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I’ve just about had it with iTunes

221441106_e5ee2bc38e_m

Yes, I am speaking "blasphemy". I am sick of iTunes and am seriously considering going back to using Windows Media Player as my default player, regardless that I regularly purchase music from Apple and have an iPod. The usability sucks. For a company that’s supposedly all about elegance, usability and ‘thinking different’, iTunes is, umm, not there.

First of all, do I really need to update my software every week? Can they not bundle the updates and release when there really is something that needs upgrading, vs. a cool little feature that helps their sales? Inevitably this "upgrade" also means re-installing the entire platform, finding it on my system again, and losing access to it from my toolbar. Nice.

Of course, since I’m on a PC, they aren’t "integrated" (supposedly) with my desktop environment and "lose" songs from the player whenever they feel like it. No rhyme or reason to it, I haven’t moved the albums from the same folder they’ve been in since I started using iTunes, but for some reason iTunes "can’t locate that file". As of right now, after having done absolutely nothing to any of my music files (except for purchase a new song via iTunes), I have 86 missing songs that were perfectly fine yesterday.

Is iTunes sophisticated (designed well) enough to recognize that if an entire album is missing and I click that little "find on your hard drive" button and go through the motions to find the first song, they could actually scan that same folder for the remaining songs from that album? Of course not, why do with software that I could do manually and take an hour of my time to do so?

It’s interesting that they never "lose" the songs I purchased from them vs. burned onto my system from a purchased CD.

I used to love the Apple TV spots and think they were genius. The wonderful pokes at how slow and cumbersome, and corporate MSFT is. How they make you jump through hoops to get your system working. Now? Guess what? I may be one of those folks "downgrading" from Vista to XP… whoops, I mean "downgrading" from iTunes to WMP.

</rant>

[photo credit: tantek via Flickr]

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The Internet Becomes Cable…

The Internet Becomes Cable - EFF

Or why the EFF is good. Nice illustration of the battle over Net Neutrality.

[H/T - kevin via Corrente - view larger size]

Speaking of Cable… A new YouTube product placement agency out of Montreal: BrandFame.

Youtube product placement

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Toyota’s Hybrid “community” needs a social media remedial

I came across an announcement on MediaPost about the re-launch of the Toyota Hybrid community website and decided to check it out (note to MediaPost — links would be helpful and more social), being an old auto ad chick myself, an environmentalist, and invested in social media. As reported, it sounded fantastic and a wonderful way to get the community involved. And it is pretty cool. But was that the point?

The main issue I have with the site is it’s built completely in Flash. High on bells and whistles, low on seamless integration and usability. It’s also difficult to find. I went to the Toyota Prius page from my Google search and the link there was to the Edmunds Toyota Community. Huh? Cross-linking/referencing new campaigns is a good thing people… you never know someone’s entrance point. I went back to the homepage and saw a cryptic banner for the “Hybrid Synergy Drive“. Excuse me? What does that mean? “Synergy Drive” sounds pretty cool in brainstorming sessions, not so much when you’re looking for a car, or to join a community.

When I finally get to the site it opens in a new window – bad. Then the Flash loads and I get a jumble of meaninglessness, although it looks cool. It’s not a “community”, except in the loosest sense of the word. It is tightly controlled and lacking depth or stickiness. There is no two-way communication with Toyota the company, and the only communication between community members is to view “reasons” people own the car (the reasons Toyota oh so nicely provides to you vs. allowing you to express your own opinions – about 15 -20 to choose from), or to chat via IM with people you’ve added as friends (except good luck finding someone, you’re identified by # – how personal and social).

Sure, once you’ve picked your Toyota-approved “reasons” you can manipulate their graphics to personalize a bit and you can upload a photo or video tied into your “number”, but so what? That kept me engaged for approx. 10 seconds. Why would I come back?

On the plus side, I do like the ability to search by various factors (age range, miles driven, vehicle colour), but with all the issues identified above that functionality is not optimized or persuasive.

