Saturday, November 15, 2003
The DoE Office of Science's big list of large-scale, 20-year basic research projects (PDF). This list is super-cool. (Via /.).
Just what we need - massive subsidies to energy producers. So they feel absolutely no pressure to innovate. Hey - it'll kickstart the economy in an election year, and that's what's important, right?
Actually, this is great example of strategy decay. The biggest effect will be to block the development of new competences that will be critical in the future - in leaner, cheaper, cleaner energy production. Do we really
need another 50,000 people skilled in treating oil or coal? Give me a break.
More about CNet buying MP3.com.
Apparently, it won't be another iTunes competitor - it'll be like a GameSpot for music. I have my doubts about the truth of this claim.
Remember when everyone thought MP3.com would be the birth of the revolution? Before it turned out that the music people submitted, well, sucked? As the article points out, the revolution really arrived with Napster.
Which illustrates that predicting where discontinuities is technology, business models, and consumer needs intersect is often counterintuitive - almost no one (especially on Wall Street) took Napster seriously until after millions of kids were already using it.
Oh yeah - they're gonna delete all the songs. It's just 'business'. No, it's not - it's myopia: here's a golden opportunity to earn massive loyalty with a huge number of people (by not deleting their songs). The beancounters can't see strategy this way - they're myopically focused on 'synergies'.
Food companies game the labelling system. Of course, everyone knows this - it just took the NYT an extra ten years to find out about it.
Article of the Week
This is probably one of the best illustrations I have ever seen of the destructive effects of price competiton- and why it's a misguided strategy. Also a killer example of the games businesses play. In this case, the example is Wal-Mart.
"...There is also no question that doing business with Wal-Mart can give a supplier a fast, heady jolt of sales and market share. But that fix can come with long-term consequences for the health of a brand and a business. Vlasic, for example, wasn't looking to build its brand on a gallon of whole pickles."
Also notes that the only strategy to really keep margins high as a supplier (since Wal-Mart is always trying to force them down) is to innovate - the results of a Bain study. What a surprise.
Phenomenal stuff, written by someone who gets business. Pick of the week.
Friday, November 14, 2003
The first functional synthetic genome is constructed, rebuilding a virus from scratch - in two weeks. Decoded: these guys synthesized viral DNA from scratch, inserted it into a cell, and the DNA used the cell to start constructing virii.
Read the press release, it's much better than the article.
What's the point of this? as the cost of synthesizing genomes drop, it becomes cheaper and cheaper to search genome space for sequences of DNA that result in organisms or organismal components with functions we find valuable - waste eaters, plaque removers, energy producers.
MS's next service pack to IE will add a pop-up blocker. Analysts point out that this could kill pop-ups as a form of advertising. Great? Not really - that means that marketers will shift to even more
annoying ways of trying to get you, because they don't understand what their value equation should be.
The blogging world is atwitter about Fleshbot - a porn blog. I think its personally pretty cheesy, because it's so obviously trying to be cool. If it's a porn blog you want, I recommend the much better Daze Reader, or one of the numerous blogs actually written by sex workers.
Wired has a breathless story about 'playlistism' - kids using playlists to judge other kids. So what? Your taste in music has always helped defined your coolness quotient. In fact, playlists are far easier to mechansims to game than, say t-shirts.
Here's a fun example: when I was a punk, there was a kid in my high school that wanted to be a punk, because it was cool - not because he liked the music. How could he do this? Well, he realized he could buy a couple of t-shirts, dye his hair, and get a mohawk. The problem was, he had no idea where to get the t-shirts, the hair dye, or the mohawk. So he paid some of the punks $50 to help him out.
Of course, it didn't work, because he wasn't seen as credible - the punks made sure everyone knew this was a financial transaction.
If he'd had access to playlists, he could have just found some angry-sounding punk tracks, added them to his playlist, and slowly been perceived as a closet punk - even though he really was nothing of the sort.
Number portability creates a market for mobile plan comparison sites, which aim to cut transaction and search costs.
Job creation in Africa. Extremely interesting article about jobs moving from places like Sri Lanks to Uganda - because of legislation that subsidizes foreign investment.
