Writing from the road

FedEx truck on route 90

We're about 200 miles away from Seattle traveling on Route 90. Did I tell you I love my Verizon card? It works everywhere in the Western United States. Maryam's driving.

It's fun to read blogs at 80 mph on my Tablet PC. And isn't it crazy that I can send my thoughts (and photos) all over the world through a cell phone tower? I was thinking back to the 1989 earthquake when it took several hours to get a black and white photo sent across the US to a newspaper on the East Coast (back then cell phones were rare and digital cameras didn't exist and the Internet consisted of servers that only geeks really knew how to use).

Anyway, for the past few hours I've been thinking about what I'm learning from road-side advertising. There sure is a lot of it. I'm thinking about whether there's some lessons for online companies that need to make money from advertising. I'm not sure there is, but businesses sure could learn a lot since a lot of my reactions are the same when I look at ads on Google or MSN or Yahoo (and the time spent looking at each is about the same).

In just Coeur d'Alene, which is a relatively small town in Idaho, I counted 113 commercial messages. Not counting the FedEx truck that Maryam passed. That's in about 10 minutes of driving over a few miles (like I said, it's a small town).

There were signs advertising McDonalds and Starbucks. Car dealerships. Hotels. Tourist attractions. And a lot more.

It's amazing how bad most are. First of all, you only have one to five seconds to read any sign. Second, a large percentage of the signs weren't kept up very well. Why would I want to stay at a hotel that couldn't even keep its sign looking nice? Third, very few stood out.

See, for a business what really matters?

Scarcity.

Tren Griffin taught me that. He works at Microsoft as a networking services strategist, but that really doesn't explain why I like Tren. He participates on lots of internal mailing lists and challenges us to think about business in new ways.

I wish I had posted his thoughts on Vonage's IPO. He warned us to stay far away and broke down how bad a deal their stock offering was for investors. It's amazing looking at it that anyone bought stock in Vonage (Memorandum has quite a few comments on the deal). Shows that investors don't always do their homework and think about how likely a business will return anything on their investments.

Anyway, back to the advertisements. How do you create scarcity in a place of large numbers of competitors. Heck, most every major exit has a sign like this:

Commercial district ahead

In fact, usually there are two: one for restaurants and one for lodging. Some exists have a third for gas stations.

The chain restaurants stand out on signs like this. Why? Consistency. You know what Subway will give you. It's the same thing you got 300 miles back. Same goes for McDonalds. Denny's. Etc.

I'd love to have better food on the road, but it's hard to take a chance on "Joe's diner" because you have no idea what you're gonna get.

So, how can you create scarcity? Well, one sign in Montana yelled "Grizzly Bears next exit."

It's the only sign I remember seeing in 700 miles that said THAT.

Another sign touted "Lewis and Clark camped 900' south of this sign." Heh, didn't get my business, but at least I remembered it.

Another business that does street advertising well? Chico Hot Springs. They are located in the middle of nowhere (five miles from my mom's house) but they are always packed and people two states away knew about Chico when we talked about where were headed. Great food there, too.

Chico Hot Springs

Their signs are simple, and easy to follow to get there (they are several miles from the main highway).

Oh, one other thing before I sign off from the road. I've been reading a bunch of blogs on my cell phone. It's amazing how bad most of them are. For instance, Martin Schwimmer's blog is totally unreadable on my cell phone (it has dark text over a dark background). You all need to test your blogs out on cell phones!

I think when I get back I'm gonna show you guys on video just how bad you make it for cell phone readers. Maybe there's not a lot of us out there, but why make it hard when you don't need to? Dave Winer's blog rocks on cell phones, by the way. It's light weight. Loads fast. And brings the content right to the top (many blogs make you wade through navigation before you can get to content).

