Rhapsody Acquires Napster, Apple Terrified

This week on: Battle of the Forgotten Media-Player All-Stars!

Wow, maybe doctors could deliver this news to test your yawn reflex.

It’s rare that something is so unbelievably boring that it transcends being ignorable and actually makes me want to write something about it, but man, did the folks at Rhapsody pull it off.  Now that I think about it – I never thought of Rhapsody as having “folks at” before now.

Both music service-cum-companies have hovered so far down the food-chain of cultural relevance that I’m sure those of you who are old enough shared my first thought which was – “Wait, there is still a Rhapsody AND a Napster?”

The whole thing is so low-rent, it smacks of having happened on EBay.   “In your cart: (1) Napster – size: small, and (3) Pair Mens Socks – Black.”

Like those Batman sequels with the nipple-suits where they started pulling in 3rd tier villains like Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze, you wondered who the bozos were that went for that.

I mean, once it went “legit” who the hell kept using Napster anyway?  BestBuy – of all companies – bought Napster.  Someone at BestBuy must have thought that was a big idea.  “Gentlemen, my kids seem to know all about this ‘Napster’.  Can you imagine if we had  the Napster?  Why, we could appeal to ‘generation x’ and bring our brand into the new millennium using the world wide web.”

And then there’s Rhapsody.  That was RealNetworks big entry into digital music services so many years back.  I imagine through some crap,-how-can-we-get-something-out-of-this-before-it-tanks deal, Rhapsody was spun out of RealNetworks just last year.

RealNetworks was a big thing back in the 90s.  But you never hear about them anymore.  What happened?  Ah, the legend of Real Networks.

RealNetworks had the de facto cross-platform online media player, RealPlayer.  But they were also the guys who would stop at almost nothing to hijack and infest your computer, your browser, your system preferences, your subscription settings and anything else they could get their stealthy little hands on.  After installing the Real Player app or plugin you’d open a file and suddenly realize that all your preferred offline applications had also been usurped by Real Player.  It was your responsibility to locate and uncheck various territorial features that Real brazenly snagged without your consent.  You were consistently inundated with ads and offers and reminders to upgrade (and pay) or make Real the default for this or that.  You would have to research methods in your OS for wresting control back to the default apps that you wanted default.  They pioneered the method of designing web pages that appeared as though you were downloading a free version of the app – only to realize that the free version was almost outright hidden and you’d downloaded the for-pay subscription version instead.  Upon launching, you’d wonder why it was asking for a credit card for a 30-day free trial when you could have sworn the download button you clicked was for a “Free Version”.  Real seemed to stop at almost nothing to unwittingly force you to use their app.  To out-smart you.  To trick you.  To intentionally exploit a population of computer noobs who were themselves not expert users.  Which was most of the general population at the time.

And these tactics partly worked for a while because at the time there was no overt, popularly accepted etiquette for this kind of interaction.  I think it’s fair to say, in fact, that along side malware, Real Networks played a pivotal role in shaping the intuitive distrust in downloading and installing that many users have today and more so, the related etiquette that companies who offer downloads, newsletter subscriptions, messaging options, installers and uninstallers exhibit today.

Ultimately – it was Real’s surreptitious disrespect for users’ true control (breaking the 1st Interactive Axiom) that undid them as a standard.   If only Real Networks had focused their effort on continually improving their product in line with users’ best interest and respectfully trusting that users would gravitate to the best solution, they might be a, uh-hem real player today.

Well Real learned the hard way what happens when you disregard the 1st Interactive Axiom.  As their big lead began to tip downward, they moved too slow to strip themselves of the aggressive methods and then did what they could during the last decade-plus to keep up with Apple’s iTunes, having acquired Listen.com and founding Real Rhapsody.  But like so many others, the reliance on multiple 3rd parties to assemble a user experience ecosystem (media player software, content, and portable hardware) was an utterly doomed strategy.  They all tanked-  Real Networks, Yahoo with Yahoo Music, AOL, E-Music, etc. under inconsistent quality and confusing user experience which lacked anything resembling simplicity.

Now Rhapsody, has what’s left of Napster’s user-base.

…and I’m wondering if there’s any peanut butter in the kitchen…?

Oh sorry guys – um, that was the end.  Cool?  I promise next time I will have some actual news.


