Charged to cancel Earthlink? There’s a class action lawsuit for that.

April 18, 2010

In 2007, the city of Philadelphia was finally enjoying some positive national attention. National Geographic had named it America’s “next great city.” The police hadn’t done anything outrageously stupid on national TV in a couple of years.

Earthlink logo For the city’s geek crowd, perhaps most exciting was Philadelphia’s promise of becoming the first American city with a cheap, municipal WiFi network. In 2005, Atlanta-based ISP Earthlink signed on to build and manage the network, quickly setting up “proof of concept” zones throughout the city and then beginning to build out the rest of the 135 square mile network.

Eager to get online without having to deal with Comcast, I signed up for Earthlink’s at-home WiFi service, which basically utilized a large router-like device that was supposed to grab the WiFi signal from outside and re-broadcast it at full-speed throughout your house or apartment.

Well, the service was horrendous.

It barely functioned and, when it did, it crawled the Web at dial-up speeds. After several weeks, I had to cancel it and sign up with Comcast.

Upon canceling Earthlink’s service, I was shocked to learn that I was being charged a “termination fee” for something was not functional in the first place. I successfully negotiated for them to waive the fee, but apparently wasn’t the only one who found this practice questionable.

I recently received a postcard in the mail announcing a class action lawsuit against Earthlink for charging subscribers “an early termination fee (ETF) or moving fee.” The case was settled late last month, and Earthlink agreed to offer refunds and fee reductions to as many as 850,000 current and former customers.

Earthlink subscribers and other curious onlookers can go to earthlinkearlyterminationfee.com for information on the suit, including how to collect a refund.

As for the Wireless Philadelphia initiative, as everybody who anxiously anticipated this milestone is aware, the project went south in 2008 and after failed negotiations to transfer the network and its hardware to the city, Earthlink shut it down.

Oh well, maybe next time, Philly.

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The trouble with news content pay walls.

December 14, 2009

Undoubtedly the biggest and most heated debate among newspaper publishers, journalists and other media types in 2009 was the question of the pay wall: Since the recession has slowed online advertising growth, should we go back to charging readers for content?

Without rehashing the entire debate, everybody knows that one person who has advocated most enthusiastically for paid content is Rupert Murdoch, owner of the News Corporation.

While I tend to think that pay walls are probably suicidal for most newspapers, I do think that News Corp’s Wall Street Journal has a lot of high-quality content that people will (and do) pay for. For those following business and finance news especially, the WSJ is contains invaluable insight from some of the best journalists in the world.

However, I think the WSJ could be a bit smarter about its pay wall, and should consider keeping some of its content open. Here’s an example:

Wall Street Journal's pay wall

Here’s a story about Google’s new mobile handset, locked behind a “subscribers only” pay wall. To read it (and much more), I would have to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal Online for $103.48 per year.

Putting aside the well-known Google News pay wall backdoor, this speaks to a major conceptual flaw in the idea of charging for online news content: I do not need the Wall Street Journal to tell me about Google’s new mobile phone. Or anything about what Google announces. Or what Facebook does. Or frankly, virtually any tech-related news. This information is already being disseminated by hundreds of other outlets, some traditional, some new.

Now, don’t get me wrong; WSJ and their blog All Things Digital have some great, high-quality tech coverage. But so do those hundreds of other sites. If one site out of 400 is charging me to read an article on a particular topic, I’m probably not going to pay. The Wall Street Journal may continue to succeed, by virtue of being the Wall Street Journal, but for other news organizations, there’s just way too much competition for this kind of strategy to work.

This isn’t to say that some news and information publishers couldn’t come up with a way to produce and package really high-quality content that readers would consider worth paying for. But simply building a pay wall around text-based news on a Web site is probably not going to be a winning strategy for most.


Why the Comcast-NBC merger is no reason to fear for Hulu’s future

December 10, 2009

Will Comcast take a bite out of Hulu?

Illustration by JPT



Ever since the rumors of Comcast’s now-impending acquisition of NBC-Universal began buzzing, so too have questions about whether the future of Hulu — the free video streaming site part-owned by NBC — is at stake.

After all, observers noted, much of the content made available for free on Hulu was previously only accessible via cable subscription, the necessity of which consumers have begun to question, thanks to the recession and the availability of free television content on the Internet. Will Comcast mess with Hulu?

I don’t think we should worry about losing Hulu as we know it anytime soon. Here’s why:

  1. Fancast. Comcast has already launched its own version of Hulu called Fancast. Same deal: Lots of TV shows and a smattering of movies. For free. Obviously, Comcast isn’t opposed to streaming TV content online for free. (To be fair, one counterargument could be: Exactly. Comcast may try to throttle Hulu’s success in favor of its own site. However… )
  2. If Comcast pulls NBC’s content out of Hulu, it will not only piss everybody off (okay, fine, you’re right, Comcast *is* used to doing that), but it will leave ABC and other content providers who will remain on Hulu– ie, Comcast’s new competitors — with an advantage.
  3. I don’t have cable. I watch all my TV shows online. But guess who I shell out $60 a month to for Internet access. That’s right: Comcast. Something tells me those bastards will find a way to leverage their ISP business to make up for lost cable subscribers and still end up being an obscenely profitable company.
  4. There’s still stuff you can only get (legally) from a cable subscription. While many – if not most – popular television shows are available to stream online for free, many are still only available via cable. Many sports broadcasts and new episodes of “premium” HBO shows can’t easily be found online to stream and thus, an incentive still exists for people to purchase a cable subscription. Besides…
  5. Most of the NBC-owned content currently on Hulu is network TV, and thus doesn’t require a cable subscription to view anyway. I can watch The Office and 30 Rock on TV without cable. Unless Comcast/NBC would pull these shows just to hurt Hulu’s traffic, I can’t see a compelling business reason for them to restrict access to them on Hulu.
  6. Of course, anything can happen. Many people just expect a negative outcome when Comcast is involved, which is not totally unjustified. Indeed, they may find a way to ruin or water-down Hulu. But there are plenty of good reasons for it not to.

