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The Almighty Buck

Hucksters, Suckers, and the Cue:Cat 246

Posted by michael
from the step-right-up dept.
Someone in the Know writes: "Now that it's almost completely over for Digital:Convergence, D Magazine (Dallas) unveiled the investments and the suckers surrounding the Cue:Cat and its creator J. Jovan Philyaw. I especially liked the Coca-Cola executive's observation: "... said listening to Philyaw made him feel like his hair was on fire". This was passed around ex-employees and we all got a kick out of it. The company is still alive, apparently, but not doing much anymore."
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Hucksters, Suckers, and the Cue:Cat

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  • by Sabby (1759)
    This sounded like it was going to be a neat technology. I got myself a CueCat and tried it out for a while, but it did seem a little too overhyped and a little too "head in the clouds."
    • Re:Too bad. (Score:3, Funny)

      by plover (150551)
      Someone else got "sold" on this neat technology:

      IBM.

      The catalogs I get from their enterprise group all have :CueCat barcodes on them.

      Just when you thought IBM was going to grow a clue...

      John

  • one of my books for college came with a whole page of barcodes for one...having the little scanner gizmo could be fun..but whats the point? learn to type
    • my library. The title, author and publisher is on the bar code, I scan and file, so much better than typing in the 6000 or so books I've collected over the last 20 years. An online index makes it easier to use all around.
  • by bowb69 (323720)
    Now if I could only get them to invest in some real estate in Florida....
  • RIAA, take note (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AntiNorm (155641) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @05:35PM (#2438316)
    The company is still alive, apparently, but not doing much anymore.

    Just goes to show you what happens when a company tries to make its living by suing people.
  • symbols (Score:4, Funny)

    by Frizzled (123910) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @05:36PM (#2438325) Homepage
    the cue cat has to be one of the top five symbols of the dot-com era (or, atleast up there with razor scooters). you have to wonder who thought this gizmo up though ... who reads magazines in-front of the computer?

    now - if there was a wireless version that worked in the bathroom, they'd be millionaires right now

    _f
    • Re:symbols (Score:2, Informative)

      by Skuld-Chan (302449)
      not to mention it was hard to scan cue cat upcs. I got one and I played around with it - it was nifty, but eventually it ended up on the floor behind my computer (with all the other devices I never use) because I never really could actually use it for anything useful. 90% of the time you'd scan a can of pop right? And all it would do is take you to their website - think about it. I had to go to the fridge, get the pop, scan it just to view a website - where I could have just sat there on my ass and type in www.pepsi.com.
    • Re:symbols (Score:3, Funny)

      by darsal (18194)

      now - if there was a wireless version that worked in the bathroom, they'd be millionaires right now

      Oh but there is...

      I got a Symbol 1502 keychain scanner for the cost of shipping from "VAR Reseller" magazine. Got the SDKs from Symbol's site, and now I'm scanning wherever I feel like it.

      Turns out, I don't feel like it much. Could be 'cause it wasn't free (as in beer) so there hasn't been a groundswell of hackerly support, and I'm on my own figuring out how to hook it into existing databases.

      Could be 'cause there just plain isn't all that much I want to scan in the bathroom.

      (I -did- figure out that a buddy's dorky bar-code tattoo is the UPC off a box of tampons...)

    • the cue cat has to be one of the top five symbols of the dot-com era

      I should have gotten one from Radio Shack. Not only would it have been free, but I could have probably sold it ten years from know on eBay for hundreds of dollars, when everyone else, who was too dumb to see it's true potential as a collector's item, threw it away.
      • I've got an extra one, still in its unopened bag. If you want it, I'll sell it to you for $50 now. If your prediction is right, you'll still make a good profit off it. :)
    • My personal top 5 favorite stupid ideas of the dot.com era:
      • The CueCat
      • Internet Time (A new universal time metric. Each 'beat' was about 80 seconds long, if I remember correctly. It was even on the titlebar of CNN.com for a while.
      • Push technology, incarnations 1, 2, and 3.
      • Voice-over-IP.
      • Portals.
      • X2X "plays", as in P2P, B2B, B2C.

        Petfood, people food, pizza, or anything else delivered via Internet interactions that would be more easily and cheaply done via traditional methods. If you like, you can simply substitute the sock puppet as a symbol for this.

        Game rooms at the company, despite the fact that every survey, both statistical and anecdotal made it painfully obvious that what most employees really wanted were saner hours and/or more money. Every once in a while I still see pitches from companies bragging about the company game room, so some of them still haven't got the clue.

        Stock options I personally had options at 40 for a company that was trading at 60. Company now trades below 5. At least I didn't exercise my options and end up in debt to the IRS.

