September 29, 2006

MapQuest introduces draggable maps

Filed under: aol, maps, microsoft, web 2, web 2.0, yahoo — Rakesh Agrawal @ 3:23 pm

MapQuest introduced their take on draggable maps. The maps themselves are nicer than Microsoft’s and Yahoo’s, but not at the same level as Google’s, both in terms of appearance and performance.

One big disappointment: If you do a search using the “Find Nearby” function, the results are rendered on a small non-draggable map.

A few other things I’d like to see:

  • Aerial views, ideally on par with Microsoft’s bird’s eye view.
  • A single search box that parses out what I’m looking for, instead of making me chop the query into street address, city and state. More often than not, I’m cutting and pasting an address.
  • An inset of the surrounding area that lets you quickly pan around the area.
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Mobile ESPN heads for the showers

Filed under: advertising, mobile, wireless, wireless data — Rakesh Agrawal @ 7:14 am

ESPN pulled the plug on its mobile offering yesterday. The service offered an ESPN branded cellphone. This comes as no great surprise.

Among Mobile ESPN’s challenges:

  • ESPN is not a telecommunications brand.
  • Limited selection of handsets.
  • Limited range of price plans; most were higher than comparable plans from the major wireless companies.
  • Limited sales channel. They were competing with companies that offer products at kiosks, online, by phone, their own stores, retail, warehouse clubs, etc.
  • Many of their best prospects were locked into two year contracts.
  • ESPN Mobile operated on the Sprint network, which is not as solid as Verizon’s.

The key selling point of Mobile ESPN? Access to ESPN content over mobile broadband. You could watch sports clips and shows on the 1.5″ cellphone screen. In an HD world, you’ve got to be a real sports junkie to find that a valuable experience.

Mobile ESPN’s demise doesn’t bode well for Disney’s other offering – Disney mobile. Disney mobile has all of the challenges described above and one more: really ugly handsets.

The phones don’t even play up Disney’s brand assets – the mouse ears are nowhere to be seen. If you’re going to design phones for kids, use the characters in your line up. Cell phones are as much about fashion as they are about telecom. I might even be tempted by a Tigger phone.

September 28, 2006

Finding out whose AIM BuddyLists you are on

Filed under: aol, instant messaging, social networking, web 2.0 — Rakesh Agrawal @ 2:16 pm

When I look through the search logs for this blog, it seems like a lot of people are trying to find a way to figure out whose AIM BuddyList they are on.

It can’t be done.

Aside from idle curiosity, I’m wondering how people would use the data.

If you have an idea for a social networking application or another way to use such data, I would love to hear it.

Reducing the burden of newspapers

Filed under: advertising, media, newspapers — Rakesh Agrawal @ 2:05 pm

I feel guilty every Sunday when I get The Washington Post. The routine is the same. The first thing I do is get rid of the classifieds — six sections of newsprint whose only value to me is the exercise I get taking them to the recycling bin.

I’m sure I’m not alone. If you’re not in the market for a car, house or a job (in of the few job categories served well by newspapers), the classifieds are pure waste. After direct mail, newspaper classifieds have got to be the most environmentally wasteful form of advertising.

The guilt has gotten to the point where I’m canceling my subscription altogether.

How about allowing me to opt for the paper without the classifieds sections? Sure, this will reduce the paid circulation of classifieds by the number of people who opt out, but those people have no real value to advertisers anyway. All of that newsprint is a significant expense for newspapers and the environment.

From a logistics standpoint, this should be fairly easy to do. Much of the Sunday paper is pre-printed and then assembled later. Some newspapers, including the Post, already distribute some sections (such as the Sunday circulars) separately.

September 27, 2006

Round and round the carousel goes; where your bag isn’t, the airline knows

Filed under: airlines, terrorism, travel — Rakesh Agrawal @ 9:44 pm

I hate to check bags. I hate the wait to see if the airline has lost my bag. And the wait to talk to the overworked agents who have to deal with grumpy customers.

Because of the idiotic new “security” rules, I checked a bag on my recent trip to Dublin. After more than 40 minutes of watching the bags go round and round I decided mine wasn’t coming and I went to file a report. Another 15 or so minutes of waiting in line got me to the counter where the agent instantly pronounced that my bag was on the next flight.

With positive passenger bag match, the airlines are required to verify that passenger bags loaded on a plane match the passenger manifest. In many cases, they know that your bag isn’t on the plane before it even takes off.

They should share that information with you, instead of making you wait around the carousel for bags that they know won’t be arriving. Maybe an announcement on the flight or a display next to the baggage carousel indicating whose bags didn’t make the flight. They could be even more proactive and have the paperwork started when you arrive at the baggage office.

Although positive-bag match is a fake security measure (it presupposes that terrorists wouldn’t commit suicide), as long as it is in place, airlines should use the data it generates to better serve customers.

September 26, 2006

The TSA’s big show moves to the next act

Filed under: airlines, terrorism — Rakesh Agrawal @ 4:37 pm

Today brought stories such as “Authorities say easing ban on liquids won’t endanger fliers”. I fully agree, but only because the ban didn’t do anything to make fliers safer in the first place.

Another USA Today story talks about airport stores re-stocking liquids and gels. (Disclosure: Roger and I used to work together.) There was this interesting bit:Picture of a closed The Body Shop

“The Body Shop, which has 16 airport stores in the USA, will no longer require its clerks at shops inside security checkpoints to ask customers if they’re arriving or departing passengers, says marketing executive Kim Burrs.

