Friday, October 31, 2014

Is Yahoo! Marissa Mayer Simply Throwing Darts?

What Yahoo! is trying to do with Tumblr is like throwing darts at the wall, but maybe something will work.

Andrew Nusca and Erin Griffith capture in a nutshell my take on Yahoo!  CEO Marissa Mayer is burning a lot of cash in buying sprees, but doesn't seem to know what will actually work.  That's not necessarily a showstopper, because after all Google needed a few years to figure out how to profitize YouTube, when it made this acquisition.  But I don't have the confidence that Mayer, a former Googler herself, knows what she's doing or, if she does, has what it takes to do what she needs to do.

I think part of the problem is that she's taking a copycat tact with growing Yahoo!, instead of blazing new trails via innovation.  If Griffith is right, then pursuits of Dailymotion and Twitch, as so to have a YouTube under her umbrella, were pathetic efforts.  In one interview, she did acknowledge that some of her acquisitions were more for the talent than for the platform or product.  That's a good thing, because it positions Yahoo! to invent better darts, new boards, or an entirely new game.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

AOL Tim Armstrong on Growing Online Ads

The tacit message from AOL CEO Tim Armstrong is: Online ads are a reality, and will become more of a reality.

As a small business owner and a management consultant, I appreciate hearing this:  Percent of online advertising still lags percent of online consumption, and this spells billions of dollars for companies like AOL, that is, in drawing more advertisers to come on board the digital train.  So we as consumers and users ought to expect more, certainly not less, ads in our day to day online.  Personally I don't necessarily mind that per se, but I do hate ads that are excessive  (e.g. NFL games) and recycled (e.g. NHL games).

The question about impact on margins from Betty Liu is a good one: The more online platforms like Snapchat monetize through advertising dollars, the more options there are for advertisers.  Twitter seems well underway in this regard, and I can point to Tumblr (Yahoo!) and WhatsApp (Facebook) as facing the big monetizing challenge.  But Armstrong doesn't sound worried, especially with AOL's premium content and presumably premium rates (read: higher margins) with advertisers.     

Monday, October 27, 2014

Economist Paul Krugman on Amazon's Undue Power

The essential concern behind an Amazon "monopsony" is undue influence (read: power) in the market.

Paul Krugman

The Paul Krugman opinion, that Bloomberg anchors and guests refer to, is Amazon's Monopsony is not OK.  Just as Standard Oil muscled the railroads, so is, he argues, Amazon muscling the publishers.

The comparison with that storied, infamous American corporation puts fuel to the fire of his argument against Amazon.  At first, I thought it was a bit much, but Krugman points out that in the books market, the online retailer has as much share as Standard Oil did in the refined oil market, before it was broken up in 1911.
So far Amazon has not tried to exploit consumers. In fact, it has systematically kept prices low, to reinforce its dominance. What it has done, instead, is use its market power to put a squeeze on publishers, in effect driving down the prices it pays for books — hence the fight with Hachette. In economics jargon, Amazon is not, at least so far, acting like a monopolist, a dominant seller with the power to raise prices. Instead, it is acting as a monopsonist, a dominant buyer with the power to push prices down.

(image credit)

But isn't it good for consumers to see books on offer for low (pushed down) prices?  I used to buy a lot of books, but I began to school myself to read online 10 years ago and now my consumption is virtually all digital fare.  But on those occasions, when I do buy books, along with DVDs and electronics, Amazon is virtually unbeatable as far as prices go.  Citing a fight between the online giant and publisher Hachete, Krugman hammers home a point he began with:
What matters is whether it has too much power, and is abusing that power. Well, it does, and it is.
Finally, Krugman forewarns us that its monopsony may be a precursor to an Amazon monopoly in the future.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Charity Spam Leaked Into LinkedIn (2)

For the longest time, Facebook doled out a stream of spam and was not quite like, but was second to, how MySpace was several years ago: terrible.  Spam comes in steadily on Twitter, as I get followed by whoever with avatars of a cute woman, but whose tweets are nonsense, advertisement or quasi-porn.  Gmail is the best at filtering spam, but in the last week two or three have leaked through.  LinkedIn is as good as Google, but spammers are apparently small or clever enough now, I suppose, to slip through the sieve. 

Recently I wrote Money Spam Leaked Into LinkedIn, and clearly spammers still find a way to leak in:

What is it about these spammers' request that we e-mail them back, instead of responding directly to their message on this site?  It's one of the easy telltale signs that we have to delete or report the message.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Google Does Perks for People Productivity

The very origin of the name Google is synonymous with Big Data, and the business model that Larry Page and Sergey Brin launched is rooted in analytics.  They didn't invent either, but they are undoubtedly the first to have translated both into a multibillionaire dollar colossus.  It is no surprise then that Google weaves big data and analytics into the very fabric of its people, for the sake of making their lives more efficient and their work more productive.  I posted the following on Google+ recently:

Google HR perks are meant to get people talking, coming up with new ideas, and running their lives efficiently. So says Laszlo Bock, the Senior Vice President of People Operations.

