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Series: Worthy Web Sites
Everyone's got a favorite Web site - but these are so clever we had to mention them.
Article 1 of 5 in series
by Jeff Carlson
Using a Macintosh for years has deepened my distaste for bad interfaces. I'm not talking about Kai Krause-inspired, rounded-and-buffed software "skins," but rather real-world objects that demand too much work to accomplish a simple taskShow full article
Using a Macintosh for years has deepened my distaste for bad interfaces. I'm not talking about Kai Krause-inspired, rounded-and-buffed software "skins," but rather real-world objects that demand too much work to accomplish a simple task. Specifically, I've grown to despise most alarm clocks, particularly the cheap ones found in hotel rooms.
Using one is fine: read the big glowing letters, activate the alarm before going to bed, whack the noisy beast repeatedly in the morning until it shuts up. But setting an alarm clock is another matter, usually requiring you to hold down an Alarm button to display the alarm time, and then to press Hour and Minute buttons repeatedly until you've hit upon the wake-up time you want. Woe to your fingers if you accidentally miss your desired wakeup time (since that forces you to advance through the day once more like an airplane that's missed its landing approach), and woe to your schedule if you misinterpret an unlabeled dot which indicates "P.M."
Most hotels offer a wakeup call service, so you can skip the alarm clock altogether and wake up to a phone call, but even the nicest hotel employees won't call you every morning at whatever number you happen to be near. Fortunately, a solution can be found on the Web. As part of our ongoing Worthy Web Sites series, consider Mr. WakeUp, one of a handful of related notification services offered by iPing.
Out of Bed, Sleepy Head -- Sharing a trait with many successful Web sites, iPing's basic concept is simple. Once you've registered, you can specify a time and phone number to have Mr. WakeUp call you. If you often carry a cellular phone it doesn't matter where you are, or even what time it is. Need to wake up from a mid-afternoon nap? In a few keystrokes, you can schedule a call.
You can schedule a variety of wakeup calls. A text message call uses text-to-speech technology to read your entered text aloud, or you can have a voice message replayed to you (you can pre-record messages in advance). Similarly, you can choose to hear selected news and business headlines, the day's horoscope reading, fitness tips, or even messages from comedian Tom Green. If you use a few common numbers (home, office, cellular, etc.), they can be entered in your profile to be available in a pop-up menu when setting up new calls. Otherwise, you can also enter any telephone number to dial. At any time, you can check the site to view a list of past and future scheduled calls, and edit or delete them.
The calls themselves are useful, and laced with the expected advertising. The recorded greeting begins immediately, so you don't have to start off with a subconscious "Hello?", then prompts you to hit 1 to proceed, or 9 to block Mr. WakeUp calls to that number. (Unblocking a number requires sending an email message to iPing's support staff.) If you don't respond after three prompts, Mr. WakeUp continues anyway. After an ad plays for 5 to 10 seconds, your message is delivered, along with the time, date, and the local weather.
In my tests, everything worked as advertised, and it woke me up on time. I'd like to see some sort of Mr. Insistent WakeUp: if I can't be reached at one number, try me at others in sequence. It would also be nice if Mr. Wakeup integrated with existing calendar programs so you didn't have to enter events multiple times.
A Family of Helpers -- Mr. WakeUp isn't the only family member in the iPing house, which makes the service more appealing. Ms. Reminder offers calls for appointments, birthdays, anniversaries, and other events (like laundry, trash, and picking up the kids); Mr. Notify enables you to send reminders to groups of people; Ms. FollowUp tracks packages (currently only FedEx) and calls you when they've been delivered; Dr. Dose provides reminders to take medication; and Mr. Dollar calls about financial news.
As someone frequently on the road, I like the ability to set a reminder that doesn't require anything other than a phone to deliver the message. And because iPing is Web-based, I don't even need my PowerBook; a friend's computer or a terminal in an Internet cafe works just as well. I already feel better knowing pesky alarm clocks won't play much of a role in my future.