        20-something millionaires For the few who made it, it was great. For the rest of us, we had to put up with all the people who wondered why we weren't millionaires; why we weren't driving Lexi and buying mansions. When the crash came, it actually made a lot of us feel better

      • Re:Top five symbols. (Score:3, Informative)

        by djrogers (153854)
        Voice-over-IP

        Hate to burst your bubble, but VoIP is alive and well. Thousands of corps are saving millions of $$ by running their voice and data traffic side by side. It's not the clunky PC interface software you're probably thinking of though, I'm talking IP hardphones, digital and analog to IP gateways, and PBXs that trunk over IP. Heck, in all likelyhood, on or two of your recent phone calls went over IP and you didn't even know it...
      • I never heard that Internet time had a 'beat'. I thought it was the ludicrous notion that things took less time in the Internet world. Like I have been doing Web stuff for ten years now. It is still like watching paint dry to see things gegt finished. It took us what? six years to get HTTP 1.1 to RFC.

        Push was equaly clueless, make the Web look like the TV, only it won't because there isn't really the bandwidth. People prefer the Web to TV because it is interactive. Interactive means pull, not push. The suits loved push because what they really wanted to do was bombard people with ads and to make the new media look more like the old media they understood.

        Voice over IP on the other hand has a real purpose. The current generation is pretty clunky. A modem simply ain't ever going to cut it. But if you have a T1 pipe into your building you can probably send most of your voice data over it without noticeable loss of quality and at zero marginal cost per call.

        The real problem with VoIP is the need to connect to the old telco system this is what ENUM is all about.

        VoIP on its own is just an arbitrage play. The real value comes from being able to go multi-media so you get voice, video, powerpoint etc. in the same feed, seemlessly integrated with your email messaging system.

        Portals were not a bad idea. They have a function. The clueless part was the idea that the portals would be able to extract extortionate monopoly rents from their position. If that was the case the yellow pages would really clean up big, which they do to an extent.

        The trully clueless concept I would add to the list is Priceline. At one point the market cap of Priceline was greater than that of all the airlines in the US and Europe combined.

        My theory is that fads become big because they tap into some pre-existing ideology that makes the believers in the ideology go 'ahaaaaa' and the rest of us go 'so what?'. So the e-tail fad was driven by the people that think that advertising and taking orders is the major cost of mail order (rather than packaging, shiping and carrying costs for the inventory). The Web would eliminate the costs of mail order Yahooo!.

        Push played to the predjudices of self appointed 'mejah' experts'. Internet time to the conceits of the journalists pushing the meme. Portals played to the prejudices of those who thought that they had worked out how to corner the market in cyberspace. Priceline played to the predjudices of people who believe that the only thing that matters is price and the free market is the absolute good.

        In each case the fad is ancilliary to the ideology that supports it. The fad is explained to the masses as a means of converting them to the core ideology.

      • * Internet Time

        This HAD to be one of the biggest jokes of the .com revolution. I remember seeing this on 60 Minutes or a similar show. They started off by asking people what time it was in GMT, and when people didn't know they said "it's time for a better system". They were showing off these stupid "internet time" watches and getting people all excited about it. So, the system that the entire science community runs off of that's deadly accurate "isn't good enough", even though it's just plus or minus hours from your time zone. Nope, we need to create a new system and screw everything up.
  • by hartsock (177068) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @05:36PM (#2438328) Homepage Journal
    as a door stop. It truly changed the way I used the internet... my office is cooler!
  • by Faldgan (13738) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @05:38PM (#2438336) Homepage Journal
    One of the problems that a lot of the 'dot-bombs' have seen is that their product is just fine, but occupies a niche that just isn't a large market. I worked for a company that had a half-way decent product, and the revenue of this product could have supported a dozen people, or even twenty or so. But our CEO (who couldn't add 13 and 7 correctly) was hyped, and thought we needed a 100+ employee company, and millions of dollars in investment, and that we could make billions of dollars. NO. Not every product is a revolution. Not every product needs to have a "225-person workforce"
    Advice to executives: Don't hire unless you need some work done that your current employees can't handle.
    • by gwernol (167574) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @05:50PM (#2438412)

      One of the problems that a lot of the 'dot-bombs' have seen is that their product is just fine, but occupies a niche that just isn't a large market. I worked for a company that had a half-way decent product, and the revenue of this product could have supported a dozen people, or even twenty or so. But our CEO (who couldn't add 13 and 7 correctly) was hyped, and thought we needed a 100+ employee company, and millions of dollars in investment, and that we could make billions of dollars. NO. Not every product is a revolution. Not every product needs to have a "225-person workforce" Advice to executives: Don't hire unless you need some work done that your current employees can't handle.

