Sandpit And Resting
Giving Up Privacy: The Race Heats Up

There’s a race going on in the tech sector, to see who will make the innovation that makes a generation give up more privacy. I stand with one foot in a generation that is happy to relinquish it and another in one that is still pretty suspicious. 

Redpepper is one of the latest companies trying hard to make us give up some of our most private information. Its app Facedeals was featured on CBS5 in San Francisco, which asked the question ‘how much is your privacy worth’? The app scans your photo as you enter participating stores, shares your information with businesses in your network and sends you a deal on your cell phone based on your consumer behavior.


As the reporter above showed, Facedeals is not a Facebook product but uses the social network’s platform and certainly mimics its logo.  Being able to ape that brand image will help Facedeals enormously as it tries to gain acceptance.

Hollywood offers a vision that may or may not scare you away from adoption. The movie ‘Branded‘ paints a picture of an America ‘where corporate brands have created a disillusioned population and one man’s effort to unlock the truth behind the conspiracy leads to an epic battle to control the world’.  I am frustrated because I read an Australian-set novel that painted the same picture in the early 2000s and can’t remember its title right now!


Scene from ‘Branded’

Michael Del Castillo in Upstart argues:  ‘ if you do crave that fleeting sense of privacy, you can leave your phone at home’. TV programmers have made the same argument to viewers who can’t stand their content for years: you can always pick up the remote and change channels. But most of us can no more imagine leaving our phone at home than leaving our door keys.

Even app developer Tim McMullen, whose company created Facedeals, says he’s a little sensitive to being filmed. But he adds: “the more intuitive marketing can be, the more people will appreciate it”. In the end I think he is on to something. Acquiring the information that will be available through Facedeals is an awesome privilege. Wield it wisely and customers will reward you in return. Abuse it and your risk turning them off the whole idea.

I would personally love to receive only marketing that is targeted more intelligently. I can’t wait to see which way this trend continues.

Uber’s CEO: Refreshingly Honest

Not for the first time I found myself glued to CBS This Morning until the last ten minutes today, this time to watch an interview with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

The anchors put him through his paces, particularly on the fact that he’s been open about having two business failures in his past. These include one bankruptcy and a multi-billion dollar lawsuit.

His latest business – a smart phone app – aims to disrupt the experience of hailing a cab. As he rightly pointed out, San Francisco offers one of the most frustrating experiences.  That is until he launched Uber, which has received almost universal praise from friends of mine who have used it.

I have used it a couple of times and it’s pretty astonishing to click a button and have a town car arrive in front of you shortly after. That said, I remember how much I liked Taxi Magic and Cabulous until they seemed to fold under the weight of their own popularity.

Uber doesn’t just talk the talk of disruptive business; it proudly flaunts the moments it bashes heads with the establishment. Take a look at one of its recent blog entries about being served a cease and desist order in Boston.

When asked why he was so honest about his previous failures, I loved this quote: “Whether it’s about social media or blogging, authenticity is how you tell your story now…the story can’t just always be good, it has to be real and it’s the hard times that you learn from as much as the good.


Travis Kalanick, Uber CEO: “In your toughest times is when you learn to be your best.”

Uber is now available in San Francisco, LA, Seattle and San Diego on the West Coast, on much of the East Coast and starting to make headway in the Midwest. I don’t know whether it will survive where other solutions have failed. However I applaud any entrepreneur who embraces past failures and is so determined to learn from them.

IndoorAtlas – More Accuracy, Less Wonder

I earned a new nickname while on a short break this weekend: Captain Diligent. It came about because as my best friends and partner all observed: if there’s an opportunity to plan a social event, I will grab it and try to make sure everyone sticks to the plan. I like to think I’m more of a free spirit but maybe I shouldn’t fight what comes naturally.

I am definitely not Captain Diligent when it comes to food shopping. I have a general sense of what I want. But I always leave time for stumbling across items that I haven’t heard of but might like to try. This can be infuriating if you’re accompanying me with little time to gather food for a meal.

