Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Will ‘Little Free Libraries’ do what eReaders didn’t?

Many years ago, in a neighbour’s store-room down Hildon Place, a few of us stacked our books together and called it a library. When the idea caught, we began issuing hand-made library cards. There was no organization to support us, but there was no shortage of kind old aunts who fed the librarians and patrons well.

So naturally I’ve been fascinated by the ‘Little Free Library‘ movement that’s been cropping up outside homes. The library (as you can see here) looks like a large bird house with a door and a plaque.

But will a little box on the curb spur a new interest in reading? We were hyperventilating with optimism when eReaders took the world by storm almost a decade ago.

A little library with no overdue fines looks quaint, but unlike digital trends, these decidedly analog ‘platforms’ (they are raised boxes, aren’t they?) have the potential to build conversations, and bring communities closer. There are some 40,000 Little Free libraries, to date, according to the website’s FAQs.

Starting one is as simple. Owners are asked to register one’s Library making it searchable online. Borrowers are urged to contribute a book for every book borrowed.

Some young people have launched their LFLs with aplomb, having constructed it out of scrap wood or from an old bookshelf. I could see this trend become almost a hobby, as young readers discover that there is more than one way to enjoy a good book.

  • If you like the idea, follow Little Free Library on Twitter @LtlFreeLibrary

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Pure Fitness hides billing mistake behind small print. What’s the goal here?

Ever tried to discontinue a service only to be given the run around by folks and billing bureaucracies that attempt to wear your resistance down?

It happens with big corporations, right? The ones with call centers in places like Scroungeistan…

I didn’t think my local health club would stoop so low. After all it’s more community-based. My contract with Pure Fitness ended in March 2010. It explicitly stated it was a 23 month term. I went over to tell them I would not be continuing. That was April 17th, before the next charge hit. No problem  the guy said. He’s leave a note for the admissions director. She will call me if there was a problem.

No call.

By the end of the month I got my credit card statement that, lo and behold, showed not only another charge –the 24th payment — but an inexplicable bill for $173.52.  I went over again to the location at Elliott and Alma School, and the guy tells me it must be a mistake. The person who took down the details probably didn’t communicate my cancellation info to the billing dept., so would I call the membership director. There was a new membership director, he noted. The former gal was not there anymore.

I did and the new gal gives me this spiel on why 23 months actually could mean 24 months since the account rolls into a month-to-month cycle.

Even though I asked to cancel? Even through it explicitly defines the term in the contract?

Yes. Apparently, as she noted, one should notify them 60 days prior to cancellation. As for that mysterious charge would I come in ans show my credit card statement? I said I would.

Just to be sure I got my facts straight I switched on my recorder on my mobile “for quality and training purposes” as I informed her when I called.

Today, my 4th visit, counting previous attempt months ago, I went in to get that explanation and refund for that mystery charge. I switched on my recorder this time too. For quality and transparency purposes. To  paraphrase the unhappy conversation, here’s how it went:

She: This charge (the mystery $173.52) was for your wife’s account.

Me: Huh?

She: Apparently you joined together

Me: You can’t bill me for someone else? I didn’t sign for her. She didn’t sign for me…

Me: Could you refund that then?

She: No, you will have to take that up with your credit  card company and ask them to dispute it.

Me: Ridiculous. That is a third party. I am here at this location, in first person. I want it refunded. This is your mistake!

She: We can’t do that. Your credit card company can do it.

Me: Huh? You would take their word, but I am here in person with a document to prove it is your mistake, but you want me to ask them to ask you to fix it?

She: Let me ask my boss (exit stage left)

Me: (To customer who’s also come to cancel) These Romans are crazy!

By now I get that creepy recollection of the back-and-forth we all went through when trying to buy a used car in the old days.  Is this worth my time? Is it worth the time and angst of a million dollar company? What’s the strategy here? Wear the customer down till he breaks out to a sweat without use of the treadmill?

She: (returning after meeting the hidden boss) My boss says we could cut you a check for that amount. We will get back to you…

Me: Whew! And about that 24th payment? Will that be refunded too?

