Most of the tech world knows that Verizon is having a press conference today to announce they would be offering the iPhone. What I didn’t expect was that AT&T would try their best to push me away just minutes before the event started.
I am a huge, huge fan of Atlassian’s tools, and I’ve worked pretty hard to make them a part of culture at my office. They’ve just started a series of blog posts on using a wiki for technical writing, and I loved this bit:
Do you feel nervous at the thought of customers adding angry comments on your documentation wiki? Spammers running riot? Here’s the flipside for you to consider: customers answering other customers’ questions in the wiki, external developers adding code samples to help flesh out your document, partners volunteering to write new documentation.
I think that when it comes to implementing any new technology (especially from being inside IT), there’s a lot of fear and belief that someone, somewhere, is going to misuse/abuse it. But we often lose site of the advantages that will come from the tool and clever use by your community.
“But what if…?” is the common thing I hear when talking about new technology, and my tongue-in-cheek response is now going to be “What if there’s bears?”, in due deference to this old Will Hines video:
Stop planning for doomsday. Pre-empt the obvious abuses, and handle the subtleties as they come.
January, 2000: Apple unveiled iTools. Provided for free to anyone running OS 9, it provided a POP email account at mac.com, 20 MB of internet-based storage referred to as iDisk, web hosting space, and internet filtering software to keep the kids safe. It was 2000, I was in college, it was free. I could not argue. I took the address email@example.com.
July, 2002: iTools relaunches as “.Mac”. It begins to cost $100 a year. Having just graduated, and not wanting to be tied to my university email for the rest of my life, I opt to start paying in October.
October, 2003: I renew my .Mac account. I am happy with the service.
February 2004: I purchase my first Sidekick. It does not sync contacts with my phone, thus increasing the value of address book sync.
April, 2004: Gmail launches. Unable to take a name of less than six characters, I default back to “remydwd” as my user name. My .Mac email account falls out of favor, but continue to renew the account for address book synchronization.
October, 2004: I renew my .Mac account. I feel like I am getting enough out of the address book, bookmarks, and keychain sync to justify the cost, and Katie’s email account is attached as a sub-account.
October, 2005: I renew my .Mac account. I still feel like I am getting enough out of the address book, bookmarks, and keychain sync to justify the cost, and Katie’s email account is attached as a sub-account.
April, 2006: Google Calendar launches. Any use I had for iCal as a primary repository of my calendaring now goes out the window.
October, 2006: I renew my .Mac account. I’m not entirely sure I am getting enough out of the sync to justify the cost, but Katie’s email account is attached as a sub-account. June, 2007: The iPhone comes out. I buy one the day after release. I finally replace my Sidekick with a phone that can actually sync my address book.
October, 2007: Leopard launches, which features “Back to My Mac”. I finally have some degree of reliable screen sharing between home and the office. I happily renew my .Mac account.
April, 2008: I get an invite to Dropbox. I immediately forget about the existence of iDisk – not that I had ever used it much to begin with.
June, 2008: .Mac relaunches as MobileMe. It is largely terrible for the first few months. I don’t notice much as I’m not using the service – not even on my iPhone for over-the-air contact syncing, which blows out my address book the first time I try it. I get a three month service extension to compensate for the poor service.
January, 2009: I renew my .Mac account. Katie has switched to Gmail at long last, but Back To My Mac is still mostly useful.
June, 2009: iPhone OS 3.0 is released. “Find my iPhone” is added as a feature to MobileMe. I find it neat but ultimately useless, as I could remote wipe through a console at the office. I can now get both my work and personal calendar over the air, reliably. I refer to this as the “holy grail” around the office.
January 2010: I face reality. When you have extremely reliable, robust email from Google, cloud storage with every feature I can imagine from Dropbox, and I’m able to carry my address book with me on my iPhone all the time, I am unable to see any reason to continue with MobileMe. I decline to renew my account.
Narrative aside, there’s a lesson here: if you’re going to provide core internet services, consider the price differential between you and your strongest competitor. If it’s a little, you only need to be a little better.
$100 a year for what feels like a worse product than what’s available for free? Your business model is screwed. Start over, do better.
Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, announcing the acquisition of Zappos by Amazon:
Over the next few days, you will probably read headlines that say “Amazon acquires Zappos” or “Zappos sells to Amazon”. While those headlines are technically correct, they don’t really properly convey the spirit of the transaction. (I personally would prefer the headline “Zappos and Amazon sitting in a tree…”)
We plan to continue to run Zappos the way we have always run Zappos — continuing to do what we believe is best for our brand, our culture, and our business. From a practical point of view, it will be as if we are switching out our current shareholders and board of directors for a new one, even though the technical legal structure may be different.
We think that now is the right time to join forces with Amazon because there is a huge opportunity to leverage each other’s strengths and move even faster towards our long term vision. For Zappos, our vision remains the same: delivering happiness to customers, employees, and vendors. We just want to get there faster.
As a frequent customer of both, I am cautiously optimistic.
It is fall of 2005, and Bemanistyle is down for an indeterminable length of time. An upstart gaming center in Rhode Island called Tokyo Game Action immediately felt the effects of this outage – their website was hosted by Bemanistyle. Without a proper website, their community was being extinguished – and for an arcade that largely relied on the patronage of hardcore gamers, community is everything. But as luck would have it, my forums were readily available – and in a decision I don’t honestly recall making, I quickly made a temporary forum so they could keep operations going. (A similar forum popped up on Shoryuken to maintain the fighting game side of the house.) That was when I first had a chance to talk to Andy McGuire, the owner of TGA, who sent me a heartfelt note. I was immediately struck by his courtesy and motivations for opening TGA:
I don’t know how much you know about TGA, but TGA is unique in the fact that we are 100% dedicated to bringing the best Bemani experience possible to the United States. I won’t bore you with the sacrifices I have made and continue to make to make TGA a reality, but in short I do it for the love of the Bemani community and a service to humanity.
Every penny that TGA receives, goes right back into the store. I have accepted that TGA is my God given mission (literally, I am a Christian) to bring happiness to people in a way that’s not violent or vulgar. I live a simple life and dedicate all my time and finances to make this work.
Besides finances the most important part of keeping TGA alive is communications. And our website being down has killed us. But because of your assistance TGA is surviving and helping keep it’s head above water.
He offered to send me a full set of IIDX Happy Sky E-Amuse cards as a token of his gratitude – but as enticing as they may have been, I declined. I wrote to him then:
While I greatly appreciate the offer, I’m going to have to politely decline for a simple reason: After being in the community for 4 years (as of next week, anyhow), I have seen far too many places come and go – people who pour their heart and souls into businesses like this and unfortunately after a certain number of months, flame out for whatever reason. I would much rather see you keep the cards and sell them to your regular customers and keep the business going properly.
Andy’s dream had, thanks to his selflessness and sacrifice, managed to survive since that time. TGA played host to two Bemani community festivals, both fantastically received. And through the last three years, Andy always managed to keep all of his Bemani machines up to date with the latest releases – which is not an easy task when they are intended for release in Japan only. But while he was in Japan in December – researching the newest Bemani releases, working on getting BlazBlue – disaster struck Massachusetts, and TGA was heavily damaged by flooding. TGA stayed closed after the flood, but Andy did everything he could to work towards re-opening. Today, Andy’s dream has come to a heartbreaking end:
Tokyo Game Action is officially closed forever. With no income and other problems due to the flood, we are drowning in bills it is impossible to recover and reopen.
To pay our creditors and to prevent my family from being thrown out on the street (literally), I am left with no choice but to auction all of TGA’s assets.
TGA will be auctioning everything we have in May to pay our bills. Every game, pcb, poster, keychain, chair, plate, fork, Arch stand, figures, software, bowling ball, everything in TGA has to be sold.
My heart goes out to Andy and his family, to all the staff of TGA, and to everyone who had the opportunity to call it their arcade home. I hope to finally make the trek to TGA in May for the final liquidation – not in the hopes of purchasing anything, but to give my respects to a man who wanted nothing more than to bring happiness to a community of gamers.
