Thursday, October 6, 2011

Why Steve Jobs' Death Resonates

Yes, he was a visionary who built the world's most valuable company and he helped design some of the iconic technology products of our age which have changed the way we live.  This is well documented and is deserving of our admiration.  What can be said that hasn't been said already?

But his journey seemed at once iconic and very human.  Steve Jobs' business success did not happen in a linear way, but rather followed an unpredictable path that was uniquely his.  Along with the tremendous success at Apple, Pixar, Next and again at Apple he had very public failures.  Along with being a very public figure he was intensely private.  Along with being demanding and sometimes acerbic, he could be giving and open.  Along with being driven and consumed with his work, he could take time to go for a walk and feel the grass under his feet.  We can all relate to the complexity and dichotomy that was his life.

We will never have an iota of the influence Steve Jobs had on the wider world.  But we can all walk the same path as Steve Jobs by living life being true to ourselves and mindful of what's truly important.  His death reminds us that we can, and should, make a difference in the lives of our family, friends and colleagues.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Death of Print

The title says it all. In the spirit of a "picture is worth a thousand words" enjoy this infographic from Column Five Media. Do you have additional indicators you look at that confirm the death of print, or contrary to popular belief, its viability? If so, feel free to post a comment.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ominous Employment Trends

The U.S. unemployment rate remains in the 9% range, the highest level in over 20 years. Clearly the inability to generate new jobs is one of the primary factors holding back an economic recovery.
It also appears that jobs for recent college graduates have been under significant pressure. Based on federal data reported on by the New York Times, only 74.4% of college grads under the age of 25 have a job as compared to 81% in 2000. Of course there can be factors such as more college grads pursuing graduate degrees which skew the data, but directionally it's a useful gauge. More telling is the fact than only 45.9% of those grads who are employed have a job actually requiring a degree, way down from 59.7% in 2000.

On a related note, there's some interesting research from the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University which tries to quantify the implications for college graduates entering the workforce during the current recession. One interesting, and logically inconsistent, finding has only 17% of graduates polled believing they will achieve more financial success than the previous generation, while only 20% believe that they will financially succeed less than their parents.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Cloud Is Big, Really Big

Following up on the great infographic illustrating Cloud Computing concepts, Wikibon has produced another great picture in its series on Cloud Computing. The bottom line: the cloud is built on massive scale data centers and has the potential to significantly drive down costs through economies of scale.

Via: Wikibon

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How Online Ads Really Work

Online advertising is ubiquitous and it pays for much of the content delivered over the internet. Did you ever wonder how the ad makes its way onto your screen? Well ponder no more because the folks over at Infographic Labs, creators of some of the best infographics on the web,  have illustrated the surprisingly complex process.

Online Advertising
Online Advertising by Infographiclabs

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Teens Are Text Message Crazy

Last year I wrote about the tremendous volume of text messages sent by teens and it appears that the same holds true today. Data from Nielsen show that teens aged 13 to 17 send and receive, on average, over 3,200 text messages per month!
Looking at the Nielsen data it seem texting by all groups is high, but the data is consistent with statistics from the CTIA, the wireless industry trade association, showing that U.S. wireless customers used 2.1 TRILLION text messages in 2010. This works out to about 6,600 text messages per year for average person in the U.S. population of 311 million. Naturally, not everyone in the total population has a cell phone so the per capita usage is actually higher. To put average usage into context, it comes to about 550 messages per month (which is 18 per day).

There is also an interesting dispersion of heavy text message users by geography according to another Nielson study.

Text messaging has continued to expand in spite of the phenomenal growth in social network usage. Based on  data showing heavy social media consumers send dramatically more emails than light users, they also likely send far more text messages.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Meet The Amazon kPad

Putting all of's recent moves together points to a shrewd and audacious strategy: competing with the Apple ecosystem. I would not be surprised to see the next generation Kindle launched as something of an iPad competitor; let's call it the kPad for now.
Let's look at what Amazon brings to the table to enable the kPad.

  • Designing desirable consumer products, check. Amazon's Kindle e-reader has to be viewed as a home run in this area. Designed by its little known Lab126 subsidiary, it's beautiful to look at, its form follows function perfectly and the user interface is intuitive and powerful. Reviewers sing its praises calling it "ingeniously designed," in The New York Times, "a go-to, standard setting device" on Engadget and "it slays its current competition" in PC World. Although it may fall a bit short of Apple in the area of consumer cachet its estimated sales of eight million units in 2010 is nothing to sneeze at. Although they hold sales numbers close to the vest, the fact that the Kindle is the number one bestseller at Amazon tells you that consumers are still snapping up the Kindle.

  • An App Store, check. The recently rolled out Amazon App Store for Android now offers future kPad and all current Android device owners a place to evaluate and download applications. Amazon introduced a very clever "Test Drive" capability which lets you run selected applications on a device emulator prior to buying and downloading. In addition, Amazon looks like it will competitively price applications and use that as a lever to drive market share, the same as they have done for many other products. Apple has just sued Amazon over the "app store" name, but it's likely that Apple also sees this as a threat to their overall ecosystem.

  • Digital Content, check. Amazon is the leading seller of e-books and one of the leading sellers of music downloads. Amazon also has an enormous selection video for downloading, and recently made 5,000 of those titles free to members of its Prime premium service tier. Furthermore, Amazon owns which gives it over one million hours of audio programming including books, radio shows and periodicals.

  • Software Capabilities, check. Not only has Amazon designed and built the web platform, an impressive feat of software engineering, they have built several apps for smartphones including the hugely popular Kindle app which runs on the iPhone & iPad, Android, Blackberry and the PC and Mac. 