She: No. The terms say you have to inform us within 60 days.

Me: (to myself) So 23 payments could really meant 25 payments. How cool is that! Someone’s gonna have a few nice corporate lunches on my account!)

Me: Show me where it says this.

(We both look over the fine print. No such thing in original contract. I agree to come back the 5th time to get most of my money refunded.)

Me: worn down, sort of. OK, You keep your $19.99. Just cancel my account.

The odd lessons about this encounter:

  • No apologies from the boss for taking so long to resolve this, for mistakenly billing me
  • Sneaky contracts. The attempt to hit the customer with sneaky fine print, and a relentlessness to attempt to prove –albeit ineffectively — that the company is right.

Oddly enough, this morning, I interviewed someone for an upcoming article about the concept of ‘markets are conversations,’ the central thesis of the Cluetrain Manifesto) where we talked of Thesis #13 and the need for a human side of business communication. The authors put it this way:

Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.

That was 10 years ago! Today, it’s sure easy to launch a Facebook page, and a Twitter account and pretend that you have solved the problem of corporate c0mms, while being so far removed from the conversations going on outside your walls.

There’s a lot of work to be done. Or to invoke AsterixThese Romans are crazy!

End Note: Pure Fitness, could I give you a copy of Cluetrain? Gratis! No fine print. I won’t ask for a refund. Promise!



Quotes for the week ending 27 Feb, 2010

“A severe breach of rules by staff”.

Message by British telecom company, Vodafone, apologizing for an offensive message posted to its Twitter account

“The BBC is the arm of MI-6 … We will settle accounts with them when the time comes.”

Gen. Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, Iran’s chief of police

“the security tracking software has been completely disabled”

Christopher McGinley, Superintendent of the Lower Merion School District in Phiadelphia. One high school was accused of secretly turning on the web-cams of laptops loaned to students to take home.

“Twitter Toppled Toyota!”

Devang Murthy, in

“Folks were tweeting 5,000 times a day in 2007 … Today, we are seeing 50 million tweets per day—that’s an average of 600 tweets per second”

Twitter blog, charting the popularity of micro-blogging that created a 1,400% growth spurt last year.

“That Wacky Mahathir!”

Headline of a post by the Hugh Downs School of Communications at ASU, on the statement by Mahathir Mohamed, former PM of Mayalsia (who said earlier this year of the US that “If they can make Avatar, they can make anything.”)


Quotes for the week ending 17 Jan, 2009

“Steve Jobs a ‘national treasure”

BBC, on the news that Jobs is taking an leave of absence for health reasons.

“We hav 2 prtct R ctzens 2, only way fwd through neogtiations, & left Gaza in 05. y Hamas launch missiles not peace?”

Tweet used by Israel government during press conference

“The blogosphere and new media are another war zone.”

Maj. Avital Leibovich, the head of the Israeli Defense Forces’ foreign press branch.

“Sea of Culture,” Gulf of YouTube,” Bay of Angst”

Areas named on a new map of the world.

“I am not ready to leave journalism; journalism is leaving me”

Former Tribune journalist, Dennis Welch, on starting up a blogger-meets-mainstream journalism site, Arizona, that will fill the gaps in how news is reported,covering more of the ‘why’ not the ‘what’ in news.

“The rebooting of our democracy has begun.”

Andrew Rasiej, founder of Personal Democracy Forum and the TechPresident blog.

“I just watched a plane crash into the hudson rive in manhattan”

Someone Tweeting on Thursday.

“There are people standing on the wings as the plane sits half submerged in the hudson”

His follow up a few seconds later

“True confession but I’m in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say ‘I would die if I had to live here!'”

James Andrews, VP of Ketchum, who tweeted when he got off a plane in Memphis for a presentation. The client he was pitching to, wasn’t absolutely positively happy.


Are we unready for the mobile interface?

Someday the phone in your pocket will be less and less of a talking instrument, and more and more of a remote, a news conduit, a personal carbon footprint calculator, a gaming device, a…

You get the point.