Why Teenage Users Do Not Indicate Your Technical Future

So I had to sit through yet another meeting today where some breathless 30-something expert urgently asserted that email and blogs are going away because, as we all know, “teens” signal what’s coming in the future.  And since teens use Facebook and Twitter and SMS, and don’t use email or create blogs, that naturally means email and blogs will soon go away for all of us.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg earlier defended this idea, employing a recent PEW report that only 11% of teens email daily (a significant generational drop).  Then she said:

“If you want to know what people like us will do tomorrow, you look at what teenagers are doing today.”

You’ve heard this elsewhere right?  A bunch of times probably.

And it makes a terrific little sound bite, and feels all edgy and smart and progressive.

And it would be – except for the fact that it’s completely dumb and wrong.  Maybe even Continue reading

Gap is the Biggest Wussy on Earth

So we all saw the new Gap logo. It looked weird. It looked wrong. It looked like all sorts of other unbecoming words that were broadcast over Twitter and Facebook within hours of its unveiling.

Then, in what is going to be (or should be) remembered as the biggest corporate branding fail of the last decade, Gap caved in to all the little whiny Tweeters and defensively pulled its shiny, new logo.

Anyone who thinks that move was rational – that pulling the new logo was the best thing Gap could have done in the situation – is somewhere between equally ball-less and an idiot.

No, it was the worst thing Gap could have done in the situation. I’ve read a few posters who think the whole thing was an intentional rouse to gain attention. Far fetched. There are better ways of gaining attention than intentionally making your company look like a bunch of bumbling idiots. That’s not it.

I’m sure Gap thinks they were “using the medium intelligently to respond to consumer opinion” or something one might read in a Forrester report on social marketing. But really they are just pussies.

The fact is, any time you launch a logo redesign you have some people who complain. The new logo always “feels weird”. It feels weird because it’s different. Like the…

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Confessions of an Apple Freemason

The Apple Freemasons

I love Apple products. But something has been troubling me…

People have been calling me and my kind Apple Fanboys for many years.   Before that term was trendy they called us Apple fanatics. I used to resist these labels since from my point of view I was just reporting the obviousness between Macs and PCs. It wasn’t my fault Apple products were superior.

Anyway this isn’t about who’s better or who’s right . That’s old news.   Apple is kicking butt these days and most of the anti-Apple people I’ve known have finally let go of their irrational embrace of a Windows PC-only paradigm, bought iPhones, iPods, iPads and iMacs and we can finally move on.

And my story starts there.

Because as any true Apple Fanboy will tell you, it feels oddly disorienting to see Apple kicking butt .  Yeah, it’s what we fought for over the last quarter century, and yet now that we have arrived, the universe is out of balance, only perhaps not in the way you might expect…
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Going Social On Your Ass

Go Social

Social Marketing: sequence of events

Three years ago some ad agency dweeb leaned into my office and smirked “Dude, our campaign just went social”.

And I think, after a brief pause, my immediate reaction was to throw up in my mouth.  I silently hoped I would never hear that stupid little term again. That something “went social”.

But boy it’s catchy isn’t it?  Sounds all proactive and edgy and exciting, right?  If you work in an ad agency, you probably just enthusiastically thought ‘Hell yeah’.

Those of you who know me know I hate these little, after-the-fact terms.  Badges that agency people glom onto in an attempt to own the things that happen to them by accident.  To claim it somehow, despite the fact that they exist outside the users’ intent.  “Viral”, “Word of Mouth”, and now “Going social”.

Hello!?  It’s all the same thing, people.  Yeah yeah, someone will feel compelled to bloviate on behalf of the need for, and variances between these dumb little labels.  And it still won’t change the fact that users are in complete control – share what they want, how they want, only when they feel like it – and that advertisers have never actually had permission to interrupt or effect a desire of their own upon users no matter where they do it.  And if, in wishful disregard, the advertiser still has some desire for proactivity of any sort, may at best, bow low and deep, and beggingly offer service to the king, the user.

But they rarely do.  Advertising seems meaningless unless advertisers think they have control.  So we now spend a lot of money developing and executing marketing plans that will “go social”.

In the words of my old friend Nick, Social “this.”

Ad agency people: in a couple short years you will no longer be uttering that term.  So save yourself the pleated, acid-washed embarrassment, and don’t utter it today either.

Look at the big picture.  Make things that are valuable.  Then be silently grateful that something you created isn’t held in utterly dull regard by the user.

And then maybe I won’t be forced to keep swallowing my own vomit.