cup from a straw like a 12 year old. I also pay nearly five dollars a day for this 40 cents worth of sugared liquid - and despite the fact I will apparently not be able to retire until 75 as a result, if I don't have it, my stomach churns. Starbucks is especially insidious in making me grow dependent upon not just a high daily dose of caffeine, but on a particular form of its delivery that I cannot replicate at home. (Note that I take no responsibility for falling into this addiction. This adds to the shame.)

As I said, everyday, I go to the same Starbucks and order the same drink at the same time. Despite this, and my personal knowledge of the names of everyone who works there, each day I have to repeat my order at least twice, and probably three times.

This is partly due to their idiotic system, intended to give it a "coffee-house" feel, where employees scream orders back and forth to each other as early in the morning as possible. The other reason I have to repeat myself is the length of my order, which contains four data points (Type, Size and 2 Flavors), well beyond the average cache available in the average Starbucks employee's short-term memory. Finally, I repeat it again to the person in charge of making the drink, who has been unable to retain the knowledge that I want a drink at all, despite having written it on a plastic cup with a marker moments earlier.

For awhile, I thought Starbucks' system was just another example of a badly planned service delivery mechanism that results in terrible customer experiences. I've actually been in a Starbucks in Chicago that uses the traditional fast food order screen system, requiring no shouting or repetition. So why don't all of them have them, I thought?

Then I realized something. I say the phrase "Venti Mocha Frappuccino" no less than 10 times a week. I've even blogged it twice here.

Maybe there's something to this - maybe this practice is, in fact, brilliant marketing.

Continually get your customers to reaffirm their loyalty to your product and your brand by making them say the product name as many times as possible. It's like a daily pledge of allegiance. In a scary way, it's almost a small expression of identity. When I'm there, I'm "Venti Mocha Frappuccino Guy." Someone else is "Extra Hot No Room Tall Vanilla Skim Latte Lady." (Yes, the shame is setting in again.)

I still hate every moment I'm in the Starbucks and think they're terrible at servicing my very simple need. I guess this is the part that makes me most embarrassed - that I keep going back. I know that everytime I say "Venti Mocha Frappuccino," it really means "thank you sir, may I have another" in a very Animal House kind of way.

So I guess if you're going to steal the repetition strategy, you better be sure you have a darn good (or chemically addicting) product that will overcome the backlash.

You think about that. I'm gonna go to Denny's to have a "Root and Tooty Fresh and Fruity."

Social Notworking Site

A bit of snickering from the back of the classroom at - I couldn't help but pass on this hilarious parody of Friendster-type social networking sites. Pardon the R-rated language on the linked site.

You have to admit that despite the potential value of online networking, the fact there are so many different "networks" subtracts from the appeal of each. Every week, I get invitations or updates from at least two of the sites, and every few months I get invited to a new one. And I'm not particularly popular.

I've yet to hear a story among my friends about actually meeting a new person through one of these sites by simply clicking through networks which has turned into a partner or customer. I could see them being a terrific way to find dates or friends but as far as for business, they seems to me little more than counting mechanisms to prove you collect a lot of business cards.

At minimum I do appreciate getting automatic contact information updates from these services, but I'm a bit surprised there isn't a tool that aggregates them all, much as Trillian does for IM identities.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Social News Reading Overview

Kevin Kelly's "Cool Tools" section of his blog has a nice overview of the various offerings that are similar to Digg in enabling navigation of news based on popularity or user feedback. I touched on Digg a few weeks back, but Kevin uncovers a few more (i.e., Reddit, Newsvine and Fantacular) with some useful insight about the development of the genre, which he calls "consensus tools."