I have written before about businesses predicting how lazy we want to be, or how increasingly we perceive ourselves too busy to perform pretty basic tasks. Well, once again the envelope has been pushed.
“No one ever went broke underestimating the American public” – that’s a pretty famous H.L. Mencken quote.
And comedian Jim Gaffigan is well known for his observations about bacon, including the point that bacon is so good, that people wrap certain foods in bacon to make them taste better. Good point.
This past weekend, my friend Tracy and I were at the grocery story picking up a couple of items when we saw a large display in the middle of the aisle and it was a product from Oscar Mayer (Gaffigan also has some thoughts on a product for which they are known – bologna).
There it was. Far from refrigeration. In a box. Fully Cooked Bacon, ready to eat. . . .Or leave on a shelf unrefrigerated for the next year.
Then we saw that this craziness wasn’t limited to Oscar Mayer. We also saw similar products from Hormel and the Safeway (where we were shopping) generic brand. The actual product weighed 2.1 ounces and cost about $5, which means they are selling it for about forty dollars per pound, which is about twice the price of Copper River Salmon (which is an item that evokes a more P.T. Barnum quote – “there’s a sucker born every minute”).
Initially we were horrified.
But then, with three separate brands pushing the same item for about the same price, we realized that they can’t all be awful or there woudln’t be a market for this extreme expression of laziness. And we had some fresh maple bacon waiting for us in the refrigerator (because that’s where meat items belong, right?). So we decided to do a taste test of Hormel, Oscar Mayer, and fresh. Tracy heated up the two “fully cooked” products and then cooked some of the fresh bacon, all using a microwave. The results were very surprising. Yes, the maple bacon beat the competition more decisively than Usain Bolt would beat me in a 100 yard dash. We agreed that the Hormel product was awful, too thin, bad texture, and almost no flavor. What was shocking was that the Oscar Mayer product was good. Good texture, good flavor, good crispiness. I don’t plan to buy fully cooked unrefrigerated bacon again (partially on principle, partially because bason is too salty to be a regular part of my diet, and partially because the amount of packaging from 2 ounces of bacon that will end up in a landfill is shocking).
So in the spirit of rethinking, I do tip my hat to these companies for staying in touch with what their customers want, and bravo to Oscar Mayer for making it yummy.
Exactly why did Linkedin beat Plaxo?
How times have changed.
Last week Linkedin went public and took off like a rocket ship and I didn’t see a single mention of Plaxo in the news. These days I have over 600 contacts on Linkedin and I use it several times a week. I can’t tell you the last time I logged on to Plaxo. I am not sure I even remember my Plaxo password.
It’s pretty obvious why Facebook beat out Myspace (and lots has been written about that so I won’t re-hash that), but the last time I was a regular user of both Plaxo and Linkedin, no one was any better than the other in terms of features and function, and as far as I know Plaxo didn’t stumble in any big way (as Myspace did). Was it just a tipping point? Was it viral? Was it the suggestions to re-connect with old friends (was Plaxo too passive while Linkedin got more proactive)? Was it the business services that Linkedin offers?
I don’t have a good answer, so I am really asking – send me your comments and feedback.
Buy that’s the only reason I like it.
I read this article by Damon Darlin and could not have agreed more with the basic premise of the company, which is that because search has proven to be a many billion dollar industry, any dent they can make in terms of attracting users will be worth a slice of the many billions, and with *only* $25 million in venture back, even a $100 million slice makes it a worthwhile bet. Smart business. You don’t have to win – you just have to be a little bit relevant to be in the game.
So I went out and tried Blekko on some things that I commonly search and I have to say, their results had much more relevant first page results than I ever get from bing or Google. So from my subjective perspective, they are already on to something.
I also like Blekko’s blend of humans and technology where they combine the muscle of smart algorithms with a bit of dirt-under-your-fingernails human input by having “experts” rank the relevance of content (a la the Amazon Mechanical Turk, but with free wiki-like input, as Darlin explains). I think this is some great rethinking and I bet Blekko has a very bright future at this rate (though there’s nothing to stop bing or Google from fast-following this approach).
Having said that . . . if I were a venture capitalist working with Blekko, I would give them some additional guidance. While I think the use of slashtags (described in the article) is a very good way for us to improve our search results, if I really wanted to carve out a search niche, I would really focus on some top search verticals, such as healthcare and look to not just get a raw X,000 searches per day in the land of ComScore, but have it be industry/category specific. Once you have established at least a toe-hold on a niche, that’s a lot more interesting and valuable to advertisers and that makes you a lot more interesting as an acquisition target. Follow the money and the money will start to follow you.
I did already add Blekko as a favorite site, and if I continue to get better results, I will make it my homepage. If I had to make early guesses on who should buy Blekko, I would think bing before Google, but Blekko could also license their model to specific industries, and I would think someone like WebMD would love to have better search, as one example of a less expected suitor.
Uber is a cool new car service that Jenna Wortham recently wrote about in this article for The New York Times. Intersect is an equivalently cool new site that for all practical purposes is the opposite of Twitter that is all based on location and what is happening in a specific location at a particular time so it becomes a chronology of everything that happens at that location. Their web site does a better job of describing it than I do.
I’ll get there, but it reminds me of something my friend Tom, who is an executive at Microsoft, was telling me a couple of years ago about modern phone technology (in this case the design of Windows Phone 7). He pointed out something pretty obvious, but at the same time prettty incredible. Historically with computer technology the size of the screen of the device software was written for was known and fixed. Also, things like “up” and “down” were fixed. Now with mobile devices like phones and tablets, we expect to turn the device upside down and have it turn the screen around for us, and if we want to change the amount of information in the screen, we are now able to pinch in and pinch out and slide – and we expect that. That has been trasformational for mobile devices.
Back to Uber and Intersect.
It wasn’t so long ago that it was a safe assumption that when we were on the internet and using technology, that we were sitting down looking at a screen in a pretty knowable location, such as home, work, a coffee shop. What has changed just in the last couple of years is that more and more of us use our mobile devices all the time all over the place, checking sports scores, checking to see if The White House is going to release the recent photos of bin Laden, e-mail, you name it.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that Intersect is taking that fundamental shift in assumption, and they are assuming they want to write about what they are doing wherever they are. Foursquare makes a similar assumption. Intersect takes a different tack and uses the location of the cars to determine which car is closest to the customer and then lets the customer track where the car is as it gets closer. The Intersect assumption is that everyone (in their target market) has a mobile device with location services and they then use that location information to bring together two people who don’t know each other, and who haven’t met, and who might never see each other again. Location based supply and demand in real time. That wasn’t possible for the masses until very recently.
It’s companies like these that are going to continue to transform the way we socialize and transact business and rattle core assumptions we used to have about how we get through our day. It’s all opportunity for the entrepreneurs out there, and all risk for the established organizations that don’t take a step back and rethink what this means for them.