Wow. CNet acquires MP3.com and is shutting it down in it's current form. What's the rationale? My guess - they're gonna launch yet another
iTunes ripoff. (Via MetaFilter).
Very nice...Wal-Mart and P&G conduct a secret RFID test in stores with real consumers, who have no idea. Leaked by a 'disgruntled' P&G employee.
And then they wonder why people consistently name them as the two most evil corporations on the planet. What a mystery.
Palmisano says no more gadgets, gizmo, or VC's. He also claims the New Economy doesn't really exist.
Note to Sam: IBM's existence at this very time is due to a long history of gadgets and gizmos, huge ecosystem building from VCs, and, most importantly, the New Economy - without which, all of this 'On-Demand Computing' stuff would be a dream.
Slagging all this stuff off is OK for now, because you've gotta be a beancounter. What about next year, when you've gotta be a revolutionary? Something to ponder.
Intelligent tags store your preferences and alert you when a potential match or new friend is around (obviously wearing a tag too).
The social software bubble and ultra-massive success of Net dating services show us one thing that's often overlooked by the geeks and beancounters alike: technology is really good at connecting people. In fact, they derive massive value from it.
So I have high hopes for this technology - which if I'm not mistaken has been around in Japan for a number of years now.
Apparently, IM spam is on the rise. Wait - apparently, SMS spam is on the rise. Sorry - comment spam is on the rise too.
Actually (big news to journalists everywhere) spam in general is on the rise. Even door-to-door spam is back on the rise. What's not on the rise: marketers' creativity and hunger for innovation.
The FCC gave away more spectrum to wireless internet uses. I don't think is such a big deal (although the industry will make it out to be). That's because innovators generally find ways around these barriers - especially these days - and also because I think spectrum shouldn't be regulated in the first place.
Sun's releasing a free version of Java app server. What else could it do? It can't really charge much for it, since there are so many competing ones around.
Competing metadata standards. Blah, blah, blah. The need for metadata hasn't been proven yet.
Please note that I think Clay Shirky's latest piece was really, really, weak - Tim Oren's arguments are a lot better. But that's not why. I think metadata will be useful - it's just that the time horizon is pretty uncertain.
MS's MSN division posts a profit - because of advertising revenue rebound. I think this is a pretty strong signal about the renewed growth of the digital economy.
IBM's built a supercomputer the size of a TV out of the PowerPC-based chips that are going to be in Sony and Nintendo's next-gen games machines.
Nintendo's posted it's first loss since 1962. They've been in serious strategy decay for a while, and now it's catching up to them.
Thursday, November 13, 2003
Please Excuse the Politics
I've noticed that a political blogger namd Kim Du Toit has garnered a lot of attention for an essay about men in the West being 'pussies'.
I'm surprised that anyone would take this guy seriously. It's not too often that you find someone colossally stupid enough to publicly advocate genocide
"...So here's my solution for the African fiasco: a high wall around the whole continent, all the guns and bombs in the world for everyone inside, and at the end, the last one alive should do us all a favor and kill himself."
I think it says a lot about the total vacuousness and terminal intellectual bankruptcy of the political blogosphere that they actually discuss this idiot's ravings - because he peppers his writing with just enough quotes from real thinkers to fool the pseudo-intellectuals.
Interesting article about new research on evolution - suggesting that it might be a process of very large mutations, which decrease in size as the species becomes adapted.
Spoke got about $10m and LinkedIn got $5m in new funding. Are these companies worth this kind of money? I have my doubts.
One of the first industries to use Kazaa as a legitimate distribution channel ...Bollywood.
Apparently, Nokia's getting close to releasing handheld internet TV's - aka 'mobile media devices'.
"...As the traditional structures of media explode, there will be a tool to gather the fallout, organize it, and send it out with your personal touch".
Wow. They sound like ME. I guess that makes it cool. One thing's for sure: they look
The NYT asks whether science matters. Very interesting piece.
My take: of course it does. What's worrying that it matters less and less here
than it does in China, India, Russia, Singapore, and Hong Kong - to name just a few places which are competing to be the sci/tech hubs of the 21st century.
