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Alive and well? Come again

I was amused and bemused by a reader posting in response to a news.com story on the Western Union telegram stoppage, writes Deepak Mankar.

business Updated: Feb 11, 2006 15:54 IST

I have not been a prolific letter writer all along. I never had even a single pen pal, for instance. (I enjoy reading famous people's letters, though. The Collected Letters of So-and-So kind of stuff, you know.) For that matter, I've never been much of a telegram sender, either. In my whole life, I must have sent no more than a dozen and a half telegrams, I reckon. Come to think of it, I belong to the letter-and-telegram era fair and square, though. So Western Union stopping telegrams on 26 January 2006 after 145 years in the business caught my eye.livescience.comWU started its career in 1851 under the non-glam name, Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company. It took its present moniker only five years later after taking over the competing telegraph systems. During the Civil War, by 1861, it had already built its coast-to-coast network of telegraph lines. Noteworthy Western Union 'feats' include the world's first stock ticker (1866); launch of money transfers (1871); joining the original 11 stocks tracked by Dow Jones (1884); the first consumer charge card introduction (1914); using a transcontinental microwave beam to replace land lines (1964); and the launch of Westar I, the very first U.S. dedicated communications satellite (1974). Impressive!

Alive and well? Come again.

I was amused and bemused by a reader posting in response to a news.com story on the Western Union telegram stoppage.news.comIt is by Marian Meyers, CEO & Founder, American Telegram, a company born in 1986. "Telegrams are alive and well," screams the headline. The story goes on to claim that they have "thousands of Agents nationwide and throughout Canada, hand delivering Telegrams, plus other carriers handling overnight and 2 day hand delivery of Telegram messages, in addition to Telegrams sent through our International Telegram Network".

Also, for what it's worth: "our product is just what you would expect a Telegram to look like". And: "Telegrams are a 'niche' business, used when impact is needed, for legal purposes like cancelling a contract, or when email or faxes are unknown. When there's a political crisis, you can be sure our lines and web site are flooded with Telegrams to the Capitol, the House of Representatives and all the players involved. The Telegram industry is a multi-million dollar industry, with clients using us to do mass mailings to notify their customers, their employees and a list too long to explain here. It is the day to day business of Telegrams that has decreased, but even that business is still good (just not what it once was)," writes Meyers. So now you know why Western Union got out of it. Another reader, Earl Benser, writes: "…the Telegram we all knew has been dead for over 40 years" because "…as long ago as the early 60's, Western Union gave up delivering telegrams, and phones [sic!] them instead. " P.S.: I also came across reviews of a book by Tom Standage, a journalist who contributes to The Economist. It's called 'The Victorian Internet' and tells the fascinating story of the Telegraph and the 19th century 'on-line' pioneers, starting with Jean-Antoine Nollet, Abbot of the Grand Convent of the Carthusians, Paris, who tested his theory that electricity traveled far and fast on a fine spring day in 1746. You can read them here: mundi.net and here:washington.edu.

BMW punished. For overstepping best practice and 'fair use'?

"Google has handed out one of its most effective punishments to BMW amid allegations the German car manufacturer was abusing techniques for boosting its position in search engine results," reports Will Sturgeon ('Google hands BMW its "death sentence":Site is stripped of its Google ranking... '). A statement from Google said among other things: "We can confirm that BMW.de has been removed from our search results." And: "We cannot tolerate websites trying to manipulate search results as we aim to provide users with relevant and objective search results." Google may ban any site which uses tactics "designed to distort their rankings or mislead users"; they will be reinstated once Google is satisfied the site is no longer breaching its guidelines, though.silicon.com.

VW'S choice. Google as navigator?

Germany's Volkswagen's US unit is working on a prototype vehicle incorporating Google's satellite-mapping software to give drivers a bird's-eye view of the road ahead, according to Reuters. "The two companies are working with graphics chipmaker Nvidia to build an in-car navigation system and a three-dimensional display so passengers can recognise where they are in relation to the surrounding topography." software.silicon.com.

Privacy in peril. Google in the docks?

A CNET News.com ('FAQ: When Google is not your friend') hints at the possibility of Google's gargantuan database of its users' searches may be a goldmine for police and nosy divorce attorneys among other assorted 'villains'. Google " can be forced to divulge them under court order. Whether Google does anything else with them is another issue. Given the Department of Justice's recent subpoena to Google, it's likely the police or even lawyers in civil cases - divorce attorneys, employers in severance disputes - eventually will demand that Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL, and other search engines cough up users' search histories," reasons Declan McCullagh. Scary prospects, eh?techrepublic.com.

2005: Google's year? SEM expert says so.

Search engine marketing expert Paul J. Bruemmer ('The Expanding Role of Search') seems convinced 2005 was "definitely a Google year" although "rivals Yahoo! and MSN also made waves. Many new technologies were introduced, expanding the role of search. ,,, also … the advent of consumer control, largely made possible due to the role of search in RSS and blogging, as well as renewed emphasis on behavioral targeting and personalized search."pandia.com

Viral marketing. The latest news from the US.

Sharpe Partners is a marketing agency in the US of A. According to its just-released report (sample= 1071 adult Internet users), 89% share content with friends, family and associates by e-mail. 63% share it at least once a week. 25% do so daily or almost daily. 75% forward content to up to six recipients. Guess what kind of viral content is most popular? Humour, ladies and gentlemen. Jokes and cartoons, no less. The second most popular category is news, not always funny. Coming to viral marketing, the study "found that adding overt brand messages only slightly reduces the likelihood that the content will be shared". Over 40% said they are more or slightly more likely to send marketing-related messages while only for 5%, it was a definite no-no. Also: "…viral marketing is a low-risk approach" claims a Sharpe Partners' spokesperson. 89% of those who got e-mail with brand sponsorships "said they had no adverse feelings". Indeed, the report identified a group "so viral they are contagious" and called it 'Brand Fans'." Over 80% of them feel positively about Brand sponsored content shared at least once a week, and 35% share daily. They are also most likely to share with ten or more people."emarketer.com.

Cyber crime wave. 686,683 hit in 2005.

The recent 'Consumer Fraud and Identity Theft Complaint Data' report by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) singles out identity theft as the most commonly reported cyber crime in 2005 (255,000 or 37% of the total 686,683 complaints filed). Complaints relating to Internet auctions (12%), foreign money offers and shop-at-home/catalogue offers (8% each), prizes/sweepstakes/lotteries (7%), Internet services and computer complaints (5%), business ops/work-at-home schemes, advance fee loans/credit protection, telephone services (2% each) and miscellaneous others (17%) made the rest of the line-up. emarketer.com

The Spam Report can be found at silicon.com.

That's all for now though there's plenty more out there. Join me again next week, same place.


Copyright (c) 2001- 2006 by Deepak Mankar. All rights reserved. Deepak Mankar, an advertising practitioner on the creative side since 1965, is also intensely passionate about the web and web content creation. Read his online articles at asiaondemand.com. Website: http://www.addgandhi.com/original/. You may e-mail him at dmankar@bom8.vsnl.net.in.

First Published: Feb 11, 2006 15:54 IST