Rant

netflix_smash

Netflix couldn’t possibly screw up any more…oh wait, it just did

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I want to like Netflix. I’ve been a loyal customer since 2002, but they’re making it hard to like them these days.

When the company announced the price hike earlier this year, I balked like every other customer. Not because I don’t want to pay more (I don’t) – I realize there are economic reasons behind the decision – but because the company no longer seems to care about its customers wants. The rate increase forced me to drop from three to two DVDs a month to maintain our budget; no big deal. But like so many others, it really forced me to consider staying with Netflix or finding alternatives.

Which is what Netflix still has going for it – viable alternatives simply don’t exist. Amazon streaming doesn’t have as mature a catalog and costs more. Redbox still requires you to leave the house and hope a movie you want is available.

And that’s where Netflix had the model nailed: The queueby-mail-without-late-fees, and streaming features at its core are what made Netflix pure gold in a media-consumption service. I can set up a list of movies that I want to watch, wait for them to come in the mailbox, then hold on to them for as long as it took me to watch or re-watch them. In some cases, I could watch them instantly on my computer, TV, iPod, or Android devices. These features are starting to flag, however.

I remember years ago getting regular emails from Netflix happily announcing price decreases. Then came messages about the new streaming services, and Blu-ray disc availability. But every message I’ve gotten recently from (or about) Netflix has been bad news. Monthly rate increases. No more Starz streaming movies. Just today, I received an email from Netflix in which Reed Hastings announced that the DVD service would now be named “Quixster” (ugh) while “Netflix” would refer to the non-integrated streaming service. Two services. Two credit card charges. No integration.

Qwikster will be the same website and DVD service that everyone is used to. It is just a new name, and DVD members will go to qwikster.com to access their DVD queues and choose movies…A negative of the renaming and separation is that the Qwikster.com and Netflix.com websites will not be integrated.

Apparently, the folks at Netflix don’t understand the mind of their customer. I don’t care if a movie is streaming or DVD, I just want to put on a managed list and watch it, sooner than later if possible. If I have to manage two separate queues, that simply requires too much of my time and it will no longer offer me the value it once did.

And at 14 years old, the Netflix DVD service hasn’t changed much; truthfully, it doesn’t really need to. With the focus on streaming, however, that service needs to mature in some very critical ways to convince customers like me to stay. And, with their unsurprising recent earning report that showed a huge dip in membership, I’m not alone.

For example:

  • Let’s face it, the streaming library still sucks compared to the DVD availability.
  • Streaming titles are often mediocre or poor quality on an HDTV.
  • Licensing deals for streaming titles is flaky, causing titles to disappear and reappear like whack-a-moles.
  • Netflix is opaque with its customers about which streaming titles are about to disappear; without warning, titles are just – poof! – gone. Services like Feedfliks helpfully fill in this gap, but shouldn’t have to.
  • My instant queue is often reordered randomly – system bugs like this are inexcusable.
  • The ability to add and remove specific seasons of a television show to my queue.
I’m interested to see what the two-website split will look like, but I’m increasingly preparing myself and my family to dump the service altogether. It’ll be a difficult transition, but I’m starting to doubt the company is going in the right direction with its customers.
      • netflix_smash

Wednesday quarterback: Super Bowl XLV commercial losers

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This week mrmerlot.com featured posts on the “best of” Super Bowl ads as well as the runners-up. In this final chapter, the truly stand-out losers are critiqued and lampooned.

Some ads you fondly remember for years. Some you forget seconds after you watch them. And some are remembered even though you want to forget them.

Put aside the strange etrade talking baby spots, the meaningless chatter.com ads, and the offensive-yet-underpromising godaddy commercials. Those were bad. But the ads featured here were so twisted and offensive that no exec  should have approved them. But they did. So for your viewing horror, mrmerlot.com presents the worst of the worst ads from the game.

(more…)

new fb privacy friend settings

The new Facebook privacy settings suck

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If you haven’t heard by now, Facebook recently modified the default privacy settings for all accounts. I paid this little heed, since, when I was prompted to, I merely accepted my previous privacy settings. Which were pretty good.

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that Facebook had removed some items out from my control. The one that bothered me the most is that I no longer have an option to control who sees my friend list. Now, I’m no paranoid recluse, but I think this change is an affront to my privacy. Plain and simple.

Fortunately, the “crowd” was there to help. A quick Google search led me to hundreds of pages of people asking the same question:

“With the new privacy settings, how do I prevent others from seeing my Facebook friend list?