      This is right on the money, but remember why the phenomenon has come about. Many, if not most, of the dot bombs were funded by venture capitalists. VCs gamble large sums of money on young comapnies, knowing that only 1 in 10 of them will ever make it to a "liquidity event" (i.e. an IPO or sellout to Microsoft). So those 10% of comapnies that make it have to be worth enough to cover the investments in the other 90% of companies, plus make a big return on the total investment. That, like it or not, is how VCs work.

      The upshot is that VCs are not interested in, and won't invest in, companies that aren't going to rapidly (within 5 years) grow to a large size (at least $250 million a year in revenues). The only way to get VC money is to pitch your company as that kind of opportunity. If you go to a VC with a plan to build a small but profitable company, they will politely show you the door.

      This is a major cause of ridiculous business plans that have no basis in reality.

      If you want to build a small, niche business you can, just don't expect to get VC money to do it - you have to find your seed capital elsewhere; rich friends or parents, huge credit card bills or another mortgage on your house.

      • Ah, but why are the VC people throwing money at you in the first place? It's because management realized they'd never get rich running a 10-employee company. It's much easier to get rich running a big company -- even if the company never makes any money!
    • by RobertFisher (21116) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @06:07PM (#2438516) Homepage Journal
      A lot of the scaling of companies was fed by the desire to obtain venture capital funds, and hence, on the way that venture capitalists operate. A large VC firm might receive say, $500M in funds to partition off to individual investors. They simply cannot manage 5,000 different investments of $100,000 apiece -- once you add up their overheads, and the typical failure rate of a startup, there is no way they could be profitable on such a small scale. So they typically fund a few tens of companies from anywhere from a few million to tens of millions of dollars apiece. The bigger, the better.

      Of course, a lot of this had to do with the notion that one had to rush to market to get the most market share, which is an idea that has come to be closely scrutinized today.

      Bob

  • by Zen Mastuh (456254) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @05:38PM (#2438340)

    From the article (emphasis added in italics...):

    The Mark: David Edmondson
    Title: President and COO, RadioShack Corp.
    Invested: $30 million
    Commitment: Manufactured CueCats and distributed them free at all RadioShack outlets.
    Quote: "I went, 'Holy Toledo! This is big.'"

    Sorry, Dave...

  • D Magazine: From Zero to Slashdotted in seconds!
  • I think if this [lineo.com] had only been released sooner, the Cue Cat could've made it financially. Hopefully other companies will learn from this the perils of ignoring the Linux userbase!
    • With the linux user base being notorious for not spending a dime, their concentrating on linux would have only brought them down faster
      • They didn't have to support the Linux user base -- they just had to not sue the people who did provide support. ("Argh .. must control .. +3 cell phone .. of lawyer .. summoning..") Their corporate culture obviously had a few defects in its DNA.

        Odd really, lots of companies would be pleased if someone wrote software to support their product, especially if it didn't cost them a cent.

        Look at LEGO, pleased as spiked punch! It only got sticky when legal trademark stuff got involved, and they were very polite about it.

        The Cue-Cat failure doesn't puzzle me -- Amazon's continued survival, now that puzzles me!
  • by Dr Caleb (121505) <thedarkknight AT hushmail DOT com> on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @05:43PM (#2438372) Homepage Journal
    From the article:
    Philyaw is a self-proclaimed "luminary figure in the world of direct marketing."
    An executive of Coca-Cola said listening to Philyaw made him feel like his hair was on fire. --June 27, 2001, Wall Street Journal
    "It fails to solve a problem which never existed." --Debbie Barham, The Evening Standard
    "Are these folks kidding?" --Sandra Brown Kelly, Roanoke Times & World News
    "You have to wonder about a business plan based on the notion that people want to interact with a soda can." --Jeff Salkowski, Chicago Tribune

    Was this the "Edsel" of the Internet age or what!

    • by Accipiter (8228) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @06:03PM (#2438493)
      Personally, I liked this one:

      • "...not every project has a 100 percent success rate."

      Well, if their plan was to get people into Radio Shack to take home a CueCat, they succeeded admirably. I have eight of them in a box in my closet.

      Of course, their marketing effort failed miserably, considering they're going to be looking for "Robert April", "Christopher Pike", or "William Riker".
      • THe one by me is *still* trying to give them away . . .


        hawk

    • Was this the "Edsel" of the Internet age or what!

      Or possibly the Avanti or the Torpedo.
  • :Snake:Oil (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    subject says it all

  • It's not THAT bad... (Score:2, Informative)

    by SamMichaels (213605)
    The CueCat isn't THAT bad...Using CatNip [goldsteinsoftware.com], my business now has free barcode scanners. Thanks Digital Convergence :)
  • by jcpii (253184) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @05:44PM (#2438380)
    I, personally, am happy to have had the chance to see one of my _life's ambitions_ filled... Thanks to Mr. Philyaw, I now own a bar code scanner to catalog my music with.

