Do Trade Shows Matter?

Peter Kafka of all things D wrote The Apple in The Room  in 2006 (also re-posted it this morning on Twitter), but with the rise of social media, it’s become more and more true.  Companies have an end around CES. 

Some have lamented the departure of Microsoft from the show.   If anything, Microsoft’s departure as the anchor of CES shows its decline but also how far behind the curve MS really can be.

Since companies create their own media channels, they have much more flexibility about when and how they communicate product news- both big and small. An age of real time and more transparent corporate comms also means companies can publish and shape a message all year long, at will.

The article's points about the smart devices, really the Internet of Things trend, have changed the important players. Meaningful, differentiating innovation – the kinds of WOW I WANT THAT features consumers want – happen so frequently outside the pavilion or dates of the show.  

CES used to be an event for the journalists to carry the message to consumers.  But now consumers don't need the journalists (not exclusively, anyway) to tell them what is cool this year.  Also,  important industry announcements are increasingly coming at places like TC Disrupt and the Launch conference. So yes, CES failed to keep pace with the industry but I am not sure it had a chance against the tide.

My experience at SXSW last year was very different from the previous year.  In 2010, it felt like being at the center of the universe and the cusp of very important trends.  At SXSW 2011, we saw more or less the continuation of the same trends, but the Interactive festival has gotten so crazy, so big, so commercial, I wonder if the big brand dollars that have flocked to the event have sapped it of some of the weirdness that made it great.  

And trade shows have been replaced by Brand Shows: the biggest games like World of Warcraft and Call of Duty are now so large they have their own conferences. These events are media channels, concentrated pockets of support for the product, hungry for news.  The attendees are motivated and they want to BUY STUFF.  They are powerful message multipliers.  The scale and style of these kids of gatherings will vary by brand but if you have that, why wait for CES?

Steve Jobs, The KIN, and the power of No

“If you boat a lot, you're known as a boating enthusiast. I like to boat, but I just don't want to ever be referred to as a 'boating enthusiast'. I hope they call me 'a guy who likes to boat'.”- Mitch Hedberg

I read that Microsoft's new KIN Windows 7 phones, are "aimed at 15- to 30-year-olds who are social-networking enthusiasts."  Ew.  Never mind targeting teen interests in Glee, Justin Beiber, WWE, college, funny videos, or body spray - who describes a product this way even in a press junket?  Presumably they left the research out, or they'd have realized that 31% of their target demographic already plans to buy an iPhone.

It's shocking, really.  After so many years of getting it wrong you'd think someone could just do the opposite of all that and make a serious score!  Microsoft has been making mobile products longer than Apple has been making the iMac- it just so happens that few of Microsoft's products were very good.  When aQuantive was bought by Microsoft in 2007, my Razorfish colleagues and I collectively worried that we'd lose our Blackberry devices in favor of Windows Mobile "smartphones."  The worry was well-deserved; those who received them were usually miserable.

Microsoft proved unable to create the kind of extensible platform on its mobile devices that has made Windows dominant in the corporation and in the home.  While Windows may be too entrenched to be dislodged from either, it's stunning what Steve Jobs has been able to do in his return to Apple. 

And now, with the prominence of the iPod/iPhone/iPad as a platform, Apple's role as a "gatekeeper" to the platform is drawing a wave of anti-Jobs sentiment, centered around the perception that Apple is a draconian gatekeeper of its own platform.

Maybe so.  Is that so bad? Isn't it better than the sludge that Windows Mobile is? (I have not tried out Windows 7 Mobile so I reserve judgement for now). I believe that the power Steve Jobs wields most effectively is the power of No.  And what Microsoft, by trying to pack everything into every product it ships, has always been shackled to Yes, And... (well, their version of Yes, anyway).

No, that is too hard to use

No, that looks like crap

No, that feature sucks

No, that app doesn't belong in the app store

No, we don't talk to the press

No, I don't answer emails (actually I think Steve Jobs responding to email of late is like the ultimate blog/twitter account)

After all that NO, it's clear that the most important thing to Apple is to make awesome products that people love.  It's not ego, or even greed (except by association- great products cost $$$).  But Apple has transformed itself from a manufacturer of niche PCs that a few people love, to a mass-market CE company that makes products for millions more.  The masses expect Apple to stand behind every product decision and to contuniue to uphold exacting quality and usability standards.

Is that democratic?  Surely not- Steve Jobs is an admired autocrat. He's a sort of a benign autocrat, which  isn't all that bad  (see also the original Thirteen Colonies and "Salutary Neglect")  Strong, determined leaders in the autocratic model don't much care for input from you, or me, or anyone else.  If they stopped to ask what we wanted, we might choose the wrong thing.

