Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Clipper Card Discloses 1700+ Customer Email Addresses

This morning, I logged in to an email from Clipper warning me that the credit card I use for auto-load is expiring in December. I might appreciate the gesture, given all the crap I went through trying to change my billing information earlier this year, except for one thing: the email addresses for the other 1700+ customers who received this email were all plainly visible.

This is a huge security breach from a company that already has its fair share of problems. A round of angry "reply alls" ensued, other customers calling to be credited, complaining of billing woes (like my own), and that Clipper cards only work half the time. My favorite:

CC to a 1,764 'secure' emails? Really? Welcome to 1995. Good job.

As of this writing, no statement from Clipper, or even a customary apology on the email thread, with a promise to investigate the situation. Yet another customer service fail.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Self Esteem Junkies: Gen Y and Social Networking

Forget artificial intelligence. When I worry about technology taking over the world, I worry about artificial self esteem.

Gen Y has been called the "self esteem generation," and for good reason: a recent study found that we prefer receiving self-esteem boosts (such as compliments) over sex, food, and money. Maybe that's a good thing, considering many are broke and living at home. A feature on the predicament of twenty-somethings in New York Magazine on Sunday laid out these statistics:

Nearly 14 percent of college graduates from the classes of 2006 through 2010 can’t find full-time work, and overall just 55.3 percent of people ages 16 to 29 have jobs. That’s the lowest percentage since World War II, as you might have heard an Occupy Wall Street protester point out. (Not coincidentally, one in five young adults now lives below the poverty line.) Almost a quarter more people ages 25 to 34—in other words, people who should be a few years into their independent lives—are living with their parents than at the beginning of the recession.

There's a disconnect here, right? On the one hand, our generation has shattered all records for high self-esteem, according to the traditional measuring methods. On the other, it sure doesn't look like most of us are actually achieving very much, by traditional (ie, cultural) standards. So how are we filling that gap? I believe, in many cases, the answer lies on the internet.

So you pushed yourself through high school to get into a good college. You pushed yourself through college to get your degree. You come out on the other side only to find a recession in full-swing, and a million other 20-somethings just like you chasing down the same scant jobs there are to be had, with [mostly irrelevant] degrees flapping uselessly in their hands. The normal sources of self-esteem aren't available to you. You're not bringing home a big paycheck. If you do manage to secure a job, it probably isn't very fulfilling. It's starting to look like you aren't that special after all.

Enter virtual achievement and artificial self esteem. Virtual achievement: Okay, so you're not bringing home a big paycheck, but you can get to level 42 on Farmville. You can have 800 friends on Facebook. Your Klout score just went up by 2 points. Artificial self esteem: Okay, so your job (if you're lucky enough to have one) isn't fulfilling and you don't feel like you're making a difference. But if someone retweets you or +1's your blog post, you feel important and seen.

I'm not saying this is unequivocally bad. Low self esteem wreaks havoc on motivation, so if social networking keeps you feeling good enough about yourself that you get up and look for a job every morning instead of dissolving into the couch, that's great. On the other hand, I'm concerned that this type of activity could actually supersede real-life action and achievement. I think for too many people, it already has.

Image courtesy of GOIABA

Monday, October 10, 2011

Netflix Nixes Qwikster - Is Reed Hastings Next?

Today, Netflix customers received an email recanting CEO Reed Hastings' announcement that they would split DVD and streaming products into two separate brands: Netflix and Qwikster. According to the email, "...for many of our members two websites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs."

My first instinct was to write a tongue-in-cheek follow up to my original post about the Netflix/Qwikster split, implying Reed was taking my advice. But then it struck me. While the original email and blog post announcing the change came directly from Mr. Hastings. This email is signed, mysteriously, "The Netflix Team."

Does this mean Reed's locked himself up in his ivory tower, refusing to eat humble pie? Or could it mean something more ominous for him? Could he be on his way out, for this mistake? I wouldn't be surprised. Netflix has lost a lot of customer trust in the last year, and as CEO, Reed Hastings is the appropriate guy to take the fall. I would have expected the "We're sorry, we were wrong" messaging to come directly from him, since he's already in the habit of apologizing. The fact that it doesn't makes me think they're setting him up for a bigger fall... say, from the heights of his corner office to the pool of the unemployed below.

