Friday, February 27, 2009

The accelerating death of newspapers

I returned home to Colorado last night to hear that the Rocky Mountain News was publishing their final edition today -- some of the employees were absorbed into the Denver Post and most others were simply laid off. In watching some of the television coverage there seemed to be varying degrees of shock among employees and older subscribers; there did not seem to be any shock among younger people interviewed.

Early this morning I saw a story about how the San Francisco Chronicle may have to shut down because it is hemorrhaging money. In San Francisco, unlike in Denver, there is only the Chronicle, so a closure of the Chronicle means that the daily newspaper goes away.

This morning I saw an announcement Hearst Corporation is going to launch its own e-reader for the distribution of magazines and newspapers. Interesting timing to be sure, although probably fairly coincidental as it relates to the Rocky Mountain News, though Hearst is the parent corporation of the San Francisco Chronicle, so perhaps not so coincidental at all.

I attended a conference last week at which there was a panel of persons representing various media outlets, including newspapers. The newspaper representatives at the conference said that they were exploring strategies including a more heavily scaled focus on their website, the ability for citizens to post blogs and/or articles on the main newspaper site, and printing micro, tightly regionalized papers that included articles written by people living within those regional areas (i.e., non-professional writers).

A few weeks ago I was explaining to a good friend that I consume my news via the reading of blogs and that although I saw most of the same news that he did, I reached the news outlets by different ways (if I ever even reached them at all). Generally by consuming news through blogs, I get 2 or more opinions of a news story and don't necessarily need to see the (supposedly) unbiased reporting from a news outlet.

It's my opinion that news companies are confusing their vector (print vs. e-reader) with an underlying issue of a fundamental shift in the way that their content is consumed. Hearst is trying to create a device that allows for dynamic advertising while still providing the same content -- could you imagine the amount of ads in a Cosmopolitan magazine (Hearst owns it and I'm secure enough to admit I've looked through one) on a single page e-book reader with no color? Just the thought of that is extraordinarily painful. However, I suppose that if you are one of those consumers that is used to holding the newspaper artifact in your hand as part of the ritual of reading and newspapers are severely cutting or eliminating printing, then perhaps Hearst has exactly what you need.

What do you think?

Picture from Jon B. Swerens

Monday, February 23, 2009

Kindle 2

This is going to piss some people off, but I ordered my Amazon Kindle 2 this past Saturday night (2 days ago) around 11PM and got the shipping notification early this morning, which means that I should receive it on the 25th (unless they upgrade to overnight like they did with my original Kindle).

Stay tuned for reviews.

Click here if you want to buy one.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Google Sync just got really useful

Google Sync now offers calendar and contact sync using the Microsoft ActiveSync protocol. Although the Google Sync application for BlackBerry has been around for a while, Google Sync over ActiveSync opens up 2-way syncing for other phones supporting that protocol, namely Windows Mobile devices and Apple iPhones. Previously if you wanted some amount of sync on your iPhone with Google, you had to use a product like NuevaSync, which only provided one-way calendar sync and gave a third party access to your Google account.

A few notes of caution:
  • Contacts from OS X Address Book and Outlook don't always import into Google perfectly -- I have experienced problems with imports of names, companies, titles, and phone numbers.
  • Read the list of known issues here.
  • Follow the instructions to back up your data.
Just cross your fingers that Google will enable PushIMAP for its mail services -- we know they support it on the phone for Yahoo. If you combined PushIMAP with the sync services described above, you'd have a free platform that would challenge BlackBerry core functionality. Take it a step further and imagine administrative controls for all this in Google Apps.

Link (this links to the iPhone page because that's what I use)

The Four Agreements

One of my good friends and someone I respect very much professionally recommended that I read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. What was amazing to me is that my friend was able to recite the four actual agreements in the book from memory and to explain each of them to me while we were sitting at lunch. Although it almost felt as if I did not need to read the book after his explanations, I decided to purchase a copy and read it for myself (unfortunately it is not available on the Kindle).