As in the 1700s, this was all more or less OK until the colonists got wind of the the autocrat's real priorities- the intolerable acts were ones that benefited the sovereign else at the expense of the colonists.  Enter the rebellion.

Are we net beneficiaries of Steve Jobs' power of No or are we on the brink of Apple's decisions benefitting the company more than the base of users, developers, and accessory manufacturers?

Apple's power comes from protecting the user experience.  Whether you see that experience as stifled by an evil dictator or shaped by divine will is really about YOU not about Apple.  With the user at the center, the design decisions of an otherwise evil monarch are altruistic.  Right vs. left, republican vs. democrat- this is an interpretive exercise rather than a factual one.

Apple is facing an onslaught of ad-driven solutions, particularly if it releases always-on wifi and allows multiple apps to run simultaneously.  A successful ad model could be important to keeping developers afloat.  But the key to that monetization of the audience is the data about the audience, and strategically Apple needs this piece- to be the sole provider of such data and kill AdMob.

So Apple 's development process might be reduced to:

  1. Protect the experience of the user
  2. Protect the interests of the developer ecosystem except to the extent that it woulf harm 1
  3. Serve the interests of shareholders/The Street except to the extent that there would be conflict with 1 or 2

No matter how many applications Steve Jobs or his employees arbitrarily deny from the app store, if people just love the damn thing, they'll think he's Jesus.

Facebook's Long-term Bet on the User Experience

Thinking about the news that Facebook is introducing an alpha test of a payment system, I keep thinking that the one thing facebook has left is to make a play for the wallet.  They've earned the attention- around 30 billion minutes in the first quarter of 2009 (comScore)- of the world's internet users, and an intimate relationshoips with those users's entire online life.  Facebook lives and dies by the assent of these clicking masses, as revolt afetr revolt has shown, over site design, privacy, and even its esoteric terms of use.

Facebook's reach is exploding- but monetizing attention hasn;t worked especially well.  With display ad rates plummeting, an unproven social ad model, and a long term growth strategy, Facebook deserves some wiggle room.  Itchy investors calling for an IPO In 12 To 24 Months don't make it easy to bet the way Facebook has, but the company expects to be cashflow positive by the end of the year.

Amazon IPO'd early and grew explosively, provoking skepticism that it would ever turn a profit (big hat tip to the still-poignant satirewire.com).  Founded in 1994, opening in 1996, going public in 1997, and finally turning a profit in the fourth quarter of 2001.  The company is unquestionably a juggernaut of commerce, logistics, and long term business strategy.  They've lasted all the way into web 2.0!

I'm drawn to the analogy between the two firms - can the industry at this point allow for the possibility that Facebook can build loyal users now and the profit later?

Without a doubt, the engine for Facebook's profit in the long term is a ubiquitous social graph, to be the identity that users take with them to sites across the internet.  If an e-commerce site fears abandonment, drop offs at the registration page, visitors who don't return, Facebook fears that its users will stop finding it useful.  As long as the Facebook on-site and off-site experience makes the web experience easier, social, trusted and secure, it can be an infrastructure player.

Amazon's constant optimization work, its willingness to please customers and create long-term value, as well as its back-end infrastructure plays, should suggest there is light at the end of the tunnel when you bet on your customers.

Cisco's On-Stage Telepresence and the "Help Me Obi-Wan Kenobi" Test

CNN showed a very interesting idea on election night with "hologram" interview appearances during their election coverage. From my perspective, every hologram technology will have to pass the "Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi" test.  Can you see and talk to this image?  Does it take up realspace on the floor with the humans around it?  

It would appear that CNN's hologram techynology does not pass this test.  It merely renders a 3-D image into the video stream; Wolf Blitzer does not see a reporter's image standing before him in the studio.  

Digging through the gizmodo "how it works post" here, I came across a video for the Cisco on-stage telepresence technology.  The demo with CEO John Chambers shows a much closer version- no tricking the camera, just projecting someone's presence into a room., and here in a demo with King of Saudia Arabiademo for the King of Saudi Arabia.  

Very cool stuff from Cisco.  I don;t know yet how it works or whether it truly passes the Obi-Wan Kenobi test, but it looks closer than CNN's approach.

CMO strategy in a downturn

My newest contribution to the Razorfish Headlight blog is now live.   I tried to look at many of the different elements affecting sales and marketing decisions online and in America; I have a very strong perspective that there MUST be a strategic opportunity somewhere for a company seeking to create value.  

These recommendations could translate to other industries, particularly durable goods which are typically financed.  See CMO strategy in a downturn at headlightblog.com.  

