Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Is Social Media Really New?

After the spectacular LinkedIn IPO a lot of people have been asking if this social media company is really worth almost $8 billion or could this be another bubble? For that matter, what, exactly, is social media?

While participating in a strategic planning meeting, recently, I was asked, "What will communications look like in 2020?" After some thought, my answer was, "social media." Social communications, just like mass communications, has been around since the dawn of civilization, however, the media used to convey social communications is very new.

Mass media (the medium, not the industry) began with the printing press which was invented in the 1400s. As a result of technological advances, mass media exploded in the first half of the Twentieth Century with radio and T.V. and it continued growing with the adoption of the Internet.

Social media, however, is truly a new media. Whereas mass media is a one-to-many method of communications that is one way, social media is a two way, many-to-many, communications channel.

Social media, like many new, unexpected, forms of communication, was first looked upon with skepticism. We saw skepticism like this in the mid 1990s as cell phones became popular. The first few times I noticed people talking on cell phones in public, even when polite etiquette was followed, my reaction was, "What's so important that you have to talk now?" Yet, today, talking on a cell phone in public is not a big deal. However, in the case of new media, many still have the same reaction when everyday-people blog, tweet, and use Facebook on a daily basis.

Why does someone need to "tell the world" what they're doing when it's as mundane as, "My cat just rolled over?" In the case of social media, this could easily lead to a conversation between cat lovers who didn't know each other. Everyone enjoys spending some time engaging likeminded people. Social media simply extends the social conversations that we have at the water cooler, on the phone, or during dinner, and moves them into cyberspace.

While specific media and technologies may come and go, such as the 8-track, telegram, or the fax; other, more fundamental forms of communication are here to stay. However, new forms of media do not quickly replace the old ones any more than the telephone has replaced radio communications, or that e-mail has replaced "snail mail".

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Souplantation Express

For lunch, today, I tried the new Souplantation Express in Carlsbad. I've been to other Souplantation buffet restaurants, many times, but the Express version is a bit different.

For starters, it's much smaller than a traditional Souplantation restaurant and instead of making your own salad, the employees make it for you. The process will remind you of a Subway restaurant as you slide down the serving line and your order is handed off from employee to employee.

Since this employee-serve model is so different than the tradition self-serve model, I wonder why they chose it since the benefits are not obvious to the customer. Perhaps there's a business savings?

The gold standard for service expectations at Souplantation Express has been set by the traditional Souplantation. Anything that's of lesser quality will dilute the Souplantation brand, at least in the short term.

Getting Used To It
Most people, who walk in the door of the new Souplantation Express, for the first time, are surprised to see that it's not a traditional self-serve buffet and things may seem to move slower (perhaps naming it Souplantation Mini would have better set expectations).

The Souplantation Express is prefect for call-in orders to-go. But, it'll take a little getting used to if you're going to go through the serving line, yourself. It reminded me of when McDonalds first opened their fast food restaurants, with drive-thrus, in China. Locals didn't understand exactly how they worked and, after driving through and picking up their meal, they'd park, get out of their car, and go inside the restaurant to eat it.

My Experience
When I visited for lunch, there were 12 customers on line and about five employees serving food. At a traditional Souplantation, 12 customers can serve themselves faster than five employees can serve 12 customers while restocking the line at the Souplantation Express. It's mildly annoying to get up to the next station on the serving line only to have the employee stop serving in order to restock low items. At a regular Souplantation, the employees can restock the line while customers pile up their plates. Most delays in the tradition Souplantation buffet line are perceived to be caused by slow customers (i.e. a parent serving themselves and their kids), so most frustration from a slow buffet line is directed at other customers, not at employees.

However, no customers outwardly showed any annoyance, that I noticed at the Souplantation Express, which is probably attributed to the outstandingly friendly and cheerful attitude of all of the employees. Their attitude was on par with cruise ship or hotel management customer service.

Food, Drink, & Ambience
The quality and selection of the food was very good, just as I've come to expect from Souplantation. The serving sizes are definitely not small, either. Two people could share a single soup and salad serving. Also, the outside patio was very pleasant. I've been to Souplantations in Carlsbad, Vista, and Encinitas, and this is the first time I recall seeing a patio.

Their coffee system was a little odd, though. I ordered a small drink, thinking that I could make an ice coffee. But, they appeared to be out of both regular and decaf coffee. After eating, I went back to the self-serve beverage counter and both thermoses were still empty. When I asked about the coffee, I was told that they don't brew it into the thermoses until the first customer orders it. Once it was brewed, though, I had to track down the half and half. I don't think it's kept at the beverage counter due to the small space.

Unfortunately, there's no frozen yogurt or muffins and, since it's not a buffet, there's no seconds on food. But, you'll break even on the price if you think of trading those goodies for more salad since the serving sizes are much bigger (that's probably a stretch, though).

One little touch, that I liked, was the high quality plasticware which looks like real silverware until you pick it up.

The food is fresh and tasty with great customer service inside and outside a clean restaurant. There was a continuous line of customers waiting to be served mainly because this place is in high demand. After your first visit, you'll know exactly what to expect, so this great experience only gets better. I know that I'll be going back.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

QR Code Marketing Fad?

I think QR codes, in display ads, will end up being a short lived fad like the :CueCat. Advertisers who use this new barcode format are shutting out everyone else who doesn't have a device, in hand, with a camera and QR code reader application.

Short URLs would be a much better alternative. Perhaps, putting the short URL next to the QR code would be a good way to include people who don't have a QR code reading device.

Part of the problem is that, when your average non-techie comes across a QR code, they won't even know where to begin to figure out what it is. How many times have people wondered what that U inside a circle means on food condiments?

