Archive for the 'Products/Services' Category

Amazon’s price discrimination

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

[UPDATE: An email from Director of Strategic Communication at Amazon, Craig Berman states the following (quoted with permission), which I thought was important to note here: “Amazon is a marketplace of many sellers, and while sellers are free to set their own prices for items they list, every customer pays the same for every individual offer.” I’m happy to hear that there is no price discrimination per se. I stand by my concerns though and consider Prime Shipping a shady product. I don’t recommend enrolling in it.]

Amazon's price: $17.13Amazon is quoting me a higher price than it’s quoting my friend, on the same product. I knew this was theoretically possible, of course, but I didn’t realize online stores engaged in these practices much these days. After all, is it really worth annoying customers when they find out? After a bit of experimentation, it seems to me that what’s going on here is that those with a Prime membership are being quoted a higher price. Ouch. So the thanks I get for paying for the Prime membership and shopping at Amazon a lot is higher prices. No thank you.

I was about to buy a Canon Digital Rebel XSi and some lenses (in sum, a $1K+ purchase) when I saw the link to an 8GB storage unit (the Transcend 8 GB SDHC Class 6 Flash Memory Card TS8GSDHC6) and decided to check it out given the size of photos I may be taking with a 12 MP camera. I clicked on the link and saw that the card cost $10 plus change (I have no screenshot of this as I didn’t realize I’d want one later). I then clicked on Add to Shopping Cart at which point I realized that I was logged on under a friend’s account who’d been using my computer earlier in the day. I logged out and logged back in using my own account. I went back to the same product’s page and noticed that the unit was now $17.13. (See screenshot here.) That’s annoying, after all, who likes to be charged 70% more than others? I logged out and did a search for the product without being signed on at all. Now the product came out costing $14.14 (screenshot). I logged back on using my own account to see what I would get now, and back I was at $17.13.

I have another Amazon account for other purposes so I decided to see how that would be treated. That account was quoted $14.14. The account I had tried first is the one I use the most. It is a Prime account. Prime means that for a payment of $79 a year, I get unlimited 2-day shipping on items that are eligible for it (which includes quite a few items). It also means that I have an incentive to shop at Amazon, because 2-day shipping is included on many things so I don’t have to worry about additional shipping costs.

As I was looking around the site for an explanation of the different prices – I found none, shocking, I know – I learned that it was possible to share my Prime membership with other members of my household. I decided to share the membership with my other account to test whether it was the Prime membership that was giving me the higher price quote. Indeed. Once I signed up for Prime with my second account, that account was now also being quoted $17.13 for the item.

When I initially sat down to use Amazon, I was going to spend well over $1,000. I walked away spending nothing. Additionally, I have no intention of continuing my Prime membership (I disabled the auto-renewal for it immediately), unless I get some explanation and the chance to buy items at prices others are being offered them. I sent Customer Service three notes already, but nothing helpful has come back so far. (The first response was outright offensive as the person either didn’t read or completely misunderstood the point of my email and sent back a canned response having nothing to do with my situation. I resent the query with what I hoped was a clearer explanation of the situation and still didn’t get anything addressing the question. I am waiting for the third response, but not holding my breath. Really, what I’m waiting for is for someone to tweak my account so I’m being charged what others are.) Of course, by not renewing my Prime membership, I’ll have much less incentive to shop at Amazon period (after this experience, it certainly won’t be the first place I go to look for things anyway). I guess most Prime members probably don’t realize this is going on or they don’t care about the differential so perhaps this practice doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. But it matters to me, more on principle than based on the $3 differential (although 21% could amount to a lot depending on the price) .

I’m curious to know what price quote others get on that product when they log on. If you’re a Prime member, do you see $17.13? If not, do you get $14.14 or less? Do you have other examples of such differentiated pricing at Amazon based on user account?

By the way, to read about the practices going on here, I recommend Joe Turow’s book on Breaking Up America. (No, of course that’s not a link to an Amazon page, I don’t plan on supplying those here anymore, not unless this gets cleared up.)

This is a very cute GMail how-to video

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

More here on what went into creating it. I love the care with details like the cursor and the stars.

Can we stop with the pink and the bows already?

Tuesday, December 25th, 2007

Shortly after I found the great blog outside the (toy) box, its author decided that she couldn’t maintain it, not right now anyway. I completely understand her decision, but it’s still a bummer. There’s some great writing there about parenting, gender issues, and consumerism, and her voice will be missed.

