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November 2nd, 2000

The CueCat Fiasco

I got a CueCat in the mail from Wired a few months ago. I didn’t know what to think… here was this nice little box proclaiming a "special bonus" from the mag, even though my subscription had just lapsed. I opened it to see the much chagrined CueCat.

In case you haven’t seen one of these things, it’s a barcode scanner that looks like a cat with its mouth – albeit a strange square mouth – wide open. I think it resembles a certain device designed to aid in female stimulation, myself. The CueCat plugs into the keyboard port and has a pass-thru for your keyboard.

What’s it do? Surprisingly, it scans barcodes. These barcodes then take you to the manufacturer’s website. There are plenty of these barcodes in issues of Wired, but I have yet to see them elsewhere.

The problems with the execution are plentiful. First, it assumes that people read in front of their computers. That’s a huge assumption… lots of people read in (gasp!) a living room, and you’ll find tons of computers in kitchens and bedrooms. Second, it’s not perfect; scans aren’t bulletproof, and characters might be off once or twice (just like the barcodes at your grocery store.) And finally, it’s a solution looking for a problem. How many people complain about forgettable domain names? How many people don’t know that www.thecompanyname.com works in many cases? And how many people don’t know that if that doesn’t work, Yahoo! is a good place to start?

On top of that, Digital Convergence – the pretentious name of the CueCat’s parents – tracks your scans, allegedly. Couple that with the lashing out at hackers… when folks wanted to try to do something useful with this piece of plastic, DC came after them with lawyers and threats.

What a waste. A much more useful device for this problem would be a portable device that you attach to your computer, and lets you enter any letter or number you choose.

Oh, wait, that’s a keyboard. -pm

Posted in Technology

FROM: Ryan
DATE: Thursday November 2, 2000 -- 1:00:16AM
Today at WEB2000, one of the presenters showed a barcode scanner attached to a Palm that one could use to scan a book's barcode and then get the cheapest price of that book on the web... brings up some interesting questions, such as: how will b-n-m's use this technology to their advantage?



FROM: Robert
DATE: Thursday November 2, 2000 -- 9:47:23AM
This is just like those awful "discount" cards grocery stores are big into now. It's another tool for corporate marketing in disguise. If you don't want the corporate world making money off of you, stay away from this kind of crap.



FROM: Ryan
DATE: Thursday November 2, 2000 -- 8:20:13PM
Robert -- While you can get some decent discounts with the discount cards, it's a shame they just don't give them to you automatically... there definitely is a lack of privacy when they track what you buy...

But I'm a privacy pimp... if you promise me a free t-shirt, I'll sell you my first born child.



FROM: Paul
DATE: Thursday November 2, 2000 -- 8:41:27PM
For the record, some grocery stores around here will give you the discount even if you don't have a card. I've had it happen more than once.

I personally didn't mind giving up shopping info to Safeway here... in return I saved well over $25 on the inaugural grocery trip tonite.



FROM: Aaron
DATE: Thursday November 2, 2000 -- 9:23:59PM

Has anyone else seen the CueCat infomercial? It's pretty funny in it's cheesyness. I've seen it twice on cable circa 2-3am.

It's set-up as a futuristic shcool studying history. The instructor is teaching the kids about the wonderful "digital convergence" that occurred at the end of the 20th century (or maybe the beginning of the 21st, I forget their phrasing). The instructor informs them of the great advancement in web usability known as the CueCat. These future kids couldn't believe people actually used to type in URLs and such. In this future world, all web access was through the CueCat. Everything with a barcode could be scanned, and you would right to the website for that product. They repeatedly showed someone scanning the bar code on a jar of peanut butter. Why? Who cares about the peanut butter website? I'd rather scan the neck of Dark Angel and see what web site that takes me to...

Another bizarre segment was that they claimed that many products would soon have an auditory "cue" at the end of a television commercial. Somehow the CueCat would detect this sound and automatically send your computer to that website. Uhh, how is the bar code encoded into a very short "bing" sound (which is what they showed)? How tolerant to noise is it? During a 4 minute commercial break, isn't my computer going to jump to a new site every 15-30 seconds -- with each new commercial?

I wonder what ad wizard came up with that infomercial....




FROM: Terry Murphy
DATE: Thursday November 2, 2000 -- 10:46:05PM
If you don't want the corporate world making money off of you, stay away from this kind of crap.

