Archive for March, 2009

Wed 18 Mar 2009 10:57 pm   //   Posted in: Photos, Transit

New subway station!

Have you ever seen a New York City subway station this clean?

Seen here is the new South Ferry station in Lower Manhattan on the Seventh Avenue line, which on Monday became the first new subway station to open in New York City since 1989. It’s not actually a new stop; it merely replaces the old South Ferry station. The old station was over 100 years old and built on a looping turnaround, and thus only able to accommodate half of a 10-car subway train. (Conductors announced that riders had to be in the first five cars if they wanted to get out there.) The turnabout is closed, and the new station includes two tracks for arriving and departing 1 Trains, as well as a connection to the Broadway line (R and W trains). More pictures below.


Wed 18 Mar 2009 12:00 pm   //   Posted in: It's a trap!, No right to be good, Over!

Best and worst chain stores in Manhattan

Best: Recently I went to Bed Bath & Beyond on Sixth Avenue in Chelsea. Apparently, the staff there is trained to personally say hi to each customer. Every employee I walked past – whether stocking the shelves or moving carts around – looked up, made eye contact, said “Hi,” and then went back to work. It wasn’t creepy, it wasn’t annoying, it was just friendly. There are other signs this is a well-managed store. It’s enormous and very busy, yet somehow always clean and orderly. I shop there because it has a whole section of inexpensive pharmacy products, including the best price around on razor blades (which are free to grab off the shelf, not locked in a glass case like at CVS, et al). It even has a section of reasonably priced organic groceries. This store has no right to be good, and is anyway. It overturns the conventional wisdom that big box stores fail in Manhattan.

Worst: Years ago, during my first-ever visit to New York City, my friends and I walked to Macy’s Herald Square, rode about 11 flights of escalators, and rode them back down. “The World’s Largest Store” functions adequately as a tourist attraction, but as a place to buy stuff, it’s a debacle. Its floorplan is chaotic, its pricing is erratic, and its salespeople are surly. Macy’s is constantly mailing me 25%-off coupons that seem like good deals, but have fine print so complicated you need the help of an accountant to understand all the exclusions. Twice now I’ve walked out of the store in mid-purchase because a coupon wouldn’t scan, and a sales-clerk blamed it on my failure to be functionally literate. (Am I the first person to think “Menswear” means “men’s clothes”?) And no, I don’t want to save ten percent with a Macy’s card! Macy’s? Over! Happily, in this city I have lots of other options.

Tue 17 Mar 2009 12:00 pm   //   Posted in: Media, Technology

One easy rule for social networking

Brandweek has an article about how Nutella (of all brands!) has met with outsize success in viral promotion of its product on Facebook. The article informs us:

“In the U.S., fans … are the backbone of Nutella’s brand outreach. Owned by Ferrero USA, Nutella spent just $300,000 on media in 2008. Nutella’s Facebook page was also created by a fan, not the company.”

There’s an important lesson here. If you’re a company, you shouldn’t try to force social media to do your bidding. Let the fans handle that. The only thing you can do is monitor social networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to see if your branding is working. A brand succeeds when people like it. People like Nutella not just because it’s tasty, but because it’s very, very good at being Nutella. Which brings us to Daryl’s one easy rule for social networking strategy:

Don’t suck at what you do.

That was true before social networking and it’s true now. And it will be true long after Facebook gets acquired by Google (or God-knows-who) or runs out of money and shuts down.

Mon 16 Mar 2009 7:44 am   //   Posted in: TV

You are number six

If you’ve never seen the 1960s TV show “The Prisoner,” now is the time: AMC is streaming all 17 episodes for free here. (A remake of the show is supposed to air on AMC this summer.)

Be seeing you!

Sun 15 Mar 2009 2:10 pm   //   Posted in: Cartoons, New York is different

Cartoon: The Crunchie Bar Chronicles


Fri 13 Mar 2009 7:31 am   //   Posted in: Labeling

What you talkin’ bout, Willis?