It would be a smart PR move, I say. What do you think? Is Hastings to blame? Would his ousting restore some customer trust?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What Happened to "The Show Must Go On?" - CalShakes "Shrew" Rained Out

I don't get out much. No, really. Chronic pain puts a serious damper on your social life... and work life... and just life in general. Last night, three of us braved two sardine-style packed BART trains and a picnic in the rain to see California Shakespeare Festival's "Taming of the Shrew." We were in pretty good spirits. The land on which the Bruns Memorial Amphitheatre sits is a watershed, and is just as beautiful wet as dry. We shared a bottle of wine and a delicious chèvre under the dripping eucalyptus, spied an owl in the trees above, and made ready to hunker down in the theater with our winter coats and a big fleece blanket. But it was not to be.

After standing by the theater doors for half an hour waiting for them to open the house, with no announcements or updates from staff, we were told the performance would be cancelled and to collect a voucher good for a ticket in the same section to another performance of the show... which only runs for another week. I've got a couple of issues, here.

Now, CalShakes is a non-profit organization. I completely understand that it's difficult for them to give refunds. My issue is not with the voucher, it's that it's essentially only good for another 10 days. It's the last show of the season, and seating is limited. Luckily, the members of my party are all free next Wednesday, and luckily, there is availability in the same section on that night--probably because we were in the cheap seats to start with. But what about the season ticket holders, who will be forced to take seats with an inferior view, if they get seats at all? What if we're rained out again next week? So late in the run, vouchers should be good not only for this show, but for next season as well. That's gripe #1.

Gripe #2 has to do with a lack of clear messaging and communication. This is always a pet peeve of mine, as we saw in my rant about Clipper Card's customer service. Today, of course, there are several prominent links on the CalShakes website regarding their rain policy, but I didn't see them yesterday when I looked before leaving the house. Then, there was absolutely zero communication with the crowd that stood in the rain for 30 minutes waiting to be seated. Clearly, not everyone who'd bought a ticket showed up, but those of us who did deserved a little more courtesy. If they'd made an announcement that they were waiting to see if the drizzle let up, and otherwise the performance would be cancelled, I'm sure at least half of us would have left right then, considering that the self-same drizzle had been going on for hours.

And maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I agree with the elderly gentleman seated next to my other half on the shuttle back to the BART station: What ever happened to "the show must go on?" As I pointed out, in Shakespeare's day, the expression was "to hear a play," not "to see a play." If they're worried about falling, why couldn't the actors stand in one place on stage and give us an animated vocal performance? We were all willing to brave wet butts and soggy coats for them. Throw on a slicker, and give me the same consideration.

The whole experience brought to mind another "Taming of the Shrew" years ago. I must have been in high school. My family had had season tickets to CalShakes since I was a tiny girl, and we'd never missed a performance. The weather was threatening, but we bundled up and braved it. At intermission, it began to shower. They held the second act until it let up, but a few minutes in, it started coming down again. Most of the audience left, but the actors put clear ponchos over their costumes, reduced their movement, and continued the play. I remember Sharon Lockwood, as Gremio, carrying a goofy umbrella. By curtain call, my family made up four of the half-dozen who'd stuck it out. We gave the cast a standing ovation. They applauded us right back. It was one of the most unique and rewarding theater-going experiences of my teenage years. Last night could have been just as unique, just as rewarding. Instead, it was an epic disappointment.

My partner, my friend, and I will return next week to see "Shrew." I'll psych myself up to leave the house, I'll suffer the rush-hour BART ride. We'll have some more wine, some more cheese, and we'll enjoy the show. But even if it's the best performance in the world, I'll still have some regret and resentment about last night. I just hope it doesn't rain.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Product Disintegration: Netflix and Qwikster Miss The Trick

Just when you thought they couldn't get any more stupid...

NFLX stock plummeted after the announcement in July that Netflix would separate streaming and DVD into two separate plans, effectively charging customers more for their existing subscriptions. Once at almost $305/share, by close on Friday, NFLX was worth about half of that -- a mere $155.19. As of this writing, it's dropped further to hover around $143, and in light of last night's events, it doesn't take a Wall Street broker to predict that for Netflix, it's only downhill from here.

