Jan 282016
e-commerce giant eBay head office

Just how mismatched PayPal and eBay were is now becoming apparent since the two companies separated last year.

Yesterday, PayPal beat the street with 23 percent growth in its payment figures along with an additional six million new users. The company’s stocks rose 17% following the news.

For eBay’s investors the news wasn’t so good with the company reporting no increase in US sales over the key Christmas buying quarter despite the National Retail Federation reporting a nine percent gain for the entire industry.

One of the main criticisms of eBay being part of PayPal was that there were no reasons for the two companies to be joined and so it is proving now they have gone back to separate entities.

For eBay, it’s hard not think that the opportunity has passed with the market moving on from the days of households selling their unwanted items to e-commerce now being a major industry dominated by traditional chains and, most menacingly, Amazon.

While PayPal is travelling better its business is still under great threat from other payment platforms, particularly while much of its revenue is still locked into desktop software. Shifting to more API and mobile based streams is going to be essential for the company wanting to compete in a very changed marketplace.

The failed PayPal-eBay venture will go down as one of the great missed opportunities of the first Dot Com wave as both companies were distracted from growing while the industry evolved over the last decade. No doubt some of today’s unicorns will suffer the same fate as they respond to a changing marketplace.

Jan 252016

For the developing world, broadband and mobile communications are helping

In Myanmar, the opening of the economy has meant accessible telecommunications for the nation’s farmers reports The Atlantic.

At the same time, Indian Railway’s Telecommunications arm RailTel is opening its fibre network to the public, starting with Wi-Fi at major stations.

What is notable in both cases is the role of Facebook. In India, Facebook’s project to offer free broadband access across the nation is meeting some resistance and it’s probably no coincidence Indian Railway’s WiFi project is being run as partnership with Google.

In Myanmar on the other hand, Facebook and Snapchat are the go to destination for rural communities, it will be interesting to watch how this plays out as farmers start to use the social media service for price discovery and finding new markets – as Tencent Chairman SY Lau last year claimed was happening with Chinese communities.

One of the promises of making the Internet available to the general public was that it would enable the world to become connected, thirty years later we may be seeing the results.

Jan 232016
Computer security is evolving in a time of social media

As one does on a weekend, I’m working my way through the 2016 Cisco Security Report.

There are plenty of insights on online security trends which I’ll cover in tomorrow’s blog post but one aspect that sticks out in the report is the case study on the Angler Exploit which takes advantage of hacked domain registrar accounts to create new domain names to serve phishing pages, ransomware sites and malicious advertisements.

Dealing with these sites is a major problem for network administrators and Cisco claims many of the domains registered haven’t yet been used by online criminals.

The Angler exploit shows just how complex internet security has become. The issue of trust is a complex thing and certainly no-one can trust every domain we see. That there are thousands of ‘disposable’ domains available to scammers only makes things more difficult for the average user.

Jan 192016
censorship on the internet and social media

The Libertarian dream of a free trade zone out of reach of authorities on the Dark Web has come to an end reports Wired.

Ironically it’s not the authorities that have discredited these sites but the untrustworthiness of the various contraband services’ operators that have doomed these illicit marketplaces.

While there’s still potential for these dark web markets to evolve into something more robust their current failure shows that radically changing existing institutions and systems is rarely happens quickly and without cost, as those with stolen Bitcoins are learning.

Dec 232015

It appears the penetration of home broadband has peaked in the United States report the Pew Research Centre.

Since the organisation’s last home broadband survey in 2013, the proportion of adults living in a household with a fixed high speed connection has fallen from 70% to 67% while those relying solely on a smartphone connection has gone from 8 to 13 percent.

This also coincides with 15% of respondents reporting that they’ve cancelled cable or satellite TV subscriptions as they can now get the content they want from the internet. It’s clear the shift away from broadcast is now firmly on.

One of the jarring notes from the Pew survey is the digital divide developing with nearly half those without a home broadband connection citing cost, either of the Internet service or that of a computer, being the main barrier to going online.

According to Pew, Americans are acutely aware of the problems of not having broadband with two-thirds of those surveyed believing not having a home high-speed internet connection is a major disadvantage to finding a job.

The Pew survey shows how attitudes to Internet accessibility is changing, increasingly we’re seeing it as an essential like power and the telephone. Increasingly access to broadband is going to be a political issue.

Dec 192015

With the rapid advances in driverless cars, it was only a matter of time before the question of what happens when people encounter them would be answered.

It turns out not too well for the autonomous vehicles reports Bloomberg citing a study by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute that found driverless cars have accident rates double those of normal vehicles.

As it turns out, those accidents are usually minor and are caused by humans colliding with the autonomous vehicles as the law abiding computers catch drivers unawares.

That people aren’t very good at driving cars isn’t a surprise but now we’re seeing what happens when distracted, mistake prone humans encounter cautious and usually correct computers.

We now have to start thinking about what happens when artificial intelligence encounters human frailty.

Dec 162015
Networks and computers connecting to the web

China held an internet conference today where, as Forbes reports, President Xi Jinping laid out the nation’s vision of an Internet that ‘complies with Chinese laws.’

That Internet is a walled garden where access to sites like Facebook are blocked and an army of censors make sure that subjects which aren’t to the Chinese Communists Party’s approval are promptly removed.

Meanwhile in the US, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump stated the Internet should closed down for America’s enemies.

That both the Chinese government and Donald Trump agree on something shouldn’t be surprising, however the urge to monitor and shut down the Internet is shared by many governments. It’s an urge that needs to be resisted.