Two cool things and one irritating thing

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, September 20, 2011 12:09 EDT
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Sorry about the dearth of posts—out of town! I was busy enjoying the sights and sounds of lovely Baltimore and couldn't spend time on the computer.  Which means I have a LOT of catch-up to play.  Which means no time for an in-depth scintillating political post today. But I figured I'd post about two cool things and a not-cool thing, and let you guys hash out the implications in comments. 

Cool thing #1, via The Hairpin.

It's a Sleepbox!  The idea is that these things are installed in airports and for $15 an hour, you can sleep in them without worrying or being absolutely miserable. Right now, sleeping in airports is hell to be avoided unless absolutely necessary.  You have to be really uncomfortable, create kinks in your body, and worry about people stealing your shit, somehow taking advantage of you, or even just staring. This eliminates all those problems. They should have a million of these in every airport, and some of your larger train stations.

Cool thing #2 from GOOD, news that made me do the happy dance while I was reading it: NYC is getting bike share.  And they aren't fucking around with it, either: the launch will be 10,000 bikes at 600 stations. They're planning on a $100 a year fee for unlimited riding. I hope they're smart and make sure to be generous with stations outside of Manhattan, because those will probably be used more, because there's often more space in between subway stations and because the streets are that much safer.  I am so looking forward to this. I found that public transportation and walking is so convenient here that having my bike (and hauling it up and down stairs and storing it in my apartment) wasn't working anymore, but still it would be nice to bike it on occasion and not have to walk or take the subway.

Now for the WTF thing: Netflix breaking into two separate services just seems like a dumb idea, for the reasons Farhad Manjoo explains:

Hastings is now going to separate Netflix's DVD and streaming businesses into two different brands. The online half will be called Netflix, while the DVD-by-mail portion will be called Qwikster. The two services won't share anything—your queues, ratings, and even your billing information will remain distinct on each site. In a sign of how hastily Netflix arrived at this idea, it seems to have forgotten to search for @qwikster on Twitter. That handle is owned by a person whose avatar is an image of Elmo smoking a joint.

Which raises the question: What is Reed Hastings smoking? As far as anyone can tell, he seems to have rolled up pages from The Innovator's Dilemma, Clayton Christensen's influential 1997 book about the ways that successful companies die at the hands of upstarts. Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School, coined the term "disruptive technology," which describes innovations that come out of nowhere to undercut a market leader's dominant position. Christensen cited the way that Digital Equipment, the leader in 1970s-era corporate minicomputers, completely missed the 1980s boom in personal computers. But a better example may be Netflix itself—its all-you-can-eat business model disrupted, and eventually killed, the previously dominant Blockbuster model for movie rentals. Hastings is likely paranoid, then, that Netflix is vulnerable to the same kind of disruption. And that's the logic behind the mail/streaming separation. Hastings would prefer to kill his own golden goose before anyone else beats him to it.

I think it's an idiotic strategy. Most of Netflix's customers subscribe to both DVDs and streaming, and if they're like me, they like the service because it enables both not-so-picky instant gratification and well-considered delayed gratification. I use the DVD service to select movies that I really want to watch and am willing to wait for; I use the streaming service when I want to watch something—and pretty much anything—right now. I can keep doing this after the DVD plan is renamed Qwikster, but it will require more work. If I search for a movie on Qwikster, it won't tell me that the movie can be seen for free, right now, on Netflix. If I search for a movie on Netflix and don't find it, it won't let me add it to my DVD queue. Say I watch a bunch of DVDs starring Kevin Spacey and then give them all a one-star rating. (I can't stand Kevin Spacey.) Because the two services will have separate ratings databases, Netflix might just recommend that I watch a Spacey marathon.

It seems like it's actually a strategy to manipulate stock prices at the expense of consumers, but whatever. Part of the problem is, in fact, consumer-driven.  The outcry over Netflix raising its prices annoyed me. It's expensive compared to what?  Cable?  Late fees at Blockbuster? Even at $16 a month, it was costing me less than I was paying in college per month on video rentals, and I was good about returning videos on time. And that's in actual currency; adjusted for inflation, Netflix is waaaaaay cheaper. People need to take a long view of this. Netflix allows a whole buttload of people to cancel their cable subscriptions, which is even cheaper. Now the price is going to be that you pay the same amount, and your billing and website usage is far more complex.  Awesome! A lose-lose for everyone. 

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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