December 31, 2005

How Best Buy Tried to Rip Me Off

You ever buy anything from Best Buy? If so, you better read on…

I had a Sony 400 DVD Changer that broke. That was unfortunate since it seemed to have broken quite easily but I was, in general, happy with its operation given its price relative to comparably-equipped competitors. I had purchased it from Amazon.

Well, I decided I needed to replace it before all my DVDs got damaged (which cost a more than the total price of the changer…my way of justifying its purchase with the wife ;-).

I had just received a Best Buy gift card for Christmas so I decided I would buy it from Best Buy (despite it being much cheaper from Amazon).

I decided to go to bestbuy.com (the online store) to check out what they had and what their prices would be when I go into the store. I found one that was a newer model of the one I had online and decided I would go in to pick it up (click link to see screen capture) instead of wait for it to be shipped.

As you can see from bestbuy.com, the price is listed as $375 (screen capture in case they change the price…and another one showing in store pick up available). When they scanned it at the store (no price was listed at the display) during my trip there on Friday, Dec 30, 2005, the price said $399. I told them I had just come over from checking the price online and it had said the lower price for an in-store purchase (some prices are available only online…but not this one…I had even checked the inventory to see if it was available at the Burbank store (see screen capture where they state available for in store pick up).

They didn’t give me that price and said they would check it. They took me over to a computer that showed a browser in kiosk mode that was basically a customized web browser without toolbars and looked like it had bestbuy.com loaded in it. The exact model I was purchasing was pulled up on the screen and did not display the cheaper price…it instead showed the higher price! I asked if this was bestbuy.com and the salesperson stated it was. I followed the exact click path I took to confirm…click on Electronics->DVD Players->scroll down and click on the DVD player I wanted. No luck…the salesperson stated I might have looked at a different model…but I was sure I was correct. The salesperson went to speak with his manager and came back saying he would knock down $10. That didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me…to randomly knock down $10 without proof of a lower price…hmmmmmm.

I told him I would be back, drove down the street to my house and looked it up again using the same exact click path. Low and behold, there was the DVD player still listed for the lower price. This leads me to believe 1 of a couple of things: 1) I was NOT on bestbuy.com in the store but rather, some internal mirror or 2) the bestbuy.com website shows different prices based on IP Address, user-agent, or other method. This in and of itself may not seem like much, but the salesperson put it out there that I *was* on bestbuy.com and there *was no* lower price!!!

I was really disappointed in Best Buy’s demonstration of bad faith. When I went back to show a printed copy of the lower price, I went back to the same exact salesperson to question him. He was in the process of showing another potential customer that the price for a projector she wanted was not lower like she thought and was sitting at the computer kiosk again. I questioned it about it in front of her and she stated she had experienced the same thing. He was unable to give me an answer of what had happened and shrugged his shoulders…then sent me to another salesperson to get rid of me who offered to price match…their *own* price!!!! :-(

Well, you know what they say, let the buyer beware. If they tried to pull this on such a small savings, I can’t imagine what they’d try to do to stop a much larger savings that may affect their sales commissions substantially…what a disappointment!

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December 23, 2005

Google Responds

Google has responded to the critics/rumors.

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December 21, 2005

What’s up with Google

By now, I’m sure most of you have heard about Google owning a stake in AOL. MSN came close to stealing that relationship away from them until they swooped in out of nowhere at the last minute and pulled it off. How the heck did they pull it off? Check out this snippet from a NY Times article:

“Google, which prides itself on the purity of its search results, agreed to give favored placement to content from AOL throughout its site, something it has never done before.”

AOL is one of their biggest traffic providers and, given the fact they own such properties as Mapquest and DCI, they would also be a large source of local traffic. Additionally, since many of their users are subscribers, they have billing addresses associated with those users and could therefore target them locally as well. (Don’t forget the reason why they are focusing on local search).

There are additional terms to the deal including creating a cross-platform IM service (Google Talk and AOL IM), etc.

Another interesting bit of info:

Graphical ads appear to be in the works for Google’s search results pages, though traditional banners might not show up except in Google Image Search and Froogle shopping search. The Google home page would remain without graphics. From earlier reports, it sounds like AOL will get some of graphical space to help promote its own sites plus have the ability to resell graphical ads on Google.

Well, at least those image ads will no longer be on the homepage.

Well, they pulled it off but at what cost? I suppose implemented properly, some of these will turn out to be big wins for both sides (i.e. a better product by providing immediate “smart answers” from AOL content and a shared platform for IM to increase the user base for both systems).

Google has also spent time picking on the little guys if you believe that story. While I know there is usually 3 sides to every story and I’m sure there is more to the story….and, quite honestly, they shouldn’t have built their search engine to depend on one search engines, results…that implies a dependence on their algorithm rather than just their index or data.

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December 13, 2005

Alexa provides webservice

Alexa (owned by Amazon) is providing web services to query their index, use their processing power, etc (all for a small cost):

The Alexa Web Search Platform provides public access to the vast web crawl collected by Alexa Internet. Users can search and process billions of documents — even create their own search engines — using Alexa’s search and publication tools. Alexa provides compute and storage resources that allow users to quickly process and store large amounts of web data. Users can view the results of their processes interactively, transfer the results to their home machine, or publish them as a new web service.