Item: Chicago’s Sears Tower is going to be renamed the Willis Tower, after the insurance company.

An insurance company should know better than to pull a stunt like this: Renaming a building is a terrible risk!

Here in New York, we’re proud of our old buildings and their names.

The Woolworth Building is still the Woolworth building. The Chrysler Building will be called that long after the last Chrysler rolls off the assembly line. All sorts of office buildings (including the former Wanamaker’s building I work in, and the Starrett-Lehigh building I used to work in) proudly summon the ghosts of defunct business. Even the Met Life Building, which is branded with a giant electric sign, still triggers in some people’s minds the sign that used to hang there: PAN AM.

My entire life, the Sears Tower has been the tallest building in America. We learned this in school. You can’t just pull out the wires and undo that kind of life-long branding. Now we’re supposed to start calling it Willis? Ugh, I don’t like it.

Thu 12 Mar 2009 7:56 am   //   Posted in: Movies, Review

How to fix Watchmen

Saw Watchmen last night. The audience I watched it with (in a 2/3-empty theater) lasted about 90 minutes before it started laughing at the film, rather than taking it seriously. A little comic relief would have helped diffuse all the splattering blood.

Actually, I’m not sure how to have fixed this movie. Rewrite the Columbo-esque dialogue at the ending? Come up with a soundtrack that doesn’t sound like it was sourced from the MP3 collection on the LAN in my college dorm? Make Dr. Manhattan wear pants?

Here’s one person’s hilarious idea: Make it a Saturday Morning cartoon! (Video below.)

Wed 11 Mar 2009 2:00 pm   //   Posted in: Failure, In the news, The suburbs

They’re calling it Xanadu? Seriously?

Everyone’s favorite feature story right now is Meadowlands Xanadu.

Here’s the outline: During the worst economic environment in half a century, a developer is about to open a $2.2 billion shopping mall in northern New Jersey. Insert quotes from area residents who think the building looks silly and retail economists who are sure it will be a business failure. For color, mention the chocolate waterfall, ferris wheel, indoor ski slope and proximity to the New Jersey Turnpike.

For examples, see Time, Business Week, The New York Times, etc.

I agree with the conventional wisdom on this: Wrong idea, wrong location, wrong year. Even if they finish the rail link connecting Xanadu to Manhattan, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which New Yorkers would flock to a shopping mall. That leaves people from Jersey, who already have more malls than they need, or tourists, who will gaze down on Xanadu as their planes land at Newark Airport, and then go somewhere cooler.

This place does hold promise for one group of people, however: Urban explorers, who some day in the future may delight in traipsing across the ruins of this abandoned complex.

Tue 10 Mar 2009 6:29 am   //   Posted in: Failure, Hard times, Technology

Embrace the fail whale

As I write this, Digg is down. Two weeks ago, chaos ensued when Gmail went offline. On Saturday and Sunday, at least 12 hours passed when I couldn’t log into Facebook. TinyURL had a service outage yesterday. Twitter gets overloaded so often that it’s error page has it own fan club.

As they say in the news business, five items make a trend. (Or is it three? Do we still say that? Who knows any more.)

Any computer system is bound to have some unannounced downtime. But these free Web 2.0 services have become such a part of our daily communication that even a little bit of downtime becomes a frustration.

One thing Digg, Facebook, Twitter, TinyURL and Gmail have in common is that there is no conceivable way they generate enough revenue to cover their costs. (We know Digg loses money, Facebook almost certainly does, Twitter generates no revenue, TinyURL might make a trickle of paid advertising, and Gmail is probably a loss leader for Google given the awesome amount of computing power and memory it requires.)

Money is running out. Get used to outages!

Sat 7 Mar 2009 9:27 am   //   Posted in: Photos, Planet earth

Bear, hero

Grizzly bear, American Museum of Natural History, February 16, 2009