Two days ago I got an email alerting me to a new follower. I clicked the link, checked the person out, and decided to follow him. Today I got an email from Qwitter alerting me that he stopped following me. I can only guess that his goal is to build followers and build his follower to following ratio, two statistics with dubious value. This makes me ask several questions.
Following ain't the same anymore. Sites like http://tweetadder.com apparently scour Twitter looking for tweets and people who share interests with you and then follow them. The service, however, is obviously geared toward follower pumping, as it integrates unfollowing those people shortly thereafter if they don't follow you back. It even tracks your ratio, alerting you to impending social doom if you follow too many more people than follow you. What's most outrageous about this though is that with all these robots running around following and unfollowing people, there's diminished value to any given follower. Heck, they might not even be using twitter interactively anymore, but simply unleashing their robot upon the twitter masses and reveling in the resulting "is now following you" spam. This is perhaps a sure-fire way to get a virtually unlimited number of followers, but I am just not convinced. Further evidence of this is suggested by looking a little more closely at these programs to discover that they even let you populate a "quote bank" of sorts with text to be used as future robotomated tweets. Yikes! Millions of twitter accounts running around automatically following and unfollowing each other, then spamming them with get-rich-quick-while-helping-yourself-and-becoming-an-online-marketer-quote-of-the-day tweets!
Why follow someone?
When Twitter started out, you followed someone because you wanted to hear what they have to say. Like-minded people meshed themselves together, fans followed stars, businesses followed industry voices, and clients followed companies they use. Apparently now, with all these software products and websites automating the task of following and unfollowing, many people only follow someone else because they want to be followed back. As my example above shows, however, some people go even further by risking the new follower in the interest of boosting their ratio. Am I the only person on Twitter who follows people because I am interested in them?
Why unfollow someone?
My next question is simple, and goes back to my original example. Following someone takes very little effort, and leaving that follow relationship in place requires no work at all. I don't tweet very often so you wouldn't think of me as a spammer. So why follow me, wait for me to follow you, then unfollow me less than 24 hours later? It seems silly to me to let a robot stack up a bunch of follows to then manually scan that list to remove boring people like myself. If anyone can come up with something better than "I'm unfollowing you now that you follow me in hopes that you won't unfollow me thus boosting my follow count and my ratio" please let me know.
What's the future?
I've mentioned before that it appears Twitter is heading toward "everyone following everyone." These scripted approaches to Twitter certainly don't dissuade me from drawing that same conclusion. Even worse, they point to a world where people only use Twitter to rack up followers, like airline miles (oh how I love airline miles), money in the bank (oh how I love money in the bank), or a video game score. I can see how some people could benefit from this, if they ultimately have something to sell (like a robot, or a self help book) but unlike miles or money, having a huge follower list to spam with your quote of the day doesn't get you anything. To me that makes Twitter more like playing Pac-Man than a valuable social networking tool, as people's robotic software programs digress into an outrageous dance of following and unfollowing. But just in case the joke is on me, you can see my score above and to the right, and you can increase it by following me at http://twitter.com/reedcaldwell.
Image copied from here.
Amazon is one of my favorite companies. They do almost everything right, and are extremely innovative. They don't just capture markets--they make markets. What started as an online bookstore has become the best place to buy almost anything. I have purchased Keurig K-Cups, Popchips, toothpaste, pet supplies, video games, and over 500 other things from Amazon over the years. They also have an incredibly cloud computing system, and Amazon was responsible for the boom of ebook readers with the Kindle. You can even buy DRM-free MP3s on Amazon for less than what iTunes charges, and they import into iTunes automagically. Where I think Amazon is making a big mistake, however, is with their Video On Demand (VOD) service. This is another market looking for a king, particularly on portable devices, and Amazon is wasting a big opportunity.
I have an iPad. It is great for so many things, but one "killer app" involves the luxury of watching television and movies on the go. iTunes makes this easy, allowing you to download content to your device and watch it whenever you want. Netflix makes this easy as well, giving anyone with a Netflix account the ability to stream to their device. Even ABC has an application which allows you to watch their shows streamed on demand. Amazon, however, has a silly little pop-up letting me know that "Flash 10 is not installed." I am not trying to fan the flames of the Flash versus HTLM5 versus h.264 encoding debate here. I'm simply saying it is outrageous for a company of Amazon's size to have all their eggs in one archaic basket. What it comes down to is there is a huge empty crater in the market, and I think Amazon should fill it.