Article 2 of 5 in series
Kirk McElhearn's article last week about the emptiness of pages of links highlights why we don't maintain a list of Macintosh-related Web sites, and why we only infrequently write about specific Web sitesShow full article
Kirk McElhearn's article last week about the emptiness of pages of links highlights why we don't maintain a list of Macintosh-related Web sites, and why we only infrequently write about specific Web sites. We're mainly interested in creating content, not acting as a waypoint to other parts of the Web.
But every now and then we run across a Web site that stands out by virtue of a truly innovative idea, unusually excellent execution, or some facet of design. We've written longer articles about some of these sites, including HomeGrocer.com and Priceline.com. Now, however, we're starting a sporadic column where we'll review those Web sites that we find ourselves telling our friends about because they do something in an innovative or unusual way. Although it's possible that some of these sites may be related to the Mac, that won't be a criterion for inclusion - we just want to tell you about the most interesting sites we find. You'll have heard of some of these sites - innovation isn't limited to the small - but we also hope that we'll be introducing the sites mentioned in this series to many of you.
How will we find sites for this column? Mostly by happening on them, via recommendations from friends or TidBITS readers. For instance, this week's subject, RepairClinic.com, was featured in a recent issue of the Web Informant essays from David Strom, a friend and occasional TidBITS contributor. So if you know of a Web site that truly stands out from the crowd, send a note to TidBITS Talk at <firstname.lastname@example.org>, and we'll be sure to take a look at each one for future installments of this column.
RepairClinic.com -- I grew up on a farm, and the experience gave me a familiarity with tools and the belief that it's both expensive and somehow cheating to call a repair person to fix simple problems. I like to understand the systems in our house, ranging from the initially inexplicable heat pump to the still confusing AT&T box that provided multiple phone lines via bulky red phones with illuminated push buttons. I usually know when a repair is out of my league, but I also hang out with the repair person so I can see what they're doing and perhaps learn to do it myself.
Specialized parts and tools frustrate this part of my personality. Sometimes it's not feasible to buy the right tool for a given job, and I may not even know such a tool exists. I haven't found a solution, but thanks to RepairClinic.com, I can at least now easily acquire parts to a number of our large appliances, something that was difficult or impossible previously.
There's nothing sexy about selling appliance parts on the Web, but after my frustrating search for replacement consumer electronics batteries on the Web (see "Finding the Power Online: Buying Batteries" in TidBITS-494), RepairClinic.com ranks among the top ecommerce sites I've ever used.
Here's my story. The silverware rack in our dishwasher has been somewhat broken for a while, and although it was annoying when I had to fish around in a rack of sticky dirty silverware for the knife or spoon that slid through the bottom of the rack, it wasn't a major problem. I'd been thinking about fixing it, but I couldn't see any obvious fix, and I've never been good at fixing plastic items anyway. Aside from the annoyance, there was the worry that an escaping piece of silverware might cause more serious damage.
Finding the Part -- So when I read about RepairClinic.com in Web Informant, I immediately went to see if I could get a new silverware rack. RepairClinic.com's PartDetective is an impressive front end to a huge database of parts. First you enter the appliance type and brand, which are required, and then the model number if you can find it (and they even provide help on finding model numbers on the appliance type you've selected). Next you answer one or more questions to determine characteristics of your appliance, such as whether the dishwasher is built-in or portable, where the freezer compartment is on a refrigerator, or whether a washing machine is top or front loading. Then you come to the heart of the PartDetective, where you attempt to describe the part you want.
The questions here are somewhat odd but have the effect of identifying the part quite closely. PartDetective asks if you know what type of part you need, if it's electrical, if it's 100 percent metal, if it's 100 percent plastic, if it's all the same color, and what its longest dimension is (to the nearest half-inch).
Obviously, results will vary with the type of part you're looking for, but in my case, the silverware rack for our dishwasher popped up instantly even though I hadn't bothered to enter a model number initially. Verifying the model number and entering a more accurate longest dimension provided duplicate results. Most of the results included a photo of each item, and clicking that photo provided a larger picture of the item superimposed on a sheet of graph paper so you could confirm that the item looked right and was about the right size.
