Monday, May 31, 2010

Version 1.0 provides the opportunity, version 3.0 rescinds it - the future of 4sqsearch?

When a software developer puts out version 1.0 of a product, there are things about it that are really really bad. Even if the product had a stellar product manager, not all customer needs can be anticipated.

To meet the needs that are not met by product version 1.0, other developers may pop up and offer these features.

Eventually, the original software developer wises up, realizes that its software is deficient, and either buys the other companies (e.g. Twitter buying Summize) or offers the features themselves.

Think about this normal course of events as you read about the service that Julio Fernandez tweeted about - a service called 4sqsearch.

I took the service for a spin by searching for "yogurt" in Upland, California, and did not get the result that I expected (see the source for all things Yogurtime - well, the former source, I guess). Instead, I was referred to Razzle Dazzle Frozen Yogurt on Arrow Highway (Foursquare page here).

I'm not sure why Yogurtime didn't show up, since its Foursquare page also includes the "frozen yogurt" tag. However, this is presumably an issue with the Foursquare API, not with 4sqsearch.

But how long will it take until Foursquare discovers that 4sqsearch is addressing a deficiency in Foursquare's own search feature? And when Foursquare makes this discovery, what will they do about it?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

But time-consuming narcissism is a good thing (TIME, Mashable, Foursquare, and Farmville)

TIME magazine has created a list of the 50 worst inventions, using the following criteria:

From the zany to the dangerous to the just plain dumb, here is TIME's list (in no particular order) of some of the world's bright ideas that just didn't work out

The full list includes items that appear to meet TIME's criteria, such as New Coke, but others on the list seem to have worked out just fine. Perhaps I should talk about Auto-Tune on my Empoprise-MU music blog, but in this post I'm going to limit myself to the two inventions that Mashable discussed.

Foursquare...made the list for promoting narcissism.’s Kristi Oloffson acknowledges its potential for being useful with coupons, such as Starbucks’s recent promotion for its mayors, but dismisses it as “another layer onto a generation living virtually.”

Farmville made the list for being a time-suck and an addicting game that Dan Fletcher says is “hardly even a game,” but instead a “series of mindless chores.” He’s quick to point out that the game has captivated the interest of millions.

If you want to see TIME's full reviews of these inventions, go here for Foursquare and here for Farmville.

While I acknowledge that Foursquare is narcissistic and Farmville is a time sink, I noted in a Mashable comment that there is a product that is both narcissistic and time-consuming that TIME wouldn't even think of putting on its list.

The iPod.

For products, narcissism and time-wasting are actually GOOD things, and even if the activities seem silly, you can't deny that they can become important to people.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to return to my Starfleet Commander game.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Robot sorting, revisited

One year ago today, I wrote a post about research at Carnegie Mellon that purported to allow a robot to sort items. As I noted, this is a challenging task.

But Carnegie Mellon isn't the only entity that is working on this. There's also Willow Garage:

Robotics company Willow Garage has started a two-year project to work with institutions from around the world on new applications for its robot: the PR2. Each of 11 teams will work on their own projects, but will share their code with each other and the rest of the world. Everything created will be open-source....

One of the teams is from MIT.

Folks at MIT's CSAIL lab, meanwhile, will work on object recognition and putting away groceries.

I searched the MIT CSAIL website and could find no mention of groceries, but perhaps the project described here may be related to the Willow Garage effort.

Feature-based object recognition for objects that do not have features.

Tomatoes are currently recognized using a feature based approach. In a learning step a set of features are trained that are reliable indicators of the object that needs to be found in the image. In a convolution step unknown images are convoluted with each individual feature, which then “vote” for the object location in the image. It turns out that this approach works well for objects that have distinguished features or textures but less so if distinctive features are rather part of the background than the actual image – as it is the case for tomatoes. We would thus like to extend the current algorithm to better cope with this particular type of objects.

This project requires solid programming skills in Matlab and C and a good understanding of mathematical concepts such as convolution and probability. Experience with OpenCV is advantageous, but can be acquired during the project.

Daniela Rus( and Nikolaus Correll (

I hope that the designers are taking care to ensure that the robots do not squeeze the tomatoes.

(Picture source, license)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

How a data deduplication report resulted in data reduplication

I've encountered this a few times already, and I just encountered it again.

When Motorola sold my division, I ended up being associated with a new company, and I also ended up with a change in job responsibilities. However, I still had a number of old accounts that were tied to previous information, such as my old e-mail address and my old job title.

I was reading my print copy of InformationWeek, and noticed an article on data deduplication. The article contained a blurb saying that you could download a free report, and since the subject was of interest to me, I decided that I would do so.

Then I remembered that to download the report, I would need to provide my TechWeb login...which was tied to my old Motorola e-mail address.

This reminded me that I had received an e-mail from InformationWeek, asking me to renew my subscription. I hadn't done anything with it at the time, because I suspected that the information was out of date and would have to be updated.

Time to fix all of this, I thought, so I logged into TechWeb to change my email address.

I couldn't.

So I started to create a new TechWeb account with my new email address. Because of cookies or whatever, the registration screen was populated with information from my old account (for the most part; for some reason I had to re-enter my country and state). Everything was going well, until...

...I was told that the onscreen nickname that I had chosen was in use by another account.