Similar functions exist elsewhere (such as Google Base, Rollyo, or Yahoo APIs) which are free but this provides some extended functionality. Not to mention this allows you to do more whereas the others tend to be more constraining with their terms of use.

To be more specific, its the server farm that makes the difference…the ability to write an application that can interface with all that high performance hardware, for example.

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December 10, 2005

Google Earth for MAC coming?

Reports of a Mac version of Google Earth…although I’d like a version for my Mac, I’m still hoping for them to eventually move the application online.

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Washingtonpost.com looking for new cityguide

Washingtonpost.com, a long-standing citysearch partner, has long purchased citysearch software to power their city guide and, in fact, a Citysearch search with geography “Washington DC” still redirects users to the washington post site.

Well, it looks like the washingtonpost has selected FAST to power their local search/city guide (yes, they are tied…the city guide portion provides the list and editorial content while the local search provides the ability to search geospatially, etc). FAST has been getting a lot of business with their geospatial feature they added a while back. It will also be interesting to see how Citysearch responds and if they choose to stay with their engine or with FAST as well.

The fact that their are rumors that Yahoo! is interested in acquiring FAST could complicate matters (as Yahoo! is a competitor to many of these local search sites, search sites, and CPC engines).

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iYPs and service areas

One of the big problems we had at Citysearch was how to handle service areas. You see, in local search, everything had a location, was geocoded and was searched for geospatially based on that coordinate.

That worked well for restaurants, clubs, and other arts & entertainment-related categories. However, as we transitioned to yellow pages (again…how many of you remember http://yellowpages.citysearch.com from 5 years ago?), we recognized a growing issue. Many yellow page categories were services that would require the vendor to travel to the place they need to work (i.e. your house) rather than you visit their physical place of business. For example, do you really care where a plumber’s office is if he is willing to travel to your house?

Well, Gary Price came across a USPTO application about “electronic yellow pages.” I started to read it and found that MSN is trying to resolve the service area issue.

The problem:

One problem with these systems is that a merchant that services a particular area, but does not reside in that area, is not found in a bounded query directed to the area. In addition, the service merchant does not have a physical address in the area that can meet the criteria for returning a listing in response to a proximity query. For example, some mobile businesses (e.g., plumbers) service an area but do not have a physical office in the area. A bounded query directed to the area (e.g., directed to a particular ZIP code) does not return a listing for the mobile business. Likewise, a mobile business listing most likely is not returned in response to a proximity query, because there are likely other businesses that have a closer physical location than the business office for the mobile business. The listings for closer businesses are returned in response to the proximity query. In some circumstances, the closer businesses may not serve the location upon which the proximity query was based, but have their listings returned because their business offices or mailing addresses are closer than the business offices for some merchants that do serve the area.

Their solution is to add an additional lookup that ties a company to a list of zipcodes (zipcodes, it is assumed, are of a small enough geographic area and, in practice, this is in fact how many service providers “own” or purchase areas as with many of those lead-generation sites). Since this would all be in a database, you would then query in 1 SQL query, uniquing the list of merchants so you do not get duplicates (because of multiple service areas), and without any need to merge the data together because of the sort order.

There is additional information on how they will be doing queries in general:

  • they will use SQL Server
  • users will input a query term and geography
  • the query term will match against categories (some local searches/iYPs match against individual listings instead of categories but, for the most part, most iYPs match against categories and usually have an extra page between your search input and the listings where you must select a category…yuck!).
  • the geography input will match against a list of zipcodes which, if you remember, service providers have already been associated with a list of them (most local searches actually geocode your input and do a geospatial search against your input…but see above for the limitations on this)
  • additional info exists for service providers returned to designate/explain to users why they are seeing this merchant in the listing even though their place of business might be outside of their search boundary
  • they also bring up the possibility of access through mobile devices or desktop applications

well, we all knew MSN has been looking to build their own local search and iYP for a while now (and stop using other third parties to help power them)…I just wonder how much longer we’ll wait. We’ve already seen local search tied into Local live (was virtual earth) and it will be interesting to see how service areas will be presented on the map when/if they integrate that.

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del.ici.us acquired by Yahoo!

Remember when I told you about del.icio.us no longer being a “project” and Joshua devoting his time completely to it? I mentioned he was prepping it for an investment or to be an acquisition.

Well, first, investors came in, most likely to prepare it for an acquisition (by Yahoo!).

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December 9, 2005

Ajax testing password strength

Anyone notice that Google has added instant feedback (using AJAX) on your password strength when creating a new account?

Try out common ones (i.e. “password”) and mix in alphanumerics with non-alphanumerics and see wha thtye think of it…not particularly good at identifying some of them…but based on some simple rules.

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December 8, 2005

Windows Live Local Launched

Windows Live Local has launched and has the angled aerial views that MSN was promising.

I’m surprised the site works very well with Firefox. No errors for all the javascript, including placing the custom markers and driving directions.

It, of course, includes local searching and other features similar to MSN VirtualEarth had (that URL is now redirecting to this new URL).

The angled views are cool but here are a few annoyances: 1) dragging doesn’t always seem to work in firefox on Mac, 2) my input changes to a more descriptive version they provide for locations, 3) more obscure locations are used as the default (i.e. typing in “Manhattan” into the location returns Manhattan, KS first & NY second), 4) there are only 2 zoom levels allowed for the angled views, etc.

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