The closest I can come to a criticism is that the part seemed a bit expensive at $22, but appliance parts are always more expensive than you think they should be, and I'd saved so much time and mental energy in not having to find a local part supplier or call a repair person that I was more than happy to pay the price.
In short, whereas the PartDetective was a innovative approach to identifying hard-to-identify parts, the rest of my interaction with RepairClinic.com showed a stunning level of execution.
RepairClinic.com also offers a service called RepairGuru, which provides information about how appliances work, maintenance tips, troubleshooting information, and answers to common questions. If you need additional information, you can even send them email. One thing I appreciated about RepairGuru's information was that it was nicely factual and aimed at helping people handle the repair without the assistance of a professional, but it also recommended that a qualified appliance technician be contacted in some situations, such as certain problems with appliances like microwaves. In other words, some things you simply shouldn't try at home.
I haven't the foggiest idea if the sort of people who read TidBITS are into fixing their own appliances, but I'd recommend that anyone interested in seeing how well an ecommerce site can be done check out RepairClinic.com. They've done an excellent job, ranging from a clean design to a clever part identification scheme to impeccable execution on packaging and delivery.
Article 3 of 5 in series
In all the fuss over the rise and (seeming) fall of commerce on the Internet over the last few years, I never saw significant movement toward micropayments, which many people (including myself and Jakob Nielsen) consider the necessary evolution of payment schemes on the InternetShow full article
In all the fuss over the rise and (seeming) fall of commerce on the Internet over the last few years, I never saw significant movement toward micropayments, which many people (including myself and Jakob Nielsen) consider the necessary evolution of payment schemes on the Internet. The idea behind micropayments is simple: as a sustainable business model for Web content, imagine pages with interesting content costing one cent or less (so little that you pay attention only to the aggregate amount over a month, just as with your electric bill or telephone bill). Unfortunately, there remain a number of barriers to adoption of micropayments, not the least of which is a payment service that would accept and aggregate payments and disburse them appropriately.
Although it will undoubtedly be several years before micropayments have a chance (Jakob has been revising his predictions forward for some time now), we're starting to see some payment services gaining the level of popular acceptance that would help make micropayments possible in the future. Based on sheer community size - which is all-important in person-to-person transaction situations like payment services - the leader seems to be PayPal.
Greenbacks Online -- At its heart, PayPal is dead simple - it enables you to send or receive money via email. It's quite a bit more complex behind the scenes, of course, but using email makes PayPal easy to understand.
PayPal offers three types of accounts, Personal, Premier, and Business. Personal accounts are completely free but are more limited than Premier and Business accounts, both of which offer additional features and charge small percentages for receiving money, mass payments, and daily payment sweeps from PayPal to your bank account. It's easy to choose which account to use. If you're an individual and aren't participating in ecommerce on a regular basis, a Personal account is right for you. If ecommerce is the backbone of your business, you need either a Premier account (for individuals) or a Business account (for businesses).
To send money, you must first sign up with PayPal, which is a simple process of filling in your name, email address, and retyping a set of graphically displayed numbers that help increase the security of the process (since a program couldn't do it easily). You then receive email with a link to click to confirm your email address.
It's easy in this age of Internet paranoia to see PayPal as encouraging you to enter your bank account to enable future shenanigans, and if you're uncomfortable with doing so, there's no need. If you assume that PayPal is a legitimate business at all (and if not, why work with them to begin with?), though, such concerns don't hold water. PayPal isn't alone in the payment processing field, and they have a tremendous vested interest in making their service as safe and reliable as possible - anything else is corporate suicide. When you link your PayPal account to your bank account, that increases the trust level of the entire system (that's why PayPal refers to the linkage as "verifying" your account).
Misrepresenting identity is easy on the Internet, and stealing a credit card number isn't all that difficult, but getting past PayPal's bank account verification scheme would be hard. After you enter your bank account number, PayPal deposits two small amounts under a dollar into your account, and to verify your account, you have to find those amounts on your statement and enter them into PayPal's secure verification page. If a miscreant had all the information necessary to spoof your account with PayPal, you've got bigger problems than just PayPal, so the likelihood that everyone is above board increases with the addition of verifiable information like the bank account (international users undergo a similar verification approach using the credit card statement).