The Huge Empty Crater In the Market
Nobody has a subscription service that allows you to download content for later viewing. iTunes lets you pay-per-download and watch whenever you want. Netflix lets you pay a fixed subscription fee and stream from a portion of their library. Amazon lets you pay per download and watch later, if you have Flash. But somebody needs to put Netflix and iTunes in a blender and spit out a new service that lets us pay a monthly fee for access to downloadable content. I understand that there would have to be hooks and triggers governing DRM and I'm fine with that. Delete it after I'm done watching it, delete it after a week or two, whatever you need to do to satisfy intellectual property holders and make a profit. But someone should do it, because there's a huge demand for it, and each existing solution has its flaws.
Netflix, in addition to being stream-only which requires a high-speed internet connection to use, has a limited library. New arrivals lag behind, and many shows aren't in the VOD library. I was talking to my son about Superman and Smallville, and decided to find out how I could show him Smallville on my iPad. Unfortunately it is only available by snail-mail DVDs. I'm sure there's some fancy business model stuff going on behind the scenes that determines which content is available on VOD and which isn't, but that should also mean there's a pricepoint that makes all content available.
iTunes, on the other hand, is a pay-for-what-you-want service. I use it frequently, but always feel a bit dirty about paying $1.99 for a TV episode when I can rent a movie for $3.99. Especially when it is a 30 minute show that is actually only about 22 minutes. Typically I only ever do this to catch up on a show I like if I miss an episode, although that's not very often since I use a Tivo. The other problem with iTunes is that it cycles shows out of its library for some reason. Again, using Smallville as an example, only seasons 1, 2, 3, 8, and 9 are available. Why not seasons 4, 5, 6 and 7? What if someone wants to watch them all? Did Apple run out of diskspace to store shows? I know they were there before, so what criteria do they use to pull shows from their library?
Amazon has Smallville. They have every season. I could buy individual episodes or entire seasons. I can watch them all using their VOD service. Unfortunately their service requires Flash to work, which isn't on iPads or iPhones. It also is a pay-for-what-you-want service, and isn't subscription based. Apparently Amazon, unlike Apple, has enough diskspace to store shows, they simply have a limited distribution model. I don't want to sit at my desk and watch Smallville on my computer. If I'm going to watch something at home, I'll watch it on one of my really big TVs, not on my relatively small computer screen. If I'm on the road I could always bring my laptop, but why have to lug along an extra device?
Amazon: Wake Up and Dominate
Take your big library, build a subscription model, and improve your distribution. Allow storage of content for offline viewing, and control it however you'd like. Give us an iPad app, or integrate it into your existing Amazon iPad app. With your computing power you could probably encode everything in h.264 overnight. With your buying and negotiating power, you could probably price it all better than Netflix with a library way better than the one in iTunes. So what are you waiting for? Go make the subscription download video market happen! If you don't do it, someone else will, and I'll be back on here shouting about how wonderful it is.
I've been flying in and out of Dulles Airport since the mid 1990s. Mostly on United Airlines, but I've flown plenty of others too. One thing it is well known for is the strange way in which it moves people between terminals. For years a network of specialized trucks move people throughout the airport. Like a giant shoebox on huge tires, these trucks held 50 or so people, and departed on a regular schedule. For years, people complained about the system, poking fun at Dulles Airport for not having a train. Until recently, when the truck-haters got their way and the new train was born.
Designed to swiftly move passengers between the Main Terminal, Terminal A, and Terminal C, the underground train was everything everyone wanted. Millions of dollars and years of construction later, we're all happy, right? Have you ever taken the train at Dulles? Were they out of their damn minds? Who designed this thing? It brings outrageous to an entire new level!
Okay, welcome to my first true rant. You already know I travel a lot, but you don't have to travel frequently to be pissed off about this. Anytime anyone spends millions of dollars to "improve" something and ends up making it worse, it simply needs attention. I'm going to try to calmly and clearly explain my frustration so that maybe you can help me in voicing your opinion as well. Or maybe you prefer to just roll your eyes and think "Wow, what idiots." The choice is yours.
Anyhow, you have probably also figured out that the majority of that travel takes me to, or through Dulles Airport on United Airlines. I'm a mid-ranking United brat and its hard to exist without IAD, especially as often as it is my final destination. The C and A gates at Dulles carry United and United Express, respectively. There are still plenty of flights out of B and D (mostly on other airlines) which use the old truck system, but odds are I'm gonna hit C on a trip through town. Before I explain what the train is like, let me explain the old truck system that everyone was complaining about.
