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Thread: The new KGB

  1. #1
    Завсегдатай rockzmom's Avatar
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    The new KGB

    This past week, commercials started airing in our area for KGB. Of course the initials caught my attention. KGB is a fee based ($.99 up from $.50 as stated in the articles) cell phone service for text message answers to any questions you might have. Their commercials are actually very well done.

    I Googled about the company to see about the use of KGB and it turns out they started off in the UK and purposely selected KGB as their initials.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce Stewart, the chief executive of mobile and digital for kgb
    "We wanted to rebrand the KGB," says Stewart. "We're democratizing information, giving knowledge out to the broad public instead of taking it. Contrast that to the historical one, and people say, 'Oh, I get it.' "
    Below are two articles about the NEW KGB. The first one even has Q&As and the time it took the KGB to answer the Questions.

    "Time Magazine"

    Tuesday, Feb. 03, 2009
    Answers for 50 Cents: Testing the New KGB
    By Claire Suddath

    The KGB's agents are everywhere. They're with me when I go for a walk, they follow me home after work, and if I wake up in the middle of the night, they're just a phone call away.

    I'm talking about the Knowledge Generation Bureau, of course. The Knowledge Generation Bureau is a text-message-based information service that, for 50 cents a text, will answer any question you have as accurately as possible. The New York City–based company has been a major player in the directory assistance market for years; when you dial 411, chances are good that KGB will answer.

    But people don't call for information anymore, says Bruce Stewart, KGB's CEO of mobile and digital. They text. "When you want to know something, you text your friend or someone who might know. We are looking to be that someone." After launching a successful texting service in the U.K., KGB decided to bring it to the U.S. The beta test launched last fall, and already the company has thousands of "agents" ready to provide you with anything from movie times and train schedules to the type of pen Bob Dole holds in his hand. (Answer: sometimes it's felt-tipped, sometimes ballpoint, and occasionally it's a pencil.) (See pictures of the cell phone's history.)

    Agents work from home on their own schedules and make 10 cents a text (5 cents if they simply forward a computer-generated response, like driving directions or phone numbers). Applicants must pass a "Special Agents Challenge": a trivia game mixed with a standardized math test for middle schoolers. Since applicants can cheat by using the Internet, failing is a challenge.

    The KGB acronym isn't accidental. Knowledge Generation Bureau's television commercial — in which an older gentleman interrogates a young recruit about the capital of New Zealand and the song "Sugar Sugar" — never tells you what the company is selling, and it deliberately tries to associate the KGB initials with mystery and conspiracy. "We wanted to rebrand the KGB," says Stewart. "We're democratizing information, giving knowledge out to the broad public instead of taking it. Contrast that to the historical one, and people say, 'Oh, I get it.' "

    Despite Stewart's claim, the Global Knowledge Network is also taking plenty of knowledge for itself, since the more users text, the more KGB can discover about its customers. For now, there are no plans to sell the information to marketers, but, says Stewart, "We see what are people asking about. What movies are they asking to see, what restaurants are they interested in going to, what sports teams they like, what merchandise they're looking to buy — there is an interesting level of insight about what people are thinking." (See the top 10 iPhone applications.)

    In the Internet age there are very few questions that can't be answered with a simple Google search. And with Web-capable cell phones, there really isn't any need for KGB or the similar service ChaCha (which is free but more annoying because its messages are riddled with ads). So KGB has to distinguish itself by the accuracy and speed of its answers. To find out if the company's service is of any use, we put it to the test, sending different questions at different times throughout the day to 542542 (or "KGBKGB"). Below are the unedited texts and KGB's responses.


