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Attention shoppers: we have arrived.

We’ve all been doing the ecommerce thing for a while now. We’re all semi-pro online bargain hunters. We all finally feel safe using our credit cards online. And the government is finally getting around to taxing online commerce (bastards), because they know it’s gotten to a level that some pesky tax won’t pull us back from.

Online sellers are giving Main Street a run for it’s money like it’s never seen before.

Think about it: 20 years ago we were bemoaning big, bad WalMart swooping into smalltown America and squeezing out the Mom and Pops.

– The mom and pops cried “foul!” Economists cried “competition!”

And then a few years later it was the demon spawn Barnes & Nobles and eviler still Starbucks hastening the extinction of our local bookstores and coffee shops.

– The purists cried “foul!” Everyone else cried “vente soy latte!”

But now we find ourselves in the middle of an even braver, newer world: ecommerce has fully matured. And now no one’s safe. Even brick-and-mortar behemoth WalMart.

Oh, the irony.

Today a small town semi-savy Grandmother with a little extra time on her hands can easily find most of what WalMart offers elsewhere, for cheaper. With free shipping. And points. And she does.

We have arrived.

There’s a lot less cries of “foul” now too.

Why? For one, it’s not just the hardware stores, bookstores, or the coffee shops that are getting a beatdown; it’s every kind of shop imaginable, save for restaurants and nail salons.

But the main reason no one’s complaining is that the benefit to the consumer (you know, us) has finally gotten past the tipping point: everything’s cheaper, and who’s going to cry “foul” on that?

The unfettered competition made all the prices lower, just like it tends to do. And it’s a beautiful thing.

But lately another powerful phenomenon has come to the fore. One which will certainly throw yet another wonderful wrench in the works: Consumer Reviews.

You thought consumers had power before? Well, you’re in for a treat.

Now it’s not only their pocketbooks they’re speaking with. It’s their mouths. Fancy that.

Welcome to Customer 2.0.

Message boards. Blogs. Dedicated, free review sites like yelp. Dedicated, paid review sites like angieslist. And even company’s own sponsored forums, customers are making themselves heard. And loudly.

Consumers are making their experiences known, and their opinions count in ways that were simply impossible to count before.

And, moving forward, it will be very, very interesting to witness how this will affect individual businesses, and the marketplace in general.

I predict the consumer will win once again.

No, the customer isn’t “always right”. Just like “there’s no bad PR”, there’s always exceptions to rules like those.

But there aren’t just “angel customers” and “devil customers” either. There’s a patchwork spectrum of anything and everything consumers have to offer. From the truly good, bad and ugly, to suspiciously-glowing self-reviews and the vendetta carpet bash. It’s all valid, and if handled correctly, all helpful. But if business merely try to “bucket” them instead of simply learning from them, they will =fail.

So, with billions of consumers sounding off about the good, bad and everything in-between, how will we know what’s worth listening to?

Well, the market will sort that out, too.

Crazy, that.

To be honest, I didn’t think I wanted TIVO until I got TIVO.

Or, to be specific, until i got Time Warner Cable’s DVR, which is built into my cable box. But when I got it, I was instantly hooked. It’s everything they said it would be, and more. And although I don’t tape a ton of shows, the ones I do record are near, and dear to my heart.

Did I just say tape? I did.

Anyway, for some reason, this weekend, while I was away, my Time Warner DVD failed miserably to record “Real Time With Bill Maher”, “SNL”, and “At The Movies With Ebert And Roper”.

Wuh?

So I go online… and there’s not much besides some “tips” that are written for morons ala “what’s DVR?”. So I clicked on the “reach us via our ‘online form’” link… which is deader than a virtual doornail:

TimeWarnerCable: Contact Us!

So I call.

Already I’m WAY past my time quotient for dealing with this mess. And I’m on hold for almost ever.

And then… I get a dial tone!

I was cut off!

So I called again, and climbed my way through the phone tree only to get cut off yet again.

Kill.

The problem here is not that I missed my precious shows, and that I cried like a little girl. The problem here is that Time Warner NY has such atrocious customer service that I don’t even know HOW to go about reporting this, or somehow asking for their help in fixing it.

And that’s one of the more important aspects of good customer service, isn’t it? When something goes wrong, in this order you:

1) Make yourself obviously available
2) Etc

So…I must ask, ever so nicely:

Time Warner New York? WTF?