While you're at, you may as well as stay away from computers, airplanes, and automobiles, all items which are too complicated and expensive for anything but the biggest corporations to produce (and they make money off of you in the process)

While you can get some decent discounts with the discount cards, it's a shame they just don't give them to you automatically... there definitely is a lack of privacy when they track what you buy...

The discount is the incentive to give your information. It makes business sense. Very few people would give their information without the discount.

Of course, if you don't want to give your information AND you want the discount, you can just go to a poor grocery store which are cheaper than the card-takers even with the discount. The market will work itself out, and people who demand card-less discounts will have stores supplied to meet it. Isn't capitalism beautiful?

But in the end, you'll find privacy is overrated. Why should I care if some bean-counter knows how many cans of beef ravioli I eat per month?



FROM: liz
DATE: Friday November 3, 2000 -- 2:09:47AM
i won't shop at a store that uses discount cards. for one, there's the privacy issue (giving you coupons for tampons when it's obvious that you buy a lot of them, etc) and two, everything else in the store has a higher price; the "discounts" are really just normal prices that you'd find at other stores. i shop at raley's, a grocery store that has made the choice not to use cards, and i get my groceries there for less than i would at, say, furr's, which uses cards.

but i do love costco, and i bet they keep big ol' databases on me with my member card. not that i care: i always take my friends there to shop, so what i buy there is not representative of what i really use.



FROM: Terry Murphy
DATE: Friday November 3, 2000 -- 2:54:50AM
for one, there's the privacy issue (giving you coupons for tampons when it's obvious that you buy a lot of them, etc)

The horror!!! As we all know, the world (and, particularly, the world's forest population -- remember, the liberals have violated the first amendment by making it illegal to market paperlessly) would be much better off if delicatessens wasted money sending ads to vegetarians, if couch potatoes mailboxes got filled with athletic equipment catalogs, and if baby food coupons were marketed towards the elderly.

two, everything else in the store has a higher price; the "discounts" are really just normal prices that you'd find at other stores.

Lately, independent grocery stores (which don't use the card), have been going out of business in troves, while the bigger stores (such as Safeway and Albertsons) seem to be doing well. Which means that a financially insignficant amount of people value the privacy of their shopping list more than saving money, and/or that grocery stores with targeted marketing programs operate more efficiently than those without.



FROM: Paul
DATE: Friday November 3, 2000 -- 8:59:55AM
Independent stores are faltering in That Old Suburb of mine, for certain... all we have in this area are Jewel/Albertson's, and Dominick's/Safeway. Eagle is around but not much; Treasure Island is only in the heart of the city. Both Jewel and Dominick's have their cards.

Let's face it: when you have just about any type of discount, credit, or debit card, someone is tracking you. Sam's Club knows that I bought a 5 pound box of tortilla chips; Dominick's knows I bought Miracle Whip last night. No biggie to me.

Liz does have a point on the pricing, though; without the discount card, the prices are generally higher than competitors.

Terry, you sounded very subdued in that last post. ;)



FROM: Robert
DATE: Friday November 3, 2000 -- 9:00:36AM
Ryan--I'm eager to be a father. What kind of t-shirt would you like?



FROM: Paul
DATE: Friday November 3, 2000 -- 9:00:52AM
Aaron, I think I want to see that CueCat commercial.



FROM: Josh
DATE: Wednesday August 22, 2001 -- 2:10:32AM
I know that it's probably bad form to post onto a seemingly dead
ping, but I came across a rather interesting little program called
CueHack ( http://www.rtmark.com/cuehack ) from the fine corporate
sabatoge people at ®TMark.

What it basically does is when you scan a product, it will also pull up
any sites that talk about things related to the scanned item like
product recalls, corporate abuses, and the like...

Just thought you might like a reason to use that cuecat, Paul. That
is, if you haven't already stomped on it a few times ;)



FROM: Jake
DATE: Tuesday December 17, 2002 -- 8:59:26 am
the jackass team is so funny:)



FROM: stacey
DATE: Monday August 30, 2004 -- 4:39:32 pm
bam margera is real hot i wanna fuck him to death now



FROM: Paul
DATE: Monday August 30, 2004 -- 6:21:07 pm
Dumb-ass mode, Ryan?



Shii January 29, 2008, 8:56 pm

I wish someone had recorded that CueCat infomercial.

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