A short and sweet comment on Yahoo! Answers gave me what I believe is the only solution under the current privacy rules. On your profile page, scroll down to your friend list. Look for the pencil icon and click it. Modify the settings to suit your privacy needs (the screen capture below shows what I decided was best for me).

new fb privacy friend settings

What’s a shame about having to do this is that now nobody (even friends) can see my friend list. This eliminates the ability for one of my friends to find new contacts based on my friend list. But this is a necessary casualty of what I hope are temporary limits on Facebook’s privacy controls.

Update: I also discovered that CNET published a blog earlier today with similar instructions.

      • new fb privacy friend settings
penalty

SharePoint is not enterprise 2.0 [a zen moment]

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Update 9 Sept: This post refers to the out of the box version of SharePoint. It does not apply to highly customized deployments which basically use SharePoint as the content management system backend.

That’s right. No bolding. No ALL CAPS. Just a simple statement of fact: SharePoint is not enterprise 2.0. I reached this zen moment and it only took six hours of exploring a test site alongside a SharePoint expert for me to get there. At hour six, I realized two things:

  1. The structure of SharePoint is based on the fact that people within an organization inherently do not trust one another.
  2. SharePoint plays by the Vegas mantra: What goes on in SharePoint stays in SharePoint.

While it is fine for some types of file management and communication, organizations wanting to evolve to more efficient knowledge management processes should not use SharePoint as the primary platform. “Enterprise 2.0” is supposed to be different from its “1.0″ predecessor. It should help transform and evolve the way an organization’s approach to knowledge management and collaboration. Instead, SharePoint enables the old and broken ways of doing business.

It’s not that I don’t trust you…oh wait, yes it is.

It took two hours for me to fully explore and understand the convoluted permissions structure. I’m tech savvy and have worked with a number of platforms that include permissions management, but none have offered as robust a way to micromanage an individual’s every move in the space. There’s something wrong with the design of a supposed enterprise 2.0 application if that much time is devoted to teaching how to keep people out.

Back in March, Thomas Vander Wal wrote about how SharePoint is a “Gateway Drug to Enterprise Social Tools” in which he pointed out

SharePoint does some things rather well, but it is not a great tool (or even passable tool) for broad social interaction inside enterprise related to the focus of Enterprise 2.0. SharePoint works well for organization prescribed groups that live in hierarchies…this is not where organizations are moving to and trying to get to with Enterprise 2.0 mindsets and tools. The new approach is toward embracing the shift toward horizontal organizations, open sharing, self-organizing groups around subjects that matter to individuals as well as the organization.

SharePoint typifies the conundrum many organizations face when looking to improve their knowledge management sharing across groups: Do you want to harness the collective wisdom of your organization OR do you want to keep your information locked down? Logically, you can’t have both.

One size fits…none.

Dion Hinchcliff, in a 2007 post on the state of enterprise 2.0 states, “Enterprise 2.0 is more a state of mind than a product you can purchase” and emphasizes that a solid strategy can include but not be limited to the use of SharePoint.

Microsoft markets SharePoint as a “one stop shop”  for the social enterprise needs. Like other one stop shops, this one promises more than it can deliver. Far from being everything to everyone, the standard out-of-the-box SharePoint is nothing more than a file manager, calendar, workflow manager, and discussion board. Where’s the wiki? The blogs (yes, plural)? (Update 10 September: I have since re-discovered the suboptimal wiki and blog functionality that is prepackaged with SharePoint.) Since the plugins are expensive and cumbersome to integrate, you’d think it would be easy to create links to knowledge in other collaborative platforms. But no,  SharePoint…

penaltyDoesn’t play well with others.

Beyond this human approach to choosing and using a knowledge platform, however, is the technical limitations of SharePoint. Because it works only within its own ecosystem, SharePoint essentially keeps your data hostage. This alone can’t discredit it as being non-2.0 since other commercial platforms like Traction TeamPage do the same thing. Heck, even Facebook is an all-in-nothing-out kind of site, but there’s no way the Facebook isn’t 2.0, right? (right?)

This is antithetical to the way the web works and the way intranet should work. I should be allowed to create interdependencies between various social enterprise tools rather than have to only choose from a limited menu of plugins.

Again, Vander Wal pointed out that

…information is locked in SharePoint micro-silos and it is nearly impossible to easily reuse that information and share it. Not only is the information difficult to get at by people desiring to collaborate … it is not easily unlocked so that it can benefit from found in search.

As SP began as a web-based file manager, it shocked me to learn that when you edit or move a document loaded onto a SP site, the links are only updated from within SharePoint. Any links to documents from outside the SP site – say, from a blog, wiki page, or even an email – will be broken the first time the document is edited.