Whether or not you go through the bank account verification procedure right away, once you've linked your PayPal account with a source of money, you can send money by filling out a simple Web form with the recipient's email address, the amount, and a few other bits of information. One note: there's a confusing pop-up menu asking what type of transaction you're performing - avoid "Quasi-Cash" when using a credit card for the source of funds since it could result in cash advance fees. PayPal then acts as a trusted third party and transfers the money from your PayPal account (withdrawing from your credit card or bank account if necessary) and deposits it in the recipient's account. If the recipient doesn't yet have a PayPal account, they can either set one up (a viral marketing approach that's worked well) or request that PayPal send them a check immediately. The person to whom you've sent money never knows any information about your bank account or credit card; they just know PayPal gave them some money and said it was from you.
To retrieve money from your PayPal account, you can either request a check, which take a few weeks to arrive, or, if you've linked in your bank account, have PayPal do an electronic funds transfer into your account, which happens immediately. Of course, you can also leave money in your PayPal account, at which point that money is used preferentially for money you send out. If you're bothered about the loss of interest, you can sign up to have your PayPal balance invested in a money market fund that earns (at the moment) 5.2 percent interest.
The Check's in the Email -- PayPal doesn't cut the mustard for micropayments, because the minimum charge for Premier and Business accounts to receive money is 30 cents for transactions under $15 (transactions over $15 incur a small percentage charge as well). But PayPal has been tremendously popular for online auctions, where it's a lot easier and more reliable than sending checks around. Plus, it eliminates the age-old "you go first" problem of whether you should pay first or the seller should send the product first.
Where I find PayPal most compelling, though, are in small transactions among friends. How often have you gone out to dinner with friends and had to do complex mathematical calculations to determine what everyone owes, especially when some people declare they don't have enough cash and borrow from others temporarily. With PayPal, instead of maintaining complex tabs with your friends ("You bought me lunch last Thursday, but I still owe you for the ball game the week before"), you can swap money back and forth in the exact amounts necessary. It's also great for small transactions that would probably otherwise be lost in the noise, such as when I mailed a couple of old books to a colleague with whom I'd worked on them. Although he offered, I couldn't in good conscience charge him for the books, which I'd gotten for free from the publisher, so he just paid for the shipping via PayPal.
The main downside of this use for PayPal is that you have to remember to go into the Web site and send the money (you can also bill someone via PayPal to remind them). A while back, PayPal had some Palm software so you could beam money from one Palm handheld to another. Unfortunately, although the thought of being able to beam money is tremendously compelling (imagine just walking up to a cash register and tapping a Beam button on your handheld to check out), it was apparently too difficult for PayPal to maintain the software. Now, if you want mobile access to PayPal, you'll need a Web-enabled cell phone, which can access PayPal's Web site.
Although I haven't seen shareware authors using PayPal for shareware payments yet, I see no reason they couldn't. PayPal has a Web Accept feature that lets you accept payments on your Web site, but it doesn't seem particularly flexible or tailored to shareware the way services like Kagi are, though it does take a smaller percentage off the top. Nonetheless, if you run a business that needs to take payments online, it's hard to beat PayPal's simplicity, not to mention the large number of people who have PayPal accounts for online purchases.
Newly available on PayPal is support for payments between people in different countries. As of 10-Nov-00, people in 26 countries (see the link below for a list) can now sign up for PayPal and send money back and forth with other PayPal users, no matter where they are. Needless to say, due to the increased costs of converting between currencies and other aspects of moving money around the world, sending money from a credit card or withdrawing money from PayPal to a credit card (only Visa at the moment) incurs a 2.6 percent plus 30 cent charge. For frequent use, it probably makes sense to keep a fairly high balance in your PayPal account to avoid the credit card charges. Enough of the details are slightly different for international users that it's well worth reading through PayPal's International Account Help Center.