I now find myself in the same position to be able to recite the four agreements from memory and to provide explanation, so here it goes:

Always be impeccable with your word. Ruiz defines "impeccable" through its Latin roots, meaning "without sin." With that definition, it's easy to see how Ruiz suggests not to gossip or tell lies; most importantly he encourages you not to lie to yourself. The idea is to use your words for truth and to say only what you mean.

Don't take anything personally. What other people do and say to you have nothing to do with you, rather it has to do with issues that other people have. If you don't take words or actions from other people personally, then you make yourself immune to those words and actions.

Don't make assumptions. Instead of assuming things, simply ask questions to make sure that you fully understand; make yourself as clear as possible in all situations so that others do not have to make assumptions about what you really want. Removing assumptions removes drama, mistrust, and misunderstandings.

Always do your best. Even though circumstances may vary at any given time, simply do your best every time.

Typically I only recommend business-focused books and, while the information in this book is applicable to business, this book is much more of a book focused on life change. Note that you may be turned off by the first chapter of the book, which attempts to give some background on the Toltec religion and set the premise -- you can skip the first chapter, but some of the Toltec words used throughout the rest of the book will not make sense to you. Further note that you can completely skip the chapters following the fourth agreement as they deal completely with the spiritual and even include lengthy prayers. The meat and potatoes of the book are the four actual agreement chapters and you can likely finish reading them in less than 20 minutes.

Thanks to Dolf Berle for the recommendation.

Link -- Amazon

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Google Latitude

Google Latitude lets you share your location information with people in your Gmail contacts -- you can leverage the power of the GPS chip in your phone along with Google Maps to see where your friends are.

Before I get too far into this: I always used to use the example of Asia being so far ahead of us in cellular technology with the example of location-based buddy proximity because I had seen an example of it 3 years ago on the internet. My starting point was to tell people to imagine that they had a lunch appointment and they had received permission from the person that they were having lunch with to see that person's location. If you know exactly where that person is, then you don't need a call or text if they are running late, if they are right outside, if they are circling looking for a parking place, etc. because you can see what's happening. Inevitably they would ask we we don't have the phones and I would explain that it's a network problem: Asia has a single network standard, which makes it easy to upgrade and even easier to adopt higher speed protocols. The uniform network standard enables the phone manufacturers to focus on development of the device functionality as opposed to network operation. Then that functionality allows the software developers to develop cool uses for the functionality.
Ok, so now I have to get a new example of how Asian networks are insanely ahead of us, but back to Latitude.

I would love to tell you that I've already used Latitude and that it is awesome and great and is already changing my life, but unfortunately it's not available for the iPhone. Presumably it will be available only when Apple releases the next iPhone firmware update as I further presume that there needs to be an upgrade to the core Google Maps application on the iPhone.

For those of you that can use it (Nokia, BlackBerry, WinMo), Latitude seems like the must-download application of the day.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