Let's say you just landed at Dulles in the D gates. Follow the signs to Main Terminal / Baggage Claim. If you land at D30, you've got a pretty long walk, if you land at D5 you're in good shape. Once you get to where the shuttle trucks are, you turn toward them, take about 30 steps, and you're on the truck. Since a five minute rotation is typical, your average wait time before the truck leaves is 2 minutes 30 seconds. 3 minute rotations are common during peak times, however. Ride on the truck for a few minutes, pull up at Main Terminal, get off. Once you're off the truck you have to take an escalator to an escalator to a hallway, then through the door to baggage claim. A bit annoying, but just a couple minutes of walking. How about the train?
Let's say you land in the C gates. Although C and D form one large building, it is one large building. Like landing in D you follow the signs to Main Terminal / Baggage Claim. Once you get to the turn toward the train, you go down a hallway to a long escalator. Ride the escalator down for a few moments to--one of the longest hallways in the world, I swear to God. They even have moving walkways to try and speed people along, but it is a -really- long walk. At the end you have to take another escalator down to the train. The thing is, after this really long walk, you still have to wait for the train! It can take just as long, if not longer, for the train to arrive. If you're like me and get off the plane first, at least when you get to the truck you can sit down. Not if you are waiting for the train--you stand there and wait, and wait as all the people who got off the plane after you crowd around you complaining about the lack of a train.
After your wait of 1-5 minutes the train arrives. Crowd on, hang on, and it starts moving. Thing is, it doesn't start moving to the Main Terminal, oh no. It makes a stop at the A gates first! I can understand why, of course, because connections are more important than people arriving at their destination. But still, it eats your time. Stop at A, wait for the doors to close after people shuffle their way on and off the train, and we're in motion again, this time finally for baggage claim. When you finally do get to the Main Terminal, you get off the train, take an escalator, and end up--where the people who get off the truck are!
Let me recap riding the train:
- Hallway starts across from old transport doors
- Much, much longer walk once in the hallway
- Same amount of waiting
- Same amount of riding
- Just as much walking once you get there
My point is simply that there is no point. The train ultimately accomplished nothing. Perhaps the goal was to satisfy the complainers, or to improve the first impression visitors have when they first land at Dulles. It is our nation's capital after all, so I can understand a desire to make it nice and pretty. But seriously, who came up with this brilliant plan? Was there no way to build an efficient train? One that didn't require more time walking to and from the train than it took for the entire old-system truck ride? One that kept in mind that not all passengers are Usain Bolt? I sure hope my nearly 90 year old grandmother doesn't fly into the C gates!
We all pay airport fees as part of every ticket we buy. The airlines that fly in and out of the airport pay tons of money in rent. So do the stores, the news stands, and so on. We pay the bills at the airport. That means we bought that train. A multi-million dollar train that wastes even more of our time and probably causes even more missed connections. I suppose on the bright side they got to fire a few of the people who drove the old trucks. What a proud moment!
If I ever plan to do anything that costs millions and millions of dollars and just makes things worse, please stop me. Don't even let me break ground. Remind me that what we have isn't so bad when compared to a ridiculously expensive, brand new, shiny, inferior model.
What do you think? I really want to hear what you have to say, maybe I'm nuts. If anyone actually thinks the new train at IAD is an improvement, please comment--set me straight.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons under public domain.
I spent 20 minutes tonight doing something I've never done before. I explored Twitter. Most of us have spent time reading tweets, following friends, and searching for things you are interested in. But have you ever spent any time clicking through people's following lists to see what is behind the tiny favicon-sized images? Tonight I did, and the results were pretty outrageous to say the least.
I started by clicking a few faces of people who were following me. Then I started clicking the people who they follow. I repeated this, often going back to click other people, but usually picking another face at random from the 'Following' list. You probably guessed by the title, but--spoiler alert--a shocking amount of people are Marketing Experts. So I decided to start visiting some sites and find out what exactly a "Marketing Expert" is.
It would seem that in this day and age everyone is trying to make a buck. More power to them, its the American way. The good news is all you need is a Twitter account and you can find countless people to help you learn how to achieve success beyond your wildest dreams. Visit their blogs, read their posts, and learn thousands of different "5 steps to success" programs. Although it concerns me that there are so many different programs, nevermind that! Clearly, if it comes from a Marketing Expert, it must be right. And as the great Craig Ferguson often says, "I read it on the Internet, so it must be true." So that's two reasons to be a believer in what they have to say.