CNet's running a dubious piece about outsourcing, written by the CEO of an outsourcing firm:
"...IT professionals should start positioning themselves to become offshore managers, coordinators and leaders. They should seek active involvement in offshore or hybrid (on-site/offshore) projects".
Hey look - it's the Borg!
"...And if active projects are not available, they should volunteer to set up a simple pilot project that can help gain valuable offshoring experience".
Hey look - it's an advertorial!
Evite repositions itself as social software. Good move? Let's wait and see how the update delivers on the technical end; but strategically, it's a pretty good one: they've got a way to provide a unique social software service which could be compelling if done right. They've also got much deeper competences in their niche than any of their new competitors do.
Nice piece about the EyeToy - a camera that serves as an input device for video games.
Almost every alternative controller ever released for game consoles has failed miserably - partly because they were ahead of their time, and the games for them sucked, and partly because they didn't add much in terms of playability. Will the EyeToy stick? I think it has a decent chance.
Replication Wars, pt 666
The ART act will make it a felony to post digital media online before it's official release date - even if there's no evidence of downloads. A felony
?! With no replication actually having occurred?! That is absolutely, completely crazy.
Nokia's pursuing a strategy of aggressively trying to remove all knowledge of the N-Gage hack from the Net, as well as prosecuting anyone associated with it.
That's pretty dumb, and points to a potentially fatal flaw in Nokia's competences. So far, it's been safe from any replication economy issues. This is the first one it's had to deal with - and the way it's flipping out and pursuing totally
the wrong strategy tell us that it doesn't really know how to fight the replication wars.
Despite the best efforts of the writer, this is not a brain-computer interface. The motor system is not the cognitive system. Or the emotional system, or really anything psychologically meaningful for that matter.
But it is great news for people who suffer from neuromotor disorders, like ALS and Parkinson's.
Black hats are extorting money from Net businesses. Here's another article.
One of the cheapest disposable digital cameras gets hacked, destroying the firm's razor-and-blades style business model - you don't pay much for the camera, but you're locked in when it comes to getting prints.
This is a pretty technical hack, but it's a nice illustration of how pretty much everything that can be hacked does get hacked. So firms that are relying on consumers' lack of technical ability as a barrier to gray markets - that consumers don't have the tech skills to hack a lot of things, so they won't - are badly mistaken.
Let's wait and see how long it takes this hack to trickle down to the mass market in a more user-friendly form. (Via /.)
Replication Wars Heat Up, Pt 381
Altnet threatens to sue companies 'monitoring or meddling with' P2P networks. This is an interesting tactic, which should spark some much needed substantive debate. Is monitoring a violation of IP? Is spoofing?
Interesting piece about Salesforce versus PeopleSoft. Will Salesforce's positioning as a utility or service make all the difference? I think it might, if the traditional software CRM players don't wake up.
Korea's found an interesting way to try and solve the camera-phone privacy debacle - regulating phones to beep whenever a picture is taken.
Nokia's new push to talk phone is targeted at ... fitness fanatics. Interesting, if kind of strange.
Cisco's announced a range of 802.11g products aimed at the corporate market. Nice move.
Sharman's launching an offline ad campaign for Kazaa in specific, and file-sharing in general, hoping to legitimize it in the pubic's eyes.
Chip makers are increasingly going fabless. No surprise: the minimum efficient scale of a decent-sized semiconductor fab is really
big - in the billions.
Interesting article about the huge search costs in finding cool music on the Net - and ways around it, like collaborative filtering. Of course, playlists are just another kind of 'collaborative filter'.
MyTunes is a file-sharing application that runs on iTunes playlists. It's no surprise, because things like playlists provide massive value - by reducing search costs. Why all the digital music stores completely overlook this is a mystery - it's fairly obvious.
Wednesday, November 12, 2003
The Comment Spam Manifesto is making waves around the Net. It's a feel-good kind of thing, and I hate to be a wet blanket, but the simple truth is that spammers have much
more of an incentive to comment spam than bloggers do to delete comment spam, on average.
