Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Caren Explains Evangelism, Idolatry and the Unveiling of the iPad

This week's edition of The Economist features a cover story on "The Book of Jobs" and how the iPad stands to revolutionize three industries at once.

Perhaps it's because I read a lot of tech blogs, or because I hang out with the "Tech Tribe" at HBS, but the excitement leading up to the iPad's unveiling seemed a bit irrational, not to mention sacrilegious.

'At last,' TechCrunch wrote in a headline, with an implicit sigh of relief, while NPR observed this is the 'Most excitement about a tablet since Moses came back down with the 10 Commandments." The Economist noticed this fervor, too, describing it as "verging at times on religious hysteria."

The fact that so much attention has been given to one product is strange in and of itself, yet not surprising, given the cult-like collection of brand evangelists that Jobs and Co. have attracted over the years. It's a tough marketing and operational challenge to go mainstream without isolating hard-core users, but Apple has done well at it -- something surely considered when Apple was named "Brand of the Decade" by AdWeek.

That's what makes the negative reception of the iPad so interesting. To many of its biggest fans, Apple's iPad is a let down. TechCrunch's new iPad vs. A Rock post illustrates the disappointment quite effectively, while The New York Times notes, "To its instant critics, [the iPad] was little more than an oversize iPod Touch." And then there are the Twitter feeds flooded with maxi-iPad jokes....

The Economist does not touch on this criticism, and mentions only Apple's successes, furthering the idea that Jobs can do no wrong. But what the disappointment around the iPad indicates to me is that some of the cult members have snapped out of their daze and are starting to think for themselves. That's a good thing.

Jobs as Jesus?

At Cyberposium 15 a mobile panelist made a comment that stuck with me. "I'd rather design for [devices that aren't the iPhone]: there's 30% less cost and one-tenth the aggravation of developing an iPhone app, because you don't need the holy water of Steve Jobs sprinkled on it."

Fortune has rounded up a number of images of Jobs portrayed as a Christ-like figure. It's not hard to understand why these exist. As The Economist notes, "Mr Jobs’s record suggests that when he blesses a market, it takes off." But as the music industry knows all too well, what Apple does today can have longterm implications for the many industries it touches -- implications we might not like or immediately understand.

Steve Jobs is not God, and likening him to such is dangerous. Mortals make mistakes (like the Lisa?) and we can learn a lot from those mistakes. Without critique or questions of Jobs' and Apple's limitations, though, we risk being blindly led in whatever direction Apple chooses.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Caren Explains The Buried Life

Aside from its sobering, morbid name (I guess 'The Bucket List' was taken?) I'm intrigued by MTV's newest reality show, The Buried Life.

In fact, this is the first MTV reality show since The Real World (circa 1992-1996) that hasn't made me feel shallow, judgmental, cynical and/or ashamed of America (and myself for watching).

The premise of this new show is pretty simple: "1 question. 4 guys. 100 things to do before you die." For every task the guys cross off the list, they help somebody accomplish a task off their own -- a "pay it forward" kind of gesture.

The question: What do you want to do before you die?

I compiled a list like this a few years ago and recently revisited it. Here's what's I came up with. What's on yours?
  • Visit Jerusalem
  • Meet a president
  • Produce a movie
  • Build a church
  • Buy a house
  • Start a business
  • Interview Sir Paul McCartney
  • Watch the Super Bowl from the Super Bowl
  • Be a mentor to another businesswoman
  • Make a completely irrational decision
  • Attend a taping of Saturday Night Live
  • Create a comprehensive family history book
  • Go to Norway and meet my relatives
  • Finish a triathlon
  • Become a mom
  • Figure out the significance of 4-8-15-16-23-42
  • Go skydiving
  • Learn another language (and use it)
  • Join the board of a non-profit
  • Record a song
  • See Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Van Morrison and Tom Petty in concert
  • Publish a book
  • Have a painting displayed in a gallery
  • Work for a music magazine
  • Travel to my ancestors' village in Ireland
  • Save a life
  • Go to the Olympics

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Caren Explains Coachella 2010

There are only two major US music festivals I've not been to: Sasquatch and Coachella.

I've gotta say, this year's Coachella lineup is enough to draw me out to the desert...

Great mix of artists, anchored by Jay-Z, Gorillaz and Muse.

But what's with the "Thom Yorke ????" on Sunday? Is that "Thom Yorke" and another band called "????" Wouldn't be a stretch; after all, !!! is a pretty popular band on the festival circuit...

Tickets on sale 1/22

Monday, January 11, 2010

10 Types of Twitter Users

As of late, a number of people (parents, friends, recruiters) have been asking me about Twitter and whether or not they should join. In this girl's opinion Twitter can either be an up-to-the-minute news source, a new method of marketing, a tool of self-aggrandizement or the RSS feed reborn, depending on who is using it.

Here are ten types of Twitter users I have encountered so far.

1. The Thought Leader

This is my favorite Twitter user: the one who has pearls of wisdom to share or inspiring ideas. I find these people to be entrepreneurs, editors and engaging individuals. They usually have a finger on the pulse of something good.