But the fact is, many of our organizations are lagging in making much of our communication:

(a) Platform agnostic –a fancy way of saying it should be accessible on a Mac, PC, Windows Media device, Blackberry or iPhone

(b) Interactive –letting our visitors and audiences do something with the information, such as tagging, annotating, commenting, forwarding etc

(c) Portable –moving an applet from a web to a phone for instance.

I brought this up at a meeting recently where the topic of social networks came up. I am not a huge fan of creating one more cooler-than-yours social network, because we are all dealing with social network fatigue and it will only get worse. Making content portable to me is one way to solve it.

If we’re all going to gravitate toward “cloud computing” the mobile device might be the cloud’s best friend.

To get back to the ‘other’ functions of our mobile device, I just met with my good friend and marketing thinker, Steve England, who showed me some mind-blowing mobile applications. Granted, his phone is smarter than mine –I caught him ‘following’ Chris Brogan and Guy Kawasaki in a coffee shop! Steve’s working with a company that can print a bar code (like the one on the left) that could be scanned with any camera phone.

From an end-user perspective, these bar-codes are not only for consumer products but can act as visual cues that lead a person (like breadcrumbs?) from offline to online seamlessly, bypassing logins, account verification etc.

From a Communicator’s or Marcom manager’s perspective, these codes/icons could be even used on a touch-screen to deploy timely information to a niche opt-in group. On a wider scale, it’s being touted for emergency –and even ‘minor emergency’ alerts .

Right now, it’s probably a challenge for you to even read a PDF I send you on a phone, right? Coming soon, I may be able to reach you, even if you’ve accidentally left your phone at home, via a digital panel on a bus.

Now that would be  truly ‘mobile!’


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Stopping the phone books

Is there a universal number to be on a ‘do not deliver’ list for phone books?

I just called Yellow Book and asked to be taken off their list. Tel: 800.373.3280.

I understand there is a business model behind the catalog business, and I would hate to see people lose jobs over this, but isn’t it time for regulation to reduce the number of unwanted phone books? What’s wrong with a system where the phone book company asks us to opt-in to receive one?

I notice that two cities are already considering a law to reduce phone books.

The Direct Marketing Association has Isn’t it time the phone companies got their act together?


Posted by on May 14, 2008 in Miscellaneous


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Communicating through chaos: What could a pandemic flu teach us

Very happy to be able to break the story about a pandemic flu exercise we conducted here at the Decision Theater at ASU.

It was an exercise that worked on several levels:

  • Strategic Planning
  • Testing Scenarios
  • Communicating with multiple groups
  • Testing a plan through systems dynamic model

I am in the Communications business, so I was keenly observing how different players interacted, assumed leadership positions, and communicated from within the ‘crisis.’

I was lucky to be the fly on the wall (the camera-toting fly, that is) so it got me thinking of the parallels there were for businesses. How do organizations communicate and act in a crisis? As in any marketing campaign or business crisis, the war room is staffed by team members who are are suddenly confronted with the need to operate without the usual props. They may have Blackberries, but the information is coming at them fast and furious through other channels. They may have strong opinions, but so too do the people across the table.

Then there was the interesting irony of some having too much information (mock TV news updates, threat levels, a web cam feed, fact sheets etc) on one side of the room, and others deprived of the usual sources of information (CNN, RSS feeds, radio etc) –all this according to plan. We hosted this event in two areas. Emergency Ops was situated in the ‘drum’ -the high-tech room with a 260-degree panoramic screen, laptops etc. Incident Command and the Executive Policy Group were situated in an adjacent conference room, tethered to the drum via a live camera feed and a land line. No cell phone communication was allowed between the rooms.

Communicators often face situations like this, albeit not in the same life-threatening context. How does a team of those representing PR, Marketing, Advertising, Web Design, HR, IT and Legal Affairs work in crisis mode, in a compressed time frame, when they barely talk to each other in normal life? We seldom act out scenarios, assuming bad things won’t happen to us. History tells us otherwise.

Unless we plan for these hypothetical ‘pandemic’ events we won’t really know. That’s the deeper meaning of strategic planning, isn’t it?


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