That makes it very difficult to reconcile the Manifesto with strategic reality: spammers will keep on comment spamming, despite bloggers' best efforts to cope.
A very interesting research bulletin from the FRBSF about the relative growth in China's IT industry, and the relative decline of the US's.
CEG - kind of an incubator for the games industry - shuts down. This is sad. I thought they were really cool. Good luck with your future careers, guys.
Beancounter of the Week
You know, I wasn't really irritated by MS's Wallop project - but after reading this, I am.
This article makes it clear that MS is going to try to parasitize, co-opt, and control the social software scene, to extract all the value from it. We all knew this - the part that bugs me is that the manager quoted seems to have absolutely no idea
what she's talking about. Which means that Microsoft is viewing this as a beancounter style project to gain control of a strategic resource.
It also really bugs me that the (as the screenshots make clear) MS is adding almost nothing, and completely ripping off all the innovation that people have contributed to this scene for years. They'll then tie it to Windows, and slowly attempt to lock people out of using anything else. I expected more.
Don't take my word for it - check out the groups' papers, which are light-years
behind the real social software scene.
The full list is at MS's Social Computing Group's site.
Circuit City outsources HR admin. News? Not really - just wanted to point out that it's not all techies that are getting the axe.
It's also interesting to apply the test that usually made to outsource strategic assets to this: core versus non-core. Is HR admin core for Circuit City?
Probably not. But what are CC's core competences? It used to have some ten years ago - service, supply chain, location. But does it really have any anymore? Is outsourcing just another way to stave off total strategic decay by cost-cutting? I think it might be in many cases.
WOW. Reed Hundt (former FCC chair) blasts the FCC for their stance towards regulating VoIP:
"...Hundt said that language indicates that the agency had already made up its mind about what rules it planned to issue, and that the December hearing would be little more than a formality".
He then takes apart the FCC's argument for regulation systematically - letting us know how weak it really is.
This article is a must-read
The relationships between tech firms and universities are getting cozier.
The danger is that academic interests are sacrificed for corporate ones. The rationale, according to this article, is that students might become prospective customers. I think that's pretty shaky strategy.
Interesting article about how a complicated patchwork of regulation is killing the online wine market.
Technology and the future of fashion. Dependent on advances in materials technology making clothes smarter and responsive to wearers and to the environment. Very cool.
Interesting article about the psychology of TiVo - really gets to the roots of why TiVo shifted the entire industry's value equation.
Recombinative Innovation: Sony announces (more or less) video iPod.
Gee, look - no DRM!
Google's checking out IRC. Why not? There's not much else left...!
This article argues that games are becoming more innovative. If these examples are anything to go by, the level of innovation is so minute, it's hardly even worth discussing.
What really needs to happen is innovation at the level of the platform architecture - new interfaces, controllers, and output methods. In other words, radical (not incremental) innovation.
I discussed this possibility a few weeks back, and it looks like it's now happening - the do-not-call list shifts marketers back to door-to-door sales.
Adaptive systems respond with compensatory perturbations - a complicated way of saying that they compensate for disturbances by upregulating other functions. This is going to be a classic example of this phenomenon in business.
Of course, it's also a tactic that's breathtaking in the sheer magnitude of it's stupidity.
It also begs the interesting question: is the business architecture of the US regressing both economically and strategically?
The Beeb's got a cool but short article about how spam is expected to spike around Christmas.
SV.com asks whether CE can turn around Gateway's strategy decay. Here's a general piece for some context.
I doubt it, because Gateway's competences aren't aligned with CE. They've recognized that, and are retooling their business model - but the fact remains that there are players with already deep competences and deep pockets entering the CE industry, like Dell.
Now if Gateway was focused on disrupting Dell via radical strategic innovation, that might give me some confidence - but they're focused more on imitating Dell.
Yeah, yeah, it's all over the Net: N-Gage games have been cracked.
Look, corporates: consumers will always find ways to unbundle embedded property rights from digital goods - so if you don't give consumers a reason to use
them along with the good, by shifting the value equation, all they'll do is get rid of the property rights in gray markets.