NFLX stock prices from mid-June to today, Sept 19 2011

Last night, around 9 pm, CEO Reed Hastings sent out an email and posted a blog apologizing to customers for his arrogance and lack of communication... but not for the actions that are estimated to lose them 1 million users by the end of the year. Instead, he laid out plans to rebrand the DVD-only plan under the name Qwikster. This means a new website, a new movie queue, and a separate credit card charge. In other words, it means pissing people off.

Mr. Hastings, I'm glad to see you're eating that humble pie, but next time try a side of common sense. In a market where companies are increasingly striving for more product integration (Facebook connect, "sign in with Twitter," universal Google accounts), what would inspire you to break up a well-recognized brand? Netflix is now going to ask customers to log into two separate websites, keep two separate queues, and potentially lose hundreds or thousands of the movie ratings that dictate recommendations. Not to mention the choice of name, which recalls the late-90's trend of the ubiquitous suffix "-ster," at the same time evoking images of the corner liquor store with the prefix "qwik." And never mind that they didn't have the foresight to check into potential branding problems, like the Twitter handle @Qwikster, whose tweets are full of profanity and revolve around getting high.

Streaming is the future of Netflix. I don't think anybody with half a brain is arguing that. Companies need to focus on digital delivery of content, or they'll go the way of bookstores like Borders. Hastings explained that streaming and DVD delivery are “quite different businesses with very different cost structures, different benefits that need to be marketed differently, and we need to let each grow and operate independently.” But he's going about it in entirely the wrong way. Netflix streaming is not a complete service by itself. It's currently a supplement. You can't get most new releases via streaming, and browsing the options you do have is laborious. As a consumer, if you're going to charge me more for streaming movies, I want to know that you're planning on improving both the selection and the interface. Until you do make those improvements, I need the DVD service... and I shouldn't have to pay extra for it. Now, with the announcement that these will now be completely different services, Netflix has again jumped the gun. You need to create a complete service before you can market it independently.

Almost a year ago, I posted about when a brand should backpedal, arguing that many companies make an about-face too quickly due to the instant feedback the internet provides. Here is a notable exception. This is not something as simple as a logo change, which is more a matter of taste and does not effect product functionality. This is not something to which customers will become accustomed. This is a change which damages brand recognition, damages trust, and damages user experience. Now is the time to backpedal, and fast.

Friday, September 16, 2011

To See, or Say You Saw? - Musings on Museum Behavior

I love art. I love museums. But I do not love your average museum-goer.

Yesterday, my sister published a piece on museum admission prices, the very day that I took in the Picasso exhibit at the De Young, where general admission is $25 a head. While the exhibit itself was stimulating (though I have a few bones to pick with the curator), the gallery crowd got on my nerves, and not just because of its size.

It's always a problem, with a big-name artist: lots of people go just to say they went. With Picasso, this issue seemed to be magnified to the nth degree, because his work can be so difficult to absorb. I first noticed it as I stood for a good 5 minutes in front of "Musicien assis" (which translates as "seated musician"), pictured right. As I let the sketch soak in, I became aware that everyone around me was giving it a cursory glance and moving on.

When I experience art, it is the pieces that are hard to wrap my mind around that I enjoy most. But as I moved through the galleries, paying more attention to the behavior of the other visitors, I was reminded that this is the opposite attitude to most museum patrons. They come to see the famous pieces--the ones they recognize. They'll look at "problematic" pieces, as long as they recognize them. They'll look at pieces they don't recognize, as long as they're not difficult to take in. But if it's not famous, and it's not obvious, it's not worth looking at.

My friend Kay, my mother, and my better half were with me. When I shared my thoughts, my partner chimed in that he had heard several people commenting on the lovely picture frames. Picture frames? There are 6 rooms of Picassos around you, and you're looking at the picture frames? Kay then told me about a trip to a museum in Barcelona, where she observed visitors pausing in front of the art only as long as it took to take a photo. This kind of stuff boggles my mind. Nobody wants to see your amateur pictures of art, when there are hundreds of websites selling quality prints online.

