John C. Abell

Don’t you dare call us

Nov 30, 2011 19:36 UTC

Remember how we all did the happy dance when the U.S. government created the Do Not Call Registry back in 2003? How we popped the champagne corks because hefty civil penalties could be given to a telemarketer if they called your landline after you had opted-in on the registry? Sure, there are loopholes and enforcement problems but essentially the registry works, and it restored the natural order of things by liberating us from having to drop everything because some faceless, money-grubbing salesperson rang in our living rooms.

A mere eight years later landlines are a dying technology. Cool kids, lower-income people, and savvy middle-agers know there’s really no need for a “home phone.” We’ve never had to worry about mobile phone spam because there is a FCC rule against it. This restriction was premised largely on the fact that, unlike on a landline, receiving a wireless call can cost something to the recipient. Same is true for faxes, for the same reason: unsolicited faxes — i.e., spam — is a civil violation.

But, aside from the practical rationale, this dynamic reflects the fundamental truth that I have a phone to make calls and receive them from whom I choose. I’m not paying all this money to establish a marketing beachhead in my pocket.

Well, hang on to your smartphones: Telemarketers are trying to recreate in mobile what the DNC Registry and the demise of landlines rendered moot. If we don’t make a huge stink about this right now there is a chance, however slight, that robo telemarketing calls will make a come back, on steroids.

This abomination is being teed up as HR 3035, aka the “Mobile Informational Call Act of 2011.” It would amend the Communications Act of 1934 and give legal cover to the cretins of commerce who think they have the right to get your attention, anywhere you happen to be, by leveraging the reality that mobile phones are everywhere and the primary means of communication for hundreds of millions of people.

The bearable lightness of tab-lites

Nov 23, 2011 20:11 UTC
As the old saying goes: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

But fixing something seems to be what Amazon and Barnes & Noble are doing with new tablets which burnish their stable of e-readers beyond e-ink and into an entirely new arena still dominated by the iPad.

In recent weeks we saw the unveiling of Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet, a faster/lighter/smarter version of the discounted, year-old Nook Color. With the high-end becoming even higher it’s now possible to pay as little as $80 for Amazon’s entry-level Kindle e-reader and as much as $250 for a Nook Tablet, with plenty of other options in between.

In other words, e-readers have become so widely accepted that there is room for flavors and price points to be all over the map, just like there are a multitude of iPods when there was once only one.

Cash, credit or a big smile?

Nov 17, 2011 17:34 UTC

We do everything with our smartphones now: reading, writing, photography, music. And, to paraphrase that old American Express commercial, we never leave home without it. But the one smartphone function that hasn’t exactly exploded yet — and really should have already — is paying for things.

The idea of an e-wallet isn’t especially new, but it did take the advent of the iPhone four years ago to bubble up the sort of possibilities that didn’t depend on storing information in a SIM card (which isn’t the prevalent wireless technology in the United States anyway). PayPal pioneered the notion that you could use a pocket electronic device you always carried to pay a restaurant bill or for a latte from Starbucks. (Sure, the device was a Palm Pilot, which means nothing to most 20-somethings. And yes, PayPal in its infinite wisdom stopped the person-to-person payment functionality very early in their history.)

That’s how far we’ve come — and haven’t.

One of the problems about dumping payment and loyalty cards is that the established credit card players are very well entrenched. Part is a visceral reluctance to believe that using your phone to store and convey payment and bank account information is much safer than brandishing plastic cards with an electronic strip.

What’s the deal with Groupon?

Nov 9, 2011 23:09 UTC

Watch Groupon Stock Soars, but Does It Have Lasting Value? on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Groupon’s non-stratospheric IPO last Friday is really good news for all concerned:

    The underwriters don’t have to explain their pricing Voo-Doo, because only an acceptable amount of money was left on the table. Andrew Mason & Co. get to gloat, at least for a while, about spurning Google and earning a valuation some twice the reported terms — even though Google went into the daily deal business in a way which looks and feels incredibly like Groupon. Merchants who might have had reservations about the appeal of Groupon saw just how much attention was lavished on the company. Members will continue to get random offerings and spend money on things they didn’t know they wanted.

Such a deal!

The Cain mutiny

Nov 1, 2011 16:50 UTC

Everyone is now calling Herman Cain toast because of poorly-handled revelations that the apparent GOP presidential front-runner was the object of a couple of sexual harassment lawsuits that were apparently settled back when he was a lobbyist in the 1990s.

This, of  course, comes on the heels of everyone saying Cain has no chance because, well, he’s Herman freaking Cain, who has no organization, no apparent campaign strategy, sports a ridiculous wide-brimmed hat and hired a chief of staff who doesn’t think twice about puffing a cigarette in a web ad for his candidate.

In other words, this is a guy who the political establishment didn’t ever take seriously. Some Republicans are as scared (I would think) as some Democrats are craving the prospect of a Cain presidential nomination. It’s just like when some damned with or without faint praise other Tea Party favorites like Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry in the secret (or not so) hope that someone who actually could appeal to a wider electorate would get the nod (hint: Mitt Romney) without getting too beat up by allies before enemies had their opportunity.