Fun_People Archive
23 Sep
The Digital Hammer

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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Tue, 23 Sep 97 01:54:46 -0700
To: Fun_People
Subject: The Digital Hammer

From: Andrew Lippman <>

The Digital Hammer:

When I was young, I watched a TV show called West Point Story and one
episode stuck in my mind:  All the cadets turned on all the water taps and
flushed every toilet at once.  On a signal, and in perfect synchrony, the
cadets finished the flush and closed each tap. Intertia blew up the main
water pipe just where the lead cadet predicted.  That was the point of the
experiment, and as I recall, the leader was expelled, or expunged or
something bad.  It's called a massive water hammer.

The network can create a modern "digital hammer", and companies who don't
understand a transparent market are exposing themselves to it.  They just
don't get how the net can be as organized a community as a West Point dorm.
For example, airline customers are agitated about airlines that crack down
on "straddles".  These are pairs of round trip tickets that bracket a
Saturday but originate at opposite ends of the trip.  You use the outgoing
half of each of these cheap tickets and throw away the returns.  The net
cost is less than a normal weekday fare (see note below).  Some airlines
are closing this door and canceling seats. Well, it might not pay to
antagonize your customers this way.

For example, fliers might just pass around some email and buy every seat on
next month's flight to Tokyo, and then, in prefect synchrony, on a signal,
cancel them.  Nothing will explode, but the flight will be undersold and
the message might get through. I have it on good advice that this is not
illegal. Or, we might all just pool our experiences at the car dealer and
cancel all our service appointments or purchase orders at once.  Or turn
off all our light switches.  Or call the switchboard of that company we want
better service from.

I am not suggesting such guerilla activity, but  it is an opportunity
waiting to happen.  The point of the story is that the customer is the only
real equity these companies have, and we customers now have the tools to
get organized to make sure we are treated well enough to grant it.  Perfect
marketing now works both ways.

Chew on that, Northwest.

(Note:  I believe that the unused return trips on those tickets retain their
value and can even be credited towards your next trip.  This makes the
savings even greater.)

-andy lippman

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