The Friday Grab Bag: Cloverfield Marketing, Hacked, and More

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yes, I saw it

Originally uploaded by sogrady

For the curious, I survived last night’s Tech Meetup just fine, thank you very much. I was even up early this morning, thanks to the fact that someone has recently flipped the “old” switch on me. You know, the one that prevents you from sleeping past 7? Yeah, not good times, bad times.

Anyhow, the planned Lotusphere wrapup post is currently on hold pending a spin through the Lotus gang’s preliminary SaaS effort over at Bluehouse, so you’re left with the usual miscellaneous grab bag of items that aren’t getting their own entries.

Airline Information Dispersal

I got delayed Sunday afternoon flying out of Denver into Orlando. If you’re even remotely familiar with my…checkered travel history, you expected that. Also, that Orlando would cloud up and cool off for the duration of my stay. Which it did. What continues to surprise me, though I should know better, is how poorly airlines handle the data regarding the now inevitable delays.

After we still weren’t boarding our flight 25 minutes before the scheduled departure time, I wandered up to the gate, waited patiently for a minute or two, then politely inquired as to the status of our flight. The verdict? Customs was holding up our plane at another gate, ergo the delay. Total expected delay? A half hour or so. No big deal; in fact, for me, that’s early.

A minute later I watched perhaps a dozen of my fellow travellers saunter up to the gate, in most cases to ask the exact same question, and to receive the exact same answer. In other words, gate staff are compelled to address the exact same question over and over, while passengers that choose not to bother with the gate are deprived of information that might be relevant to them or the parties meeting them.

There has to be a better way. Maybe it’s true that SMS notification, simple as the technology might seem, is beyond the reach of cash strapped carriers. But there are these simple LCD displays designed to communicate information that could, you know, communicate the relevant information.

Perhaps I’m naive to think that improvements in communication between an airline and its passengers would benefit both parties, but I know I’d appreciate it.

The Denver Tech Meetup

Denver’s least ambitious occasional gathering of technology workers was excellent. As usual, and as expected. Talk ranged from the obvious (Macbook Air) to the inadequacies of various airlines (United), and speaking only for myself it was good times. My thanks and appreciation to everyone that took the time out to make it, and for those that missed it, all kinds of hellfire will be raining down on you soon. ish.

Last.fm Recommended Shows

After missing David Bazan and Flogging Molly shows in December simply because I didn’t learn of them in time, I began casting about for a solution that would monitor either my listening habits or my stored library, cross reference that with upcoming shows in my area, and keep me posted. No perfect solution has presented itself as yet, but the Last.fm Recommended Events feature is better than adequate. While it occasionally slips and drops in a show for an irrelevant geography, it’s been pretty effective at pointing me to relevant shows in the area. Nothing I’m attending, as yet, but I suspect it’s just a matter of time. If you have a Last.fm account and profile, visit the Events page and look for the “Recommended Events” link. Step 2, enjoy.

So We Got Hacked

You might have noticed that redmonk.com has been bounced quite a bit of late, and that we’ve been Twitter-like in the frequency of our outages. Given that we’re running on a dual Opteron box backed with four gigs of RAM whose entire mission in life is to run a handful of WordPress instances, you might have concluded that something was afoot. And you would have been right.

Reconstructing events as precisely as we can, sometime back in November, we neglected to keep one of our WordPress instances up-to-date and the bad guys used it to achieve a foothold onto our machine. That’s the bad news. The better news is that good guys, better known as Inverse Path, came to the rescue and in the space of a couple of emails had determined a.) what had happened, b.) what was wrong at present (PHP Root Shell – oops), and c.) what was needed to remedy the situation. I can’t speak positively enough about the job that Andrea Barisani and his team did. They were responsive, they were efficient, they were thorough, and most importantly for me – as sysadmin is not a role I play well on TV – they were patient. And no, I don’t get a discount if I say nice things: they really are that good. Thanks also to Gentoo’s Donnie Berkholz for the recommendation.

While it’s possible that the spotty performance of hicks of late is unrelated to the penetration, I tend to doubt it. Prior to the last month, I was posting some bangup uptime. Hell, until sometime this fall the machine hadn’t been restarted in about 2 years. Anyhow, we believe that we’re more or less on top of the situation now, and would appreciate it if the bad guys would just go away. There are a couple of things still broken that I’m aware of, but if you see something wonky definitely let me know.

What Cloverfield Can Teach You About Community Marketing

I’ve spoken with a couple of audiences on this subject, to decidely mixed reviews. Possibly because the Blair Witch style cinematography made a whole score of people seasick. But whatever you think about the merits of the film itself – and as I’ve seen Tremors north of a hundred times, you definitely don’t want my opinion – the marketing approach that accompanied it is worth a bit of study. The Boston Globe concurs, pointing to Cloverfield Clues among other spoilers.

Without giving too much away here, the folks behind Cloverfield eschewed many of the traditional marketing approaches in favor of websites for the fictional companies that provide the backstory, cross-promotion of the fictional products of the fictional companies, MySpace pages and interactions for the primary characters, and a variety of other clues strung across the internet. Clues and interactions that were subsequently and meticulously pieced together by avid fans.

Now before anyone takes this too literally, I’m not recommending that you go create a MySpace page for your product. But I think it is useful to consider the curiosity underlying the behaviors that made this viral marketing campaign a monster success. Where monster is defined as the biggest January opening for a North American movie. Ever. As Cloverfield’s producer put it, “People had that kind of excitement and discovery that you just don’t have anymore.”

Subsequent films will undoubtedly try to replicate this marketing and box office success and fail miserably, inevitably being tarred as unoriginal and “me too”. But human nature is such that we all still loves puzzles – or did you think that the DaVinci Code was really that good? – and that can be embraced if you’re clever.


  1. 1. Some airlines do, in fact, let you sign up for flight status emails. I did it with Continental when I was flying down to Houston in December while a snowstorm was hitting us. They sent status updates on the hour for about 4 hours before the flight. I’m not sure how quickly updates would have been made had there, in fact, been a delay. (As it turned out things kept on schedule.)

    2. I generally agree about Cloverfield but, like the Blair Witch Project at the time, I expect a lot of the effectiveness is in the novelty. If everyone did this for every movie, I’m not sure people would really have the energy to play along.

  2. I’ve had my blog hijacked by the bad guys and it’s a terrible experience. And I hate patching WordPress to plug the known holes — having a great sysadmin to bail you out is invaluable — Mark Cahill at Vario is my genius.

    And your comments on inefficient information distribution by the airlines hits a major chord and reinforces that the best way to stay ontop of an airline is to do your own digging. They part with information grudgingly at best.

  3. American has SMS notifications, but the problem is they don’t really use them very consistently. Sometimes, I get an SMS message way ahead of the gate agent knowing anything, other times I don’t get any txt at all when the plan has been obviously delayed 30-60 minutes.

    While “fixing” this is probably “easy” from our perspective, I bet every airline has the same problem as a creeky, costly the change or add to system so they don’t do jack.

    Really, though, they outta DIY it and just put up a big sticky note that says: “current status: delayed, we don’t know how long, stop asking.”

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