Posts about reboot

How to handle an ass (like me)

I want to love my cable company – honestly, I do. They bring me things I love and depend upon. I love TV. I really, really love the internet. (The phone? Well, I love that, too – but unfortunately for the cable company, it’s my iPhone I adore.)

So why don’t I love my cable company? We all know why: because it’s a marriage as ruined as the one in War of the Roses. It’s a relationship built entirely on aggression and passive aggression, on each party trying not to give the other one what it wants, on stonewalling or fighting. So how do you change that? I speculated in What Would Google Do? about what a cable or phone company run by Google (GT&T) would be like, but that’s only wishful thinking.

After my contretemps with Cablevision this week – and the ensuing lively discussion about it in the comments here, on other blogs, and in Twitter – I’ve been trying to think about it how this relationship can be rebuilt. Because I don’t like the relationship and I don’t like the way I am in it.

When my internet didn’t work. I called the company and its employee read off a script: ‘Sorry to hear that sir, let’s try this. Oh, that doesn’t work. We’ll see you in three days.’ I then operate off my script: ‘That’s unacceptable. I pay for the service. I want it fixed ASAP.’ Them: ‘No.’ Me: Get me a supervisor.’ Them, after much argument – because it always takes argument: ‘OK, tomorrow, but you have to wait home all day.’ Me: ‘That’s unacceptable. I have a life.’

I pay for the service to work and want it to work. They want to maximize customer service efficiency (is that a sufficiently nice way to say it?). We end up in a standoff that, in my experience, can be broken only by outlasting them and being angry. It’s still a script. But I don’t like the role I play. I don’t like myself. I’m an ass. Because it works. I end up victorious – the internet I paid for is working again – but sullied and embarrassed by what I had to say to get the service I need. How to break that cycle?

There are a few new factors in the cable business in recent times.

First, cable companies have competitors (yay!) – well, at least one competitor: the phone company. In Twitter, it took no time at all – less time, indeed, than it took Cablevision to respond – for Verizon people to smell the carrion of a dead marriage and to seduce me.

Second, we have Twitter (and blogs and YouTube). As I said in the comments on the post below, it doesn’t matter how many followers you have because your message can spread and so the smart company has to respond. The people formerly known as consumers are now media.

But the company also has Twitter. Witness what Frank Eliason (aka @comcastcares) has done to respond to customers and to humanize his company. Oh, Comcast still has problems – Eliason will confess that – but the fact that I got better service on my Cablevision account from a Comcast employee speaks volumes. It says there’s a lesson to be learned there.

At the end of my Dell contretemps, I wrote an open letter to Michael Dell with what I sincerely hoped would be helpful advice. They didn’t change their ways because of what I said. But what they did end up doing what I suggested and I’ve since written about that in BusinessWeek and in my book.

So I’ve been trying to think of advice for Cablevision.

First, throw out the script. Give employees the ability to take responsibility, to deal with us honestly, and to get things fixed. That’s one of the things Dell did and it made a huge difference.

Second, become human. Comcast’s Frank Eliason is a person. He’s not a bot with standard answers. We wouldn’t stand for that; as the Cluetrain Manifesto teaches, markets are conversations and we recognize when they are being held by man vs. machine. Microsoft, Dell, Sun, Comcast have all been enriched by enabling their people to talk with us as people. Not every employee will be capable of that; it’s the ones who are you want working and speaking for you.

Third, I’d invest in customer service as the best form of advertising possible. Zappos learned that lesson and it just earned them $900 million.

Fourth, create a service level agreement (SLA) so customers know what to expect when they call and so they can hold the company to it. That’s the real problem. We come loaded for bear because we know what’s going to happen, we know the script: the cable company is going to push us off as far as possible and we’re going to demand as soon as possible. The agreement becomes an assurance (natural disasters aside) we can count on and we know the consequences.

Fifth, you’re not going to believe that I’m saying this, but charge for better service. Yes, I would complain about that. But here’s the way I think it would play out: The cable company charges for a good SLA; its competitor, the phone company, sees the competitive advantage of advertising that you get that included with them; the cable company is then forced to meet the challenge. And we end up with the SLA. If we don’t, I predict that local governments and the FCC and FTC may impose them. So I suggest you figure out the way to get there on your own.