WNBA for her - pink! - ughSo here’s a post along similar lines inspired by my stroll down 5th Avenue in Manhattan yesterday. One could probably write a whole book about the experience on that one street Christmas Eve, but I’ll just restrict myself to the NBA store. I’m more of a college basketball fan than an NBA fan, but I like basketball enough in general to have been intrigued by the store and so I went inside. (Yeah, clearly this isn’t a generic anti-consumerist post.) There’s tons of merchandise likely about any NBA team of interest. Naively one might think that most sports and fan gear could be gender neutral. But no, there is a separate “NBA for her” pink section, because how could a girl or a woman possibly appreciate a green or orange jersey, right? In addition to that pink section, I was really annoyed by the gendering of some playful items. I thought it would be cute to buy a little plush basketball as a gift for a child. Then I thought: hey, let’s support women’s basketball so I’ll buy the one that says WNBA instead of NBA. WNBA toy with bow - can't just let it be, can they?But the WNBA balls all had a bow! Why can’t a little plush basketball with two eyes, two hands and two feet not have a bow even if it is supposed to be female? Uhm, and why does something that supports WNBA have to be female anyway? Or would somebody like to critique me for assuming that the bow and big eyelashes are supposed to represent a girl?

I find this all so stupid and frustrating. Needless to say I walked out of the store not having spent a penny.


Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

I was in Trier, Germany last week, famous for.. among other things, being the birth place of Marx.

I found the store in the Karl Marx Museum filled with Marx merchandise amusing:


The “opium of the people” quote was only available on a magnet in German, not in English (other quotes were available in English), I’m assuming a conscious choice based on potential interest.

I couldn’t resist getting a copy of the poster that has the entire Communist Manifesto written on it with an image of Marx and Engels coming through from the text thanks to manipulation of the formatting.

I also got a postcard with a cartoon of Marx and the following quote: “Tut mir leid Jungs! War halt nur so ‘ne Idee for mir…”, which Babelfish completely butchers in its translation so I’ll try, but feel free to correct me: “Sorry kids! ‘Twas just an idea I had.”

Boarding a plane to Budapest later in the day added a twist to all this for me. While I can see friends and colleagues in the U.S. understanding why I would’ve picked up those items, I don’t think too many people in the town where I grew up would get why I’d want anything with Marx on my walls.

Is there a fire truck gene?

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

Thanks to Tina over at the new Scatterplot, I just found a fantastic blog: outside the (toy) box. Here is an excellent post about gender socialization through toys. Plus the author maintains a helpful list of anti-sexist/anti-consumerist children’s books. Additions to that list here or there are welcomed.

Finally, the option to buy more space on GMail!

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

For months now I’ve been erasing all sorts of files from GMail as I neared my storage limit (right now above 88% despite all those deletions) so I was very happy to see that the company has finally rolled out a paid version. The jump between 6GB for $20 and 25GB for $75 (annual fees) seems a bit abrupt, but 6GB should last a while. (Yeah, I know, famous last words.)

Invitations to GrandCentral

Thursday, July 5th, 2007

[UPDATE: I’ve given out the invites I could so this offer no longer stands.]

If you’d like an invitation to GrandCentral, let me know. It assumes you’re okay with giving Google your phone number, which is a big if. But if you are then let me know. I have a few to give out, not a lot though so first come first served.

Oh, what is GrandCentral? It’s a service that let’s you give out a phone number that you can then control much better than your direct numbers by filtering and selectively forwarding based on the caller. It’s similar to creating filters for various emails depending on sender.

I’ve used a similar service before for a research project and it worked well. GrandCentral was recently acquired by Google and they’re presumably revamping it a bit. There are, however, other such services out there if you prefer a site that is, for now, independent.

UPDATE: I will only send invites to people who send me an email from an address that has both last name and first name and preferably some Web site. You know my name, you know info about me and what I’m offering here would link us in the eyes of Google. I won’t do that if I have nothing to go on.

Neat new Google Maps feature

Friday, June 29th, 2007

Maps don’t always give you the best known route to a destination. Now you can tell Google Maps what alternate route you want to take simply by dragging the blue line that indicates directions to another road. Here’s my rerouting of an Evanston-Chicago route that maps always tell you to do by going out to the highway, which is not necessarily the most efficient. (Of course, in that case, you could also just click on the “Avoid highways” button in the upper-left corner, but that still doesn’t give you the best route.) Another change seems to be that clicking on “Link to this page” now gives you a highlighted link right below it ready to be copied.

I understand that some other maps may have already had this feature. But I don’t think other maps are nearly as user-friendly as Google Maps so this is good news. Also, for those not following developments in this realm, the service also has My Maps now, which means that you can create maps with various markers, save them, and share them with others. This is very useful when numerous people ask you for touristy suggestions about the same place over and over again. You have to have a Google Account to use My Maps. Just click on the My Maps tab right below the Google Maps logo.



