My father sent me this fantastic book called Mr. Lincoln's T-Mails: How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War by Tom Wheeler. The American Civil War has been called the first modern war because of three technological advances that came into play in the years preceding the conflict:
- Rifling made the weapons more accurate at long range
- The railroad extended the battlefield by facilitating rapid reinforcement from longer distances
- The telegraph allowed political leaders to be in near real time contact with the battlefield
In comparison, National Rail here in the UK is using Victorian thinking the Web 2.0 world. Anybody who has ever read Sherlock Holmes knows that you once could set your watch by the trains in the UK. That may have been true in the Victorian era but it is certainly fiction today.
To their credit, National Rail has embraced modern communications tools and provides a wide array of channels through which I can find out how late my train will be. They have seemed to have lost the plot however, with their decision to eliminated all competition on the iPhone platform by cutting off their live data feeds to both paid for and free apps and replace these with their own app, which costs £4.99.
As you can imagine this has not gone down well with the iPhone community. Most of the comments and feedback have been about monopolies and having to pay for an application that is no better than the popular MyRail Lite, which was free. Whilst I feel their pain, I think this is a great example of a brand that does not get the world in which we all now live.
They have approached this from the "information is power" school of thought which is an old and dying paradigm. In the Web 2.0 world, value add is king, so a better approach would have been to come up with a clever way to add more value than the other tools and offer it for free. This could then be monetised by add revenue, a paid for version with advanced features, etc. Alternatively, they could have used this to build some good will with a nation that is sick of its Victorian rail network.
In fact, their current strategy could doubly backfire because this morning I was not able to access the real time departure information that I had paid for, so while my train was unusually on-time, Network Rail still added stress to my morning.