But what DO they have to say?
For the most part they don't say a whole lot. They have infomercial-style presentations, Boardwalk-style hype, and if only it were a product it would slice, dice, cure, enlarge, grill, clean, and recharge. But it isn't a product. It is a secret. It is a secret, wrapped in hype, hope, and dreams, all neatly packaged for you. You, the lucky one who will be let in on this secret, for the low low price of $175, wait-- $99, no, now only $19.95! Yes, if you act now you too can enjoy this tightly-guarded secret (limited to only those people with $19.95 to spare) to achieve wealth from your armchair in your underwear.
Are they full of crap? Why would anyone ever believe this stuff? For starters, we're not talking about random Twitter users. We're talking about people with tens of thousands of followers. We're talking about people whose blogs have tons of traffic and dozens or even hundreds of comments on each post. With that kind of popularity, maybe this one is the real deal. Maybe my blog only gets 500 visitors a month because I'm not using the secret techniques of this system. Apparently all I need is a blog, a Google Adsense account, and these secret techniques, and its a game-changer. If only I could decide which person's secret techniques to overnight wealth, success, and power to buy...
Let's take a step back and look at society as a whole. There used to be the "haves" and the "have nots." Now it seems there are the "Marketing Experts" and the "rest of us." With so many Marketing Experts on Twitter its no wonder they have tens of thousands of followers. If they all just follow each other, they have instant credibility. Or at least an instant Twitter mob following. But fortunately for them there are enough of the "rest of us" left over who are hungry for extra dough, especially in this economy, to actually whip out a credit card or Paypal account and buy their secrets. Sociologically it is very, very interesting to me to see this, however outrageous it may be. I mean can you really expect everyone on the Internet to have a multi-million dollar website? If we did, who would be buying our products?
The Magic Word
And that is the key point to be made here. You have a blog or a website and you are either sharing information or trying to sell real-world products. The thing is, most of the Marketing Experts aren't selling anything at all. They put together an eBook, a members section, or some other bucket of data and then they proceed to hype the hell out of it. This gives their service an incredible perceived value and creates physiological urges in their potential customers. Its only $19.95, right? If I want to sell more widgets, it doesn't take many to make up $19.95! I can do that easily, even if I don't achieve the great success they promise. And that's exactly what they're counting on. You see, for them it isn't only $19.95 but rather $19.95 multiplied by as many suckers as they can reel in. The best sucker of all is the one who diminishes expectations and thus blurs the distinction of whether or not their money was well spent.
The great news is that if you don't achieve wild success with your first Marketing Expert "product" there's an endless supply of others standing right behind that one. Almost none of whom are selling anything real, they are simply repackaging logic, and a few time-tested principles. Go buy 7 Habits or a book by Zig Ziglar, Tom Peters, or another marketing author and not only will it cost you less, but it will be far more entertaining. There are a few out there who actually have what it takes, and they have legitimate marketing expertise. Erica Douglas, Brian Carter, and Michael Dorausch are the first ones that pop out of my head. Sure, they're on Twitter, and they are great at marketing, sales, and promotion. They are SEO experts, and at least one that I know of has an eBook that is worth reading. The big difference here: These people have real business experience, own real businesses, and most importantly they work their asses off.
And that last bit is the part those Marketing Experts tend to leave out.
For a good time, retweet this post. Let's see how many of those Marketing Experts we can get to come here and prove me wrong. We won't even charge them $19.95. But don't be late, act now, supplies are running out. Finally, if you just finished reading this and take great offense to what I have said, you may just be one of the people I'm talking about. Otherwise keep helping people because you may be another of the real ones.
I'm sitting on yet another plane between San Diego and Washington Dulles airport. 2,253 miles gives me plenty of time to work, play, eat, and sleep. This is my second cross-country now with my iPad and I think it is time for me to start reviewing my experiences. The iPad itself is absolutely amazing, and I'm going to go into more detail on that another time. Since many people already have an iPad or are definitely going to buy one, I am going to focus on the accessories. There are some pretty slick ones available already, both from Apple and from third parties. And quite frankly my reviews might surprise you a bit and either save you money, or change your purchasing decisions.
