Post

Google wants to make Glass cool again

Google’s new name for Glass is somewhat confusing considering the company already has “Project Ara”, a development team attempting to produce a modular smartphone.

The expectation is that Project Aura will provide a home for some of Google’s weirder technology projects, including its virtual reality effort Google Cardboard, and gesture input technology which is known as Soli.

According to the source, Nest CEO Tony Fadell will continue to help in the project, though no one knows what will happen if Nest becomes a separate Alphabet company.

Just weeks after Google and several other silicon valley mammoths agreed to a record $451 million settlement over a nearly 10-year old “no-poaching” pact among technology giants-a secret agreement not to recruit each others employees-Google is raiding the valley to recruit for its new Project Aura, Glass and Beyond, hiring a full-time recruiter, Jessica Bailow.

Google has brought in at least three employees from Amazon’s Lab126 to work on the new project and is still recruiting. Moreover, the fact that it was way overpriced at $1500 and didn’t offer that any practical usage, hence the Mountain View, California-based company in January stopped selling the head-mounted gear, with the company’s top management admitting that the device was released ahead of its time. He is now the software development manager of Project Aura, sources said. (Ross reports to Fadell.) To bolster its team, Project Aura has been picking up engineers laid off by Amazon after its Fire smartphone failed to gain traction with customers.

Some say Project Aura got started four months ago and is looking at reviving Google Glass.

Project Aura remains a mystery as of this writing, although there are speculations that the wearable is geared to becoming a VR (virtual reality) device. The third is Tina Chen, who left Lab126 after working on the retailer’s streaming box and Echo last month. The Fire phone was not well received and is no longer being sold after numerous price cuts.

Google renamed Project Glass to 'Project Aura', hiring ex-devs of Amazon's Lab126

Google bags ex Amazon ‘Lab126′ employees for ‘Project Aura’ Google Glass revival

California city suspends ticket tax in exchange for Disneyland’s $1 billion

The five-member council is expected to vote on Tuesday on the company’s proposal to go ahead with its Disneyland Resort makeover in exchange for a continued waiver of any future admission tax the city might impose on entertainment venues.

The council spent Tuesday evening discussing a substantial expansion of Disneyland Resort that would add attractions and parking with one significant caveat – the company wanted to prohibit admission ticket taxes for another 30 years.

The resolution extends a almost 20-year agreement with Disney regarding entertainment tax policy.

According to reports, Walt Disney Co. has won an extension of 30 years of a moratorium on ticket taxes in Anaheim, California.

In a statement, the city of Anaheim said Disney “is evaluating the addition of new attractions that would drive attendance and longer stays” as well as potential traffic-infrastructure upgrades to two of the roads leading into the theme parks. According to an earlier statement from the city, Burbank, which is California-based Disney, would be getting tax relief for another 15 years, in case it is invested considerably over $1 billion. Anaheim has never had an entertainment tax.

Disney’s plan calls for breaking ground by the end of 2017 and finishing construction by 2024.

The new agreement with Disney requires no city bond financing and no city spending.

Many residents who are opposed to the exemption said the City of Anaheim needs the tax revenue. It does not require a second reading.

After factoring in the cost of providing City services, the Anaheim Resort generates $67 million in surplus revenue annually, or almost a quarter of Anaheim’s General Fund.

The three hotels Disney operates within its resort and surrounding hotels that cater to theme park visitors also generate roughly $110 million a year in “transient occupancy” tax revenues paid to Anaheim, according to the city.

An investment of the magnitude being considered by Disney could bring local economic activity of $565 million to $847 million per year and create 3,000 to 4,500 additional jobs, according to Beacon.

City of Anaheim and Disney extend deal to encourage further Resort investment

Anaheim

How to Ruin Your Reputation … And (Partially) Redeem It

A few months back, I had a very negative experience with my energy company that cost me $1500 in unexpected electric bills. I was so frustrated and so sure of the righteousness of my cause that I nearly came out of my self-imposed exile from blogging to publically rip the company in violation rules 1-3 of my “10 Somewhat-Flexible Laws of Blogging About Companies.”

  1. Never talk ill of a client or potential client.
  2. Almost everyone is a potential client.
  3. If you must violate rule #1, don’t mention the company name.

I’m glad I didn’t. Even though they never reimbursed those excessive fees, they eventually implemented a program to make sure my situation never happens again.

A Series of Unfortunate Electric Bills

In July, I received a bill that was about 4.5 times the normal amount (for activity in the month of June). Convinced this was a mistake, I called my electric company about it, and they advised me to have my meter re-read, and that it would take about 10 business days for this to take place, but that they would contact me when the read was done.

