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Pablo - The Drug Mule Dog

posted in Media on December 14th, 2008

Whenever I am in other countries, I try to get some downtime in, so I can watch some local ads, because I always find it interesting to see how other nations deal with problems such as racism, STDs and substance abuse.

On my recent trip to Liverpool, I stumbled across this little gem, which tells the story of Pablo, a dog used to smuggle cocaine in the UK.

The ad, which is part of a series of four, highlights a site called Talk to Frank where those that are interested can get more information on the effects of cocaine and how to deal with the aftermaths.

The content of the ad is confronting in nature, but not too graphic, which makes the spot accessible for a broad range of people, this is especially true given how the information in the ad is presented.

It is also interesting to see how the emotional factor is used in the ad - after all: would anybody really want to see a cute dog like Pablo cut open just for a few grams of coke?

Interview with Werner Vogels

posted in Media on September 25th, 2008

Werner Vogels, the chief technical officer of amazon.com, has spent the last five years developing his company’s vision of technology.

Prior to joining Amazon, Vogels worked as a computer science researcher at Cornell University, where he investigated the scalability and robustness of mission-critical enterprise computer systems.

He was kind enough to answer us when we stopped by Thursday to ask him “What’s up?

What brings you to PICNIC?
“First of all, it was great to get an invitation to speak here,” Werner says. His driving force is a deep-set curiosity in the Dutch start-up culture: “I want to get a better understanding of how this interesting mix of creativity and everything is working, because Amsterdam is unique in this sense.”

What do you hope to gain from PICNIC?
“I don’t know yet, I like to be surprised and I am really expecting to be wowed.” There are myriad innovative things going on here on the lawns of Picnic. To get a better understanding of the whole scene, Vogels is going to hold a brainstorming session with young students, who he finds to be “usually bursting with ideas.”

But Amazon’s chief technical officer also hopes to give something back and share some of his own ideas with the next generation.

Business is changing
The way businesses are created is changing radically: whereas you used to need a lots of money up front to become successful, entrepreneurs have increasing access to both expertise and a range of services to build up their idea. “Everyone is trying to be the next YouTube or Facebook”, Vogels says, but many companies fail to build a sustainable business. “I will be bringing some good start-ups on stage and talk to them,” he said, to highlight the challenges they faced and show what they did to create the so-called long tail.

A green(er) Amazon
When asked what Amazon is doing in terms of becoming a greener company, Vogels said that the world’s largest eTailer has been optimizing their fulfillment process a lot in recent years, moving away from plastic and toward better, more sustainable packaging as well as giving customers more insight into the carbon footprint of their order.

Also, Vogels notes, Amazon is making their data centers a lot more efficient, which has the welcome side effect of becoming more green.

The video clip of this interview is coming soon!

 

This video interview was created in collaboration with Joitske Hulsebosch

The things that make you stay

posted in Marketing on September 8th, 2008

Apparently, I am the kind of customer that manages to discover problems in bulletproof systems all the time: I have managed to break my former provider’s online payment solution in a way that any payment I did, would not go through (even though it was deducted from my bank account) and I have managed to get my PayPal account locked, more than once, because I sent a certain kind of transaction in a special way that would trigger alarms everywhere.

Last week, I managed to discover one such problem in Vodafone’s service: it turns out that, when you switch your subscription type (I am a prepaid user), your extras automatically are terminated.

Being a heavy SMS user, I pay Vodafone 10 EUROs up-front for a premium service called “Zorgeloos SMS BloX“, which basically translates into a free pass at text messaging - 1000 messages before you have to pay again.

I usually get anywhere between 250 and 400 messages out, every month and as such, the BloX subscription translates into huge savings for me and I was quite appalled when I was told by a CSR that I had already used up my allotted 1000 messages (which would have been a first) and was SOL and would have to wait until mid-September to get more messages.

Now, you see, the issue here was not that I had to invest additional money, or that Vodafone, supposedly ripped 10 EUROs from me, I could care less about the money, the issue, here, was that I did not like the way they did it - blaming me and not taking into account that their system had failed me, and by extension: them.

