Chumby – one advert too many!

Sceptical piece from Newswireless today about the “cuddly Internet alarm clock”:

We’ve been waiting for the Chumby since November, when NYT reporterMatthew Haughey tested a pre-production gadget which is, basically, an Internet-enabled alarm clock. He said it was “fun”:

With today’s ever-faster processors of increasing complexity, it’s good to know that some gadget designers still remember how to have fun. Chumby is a powerful little device with WiFi, a 3.5-inch screen and an interface that you can customise. If you are wondering where the fun lies, it is also covered in leather and has something called a squeeze sensor.

Some of the fun leaked out of the squeezy internet alarm clock today, when a review of  “Chumby, the Internet Beanbag” appeared on Fox’s Science News pages.

It can replace your alarm clock, rousing you with podcasts, Internet radio, or music you load on a USB drive. It can play your iPod’s MP3s through the built-in speakers. You can put it on the kitchen counter as a Web radio that shows pictures from your Flickr account when you’re not listening.

Except, it seems, you can’t:

We found we couldn’t use it as an alarm clock, because the screen is too bright even in ‘night mode.’ That’s a pity, because it’s easier to set the wake-up time than on any alarm clock I’ve known.

And, the reviewer confessed:

It’s tough to criticize the Chumby, first of all because it feels like I’m being mean to a koala bear, and secondly because the manufacturer can send software upgrades over the Internet to the devices. Some of what I’m criticising now could be fixed by next week, though of course the screen size will be the same and there will still only be one control button.

But it isn’t just the bright night light that would make most owners want to put a blanket over this internet pet.
It’s the advertising, too. As John Markoff (who somehow managed to buy one way back last year) said:

The terms-of-use on the Chumby Website reserves the right for the company to insert its own widgets (a.k.a. advertisements) into my widget stream. Like everybody else in the Web 2.0 era, Chumby is hoping to subsidize its business and the Chumby network by selling ads. Ads on my alarm clock? Is this the cool site of the day or a step closer to “Minority Report?”

For some, of course, like Markoff’s colleague, Saul Hansel, the advertising bonanza isn’t enough:

For now, people who want the sort of interactivity offered by Chumby will be happy to have access to its collection of widgets, and some content companies will be glad to pay something to reach those users.

But I’m not sure in the long run how much value the Chumby Network provides. It is simply a server that collects Flash widgets and downloads them to devices. It’s hard to imagine that if the concept of connected devices takes off that there will only be proprietary widget-serving networks. There has to be an open standard for this.

That may actually miss the point, all the same.
For all the irritations of the limited first-edition chumby, it looks like its decision to go for Flash may give it a real advantage over other Internet devices: immunity from today’s generation of spam and viruses.

As the blurb “what is a chumby?” puts it:

Keep in touch without being a slave to your computer.

But despite all the enthusiastic reviews available, it’s worth recalling a rather similar approach for something called the That was an Alan Sugar dream – an ordinary telephone, but with a screen which would display adverts. It would also target direct mail advertising. It remains a potential, not real success.

Advertising is a great way to make money, but it really is approaching the time when the blacklash kicks in. This is the age of the fast-forward PVR, the Adblock Firefox Add-on (“it’s a snap to filter elements at their source-address”) and the advert overkill that makes people actually avoid TV channels which offer too many ads

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