The Lacie Boycott

In August of ’07 I bought one of these:

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First of all, this drive is NOT 2 Terabytes. No sir ree. LaCie is misleading, at the very least, in their marketing. This is actually four 500 Gigabyte drive, shoved in one case, and laid out in a RAID array. Which means your data is written in little, tiny pieces on all 4 drives. So, if one of the 4 drives fails, you’re screwed. Or, as in my case, if the “controller” part of the RAID fails, and can only read 1 of the drives, you’re equally screwed.

I already had a couple of 250 Gig drives, and I got this one just to back up my DVDs and Music (the bigger stuff). And immediately I noticed some “rattling” noise, almost like something wasn’t attached properly inside. So I reported it to LaCie and they sent me a return box. I shipped it in, and they backed up my data (but only after begging them), they put it on a new drive, and sent it back to me.

Good, right? Well, not so fast.

Almost immediately after I got it out of the box, and plugged it in, it started spinning REALLY FAST. So, I emailed their tech support again. And they said “unplug it for 30 minutes”.

So, I did, but the symptoms persisted. I emailed them back… but nothing. I emailed them back again… still nothing.

Then, the drive started “dropping” from my system window. Just like that, it would “unmount”, randomly. So I emailed tech support again, and they told me to use a different power supply.

But then they emailed back and said “wait… DON’T USE A DIFFERENT POWER SUPPLY!”… which was very confusing. Because I was getting different emails from different tech support guys telling me to do, or don’t do, different things.

Then it just plum died. Well, not totally. I could bring it up in “disk utility”, but it only read 1 drive, just ¼ of the RAID array. Meaning something wasn’t “connecting” the drives together.

I emailed them about that… but heard nothing back. So I called.I talked to a very un-inspiring guy who told me that it “looked bleak”, but offered to send me a new power supply, because in his experience the power supplies were “frying the RAID controllers”. Wait. WHAT?!?!?

So he sent me a new power supply that did absolutely nothing.I called back, and that’s when they told me to call a “data recovery” place, and gave me a couple of numbers to call…

$10,000.00.

Seriously.

$10,000.00!

And LaCie WON’T HELP AT ALL.

The don’t have even an “ad hock” data recovery function. Not even an enclosure they can put these 4 drives in and re-connect the RAID. They ONLY fix the drives (which makes absolutely no sense), and they ever-so-smugly reminded me that “in the fine print” it stated clearly, yet small-ly, that they don’t do “data recovery”. Ironic, isn’t it?

Never mind that this is a “hardware failure” in that the CONTROLLER that connects the drives together was FRIED BY THEIR POWER SUPPLY. I asked them very nicely, based on my extended, and storied back-and-forth with customer service, if they would “help” defray the cost.

They said, in effect, hell no.

Now, you may ask “why don’t you just let those movies and music go?” Well… because… and this is a funny story… right before the drive failed I got Mac OSX Leopard. And I wanted to use the new Time Machine backup scheme, instead of my (achem) LaCie SilverKeeper backup-to-backup scheme. So I moved my backup to another drive, and that backup to this 2TB drive (which again, LaCie ASSURED me was still fine)… and that very day, as if on cue, it gasped it’s final breath.

Here’s the kicker: it just so happens that at that exact point in time the ONLY thing that wasn’t backed up… was my entire professional portfolio. Seriously.

Look. I’m a backup fanatic. I have always had a backup of my backups (though previously only on FWdisks, not DVDs). But the one, seriously ONE time I flew by the seat of my pants (so to speak) for ONE DAY I got burned, and burned bad by LaCie, their faulty products, and their awful customer service. On a drive that was acting a bit wonky, but a drive that they assured me was a-ok.

The funny thing was I had read many, many, many BAD reviews of LaCie products before I bought this one (just do a quick Google search, or even check out the ones on the Amazon site link). I had read all the computer magazines reviews, and saw that almost ALL other drives consistently had better ratings than LaCie. But, unfortunately, I was suckered in by price, and a misleading description of the drive.

And false hope.

Well, now I’ve got to send in my drive to LaCie’s “partner” data recovery service (sound fishy?) and spend an ungodly amount of money to recover data from a drive that failed from 10000% hardware malfunctions. As in: LaCie’s faulty power supply fried LaCie’s RAID controller. As in LaCie’s fault*.

So learn from my mistake. Back up your back ups of your back ups. On DVDs as well. And if you’re going to buy a large external drive, find out if it’s a RAID. If it is, think again about buying it.And more importantly, avoid LaCie like the plague they are. In fact, tell everyone you know to avoid LaCie. Buy any other brand… well, except Maxtor. They’re the only brand with *almost* as many bad reviews as LaCie. Almost.

A call to arms. Boycott LaCie.

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*Lawyers: a class action suit against LaCie would net you about a zillion dollars. But all I want is my data recovery expenses reimbursed.