So then I logged into the old account, changed the old account's onscreen nickname to some gibberish (something along the lines of "iamtryingtocreateanewaccount" - I wonder how my old TechWeb posts, if any, will show up?). I then logged into the new account, re-entered the city and state, re-entered the old onscreen nickname, and things worked wonderfully.

Of course, I then decided that this would be as good a time as any to renew my InformationWeek subscription. As it turned out, the InformationWeek data didn't coincide with my new TechWeb data, or my old TechWeb data, but was associated with a different set of data, tied to a third email account (the intermediate email account that I used during the transition).

So now, with all three account records corrected to show the same information (except for the fake onscreen nickname for the Motorola account), I proceeded to download my free report on data DEDUPLICATION.

Hmm...I can offer a suggestion to reduce data duplication issues...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

An odd battery seller

I was searching Google Shopping for batteries for my laser pointing device, and ran across an interesting merchant.

Now I've never heard of a battery-operated condom. Either I've led a sheltered life, or they sell more than condoms at Condom Country.

(Insert your own crude joke about a laser pointing device here.)

Will FTC Disclosures Become the new Foursquare Badges?

When people try to censor things (for good or bad reasons), one unintended result of this is that the censorship itself makes the censored item more attractive. I'm old enough to remember the entire brouhaha about backwards masking, or the idea that demonic music artists were intentionally putting backwards messages into their songs, causing subliminal messages to enter the listeners' minds. So what happened? I remember at least one band advertising that its album contained backwards masking.

Jake Kuramoto recently wrote a post about receiving free stuff at conferences, which prompted Louis Gray to remind people of the FTC disclosure badges that he had previously posted on his blog. For example, when I won my copy of PeopleSoft Developer's Guide for PeopleTools & PeopleCode (picture here) at last year's Oracle OpenWorld, I should have included this FTC disclosure badge:

The only problem with badges, however, is that people want to collect them all. I'm sure that a lot of Foursquare users are trying to get every badge out there. (For the record, I currently have 13.)

What if people tried to get EVERY FTC disclosure badge?

Take a look at the list of badges again. Now I've received a free book (the PeopleSoft book above), I've been fed (at several Oracle OpenWorld blogger meetups, among other places), I've gotten some nice schwag bags here and there, and I've even gotten some sweet gadgets (I got a watch once, but the battery died and it was too expensive to replace).

However, I have never received stock options, except from my own employers. Considering the stock market's performance, stock options may or may not be a good thing anyway.

This leads us to the last two disclosure badges in Louis Gray's post:

"writer got busy w/member of story"
"writer did time w/member of story"

Now I have not earned those two badges, and I seriously doubt that Louis Gray, Jake Kuramoto, Jason Teitelman, Ren LaForme, or any well-known tech blogger has earned those badges. (Well, perhaps Kevin Mitnick can lay claim to the second of the two badges, based upon his past life.)

But are there people who will try to earn those badges, just to make their FTC disclosure badge collection complete? I haven't found any yet, but I'm still looking.

When reality contrasts with appearance

One man described himself as having "hands and wrists that don't work" and four bolts holding his spine in place. He spent much of the last two years flat on his back.

Another man was barely able to pick up a fork or sign his autograph.

What do these two have in common? Our perception of them as superior athletes. Because they were.

The first man, subject of a recent T.J. Simers column, is former basketball great Bill Walton. The second one was football great Johnny Unitas (obituary here).

When young kids are encouraged to participate in athletic activity, they are told to model healthy habits so that they can be as healthy as professional athletes.

But as the stories of Bill Walton, Johnny Unitas, and countless others show, professional athletes aren't all that healthy. And you can also look at current athletes - just looking at my local basketball team, the Los Angeles Lakers, there are a number of players (Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Andrew Bynum, Bill Walton's son Luke, and others) who are battling or have battled injuries over the last few weeks.

The Simers story on Walton prompted me to tweet

the @LATimesTJSimers column on bill walton's medical woes reminded me - pro sports stars seem to be the unhealthiest people on earth.

And I'm only focusing on people who are playing the game correctly. When you include people like Lyle Alzado who abused their bodies, the percentage of unhealthy athletes rises.

But there are many of these contrasts. Not only do we have reputed athletes who are unhealthy, we also have reputed innovators who don't innovate, reputed open source champions who run extremely proprietary operations...the list goes on.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How Empoprise-BI monitors all that is important

I just peeked at my analytics to see how people have been getting to this blog over the past three days. Here are the most popular search terms:

1. josh nankivel "account suspended"
2. "please place your tray tables"
3. are sociopaths gift givers
4. cashing in foursquare mayor rewards
5. dr. verena kain 2010
6. examples of lomography ads
7. how does foursquare work
8. how to take over mayor foursquare
9. kitchenaid stove using probe
10. lg driver component transfer error
11. lg env3 drive
12. my delight cupcakery
13. narra6 overclocking
14. nick wheeler physics
15. odtug kaleidoscope 2010 party
16. on verizon env3 what does it mean when the messages say sent and delivered
17. openworld 2011
18. oracle san francisco 2011
19. positive and negative advantages of skinput
20. problem pc lg env3 finding
21. steve carr nooma
22. yogurtime

Results are definitely interesting. I don't know what happened to Josh Nankivel's web site, but it's fine now. And the "are sociopaths gift givers" search is definitely an anomaly. Perhaps someone was wondering if a sociopath would give a gift to my former physics professor.

The three big trends that I see here are Foursquare searches (which include My Delight and Yogurtime), cell phone woes, and Oracle conventions.