Microsoft – as is it’s style – even engages in monopolistic behavior since SharePoint is all but useless when using any web browser besides Internet Explorer. Gone are the days when proprietary standards were in vogue (were they ever, really?). Microsoft doesn’t seem to get that browser interoperability is what is needed and wanted, even at the enterprise level.

Let’s review, shall we?

To avoid seeming like I’m bashing poor SharePoint, let me quickly review what I’ve learned about the platform and compare it against what many still point to as the standards for judging enterprise 2.0 options: Andrew McAfee’s SLATES model:

  • Search. Good for local sites but fail enterprise-wide. Since SP excels at establishing (or maintaining) stovepipes, even discovering that the information exists is near to completely impossible.
  • Links. Nope, not from outside the SP site anyway.
  • Authorship. Nuh-uh. The key words here are “every” and “easy,” neither of which apply to working with SP.
  • Tags. Complete fail. SP is hierarchical and rigid when it comes to putting data in. And since the SP admins dictate the structure, if you’re a user, you’re stuck.
  • Extensions. Hmm, sort of, but only within your SP fiefdom.
  • Signals. Again, if you’re in, you’re in. Notifications are sent to other users of the same SP site.

So here’s your challenge: prove me wrong. Explain why SharePoint in your organization is the best thing since sliced bread. Tell me how it has transformed knowledge sharing, expert finding, reduced redundancy, increased creativity, and generally jazzes your workforce about using it.

<crickets>

I thought so.

      • penalty
dell_inspiron_mini_9_netbook

Are netbooks worth the hype? [rant/rave]

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The recent netbook trend fascinates me. It simultaneously goes against all technology trends toward bigger/faster while reflecting the actual needs of most consumers. Unlike Apple execs who think these are a big waste of time and money, I think there’s some real value from these below entry-level notebooks (which, I might add, are far superior to the OLPC laptop I almost ordered around Christmas before thinking better).

To get a better insight into the appeal of these new low-powered computers, I decided to get some hands-on experience. My criteria were simple:

  1. Cost under $300. I know most reviewers say under $500, but for that kind of money, I can get a nicely equipped full-size refurbed laptop.
  2. Comfortable form factor. If I can’t type at least close to my normal speed, it isn’t going to work for me.
  3. Very portable. While this conflicts a bit with #2, there are subtle design differences that make some netbooks more portable than others.
  4. Fast boot and wake times. This requirement evolved after my experience with the Dell.
  5. Decent battery life. I’ve been disappointed in this area, but consistently so.

Contestant #1: Dell Inspirion Mini 9

dell_inspiron_mini_9_netbookSpecs: Atom 1GHz processor, 16 GB SSD, 1GB RAM, webcam, WinXP
$293 (dell.com)

After reading dozens of reviews online, I decided to start with the Dell Mini 9. This device seemed to have the best blend of features and at an incredible post-Christmas refurb price blitz that I couldn’t pass up. It’s compact size, lightning-fast boot and sleep recovery times were impressive. It handled Windows XP and typical tasks like word processing and web surfing with admirable aplomb.The 16GB onboard SSD was sufficient, especially when coupled with an additional 16GB SD card, off which I ran Portable Apps. And the 9″ screen seems, to me, to be the perfect size for maximal readability and maximal portability.

I took this to a tech conference to test it in a real life situation and was happy not to have to lug around my Thinkpad. I thought I’d use the built-in webcam to capture a couple sessions, but the resolution is terrible and since it’s fixed pointing at the user, I could not simultaneously type on the Mini and record a presneter.

However, the keyboard is the Dell’s fatal flaw. It’s misplaced apostrophe key increased my typo rate to an unacceptable level, never mind the number of tweets that were sent off mid-thought because I hit the return key by accident. While I could have tried remapping the keyboard, the limited screen rotation angle and stiff mouse buttons made me wonder if there weren’t better options out there. Before its value dropped below what I bought it for, I sold it on eBay…for a nice profit!

Next up…the Acer Aspire One

acer-aspire_one-440x330_1

Specs: Atom 1GHz processor, 8/8 GB SSD, 1GB RAM, webcam; WinXP
$257 (eBay)

The Acer gets rave reviews so once the price came down a bit, I was really looking forward to this being “the one” (pun intended). Out of the box, I could tell the build was slightly cheaper than the Dell, but it was still a good-looking machine. Then I booted it up. And waited. And waited. This thing took nearly three minutes to go from cold to being able to do anything in Windows and even then it was sluggish.