Sunday, December 24th, 2006

I just put in an order for the Gorillapod that has come recommended to me by a couple of fellow Flickrites. You can get free ground shipping and a 15% discount if you buy it on Joby and put in the code gorillapodlove, which is something they’ve made available until the end of this year. (That Flickr group page says 10%, but it was 15% off.) Enjoy!

UPDATE (12/26/06): I had a bad experience trying to use Paypal for payment and in the end it didn’t work. Joby seems to care about customer experiences so I emailed them about this, but the response I received was very generic. So take note that 1. you may not be able to use Paypal for a purchase on; and 2. don’t bother sending an email to

Gift guide: supporting the long tail

Thursday, December 14th, 2006

In the spirit of supporting the long tail, I thought I’d link to a few nifty items you likely won’t find in stores, but that are just as worthy as many of the items that are backed by big marketing budgets.

I found the booklet “Why Mommy is a Democrat” one day by clicking on a sponsored link in GMail (the line just above the message area). I liked the idea of communicating a message of this sort to little kids so I ordered a copy. I like the way the author and illustrator approached the topic. The idea of self-publishing something of this sort is also interesting. I purposefully use the word booklet instead of book despite the information on the site. The “book” feels more like a booklet. That doesn’t detract from its value. I mention it in the interest of realistic expectations. Cost: $10 including shipping in North America (with some possible savings for bulk orders).

On a different note, I highly recommend the California Soups and Salads 2006-07 Academic Calendar by Susan Beach. It covers September, 2006-December, 2007. Each month comes with a very inviting photo of a wonderful soup or salad dish plus its recipe on the side. Susan is our resident chef here at the Center and is an amazing cook. This could be a great gift for a myriad of people. Cost: $10 including shipping.

Moving on, I found the jams and jellies maker McKenzie’s Own at a summer fair last year and thought their products were divine. I bought two spreads: Mom’s Horseradish Spread and the White Chocolate Raspberry Spread. Both were great. Cost: $6.50 each plus $6.00 shipping.

I only have experience with online ordering regarding the first product, the others I bought in person. Full disclosure: I have no financial interest in promoting these products, I bought them and liked them, that’s all there is to it. I do know Susan personally though.

The site Etsy hosts lots of independent sellers although some of the products there tend to be on the expensive side. Of course, one can also find independents on ebay and on various corners of the Web. But what are those corners? Do share your favorites, I’m always curious to find the hidden gems.

This is second in the Gift guide series. Next week: giving through donations.

Gift guide: DIY photo projects (& a request for the number 3)

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

‘Tis the season for buying gifts (lots of us have December birthdays*, you know). So I’m starting a discussion of various gift ideas. My plan is to post about items that I have bought myself and so can recommend with confidence. Alternatively, I may suggest some do-it-yourself projects on occasion.

I’ll start things off with the latter. Consider giving someone a personalized memory game made up of photos that would be of interest either because they portray people/places of interest to the person, or because they are simply great photos. More details on this here. Note, however, that creating multiple wallet-sized photos can get expensive quickly. If you’re short on cash, but have time, you may consider editing images that contain a pair of two images each and then simply getting the regular size photos of these. That way, you can get two pairs for 5-10c each instead of 99c each with a leftover pair.

Another idea is to use one of the many amusing tools from fd’s Flickr toys. You can create a funny motivation poster, a magazine cover, a movie poster, or lots of other things and get these printed out. Regular size photo print-outs are only about 10-20c so definitely on the cheap side. And note that despite the site’s name, these don’t require a Flickr account, you can upload a photo directly from your computer.

Photojojo has additional ideas. I am intrigued by their Fotoclips selling for $15 (including shipping), but I haven’t bought any of those nor have I ever tried them out so this is just a pointer, not a recommendation.

Of course, nowadays, you can get a photo printed on just about anything, but the above items are mainly do-it-yourself so fairly cheap and have that extra personal touch.

* No worries, I’m well aware of the comment “There comes a time when you should stop expecting other people to make a big deal about your birthday. That time is age eleven.” Nonetheless, if you care to contribute to my upcoming celebrations, I’m collecting photos of the number 3 from around the world. So email me one if you can (or better yet, post one on Flickr and send me the link). (Yes, I know I can find tons of 3s on Flickr, but these would be from you to me.:)

NYTimes & Yahoo! Answers silly usability glitch

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

It took me about five attempts to submit a customer service complaint to the NYTimes using their online form the other day. It would be absolutely trivial to fix this glitch. Yahoo! Answers has the same annoying “feature” on their site. Don’t these companies employ usability specialists? (Uhm, or doesn’t somebody there use their own sites and care to improve the user experience?*)

Usability glitch on the NYTimes customer service form

Here is what happened. The form on the NYTimes home delivery customer service page is a big empty box waiting to be filled out. But when you fill it out even just halfway, you are told that you have used too many characters. You can only submit the form with 250 characters or less.