So you would think I’d be first in line for IndoorAtlas, technology that ‘uses the unique geomagnetic field of every location on Earth to get positioning through a mobile device’. As reported by Engadget, this may one day allow us to navigate to the exact aisle in the grocery store where they keep the  brand of Mexican cooking chocolate we’re looking for.

But a curious thing happened as I watched the product demo, which ends with a journey through just such a grocery store.


I realized that although this technology will undoubtedly save me time and maybe even rescue a recipe here or there, it may take away some of the fun I always have shopping for food.

After all if you spend all your time looking at your phone, think of all the hidden treasures you’d miss if you lifted your head. In my neighborhood of San Francisco we have a brilliant, if pricy grocery store called Bi-Rite. Every corner of every shelf is packed with an incredible array of locally sourced foods and others from far away. Somehow they fit in more cheeses than the entire cheese section at Safeway. They even have staff casually wandering and watching to see whether now would be a good time to test what sort of mood you’re in, cheese-wise. I would miss all this  - and the staff would ignore me – if I was using this technology.


Random Bi-Rite customer pictured, not using IndoorAtlas

There are very few apps I use as often on my iPhone as Maps. IndoorAtlas promises to make that app experience far richer, on paper. But I have a feeling I’m going to be using it reluctantly. Unless they can one day add smell to the service that will guide me from the recipe book in the kitchen down the street to the store. Then, maybe, I’ll be a daily customer. 


British Media And The Olympic Nightmare

As Elizabeth Palmer accurately reported on CBS This Morning, the Brits love to anticipate disaster. Their tabloid news reporters thrive on predicting PR nightmares then saying ‘We told you so’ if they happen anyway.

With the Olympics looming in London, those media are unfortunately being helped by some Olympic stars, like hurdler Kerron Clement, whose bus from Heathrow got lost for four hours:


What Elizabeth didn’t have time to include in her report was Kerron’s own error later on Twitter:


Let’s let him off that one. As a dual American British citizen I’m used to defending both countries from each other when it comes to geographical awareness.

Now commuters are being advised to avoid delays by staying home, even as an extra lane is being carved out from ancient roads for Olympic traffic.


Fun fact - Londoners have predicted traffic nightmares since 2005 when it was announced the games were coming to the city. 

The Get Ahead of The Games site has produced a number of posters reminding people how crowded the Tube will be, which I spotted in April. This was my favorite:


Still Transport for London found out one in eight Londoners are not making any special plans for the their travel during the Games, so they recreated this ad on video:


That version of the video has only had just over 3,000 views on YouTube, but hopefully those viewers will take the humorous message and run with it.

Elizabeth mentions that the run up to the games has already added festive touches to the city, brightening the mood of the people drenched in weeks of rain.

Organizers will be hoping that the opening ceremony distracts people from the grim reality of traveling in London with thousands more visitors than normal.

But at the end of the day the Brits DO love to anticipate disaster. They take some pleasure in it. So in this case, organizers will have to take the rough with the smooth!


Dolphin Stories And Why We Love Them

You thought I was going to write about the plight of the dolphin and why we must do everything we can to save them, right? Wrong.

Dolphin stories are those I could clearly remember running a year ago but cheerfully ran again at the BBC, with a slightly new top line, because they were still relevant. They reminded me of vacations that included dolphin-watching off the Welsh coast. Our tour guides would tell us that if we stood and looked at the horizon long enough, another dolphin would leap over the water, causing us to gasp with wonder.

I was reminded of this yesterday at CBS 5 when I wrote the story of how Americans spend 45 hours a year checking their work email without being paid. The story first came out in a press release from Good Technology.

Now…I guarantee you this is the umpteenth story to reveal the same thing. Basically, we are addicted to staying in touch with the office and the shaky economy has made us more so, lest we seem to lack commitment. It is certainly a bit more revealing that more and more people find this acceptable.

I am absolutely sure I wrote this story at CNN more than five years ago and I probably started writing about it at the BBC. At the BBC when we saw these stories arriving in our inbox we would often smile, shake our heads then agree to find a place for a few lines on it at the bottom of the rundown.

