Feb 152015
 
Networks and computers connecting to the web

Tech journalist Kara Swisher has a twenty-five minute interview with President Obama on his relationship with the technology industry and Silicon Valley, it’s an interesting snapshot on how the United States sees its role as custodian of the internet.

In talking about European agencies’ efforts to reign in the power of companies like Google the President is dismissive; “we have owned the Internet. Our companies have created it, expanded it, perfected it, in ways they can’t compete. And oftentimes what is portrayed as high-minded positions on issues sometimes is designed to carve out their commercial interests.”

Obama is absolutely correct to say the Internet currently belongs to the United States, it was the US that developed the technologies and built the initial infrastructure for the global network in a similar way it did for the GPS system.

The internet probably won’t remain the US’s sole domain as China, Indian, Russia and other powers find control of the global communication network resting with the US isn’t in their interests and develop work arounds or rival technologies.

Just as Spain and then the English once dominated the world’s shipping and communications, it may well be the US’s dominance of the Internet is not permanent.

Feb 012015
 
apple-iPhone5s-5Up_Features_iOS8_PRINT

Last week Google and Facebook announced their quarterly results with the search engine giant continuing its worrying slowing of advertising revenue. The respective changes of the two online services show how online advertising is changing.

While Google slows, Facebook is showing accelerating growth for its advertising, driven mainly by mobile users, illustrating the shift in internet usage from desktops to smartphones.

In its 2014 New Digital Consumer report, market research company Nielsen observed that US consumers in 2013 were spending more time accessing the internet on their smartphones than on personal computers; PC use had fallen seven percent to 27 hours a week while mobile use had surged 40% in 2013 to 34 hours.

Television still remained dominant with the combination of live and time shifted TV viewing making up 144 hours of the average American’s week, although it did fall slightly.

Nielsen-time-spent-per-device-2013

Those figures are a year out of date and there’s no doubt the numbers have accelerated since then. One of Tim Cook’s triumphs at Apple has been the release of the iPhone 6 and the larger form factors in the current generation of smartphones is a response to consumers’ demand to watch video on their devices.

Bigger Android, Windows and Apple smartphones will only seen even more people using their mobiles to watch video and surf the web.

Which puts Google’s predicament in sharp focus; we are definitely in the post-PC world yet their revenue still overwhelmingly comes in from desktop users while Facebook’s is increasingly coming from mobile consumers.

A strength Google has is that its revenues still dwarf the social media upstart’s – Google’s income is currently six times greater and its gross profit margin doubles that of Facebook’s – giving it plenty of leeway to change.

The question is where do the new revenues come from? Probably the biggest opportunity Google missed was in replacing the Yellow Pages franchises with their own local small business listings with Google Your Business (aka Google Place and Google Plus for Business) being lost in a confused and bureaucratic corporate strategy.

Compounding the problem for Google in the small business space is Apple’s entry and while Apple Maps is no contender against Google’s far superior product, an integration with Apple Pay would give Apple far more rich data to enhance listings with – not to mention more of an incentive for merchants to sign up.

With the changing web, Google are going to have to change as well. If advertising is going to remain the mainstay of their business then the company needs to find a way to capture smartphone users.

It could be worse however, a report from consulting firm Strategy Analytics estimates print media’s share of advertising revenue fell another seven percent this year. Time is running out for newspapers.

strategy-analytics-share-of-advertising-revenue

While print is ailing, the advertising battleground is mobile digital although TV still dwarfs the market. How this evolves in the next five years will define the next generation of media tycoons.

Jan 312015
 
google-larry-page-sergei-brin-driverless-car

The one factor that saw Microsoft become the biggest computer software company was the rise of the personal computer, similarly the decline of the PC has seen Microsoft stagnate.

One of the companies that benefited from the forces that pushed Microsoft into stagnation was Google and now it appears they could be suffering the same fate.

Yesterday Google released their quarterly results which showed the rate of growth in online advertising is slowing, which is a worry for the company as internet marketing accounts for 90% of the firm’s income.

Like Microsoft, Google has to diversify. Whether it’s the internet of things, smartphones, apps, driverless cars or something else remains to be seen but the pressure is building. Should the shift to mobile or other advertising mediums accelerate, Google could be looking at a declining market and the same problems as Microsoft.

Jan 102015
 
we need to treat chinese markets carefully

Today’s links have a distinctly Chinese flavour around them with a look at how the country’s smartphone manufacturers are coming to dominate their market, Tencent’s plans for global domination and how property developers are looking to the internet to save their falling sales.

Uber and Microsoft make their regular appearances to round out the links in their changes to billing and security.

Chinese property developers turn to the web

Faced with declining sales, Chinese property developers embrace – the Internet!

How Chinese smartphone makers are beginning to dominate the market

The rise of China’s smartphone makers: 10 of the top 17 smartphone manufacturers now come from China.

An interview with Tencent

Business Insider has an intriguing interview with one of the VPs of Chinese internet giant Tencent.

In his Q&A, S. Y. Lau discusses how Chinese communities are seeing their incomes rise due to the internet. One of the famous case studies of connectivity are India’s Kerala fishermen who used SMS to arbitrage their market. We may be seeing a similar story with Chinese tea farmers.

Microsoft restrict warning of patches to paying customers

In a short term money grabbing exercise, Microsoft have unveiled a plan to only inform enterprise customers of upcoming security patches. My prediction is this won’t last.

