Friday, December 28, 2001

TiVo's year-end sales appear strong

TiVo’s year-end sales appear strong ::: To have a TiVo box is to be a TiVo evangelist. This is a piece of technology the whole family can get behind (as evidenced by the variety of “season passes” in our house: Sesame Street, Rolie Polie Olie, Sopranos, Sex and the City, West Wing, The Larry Sanders Show, Ed, anything mentioning the 49ers, etc.), and it will radically change the way you watch TV. The good news from this article is that their sales were strong in Q4, and subscriber growth is up. (Also helping: a 7 year licensing deal with Sony, and rumors of more on the way.)

Some have predicted that this is the death of free TV. I’m not so sure. If you’ve used TiVo, you may have noticed the recent Lexus ads on TiVo – creative ways of encouraging you to watch certain shows where Lexus had placed their ads. If you watched the ads, you could return to the Lexus TiVo microsite and enter a sweepstakes to win a new Lexus. (Results? A response from nearly 25% of all TiVo subscribers.)

Other ways TiVo has leveraged its technology: aggregating subscriber data for the networks, and selling sponsorships to the networks themselves. (One example of this: while watching an NBC show on TiVo, an ad for another NBC show comes on. Thanks to the TiVo box, it displays a “push select to record” message – allowing one-click recording of the show being advertised. This is a great way for NBC to expand its reach, and was used effectively by NBC to introduce new shows.)

There’s no question that TiVo changes the way you watch TV. But it doesn’t necessarily undermine the broadcast “free” TV that we’re used to. As TiVo’s penetration continues (it’s still in less than 500,000 homes), it will become its own gateway to ad- supported content: the same model that the major networks operate on today.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see TiVo change the way the ads support the broadcasting. Anybody else noticed the way that DVDs can prevent you from fastforwarding promos at the beginning, before getting you to the main menu? Or in many European countries, where the ads frequently follow the main show? TiVo could make it very easy to mimic these options – locking in a few ads as required viewing for uninterrupted shows.

Now why won’t TiVo come up with a recorder for my car radio? Oh wait… somebody already is.

Thursday, December 27, 2001

Altman Weil's 2001 report to

Altman Weil’s 2001 report to legal management ::: While this article is tailored to law firm management types, it is applicable across the professional services field. Altman Weil urges firms to address undercapitalization, (a focus of Hildebrandt’s 2001 1=titlelink_pub&id1=702&cat_id_31=300”>Client Advisory as well), invest in technology (it “must be viewed as a long-term investment”), and improve the management of client relationships. (How could they do that?) The good news? Hildebrandt predicts that the economy shows signs of being far more resilient than the bust of the early 90s, and sees the latter half of 2002 as strong.

CEOs damage their corporate brands

CEOs damage their corporate brands ::: The headline at for this article was certainly catchy: Fiorina mars HP’s image. The article goes on to summarize a report which is available here. The report claims to correlate CEO performance with company brand. (Note: this links to a zip file, which contains a 1.3MB PDF file.)

The problem? The results are useless, the information in the report is at times misleading (and even outright wrong), and the conclusions are porous, to say the least.

Let’s see: from the report, we learn that Microsoft CEO Bill Gates most personifies his company’s brand. He is also among the top 3 most damaging to his company’s brand. Microsoft is #1 in companies who maintained their brand (and #6 in companies who did the worst job at maintaining brand value).
Of course, there’s that little issue of him not being the CEO for the past two years; that’s Steve Ballmer’s job. Or that Microsoft’s market capitalization grew by more than 40% this year (outperforming every major stock index), that it has put together four straight $6b quarters, or that Microsoft is the #2 worldwide “brand” according to Business Week’s latest survey.

There’s more in the Liquid Agency report, but it’s more of the same. It reads like a personality test of the Valley CEOs (predictably, nobody likes Larry Ellison either), and arm-chair opinions about whether HP or Compaq will get hitched. Ultimately, the survey reflects polarized opinion in the industry about who’s doing a good job – yet it fails to deliver any useful information that would persuade anyone to change their minds. (Do I care that some people think Microsoft did a great job maintaining its brand value, while others think it’s among the top 10 in damaging its value? Not nearly as much as I’d be interested in seeing a survey of Microsoft customers who could assess the value of the brand to them.)

