When I first started my corporate job at Morris Digital Works back in 1998, my wife (the lovely and irreverent Betsy Curley) bought her first computer — one of the old Mac clamshell laptops.
Though she had used computers in her professional and academic life, this was her first personal computer.
I now watch how she uses her computer all the time because I love to see how “regular people” use the web. You don’t even want to know how many ideas have come to me after watching my family members use their computers — enough that we should probably be able to claim ’em on our taxes.
Betsy uses the web like a lot of people do: online banking and booking travel are perfectly suited for the Internet, and she’s an ace at those things. She also loves eBay (both as a buyer and a seller), as well as Amazon. And you don’t want to know how much we spend through her shopping at DisneyShopping.com.
Those, at least to me, seem like fairly regular things for someone who is at least moderately Internet-savvy.
But there are a bunch of other sites that Betsy now uses that have me thinking that either the Internet is getting more practical to use, or my wife is turning into a total dork just like me.
Or maybe it’s some mixture of both.
I’m not making this up: Betsy ordered the propane for our grill from PropaneTaxi.com.
And she loved it. She said they were quick, nice and helpful.
Betsy now buys nearly all of our groceries from Safeway.com.
She keeps a running list of the things we need directly on the Safeway site, and then submits the order when it’s time. The delivery charges are nominal, even non-existent with the coupons and deals they have. And we almost always get something else for free with each order, like movie tickets.
They then show up at the requested time, and are always courteous. (I should know because I’ve probably accepted three or four delivery orders.) And the delivery folks cannot accept tips regardless of how hard you try.
It really feels like Safeway has put a lot of thought into this process and made the entire experience nice (even the delivery vehicles are kind of cool), which is why we now use Safeway.com as our primary way of buying groceries.
I’ve always kind of enjoyed grocery shopping — that simple act of wandering each aisle is kind of fun to me, but why do I get the feeling that sounds eerily similar to the “I just like to hold the newspaper” that you hear from some folks?
Betsy’s online experiences don’t stop there. Our family now even orders its delivery pizza from pizzahut.com. And just like the other examples I’ve given, that experience has been positive enough that now that’s the primary way we order pizza.
But Betsy’s biggest online discovery is something called “Ding!” from Southwest Airlines. In a lot of ways, it basically behaves like a widget, but it’s not a widget.
(In my opinion, if Southwest Airlines were smart about this little app, they’d make it a true widget ASAP because I can’t imagine how powerful it would be to be on people’s customized iGoogle or MyYahoo page every time they logged on. And why do I get the feeling that Internet advertising is going to start feeling a lot like Ding! does?)
Anyway, Ding! basically is a little program that runs on your desktop. When you register it, you’re asked what airports you primarily fly out of. Then every so often, the app makes a little “ding” sound similar to the sound of the “ding” when you hand your ticket at the gate of a Southwest flight.
Around our home, that “ding” sound produces Pavlovian responses. Both Betsy and I dive to our computers to see what the “Ding!” deals are. They’re often good. But sometimes they are mind-blowingly good. We’ve seen $29 one-way flights to Orlando (hey, we’re Disney dorks) and $50 flights to Los Angeles, from both Washington Dulles and from Baltimore.
Those are crazy prices that have us “impulse flying” to places on weekend trips for rates that are cheaper than riding the bus — and certainly cheaper than buying the gas for those trips.
I’m not sure that I had a point in posting all of this, but if I did have a point, I guess it’s this: When people use the Internet and have a good experience, they keep coming back. It seems like a pretty simple premise, but it must not be.
The Internet can fundamentally change how we do the most ordinary things — whether it’s making sure your bills are paid or buying milk. Even buying propane.
Or getting your news.
There were some great ideas that came out during the Good Ole Days of the Dot.Com Boom of the late 90s, but some of those ideas were ahead of their time, both in the public being ready to accept them and probably in the amount of folks actually using the Web at that time.
That’s clearly not the case anymore, and we can choose to accept that or choose to bury our heads in the sand.
It drives me nuts when businesses act like they’re doing their audience/customers a favor when they half-heartedly jump into the Internet.
Then there are businesses (even more traditional, old-line businesses) who actually try to use the Internet the way the Internet really works … not the way they wish the Internet worked.
The sites that Betsy now uses all of the time are great examples of companies who are doing it right.
Every time I watch her use the Internet in some new and interesting way, I’m reminded as to why all of us better be trying a little harder to make sure the folks who visit our local news sites are having a good experience.
And that we better be building sites that work the way the Internet really works.