Uber cuts prices

Car hiring service Uber has cut its fares in thirty US cities while guaranteeing drivers their incomes. This is probably a move to keep competitors like Lyft at bay.

Oct 282014
 
twitter-headquarters

Twitter yesterday released its third quarter 2014 results which saw the stock drop a stunning thirteen percent in the half hour after the announcement.

For Twitter’s management and shareholders the worrying thing about the stock drop is the result was in line with analyst’s expectations, the shares fell because its clear the service isn’t getting the traction investors believe is necessary to succeed online.

Investors however have only themselves to blame; as a business Twitter is simply not worth it’s thirty billion dollar stock market capitalisation; it may be worth five billion, it may be worth ten but it’s desperately overpriced at its current prices.

Zuckerberg’s curse

Almost all social media services, and many tech startups, are suffering the curse of Mark Zuckerburg — Facebook’s success has led investors to believe that all online businesses should be valued in the ten of billions.

Making matters worse, Facebook’s billion dollar purchases of Instagram, Oculus VR and WhatsApp have baked the expectation of huge valuations into the startup community. Now every service with a modest user base believes it’s worth something similar to WhatsApp’s $19 billion.

The worry is that companies like Twitter carry out dumb and ill advised things to emulate Facebook and maintain its overvalued stockprice which will damage both their brands and customer base.

For many of these social media services it might be worthwhile admitting that they aren’t Facebook and accept they are a niche product.

It may well be those niches are more profitable than being a mass market product and the idea that online success involves huge takeup is just another relic of the Twentieth Century broadcast model.

Unfortunately while Facebook dominates the social media market and Google continues to draw most of its revenue from online advertising, the wild over valuations and flawed business models will continue.

Aug 242014
 
Webvan-home-delivery

At the peak of the dotcom mania in 1998 delivery services were all the go, those days are back reports Claire Cain Miller in the New York Times.

“We’re really well funded, so that is not something we’re as worried about,” Aditya Shah, Instacart’s general manager says. “Growth is the most important factor.”

This is the classic Silicon Valley Greater Fool model, where the aim is to get as many customers as possible to make the business attractive to a cashed up large corporation.

It might work, but the odds of being an Amazon or Salesforce – both companies have barely made a profit in the decade and a half they’ve been running – is unlikely.

One of the big problems is that delivery doesn’t scale, the ‘last mile’ problem of getting the goods to the customer remains the most complex and expensive part of the process.

Drones may solve the labour cost problem and sophisticated algorithms from companies like Uber may make the process more efficient but it’s unlikely an ad-hoc delivery service can ever scale to the degree these entrepreneurs project, unlike the post office and courier services where the system is built around predictable delivery routines.

Uber is the company that validated the model of today’s delivery startups, as Miller mentions;

“Meanwhile, venture capitalists joke that every other entrepreneur they meet pitches an “Uber for X,” bringing goods and services on demand: laundry (Washio), ice cream (Ice Cream Life), marijuana (Eaze) and so on.”

It’s hard to see how the current craze of delivery startups will end any better than the Webvans and dozens of other services that soared and crashed in the late 1990s, however business models are changing and it may be one of these will find the formula that works in the new economy.

Jul 232014
 
business planning session

“Every large company is just another color of a spore in a petrie dish.”

For the latest Decoding the New Economy video Internet Pioneer Doc Searls discusses The Respect Network, online privacy and the future of business on the web.

Doc Searls is one of the internet’s pioneers who helped write The Cluetrain Manifesto that laid out many of the ideas that underpinned the philosophies driving the early days of the internet.

Searls’ visit to Sydney was part of the rolling worldwide launch of the Respect Network, a system designed to improve internet users’ privacy through ‘personal clouds’ of information where people can choose to share data with companies and others.

A big reset button on business

In many ways The Respect Network shows how the internet has evolved since the days of the Cluetrain Manifesto, something that Searls puts in context.

“We wrote the Cluetrain Manifesto in 1999,” says Searls. “At that time Microsoft ruled the world, Apple was considered a failure – Steve Jobs had come along and they had the iMac but it was all yet to be proven – Google barely existed and Facebook didn’t exist at all.”

“On the one hand we saw the internet, we being the four authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto, and this whole new thing in the world that basically hit a big reset button on ‘business as usual'”

“It did that. I think we’re vindicated on that.”

Resetting business

“What we have now are new industrial giants; Apple became an industrial giant, Microsoft are fading away, Nokia was the number one smartphone company and they’re all but gone.”

One of the key things with today’s markets in Searls’ view is the amount of information that businesses can collect on their customers; something that ties into the original Cluetrain idea of all markets being conversations.

With the evolution of Big Data and the internet of things, Searls sees challenges for companies using old marketing methods which rely upon online tracking. Something that’s a challenge for social media services and many of the existing internet giants.

“The interesting thing is there’s a lot more intelligence that a company can get directly from their customers from things they already own than following us around on the internet.”

Breaking the silos

Searls also sees the current trend towards the internet being divided into little empires as a passing phase, “every company wants a unique offering but we need standards.”

For Searls the key thing about the current era internet is we’re only at the beginning of a time that empowers the individual,  “the older I get, the earlier it seems.”

“Anyone of us can do anything,” Searls says. “That’s the power – I’m optimistic about everything.”