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The Temporary Physical Virtual Store

J.C. Penney, one of the United States' largest online retailers of general merchandise, will construct a 4,000m2 temporary physical virtual store on Times Square in New York. From March 3 to March 26, shoppers will be able to purchase J.C. Penney's full range of merchandise at interactive kiosks (about 250,000 items are available on jcp.com). Special events and showcases will be held at the store during its few weeks of existence. (via BusinessWeek).

Does "blended retailing" (as in blended learning) represent a new trend or the future of e-commerce ? The strategy here, I guess, is to create a physical place whose atmosphere corresponds to your brand and put your customers in the mood for buying your products. Interactive kiosks also make your shop "lighter" and you could for instance move it from town to town every month or so. I am wondering if that kind of strategy would work in every business sector. The experiment could also be interesting for online brands. Take Amazon for example. Can you imagine a physical virtual Amazon store ? How would it look like ?

By Marc-Olivier Peyer | February 21, 2006 | E-Commerce , | News & Trends
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This domain name IS AVAILABLE: ROUTERMAFIA.COM $8.95*/yr

(by Andreas Schiffler, IC-Agency)

Someone in the office told me about FON (http://en.fon.com). OK, nice WiFi startup idea with some good funding. Looks certainly like a good idea ... a bit tech-bubbly ... but "free" can never be bad.

The question is though, Will FON actually work? After some pondering, I come to the conclusion: No, I don't think so  - not with their business model, not with the current state of technology. There are number of reasons I say that, so let me elaborate.

On the surface of things its looks very cool. Universal Wifi access can't be bad! Right? As a canadian cave dweller its sounds like a great idea - open the laptop in the on the open-lake ice and surf, eh, freeze. Maybe not so good.

Well to be honest, if it gets any amount of traction, it will be probably shot-down by the broadband providers who are actually providing the bandwidth for each access point in the first place. Just as the FON FAQ states: "Prior to activating your access point, you should re-read the terms of use that you have with your broadband  provider to ensure that it permits your to share your connection." I don't think any provider actually allows this - not that i have ready my small-print contract - comments on this are more than welcome. Also, most broadband connections are bandwidth capped - my super-duper extra model tops out at 60G per month - well, run a few torrents from digitaldistractions.org (http://www2.digitaldistractions.org:8080/torrents.php) and a few 24/7 shoutcast.com (http://www.shoutcast.com/) streams  - yes, 24/7 is an unnecessary convenience like leaving the lights on in the basement - and you'll hit that bandwidth limit quickly.

It seems to me that WiFi as a technology is also the wrong horse to bet on. Its an old and lame horse. What's the meagre coverage area of a Linksys access point running at the legal 32 milliwatts (+15dBm) ... a circle with a 100ft radius? Maybe 200ft with a nice shiny omni-directional antenna. Hardly good coverage - and oh, forgot to remind you about the fact that you've got your house in the back if we follow FON's instructions. "Where is the best place to situate routers? In the windows." I think, the next generation technology like WiMax would work well, but when the time comes we'll all have to buy new Linksys routers.

On a side node - I'd be willing to do that, as long as they change the color of their plastic housing this time around. That ugly blue and black box just cannot compete with the current crop of iPod inspired designs.

An additional hinderance is a part of the Wifi technology itself - its security model, or should I say: insecurity model. To advertise itself to the world a public broadcast occurs - unencrypted. Also, for the user to get connected, one has to login to the network. So, to use the free network, one will need offer an unprotected network. That's a bad idea - we all want a protected network. Sorry, routers cannot offer an encrypted and unprotected network at the same time - its either protected and encrypted or not. In FONs case (haven't tried it) likely NOT. So great - free Wifi, but with all my traffic out in the open now, I get the feeling this is a big privacy and security issue. All that is needed is a tool to "sniff" the airwaves, a rudimentary function offered by dozens of easily downloadable utilities, and your free WiFi access point can be used by neighbors and strangers alike to extract valuable information from your activities. It bothers me already that the US government can do that and get 1 weeks worth of search records from major search engines - but my neighbors sniffing around my hopefully firewalled Windows machine? No thanks! (plus, I am using Linux anyhow.)

And what about the competition. There are WiFi networks in McDonalds, Starbucks, Hotels, housing developments, inner-cities and many other places. There is http://www.publicip.net, http://metrofreefi.com, http://www.broadscape.net, etc. ... heck there is even a WiFi enabled Mosquito Magnet (http://news.com.com/Wi-Fi+mosquito+killer+coming+to+a+porch+near+you/2100-11395_3-5961535.html). So what's the point in getting into the game now. I guess Google wants to get into any game where they can push their content (i.e. Ads) these days. Combine that with the fact that they are relatively rich, and a few million invested for some  exposure on the WiFi login screen makes sense. Business sense at least.

I am sure these issues will all be solved in due time. After all FON got a few million to play with. But maybe its time look at a few years down the road. Multiple "free" Wifi providers including every homeowner with a broadband access are fighting for the airwaves. Fighting to get YOU onto their FREE Wifi LAN. It's a fierce battle for territory, a war about SSID's and Milliwatts in the Gigaherz range, the time when Wifi jamming becomes organized ... the age of the Router Mafia (dot com)!

By aschiffler | February 10, 2006 | Domain Names , | News & Trends
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