Two days in and I'm still baffled
Two days in and I'm still baffled
There's lots of discussion of what Yahoo! should do with the proceeds of the Alibaba sale. Some are calling for a dividend (boring), while Josh suggests a bold move would be to buy a controlling stake in Twitter.
And while the core advertising business continues to drag, I don't see any simple deals that would really reverse that. So, while Yahoo should continue to make small, strategic technology deals, I'd look elsewhere for the big deals.
Yahoo still has a huge footprint in both Finance and Sports, so why not double-down on those? And two important, emerging opportunities for Yahoo come in Video and Mobile, so those need attention as well.
Assuming Yahoo has $10 Billion to go shopping with, who should they buy?
In the Finance space, there are a number of interesting content plays that could reenergize their Finance pages and give them some unique content. Stocktwits, the online community for active traders, provides the best insights into financial events as they happen. Just watch the StockTwits page for a tech company during their earning release and you’ll see what I mean. Estimize, who crowdsource earnings estimates, M&A rumors and now economic data, could provide an innovative reason to visit Yahoo pages. TheStreet.com has been rapidly building their video content and would be an attractive fit, provided they could convince Cramer to stay on board for a few years. Yahoo could probably acquire those three companies for around $350mm.
While ESPN has now surpassed Yahoo Sports in traffic (according to ComScore), Yahoo is a close second. It may not be ideal timing, but if I were Marissa, I’d give Jim Bankoff at Vox Media a call. While the new Ezra Klein-led Vox.com may not be a great fit, SB Nation would be a great addition, while Curbed could open up some new opportunities. If they couldn’t get SB Nation, I’d see if I could pry Deadspin from Gawker and would also take a look at Bill Simmons’ long form site Grantland. I might also look to pick up either Narrative Science or Automated Insights, both of which offer technology which automates short editorial articles from statistics. Yahoo already uses Automated Insights for personalized summaries of fantasy sports results, but could expand its use across multiple verticals.
Video is a big area of focus for Yahoo, and one where they’ve had success, though the numbers aren’t yet big enough to move the needle. If I were Yahoo, I’d look at Funny Or Die, or perhaps see if IAC might part with CollegeHumor.com in order to drive short-form video and bring more of an edginess to their offerings.
That leaves mobile and social. There’s a lot of interesting activity there. I think the valuations for SnapChat are too high, and I could see it going downhill after an acquisition, but maybe Yahoo could make a play for Whisper or Secret. And, of course, a content site like Buzzfeed or Distractify could drive a lot of social engagement on mobile and the desktop.
If you were Marissa, what would you do with that pile of cash?
From the Guardian comes word of a new app - the cleverly named LinkedUp, which they describe as "Tinder for your professional network".
The app uses the LinkedIn API to access a user's professional contacts, and has a Tinder-like interface to quickly browse pics and profiles.
Let's think for a minute about how bad an idea this truly is.
For most of us, our professional network consists of current and former coworkers, clients, your next potential boss and more. What could possibly go wrong?
I can only imagine the alerts from LinkedIn: you've just been endorsed for the following skills...
According to founder Max Fischer, "I think it helps people feel a little more comfortable about people. I was looking through some profiles earlier today and the tag line says "You must love sports and dogs" or "I really love this hockey team."
Wait - I thought that's what Facebook already does. It captures your social graph, your interests, your experiences and more. But it does that in your social circle, not your professional circle. In other words, people who are less likely to adversely impact your career if things don't go quite right.
There could be worse ideas for dating. Perhaps a "classmates.com" for prison parolees, or an app that sits on top of the national sex-offender registry. And, I'm sure there will be those who find LinkedUp to be a useful app. But, there's a reason we don't have a single social graph, covering our business and personal lives. And most of us prefer that those world's do not collide.
Based on this post from Zoho CRM, it appears that LinkedIn has cut its CRM partners to just two - Salesforce and Microsoft. And, if you visit the LinkedIn Developer page, it becomes clear that they have chosen to work with just those two partners.
In an environment where APIs and web services are at the core of innovative web applications, LinkedIn is taking a step backwards towards a walled garden. From a financial standpoint, I understand it. LinkedIn has an incredibly unique and valuable database. And SalesForce and Microsoft not only have the huge installed base, but also the deep pockets to make this a hugely profitable partnership.
The exclusivity may make sense from a short-term revenue standpoint, but it's certainly not providing value to many of its users. I don't know the terms of LinkedIn partnership deals, but hopefully they can come up with an access plan that could make sense for some of the smaller, upstart providers like Zoho, Nutshell and others.
Twitter is buying social media firehose Gnip, it's largest distributor and among the largest social data aggregators.
On the surface, this could make sense. Twitter has been looking to monetize its data, and simply being a wholesaler doesn't let that business scale. As Rob Passarella notes, the deal is a clear sign that Twitter is focused on its data business.
But the acquisition raises a few interesting questions.
Data aggregation platforms are typically most successful when they are independent. Aggregators thrive because they can be "Switzerland", neutral and unaffiliated with any providers. It's what makes acquisition of aggregators difficult. Once they are acquired, they lose that independence. I've seen this happen many times in the financial data business.