However, the form neither counts the number of characters for you nor gives you any hints about the permitted length based on the size of the box.

So I kept revising and revising until finally the site accepted my note. How hard would it be to offer a smaller box AND let the user know how many characters have already been entered? (I won’t even dare suggest they accept longer forms.) Other forms do this so it can’t be that impossible.

Consider that the reason the customer is on this site is likely due to something that has gone wrong with their customer experience, so what are the chances that they want to be annoyed further?

Another example of this same issue comes up on Yahoo! Answers. There is a limit on the length of comment you can leave on a resolved question. But there is no indication of the extent to which you went over the character limit. Users are contributing free content to the site, it’s not a good idea to alienate them by offering annoying experiences.

While I understand that unnecessarily long commentary could be inconvenient in both cases, the 250 and 300 character limits seem excessive in both cases.

* Yes, I realize the complexity at these organizations and understand that just because a couple of employees know of a problem, it doesn’t mean that it will be solved.

New Flickr features

Saturday, November 25th, 2006

For those of you not following the official Flickr blog, here are a couple of exciting features introduced recently:

1. Mobile support. Just point your mobile browser to Yes!

2. Guest passes to otherwise private photos. One possible limitation of Flickr is that in order for friends and family to see private photos, they have to log in to the system. But we all have friends and family who don’t want to be bothered. Well, now they don’t have to do anything, but click on a link to your otherwise private photo set. Go to one of your sets, click on “Share this set”, enter people’s email addresses and there you go.

If you like sharing photos with others and you don’t use Flickr then can you please comment on this post and let me know why? Because it is an awesome service and I keep waiting for more of my friends to start using it, and given all of its features, I don’t understand why more people aren’t coming on board.

I realize it’s not the most user-friendly site if you don’t know anything about it, but you can laarn quickly. And there are some tutorials to help you.:)

Also, another perhaps not widely-understood feature is that you can upload photos simply by emailing them to your account. You don’t have to bother with their upload tools if you don’t want to. I just thought I’d point out that additional helpful feature.

Africa on Google Maps

Thursday, November 16th, 2006

Is this is a new Google Maps feature? I noticed the Google logo with Africa as the “g” on Google Maps today. I wonder if this is a way of letting people know that Google Maps now covers that continent. Neat.

Africa on Google Maps

The following is a paid post

Saturday, November 11th, 2006

As you have probably noticed, I’m not big on advertisements on this blog. I have some Amazon links on the right side of the front page included in the books randomly chosen from my Library Thing account, but that’s about it. But what if I could make a few extra bucks without upsetting the overall layout of the site and through an activity that is in line with my interests?

The site ReviewMe launched recently with the goal of paying bloggers for posts on specified products, sites and services. To try out the service, they are offering people the opportunity to make some money by posting an entry about ReviewMe itself. So that is what I am doing here. Above I said “through an activity that is in line with my interests” whereby I meant that I regularly point people to Web sites on this blog and offer commentary so to do so on yet another site or service seems in line with what I do around here anyway. If there is full disclosure about the fact that I am getting paid for a review, does that dilute the post’s value? More generally speaking, does my involvement in such an activity dilute the value of my blog on the whole?

ReviewMe has some guidelines that should help in deciding whether this practice is problematic or not (or the extent to which it might be). The service makes it clear to advertisers that they may not require a positive review. They explain why advertisers should not see that as a problem though:

We do not allow advertisers to require a positive review. The vast majority of reviews are measuredly positive, although many do contain constructive criticism. We view this as a bonus: how else can you quickly and cheaply get feedback on a product or service from influencers?

If you sign up, the system figures out how much you will be paid for each post you accept to write. This sum seems to be determined by influencer status based on Technorati rankings and such metrics.

Then you sit back and wait until advertisers find you and offer you the chance to blog about their product. You are not required to accept these offers so it is still up to the blogger to decide whether a review fits one’s interests and blog content.

ReviewMe requires bloggers to be explicit about the fact that the post is in exchange for payment.

One question is what I noted above: How, if at all, does this influence the value of a blog or a particular post? The other question I have about all this is whether it will succeed. That is, I’m curious to see whether ReviewMe will succeeds in attracting advertisers for purchasing product reviews.