    I spent months trying to find a reasonably priced scanner, and eventually I gave up. But shortly there after, a trip to the local Radio Shack fixed that problem. I consider it a fair deal after all the times I've overpaid for items at that place, that I get a little something back.
    • Thanks to Mr. Philyaw, I now own a bar code scanner to catalog my music with.

      Ditto. I cut the trace on my CueCat [i-hacked.com], thus disabling the serial number, and, wala, I too have a free barcode scanner. Since it's inline with the keyboard, the input from the barcode will be dumped into any window opened for editing. So you can dump raw barcode into, say, Notepad. Most of the barcodes I tried worked.
  • Question (Score:5, Funny)

    by ocie (6659) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @05:45PM (#2438384) Homepage
    "listening to Philyaw made him feel like his hair was on fire"

    Being an engineering type and not a marketing type, does having ones hair set on fire represent a good thing?
  • Every once in a long, long while, some greedy & manipulative dickhead fails in his/her schemes in such a way that lots of Joe-normals profit with very little effort.

    A bar-code reader in every pot! Though, this is just the beginning; it is worth noting that Evil dickheads learn from their mistakes as well, albeit in a fashion limited to the question of money/power accruement.

    --Mind you, if you are ruthless and savvy enough, you can surf the evils of society with very little effort. Life is good for those who have learned the 'way'.

    Like porn and condoms, somebody with his/her head set to the right frequency will only pay a pittance, (if anything) for their bar code readers. Or cars. Or food. Etc.

    Knowledge is power! Ignorance and Obsession are the only things standing in your way.


    -Fantastic Lad

  • by Phrogz (43803)
    Describing "The Suckers", the article says:

    The Mark: Steve Forbes
    Title: Publisher, Forbes
    Invested: At least $2 million
    Commitment: Sent more than 800,000 subscribers CueCat and software.

    I had no idea so many had been distributed. I know there have been lots of geek applications developed for those who picked them up free at RadioShack (people who WANTED them) but nearly 800,000 people got them that perhaps didn't want them?

    I wonder what they all did with them...

    • The part about the CueCat that amused me was that in thepack you got from Radio Shack (sent to me in the UK by a friend - hi Bob!), there was a subscription offer for Forbes, and some other magazine I don't remember. To get the offer, you go to a website, and type in a 10 digit number - you don't do it by scanning a barcode. If you do use your Great New Idea, then who the hell else is going to?
    • with a bit of a modification (reflecting the light back into the cuecat) they make passable party lights (they daisy chain nicely) for dark rooms.

      I used one as a night-light for downstairs (I live in a loft)

      These things are great! I got one from every Radio Shack in town, and a few from co-workers with Forbes and Wired subscriptions

      I think the distribution numbers are a bit zany. I'd wager that a handful of geeks have 5-10 each from their non-geek friends and co-workers who got 'em in one of their subscriptions.

  • The basic question when you have a new product is-"what need is this solving?"

    This was a device to enable people to see more advertising.

    yes that's what i want, more advertising!

    The cue-cat is my favorite useless invention of the dot.com bubble

  • Cue::Cat (Score:2, Funny)

    by The Diver (310313)
    I have one but never hooked it up. I'm waiting on the death of Digital:Convergence to be able to use it without fear of a lawsuit.
    • I'm waiting on the death of Digital:Convergence to be able to use it without fear of a lawsuit.
      For some reason, I'm under the impression that DC has bigger things to worry about right now than whether a geek somewhere is bypassing their lame-ass software to do something that's actually useful with a CueCat.

      (FWIW, I never opened the package with the CD. I located a Win2K driver that makes it behave like a normal barcode scanner. It's not a particularly accurate device, though, and attempts I've made at printing barcodes and scanning them back in have been somewhat less than a resounding success...maybe plain paper isn't reflective enough for it. As a result, it mainly sits idle.)

  • "The Dumbest Invention in the History of Computers"

    The CueCat was Dallas born and Dallas bred, and it was Dallas' biggest
    contribution to the Internet Bubble.

    By Glenna Whitley

    On Sept. 6, Belo finally ran up the white flag. In a small story on the front
    page of the business section, the Morning News announced it was giving up on a
    promotion it had hyped more than the paper's recent redesign: a device dubbed
    "CueCat" that read bar codes implanted in stories in the News and on sister TV
    station WFAA. Invented and distributed by Dallas-based Digital Convergence,
    CueCat was supposed to help consumers jump from print to Web without the pesky
    trouble of typing. About as useful as an automatic page turner, CueCat's
    pointlessness was obvious to everyone, it seems, but the investors who backed
    it and the editors and producers who promoted it relentlessly. The game was up
    in May when Digital Convergence fired most of its 225-person workforce. Belo
    soldiered on for three months-apparently too embarrassed to back down-before
    announcing that, in the words of one spokesman, "not every project has a 100
    percent success rate."

