Thursday, October 18, 2012

Miscellaneous Ramblings

These new Apple ads are great. They are product centric, yet brand conscious. How many brand's ads are simply generic product information dumps followed by a repeated tagline, image and or tune? Not these.
There has already been a lot posted about Google's inadvertent early earnings announcement and the implications of it's less than stellar performance relative to market expectations for the last quarter. When I checked around noon today, its stock price was down as much as 9% and trading was halted. It ended the day down about 8%. Growth companies like Google bank on positive sentiment and today's announcement seemed to temper the market's past enthusiasm. That said, the top line results were actually pretty good. Revenue was up 45% to $14.1B year over year. However income missed by a large margin, coming in at $6.53 per share compared to last year's $8.33 a share. Still, an expanding top line is a great thing. If anything, today's reaction on Google shows just how much of the market trades on "anticipointment" rather than significant changes in operating performance.
Microsoft is a company that has struggled with it's strategy even while posting consistent results for the past few years. Given it's past dominance in personal computing that meant investors were willing to bank on the company even as other growth ventures struggled during the economic downturn. But consistent performance in a stagnating industry eventually catches up with you. With the impending release of Windows 8 and its Surface tablet in a couple of weeks, the company posted quarterly earnings today and they demonstrated how far Microsoft needs to improve to once again be considered a relevant company in the tech sector. Income dropped 22% while revenue dropped 8% year over year. No doubt Window's 8 will improve short term financial results. New software releases are generally expected a benefit earnings, but much of the company's future success and market performance will depend upon new products like Surface and whether Microsoft can reinvigorate their product lines.
This fabulous video and story brightened my day. It's always been a dream of mine to one day shoot a feature for National Geographic. Paul Nicklen has been a National Geographic photographer for a few years. He recently won Veolia National Wildlife Photographer of the Year award. And yet his encounter with a Leopard Seal in Antarctica was marvelous even for him. 

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Net Neutrality Bus

Don't get me wrong. I love my cheap Internet line. I pay less than $100/month for 6Mbps downstream Internet speeds and cable TV service and it's great. I don't know what I would do without it. It would be even better if it were less expensive. But I realize that it's not as simple as that. There's an economic equation that dictates much of what happens in the market. Or at least it probably should. Here's an analogy:

You decide you want to get into the transportation industry. Living in a small town, you spend $100,000 buying a small bus. It carries 40 people. You have a route that you've mapped out that takes roughly one hour to traverse and covers most of the town. There is perhaps one other person in town that has been making a living in the same business. If you can make eight trips a day and carry 40 people each time, charging each a quarter, you can make 80 dollars a day. Not including fuel, maintenance, insurance and other expenses, it would take 250 weeks of 5 business days, or almost 5 years, to pay off the bus. You decide that you want to pay off the bus faster so that you can invest in a better bus that carries more people. So you decide to create a special, express bus service. It stops at half of the bus stops and generally the bus is half full but it gets people to work much faster. You charge $2.00 for it. The benefit? Your passengers get to work 45 minutes earlier, giving them an advantage over others who take the regular bus. If the first two trips of each day are express trips, and each express trip can carry only 20 people due to the quicker routes that have fewer stops, then for those trips, You'll make 4 times more than a normal trip. The net? You pay off the bus in 2.7 years rather than 5. That means the new bus can be purchased that much faster and hopefully you'll be able to carry more people on one trip.

But wait. Since you are one of only two bus companies in town, the city commission steps in. Since people are dependent upon your bus service and some can't afford to pay $2.00, they tell you that you can't charge different people different rates for the ride, even if they can afford it. You are excluding some people who can't pay $2.00 and still need to take the bus since you now make fewer trips at the quarter price.

You keep your rates the same then and you use the same bus for almost 5 years, with no opportunity to obtain a bigger, faster one that carries more people.

You are happy about this. Or are you?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Net Neutrality

I'm constantly amazed by the misperceptions that otherwise knowledgeable people have about certain things like Net Neutrality. For example recently this article was published on the PC Week website. In it, David Coursey talks about new proposed rules that the FCC is expected to pass in October that will prohibit carriers from discriminating against different types of data traffic. Mr. Coursey says that these rules will "take away the carriers control of development of the Internet."

He continues: "my take is that this is a great day for the Internet and it will be an even greater one when the FCC takes a formal vote. It is a win for the future in a battle against the established telecom interests as well as a move toward making the Internet a level playing field for developers.

Lacking these new rules, the carriers would be free to charge companies more to carry certain types of Internet traffic or to not carry it at all. There could be no uniformity between networks, meaning that an application that worked on one might not work on the others."

I'm no fan of carriers that put governors on Internet data speeds for certain customers, adopt per megabyte pricing models, or use other antiquated approaches to business. But to think that creating regulations that promote net neutrality will be a win for consumers is at best optimistic.

In the end the cost of building nationwide high speed data networks, like any capital costs associated with any business, will have to assumed. Whether this is in the form of increased charges to end users including residential and business customers or though taxes charged by the government to subsidize these build outs, consumers will pick up the tab. There's no such thing as a free lunch and we don't get modern, high speed data networks for free.

Preventing access to applications does not help carriers at all. If no content or applications are available, and carriers are certainly not positioned to develop every application or content source that anyone might ever use, no data traffic growth will ever occur. Thus there is an incentive to promote new application development all while optimizing the pricing model to encourage continued adoption of arguably the main engine of growth for carriers.