The First One's Free -- In the past, PayPal has worked hard to sign up new users by paying $5 referral fees. Those are still available, but only if the referring account is a Premier or Business account, and only if the new user performs a slew of actions, including verifying a bank account, depositing $100 into PayPal via electronic funds transfer, and signing up for the money market account. Similarly, though I haven't been paying close attention the entire time, my impression is that PayPal has begun instituting more fees and generally trying to move from a community building approach to turning a profit. I'm sure PayPal was burning through venture capital, and in today's business environment, such tactics don't fly for long.
I have no inside information regarding the health of PayPal's business, and I wouldn't leave thousands of dollars in my PayPal account, but I would encourage you to check out PayPal's service. Sending small amounts of money around the Internet via PayPal is so much easier than relying on the more cumbersome approaches of yesteryear. Advances like these are, in my opinion, well worth embracing because they have the capacity to change our lives in small but important ways. My experience is that it's a bit tough to use PayPal the first few times, but after that, it becomes almost second nature. I even have friends who have started using it as a verb, as in "Shoot, I forgot my wallet. Can you pay for the groceries and I'll paypal it back to you when we get home?"
I've set up a TidBITS PayPal account (using our main public email address of <email@example.com>), so if you're interested in trying out PayPal, you can use the link below so we receive the $5 referral fee, should you manage to jump through all of their hoops. And I plan to keep a close eye on PayPal to see if they ever change things so they could be used effectively for micropayments.
Article 4 of 5 in series
by Alex Hoffman
Despite billions of dollars, tons of hype, and even a number of very happy customers, Internet grocery shopping has suffered notable business failures like Webvan and Kozmo.com (see the "Groceries in Our Midst" series of articles)Show full article
Despite billions of dollars, tons of hype, and even a number of very happy customers, Internet grocery shopping has suffered notable business failures like Webvan and Kozmo.com (see the "Groceries in Our Midst" series of articles). However, this does not mean that old ways of doing errands cannot be replaced by more convenient services using technology and the Web. My favorite example is Netflix.
Netflix is a cross between the Internet Movie Database, Amazon, and Blockbuster, enabling you to rent and return DVD-based movies without leaving your home. It truly has replaced a brick-and-mortar store with a fully functional Web site for me and 300,000 other users.
Video rental stores, exemplified by Blockbuster and all of its competitors, suffer from the same problems. By the time I get to the store, the movies I want to see are already rented, especially on weekends. If I do find a movie to rent, I'm allowed to keep the movie only for a few days, meaning that I have to watch it almost immediately. I also need to return the movie promptly or suffer a significant penalty that can double the cost of the rental. These limitations would be more tolerable if only the video stores weren't so limited in the movies that they carry. Sure, the big chains stock the latest hits, and the local shops often carry specialties, but none of them offer the universal selection to which buying movies from Amazon has made me accustomed.
Netflix addresses all of these problems, and introduces only a couple of small hiccups in the process.
Receiving and Returning Movies -- The basic idea behind Netflix is that you select movies on the Web and Netflix mails you the DVDs via first class mail in an envelope slightly larger than the disc (sans packaging). (This approach wouldn't work with videotapes, because DVD discs can be mailed at letter rates rather than package rates.) After you watch the movie, simply drop it in the mail using the same envelope, which already includes postage. Each time you return a movie, Netflix sends you another. There is no need to go to the store to pick up or return the movies, and best of all, you can keep a DVD for as long as you want - there are no late fees.
This stream of DVDs is made possible by setting up a queue of movies you want to watch at the Netflix Web site. You can add and remove movies from your queue, and you can change the order of movies to determine the order in which the DVDs are sent. When Netflix receives the last movie you returned, it sends out the next available movie on your list, and notifies you by email. My queue currently lists 61 movies, some which are still in theaters.
Netflix does not charge for each rental, relying instead on a monthly membership fee that corresponds to the number of movies you can have at a time. The Standard fee of $20 per month gives you three movies at once, though this does not mean you are limited to three rentals a month. At this level, you could easily watch eight or nine movies per month by watching and returning movies promptly.
