Anyone know “marcie” near Rittenhouse Square?

So, I’m still in Philadelphia — stuck here while Amtrak gets power going. Since I want to go online, and also want a coffee, I head over to the downtown Starbucks. I figure, what the heck, I’ll spent six bucks on their usuriously-priced daily wifi.

But whoops — the wifi isn’t turned on at this location. The staff haven’t been trained at all in dealing with data requests, so they’re clueless. So I buy a coffee and leave to go back to …

… Rittenhouse Square, the park where I found free wifi spilling out the windows of nearby citizens. This time, I’m logged on via a node called “marcie”. So, two points come to mind:

i) Does anyone reading this know who “marcie” might be? I’d like to write a thank-you note — she saved my butt today!

ii) Starbucks really ought to figure this wifi thing out. First off, as the folks at Boing Boing and Techdirt Wireless News have been arguing eloquently for weeks now, Starbucks ought to realize that they shouldn’t be selling wifi — they should be giving it away. Selling wifi is like charging for the lights in your restaurant. Moreover, they should train staff in making sure the wifi’s on. I mean, the staff is trained to make sure the lights are on, aren’t they? This stuff, I might point out, is also not rocket science. Half of today’s wifi nodes work perfectly when you simply plug them in; a staff of rhesus monkeys could keep the data flowing at a Starbucks.

And why should they be giving it away? Because of the enormous number of clients they’re losing by not doing so. I actually don’t like sitting out here in the sunny park. I’m a geek — generally horrified by the outside world, much happier in a dank, dark cafe. (I mean, there are people suntanning out here. What the hell, people? There’s no freakin’ ozone layer. There are like cosmic rays and shit pounding down on you. Go inside and play a video game, for chrissake.) I’m also a caffeine addict. So I would infinitely rather sit in a Starbucks and spent $10 on coffee for the morning while I surf. If they’d had their wifi running, they’d have sold several cups of coffee to me. In one single morning, I — one single customer — would have paid about 1/4 of the entire monthly cost of providinig wifi. But they didn’t have their act together, so I bailed, and now I’m buying coffee from a greasy spoon near the park.

The logic of this argument is so screamingly obvious that I would imagine even the dimmest executive is going to pick up on it soon.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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