Friday, April 19, 2013

Hit Any Key to Flush

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are reprinting an article from 2003. While Microsoft USA originally denied the story, it was later revealed to be completely true. Coincidentally, this column helped him discover a plagiarist at a newspaper in Ontario, Canada.

Bringing new meaning to the slogan "Where would you like to go today?" Microsoft announced their plans to make toilets with web access.

I swear I am not making this up.

The new web-enabled toilet — called the iLoo — is being developed by the MSN division of Microsoft in Britain, where a toilet is called a "loo." The iLoo would be stationed in public toilets at British summer festivals, making its first appearance at the Glastonbury Festival in June.

And while some people may appreciate the seamless integration between technology and basic bodily functions, others aren't so wild about it.

"iPoo on iLoo" said one computer weblog.

The iLoo will have a wireless keyboard and height-adjustable plasma screen in front of the seat so iLoo users can sit and surf at the same time.

Will iLoo users be called iLosers?

There will also be a Hotmail (MSN's email service) station, complete with waterproof keyboard and plasma screen on the outside for those waiting in line.

There was no word whether the keyboard inside the iLoo would be waterproof.

MSN UK spokesman Matthew Whittingham called it the first "WWWC" referring to the European term for toilet: WC, or water closet.

MSN UK's marketing manager Tracy Blacher said, "People used to reach for a book or mag when they were on the loo, but now they'll be logging on."

Aside from Blacher's gaffe in mentioning "logging on" when referring to an Internet-based toilet, Microsoft may be taking the whole Internet thing a little too far.

"The Internet's so much a part of everyday life now that surfing on the loo was the next natural step," Blacher told reporters.

No, the next natural step is to surf the Internet in the car, in a phone booth, or through a cerebral implant lodged firmly in my brain, NOT in the toilet.

I can only imagine the planning meetings. Several sleep-deprived MSN executives were sitting around a conference table, trying desperately to come up with a new idea, and discarding the outrageous or impossible ones, like creating an operating system that doesn't freeze up or crash every 30 minutes.

Finally, one young executive, eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep, leaps to his feet and shouts "I know! Let's take a computer and stick it in — are you ready for this? — a PORT-A-POTTY!!"

Sounds great on paper, but I don't think Microsoft has considered all the drawbacks.

For instance, I'm one of those people who absolutely must wash their hands before leaving a bathroom, and I cringe whenever I see someone leave a public restroom without washing first. So I absolutely refuse to open the door without using a paper towel.

Problem #1 with the iLoo? Hygiene and cleanliness. Unless the iLoo keyboard comes with those disposable plastic covers, I'm not touching a keyboard that hundreds of other users touched after they. . . you know. Call me crazy, but I don't want to use the same computer other iLosers with poor personal hygiene and poor aim have had their germ-infested hands on.

MSN officials say they're also trying to get toilet paper imprinted with web addresses for users to visit. This is Problem #2, and it's a two-ply.

First, no self-respecting company should pay to advertise on toilet paper. They should be worried that iLosers will instead use their ads to make their feelings known about the company. So, if Microsoft is hoping to generate revenue from the iWipe (my term), they'd better not hold their breath. Although since the iLoo will be in a public Port-A-Potty, maybe they should.

Second, if they do get advertisers, it will probably be companies who pay to put their competitor's logos on the toilet paper, relying on the implied message of using that company for bathroom hygiene. If I were a politician, I'd gladly pay to put my opponent's face on a few thousand rolls of toilet paper.

While I applaud MSN UK's innovation and attempts to integrate the Internet more fully into our lives, they may be going too far. I'd rather see computer screens on a refrigerator, useful for finding recipes, or maintaining shopping lists. Web-enabled televisions, with the computer processor built right in would be a big seller. Even installing the Internet and a GPS finder in a car is a great idea, as it would make getting lost nearly impossible. But putting the Internet in a bathroom is crossing the line.

After all, it's the one place where we should all be unplugged.

(Note: I would like to take a minute and recognize the complete luck at my prediction in that next-to-last paragraph — the Internet and GPS finder in a car. You can do this to some degree with GPS and Internet radio, but the new Google driverless car is a few years from being commercially available.)

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and my other book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.


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