    The Huckster

    By Glenna Whitley

    Salesman: Jovan Philyaw
    Title: Chairman and CEO, Digital Convergence
    Bio: Philyaw is a self-proclaimed "luminary figure in the world of direct
    marketing." The Digital Convergence web site boasts his past successes,
    generating more than $4 billion in business-to-consumer sales for companies
    such as QVC, Fingerhut, Home Shopping Network, and National Media. In addition
    to Tripledge wiper blades, which supposedly sold $50 million in less than 36
    months, Philyaw was the driving force behind Susan Powter ("Stop the
    Insanity!") and 1-800-Be-A-Geek, the alias of Internet America, the Internet
    service provider whose billboards once blanketed Dallas. He's also the host and
    executive producer of Net Talk Live!, which started as a local radio and
    television show and is now broadcast on the Web. Digital Convergence invented,
    owned, and promoted the CueCat.
    Stake: 49.77 percent of Digital Convergence stock
    Raised: $185 million
    Commitment: To raise and spend more than $300 million to distribute some 50
    million CueCat scanners free by the end of 2001, giving consumers a way to get
    to web pages without typing in URLs.
    Observations: An executive of Coca-Cola said listening to Philyaw made him feel
    like his hair was on fire. -June 27, 2001, Wall Street Journal
    Huckster Quote: "God loves me twice. Once to give me talent, and twice to grant
    me the wisdom to apply it."

    The Suckers

    By Glenna Whitley

    Jovan Philyaw found easy marks among a few Old Media types desperate to play the
    New Media game and a certain local retailer desperate to cash in on the
    high-tech boom.

    The Mark: Robert W. Decherd
    Title: Chairman, president, and CEO, Belo
    Invested: $37.5 million for 7 percent ownership
    Commitment: Mailed more than 360,000 free CueCats to households in North Texas
    counties. Began using the technology at the Morning News, several other
    newspapers, TV stations, and its many Internet sites.
    Quote: "This is not the time for retrenchment. This is a time for well-managed
    entrepreneurism, for calculated risk-taking .... It's clearly the time to stay
    the course, and soon we will find the path to profitability that consumers are
    telling us is there."

    The Mark: Steve Forbes
    Title: Publisher, Forbes
    Invested: At least $2 million
    Commitment: Sent more than 800,000 subscribers CueCat and software.
    Quote: "[The CueCat] will change the way you use the Internet forever."

    The Mark: David Edmondson
    Title: President and COO, RadioShack Corp.
    Invested: $30 million
    Commitment: Manufactured CueCats and distributed them free at all RadioShack
    outlets.
    Quote: "I went, 'Holy Toledo! This is big.'"

    AND MORE WERE BORN EVERY MINUTE...
    Mark A. Dacey, president of Adweek magazines, was so "impressed by the
    limitless marketing opportunities of the technology" (his words) that he sent
    CueCats to all Adweek subscribers... Michael Dolan, chairman of WPP Group,
    Young & Rubicam said, "If you haven't seen [Philyaw], it's worth the price of
    admission." For Dolan, admission cost $28 million... Bob Guccione Jr. intended
    to make his Gear Magazine "the first 100 percent wired magazine by way of the
    CueCat"... Meanwhile, David G. Whalen, president and CEO of A.T. Cross,
    invested $6 million on a Cross Convergence pen ($90) that not only wrote, but
    also conveniently swiped bar codes for the pen owner who happened to be near a
    computer and connected to the Internet-and who couldn't type.

