Lately I've been contemplating an episode of Season 4 titled "Launch Party." Dunder Mifflin, the fictional company featured in the show, launches a new Web site that will bridge the gap between the paper-selling firm and big-box retailers like Staples. Employees are made to bow and curtsey before the new, shiny piece of technology while Ryan, the supervisor to office manager Michael Scott and conceiver of the Web site, sings its praises.
The paper salesmen feel belittled by the new toy that's come to replace them. Dwight, a salesman, gets into a John Henry-esque slug fest with the new Web site, saying he can sell more paper directly in one day than the company can sell online. And he succeeds, but he ultimately fails to win the affections of his ex-girlfriend and co-worker Angela.
The episode deals with the latest threat to American companies: How to compete in an online world that's outsmarting them every second. It isn't just about having a good Web site anymore. Dunder Mifflin's new site also has a social networking feature, mimicking other successful models like Facebook and MySpace. (Naturally, it isn't long before the social network is overrun with sexual deviants.)
Eventually Michael stomps all over Ryan's launch party by boasting, on a Web cam to other Dunder Mifflin branches participating in the launch party, that Dwight beat the machine. (This ingratiates him to other Dunder Mifflin executives who hate Ryan.)
There's also a subplot involving the kidnapping of a pizza delivery boy, but you didn't really need to know that.
Why am I telling you all this? I think the episode illustrates how some things about doing good business don't change. Transparency, candor (with a little charm) and hard work; it beats Twitter and Facebook. I don't care about whether someone knows how to put together a coherent status update. I like someone who puts their back into it, someone who can give it to me straight.
That's what sh … well, anyway.
The companies that have a successful Web presence didn't get there by poorly imitating everyone else. They offered a product no one else had. (And, by the way, I think the jury is really still out on whether anyone's made much money off any of this social networking stuff.)
Dunder Mifflin tried to be like everyone else, creating a problematic, inferior product that no one could relate to in the process.
Exciting things on the horizon
"Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2": Wow, has it really been two years since "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare"? I am getting old.
What am I talking about? "Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2," fools. It drops on Nov. 10, just in time for relentless holiday play. Developer Infinity Ward is back at the helm in what's sure to be a crowd pleaser.
Games like this make writing a video game column incredibly difficult. I know I'm supposed to try all of these other games out there but the first "Modern Warfare" was so hard to put down. And I wasn't even any good at it. It was just that much fun.
So get ready for a column or three about the sequel, and to those not interested, I apologize in advance. I've seen the trailers and this thing looks awesome.