As much as Thanksgiving kicks off the Christmas/Winter Holiday season of family, friends, and good cheer, Black Friday and its partner Cyber Monday have become the official kickoff of the unofficial shopping season that turns all that good cheer into stress, anxiety, and insomnia.
But it’s all bunk, or at least it is now. You’ve heard of “Hallmark holidays” – invented celebrations that exist only because greeting card companies want to sell more cards and trinkets. Right now, Cyber Monday and Black Friday are “Media Holidays”: They exist only because constant media attention feeds the perception that these non-events are actually events.
The evolution makes sense: for years, Black Friday was the most optimum day to do Christmas shopping. The day after Thanksgiving is either an official day off or a vacation day for many workers, and after a day of turkey and relatives, people wanted out of their houses. Depending on where you get your information from, the moniker comes from either retail sales finally going into the black for the year or Philadelphia shoppers behaving like, well, Philadelphians.
The advent of online shopping meant online shopping during Advent, and thus came Cyber Monday – that first day back at work when office workers would get back to their desks and shop online. Part of it was procrastination for those still suffering a hangover from the leftovers (or maybe a leftover hangover), but part of it was because in the early days of Amazon, the best internet connection many people had was the one at their work desk. Often, the T1 they plugged their business computer into was exponentially faster than the dial-up NetZero that their family used for limited connectivity at home.
The reality is that advances in residential broadband, smartphones, and mobile networks have made the concept of Cyber Monday ridiculous, especially given that many retailers’ “Black Friday” sales extended from the Monday before Thanksgiving through the weekend and almost all were available online during that same time frame. And there’s really no reason to go outside at all if most of the sales are available online – you can do just as much shopping in your pajamas watching Christmas movies on Black Friday as you can bundled and waiting in the black of night for some kid making just over minimum wage to unlock the doors at Target.
What keeps these non-holidays going is the media element. Much like many places of business that aren’t selling things, Thanksgiving weekend is slow for many media outlets. Black Friday deals and images of shoppers camping out make for ready-made content on every news program, from the local news up to the national networks. Social news helps too: tweets and status updates that come with the voluntarily miserable experience of shopping at some insane hour with family and friends are fun to read.
Black Friday (and Cyber Monday) provide an interesting yearly phenomenon that fills time on the news – so interesting that both days continue to outlive their original purpose.
Upon reflecting more about recent, high-profile rejections from Apple’s App Store, one thing is becoming apparent: with the iPhone/iPod platform is gaining popularity, more developers are investing time and resources writing software for it only to see their creations rejected.
The closed-door approach makes sense for Apple – since their platform is the first of its kind, any questionable use would reflect back on their highly-recognizable brand rather than an anonymous developer. If Saturday Night Live legend Garrett Morris developed a game for the iPhone called “Gonna Get Me a Shotgun and Kill all the Whities I See,” Apple would bear the brunt of the protests for allowing it rather than Morris. (When Morris famously – and hilariously – sang that line on the air in 1976, the NBC switchboard probably got more calls than Morris’s home phone. By citing the actual sketch, do I avoid somehow being called a racist for quoting it?)
But the closed door has implications for potentially revolutionary uses of mobile technology. In 2008 a developer created an excellent application for the Obama Campaign, allowing volunteers to prioritize their contacts for get out the vote calls. If the time and effort invested in creating an app is possibly wasted, how will small, volunteer-driven campaigns for local or Congressional offices – the types of campaigns who could really use the technology – justify exploring the possibilities of the platform?
Evan Coyne Maloney is one of the best independent filmmakers out there. Not only does he almost guarantee hilarity, but he makes intelligent points as well. This video is a bit long (ten minutes) but interesting and worth a watch:
Furor over athletes’ salaries is nothing new. From the rise of professional baseball in the 19th century to the salary explosions across all major sports in the 1980s and 1990s, the fans who live and die with their teams have groused about how much the athletes they root for make. And recently, discussions of executive compensation have fallen into the same category.
They have something else in common: the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and the quarterback of the New York Giants both earned their highly visible positions by winning a largely invisible process where many people competed. It’s not an easy climb to get to the top of the mountain.
