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Internet in the News

Page history last edited by ted.coopman@... 9 years, 11 months ago

Here are some news items concerning the Internet and related new media


Coffeehouse owners pull plug on Wi-Fi

By Jessica Guynn
Los Angeles Times
Posted: 08/19/2010 02:42:53 PM PDT
Updated: 08/19/2010 05:11:18 PM PDT

SAN FRANCISCO -- Housed in an old San Francisco
warehouse, Four Barrel Coffee -- with its vintage
record player, 53-year-old coffee roasting machine,
tables hewn from recycled wood and wall of
mounted boar heads -- calls one of the world's
most wired cities home.

But don't expect to get an Internet connection there.
Coffee connoisseurs hooked on this roaster's beans
won't find a working signal -- or even a power
outlet. The uninitiated often try to plug into a fake
one that owner Jeremy Tooker spray painted on the
wall as a gag.

"There are lots of marks on the drywall," Tooker
said, laughing.
In Palo Alto, the Coupa Cafe offers some of the
fastest Internet service in town. But even this
popular hangout for entrepreneurs and venture
capitalists bans Wi-Fi on weekends to make room
for customers sans laptops.

"We had big parties or family groups who wanted to
eat but had no room," said Jean Paul Coupal, who
runs the cafe with his mother, Nancy. "They were
getting upset about it. They felt the whole place was
being taken over by techies."

Coffee shops were the retail pioneers of Wi-Fi,
flipping the switch to lure customers. But now some
owners are pulling the plug. They're finding that W
i-Fi freeloaders who camp out all day nursing a
single cup of coffee are a drain on the bottom line.
Others want to preserve a friendly vibe and keep
their establishments from turning into "Matrix"-like
zombie shacks where people type and
don't talk.

That shift could gather steam now that free Wi-Fi is
less of a perk after coffee giant Starbucks stopped
charging for it last month.

"There is now a market niche for not having Wi-Fi,"
said Bryant Simon, a Temple University history
professor and author of "Everything but the Coffee:
Learning About America From Starbucks."
And not just for Luddites. Web designer Mike
Kuniavsky, who has spent his career dissecting
people's relationship to digital technology, hangs
out at Four Barrel Coffee precisely because he can
disconnect from the Internet and concentrate on his
thoughts. That's where he wrote his upcoming book
on consumer electronics design: "Smart Things."
"No Wi-Fi is the reason I was able to write the book,"
Kuniavsky said.

Dan and Nathalie Drozdenko turned off the Wi-Fi at
their Los Angeles cafe when it malfunctioned. The
complaints poured in, but so did the compliments:
Lots of customers appreciated an Internet-free cup
of joe at the Downbeat Cafe, a popular lunch spot.
This is a 180-degree turn from the always-on
culture of San Francisco, where the first Wi-Fi cafe
went online in 2000. That's when Cliff Skolnick, a
networking engineer who became a champion of
piping free Wi-Fi to the world, beamed a wireless
connection to the coffee shop near his apartment.
The owners of Martha & Bros. Coffee Co. never even
knew, Skolnick said.

Soon independent cafes began offering laptoptoting
customers free access to the Internet to poach
customers from Starbucks. But many discovered that
Wi-Fi could eat into their business.

Coffeehouses have always attracted bookish
deadbeats who stayed too long and bought too
little. But suddenly these shops were teeming with
electricity- and table-hogging laptops, leaving trails
of tangled power cords and hard feelings.
Too many customers spread out at big tables for
long stretches over a lukewarm mug, forcing cafes
to turn away business. One New York cafe even had
a customer who installed himself and his desktop
computer at one of its tables each day.

Cafe owners grumbling the loudest are those who
serve meals. Customers who linger solo at large
tables while working on their laptops can squeeze
out the more lucrative lunch or dinner crowds. That
got to be a bigger headache during the recession
when frugal customers consumed less and stayed
even longer, prompting more cafes to impose
restrictions to boost turnover.

Even as the economy rebounds, some eateries are
keeping the Wi-Fi off during peak hours. The Literati
Cafe in Brentwood unhooks access during the
lunchtime rush, manager Jon Eiswerth said.
The middle ground for Nook in San Francisco's
Russian Hill district is banning Wi-Fi in the
evenings and on weekends.

"People were sitting all day long on one cup of
coffee, blocking tables. Nobody was talking, and
there was no table turnover. It was hard to make
money," owner Nicola Blair Nook said. "I turn off the
Wi-Fi and in 10 minutes all the computers are

Cafe owners have tried a variety of tactics to foil Wi-
Fi squatters.

They put out signs that ask laptop users to share
tables or point them to nearby Wi-Fi hotspots such
as public libraries. They hand out wireless
passwords that expire in an hour. They cover
electrical outlets (less effective now that customers
come armed with laptops sporting longer battery
lives or with spare batteries). Computer bans extend
to iPads and even Kindles and other e-readers,
although paper books and other reading materials
are still embraced.

Tooker of Four Barrel Coffee says he turned his cafe
into a wireless-free zone to encourage his
customers to interact with one another rather than
their computer screens.

He opened his first coffee shop, Ritual Roasters,
with his former business partner Eileen Hassi in San
Francisco in 2005. They installed Wi-Fi to draw a
crowd -- a strategy that worked too well. Ritual
Roasters had to clamp down after techies with
laptops and business plans took over the space.
The cafe now covers the electrical outlets with
switch plates.

"We just realized it was a mistake. People would just
camp out for hours, literally eight hours on one cup
of coffee. We only had 75 seats, and those were
always full," Tooker said. "It killed the vibe, too."

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