Other membership levels include Bonus (four movies for $25 per month), Plus (five for $30) and Ultimate (eight for $40). Economy service ($14 for two movies) is available as well, making it easy to watch a movie every weekend. With Ultimate, a committed videophile could see watch between 16 and 24 movies a month.
Rows of Shelves of... Pixels -- Netflix's delivery method is wonderfully centered around the customer: I need only a mailbox to return movies, and I get around to it when I feel like it. But a great delivery mechanism is only part of the Netflix appeal. For starters, Netflix offers a huge selection, claiming to carry every DVD in print - 10,000 in all. That alone goes a long way toward eliminating the problems inherent to the brick-and-mortar stores.
When you visit a physical video store, you're in permanent browse mode - the store employees are the closest you'll get to a search engine. At the Netflix Web site you can search for movies by name, director, and actor, in addition to a number of other options.
As you would expect from an online storefront, the main page includes various listings to pique your interest. Today, for example, I see a Family Fun collection (The Wizard of Oz, The Iron Giant, Thomas and the Magic Railroad, Animal Crackers), and mysteries (Twilight, The Lady from Shanghai, The Astronaut's Wife, Cutter's Way and The Big Lebowski). There are numerous other groupings listed as well. There are also some permanent genre listings, such as Action & Adventure, Children & Family, Classics, Comedy, Drama, Foreign, Gay and Lesbian, Horror, Indie, Mature, Music & Concert, Romance, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Special Interest, and Thrillers.
Often more helpful are the special category and Expert listings. These include Academy Award-winning films, the American Film Institute's AFI 100 lists, and recommendations by movie critic Leonard Maltin and "Mr. DVD," who answers questions and points to relevant movies. Perhaps most interesting, however, is the Best Bet listing. By allowing customers to rate movies, Netflix recommends titles customized for your tastes. Presumably, Netflix is using aggregate ratings, much like Amazon's rating system. My Best Bets are pretty close to the mark, and the more I rate movies, the more accurate its recommendations appear to be.
The end result of the Netflix selection process is that I get movies that I truly want to see. In video stores I would often end up picking up something I was only marginally interested in seeing, because everything that I really wanted to see was already rented. Netflix's queue works well because you don't have to remember what you wanted to rent - it's all saved online. Whenever you think of a movie you've wanted to watch (I've been meaning to see Seven Samurai, for example), you can add it. I've found myself watching older movies through Netflix more than I ever did through Blockbuster. This has often resulted in better choices than those offered by more recent releases.
Why I'll Never Go Back to Blockbuster -- Because I don't have to return movies immediately, I always have a few on hand. I try to set up my queue with a variety of different types of movies, so that I can watch films that suit my mood. For example, I wasn't in the mood to view Sophie's Choice for months after I received it, but I watched Planet of the Apes immediately after it arrived. There's no need to return movies in order they arrived. This sort of scheduling just isn't possible with conventional rentals.
And DVDs are just cooler than videotapes. It's not just the quality - DVDs now regularly include special features such as scenes that didn't make it into the theatrical release, directors' and actors' commentaries, and "making of" documentaries. Because I can keep the movie as long as I want, there's time to watch those special additions. Netflix is also great for watching DVDs containing several episodes of television shows that aren't available to everyone, such as HBO's The Sopranos. And, anyone who has small children (who often want to watch the same movie every day for a week) will find the "no due date" policy a godsend.
Quibbles & Customer Service -- Netflix really is as good as it sounds, though there are a couple of minor weaknesses. You're never completely guaranteed to receive the first choice of movies in your queue. If it's out of stock for a month (Netflix may have a huge selection and 2.5 million discs in stock, but they still have only a finite number of copies of each movie), then you wait a month. Of course, movies that I must see, I see in theaters. If I can't wait to see it again, I generally want to own it anyway. However, to be fair, local rental shops can't guarantee you'll get your first choice either.
And there are certain problems which cannot be avoided in this model. Netflix simply can't provide instant gratification (so you may still find yourself in a local store for the spur of the moment movie rental). Using Netflix doesn't support local businesses. You can't engage a clerk in a conversation about your movie choices. You can't get a soda and bag of microwave popcorn delivered with your movie. Compared to the convenience offered by Netflix, however, these issues don't bother me at all.
