Paul Wallbank

Paul Wallbank is a speaker and writer charting how technology is changing society and business. Paul has four regular technology advice radio programs on ABC, a weekly column on the website and has published seven books.

Sep 222014

We’re past the time where business owners can dismiss new technologies as toys says Profitable Hospitality’s Ken Burgin.

Ken’s Profitable Hospitality website is a must read for anybody in the industry and I was lucky enough to be the the guest of his 99th podcast where we discussed payment systems, marketing and the challenges facing restaurant and cafe operators in a changing marketplace.

In the podcast we discuss PayPal’s plans for the retail sector along with how startups like Stripe look to disrupt the sector and what Apple’s announcements last week will mean to the payments industry.

The key message from the podcast is the entire sector is facing massive changes both from technology and changing consumer behaviour.

Like many other industries, the successful restaurant and cafe businesses over the next decade will be those who have the flexibility to adapt to a very different world.

Sep 212014
newspapers are dying as the media business models move online

A great piece by Michael Wolff in Town and Country describes how the Forbes family struggled with making their magazine work in the digital economy.

For the Forbes family, it was always going to be hard stepping into the shoes of the late Malcolm after he unexpectedly passed away in 1990 and unfortunately for them that happened to coincide with the end of the great era of publishing wealth.

Twenty five years later the family are largely removed from the publication which is a shadow of its former self with its best hope for survival lying with Asian investors who still see some value in the brand.

What’s particularly poignant about Wolff’s story is the Forbes family did nothing wrong — they embraced the new platforms, experimented with digital and tried to find a way to make their business work in the online marketplace.

As it turned out, the old advertising and publishing model was horribly and irredeemably broken.

Forbes Magazine’s decline is an important tale for the whole publishing industry, for both the brash new entrants and for the struggling established players.



Sep 202014

Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba floated on the New York Stock Exchange and immediately rang up a 38% gain that values the company at $238 billion, behind only Microsoft, Apple and Google in tech stock valuations.

One of the major shareholders in Alibaba is Yahoo! who posted a 2.7% drop in value despite picking up a $5 billion windfall from the Chinese companies float.

For Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma, this float and the stock market’s reaction is a vindication of his business and of China’s place in the modern global economy, something we discussed with early Alibaba employee Porter Erisman last year.

Alibaba also shows that Chinese companies are now credible international businesses and companies like Haier, Lenovo and Hauwei need to be taken seriously as competitors and suppliers.

While Jack Ma and Alibaba celebrate, Marissa Mayer and Yahoo!’s management team are going to have to give some careful thought about how to use that extra five billion dollars. Time and investor patience is dwindling away for the once powerful internet giant.

It may be too soon to draw Alibaba’s success and the fall of Yahoo! as being the parallel of the rise of the Chinese economy and the decline of the US, but yesterday does give a strong signal about how the global economy is changing.

Image source:

Sep 192014

Having seen Robert Scoble interview dozens of startups and founders, it was fascinating to get him on the other side of the camera for a Decoding the New Economy interview.

One of areas I was keen to explore with Scoble was his experience of moving from his blogging platform to Facebook and particularly the risk of being locked in a silo, something previously discussed with Doc Searls.

“I’d rather all my content wasn’t in Facebook,” Scoble observes, “but those days are over.”

Unlike Searls, Scoble sees the social media networks — particularly Facebook — as being a useful distribution tool while accepting their limitations; “I find I get a lot more engagement and distribution on Facebook.”

“Unlike a lot of other journalists I don’t have to make my money out of advertising so I don’t care about taking my eyeballs off the blog and onto Facebook.”

“It does limit my storytelling ability because you can only use one video and I can’t do a lot of typographic stuff,” says Scoble, “people are seeing these on mobile phones anyway so they don’t want to see all of this stuff anyway.”

The mobile aspect is key to the business world going forward, we stopped midway through the interview to buy an iPhone 6 which went on pre-order right in the middle of the discussion.

For the mobile world Scoble sees the rise of various ecosystems like Google’s and Apple’s forcing people to make choices about which camp they are going to join.

Like many in the tech industry, Scoble is very cautious about looking too far ahead; “none of the people, even the investors, are looking more than five years ahead.”

The key though is miniaturization as devices get smaller and more portable, the potential for technology becomes greater.

Whether that potential is limited by the desire of vendors to lock users into silos remains to be seen.


Sep 182014

Yesterday Barcelona won the 2014 Bloomberg Mayors’ Challenge — a ideas competition for European cities.

Barcelona’s winning idea was collaborative care networks for older citizens. In Barcelona’s case one in five residents is over 65 and by 2o40 seniors will make up a quarter of the city’s population.

The approach Barcelona’s council has proposed is a combination of high tech and the community working together.

Barcelona will use digital and low-tech strategies to create a network of family members, friends, neighbors, social workers, and volunteers who together make up a “trust network” for each at-risk elderly resident.

Last year I had the opportunity to interview the Deputy Mayor of Barcelona, Antoni Vives, on how the city was using the internet of things to improve citizens’ lives.

In that interview Vives spoke on how important was that these technologies improved the lives of all citizens, not just the young and the rich. Today’s prize illustrates how the city is applying that philosophy.

For technologists, one of the tasks ahead is to show how today’s inventions are more than the toys of rich men, but are things that genuinely improve society’s well being.


Sep 172014
businesses paying bills and invoices

It didn’t take long for the competition in the payments market to heat  up after the announcement of Apple Pay last week as PayPal launched a campaign asking if you’d trust your financials to a business who can’t protect your selfies.

While PayPal  pokes fun at Apple, there are more serious competitive pressures developing as the companies start negotiating with credit card providers and banks to reduce their rates. This is something that will be an immediate benefit for businesses of all sizes who are prepared to renegotiate their contracts.

Most businesses, big and small, are poor at monitoring what they pay for a service; while they’ll shop around and negotiate when they’re looking for provider, they’ll let often these contracts go for years without reviewing them – something that utilities like banks, telcos and power companies take advantage of.

I was reminded of this earlier this week at a lunch with some senior Qantas accountants who were quite open about how every supplier’s contract was constantly reviewed and discounts were aggressively pursued. It’s a tough life for the airline’s subcontractors.

Times are tough for Qantas though, having sustained a 2.8 billion Aussie dollar loss last year along with constant declines in market share and stock prices. So it’s not surprising they have an aggressive cost cutting strategy in place.

Many other industries are now looking at the same problem as the global economy is now in a phase of at best anemic growth for the foreseeable future, which makes it essential for all businesses to start reviewing their costs.

With the banking sector now being disrupted by companies like PayPal and Apple, it might be time for all businesses to ask some hard questions of their banks and payment providers. The time is right to strike a deal.

Sep 162014

Yesterday Microsoft confirmed the rumours that it would buy Minecraft developer Mojang for 2.5 billion dollars.

Following the announcement, Mojang founder Markus Persson — aka Notch — wrote a touching blog post on his leaving the company he founded.

The business had become too big and the demands of Minecraft’s legion of fans were taking their toll; it was time for Persson to move on to keep his sanity.

“If I ever accidentally make something that seems to gain traction, I’ll probably abandon it immediately.”

For all the hubris we hear from technology company founders and CEOs, it’s those like Persson who probably will end up making the most difference to the world.