My rant on luxury hotels

I've got a few problems with luxury hotels. You know, the ones that are in that $200+ per night range? I feel like they're missing a few things in their business model, so here are my open suggestions to hotel operators:
  • Valet parking should not be $20-$40 per night. I understand that you likely have to outsource your valet operation for liability reasons, but you've got to figure out how to get that into the price of the room. One of the worst first impressions is to drive up to a hotel and have the valet remind you that it's $30 per night to park; before I've even walked in your door and checked in, I've already been dinged with a pretty hefty charge. Believe me, if it were between a room at $220 per night with no valet or $250 per night that included valet, I would choose the latter because the experience would feel better. (P.S. -- if I'm paying $20+ per night for valet, the valet should not change my radio station or move the position of my seat)
  • High-speed internet should not cost anything. After the initial infrastructure investment in some wired and/or wireless equipment, there really isn't too much of a recurring cost as you probably are going to have a high-speed connection at a monthly cost coming into the hotel regardless of whether or not any of your guests use it. If you have to recoup some sort of cost per room night, build it into the cost so that I don't sit down after I've checked in and feel like I'm getting dinged again: remember that at this point I've gotten hit by the valet for $30 per night for my car, I've signed off on the room rate with all of the additional taxes, and now I'm getting hit for another $10 per day for internet. Again, if I were choosing between the $220 per night and the $260 per night, but the $260 now includes internet and valet, I'm not going to quibble. (P.S. -- some of you provide bandwidth-throttled connections for free and higher speed connection at a premium; this strategy is good provided that you aren't throttling the bandwidth to below dial up speeds)
  • Workout facilities should be free. I've not stayed anywhere, including the very high-end chains, that have workout facilities that are worthy of a $10 charge -- it costs $8-$10 to go work out for a day at Spectrum, 24 Hour Fitness, or Bally's and none of you have those sorts of facilities at your hotel properties. In fact, your equipment is usually out of date and there is usually not enough of it. Unless you have an absolutely huge, state-of-the-art workout facility, it needs to be part of the base rate and even if you have a great facility, it should be part of the base rate. Some of the mid-tier hotel chains have figured out how to put in great facilities in small spaces, have state-of-the-art equipment, and not charge anything to use the facilities, so you need to as well. (P.S. -- lemon water and refrigerated towels are great, but please make sure you have regular towels and plain water available as well)
  • Small amenities make a big difference. Why don't you provide me with mouthwash and q-tips? The Holiday Inn Express that I recently stayed in provided me with mouthwash, q-tips, and cotton balls -- if they can figure it out, you can too. Also, if you spend a gazillion dollars making a really nice, marble-covered bathroom, do not give me small bath towels that I can barely get around my waist. Again, if Holiday Inn Express can figure out how to get me a soft, over-sized bath towel, you can too. (P.S. -- if the maid moves all my stuff on the counter of the bathroom to clean the counter, putting it all back on top of a washcloth instead of pushing it all into a corner is a nice touch)
  • Water conservation should not be a joke. You put the signs out about water conservation and I see the signs; I follow the instructions, and I still get all of my towels replaced. Unfortunately the water conservation ideas are at odds with the overwhelming luxury service that you want to provide -- you have to figure out how to balance it and get your staff on board with supporting the program. If the whole program is a joke, then maybe you should just get rid of the signs and support the environment by not printing them.
  • Be careful with your ancillary F&B revenue streams. I do expect to pay more for a beer at your hotel bar than Joe's Bar down the street -- $8 for a bottle of Coors Light is pretty expensive and $14 for a vodka and soda with well vodka that's measured in a shot pourer is really expensive. Yes, I also expect to pay more for food than at Joe's Bar down the street -- $18 for a cheeseburger is pretty expensive; there's only one place that I've ever been that has a cheeseburger worth the $18 price tag they slap on it. There's a certain amount of tolerance that we as your guests have for slightly elevated prices, but if you push too far, it forces me to leave your property to either spend less money elsewhere or to find a store and bring some items back with me. (P.S. -- I love Fiji water, it's my favorite bottled water, but $9 for a large bottle of it makes it worth my time to go buy 6 bottles of it for $9 at the gas station down the street)
Maybe I'm overthinking all of this, but as people look hard these days at what they're spending their money on, they want to feel like they are getting a good value, even at a luxury hotel. A hotel guy might look at everything I wrote and tell me that I don't understand, that there's competition, that there's; that they need to have the lowest possible room rate and that they really have to make all of their money from the ancillary streams. They would be wrong with regard to my understanding, I was in performance venue management for years and get the whole idea of ancillary-based economics. Here's the thing: we would put a facility fee in the ticket price of a concert and people rarely had an issue with it, but if we had tried to charge everyone entering the facility those few dollars at the door, no one ever would have paid it.

It's worth thinking about.

Image from dbking

Sunday, February 01, 2009

And the SuperBowl ads already start leaking


Link (visit YouTube and watch it in HD)

GI Joe

Link (visit YouTube and watch it in HD)

At this rate, you'll be able to skip the game entirely if football isn't your thing.