I'm going to start by picking on Apple. They have two primary accessories for the iPad: the Apple iPad case and the iPad docking station. The Apple case is pretty remarkable for a tiny piece of plasticky, rubbery, sorta-soft, sorta-firm material. Incredibly lightweight, it allows you to slide your iPad into a sleeve in the center when unfolded. It has all the necessary cutouts for access to ports and the hard buttons, and obviously an opening for the screen. It opens up like a book and the front flap, when closed, protects the screen from scratches and damage (although there is nothing to keep the flap closed). Fortunately for me I have quite a collection of rubber bands, which will now come in very handy!
When open, the case takes on a whole new life. A small slot on the back plus a second fold in the cover give the case the simple-yet-elegant ability to transform itself into a stand. Wrap the cover around the back, fold it along the short crease, tuck it into the rear slot, and you're in business. The stand is essentially a right triangle with the screen as the hypotenuse. Yeah, I can be nerdy, but don't look at me, you're the one who knows what I'm talking about! In its "flat form" the top is lifted up which provides a gentle slope toward your eyes, and a keyboard-like incline to the entire device. Im using it like that right now, typing on-screen. In its "tall" form it is optimized for tabletop viewing, or even tray table viewing. The tall form is also good for using the Apple wireless bluetooth keyboard. More on that later.
Since a picture is worth a thousand words and there are plenty of them out there, suffice it to say that the Apple iPad case is a good investment. Lightweight, comfortable, versatile, moderate physical security, easy access, and the perfect size. It is definitely my favorite case for actual travel, and my second favorite case at home. So far so good, right? Now for some real fun. The Apple iPad keyboard dock!
At first glance this thing is amazing. The keyboard is identical to the one on my MacBook Air with a few exceptions for iPad-specific keys such as lock, and home. Most importantly the key size is the same. Great to type on, in fact I wish i had it on the plane right now as I struggle with autocorrect, uncapitalized "i", an inability to turn im into I'm, and my favorite, the infallible shift key. By that i mean Apple assumes that no matter what is typed, if you hit the shift key, you must have meant to! But i digress--I already blogged about the crazy keys on the iPhone and iPad. I'm not here to rant about Apple keyboards, I'm here to explain how outrageous the Apple iPad keyboard dock is.
Notice I said i wish i had that keyboard now? There are two primary reasons I don't. First, it is bulky, heavy, oddly shaped and distinctly unportable! Second, you can't dock the iPad in the official Apple keyboard dock while it is in the official Apple case! Huh? Outrageous! I spent five minutes flexing and pushing the iPad case to try and get it firmly seated on the dock. The only way i could get it to sort of work was by opening the case wide left to right and carefully guiding it on with pressure. As soon as i released that pressure the case pushes up against the dock and the connection is lost. Very frustrating. Almost as bad as the physical size and shape of the keyboard dock itself.
For anyone considering the keyboard dock, let me help you. Other than what I mentioned above, it has two other major drawbacks and one big plus. First of all, the iPad docks in portrait mode. Because of the dock connection and the shape of the keyboard, it is almost impossible to change it to landscape mode, even for just a few moments, but certainly not for anything useful. Second, because the dock is permanently attached to the keyboard, it is bulky and awkward. Nothing you'll be throwing in your handbag or Jack pack. If you're carrying something larger that you don't mind accessing, it isn't enormous, but since it doesn't lay flat due to the protrusion above the dock connector, it packs awkwardly.
On the plus side it makes for a great dock, in the traditional sense of docking. If you have a temporary office you use every once in a while and don't want to dedicate a computer to it, you can leave the iPad keyboard dock there for when you're in town. It has a connection for audio out, and a connection for the Apple USB sync cable so you can keep it plugged into a wall or another computer for charging or syncing. I suggest getting a USB extension cable if you plan to keep the dock plugged into a wall since the one that comes with the iPad is only a few feet long.
Due to having to shut off all portable electronic devices, I'm finishing this blog post from Virginia. Thanks to Eric from ServInt, I'm also typing this paragraph on the Apple Wireless Keyboard. It is an amazingly light device and incredibly thin, other than the battery compartment on the top. Typing on it is the same as typing on any other full-size keyboard with responsive keys and proper keyboard proportions. As I suspected, now that I have an Apple Wireless Keyboard of my own, I am pretty sure my iPad Keyboard Dock will start collecting dust.
So what started as a post on the airplane using the iPad keyboard with no connectivity now ends in Virginia with the wireless keyboard over a Verizon Mifi 2200. Can't wait until my 64GB iPad 3G arrives!
*This post built entirely on an Apple iPad using a combination of the WordPress app and Safari.
