Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Greg in the News about "How 3G got into the security business"

This article describes how 3G mobile phone technology is being used in mobile surveillance solutions.
The same article can also be found on 4eyes.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Software driven instead of Customer driven???

I experienced another mind baffling customer experience while trying Blockbuster's online rental service. Since the rental service on Amazon.co.uk was lagging behind a little and there were some delays for the DVDs I wanted to rent, I decided to go with Blockbuster's Free Trial. It sounded pretty good with a 14 day free trial of their rental service.
It was very easy to register and to start building a list. I received a batch of 3 DVDs a few days later.
2 weeks later I received an e-mail saying I was now registered for the £14.99/month subscription and that my credit card had been billed for this amount. I wasn't particularly pleased about the way this happened with Blockbuster NOT sending me a reminder e-mail stating my 14 days trial period was about to end. So, I wasn't impressed but decided to give the service a fair try.
I sent my initial DVDs back, added more DVDs to my list and waited for the next batch to arrive.

Even though I had sent 3 DVDs back, the Blockbuster web site only mentioned 2. This meant I had to go through an online procedure to confirm I had indeed sent 3 DVDs back.
One week later, still no new batch of DVDs.
Two weeks later, still no new batch of DVDs.

So, I finally sent an e-mail to Blockbuster's customer service on 22nd August 2007. On Saturday 25th August I finally get a reply from the customer service department ... that is 3 days later!

This email explains "the top title along with the Prison Break series have been ticked as first to last, the top title should not be selected as first to last as it is the last of the series you have already seen and placed on your list, if you could please remove the top title as first to last, leave the prison break as they are and try to add more to your list because presently the system can not differentiate between the 4400 title and prison break and it is not checking the rest of your list correctly".

So basically after I had indicated I wanted to receive The 4400 DVDs "First to Last" by ticking the appropriate boxes, and after having received 3 out of 4 DVDs I should have un-ticked the 4th 4400 DVD that was now topping my list, before adding another series of Prison Break DVDs in "First to Last" order. Phew...

Not being very happy with this reply I sent an e-mail back saying I modified my list, but would like to be compensated for the 2 weeks of rentals I lost.
Fortunately it only took Blockbuster's customer service only 1 day to reply this time, but again the feedback is not really satisfactory: "The first to last on your top title is not something that we compensate for as it is not the fault of the system. The first to last feature is sensitive to series titles and needs to be used correctly or it will affect the way our system can check and pick titles from your list. I can understand your disappointment and will place credit on your account for 7 days as a goodwill gesture however, I am unable to provide you with more compensation credits."
Let me now just emphasize in the above "as it is not the fault of the system". Isn't it? Really? I thought it was!
Blockbuster develops an online application that does not perform intuitively at all, but it is not the fault of the system ... Well no I guess they are right. Someone somewhere at Blockbuster must have thought this was good enough. Well guess what? It is NOT!
In an online market place where Amazon is just a click away, good enough isn't really good enough.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Jet2? Only if you really need 2

This week I had the "pleasure" of flying with Jet2. I have been flying with a couple of budget airlines in the past, and I never really was disappointed by them until this week. I remember when booking my first RyanAir flight, I was expecting the worst. But flying with RyanAir wasn't a bad experience at all. The service was efficient and friendly.

With Jet2 this week I finally experienced the real budget airline feeling. At Manchester airport, Jet2's check-in is hidden away at Terminal 1's Ground Level. It felt a bit like going to the basement in order to check in.
Boarding the plane, I needed to clean my seat up because someone had seemingly "destroyed" a bag of crisps during the inbound flight. finally seated, a snotty stewardess told me to put my suit jacket under my seat instead of having it on the empty seat next to mine. Needing to attend an exhibition the next day and not having taken another suit with me I wasn't keen on putting my jacket on the floor. If the seats were disgusting, I wasn't expecting the floors to be any cleaner.
After ordering a drink we were told that we couldn't get a receipt, because the staff didn't have a "receipt-book" on this flight.
On the way back from Amsterdam to Manchester, my "user experience" didn't improve. The staff at Schiphol airport were loud and ill-mannered, not especially towards the customers but in their general behaviour. Maybe airlines could also use ASBOs?
And if this wasn't enough yet, my flight was delayed by 2hours ... Why? No idea ...