2. The Oversharer

HBS research shows that 90% of all tweets come from 10% of users. I theorize that 90% of that 90% fall into the category of "the Oversharer" -- a person who tells you all too often "What's Happening." Examples:

- "I just ate two whole bags of M&Ms, but not the green ones." [TMI]
- "My guy is the best kisser in the world." [Gross TMI]
- "Can't stop singing that @taylorswift13 song!!!" [Try]
- "Running five minutes late for mtg. Ugh." [... then why are you tweeting?]
- "Just saw Avatar." [... and?]

3. The Marketing Machine

Though Twitter has yet to turn a profit, it has helped other companies (and politicians) to win big. By June 2009, for example, Dell had earned over $3m from Twitter-related promotions. Other companies have used Twitter to answer customers' questions, announce sales and bring their brands to life. Some do it well, others #fail.

4. The Celebritweeter

This encompasses all those B-list actors, reality stars, pop-tart musicians and scenesters who use Twitter to "connect" with fans, bolster their personal brands and/or score sponsorship deals. Props to you if you're in this category, but I get a sick stomach thinking about a world where this is common practice.

5. The 'Trending Topic' Tipper

"Hey guys! I wanna beat the #TigerWoods trending topic. Tag your tweets with #OmgWhatevs -- I wanna prove we can do it! LOL! LMFAO! LUV U!"

6. The Aspiring Porn Star

No, HotBabe4U I do not want to follow you. Block.

7. The Mystery Tweeter

This is the person who is following 824 people but has 0 tweets to his or her or its name. Even stranger is when the Mystery Tweeter has 43 followers, despite no tweets?

8. The Search Engine Stalker

If you post a tweet about your recent cruise vacation and suddenly have four new followers with the word "cruise" in their usernames, you've been hit by Search Engine Stalkers. Web-crawling tools are making it even easier for these people to find and follow you. Creepy or cool?

9. The Curious but Uncommitted

Usually the first post from a person like this reads, "Just joined Twitter. Not sure what it's all about." It will usually be their only post for at least a month. In fact, RJMetrics research reveals that only 65% of Twitter users will ever post a second tweet.

10. The Tortoise

This user is slow to react, re-tweeting a timely story two days after it has already made its rounds across every other Twitter feed. But at least the Tortoise is otherwise using Twitter appropriately?

Which other types would you add?

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Movie Reviews in 40 Words or Less


A short 'making-of' trailer should have played before the movie. The technology and effects made this a blockbuster and deserve a shout-out. Otherwise I would have concluded, "Eh, it's Dances with Wolves with a tree-hugging Jar Jar Binks."

Up in the Air

Feels more like a documentary of 2009 than a fictional film. Timely topics (out-sourcing, unemployment, disconnect) brought to life by authentic and emotionally vulnerable characters. Bit of a downer, despite Clooney's handsomeness and charm.

Did You Hear About the Morgans?

Haven't even seen it but I'm confident in my review: Grant and Parker lack chemistry? Red State jokes are overplayed? Plot is entirely predictable (they stick together and, when given the choice, decide to stick with prairie life, too?)?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Ideas for Improving the Airport Security Experience

Ah, yes... a familiar sight... and the bane of my jet-setter existence...

Airport security has been a hot topic this week, and rightfully so. Ever since I used the JetBlue All-You-Could-Jet pass in September I’ve been determined to find fixes for this nightmarish operation.

Here is what I’ve come up with:

1) Line discrimination based on travel history.

What if we could designate different security lines based on frequency of travel? Number of flights would be used as the criteria, rather than miles (since a traveler could rack up 2,500 miles with one flight from LGA -> LAX or ten flights from LGA -> BOS).

Example: A business professional who takes eight flights per month would qualify for a “High Frequency” or “Frequent Flyer” line, while a family that travels three times a year would be sent to another line.

(This would, of course, be more of a service to frequent travelers, and might unfairly discriminate against inexperienced but efficient travelers... if they exist)

2) Automate the X-Ray conveyor belt sooner.

The conveyor belt starts about 1.5’ before your bag enters the X-Ray machine. Yesterday that meant I had to stand and wait with my carry-on baggage and push it into the X-Ray machine. Not a big deal, unless the person ahead of you neglects to do so, creating a pile-up of bins and bags.

What if there was a gently sloping ramp down to the X-Ray machine, so the bins rolled onto the conveyor belt without a push?

(I have also noticed that there is often one TSA agent assigned to push the bin through if a traveler forgets to... the ramp innovation could free up that agent to do more important things).

3) Discourage people from redressing alongside the conveyor belt.

See if this scenario is familiar:

A traveler passes through the security check-point. She stands on the other end of the X-Ray machine waiting for her belongings to pass through. When the bins are spit out she starts pulling items out of them: her belt (which she puts on immediately), her shoes (which she puts on next), her coat (which she puts on last). There is a pile-up of bins behind hers and the conveyor belt has to stop. Everybody behind her has to wait.

Though there is an area behind security where people can collect themselves, it is not an inviting space, nor is it easy to carry the cumbersome bins (plus carry-on bags) back to the designated area.

What if the slope idea continued here, and rather than having your belonging come out on a straight, roller-based belt, they came out more like they do in baggage claim: at knee-level height, in some sort of round-about? Then people would have to bend down and pick up the belongings. The round-about (probably a half-circle) would bend the line around to clear the way sooner and discourage a pile-up.

And how about bins with handles, or a conveyor belt that ends in some sort of automatic bin collection?

What other improvements can you imagine?