Thursday, June 17, 2010

Starbucks Abandons Fidelity

In a previous blog entry, I wrote that Starbucks was at risk of becoming Dunkin Donuts.  While the green giant is undoubtedly more successful than its northeast competitor, my suspicion that they were sliding off the fidelity axis and reaching down the convenience axis (there is, after all, usually a larger market share on the convenience axis) was recently confirmed during a recent trip back to Boston.

The coffee served at conferences—is predictably lousy.  Therefore, I knew that I didn't want the complimentary coffee provided by the Westin Boston Waterfront hotel, and instead made my way up and out to a nearby Starbucks (the only coffee shop within walking distance).

I waited in line, and then ordered my usual; Double Americano, No Room.  Despite the short walk, I was still foggy, and was eagerly awaiting my caffeine fix.  Given the size of the line, I told myself that it might be a few minutes before my drink arrived.  To my astonishment, they had my americano in my hand in under 30 seconds.  I wasn't counting...I was actually aware of the time because there was a horrible cover rendition of the famous song "Rainbow Connection" being played in the store that was making me cringe, and I couldn't wait to get out of there.

How on Earth did the barista—actually, he looked like a recent high school grad, not a barista—get it done so quickly?  I didn't even see him grind the beans, pack the grounds and turn on the espresso machine.  Did they give me coffee by accident?  I peered around the side of the employee area and saw, to my disgust, a fancy-looking machine that delivered a full range of coffee-like drinks—espresso, double espresso, americano, etc.—with the push of one button.  Simply put cup under spout, push button, get coffee drink.  This was the equivalent to a coffee soda fountain.  Gross.

Needless to say, the americano wasn't any better than the conference bilge that I later succumbed to (I wasn't about to pay Starbucks fidelity pricing for a mere convenience product when I could get something more convenient with only marginally less fidelity for free).  I half wondered if they were using their awful VIA Instant Coffee in their fancy new machines, which provided no view of the beans, and no sound of the beans being mechanically measured out and ground to order like other vendors offer.

In my opinion, Starbucks has fallen into the realm of fast food.  They are not merely Dunkin Donuts; they are the MacDonald's of coffee.  And since they still charge a fidelity premium for their coffee, which only has convenience-grade quality, I will actually make it a point not to waste my money there any longer when I can get comparable coffee for half the price practically anywhere.  Thankfully, I live in San Francisco, where I can frequent real coffee shops (Bello, Ritual, Four Barrel, Blue Bottle, etc.) and enjoy some high fidelity brew.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Enterprise 2.0 Conference: Evening In the Cloud

Today was the first day of the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston.  Unfortunately, I only have an Expo pass, so I wasn't able to attend the majority of Monday's sessions.  However, I was able to attend the Evening in the Cloud session that took place at 4:00pm.

From the description: David Berlind will open the program with a 30 minute overview of the cloud collaboration market, the major players in the market and touch on why the market is changing so rapidly.

The "major players", unfortunately, were limited to Microsoft and Google.  Rather amusing considering that the event was sponsored by IBM.  The talk was rather high-level, and the key takeaways were as follows:
  • How could an ideal cloud application improve collaboration? David began with a nice "what if" scenario in which a person just opened a word processing application and was able to save the document, share it, send it, publish it, etc. all from one spot.  He then posed the question as to whether this was best handled by a cloud solution or traditional software.
  • What are Microsoft & Google (the major players) doing? A year ago, it appeared that Microsoft and Google were headed in opposite directions.  MS was defending its installed software turf (MSOffice & Sharepoint) while Google was pushing for an exclusive cloud application solution (GApps & Gears).  Now, they're both moving toward a middle.  MS is offering a Sharepoint cloud service and has already started testing the waters with MSOffice Live.  Google has now dropped Gears (bye-bye Google offline support), has improved its MS-to-GDocs conversion, and now supports non-converted documents to be uploaded to GApps.
  • What is the cloud vs. software trend in the market? This appears to be the trend: Embrace this hybrid approach between desktop software and cloud applications.  Jive already addresses this with their MSOffice push/pull plugin.  Companies aren't yet willing to divest from their installed software solutions (for many reasons), and the cloud solutions cannot yet provide all the answers.  So, the current trend is to facilitate collaboration that spans both the desktop and cloud environments.
  • Why is the rise of activity streams important? This is perhaps the most significant shift in enterprise collaboration.  The activity stream is a powerful utility for bringing relevant information to peoples' attention.  However, many challenges yet remain for activity streams, and nobody has quite figured out how to make "the secret sauce" yet:
    • Activity streams must be easy to manage.  Too much information is noise.  If you subscribe to too many channels (spaces, people, content), you'll be overwhelmed with information.
    • Activity streams must enable work to transpire in the stream.  Links away from the stream are not necessarily a good thing.  People should just be able to get their work done from where ever they are notified of important developments.
    • Activity streams are a major component of the "Collaboration Backbone" of the enterprise.  Closed, proprietery document formats are falling out of favor.  The interplay between MSO and GDocs illustrate this.  If something is formatted properly in one medium, it should be formatted properly (and all content preserved) in another.  Information formats for content are quickly ceasing to be the "lock in" for E2.0 vendors.  Rather, it is the Activity Stream, notifications, relationships between entities, analytics, etc. that is becoming the new "lock in".  Sure, you can get all your data out of a new system.  But you can't get all of that relational/notification data out.  That is collaboration backbone, and is the secret sauce in the mix.