WebInno 42, Can You Believe It?

WebInno42 is coming up on Monday, June 16th at the Royal Sonesta in Kendall Square. Hard to believe these events have been going on – and getting stronger – for such a long time. It’s evidence of Boston’s great entrepreneurial community and a testament to David Beisel’s commitment to helping that community thrive. I’ve been attending WebInno since 2006 and it’s always one of my favorite events. Here’s the line-up for this month’s event and what I think of each of the main dish and side dish companies.

Main Dishes

Bedrock Data, Easily Integrate Your Business Data – Often the companies that demo at WebInno provide consumer-facing technology. Bedrock doesn’t. This is technology designed to allow businesses to better manage and synchronize their data. The website describes the company as a data management platform, and I guess technically it is; but it isn’t a DMP in the ad tech sense.

The basic idea here is that most organizations have a ton of data (from what I can tell, Bedrock is primarily designed to tap into customer data from CRM systems) and a bunch of apps (and here the focus from Bedrock is heavily tilted toward marketing, though they also support finance, customer support and ecommerce systems). It’s tough as nails to make sure you’re always working with the most current data in every situation and that’s the problem Bedrock solves.

Here’s how it works: you identify your data source (typically a CRM system) and the application you want it to synchronize with. You need to tell the system which data source would win in a conflict, which fields you want to synchronize and get it started. The system will, within minutes, update both systems and will keep them current moving forward. Change in your marketing system will be reflected in your CRM system and vise versa. It seems like a useful, if not especially, eye-popping offering.

Bridj, Better Transit. For Everyone. – Bridj is essentially privatized mass transit. The company currently has two routes, one between Coolidge Corner and Kendall Square and the other from Coolidge Corner to downtown Boston, with more on the way. Bridj has shuttles (featuring leather seats and Wi-Fi) to move people between their single start points and end points. This means no stops, which means much faster travel times than are available from public transportation. The service is currently free during its “beta” period (which started yesterday) and has just one departure time per route at this point.

As I read about Bridj it brought to mind the private shuttles that have received so much (negative) attention in the Bay Area. In that case, employers in the Valley provide the shuttles as a free service. Bridj is a little different because it is theoretically available to anyone who a) needs to get between one of the company’s start and end points and b) can afford a pass (which the company says is just a little more than a T fare). That’s what makes it private-public instead of purely private as is the case of the shuttles in SF.

Still, it does create a tiered transit system that will create distinctions between people based on location and disposable income. One could argue we already have that to the extent that some people can afford to drive or take taxis or use the Pike vs. surface roads. It will be interesting to see how Boston responds to the idea. It raises several questions for me:

Will it result in fewer cars on the road? It might, but going from Coolidge Corner, it’s more likely to result in lower ridership for the MBTA. That seems like a double-edge sword: easier commutes for those who can take advantage of Bridj but less operating revenue for the MBTA.

To what extent will Bridj tax the transportation infrastructure and how will it pay for whatever impact it has? With two routes at this point, it seems unlikely Bridj will have any measurable impact (if anything, taking cars off the road may have a positive impact). As more routes are added that could change, though it does seem unlikely.

Will Bridj serve every community? The company says they use big data to determine their routes. I’m sure that’s true – to an extent – but it’s hard for me to believe that Coolidge Corner is the point of origin for the greatest number of commuters into either downtown or Kendall Square. Will Bridj share the data used to determine its routes? Will the company look beyond Brookline, to some of the outer suburbs or other neighborhoods to help take cars off the road or shorten longer public transit commutes? The MBTA reports a travel time from Coolidge to Kendall as being 30 minutes and costing $2.50, from Ashmont the trip takes 45 minutes and costs $4.50 and from Natick (where I live) the trip takes almost an hour and costs $9.75. Only time and transparency will tell.

Squadle, The Smart Way to Manage Your Business. – Before going on about Squadle, can we all just agree that the name is really terrible? I can’t decide which it makes me think of more a) a group bathroom experience or b) a new Pokemon. Either way, it doesn’t make me think about managing a business.