Be home in a couple of hours. If the roadside signs don't snag us into a late-night dessert! :-)

Comments

  1. “the Internet consisted of servers that only geeks really knew how to use”

    You know, sometimes I miss those days. Operating systems were simpler back then as well. Well ***X was hard to use but the OSes that DEC was turning out were great. Sigh. It was really something else to have an email address back then. You had to be a geek to use one let alone have one. Now they let anyone have one and you can send email without knowing the names of all the computers your message will pass through to get where it is going.

  2. “the Internet consisted of servers that only geeks really knew how to use”

    You know, sometimes I miss those days. Operating systems were simpler back then as well. Well ***X was hard to use but the OSes that DEC was turning out were great. Sigh. It was really something else to have an email address back then. You had to be a geek to use one let alone have one. Now they let anyone have one and you can send email without knowing the names of all the computers your message will pass through to get where it is going.

  3. This is off subjecxt, but i’ve not been able to get to this blog for several days using IE. It always locks my browser up and i have to kill the process to get it back. All other sites work fine; just this one’s the problem.

  4. This is off subjecxt, but i’ve not been able to get to this blog for several days using IE. It always locks my browser up and i have to kill the process to get it back. All other sites work fine; just this one’s the problem.

  5. Permission to be cynical and snarky? :) (Actually been quite mellow and down of late, so this is therapy).

    Your “gee-whiz-gosh-darn-look-at-all-the-pretty-road-signs”, shows you need to get out more, somewhere outside of the Jet-Set Valley to Seattle corridor. For road sign heaven, do I-44 thru Missouri, you know in the Midwest, that fly-over part of the country. Also I-80 gets road-sign heavy near the (rare) cities when chugging thru the mountians, clustered clumps of them.

    And another ‘scarcity’ flag-up? ((Rolls eyes)) Granted a good basis to start from, over the Marxian Labor Theory of Value, but human behaviour cannot be fit into predefined nice little neat boxes. Wants, perceived wants, status symbolization, value, objectives, regional tastes, performance — tons of things beyond just scarcity. I know a Neo-Monetarist hat hang, but life doesn’t conform to pet economic theories, I mean take your pick and blow-your-brains out…Institutional (New Institutional), Keynesian (New and Post-Keynesian), Monetarist (Chicago School), Marxian, Islamic, New Classical, Real Business Cycle, Austian Economics…et. el. And sometimes the supply can be very tight but there is NO demand, it doesn’t always follow, lots of COMPLEX factors on that supply-demand curve, reducing human behavior (what economics actually is) to a few emotions, might be of comfort, but it’s fools gold.

    Also any near-burnt-out half-wit dim-bulb could see Vonage is summer-sun-heated fly-swarm wormy raw meat, that from 100 miles away.

    Shows that investors don’t always do their homework

    But “investors that don’t do their homework” is the FUEL of Silicon Valley and of Sand Hill Road, it keeps the geeks humming, it keeps your ‘interesting peoples place’ all funded, trimmed, tanned and ready, all made possible by hype and irrational greed, case in point: Web 2.0, err rather, Web 2.0 (TM). :)

    And anyone investing in Microsoft, considering it’s DOA for 4 years with no end in sight, with no hope for a “return on their investments”, with an arrogant company out-rightly contemptuously hostile per shareholder interests — hasn’t done their homework either. ;) And see, there’s ALSO this, even if people DO homework, it might be all fake, all fraud…Worldcom, Enron, Global Crossing, Silicon Valley (1997-2006) and on and on. So even homework is not enough.

    PS – “Dave Winer’s blog rocks”. Can you go ONE DAY without worshipping Dave (err, God)? Can you?

  6. Permission to be cynical and snarky? :) (Actually been quite mellow and down of late, so this is therapy).

    Your “gee-whiz-gosh-darn-look-at-all-the-pretty-road-signs”, shows you need to get out more, somewhere outside of the Jet-Set Valley to Seattle corridor. For road sign heaven, do I-44 thru Missouri, you know in the Midwest, that fly-over part of the country. Also I-80 gets road-sign heavy near the (rare) cities when chugging thru the mountians, clustered clumps of them.