We’d smile because even though we knew we weren’t looking at something earthshaking, we were looking at something that would resonate with a lot of our audience. And that’s good news for PR professionals, for many of whom there is one annual message that they need to disseminate along with many more strategically targeted stories.

This story made me nod my head in agreement and roll my eyes at the same time. But I do love the company’s contest on Facebook to find out the weirdest place people have checked email on their mobile devices. I was expecting to see a lot of carefully positioned photos of people in the restroom. Come on, you were too, right?

But this one from ‘Eric’ should definitely win the iPad in my opinion. I just hope his dancing partner is still talking to him!


Twitter Dumping LinkedIn? I Bet They’ll Survive

I’m sure it was a coincidence that news of Twitter dumping LinkedIn emerged after we found out about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes splitting. But the way the two sites have addressed the decision does also remind me of a personal break-up I once had, in which we almost completely avoided the issues while striving to present a ‘business as usual’ image.

A great friend likes to tease me about the press release that we appeared to send to friends reassuring them that although we had broken up, we were still great friends and there were no broken plates. All I’ll say now is that we did slightly gloss over the situation!

Obviously LinkedIn could not avoid addressing this issue with its users. And I’m sure as Salvador Rodriguez writes in the LA Times, that LinkedIn will take a hit to its traffic.  

However another article this week focused my eyes on LinkedIn’s business model versus Facebook’s and ‘How Linkedin Has Turned Your Resume Into a Cash Machine’. I highly recommend reading it.

If what the author says is true, then LinkedIn is set to drove competitors like Monster and Indeed firmly into the dust.  As a social network, it’s so much less attractive than Facebook and devoid of any warm and fuzzy feeling that would make me ‘love’ it in the same way. Meanwhile I keep trying its mobile app and really not liking it. But as a professional recruiting service, Forbes suggests LinkedIn has quietly become the smartest dog in the pack, building a sense of trust in its clients that will reap huge financial rewards.

LinkedIn looks spurned today, but Twitter may be the envious one behind the scenes. 

You Can Choose Your Friends; Maybe Your Family Too

When I worked for CBS Interactive I would watch The Early Show largely out of a sense of duty, also because I thought Erica Hill did a fantastic job. Now I’m watching CBS This Morning with no need to feel a sense of duty and a whole different appreciation.

My Mom used to say:  “You can choose your friends, not your family.” It meant many things to me, including recognizing that while family members might not act like you would put them together as friends, they brought a unique combination of experience to the dinner table that always made conversation fascinating.

I feel that way about CBS This Morning. It took me a while to get used to the idea of Erica, Charlie and Gayle together on the same set. And for the first few months I got annoyed at Gayle and Charlie speaking over each other. Then recently all of a sudden they all found their rhythm together and I could concentrate more on the content.

Erica is the consummate news professional: with a perfect approach to morning TV, she moves seamlessly between serious and light-hearted stories. When she ‘produces’ Charlie and Gayle on set, it’s pretty funny. As a news junkie I used to live for her interactions with Anderson Cooper on CNN.  I’m not starry-eyed about TV anchors, having worked with so many, but I would love to meet her.

Charlie is obviously very well connected and that benefits the show. Working mostly in Britain till 2007, I was only lightly aware of the Charlie Rose show. So watching him doesn’t feel like watching an institution as it does to many Americans.  I don’t think I’d be smart enough to be a friend of his, but I respect him.

Gayle brings the surprises and the good cheer.  The sudden changes of direction remind me of moments at my family dinner table when we ignored the rule not to discuss politics while eating; because we just couldn’t help it! And she got Colin Powell to sing ‘Call Me Maybe’. Who does that?!


I tuned into Good Morning America recently, I have to admit mainly because I felt badly for Robin Roberts facing another health scare. Of course she handled the news perfectly and I stayed for a little while that morning. But I quickly recognized that the rest of the show was not for me. 

Put simply, I feel so much smarter when I finish watching CBS This Morning than I do either of the other two networks. Not to mention the fact the graphics, the look and feel of CBS This Morning seem like they belong to the 21st century; its two competitors look stuck in the 1980s.