That aside, what is Squadle all about? (OK, seriously, I can barely bring myself to type that word.) It’s actually pretty cool. Think of it as a silent taskmaster in the cloud. Designed for restaurants (and food trucks!), Squadle consists of two elements: the Squadle Hub, which is a “ruggedized” Google tablet, and the Squadle HQ which is essentially an analytics dashboard.

The Hub allows daily tasks and lists to be shared with employees and provides them a way to keep track of what they are meant to be doing. The HQ gives managers a way to see how well their operation is performing. It’s all wireless, apparently easy to set up and get into the field and is simple enough that even Beavis and Butthead could probably use it.

It’s interesting to see how mobile technology is making its way into more and more industries. The fact that Squadle links employees’ in-store activities with a management dashboard seems pretty cool.

Side Dishes

Animatron – HTML5 is pretty cool. It’s allowing publishers to create assets that can work online and on mobile devices. Creating those assets, now how do you do that exactly? Hell if I know, I haven’t used HTML in years. Animatron is here to help. I signed up and tried fooling around with it and it seemed pretty cool to me. I didn’t have the time (day jobs!) to do much though. It’s certainly worth checking out and giving a spin.

AppBlade, Deploy, manage and configure with ease. – As AppBlade points out, mobile devices have changed everything – including how we work. As businesses rely on apps to help their employees get things done, they’ve faced the challenge of getting purpose-build apps into the field, managing them, keeping them up-to-date, etc. That’s the problem AppBlade is designed to solve. It’s not a problem I face so I can’t really say that much about the company.

Kidnosh, Eat out. Eat well. With kids. – As a father I appreciate the challenge of finding places to eat with my kids. They’re in their teens now but that hasn’t made things any easier. When they were young, oh man, what a pain. Kidnosh is designed to make it easier for adults to find restaurants that are kid-friendly. That’s cool. I looked at a few listings and it all seemed good to me. What wasn’t so good was the apparent absence of an app. The worst – and I mean worst – thing is being out with hungry kids and trying to find a place to eat. Maybe these guys should check out Animatron?

RocketBoard), Stream your ordinary whiteboard to anyone anywhere. – There’s not much to say about RocketBoard. They were Teamboard. At the moment the site is nothing more than a field to enter your email address to get early access when it’s available. Watch this space I guess.

Zylo Media, Advertising that people choose to interact with! – For reasons that are beyond me, I’ve ended up working primarily with advertising technology clients for the past three or four years. It’s an exciting space with lots of players, all different layers of technology and issues that transcend product (things like privacy and big data). Does that mean I choose to interact with advertising? No, not really. Sometimes I do and I’m the most impressed when I find myself engaging with ads without even realizing it at first. There’s a real art to making that happen.

Zylo develops casual games that help reinforce brands and provide consumers with offers and rewards for playing. The company captures user names, contact information and demographic details. According to Zylo, the typical player will consider 50 offers before accepting one. What does that mean? It means the customer has played about 200 games and been exposed to more than 2000 ad impressions over the course of an hour. To me that seems like a lot of impressions in a short time but if Zylo says it works, who am I do judge?

Well there you have it, my preview of WebInno42. Bridj is the most interesting one, not necessarily because of what they’re offering but because of the questions it raises. I’m looking forward to th

Right Enough

What day was it that we lost the ability to cook at home? It was probably at least a month. Easily a month, probably six or eight weeks. The process of getting the stove replaced and delivered and installed was a pain but such is life. Here is how the story ended.

On Friday Sears called to say the installation would happen on Saturday. Wendy and I were (and are) dealing with much bigger issues than the stove, so while happy I was disappointed not to be able to join her for something else. During the agreed upon window a white van arrived bearing two installers. They went to work and soon discovered a problem.

Somehow, this new stove was a fraction of an inch wider than the original one. They identified the problem as being our granite counter. They explained I’d need to cut the counter if I wanted to get the stove in and did I know anyone who could cut granite. As it happens I do so I called my friend Marcos. He agree to come over but in the meantime I told the installers to get it all set up and I’d take care of sliding it in later.

They did as much as they could do and went on their way. Soon Marcos arrived and we looked at the stove and looked at the space it was meant to fill. We looked at it this way and that. Soon I saw (or thought I saw) that by raising it a bit more and pushing it to one side we’d be able to get it in the gap. We went over to Home Depot to get some items to help with the task.

