Monday, September 29, 2008

Whining about Wine
I was flipping through the Saturday New York Times and was intrigued by a full page ad from Wine Spectator that screamed FREE ACCESS in massive type. The pitch is to provide visitors to the website with free access until October 1st. The offer provides access to 200,000 wine ratings and tastings as well as access to newsletters and other content. In mousetype the limitations are barely visible to point out that "Free Access does not include use of site personalization tools or the ability to post comments on our Editors' Blogs". All in all a pretty standard online publishing offer of giving some content away for free in the hopes that you will become a subscriber.

I clicked through on the link and not surprisingly was confronted with an email capture box with another bit of fine print. This one disclosed that "By entering your e-mail address in the field above, you give permission to send occasional e-mails regarding promotional items that we feel might be of interest to you." I'm sure by accumulating lots of email addresses they'll be able to pay for a Saturday page ad in the NYT but their method seems a bit heavy handed in this day and age. There was no opt out of this page and I needed to validate the email address.

Interestingly when I ran a Google Search for "wine spectator" they came up first and second in the organic listing but their was no paid listing for them. The real surprise came when I looked at the third link from a site called Dr. Vino. It highlighted a website from author Robin Goldstein. He created a restaurant that did not exist and managed to win a "Wine Spectator Award of Excellence"! The only calls he got from WS where a message was left was from the ad sales people trying to convince him to buy an ad for $3000 +. Based on the article it seems that the Wine Spectator may be more of a paid listing directory business rather than an aficionado site. WS could also use some help on their web 2.0 and SEO/SEM strategies.

Wonder what would happen if someone created a Wikipedia/UGC site around wine? (If you know of one, pass it along).
SIIA in Paris II
While in Paris I was able to spend the better part of a Sunday wandering around the Louvre. I paid for one of those dorky headsets with an oversized Palm Pilot-like device swinging around my neck. Some of the content on the device was quite good -- the Masterpieces of the Louvre tour took you around to three of the museums signature pieces like the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace. That tour provided step by step instructions on how to maneuver around the museum and through the crowds. I was pretty impressed at this point and thought that Korean Air had scored a great coup by locking up the sponsorship of these devices for 1 million euros.

Imagine my disappointment when I found that the other tours were lacking in that level of detail. They only provided crude maps to direct you to the next piece of art. In some cases the art had been moved! It seemed that the museum had put all their effort into their A-List products and had skimped on the other less popular offerings. I'll grant the Louvre that keeping those devices updated in a whole bunch of languages must take a lot of work, but they should be consistent in the quality of their offerings. No one wants to see a bunch of tourists walking around in circles wearing those dorky headsets.

The other downside of the experience was realizing that the device offered no geospatial information. There was no "Where the hell am I" button which really comes in handy at a museum of this size. Moreover, most of the artwork had no information besides the little cards stuck to the wall - all written in French. BlueTooth enabled sets would be pretty handy that could broadcast when you get close or punch in a number on the screen.

All in all, the Louvre was a fascinating museum, however as an information provider they could do a lot more. They should also be considerate of their sponsors who pay to have their name on these products.

Monday, September 15, 2008

SIIA in Paris I
Early this summer I was invited to speak at GFII’s “Summer School “ program in Paris. The GFII is sort of the French equivalent of the SIIA. I was told I’d be the only English speaker so I thought it made sense to try out Rosetta Stone to pick up some language skills. I was impressed first by their pricing model as it had a perfect option for me – a three month software as a service model. For my $150 I could use all three levels of the product. This was a much better deal than buying the $495 version of CD-ROMS.

Although I did not make it as far as I would have liked in the program, it was impressive software that tracked my progress and presented the material in a pretty intuitive interface. But there were a few drawbacks and limitations that could have increased the utility of the product:

  • Profiling & Market Segmentation – Although I signed up as an individual, I think they should have asked if if my use was going to be primarily business or leisure. This approach could have them tweak the coursework based on my needs.

  • Scoring -- The product would have been enhanced if I could see how I'm doing compared to others that purchased the product when I did.

  • Social Networking -- Why not allow students to converse and discuss the product or have a way for students to get help from others?

All in all, a good product that could use a few tweaks.