Having read about Patrick de Laive’s experiences with Vodafone last November, I knew that this would be troublesome to work out and I was prepared to switch to another provider, in the blink of an eye if Vodafone did not play ball.

Today, I received an email from a new CSR at Vodafone, responding to my query and explaining the situation: the representative offered the standard apologies you always get (which, let’s be honest: have to be included in any such communication, even though most customers do not care about them); he also reactivated my BloX subscription and gave me an additional 5 EUROs for “any trouble caused”.

All in all, I am glad that Vodafone handled this issue the way they did and not leave me with a feeling of unimportance and deceit.

Granted, the whole deal could have been avoided if their system was (even more) bulletproof, but since their system is built by humans, and humans are bound to make mistakes, this is a more than acceptable outcome.

So, to Vodafone and the represenative that followed up on this issue, I say: thank you for not screwing me over and taking care of me the right way.

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Taggin’ NYC: I ♥ SMS style

posted in Marketing, Projects on August 12th, 2008

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s post about what Treasuremytext is all about and also the announcement of me joining their Board of Advisors, is this visual treat for everybody who loves to tag random things in public … like I did.

During the Software Social Summer BBQ, back in May, I was able to snag a few I ♥ SMS stickers and I decided that, the best way to expose New York City to Treasuremytext, would be by putting some of their stickers in more or less visible locations, such as trains, post boxes, abandoned cars and the likes.

Even though some may call this pointless, I definitely had my fun and, so far, had three people approach me about the sticker and what the message was all about.

In case you want to see even more tagged areas, head on over to my gallery!

And if you have come this far and still have no idea what Treasuremytext is all about, I suggest you have a look at the following clip.

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I ♥ SMS

posted in Projects on August 11th, 2008

Many of my friends, at least those whose cellphone numbers I have, know that I am an avid texter. I am, so to speak, a master of the arcane skill of speaking volumes with less than 161 characters and as such, I generate quite a bit of SMS traffic every month.

Ever so often, a short message turns into a good conversation and being a true gatherer, I like to save these messages to read through them again at a later point and chuckle about the past.

Up until a few months ago, I used to store all my messages on my Pocket PC and that started filling up my device pretty quickly; in fact, from July 2007 to July 2008, I have sent and received some 1800 text messages, with a fair number of collectible messages.

Back in 2006, during the first The Next Web conference, I came across Katie Lips and Paul Stringer, from Treasuremytext, a service that would let you save your messages online.

To be honest, back in 2006, I did not see a need for this, for one, the only way to get your messages into the site, was by sending them to a UK phone number, which was too expensive at the time, and what’s more: why would I want to save my SMS anyway?

In 2007, Treasuremytext, underwent a radical transformation: the site became all 2.0-ish, added more, local numbers (even a Dutch one) and added a new feature: TextStreams.

I was invited to join their beta in December and started using it more and more … up until the point where I decided that the TextStream feature would make for a nice addition to my blog’s sidebar, allowing me to microblog from wherever I was.

So far, I have managed to submit more than 130 updates and all in all, I find it a very enjoyable and straight forward experience. Contrary to, say, Twitter, TMT, has not seen any extended downtime since I have been with them and Katie and Paul have been very good sports about turning suggestions into features, something which makes me, as a user, feel good about the time I put into coming up with new ideas.

Treasuremytext has long been a supporter of the iPhone, with an application that would allow you to upload your SMS with a couple o’ taps directly from an iPhone to your TMT account and being a strong supporter of the Windows Mobile platform, I felt that we could not be left behind.

After a couple of emails, Paul was kind enough to open up the TMT API for me and I was able to build an application that allows you to import all your messages with fewer taps than the iPhone does (take that, Steve!).

The application is not yet released for the public, but that day is not too far off, for I was able to import some 500 messages into my account without problems.

What’s more: Paul and Katie were so happy about my involvement with TMT, that they offered me a position on their Board of Advisors, where I will be serving as the resident Social Applications guy, joining both Imran Ali, who is advising TMT on connections and funding and Ian Hay, who is advising TMT on being operator-ready.

All in all, I feel both honored and humbled at the same time for being offered such a chance and Treasuremytext is most definitely a service I am willing to spend more time on.