Sixth, make it a goal to have delighted customers. Yes, I know, that sound silly: fodder for needlepoint. But go back to the beginning: I want to love my cable company. If – surprise, surprise, surprise – I do, I’m going to talk about that. In the age of Twitter, that’s the best advertising you can get. This is how the investment in customer service will pay off: with advertising that’s better than anything you put in TV or newspapers … and it’s free. And it keeps customers from leaving for Verizon. That’s how a company takes advantage of the free economy.

This attitude also might motivate cable companies to change other policies that irk, like bundling in dozens of channels I have to pay that I never watch. But the issue that bothers most people about their cable companies is dealing with them for installation and service. That’s what I’d concentrate on first. Service isn’t a favor you do for customers, as various employees implied with me. It’s how you live up to your deal and delight customers.

You see, I’m not an ass. I only play one on the phone to get what I think I deserve in a business deal in which I have no power other than that. And, cable guys, I know you’re not lazy slugs trying to rip me off; that’s just the script they make you read from the policies they set in the front office. Can’t we all get along?

What Google Would Do

Is Google’s OS the end of the OS – the long-predicted moment when Google and the web take over the PC? Or is it merely the disruptive OS throwing marbles on the floor for Microsoft and to some extent Apple and the software industry? Or will it be a platform and boon for app developers and PC makers and cloud companies? Or all of the above? Yes.

One may try to parse the motives and implications of the move like Latin haiku, but I think it’s simple; it usually is with Google: It saw an opportunity to serve the end user and took it. The more such opportunities it grabs, the more benefit it brings to more people, the more money it makes. Maps, Docs, Reader, Android, book search, translation tools, GoogleNews are all that. Some attempts don’t stick to the wall; some frontiers remain (it has not won in the social web, the live web, the deep web, and the local web); some things Google has to buy; some still don’t have a clear business model. All have competitors; none is a monopoly, though search and advertising appear that way to some.

How does Google win? Its products are generally but not always better and cheaper (read: free) because Google’s real secret is that it understands the economics of the internet and competed aggressively not against technology and internet companies but instead it competed for advertisers, selling performance over scarcity. The more Google serves end users – and the more it learns about them – the more opportunities it has. These are the economics of free.

I know the question of whether Google is too big will be raised when I appear on Brian Lehrer’s show today (at 11a ET) with Siva Vaidhyanathan. That’s the question Lehrer asked Eric Schmidt at the Aspen Ideas Festival:

“You’ll be surprised that my answer is no,” Schmidt responded. “Would you prefer the government running innovative companies?” No surprise that I agree with Schmidt. Lehrer’s point is that banks needed regulation and that information is becoming as important as money (well, he didn’t go that far). But I say government did regulate banks and AIG and did a horrid job of it. And look at the storm to regulate and break up Microsoft, which is no longer a threat but suddenly a victim. Heh. For that matter, look at what the market did to the oligopoly of Detroit and what Detroit did to itself. Clear Channel, Tribune Company, McClatchy – those are examples in media alone. Big has a way of tumbling of its own weight.

In any case, who’s to say what’s too big? We have a cultural problem of admiring big and then hating big; we want you to grow and then we want to cut you down to size. But this notion of being too big is arbitrary, ultimately meaningless if externally defined.

In this new economy, it may be that Google isn’t yet big enough, that it hasn’t brought its services and innovation – and goad to others to innovate – to enough corners of the internet. We will benefit from there being another operating system that opens up the applications and services to invention, breaking the Microsoft (and Apple) duopoly. We will end up getting cheaper applications and more choice among them. We will end up being able to use cheaper machines because our stuff will be in the cloud.

Yes, Google still has room to grow and there’s more benefit we have to gain. I’ll go farther: Google isn’t yet big enough.

: ALSO: Mashable’s questions about the Chrome OS.