Together we raised the stove and started to slide it in. It still wouldn’t fit. I saw the problem. Our cabinets were slightly off – closer together at the bottom than the top. This was a relic of yet another frustration (I shake my fist at Almir!). Marcos is very clever. He looked at the stove and looked at the space it was meant to fill. He looked at it this way and that. Soon he saw a solution.

We’d need, he explained, to detach the countertop from one of the cabinets, move the cabinet ever so slightly, push the stove into place, push the cabinet back into place and finally reattach the countertop. Wendy and I had an engagement that night so we agreed we’d take care of this the next day.

The next day got busy. We didn’t return home until later in the afternoon. We couldn’t reach Marcos so Wendy and I set to work. It was a pain in the butt but we managed to detach the countertop, move the cabinet, level the stove, push the stove into place and put things more or less as they were.

There’s still work to be done, but at least we have a working stove. It was way more trouble than it should have been but what can you do? Sears was less helpful than I wanted them to be but in the end they did as much as they probably could – particularly Carlos, our case manager. I think this weekend, circumstances permitting, we will revisit the meal we had planned all those weeks ago. Wish me luck.

Sears Fail: Day Two

To call today day two is a little unfair. The fact is this has been a slow-moving fail, the full extent of which was only discovered yesterday.

Let us travel back to explore a few of the telltale signs . . .

The early stages of this particular fail weren’t wholly Sears’ fault. Purchasing what was at the time a fairly new technology (the induction stove) was a risk. The stove had trouble from the beginning and every time it did Sears would come out, investigate, order a part and replace it. This went on for almost three years. The part in question, a board of some sort, was replaced again and again. You would think at some point a pattern would be recognized and someone would consider the cause of the problem rather than the symptom. Eventually, when the symptoms became so frequent the patient was declared dead.

So, with authorization from Sears to replace the stove (which included delivery, installation and haul away), Wendy and I went shopping.

I’m not going to go into the back-and-forth between the sales associates but rather will fast forward to the week of April 19th. Our new stove was to have been delivered on the 25th and boy were we excited! Early in the week, however, we got a call from Sears saying a mistake had been made and the delivery had to be pushed back to the 30th. Not ideal but what can you do?

We were surprised to get a call from Sears on the 23rd telling use to get ready for our delivery on the 25th. Cool, we thought, Sears is coming through! On the 24th we got an email confirming a delivery the next day and then a call that night saying our delivery would be arriving between 12:45 and 2:45. Awesome!

On the 25th at 1:00 a big delivery truck appeared in front of our house. Wendy and I were giddy. I went out to greet the deliverymen and to move my car so they’d be able to get the stove into the house. One of the deliverymen hopped down from the truck. He asked if I was expecting a delivery and I said yes. He checked his clipboard and told me he had a wire for me.

A wire? A wire AND a stove, I said.

No, just a wire today – and did I know what kind of wire I needed?

See stoves don’t come with wires because there are all different kinds of plugs so when you order a stove you get a wire as well. And just because the stove wasn’t available didn’t mean the wire had to wait. Not knowing much about stoves I confessed I didn’t know what wire I needed but that I hoped there was some detail in the order that would help solve this puzzle. Rather than leave things to chance, the deliveryman came in to check. We pulled the stove out and he ID’ed the plug and went to his truck to get the wire. I signed for it and took his Sears satisfaction survey, not wholly satisfied.

Yesterday was the new BIG DAY. The same email/phone protocol let us know our new stove would be delivered between 9:15 and 11:15. Just before 8:30 I got a call from Sears saying they’d be delivering the stove in the next 45 minutes. I let Wendy know so her sister would be ready to greet the delivery. Cool!

When I got into the office there was an IM showing the stove in the middle of the kitchen. Great, I thought, they’re installing it! Then at 9:30 Wendy called me. The stove wasn’t installed. It was just left in the middle of the kitchen floor. She asked me to call Sears and get it fixed. I tried calling the store.