    And another ‘scarcity’ flag-up? ((Rolls eyes)) Granted a good basis to start from, over the Marxian Labor Theory of Value, but human behaviour cannot be fit into predefined nice little neat boxes. Wants, perceived wants, status symbolization, value, objectives, regional tastes, performance — tons of things beyond just scarcity. I know a Neo-Monetarist hat hang, but life doesn’t conform to pet economic theories, I mean take your pick and blow-your-brains out…Institutional (New Institutional), Keynesian (New and Post-Keynesian), Monetarist (Chicago School), Marxian, Islamic, New Classical, Real Business Cycle, Austian Economics…et. el. And sometimes the supply can be very tight but there is NO demand, it doesn’t always follow, lots of COMPLEX factors on that supply-demand curve, reducing human behavior (what economics actually is) to a few emotions, might be of comfort, but it’s fools gold.

    Also any near-burnt-out half-wit dim-bulb could see Vonage is summer-sun-heated fly-swarm wormy raw meat, that from 100 miles away.

    Shows that investors don’t always do their homework

    But “investors that don’t do their homework” is the FUEL of Silicon Valley and of Sand Hill Road, it keeps the geeks humming, it keeps your ‘interesting peoples place’ all funded, trimmed, tanned and ready, all made possible by hype and irrational greed, case in point: Web 2.0, err rather, Web 2.0 (TM). :)

    And anyone investing in Microsoft, considering it’s DOA for 4 years with no end in sight, with no hope for a “return on their investments”, with an arrogant company out-rightly contemptuously hostile per shareholder interests — hasn’t done their homework either. ;) And see, there’s ALSO this, even if people DO homework, it might be all fake, all fraud…Worldcom, Enron, Global Crossing, Silicon Valley (1997-2006) and on and on. So even homework is not enough.

    PS – “Dave Winer’s blog rocks”. Can you go ONE DAY without worshipping Dave (err, God)? Can you?

  7. The advertising signs on the freeway are one of the things that I remember about driving in the US. They’re no allowed on the motorways here in the UK, except those for the rest stops.

    Some try to get round it by parking lorries in farmers fields with ads on them.

  8. The advertising signs on the freeway are one of the things that I remember about driving in the US. They’re no allowed on the motorways here in the UK, except those for the rest stops.

    Some try to get round it by parking lorries in farmers fields with ads on them.

  9. I agree, my Verizon cell card is awesome. I too used in to support our limited staff while driving down to TX. Awesome!!! Happy trails ~

  10. I agree, my Verizon cell card is awesome. I too used in to support our limited staff while driving down to TX. Awesome!!! Happy trails ~

  11. So true about the Cell Phone. When I lived in Sumner (South of Seattle) I used to take the Sounder (Awesome) and many days I just read your blog on my Nokia. Some days I took out my Cingular Card and shared my internet connection on the train (Microsoft should look into making this easier to accomplish took me and a fellow geek about an hour to figure it out). Technology truly is amazing. Alas I have moved from the congestion, I tried Magnolia, Redmond, Merver Island and Sumner, the traffic just ground me down. Now I home office from a quiet little town in Texas. Hardly any commuting. I still read your blog on my (Blackberry) cell phone at Starbucks! – Cheers for keeping it interesting.

  12. So true about the Cell Phone. When I lived in Sumner (South of Seattle) I used to take the Sounder (Awesome) and many days I just read your blog on my Nokia. Some days I took out my Cingular Card and shared my internet connection on the train (Microsoft should look into making this easier to accomplish took me and a fellow geek about an hour to figure it out). Technology truly is amazing. Alas I have moved from the congestion, I tried Magnolia, Redmond, Merver Island and Sumner, the traffic just ground me down. Now I home office from a quiet little town in Texas. Hardly any commuting. I still read your blog on my (Blackberry) cell phone at Starbucks! – Cheers for keeping it interesting.