However, I want to assure my readers that, whether they like it or not, I pretty much write about whatever I want to write about. Since I blog for fun, I continue to blog about whatever excites me, regardless of whether or not it excites anyone else. The results are probably esoteric at times, but they are (hopefully) original.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to work on my next post, "Using Foursquare to Become the Mayor of Your Local LG Phone Customer Support Center While at Oracle OpenWorld." I just have to work a picture of Dr. Verena Kain into the post somehow.

(With that hard hat, I'm now wondering if the LHC scientists gather around late at night and do karaoke versions of "Y.M.C.A.")

(empo-utoobd) Will Twitter evolve like YouTube?

Dave Winer wrote a post that got me thinking. In the process of commenting on Twitter's latest tweaks to its business model, and its potential effects on developers and users, Winer said the following:

Twitter is gradually encroaching on the roles of its developers, publishers, even plain old users. Where does this end? My prediction: It ends with us all being couch potatoes. Watching the Britney Spears Channel or the Barack Obama Channel or the Comcast Cares Channel, and going elsewhere for the free-for-all that Twitter used to be.

This got me to thinking about the difference between media creators and media consumers. Winer clearly believes that Twitter is moving from serving the former to serving the latter.

It's instructive to look at the evolution of another popular service, YouTube. Back in November 2005, USA Today ran a story entitled Video websites pop up, invite postings. The article talked about a number of services that were trying to become video versions of Flickr.

"People have a lot of different experiences out there, and they want to share them," says Chad Hurley, who started YouTube in Palo Alto, Calif., with two friends, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim. "That's what we're about. We're the ultimate reality TV, giving you a glimpse into other people's lives."

And while Google actually checked out videos before they were posted, the other sites didn't.

The free sites have policies against pornography and copyrighted material. But since they don't screen clips, they still end up with video some might find objectionable. YouTube and Vimeo have a lot of what Lodwick calls "amateur strip-tease." Other clips feature people lip-synching songs in their own music videos, using copyrighted material.

That was 2005. Where are we in 2010? Well, Google acquired YouTube, of course, but the entire emphasis of YouTube has also changed. The first two paragraphs of YouTube's May 24, 2010 blog post indicate the new direction:

Tonight, at 9.30 p.m. ET, we’re teaming up with (RED) to premiere the documentary “The Lazarus Effect” on the Join(RED) YouTube Channel.

The half-hour documentary, directed by Lance Bangs and executive produced by Spike Jonze, captures a series of powerful testimonials from HIV positive patients. Many of these stories seem like miracles, but they aren’t. They’re made possible through access to two pills a day -- two pills that cost just 40 cents.

If you had gone to a YouTube contributor in November 2005 and asked to speak with his/her executive producer, the contributor probably would have mooned you.

But that's just part of it. If you read my Empoprise-MU music blog, then you probably saw my March 1 post about VEVO, the new YouTube destination for music videos.

Sure, YouTube allows you (well, not me) to upload your own videos, but they don't matter. The real money is in the professional content, the agreements with the content providers, etc. Let's face it - if you can get 60 million people to watch a music video, aren't you going to pay more attention to them than to BrotherSister?

(Oh, and to any personal friends who are reading this - this show was in Adelaide, not Alabama. I was sorely disappointed.)

Back to Twitter. We're already seeing this type of transition now, in which Oprah and other celebrities are issuing promotional tweets, and Guy Kawasaki and others are hiring people to write tweets for them. And it seems that just about every advertisement includes the words "Follow us on Facebook and Twitter." In a sense, Winer's era of the Britney channel and the Comcast Cares channel is already here. And now Twitter is moving toward a two-tiered service, just like YouTube, where certain basic services will be provided to everyone, but only the major content creators will get special attention.

(empo-tymshft) That's sorta big

I'm sure that any of us over the age of 8 has noticed how rapid technological changes can be.

The first personal computer that I ever owned was a Macintosh Plus, which was a wonderful computer that provided a wealth of functionality. And storage - boy, it had storage. My Macintosh Plus happened to have a hard disk with TWENTY MEGABYTES of storage. I wasn't limited to floppy disk storage - I had TWENTY MEGABYTES of disk space to play with.

Back then, if you had said "terabyte" to me, I would have looked at you with a look of utter confusion. But as time went on, I eventually had to learn what a gigabyte was, and then I had to learn what a terabyte was.

In fact, a few years after I bought that Macintosh Plus, the whole world had to learn what a zettabyte and a yottabyte were. You see, in 1991, an official proposal was adopted that defined the zetta- and yotta- prefixes, which represent 10 to the 21st power, and 10 to the 24th power, respectively.

Now I haven't had to refer to a yotta-anything yet, but eventually that time will come.

And while for some people, yotta might seem like a lotta, for others yotta is notta enough. Take jimvb:

For the first time this week, I saw yotta- actually being used. The sun puts out 380 yottawatts of power, says Nearest Star, by Leon Golub and Jay M. Pasachoff, page 12.

So what's jimvb going to do when he runs into a thousand yottas of something. Jimvb had an idea:

I can see how these endings were derived. zetta is z + -etta, which is an alteration of septi-, meaning 7, as 21 is 7 groups of three. yotta is y + -otta, an alteration of octo-, meaning 8. The pattern here is that we go backwards from the beginning of the alphabet, starting with z and y, and we follow it up with an alteration of the Greek or Latin for the next number. According to this pattern, the next ending should be xona-, since x comes before y in the alphabet, and 9 is noni- in Latin.

