Aug 262014

Is the Daily Mail the future of online publishing? In USA Today Michael Wolff posits that the British media outfit might be the first newspaper company to navigate the transition from print to digital.

Certainly the 180 million unique visitors a month make it the English language’s most popular news site which, despite the unease and criticisms about its brand of journalism, shows the model might be working.

Wolff puts the success down to the digital arm being autonomous to the print operations, making the point its hard to simultaneously defend the old, but still profitable, print mastheads while growing the digital platforms.

It would be sad if it were a crusty incumbent that becomes the David Sarnoff of the digital era rather than some smart and hungry kids from a barrio or ghetto,  but there’s no reason why one of the established newspaper groups couldn’t be the people who reinvent the media for modern times.

There’s plenty of competition though from groups like Vice, Buzzfeed and dozen of others. Despite the Daily Mail’s successes, there’s still no shortage of opportunity

Aug 252014

“Welcome aboard the world’s first Dreamliner,” is Air New Zealand’s proud announcement on boarding at Sydney for the three hour flight to Auckland.

The plane is shiny with lots of new fangled gadgets, the most notable being the polarised glass window shades that electronically ‘open’ or ‘close’. The toilets are like something from the Jetsons and one wonders what the Japanese fitout of this plane offers in the lavatories.

A serious downside with the plane is the three-three-three economy configuration that makes for a very cramped seat and on the packed flight like NZ104 it’s difficult to work on a laptop even with an accommodating partner one side and a nice old lady on the other. Two adjoining road warriors would be playing duelling elbows for the entire flight.

To add to the disappointment with the seats they aren’t particularly comfortable. For the three hour journey between Sydney and Auckland they are tolerable but they would be a painful experience on a longer haul flight.


One area Air New Zealand excels in is with its inflight entertainment system with an excellent range of movies, TV series and music. The favourites playlist actually works, unlike its equivalents on Qantas and United Airlines. A nice little touch is you can email your favourites list from the seat.

The touchscreen is responsive although not quite as intuitive as one might expect on a modern airliner.

A downside with the 787 entertainment system is the sound levels are quite low, the volume has to be cranked up until nearly the maximum before you can hear soundtracks. If you have your own headphones with volume control then this is the time to use them.

If you’re bringing other equipment, there are two power socket for every three seats which are easily accessible in the base of the seats in front. This is a lot easier than hiding them in the armrests — on the Qantas business class flight last month I had to ask the cabin crew where they were hidden after half an hour searching.

Despite the plane being full, there’s ample room in the luggage bays. This is possibly due to Kiwis not pushing the limits the way Asian, American and Australian travellers do with carry on baggage.

The cabin crew are the usual friendly and helpful bunch that Air New Zealand does well although they seem a bit overworked in the early stages of the flight. Service is a bit slow out of Sydney with nothing but a glass of water for the first hour. Tough if you haven’t eaten and you’re waiting on a lunch.

Once service begins the food is good standard economy fare with the choice of piri-piri chicken or lamb tagine and complimentary bar if travelling on ‘Works’ or ‘Full Works’ tickets.


The lamb tagine, a combination of diced lamb and sausage on couscous is touch greasy while the chicken salad was bland and inoffensive.

Travelling on the ‘Works’ or ‘Full Works’ package includes meals and beverages with drinks ordered through the IFE menu are quick to arrive which were much needed after the long wait for the initial food service.

Arrival in Auckland was fifteen minutes early despite the almost predictable ground delays in Sydney and overall the experience was pleasant, even if one gets off the plane with a sore bum and bruised elbows.

Overall, the Air New Zealand 787 Dreamliner service is an efficient way of getting across the Tasman with some nice quirky touches although in economy though you wouldn’t want to be travelling too much further.


Aug 162014

Last Thursday saw China Mobile and Australia’s Telstra release their annual results.

Both have impressive numbers that illustrate how the telco industry is changing along with some stark differences between the two nation’s business culture.

For both companies their results show how voice and SMS are declining as the ‘rivers of gold’ for telecoms operators around the world; China Mobile’s voice revenues are down 6% while  Telstra’s fixed line voice fell by a similar amount.

In Australia, the incumbent telco (which sometimes advertises on this blog) continued its dominant position in its market with net profit rising nearly 15% on the back of 6.1% increase in income.


Telstra’s results also showed how the Aussie telecommunications market is now primarily a mobile sector; while the advantages of being the incumbent are substantial the real growth and profits in the business are in it’s non traditional sectors. It’s little wonder the company is happy to give away its legacy copper systems to the government’s troubled National Broadband Network.

In the PRC, the news wasn’t so good with China Mobile’s net profit for the first half of the year falling  8.5 per cent as its traditional voice and messaging businesses faced continued pressure from social media firms, despite revenue being up nearly five percent.

China Telecom is under pressure from competitors while in Australia the incumbents are doing very well. This is true across much of the Aussie economy.

While China Mobile is staking its future on its 4G rollout, Telstra is seeing the Internet of Things and Machine to Machine (M2M) markets as being the key markets, despite Gartner flagging the IoT as being at peak of the Hype Cycle.

It may well turn out to be the other way round — Chinese businesses and governments are far quicker to embrace the IoT than their Australian equivalents while Telstra’s biggest competitive advantage against SingTel Optus and Vodafone is it’s far superior 4G network.

China Mobile’s and Telstra’s competing fortunes tell us much about each country’s telecommunications markets along with the direction of both nation’s economies.

Aug 082014

This blog has been particularly interested in how social media tools  are changing management.

Last year we had an interview with Yammer’s founder Pisoni on how fast communications are breaking down business silos.