  13. Talking about effective signs reminded me of something I saw a good 10 years ago, but still vividly remember. I was in Auburn, Alabama and started to notice big, huge white paw prints on the roads. If you followed them, they led you to Auburn’s stadium where the Auburn Tigers play. you can not miss them, even if you wanted to. Very effective.

  14. Talking about effective signs reminded me of something I saw a good 10 years ago, but still vividly remember. I was in Auburn, Alabama and started to notice big, huge white paw prints on the roads. If you followed them, they led you to Auburn’s stadium where the Auburn Tigers play. you can not miss them, even if you wanted to. Very effective.

  15. Actually, what you can learn about online advertisers is that big marketers like McDonald’s, Ford and Coke don’t think that there’s any place for branding on the Internet, yet they’ll post a billboard which is, essentially the same thing.

  16. Actually, what you can learn about online advertisers is that big marketers like McDonald’s, Ford and Coke don’t think that there’s any place for branding on the Internet, yet they’ll post a billboard which is, essentially the same thing.

  17. About blogs and cell phones – I noticed that CNET changed their site format a while ago. Although you can read their site on a smart phone you have to scroll through a lot of crap to get to it. What makes it worse is the feedback/comments system. The fact that you need to reload the entire page to read each comment just makes it unusable (even on a desktop).

    Compare CNET to the BBC ‘low graphics’ news site.

  18. About blogs and cell phones – I noticed that CNET changed their site format a while ago. Although you can read their site on a smart phone you have to scroll through a lot of crap to get to it. What makes it worse is the feedback/comments system. The fact that you need to reload the entire page to read each comment just makes it unusable (even on a desktop).

    Compare CNET to the BBC ‘low graphics’ news site.

  19. I _have_ tested my blog out on a cell phone, and it seemed to work just fine — except that the sidebar shows up before the content. One of these days, I’ll take the time to figure out how to fix that…

  20. I _have_ tested my blog out on a cell phone, and it seemed to work just fine — except that the sidebar shows up before the content. One of these days, I’ll take the time to figure out how to fix that…

  21. Chris, Microsoft is DOA? If making billions in profits every quarter is DOA I want more DOA!!!

    Completely different than the place Vonage is in today.

  22. Chris, Microsoft is DOA? If making billions in profits every quarter is DOA I want more DOA!!!

    Completely different than the place Vonage is in today.

  23. Ummm tap tap…not Microsoft itself, rather the stock price is DOA, you know this, yes? And past profits alone aren’t enough (Investing 101), esp. given how much you guys waste in R&D and the billions forever lost in Xbox and the forthcoming huge spending outlay forecasts — rather the movement is based on the future, i.e. investor confidence, something every fumble, every Vista delay and every security outbreak chips off. But since Apple can’t do commodity markets and the Linux groupies are a buncha geeky weenies, the world gets stuck with the status quo. The 2004 one-time and the 2003 annual dividend kept the game from totally falling apart. But Ballmer still defends the cash levels, a nice save-face cover for bad decisions.

    The big vision is what? Ray Ozzie and his Army of Livewired Web 2.0 nutheads? Dynamics redbranding and the mess that is MBS? Xbox 360 and as a Home Media Center? New JPEG? Patent hoarding? No sparkle, no sizzle, no steak. Just lumbering to get Vista out the door, while throwing out everything you can, just to get the plane to takeoff.

  24. Ummm tap tap…not Microsoft itself, rather the stock price is DOA, you know this, yes? And past profits alone aren’t enough (Investing 101), esp. given how much you guys waste in R&D and the billions forever lost in Xbox and the forthcoming huge spending outlay forecasts — rather the movement is based on the future, i.e. investor confidence, something every fumble, every Vista delay and every security outbreak chips off. But since Apple can’t do commodity markets and the Linux groupies are a buncha geeky weenies, the world gets stuck with the status quo. The 2004 one-time and the 2003 annual dividend kept the game from totally falling apart. But Ballmer still defends the cash levels, a nice save-face cover for bad decisions.