Also this month are excellent articles on digital advertising by my colleagues Neal Gorevic, who writes about dealers using video advertising, and Blake Kimball, who writes about new media planning tactics.

Advanced telematics services in an age of portable data

My most recent Headlightblog.com article, Advanced telematics services in an age of portable data, is now live on Headlightblog.com.  I talk about the importance of open interfaces for exchanging data between the parts of our digital lives, and I separately offer Four ‘Open Social’ principles for vehicle telematics providers which I hope shed light on the future I envision.

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

In the depths of twittering a lot, I have not done a real, big think blog post in a couple weeks.  I apologize.  I'm deliberately publishing this before it's finished.  I want to think about this more.

But, perhaps it is with some sense of irony that I decided to write one about Nick Carr's piece Is Google Making Us Stupid?. I firmly believe that Google cannot make us stupid. Only we can make us stupid.

Carr makes some interesting observations about our changing behavior throughout the generations, noting the impact of the timepiece, scientific management, the printing press, as well as the Google.  My favorite, of these is the idea (with which I largely agree) that in the over scheduled life there is a debasement of our existence. The late great  Mitch Hedberg had a great bit about not wearing a watch, suggesting a meeting time with someone of "when that guy's eating a hamburger".  Which guy?  "You'll know." Being synchronous in our interactions and planning has made many things possible, but is this marked by a bond of obedience to the clock?

In deciding when to eat, to work, to sleep, to rise, we stopped listening to our senses and started obeying the clock.

It is true that we have shed the sun's dominance of our life's rhythms, that we have adopted new ways of organizing life around the concept of time as being finite. 

So does this awareness of the finite nature of  our literal "life time" improve our degrade the qaulity of our lives?  Is electronic media, or the clock, or The Google somehow making us all worse off?  And is that all the more devious because it is couched as progress instead of a negative trend?

If you can't read a book anymore, I submit to you that I can.  I'm not bragging, but I love books and I think I will always love them.  Maybe I'm the exception that proves the rule.

Books I have read this year (calendar 2008) so far:

Beneath the Tree of Heaven (Chung Kuo # 5)   

White Moon, Red Dragon (Chung Kuo # 6) 

Dry Ice by Stephen White

Currently reading (I don't usually read two books concurrently but it happens sometimes):

The Time Traveler's Wife

World War Z

So is it really true that we won't sit still to read anymore?  That's pessimistic, I think.  Is it the case that we can't appreciate a pace of life which does not revolve around the clock?  That we cannot unplug, unlearn, optimize our behavior to adopt new technologies without destroying ourselves?  I seem to be doing okay, if that';s any evidcence, and I hope we can all seek a third way, where we seek connection regardless of medium, and that leads to a balance between them all.  If there is a detrimental effect of not being able to unplug, then in my view it falls on the plugged in, not the plugs, to change their behavior.


Communications Insights: Trends and Cool Stuff » Blog Archive » Network Neutrality on Steroids: Enter the Hackintosh

Link: Communications Insights: Trends and Cool Stuff » Blog Archive » Network Neutrality on Steroids: Enter the Hackintosh.

Apple has always had an aggressive policy about what behaviors might void your warranty (not to mention the “bricked” iPhones of recent fame), and now what they have been saying is that Software Update (which automatically identifies and offers for download any updates to the OS or Apple software) won’t work. I think that’s the most likely scenario- a battle of wits with consumers who would adopt such a device.

Reminds me of the DirecTV anti-piracy move where the network was telling the STBs to fry cards that were counterfeit. Are you buying the hardware, or the service, and can they disable it if they suspect piracy/TOS violation?

videos + autoplay + Google Reader = ouch

I was reading my feeds in Google Reader (where I subscribe to the  NextNY blog), and I noticed that before I even got to it, the Social Shore vid from nextnyers started playing.  That is, I heard the audio but didn't know where it came from.

It seems that the video begins playing as soon as Google Reader pre-fetches the post.  I've known for some time that Google Reader will allow a video in a post to play while you scroll through the rest of the items so i began to do so while I listened to the audio, which was still playing.  Before long, even though I had not yet reached another video, the "mod my life" video started playing, and the audio was now running on top of the Social Shore audio. 

Never seen any other feeds react to Google Reader in this way- it's frustrating and it makes me want to avoid the feed.  I now see that this is the default site behavior- I wish nextnyers would think about changing that.

Norton places big bet on Mac virtualization vulnerabilities

I forgot how much I like Ars Technica.  They have great coverage of Apple technology, the kind I used to get in my MacWeek fix when I was a kid (back when I could tell you the specs of every NuBus or PowerPC Mac being made).  Here,. Ars points to  Norton places big bet on Mac virtualization vulnerabilities- basically now that you're running OSX and a virtualized WinXP or Vista, you'll need anti virus protection for both. 

