Kmart Buys Sears?

My first thought was, Aren’t they still bankrupt?” Obviously not.

Not that usually I shop in either store (although our dishwasher did come from Sears). But as a longtime fan of Land’s End, which Sears bought last year, I do keep an eye on these things.

It will definitely cost some people their jobs. Layoffs as the back offices are consolidated is a must in situations like these. Probably some store closings as well.

Ah well.

Do-Not-Call is Constitutional

They may be overrun by partisan hacks but at least the Supreme Court got it right with regard to telemarketers:

The Supreme Court let stand a lower-court ruling that telemarketers’ rights to free speech are not violated by the government’s nationwide do-not-call list.

Without comment, the justices rejected an appeal by commercial telemarketers against the lower-court ruling, which upheld as constitutional the popular program in which consumers can put their names on a list if they do not want to be called by telemarketers.

“We hold that the do-not-call registry is a valid commercial speech regulation because it directly advances the government’s important interests in safeguarding personal privacy and reducing the danger of telemarketing abuse without burdening an excessive amount of speech,” the appeals court said.

Actually, reading further into the article, maybe I should take back the ‘partisan hack’ comment. The Justices also:

  • let stand a ruling that a Catholic charity in California must include prescription contraceptives in its employee health insurance plan
  • rejected an appeal from ousted Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who lost his job after defying a federal order to dismantle a Ten Commandments monument.

Friendster: About Face!

This is exactly the kind of action that makes people have no respect for what corporations say: Friendster, which has made much of its ‘no fake profiles’ policy, is now allowing fake profiles as long as they’re sponsored by a paying advertiser.

From its earliest days, many Friendster members introduced fake profiles — known variously as fakesters, or pretendsters — into their networks of friends. Often, members posted profiles of their pets and linked to friends’ pets. But the service quickly demonstrated it didn’t see the humor when it began purging the network of the fakesters.

Yet now, the company sees little irony in cooperating with Anchorman developer DreamWorks in introducing the movie’s characters into the Friendster network. In fact, it says the move is indicative of a larger cross-promotional plan the company has undertaken.

“What Friendster is doing with these movie-character profiles is actually a brand-new paradigm in media promotion,” Friendster spokeswoman Lisa Kopp said. “We are working directly with a number of production houses and movie studio partners to create film-character profiles, or ‘fan’ profiles, that allow our users to share their enthusiasm about the film with their friends.”

The message I get is that Friendster is tone-deaf to how this looks to their customers. Why is it not OK to put up a profile for a (real) pet bird but OK to have a profile of a fake anchorman for a not very funny summer movie? Oh right, money.

It’s been widely reported that all of the ‘social networking’ companies are having an issue trying to figure out how to make them profitable. This is one way of generating income that doesn’t require a full-out pay for content model, and in that sense it’s not a bad idea. But the hypocrisy inherent in the process does leave a bad taste in my mouth.

I’m probably not their target customer anyway. I signed onto Friendster a year or so ago. I was familiar with the “fakesters” on Friendster, even linked as a friend to the Howard Dean profile. As the Wired article mentions, it was a way of establishing community and saying something about myself by my choice of association. But ultimately, I gave up on Friendster and stopped visiting. The site was too static, didn’t really allow for much interaction – in short, I found it boring.

I prefer Orkut, which has user-formed community groups and message boards – much more interactive, much more interesting. It’s not a major part of my online activities, but unlike Friendster, Orkut is interesting enough for me to keep visiting & contributing to the site. Orkut is also invite-only, which helps keep the trolls out.

Good news / Bad news

It’s coming up on two years since my last layoff, but even so, news of a layoff affects me deeply. Today it was PalmOne, the company formerly known as Palm, Inc that recently acquired Handspring.

I’m well aware that businesses cannot guarantee employment to their people if the tides of business change. Nor am I enough of a Socialist to think that it’s their obligation to do so. But after having been laid off multiple times in the dot-com implosion and also once back in the recession of the early 90’s, my sympathy is much more with the people being let go than with the companies who make the cuts. Especially so because the trend these days is that jobs which vanish do not come back. Bob Herbert’s latest column is one of many pointing out this trend.

The good news in today’s announcement is that PalmOne is going to be focusing more heavily on smartphone convergence devices like their Treo line. As a longtime Treo fan, that pleases me. But to do so at the cost of people’s jobs also gives me pain.

Ironically, I found the URL reporting the layoffs because the battery on my much-loved Treo 180 is showing signs of permanent failure and I’m starting to think about replacing it. I don’t have the cash in hand for a new Treo 600, and even if I did, there are other things on my “to buy” list that come higher – like a new SLR camera to take with me to Italy.

There’s an abundance of Treo 180s on eBay for about $100, so if necessary I can go there for a replacement. Despite its slow processor and B&W screen, the Treo 180 is an excellent balance between a PDA and phone and I’ve been really happy with it. Faster access to the Internet, a color screen, and other bells and whistles would be nice, of course, but that’s what my Tungsten C is for.

But getting back to my original point, I hope that what comes out of PalmOne in the future is really, really good. Otherwise those people’s lives will have been kicked to pieces for nothing.

Good for business, bad for privacy?

An older article from The Register (a favorite news site) got called to my attention today. RFID, which hasn’t gotten much attention to date, is poised to become a serious threat to personal privacy over the next few years. The potential for RFID to make the lives of retail businesspeople easier is vast – and as one of them, I can’t say that that’s a bad thing. I just got 60 cases of shoes – more than 1,500 pounds of product – delivered to my store in the past 2 days. Comparing the contents of each case to the printed manifest of what’s supposed to be there is a pain in the butt. If I could just wave a scanner over all the boxes and get an exact inventory readout that I could upload to the computer, I’d be thrilled.

However, something is going to have to be done to allow consumers to remove or disable RFID chips once products have left the store, just like we can remove the sales tags and security devices today. The potential for abuse is just way too vast for there to be any wiggle room on this one. “Once you buy your RFID-tagged jeans at The Gap with RFID-tagged money, walk out of the store wearing RFID-tagged shoes, and get into your car with its RFID-tagged tires, you could be tracked anywhere you travel.” says The Register, and it’s not a pretty picture.