The rest of the tools are ones you’d find on the vehicle branded page, which has nothing to do with community, and everything to do with the purchase funnel. It’s not a bad idea per se, to provide these tools on a community site, but they should be secondary to the purpose.

It’s disappointing to see that companies and agencies still don’t get it – if you want to form, join, or lead, a community, it has to be about them, not you. I’m sure the hybrid community has a lot of things they are passionate about and like to share about their vehicle outside of what Toyota allows… on another website. Although, I shouldn’t be too surprised as it appears companies and agencies still don’t get that search engines don’t index Flash either. Could be why it was so hard to find in the first place.

[photo credit: Husky on Flickr]

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Transparency, Authenticity and Trust

aka lies not so well disguised…

I’m unhappy. Seriously so. I have had about enough of spin and deception in the blogosphere. Fake blogs, pay-for-play, astroturfing, lies about your products, the lot of it. And it’s gotten to the point where the FTC is weighing in. Unbelievable.

How close are we to destroying consumers trust in our “social media” outreach efforts? What about our clients trust in us to help protect and enhance their brand? How’s that working out for Sony, McDonald’s and Wal-Mart?

We talk a good game, sure. Be transparent. Be authentic. Listen. Engage in a conversation. But as soon as push comes to shove too many take the easy way out. Why reach out to the community when you can just pretend to be the community? And when called out on it? Rewrite history. It’s even gotten to the point where public announcements can be made that appear to be easily contradicted by fact.

Do we think no one will notice? That there won’t be a backlash? Do we care that we may end up destroying the very channels of communication we should be trying to open, let alone our credibility as communicators?

It has to stop. It almost makes me long for the days when all we had to worry about was the CTR on a 468×60 (almost).

/rantatta

Update: For a look at real transparency – The Quitter

Update II: When all else fails, there’s always the “Fake Blog Apology Service” courtesy of Adrants

Update III [12/15/06 1:40pm EST]: Whereby we take a closer look at how some flacks really engage in “social” media…

In a nutshell, the link above to iStudio, a division of High Road Communications/ Fleishman Hilliard, is supposed to have a comment attached to the post from yours truly. I have been trying for the last week to find out how their SNR, coded in framesets, is search engine friendly as they claim. Unfortunately it looks like iStudio has no plan on correcting the record or allowing a challenge to their claims. Now, before you say “but maybe it takes time for comments to be released from moderation” – here’s the screenshot of someone from the admin moderation screen visiting my site less than an hour after I posted the comment yesterday.

At the time of this post my comment is still in moderation.

What was it I was trying to point out and get some kind of an answer to after waiting almost a week for a response from their tech team?

Hi all, I don’t want to take any thunder out of your efforts, as I support the goals of the SNR and believe it is great way to aggregate and disseminate information broadly. However, after our last discussion I’m still not convinced that this release meets the objectives stated, or, as this post claims, the SNR criteria for indexing by search engines (SNR point #4) at this stage in its development.

Frankly, I don’t see how a release built in a frameset could be considered search engine friendly given the consensus advice around using frames. One of the great things about the internet is that our work can evolve in real time. There’s nothing wrong with launching a product that doesn’t yet meet 100% of the requirements – in fact, ‘beta’ is all the rage with the Web 2.0 crowd. However, I really think that your audience, potential users, and supporters deserve a clear explanation of how exactly your SNR tool does or will live up to all the promises.

This to me, seems pretty serious, as iStudio has proclaimed their release adheres to the accepted guidelines developed by their industry peers, yet I am certain that the coding is not up to par for Rule #4 – search engine indexing. At this point I’d really like to hear from the Social Media Club who developed & maintain the guidelines for the SNR. Do they feel that the iStudio/Weblo release complies? Or how about someone from Fleishman Hilliard – are these the standard practices of your divisions?

Man, no wonder PR has such a bad rep in the blogosphere – they’ve earned every bit of it.