To that point, check out this story out of Louisville about a journeyman minor leaguer named Kevin Barker. Of course, Barker is getting paid to play a game, but he’s certainly not living a life I would want to live when I reach 34.
At the ballpark Barker, 34, is known as the “old man” among teammates a decade younger. He is old to be playing in the minors, old to be living in a rented apartment near River Road with blankets, not curtains, covering the bedroom windows.
That doesn’t matter to Barker. What matters is making it back to the major leagues. After all, with road trips and home games — which he leaves for in early afternoon and returns from late at night — he is rarely at home. He doesn’t even know his address. He has his mail sent to Louisville Slugger Field so, if need be, it can be forwarded to his next stop.
There are a couple businesses in the news today which have an interesting connection: GM and tr.im. One that is closing its doors because it couldn’t make money; one still exists even though it couldn’t make money but it making thoughtful use of its second chance.
General/Government Motors was in a similar predicament – offering a product that others could produce cheaper and losing money – but one government bailout and structured bankruptcy later, and GM is announcing a new way to sell cars: eBay. Prospective car buyers will be able to drive prices down – no pun intended – from “buy it now” prices by underbidding.
Sure, it sounds like GM got the idea from a Video Professor infomercial, but it’s a good shot in the dark to increase car sales and build a stronger business. More important than another venue to sell cars, eBay gives GM a way to determine the worth of their cars to consumers – important data that can help set prices in the future.
No, that isn’t a caveat for Michael Vick’s reinstatement. It’s part of the Rules of the Public Policy Process taught by my former boss, Morton Blackwell. Essentially, the phrase means that in politics, sometimes it’s wise to pick your battles – and that not every fight you could engage in will help you achieve your ultimate goal.
It isn’t a politically-themed example, but a real estate management company in Chicago is making this point very clearly. The Horizon Group is suing a former tenant of one of their apartment buildings because she posted a snarky, critical comment on Twitter. “Who says sleeping in a moldy apartment is bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s okay,” tweeted the disgruntled renter, Amanda Bonnen.
Horizon didn’t bother asking Bonnen to remove the tweet or push a retraction to the meager following of 20 users who track her Twitter account. Instead, they filed a defamation lawsuit seeking $50,000 in damages.
“We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization,” explained Horizon’s Jeffrey Michael. That may indeed prove that Horizon is right in this case, but that isn’t a very inviting comment for a prospective renter.
Social networks like Twitter offer a chance for companies to engage their customers in a dialogue, and use the conversation – including constructive criticism – to make their business better. In some cases – and this could very well be one – a business relationship is simply irreconcilable, and the customer will give bad reviews no matter what. At that point, any business should gauge the situation and consider their options. I’d bet that many Chicago-area renters will steer clear of Horizon-managed properties, given their handling of this situation – far more than would have if Horizon had simply ignored Bonnen’s original tweet, which probably would have been seem by, at most, 25-50 people and forgotten by most soon after it was read.
Perhaps instead of suing first and asking questions later, Horizon’s management should have started with a question: Which is more harmful, a random Twitter post or bad PR from taking legal action against a dissatisfied customer?
Today, the price of hiring someone got a little higher.
I’ve worked minimum wage jobs, but not since my time at the University of Massachusetts. I’ve also hired people at minimum wage – and, more importantly, NOT hired people because of minimum wage. Today’s $7.25/hour federal minimum wage comes nearly a decade after Massachusetts hiked their $5.25/hour rate to $5.75, then $6.25, then $6.75 over the course of a year and a half. That sucked for me – I didn’t have work-study assistance, the program where the federal government pays two-thirds of a student’s hourly rate, so while I cost an extra $1.50/hour, others would only cost an extra $.50. It also sucked for Chris, the guy who ran the Coolidge Snack Bar.
The Coolidge Snack Bar was a business venture undertaken by us nerds who participated in the dorm council for Coolidge Tower at UMass. Using some seed money from what can best be called tax dollars, the snack bar provided a social space for the 550 people who lived in the building. The initial business plan called for a manager – a glorified term for someone to work the cash register, serve the customers, and make sure things like health codes were followed. Enter Chris.