I did not hear from them again until I got my next bill, which was also 850% more than it was over the same period the previous year. At that point, I wrote them again on August 7 and asked why they hadn’t let me know what the results of the re-read were so that I could look at different options. When they responded (2 weeks later after promising a 24-hour response), they said they never put in a request for a re-read.

While this was happening, I contacted my apartments to have them check my air conditioning to make sure everything was working right. They said it was, but that they cleaned the appliance regardless.

Whenever I called the electric company, instead of helping me figure out why my bills were so high, kept trying to sell me a fixed-rate contract. Sure, doing so would have saved me some money, but the scope of their “fix” would have saved me $10-$12 per month, not $500-$600, which is what I really needed. They had their script, and they were sticking to it. It took escalating the issue two levels before I got someone at the company to admit that something seemed “off” about my bill situation.

In the middle of a brutal Texas summer, with my dog staying there and while the bill was in dispute, the electric company shut off power to my apartment to force me to pay at least part of the disputed bill (I later found out this was in violation of the Utility Customer Bill of Rights).

How Energy is Delivered and Billed in Texas

Getting to the bottom of this, I got quite the education on how electricity is delivered and billed in Texas.

Essentially, the company that delivers electricity has nothing to do with how electricity gets billed, and the billing company (which can be one of several) is ready to lose you quickly, because customers are easily replaceable. It can be TXU, Reliant, Green Mountain or any other electric company. All they do is service the billing. Which you choose as a consumer is based on the rates and service you expect to get.

Thanks to the help of a knowledgable friend, I finally found the real cause of the issue, I called the electric company and asked if they would help with the part of the bill due to their lack of responsiveness. They refused. Eventually I protested through regulatory channels, and a very small portion was refunded.

Customer Service: It Is Your Job

I finally spoke with a representative of the office of the president in response to this official complaint, and suggested that they need to be more responsive and help people between bills realize if something is happening between billing periods. Not only did she disagree that their lack of responsiveness imparted on them any responsibility for three months of outrageous bills, but she directly told me that, regarding my suggestion that they notify people when their usage seems to spike 850%, “That’s not what we do.”

Then I took to Twitter, hoping to find someone higher in authority than the last person I spoke with.

The person who monitors their Twitter channel is a marketer, not a customer service person. She had no authority to help resolve the issues of customers, which only further frusterated me, because though she asked me to tell my story, she could not help. To her credit, she seemed sincere in her concern for my frustration (If she wasn’t being authentic, she at least faked it well).

This interaction convinced me of the truth of what Oliver Blanchard wrote in Social Media ROI:

“Remember, it is easier to train a good customer support representative to use social media than to train an experienced social media user to be a good customer support professional.”

As for the representative within the office of the president, she was just intent on getting me to pay three months of outrageously high bills, not helping me solve my issue or even making me feel heard. She took a very “That’s not my job” approach, not only for herself, but also for their entire organization. Had she met me halfway, had she hinted that she understood why I was upset and her company’s role in that frustration, my tone in this article would be much different.

So, normally I would have cut off ties with the company regardless. End of story. Although I’m better equipped now — having learned an awful lot about how electricity works in Texas — I had no faith that this is the company I wanted to do business with should I ever have any difficulty again.  Then the organization did something that suprised me.

They implemented my recommendation.

Now, I receive a weekly email between bills that tells me my usage for that week. And I am able to spot if something is amiss and don’t have to wait an entire billing period — while the meter is still running — to discover it.

Now, I don’t presume that I was the first to provide that recommendation, or that they went through with it because of my issue. Something like that takes more time to develop and execute than they had from the time of my first complaint and suggestion.

So someone besides me had to have thought it was a good idea. But the value of that idea did not trickle down to the customer service reps or to the office of the president, or at least they had no interest at all in acknowledging it, or admitting I had a valid point.

Though if they had, I’d not only be naming the company, but praising them to my friends about how well the company treated me, how awesome this service is, and how they should use this company for electricity as well.

How much better could companies do if they only trained and empowered their customer service reps to treat people as people and not means to and end? If they trained them to listen instead of follow a script?

Update: See how a Virginia woman was charged (and is fighting) a $15,000 utility bill.

How to Use the Apple iPad (#112)

Lately I’ve been toying around with an iPad provided to my team at work in order to explore and study its slim design and touch screen interface.

