Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Some More Whining about Values of N

I have been in a terribly whiny mood lately. I've been whining at work, whining at home, whining just about everywhere. At least now I have something real to whine about. Values of N has been acquired by Twitter and they are shutting down all the services that the company provided. That would be two of more favorite services, I Want Sandy and Stikkit. I won't go into why I think they are great (just look at the previous posts on these awesome services) but it is suffice to say, they will be missed.

Now, it is unusual for a company to buy another company and shut everything down almost immediately. Most of the time it takes a couple of years before management realized they have screwed up and should never have bought this dog. Not in this case. First, Values of N is not a dog. They have some of the most interesting and inventive software anywhere. Second, they did it right away. They finished the acquisition today (November 25) and are shutting everything off on December 8th. Even in Internet time that's fast.

I'll grant you that I never saw how Values of N was even attempting to make money. I always assumed that the Internet services were meant as a proving ground for software and they would simply license it to other software vendors. Bottom feeding is not, however, the reason that Twitter bought them. They did not buy them for their technology (though hopefully some of the best stuff will make its way into Twitter). Nope none of that conventional stuff.

Instead, they wanted the founder on their team. That's right, they bought a whole company and shut it down to get one guy, Rael Dornfest. Okay, he's a brilliant guy and all but still. Did they have to kill the whole company just to get one brilliant guy. Like I said, Twitter doesn't go for the conventional way of doing things.

There is a serious issue that the shutdown highlights. As more and more apps migrate to the Web, we have to worry about our data sitting on someone else's machine and what happens if that machine gets turned off. I don't mean temporarily but for good. Like Values of N. Needless to say, getting all my Stikkit notes converted to other bookmark managers and note programs was a pain, especially since there was no wholesale download facility.

Now imagine that Google turned off Google Apps. All the people who rely on it would find themselves having to find a new application plus migrate their data. Just as I was warming to online apps, I get slapped in the face with the cold hard reality of having my data in someone else's hands. Not pretty.

So, I bid a fond farewell to Stikkit, I Want Sandy, and all the promise of Values of N. I hope Twitter gave you a great deal Rael since the rest of us got a raw one. I'll stop whining now

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Woot! Crack for Gadget Freaks.

I love Woot. Woot is my master and I am its slave. I must look at Woot everyday and, if there is a Woot Off, must constantly check it. I buy really cool stuff I don't need but find myself desperately wanting. I crave what Woot offers. My family is considering an intervention. It's not like I haven't tried to stop myself. I just can't.

While that overstates the effect of Woot just a wee bit, it is the only on-line store that has approached obsession with me and many of the folks I know in the tech world. For those of you lucky enough to have avoided Woot over the years here's the run down. Woot is a website that sells just one item each day. That's it. They start selling something at midnight and keep going until it is all gone or the day ends. And what they sell! It is a geek's dream! Woot has everything from the big (wide screen TV) to the small (Micro SD Flash Memory cards). Shipping is also the same no matter what the item - $5. That's $5 to ship a pair of headphones or $5 to ship a PC.

Woot started as a way for an electronics dealer to get rid of excess inventory and it shows in its offerings. There are a lot of high volume products such as USB flash drives. Many of the bigger ticket items like PCs are refurbished or restocked items. But each day brings new goodies to drool over.

For many Internet retailers, shoppers go to them when they already know they want something. You have made the buying decision and all you need is a good price and someone to ship it to you. Amazon has done great business this way. The same is generally true of auction sites. People go to eBay because they are looking for something or an item in some class of items. They choose the auction because the perceive they can get something cheaper this way or because that is the only way to get certain things like collectibles. Even when you are buying a gift and want to browse the site for an idea, you have already decided to buy something.

Woot is different. By only offering one thing at a time, it draws you back every day to see what is on sale. That makes Woot king of the impulse buy. You don't go to Woot looking for anything in particular. You go to see what they have. It is totally addictive.

Incredible Marketing

The marketing on Woot is outstanding, some of the best around. Each item has a description that is incredibly funny. It's worth going to the site each day just to read the copy. The title for the product description for the Elf-1 night vision monocular reads “The Elvish Mounted Policemen’s Union”. The humor is definitely twisted. It's very funny in a Monty Python manner. It shows that they really understand their customers. The daily podcasts are also hysterical.

They also have interesting promotions. Tuesdays are Two-For-Tuesday... um... Tuesdays. They sell a two pack of something. It might be a set of headphones (Got that once for me and my son) or something similar. Now, you might say “Why do I need two of them?” Why not? Given what things cost on Woot, you are basically getting one free. Do you have friends? Then give one away. Or keep a spare as a sort of belt-and-suspenders strategy for electronic do-dads.

Another innovative piece of marketing is the Woot Off. Every once in awhile, they sell a whole bunch of items in one day. Not all at once, like a conventional store, but one after another in true Woot style. They sell a limited number of items until they are gone then rapidly fire up another item. This is truly addictive (there's that word again). It is easy to waste an entire day looking at all the pretty toys go by and occasionally buy one. Woot Offs are more exciting than Vegas. The Woot Off is only one of the many other promotions on Woot. The launch event is another but read about it in the FAQ. It's pretty funny.

The single best promotion that Woot puts on is the Bag O Crap. For $1 plus the usual shipping you get a bag of three items. You don't know what those items are but, hey, it's only a dollar (90 cents to my Canadian friends and practically free to those whose lives are denominated in Euros). Folks I know who have bought the Bag O Crap claim that it is not crap at all but really good stuff. Problem is, they go so fast I can never get one. You have to decide ahead of time to just buy it when you see it, without thinking about it.

The Site Design is Spectacular

The Woot site is one of the best e-Commerce sites I have ever encountered. It is so easy to use, anyone can figure it out. If you see something you like you click on an enormous orange button that says “I want one!” No mistaking what that's about. Once you decide to buy something using the huge button, you fill in your information (unless it's stored from a previous purchase) and click on another giant orange button that says “Buy this now!” The label above the button tells you to click on this “ridiculously large button” just in case “Buy this now!” doesn't get the message across.

Woot is one of the greatest ideas I've ever seen for marketing and selling products. The Woot people have extended the concept to T-Shirts and Wine. For a wine aficionado like me, Wine.Woot is truly dangerous to the wallet. Thank goodness they don't have Cigar.Woot. That would push me over the edge into bankruptcy for sure. Like classic Woot and Wine.Woot, it would be too easy to get sucked in and just buy on impulse.

Now, let me see that 26inch monitor again. Oh man. That feels good. So good.