Jeff Glor, Lee Woodruff and Jan Crawford are the reporters on the show I really love so far. But maybe the others will grow on me too. I used to produce morning news for 200 million viewers worldwide with anchors including Christiane Amanpour, Richard Quest and Jim Clancy.  Many producers only hope to hang on to you for a maximum of 15-20 minutes; that’s why so many shows repeat the headlines that often. The fact that CBS This Morning is hanging on to me for 90 is largely thanks to the story selection and handling. 


I really miss Lopez Tonight on TBS because you always knew stars felt more at ease there than on any of the networks’ late night talk shows. Free of the constraints not to swear – for example - you saw the unvarnished actor/singer/comedian. You can’t swear on CBS This Morning either, but the choice of visitors and quality of conversation offered by Erica, Gayle and Charlie shows you the smartest side of every guest. In this one case, you can choose your family, and that’s the one for me.

Microsoft Surface: Can You Bench-Press With It?

I’ve been enjoying all the tech journalists pulling apart the Microsoft Surface this week to see if it will crush the iPad. My eye has narrowed in on some of the not so great headlines, like these from FoxNews and ZDNet:



or this one:


..which I include partly just to have fun with Apple-Shift-4 and the ad being surfaced next to CNET’s article for a moment this morning.

It’s been a deluge of tablet coverage. Yet I’m still really looking forward to the torture test at 11am PT on Tuesday June 24th that Always On with Molly Wood is planning for the iPad. I know it has at least something to do with being tested in extreme cold.

But where are the gym stress tests? I ask because I am continually amazed at my Golds gym when I see guys walking into a room of other guys and heavy, heavy weights, carrying their iPad. I use my iPhone all the time for recording progress on my weight training goals. But that goes in my pocket. I have yet to see the running machine equipped with this device I spotted just now:


…and yet I see guys laying their iPads down next to 35 and 45 pound weights all the time! Are they surrounded by an invisible protective bubble, and if so where do I buy one? I probably still wouldn’t work out with one, but I’d buy one for use on Muni.

You see not long ago I accidentally tested the powers of my iPad as a surface to air missile by dropping it six feet down stairs at a San Francisco Muni Station,  so I take this question very personally:


I went around with a far more scratched iPhone case for weeks before getting the screen fixed in Las Vegas. I didn’t care who saw it. But the iPad is still so precious to me, I’m ashamed to bring it out in public with these little scratches on it.

What looks right up my street is the Disney Hybrid case for cars, featured on Squidoo’s guide to kid-friendly iPad cases:


It includes a childproof case, integrated screen protector, carhead rest and carrying strap, capacitive stylus and integrated stand. I will look awesome with it playing Cars2 from Disney AppMates, which I already have. And my birthday’s coming up in a little over three weeks…

A Fresh, Fun Way To Cover The Gadgets We Love

Aluminum foil, scissors, pen, water, a Q-tip…these are the things my nightmares are made of.

What, you ask?

Well, these are the things you need to make a stylus that will allow you to Draw Something more proficiently on the iPad. And I found this out from the first episode of Always On With Molly Wood from CNET. And since my partner already stays up till all hours drawing penguins and famous actors with God knows who, I don’t need tips like these to be seen in my house!


Despite that - I want to congratulate Molly Wood, Sharon Vaknin, Sarah Harbin, Eileen Rivera, Stephen Beacham, Charlie Wagner and all the rest of the team at CNET for the first episode of this new weekly program.

I know I’m a bit biased since I used to work with CNET, so check it out yourself and see if I’m wrong.  And email with story ideas for the show, my tip: the crazier the better.

Always On puts a lovely fresh coat of paint on CNET’s approach to the gadgets we love and those we haven’t heard of but are going to want.  Seriously, the lighting, camera work and graphics are much more akin to a network TV show than anything I’ve seen on the web.

But it’s more than surface-shiny. The story selection was fun and useful and everything was delivered with a slightly tongue in cheek approach that makes me want to come back next week.