I think this is a smart move considering that for those of us mac users who have Windows as a secondary OS, updates and patches might not be downloaded in a timely manner, and if you only run the OS for a couple minutes at time,
you're not going to want to spend it downloading updates.   So maybe my usual diligence with antivirus software (such as on my office machine) might not be the protection I think it is in a virtualized install. 

A strategy to watch.

Locking in Viewers to Watch the Commercials

Why does old media (music, movies,  and TV primarily) employ a strategy of making war on their customers?  In this piece about a Cox VOD service with un-skippable commercials.    They don't even bother to call it "fast-forward challenged"Some snippets from Locking in Viewers to Watch the Commercials:

You don’t need TiVo if you have fast-forward-disabled video on demand.
This is about combating DVRs.  As we developed this at every stage, there was an agreement that however we put this together, disabling the fast-forward function was key.

Sigh. Why is it necessary to make something less fucntional or DISABLE a piece of popular functionality in order to get it to sell?   Another cable industry "service" that will get zero traction.  Long live the economy of free! 


nextny 2 years later and nextAnalytics

A personal reflection on the last two years: nextNY was really quite helpful. I first heard about nextNY in February 2006 when I was looking for a new job, back when the NY Tech Meetup had fewer than 200 people attending.

Since then I've helped organize a few events, found a new job, and learned a lot of new things.  One of those things has been web analytics. 

So, I've decided to see who else within nextNY is struggleing with these issues, and what we can learn from each other, for the benefit of clients, financial backers, employees and partners. 

Check out the event wiki.

Microsoft & Netscape, after all these years

I'm just reblogging from Shelly Palmer's Mediabytes for contrast:

MICROSOFT  has made an unsolicited offer of $44.6 billion to purchase YAHOO,<snip>

and then at the bottom

NETSCAPE will be officially retired today by AOL.  All updates and support will stop, as the once industry-leading browser is laid to rest.  Farewell old friend.

So, on the day that Microsoft acquires a Dot-com original, the progenitor of so much search and web technology, AOL retires the browser that Microsoft set out to kill. Just coincidence there.

Microsoft clearly won the Netscape war, notwithstanding the lame DOJ result.  Will it win search?  Will it be able to unseat Google by acquiring all of Yahoo!'s eyeballs?

Time will tell.  Microsoft has a history of making the long play, and the eventual catch-up. We shall see.

Link: MediaBytes February 1, 2008 | MediaBytes with Shelly Palmer Video.

Destination unknown? I miss my MacBook

This mornign my work laptop died while I was giving a presentation.  The battery life has slowly degraded over the last 5 or 6 months, until this morning it lasted barely 40 minutes.  Meanwhile my MacBook Pro at home has no problem working for 3 hours...which I used to think wasn't very good.

And here is how bad things have gotten:
It doesn't even recognize the battery!  AAARGH!!!!!

UPDATE: Switched out the battery- we seem to be golden, now.

Late to the party- MacOS X Trojan

Is Gadi Evron right that "It's Mac season. The next two years will be interesting"? 

Saw this from Darren Herman's Ramblings page.  As a Mac user, I can't tell you how many false or useless codecs I've probably downloaded  since I started using MacOS X  in 2002, just to TRY to play the same media as Windows users could.  There is still no way to play Intel Indeo video on a Mac running OSX -  not that OS9 is an option. 

Mac users like me live in a world where things are improving (the Flip4Mac extensions for Quicktime which extend Quicktime player have been great), it can be frustrating.  Plus, if the vulnerability requires you to type the administrator password...well you have to do that pretty much when installing anything. 

So, the risk is probably real, but it won't be Klez or Blaster or anything like that, in its current form.  The day we get ActiveX on my Mac, I'll worry then.


Link: New Apple Trojan Means Mac Hunting Season Is Open.

Dot-com names get dottier - Los Angeles Times

In an article vaguely reminiscent of the Dillon Edwards "There was only one web address available" SNL commercial parody  (vaguely NSFW) the LA Times reports (a bit late maybe) that .com name shave lost all sense of meaning.  I'm inclined to agree.  My favorite line from the story:

"Naming a company is like naming a celebrity," said serial entrepreneur Jared Kopf, who has helped christen companies including Adroll.com, his online advertising firm, and Slide, a Web photo service. "Made-up words don't come with psychological baggage."

Well played.  See also NBCU/News Corp new site, "hulu"- as soon as they let me into the private beta I'll share more.


Dot-com names get dottier - Los Angeles Times.