  • Cloud Computing Mastery, check. The March 29th rollout of the Cloud Drive service to securely store music, photos and documents on Amazon's servers was a wake-up call to Apple and Google who have yet to roll out their own on-line music locker. Music purchased through Amazon, as well as user uploaded content, can now be streamed to any device... something that makes the current iTunes system look even more dated. The Cloud Drive is just the tip of the iceberg as Amazon's Web Services unit is one of the leaders in providing the full array of cloud based solutions to customers, ranging from small start-ups to enterprise scale operations.

Clearly Amazon has the capabilities to roll out a tablet and a compelling ecosystem, but does it have the intent to do so? Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder and CEO, has repeatedly said that the Kindle is in different product category than the iPad and it doesn't directly compete with it. That is most certainly true, and in fact, many consumers have found the Kindle and iPad to be complementary products. Bezos is an executive not afraid of taking chances and at 47 years old he is still looking to build his company and create his legacy.

One clue to development of a kPad is at Lab126 where they have postings for 200 jobs. Some of the jobs like the "Design Initiative Manager" posted on March 14th are intriguing since the role clearly looks like it extends beyond the Kindle franchise: Drive concept investigation projects within the Product Design team; Collaborate with across engineering to establish design architectures, materials requirements and validation criteria to meet new enclosure design objectives; Initiate and support delivery of custom interconnect and key component development to realize new product designs; Develop analytical modeling and validation to stretch boundaries of new product design constraints, enhance new product development quality and speed device development. The role of other posted jobs like the Product Manager position offer additional insight: Combine tactical roadmaps and requirements into a compelling product and evangelize that vision within the organization.
The kPad, as I call it, is entirely consistent with Amazon's culture which was distilled to four points by Bezos in a presentation to staff after being acquired:  1) Obsess over customers; 2) Invent; 3) Think long term and 4) It's always day 1.  

My bet is not only do we see a kPad in the future, but that it brings new ground-breaking capabilities. The Kindle maintains its role as an e-reader while the kPad opens the door for Amazon to compete in the all important tablet market where all the computer hardware growth is expected to occur

Monday, March 28, 2011

Immigration's Impact on Newspaper Readership

There's yet more evidence piling up the U.S. newspaper industry will face headwinds in their attempt to maintain readership levels. With the most recent release of census information comes this interesting nugget: The percentage of foreign born residents in the U.S. is approaching the historic high last seen at the end of the 19th century through the beginning of the 20th century.
The connection to the newspaper industry is simple: immigrants have tended to look for newspapers written for their immigrant group to keep a connection to their homeland as well as provide information in their mother tongue. I believe much of the growing population of new Americans is likely to read targeted publications rather than the traditional papers which have long been in decline. Do you agree?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Alternative Energy vs. Energy Efficiency: Not What You Might Think

Currently the U.S. is the worlds largest user of energy. A variety of energy sources are used, but currently alternative sources meet only a small portion of the total demand.

Looking at the flow of energy from its sources to its uses provides an interesting perspective. Transportation and electrical production consume a significant portion of inputs, however, there is significant waste. What is labeled as "Rejected Energy" in the picture below is waste in the form of electrical generating and distribution losses, waste heat and other inefficiencies. While less glamorous than building out new renewable sources, reducing systemic energy waste may ultimately yield larger benefits.

As the global economy grows the focus on alternatives and efficiency improvements need to shift towards the burgeoning economies of China and India, which together already consume more energy than the U.S

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The New York Times Paywall Conundrum

Paywalls are often cited by newspaper management teams as the mechanism to save their sinking industry. The New York Times recently announced a paywall of their own as a way to capitalize on the significant online readership of the Grey Lady. Well they have certainly garnered lots of attention for the move, but much has been about their ineptitude in execution. 

What exactly has gone wrong for the New York Times? It seems there are issues with the overall strategy, the technology implementation, the gaping holes in the wall, the pricing and the incredible complexity of their solution. The issues surrounding this have been well documented in many quarters:
  • The Huffington Post examines the situation and identifies why the New York Times did not opt for a total paywall, which has largely proven to be a failure where it has been implemented.
  • Barry Leiba over at Staring At Empty Pages refers to the implementation as a complicated mess and states that The Times will no longer be his go-to destination for news.
  • Destined to backfire is Gigaom's assessment citing what they believe will be changes in reader behavior to cope with the paywall.
  • But the stakes are small according to Gawker's article which postulates that only a small segment of the current readership will even bump up against the paywall limits that still permit limited unfettered access as well as reading articles clicked through some referring links.
  • Felix Salmon writing on Wired says the paywall is "weird." He looks at the perverse pricing schemes that result in a situation where it "creates the slightly odd proposition that if you want to use the NYT’s iPad app, you’re marginally better off subscribing to the print newspaper on Sundays and throwing it away unread than you are just subscribing to the app on its own."
  • An article over at BoingBoing also cites the inscrutable pricing and a host of other issues and comes to the conclusion that the paywall is either "wishful thinking or just crazy."
  • Digital Tonto has some astute observations that are definitely worth reading about the paywall including its unintended effect of devaluing quality journalism.
  • With all the loopholes available to those who wish to continue consuming the Times without feeding the paywall it's not surprising that a byzantine set of rules of engagement has emerged. Search Engine Land does a good job explaining how this works. In addition, some folks have approached this as a game and attempted to use Twitter as a publicly available loophole to the paywall.  Not surprisingly, the Times has asked for this door to be closed
Many are looking to exploit the loopholes
 in the New York Times paywall