Free the Net!

This is a pet peeve story.

Up to early 2007, free wifi signals dotted the urban landscape of San Francisco and one could just park the car, open the laptop and voila! be on. Now, people have figured out how to set up WEP passwords due to the imagined threat of "drive-by" spammers who, as urban myth has it, find a free wifi signal to unleash their spam distribution. We had grown accustomed to wifi being like electricity... open and free.

I (and I'm sure countless others) mentally note every free wifi coffee shop in the neighborhoods where we have meetings so we can refer to them immediately. These shops always get my business. Coffee shop owners complain of wifi-loungers, so they should do what this brilliant bakery chain Panera Bread does - they offer free wifi except between the lunch hours of 11:00 - 2:00 when wifi use is restricted and clocked to 30 minutes. Panera is my meeting spot of choice whenever I'm in SoCal. Every restaurant chain should do this.

Booking a conference at a hotel expecting a reasonable price for a conference wifi setup? At the Marriott Irvine, $300 + $50 per hookup... for 100 people on the internet, that's $5,300.... no wonder conference organizers are so stingy with their login/passwords. Anyone out there who can connect me to a hotel sales manager in Orange County? I'm serious... any hotel that gives me a reasonable wifi deal gets all my business.

There is a new attitude, a shift in consciousness, that the internet age has engendered. With the social expectation, even obligation of data democracy and the inherent generosity that such distribution entails, society rankles at any obvious overcharges. We all condemn the $3.00 per minute hotel phone long distance charges of yesteryear, so when we encounter Starbucks charging $10 per day for wifi, we put Starbucks on our personal blacklist. Can't corporations see this new branding challenge? I subconsciously hate Starbucks and condemn them viciously in my search for a Panera, despite my preference for Starbucks coffee. If I were a brand manager, I would strengthen my brand by eliminating any product or practice that would be perceived negatively by my customer.

I think I'm a typical consumer with this atttude. The lesson for real estate - generosity of data. Make it easy for your potential client to get real estate information they want (as in a blog) first... don't force them to sit through an interview like a 2-hour time share sales pitch to get that information. It makes them resentful.

Tomorrow I talk about Meraki.

UPDATE: STARBUCKS dumps T-mobile for ATT wifi (h/t to Realty Blogging)

People who have a Starbucks prepaid gift card can get two hours of free Wi-Fi per day at Starbucks. Glenn Fleishman confirms that no purchase is needed: You can buy and activate a card for $5, and then get free Wi-Fi from that day forward.



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  • 1/31/2008 11:57 PM loren nason wrote:
    So true about starbucks and panera

    In OC go to Kenos in Anaheim for free wifi.

    And so true about RE. Give me the data I want w/o the pitch and not raping me for my info and I'll come back
    Reply to this

  • 2/1/2008 12:35 AM Brad Coy wrote:
    Paying for WiFI today is a big pet-peeve of mine as well. Just today I was inquiring about meet up space to use for a group of about 50 people, most of which would use laptops. The charge for using the connection would exceed the charge for a day's use of the space. For the value we will assuredly use a space that offers free WiFi.

    Looking forward to your post on Mereki. This, I have been very curious about.
    Reply to this

  • 2/1/2008 4:09 AM Bob Carney wrote:
    Soo true. I used to drink Starbucks, but now prefer Panera as my mobile office. Even the smaller mom and pop coffee shops offer free wifi. (and the cup is usually a little cheaper)
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  • 2/1/2008 4:10 AM Jim Duncan wrote:
    Amen. This is one of the reasons why I avoid Starbucks at all costs. There are plenty of options that offer great coffee, good atmosphere and free wi-fi. Why would I go to Starbucks?

    (I drink "coffee," not a grande-mocha-latte-half-cafe-double-shot-in-the-dark-with-a-twist)
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  • 2/1/2008 5:31 AM Brian Block wrote:
    Pat, I'd have to agree that Panera offers a better option for those seeking free wifi in a comfortable cafe setting. Extended wifi loungers can be a problem everywhere however, taking up tables for hours when other patrons struggle to find a place to eat. Do you know if Paneras everywhere have that 11-2 rule?
    Reply to this

  • 2/1/2008 8:43 AM Roberta Murphy wrote:
    Ditto on Starbucks. If I headed their marketing, I would minimally offer frequent coffee buyers free WiFi.

    Better yet, make it totally free and become a magnet.

    Kudos to Panera. It's always a hit with clients (if we can find a seat).
    Reply to this

  • 2/1/2008 10:28 AM Andy Kaufman wrote:
    Yeah, the conference/wifi thing blows. I think I'm about to bite the bullet and finally get EVDO.

    & if you live in SF, check out Meraki and help build out their mesh network.
    Reply to this

  • 2/1/2008 10:45 AM Max wrote:
    Great point Pat. You just made me to think how Starbucks can cover their Internet expenses and become more realtor-friendly If I owned a shop, I would sell an advertisement - default home page of a real estate website for anyone that uses that WiFi. Or a specific landing page of your designation. Wouldn't it be cool if anyone who logs in for the first time sees your page with your photo and the Starbacks logo, so they could easily associate. Then people will start recognizing those particular agents and may be even talk to them if they have a need or a referral. I think this may worth a try talking to your favorite coffee shop This is a positive business networking and local exposure.
    Reply to this
    1. 2/1/2008 4:17 PM Pat Kitano wrote:
      Great idea! and I noticed a company ClickZ that is doing something similar to what you're proposing - Ad supported wifi network launches

      Reply to this

  • 2/1/2008 3:14 PM Brad Coy wrote:
    Looks like JetBlue is clear on the concept -
    Reply to this
  • 2/2/2008 12:02 PM Denver Mortgage wrote:
    People like transparency, hence an appropriate name for your blog. A lot of people are weary of real estate agents because there is a lack of transparency -- they know the agents aren't willing to be honest with them about things like what a property is really worth. I looked at a refinance recently that I couldn't do because the guy way overpaid for his house, and it was only three months ago. He'll have a bad taste in his mouth when it comes to real estate agents because the agent he worked with wasn't transparent with him and most likely knew that he overpaid.
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