Is YouTube illegally advertising to kids?

Internet firms have a tough time dealing with the kids issue.

The temptation to rope children into brand loyalty is great, but many of the things that are most effective are at least immoral, if not illegal. After all, kids’ brains aren’t fully formed and they are even easier to manipulate than the rest of us.
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Shocking viral videos: Could this be your company on YouTube?

Editor’s note: I have some exciting news this morning! I’ve started a blog for CBS Interactive called @Your Service, which explores the relationship between companies and their customers. I’m going to start excerpting from the posts on my site. Please drop by and visit, comment and vote in the poll.

Don’t look now, but your company’s customer service problems may be about to go viral.

There are thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of videos about customer service missteps that can be found online. But a few are so infectiously bad that they go “viral” on sites like YouTube and are seen by a mass audience.

Customers connect with these clips, take comfort in them and are often inspired by them. The videos can also inflict untold damage on your company’s reputation and bottom line.

Read the rest of the post. (Please note — this is a brand-new blog, and your involvement is very important. I hope you’ll consider leaving a comment and getting involved in the discussion, which I promise, will be lively and interesting!)

The agony and ecstasy of online travel videos

videoAllow me to vent for a minute.

Online video may be the future of travel, but it is most certainly not the present.

I’ve just spent the weekend battling a Samsung video camera, Apple’s Final Cut Pro and YouTube, and I can say that with absolute certainty. Yes, video — specifically high-definition video — will revolutionize the way we travel. And soon.

But not just yet.
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Where do you post all those soon-to-be viral vacation videos? Click here to upload

Good thing YouTube isn’t losing as much money as everyone thought, because when it comes to posting your vacation videos online, you probably don’t want to waste your time anywhere else. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

Of course there are other sites where you could upload your travel clips. There’s Flickr, run by Yahoo. And Vimeo, which specializes in smooth, high-definition video. And scores of smaller sites that I won’t even bother mentioning, not so much because I don’t want to confuse you, but because I don’t want to confuse myself.

I love YouTube. I also hate it. I’ll get to the reasons in second. First, though, let’s have a look at the other two contenders.

Flickr is primarily a photo-sharing site. I post all of my pictures to my Flickr account, which allows me to share snapshots with friends, groups and even do some limited editing. About a year ago, Flickr allowed you to upload videos — much to the horror of some resident professional photographers, who were dead-set against the idea of video soiling their corner of social media AstroTurf. Since these probably were the same people who swore they would never shoot anything but film back in the mid-90s, you can’t take their protest too seriously.

Flickr is extremely forgiving, when it comes to the type of video it accepts. It allowed me to upload virtually any format and displayed it correctly without any letterboxing or otherwise screwing with anamorphic ratios. For someone who has spent many hours resubmitting my clips to Final Cut’s Compressor application, in a futile effort to make it look right online, I can safely say this is Flickr’s best quality.

Its worst? You’re limited to just 90 seconds. So you have to be brief.

On the other hand, no site handles video in a more sophisticated way than Vimeo. Loading your clips is a cinch. Vimeo plays high-definition videos with astounding clarity, and without the dropped frames you see on other services. (Dropped frames are basically when your video stutters and jumps around, and it makes all your hard work look like something shot on a disposable camera.) There are a number of really innovative networking features, but unless you have $59 to spend on Vimeo Plus, you probably don’t want to bother. You’re bound to run up against space limits on the free version, may upload only one HD video a week, and aren’t allowed to embed your own videos on your site — unless you’re willing to pay.

And why pay for something that you can get for free?

All of which brings me to YouTube.

I wish this Google-owned site were as easy and fun to use as Vimeo, but it gets my recommendation only because its free, and it works. Not always, but most of the time. In a previous column, I described my frustration with how YouTube handled aspect ratios on the Canon Vixia HFS10. Well, I finally figured out how to get rid of that annoying black border I was griping about. Load everything into YouTube as a 1920-by-1080 video, and suddenly, it’s gone.

While researching this problem, I discovered this hurdle had been encountered, and overcome, by a couple of people who weren’t content to live with the letterboxing, but that they kept the answer to themselves because they apparently didn’t want to share. Something about YouTube’s secret sauce. Not good.

Despite all of its faults, YouTube has become the de-facto standard for video online — a kind of MS-DOS of the moving image. This is both comforting and distressing. It’s comforting, because you know everyone else is trying to work with this imperfect technology. And it’s distressing because, well — it’s imperfect.

Want better customer service? Look to your inner journalist

The ticket agent just threw the book in your face. The hotel clerk gave you a firm “no.” The rental agent shook his head when you asked for a car.

Do you:

1. Call your travel agent.
2. Phone the toll-free reservation number and tattle on the employee.
3. Whip out your cell phone camera.

If you answered “3” then meet Pat Siefe, who has looked to his inner journalist a time or two for better customer service.

For example, let’s say you were sent to a fleabag motel after your hotel ran out of rooms, a problem I described in yesterday’s MSNBC column.

Photograph everything and everyone. This assures the hotel that you can ID the people you dealt with, can show the hotel that you were suppose to be in, and the quality of it, and the flea trap you were put in and the quality of that.

You need say nothing.

No employee wants to be associated with the pictures, and they will do anything to keep from being, including assuring that you have a better room. If cheap tickets wants to compare the quality of the hotels, and know who did it, you have the pics. If later you want to contest the charge with Visa, or sue the hotel in small claims, you can prove your case.

It helps to get a few specifics. Trying to secure that information often encourages an employee to do the right thing.

Most cameras, and phones now days will also record. Set it between the two of you, announce the person’s name that you are talking to, than ask them if they mind your recording the conversation (this also works for airlines and other groups).

Saying “I do not want to be recorded” looks horrible, and most people know that if the tape of them refusing to be recorded is played for a supervisor or the courts, they will lose. Further, if they get mean, or obnoxious the recording will get them fired.

Usually this means that you are treated politely and with respect and the problem is solved. They know that if this is than played to their boss, it will show the boss that they are doing a good job. Trust me, it works.

It’s a shame that such tactics are necessary. But at a time when customer service scores are circling the drain in the travel industry, what else can we do?

The reservations numbers are staffed by script-reading drones, so no luck there. If you booked through an online travel agency, their 800-numbers are also staffed by employees who sometimes don’t even have the authority to make a phone call or send an e-mail.

Citizen journalism is your last, best hope of getting what you deserve when you travel.