We've been talking on cell phones for a long time. Most people have one, and many use them exclusively. I haven't had a home phone line in years, instead opting to use my iPhone as my primary means of communication. I do a lot of travel, so it is an added bonus to have a phone line that goes where I go rather than return home to a dozen voice mails. In today's world, being tethered to anything physical is rather difficult. That's why we have cell phones, that's why there's a 3G version of the iPad, and that's why many people use portable 3G routers and devices for their laptops. Given all this, and the evolution of cell phones over the past 20 years, you'd think cell phone networks would make similar advancements. Not only do they seem to be failing miserably, but the near future for quality of service seems to be in question.
I saw an ad recently by AT&T for a promotion they are doing. For $150 you can put a 3G MicroCell in your own home to dramatically boost your 3G signal strength. They began test marketing this in Charlotte, North Carolina, and are working toward a nationwide roll out. If building your own mini cell tower isn't enough, for $20/month you can be your own phone provider, meaning the minutes you use talking through your MicroCell won't count against your monthly allocation. That's right, for the low low price of $150 down and $20 monthly you can save AT&T the trouble of having to build quality towers in your area! Outragous? It gets worse. The MicroCell actually routes your cell phone and 3G activity over your home WiFi connection. In other words, if you have poor signal strength where you live thanks to insufficient or overloaded towers, paying for your cell phone service plan isn't enough. You now have to pay them for equipment, pay a monthly fee, and pay for a good quality internet connection at home. And have WiFi. I sure hope you're not using TW Roadrunner in La Jolla, or good luck carrying on a conversation without being dropped every 90 seconds.
Is that the future for carriers? Are they hoping we'll all buy their devices and sign up for home 3G plans so they can dump our 3G traffic out over our WiFi connections? I don't mean to pick on AT&T too much--the only reason I tend to mention them is that I'm a loyal customer and like to stick to what I know. I give them kudos for investing in their San Francisco area infrastructure ($65 million+ between 2008 and 2009) as well as taking on the iPhone single handed. However, I think it is outrageous for them to charge customers so they can charge customers, because they didn't build to proper capacity. I can only imagine what would happen at ServInt if we tried this. "Sure, you get 5 TB bandwidth with that, but if you want to push more than 1 Mbps you have to pay extra fees. Yeah, I know 1 Mbps doesn't let you use what you pay for, but we don't have capacity on your switch." We'd be fired. Repeatedly. If I tell a customer they can use 5 TB/month bandwidth, you can be damn sure the server is capable of pushing it, the network is capable of handling it, and the bandwidth is available to do it without a hint of slowdown. So what lets the phone companies get away with it?
Yet another loss for the casual air traveler, this one brought to us by United Airlines. If you've ever flown more than casually, you're probably aware that you don't have to pay First Class prices for a First Class seat. Most major US airlines have loyalty programs--I'm sure you've heard of the concept of earning miles. Airline loyalty programs go way beyond miles, however, with a number of perks for frequent fliers designed to make their lives more comfortable. One of the most popular involves getting your seat upgraded. Thanks to United's new Unlimited Domestic Upgrade program which offers unlimited free upgrades, getting a better seat on United Airlines just got much, much--harder.
What is a UDU?
A UDU, or Unlimited Domestic Upgrade, is a free upgrade given to qualified United Mileage Plus members. It replaces the use of 500-mile coupons, also known as e500's, for one-class upgrades on domestic flights. Customers with a status of Premier or higher flying a United fare on United metal will automatically have a UDU-based upgrade submitted on their behalf at time of purchase. More details can be found on the United UDU web page. That will give you the details and a lovely all-is-good-in-the-world positive spin, but read on for the outrageous details they don't tell you on their site.
But wait, its unlimited!! And its free!! What is bad about that?
I consider myself to be a loyalty program expert. I accumulated over 800,000 miles on American Airlines in just over 2 years. I never sat in coach, never paid for first. I just switched back to United Airlines last August, and earned Premier Executive (aka 1P, or 50,000+ ass-in-the-air miles in a calendar year) in those 5 months. So far this year I've almost re-qualified for my 1P, and am on my way to 1K+ (over 100,000 ass-in-the-air miles in a calendar year). Like AA, I usually sit in First Class on United too. That is, until the UDU program started last week. Let me start by explaining what it replaced. United had a system where you could earn 500-mile coupons and Regional Upgrades based on how much you flew. If you wanted to upgrade a flight you could spend 1 coupon per 500 flight miles, meaning a flight from SAN to IAD required 5 coupons. You could buy extra coupons as well and you could also use Regional Upgrades, good for the entire leg. The more you fly, the more of each you got for free. If you were out of both and wanted to save money, you could always elect to spend miles for your upgrade if you must.