So jimvb, without the official blessing of The Powers That Be, began coming up with some new prefixes. In addition to xona for 10 to the 27th power, he came up with weka (10 to the 30th) and a number of other prefixes, all the way up to luma (10 to the 63rd power).

But buried in jimvb's list is a prefix that is bound to cause a bit of confusion. You see, after xona, weka, vunda, uda, and treda, jimvb specified sorta as the prefix for 10 to the 42nd power.

Yes, sorta.

What happens when we say that Elvis Presley weighed a sortagram?

Or that you want to get a sortameter away from your significant other?

Or that your portable music device uses a sortawatt of power?

But I guess it could be worse, if you decided to consume some pepta bismol tablets. (Pepta is 10 to the 51st power. That's a lot of pink powder.)

Monday, May 24, 2010

When will Microsoft give birth to Natal?

I've been deficient in mentioning natural user interface stuff in this blog lately, but the industry does not appear to have suffered from my neglect of the topic. In fact, Paul O'Flaherty is reporting that Spike TV will be broadcasting Microsoft's Project Natal announcement on June 14, followed by a special on MTV on June 15.

Of course, an announcement is only an announcement, and Microsoft has been known to announce something well in advance of its availability. So when will we be able to get our hands on Natal stuff? ReadWriteWeb reports that the launch will occur in October:

During an interview on Saudi television with Marketing Manager E&D Microsoft Saudi, Syed Bilal Tariq. He mentions that Project Natal is launching worldwide around Oct 2010 and that more information is coming out during E3 2010.

Or maybe not:

A Microsoft rep told G4 that the purported marketing manager isn't actually directly employed by Microsoft, although the company did not deny the rumored October launch window. "Syed Bilal Tariq is not a [Microsoft] employee. He is a vendor employed through a third-party company on behalf of the Microsoft subsidiary in Saudi Arabia," said a Microsoft rep.

Rumors that Syed Bilal Tariq is not a real person, but is merely a computer-generated illusion with remarkable movement capabilities, have not been confirmed.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Could an Oprah-like effect influence Facebook?

My post from last Saturday, Should Facebook Go Freemium?, is an obviously play on words on Jake Kuramoto's preceding post, Facebook Should Go Freemium. In the conversation that ensued regarding my post, I ended up repeating something that Jake said in his original post. This is what he said. This is what Jake Kuramoto said.

Facebook is too mainstream now for it to matter that Leo Laporte deleted his account, and Jason Calacanis threatened to do so. If Lady Gaga quit, that might make a ripple.

So why do so many people care what Lady Gaga does or does not do with Facebook, or what Oprah or Ashton do or do not do with Twitter?

The secret is in how we refer to them.

Even when writing to a tech audience, Jake and I understand that there may be some confusion if we were to simply refer to "Leo" or "Jason." Now perhaps Jake could refer to "Larry" in his blog and the majority of his readers would know who he was talking about. But in most cases, you can't refer to a tech superhero, even someone as big as the chairman of Apple, by his or her first name.

But Oprah, Ashton, Gaga - that's a different story. We have emotional connections with these people. Their acting or singing or talking has entertained us. Now I'll admit that the three examples that I gave have unusually distinctive names, but there are celebrities with much more common names - Arnold comes to mind - and we still know who is being discussed.

Now I happen to find Leo entertaining, and if I'm driving around on the weekend I'll tune him in if there isn't a game going on. But Leo, for all his entertainment value, is only entertaining to a very small segment of the audience. Don't believe me? Take a look at this YouTube video, which has had over 600,000 views.

Now take a look at this video, by some woman named Britney, that has been viewed by 100 times as many people - over 60 million views.

Or use Facebook itself to compare the two. Leo Laporte is liked by almost 200 people. Britney Spears is liked by almost 3 million.

So who is the average Facebook user going to listen to?

And if Leo Laporte were a better dancer, would more people listen to him? Nah....

(insert brief pause here)

Of course, this all begs the question of how a true celebrity would use Facebook, so I checked the official Facebook page for the Oprah Winfrey show.

Now Winfrey has been known to address specific topics, and to mobilize her mass audience in support of certain causes. In fact, at the time that I visited the show page, there was a special tab devoted to National No Phone Zone Day on April 30 - an attempt to end distracted driving by people using cellphones in cars.

But what does Oprah say about Facebook and privacy?

Not a peep.

(The privacy policy is here, by the way.)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Poll: 100% Think the Internet Evolution Facebook Poll is a Crock

Within certain circles, the major topic of conversation is Facebook's privacy changes, and news that this person or that person is leaving Facebook as a result. This is truly a hot topic within certain circles, but will it have any true effect on Facebook?

I was musing about this when I saw the following headline:

Poll: 36% Say They're Done With Facebook

Now if this poll was conducted with a representative sample of the population, it would truly spell disaster for Facebook. So I figured I'd better click through to the article and read it.

Once you get past the headline, you find out that the poll was a poll of Internet Evolution readers. To be more precise, nearly 150 Internet Evolution readers. And Nicole Ferraro admits that the poll is decidedly unscientific.

So why are Internet Evolution readers so negative about Facebook? Let's start with the question that was asked:

When will you deactivate your Facebook account?