Matt Honan has an interview in Wired magazine with the founder of Slack, Stewart Butterfield.

Slack is a corporate communications tool and Butterfield sees the company as being  the next Microsoft.

While that’s a big call, Butterfield shouldn’t be taken lightly having founded Flickr and following the company into its being absorbed by Yahoo!. Butterfield’s resignation letter after several years is an entertaining read.

Whether Slack becomes the next Microsoft or not, the changes to business communications with services like this are profound.

Dealing with the new ways of communicating within a business is going to be one of the greatest challenges to company managers over the next decade.

Jul 292014

‘Her” was released six months ago, but a 14 hour flight between Sydney and Los Angeles was an opportunity to catch up on movies missed. From a technologist’s view Spike Jonze’s story worth thinking about.

The story revolves around Theodore Twombly, played by Joaquin Phoenix, a writer struggling with his divorce from his childhood sweetheart.

He’s a bit of a geek – who goes to the beach dressed like they are at work?

Theodore’s life changes when he installs OS1 on his pocket computer. Billed as the first artificially intelligent operating system, the program’s interface is witty, intuitive and named Samantha, played by Scarlett Johansson. Theodore falls madly and hopelessly in love.

Samantha, like all good operating systems, takes control of Theodore’s online world and quickly starts to take over the rest of his life.

As Theodore and Samantha’s relationship develops, his neighbours and friends Amy and Charles separate, Charles goes to a Buddhist retreat and Amy, played by Amy Adams, becomes deeply involved with her own iteration of OS1.

The question as you watch the movie is how many of the crowds on the subway, beach and mall with Theodore are deeply in relationships with their own Samanthas. Almost everyone Theodore passes is talking to their own personal devices.

From a technologist’s point of view, Jonze’s vision of the near future is a fascinating. It’s one where screens are not the important part of people’s lives – Theodore rarely looks at his pocketbook computer outside of his work at Beautiful Personal Letters and he certainty doesn’t have a smartwatch as almost everything is done is by voice recognition.

A key part of Jonze’s vision is the alienation of people looking for human contact and in many ways this is reflected in today’s social media world – we’re all looking for our own Samanthas; witty, understanding and aligned with our view of the world.

One wonders how the helpdesk of Element Software, the developers of OS1, deal with the complexities of human relationships; particularly from angry spouses whose partners have ditched them for their more empathetic computers.

For Theodore, a hint to his future employment prospects are shown when he asks Samantha to proof read his work – she is very, very good at it and it’s not hard to see him and his letter writing colleagues being replaced by artificial intelligence in the very near future.

There’s also the privacy aspects; Theodore is writing personal letters for his company’s clients that he shares with Samantha who in turn passes them onto a publisher. It hints at the sprawling and complex issue of personal information in a world of pervasive computing.

Probably the biggest theme is how the operating systems – Samantha and the others could just be one big cloud system – start to work together. In this respect, Samantha’s eventual fate is intriguing and quite possibly terrifying for us mere mortals.

Jonze portrays a benign version of the Skynet of the Terminator movies, it’s also interesting juxtaposing Asimov’s first rule of robotics of doing people no harm against the psychological damage these system could cause, however inadvertently.

“I never loved anyone the way I loved you” are Theodore’s final words to Samantha.

The evolution of Theodore’s and Samantha’s relationship and eventual breakdown is a complex and unpredictable tale with a disturbing ending that leaves the question of what they do next.

Her is a fascinating movie that raises deep questions about human relationships in a digital world of the near future. Many of those issues are beginning to appear today.

Jul 272014
How do businesses attract customers with social media and cloud computing

“The internet of things is about what we own and how we build solutions around that rather than what we buy and companies following us around and guessing about us,” says veteran industry commentator Doc Searls.

In an interview with Decoding the New Economy, the writer of the Cluetrain Manifesto discusses how he sees the internet of things changing marketing.

For Searls, the connected shoe is a good example of how individuals can control the data being collected on them and the way businesses can get far more relevant information about how customers are using their products.

Searls sees that the trend towards companies trying to dominate their fields in the Internet of Things as being doomed.

“It’s our internet of things, not theirs. Right now the internet of things is being discussed as Apple versus Google versus Facebook.”

“None of those are going to own the internet of things; the internet of things is a matter of you and your things and me and my things.”

Empowering customers

Searls sees the connected shoe as being a good example of how the internet citing his own New Balance shoes as how manufacturers can get richer data on its customers.

“The interesting thing is there’s much more intelligence a company can get directly from its customers who already own something rather than following us around on the internet.”

Searls’ view challenges today’s model of advertising based services; it may be this is the reason why companies like Google and Apple are so focused on playing a part in the internet of things.

Jul 262014

It’s typical for a new businesses to go several years making losses but Amazon has barely made a profit over the last twenty years despite being valued at $150 billion by the stockmarket.

That luck could be running out though as the Amazon’s stock fell nearly 10% last week after the company announced it had slipped back into losses last quarter.

Amazon’s losses are largely due to Google starting a price war on web services which is a warning that other deep pocketed web giants are now lining up for the company.

Google’s actions in crippling Amazon are somewhat ironic given how Amazon disrupted the publishing industry by using its deep pockets to subsidise its loss making bookselling business.

Amazon’s problem is it operates in commoditised industries where deep pocketed players are prepared to challenge the company’s market position.

Companies like Google and Apple have incredibly profitable products like Adwords and the iPhone while Amazon relies on the largesse of investors hoping to turn a future profit, that is a clear weakness against strong, well funded businesses.

For a tech company, twenty years is clearly the future and now Amazon has to define exactly where the profits are in its business.

Sometimes, just being a disruptor isn’t enough.