That was the spring of 1999. Summer came, and with it a scheduled increase in the state minimum wage. When fall rolled around, we simply couldn’t afford to hire Chris back. He lost his job because the Massachusetts legislature wanted to help people making minimum wage. Good work, fellas.
A decade later,with a national economy in rough shape, we’re seeing stories which pose the question: is a minimum wage hike really the best thing for America’s workers? No one expects minimum wage earners to receive pink slips en masse tomorrow, but it may have something to do with the fact that unemployment as been rising steadily over the last few months.
I bet folks who find themselves today in the position Chris was in ten years ago might have an opinion, though.
The Washington Times’s Amanda Carpenter reports that GM is encouraging its remaining dealers to contact their Members of Congress. The message: oppose legislation which would re-open dealerships which have closed as part of the bailout.
Obviously, anyone and everyone should have the right to write their Congressman; and in politics, nothing moves unless it’s pushed, so the idea that GM leadership was encouraging its employees to contact elected leaders makes sense. But GM isn’t just any big company, it’s a company that owes its current existence to the Obama Administration and an infusion of public money.
The bailout/sale of GM to the government this spring included the administration forcing out longtime CEO Rick Wagoner and replacing him with someone who promised to “learn about cars.” Perhaps it should not be surprising that an Obama-administration-owned GM has proved to be better at lobbying than making cars.
Artists are bristling at Google’s invitation to help design skins for their Chrome browser, since Google is offering them the chance to work for free. Critics are pointing to Google’s $1.4 billion profit margin in the first quarter of 2009 as evidence that they can afford to pay artists.
Google, of course, makes that profit from GMail, Google docs, Google Calendar, Blogger, YouTube, and a host of useful online tools that consumers have to pay for… right? Actually, all of those are free services. In fact, Google offers any web user an awful lot for free.
It’s not altruistic – Google does it for exposure, because the more you use their products the more they can advertise to you – and the more likely they can put an ad in front of your face.
Google, which started as a humble search engine, realized years ago that the availability of online tools meant the market would eventually set the price for certain things at $0. Given a changing technological environment, Google changed their business model.
Good for the artists who have proclaimed that they don’t need Google for exposure – it means they are doing well enough that they don’t need to sacrifice salary for experience, the way an intern might.
The fact is, Google doesn’t need to pay for their services, either and will get their browser skin designed one way or another. The big winners are artists seeking exposure who are willing to sacrifice payment for their core services in exchange for a chance to be in front of more eyeballs – appropriately enough, the artists who think like Google.
I talking about social networks and online environments with a colleague this week, the 400-pound gorilla of the web 2.0 world came up: nobody is making any real money yet. “What people don’t realize,” he said, “is that YouTube has a lot of views, but has been losing its shirt. Facebook doesn’t make money. Twitter doesn’t make money.”
It’s a good point. Just as the “dot-com” craze launched a bubble and an eventual bust in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Web 2.0 industry has a bubble of its own. Outside of Google – who has made tons of money, but is seeing their business model coming under attack from privacy groups – most companies have been supported by venture capital.
For all their popularity, Facebook and Twitter will have to figure out some way to make money off the masses who use them or they could find themselves endangered. And while some recent innovations (like Facebook opening up it’s back-end programming) make these sites more useful to more people paradoxically make it harder to make money.
For the past year and a half especially, people have tracked and managed Twitter accounts via third-party programs either on their laptop or mobile phone – people rarely go to Twitter.com. With Facebook opening up their programming, it invites the same pattern of usage. In other words, both these sites promise to offer infrastructure for people to use for sharing content – but without having eyeballs on their actual sites, they can’t rely on the advertising revenue stream that so many other online companies have used as their bread and butter. That’s why there’s some speculation that browser companies might take over social networking as an attractive add-on to Firefox, Chrome, or Internet Explorer.
At the same time, outside groups have an interest in keeping these services afloat. Politicians and advocacy campaigns come to mind immediately as entities who have benefited from online networks. But wherever monetization ultimately comes from, at some point the monied interests who have supported the web 2.0 bubble will look for a return on their investment. If that return isn’t there, this bubble may burst, too.