The new UDU program changed all that. No more 500 mile coupons, at least not for Elite members. These are people who fly at least 25,000 miles in a year. United's ranks are:
- General Member
- Premier Associate (paid or gifted)
- Premier (25,000+ miles flown)
- Premier Executive (50,000+ miles flown)
- 1K (100,000+ miles flown)
- Global Services (invite-only for top 1% of customers based on revenue)
This is really confusing, but here's what I'm outraged about. With the new system, the same people will always get upgraded whether they want to or not. Its time to get on a plane. EVERY Elite member from Premier up is automatically put on the upgrade list. The upgrade list clears by status from Global Services on down to Premier. Then, and only then, can Premier Associate and General Members try to work their way into an upgraded seat. Best of luck to you. Fact is, so many people are at the Global Services and 1K list that on many popular flights there are 1K members who get passed over. Premier and Premier Executive don't even stand a chance.
Up until UDU, getting upgraded had a certain cost. Business travelers, the largest percentage of high elites that fly, would often sit satisfied in coach when they fly alone, saving their equity for when they take long trips or vacations with their family. That's what I sometimes do myself--I can't even count the number of times my family of 4 sat in First Class. Now that there's no cost to upgrading, however, the high elites will be more than happy to accept the upgrade every time. Are you a Premier or Premier Executive who occasionally enjoyed an upgrade by spending e500's? Sorry! Those seats will be filled by people who could care less what class of service they're in. Outrageous!
Sure, Global Services members spend the most money. Next is most likely 1K, and on down. It makes sense to want to reward the people who pay your bills. The thing is, everyone who flies more than casually gets a certain satisfaction from getting an upgrade from time-to-time. Its part of what keeps the Premier member flying. What happens when they have absolutely no hope of getting an upgrade? My guess is they go fly with someone else. Continental and US Air, for example, have largely the same routes as United, and most people outside of a few key cities have at least one alternative available. Is this enough to cost United customers? Most certainly. I don't know how many it will be, but the buzz on Flyer Talk is anything but positive, and that's where nearly every high elite goes to hang out. Frankly the only people who seem to like UDU are the Global Services members.
You can still spend your miles on an upgrade, and perhaps you'll get to skip ahead of a few UDU hopefuls. You might even get a seat. But the days of frequent domestic United upgrades without burning through your miles are over for most people. And yes, even though I'm set to hit 1K this year and will probably be "that guy" who almost always gets a UDU, I'd trade it in a heartbeat to go back to the old system. Because frankly I know 1K and Global Services are a minority for United, meaning the other 100-200 people on the plane not only pay much more than we do, but won't be quite as happy, which could create financial trouble once people realize they're treated better elsewhere. I guess the only thing I can ask now is if anyone wants to go halfsies on a Gulfstream?
Image courtesy of www.Copyright-free-photos.org.uk
I don't consider myself to be rich, but I know I'm not poor. I know this because I see so much disaster in this world, so much need, so much suffering. It really isn't hard to find--walk down just about any street in the world. Turn on the TV to any news channel. It is in every city, every country. Haiti was recently devastated by earthquakes, but they've been devastated by their leaders for hundreds of years. War wages in countless pockets of the world. Sickness, homelessness, starvation, and malnutrition plague billions. Near my house in La Jolla, California, nestled among multi-million dollar homes with ocean views, high-end stores, and $100/plate restaurants, you'll find homeless people begging at a number of popular intersections despite being surrounded by Porsche, Ferrari, Mercedez, Lamborghini, BMW, and other luxury brands at every changing traffic light. When you think about it, it is simply outrageous.
A few weeks ago I stopped at the light in my Cayenne Turbo S. Yeah, I'm one of them. There was a man, around 60 years old, standing there with a sign stating the painfully obvious. Hungry, broke, homeless, need any help you can give. Palming a bill in my hand I rolled down my window and said, "Excuse me sir, I'd like to help." He walked over and took the bill in a friendly exchange. I said, "How has your day been going?" to which he replied, "Not too bad. My body still works and the weather sure is nice. How do you like that car?" At first I was a bit unsure what to say, but I explained that its great. I had just shipped it from Virginia where we really need 4-wheel drive, but it has enough zip to be fun to drive too. We continued talking for about 20 more seconds until the light changed, a few more until I heard a beep behind me. His face was lit up the entire time.
