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NOTES FROM THE FIELD: Priceline drops Shatner

NOTES FROM THE FIELD: Priceline drops Shatner

Among all the recent dot-com casualties, television viewers will be saddened by Priceline.com's stock price hit. It means that Captain Kirk (William Shatner, who was paid in stock by the company for his television commercial performances), is leaving the discount airline ticket site. Randi, a rabid Star Trek fan, has been moping around my apartment ever since the news came out.

Apparently, she has a thing for aging-yet-hip cultural icons. "Without Bill Shatner, Priceline is nothing, Bobby," she sighed. Mourning the loss, Randi has been playing Shatner's spoken word album, The Transformed Man, over and over. I've been spending a lot of extra time at the office.

Priceline.com's not the only online company having trouble lately. A lot of readers have written in that site performance at PayPal, the escrow service used primarily by auction site buyers and sellers, slowed to a crawl in the days around Thanksgiving. Others have reported instances of double billing. And one poor user found that his PayPal account got hacked, and withdrawals of $1000, $2000 and $3000 were made against the account before it got locked by the company.

One vendor who sells beer and winemaking supplies online said that the site was "so slow and full of bugs that many of my customers either opted to send money or got billed twice. Then PayPal refused to refund their fee."

Wal-Mart Stores is known for its discount prices to consumers. But the company has also made a point of getting the best deal it can from its own vendors. Wal-Mart, in the market for storage products, pitted vendors EMC and IBM against each other recently in a bidding war. EMC eventually won the deal, but the competition was so intense it ended up cutting its price by 65 per cent.

Verizon Communications, the giant telco formed by the merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE (and before that Nynex) is still not large enough to be immune to spam.

The company's ISP mail servers were brought to their knees recently by the nasty stuff. Customers who relied on Verizon for their e-mail were out of luck for a whole day while the company figured out how to separate the good e-mail from the bad.

Music is not the universal language

Those of us who occasionally like to listen to MP3s (except for spoken word pieces by Shatner) were in for a bout of frustration recently when grabbing files from MP3.com.

It seems that if you are using either of the two biggest players, Windows Media Player or Real Player, you may have trouble listening to music from that site. MP3.com acknowledges that there is a problem and recommends customers download free MP3 players Winamp and MusicMatch, or Sound-Jam for Mac users.

Randi called me at the office. "When are you coming home, Bobby?" she asked. I could still hear Shatner in the background. "Don't wait up," I said.

Robert X. Cringely is a regular contributor to ARN's sister publication Infoworld


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