Going through the voice prompts I ended up speaking with a woman from delivery I guess. She explained that delivery doesn’t do installations and that no installation had been ordered for this appliance. I was confused. I knew we’d discussed installation. I knew they replacement of the original stove included installation. What happened? She didn’t know. She couldn’t help. She said we’d be hearing from someone within 24 hours to schedule an installation. So the plan was simply to have the stove in the middle of the kitchen for some indeterminate period of time? Maddening.

I attempted to call the store again. Impatient with the voice prompts I zeroed out and got a live person. She was helpful. She tried to reach the manager of the store. He was out. The assistant manager wasn’t in either. She offered to pass me to corporate. I accepted. It turns out that when someone at Sears redid the order they neglected to include the installation. Can it be fixed quickly? Not today. Maybe by Saturday.

Almost two hours later I’d spoken to no fewer than four people and still didn’t have a solution. Apparently there are no electricians in the greater Boston area able to install a stove. The associate who sold us the stove called twice to say he’d been calling and calling and waiting on hold to try to find out what happened and how soon it could be fixed. Saturday again seemed like the earliest it could be done. I was frustrated.

I wrote a blog post. I tweeted it. Within minutes @searscares contacted me. Please DM us your contact info and a case manager will be in touch. I sent my contact info. They confirmed receiving it and said a case manager would be contacting me as soon as one was free.

At the end of the day I went home. There was the stove in the middle of the floor. It sure looked good but when it comes to stoves, looks aren’t everything. I posted a photo of it to Twitter. Sears contacted me again to say they’d shared my tweets with customer care. I thought they’d done that four hours ago. Oh well.

This morning I still hadn’t heard from Sears. I tweeted that it had been 18 hours since they said they’d be in touch. As I write this they tweeted me to say that out of respect they don’t call between 8pm and 8am. That’s nice. Another sign of respect – as small one – would have been to install the stove. Or not to leave a stove in the middle of a customer’s kitchen. In fact, I would be willing to live with a call at 8:15 – or even 8:30! – in exchange for my stove being installed.

I was told that Carlos M. will be in touch with me within the hour. Perhaps surprisingly, within the hour I received a call. Carlos was apologetic and helpful. He confirmed a few details and said he would follow up and a few things and would be back in touch within the hour (a usefully ambiguous unit of time).

That was two hours ago . . .

Sears Fail

Read on for a sad and stupid tale of woe! Read on for a catalog of incompetence! Read on for an example of temper being set aside! Read on for a glowing example of Sears Fail . . .

In 2011 we redid our kitchen. As part of the project we replaced a number of appliances, including our stove. Our existing stove was an old electric range that came with the house. We toyed with bringing gas up to the kitchen but decided on induction. It heats up fast like gas but is crazily cool to the touch. There weren’t many models out at the time and we settled on an Electrolux, which we purchased at Sears.

Quickly the immaturity of the technology became evident. A variety of circuit boards needed replacing on a regular basis. Eventually the oven stopped working and then the whole unit died. Thankfully for use, there were more than four parts replacements in less than 12 months and Sears agreed to replace the unit.

We went to our local Sears store. We again considered gas, thought about electric but decided to stick with induction. We ordered the stove on April 18th. It was to be delivered on April 25th. Because the original stove had been deemed a “lemon,” the replacement would include the removal of the old stove and the delivery and installation of the new one.

There was confusion among the sales associates. One put together the order – including installation – but a colleague said since this was a simple slide-in unit the delivery people would be able to install it. It seemed reasonable at the time.

A few days later we got a phone call. An error had been made with the order and the stove would now arrive on April 30th. Not ideal but such is life. On April 30th the delivery truck arrived. The old stove was removed and the new one brought into the kitchen. The deliverymen couldn’t do the install. No installation had been ordered, they explained, and left with the stove sitting in the middle of the floor.

For more than two hours I was on the phone with Sears trying to figure out what had happened and find out how it would be fixed. The earliest installation, I was told, was May 3rd – four days away. This wasn’t acceptable. I spoke with a number of people at Sears, none of whom could provide any explanation for what had happened or accelerate the installation date.

How did it happen that no provisions were made for installation? Was the assumption that we’d simply have the stove in the middle of the floor indefinitely? Is it really possible that there is no one capable of installing this stove in fewer than four days?