    • by Phrogz (43803) <!@phrogz.net> on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @06:01PM (#2438476) Homepage
      "It fails to solve a problem which never existed." --Debbie Barham, The Evening Standard
      "Are these folks kidding?" --Sandra Brown Kelly, Roanoke Times & World News
      "There's not enough benefit to the reader," says Jack Powers, director of the International Informatics Institute. "What's Forbes' proposition? 'Jerk around with your computer wiring and learn how to scan like a supermarket clerk so that we can send you more advertising.' No thanks." --Russell Shaw, Broadcasting & Cable
      "...There's no need for it." --Sunday Times, London
      "My first reaction upon receiving a complimentary "cat" from Wired: Why do I need this?" --Dave Plotnikoff, San Jose Mercury News
      "You have to wonder about a business plan based on the notion that people want to interact with a soda can." --Jeff Salkowski, Chicago Tribune
      "Just when you think the money truck has stopped making its rounds--that just any bunch of idiots can't get funded anymore--here comes Digital Convergence Corp., proving that small-timers with small ideas can still convince fools to part with their money." --David Coursey, ZDNet News
      "Scanning bar codes in my apartment was a thrill for maybe 15 minutes, after which I decided I had better things to do with my time." --Edward Baig, USA Today
      "Now I realized that CueCat did indeed have a use. It's for those times when you are 1) sitting by your computer 2) reading Forbes and 3) feeling an overwhelming sorrow that Forbes advertisers aren't getting enough attention. One swipe with the CueCat and you get another ad! Is America a great country or what?" --John Dorschner, Miami Herald
      "The CueCat isn't worth installing and using, even though it's free." --Walter S. Mossberg, Wall Street Journal
      "The CueCat is one of those clever gewgaws that would be brilliant if only it performed some useful function. But it doesn't."
      --Richard Des Ruisseaux, Louisville Courier-Journal
      "The CueCat is a cheapo bar-code scanner that looks like a marital aid." --Leander Kahney, Wired
      "As I installed my CueCat, I found myself marveling at the weird assumptions that underpin the whole thing. Do we really need another tool to help us go to web sites? How hard is it to type in URLs, anyway? And for God's sake, who wants to be tethered to a computer while they read a magazine? What planet did these people come from?...The tool is almost impressively useless."
      --Clive Thompson, Newsday

      • I first saw them ad figured this is a mistake. I contacted Radio Shack and Symbol regarding the limited usefullness of the product. I let Digital Convergance know I already had a bar code scanner. What would be wrong with putting the URL in things with a regular extended 3 of 9 barcode? Wouldn't more people connect and use the scanner if they could also be used for other things? If my mouse could be used on one web page and not for any other program like word processing and spreadsheets, I probably wouldn't have a mouse connected. The same thing applies to a single puropse bar code scanner. They got greedy and wanted every scan to belong to them. It backfired as nobody had a reason to connect them. Giving out scanners and having a website with good content linked to the media may have been useful. (scan your coupon here, or scan for a rebate here) Magazines could serial number coupons in a magazine and this may increase magazine sales if you needed to scan a magazine to get an offer listed on a website. The Radio Shack catalog was a good use of the technology, but it was incompatible with my laser scanner. I didn't want to connect another harder to use scanner just to use the catalog. Online orders could have been easy. View more details by scanning the catalog (done). Fill out order by scanning in needed items (missed). Fill out your shipping info by scanning your shipping label (missed). Typos could have been eliminated from online ordering, but due to the DC software, this type of activity could not be done. All scans wanted to launch a new browser window, or take your browser to another web page. It could not be used to fill out an online form.
  • I swear to $DEITY that I read Sue:Cat instead of Cue:Cat at first when I saw the headline...

    Weird.. After I blinked it went back to normal though.

  • ... the scanner is not half bad! We took a couple of them apart at work, and it seems like they could be made for about $5. I'd bet there are a lot of people and businesses out there that could use a sub-$10 bar code scanner, even if it's just to inventory their CD and book collections. Bundle it with a Linux distribution and some open-source point of sale software, and you have a $10 sales terminal (PC not included). Of course, that's assuming that :CueCat didn't exhaust the market by giving these things away for free...
  • by Accipiter (8228) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @05:55PM (#2438444)
    Anyone remember those dumb-ass infomercials that Digital Convergence ran during the CueCat's inception days?

    They were set in a classroom something like 200 years in the future. The teacher was telling the class about the wonderful beginnings of "convergence" - the era in human history (heh) that saw the merging of barcodes with the internet. It changed human existence forever, and made the world a happier place. The kids were asking questions like "What happened before 'convergence'?"

    "Ha Ha, silly little student...They had to TYPE their URLs in...By HAND!"

    The actual quote was something like "a long time ago, people had to get around on the Net by typing in each individual character of a Web address manually!"

    Future's gonna be a bit different than expected, eh Jovan?

    They had another infomercial with angels ranking the CueCat up there with the wheel and fire, but for the sake of good taste, I won't go there.
  • by shreak (248275) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @05:59PM (#2438467)
    All technology has to pass the "Wife Test"(tm) even if it's Open Source.

    True Story:

    [Wife is in office finishing up finances with Quicken]

    [Enter Husband with "great" idea]

    Husband: Hey, hon! Look at this stupid thing I just got from Wired. I found some software on the internet that will let us hack it to scan stuff and record the UPC codes.

    [Wife's productive work preempted by husband interrupt. Wife visibly reworking priority tables while "listening"]

    Wife: So?

    Husband: Well, when we go grocery shopping we can scan all the stuff before we put it away and maintain an inventory so we know how much stuff we have and .... nevermind.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @06:01PM (#2438475)
    People always talk about how dumb the CueCat was. Did you guys notice these idiots' other thing, CUETV?!?!?

