Law School Discussion was down for half of yesterday and half of today. It’s back up now. There’s something of an explaination here.
Monthly Archives: April 2004
Dutch Innovation Week
It’s my last week in the Netherlands, and for a long time I’ve been meaning to do a little mini-series here about some of the things I think the Dutch do well. Thus I bring you: Dutch innovation week.
- Monday: Bicycle Infrastructure
- Tuesday: Opt-Out Direct Mail
- Wednesday: Reusable Beer Packaging
- Thursday: The Chipknip
- Friday: Wireless Leiden
By now everyone knows the advantages of wireless internet access. For companies like Verizon, wireless is a new market and a new opportunity to make some money. For companies like McDonalds, wireless is a way to get some press attention and appear to be “cutting edge”. (Perhaps McDonalds should abandon its wireless initiative and adopt a technology that might actually be useful to their customers. See yesterday’s innovation: the Chipknip.)
Wireless internet, besides being convenient and (lets admit it) really cool, also has another huge advantage over wires: it’s cheap. The affordability of wireless internet enables access to spread to areas where it was otherwise financially prohibited. Imagine a non-profit organization seeking to harness wireless technology to connect an entire city to the internet at little or no cost to the users. That would be something like Wireless Leiden.
I was never able to get a signal while living in Leiden, but I love the idea and I wish them success.
Remember the marketing campaign for the “high-tech” American Express Blue credit card? The problem was that you really can’t improve much on a credit card, and making it clear and adding a useless microchip didn’t do much to impress. Perhaps though, American Express really was ahead of its time. They have that microchip in the Netherlands, but it actually has a use. Dutch innovation week continues with: the Chipknip.
The Chipnikp is a way to build a debt card into a bank card, but with wider acceptability. Next to the ATM there is a Chipknip machine where you can transfer funds into your Chipknip account. Then your bank card works just like cash.
The Chipknip is better than a US debit card in two important ways. First, it really does work like cash. It’s extremely fast and there are no receipts to sign. If you don’t have a bank account you can buy a pre-paid card to use, so the technology is accessible to even those with bad credit (or people like me who are just passing through and don’t want to open a bank account). Second, the Chipknip can be used for all kinds of little day to day purchases. You can get a Coke from the Coke machine, pay a parking meter, and buy groceries with one simple card.
Reusable Beer Packaging
Recycling is a good idea, but grinding down glass and re-forming it into new bottles every time someone drinks a beer is far from an efficient system. In the Netherlands, bottles are cleaned out, re-labeled, and re-filled. This is similar to U.S. domestic system of washing a glass instead of breaking it and building a new one every time someone wants a drink of water. As an added bonus, a lot of beer here comes in handy plastic carrying cases that also get reused. This reduces waste because there is no cardboard to throw out or recycle. Maybe this is why the beer here is so cheap.
The new cnet mp3 service, born from the downfall of mp3.com, is now live. I’m not exactly sure how much of mp3.com cnet actually acquired because today (perfectly timed with the public launch of cnet’s music.download.com) I got an email from garageband.com offering to revive the songs I had stored on the mp3.com system.
The competition should drive improvement in all services, and it shows that companies believe in the potential profitability of alternative music distribution systems (read: label-less distribution). I just wish they’d stop trying to make money from both ends. Garageband.com wants $7 each to “restore” my songs. They’re nice enough to give me three for free.
I’ll be signing up on cnet next week when I can get to my other computer, until then it’s nice to once again have some tracks online (still being “transferred” at the moment though).
Opt-Out Direct Mail
Marketers use the term “direct mail” to refer to marketing with physical mail (commonly known as “junk mail” to the recipients). In the US at least, the term “opt-out” is gaining ground as a recognized affirmative request not to receive marketing emails (commonly known as “spam”). Why not combine the two concepts and provide a way for people to opt-out of direct mail?
It’s already possible to request removal from marketers’ mailing lists, but the Dutch have created a standard system for opting out of all types of post box advertising. Each mailbox clearly announces the type of advertising that is acceptable. A “Nee – Nee” sticker means the resident does not want any advertisements and a “Nee – Ja” sticker indicates that only local newspapers are acceptable, but not flyers. I’ve never seen a “Ja – Ja” sticker, but I suppose that’s assumed when there is no sticker.
The stickers show the power of standardization. There is never any confusion over what types of advertisements are acceptable in a particular mailbox. Even a discretion-less machine would be able to apply the residents’ requests. Imagine the same system applied to email: an inbound message would have a machine-readable content indication. You could adjust which ads you receive by changing the preferences of your email client (no need for creative filtering based on content – and thus no more pen1s emails trying to game the filter). In practice, of course, such a system has yet to materialize.
Dutch Bicycle Infrastructure
Bicycling is one of the most efficient means of transportation, but the bicycles can only truly be effective when a society builds the infrastructure to support them. While the US struggles to fit bicycles into a transportation system built for the ridiculously inefficient automobile, the Netherlands has created a system where both cars and bikes can peacefully coexist.
The density of Dutch cities allows people to travel shorter distances, thus encouraging biking over driving. Cars are not given many concessions. They’re not permitted on many narrow city streets and gasoline and parking are very expensive. Bike riders, on the other hand, enjoy ample free parking, access to nearly any road, and a dedicated lane on any car-shared road. In addition, the popularity of bicycles allows for cheap parts and widespread availability of maintenance shops. Biking in the Netherlands is for everyone. Businessmen commute on bikes and homemakers travel to the grocery store on bikes. Whereas bike riders in the US tend to be young, active people, the accessibility of bikes to all age groups and lifestyles in the Netherlands ensures that the standard means of transportation is an efficient one.
Pottery Barn Rule
The Trademark Blog notes that the Pottery Barn is a little upset that Colin Powell’s misattribution of the “you-break-it = you-buy-it” policy. It seems Pottery Barn’s real policy is simply to write down a record of the broken items. This invokes, in my mind, the image of a riotous bull running wild in the shop while teenage employees feverishly attempt to write down the UPC numbers of everything the bull is breaking.
Perhaps the problem arises from the name itself. “Pottery Barn” seems to invoke the image of… a barn full of pottery. Surely such an institution would have a “you-break = you-buy” policy. I don’t think the real Pottery Barn sells much pottery at all, and the stores are certainly no where near any barns. Nor does home wares competitor Crate & Barrel keep any of its products in crates or barrels. If you want a rustic country “straight from the supplier” type image, you have to put up with people assuming certain rustic country policies. If I could get the US military and national news to adopt my trademark in its vernacular (while still identifying the source), I wouldn’t complain.
I might be a little behind the times on this one, but check out Fund Race for gorgeous maps of campaign contributions by address. The link was going around about a month ago and I missed it somehow. Maybe you did too. Fascinating stuff.