So far (and this assessment is subject to modification as time goes on), I’ve found that the interface lends itself to certain kinds of uses. But in spite of the fact that in can literally be used thousands of different ways (depending on the app it’s being used with), a single owner will probably use it for a few things.

Here’s one common usage I’ve observed.

– Cam Beck

How to Create a Remarkable Experience

About three weeks ago, the inestimable Jay Ehret, AKA “The Marketing Guy” invited me to participate in a webinar about remarkable customer experiences. Jay’s always been great to work with, and this project was no exception.

His Customer Experience Map Pack is an impressive piece of work. Very handy.

The funny thing was that I hadn’t seen his part, so I had no idea what he was going to talk about specifically. I just know his work overall pretty well, and I was confident that our ideas would align. As it turned out, besides introducing and explaining how to use the Customer Experience Map, his other major theme was “How to break away from industry norms and create a remarkable experience by framing your business with a metaphor.

My part could be summed up thusly: “Your brand is either the parachute or the pavement; your website is the ripcord.

Enjoy! – Cam Beck

10 Advanced Features I Want from Apple Tablet

Steve-jobsTo hear some commentators tell it, Steve Jobs is going to single-handedly save the newspaper industry with Apple’s new tablet, which is rumored to be announced next week (Read Newsweek’s Article: Five Ways Apple’s Tablet May Change the World).

I wish him, the newspaper industry, and the world the best of luck.

But while we’re pontificating about what the Tablet might do, here’s hoping its rumored crowdsourcing need aggregation and fulfillment app (codename: iGenie) will pull in my wish list and make it a reality.

Apple-tabletBesides the basics — Music, Internet, eReader, etc., here are some things I’d like to see in the new Tablet. In the interest of time, I’ll stick to the higher points.

  1. A magic pixie dust dispenser (Credit Joe “YOU LIE” Wilson)
  2. Unlimited battery life
  3. If not indestructible (wouldn’t be “green”), it would be at least highly durable.
  4. A 20 Megapixel camera with 1600x optical zoom, nightvision, flash, and macro and panoramic views.
  5. Free 4G connection running on a viable unloaded network.
  6. Video conferencing that makes it look like you’re looking at the person and not the camera.
  7. Autotuning.
  8. Wireless Enhanced Neurological Projection (I made that term up. Think of Neo’s ability to learn Kung Fu in “The Matrix,” but without the holes in our heads).
  9. A Step-by-Step Guide to Kung Fu eBook (See previous wish).
  10. Can be used as a flotation device and re-breather in the event of a water landing.

There’s much more, but you get the point. What are some of the features you want to see? –Cam Beck

The Value of Y-O-U

Value_based_feesRecently I read Value-Based Fees: How to Charge and Get What You’re Worth by Alan Weiss. I’ve coveted this book since I wrote Innovation by the Hour last year. After I worked through my rather large (and growing) stack of reading material, I finally was able to get my hands (and eyes) on it, and I am glad I did! (Thanks to Lisa for the recommendation).

Many, if not most, people in service industries bill for time and material. This is problematic in industries whose output includes ideas, for who is to say when (or on whose dime) ideas were generated? Who owns the idea formed in an employee’s head if it never sees the light of day?

Weiss argues that the problem is far more pernicious. Many of the headaches involved in consultancy or agency relationships stem from a systemic flaw in their billing methods. Weiss says it plainly: It’s “simply crazy” for consultants to base fees on time and materials. When you sell value and do your job correctly, you maximize your margin while ensuring the client feels like they got a bargain.

That is the definition of a “good deal.”

The book is well-written, memorable, and at times shockingly honest. Weiss says he’s glad his accountant hasn’t read his books, because he’d pay a lot more if he had to pay for value, not for time and materials.

He also practices what he preaches. The Kindle version of the book, which obviously does not require printing or distribution fees, is still $32, which is much more than typical new releases sell for on the Kindle, and not much less than the printed version, brand new. This is because Weiss is selling an idea and techniques to implement it, not paper and ink.

That idea in the book is worth the same regardless of the method in which it’s distributed. And if you’re currently billing by time and material, at $32 or $100, it really is a bargain.

The Supply and Demand of You
Weiss claims that “There is no law of supply of demand in the consulting profession.” What he’s referring to is that the fees you charge should have nothing to do with your supply of hours in a day, week, month or year.

However, as Weiss himself iterates elsewhere, there is only one person in the universe who is the product of your education, skills and experience. The supply of you is exactly one.

The question, then, is what is the demand for that product? It depends on what value you mutually establish.