    The big vision is what? Ray Ozzie and his Army of Livewired Web 2.0 nutheads? Dynamics redbranding and the mess that is MBS? Xbox 360 and as a Home Media Center? New JPEG? Patent hoarding? No sparkle, no sizzle, no steak. Just lumbering to get Vista out the door, while throwing out everything you can, just to get the plane to takeoff.

  25. The next time you are rolling down the I-90 reading blogs through a cell phone network take a moment to look up at Washington exit 296. Here at Agilent in Liberty Lake, WA (about 15 miles west of Coeur d’Alene, ID) we design the software and hardware for a benchtop test & measurement instrument (the Agilent 8960) that simulates a complete cell phone network so that the maker of your data card can verify it works correctly. More wireless phones are tested in production on the 8960 than all other wireless test sets combined.

    The billboards around here might suck but I think we work on some pretty cool technology!

  26. The next time you are rolling down the I-90 reading blogs through a cell phone network take a moment to look up at Washington exit 296. Here at Agilent in Liberty Lake, WA (about 15 miles west of Coeur d’Alene, ID) we design the software and hardware for a benchtop test & measurement instrument (the Agilent 8960) that simulates a complete cell phone network so that the maker of your data card can verify it works correctly. More wireless phones are tested in production on the 8960 than all other wireless test sets combined.

    The billboards around here might suck but I think we work on some pretty cool technology!

  27. PS – The percentage of people who read blogs on cell phones is? Lucky if even 1%, makes no market sense to even cater to that extreme-geek market. Cell phone and RSS reader types are but ADD skimmers, the people that BROWSE to the website are the real readers. That being said, no big hoop jumping to create a mobile version.

  28. PS – The percentage of people who read blogs on cell phones is? Lucky if even 1%, makes no market sense to even cater to that extreme-geek market. Cell phone and RSS reader types are but ADD skimmers, the people that BROWSE to the website are the real readers. That being said, no big hoop jumping to create a mobile version.

  29. “And isn’t it crazy that I can send my thoughts (and photos) all over the world through a cell phone tower?”

    Yes.

    But at least you are more nimble with words than Stevie boy, quoted by the WSJ so as to capture all the subtleties:

    “If you believe in the opportunity we believe in, you’ve got to invest behind it,” Mr. Ballmer said at an investor conference sponsored by Sanford C. Bernstein. “Being a little more generous in research and development than a little less is a smart thing to do.”

  30. “And isn’t it crazy that I can send my thoughts (and photos) all over the world through a cell phone tower?”

    Yes.

    But at least you are more nimble with words than Stevie boy, quoted by the WSJ so as to capture all the subtleties:

    “If you believe in the opportunity we believe in, you’ve got to invest behind it,” Mr. Ballmer said at an investor conference sponsored by Sanford C. Bernstein. “Being a little more generous in research and development than a little less is a smart thing to do.”

  31. Christopher: the number of people who used a PC 20 years ago was less than 1% the amount now.

    The thing is I’m seeing a lot more people reading Web sites on phones lately. Will that trend continue? I believe so. If you don’t believe so, then that’s OK. Lots of people have called me wacky in the past. I remember a guy like you in college telling me that no one will need a mouse and menus.

  32. Christopher: the number of people who used a PC 20 years ago was less than 1% the amount now.

    The thing is I’m seeing a lot more people reading Web sites on phones lately. Will that trend continue? I believe so. If you don’t believe so, then that’s OK. Lots of people have called me wacky in the past. I remember a guy like you in college telling me that no one will need a mouse and menus.

  33. Christopher: I don’t see the world as dire as you do. But then I have been in your shoes. Back in 1989 I thought that Apple was gonna take over the world. I was even quoted in MacUser.

    But it didn’t.

    And, the Xbox is doing very well, thank you very much. Not as a business — yet. But where there’s tons of happy customers there’ll be a business soon.