    Here's their proposition:

    You pick up this free cable and software from Radio Shack. (yes, they didn't learn from the cuecat debacle)

    You bring your computer out of your study and set it up next to your TV (or TV next to your computer) and plug the audio out of your TV to the audio in of your computer using said cable.

    Install crazy software on your PC.

    Dial up your PC to the internet.

    Tune your TV to NBC, and wait....

    When a "CueTV Enhanced" commercial plays, at the end of the ad ther is a jarring burst of static. WHOA! My PC just went to the webpage for that ad! THIS IS SO WORTH ALL THE TROUBLE! GOD BLESS DIGITAL CONVERGENCE, THOSE MORONS!

    Yes, NBC actually fell for this, for about a month or so this summer (I think June or July) they were broadcasting ads and other stuff with these annoying bursts of static that the CueTV software would pick up and decode and cause your browser to go to certain URLs. That was just about the same time D:C laid off all employees and folded up. It took NBC a few weeks to clean their programming up to get rid of the CueTV pollution after that.

    Here's the URL that proves that as ridiculous as this sounds, I'm not making this up.

    [crq.com]
    CueTV! Yay!
    • by jms (11418) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @06:18PM (#2438575)

      Here's an excerpt from the CueTV FAQ

      Question: Why would you be using your computer and television at the same time.

      Answer: You are probably watching a television program, and surfing the web during commercials.

      Question: Why would I want to install CueTV?

      Answer: After installing the CueTV software, you won't be able to use your computer during commercials,
      because the software will keep interrupting what you are doing to send you to advertising sites.

    • The idea of data interspersed with TV broadcasts was done before. From 1981 to 1986 the BBC did 'telesoftware' where programs for the BBC Micro were transmitted on certain Teletext pages. (The teletext system uses the gap between frames (the flyback period) rather than bursts of static interrupting the picture and sound itself.)
  • by motherhead (344331) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @06:01PM (#2438477)
    A friend of mine was showing me his new quecat, it was sent to him with a Wired subscription. I had asked him what it was good for. he told me me that at the moment not a whole lot, but then mentioned, "ever open up some ancient pentium system and see some old Seagate or Western Digital that has no model number or jumper settings, but it has a little bar code sticker? Wouldn't it be cool to just scan it and have the device page up in seconds?"

    "Heh." I remember thinking, I thought that might be a cool little technology stunt.

    but that never happened, what happened was they tried to re-educate me on how to watch TV and read a Magazine... hahahahahaha. No, thank you.

    G'bye Que...
  • by po_boy (69692) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @06:08PM (#2438525) Homepage
    What's all this talk about no one using the Cue::Cat? I was just sitting here watching a video on Betamax, drinking an RC cola, and scanning stuff with my Cue::Cat. It seems pretty useful and timely to me!
  • just think.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Cinematique (167333)
    ...if the investors were to have paid off a handful of college student loans or paid their way through college.

    maybe one or two out of the thousands that they could have financially supported could have, someday, thought of something much more useful to mankind.

    i like those odds better than the whole idea of the cuecat in general.
  • by UltraBot2K1 (320256) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @06:16PM (#2438561) Homepage Journal
    Okay, so we all knew Cue:Cat was a stupid idea. But there were plenty of stupider ideas. In the recently burst tech bubble, *everyone* was getting VC funding.


    I've personally know of several even more ridiculous concepts that have received funding. Here are some of my (least) favorites:

    • MyExtremeFuneral.com - This was a company that planned to profit from the demises of dot-com executives involved in extreme sports. They resold life-insurance at inflated prices and custom pre-designed funerals. In addition, one of their selling points was that they'd maintain a web-page/shrine to the deceased in perpetuity. Unfortunately(ha!) they laid off their 250(!) workers and went under 1 month after their $12 million first round funding came through.
    • KittyLitterCorner.com - Yes, they sell (*sold*) just what you'd guess from their name -- but they did it over the internet! And they were there first, which earned them close to $20 mil in VC funding. KLC.com is no longer with us, needless to say.
    • PHuMAss.com - Phumass (Personal Human Assistant) catered to the busy e-business executive with real, living, human assistants -- accessible via the web. Forget your PDA, with PHuMAss, you have a real live person (stationed in a cubicle in South Texas) to assist you, take care of your schedule, do your errands, etc.; all accessible through a convenient CGI interface anywhere you have a web connection; all for $299.95/month. RIP Phumass.
    • VA Linux Systems - Rode the Linux bubble up with one of the biggest IPOs in history. Sold off their core money-maker (the hardware business) and instead acquired liabilities such as various linux-oriented community sites. Plans to make its money by selling a piece of software that can be downloaded free from the web. VA is currently on the verge of being delisted, and bankruptcy may soon follow.