Like they did with old-school copy protection. And DVD region-encoding. And dongles. And will do with every form of DRM that will ever be devised. That's why DRM alone will never be enough.
Ha ha! Businessweek writes an editorial arguing the Broadcast Flag is a strategic move that leaves consumers no worse off in the short run, and better off in the long run.
What are these guys smoking? Only bother reading this article if you want an example of how to completely misunderstand
the technology, economics, and strategy of the biggest shift in the most important topic in the digital economy - digital property rights. They deserve a much more thoughtful treatment than this article gives them.
A copyright lawyer weighs in on Amazon's search-in-the-book feature. Apparently, he 'likes it', but is also makes him 'uneasy'. The rest of the commentary is a fairly predictable trawl thru copyright law; he gets happy noting that Amazon's made it tougher to 'read an entire book online'.
I don't think he really understands the power of this value proposition - it's not about 'driving sales' - it's more about locking in a user base and raising switching costs by providing massive search economies. It's about radically shifting the value equation for Amazon users - not just selling them incrementally more books.
Note to copyright lawyers: do something cool and fix copyright - instead of whinging about how copyright violations make you 'uneasy'. Copyright violations are now the rule rather than the exception in digital markets - how about some innovation?
PeoplSoft's apparently put a rather unorthodox poison pill in place to try and fight Oracle's hostile takeover. It's offering licensing rebates to customers which only kick in if Oracle's bid goes through - making the acquisition costly for Oracle.
Hey - I thought it was only cool to look
80s again, not to play finance games like it was the 80s too!!
Strategic Moves: the Appeal to Authority
Interesting article about how the DMCA is changing competitive dynamics - by giving firms an easy way to lock firms out of markets by imposing massive legislation costs almost effortlessly.
What's really behind this is that the DMCA gives firms the ability to define and expand property rights in a way that hasn't been possible before, by tying the property rights of larger goods to copyright-protected components - so now they can play strategic games with property rights in industries where this wasn't possible before.
"...He predicts deals between automakers and tiremakers, for instance, that would put copyright-protected chips in tires to prevent a car from starting unless it was fitted with automaker-approved tires".
Now that's a great way to make markets less competitive, less innovative, and less attractive places to invest in the first place (which is exactly what oligopolists always want).
Corpcoracies often wonder why people don't trust them. The answer has much to do with the fact that they set the wrong incentives - most of the time, incentives are only put in place to reinforce one strategic goal: profitability. Then they wonder why people think they're evil.
Here's an example: a CNN exec producer is caught trying to plant a question at (of all things) an election debate. Here's a Post article about it.
It's interesting to note that CNN doesn't really think this is a big deal - this tells us (among other things) how little strategic value they place on trust. In typical beancounter style, they think their oligopoly will last forever. Obviously, it won't. (Via MetaFilter).
Sunday, November 09, 2003
Everybody is drawing the conclusion from the NPD study that the RIAA's legislation threat actually forced people to delete files. Here's NPD's summary. I think this a big leap. There are several methodological problems with this study.
First, the files that were deleted weren't monitored at the time of download - so there's no way of knowing whether they came from. Second, how much did users trust NPD not to essentially as a cop for the RIAA, and inform on them? Third, NPD doesn't say which P2P services it was monitoring. Now user adoption can ebb pretty fast - maybe they were monitoring the decaying ones.
Here's another telling statistic about sample selection bias:
"...Eighty percent of the consumers who deleted files had fewer than 50 files saved; just 10 percent had more than 200 files."
Did any of these journalists even bother to read NPD's summary? It's pretty obvious from reading it that this is a seriously shaky survey.
Wallop: Microsoft's attempt to co-opt social software has all the usual suspects in a tizzy. I am suspicious of the whole sector - because I think monetization will be elusive. But I think it's really cool, and will be the foundation for new services which can be easily monetized.
Techdirt linked to this piece about business models for the publishing industry. It's really long, and might even be interesting.