The online booking process was another annoying experience. Not only will you need to add departure taxes etc. to the prices that are shown but you also need to pay for all luggage that is checked in, for paying with credit card, for checking in online, etc.

Will I ever fly Jet2 again? Not if I can avoid it ...

Orange vs Phones4U: 0-1

I recently went shopping at Trafford Centre (http://www.traffordcentre.co.uk/) and while I was shopping I decided to get a top-up for my Orange "Pay As You Go" mobile phone. Having 3 mobile phones and a Blackberry, I don't need monthly subscriptions for all my mobiles.
So, I first went to the Orange shop for what should have been a quick transaction. I give them £10 and they give me a "code" ... sounds pretty simple. The Orange shop looked pretty slick but strangely the focus didn't seem to be on doing business. There was close to no staff. When I entered the shop I initially saw 3 members of staff, but a few minutes later 2 of them disappeared in the back of the shop, resulting in one member of staff needing to handle all customer requests, sales, etc. I started queuing but after a few minutes I gave up.
I intended on getting my top-up on my next Tesco visit, but then I walked across a Phones4U shop. Intrigued by the place I decided to step inside. This place was completely different from the Orange shop I had just been to. The shop look pretty ugly, but the focus was definitely on doing business. Instead of slick in-store displays most of the shop consisted out of tables at which "sales staff" help you straight away. It took me less than one minute to get my top-up. The sales guy tried to up-sell me a subscription package but wasn't pushy in any way.
Very different strategies at work and different business models, but still if you are paying for staff why don't you try to optimise the return and make sure that selling is facilitated?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

My Google Wow moment ... again ...

A little late ... I know ...

Today I started adding some "Stuff" to my Google Home Page and I must say I was really impressed with the ease of use and efficiency of many of the tools that are available.
I am already using Google Mail, Google Docs, Picasa Web Album, Blogger, NoteBook and now I find myself using my Google Home Page for so much more than just searching the web. The Google Maps for example are so fast that I am not using any other Route Planner anymore... Bigger is better? Well for Google it seems to be so far.

DRM-Free, but still not a good enough deal ...

So, it's been a few weeks now that Apple and EMI announced their DRM-free initiative.
initially I was very excited about this because this was a necessary evolution if online music distribution is to grow into a long-term feasible business model since the usage of purchased music wasn't "flexible" enough in the current situation. Mainly due to limited usage permissions and device specific restrictions. The quality of the music is another obvious issue that needs to be taken into consideration.
But, is this sufficient to convince me to buy music online? Well, I'm afraid it isn't!

I again purchased 2 audio CDs on Amazon.co.uk! WHY?
> Because the price was right (one was cheaper than iTunes, one was slightly more expensive but then again it was a Special Edition),
> because I can rip the CDs in the audio quality I choose,
> because I can Get the Album Artwork in iTunes anyway,
> because I use the audio CD as a perfect back-up,
> because I'm just old school about owning the little shiny discs,
> because buying online doesn't offer me any advantage (I don't mind waiting a day or two for my CD)!

1) If I was into alternative music, there would be a couple of reasons to indeed purchase music online. Maybe the music isn't available on any physical carrier, maybe it's only available on vinyl but I can't be bothered with vinyl, maybe online distribution offers a feasible distribution model to bands, musicians, performers that otherwise would never get published?
2) A wireless connected world, where my music is safely stored on a server that can stream my music (purchased, customised radio channels, etc.) to multiple streaming-enabled devices like my car stereo, my mobile phone (no more mp3 players needed, which explains Apple's iPhone I guess), my home entertainment system, portable audio devices, etc. In this context it is interesting to see how initiatives like MediaMaster will develop?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Future of DRM = No DRM

Finally someone saw the light ...

I was really pleased to find this article in my mailbox today: EMI, Apple partner on DRM-free premium music >
Finally, I screamed to myself, someone got it right. Hmmm, why am I not amazed it was Steve Jobs who managed to pull this again?