: Gigaom’s good analysis of the news:

Today Google went wild and announced its plans to create the Chrome operating system, which it says will be designed to run on netbooks. But it’s really an attempt to keep Google relevant as an advertising powerhouse as consumers begin spending more time playing with web-connected apps than the web itself. It’s the search giant’s reaction to a wholesale change in computing driven by ubiquitous wireless access and mobility. The Chrome OS is another step in allowing Google to create what we’ve called the OS for advertising — an ad platform that extends across all devices and all screens.

Google on Google

At the Aspen Ideas Festival, I got up to a mic to ask Eric Schmidt a question. No, it wasn’t, “what would Google do?” I wanted his reaction to a notion I’ve talked about here that has crystallized since I wrote the book: that we are going through something more than a financial crisis and more profound and permanent than a recession. We are shifting from the industrial era – and the age of mass production, distribution, marketing, and media – to what follows, a society built on knowledge and abundance. We are seeing the collapse of the auto, banking, and newspaper industries and large swaths of the the rest of media, retail, real estate, and others to follow. We’re not going to go back; the change is bigger and more fundamental than that. “Did I go too far?” I asked.

“Yes,” Schmidt said. “But you’re good at that.” He had been asked earlier how he felt about people constantly asking what Google could and would do about this problem or that. At that moment, he pointed to me and said that What Would Google Do? did that; it took the Google model and extended it. If Google is a metaphor for thinking differently, I am happy to be it,” he said and then demurred, “Google is a simple company.”

Then Schmidt reacted to my question and this is what’s fascinating to me: He said he wished I were right. He said that too much of our resource, people, government help and attention, measurement go to the legacy players, the big, old companies. He wishes that weren’t the case. He wants that change but fears we will return to old reflex. Innovation, he said, happens at small start-ups but they don’t get the resource and attention.

I asked whether Google could be Google only because it was new. He said it was because it worked in the open internet.

He told about being an engineer before Google and seeing whole businesses start because of a regulatory porthole in telecom called the T-1, the 1.5 meg line that wasn’t regulated like the rest of communication. If that ceiling hadn’t been there, he argued, our development of digital would have sped ahead by five years.

So I’m thinking about that: My view of the coming world order may be more a manifesto than a prediction. Hmmmm.

* * *

Here are some of my tweets and notes from Schmidt’s Q&A:

* Asked how he reacted on THAT day in September, Schmidt says, “I was scared.” Google took its cash out of banks to sovereign nations’ currencies
* He says he still doesn’t understand how we got into the financial mess: “the failure of information that got us to this point.”
* On recovery: “We’re on schedule. Because the people who got us into this told us that.”
* He reminds US that Google was not part of finance. “Had we been doing it we might have been measuring where all the money was.”
* “We already had our bubble… We had a great time. Next time, I’m going to sell at the peak.” He’s doing great stand-up.
* Asked whether we can innovate out of a recession, Schmidt said “recessions end on their own & politicians love to take credit.”
* Schmidt says the ups and downs will be amplified because there is more information.
* “You do not want the government to own your company… In many cases, they will turn out to be jobs programs.”
* He says simply that he hopes people will more likely say this (house inflation, Iceland’s economy) just “doesn’t make sense”
* Q: You guys are everywhere. Schmidt: “That is our goal.”
* “I learned awhile ago that the right way to run human systems is transparency.” Problems came from information hiding.
* Brian Lehrer asks schmidt where Google is so bit it needs to be regulated as a public utility. A: “no”
* I don’t know how to solve newspapers generic problem. He says they are working on products in this arena. (No more details.)
* “The internet is a great friend to small businesses.” He says Google does not favor big businesses and big businesses don’t like that. [I say: See news.]
* Asked abot Froogle, he says, “Why did you remind me.” Why didn’t it work? “It didin’t work because it just didn’t work. We celebrate our failure in the company because we want people to take risks.” [Me: There's the beta corporation.]
* “We love advertising.” 97 percent of Google’s revenue is advertising. “No, we love advertising revenue.” He said his board is looking for more legs to the stool and Schmidt says they do have other streams coming.

The need for – and risks of – government transparency

At yesterday’s Personal Democracy Forum – where I was in the unfortunate position of speaking inbetween two of my favorite geniuses, danah boyd and David Weinberger – I sang the obvious hymn to the choir, arguing that government in a Google age means transparency. All governments’ actions and information must be searchable and linkable; we need an API to government to enable us to build atop it.