Google prepares high-performing individual contributors, before promoting them to manager roles. 

This is crucial, as many organizations mistakenly believe or expect that those staffers who do good in the role can also do good one step up as supervisor.  Some may very well have supervisory skills, but for the sake of his or her success, HR must evaluate for such skills and perhaps develop them further, before a promotion.

Diversifying the workplace also requires more women and minorities going into STEM fields (rf. Debbie Sterling on her Clever GoldieBlox Concept).

Speaking of women in tech, here are some of them at Google and other companies.

Speaking of those Google perks, you can get stuffed, get buffed, and get rubbed (down).

Behind the cool and fun perks for Googlers lie data analytics, and in front is a pull for more productivity.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Debbie Sterling Engineers Clever GoldieBlox

With tectonic development in the broad sector of media and technology, underway last decade and in full tilt this decade, we cannot seem to emphasize STEM enough - science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  I am taken then by what Stanford-graduate, engineer Debbie Sterling has done to promote STEM via her startup GoldieBlox.  It is a toy company, at least that is its face to hordes of girls and that is the vehicle for its business model.  But oh there is such possibility for Sterling to develop her concept and so many options, I imagine, for her to go forward with.  So I posted the following on Google+ recently:

As a boy, I learned to make a lamp, build a table, create a transistor radio. But for girls, it's different...

So meet the winsome Debbie Sterling, who is doing something different for girls... 

Then meet three girls, behind the Rube Goldberg - Princess Machine:

What is a Rube Goldberg?

(definition credit)
(screen shot)
A Rube Goldberg is the antithesis of Occam's Razor, which posits that the simplest explanation and solution are best.  Which proves, at least in this article, that parsimony or efficiency isn't necessarily called for in all situations or for all purpose.  The complicated-by-nature Rube Goldberg can definitely be loads of fun and rife with instruction for children. 

Voilà... the Rube Goldberg - Princess Machine.

Here's Debbie Sterling again, and more on the story behind her GoldieBlox idea and startup.

Friday, October 3, 2014

"Can Machines Think?" Obsession of Alan Turing

Walter Isaacson: Where Innovation Comes From
Many thinkers gave rise to the computer, including Alan Turing, who was obsessed with: "Can machines think?"

Alan Turing
Turing believed that in the future we wouldn't be able to tell the difference between machine and human.

Alan's Study
I stumbled on this short film (click on the caption to watch): Can you tell which of these two is machine and which is human?

Alan Turing is the subject of an upcoming film, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

On the eBay and PayPal Split

PayPal is a fast-growing business, and on its own, would warrant a different valuation (i.e., from its parent company).

eBay will "split off its payments arm PayPal, finally bowing to pressure from activist shareholder Carl Icahn."

Is eBay on Alibaba takeover radar? 

If a shareholder is not happy with the company performance, or if he or she believes the company can do something to lift that performance, but isn't doing so or won't do so, then he or she may decide to take action.  As Icahn clearly has done and is known to do.
Paypal has been growing rapidly and there has been an impression among shareholders that the division is carrying the whole company and will command a higher valuation as a stand-alone entity. This may be true as growth stocks (companies with strong growth in EPS) tend to command high valuation in the market. Paypal’s earnings growth will be more transparent now and investors can benefit from capital gains as the stock is likely to trade higher. In other words, the valuation of eBay and Paypal as one entity is likely to be lower than the sum of their valuations after spin-off.
Reference: The Positive Side Of Split Between eBay And PayPal.

This Forbes article may be too technical or sophisticated for its own good, because it may be missing the obvious:  Of course there is a positive side to the split, otherwise Icahn wouldn't have pushed for it.  Here's what I see with my non-analyst eyes:

(graphic credit)

Looked at in a granular vein, eBay has had a rough go the last two years at building analyst confidence on its growth potential.  Taken from a five-year view, eBay has leveled off, flattened out, lost its luster.  Use whatever phraseology makes sense to you, but I think PayPal may have been propping the company versus eBay itself has been dragging the company.

Clearly Icahn is expecting PayPal performance on its own to rise.  I don't know if eBay performance itself will also rise.  Clearly Forbes expects it to.  Regardless, we will all have an unveiled look at eBay, for better or for worse.  Its performance may dip or slide down after the split, before it may rise, if it can rise.  We will all see how much of analyst confidence has been driven by PayPal.