     

     

    Related Posts: » How to save hundreds of dollars on cable; »Eliminating the cable bill, part deux: Boxee!


Tech Gift Guide: 5 (relatively) affordable ideas.

December 2, 2009

Pocket Retro Game EmulatorThe future is upon us. Before long, we’ll all be walking around with cybernetic body parts, computers will have emotions and the line between man and machine will be forever blurred, rendering human mortality a thing of the past. What better way to prepare your friends and family to participate in this evolutionary milestone than with totally bitchin’, high-tech gizmos?

»Read more at philadelphiaweekly.com.


4) Mofuse: Launch a mobile version of your Website in minutes

October 8, 2009

mofuse-mobile-site

Mofuse

It’s been 15 months since Neilsen declared that the mobile Web has reached “critical mass” and even longer since news publishers began scrambling to get on board.

Well, the numbers have only skyrocketed since then. There are plenty of providers of mobile Websites, apps and SMS marketing capabilities, but they aren’t all cheap. Vendors like Crisp, Advanced or iLoop Mobile offer really nice solutions, but each one will run you a couple grand to set up, plus monthly fees, revenue shares and SMS messaging costs.

That’s just for mobile (or “WAP”) Websites, SMS capabilities and some other bells and whistles. If you want a native application for iPhone, Blackberry or Android, you’ll have to go to a mobile app developer and fork over a few thousand more bucks.

The good news is that you can get started on the mobile Web without breaking the bank with free or cheap products. There are a few: Verve Wireless (newspapers only), Mobify and Mofuse, to name a few.

The one I found to be the easiest to get started with was Mofuse. In a few minutes, Mofuse lets you launch a mobile-friendly version of any blog or Website; All you need to do is plug in an RSS feed, pick some colors, upload some graphics (optional), and you’re off. One thing: Your RSS feed should contain the full content of each post or article, not just a snippet (You can often change this setting in your content management system, or you may need to contact a programmer to help you).

Mofuse's mobile Web site builder has an easy-to-use UI

Mofuse's backend site editor: Piece of cake.

Like so many great Web apps, Mofuse uses a “freemium” model, with a few tiers of pricing above the free version, each one with a more robust feature set. Mofuse for Blogs, the free version, is really all you need to get a decent-looking mobile site up and running. For more advanced features and customization, Mofuse Premium has three tiers of pricing, ranging from $40 to $200 per month.

Coolest features:

  • Auto-redirect mobile users.The ease-of-implementation will depend on what content management system your full-sized Website is running on, but Mofuse does give you the code snippets necessary to automatically redirect mobile users to the mobile version of your Website. (Note: You can always do this using a simple JavaScript redirect, but it won’t work for people on smaller, non-smart phones)
  • “Send-link-to-phone” widget.Another code snippet that lets you embed a “send link to my phone” widget in your full-sized Website, so a user can text themselves the URL to the mobile-friendly version.
  • Customization.Even without the CSS access that the $89/month “Small Business” version gives you, you can still modify the colors and graphics on your mobile site with ease. Cheaper CSS access would be sweet, though.

Limitations: I feel bad complaining about such an awesome free product, but it does have a few limitations; 1) Rather than redirecting *all* site users to the mobile version’s homepage, some method of relating mobile and desktop versions of each individual piece of content would be nice. That way, if a mobile user follows a link to a specific blog post or article, they’re not redirected to the homepage of the mobile version instead. 2) Although JavaScript is limited on most mobile devices, some means of integrating Google Analytics with Mofuse would be nice too.

Example: PW Style blog (mobile version)


3) Issuu: Make a Flash-based flip book from your publication

June 15, 2009
The Issuu.com dashboard

The Issuu.com dashboard

Issuu

For print publications trying to adapt their content for digital audiences, the debate never ends: How best to optimize our content for Web users without bastardizing our core product (ie, the print edition)? It’s simple: Publish both online.

There are a number of tools out there to make interactive Flash/PDF books, but Issuu is the first hosted one I’ve seen that doesn’t cost anything (they do have a freemium model: Pay extra for a white-label version).

Issuu comes equipped with a customizable embed wizard (with even more customization possible through the developer API), allowing you to pick your color scheme, dimensions and configure a few other options.

In addition to publishing interactive flip-books and documents, Issuu also has a social side: the site is itself a social network, on which you can friend others, exchange comments and, along the way, find new and interesting publications.

Coolest features:

  • Ease-of-use: Upload your PDF. Copy and paste the embed code. Done.
  • Bonus: Attract new readers. By uploading your publication to Issuu (and hopefully adding some basic metadata when you do), you’re sprucing up your site *and* putting your content and brand in front of a growing user community outside your existing readership.

Limitations: The ability to embed hyperlinks into the document would be an added bonus for print advertisers (and, perhaps, provide an additional revenue stream for ailing newspapers and magazines). Nevermind! This is apparently possible.

To get started: Go to www.issuu.com, sign up, and start uploading.

Example: Philadelphia Weekly


Sidenote: Okay, maybe it is time for Facebook to add a “Dislike this” button.

June 10, 2009

Just sayin'.

Just sayin’.