I also argue that as newspapers die – and they will – government transparency is a critical element in the new news ecosystem that will fill the void. When government information is openly available, a dwindling handful of journalistic watchdogs in a state capital can be augmented by thousands, even millions of watchdogs: citizens empowered. I’ll write more about this as part of the New Business Models for News Project.

But at PDF, I also listed four cautions regarding transparency – charges to us as citizens:

* We have to give permission to fail. In speaking with government people about What Would Google Do?, I’ve learned how much they fear failure and how cautious that makes them. Without the license to fail, government will never experiment, never open up, and never be collaborative.

In other words, we need beta government: the ability of government to try things, to open up its process, to invite us in, to collaborate. That was the lesson I learned from Google about releasing a beta: it is a statement of humility and openness and an invitation to join in. We need that in government.

* Transparency must not always mean gotcha. Oh, there are plenty of people to catch red-handed. But if transparency is about nothing more than catching bureacrats and politicians buying lunches, then we will not have the openness we need to make government collaborative.

* We have to figure out how to make government and its work collaborative. What if we were able to help government do its job? What if it acted like a network? What if it acted like Wikipedia, where a small percentage – less than 2 percent, says Clay Shirky – create it; it would not take many citizens to help make government work in new ways.

* We have to turn the discussion to the positive, the constructive. Again, there are plenty of bastards to catch. But we must move past that – especially once we have more watchdogs watching – so we can build.

I ran around the auditorium like a fool – a role I enjoy – playing Oprah and asking everyone in the audience to say what they thought government for the Google age looked like. Since I was running, I couldn’t take notes, but the #pdf09 Twitter hashtag captured some and PDF will put up a video later. Lots of great thoughts.

Posner’s dangerous thinking

Mike Masnick on techdirt points us to some dangerous and incomplete thinking from Judge Richard Posner on his blog. At the bottom, Posner writes:

Expanding copyright law to bar online access to copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s consent, or to bar linking to or paraphrasing copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s consent, might be necessary to keep free riding on content financed by online newspapers from so impairing the incentive to create costly news-gathering operations that news services like Reuters and the Associated Press would become the only professional, nongovernmental sources of news and opinion.

Good God. Posner is not just trying to mold the new world to old laws – which is issue enough – but is trying to change the law to protect the old world and its incumbents from the new world and its innovators. He is willing to throw out fair comment and free speech for them. That is dangerous.

Posner’s thinking is incomplete in a few ways. First, he is ignorant of the imperatives of the link economy. The links and discussion he wants to outlaw is precisely how content is distributed and value is added to it in the new media economy.

Second, as Masnick points out, Posner assumes that jouranlism as it was done is journalism as it should be done: that the goal is to protect newsrooms, unchanged. But there are tremendous savings to be had thanks to the link economy: do what you do best, link to the rest.

Note how The New York Times and The Guardian – not to mention the Huffington Post and Andrew Sullivan – covered the Iran crisis. They linked. Links made their journalism complete. So did readers. The Times has three editors for every writer but in the blog, there was no need – no opening – for them. There was no need for production or design. The new news organization can and will operate at a different scale from the old one, because it can and because it must. So what is Posner protecting besides the old budget and payroll. He’s not protecting journalism – or rather, he’s protecting it only from progress.

No, sir, the news industry – and the law – must be updated for this new world and so must your thinking.

: LATER: Here‘s Matt Welch at Reason.

Drowning upstream

Here’s what I think is a pretty solid business tip: I wouldn’t back or bet on a company and industry that’s described this way in today‘s New York Times (my emphasis):

Like newspaper owners, media moguls are looking for new ways to protect their investment from the ravages of the Internet. And, as with the newspaper industry, the answer remains elusive.

I’d rather invest in a company that will take advantage of the new opportunities of the internet, not seeing ravages in the future but instead growth and profit. I’ve said often that protection is no strategy for the future. An industry whose strategy for the future is built on trying to keep us from doing what we want to do and resist the flow of the internet is an industry that is merely biding time. That should be the lesson they learn from newspapers and music.