I don't even think he realized the denomination of the bill I had handed him until I was long gone. The smile on his face wasn't because I gave him money, it is because I took the time to talk to him. Imagine being homeless, without friends or family. Imagine what others would think of you. Imagine watching a sea of wealth pass you every second of every day, without being able to get your hands on any of it. I'm pretty sure the smile on his face was because someone took the time to talk to him, even if only for a minute. Because for that minute the tattered, dirty, hungry, homeless man and the 30-something executive driving the Porsche were just a couple of guys having a chat.
Many of you, my early visitors, know me very well. I'm obviously not blogging to make an income. However, blogging can and does generate income, due to people having an interest in the products advertised here, or by clicking through to Amazon.com to buy an iPod, a Kindle, a best-selling book, or anything else Amazon sells. So I figure, why pass up that opportunity? Why let my readers wander away at random, when I can give you a chance to generate income for the blog as you leave the site? And better yet, I can take that income and put it to good use--to create more stories like the one above?
Here in San Diego I'm involved with a number of charities, which I'll discuss more in future posts. My wife and I are members of San Diego Social Venture Partners, I'm an advisor for the Equinox Center and we are Equinox Center Donors, and my wife is involved in charities on her own as well as others we support together. My company ServInt recently sponsored a charity concert for Haiti relief. The list goes on. With Outrageous Outrages I hope to work toward generating an understanding through my posts and rants that can help give you an awareness of not just who needs help, but also how you can help them. With this blog I'll also be gathering every penny I can from the revenue generated, I'll be accepting donations, and, most importantly, I'll be providing a matching percentage of all money generated by this blog. Because together we can do much more, and anything less would be an outrage.
I love Apple TV. When it first came out I didn't get it. I don't think many people did. Today, however, this high-speed, HD, content-rich device sits next to every TV in my house. I don't really use YouTube. I don't really use Netflix. But I do like my movies, my TV shows, and things that are quality. After a few minutes with the slick little white remote and for just a few bucks, I get HD movies ready to play in seconds on the unnecessarily-huge screen of my choice. I love America (yes, clicking that will let you buy the United States of America on Amazon, and even have it shipped overnight).
I guess you could say I'm the perfect demographic for one of these gadgets. Busy professional, intellectual, English-speaking, morally-grounded, and an affinity for simple luxuries in life. I bet Steve Jobs would be proud. However, I'm not the only person in the USA, and I'm not the only person who likes movies. According to the 2000 Census just under 20% of homes had a language other than English as the primary language, with almost 11% speaking Spanish. That doesn't count bilingual homes like mine where English is the primary language, but we also speak another. Further, an out-dated NCHS study puts the number of hearing impaired at over 20 million. I'd further estimate that an even larger group of Americans have overly-complicated sound systems hooked up to their TVs that they haven't figured out how to use. If not twice that, and then some. So given this, why hasn't Apple bothered to provide Closed Captioned versions of their Apple TV programming?
Okay, BORING! Right? Wait a second.
In Virginia I have Internet at my home, and Internet at my office. If anything goes wrong with the Internet at my home, I can just drive down the street to the office and continue working from there. In California, however, I work from home, so luckily I have two providers or I wouldn't be able to write this blog post. However, they are both horrible for their own reasons. This post is about AT&T, so I won't mention the horrible quality of my Time Warner Roadrunner cable modem service, I'll save my discussion of 1,000ms+ ping times, intermittent drop outs for 1-5 minutes every 15-30 minutes, and other issues for another post. Here I'm dedicating my time to discussing how outrageously difficult it is to deal with AT&T.
I'd say its my own fault, because even though I swear I was on auto-pay, I should have bothered to read my paper statements just in case my auto-pay stopped working, right? Frankly I just got distracted and took it for granted. I've flown over 30,000 miles so far this year back-and-forth, my wife is pregnant again, and we've added a puppy to the family for our two kids to enjoy. So I haven't been checking, and my AT&T DSL got cut off for non-payment. Oops. No problem, I switched over to my other connection and got the house back online, fired up my Vonage phone, cand called AT&T Customer Service. After entering my information and navigating menus for a few minutes, I get a voice recording which says, essentially: We're sorry, but our offices are now closed. Please call back Monday through Saturday to pay your bill. That's right folks, AT&T is closed on Sundays. Outrageous? It gets better.