Now I'm not a professional pollster, but I suspect that this question might violate a standard or two that are used by professional pollsters. So I'm going to conduct a poll of the authors of the Empoprise-BI blog. The question:

How badly formulated was Internet Evolution's poll question on Facebook deactivation?

100% of all respondents chose the option "It blew major massive monkey chunks."

Enough levity. Ferraro arrived at the 36% figure by adding up the responses "I already deactivated it," "Within the year," and "Within the month." The "Within the year" group is the largest group, with over 20% of the total responses. Clearly within this circle, people are thinking about making a move.

Ferraro did some other research, and the only other significant data point that she could find was one cited in Inside Facebook, which noted:

For example, the search term “how do” on leading search engine Google now shows the algorithmically-determined phrase “how do i delete my facebook account.” Sites that provide answers to that question are seeing lots of new traffic.

(Note to self: join bandwagon and write "How to delete Facebook account" post.)

Ferraro also notes that the wonderful guardian of our country's business, the United States Congress, is also getting into the act. Yes, when the U.S. Congress isn't investigating baseball players on steroids, they're weighing in on a private firm's privacy policy. Senator Chuck Schumer is urging people to post this as their Facebook status:

Facebook should stop sharing my personal info with outside companies without my permission. If you agree, set this as your status today and join this group:

The link resolves to, which is a Facebook group called "Petition: Facebook, respect my privacy!" that was started by and has over 100,000 members.

Of course, if you've deactivated your Facebook account, you can't join. And if the group has set up its preferred privacy controls, you can't see it.


(empo-plaaybizz) Why you need gamers in your corporate environment

I had encountered something at work that involved network latency, so I did some online research to understand latency better. In the course of my research, I checked Wikipedia's definition of lag. The Wikipedia article included an introduction, then an overview...then a discussion of "Lag in Multiplayer Gaming."

I continued my research, and then ran across a thread on an Australian message board with a detailed discussion of problems in accessing World of Warcraft. The discussion included pings, reports of disconnections, and dozens upon dozens of traceroutes. The thread was active for several weeks in March and April 2009.

Why is it easier for me to find network latency write-ups for consumer applications, than it is to find write-ups for business applications?

Perhaps it's because business applications tend to be confidential. (You may have noticed that I refrained from saying WHY I was researching network latency.) While your average World of Warcraft player has no problem posting a traceroute, I seriously doubt that Alex Payne will be publishing traceroutes that involve his new employer.

It's undeniably true that a number of technical issues, from network latency to interface design, have benefited from major contributions of people who play games.

So maybe corporations need to seek people who are interesting in various types of games, since they will have a perspective that can be applied to business issues. Interestingly enough, AMD has a game forum that is devoted to the topic, and presumably gets a lot of intelligence from the forum members that can be applied to improving AMD products. Look at this question:

Im looking to overclock my processor (athlon II X2 240) but it is not supported in my bios (american megatrends). i have a compaq cq5320f with a m2n68-la (narra6) mobo, gigabyte radeon hd 4350 graphics card, nvidia mcp610 chipset.

Can i flash my bios or is there software to download to help with this. please help!!!!

I would hope that processor manufacturers and BIOS manufacturers were following that thread.

So you can argue that companies need to seek out gaming employees and gaming customers to advance their products. Then again, an argument can be made that our technical knowledge is also advanced by pornography, and I don't know that corporations want to actively seek out pornography consumers...

P.S. For a broader view of gaming and the enterprise, see Why Gaming is the Future of Everything.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Should Facebook Go Freemium?

I haven't weighed in on all the Facebook privacy brouhaha, primarily because (a) better minds than I have weighed in on it already (I particularly recommend Steven Hodson's post that differentiates between privacy and control of your data), and (b) I didn't have anything to contribute.

Well, I have contributed one thing to the conversation so far. I think that Facebook's negative press has reached a point where, instead of using the common "blame Scoble" epithet, it's time to "blame Facebook" for everything. @fbihop has already started:

Facebook hit on your sister. #FBfacts

But then I ran across a proposal from Jake Kuramoto. After noting that Facebook will not truly be affected by the actions of Leo Laporte or Jason Calacanis or whoever, Kuramoto suggested the following:

Flickr makes you pay to store photos beyond a certain number. Facebook doesn’t, and they are the largest online photo sharing site by a very large margin.

Worried about privacy changes? Don’t be a sour puss and delete your account, pay to keep it private.

But will a good idea make money? To analyze this, I've taken a look at a company that's been around for a while - AOL.

You remember AOL - well, some of you remember AOL. AOL was a huge moneymaker back in the day, that was best known as a provider of a place where you could store - and control - your content. Of course, to get to that content, you had to get to it, so AOL sold subscriptions that let you use your modem to dial in to a special phone number to access your AOL content.

Needless to say, the business landscape has dramatically changed since then, and the Internet service providers are now separate from the content providers.

So how does AOL make money today?

According to its most recent quarterly report, AOL income comes from the following sources:

Advertising revenue: $354.3 million in 2010 Q1
Subscription revenue: $282.7 million
Other revenue: $27.3 million

So today, AOL gets the majority of its revenue from advertising. Well, Facebook certainly knows about the advertising business (on Friday, I finally got around to disliking the myriad of "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" advertisements that kept on showing up).

And as for that subscription revenue, it appears to be drying up:

Once best known as an Internet access provider, AOL is attempting to wean itself from the access business, streamline operations and develop a media business based on Internet advertising and services.

Still, it remains highly dependent on its subscribers as a captive audience.

