business news in context, analysis with attitude

We took note a couple of weeks ago of a USA Today story about how some publications had decided to get rid of their open bulletin boards online that allowed readers to say pretty much anything they wanted about stories - which sometimes resulted in comments that the publications believed veered into hate speech.

I commented, in part:

While toxicity of sentiment, tone and actual content is not isolated to websites' comments sections, it is on these sites that they tend to achieve their highest volume and lowest standards. I found this USA Today story interesting because I made the decision almost 16 years ago on MNB not to create an online bulletin board where anybody could say anything, even though it would save me all the time that I spend reading emails and deciding which ones to post. I just figured that part of my editorial responsibility was to curate the comments and keep the conversation on course. (One always has to be aware of the lunatic fringe...)

I think that the general tenor of the discourse in America these days ... means that anyone with a website that encourages consumers to comment/respond needs to be vigilant about the things that people say there.

MNB user Tom Herman responded:

I am against any form of limiting the free exercise of speech in nearly any form. My motto is "People have a right to be wrong". It is an Orwellian slippery slope when a group of people get to decide what speech is good and what speech is bad. It always ends up being my speech is good and yours is bad. People have free will to decide if they want to participate in message boards or comment sections. If they don't agree or don't like what people say so be it don't participate. We have all been called a few choice names here and there. Part of maturity is seeing it for what it is. Protecting people from speech they don't like or feel threatened by on the Internet only leads to censorship.

Another reader wrote:

The beauty of a comments section (especially when it turns into a cesspool) is that if you don't like what is being said and are tired of refuting it you can turn off your computer, put down your tablet, walk away. You don't have to read the comments.

From another reader:

If you look at the Times’ editorial page today, they have run a series of letters on both sides of the debate over online commenting.   I have personally found the anonymous online commentary of most publications to be filled with comments that are thoughtless, gutless, or both----and even though I read several daily papers in their online version, I have always made a point to avoid their respective comment sections.

MNB user Randy Adams wrote:

I've thought for a long time that the answer to vile and obscene comments is a requirement that the actual commenters name be posted. I know a lot of people would never say the types of things they say if they were going to be tied to the comment. It is easy to say anything when you know you'll never be discovered.

MNB reader Joe Gilman wrote:

I don't agree with the silly and nasty comments one sees in these online comments sections, but I also don't agree with doing away with them also.

If there was a way to make people have to use their name in the comment section, as opposed to some online identity, I think that would help with the nastiness. If you say something with your name attached, you sort of own it.

On the subject of food safety, a subject we talk about a lot here on MNB, one reader wrote:

The trend in recent years is for more and more retailers to increase in-store food prep. Having worked in many retail locations over the years, I'm amazed that food safety regulations have not focused in this area. In retail you have many different locations, with many different employees, with various levels of training, involved in producing fresh cut SKUs in less than ideal food prep areas, at ambient room temperatures above the required range, in less than ideal prep areas of various configurations. And how those designated ares in the back rooms, behind closed doors, are shared spaces for other activities and traffic. I could go on and on. I'm amazed at what I see at retail, versus what I see for companies that specialize in food prep have for facilities that resemble operating rooms.

The same holds true with "local" produce. To tour the fields, and see the processes that larger, national growers have, and what they do to ensure safe produce, and then to do the same tour of local growers is vastly different. Wherever food is being produced, or cut, for the retail display, shouldn't all have to share in the same requirements?

They pretty much do. I think some retailers do a better job than others.