So, the two questions this deal raises in my mind are:
1. What will the other Gnip data partners do, now that Twitter has acquired them? Beyond Twitter, Gnip partners include Facebook, Google+, FourSquare, Tumblr, YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, Instagram, Disqus, StockTwits, Estimize and more.
While many of these partners may be content to allow their data to flow through Twitter-owned Gnip, I can see some (Facebook/Instagram, Google/YouTube) looking to exit the service.
2. What will this mean for DataSift? Gnip competitor DataSift is the other leading provider of the Twitter firehose, along with Facebook, Tumblr, G+ and many others. Will Twitter still sell its firehose via DataSift? Will Gnip gain strategic advantages due to its new parent? And, will Google or Facebook to jump in with an offer to buy DataSift in response to Twitter's acquisition of Gnip?
Yesterday's announcement by Digital First Media's John Paton, that DFM would be shuttering it's Project Thunderdome has provoked quite a bit of chatter. Much of that came in the way of schadenfreude, or "patonfreude", as Lucia Moses called it.
And, some of that is to be expected. John Paton has a big personality and he was not shy about touting the bold steps that DFM was taking in an effort to redefine their business. But most of the response was supportive, recognizing that bringing change is difficult, and we should celebrate the efforts, regardless of the results.
Ultimately, there were many huge challenges that DFM and Project Thunderdome faced.
As Mathew Ingram notes, a private equity-backed structure, does not lend itself well to long-term experimentation with new models.
But digging more deeply, there were many structural issues.
The basic idea behind Thunderdome was to create a centralized newsdesk to handle all big, national stories, with local properties handling local news. In many ways, that made sense, and DFM assembled an all-star team of digital news professionals, led by Jim Brady and Robyn Tomlin to lead it.
But that model may have been one of the big challenges for DFM.
While shared resources make sense, transformation of a business from print to digital can't be done by a centralized, shared unit. Innovation is not something that can be created externally and dropped into an organization, as though by an Amazon drone.
As Ken Doctor notes: "Thunderdome wasn’t universally received well within the company. Talk to the locals and you heard grumbles. Traffic to the new Thunderdome sections didn’t impress them. They didn’t like national imposition on local news judgment."
Successful transformation has to come from a blend of new and old. Embedding new capabilities, while empowering existing editorial resources, is probably the best path to success. Of course, there is always resistance to change, and we've seen many cases where the legacy organization rejects the implantation of an innovation team. But it seems that positioning Thunderdome as the future, and the local papers as "the past" left DFM with no bridge to navigate the present.
The long-awaited Office for iPad was launched today.
Office for iPad is clearly aimed at driving users to adopt Microsoft’s cloud-based tools. It’s fine as a document reader, but to edit or create documents requires a $99.99 per year Office 365 subscription.
To access cloud-based documents, which is the primary way you'll work with documents, they have to reside on Microsoft OneDrive (the relabeled SkyDrive service). There’s no option to access your docs on Dropbox, Google Drive or any other third party platforms. You can get a free OneDrive account with 7 GB of storage, but for those who actively use Dropbox or another service, the idea of adding another cloud host for documents doesn’t make much sense. That leaves an opening for tools like QuickOffice Pro, acquired by Google, which integrates with both gmail and Dropbox.
The applications themselves seem robust. They didn't just take the desktop apps and shrink them; clearly a lot of effort went into building device-appropriate apps. I'll leave full reviews on these to others, but my quick thoughts are that the apps themselves are solid.
If you're an active MS Office user who doesn't use Google Docs or Dropbox, Office 365 and OneDrive would make a lot of sense. But, for the gmail/dropbox/google docs crowd, I don't expect much takeup. For me, the biggest benefit might be to use the PowerPoint viewer as a way to more easily run PowerPoint decks from my iPad to a projector. I typically use Keynote for that, but they're not 100% compatible, so a solid PowerPoint viewer will be great for that occasional need.
The big winner here is Apple. Microsoft has resisted developing iPad-specific versions of Office applications because they still held out hope that those applications could ultimately sway users to buy Windows Mobile-based tablets. Clearly, Apple is winning the BYOD war by a large margin and this serves as Microsoft's endorsement of that. Where that leaves Microsoft's mobile strategy, in the long run, is an unanswered question.
If you knew that a specific feature of your product annoyed 40-50% of your customers, what might you do?
And if you knew that you could remove that annoyance by spending pennies, how quickly might you try to solve that?
That’s what I thought.
And that’s why it’s so frustrating to see how business hotels have either a total lack of understanding or lack of interest in the needs of business travelers.
Like most of you, my phone is now my alarm clock. And my bedtime reading is done on an iPad. Yet, when I check into a room in a typical business hotel, I find a nightstand like this:
So, my next step is to start moving the furniture, pulling the nightstand out to access the electrical outlets. And what I usually find is a rat’s nest of electrical cords and no empty sockets, like this:
Think about it, the last thing that a guest thinks about before they go to sleep in their hotel room, is how annoying it is that they have to move furniture and untangle electrical cords.