Maybe my memory's faulty, but I think these visitors were more the exception than the norm when I was growing up. But increasingly (and I think social networking websites are partly to blame for this), people are doing things more for the documentation than for the experience. So next time you're thinking of going to a museum just to say you went, do me a favor. Save yourself the $25, and go only as far as the gift shop. From there, you can check in on FourSquare and Facebook, buy yourself a couple of postcards, and you've as good as gone.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Customer Service Nightmare: Clipper Card

Over the last few years, paying for public transportation in the Bay Area has become easier and simpler -- or so some would have you believe. We went from cash fares on buses and paper tickets on BART to auto-loading (but separate) cards that scan upon entry, to the unified Clipper Card, which can be used on AC Transit buses, BART, and SF Muni buses and trains. For regular riders like me, this was a dream come true... until it became clear that Clipper's customer service can't keep up.

I've had a Clipper since they first became available last summer, and I had no trouble registering my card online, or adding my credit card for auto-load. I loved the set-it-and-forget-it model of paying for transportation, especially since it made it easy to use my pre-tax commute dollars via eFlex debit card. Unfortunately, as it turns out, the smallest hiccup with Clipper can quickly turn into a nightmare.

In July, I received an email alert from Clipper telling me that my credit card had been declined, and I should sign into the website to input a new method of payment. While my eFlex card read as active on my end, I logged in to change to my regular credit card while I looked into the matter. On the account overview page, I saw my Clipper card reading as active (see right). However, as I attempted to navigate the site, I kept seeing "no cards found" under the options to add value, set up auto-load, etc.

So I emailed customer service. I got a quick response, but obviously a form letter (the font for my name was different from the body of the email, which was different still from the signature), and rife with typos:

Thank you for contacting the Clipper Customer Service Center. We are experiencing issue with our website, you only option is to download the Edit Auto load from ands fax or email to our office.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the Clipper Card Customer Service Center at 1-877-878-8883 (TDD/TTY 711 or 1-800-735-2929).

I filled out the required form and emailed it back, along with a proofread version of the form letter for their future use. (I used to be a freelance writer and proofreader... Old habits die hard.) I requested that they let me know if my new payment form had been accepted, as I was eager to stop paying for all of my travels in cash. I was informed that it could take up to 72 hours, but when my Clipper worked the next morning, I thought I was golden.

Oh no. A few days later, I get an email telling me my credit card was declined "again." I replied asking for clarification, since they had acknowledged receipt of the auto-load change form, and my Clipper was working fine. No answer. I (mistakenly) assume that mean it's their bad, and go on about my merry way.

Fast forward to August. I'm headed to work, and my Clipper gets declined at the BART turnstile. This sometimes happens. I try another turnstile. No joy. Annoyed to be missing my train, I go to the attendant's booth, she scans my Clipper, and says it's returned as "bad debt." Now I'm annoyed and humiliated. I buy a paper ticket, hoof it to work, and send off an angry email to the culprits. I'm asked for the serial number on my card (even though my message was in response to a previous email thread). I oblige. Radio silence.

I wait a week. No response. I write again, being careful to include my card's serial number. 10 more days pass. Yesterday, I called up Clipper's customer service number, to be told that they cannot change my payment information, and I have to do so on the website. Rather than take out my anger on an innocent call center worker, I go back to clippercard.com, and even though on many pages it still reads "no cards available," I manage to find a hidden link on one of these pages to change my billing info. I put in my eFlex debit card number (which by this time I have double-checked is active and has funds). All bets are off as to what happens next.

One good thing has come out of this mess, and that is that, working in a user-facing position as Community Manager at a web 2.0 site, I can look for lessons in customer service. I used to answer every single email that came into the site personally. Luckily, we now have a Chief Moderator and several part-time mods who answer most of the general questions, but I still deal with a lot of troubleshooting and disgruntled users on a daily basis. We strive to respond to all emails within 2 business days, but we still get complaints from users who expect 24/7 coverage of the team inbox. Based on my experience with Clipper, I'd say we're doing a-okay there. And while I understand the temptation to procrastinate in answering the more difficult emails, this experience with Clipper has renewed my conviction that these are the messages that should take priority. As always, if you don't know the answer to something, find someone who does. In the meantime, check in with your customer/user to let them know you're looking into the problem. In customer service, a little communication goes a long way. And that, I think, is the moral of this story.

A moral's very well and good, of course, but it won't help me get on the train tomorrow.