The company said its steep decline in search queries, for example, was partly the result of a 26% decline in subscribers compared with the period last year. Paying subscribers tend to search more frequently than "nonpaying visitors" to its properties, according to AOL.

Overall, AOL's subscription revenue dropped by 28% to $282.7 million.

But AOL doesn't solely depend upon subscribers and advertising. Although the revenue seems to be pretty low at the moment, AOL does offer a variety of products for sale, most if not all of which are offered as a 30 day free trial. Internet security, a PC optimizer, various utilities - you can buy them all from AOL.

So perhaps Facebook could sell a higher-tiered level of Facebook service to its customers. The question is, how many of its hundreds of millions of customers would pay for the service? And if they did, how many of the hundreds of millions of customers would regard it as another example of the "Facebook will charge you" hoaxes from December 2009 and February 2010?

Now I'll admit that I only looked at AOL. Perhaps there are other businesses that more closely parallel the freemium model that Kuramoto mused about. If you know of a business that has successfully (or unsuccessfully) adopted a multi-tier model, share your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

(empo-plaaybizz) We don't like it, but we'll pay for it

Remember my post The Farmville Sociopaths? This was my post that was dedicated to an analysis of A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz's speech-turned-essay which looked at the popular Facebook game Farmville - both the things that motivated people to play Farmville, and Liszkiewicz's views on how these activities contribute to society at large. (If you haven't read the article, Liszkiewicz's answer is "They don't.")

I revisited this article after seeing that Jake Kuramoto has weighed in on the essay, noting that Zynga is capitalizing upon a wonderful business plan, even though anyone who would have heard the business plan just a few years ago would have thought that the Zynga people were out of their minds.

But Jake and I initially glossed over one point that Liszkiewicz made which, in retrospect, is vitally important.

Let's say that I was to decide to go into the software business. I would want to make my software application as insanely great as possible. I'd talk to customers, think about user interfaces, look at the market, and so forth - all in an attempt to design some software that people would WANT to buy.

Chances are I'd fail miserably. I'd probably fail for a variety of reasons, but among them would be the fact that I'd be shooting at the wrong target.

You don't want to design a product that people want to buy.

Let's return to Liszkiewicz:

Farmville is not a good game.

What? The company is making money hand over fist, and it's not a good game? Liszkiewicz provides several reasons for this assertion, among which is the following:

Farmville allows users to spend their in-game profits on decorations, animals, buildings, and even bigger plots of land. So users are rewarded for their work. Of course, people can sidestep the harvesting process entirely by spending real money to purchase in-game items. This is the major source of revenue for Zynga, the company that produces Farmville. Zynga is currently on pace to make over three hundred million dollars in revenue this year, largely off of in-game micro-transactions....Clearly, even people who play Farmville want to avoid playing Farmville.

Now I have never spent money on Farmville, Farm Town, My Town, or whatever...but I have spent money on Starfleet Commander. Why? Because Starfleet Commander allows you to acquire resources in the forms of ore, crystal, and hydrogen, and there are times when you have too much ore and not enough hydrogen, and vice versa. Now Starfleet Commander allows you to try to find other players to exchange your virtual resources, or they can automate the process...for a fee, of course. And in my case, it's much easier to perform the occasional automated transaction, rather than trying to find the person with the right resources, and making sure that both have resources at the correct time (because of the mechanics of Starfleet Commander, my resources are often on "fleetsave" and therefore unavailable).

So note the distinction - people pay money for these games not because they WANT to, but because they HAVE to.

Let's look at another example - tax preparation services. People obviously don't want to pay someone else to do their taxes for them, but feel that they have to do so. Why? First, the tax preparer saves the person a lot of trouble, since the person does not have to prepare his or her own taxes. Second, the tax preparer (assuming a minimum skill level) can help the person avoid some costly mistakes that could result in audits and tax penalties.

Many scams use the same "you have to do this" motivator. Let's say that you get an e-mail that is purportedly from your bank. The e-mail usually includes a threat - if you don't provide your bank with your correct credentials, you will not have access to your money. Those who fall for the scam do so because they feel that they have to protect their money.

Now certainly wants have their place and can serve as motivators (you want to get that money from the brother of the deceased Nigerian government official), but when it comes down to it, needs are more powerful than wants. I could go into a Maslow-ian tangent on this, but as I said before, I've been out of academia for a while.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A misguided cry for freedom (or, guess who agrees with the New Jersey principal?)

Go into any room of techies and casually mention that there's a threat to freedom, and 99% of all techies will man the barricades.

Whoops, I'm a sexist pig. They'll person the barricades.

But sometimes they person the barricades without engaging their brains first. Take the title of this item from Internet Evolution:

School Principal Demands Ban on Social Networks

And Nicole Ferraro begins the actual article as follows.

When I was a kid, the "thing" that was going to destroy my generation was video games. We were all supposed to grow up and kill each other.

Every age has a culprit, and for the current generation of youngsters it's social networking.

Ferraro then talks about Anthony Orsini and his letter to parents, and how wild the letter was.

My main problem with this letter is the excessive use of exclamation points -- way to sound maniacal! I'm glad you're not teaching English!

The thing that stuck in Ferraro's craw was the following statement from Principal Orsini:

Please do the following: sit down with your child (and they are just children still) and tell them that they are not allowed to be a member of any social networking site. Today!

This, naturally, drove Ferraro up a wall...even though she neglected to mention one entity that is entirely in agreement with Orsini's stand.

