Ford Flex Road Trip – Thoughts So Far

Ford FlexWe’ve been tooling around in the Ford Flex for about three days now. On Saturday, we drove from Topeka, KS to Branson, MO to visit family (about a 5 hour drive). What do we think about the Flex so far? Here are our likes and dislikes:

Likes:

Plenty of room: this car, as my wife put it, has “boo-koodles of room.” We are, of course, comparing it to our other family car, a Mazda 5. We like the Mazda … but on a multi-hour trip, our family of five starts feeling a little cramped. The Ford Flex has A LOT of space to spread out, and fits our family of five quite nicely.

Design: apparently some people don’t like the boxy shape of the Flex. We think it’s pretty cool. In fact, when the car arrived, my two younger kids could be found sitting in the car for kicks. The interior is nice, too – lots of black, lots of leather, and some retro wood grain trim (which you’ll either think is cool in a retro way or it’ll remind you of your dad’s 77 El Dorado in a bad way).

Drive: it drives nicely – very smooth on the highway and in town. It’s a bigger car – reminds me slightly of driving a truck – but it’s still very easy to handle.

Technology: I’m a geek, so I like lots of fun tech… and this car has lots of fun tech! The console has what Ford calls their “navigation system.” It’s touch screen! That’s cool. The GPS map worked well, the radio/CD player has great sound and lots of visual, touch screen options for moving sound to different speakers, and an option to connect your phone to the system for hands-free talking (I think you need an adapter for that, which I didn’t have). There’s even a 110v 3-prong plug in the car so you don’t have to use adapters – that is a cool geek-inspired surprise.

Rear view camera: this is a cool feature. When you put the Flex in reverse, the rear view camera is activated, and you see what’s behind you via the cam – nice. I think it’d be cool to have that view as an “on all the time” option – like for highway lane changing.

Dislikes:

Voice activated navigation: Didn’t work well for us. Both my wife and I tried it, with mixed results. Sure, we were able to navigate with it … but only navigate around the menus. When we tried to put in my parents’ address, the system didn’t understand us. When that happens, it gives a couple of best guesses that you can choose from. None of the system’s guesses were even close! I played with it later, and discovered that the Sirius map service has my parents living on the wrong street (even though their street has been around for at least five years. Maybe they haven’t updated their map in five years? Maybe I goofed up? Not sure… but either way, it didn’t work for us.

Ford’s marketing: ok, this dislike isn’t really about the car. But the marketing links I was sent are … well … stereotypical icky marketing. Listen to this: “From its planted stance and broad shoulders …” are we talking about a car or a cow here? It continues “… to its all-black greenhouse and contrasting, two-tone roof…” – greenhouse? As far as I can tell, they’re either talking about the interior of the car or the window parts on the outside of the car. Either way, greenhouse is a silly thing to call it. Try looking that up in Google and see what you find (hint – you won’t find anything relating to cars). They continue by comparing the interior of the car to a limo (it’s not the same), then they say this: “we wanted the interior to be a place of contemorary, relaxed style … somewhere you could feel very comfortable, yet involved and connected.” I’ll agree here – the Flex is certainy comfortable. But “involved and connected?” What’s that even mean??? Silly, silly marketers. Stop it.

Price: it’s a large, roomy car with lots of cool features, and is priced that way. The sticker price is approximately $43,000 …. way out of my price range. But then we’re a bit different. We usually set aside some “get a new car money,” then end up with a car that’s just 2-3 years old and costs half the price of a new car. Much smarter way to buy a car, if you can swing it.

So far? There are a couple of secondary things that I’m not tickled with (the mapping system’s voice activation feature). And the marketing (which I always ignore anyway) and the price. But the car itself? The Flex drives well, it’s very comfortable, and it’s loaded with some cool features.

1-2 more videos and possibly one more text post coming – stay tuned!

Playing with the Navigation System

More posts later … but for now, here’s a quick little video of the navigation system that came with this Ford Flex. I’m sure some of you already have satellite mapping sytems, so it’s not new to you! But for me, it’s pretty cool stuff.

This Flex has a Sirius Navigation system, and it’s nice. I was actually quite impressed that it even knew when I was on the on/off ramps of a highway – I’m used to Google Maps or even MapQuest types things, so having a seemingly much more accurate map that knows where I am … well, that’s just cool.