Friday, August 12, 2011

B.A.D. Religion - Derby Conversion at the Golden Bowl

I cannot get enough roller derby. Originally, I was sucked in as a fan, and before my chronic pain worsened, I joined the rec league attached to the Bay Area Derby Girls. While the higher level of pain has kept me off skates for the last few months (pain => nausea, nausea + skates => clean-up on Aisle Maddie), my enthusiasm is anything but dampened. In fact, there have been weeks where the only times I left the house have been to go to the doctor or to a bout, and roller derby has proven to be much better medicine than the stuff I get in bottles.

Like any good fanatic, I see opportunities to convert others everywhere. I prevailed upon my sister (who lives on the other side of the country) to take a group of her friends to a bout, though she knew next to nothing about derby, gave her a briefing on the rules, and faithfully stayed by my phone all evening to promptly answer all of her questions via text. I forwent a birthday party in favor of rounding up friends to see a bout, in the hopes they'd be hooked.

Nor is my proselytizing limited to friends and family. At a double-header in June, I was in line for beers between bouts, when a stranger in the line next to me informed me she had just been talking about me. I had no recollection of meeting this woman, but as it turned out, we had met in a bar in Oakland, and I had given her my full pitch. Apparently, effectively, since she'd actually gotten her butt to a bout. In my defense, while I'm sure I'd had a few drinks in me, it's always dark in Radio, and I've told any number of random people in bars about my love for derby. As anyone acquainted with me will tell you, if you talk to me for any length of time, it's inevitable.

This weekend marks the last opportunity I will likely have to see derby this year. The Golden Bowl is a round-robin tournament between our local B.A.D. Girls All-Stars and several out-of-state teams: Austin, Denver, and Chicago. And it is during this event that I plan to make my ultimate roller derby conversion: my mother.

Don't get me wrong, Mum is a cool cat. But she's not the first person you'd think of to enjoy watching girls on skates slam into each other at full speed. When I was a teen and wanted to take up boxing, she wouldn't allow it because I might get brain damage. My sister was in the dog house for a long time following a Marilyn piercing, since it might chip her perfectly-aligned teeth. If it weren't for the fact that Mum's Canadian and grew up watching hockey, even I might suppose her a lost cause. As it is, if I can do it, it will be the crowning glory in my campaign for roller derby domination.

And to get pumped, here is my musical inspiration:

Let's roll!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The TOMs Tap - Punch Buggy for Hipsters?

When I first wrote my blog post on TOMS rip-off Bobs shoes, my other half expressed some doubts about the claim that I see upwards of half-a-dozen pairs around the streets of the Bay Area on a daily basis. Yesterday, I had a chance to prove him wrong. BARTing from our home in Oakland to downtown San Francisco, and then taking Muni into the Sunset District for a doctor's appointment, we must have seen at least 5 TOMS owners, and as many on the way back.

It was waiting for the N-Judah that he came up with a brilliant idea: a new game in the vein of our childhood fav "punch buggy" (or, as he calls it, "slug bug"). He suggested something like "TOMs punch" to start, which I modified to "TOMs Tap," partly because it sounds better, and partly because I was developing a bruise on the upper arm where he kept hitting me.

The rules of TOMs Tap are simple, being pretty much identical to the rules of punch buggy. Every time you are the first to see a pair of these very distinctive shoes, you give your partner(s) in crime a love-tap and say "TOMs shoes _____," filling in the blank with whatever color they happen to be. Now, I'm pretty sure in punch buggy, there's some rule about what happens when two people try to claim the same car at the same time, but I don't quite remember what it is. Something about repeating "bunny, bunny, bunny" over and over until you see a white house? (Or is that the graveyard game?) I'm not sure what the TOMs Tap equivalent should be. A hipster on a bike? Too easy. I'm open to suggestions.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Skechers Bobs Shoes - Bad Karma, Good Business?

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, TOMS shoes are ubiquitous--a favorite with hippies and hipsters alike. I probably see upwards of half-a-dozen pairs a day, strolling the City or the streets of Oakland. That's the marketing genius of TOMS: they are instantly recognizable, and owning a pair not only helps a child in need, it identifies you as a member of the do-gooder club to everyone around you. TOMS market themselves. I recall seeing a few TV ad spots for them at the beginning of their rise to popularity, but I haven't run across one in years.