    These are just some of the cases I was personally involved in (I do due diligence for investment banks). As you can see, Cue:Cat is not that anomolous.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Well, I know about the first 3, but you've *got* to be making the last one up - certainly no VC would finance a company like that!
    • VA Linux Systems - Rode the Linux bubble up with one of the biggest IPOs in history. Sold off their core money-maker (the hardware business) and instead acquired liabilities such as various linux-oriented community sites. Plans to make its money by selling a piece of software that can be downloaded free from the web. VA is currently on the verge of being delisted, and bankruptcy may soon follow.

      Almost right but you reversed the order. They bought Slashdot et al a long time ago. They stopped selling hardware fairly recently. Turns out anyone can build an x86 box. Even Dell.

    • PHuMAss should have done the smart thing and employed convicts to be personal digital assistants. That way they could have paid them next to nothing and made larger profits. In fact, by recasting the work as training in useful skills they could probably have got money from the state/government to pay for the people as well as charging the customers. If the scheme takes off just use some of your profits to lobby for increased hacking penalties and you'll be assured of an endless supply of workers.
    • More info about the personal human assistant concept available here [pcworld.com].

      You know, those companies bombed so hard, it's hard to find any trace of them anymore. Thanks for the update.
  • Shush! (Score:2, Funny)

    by drinkypoo (153816)
    I was hoping they'd bring out a new Cue:Cat that was one of the gun-type barcode scanners. Then again, my mind recoils when I try to figure out what the trigger would look like.
  • After my Maxtor HD crashed and I lost most of my CD catalogue, I had a decent idea:
    Instead of putting every single CD into my computer, having the computer read the TOC and get the info from the CDDB or CDIndex, then ejecting it and repeating til I'm done (I have 600+ Audio CDs), why not just scan the damn UPC? Think how much faster that would work!

    However, every single goddamn online CD database refuses to include the insanely useful YEAR field, and that just pisses me off.

  • And, I do mean one. Anyone take pity on me?

    I wasn't really paying attention to /. at the time, don't live in TX, and don't have a subscription to anywhere that gave them away - so I heard about them late.
  • Radio Shack gave me ten of the scanners when I asked for them for my intro java class--and someone had kindly posted a java utility class, which I had my students incorporate into some really cool projects. One kid printed his list of bookmarks on his t-shirt as bar codes and wrote a small applet to browse to a scanned site.
  • It would have been a cool part of this article if they had mentioned that hackers figured out how the device worked and came up with useful applications for it, only to be met with the DC's ridiculous claims that this somehow violated their rights.

    We /.ers are all to familiar with it, but the general public may not be.
  • One word for you: HYPOCRITES [coca-karma.com] . (good read, go there!)
  • What about Digimarc? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Talkischeap (306364)

    I recieved a Cue Cat quite unexpectedly, from Wired Magazine one day, and never considered hooking it up to my computer, because I like to read my magazines away from my computer.

    However, I did use the nifty patch cord that came with the Cue Cat , to go from my computer sound card to my stereo system, so now I can enjoy my MP3's through my quality speakers.

    I wonder if some of you are aware of Digimarc? [digimarc.com]

    Quite some time before the Cue Cat marketing blitz, Digimarc gave away a bunch of Intel CMOS cams, if one agreed to test their "Digimarc MediaBridge" technology for a year.

    My girlfriend and I signed up, and got our cams, and each month went to their web site and answered questions about our use of their tech.

    Before the year was up, the emails stopped coming, and I haven't heard from them for a long time now. Although they still seem to be in business.

    I think their idea was a much better one than the Cue Cat, because it used the cam to "see" links embedded into images (a digital watermark of sorts), and the links were quite invisible.

    I discovered two drawbacks to this technology, the obvious being, one needs to be reading their magazine next to their computer. And the other was the lighting needed to be strong, and even, for the links to function at all.

    When I'm working at my computer the light level varies all the time, and the MediaBridge needed consistant lighting conditions. This I feel, isn't a "real world" tool for those reasons, good idea though.

  • actual use (Score:2, Interesting)

    by hawkeyeerik (528953)
    i print out custom barcodes and use my free cuecat (minus their software) to bring up ms access database records.
  • I use mine constantly to catalog new DVDS (With DVD Profiler [dvdprofiler.com]... just scan, and it downloads info and cover images from online... took about 15min to catalog about 140 DVDs) and books (With ReaderWare [readerware.com], which uses the ISBN number on the book to pull info from various online retailers.)

    One of the most idiotic items ever? Only if you were trying to sell something with it. ;^)

APL is a write-only language. I can write programs in APL, but I can't read any of them. -- Roy Keir

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