Remember when cafes were limned with disheveled books and the scattered innards of newspapers, all free-for-the-taking? Cafes have long been a haven for browsers of both of the literary and digital sort, which has not been lost on Starbucks. Now you can get your media and caffeine fix at the same time, thanks to the Starbucks Digital Network. (Cue frothing noise.)
Our local Starbucks, a popular roost for people-watching and other anthropological studies of Sonoma culture, redirects its Wi-Fi users to the new content network whenever one logs onto the system. The network effectively rejiggers the front-page experience one will (digitally) unfurl with the morning cuppa – as a recent release explains, the venture will be “Serving up a collection of hand-picked premium news, entertainment and lifestyle content along with local insights and events.” This, of course, is Phase Two of Starbucks’ recent “Free Wi-Fi” initiative, which, no one understood until now.
The model goes something like ye olde “give ’em the razor, sell ’em the blades” but with “eyeballs” somehow in the mix, if you will forgive the macabre mixed metaphor. What’s germane is the fact that the SDN experience can only be had when in an actual Starbucks store (or least while poaching their Wi-Fi while having a burrito next door).
Of their customers, Stephen Gillett, Starbucks executive vice president, chief information officer and Digital Ventures general manager, said, “They’re connecting with the brand digitally in numerous ways.” For that matter, Gillet should connect his title to Bit.ly and get it a little more tweetable. Moreover, until I can download my soy “misto” Pike’s Place brew, I’m not sure just how digitally-connected I am to the brand.
The project’s PR made a big to-do that the network boasts “hand-picked premium content,” which is a demure way of saying a human, not a Google algorithm, will be shaping one’s experience. Or more specifically, someone who once worked at a newspaper is really, really happy to have a job. The network boasts six “channels,” which include “News, Entertainment, Wellness, Business & Careers, My Neighborhood and Starbucks.” Yahoo Sports will be buried somewhere in the News department with other “snackable content,” which suggests someone over there has been reading Nick Bilton’s I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted
and makes a case for content served in “bytes, snacks and meals,” which is sort of like tall, venti and grande but slightly more confusing.
Other partners include permutations of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal a couple of book clubs, Foursquare, GOOD, LinkedIn, New Word City and The Weather Channel, as well as iTunes, Nick Jr. Boost and docs culled from SnagFilms. Where’s SonomaNews.com in this mix of content suppliers? The network’s My Neighborhood feature has apparently been outsourced to Patch.com, which proffers community news via a “full-time, professional journalist who acts as reporter, editor and all-around manager.” Seeing as Sonoma is listed under the site’s “Coming Soon” section, apparently that professional journalist has yet to be found. Hmm. Well, I’ll contribute by writing on the bathroom walls – digitally speaking.