The social networking sites themselves.

You see, the one important factor that Ferraro buried in her article is that Orsini is the principal of a MIDDLE school. Now, how many middle school students would satisfy the following requirement?

5. You will not use Facebook if you are under 13.

Now I will grant that there are some 8th graders who are 13 years of age or over. But middle schools go all the way down to 6th grade, and if there is a 6th grader who's 13, perhaps the kid should be hitting the books rather than the Farmville anyway.

And Ferraro does agree with Orsini that there are dangers on the Internet; she just disagrees about the approach to take.

The main issue on which the principal and I disagree is that practicing safe social networking is futile. A less hysterical approach would be limiting time kids spend online, having open discussions about the Web's dark side and the negative effects of one's actions online, and making it clear that these students have somewhere to turn if they're being bullied, online or off.

Those of us who are parents realize that as our children get older, we need to give them more and more responsibility, commensurate with their physical and mental age. And things may be different for different kids - some kids may be comfortable watching R rated movies, while others may think that "Everybody Loves Raymond" is a racy, dangerous show. (True story.)

But there are some absolutes - if your contract with MySpace or Facebook or whatever states that you have to be 13 years old, you have to be 13 years old. You don't want to teach your kid the joys of breaking the law.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Reinforcing perceptions - how the #nbcsucks and #nbcfail hashtags live on

I just visited my nbcsucks FriendFeed room for the first time in a while. The room, originally created during the 2010 Winter Olympics, was designed to contrast the @nbcolympics Twitter feed against the Twitter feeds of those who thought that NBC's Olympic coverage was less than stellar. The latter were easily identified by searching for use of the Twitter hashtags #nbcfail and #nbcsucks.

I pretty much created the room to track Olympics stuff, and figured that after the Olympics were over, the use of the #nbcfail and #nbcsucks hashtags would pretty much die away. Bob Costas would go back to pontificating about other stuff, and people such as me would lose interest in the hashtags and go back to talking about Foursquare or whatever.

As Jim Bakker would say, I was wrong about #nbcfail and #nbcsucks hashtag use. In my visit to my FriendFeed room, I found that the hashtags were very much alive.

You see, NBC apparently had the rights to televise the 2010 Kentucky Derby, which happens to be another infrequent event that attracts a large casual audience. And apparently NBC, in attempting to cater to this large audience, ended up doing things that alienated the core sports fan. Sound familiar?

Apparently, NBC's idea of televising the Kentucky Derby is to ignore...well, to ignore the horses. Or at least that's what the tweets imply. Jeff May:

remember when the kentucky derby coverage on nbc was just about the race and really well done?? what's this top chief bullshit? #NBCFail

Technically I could address a spelling flame to May, but at least his heart was in the right place. Todd Noonan continues the Top Chef theme:

I raced home to watch the Kentucky Derby and it's Al Roker cooking with two losers from Top Chef in a segment taped yesterday? #NBCFail #fb

And when NBC wasn't showing chefs, they were showing celebs - celebrity people, not celebrity horses. Horse Belle wasn't pleased:

NBC's KDerby coverage = hats, foods, drinks, celebs...hey...what about the horses? #NBCFail #KYDerby

And neither was Heide Kolb:

#KYDerby who cares abt all that celebrity crap, I want 2 see horses & races! #NBCfail

In fact, one person (Alex Brown) became really desperate to see a horse:

cool, commercial break. maybe there will be an advertisment that includes a horse ? #KYDerby

(In case you're wondering how that tweet got into the feed, Jen Baker retweeted it with the hashtag.)

But there is a valid question - was NBC's Kentucky Derby coverage truly bad, or did people approach the broadcast with a preconceived notion that NBC's Kentucky Derby coverage would be bad, and then isolated Top Chef and other episodes to reinforce that belief? Certainly this has happened before, and people have taken subsequent events to reinforce a previous belief. Just ask Dan Quayle or Joe Biden.

And before you blame NBC for all of the ills, note that the Kentucky Derby itself was eager to expand Derby coverage to a new audience.

Carter, who had moved to Roanoke from Louisville, said that to drum up interest, he held a party, borrowed a satellite truck and downloaded a Louisville station's coverage so his colleagues could see what they were missing.

"The ratings there were nothing," Carter recalled. "I think it did 5 or 6 ratings points. Outside of Kentucky and a couple of other horse-racing communities, it does OK, but certainly here, it still has Super Bowl status."

Churchill Downs is looking to improve that status here and nationally by expanding the appeal of the Oaks.

"On Kentucky Oaks Day, we have an on-track crowd that is traditionally around 100,000 people," Rogers said. "How many other sporting events draw 100,000 people, and no one's ever heard of it?"

Last year, the track partnered with Susan G. Komen for the Cure and raised money for breast cancer research. The move drove media coverage and helped the track strike a deal to air the Oaks on the NBC-owned Bravo cable network, Rogers said. That partnership will continue this year with Bravo airing the race from 5 to 6 p.m.

"The Derby is the Derby," Rogers said. "But we want to incorporate all that on to Kentucky Oaks Day as well and have a giant two-day event."

