At this time of year I watch closely for the usual year-end wrap-ups and trend watch articles, though I keep an eye open all year for evidence of emergent trends in the seemingly endless tide of industry news. As usual, the trends seem to present an interesting mix of opportunities and challenges. In this fast-paced, increasingly online world, things are certainly never dull. Lately, I’ve run across some news items and trends that I feel we could do without. Note that these are my personal comments—no reflection on Information Today, Inc.
One site I usually consult is called Trendhunter. It focuses on consumer trends but in many cases these foreshadow what we’ll see in the enterprise and professional space and are valuable for any company selling into the consumer market. While I could care less knowing about “shock packaging” or “niche blundertainment,” I was stopped short by reading about “tangible social media.” Here’s how the site describes this new phenomenon:
Connected consumers are beginning to look for ways in which they can make their social media connections last longer; one way is through printed versions of their favorite social networking sites. Through printed memoirs, custom books and even comics, users can experience social media in a way that counteracts the fleeting and transient nature of their online interactions.
My reaction—good grief. There’s so much drivel! It must be a joke. No? Yet, I suppose there are some people who would just jump at the chance to use the EgoBook, a Facebook app that allows you to have a physical copy of your interactions from your Facebook wall. And, according to Trendhunter, “Even better than status updates, EgoBook also includes a neat photo mosaic of all of the your [sic] Facebook friend avatars and a top 20 list of the best commenters on your wall.”
If you can believe it, there’s even custom Twitter books. Puleez! “TweetBookz come in hard ($30) and soft cover ($20) and are generated based on your last 200 tweets, but can be customized to omit Tweets you might not want to keep on your real-world bookshelf.”
Buyer Beware—Always Good Advice
Most of us are aware that it’s wild and wooly out there buying online. Is this a seller/product I can trust? Are these supposed reviews posted by real customers or “planted”? Is the vendor giving me the full story on cost?
I recently shopped for a new cell phone and was at first impressed with the prices listed for all manner of jazzy new phones—touch screen, Android or Windows Mobile, on-screen or slide-out keyboard. Buy it for only $29.95! However, a closer look, phone calls, reviews, etc. finally revealed how expensive this would be. For new and existing customers it meant a 2-year contract. The real catch is I only wanted one with Wi-Fi, not a data plan. But most of the carriers now require data plans for all smartphones and it would run at least $30 per month, times 24 months, in addition to the regular charges for phone use and text messages. Then there were activation and other fees. Talk about confusing. (Happy ending: My son located an “unlocked” touch screen phone on eBay that would work with a current SIM card.)
Amazon is considered to be one of the most successful and respected online vendors. But what many people may not realize is the large number of third-party providers it uses. A recent article in The Washington Post warns Amazon Kindle readers that “you may have been paying for books you could legally download for free—in nearly identical editions—elsewhere.” According to the article, “The titles in question aren’t just public-domain books that have long been freely available at such sites as Project Gutenberg. They appear to be the exact Gutenberg files, save only for minor formatting adjustments and the removal of that volunteer-run site's license information.” This is actually permitted under the Gutenberg license, though it is certainly a cause of frustration for those involved with producing the titles—and for those who unknowingly pay for a title they could get for free.
Paul Biba on TeleRead says, “This is something you have to very careful about on Amazon. Most sites don’t charge for PG books, but you can easily get suckered by Amazon if you don’t know what you are doing. On the other hand, since third parties can directly submit books for sale I can’t imagine how Amazon could police something like this.”
Yes, it’s buyer beware.
Be sure to visit the Free eBook Collections page at Amazon.com. It has promotional offers and links to the Internet Archive, Project Gutenberg, and ManyBooks.net.
Bad Publicity Pays Off—Not a Good Trend!
I’m frequently dismayed with the seeming preponderance of negative news stories. But this one takes the prize for shock value in my book and, unfortunately, is a story that needs to be told. The New York Times recently featured a long, detailed story about an online merchant whose strategy was to be mean to customers. The worse he treated them, the more negative reviews they posted, and—hard to believe—the higher his site’s ranking in Google and the more it boosted his sales. And he was not just mean but reportedly threatening, harassing, obscene, and nasty. So, bad publicity was a good thing in this case. (I’m not even going to name the site or the owner as I don’t want to send him more links.)
So, the reporter from The Times raised the issue of whether “Google is unable to distinguish between adulatory buzz and scathing critiques when it scours the digital universe and ranks the best and the brightest.” A Google spokesperson refused to comment about Google’s search algorithms and referred the reporter to Danny Sullivan! Interestingly, a search of the abusive online merchant in Google Shopping turned up hundreds of raging reviews, but not in a search on Google’s main search page. For Sullivan’s detailed commentary on this, see his article in SearchEngineLand.
Three days later, Google announced that merchant reviews are now part of its ranking system, to prevent such things from happening again. Sullivan then notes that the change “seems pretty effective.” Thank you to solid investigative reporting and Google’s search team.
Update Dec. 6, 2010: U.S. Arrests Online Seller Who Scared Customers, By DAVID SEGAL, The New York Times