Activision had posted a job opening for an “Art Services Screenshot Associate“. Among the many bullet points of requirements (four year degree!) and job duties was this gem:
Perform advanced retouching of screenshots and teach skills to others as needed.
This sort of “honesty” from Activision is becoming more and more common. I look forward to the inevitable “Game Reviewer Bullying Associate” position getting posted. But this isn’t a post to knock Activision around again. This is about career paths.
Valleywag is reporting that LiveJournal has laid off 20 of their 28 employees:
The bubble in social networking has burst, decisively. LiveJournal, the San Francisco-based arm of Sup, a Russian Internet startup, has cut about 20 of 28 employees — and offered them no severance, we’re told.
The company’s product managers and engineers were laid off, leaving only a handful of finance and operations workers — which speaks to a website to be left on life support. Matt Berardo, a Yahoo executive hired on last summer, is also believed to be gone.
(While I do not blog on LiveJournal, this blog is available in syndicated form, and a number of my friends post there.)
While I haven’t been pleased with the level of service out of LiveJournal since Sup took it over, this sort of news doesn’t bode well for anyone who actively uses the service.
For those of you using LJ as your primary blogs, you may want to make a backup just in case.
p>ADDENDUM: azurelunatic has posted a minor rebuke to the Valleywag post – that only 13 have been laid off and that 17 remain.
Stephen Totilo of MTV reporting on a moment of honesty from today’s Activision/Blizzard earnings call, emphasis mine:
During today’s Activision Blizzard earnings call, a financial analyst asked the company’s CEO, Bobby Kotick, why the company didn’t keep all of Vivendi’s games when the two gaming companies merged.
The analyst didn’t name any games, but technically, he had to be referring to the likes of “Ghostbusters,” “50 Cent: Blood On The Sand” and the new “Riddick,” which all appear to have found new publishing homes…
Kotick responded not by addressing any of the games by name, but by talking about Activision’s publishing philosophy. The games Activision Blizzard didn’t pick up, he said, “don’t have the potential to be exploited every year on every platform with clear sequel potential and have the potential to become $100 million dollar franchises. … I think, generally, our strategy has been to focus… on the products that have those attributes and characteristics, the products that we know [that] if we release them today, we’ll be working on them 10 years from now…You still need to have production of new original property but you have to do it very selectively… the focus at retail and for the consumer is to continue to be on the big narrow and deep high profile release strategy… We’ve had enough experience that I think the strategy we employ is the most successful.”
I suppose I can appreciate the honesty, but as a gamer, I couldn’t be more nauseated.
That’s not to say I’m particularly surprised – what was the last significant franchise they created?
Tony Hawk? 1999.
Call Of Duty? 2003.
Guitar Hero? 2005.
I often love the games that are too quirky, too weird, too inaccessible, or too obscure for the mass market. And it’s sad that a company that was there when I started gaming 25 years ago has become so unwilling to take risks with their titles.
My life has always been one of jewel cases, DVD boxes, and shrink wrap. Multiple generations of gamers have inadvertently mastered obscure arts such as “removing adhesive security tags”, “shredding shrink wrap”, and “raising the CaseLogic stock price”.
Physical media has remained the primary distribution method for video games since the inception of home consoles. But with the current slew of platforms, digital distribution is finally not merely a possibility but a reality. The channels come in many forms: from the Xbox Live Arcade and the Playstation Store, to Nintendo’s Virtual Console and recently launched WiiWare, to the hugely popular Steam platform run by Valve for Windows.
A lot of gamers still love having discs for a variety of reasons. But there’s a growing movement of gamers and publishers pressing towards digital distribution. Gamers gain quicker access to games, less fiddling with discs, and the ability to reinstall their purchases at a later point. Publishers can create smaller, more innovative titles that wouldn’t survive at retail, keep a smaller budget, and not worry about fighting for shelf space in a brick-and-mortar store.
Or so we all thought.
If the experiences I’ve had over the last hour are any indication, 2008 is going to be the year where everyone forgets how customer service works.
I have attempted to deal with three separate organizations. All three have failed even the most basic of requirements for making a customer happy.