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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Google Video offers free videos

I chanced upon Google Video's new "Free Today" feature. Videos that typically cost $0.99 to $14.99 are offered for free. These are sponsored by advertisers such as Netflix, HP, Burger King, etc. I came across some real good stuff including this 1915 Charlie Chaplin video. Only wish they offered these as downloads as well! :)

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Trying hard to please...

Catering to each individual
A couple months ago I was at P.F.Chang's for lunch with 6 of my colleagues. Lunch done, we were served the check. We paid for it with 7 cards! Our very attentive and witty server left the table with "I will be back in an hour". :-) He was back in 5 minutes. He called out each of our names without once looking at the cards - even my very "Indian" name. He also knew where each individual was seated! Amazing memory. But more importantly, he lent it a very personal touch. Needless to say, he got a hefty tip from us. Personalized Customer Service at its best!

"We try harder" or should it be "We hardly try"?
Yesterday, I tried to reserve a van for our trip to Crater Lake this long weekend. I found a deal on and booked it. But then realized they had limited miles (200 a day). So I looked up Orbitz and sure enough, found the exact same Avis offer on Orbitz, but with unlimited miles. So I called Avis and asked them to match the Orbitz offer. But they refused. So I asked them to cancel the reservation and they did without blinking an eye!

The Avis Offer Screenshot:
Avis: We Try Harder
The Orbitz Offer Screenshot:
Avis: Doesn't Try Harder

It is very unlikely that I will go over the 800 miles they had on offer. They could have matched the deal and retained a satisfied customer. But instead, they preferred to lose the business to a competitor, created some negative "word of mouth" for themselves and lost a customer. So much for "trying hard"!

"Please hold. Your business is important to us." - Is it? Really?
This one takes the cake. A Comcast technician, put on hold for an hour by Comcast Technical Support, dozed off at a customer's home. The customer, Brian Finkelstein posted a clip of the dozing technician on his blog and word soon reached the upper echelons at Comcast. The technician was fired and Brian had a few guests from Comcast who worked thru midnight to fix the problem. Why does it have to take so much effort to get companies to provide basic support?

Customer Rules! And can be easily pleased!! Just ask the server at P.F.Chang's.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Riya 2.0: Rapid Improvements or More Spin?

When I first reviewed Riya a few months ago, it fell way short of what was advertised then. Riya's CEO Munjal Shah pointed out that my test failed because I was using low-resolution images from the web and that Riya works only with resolutions of 2MP or higher. But a recent post on Munjal's blog and TechCrunch indicates that Riya may have now made that quantum leap to finding any image on the web.

Quote from TechCrunch:
"...When it’s ready, users will be able to search on an image (the easiest way will be via a browser plugin to search right from the page containing the images). See a rug on ebay that has a pattern you like? See other rugs from across the web containing similar patterns...See someone’s picture on MySpace that you like? Search on their photo to find single people who look similar and who have profiles up on or other dating sites...".

If this is true, then a business model is finally emerging from Riya. The question is if this is a viable business model.

So, will it work?
The shift in strategy does indicate that Riya is under pressure from VCs to deliver a working product with a revenue stream.

The costs of indexing billions of images from across the web are pretty high. And then there is the issue of real-time responses to end users. Google's text-based searches have acceptable response times. When we change the input from text to images, we have to multiply that response time a few times. That will clearly put it beyond acceptable, unless Riya has some ground-shaking magic sauce.

Riya has also lost some time to a few possible competitors in this space. The recent departure of their marketing force, Tara Hunt, only add to its woes.

In summary, the costs associated with this shift are too high in comparison to the actual revenue which will likely be referral fees. Riya may have to go back to its drawing board very soon.

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