I tried out the QR code in this ad (circled in red) for The Dragonfly Effect and the experience wasn't so hot. For starters, this QR code lead me to a landscape video that would only play in portrait mode inside the QR app; and, when the video ended, there was no where to go from there (i.e., no further call to action). I think that this experience will probably get better over time, but so far, it's lacking.

On the other hand, I think QR codes have a perfect place in the off line world since each QR code can contain over 4,000 characters. Imagine being able to scan a shipping container in the middle of the desert, without any network connectivity, and the QR code reporting back the container's inventory since it's all encoded in that bar code. I can see the QR code being popular with the military.

What would it take for these marketing QR codes to catch on with consumers? Integrating QR code in the OS or camera driver is key. Now that would give it a fighting chance.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Playing the Quiet Victim

Ever been in one of those situations where, if you didn't say anything, you were the victim and if you did say something, you were the bad guy?

This happened to me, last month, when I was flying home from the East Coast.

My United flight was completely full. Although I had a seat in one of the last rows, I ended up in the last boarding group since I had an aisle seat and United boards window seats first and then moves inboard.

When I got to my row, the window seat was still not occupied and there was a guy seated in the middle seat. I took my aisle seat and then, a few minutes later, a couple with two small children showed up. Mom and the kids were in the row in front of me and dad was assigned the window seat in my row.

The father asked me if I'd mind switching my aisle seat for his window seat so he could help out with the kids. What could I say? Of course I obliged. But, in the blink of an eye, the guy in the middle seat said, "Let me just move over a seat," as he took the window seat.

Things had just gone from a so-so window seat to an unpleasant middle seat faster than I could respond and, with each passing second, I realized that I couldn't say anything polite without sounding like a curmudgeon. Now what?

I could tell, when the father and I made eye contact, that he felt bad about what just happened. Although he mentioned that this was, in no way, his intention, I didn't say anything. Mr. former-middle-seat looked like he was in the military and I imagined that, had I said anything, his response could have been something on the order of, "I'm just returning from Afghanistan and I was hoping that I could have the window seat so that I could look at the country that I've sworn to defend."

But, playing the quiet victim did end up having its advantages. About ten minutes after takeoff, the father, in the aisle seat, moved up into the row in front of me and sat there, with his daughter on his lap, for the rest of the flight. So, I ended up next to the only open seat on the plane. Meanwhile, Mr. former-middle-seat took out a military technical manual for an aircraft radar system and quietly read it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Missing Friends' Facebook Updates

Over the past several months, I noticed that I was missing friends' updates in my Facebook News Feed. Specifically, I wasn't seeing many of my wife's posts in my Facebook News Feed unless I visited her Facebook page.

My friend, Rich, told me that Facebook had defaulted to showing the updates only from friends that I interacted with most often. I spent a good deal of time trying to track down this setting without any luck.

This afternoon, I asked Rich where to find the Facebook setting that controlled whose updates appear in my Facebook News Feed. It took him a little digging, but he found it and sent the details to me.

Click to embiggen

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Nefarious Mac OS X Attack

This is one of the most clever attacks on Mac OS X that I've seen in the wild.

I was searching Google for photos of Kelly McGillis since I had driven by "her" Top Gun house, earlier this evening. When I clicked on several of the top results from Google, the following webpage came up and a ZIP file, with a trojan, started downloading.

Click to enlarge

At first glance, this download might look legit to the casual user, but it's not. Fortunately, nothing bad can happen just by visiting websites like this one.

This type of attack is not a virus since it doesn't spread on its own. But, like most social engineering attacks, people could be duped into thinking that they might need to install the application that was just downloaded. After unzipping this file, you'd have to double click on the installer and then grant it administrative access to install this malware on your computer. Falling victim to this attack requires that a user take several deliberate steps, but, that could easily happen if you thought this was a software update from Apple.

While attacks like this aren't uncommon, it's interesting that the attacker was able to figure out how to poison Google's search algorithm into returning their nefarious websites at the top of the list.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Was the Killing of bin Laden Legal?

Under the law of war, a combatant can engage the enemy at any time as long as they're not surrendering. Even if the enemy is running from the fight (retreating) - as was the case at the Highway of Death - they're still a legitimate target. Surrender is an honorable action when you no longer have any means to resist (Article II of the Code of Conduct).

This leads to a couple questions.
1. Was bin Laden a civilian?
2. If so, can civilians be considered combatants?

The short answer to the second question is yes; even if bin Laden was considered a civilian, civilians can be considered combatants when they take up arms (some exceptions are peace officers, such as the police).

When civilians take up arms it is referred to as levée en masse. Al Qada's attacks on the World Trade Center in 1993 & 2001, American embassies in East African in 1998, USS Cole in 2000, etc. were attacks (acts of war) against the sovereign nation of the United States of America. Al Qada carried out these attacks as a perverse misinterpretation of Islamic defensive jihad. Therefore, the plan to capture or kill bin Laden (Operation Neptune Spear) was legal.

Thought Exercise
Now here's an interesting thought, try reversing the situation. What is the status of the President of the United States? He's clearly the commander-in-chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, yet he is a definitely a civilian. Imagine if Iraqi commandos flew into Texas, captured former President Bush, and labeled him a war criminal for attacking and occupying Iraq? How would Article 98 of the Rome Statute apply?

The End?
The real challenge is figuring out how the end to the War on Terror will look. What parties will sign the treaty? Will al Qada, one day, gain legitimacy in the eyes of the U.N., like the PLO did in the 1970s and 1980s, in order to take a seat at the table?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Planes and Pilots at Palomar

I covered the Wings of Freedom tour at Palomar Airport for Carlsbad Patch, this past week. The video is below and you can see the photos here.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Osama Bin Laden Killed

This , in the coming days, for details of Osama bin Laden's death.