I think the author is arguing that charging for access is a bad idea, because it excludes a significant portion of potential readers. That's an argument that doesn't make sense - you'll always have to exclude someone to derive value from an asset, because (assuming people value things differently), someone will always value your asset at zero.
Here's an article about one of the reasons why tech firms are shifting (skilled) jobs to India: the 'follow-the-sun' model. Of course, massive cost-saving are another.
"...What's fueling the expansion is Oracle's adoption of a "follow the sun" model for software development. It means creating duplicate research centers around the world so that when engineers in Redwood Shores are done for the day, they can hand off their project to engineers in India, compressing two shifts of software design into a single day."
Ummm. Note to beancounters: strategy does not equal productivity. In fact, productivity is really a kind of meaningless figure in knowledge intensive industries, like IT. Who cares how much programming you're getting done? Your strategic intent should be to produce a massive discontinuity that redefines your industry - this has nothing to do how many lines of code you can pump out per second.
In 2001, Michael Porter wrote an article that a lot of people kind of slagged off. His point was that the Net will make many industries more competitive, exerting downward pressure on margins, by basically lowering barriers to entry and allowing massive competition.
Apparently, the first industry in which this is happening skin mags. Read and sympathize with the publisher of Screw.
Here's an interesting article about the DRM system that the Broadcast Flag scheme is going to use - 5C. 5C is backed by all the usual suspects, and it's apparently even more locked down than we all thought. So the conclusion the author is don't buy a DTV, or help the hackers, etc.
I think that competitors will make Flagless systems (what would you do if you were a small, up-and-coming Chinese firm). Thse Net will enable a massive gray market for these systems. They'll be more expensive than protected systems - because consumers derive more value from them. This difference in price is the value of the property right - which the gray market lets smart players arbitrage. In other words, smart firms will exploit
the Broadcast Flag - not buy into it.
Nokia's considering acquiring Psion. Good move? Yes. What's the point? Trying to internalize as much of Symbian as possible - Psion is the critical player - in order to shore up it's strategic assets.
Read this article about fair-pricing to see one of the many ways in which the Street exploits simple information asymmetries to make bucks (at your expense). Note that the academic world of finance, which assumes continuous prices, is a far cry from the Street - where prices are not only discrete, but the agents have massive incentives to keep them that way.
Intel acquires Mobilian, which makes WiFi and Bluetooth chipsets for mobile devices. It's part of a larger strategy designed around acquiring knowledge to build new competences - which takes a very strong learning capability, because the point of these acquisitions is their intellectual and knowledge capital.
There's a bubble in the Manhattan club scene.
Here's an article that gets behind the call-center outsourcing phenomenon. It's interesting to note that this really is a win-win situation.
Not only are cost savings achieved, but workers in India find the work compelling and fulfilling - at least more than workers in the US, where call center jobs are perceived by many to be McJobs (which they are for an economy who's advantage is based on human capital and innovation). So they do the job better than their counterparts in the States.
But this is, I think, a special case - because the relative skill level required to succeed in this market is pretty low. I don't think this dynamic will hold in situations where social capital and intellectual capital are critical sources of advantage for a firm - because outsourcing, say, the design of one of the component of your latest chipset adds serious inflexibility and compromise costs.
The article's got a few inaccuracies - BPO is not just call centers, it's all back office stuff - but otherwise a good read.
Computers have gotten louder - which has created new niches for businesses to fight computer loudness.
Read about Steve Linford and Spamhaus - nice background info if you don't how the spam wars are being fought.
Apparently, marketers are going to try a new tactic for mobiles. There's been a registry of five-digit numbers set up in the States; they're hoping that you'll dial them, and then they'll text you something valuable - like a coupon.
The fear is that if you do this, your mobile number will be stored and spammed afterwards. Since (I believe) receivers pay for mobile time in the States - I think the average rate is about 10c a text - this could be a pretty costly tactic.
This is a bizarre tactic. What are the odds that people are going to call you to text them back something of marginal value, like a coupon - especially if the risk is losing the privacy of their mobile number? Pretty low. The marketers would be better off trying to find out what consumers actually want
from mobile marketing than tryng this tactic - which is really just push under another name.