From another reader:

On the issue of the finalizing of the rules for food safety under FMSA, I realized as I read your comments that I was reading with “two heads”.
My business brain, after many proud and happy decades in the food and CPG industry, is pleased. I am praying this will go well and I am keenly aware that the bad press , recalls, and outright public danger of a few bad actors has done very little good and a lot of harm to our industry. My business brain wants to see national rules rather than a patchwork of state and local rules, I want to see compliance, and I think the lack of strong enforceable policy in such things has been a tragedy for years. We will all benefit from this in the long run. It all seems fair and logical.
My personal brain, my shopper brain, my citizen brain, is a whole lot more skeptical. I have been disturbed for years by the resistance of the industry to proper and appropriate policing, that responsibility has been avoided, that obscene amounts of money have been spent lobbying to enable labeling obfuscation, as well as on watering down prior efforts at regulation (and this one as well, I am quite certain). I see that resistance to be self-defeating but pervasive, short term thinking at its worst. I know that most of us (even myself) have never felt well served by some of the  “big food” lowest cost ingredient thinking, by formulations that were questionable, by lax practices, by corner cutting, by misleading claims (defending nonsense like berry-free blueberries or being less than effective at dealing with the implications of mad cow disease a few years ago for example), and that almost every company that has done real harm to confidence in safety has gotten less punishment and suffered fewer consequences than I, as a consumer, would wish. I won’t buy hamburger in most stores (by preference we grind it ourselves at home) we wash our veggies, we read the labels, we stay alert, and we don’t forgive easily.
My business side likes this. My personal side remains, arms folded, scanning labels, avoiding some companies, watching retailers for signs of laxity, wanting to trust but not feeling at all trusting.
As they say in Missouri – show me.

On another subject, MNB reader Todd Ruberg wrote:

I really appreciate your review of the new SF Apple store.   Design Matters…..and is STILL a big opportunity for traditional food retailers. Stores are still linear rows, “warehousing” un-curated product… many cases laid out by the retailers buying organization assignments….. walk down the “Paper”-aisle:    Wouldn’t Paper towels be better situated by Cleaning supplies?   Feminine care products near Beauty care?   etc.     What Apple is doing is “Shopper based” retail design,  and it makes a difference.    ON line too—the click through progression should  be “shopper" based.

MNB reader Tom Murphy chimed in:

I was thinking of this comment in your story on the new Apple store in San Francisco: Apple - like any retailer - has to have both compelling new products and engaging new stores.

It occurred to me that many of the retail segments, e.g., grocery, department stores, drug stores, etc. don’t have the luxury Apple has of controlling product innovation.  Other than private label product, which is frequently less about innovation and more about “me too”, retailers are stuck with manufacturer’s line extensions, “new improved” products, repackaging, and general lack of innovation.  That needs to change…until retailers refuse to stock those lackluster alternatives to innovation, it will continue to be their albatross or their center-store hell.  As my father used to say, “you deserve whatever you will put up with."

And from another reader:

You wrote: “I think most people would agree that Apple is on a bit of a design plateau at the moment. It has been a while since the company has come out with a knock-your-socks-off product.”

Notice how this “design plateau” corresponds with the absence of Steve Jobs? Tim Cook appears to be a fine executive, both strategically and tactically, but Jobs was a visionary and that’s a completely different thing. Jobs was the creative force behind Apple; without him, they’re coasting on their flagship products from his era. Those products are so strong that they’ll be able to get away with this for a while, but not too long. The end of Apple hegemony is on the horizon.

Listen, it almost unheard of for any organization to be able to replace one visionary with another - it is rare for a team to be able to replace Joe DiMaggio in center field with Mickey Mantle ... usually it ends up being someone like Bobby Murcer - a very good player, but not a DiMaggio or a Mantle.

We also got a number of emails about our story regarding Aloft's efforts to develop a smart hotel room with voice recognition capabilities.

One reader wrote:

This is exciting but I would love it if I could program the room to start to cool down before I arrive.   And then able to control the temperature remote so I could again cool it before coming back from being away, thus not wasting electricity while away.  Just some enhancement type of ideas for what they already have started!

Another MNB user wrote:

I often wish people also came with voice recognition capabilities.


And from another reader, commenting on my waxing rhapsodic about my Echo voice-recognition device from Amazon, and occasions when i've wanted to talk to my car even though it doesn't have the software:

Do you still talk to your wife?

Constantly. I actually think she's relieved when I talk to the computer. It gives her a break.

And finally, from an MNB reader who wanted to comment on my statement that last week marked the end of summer:

FYI ... Our summers in Phoenix don't end until late October.

Fair point.
KC's View: