TIME Companies

Reddit Users May Get Free Shares of the Company

But the plan could "totally fail"

Reddit CEO Yishan Wong told the Reddit community this week he wants to give them 10% of the company’s shares. Such a move has never been carried out by a company that depends on user engagement, like Facebook or Twitter.

Wong cautioned that the plan is still in its early stages and added a caveat to his post on Reddit: “KEEP IN MIND THAT THIS PLAN COULD TOTALLY FAIL.”

Wong also said that the idea of “distributing ownership of [Reddit] back to the community” has been a long-held dream by Wong and many of the company’s other employees.

TIME Internet

#FeelingNuts Viral Challenge Gathers Steam After Hugh Jackman Takes Part

Hugh Jackman is getting the balls rolling on a viral testicular cancer awareness campaign

An online “crotch grab challenge” started by a testicular cancer awareness group in the United Kingdom received a viral boost Wednesday from Hugh Jackman, who tweeted a picture of himself taking part.

The challenge requires participants to hold their crotch and then share a photo of themselves online. It appears to be one of the first health-minded social media campaigns to take off after the colossally successful ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

The Check One Two group, founded in 2012, has gradually gained traction online since launching the “crotch grab challenge” in August, with Jackman’s tweet likely to set off a new round of virality.

The X-Men star tweeted a photo Wednesday morning of himself and three other men holding their private parts and lifting their arms in greeting toward the camera in what looks to be a gym.

Hugh Jackman nominated Neil Patrick Harris, Michael Strahan and Ricky Gervais, who shortly afterward tweeted a photo of himself completing the challenge in August.

Will Arnett also participated at the end of August.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has raised more than $100 million and may have ushered in a new era of online fundraising and social awareness. Unlike the Ice Bucket Challenge, however, Check One Two’s crotch grab challenge doesn’t ask participants to contribute money.

Check One Two says on its website that its aims are “1. Spread awareness far and wide of #feelingnuts in funny, ball grabbing and pant dropping ways” and “2. Educate men and the women in their lives about how to check their nuts for testicular cancer.”

MONEY Customer Service

3 Industries That Desperately Need Customer Service Makeovers

Chimpanzee on a telephone
Brad Wilson—Getty Images

Comcast is hardly the only company that should be doing some soul searching and commit—not only with words but actions—to making customer service genuinely better.

Because the state of customer service has been bad for so long, and because we’ve heard many times over that some or another big initiative would improve customer service dramatically only to have little or no impact, we’re skeptical about the effectiveness of any broad campaign supposedly crafted to address age-old customer grievances. Nonetheless, it was good to see Comcast’s recent announcement that a long-serving executive named Charlie Herrin had been named as the company’s new senior vice president of customer experience. “Charlie will listen to feedback from customers as well as our employees to make sure we are putting our customers at the center of every decision we make,” a message from Comcast president and CEO Neil Smit explained on Friday.

Read between the lines and it sure looks like Comcast is acknowledging that in the past, customers haven’t exactly been top of mind when it comes to company decisions. That’s no revelation to consumers, of course, who have routinely dinged Comcast for terrible customer service. In 2014, Comcast “won” the annual Worst Company in America competition as voted by Consumerist readers, the second time in recent years it has nabbed that dubious honor.

While it’s unclear what Herrin and Comcast will do to improve customer service, the first step in solving a problem is acknowledging that you have one, which Smit did more squarely when he said, “It may take a few years before we can honestly say that a great customer experience is something we’re known for. But that is our goal and our number one priority … and that’s what we are going to do.” To which the consensus reaction among consumers is … it’s about damn time. Followed by, we’ll believe it when we actually see real,meaningful change.

To be fair, it’s not just Comcast that’s sorely in need of a customer service makeover. Here are three entire business categories that are regularly bashed for not putting customers’ needs first on the agenda.

Pay TV & Internet Providers
Current Comcast competitor and likely merger partner Time Warner Cable is also a regular contender for the worst service title, as are other pay TV-Internet providers including DirecTV and Verizon.

Among the complaints are that there is a lack of true competition in the category, because roughly three-quarters of Americans have exactly one local choice for a high-speed Internet provider. A survey published this summer indicated that more than half of Americans would leave their cable company if they could, and nearly three-quarters said that pay TV providers are predatory and take advantage of the lack of competition. Among the most hated pay TV practices that consumers would love to see changed are promotional rates that are replaced by skyrocketing monthly charges, frustrating and time-consuming run-ins with customer service reps, and bundled packages overloaded with channels and options the customer doesn’t want (let’s add smaller packages and a la carte channel selection, please).

Wireless Providers
The good news for cell phone users is that customer satisfaction is on the rise, increasing 2.6% according to the 2014 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). The bad news, however, is that while we’re happier with the actual gadgets (from Samsung in particular), satisfaction with the companies providing our cell phone service—including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint—remains stagnant and below average.

Plenty of other studies also show just how frustrated and dissatisfied consumers are with wireless providers nowadays. A vote-off at Ranker.com, for example, placed AT&T at the top of the list of “Companies with the Worst Customer Service.” Among the many problems consumers have with wireless providers is that choosing a handset and data-minutes-texting package is absurdly complicated, with countless permutations, obfuscations, and mysterious add-on charges. This past weekend, a New York Times columnist presented a painstaking step-by-step analysis of why the $199 price advertised for the new iPhone 6 is a joke—because by the time fees and monthly upcharges are tacked on, upgrading to the new phone will easily run more than $600.

“Wireless service has always been one of the most complex purchases a human can possibly make,” Eddie Hold, a wireless industry analyst with market research firm NPD Group, summed up in a Consumer Reports story last year. “It’s always been horrific.”

Banks
Number 3 on the Ranker list of companies with the worst customer service, just below AT&T and Time Warner Cable, is Bank of America. Another study, from 24/7 Wall Street, used customer service surveys to put Bank of America in the #1 spot for its Customer Service Hall of Shame, and two other banking institutions, Citigroup and Wells Fargo, are in the top (bottom?) 10. (The study factored in ratings for these institutions’ banking and credit card services.)

What may come as a surprise—a sad and ironic one, at that—is that customer satisfaction with banks is apparently at a record high. The 2014 J.D. Power study on U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction indicates that big banks and regional banks have made some strides in terms of making customers happier (or less disgusted) with their service, and that overall bank scores are higher than they’ve ever been since the study has been conducted. Yet the J.D. Power study shows there’s a long way to go: The most common reason given for switching banks is poor customer service, and millennials, minorities, and affluent consumers stand out as being particularly dissatisfied with today’s banks.

“Even with record high satisfaction, there are some banks that fall far short in meeting customer needs,” J.D. Power’s Jim Miller said via statement. “It is easy for banks to become complacent. To stay at the top of their game, banks should focus on those customers who are not satisfied. And consumers should keep in mind they have the opportunity to shop banks to find the right combination of services, products and fees to meet their needs.”

What’s your pick for the company with the worst customer service? Tweet us at @MONEY with the hashtag #unhappycustomer, and we may publish your feedback in a future post.

Related:
5 Packages That Could Replace Pay TV As We Know It
How to Pick a Bank

MONEY online shopping

Amazon Wants to Invade Your Home With Its One-Click Buying Button

Amazon boxes in front of door
Goss Images—Alamy

If Amazon has its way, one day our homes will be equipped with devices that detect when we're running low on household supplies and let us order more—from Amazon, of course—with one touch of a button.

According to Reuters, Amazon is developing a device that would be installed in a house—perhaps tucked away on a kitchen counter, or inside a closet or pantry—and enable customers to order detergent, toothpaste, paper towels, and other home supplies by simply pressing a button.

Amazon, which tends to be notoriously tight-lipped about its innovations and experiments until Jeff Bezos feels like blowing everyone’s minds (see the “60 Minutes” story on drone deliveries last year), isn’t talking publicly about the one-button device it reportedly has in the works. It’s also unclear if and when such a device would be ready to be tested in actual homes. Anonymous sources cited by Reuters say that the device is being developed by Lab 126, the secretive outfit owned by Amazon that has helped design and engineer gadgets such as the Kindle and Amazon Fire Phone.

In theory, the device would be installed in an Internet-connected home, in which various appliances would “talk” to each other via wi-fi. Sensors would be able to detect when the home is, say, in need of a new air-conditioning filter, or when you’re due to buy more laundry detergent, and it would prompt the customer to order new supplies with one press of a button.

In addition to the one-button device, Amazon is also looking into developing wearable gadgets that might allow customers to place orders for home supplies and other items with a single touch. The potential of such innovations follows right in line with Amazon’s ongoing efforts to be the destination of consumers seeking to purchase, well, pretty much anything and everything you can imagine.

Amazon Prime is brilliant not only because it gets customers to fork over $99 upfront annually in exchange for two-day shipping, but more importantly because it results in members making far more of their everyday purchases at Amazon. The online shopping giant’s forays into same-day delivery, groceries, and a household supply service called Prime Pantry are all part of its mission to eliminate tedious shopping errands by allowing customers to handle them via Amazon and one-click buying. Amazon thereby has been systematically horning in on the everyday sales of its competitors, which include players ranging from Best Buy to Costco, and CVS pharmacies to Kroger supermarkets.

Then there’s the Fire Phone, which hit the market this past summer and stood out from the pack most significantly thanks to Firefly—a feature that scans the barcodes of items and lets you purchase them instantly, via Amazon of course. Anyone buying the phone also got a free year of Amazon Prime, which brings customers further into the Amazon purchase-sphere. Less than two months after the Fire Phone entered the market at a minimum price of $199 (with a two-year contract), it was discounted to 99¢ (a price drop that some had predicted the moment the device was introduced).

Nonetheless, the Fire Phone flop isn’t going to slow Amazon’s pursuit of innovations—and a larger and larger portion of our purchases. Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal spread the word that Amazon was a developing a service dubbed “anticipatory shipping,” in which the company would anticipate customer needs before any order had been placed, and it would ship what it felt you needed before anyone ever clicked “buy.” Now it looks like Amazon wants to have devices installed in customer homes, so that it can anticipate our shopping needs at a deeper, more invasive level and sell us stuff before anyone even considers other shopping possibilities, let alone actually leaving the home to make a run to a store.

The goals for Amazon in such developments is to ease any friction and slowdown in the purchase transaction, to eliminate hassles and save time for customers—and to sell us more and more stuff.

MONEY Television

5 Packages That Will Replace Pay TV as We Know It

cutting the cord
Igor Markov—iStock

The traditional cable plan is dying. Here's what's going to replace it.

If you need proof that cable providers are feeling the heat from cord cutters, look no further than AT&T’s new U-Verse package. Marketed as an online exclusive, the plan includes broadband, a small lineup of channels, HBO (including HBO GO), and a full subscription to Amazon Prime (with both streaming video and free shipping included)—all for $39 a month. The message is clear: “Keep paying for TV, and we’ll throw in some of the web services you were thinking of leaving us for.”

If might seem strange for a cable provider to subsidize its competitor’s products (and you’d be right), but AT&T’s latest offer reflects just how desperate cable companies have become to keep their subscribers. The old pay-TV model is dying, and it’s being replaced by a slew of more consumer-friendly ways to watch the tube. As we edge closer to the end of cable as we know it, it’s time to look at five new packages that are stepping in to fill the void.

The Oh-God-We’ll-Do-Anything Package

That’s essentially what AT&T is now offering. By discounting the same web services most of their cord-cutting customers are likely fleeing toward, the company is trying to keep anyone they can on the cable bandwagon for just a little while longer. It sounds like a good deal, but cable refugees should read the fine print. AT&T is only offering the $39 price for your first year on the service. After that, the plan’s price is likely to skyrocket, making this package a bit of a bait-and-switch.

Re/Code’s Peter Kafka succinctly summarizes the logic behind AT&T’s newest product, writing that cable providers “[would] rather have subscribers paying a small fee than none at all, but they’re also telling themselves that those subscribers will ‘trade up’ ” to a more expensive plan. But as Kafka points out, it’s a gamble, and giving subscribers a sampling of cable competitors might not be the best way to ensure they stick around.

The Discount Cable Package

Having hundreds of channels sounds nice, but which channels does the average watcher actually need? The networks? Local sports? Maybe HBO? If that’s your answer, a growing number of cable companies are offering packages that offer exactly that, and nothing more, at a discount price. Comcast is selling internet, local channels, and HBO for $49.99 a month. (Comcast might be feeling ambivalent about this plan, since, as Re/Code notes, the company apparently stopped promoting it, but interested parties can still find the deal here.) Verizon has an almost identical plan for $50, and AT&T is offering its aforementioned discount plan at an even lower price.

The catch? Verizon’s deal is for one year only, and Comcast promises just 12 months of its “Internet Plus” plan at the introductory price. Once that year runs out, subscribers may find these discount plans are yet another ploy to keep cord-cutters on board and gradually reconvert them to costlier options.

Cable for Cord-Cutters

It might sound like an oxymoron, but that appears to be exactly what Sony is trying to do with its yet-to-be-released Web TV service. The tech giant has already signed a deal with Viacom to carry 22 of the company’s channels, including MTV and Comedy Central, and plans to ultimately stream an even larger selection of networks exclusively over the internet.

However, instead of using this new transmission method to shake up TV offerings, the Wall Street Journal reports Sony is planning to put together a traditional cable-like package with roughly 100 channels and a comparable monthly bill. According to Viacom and others involved with the project, Sony plans to lure would-be cable quitters using a new, more powerful user interface that promises to make media consumption of all kinds more intuitive and enjoyable.

The Un-Cable Provider

If T-Mobile has become the un-carrier for wireless service by rejecting typical industry practices, Dish seems to be doing the same thing for cable. The satellite provider is planning to launch a new Web-TV service as well, and like Sony’s offering, it wouldn’t require any setup or installation fee. But according to the Journal, Dish is going even farther than Sony by building its Web TV package around a leaner selection of most-watched channels—all for a lower price than current pay-TV plans. Dish has already partnered with Disney to build out its content lineup, and is required by that agreement to also carry 10 of the top 30 channels when the service debuts.

A Hodgepodge of Streaming Web Services

For many TV fans, ditching cable for the Netflixes and Hulus of the world is already the status quo. Cable providers may not let customers pick and choose which channels to receive, but through a careful selection of streaming services, including free ones like YouTube and Twitch, TV addicts may have stumbled across the next best thing. This alternative is looking even more attractive ever since HBO announced in September that it was ‘seriously considering’ offering HBO GO to those without cable plans as a standalone product. Combine online HBO with a growing number of cable-less sports options, and the very idea of single package TV service may become increasingly old-fashioned.

TIME Internet

Hate Spoilers? Netflix Made a Website That’s Your Nightmare

Netflix

Netflix wants you to play Russian Roulette

Screams could be heard throughout the TIME newsroom. Caps lock proliferated the office chat room.

“LOST!!!!!!!! HOLY [EXPLETIVE]!!! THE VERY END OF LOST.”

Netflix launched a website Tuesday that has but one goal: To purposefully spoil some of the biggest twists in popular TV shows and movies in a neatly-packaged 20-second clip.

In the name of journalistic curiosity, I had to learn more. The homepage to the torture chamber gives a warning of Dante-esque proportions: “Behind this door lie some of the biggest spoilers in TV and film. What you are about to see cannot be unseen.”

A second roadblock reiterated the question echoing in my head: “Are you sure?” I abandoned all hope. I pressed the red button. I entered.

Netflix’s Spoil Yourself is a game of Russian roulette—you don’t know what is going to get ruined until it has been, well, ruined. But there’s an adrenal rush that eggs you on to pull the trigger. Every click was exhilarating:

Primal Fear. (Already seen it. Phew.) Breaking Bad. (I would have been REAL mad if that got spoiled.) Good Morning Vietnam. WAIT. NO. I HADN’T SEEN THAT ONE. IT WAS IN MY QUEUE!

NO.

My day was ruined. I only have myself to blame.

TIME stocks

4 Things Alibaba’s IPO Tells Us About a Changing World Economy

An employee is seen behind a glass wall with the logo of Alibaba at the company's headquarters on the outskirts of Hangzhou, Zhejiang province
An employee is seen behind a glass wall at Alibaba's headquarters on the outskirts of Hangzhou, China, on April 23, 2014 Chance Chan—Reuters

The Chinese e-commerce giant launches one of the largest stock-market debuts in history — and points the way to our economic future

The story of Alibaba has already become legend. Fifteen years ago, Jack Ma, a former English teacher, and his co-founders set up their Internet company in an apartment in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, not far from Shanghai. Today, Alibaba’s online shopping sites in China — mainly Taobao and Tmall — handle twice as much merchandise as Amazon. The company’s initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange will bring in a haul of some $21.8 billion — bigger than Facebook’s — and values Alibaba at $168 billion — four times more than Yahoo.

When Alibaba’s shares start trading Friday, history will be made. And not just in the world of tech or stock markets. Alibaba’s IPO represents some much bigger trends shaping the world economy. Here are four things the IPO tells us about our economic future:

1. More and more of the world’s most prominent companies will be from the developing world.
We still have this image of China as one big factory floor where millions of poor people slog away on assembly lines churning out cut-rate toys, clothes and electronics. Sure, there are still factories like that, but ever more that low-cost manufacturing center guise is becoming the Old China. The world’s most populous nation is developing so rapidly that it is already producing companies that are major players in all sorts of industries. Lenovo is now the largest PC maker in the world, while Huawei is challenging the best of the West in telecom equipment.

Alibaba takes this trend to an entirely new level — out of manufacturing and into the realm of technology and services. Ma and his executive team have created a company that can be named in the same sentence as tech titans like Facebook and eBay. And Alibaba is not unique. Shenzhen-based Tencent, which operates the popular WeChat messaging service, is yet another Chinese Internet firm with global potential. The fact is the most powerful companies in the U.S. and Europe will increasingly have to contend with Chinese companies exploding onto the world stage. And China may be in the lead among the world’s emerging economies in this trend, but it is not alone. India has produced some IT firms that can compete with the world’s best, such as TCS and Infosys.

2. Emerging markets are creating blue chips.
Ever since the idea of investing in the developing world became popular in the early 1990s, there has been a line drawn between these “emerging markets” and the more established bourses of the U.S., Europe and Japan. Emerging markets were supposed to be riskier, where only the bolder of investors would dare tread, compared with the supposedly more trustworthy and less volatile options in New York City and London. The Alibaba IPO shows how that great wall is breaking down. That a company based in a town like Hangzhou can raise more money in its IPO than one based in Menlo Park, Calif., (Facebook) shows that investors are starting to treat firms from the developing world on par with those in the developed world. Of course, the stigma staining companies from China and elsewhere won’t go away overnight — Chinese companies that have listed in New York City have had a sad history of accounting disasters. But going forward, your stock portfolio is going to hold more companies with addresses in Shanghai, Mumbai, Istanbul and São Paulo.

3. Consumers in the developing world will rule the world.
The story of the global economy since the end of World War II has gone something like this: capitalizing on better transport and communications technology, world production shifted en masse to poor countries from rich countries like the U.S. Factories replaced rice paddies in South Korea, China, Indonesia and elsewhere, which then shipped the mobile phones, computers and sneakers manufactured there to store shelves in the U.S. and Europe. The billions of people in these poorer nations couldn’t afford much of the stuff they made.

Now the global economy is “rebalancing.” Consumption in the U.S. and Europe is constrained by weaker job prospects and stagnant wages, while disposable income in China and other developing nations is increasing in leaps and bounds. That is making consumers in these countries the new engine of global economic growth. If the U.S. consumer dominated the 20th century, the Chinese and Indian consumer will control the 21st.