This survey could have represented a great addition to the thinking on the impact a CEO has on the company’s performance. Instead, it lacks any scientific basis for drawing conclusions, gets its facts wrong, and fails to establish any link between CEO performance and brand value.

Monday, December 24, 2001

Jakob Nielsen on Micropayments :::

Jakob Nielsen on Micropayments ::: Jakob Nielsen, publisher of Alertbox, predicted last year that “free” web sites would vanish. The ad-supported web site would become a thing of the past, he said. He was right.

The problem is that content providers still haven’t figured out how to get it right (am I the only one who doesn’t visit Salon anymore, thanks to the full-screen ads, pop-up ads, restricted content, confusing presentation?). Nielsen suggests micropayments are the answer.

Nielsen doesn’t see a mature micropayment service in 2002, but I think we may be closer than he thinks. PayPal is set to go public soon, looking to raise a little over $70 million when it debuts on the Nasdaq. Unlike the prior generation of digital cash efforts (remember DigiCash? CyberCash? First Virtual?), PayPal kept the model simple – as Fast Company says, by building its system around e-mail, by learning from its mistakes, and by not “inventing a new currency.” (Cf Beenz, Bippy Dollars, Flooz)

I’m a PayPal user – have been for almost 2 years. It’s easy, makes selling anything on eBay remarkably simple, and they are wonderfully responsive. Though this article in Technology Review says that PayPal hasn’t seen a huge demand for micrpayments, I can see them becoming a very simple application of their technology. (PayPal could restrict the way in which micropayments were processed, at least by requiring that the payments go from one PayPal account to another, instead of involving credit cards; in this sense, they wouldn’t impose any external transaction fees and would just be shuffling bits within their system.)

(Saturday Night Live fans: the transcript of the “First Citiwide Change Bank” sketch in which they make change in any number of combinations is available here.)

Here’s hoping PayPal’s IPO is strong. They represent the best opportunity we’ll have in 2002 to see a solid, viable infrastructure play for enabling micropayments next year.

Sunday, December 23, 2001

The Google Zeitgeist ::: Wondering

The Google Zeitgeist ::: Wondering what was hot, was not, and everything in between in 2001? Google has put together the “gaining” queries (the ones becoming the most popular), the “ declining” queries (falling out of favor), and just about everything else.

The 2001 Timeline is neat, too – giving a great overview of the year that was in searches.

This is further evidence of the knowledge management premise that you just don’t know what you’ll want to know in a year. When they came up with the concept behind Google, they didn’t (I’m guessing) explicitly say they wanted to be able to tell us what were the top 10 brands… yet by archiving the data (they process more than 150 million queries per day), they are able to then sift through it and come up with some great analysis. Be sure to spend some time here, and if you want to do some digging, check out the Zeitgeist Archive with links to a month-by-month breakdown.

Saturday, December 22, 2001

Survival Is Not Enough :::

Survival Is Not Enough ::: Great article about the importance of change in uncertain times. Seth Godin points out that the state of the economy dictates the type of organization that is required: in a stable economy, the corporation is a machine. Companies are “finely tuned and easy to copy, scale, and own.” The goal with a machine is to make it cheaper and more reliable. (I would say you want the machine to be predictable – which may be only slightly different than reliable. But that’s another discussion.)

It’s uncertain times – which we are most certainly in right now – that demand evolution. Godin argues that organizations evolve at the individual level – that evolution is all about two entities competing and the stronger entity winning. By definition, the stronger individuals (employees) are what drive a larger, corporate evolution. (Read the article. It’s worth it just for the line “Penguins don’t have meetings about evolution” alone.)

Fair enough. But to what extent is evolution possible in a culture that doesn’t encourage evolution? Godin says that it’s not up to the corporation – in fact, he thinks that most successful companies avoid evolving – that evolution happens regardless of the culture. It’s just that successful companies embrace it.

