I'm Drew Breunig and I obsess about technology, media, language, and culture. I live in New York, studied anthropology, and work at PlaceIQ.

On “Prime Pantry” & Amazon’s Terrible Product Design

Put aside the Kindle and Prime for a moment. Now name one thing Amazon has launched which is in common usage besides simple shopping.

I’d argue you can’t. Amazon comes up with problem solving tech but is absolutely terrible at packaging it.

Consider the Amazon Fire Phone. To what audience would a $200+ phone (with a two year contract) which doesn’t run a major OS appeal? It’s main features help you shop at Amazon more easily (though the image recognition services), a problem most people don’t have in the first place.

Or Amazon Wish Lists. A great product buried behind a horrible UI. Within Wish Lists are all the features of Pinterest (and were in place years before Pinterest) and no one cared beyond a select few.

Or Amazon’s Kindle hub, which has been recommending I follow Tim Ferris and his goofy highlight from a Ben Franklin biography for nearly 5 years now.

And now “Prime Pantry”, which is described as such:

Adding your first Prime Pantry item to Cart starts a Prime Pantry box. As you shop, you see that each Pantry item tells you what percentage of a Pantry box it fills based on its size and weight. Pantry boxes are large and can hold up to 45 pounds or four cubic feet of household products. As you check items off your list, we continuously track and show you how full your box is.

You can buy as much or as little as you want for a flat $5.99 delivery fee per Prime Pantry box.

Think about this from an average shopper’s point of view (and stay with me here. It gets booooring):

  • An item which would normally be Prime or a Prime Add-On now goes to a sub-category within your cart.
  • Click on your cart to check out and you see this sub-category marked by a infographic of a shipping-box filled up to the percent it contains. In my cart, this was 0.9% when I first noticed it. Zero point nine!
  • You realize that no matter what you do, clicking “check out” will ship a large separate box with small bottle of hand soap, for an extra $5.99. You want the hand soap, so you might browse the “Prime Pantry” store for more things to stick in your box.
  • The”Prime Pantry” store is pretty incomplete. I found three additional things in there that we use on a regular basis. Box filled to 10.4%.
  • At this point, you aren’t going to pay $5.99 for a mostly empty box, so you look for a way to check out without your “Pantry” items. There isn’t a way. Only way is to save all “Pantry” items for later.

Voila: Amazon has convinced you to buy the hand soap at the store across the street.

At several points in the process I felt like the team from AWS was given the reigns to design this process. Measuring boxes by percentage – even without the decimal point precision – is more akin to mangling server loads than shopping for groceries.

And this is the current state of Amazon: every new product or program they launch is almost certainly going to be hidden behind a terrible experience. Their new card reader is undercutting Square on price? I’d bet money it won’t catch on because a) Amazon won’t market it to retailers and b) they’d never figure out how to use it anyway.

To make matters worse, this seems to be a cultural problem rather than just a lack of resources. Read The Everything Store and it’s hard to think of Amazon as a company which tries to create good experiences. And this blind spot could likely bring them down.

Indiewire's Review of Godard's New Film Proves Godard's Point 

Eric Kohn reviews Godard’s new film, “Goodbye to Language.”

Here’s one sample paragraph out of the total eleven, emphasis mine:

To some degree, the overwhelming montage taps into the over-saturation of today’s media climate, a point that Godard makes explicit several times: the recurring shot of a flat-screen television broadcasting static speaks for itself, as does a more comical bit in which two strangers continually tap away on their iPhones and exchange them, repeating the action. At one point, as the narration samples highlights from philosopher Jacques Ellul’s essay “The Victory of Hitler,” someone holds up a smartphone screen showing off the essay’s contents. It doesn’t take a lot of analysis to determine Godard’s intentions: He portrays the information age as the dying breath of consciousness before intellectual thought becomes homogenized by digital advancements.

And then the final line:

Grade: B+

If you see an interesting story or photo on reddit, message the redditor who shared the piece to ask for their permission prior to using it in an article or list, ask how they would like it to be attributed, and provide them a deadline before you move on to another story.

"Civilians in Abandoned McDonald’s Seize Control of Wandering Space Satellite" 

“There were a few abandoned buildings—one was a barbershop, and one was an abandoned McDonald’s,” Mr. Cowing said. “Someone hit the barbershop with a truck, so we took the McDonald’s.”

Their new control center, dubbed “McMoon’s,” fit all of the criteria they needed: the doors locked, and it was free. For their console, they pulled a broken flatscreen TV from a government dumpster and fixed the power supply. The other pieces are from eBay, including a Mac laptop and some radio parts.

With just those bare-bones pieces, they were able to MacGyver a computer-radio hybrid that made contact with the ISEE-3.

(Via BetaBeat)

You may have noticed that we’re still on the ground. You also may have noticed that I’ve turned off the plane.
This pilot.

Bush and Maliki's Relationship 

Peter Baker, for the NYT:

One day in the fall of 2007, President George W. Bush joined Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in a video conference to sign a “declaration of principles” on the future of the Iraqi-American relations. As Mr. Bush scrawled his name, Mr. Maliki in Baghdad just passed his pen over his copy, pretending to sign.

At the last minute, Mr. Maliki had decided not to sign because he said he had not read the document’s final wording, but he did not mention this to Mr. Bush, who had no idea his counterpart’s pen had not actually touched paper. An American official in the room noticed, however, and as soon as Mr. Bush’s image vanished from the screen, accosted a Maliki aide, saying, “Don’t screw with the president of the United States.”

Good one.

On the Failure of Square Wallet 

From Fast Company’s morose piece on the state of Square:

The fuzzy focus culminated in Square Wallet, which was initially called Card Case. Though Dorsey won’t acknowledge it publicly, the aim internally, says one source, was to “own both sides of the counter”—vendor and customer—so the company could one day “cut out the credit-card companies altogether.” (At weekly all-hands meetings, former COO Keith Rabois, only half-jokingly, used to announce the projected date on which Square’s payments-processing volume would overtake Visa’s.) Instead of helping consumers pay with their phones, like many other digital-wallet products, Square’s Wallet app enabled consumers to open a virtual tab with a nearby shop and then pay for items merely by saying their name when they arrived. Despite its popularity with the tech vanguard, Wallet saw barely any adoption. Few merchants accepted it, partly because few consumers paid with it, and vice versa. Even where Square Wallet was accepted, cashiers often didn’t know how it worked. “It wasn’t necessarily faster, or more convenient,” Dorsey says, looking back. “It felt more futuristic, but that doesn’t make it better.”

Wallet failed because it had a horrible go-to-market plan and it may have been too early.

I taught at least 10 different businesses who used Square how to check me out with it. They had no idea how it worked. Once they were set up, Square Wallet was an amazing way to do business. Transactions weren’t a forced interaction with a keypad, they were a morning greeting and quick chat. My face popped up on their register and they tapped it as they told me the total. I bought more at these venues because I it was a pleasant transaction and the barriers to purchasing were so low.

But again, I had to teach each vendor how Wallet worked. I showed my friends the glimpse of the future Square was offering. They had no idea such technology existed. For years I used Wallet as an example of how location technology was being applied in as a subtle interface.

It’s too bad Square never marketed Wallet, taught their vendors, and showed small businesses how Wallet led to more loyal customers. Wallet could have led to a better type of store.

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