  • What are the client’s business objectives?
  • How will success be measured?
  • What results can you deliver against these objectives and metrics?

You, as a product, may be of significant value to a client, regardless of how much time you need to spend on a project, as long as you are willing to believe in your value enough to make yourself accountable to actual, measurable results. Do the work necessary to educate the client and establish agreement on what your goals are.

Then you can both come away confident that you’ve been successful at meeting those goals. The client will feel like they got a bargain, and you will come away knowing you’ve been adequately compensated for your expertise.

Pick up the book today. You’ll be glad you did. – Cam Beck

A Case for Moral Selfishness

“[H]aving lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that, the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment of others.” – Benjamin Franklin

I am a skeptic.

To an outside observer, my skepticism may look a lot like cynicism. I don’t just believe people and companies are motivated by self-interest, I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

A person doesn’t simply buy a book from Amazon because they believe it will help Amazon make money or employ more people. They buy it because they want or need the book for themselves — either to inform, improve, or entertain. This is most often true when people realize that they’re spending their own resources – they tend to spend it in a way that benefits them, not others.

If they’re spending other people’s money, they tend to be less careful with it.

This doesn’t make everyone manifestly selfish, necessarily, because self-interest can indeed be naturally reconciled with service to others, without requiring one person to pick another’s pocket to do so.

For instance, recently I bought and read A Project Guide to UX Design because I believed it would make me better at my job. Continuous personal improvement improves my marketability (self-interest), but only if my improvement leads me to help others get what they want (service to others).

I also get a lot of joy (self-interest) by making a tangible and substantial contribution to the financial success of other companies (service to others), their employees (service to others) and the satisfaction of their customers (service to others).

It’s remarkable how often those things go hand-in-hand, when you work in a service industry, when regulations do not unnecessarily restrict your abillity to operate freely.

Once you realize that no one is more important to individuals than themselves, you tend to require stronger evidence that supports others’ claims of all the great things you’ll get if you just follow their lead.

A personality or “brand” may persuade you to be either less or more stringent with your requirements for evidence, which is just another way of saying that you trust those people and companies who have previously delivered on their promises, to the best of your knowledge.

However, healthy sketpicism, in light of moral self-interest, will allow the evidence to lead you wherever it may, even if it contradicts what you previously believed.

As a skeptic, I’ll be the first to admit that the process is sometimes uncomfortable, but it also allows you to be less judgmental of other people’s errors in thought and deed (which are intertwined), because you will realize that, in pursuit of your self-interest, you’ve managed a few whoppers yourself.

However, if there is a self-interest that should transcend all others, it should be the pursuit of the truth, which requires being capable of contradicting yourself when you find  your thoughts and deeds to be erroneous. Do not let love or hate of either personalities or brands to stand in the way of your dedication to think critically. – Cam Beck

Branding is Character. What Does Your Character Show?

Stuff happens.

So does branding. This is true whether you call it “branding” or not. As it turns out, branding has less to do with cutesy creative and clever themes than it has to do with your ability to consistently keep promises of your company — to build your company’s reputation as a firm of good character.

Not all promises are created equal, and all people do not assign equal value to all promises. This is why it is so difficult — and increasingly useless — to build a brand that pleases all people, all of the time.

Before all else, know who you are and what you stand for. Only then can you focus on making extraordinary promises to an audience that places a high value on those promises — and then over-deliver. – Cam Beck

Keep it simple

Ist2_440585-information-overloadThe transition from traditional media to digital media is a lot like going from a desert to a rain forest. Although there are quite a few ways to measure traditional media, many times it’s not cost effective to pay firms to get the data. It’s all a bit suspect too because you’re forced to use sample groups that may or may not be representative of the rest of the population.

Online media is infinitely measurable. Geography, activity, technology and in some cases even behavior before and after the click is measured in a way that floods an analyst with data. Those of us who have built our careers within the digital space love to pour over the data and talk about all types of information. The problem is that not all of it is relevant.

I love this recent article from Mark Walsh from the OMMA conference on Avoid ‘Data Diarrhea’. Although I wasn’t at the conference, I can relate to what must have been said:

“Data is useless unless it becomes currency for making a decision,” he said. To make sure online measurement is on track, he advised advertisers and analytics professionals to be sure they are asking the right questions, have the right expertise and the right mindset”

It’s important to begin with the end in mind. Understanding what metrics are important should be done at the beginning. Dash boards for digital marketing should resemble car dashboards, not the dash board for the Space Shuttle.

An important reminder.

– Paul Herring