So imagine my surprise, when late last night I turn on the television to a commercial for Kmart, full of TOMS-clad feet frolicking through nature. TOMS? At Kmart? For the most part, I've only ever seen them sold at locally-owned shoe stores... the only chain-store exception that I know of being Nordstrom. Same classic design, same one-for-one donation pitch, but something wasn't right. It took my somewhat sleepy brain until the end of the ad to figure out that I was not looking at TOMS at all, but a knock-off by Skechers called, of all things, Bobs Shoes. Somehow, I missed the righteous indignation that flared up on the internet last fall when these puppies were introduced, but even if I'd been in the loop, this ad still would have surprised me, considering that I haven't seen a single pair of Bobs on the street, and there hasn't been much (if any) buzz about them since the initial outcry.

It's pretty incredible, really. Compare TOMS shoes (pictured top) with Bobs (pictured right). There's no question that Skechers is ripping off the design, stitch for stitch. The wrap of the fabric, the tag placement, they even mimic the TOMS flag logo on the heel! The prices of TOMS vs Bobs are comparable as well, so there doesn't seem to be much to be gained, other than negative press.

Still, this model has been working for Skechers for quite some time. The company has a reputation for copycatting successful shoes (and being sued for it, as in the case of Crocs vs Skechers and, more recently, Asics). The only conclusion I can draw is that the costs associated with developing original concepts and forging new marketing territory are higher than the cost of the occasional lawsuit settlement. It's bad karma, but apparently it's good business.

What's especially sad about this particular venture is that while Bobs' non-profit partner (Soles4Souls) is a worthy one, this clear plagiarism by Skechers designers reflects badly on them as well.

Skechers, you're sketchy. My vote (and my money) go to TOMS.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Is Blogging Dead?

Let's first state the obvious: this blog has been dead for quite some time. (If, indeed, it was ever alive. Does the life of a blog begin with conception, or...? But I digress.) It was in contemplating the revival of this particular venture that I started to think more carefully about the history--and future--of blogging.

It struck me recently that the life path of the blog has echoed the development of my own generation in many ways. When I was 11, I registered my first email address... back in the day, when everyone used AOL. These were the days of chatrooms: relatively anonymous conversations with strangers--impermanent, impersonal. Updates about our own lives were shared privately via email, with specific individuals. By the time I was in middle school, IMing was a popular after-school activity. Basically, IMing replaced email for the instant-gratification-obsessed, short-attention-span-possessing crowd (that is, teenagers).

It wasn't until I reached high school that blogging made its way into my life. Keeping a diary has long been a favorite pastime of adolescents, especially girls, and keeping a weblog was simply the newest incarnation, utilizing technology more appropriate to my generation than the good ol' pen and paper. Almost all of my friends had accounts at LiveJournal, and unless you diligently kept up with their various blogs, you were so painfully out of the loop, you wouldn't be able to follow half the conversations that took place in person.

This couldn't last forever, of course. Just as the social circle seems like the most important thing in the world when you're 16, and gossip becomes less interesting the older and busier you are, blogging as we knew it fell by the wayside. Of course, there are always a few people you went to high school with who still really care how much Mr. Valedictorian makes a year or whether Ms. Social Butterfly is still ridiculously good looking. Similarly, there will always be people who like to read and write journal-type blogs. But increasingly, purely personal content fails to grab or sustain the average net surfer's attention. Instead, people now mobilize around common interests. The most popular blogs are topic-centered: food blogs, craft blogs, political blogs, sports blogs, time-wasting blogs. (Yes, I would say that time-wasting counts as an interest, especially amongst people born after 1980.)

Currently, then, the blogging platform is being used most successfully as a vehicle for content that does not necessarily match the original purpose. Blogs may not be dead, simply "all growed up." But I would argue that the platform itself isn't long for this world, either. No longer do we need chronological posting, for example. For most user-generated content, the date is not as important as the subject matter itself. Hence the success of websites like our own HubPages, where pieces of content (which we call "Hubs") are organized in a category tree, as well as available on each author's personal page.

While we still see the occasional confused newbs signing up and attempting to write about their in-laws' visit or what they need to get at the grocery store, I predict that these folks will become fewer and fewer over the next few years. Sites that organize around shared interests--like HubPages in the internet publishing sphere and Google+ as a social network--will enjoy the most vibrant communities. And as for blogging? Well, it ain't what it used to be. But that may be a good thing.