I recently had been reading about Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems and I couldn't help but have very mixed feelings about the entire concept of DRM.
Technologically it doesn't seem to make sense, and marketing-wise it makes even less sense!

Let me elaborate on this...

DRM systems use technology in order to restrict the "use" of copyrighted content. Often the restriction in usage is just a way to make sure that the content (e.g. a downloaded song which a user paid for) isn't easily "distributed" to other people. When buying a song online, the buyer gets granted a set of "permissions" via the License that came with the downloaded song.
To my understanding DRM uses a mixture of symmetrical and asymmetrical (PKI) encryption technology.
Let's assume the content we are legally downloading is a song. This song is first encrypted and sent to our device (laptop, mobile phone, ... ), but strangely the key to actually decrypt it is also being sent along with the encrypted content. On a mobile phone it is likely to be the Java Client that will handle this decryption key in a way that is kept invisible from the end-user.
Compare this to the encryption technology used for movie-DVDs. The data on the disc is encrypted but you actual own the decryption key (inside your DVD player). Let's have a look at history and remember the times when a messenger was sent out on the back of a horse with an encrypted message ... nobody would have been so stupid as to actually send out the instructions on how to decode the message together with the encrypted message! Well, it seems that DRM does exactly that?!
Again to my understanding, and please correct me if I'm wrong, on top of the symmetrical encryption used to encrypt the song, another layer of -pretty safe- asymmetrical PKI encryption is used but only to "unlock" the permissions granted by the License. So, the Licenses are being handled in a pretty secure way, but the original content isn't really.
So, from a technological point of view DRM looks quite similar to building a rock-solid house on quicksand... it just doesn't seem to make sense.

When I buy a CD, I own the physical carrier and I can use the content of it to my own liking ... as long as I don't copy it, broadcast it, distribute illegal copies over the Internet, etc. I can however sell the CD, I can lend it to someone else (as long as that person doesn't intend to copy it), I can give it away, I can swap it for another CD, I can play it in my car, on my laptop, on my hi-fi, convert it to mp3 and play it on my mp3-player.
When I buy an album on iTunes however, the usage becomes more restricted because I become a Licensee of the digital content, being a "party obtaining rights under a license agreement". I have restricted rights and by default I can only play the content on an iPod, my laptop and my hifi (through a cable or Airport Express), and I can burn a CD to play the songs in my car for example. If I would decide to transfer my songs to another mp3-player (not from the iPod family) I would need to rip this audio CD and use these newly generated mp3-files. I can however NOT lend the original mp3-files to anyone else, I can not give them away, I have only a limited amount of devices I can activate these files on and I can't sell them once I'm getting fed up with listening to them.

Another issue is the quality of the files. An audio CD obviously offering better quality than compressed files.
So, when buying an album on iTunes I end up paying quite a lot of money (especially in Great Britain: compare the price in £ to the price in $) for a product that definitely isn't as versatile, that I can't sell and that is of lower quality.
When you also actually acknowledge that there is an illegal peer-to-peer file swapping universe out there where songs - sometimes in better quality than on the legal sites - are being swapped for free, then the restricted usage and lower quality of legal sites such as iTunes just don't add up.

Now, just compare the price of Norah Jones' latest album on Amazon.co.uk and iTunes:
On Amazon.co.uk you pay £6.97 for the "Not Too Late" audio CD.
On iTunes you pay £7.99 for the same album. So you basically end up paying more for the "privilege" of being restricted to limited usage permissions.

Apple however has done a pretty good marketing job with iTunes, because it takes quite some skill to sell less good products for more money.

The introduction of DRM has never been a market or customer-orientated approach. It was just something shoved down the throats of customers by a record industry that ran scared and tried to hold on to its' old business models.
It took balls (pardon my French), or should I say courage, for EMI to actually make a 180 degrees paradigm shift and go for a DRM-free distribution of music. I really hope future will show us EMI did the "Digitally Right" thing ;-)
Now let's just hope that other companies will follow this example and legally downloaded - and paid for - content is of excellent quality and can be played back on whatever device is ours.
I might finally be convinced to start buying music online now ...