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Want to Join My Click?

Thinking about my experience with online networking sites, I come to the same conclusion as I do with online dating. If we feel compelled to join these sites, it pays the most dividends to stick with the biggest one. That ought to become apparent in the next year or so. In the meantime, why bother to join? In order to maximize our chances of making more friends and trying to consummate everything from relationships to deals, we'd have to join as many networks as possible. Otherwise, we might be missing something. That seems like a waste of time when we could go out after work to events featuring real, live people and exchanging business cards and phone numbers.

I'll happily eat my words when tomorrow's billionaire executive who made his money on social networking sites wants to serve them up.

___About Random Access___
Random Access is a daily column by Robert MacMillan that explores the latest trends in technology and how they are changing daily life.

Random Access won't tell you why a new gizmo will revolutionize your ad server. It will tell you about episodes from daily life -- exasperated waiters who use blogs to vent about their customers, whole runs of salmon injected with nanoparticles for individual tracking in Norwegian fjords and the growing number of DJs who are sick of being sidelined in favor of iPods. (Only one of these stories is fake.)

Most of what you see will be culled from news sources and blogs from around the world, though we will supplement Random Access with original files on the novel, unusual, bizarre and reactionary happenings in the world of technology and society.

E-mail: Send links and comments.



_____Recent Columns_____
Big Music's Last Waltz (washingtonpost.com, Mar 22, 2005)
Remote Control Parenting (washingtonpost.com, Mar 18, 2005)
Online Bracketeering (washingtonpost.com, Mar 17, 2005)

Joker's Wild

North Carolina state Sen. Austin Allran (R) wants to ban state employees from playing solitaire and Minesweeper on their work computers. "The solitaire crackdown here, though perhaps rare in its specificity, is part of a behind-the-scenes battle over personal time that's affecting not just unionized state workers in North Carolina, but sales reps in Washington and phone-bank workers in San Francisco," the Christian Science Monitor reported.

According to the Monitor, Allran said taxpayers would be outraged if they knew how much time state employees at the DMV and elsewhere spent playing the games that come installed free on most computers. The paper also placed the story in the larger context of finding time for personal activity on the Internet during the workday. "A central question is whether playing a hand or two of solitaire has a dramatic effect on the bottom line -- or if it actually helps productivity by giving workers a low-stress outlet in otherwise frantic days. It all points to industry and government trying to make sense of how costs accumulate on personal time, and what role ubiquitous technology -- with its entertaining byproducts -- has on labor and productivity." Here's a link to Allran's bill.

Allran should be counting his lucky stars that it's solitaire those state workers are wasting time on and not more esoteric fare such as Barely Legal Teens or gaymilitarystuds.com ...

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) is tackling technology with a bill that would allow people to use the Internet to compare the costs of hospital services, the Chicago Tribune reported today. "The Hospital Price Disclosure Act would require U.S. hospitals to regularly report prices for the 25 most commonly performed inpatient and outpatient procedures to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, according to a news release from Lipinski's office," the Tribune reported. Will Allran carve out a health care exception in his bill, or will those Tarheel State workers need to do that from home?

Package Deals Suck

When I ordered cable broadband service a few years back, Comcast told me that I could get a special rate if I ordered it combined with digital cable TV service. That's great, but I don't watch that much TV. The problem is, ordering the cable broadband by itself would have been prohibitively expensive.

It turns out that package deals are wasting people's time and money in other parts of the country too, as the New York Times reported over the weekend: "Mr. [Justin] Martikovic, 30, a junior architect who relies on a cellphone for his normal calling, says he never uses the desk phone -- but he pays $360 a year to keep it hooked up. 'I have to pay for a service I'm never using,' he said. He has no choice. His telephone company, SBC Communications, will not sell him high-speed Internet access unless he buys the phone service, too. That puts him in the same bind as many people around the country who want high-speed, or broadband, Internet access but no longer need a conventional telephone. Right now, their phone companies tend to have a 'take it or leave it' attitude."

The response from SBC, according to the Times? If you don't like it, shop around. But as the paper notes, the other two largest phone companies offering broadband have the same policy. This is an astounding attitude on the part of the telecom industry. If they wonder why they're losing customers, they could look to lots of motives, but the attempt to keep their subscription rates steady by these kinds of means makes customers feel like prisoners. In my case, I made a break and ditched the service. Now I surf the Internet at work like other people (except at the North Carolina DMV, where they are busy minesweeping).

Tweenage Wasteland

Sometimes I imagine that there can be nothing more satisfying to advertising executives than pumping Mom and Dad for all the spare change that they have and when they're dry, tap them just a little bit more for their pre-teen brood. That seems to be the only rational explanation for marketing cell phones to the so-called "tween" market. That and making sure kids are safe -- an impossible task, of course, before the emergence of cell phones.

From the Associated Press: "'It's cool and popular,' Patty, a sixth-grader in Valrico, Fla., says of her reason for wanting the mobile phone. 'And I can talk to my friends and talk to my dad and mom.' Her mom, Lisa Wiegner, wasn't entirely thrilled with the idea but gave in because she likes knowing her daughter can contact her if she needs to. 'And,' mom says, 'I wanted to be able to be in touch with her in an emergency.'"

Oh, Patty wanted her phone's ringtone to be "Candy Shop" by 50 Cent. Look to Hasbro, Mattel and other companies to manufacture handsets (like the Mattel Barbie prepaid cell phone) and look forward to more "family plans" for wireless minutes that are designed to get the kids in on the act.

Having a cell phone is all about status, according to this nugget from the AP article: "'It shows if you're mature; it's a privilege to get a phone,' says Stephanie Beaird, a 12-year-old in Northridge, Calif., who recently got a cellphone after begging her parents for more than a year."

Message to Lisa and Stephanie: If you really want to be cool, you'll have to wait until you're 18. Then you can join Friendster.

Send links and comments to robertDOTmacmillanATwashingtonpost.com.


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