    It took Windows 10 years before it started really doing well. I’m not worried about Microsoft’s future at all. Yeah, we’re going through some turbulence. That’s part of being in business. Not every day is going to be glorious.

  34. Christopher: I don’t see the world as dire as you do. But then I have been in your shoes. Back in 1989 I thought that Apple was gonna take over the world. I was even quoted in MacUser.

    But it didn’t.

    And, the Xbox is doing very well, thank you very much. Not as a business — yet. But where there’s tons of happy customers there’ll be a business soon.

    It took Windows 10 years before it started really doing well. I’m not worried about Microsoft’s future at all. Yeah, we’re going through some turbulence. That’s part of being in business. Not every day is going to be glorious.

  35. Mac Beach: translation: we gotta buy lots of expensive servers if we want to be competitive in the new online advertising and Web service world.

    If you don’t invest in the game you won’t see any returns at all. Worse, you will probably go out of business. I appreciate having leadership that is willing to put more chips in the game.

  36. Mac Beach: translation: we gotta buy lots of expensive servers if we want to be competitive in the new online advertising and Web service world.

    If you don’t invest in the game you won’t see any returns at all. Worse, you will probably go out of business. I appreciate having leadership that is willing to put more chips in the game.

  37. @21 I content you are seeing a lot more of your GEEK WORLD reading web sites on cell phones. In the real world that Chris and most of us live in that’s not the case. For most of us, it’s still a miracle we can complete a cell phone call without losing a signal.

    Chris is also right about MS. Your mini-Ballmer cheerleading is admirable but is doesn’t reflect reality. If Ballmer was the CEO of any other corporation he would have been fired by now. You may believe MS is doing great things but obviously the street doesnt’ see it that way and hasn’t for almost 5 years now. So, who’s right? You do understand how the market works, right?

    @15 “Past performance is no guarantee of future results” Duh!

  38. @21 I content you are seeing a lot more of your GEEK WORLD reading web sites on cell phones. In the real world that Chris and most of us live in that’s not the case. For most of us, it’s still a miracle we can complete a cell phone call without losing a signal.

    Chris is also right about MS. Your mini-Ballmer cheerleading is admirable but is doesn’t reflect reality. If Ballmer was the CEO of any other corporation he would have been fired by now. You may believe MS is doing great things but obviously the street doesnt’ see it that way and hasn’t for almost 5 years now. So, who’s right? You do understand how the market works, right?

    @15 “Past performance is no guarantee of future results” Duh!

  39. I’ve been to Chico Hot Springs. I think my mom somehow knows the owner. So, when I was 12 and my dad and I rode his Harley to Sturgis for the Black Hills Motorcycle Rally… we stayed overnight at Chico’s.

    Thanks for bringing that seemingly lost childhood memory back Robert!

  40. I’ve been to Chico Hot Springs. I think my mom somehow knows the owner. So, when I was 12 and my dad and I rode his Harley to Sturgis for the Black Hills Motorcycle Rally… we stayed overnight at Chico’s.

    Thanks for bringing that seemingly lost childhood memory back Robert!

  41. [...] Anyone coming to blogging now is faced with a wealth of tools and options and the growth of the medium has been endlessly documented. It's extraordinary to note that it's absolutely possible to put up web pages like this and never be noticed because of the density of the forest. As for the quality, never can so much technical expertise have been put to such disappointing use. Even the primarily excellent technical blogs are notable for their lack of consistent quality control. Just look for example at this. [...]

  42. Robert really even in road you think of advertising? Look back around look at the nature. Well what for in road to read blog? Sometimes it is necessary to forget to switch-off affairs phone and to leave on fishing. I am sorry for bad English. I your admirer from Russia. Success.

  43. Robert really even in road you think of advertising? Look back around look at the nature. Well what for in road to read blog? Sometimes it is necessary to forget to switch-off affairs phone and to leave on fishing. I am sorry for bad English. I your admirer from Russia. Success.