    Q: How tall is Danny DeVito?
    KGB: Danny DeVito is 5 inches tall. His birth name is Daniel Michael DeVito Jr., born Nov. 17, 1944. Thx! (Response time: 3 minutes)
    Q: 5 inches? Don't you mean 5 feet?
    KGB: My apologies. Danny DeVito is 5 feet tall. He was in the movie Romancing the Stone. Thx. (Response time: 3 minutes)

    Q: What was the last movie Orson Welles worked on before he died?
    KGB: The last film roles before Welles' death included voice work in the animated film The Enchanted Journey. Thx. (Response time: 5 minutes)

    Actually, The Enchanted Journey was not Orson Welles' last film. His last role was the 1986 animated feature Transformers: The Movie. I asked this question on purpose because I happen to know the answer; some geeky male friends educated me on the topic long ago.


    Q: What is in earwax?
    KGB: Earwax is a mixture of viscous secretions like squalene, lanosterol, and cholesterol. Thx. (Response time: 2 minutes)

    Q: What is asparagus pee? Why does it smell funny?
    KGB: Asparagus gives a distinctive smell in the urine due to various sulfur-containing degradation products and ammonia. Thx!


    Q: What does the B. stand for in Rutherford B. Hayes?
    KGB: The letter B in the name stands for Birchard. His complete name is Rutherford Birchard Hayes. (Response time: 4 minutes)

    Q: What did Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton duel over?
    KGB never responded to this question. Epic failure.

    Current Events

    Q: Why can't the American auto industry get its act together?
    KGB: It may be because the industry had lots of problems encountering they need to focus on. (Response time: 2 minutes)

    Q: Is the stimulus package pushed by Barack Obama big enough to jump-start the economy?
    KGB: We think that its success lies with the support of his fellow leaders & his constituents. Thx. (Response time: 4 minutes)

    Q: Would Barack Obama and I get along as friends?
    KGB: You would probably get along with him because we all live in America, and Obama seems like a nice person. Thx. (Response time: 4 minutes)

    Plus, I can play basketball.

    The Unknowable

    Q: How old will I be when I die?
    KGB: No one would know. Sometimes, it would depend on your lifestyle. If you're living healthy, you'll live longer.

    Q: Does God exist?
    KGB: Most deist belief systems consider God as eternal and immeasurable by man's limited scope of time. Thx. (Response time: 1 minute)

    "NY TIMES"
    January 23, 2009, 12:29 pm

    Got a Question? Ask K.G.B. Agents for the Answer
    By Jenna Wortham

    Let’s say you were lost in downtown Washington, D.C., and needed directions to the closest train station. Or you wanted to settle a bar bet on the average lifespan of a dolphin or whether it’s Alexander Hamilton or Thomas Jefferson on the two-dollar bill. Would a specific, accurate and rapid response from a human researcher be worth 50 cents?

    Bruce Stewart, the chief executive of mobile and digital for kgb, hopes so. The New York company, which has been providing directory assistance services in the United States and around Europe since 1992, this month unveiled a human-powered mobile search service called kgbkgb. If you send a question via text message to kgbkgb (or 542542), a human “kgb special agent” will find the answer and text it back. (The company’s name is an obvious play on the name of the former Soviet Union’s intelligence agency, known by its Russian initials, KGB.)

    “The mobile browsing experience is getting better, and text is on a significant upswing and adoption curve in the U.S.,” said Mr. Stewart, who estimated kgb and its subsidiary companies answered a billion voice and text queries last year. “It was very natural for us to move from a strong position answering voice information calls into mobile apps and the Web.”

    Response times varies depending on the difficulty of the texted question, but a typical turnaround ranges from two to four minutes. A test question — “How many Oscar nominations did “The Wrestler” receive for the 2009 Academy Awards?” — was answered accurately in three minutes.

    Kgb will have to compete with free mobile-based search services that don’t charge fees beyond standard messaging rates. For example, sending a search query for local addresses, weather reports, directions or work definitions via Google’s SMS service, returns results in a text message. Yahoo’s Mobile Search also offers cellphone users the option of texting inquiries for information like restaurant addresses, celebrity news, sports scores and movie reviews.

    In addition, there’s ChaCha, another two-way mobile texting service that funnels queries to a team of human experts and allows users up to 20 freebie queries per month.