The worst part of this issue in my opinion is how it was handled, not the coding itself. I started out being a supporter. It would have been really easy to admit the release wasn’t optimized, thank me for the tip, correct the record, and move on. Instead the spin starts and now we have this: a company silencing criticism on their blog and allowing claims that have been challenged on the facts to stand and be promoted.

The future’s so bright I’ve gotta wear shades.

Update IV: My comment has now been released from moderation on the iStudio site.

[photo credit: yewenyi on Flickr]

; ; ; ;

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Look honey, it’s Web 1.0!

I used to be a prolific online shopper when I lived in the States. I was one of bluefly’s first customers and used to get a big box at the office at least twice a month. When I moved back to T-dot in late 2001 I found out that Canada wasn’t really hip to the whole e-com thing. Clothes online? Not on your life unless you tried REALLY hard to find a store on one of the portals shopping sections. No thanks, I’ll just go to the store, or pick something up on a weekend trip to NYC if my tastes are running past the standard fare… or get charged a ridiculous amount of customs duty ordering online from the US.

So, that being said, this fall I decided to venture back into the retail e-com world of Canadian shopping. I needed to get a new desk set for home, and a couple of bookcases. Truth be told I was forced to venture back online when my significant other threw out his back helping me move the mahogany corner piece I bought at a great little store in Kensington Market. I was quite happy to find that the landscape had changed and now many well known brands were offering online ordering. I clicked and shopped on my merry way to everything I needed and was happy with the process.

Until…

One store sent me an email saying the desk set was out of stock for 6 weeks and they’d ship it out once it came in. Could they not have told me this when I was ordering the stuff?? It should be up to me to decide if I want to wait that long without having to go through the hassle of cancelling my already processed order. We know the technology exists, Amazon’s been using it for years.

It gets better… six weeks pass by and no word from the store. I call the number on my receipt. I get a full voicemail box. So I go to the website and find a different number. I call that. The woman tells me the items have been in stock for a week and that I should call their billing office and ask them to release them and charge my card. I ask if she can do this and the answer is no. I call the number… I’m asked what region I placed the order in and they go pull out their paper file. All so the order I placed online can be shipped to me. Unbelievable. They’ve lost my business for life.

Now that concludes the saga about my desk set. On to the bookcases. The order goes through without a hitch. The product arrives. One of the two is damaged so I call to get it replaced. And that’s where the fun begins. I’m told I have to return it to a store. I reply that I cannot do such a thing, as I don’t own a car, nor do I have someone available to return it for me. I remind her I placed the order online so I didn’t have to go into a store. The rep then says she’ll call someone and they’ll call me to schedule a pick up. I ask if the replacement product will be shipped out at the same time. I’m informed I need to go online and place another order for a new one as their system can’t handle that type of basic function.

Needless to say I waited over a week and didn’t receive a phone call from whomever is supposed to be picking up my damaged bookcase.

Thinking about my experience with these two major Canadian brands online brought something into stark relief… as long as we aren’t getting the basic principles of Web 1.0 right, consumers aren’t going to embrace Web 2.0 bells and whistles. Everything from actually integrating ordering systems, to not violating PIPEDA when sending an email, to making the site search friendly, and the user experience robust. All the basics that form the foundation of how consumers perceive and experience the brand online. No amount of blogger outreach or MySpace profiles will hide fundamental flaws in the product. And make no mistake, your website is part of your product & service offering. Reinforcing the importance of a good experience on a company site:

Visitors to [corporate and brand] websites have a much higher propensity to recommend products,” said Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing officer of Nielsen Buzzmetrics, whose research shows more than 40% of people who give a brand e-mail feedback are likely to recommend it to others.

This mock exchange in response to the recent BofA YouTube disaster provides another take on what customers might care about:

“Sirs, we are being mocked because we live in an ivory tower in which we think consumers care about our ‘Higher Standards’ catchline. My guess is they’d probably rather we killed that crap and instead promised to stop charging them $2 to get their own money out of an ATM.”

[photo credit: mdamli on Flickr]

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