Let's let market forces determine what will prevail in this case, instead of just creating additional rules that will surely be a greater problem than a solution.

Comments are welcome.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

On Heuristic Learning

Unfortunately few people are receptive to the notion that they'll benefit from your foresight. That's why empowerment is such a powerful learning tool. Only by learning what one does not know can can one open oneself to someone else's mistakes. Consequently the best partnering opportunity is one in which one's partner has a similar frame of reference and similar values.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

On Self-Promotion

The brilliant writer Larry Gross wrote this to me recently as a result of a couple of e-mails I sent to him on art mashups and self-promotion in Hollywood:

"The French philosopher, (recently deceased) Jacques Derrida, in a very complex discourse on Rousseau in an early book called OF GRAMMATOLOGY theorized about writing as a "supplement" to identity. What is more and more true in our culture, is that these technologies are becoming essential supplements to identity. They are devices compensating for something missing in our existences, of which, I would argue we are unaware of to begin with--there's nothing wrong with any of this--except for our radical not-being-conscious of it. All cultural practices are supplements in Derrida's sense, and to some degree always have been--this is a transposition of a very old idea of Freud's, that "higher" cultural activities attempt to satisfy needs, impulses cravings that aren't being satisfied on a more immediate experiential-instinctual level--ANYWAY--there are a million issues here--- the distinction between self-presentation and self-invention being one juicy issue, the distinction between some presumably a "real" self, and a self as a brand. And of course in this war of all against all for people's attention, there is the question, what do we want to get people's attention FOR beyond the statistical accomplishment of having gotten it.

If one wanted to be heedlessly optimistic one would celebrate the way in which everyone becomes the screenwriter-film-maker of one's own life in this world of audio-visual technologies replicating and expanding at such insane speed. Stephen Mallarme's visionary hypothesis in the 1870's, "The entire world is exists in order to be part of a book" which pointed in the direction of results that Joyce and Proust would later achieve--now seems to be part of the currency of everyday cultural discourse. BUT there are seem to be a lot of unintended consequences (not to mention causes) for this that are not quite so constructive.

And beyond that, it doesn't seem that very many of us are conscious of what it is we're doing."

I think he hits on many interesting points, not the least of which is our own lack of awareness of what we are doing, even as we take advantage of the multitude of self-marketing methods now available to us. Are our attempts to achieve fame simply fulfilling the need to extend our identity? Do we think this accomplishment will increase our chances for success with the various ventures we pursue even as the lines between business and personal identity blur? What is the balance between self-invention and self-presentation? I've tweeted about the large numbers of social media aficionados who seem intent only on promoting themselves or their products and it's unclear to me in many cases why they even have a need to attract thousands of followers. Finally what is the "real" value of these activities, or have we become so abstracted from what is useful to existence that self-promotion is simply a kneejerk reaction when communication is easy?

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Pitfalls of Inorganic Growth on Twitter

With the rise in Twitter usage and the publication of a plenitude of stories on influential news sources, there has been lots of guidance provided recently on how to get thousands of followers using "follower-pumping" practices. These usually recommend using pyramid-scheme type tools, following people with similar interests who will follow you back, writing press releases, among other approaches. The more followers you amass, the greater the likelihood that the new people that you follow will follow you also. The use of Twitter-related rating services like Twitter Grader can also work in tandem with having a large number of followers to attract even more people, since numbers of followers is one method such tools use to calculate influence scores. So what is the downside to such approaches compared to getting followers organically? Getting lots of followers increases your influence, right? These tactics can be likened to startup companies that obtain venture capital funding early in their existence but don't have a compelling value proposition. Just like VC funding can speed the development of promising platforms, rapidly increase a company's market share due to spending on advertising and help a company grow rapidly in size, tactics to increase followers using schemes do work well enough to guarantee that one builds a large following. But what happens after that? What do you do after you get a few thousand followers? Are your tweets interesting enough or valuable enough to sustain that number? Have you interacted directly with enough of your followers that they'll remain with you even as you focus on gaining more followers? Are you producing enough content on other channels to sustain the number of followers you've amassed? If your answer to these questions is "no" then you run the same risk as a promising startup that has created initial market momentum through outside funding, but doesn't have a good enough product or management team to continue building profitable growth. Inevitably the funding runs out and since the company doesn't generate enough revenue to remain profitable with a less-than-compelling product, it goes out of business. Likewise, on Twitter your followers will eventually leave you if you cannot sustain your follower count with authentic and useful interactions and you'll be left with little credibility. Building a new audience when your reputation has been compromised is even more difficult than building that audience organically, one person at a time, through authentic and direct interaction.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Social Media Bombs

Most social media articles cover the marketing side of social media. How marketshare can be gained, products sold, reputations built on the savvy use of web 2.0 tools. But as with any compelling new technology, this medium can also be used for other purposes. One of these is the social media bomb. Defined as a series of coordinated acts on social media networks, the social media bomb is intended to attract attention through a viral dissemination of a specific message. Recently, Amnesty International asked it's supporters to send out a message at 1:10 p.m. on Friday, March 6 on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. The message: "Each year, 1 in 10 women in Britain experience rape or other violence," was intended to raise public awareness of this issue. The results of this social media bomb are not yet known, but one can see a difference in impact between Twitter, where pages of retweets still appear and MySpace and Facebook, where nary any evidence of the message exists. Nonetheless with the profusion of social networks, and the ability to communicate on them ubiquitously, one can imagine more such awareness raising efforts in the future.