The challenge here is that the evolution will often not benefit those who are leading the corporation. Those leaders arrived where they are by learning the ins and outs of their environment – and evolution puts them in unfamiliar surroundings. So if we accept Godin’s premise, then we must also accept that the most successful leaders are those who encourage evolution, willingly subjecting themselves to circumstances with which they’re not familiar… [From Fast Company]

Friday, December 21, 2001

Gartner Hype Cycle ::: Gartner's

Gartner Hype Cycle ::: Gartner’s take on the bell curve of acceptance of technology. An interesting attempt at explaining the seeming see-saw of expectations when it comes to new technology. It’s represented here:

Is CRM past its “trough”, heading for a “slope of enlightenment”? I think so. Gone are the predictions of wild results, but I think we’re also past the famous “70% of all CRM implementations will fail” assertions as well. Gartner explains the slope in this way: “focused experimentation and solid hard work by an increasingly diverse range of organizations lead to a true understanding of the technology’s applicability, risks and benefits.”

Beyond the Information Revolution -

Beyond the Information Revolution – 99.10 ::: In October, 1999 Peter Drucker wrote an article for The Atlantic that put the “information revolution” into historical context. His last paragraph is a prediction for where he expects the modern corporation to be within 10 years:

…[P]robably within ten years or so, running a business with (short-term) “shareholder value” as its first — if not its only — goal and justification will have become counterproductive. Increasingly, performance in these new knowledge-based industries will come to depend on running the institution so as to attract, hold and motivate knowledge workers. [emphasis added]
Drucker, who’s been providing these predictions since the mid-1940s, sets the stage properly, but misses a final element. I’m most interested in professional services firms – where the concept of a knowledge worker is quite old. Yet the compensation model – not to mention the organizational structure – is firmly tied to a system that doesn’t encourage the sharing of this knowledge. The technology to promote such sharing exists today (CRM, portals, etc.), yet too few firms have “leaders” who are capable of evangelizing the benefits of sharing their knowledge. Where Drucker fails to close the loop (and who knows, he may have done it since this 10/99 piece) is to point out that the modern organization must not only “attract, hold and motivate” knowledge workers – it must also provide an infrastructure for them that will enable and reward the active dissemination of that knowledge.

Using E-Mail to Count Connections

Using E-Mail to Count Connections ::: Is “ six degrees of separation” a myth or reality? A group of researchers at Columbia University are trying to establish how connected we really are. They plan on assembling a self-selected group of participants, and will then e-mail targeted individuals with the goal of reaching a group of other individuals. Once the chains complete, the researchers then want to identify whether there are any patterns we can learn from.

If successful, these guys could actually provide us with some interesting hypotheses for how to intelligently route data. One of the challenges in peer-to-peer (P2P) networks is that they can often fail when a large number of nodes request the same data from the same place. If they learn anything, they could help future P2P networks avoid the same congestion.

If you want to help them out, you can go to and sign up. [From The New York Times]

Thursday, December 20, 2001

That Sneaky Exponential ::: What

That Sneaky Exponential ::: What if Metcalfe’s Law is wrong? That is, what if the value of a network isn’t proportional to the number of users, but actually exponential?

The idea behind Reed’s Law is that within a network of N users, users will naturally form groups from N-(N-1) to N-1 in size. That’s a big shift from Metcalfe’s Law, because it starts to get at the value represented by what the users know – and what they can accomplish when they aggregate their knowledge. Metcalfe looked at value as roughly equal to the number of connections in a network, while Reed is focused on the actions the users make – and the dynamics of the groups formed.

The implications of Reed’s discussion are far-reaching. If you buy into his assertions, it would suggest that the goal of a senior exec at a corporation ought to be to encourage (mandate?) the sharing of information. It is through this sharing that groups form, and through these groups that value will start manifesting itself to the organization.

Most interesting is that this starts to explain why truly large, distributed organizations will have the most to gain by encouraging these interactions.

More on this as I flesh these thoughts out…

The Next Computer Interface :::

The Next Computer Interface ::: An interesting article detailing the possible future of computer interfaces. The major question is: is an interface created 30 years ago still appropriate in today’s multi-gigabyte world? However, the article focuses too much on the individual desktop, and doesn’t really address a larger problem: how do you navigate information beyond your own system? How do you find information that matters to you?
I think this notion of taxonomy and navigation is critical to understanding how organizations can benefit; if the focus is on the individual at the keyboard (and not the organization to which the individual belongs), then the interface will be limited – its goals too narrow. [From MIT Technology Review]