Test Driving & Experience

Ford FlexA warning for my regular readers – I don’t usually stray very far from professional topics on this blog (well, unless you’ve seen my videos or pics). For the most part, I’m all about social media, technology, and libraries. However, for the next few days, I’m also turning into a car reviewer. Huh? Let me explain …

Rachel from Social Media Group recently emailed, asking if I was interested in test driving a Ford Flex! Here’s the deal – I get to drive the car for about 5 days, and blog/twitter/video my experience driving and using the car. Which works quite well with my family, since we’re headed on a small road trip to visit my parents this weekend.

Seriously.

OK. So why am I doing this? A couple reasons come to mind:

  1. Book promotion. It’s quite possible that my posts will be linked and/or mentioned elsewhere. So I’m hoping people click through to my blog, see the link to my book … etc. More book sales is always a good thing.
  2. I write about emerging technology … and this car purportedly HAS emerging technology… we’ll see.
  3. They want my “authentic voice” or “experience” – if you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’ll know I’m all about the experience! That felt right to me.
  4. Hoping that other librarian bloggers get noticed more in the general blogosphere. We’re smart! We’ve been doing SEO/search/IA/Usability/etc for much longer than most. And we NEED to have a bigger voice in that arena. Maybe this will help us get noticed a bit more? (ok, that one’s a bit of a stretch).
  5. And of course, there’s the “OhMyGoodnessGraciousTheyOfferedMeACarToTestDrive” reason, too. I admit, this is probably reason #1… so shoot me.

So there you have it! Enjoy … or just mark it “read” and move along…

Extreme Customer Service at Darien Library

I recently visited Darien Library with the goal of checking out their innovative approach to technology – goal achieved! Check out the video in this post (and thanks to John Blyberg for the tour and for putting up with my video camera!). While their technology is amazingly cool, that’s not really what excited me. What excited me most was Darien’s idea of extreme customer service.

During my Darien visit, I had the privilege of chatting with Louise Berry, Alan Gray, and John Blyberg over lunch (great lunch, great conversation – thanks guys!). We talked about technology, new library buildings, and how we should be serving our library customers. Louise and Alan told me about their library’s core message – extreme customer service. Basically, they want to demonstrate extreme customer service in everything they do.

This idea of a “core message” is discussed in the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath. Most of the book is devoted to making your core message “stick” – this is what Darien Library has done.

They even provided examples. During lunch, Louise, Alan and John mentioned an after-hours wine and cheese event they held at the library. The library was closed, but doors were open. Patrons not attending the event came in anyway … and guess what? They weren’t turned away – instead, they were allowed to check out books (RFID-based self-check-out machines help). Staff were even seen setting up new library cards for patrons. This is very different from what many libraries do. For most after-hours events, patrons would simply be told (nicely, I’m sure) to come back tomorrow.

So – one example of extreme customer service at Darien. You can find another example in the video. Watch for the mini laptops in the children’s area of the library. Those are staff public service laptops used for roaming reference type stuff. But listen to the children’s staff talk about them – kids pick those laptops up and use them. Patrons even use the public service desktop … and Darien’s staff is fine with that! When I asked about this, here’s what I heard: “why would we NOT allow that?”

John said the same thing later on in my tour (not captured on video). We were in a staff area, and I noticed someone had brought in her personal laptop. I asked what she could connect to … and John said staff can bring in their personal laptops and connect to Darien’s staff-only network. I pried a bit further, and this is when John said “why would we NOT allow that? It would simply hinder their work!” Then John went on to explain that they plan for the exceptions and fix those things, rather than lock down technology so much that it hinders the work of the library. Extreme customer service for their staff, too!

Does your library have a core message, and how does that play out? And … does your library lock technology down so much so that it hinders the work of the library? What would happen if you opened that can of worms up? Would any escape? Something to think about…

Mashing Up the Community at MLA2009

I spoke at the Massachusetts Library Association conference today – fun time! Here’s the Slideshare version of my presentation – moved from traditional mashups to mashing up the library’s community.

And – I spotted my book! They were selling it at their book table – coolness!

Found my book at MLA!