All of these things seem impossible to me. What I have seen is a series of errors, one compounding another, until we are left with the current situation: a functionless cube sitting in the middle of our kitchen awaiting installation. This is unacceptable. The offer of a $50 gift card, while thoughtful, doesn’t make up for the many meals we have been unable to make at home. Rarely have I seen such incompetence, such a failure to perform or such a lackadaisical attitude toward a customer’s concerns.

At a time of stress for our family we have few options. The stove is there. The installation is pending. Meals are going uncooked. It’s safe to say we won’t be shopping at Sears any time soon and will be actively discouraging others.

My cross-channel moment

I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about digital advertising. Probably more than I should. It’s an occupational hazard given the fact that most of my clients over the past three years have been in ad tech. Sometimes though you can’t see the forest for the trees and I just had a cross-channel experience that was something I’ve only thought about in the abstract.

I use VSCO as the main camera on my Galaxy S4. It’s pretty nice and has a ton of controls and reasonable presets. At some point I gave VSCO my email address. Today I got an email letting me know about a new set of analog/aesthetic filters. The email included a link to learn more.

That took me to a blog post with more details. I checked it out and it seemed cool. The post said the filters were available in the in-app store so I pulled out my phone, fired up the app and went to the store. Downloaded them in no time, easy as pie.

Here’s a pic of my soon-to-be-retired glasses using one of the filters.

glasses

It seems weird that I can’t think of having done this before, or even of being aware of the opportunity to do this. Every day I get a ton of offers – through email, online, in Facebook, in-app, etc. – but I rarely bother to see what they’re about. Most of them just aren’t that interesting or well targeted. This one was and VSCO managed to move me from my email to their site and to my phone. I’m glad they did. It’s nice this whole ad tech thing in action sometimes.

Poor Ad Placement by a Premium Publisher

You would think by this point in the development of online advertising things like this wouldn’t happen. As I read the New York Time’s coverage of the tragic loss of Malaysian Air Flight 370, a large banner expanded in the middle of the page. It was a photograph of a stretch of empty ocean with clouds across the horizon.

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 11.09.48 AM

When the image initially appeared I assumed it was content related to the story. When I read the copy I realized it was promoting the Fontainbleau hotel in Miami and was frankly stunned.

So what went wrong? Was the placement determined by the content of the story? Are the automated systems in use so trusted that human review is no longer part of the process? Have publishers cut back on the resources to review placements to ensure they aren’t adding insult to injury?

Whatever the cause, this type of juxtaposition of advertising and editorial isn’t OK. Publishers need to do a better job of policing the user experience to prevent damage to their own brands and to their advertisers.

It’s worth noting that within 30 minutes of my seeing this ad it no longer appeared in the story. That’s a good thing but it’s unfortunate that this occurred at all.

The top 10 faces

It’s been just about six years since I started my 1000faces project. The first photo that I count was this one taken in Austin, TX back on March 5, 2008. I don’t know who she is but it was her 21st birthday.

Faces 14

I’ve now photographed almost 4,000 faces and for some reason they’ve been getting more attention lately. Since my Flickr account hit 2M views today I decided to share the 10 ten faces (based on views), so here they are:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/gregpc/6094405382

I photographed this woman with red lipstick and a red headband on the street in Montreal.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/gregpc/6191542633

This is a professor at MIT that I photographed in the basement of the old Media Lab.

Face

This is one of my colleagues at InkHouse, outside our old office on Crescent Street in Waltham.

Faces 2

Here’s my wonderful wife Wendy.

Face

Another colleague outside our Crescent Street office.

Face - smiling woman with long hair and glasses

A couple of years ago I photographed MIT’s emTech conference and took this one.

face

This is Omar Tawakol of BlueKai, taken at Craft in New York.

face

This is another colleague out on the streets in New York very late one night.

face

This was taken late one night (or early one morning) in a bar in New York.

face

Also in a bar, in New York – but not so late.

While I like some of these pictures, they probably wouldn’t me on my top 10 list, but these are the faces that have had the most views. Can’t explain it, not sure what to make of it but it is what it is.