Yes, I think that the tactic described in that story, put forward by Time Warner’s Jeffrey Bewkes, of enabling us to watch shows we’ve already paid for online makes sense. Indeed, I refuse to use HBO on demand on cable today because they want to charge me extra to watch what I’ve already paid for. So I’ll rush to the chance to watch my shows without having to go through the bother of recording them or paying for them twice.

But the real future is an on-demand future, an unbundled future. Once freed from the forced march of cable bundles, I will buy only the content I want to buy online, no longer being bribed into supporting the 90 percent of cable channels I never watch so I can get the 10 percent I want.

For that matter, what’s a channel? I was an an event last week with entertainment moguls of various camps and one asked another whether the channel would die. The second exec didn’t think so. At first, I agreed, as I pictured myself on the couch watching one of the channels I do care about.

But then I pictured my kids on the couch. They’re not doing what I do. They never just watch channels (tennis matches excluded). They live on-demand. They watch programming only through the web, Hulu, the DVR, on-demand channels. Some look at that future, our kids’ future, and see “the ravages of the internet.” They’re not long for this world; they’re only trying to delay the inevitable. They’re trying to swim upstream against the internet. But they’re only going to drown there.

Oh, to be the Economist

When newspaper people in the U.S. aren’t wishing they were the Wall Street Journal – “well, they can charge” – they aspire to be The Economist.

Dream on.

I just got email announcing The Economist Group’s latest financials.

* Operating profit up 26% to £56m
* Revenue up 17% to £313m
* Full year dividend of 97.3p per share, an increase of 8%
* The Economist’s worldwide circulation grew 6.4% to 1,390,780 (July-December 2008 ABC). It was named Magazine of the Year by Advertising Age and topped Adweek’s Hot List for the second year running
* Economist.com’s performance has been strong, driven by a strategy to make it a place for intelligent debate; advertising revenue is up 29% and page views 53%

The good news is that quality still sells.

The Economist is to the rest of the news industry as Apple is to Google. In What Would Google Do?, I argue that Apple is the unGoogle. It violates practically every one of the 40 rules I set out. But it succeeds. Why? It’s that good, uniquely good. There’s room for one such company, probably, in any industry – and that spot isn’t always filled (name me the Apple or The Economist of phone companies, airlines, cable companies, or retail).

In news, the Economist is the exception that proves the rules. It doesn’t have the individual voices and brands that succeed elsewhere on the internet; it has a single, institutional voice (but a charming one). In a sense, it’s a general-interest publication in the age of specialization (and every other general-interest product, from Time to the metro daily is failing). It has built a strong online product but it’s still not known for that; it’s a magazine (pardon me, newspaper) that still relies on and succeeds in print.

The problem for the rest of the industry is that they can’t all break the rules as The Economist does because they’re just not that good. You have to be great to the The Economist or Apple and if you fall short, you fall all the way. And staying great is constant work.

I was at The Economist’s offices in New York last week for lunch with editors. Don’t think that they are resting on their laurels. They, too, are trying to understand The Economist’s role on the new media age (my advice: they have just about the smartest crowd anywhere and I hope the company asks how that crowd can be empowered to connect, share, and create). But it’s a nice perch from which to be wondering what to do next. While other publications are looking for a limb to grab onto as they fall, The Economist is looking for the next higher branch.

‘No longer the province of elites’

In a Guardian interview, UK PM Gordon Brown says that the internet changes foreign affairs forever:

He described the internet era as “more tumultuous than any previous economic or social revolution”. “For centuries, individuals have been learning how to live with their next-door neighbours,” he added.

“Now, uniquely, we’re having to learn to live with people who we don’t know.

“People have now got the ability to speak to each other across continents, to join with each other in communities that are not based simply on territory, streets, but networks; and you’ve got the possibility of people building alliances right across the world.”

This, he said, has huge implications. “That flow of information means that foreign policy can never be the same again.

“You cannot have Rwanda again because information would come out far more quickly about what is actually going on and the public opinion would grow to the point where action would need to be taken.

“Foreign policy can no longer be the province of just a few elites.”

Neither government nor business nor education.