Since August, the retailer has sold liquid or gel products only to those confirming that they just landed to prevent them from running into trouble with TSA.

The company closed nearly half of its airport stores immediately after the TSA’s decision in August but reopened them within a week.”

So during the ban on gels and liquids, The Body Shop was selling large bottles of liquids and gels inside the sterile area, relying on the word of travelers that they were arriving and not about to get on a plane with 12 ounces of contraband? The TSA and the airports allowed this? Yet another loophole in the faux fight against terrorism.

In the new regime, travelers can take on board up to 3 ounces of liquids or gels as long as they can fit within a single quart-sized plastic bag.

I wish I hadn’t sold my Proctor & Gamble stock. Those travel size toiletries have huge margins.

Plaxo’s elegant bounce management

Filed under: contacts, email, web 2.0 — Rakesh Agrawal @ 4:06 pm

I use Plaxo (not to be confused with Paxil) to manage many of my contacts. It’s an online address book that can automatically sync with many PC-based address books. One of the features is the ability to send your contacts revised contact information when things change in your life.

I recently updated my information and sent the information out to my contacts using Plaxo. As is often the case, a bunch of the emails bounced as people left companies, changed ISPs, etc.

But instead of sending all of the jargony error messages to me and flooding my Inbox, Plaxo collected the errors and sent a summary email of the email addresses that failed, the reasons they failed and a link to see the actual error message. There’s even a useful help file that explains the various reasons an email address can fail.

The email addresses that fail are also flagged in the contact record.

People who receive the email can also click to say that they don’t care about me and don’t want to get updates about me again. This is not reflected in the contact’s record.

It’s a very elegant, user-focused design.

September 20, 2006

New AOL Search beta

Filed under: aol, search — Rakesh Agrawal @ 6:06 pm

The AOL Search team has been working hard to launch a new search product. A sneak peek is available.

The redesign does two big things:

  • Reorganizes the left side, allowing more search results above the fold.
  • Adds a right rail with additional content from a variety of sources, including multimedia results. Try sheryl crow, desperate housewives, nordstrom, bmw and ireland. For these types of searches, the results are much richer than on typical search engines. Of course, not all searches will get the right rail experience.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

September 17, 2006

The TSA’s big show – breeding insecurity

Filed under: airlines, travel — Rakesh Agrawal @ 7:03 am

I went through security at the airport in Dublin behind someone with a bottle of water. I didn’t even have to take off my shoes. On board the flight to Frankfurt, a Lufthansa flight attendant armed me with a metal butter knife. I had to resist the sudden temptation to rush the cockpit with my new found power.

Landing in Frankfurt for the connection to my Washington flight I had to clear security again. This time, I had to chug the water I bought in Dublin, remove my shoes and get wanded, just like every other passenger on the U.S.-bound flight. Within the sterile, enclosed holding area, the Coke machine was off limits due to TSA regulations.

Coke machine at Frankfurt

Did any of this make me feel safer than on the flight to Frankfurt? No. I just felt hassled and inconvenienced. (And thirsty.)

Over the years, the government has convinced the public that inconvenience equals security. It does not. It makes for stories on TV that the government is doing everything it can to protect the public. But it’s merely a show that masks the inaction of the TSA on real security measures.

The recent so-called “security measures” are full of exemptions. Liquids and gels are not allowed, except when they are. You can have medication, but only if the label on the bottle matches the passenger’s name. (As if there were a standard, forgery-proof format for labels.) You can bring milk on board if you’re traveling with a baby. (Terrorists would never use a baby in a plot.) You can’t bring your own alcohol on a plane, but you can buy it from the duty-free store.

And never mind that the government has known about the threat of liquid explosives for more than a decade.

On board the United flight to Washington, I was given a business-class amenity pack that included toothpaste and body butter – items that would be confiscated if I were connecting to another flight and going through security checks a third time.

These regulations are put in without any assessment of their cost to society. Every hour we spend waiting in line at the airport is a drain on productivity and leisure. Over the course of a year, I’ll spend more than two work weeks in time lost due to these fake security measures. That’s a cost of thousands of dollars shared by me and my employer.

It’s a system run by politicians who prefer show over substance.

At the same time that uniformed TSA screeners on the front lines are confiscating toothpaste and water bottles, unseen bureaucrats are cutting research and development spending for devices that can detect explosives. The government continues to allow unscreened cargo and mail on to those same planes. These get little attention, because the public doesn’t see them.

September 6, 2006

Watching streaming movies on your cell phone

Filed under: consumer electronics, mobile, wireless, wireless data — Rakesh Agrawal @ 10:52 pm

Sprint announced today that customers can watch streaming movies on their cell phones.

I just don’t see this happening. For $4-$6, depending on the movie, you can watch it stream on to your tiny screen and listen on tinny speaker(s). I own the Samsung A900 that they’re using in the press for the movie service and I don’t think I get 2 hours of talk time on a full charge. Using the Internet connection (required for movie streaming) seems to drain the battery even faster.

I have watched TV and video clips (streamed from my Orb server) on the phone and it works quite nicely. I also occasionally call up movie trailers if I’m out and want to find out more about a movie. But I don’t think I’ve ever watched for longer than 5 minutes.

One thing not mentioned in the press materials is that you can’t receive calls while you’re watching a movie – your calls will go straight to voicemail.

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