The real challenge Netflix faces is that even loyal customers sometimes find their use of the service waning after a few years. There are only so many movies that most people want to see, and after catching up on all those old movies, the crop of worthwhile new ones may not be sufficient to keep customers interested permanently. But for anyone starting now, that isn't likely to be an issue for several years, and there's no telling how Netflix will have evolved to address the problem by then.
I've had very few problems with Netflix. If you have not heard from them within four days after mailing a movie back, you can notify them from the Web site that you already shipped it back, and they will send you your next movie. The same goes if a movie never arrives. Also, with so much use, it's inevitable that some discs may arrive scratched. The one time I received a damaged disc, it was easily reported on their Web site. In all these cases, Netflix sends you a replacement at no additional charge.
In fact, the service is so straightforward, and solutions for the few potential problems already in place, that I have never felt that I needed (or even wanted) to call to speak to someone. Their Web site takes care of it all, something I've never said of any other service or store.
All Tomorrow's Movies -- These days, every dot-com business has to show people that they can continue to make money in this economy. Netflix, however, has not made the mistakes of so many other Internet businesses. They offer a service for which people were already willing to pay (movie rentals); they have real revenues (an annual rate of about $70 million); and the service is extraordinarily easy to use. Although the privately held Netflix doesn't report earnings, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has predicted the company will break even in the first quarter of 2002.
What makes Netflix interesting is the way they've fabricated an essentially low tech service (mailing envelopes through the U.S. Postal Service) from the high-tech cloth of cutting edge DVD movie distribution media and a well-designed Web site. The quality of DVDs can be better than you'll see in a movie theater after a few hundred screenings, and the bonus material is often well worth investigating. But as long as DVDs were firmly ensconced in the Blockbusters of the world, they were essentially just souped-up videotapes held back by the distribution techniques of the 1980s. Netflix gives DVDs their due by taking movie distribution to a new level, where a movie you want to see is pretty much always available. Perhaps we'll have high-quality video-on-demand in a few years, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Netflix in that business as well, but until then, I'll be checking my mailbox for all the latest releases.
[Alexander Hoffman refuses to spend his own money on the very machines he makes a living supporting. Recently, he and his soon-to-be wife have been watching his TiVo and Netflix fight it out for their affections. ("Kids, you stop that right now!")]
Article 5 of 5 in series
Creo Eases File Sharing with Tokens -- Have you found sharing files via email frustrating? Email, as we've been predicting, is becoming increasingly unreliable, thanks to spam-overloaded servers and inaccurate filters, and, when we're talking about file sharing, encoding format troubles and attachment size limitationsShow full article
Creo Eases File Sharing with Tokens -- Have you found sharing files via email frustrating? Email, as we've been predicting, is becoming increasingly unreliable, thanks to spam-overloaded servers and inaccurate filters, and, when we're talking about file sharing, encoding format troubles and attachment size limitations. Creo, makers of the Six Degrees program for managing email-based workgroups, has come up with an alternative called Tokens, which works with both the Mac and Windows. Rather than attach your huge Keynote presentation to an email message to multiple people, you use the $50 Tokens Creator to create a several-kilobyte "token" that points back to a compressed and encrypted version of the Keynote file on your hard disk. When your recipients receive the token you sent, they double-click it to open it in the free Token Redeemer, which retrieves the presentation from your computer. Your computer must be left on and connected to the Internet to serve the file; if there are other network obstructions (such as firewalls) between the recipient and your computer, Token Redeemer automatically retrieves the file via Creo's Tokens relay service (which allows up to 5 GB per month of transfer). After a basic installation on both sides, no setup is necessary, and no one has to worry about user accounts or passwords. Creo also offers a $600 Tokens Server, which comes with 10 licenses for Token Creator and handles the file serving duties for all of them. Tokens is definitely a 1.0 product, but it's interesting, and could serve an important role in simplifying file transfer. [ACE]