Free Flickr minicards

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

For all you Flickr Pro users out there (and I know some of my readers share my addiction), note that you can try out the new minicard service at for free, for a pack of ten cards. The service is free for the first 10,000 Flickr Pro users so don’t delay. You know how active Flickr users are, it will be curious to see how quickly ten thousand of them take advantage of this opportunity. My understanding is that a sample of 10 is not otherwise available so it’s worth a try.

The service is being advertised mainly as a business card solution. Some seem to be saying that the cards are too nice to give away.:-) I look forward to seeing them in hard copy.

Before you start, it’s worth noting that the cards are much slimmer than a regular photo so try to pick ones where inclusion of the entire image won’t be necessary. The cropping can have an interesting effect, but in some cases it just doesn’t work.


Happy birthday!

Friday, September 15th, 2006

Happy Birthday Del.icio.usThe social-bookmarking tool turned three today. It’s a great tool. It’s thanks to that E-BLOG has content even when I’m too busy to write up posts. I use to post a list of bookmarked sites automatically to this blog. Yahoo! bought last year and the service has just gotten more interesting (e.g. network features such as posting bookmark recommendations to other users on the system).

Leave a link to your account if you have one. I’m always curious to see what stes like-minded folks deem worthy of a bookmark.

A shout-out to my Acura dealership

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

Car buying is usually a pretty stressful process. I went through it last December and January. I didn’t realize I hadn’t blogged about it, but it looks like I hadn’t. (I did post some photos of my new car on the companion of this blog, my Flickr account.) In sum, the process ended up being just fine and I came away happy with the outcome.
I am now at the McGrath Acura Dealership in Morton Grove, Illinois where I bought my wonderful car. There is nothing wrong with the vehicle, there never has been, I just brought it in for a check-up before my long drive out to California soon. I figured I’d get an oil change as well. It turns out that the first one after the purchase of a new vehicle is free. That’s nice. So is the full check, and the car wash, too, of course. (I knew that, I’ve taken advantage of that a few times already.)

An additional perk of sitting in the comfy waiting area sipping hot chocolate is that it turns out they have free wireless here. Who knew. I brought my laptop to do some work, but I wasn’t expecting to be able to go online. Nice.

In general, I’ve had great experiences with McGrath Acura, so if anyone in Chicagoland is reading this, take note. (And if you decide to go and buy a vehicle at this dealership, be sure to mention me as a referral so I can get the referral bonus.:)

One more point: the Acura RSX is a really great car, and much more affordable than most other Acura models, fwiw.

Need help with MS Word “feature”

Saturday, August 19th, 2006

I recently received and opened an MS Word file that had an annoying setting:

Help me with MS Word, please

I don’t know how to get rid of this “feature”. But I really really would like to turn it off as I find it distracting and see absolutely no point to it. Any suggestions? Or any ideas as to what it may be called or where I would likely find people who may be able to help? Thanks!

UPDATE: Thanks to David Mackinder’s comment, I was able to resolve this issue within a couple of hours of posting about it.  Thank you, David!

Can you spot the spam source?

Saturday, August 19th, 2006

McAffee SiteAdvisor offers quizzes to test users’ skills about sites that might lead to spam and spyware. I found them interesting. It’s not always possible to tell what site may lead to spam simply based on the site’s looks. And in some cases you have to do a reasonably careful reading of the site’s privacy policy to figure out whether use of the service may result in hundreds of spam messages within a few days of signing up.

This is an interesting idea, a potentially neat way to educate users about spam and spyware problems. The tool is lacking significanty in one domain though. I think it would be MUCH more useful if the results page included an analysis of the privacy policies to point out to users what it is exactly that should serve as a red flag in the various policy statements.

The survey I administered last Winter to a sample of 1,300+ college students about their Internet uses included a question about how often, if ever, students read a site’s privacy policy. It turns out that 37% of respondents never do so and an additional 41% only do so rarely. No wonder people are still struggling with spam problems.

Unfortunately, at some level it doesn’t matter what you do if your friends are not careful with your address. I have a very private address I had only given out to a few dozen people emphasizing several times that they should never enter it on any Web sites (e.g. ecards or whatnot) and should only use it for one-on-one communication (so also requesting that they avoid its inclusion on cc lines). Some of my friends couldn’t follow these requests and now the address receives about 40 spam messages/day. I realize that’s not a lot in the grand scheme of things, but the point is that none of that was due to anything I had done with the address given that I had never entered it on any Web sites and had only ever used it to send one-on-one emails to a few dozen people.