Have eBay Gone Mad?

December 3, 2007

In my humble opinion, eBay have been on the customer service slide from right about the time they purchased PayPal. You can’t deny the continuing popularity and hence the number of potential bidders for each item, however.

Hence I decided to list my old PS2 and a bunch of games for sale. Today I received the following message from them:

“We appreciate that you chose eBay to list the following auction-style listing(s):

120192060865 – Sony PlayStation 2 Silver Slimline Console, 43 Games ++

However, your auction-style listing(s) violates eBay’s Adult Material policy and has been removed.”

Truly a ‘wtf?’ moment!!


When Does Choice Become Confusion?

December 3, 2007

It’s no state secret that we, as consumers, are given more and more choices in everything we seek to buy. Enter any supermarket and you’re probably as amazed as I am at exactly how many different types of cheese or hair shampoo there are. If you’re a short, white, ginger-haired, middle-aged, dry-skinned, flaky scalped kind of fellow, there will be a conditioner just for you! Try asking ‘what salad dressings do you have’ when asked if you’d like one in any restaurant in the US and you’ll be confused by the time your waitress has reached number three (of fifteen).

Choice is great of course: how boring would it be to always have to have the same thing, in the same colour, with the same taste? Every .. single .. time.

But when is it too much? At what point do we cross from choice to just confusion?

We were looking for a new mobile phone for my wife at the weekend. Being a bit of a geek I wasn’t phased by the choice of phones themselves – that’s just techie heaven. What confused (read: annoyed) me was the choice of tariffs. Or more significantly, the way in which those choices were almost deliberately designed to confuse and blind you with science.

Yes, I’d like to choose a plan that accounts for my activity. The more I pay per month, the lower my per-call cost should be. I understand that we can’t have a one-size fits all approach. But what is it with plans such as: ‘pay $14 on the $39 cap and get $140 of calls: excluding international calls, but including 5Mb of data, at $5 per month. With 200 included texts; but only on network-to-network super-maxi plan phones; on a Wednesday;in September’

Gah!

It’s not a cap if I have to pay more. It’s an allowance. And I don’t want to have to then choose one of three ‘free’ add-ons that should be part of the standard plan. I want international on or off. That’s it. I shouldn’t need to know or care what network the person I am calling is on – give me a call rate and bury the cross-charges. I don’t know anyone else on your network – are you saying you’d like me to go to your competitor just so I can get cheap/free calls to my friends? Why would you want that?

As for data plans .. $5 for 5Mb? Are you serious? All of the networks here have 3 or 3.5G networks. How long would it take to burn through 5Mb of data? 15 minutes?

And don’t get me started on Australian broadband .. that’s even worse!

Give me a choice, just make it a simple one .. please!

Ok, that’s my rant for today. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest 🙂

(speaking of choice: my father was once asked in a diner in New York how he’d like his eggs. After some consideration he simply answered: ‘cooked?’)


Getting Your Priorities Right

December 1, 2007

How would you feel about this situation .. ?

A (hypothetical *cough*) management team realise that they’re not really operating as a team, and decide to have a bit of a brainstorming, bonding and ‘get-to-know-you’ offsite session. They figure that that has to be a positive and much needed sign to the rest of the company. Sounds good?

Meeting gets scheduled for next March…..


I Really Shouldn’t Laugh, But ..

November 30, 2007

.. this is kind of cute and keeps me amused. There’s a little cake shop near my apartment which I sometimes stop off in on the way home if I’m feeling like a treat. Unfortunately, the lady who works there is very deaf (but very nice). I never like to keep repeating myself, or to shout at her and she doesn’t like to ask twice what I’d like, so I always have this glorious ‘lucky dip’ moment when I get home and open the bag to find something completely different than what I’ve ordered!

Yes, I could check in the shop and yes, I could go back, but luckily their cakes and pies are all nice so I don’t mind the surprise.

Today I got a choc-chip cookie. I’d asked for a pecan slice 🙂 Wonderful!


Luck of the Draw

November 28, 2007

Get this Sheryl Crowe .. I’ve just returned from an Xmas party held by one of our major suppliers (it is the season to be jolly after all). I’m never normally lucky in draws, lotteries or gambling, but I actually managed to win a bottle of wine in their lucky dip business card draw. Feeling mightily happy with myself I bumped into a business colleague on the way home who’d also been at a party. Showing him my bottle of wine he then proceeded to show me both of his free bottles, and the $100 gift voucher he’d won!

Doh!

Anyway, too many free beers = early to bed. See you tomorrow!