Alibaba is a prime example of the power of these new, emerging consumers. In 2013, Chinese shoppers bought $248 billion of stuff on Alibaba’s retailing websites. Compare that to an estimated $110 billion worth of good purchased on Amazon — globally. Increasingly, it will be companies that sell to households in Beijing, New Delhi and Jakarta that will dominate global consumer industries.

4. Your next job may be at a Chinese or Indian company.
Jack Ma has said that he plans to use some of his multibillion haul from the IPO to expand Alibaba’s presence in the U.S. and Europe. This, too, is part of a trend. Companies from developing markets are becoming more important investors around the world. According to the American Enterprise Institute, Chinese companies have invested more than $500 billion around the world since 2005 — with the U.S. the top destination.

And as companies from China, India and other emerging economies become ever bigger and bigger global investors, they will become bigger and bigger global employers. Firms like Lenovo, Huawei, carmakers Geely and Tata, appliance maker Haier and a host of others already employ thousands between them around the world. Going forward, you might just find your best job opportunity is at a company like Alibaba, based in China, rather than a firm in New York City, Paris or Frankfurt.

TIME Internet

Twitter Reacts to LeBron’s Replenished Hairline

Lebron James on June 14, 2014 (left) and Sept. 16, 2014 (right).
Lebron James on June 14, 2014 (left) and Sept. 16, 2014 (right). Getty Images

As LeBron returns to Cleveland, so does the hairline from his Cleveland days

LeBron James’ hairline seems to be creeping back.

James’ introduction of his new line of shoes at Nike’s headquarters on Tuesday was overshadowed by his new look: fans speculated whether the all-star got hair plugs or used some sort of spray to restore his receding hairline.

James’ hairline has long been the butt of many NBA jokes: the all-star started sporting an extra thick headband in order to cover it up. James has even joked about his hair in the past:

But as James returns to Cleveland, it looks like his hairline is returning too. Twitter reacted with shock and despair: what will the Internet do without LeBron hair jokes?

The speculation spread even to ESPN’s First Take, where commentator Stephen A. Smith complained that LeBron didn’t share his hair re-growth secret, prompting co-anchor Skip Bayless to tweet:

 

TIME celebrity

The 7th Heaven Cast Had a Reunion, and They’re All Judging You Behind Their Smiling Faces

Also, Jessica Biel clearly won this breakup

If 7th Heaven taught us anything, it’s that there’s no greater feeling than the love of family. Also, that anything that can go wrong (in an explosive, dramatic way) will go wrong — but that it will all be neatly resolved with a few hugs and a home-cooked meal.

Now, many years later, in true Camden fashion, the 7th Heaven cast has reunited for one more family dinner. Stephen Collins, who played the noble patriarch and devoted minister Eric Camden, was kind enough to share a photo from what appeared to be a rather joyful reunion:

You’ll notice two major absences: their dog, Happy (R.I.P, we assume), and the youngest daughter, Ruthie (played by Mackenzie Rosman.) We’re not sure where Ruthie was, but last we heard, she was posing for Maxim, which, ahem, doesn’t exactly fit into the wholesome Camden code of conduct. (Also, the twins are missing too, but they barely count anyway.)

Don’t they kind of look like they fit together as a real family though? Besides Jessica Biel, who stands out as the hottest and most famous. She clearly won this breakup, although Barry Watson isn’t looking half bad these days either.

TIME Music

‘All About That Bass’ Actually Sounds Really Terrible Without Any Treble

Looks like Meghan Trainor isn't ALL about that bass after all

You’ve probably heard “All About That Bass” — Meghan Trainor’s total earworm of a late-summer jam — plenty of times by now, so you might have noticed her assertion that she’s “all about that bass — no treble.”

Well, one musician (who goes by the name Here Comes Brooklyn) took that assertion literally and decided to see what the song would sound like if Trainor were indeed against including any treble. As it turns out, the track sounds pretty awful without it. This is why we shouldn’t speak in absolutes.

The song does, however, sound pretty great played on an upright bass:

 

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