Tell me the first shot of Impulse, the solar powered race car from UC Berkeley doesn’t remind you of the landspeeders racing through the streets of Tatooine. I think I squealed when I saw it:

 … but then the second thing I see every morning when I wake up is one of Steve Thomas’ wonderful retro Star Wars posters, I picked this one up at Comic-Con last year: 


And now – oh internet, you are a dangerous place – I want the toy one from Kenner circa 1977:

Here’s to many more fun shows from the CNET team.


We Barely Woke Up

I’m a Peets man, I love their branding, their customer service (in most stores) and how strong their coffee is. And although I flirt with newcomers like Sight Glass, if I’m heading out of heavily populated areas for a long drive my last stop is always a Peets, not a Starbucks.

Bear that in mind when I say I think Starbucks’ Create Jobs for USA fund is an inspired way to encourage loyalty to the Starbucks brand and a sense of good karma attached to buying their coffee. I really WANT to love Starbucks, even though I have to doctor their coffee every time I buy it, to get over its taste.

All the more reason for me to be disappointed when CEO Howard Schultz came on CBS This Morning to discuss the company’s new Indivisible Brew, launched to support the Jobs fund.

A company blog might have been a great way to encourage people to find out more, though judging by this one, it hasn’t set the world alight yet:


A prime time TV interview is another tool in the box and no doubt Starbucks’ PR team was very pleased to get this one. But this one went wrong from start to finish and bore all the hallmarks of Schultz having received the wrong kind of media training.

If you only looked at a transcript you might think: hey, this man got his message across.

But if you watch it you truly understand why even the greatest company leaders need good media training. Satellite interviews are tough, especially early in the morning, as Charlie commented. You can’t see who’s interviewing you, so all handy body language clues are removed. But the interviewer – and the world – can see you and your sweat in high definition.

The PR mission – stated by Charlie in the intro – was to discuss a new line of coffee and other products to benefit Starbucks’ Create Jobs for USA fund.

Schultz’ energy was the one consistently bad problem, low from the beginning, it never rose a decibel, even when he was delivering inspiring words like: “We have a dog in this fight, we must do something.”

His first answer starts off ok, clearly he has been well schooled. But then rather than wait for Charlie to ask him to put some color on his statements, he launches into his prepared example about the economy in East Liverpool, Ohio.

Neither does he give Charlie time to ask him how Starbucks is putting muscle behind its words in its own job creation department – he lobs that example down the line without a pause.

Charlie tries to lighten the tone by asking him whether he regrets selling the Seattle Sonics. Schultz skips over the answer and then jumps right back onto his prepared message. And by this time we’re strangely excited when the graphic comes up on screen teasing the next segment:


Charlie asks him how many companies he got to follow his lead. Schultz says he doesn’t know exactly, refers to customers instead then says “I’m not here to solicit other companies to do something… just to demonstrate why Starbucks has had a record year.” That sounds like something he wasn’t prepared for at all.

Charlie pushes him – shouldn’t you be soliciting other corporations because you just said earlier in this conversation that Washington is not doing it and its up to the private sector to do it? Finally Schultz sounds like he’s listening a bit – by pointing out that this interview is an opportunity for him to inspire other companies to follow Starbucks’ lead.

But then he tries to come back to his East Liverpool anecdote; again ignoring that Charlie never asked him about it!  

Charlie gets one last question in on banning sugar-filled sodas bigger than 16 oz in New York. Schultz stays fairly much on the fence but says Starbucks will follow suit because the Mayor of New York is doing something. Finally I found myself hungering for another question, but there was not time to find out exactly how Starbucks would follow suit.

And you know what I really want to know at the end of all this? What does this new line of coffee taste like? I’m less interested than ever to venture into Starbucks to find out and that’s a real shame.

My message to Peets:  you have an opportunity here. But before you flatter Starbucks by coming up with your own job creation scheme/other project, make sure your leaders can handle all types of media interviews. 

My message to Starbucks: work with Schultz to enable him to be part of the broadcast conversation. I’m available to help (briefly)!