And there was certainly advance notice about the Top Chef participation:

NEW YORK, NY – April 26, 2010 – Bravo celebrates the Kentucky Derby with the second annual “Ladies First: Bravo at the Kentucky Derby” special live from Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY., airing on Friday, April 30 at 5 p.m. ET/PT. This one-hour special, produced by NBC Sports and hosted by Bravo’s Andy Cohen, celebrates the very best in food, fashion and the celebrity experience associated with the 136th running of the Kentucky Oaks. Dina Manzo from ‘The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” and Jeff Lewis and Jenni Pulos from “Flipping Out” join Cohen to celebrate a day for women and to give viewers a history on the fashion and festivities before and after the Oaks race. Isaac Mizrahi, renowned designer and host of Bravo’s “The Fashion Show” will dress “Today” show correspondent Natalie Morales for the festivities, and “Top Chef” stars Michael Voltaggio, Jennifer Carroll and Eli Kirshtein will be cooking from the Infield Club.

However, the press release didn't mention that some of the Friday stuff would be repeated on Saturday.

Then again, when the actual event is only two minutes long, you have to show SOMETHING while you're waiting, I guess. I'm sure that the true sports purists would insist that NBC's coverage only last for two minutes, but where are you going to put the commercials?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

How does the mayor position work in FourSquare, revisited

I just checked my Google Analytics for this here Empoprise-BI business blog for 2010, and found that the most popular post during that period, with 8.52% of all pageviews, is a post that I wrote on January 2 with the title "How does the mayor position work in FourSquare?"

The popularity of this post demonstrates my superior writing skills, of course...not. It's merely the fact that I happened upon a trend. OK, the title was pretty good also. Oddly enough (or perhaps not oddly), the Facebook echo of the post is more highly ranked in Google than the original Blogger post.

As it turns out, this is a good time to revisit the topic of mayorships in Foursquare. But first, a recap of what I already wrote. Here is an excerpt:

[A] single visit is not enough to make you the mayor of a new location, For new locations, generally you need to visit the place on two different days before you can become the mayor of the location.

And if you stop visiting there, and someone else visits, then it's quite possible that you can lose your mayorship to someone else. That's exactly what happened to me at the Starbucks at Valencia & Imperial in Brea, California. I used to be the mayor there, but as I write this the current mayor is Lauren D.

Now FourSquare's hope is that the game impulse will kick in, and that I'll say to myself, "Hey, I can't let Lauren remain the mayor of that Starbucks! So I'm just going to make a point of visiting that Starbucks in Brea a few times so that I can win the mayorship back!"

Now this benefits FourSquare, and benefits the business as well.

I wrote this back in January, back when I probably had a dozen mayorships or so. Foursquare hadn't really taken off in the Inland Empire yet, but I figured that it would at some point, and that I'd lose some of these mayorships, only retaining a few.

But recently, the unthinkable happened.

I lost the mayorship of the Starbucks at 6th and Mountain. (At present, my mayorships have dwindled down to three.)

However, this is partially my fault. I'd often stop at that Starbucks on my morning commute, but this year I often use a different route for my morning commute, which means that I don't go by that Starbucks as frequently as I once did. This gave Larry H the opening that he needed to claim the mayorship from me.

And, to the delight of Foursquare and Starbucks, the competitive edge kicked in, and I figured I'd get that mayorship back. As it turns out, I had the option to take my old commuting route for a few days, so I began visiting that Starbucks on my way to work, beginning on April 27:

i want mayorship back. @foursquare sees $ @stevenhodson shakes head :) (@ Starbucks Coffee)

(The Hodson comment was prompted by his March 22 post "Say, do they have a badge for 'Duh I am such a sucker'?" I previously commented on Hodson's post in my April 21 post.)

Returning to the mayorship contest at Starbucks, I checked in again on April 28, after a failed attempt to visit My Delight Cupcakery (no, I still haven't made it there during their business hours):

so i`m getting iced tea instead (@ Starbucks Coffee)

Two visits didn't do it - I still hadn't won the mayorship back. By April 29, I realized that this would be harder than I thought:

i feel like harold stassen, repeatedly running for mayor (@ Starbucks Coffee)

(Here's a biography of Harold Stassen, if you've never heard of him. The biography contains the wonderful line "Other Minnesota politicians: Hubert H. Humphrey, Jesse Ventura and Walter Mondale." When will they add Al Franken? Whoops, it looks like I really want to keep that "I Can't Keep on Topic" badge I mentioned earlier.)

At this point, I figured it was time for some research. And when I researched Larry H and his mayorships, I discovered this one:

pennysaver sales office (work)
1520 north mountain avenue
ontario, california 91762

Right way, this told me two things.

First, and most importantly, it told me that Larry H worked in the same shopping center where the Starbucks is located, which means that it is quite possible that Larry stops there every day, before or after selling advertisements for the very popular PennySaver.

The other thing that it told me was that Larry is pretty savvy at Foursquare; my guess is that he added this location himself. This means that he knows his way around Foursquare and definitely has an interest in the service.

By April 30, I had resigned myself to the fact that I probably wasn't getting this mayorship back.

one last? opportunity to win this (@ Starbucks Coffee)

So I congratulate Larry H on his hard work; he's earned this mayorship. In fact, he's been really busy in that Starbucks area; not only is he the mayor of the Starbucks and of Pennysaver, but he is also the mayor of Chopsticks House. (Ignore the map, which as of May 1 is VERY inaccurate.) So for Larry, I'd like to propose the Shopping Center Badge, for checking into three different locations within 500 feet of each other.

Or maybe I should make it four locations instead of three. At this rate, Larry will beat me to My Delight Cupcakery.