Strategies for a discontinuous future.

Consulting & advisory, research notes, in the press, about bubblegen,
next wednesdays.

Friday, June 16, 2006


We're gonna have a little get together for Om tomorrow night at the Princess Louise (Holborn) from 7pm onwards.

Come one, come all, we'll kick back, watch a bit of the match, and generally chill out.

Oh yah, it's pretty short notice, so do me a fav and blog it, tell your friends, etc.

-- umair // 5:08 PM //

Thursday, June 15, 2006

More Googleverse

Following on from yesterday's discussion.

1) You should read the original post by Erick, and then the ensuing discussion. It's interesting because Erick makes some very cogent points, and then gets flamed for doing so (by linkfarmers/spammers/etc).

That's interesting because it tells us just how powerful the incentives for zero quality a Googleverse creates are.

2) What the �"$�! am I talking about when I say media is cultural/social/human/etc?

Guys, this should be very, very straightforward. Why do people use MySpace, MakeUpalley, and Last.fm (etc)? Because they connect with other people (the social). What's at the heart of this connection? Shared culture.

It is this shared culture that is commoditizing media - not simply technology or the erosion of entry barriers. Shared culture is what makes the economic difference - it is what drives the superior attention economics of markets, networks, and communities - at least on the consumer side (whereas, on the supply side, the game is about achieving discontinuous productivity/efficiency gains a la AdWords).

Now, that has a very straightforward implication: instead of fighting the social and the cultural, firms must learn to leverage it (VCs must learn to invest in it, etc). That doesn't mean investing in content. Rather, it means investing in, essentially, social and cultural capital.

Does that sound woolly? Probably. So let's try and make it more concrete. It's exactly what Fox has done by investing in karaoke, sports, and social nets. It's exactly what the Myspace guys built. It's exactly what happened at Habbo Hotel, World of Warcraft, Suicide Girls, Metafilter, Big Brother, and countless other media snowballs of the last decade.

You can refer back to my Fox vs Denuo investment thesis research note from a few weeks back if you want to dig in to more of this.

-- umair // 4:22 PM //

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

World Cup

So...does the World Cup suck so far or what. I'm pretty disappointed, I have to say.

-- umair // 3:47 PM //


Industry Update - The People vs the Googleverse

We've talked at length about the ugliness and of a media industry dominated by Google. Scott K has a nice post today where he uses linkfarms as an example of exactly that.

Let's think about linkfarms for a sec. Why do they exist (really)? They're the equivalent, in the media world, of program trading in the financial world. In Scott's examples, entrepreneurs are finding ways to arbitrage Google itself: they are exploiting the fact that PageRank's expected value of attention and AdSense's financial value of attention are out of sync.

Let me try and make this explicit. Imagine a screen with zero or even negative real attention value - a picture of Donald Rumsfeld naked, for example. If this pic got a high PageRank, it would pay to put ads on it. In fact, since the marginal cost of AdSense is zero, it pays to put ads, well, everywhere. And that's exactly what linkfarms are.

But, of course, there's a loser in this game - there must be, since no attention value is created, but attention is being exchanged. In the end, it's consumers, and, to a much smaller extent, advertisers. Consumers pay by spending attention to which returns are essentially zero, and advertisers pay with clicks whose propensity to consume isn't very high (but not many of them will be so interested in that for another couple of years).

Put another way, It is the expected value of attention of consumers which PageRank is supposed to, somewhat accurately, compute. But as long as there's no real competition in search (and let's be honest - there really isn't), Google can keep shifting the costs of this arbitrage on to consumers.

As Scott puts it, "the media business has been reduced to pure transaction". That's a brilliant statement - he's exactly right. In fact, his statement parallels Mark Pincus's very nice analogy from a few months back - Google as Wal-Mart. The dynamics are very much the same: scale economies are achieved by shifting costs elsewhere; at the expense of consumers, quality, etc.

Though Silicon Valley - and now, increasingly LA and New York - are obsessed with the algorithmic, they are failing to understand the essence of media economics. The real opportunity for media players isn't in making the old value chain marginally more efficient by sucking the friction out of transactions.

The end result of the algorithmic path is ugliness and even more consumer alienation with media. Ultimately, those strategies devolve into phenomena like linkfarms - because they are predicated on purely technological notions of making obsolete value chain architectures and business models more "efficient" and "productive".

Rather, the real opportunity for media players - in fact, players across consumer industries - is in discovering that what happens at the edge - new resource transformations, like unbundling (and rebundling) - lets them fundamentally alter the basic economics of media itself.

Let me make that more concrete: Media is deeply personal, social, cultural, human, creative - and so it's economics aren't those of simple technological scale, because, more often than not, technological scale kills those things (think Clear Channel roboDJs). The real opportunity is in leveraging the new forms at the edges of the firms - markets, networks, communities - to explode just how personal, social, cultural, human and creative media can be.

It should be painfully clear that, in the Googleverse, media is none of those things - it's just a commodity filtered, sorted, and "processed" by machines. Which is deeply reminiscent of the 20th century's scale and scope driven Great Rationalization of consumer industries, where goods ultimately became "commodities" which were "processed" by machine, assembly line, and bureaucracy (think meat-packing, clothes, and cosmetics).

If there's a single lesson those industries yield today, it's that that entire way of thinking about business is deeply out of touch with the new world of consumption. And ultimately, that's the flaw at the heart of the Googleverse - consumers play almost exactly the same role in it that they did, suprisingly, in the industrial economy.

NB: No, I'm not saying that "empowered" consumers will begin composing sonatas and producing movies to rival Kiarostami's. Rather, I'm pointing out that the economics of cultural industries change when consumers connect, and we should see greater (returns to) creativity; not necessarily because consumers make them, but maybe only because consumers are better at helping choose them.

Of course, this is exactly what the Googleverse stops from happening - the Googleverse, if you follow my argument, implodes returns to creativity.

-- umair // 2:26 PM //

Monday, June 12, 2006


Guys, I haven't been writing much because I have some family issues to deal with. Depending on whether writing is therapeutic (or not), I will be posting (or not).

Also, feel free to comment here on stuff you want me to talk about, since I know I have missed a ton (ton) of interesting stuff lately.

-- umair // 9:09 PM //



A nice Jefferies report on Cleantech, via Marc Goldberg.

-- umair // 2:13 PM //



Om's gonna be in town on Saturday and he wants to pick a place to meet, preferably a pub. I'm actually not sure if I'll be here, but those of you that wanna meet can coordinate here or @ GigaOm...

-- umair // 1:57 PM //

Sunday, June 11, 2006

What Detroit Can Learn From Bangalore

Reason: What Detroit Can Learn From Bangalore: A booming city�s lessons for a town in decline

An interesting analysis. Also relevant in the context of our recent musings on Europe. (via Marginal Revolution)

-- Mahashunyam // 5:39 PM //



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