DejaVu All Over Again?

November 28, 2007

Come with me back to the mid to late 90s. Remember those years?

Remember trying to find office space in and around the Bay area? First Tuesday meetings with three thousand green badged ‘entrepreneurs’ chasing three red-badged ‘VCs’ around the room? Remember pets.com, WebVan, boo.com and the million other startups hoping to make it into this brave new online world? The mass of money pouring into crazy no-hope projects for the slim chance of picking the right one? The multitude of companies who added an ‘e’ or an ‘i’ to the front of their names? Or a ‘.com’ at the end?

Remember all those companies whose sole method of ever making money was via advertising …?

Fast forward back to today and you may wonder whether anything has changed. Are we going through the same cycle again, you might ask?

I’d suggest the answer is probably ‘yes’ … and ‘no’.

Let’s look at the similarities to last time: there are certainly far too many ‘me too’ products, most of which will fail or be picked up in a fire sale. How many social networks or video sharing sites do we really need? Especially when there’s little to no differentiation between them. There are plenty of social news sites, but no’ones quite struck the right formula just yet (Digg may be close, but has its own issues to deal with). And we’ve got widget, wiki, blogging and portal offerings coming out of our ears. There’s a lot of investment money still to be had, even with the current squeeze on the US market, and a lot of online businesses offer free services in the hope of ad revenue.

There are some major differences though. Firstly the penetration of broadband, which lack of helped to kill companies like Boo (along with totally incompetent founders – more on that later) is now such that the user experience can be far richer. Video, immersive technologies such as Second Life, real-time communications, fancier Flash and Javascript effects, integrated voice and the like help with that greater level of interactivity.

Secondly, whilst there are still plenty of ‘green-horns’ running web businesses, a lot of the companies this time around are run by those people who went through the first-round: for better or for worse. It doesn’t yet mean they necessarily know how to run a successful company, but you have to believe it helps.

I also think that in terms of advertising as a business model, whilst not perfect and whilst still very risky for most ventures, it is more viable than before. Platforms such as Google adsense and ad-words, Facebooks flyers and Beacon, the work that News Limited are doing on the MySpace and syndicated advertising platform mean there’s a lot more serious and targeted effort being put in now than the simple sale of banner-ads or annoying pop-ups. Acquisitions by the big players of companies like eQuantive and the like ensure major investment in this field. That coupled with the drop-off in traditional advertising means that there’s a potential gap to fill (although, for now, the drop off in offlline advertising isn’t being reflected 1:1 online – by a long way).

There will still be large challenges to this model, not least of which a number of privacy issues yet to be fully resolved, but you have to believe that whilst the gold rush dreams should well and truly be put-aside, there’s still some pretty decent money to be made in them thar hills!

If there’s a common thread, it’s that whilst plenty of silly businesses have and will perish in both rounds, the basic tenets of business online have survived and there are plenty doing it well (see the acquisition of Homestead recently as a prime example of survival!)

Predictors of another bubble burst and predictors of nothing but flowers and glory will, in my humble opinion, both be wrong!

(oh, the story about Boo. Nothing too exciting, but I saw Ernst Malmsten and Kajsa Leander presenting at a First Tuesday event in London in the late 90s, and I have to say that if you can predict a companies future by the terrible performance of its leaders – especially Ernst – you would have been pulling your money out as fast as you could!)

PS: looks like boo.com is now a travel company of sorts


Santa .. Sponsored By ..

November 26, 2007

This weekend we went along to watch the first Sydney Christmas parade. Loosely modeled on the Macey’s Thanksgiving parade in New York (minus the giant balloon figures), the event attracted over 50,000 people according to media reports.

The thing that struck me though was how horribly corporate it all was. Perhaps I was just young and naive, but as a kid I remember watching parades where the floats were clearly knocked up in someone’s garage by a couple of blokes at the weekend. Dodgy plywood strapped on top of an old van and costumes made from old curtains and papier mache sufficed.

I’m no longer naive enough to believe these things are free, or that advertising doesn’t invade every aspect of our day to day lives, but I was somewhat bemused by some of the participants: The Sydney JetBoat? Austar Cable TV? Ronald McDonald? Santa sponsored by the Daily Telegraph?

Maybe I’m just a grumpy git – all the kids around me in the crowd still loved seeing Santa and couldn’t have cared less if he were sponsored by Haliburton. As for some of the others though .. I think I managed to annoy my wife by stating loudly ‘look, here comes an advert for ..’ every time a new group came past 🙂

Have I lost the plot, or just a sign of the times?