The keyboard was more comfortable to use (the One is a bit wider than the Dell) but there were a few poor design issues. For example, the One is stated to have a “16GB SSD,” but what it really has is an 8GB SSD and an external 8GB SD card. This was perhaps part of the slowness issue, as it worked between the two storage devices. An additional SD card slot was handy except, unlike the Dell which allowed the inserted SD card to be enclosed flush with the outside of the device, the SD card on the One stuck out an 1/8 inch. Lastly, and this is really getting picky, I didn’t like the three-pronged AC cord. What could I possibly not like about it? I wouldn’t have even thought about it had the Dell not come with a two-pronged cord which fit neatly into the dash of my Toyota Matrix. This lack of flexibility was a minor annoyance, but still annoying.

Due to the various design flaws, I didn’t use this long enough to test the battery capacity. Instead, I returned it and started to wonder if there was not yet a decent netbook on the market.

Third time’s a charm?: Asus EeePC 900A

asus-eeepc-900-in-hands

Specs: Atom 1GHz processor, 4 GB SSD (upgraded to 32GB, $71), 1GB RAM (upgraded to 2GB, $20); Linux
$180 + 71 + 20 = $271 total cost

There was something enjoyable about getting my hands on the netbook that started it all. After purchasing the 900 for $160 which came with a 900MHz processor and 512MB RAM, I came across a deal for the 900A for $170 which had the Intel Atom 1GHz processor and 1GB of RAM for just $30 more.

Since the prices were so low, I ordered a 2GB RAM module and 32GB SSD from newegg and put both in the 900A. I then put the 1GB RAM in the 900 (and I put it on eBay). This involved simply removing a two screws for a panel on the bottom, popping out the existing components and plugging in the new ones.

The ease at which any user can mod this netbook indicates Asus designed the EeePC for what it is: a low-cost machine that can be upgraded up with very little money or effort. This is in stark contrast to the other netbooks on the market which requires a high level of technical skill and accepting a huge degree of risk as you immediately void your warranty. I’ve read a few how-tos which seem to indicate adding a $50 touch screen to the Asus is a fairly easy procedure as well so I’m seriously considering that mod!

This was my first foray with Linux (which partly explained the low price – no Windows license). Even though I had no prior experience with Linux, based on several resources and recommendations I decided to replace the default Xanadu with Eeebuntu (an Ubuntu build specifically for the EeePC) on both machines. This was a piece of cake as well: after downloading the image file and using a free utility to load it on a USB drive, I booted off the USB drive and the installation process took care of itself. The Eeebuntu interface is much nicer to use and seems to work much faster than the original OS. In addition, it’s based on Ubuntu and, since Ubuntu recently released an upgrade, I was happy to see that the core OS was upgradable while retaining the specific EeePC modules that make Ubuntu run smoothly on this machine.

The keyboard on the Asus is smaller than either the Dell or Acer but still usable. One startling issue I noticed with the 900 was the heat produced by it. The 900A does not seem to have this same problem.

One fantastic feature is the multi-touch touchpad (similar to Macbooks) which accepts two- and three-finger gestures to scroll and activate context-sensitive menus (like right-clicking). Linux does not provide as much support for this feature as Windows, but it’s still very cool.

Bottom Line: Wait for now

Of all the options, I’m most pleased with the EeePC for a couple of reasons: 1) the low base price means that I could try out a netbook with minimal investment. The ability to easily upgrade the memory and SDD is a huge benefit to me.

So why wait? While the overall design is satisfactory, the keyboard could be improved. The price, while low, didn’t include Windows. While I’m still getting used to Linux, I’m enjoying it so far. The Gnome interface isn’t very different from Windows and the OS runs very quickly on the EeePC. Since nearly every application that I typically use is either available for Linux or has a free alternative, I’m very satisfied with it so far. But…most buyers will still want to opt for Windows since it’s familiar.

I realize that I didn’t test every netbook on the market, mostly since others fail to meet one or more of my criteria. For example, the HP netbook has unacceptable design features like an integrated microphone/headphone jack and the Samsung and MSI Wind are still too expensive for me to seriously consider them “low cost” notebooks. Others include a 10″ screen, which makes the keyboard easier to use but also makes the device a bit too bulky for me to consider it “ultra portable.”

I think the perfect design is still lurking out there and I would encourage anyone who isn’t an “early adopter” to hold off until the market matures a bit.

      • dell_inspiron_mini_9_netbook
      • acer-aspire_one-440x330_1
      • asus-eeepc-900-in-hands
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