These pics were taken at the Hyatt Regency Denver, but it could be any number of high end business hotels I’ve stayed at in recent years.
Ironically, the less expensive hotels tend to have figured this issue out. I stayed in a Hyatt Place hotel (Hyatt’s budget line) in Kansas City earlier this week and, not only were there ample outlets right by the nightstand, there were ports to plug HDMI, VGA and RGB cables into the flat screen TV. Perhaps it’s no surprise that these mid-level hotels have gotten it right. After all, they also provide free WiFi and other amenities.
What the business hotels have to learn is that, for most business travelers today, this is our ideal nightstand:
Most of us don’t need a fixed clock radio. I automatically unplug the alarm clock when I check-in, so I don’t accidentally learn that the previous tenant set the alarm to go off at 4am. And while we do need a phone in the room to call room service or the front desk, we don’t need it to be at our bedside. I’m sure that in the pre-mobile phone days, travelers might have sat in bed chatting with family on the hotel phone, but those days are long gone. The phone over on the desk suits our needs just fine.
For now, I’d be happy to see hotels simply bolt a small power strip to the nightstand or headboard, so I can plug in. For now, I carry a Belkin mini power strip when I travel, but I still have to move furniture and unplug things to use it.
Installing a power strip is a simple and inexpensive fix that hotels should implement immediately. If you could make a dramatic impact on customer satisfaction for a few bucks, wouldn’t you do it?
note: this post is not intended to critique the Denver Hyatt Regency. It's a great hotel, with a terrific gym and the staff are fantastic. I would glady stay here again next time in Denver. But this is a fix that Hyatt and their peers should implement immediately.
I've just started to use Poncho, the weather un-app from Betaworks and, at first glance, I'm impressed.
I have used a bunch of weather apps and, until now, the two in "regular rotation" for me are Dark Sky and the Weather Channel.
Dark Sky is a one-trick pony that executes that trick better than anyone else - it gives you the hyperlocal forecast for the next hour. So, whether you're trying to figure out whether to start the softball game, or whether to bring an umbrella to lunch, no one does it better.
I use the Weather Channel app for the more mundane task of checking the daily weather report before I leave for work in the morning. All I want to know is the current temperature and the expected high and low, along with whether it's gong to rain or snow. And the Weather Channel app does that reasonably well, as do a number of others. But, there's a lot of clutter there that most of us don't need.
Poncho, founded by Kuan Huang, out of Betaworks, gives you the info you need, when you need it, without all that clutter. Poncho simply sends you a text message or email each morning, with a brief snippet telling you what you need to know.
There's no app required. Just go to the Poncho sign up page and answer a few critical questions (where do you live? what time do you wake? do you have pollen allergies?) and tell it whether you want your forecast via email, text or both. And, every morning you'll get a brief forecast with just the info you need to know, right when you need it.
What I love about Poncho is the simplicity. It's like the early days of mobile - when I got my first Blackberry in 2000, there were a number of simple auto-reply services. You'd email a question (e.g. stockprice for a given ticker) and a text response would come back. Sometimes, a brief text message is all that you need. We don't need a robust, full-featured app for every task.
So, we can all learn a lot about development from Poncho.
While many are envisioning Dick Tracy and video chat on the wrist, it doesn’t sound like that’s what the focus of these initial devices will be. And I’m not sure that very many people want the Dick Tracy watch today, anyway.
Fifty years ago, when people thought about mobile devices, they naturally assigned these capabilities to things we already had on our person - a watch, or, in the case of Maxwell Smart, a shoe. Today, we all have powerful communications devices in our pockets, so moving it to our wrist is not that exciting.
And that’s one of the challenges in terms of a smartwatch. What should it be? Is it simply a remote control to access data on your phone, tablet or computer? And will that be enough to become a mainstream “must-have” product?
The core functionality that everyone seems to be focusing on is health and fitness. And there’s definitely an audience for that. Despite the fact that I’ve stopped wearing a watch, I wear my Fitbit 24/7. One good thing about the Fitbit is its low profile. I can work out with it, shower and even leave it on while sleeping (it monitors my sleep). But a big, bulky smartwatch will be cumbersome and I’m not sure it will fit the Fitbit/Fuelband niche.
The other obvious function for a smartwatch is communications. And while Dick Tracy and the Jetsons envisioned videophones as the killer apps of the future, that’s not how people choose to communicate. My teen daughter and her friends use a lot less Facetime and Skype these days, spending most of their time texting. And while receiving texts on your wrist may be compelling for some, sending texts requires a decent typing platform and I’m not sure that a watch interface will lend itself to that.
That’s not to say that there’s not a place for smartwatches. It’s early days for Fitbit and Nike Fuelband and entries from Samsung, Apple, Google and others can certainly expand that market. And certain niche segments may want a texting watch or a wrist-based television remote. But none of these are true killer apps in my opinion.
Dick Tracy doesn’t do it for me. But if you want to get me excited, how about a built-in jetpack? Now that would be a killer smartwatch.