    Mr. Stewart, who helped roll out Yahoo’s Mobile Search before leaving in 2008 to join kgb, is hoping to carve a niche out for kgb’s mobile service by placing a heavy emphasis on precision and accuracy for cellphone users who may not be equipped with a smartphone or are in too much of a hurry to browse for answers on their mobile Web browser.

    “If you need a precise answer in minutes, you don’t want to hunt and navigate to find it,” said Mr. Stewart.

    The company relies of a team of experts who work primarily from home. Kgb agents, which Mr. Stewart says number in the thousands, are first vetted with a series of trivia questions and then interviewed to pinpoint particular areas of expertise, such as language proficiency, geography, film awards or pop culture. Incoming questions to the service are analyzed and categorized by topic and routed to the appropriate person.

    The idea is that someone who already has a working knowledge of food chemistry might be more adept at quickly researching suitable substitutes for eggs in a crème brûlée. For popular topics that have already been fielded –- such as inquiries about Sarah Palin or Barack Obama –- incoming text questions can be matched to previously answered queries for an even quicker turnaround.

    In addition to the mobile texting service, kgb is currently working on versions for the Apple iPhone and the Web.
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  2. #2
    Завсегдатай Basil77's Avatar
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    Re: The new KGB

    A cheap marketing trick KGB was one of the most powerful secret services in the world and the majority of people, who worked there (I mean 70s and 80s of XX century) were noble, not corrupt and loved their country. I knew many of them personally and can attest it. It's liberal freaks who destroyed former KGB and turned it in today's miserable corrupt likeness of it's past glory. BTW there is still KGB present for example in Belorussia. And for those who didn't know KGB is an abbreviation for Committee of State Security. It's just an ordinary agency that every state has.
    Please, correct my mistakes, except for the cases I misspell something on purpose!

  3. #3

    Re: The new KGB

    I agree with Basil77 that this is rather cheap marketing trick.
    I guess that particular letter combination wasn't registered as a company name in the US. Plenty of free publicity with a name like that. Smart strategy.

    I don't know anything about the original KGB from personal experience, but I do know that Hollywood and most Western media have done an outstanding job blackpainting just about everything coming from Soviet Union. The positives that were achieved are totally ignored or downplayed. The assumption is that peoples' life must have been totally miserable because they could not get hold of Western consumer goods.... Or that everybody in the USSR was either a pathetic victim or an evil oppressor. Clearly not true either.

    Lately I have noticed the same trend starting against present-day Russia. Here in the UK everything that Russia does is interpreted as sinister and reported in media as agressions and threats, and most people believe it.

  4. #4
    Завсегдатай sperk's Avatar
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    Re: The new KGB

    Strange, their product seems aimed at an under 20 crowd (texters) who have only a vague, if any, idea of what the KGB was.
    Кому - нары, кому - Канары.

  5. #5
    Старший оракул CoffeeCup's Avatar
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    Re: The new KGB

    Quote Originally Posted by rockzmom
    Quote Originally Posted by NY TIMES
    Let’s say you were lost in downtown Washington, D.C., and needed directions to the closest train station. Or you wanted to settle a bar bet on the average lifespan of a dolphin or whether it’s Alexander Hamilton or Thomas Jefferson on the two-dollar bill.
    If we take out the question concerning the marketing tricks, the idea is really great. During the past two decades the Internet griped the entire Earth and sucked dry all the human knowledge while a human asking the Internet is still condemned to roam the web nooks with a hope which extinguishes with each new fork in the road. So the idea to put a kgb agent on the each crossroad is really fantastic way to manage the all the human knowledge. While our scientists can not create the machine behaving like a human our wheeler-dealers create the machines with a human inside. Like the Mechanical Turk (Automaton Chess Player) in the late 18th century. But opposite to the Turk when humans thirsted of the artificial mind, the kgb gives a human hand to the humans tired of the super stupid machines of the super progressive 21st century.
    So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

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